MoTAS Shabbat Reflection: Why MoTAS (Bob Levine)

In this week’s eblast, Rabbi Shawna wrote about stepping up to the plate in the light of developing a sense of community, and how the Men of TAS provide a valuable example of the process. My reflection is based on this thought.

Before I joined TAS 12 years ago, I was a member of a congregation that had just about everything I wanted: a vibrant, empathic, and involved Rabbi, a spiritual presence combining old traditions with a modern environment, and services that were truly inclusive, which in theater terms, meant no “fourth wall.” In short, it was a delight to be there. But over the many years I was part of the group, I found myself becoming a little alienated because I lost a sense of a “community.” I was not included in the management of the group, and therefore not part of the “in crowd.”

So, enter TAS. I was immediately drawn to the ”Men’s Club.” The guys were friendly, and gave me the space to participate in activities I enjoyed, and not being forced or guilted into ones that were not my cup of tea. For some reason I don’t completely understand, raising my hand at a meeting made me a chair of some committee or other, and eventually into leadership in the group. Later, as president, I was fortunate to be able to introduce a couple of changes, including transforming our “Men’s club” into a community of openness and inclusivity, rather than be a group you had to pay to join. It was, and is, my belief that being part of a community is what helps makes us human beings, whole, and this part of relationship building has been vastly improved by my successors, Dan Faigin and Frank Soronow.

A few years ago, the TAS Board did an interactive process, attempting to determine the one crucial element that defines Judaism. What could we live without, and still be Jewish?  Surprising things were eliminated: a physical temple, a Rabbi, the Torah, and even God. The one thing remaining was “community.” Without it, there is no Judaism. We in MoTAS are here to continue to build upon what we have before, and help make it grow for the better. That is my MoTAS; that is my community.

MoTAS Shabbat Reflection: Why MoTAS (Daniel Faigin)

I like to joke that we’ve been at most of the congregations in the valley. We started at Temple Emet, came here for a few years, then back to Emet when they merged to become Kol Tikvah, then Temple Beth Torah, then Temple Beth Hillel, and finally, back here. If there was one thing I learned it was: If you aren’t active in the congregation, you don’t get to know anyone. This is especially true if you don’t have children, or your children are starting in their teen years or older.

At Temple Beth Torah, I was doing everything, from Tot Shabbat to Publicity, and I burned out. At Beth Hillel, I did nothing. When we rejoined TAS, I wanted to get active again, but not at the Board level. I decided to go to what was then the Mens Club.

I attended meetings for a few years, and then started proposing and running events. I was eventually elected to office, and I just finished two years as President. Through that experience, I’ve gotten to know this great group of men that do things for the congregation. In doing so, I’ve gotten to know congregational leadership, and through both, I’ve strengthened my relationship with the congregation. We don’t always see eye to eye – especially when we are talking politics – but we can set that aside because we’ve gotten to know each other as people.

When you hear people talk about their connection to the congregation, especially at the High Holy Days, the key message is that the relationship was built over the years their kids attended school. I’m here to tell you that’s not the only way to build a relationship with a congregation. Being active is how you do it: come to a MoTAS or Sisterhood meeting. Become active on a committee. Build or join a Havurah. Not having young children is not a barrier to making friends at TAS.

Further, being active can make you a better person. I’m a cybersecurity engineer. I’m not a people person; given my choice I’ll sit back and observe, hiding at my computer screen. Being active in MoTAS has made me exercise skills I needed: selling events, caring about others, caring about the congregation, being an active part of something instead of just an observer. I still hate making cold phone calls, but I’m a better person for my involvement with MoTAS.

You can be too. If you’re not involved, become involved. If you are involved, step up and lead. If you are leading, be a mentor to an upcoming leader, and thank you.

MoTAS Shabbat Reflection: MoTAS and MRJ (Brian Hatkoff)

Two weeks ago, I visited the garden spot of the world. Well, it was really the Garden State of New Jersey. I went to the national meeting of the Men of Reform Judaism, held in beautiful downtown Newark. Fortunately, it snowed and covered most of it.

I am on the national Executive Council of MRJ and attended as a Jewish Man, talking about Jewish male issues. That was it. Male issues of sports, politics, the election and drinking. Pretty fulfilling. Not much else to say. If you think that is all we talked about and we were that shallow, you would be wrong in so many directions.

Yes, we talked about real issues that men have. With their jobs, their families, with their future. We also talked about Reform Jewish kids on Campus and how to stay connected with them through Jewish programming grants called Reform on Campus. MRJ is the only organization who fund reform Jewish programing at colleges around the country.

We talked about how do we attract the younger men to become more connected and involved with the temple.

We talked about a groundbreaking alliance that MRJ made with the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club, the conservative movements men’s organization. We talked about how to work with each other to strengthen each other not only nationally but down to the local groups.

We talked about social action issues such as sexual attacks on college campuses. Not only women are being attacked but so are the men. One in five is the current number.

WE talked about these and many more issues, but not just leaving it at talk, but taking action by spreading the word. Making people aware of these things starting at our local clubs.

MoTAS already participates in many of these endeavors. More needs to be done. More talk. More action, more and better results.

I am proud to be a member of MoTas and what they do. I am proud of MRJ and what they do. Come join us and make a difference in yours and others lives.

MoTAS Shabbat D’Var Torah 1/29: The Model of Leadership

Parasha Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)  – D’var Torah

I’m in the back half of my last term as President of the Men of TAS, and I’d like to share a secret with you about leadership in this organization. In fact, it really is a secret to leadership in any organization. It is a secret I’ve used not only for the Men of TAS, but in my conference leadership activities and those activities at work where I’ve taken a leadership role. This evening, I’m going to share that secret with you.

First, surround yourself with good people.

Second, delegate what you can to those people, so you don’t have to do it all.

Third, trust in those people to do it right, and let those to whom you have delegated work know that you have confidence in them.

Now, let me let you in on a little secret about that secret: It’s not a secret, but advice from a wise father-in-law.

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MoTAS Reflection – Brian Hatkoff

I asked the question of men from around the country:  “What does Jewish Fatherhood mean to you?”  It could be your relationship with your kids.  It could be your relationship with your father.  What have you done that makes it important to be a Jewish father?  Does it mean something to you or does it even make a difference?

Some of the answers I received were very interesting.

One man answered: “Jewish Fatherhood is setting a good example for your children.  That they should see you treat others well.  That you show them the importance of living a life that is informed by Jewish values.  That you show by example the value of learning, living a life guided by a loving heart and the importance of tzedakah.”

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MoTAS Reflection – Mike Rayfield


I have come to learn that the Men’s Club has given me a different outlook as to how people are normally, as I have been dealing with the worse people in our society for over 24 years.
The men of MOTAS, have given me hope and friendship and I will continue to support the Men of TAS, just  as long as Steve and Scott continue cooking as I really enjoy the Sundays, Lox, Bagels, Coffee and friendship.

MoTAS Reflection – Brian Hatkoff

motas-shabbat-2015As part of our MoTAS Shabbat, we invited a number of men to share a reflection of what their relationship with MoTAS means to them. This is the reflection that Brian Hatkoff shared:

When Men get together, they have a great time talking about sports, politics, business, their kids and things like that.  When men get together, they DO NOT talk about what’s going on in their lives, what’s going on behind the scenes, their emotions, their relationships with their wives, their kids, their parents and so on.

I started a program a few years ago at TAS ( a program I stole from somewhere else) called the Men’s Only discussion group, which is now called the Men’s Hangout.  It was designed to be in a setting of support for each other during good times and bad.  A chance to expose their feelings (if they wanted to) and ask for advice or just vent.  I had no idea where it would go.  It was set in a safe environment and where any discussion that occurred stayed in those four walls.

I really didn’t expect much, except talking about sports, politics, business, their kids…  Not much happened, except for the openness of the conversation of our personal feelings and what was truly going on in our lives.

Although I moderated it for the first few years, I got so much out of it that I ended up with a whole new respect for the men around me.  I came to appreciate that what I may have been going through at the time, and thought I was alone,  and the only one in that situation, that other men had been there and gave me the support I needed at the time.

The ability of men to be open and honest with other is far and few between, and that needs to change.  This is a small but very important piece of what MoTAS does.  Our MoTAS is doing that and will continue to do that.

MoTAS Reflection – Howard Miller

motas-shabbat-2015As part of our MoTAS Shabbat, we invited a number of men to share a reflection of what their relationship with MoTAS means to them. This is the reflection that Howard Miller shared:

When my wife Laraine and I joined TAS 21 years ago, I was looking for three aspects of Jewish life: Worship, Service to my Jewish community, and a sense of belonging and comradery.   Worship was straightforward, our Temple prayers and melodies were identical to those I had  been brought up with in a Conservative temple.  I found the opportunity to provide service and enjoy the comradery of friendship in the TAS Men’s Club.

It started a couple of weeks after we joined.  The Men’s Club was building the sukkah.  Coming from Seal Beach, I got there late.  I walked in and was handed a palm frond.  It was pretty dark, so I worked as a team with a stranger by flashlight.  We had so much fun working and talking for an hour.  When we turned around and introduced ourselves, it turned out that he was one of my best friends from childhood; we had not seen each other in 20 years.  At that time, Bob Levin and Gordon Lester had basically restarted the Men’s Club.  It was simply a group of guys who wanted to support the needs of the temple.  There may have been 12 guys in the group at that point.  Within a few years our roster grew to 70 or so members.

I like to tell people that our lives are often a swirl of all the things we are involved in over time. At different points in our lives, each of us can look back and think about the groups of people that we have spent our time with, who we have watched become the people they are in part because of our time and chemistry within the group. A group like the Men’s Club provides the immediate friendships and comradery in service to the temple, doing more together than we can do individually.  Together, we have painted the whole school, we have raised $15-20K per year in support of temple unmet needs, and we have served hundreds of burgers and hot dogs a year fighting hunger in the congregation.  There is a sense of accomplishment on a monthly and annual basis.

The Men’s Club is for those men in the congregation who know that there is more to setting a religious example for their children by simply providing a ride to Hebrew school.  Of significance, you will find that probably three quarters of the men who have been on the temple board and its officers have been members of the Men’s Club.  The Men’s Club is where you will find nice guys from all walks of life that you can be proud to share your time with.  This group of men has been worthy of my time, respect and appreciation for 21 years.  I hope many other members of the congregation will participate in MoTAS and gain the same perspective.

Yahrzeit Reflection – Bob Levine

motas-shabbat-2015In addition to being our Man of the Year, Bob also presented the introduction to the Kaddish, the memorial prayer. This is the introduction that Bob shared:

Two days ago, on January 21, I observed the yahrzeit of my grandmother.  I have only dim real memories of her, yet 60 years later, her love shines within me.  My father’s three-year yahrzeit is in a few weeks.  Obviously, the memories are larger, and while the grief is gone, the yahrzeit is a special time which allows me to mourn yet once again, and reflect upon his passing.

What I sense is more than remembering who they were or what they did, but more so what they meant to me, and yet more still by how my life has been, and continues to be, reshaped by their presence in my own life.   I ask myself sometimes which of the choices I have made have been influenced by them, and have I lived up to my best self as a result?  They, among others, have served as my role models, from whom I learned valuable lessons about seeing the world and acting in it.   Reb Zalman Shachter-Shalomi, of blessed memory, taught me that what seem to be extremely complex ideas can be expressed very simply.  Other teachers, relatives, friends, and even people I’ve met only briefly, have shown me a piece of themselves, which is now a part of me:  their joy, their compassion, their humor, their handling the rough edges.

Celebrating a life.  Observing a yahrzeit.  A time of mourning.  Seems contradictory, yet not.  The mourner’s Kaddish is a joyful, positive, prayer, whose driving energy demands a full celebration:  of the lives of those loved, those whose shoulders I stand upon today, in all generations, reaching toward the heavens.  When I remember others who have none left to mourn for them, I stand also on their shoulders, in my universal participation of human spirit.  So, when I read the prayer in English, it helps mitigate the tears.

Man of the Year – Bob Levine

motas-shabbat-2015As part of our MoTAS Shabbat, MoTAS announced this year’s Man of the Year. During the service, our honoree was introduced by the 2014 Men of the Year, Steve Zonis (Z) and Scott Yollis (Y). Here is their introduction:

Y: We understand that while serving in the United States Navy, he was a Jewish lay leader; organizing and leading Yom Kippur services in Greece and also a Passover Seder in the Panama Canal Zone.

Z: Since coming to TAS in 2006 he has:

Y: Served on the TAS Board of Trustees.

Z: Served on the Marketing and Membership Committees.

Y: Served as President, Vice President, Treasure, and Program Chairman of the Men of TAS.
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