Friday, December 6, 2013

Nelson Mandela, z"l

Dear Friends,

He was for black South Africans their Theodore Herzl, David Ben-Gurion and Natan (Anatoly) Sharansky, all wrapped into one. He was first a dreamer and activist, a visionary of a new nation. Then he was a long-suffering prisoner of conscience, doggedly fighting for freedom against the old, oppressive order. Then he was the leader of a great national movement, founder of a new government and its first president. He was, no exaggeration, a latter-day Moses: the liberator of his people and its lawgiver. And he was, as well, a latter day Joseph, who, having been tormented and imprisoned by his brothers still found a way (in this week’s Torah portion, Va’Yigash) to forgive them, thus bringing his family together in peace. Nelson Mandela found a way to forgive his tormentors and his people’s oppressors, doing everything in his power to bring his nation together in peace.

In addition to all of his wonderful qualities and acts of great leadership, Mandela had his faults, for sure. He was not always a great manager of government affairs once he became president and he tended to overlook the faults of those who supported him. As Jews, it was hard for us to stomach his embrace of Muammar Gaddafi and Yasser Arafat.

At the same time, as Jews we understood the meaning of the anti-apartheid movement. Many Jews participated in the movement, both in South Africa and abroad. But, even those who didn’t understood that Nelson Mandela’s struggle for freedom and equality for his people resonated deeply with our Jewish values. His story was another iteration of our master story, the Exodus from Egypt. It was analogous to what we experienced so many times throughout our history. It was a vision we shared for the future of the world.

Nelson Mandela’s soul has now gone to join with the souls of the other great men and women who helped bring about tikkun olam, the repair of the world, taking us all one step closer towards the vision of a world redeemed.

Zecher Tzadik Livrachah – May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Jordan Millstein

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Thankgsivukkah Miracle

Dear Friends,

Thankgsivukkah is finally here!  Fry up those pumpkin latkes! Light the “Menurkey”!  (In case you haven’t heard, that’s a menorah that looks like a turkey.)  To quote the sendup of the song, “O Chanukah,” on 

“Thanksgiving and Chanukah, come light the Menurkey
Once in a lifetime the candles meet the turkey.”

It’s actually once in a lot more than a lifetime.  Today is the first time since 1888 that Chanukah coincides with Thanksgiving.  And, in case you’re wondering, the first day of Chanukah won’t coincide with Thanksgiving again for another 77,798 years.  So, enjoy those latkes with cranberry sauce!  Also, be sure to light three candles this evening – two candles plus the shamash, or “server” candle – as tonight is the second night of Chanukah.

So, once you’ve lit the menurkey and stuffed yourself with stuffing and latkes, what should you talk about with your family on Thanksgivukkah?   How about discussing what you will be doing on the last day of Chanukah next year, which also happens to coincide with Christmas Eve?  No, I am not suggesting that you celebrate Chanukah and Christmas together – that’s an altogether different thing than celebrating Chanukah and Thanksgiving!   I am referring to something much more exciting:

On December 24, 2014 Temple Sinai’s next congregational trip to Israel will depart for our homeland!  Join us at Temple on Sunday, December 8th at noon (bagel brunch included) and meet Ezra Korman, our celebrated tour guide, who will be visiting us from Israel that day to give us the lowdown on the trip.     

Our Temple Sinai trip will be a multi-generational, fun-filled adventure packed with sites to see, both and ancient and modern; direct encounters with Israelis of differing backgrounds; and an opportunity for students who turn 13 between the fall of 2014 and the winter of 2015 to become b’nei mitzvah together at Robinson’s Arch at the Western Wall.  (Relatives of Temple Sinai families may become b’nei mitzvah with us as well.)  This is the perfect trip for “first-timers” and “first-in-a-long timers” as well as those who have been to Israel several times before but want to see their children or grandchildren experience it with them.  Whether you would be coming alone as a single individual, or bringing an entire clan, this trip is for you!
This evening when we light our chanukiot (Chanukah menorahs), be they menurkeys or regular menorahs, it will be a moment to reflect.  We have so much to be grateful for as families, as a nation, as a Jewish community.  But, we must not take what we have for granted.  What can we do to make our family bonds stronger, our Jewish identities deeper, and the future brighter and more meaningful for ourselves and our children? 

Join us on our trip to Israel next December and join us a week from Sunday on December 8th at 12 p.m. to learn more about it.

If you are considering coming on our trip to Israel and or may be joining us on December 8th please rsvp to Ronni Zlotnick, our Israel trip chairperson, at

Happy Thanksgivukkah (or as I prefer, “Changiving,” to you and yours).

p.s. Below please find the remarks I made about the confluence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving at the Tenafly Interfaith Thanksgiving service this past Tuesday evening at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church. 

Thanksgivukkah:  Remarks at Tenafly Interfaith Thanksgiving Service
November 26, 2013

When we Jews speak about our holidays you will often hear us remark that the “holidays are late this year” or “the holidays are early,” as the holidays shift forward and back against the Western, Gregorian calendar.  But this year our unique Luni-Solar Hebrew calendar just seems downright loony.  For the first time since 1888 Chanukah coincides with Thanksgiving.  In fact, the first night of Chanukah is tomorrow night, the night before Thanksgiving.  And here’s the kicker:  Chanukah won’t coincide with Thanksgiving again for more than 70,000 years!

Now, as one can imagine, with the coincidence of Chanukah and Thanksgiving being so rare it has many of baffled as to how to observe it.  Make pumpkin latkes and serve them with cranberry-apple sauce?  Light a Menurkey – a Menorah shaped like a turkey?  (Yes, there really is such a thing; it is America, after all, and there is an entrepreneur ready to capitalize on just about anything.)  Christmas and Chanukah coming at the same time just seems to make more sense, both being festivals of lights.

But, the truth is Thanksgiving and Chanukah really do go well together.

1.    They are both holidays which are centered on eating.  Well, most Jews would say that all Jewish holidays are centered on eating.  But, you can’t have Chanukah without a Chanukah party where you stuff yourself with latkes (potato pancakes) and you can’t have Thanksgiving without plain stuffing yourself.  So, this year there’ll just be a little more food.

2.    They’re both holidays which are celebrated at home with our families.  We have this lovely interfaith service each year in one of our houses of worship, of course, and we have our menorah outside our Temple that we light – BTW, you’re all welcome to join us any of the 8 nights of Chanukah at 5:30 on our lawn on Engle Street – except Friday, when we will do the lighting at 7:15.  But, fundamentally, both of these holidays are celebrated at home with our families, which is one of the beautiful things about them.

3.    And it goes beyond the way that these two holidays are celebrated to their spiritual meaning.  Thanksgiving is about that band of Pilgrims who in days of yore came to this land to escape religious persecution and find a new place where they could worship God freely and follow their beliefs.  Chanukah is about that band of Maccabees who in days of yore in Israel’s ancient land fought to escape the religious persecution of Antiochus and worship freely in their old place, the Temple in Jerusalem.  At both Chanukah and Thanksgiving we celebrate our religious freedom.

4.    And on both of these holidays we recognize how lucky we are, how fortunate we are to live in a place where we can worship freely, and how fortunate to have what we have – not only freedom, but the prosperity to enjoy it – the abundance that if only we shared with one another as we should would mean no one would go without.  An attitude of gratitude and giving is fundamental to both holidays.

5.    Last, but certainly not least, is the recognition that our freedom, our prosperity, indeed all that we have is a gift from God.  It’s interesting because both the Maccabees and the Pilgrims looked to the same story from the Bible, from the Torah, for inspiration:  the story of the Exodus.  The Pilgrims saw themselves as the new Israel, rescued by God from persecution, and led here to the new Promised Land.  The Maccabees, of course, were the old Israel, and recognized in their redemption the same hand of God that had redeemed their ancestors from Egyptian bondage.  Perhaps that is why the rabbis of old told the story of the miracle of the Menorah – how the Maccabees only found enough olive oil in the Temple in Jerusalem to keep the menorah lit for one day and it lasted 8 days, enough time to make new oil.  It was a reframing of that age old story of that bush that Moses saw at Sinai, that bush that burned, but its flame never going out.  Indeed, it is the message of both Thanksgiving and Chanukah, that God’s spirit is behind the wonders that all of us experience, both great and small.  May we all recognize it for what it is and may that light never go out!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Kennedy's 50th Yahrzeit

Dear Friends,

Today, like all Americans, we mark the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and remember him for all his wonderful qualities: his youthful energy, good looks, charm and charisma; his vision and leadership of our nation; his achievements during his term as President, tragically cut short.

As Jews, we remember him as well as a good friend of our people. While JFK’s father, Joe Kennedy, Sr. was known as a Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite, Jack Kennedy certainly was not. President Kennedy opposed anti-Semitism. For example, he fought to change the discriminatory McCarran-Walter Immigration Act, looking to terminate the national origins quota system which had prevented Jews from immigrating to America. His classic essay, “A Nation of Immigrants,” which he wrote after the ADL reached out to him while he was serving in the Senate, presents an inclusive vision for our country, a place where all are welcome.

President Kennedy can be said to be the first American President who had genuinely strong ties to the Jewish community. Kennedy’s broad support among Jewish voters may have won him the Presidential election in 1960, as his victory over Richard Nixon hinged on winning Illinois, where the Chicago Jewish vote helped propel him to the Presidency. Kennedy responded in kind by being the first president to appoint two Jews to his cabinet at the same time: Arthur Goldberg as Secretary of Labor (who was ultimately named to the Supreme Court) and Abraham Ribicoff, who was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare.

He is also the first president who was a true supporter of Israel. While President Kennedy’s term coincided with a relatively quiescent period in modern Israel’s history, he was instrumental in changing the American relationship with Israel. Kennedy initiated the creation of security ties with Israel and can be said to be the founder of the US-Israeli military alliance. He ended the arms embargo that Presidents Truman and Eisenhower had imposed on Israel and sold Israel advanced “Hawk” anti-aircraft missiles. Kennedy also supported Israel diplomatically when Arab neighbors challenged its water project on the Jordan River. In 1960 Kennedy stated: "Israel will endure and flourish. It is the child of hope and the home of the brave. It can neither be broken by adversity nor demoralized by success. It carries the shield of democracy and it honors the sword of freedom.”

Last but not least, JFK can be said to have been instrumental in changing the relationship of the American Jewish community to American government and society. In addition to breaking the “religion barrier” by being the first non-Protestant to serve as President, Kennedy inspired many young American Jews to serve our nation by going into politics, government and not-for-profit work. This wave of young Jews entering public service, many ultimately reaching high office, changed our standing in American society. As a result we can now say that as Jews we are truly equal partners in the grand experiment called American democracy.

Thank you, President John F. Kennedy. Tonight we will say kaddish for you, marking your yahrtzeit, along with our own dead. You are still missed.

Zecher Tzadik Livrachah – May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Jordan Millstein

Friday, November 15, 2013


Dear Friends,

As this week’s Torah portion, Va’Yishlach, opens Jacob finds himself in a desperate situation. After many years of living with his uncle Laban in Haran, in modern day Syria, Jacob sets out to return to the Land of Canaan. On his way he learns that his brother, Esau, is approaching with 400 armed men. When last they saw one another years before, Esau had threatened to kill Jacob. Not surprisingly Jacob sees Esau’s approach as a dire threat. He is forced to make a quick and very painful decision: He divides his family and all the people with him into two camps, reasoning that if Esau attacks one camp at least the other will survive.

Today in the Philippines similar calculus are being made. With the threat of death from dehydration, starvation and disease, the Philippine government and international aid agencies are being forced to make horrendous decisions as to whom they are going to help and whom they will leave to fend for themselves for the time being. So many have already perished after the attack of Haiyan and many more will undoubtedly become victims of the terrible typhoon. Our hearts and prayers go out to them.

Many have asked if the Jewish community is doing anything to help. Of course we are. How could we not? As Jews we understand that our faith calls us to help all those who suffer, whether they be Jewish or not. On Wednesday Israel sent two planes carrying around 100 tons of supplies and 148 personnel from search and rescue units of the Home Front Command, and personnel from the medical corps. The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) has teamed with the Afya Foundation and Catholic Relief Services, in sending medical supplies and food. Many Jewish organizations around the world are mobilizing to help.

Here are three excellent ways for you to donate to help the victims of Haiyan:
  1. The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey has opened a fund to help the victims of the typhoon. One-hundred percent of the funds they collect will go directly to support the relief efforts providing comfort, food, medicine, and other critical services in the Philippines. Go to
  2. When disaster strikes, Reform Jews often turn to the Union for Reform Judaism to distribute donated funds to agencies that are most effectively helping those in need. The Union retains no funds from relief efforts, with the exception of direct costs, such as credit card fees. Go to
  3. If you have children attending Temple Sinai Religious School give them extra tzedakah to bring in over the next few weeks. The Religious School has decided to give all of the tzedakah it collects through the month of November to help the victims of Haiyan.
Though we shouldn't need any additional motivation to help the victims of Typhoon Haiyan, it is worth noting that the Pilipino people were there for the Jewish People when we needed them. In 1940, when no one wanted Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany, President Quezon of the Philippines opened that country’s doors as 1200 Jewish souls made their way to Manila. (He would have saved more had the US State Department not prevented him.) Seven years later the Philippines became the only Asian nation to vote in the United Nations for the partition of Palestine and the creation of the state of Israel. Many of the refugees to Manila eventually resettled in Israel.

May God bless and protect the people of the Philippines as they go through this terrible time and may we be like the fingers on God’s hand reaching out to the victims of Haiyan in love.

Shabbat Shalom,

Friday, November 8, 2013

Making Headlines

Dear Friends,

Israel is back on the front pages again.

The major headline today was that Secretary of State Kerry has directly joined the talks that are taking place with Iran about their nuclear program. The discussions are reportedly about an interim deal under which Iran would temporarily freeze some of their nuclear activities in return for some relief of the international sanctions that have hurt the Iranian economy. The sub-headline is that Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel is alarmed about the proposed deal, “The deal that is being discussed in Geneva right now is a bad deal,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Iran is not required to take apart even one centrifuge. But the international community is relieving sanctions on Iran for the first time after many years.” Kerry’s response: “I have said many times we will not make a deal that’s a bad deal, that leaves any of our friends or ourselves exposed to a nuclear weapons program.” Mr. Kerry also said the United States would not dismantle its sanctions until it had “absolute clarity about what is happening.” We’ll see.

Meanwhile, this is not the only high stakes exchange that took place between Secretary Kerry and Prime Minister Netanyahu this week. Mr. Kerry was in Israel pressing the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority to make compromises to get their negotiations moving. It was clear that Prime Minister Netanyahu resented the Secretary of State’s pressure to stop approving settlement construction on the West Bank. The pressure, he contends, needs to be put on the Palestinians who are refusing to compromise at this time.

What are we to make of all this? We are fortunate to have someone coming to Temple Sinai a week from Sunday who could help give us insight. Alan Elsner, Vice President for Communications for J Street is going to be the speaker at our Brotherhood’s breakfast on Sunday, November 17th at 9:30 a.m. Alan Elsner has had a long career at the top ranks of American and international journalism prior to joining J Street. As State Department and later White House correspondent for Reuters News Agency, Elsner traveled the world with Secretaries of State and was on first name terms with presidents and vice presidents.

Elsner’s talk is entitled, “When Should We Speak About Israel and What Should We Say? American Jews and the Two-State Solution.” J Street – with over 180,000 supporters nationwide and a Rabbinic Cabinet of over 700 – identifies itself as the political home for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans to advocate for U.S. leadership to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to broaden debate around Israel and the Middle East in national politics and the American Jewish community.

Temple Sinai nor its Brotherhood endorse any organizations that take political positions on Israel. However, we do strongly believe that our synagogue should be a center of dialogue for the various voices within the Jewish community when it comes to Israel and the Middle East. It is our mission as a synagogue to educate our members about Israel and to build a deeper connection between our members and the Jewish State.

This is the first in a series of Brotherhood Breakfasts on American Jewish political perspectives on the US-Israel relationship.

Shabbat Shalom,

Friday, November 1, 2013


Dear Friends,

I hope this Shabbat finds you well and enjoying the remnants of your Halloween candy.

Halloween today is a fun children’s holiday, harmless, for the most part, except to our waist-lines. But, its roots go back 2000 years to the ancient Celts, who lived in Ireland, England and northern France, and celebrated a festival called Samhain (pron “sah-win”) on the evening of October 31,, the night before their New Year. The day marked the end of the summer harvest and the beginning of the dark, cold winter. With the growing season coming to an end it was a time associated with death. The Celts believed that on the night before their New Year the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead became blurred and that ghosts of the dead returned to earth.

At about the same time that the ancient Celts developed their beliefs regarding death and the world beyond, we Jews began to develop our own notions of the afterlife. Those ideas shifted a number of times throughout our history, leaving us a rich and fascinating heritage about what happens to us after we die. I find that most Jews today are unaware of this and tend to associate the notion of life after death, of “heaven” and other ideas, with Christianity. In fact, the notion of life after death has been part of our tradition for many centuries, reaching back into antiquity before the arrival of Christianity.

I would like to invite you to join me for 4 evenings of learning and sharing on the topic of life after death, starting this Monday at 8:00 p.m. and continuing for each Monday night through the month of November. I look forward to hearing what you believe or don’t believe, what your experiences have been, as well as sharing some of the heritage that has come down to us through Jewish sources. The class is free; all you need to do is show up this Monday night and join us for what I hope to be an interesting and different kind of learning experience.

Shabbat Shalom,

p.s. Don’t forget Sinai Sessions tomorrow night at 8:00!

Monday, October 21, 2013

Mazal Tov!

Dear Friends,

Mazal tov to New Jersey same-sex couples who as of a few minutes ago have the right to be legally married in our state!

Kol Ha’kavod [kudos] to the New Jersey State Supreme Court for denying Governor Christie’s request for a stay on same-sex marriages until his appeal is settled. Governor Christie is appealing State Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson’s ruling that New Jersey has to allow such marriages to comply with the United States Supreme Court ruling in June. The governor should withdraw that appeal and recognize the right of same-sex couples to marry. It is the right thing to do.

In the meantime, any Jewish same-sex couples out there who need a rabbi to officiate at their wedding?


Friday, October 18, 2013

Government Akeda

Dear Friends,

It is a guiding principle of rabbinic Torah interpretation that no matter what the Torah portion of the week happens to be, it turns out to be THE “prefect portion” to help us understand the events of the week. This week’s Torah portion, Va’yera, contains the famous story of the Binding of Isaac, the Akeda, familiar to most as the story read on Rosh Hashanah. Need I say more?

This week, at the very last moment, we, the American People, escaped the blade of the debt-ceiling knife poised to strike us, like Isaac escaped the knife poised to strike him in the Akeda. It is instructive that in the Torah Abraham hears the word of God telling him to sacrifice his son. In our contemporary debt-ceiling Akeda story there were congressmen who sincerely believed that their actions, though painful and destructive in the near term, were the morally right thing, a political “commandment,” as it were. Their view is that this action was necessary in order to prevent what they consider a greater social evil, Obamacare, from going into effect, as well as strike a blow against another great social evil, the accumulating national debt. But, just like when we read the Akeda in the Torah, we are left with the question: Is this the way to go about taking a stand for God? Is this the way to take a stand for what one believes is right? Or do such destructive means not justify the moral ends – no matter how strongly one may feel that things are going in the morally wrong direction? One hopes that those who took Isaac up Mount Moriah, and pulled out the blade that threatened severe damage to our economy and our standing in the world, do not try to do this again. Perhaps, we can pray that they now hear the angel calling out from the heavens, “Do not lay your hands on the boy, nor do him any harm.”

After the events of the past few weeks it is hard not to be left feeling completely cynical about politicians. But, it would be wrong to paint all politicians with the same brush, to see all parts of our government as hopelessly dysfunctional. For example, those we have elected to state and local offices – and those running against them in the upcoming elections in November – had nothing to do with the federal government shut down and debt-ceiling crisis.

I sincerely hope that you make a point of coming out this Sunday morning at 9:30 a.m. to our (free!) Brotherhood Breakfast when we will host a candidates forum for those running for New Jersey State Senate and Assembly and Bergen County Freeholders in District 37. Candidates who have confirmed that they will participate are Loretta Weinberg, Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Gordon Johnson, Paul Duggan, Gino Tessaro, and Dierdre Paul. Come find out what these candidates stand for and what issues concern them before going to the polls. Even if you’ve already made up your mind, come out to make sure that all our elected officials know that the Jewish community cares about what they do and believe. Our community and our democracy depend on our active involvement!

Shabbat Shalom,

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Internet is for...

Dear Friends,

It is gratifying for any rabbi to get positive feedback on his/her High Holy Day sermons. After all, we rabbis spend a lot of time crafting these messages and we wouldn't be human if we didn’t enjoy hearing from people afterwards that they loved one or another of the sermons or found them meaningful. But, as much as we rabbis want people to like our sermons, it is even more gratifying when we learn that people have taken the message of a sermon to heart, have discussed it with others, and have been inspired to do something that makes a difference in their lives.

With this in mind I want to thank you for the many comments I received about my Rosh Hashanah morning sermon on the impact of electronic media on our lives today. Now I want to urge you to take an action which could make a difference in your life and the life of your family. This Sunday at 10:00 a.m. in the Temple social hall, Dr. Richard Gallagher will be giving a talk on how to be an electronic media savvy parent. (Both the talk and bagel breakfast are free!) Dr. Gallagher is a clinical psychologist and an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the NYU School of Medicine and a member of the NYU Child Study Center. He has spoken widely on this topic, advising parents on how to deal with their children's increasing exposure to social networking sites, movies, TV, video games and more.

When we hear the term “electronic media” we tend to think of teenagers and their phones. But, in fact, such media includes the videos watched and games played by children as young as toddlers. This program is for parents and grandparents of children of all ages. We need to understand on a deeper level what is going on with our kids and grandkids and learn what kind of measures we can take to help them lead healthier intellectual, emotional and spiritual lives.

Hope to see you this Sunday!

Shabbat Shalom,

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Words Clear and Unclear

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion, Breishit, includes the story of the creation of the world.  In it the phrase, “God said, ‘Let there be….’ and it was so!” is repeated throughout the passage.  In the Torah, God speaks and the world comes into being.  In the Torah words matter.

At the United Nations it is less clear. 

Lots of significant sounding words were uttered this week and some significant words were agreed to among major world powers.  The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council have agreed on a resolution that will require Syria to give up its chemical weapons.  On the face of it this is a very good thing.  But, when one reads the fine print it is less clear.  The resolution, “makes clear that there will be consequences for non-compliance,” Samantha Power, the new American Ambassador to the U.N. said.  But, what those consequences would be is not so clear.  If Syria does not comply with the resolution, the matter would have to go back to the Security Council, where Russia holds veto power, for further deliberations before the U.N. could support any not-yet-specified consequences.   

Equally distressing, the resolution does not make clear who is to blame for the recent chemical weapons attack upon Syrian civilians.  In this week’s Torah portion, when Adam eats the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, he tries to pass the blame off on Eve.  She tries to pass the blame off on the serpent.  God has none of it.  It is clear that all are responsible and all are punished.  In the U.N. resolution it is less than clear who is to blame for the chemical weapons attacks that murdered thousands - though it is clear to everyone and anyone who has actually looked at the facts that the Assad regime is to blame.

There were also many significant sounding words uttered at the U.N. this week by President Hassan Rouhani of Iran.  But, what they mean is less than clear.  I really do not want to be cynical about the new President of Iran.  He may be sincere in his efforts to open the door to a rapprochement with the United States and the West.  But, when he makes a statement that seems to say that the Holocaust actually happened and then the Fars news agency in Iran says that he didn’t actually use the word, “Holocaust,” and that CNN had fabricated that he had acknowledged the Holocaust, it all seems less clear.  To be clear, it seems President Rouhani did, in fact, acknowledge that the Holocaust happened, but there are significant conservative forces in Iran, represented by the Fars news agency, who are not so happy about this and wanted his words to be less clear. 

Moreover, on the question of Iran developing nuclear weapons, President Rouhani said directly that Iran would never give up its right to enrich uranium.  At the same time he said he wants to swiftly resolve Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West.   Is that clear?  Let’s hope President Obama is better at divining these things than I am.

In the big picture I would rather have the less than clear words of President Rouhani than the clear words of the former President Ahmadinejad.  I’d rather have less than clear U.N. security council resolution saying Syria should give up its chemical weapons than the complete silence that preceded it. 

But, let us not fool ourselves into thinking that what we have heard at the U.N. are like the words of Torah from Mt. Sinai.

Shabbat Shalom,

p.s.  If you want to hear some meaningful words of dialogue I urge you to come this Sunday at 9:30 a.m. to the program with Rabbi Kronish and Kadi Zahalka.  And don’t be afraid to ask questions if their statements are not clear to you!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Dialogue (Sunday, Sept 29 @ 9:30 am)

Dear Friends,

It seems that everyone wants to talk.

We’ve been talking with the Russians. They want us to talk to the Syrians. The Syrians want to talk to us. The Israelis and the Palestinians are talking. Even the Iranians now want to talk! What’s going on? It must be a full moon or something. (Actually, there was a full moon last night – coinciding with the beginning of the festival of Sukkot.)

No one knows where all this dialogue will lead. Many among us are cynical. We see the Syrians and Iranians as trying to stall for time and ward off any military attacks, while continuing to engage in their development and use of weapons of mass destruction. Others among us are hopeful. Weary of war we hope that the evil regimes in Damascus and Teheran have come to their senses and will negotiate in good faith to get rid of their WMDs. In truth, only those privy to negotiations and intelligence on the highest level, including back channels, can really assess the situation with any validity. And, even they may not really know whether this dialogue is worthwhile.

On the other hand, for those of us who are not dealing in the world of realpolitik, dialogue is not only worthwhile but essential in order to understand the world around us and build positive, peaceful relationships with those from other communities. On Sunday September 29th at 9:30 a.m. at Temple Sinai we will have a remarkable opportunity to engage in this kind of positive dialogue. Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, Director of the Interreligious Coordinating Council of Israel and Kadi Iyad Zahalka, Chief Justice of the Shar’i Court in Jerusalem, will be our guests at a Brotherhood Breakfast, co-sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey. The program is called, “The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue in the Service of Peace.”

Rabbi Kronish is a Reform Rabbi and the former Director of the Israel Office of the American Jewish Committee, having received degrees from Hebrew union College, Harvard Graduate School of Education and Brandeis University. Kadi Zahalka is an accomplished judge, author and activist, having received an L.L.B. from Tel Aviv University and an MA from Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

We do not know what will happen when it comes to negotiations with Iran, Syria or between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. There is little we can do to impact such negotiations. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t take actions that will help us understand those of other faiths and from other communities, actions that can help build a more peaceful world.

Shabbat Shalom U’M’vorach – May you have a blessed and peaceful Shabbat – and Chag Sameiach – Happy Sukkot!


Thursday, September 12, 2013

Top Ten Reminders for Yom Kippur

Dear Friends,

With Yom Kippur beginning tomorrow evening, here’s a top ten reminder list to help you prepare. May you have an easy fast and be sealed in the Book of Life for a wonderful year!

Top Ten Handy Reminders Just for Yom Kippur:

1. What time are Yom Kippur services?
Yom Kippur begins on Friday, September 13 with Kol Nidre services at 8:00 p.m. On Yom Kippur morning, Saturday, September 14 there are two services. The first is at 8:45 a.m. followed by a repeat of the morning service at 11:30 a.m.

2. When is the Yizkor service?
As in prior years, there are two Yizkor Services. The first Yizkor Service follows the conclusion of the second morning service. There is a second Yizkor Service and it is part of the afternoon group of services. At 4:00 p.m., we begin the Afternoon (Minchah) service which is immediately followed by Yizkor and then Ne’ilah, the beautiful concluding service. If you come to the early afternoon Yizkor service, I strongly urge you to return for the Ne’ilah service, which is considered one of the most important services of the year. It will begin around 6:00 p.m. or shortly thereafter.

3. I heard that it’s traditional to stay in synagogue all day on Yom Kippur. What will be happening at the Temple after the late morning and first Yizkor services? 
After the first Yizkor service, Rabbinic Intern Jonah Zinn will lead a discussion on High Holy Day themes beginning at 2:45 p.m. in Founders Hall. This is a program designed for those who wish to stay in Temple through the afternoon.

The Tot Yom Kippur service takes place at the same time in the sanctuary. A beautiful Musical and Meditation Interlude will take place at 3:30 p.m.followed by the Afternoon (Minchah), Yizkor and Concluding (Ne’ilah) Services.

4. You are invited! Join together to break the fast with new and old friends after the concluding (Ne’ilah) service on Saturday, September 14.
This event has become quite popular and has outgrown its former location in Founders Hall. Join us in the rear of the Social Hall on the upper level. Wish one another a Shanah Tovah and enjoy a wonderful time with special thanks to Ophelia Yudkoff, David Klein and our Sisterhood and Brotherhood organizations.

5. What are the options for my children?
For those in grades K – 6, on Yom Kippur morning, we have Junior Congregation for children only, which runs concurrently with the first morning service at 8:45 a.m. (note the early start time). Registration is required. Contact the religious school office at 201.568.3075 or email

Our Tot Yom Kippur Service is on Saturday, September 14 at 2:45 p.m. and is just right for families with children ages 6 and younger.

6. Do you need to find babysitting for your young child?
Babysitting – starting at 8:30 a.m. – is available for children ages 2-5 during the first service on the morning of Yom Kippur. Advance registration is required. Email to participate.

7. Aargh. I forgot about my tickets. Or … what do I do – Uncle Fred just decided to come with us to services?
Please call the temple office NO LATER than 12 noon on Friday, September 13 so we can work with you. There will be a “will call” area near the sanctuary entrance for last minute ticket needs. Come early and speak to an usher for guidance.

Bear in mind the temple office is not open on Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur.

8. The three pillars of the High Holy Days are t’shuvah (repentance), t’filah (prayer) and tzedakah (charity/justice). Please remember those in need.
Buy groceries now for our High Holy Day food drive. Bring them when you come for Yom Kippur services or no later than September 20 for distribution to our neighbors in need. Special thanks to SFTY, our high school youth group, for their commitment to this important project.

9. The holidays don’t end with Yom Kippur. Don’t miss the colorful celebration of Sukkot in our great sukkah and festive and fun Simchat Torah!
Sukkot begins Wednesday evening, September 18. Children are invited to decorate the sukkah in the Dustin Drapkin Outdoor Sanctuary with our ECC at 4:30 p.m. This will be followed by a Tot Sukkot service at 5:30 p.m. in the Sanctuary. Families and adults of all ages are invited to our Sukkot family dinner at 6:00 p.m. (outdoors at the sukkah, weather permitting). RSVP to At 7:00 p.m. we will hold a Musical Sukkot Family Service featuring our 4th and 5th grade students. Contact Teddi Krauthamer for more information.

On Sukkot morning, Thursday September 19, we will worship together with other local Reform congregations at Temple Emeth, 1666 Windsor Road in Teaneck for the festival morning service at 10:30 a.m.

On Wednesday, September 25, the Simchat Torah festivities begin with a free dinner at 6 p.m. for all ages. Many thanks to Anne-Marie Bennoun for organizing this! RSVP to Following a brief 7:00 p.m. service, enjoy festive hakafot (marching and dancing with the Torahs), accompanied by a klezmer band and a delicious oneg as well as chocolate treats from our Sisterhood.

We will hold a Festival Yizkor service on the morning of Thursday, September 26 at 10:30 a.m. followed by a Kiddush in Founders Hall.

10. L’shanah Tovah Tikateivu v’Teichateimu… May you be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a great year!

Rabbi Jordan Millstein

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Our Decision

Dear Friends,

Whether or not you believe that President Obama should have asked Congress for authorization before launching a military strike against Syria, one thing is clear: the responsibility for making this decision now lies with all of us. Congress may be an imperfect instrument of the people’s will (LOL). But there is good reason to believe that our representatives will, in fact, be listening carefully to what we have to say before casting their vote on this vitally important question. I strongly urge each of you to contact your Congressman and Senators between now and when Congress comes back from its recess to share your views.

In fact, I would argue that it is our moral responsibility not to remain silent.

I realize that the phrase “remain silent” carries with it an enormous amount of baggage for us as Jews and in using it I am certainly not comparing what the Assad regime has done in Syria to the Holocaust. But, something need not rise to the level of an out and out genocide to require a response from us, even a military one. The use of chemical weapons is a violation of the 1925 Geneva Protocol, the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention and is a war crime. For the United States to do nothing to punish the Syrian regime for this crime is a virtual invitation for them to do it again, and again. We may not want to be the world’s policemen but if no one else is willing to do it, can we truly just stand idly by and do nothing? The Torah portion that we read on Yom Kippur afternoon commands us, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.” (Lev. 19:16) In Pirkei Avotthe great sage, Hillel, teaches, “In a place where no one is acting like a human being, try to be a human being.”

In addition to the moral argument our own safety and security is at stake. Doing nothing could easily lead other dangerous regimes (e.g. Iran, North Korea) to believe that America is a “paper tiger,” and that they can develop and use weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons, with impunity. It is clearly in the interests of the United States not to allow that to happen.

Moreover, as Jews, we cannot ignore that what is dangerous to the United States in this case is ten times as dangerous for Israel. Some will point out that an attack against the Assad regime is itself dangerous for Israel, as Iran has threatened to retaliate against Israel. But, Israelis, by and large, do not see it that way. Certainly, the danger is there and Israel is preparing for it. But, the danger of inaction is greater in the long term than the danger of taking action now. Let us support Israel by supporting an American strike against the Assad regime and pray for Israel’s safety and security.

I imagine that, like me, few of you want to see our country involved in the Syrian civil war. There are few “good guys” discernible among the rebels and the Assad regime is nothing if not despicable. There is no “good” result that one can envision from an ongoing, unlimited American military involvement. Consequently, a forceful, punishing attack from the air or sea of limited duration is likely the best option.

And let us be realistic about what such an attack will do. Such an attack is not going to end the civil war in Syria; it is not likely to lead to the ouster of President Assad. In fact, it is possible that it may not work at all, i.e. it may not deter him from the use of chemical weapons in the future. So why do it? Because the only thing worse than this would be to do nothing.

Our High Holy Days are a time of reflection, decision and judgment. Let us contemplate. Let us decide. Let us not remain silent.

L’Shanah Tovah – A good, safe, happy, healthy New Year to all of us and the entire world.

Rabbi Jordan Millstein

Friday, August 30, 2013

Rosh Hashanah is Next Wednesday?

Dear Friends,

Yes it’s true, Rosh Hashanah begins on Wednesday evening, September 4. What’s next – Hannukah at Thanksgiving? Actually, that’s true too!

To help prepare for the holidays at this busy time of year, check out these Rosh Hashanah Reminders and may your new year be sweet and smooth as honey!

1. What time are Rosh Hashanah services?
On Wednesday, September 4, services begin with the Erev Rosh Hashanah Evening Service at 8:00 p.m.. On Rosh Hashanah morning, Thursday, September 5, there are two services. The first is at 9 a.m. followed by a repeat of the morning service at 12:30 p.m.. Second day Rosh Hashanah services are at 10:30 a.m.for a musical service for adults and teens in the sanctuary and a shorter family service for parents and children in grade school at 11 a.m. in Founders Hall.

2. You are invited! Discover new and old friends at our Erev Rosh Hashanah oneg!
Following the Erev Rosh Hashanah service on Wednesday evening, you are invited to gather to wish one another a happy New Year over coffee, cake, fruit and more.

3. Aargh. I forgot about my tickets.
To help out, the temple office is open on Tuesday, September 3 from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Wednesday, September 4 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Bear in mind the temple office is not open on Shabbat, Sunday or on Labor Day/Monday.
4. Tell me more about “Tashlich”.
Join us at the Demarest Duck Pond for this symbolic "casting off sins" into a body of water. We will join together immediately following the second day of Rosh Hashanah services on Friday, September 6 at approximately 12:30 p.m.. Apples, honey and light refreshments precede the brief ceremony. If it rains, refreshments will be at the Temple after services.

5. Remember those in need.
Buy groceries now for our High Holy Days food drive. Pick up your grocery bags during Rosh Hashanah and return them by the day after Yom Kippur for distribution to our neighbors in need. Special thanks to SFTY, our high school youth group, for their commitment to this important project.

6. Do you want us to pray for someone who is ill or recovering from an injury?
During the Mi Shebeirach prayer at our High Holy Day morning services I read names that congregants submit to me of family and friends who are ill or recovering from an injury. In an effort to eliminate certain problems and make this process less cumbersome I am asking that all names be submitted to us in advance by email or phone. Please email Sally Collins at or call 201-568-3035 by Tuesday morning with the names of friends and family whom you would like to include in this prayer. Please be mindful of their right to privacy/confidentiality and only send in names of those who have consented (or whose family has consented) to being included in this important prayer.

7. Does Your Family Have a New Baby?
This year we will again mention the names of babies born during the past year. If you had a baby since last Rosh Hashanah or had a new grandchild since then, contact Sally Collins right away at 201.568.3035 or

For your baby to blessed on the bimah, join us for the Tot Rosh Hashanah service on Thursday, September 5 at 3:30 p.m. Be sure to contact Sally Collins!

8. Do you need to find babysitting for your baby?
Babysitting is available for children ages 2-5 during the first service on the mornings of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Advance registration is required. Send your email to to participate.

9. What are my options for my children in grades K – 6?
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur Morning, we have Junior congregation for children only, which runs concurrently with the first morning service at 9 a.m. on Rosh Hashanah and at 8:45 a.m. on Yom Kippur. Registration is required. Contact the religious school office at 201.568.3075 or email

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah come with your children to our Family Service at 11:00 a.m.

10. L’shanah Tovah … Have a happy new year. Enjoy this special time of year with your loved ones and may you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a healthy and fulfilling year!

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Jordan Millstein

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Reform Movement and the March on Washington

Dear Friends,

The media has been saturated all week with retrospectives and reflections on the “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” which took place 50 years ago today. One thing that is easy to miss if you only read the secular, mainstream media, however, is the role that the Jewish community and the Reform Movement in Judaism in particular played in organizing this historic march. What follows is a piece by Rabbi Richard G. Hirsch, Honorary Life President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Rabbi Hirsch served as the Founding Director of the Religious Action Center from 1962-1973, and was at the center of the action leading up to the March on Washington 50 years ago. I hope you read this as it points to such an important part of our history and legacy as Reform Jews:

It was my privilege to be one of the organizers of the March on Washington. Only two Jewish organizations were officially recognized as sponsors of the March: the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (today the Union for Reform Judaism) and the American Jewish Congress. In those days I served as the Founding Director of the Union’s Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. Our institution served as the organizing hub for all Jews who wanted to participate. We mobilized the volunteers. We arranged for signs in Hebrew and English to be carried by the marchers. We convened preparatory meetings, including a meeting on the morning of the March with the representatives of the leading civil rights organizations. The umbrella coordinating body of all the civil rights groups was the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights. We had invited the Leadership Conference to house its offices in our Religious Action Center. Our Conference room became the venue where all the deliberations were held on the complex and controversial issues regarding the civil rights legislation of the 1960’s.

It is important to recall that the very concept of a March on Washington was viewed by many organizations and individual leaders with hesitation, and by a few with trepidation. Even some of the most ardent supporters of civil rights legislation feared that the March would lead to violence and would therefore be counter-productive. However, from the very moment the proposal was initiated, our Movement rendered overwhelming support.

In retrospect, the March was indeed far more impactful than the initiators had projected.

It served as the setting for Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” address, now considered among the most consequential orations in the American legacy. There were other great speeches, including the address of Rabbi Yoachim Prinz, then serving as president of the American Jewish Congress. Prinz, a refugee from Germany, stressed that the greatest sin of the German masses under the Nazis was the sin of silence, when confronted by the evils of discrimination, persecution and social injustice. The very air of that humid summer day in August 1963 was filled with exhilaration as the chorus of 250,000 raised their voice in unison to sing the hymn of the civil rights revolution:

We shall overcome!

However, as pleased as I am to experience the retrospective acclaim the 50th anniversary has been receiving, I must enter a caveat. I disagree with those who contend that the March was the major influence in the promulgation of the civil rights legislation of the 1960’s. Marches and demonstrations may be influential, and even essential, but the legislative process requires long term, persistent, dedicated educational and lobbying efforts by critical masses of the public. And these efforts in turn must motivate committed political leadership.

The civil rights legislation of the 1960’s serves as evidence. With only the efforts of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his colleagues in the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, it is doubtful if any legislation would have been adopted. It was essential to mobilize a host of organizations—the religious groups, the labor movements, the civil liberties groups, the women’s organizations and the entire panoply of the disparate civil rights groups—to generate public opinion and to engage in political lobbying. Of special import was the expert legal counsel of the NAACP and the social, demographic studies of the National Urban League. The public media highlighted the horrendous incidents in Selma, Alabama, the murder of the little girls at the Birmingham church, and the ongoing acts of racial violence and discrimination. Last but not least, special credit must be given to President Lyndon Johnson, himself a Southerner, who comprehended the profound moral ramifications for a democratic America of passing and implementing the civil rights legislation. He effectively exploited the bully pulpit of the presidency to win over recalcitrant senators and congressmen.

So where is American society today, 50 years after the March on Washington?

We have come a long way – a very long way. The gaping disparities between blacks and whites have been narrowed from every perspective—poverty, employment, living standards, educational opportunity and achievement, numbers of elected public officials, integration of all public facilities, topped off by the election twice-over of the first African American president.

What is the lesson we should have learned? The lesson was originally taught to the human family by the Jewish people during the Exodus from Egypt. It is a lesson that permeated the spirit and life experience of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was transformed into a Moses-like leader for American democracy.

The most formative declaration in the Haggadah, read at the Passover meal, is: “In every generation every person must look upon oneself as if he or she had come forth from Egyptian slavery.” So long as there is one person in the world who is deprived of fundamental human rights, none of us is truly free. Wherever and whenever humans struggle to free themselves from the yoke of bondage, the drama of the redemption is reenacted.

The lesson of Jewish tradition is that the Jewish people as an entity were freed. The Jewish people as a whole received the Torah at Mt. Sinai. That is the lesson we should have learned from the on-going civil rights revolution. The civil rights movement does not belong to African Americans alone. It belongs to all who make it their cause. We do not engage in social action to help others, but rather to help ourselves, to fulfill the dictates of Jewish ethics and to live the lessons of our history. Constructive change in the direction of social justice in America requires a mass effort, a continuing non-stop mobilization of a broad coalition of forces, both groups and individuals. This is the prerequisite to Tikkun Olam—“perfecting the world under the kingdom of God.”

This piece was published on the web site of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism,
L’shana Tova,

Friday, August 23, 2013

High Holy Day Mi Shebeirach

Dear Friends,

I hope this note finds you well and enjoying the last days of summer. It is hard to believe that Rosh Hashanah is less than two weeks away! Information about the High Holy Days has been shared in the Sentry and in mailings; tickets have been sent to members in good standing. If you have any questions about the holidays, please review your recent mailings or check out our web site. Please contact the office by emailing Hillary Hans at or calling 201-568-3035 if you believe your tickets should have been received.

In order to make our worship services meaningful, we are always exploring ways to improve the experience. For many years, the High Holy Day morning services in the main sanctuary have included a Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing in which we read the names of family and friends of those in attendance who are ill or injured or in need of healing in some way.

Unfortunately, the method we have used to collect names during services is a time consuming and cumbersome practice with many practical challenges including reading people’s handwriting, repetition of names given by different worshipers, distraction of handing out slips of paper and writing names during the service and the substantial time it takes to distribute and collect names.

This year the ritual committee and I are implementing a new approach. We are asking you to send those names by email to my assistant, Sally Collins, at instead of the awkward process of submitting names during the services. Please give Sally the person/s name and how they are related or connected to you. If the pronunciation is not obvious please provide a phonetic key to tell me how to pronounce it

I am happy to read either English or Hebrew names. There is a traditional practice during a Mi Shebeirach prayer for healing of saying a person’s Hebrew name together with the Hebrew name of their mother (e.g., Yitzhak ben Sarah, Dinah bat Leah) as opposed to their father (e.g., Yitzhak ben Avraham), which is the traditional practice when one is called to an aliyah to the Torah. But, any way that you want to give me the name is absolutely fine – either in Hebrew or English.

I urge you strongly to make sure that the person or people whose names you give me are OK with their name being read out loud (or if they are not capable of giving permission, that their family members are OK with this), particularly if you are giving me their English name. (One advantage of using a person’s Hebrew name is that it keeps their identity confidential.) We do not want to violate their privacy by effectively telling others that they have a medical problem.

I would greatly appreciate if you send all names to Sally by Friday, August 30. We cannot guarantee that names sent after that will be read. Please do not assume that if a person’s name has been on the weekly Mi Shebeirach list that we will read it during the High Holy Days. This will be a separate list.

If you know Temple members who are likely not to see this email (either because they just don't check them or actually do not have a computer), or non-members who will guests at our services please advise them that they should call Sally with the names of those they would like mentioned for the Mi Shebeirach.

L’Shanah Tovah – May you have a happy, sweet and HEALTHY year ahead.

p.s. Also, don’t forget our new practice of reading the names of babies born during the past year during our Rosh Hashanah morning services. Please share their (English) names and that of their happy but tired parents with Sally at by August 30 to have them included in this wonderful blessing. The parents need not be members of Temple Sinai for their babies to be included in this blessing.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

To Egypt in a Handbasket

Dear Friends,

You gotta feel for President Obama.  He finally gets to go off on vacation to Martha’s Vineyard.  The weather is gorgeous.   All he wants to do is play a few rounds of golf.  And bam!  For the second time in 3 years his summer vacation is disrupted by a crisis in the Middle East courtesy of the Arab Spring.  Two years ago it was the overthrow of Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya and the fall of Tripoli to rebels.   This time, it is a brutal crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators by the military government in Egypt.  What’s a poor President to do?

The answer:  Not much. 

Apparently, the President has decided to demonstrate his unhappiness by having the U.S. military pull out of joint military exercises with Egypt in the Sinai Peninsula, scheduled for next month.  There is certainly a message in that action, but not one that is likely to get General Sisi and his fellow generals to stop the crackdown that has already killed hundreds in Egypt.  What else can he do?  Well, if you ask the New York Times editorial board, the President should immediately cut off the $1.3 billion dollars of aid it gives the Egyptian military each year.

Here is why the President should NOT cut off the aid to the military government in Egypt:

1.    There are no good guys in Egypt.  It would seem consistent with American values to say that since the Brotherhood-led government of Mohamed Morsi was democratically elected and was overthrown by the Egyptian military that the U.S. should stand up for the Brotherhood and do whatever it can to return Egypt to democracy.  But, this view is both simplistic and na├»ve.  The Muslim Brotherhood may have been democratically elected but they were not governing in a way that most of us would recognize as democratic.  The repression of women, the attacks on the Coptic Christian Church and the Brotherhood’s attempts to use the levers of government to impose their version of Muslim Sharia law on the country were clear indications that their goal is an Islamic theocracy.  Moreover, while the Brotherhood demonstrators are surely victims of government violence, they have also been perpetrators of violence, attacking not only numerous police stations, but rioting against Coptic Christians and destroying their churches – as many as 20 reported destroyed in the last two days.  In theory, we might like to see America support liberal democratic activists in Egypt.  In fact, most of those alleged liberal activists – with a few exceptions - have thrown their support behind General Sisi and his military government.  Many in Egypt profess to fight for democracy - as long as democracy means that those who agree with them are in power.  To understand why so many who participated in demonstrations to overthrow Mubarak are now supporting the military in their crackdown, see the following insightful piece in Tablet, the online Jewish magazine.

2.    Cutting off aid is not likely to stop the crackdown.  The Egyptian military and its anti-Muslim Brotherhood allies are fighting for their lives.  If the Muslim Brotherhood is successful at rallying the country against them and reasserting their control there is a good chance much of the current leadership would be jailed or killed.  Facing a cut off of aid from the U.S. the Egyptian military would likely turn to the Arab oil monarchies, especially Saudi Arabia, to replace that money.  These Persian Gulf states have a very strong interest in repressing the Brotherhood and no interest at all in seeing democracy in Egypt.  Regardless, General Sisi and co. are likely to take care of the Brotherhood first and deal with the aid later.

3.    Cutting off aid to the Egyptian military would be “bad for the Jews”.  As a Jewish community we should always ask, “What’s good for the Jews?”  This should not be our entire moral compass.  But, it should be an important factor.  Specifically, the Muslim Brotherhood is a strong ally of the Hamas government in Gaza.  An Egyptian military government is much more likely to work with the U.S. and Israel to contain Hamas, limit their ability to conduct terror activities and allow a peace process with the Palestinians to move forward (halevai – it should only happen!).  Moreover, the situation in the Sinai Peninsula has devolved to the point where it is now an ungoverned haven for numerous bad actors, including smugglers, terrorists and thugs – all of whom are threats to Israel.  While it will take some time there is at least some chance that an Egyptian military government would reassert the rule of law in the Sinai. 

It runs counter to many of our instincts as liberal American Jews to urge our government NOT to stand up against violence perpetrated by a military junta against its opponents, NOT to stand up for the restoration of democracy in another country.  But, if a country does not have the wherewithal to establish a democracy that protects the rights of all its citizens; if majority rule leads to the rule of those hostile to us and our values then our best move may be to make no move at all.

Shabbat Shalom,

Friday, August 9, 2013

Shift Happens

Dear Friends,

You can feel the shift happening.

Kids are returning from summer camp. Back to school shopping has begun. Teachers and educators are turning their minds to their classrooms; rabbis to their High Holy Day sermons. Families are leaving town, taking advantage of their last opportunity to get away, while college students are savoring their last couple of weeks at home before going off to school. 

[This is an especially emotional period for those students leaving for college for the first time, not to mention their parents!  I would like to invite all students who are about to start college to come to Temple for Shabbat services next Friday, August 16, at 6:30 p.m. for a special “going away to college blessing.”  Oneg begins at 6:00.  Please email me to let me know if you plan to come.]

On the Jewish calendar we find things shifting at this time as well.  We have just entered the month of Elul. Elul is different from all of the other months on the Jewish calendar. It is the month that precedes Rosh Hashanah and the Ten Days of Repentance.   As such is considered a time to begin reflecting on where we are in our lives, what we have done during the past year, things we would like to change. Our tradition indicates that we are to do a “cheshbon ha’nefesh,” an “accounting of the soul” during this period.   The goals are to begin to put our lives in order and come closer to God.  According to tradition on the first day of Elul Moses went up to Mt Sinai to receive the second set of tablets of the 10 commandments, coming close to God and reestablishing a close relationship after the sin of the Golden Calf.  The Hebrew letters that make up the name of the month Elul were understood by our rabbis of old as an acronym for the famous verse from the biblical book, Song of Songs: Ani l'dodi v'dodi li (I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine), which highlights the loving relationship between God and the Jewish people.

How do we accomplish these goals?  There are many things that we can do.  To get started, I suggest going to the web site of the Reform Movement, to the following links:
Of course, coming to Shabbat services and Torah study at Temple Sinai during this period is something simple that you can do with me to help in this spiritually valuable and venerable practice. 
If you are looking for books or other spiritual pointers, don’t hesitate to contact me.

Shabbat Shalom and L’Shanah Tovah!

Friday, July 19, 2013


Dear Friends,

I hope that wherever you are that you are near an air conditioner! If you are looking for a place to escape the heat why not come to Temple Sinai this evening? Our pre-service nosh/oneg starts shortly at 6:00 p.m. followed by our Kabbalat Shabbat service at 6:30 p.m. Or, if you prefer, in the morning we will have – as we do every week throughout the year – our Shabbat morning Torah study at 9:00 a.m. followed by a brief Shabbat Morning Minyan service, all inside. If you are without air conditioning let me know and we will find a nice cool place for you to stay to escape the heat.

Sadly, it was one year ago tomorrow that scores of people found that there was no escape from the movie theater in Aurora, CO, where they had gone to see the new Batman movie but found themselves trapped by a nut wielding a semi-automatic rifle and other weapons. James Holmes ended up murdering 12 people and injuring more than 50 that night. Tomorrow, the yahrtzeits of the dead will be marked by special ceremonies in Aurora and elsewhere. We will remember them tonight before Kaddish at our service.

Some of us thought this attack, one of a number of mass murders committed using guns last summer, was terrible enough to get people’s attention and lead to legislative action to curb the availability of the most dangerous guns and ammunition, or at least a more comprehensive and effective system for background checks. That didn’t happen. Months later, after the Sandy Hook Elementary School attack, there finally seemed to be a groundswell to push for such legislation. Let me be clear: There WAS a groundswell that pushed for such legislation. But, it was to no avail. Our corrupt Congress, pressured by a minority of Americans who are resistant to any change, and the campaign money of gun manufacturers (represented by powerful NRA lobbyists) squashed those bills.

This week the Trayvon Martin case ended with his acquittal. Whether or not George Zimmerman was guilty of a racially motivated killing or acted in self-defense (or neither) is a matter of debate. What is not a matter of debate is that it would have been difficult for him to have killed Trayvon – and much less likely to have pursued him as he did – if he was not carrying a gun. Florida law, which is more interested in protecting gun owners from prosecution should they use their guns in self-defense than in protecting innocent civilians, may have also played a part in encouraging Mr. Zimmerman to carry and use his gun in his confrontation with Mr. Martin.

Let us pray for the soul of Trayvon Martin and those that died in Aurora last year. Let us pray that this summer will not be like the last, that we do not see the kind of mass shootings that went on last year. At the same time, let us pray for ourselves: God, please give us the strength and courage to continue the struggle to end the madness that has led us to allow our nation to be riddled with violence and infested with guns. Give us the courage to work for Shalom, peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mazal Tov!

Dear Friends,

It was on a summer day almost exactly 18 years ago, a day even hotter than this one, that I stood outside in the courtyard of the French brasserie, Marche’ in the West Loop area of Chicago, and said to Brad and Yoni, “By choosing to stand here under this chupah – symbol of the Jewish home – you are placing your relationship under the canopy of the Covenant between God and Israel. By choosing to exchange rings – symbolizing your link to one another – you are linking your lives to the hundreds of generations who have stood here and exchanged rings before you. And though your sexuality may be different than theirs, the essence of your relationship is not. You are two human beings; two people created by God, blessed by God’s gift of the spirit we call love. And through that love you have found fulfillment deep enough and commitment strong enough to make that relationship the most special, the most important, the most central element of your lives. In Judaism, we call that kind of relationship, “kadosh,” “holy.” We call this marriage ceremony, “kiddushin,” the rite which establishes this bond as holy.”

Brad and Yoni exchanged rings, using the same vow that is used in heterosexual Jewish weddings, and were religiously married in one of the most Jewish weddings at which I have ever officiated. By that I mean that the Brad and Yoni were very committed, liberal Jews; that they had a Klezmer band and danced the horah longer than at most weddings I have attended; but, most of all, because of the values that were expressed through the celebration of this wedding. Those values include some of the most fundamental of our Jewish tradition:
  • Every human being is made in the image of God and the potential for a fully committed, holy relationship (“kiddushin”) has been implanted by God in all of us.
  • As a people who experienced what it was like to be “strangers in the Land of Egypt,” and were “outsiders” in the societies in which we lived throughout much of our history, we are commanded to make sure that those who have been excluded or treated as “other” are treated as equals in the societies in which we live today. We cannot say that those who are gay are truly equal if we do not recognize their relationships as equal to those of heterosexual couples, as one’s sexuality is expressed through one’s relationships.
Of course, Brad and Yoni’s marriage was not recognized by the State of Illinois at that time, nor is it today, as Illinois does not recognize marriage equality. But, the Supreme Court this week did take a big step in the right direction. By striking down Article Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Windsor v. United States,the Court has enabled legally married same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits, rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples. And its ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry effectively extends marriage equality rights to tens of millions of more Americans, those who reside in the State of California.

What the Supreme Court did not do was establish marriage equality – the right of same sex couples to wed – as a right for all Americans. That has been left to each state to determine. We can expect that the battle over the freedom to marry will intensify in New Jersey. If you want to get involved in support of marriage equality in our state I suggest going to and getting on their email list. There is much that we can do.

I am proud that our Movement, through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, filed joined and supported amicus briefs in both the Perry and Windsor cases. The Union for Reform Judaism and the Religious Action Center have long been outspoken advocates for civil rights. (In fact, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that was struck down by the Supreme Court this week in Shelby County, Ala. V. Holder was crafted by civil rights leaders in the Religious Action Center building. Needless to say, the Religious Action Center and Reform Jewish leaders across the country decried this terrible Court decision.) View the joint statement of Reform Jewish leaders here.

May Brad and Yoni’s marriage soon be recognized in the state of Illinois and marriage equality be accepted throughout our entire union.

Shabbat Shalom,

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bill Kaplen - His Memory Will Be for a Blessing

Dear Friends,

This week we lost one of the true “g’dolei ha’dor,” great men of our generation in our community, Bill Kaplen. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to get to know Bill late in his life. He was a very wise as well as a very generous man. I learned much from my conversations with him. Despite my sadness it was an honor to be able to officiate at his funeral service this past Wednesday in the sanctuary at Temple Sinai, the renovation of which he helped fund, and which was dedicated by the Kaplen family.

My heart goes out to Bill’s wife, Maggie, who, together with Bill, changed the face of the Jewish and wider community of our area. She is a great lady in her own right and I am grateful to have her as a friend and active member of our congregation. My condolences as well to Bill’s sons, Larry and Lex, to Larry’s wife, Veronica, and son, Ben; to Bill’s step-sons, Peter and James; their wives, Koy and Kenia; and James’ children, Nicolas and Isabelle.

There is a wonderful tribute to Bill Kaplen in today’s issue of the Jewish Standard.

Below please find an excerpt from my eulogy delivered at this past Wednesday’s funeral.

May you have a peaceful and happy summer solstice and a Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Jordan Millstein

Excerpt from Eulogy for Bill Kaplen

…Rabbi [Reuven] Kimmelman…mentioned in his note a key tenet of Bill’s own philosophy of life, “Save your money and give it away.” This goes to one of Bill’s greatest loves, one which he fully embraced and became the focus of the last 15 years of his life. The Kaplen Foundation was founded back in 1969, but it was only after Bill sold his business in 1999 that he became fully engaged in the business of giving. As the President of the Kaplen Foundation he worked at it all the time, continuing to go into the office regularly until last year.

And it was in this work, I think, that Bill really found his calling. From his spiritual home here at Temple Sinai, to the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, to all his work with and generosity to the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, to the Jewish Home Assisted Living/Kaplen Family Senior Residence – the building of which he personally supervised – Bill Kaplen and his family changed the face of the Jewish community of our area. (And he had an impact on the Jewish community nationally as well through his strong support for the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.) Bill cared deeply about the perpetuation of Judaism and the Jewish People.

In fact, he cared about all people and their well-being. The Kaplen Foundation has done a lot of work in the healthcare field, especially in our own community where supporting and expanding the work of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center was so important to him.

To be clear, Bill and his family did not do this alone. There were a number of other families, many of whom are represented here today - many who are Bill and Maggie’s personal friends - who were extremely generous and made a huge difference in our community as well. But, I don’t think I am going too far when I ask, “Without Bill’s leadership would all of this work have gotten done? Would our community be as vital as it is today?” You see, it’s not just that the Kaplen Foundation gave major gifts. It’s that Bill got on the phone and said to others, “join me!” And if you were ever on the other end of that phone call you know how hard it is to say “no” to Bill Kaplen. Bill put himself and his relationships on the line for this community and for that we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.

And he really did love it. As Bill himself put it a few years ago as the Kaplen JCC began its renovation campaign, “Nothing I have done in my long life has brought me the kind of happiness that giving away my money has…[It is] a physical sensation — joy. Pure, sweet, unmistakable joy that something can’t exist without you. If you have the resources to give but don’t, no matter how young you are, you are denying yourself something wonderful.”

“At these moments,” he added, “when you see what you’ve been able to accomplish and you understand its full effect on the people it was intended to affect, you’re not really engaging in philanthropy anymore. You realize that you haven’t really given anything away. You’ve multiplied what you had a hundred times over and kept it for yourself.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

The NSA May Be Reading This

Dear Friends,

Actually, that’s probably not true. If the NSA was reading this it would be a bad thing, in my opinion, and most definitely a waste of the government’s time. You, on the other hand, are reading this. That, in my opinion, is a good thing and I hope that you will not find it a waste of time. In fact, I want to thank you for reading this and any of the other “rabbi’s messages” that I have sent which you have read. I appreciate your time and really enjoy the comments I receive in response, even (especially?) when you disagree with me.

As far as the NSA’s program itself is concerned, it doesn’t bother me. From what we’ve learned over the past couple of weeks from Edward Snowden’s leaking of information to The Guardian, the NSA (National Security Agency) is mining data from the internet and phone companies to identify suspicious patterns in phone numbers called and addresses to which emails are written. They are not, as the subject line of this email misleadingly implies, reading emails, except in cases where their computers identify suspicious patterns and their intelligence officers get a judge to issue a warrant for them to examine the content of an email or tap a phone number.

I agree with Tom Friedman who wrote in his column earlier this week, “I worry about potential government abuse of privacy from a program designed to prevent another 9/11 — abuse that, so far, does not appear to have happened. But I worry even more about another 9/11.” In Judaism, the saving of lives is our highest value. That is not to say that we should turn our country into a police state in order save lives. But, it does mean that we need to make certain trade-offs. If government computers have my emails and phone calls logged by recipient number and address in some data base so their algorithms can identify suspicious patterns – even if they end up reading some of them because some of you are suspicious characters (LOL) – that’s fine by me. Hey, maybe they’ll decide to read all of my blog postings; I could use some more readers!

All kidding aside, I do think Tom Friedman is right. Any successful attack on our country would not only be a disaster for the victims and their families, it could lead to far worse consequences. It could lead us into another war, costing thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

I also believe that should our government be able to capture Mr. Snowden he should be tried for treason. His actions have undermined the effectiveness of a program that probably has saved many lives and could yet, if it is not totally compromised, save countless more.

Should we be concerned about our privacy? No doubt. We allow companies and organizations (not Temple Sinai!) to monitor some of our internet use in order to sell us everything and anything. We have security cameras on street corners, inside and outside of stores and businesses. We need to be aware of modern technology and how it impacts our ability to maintain our privacy.

But, truth be told, this is not entirely new. Modern life is becoming…a lot like life in the old days when we lived in small towns and villages right on top of one another. Back then you knew that someone could easily overhear almost anything that you said if you didn’t make a serious effort to keep it private. And our ancestors knew as well that what was said in one place could be heard pretty quickly in another part of the world. “The gossiper stands in Syria and kills in Rome.” (Palestinian Talmud Peah 1:10) In this new/old world we have to practice what our tradition calls, “shmirat ha’lashon,” “guarding the tongue.” The only difference is that for us our tongues extend to our keyboards, iPhones and Ipads.

In sum, Big Brother is not really watching you; he is just logging your emails and phone calls. It’s a trade-off that we should accept in order to have a safer and more peaceful world.

My you have a safe and peaceful Shabbat.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Oklahoma Tornado Response

Dear Friends,

I know your hearts, like mine, go out to the victims of the terrible tornado that killed at least 24 people, including 9 children, in the suburbs of Oklahoma City yesterday. Many of you, I imagine, are looking for ways to help the victims of this tragedy. Some of you have asked me whether there is an organized Jewish community response. Both the Union for Reform Judaism and the Jewish Federations of North America (partnering with the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee) have established emergency funds to help those who have been hurt, lost homes and suffered other losses during the storm. You can follow the links above to make a donation to help the victims.

The following message was shared by Rabbi Dan Freelander, Senior Vice President of the URJ, earlier today:

“We are all terribly saddened by the devastation caused yesterday in Oklahoma. Temple B'nai Israel in Oklahoma City reports that thus far it appears that the Jewish community has been spared any loss of life. Nonetheless, the human, emotional and physical toll is being deeply felt throughout the area-and beyond.

Working across denominations, the local Jewish institutions are coordinating relief efforts, but have requested that we not contact them directly. Rather, offers of support should be directed to funding agencies on the ground. With that in mind, the URJ has opened a fund to direct contributions (without any deductions for administrative expenses) to local relief agencies on the ground in Oklahoma….

"We are numb with grief, and yet inspired by the heroic resilience of the people of Oklahoma. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted by this horrific tragedy," said URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs. "For now, we will collect donations and distribute them to the American Red Cross and others on the ground in Oklahoma. As other needs arise, perhaps including volunteers to assist with the clean-up and rebuilding, we stand ready to help in any way possible."

To make a donation online visit Checks can be sent to the Union for Reform Judaism (Attn: Oklahoma Tornado Relief), 633 Third Ave., New York, NY 10017….

I know that you join me in sending thoughts and prayers to the individuals, families and communities impacted by this event.

Take care,

Friday, May 17, 2013

NEW Israel Trip Meeting Sunday 10:00 am

Dear Friends,

Ever since our group from Temple Sinai returned from Israel at the beginning of the year I have been thinking about when I would be able to lead another Temple Sinai trip to Israel. That’s just the way it is with Israel. Once you’ve gone you keep wanting to return again and again. Of course, I could go back by myself. There are always rabbinic missions and study opportunities. But, I’d much rather go with you. There is nothing like being with congregants and friends exploring our homeland, ancient and modern – the fun, the smiles, the looks of awe as we travel the country. And the bonding; the friendships that developed and deepened during the trip this past December mean so much to me. Just a few weeks ago at my daughter, Sarah’s, bat mitzvah I looked out and saw the faces of so many of those who were with us and participated in the b’nei mitzvah ceremony we held at the Kotel/Western Wall. There was a connection, a feeling that I and the rest of my family felt in that moment that is beyond any words that even I, a rabbi, can write.

I would like to begin planning a new trip to Israel to take place at the end of August or the end of December 2014. In order to do this I need to know that you are potentially interested in participating in a trip at one of those times, and I need some feedback from you regarding the kind of trip in which you are interested. Consequently, I have scheduled an open meeting this Sunday, May 19th at 10:00 a.m. (just late enough for those attending the Temple Gala the night before to get some sleep) to see if there is interest in such a trip and to have a discussion about the different kinds of things we could include in it. The trip we took this past December was multi-generational, including people ages 8 – 80+. It included a number of students who participated in the b’nei mitzvah ceremony I mentioned. Will we do this again or do a different kind of trip? It all depends on what those who are interested want to do. I will share different ideas at the meeting on Sunday.

If you cannot come this Sunday at 10 a.m. to this meeting but would consider participating in a Temple Sinai trip to Israel at the end of August or end of December 2014 email me at ASAP. The number of responses will figure highly in whether we go ahead and begin planning.

This past Tuesday night was the Festival of Shavuot and we celebrated the confirmation of 11 wonderful young people who completed a year of study with me and Jonah Zinn, our rabbinic intern, in our Monday evening High School program. I wish you were all there to participate in the service they led. It was really something to behold. Each student wrote what we call a, “Jewish Identity Statement.” Three of these students were on the Israel trip with us this past December and all three wrote about how significant this trip was in the development of their Jewish identity. Here’s what one of them, Noah Rosenberg, wrote:

While there, I learned not only about what it meant to be a Jew in ancient times but also what it means to be a Jew today. We visited Tel-Aviv which is the epitome of modern Israel as well as visiting Masada and Jerusalem which both have strong ancient Jewish roots….

…It was amazing to see how much Israel has developed into a modern state in only 65 years of existence as the Jewish state. The youth director on the trip brought up a very good point while we were in Tel-Aviv. On the first day she sat all the kids in a circle and said to us, “Isn’t it amazing that when you walk outside, nearly everybody you see is Jewish?” This was when it really hit me that I was in Israel. I was in the land that my ancestors had given their lives for, and now we Jews finally had a place to call our own.

This all came full circle on the last day of the trip when we visited The Wall in Jerusalem. I, along with five other kids in the group were able to become Bar or Bat Mitzvah or in my and my sister’s case, Bar and Bat mitzvah again at the Western wall. What an experience that was! Reading the Torah in front of the last remaining wall of a temple of our people that was destroyed twice was definitely an experience I’ll never forget. It’s just another testament as to how strong we are as a people. That’s what it means to be Jewish.

It’s amazing what thirteen days in a foreign country can do to someone. Being in Israel was such an amazing experience and I would go back in a heartbeat….

If you’ve been to Israel at some point in your life you know you want to go back. If you have never been there, what are you waiting for? As the great sage, Hillel, taught, “Im lo achshav, eimatai,” – “If not now, when?”

Shabbat Shalom,
p.s. Hope to see many of you this Saturday evening at our Gala as we honor Janene Edlin, Michele Harris and Ilana Matteson. Mazal Tov Janene, Michele and Ilana!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Women Overcome Wall

Dear Friends,

Today was an historic day for “Women of the Wall” (WOW) as they overcame a wall of protesting Haredim/Ultra-Orthodox Jews to pray and sing together at the Western Wall. It was the first Rosh Chodesh (First Day of the Month) since the Jerusalem District court ruled that women wearing tallitot/tallises at the Kotel are not violating the regulations that govern the Western Wall plaza, which only say that people there have to pray according to “local custom.” As they have tried to do every Rosh Chodesh members of WOW came to the Kotel to pray together in the women’s section of the plaza. This substantial group of women were met by a very large group of Haredi protestors. The ultra-Orthodox Jews flooded the area and might have blocked the women from reaching the women’s section of the wall. However, unlike previous times, the police not only did not detain the women but formed a ring around them to protect them from the protestors. As a result, they were able to pray and sing songs joyfully in unison – a great victory!

It should be noted that all did not go perfectly. As the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported:

“Three people were arrested and two police officers were injured in the protests, in which demonstrators at several points threw water bottles and chairs in the direction of the women’s section, while calling the police “Nazis” and shouting at them “Go back to Germany.” Police formed a human barricade to hold back the protesters when the women exited the prayer plaza after they had concluded their service. After they had passed through Dung Gate, a group of ultra-Orthodox protesters began throwing rocks in their direction. They continued to throw rocks at buses that delivered the women away from the violent protests.”

Unfortunately, this offensive and violent display is not surprising, given the history of Haredi reaction to what they consider violations of Jewish law. This is a black and white issue. It's about whether those with Black hats and white shirts should be allowed to make the rules for how Judaism is practiced by the rest of us. It is about religious freedom, pure and simple, black and white. On the other hand, the political situation in Israel is far from simple. So, with that in mind, and in the interests of "Shalom Bayit" ('Peace in the House' - a great Jewish value) I accept the compromise that Natan Sharansky has proposed establishing a pluralistic prayer site at the South Wall/Robinson's arch. But, until that is done, which is likely to take several years, the Women of the Wall must be allowed to pray there unmolested.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Jordan Millstein

p.s. You may not know that the leader of Women of the Wall, Anat Hoffman, is also the Director of the Israel Religious Action Center of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism (i.e. the Reform Movement of Israel). So, this is a proud day for us as Reform Jews as well!