Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Rosh Hashanah Evening 5775




In the year 73 CE, 960 Jewish zealots died by their own hand at the remote desert fortress near the Dead Sea called Masada.

At some time during or before the assault by the Romans, one of these zealots entered an underground storeroom. He or she went in to retreive some dates. One of these may have fallen to a corner unnoticed.

Alternatively, this man, woman, or child may have been chewing on the succulent Judean date, and spit out the seed.

In any case, the seed remained in the storeroom, for two thousand years!

In the mid ’70’s, the 1970’s CE, the seed was discovered by an archeological expedition led by Professor Ehud Netzer. Netzer duly recorded the find from level 34. He later gave the seed to Professor Mordecai Kislef, Director of Botanical Archeology at Bar-Ilan University. Kislef cataloged the seed, and locked it a drawer, where it sat for the next thirty years.

In mid-2004, Kislef received a call from Dr. Sarah Sallon, Director of the Natural Medicine Research Center at Hadassah Hospital in Jersualem. Dr. Sallon had read about the seed, and wanted to see if it would grow. Kislef laughed. Nobody had ever cultivated a 2000-year-old seed.

During World War II the Nazis bombed London’s Natural History Museum. Water used to put out the fire germinated a 500 year old seed. Decades later that record was doubled in China, where a one thousand-year-old lotus seed was successfully cultivated. The Masada seed, dubbed Methuselah (after the oldest man in the Bible) was twice as old.

Sallon gave Methuselah to Dr. Elaine Solowey, a California raised horiculture expert based at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Negev. Solowey first soaked the seed in hard water to soften the coat, then in a mild acid rich in hormones, then in a special nutrient rich fertilizer broth, and finally, on Tu Bishvat, the new year of trees, January of 2005, in potting soil.

Six weeks later, much to everyone’s astonishment, Methuselah germinated. By June it was apparent that Methusleh would live. The Israeli government issued a press release. The wire services picked up the tale. The New York Times ran a story.

The next year Methuselah grew a few feet tall, with a dozen leaves. Dr. Soloway reported that she didn’t know if Methuselah was male or female, and wouldn’t know until the sapling is fruit bearing. If it is a male, it’s basically useless. If it’s female, and bears fruit, we may learn the secret of the acclaimed Judean date, praised in the Psalms, and known throughout the ancient near east for its flavor and texture.

A snip from Methuselah was sent to a lab in Zurich, Switzerland. Radio carbon dating confirmed that the seed was 2000 years old, plus or minus 50 years. DNA testing of a leaf confirmed that it was indeed a Judean palm, which has been extinct since the Crusades. All 7000 of the palm trees that you see in Israel today are from imported stock.

As Dr. Sallon wrote to me in an email: “you never know if our little Methuselah may possess some really exciting unmodified genes that could even have agricultural potential… anyway, that’s the idea—a return to the genetically unmodified Garden of Eden.”

I’m sharing the story of Methuselah, first, because I simply find it fascinating. As many of you know, I love archeological stories. This is my first botanical archeology story.

I was so intrigued with the whole thing that when I led a congregational hiking trip to Israel and Jordan seven years ago we stopped at Kibbutz Keturah, and said hello to Dr. Soloway and Methuselah. I have a picture to prove it.

I wrote to Dr. Soloway this summer for an update. She told me that Methuselah is now a big boy—yes, he is a male. A bit disappointing. But he has some good pollen, which will be used to pollinate current stock that will produce seeds with half the ancient genome.

For me, my visit with Methuselah had an added layer of personal significance. I was a volunteer at Kibbutz Yahel, the newly established Reform Kibbutz, just down the road from Keturah, almost 35 years ago. I was assigned to work in the date groves. You could not help admire the towering date palms laden with fruit. I also learned a healthy respect for these trees. My lowly job was to crawl underneath the razor sharp leaves of the trees’ base to change clogged drip irrigation lines. I also helped plant the first dates trees for the second Reform kibbutz nearby. By the way, Kibbutz Yahel is also where I had my first date of another kind, named Debby.

But this story captivated me for yet another reason. Methuselah as metaphor. All the headlines in the newspapers ran: “Two Thousand-Year-Old Seed Comes to Life.”

This little seed, sprouting again after two millenia, is Israel herself.

Against all odds, a modern miracle arose in our ancient homeland. I am sorry I was not alive in May of 1948 to witness this miracle. The ingathering of the exiles, the revival of a Jewish state, the rebirth of Hebrew: is there a more astounding event in all of Jewish history?

This year we celebrated modern Israel’s 66th birthday—a blink of the eye for a nation-state. But look at israel today: the little seed that could, the miracle by the Mediterranean.

What a marvel and privilege, after twenty centuries, to be able to board an airplane and eleven hours later touch down in the holy land of a sovereign Jewish state.

As Daniel Gordis, an American Rabbi who made aliyah writes after witnessing a concert celebrating Jerusalem, during the height of the intifadah:

An amazing thing—thousands of people out to celebrate a city. And it struck me. This country is an unmitigated success. It’s an achievement of cosmic proportions.

Gordis goes on to list Israel’s problems, from the economy to discrimination to war. Then he says:

But tonight, the music and the dancing remind us that those… can be fixed. Not long ago, though, there were things we couldn’t change. Without our own country, there was nothing we could do to help ourselves, to save ourselves. This is not a population or a generation that will be scared into leaving or into despair. The hope of this place runs too deep… there’s a pulse to life here that cannot [be] killed. Who would’t want to live in a place where even concerts are miracles?

After the tragic summer Israel has experienced I want all the more to echo these sentiments. I won’t be talking about politics today, though the case could be made that I should. I just want to celbrate the miracle of Israel because we are inclined to forget it.

I am pained when I see fellow Jews who look at our “miracle by the Mediterranean,” and shrug.

I’m perplexed that the majority of American Jews have never visited Israel… but London and Paris, for sure.

Is columinist M.J. Rosenberg right when he says:

[for most American Jews there is not] antipathy to Israel, but apathy. For large numbers of Jews, perhaps most, Israel is no longer a source of joy. They don’t go there. They don’t much talk about it. Israel is simply not central to their lives.

So I supose since I don’t live in Israel any more, and don’t lead trips to Israel any more, the least I can do is talk about Israel!

I can urge you to send you children, and grandchildren, on birthright—what a blessing that is.

I can urge you to make a family visit—you will never forget it. [In fact, as I was finishing this sermon, Rabbi Milstein of Temple Sinai called me, inviting anyone from our congregation to join in a family trip at the end of December. They have 20 people but need more. It's during winter break and will be a great trip.]

I can urge you to help keep that precious seed alive by implanting love for Israel in heart and soul.

So back to seeds—the imagery and the metaphor:

In a lonely corner of Cairo’s famed Egyptian Museum, amidst a crowd of stunning antiquities, is an imposing six foot high black stone obelisk. A small, smudged marker identifies it as “The Merneptah Stele.” The date is exact: 1207 BCE.

One week after seeing Methuselah in Israel, I was fortunate to see the Merneptah Stele in person.

The Merneptah Stele is actually one of the most significant biblical archeological discoveries ever made. On that slab is a royal insciption boasting of the Pharaoh Merneptah’s military accomplishments. Among them is a line that read: "Israel is stripped bare, wholly lacking seed.”

This inscription is the first archeological evidence of the existence of Israel as a nation or people, outside the bible itself.

As many have noted over the years, in one of history’s most inspired ironies, the first declaration on the Jewish people is a death knell.

Well, we are still here. The Pharoah is not. And Methuselah is still growing. Halleluyah.

But now, as then, we have no shortage of detractors. We can ill afford apathy. Israel has too many enemies and not enough friends. The soil that nutures the seed is woefully thin. The seed is strong and tough, but fragile and tender, all at the same time. The seed has its own capable defenders, who are called sabras. Yet where would Israel be without its great ally, sometimes i think its only ally, the American people? And if we are not here to rally America, who will be?

From ancient seeds, new life has sprouted.

The Psalmist celebrates:

tzadik katamar yifrach:
the righteous shall fourish like a date-palm;
planted in the house of the lord;
May Methuselah; may Israel, continue to grow tall and beautiful, and full of fruit.

And to this we say, Amen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Shana Tova!

Congregation Adas Emuno joins together with the Jewish people all over the world in wishing you a Shana Tova! Happy New Year 5775! 

By way of celebration, here's a fun video featuring a one-man Jewish a cappella performance, All About that Rosh-Hashanah:

The video come courtesy of Matt Rissien, the Director of Youth Activities at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, Illinois.

And may you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year, a year of happiness and peace!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Congregant's Reflection Regarding Torah Study

Congregant Ludwik Kowalski offered the following reflection to share following the resumption of Saturday morning Torah study the past two Saturdays:

A reflection

Quoting Abraham Geiger, in Judaism's Great Debates: Timeless Controversies from Abraham to Herzl, our Rabbi wrote: "How much longer can we continue this deceit... presenting stories from the Bible as if they were actual historical happenings?" I was thinking about this quote during our Torah study, last year. Would Geiger criticize our attempts to interpret these stories by using modern psychological (Freudian) terms? I suspect he would say that scientific terminology should not be used to analyze legendary situations.

This of course is far from obvious. Should Biblical stories be discussed in the same way as real historical events or should they be analyzed in the same way as literary fiction? Debating true social and political situations, we usually enrich our knowledge about what really happens in our world; analyzing fiction, we usually try to understand why authors invent different characters and different situations. Today was our second Torah study meeting of the year. Suppose Geiger were with us. He would probably notice that our approach was more "historical" than "fictional." Would he find this consistent with Reform Judaism?

We are happy always to share the differing views of members of our congregation here on our blog, noting that the views expressed are those of the individual congregant, and do not represent positions taken by the congregation as a whole, its leadership or clergy.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Notes From the Cantor

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

Notes From the Cantor

I feel honored and blessed to be the Cantor here at Adas Emuno, following my ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religious last May. While I’ve been leading services alongside Rabbi Schwartz since mid-July, things will become official at the Installation Ceremony on Friday September 5th. I’ve already had the opportunity to meet many of you, and have been truly touched by the warmth–and the help!–I’ve received.

Meanwhile, the High Holidays will be upon us before we know it. It is a unique time in our calendar, and this is emphasized by the music you’ll hear at High Holiday services. A lot of the music is more formal, and many melodies are different from what you’re used to hearing on Shabbat. For a congregation as wonderfully participatory as this one, there will still be familiar music; what’s more, many of the High Holiday melodic themes are repeated throughout Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, and you will be able to re-familiarize yourselves with these as well. But it is also an opportunity to sit back and listen, and to let the words and music surround you as you engage in your private reflections and prayers.

Best wishes and Shana Tova Umetuka, a good and a sweet New Year 5775!

Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Top Ten Reasons To Be Excited About the Coming Year at Adas Emuno


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

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

My Top Ten Reasons

To Be Excited About the Coming Year at

Adas Emuno

Rabbi Schwartz is an inspiration to us all, in so many ways, and one of the ways that he has inspired me is his penchant for creating top ten lists. I have to admit that that sort of thing was never my cup of tea, although I have appreciated David Letterman's ability to come up with them night after night. But I do have to acknowledge that there is something about a numbered list that attracts people's attention, and they do provide a structured and organized way to convey a whole bunch of thoughts and ideas. So, I thought I'd try my hand at putting one together this time out.

And I have to tell you that I am very excited about how we have dealt with problems that presented themselves last year, and how we are poised to move forward over the coming year. So, without further ado, here are my top ten reasons why this coming year at Adas Emuno will be one of our best years yet:

1. Our new Cantor. Sandy Horowitz has already brought her musical magic to our Friday night Shabbat services for several weeks now. Our congregation has very high standards when it comes to music, and Cantor Horowitz definitely meets them, and in many ways exceeds our expectations.

2. The Dream Team. Although they have only been leading services together for a short while, Rabbi Schwartz and Cantor Horowitz are working together seamlessly, making services truly a pleasure to attend. And it has been many, many years since our pulpit has been graced by both an ordained rabbi and an ordained cantor.

3. New congregational leadership. I am positively kvelling about the infusion of energy and spirit that the newest members of our Board of Trustees, Judith Fisher, Susan Gray, Jody Pugach, Doris White, and Sandy Zornick, have brought to the board in their first few weeks as trustees.

4. And new officers. It is also so very gratifying to have Vice-President Elka Oliver and Recording Secretary Marilyn Katz providing added energy to our executive committee.

5. A new Religious School Director. Cantor Horowitz, in taking over the dual role of clergy and principal, brings to the job authority and expertise, along with a wonderful sense of warmth and openness, which is exactly what we need. Combining the two positions is part of a growing trend of installing Cantor-Educators, and through that innovation we can look forward to greater coordination between school and shul, something we have wanted to see for a long time now.

6. A new Tot Mitzvah program. We have recognized for some time now the need to strengthen our programming for families with preschoolers, and thanks to Doris White, working together with other volunteers and Cantor Horowitz, we will be launching an innovative new program this fall.

7. The return of Torah Study. What would Saturday mornings be without it? And as led by Rabbi Schwartz, our Torah study sessions are extraordinarily popular. This year we continue our focus on family narratives in the Bible, with special attention to King David.

8. The return of Adas Emuno Has Talent. Our first talent show, held in April of 2013, was an enormous success, and after a one year hiatus, we look forward to its return to our schedule in January of 2015. The event serves as a wonderful showcase for the amazing group of kids we have in our temple (and our adults aren't half bad either).

9. Poetry Garden. This summer we began to meet as a small group to read poetry out loud in the Adas Emuno garden. It has been a modest affair, but one that has generated enough interest to schedule monthly gatherings throughout the coming year, to meet in the garden if weather permits, or in the social hall. And prior to the September Poetry Garden meeting, we will also be treated to a concert in the garden courtesy of the recorder society that rents our social hall.

10. And there's more! More social action initiatives! More adult education programs! More musical events! More than I can fit into a top ten list, so I'll just say that there's more in the works, so stay tuned.

I think 5775 is going to be a breakout year for Adas Emuno, and I hope you agree with me that there's so much to be excited about. And let me take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Shana Tova, and I look forward to seeing you on the High Holy Days, if not before.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Gift Of Laughter

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

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz

The Gift Of Laughter

Laughter is the shortest distance between two people.
—Victor Borge

I write this column the same week as the passing of the incomparable comedic actor Robin Williams. While we are so saddened by the circumstances of his death, we can only say “thank you” for the life of the man who made us laugh so much. Back in 1992, Williams was the hysterical voice of the genie in Aladdin. My kids were young then, and they must have watched that movie a hundred times, laughing every time. He was that good. In the words of the Italian writer Rafael Sabatini, “He was born with a gift of laughter and a sense that the world was mad.”

Why is it that we laugh? The English social critic William Hazlitt wrote that, “Man is the only animal that laughs and weeps; for he is the only animal that is struck with the difference between what things are, and what they ought to be.”

Mark Twain opined that, “The human race has only one really effective weapon, and that is laughter.”

Our human propensity to laugh uniquely empowers us to face life’s adversities. When we laugh we know that not all hope is lost and that joy still exists. When we laugh we know that we are not taking ourselves so seriously. When we laugh we are creating the space for bonding with others.

One of my colleagues, Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, wrote that Williams' incredible gift, like that of all the most gifted artists, arose not just from his prodigious talent but from the fact that he was a mensch “and a mensch only becomes a mensch because he/she struggles.” We admire what Williams accomplished all the more knowing what he battled. Would that we be inspired by his example… bringing joy to others even when our challenges are great. As we approach this Jewish New Year, let’s ask ourselves: Did I smile enough during the past year? Did I laugh enough? Did I do enough to bring smiles and the great gift of laughter to others?

When Robin Williams died I dimly recalled a poem I had quoted in a sermon by the poet Danny Siegel. I dug out the sermon (from twenty years ago) and share it with you now, not only in William’s memory, but in wishing you a new year of much laughter:

And the Lord created man
And man begot laughter
And laughter begot joy
And joy begot a multitude of children
Not the least of whom is love.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Recorder Concert Coming Up!

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

Recorder Society to Perform in the Temple Garden 

on Sunday, September 14 at 4 PM

Members of the Bergen County Chapter of the American Recorder Society who meet each month in our temple social hall, will perform in the temple garden on Sunday, September 14 at 4 PM. The group, most of whom play the recorder as an avocation, will present a program of “Recorders through the Ages”, with music spanning over 500 years.

Wine and cheese will be served. This event is open to the community. Suggested donation: $5 per person.

Founded in 1939, the American Recorder Society (ARS) is a membership/service organization dedicated to meeting the needs of amateur and professional recorder players.  Since its founding, the ARS has helped to rekindle an interest in early music while also supporting and encouraging contemporary compositions for the instrument. The Bergen County Chapter of the ARS was founded in 1967.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Social Action September

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

A Report from Annette DeMarco
Social Action Committee Chairperson

I want to begin this column by thanking everyone who donated food during the summer months.  By the time you read this, two deliveries will have been made to the Center for Food Action during July and August.

Our food drive is ongoing with a special one being held during the High Holy Days.  Paper bags will be given out on Erev Rosh Hashanah, along with a list of items most needed.  Please return your donations when you attend Kol Nidre services or at your earliest convenience. 

A number of other social action projects are in the works for this coming year.  Those which are coming up in the next few months are:

Sunday, November 2: Mitzvah Day--Program TBA

 November 9-23: ADULT WINTER OUTERWEAR collection  [including coats, jackets, boots, scarves, hats, gloves/mittens] 

Sunday, December 7: Cooking/serving dinner at the shelter in Hackensack [ages 14 and up to set up/ serve; no age restrictions for home cooking!]          Details to follow.

Cantor Sandy Horowitz and I have been working on projects which will involve our Religious School students; Stay tuned!


acheryl21 at gmail.com

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Religious School News

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

Religious School News 


Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Religious School Director

Shalom and welcome to another year of Religious School at Adas Emuno!

As we head into September, there have been some changes going on in preparation for the new school year. First, I’m thrilled to be stepping into the role of Religious School Director. We are welcoming back some teachers from last year as well as some new teachers. There have been some curriculum changes as well, which have been done in conjunction with feedback from last year.

We are also beginning a new and exciting program, “Tot Mitzvah” for preschool age children, headed up by our own Doris White. Tot Mitzvah will meet on six Sundays during the year, the first session will be on September 21st. [See our previous post, Come Join Our New Tot Mitzvah Program!]

Do you know children who might be interested in our Religious School or Tot Mitzvah? Let us know; we’d love to welcome them into our school.

Our first day of Religious School will be Sunday September 7th. We eagerly invite parents to meet with us that day as well–beginning with Tefilah in the Sanctuary at 9:00 and followed by a brief meeting in the social hall. 


At that meeting we will distribute the Religious School Calendar and discuss other important information, including ways for parents to be involved–we can’t do this without you. I personally hope each of you will be there so that I will have the chance to meet you!

Important Religious School-related dates to note during September and October:

Sunday September 7 

     First Day of School 9 AM
     Parent Meeting 9:45 AM

Saturday September 20
     Bat Mitzvah of Ula Goldstein

Sunday September 21
      Tot Mitzvah 9-10
Thursday September 24
      Rosh Hashanah Children’s Service 2 p.m.

Saturday October 4
      Yom Kippur Children’s Service 2 p.m.

Sunday October 12
      Special Sukkot program in the Religious School

Wednesday October 15
      Consecration of new Religious School students 

      at Erev Simchat Torah service 7 PM
      “Pizza in the Hut” (sukkah) at 6

Sunday October 19
       Tot Mitzvah 9-10 AM

Friday October 24
       First Family Shabbat of the year,featuring 

       the Seventh Grade students 7:30 PM

Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day

On this Labor Day holiday, it's worthwhile to reflect upon the role that Jewish-Americans have played in the labor union movement and the struggle for workers' rights that this day officially commemorates. While recognizing that there are many issues involved, and many sides to those issues, there is no question that the Torah places enormous emphasis on social justice, including fair treatment of workers. And that powerful ethical message reverberates throughout the millennia of Jewish history, and is especially central to the Reform movement.

Whether you agree or disagree with the sentiments expressed in this song, I think we can recognize how Bob Dylan's "Union Sundown" from his 1983 album, Infidels, is rooted in Jewish ethical tradition and the Jewish-American experience:

And here are the lyrics:

Well, my shoes, they come from Singapore
My flashlights from Taiwan
My tablecloths from Malaysia
My belt buckles from the Amazon

You know, this shirt I wear comes from the Philippines
And the car I drive is a Chevrolet
It was put together down in Argentina
By a guy makin' thirty cents a day

Well, it's sundown on the union
And what's made in the U.S.A
Sure was a good idea
Till greed got in the way

Well, this silk dress is from Hong Kong
And the pearls are from Japan
Well, the dog collars from India
And the flower pots from Pakistan

All the furniture, it says "Made in Brazil"
Where a woman, she slaved for sure
Bringin' home thirty cents a day to a family of twelve
You know, that's a lot of money to her

Well, it's sundown on the union
And what's made in the U.S.A
Sure was a good idea
Till greed got in the way

Well, you know, lots of people complainin' that there is no work
I say, Why you say that for
When nothin' you got is U.S.-made?
They don't make nothin' here no more

You know, capitalism is above the law
It say, "It don't count less it sells."
When it costs too much to build it at home
You just build it cheaper someplace else

Well, it's sundown on the union
And what's made in the U.S.A
Sure was a good idea
Till greed got in the way

Well, the job that you used to have
They gave it to somebody down in El Salvador
The unions are big business, friend
And they're goin' out like a dinosaur

They used to grow food in Kansas
Now they want to grow it on the moon and eat it raw
I can see the day coming when even your home garden
Is gonna be against the law

Well, it's sundown on the union
And what's made in the U.S.A
Sure was a good idea
Till greed got in the way

Democracy don't rule the world
You'd better get that in your head
This world is ruled by violence
But I guess that's better left unsaid

From Broadway to the milky way
That's a lot of territory indeed
And a man's gonna do what he has to do
When he's got a hungry mouth to feed

Well, it's sundown on the union
And what's made in the U.S.A
Sure was a good idea
Till greed got in the way

Again, acknowledging that there are differing opinions on these issues, on this Labor Day we should also stand together in agreement on the basic principle of social justice for all!