Face to Face: Parashat Va’et’hanan/Shabbat Nahamu (5779 – 2019)


Parashat Va’et’hanan/Shabbat Nahamu (5779 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11

When Moses retells the story of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai he introduces the second version of the Ten Commandments with a few dramatic verses: “Face to face did the Eternal speak with you on the mountain, from out of the fire. I was standing between the Eternal and you at that moment to tell you the Word of the Eternal, for you were afraid in the face of the fire and did not ascend up the mountain, saying: ‘I am the Eternal… etc.” (Deut. 5:4-6)
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Two Ways to Help Local Refugees


From Andy Silver:

We are organizing a Back-to-School Supplies Drive for the children in the refugee families whom we have been assisting. We need your help!

There are currently 18 school-age children, ranging in age from 4 to 16, in six of “our” families. The families have very little discretionary income to spend on school supplies; our goal is to help enable the children to have what they need to start the school year successfully.

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Filled Heart: Parashat D’varim/Shabbat Hazon (5779 – 2019)


Parashat D’varim/Shabbat Hazon (5779 – 2019)
Deuteronomy 1:1 – 3:22

Our Torah reading, the opening of the last book of the Five Books of Moses, is always read right before Tisha B’Av (- the Ninth day of the month of Av). As I have mentioned elsewhere (- see last year’s Sparks), the Biblical moment is synchronized to be retold precisely at a moment of remembrance for events that happened long after the Torah’s time. Tisha B’Av commemorates the destruction of the First and the Second Temples, catastrophes that postdate Moses by many centuries. It is we who hold all these moments together in our consciousness as a Jewish people.

But it turns out that Moses also had a catastrophe to recall, one that also, according to traditional reckoning, fell on the Ninth of Av. That disaster was the mass refusal of the Jewish people to proceed into the Promised Land, a refusal triggered by the report of ten scouts who had seen the land up close. It is this tragedy that weighs on Moses as he begins speaking his “words” (- d’varim), the words that will fill this last book of the Torah. Moses recalls that crisis as he explains how Israel has found itself in its present situation, poised to enter the Land, but a full generation or more after the original date of arrival.

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Jewish or Not – You decide

Jewish booksSo. ..what makes a book Jewish? Is it the author, the subject, the sensibilities of the book? Could it be the reader’s perception or something else entirely?

Frequently I ponder this question after I’ve been to the Association of Jewish Libraries conference where, among other topics, the issue of what makes a book Jewish almost always comes up.

Other times, as I choose books for the library, a new book will make me ask that question.

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Sister Spaces for Jewish Living: Parashat Mattot/Mas`ei (5779 – 2019)


Parashat Mattot/Mas`ei (5779 – 2019)
Numbers 30:2 – 36:13

The traditional annual cycle of Torah readings is paced so that certain Torah readings will fall at particular moments in the Jewish calendar.  We read two Torah portions this week in order to make sure we will read the next portion – the beginning of D’varim (Deuteronomy) on the Shabbat right before Tisha B’Av, the day of remembrance for the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem. Thus this Torah reading system establishes an exquisite synchronicity between Biblical history, post-Biblical Jewish history and the seasons of the year as presently experienced.

But the system also allows for some leeway in how these synchronizations may be achieved. This year, for instance, as we read these two portions together, our brothers and sisters in Israel will read only one of them – Mas`ei – because they already chanted Mattot last week. How did that happen? Because, in Israel, festivals last only 7 days or one day rather than eight or two days, as they do in the Diaspora, the holiday of Passover ended a day earlier in Israel. Thus, on April 27, when we were celebrating the last day of Passover, and reading a Torah portion appropriate for that holiday, in Israel they recommenced reading from the regular Torah reading cycle. They stayed one week ahead of us until this Shabbat, when, after three whole months, we will finally catch up! Continue reading

Cool as a …

imagesMaybe you are some of the lucky ones who live in old houses but have air-conditioning. I’m not.

The last thing I want to do none of these beastly hot, humid days we’ve been having is to do REAL cooking.

Cucumbers seem to be the perfect main dish, accompaniment or ingredient for summer meals.

By definition, gazpacho is a cold tomato based Spanish-style soup made with vegetables and spices. But there’s no reason other vegetables can’t be adapted to the same type of soup. This cucumber gazpacho is refreshing and incredibly easy to make as are most recipes from Jamie Oliver. No cooking involved. Continue reading

Immigrant Action Meeting Follow-up

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A very productive meeting was held at Shomrei on Wednesday night (July 24). We primarily discussed the Essex County contract with ICE and how we can join forces with other houses of worship in the area to advocate for the best possible conditions for people being held in detention.

We also discussed establishing a social action committee at Shomrei. Stay tuned about next steps.

Two meetings were held the following evening (Thursday July 25) in which Shomrei was very well represented. The first Audrey attended with the clergy at BK and Reverend Joel Hubbard with Freeholder Luciano, who seemed to be open to the abpve proposals.

IMG_6988This was followed by a very well attended Freeholder’s meeting open to the public in Livingston. The vast majority of public comments focused on the ICE contract, requests for meetings with Freeholders, objections to the ICE contract and advocacy for the proposals outlined below.

The goal is to have the Freeholders who have not met with religious and community members agree to do so in advance of a vote in September for the attached proposals.

As a next next, below is contact information and a script to reach out to those Freeholders who have not yet agreed to meet. It would be great if you send an email to these freeholders to keep the momentum going.

Thanks so very much and we will keep you updated as things progress.  Please feel free to contact us if you have any questions.

Audrey and Sarita

ACTION ITEM: Please contact these Freeholders

Rufus Johnson: email hidden; JavaScript is required

Romaine Graham: email hidden; JavaScript is required
(973) 621-5680

Robert Mercado: email hidden; JavaScript is required


To: Freeholder [INSERT NAME]

I’m an Essex County resident and I’m calling/writing to ask you to meet with the multi-faith Essex County clergy who have requested a meeting with you to discuss a civilian oversight board, a detainee advocate, universal legal representation for ICE detainees, and a responsible end to the business of incarcerating immigrants.

Thank you,



Regarding the ICE contract, the following solutions are being proposed with the leadership of the ACLU of New Jersey and other faith based groups and the information below comes from BK’s immigration committee.

1) A Civilian Oversight Board:

Background: ECCF (Essex County Correctional Facility) failed a DHS inspection in June 2018; those findings, which included rotten food, an unattended exposed firearm, and mold growing on bathroom ceilings, were made public in February 2019. In a March 13, 2019 letter to the Freeholders, the NJCLU wrote that “meaningful civilian oversight and accountability are critical” to meeting the county’s obligation to protect “the safety, physical and mental health, and due process of those it confines.” While the county has taken action to remedy the problems cited in the earlier report, Essex County Correctional Facility was also found in violation of 2011 PBNDS (Performance-based National Detention Standards) in a June 3, 2019 OIG (Office of Inspector General, DHS) report. Many of the violations surrounded the use of solitary confinement.

2) A Detainee Advocate:

Background: Hudson County has taken a number of steps to remedy DHS violations, including creating a Detainee Advocate who reviews all grievances filed by ICE detainees. First Friends argues that this would be a meaningful improvement at ECCF. At Hudson County, this role is filled by Rosa Santana of First Friends. This position is especially crucial because according to Essex County staff, ECCF hasn’t met the standards for grievance boards and advocates outlined in the 2011 PBNDS.

3) Universal Legal Representation for Detainees:

Background: The Freeholders approved an additional $750,000 in funding for legal representation for ICE detainees in July 2019 and is exploring possible contractors for these services (SAFE and VERA). This is a great first step, but Make the Road NJ estimates that the true cost of legal representation for all detainees is $5 million. By the county’s own estimate, $750,000 will cover the cost of representing only 200 of the 850+ ICE detainees. The NJCLU wrote in a March letter to the Freeholders that “data from New York’s publicly funded universal representation program shows that success rates for program clients increased by 1100 percent over underrepresented cases.”

New Leadership: Parashat Pinchas


Parashat Pinchas
Numbers 25:10–30:1

Long-time Aide to Moses Picked as His Successor

After a period of intense speculation, the question of who would be stepping into Moses’ leadership position seems to have been settled. In a public ceremony, clearly designed to bolster the standing of his heir-apparent, Moses presented his long-time aide-de-camp, Joshua, son of Nun, before Eleazar the Priest and the entire community. He solemnly placed his hands upon his loyal protege and charged him, in God’s Name, to follow in his footsteps.

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Unbearable Riches: Parashat Balaq


Parashat Balaq (5779 – 2019)
Numbers 22:2 – 25:9

He took in the vast encampment spread out before him on the plain below. It seemed to him like some kind of Levittown of the wilderness. The open country had been tamed by well-ordered rows of prim tents, set up just so, the very model of peaceable neighborliness. And Bil`am, despite himself, was overcome with a rush of blessings that he poured out upon the people of Israel.

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