There are so many wonderful and exciting events that took place during the month of May, making it very difficult to single out the most outstanding ones during this period. I will highlight just a few:
LAG BAOMER CELEBRATION
On Thursday afternoon, May 7th we celebrated an amazing Lag Baomer event, which was simply fabulous! At approximately 5:45 pm, while everybody present was enjoying a sumptuous BBQ, I actually counted 156 children and parents in attendance. WOW! Due to the superb success of this event, we will obviously do it again with a few "tweaks" in the activities. There are so many individuals who were involved in the planning and orchestration of this event. As a result, I will thank EVERYBODY who assisted, as it was a team effort that guaranteed the success of this celebration. I would like to just mention a few people and arms of the ENJC.
This event was a partnering of our Ritual and Education Committees, Men's Club and Sisterhood (both of whom contributed financially) Joe and Alex Fingerman, who did most of the food shopping, Men's Club, Sisterhood members and parents, who so skillfully handled the BBQ, and a special todah rabah to some adults who have no children in our school and yet they were there to help–Nina & Steve Levine, Robin Kain & daughter Emily, Steve Hardy, Wendy Isaac and Lynn & Mark Slovin. I'd also like to thank Rabbi Silverman, who appeared as Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Bruce Katz, an amazing professional guitarist, who entertained our children, Karyn Tyl & Evan Axelrod, who arranged all of the custodial help necessary to pull off this event, and our amazing Religious School secretary Jill Riemer, as well as 7 of our teen tutors/class assistants who were present.
A special todah rabah to Frank Brecher (ENJC President), Melisa Kurtz (our dedicated Education VP) and Robin Kain, who assisted with the logistics regarding the food etc. Kudos to Mark Infald, who partnered with me in the planning and orchestration of this event! Todah to Morah Evelyn, who was so helpful with the games and activities.
If I have omitted anybody, my apologies! The success of this event was absolutely based upon "team work" and thanks to all. Most importantly, thanks to all parents and children who were present, thus ensuring the absolute success of this unique celebration.
ADULT BAR & BAT MITZVAH CELEBRATIONS
On Shabbat Saturday, May 2nd, we celebrated the Bar Mitzvah of Bart Ayres and the Bat Mitzvah celebrations of Lisa Green, Rachel Friedman and Linda Hametz. What a wonderful, joyous and meaningful service it was. Mazal tov to all!
OUR APPRECIATION TO OUR TALENTED CONGREGANTS
During the past couple of months, we have had a number of our teenagers and adults chanting Torah portions or Haftarot. Todah rabah and thanks to the following:
Mikayala & Lara Berman, Shelby Maldavir, Kevin Stubing, Hayden Roth, Barri & Ethan Feuer, Evan Keiser, Eric & Jen Vladimir, Ralph Wertheimer, Marc Schweitzer, Howie Lewin and Eric Loring.
TZEDAKAH: The opportunity that giving of charity presents us
Summertime, and the living is easy
Fish are jumping and the cotton is high
Your daddy’s rich and your mama’s good looking
So hush little baby don’t you cry.
The pleasures of summer are upon us. We play and we vacation and we try to forget about the world’s problems. But of course we see problems all around us–Earthquakes in Nepal and Ebola in Africa. Disasters both natural and man-made– train wrecks, plane crashes and war ravaged countries, which summon us to respond with our generosity. When disaster strikes we are driven by altruistic impulses to help in any way we can to lessen pain and to limit the damage. But our tradition advises us that tzedakah is something that must be given consistently and reflexively, not just in crisis but as a moral imperative and as a constant.
Tzedakah is a mitzvah that requires a person to give charity to the degree they are able. A person violates a negative commandment when he ignores a specific need for giving charity, but he violates the positive mitzvah if he or she doesn’t give at least a little bit yearly toward the benefit of others. There are degrees of tzedakah. The higher degrees of tzedakah are when we give eagerly and anonymously; the highest degree when we get someone a job or an interest-free loan to become financially stronger. Tzedakah must be given by everyone, even the poor, but not to the extent that they then need to panhandle for tzedakah themselves. Tzedakah is limited, on the high end, to 1/5 of one’s wealth, generally, and 2/5, in the case of the super wealthy. But of course that is the highest degree of generosity allowed, yet not required. Our sages tell us that Tzedakha mekarevet et Hageula, charity brings redemption near. Jerusalem is redeemed by tzedakah, and tzedakah is equal to all the other mitzvoth combined. One Hasidic sage reminds us that in the “atbash" method, in which letters are equated with others from the opposite side of the alphabet א-ת,ב-ש, tzedakah הדקצ is equal to its adbash analogue, צקדה, telling us that giving to tzedakah is as wonderful for the receiver as it is to the giver!
SHAVUOTH: THE HOLIDAY OF THE RECEIVING OF THE TORAH
Our rabbis wonder why Shavuoth, the major festival that occurs seven weeks-and-a-day after Pesach, is never referred to in the Torah as Hag Matan Torah, the holiday in which the Torah is given. Instead, it is referred to as Shavuoth "weeks" or Hag HaBikurim, the "holiday of first fruits." One answer is that the Bible is set in an agricultural society, with the beginning of the harvest as a major event. Another answer is that we need a constant reminder that our freedom is given to us not by our own hands but by God, who brought us out of Egypt. As we bring our first crops to the Temple, we should remember and give gratitude to the God of Israel for bringing us into this fertile land to be His people.
Two other very important reasons are given for the Bible not focusing on Chag Matan Torah, the holiday of the Giving of the Torah. The first is that to receive Torah, one must be humble. The Torah, like water, travels to the lowest place, and one must rid oneself of pride (know-it –all-ness), if one is to receive it. Therefore, the Torah models this humility by not trumpeting it's own importance!
The other is THAT THE TORAH WAS AND ALWAYS IS BEING GIVEN. The Torah is always available for those who are open to receive it. God himself referred to it when He created the world! It was there thousands of generations even before the creation of the world. It's just that humanity, until the time of Abraham and Sara, and later, in a collective fashion at Sinai, did not have a 'spiritual antenna' sufficiently strong enough to RECEIVE IT. And perhaps that is why it is not referred to in the Torah as the “Holiday of the giving of the Torah.” From the Torah's point of view, it was being constantly given, but sadly not being noticed. And so tradition has it, it was treasured by the angels, but not applied until the time of Sinai.
The Midrash adds that the Torah continues to radiate out from Sinai to beckon us; to reveal its truth every single day. A bat kol–a voice from Sinai, continues to thunder from Sinai saying, "my children, oh obtuse ones, come home, return to your God.” Humanity and the Jewish people, distracted in their many day-to-day pursuits, are also not “tuned in” to the ever undulating fountain of insight that our Torah continues to offer us. The Torah, therefore, was, is, and continues to be given, and so the name “The Day of the Giving of the Torah,” would be a misnomer.
We just finished celebrating the wonderful, meaningful and family oriented holiday of Passover and we now look forward to the holiday of Shavuot. This particular holiday is, at times, referred to as the "forgotten" Jewish holiday for quite a few reasons. I believe that probably the most important reason being the fact that there are very few significant and tangible observances or traditions which embellish Shavuot as compared to most of our other holidays.
Rosh Hashanah: We sound the shofar and it's officially our Jewish new year.
Yom Kippur: We fast for 25 hours and it's our final opportunity to beseech G-d for forgiveness.
Sukkot: We build a Sukkah and eat/dwell in it. We also shake the lulav and etrog.
Simchat Torah: This is a major celebration of dancing with the Sifrei Torah (Torahs) and we end and immediately begin the reading of the Torah.
Passover: We do not eat chametz, we celebrate with wonderful seders and so much more.
Shavuot: No real tangible or terribly significant observances. A custom is to eat cheese blintzes, which signify the Torah and the fact that like the cheese on the inside, our observance and study of Torah should also be sweet and enjoyable. Another custom being the fact that we don't eat meat, but rather, dairy products.
Possibly, however, Shavuot should be one of the most important of all Jewish Holidays! We refer to this beautiful chag as: Z'man matan torateinoo, the time that we, the Jewish people received the Torah. In the reading of the Torah on Shavuot, we recount the story of Moses and the Jewish people being the chosen nation to receive and observe the Torah. What single event in our history is more important? I am not sure about you, but most certainly I believe that no other event in our history is more earth-shattering than the events at Mount Sinai and the people of Israel receiving the Torah from G-d.
Please check out the calendar and join us on Shavuot as we together will celebrate TORAH and our amazing history since that time.
I’ve had an amazing first year as your ENJC President, witness to and part of some exceptional experiences and initiatives that make our synagogue the truly outstanding place we know it to be. It’s so rewarding to sit on the bima as our young teens become bar and bat mitzvah with such skill and poise. Our Religious School continues to grow with each passing year. We are in the process of refinancing our mortgage, which will improve our financial position for the future. You’ll notice improvements to our building as well. New outdoor lighting has been installed adjacent to the sanctuary doors, the Religious School, and in the parking lot. These high-efficiency sensor lamps will aid in lowering our electrical usage and costs.
Of course the year has held many challenges as well. Low turnout for our Purim celebration, for instance, due to an unexpected snow storm, was very disappointing; and the ongoing need for attendance at minyanim, which is a situation so many Long Island synagogues face, is something you can help to alleviate by making a conscious effort to attend more services.
As another year begins, I am appreciative of the efforts of our Board Members, synagogue clergy and staff, Religious School teachers and our congregants to prepare for the upcoming holidays, services and programming that make the ENJC a thriving and bustling center of activity for spiritual support and familial and community collaboration. It’s going to be a great year at the ENJC–I look forward to seeing you there!