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Rabbi's Messages

MARCH, 2020

Shalom L’Kulam - Peace, All,

The Superbowl was won by the Kansas City Chiefs last night and my 9 year-old and I were discussing the raging phenomenon of sports betting on the event. He heard the newscaster describe all the elements which had been available for a person to bet on and was confused. “Abba, why would people want to bet on the exact length of the National Anthem or the color of the Gatorade dumped on the winning coach?” he asked. We were able to open a conversation about the physiological and sociological patterns that lead some to be overcome by a gambling addiction. As he developed a 9-year-old understanding of it, we extended our chat to include the use of nicotine, drugs, video games, and adrenaline-seeking activities. With Purim just around the corner, it’s a good moment to explore the human inclination toward excess and the behaviors that our more rational selves encourage us to avoid.

Of the four commanded behaviors on Purim, it seems the best-known is  – mishteh – the drunken revelry. It seems most Jews choose to retain this particular lesson from their religious upbringing: that we should become so inebriated that we cannot understand the difference in the statements “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman” (b. Megillah 7b). But it is important to remind ourselves of the context in which this is introduced. Teachings about the use of alcohol, like other pleasures, are typically packaged alongside messages of restraint. One should enjoy the fruit of the vine, but not too much. One should enjoy the excitement of a moment, but not too often. One should appreciate the pleasures of the physical body, but not gluttonously. Bachya Ibn Pakuda describes our desire to increase the worldly pleasures of life as the  – yetzer hara – most often translated as the “evil inclination.” I find that too dramatic an expression – instead I’ll call it “our inclination away from the holy.”

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, or the RaMBaM, 1138–1204CE) is the Jewish philosopher most closely associated with teaching about Aristotle’s Golden Mean. That is, a person should strive to develop habits of behavior according to the middle course between two extremes. And how do we know specifically what that looks like? By stationing ourselves at different points along the continuum of behavior. As the RaMBaM says, “if he had distanced himself to the extreme point of one he should remove himself to the extreme end of the other.” In other words, if we are overly proud, we should try being overly humble. If we are overly calm, we should try being overly hot-headed. If we are overly docile, we should try being overly aggressive, etc., until we develop a sense of where that middle spot is and then we “follow it up a long time until we may return to the good way, which is the middle-standard in each and every tendency” (M.T. Hilchot Deot, Ch 2).

So, using Maimonides’ logic, if you rarely drink in excess then it may be good to remind yourself why that is on a night like Purim. But, if you’re regularly shikur, then perhaps you refrain from drink that night? We should not, therefore, be surprised that, in his encouragement towards the Golden Mean, RaMBaM adjusts the instruction about drinking on the holiday to recommend we drink just enough to put ourselves to sleep (Megillah 2:15) – less extreme, to be sure.
These systems of behavioral self-evaluation and modification have proven the greatest tool in my personal workbench as I seek my own growth. Identifying the ways in which I am out of balance and leaning toward one extreme has always been a reliable method of determining what I wish to change about myself. Give it a try.

And, perhaps we can therefore credit Maimonides with a medieval version of the timeless advice: Everything in moderation, including moderation.

Happy Purim, All,

Rabbi Jay TelRav

 

JANUARY - FEBRUARY, 2020

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President's Messages

MARCH, 2020

Because this is my first year as President of Temple Sinai, there have been lots of firsts for me. There was my first time officially leading our Temple Sinai Board of Trustees and Leadership Team. My first speech during the High Holy Days (an exciting adventure). My first weekly meeting with the Rabbi (I am always looking forward to our meetings). My first bulletin article (it’s getting easier). My first Annual Giving Campaign letter and follow up (thrilled at the generosity of so many of our members).

Another first for me as President is participating in the process for nominating new members of the Board and Leadership Team. That process is handled by the Nominating Committee which is being led by Lee Ann Heller this year. As President, I am a non-voting member of the committee and was responsible for finding two of its seven members. We are lucky to have our Amidah Leadership Initiative (ALI) which provides the temple with a steady stream of members who have been able to both learn about leadership and actively participate in leadership roles through ALI. Through the hard work of the Nominating Committee I am confident that we will be able to identify the new leaders of Temple Sinai. (Please contact Lee Ann at LaLaLyons90@gmail.com with your suggestions for nominees.)

Leadership was also the theme of our Board Shabbat last fall (another first for me). The service was titled “Our Journey Together” and the Torah reading that evening was Lech Lecha, in which Abraham began his journey from his homeland to create the people of Israel. I was responsible for the D’var Torah that evening and spoke about leadership. I asked myself the question of what has motivated some of us to take on leadership responsibilities. My answer follows:
Unlike Abraham, our decision to take on a leadership role was not necessarily made in response to a command but maybe a strong ask; and again, unlike Abraham it was made without the promise of great reward, but with the hope of creating good in our community. While maybe there was no need to leave our home and family like Abraham, it did involve a true sacrifice. It’s far from the journey Abraham was asked to undertake but a significant journey nonetheless. As is the case for most questions such as this, there is no one answer.

However, maybe an additional factor is faith. I believe that Abraham agreed to leave his homeland and journey forth into the unknown because he had faith that God would provide for him and his family, otherwise how could he have made such a decision? When I am faced with a decision, there is certainly an element of faith involved as no one can tell what the future holds for any of us based on the choices we make. I suspect that faith plays a role in most of our decision making. You wrestle as much as you need with the decision at hand and move forward on your journey.

Which brings me back to the title of our service this evening: “Our Journey Together.” I think that each of us has to some degree relied on faith in making our decision to take on leadership roles at Temple Sinai. Furthermore, that faith has led us to work together toward creating something greater than each of us can do individually. It may not be the faith that Abraham needed in order to “Go Forth,” but faith nonetheless. With that faith, we are on Our Journey Together.
To all of you who are serving in leadership roles at Temple Sinai and in our local community: Thank you.

Alan Cohen
President

 

JANUARY - FEBRUARY, 2020

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Cantor's Messages

clientuploads/Bio_Images_Leadership/micah_morgovsky.jpgMARCH, 2020

While attending Hebrew Union College’s School of Sacred Music, one of my favorite teachers was Merri Lovinger Arian. Merri often conducted the cantorial choir, she taught music education courses, and she worked with all cantorial students to help us learn basic guitar skills. She was (and still is) an always-smiling and encouraging presence at the college and I learned a tremendous amount from her during my five years studying there.

Many years later, once I was an ordained cantor and serving here at Temple Sinai, we invited Merri to be our musician-in-residence for a musical weekend. The two of us had so much fun collaborating and that weekend served to deepen our friendship and mutual admiration.

Fast forward to just a few years ago. Our closest friends Shayna and Mel (a cantor and a Jewish educator) introduced us to Elana Arian and her wife, Julia (also a cantor!). It’s a very small Jewish world, especially for Jewish professionals. Yes, Elana is Merri’s daughter, and is following in her mom’s footsteps, bringing amazing Jewish music out into the world. The six of us became fast friends and all of our children have a blast together. We have vacationed together and we treasure the friendship and camaraderie we share.

This past summer, I attended the North American Jewish Choral Festival at which Merri was a presenter. I attended her talk and, as I walked in, she introduced me to the class. She mentioned that I was friends with her daughter, Elana Arian, and then (with a wink and a smile) she added, “But she was my friend first!”

Why am I telling you this story? Because I am thrilled that Elana, like her mom, Merri, will soon be joining us here at Temple Sinai as our musician-in residence the weekend of April 24-26, see page 14 for more information. There will be musical programming all weekend long, so mark your calendars and look for future emails with more details about the weekend.  Elana Arian is one of the leading voices in contemporary Jewish music. She is a composer, multi-instrumentalist, prayer leader, and recording artist. Her compositions are sung in synagogues, summer camps, and spiritual communities around the globe. Elana has released three albums of original music and is thrilled to be working on her fourth. She has served on the faculty of both Shirei Chagiga in London and the Hebrew Union College - Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. She has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Tanglewood, and perhaps most memorably, five separate appearances at the (Obama) White House.

B’Shira, in song,

Cantor Micah Morgovsky

 

 

JANUARY - FEBRUARY, 2020

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Educator's Messages

MARCH, 2020

I was always uncomfortable with the holiday of Purim. Hamantaschen are indeed delicious but the hiding of our identity in costumes just felt strange to me.

Recently both Jonathan Henry Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain, and Bari Weiss, an American opinion writer for The New York Times, shared a new lens into our minor holidays and our shared history, which I found illuminating. They both explained that the last two festivals added to the Jewish calendar, prior to modern times, are Purim and Chanukah. Both festivals share themes of anti-Semitism. However, there is one very obvious difference between them: Haman wanted to kill Jews and Antiochus wanted to kill Judaism. This difference was echoed in Soviet Communism (Judaism) versus Nazi Germany (Jews).

Purim is about costumes and hiding who we are. Esther changed her name from Hadassah to the Persian name Ishtar or Esther and hid her identity from the King, her husband.

On Chanukah, Jews defiantly and proudly fought back and won. The Maccabees became a symbol of Jewish activism, of refusing to live in fear. As a symbol of this, we light Chanukah lights in a window facing the street, to publicize the miracle and to proclaim our proud Jewish identity. We don’t celebrate hiding or deceit. Today, we see the lighting of giant menorahs in the most prominent public places of cities throughout the world.

Jews have felt more at home in the United States than anywhere else in the world until the shocking events in Brooklyn, Monsey, Jersey City, Poway, Pittsburgh and every country in Europe, which are proof that the darkness has returned. Within the living memory of the Holocaust, this series of events should have been unimaginable. I often email with my beloved German history professor from my undergraduate days at Syracuse University, Dr. Frederick Marquardt. He recently wrote to me: “Anti-Semitism, or any hate, becomes dangerous in any society when three things happen: when it moves from the fringes of politics to a mainstream party and its leadership, when the political party sees that its popularity with the general public is not harmed supporting anti-Semitism, and when those who stand up and protest are vilified and abused for doing so.” From these words, I have learned that the story of Purim is as relevant today as it was in 485 - 464 BCE when Esther stood up to Haman and Achashverosh (Xerxes I).

This Purim, let’s be like  Esther and stand proudly as Jews.

Let’s celebrate our freedom and celebrate Purim by not hiding who we are. Let’s stand proudly and not disguise who we are.

All the best – Kol Tuv,

Morah Judy

EDUCATION DATES TO REMEMBER:
March 1            Living Voices (Open to 7th and 8th Graders and their Grown Ups), Bob Schechter Memorial Pancake Breakfast, Schiff Tichon Sinai
March 8            Purim celebrated in Religious School
March 14          Kindergarten and 1st Grade Class Service
March 15          3rd Grade makes lasagna for SJFS, 6th Grade wedding has been rescheduled to April 26 from 10:30am – 11:30am, Schiff Tichon Sinai
March 16, 18    Chug/Elective
March 21          Shabbat School
March 29          6th Grade goes to Ellis Island, 4th Grade makes lasagna for SJFS, RuJu rehearsal, Schiff Tichon Sinai
Mar 30, Apr 1   Passover programming in Religious School

 

JANUARY - FEBRUARY, 2020

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Sat, April 4 2020 10 Nisan 5780