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!