Category Archives: President

President’s Message August, 2020

Our house in North Asheville has a great craftsman style front porch facing south and a bit east, looking out towards the hill between us and the Grove Park Inn.  Our one minor complaint until recently was that we didn’t have quite enough of a landscaping screen between the porch and the road.  So, when we all went on lock down in March, at our house we also embarked on a front yard improvement project.  The major addition was a bench with an arbor near the sidewalk.  Instead of facing the bench in towards the yard, we built the seat facing the road in the hope and expectation that our neighbors would use it.  We have since started to call it “Jerry’s Bench” because our neighbor Jerry frequently takes a break at it on his climb up our street, which is close to a twenty percent incline.  As the summer has progressed, flowering vines have climbed up the sides and it has become a nice vegetation screen between our porch seat and the road.  It looks vaguely like a bus stop shelter, though we have yet to attract a bus.

I bet you have heard, as I have, of other quarantine projects.  I believe our Rabbi mentioned someone giving out free flower bouquets in a neighborhood in North Asheville.  I have also observed a proliferation in sidewalk libraries offering free books (though it seems that 50% of the books in the libraries are by Tom Clancy).  In early April, I walked by a newly-opened restaurant in downtown Asheville giving away hundreds of box lunches over many days.

There have not been many feel good stories in the news lately, but the “good” news seems to me to always have one or two people at the heart of it making the best of a hard situation by serving their extended family, neighbors or immediate community in some small or large way.  Often, it is someone with a particular talent, sharing that talent in a new or creative way to support and stay connected to their community.

So, I want to ask you: What have you been up to the last few months that you were not doing last summer that has helped you stay connected to your family, neighborhood or community?  Please email me a description of your project, or an anecdote of a new connection you made through a new experience you had because of social distancing rules, or because of the extra time you may have had staying home.  If you’ve just been thinking about a quarantine project, but are uncertain how to get it going, tell me your ideas on how you might get it going.  I can’t promise I will know how to help, but maybe just writing it down will create the momentum needed to move to the next step.  Maybe think of it as the mid-summer version of the question, “Why is this night different from all others?”  I very much want to hear your story of your good news from this summer, if you are willing to share.  Send me an email, write me a letter; whichever you choose, I look forward to reading it.

Tikkun Gottschalk,

CBHT President

President’s Message June/July 2020

It seems obvious that these last few months will be very memorable, and the topic for many stories of family and community hardship, resilience, and perhaps even joy.  I’ve been thinking about the stories I might tell of these pandemic times to others in the future, and about the stories told to me about historic times, like my own father’s stories of immigrating to the US from Germany in 1939.  Since the stories we hear from others help us tell our own stories, I thought I’d share a story from my father’s early life in the US during the last few years of WWII.  I believe this story illustrates the self-reflection and perspective that I hope to have myself when I tell my own stories:

“In the early 1940s, we had a ‘kvutzah’ affiliated with Hashomer Hatzair.  We aimed to go to Palestine together, to live in a kibbutz.  We dared to do things at the age of 16, 17 and 18 that, in later years, I could never have imagined my own children doing.  We hitchhiked all over the eastern part of the United States – to New York, Chicago, Montreal, New Hampshire and elsewhere.  We ran a rustic summer camp, Shomria, for children only a few years younger than ourselves, first in Massachusetts, and then New Hampshire.  At camp we built and lived on wooden platforms placed under second-hand army tents.  The camp had almost no plumbing, so we washed ourselves in the lake.  Camp Shomria, in Henniker, New Hampshire, was a place of dreams.  It was a 175-year-old dairy farm with a house, silo, and barn.  We had no electricity, only a rickety old generator that worked spasmodically.  The telephone was an old, hand-cranked instrument on a phone line shared with 17 other patrons.  I remember that we would listen to each other’s conversations, waiting to get a free line.  We had to hand-crank the instrument in order to alert the operator who would then connect us, after a brief, friendly chit-chat.”

“When I initially joined Hashomer Hatzair, in the spring of 1943, at the age of 14, I only had a general idea of what was happening in Europe at the time.  In the ‘movement’ I was made aware of the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto.  I learned about Tosia Altmann and Mordechai Anilewitz, leaders of the ghetto uprising.  They became our legendary heroes; they had been members of Polish Hashomer Hatzair, who were only 18 or 20 years old.  We read letters and diaries coming out of Europe.  We idolized the partisans; indeed, we decided to call our group, Partisanim, the partisans, seeking to thus identify with our distant heroes.  I now realize the way we were youthful idealists, proud, and somewhat arrogant dreamers.  Hashomer Hatzair was patterned after other romantic youth movements of the early 20th century, such as the Wandervoegel in Weimar Germany, the early American Boy Scouts, the Young Communist League in the Soviet Union, and also the Hitler Youth.  Our ideal was to create a more perfect society in a kibbutz where there was no private property, men and women were equal, we lived and worked close to nature, and our children were educated to live in joy and sharing in a new Jewish homeland.  We were entirely sure of our cause and of ourselves.  Never again in life did I have such certainty.  Today, I am inclined to be more critical of what we thought and what we did.”

My father’s reflection on his experience as a young kibbutznik shows how perceptions of historical times can shift and mellow over years.  I cannot help but wonder how we will view these pandemic times years from now.  For myself, I hope to retain in my own stories of these times, the bits of newness and wonder that have softened the anxiety, the newly discovered neighboring woods, the seemingly endless spring, the best kitchen garden ever.  I wish the same for you.

Tikkun Gottschalk,

CBHT President

Presidents Message May, 2020

By the time the first night of Passover arrived, I was a near expert zoomer.  I knew how to touch up my appearance, insert a cool background, and mute and unmute people in seconds.  So, there we were, the four of us semi-quarantined, all lined up in front of my IPad, being “together” with others for a first night Seder.  I know this is a bizarre reference point for the occasion, but here it is: I could not help recalling DaVinci’s the Last Supper, where they are all eating at a table facing the same direction, some leaning to the side.  I could never suspend my disbelief at that painting because I always thought, “Who eats like that, all in a row facing no one?”  Well, now I know, you eat like that at a Zoom Seder, when you have to all face the same direction to be seen by the digital camera.

Our Haggadah this year (from “” of course) highlighted the contrasts in the Passover story, the contrasts of freedom and slavery, joy and pain, power and helplessness.  I appreciated this theme because this year the contrasts of Passover seemed especially stark.  Most of us here in WNC are really no less free than we were last year, yet our freedom is limited to our own socially distant households.  Our technology empowers us to stay connected, to retain our traditions—however modified they must be—of gathering in community to celebrate holidays and Shabbat.  We are physically distant by necessity, yet still try to draw close to each other by different means.

We celebrate our freedom on Passover, while remembering the slavery of our ancestors; at the same time, I cannot help but think of those people whose freedoms have been severely impacted by the pandemic, of those who live in small apartments, who may be self-isolating to protect their loved ones.

It is our tradition at Passover to recall the many generations that have come before us, each with their own retelling of the Passover story.  Each generation has its own ideas, its own version of the Passover story.  As a kid, in my house each year’s Seder seemed to have something new that wasn’t in the Haggadah the year before, often social justice-themed.  I never imagined that I would ever be part of a fully virtual Seder.

As we have over many generations, we continue our traditions despite adversity.  We still celebrated life and freedom at Passover, though that freedom may seem limited right now.  We are used to gathering around a table to tell stories, old and new at Passover, finding new meanings in our shared history.  We added our own special chapter for this year, more fraught and intense than any Passover in recent memory.  But as I recalled our people’s story of Passover, I was reminded that the trials of this year will too become part of our shared past, that we will endure and continue our traditions, however they need to change with the times.  We dream of the future, and say “next year, Jerusalem”; we also say, “next year, health, and hugs, and no more social distancing!”

Tikkun Gottschalk,

CBHT President

President’s Message – April 2020

The following is the printed version of my remarks at our Shabbat observe March 13, 2020, when we closed the temple due to Covid-19 concerns.

I want to welcome you to our first Quarantine Shabbat —or virtual Shabbat.  Normally, I’d ask you to check your cell phones, find a comfortable seat, and finish up your conversations with those sitting near you, but not tonight.  Tonight, I’ll ask you to check your sound quality and internet connection, and invite you to join me via the webcast or the Facebook livestream.  Seth, Craig, Buffy, Kim, and I have spent the day adjusting our Shabbat observance plans to fit this virtual platform.  If you are on the Facebook livestream, I hope that you are able to share this experience with us.

This week’s parasha is memorable for the story of the golden calf.  Everyone remembers the golden calf, right?  Just saying those two words, “golden calf”, is probably enough.  It’s like the joke club, where no one actually tells a joke, but rather says the number of the joke they want to tell, and everyone laughs.

There are many connections we might make to this story based on our modern experience.  In these turbulent times, I think this story is another reminder that what matters in our rituals and spiritual experiences are our intentions, what we bring to our observance.  The physical manifestations of observance, the color of a talis, the shape of sanctuary, the brilliance of the eternal light, matter much less than the heart and spirit of our experience.  This tells me that even when we cannot physically be together in community, we still have the opportunity to bring the same intention to our rituals. Indeed, it is not what is external to us, outside of us, that makes us Jews.

We may not be able to connect with each other right now the way we want to.  We certainly wish we could.  But over many generations, we have maintained our Shabbat traditions despite all sorts of obstacles; I hope and expect that once the pandemic is over, we will be able to see it in the rear-view mirror as a minor obstacle.  I believe that the community we have built together, the connections that we have made with each other, can still thrive and grow even when we cannot be together in person.  The same network of support remains to each of us, though right now it is mostly through phone and email.  For sure, it is challenging to retain the same feeling of community connection without gathering together, sharing food, and the many other ways we are used to enjoying each other’s company.

If you can’t go see loved ones or have limited your own outings, please pick up the phone and call.  If you don’t know how to FaceTime, ask someone to help you.  We are still tied together; we can still observe Shabbat together and support each other in many ways.

Tikkun Gottschalk,

CBHT President

President’s Message-March 2020

If I gave you the CliffsNotes version of my Jewish experience, you might ask me, “Are you Reformadox?”  With the same cursory information about any one of my sisters, you might ask them, “Are you post-denominational, or Jewish-adjacent?”  If you asked my father what movement or term he felt best applied to him, he’d probably just say, “Conservative”, followed by, “What does it matter, I go to a conservative shul every Saturday morning, why would anyone need to know more than that?”

We are all members of a Reform synagogue, and I bet we all knew generally what “Reform” meant when we joined our temple.  On various levels, we accept the “Reform” designation and many of the things that come with it.  It certainly helps Jews who share Reform movement values find us, and gives non-Jews a better idea of what to expect when they visit our temple.  However, the Reform label does not really capture much of who we are or why we have become part of the community of Congregation Beth HaTephila.

I think labels are tricky things, useful for CliffsNotes or for signaling basic information to others about our affinity groups or interests.  I am wary, however, of how a label can distract from or interfere with getting to the nuanced story behind the label.

The full story of my father’s Jewish experience is rather convoluted.  He was not raised in a Jewish household as a young child.  It was only after he came to this country that the family joined a synagogue.  He went on to become a kibbutznik, learn modern Hebrew, move to Israel for a time, and only many decades later join a Reform synagogue after my eldest sister was born.

Each of us has our own “Jewish Journey” (to use another label), a longer story that brought us to our Reform synagogue in Western North Carolina.  One of the great things we get to do in our community is share our longer stories, and I have had the privilege of hearing some of these stories from our members. I hope you have too, and look forward to the chance to hear more of them.

Tikkun Gottschalk,

CBHT President