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‘Shana Tova’ from area rabbis
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‘Shana Tova’ from area rabbis

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

Accessible to all

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.

English/Hebrew prayer books will be provided for all services at the Chabad Jewish Center of Holmdel. In addition, a special interactive children’s program will accompany the adult services. High Holy Day Services will be held at the Holmdel Fire House Hall, at 35 W. Main St.

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

Rabbi Shmaya and Rochi Galperin
Chabad Jewish Center of Holmdel

***

Finding strength

THE YEAR THAT has passed has been filled with many challenges and changes for all. Among the challenges we faced was the impact of Sandy. It is impossible to forget the devastation that it caused to our communities. Whether you call it a super storm or hurricane is not important. But what are important are the lives lost and the devastation that affected so many in our area.

Another challenge is determining how to handle the recurrence of terrorism on our soil, such as the one that took place in Boston. The loss of innocent lives at the hands of those bent on causing destruction and mayhem has once again shaken our collective national consciousness to the core.

And the most recent political upheavals in the Middle East have certainly caused our sisters and brothers in Israel even more concern in that often tumultuous part of the world.

Whether the challenges of the past year have been natural or man-made is immaterial. What matters is how does one find strength and indeed personal peace in the face of these terrible occurrences?

The answer is, as it has always been, faith in the One Above. Without faith in God, the world becomes a place of random and often very difficult moments. With faith in God, our spiritual strength is constantly renewed and the challenges we face daily become manageable and not overwhelming. As we enter into our synagogues and temples during these High Holy Days, may we find the faith and strength to inspire us in the year to come as our ancestors did for generations in the past.

Rabbi Michael A. Klein
Congregation Ahavat Olam, Howell

***

Transformational relationships

THE UJA-FEDERATION of New York issued a report: “Connected Congregations: From Dues and Membership to Sustaining Communities of Purpose.” The intent of this study was to explore alternative financial models for synagogue sustainability. They learned that affordability was not the discerning factor in synagogue membership; rather, potential members have a different attitude toward membership and belonging as well as the prevailing feeling that synagogues today are no longer relevant.

In addition, Rabbi Ron Wolfson’s new book, Relational Judaism: Using the Power of Relationships to Transform the Jewish Community, has also been a source of discussion for the current and future state of the synagogue. His main thesis is that to transform the Jewish community, we need to build meaningful relationships of Jewish experiences. There has to be a reasonable balance between the individual and the community that strengthens one another.

As we welcome in 5774, some are blessed with meaningful synagogue relationships, but I also know that for many the synagogue is only a service they use in myriad choices — for them, the synagogue is a place to drop off the children for religious school and appear for the High Holy Days. The challenge we all face is to create an environment that encourages Jews to become connected to synagogues, regardless of their ideas about membership. We all want our members to become engaged in synagogue life and in Judaism. A shared vision for all involved will help build a connected congregation with meaningful engagement in Jewish life.

Rabbi Laurence P. Malinger
Temple Shalom, Aberdeen

***

Staying the course

I RECENTLY received a letter from a couple resigning their synagogue membership.

Nothing strange about that, but this letter was different; Ruth and Stan had been members since 1964. They had moved to Florida 15 years ago. In a decade of service, I had never had the pleasure of meeting them.

Every year, they purchased (and never used) High Holy Day pew seats and made sundry other donations to the synagogue.

“Our memory of happiness at our house of worship was a small building in town with a balcony for the women” — our previous location on Mechanic Street in Englishtown.

“Our friends were” — the list included the names of many of the founding families of our synagogue, which soon will mark its centennial — “and many others to make a big family.”

“Ruth was president of Sisterhood, I was on the building committee and present at the cornerstone inaugurating the new building” (in 1969).

“So with all the warmth, happiness, and fond memories, we must resign.”

Ruth and Stan remind us that synagogue membership is more than “term insurance” until the youngest child’s bar mitzva. It is more than “a seat” for the High Holy Days. It is a lifetime investment in community. The synagogue is where Jews gather to do acts of kindness, to study Torah, to pray, to mark life-cycle events and holy days. Ruth and Stan were loyal synagogue friends. May each of us “befriend” a synagogue in 5774!

Shana tova,

Rabbi Robert Pilavin
Congregation Sons of Israel, Manalapan

***

Change direction

A GROUP OF HUNTERS chartered a plane to fly them to a clearing in a thick jungle. Following their instructions, the pilot returned two weeks later to retrieve them. He looked at the animals they had killed and said, “This plane can only carry the weight of one buffalo. You will have to leave the other one behind.”

“But last year the pilot let us take two in a plane exactly this size,” they protested. Under duress, the pilot relented and said, “If you did it last year, I guess we can do it again this year.”

The plane took off with the hunters and the two buffaloes, but the small plane was unable to gain altitude and crashed into a low-lying hill. Miraculously, the men were safe. When they climbed out to survey the situation, one hunter asked, “Where do you think we are?” The other looked around and said, “I think we’re about two miles to the left of where we crashed last year.”

The process of teshuva or repentance is not easy. The parable teaches that when we fail to resolve life’s challenges, we should reexamine them and try a new approach.

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

Rabbi Michael Pont
Marlboro Jewish Center, Marlboro

***

Divine spark

TEMPLE BETH SHALOM was founded in 1978. Since then, we have grown from a handful of individuals to over 500 families. Our building was dedicated in November 1984.

Our mission is to “Bring Good Things to Light.” We believe that God gifts to each of us a divine spark. It is that divine spark that makes each of us who we are as human beings and as Jews. Our challenge throughout our lifetime is to develop a healthy relationship with that divine spark. If we succeed, then by our actions and our growth “we bring good things to light.” In other words, we each do our share to inject light into a world that is often far too dark.

Mitzvot are tools of light. The more mitzvot we do the more light we bring into our lives and into the lives of those around us. Being part of a “community of light” means that we share in this sacred task together. Being part of Temple Beth Shalom gives each of us the opportunity to connect with each other, with our history and tradition.

Be part of the TBS experience, and together we will “bring good things to light!”

Rabbi Ira Rothstein
Temple Beth Shalom, Manalapan

***

Learning from mistakes

THERE IS A wonderful story told in Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins’s Rosh Hashanah Readings about how we gain wisdom: After a long, hard climb up the mountain, the spiritual seekers finally found themselves in front of the great teacher. Bowing deeply, they asked the question that had been burning inside them for so long: “How do we become wise?”

There was a long pause until the teacher emerged from meditation. Finally the reply came: “Good choices.”

“But teacher, how do we make good choices?”

“From experience,” responded the wise one.

“And how do we get experience?”

“Bad choices” smiled the teacher.

In our season of heshbon hanefesh, personal introspection, and teshuva, repentance, let us ask ourselves the following three questions: What good choices have I made this year? What “bad” choices have I made this year? What has been my greatest learning experience and how can I use that experience to change my behavior in the year to come? What choices have I made when it comes to my Judaism and what is one thing that I can do to deepen my sense of Jewish identity?

My family and I wish you a L’shana tova u’metuka. May you have a sweet and good New Year and may we all be inscribed in the Book of Life.

Rabbi Aaron Shonbrun
Congregation Torat El, Oakhurst

***

Remaining faithful

THE DAYS OF AWE are upon us and, with them, a spiritual time devoted to reflection, repentance, and a chance to start anew. For most people, they are the most spiritual time of the year. This may be the reason that so many people arrive at synagogue; yet, it may also be the reason that there is sometimes a feeling that after the day, something is missing.

In learning from worshipers, I have discovered that it is hard to be spiritual and to let the faith, hope, and prayers of the day reside in the soul. Sometimes we are too occupied, even during moments of worship, with the everyday and the secular world. But these Days of Awe beckon us to step back from that world and to be immersed — and more importantly, to let ourselves be immersed — in the moments of these days. It is then that we can feel the flame of God burning inside us and see the light of the Divine reaching back to us.

“Where is God?” the pupil once asked the rabbi. The rabbi answered, “Wherever you let Him in.” These wonderful days should inspire us to let God in and to let the Divine find a place in our souls and in the works of our hands. These can be profoundly meaningful days if we open our eyes and hearts to the words, the songs, and all the music of the soul.

May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life for blessing.

L’shana tova — a good and soulful and soul-filled year.

Rabbi Cy Stanway
Temple Beth Miriam, Long Branch

. . .

Self-reunion

AT THIS TIME of year, we each receive invitations to two different reunions. First, we are summoned to our great annual homecoming with the entire community. Not only do we have a full house in each of our synagogues, but each community’s celebration is heightened by the awareness that every other synagogue is similarly filled to capacity.

Amidst all the pomp and grand ritual, though, is a quieter, more private invitation, one spoken to each of us by a still, small voice. It is to a reunion not with an entire group, but rather to one with our selves.

This second invitation asks us to look at our lives over the past year in careful detail and with brutal honesty. Certainly to appreciate and celebrate what has gone well, and also to see clearly where we can do better in the coming year.

We cannot respond to the invitation by suddenly transporting ourselves to an entirely new destination, something impossible to do, but rather by immediately changing our direction, something possible every moment. As it is written in Pesikta Rabbati 15, “If you only make an opening for me as small as the point of a needle, then I will open for you a gate as wide as the portal of the Temple.”

In this light, I wish everyone Shana tova — not just that the year be new, but that, in the coming year, each one of us be renewed.

Rabbi Jeff Sultar
Congregation B’nai Israel, Rumson

***

Giving thanks

THIS HAS BEEN quite a year for those of us on the East Coast, consisting of destructive snow storms, Hurricane Sandy, displaced persons who even now find themselves still far from “home,” the April bombing in Boston by home-grown jihadists. And now we go into the High Holy Day season, when we are supposed to look at the year and our place in it — and give thanks? We do not have control over the climate or the actions of others. The only control we have is the way we respond to the circumstances that come our way. In that, we can give thanks.

When Sandy struck, we helped our neighbor; we stood in long lines for hours for gasoline, even saving places for those who had errands; we welcomed those without power into our homes. Those heroes in Boston ran toward the injured rather than away from harm’s way. We did what we could, trusting in God and our fellow neighbors to care.

U’netana Tokef is the centerpiece of Yom Kippur. It determines who will live and who will die. We choose how we live by the way we live with each other as well as with our own selves. “See, I set before you this day life and death, good and evil. Therefore, choose life.” This year, we did, and do. We choose how we live our lives. We take a hesbon, a moral inventory. At times, we find ourselves lacking. But in moments of travail, as those we have experienced in this past year, we deserve our notation in the Book of Life.

May the coming year be one of humanity. We have learned from the past year how we can help and care. And may the New Year usher in an era of good will and peace! L’shana tova!

Rabbi Brooks Susman
Congregation Kol Am, Freehold

***

Choosing life

GOD COMMANDS us to “choose life.” (Deuteronomy 30:19) But who wouldn’t choose life? Clearly, this means something more than the obvious decision to live instead of to die. And the real meaning of this command — this challenge — is the essence of Judaism.

Choosing life means choosing how we will live in the coming year. Will we exist in our own little world, shut off from anyone who isn’t like us? Will we only listen to those whose opinions we share? Will we hide from those who need our help? Or will we choose to embrace life in all its infinite variety? Will we seek out new ideas, new challenges, and new opportunities to grow and change in the year ahead?

Our world today caters to us. We can choose the music we like on XM radio. We can choose the news we know we’ll agree with. Everything we buy can be customized to our tastes. There is no need to experience anything new or different in anything we do.

But what if we could train ourselves to appreciate things that are diverse, challenging, and unpredictable in life? What if we could learn to appreciate the infinite variety of our world — animals, plants, weather, and people? What if we could see the holiness in every human being — even those who disagree with us? What if we could wake up and thank God for the day we are about to have, excited by the thought that we don’t know what the day will bring? This is what Judaism offers us: a way to embrace life, instead of hiding from it.

This is the essence of Judaism, and of Rosh Hashana. In 5774 will we simply survive, or will we choose life?

Rabbi Donald A. Weber
Temple Rodeph Torah, Marlboro

 

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