Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Return of the Violin

The following film by Haim Hecht comes very highly recommended by Rabbi Schwartz. It's just over an hour long, so set aside a little time to stop, look, and above all, listen.  We think you'll find it moving and thought-provoking. As Rabbi Schwartz put it:

This is worth watching if you have any interest in music, history, Joshua Bell, Huberman, Mahler, Strauss, Brahms, Toscanini, Stradivarius, Mehta, Lloyds of London, the fall of Communism, origin of the Israeli Philharmonic, the Jews of Poland and Europe, Carnegie Hall, etc.

If you agree or disagree with Rabbi Schwartz's comments on the film, or if you have any further thoughts or opinions, let us know—we'd love to hear from you and share your responses here on our congregational blog.

And best wishes for a happy and safe civil new year!

Monday, December 29, 2014

Questioning the Torah

We are pleased to share with you the following reflections provided by Adas Emuno congregant Ludwik Kowalski sent in on December 19th:

What a coincidence! Two events, our rabbi's play, in Temple Emanu-El, and publication of an article by Roger Price, Is This Really The Torah God Gave Moses At Sinai?, took place on the same day (December 18, 2014). The main hero of the play, the ancient Rabbi Elisha, struggled with questions that founders of Reform Judaism addressed in the 19th century. Elisha was excommunicated long before Spinoza was declared a heretic, and before modern science was created by Galileo and Newton.

Price's article is full of questions about the Torah, which "asserts a pre-history and a purpose of the ancient Judahite kingdom to which contemporary Jews trace their emotional and often actual genetic origin." Each of these intellectual contributions—the play and the article—addresses topics relevant to our weekly Torah study.

For more on Rabbi Schwartz's theatrical adaptation of As A Driven Leaf, see our previous post, Hanukkah and Heresy. Congregation Adas Emuno was well-represented at the reading at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan, and the play itself was very well received, a genuine hit! Now all that's needed is an angel to sponsor it for Broadway!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Don't Let the Light Go Out!

As the eight days of Hanukkah come to a close this evening, let us keep the spirit alive with the words and music of Peter, Paul and Mary singing, Light One Candle from their 25th anniversary concert in 1986:

In this season of celebration and hope, we at Congregation Adas Emuno join together with all people of good will, conscience, and faith, to affirm our commitment to keeping the light and from going out, the light of justice, the light of mercy, the light of compassion, the light of humility, the light of learning, the light of reason, the light of truth, and the light of peace.  Shalom!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Oil's Well That Ends Well

Hard to resist the Shakespearean pun when it comes to the matter of oil and the miracle of Hanukkah. That's the theme of this new music video by the Maccabeats, All About That Neis:

As you know, neis is the Hebrew word for miracle, and that's what the letter nun on the dreidel stands for, with gimel for gadol meaning great, hay for haya meaning happened, and shin for sham meaning there. Neis gadol haya sham means a great miracle happened there, but in Israel they say, a great miracle happened here, and instead of the shin, their dreidels have a pei for po, meaning here.

For more on the subject, let's consult the musical group, Six13, singing Chanukah (Shake It Off):

Let us celebrate the miracle of light, and life, tonight, and every night! Happy Hanukah!

Wishing for Warm Weather on this Festival of Lights

Here in Bergen County, New Jersey, Hanukkah means winter, and winter means that it's cold outside. So as much as we love our home, can you forgive us for a little wishful thinking, and California dreaming?

That was Tom Lehrer singing Hanukkah in Santa Monica (in case you were wondering).

But, as cold as it gets here, there are many other places on planet Earth where Jewish communities are celebrating Hanukkah in much colder temperatures. And colder still is the surface of the moon, which brings to mind this new video, Another Hanukkah Miracle from the Technion:

Of course, over in Israel it's nice and warm, just like Santa Monica. Ah, well, button up your overcoat, put on your hat and mittens, and let the lovely glow of the candles keep you warm inside. Happy Hanukkah!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Hanukkah A Cappella

For the fifth day of Hanukkah, how about this a cappella medley music video featuring Shir Soul:


And as we get ready to light the sixth candle tonight, we wish you a Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Hanukkah and Thanksgiving

On December 5th, the Jewish Standard published another op-ed by Adas Emuno president Lance Strate, this one entitled, From Thanksgiving to Chanukah. You might note the different spelling of the Jewish holiday between the title of this post and the title of the article, and that's because there is no one correct way to spell Hanukkah, since it's a transliteration of a Hebrew word written in the Hebrew alphabet.

Also, by way of contextualization, Thanksgiving was on November 27th this year, which means that this article was published just over a week afterwards. And the first night of Hanukkah was December 16th, about a week and a half after the article appeared. So now that we're in the midst of our Festival of Lights, it seems like the perfect time to share the piece here on our congregational blog. Note that a few minor corrections have been made from the published version, and the fourth poem, which was cut for reasons of space, is restored here, as well as some images being added. So here goes:

With the celebration of Thanksgiving still fresh in our memories, and quite possibly our waistlines, and Chanukah a little more than a week away, we might recall last year’s rare, indeed almost impossible confluence of the two holidays.

Remember how the event was met with a bit of bemusement, resulting in the neologism Thanksgivukkah, in images of turkeys with tails that turned into Chanukah menorahs, and meals that combined stuffing and cranberry sauce with latkes and sufganiyot?

At first glance, it might be tempting to say that this year Chanukah has been restored to its rightful place in the secular calendar, ending as it does on Christmas Eve. But Christmas is one of the two most important holidays on the Christian calendar and, in all honesty, our minor holiday does not work all that well as the Jewish alternative to Christmas. As much as Chanukah is our Festival of Lights, it pales in comparison with the religious celebration of the birth of the Christian savior through divine incarnation. Neither can we offer an equivalent to the iconography of Christmas trees, sleighs, stockings, and jolly old Saint Nicholas, better known as Santa Claus.

And can we really take pride in the fact that Chanukah has been incorporated into the secular “Holiday Season,” which has become an enormous celebration of materialism and an orgy of consumption, beginning with Black Friday, now pushed back into Thanksgiving itself, followed by Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday? Or that the one favorable comparison that we can make is that we get eight nights of presents instead of just one?

Don’t get me wrong. I love Chanukah, and I fully recognize and understand the challenges that we face in growing up Jewish and raising our children as Jews in America. I bring up the problematic nature of Chanukah’s association with Christmas simply to underline the fact that last year, more than a few people commented that Chanukah actually fits better with Thanksgiving. After all, Thanksgiving is a harvest holiday and Chanukah originated as a delayed celebration of the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot. Thanksgiving incorporates a modest amount of nonsectarian spirituality and Chanukah is at best a minor religious holiday; both are occasions for families to gather at home, rather than in a house of worship.

Thanksgiving is a distinctly American holiday, a ritual of national unity, albeit muted in contrast to the Fourth of July. Chanukah is a celebration of a successful national revolt against the Seleucid Empire, a small celebration of freedom in contrast to the Passover commemoration of the Exodus. Indeed, insofar as it began as the celebration of a military victory, Chanukah might well be compared to the Mexican holiday Cinco de Mayo. Although many non-Mexicans mistake Cinco de Mayo for Mexico’s Independence Day, which actually falls on the September 15, the Fifth of May merely commemorates the Mexican victory over the invading French army of Napoleon III in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. (By 1864, however, the Mexicans had lost the war, and Emperor Maximilian I was installed as their monarch. He ruled until 1867, when the Mexicans, aided by the United States, ousted the French.)

Even more than Cinco de Mayo, Thanksgiving and Chanukah have been somewhat tainted by subsequent events. Thanksgiving presents us with the ideal of co-existence between the English colonists and the Native Americans they encountered, but that ideal has proved to be elusive in practice. Chanukah’s rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem and independence in ancient Judea was associated with civil war among our people, and the theocratic rule of the Hasmonean dynasty.

What is most important, however, is that both Thanksgiving and Chanukah are celebrations of survival against overwhelming odds. Both represent a message of hope that is always welcome.

Abraham Lincoln established Thanksgiving as a national holiday in 1863, in the midst of the Civil War. That same Civil War inspired a 14-year-old Jewish girl to start writing poetry. That was Emma Lazarus, a native New Yorker and a true American. Her father was Sephardic, her mother Ashkenazic of German descent, with ancestry in New York on both sides of her family, dating back to the American Revolution. Lazarus grew up to become one of the great American poets of the 19th century, maintaining a literary friendship with Ralph Waldo Emerson. She died in 1887, at age 38.

She composed her best known work, “The New Colossus,” in 1883. It was not until well after her death that the poem was engraved in bronze and mounted on the State of Liberty’s pedestal. Most of us are familiar with the final fives lines of the poem, but the sonnet is worth repeating in its entirety:

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Although she was particularly concerned with the treatment of Jewish immigrants flooding in from Russia and eastern Europe during the late 19th century, Lazarus was able to universalize that experience to cover immigration in general, and to emphasize the establishment of the United States as a refuge for freedom and a nation of immigrants, truly a cause for thanksgiving. We might note the subtle incorporation of Jewish motifs in this poem, notably the reference to immigrants as exiles, also the use of the torch and the lamp, perhaps the similarity between the “mighty woman” and the biblical judge, Deborah, and certainly the comparison with the Greek Colossus of Rhodes, an implied contrast between the Hellenic and the Hebraic (which also is a main source of conflict associated with Chanukah).

Around the same time that she wrote “The New Colossus,” Lazarus also wrote another poem, “1492,” that has a similar but more overtly Jewish theme. “1492” contrasts the tragedy of the expulsion from Spain with the hope spawned by the discovery of the New World as a home for the exiled:

Thou two-faced year, Mother of Change and Fate,
Didst weep when Spain cast forth with flaming sword,
The children of the prophets of the Lord,
Prince, priest, and people, spurned by zealot hate.
Hounded from sea to sea, from state to state,
The West refused them, and the East abhorred.
No anchorage the known world could afford,
Close-locked was every port, barred every gate.
Then smiling, thou unveil’dst, O two-faced year,
A virgin world where doors of sunset part,
Saying, “Ho, all who weary, enter here!
There falls each ancient barrier that the art
Of race or creed or rank devised, to rear
Grim bulwarked hatred between heart and heart!”
Without a doubt a major American poet, Lazarus dealt with many overtly Jewish subjects in her work. She translated works by the early 19th-century German poet Heinrich Heine and the Hebrew poets of medieval Spain, Moses ben Ezra, Solomon ben Judah Gabirol, and Judah ben Ha-Levi, into English. Although she did not live to see the formal birth of the Zionist movement at the end of the 19th century, her writing expresses the longing for a Jewish homeland associated with Theodor Herzl. As much as the United States had opened its golden door to the Jewish people, Lazarus was well aware of the anti-Semitism that existed in American society, and the plight of the Jewish people elsewhere throughout the world.

In that context, her poem “The Feast of Lights” conveys to us a different, more militant meaning of Chanukah than we are accustomed to:

Kindle the taper like the steadfast star
Ablaze on evening’s forehead o’er the earth,
And add each night a lustre till afar
An eightfold splendor shine above thy hearth.

Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Blow the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn;
Chant psalms of victory till the heart takes fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born.

Remember how from wintry dawn till night,
Such songs were sung in Zion, when again
On the high altar flamed the sacred light,
And, purified from every Syrian stain,

The foam-white walls with golden shields were hung,
With crowns and silken spoils, and at the shrine,
Stood, midst their conqueror-tribe, five chieftains sprung
From one heroic stock, one seed divine.

Five branches grown from Mattathias’ stem,
The Blessed John, the Keen-Eyed Jonathan,
Simon the fair, the Burst-of Spring, the Gem,
Eleazar, Help of-God; o’er all his clan

Judas the Lion-Prince, the Avenging Rod,
Towered in warrior-beauty, uncrowned king,
Armed with the breastplate and the sword of God,
Whose praise is: “He received the perishing.”

They who had camped within the mountain-pass,
Couched on the rock, and tented neath the sky,
Who saw from Mizpah’s heights the tangled grass
Choke the wide Temple-courts, the altar lie

Disfigured and polluted—who had flung
Their faces on the stones, and mourned aloud
And rent their garments, wailing with one tongue,
Crushed as a wind-swept bed of reeds is bowed,

Even they by one voice fired, one heart of flame,
Though broken reeds, had risen, and were men,
They rushed upon the spoiler and o’ercame,
Each arm for freedom had the strength of ten.

Now is their mourning into dancing turned,
Their sackcloth doffed for garments of delight,
Week-long the festive torches shall be burned,
Music and revelry wed day with night.

Still ours the dance, the feast, the glorious Psalm,
The mystic lights of emblem, and the Word.
Where is our Judas? Where our five-branched palm?
Where are the lion-warriors of the Lord?

Clash, Israel, the cymbals, touch the lyre,
Sound the brass trumpet and the harsh-tongued horn,
Chant hymns of victory till the heart take fire,
The Maccabean spirit leap new-born!

Lazarus issued a similar call for renewal and rebirth inspired by the Chanukah commemoration in another poem, “The Banner of the Jew”:

Wake, Israel, wake! Recall to-day
  The glorious Maccabean rage,
The sire heroic, hoary-gray,
  His five-fold lion-lineage:
The Wise, the Elect, the Help-of-God,
  The Burst-of-Spring, the Avenging Rod.

From Mizpeh’s mountain-ridge they saw
  Jerusalem’s empty streets, her shrine
Laid waste where Greeks profaned the Law,
  With idol and with pagan sign.
Mourners in tattered black were there,
  With ashes sprinkled on their hair.

Then from the stony peak there rang
  A blast to ope the graves: down poured
The Maccabean clan, who sang
  Their battle-anthem to the Lord.
Five heroes lead, and, following, see
  Ten thousand rush to victory!

Oh for Jerusalem’s trumpet now,
  To blow a blast of shattering power,
To wake the sleepers high and low,
  And rouse them to the urgent hour!
No hand for vengeance—but to save,
  A million naked swords should wave.

Oh deem not dead that martial fire,
  Say not the mystic flame is spent!
With Moses’ law and David’s lyre,
  Your ancient strength remains unbent.
Let but an Ezra rise anew,
  To lift the Banner of the Jew!

A rag, a mock at first—erelong,
  When men have bled and women wept,
To guard its precious folds from wrong,
  Even they who shrunk, even they who slept,
Shall leap to bless it, and to save.
  Strike! for the brave revere the brave!

With the State of Israel now 66 years old, it is easy to forget the longing for a homeland that the Jewish people felt before Israel’s Declaration of Independence was adopted in 1948. Chanukah, then, might be an occasion to consider what Israel’s independence means to us, especially in this troubled moment in our history, and at the same time as we, as American Jews, give thanks for the safe harbor we have enjoyed here in the United States.

In doing so, we can recall the meaning of Chanukah as a Festival of Light, and a celebration of survival—and hope.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

It's Time to Celebrate Hanukkah!

Join us this evening for our Leonia community candle lighting in front of the temple at 7 PM, followed by a Hanukkah party in our social hall!

And to get into the spirit of things, how about this Hanukkah Song Mashup featuring Elliot Dvorin and the Key Tov Orchestra:

So, come light the menorah, and maybe we'll even dance a little bit of the hora! The s'vivon and latkes are guaranteed! Hope to see you soon, and either way, Happy Hanukkah!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Rules of the Game

On Hanukkah, we play the dreidel game, and just in case you need a refresher course on how to play and what it all means, this charming video from the teens of Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, up in the northern reaches of Bergen County, will fill you in. 

And even if you're a dreidel master, we think this video will make you grin.

Either way, why not take a dreidel out for a spin? 

And have a Happy Hanukkah, and Shabbat Shalom!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Let's Light Up Them Latkes!

There are lots of ways to make latkes, and maybe you have a family recipe that's been handed down to you, or maybe you found one in a cookbook, or on the back of a box, or cooked one up yourself. But just in case you are in need of some assistance in preparing this distinctive Hanukkah dish, or maybe if you just want to check out an alternative approach, or even if you just want to watch a cooking video for the fun of it, here's a two-parter courtesy of the Union for Reform Judaism:

So, what do you think? Can that Tina Wasserman cook, or can she cook? And if you're interested in learning more, she's the author of her very own cookbook:

There's also a kid-friendly, family-oriented version:

So, be'te-avon (or bon appetit), and Happy Hanukkah!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Hanukkah and Heresy

Not only is Barry Schwartz the spiritual leader of Congregation Adas Emuno, the Director of the Jewish Publication Society, and the author of several books (see our previous posts, Adas Emuno: We Need More Jewish Debate, Not Less and Adas Emuno: Judaism's Great Debates Now in Print!), but our multitalented rabbi is also a playwright, with a reading of his new drama set for this Thursday, December 18th, 7 PM, at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan.

We are pleased to share with you an article from The Jewish Week by their theater columnist, Ted Merwin, entitled Chanukah and Heresy:

While Chanukah marks the military victory of Mattathias and his five sons over the Seleucid (Syrian Greek) monarchy, it also represents the ascendancy of the Maccabees over their fellow Jews who had become infatuated with Hellenistic culture.

The most famous literary exploration of this underlying theme is Rabbi Milton Steinberg’s 1939 historical novel, “As a Driven Leaf,” which centers on Elisha ben Abuyah, an iconoclastic rabbi from Talmudic times who was excommunicated for his embrace of Greek philosophy and who was then accused of betraying the Jews to the Romans during the Bar Kokhba Revolt. Barry Schwartz’s new dramatic version of the novel will be performed Dec. 18 in a free reading by the Instant Shakespeare Company at Temple Emanu-El.

The playwright, a Reform rabbi, is now the director of the 126-year-old Jewish Publication Society. He views “As a Driven Leaf” as exemplifying the struggle that many Jews still face. The protagonist, he told The Jewish Week, is “caught between Athens and Jerusalem, or between reason and revelation.”

Like that of Baruch Spinoza, the 17th-century Dutch Jewish philosopher who was also excommunicated for his atheism, the tale of Elisha, Schwartz reflected, “disturbs and haunts us to this day.” Indeed, in 1991, a Baghdad-born Israeli author, Shimon Ballas, published a controversial novel, “Outcast,” about an Elisha-like Iraqi Jew who converts to Islam; it was translated into English in 2005.

Steinberg, who was the rabbi of Park Avenue Synagogue until his untimely death at the age of 46, was a disciple of Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of the Reconstructionist movement. In 1945, Rabbi Kaplan was excommunicated by Orthodox rabbis; they burned his Sabbath prayer book, which eliminated references to a supernatural God, to belief in a messiah, and to the Jews as the chosen people. The episode, Schwartz said, was extremely sobering for Steinberg.

Paul Sugarman, who plays Elisha, is the founder of the Instant Shakespeare Company, which performs readings of the Bard’s work in public libraries across the city, Sugarman remarked that his character is “tragically caught between his community and his loyalty to his rational ideas.”

Vacillating between the Jews and Romans, Sugarman said, Elisha betrays both. “He is overwhelmed by circumstances,” the actor observed, and “thus fails to bridge the gap between not just different ideas, but between different parts of himself.”

“As a Driven Leaf: The Heresy of Rabbi Elisha Ben Abuyah” will be read this Thursday, Dec. 18, at 7 p.m. at The Temple Emanu-El Skirball Center, One E. 65th Street. For information, call the Skirball at (212) 507-9580 or visit

This looks to be a real Hanukkah treat for all of us! You can count on the fact that Adas Emuno will be well represented at this event. We hope to see you there!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Come Light the Menorah!

On behalf of Congregation Adas Emuno, we wish you a very happy first night of Hanukkah! 

Time to come light the Hanukkah menorah, and in case you were a little unsure about how that works, here's a video that can fill you in:

On this, our Festival of Lights, may you shine on, tonight and all year round! Happy Hanukkah!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

The Moses Motif

The Jewish Standard published another op-ed piece by Adas Emuno President Lance Strate on October 30th, entitled The Moses Motif, with the subtitle, "The savior theme in modern TV series," and we are pleased to be able to share it with you here on our congregational blog:

Ridley Scott’s latest film, Exodus: Gods and Kings, won’t be in theaters until December, but it already has generated a bit of controversy.


According to Christianity Today, the actor who portrays Moses in the film, Christian Bale, had this to say about the dominant figure in Jewish religious tradition: “I think the man was likely schizophrenic, and was one of the most barbaric individuals that I ever read about in my life. He’s a very troubled and tumultuous man who fought greatly against God, against his calling.”

Living in a free and open society, Mr. Bale is free to express his opinion, and to do so safe from the fear of any punishment or persecution. The biggest fear that his remarks have generated is the potential effect they may have on the movie’s box office returns, especially among the large Christian market in the United States. Of course, we in turn are free to characterize his statements as ignorant and erroneous. We also are free to express our doubts about whether he has any chance of displacing Charlton Heston as the personification of Moses, especially since Cecil B. DeMille’s 1956 epic “The Ten Commandments” has been broadcast on ABC every year around Easter for the last four decades. And we are also free to say that Mr. Bale should go back to playing Batman, a character better suited to his temperament.

And speaking of comic book superheroes, we might recall that the first of this genre, Superman, was the creation of two Jewish teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, back in 1938. As an answer to the idea of the Aryan “superman” trumpeted by Nazi ideology, their Superman was the ultimate immigrant, born on another planet but raised as an American. He was the ultimate orphan, too; his home world, Krypton, was destroyed, mirroring the Jewish immigrants who came to the United States to escape the destructive forces of discrimination and anti-Semitism, the arrests and expulsions, not to mention the pogroms, putsches, and purges. This was not an exclusively Jewish story, but one shared by many immigrant groups during the 19th and 20th centuries. This no doubt had much to do with the character’s popularity in the United States.

Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster

The immigrant experience is reflected in the depiction of the character’s double life, as well. Unlike Batman, whose real identity is Bruce Wayne, Superman doesn’t wear a mask, but instead puts on glasses to masquerade as Clark Kent, the Anglo-Saxon name he uses as he tries to blend in with humanity. And although he is never entirely outed, he often comes across as awkward, shy, and clumsy in his attempt to pass as an ordinary man. As Superman, however, his Kryptonian ethnicity is openly on display. He is in his own element, set apart from the mainstream, which is the way that immigrants and their children might feel in the privacy of their own homes, or at shul, or safely tucked away in their own community or ethnic enclave.

Ellis Island was notorious for changing immigrant’s names, and immigrants themselves commonly changed their names to Americanize them. They often gave their children Anglo-Saxon names like Clark Kent. And just as Jews often have Hebrew names that differ from their official given names, Superman has a Kryptonian name: he is Kal-El, son of Jor-El. The last name, El, is a common element of Hebrew names, translated as God, while Kal might be taken for the Hebrew word for all, or for voice. Perhaps there is also a connection to the name of the biblical hero Caleb, which also can be transliterated as Kaleb, one of the 12 spies sent by Moses, and the only one, aside from Joshua, to act with courage, loyalty, and integrity. The important point, however, is not the specific translation, but rather the way in which the idea of Superman’s Kryptonian name is drawn from Jewish experience.

But Superman’s origin also was clearly inspired by the story of how Moses was saved from the Egyptian edict that all male children born to the Israelites should be killed, how he was put into a basket to float on the Nile River, where he was found and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter. The story of Superman begins when he is an infant. His parents place him in a small rocket, just the size of a cradle, and send him to the planet earth just before his planet is destroyed. Although Siegel and Shuster drew on science fiction themes rather than myth, fantasy, or allegory in telling this story, there is no denying the seemingly supernatural quality of the hero, or his role as a hero and a savior.

The same Moses motif is apparent in the ABC television series Once Upon a Time, created by two Jewish writers, Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, and now into its fourth season. The ABC network is owned by Disney, and Once Upon a Time draws on Disney’s long history of fantasy and fairy tale films, reworking and merging the characters and plots, and giving it all a twist. This is along the lines of the popular TV series Lost, for which both Kitsis and Horowitz wrote.

As the series opens, all the fairytale characters are under a spell cast by the Evil Queen (the one from Snow White), living ordinary, unchanging lives in the real world in a small town called Storybrooke. They have forgotten their true identities and earlier existence in another realm called the Enchanted Forest. Just before the curse took hold, however, Snow White and Prince Charming placed their infant daughter in a magic wardrobe, which transported her to our world, free of the Evil Queen’s curse. She grows up as an orphan, ignorant of her origins. The series opens with the daughter, now an adult named Emma Swan, arriving at Storybrooke, where she eventually is identified as the Savior. This makes it possible to reverse the spell and rouse the inhabitants from their fantasy of assimilation.

A darker version of the Moses motif appears in the HBO series Game of Thrones, adapted from George R. R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels by two Jewish writers, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss. Here too the motif is applied to a female character, Daenerys Targaryen. As the young daughter of a deposed king, she is saved from being slaughtered, exiled to a part of the world that resembles the middle east, and forced into an arranged marriage with the leader of a nomadic tribe. Rescued and adopted into royalty, she loses everything when her husband is wounded and dies. But, like Moses, she has a supernatural encounter with fire (becoming “mother” to three newly hatched dragons) that sets her on the path to becoming a leader in her own right, and a redeemer. During the series’ fourth season this spring, her liberation of slaves was shown to great dramatic effect. It is also clear, however, that she is a flawed savior, and her dragons are a dangerous weapon that can cause harm to the innocent.

Superman, Emma Swan, and Daenerys Targaryen all draw upon the powerful story of Moses in different ways. But they all convey the same profound theme of the Moses motif. That’s unconditional love, as parents sacrifice everything to save their children. (How many times has that story been enacted in real life?) As Neil Postman so eloquently put it, “children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see.” And what the Moses motif reminds us of is that children are the saviors who will liberate us from the tyranny of the past, and lead us into the freedom of the future.

Friday, November 28, 2014

November Notes From the Cantor

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

Notes From the Cantor

Last year the holidays of Chanukah and Thanksgiving happened at the same time–a rare meeting of our secular and Jewish calendars. This year Chanukah happens in its more normal time in mid-December, but it’s still a nice reminder to carry our feelings of thanks-giving and gratitude into the festival of lights. At the darkest time of the year, we shed light on our past by re-telling the story of Chanukah, and on our future by having our children share in the traditions of candles, songs, latkes, and presents.

What are your favorite Chanukah memories? What memories to you want to create this year for those around you?

One of my strongest associations of Chanukah is the song “Maoz Tzur”, sometimes also sung in English as “Rock of Ages”. I was not brought up in a religious home, but I do remember learning “Maoz Tzur” from my father. The song is quite old. The lyrics originate from a 12th century piyyut, or liturgical poem; and although we tend to only sing the first verse, there are actually five stanzas, and the first letter of each stanza spells out the name of its author, Mordechai (in Hebrew, the letters are mem, reish, dalet, chaf and yud). The tune we usually sing comes from a 15th century German hymn, although there is another somewhat less well-known melody composed by the 18th century Venetian composer, Benedetto Marcello.

As the days grow shorter, may the lights of Chanukah, of music, and of our wonderful Adas Emuno community, shine on!

Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

Congregation Adas Emuno 
Wishes You a Happy and Safe 

We Join Together to Give Thanks
For All of the Blessings
That Together We Share


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Social Action Roundup

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

A Report from Annette DeMarco
Social Action Committee Chairperson

My fellow congregants, you did it again! Our High Holy Days Food Drive was a total success! Our “drop-off” room in the back of the sanctuary was loaded to the brim and beyond! A very special thank you to all of those who donated, and to Norm Rosen, who arranged for the donation of grocery bags from ShopRite.

Mitzvah Day, Sunday, November 2nd—Religious School/Social Action Committee Book Drive. The boxes in the social hall, decorated by Molly Lawrence (with signs made by our students), have been filled and refilled a number of times. Thank you to all who brought in so many great childrens' books.

Clothing Drive: Nov. 9-23. Adult outerwear for men and women: coats, jackets, gloves, mittens, scarves, hats and boots (new and gently used) will be collected and donated to the Womens’ Rights Center in Englewood. Please bring to the social hall.

Hackensack Shelter—Sunday, December 7th. It's our turn to cook and serve dinner... we cook for well over 100 people, so even if you can't serve, we will need lots of food prepared! Please mark this date as this particular project takes a congregation!! Information will be forthcoming via email so keep an eye out. A shout out to Marilyn Katz for having set this up.

For the future: Please begin saving up toiletries, such as shampoo, soap, dental products, etc. Hotel-sized items as well as larger sizes will work. Please do not bring to the temple, yet. Information will come later.

Soda can tabs collected for Ronald McDonald House will continue through the end of December. Food collection for Center for Food Action—always on!!

Thank you for all that you do for our community and for the world, one day, one project at a time.


Annette, Social Action Committee Chairperson

acheryl21 at

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Religious School News

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

Religious School News 


Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Religious School Director


As I’m writing this column, we just had our first Shabbat Family Service of the year, featuring the Seventh grade–they were great! They led prayers and songs throughout the service, and shared their thoughts about the mitzvah of caring for the environment. Thank you to Rabbi Schwartz and their teachers, Sabina Albirt and Michael Dworkis, for preparing them. Our next two Shabbat Family Services are coming up, led by the Fifth and Sixth grades; everyone is encouraged to attend these special services, and support our students ́ participation in religious worship.

Tot Mitzvah is our new program for pre-school age children, led by Doris White. With (free!) programs six times during the year, we welcome anyone who would like to join in the fun. Come spend an hour of music, arts and crafts and stories with your little one – this month Doris will be having an early Chanukah celebration with the tots on November 23rd.

Thank you to everyone who so generously brought in books for our October Book Drive, as we participated in the Jewish Federation of NJ’s Annual Mitzvah Day. These will help so many students in our area who are in need of books.

Here are some other important Religious-School-related dates to note during November and December:

  • Saturday Nov. 15-Bar Mitzvah of Justin Priblo
  • Friday Nov. 21-Shabbat Family Service featuring the Sixth Grade students
  • Sunday Nov. 23-Tot Mitzvah
  • Sunday Nov. 30-NO RELIGIOUS SCHOOL Thanksgiving weekend
  • Saturday, Dec. 13-Bat Mitzvah of Katie Schuller
  • Friday Dec. 19-Shabbat Family Service featuring the Fifth Grade students
  • Sunday Dec. 28- NO RELIGIOUS SCHOOL Winter Recess

Monday, November 24, 2014

What’s Your Motto?

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

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz

What’s Your Motto?

This summer we cleaned out the small vestry room adjoining our sanctuary that houses our prayer books. In the process we discovered a Confirmation certificate. The name on the certificate: Esther Cohn. The date: May 27, 1917. The “minister” (as the rabbi was then called): Moses Eckstein. The president: Samuel Neuberger.

I was happy to find this artifact; we have so few from our long congregational history. The certificate itself was simple and unexceptional. But one line caught my eye. It read, “Motto” and then leaves a blank space to be filled in. In a different hand than the rest of the certificate, are the words, “I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.” You may recognize the verse from the 23rd Psalm.

Intriguing... I haven’t seen something like this before. It got me to thinking: Did Esther herself choose this verse? Did she write it herself on the certificate? How and why did she make this choice? Did the rabbi give the Confirmation students a choice of sayings, and each student chose their favorite? Or were the students completely free to choose whatever they wanted?

I like this idea of a motto. I’m considering bringing it back to Confirmation class. Part of the challenge, I suppose, will be to design a teaching unit of great quotes to help our students make an educated choice. I’m also left wondering: why haven’t I heard of this being done before... and why didn’t I ever think of it?

My question to you: what is your motto? In Europe, aristocratic families used to have both a motto and coat of arms? Do you have a verse that is especially meaningful to you? Do you have a favorite quote that sums up your philosophy of life? (If you do, send it to me; I’d really like to know.)

When I was newly ordained (thirty years ago if you can believe it), a member of my first congregation wove me a beautiful tallit, that I still wear at every morning service. Roz asked me what I would like to be inscribed on the collar. I chose the famous words of the prophet Micah, “... to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” I guess you could call that my motto. Choosing a motto may not be so easy... but harder still is living up to it.

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.