Tag Archives: Rabbi Cohen

From the NJJewishNews…

An unworthy debate

Politics has always been a bit nasty, a bit dirty. There is no question about that. But recent attacks on Sen. Frank Lautenberg — including name calling, ageism, and EZ Pass distractions — raise the question as to whether or not there is any limit to which those in politics will go these days. It is distasteful and it is offensive. And with so many critical issues facing us today, it is yet one more meaningless distraction from the real work that needs to get done.

A point of transparency: I know Sen. Lautenberg and have for many years. When I grew up in Berkeley Heights, my parents were active in state and national politics. I was 17 when the senator was first elected and my parents could not have been prouder. They had also grown up in working class Jewish families and were proud to see someone who built a successful business now turn his attention to public service.What could be better? Over the years the refrain of “Dan, did you hear what Senator Lautenberg just did?” was heard over and over from them. And for good reason; Sen. Lautenberg has, time and again, stood up for those most vulnerable in our society.

When I first came to my synagogue, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, in 1992, I was surprised to find that it had as its member, Sen. Frank Lautenberg. Early on, he invited me to join him and open a session of the Senate. It was one of the great honors of my life, and I could not have been prouder, especially since, at that very moment, my senator was at the forefront of breaking the tobacco industry’s stranglehold over our nation.

It is against that backdrop that I write this letter. Because, quite simply, the recent barrage against Sen. Lautenberg has been unfairly harsh and inappropriate. The senator has a long and distinguished record of philanthropy, leadership, and good works. To refer to him — a WWII veteran who has served in the Senate with distinction for nearly 30 years — as a “partisan hack” or to obliquely and in a rather brash manner suggest the senator is too old to serve is unbecoming the governor of the Garden State. (And, having spoken with the senator numerous times in recent months, I can state with certainty that the man is not too old for anything!)

I have no issue with Gov. Christie criticizing the senator’s voting record. None. And I have no issue with him debating their differences on the current university merger. None. The two men come from different ends of the political spectrum and as a result they have widely divergent views on both the role of government and various social issues. It is that tension, that difference of approach and viewpoint, that can make America great. But that will not happen, it cannot happen, when one side or the other resorts to name-calling, bullying, and spurious attacks that detract from the real substantive issues.

The rabbis of the Mishna taught, “An argument which is for the sake of Heaven (i.e., worthy of debate) will have a positive outcome, and an argument which is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a positive outcome.” When, time and again, we resort to the lowest form of discourse in the public arena, is there any doubt what the outcome will be?

Rabbi Daniel M. Cohen
Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel
South Orange

Read it on the NJJewishNews Website


 

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

 

Snide Letter from Israel or Typical Rush to Judgement by CNN? You Decide.

One of the things that has become increasingly clear to many of us who care about the well-being and the future of the Jewish state is the fact that the media is quick to rush to judgment, present partial stories, take things out of context and, in many other ways, slant stories against Israel. This is not to say that Israel is free from blame but it seems consistent that when there is a quick, snap judgment made it is to Israel’s detriment. And if a correction is made it is often too late. The damage has been done. (Just think about the lack of impact of a Page 35 retraction days after a Page 1 mistake and you get a sense of what Israel encounters over and over again.)

That is pretty much the case with what happened over the weekend with CNN. There was supposed to be a convergence of Palestinian activists on Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel but, because of some good preparation by Israel, it didn’t really seem to take off. Few activists actually showed up at the airport and those who did received a letter from the Israeli government that CNN initially referred to as “snide”. I will give it to CNN that the letter was a bit sarcastic but what the news outlet failed to do was to indicate whether it was factually accurate or not.

And the fact of the matter is, the accusations made by the letter are 100% accurate. The regime in Syria is savage. The Iranian regime is violently cracking down on anyone who speaks against it. Hamas brutal and constantly seeks to cause civilian casualties. And Israel IS the only democracy in the region, the only country that offers women equal rights, the only country with a free press and the only country that seeks to actively protect religious freedom.

All of those things are absolutely true and are clearly laid out in a direct, and admittedly sarcastic, letter. But did CNN seek to point that out or did they simply use the title to criticize Israel? Did CNN misstep or did they simply miss an opportunity to offer some clarity to what really is going on in the Middle East?

And if they stood by their decision to call Israel out on the tone of the letter rather than highlight the points it sought to make why did they, just a few hours later, change the story title to a more neutral “Israel detains pro-Palestinian activists”?

Yes, a “Page 35 retraction”… But the damage was already done.

Here’s the full story from Honest Reporting.

 

Flytilla Fails to Take Off

April 16, 2012 14:14 by

It was meant to be a Palestinian PR dream. Over 2,000 activists scheduled to converge on Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, arriving on planes from around the world as part of a “Welcome to Palestine” flytilla.

Israel had done its homework, however. No-fly lists of potential activists sent to airlines prevented many from even boarding their flights at the point of departure. What could have been a major international incident turned from a flytilla into a floptilla, the lack of action described by The Times of Israel reporting from Ben-Gurion Airport:

But by mid-morning, nothing much was happening. Nothing had been happening for quite some time, reported an Associated Press TV cameraman in the arrivals hall who had replaced another cameraman who had watched nothing happen for most of the night. …

There were no fewer than 13 TV cameras and about 30 journalists around the terminal, bored and standing around in clumps. Anyone expecting Tahrir Square was presented instead with “Waiting for Godot.”

Indeed, the story barely registered on the radars of the US press, probably due to the fact that the majority of the activists were Europeans.

Snide headline of the day went to CNN:

Hours later, CNN updated the headline to something more neutral: “Israel detains pro-Palestinian activists”.

And what of the “snide letter” described by CNN? It’s worth noting as one of the means deployed by Israel to pop the activists’ balloons.

Dear activist, we appreciate your choosing to make Israel the object of your humanitarian concerns.

We know there were many other worthy choices. You could have chosen to protest the Syrian regime’s daily savagery against its own people, which has claimed thousands of lives.

You could have chosen to protest the Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on dissent and support of terrorism throughout the world. You could have chosen to protest Hamas rule in Gaza, where terror organizations commit a double war crime by firing rockets at civilians and hiding behind civilians.

But instead you chose to protest against Israel, the Middle East’s sole democracy, where women are equal, the press criticizes the government, human rights organizations can operate freely, religious freedom is protected for all and minorities do not live in fear.

Therefore we suggest to let you solve first the real problems of the region, and then come back and share with us your experience.

Have a nice flight.


Having seen the problems that supposedly “non-violent peace activists” could cause Israel, for example the Mavi Marmara flotilla, or regular protests and damage to the West Bank security barrier inflicted by foreign activists, it’s no wonder that Israel took this latest provocation very seriously and preferred to prevent these people from entering Israel at all.

A demonstration at Ben-Gurion Airport under the banner “Welcome to Palestine” is probably a more accurate reflection of the motivations of the activists. After all, most of the radical campaigns against Israel are less about Israeli policies and all about Israel itself and its very right to exist in the region. Rather than “pro-Palestinian”, the actions of many of these protesters is anti-Israel and does nothing to promote peace in the region.

This didn’t, however, stop Phoebe Greenwood, who also reports for The Guardian, from describing the campaign as a “protest against the expansion of Israeli settlements into Palestinian territory” in the Daily Telegraph.

Harriet Sherwood in The Guardian termed it as an “attempted show of solidarity with the people of the West Bank.” She also couldn’t help but include a subtle dig at Israel:

Those suspected of being pro-Palestinian activists were taken first to a smaller terminal, with a “Welcome to Israel” sign above its doors, for interrogation and from there to a nearby prison.

While Sherwood may have portrayed it otherwise, the irony was not deliberate on the part of Israel. Rather, Ben-Gurion Airport’s Terminal One does indeed have a large sign greeting travelers as it has done for many years and not just for this particular occasion.

Overall, however, as the Israeli letter to the activists pointed out, other very pressing concerns in the Middle East continues to expose the obsessive and disproportionate and often hateful attention leveled at the region’s only real democracy. Thankfully, at least in this case, the international press also had better things to do with its time than pander to what turned out to be an expensive failure of a PR stunt.

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The New TSTI Blogging Corps Takes Off To A Stellar Start

 The newly formed TSTI blogging corps goals can benefit the local community by updating many on what is going on in the temple community and what is coming up in the future.  Rabbi Cohen led the group of teens in the first session to teach them about the pros and cons of digital editing and the democratizing force of social media.

 

Submitted by the TSTI Bloggers Corp

Hebrew High Offers Experimental Electives Evening for TSTI Teens


Tonight the seventh and eight graders join the high schoolers for a new experience, an elective night. The teens got to pick their own experience from a number of diverse, exciting, and fun activities. These activties ranged from yoga to cooking to photography.

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This experimental night full of activities was initially suggested by two of our own Hebrew High 10th graders. The goals we have tonight is making the students learning experience more fun, interesting, and social. Thanks to Rabbi Miller for making it happen.

Signed- the TSTI Bloggers Corps

>10 Minutes of Torah- DAVAR ACHER The Key to Jewish Survival Revealed

>

DAVAR ACHER Davar Acher 
The Key to Jewish Survival Revealed

Rabbi Daniel Cohen


In rabbinical school, Dr. Martin Cohen gave us a difficult, but illuminating, task. Each member of the class picked a biblical holiday and identified each and every reference to it in that sacred text. He then had us turn to the rabbinic tradition and go through the same process. Not surprisingly, in most cases the “biblical version” of a holiday and the “rabbinic version” were vastly different. At times, they seemed to describe two entirely different holidays.
That brings us to this week’s portion.
With its detailed description of the various biblical sacrifices, the portion and book of Vayikra often seems unfamiliar, foreign, and at times disturbing. It describes a religious approach that is almost entirely different from what we modern Jews call Judaism.
Many of us grew up believing that Rabbinic Judaism was a direct outgrowth of the religion of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, but that isn’t true. Rabbinic Judaism did not flow from biblical Judaism but was built on top of it.
Consider archeology, and how there are two ways a new city might be built on the same ground. The first is to remodel but keep the same basic structure. The second is to build an entirely new city on top of the first’s remains. The new city might be built on the foundation of the previous one, but that might be where their similarities end. Modern Judaism is akin to a new city built atop the old.
What has kept Judaism alive since 70 CE has been our people’s commitment, tenacity, and flexibility, their willingness to build something new on top of what had been created; they’ve respected the past but have been willing to cut almost all ties with it as well.
Vayikra introduces an important part of our people’s history. There is much to study and learn within this portion and book, but perhaps the greatest lesson it teaches us is not contained within the text itself. It is found in the very fact that the portion seems so ancient and foreign to us.
The key to Jewish survival is revealed through Vayikra, and it is—flexibility—the ability to remember the past and learn from it but to never be fearful of trying something radically new. It’s the need to build on the foundation of what has been but never feel constrained by it because, after all, that’s how we got here in the first place.
Rabbi Daniel Cohen serves Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, New Jersey.

>אֱלוּל

We are just past the midpoint of the Hebrew month of Elul (אֱלוּל‎). During this month of preparation prior to the Holy Days we are called upon to set time aside time to look back on the last year and take a personal accounting of our activities over that year. This act of doing such accounting- cheshbon hanefesh in Hebrew, sets the stage for us to make amends during the Yamim Noraim for the wrongs we have committed and tocommit ourselves to doing better in the year to come. 


At the same time, however, during this period of preparation we can also take time to recognize and give thanks for all the blessings in our lives. Too often we focus on the hurts, the wants and the lacking in life. By spending time to recognize and give thanks for all the many gifts we are given we truly can enter the New Year with eyes that can better see the good in one another and the world. It certainly works for this 91-year-old…


She made me smile… I hope she does the same for you.

>My Response to the Answer Offered by the NJJN "Expert" in "Must we pay to pray?"

>The following appeared in the New Jersey Jewish News on August 18th. It struck a cord with me and… well let me share some thoughts with you after “reprinting” the original article…

Must we pay to pray?

Ask the Expert

Special to NJJN
August 18, 2010

My wife and I decided not to buy High Holy Day tickets this year because they’re so expensive. What can we do to mark the holidays at home on our own?

— Norman, Chicago

The “Expert’s” Response…

Every year as the High Holy Days approach I hear people grumbling about the price of tickets. And it’s true — at some synagogues it’s upwards of $500 a head. But why is it so expensive? It’s only a few hours, right?

First, in most synagogues, High Holy Day tickets are included in membership fees. So if you join the synagogue as a member, there is no need to pay for tickets. It’s only if you want to go without paying membership fees that your tickets are so costly.

Think about it like a membership to a gym or health club. If you only go three times a year, then yes, what you pay is a lot per visit. But if you regularly visit your gym, then the monthly fee probably breaks down to only a dollar or two per visit. And the gym needs your membership fees to pay for machines, classes, maintenance, etc.

It’s the same with a synagogue. If you only go three days a year, it does work out to be a high fee per visit. But if you want that synagogue to be around for you to visit on your three days, then the synagogue needs to collect money to make it viable. That money goes to help pay for the building, staff, rabbi, cantor, children’s programming, classes, even food for kiddush.

In addition to being places of worship, synagogues are businesses. They need to stay afloat financially if they want to be able to provide basics such as holiday and Shabbat services to their members. That said, your synagogue almost certainly offers a sliding scale of ticket prices if the price is really the only thing keeping you away. And some synagogues offer a special service for non-members with more affordable tickets.

I consulted with the executive director (who requested to remain anonymous) of a large synagogue in the Washington, DC, area about this issue, and he explained that it’s worthwhile to invest in synagogue membership. While you may think of yourself as a “limited user” of the synagogue, there really is no such thing as a one-, two-, or three-day-a-year Jew, he said.

“Even though someone may not attend services religiously, they still attend synagogues for b’nei mitzvot, weddings, funerals, and other occasions, and often call upon rabbis at times of need,” this executive director said.

That’s just a little background on why tickets can be so pricey.

If you’re definitely not interested in buying tickets, there are a number of other ways to get to services. A nearby university may have free services at Hillel on the High Holy Days. A few Hillels do charge for those who are not students, but most don’t. It’s best to call before you go.

Your local JCC also may be holding services; members may get heavy discounts on tickets. For a more traditional service, Chabad houses are known for welcoming all. For a less traditional service, try the on-line streaming High Holy Days service via the Jewish TV Network.

If you want to do something that doesn’t involve any kind of service or rabbi, I can make some other suggestions. First, you can certainly purchase a High Holy Days prayer book and pray from home. How about taking the day off from work to spend a full day volunteering for a worthy cause?

Alternately, you can go on a long reflective hike, and bring along a mahzor or some other spiritually relevant book to read. Try buying a shofar and blowing it yourself. Gather your family and friends for a festive meal, and eat the symbolic foods of Rosh Hashana, apples and honey.

There’s a Sephardic custom to do a short seder-like ritual before the Rosh Hashana meal, so you could try that even if you’re not Sephardic. Think about what has been most meaningful to you about past Rosh Hashana celebrations and try to duplicate and expand on that with your family.

Rosh Hashana ultimately is about reflecting on your past year and improving yourself for the year to come. Any way you can do that, whether or not you end up in a synagogue, is in the spirit of the holiday. Hag sameah!


So that was the article that appeared in the Jewish News. I read this and shook my head. I wasn’t shaking my head because of Norman from Chicago’s question. He has every right to ask such a question and, if he is not going to belong to a synagogue it is good that he is still looking for alternative ways to connect to his Judaism. No, I shook my head because the so-called “expert” missed an opportunity to help Norman see the bigger picture. He bought right into Norman’s “fee-for service” mindset and a teachable moment was lost.

The “expert” used the analogy of a gym membership when answering Norman from Chicago. Belonging to a gym is a good thing… if you go. And yes, if you go regularly to the gym the “per visit” cost is quite inexpensive while if you only go three times a year the cost per visit is exorbitant.

The same actually goes for Netflix. Get the membership that gives you three DVDs at a time and, so long as you are constantly watching movies and immediately returning them, the price PER DVD is quite low. If, however, you are like me and forget to send the DVDs back once you watch them the price per DVD goes up significantly.

After a while I realized what bothered me. You see the expert has a
good point BUT IT IS THE WRONG ANALOGY. It is the wrong analogy because by using it the “Expert” bought right into Norman’s “fee-for service” mindset. It is the wrong analogy because belonging to a gym and having a Netflix subscription is all about you and you alone while being part of the Jewish community is about you, and me and every other member of the community, past, present and future. It is the wrong analogy because involvement in a synagogue community is about helping to support the on-going existence of the Jewish people and, as such, it extends far beyond the walls of the specific synagogue one supports.

So if using a gym membership is the wrong analogy what’s the right one?

To my mind the right analogy is Public education. That’s right, a far better (but still imperfect) analogy would be the responsibility of paying local taxes to support public education.

If Norman has children who went to public school their K-12th grade education was not paid for directly by Norman. No, it was paid for by the entire community whose property taxes largely went to pay for the educational infrastructure of his Chicago neighborhood. And once Norman’s kids were through High School Norman continued to pay local taxes and support the school system. He and his family are no longer deriving direct benefit from the dollars they put into education but just as they had benefitted from the support of others now it was their turn to return the favor, or more accurately, the obligation to do so.

Similarly Elana and I don’t have children. That means that, as adults, we have never directly benefitted from our support of the local school system. That doesn’t mean we should have been exempt from supporting public education. After all, when we were kids we both attended public schools. Now as adults it is our turn to make sure other kids get the same benefit.

That’s what it means to be part of a community. That’s what social responsibility is all about. You do your part and others do theirs. Sometimes you are the beneficiary and sometimes others are. Regardless, you do your part.

Two households that strike close to home in this regard are my parents and my in-laws. Long after Elana and her brother Rob were out of the house Mark and Debbie were members of Temple Shalom in Aberdeen. They rarely went and, in fact, when they did go to synagogue for the last 18 years it was more likely TSTI that they attended than their synagogue. Still, they remained members of Temple Shalom. Why? Because they believe in supporting the Jewish community and they understand that the foundation of the Jewish community is the synagogue. Moreover they felt strongly that the synagogue had been there when Elana and Rob were kids and they wanted to make sure that other families would have the same now that their kids are growing up. In fact they only left Temple Shalom when they moved north seven years ago to be closer to us. Now they belong to a little synagogue in South Orange. 🙂

The same can be said for my parents. We grew up at Temple Sinai in Summit. Long after my sister Martha and I were out of the house my parents maintained their membership even though ever since I first came to TSTI when they attend synagogue they come here. They never USED Temple Sinai but they still supported it.

That’s what it means to be part of a community. That’s what Jewish responsibility is all about. You do your part and others do theirs. Sometimes you are the beneficiary and sometimes others are. Regardless, you do you part.

A few years ago my parents left Temple Sinai. They left, but only to join TSTI.

Norman from Chicago opened the door for the “Expert” to teach this lesson on responsibility and commitment. Would it have changed Norman’s mind? I doubt it. But at least it would not have reinforced the mindset that the synagogue is only about what I as an individual receive at this moment.

Two final points that the “Expert” could have made to Norman from Chicago.

The first is that with his individualistic mindset Norman will never have something that long-time TSTI members Harriet and Everett Felper understand and share with their family and everyone who knows them. Harriet and Everett celebrated their 60th anniversary on August 6th. They had family and friends gather for dinner and then they abruptly ended their meal. Why? Because everyone then walked down the hall and into the chapel for services. The Felpers wanted to celebrate their milestone anniversary surrounded by family, surrounded by friends and surrounded by the larger community. They understood that while their 60th anniversary was about them, it was not ONLY about them. Their kids were all there. And all but one of their grandchildren were there to help bless them. Where was the missing grandchild? She was attended Crane Lake Camp… one of our Reform Jewish summer camps. Clearly the Felpers have planted the seed of commitment. They know it isn’t just about them and they have done their part to ensure that Judaism is here generations from now.

In answering Norman from Chicago the “Expert” could have pointed to people like Harriet and Everett. There are a lot of them in this community. There are a lot of them in every community.

One final lesson the “Expert” could have shared with Norman from Chicago. It comes from a friend of my mother-in-law’s who, when speaking about supporting her synagogue said, “I may not be religious. I may not go to synagogue a lot. but my synagogue has a fair share approach. No one is ever turned away because of financial need. I belong to a synagogue and always will because even if I don’t go I want to make sure others can.”

I hope that Norman and his wife, whoever they are, have a sweet new year. And I do know this, whether they are at home or somewhere else for the holidays when the look in the machzor, the high holy day prayerbook, they’ll find that the majority of the prayers are n the plural. Why? Because while belonging to a gym and having a Netflix subscription is all about you and you alone while being part of the Jewish community is about you, and me and every other member of the community, past, present and future.