Dear friends and faithful volunteers,
Rabbi David Greenstein’s tenure as spiritual leader of Congregation Shomrei Emunah started not with a bang but a silence. A sanctifying silence. On his first Shabbat on our bimah, in August 2009, he introduced us to the practice of maintaining absolute silence until all congregants finished reciting the Amidah to themselves. No kibbitzing with your seat-mate about afternoon plans. No rabbi moving on to the next reading once most of us were seated. At every Shabbat and holiday service for the next 13 years, if anyone was still praying, the rest of us held the silence. In time, the silence itself felt like prayer. It was an early lesson from our new rabbi in achieving communal holiness, not through words or deeds but through respect. A community of all for one, as well as one for all.
Rabbi Greenstein announced upon his arrival that his greatest value was building Jewish community. And in a recent conversation, that is how he looked back on his years as our rabbi: “I tried as hard as I could to share my love for living a Jewish life, for studying Torah, for connecting people, to be there for people. That’s what I tried to do.”
Last week, synagogues across America marked the 100-year anniversary of the first official bat mitzvah. The ceremony occurred on March 18, 1922 and was created by Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan, the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism, to welcome his12-year-old daughter, Ruth, into the family of Jewish adults. While that sounds like a long history, it pales alongside the roughly 1,000-year longevity of the bar mitzvah. Moreover, it took almost 60 years for the bat mitzvah ceremony to attain equal stature with the bar mitzvah at synagogues in the U.S.
To explore this evolution — and what it says about the role of women and girls in Judaism — assistant JLC education director Lily Lucey invited Shomrei women of several generations on Sunday, March 19 to recount for the b’nai mitzvah classes what the bat mitzvah represented when they were 12 or 13. Continue reading
I got to know Jerry well quite a few years ago when we were both appointed to a Shomrei committee no one wanted to serve on. Suffice it to say our assignment was unenviable and none of us wished to be there, least of all Jerry. But he graciously agreed to be co-chair, and he and Helen hosted our many meetings in their lovely home. Week after week, he held us together and steered us toward a conclusion with kindness and above all care for the future of Shomrei. I don’t think it was a coincidence that we all became good friends and remained so. Continue reading
I’m writing to everyone who has helped host homeless families at Shomrei Emunah in recent years. As you probably know, IHN stays actively involved with families who have moved into their own homes. Quite a few of the adults in these families are now essential workers and others have lost their jobs and are struggling to get by.
Our contacts at IHN just let us know that several families badly need help paying for basic purchases, including everything from hand sanitizer to summer clothing for their children. If you can help, please send a check in any amount you choose to Brenda Myrick, IHN’s Director of Social Services, at 46 Park St. Montclair, NJ 07042.
Thanks to all of you for being faithful supporters of IHN. I know it’s a tough time for everyone, but with relatively small individual donations, this is an opportunity to come together and really help struggling families — including some we have hosted at Shomrei.
My very best,
Last Friday, I had an alarming call from a member of Shomrei. Between bone-rattling coughs, she told me that both she and her partner had Covid 19 and were quarantined in their home. Both over 60, they desperately needed groceries and didn’t know whom to call since all of their friends are in the age group vulnerable to the Coronavirus. (The couple requested that their names be withheld.)
As coordinator of the Mensch Squad, I was braced for such calls to come eventually, but this was our first, and I warily reflected on the demographics of our squad – most of us tilt toward the same vulnerable age group as the couple who needed our help. Indeed, some of our more faithful members are in their 90s. Continue reading
“A flow of energy and a charge of possibility is generated by our getting together. That’s especially what we hope for tonight.”
With these words, Rabbi Greenstein introduced a program at Shomrei last Thursday night (June 2) to acquaint the community – not just our own congregants, but all of Montclair – with the human cost of the Syrian civil war and refugee crisis. More than 100 men, women and children came from many corners of New Jersey – Muslim women with heads covered, Jewish men with heads covered, people of a variety of faiths, students and adults. Continue reading
Shomrei had a very successful and meaningful experience housing four homeless families — 14 adults and children — in the last week of August. We had a wide range of volunteers– many of our longtime participants as well as some new ones, from elementary schoolers to the over-eighty generation — and everyone had an impact. Craig Eichner taught an 8 year old boy named Vinnie to do magic tricks, and he was so excited that he asked on the last day if he could call Craig just to talk to him. We called Craig to let him know, and he came by to say goodbye in person. For good measure, he taught Vinnie yet another magic trick. Fanya Hoffman continued her tradition of painting all the girls’ nails, and the girls expressed great excitement about going to the first day of school with their new manicures. Charlie Breslin and his family took everyone to the Glen Ridge pool to cool off and have fun on a sweltering Saturday afternoon. And that is only a small representation of the Shomrei volunteers who contributed their time and loving care to our guests.
We had almost 50 volunteers in all, cooking meals, engaging in activities with kids and parents, sleeping over as night guardians and coordinating the activities. The families were with us because of terrible misfortunes in their own lives, but as always, our volunteers created an oasis in which they could eat good meals, meet really nice people, enjoy some good times. Little Vera came up to one of us as she left on Sunday Aug. 30, flashed a radiant smile, and said, “Every day here was a trip.” We hope they have many more good times ahead of them.
If you weren’t able to join us this time, but would like to do so next time, be on the lookout for our next hosting week in late December.
By Dale Russakoff and Shirley Grill
Congregants and IHN Co-Chairs Shomrei Emunah
Each year our shul partners with the Interfaith Hospitality Network to host homeless families at Congregation Shomrei Emunah for one week. This is vital work. Many of the families are in critical need of short term housing and sustenance. Often as a result of illness, job loss or other uncontrollable circumstances families and children are in need of our care. Our synagogue community has been generous and kind in spreading the wings of shelter over these people in need. It’s truly a mitzvah.