From the pulpit: Messages for the New Year 5773

From the pulpit: Messages for the New Year 5773

The following are responses to an invitation from New Jersey Jewish News to leaders of area congregations to share their High Holy Day messages.

Find a place

TO CAPITALIZE on the old joke about the Jewish mother who waits for her son to change the light bulb — Don’t sit in the dark. Come inside the shul where the lights are always on.

This High Holy Day season, on behalf of all the rabbis, cantors, and congregants in the area, I would like to again invite you to join a synagogue, shul, or temple — whatever your preference. We have this strange idea of community in Judaism. The whole idea of the required number for the minyan is that you cannot engage fully in Judaism without others.

It is tough to be a family of only one person — whom can you argue with? Judaism is the same. Our tradition, our culture, our religion are based on conversation and engaging each other — from the bare minimum of two to make a hevruta to study to the 70 sages in the Sanhedrin of old.

In a Jewish community, you can meet people whose children are not the same age as your own; you can find a multi-generational community interested in Jewish study, social justice, spirituality, and sharing joys and sorrows; you can more fully explore who you are in the reflection of others.

This New Year, resolve to build up and to be built up. Find a community that both reflects you and challenges who you wish to be. Find a place to celebrate the Jewish year and be a support of those in need. You cannot do these things on your own, but you can discover things you cannot imagine in the midst of a community.

Rabbi Joel N. Abraham
Temple Sholom, Scotch Plains/Fanwoo

Shiny and new

THE RITUAL COMMITTEE at our synagogue has a lovely tradition. Every August, we cut our monthly meeting a little short and clean the silver breastplates, crowns, and pointers that hang from our Torah scrolls. Someone brings silver polish and we all use our elbow grease to make the Torah’s accoutrements look shiny and new.

I love looking at the scrolls the next Shabbat, when the sun from the windows hits the newly polished surfaces. One of the things that always surprises me is how shiny we get the silver. If you asked me in July if I thought the breastplates looked tarnished, I would say no. But once they have been polished their beauty is taken to a new level.

This is a perfect metaphor for the High Holy Days. We often focus on the terrible sins we have to make restitution for. But many of us don’t commit major sins. We are mostly good people — but we get tarnished. If you looked at us, you might say, “That person is all right, an upstanding citizen.” But we know we can do better; we just need a little polishing.

This is a time of introspection to figure out areas for improvement. Every year I notice the difference between the cleaning jobs on the pieces of silver. Some are meticulously polished, with every nook and cranny gleaming. Others only have a shine on the flat surfaces. This is the case with human beings as well. Some of us take the time to polish our souls during the High Holy Days; others simply go through the motions. Don’t waste your opportunity to once again become shiny and new.

Rabbi Benjamin J. Adler
White Meadow Temple, Rockaway

Power of democracy

HUMANISTIC JEWS look forward to the High Holidays as a ritual time of reflection and resolution devoted to improving ourselves, our lives, the lives of others, and the world around us. We know that the results and effects of the year past and of the year to come bear the indelible marks of our actions, our choices. As we discuss and consider our power and the potential that power provides, we include the right to vote — to elect our governmental leaders — as an important choice that comes to us from a long history of enlightened, humanistic, secular thought. While the public square is filled with voices claiming that the right of self-determination and the values of justice and equality are God-given, we know that these only emerged with philosophical enlightenment and have been strengthened over centuries by the rigor of human striving for efficacious action and intellectual integrity. This year, may we celebrate the human power of democracy where it thrives, encourage it where it struggles to take hold, and resist every effort to suppress it.

May all people go forth into the new year conscious of the demand for righteousness that human knowledge and power place on our actions and choices every day.

Peace and good wishes to all in the coming year. L’shana tova.

Rob Agree
Congregation for Humanistic Judaism of Morris County

Building together

AS WE BEGIN a new year, we wanted to take this opportunity to wish all of you a sweet 5773. We are excited to be joined by Cantor Rebecca Moses and, through her, continue our decades-long Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel tradition of innovative and beautiful music. In her first month and a half at the temple, she has already begun to make her mark on the congregation.

It has been said that the High Holy Days are either early or late but they are never on time. That may be the case but, whenever it happens to fall, the new year always brings with it great potential for learning, growth, and increased Jewish commitment. That is what we wish for all of you, for our entire Greater MetroWest community and for the Jewish people.

The challenges we face are great but, as we have shown time and again, we are a people familiar with adversity and well-schooled in overcoming it. Now more than ever, it is by learning together, working together, and, yes, laughing together that we will continue to build a rich Jewish future.

As the rabbis of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, we are honored to serve in the vibrant Jewish community of Greater MetroWest and be part of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel during this, the 30th year of the merger of two historic Essex County synagogues.

Rabbi Daniel M. Cohen
Rabbi Ellie Miller
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, South Orange

Pass the baton

TO BE JEWISH means not only to seek to make one’s life more meaningful. Being Jewish also asks us to play an active role in transmitting Jewish values to the next generation. In that sense, Judaism is not only about enhancing one’s own life experience but ensuring that the message of Judaism will continue to have an impact on others.

Our personal Jewish stories often include memories about the values and ways of life of previous generations. We often reflect nostalgically about how previous generations in our families built and supported synagogues, created and sustained the institutions of the Jewish community, and maintained Jewish traditions in their personal lives.

Our own Jewish story must be more about commitment than memory. We are not only descendants of a rich tradition, beneficiaries of the thinking and doing of others. We are also ancestors who can and absolutely must take seriously the responsibility of transmitting a strong Jewish identity to the next generation. And why? Because the transmission of Judaism to the next generation is not guaranteed to happen. The talmudic sage Rabbi Yosi was quoted as saying: “Ready yourself for the study of Torah, because it is not your inheritance.”

How is it that the Torah is not our inheritance? Like runners in a relay race who must pass a baton from one runner to the next, the values of Torah will be transmitted only if we actively receive them from those before us. We must be sure that no beat is skipped and that the tradition is not dropped on our watch.

Rabbi Mark Cooper
Oheb Shalom Congregation, South Orange

Let’s do it!

GIRLS, ARE we ready? Let’s do it!

• Set up a candleholder on or near your dining room table.
• Place a candle in candleholder.
• Wait for Friday.
• Wait for the listed Shabbat candle-lighting time for that particular Friday
• Put a few coins in a tzedaka box.
• Light candle.
• Wave hands over candles in a circular motion. Cover your eyes. Say the blessings. Say a little prayer asking for those things closest to your heart.
• Open your eyes and achieve spiritual serenity

Boys, are we ready? Let’s do it!

• Wake up in the morning (or whenever you wake up, as long as it’s still daytime).
• Wash up and get dressed.
• Take tefillin out of bag.
• Put on tefillin.
• Say the Sh’ma Yisrael.
• Take off tefillin.
• Wrap up tefillin.
• Put tefillin back in bag.

Total estimated time (excluding waking, washing, and getting dressed): five minutes.

Want to know more? Call Chabad!

Rabbi Mendel Dubov
Chabad of Sussex County, Sparta

Incredible optimism

THE HIGH HOLY Day season has returned. We return to community and synagogue, some after a full year’s hiatus. We return to family. This time of year we apologize and forgive those closest to us. And, in the most classic sense, we return to ourselves. The process of teshuva, Hebrew for repentance, is an act of incredible optimism. We devote this time of year to returning to the best of who we believe ourselves to be.

In the ancient experience of this process, our priests, serving God from our Temple in Jerusalem, would aid our repentance process with sacrificial offerings and the scapegoat, upon which we placed our collective wrongs.

This is a part of the repentance process that is often overlooked. We introspect and beat our chests and make our commitments. But those inner stirrings remain in our heads. As a community, what must we repent for? What must we return to?

As a community rabbi, I have been charged with the task of spiritual leadership for the Jews in the Randolph community. I love my people and my work. But I know that my heart, energy, and attention is trained on those people in my pews. Our community has admirably attended the needs of the people in their respective pews. But do we know each other?

After we have committed our energy to self-care, let us be sure to extend our hearts and our care to all of our community and to all of Israel. Shana tova u’metuka.

Rabbi Menashe East
Mount Freedom Jewish Center, Randolph

Change on the way

THERE IS SOMETHING wistful about the fading days of August. The leaves start their aging process, an occasional chill can be detected in the early morning air. There is an unmistakable feeling that change is on the way. Even in the cycle of nature, it seems as if a sense of seriousness sets in, a mood of urgency, in these final weeks before the yamim nora’im begin.

The sages tell us that Elul, when events in nature lead a sensitive individual to begin thinking about his Creator, is precisely when Hashem takes the initiative and reaches out to us. It begins a period of intensive introspection, of clarifying life’s goals, and of heshbon hanefesh — spiritual accounting — when we look at ourselves critically and honestly, with the intention of improving. It is a precious moment in which reinvigorating our spiritual life is more possible than at any other time in the year.

Isaiah’s words — “Seek Hashem when He can be found; call to Him when He is near” (55:6) — are especially apt during this time of opportunity. During this High Holy Day period, let us try to initiate new beginnings in our avodat Hashem. Our striving for personal improvement will sensitize us and make us receptive to the powerful spiritual transformation the Days of Awe can bring to our lives.

Ketiva v’hatima tova. May you be inscribed for a year of health and meaningful spiritual growth, a year in which we experience God’s salvation in our personal and national life.

Rabbi Mordecai E. Feuerstein
Synagogue of the Suburban Torah Center, Livingston

Something special

WHEN SOLOMON found out that he would build the Temple in his father David’s name, he said, “See, I intend to build a House for the name of the Lord my God…. The House I intend to build will be great (II Chronicles 2:3-4).” We may not be constructing the Temple, but we are building something special here at the Summit Jewish Community Center. Be a part of the excitement in 5773.

May the coming year bring only health, happiness, and success into your home.

Rabbi Avi Friedman
Summit Jewish Community Center

Do not destroy

“SEE TO IT that you do not destroy My world, for there is no one to repair it after you.” (Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13) The midrash said it all long ago but this year must have brought this truth home to almost everyone. Think of all the natural disasters: flood, rain, drought, as never before. Global warming is upon us; it has come faster than we might have predicted. I now expect the world to get hotter and the disasters more and more frequent in my lifetime, but I pray that for my children and grandchildren enough of us will have risen up to demand we drastically change our energy policies, learn to use our dwindling natural resources wisely, and change our own wasteful habits.

As the midrash reminds us, nothing is ours; all belongs to God who with great hope has given the world to us to watch over and return it as good as new or even better when our time to tend it is up. This is my prayer for our New Year.

Rabbi Ruth Gais
Chavurat Lamdeinu, Madison

Spiritual to-do list

THE SHOFAR BLASTS are meant to awaken us to many aspects of life, to the miraculous nature of creation, to renewal and hope, to a connection with a higher being. One section of the shofar service is dedicated to Zihronot, Memory. Indeed, the ancient ram’s horn blast is to awaken us to re-set our spiritual to-do list, to remember that which we have set out to achieve from within, not just what life demands we fulfill.

Indeed these holiest days call on us to remember what we have forgotten. We make commitments to those whom we love. Have we remembered to follow through, to kiss our loved ones daily, to say “I love you” enough? Have we remembered to not let too much time pass without spending quality time with the ones who mean the most to us? Have we made that call to those whom we have lost touch with and to those from whom we have been estranged? Is this the year that we attempt reconciliation, that we grant and accept forgiveness?

Have we remembered our obligations to make our world a better place, to help feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and unshackle the oppressed? Have we remembered to say hello to the stranger, to walk in the shoes of the other, to give back to the world?

Have we remembered what it means to call ourselves Jewish, that we have a homeland in the Middle East? Have we remembered the possibility of feeling centered by the celebrations that our tradition offers?

This is the season when the shofar blasts remind us: “Remember us to life, dear God. Remember us to life.”

Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz
Congregation B’nai Jeshurun, Short Hills

Season of forgiveness

ONE OF OUR great teachers, Rabbi Isaac Luria, the 16th-century mystic, taught us that before we pray to God we need to commit ourselves to the mitzva, the commandment, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” In this season, when more Jews congregate for prayer than at any other time of the year, we should take heed of this instruction. What does the commandment mean?

Traditionally, this is the season of forgiveness. We need to remember that we can hardly ask God for forgiveness if we ourselves are not willing to forgive.

On the spectrum of willingness to forgive we can discern various types of people. One common type finds it easy to forgive themselves, but they find it almost impossible to forgive others. To this type the Torah says, “Lovingly forgive others, just as you are ready to forgive yourself.”

Another type can forgive others, but tends to be unremittingly harsh toward themselves. To this type the Torah commands, “You love others; love yourself as well.”

The third type can’t love or forgive anyone. To them the Torah commands, “Love others as well as yourself.”

One very rare type is readily willing to forgive others just as they are ready to forgive themselves. Since they already satisfy the Torah’s command, what does the Torah say to them? Perhaps the Torah means to say: “May you forgive others. Then, hopefully, they will become forgiving, just like you.”

Rabbi David Greenstein
Congregation Shomrei Emunah, Montclair

Receive and give back

WE ARE FAMILIAR with Israel’s two seas — the Kinneret and the Dead Sea. As you know, the latter is stagnant, filled with salt and lifeless; no fish live there. In contrast, the Kinneret is blue, filled with life and many fish as well as the people who swim there. What accounts for the difference between the two seas? One common answer is that the Kinneret receives its water from the Jordan River but also returns water to the Jordan. The Kinneret receives and gives back. In contrast, the Dead Sea only receives the water from the Jordan; it gives nothing back.

The High Holy Days call upon us to be like the Kinneret — givers as well as receivers. We die a spiritual death when we live like the Dead Sea, physically alive, but concerned only with self, rarely thinking of others. For many people, our best moments come when we know that we have helped someone else. In a society that all too often encourages us to think of ourselves, the Torah teaches us to protect the vulnerable, respect our elders, be honest in business, and care for our planet. In a year when we have witnessed the horrors of the killing of Israeli tourists, the murder of innocent movie-goers in Colorado, and the abuse of children by Jerry Sandusky, the Torah’s clarion call for justice, ethics, and caring for others rings ever more loudly in our ears.

Wishing you a year of love, caring, and goodness.

Rabbi Laurence W. Groffman
Temple Sholom of West Essex, Cedar Grove

Saying and doing teshuva

IN GRAMMAR SCHOOL, three-worded sentences were commonly heard: “Pay attention please!” “Open your books.” “Stop that now.”

In synagogue, different three-worded phrases are routinely heard: “I am sorry.” “Please forgive me.” “Accept my apology.” The challenge is for us to say these compelling words to those who deserve to hear them.

The High Holy Days reinforce our self-awareness of human imperfections and the need to admit our shortcomings.

Each year at this time, we are reminded to examine our thoughts, speech, and deeds, honestly and courageously. Through introspection, heshbon hanefesh, self-scrutiny, we may then identify the personal areas for improvement and act upon them.

This three-step process is never easy for any and all of us: Examination, identification, and admission. Yet it must be done if we are to break out of our moral lethargy and make the necessary attitudinal transformation that these Yamim Nora’im, Days of Awe, require of us. It is essential for each person to express contrition now and then move on constructively into the new year.

Of course, words are not enough. What is called for in this season is a change of behavior. We must apply lessons learned to grow and rebuild. With intense reflection and discipline, modification is always possible. Regretting past mistakes is the first step in repairing for the future.

May the Jewish New Year 5773 enable everyone to focus on the potential of today and the promise of tomorrow. I extend to you three beautiful Hebrew words, shana tova u’metuka, a sweet, good year!

Rabbi Ronald W. Kaplan
Temple Beth Am, Parsippany

God-fearing, not bloodthirsty

THE STORY OF the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham, which we read on the second day of Rosh Hashana, usually is taught as a lesson of Abraham’s complete devotion to God. God asked him to sacrifice his son and without question or comment Abraham was ready to do God’s will. He even brought the knife to the neck of his son Isaac before an angel of God told him to stop.

Such a lesson is not in accordance with our religious tradition. A fundamental principle of Judaism holds that life is precious. We are commanded to protect life. For us to kill as, for example, in war is always a last option. For us respecting God means respecting life. We are not supposed to kill in the name of God. In that respect we are different from other religious traditions, which allow and sometimes encourage people to fight and to kill in the name of God. All the killing that we see in the Middle East from fanatic Muslim terrorists and that our forefathers witnessed and suffered during the Crusades is the result of a holy scripture that they believed rewarded those who killed in the name of God.

If the story of the near sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham teaches anything it is this: Killing in the name of God is wrong. God did not sanction or allow Abraham to kill Isaac to prove Abraham’s devotion to God. That Abraham was ready to kill in the name of God was an anathema to the new faith in God Abraham had acquired. God’s refusal to accept the blood of Isaac as a sacrifice changed the course of Judaism forever. Because of that abortive sacrifice, the Jewish people are God-fearing but not bloodthirsty.

Indeed, from that story we learn that life is sacred and precious. What better Jewish lesson should we consider on these High Holy Days?

Rabbi Aaron Kriegel
Temple Beth Ahm of West Essex, Verona

New beginnings

ZEH HAYOM hara’ot olam –— “Today the world stands at a new beginning; this is the day of the world’s birth!” These are the words we recite every year as the blasts of the shofar are sounded. The yamim nora’im is a time of new beginnings, when we look forward with renewed hope and anticipation to the year ahead. As we gather together in our communities, we reconnect with one another and ourselves, asking: “What does the year ahead hold for me, my family, and my community?” And we say together, “This is the day of the world’s birth; this is the day of new beginnings!”

As we stand on the precipice of the New Year, we take the time to pause and reflect upon what has brought us to this moment in time. This is the task of heshbon hanefesh, an accounting of the soul. Our sacred charge is to reflect upon the journey that we have traveled, so we can begin our journey into the year refreshed and ready to create our world anew together.

Allow yourself some time for reflection and think about the following questions: “Where have I been this past year as an individual and as part of my family?” “What have I learned about myself?” “Where do I want to go this year spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and how can I get there?” Once we have done this as individuals, as families, and as a community, we can begin to pivot slowly and thoughtfully as we gaze with anticipation toward 5773, with unlimited possibility. May the year 5773 be a sweet and healthy year for all of us.

Rabbi Greg Litcofsky
Temple Emanu-El, Livingston

Offering shelter

ONE FRIDAY AFTERNOON, I received a call asking me to visit a congregant in the ICU. On the way to the hospital it started raining, and I was glad to have my trusty umbrella in the back of my car.

I‘ve always liked a really big umbrella, the kind that can be found only at specialty golf stores.

When I got to the hospital, I left my wet umbrella near the entrance and went to visit my congregant. On the way out, I saw an elderly woman eyeing my umbrella and asking the security guard if it belonged to the hospital.

I glanced out the window; it was raining heavily.

I told the woman I’d be happy to share the umbrella and walk her to her car. She graciously accepted my offer.

As we got to her car she said, “Rabbi, I’m not of your faith, but this is the nicest thing anyone has done for me in a very long time.”

I realized that my oversized umbrella had allowed me to make a real difference in this woman’s life during her time of need.

Indeed, we all have something to share with those around us. So often, opportunities spring up for us to be there for others in their time of need — to share the physical and emotional shelter we possess and touch the lives of the people around us.

So this year, I plan on taking a trip back to the golf store. And may it be God’s will that all those who need our help and support as they try to weather the storms of life be blessed with shelter, warmth, and a happy, healthy, and sweet new year.

Rabbi Shalom D. Lubin
Congregation Shaya Ahavat Torah, Parsippany
Chabad of SE Morris County

Light for righteous

HAVE YOU EVER thrown a handful of sand into the air and watched it shimmer in the sunlight? I watched my grandson playfully do so this summer on the beach and saw the particles of sand shimmer in the sunlight. I thought of: Or zarua latzadik, u’l’yishrei lev simha — “Light is sown for the righteous, and for the upright of heart, gladness.”

As the sand caught the sunlight, I now understood the meaning of this verse. When we sow light through our righteous acts with an upright heart, then our only reward is a heart of gladness — the only reward is “Who is rich? He who is satisfied with his lot.” (Psalms 128:2)

We all desire to have the good things of life, but how much is enough to make us satisfied? A recent episode of the TV show Secret Millionaire opened with the millionaire showing his beautiful home, the furnishings, the gadgets, and the cars. On his mission, he took one of his daughters to one of the poorest neighborhoods. It was then that they both learned that all the material objects are great, but true satisfaction comes from extending your hands to help others.

Take the sand that supplants the gems we desire or despair for, or take the sand and change it, be formative with it, change others, and then we can all experience Or zarua latzadik, u’l’yishrei lev simha — “Light is sown for the righteous, and for the upright of heart, gladness.”

Rabbi Mark Mallach
Temple Beth Ahm Yisrael, Springfield

Social justice stars

A FRIEND RECENTLY gave me a book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame by Peter Dreier, a professor and a journalist. It includes profiles of labor leaders, social reformers, and advocates for peace, civil rights, civil liberties, women’s rights, and gay rights. Twenty-two are Jewish, although at no time during the 20th century did Jews comprise more than 4 percent of the U.S. population. Some of better-known are Emma Goldman, Albert Einstein, Louis Brandeis, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Arthur Miller, Bella Abzug, Betty Friedan, Harvey Milk, and Paul Wellstone.

At this time when unions are under attack, when reforms to provide Americans with health insurance are slandered as “socialism,” when states are passing laws that restrict the right to vote and making it harder for women to control their reproductive health, and when wealth is increasingly concentrated among a tiny elite, social justice in the broadest sense of the term should become a Jewish priority.

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are times for taking stock of our deeds and setting a new course for the future. This year, on Nov. 6, our future as a nation will be charted for the next four years. How hard is it to surmise where the Jewish champions of social justice would stand on the issues? They were mostly secular. For the religiously inclined, I cite the last three negative mitzvot: “The king may not accumulate an excessive number of horses, wives, or wealth.” Who today are our kings if not the 1 percent?

Bennett Muraskin
Jewish Cultural School and Society, West Orange

Each day a gift

EACH HIGH HOLY Day season we read from the Torah portion Nitzavim, Deuteronomy 30:19: “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse: therefore choose life that you may live.” Such a command may seem redundant. After all, who among us would not choose life? However the real question to ask is: “How can we choose life and yet not live?”

The Jewish New Year reminds us that we all must seek to add life to our years, and not merely years to our life. Most notably, we are to treat each day as a gift with the possibility to better appreciate our blessings and help heal our broken world. The command is a stark reminder that life cannot be taken for granted. Even when faced with our own adversity and challenge, we are to reach within life, finding support from family, friends, and community to help us better survive the heartache. Thus, we are never to count our days, but make every day count.

The prayers we utter, the portions we chant, the sermons we give all serve to reinforce our choice of living life to its potential. May each of us in the New Year 5773 be granted length of days and the wisdom to fill them with meaning.

Rabbi Randi Musnitsky
Temple Har Shalom, Warren

Life is precious

SOMETIMES I THINK we come to shul on Rosh Hashana with magic in mind. We hope to find some magic words to erase our sins. We imagine that if we endure the long service and pronounce all the words in the Mahzor, God will simply have to forgive us!

There are no magic words. We live in a fast-paced world that values efficiency. We prefer quick and simple solutions and simple answers, even to life’s toughest questions. We settle for gimmicks or slogans, especially in times of desperation and confusion. But there is no short cut to teshuva and a person can’t compress teshuva into 10 efficient days of the year.

Teshuva is a process more than it is a goal. Like the mitzvot of giving tzedaka or prayer, one can never really finish doing teshuva. We often translate teshuva as “repentance,” which leads us to think it is a finite destination. But sincere teshuva is ongoing. It begins with honesty, an awareness and regret for one’s shortcomings. It continues with resolve, a decision to change one’s bad habits and mistakes. It builds to awareness, when a person can sense God’s presence every day, everywhere, and potentially in every deed. Teshuva is better defined as “returning.” It is a commitment to return to a more meaningful, mitzva-oriented life.

To begin to do teshuva a person must slow down and give teshuva the attention and time it deserves. Life is precious and short. It deserves our best effort!

L’shana tova! Have a healthy, happy 5773!

Rabbi George Nudell
Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains

Taking stock

IT’S THE TIME of year when we pause to take stock of where we’ve been and where we are going, how we have addressed life’s difficulties, and how we’ve been blessed. If the difficulties have been great, we hope and pray for a new and positive beginning.

In the Zihronot (Remembrances) portion of the High Holy Days liturgy we read a quotation from the prophet Jeremiah: “I remember in your favor the devotion of your youth, the love of your new-wed days, how you followed after Me through the wilderness, in an unsown land.” The prophet was referring to the devotion of the Israelites who crossed through the Red Sea and followed their faith into a great unknown.

Our fledgling community knows all about new beginnings; we bravely started from scratch last winter. We hold lay-led traditional/egalitarian services every Shabbat and holiday, and we are developing learning programs as well as undertaking the mitzvot of caring, on which the community depends. There have been many lessons to learn, obstacles to overcome, and all the worries of the great unknown. But the thrill and joy of our new undertaking and the sustaining support of our friends have kept us coming back each week to daven, learn, shmooze, and celebrate together the blessings of community.

Please join us for Shabbat and High Holy Day services. We wish all health, joy, and abundant blessings — and may we all be inscribed for good and for blessing in the coming year.

Nikki Pusin, president
South Orange-Maplewood Independent Minyan

Spiritual check-up

IF WE ARE over a certain age, we visit a doctor annually to be probed and prodded and measured and confronted, all to determine the state of our physical health. Sometimes, as part of the process, we undergo a procedure that requires us not to eat for the 24 hours before the procedure. When the examination is concluded, if all goes well, we are told that we will live to see another year, although perhaps we should make some changes and that we should return next year at the same time.

If we are over a certain age, we make another visit annually, to be probed and prodded and measured and confronted, all to determine the state of our spiritual health. As part of this process as well, we undergo a procedure that requires us not to eat for 24 hours (or a little more). During this visit, however, we do the probing and prodding and measuring and stressing, and it is our obligation to probe deeply, to prod uncomfortably, to measure painstakingly and accurately, and to confront honestly. When the examination is concluded, if all goes well, we are reassured that we will live to see another year, although perhaps we should make some changes and that we should return next year at the same time.

Take advantage of this annual visit, and probe and prod and measure and confront yourself. May your examination be fruitful, and may you live to return at the same time, next year.

Rabbi Simon Rosenbach
Ahavas Sholom, Newark


THERE ARE TWO basic approaches to Jewish history. One is to define our existence by the tragedies that have befallen us: slavery in Egypt, the destruction of our Temples, the exile into the Diaspora, the Holocaust….

Another is to consider the veracity of the words of the Prophet Isaiah, who described a day in which the power of God will be applied to “redeeming the other part of God’s people,” when God will “hold up a signal to the nations” (Isaiah 11:11-12). It would seem that the prophet’s prediction, that a “saving remnant” would survive, has indeed been proven historically accurate time and again. The covenant has been upheld.

When people ask me why I believe in God, I point to Jewish history. They say, “What about the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Hellenists, the Nazis.” I say, “Where are they today? And, more importantly, where are you?”

The Jewish answer to that question is the same answer that Abraham gives when he is called — Hineini! Here I am, ready to serve, ready to do whatever is needed of me. God continues to challenge every generation of the Jewish people; we must not define ourselves by everything that has happened to us. We must be defined by that positive, can-do spirit that God instilled in the Jewish people to get us through the most devastating experiences imaginable.

As we contend with the critical challenges that have faced the Jewish people, let us focus on the fact that we have survived and have been empowered with a God-given capacity to face anything in the spirit of Hineini, with grace, dignity, and determination.

Rabbi Ari Rosenberg
Temple Sha’arey Shalom, Springfield

Change a life

MANY OF YOU are probably too young to remember Larry Doby, a Montclair resident who died in 2006. Mr. Doby was a former professional baseball player who grew up in Paterson and became a star in the “Negro Leagues” because African-Americans were banned from Major League baseball.

Mr. Doby became the second African-American to be permitted to play in Major League baseball. Because he followed Jackie Robinson, he did not have the same kind of press coverage and endured truly horrific racism and hatred.

Mr. Doby recounted that on his first day with the Cleveland Indians, he ran from the dugout and stood alone gazing at his teammates, every one of whom refused to warm up with him. As he recalled, he “never felt so lonely.” All of a sudden, Joe Gordon, a future Hall of Fame second baseman, came out and said, “You gonna stand there, rookie, or play some catch?” The two men became fast friends.

Later, Doby said of Joe Gordon: “That man changed my life.”

What will you do this year that someone might say of you, “That person changed my life”?

Rabbi Doug Sagal
Temple Emanu-El, Westfield

We have changed

A TALE IS told of a student who asks his teacher before Rosh Hashana for permission to leave the lesson early. “Why are you hurrying away?” the rabbi asks.

“I am a cantor and I must look into the Mahzor and put my prayers in order.”

The rabbi says to him, “The Mahzor is the same as it was last year. But you are not the same. It would be better for you to look into your deeds and put yourself in order.”

The prayers are the same. We have changed since last Rosh Hashana.

We have experienced new things — births and deaths, growth and failure, success and sin. Rosh Hashana is our opportunity to put our lives in order as we meditate on the themes of the Mahzor.

Malhuyot/Kingship: To whom do we ascribe ultimate power in the world? Have we been blinded by technology and mistakenly adopted faith in self-sufficiency. Ultimately the King of all Kings is the only one around whom we should organize our lives.

Zihronot/Remembrance: What is the legacy of our ancestors? Whose traditions do we uphold? For what do we want to be remembered? We hope that God will judge us with kindness and grace, so we must remember to judge others with grace and kindness.

Shofarot: When you hear the shofar in synagogue, what is activated within you? Are you being called to do teshuva and change your direction? Is your heart breaking open with gratitude? Are you standing at Sinai to recommit yourself to the covenant with God and Israel?

The words are the same. We are different. Each and every year. May we all continue to grow and achieve new heights in the upcoming year. Shana tova u’metuka.

Rabbi Francine Roston
Congregation Beth El, South Orange

Fulfill the vision

MAY THIS New Year bring a turning, a new direction for each of us and our world. May we walk the paths of peace and harmony, adorned by respect. May our journey be gentle to the God’s earth, guided by love for all of creation. May we have the wisdom to contribute to repairing the broken shards of the world, with humility and compassion leading our way.

May our courage drive us to be engaged in fulfilling the vision of the prophets, “To do justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8) May this be a season of healing and hope as we begin the New Year.

L’shana tova tikateivu — warm wishes for happy and healthy new year.

Rabbi Amy Joy Small
Congregation Beth Hatikvah, Summit

The child within

THE INDEPENDENT filmmaker Jeremiah McDonald produced a video that went viral this summer. In the video, the 32-year-old McDonald interviews himself at age 12 by ingeniously splicing together current footage with bits of a videotape he made 20 years ago when he was still a child. The result is both entertaining and surreal.

In a certain sense, this video encapsulates what the Jewish concept of teshuva is all about. As we prepare for the High Holy Days, we are asked to engage in a conversation with ourselves, to go back to the pristine days of our youth, to the time when our hopes and dreams were formed. We ask ourselves if we made the right choices as the years passed. Would our 12-year-old selves be proud of the adult persons we have become? Teshuva is also a chance to recapture the exuberance of our youth, the thrill of knowing that, no matter our current age, the future still holds the promise of many joys yet to be tasted, accomplishments yet to be savored.

Contrary to popular belief, talking to oneself is not a sign of mental illness; rather, it is the best prescription for restoring health of spirit. Yeats said: “We make out of the quarrel with others, rhetoric, but of the quarrel with ourselves, poetry.”

As we approach the New Year, let us remember that we must sometimes talk to the child within in order to actualize the true artistry of our lives.

Rabbi Geoffrey A. Spector
Temple Beth Shalom, Livingston

Sacred space

WE PRAY ON these High Holy Days in a sanctuary adorned with magnificent new stained-glass windows. We commissioned our artist, David Ascalon, to depict the coming together of our House of Light and our House of Torah into one vibrant community, celebrating the joy of Jewish living throughout the year. Our vision has been fulfilled, and it brings to mind the words of Psalm 27, recited during this penitential season: “One thing I ask of God, that shall I seek: To dwell in God’s house all the days of my life, to behold His sweetness, to contemplate in His sanctuary.”

My prayer for the New Year is that we will come often to contemplate in this sacred and inspirational space. But we know well that contemplation is not what is ultimately demanded of us. Rather, it is the learning of Torah and the performance of mitzvot, it is taking the sweetness we find in this sanctuary and bringing it into our homes for Shabbat and yom tov, it is finding in the teachings of our tradition the path on which to pursue our task of making this world a better place.

Above our ark we have inscribed in Jerusalem stone words from Exodus: “And they shall make Me a sanctuary, and I will dwell in their midst.” Let us be worthy of encountering in the year to come, through our prayers and through our deeds, the presence of God in our sanctuary and in our lives. Shana tova.

Cantor Steven Stern
Temple Beth O’r/Beth Torah, Clark

Earning another year

ON THE EVE of Rosh Hashana some communities recite Psalm 24, which asks, “Who shall ascend God’s mountain; Who shall stand in His holy place?” The response is familiar: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart and who has not stirred My soul for naught.” How can one manipulate God’s soul, toy with God’s neshama? The answer underscores a fundamental concept of the High Holy Days.

A parable helps: Reb Moshe was walking down the street when he saw Chaim approaching, looking preoccupied and depressed. “You look sad,” said Reb Moshe. “Can I do anything?” Chaim responded, “I desperately need $100 to pay some bills, and I do not have the money.” “No problem,” said Reb Moshe. “I’ll loan you the money” and immediately wrote a check for $100.

For the following year, Chaim avoided Reb Moshe. When the two finally met, Reb Moshe said, “Chaim, I am glad to see you looking well, but I am puzzled. Last year you were deeply depressed over your lack of money so I loaned you $100, but you did not even cash the check! What’s going on?” “Well,” said Chaim, “I told you I needed the money because I just wanted to see what you would do.” Chaim was toying with Reb Moshe’s neshama.

We now stand at the beginning of a New Year when we ask God to inscribe us in the Book of Life for another year. God, however, is asking us the fundamental question of this season implied in Psalm 24: “Why should I give you another year? What did you do with the year I gave you that just ended?”

May we each be inscribed and sealed for a year of life, blessing, peace, and sustenance.

Rabbi Kenneth M. Tarlow
Congregation Beth Torah, Florham Park

Working together

AS WE REFLECT upon the events of the past year, one event that stands out is the successful landing of the NASA rover, Curiosity, on the surface of Mars. As of mid-August, Curiosity had already broadcast stunning color images from Mars.

A diverse group of scientists worked on the Curiosity project. Each one had his own area of expertise and set of tasks to perform. All of them worked together, motivated by the same common goal, and persevered with hope and determination until the mission was accomplished — to reach another planet and explore it.

Every event that comes to a person’s attention has some message to help him improve his service to God. What message can we derive from the Curiosity story?

We Jews are also working together on a mission: to transform the world into a place where God’s presence is revealed and ultimately to bring the true and complete redemption of the world.

Each of us has different talents, interests, and capabilities. Yet we are all motivated to perfect the world, to bring it to the culmination of our entire history. If we work together in a spirit of unity and common purpose, we can reach a new world — the world of Moshiach, including the building of the third, eternal Bais Hamikdosh.

May we all be inscribed and sealed in the book of life for a sweet new year — a year of unity, common purpose, and successful achievement of this common purpose.

Rabbi Yaakov M. Zirkind
Congregation Ahavath Yisrael, Morristown

Recalculating our path

HOW TECHNOLOGY has changed the way we live! Just a few years ago I was so excited to have a GPS. No longer would I get lost on vacations and end up late to communal simhas. Now, my stand-alone GPS is a thing for the Smithsonian, my Droid PDA has an App that allows me to use the GPS function straight off the phone. Life is getting simpler by the day. But one aspect of the GPS is still complicated. On a recent family vacation, I took the wrong exit since the GPS couldn’t exactly picture the road I was on. Immediately it jumped into action to save the day, “recalculating” it exclaimed, and soon I was sent back on the right road to my destination. The ability of the GPS to know that I was headed in the wrong direction and kicking into “rerouting” mode is a great lesson for me to learn from.

How important and timely a lesson at this most special period we are now celebrating. Often in life, we find ourselves on a road that may be leading us away from our desired destination but may not even realize it. Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur serve as our GPS, urging us to recalculate the path that we have taken and ensuring that we are not lost forever. It is this special period of reflection, introspection, and prayer that allows us to correct our ways and change our course so we can reach our true goals and destination in life. As we recalculate our relationship with our Creator and our religion, let us merit to truly be blessed with a healthy, sweet, and happy New Year. Ketiva v’hatima tova.

Rabbi Eliezer Zwickler
Ahawas Achim B’nai Jacob & David, West Orange


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