Rabbi's Blog

My Shabbat Message for April 28, 2017

Dear Friends,

This week’s Shabbat Message is a bit different than most. The reason for this, in part, is that I am not the author of it. More than that, it is because this Shabbat Message is more an invitation than anything else. You see, next Friday, May 5, Shabbat evening services will take place at 7:30pm in the Bass Sanctuary building. We will worship using Mishkan Tefillah, the prayerbook TSTI adopted more than a decade ago. The voices of our Cantors will lead the singing of songs and prayers. But throughout the service we will pause from our prayers and listen to our graduating High School seniors as they share some of their thoughts and insights. You should be there. You really should. Because, when one listens to these amazing young adults, one cannot help but be inspired and feel a deep sense of optimism for the future of …

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My Shabbat Message March 31, 2017

Dear Friends,

Last Sunday Raina and I, along with more than two dozen TSTIers, were in Washington DC for AIPAC’s 2017 Policy Conference. It was three days of listening, learning and lobbying on behalf of the US-Israel relationship. Policy Conference ended with us going to Capitol Hill to attend some of the more than 500 lobbying appointments that took place with members of the House and Senate. Policy Conference is an unusual experience. In a hyper-partisan environment, AIPAC remains committed to bi-partisanship and continues to strive to hold the middle. It is increasingly difficult to do so but, particularly in this environment, is more important than ever.

While AIPAC is committed to bi-partisanship, AIPAC activists are clearly partisan, as are all activists. At any given event or program it is not uncommon to find yourself sitting next to someone who is worlds apart from you ideologically. As you might expect, …

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A Shabbat Message for March 17, 2017

Dear Friends,

An assortment of kiddush cups sit on the wall unit in Raina’s and my living room. There is a beautiful hand-hammered silver cup from Israel. It was an engagement gift from my sister and brother-in-law. On the shelf below it sits a white glazed ceramic kiddush cup. It too is from Israel but, in this case, it was an engagement present from our friend and rabbi, Robyn. Next to it sits a shiny metal kiddush cup that was a gift from Cantor Ted and Sonia Aronson. Next to it is a simple silver cup which Raina received upon becoming a Bat Mitzvah. There is also a glass kiddush cup that is part of a havdalah set and a carved glass cup that is a replica of the one given to me by the congregation when I was ordained in 1993 and used beneath our chuppah. (The original was …

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An Update on Recent Bias Incidents From Rabbis Cohen, Cooper and Olitzky

Dear Friends,
As you surely are aware, our community has not been spared from the recent uptick in bias incidents that have been seen throughout our nation. In addition to the swastikas and other hateful graffiti painted on a pedestrian bridge in the South Mountain Reservation, there have been numerous expressions of anti-Semitic and racial bias in our schools. Swastikas have been drawn on walls and desks, students have been heard to invoke the name of Hitler and have even made a Hitler salute toward other students. There have also been reports of bias against African-Americans and transgender boys and girls in the schools.

As part of their response to these incidents, Dr. John Ramos, Superintendent of the South Orange and Maplewood School District, and his staff convened a meeting yesterday with local clergy. The purpose of the meeting was not only to enable the clergy to hear, directly from …

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My Shabbat Message for Friday, March 10, 2017


Dear Friends,

This past Thursday, I, along with Rabbi Jesse Olitzky of Beth El Congregation and Rabbi Mark Cooper of Congregation Oheb Shalom, had the opportunity to spend the day at South Orange Middle School and meet with each of the 8th Grade Social Studies classes. I came away impressed with both the teachers — they are caring, creative and passionate — and the students themselves.

We had been asked to come speak about Judaism in general but, in light of the recent bias issues that have taken place in the school, the conversation was largely focused on the recent increase in anti-semitism, racism and Islamophobia. It is one of these exchanges that I want to share with you this Erev Shabbat.

During one of the sessions, Rabbi Olitzky asked everyone present to raise their hands if they have ever been on the receiving end of any sort of biased …

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My Shabbat Message for March 3, 2017

 Dear Friends,

The Torah portion this week is Terumah/Offerings. In this section of the book of Exodus the Torah records the various instructions necessary for the building of the Mishkan – the portable Temple carried by our ancestors throughout their desert wanderings. This building, once complete, became a focus for the community and a symbol of God’s presence among the people.  
The rabbis of old looked at the structure of this portion and discovered something rather intriguing. Just as the story of the Creation unfolded in six days with each of the six sections beginning with the phrase, “And the Lord said. . . .”, so, too, do the instructions for building the Tabernacle unfold in six sections with each of the six beginning with the identical phrase. In this case the phrase is, “The Lord spoke to Moses…” 

There is, however, an additional similarity that ties the two …

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My Shabbat Message for February 24, 2018

This week’s Torah Portion, Mishpatim, offers a series of detailed laws which were to guide the Israelites as they sought to build a covenanted community. Many of these laws are outdated and, thankfully, no longer relevant. These include the laws regarding the treatment of slaves and the social standing of women. There are other laws, however, that seem more relevant than ever. Chief among them is this:
And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Eִgypt. You shall not oppress any widow or orphan.
The Torah is clear. A community is responsible for welcoming the stranger, is prohibited from taking advantage of guests, visitors and “strangers” and is required to protect the most vulnerable in society. The rabbis of the Talmud went even further. They extended this level of care and respect to all people teaching,”Great is human …

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My February 17 Shabbat Message

Dear Friends, 
In this week’s Shabbat Message I offer an invitation and share some Torah.

An Invitation- As I wrote a number of weeks ago, Reform Judaism’s commitment to social justice gave rise to the Religious Action Center in Washington DC. Drawing on the moral teachings and commitments of Judaism, the RAC educates, advocates and lobbies on a variety of issues. This past weekend eleven of our TSTI teens spent a long weekend at the RAC along with Rabbi Klein and Erica Shulman. While there they studied, debated, shared and, on the last day, went to Capital Hill to lobby our members of Congress. At this evening’s service (which is at 6pm because it is a holiday weekend) three of the participants- Amy Nadel, Ian Lowenthal and Sarah Wish- will be speaking about their experience and sharing some of what they learned. Please join us to welcome Shabbat and …

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My March Bulletin Article…

“Any dispute which is for the sake of Heaven will ultimately endure, and one which is not for the sake of Heaven will not ultimately endure. What is a dispute for the sake of Heaven?” Pirke Avot Chapter 5, Mishna 20 

In one of his many books, psychologist M. Scott Peck comments that there are only two reasons for marriage, one being the emotional friction between partners. It is, he wrote, through the process of two individuals navigating a life together, negotiating their differences, learning to listen to one another when they disagree and finding a need to compromise, that each partner in a marriage pushes the other partner to grow.

Two thousand years ago the rabbis of the Talmud already understood this lesson. That is why discussions and debates in the Talmud are recorded in detail. That is why we find pairings of opposing teachers such as Shammai and …

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In the News- NJJN “Second refugee family adopted by South Orange synagogues”

by Johanna Ginsberg- http://njjewishnews.com/article/33090/second-refugee-family-adopted-by-south-orange-synagogues#.WKXUJZE8KhB

NJJN Staff Writer February 15, 2017
Rabbi Dan Cohen of Sharey Tefilo-Israel said he was proud his community was able to welcome a family of refugees with only three days to prepare for their arrival… 

On Tuesday, Feb. 7, Liba Beyer said her committee received a call asking if they could help settle an Iraqi family of six, with four children ranging in age from six to 23. The family would arrive on Friday. 

Beyer is part of a committee comprised of members from three South Orange synagogues partnering with the World Church Service to adopt refugee families and help them adjust to their new lives. 

The mad rush was necessary as this was the family’s second attempt to come to the United States. 

The family had already been approved by U.S. government agencies and were preparing to depart from Istanbul — where they fled when …

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