Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Character Matters, The Prophets Say

Our friend Joanne Palmer, editor of the Jewish Standard, published an article on this year's Sweet Tastes of Torah that is worth noting here on the congregational blog of Adas Emuno. 

The title of the article is Character Matters, The Prophets Say. The subtitle of the article, which was published in the January 19th issue, is "This year’s Sweet Tastes of Torah includes a talk on prophetic literature; also havdalah, dessert, and dancing," and here's how it begins:

In some ways, everything is different this year.

In other ways, things are the same; we build on successes and learn from missteps. The Sweet Tastes of Torah, the annual program that offers the community workshops with local rabbis, all of them members of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, has been going strong for almost a decade now. About 18 Conservative and Reform rabbis will teach two sessions of classes on February 3 at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center.

But this year, in response to the increased urgency that many people feel to do something, to understand more about what they can do and to know more about the Jewish context that can nourish their instincts and actions, Sweet Tastes of Torah is reshaping the evening.

It will begin with the usual spirited Havdalah, and it will end with the usual and much-anticipated dessert, as well as Israeli folk dancing (to even out the dessert), but it will include a keynote address, which will provide the focus for all of the first session’s workshops and some of the second.

So far, so good, you may say, but what really makes this year's event different from all other years, you may ask. Well, then, read on!

The keynote speaker is Rabbi Barry Schwartz, who heads Congregation Adas Emuno in Leonia and is the CEO and editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society. In what must have been his abundant spare time (assuming that either he never sleeps and has figured out a 36-hour day), he has written Path of the Prophets. The latest of his books—he wrote a children’s book, Adam’s Animals, that came out in October—looks at some of the prophets—both the obvious ones, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel—and biblical figures who were not called prophets but who functioned in that way, characters including Judah, the midwife Shifrah, and Ruth.

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Although Rabbi Schwartz worked on his book for five years, he said, and therefore he began the work well before today’s political situation evolved, “it just so happens that it’s coming out at a time when we are so conscious of the ethical issues that are swirling around the presidency and also the #MeToo movement. This invitation to deliver the keynote came smack at the time when the Harvey Weinstein story was just breaking, and it seemed that every day there was a new story.

Because his book is about prophecy—and about ethical living, which prophecy demands—it seemed absolutely timely, he said, and that is a great sadness. “I thought that I was writing it in order to make my contribution to the conversation about the prophets,” he said. “They inspired me when I was younger, and I wanted to do that for the new generation.

“So many people try to read the prophets, and their eyes glaze over. So much of it is written in high rhetorical style, in a poetical prose that is very hard to digest. I wanted to write a book that makes the prophet’s works, and even their lives, accessible and relevant and compelling.”

He talked about his book’s structure, and how the workshops at Sweet Tastes will mirror that structure.

“The book is divided into three sections—justice, compassion, and faith—reflecting Micah’s admonition to ‘do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God,’” Rabbi Schwartz said.

“Certainly we are seeing ethical crises of leadership, particularly political and sexual in nature; these crises are happening so fast that we can hardly keep up with them. My thesis is that the prophets of ancient Israel brought forth an ethical revolution, and we need to retrieve their often overlooked or forgotten messages today. It will help inform us, perhaps it will help steady the ship.

“Part of what I will raise in the keynote is that it is not enough for us to lament what is going on. It is not enough for us to raise our concerns and then move on. In some ways, that is putting our heads in the sand, and the prophets would say no, that is not enough.

“We very much need to hear the prophetic message that every person has a responsibility to do their part. The prophets didn’t turn their ire just on the leaders, but on the people as well, and in some ways that is even more daring. If the leaders are making a mistake, we need to speak truth to power, but we also need to speak truth to the people, and to understand, as Rabbi Heschel put it, that especially in a democratic society, not all are guilty, but all are responsible.”

Rabbi Heschel, of course, is Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the 20th century Jewish theologian and political advocate whom Rabbi Schwartz counts as among his inspirations. So, he said, was the rabbi of the shul to which his family belonged when he was growing up, in Croton-on-Hudson in New York. “Rabbi Michael Robinson, of blessed memory, was a disciple of Heschel’s, and one of the dozen Reform rabbis who were arrested with Martin Luther King in St. Augustine,” he said. “He was a true advocate for social justice, and I grew up with him, listening to him quote King and Heschel and the Hebrew prophets.

“It was JPS that published Heschel’s book The Prophets in 1963, and I feel a great kinship as the head of the JPS with Heschel’s work.”

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Rabbi Schwartz begins each of his chapters—each dedicated to one official or unofficial prophet—with a biographical sketch based on the information available in the Bible and fleshed out by his imagination. “I combine biography and theology by taking an episode from their lives that illustrates what their lives were about,” he said. “Sometimes the biographical bits in the text are sparse, but I elaborate on it by what I call creative first-person midrash. I have the prophets themselves speaking in the first person, and I take some poetic license to do it.”

Among the prophets Rabbi Schwartz writes about are Judah, who walks the “path of repentance,” he said. “Judah is the first character in the Bible who undergoes what we think of as repentance, and he changes.” And then there is Caleb the spy, “who had the audacity and the courage to stand up to his fellow spies, and he countered their terribly pessimistic report about the land they were about to enter with a more optimistic report. He was an example of someone whose spirit gave him the ability to stand forward.

“And the prophets are not all doom and gloom,” Rabbi Schwartz continued. “Some of it is about compassion, forgiveness, kindness, and hope. All of this is very much part of the prophetic message. That’s the second group, compassion. And then there’s the third one, walking humbly with your God. That’s the path of joy and faith and humility and wisdom; it’s more about internal characteristics.”

So, will his keynote address at Sweet Tastes of Torah be overtly political? It probably depends on how you define political, and for that matter how you define overt.

“I definitely will reference what is going on today,” Rabbi Schwartz said. “I am going to recall the names of so many people caught up in scandal today, without dwelling on any of the particular individuals or the details of their stories. But I do want to begin by painting a picture of the sordid state of affairs. I certainly will mention political figures and the figures in the worlds of entertainment and the like who have been caught up in political and sexual scandals, without going into detail.

“And then I will move directly to the message of the prophets, which is about not making ethics peripheral. They should be central to our lives.

“Character truly counts. To all those who say that our leaders’ character does not matter, the prophets would say that you can never separate character from the office. It’s reaffirming an old-fashioned message, that leadership is not just about a person’s ability, but about that person’s character. It’s not just about their ability but also their integrity.”

And then, of course, after all the discussion and soul-searching, there always is dessert.

The article also includes a nice picture of Rabbi Schwartz:

And it concludes with the following information: 

Who: The North Jersey Board of Rabbis sponsors

What: Sweet Tastes of Torah

Where: At the Fair Lawn Jewish Center, 10-10 Norma Avenue

When: On Saturday evening, February 3; doors open at 6:30 and Havdalah is at 7.

How much: $15 per person until January 31; $20 at the door

For more information, including a list of breakout sessions and teachers, and to register: Go to or Google “sweet tastes of torah 2018”

We hope to see you there!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Author, Author!

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

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

Author, Author!

I have often been struck by the fact that the most sacred object in our sanctuary, the Torah scroll, is a book. Sure, we dress it up nicely with our finest fabrics, decorated with lovely embroidery, and further adorned with silver breast plate and crown, as well as the silver yad or pointer, the silk sash or girdle that binds the scroll and keeps it closed, and the wooden shafts that the scroll is wound around. But it's still a book, a fancy book sure, a sacred book most definitely, but a book nonetheless.

Our worship is centered around the book, as we repeatedly face the Ark that holds the Torah scrolls during our worship services, show our respect by standing whenever the Ark is opened, and show our love by kissing the scrolls when they are carried down to the pews, albeit indirectly by kissing our prayer books. Reading from the Torah is one of our most sacred rituals, and our rite of passage from childhood to adulthood.

Our veneration of books extends to our printed prayer books and bibles, and in our tradition whenever one such text is dropped or falls to the floor, the person picking it up also kisses the book. And these books that contain the name of God are never destroyed when their usefulness is at an end, but rather buried as we would a loved one that has passed on.

Judaism is not the only religion that is centered around a sacred text, and in fact it was the Moslems who referred to Jews and Christians alike as people of the book. But there is something unique and special about our relationship to books, so much so that here in the United States, Jews purchase 23% of all hardcover books published, while we constitute only about 2% of the population.

As a people, we are bibliophiles, booklovers. And we are bookmakers, writers, authors. The Torah features Moses, who took dictation from God, and the Tanach ends with Ezra the Scribe. We gave the world the Bible, including the Christian version, which may be considered the all-time bestseller. More recently, of the 110 Nobel Prizes in Literature given out since 1901, 15 have been awarded to Jews including Henri Bergson, Boris Pasternak, Saul Bellow, Isaac Bashevis Singer, Elias Canetti, Joseph Brodsky, Nadine Gordimer, Harold Pinter, Patrick Modiano, and Bob Dylan. (It's often cited that we Jews constitute less than 0.2% of the world's population, while accounting for over 22% of Nobel Prizes awarded in all categories, 11,250% above average.)

It should come as no surprise, then, that we have more than a few published authors among the membership of our Congregation Adas Emuno, not the least of them our own Rabbi Schwartz. As you may know, his new children's book, Adam's Animals, was published this past summer, and his newest book, Paths of the Prophets: The Ethics-Driven Life, is due out this March.

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Have you published a book or article, essay, story, or poem? Let us know, and let us celebrate together!

We express our love of books during services, Saturday morning Torah study, adult education programs, and especially through our religious school. We are the people of the book, and our houses of worship have always been houses of learning as well. The secret of our survival and our success is intimately linked to our religious tradition being wrapped around the Torah scroll, revolving around spirituality and schooling, and a love of books. On Rosh Hashanah we ask God to write our names into the Book of Life, and as readers and writers ourselves, we become authors of our own destiny. For this reason alone, we should never forget to write our shul into own book, the book that we all write, the book of our own lives, and those of our family, friends, and community. May it be so.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Social Action at the Start of the Year

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


A Report from Annette DeMarco
Social Action Committee Chairperson


Hello All!

I am taking us back to November 5th, when many, many (did I mention many?) members cooked and/or served some very hungry and grateful folks at the shelter in Hackensack. Sincerest thanks to all who gave up their Sunday. We all came away, as we always do, feeling different.

Then came the Center for Food Action, asking us to have a food drive for Thanksgiving items, and we obliged. I delivered approximately eight bags of groceries while others from the congregation brought frozen turkeys. Once again, our small but mighty membership came through. Can’t thank you all enough!

Next was our Mitzvah Mall on December 3rd and it was a major success! It was so, not only because we raised over $700 for the organizations we were representing, but because our wonderful students were so very engaged in what it was all about. Then again, it didn't hurt having Forrest and Andy there, a therapy dog and a service dog, with their handler, Carol, to make us "oo and ahhh".

So, I offer special thanks all around, to members of the Social Action Committee who worked on this event behind the scenes as well as on the day of; to our students, parents and general membership for showing support to this program; to Cantor Horowitz and our school staff for their assistance; to the School Committee for working with me in so many ways, and to Rabbi Schwartz, whose enthusiasm in his welcome speech was contagious and who, once again, offered to match all donations from his discretionary fund.

It’s time for Souper Bowl III at Adas Emuno! Once again, we will be battling against “Team Hunger” during the month of January, up through Sunday, February 4th (the date of that other Super Bowl).

Please bring soup to the temple during this time and let's see if “Team A.E.” can continue it’s winning streak against “Team Hunger” for the third year in a row!

With a heartfelt thank you to everyone who helped to bring tikkun olam, healing of the world, throughout 2017, I wish you a happy and healthy 2018.

acheryl21 at

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Youth Group News

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

Youth Group News from Samantha Rosenbloom:

Plans for January and February include a game day in the social hall and a movie at IPIC! 

Thank you to all who donated gifts during the holiday season; they will be given to the Bergen County Chapter of CASA, to be distributed throughout the year to children who need some extra love during holidays and birthdays!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Religious School at the Start of 2018

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

Religious School News 


Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Religious School Director

Happy 2018… a new (secular) year begins! As of January 7th the Religious School will be back in session and in full swing. With lively discussion, through music and prayer and creative projects, our students share in the opportunity of being together with other Jewish students every week, to learn and celebrate our values and traditions.

Please note that our weekly Tefilah—the school-wide Sunday morning prayer service
is open to all ages, whether or not you are part of the school. Feel free to drop by on Sundays between 9:00 and 9:40 and join in the participatory experience of prayer, song and learning.

A new program has begun for tots and toddlers from ages 1½ to 4 and their parents. Organized by Jody Pugach, with able assistance from Kerri Klein, and led by teacher Reina Stern, there have been two sessions so far and we look forward to seeing this program continue and grow. Families need not be members of Adas Emuno, so please help us spread the word!

At the opening of our December Shabbat Family Service, the Grade 5-6 class sang the song “Bring in the Light” in two-part harmony, as we lit the Chanukah and Shabbat candles. It was a beautiful, inspiring moment.

As we head through the winter and beyond, may we shine the light that is within each of us.

Please make a note of these upcoming dates in January and February for our students & families!

*Sundays, January 14 and February 11 

Confirmation Class 
Youth Group

*Friday, January 26 

7:30 PMShabbat Family Service led by Grade 4

*Friday, February 23 

7:30 PMShabbat Family Service with special oneg!

*Sunday, February 18
No School


*Thursday, March 1 
6 PM Pizza Dinner 
7 PM Purim Service & Spiel 

 *Sunday, March 4 
School Purim Carnival

Monday, January 15, 2018

Martin Luther King Jr. and the Hebrew Prophets

On this Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, we are pleased to share with you the following op-ed written by own Rabbi Schwartz, which appeared in the January 12th issue of the Jewish Standard, entitled Martin Luther King Jr. and the Hebrew Prophets—A 50th Anniversary Appreciation:

The night before his death, 50 years ago, on April 4, 1968, an exhausted Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke at the Masonic Temple in Memphis.

King arrived at the Lorraine Motel that afternoon so tired that he asked his second-in-command, Ralph Abernathy, to speak in his place. The night was stormy, tornado warnings had been issued, and the crowd in the giant hall was small. From a pay phone in the vestibule, Abernathy implored King to come out and keep faith with the sanitation workers who had braved the elements.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Taylor Branch describes what happened:

King’s entrance caused an eerie bedlam. Cheers from the floor echoed around the thousands of empty seats above, and the whole structure rattled from the pounding elements of wind, thunder, and rain. King came to the microphone at about 9:30, just as the storm was cresting, and launched into a rambling, rather unremarkable speech, until he came to the ending. "But it doesn’t matter now… because I’ve been to the mountaintop," he declared in a trembling voice. Cheers and applause erupted. "Like anybody I would like to live a long life—longevity has its place." The whole building suddenly hushed, which let sounds of thunder and rain fall from the roof. "But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will." There was a subdued call of "Yes! in the crowd.

“And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain,” King cried, building intensity. “And I’ve looked over. And I have seen the Promised Land.”

King’s eyes were brimming now, and a trace of a smile crossed his face. "And I may not get there with you," he shouted, "but I want you to know tonight, that we as a people will get to the Promised Land."

By now the crowd was clapping and crying and the other preachers were closing in behind him. King rushed into his close and stumbled sideways into a hug from Abernathy. The preachers helped him to a chair, some crying, and tumult washed through the Masonic Temple.

In an unforgettable way, Martin Luther King Jr. reminded the American people with his last words that though a man may die, a dream does not. And it is no happenstance that King was referencing Moses, the greatest of the Hebrew prophets. Time and again King drew inspiration from the prophets of old.

In his famous Letter from Birmingham City Jail, in 1963, King wrote, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their ‘thus saith the Lord’ far beyond the boundaries of their home towns… so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.”

In his iconic “I Have A Dream” speech at the March on Washington that year, King quotes the prophet Amos: “No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” He quoted Isaiah: “I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

Perhaps King’s most stirring words about the prophets were delivered at an address to the Synagogue Council of America on December 5, 1966. King began this section of his speech by saying, “When silence threatens to take the power of decision out of our hands… one looks into history for the courage to speak even in an unpopular cause. Looming as ethical giants are those extraordinary of men, the Hebrew prophets.”

King continues with this vivid description of the prophets: “They did not believe that conscience is a still, small voice. They believed that conscience thunders or it does not speak at all. They were articulate, passionate, and fearless, attacking injustice and corruption whether the guilty be kings or their own unrepentant people. Without physical protection, scornful of risks evoked by their unpopular messages, they went among the people with no shield other than truth.”

King stirringly concludes: “Today we particularly need the Hebrew prophets because they taught that to love God was to love justice; that each human being has an inescapable obligation to denounce evil where he sees it and to defy a ruler who commands him to break the covenant. The Hebrew prophets are needed today because decent people must be imbued with the courage to speak the truth, to realize that silence may temporarily preserve status or security but to live with a lie is a gross affront to God. The Hebrew prophets are needed today because we need their flaming courage; we need them because the thunder of their fearless voices is the only sound stronger than the blasts of bombs and clamor of war hysteria.”

A final testimony to King’s remarkable connection with the prophets: In 2015, on the 50th anniversary of the famous march on Selma, historian Taylor Branch described in an interview the influence of the Jewish theologian and activist Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s 1963 book, The Prophets, on King. He says: “He became like a driven Old Testament prophet… [King and] all those guys used to carry around Heschel’s book. They really identified with the prophets.” Many of us are familiar with the iconic picture of Heschel and King marching together in Selma, and Heschel’s remark that “I felt like my feet were praying.” Beyond the enduring friendship of this rabbi and minister, Branch writes that “Heschel’s seminal study of the prophets… gained the eager devotion of King and his fellow pastors.”

A half century after his untimely death, and as we celebrate an extraordinary life that now is marked with a national holiday, the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. inspires and challenges us anew. His devotion to prophetic ideals bids us in the Jewish community to rediscover our outspoken biblical forbears and their quest for justice.

How can we walk the prophetic path in these troubled times? How can we speak truth to power? How can we “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly”? For as our great sage Hillel said, “But leave it to Israel; if they are not prophets, yet they are the children of prophets.”

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Truth to Power

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

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz


I am honored that my rabbinical colleagues here in Bergen County have asked me to deliver the keynote address at the Sweet Tastes of Torah community night of study, Saturday night, Feb. 3, 2018 (7:00 PM) at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center.

My talk is entitled "Truth to Power: Prophetic Ethics in Troubled Times". It’s inspired by my new book, Path of the Prophets: The Ethics-Driven Life. I extend an invitation to you to join the several hundred people who gather at this annual evening of community learning. This year my address will be followed by break-out sessions led by a dozen of my colleagues. Each session will discuss a chapter of my book that elaborates on the prophetic path.

It gives me no pleasure to say that the publication of this book could not be more timely. It seems that we read about another sexual misconduct or political malfeasance scandal every week. As I will ask at the community event: “When will it end? Where will it end? How are we supposed to react? Is it enough to shake our heads or wring our hands? Is it enough to tusk-tusk and move on? Is it enough to forgive and forget? If this is a 'transformative' moment, then what have we learned? If this is a 'teachable' moment, then what do we say to our children?"

Enter the prophets. Even in their day they understood that the corruption of power is nothing new. They understood that the complicity of the elite is nothing new. And they understood that the apathy of the masses is nothing new.

Yet none of this stopped the prophets from speaking truth to power. None of this stopped the prophets from standing up when everyone else stood aside. None of this stopped the prophets from advocating for the path that I call “the ethics-driven life”.

Now more than ever, we need to rediscover these forgotten provocateurs who incited the most remarkable revolution in Western Civilization; who gave us the Great Commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves; who gave us the Ten Commandments that forbid murder and theft and adultery and lying; who gave us the charge to love the stranger, the widow and the orphan; who gave us the demand “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly”.

I hope to see you there!