Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Musical prayer project

Like most people on earth, my life has been upended by the coronavirus since early-to-mid March 2020.  After my first couple of weeks of quarantine, I adopted a project for myself:  I decided to record and post a video of a Jewish prayer each weekday morning, usually accompanied by some comments about it and why it is important to me.

I have now been doing this project from the end of March through all of April and May into early June and am coming up on 50 videos.  I plan to continue to record videos each weekday for as long as this health crisis lasts.  The Jewish musical world is so vast that I am in no particular danger of running out of material.

I adopted some general rules for myself.  I generally record in one take, and I post it whether or not I am happy with it.  I tell myself:  these are prayers, not performances; the Audience (with a capital A) is graciously forgiving of my errors.  I also have (with a few rare exceptions) not uploaded songs composed by people I know personally, or songs that I know are currently being actively performed by the composer.   

The best way to access these videos is to go to https://www.facebook.com/MusicalPrayerPandemicProject/ where I post them daily.   From time to time I also update the Youtube playlist here https://bit.ly/PianoPrayerPandemicProjectPlaylist.   I am pasting a few links to a few videos here and invite you to follow or subscribe or suggest additional songs I could play.  

This activity has been quite healing for me and I hope it brings healing to others as well. 

Acheinu - Abie Rotenberg

Ve-hi She-amdah (Yonatan Razel)

Asher Yatzar / Elohai (Debbie Friedman)

Ki Elecha (Shirona)

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Vote for our community's IAC Eitanim teens before Monday May 11!

A note from my colleague Grace Gurman-Chan:

USH High School students Nathan Kriegel, Sam Calmas and Marcus Heyman studied during the winter with staff from the Israel American Council and local entrepreneurs who are high profile successful business owners that employ Jewish values embedded in successful businesses . Our students learned about the impact Israel has made in areas of science, medicine, community development and business worldwide in a very short period of time. They created a potential on line interactive values-based teen app.  

They are now one of 16 entries in a national competition!


Please follow the link below and VOTE as individuals and families  after you view their idea for an app, and ENCOURAGE OTHERS TO VOTE in support of their idea!  

(We are also so proud of our 8th graders, who came in 2nd earlier this year in the local competition.)  


Below you will  also be able find their video and a separate link to vote. 

( Cut and paste the link into your browser.)

This is the link for the video :   https://youtu.be/-wxFfmhl_n8 (or watch it below!)


There are two ways to vote : 
1. YouTube - just click 馃憤
2. Facebook - click 馃憤 on the video itself, not the post. The post will not be considered a vote. 

( Cut and paste the link into your browser.)

Link for YouTube : 

Link for Facebook : 

Thank you all for supporting these incredible young people. 

Shalom, Grace

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Seder Trivia Game, 2020 / 5780 edition

At our synagogue's congregational seders for the last few years, we have played the following game:  I have collected unusual Pesach stories, and shared three such stories with the community:  two true stories, and one fictional story.  Participants then have to guess which two stories are true and which one is false.   (If you listen to Wait, wait, don't tell me, you get the idea, except that only one story is false.)

You can see previous editions of this game here http://rabbischeinberg.blogspot.com/search?q=trivia.

This is what was presented at our congregational seder in 2019.  2 are true; one is fictional. Answers at the bottom!

2 stories are true, one is fictional. 


What would you do in order to spend the Passover Seder with your family?

At 7am on the morning before Passover 2018, an Uber driver from the Bronx, who shall remain nameless, came to understand the lengths that some people will go through to get to a seder.

He had just responded to a drive request. The only information that the Uber driver’s app gave him was that the ride was expected to take more than 45 minutes. He figured it was going to be a request for a ride to the airport -- and sure enough, when he pulled up, a family of five proceeded to load luggage into his car.

The app then indicated that in fact, this family was traveling to the airport -- just not the airport he was expecting.

He asked the family: “The Uber app says that you want me to drive you from New York to Logan Airport in Boston. That can’t be right.”

But the family members said, “Actually, that’s correct.” 

The driver said: “You know the fare is going to be at least $800?”

They said - “yes.”

The passengers, Jeanne Fisher and her family, had already done the math. Their flight from LaGuardia Airport to Miami had been cancelled the day before Passover, and they found out that the only other flight from the entire northeast into South Florida that would arrive before the Seder, that had available seats, was leaving from Boston. So what choice did they have? They had to get to Boston so that they could get to Miami.

The Uber driver laughed but agreed to drive them, and decided to take the opportunity to visit his relatives in Connecticut on the way back. The ride is not the longest in Uber history, but at more than 4 hours, it ranks among the longest and most expensive Uber rides of 2018.

The Fishers made it to Boston Logan Airport in time for their flight, scheduled for before 1 p.m. But then they ran into another problem — their new flight was delayed. This time, thankfully, it was only for 40 minutes, and they arrived in Miami at 5:10pm, with just enough time to get to their family seder on time. I sure hope they gave a good tip to the driver.


2 stories are true, one is fictional.


Entrepreneur Aaron Levine, of Wilmington, Delaware, is known to his family and friends for having the most extensive collection of crazy socks. He has socks for just about every color, every sports team, and every holiday. But if you are Jewish and you collect crazy socks, you learn that it is hard to find holiday socks for Jewish holidays other than Hanukkah.

This is what inspired Aaron Levine, and his childhood friend who is an organic clothing 
manufacturer, to start selling SederSox®, Passover-seder-themed socks, including the Matzah sock, the Seder plate sock, and the Plague of Frogs sock, among others. These socks are made out of breatheable organic cotton -- and because of the company’s commitment to environmentalism, the socks also incorporate other biodegradable plant-based fibers, including wheat fibers. They were excited to unveil their product in anticipation of Passover 2018, with the hope that it would be sold in Judaica stores and other retailers, as well as on their website.

But when SederSox® reached the market in February of 2018, Aaron started to get detailed inquiries from some potential retailers and customers, asking about exactly how the wheat fibers are produced.

And Aaron soon learned, to his dismay: because the process of producing the wheat fibers involves mixing wheat with water and letting it stand for more than 18 minutes, it meets the technical definition of Hametz. In other words, SederSox® are made with a leavened product that is not supposed to be seen or even owned during the holiday of Passover.

This is why, for 2019, SederSox® are no longer made with wheat fibers.

The remaining 2018 inventory of SederSox® can still be purchased from their website, but every order now comes with a note: “According to many rabbis, it is a violation of Jewish law to wear SederSox® to your Seder unless the sock is clearly marked ‘Kosher for Passover.’”


 2 stories are true, one is fictional.


Who doesn’t love matzah? Well, lots of people don’t love matzah. But you probably have realized that matzah is on the shelves in many supermarkets all year round. And a lot of that matzah on the shelves all year round is not even kosher for Passover. There are clearly plenty of people eating matzah year round who are not doing so because they have to, but because they want to.

And you will never guess the identity of one major non-Jewish matzah consumer.

I will give you some hints.

He is one of the richest and most powerful people in the world.

He is legendary for his physical fitness.

He has a special relationship with the Jewish community in his country. And …

One of his favorite hobbies is using social media to steal elections in other countries.

Yes, you guessed it. In 2018, during the Moscow Limmud festival, Russia’s chief Rabbi Berel Lazar noted that matzah is one of the favorite foods of Russian president Vladimir Putin, throughout the whole year. “Putin said matzah is tasty, easy and healthy to eat,” said Rabbi Lazar. “He likes to eat matzah while drinking tea.” 

And whereas Rabbi Lazar’s story has not been independently verified, you can be sure that a powerful person like Putin would not tolerate this story being told about him if it weren’t true. You know how much Putin hates “fake news.”


Story #1 is true. (see https://www.jta.org/2018/03/30/united-states/familys-new-york-miami-flight-cancelled-right-passover)

Story #2 is false. (The prohibition on owning or coming in contact with hametz applies only to hametz items that are fit for consumption.)

Story #3 is true. (See https://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-5238427,00.html)

讞讙 砖诪讞!

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Responding to antisemitism in America (adapted from sermon for the 1st day of Rosh haShanah, 2019 / 5780)

I began my sermon with a brief description of my trip to Pittsburgh this January to spend a shabbat filling in for Rabbi Jonathan Perlman at the New Light Congregation, which lost 3 congregants in the terrible Tree of Life massacre.

(If you are curious why I have chosen the spelling ‘antisemitism’ (uncapitalized and without a hyphen), see here.)

….Rabbi Perlman’s community, called New Light, used to have its own building, but a few years ago they sold their building and began to rent space from the Tree of Life synagogue. Rabbi Perlman says he had never heard live gunfire before, but the moment he heard the sound, he knew what it was and that he had to hide and get others into hiding. He was able to hustle the other three people with him at the front of the room into a safe area, an electrical storage closet behind the wall where the aron kodesh, holy ark is.

So in that storage closet, which was pitch-black because they couldn’t find the light switch -- were four people: Rabbi Perlman, who has high-school-age and college-age children, And 3 congregants - a woman in her 60s, a man in his 70s, and a man in his upper 80s.

Then there was a lull in the shooting. And Melvin Wax, the man in his 80s, because of his hearing loss, was not able to hear the others instructing him not to open the door. So he opened the door - and was immediately shot and killed before their eyes.

The gunman then entered the closet and fumbled around in the dark for a moment and then left, leaving Rabbi Perlman and the other two people in the closet alive. And the gunman proceeded to the Tree of Life sanctuary where he killed his remaining victims. (and we plan to remember them all by name on Yom Kippur.)

The New Light community lost several of the people who had been instrumental in every part of synagogue life. For example, Mel Wax of blessed memory had been leading Psukei Dezimra at the time when the shooting began. Two of the regular Torah and haftarah readers were also murdered.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

"Making modest changes" (Adapted from sermon from Rosh HaShanah eve 2018)

Last November, the record was set in Israel for the most expensive document ever to be sold at auction in Israel.

The story of that document starts nearly 100 years ago. In 1922, Albert Einstein had recently learned that he had won the Nobel Prize. He had a previously scheduled lecture in Tokyo, so in Tokyo he was receiving numerous letters and telegrams congratulating him on winning the Nobel Prize. Someone had sent him a package, so a bellboy from the hotel came up to deliver the package to Einstein, who looked in his pocket to find some change to give as a tip to the bellboy. But he didn’t have any.
So he told the bellboy instead: “Let me write you a note. Maybe someday it will become more valuable than a regular tip. And if not, then well I’m just giving you some good advice from my experience.” So he wrote, in German, on the Japanese hotel stationery, these words:

“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Seder trivia - 2019 / 5779 edition

For the last several years, I have collected unusual Pesach stories, and shared three such stories with the community: two true stories, and one fictional story. Participants then have to guess which two stories are true and which one is false. (If you have listened to Wait, wait, don't tell me, you get the idea, except that only one story is false.) You can see previous editions of this game on my web site here http://rabbischeinberg.blogspot.com/search?q=trivia.

Here are the stories that I shared at our congregational seder last year. Answer (and relevant links) at the bottom. Feel free to use it if you wish!



 American Jewish history is full of conflicts between Jewish tradition and sports. Hank Greenberg didn’t play in the World Series on Rosh HaShanah. Sandy Koufax didn’t play in the World Series on Yom Kippur. Many elementary school age kids get to relive these famous values clarification dilemmas on a weekly basis when soccer practice conflicts with Hebrew school. And for some University of Michigan fans I know, the 2018 Second Seder posed a real dilemma, with the Wolverines reaching the Final Four.

But… did you know about the Canadian version of this dilemma? Canada’s national sport, of course, is hockey. And before the lengthening of the NHL season, hockey fans often had to contend with the Stanley Cup playoffs or finals coinciding with the Passover Seders.

It was the Stanley Cup finals of 1953 which were the crescendo of this conflict between religion and sports.

Friday, November 9, 2018

After the Massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh

These are the thoughts I shared with the community on Saturday, November 3, one week after the massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

In the Torah reading this shabbat, Abraham suffers the loss of his wife Sarah.
We read 讜讬讘讜讗 讗讘专讛诐 诇住驻讜讚 诇砖专讛 讜诇讘讻讜转讛 - Abraham came to mourn for Sarah and cry for her.
But then Abraham has to begin negotiations to find a burial plot for his wife Sarah.
And so he approaches his neighbors, the Hittites, and says 讙专 讜转讜砖讘 讗谞讻讬 注诪讻诐 ger ve-toshav anokhi imakhem - I am a stranger and resident alien in your midst. Will you sell me a grave so I can bury my wife?
And they respond to him -- 谞砖讬讗 讗诇拽讬诐 讗转讛 讘转讜讻谞讜 -- nesi elokim atah be-tokheinu - Abraham, you may think of yourself as a stranger and resident alien, but to us, you are a leader. In fact, you are 谞砖讬讗 讗诇拽讬诐- you are raised up by God! We hold you in high esteem!
Well, if you read to the end of this passage, it turns out that the Hittites don’t end up holding him in high esteem - but Rabbi Harold Kushner has long used these two phrases to describe two different ways that Jews and others understand the Jewish community.
Sometimes, Jews see ourselves, or are seen by others, as 讙专 讜转讜砖讘 ger ve-toshav. As strangers and resident aliens, not really belonging, not really accepted. And often persecuted and oppressed.
And sometimes Jews see ourselves, or are seen by others, as 谞砖讬讗 讗诇拽讬诐 讘转讜讻谞讜 nesi elokim be-tokheinu - as leaders, those raised up, even respected for having a special relationship with God, fully welcomed into the societies in which we live, and having a responsibility to shape those societies.
And here’s the challenge: both were true about Abraham, and both are true about every Jewish community in Jewish history.
The assailant on Shabbat thought of Jews as interlopers who don’t belong, who are pulling the strings to create every disadvantage for the people he regards as authentic Americans; who are even perpetrating a genocide against European-Americans.
And his words and acts of violence are in sad continuity with thousands of years of antisemitic words and acts of violence -- because this is nothing new.
When we had discussions with our older Learning Center students about this incident, we said ‘this is not the first time you are hearing about this sad fact that some people don’t like Jews. You know about this from as far back as the stories of Passover and Purim and Hanukkah.’
And just as his words and acts of violence are in sad continuity with the history of antisemitism,
they are ALSO in sad continuity with hundreds of years of American home-grown racism and nativism, that labels various people INCLUDING Jews as dangerous outsiders.
Just confining ourselves to attacks on people at prayer: In recent years we have seen hate-filled murderous attacks on African-American Christians at prayer in Charleston; on Muslims at prayer in Quebec City; on Sikhs at prayer in Wisconsin -- all perpetrated by white supremacists. And had the Pittsburgh attack not happened, we would all be talking more about the Petersburg Kentucky attack, in which two people were murdered by yet another white supremacist solely because they are African-American -- and because the gunman was not able to get into the African-American church that was his real target.
And even THIS WEEK -- since this terrible incident - there are hateful slogans painted on a synagogue in Irvine CA; there are swastikas painted on a synagogue on Thursday in Brooklyn Heights, when there is a dramatic escalation of antisemitic chatter on social media celebrating last shabbat’s attack -- and the result is that many of us can feel flashbacks to earlier times in Jewish history.
How painful it is for me to hear more than one person say to me: “I am just glad that my {parent; grandparent; other relative} did not survive to see this happen in the United States.”
One of my friends asked: “Will the American Jewish community come to look back at this event as our Kristallnacht?
As you may know, this week we commemorate the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, referred to in German as Reichspogromnacht, the terrible Night of Broken Glass in 1938 that marked the beginning of the Shoah period.
Tor many German Jews, Kristallnacht was a wake-up call that the Jewish experience under the Nazis would be just as bad or worse than they had feared.
So my friend asks: is this Kristallnacht?
My answer is clear. Let’s look at some of the differences.
During Kristallnacht, the police were on the side of the assailants, providing no protection to the Jewish homes, synagogues, institutions and businesses that were destroyed.
And this week, four police officers are still in the hospital because of the bullets that they took as they subdued the assailant.
This week, even before the incident had been reported on the news, our own Chief of Police in Hoboken was informed and sent officers immediately to protect our synagogue and to send a message that they are standing by us.
During Kristallnacht, the Jews were isolated.
And this week, hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths and no faith came out to stand by the Jewish community in communities around the country - plus many more this shabbat.
On Monday night, less than 72 hours after the incident, our sanctuary was full to overflowing -- we had political leaders, as well as religious leaders representing Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, and Sikh communities, standing with us, standing up to hate, proclaiming that what happened in Pittsburgh is the opposite of what is supposed to happen in a sanctuary, in a house of worship.
And that they treasure us for the ways we are different -
As we treasure them for the ways they are different.
And they know that in similar circumstances we have stood up for them.
(By the way: when people ask me why I spend so much of my time focused on interfaith cooperation activities -- part of the answer is that I feel that Jewish ethics and values demand this of me, but part of the answer is that there’s an element of self-interest. Truly, planning Monday night’s event did not take just 2 days -- it took several years of building and nurturing relationships.)
And you should see - - the bouquets of flowers, the bundles of roses,
The envelopes of letters and notes from our neighbors’ churches, some of which I have reprinted on the sheets that have been distributed;
The posters outside our neighboring houses of worship that announce prayers for the Jewish community -
The Pittsburgh Gazette front page headline that reads in Aramaic in Hebrew letters - 讬转讙讚诇 讜讬转拽讚砖 砖诪讬讛 专讘讗 - the opening words of the Mourner’s Kaddish. (That’s the kind of ‘dog whistle’ that I can get behind.).
I do long for a time when it could simply be expected that all political leaders would have the agenda of uniting the nation, especially at times of tragedy - helping us to come together and sense a common purpose rather than to sow division.
Not all political leaders today are interested in or capable of doing this, and we could use some help in forging more unity.
But apparently, when necessary, we know how to make the unity ourselves.
Sometimes we feel like the 讙专 讜转讜砖讘 ger ve-toshav- the stranger or alien - but at other times we realize that in this society we are 谞砖讬讗 讗诇讛讬诐 讘转讜讻谞讜 - nesi elohim be-tokheinu - we are treasured and raised up. We are a proud part of the mosaic of this country, sharing in the responsibility for its present and future.
And if we are both the strangers and the treasured ones -- it means we need to be vigilant but not afraid.
It means that we will NOT stop gathering in synagogues,
We will NOT stop practicing Jewish values as we understand them.
We will NOT stop emulating Abraham who welcomed strangers into his tent.
We will NOT stop fulfilling the Torah’s commandment to love the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt.
We will NOT stop emulating Joseph and Esther and Daniel who ascended to leadership roles in their lands and then sought to make wise decisions that would benefit EVERYONE.
We will NOT stop emulating the prophets Isaiah and Micah who preached a message of peace for ALL nations.
We will NOT stop emulating Cecil and David of blessed memory, who would invite people every week into their spiritual home.
We will NOT stop emulating Jerry and and Richard and Bernice and Joyce of blessed memory, generous healers and sensitive teachers.
We will NOT stop emulating Rose and Sylvan and Daniel and Melvin and Irving of blessed memory, who built and sustained families and communities where the traditions of their ancestors could be passed on.
Each shabbat, when we recite the Mi Sheberakh le-holim, the prayer for people who are ill, we add six extra words, essentially to apologize to God that we are disturbing Shabbat by crying out on this day. We say: 砖讘转 讛讬讗 诪诇讝注讜拽 讜专驻讜讗讛 拽专讜讘讛 诇讘讜讗 Shabbat hi mi-liz’ok, ur’fuah kerovah lavo. “Today is Shabbat, when one is not supposed to cry out in agony - and but we pray for healing soon.”
And this is our prayer today:
砖讘转 讛讬讗 诪诇讝注讜拽 Shabbat hi mi-liz’ok.
Today is Shabbat, when one should never have to cry out in agony - though we are crying out anyway.
May this and every future shabbat be a Shabbat Shalom, a Shabbat of peace, the peace that was tragically absent last week in Pittsburgh.
May it be a Shabbat of security, of community, of gratitude even at a terrible time.
讜专驻讜讗讛 拽专讜讘讛 诇讘讜讗 ur’fuah kerovah lavo.
And may healing come soon --
To those who are injured and remain hospitalized,
To those who are bereaved,
To those who are traumatized,
To those who are terrified,
To those who are sad and angry and exhausted.
May we find healing soon - because we have urgent work to do.