Many years ago a book was written entitled "Life is with People". The book describes the interdependence of the Jews of Eastern Europe, and the many ways in which people of various villages and towns shared life and enriched and strengthened one another. So is our Temple Shaaray Tefila a community. Yes, we are diverse in our degree of Jewish observance and belief. We live in different communities and are connected to different people. And while we speak of the Temple as "community," it is more of a sacred goal and ideal than it is a reality. Unfortunately, life is just too hectic and too filled with commitments for the Temple to have a central and essential place in many of our lives, other than in times of great personal need. And that is the reason why we have an ANNUAL GALA EVENT: to bring all of our people together and share an evening of celebration and engaging with one another. Our Gala will be on Saturday evening, May 6th. I hope that you will be with us as we honor Sharon and Rod Feldman for their dedication to our congregation. But even if you do not know Sharon and Rod, you know me and our other rabbis, and you no doubt know a number of people who comprise this congregation. To the parents of our Early Education Center, to the parents of our Religious School students, to our Empty Nesters and to our seniors, please know that each of you is a much valued part of this congregation and it would be wonderful to have you attend. Yes, our Gala provides for our financial needs. But more than that, it is intended to bring diverse people together, and to affirm that yes, "life is with people." So do I ask of you, please join us for what will be a fun and joyous evening. Please join us because you are important to this congregation, and you will be missed if you are not among us. And please join us as an expression of your support for our efforts and ideals. I promise you that you will glad that you did. So it's not too late. Please contact our temple office and let us know that you will be joining us. As the Israelites are described in the Torah as a "mixed multitude, the same might be said of us. But let that be a reason for coming together to celebrate life and strengthening our congregation.
I look forward to seeing you at the Gala.
Written by: Rabbi David Greenberg
For the past 3,200 years we Jews have retold the story of how a "mixed multitude" of slaves went forth to freedom. But not only is this a story of the past; it speaks to the present also. The values and ideals of Passover continue to be at the heart of Jewish identity, and at the core of the vision that we Jews still bring to the world: a vision of a just and free world wherein none are oppressed and where none go hungry and hopeless. Yes, it was from our experience in Egypt that we learned the ideals of "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" and "you shall remember the heart of the stranger for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."
An interesting and compelling aspect of the Passover story: The word Mitzraim which is translated as "Egypt" also means "narrow" or "confined" straits. Thus the "Egypt" of Passover refers not only to going forth from ancient Egypt, but from any situation in which we may feel ourselves confined, if not enslaved.
We pray to God for life, for blessing. But to be a Jew is to know that the first step toward redemption and rebirth is one that we must take for ourselves. So do I wish you the strength and courage to take that "step" for yourself and thereby pursue your own journey to the "Promised Land" of your hopes and visions.
As I look forward to the start of Passover this Monday evening, I remember very clearly the Seder at my grandparents' home. I can picture the people seated around the table and who sat where each year. I sat between my grandfather and my father, as my grandfather led the Seder. I recall that it felt very long, and other than a few songs that I knew from Hebrew School, the Seder didn't have a lot of meaning for me.
So many years later, and now I, like many of you, sit in that same "seat" as my grandfather, leading the Seder and trying to engage both children and adults in our oldest ritual.
And I will again relate the history of the red glass Kiddush Cup that will be placed in the middle of the table. I will tell of how it was one of the first objects that my grandfather acquired when he came to this country, and how it has served as the Cup of Elijah for these many years.
Elijah was a prophet in ancient Israel, known for his acts of loving-kindness. We have believed throughout our history that he will yet again appear in the world at Passover time, and that with his appearance, there will come a time of peace and wholeness for all the people of our world.
One of my favorite Jewish stories (you might use it at your Seder) tells of a little boy who, toward the end of the Seder, was asked by his grandfather to go and open the door for Elijah. The little boy went to the door and suddenly became frightened. He turned to his grandfather and said: "I'm scared. I don't know what Elijah will look like!" And the grandfather assuredly said to the child: "Don't be afraid to open the door. When Elijah really does come, he will not come through the door, but through your heart."
As we celebrate our Festival of Freedom, may we be mindful of all our blessings. And may Passover lead us to be more caring and more generous in responding to the great human need that exists not only in far-off places. And please remember that what you do at your Seder table will long be remembered.
I wish you a sweet and fulfilling Passover.
We begin the third book of the Torah, the Book of Leviticus. This is the book that is much concerned with the pursuit of holiness in every aspect of our lives. It is in this book that we learn that “you shall love your neighbor as yourself;” and also here where we come upon some of our loftiest commandments concerning our treatment of the poor and the weak of our society, the establishment of just and fair courts of law, our treatment of animals, and caring responsibly for our environment.
We are told about the animal sacrifices which were brought to the altar of the sanctuary. In Hebrew, the word for an animal sacrifice is korban, derived from a word that means “to draw near.” And so was the sacrifice a means of drawing near to God; a means of expressing thanksgiving or atonement or ongoing devotion to God.
In the year 70 the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by Rome and so did animal sacrifices come to an end in Jewish life. But there is an interesting rabbinic discussion about that episode. As the rabbis were looking at the burning temple, one of them declared: “Woe unto us, for we have lost our means of drawing close to God.” And it was the answer that another of our sages gave this rabbi that signaled a renewed expression of Judaism. This rabbi declared “that now that the Temple has been destroyed, we have a new and higher way of drawing close to God, and that is through acts of loving-kindness.”
No more animal sacrifices in Jewish life: only human actions of kindness and caring which cause the Divine presence to be felt in our midst. So may each of us cause that “presence” to be felt through our actions of reaching love and compassion beyond ourselves. Then will God’s presence be felt.
We have "adopted" a "sister" congregation in Israel. Congregation Tzur Hadassah is a new Reform congregation, comprised of about fifty families. It is located just outside of Jerusalem. The rabbi is Stacey Blank and already we have exchanged videos and emails in our desire to learn about each other and our respective congregations. While Reform/Progressive Judaism is not "officially" recognized in Israel, the number of Reform congregations has grown over the years, with Reform Judaism being an appealing alternative for many people who have rejected the Orthodox Judaism that is the "state" religion. This Monday, March 27th we will be joined by two leaders of the Israeli Reform Movement at our 12:00 discussion session. I hope that you will consider joining us as we learn about the struggle for equality and pluralism in Israel, and as we learn more about our "sister" congregation. My hope is that the people of both congregations will benefit from this relationship. Through videos, letters, and visits to the respective congregation, we will learn about each other and the challenges that we face in providing our people with a meaningful approach to Judaism, and an affirmation of the ideal of the "community of Israel." Yes, we Jews are linked to each other through a common history, and through the values and ideals that we share. Please come and be a part of this fledgling relationship. The truth is that we all have a stake in Israel's well-being, and in the vision of an Israel where Reform Judaism, and Reform Jews, are accorded the same rights and recognition as Orthodox Judaism. Yes, there is something beautiful happening in Israel as Reform congregations emerge and grow, and we want to be a part of it.
Temple Shaaray Tefila89 Baldwin RoadBedford Corners, NY 10549
P: (914) 666-3133 F: (914) 412-9905