Have you heard? “Shabbat Shindig with Penny”

imageCountless children at the Asheville JCC Shalom Children’s Center have enjoyed singing songs on Shabbat with Penny White over the years. Families have long wanted a way to listen and sing along to these songs at home. So we are very excited to announce that Penny (and some of her friends from the JCC) have recorded a CD of these songs at Echo Mountain Recording Studios!

The CD, “Shabbat Shindig with Penny,” is available now! All proceeds after expenses will go to support Shalom Children’s Center scholarships.

Hear a few sample tracks:


Then pick up your copy of the CD at the Asheville JCC front desk. Out of town? No problem! You can get copies shipped from this website:


CJJ/W: Join Us for Justice

When: Sunday, January 10 from 3-5 p.m.

Where: Beth Ha-Tephila Congregation, 43 Liberty Street, Asheville.

RSVP: By January 5, 2016 to dvora.ivankowski@gmail.com.

You’re Invited to Join Us For Justice

CJJWInterested in learning how you can help participate and influence the public arena in Western North Carolina?

If so, Join Us For Justice to learn about Carolina Jews for Justice/West (CJJ/West), a grass roots organization, working to influence policy at the local and state levels, plus encouraging individuals and Jewish institutions to take a stand on important issues in our community.

Come meet your neighbors and community, learn a little bit about each other, our CJJ steering committee members and find out how you too can get involved.

Then, stay and join us for a nosh and more conversation


What to bring: If you would like, please bring a treat to share; appetizer, dessert, or beverage.  Make the food finger size and ready to nibble.


After a Thanksgiving Feast, by Dr. Rick Chess

December 7, 2015

I carry my failure with me. My embarrassment. My shame. It grows.

It sets me apart from men in my life, the hard man with the violin, the thin man with the flask. See them in the photo. They have enough, more than enough. If one day they leave a little, the next they put less on their plate.

My life? Apparently, the sustaining belief is this: never enough. Never enough sweetness. Never enough love. Never enough, so I surround myself with more. More than I’ll ever consume. Not enough hours in life to read as many pages as are packed onto floor-to-ceiling shelves. And if there were, what then?

I carry the day my birthfather drove away. I wasn’t more than eight-weeks-old. I haven’t stopped eating since then.

I forget: When did I finally understand that my art wasn’t art, not art enough to win recognition, awards? I must have eaten a fistful of pistachios that day. When did I discover what some in America knew from the day I was born: I am white? I think I ate cheese that night.

I am average. I am so average American male Jewish white. And at 62: overweight, not obese.

I bear what I can; I bear what I must.

The weight of fears I have been collecting as far back as memory goes.

The weight of spoon lifted from bowl to parted lips, and the weight of words withheld from those I’ve hated, those I’ve loved, and the weight of the reason I mostly withhold but sometimes blurt out. The weight of regret.

The weight of Jerusalem stone pissed on, kissed. The weight of palm frond fallen, Beverly Hills, and the weight of Philly pretzel mustard smeared on sleeve, and the weight of BA, MA, PhD, complete set of expensive degrees. Who is strong enough to keep the key to the universe?

The weight of palm on the crown of the head, the blessing, the ancient priestly blessing dropped onto the head of a son who indulges my belief and a daughter who honors it by challenging it.

I believe, but not exactly. Compared to the weight of those whose belief is the bone that broken mends, those who dutifully and daily proclaim belief in The Name, The Rock, the King, I am like a cocktail napkin that could be swept away in a summer breeze.

Then why this morning do I feel like I did last night, Thanksgiving, “the central ton of every place” (“The Heavy Bear That Goes with Me,” Delmore Schwartz)?

What do you see when you look at the family photo from my stepdaughter’s wedding?

I’m next to the last on the right. Suit jacket open, tie leaning slightly right. And what I know is there, what I carry with me everywhere, what bulges just above belt buckle, what is mostly hidden from view beneath the billowy shirt coming un-tucked at the waist.

When I lie down, when I rise up, when I sit (and loosen, loosen another notch the belt, and sometimes unbutton, sometimes unzip), and when I walk by the way: It’s there, the way they say my love of God should be there and God’s great love of me always is.

I carry the image with me: flat stomach.

I can see to the horizon but not, when standing, my feet.

I indulge myself but not, as in Donald Justice’s “The Thin Man,” “in rich refusals.”

Pecan, pumpkin: holy pies.

Because of my weight, my self-consciousness never sleeps. For this, at least, I’m thankful: I will never be alone.

And my generous wife: She loves me with her refusal to complain about what she sees when I take off my shirt, when the parade of me marches toward her in bed. For this, I’m thankful the most.


Richard Chess is the author of three books of poetry, Tekiah, Chair in the Desert, andThird Temple. Poems of his have appeared in Telling and Remembering: A Century of American Jewish Poetry, Bearing the Mystery: Twenty Years of IMAGE, and Best Spiritual Writing 2005. He is the Roy Carroll Professor of Honors Arts and Sciences at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. He is also the director of UNC Asheville’s Center for Jewish Studies.

“My Wish for My Students”, Dr. Rick Chess

Only this I wish for my students: this semester, I hope you will learn to care for each other.

I hope you will learn how to create conditions in which everyone present in the room feels welcome to speak. I hope you will learn how to discern which of two competing voices within you is worth acting on: the voice that cautions you against speaking lest you confirm, for yourself and others, what you suspect, that you are a fool, and the voice that encourages you to trust yourself, that your thoughts, your questions are worthy of being heard by others.

But if and when you succumb to the fear of speaking, my wish for you is that you will ask yourself this: How, without risking embarrassment by composing while speaking a thought or question, does your presence in the room encourage us to risk life? For that is my wish, my only wish for my students: to risk life, right here in the classroom.

And for those times when you choose just to listen, I hope you will learn how to be present without speaking, actively present in such a way that your presence in the room feeds the spirit of inquiry we are cultivating.

Those of you for whom words come readily—in writing and speech—my wish for you is this: that you will understand that words are like wealth. And we, all of us, are living on our inheritance.

There’s hardly a word in our vocabulary that we haven’t received from our ancestors. Follow them back, the words, as far as you can. Honor them, the ancestors, in the way you use what they’ve invested in you, and, when you must, redeem those words that have been used to abuse, mislead, discriminate, destroy. But, when you spend them for whatever reason—in search of truth, to prove your superiority—know this: Words are not the only currency by means of which knowledge is exchanged…or created in this room!

Dear students, my only wish for you is this: that your sleep, if you must sleep in class, will be bright and rich with dreams that, during the punishing hours of your indebted nights and days, seem far beyond your reach. My wish for you is this: that you will not miss, whether you are asleep or awake, a chance to love right here in this ordinary classroom where we, for a few moments, sit together.

If you can’t love each other, love this: “Salt…is a memory of water.”

Perhaps this is too small to love. Lacking a story, perhaps it doesn’t offer enough of itself to us in a way that arouses our curiosity, awakens our attention, calls on our basic goodness to care for the least among us. If you can’t love that short passage on its own, consider, then, this, the immediate context from it was drawn (from Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography, by Richard Rodriguez):

“Desert is the fossil of water. (Haim [Rodriguez’s tour guide in Israel’s Negev desert] has been at great pains to point this out—striations in mesas and the caverns water has bored through mountains of salt, and salt itself is a memory of water.) Is dogma a fossil of the living God—the shell of God’s passage—but God is otherwise or opposite?”

My only wish for you, this semester, dear students, is this: that you will learn to linger on that which challenges you—not turn away from it, not avoid it because from the outset you suspected it wouldn’t be of interest, of value to you. Because it wouldn’t affirm, it wouldn’t validate the way you think, the way you live, the way you aspire to live.

Or worse, because you thought, I already know this. I already know God. I know, I have always known that there is no God. Or maybe your reason was practical, prioritizing. What’s the likelihood that, of all the passages in Darling,this is the one that will be singled out for class discussion? And what’s more, God knows, you can succeed in this class without reading the text at all!

My only wish for you this semester is that you will let God know what God knows and attend to what you know and what your classmates know and what the writers of the assigned texts know and seek to know.

Direct your attention to each other and the texts, even those texts and those classmates you do not love. Because you can’t love every assigned reading. No more can you love every stranger or even, equally and at all times, every familiar person in your life, including at times the most familiar stranger of all: yourself.

Take care of yourself, that’s my wish for you this semester. Take care to consider yourself, the tender, the raw, and the calloused parts of yourself, the fierce and the receptive parts, the local and the foreign, the simple and the unfathomable, immeasurable parts of yourself.

My wish, my only wish for you this semester is this: that you will take care of each other so that each of you will feel supported in your effort to know what can be known for now and to approach and love what is now and may forever be just beyond the bounds of what you know.

JCC’s 75th Anniversary Film Screening and Book Release

Thursday, November 19, 7:30 pm

A Home in Shalom'villeJoin us at the Fine Arts Theatre, 36 Biltmore Avenue, for a screening of Why the J?, a film produced by Marty Gillen in honor of the JCC’s 75th Anniversary.

The evening will also feature the book release party for A Home in Shalom’ville: The History of Asheville’s Jewish Community, written by Sharon Fahrer. Sharon and Marty will both be there to answer questions about Asheville’s Jewish history.

Tickets to the screening are $10 each and proceeds will go to support JCC programs.

Purchase tickets online

Film Screening: “Ferguson: A Report from Occupied Territory.”

ferguson-a-report-from-occupied-territoryCarolina Jews for Justice/West, Congregation Beth Israel and Congregation Beth HaTephila are co-sponsoring a program addressing race and police practices on Thursday, December 3, 2015, at Congregation Beth Israel, 229 Murdock Avenue in Asheville.  The program will begin at 6:30 P.M. with a screening of the documentary film, “Ferguson: A Report from Occupied Territory.”   The following link is provided for advance viewing:  http://fusion.net/video/108471/ferguson-a-report-from -occupied-territory/.  A panel discussion will follow moderated by Rabbi Justin Goldstein of Congregation Beth Israel.

Panelists will include Tammy Hooper, Chief of the Asheville Police Department; Van Duncan, Buncombe County Sheriff; Sheneika Smith, Community Resource Specialist of Green Opportunities, and Joseph T. Hackett, Student Development Director of Green Opportunities.  A question and answer period will follow.  Light refreshments will be served.

“The program will provide a unique opportunity for the audience to hear from local law enforcement leaders as well as members of the African American community who will share some of their own experiences as well as ongoing efforts to improve understanding,” says Judith Leavitt, Chair of the CJJ/West Steering Committee.  “For those of us who have never experienced this type of discrimination, we expect the program to enlighten us about our role in making our community a safer and more open place for all.”

For more information about Carolina Jews for Justice please visit www.carolinajewsforjustice.org.

Dr. Rick Chess: “Sonia Sanchez Made Me a Jewish Poet; Rhonda Magee Helped Make Me Whole”

soniasanchezBlack. Muslim. American. Woman. Poet.

The languages she spoke. The ground on which she stood, singing her suffering, power, anger, love. Between the painful past and the dreamed of future: her presence. That’s what I remember. More than the timber of her voice. Definitely more than the poems she read that Saturday afternoon.

Fall, 1977. McGlinchey’s, a restaurant and bar in downtown Philly. Having finished, for the time being, the life that had been programmed for me—I had recently graduated from Glassboro State College (now called Rowan University), I was discovering and inventing my identity in Kiryat Shemonah, Tzfat, Jerusalem—Israel! Then, eighteen months into my new life there, I was home (or was I away from home, visiting America?) for a short visit.

I was a poet, and I was becoming a poet. I was a brokenhearted man, and I was learning how to use a broken heart to get women. I was, not by choice, an American. That’s how I was seen in Israel. I was a Jew by birth, and I was becoming a Jew by choice.

As students at Glassboro, my poetry friends and I often went to McGlinchey’s. After scouring the poetry shelves at Middle Earth Books, we drank shots and beer and talked poetry.

Then, while we waited underground past midnight for the High Speed Line to carry us over the river to Jersey, we read poems to each other from books we had purchased that night, and sometimes we kissed and sometimes we roared and sometimes we dropped to our knees and pleaded with the universe to escort us home and sleep with us and rise in the morning to fried eggs and Ginsberg, Merwin, Bly, Kinnell.

Two poets read at McGlinchey’s that autumn afternoon. A poet whose name I don’t remember and Sonia Sanchez. The first poet was a big guy with a booming voice. He stood at the podium and belted out poems. But as commanding as he might have hoped his performance would be, dozens of conversations continued while he read, and pint glasses knocked when they were set down on table and bar.

Then Sonia Sanchez took the room. No podium for her, she stepped into the crowd, which parted and formed a circle around her, leaving enough space for her to breathe in life, breathe out poetry. She was, as I recall, a small woman, her voice soft. Yet, as she spoke her poems, not another sound could be heard: not a whisper or cough, not a glass or spoon. We were drawn into her circle, dropped and uplifted by her vision and voice.

Did she read “a chant for you / brothas & sistuhs”? Here’s an excerpt:

u brotha.
u sisthu.

listen to this drummen.

this sad / chant.

listen to the tears
flowen down my blk / face                                                      

listen to a
death / song being sung on thick/lips
by a blk / woman

A life in the language of her people, the language of the physical body, a song of addiction and love urging her people to “c’mon down from yo / wite / highs // and live.”

I don’t remember which poems she read. But I do remember listening to her read, chant, sing out of the matrix of identities into which she was born, identities which often, because of this nation, these people among whom she lives, are the very causes of her suffering.

Listening to her that afternoon, I saw myself once again as if for the first time: a Jew who should write poems as a Jew.

After her reading, I thanked her for her work, her very way of being that had transported me, for a moment, by means of her art, into her world, her suffering, her love, her challenges as a black, Muslim (for a few years she was a member of the Nation of Islam), American, woman poet. When I told her that I was Jewish and was home from Israel for a brief visit, she said this:

The only way you and I can meet is when you write out of your experiences as a Jew.

Sonia Sanchez made me a Jewish poet.

I’m thinking about this today because of a conference from which I just returned, the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education’s annual conference, this year on the theme of “Building Just Communities.” Held at Howard University, the conference created an opportunity for participants to look deeply and honestly at how contemplative practices in higher education could be used in the urgent work of creating just communities on and off campus.

The conference challenged me in many ways. Not least was what came up for me during a contemplative exercise led, at the start of the second full day, by the organization’s president, Rhonda Magee, an African-American law professor whose work includes research on mindfulness and the pedagogy of race and social justice. Rhonda asked us to look inside and see what questions were coming up for us that morning.

I closed my eyes, let my mind settle a little. Before long, this question arose: Have I led, at work, in the community, at home and abroad, with my Jewish identity? Has that been a way to protect myself from having to see myself as what else I am: a white, American, man? Wherever I stand, those are in the room with me, too!

Suddenly, I saw my life exposed in a new, troubling light. But I also felt liberated and motivated to learn about the privileges that come from the identities into which I was born and to learn more, much more, about the experiences of those who have not been born with these privileges. What I may make of this late development in my life, I cannot say.

I pray, however, that I may find a way, however small, to add my effort to the efforts of those who have for many years been working to create a just, inclusive, loving world for all.

Thoughts on One Jewish Asheville

This is the 4th in a series of monthly newsletters that will be written by a Board members of the WNC Jewish Federation (WNCJF) and will focus on one of the beneficiary agencies each month.   The WNCJF Board welcomes your input and/or comments about this newsletter or any subject that relates to the mission and activities of the WNC Jewish Federation.  Just email administrator@jewishasheville.org 

I moved to Asheville in 1994 because this was a vibrant Jewish community. I saw that the Center for Jewish Studies was bringing world renown speakers to the community and building Jewish identity with the Jewish students on campus.

Over the years I have seen more Jewish content courses offered by UNC Asheville and local Jewish history archives grow at the university library. Students have been funded for undergraduate research and in return the students have contributed to the community. Recently the Jewish Film Festival has brought the diversity of Jewish culture to the whole city.

Natives and newcomers to Asheville can be proud of what the Center for Jewish Studies is accomplishing. I support the WNC Jewish Federation so these programs can continue. I hope you will too.


Carol Cohen
WNC Jewish Federation Board Member

Billy Jonas Band CD Release

billy-jonas-band-purpleThe Billy Jonas Band Presents:

The Release of “HaBayta”, a new CD of original Jewish music by Billy Jonas and concert to benefit, Kids4Peace. Tickets are $36 – including a reception following the concert. With special guests: Chris Rosser, River Guerguerian, Sarah Kim Wilde and Seth Kellam.

November 22nd at 7 p,.m at the Altamont Theater. Tickets can be purchased at http://tinyurl.com/billyjonasbenefit . All profits benefit, Kids4Peace, a youth leadership program bringing Jewish, Christian, and Muslim children from Jerusalem together for learning, peacemaking, and friendship.

Sponsorships are available and are tax deductible. Please contact Lauren Rosenfeld at lauren@lgrosenfeld.com or 828-713-9197 for more information

Nominations Invited for 2016 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards

Based on the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, or “repair of the world,” the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards recognize teens who are exceptional role models in their communities and beyond. The awards celebrate Jewish teens who have demonstrated remarkable leadership and are actively engaged in projects that embody the values of tikkun olam. Teen projects may benefit the Jewish community or the general community.

Up to fifteen teens — five from California and ten from other communities across the country — will each be acknowledged for their visionary actions with an award of $36,000, to be used to further their philanthropic work or education.

Anyone is eligible to nominate a teen, except for a member of his or her family. And any teen is welcome to apply without a nomination. In that case, no nomination form need be filled out, but an additional (third) recommendation is required. Anyone except an applicant’s nominator or a member of the applicant’s family can serve as a reference for a teen.

To be eligible, nominees must be between the ages of 13 and 19 at nomination, work to repair the world in a leadership capacity, volunteer without any compensation, and self-identify as Jewish.

For complete award guidelines, nomination and application instructions, an FAQ, and profiles of past award recipients, see the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards website.