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

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.

Click here to visit Rabbi Moskowitz's complete blog.
www.RabbiMoskowitz.com

  • On Yom Kippur, Lift Our Chair

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 15, 2021 | 15:51 pm

    On Yom Kippur, Lift Our Chair In Jerusalem’s Breslover synagogue, located in the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighborhood, there is aa beautifully carved ornate wooden chair placed near the Ark. No one sits in it. The chair once that of Rebbe Nachman, the founder of this Hasidic dynasty. In 1808, in the days before Rosh Hashanah the butcher of Teplik Ukraine made this gift for the rebbe. The rabbi was so impressed with the craftsmanship, and most especially with the fact the butcher spent so much of his free time during the prior six months making it, that Rebbe Nachman loved to sit in the chair. He felt that the kavvanah, intention, of the butcher helped to lift his prayers. After the great rabbi’s death, this chair became a symbol of the Breslover Hasidim. How it found its way to Jerusalem is the stuff of legends. There are two stories. The first is most likely closer to the truth. During the Cossack pogroms of the 1920’s, Rabbi Tzvi Aryeh Lippel cut the chair into pieces in order to carry it to safety. He walked, and some say ran, twenty miles to the nearby town of Kremenchug where it was then hidden by the Rosenfeld family. In 1936 Rabbi Moshe Ber Rosenfeld brought the chair to Jerusalem. It was restored in the late 1950’s by artisans from the Israel Museum, and then again in the 1980’s. The chair was then placed in the synagogue where it can be seen to this day. The second is the story I prefer to tell. When the Nazis invaded the Ukraine, Rebbe Nachman’s disciples realized that the only way for some of them to survive was to run and to scatter throughout the world. But what should they do with the Rebbe’s chair? And so, they decided to cut the chair into small pieces and every disciple would carry a piece of the chair, and the intention of their great rabbi, as they ran for their lives. After the war, the Rebbe’s many disciples and their descendants found each other in Jerusalem. Miraculously every single one who carried a piece of the[…]

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  • Changing Our Perspective

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 13, 2021 | 16:44 pm

    What follows is my sermon from Rosh Hashanah morning services. Shanah Tovah! May it be a good year, a sweet year. May it be a year of health and happiness. And may this coming year not be as exhausting or as consequential as the one in the rearview mirror. Let 5782 be ordinary. I can’t remember a year in which so much happened. I don’t even know where to begin. Should I talk about antisemitism? Hurricanes? January 6th? Abortion rights? Israel’s ongoing battles—on Gaza’s border, in the university and at Ben & Jerry’s? This maddening pandemic that we thought would already be behind us? Afghanistan? You know I would like to say, “All of the above!” That of course is way too much for one sermon. Well, it was way too much for one year! Let’s turn around and examine the past. Let’s figure out what Jewish lessons we can discern from this painful year. On this Rosh Hashanah let’s focus on the outside world. Let’s look at contemporary events. Judaism offers us help. It offers us answers for how we can make sense of our reeling world. We need our Judaism to offer us a way out of all these messes. This morning let’s look out. Let’s look back. We begin with the last weeks. This morning let’s tackle just two recent events: the Hurricane and Afghanistan. Tomorrow morning, I will examine abortion rights.Hurricane Ida. In case seven inches of rain, streets transformed into rivers, people drowning in their apartments as well as cars, didn’t convince us, climate change is real. In case the drought that plagues the American West, the Colorado River drying up, forest fires producing so much smoke and toxic fumes that we choke on it here in New York, didn’t convince us, climate change has already happened. The weather is changing before our eyes. I watch the Weather Channel more than the news. My phone flashes more alerts for weather emergencies than Instagram DM’s. Ok, that may have more to do with the fact that I am no longer in high school, but you get my[…]

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  • A 9-11 Prayer

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 11, 2021 | 01:18 am

    A 9-11 Prayer In the days and weeks, and even months, after 9-11, I could still recall images of the towers burning and crumbling, the cinder and ash enveloping downtown, the many pictures of the people missing, and buried, and the firefighters killed, first adorning the fences of New York, and then the pages of The New York Times. But mostly I remember the sky. I recall thinking what a beautiful, regal blue the sky was on the morning of that dreadful day. I also remember how empty the sky was in the days that followed. It was empty of planes, save the occasional military jet or helicopter. It felt even empty of birds. It appeared emptied of sounds. The country too was empty of words that could fill the void, that could comfort us in our horror, that could assuage the first responders’ hurt. Sure, we offered memorial services, we shared songs and poems and even prayers—as if those could somehow fill the emptiness the families who lost mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives now felt, as if those could soften the terror we also felt now that our city no longer gleamed with its chaotic enthusiasm. Our city was emptied of its hustle and bustle save the hurried, and harried, work begun at ground zero to remove the mountains of rubble. “We must rebuild,” we shouted. And we did. “We must go after those responsible for these murders,” we cried. And we did. “We must dedicate a memorial to those lost.” Again, we did.Mostly I remember the sky. Its vastness, its blueness, its emptiness pointed to something greater. We were empty of divisions. We were unified for a brief moment in time.That same sky will reappear tomorrow morning on September 11, 2021. We will look up to the heavens. The planes return overhead. I no longer have to strain to hear the birds sing. We will remember the sky’s royalty. Its blue thread held us together. Now that has frayed. The divisions, and recriminations, drown out the songs. The heaven’s beauty is shrouded in grey.[…]

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  • The Book (Revue) Never Closes

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 9, 2021 | 22:21 pm

    The Book (Revue) Never Closes Years ago, Leon Wieseltier wrote about the closing of his beloved music store. He wondered what the world would be like when he could no longer wander into the store and discover an album for which he did not even know he was looking. He wrote: “Browsing is the opposite of ‘search.’ Search is precise, browsing is imprecise. When you search, you find what you were looking for; when you browse, you find what you were not looking for. Search corrects your knowledge, browsing corrects your ignorance.”Tomorrow evening Huntington’s Book Revue will close its doors.  Even before we moved to Huntington, we would pilgrimage there in search of books. I don’t know all the details about why it is closing. There has been plenty of online debates, and accusations, about how this was allowed to occur. I do know this. It saddens me. It is one more sadness piled on to a year of sadness. There were countless evening outings when we would end up in Book Revue. Often, after finishing dinner at a neighborhood restaurant, we would walk around town. Inevitably we would find our way to the Book Revue. There we would often divide up and each go to our favorite sections. I usually ended up in the poetry section to see what new book had arrived. Or that destination might be chosen because Susie would say, “There is this book I want to get, let’s go see if it’s at Book Revue.” And there we would go, with friends or children in tow.Or she might say, “I ordered something at Book Revue, let’s go pick it up.” Again, I would wander to the poetry section. I would flip through Denise Levertov, Maya Angelou, Billy Collins and Rainer Maria Rilke. On other occasions, I would lug home W.B. Yeats, Pablo Neruda, Czeslaw Milosz and Harold Bloom. It’s been eighteen years since we moved to Huntington.I rarely if ever entered the store’s doors intending to buy another poetry book, yet the discoveries now line my shelves. Other times we would go there with Shira and Ari. Each of us[…]

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  • Judaism and Abortion Rights

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 8, 2021 | 23:39 pm

    What follows is my sermon exploring Jewish teachings about abortion rights from the second day of Rosh Hashanah services. I know I professed a desire to talk about everything that happened last year, but I am afraid I only have time to tackle the events of this past month. That about sums up this year. Every month felt like a year. And so, this morning one more discussion about contemporary events. Given the recent decision of the US Supreme Court to let the Texas law stand that effectively blocks access to abortions after six weeks, I thought it important to lay out the Jewish view of abortion. After the holidays, we will host a panel examining this recent Supreme Court decision and Roe v. Wade. We are fortunate to have among our members Robin Charlow, a professor of law at Hofstra University and Lauren Riese Garfunkel, a Board member of the National Council of Jewish Women. They will help walk us through the constitutional issues and what more can be done in the fight for reproductive freedom.This morning I will turn to the texts of our tradition. For those who are regulars at our second day Rosh Hashanah service, you know it is my custom to examine Judaism’s sacred texts. This is what I will walk us through this morning. Here are the three crucial texts elucidating the Jewish view of abortion. First an aside. As Jews we are informed by our sacred texts. We are guided by their words. We don’t just make decisions without looking to the wisdom of those who went before us. First and foremost, we look to the Torah.Here are the words of the Torah, from Parashat Mishpatim in the Book of Exodus.“When men fight, and one of them pushes a pregnant woman and a miscarriage result, but no other damage ensues, the one responsible shall be fined according as the woman’s husband may exact from him, the payment to be based on reckoning. But if other damage ensues, the penalty shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand,[…]

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  • How to Help

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 3, 2021 | 16:39 pm

    Hurricane Ida has now passed through the New York area and left destruction and hardship in its wake.  It is difficult to believe that more people were killed in our own area from what was no longer a hurricane than when the storm made landfall in Louisiana as a category 4 hurricane.  I pray for those who were injured.  I pray most especially for the families of those who lost their lives.  If you would like to lend support to those in need, I recommend giving to these organizations: Nechama: A Jewish Response to DisasterWorld Central KitchenThese organizations are already in Louisiana helping people rebuild, providing temporary shelter and feeding those who need food and even water.  People are hungry!  Let us help our fellow Americans.  As I became aware of those organizations who are providing help to people in need within our own area, I will share that information as well.  Give to those in need.  Pray for their healing.

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  • Wash Your Hands

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Sep 3, 2021 | 01:20 am

    As we near the High Holidays and approach this period of introspection and repentance, I offer this prayer:Let us cast away the sin of deception, so that we will mislead no one in word or deed, nor pretend to be what we are not.Let us cast away the sin of vain ambition which prompts us to strive for goals which bring neither true fulfillment nor genuine contentment.Let us cast away the sin of stubbornness, so that we will neither persist in foolish habits nor fail to acknowledge our will to change.Let us cast away the sin of envy, so that we will neither be consumed by desire for what we lack nor grow unmindful of the blessings which are already ours.Let us cast away the sin of selfishness, which keeps us from enriching our lives through wider concerns, and greater sharing, and from reaching out in love to other human beings.Let us cast away the sin of indifference, so that we may be sensitive to the sufferings of others and responsive to the needs of our people everywhere.Let us cast away the sin of pride and arrogance, so that we can worship God and serve God’s purposes in humility and truth. (Mahzor Hadash: The New Mahzor for Rosh Hashanah)Judaism counsels us that actions and deeds define our lives. Good intentions do not redeem bad deeds. Whereas bad intentions are dissolved by good deeds. Thus, we can only correct our wrong actions. We can only repair misdeeds. How many times do we instead discuss and debate intentions? Our tradition’s counsel is that they are secondary to actions. Only deeds can be judged. If a person does good, then he or she is deemed righteous. Intentions are known by God alone. What a person holds in his or her heart is the purview of the divine. It is not the province of human beings. The High Holidays are devoted to repairing and correcting our actions. We spend these days focusing on what we might do different, not what we might intend. We resolve to cast away our wrongs and repair our lives.[…]

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  • My Father Was Lost

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Aug 28, 2021 | 21:58 pm

    Once settled in the Promised Land, the Israelites are instructed to give thanks for their harvest. In what is perhaps the first recorded Thanksgiving celebration, the Torah commands them to make an offering. “You shall leave the first fruits before the Lord your God and bow low before the Lord your God.” (Deuteronomy 26). Prior to bringing these offerings, the Israelites recite an encapsulation of their history proclaiming that it was God who brought them out of slavery to the land of Israel.  This recitation begins with the words: “My father was a fugitive Aramean—Arami oved avi.” The English lacks the Hebrew’s alliteration. It also disguises the power contained in these three words. The first word uttered is: Aramean. My father was not an Israelite. He was a foreigner. The implication is clear. The land is borrowed. It belongs to God. It is not owned or possessed. This is why the land’s harvest is shared first with God and then the stranger. “And you shall enjoy, together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst, all the bounty that the Lord your God has bestowed upon you and your household.” Moreover, “oved” can be translated as “lost” rather than “fugitive” or “wandering.” Lost connotes something far more powerful. Our ancestors were not simply freed from slavery. They did not escape, but rather were lost. Abraham was not a wanderer. Instead, he was directionless—until God called to him. It was the call that set his path. It was the going out from Egypt that carved our direction. Why begin the offering of first fruits with the recitation of these words? Why profess that our ancestor was a stranger? Why state that the founder of our faith was lost? To teach empathy for the outsider. To inculcate thanks. Giving thanks is not about saying, “Look at the bounty with which God has blessed me.” It is instead, “Look at the bountiful blessings that I can share.” If the first fruits are borrowed from God, then there are no limits to the blessings we can share. Recall that our ancestors wandered aimlessly.[…]

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  • Lost Together

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Aug 20, 2021 | 20:23 pm

    The Hebrew month of Elul began on Sunday, August 8th. According to Jewish tradition this day begins a forty-day period of introspection and repentance that concludes with the beautiful Yom Kippur Neilah service. We belong to a remarkable tradition. We believe that human beings are capable of change. We believe that we have the capacity to mend our ways. No one is perfect. All have erred. Let us take these precious days to mend our failures. This is the grand purpose of the upcoming High Holidays. Rosh Hashanah begins the evening of September 6th. (Yes, this is early and very soon.) A Hasidic story that I learned from Rabbi Rami Shapiro. Reb Chaim Halberstam of Zanz once helped his disciples prepare for Elul and its goals of teshuvah (repentance) and tikkun (repair) by sharing the following tale. Once a woman became lost in a dense forest. (Obviously this was before the advent of Google Maps.). She wandered this way and that in the hope of stumbling on a way out, but she only got more lost as the hours went by. Then she chanced upon another person walking in the woods. Hoping that he might know the way out, she said, “Can you tell me which path leads out of this forest?” “I am sorry, but I cannot,” the man said. “I am quite lost myself.” “You have wandered in one part of the woods,” the woman said, “while I have been lost in another. Together we may not know the way out, but we know quite a few paths that lead nowhere. Let us share what we know of the paths that fail, and then together we may find the one that succeeds.” “What is true for these lost wanderers,” Reb Chaim said, “is true of us as well. We may not know the way out, but let us share with each other the way that have only led us back in.” Together we are always stronger. Together we can find ourselves out of any difficulty and surmount any stumbling blocks. This year, most especially we need walk together.[…]

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  • Gates of Justice

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Aug 14, 2021 | 12:15 pm

    In ancient times, the court room was the city’s gates. In fact, archeologists have uncovered stone benches attached to gates of biblical cities where judged sat, heard cases, and issued rulings. It is unfortunate that most contemporary translations render the Hebrew “shaarecha” as your settlements rather than the more literal “your gates.” The Torah proclaims: “You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements (shaarecha) that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.” (Deuteronomy 16) The Bible’s intent is clear. Your gates are where justice is established. Why else would the Torah also instruct us “To write these words on the doorpost of your house and on your gates?” It is because justice begins, and ends, at the threshold of a house or a city. This is why justices sat and ruled at the city’s entrances. When people debated matters of law, or had difficulties they could not resolve, they are supposed to go to judges who are more expert in the law and more experienced in rendering decisions. People, quite literally, took their disputes to the edge of town where they were resolved. In this way the community is kept whole, and differences, are kept at its outskirts. Only justice is allowed to enter through our gates. It is a wonderful, and enlightening, image. Keep your arguments out there. Maintain your cohesiveness within. Repair to the gates when matters become heated, when it is too difficult for you to solve your problems without the assistance of a professional. The prophet Amos declares: “Hate evil and love good. And establish justice in the gate.” (Amos 5) If you establish justice in the gate, then your cities and towns, countries and communities, can indeed remain whole.

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  • Get Vaccinated! It's the Jewish Thing to Do

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Aug 6, 2021 | 18:24 pm

    Can we talk about vaccines? Not the science part, but instead the Jewish piece. Judaism believes that our primary responsibility is towards others. We are taught to think about the community’s needs first and foremost. A few illustrations. Attending services is about the fact that others need us to be there. We do not say, for example, the mourner’s kaddish except in the presence of a minyan of ten people. Being there is so that others can stand and mourn. While services are most certainly meaningful and uplifting to the individual, the tradition sees their import in the “we” rather than the “I.” Our prayers are in the plural because we are only one when praying with others. Even dancing at a wedding is not so much about how the spirit (spirits?) move us but instead about making sure the couple dance and celebrate on their wedding day. It is a religious obligation to make sure that the wedding couple rejoice. I dance in large part to lift others on to the dance floor. No one can be hoisted on high for the horah unless they are surrounded by the community. Getting vaccinated is then about making sure that we are protected and healthy. The difficulty is that we are unaccustomed to making medical decisions with anyone else in mind but ourselves. Many have been faced with difficult medical choices. Do I have the surgery as one doctor suggests or take the medicine as another recommends? Do I have the procedure or wait and see what the next blood test indicates? All such decisions are fraught with risks. No medical decision, or any choice for that matter, is risk free. Even the most ordinary of tests or procedures carry with them some risk. But when we evaluate the pros and cons we think only of our own individual health. For the first time in many of our lives, we are now faced with a decision that is not just about my health, but also the health of others. Even though the risks of the vaccines appear minimal, they are not[…]

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  • Earth's Bonds

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jul 30, 2021 | 01:34 am

    The Torah, and the Book of Deuteronomy in particular, argues that if we care for God’s commandments, if we follow the mitzvot, then the land will in turn care for us. In fact, the second paragraph of the Shema, reminds us: “If, then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Lord your God, and serving God with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late.” (Deuteronomy 11) In other words, follow God’s mitzvot and then it will only rain when it is supposed to rain. Nature will follow its proper course if we listen to God. (As if it were that simple!) Too often people think that observance means lighting candles, wearing a tallis, or reciting the Shema. It also entails ethical mitzvot: loving your neighbor, giving tzedakah or honoring parents. We forget the agricultural commandments that are also part of our sacred literature. We are commanded to leave the gleanings of the field for the poor and the stranger. We are told let our fields lie fallow on the seventh year. We are enjoined not to eat fruit from trees until after the third year. Perhaps we would do we well to rediscover the meaning and intention of these commandments. We are connected to the land. The earth gives us life. The early Reform rabbis removed these verses, and the second paragraph of the Shema, from the prayer service arguing that it represented too literalist of a theology. It offered a stark theory. If you do good, namely listening to God, then good happens. If you do bad by ignoring God and even worse bowing down to idols, then bad happens. Everyone knows the world does not follow such a neat and simplistic order and so the rabbis said, “Better not to say these words as a prayer.” And yet, we live in a time when we are becoming more and more aware of how fragile our earth really is. Need we look any further than the forest fires raging[…]

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  • Please God! Help Us Bring Peace

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jul 23, 2021 | 21:22 pm

    For all his successes and triumphs, our hero Moses is denied setting foot in the Promised Land. Because he grew angry at the Israelites and hit a rock, God states that he will not be allowed to enter the land of Israel. This week Moses begs God to change this decree: “And I pleaded (vaetchanan) with the Lord… Let me, I pray, cross over and see the good land on the other side of the Jordan.” (Deuteronomy 4) The commentators are bothered by Moses’ behavior. They think it is unbecoming that Moses pleads. How can the great Moses sink to such a level and beg, they wonder. His words seem undignified for a leader. They wonder as well how Moses can question God’s judgment. The medieval writer, Moses ibn Ezra, suggests that even in this instance, Moses, who the tradition calls “Moshe Rabbeinu—Moses, our teacher,” is offering a lesson. And what is it that he teaches the people? It is a lesson about the supreme value of living in the land of Israel. It is as if to say, “To be able to live in the land of Israel is worth it. It is such a privilege that one can beg and plead.” The modern commentator, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, reads this passage differently. He suggests that Moses is not asking for forgiveness, or pleading his case, but instead arguing that he did not even commit a wrong. The decree is unjustified and should rightfully be annulled. What chutzpah! In the end Moses’ request is partially fulfilled. God responds to his plea and allows him to see the land from afar. Moses is allowed to glimpse the beauty of Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. I continue to wonder. For what is it appropriate to plead? For what can I beg God? This summer suggests an answer. How about peace? Let my plea be heard! Let shalom be granted—even if but partially. Let us stop arguing about whether or not we should eat Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and start doing the hard work of trying to make peace between Israelis and[…]

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  • Teach in All Languages

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jul 15, 2021 | 22:16 pm

    This week we begin reading the Torah’s final book, Deuteronomy. Moses is now 120years old and is told he must relinquish his leadership to Joshua. Soon he will die and be buried on Mount Nebo, on the other side of the Jordan. Beforehand he takes the time (pretty much the entire book of Deuteronomy) to remind the Israelites about the many rules they must follow. He begins by reviewing their adventures (and misadventures) during their forty years of wandering the wilderness. This is Deuteronomy’s plot. “I am about to leave you. Don’t forget to…” The Torah states: “On the other side of the Jordan, in the land of Moab, Moses undertook to expound this Torah.” (Deuteronomy 1) The rabbis ask: How did he begin to teach the Torah? Being rabbis they answer their own question and state, “Moses began to explain the Torah in the seventy languages of the ancient world.” Didn’t the Israelites all speak the same language? Didn’t they speak Hebrew? Of course they did. So why would Moses need to explain the Torah in every language the rabbis believed to exist in the entire world? It is because the Torah has universal import. Too often we focus our Jewish learning on the mastery of the Hebrew language. Too often we mistake the Torah’s language for its essence. While Hebrew is of course important it does not always unlock its secrets; it cannot always unravel its mysteries. This is why even Moses taught the Torah in many languages. The lesson is clear. The most important thing about Torah is its teachings. These must be translated into every language. Moreover, these teachings must be interpreted according to everyone’s ability. Torah was never meant to belong to a privileged few. It is meant for all. It is meant for the world. It begins with whatever language we speak.

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  • A More Perfect Union

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jul 9, 2021 | 15:58 pm

    On this July 4th weekend we pause to celebrate the United States of America whose Declaration of Independence was adopted 245 years ago and whose words have inspired people for countless generations. Its opening words stir our souls. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” And so, on this July 4th we pause to celebrate the gifts and blessings of this country, the freedoms we enjoy, unparalleled in our thousands of years of wanderings and the blessings we have garnered, unrivaled in the many nations we have called home. Here, we can freely profess our faith, here we can proudly declare our beliefs, here we can rest on the guarantees of a constitution that grants no religion primacy over another. In this great land we can indeed enjoy life, liberty and happiness. There is much for which to celebrate. There is much for which to give thanks. On this July 4th we also pause to remember that this same promise has fallen short fortoo many. There is still much work to be done. Our founding vision deserves to be expanded. Our founding dream must grow wider. In the words “all men” we must hear and declare “all men and women.” And we must find renewed strength to say, “all races.” Every color, every faith, every immigrant story must become part of the American promise and dream. Our nation’s history is cluttered with examples in which the liberties enjoyed by many were also denied to many. Pause to celebrate. Pause to remember. Give thanks for these United States of America. Gather strength that this nation might indeed become a “more perfect union.”

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  • Rejoice and Be Glad

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jul 9, 2021 | 15:58 pm

    I am looking forward to the moment when the band leader says, “It’s Hora time. Everyone to the dance floor!” And we jump from our seats and join in dancing and singing the words of Hava Nagila. “Let us rejoice. Let us rejoice. Let us rejoice and be glad. Let us sing. Let us sing. Let us sing and be glad. Awaken brethren. Awaken brethren with a joyful heart.” And then my heart will most certainly rejoice. Few realize that the words to this familiar song are not that old. In fact, the tune is based on a Hasidic niggun, prevalent among Jews living in nineteenth century Ukraine. And many nigguns are based on what was then popular songs. The Hasidic rebbes removed the words from these songs and transformed them into wordless, religious melodies. Hava Nagila is no different. It is apparently very similar to a Ukrainian folk song. The Hasidic movement gave these wordless melodies meaning and import. They were known to sing them over and over, their voices growing softer and then louder. They would sing and dance to welcome Shabbat, to rejoice at a holiday’s arrival, to celebrate a young couple getting married. They were passed from one generation to the next. They are typically attributed to specific rebbes. It was the belief of Hasidic Jews that singing helps connect us to God. Music is the universal language. It was also their belief that no words can suffice in approaching God and so we are left with their wordless melodies. And so, the Hava Nagila tune was carried by such Hasidic Jews when they came to Jerusalem from the Ukraine. It was there that Abraham Idelsohn soon discovered it. He is considered the dean of Jewish musicologists. Some believe that he authored the accompanying words in 1918 to celebrate the victory of the British in World War I. The song soon spread throughout Palestine and then made its way to the United States. By the 1950’s it had become what we recognize today: the staple at Jewish parties and simchas. There is nothing quite like it.[…]

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  • Their Poems, Our Prayers

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jun 25, 2021 | 19:27 pm

    Poetry speaks in ways that prose cannot always achieve. I offer a few poems. Denise Levertov, a British born American poet, writes in "Making Peace":A voice from the dark called out,     ‘The poets must give usimagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiarimagination of disaster. Peace, not onlythe absence of war.’             But peace, like a poem,is not there ahead of itself,can’t be imagined before it is made,can’t be known exceptin the words of its making,grammar of justice,syntax of mutual aid.                     A feeling towards it,dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we haveuntil we begin to utter its metaphors,learning them as we speak.                             A line of peace might appearif we restructured the sentence our lives are making,revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,questioned our needs, allowedlong pauses . . .     A cadence of peace might balance its weighton that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,an energy field more intense than war,might pulse then,stanza by stanza into the world,each act of livingone of its words, each worda vibration of light—facetsof the forming crystal.Mahmoud Darwish, a Palestinian poet, offers these words in his poem "In Jerusalem":In Jerusalem, and I mean within the ancient walls,I walk from one epoch to another without a memoryto guide me. The prophets over there are sharingthe history of the holy...ascending to heavenand returning less discouraged and melancholy, because loveand peace are holy and are coming to town.I was walking down a slope and thinking to myself: Howdo the narrators disagree over what light said about a stone?Is it from a dimly lit stone that wars flare up?I walk in my sleep. I stare in my sleep. I seeno one behind me. I see no one ahead of me.All this light is for me. I walk. I become lighter. I flythen I become another. Transfigured. Wordssprout like grass from Isaiah’s messengermouth: “If you don’t believe you won’t be safe.”I walk as if I were another. And my wound a whitebiblical rose. And my hands like two doveson the cross hovering and carrying the earth.I[…]

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  • LGBTQ Rights, Juneteenth and Antisemitism

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jun 19, 2021 | 22:58 pm

     What follows is the sermon from this past Shabbat when we also marked Pride Month and Juneteenth.On this Shabbat we recognize Pride Month and give honor to those, most especially those who are part of our congregational family and who identify as LGBTQ. We give honor to those who have struggled for equal rights for those who are gay and lesbian since the Stonewall uprising in June of 1969. We affirm that all human beings are created in God’s image, regardless of their sexual orientation. How one identifies, and to whom one is attracted, is a complicated, and mysterious, thing that is beyond human understanding and that we therefore should hesitate to judge. On this Shabbat we recommit ourselves to the Jewish values of hesed, compassion, acceptance and welcome. We open our arms to all. We celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision affirming marriage equality. It has been only six years since that date. The experience of LGBTQ teens is far different than it was when I was in high school. People were then hesitant, and afraid, to come out. People were counseled by rabbis, teachers, peers, and parents to stay closeted. We have traveled far since those days and made great progress.But there is still unfinished business we need to get busy doing. Some people are still too hesitant to open their arms to others. People are still afraid to come out to friends, to parents, to teachers. And that is on all of us. Images are everywhere about what ideal love looks like. There is the ever-present image that an ideal couple is a man and a woman. Our tradition continues to uphold this. Our language supports this. We forget that when we idealize love, and couples in this way, we too often push aside those who are struggling with how they can measure up to what is most certainly a myth. We must make room for many, different images. We must insist that if an LGBTQ couple wishes to be married under a huppah, and sanctify their relationship, we will do so. Their love deserves to be celebrated.[…]

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  • First We Grieve, Then We Move Forward

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jun 18, 2021 | 15:12 pm

    In yesterday’s weekly newsletter, Frank Bruni from The New York Times writes: A heartbreaking and unacceptable number of people didn’t survive the coronavirus. They’re gone — their own lives cut short, their loved ones still grieving their absence. But for others, the pandemic was more of an inconvenience, and for a few, it wasn’t all that inconvenient. When they talk about how excited they are about eating in restaurants again or how eager to see a movie in a theater, their voices and manners aren’t weighed down by the recognition of what the United States and other countries have been and are going through. Of the body count. Of the ruined businesses. Of the depleted bank accounts. They mostly just sense that we’re turning a corner, and they’re looking forward, not backward.I can resonate with his description of turning a corner. I share the glee and rapture of returning to the conveniences, and luxuries of years past, of children being packed up for camp, of spontaneously going out to a favorite restaurant, of hugging friends and wishing everyone a “Shabbat Shalom.” I am taken aback about the obviousness of Bruni’s cautionary note. We have this unfortunate, American tendency to avoid even talking about the hundreds of thousands who died. If we do not figure out how to grieve for them and how to mourn our collective losses, then we will be unable to march forward. This week we read that Miriam and Aaron die. We also read that Moses is destined to die in the wilderness, at the edge of fulfilling his life’s mission of leading the Israelites into the Promised Land. The reason why he will not cross over into the land is because he becomes angry at the people when they complain (yet again) about the food and in particular the lack of water. He strikes the rock two times rather than commanding it as God instructed him. God commands, “You and your brother Aaron take the rod and assemble the community, and before their very eyes order the rock to yield its water.” (Numbers 20) Instead Moses hits the[…]

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  • The Promised Land Is in Your Soul

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jun 11, 2021 | 00:59 am

    When God calls to Abraham and instructs him to set out on a journey to the Promised Land, God commands: “Lech lecha—Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” (Genesis 12) This week when God instructs Moses to send scouts to survey the Promised Land, God similarly commands: “Shelach lecha—Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people.” (Numbers 13) In both instances the Hebrew is unusual and perhaps untranslatable. God literally states, “Go for yourself” and “Send for yourself.” Commentators note the peculiar wording and imagine novel explanations to justify this Hebrew phrasing. One rabbinic midrash suggests that the command to Abraham was more about him finding himself than discovering a new land. Its author writes: “Go forth to find your authentic self, to learn who you are meant to be.” Is a promised land about its geographical contours or instead about unearthing some, hidden inner promise? Is a journey, whether undertaken at God’s command or out of inner desire, about exploring new vistas or about discovering oneself? This week we are confronted with a new question. What could Moses possibly find out about himself when commanding others to set out on a journey? He has been leading the people for years. He has been through countless tests. The people are given to lots of complaining, and rebelling (more about that in the weeks to come). This moment appears to produce an unlikely crisis of faith for our leader.The midrash once again makes plain what the Hebrew only implies. It imagines God saying to Moses that this reconnaissance mission is more about Moses’ needs, and perhaps the people’s, rather than God’s. Our ancient rabbis fill in the gaps, found in between the Torah’s verses and write, “God seems to be saying, ‘I have you told you already that the land is good and that I will give it to you. If you need human confirmation of that, go ahead and send scouts.’” And I wonder. Is finding oneself, and setting out[…]

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  • Leadership Is About Others

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz Jun 11, 2021 | 00:59 am

    This week we read about Korah and his rebellion against Moses. It is a troubling story. On the surface Korah’s complaints appear legitimate. He, and his followers, approach Moses and Aaron and say, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” (Numbers 16) This statement seems true. Judaism does not believe one person is holier than another. In fact, our greatest moments of holiness are achieved not when we stand alone but instead when we stand together. We require the voices of others to elevate our prayers. Moses does not hear Korah’s words as critiques but instead as threats. He becomes distressed. Aaron becomes crestfallen. God becomes enraged. Korah and his followers are severely punished. The rebellion is mercilessly quashed. And so, the wrong, must be with Korah and his followers. The tradition argues—at length—about Korah’s sins. What did he do to merit such punishment? The rabbis draw inferences. They reason: “Every dispute that is for the sake of heaven, will in the end endure; but one that is not for the sake of heaven, will not endure. Which is the controversy that is for the sake of heaven? Such was the controversy of Hillel and Shammai. And which is the controversy that is not for the sake of heaven? Such was the controversy of Korah and all his followers.” (Pirke Avot 5) When we argue with respect, when we debate so as to understand the truth standing in opposition to our own views, this is an argument for the sake of heaven, this is a controversy like that of the first century rabbis, Hillel and Shammai. When we argue, however, to destroy the opposition, when we debate so as to undermine others, these are controversies s like those of Korah and his followers. In the rabbinic imagination, it was all about how Korah argued, and complained. In the rabbis’ estimation, it is very much about how we debate. Controversies can make the community better or they[…]

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  • The Antisemitism Pandemic

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz May 27, 2021 | 21:18 pm

    For the first time in over a year, many of us now feel like we can see around the bend of the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, most especially that many of our children can get vaccinated, and that we can safely get together with friends, and family members, our sense of relief has grown. Light is emerging from around the corner. The plague that upended our lives appears to be ebbing. Just as we wearily begin to emerge from the shadow of this plague, another grows in ferocity.Antisemitism has once again emerged with a renewed strength that caught many off guard. Whereas several years ago we saw its ugliness, and violence, emanating from the right, now it confronts us from the left. Let me be clear. Anti-Zionism easily morphs into violent antisemitism. Hatred of Israel quickly becomes antisemitic. The evidence lies before us—be it at a sushi restaurant in Los Angeles or a synagogue in New York. It is now especially incumbent upon those who call themselves liberal, progressive or Democrat to call out the antisemitism growing from within their ranks.People always prefer to say, “Look at how bad they are,” rather than “Look at how we have gone wrong,” or, “Look at what we have allowed to fester.” People always prefer to point accusatory fingers at those who stand on the other side of the aisle while making excuses for those who share their political commitments. This is not how we must reckon with such a plague. Call out those who traffic in antisemitic tropes. Make clear that these most recent attacks on Jews, and Israel, are irreconcilable with liberal, progressive and Democratic values. This is what is called for at this moment and in this hour.Of course, there are legitimate criticisms of Israel’s policies and Israel’s government...This post continues on The Times of Israel.

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  • Praying for Peace, Hoping for Unity

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz May 21, 2021 | 19:10 pm

    The familiar priestly blessing, contained in this week’s portion, states: “May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the light of the Lord’s face shine upon and be gracious to you! May Lord always be present in your life and grant you peace!” (Numbers 6)In its original formulation it was a blessing offered by the ancient priests for the Jewish people. The Torah continues “Thus shall you bless the people of Israel. Say to them: ‘The Lord bless you…’” The grammar appears incorrect. The “you” of the blessing is in the singular not the plural. Why would a blessing directed to “them” be formulated in the singular?Rabbi Simhah Leib, a Hasidic rebbe, comments: “The priestly blessing is recited in the singular, because the most important blessing that the Jewish people can have is unity.” I am leaning on his wisdom during these trying and difficult days when Jews shout and scream at one another. We hear, “You’re too critical of the State of Israel in its hour of need and urgency!” Or, “You’re too forgiving of Israel’s wrongs and missteps!” People often mistake unity for agreement. A group can be unified but not always agree. Disagreements, passionate debates, are part of any healthy relationship or community. There must, however, be a unity of purpose and mission. I wonder if we have lost this unified vision. And I wonder, if this is why we are no longer able to tolerate disagreements or abide criticisms. Losing sight of a shared mission creates disunity. Do we continue to share the belief that the purpose of leading a Jewish life is not only to teach children how to perform Jewish rituals or to make sure that each and every child has a bar or bat mitzvah, but to relieve the suffering we see in our broken world? The purpose of the Jewish people’s survival is to make the world better. Abraham Joshua Heschel once remarked, “To be a Jew is either superfluous or essential.” He then continues, “We learn the purpose of Jewish existence: we are obligated to live lives that will become[…]

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  • The Heart Speaks Truth

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz May 14, 2021 | 02:48 am

    The medieval poet Yehudah HaLevi writes: “L’bi b’mizrach v’anochi b’sof maarav—my heart is in the East and I am in the depths of the West.” His words were an expression of the unending Jewish attachment to Jerusalem and the land of Israel.His poem captures my sentiments at this very moment. He speaks to my heart’s travails. My attachment is to the State of Israel. My worries are tied to my brothers and sisters in the land of Israel. I am nervous about Israel’s future. I mourn for those killed and pray for those injured—both Israelis and Palestinians.My nephew, who is living and studying in northern Tel Aviv, spent the better part of the last two evenings in a bomb shelter. Countless friends, and acquaintances, have done the same. Others are deploying to this conflict’s front lines.It is personal. I am a Jew. This is our Jewish home...This post continues on The Times of Israel.

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  • Reclaiming the Earth

    Rabbi Steven Moskowitz May 7, 2021 | 01:02 am

    A Missouri farmer offered these words of praise and reverence for the land he and his family farmed for their entire lives. “It’s the ground that can never be replaced. They don’t make any more ground, and this ground in the spillway is the best in the world.”I wonder where his family now farms. Ten years ago, the Army Corps of Engineers dynamited a hole in the Mississippi river levee, flooding the spillway, in order to save a small town. In the process they sacrificed precious Missouri farmland. Years ago, when my family and I used to boat on the mighty Mississippi we would marvel at the homes on the river’s banks. Why would people build on a flood plain? Every year the Mississippi river floods. Every year the river nourishes the surrounding farmlands. Some years the floods are greater than others. Precious farming land comes at great cost. Apparently, this is nature’s equation. And so, every year families must flee their homes. There is a pull of the land that defies reason. There is the pull of an ancestral home that surpasses explanation. It is the sanctity of the land that pulls families toward it.This week we read about the sanctity of the land of Israel. So revered is this land that it alone is granted a sabbatical year. “When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the Lord.” (Leviticus 25) What is the purpose of this sabbatical year, a year in which the land must be allowed to lie fallow? Its purpose is twofold. On the one hand it is a reminder that only God truly owns the land. There is in truth no property ownership. The land is lent to us by God. On the other hand, the sabbatical year teaches us that everything, that all of God’s creations, must rest. Menuchah, Shabbat rest, is a universal right. It is not just a Jewish obligation, but instead a right that every living thing must enjoy. The land as well is a living and breathing creation.The sabbatical year of[…]

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