Clergy from eight Monmouth County synagogues of different denominations gathered on May 23 for a community Shavuot program for adults and teens.
Hosted by Solomon Schechter Day School of Greater Monmouth County in Marlboro, “Celebrating our Jewish Past and our Jewish Future through the Ten Commandments” offered clergy a chance to “spread the timeless wisdom of the Torah” across a wide cross-section of the community, said Rabbi Yitzchok Oratz.
Oratz, the director in Monmouth County of Torah Links, the Orthodox educational organization, was joined by Cantor Gabrielle Clissold of Monmouth Reform Temple in Tinton Falls; Rabbi Yossi Kanelsky, a Chabad religious leader at the Center for Jewish Life in Marlboro; Rebbitzen Tova Chazanow of Chabad of Western Monmouth County; Rabbi Robert Pilavin of Congregation Sons of Israel, a Traditional synagogue in Manalapan; and, representing Conservative synagogues, Rabbi Lisa Malik of Temple Beth Ahm in Aberdeen, Rabbi Ellen Wolintz-Fields of Congregation B’nai Israel in Toms River, and Rabbi Michael Pont of Congregation Ohev Shalom-Marlboro Jewish Center.
“We are trying to create a stronger sense of community,” said Yoti Yarhi, head of school at the Conservative-affiliated SSDS. “Finally we find there is open communication between the local synagogues — Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Traditional — because we all have the same goals.”
Each speaker gave a presentation on one of the Ten Commandments. Oratz discussed the Second Commandment prohibiting idol worship. “This speaks not only about idols of wood and stone, but it means that there is essentially no power in the world other than God.
“Every event that happens, whether natural disaster or the acts of another human being, occurs because it was the will of God,” Oratz said. “The only power outside of God is ourselves. It is only us who have the power to change our fate and shape our destiny.”
Coming together as a unified community to learn together reminds Jews that they have similar goals and a common mission, said Pont. He discussed the First Commandment: to honor no other God. “It is interesting that the first letter of the first commandment is an alef, which is a silent letter,” he said. “This implies that we can look for God everywhere. We can look for great miracles like the Exodus, but we can also find God in every whisper.”
Pont’s son Gabriel, an eighth-grader at SSDS, said he attended the event to “learn more about Shavuot and get excited for the holiday.”
“We got the 10 Commandments on Shavuot, which is pretty special,” he said. “We also read megillat Ruth, which I always find very interesting.”
Kanelsky spoke about the Fourth Commandment, to honor the Sabbath, which, he said, “emphasizes our trust in God that our six days of work are successful only because God is succeeding us in our endeavors.”
“I felt it was important that all of us unite together as a community in the furtherance of Jewish awareness and Torah study,” he said.
Pilavin spoke about the Tenth Commandment, which enjoins people not to covet. “Jewish commentators debate whether the prohibition refers to the mere harboring of jealous thoughts or whether the prohibition is limited to thoughts that are acted upon in inappropriate ways,” he said. “It’s not wrong to want more than you have; what is wrong is to want it at our neighbor’s expense. Envy is the root cause of so many other ethical lapses.”
Plans are already under way for another joint community program about the High Holy Days this fall, said Linda Glickstein, SSDS director of admissions and marketing.