It is a new year, a time of new beginnings! I hope that everyone had a lovely Chanukkah. As everyone knows, Cantor Nussbaum is now retired. He and Avrille are making arrangements to move closer to their family in New Jersey. He is extremely appreciative of the love and support he has received.
A lot has been happening over the last couple of months, so I would like to give an update of where we stand. We have hired Eliza Zipper as Religious School principal. She is a graduate of the Davidson School at Jewish Theological Seminary and has many years of experience as a Jewish educator and youth leader. She brings a great deal of energy and excitement about Jewish education. We look forward to working with her.
Also in the Religious School, we have hired Rabbi David Shain as the Hay Prayer and Hebrew Skills teacher. Those of you who have spent time at Gurwin may be familiar with Rabbi Shain, who has served there as a mashgiach (kashrut supervisor) and their Shabbat Rabbi. Rabbi Shain is very personable and knowledgeable. I am confident that our Hay students are in good hands.
Turning our attention to B’nai Mitzvah preparation, we have hired Dr. Paul Kaplan, a former long-term congregant, to tutor our B’nai Mitzvah students. Dr. Kaplan is a retired college professor with decades of teaching experience. In addition, in his own words, he has prepared “a thousand students” for their Bar and Bat mitzvah including at least one member of our Board of Directors. We are lucky to have him on board.
Finally, the Cantor Search committee has been meeting regularly since mid-November. With input from the Board and committees, a job description for our Cantor position has been developed. We have submitted our job posting to the Cantor Assembly Placement Office and we have begun to receive applications. It is still very early in the process, but we are on course and schedule. Look for future updates as things develop.
Shalom, chaverim! See you in shul!
In our contemporary American milieu, we begin January as a new chapter, with a batch of resolutions for the New Year. Similarly, with the departure of our beloved Chazzan, we at ENJC are also beginning a new chapter. And, according to Jewish tradition, every day is an opportunity for a new chapter, a potential for teshuva–a return to the correct path and to good living. Even God starts a new chapter each day, as the siddur claims, Hamechadesh bechol Yom Maaseah beresheet–we are awestruck at our God who each day 'creates the world anew.' With this in mind, there are four resolutions we can adopt into our Jewish lives, based on major themes in the portions we read in each of our January Shabbats. Perhaps you will embrace all or some of these opportunities.
In Miketz, which we read on December 30th, Joseph is appointed vizier of Egypt and devises a way to save the Near East from drought and hunger. Through his foresight and vision, suffering is alleviated and lives are saved. Let’s resolve, this new year, to make certain to redouble our efforts in supporting major organizations like Mazon, and make a personal effort to combat hunger by working with HIHI and with Long Island Harvest soup kitchens and food pantries, so as to minimize hunger for those who live locally.
In Vayigash, read on January 7, Joseph recognizes the repentance and improvement in his brothers, and reveals that he is their long-lost brother and that they must stop beating themselves up for past wrongdoings against him. Similarly, in our lives, we may have run-ins and moments of disagreement that turn ugly. This year, can't we perhaps turn to a loved one and forgive? Can't we gain a new perspective and maturity for a feud for which we may not even remember its' origin? Years may go by and affection may grow colder. Instead, love and let live. Forgive and forget. Reveal your real face to family and friends–a face that seeks to embrace rather than to estrange.
In Vayechi, which we read on January 14, we see an acme of pure love in the behavior of one of Jacob's grandsons, Menasseh, when he receives a lesser blessing from his grandfather than his younger brother, Ephraim. Jacob crosses his arms and knowingly puts his right hand on the head of Ephraim, even though he is the younger, saying that the younger brother will be greater than the elder Menasseh. In fact, the entire book of Genesis is about the jealousy of brothers: Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Jacob and Esau Joseph and his brothers. But Menasseh isn't jealous. He is happy for his brother. That is why, on Friday night, we bless our sons to be like Menasseh and Ephraim. These brothers broke the cycle of envy. May we resolve this year to break our cycle of envy, and when we catch ourselves coveting the blessings of others, let's make sure to count the many that we have.
On January 21, we read from the portion of Shemoth. We are introduced to Moses, who runs away from Egypt as a fugitive, and assumes the role of a shepherd. Moses needs to be convinced that he can be so much more. Yet he resists his calling and his talents, not believing in himself. God puts a staff in his hand and says, "Just do it." Moses finds his stride, and boy does he. This might be a lesson for all of us who are perfectionists or are too hard on ourselves. This year don't talk yourself out of trying for a new level of achievement, a new skill, or a new hobby. Don't settle for the familiar. Bring it on. You may fail but you have to believe in yourself and make that effort. You, like Moses, might surprise yourself with your talents if you do!
The Dreidel and Chanukah
According to Rabbi David Golinkin, the dreidel, or sevivon, is the most strongly linked symbol, next to the Chanukah lamp, for Jews at Chanukah. Apparently the dreidel is not an indigenous custom, but one that is modeled after other cultures. In 16th century England, Ireland and in central Europe, there were games called Totem, which also had spinning tops with gambling directions. T is Take All, H is Half, P is Put Down, and N is Nothing. How very ironic that a holiday with a message to hold tenaciously to one's laws and customs has as one of its main symbols one derived through imitation!
But this does not stop our rabbis from attributing other meanings to dreidels, after the fact. Some claim that the letters nun, gimmel, hey and shin stem from the miracle of Chanukah shortly after declaring Nes gadol Haya poh, or in the diaspora, Nes gadol Haya Sham–A great miracle happened here/there. The game of dreidel, it is claimed, was begun for the purpose of concealing Torah study, which Antiochus prohibited, and that the letters equal the numeric equivalent of 358, which is also the value of the word meshiah. Chanukah begins a time of messianic redemption.
Finally, some claim the letters represent the kingdoms that Jews have “spun circles around” and vanquished. Nun, gimmel, hey and shin remind us N, Nebuchadnetzar=Babylon; H, Haman=Persia=Madai; G, Gog=Greece; and S, Seir=Rome.
But the following is the take-away that I like best. The dreidel is a representation of what we mean by the middle Chanukah candle-lighting blessing. Praise and bless God, who has given us miracles in those days and in this time. “This time” refers not to our era, but rather “human time” real time. the whole story of Chanukah is that the miracle is driven from below by the Maccabees in real time. The centripedal force of the spin is driven not by the little handle above, but rather the body below. Similarly, it was the assumption of actions below that drove the victory and the success over the Greeks. The weighty actions and decisions we make in our life, in our time, are what allows miracles to happen. “Actions below lead to stirring above,” say our sages. That is what the letters of the body of the dreidel are telling us.
May all of us enjoy Chanukah and our dreidels. And may they inspire us to weighty actions and decisions that drive our reality. And let us say, Amen.
In November, we had the opportunity as a congregation to say good-bye to our Cantor. In December, many of us will have opportunities to say personal good-byes to a dear friend. Cantor Nussbaum has been a constant presence in our synagogue life. It will be very strange to not see him on the bimah or in the Religious School. I will miss his melodic baritone, "What's going oonnnn?" I will miss his enthusiastic "guess"-timates of attendance at various functions. I will miss the way in which he has always made my family feel welcome and loved in our shul.
If you have not already, I hope that you will have opportunities to wish Ralph well as he and his family embark on this new stage in their lives. Shake his hand. Share a memory. Give him a hug if that feels appropriate. (Just try not to make him cry. He hates that!)
Now, as a community, we must look to the future. We are at once both diminished by our loss and stronger for having had the Nussbaums in our midst. As we adjust to their absence, we will gradually develop a new sense of balance and normalcy.
Shalom, chaverim! See you in shul!
I bid adieux to my colleague of now 14 years, Cantor Ralph Nussbaum. It has been a joy and an inspiration to work alongside him.
The parasha mentions three functions in regard to Abraham that applies to our Chazan Nussbaum. First, Abraham is a teacher–he even teaches God that so important is hospitality, it is even more important than a private meeting with God. Abraham runs from his audience with God himself to welcome his guests. Thus, Abraham is a teacher, even instructing God himself. Chazan Nussbaum is also a great teacher.
The portion of Torah also mentions that Abraham caers a feast–a mishteh gadol–literally, a festive meal. Customary at festive meals was instrumental and vocal music. I am not sure Abraham sung, but Cantor certainly has embellished and beautified our ritual with his melodies and his chanting. As a musician, as a soloist, as choir director, as teacher, as balabus, as administrator, Chazan Ralph has graced this community for 23 years. We are so very sad to see this relationship come to an end, but we are happy to have been blessed by so many years of his dedication.
I was intrugued when, at the Men's Club Dinner, the Past Presidents awarded him with a decanter and proclaimed him an honorary Men's Club President. It was, as one congregant said, “decanter for de cantor.” It is interesting, though, that there may be a word origin relationship, although I may be completely wrong, etymologically. The root of the wrod "decanter" is to pour, and doesn't a cantor also "pour" out his heart and emotions as his soul "pours" upward the thoughts and aspirations, the petitions and the praises of the congregation? Certainly it can be decisively said that our Cantor Nussbaum poured out his heart for his congregation, in so many ways— in teaching, in his Chesed projects, in his visits to the sick, in his tending to the mourning and needs of our members. He has poured out his energies in so many respects, and yet we saw a maayan mitgaber, an overflowing, continuing spring of energy. It is therefore appropriate that in his words, “excitment fill the air tonight,” as we honor this man, our excellent chazan, both for his professionalism and his menschlichkeit.
For the blessing of clear vision, we thank you
For the blessing of humor and kibbitzing, we thank you
For the blessing of professionalism, we thank you
For the blessing of love of children, we thank you
For the blessing of melody and musicality, we thank you
For the skills of prayer and Haftorah, we thank you
For the blessing of your wisdom, we thank you
For the blessing of love of Torah and being able to convey it, we thank you
For the steady hand of instruction to our adults, we thank you
For the welcoming encouragement as choir director, we thank you.
Baruch ata be voecha o varuch ata betzetecha, Blessed are you and Avrille.
May the blessings you brought as you came into our shul redound upon you in your exit,
May your retirement bring you recuperation, added strength and new horizons.
May it be blessed with the joys of your wonderful family and deep and etched fond memories of your work at ENJC, and many more years of vitality.
We are forever grateful to you, our beloved Cantor, and to this, let us say, Amen.