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Congregation L'Dor V'Dor
11 Temple Lane
Oyster Bay, NY 11771
Phone: (516) 470-1700

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Rabbi's Weekly Torah Thoughts

Brian Land, President
Bret Pearlman, Vice President
Michael Reisman Treasurer
Eric Brotman, Recording Secretary
Lisa Weiner, Past President

Ben Braunstein, Michael Falkove, Marcia Glick, Nancy Krosser, Andrew Levine, Nancy Rosenberg,
Oren Simon, Jonathan Siskind, Edra Tepper, Kathy Weiss, Brenda Wilensky

Our Future!

We are proud to share with you the future of Congregation L’Dor V’Dor!

The former Oyster Bay Jewish Center had provided a place of worship for more than 50 years, building a strong Jewish community on the north shore of Long Island. As a result of the recent merger with the Jewish Congregation of Brookville, we now have a vibrant, growing Reform congregation that we can pass along from "generation to generation."

Mission Statement of Congregation L’Dor V’Dor

Working together, the Board and the Rabbi have outlined our Congregational Vision and Guiding Principles. We believe it covers the expectations of who we are and the path that we as a congregation are looking to take together.

Vision Statement

To bring meaning and healing to our lives and the world.

Guiding Principles

We are a warm, welcoming and inclusive community. Through our engagement with Torah we add meaning to our lives.

We strive to instill a love of Jewish learning in our children and our children’s children.

Through joyful and uplifting prayer, we celebrate life’s blessings and bring healing to our souls and those struggling with illness, loss or despair.

Our synagogue is our spiritual home enabling us to come together.

We seek to better our community and the world by strengthening relationships and reaching out to others.

We strive to balance Jewish commitments with the demands of modern life in new and creative ways.

Talya Smilowitz ldTalya Smilowitz began her tenure at our congregation in June of 2009.

It is her love and passion for singing and music, Yiddishkeit, building community, embracing her Jewish heritage and teaching that has drawn her to a career as a cantor.  

She was was born and raised in West Hartford, Connecticut where her parents instilled in her a love and passion for Jewish life.  Talya’s vocal talent was evident in the many shows she participated in during her formative years culminating in the Tanglewood Summer Institute after her junior year in High School, and her bachelors and masters degrees in vocal performance from The Juilliard School and Manhattan School of Music, respectively.  

Talya has appeared in prestigious venues all over the world, including Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall, The Broadway Stage, Opera and Symphony Halls all over China, Cabaret venues, nightclubs and sang the National Anthem at Citifield for the New York Mets.  Versatile in various musical styles and genres, Talya has toured France performing with a Klezmer ensemble.  Talya is now the lead singer of a Jazz ensemble called  “Thread of Blue” and continues to perform in a variety of diverse venues around the tri-state area https://www.reverbnation.com/threadofblue.

Talya has found teaching and working with children to be very rewarding. Her current work teaching Hebrew, as well as interacting with children, watching them grow and achieve their goals has been extremely fulfilling.  Talya is also a certified yoga instructor, and is interested in exploring the interplay between Judaism and yoga.

Talya Smilowitz lives in Sea Cliff, NY with her husband, Yoni Komorov and their children Eliana and Ilan.

Click here to visit Rabbi Moskowitz's complete blog.

  • Why the Journey Is So Long and Hard

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Feb 2, 2023 | 21:26 pm

    The Torah relates: “God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although it was nearer.” (Exodus 13) Why? Why not take the more direct route? Why lead the Israelites on a roundabout path? The commentators debate this question. Many suggest that God’s concern was practical. If the people traveled through what is today the Gaza Strip, an area then controlled by the Philistines, they would most assuredly confront war. This of course might give them pause. They might have a change of heart and want to return to slavery. The Torah agrees: “God said, ‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war and return to Egypt.’” The medieval commentators Rashi and Nachmanides concur. On the literal level this makes sense. Then again God parts the Sea of Reeds. The sea is divided so that the Israelites might escape the advancing Egyptians. In the beautiful poem “Song of the Sea,” that includes our Mi Chamocha prayer, the Israelites exclaim: “Pharaoh’s chariots and his army God has cast into the sea; and the pick of his officers are drowned in the Sea of Reeds.” (Exodus 15) So why would God not fight the battles with the Philistines as well? Perhaps the stated reason does not offer the more important lesson. The commentators Ibn Ezra and Maimonides offer more interesting explanations. Ibn Ezra suggests that the Israelites first had to sense freedom before claiming the land of Israel as their own. They needed to live as a free people, wandering throughout the wilderness, before establishing freedom in the land of Israel. Maimonides, on the other hand, suggests that the Israelites needed to take this roundabout route so that they might experience hardship. The hunger and pain, rebellions and complaining, offer important lessons for these former slaves. Only after taking these lessons to heart will they be able establish their own nation. The easy path rarely offers the greatest lessons. When things are given to us without struggle, or even suffering, we do not always appreciate them as we should. What we earn through hardship[…]

  • Taste the Wonder

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jan 27, 2023 | 14:34 pm

    When I was young and we would go out for a nice dinner with my grandparents, towards the end of the meal when everyone was sharing their delight about the restaurant and raving about this dish or that, my Nana would quietly sit there. I would then invariably ask her, “Nana what did you think about dinner?” And she would respond, “It was tasty.” Her response never wavered. It could be the best meal or the worst, the most expensive restaurant, or the least. Food was tasty, never delicious. Meals were not deserving of accolades unless of course she was related to the cook and then superlatives could be showered on my mom or dad or even me when I cooked the one thing I could make as a child, an omelet. On Monday we entered the Hebrew month of Shevat. In two weeks, we will celebrate Tu B’Shevat (the fifteenth of the month), the day on which we mark the new year of the trees. This month is associated with the faint beginnings of spring. In the land of Israel trees begin to blossom, most particularly the beautiful, pink flowers of almond trees. And the Jewish mystics associated this month of Shevat with taste. The only time I ever recall my Nana offering something other than her usual tasty judgment about was when she told me about her first bite of a tomato. Soon after arriving in America from Eastern Europe someone gave her a tomato to eat. The vegetable was unfamiliar to her, and she thought it was an apple. When she bit into it and the tomato exploded, she spit it out. She hated it. The taste did not mirror the expectation. Sweet, sour, salty, bitter and savory are the different types of taste, although some experts suggest there are more. (I am sure the family experts will weigh in on this debate and my son, and probably my mother, and perhaps even my nephew will suggest corrections.) What makes chefs celebrated masters are how they finesse these tastes and conjure flavors from ingredients that in other[…]

  • Take a Breath

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jan 19, 2023 | 21:08 pm

    Before God brings down the plagues on Egypt, Moses tells the people they will soon be freed from slavery and delivered to the promised land. The Torah relates: “But when Moses told this to the Israelites, they would not listen to Moses, their spirits crushed by cruel bondage.” (Exodus 6) A story. One winter evening, during the darkest days of the Holocaust when Hugo Gryn and his father were imprisoned by the Nazis, Gryn’s father instructed him to come to a quiet corner of the barrack. His father said, “My son, tonight is the first night of Hanukkah. Hugo then watched in astonishment as his father plucked a few threads from his tattered prison uniform in order to create makeshift wicks for the Hanukkah lights. He then gently placed these in several days’ miniscule margarine ration. Hugo became incensed with his father. “You did not eat your margarine. You need those calories to survive. We could have even spread it on that measly crust of bread they gave us. Instead, you saved it to kindle Hanukkah lights?” Hugo’s father turned to him and said, “My dear son, you and I have seen that it is possible to live a very, very long time without food. But Hugo, a person cannot live, for even a day, without hope.” I have often told this story. It is inspiring. It seems almost super-human. How can someone stave off hunger for the sake of lighting a candle? How can anyone be hopeful in the midst of such extraordinary cruelty and death? The Israelites’ reaction seems the more understandable. The Hebrew can be translated as follows: “They would not listen to Moses; their spirits were shortened (m’kotzer ruach) and their servitude hard.” What does it mean for our spirits to be shortened? How do we become so dispirited? It all depends on how one feeds the soul and nourishes the spirit. For Hugo Gryn’s father it only required saving some margarine. For others it might require more. How do we instill hope in our hearts? How can we fortify our souls? Is it possible to[…]

  • Rise Up and Take Note

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jan 14, 2023 | 15:31 pm

    My sermon in honor of Martin Luther King Jr Day. Discrimination is real. Racism in America is a pervasive force. What are we to do? We must rise up and take note!  This weekend we mark Martin Luther King Jr Day and so I wish to reflect on the lessons we can, and should, draw from Reverend King’s example. He fought, and died, so that African Americans might achieve equal rights in this nation that promises equal rights for all. That struggle continues. The promise remains unfulfilled.A few years ago, I travelled with a number of rabbis to Montgomery, Alabama to visit the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. This remarkable, and stirring, museum was inspired by Bryan Stevenson who founded the Equal Justice Initiative that fights for those who are wrongly incarcerated. Among its more startling exhibits are soil remains from sites where Blacks were lynched and terrorized. There were photographs on the museum walls showing how snacks were distributed to those who attended these lynchings. Children were brought by parents to these hangings as if these acts of terror constituted proper entertainment. Such lynchings occurred in our country into the 1950’s. As one leaves the museum and memorial, one confronts rows of copper metal slabs with the names of Southern towns etched on their surface. These are where such horrors occurred. These bear witness to the locations of past lynchings. A sign indicates the purpose and intention of these rows and rows of slabs. They are for the towns to claim and erect in their squares. Then they might confront their past. Only by acknowledging past wrongs can we build the better future that Martin Luther King dreamed about. None of these has yet to be claimed. Bryan Stevenson remarked, “I’m not interested in talking about America’s history because I want to punish America. I want to liberate America.” We have much work to be done. Our nation can do better. It must do better. The fight against injustice continues. It did not end when Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have a[…]

  • Eternal Struggles

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jan 12, 2023 | 21:07 pm

    Leon Wieseltier writes:There are problems and there are struggles. Problems have solutions; struggles have outcomes. Problems are technical; struggles are historical. Problems recur; struggles persist. Problems teach impatience; struggles teach patience. Problems are fixed; struggles are fought. Problems require skill; struggles require character. Problems demand knowledge; struggles demand wisdom. Problems may end; struggles may not end. A problem that does not end is a defeat or a failure; a struggle that does not end is a responsibility and a legacy.We turn to the Book of Exodus. It details our enslavement in Egypt and then our miraculous rescue from slavery. And yet our freedom does not end the institution of slavery. In fact, the Bible’s record is mixed. Even though the injustice and cruelty of the Israelites’ slavery are remedied, slavery continues. The Bible details laws about how one must treat slaves. Hebrew slaves are accorded more rights than others. We read, “When you acquire a Hebrew slave, that person shall serve six years—and shall go free in the seventh year, without payment.” (Exodus 21) Slavery endures. It was not eradicated with the Exodus. Its abolition remains our sacred task. Likewise, the civil war did not end discrimination against African Americans. Racism continues. The defeat of Nazi tyranny did not eliminate the hatred of Jews and Judaism. Antisemitism gains new life in our own day. These are struggles that span generations. Wieseltier counsels that our error is treating these as problems for which we can find practical—or technological—fixes rather than girding ourselves for life-long fights. I ponder his advice. Does this new-found revelation lead to despair? World War II was only a battle? The Civil War a skirmish? The magnitude of these struggles can lead to a despondent spirit. Where can I discover a measure of hopefulness? History’s timeline is long and its struggles are mighty. I recognize that I may not see the day when slavery ends. I may not witness antisemitism eradicated. I may never behold a time when war and bloodshed cease. Their absence remains my hope. The fight against discrimination, antisemitism and violence must forever remain our[…]

  • Our True Jewish Identity

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jan 5, 2023 | 21:40 pm

    The English term Jew originates in the Hebrew Yehudi, meaning from the tribe of Judah. This week we read, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet; so that tribute shall come to him, and the homage of peoples be his.” (Genesis 49) Judah was one of Jacob’s eldest sons. Each of these sons gave birth to one of the twelve tribes. Some 3,000 year ago, after the death of King Solomon, the northern kingdom of Israel, comprising the territory of ten of these tribes, was conquered by the Assyrians, which led to their absorption into the Assyrian empire or their integration into the southern kingdom. This southern kingdom of Judah was formed by the combination of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Eventually the tribe of Benjamin was likewise absorbed and thus Judah’s descendants came to dominant the ancient landscape and the future Jewish story. To be a Jew is to trace one’s lineage or connection to this tribe of Judah. To be Jewish is perhaps a different matter. It can be at times confusing and confounding. George Santos, our rightfully embattled incoming representative, contorts the term, and defames those who take pride in their Jewish identities as well as those who believe honesty—at least about oneself—is a prerequisite to service, to mean that he is only somewhat Jewish. He appears to believe that an invented biographical detail about having one Jewish grandparent allows him to make a partial claim on being a Jew. Can one’s Jewish identity be partial? For millennia we have debated the meaning of these terms and argued about our identities. (This controversy did not start with Santos!) What does being Jewish mean? What does saying, “I am a Jew!” convey? We can hear our brethren suggesting that some people are members of the tribe and others are not. In today’s Israel, these debates will soon emerge anew, and we will once again fight (and I expect, vociferously) about who is a Jew. Ultra-Orthodox rabbis will argue that only a person who is born to a Jewish mother[…]

  • Foreshadowing Our Concern

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 29, 2022 | 19:00 pm

    Joseph’s story mirrors what will soon happen to the Israelites. Joseph is imprisoned in Egypt. The Israelites are later enslaved by Pharaoh.The Torah offers hints of what it is to come. The Book of Genesis foretells the travails of Exodus.When Joseph realizes that his brothers have changed and this time stand up to protect their younger brother Benjamin rather than selling him into slavery as they did to Joseph earlier, Joseph breaks down and cries. He reveals himself to his brothers, saying, “I am your brother Joseph, he whom you sold into Egypt. Now, do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me here; it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.” (Genesis 45)The Torah relates: “His sobs were so loud that the Egyptians could hear, and so the news reached Pharaoh’s palace.” Hints appear. They point toward later events.In Exodus we read, “The Israelites were groaning under the bondage and cried out; and their cry for help from the bondage rose up to God.” (Exodus 2)Look at the contrast. Take note of the hints.Pharaoh ignores Joseph’s cries. He is indifferent to the Israelites’ pain. He turns aside from the suffering and pain he causes.God is attuned to our pain. “God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.”The Psalmist concurs: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; those crushed in spirit God delivers.” (Psalm 34)And I am left wondering about these hints.Are we more like Pharaoh who turns away from the cries around us? And are we likewise responsible for a measure of this suffering? Or are we more like God who is forever attuned to the multitude of broken hearts?Let us turn inward and resolve. Can we become more like God? Can we become more attentive to pain?

  • Hanukkah’s Unwanted Miracles

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 22, 2022 | 11:15 am

    In Israel the dreidel’s phrase shifts. One word changes from there to here. It reads “a great miracle happened here.” There creates distance. Here denotes an intimacy with the events of the past. I am wondering if this is a good thing. When it comes to miracles does being “here” become intoxicating?I am back where it all happened. And I have returned to where it is again happening. No matter how many times I visit Israel, it is a privilege to be here. It is an unparalleled blessing to live in this age alongside the sovereign Jewish state of Israel. And yet, I find myself worrying. Can the past overwhelm the present and begin to suffocate the future?There is a strain of Jewish thought that was once minor that I fear is becoming major. You can hear it in the medieval thinker Yehuda Halevi who argued that there is something special in the Jewish soul and that when combined with the land of Israel results in prophecy. It flows through Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook the first chief rabbi of British controlled Palestine who saw the holiness of the land above all else.You hear their thinking more today. It is the result of what happens when the miracles of yesterday begin to be felt today…This post continues on The Times of Israel.

  • Hanukkah's Freedoms

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 15, 2022 | 22:51 pm

    A great miracle happened there. These words are part of Hanukkah’s essence and the phrase the dreidel’s letters point us toward. Thousands of years ago the Maccabees fought against oppressors who persecuted our ancestors, prohibited Jewish practice and desecrated Jerusalem’s holy Temple. When the Maccabees succeeded in their fight, they rededicated the Temple to Jewish prayer and instituted our holiday of Hanukkah. In their eight-day long dedication ceremony, they rejoiced that Jews could once again freely acknowledge their faith. We continue to celebrate the Maccabees’ achievements and mark this holiday of Hanukkah every year with the lighting of the menorah, the playing of dreidel and the eating of latkes or sufganiyot (jelly donuts). On each successive night we light one more candle as the miracle increases. We recall that during Hanukkah’s first celebration we did not know if the oil would last for the requisite eight days. The increasing miracle, and the growing light, dispels our worries. Hanukkah is about the freedom to celebrate our Judaism. Is this miracle enough? This holiday reminds us that we can proudly proclaim our Jewish faith in a world where our Jewish identities are sometimes demeaned, and other times begrudged us. In the face of mounting antisemitism and hate, this year’s Hanukkah has taken on new meaning and additional import. We must take up the Maccabees’ resolve. On Saturday, the cantor and I participated in Oyster Bay’s holiday festival. The focus of the festivities was of course the lighting of the Christmas tree and as far as the hundreds of children in attendance were concerned, Santa Claus riding in on a fire truck. And yet, I remain grateful that town officials asked us to participate and wanted to display a Hanukkah menorah alongside the tree. I am grateful that they invited me to speak and the cantor to sing. We can dwell on the alarming increase in antisemitism, or we can focus on Saturday’s events. In Oyster Bay our neighbors go to great effort to make us feel welcome. Here we are made to feel invited. We are asked to display a menorah. We[…]

  • Silenced No More

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 8, 2022 | 20:28 pm

    Dinah, Jacob’s only daughter, never speaks. The Torah is also silent about the meaning of her name. When a son is born, we read for example the words of Leah, “God has given me a choice gift; this time my husband will exalt me for I have borne him six sons. So she named him Zebulun.” Regarding Dinah, the Torah is succinct. “Last, Leah bore Jacob a daughter, and named her Dinah.” (Genesis 30) Our Bible silences Dinah. This week we read a harrowing tale. We confront the story of how Dinah is raped. “And Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw Dinah; he took her and lay with her: he forced her.” (Genesis 34) Her father, and brothers, turn away from Dinah. They are filled with rage. They suggest that Shechem can marry Dinah if he and his fellow townsmen become circumcised. Shechem agrees. The townsmen follow their prince’s lead. Then when they are recovering from their circumcisions, the brothers kill Shechem and slaughter the townsmen. And how does Jacob respond? He says to his sons, “You have stirred up disaster for me, making me reek among the people of the land. For I am few in number; they will band together against me and strike me, and I will be wiped out, I and my household!” Jacob does not speak with Dinah. The brothers do not try to console their sister after she is raped. Our forefathers worry more about themselves and their own reputations. Recently I watched the movie, “She Said,” about The New York Times investigation of Harvey Weinstein. The reporters, Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, spend considerable time and energy convincing women to speak out and share their stories of rape and sexual harassment. These women are weary and trepidatious. They are silenced. Few want to listen. The culture urges them to keep silent. Often, they feel they are somehow to blame for what was done to them. The enablers are many and varied. The name Dinah means judgment. I am left wondering.Is judgment too often silenced? Are we complicit[…]

  • Journey Here, Journey Now

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Dec 2, 2022 | 21:16 pm

    The poet David Whyte writes:Pilgrim is a word that accurately describes the average human being; someone on their way somewhere else, but someone never quite knowing whether the destination or the path stands first in importance; someone who underneath it all doesn't quite understand from whence or from where their next bite of bread will come, someone dependent on help from absolute strangers and from those who travel with them. Most of all, a pilgrim is someone abroad in a world of impending revelation where something is about to happen.Likewise, one of the Torah’s great themes is that of journeying. We are traveling to a place (the land of Israel) to which we never fully arrive. And when our patriarchs do arrive at this long sought-after destination their arrival proves only temporary. Our arrival always remains unfulfilled. The destination remains but a dream. This week, we discover Jacob who becomes Israel is forever journeying. The young Jacob is now on the run after deceiving his father Isaac and tricking his brother Esau out of the birthright. He is rightly terrified Esau might kill him and so sets out on a journey to his mother’s hometown. Somewhere on his way to Haran from Beersheva, he stops for the night. God appears to him in a dream. We do not know where Jacob stops. The Torah reports: “He came upon a certain place and stopped there for the night, for the sun had set.” (Genesis 28) And yet it is here, in this apparently nondescript place, that he experiences God and gains reassurance from God’s promise. This place is of course not located in an ordinary place. It is found in the promised land of Israel. “The ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring.” We do not know its GPS coordinates. We might not know where exactly Jacob rested for night and where he experienced God. We do know that it lies within the borders of the promised land. Perhaps this place is not as nondescript as we were first led to believe. The[…]

  • The Question Is the Sermon

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Nov 23, 2022 | 14:46 pm

    The Hebrew word for sermon is drasha. It is derived from “l’drosh” meaning “to inquire” or “to expound.” The Torah relates: “The children struggled in Rebekah’s womb, and she said, “If so, why do I exist? She went to inquire (l’drosh) of the Lord.” (Genesis 25) Like Sarah before her and Rachel after her, Rebekah faces difficulty conceiving a child. God likewise intervenes and she miraculously becomes pregnant. Rebekah carries twin boys: Jacob and Esau. Their struggles, and battles, with each other begin before they are even born. And this causes their mother pain. Is her distress physical or emotional? I wonder. Why is pain the motivation for Rebekah’s question? Why does her struggle turn her towards God? Why does pain send us searching for answers from an unknowable being? Why do our struggles make us question our existence? God responds to her inquiry: “Two nations are in your womb, two separate peoples shall issue from your body; one people shall be mightier than the other, and the older shall serve the younger.” I remain perplexed. This is an answer to her pain? This justifies the struggle between Jacob and Esau? How can Rebekah’s torment ever be assuaged? We pine after answers that cannot, and will not, arrive. And yet we must continue the inquiry. The question is the essence of who we are. The asking is what defines us. Peter Cole, observes in his poem, “Notes on Bewilderment”:Lord, goes the prayer, keep me from delusion.Which really means allow my mind to be opento all that comes my way, without bringingruin upon me—through fusion of things that aredistinct at heart. Keep me from conclusion.We pretend that God answers. We speak with far too many exclamation points. We would be better served by concluding with question marks. At the heart of every sermon is a question. The beginning of learning is asking, “Why?” Indeed! Why do I exist?

  • Don't Ask Google, Ask Grandma

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Nov 17, 2022 | 22:47 pm

    Rabbi Ben Zoma asks, “Who is wise?” He answers his own question and responds. “The person who learns from every human being.” (Avot 4)I am thinking about Ben Zoma and his teaching these days. Every day we read about the arrogance of tech wizards. Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg, to name but two, seem to believe that the unparalleled successes of Tesla and Facebook make them experts in every manner of things. Will they learn? There is something to be said for leaning into the expertise of others. No one is expert in everything. Even starting a phenomenal company does not mean you can take over and improve another. Even creating a platform for over a billion users does not mean it will be used for good or that people will prefer the metaverse over the real world. Experience matters. Years and years of living, and working, offer wisdom. There is something to be said for leaning into the experience of those older than us. That is our tradition’s posture. Consult first what was said, and taught, long ago. This week we read about Abraham and Sarah’s deaths. Sarah dies at 127 years and Abraham at the age of 175. He is called zakein which is usually translated as old. That makes sense because 175 is old by anyone’s measure. The rabbis, however, suggest that the Hebrew letters spelling out zakein, namely zayin, koof and nun point to an acronym, zeh kanah hokhmah—this one has acquired wisdom. In our tradition’s view old is synonymous with wise. The older the book the better. The older the person the more wise. I love gadgets and technology, but they are not wise. Even the smartest of gadgets is rendered stupid if there is no power or internet. Soon we will be gathering around our Thanksgiving tables. Rather than scrolling through the latest TikTok videos or Instagram posts, perhaps we should drink in the wisdom of those gathered around us. Instead of asking Google to solve a debate swirling around our tables. Ask an elder. Listen to others. Who is wise? The person who[…]

  • Bringing Justice and Healing

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Nov 10, 2022 | 21:49 pm

    There are no parallels in ancient near eastern literature to the story of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible’s tale stands apart. Moreover, this episode in which these sinful cities are completely destroyed is referenced not only in this week’s portion but in several other instances in the Torah. Rabbi Gunther Plaut (1912-2012), a Reform rabbi and author of an exhaustive commentary, argues that “only a historic cataclysm of startling proportions could have impressed itself so deeply on popular memory.” These cities were situated at the southern end of the Dead Sea. There, even the air is thick with the smell of salt and sulfur from its mineral deposits and formations. Listen to the tale. “The Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah sulfurous fire.” In addition, a fault line runs through this area, extending from Armenia to Central Africa. Scholars suggest, the rift valley is the result of a catastrophic earthquake. If its magnitude was significant, the earthquake could have raised the Dead Sea’s waters and flooded the valley, including the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Perhaps there are natural explanations for this story. That is not, however, how the Torah frames this tale. Instead, it offers two related lessons. On the one hand, it is an illustration of the closeness of Abraham and God’s relationship. God thinks, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do since Abraham is to become a great and populous nation and all the nations of the earth are to bless themselves by him?” (Genesis 18) Abraham and God are partners. God does not wish to do much without conferring with him (and his descendants). On the other hand, the Torah emphasizes that God’s justice is exacting. Abraham asks, “Far be it from You to do such a thing, to bring death upon the innocent as well as the guilty, so that innocent and guilty fare alike. Far be it from You! Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?” Thus, the only reason why these cities were destroyed is because every single resident town is bent on evil. All try[…]

  • Who Is (Really) Rich

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Nov 4, 2022 | 02:33 am

    My brother called me and excitedly screamed. “Steve, I bought a lottery ticket. It’s up to 1.2 billion dollars!” “That’s great,” I said. “I am sure if you win, you will share it with your brother.” He retorted, “No can do. I already promised to buy the cashier a new car with my winnings.” Rabbi ben Zoma taught: “Who is rich? Those who are happy with their portion.” (Pirke Avot) For the ancient rabbis wealth is about perspective. Happiness is not a matter of winning the lottery. It is instead about being content with one’s lot. It is about not pining after what others have. To be fair. My brother has not lost perspective. His heart is truly filled with gratitude. I have great admiration for how hope rules his thoughts (and guides many of his sermons). Even 300 million to one odds will not deter him! The Torah calls to Abraham, “Lech lecha. Go forth from your native land.” (Genesis 12). It goes on to describes our forefather as wealthy. “Now Abram was very rich in cattle, silver and gold.” (The Hebrew uses a curious phrase. “Avram kaved maod…” A literal rendition might instead read: Abram was very heavy with cattle, silver and gold. The Hebrew adds a layer of meaning. It suggests he was weighed down by his riches. The plain meaning is clear. The journey on which God sends Abraham is difficult not only because he must leave his ancestral home but also because of all the riches he must carry with him. It is not easy to travel across the desert with so many belongings. It is not easy to shepherd a flock across the wilderness. Better to travel light. Abraham is unable to do so. And thus, he travels in stages. “And he proceeded by stages from the Negev as far as Bethel.” Perhaps there is an even greater truth hidden within this verse. How do our riches weigh us down? How do they prevent us from seeing beyond ourselves? Holocaust survivors tend to accumulate portable wealth. Some lack faith in financial institutions. Many do[…]

  • Don't Let Antisemitism Define Us

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 29, 2022 | 03:27 am

    My sermon about the rise of antisemitic hate and how best to respond. Four years ago, the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh was attacked and eleven of its members were murdered. In January members of a Colleyville synagogue were held hostage. Thankfully none of the hostages were killed or even seriously injured. And over the past several weeks, Kanye West has been spewing hatred towards Jews and Judaism to his 30 million followers. And while the motivations for each of these attacks—let’s be clear words can be just as dangerous as bullets and guns—might be slightly different, they are connected by the thick thread of antisemitism. Let us reflect on this rising tide of antisemitism and our response—or better yet, our responses—to it.First of all, let me state this sad but obvious truth. Antisemitism is never going away. My grandparents who experienced first-hand the murderous antisemitic hatred of the Cossacks and the antisemitic barriers suburban America presented them they were right and my twenty-five-year-old self who experienced perhaps one or two anti-Jewish jokes was wrong. It has been here since ancient times. It exists in countries where there are few if any Jews. It will always be with us. It morphs depending on time and circumstance. Sometimes it metastasizes into something even more lethal. Yet, each passing century has demonstrated that antisemitism remains stubborn and enduring.Second, today there are three basic forms of antisemitism, and it is important that we understand their differences because the tools we use to fight against these different types should not always be the same. On the one hand there is the antisemitism of the far right. These are groups such as neo-Nazis (although I object to the term neo-Nazi because there is nothing new about it), the Ku Klux Klan and white nationalists. Such groups have been active on our very own Long Island since at least the 1930’s. And such groups inspired the Tree of Life synagogue murderer. On the other hand, there is the antisemitism of Islamist groups like Hamas. Again, there is a direct line between the hostage taker in Colleyville[…]

  • Listen to the World's Languages, Hearken to the World

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 28, 2022 | 16:10 pm

    Listen to the World's Languages, Hearken to the World The Basque language is unique. It is what scholars call a language isolate and is unrelated to any other existing language. It stands apart from every other European language. Some scholars date its origins to the days when cave dwellers first formulated spoken languages nearly 7000 years ago. Today it is spoken by some 750,000 people who live primarily in the Basque region, an area that straddles the border of Spain and France on the Atlantic coastline. I became somewhat fascinated by this region when we visited our son Ari who was working at a farm in the Northern Basque region and where I discovered a newfound passion for hard cider, although much to our host’s bewilderment, not his homemade jamon. We travelled throughout the area, moving effortlessly across the French-Spanish border. Throughout our travels we heard Spanish and French but became particularly attuned to the sounds of Basque. I continue to wonder. How is it that this language remains isolated and unrelated to all others? The Torah teaches: “Everyone on earth had the same language and the same words.” (Genesis 11) And then they built the Tower of Babel with its top reaching into the heavens so that they could make a name for themselves. God punished them, scattering the people throughout the world and making it impossible for everyone to understand each other. “That is why it was called Babel because there the Lord confounded the speech of the whole earth.” To this day, we remain confounded by the earth’s myriad of languages. And yet, even though I do not know a single word of Basque, I find our intricate web of languages a blessing and its nuances an occasion for learning. It often rains in the Basque country, and more than frequently lightly mists, and so its language has a unique word for what we might term mild rain. Languages are often the products of their homes and reflect the climates and geographies of the areas in which they are born. In Basque one can often see the ocean’s Bay of Biscay, or at least feel its[…]

  • The Power of Naming

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 20, 2022 | 22:37 pm

    One of the most challenging, and profound, decisions new parents make is what to name their children. They often worry how others might perceive the names they choose. Will others like the names? Will children embrace their parent’s choice? How will these names frame their identities? The Torah states: “And God formed out of the earth all the wild beasts and all the birds of the sky, and brought them to the Human to see what he would call them; and whatever the Human called each living creature, that would be its names.” (Genesis 2) The medieval commentator, Rabbi David Kimhi, suggests that the first human being could recognize the essence of every animal and name it accordingly. I wonder. Does the name given to each of us become our essence? Does one’s character emerge immediately? And how is this connected to our names? The power to name is unrivaled. The Torah opens with the creation of the world. In its first lines we read, “God called the light Day and called the darkness Night.” (Genesis 1) God names. The power to name is God like. And God gives this power to humanity. Throughout our lives we name. Often friends give each other nicknames. (Rabbi David Kimhi is called the Radak.). On sport teams players give each other names. These suggest privileged knowledge. Couples give each other private names. These suggest intimacy. Naming defines relationships. It is unique to humans. It is shared with God alone. Other times we use the power of naming to push people away. Look at the discussion surrounding immigration as but one example. When we call immigrants “illegals,” we turn our backs to their plight. We define human beings as other. Then again, even when we use the term “refugee” we place others in a category deserving of our benevolence. There is only one proper way to call another human being. That is by the name they were given or perhaps by the name they have earned. To name is God like. Learn their names! Too often language is coarse and hurtful. Instead, it can[…]

  • I Am Going to Keep Dancing (and Like This)

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 13, 2022 | 21:18 pm

    I have a confession to make. I cannot sit still. (Are you surprised?) I marvel at those who can sit in a chair for hours while reading a book. I, on the other hand, shift and fidget. After fifteen minutes I am propelled to get up and walk around. Movement is part of what defines me. It’s why I love cycling, running and swimming. It is why I love dancing. It does not matter that I am not the best dancer in the room or that I never even took a dance class. I love dancing. And I love being on the move. Dancing is what makes a simcha feel like a simcha. When we dance at a party (or on the bima!) it is as if our entire being is rejoicing. Movement helps to exile darkness. Rebbe Nachman of Breslov agrees. He writes: “Get into the habit of dancing. It will displace depression and dispel hardship.” When you feel depressed—and Rebbe Nachman was given to fits of sadness and despair—get up and go for a walk or even start tapping your feet. Get moving. And leave those dark thoughts behind. Movement not only propels us forward but moves us to give thanks. Instilling a sense of gratitude is the essence of prayer. And there is nothing quite like the praying and singing and dancing of Simhat Torah. On this day we celebrate the opportunity to read, and study, the Torah again. We rejoice that we can move to the rhythms of the Torah. Rebbe Nachman offers this prayer:Dear God,if only my heart would bestraight with You all the time,I would be filled with joy.And that joy would spread all the waydown to my feet,and uplift them in dance.Please, never let my feet falter,release them from their heavy bonds,and give me the strengthto dance, dance, dance.And I would add, may we find the strength to dance. May we let go of the worries of how we might look or even how silly our dance steps might appear. Just dance. Or as David Byrne sings (and not in the early 1980’s[…]

  • Invitations Are the Holiday's Secret

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 7, 2022 | 15:52 pm

    The Jewish calendar does not let up in the month of Tishrei. After the whirlwind of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we immediately launch into Sukkot and then conclude with Simhat Torah when we celebrate the renewal of the Torah reading cycle. Sukkot begins in a few short days. On Sunday evening, the tradition urges us to leave our homes and spend as much as time as possible in temporary shelters (sukkot). The most important requirement of these sukkot is that their roofs be porous enough to allow us to see the stars in the nighttime sky. The sukkah must also not be so sturdy, keeping the wind and rain out. Its defining character is its flimsiness. It is not a house. A sukkah is a flawed structure. The sukkah reminds us of the frailty of nature. It represents the booths in which the Israelites lived during their wanderings from Egypt to Sinai. Some suggest it symbolizes God’s presence in our lives. Given that we just spent hours in synagogue we think that the Yom Kippur holiday better represents our connection to God. Sukkot, however, is the more representative of our holidays. It is about bringing God’s presence to the earth. Literally! We build these booths to remind us that God’s presence, while seemingly temporary and even fleeting, can be brought to this world with our own hands. That is what we are building as we put up the boards of our sukkot. On Sukkot we are supposed to invite as many guests as possible to share meals with us. On Shabbat evening we pray that God might protect us with a sukkat shalom—a sukkah of peace, but in truth we are supposed to create that very sukkah here and now. It is defined not by the flimsy walls surrounding us but instead by the friends we gather within our sukkah and then in the weeks that follow, in our warm and comfortable homes. In fact, there is a custom that we invite ushpizin, honored and imaginary guests, to dine with us on this holiday. The tradition suggests seven for[…]

  • Piles of Memories, Piles of Stones

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 6, 2022 | 14:44 pm

    Piles of Memories, Piles of Stones My Yizkor memorial service meditation about the meaning of bringing stones when visiting graves and the new ritual we created from an ancient custom.When visiting the graves of loved ones, we leave a stone. This tradition dates back to biblical times when grave markers were piles of stones. Most Jews do not observe the custom of bringing flowers. These wither and can rarely withstand nature’s surprising, and oftentimes unpredictable, temperament. Stones offer permanence. Although they are smoothed by the weather’s steady drumbeat, they remain unmoved. In addition, rocks remind us of one of the tradition’s many names for God: Tzur Yisrael—Rock of Israel. God stands against life’s precariousness. God stands above life’s vicissitudes. Leaving a stone is a beautiful custom. It can be as small as a pebble or as large as the palm of a hand. We walk to the footstone and bend over, placing the stone on its corner, or we approach the headstone, often reaching over the bushes and then find a comfortable resting place for the pebble or rock. And there they sit for months and perhaps even years, unmoved by wind and rains, unmoved by how often we visit or if we only choose to light a candle in the quiet of our homes. There they sit reminding others who might visit of our remembrances. Over the years, the piles accumulate into memories. I have often encouraged families to invite young children to write thoughts or wishes on these stones with permanent markers. And then, even after many months one can still decipher the scrawl of “I love you grandpa. Or I miss your matzah balls, grandma.” I also urge people to collect stones on their travels. And while our biblical ancestors never piled seashells atop a grave marker, we can. When you pick up a perfectly smoothed stone at the beach and bring it to the cemetery you connect your loved one to your travels. Often when returning from a trip you want to call and share your adventures with the mother or father, sister or brother with whom you talked about everything. Or[…]

  • Why We Need Israel (and Zionism)

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 6, 2022 | 14:18 pm

    My Yom Kippur morning sermon about why American Jews need to reexamine the meaning of Zionism and Israel. He argues that we need Israel as much as Israel needs us.  Several years ago, Yotam was working on a Greek island when Syrian refugees were struggling to escape from Assad’s murderous regime. When a boat capsized near the shore and a young child was unable to swim, Yotam rushed into the ocean to carry her to shore. Her father was able to swim and was greeted on the beach by other Israelis who welcomed him with blankets and fluent Arabic. The little girl was reunited with her father and when he realized that his daughter’s rescuer as well as everyone else who lined that beach were Israeli, he said, “My own people and the people who are supposed to protect me are chasing me away while my worst enemy has become my greatest friend.”This summer I met Yotam. I was in Israel attending the Shalom Hartman Institute’s rabbinic convention. It had been three years since my last visit. I did not realize how much I missed being there and the inspiration I would find there among Israelis. I wish to explore what I rediscovered there. I wish to ponder why we need to revisit the meaning of Israel in our own day and why we need to reassess the import of Zionism for our own age. Jewish leaders spend considerable effort talking about why Israel needs us. Let’s instead take a step back. Let us reexamine why we need Israel. First some background.Zionism, and the nationalisms to which it is related, have become dirty words...This post continues on The Times of Israel.

  • Give Some More Peace

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Oct 6, 2022 | 12:53 pm

    My Yom Kippur evening sermon about about the importance of making peace with those closest to us. Pursuing peace is not so much about nations but instead about us.   John Lennon sings, “All we are saying is give peace a chance.” I prefer Elvis Costello’s “What’s so funny ‘bout peace, love and understanding.” And every Shabbat we pray, “Shalom rav—grant abundant peace” and “Oseh Shalom—may the One who creates peace on high, bring peace to us.” The examples are endless. Peace is the stuff of countless songs. Shalom is one of our prayerbook’s favorite words. Peace is elusive. It often appears distant. Our longing for it persists. And so, peace constitutes are most fervent, and frequent, prayers. And it obviously makes for some of our best songs.Back to Costello. “As I walk through this wicked world/ Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity/ I ask myself, is all hope lost?/ Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?/ And each time I feel like this inside/ There's one thing I wanna know/ What's so funny 'bout peace, love and understanding?” Aside from the discovery that your rabbi’s musical tastes are stuck in the early 80’s (“Same as it ever was”), why is it that every generation who has ever lived pines after peace but never fully experiences it? Why is peace so fleeting? Why is shalom so seemingly unattainable?All around us are examples of its absence. Every day we are barraged by news of violence and war. Take the war in Ukraine as but one example. Let us pause and take note. Praise is due to the Ukrainians for fighting for democracy and against the tyranny of Russia. Who would have expected that a Jewish comedian named Volodymyr Zelensky would have rallied his citizens as well as much of the world against Vladimir Putin’s onslaught. He is deserving of unending praise. Accolades are also due to President Biden and our own country for helping to lead the world in its support of Ukraine’s noble fight. There is no question who is right and who is wrong. Ukraine is[…]

  • Letting Go of Certainty

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 29, 2022 | 15:00 pm

    The Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, writes:From the place where we are rightflowers will never growin the spring.The place where we are rightis hard and trampledlike a yard.But doubts and lovesdig up the worldlike a mole, a plow.And a whisper will be heard in the placewhere the ruinedhouse once stood.As we approach Yom Kippur I am leaning into the poet’s words. The only way we can grow, and learn, is to let go of certainty. We must open ourselves to others and their opinions. We must invite the possibility that we could be mistaken.Certitudes, and the stubbornness they foster, lead us away from change.Our tradition believes we can turn. It believes we can always do better. We can admit mistakes. We can make amends. This is the path laid before us on the High Holidays. It is plowed by opening ourselves to doubt. It is heralded by making room for love.Every year we are summoned to build our lives anew. We are called to rebuild what is ruined. We are roused to repair what is broken. It begins by letting go. Cast stubbornness aside. Banish certainty if but for a moment. Allow a whisper of repair to enter.Let us open ourselves to doubt. Let us take in the blossoming of love.

  • It's All About the Kippah and Concession Speech

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 27, 2022 | 01:33 am

    My Rosh Hashanah Morning sermon about how custom, rather than law, are integral to our families, community and country.   An Upper West Side synagogue recently announced that it will no longer serve lox. Can you imagine? A shanda! Its leaders argue that they wish to help reduce pollution and the environmental impact of overfishing. And while salmon farming is indeed environmentally damaging and provides eighty percent of the salmon we eat on a far too regular basis, can you envision break-fast without bagels, cream cheese and lox? The rabbis added this note to their announcement about the elimination of lox from the synagogue menu: “We know that for some this is a heretical move! We are here to support you as you process this change.” Such changes make us feel as if we are mourning the loss of something precious. Messing with we have come to know as traditional foods can be tantamount to heresy.Our holidays seem to turn on food. And lox is right up there with the other High Holiday staples like round hallahs and apples and honey. The funny thing is that we have only been eating lox in recent years—at least if you measure time in the thousands of years that amount to Jewish history. My Nana never ate lox in the shtetl in which she was born and from which she fled. If she ate any fish, it was the less expensive carp that was ground up into gefilte fish. Claudia Roden, author of The Book of Jewish Food, writes there is no evidence that Jews ate lox in Eastern Europe. Apparently, it is an American Jewish creation and dates back about hundred years when salmon from the Pacific Northwest became available in New York thanks to the railroads. Most of the immigrant families from whom we are descended and who lived in the 1920’s and 30’s could not afford a refrigerator and so cured fish was the perfect solution. And herein is how our beloved custom was born. The origins of customs are often mysterious. Their power, and hold, over our lives remain profound.[…]


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