Thursday, March 24, 2016

Jewish Leadership


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

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

Jewish Leadership

Whatever your political views and party affiliations may be, I think we can all agree that there is something significant about Bernie Sanders becoming the first Jewish-American to win a presidential primary. And it serves as a reminder that there is something special about Jewish leadership.

I hasten to add that there is nothing extraordinary about the fact of Jewish leadership. Not in a tradition that includes Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, followed by the likes of Joshua, Deborah, and Gideon. Our models of leadership include prophets and priests, and the kings of Israel and Judah, not to mention Judah Maccabee and Queen Esther. For most of the history of the Diaspora, rabbis served as leaders of their communities. And for the better part of seven decades, the State of Israel has given us uniquely Jewish presidents and prime ministers.

Jewish congregations, synagogues, and temples have also required members of local Jewish communities to step up and take on leadership positions, as trustees and officers. I'd like to call upon you now, taking a page from John F. Kennedy, to ask not what Adas Emuno can do for you, but to ask what you can do for Adas Emuno.

We have room on our Board of Trustees for a few more members, and there is always room for more on our committees. Virginia Gitter is the head of this year's Nominating Committee, so please contact her, or me, or any member of our board, or our clergy, if you are willing and able to serve.

Leadership is not some magical power you can only be born with, not some mystical skill acquired through arcane means. It's simply a matter of service, being willing to serve on behalf of others, to lend a helping hand. Won't you consider lending yours in the service of your community, and your fellow congregants?

Last year, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks published a book entitled, Lessons in Leadership: A Weekly Reading of the Jewish Bible, and here are his 7 principles of Jewish leadership:

1. Leadership begins with taking responsibility.
2. No one can lead alone.
3. Leadership is about the future.
4. Leaders learn.
5. Leadership means believing in the people you lead.
6. Leadership involves a sense of timing and pace.
7. Leadership is stressful and emotionally demanding.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Are you willing to take responsibility for our congregation? Not sole responsibility, we all work together, but are you willing to join with others in taking on that responsibility? Are you willing to work together for the sake of the future of our congregation? Are you willing to join together in what is a continual learning process, as we meet the changing needs of our community, county, and country? Giving of your time and effort is not without its rewards, which includes personal growth—it is indisputably a learning experience for everyone involved.

Do you believe in our congregation, in our families, our children, our membership? Is this the right time? And if not now, when?

And let's be clear about it. It's not always easy. To give to others means also to give up something. And yes, leadership can be stressful, demanding and draining, but as Teddy Roosevelt put it, "Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty." But I also hasten to add that, for the most part, things run pretty smoothly here at Adas Emuno, so there is not very much stress. And there is a great deal of satisfaction.

Jewish leadership is part of our heritage, something we share and can all take part in, as a duty, an obligation, a mitzvah. And you don't have to campaign to be President of the United States, after all. You just have to be willing to join together and lend a hand.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Our Talented President

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

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz


No, I‘m not talking about the leader of the free world, but the president of our shul.

It’s not every day that a rabbi writes about his president, but Lance Strate is so talented that I’m moved to do so.

What other Temple president enlivens announcements with a witty comment on my sermon week after week?

What other Temple president writes a Temple blog complete with links to entertaining YouTube videos?

What other Temple president writes a column for the local Jewish newspaper (see the Jewish Standard for his latest, Zayde for President) that offers provocative commentary on the media and current events?

What other Temple president convenes a monthly “Poetry Garden” that includes readings of his own charming verse?

What other Temple president writes his own Purim spiels, including last year’s off­-off-­Broadway hit The Schnook of Esther and this year’s Shalom Shushan? The latter premiers in its entirety on Wednesday evening, March 23 at 7:00 pm­ don’t miss it!

What other Temple president has not only written several books, but contributed to a new one with his rabbi? You can find both our pieces in Touching the Face of the Cosmos: On the Intersection of Space Travel and Religion (which you can find by visiting my Amazon authorpage). And look for information on a temple program about the book on Saturday, April 9 at 10 AM in a future post.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *      *   *   *   *   *   *   *


What other Temple president manages to do this while juggling more than his share of family responsibilities and a professorship at Fordham University?

Lance is completing his second term as Temple president, and without term limits I do not know if he will remain in office or anoint a successor. If the former, we will continue to benefit from his dedication and wisdom. If the latter, then may this column serve as a word of gratitude and appreciation.

And let’s remember that the talents of our volunteers run wide and deep. Whether on the board, on a committee, in the school... in a small congregation such as ours, your contribution makes a difference. My highlighting our president is really a salute to all who lend a hand in sustaining our special community.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Our Souper Social Action!

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


A Report from Annette DeMarco
Social Action Committee Chairperson


We won the Souper Bowl with a score of 103 soup items collected!! This number included cans, microwavable cups, containers and cellophane wrapped soup mixes... all in a variety of shapes, sizes and flavors. A special thank you to everyone who "played" in our first ever Souper Bowl! A very, very special shout out to our religious school students and madrachim who helped raise the "score". I see a "Souper Bowl II" in our future....

Purim is coming, so in the true tradition of the holiday... let's fill a "community" Shalach Manot basket! When you attend the Purim service and festivities, please bring a nonperishable food item (or two or three) and place in the basket in the vestry room as you enter the sanctuary. Food can be brought on both days of the celebration (Sunday, March 20th and Wednesday, March 23rd). These donations as well as all food items collected through the end of March will be delivered to the JFNNJ (Jewish Federation of Northern NJ) for their March Mega Food Drive.

Thinking ahead... we will be collecting all leftover, unopened Passover food during the first three weeks in May. It will be brought to the Helping Hands Food Bank in Teaneck. A special box will be placed in the vestry for these donations.

Join Us!

Wednesday, March 9th the Social Action Committee met at 7:30 PM in the Social Hall. ­Our social action projects have been successful due to the incredible responses of our congregants, whenever called upon. In essence, you are all members of this committee! During this meeting members brought in new ideas, discussed the old ones and welcomed those who "never knew we existed" as a group. Couldn't attend? Just email your ideas to me. Thanks!

Thank you to all who donated to the Winter Clothing Drive. Items were brought to the Council of Jewish Women's thrift shop in Bergenfield.

The general food, household items and toiletries collection is ongoing.

Special regards,

Annette ­ Social Action Committee Chairperson

acheryl21 at

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Purim Purim Spiel

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

Shalom Shushan 

Adas Emuno Purim Spiel 

Wednesday Evening, March 23 

What Does the Fox Say? Everything is Awesome in the new Purim Spiel written by our own temple president, Lance Strate! The musical director is Elka Oliver, and the cast is, well, a group of enthusiastic members (young and not so young) who are Born to Run and will be Dancing in the Streets (or the aisles, anyway!) to deliver a great show! We’re not Losing Our Religion and We Didn’t Light the Fire but we hope you’ll join us as we light up the room in celebration with song parodies, silly antics and a super story to boot (as in These Boots are Made for Walking!). So join us on March 23 at 6:15 for Pizza in the Social Hall, followed by a Purim Service, the reading of the Megillah, and Shalom Shushan! Hamantaschen and other treats will be served after the spiel. (P.S. A few songs from Shalom Shushan will be performed on Sunday morning, March 20 for our Religious School students and anyone else who wants to come!) 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Spring Religious School News

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

Religious School News 


Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Religious School Director

It’s holiday season! Not the kind where you get lots of presents; rather, two important Jewish holidays are coming up in March and April–Purim and Passover.

Our Religious School Purim celebration is Sunday March 20th. It’s “Silly Time”! Children are invited to come to school in costume, as one of the characters from the Purim story, or as something different. Here’s a challenge for those who choose not to come in a traditional Purim costume: be prepared to say which Purim character your costume most resembles! Who will you be–a hero or a villain, a queen or a king, or perhaps someone else from the Purim story? Classes will be learning about the Purim characters, so that might help you to decide.

Our Purim Tefilah service that morning will include excerpts from the Purim Spiel (Shalom Shushan!) and students will get to sing in the show! We’ll be reading from the Megilah and singing traditional and parody Purim songs. The morning concludes with hamantashen in the social hall.

As I write this, plans are still underway for our school Passover celebration on April 17. Also please note, we DO have school on April 10: this was originally scheduled as a vacation day, but we are using this as a make­up for the snow day we had earlier this year.

Please join us for the last two Family Services of the year–March 11, led by Grades 2 and 3, and April 1, led by Grades K­1. Our youngest students are busy learning songs and planning their presentations.

Finally–We Need Volunteers

Even if you have already signed up, we have vacancies in coverage for the Parent-­in-­Charge and for our Passover and Last Day programs. Please help! Here are the links:


Volunteer Programs



Friday, March 11
7:30 AM: Family Service led by Grades 2­3

Sunday, March 20
9:00 AM: School Purim Celebration

Wednesday, March 23
6:15 PM: Pizza for Purim in the Social Hall
7:00 PM: Congregational Purim Service, Megillah reading & Spiel (Shalom Shushan!) Costumes encouraged!

Sunday, March 27
NO SCHOOL (Spring Break)

Friday, April 1
7:30 PM: Family Service led by Grades K­1

Sunday, April 10
Religious School in Session (snow makeup day)

Sunday, April 17
9:00 AM: School Passover program

Sunday, April 24
No School (Passover)

Confirmation Class Sessions:
March 6, 20; April 3 (special visit to Natural History Museum), April 17 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Our Sorry State of Debate

In keeping with the political theme of our last two posts, did you catch the op-ed by Rabbi Schwartz in the February 19th issue of the Jewish Standard? Entitled, Our Sorry State of Debate, Rabbi Schwartz addresses one of his favorite themes, and you can read the piece over on the Standard's Times of Israel site by clicking on the title, or read it right here on our Adas Emuno congregational blog:

The bedrock of a flourishing democracy is the informed consent of the governed.

If Sy Sym’s slogan that “an educated consumer is our best customer” is true for business, then “an educated civilian is our best citizen” is true for politics.

If the Talmud famously teaches: “Every debate that is for the sake of heaven”—machloket l’shem shamayim—“will make a lasting contribution,” it also warns that “Every debate that is not for the sake of heaven will not make a lasting contribution.” Our sages understood that debate for the right reasons enhances the community. Debate for the wrong reasons diminishes us.

That is why I so lament the sorry state of debate in our nation. It seems like things have gone from bad to worse. I’ve watched every debate, and my sinking feeling at the beginning of each televised travesty generally ends in depression. Millions of Americans are tuning in hungry for elevated conversation, only to walk away sated by a meal of junk food.

As Fergus Bordewich writes in America’s Great Debate, his book on the lofty abolition arguments of the mid-19th century, “The pool-tested, spin-doctored, shoddily argued and grammatically challenged ‘messaging’ that today passes for political communication is pathetic and often incoherent by comparison.” And that was before the spectacle that passes for debate this election cycle.


The media is complicit in the farce. Candidates are given 90 seconds to make their case. In the Lincoln-Douglas debates each man spoke for 90 minutes! The moderators often pose inane questions that goad the debaters to attack each other rather than speak affirmatively about their platforms. When the candidates regurgitate their talking points rather than answering their questions, the response is mostly: “moving on….”

At their first debate, more than 10,000 people stood listening to Lincoln and Douglas for the entire three hours—there were no seats or bleachers. Similar crowds showed up for the next six debates, which were of such national interest that they were “broadcast” live by stenographers, who raced from the debates at set intervals with transcripts made in shorthand, which were then written out and conveyed by telegraph. Douglas began by acknowledging how significant debate was for addressing “the leading political topics which now agitate the public mind.” Abraham Lincoln opened his reply in feisty style: “When a man hears himself somewhat misrepresented it provokes him, but when misrepresentation becomes very gross and palpable, it’s more apt to amuse him.” Then, though, he got down to the serious business of educating the electorate about the ethical ills of perpetuating slavery.

Wael Ghonim, whose Facebook posts helped spark the Tahrir Square uprising that toppled a president but ultimately failed to bring democracy to Egypt, recently acknowledged that the Arab spring was aborted when true debate failed to materialize. Instead, he laments, social media “only amplified [the polarization] by facilitating the spread of misinformation, rumors, echo chambers and hate speech.” He concludes that “Today, our social media experiences are designed in a way that favors broadcasting over engagements, posts over discussions, shallow comments over deep conversations…. It’s as if we agreed that we are here to talk at each other instead of talking with each other.”

Contrast that with the Talmud’s description of Beit Hillel, who is said to prevail in its ongoing debates with Beit Shammai “because the followers of Hillel were gentle and modest, and studied both their own opinions and the opinions of the other school, and always mentioned the words of the other school with great respect and humility before their own.”

Likewise, as Bordewich avers on abolition: “Something else intrigued me, too, the more I read the records of the debate itself: never did American politicians speak to the nation more honestly, more persuasively, more provocatively and more passionately, in language that was often so splendid it nearly reached the level of poetry… men who believed in slavery said so, as did those who hated it, no matter how much odium their words attracted. By listening in on the debate, we can learn… not only about the profound ways in which slavery warped our political system, and about the creative craft of compromise, but also about how to talk politics to each other so that we actually listen.”

The lost art of debate is not lost entirely. An impressive organization called Intelligence Squared, begun in England, now hosts high-level debates on national issues in New York. Its mission statement proclaims: “From Socrates to the First Amendment, progressive democracy has relied upon civility, respect and understanding in public discourse. Debate is the cornerstone of American progress, the vehicle for new ideas and the platform for the synthesis of two opposing points of view.”

How interesting that the centrality of debate was expressed in very similar terms by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, when he wrote of Hillel and Shammai that “both views will have permanent value because… [they] shed new light on the issue under debate, and will have contributed to the attainment of the proper understanding of the question discussed. They shall be remembered as… advancing the cause of the genuine knowledge of truth.” Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav went even further, calling debate a holy form of communication because it echoes the divine process of tzimtzum, making space for the creation of something new. Just as God enters into an act of self-limitation in order to make possible the created world, so worthy debaters restrain themselves in order to make room for opposing viewpoints. As Rabbi Or Rose comments on this teaching: “When we disagree with one another, when we take sides, we create the necessary space for the emergence of new and unexpected ideas. Without machloket… the horizon of human discovery would be severely limited.”


As a high school student, my experience on a nationally ranked debate team was profoundly enlightening. As a rabbinical school student, I learned to cherish the passion for debate that courses through our tradition, and years later it prompted me to write a book on the subject. As a student of American history, I know that worthy debate does not weaken but instead strengthens us.
We may need campaign finance reform, banking reform, immigration reform—but how about starting with presidential debate reform? The kind of reform that goes beyond sound bites and sniping to affirmation, in the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of “the dignity of difference.” Who knows—in the process we may not only gain a greater appreciation our marvelous diversity, but also the realization that what unites us is greater than what divides us.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Yiddish Speaking Socialists of the Lower East Side

The previous post on our congregational blog, America's Zayde, featured my op-ed from the February 12th issue of the Jewish Standard, where it appeared under the title of Zayde for President. And in the post, I made reference to another Sanders, Edward Sanders, no relation to Bernie, and not to be confused with the English movie star. The Ed Sanders I'm talking about is described on Wikipedia as, "an American poet, singer, social activist, environmentalist, author, publisher and longtime member of the band The Fugs. He has been called a bridge between the Beat and Hippie generations. Sanders is considered to have been active and 'present at the counterculture's creation'."

Originally from Kansas City, Sanders took up residence in Greenwich Village towards the end of the fifties, and among his many other activities, opened the Peace Eye Bookstore on the lower east side in the early sixties, an important center for the local counterculture. He also is the founder of the investigative poetry movement in the seventies. I pick out these points from his biography, which in truth are overshadowed by many other achievements, because they are relevant to the point at hand.been active and 'present at the counterculture's creation'."

The point being one of his poems in particular, "The Yiddish Speaking Socialists of the Lower East Side," which I quoted a few lines from in my op-ed. The poem tells the story of an important chapter in the history of the United States, New York City, American politics, and the Jewish-American experience. The focus is on the first two decades of the 20th century, and the rise and fall of a democratic socialist movement spearheaded by the Jewish immigrants living on the lower east side.

The poem concludes with the failure of that movement, but its influence was felt, in part through the participants that were still alive in the postwar period, in the protest and counterculture movements of the sixties, especially as one of the main centers of the movement, as it was called back then, was in Greenwich Village and New York's lower east side. Perhaps these things run in cycles, so we're seeing a revival of that sensibility from the turn of the 20th century and mid-20th century today in the teens of our new century.

Whether that's the case or not, the poem provides a quick and easy way to understand the milieu that Bernie Sanders come from, both the politics of his parents' generation and the political movement that he took part in as a young man.

The poem also communicates in a clear and stylish manner what democratic socialism is, and was, about. Not communism, socialist dictatorships, or totalitarianism. It was about human rights, many of them rights we take for granted today, rights denied to working people at the beginning of the century. I would suggest that it is vital to avoid having knee-jerk reactions to particular words, and instead try to understand what people really mean by them, and that includes socialism. From that perspective, I find it personally heartening to see how that term has been rescued and resuscitated in Bernie's election campaign. In the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who many believed to have been a socialist), "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself," and that is especially true when it comes to words.

So, now, I am pleased to give you two options for accessing "The Yiddish Speaking Socialists of the Lower East Side" right here and now. You can read the poem on the online Woodstock Journal that Sanders maintains, here's the link: The Yiddish Speaking Socialists of the Lower East Side.

<Or you can listen to a semi-musical recording of Sanders reading the poem, accompanied by an electronic instrument of his own invention, the Bardic Pulse Lyre. The recording was originally put out on vinyl, but there is a nice YouTube version with the printed words as the visuals, so you can enjoy the best of both words worlds.

I would suggest that this poem is quite helpful in understanding where Sanders the candidate is coming from, and perhaps also why his campaign is not reducible to simply winning or losing caucuses and elections.Whatever your own political views may be, I think it is important to understand this chapter in American and Jewish history, and to understand the background that the first major Jewish candidate for President of the United States comes from.

Of course, the views I've expressed here are my own, and not the views of Congregation Adas Emuno.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

America's Zayde

Adas Emuno President Lance Strate's most recent op-ed for the Jewish Standard came out on February 12th, under the title of Zayde for President, with the subtitle of, "Grumpy, cool, fun grandpa speaks to millennials," and here it is for your reading pleasure:

When Larry David hosted Saturday Night Live on February 6, Bernie Sanders made a surprise appearance during a skit about a sinking ship — an apt metaphor, some might say, for the state of the union.

With David playing the part of a rich man arguing that his wealth earned him a spot in the lifeboat along with the women and children, Sanders was given the opportunity to deliver a few lines about the one percent “getting preferential treatment,” and the “need to unite and work together.” A brief exchange regarding democratic socialism followed, leading David to ask, “Who are you?” Sanders replied, “I am Bernie Sanderswitzky — but we’re gonna change it when we get to America, so it doesn’t sound quite so Jewish.” “Yeah, that’ll trick ’em,” David shot back sarcastically.

And certainly there is no disguising the fact that Sanders is Jewish, although this was one of the rare moments in media coverage of his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination that any mention has been made of his ethnic and religious identity. And that arguably is odd, given how much emphasis was placed on the fact that Barack Obama became the first African-American president, and on Hillary Clinton potentially becoming the first woman to be president.

Maybe it seems that by contrast with African-Americans and women, Sanders becoming the first Jewish president would be less of a monumental breakthrough for the nation. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that some Americans believe that we already have a non-Christian president—that Obama is a secret Muslim. Or maybe it’s a matter of longstanding Jewish reticence, as reflected in the name change mentioned in the skit. Sanders is a traditional Anglo-Saxon name; interestingly enough, it originated in the same impulse that was prevalent among the Jews of antiquity, to name their children after Alexander the Great.

Of course, Sanders’ self-identification as a “democratic socialist” often is referenced by the news media, as it was on the Saturday Night Live skit, but would that make him the first socialist president of the United States if he is elected? Not according to Republican rhetoric, given that most Democrats have been accused of promoting socialist policies. More significantly, not according to Sanders himself, who positions himself in the tradition of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs and policies, as extended by John F. Kennedy and, significantly, by Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society initiatives. Those presidents avoided the label of socialist, however, given American opposition, from the Russian Revolution on, to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, even during the brief period we fought together to defeat Nazi Germany.

To get a sense of the brief moment in our history when socialism first represented a serious political movement, we might turn to another Sanders, Edward Sanders. Perhaps best known as one of the founders of the 1960s rock band The Fugs, Ed Sanders also has distinguished himself as an activist, author, and award-winning poet. And his extended poem, called Yiddish-Speaking Socialists of the Lower East Side, stands as a tribute to the likes of Meyer London, Morris Hillquit, Scott Nearing, Eugene Debs, and Emma Goldman:

To make a New World
inside the New World
at Century’s turn
the Yiddish speaking socialists
of the Lower East Side.

As the poem explains, they had, “a passion for Justice that never fades away,” although they failed in their efforts to translate their ideals into a successful political revolution. Ed Sanders, who is just two years older than Bernie, was an icon and leader of the counterculture of the ’60s and early ’70s. Although he was not Jewish, he took inspiration from the social justice activism of these early 20th century pioneers.

Movements like these seem to run in cycles, so it may well be that the socialism that arose at the turn of the 20th century and returned in the form of the counterculture over half a century ago is due to make a comeback now. Without a doubt, the counterculture movement also was a youth movement, and not surprisingly, Bernie Sanders has enjoyed widespread support among the youngest of our eligible voters, the generation referred to as Millennials. Indeed, this has been a frequently invoked theme in news coverage of the campaign, with the pundits often seeming at a loss as to why twenty-somethings would support a 74-year-old candidate.

The expectation that young people automatically should favor the youngest candidate perhaps has its roots in the fact that baby boomers venerated John F. Kennedy, who was the youngest person ever elected president, but this overlooks the fact that no one from that generation was old enough to vote in the 1960 election. As much as JFK’s appearance of youth and vigor seemed to resonate with the ascendancy of the boomers, we have no way of knowing how that generation would have regarded him had his career and life not been cut short by an assassin’s bullet. We do know that his successor, LBJ, was vilified for his escalation of the Vietnam War, and that happened despite his progressive domestic initiatives.

In the same sense that political movements may be cyclical in nature, so too are filial relationships. That’s why we often speak of traits and qualities skipping a generation. Millennial support for Sanders therefore should come as no surprise, as he easily fits into the role of America’s grandpa, or more accurately, America’s zayde. Often he comes across as a grumpy grandpa, as Amber Phillips of the Washington Post suggested last July. But Emma Roller of the New York Times labeled him “your cool socialist grandpa” in December, and just a few weeks ago, People profiled him as a “fun grandpa,” according to his own grandchildren.

Jeb Bush, who had been struggling to gain the slightest bit of traction, recently had his mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, venture out into the New Hampshire snow to help him in his primary campaign. The news media has made frequent reference to her enormous popularity, referring to her as “America’s grandmother.” And there is no question that she fits the image, and did so even back when her husband was president. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has included the fact that she recently became a grandmother as part of her campaign rhetoric, but she has not been able to come across as particularly grandmotherly, drawing criticism this past December for comparing herself to an abuela (Latina grandmother).

Grumpy, cool, and fun are not mutually exclusive traits, and there is something about the image of older Jewish men that plays well in contemporary American culture, and especially on television. It is indeed a mixture of idealism and humor, impatience with injustice, and infinite patience with the young. Whether this is a wining formula for the Democratic primaries remains to be seen, but the source of his appeal to Millennials, as a socialist zayde, should not be a mystery.