Rabbis’ messages for the New Year: Monmouth County

Rabbis’ messages for the New Year: Monmouth County

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

Three times three

AS WE ENTER the New Year 5775 let us all together pray for a year of good tidings, good health, prosperity, and peace. May God Almighty bless each and every one of us with an abundance of blessings, and may we in turn resolve to become closer to our Creator, and to every one of our brethren.

We always look for something special and unique when we approach this season, and we seek guidance with a practical manner of celebrating the New Year in a more meaningful and beautiful manner. 

This year, we find that Rosh Hashana, the Sukkot holiday, and Simhat Torah all begin on Wednesday evenings. One of the beautiful “mitzvot” of welcoming each and every holiday (and Shabbat) is the time-honored precept of lighting candles. So this year, we find that we will be lighting candles for three consecutive evenings (Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday) — three times during the month of Tishrei. 

Our rabbis teach that the number three is special, denoting strength and permanence. Accordingly, our lighting of the Shabbat and yom tov candles three times for three consecutive days should give us a feeling that the light of our Torah will surely accompany us and our extended family, wherever we may be, throughout the New Year.

This lesson is even more important in a time when the world is dark around our nation and around our homeland, Israel. May all our combined prayers be speedily fulfilled, may we all celebrate together as one nation, and may we merit the fulfillment of all our prayers, the coming of Moshiach, now!

Rabbi Yosef Carlebach
Congregation Sons of Israel, Wayside-Ocean Township 

Pilgrims and visitors 

CYNTHIA OZICK distinguishes in one of her essays between a visitor and a pilgrim. “Both will come to see a place and go away again,” she writes, “but a visitor arrives, a pilgrim is restored. A visitor passes through a place; the place passes through the pilgrim. A visitor comes either to teach or to learn, or perhaps simply and neutrally to observe; but a pilgrim comes on purpose to be taught renewal.”

At this season, many Jews will spend part of three days in the synagogue. Are they coming as pilgrims or as visitors? Will the experience of the holidays impact their lives or are they merely passing through? 

During this season each of us has a chance to review the past year and to redefine ourselves in the year ahead. We affirm that change is possible and that we can make a real difference in this world. 

The words and melodies of the liturgy pass over us and through us as we sit in the synagogue. The repetitive patterns of prayer work their magic if we allow them to enter our souls and reflect in our lives. Our task is to discover our purpose and to go forth from the synagogue changed, ready to accomplish God’s will in the world however we can.

Let each of us decide not merely to visit the synagogue this holiday season, but to make our attendance into a true pilgrimage that will continue throughout the year.

Shana tova.

Rabbi Edward M. Friedman
Freehold Jewish Center

Opening doors

ACCORDING TO TRADITION, at the New Year, the doors of heaven are open and God accepts all prayers from anyone. The least we can do is open our doors as well, to the entire community. Judaism is accessible to all Jews, and during the High Holy Days, our goal is to encourage every Jew to actively participate in these most holy and introspective days.

Chabad Jewish Center of Holmdel will hold High Holy Day services at the Holmdel Fire House Hall. English/Hebrew prayer books will be provided for all services, and an interactive children’s program will accompany the adult services.

Wishing the entire community a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year.

Rabbi Shmaya Galperin 
Chabad Jewish Center of Holmdel

Hope and faith

IF I HAD TO use just one word to express all the myriad thoughts and ideas that encompass our High Holy Day liturgy and the beliefs we hold so dearly, it would be this singular utterance: Hope. The last two months in Israel have been a time of great danger that has been overcome by great determination.

Yet hope for a better and more peaceful future has sustained our people in Israel, even as rockets fired from an obsessed enemy flew overhead. Indeed, the history of the Jewish people has been all too often filled with periods of great peril for our people’s survival. But it has been our hope, our faith in God, and our determination that has enabled us to survive and to prosper throughout the millennia.

Our enemies in the past and in the present have sought to destroy us, but they have all failed, as will those of today.

Our ancestors, throughout much of history, both modern and ancient, often celebrated the coming Days of Awe in an atmosphere of despair that by comparison might make today’s troubled times seem much less troubled. Yet when they prayed on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, they prayed with fervor and belief that God above would grant them a brighter future and for our people throughout the world as well.

Let us all, in the very first days of 5775, pray with that same fervor and hope that sustained our ancestors in the past and surely will sustain us as well today. 

Rabbi Michael Klein
Congregation Ahavat Olam, Howell

Opening doors

THE SAGES TAUGHT that these Holy Days call on us to perform a heshbon hanefesh — an accounting of the spirit. The liturgy of the season calls on us to become introspective and take stock of the world that is so that we can focus on making it better. Too often we presume that this means that we have to fix something.

This ideology is problematic because we are prisoners of hope, we are people always becoming, we are a people commanded to celebrate life. This should be a holiday of awesome inspiration.

We cannot celebrate life at the same time we read prayers confessing that our lives have no value. We have turned the days of awesomeness into the days of dread.

Not at MRT! We have made a commitment to spend time doing the work of healing the wounds caused when we fall short and at the same time celebrating every blessing that we share with each other.

This year we are opening doors to our community and welcome you into our home for worship and celebration of these holidays. 

Just call our office and let us know how you can add spirit to our family.

Rabbi Marc Kline
Monmouth Reform Temple, Tinton Falls

Sweetness and stings

“HI!” MAY BE an appropriate greeting on an ordinary day, but the High Holy Days are no ordinary days. There are a variety of traditional greetings for these extraordinary Days of Awe: “L’shana tova tikateivu v’tehateimu,” which means, “Have a good year. May you be inscribed and sealed [in the Book of Life].” Some only include the first part of the greeting on Rosh Hashana and use the more complete version during the Ten Days of Repentance. Other Yom Kippur greetings are “Tzom kal” (“Have an easy fast”) and “G’mar hatima tova” (“A final good sealing [to you in the Book of Life]!”) 

My favorite is “L’shana tova u’m’tuka.” “Have a good and sweet year,” also reflected in the custom of dipping hallah and apples in honey. Keeping in mind that honey comes from bees, which often sting, eating honey also acknowledges that we should be prepared to deal with the stings that inevitably come our way.

In our personal lives, as well as in our congregation and the global Jewish community, we had our share of sweetness and stings in 5774. Some became parents or grandparents for the first time. Children graduated from preschool, religious school, high school, and college. Marriages were celebrated. We welcomed many “Jews by choice” into our community. 

There were also TBA members who became ill or who underwent surgery. Some congregants experienced the death of close family members and friends. We all mourned the Israeli teenagers murdered by Hamas terrorists, as well as the death of the IDF soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge. It is with a heavy heart that many of us enter the season because of what is going on in Israel and anti-Semitism around the world. 

May we all experience more sweetness than stings in 5775. May the coming year be filled with sweet blessings for all of us.

Rabbi Lisa S. Malik
Temple Beth Ahm, Aberdeen

Seeking wholeness

WEDDINGS CENTER on the expectations of bride and groom. These commitments are stated in a ketuba, or marriage contract, expressions of their hope for a mutually supportive relationship, a home built on Jewish traditions, a community to share life's passages, and the growth that makes marriage an enduring institution.

As they exchange vows, family and friends tend to be contemplative. Some are reflective, caught up in memories of weddings past; others are wistful, for their own marriages may have ended through divorce or death; and some are hopeful, planning the wedding they someday hope to celebrate. No matter what they're thinking, their meditations are cut short by the breaking of glass, a reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Traditionally, the broken shards remind us that even at the moment of our greatest joy, happiness is tinged with sadness. And indeed, as the glass shatters, we know that not all of the couple's expectations will be met; in the fullness of time, some will remain unfulfilled.

Given the contemplative mood, it's easy to see why the Talmud refers to weddings as Yom Kippur katan, a little Yom Kippur: occasions that inspire us to review our expectations. On these High Holy Days, what are our expectations? Of life, we expect health and happiness, opportunity and prosperity, equity and justice.

But what about when life lets us down? Not the trivial setbacks, but the disappointments that consume us, major setbacks and tragedies that distance us from the path of life we thought we were on.

These disappointments require special High Holy Day attention. This Yom Kippur, may the Divine Presence strengthen us to cope with the disappointments we may encounter, and enable us to seek wholeness in an imperfect world. 

Rabbi Laurence P. Malinger
Temple Shalom, Aberdeen

Power of forgiving

AUG. 26 MARKED the 50th anniversary of Mary Poppins, a Disney classic based on the books of P.L. Travers. The film tells of a magical nanny who enters the lives of a dysfunctional London family and helps the parents discover their true priorities.

Saving Mr. Banks is a recent film based on the persistent attempts by Walt Disney to obtain screen rights to the works of Travers, much of which was “inspired” by traumas of her childhood. 

The Disney staff had difficulty in working with Travers, who felt that the Disney version departed significantly from her novels. Cheerful aspects of the movie (a musical that included animation) jarred her sensibilities so that she nearly blocked production of the film. 

5775 is almost upon us. All too often, we allow the traumas of our past to intrude on the present. We can’t get past what others have said or done to us. We nurse wounds, withhold forgiveness, block reconciliation. In dwelling on traumas, we forfeit possibilities of writing a happier ending.

When asking for divine forgiveness, let’s remember that it is hard to be forgiven if we aren’t forgiving. “If You keep account of sins, O Lord…who will survive? Yours is the power to forgive….” (Psalms 130:3-4)

And what is true of Heaven is true of us. We have the power to forgive. In so doing we make it possible for Heaven (and our loved ones) to forgive us. 

Shana tova! 

Rabbi Robert Pilavin
Congregation Sons of Israel, Manalapan

New Year questions

ROSH HASHANA beckons us to look inward and examine our behavior over the past year so we can move forward. I offer these questions, written by Rabbi Lenore Bohm, as a way to prepare spiritually for the New Year. 

What was your greatest achievement in this last year? 

What was your greatest disappointment in this last year?

Where would you like to be five years from now?

If you had all the money you needed, would you still work at your present job?

Whom do you admire the most and why?

Whom did you fight with this last year?

Whom do you wish you could make up with in this new year?

Marlboro Jewish Center is a dynamic Conservative synagogue, celebrating 43 years of service to the community. We are located at 103 School Road West in Marlboro. We have close to 200 children in our preschool and almost 300 students in our religious school. Please join us for Shabbat, holidays, and programs — you are welcome here! Go to www.mjcnj.com, and call our office at 732-536-2300 for more information. 

Shana tova u’m’tuka, a good and sweet New Year!

Rabbi Michael Pont
Marlboro Jewish Center

A second chance

IGOR VOROZHBITSYN was a Russian fisherman, working at his craft in Siberia. One day he got out of his car to make his way through the woods and to his boat. Out of nowhere, from behind he was knocked to the ground. Igor looked up and there was a giant brown bear towering over him. Igor knew his life was about to end when his cell phone rang.

As a joke, his granddaughter had loaded a Justin Bieber song called “Baby” as Igor’s new cell phone ringtone. The moment the Bieber song blasted through Igor’s cell phone, the startled bear bolted back into the woods.

Really? Well, it’s a true story.

I’m sure Bieber fans and critics could have a field day with this story, but perhaps the larger message may be that life sometimes will give you a second chance. Out of nowhere, a bell or the ringtone of life will give you a second chance. 

Is that not what the High Holy Days are all about? If you’ve made it to a new year, then you have the opportunity to begin again. The goal is to not “go around the block one more time,” but to instead see what you may not have seen before and hear what you may not have heard before and do what you may not have done before. It’s a new year. It’s a new opportunity to learn and experience and grow. Come grow with us at Temple Beth Shalom in Manalapan. We bring good things to light. Call 732-446-1200 for membership information.

Rabbi Ira Rothstein
Temple Beth Shalom, Manalapan 

Taking necessary steps

ANYONE WHO HAS sent me an e-mail this past year has noticed the following quote in the footer: 

“There are two things it is forbidden to worry about. That which is possible to fix and that which is impossible to fix. What is possible to fix, fix it and why worry? That which is impossible to fix, how will worrying help?” — Rabbi Yechiel Michel of Zlotchov, 18th century

Easier said than done, but this small piece of wisdom has much to teach us as another year approaches. As we prepare for the blessings of reaching yet another year we must remember that the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, are filled with potential. We must strive to seriously engage in the process of heshbon hanefesh, introspection, as we work to re-create ourselves and improve our relationships for the coming year. The work of teshuva, repentance, is challenging but incredibly fulfilling when taken seriously. 

The time has arrived. What do you need to change in this coming year? To whom do you need to apologize? What relationships in your life do you need to prioritize? What is one goal that you have for the coming year? What is one regret that you have from the past year? 

In the coming weeks, I challenge you to spend less time worrying about these questions and more time taking the necessary steps to address them. 

May you find meaning in this sacred work. Shana tova u'm’tuka — Have a good and sweet New Year. 

Rabbi Aaron Schonbrun
Congregation Torat El, Oakhurst 

Moving with intention 

WHILE IN ISRAEL this summer, my wife and I traveled all over the country. It was an amazing trip for many reasons but, clearly, traveling through Israel in the middle of a war had a feeling all its own. Several times we had to stop what we were doing so that we could find a shelter to protect us from a missile fired from Gaza that could sneak past the Iron Dome and land where we were. We were not afraid, but our situational awareness was quite acute. 

I share this because during the High Holy Days, our situational awareness is also very sensitive. We come to the synagogue, pray the words, and, God willing, glean their meanings and lessons. We listen to sermons a bit more intently. We let the music of the cantor move us in ways we may not be moved throughout the year. We are more aware of what is going on around us and we move with kavana — intention. 

These Days of Awe are about moving with intention. Each of us has a unique soul and in each soul a song of life resonates. The Days of Awe retunes the soul and moves us toward a better life filled with mitzvot and acts of loving-kindness, integrity, and nobility. We may have lost our kavana throughout the year but nothing, not even sin, is permanent or unalterable. What we have done can be repaired and our sins can be forgiven both by another and by God. The real shelter in Judaism is we know that, despite our shortcomings, there is always another chance for holiness. Our situational awareness during the High Holy Days brings us back to our most noble selves. And in the shelter of forgiveness and forgiving, we find safety and security.

May we all be blessed with a year of peace, shelter under the Divine Presence, and love.

Rabbi Cy Stanway 
Temple Beth Miriam, Elberon 

Start new things 

THE DAYS OF Awe — Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur — represent the ending and the beginning of worlds. On Rosh Hashana the world starts all over again; on Yom Kippur, the world comes to a complete halt. Typically, we would expect that the stopping would happen before the beginning again. Leave it to Judaism to flip the expected order, to mix up the beginnings and the endings with each other. Perhaps this jumbled-up order comes along to remind us that the potential to change is always present in our lives.

We often think of change as having just one dimension — something new happens. Change, though, can also mean simply that we’ve stopped doing something that we were doing previously. As with Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, change in general represents the ending and the beginning of new worlds. It invites us to put an end to the undesirable things that we’ve done in the past. And at the same time, it invites us to start new things, better things, in the year to come.

As we gather together once again in our annual reunion of the Jewish people, may we also open ourselves to the invitation of these holy days, that we can always be more than we were.

Wishing everyone shana tova u’m’tuka — a good and sweet year.

Rabbi Jeff Sultar
Congregation B’nai Israel, Rumson

Honorable standards

DURING THE High Holy Days, we have high hopes for the future and a camaraderie that we are a community of faith. We enter the sacred space of the sanctuary expecting to be uplifted by the sounds of the shofar, a meaningful liturgy, and thoughtful remarks from the pulpit. And what we find is the not-so-subtle police guards protecting our safety from the anger the outside world is displaying against Jews in the form of anti-Israel and anti-Zionist hatred. Towns and universities have subscribed to BDS, calling for boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel. Palestinian flags are draped around the shoulders of those whose anger is focused on the Jewish community. Jewish college students are harassed and shouted into silence when they support the only democracy in the Middle East. Otherwise progressive men and women who rally for individual rights and women’s right to choose and freedom of the press in the United States blindly support those regimes that deny those self-same rights to their populations in Middle Eastern nations — all because Israel exists and insists on its right to protect itself from wanton missile, terrorist, and homicide attacks from its borders or from tunnels. There are even those who blame this anti-Semitic anti-Zionism on the Jews themselves, raising the old canard. 

But we join together to welcome the year 5775! We refuse to be terrorized. We insist that Judaism, the basis for the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and, yes, Islam, stands for unalterable honorable standards. 

Rabbi Brooks Susman
Congregation Kol Am, Freehold

A challenge to all

ALONG WITH THE agonizing news from Israel, this summer brought genuine anti-Semitism to the surface in ways we have not seen in a while. From France to Great Britain, from Holland to Canada to Australia, protests against Israel turned into anti-Jewish rallies. “Kill the Jews” and “Hitler should have finished you off” are not political protests; they are threats against Jews. All Jews. Everywhere.

That includes us.

Hamas’s charter and its leaders speak clearly of their goal to destroy Israel and to kill every Jew. I am not sure why some people don’t believe them; it seems to me they mean what they say. So when Israel defends its citizens and attacks those who would kill her people, it takes a stand on behalf of every Jew in every country. 

That includes us.

For years, many of us expressed pride that Israel was held to a higher standard than other countries — we felt it was an acknowledgment of Israel’s moral superiority. But now we see that Israel is held to an impossible standard: Live in peace with warring neighbors or you do not have a right to exist. 

No other nation in the world is called upon to justify its very existence. Israel knows this, and it refuses to beg for permission to survive. To the consternation of anti-Semites worldwide, Israel shows the world that Jews have a right to exist, and we will fight to preserve that right.

L’chaim! isn’t just a toast. It is a challenge — to every single Jew. 

And that includes us. Shana tova, Yisrael.

Rabbi Don Weber
Temple Rodeph Torah, Marlboro 

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