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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.

  • Live the Question!

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Aug 12, 2022 | 16:30 pm

    Rainer Marie Rilke, the early twentieth century mystical poet, writes:Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day. (Letters to a Young Poet)When Moses pleaded before God that he be allowed to step foot in the land of Israel, I imagine questions to plague his soul despite his many years of experience. “Why cannot I cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan?” Questions defined him throughout his years. When God first called to Moses, he wondered aloud about his worthiness and protested God’s choice to send him to Pharoah. And yet God’s demands guided him. For forty years he led the people through the wilderness. He lost his temper on several occasions. God became impatient and angry with the Israelites as well. And on one occasion, God said to Moses that is enough. “Now you cannot lead the people into the Promised Land.” “Why now? Why this moment?” Moses must have thought. The Torah relates: “I pleaded with the Lord at that time, saying, ‘O Lord God, You who let Your servant see the first works of Your greatness…. Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan…’ The Lord said, to me, ‘Enough! Never speak to Me of that matter again!’” (Deuteronomy 4) The commentators are also perplexed. Why would Moses plead on his own behalf? Why would he share with the people his frustration that his plea was denied. The medieval commentator, Ibn Ezra, suggests it is to teach the importance of living in the land of Israel. This land is more important than any other. The rabbis believe it is to convey the lesson that no one should ever lose hope. Our[…]

  • Getting the Future Back on Track

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Aug 5, 2022 | 11:42 am

    Representative Jamie Raskin, who recently appeared at our synagogue in conversation with Representative Steve Israel, writes: “If we cannot get the past right, we will get the future all wrong.” (Unthinkable: Trauma, Truth, and the Trials of American Democracy) Ours is an oftentimes sad and tortured history. We sometimes struggle to get it right. This is because holidays are not the same as history. Holidays are about creating memory. They are about inculcating identity. History is about uncovering truth. It is about drawing lessons. On Sunday, Jews will commemorate Tisha B’Av, the day our tradition sets aside to mark past tragedies, in particular the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E. and the Second by the Romans in 70 C.E. We look at these through the lenses of tradition. Judaism suggests that not only were the temples destroyed on this day, but nearly every tragedy that ever happened to the Jewish people occurred on the ninth of Av. The spies returned from the land of Israel with a bad report on Tisha B’Av. The Jews were expelled from England in 1290 and then from Spain in 1492 on the ninth of Av. World War I started, and operations began at the Treblinka death camp, as well as deportations from the Warsaw ghetto, on Tisha B’Av. Our tradition is decisive. History is less clear. The tradition suggests the Babylonians leveled the temple. Historians continue to dig for the truth. Some suggest it was not really King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia but instead the Edomites who burned the temple to the ground. The tradition turns away from this debate and shifts the focus to why. The Book of Lamentations, the words we chant on this fast day, argues that it was all because of our sins. “Jerusalem has greatly sinned; therefore, she is become a mockery.” (Lamentations 1) Likewise, the rabbis looked within to explain the destruction of the Second Temple. The Talmud tells a remarkable story. Here is the legend. A man had a friend named Kamza and an enemy called Bar Kamza. One time when he was[…]

  • The Importance of Keeping Our Word

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jul 29, 2022 | 14:26 pm

    The Torah states: “Moses spoke to the heads of the Israelite tribes, saying, ‘This is what the Lord has commanded: when people make vows or take an oath, they shall not break their pledge; they must carry out all that has crossed their lips.’” (Numbers 30)Commentators ask, “Why did Moses speak to the heads of the tribes? Why did he direct his words to the leaders and not all the people?” And like most rabbis, they answer their own questions.The Hatam Sofer, a leading nineteenth century rabbi, responds: “The reason is that leaders often make all types of promises which they don’t keep. Because they often go back on their promises, this warning was aimed specifically at them.”Leaders should be the most careful with their words. They should be more careful than everyone else.The Torah’s counsel remains even more relevant today. Its teachings are a reminder of the power of what we say, and promise, and the importance of keeping our word.

  • The Wilderness Light Is Nearby

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jul 23, 2022 | 14:06 pm

    The Wilderness Light Is Nearby Ed Yong writes: “More than a third of humanity, and almost 80 percent of North Americans, can no longer see the Milky Way. ‘The thought of light traveling billions of years from distant galaxies only to be washed out in the last billionth of a second by the glow from the nearest strip mall depresses me to no end,’ the visual ecologist Sönke Johnsen once wrote.” (“How Animals Perceive the Word," The Atlantic, July/August 2022) Sometimes a phrase startles. It radiates meaning. I can still recall those few, miraculous times when I witnessed the nighttime sky iridescent with millions of stars. One instance was many years ago when I was hiking in the Sinai desert. There, after the light of the campfire was extinguished, I looked up to see the blackness filled with innumerable stars. When I look up from my backyard, I can often see a few stars, but nothing as luminous as when I turned my eyes upward from the Sinai wilderness. That difference is only a matter of a billionth of a second! These days I have been marveling at the images from the Webb Telescope. I did not know what the Carina Nebula was before last week, but I have now discovered it is breathtaking and beautiful. There is the Southern Ring Nebula, Stephan’s Quintet and even SMACS 0723. Science reveals nature’s majesty. One of the blessings of the pandemic—and I hesitate to extol its blessings while we are still struggling with its disruptions and reckoning with its losses—is how it turned us toward nature. For those first months most especially God’s handiwork was the only spectacle we could attend. And I suspect this might be why I became captivated and intrigued by Ed Yong’ article. In it he explains that every animal lives within its own sensory bubble, called Umwelt. Its perceived world is its entire world. Only human beings can appreciate the Umwelten of other species. Only human beings can expand their vision and broaden their concern to other worlds. Because of this we have the added responsibility to care for the earth and its[…]

  • Mr. President, Visit the Parks and Coffee Shops

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jul 15, 2022 | 07:36 am

    President Biden arrived in Jerusalem yesterday. He is staying a short walk from the institute where my wife Susie and I are studying.The other evening, we walked home past the King David Hotel where the president is staying and made our way through Liberty Bell Park. It was filled with Muslims celebrating Eid al-Adha, the holiday commemorating Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son, Ishmael. (Islam’s version of this story is different than Judaism’s.) There was enthusiasm, and ease, in the air as families shared picnic dinners and children played on the basketball courts.We then made our way to the First Station, the renovated space of what was once the train station where people arrived in Jerusalem when they traveled from Tel Aviv. There, among the restaurants, bars and shops, we discovered secular, ultra-Orthodox and Arab Israelis, as well as a fair number of rabbis from our program. In one area, Israelis were taking a dance class and in another, they were enjoying a late dinner and in yet another, an evening cocktail.There was no sense of the tension, and challenges, one reads about in the news....This post continues on The Times of Israel.

  • Walking Jerusalem's Streets, Walking to Redemption

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jul 8, 2022 | 05:55 am

    In 1996, the leading American Jewish historian, Jonathan Sarna wrote: “The Zion of the American Jewish imagination became something of a fantasy land: a seductive heaven-on-earth, where enemies were vanquished, guilt assuaged, hopes realized, and deeply felt longings satisfied.”The Torah reports: “The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.’” (Numbers 20)This week, I returned to Jerusalem after a three-year pandemic induced hiatus. Walking the streets of Jerusalem, even though still jet-lagged, felt immediately restorative. I have returned home. I wonder. Is this imagined or real?It is an incalculable blessing to live in this unparalleled time in Jewish history....This post continues on The Times of Israel.

  • Greatness Is an Aspiration

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jun 30, 2022 | 23:43 pm

    This week we read the story about Korah’s rebellion. He, his followers and 250 leaders, gathered against Moses and Aaron. They said: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy.” (Numbers 16) At first glance their complaint appears legitimate. They seem to say that no person is greater than another. Every Israelite is holy and can have a relationship with God. They appear to suggest that while no one is Moses, every person can aspire to his level of holiness. Yeshayahu Leibowitz, the great Israeli philosopher, finds meaning in the words “are holy.” The rebels believe they are holy, that they have already achieved greatness. Leibowitz teaches that holiness is about striving for greatness. Korah and his followers say in effect, “We have achieved everything. Nothing more is demanded of us.” The Torah teaches the contrary. Holiness must never be a present boast, but instead a future goal. Leibowitz continues to say that there are people like Korah in every generation. In every time and every place, there are people who believe that they are already holy and great. They are convinced that there is nothing more for them to do to improve their lives or the lot of those who surround them or the people they serve or the world, and the earth, they are bequeathed. The Torah reminds instead. Our task is to become holy. Look as well at Moses’ humility. When he was first called at the burning bush, he proclaimed his unworthiness. The true measure of someone who wants to serve God, and others, is to always proclaim, and feel, that they are not up to the task. And yet, circumstances (and God’s call) propel them to serve others. They spend their lives striving, but never achieving. On this July 4th weekend, when we celebrate the gifts, and responsibilities, of American democracy, we would do well to heed the Torah’s message. Holiness is about becoming. Greatness is not an achievement. It is instead an aspiration.

  • Self-Esteem Is the Secret

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jun 25, 2022 | 15:44 pm

    At the conclusion of a recent family get together we stood for the requisite photo. The twenty somethings among us said things like, “I want to be on the left. This is my better side. Let me stand in the middle. I look better in that spot.” To be honest, I have no idea which is my better side, despite the fact that photographers often move me around for better angles. Unlike prior generations, our children are keenly aware of how they appear to others. They are also the most photographed, and catalogued, group of people in history. What a monumental task to sift through the innumerable digital files we collect in order to stitch together a montage. Today, because of social media, most especially Instagram, people are intensely aware of how they look to others. The spies returned from scouting the land of Israel and reported, “We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” (Numbers 13) How did they know how they looked to the land’s inhabitants? I wonder. Is their estimation of themselves so diminished that this is how they imagined everyone saw them?Abraham Twerski who was both a rabbi and psychiatrist, comments:The person who sees a given object is certain that everyone else sees just what he sees. He does not doubt the validity of his sense of perception, and if he sees a brown-table, he naturally assumes that everyone else also sees the object as a brown table. Similarly, the person who has a perception of himself as being dull, socially inept, unattractive, or unlikeable, is convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that this is also the way others perceive him. To him, his perception is reality.The spies could not hear what the Canaanites said about them. They imagined that they called them puny grasshoppers because that is how they saw themselves. They heard the inhabitants saying over and over again, “Look at how small those Israelites are.” In our own age, this phenomenon is compounded by social media. The tabulation of likes has become the incessant and imaginary[…]

  • Unexpected Turns Make for Great Stories

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jun 17, 2022 | 13:05 pm

    Imagine the Israelites’ journey through the wilderness. They moved from camp to camp and from location to location throughout their wanderings in the Sinai desert. They were led on this forty-year journey by God. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle they stayed in camp. When the cloud moved, they broke camp. The Torah reports: “Whether it was two days or a month or a year—however long the cloud lingered over the tabernacle—the Israelites remained encamped and did not set out; only when it lifted did they break camp.” (Numbers 9) And I am lingering on those opening words: “whether it was two days or a month or year.” How unsettled is the Israelites’ lot. They did not know which way they were headed or how long they would stay once they got there. Rabbi Obadiah ben Jacob Sforno who lived in late fifteenth century Italy comments:This is now already the fifth time the Torah belabors the subject of these journeys, something totally unprecedented. It alerts us to how sometimes the people did not even have time to send their beasts to graze, whereas on other occasions they had to dismantle everything at very short notice, any plans they had made having to be abandoned.It is no wonder that they complained. It is no wonder that they grumbled against Moses. “The people took to complaining bitterly.” (Numbers 11) Just when they started getting comfortable in one place they had to pack up and move to another. Sforno again comments: “It was impossible to predict with any degree of probability how long they would stay in one location.” Perhaps the entire journey was a test. Perhaps all of their wanderings were meant to teach the Torah’s most important truth. There is only one thing on which the people can know for certain and on which they can rely. And that is God. The journey was entirely in God’s hands. Do we have the faith to determine the same? Do we have the faith to exclaim, “Our wanderings are entirely at God’s direction?” Is it possible to see life’s journeys, its unexpected[…]

  • Going It Alone

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jun 10, 2022 | 19:29 pm

    The first king of Israel, Saul, was threatened by the brash and charismatic upstart, David and so he did what kings frequently do. Saul tried to kill him and chased David into the wilderness. There, in hiding, David found sanctuary in the beautiful and majestic oasis of Ein Gedi. And there, alone and afraid, he composed the psalm’s words:My soul is depressed, for they set a trap to ensnare my feet; they even dug a pit to capture me, but they themselves, fell into it, selah.My heart is ready, O God, my heart is ready; I shall sing and chant hymns of praise. Awake, my glorious soul. Awake, lute and lyre, for I shall awaken the dawn.I shall acknowledge You among the nations, Adonai; I shall sing of You among the peoples of the world. (Psalm 57)Sometimes the most heartfelt, and beautiful, prayers are composed in moments of existential crisis. Spiritual longing is often solitary. The quest is singular. David is terrified Saul is going to kill him and attempts to prepare himself for death. “I am ready.” But then he finds strength. “I shall sing.” He suggests an antidote to his fears. “Awake, my glorious soul. Awake, lute and lyre, for I shall awaken the dawn.” I often visit Israel during the hottest days of July. Hiking along Ein Gedi’s paths the heat starts to get to the better of me and I can imagine David’s fears. When I finally reach what is now called David’s Waterfall, my exhaustion finds relief. The fear dissipates. The waterfall’s cool mist tempers the heat. My spirit is restored. Awake, my glorious soul. More words of David’s poems come to mind:O God, You are my God and thus shall I be first every morning to seek You out.  My soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You as though I were parched in an arid land, as though I were exhausted in a land without water.Surely I have seen You in the sanctuary; I have merited to see Your power and glory. And, as Your mercy is better than life itself, my lips shall[…]

  • The Meaning of Shavuot

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jun 3, 2022 | 18:17 pm

    Recently, I opened one of the many Torah commentaries that line my shelves, and found these words, “My Haftorah can be find [sic] on pg. 509 in the larger Hertz Chumash.” Forty-five years ago, I read those words before chanting the prophet Amos on the Shabbat when I became a bar mitzvah. As I looked over the pages, I could even decipher transliterations over a few select Hebrew words. I had opened this Bible in search of an alternative translation of a curious Hebrew phrase. In our weekly class, we were transfixed by an unusual verse and grappling with the meaning of some of the Torah’s words. More often than not, I rely on other commentaries, but on this occasion, I searched for another interpretation. Mysteriously, the Bible opened to my Haftorah. And when I saw my handwriting and the introductory words scrawled above the Haftorah Amos, I stumbled upon my thirteen-year-old self.I wondered. “Why did the rabbi instruct me to scribble those words in the chumash?” I tried to jog my memory, “Did anyone else turn to pg. 509? Had the rabbi taught me the meaning of the words I chanted?” I do not recall. I do remember the praise of family members and friends. A flood of memories filled my heart. My grandparents acted as if my bar mitzvah was the greatest in thousands of years.I laughed as I remembered...This post continues on The Wisdom Daily.

  • Enough Guns!

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz May 27, 2022 | 00:45 am

    After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I thought our country would finally address its epidemic of gun violence. After students spoke out and organized following the murders at Parkland’s Stoneman Douglas High School, I thought our nation would finally develop gun safety laws. I don’t know why we cannot agree. It is first and foremost about guns. It is about Americans’ love affair with guns and the easy access we have to these lethal weapons. Our nation is unique among affluent countries. We experience sixty times more gun deaths than people living in the United Kingdom and six times as many as neighboring Canada. There is one explanation for these staggering differences. There are more guns in the United States than people. Why does a nation of 330 million people need 393 million guns? Will laws eliminate gun deaths? Of course not. Will regulations prevent every person intent on doing harm from injuring or killing? Again, of course not. But can we do more? Should we be doing much, much more? Absolutely. I cannot even scroll through all the pictures of these adorable, smiling and loving children. I make it only to Amerie Garza and then must look away. Their teacher Eva Mirales’ beautiful smile, framed by our country’s breathtaking landscape, makes me gasp and look elsewhere. Have I already forgotten Celestine Chaney and Roberta Drury who were murdered in Buffalo last week? How many people remember the name of Daniel Enriquez who was killed in our very own city’s subway? I must not look away. I must take in every single one of these now erased smiles. Do I even know the names of the approximately fifty people shot and killed by guns every day? Can I even count the names of those additional fifty who use guns to take their own lives every single day of the year? It is about guns. And it is about our inability to develop better laws that will allow us to continue using and owning guns while also better protecting us from the dangers of these very same guns. How[…]

  • Numbering Our Days with Meaning

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz May 20, 2022 | 20:47 pm

    We find ourselves in the midst of the Omer, the period when we count seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot. The custom originated in biblical times when we counted from Passover’s wheat harvest until Shavuot’s barley harvest. An omer is a sheaf of grain. During this time semi-mourning practices are observed, namely no weddings are celebrated. The explanations for this are various and somewhat mysterious. I have often thought that it was most likely because there was worry about the upcoming harvest. Others suggest that during rabbinic times a plague afflicted the disciples of Rabbi Akiva. According to some accounts 24,000 students died. Miraculously on the 33rd day of the Omer the plague lifted. Today is in fact the 33rd day called Lag B’Omer. On this day the mourning practices are lifted. People celebrate and gather around bonfires. We are no longer downcast. Our worry disappears. The Omer serves to connect the freedom celebrated on Passover with the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai. The Jewish tradition’s claim is obvious. Freedom is meaningless if it is not wed to something greater, to something larger than itself. Passover is not about the freedom to get to do whatever we want. It is about freely choosing Torah.That is why the tradition stubbornly insists on counting the Omer. We count from freedom to revelation. We march from Egypt to Sinai. Our history is about the journey from this holiday to the next. Our story is reenacted during the Omer.The rabbis wonder why the plague was so severe. In typical fashion they see its devastation as a critique of their behavior. They see our remembrance of this tragedy as an opportunity to turn inward. And what was the sin that caused the plague? The rabbis teach: it was because they and their disciples failed to act respectfully towards each other.What extraordinary self-awareness! What remarkable willingness to offer self-criticism!Although their historical claims appear questionable the lesson remains instructive. We are again plagued by the failure to act respectfully towards each other. Our leaders scream at one another. Our politicians call each other names. Our debates[…]

  • Remembering Annie, Remembering the Holocaust

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz May 17, 2022 | 18:45 pm

    Remembering Annie, Remembering the Holocaust Shalom and welcome to Congregation L’Dor V’Dor. I am Rabbi Steven Moskowitz, and I am so pleased that you have joined us for this special occasion when we dedicate Annie’s Garden in memory of Annie Bleiberg, a longtime member of our synagogue community…. I had the privilege of serving as Annie’s rabbi for almost eighteen years. It was one of my greatest honors that she chose to call me rabbi. Hearing someone say that who has lived through the history that I only study and teach about feels especially weighty. And sometimes, when I am reading and learning about the Shoah, I can still hear Annie’s voice in my ears. I can still hear the words she would offer to our students when she came every year to our sixth-grade class to speak about how she survived the Holocaust. I recall how she would tell them how her life was similar to theirs before the Nazis invaded her native Poland. I remember many things, but a few notes from her story are deserving of mention. She told the students how when she and her family were crammed into a train car heading for a death camp, her father managed to pry open the small window with the tools he had smuggled on the train. Men, and boys, squeezed through the opening and jumped first. And then it was the women’s, and girl’s, turn. The last boy became scared and so Annie who was to be the first girl jumped in his stead and then he after her. By then the guards on top of the train discovered what they were doing and shot and killed that boy when he jumped. Annie’s last memories of her mother and sister, who were murdered in that death camp, is saying goodbye to her sister in that cramped train car and the feeling of her mother’s hands pushing her from behind to help her squeeze through the window. She never saw them again. Only she and her father managed to survive. Still, even after her many attempts to avoid capture, the Nazis did manage[…]

  • Enlarge Your Vision and Feed the Hungry

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz May 12, 2022 | 19:52 pm

    After several courses at our Passover seder, including matzah ball soup, chicken, brisket, tzimmes, various vegetables, and of course many glasses of wine, dessert was finally served. And then after that quintessential Passover sponge cake, we still found room for a few macaroons, jelly rings and candied fruit slices. What a feast! It seemed fitting for a king or queen. That is of course by design. When crafting the rituals for our seders the rabbis looked toward the lavish meals of the Greeks and Romans. They thought to themselves, “This is how free people eat. They recline. They are served. They dip their foods. This is how we should celebrate our feast of freedom.” I think of this lavishness, and yes, its overindulgence, when reading this week’s portion. It contains a list of all the holidays. Shabbat leads the list. Then comes Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and finally Sukkot. (The Torah does not mention our beloved Hanukkah or even Purim because the events these holidays commemorate had not yet occurred.) Sandwiched in between the instructions about marking Shavuot’s wheat harvest and Rosh Hashanah’s sounding of the shofar, is a commandment that appears out of place. The Torah states: “And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I Adonai am your God.” (Leviticus 23) Not only does this commandment appear out of nowhere but it is repeated almost word for word from last week’s portion. I want to shout: “Did you think I already forgot this mitzvah or that my attention span is that short?” I want to retort, “My field of view, and in particular the horizon of my compassion is not that limited?” Or is it? All those sumptuous desserts, and the wonderful company of family and friends, can obscure our peripheral vision. The poor and the stranger are cast aside. While the holidays elevate our lives, they can also diminish our sensitivities. The Torah exclaims,[…]

  • Israel Is About Tomorrow

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz May 5, 2022 | 19:08 pm

    People often return from trips to Israel and speak about the power of visiting its ancient sites. It is extraordinary to stand in what was once King David’s palace or to play in Ein Gedi’s waterfalls and read the psalms a young David penned when hiding from King Saul. Walking through such archeological sites one can also imagine the moment when the young king and Batsheva first saw each other from afar. In Jerusalem, one can envision Abraham and Isaac walking those final steps before reaching Mount Moriah where the father was instructed to sacrifice his son. As I trace their path, I think to myself, did they speak? The Torah suggests they walked in silence, but I wonder, how could they not if it also states they were bound together as one. It was there that our ancestors built the holy Temple. All that remains is the Western Wall. How many people touched these very same stones? How many people tried to reach this place, but died during what was once a perilous journey to the holy land? The medieval poet, Yehudah Halevi, famously wrote: “My heart is in the East, and I in the uttermost West…. A light thing would it seem to me to leave all the good things of Spain—Seeing how precious in mine eyes to behold the dust of the desolate sanctuary.” He died on his journey to Jerusalem. And yet for all the history contained in Israel’s stones, for all our tradition’s words scribed in these very hills, this is not what I most celebrate. Today is Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence Day. 74 years ago, the modern State of Israel was founded when David ben Gurion proclaimed: “By virtue of our natural and historic right and on the strength of the resolution of the United Nations General Assembly, we hereby declare the establishment of a Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael—the Land of Israel—to be known as Medinat Yisrael—the State of Israel.” Israel is not so much about our history as much as it is about the present. Sure, it is about returning to our[…]

  • Numbers Don't Tell the Whole Story

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Apr 28, 2022 | 21:55 pm

    Today marks Yom HaShoah. The day the Israeli Knesset set aside, in 1959, to remember the Holocaust. Setting aside one day, or one service for that matter, to remember six million souls and the countless more they would have fathered and mothered, and the many Jewish towns and villages erased from the map and the flourishing of Jewish culture that is no more, seems immeasurable when compared to the enormity of our loss. How can any gesture or ritual, song or remembrance capture so much destruction and loss? Think about this. If one were to recite all six million names it would take nearly five months to read the list from start to finish, assuming no breaks for sleeping or eating or even pauses for taking a breath between names. (For the mathematicians among us, I am assuming it takes two seconds to read each name and that there are 31,536,000 seconds in a year.) Now imagine this....This post continues on The Times of Israel.

  • Uneasy Lies the Teacher's Crown

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Apr 21, 2022 | 21:34 pm

    There are many “fours” at the Passover table. There are the four cups of wine, the four questions and of course the four children. The Haggadah recounts: “The Torah alludes to four children: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not know how to task.” Each asks a question. And each is answered with an explanation appropriate to their understanding. I have often bristled at the description of the wicked child. This suggests that the child is beyond teaching, shaping and even saving, that the teacher’s role is inconsequential. Labeling any child, as wicked most especially or even simple, for that matter, implies that the teacher’s role is negligible. The wicked child’s character appears set in stone. The Haggadah continues:What does the wicked child say? “What does this service mean to you?” This child emphasizes “to you” and not himself or herself! Since the child excludes himself or herself from the community and rejects a major principle of faith, you should  “set that child’s teeth on edge” and say:“It is because of this, that Adonai did for me when I went free from Egypt.”“Me” and not that one! Had that one been there, he or she would not have been redeemed.The child is beyond saving! Was not every Israelite slave redeemed from Egypt? God made no distinctions about their wisdom or abilities. God did not ask if they believed or not. Back to the classroom. How many math teachers have heard, “What is the point of learning how to do geometry?” Or English teachers bristled at the words, “Why do I have to read what Shakespeare wrote hundreds of years ago?” Or rabbis recoiled at the statements, “Why do I have to study Hebrew?” (Or, if you have been reading my ruminations for the past few weeks, learn about leprosy?) While teachers might be tempted to castigate students who reject the very essence of what they are teaching, and what they have devoted their lives to, impatience, or in the case of the wicked child, anger, never succeeds in effectuating learning. And herein lies the import of[…]

  • Taste the Matzah of Pain

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Apr 14, 2022 | 15:22 pm

    Most people think that the purpose of Jewish rituals, most especially those performed when we gather around our seder tables, is to make us more Jewish. While this is true, their spiritual goals reach far beyond our Jewish identities. They serve to raise awareness in our hearts. Rabbi Shai Held comments: “Jewish spirituality begins in two places. One is a place of gratitude, and one is a place of protest. The challenge is to be capacious enough to hold gratitude for life, along with an equally deep sense that the world-as-it-is is not how it is supposed to be.” The seders we are about to celebrate encapsulate this teaching. On the one hand, they are replete with symbols reminding us that we are free. We drink wine, recline, and eat far too much food to instill sentiments of joy and gratitude in our hearts. We are free!. At the very same occasion, and at the very same moment, we remind ourselves that we were once slaves by eating matzah, maror and charoset. We are commanded to taste bitterness and suffering. Scholars suggest that slaves and poor laborers were fed matzah not only because it is cheap but because it is filling and as we quickly discover, requires a long digestion period. Matzah is designed by the oppressors to exploit the enslaved. Matzah is the rations of a slave. Every day we are to taste—and thereby try to feel—what it must be like to be a slave. Of course, our matzah does not come close to the real experience of suffering and slavery, but this is what this symbol is designed to do. Sometimes I wonder if our feasting overwhelms the matzah’s essential purpose. We butter up the matzah sometimes quite literally and other times repackage it as soup-soaked matzah balls. We lather it with lots and lots of eggs and turn it into matzah brie. We do all manner of things to transform the slave bread into a treat befitting a feast and celebration. And I worry that in these delicious transformations we undermine the matzah’s simple, but powerful, message.[…]

  • Harmful Feathers, Harmful Words

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Apr 7, 2022 | 22:38 pm

    A Hasidic story. One day a man heard an interesting, albeit unflattering, story about another man. (Let’s call the first man Steve and the second, Mike.) It was an amusing tale and so Steve shared it with others. He told lots and lots of people. Everyone found the story entertaining. Steve reveled in the laughter. Soon Mike noticed that people gave him strange looks as he passed by on the street. He quietly wondered why. “Was it his hair style?” (Ok, I have made some changes to the original version.) Then he noticed that people frequented his store less often. Soon he discovered the unkind words people were saying about him. He asked a friend what they were saying. He could not believe his ears. He soon found out the source of the tale. It was Steve! Mike confronted the Steve, complaining that he had ruined his reputation by repeating this one, unflattering episode. Steve tried to make excuses that it was such an entertaining story and that it always got a laugh. “But now,” Mike stammered, “Everyone just laughs at me.” Steve was overcome with remorse and ran to his rabbi (let’s call her Susie) to seek counsel. Steve approached the rabbi and explained the situation. “How do I fix this? How can I repair Mike’s reputation?” The eminently wise rabbi offered a curious suggestion. “Go get a feather pillow and bring it to me.” Steve asked, “A feather pillow? Do they even sell those at Bed, Bath & Beyond anymore?” “This is not the time to make jokes!” Susie exclaimed. “Go, buy the pillow.” Steve traveled throughout the greater New York area in search of such a pillow. He wondered how this was going to fix the problem. Still the rabbi offered a solution, and he was anxious to repair Mike’s reputation. A week later, he finally found the pillow on Amazon and texted the rabbi about his success. Susie texted him back, “Meet me in the center of town, at the corner of Main and Wall Streets. Don’t forget to bring the pillow.” Steve thought to himself,[…]

  • Don't Turn Away from Illness

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Apr 1, 2022 | 01:57 am

    This past weekend I ran into a former student who said, “I always remember my bar mitzvah Torah portion?” “Why?” I asked. And he responded, “It was about leprosy. I will never forget that!” Indeed, one thing that can be said for certain about this week’s portion is that it leaves a lasting, and memorable, impression on the students who chant its words. We read about how the ancient Israelites approached this feared disease. When people developed a suspicious looking skin infection, they would go to the priest. If he suspected it was leprosy, he would instruct them to quarantine for seven days. (Sound familiar?) If it disappeared, or diminished after the week, they were allowed to return to the camp. If, however, the infection grew, and the priest determined that they indeed had leprosy, they would take on some mourning customs, rending their clothes and bearing their heads. They were required to dwell outside the camp for as long as they had leprosy. On their way out the door, so to speak, they were required to shout, “Impure! Impure!” (Leviticus 13) If it were not bad enough already to have contracted leprosy, shouting, “Impure! Impure!” seems cruel. The Talmud justifies this requirement. The rabbis suggest that these words served to warn others that they were (potentially) contagious. They continue. These words not only serve as a warning but are meant to elicit compassion and prayers. Some time ago I officiated at a funeral. It was for a woman who lived well into her nineties, but sadly suffered from Alzheimer’s for the last ten years of her life. In attendance at her funeral were four women who cared for her during these years. After I finished speaking, one asked, “Can I say a few words?” I responded, “Of course.” She then pulled out her written remarks and said, “I prepared some words.” “Even though Sarah could not speak, I knew she was a kind lady. The way she looked up at me told me she was kind. I could see it in her eyes.” I was taken by her words.[…]

  • Feeding the Spirit

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Mar 24, 2022 | 22:20 pm

    People often think that eating and the preparation of food are not religious acts. They are simply among the mundane activities we do, day in and day out, that sustain our bodies. Going out to a restaurant with friends, gathering around the dining room table with family, or even schmoozing with one another as dinner preparations are made, are secular affairs. This could not be further from the truth. Religions in general, and Judaism in particular, add two key ingredients to every meal: gratitude and limits. Whether it is the Passover restrictions against the eating of bread or this week’s detailed list of prohibited animals, the preparation of meals is infused with the question of “Does my God permit me to eat this or not?” For some this may appear like an inopportune, or even outrageous, question in the rush of preparing breakfast before heading out the door to work or school, but the asking makes us pause. It adds a sense of religious intentionality to something that our bodies require us to do. We can eat whatever we want, whenever we want, or we can eat with a sense of the holy. We pause and ask, “How does God want me to eat?” I am not suggesting that the only way to bring a sense of Godliness to the breakfast table is by eliminating bacon. I am proposing, however, that asking the question is how one elevates what we tend to think is only about the body, and the secular, and not about the spirit, and the sacred. Every day I am forced to pause and ask, “Do I use the milk or meat utensils?” It’s not an earth-shattering question to be sure, and I am at times skeptical that the Torah’s prohibition about “Boiling a kid in its mother’s milk” meant I should have a second set of every dish, pot, and utensil, but the question, and sometimes the ensuing discussion, transforms the experience. I pause. I look up. I think if but for a brief moment, “What should I be doing?” And then, “Why I am doing[…]

  • Take In Some Joy!

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Mar 18, 2022 | 18:26 pm

    Today is Purim, the day in which the tradition suggests all rules are suspended. We are commanded to celebrate our victory over Haman’s genocidal designs with wild abandon. We dress in outrageous costumes, drink far too much wine and drown out Haman’s name when reading the megillah. It seems like a counterintuitive response to a history filled with suffering. Purim urges us to look within and ask, should we always fixate on antisemitism? Should we dwell so much on the many tyrants who sought to destroy us? What is the cost to our own souls of speaking so frequently about antisemitism and hate? Purim asks and answers its own question. It suggests that mourning, and eternal vigilance, must not be our only responses. Purim commands. Let loose. Celebrate. Party. When the world’s travails can dispirit even the most optimistic of people, Purim suggests that we put these aside at least for this one day. Contemporary struggles tug at our compassionate hearts. Our history gnaws at our souls. Our spirits require celebrations as much as they need historical know how and attunement to the suffering around us. On this day, allow the worries of history and even the calls of “never again” to retreat if but for this brief moment. Take in the joy of Purim.

  • Sacrifices Are the Best Prayers

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Mar 11, 2022 | 17:46 pm

    This week we begin reading the Book of Leviticus. It details the ancient rituals surrounding sacrifices. Until the Temple was destroyed, in 70 C.E., we approached God by offering animals as sacrifices. Because we instead pray, and offer words, it sounds strange to read the details of slaughtering animals, sprinkling their blood on the altar and then turning their flesh into smoke. My students often turn away in disgust. Even though every single one of them loves a good barbeque, they are repelled by the Torah’s details and the notion that God would want us to bring the choicest bull, sheep, goat or turtledove to the Temple and then kill it. The notion of sacrifice is foreign to them.The idea of making sacrifices, however, derive from this ritual. We must give up something of value, something that we want and even need. These animals were prized. They were therefore given to God—first. By giving something up our ancestors drew nearer to God. In fact, the Hebrew word for sacrifice, korban, derives from the word meaning “to get close.”By sacrificing prized possessions, by relinquishing ownership to the creator God, the ancient Israelites demonstrated that their property was not owned, but instead borrowed. In effect, they said to God, “I return Your creations to You.” To let go, to relinquish ownership, is not how we approach the world. It is not how we look at our possessions. We even call them “belongings.” While I realize that belongings more often refer to those things that we can pack into a suitcase, the word suggests a sense of personal ownership that is absent from the Torah. In our tradition, the focus is on God’s ownership.The only true owner is God. We care for what God creates. We are custodians and stewards. Giving up and making sacrifices makes perfect sense if nothing is truly mine. We do not relinquish but return. If everything is borrowed, if all that I hold is but lent to me, then offering it (back) to God is easy. And then sharing with others is even easier. For when we sacrifice[…]

  • Stand with Ukraine!

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Mar 4, 2022 | 13:32 pm

    This feels different. And I would like to ponder why. The war for Ukraine—I believe this to be the better descriptor than the benign Russia-Ukraine war—has affected me in ways that other conflicts and humanitarian crisis have not. While I remain exercised about America’s hasty withdrawal from Afghanistan, the collapse of the country’s economy, and the knowledge that over twenty million Afghanis will soon face hunger and starvation (there are innocent children in that land too!), my heart looks toward the hourly reports from Ukraine. Why my focus turns toward Europe, why my heart weeps more for Ukrainians gnaws at me, but at this moment I can only look toward Ukraine. This place matters to us. It matters to us as Americans. And it matters to us as Jews. I have only begun to articulate why.I hear Hayyim Nachman Bialik’s words in my ears:Arise and go now to the city of slaughter;Into its courtyard wind thy way;There with thine own hand touch, and with the eyes ofthine head,Behold on tree, on stone, on fence, on mural clay,The spattered blood and dried brains of the dead.Bialik wrote in Hebrew. He lived in Odessa....This post continues on The Times of Israel.


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