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!