Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Terror Response

Dear Friends,

What can I say?  What can anyone say after the cold-blooded murder of 4 innocent people – 3 of them rabbis – while they were in the midst of reciting the morning Amidah in their synagogue? What can one say about the heroic Israeli Druse police officer who gave his life trying to stop the assailants? There are no words…

And yet we cannot remain silent. 

My mind keeps bringing me back to the tallis and tefillin worn by the men who were worshipping - soaked in blood around their lifeless bodies.  It is an image that takes one back in time to the martyrs of our people in past generations who gave their lives, “al kiddush Ha’shem,” for the sanctification of the divine name.  They died - not for anything they did - but simply because they were Jews.

But, it also makes us think about ourselves.  “There but for the grace of God go I.”  Granted, if it were me, I would not have been wearing tefillin - just my tallit.  If it were you, perhaps you would not have been wearing any ritual garb while praying.  As Reform Jews we see such observances as personal choices.  And, yet, underneath these garments we are all the same, are we not?  Underneath the ideological differences we are all members of the Jewish People – Am Yisrael.  We are family and we take these deaths personally.  This Shabbat at Temple Sinai we will recite Kaddish for all 5 of these men, who gave their lives, “al kiddush Ha’Shem.”

Beyond the Kaddish is there anything else that we can say?

Of course, volumes have already been written about the politics surrounding this tragedy:  the escalating violence, the incitement, the Temple Mount and Haram Al Sharif; the allegedly new religious overtones of the old nationalist violence.  I will leave the analysis to the many experts and pundits.  I will share just the following three ethical points based on Jewish teaching.  Apply them as you wish:
1.    Words matter. – Rabbi Leon of Modena, a 16th century sage, taught, “Words are the guides to acts; the mouth makes the first move.”  Violence does not erupt in a vacuum.  It is fueled with words.  In the same way as one should not light a match in the barn full of hay, if there is even the possibility that one’s statements might incite someone to commit murder wouldn’t it behoove one not to speak? 

2.    Vengeance is not a Jewish value; justice is.  “Lo Tikom V’lo Titor” – “Do not seek vengeance nor bear a grudge…” (Leviticus 19:18)  “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” – “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” (Deut. 16:20)  No one is immune to the desire for vengeance.  The terror attack yesterday was likely an act of vengeance.  After the murder of the three yeshivah students last June many calls for revenge were heard in Israel.  Shortly thereafter a Palestinian teen was murdered by Jewish Israeli fanatics, a clear act of vengeance.  Vengeance, simply put, is not the Jewish way.  Justice is. Justice, however, is pursued through the magistrates and officials appointed to adjudicate cases according to the due process of law.

3.    Good relationships between neighbors need to be cultivated.  The most well- known commandment in the Torah is, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18).  It is a positive commandment, meaning it should be observed pro-actively.  In Israel there are numerous groups that try to build such relationships.  If you are interested in this work, Seeds of Peace and the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel are two that have visited our Temple and in which members of our congregation are actively involved.  At the same time, here in the U.S. we often take peaceful and positive relationships with our neighbors for granted.  We must not be so insouciant about them.  We need to be deliberate in cultivating these relationships.

With that in mind I strongly urge you to come to this year’s Tenafly Interfaith Association Thanksgiving Service, which we are hosting at Temple Sinai this coming Tuesday, November 25, at 7:30 p.m.  Members of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim communities will join together in prayer and song.  Together we should be grateful for the peaceful and positive relationships that we share.  Let us be gracious hosts and show the other communities that as Jews we do not take our relationships with them for granted.

May you have a peaceful and happy Thanksgiving.

Rabbi Jordan Millstein

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11, 2014

This evening at 6:30 p.m. Rabbi Millstein will be deliver the following words as a reflection and invocation at the September 11thMemorial Ceremony in Demarest.  Weather permitting the ceremony will take place at the September 11th Memorial by the Demarest Duck Pond. 

I am the rabbi of Temple Sinai of Bergen County in Tenafly but I live just a few blocks from here on Achilles Street.  I’ve lived there with my wife and two daughters, both now attending NVD [Northern Valley Demarest High School], for 6 years.  One of the things that attracted us to move to Achilles Street was that it is near this little park and Duck Pond.  It has a certain charm. 

Anyway, during my not frequent enough exercise walks I tend to go down to Cresskill, past Cresskill HS, back up along the railroad tracks, and through this little park.  And then often, without even being conscious of what I am doing, I find myself stopping here at this monument.   There is something that pulls me here.  It is a peaceful spot, set off the road; a place to pause, to meditate.  But, it’s more than that which draws me here, of course.  It has to do with the power of the sacred. 

The Bible tells us that when Moses was shepherding his flock in the wilderness he happened upon a bush all aflame, but it was not burning up.  Moses turned aside to look and God called to him out of the bush: “Moses, Moses!” 

“Hineini - Here I am,” Moses answered. 

God continued, “Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.”

… THIS place [the September 11th Memorial], which is sacred, calls out to us and says, “Stop!  Don’t just walk by, for the place on which you stand is holy ground.”

This day, which is sacred, calls out to us and says, “Stop!  Don’t just let the day go by like every other day; this day is holy.  Take note; recognize; remember!”  

This place is holy, for it is dedicated to the memory of Christopher Vialonga, who grew up here in Demarest and perished on this day, 13 years ago.  It is holy because this monument, set as it is on an I Beam from the World Trade Center, honors the memory of all the victims of the cowardly terrorist acts perpetrated on the United States on September 11, 2001.   

This day is holy, for on it we can see that the World Trade Center Towers, like that bush in the desert in days of old, are still burning.  And they are still calling out to us with that very same message, that message of freedom and hope that God spoke to Moses so many centuries ago.

Oh God, who speaks to us out of the flame
May our ears remain open to your voice, even now, 13 years after the great tragedy.
May we realize that our sorrow is still with us
and not run from its touch or its flame
Yet may we discover the gift of the fire burning
in the inner chamber of our being -
burning great and bright enough
to transform any bitterness into blessing.

And may we hear its call:

To remember the fallen
The helpless, the heroes
Our loved ones, friends, neighbors and countrymen

To come together and not let apathy or self-interest pull us apart

And to act
To offer the power of our sorrow to the service of something greater than ourselves.
To “proclaim liberty throughout all the land and to all its inhabitants thereof” [Lev. 25:10]
To “let justice roll down waters and righteousness like a mighty stream” [Amos 5:24]
And to work fervently for the day when “they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig-tree; And none shall make them afraid.” [Micah 4:4]

Friday, July 18, 2014

What You Can Do About the War

Dear Friends,

I am on vacation and was planning to observe Shabbat elsewhere this evening.  However, with the events going on in Israel I feel that the place I must be is with you at Temple Sinai.  This is not because it is my job; Cantor Nitza is more than capable of conducting services on her own.  It is because I want to pray with you for our brothers and sisters in Israel.  I need to pray for Shalom on this Shabbat when there is no Shalom.  And I want to welcome and hear the reflections of a very special Shabbat guest, who will share his insight into the current situation: Dr. Arie Eisenman, Emergency Room Director of the Western Galilee Hospital in Nahariya and Chairman of our Jewish Federation Partnership Task Force with the City of Nahariya.  If you are in town I hope you make a special effort to join us. It is so important to come together when Israel faces the type of challenges it does at this time.

Many of you, I know, are wondering what else you can do to help.  In addition to joining us this evening and offering your prayers, you can contribute to the “Stop the Sirens” campaign of the Jewish Federations of North America.  The Reform and Conservative Movements in Judaism are both joining with Federation to support this emergency campaign to help support millions of Israelis in harm's way, many huddled in bomb shelters as Hamas rockets continue to rain down on Israel.

To donate through the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey go to:
To donate through the Union for Reform Judaism go to:

Stephanie Hausner of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey sent the following message to share with you about the JFNNJ campaign: 
“The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey along with our beneficiary agencies, including the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI), the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), and the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), continues to mobilize and take action. We in Northern New Jersey are committed to do our part in a national initiative to raise $10 million to assist the people of Israel. $4 million will be going to send 50,000 children in the rocket range up North for a summer respite so they can enjoy some semblance of normalcy outside a bomb shelter. The remaining funds will go to general emergency trauma and social welfare programs. There has been a 150% increase in those seeking help for shock and anxiety. There is also a need to take care of the elderly and those with special needs through mobile shelters. This Shabbat please keep our brothers and sisters in Israel in your prayers and after Shabbat please make a contribution to our STOP THE SIRENS campaign through the Federation website ( 100% of all money collected will go to relief efforts.”

If you cannot join us tonight at Temple Sinai below please find a prayer sent to me by the Jewish National Fund (slightly modified) that you can say on your own.  Perhaps we can all light an extra candle as well as we welcome Shabbat this evening.  Let this light reflect our solidarity, the spirit we share with our people in Israel, the spirit of Shalom:

A Shabbat Prayer for Israel
As we prepare to light Shabbat candles tonight let us take a moment and pray for Israel.
Pray for the men and woman of the IDF, trying to restore peace and stability.
Pray for our extended family living in and out of shelters, who remain in harm's way.
Pray for our brave volunteers who are delivering supplies, equipment, and food to those in need.
Pray for the civilians of Israel and Gaza that they be protected from harm.
Pray for the leaders of Israel to be blessed by the Almighty with wisdom and strength.
Pray for peace, the Eternal's most special gift, to be granted for all.

Shabbat Shalom,


Friday, June 20, 2014

Kidnapped Teens

Dear Friends,

I imagine that all of you join me in being outraged by the abduction of the three Israeli teens last Friday.  As I write this the IDF’s hunt for the teens continues in the West Bank.  Three-hundred thirty Palestinians, including 240 Hamas activists have been arrested in the crackdown on Hamas activities that has accompanied the search.  Two Palestinians, regretfully, have died.  It is worth noting that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the kidnapping.  PA Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki, while objecting to the IDF sweep, also said that if Hamas is behind the kidnapping, “it will be a blow to the reconciliation process [between the PA and Hamas]….If we reach that conclusion, then the president will take drastic action.”  Today PA security forces broke up a pro-Hamas rally in Hebron.  The PA continues to cooperate with the search for the teens.

Sadly, despite the massive operation the teens have not been found.  Naturally, many fear for their lives.  In addition, as time passes, there is also the fear that the world will forget the teens and go on to the next news story.   It is at times like these that we recognize the deep truth of the rabbinic teaching, “Kol Yisrael Arevim Zeh Ba’Zeh” – “All Jewish people are tied to and care for one another.”  We must not forget these young men.  Please include the kidnapped teens in your prayers this Shabbat.  Their names are:  Eyal Yifrach (Eyal ben Iris Teshurah) , Gilad Shaar (Gilad Michael ben Bat Galim) and Naftali Fraenkel (Yaakov Naftali ben Rachel Devorah).  Below is a prayer, written by Alden Solovy, which we recited at our Temple’s annual meeting this past Wednesday.  It was published on the Reform Movement web site,

God of the prisoner,
God of the captive,
The voice of anguish echoes across the land.
Our sons,
Kidnapped, hijacked,
Torn from their lives and dreams,
Are held captive by violence and hatred
By those who would take our land
And destroy our people.
Guardian of Israel,
Bless those who have dedicated themselves to returning
Our sons to safety and shelter.
Grant them skill and wisdom
In this hour of need.
Give them the tools they need in the days ahead.
Bless their work.
Let success be close at hand.
This dismay is almost too much to bear.
Return Gilad Shaar, Naftali Frenkel, and Elad Yifrach
To the cradle of their parents’ arms,
And the refuge of their homes,
Speedily, in life and in health.
Bless their families with endurance and faith
That they will soon be reunited in the fullness of joy.
Bless our boys, in their captivity,
With hope and courage.
Grant them the strength and fortitude
To face, chas v’shalom, any shames or tyrannies forced upon them.
Rock of Israel,
Hasten their release.
Grant them lives of Torah and parnasa,
Rich with health and happiness,
Joy and peace.
Let rescue be near.
Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam Matir Asurim
Blessed are you, Adonai our God,
Sovereign of the Universe,
Who releases the captive.

Shabbat Shalom.

Friday, May 9, 2014

I Got a Guy

Dear Friends,

You mention to a friend, acquaintance or co-worker that you need the help of a professional or expert to get something important done and the answer comes, “I got a guy….” Renovating your kitchen? “I got a guy.” Have a problem with your computer? “I got a guy.” Just had a baby boy? “I got a guy.” (Well, “I got a mohel,” to be more specific.)

Everybody’s “got a guy” and somehow their guy is always the best at whatever it is that you need done. Of course, that can’t literally be true. Some have to be better at what they do than others. But, the fact that your friend or acquaintance happens to use that person makes them the best. It’s human nature. But, the truth is oftentimes when experts do things for us we have no idea if they are truly excellent or just got the job done.

The same is true of Israeli tour guides. I talk to people all the time who come back from a trip to Israel and whatever else they tell me about the trip they invariably say, “…and we had the best tour guide!” There are good reasons for this response. Going to Israel is a phenomenal experience. For someone who has never gone before almost any trip to Israel, no matter who leads it or what the itinerary happens to be, will be wonderful. For a Jew just being in Israel touches our souls in a way that it simply cannot be otherwise touched. Moreover, all Israeli tour guides are required by the state to go through a rigorous educational training process in order to get a license. That training goes far beyond what any other country in the world requires of its guides. They are, in fact, the best in the world.

Still, some must be better than others, which leads me to my point: I got a guy. His name is Ezra Korman. He is the CEO of Makor Educational Journeys, a newly formed division at IGT, and he is leading Temple Sinai’s trip to Israel this coming December 2014 during the end of the year holiday break. And, yes, my guy is the best. I don’t say that lightly because I have travelled with other guides who were very good. But, Ezra is truly one notch above. Moreover, he is different. He is not just a tour guide but an educator. He has the depth of knowledge of a college professor and the skill to communicate that knowledge to people of all backgrounds and interests. He understands that all of us learn differently, that kids and teens need alternative programming with their own “youth guide” to experience Israel in a way that engages them.

Ezra has more than 20 years of experience running trips and missions for youth groups, university study groups, synagogues, churches, federations, interfaith groups, high level political delegations and fundraising missions. In the past he has served as educational director and then vice president of Daat, an educational travel company in Jerusalem and was as associate director of Keshet: The Center for Educational Travel in Israel.

But, don’t take my word for it. Come meet “my guy,” Ezra Korman, a week from Sunday, May 18 at 10:00 a.m. at Temple Sinai. Find out the scoop on our trip to Israel this coming December from the guy who is going to be leading it with me. Bagels and coffee will be served. Please RSVP to me at or Ronni Zlotnick, our trip chairperson, at (If you forget to RSVP come anyway!)

Shabbat Shalom,

PS - We are extending the deadline to register until June 15. But, don’t miss this opportunity to meet our tour leader, Ezra Korman – join us on May 18 at 10:00!

PPS - Happy Mother’s Day to all of you wonderful Mothers!!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Empty Mezuzah

Larry Gordon, a Temple Sinai member, just shared this one with me:

A man buys a fabulous home in Beverly Hills, California. He brings in a local workman to decorate the place. When the job is finished, the homeowner is delighted but realizes that he's forgotten to put mezuzahs on the doors. He goes out and buys 50 mezuzahs and instructs the decorator how to place them on the right hand side of each door except bathrooms and kitchens.

He's really worried that the decorator will chip the paint work or won't put them up correctly. However, when he comes back a few hours later, he sees that the job has been carried out to his entire satisfaction.

He's so pleased that he gives the decorator a bonus.

As the decorator is walking out of the door he says, "Glad you're happy with the job... by the way, I took out all the warranties in the little boxes and left them on the table for you!"

It’s a great joke. At the same time, this week the image of an empty mezuzah case makes me think of something less amusing. It makes me think of another wealthy Jew who has dazzlingly large homes in Beverly Hills and Malibu – as well as well as a really big gym known as, “The Staples Center”. If the scroll represents the soul of the Jew, Donald Sterling (formerly, Donald Tokowitz) is no doubt a mezuzah case without out a scroll.

Since Sterling’s remarks to his girlfriend about African Americans were brought to light by TMZ, the media has been filled with reports of all sorts of awful behavior by Sterling in the past: from the housing discrimination lawsuit he settled in 2009 (for keeping blacks and Hispanics out of his buildings), to adultery, abusive behavior towards his children and those around him. And while Sterling is not active in the Jewish community in any significant way, the fact remains that he is a Jew, which makes this whole sordid affair a shanda fur die Goyim (an embarrassment in front of the non-Jewish world). Heaven forbid anyone should associate his worldview with Judaism or the Jewish People.

But, rather than hang our heads in shame, it is worth noting that Adam Silver, the new commissioner of the National Basketball Association, is also Jewish. While one can certainly discount his strong stand against Sterling’s racist behavior as doing what was politically or economically necessary for the NBA, there is no doubt that he did what was right. I’m proud that Adam Silver is a member of the Jewish community.

The scroll inside the mezuzah contains the eternal words of the Sh’ma Yisrael. Those words, which speak of God’s Oneness and our love for God and God’s ways, represent the soul of Jew. May we all find ways in our own lives to keep that scroll inside our mezuzah cases.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Overland Park, KS

Dear Friends,

If you go on the web site of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, located in Overland Park, KS, it looks much the same as the web site for the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades here in Tenafly. The site is promoting its fitness center with personal trainers, an upcoming concert with Reform Jewish folk-rock artist, Rick Recht, and a series of performances of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Everything looks normal until one clicks on the ad for “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and finds the notice, “The Sunday, April 13th Performance Has Been Cancelled.”

One can’t escape the tragic irony. “To Kill a Mockingbird” is about racism in America. That the show (to be performed in the JCC’s “White Theatre,” also ironic) was cancelled because a white supremacist, former grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan murdered three innocent people in cold blood just adds to the tragedy. Perhaps, it was no coincidence. Perhaps, Frazier Glenn Miller deliberately targeted the Greater Kansas City JCC yesterday because of the performance.

Or, perhaps, he just wanted to kill Jews. As the New York Times reported:

“In a 2010 interview with Howard Stern, the radio shock jock, who is Jewish, Mr. Miller was asked who he hated more, Jews or African-Americans. Mr. Miller answered “Jews. A thousand times more. Compared to our Jewish problem, all other problems are mere distractions.”

The fact that there are still vicious, psychopathic anti-Semites running around the United States is not something we want to contemplate as we begin this most joyous of festivals, the holiday of Passover. For centuries, this time of year, when Passover and Easter came together, was fraught with anxiety for our ancestors who never knew when an anti-Semitic attack would be unleashed against us. Yesterday’s attack is an important reminder that our freedom, which we celebrate tonight, depends upon the continuing efforts of all to teach tolerance and eradicate hate from the hearts of all our citizens.

It is also a reminder that we need to be vigilant about the security of all Jewish institutions. Please know that Temple Sinai, along with other Bergen County Jewish organizations, is focused on the safety of our members. If you have children in our Early Childhood Center you are already aware of our focus on security and safety for our children and all who come to Temple Sinai. Security training and lockdown drills are part of our new normal. Implementation of long-planned new security enhancements to the building is underway as I write this to further “harden” our facility from attack.

Be assured that we are continuing to review our already high security standards and are in ongoing contact with local law enforcement in Tenafly as well as with security experts. We remain dedicated to a safe and secure facility– while remaining an inviting community. Your assistance by being vigilant, acting as additional eyes and ears, contributes to our security and peace of mind.

Our hearts go out to the JCC of Greater Kansas City and Village Shalom, the senior living community, where the third of the three victims was killed. I know the victims and their families will be in our thoughts and prayers as we gather for our Seder meals. Let us hold our own family members close as we appreciate the freedom and safety we enjoy. Let us never take it for granted.

Chag Sameach – Happy Passover,

Rabbi Jordan Millstein

p.s. If you are looking for an upbeat topic to discuss with your family at your seders, why not bring up the possibility of joining us on our congregation’s next multi-generational trip to Israel, December 20 – 31, 2014? Instead of just saying, “Next year in Jerusalem,” at the end of the Seder, why not begin planning to be there this December? Contact me at for more information. The deadline to register is May 1st, so the time to plan is now!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Join Me in Israel

Dear Friends,

Every year at the end of our Passover Seders we Jews famously declare, “Next year in Jerusalem!” For countless centuries this prayer expressed our people’s yearning to return to Zion from exile in the diaspora. Today, we live in an age of which our ancestors only dreamed. We Jews have returned to Zion. Our people is no longer in exile. Israel is not a dream but a modern, dynamic, fascinating country, a fulfillment of that age-old Passover prayer and then some.

So, what does it mean to us today when we declare at the end of our Seders, “Next year in Jerusalem?” What will it mean this year to you? May I suggest an answer? Fulfill the age-old dream of every Jew by joining our Temple Sinai inter-generational, congregational trip to Israel at the end of this December. Fulfill your personal dream of seeing our ancient homeland, which is now also the modern, vibrant center of Jewish life. Don’t wait for the messiah! Don’t wait ‘till next year. Join me December 20 – 31, 2014(which actually will be next year on the Jewish calendar) and make you, your family’s and our people’s dreams come true.

A meeting for all those who may be interested in joining us on our grand adventure will be held this Sunday, March 23 at 1:00 p.m. Details about the trip, including registration, itinerary, accommodations, costs, bar/bat mitzvah celebration, etc. will be discussed. Please let Ronni Zlotnick, the chairperson of the trip, know if you will be attending the meeting: (If you are interested in the trip but cannot attend Sunday’s meeting, please contact her as well.)

All the best for a happy and healthy Passover season,


p.s. Don’t miss this Friday night’s service at 7:30, led by Temple Sinai’s Sisterhood, when Shira Pruce of Women of the Wall, will be speaking about the controversy in Israel surrounding women’s prayer groups at the Western Wall.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Good Deeds

Dear Friends,

Whenever I meet with a bar or bat mitzvah student we discuss the meaning of becoming bar/bat mitzvah. While the term translates as “son of mitzvah” or “daughter of mitzvah,” what it means, according to Jewish tradition, is that the young person is now responsible for doing the mitzvot (plural of “mitzvah”). This naturally leads to the question, “What is a mitzvah?” Almost every student replies, “a good deed.” The truth is that this popular definition of a mitzvah is not completely correct. A mitzvah is a commandment, something we believe, or according to our tradition, God wants us to do. It includes both “good deeds,” i.e. actions which help others or make the world a better place (“tikkun olam”), and Jewish observances and traditions. Both types of mitzvot are essential to living a rich and meaningful Jewish life. Both connect us to God. Mitzvot are not merely good deeds, they are “God deeds.”

Here is one “good deed” mitzvah and one “Jewish observance” mitzvah that you can do through Temple Sinai this week:
  1. GOOD DEEDS DAY. On Sunday, March 9th the Jewish Community Relations Council and Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey is sponsoring “Good Deeds Day.” Temple Sinai is a host site for collecting non-perishable/unexpired food items to be donated to local food pantries. Everyone at Temple Sinai – members, parents, the ECC community – are encouraged to bring donations as soon as possible to the Temple, starting this weekend and ending on Sun. morning, March 9. On Good Deeds Day, March 9, you are invited to come to the Federation from 2-4 to sort and pack the food items. Representatives from some of the food pantries will come as well to meet and mingle with the volunteers. Anyone who would like to help sort and pack at JFNNJ (50 Eisenhower Drive, Paramus) on Good Deeds Day is encouraged to register at Space is limited and there are free t-shirts for the first 200 volunteers. Please contact Joy Kurland at with any questions. This is a terrific Mitzvah project for any bar/bat mitzvah students looking for one.

  2. SHALACH MANOT. This is the Jewish practice of sending gifts to one another in conjunction with the festival of Purim. The origins of SHALACH MANOT go back all the way to the Megillah, the Book of Esther, when Mordechai declared the holiday of Purim as a time “of feasting and gladness – send food to one another, and give generously to the poor”. Our Temple Sisterhood has organized a system through which you can send Purim wishes and goodies to Temple Sinai members, ECC and Religious School families, and Temple Staff. You can also send an $8 donation to the “Purim Connection”, an organization that delivers Purim gifts to young soldiers on active duty in Israel and to Israeli children who are victims of terror and displacement. For more information, click here. Order forms are available at Temple, in the Sentry or click here for form. from Shavua Tov. If you have questions or would like to volunteer for bag "production" or delivery, contact Hilary Eth.

Doing mitzvot is at the heart of what it means to be a Jew. It makes being Jewish more than something that you are; it makes it something that you live. And when we live out who we are, we are truly fulfilled.

Shabbat Shalom,

Friday, February 21, 2014

Hanging with Bruce and the Boys

Dear friends,

I don’t know where you’ll be on Feb 27th but I’ll be at the Clinton Inn for the Brotherhood Guys night out! This Second Annual Guys Night out, next Thursday from 7:30 – 10:00 pm at the Palmer’s Crossing Room in the Tenafly Clinton Inn, promises to be a lot of fun. I’m sure you want to hang out with me for an evening, but if that’s not good enough for you to join us that night, how about the following Top Ten Reasons?
  1. Hang out with your friends. All the men from Brotherhood will be there as will other guys who are friends with the guys from Brotherhood.
  2. Meet new friends. Many men have already signed up so there will probably be at least a few you do not know yet. This is a great, easy-going and relaxed opportunity to meet some new guys and maybe make new friends.
  3. Hang out with former New York Jets star running back and kick/punt returner Bruce Harper. Ok, so if the chance to hang with me and the Brotherhood guys isn’t enough of a draw, how about an actual football star??
  4. Enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet of hot wings, pizza and beef brisket egg rolls
  5. Enjoy unlimited, free flowing beverages including beer, house wine and soft drinks and for those who prefer cocktails, we’ll have a cash bar.
  6. Watch the Knicks v. Heat and the Rangers v. Blackhawks on the large screen TV
  7. Take a chance on a great Raffle and at the same time help support our Temple Sinai youth. Buy a raffle ticket for two amazing seats for the NY Rangers v. Phoenix Coyotes game on March 24th at Madison Square Garden. All proceeds of the raffle go to the Brotherhood Youth Scholarship Fund which is being used to send our youth to the URJ Religious Action Center in Washington, DC, this weekend. We will sell only 100 raffle tickets at $10 each (3 for $25). They’re tax-deductible, you do not need to be present to win and the more you buy the better your odds of winning!
  8. Support Brotherhood by being a part of the group having a laid-back, enjoyable evening together.
  9. Help build the Temple Sinai community by strengthening the Brotherhood.
  10. And finally, leave your work behind, put the shovel down, and come out of the cold. Relax, grab a drink and a wing, and kick back with the guys!
I hope to see you there!

Shabbat Shalom,

**Cost for the entire event is only $30. To RSVP, go

Friday, February 7, 2014

Putin's Games

Dear Friends,

Maybe it’s just me but I’m having a hard time getting psyched to watch the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Perhaps if I was more into winter sports I would naturally be more excited. But, the sight of a bunch of German and Nordic men in body-suits plummeting down an ice chute on a French-named sled trying to get to the bottom of a hill a tiny fraction of a second faster than the rest doesn’t do it for me. OK, to be honest, I do think figure-skating is beautiful, and speed skating and skiing can be fun to watch. So, I should have a more positive attitude.

I guess what is really bothering me is the thought of that latter-day Czar, Vladimir Putin, smugly sitting at the games celebrating the return of Russia to its days of glory under his autocratic rule. He of the “gay propaganda” legislation, political corruption, and shuttering of independent media; he of the detention of protestors and dissenters of every stripe; he who continues to support the murderous Assad regime in Syria; he who seems for all intents and purposes to be President of Russia for life. Forget the stray dogs, unfinished hotels and the toilets that don’t flush. The Sochi Olympics is Putin’s party and the world is there to marvel at his success.

So, what to do? We could just ignore old “Pootie-Poot,” as President Bush called him, and enjoy the show. We Americans often ignore ethical issues when it comes to celebrating the world of sport. But, that would be an abdication of our values. Should we then keep our televisions and computers off and not watch at all? Some may find that to be a good solution. But, we know that the athletes themselves are not to blame nor are we going stop Putin by not watching the Olympics. Let us rather cheer on our athletes, Americans, Jews, Israelis – those who represent the values that we believe – keep our eyes and ears open to what is going on in the world and not forget what we stand for.

Shabbat Shalom,

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Plea for the Ukraine

Dear Friends,

Jeremy Borovitz is a remarkable young man. In 2009 he received his BAR from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He then joined the Peace Corp and was sent to a small town in the Ukraine, where he taught English, music, ecology, as well as Jewish history and culture. He founded the Jewish Heritage Council of Peace Corps, to develop Jewish themed lesson plans and projects for Peace Corps volunteers and to create a community for the celebration of Jewish holidays. He then went on to become a Jewish Service Corp Fellow for the Joint Distribution Committee in the Ukraine, researching local Jewish history in Ukrainian villages with local students and organizing local festivals of Jewish Culture. He also engaged young adults in the Kiev community through conducting Shabbat dinners and teaching classes about Judaism. Jeremy recently went to Israel to begin a program of Jewish study there.

This plea on behalf of the protesters in the Ukraine, written on January 12th was sent to me by his father, a friend and mentor of mine, Rabbi Neal Borovitz. I was very moved by this letter. Please take a moment to read it.

Shabbat Shalom,

It was exactly four years ago this month when I first got that big white envelope in the mail, informing me that I was to spend the next 2 and a half years of my life as a Youth Development Volunteer in Ukraine. I was excited, and nervous, and scared, and shocked that I had actually followed through on my threats to join the Peace Corps.

Over the next three and a half years (I decided to stay a bit longer) I grew to love this beautiful, complicated, and at times harsh country. The winters made me freeze and the bureaucracy drove me insane. But the people whom I met and worked with were, for the most part, strong, brave, and prideful.

And last week, their government sold their rights down the river. The Senate waved at the raft as it floated by.

When protests broke out in late November against the government’s decision to not sign an Association Agreement with the European Union, I couldn’t pull myself away from my computer. My deep concern for my friends who were shivering on Independence Square, and the very real violence some of them faced, encouraged me to change an already scheduled international flight for the sake of a pit stop in Kiev.

It was a wild few days. Trying to get a sense of what was happening, I spent my days wandering around the protest with my friends, talking to as many people as I could. They were all friendly, of course, and upon hearing my thick American accent when I spoke Ukrainian, their congeniality took on a pleading tone. One man nearly fell at my feet, regaling me with a terrible tale of the government stealing his business and his livelihood because he refused to pay the bribes they were demanding. Tell them, he begged me. Tell Obama what is happening here, beg him to help us.

The protests have often been characterized in the Western press as a desire for Ukraine to move closer to Europe and away from Russia. This is only a part of the story. These people are standing on the square because they are tired of having a government who works against them. Corruption has been so ingrained in their culture that many public service professionals, including police, doctors, and teachers, often expect bribes to simply do their jobs. For a country rich in natural resources, its soil is getting sucked dry by a wealthy and powerful few. The Social safety net designed to aid its weakest citizens is riddled with holes, and it becomes nearly impossible to not fall through the cracks.

So when the people took a stand on that square, the government raised its night stick and began swinging wildly into the night. People were beaten indiscriminately, others thrown in jail, and yet they kept showing up, night after night, Sunday after Sunday, to stand with their fellow citizens, to protest this time warp back to Soviet-style politics where the political discourse is conducted with blood and handcuffs.

And on Thursday, in one of the greatest shams from a government that has aced the art of feigning democracy and justice, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada passed a law that strips away the rights not only of those citizens standing on the square but of its people as a whole. Suddenly NGOs who receive overseas charitable work will be considered foreign agents. Journalists who print things unfavorable to the regime will be given years in prison. And one can be convicted of a crime without ever showing up for their day in court. Vladimir Putin must be gleaming with pride at all the tyranny his money has bought him.

I received my letter in the mail four years ago, but this story began a year before that, when my father and I drove down to Washington, D.C. on a cold Tuesday and stood outside on the freezing grass to watch as Barack Obama was inaugurated as our 44th President of the United States. And as he stood up there I believed his vision of a better tomorrow, I realized I wanted to do something to help my country, to serve in my own way. A few days later, I had applied to the Peace Corps.

In that first white envelope, on a small pamphlet that might have easily been discarded, was a statement of the three goals of the Peace Corps, the aims which were to be my mantra for the duration of my service.

Goal One: To help the people of your host country, to provide support, to install internet in a small village so the students can follow the protests in their country without media bias, to teach English to a young University student so he can give interviews to foreign reporters who come visit him on the square, to strengthen the organizational capacity of a Human Rights NGO so that they can stand by their countrymen as their constitution is burned before their eyes.

Goal Two: To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served, to tell them of the wonderful country I came from and the values we stand for, to regale them with tales of inaugurations and marches and hope and change that we still hold on to even if it never quite comes as we’d imagined, to teach them to dream in a culture that suppresses it, to teach them to believe in a tomorrow they can’t yet see.

Goal Three: To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans, to tell everyone I know that there is a country called Ukraine that is not Russia, filled with people who yearn to create a real democracy, to post on facebook and to write to Senators and to scream at the top of my lungs until the world takes notice that these people still exist and are still standing and we seem blase to their cause, to implore for action from my government, to insist that they send these bandits a message that such tactics will not fly, not on our watch.

Help me to fulfill the three goals, because otherwise, I would have been better off to never open my letter.

Jeremy Borovitz

Monday, January 20, 2014

MLK Day Message: Rabbis Arrested

Dear Friends,

On June 18, 1964, just three days before the three Freedom Summer activists - Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman – disappeared, 15 Reform rabbis (and one lay leader) were arrested in St. Augustine, the largest mass arrest of rabbis in the United States. The rabbis had come to St. Augustine, Florida in response to an appeal made by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the Reform Rabbinic Association) through his friend, Rabbi Israel “Si” Dresner, then serving Springfield, New Jersey’s Temple Sha’arey Shalom. Reverend King asked the rabbis to join him in St. Augustine in “a creative witness to our joint convictions of equality and racial justice.”

Two of those 15 rabbis are my father’s friends, Rabbis Danny Fogel and Alan Secher. To mark this Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and to remember the courage of these Jewish civil rights activists I share with you Rabbi Secher’s personal account of what happened. Fifty years later it’s hard to imagine that this happened in the United States of America:

…[On June 17th] we were met by King at a local church, [and] given instructions…. That night we were going to march from the black area through the white area to the slave market, and return. And what King told us was be on the lookout, because the night before someone had been shot and killed along the route. Someone had crawled up a tree, and as the group passed below, had shot and killed them.

…we kept marching. And it’s dark where we’re marching, and I’m in the lead. And I’m holding this Black girl’s hand as we’re marching. I gotta tell ya…the scariest two, three, four hours of my life. We’re passing under the same trees where the night before someone had been shot…and with the full knowledge the National Guard that had been called out wasn’t very sympathetic to start with. So…I was scared…Well, we marched…from the black section, through the white section…to the slave market…did a prayer service there of some sort and turned around and walked back – that was our evening.

The next day we did a prayer service, we were to divide into three groups…one group was to go to the local Woolworth’s lunch counter …be like going to a Target nowadays to a lunch counter, or to a lunch counter at a WalMart. One group went to the Woolworths. Another group went to a lunch counter at an interstate motel. And the third group was to go to the parking lot of this same motel and gather in the parking lot, and that’s the group I was assigned to. There were about fifty of us, in a circle in the parking lot, doing a prayer service, whites and blacks, crossing arms, and again singing and doing prayers. And at that moment I was witness to the most courageous act I’ve seen in my life – in my life!

We’re in the circle, and at a given moment, two young black kids – teenagers – broke away from the group, and as they broke away they peeled off their clothing, and they had bathing suits on, underneath their clothing, and they ran from us to the swimming pool, of this motel. And the swimming pool was probably no more than thirty yards away – and they jumped into the pool…and of course the patrons of the pool, white people, immediately exited. Oh my god, swimming in the same pool with a black! And the manager was called. And the manager panicked. And he didn’t know what to do and he ran, and he grabbed a gallon jug of acid…and he took the acid, and he poured it into the pool…with the two black kids still in the pool – they didn’t budge! Now, he had no way of knowing that the acid diluted itself with water, but you could see on the bottle…’acid’ – and the kids just stayed there in the pool till the guy was done with the acid, and they didn’t move. Those two kids…that’s indelible…that scene…is absolutely indelible…that hasn’t changed over the years, the vision of that scene.

Then we were arrested…and they put five of us in each of the cop cars…then they took us to a huge parking lot outside the jail…then each cop had his picture taken with his five charges…I guess so he could put it in his scrapbook for the future…

And there I saw one of the most horrific acts in my life, one of the cops had a cattle prod…and there was a young white girl, I’d say early 20’s, who had been arrested with us, and the cop took that prod, and shoved it right up her behind, and turned on the juice, and the scream from that girl, the absolute scream from that girl, and the agony…and she was not counter-demonstrating at all. She had come, she had been arrested, and she was going peacefully.

They separated white from black and Jew from gentile…
I think…I think it’s important to tell the story…[so] it’s not lost…it doesn’t go down the drain…so that others realize what had gone on then…so that it’s not just about going on Face Book and seeing that your friend had ice cream for dinner. It’s about realizing a piece of history, and about how those things affected history as time went by. And so I tell these stories as often as I can…. (

These past few weeks in the synagogue we have been reading the story of the Exodus. Last week we read the passage about when our People crossed the Red Sea to freedom. This past Shabbat we read what is really the culminating moment of the Exodus, according to our tradition, the moment at Mt. Sinai when we stood as one and freely entered into a covenant with God to be God’s People. We heard revealed God’s Ten Statements, the Ten Commandments.

Years ago I was fortunate to study this portion with Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, a civil rights hero in his own right. He pointed out something I hadn’t noticed before. The first of the ten commandments, the first thing that God says to us gathered at Mt. Sinai, is “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt.” It’s not really a commandment. It’s a statement. It is a statement about the nature of God, Godself. God is many things. But, who is God, first and foremost? God is the one who brought us out of the Land of Egypt, the God of Liberation, the God of Freedom.

While in jail in St. Augustine the 15 rabbis (and Al Vorspan, a layman and staff person of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations) penned the following letter explaining why they went:

…We shall not soon forget the stirring and heartfelt excitement with which the Negro community greeted us with full-throated hymns and hallelujahs, which pulsated and resounded through the church; nor the bond of affectionate solidarity which joined us hand in hand during our marches through town; nor the exaltation which lifted our voices and hearts in unison; nor the common purpose which transcended our fears as well as all the boundaries of race, geography and circumstance. We hope we have strengthened the morale of St. Augustine Negroes as they strive to claim their dignity and humanity; we know they have strengthened ours.

Each of us has in this experience become a little more the person, a bit more the rabbi he always hoped to be (but has not yet been able to become).

We believe in man’s ability to fulfill God’s commands with God’s help. We make no messianic estimate of man’s power and certainly not of what we did here. But it has reaffirmed our faith in the significance of the deed. So we must confess in all humility that we did this as much in fulfillment of our faith and in response to inner need as in service to our Negro brothers. We came to stand with our brothers and in the process have learned more about ourselves and our God. In obeying Him, we become ourselves; in following His will we fulfill ourselves….

On this Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day let us remember and find inspiration in the courageous deeds of the rabbis arrested in St. Augustine and all those who fought for civil rights in our land.

Rabbi Jordan Millstein

P.S. View the full text of “Why We Went: A Joint Letter from the Rabbis Arrested in St. Augustine