Category Archives: Worship

Exciting Times for TSTI With the Arrival of Cantor Rebecca Moses This July

Dear Friends,

It is with a great deal of excitement that we are writing to let you know that, as of July 3rd, Cantor Rebecca Moses will become the new Cantor of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel. Cantor Moses’ hiring comes after an extensive search process embarked upon by the Cantorial Search Committee that was first appointed last summer. We reviewed many applications and ultimately invited three candidates to TSTI from throughout North America, in addition to Cantor Finn, who also applied for the position. After a careful and deliberate process, the search committee unanimously voted to offer the position to Cantor Moses. We are gratified that she accepted our offer, thrilled to have formalized our agreement this afternoon and are enthusiastically looking forward to her becoming part of the TSTI community.

Cantor Moses was invested by the Hebrew Union College-­‐Jewish Institute of Religion in 2009 and has been serving Temple Anshe Sholom in Hamilton, Ontario for the last three years. She holds a Masters of Sacred Music from the Debbie Friedman School of Sacred Music and a Bachelor of Music in Vocal Performance from the University of Missouri. A child actress, she also attended the University of North Texas School of Music in Denton, TX.

Cantor Moses, a native of San Antonio, impressed the committee on every level. She is a talented musician and an incredibly warm and accessible individual whose passion for people, Judaism, music and community comes through in all that she does. She offers an expertise in a breadth of musical styles and impressed the entire committee with her engaging style both on and off the Bimah.

The entire committee had the opportunity to meet with Cantor Moses in small groups as well as spend an hour with her in the sanctuary where she sang, taught and shared her passion for Jewish music in a more formal manner. Cantor Moses also had the chance to share a meal with the entire Senior Staff, as well as have a private dinner with both rabbis. It was quickly clear that she would be a fantastic fit for TSTI, a great addition to our clergy team, and a wonderful new addition to TSTI, who will bring energy and a host of new and innovative ideas to our congregation.

We look forward to formally welcoming Cantor Moses this summer and formally investing her as Cantor of TSTI in early September. We celebrate her coming to TSTI, even as Cantor Aronson becomes our Cantor Emeritus and Cantor Finn continues her sacred work here at TSTI. We are truly blessed by such talent and dedication.

Our profound thanks to the wonderful search committee, Co-Chairs Arnie Budin and Andrea Baum, Debbie Bernstein, Judy Epstein, Breena Fishback, Matty Goldberg, Renee Helfenstein, Adam Leight and Peter Messeri. Serving ex-officio was Rabbi Dan Cohen, Rabbi Ellie Miller and President Jay Rice.

You will find some musical selections from Cantor Moses in the TSTI app by mid-week and on the temple website next Monday.

Respectfully,

Jay Rice, President Daniel M Cohen, Rabbi

 

February 3 Sermon: Nachshon, Courage and Marriage Equality

This sermon was delivered during services on Friday February 3

It is one of my favorite, if not my all-time favorite, stories from our tradition. Perhaps that’s the reason I love to tell and retell this particular midrash when the Torah portion includes the story that leads up to it. This year, however, the story of Nachshon and the Reed Sea takes on a different level of meaning and urgency for me. For those who may not be familiar with the story let me share it with you.

The text of the portion for this week includes our ancestors finally escaping from Egyptian slavery and making their way to the edge of the Reed Sea. They suddenly discovered they are trapped. In front of them is an expense of water. Behind them and rapidly approaching is the entire Egyptian army. Yes, once again Pharaoh apparently changed his mind. The people begin to panic. Taking his role as leader seriously Moses steps in and… lifts his staff into the air. Yes, that’s his response to help calm his people and solve their dilemma – he puts his hand in the air as if to call on a miracle. Nothing happens. He does so again and, again, and, each time, the same result- nothing happens. Things go from bad to worse. The Egyptians are drawing ever closer, the people are increasingly panicked and Moses continues to wait for divine intervention with a Biblical version of the raise the roof motion.

Nachshon sees this and will have none of it. He takes matters into his own hands and, through his actions, seems to say, “Moses there is a time for prayer and there is a time for action and wisdom is knowing when to choose one over the other.” Nachshon steps into the water and keeps going until he can all but taste salt. And, according to the story, it is at that moment that God, perhaps realizing that his people were finally willing to take action, sends the miracle Moses could only pray for. The sea parts, the people crossed to safety, the Egyptians follow and ultimately are drowned, and, on the other side, the Israelites break into song. Freedom is finally theirs.

Nachshon offers us perhaps the best definition of courage that I can imagine.

Courage is jumping into the unknown because you know that it is the right thing to do. Courage is jumping into the unknown because you know that things need to change. Courage is jumping into the unknown not for your own sake but for the sake others, some known to you and others total strangers.

Yesterday morning I was in the presence of great courage in the most unlikely place– New Jersey State Legislature. It was there that I saw the power of real conviction and the courage of people to turn that conviction into action. Yes, yesterday morning I drove down to Trenton to be one of the people testifying on the behalf of The “Marriage Equality and Religious Exemption Act”– legislation that would create legal marriage for same-sex couples in New Jersey.

A1, as it is called, seeking to undo the unexpected damage caused by the creation of civil unions a few years ago. That provision, while well-intended, unwittingly created a two tier system of citizenship in new jersey. Time and again I heard the negative ways in which it has impacted couples and families. And yesterday was a significant opportunity to undo some of that harm.
As you would expect, the room where testimony took place was not monolithic. There was some, for want of a better word, ugliness in the room and here is just a taste of it.

Time and again people argued against the law saying that it is “breaking God’s law and that all of us know in our hearts that such equality is wrong and sinful.”

In the same voice they continually said, “There’s the truth and you can’t change the truth. From the beginning of time the bible defined marriage as the relationship between one man and one woman. Period. End of discussion. That’s the truth!!!”

And if there weren’t numerous bailiff’s their to keep us all in line I would have stood up and pointed out that the version of the “word of God” they are likely reading and are relying upon to cast judgement was translated from Hebrew by flawed human beings. I would also have pointed out that there are numerous examples of polygamy in the Bible. Yes, apparently the real truth is that marriage has not always been between one man and one woman. But I suspect such people do not want to be confused by facts.

One rabbi spoke against it and claimed that this form of equality would violate the Torah’s principles. He said that referring to same gender relationships as “marriage” would be akin to “This bill “relabeling a swine a cow and then forcing Jews to eat it.”

And another Rabbi said “Homosexuals” as a whole don’t want marriage equality, only an anti-semitic anti-circumcision subset of activists do.

Yes, there was some ugliness in the room but, fortunately, there was far more courage present.

The day began with members of the New Jersey Assembly addressing the bill. They spoke both beautifully and powerfully.

Assemblyman John Wisnieeski began by saying, “Many of us would be well suited and served by listening to the young people of the state. When I talk to my three teenage daughters their comment to me was “why dad? what’s all the fuss? this is something that’s so simple and common sense. why is there even a debate about it?”

He went on to say, “More than 50 years ago our United States Supreme Court made a decision that separate but equal was not equal.” and this law would undo separate but equal status we unintentionally created by our enacting civil unions.”

And he was quick to add that this law “would also protect religious freedom because no clergy member of any religion authorized performing marriage would be required to conduct any service in violation of their expression of religious practice.

Similarly, Assembly Speaker Sheila Oliver noted that “…when we think about historical context through civilizations that have existed we know that what was the societal viewpoint at one place in time in history evolved through the centuries as societies examined and adopted different points of view.”
And she noted that separate but equal was, the “message that Jim Crow racial segregation laws sent in this country. It was wrong then and it is just as wrong now.”

I saw courage. Courage as family after family testified. There was the Italian Catholic father who came forward with his son, his son’s partner and their children and said (I am paraphrasing), “When my son first came out I was crushed. I’ve since come to see just how ridiculous I was. Look at me? Look at this beautiful family they have given me.”

And there was the couple with 11 children they had adopted from abusive, drug addicted homes. “I’m Mark.” one of the adults in the family said by way of introduction. “And I’m here with my illegal husband Bob and our 11 children. I want to make my illegal husband Bob my legal husband Bob. That’s why we are here.”

And then it was finally time for Rabbi Faith Joy Dantowitz, Rabbi Joel Abraham and me to testify.

In the hours leading up to it I had heard, time and again that the bill is only supported by the gay and lesbian minority of New Jersey and that people of faith oppose it. As a result I changed my opening comment on the fly and said,

“I’m Dan Cohen and I have served as Rabbi at Temple Sherry Tefilo-Israel a congregation of some 900 households for close to 20 years. I am here today as a straight man and, as we have heard invoked numerous times today, a person of faith because, quite frankly, in 2012 I’m scratching my head trying to figure out why there’s even a question about this to begin with.”

Nachshon knew that breaking away from the past is neither certain nor easy, but that, until someone has the courage to step forward to lead, nothing can change. He saw what needed to be done and did it. Yesterday I was privileged to be in the presence of the kind of courage he embodied. The issue of marriage equality in New Jersey is not simple. Then again, as Assemblyman Wisnieeski’s daughters told him… it should be.

Bal Tashchit: The Torah Prohibition Against Wasteful Consumption

 In Judaism, the halakhah (Jewish law) prohibits wasteful consumption. When we waste resources, we are violating the mitzvah (commandment) of Bal Tashchit (“Do not destroy”). It is based on Deuteronomy 20:19-20:

“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siege works against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.”

This law was expanded in later Jewish legal sources to include the prohibition of the wanton destruction of household goods, clothes, buildings, springs, food or the wasteful consumption of anything (see Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings and Wars 6:8, 10; Samson Raphael Hirsch, Horeb, 279-80). The underlying idea of this law is the recognition that everything we own belongs to God. When we consume in a wasteful manner, we damage Creation and violate our mandate to use Creation only for our legitimate benefit. Modesty in consumption is a value that Jews have held for centuries. For example, one is not supposed to be excessive in eating and drinking or in the kind of clothes that one wears (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Discernment, chapter 5). Jews are obligated to consider carefully our real needs whenever we purchase anything. We are obligated when we have a simchah (a celebration) to consider whether we need to have elaborate meals and wasteful decorations. We are obligated to consider our energy use and the sources from which it comes.

 Author: Rabbi Lawrence Troster, Director, Fellowship Program, GreenFaith

TSTI WEEKLY: Wednesday, November 23, 2011 26 Cheshvan 5772

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Please note that the Temple offices will close early today, Wednesday Nov. 23 and remain closed Thursday and Friday for the holiday. Have a Happy Thanksgiving!!!

The STISY Annual Midnight Run Clothing Drive is nearing the end and the following items are still needed by Sat., Dec. 3: LARGE or EXTRA LARGE (pref. Men’s), Shirts, Sweaters, Pants, Jackets, New Underwear and Socks (Men’s and Women’s), New Trial Size Toiletry Items, Hats and Glove

Ushers Needed! We need ushers for our Shabbat morning services. Could you spare a Shabbat morning to help out? Services are warm and wonderful, and you would be doing a mitzvah as well! If you can help, contact Heidi Sussman. Thank you in advance.

Adult Ed. Class – “Judaism and the Environment: originally scheduled for Mon., Nov. 28 is POSTPONED until Mon., Mar. 12.

Please help TSTI go GREEN: Sign up for paperless Bulletin by emailing Sunny Seglin with your name and the email address to which you would like your Bulletin sent.

For more about these and other items, log on to TSTI.org.

TIKUN OLAM… REPAIRING THE WORLD

Bring One! We are still collecting food to meet the ongoing needs of our neighbors. Bring one can each time you or yours come to temple!

Transportation is available for congregants who need a ride to services and temple events. Contact Alice Forman at (973)736-3467 if you need a ride or if you can offer a ride to others.

LOOKING AHEAD…

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Visit our website at http://www.tsti.org for information about our upcoming events

NFL Night with TSTI: Save the date – Thurs., Dec. 8 at 7:30pm. Old friends and new – Come watch the NFL game and enjoy activities with fellow TSTI members at the Miami Mikes Sports Bar on Route 10 in East Hanover. Contact Andy Nadel or Jeff Karp with any questions, to volunteer or to RSVP.

Shabbat Scholar and Supper: Join us on Dec. 9 to hear Jane S. Gerber, Professor of Jewish History and Director of the Institute for Sephardic Studies and the Center for Jewish Studies at the Graduate School of the City University of New York, speak about “The Impact of Sephardic Jews on the Contemporary Jewish World”. Worship services are at 6pm, followed by Shabbat dinner ($25 per member, $36 non-member). Please send your RSVP to temple c/o Tracy Horwitz. Co-sponsored by the Renaissance Group.

WEEKLY PARASHA
Parasha Tol’dot
Genesis 25:19 – 28:9

In this week’s parasha, Isaac and Rebekah marry and Rebekah gives birth to twins, Esau and Jacob. The pregnancy is difficult and God tells Rebekah that she is carrying “two nations” and that the “elder shall serve the younger.” Esau is born first and Jacob follows “holding Esau’s heel.” As the twins grow, Esau becomes a skillful hunter in the fields while Jacob remains at home as his mother’s favored son. One day when Esau is returning from the hunting field, Jacob convinces his brother to sell him his birthright for a pot of lentil stew. Years pass and Isaac is old and blind. Rebekah instructs Jacob to disguise himself as Esau and to deceive Isaac who will then offer Jacob the blessing of a first-born son. Esau is furious and vows to kill his brother. Rebekah tells Jacob to run away to Haran and find the home of her brother, Laban, where he will seek a wife among Laban’s daughters.

Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel is an inclusive congregation, accessible and welcoming to all. If you need accommodations, please call Karen at the Temple office.

TSTI is part of Greenfaith’s “Greening Reform Judaism Certification Program”. Visit our Greening page now. While we work at addressing our impact on the environment, you can assess yours – Calculate Your Carbon Footprint.

This email is as updated as possible. However, Temple information is subject to change without notice. For verification of any information, please call the Temple office at 973-763-4116 or visit http://www.tsti.org.

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Tashlikh: The Cleansing Water- An Eco-Theological Reflection

 

On the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah (or the second if the first is Shabbat), there is an ancient tradition, where one is supposed to go to a natural body of water like a stream or a pond and throw crumbs into the water while reciting several verses from Scripture. It is called Tashlikh, and one of the verses that is recited confers the name for this ceremony and its meaning: Micah 7:18-20 in which the prophet proclaims the uniqueness of God in being forgiving of the people Israel. He says, “You will again have compassion upon us, subduing our sins and casting (ve-tashlikh in Hebrew) all our sins into the depths of the sea.” 

While the symbolism is obvious, it is interesting that the sea is the place where our sins can be cast away. The image is of the sins like the crumbs, sinking to the bottom of the sea never to be seen again. When one participates in this ceremony, it gives you a real feeling of the casting away of burdens that we carry from the year before. It is a cathartic experience that serves to refresh and renew us for the coming year. The sea then is the place where we dump our unwanted spiritual waste. Our ancestors felt that the sea was almost bottomless, and beyond the impact of human activity. This idea that the sea is so vast that there is nothing we can do to harm it even existed in scientific circles until very recently. An environmental scientist once related that high school science textbooks still reflected this idea as late as the early 1960’s.

We know now that the sea is not bottomless, and that we can have an adverse affect on it, especially those parts of it that are of the most value for the biosphere. We can no longer dump our waste without thought into the sea. So when we do Tashlikh, we should reflect that the sea in fact does contain the environmental sins of humanity and that we cannot escape them any more. While God may be as forgiving as a bottomless deep, the real oceans must be taken care of as any part of Creation. Let Tashlikh remind us that the sea is a part of Creation that touches all life and requires our restoration.

Written by : Rabbi Lawrence Troster

Director, Fellowship Program GreenFaith

Elul Thoughts: 1 Elul

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The Hebrew month of Elul has begun and with it the month of preparation for the High Holy Days. Each day we will bring a thought, reading, term etc as part of our individual and communal preparation.

Elul 1

TESHUVAH
from “These are the Words”

One of the most import and an original terms of Jewish moral thought, teshuvah is quite inadequately rendered by the usual translation “repentance.” To repent is to turn away from sin and seek forgiveness. Teshuvah is a broader concept, one that goes to the very root of human existence. It is no wonder that the Talmud lists the power of teshuvah as one of those seven things that existed before God created this world. Human life is inconceivable without teshuvah.

The first person to undertake teshuvah was the very first human. Adam realized the magnitude of his sin in the garden, according to the midrash, and sought to be reconciled with God. Teshuvah in this case would mean reestablishing the intimacy and trust that existed between God and God’s beloved creatures before the expulsion from Eden. Teshuvah, in this key story, could not mean the re-creation of innocence. That childlike aspect of Eden was gone for ever. But a new relationship, one more mature since it had faced and overcome the moment of doubt and betrayal, was Adam’s goal. It is the deeper faith, one that emerges from struggle with the self, that is the goal of teshuvah.

Another great paradigm of teshuvah is the biblical tale of Jonah. For this reason it is read in the synagogue on Yom Kippur afternoon, as the special season of teshuvah draws near to its close. God teaches the prophet Jonah not to be cynical, to always maintain faith in the possibility of human transformation, just as God does. The prophet, who had longed for God to destroy the wicked city of Nineveh, is reminded that the city contains “more than 120,000 people who do not know their right hand from their left, and much cattle” (Jonah 4:11). Post sinners are like fools or children, not knowing right from left, no more guilty than cattle. The Creator does not want to destroy them, but to see them transform their lives by turning to God.

The Kabbalah views teshuvah as a cosmic process, one that extends beyond humans and encompasses all life and being. It is identified with binah, the third of the 10 sefirot and the maternal force within God. All creatures are derived from the divine will, and all contain within them a deep longing to return to that source. The human desire to reach out to God is as whole and natural as the tree’s stretching to grow toward the sunlight or the root’s sinking deeper into the earth in quest for water.

Excerpt from “These are the Words” by Arthur Green Pages 135-136

Summer Divrei Torah: Alan Paul

Once again this summer we have had the opportunity to learn Torah with members of our congregation during summer services. With gratitude to Alan Paul for his thought-provoking words we are happy to share them with our entire community.

 

Shabbat Shalom. I’m happy to be here with you tonight.

A lot of people – myself included – snickered or shook our heads when Texas Gov. Rick Perry declared a day of prayer last spring, in response to his state’s severe drought. The prayers didn’t work. The drought has worsened, and is now the worst in over 50 years.

Reservoirs and lakes have dried up. Beloved football fields have turned to dust and towns are facing the very real possibility of running out of water.

I’m sure most of you join me in being unsurprised that God did not answer the prayers of however many Texans took their governor’s lead and raised their hearts and minds heavenward. We do not think of God as a micromanager in this sense. We view the drought as an act of nature, or perhaps an act of man. Global warming is exasperating severe weather trends.

But when Mr. Perry asked for divine assistance in lessening this plague, he was actually falling back on an ancient tradition, one explored in this week’s Torah portion. In Deuteronomy 11:14, “rain.. in season” is prayed for.

According to some interpretations I read, rain in season is, in fact the most prayed for thing on the planet. And why not? Genesis tells us that the world began as water, and whether you view that as a metaphor or literal truth, water is, of course, essential for our survival. The world began with water, and it may well end as we know it because of a lack of water.

Hydrology has been a subject of intense interest for me for 25 years since I spent a summer at a marvelous geology field camp in Wyoming. The more I learned, the more I began to frame the world in terms of water.

I believe that a lack of clean drinking water will be the next great environmental catastrophe and will eventually require some kind of intense intervention. Water is one reason that Israel views the Golan Heights as being so strategically important; why both India and Pakistan will not easily give up on verdant Kashmir, and why China will likely never give up Tibet, whose mountains hold the headwaters of every important Asian river.

Of course, concern about water is nothing new and we all know where Israel is located in the world, so it is not surprising that prayers for water would have resonated with our ancient ancestors.

What I did not know before reading this week’s Torah portion and its interpretations is that there is a second part of the sh’ma, one which we longer read in reformed Judaism, which directly links rain or a lack thereof to observance of mitzvot. It’s a concept that Gov. Perry was directly invoking in calling a day of prayer for rain.

Basically, it says “Follow God’s commandments and he will bless you with rain in the early and late planting seasons.”  Obedience to other gods, on the other hand, will result in divine anger and the “shutting up of the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce” (Deuteronomy 11:17). We will perish from lack of rainfall, if we do not obey God.

As Rabbi David Ellenson points out: “Simply put, it presents a doctrine of reward and punishment that most liberal Jews have found problematic, if not offensive. It has therefore been removed from most liberal prayer books in the modern era.”

Linking observance of mitzvot to rainfall was not a modern or scientifically supportable concept. As one interpretation notes, many of us find a disconnect with a description of our God as “climate controller in chief.”

As we move beyond the concept of extreme weather being “an act of God,” however, we view it more as an act of humankind. Humanity is very likely worsening events such as drought not by disobeying God per se but by behaving in an irresponsible fashion that furthers global warming. In this regard, we can look back at the Torah and appreciate that we have responsibility for the world around us. Solving the problem may, as the Torah suggested, involve changing our behavior, and it is not going to be as easy as simply bowing our head in prayer.