Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Congregant's Comment on Creation

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

A Simcha for Simchat Torah!

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

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Susan Grey's Yom Kippur Appeal 5775

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, and a sweet new year to all. 

Friday, October 10, 2014

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

To Sukkot and Beyond!

Join us as our season of joy continues with our celebrations of Sukkot, Simchat Torah, our new Sunday Morning Tot Mitzvah Program, and of course, Shabbat!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Yom Kippur 5775




Maybe you've heard the story about the Yeshivah University rowing team? One year they were asked to compete in the Ivy League Division. Unfortunately, they lost race after race. They practiced every day, for hours, but finished last at every meet. Finally, the team decided to send their captain, Morris, to spy on Harvard, the perennial champ. Morris went up to Cambridge and hid out along the banks of the Charles River. He carefully observed the Harvard team. A week later he returned to New York. "Well, I figured out their secret," he announced. "What? What is it? Tell us!" his teammates shouted.

"Well," he said, "We should have only one guy yelling. The other eight should row!"

Isn't it true that we yell too much?

Isn't it true that we criticize too much?

Isn't it true that we gossip too much?

I teach a unit in Confirmation class about Lashon Harah—Inappropriate Speech. It's about time to talk about it from the pulpit—when a lot of people are listening.

Judaism has a great deal to teach on this subject.

And, when you stop and think about it... foot-in-mouth disease is probably our most common malady.

I'm going to ask you a question that I ask my Confirmation students when I introduce this unit.

How many of us can go a week without saying something we later regret?

How many of us can go a day?

Whether in content or tone, lashon harah, the Hebrew expression for hurtful speech, deceptive speech, unnecessary speech, inappropriate speech, is our number one mistake.

On this Day of Atonement, it's therefore worth a look at the subject.

One needs to look no further than our own High Holiday prayer book to appreciate the dimension of the problem. Minutes ago we recited the al cheyt enumeration of our sins. No less than half of the dozen of the listed mistakes are connected to our misuse of language:

For the sin we have sinned against you by idle talk.

For the sin we have sinned against you by offensive speech. speaking ill of other people. scoffing and mocking. gossiping. swearing falsely.

I went back to the traditional High Holiday machzor, with the really big list of sins. [Our prayer book carries an abbreviated list]. I counted a dozen sins connected to speech. Here they are, Hebrew and English:

  1. tipshut peh—thoughtless speech
  2. latzonscoffing
  3. motzi shem rahslander
  4. bitui s'fatayimoffensive speech
  5. dibur pehinsincere confession
  6. sh'vuat shavswearing falsely
  7. bitui pehfoolish expressibns
  8. hilul hashemblashphemy
  9. tumat s'fatayimimpure speech
  10. n'tiyat garonarrogant speech
  11. r'ichilutgossip
  12. k'lalacursing.

The ancient Psalmist wrote, "Mavet v 'haim b 'yad lashon—Life and death are in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21).

The truth is that sticks and stones may break our bones, but words will also hurt us. They may not break the body, but they break the soul. They injure by slighting, by embarrassing, by branding, by marginalizing, by prejudicing. And as we all know, a slip of the tongue in the heat of the moment can occur as quickly as a slip of the foot on a sliver of ice.

The Psalmist declares, "Mi ha ish—Who is the man that loves life, and desires good fortune? The one who guards [his] tongue from evil, and his lips from deceitful speech" (Psalm 34:13).

Just how quickly and deeply words can wound is evidenced by a dramatic story told by the late, great Isaac Asimov. Asimov recounts that when he was a 15 year old high school student, his writing class teacher, Max N. asked for volunteers to read their essays. Asimov's hand shot up.

"I had read only about a quarter of it," he recalls in his memoir, "when N. stopped me and used an opprobrious barnyard term to describe my writing. I had never heard a teacher use a "dirty word" before and I was shocked. The class wasn't however. They laughed at me uproariously and I took my seat in bitter shame."

Asimov goes on to say that, despite his acute embarrassment, he took the criticism to heart, and greatly improved his next piece. When N. printed it in the school literary journal, Asimov went to thank him, only to be wounded again when his teacher told him that the only reason he had printed it was because he needed a lightweight submission to round out the serious articles.

Isaac Asimov went on to author and edit over 400 books and articles, and is considered one of America's greatest writers and intellects. Yet anyone who reads his memoir feels how fresh the pain of his embarrassment is, even though the account was penned 55 years after the event. Asimov writes at the end, "I wish I has a time machine and could go back to 1934 with some of my books and some of the articles that have been written about me and say to him, "How do you like that, you rotten louse? If you had treated me right, I could have recorded you as my discoverer, instead of branding you a rotten louse."

Asimov's experience illustrates the potent teaching of our tradition that one who shames another in public, it is as if they have shed blood. While we say that words are only words, the humiliation and hurt they may bring when misused have powerful lasting effects, whether we like it or not.

Later this afternoon, I will tell a classic Eastern European Hasidic story at our Yom Kippur Children's Service. My props are a small pillow case, and a bag of colored feathers. A boy, sometimes I call him Mert the Blurt, is sent to the rabbi for calling out bad things about other people. Unable to impress on the youth the error of his ways, the rabbi tells the stubborn kid to take a feather pillow from his home, go to the center of town, cut it open, and watch the feathers scatter to the wind. 

The boy does as he is told, returns, and asks the rabbi, "Am I forgiven now?" 

"Not quite," replies the rabbi. 'Now I want you to gather up all the feathers." 

"But that's impossible," protests the boy. "The wind has scattered them everywhere. "

"Precisely," the rabbi answers. "Your words are like feathers. Once they leave your mouth, they are everywhere. How can you repair the damage you have done?"

To make matters worse, the sad and harsh truth is that we tend to most often hurt the people closest to us.

Maybe it's because they are around the most. We interact with them more than anyone else. Improper language, exploitative language, abusive language... we use it all... and it hurts the people we love the most. Which is why all of us come to Yom Kippur with something to confess....

And so, in the final analysis, what can we do about our motor-mouths and loose tongues? How do we repent of the sins of our speech? After all, don't we want to address our most common mistakes in order to repair our most precious relationships?

They say "prevention is the best medicine" and here therefore are the three most important lessons I've learned wrestling with the subject over the years:

First: Think twice before speaking. I know it seems obvious. But if we only paused for a nanosecond before blurting out much of what we say; if we just paused and asked ourselves, "Do I really need to say that?" or "Do I really need to say it in that tone of voice?" think of how many screw-ups, never mind unintentional sins we could avoid.

Second: Be careful with the truth. Judaism teaches that a statement that is true, but derogatory, is still lashon harah, inappropriate speech. Conveying a negative or embarrassing image of someone, even if that description is factually correct (and maybe even deserved) is still wrong. It harms another person. The harm may end up being physical, financial, or emotional. Short of slander it may be legal, but that does not make lashon harah right.

Be careful about the truth for another reason. The truth can be slippery. A seemingly innocuous statement can be easily exaggerated or taken out of context. When in doubt, do without. If you have any apprehension that something you say may be misconstrued, misinterpreted, quoted out of context, or blown out of context... don't say it!

And third: Avoid gossip. I know you're saying, "how original!" But it's so true... and so hard. The Jewish teaching here is that we should not only avoid gossiping ourselves, but we should also avoid repeating it, or supporting it. We relate less than flattering images of other people to our spouses, family and friends. We repeat questionable things we've heard with the excuse that its common knowledge. We talk behind one another's back. We embarrass in jest. Gossip has its ways.

  • Think twice before speaking. 
  • Be careful with the truth. 
  • Avoid gossip. 

And now let me conclude on a completely different note. Well, actually, on the flip side of what I have been talking about. Lashon harah is all about inappropriate speech. But consider, and maybe this is my fourth lesson, not just decreasing lashon harah, but increasing lashon hatovkind and generous speech.

  • We need less criticism, and more compliments.
  • We need less reproach and more praise.
  • We need less gossip and more tribute.

A classic story from the late, great Art Buchwald:

I was in New York the other day and rode with a friend in a taxi. When we got out, my friend said to the driver, "Thank you for the ride. You did a superb job of driving."

The taxi driver was stunned for a second. Then he said, "Are you a wise guy or something?"

"No, my dear man, and I'm not putting you on. I admire the way you keep cool in heavy traffic."

"Yeah," the driver said and drove off.

"What was that all about?" I asked.

I am trying to bring love back to New York," he said. "I believe it's the only thing that can save the city."

"How can one man save New York?"

"It's not one man. I believe I have made that taxi driver's day. Suppose he has 20 fares. He's going to be nice to those 20 fares because someone was nice to him. Those fares in turn will be kinder to their employees or shopkeepers or waiters or even their own families. Eventually the goodwill could spread to at least 1,000 people. Now that isn't bad, is it?"

"But you're depending on that taxi driver to pass your goodwill to others."

"I'm not depending on it," my friend said. "I'm aware that the system isn't foolproof so I might deal with ten different people today. If out of ten I can make three happy, then eventually I can indirectly influence the attitudes of 3,000 more."

"It sounds good on paper," I admitted, "but I'm not sure it words in practice."

"Nothing is lost if it doesn't. It didn't take any of my time to tell that man he was doing a good job. He neither received a larger tip nor a smaller tip. If it fell on deaf ears, so what? Tomorrow there will be another taxi driver I can try to make happy."

"You're some kind of a nut," I said.

"That shows how cynical you have become. I have made a study of this. The thing that seems to be lacking, besides money of course, for our postal employees, is that no one tells people who work for the post office what a good job they're doing."

"But they're not doing a good job."

"They're not doing a good job because they feel no one cares if they do or not. Why shouldn't someone say a kind word to them?"

We were walking past a structure in the process of being built and passed five workmen eating their lunch. My friend stopped. "That's a magnificent job you men have done. It must be difficult and dangerous work."

The workmen eyed my friend suspiciously.

"When will it be finished?"

"June, a man grunted.

"Ah. That really is impressive. You must all be very proud."

We walked away. I said to him, "I haven't seen anyone like you since The Man From LaMancha."

"When those men digest my words, they will feel better for it. Somehow the city will benefit from their happiness."

"But you can't do this all alone!" I protested. "You're just one man."

"The most important thing is not to get discouraged. Making people in the city become kind again is not an easy job, but if I can enlist other people in my campaign..."
You just winked at a very plain-looking woman," I said.

"Yes, I know," he replied. "And if she's a schoolteacher, her class will be in for a fantastic day."


You're a wonderful congregation.

You've done a superb job listening to me.

Have a fantastic new year!

Monday, October 6, 2014

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Kol Nidre 5775




Last year a piece ran on the eve of Yom Kippur, in the Wall Street Journal, that I knew I would talk about this year. The article was entitled: “Atoning for Yom KippurThere’s an App for That.”

Here’s the story: Sarah Lefton is a digital animator in San Francisco. She was sitting in services two years ago. Maybe she was a bit bored…. Early in the service she flipped ahead to the Torah reading, and was instantly absorbed. The story, from Leviticus, explains the original Yom Kippur, when the High Priest carried out a ritual to absolve the people of sin. The ritual involved two goats. One goat was sacrificed on the altar of the Tabernacle. The other was banished to the wilderness, bearing the weight of the community’s confession. This chosen animal is the origin of the term scapegoat. “To me the story was so wild and interesting,” says Ms. Lefton. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool if there was this Internet scapegoat you could just send around and upload your sins.”

So a year ago August she launched eScapegoat, just in time for the season of repentance. Users anonymously upload their 120-character confessions onto a cartoon goat via text or email. When confessors press submit, they are greeted with the image of a googly-eyed goat being pushed off a cliff by a priest, which is how the Talmud said it was done.

I googled the site this summer to make sure the goat was still there. He/she/it still is. A tag line says, Like in Bible Times, only nerdier. You have two options: start and see others
sins. I did neither. I guess I’m old school. I exited.

I just have a hard time confessing my sin’s on-line… and I’m not sure I want others to read about it. Maybe I’m just showing my age or prudishness here. The site reportedly had 15,000 users during its first month.

And that’s nothing compared to the other virtual confession sites I learned about., founded in 1999, has 32,000 users-a day. Think about that.

And there’s evidently a massively popular app called Whisper, which invites you to share secrets and express yourself. I’m not going to ask how many of you have heard about Whisper, or use Whisper. A year after its launch in 2012, Whisper, according to Wikipedia, had more than 3 billion page views a month.

What is going on here?

Well, I suppose that the popularity of these sites testifies to the same phenomena that fills sanctuaries at the High Holidays. People feel a need to confess because we have reason to confess! We make mistakes. We make them unintentionally… most of the time. We make them intentionally …some of the time. We feel regret. We have a guilty conscience. We may fear judgment, from others or from God.

Several years ago when I was in England I visited Salisbury Cathedral, maybe the most magnificent of all the awe-inspiring cathedrals of Great Britain. On the bus back to London our spirited tour guide asked us how the Church raised the money for these incredible houses of worship. She pointed out that the Church was the most successful fundraising organization in history.

Her answer: indulgences. The promissory notes, if you will, that the Church gave out, in return for good deeds (notably including donations to the Church) that helped ease judgment for one’s sins. As I understand it, these indulgences did not absolve one of sin and they did not alleviate the need for confession. But they did mitigate damnation, which Christians to this day take very seriously.

We may not confess in the same way as Biblical forbears, or in the same way as neighboring Catholics, but we share in the primal need. So what better time, than now, to talk about… sin?

It’s interesting and not a little bit ironic that today we Jews are uncomfortable with sin… the word. The Reform movement is working on a new machzor, High Holy Day prayer book, to replace the one we are currently using. The committee likes to use surveys and focus groups on potentially contentious matters. So they queried people about how to translate the word cheyt, the main Hebrew term for sin, which as you know, appears frequently and centrally in our Yom Kippur liturgy (as in al cheyt shechatanyu… for the sin we have sinned…).

There was quite a bit of feedback. It seems that half favor keeping sin and half don’t. The half in favor say we should continue to call sin a sin. To use mistake or wrong or missing the mark is to weaken our language and reflects a moral relativism that is, well, a sin.

The other half says that the English word sin has too many Christian overtones. In truth, there are differences in what the two religions teach. For example, Christianity speaks of original sin that we are born into, while Judaism holds that sin is an act, not a state of being. Christianity often emphasizes that sin is overcome with right belief. Judaism maintains that sin is overcome with right action.

I vote for sin… keeping the word. Why let others co-opt it? More importantly, why let ourselves off the hook?

Not long ago Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the former head of the Union for Reform Judaism, wrote an interesting piece called “The Battle of Sin vs. Self” that was picked up by the Huffington Post. He describes taking a break from High Holy Day preparation by turning on the TV and coming across an interview with a well-known televangelist and author. The preacher’s message was unrelievedly upbeat. He said that people no longer wanted to go to their congregations to find out what they were doing wrong and to leave feeling guilty. Instead, they want to leave feeling uplifted, positive, and inspired.

Yoffie notes the trend across denominational lines. He writes,

 As different as we are from each other, in some ways we are remarkably alike: We are pragmatic, and above all, positive. We speak the language of positive reinforcement. We avoid talking about sin.... [We] focus on making people happy in their religious faith, and on creating worship services that are fashionable and convivial…. [and] yes, we need religion that is joyful and pleasant, comforting and community-building, and that makes us feel good about ourselves.

Yoffie points out that this is very American and very Jewish, yet he continues,

But Judaism is also about balance, and we need a better balance. Yom Kippur is... a reminder that we need less talk of what we want and more talk of what God wants of us… less emphasis on self and self-confidence, and far more on our obligation to be humble before God.

When you stop and think about it, what we are doing right now is so archaic, so odd, and so counter- intuitive… to much of our lives. We’re praying. We’re praying half in Hebrew. We’re listing our sins. We’re getting specific: offensive speech, lustful behavior, disrespect, lying, fraud… you name it. We’re confessing collectively, first person plural… but within the confines of sacred community it’s one-on-one with God.

It’s so different even from our Shabbat worship. So formal, so uncompromising… even I would say, so harsh.

Yet, I hope you would agree, so unexpectedly compelling.

The rest of the time it’s all about eating; today it’s all about fasting.

The rest of the time it’s all about forgetting our troubles; today it’s all about facing our troubles.

The rest of the time it’s all about having a good time; today it’s all about being a good person.

The rest of the time, it’s all about me. Today it’s all about God.

A final thought about sin. Judaism doesn’t just have one word for it… it has three. The main term I already mentioned: cheyt. But there are two others that are not uncommon in the Torah and in our liturgy. The Talmud (Yoma 36b) says that each of these expressions must refer to a distinct kind of sin.

As the sages understand it, cheyt refers to unintentional sin. Avon refers to deliberate sin. And pesha refers to rebellious sin.

The new machzor plans to occasionally translate cheyt as wrongs, avon as acts of injustice, and pesha as moral failures.

What‘s the point here? We make mistakes all the time. We know that. Many are unintentional. But we still did wrong. Usually they were not terrible sins. We can make them right. The possibility of change exists. The opportunity to rectify the wrong is readily before us. We missed the mark but we can do better next time. We can live up to our full potential. We can move closer to the ideal.

Our deliberate mistakes are more serious. Whether by omission or commission our willful neglect caused real harm. We let ourselves get carried away. We turned a blind eye. We know better, but we still messed up. The result is an injustice toward another. Repentance is still possible, but it will be harder.

Our rebellious sins are the most serious. We knowingly have embraced the wrong, and the harm extends beyond the individual to the community. These are true moral failures. We are subverting the values of our faith. While not all the harm can be mitigated, and full repentance and atonement may not be possible, that does not free us from trying to make amends in the best way we can.

The tough, tough message of Yom Kippur is that we have committed all three: cheyt, avon, v’pesha. That’s right: category oneunintentional, category two—intentional, category three—downright rebellious.

Hopefully not too many in two and three… but that unblinking memo to self is that we have been less than we should be. We have not measured up. Sorry. We’re not necessarily bad people. We have plenty of marks on the good side. But we fell short.

Yom Kippur is saying that if you were to sit down with God right now and honestly lay it all out… there is… room for improvement.

God expects more. We expect more. Others need more.

Our highest selves are still out there, waiting to be realized.

And that, my friends, is the bright spot in the reality check (or shall we say, gut check) of the Day of Atonement.

We can change. We can improve. We have not tapped our full potential.

We can take stock. We can make amends. We can sincerely apologize. We can wipe the slate clean.

We can atone. We can forgive and be forgiven. We can love and be loved again.

There’s no app for that. There’s no goat banished to the wilderness, real or virtual.

There’s just you and your soul.

There’s just me and my conscience… tapping into the power within us, and the power beyond us.

Bestowing the strength to search ourselves; better ourselves; transcend ourselves.

On this holy day, so may it be.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Why is Jewish Time Different From All Other Times?

Back on September 19th, the Jewish Standard published another op-ed by Adas Emnuo President Lance Strate, just in time for Rosh Hashanah. With the Jewish new year just a few days away, the piece entitled, Jewish Time, seemed very, well, timely. The subtitle ran, "Where memory, nature, and history combine," and here is how it went:

Have you forgotten that the seasons have no regard

for the sovereignty of the sun

and instead attend upon

the grace and glory of the moon?

have you forgotten that the day begins

with evening’s song

and ends with shadow’s conquest of the hills?

I never heard any talk about “Jewish time” until I moved to New Jersey. When I was growing up, my family belonged to a Reform temple in Forest Hills, New York, and maybe it still retained a strong sense of its German-Jewish origins. Punctuality is a value, some say an obsession, present in powerful form in British as well as German culture, and by extension the Anglo-Saxon-dominated culture of the United States. And it was marginalized groups that were known to possess a different sense of time from the mainstream.

That’s why, back when I was a college student in the ‘70s, I heard references to stereotypes about “Indian time” for Native Americans, “Spanish time” for Latinos, and “Black time” for African-Americans. But back then, I never heard anyone talk about “Jewish time” or “Hebrew time” to explain why, for example, services scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. might not actually start until 8:15 or 8:20.

I’m not sure if it’s because the times have changed, or because New Jerseyans are different from New Yorkers, or because of a different mix of ethnic influences, but the reasons don’t matter. What matters is that it’s possible to have more than one sense of time. Just as there can be many different times, so that “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven,” there can also be many different senses of time. We may think of clock time as the time, but it is a form of machine time, and there are alternatives that are forms of natural time and human time.

As an undergraduate, learning about intercultural communication, I recall hearing that in many non-Western cultures, if someone asks you for help and you respond with, “I’ll be there in five minutes,” it would be considered an insult. To us five minutes is a very short time, and the point is to emphasize a speedy response. But in non-Western cultures, that response is taken to mean that you consider those five minutes, however short a time that may be, to be more important than the other person who is asking for help. Instead, the reply should be, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.” By not quantifying time, we instead are providing quality time. And true quality time is about making human relationships our priority.

Mircea Eliade, a scholar of comparative religion, argued that there are two different senses of time, which he referred to as sacred and profane. Profane time is what we experience in ordinary, everyday life, and clock time is one example of it. Sacred time, on the other hand, is the sense of time that is associated with religious, spiritual, and mystical experience. During sacred time, we depart from the ordinary passage of time and stand outside of history, connecting instead to eternity. And sacred time often is associated with an act of creation or foundation. The exodus from Egypt and the revelation at Sinai are examples of sacred times that cut across all of our history. That is why we say that every generation of the Jewish people participated in these events.

On Shabbat, we enter into a sacred time that connects us to the origin of the world according to Genesis. In keeping the Sabbath, we ritually re-enact God’s resting on the seventh day, following the completion of Creation. And we also connect to the sacred time of “in the beginning” every year during the High Holy Days, reflecting the ancient idea that God is continually renewing the act of creation.

Rosh Hashanah provides us with a different sense of time as well, because the Jewish New Year, which we sometimes refer to as the birthday of the world, begins at the end of summer, not the dead of winter. Admittedly, there are good reasons to start the year in January, after the winter solstice, as the days begin to get longer. But you don’t have to be Jewish to appreciate the fact that there is a different sense of time associated with the “school year” that begins every September. It’s a sense of time that teachers, students, and their parents all are quite familiar with. And it’s a sense of time that Rosh Hashanah fits in with quite well. There is something at least as natural (if not more so) about beginning the new year at a time when summer vacation and summer doldrums have come to a close.

We follow different senses of time in celebrating both the Jewish New Year and the secular New Year, and we may also observe (but probably not celebrate) one or more fiscal new years for any businesses or organizations with which we are associated. Of course, the idea of having several new years rather than just one is nothing new for us; traditionally, the Jewish calendar has four different new years days. Each new year represents a somewhat different sense of time.

For most of us, the secular calendar is the calendar, and therefore the time, in the same sense that clock time is the time. It’s how we think about and experience time. And that’s why you always hear people commenting about how the holidays are coming early, or coming late. Some years ago a colleague of mine observed that Chanukah was coming early that year, and I replied that, no, it was Christmas that was coming late. He did a double-take for a moment, and then nodded in understanding.

When we talk about the holidays coming early or late, we mistake the measure of time, the calendar, for the phenomenon it measures, the passage of time. We confer upon the secular calendar an authority it does not deserve, as if it were itself an absolute time, and not a human invention. Religious beliefs aside, the solar and the lunar calendar are different ways of keeping track of the days, providing different senses of time, neither more or less correct than the other.

I can’t help but conclude that Albert Einstein’s encounter with the sacred time of the Jewish calendar, juxtaposed to the profane time of the secular calendar, played a role in his arriving at the theory of relativity, that the passage of time is relative to the speed at which you’re moving, and there is nowhere in the physical universe where anything is at rest. In other words, there is no place in the physical universe where time is absolute.

And then there’s the different sense of time that comes from living in the year 2014 and the year 5774. On the plus side, come Rosh Hashanah we won’t have to get used to dating our checks and the various forms we fill out with 5775 instead of ‘74. On the minus, we lose something very significant in not following our traditional way of counting the years, and following a numbering system that originates from a religion other than our own. It makes perfect sense in Christian theology to bifurcate history into before and after periods. And Jewish scholars adapted to the practice of the majority by adopting the alternative terms, “Before Common Era” (abbreviated as BCE) in place of BC, and “Common Era” (abbreviated as CE) in place of AD. That terminology has been adopted widely in the scientific and scholarly community.

Even so, the division of calendar years makes it difficult to talk and think about events that occurred before the Common Era. Consider the awkwardness of the statement that King Josiah reigned in Judah from 641 to 609 BCE. How many years would that be? More importantly, this division of history serves as a subtle form of delegitimation of most events that happened in antiquity, including the beginnings of civilization in Mesopotamia and Egypt, the enormous intellectual achievements of ancient Greece, the extraordinary military accomplishments of Alexander the Great, and the rise and fall of the Roman Republic and its transformation into the Roman Empire, as well as most of the history of the Jewish people before the diaspora.

Of course, saying that we are about to embark upon the year 5775 naturally leads to the question, 5,775 years since what? The traditional answer is, since the creation of the world, which relates to Rosh Hashanah as a sacred time of eternal return. But science has shown that that estimate is more than a little bit off, the planet Earth estimated to be 4.54 billion years old, and the universe itself clocked in at 13.8 billion years. If ever there is cause to marvel at the glory of Creation, isn’t that cosmic time scale reason enough?

But if our calendar does not stretch back to the origin of the world, the question remains, 5,775 years since what? An easy answer would be, since someone began counting. And that’s not such a far-fetched response. We trace the invention of the first writing system, cuneiform, to somewhere around 5,500 years ago. That only puts us off by approximately 275 years, and often these dates are pushed back after new archeological finds. But more importantly, the introduction of the written word by the Sumerians in Mesopotamia was the product of a slow evolution of various systems of notation, dating back about 10,000 years ago, to the beginnings of the agricultural revolution. In other words, dating back to what we understand to be the beginnings of civilization, as opposed to nomadic, tribal, hunter-gatherer ways of life. These systems of notation were used to keep track of property, so that numerical notation came first, before the development of a complete writing system. Writing was invented by accountants.

What this means is that it’s been 5,775 since the origin not of the world, but of civilization. Our calendar marks and celebrates the beginnings of civilization, the first steps on the long road forward from tribalism, a journey that takes narrative form in the story of Abraham as God tells him to go forth from the Mesopotamian city of Ur “to the land that I will show you.”

We say that Rosh Hashanah and all our holidays begin the night before, but that too does not recognize the special quality of Jewish time. In our tradition, the day begins at sundown, not at some arbitrary point in the middle of the night. And of course that follows again the archetype of Creation, in which first there is darkness, and then God brings the light into being. The 24-hour day is derived from the Earth’s rotation, but the point when one day ends and the next begins is also relative, the product of different conventions. Similarly, the concept of the month is based on the cycles of the moon, even though the naming and days allotted to various months can vary in different calendar systems. And likewise, the year is associated with the Earth’s orbit around the sun.

Of all our calendar categories, only the 7-day week is more or less arbitrary, having the least to do with any natural phenomena. We therefore can understand that the fourth commandment of the Decalogue, “Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work,” does more than direct us to observe Shabbat, as well as engage in labor on the other six days. And it does more than ask us to take part in a ritual re-enactment of creation, and act as a means of separating and thereby sanctifying the sacred time of the Sabbath from the profane time of the other six days. The fourth commandment also establishes the 7-day week as a unit of measurement. There was no need to turn to God’s authority for the day, the month, the year, or the seasons for that matter, because they are based on the observable cycles of nature. But the 7-day week required outside legitimation to gain popular acceptance. And while we were not the only people of the ancient world to use this time measurement—don’t forget the Babylonians of Mesopotamia—it’s due to its appearance in Jewish tradition that the 7-day week is now in use throughout the world.

Jewish time is different from secular time. Jewish time is not homogenous, not like clock time, and not like our contemporary movement towards a 24/7/365 society. Jewish time is a sense of time that distinguishes between the sacred and the profane, and that measures the days, the months, and the years in its own way. Jewish time includes a sense of relativity, whether it’s Einstein’s theory, or a rabbi waiting 10 more minutes before beginning the evening’s prayers. It follows that Jewish time emphasizes relationships, and especially I-You rather than I-It relationships, as a human time, a natural time, and a sacred time, and not a machine time. Jewish time is historical time, looking backward through the history of civilization, and looking forward in hope and in faith for better days to come.

And Jewish time is above all else a sense of time based on memory. The repeated commandment to remember goes to the heart of our sense of time. Without memory, there is no history, no sense of the past, nor any anticipation of the future. Without memory, there is no knowing, no understanding, no learning. Without memory, there is no keeping time, there is only serving time, becoming servants of the monolithic time of our clocks and calendars. How do we achieve our exodus from our bondage to these instruments of our own design?

Through the miracle of our memory, by remembering to treasure and embrace our own special sense of Jewish time, in this season of renewal, and all year round.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Don't Let Go of the High Holy Day Spirit!

With the conclusion of the Days of Awe, we thought we'd celebrate with a little music courtesy of The Fountainheads, their latest uploaded to YouTube especially for the new year, Don't Let Go:

Here are the credits:

Vocals by Jeff Petroff, Shani Lachmish, Zlil Roubinstien, Yahala Lachmish. Rap by Jeff Petroff.

Guitar: Tal Michles. Bass Guitar: Orri Dror. Keyboard: Amir Goldberg. Drums: Noa Segal

Music and Lyrics by Ben R.
Initial Arrangement by The Fountainheads.

Musical Arrangement and Production by Yossi Mizrahi.
Mixed by Daniel Anglister.
Mastered by Chris Athens.

Video Producers: Avigayil Hashkes, Sara Guthartz.

Business Manager: Avital Stein.

Photographers: Ben R. and Avigayil Hashkes

Thanks to all the Ein Prat Programs who participated: Elul Alon, Elul Yaar, Elul Yaar JTS, Elul Hanaton, Elul Nes Harim and Seminar Bogrim.

Thanks to The Maccabeats.

Jerusalem performance filmed at Yellow submarine, Jerusalem.

Film by Ben R.

And here are the lyrics:

Walkin through the unknown
I can’t see you anymore
Memories surround me
Haven’t gone this way before

Refine me
Define me
My story
Is changin with me

When will I know?

Don’t look back – look around you
You know – I will find you
This time – I will be there

Don’t let go – look around you
You know – I will find you
This time – I will be there

Rollin down like water
Feels like I almost lose control
These colors paint a picture
Clean my clothes, but not my soul

I’m walkin
Beside you
Tomorrow never starts today

When will I know?

Don’t look back – look around you
You know – I will find you
This time – I will be there

Don’t let go – look around you
You know – I will find you
This time – I will be there
I will be there...

This time there's no resistance
This time it's twice the distance
This train needs pushing maybe pulling it all makes sense

A bit of change it can't be easy
Out of your range, don't let that stop me
Got no roof there's room to grow
Said hold on tight don't let gooooo

Don’t look back – look around you
You know – I will find you
This time – I will be there

Don’t let go – look around you
You know – I will find you
This time – I will be there

Don’t look back – look around you
You know – I will find you
This time – I will be there.
I will be there...

And we echo that sentiment:  Don't let go of that High Holy Day spirit, keep it alive throughout the coming year, make 5775 a year of communion, community, and congregation, a year of participation in our assembly of the faithful, our Adas Emuno!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Rabbi Schwartz's Rosh Hashanah Prayer 5775


Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz

Eloheinu, velohei avotenu

Our God, God of all generations:

Help us to thoughtfully reflect on the year just past, and to courageously embrace this year, 5775, just born.

At times it seems like the world is falling apart.

Help us to discern the path to confront unprovoked aggression in the Ukraine, devastating civil war in Syria, the reemergence of barbaric evil in Iraq, and of course the implacable hatred of those sworn to the destruction of our beloved Israel.

At this New Year we cannot help but remember our soldiers in harm’s way, still fighting and dying in America’s longest war in Afghanistan… and we pray for their safety and speedy return.

We pray too for the kidnapped girls of Nigeria, and for the forgotten Sudanese refugees, for the Ebola victims of Western Africa, and the quietly suffering AIDS victims of Southern Africa.

We pray for the world’s peace and healing. Give us the wisdom to pursue the surest way to finding it.

Here at home we stand before You grateful for our own sustenance and prosperity, but painfully aware that too many of our fellow citizens languish in economic hardship, too many unemployed, underemployed, and uninsured.

Remind us, O God, that we can and should do better, that our wealth is but Your gift, that gifts and blessings are meant to be shared, and that as the gulf between the haves and have-nots continues to widen, the 1% are called upon to not forsake the 99%, the well-off called upon not to abandon the worn down.

Remind us, in this jubilee year of the Freedom summer of ’64 and the Voting Rights Act that we all share in the American dream from Washington, DC, to Ferguson, Missouri.

Guide our grid-locked leaders to enlightened decision making, inspired vision, and basic cooperation for the public good.

May those who govern lay aside personal gain and partisan politics to engage in the unfinished work of justice in our society, for citizen and immigrant, for people of color, black, brown and white; male and female; adult and child.

Foster a spirit of common sacrifice that the vast richness of this land be shared more equitably, and that, in the words of the Torah, the widow, the orphan, the poor, and the stranger be not forgotten, “for you know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Our God, Source of all life and blessing, at this New Year of hope and possibility may we find common purpose to do Your will, to rise to our greatest potential, to reflect our creation in Your image… and to walk with You forward to peace and purpose.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

President Obama's Rosh Hashanah Greeting 5775

At this time of reflection and renewal, we are pleased to share with you President's Obama's wishes for the Jewish New Year and High Holy Days:

And we of course return the sentiment, and send out our best wishes to all for Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Rosh Hashanah Morning 5775




Fifty years ago this past June, I had just graduated from Kindergarten. I don’t know if my family went to Shabbat services on Friday evening, June 19, 1964. But if we had, my rabbi, Michael Robinson, would not have been there.

That’s because my rabbi was in jail. He was in jail in St. Augustine, Florida—the oldest city in the United States. He was in jail with fifteen other rabbis… and a minister named Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had sent an urgent appeal to the Central Conference of American Rabbis meeting in Atlantic City. He asked for whoever was so willing to leave the convention of Reform rabbis and fly to Florida to join his protest. The situation in St. Augustine was ugly but critical. King knew that the hour was crucial—Congress was on the verge of deciding whether to pass the long filibustered Civil Rights Act. A dramatic statement needed to be made. King turned to his good friend, Rabbi Israel Dresner, who still resides at age 85 in Wayne, NJ. He knew that Dresner and some of his colleagues not just talked the talk, but walked the walk of prophetic Judaism and civil rights activism. They were the bravest of clergy. Of the several hundred rabbis at the convention, 16 answered the call. And my rabbi was one of them.

The rabbis wrote a letter from St. John’s County Jail that Friday morning. They explained how they were arrested the day before while praying as an integrated group in front of one restaurant and sitting at a table with three Negro youngsters at another. They continue:

We came to St. Augustine mainly because we could not stay away. We could not say no to Martin Luther King…. We could not pass by the opportunity to achieve a moral goal by moral means… which has been the glory of the non-violent struggle for civil rights. We came because we could not stand quietly by our brother’s blood.

Here in St. Augustine we have seen the depths of anger, resentment and fury; we have seen faces that expressed a deep implacable hatred. What disturbs us more deeply is the large number of decent citizens who have stood aside, unable to bring themselves to act, yet knowing in their hearts that this cause is right and that it must inevitably triumph.

The letter, entitled, Why We Went, concludes, 

These words were first written at 3:00 AM in the sweltering heat of a sleepless night, by the light of the one naked bulb hanging in the corridor outside our small cell. They were, ironically, scratched on the back of the pages of a mimeographed report of the bloody assaults of the Ku Klux Klan in St. Augustine. At day break we revisited the contents of the letter and prayed together for a new dawn of justice and mercy for all the children of God.

The St. Augustine arrests drew national attention in what would be an epic week for the civil rights movement. Later that very day the long awaited draft of the landmark Civil Rights Act passed the Senate. The Act would be signed into law by President Johnson on July 2. It is a little known fact, but one that we should take great pride in, that the Civil Rights Act, and its sister, the Voting Rights Act, were pieced together in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington.

The rabbis were let out of jail just before the Sabbath. On that Sunday, June 21, three young civil rights activists, part of the famed “Freedom Riders” went missing in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were 21 years old. Michael Schwerner was 24. Two white men and a black man. Two Jews and a Christian.

The president ordered 200 FBI agents to search for the three. Their bodies were found six weeks later. No one in Neshoba County was prosecuted for the crime of murder. Minor charges resulted in a handful of lesser figures serving less than 6 years. Andrew Goodman’s mother Carolyn, who became an activist in her own right, summed up the view of so many when, in an interview nearly 40 years after the tragedy, she said, “All these years, I’ve been hoping there would be justice for those boys. I’m still waiting.”

I speak to you on this Rosh Hashanah of my rabbi, and the Augustine 16, and the Freedom Riders, and the Civil Rights Act… because I did not want to let this 50th anniversary of the summer of ’64 go unnoticed. I was just a kid—some of you remember those days first hand—but as you know I’m a student of history. I try not to let significant anniversaries such as this pass unheralded.

But my reason is more than a history lesson. I am haunted by the words of Carolyn Goodman, “I’m still waiting.”

It would be wrong to ignore the great progress in civil rights we have made in this country in the last half century.

It would be wrong not to celebrate the reality of a black president; a black attorney general; two former secretaries of state who were African-American, and one a female.

And whether you agree with the Supreme Court ruling of late or not, consider that three females: two who are Jewish and one who is Hispanic sit on the Court, as does an African American.

Behind these highest of profile officials are governors, senators, congressman, mayors, state and local leaders… all part of our ever diverse democracy… in a way that would have been unthinkable in the lifetime of many of us here today.

And yet Carolyn Goodman’s words echo still, “I’m still waiting for justice.”

Before his death, King was increasingly drawing attention to the link between economic inequality and racial inequality. While the ever growing gap between the “haves’ and the “have-nots” in present day America calls for, well, an entire sermon… time allows me here just a moment to reflect on the specific issue that brought King and the rabbis to St. Augustine… segregation.

As Michelle Obama recently said, “Today, by some measures, our schools are as segregated as they were back when Dr. King gave his final speech.”

That may be an understatement. Today 4 in 10 black and Latino students attend schools that are classified as “intensely segregated,” meaning that 90% of the student body is minority. Right here in New York City more than half of the public schools fit that criterion. That’s right—more than half are 90% or more black and Hispanic.

Right now in America the North is more segregated than the South, and de-facto segregation is our cities is more egregious than de jure segregation ever was in rural America before Brown v Board of Education.

Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project calls this a “steady and massive re-segregation” of the nation and says, “We are, step by step, returning to the 'separate but equal' philosophy that so clearly failed the county.”

And let me point out that school segregation is greatest in this country not among blacks, but among Latinos. Poverty rates in this country have risen, even though less white Americans live in poverty and less black Americans live in poverty, but since 1990 three million more Hispanic Americans are poor. The 39 million Latinos in our country now make them the largest minority. One out of four lives under the poverty line. One out of every three children is in that situation. They cut our lawns, clean our pools, wash our dishes, pick our fruit. They are the strangers among us.

Yes, we are still waiting for justice. The pioneering accomplishments of the civil rights heroes are in truth unfinished.

We are still waiting for impartial justice that serves the rich and poor, educated and uneducated, alike.

We are still waiting for unbiased justice that serves majority and minority, white people and black people and brown people, alike.

We are still waiting for inclusive justice that serves male and female, straight and gay, able bodied and disabled, alike.

We are still waiting for equality of opportunity that gives our kids a fighting chance of getting out of the neighborhoods and schools that narrow their world.

We are still waiting for the 1% to share equally in the burden of taxation that the 99% shoulder year after year.

We are still waiting for the investment in America that understands that our outer security is dependent on our inner security; that a better balance must be found, for we neglect our children and our poor at our peril.

Yes, we are waiting, but it is up to us to grow impatient, and press for the change we want to see.

One need not walk away in cynicism or despair. There is indeed a glass half full. Let us fill it until in “runneth over.” There is indeed a will toward justice. Let us pursue it until it rolls down like a mighty stream.

Consider a final time those words of the bereaved mother. Carolyn Goodman spoke those words in 2004, four decades after the loss of her son. But that same year, remarkably, the case was reopened. An investigative journalist and a professor unearthed new evidence. A reluctant witness came forward. In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted on 3 counts of manslaughter. Carolyn herself, 90 years old, took to the stand. She lived to see justice served. She died a year later.

I am reminded of King’s famous statement, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Allow me to conclude with a few words about our special responsibility concerning all this as Jews:

That old book that we read, the Torah—it is not an exaggeration to say that it is obsessed with justice: justice for the forgotten; justice for the marginalized; justice for the outsider. Thirty six times the Torah commands love and justice for the stranger….
Exodus 23:9: “You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 14:33: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you should not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 10:8: [For the Lord your God] upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger… you too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Jeremiah 7:5: “…execute justice between one another; do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow….”

Empathetic justice is arguably the central concern of the Torah and the Prophets. If you ask me, what makes Judaism so special… you just heard it. If you ask, what is our greatest message… I just quoted it. That’s what motivated my rabbi 50 years ago. And that’s what motivates us yet today.

Our ancient sages taught, 

The task is great. Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor. It is not for you to finish the work. V’lo atah ben horin l’hibatel memenu. But neither are you free to desist from it. V’ba’al habayit dohek. And the Creator is pressing. 

For we are waiting… waiting for justice.