Sunday, November 23, 2014

Reaching for the Heights


From the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

Reaching for the Heights

Looking off into the distance at the New York skyline, have you noticed that new building that's still under construction, towering over all of the others in midtown, even the Empire State Building? It has no name, as far as I know, it's just referred to as 432 Park Avenue, and it's a luxury condominium that'll be opening next year. While officially being listed as the second tallest building in the city, its roof will actually be 30 feet higher than One World Trade Center (remember when they called it the Freedom Tower?), and it will be the tallest residential building in the western hemisphere. And three more condos are going up that will be of similar height: 225 West 57th Street (also being called the Nordstrom Tower), 111 West 57th Street (which will hold the distinction of being the world's skinniest skyscraper), and 125 Greenwich Street (just a block away from One World Trade Center).

Clearly, things are changing in nearby Manhattan, and you might say that things are looking up. Or you might feel otherwise. But whatever your views on real estate development, urban renewal, gentrification, city planning, architectural style, and the like, I think we can all agree that this is quite a reversal, you might say a recovery, from the collective trauma of 9/11. Some of you may remember how we gathered together at Adas Emuno 13 years ago, finding some measure of solace and comfort in our congregation, following that terrible tragedy.

Even when faced with the depths of depravity, we human beings cannot be kept down for long. By our very nature, we reach for the heights, and we do so in so many ways. Through our buildings and monuments. By climbing mountains. By flying airplanes. By building rockets to take us into orbit, and all the way to the moon, and even, one day, maybe, to Mars.

Closer to home, we may be spending our time and energy climbing the career ladder, looking for ways to move on up in the world, and looking after our children as they grow up. As we endeavor to rise to every occasion, we ought to remember that there is a launching pad that we all can rely on. A place that can help us to elevate ourselves through communion, education, and social action. A construction site where we can raise our spirits, raise our souls, raise our consciousness, and as well, where we can raise our children in our unique and extraordinary tradition.

Adas Emuno is our launching pad, a place where we can take time off from the cares and concerns of the mundane world, and a place that we can take off from, to reach new heights in human potential that we may never even have dreamed of.

How high can you climb? The sky's the limit! All that's needed is your presence. Better yet, your participation. And, of course, your patronage, because to reach for the heights we need the support of a sturdy foundation, and to raise ourselves and our families, we also need to do some fundraising.

We won't be part of the skyline or set any records, but through our congregation, we certainly can stand tall in our own right. And we can see very far indeed, standing on the shoulders of the giants of Jewish tradition. And we can reach for the heights, both individually in our own personal development, and together as a community.

Sunday, November 2, 2014


Our Cantor wrote the  D'Var Torah for the Academy for Jewish Religion this past week, and we're pleased to be able to share it with you here on our congregational blog:

Parashat Lekh-Lekha
Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Journeys are complicated. Fraught with the unexpected, they can bring out one's best and worst qualities. But the beginning—the moment of outset—can be a moment of perfection and purity. Consider the newborn, or a decision to embark on a new career, or those first steps of a backpacking trip.

Such a moment opens this week's Torah portion.

And God said to Abram, "Go forth from your native land and from your father's house, to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing."
Vayelekh Avramand Abram went forth (Genesis 12:1-2, 4).

If there was hesitation, we don't read about it. If Sarai gave him a hard time about leaving, that was kept between the two of them. Without regard to what came before or what will happen on the journey itself, the moment captured in these first verses is clear—God called, Abram went.

Debbie Friedman z''l composed a well-known interpretive setting based on these opening words:

L'chi lach, to a land that I will show you,
lech lecha to a place you do not know,
l'chi lach on your journey I will bless you,
and you shall be a blessing...

The paraphrasing of the biblical text is a derash on that pure moment of beginning. The song is intended to transform this moment into what a modern day person might feel when setting out on a significant personal journey. When sung at b'nei mitzvah ceremonies, the words are directed towards a child on the cusp of adulthood. Time stops, and for that moment no one is thinking about the frustrations and challenges that led to this day, or of the difficult and unpredictable teenage years that lie ahead.

So too with Abram at that vayelekh moment. His past is unknown and the future will quickly get messy, but these initial verses contain powerful certainty. The journey of his lifetime is about to begin, which is also the start of the journey of our people. While almost nothing is mentioned in the Torah regarding Abraham's past, there are the midrashim. In Genesis Rabbah 38:13 the young Abram, son of Terah the idol-maker, smashes his father's idols in order to make the point that they are not real gods, and then survives when Nimrod throws him into the fire. Since according to this midrash Abram is already aware of the presence of the One, it serves to explain his readiness when God says Lekh lekha. One might also consider, however, that this story suggests another aspect of Abraham's character. For the youth who willingly destroys the source of his father's income in order to prove a theological point, will become the husband who doesn't consider the feelings of his wife, when in Egypt he will tell Pharaoh she is his sister in order to save himself (Gen. 12:11-13).

Abraham's journey through this Torah portion, even after Egypt, is one of war, nightmare and pain. In Chapter 14 his nephew Lot is captured and then rescued by Abram. In Genesis 15:12-14 God speaks to Abram in a terrible dream, predicting his descendants' four hundred years of suffering as slaves before being freed by God. Hagar bears a child in the face of Sarai's barrenness. Finally though, there is the promise of Isaac and the covenant with God which culminates with Abram, now Abraham, circumcising himself and all his household.

How often are moments of hope and expectation followed by periods of slogging through the muck of reality. The newborn won't let you sleep and when he/she won't stop crying you feel helpless and ignorant. You discover that learning your new profession is tough and often tedious. The pack on your back chafes your shoulders, and your self-esteem is lost in the realization that you must have missed the trail when you took a wrong turn five miles back. But there is also the sublime redemptive moment of connection with your infant, of understanding a new skill, of finding the path once again.

Despite the inevitable muck, we take the journey. When we are called, we go. We may falter, there will be nightmares and fears and mistakes, and we will be changed. May we, like our ancestor Abraham, be blessed when we go forth. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Congregant's Comment on Creation

Congregant Luwik Kowalski offers the following comment on the Biblical story of Creation, based on commentary provided by Reform Rabbi Aaron B. Bisno:

The Biblical story of creation of the universe in six days conflicts with what scientists tell us about evolution. Reform Jews do not reject scientific knowledge; they reject the "intelligent design" pseudo-theory. Only proponents of "intelligent design" insist that intellectual honesty requires us to teach (in schools) that the stories in Genesis are legitimate historical theories. 
Nothing could be further from scientific or historical truth; the truths these biblical tales speak are of a mythic sort. This is not to suggest the Torah is less than meaningful. In fact, the accounts of the world's Creation, as recorded in Genesis's two tales, are among the most meaningful stories ever written! The stories of a God who fashioned humanity in the divine image and according to a master plan are neither reliable nor plausible explanations of the world's origins.

But the Biblical idea that God created the world for a purpose, and that he loves us, is a comfortable belief. In fact, I deliberately choose to behave as if it is true. Yet, insofar as such a belief speaks to the spiritual and moral dimensions of our lives, the Torah's verses fall into the realm of religion and not into that of science. Thus, when we study the origins of the universe, we turn to biology, chemistry, and the like. And when we ask the questions that speak to our sense of self, we return to our sacred Torah, which has guided, nourished, and sustained our people's spirit.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Simcha for Simchat Torah!

As we prepare to celebrate Simchat Torah, with services beginning at 7 PM tonight, including the consecration of our new Religious School students (and there'll be pizza in the Sukkah at 6 PM ), here's a Hasidic Simcha for Simchat Torah

Come join us for this joyous holiday, as the previous year's cycle of Torah readings come to a close, and a new cycle is begun. Remember when you used to go to the video store and they'd tell you to be sure to rewind your tapes? This is how it all began...

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Susan Grey's Yom Kippur Appeal 5775

Good Morning. Thank you to the Rabbi and the Cantor for that beautiful service and to all the volunteers who put in so much of their time and energy to make the holidays flow so seamlessly. 

For those who do not know me, my name is Susan Grey and I have the privilege to deliver the annual Yom Kippur appeal. More on that later... First, a little about me. 

My family and I have been congregants at Adas Emuno for over a decade. We arrived in Leonia in 2003 after many years in Manhattan and a short stint in Riverdale. We settled on Wood Terrace with our two very young children and an English springer spaniel. The children went to pre-school, Scott and I got used to the commute and we settled in. I’m not sure who first told us about Adas Emuno. Maybe it was the Raskins, or the Schullers or Elka—I just know that it kept coming up in conversation. Hey, there’s a really cool young cantor they said, with young kids, a beautiful voice, and a non-Jewish husband. So, I checked out Tot Shabbat, a Sunday pre–k class, a Rosh Hashanah service, and I was hooked.

I had always had strong connection to my Jewish background (but did not attend synagogue). I have a non-Jewish spouse, albeit one who is happy to cook and celebrate the Jewish holidays with my family but insists on the Christmas tree of his youth. We had no real plan on what we were going to do about religious instruction for the children, if anything at all. But after spending some time at Adas Emuno, I began to have a strong sense that I had stumbled onto something unique and special. Adas Emuno was a place that Scott could feel comfortable coming if he chose to participate, and I felt that I had found a place for my children to learn about Jewish faith, culture and social commitment—certainly more than I could impart to them.

In 2007, our 3rd child Griffin was born and as soon as he was old enough he started attending religious class. His siblings were overjoyed that now, he too, had to get up early on Sunday mornings! Last January, our daughter Molly was called to the Torah as a bat mitzvah—the first woman in many generations of Jewish women in my family. Grey is currently in 6th grade and Griffin is now in 2nd. Molly sleeps in on Sunday!

The synagogue has been through a few transitions since we became members and I am happy to report that today we are stronger than ever, with a committed clergy, a dynamic new Educator and a dedicated board of trustees. We have a full calendar of programs and activities for all ages. With prayer, study, music, food, and social action projects there is always energy and buzz at Adas Emuno. We offer different avenues for people to start, or to continue to explore how Judaism can bring meaning to their lives.

Please consider making an investment in the future of our unique synagogue. By investment I do not mean only one that involves financial gain. I mean an investment in the community, both the global Jewish community and our immediate community. Spread the word, bring your friends and encourage people to explore what we have to offer. I cannot articulate with perfect clarity why we each of us are here at Adas Emuno. It is very personal. I can say however, that no matter what leads each of us to this place, we stay because of the comfort and strength we draw from our time here and from each other.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”. Please consider giving generously this year to sustain the special life we have created here at Adas Emuno.

Thank you, and a sweet new year to all. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Rejoicing in Sukkot

In celebration of the Festival of Sukkot, here's a truly festive Sukkot Song by Steve McConnell

Chag Sameach, and Shabbat Shalom!