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Rabbis’ messages for the New Year: Greater MetroWest
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Rabbis’ messages for the New Year: Greater MetroWest

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

Lessons of the Akeda

WE GATHER EVERY year at this time to recall the ancient story of the binding of Isaac. For thousands of years, we have used this occasion to plumb the depths of our history for meanings revealed in this story. We have related this story to our experiences across millennia and around the world.

The spectrum of commentary that has been produced is impossible to catalogue or comprehend. From ancient times to modern, from the early temple, to contemporary Orthodoxy, to secular humanism, wise people have found different — indeed contradictory — interpretations of the story to be meaningful and important in their own lives and times. Certainly, at times we have even found different meanings in the same words, different facts in the same experiences.

This year, as the Jewish community in New Jersey, as elsewhere in the United States and in Israel, is fraught with dissension over the struggle for peace among all people, it is wise to remember this lesson from the Akeda: Let us not harm children in the pursuit of our objectives.

Shalom and L’shana tova.

Rob Agree
Ceremonial Leader
Kahal Chaverim
NJ Congregation for Humanistic Judaism 


One community

I SPENT A week in Israel in mid-July with 19 Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox rabbinic colleagues as part of AIPAC’s first-ever Progressive Rabbinic Mission. Our arrival was marked by the first time Jerusalem was targeted by missiles coming from Gaza. During our third day, Iron Dome intercepted missiles directly over the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, where we were meeting. That experience drove home the importance of the U.S.-Israel relationship and the role we play both as proud citizens of the United States of America and as committed members of the Jewish community. It reminded me, a progressive Zionist, that, even as we build a future for Judaism here in the U.S., we play a key role in helping to secure the present and future well-being of the Jewish state. 

One of the trip’s most profound lessons was also one of the most unexpected. Spending time with rabbinic colleagues from across the country at a time when Israel was under attack from both Gazan missiles and a biased media, when there was more overt anti-Semitism throughout Europe and beyond than at any time since the Shoa drove home the importance of klal Yisrael, the unity of the Jewish community.

At no time in my life has the teaching “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh” — “All the people of Israel are responsible for one another” — held a deeper, more profound meaning for me than it does today. We can argue, debate, and disagree, but when all is said and done, to build the Jewish future here and in the Land of Israel, we need to work together as one community.

Rabbi Daniel Cohen
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, South Orange


Fears and hopes

ON THE HIGH Holy Days, the prayer book asks that we pray about sin and forgiveness, but our hearts tell us to pray about something else. Many of us will want to pray about Israel, about the painful and violent struggle with the Palestinians over who owns the land and about how a peaceful settlement can be reached between the descendants of Abraham. 

We need to pray about Israel, about the crisis facing our spiritual homeland, about how the rest of the world heaps outrageous criticism on us, and about how we can protect Israel from danger, terror, and fear. 

Fear is among the deepest of all human emotions and has the power to consume us, so the Bible gives voice to our fears. In Psalm 27, the psalm of the penitential season, we read: “God is my light and my help, whom shall I fear…. God is the strength of my life, whom shall I dread?” 

The psalm mirrors the fears we may be feeling as we encounter God on the Days of Awe. Yet, in the face of fear, we can hope that old antagonisms will end and that Israel’s neighbors will come to understand that violence will not solve the conflict over who should control the land that God promised to Abraham. We dare to hope that Israel’s gifts to the world of mind and heart will be accepted in a spirit of friendship and cooperation. We dare to hope, in the words of the Prophet Micah, that “each person shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree and none shall make him afraid.”

Rabbi Mark Cooper
Oheb Shalom Congregation, South Orange


Girl power

I THINK JEWISH girls should fight! Uh huh! And don’t give me all this thing about too young, too weak, too small, need to do other things, all that stuff. They’re perfectly capable of toting the heaviest and most potent of artillery and warheads just like anyone else. And winning. 

In one word: neshek

The Hebrew for rockets, bombs, mortar shells, grenades, M16s, and everything related. 

 NeshekNeirot, Shabbat Kodesh. Shabbat and yom tov candles. 

No such thing as too young, too weak, too small, need to do other things, all that stuff. As soon as they turn three years old, they’re going to stand right next to mommy at the Shabbat table and launch the Shabbat candle — the liveliest of any weapon known to man. The weapon that turns darkness into light, confusion into clar ity, and war into peace.

Girl power. How’s that for a heavy gun? 

Rabbi Mendel Dubov
Chabad of Sussex County, Sparta 


‘We need you’

IF YOU INTENTIONALLY opened the ‘From the Rabbis’ High Holy Day messages in NJ Jewish News looking for an inspiring message for 5775, you are probably not the person I am trying to reach. To save you time, please jump to the signature line below. You are one of the lucky ones! Nothing I write can compare to the blessings and fortunes you already experience from connection to Judaism and affiliation with the Jewish community. Jewish people everywhere owe you a debt of gratitude for your contribution to the survival and the unfolding destiny of the Jewish people.

If, however, you are a searcher or if you accidentally stumbled upon this page, PLEASE DON’T GO — we need you. Where have you been? This only sounds desperate because it is! Friend, our community is falling apart: Jews all over the world are disenchanted, our connection to Israel is tenuous and ambivalent, the intellectual nobility of Torah study is tarnished, souls that used to soar from prayer are bored and weary, our frenetic lives make acts of loving-kindness burdensome. 

Things for 5774 years were grim…until now; year 5775 will be different. Everything will change or begin to change. This year is a New Year and this year we are filled with hope. The year 5775 will be different, a banner year for the Jewish people, because of — you.

Shana Tova — a healthy, sweet, and meaningful year for you and your entire family. With great love, 

Rabbi Menashe East
Mount Freedom Jewish Center, Randolph 


Sacred times

SOMEONE “LIVES in his/her own world,” suggests one detached from reality: said with disdain, but also a touch of envy. On Rosh Hashana we declare: Today is the world’s birthday: like our birthdays, a day marking “the” birth, but also a transition from history to the future.

We save the reading of Genesis for Simhat Torah, but the story is present in our thoughts: God took a world of tohu va’vohu and brought order, justice, and mercy and goodness from chaos. Notwithstanding how one holds chapter one of our Torah, we cannot help but marvel that we live in a world that contains those qualities, though they may get limited attention in “the news.”

“The news” on Rosh Hashana is that God does not create junk. The Torah tells us “God saw that [creation] was good,” looking it over as we ask students to do before turning in an exam, not only seeing that it was good, but seeing to it that it was good; And it gets better: our prayers remind us “in goodness God renews the act of creation continually.”

As those created in God’s likeness, we have the opportunity to see goodness in the world and see to it there continues to be goodness in the world through tikun olam. Although we created neither the sun, the moon, nor the stars, through our relationships we have created a world full of mo’adim: sacred times in our lives, which add goodness to our days and years.

Rabbi Mark Finkel
Pine Brook Jewish Center, Montville 


Stand together

ONE OF THE most powerful prayers of the High Holy Day season is Avinu Malkeinu, in which we refer to God as OUR parent and OUR sovereign. We don’t pray in the first person singular. We pray in the first person plural. This is not simply a stylistic or grammatical choice; it is a statement. This choice of language emphasizes the importance of coming together as a community — and not standing alone. 

In recent months we’ve watched as violence has flared in the Middle East and anti-Semitism has appeared around the world. It’s no time to stand alone. This year — perhaps more than any other in recent memory — we need one another. Come be a part of the greater Jewish community during the High Holy Day season and throughout the rest of the year as well. 

L’shana tova — May this coming year be a year of good health, happiness, success, and peace for all of us. 

Rabbi Avi Friedman
Congregation Ohr Shalom — Summit Jewish Community Center


Self-evolution

THESE PAST MONTHS have brought complications and hardship that have sent us reeling in disbelief — from Ebola to ISIS, racial strife, the suicide of a comedic hero, and of course, so painfully, our brothers and sisters fighting for existential safety in Israel.

We wonder how we can envision light in the midst of the darkness. But I also worry about us; the world keeps throwing so much at us that we stop taking time to look in the mirror to be sure that we ourselves are in balance. I am not suggesting we be selfish, but if we don’t see straight spiritually, we will not be able to draw on our personal wells of wisdom to solve the world’s problems. 

This is the season of teshuva — of turning, change, reflection, renewal, when we are reminded that we all have primordial purpose, a reason we are here on Earth. During the year, our vision becomes clouded and unclear. The burden of our responsibility is heavy; indeed, we work diligently to fulfill everything we are supposed to get done and be for everyone else. And, so, we forget to remember why we were put here in the first place. We forget that we are unique and important and vital to the cosmic process of our beautiful universe. 

Yes, we are called to do our part in fixing the world, to create clarity in the fog of confusion. But, we are also called upon to evolve as human beings if not first, then at least simultaneously. 

The world is trembling nowadays. We will together respond. But let’s not forget what we owe to ourselves in our own process of evolution.

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


Our precious jewels

THERE IS A midrash that compares God to a king who has given a precious gem to a loved one with instructions to take care of the gem, saying that if it gets lost, “You won’t have the ability to repay me, and I have nothing else like it, so do your duty by both of us, and guard it properly.”

Each of us has a gem; each life is a priceless jewel in our possession for only a short time. While we are on Earth, it is our job to protect the jewel and see the priceless nature of all those with whom we come into contact. 

This year we have seen the degradation of God’s heavenly creations. We witnessed the revival of anti-Semitism in Europe and watched in Syria and Iraq as people committed atrocities in God’s name. It makes us worry for the world we will leave for our children and their children. 

This year, let’s pray for peace. Let’s pray that God spreads over us sukkat shalom, a covering of peace over Israel and all the peace-loving people of the world. God, we ask that you help us fulfill the mission of our people. We promise to let the light of every one of your jewels shine. 

Help us to be your partners in peace, to rebuild this world in your image. We ask that you bestow upon us a year of peace, and a year of happiness. We are your partners, we are your children, and we pledge that we shall do your work. Help us safeguard the precious jewel against the storms that will come. And let us say: Amen.

Rabbi Ben Goldstein
Temple Beth El Mekor Chayim, Cranford 


‘God will hear you’

This High Holy Day season follows a particularly difficult period for us and for the world. And the future remains full of concern. This is the time when we especially unite to offer our prayers for peace, healing, and blessing. For whom do we pray? With whom do we pray?

I share the following modern midrash I have written for this season. It concerns Rabbi Ishmael, a central rabbinic figure in our tradition and one of the martyrs traditionally mourned on Yom Kippur.

“Call me Rabbi Ishmael” — Along with my close friend, Rabbi Akiva, I have been one of the teachers who have defined Judaism for the last 2,000 years. I believe that “the Torah speaks in a human voice.”

In my youth I wondered. Why was I given the name “Ishmael”? I could understand being named Abraham or Isaac, but why did my parents decide to name me for Isaac’s brother, who was expelled from Abraham and Sarah’s household?

Our verse says: “And the Almighty heard the voice of the young lad.” (Genesis 21:17) My father, Elisha, explained: “‘Ishmael’ means ‘God will hear you.’ God heard the young Ishmael when the boy called out, even though he was sent away by his father, Abraham, and even though he was rejected by the saintly Sarah. We named you ‘Ishmael’ because we wanted to say to you that God hears the human voice. God hears everyone who calls to God, even if no one else wants to listen.”

May the prayers of all who call out in truth be heard.

Rabbi David Greenstein
Congregation Shomrei Emunah, Montclair 


Open eyes

ONE OF THE most beautiful customs of Yamim Nora’im is the ritual of Tashlich. We gather at a river or sea and cast bread crumbs into the water, symbolically casting away our sins.

Tradition calls for us to perform this ritual in a body of water that contains fish. One reason given for this is that just as fish have no eyebrows and their eyes are always open, we hope that God’s eyes, so to speak, will be be open for our benefit, i.e., see the good in us.

I love the image of open eyes. It reminds us that God is “watching” us. Even if we do not take that literally, we can remember that everything we do matters, whether for good or for bad. If it is not God who punishes or rewards us, then it is our deeds that do. When we do good, it creates goodness, and when we do wrong, it leads to further hurt. The Holy Days remind us to keep our own eyes open to what we are doing.

We can also use this time of year to keep our eyes open to holiness and blessing. In the midst of our hectic lives, we can make sure to stop and appreciate the love, beauty, and goodness we have. The notion of saying 100 blessings a day is a potent way of teaching us that we are surrounded by wonder and miracles — if only we keep our eyes open.

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


Singular creation 

ROSH HASHANA is the anniversary of the creation of the first man and woman, Adam and Chava. Their creation took place on the sixth day of the world’s creation. Our Torah teaches that each year the world and all of its inhabitants are recreated and endowed with new potentials and strengths to be utilized during the coming year.

The Talmud asks: Why were Adam and Chava created alone? Why were masses of people not created, just like all other facets of creation? The Talmud tells us that creation was designed this way to teach you that each and every person is a whole world! Every deed that each person does affects the entire world! 

The lesson we take from this is quite powerful. We must carefully examine every action we take and every word we utter because the whole world revolves around the choices we make. We must strive to make a difference in the world around us through making sure that every individual, from infant to senior, realizes their God-given potentials and recognizes how important they are, to our people and in the eyes of the Almighty. It is only a consciousness and partnership of this magnitude that can guarantee a bright and vibrant Jewish future to the benefit of all mankind.

May this year be a year of unprecedented growth and successes for you and your loved ones. With sincerest blessings for good health, nachas, and prosperity in the coming year,

Rabbi Asher Herson
Chabad Center of Northwest New JerseyRockaway 


Strength times three

A SPECIAL FEATURE of Rosh Hashana this year was that the two days of the holiday were on Thursday and Friday, leading directly into the holy Shabbos — three consecutive days filled with holiness.

The Rebbe spoke about this situation. He explained there is a well-known principle in our holy Torah: “What is repeated three times acquires the force of hazaka (permanence).” The term is derived from the word hozek, strength, and carries an assured presumption that having occurred three times, it will take hold and continue the same way.

If this principle applies in regard to non-obligatory matters, it is certainly true in regard to matters of holiness that already have the quality of everlasting Torah endurance, where each action has a lasting and perpetual impact.

How much more so in the case of Rosh Hashana, which is designated, literally, the head (rosh) of the year. Just as the head directs all the organs of the body — and it is only in this way that each organ carries out its purpose in the fullest measure — so Rosh Hashanah directs and animates each and every day of the year in all particulars of the daily life. 

Since there is a hazaka in the state of holiness mentioned above, it exercises a strong influence on the entire year, so that all one’s activities, in each and all days of the year, are carried out under the strong influence of the sublime holiness of the first three days.

May the coming year be one of holiness for all of us and may we merit seeing the coming of Moshiach. I wish you a Shana tova u’metuka.

Rabbi Mordechai Kanelsky
Bris Avrohom-Congregation Shomrei Torah Ohel Yosef Yitzchak, Hillside 


A special relationship

ROSH HASHANA literally means “Head of the Year,” and as its name indicates, it is the beginning of the Jewish year. The anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, it is the birthday of mankind, highlighting the special relationship between God and humanity. 

Rosh Hashana is a time when families and communities come together. At home we eat apples and honey and other traditional foods at the holiday meal. And in shul, we gather to hear the enchanting sound of the shofar as we rededicate ourselves to Avinu Malkeinu, Our Father, Our King. 

Chabad of West Orange is committed to offering a comfortable place to daven, share wonderful experiences and stories, study our ancient tradition, and teach young and old the joy of Yiddishkeit. 

Those looking for a place to pray are welcome to join Chabad of West Orange, a warm and inviting community. 

May God grant us a year of peace, safety, and security — in Israel and throughout the world — and may we be inscribed and sealed for a happy and sweet year, both materially and spiritually!

Rabbi Mendy Kasowitz
Chabad of West Orange


Propelling forward

TESHUVA IS ONE of the deepest, most amazing concepts in Judaism. First of all, it doesn’t mean repentance; it means return — return to who we really are, not who we pretend to be for acceptance and love, but to our Godly essence that has so much promise and dignity. 

Teshuva is God recognizing that we are human beings and we are going to make mistakes. In fact, we all know that we learn from our mistakes. So it’s never that we have failed at all; it’s that now we have an opportunity to take it to the next level. In fact, every test and challenge we face is an opportunity for growth. 

It is clear that if I am asked to throw a ball in front of me as far as I can, I understand that the further back I extend my arm, the further I will be able to throw the ball forward. One might argue, “I understand that I have to go backward to go forward, but in the meantime, I’m still going backward.” The Lubavitcher Rebbe provides a beautiful insight. The motion backward is, in essence, only for the purpose of going forward. It’s not a movement backward at all, rather the only means of going forward. 

So let us use the High Holy Days to recognize our greatness and potential. We are human and will err, but we can use that experience as an opportunity to propel us forward and be everything we can be. And thank God for the opportunity!

Rabbi Boruch Klar 
Lubavitch Center of Essex County, West Orange


Unity of Israel

THIS PAST SUMMER we witnessed an unprecedented level of ahdut, unity, among the people of Israel. After the kidnapping of the three teenage boys, Naftali, Gilad, and Eyal, we prayed together, did mitzvot together, and hoped for the best. After the devastating news of their demise went worldwide, we continued to act as one people with one mission.

In the days following, we saw Israel at war once again with Operation Protective Edge. While Israel was under the barrage of rocket fire and our young boys and girls were called into active military service, we stayed together. We rallied, we prayed, and we cried together.

What happens now? What will our unity be after the war is over and “normal” life resumes? The answer must be that the unity continues. Let us not wait for yet another catastrophe to bring us together.

May Hashem bless us all this year with health, shalom, and, of course, ahdut.

Rabbi E. Samuel Klibanoff
Congregation Etz Chaim, Livingston 


The right battle strategy

BEFORE PASSING AWAY, Moses reminded the tribes of Gad and Reuven and the half-tribe of Menashe of their promise to fight alongside the other tribes conquering Canaan. These tribes would do battle because they were strong, and enemies would fall before them, as stated: “[Gad] will [simultaneously] tear arms and heads [of enemies]” — i.e., when enemies would confront these Jewish forces, they would fall before them with the first mighty blow that “severed arm and head.” (Deuteronomy 33:20) 

Moses thus provided for victory though natural channels by asking the soldiers of Gad to form a mighty regiment that would make all the initial frontal attacks. But, one can ask, if the strategy was through natural channels rather than a miraculous process, why didn’t Moses have the tribe of Judah, which had always been the strongest, lead the frontal attacks? The answer is that the enemies would be so terrified of Judah that many would run away from the battlefield, with the result that they would have the potential of fomenting a future “Intifada.” Not so with Gad, who would tear the arms and heads of all attacking enemies .

The communal Jewish world is concerned about current developments in Israel and the Middle East in general and praying for Jewish victory over savage Islamo-fascists. It’s time for Israeli leaders to take lessons from Moses! Would that they had the clarity of direction and the ability to make necessary adjustments in dealing with our enemies and their clearly stated agenda of genocide! Would that the mighty regiments that Israel possesses be directed toward frontal assaults that would destroy the “arm and head” of this sworn enemy. 

Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
Congregation Ahavath Zion, Maplewood 


Sweet response

THIS SUMMER, while I was serving on the faculty at URJ Camp Harlam, I learned a new Hebrew phrase. When one asks the question Mah nishma? (What’s up?) or something similar, the typical response is “Hakol b’seder,” “Everything’s OK” (literally “all is in order”). However, the Israelis at camp taught me a new, slang response to the question. Instead of “Hakol b’seder,” the new response is “Hakol d’vash,” “Everything is sweet” (literally, “all is honey”). 

Finding the good and sweet in our lives is often put on the back burner when dealing with our daily stresses and challenges. Recently, there has been a trend on social media “challenging” others to focus on the goodness in their lives, either by posting pictures or by listing various things in life for which people are thankful.

As we are in the midst of our Days of Awe and our greater holiday season, we have been reviewing our past thoughts and actions, promising to do better in the year ahead. At the same time, we must also take stock of all that was good and sweet over the past year and make a renewed effort to focus on identifying all of the positive and happy moments in the year to come. To paraphrase Rabbi Nahman of Bratslav: “Seek the good in everything, and reveal it, bring it forth.”

Wishing you a good, sweet, happy, and healthy New Year. Shana tova u’m’tuka — kol d’vash!

Rabbi Josh Leighton
Jewish Congregation of Kinnelon


Where are we going?

A STORY IS told about the late Oliver Wendell Holmes. As a United States Supreme Court justice he was known as a very learned man who was also quite absent-minded. Once, when he was asked for a ticket on a train, he could not find it. After searching and finding himself unable to produce the ticket, he became quite distraught. The conductor, knowing Justice Holmes, said reassuringly, “Never mind, sir. When you find it I am sure you will mail your ticket in.” Holmes was not comforted. “Mr. conductor,” he replied, “you don’t understand. The question is not ‘Where is my ticket?’ The question is ‘Where am I going?’”

During these Days of Awe, answering that question, “Where are we going?” is foremost in our minds after a particularly challenging summer. Israel’s war against Hamas, the crisis in Ukraine, and the upheaval in Ferguson, Mo., are but a few examples of a summer during which we greeted each morning’s newspaper with increasing apprehension.

It feels fortunate that our tradition presents us with these 10 days of exploration and assessment during which we are not merely required, but commanded, to answer the question “Where are we going?” As we engage in this sacred act of reflection, may we find answers for ourselves, our people, our country, and our world that help bring us closer to our tradition’s ultimate destination: Completing the work of tikun olam and achieving a world of true peace, justice, and wholeness for all.

Rabbi David C. Levy


The little things

THE HIGHLIGHT OF my recent trip to Israel was at an IDF army base in southern Israel.

After spending a week touring holy sites and tourist attractions, our group of 500 tourists spent the final day with 700 incredible soldiers of the IDF, joining them for an evening of singing, dancing, and celebrating. The love and pure joy we shared was palpable, an unforgettable display of Jewish unity and love.

As we prepared to leave, I went over to several lone soldiers, gave each a hug, and thanked them for their dedication and sacrifice on behalf of am Yisrael — the entire Jewish people.

One soldier said, “It is us that would like to thank you!”

I said, “You’re the ones fighting for our homeland and protecting our people. You had the vision and strength to leave your homes and your families thousands of miles away to live here. You deserve all the thanks, not me!”

“You brought us steak tonight, so thank you, thank you for caring!” he replied.

At that moment I realized that sometimes in life it really is the little things that count. Sometimes a simple visit, a genuine smile, or sharing a steak can show someone how much we really care.

These hayalim and hayalot are our brothers and sisters, our sons and daughters, and there’s no greater feeling than simply being there for them, bringing a smile to their faces during these trying times.

As we pray for our families during the High Holy Days, we pray for every one of our soldiers; may Hashem protect them, bless them, strengthen them, and heal them. And may we speedily experience the ultimate blessing of true and everlasting peace in our homeland and throughout the entire world.

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


Our greatest merit 

THE PRIMARY and unique observance of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana, is the blowing of the shofar. There are various reasons offered as to the meaning and message of this mitzva. Perhaps most famously, Maimonides suggests that the shofar is an alarm clock of sorts, waking us from the spiritual slumber that we fall into during the year. Another explanation is that the shofar we blow on Rosh Hashana is supposed to recall another time when the shofar was sounded: as we stood around Mount Sinai awaiting the giving of the Torah. 

Why do we want to remember the giving of the Torah on Rosh Hashana? Many propose, in line with the meaning Maimonides gave, that when we are awakened from the spiritual slumber and apathy generated by our travels through the year, we need to be reminded what we are waking up for. The shofar’s blasts guide us back to the foot of Mount Sinai, when the rendezvous with the Almighty gave us our national directives and aspirations.

I would like to suggest another possibility as to why it’s so vital to remember the Sinai experience on Rosh Hashana. Our sages teach us that at the foot of Mount Sinai something truly amazing happened. The Jewish people were united as one. “K’ish ehad b’lev ehad — As one person with one heart.” Maybe as we approach God in judgment on Rosh Hashana, we have to focus on the source of our greatest merit: Jewish unity. 

Shana tova to all!

Rabbi Chaim Marcus
Congregation Israel of Springfield


Hope for peace

THE JEWISH MONTH of Elul was a month for contemplation and introspection in advance of the High Holy Days, but this past month has also been a time where we prayed for peace in Eretz Yisrael, in the Land of Israel. Our world continues to change and often these changes are accompanied by bloodshed and innocent lives lost. But sometimes out of these conflicts, comes the real chance for change and peace. 

May the shofar’s blast help us appreciate life’s fragility.

May its sound remind us of our missteps this past year — our biases, our prejudices, our own actions that may have made this world a less peaceful and tolerant place. 

May the shofar call us to act with compassion and love. 

May the sound of the shofar lead each of us individually and communally to recommit ourselves to making our world whole. 

As the year 5774 draws to a close, we reflect upon the year that was and the year that will be — where we have been and where we hope to be during this coming year. We pray that we might begin to repair the things we have broken during the past year. And we hope that through acts of teshuva, our world will become a more tolerant, just, and peaceful place. May this be God’s will.

A shana tova to all, and let it be a year of peace for each of you and for our world. 

Rabbi Steven Mills
Temple Beth Am, Parsippany 


A better way

ANOTHER YEAR, another war in Gaza — and predictably the major Jewish organizations rallied around the Israeli flag. 

The IDF killed 2,143 Palestinians, including 263 children; injured 11,230; destroyed tens of thousands of building and homes; and wrecked the economy in Gaza, causing great misery to its people. Is it all Hamas’s fault? Not according to the UN, human rights organizations, or even the Obama administration. So are they all “against us”? This is unbelievable. 

Israel’s strikes on Gaza went far beyond self-defense. How many Palestinian civilians is it permissible to kill in an effort to stop rocket fire that kills one civilian for every thousand rockets fired? 

Isn’t there a better way? To carefully lift the blockade on Gaza and allow the construction of a seaport and airport? To negotiate with the new Palestinian unity government which includes Hamas yet is committed to a two-state solution? And ultimately to end the 57-year occupation and allow the creation of a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza? It won’t be easy, but the alternative is more war and more hatred.

Make no mistake: As long as there is occupation, there will be resistance. We may not like the form it takes, but it is impossible to bomb it out of existence. And if it were, the alternative to Hamas in Gaza are the jihadists. 

Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are a time for soul searching. “Don’t stand by idly while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” 

Bennett Muraskin
Jewish Cultural School and Society, Glen Ridge


Time of introspection 

WE AMERICANS are raised on the belief that when a New Year arrives, it is to be a “happy” one. We celebrate, we party, we host national parades, and, most recently, we shop “New Year” sales. We do all this to create the illusion that with the arrival of January 1st our lives will become happier in the year ahead.

Now contrast this to the arrival of our Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashana. Our tradition urges us to prepare emotionally and spiritually for the somber experience of welcoming a “good year” — l’shana tova. The differences between a secular New Year and a religious New Year could not be more striking. Rather than toasting with champagne to enhance our enjoyment, we dip apples in honey to “sweeten” our lives. Rather than awaiting the drop of a crystal ball in Times Square, we anticipate the calls of the shofar. And rather than engaging in unbridled revelry, we approach with cautious optimism. 

In other words, the Jewish New Year is set aside as a time of introspection, acknowledging that if we want a “happy” New Year, only our own behaviors and a bit of mazel, luck, can bring about such an outcome. Our prayer, then, is for the strength, courage, and capability to fashion a “good” year filled with purpose and meaning for ourselves, our loved ones, and the world in which we live!

Rabbi Randi Musnitsky 
Temple Har Shalom, Warren


Blessings and challenges

SUMMER SHOULD be a time for us to relax. I hope you and your family had such a summer. As fall begins and Rosh Hashana arrives, we know it has not been so in Israel or for Israel. It has not been so for Jews in Europe, and it has not been so around the United States. It may not be relaxing either when the youth of our congregations travel to college.

This summer thousands of rockets were aimed at our family in Israel, while Israel is criticized for her right to defend herself, and Hamas still refuses to accept Israel’s right to exist. This happens in the context of Iran’s continued development of nuclear-grade weapons, and ISIS surrounds and kills minorities in Syria and Iraq.

Throughout Europe, Jews wonder whether there is a future for them, while from Boston to Los Angeles, we hear the Hamas phrase, ‘from the ocean to the sea.’

Is this any way to enter a new year? No wonder our tradition asks us to recite the prayer: May the past year with all its curses end and may the New Year, with all its blessing begin.

The shofar calls us to the challenges of this new year, of standing with Israel, standing against anti-Semitism, and strengthening our own Jewish community.

So let the blessings and challenges of the New Year now begin.

Rabbi David Nesson
Morristown Jewish Center Beit Yisrael


A call to action

“ACTIONS SPEAK louder than words,” says the old saying. In Pirkei Avot 1:16, the rabbis put it this way: “The essential thing is not study, but deed.” Jewish tradition respects learning and good intentions, but teaches us that they are not enough. We must put our wisdom and feelings into action through positive deeds.

Thus, it is not enough to worry about Israel’s safety, as we have done all summer, but we have to put our concern into action. Write a check, write a letter to a political leader, buy a ticket to visit Israel.

Similarly, it is not enough to recognize the need for self-improvement. We have to put that into action, too. Do a mitzva, go to shul, be more generous, be more loving and concerned for the welfare of others.

On Rosh Hashana we are called to action, to do real teshuva, not merely to wallow in remorse, but to perform deeds of justice and kindness. Through mitzva, we find the path to self-improvement that matters most — to make life more worthwhile for ourselves and for those around us.

May 5775 be a year of action, a year of peace, a year of growth, health, and success for us all.

Rabbi George Nudell
Congregation Beth Israel, Scotch Plains 


A new name

A PERSON IS called by three names — the name given by his parents, the name that other people call him, and the name he acquires for himself. It is the one he acquires for himself that is most important. — Midrash Tanhuma 

As a child, we are called by one name. As an adult, we are often called by another (because of a job title, career, or a degree). The name we make for ourselves is based on how we act and how we treat other people. The High Holy Day season is a naming ceremony. We have the unique opportunity, through introspection and repentance, to acquire a new name, leave our old name and reputation behind, and start anew. 

Like the Cheers theme song, the synagogue is — and must be — a place where everybody knows your name. We open our doors wide and welcome in all who wish to wrestle with God, with community, and with themselves during these Days of Awe and Amazement. We acquire a new name at synagogue, linking our identities to our communal roots and past, whether we are a Jew-by-birth, a Jew-by-choice, or one who has cast one’s lot with the Jewish people. 

And we acquire a new name in hopes that, by striving to be the best version of ourselves, it can be a name we are proud of. May we come together to change for the better and be proud of the names we make for ourselves in the year ahead. 

Rabbi Jesse Olitzky
Congregation Beth El, South Orange


Celebrate each new day

EXCITEMENT IS IN the air at Congregation Beth Hatikvah as we begin the year 5775. I arrived in August, and both the community and I are looking forward to growing and learning together this year. It is invigorating when a big change shakes up our lives. But we don’t need to move to a new place, start a new job, or hire a new rabbi to experience the power of new beginnings. The beauty of Jewish tradition is that each year we are reminded to renew our lives.

Rosh Hashana reminds us of the possibility of change. It is not meant to be a one-time occurrence or even a once-a-year occurrence. The Sefat Emet, one of the hasidic masters, says: “Each day has its own unique song. The renewal of each day brings forth a new song. No day is exactly like another, since the creation of the world.” Sometimes we forget that each day has its own unique song. Sometimes we feel that our days are all pretty much the same. Sometimes, when someone asks how things are going, we respond: “Same old, same old.” But the truth is, there is no such thing as “same old, same old.”

The New Year is a time to rededicate ourselves to nourishing opportunities for renewal. And it is a time to remember to celebrate the unique song of each new day.

Rabbi Hannah Orden
Congregation Beth Hatikvah, Summit


Each of us a shepherd

“AND ON THE first day of the seventh month it will be a holy convocation for you; all manner of work you will not do. It will be for you yom teruah, a day of blowing blasts.” The sound of the shofar, which we use to create these biblically ordained blasts, sends chills down our spines. The sound rouses us from our slumber. The sound is a call to action, but to what kind of action should the shofar call us in these modern times?

In Hebrew, teruah is spelled taf-resh-vav-ayin-heh, and, interestingly enough, there are three other words that are spelled resh-ayin-heh or resh-vav-ayin-heh: ra’ah (evil, or wickedness), re’ah (neighbor, or fellowman), and ro’eh (shepherd). What can we learn if we consider these four words together?

One of the purposes of a blast of a horn is to alert us that evil is lurking, and for our purposes, the prophet Isaiah has defined evil as injustice, because we are not alone: There are the naked, the hungry, the homeless, and the oppressed, and it is our obligation to clothe, feed, house, and free them.

Each of us must therefore be a shepherd, monitoring not only our own circumstances when the shofar calls, but the circumstances of others, of our neighbors and fellowmen. Are we in fact heeding Isaiah? Because if we are not, what kind of shepherds are we, that we are ignoring the shofar’s blast and our fellowmen and letting injustice flourish in our midst?

Rabbi Simon Rosenbach 
Congregation Ahavas Sholom, Newark


Opportunity to reconnect 

WE AT TEMPLE Sha’arey Shalom in Springfield wish the entire New Jersey Jewish community a meaningful teshuva this High Holy Day Season. We pray the services provide everyone an opportunity to reconnect with our Jewish community and our Jewish traditions. May our self-reflection be endowed with the discernment to know the choices we should have made this past year and the good judgment to make wiser choices in the year to come. May the Jewish values that have sustained us l’dor vador continue to be the lens through which we make all of our most important decisions. 

May our prayers for our brothers and sisters in Israel be answered with peace and security for one and all. May our devotion to our congregations be strengthened and enhanced. May we embrace our everlasting struggle to better understand God and to know our place in this world. May we learn to be more supportive of our family, our colleagues, and our friends. May love and faith be the lights that guide us toward a 5775 in which we all come a little bit closer to reaching our fullest potential.

L’shana tova tikateivu,

Rabbi Ari Rosenberg
Temple Sha’arey Shalom, Springfield


Darkness into light 

LET THE OLD year and its curses end with its curses, and let the New Year and its blessings begin. The year that was, 5774 — marred by war in Israel, the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe, the collapse of yet another round of peace talks, and the emergence of horrific new faces of terrorism — certainly has had its share of curses. 

But no, this Rosh Hashana should not, must not devolve into a grim day of anxiety, fear, and worry about what might await us in the year ahead. Rather it must be a day of deep joy, but not joy for nothing. 

The reflection, introspection, and self-criticism of Rosh Hashana is an act of creation, of breaking through layers of darkness into light. Hazorim b’dima, b’rina yiktzoru — Those who sow with tears shall reap with joy, says King David. Just as a seed draws its nurturance and strength from the soil that it must break through and grow beyond, so can our full potential and powers only awaken when we draw strength from our own confrontation with the energies of chaos, when we hear the shofar as the voice of wildness, of reaching for new horizons and new dreams within our own heart.

Am Yisrael, people of Israel, as we enter into our new selves, our new year, let us above all else not be afraid. Let us remember that the first creation was or — light — and that we are each here to share our own light: L’shana tova!

Rabbi Moshe Rudin
Adath Shalom, Morris Plains


A meaningful life

ANNE HEYMAN was only 52 when she died this past February in an accident. Born in South Africa, she became a prominent lawyer and philanthropist, with a particular devotion to Jewish causes. She was a true lover of Israel, and in her home she spoke Hebrew to her children.

In 2005, she learned that the genocide in Rwanda had orphaned over a million Rwandan children. Because of her deep knowledge of Israel, she remembered that Israel had built youth villages for Jewish orphans, and she believed that could serve as a model for orphaned children in Rwanda as well.

She raised $12 million, bought 144 acres in eastern Rwanda, and with help from Israel built a village on a mountain, because, as she said, “Children need to see far to go far.” 

In 2008, the village opened. The first counselors were Israeli Ethiopian Jews. Today the youth village, called “Agohozo-Shalom” (agohozo is a Rwandan word for drying tears) now serves 500 children.

On the High Holy Days, we read that tzedaka, tefilla, and teshuva avert the severe decree. Death comes to us all, but Ms. Heyman’s life is an example of how a life of goodness makes our lives meaningful even when it ends too soon.

Rabbi Doug Sagal
Temple Emanu-El, Westfield 


Partners in recreating 

WE PUT TOO much emphasis on the High Holy Days. To be sure, I get it. The U’netaneh Tokef reminds us that the Holy Blessed One sits before the volumes of Life and Death and inscribes our name in just one of them. We read that on Rosh Hashana our fate is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed. That’s it. Case closed. The rabbis go so far as to tell us that even the weather on Rosh Hashana is a barometer for the year ahead.

Rosh Hashana is also called a Day of Judgment. Let me be the first to admit that I am kind of tired of feeling judged.

In reality, things are rarely this simple, this black and white. Some argue that the Books of Life and Death remain open until the last day of Hanukka. Others insist they are never closed. This time of year, we tend to forget that God is equipped to act toward us with equal amounts of mercy and judgment. We fail to reason that God’s forgiveness in previous years will likely be extended to us once again for the year to come.

This year, let us give God (and ourselves) some credit. Let us commit to being partners in recreating ourselves each and every day. This way we can ensure that the scales remain tipped in our favor all year long.

Best wishes for a happy and healthy New Year.

Rabbi Scott B. Roland
Temple Hatikvah, Flanders


Preserving the ties

RABBI SOLOVEITCHIK reminded American Jewry how in the immediate aftermath of World War II and the Shoa, Jewish self-esteem and the status of Jews in the eyes of non-Jews was at an all-time low. As we enter 5775, the Pew Center Study indicates that 95 percent of American Jews are proud to be Jewish, and that non-Jewish Americans admire Jews more than any other religious group. Among many reasons for this change has been the prominence of the State of Israel. American Jews need a positive connection to Israel in order to sustain our self-image and to have confidence in our future.

Israel needs a positive relationship to America’s Jews. Israel’s most reliable ally in times of crisis is American Jewry. American Jews join with AIPAC and lobby Congress on behalf of Israel’s needs. American Jews donate generously to UJA and all types of Israel-directed philanthropy. American Jews visit Israel, befriend Israelis, connect with Israeli relatives. The Jewish state needs Diaspora Jewry, especially the Jews of the USA.

We must keep the American Jewry-Israel ties strong. 

Hasbara — We need to withstand often one-sided media coverage of the war with Hamas. We need to keep current. We must share Israel’s point of view with family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, and colleagues.

Reframing — We must reframe Israel beyond the image of “Israel: a war zone.” Israel is a place for miracles. Israel assists Third World countries by maximizing their use of water, growing more crops, and combating diseases. Israel’s high-tech productivity is remarkable. 

Let us preserve the Israel-American Jewry ties ever stronger in the New Year!

Rabbi Alan Silverstein
Congregation Agudath Israel, Caldwell


Beckoning and reckoning

THE HIGH HOLY Days are simultaneously a time of beckoning and of reckoning. We are beckoned to take new risks, to take advantage of new opportunities and possibilities. We are beckoned to cut away the protective shell surrounding our hearts and experience afresh (or maybe for the first time), God’s presence in the universe. 

We are also summoned to engage in a process of reckoning. With Tishrei, the New Year emerges from the summer’s heat. It signifies a return from exile, danger, destruction, pain, and alienation that characterize the months of Tammuz and Av. With the wails and blasts of the shofar, we are summoned to engage in a process of taking stock in our lives, in healing and redemption, and in returning to God. We pray: “Hashiveinu eilecha…” Return to us, and we will return to You. 

We are called to rest and renewal, to introspection and reflection and to teshuva (return) at this season. We experience a process of reckoning with God, with ourselves, and with others in our lives. Renew our days as they were “k’kedem,” as they were long ago and as they are yet to be.

The High Holy Days hold a double promise: a time to reflect on the past and a time to live for the future that God has promised to each of us, the Jewish people.

Reb Deb Smith
Or Ha Lev Jewish Renewal CongregationMount Arlington


Naked and afraid 

THERE IS A bizarre new reality show on the Discovery Channel called Naked and Afraid. Each episode presents the story of two survivalists, one male and one female, who have agreed to spend 21 days stranded together on a remote island without any clothes or food. As they battle the harsh weather and the rough terrain, they must use all their skills to survive. Although the TV censor makes each episode almost kosher for rabbinic viewing, it is the title and the premise that intrigue me the most. After all, the show is a riff on Eden, where Adam and Eve hide from God’s presence because they are naked and afraid.

During the Days of Awe, we can empathize with the plight of our earliest ancestors and we may also feel a lot like those contemporary television contestants. In a world that is so full of menacing forces, we too are afraid. And because we know that God probes all the secret misdeeds that we keep hidden in our lives, we also feel naked and vulnerable. But God tells us what he told Adam and Eve as He provided them with garments: Even though you have done wrong and the world is now far from ideal, I have given you the strength to survive, to move forward, and I will help to clothe you in dignity. 

As this New Year begins, may God quiet all our fears and, despite our imperfections, may God comfort us with wisdom and with love.

Rabbi Geoffrey A. Spector
Temple Beth Shalom, Livingston 


Now more than ever

OUR PURPOSE is to create, nurture, protect, and spread Jewish living and learning in our world. Everything we do and everything our people have ever done is to that end. 

This Rosh Hashana, as it should be every year, all our communities will focus on Israel in determination and love. The goal? Simply to defend the freedom of all people in Israel to live in peace, and for the Jewish nation to have a place of our own that is secure forever. 

Lo notnim lanu lihiyot, one Israeli friend said as 20 members of B’nai Shalom spent Shabbat with me in our sister community of Arad this past summer: “They don’t let us just live.” Missile after missile, Hamas’s deadly niggling asserts that the war of 1948 is not over. And the soldier on the radio, so young to my ear, says, “Ima, al tidagi, anahnu nishmor et kulhem” — “Don’t worry, Mom, we’ll protect you all.” 

This is the year to rededicate yourself to Israel, more than ever. Find your cause, whether it is Masorti, JNF, a university, museum, or any other cause. Subscribe to an Israeli publication. Purchase Israeli products. Travel to Israel. Even consider aliya. Bring Israel into your home and synagogue, post on your Facebook page and retweet the news. 

Israel is the center and future of Judaism again, after centuries of exile and dispersion. May you be again in Jerusalem this year, and may this be the year when the promise of our redemption is fully complete.

Rabbi Robert L. Tobin
B’nai Shalom, West Orange 


God is our pilot 

TURBULENCE ON A flight is normal. Yet why are so many people uncomfortable if the plane is totally safe? It’s because turbulence is unpredictable. As much as we try to prepare ourselves, we never know exactly when it will come and how severe it will be. It is the fear of the unknown that bothers so many. 

As we begin a new year and take flight once again, we hope and pray for the best, but recognize that at times life is turbulent. This past year has had its share of severe turbulence for us as a people and for many individuals. We felt helpless watching the trauma experienced and the tears shed by our brothers and sisters in Israel. 

Many of us have experienced personal turbulence where our health was challenged on multiple platforms, physical, financial, mental, and spiritual. While we soothe ourselves with the joy that God has blessed us in our lives, we are nervous about the future in many respects. While we may not see the pilot of the plane, we know that he is there. While we may not hear him tell us not to be scared when turbulence hits, we somehow are confident that he has things under control. 

God is the pilot on the flight of our lives. As we connect 5774 to 5775, let us beseech Him to bless us with that which is good for us and protect us during moments of turbulence.

May we have a sweet and happy flight 5775!

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

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