A Message of Grief and Hope

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Editor’s Note: This message was originally sent out on Sunday, Oct.28, the day after the tragedy in Pittsburgh.

Oh, if only my head were a spring of water and my eye a fountain of tears! I would weep all day and night for the slain of my dear people.

Jeremiah 8:23

Our grief is overwhelming as we process the tragedy that has befallen the worshipers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. This tragedy has swept over the entire Jewish community everywhere and has spread to affect all decent people in our country and beyond.

The news on Shabbat arrived as we were in the midst of celebrating a Bar Mitzvah with one of our cherished families. Our sanctuary was filled. We sang together that out Torah is a “tree of life to all who hold it tight.” The dissonance between our own prayers – identical to those offered at Tree of Life Synagogue – and the murderous violence inflicted there could not be more extreme.

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Reading the Entire Bible – Day by Day

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A few years ago a project was started to gather readers in Israel and around the world to undertake reading a chapter of the Bible each day, from start to finish. There are 929 chapters altogether, so the project is called 929.

It started in the winter of 2014 and the first cycle was completed this summer.  As with our yearly reading of the Torah, the cycle has begun again and is presently in the middle of the Book of Exodus.

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We Have Eyes, Ears, … Legs: Yom Kippur Sermon 5779

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Greenstein originally gave this sermon on Yom Kippur 5779 (Sept 2018).

“Why is this day different from all other holidays of the whole year?” For, on all these other occasions, including celebrations of the New Moon, Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot, we sing psalms of joy and praise, called Hallel.

But we don’t sing the Hallel on Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur. Why not? The Talmud presents this question in dramatic form. The sages imagine the angels of heaven using this omission of ours as a chance to criticize the people of Israel. The Talmud relates:

“The angels inquired of God, ‘Master of the Universe, why does Israel fail to sing the Hallel songs of praise before You during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur?’

And God replied, ‘When the Ruler sits on the throne of judgment before the books of life and death, could Israel utter such songs?’” (BTRosh Hashanah 32b) Continue reading

The Choosing People: Kol Nidre Sermon 5779

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Greenstein originally gave this sermon on Kol Nidre 5779 (Sept 2018).

A new rabbi arrives in town and the congregation eagerly awaits his first sermon. They are all ears as he eloquently speaks about the importance of observing Shabbat.

After services the President of the shul approaches the new rabbi and confides to him, “Rabbi, you can’t speak about observing the Sabbath to this community. No one observes the Shabbat here. You’ve got to know your audience! Believe me; I’m trying to help you out.”

The rabbi is suitably grateful. The next Shabbat he gets up and gives an impassioned sermon, citing chapter and verse, on the virtues of keeping kosher.

After services the President goes up to him. “Rabbi, you can’t talk about keeping kosher to us. Keeping kosher is not who we are!”

The rabbi apologizes and promises to do better next time. Continue reading

Compassionate Justice: Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5779

A Camden, New Jersey, police officer talks with a neighborhood child. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

A Camden, New Jersey, police officer talks with a neighborhood child. (Photo: Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

Editor’s Note: Rabbi Greenstein originally gave this sermon on the first day of Rosh Hashanah 5779 (Sept 2018).

So you’re driving along with your beloved – maybe on the way to a movie or something. All is well. You’re talking about this and that. You approach the quiet intersection and the light turns red. But you give some gas and make the turn.

And then you hear the siren and see the flashing lights drawing up behind you. Your spirit sinks. You pull over. You are in a foul mood now. Maybe your beloved shoots you a look or lets out an expletive. Who are you more upset with? The officer, your beloved, or yourself? Continue reading

Times Have Changed

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A thoughtful Jew is always challenged to hold multiple thoughts and perspectives in mind simultaneously. As I have discussed before (see “Easy Livin’,” Kol Emunah Summer, 2012) our modern experience of summer is contradictory. The summer is the time of trips to the shore (- “beach” in my language), going to camp or just sleeping late. It is a time of barbecues and parties. But, in traditional Jewish culture it is the time of the Three Weeks, a period spanning from the 17th of Tammuz through the 9th of Av (Tisha B’Av). And during those three weeks partying is not done. By the week of Tisha B’Av meat is avoided. Why the contradiction?

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Shomrei Presents Plaque to Central Presbyterian

(L-R) Rabbi David Greenstein, Mike Byrnes, Fern Heinig and Pastor Dr. David Noble

(L-R) Rabbi David Greenstein, Mike Byrnes, Fern Heinig and Pastor Dr. David Noble

Rabbi David Greenstein & President Fern Heinig of Congregation Shomrei Emunah present a plaque to Mike Byrnes (Building Manager) and Pastor Dr. David Noble of Central Presbyterian Church of Montclair.

The plaque gives lasting expression to our feelings of thanks. It reads:

Congregation Shomrei Emunah Gathered Here – January-April 2018 – With Gratitude; “For My home shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7).

Shomrei has been blessed to have such wonderful neighbors. The plaque will join other plaques that grace the walls of Central, given by other groups who have benefited from the gracious generosity of Central Presbyterian Church throughout the years. We look forward to building a continuing relationship between our two communities in the future.

Editor’s Note: For many weeks after the burst pipe and ensuing reconstruction, Central Presbyterian hosted Shomrei’s services and other events without charge.

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For the Love of Life

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Over these many months I have offered a treatment of the blessings that comprise the Amidah, the standing prayer that is central to all our services. Having concluded discussing them, we now reach the coda that closes the Amidah recitation. That coda was originally unscripted. It was the place that was devoted to personal, spontaneous prayer. It is here that the contrast between the collective and the individual,, the public and the private presents itself with force. (I have written about this issue before – see my columns in Kol Emunah for April 2014 and May, 2014)

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And The One Who Does Not Want to Ask

Asylum seekers demonstrating in Jerusalem against their forced deportation from Israel, Courtesy Haaretz

Asylum seekers demonstrating in Jerusalem against their forced deportation from Israel (photo credit: Emil Salman, Haaretz)

I am putting aside the column I had originally intended for this month because I believe it is important to write about a dramatic development just unfolding: The Israeli government has just announced that it is not going through with what they have been planning for some time –  to expel almost 40,000 refugees who have made their way from Africa to Israel in search of safety. Instead, about half the refugees will be permanently settled in Israel, while the other half will be absorbed by Western nations, including Canada, Germany and Italy. (See – Haaretz, April 4, Israel Reaches Deal with UN) Continue reading

Your Youth Shall See Visions

Parkland HS student speaks out

Our concluding blessing in our most central prayer, the Amidah, is a prayer for peace. This is in accord with our practice in general, to conclude any major series of blessings or prayers with words of peace. The text of the last blessing depends, in our Ashkenazic (European Jewish) custom, on whether the Priestly Blessing is part of the recitation of the communal Amidah. (Other customs include the recitation of this text always, even when the Priestly Blessing is not recited.) So in every morning service, and at many other times, the text of the blessing for peace is an expansion on the elements found in that ancient Biblical prayer:

“May the Eternal bless you and care for you;

May the Eternal shine His Face upon you and be gracious to you;

May the Eternal lift up Her Face to you and grant you peace.” (Num. 6:24-26)

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