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  • October 17, 2019 2:38 PM | Lance Strate (Administrator)


    Yom Kippur, 5780

    Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz

    On May 6 of this year the New York Times published a photo that broke my heart. It was a picture of a magnificent olive ridley sea turtle washed up on an Indian beach. The turtle is dead, strangled by the fishing rope still looped around its neck.

    I wondered why I had such a strong reaction. I thought it was tied to the fact that just four months earlier I had the unforgettable opportunity to swim with these glorious, peaceful animals in the Galapagos Islands.

    Then one week later Magaret Renkl, a contributing columnist to the Times, captured in stark prose our shared reaction to the striking image:

    That photo undid me. All week long I found myself coming back to it until I had it committed to memory, the shapes and the colors…. I kept being struck anew by the sorrow of that one lost creature, that one preventable tragedy. The turtle’s great head is bowed, resting on the sand. Its eyes are closed; its ancient face is drawn back in a mask of grief. The turtle’s whole body signals resignation, surrender. In the background, [people] play in the surf.

    Renkl goes on to say, “If the photo is traumatizing, the story is worse.” The Times article that accompanied the photo was about the unprecedented assault on biodiversity across our planet. Renkl entitled her own piece, “Surviving Despair in the Great Extinction”.  The tag line underneath it read, “One million species of plants and animals are heading toward annihilation, and it’s our fault. How can we possibly live with that truth?”

    Yes, the report, a 1500 page study by the UN, speaks about the coming extinction of one million species. Think about that. As Renkl writes, “That’s every individual creature in a species—times one million. We can’t possibly conceive of such a thing. We can hold in mind… the image of a single animal who died a terrible death. Devastation on this scale is beyond the reach of imagination. How could we hold in mind a destruction so vast it would take not just one sea turtle but all that animal’s kind, as well as the kind of 999,999 other species?”

    That’s what makes the scourge of eco-destruction and global warming so hard to comprehend. The scale is so epic in size and years that we can’t really see what is going on. It’s a nightmare unfolding in slow motion.  By the time we awake the damage is done and it is vast. And it is not us, but our children, and our children’s children who will suffer the most.

    Those who know me know that I have been a passionate environmentalist since I was a kid. Growing up in the beautiful Hudson River Valley made an impression on me. Visiting so many of our great National Parks with my family made an impression on me. Seeing my father leave his secure teaching position to join a cutting edge environmental education project in the 70s made an impression on me.  Working with colleagues to help found Shomrei Adamah, the first Jewish environmental organization, made an impression on me. The good fortune of hiking many of the great walks of the world on six of seven continents made an impression on me. How can I not talk about this report of the looming Great Extinction?

    It’s a terrible term, The Great Extinction. Extinction is forever. There is no turning back. There is no do-over; no second chance.  Once a species is gone the world is permanently diminished. That color of the bio-diversity rainbow is no more. The Great Extinction, the great die-off has already begun. The only question is whether we can slow it down.

    Permit me to inundate you with just some of the facts and figures from the UN report:

    The loss of species is now happening tens to hundreds of times as fast as the average rate over the past ten million years. Extinction has always happened but now is accelerating out of control.  1 million of the 8 million known species could disappear within decades, not centuries.

    The world population of 7 billion has “severely altered” 75% of the land environment and 66% of the marine environment.  Human activity has depleted the average abundance of native species by a fifth, putting at extinction risk a third of all marine mammals, a third of all reef corals, and 40% of all amphibians.  The alarming decline of bees and other insects, which pollinate ¾ of the world’s crops, could result in a half trillion dollars worth of damage.  

    The heightened destruction of coastal habitats due to floods and hurricanes associated with global warming, which we see on TV so often now, puts as many as 300 million people worldwide at risk.

    Robert Watson, one of the report’s lead authors, emphasized that drastic environmental action is not just about protecting animals; it’s about protecting people. “We are eroding the very foundation of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide,” he writes.

    Back to Renki’s haunting question: One million species are heading toward extinction, and it’s our fault. How can we possible live with that truth?

    How can we live with that truth as global citizens, as American citizens, and as American Jews, on this Yom Kippur, when we confess not only our personal sins, but our communal sins?

    Did we not recite al het shehatanu: for the sins we have sinned against You:

     For poisoning the air and polluting land and sea

     For deceiving ourselves and others with half-truths and denials

     For using the sins of others to excuse our own

    How can we live with that truth when our Torah tells us that “the earth is the Lord’s” and we are here “to till it and tend it.”?

    How can we live with that truth when our Talmud teaches us that “just as my ancestors planted for me, so I will plant for my children”?

    It’s important to note that all the scientists involved in the report argue that only transformative change will make a difference. Only a global “Green New Deal, if you will, a vast, multilateral agreement. Anything else, they say, is like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

    So on this Yom Kippur, I am going to add to our list of “al hets”—for the sins we have sinned against You:

    For pulling out of the Paris global climate accords.

    For turning back the clock on automobile emission standards and fossil fuel industry regulation.

    For downsizing the precious lands we have set aside for preservation.

    On this Yom Kippur forgive us:

    For thinking nationalistically rather than globally.

    For building walls rather than bridges.

    For thinking about today at the expense of tomorrow.

    Is it too much to demand from our political leaders that a responsible Green New Deal is an ecological and economic imperative for this nation and for the world?

    Is it too much to ask that the United States turn from protectionist and obstructionist policies and become the world leader in energy conservation and innovation?

    Is it too much to hope that as we enter the third decade of the 21st century we finally awake to the perilous future of our planet?

    I close, as I opened, with another picture that broke my heart and those of people around the world. In 2007 photo-journalist Brent Stirton was in Virunga National Park, along the border of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. The Virunga Mountain range is the last remaining habitat of the magnificent mountain gorilla. Stirton captured the ghastly image of a funeral procession for seven of these animals, murdered by poachersthe most unforgettable image of tearful park rangers bearing the body of Senkwekue, the massive male silverback who had tried in vain to protect his family.

    There are only some 800 mountain gorillas left in the world today. That is actually a significant improvementwhen Diane Fossey worked with them in the 70s and 80s they were less than 300. But of course, one virus or another civil war could wipe them out in a flash. Males take 15 years to maturity; females 10 years, and a single baby is born to a mother once every 4 to 8 years.

    The mountain gorilla has never successfully been kept in captivitywhat you may have seen in a zoo is a western lowland relative.  The mountain gorilla is our closest primate relative, sharing 98.6 percent of our genome. Not surprisingly, their intelligence is surpassed only by our species, sometimes.

    The mountain gorilla remains on the list of critically endangered species. What a loss to the world if they become extinct.

    This summer Debby and I trekked through the Virunga mountains of Uganda and had one unforgettable hour to quietly observe these fierce looking but peace-loving, family oriented, vegetarian eating, so human-like primates.

    What a loss to the world if we lose these gentle giants of the jungle, and those gentle giants of the sea, and all those creatures, great and small, all those wild things wise and wonderful, all those beings bright and beautiful that share the planet with us.

    What a loss to the world if my children, and their children, will visit the Galapagos devoid of those turtles in the ocean and those tortoises on land, never mind the marine iguanas and the blue-footed boobies.

    What a loss if they will trek to Africa devoid of those gorillas in the mist, never mind the black rhinos and Rothschild giraffes

    An African proverb states: Let us think of our world not so much as inherited from our ancestors but as borrowed from our children.

    Amen to that. Amen.     

  • October 03, 2019 9:08 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    This Week at Adas Emuno

    October 3, 2019

       After a beautiful beginning to the New Year, it's non-stop at Adas Emuno!

       Several people have already asked to see my Rosh Hashanah Morning sermon, and you can do that by clicking this link:

       It's worth spending some time looking around our newly designed website so nicely put together by Lance Strate.

       "An Essential Jewish Vocabulary, Part II-Yom Kippur" is our topic at our Shabbat Evening Service (7:30 PM), which also includes the distinctive prayers and melodies of Shabbat Shuva -the "Shabbat of Return" that takes place during the High Holidays.

      Turning Point #5, "Give Us a King" at our Shabbat Morning Torah Study (10:00 AM) could not be more relevant, as we study about the Bible's warning of the abuse of power by elected leaders!

       Of course Yom Kippur is on Tuesday evening and Wednesday, but make sure your calendar is also marked for our Sukkot "Pizza-in-the-Hut" and Folk Singing Celebration on Sunday the 13th (5:00 PM), with our Shabbat/Simchat Torah Celebration on Friday the 18th (7:30 PM).

                                                        Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah,
                                                        Rabbi Schwartz

  • October 02, 2019 5:01 PM | Lance Strate (Administrator)


    Rosh Hashanah, 5780

    Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz

    On Wednesday morning, July 10 of this past summer, I came face to face with Lucy.

    I was all alone on the bottom floor of the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, during a long layover in transit from our trip to Uganda. Despite its title, the Museum in a very modest affair, with the exception of that bottom floor. It must have been a slow day.

    There she was. Lucy, perhaps the most famous hominid fossilized skeleton of all time.  Lucy, the so called “missing link” in the evolutionary chain from primate to human. Lucy, 3½ feet tall, 3.2 million years old. The first species to walk upright. Small brain: about 65 pounds, with a remarkable 40% of her bones still intact. Discovered in northern Ethiopia in 1974 by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson. Donald celebrated with his team the night of the discovery by playing, loudly and repeatedly, the Beatles “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”. Donald became famous; Lucy became world famous.

    It was a bit surreal, just Lucy (in a protective glass case of course) and mebut it was awesome. I doubt Lucy had ever met a rabbi. She didn’t know that as a kid I remember her discovery and loved reading all about human origins.  And she didn’t know what would happen just two years after her discovery.

    In nearby Tanzania Andrew Hill was clowning around with his colleagues when he slipped and fell into a pile of… elephant dung. As he got up he thought he saw something. Right away he went to get Mary, his boss. That would be Mary Leakey, wife of famed paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey, and an expert in her own right. What they were looking at was not bones, but what appeared to be a fossilized footprint in the volcanic ash.

    Then they saw another one, by its side. Two sets of footprints. One bigger than the otherfrom a considerably taller and heavier upright walking individual. Possiblya male and female walking side by side.

    Then Mary Leakey noticed something else. There were not two sets of prints, but three. She had initially missed that fact for a very good reason. The third set of footprints was actually within the largest. They were very small and feint. Yes, quite possibly a child, literally walking in its father’s footsteps. Quite possibly a young child “trying on” their parent’s footprints, as children are still want to do on a walk along the beach. In sum, quite possible a family walking together.

    Tests later revealed that the footprints found by Hill and Leakey were 3.7 million years oldfrom the dawn of near human existence. In fact, from the age of Lucy. The footprints became known to the world as the Laetoli footprints, after the nearby gorge. Lucy and the Laetoli footprints rewrote the book on human origins. Now we had the evidence.  First our ancient ancestors walked on two feet. Then their brains expanded. Then we became recognizably human. 

    But what still gets me after all these years is thisa family walking together.

    The notion that families belong together is not a uniquely human idea; after all, it is widely observed in the animal kingdom. But it is a quintessentially human idea, because human children need parents for such a long time.

    You may have observed that human children mature slowly. Very slowly. They do not generally leave the nest for some 18 years. Or more… Sometimes they come back to the nest. They often ask for money. They ask to remain on your cell phone plan. And on your EZ-Pass. And of course, they make regular visits, so you can do their laundry.

    All kidding aside, it is as a family that we live together and walk together and face life together. Literally and figuratively we walk together.  Often side by side. Sometimes in each other’s steps. But hopefully, together, in mutual support.

    This very idea is indeed embedded in the portion of Torah we read this morning. You might have missed it in the harrowing story of the binding of Isaac. But when Isaac asks, “Where is the sheep for the burnt offering?” and Abraham replies, “God will see to the sheep for the offering, my son,” the Torah then says, va’yelchu shnaihem yachdav—“And the two of them walked on together” (Gen.22:8).

    A father and son are in a fraught relationship. They face an uncertain future. But at least for this moment they are walking together.

    I think this is why so many of us were so disturbed at the images of parents being separated from their children at the southern border of our country this past year. It just goes against something so deep; so primal in our humanity. It is not who we are as a country. It is not who we are as human beings with some sense of compassion.

    I don’t have to tell you that as Jews what we witnessed was all the more anguishing. We shudder when we see families separated. When we see crying children and despondent parents. We have been migrants more times in our collective history than we can remember. We have been refugees at “Do Not Enter” crossings time and again. Jewish refugee children were blocked from entering this country in the lifetime of some of our members here today.

    Though our government’s policy of family separation officially ended the summer before last… that is not the end of the story. Not all of the separated children been reunited with their parents. This past June the situation entered the news again when a group of lawyers who visited a Texas detention center housing migrant youth were so appalled by what they sawtoddlers without diapers, children sleeping on the floor, older children in charge of younger ones, flu outbreaks, that they alerted the media. The UN Commissioner for Human Rights said on July 8 that she was “deeply shocked” by the conditions facing these children.

    Whatever your political affiliation, is this acceptable? Whatever your take on immigration reform, is this who we are?   We want to avert our eyes. That’s what was once done to us.

     I can imagine that our African American neighbors also understand this. Part of what slavery meant in this country is that children belonged to their masters, not their parents. In 1860, one out of every ten children in America fit that category.

    I can imagine that our Native American neighbors also understand this. For decades Native American children were routinely separated from their parents and sent to boarding schools where they were supposed to learn how to become “Americans”.

    I can imagine that immigrant children of every race and ethnic group also understand this. If they were suspected of having tuberculosis or eye disease or even mental retardation they were often separated right at Ellis Island.

    We have averted our eyes too many times. Isaiah reminds us: Don’t look away! Raise your voice, like a shofar!

    On this High Holy Day, I’d like to make a final point about families walking together. Tolstoy famously said that while happy families are alike, unhappy families are unhappy each in their own way. The egregious violation of family unity by our own government calls for condemnation, but on this day let us also think about what is causing stress and separation in our own families? What is driving us apart? How can we pull together?

    In that list of personal failures that we recite on Yom Kippur in the Al Het prayer we say:

    We sin against You, O god, when we sin against ourselves.

    For condemning in our children the faults we tolerate in ourselves,

    And for condemning in our parents the faults we tolerate in ourselves.

    And later we say:

    For withholding love to control those we claim to love,

    And shunting aside those whose youth or age disturbs us.

    How can we be more forgiving of our children and our parents?

    How can we be more unconditionally loving?

    I’ll always remember a trip that we took to Cape May when our eldest, Nadav, now all grown up and married, was just a little boy. We were on the beach, with Nadav and Talia in tow. Noam had not even been born yet. We’re walking along when Nadav calls out, “Look, Abba, I’m walking in your steps.” Debby saw me turn around and then get teary eyed. “What’s the matter,” she said. “Let me tell you a story about the Laetoli footprints,” I said.

    As parents we know that our children are always watching us, learning from us, and walking with us. We would do well to remember that. Horah (parent), morah (teacher), and Torah are all from the same root in Hebrew. We parents are all teachers, role models whether we like it or not, the link between the generations past and the future whether we know it or not.

     The prophet Malachi said that the great day of Elijah, the herald of the messiah, will come when the hearts of children and turned to parents, and the hearts of parents are turned to children.

    May that great day of Elijah come.

    May it come at least a little closer speedily and in our day.

    May we walk together, arm in arm, toward a brighter future.

  • September 26, 2019 9:03 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

        Dear Friends,

        With the holidays upon us, I'm offering a three-part sermon series on an "Essential Jewish Vocabulary", beginning with key terms for Rosh Hashanah, at our Shabbat evening service (7:30 PM).

        "Entering the Promised Land" is the (highly relevant) subject of "Turning Points in Jewish History" at our Shabbat morning Torah study (10:00 AM).

        We hope to see you "early and often" at our High Holiday services that begin Sunday evening (8:00 PM) and continue on Monday morning (10:00 AM).

        Remember that our Rosh Hashanah Children's service (2:00 PM) is open to the community, as is our Tashlich gathering at Overpeck Park (3:30 PM).  

        With warm wishes for a sweet and peaceful New Year,

                                     Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah,
                                     Rabbi Schwartz

  • September 20, 2019 9:58 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

  • September 19, 2019 9:18 PM | Lance Strate (Administrator)

    This Week at Adas Emuno

    Sept. 19, 2019
    Dear Friends,
       Our first Family Shabbat service of the school year is a "Welcome Back" Family Service (7:30 PM), complete with reading from the Torah, a really cool story about the Israeli Women's Lacrosse Team that happened this summer, and a "decorate-your-own-cupcake" oneg. 

        Shabbat Morning Torah Study (10:00 AM) is in full swing, but its not too late to join.

       Religious school is also in full swing, but Confirmation (11:00 AM) meets on Sunday for the first time, and this year we have the biggest class in more than a decade (thanks to a great enrollment of the 8th grade-kudos to them). 

       The annual Leonia Peace Day celebration takes place on Sunday at 6:00 on the lawn of the Methodist Church. It is always my pleasure to participate and the community feeling is nice.

    Shabbat shalom,
    Rabbi Schwartz

  • July 10, 2019 3:48 PM | Lance Strate (Administrator)

    D’var Torah Korach, July 5th, 2019

    Lance Strate

    This week’s parsha or Torah portion is called Korach, which is the name of a Levite who challenged the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Together with his two sons and 250 other community leaders, he challenged Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “You’ve gone too far. Why do you raise yourselves up above us?” By way of response, the Torah tells us that Moses fell on his face. Let me repeat that: He fell on his face.

    Falling on your face is not exactly a commonplace activity nowadays, at least not in the western world, so we are left with the question of, what exactly was meant by Moses taking up this posture? The Torah provides no further explanation, and as it turns out, no one is quite sure about what that action was supposed to convey. Consequently, the sages speculated on the meaning of the gesture. Back in the Middle Ages, the 10th century rabbi known as the Saadia Gaon gave it a mystical interpretation, suggesting that it was a means of achieving divine guidance on how to respond to the rebels, that it was a way of making himself open to receiving a divine vision. The 11th century rabbi known as Rashi suggested that Moses did it in a desperate attempt to stave off divine vengeance and obtain God’s forgiveness for yet another incident in which his people lost faith and engaged in rebellion against God’s will. More recently, the 19th century Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin believed that he did it “to remind others of when they themselves had fallen on their faces amidst an experience of profound awe.” In effect he was saying to the rebels what the Hebrew above our ark says, da lifnei mi attah omed, know before whom you stand.

    We can’t be entirely sure of what falling on your face means because most of what we call body language is not like a language at all. There is no dictionary where you can look up the meanings of body movements such as leaning in or out, crossing legs or arms, lifting eyebrows or showing teeth. Even nodding your head does not mean yes in every culture. And words may have dictionary definitions, but there still is a great deal of ambiguity left when we use them. When we’re talking with someone, we’re not always certain about what someone else means. In all honesty, we’re not always certain of what we ourselves mean when we say things. And sometimes when we are certain, we’re wrong.

    The problem is magnified by the distance in time. Some of you may have heard about what happened to Naomi Wolf, the progressive, feminist author, journalist, and activist, just this past May. She was being interviewed on BBC radio about her latest book, entitled Outrages: Sex, Censorship, and the Criminalization of Love, which was about same-sex relationships. She mentioned that in her research she found that in Victorian England there were “several dozen executions” of men accused of being homosexuals, a statistic that her interviewer told her was incorrect. Wolf’s mistake was due to her misunderstanding of the British legal term, “death recorded”. As the interviewer, Matthew Sweet, explained, when this was entered into the record regarding an individual’s criminal case,

    It doesn’t mean that he was executed. It was a category that was created in 1823 that allowed judges to abstain from pronouncing a sentence of death on any capital convict whom they considered to be a fit subject for pardon.

    And he concluded, “I don’t think any of the executions you’ve identified here actually happened.” Embarrassed, Wolf thanked Sweet for calling her attention to the mistake, and said she would correct the relevant parts of her book.

    The problems are magnified the further back in time we go. If and when you hear one of Shakespeare’s plays performed, how much of that 16th and 17th century English can you really understand? Go back to the 14th and 15th century and the Middle English of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is in many ways alien to us. The Old English of Beowulf is all but unintelligible to most of us.

    Our ancestors had the same problem with the Torah. Here was our founding document, our Law, our constitution, but how should it be interpreted. What does it say and what does it mean? In that other great ancient literate culture centered in the Greek city of Athens, Socrates criticized the written word, arguing that it is inferior to dialogue because you cannot ask it questions, or at least you won’t get any answers from a document. Put another way, a written work is a dead thing, in contrast to the spoken word that is voiced through the breath of life. This understanding is central to Jewish ritual, as we place great emphasis on saying our prayers, on chanting and singing. Unlike the reading tests given in schools, with their multiple choice answers requiring number 2 pencils, our reading test is the b’nai mitzvah ceremony in which the words are uttered for everyone in the congregation to hear, with all of us participating in the call and response of the prayers.

    Unless you have the author present with you in the same room, you cannot ask questions of a written text, which means that some interpretation is required. The Torah has very limited punctuation, and the Hebrew aleph-bet has no vowels, which increases ambiguity and amplifies the need for interpretation. And again, there is the passage of time, so that in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, the latest books of the Tanach, the Hebrew Bible, relating the events upon the return from Babylonian exile, we are told that the people could no longer understand the Torah, and needed it to be interpreted to them. After the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70 of the Common Era, Hebrew as a mother tongue went into decline, and was gone by the 4th century. It survived as a learned language, one that was preserved through texts, just as Jewish identity, Jewish culture and Jewish religion, was preserved through texts, through learning, through teachers and students, through discussion, debate, disputation, and through prayer and ritual. Hebrew was also known as a dead language one of many, but the only one that has ever been successfully revived and resurrected.

    Returning to the problem of meaning, when it comes to communication in general, there is always some uncertainty. If we understood each other completely, we would probably not have any need to communicate in the first place. Complete understanding is an ability we reserve for the divine, not for human beings, who are always prone to error. At the same time, we have to have some understanding of each other, or else communication would be impossible. We share the same kinds of bodies, the same basic DNA molecules, the same kinds of physical structures, nervous systems, sensory organs, and brains. And we share similar experiences, subject to the human condition. In other words, all human beings have something in common, and that is what makes communication between us possible. We share a measure of common ground, and through our communication with one another we share our individual thoughts and feelings and memories, and in that way can increase what we have in common, enlarge our common ground.

    Common ground is a kind of context, and some kind of context is always necessary for making sense out of our experiences, for making meaning. The words I am saying to you now, in this context, would mean something different if we were in a bar having a drink, on a beach laying out in the sun, or waiting for a show to begin on Broadway, or just outside the synagogue on Broad Avenue. Context is essential.

    So, when the Torah says that Moses fell on his face, we can understand the gesture as one akin to bowing down, and more extreme than a mere bow. We may have seen a similar posture of lying prostrate in other religious traditions if not our own, and in social interactions in other cultures, and understand that it is a sign of respect, and submission. We can also relate it to the nonverbal communication of other animals, where displays of dominance and submission establish hierarchy. It follows that, rather than responding to Korach’s challenge with a display of power, say by asserting his status as leader, Moses displays humility, reverence, and contrition. But to whom? Certainly not to Korach and his followers.

    On Purim we tell the story of how Mordecai would not bow down before Haman, and we would certainly expect the same from Moses. And the parsha fills in more of the context by telling us what Moses then said to these people, which was the following:

    Come morning, God will make known who God is, and who is holy. You have gone too far, sons of Levi. Is it not enough that God has set you apart from the community of Israel by having you perform the duties of God’s Dwelling Place. Will you seek the priesthood too? Truly you rebel against God.

    What is going on here is essentially a civil war within among the Levites. Korach and his followers are rebels challenging the existing leadership structure that consists of Moses and his brother Aaron, and the House of Aaron as the cohens, cohenim or priesthood. They are the ancestors or forerunners of the priests of the Temple in Jerusalem, in charge of the rituals required by the Law, by the Torah. And more than that, they are in charge of the Torah itself, the written text, what they understand to be the word of God. They are its keepers, in the sense of preserving both the second set of stone tablets and fragments of the first, and preserving other sacred scrolls, and also its keepers in the sense that we speak of keeping the Sabbath, observing the commandments, carrying them out, which requires interpreting them. What is a priest, after all? Not a prophet, or shaman. Priests only come into existence after writing is invented, and they are set apart from the common folk by virtue of the fact that they learn how to read and write, and with that ability are able to decipher and interpret sacred texts. It is no accident that the name of one of the first writing systems, hieroglyphics, means priestly writing. The prefix, hier, means priestly, sacred, and also is the root in the word hierarchy. The original meaning was sacred ruler, a hierarch, and was used to refer to the different orders of angels and heavenly beings, which was first worked out by the great sage Maimonides, otherwise known as the Rambam.

    In the absence of writing, religious experience is pretty much common to all members of society, with some deference to singular individuals who were considered holy men and women. With writing and the introduction of sacred texts, an entirely new class of men, and they were almost always men, was introduced, a vocation known as the priesthood, who were raised all other members of their society, with the possible exception of royalty. In the story of the Exodus, Moses and Aaron are in conflict with the Pharaoh of Egypt, the God-King, who was supported by his own priests. At Sinai, the Israelites are established as a holy people. In Exodus, God tells Moses to tell the people that if we keep the covenant, “you shall be unto me a nation of priests and a holy nation”. And yet, within that nation of priests, the tribe of Moses and Aaron are set apart as priestly. And within the tribe of Levi, the House of Aaron is set apart as priests.

    There is a fascinating play with hierarchy in the parsha. First Korach asks of Moses and Aaron, “Why do you raise yourselves up above us?” Then Moses fall on his face, bringing himself down to the ground, perhaps in contrast to the claim that he is raising himself up. And later, Moses predicts that the ground will open up and swallow the rebels, their families, and their houses and property, and that is exactly what God does. Rather than being raised up, they descend to Sheol, the underworld realm of the dead.

    There are many ways to interpret this story. To relate it to current events, you might say that Korach and his followers were populists. And they were nationalists, looking to make the tribe of Levi great again. They had no respect for the rule of law, no respect for the division of power and authority. The parsha tells us that after the exchange between Korach and Moses, Moses sent for two of Korach’s followers, wanting to speak to them, and they refused to come. Again, we can see the parallel in current events, in the refusal to come before Congress and testify to the American public. Moses tries to speak with the rebels, tries to warn them against angering God, but over and over again they will not listen and will not learn.

    Respect for legitimate authority is necessary, or society falls apart. And yet, as we are celebrating the anniversary of American independence, and the Revolutionary War, we also have a soft spot in our hearts for righteous rebellion. As Jews who continually recall the liberation from slavery, we also recognize the need to challenge authority and fight for justice. The rule of law is based on the principle of equality, that we are all equal before the law, just as we are all equal when we know before whom we stand. And to be equal means that we do not raise ourselves above others, and neither are we lowered down or swallowed up.

    There was a time when most people did not know how to read and write, and the few that were literate were needed to read the sacred texts, not just to read for themselves, but to read aloud to the people, as we do with the Torah. And they were needed to explain the meaning of the text, to interpret the writing, and carry out the laws and commandments. But as literacy spread, the priests lost their monopoly over interpretation of the Torah, and this can be seen in the books of the prophets, in the beginnings of synagogue life during the Babylonian captivity, in the emergence of the Pharisees during the Second Temple period, in the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism following the destruction of the Second Temple, and for that matter, in the rise of Reform Judaism.

    Korach and his followers challenged authority for its own sake. They wanted to bring Moses and Aaron down in order to elevate themselves, and not to build a better society, one in which everyone would be raised up together. In contemporary Jewish life, we resemble those rebels when we dismiss Jewish learning and tradition and spirituality out of hand, for our own sake, or because it is too inconvenient or too difficult to work into our busy lives or stimulating lifestyles. We can become a nation of priests, but to do so we have to embrace Jewish learning and tradition and spirituality, Jewish life, embrace it as a way of life that is open to discussion and debate as a community, and open to interpretation as knowledgeable, well informed individuals. If you don’t make that effort, it is easy to find yourself just stumbling through life, and find yourself, eventually, falling on your face.

  • June 30, 2019 3:43 PM | Lance Strate (Administrator)

    D’var Torah Sh’lach L’cha, June 28th, 2019

    Michael Fishbein

    In the first part of this week’s Torah portion, Sh’lach L’cha, the Israelites find themselves at a crossroad. Having left enslavement in Egypt they are now just outside the Promised Land. But before entering, God commands Moses to send a team to scout the land God has promised to the Israelites. The team includes one top man from each of the Twelve Tribes. Like Lewis and Clark, who were commissioned to explore the western portion of the United States and report back, these scouts—or spies as they are frequently referred to—are to see what kind of place the Promised land is; whether the people living there are strong or weak; whether their towns are fortified; and whether the land is suitable for agriculture. The scouts are also to return with some of the fruits of the land.

    The scouts go on their mission. Along the way they cut down a single cluster of grapes which is so plentiful it takes two men to carry. They also collect some pomegranates and figs.

    Forty days later the 12 scouts return from their critical mission, and immediately report to Moses and Aaron as well as the entire Israelite community. They show the fruits they have collected and famously proclaim that the land “flows with milk and honey.” They also report that the people who inhabit the land are powerful—indeed, essentially giants-- and their cities fortified.

    One of the scouts, Caleb, from the tribe of Judah, urges the Israelites to move ahead at once to conquer the land. But the other scouts—with the exception of Joshua, from the tribe of Ephraim—urge the Israelites to hold off attacking, arguing that the current inhabitants are stronger than the Israelites, made the Israelites looked like grasshoppers--worse yet, feel like grasshoppers--and could not be conquered.

    These reports of the great size and strength of the inhabitants are, as we know, lies—but sufficient to panic the Israelite community. Joshua advises the people to ignore these reports, explaining that God is on their side and would be in their midst, thereby assuring victory.

    But the Israelities lack Joshua’s confidence and courage, sending God into a rage. First, by the will of God, the ten dishonest scouts meet a swift fate, dying of plague. Luckily for the Israelite community, Moses is able to talk God out of killing all the Israelite adults for their lack of faith. Instead, God determines that none of the adults who left Egypt--other than Caleb and Joshua, who gave honest accounts of their explorations--would ever step foot into the Promised Land, but rather will, in the colorful words of this week’s portion, “drop their carcasses in the wilderness.” 

    At God’s direction, the younger generation will be forced to roam the wilderness for 40 years—one year for each day the deceitful scouts explored the Promised Land.

    When Moses tells the people their fate, they have a change of heart and declare their readiness to invade at once. Too late, however! Moses warns that this is not God’s will and that they will fail because God will not be present in their midst. Despite this warning, they march into battle without God’s protection. Neither the Ark of the Covenant nor Moses accompanies them in their attempt at conquest. As Moses predicted, they are crushed in their battle with the Amalikites and the Cannanites who live in the Promised Land.

    Certainly, a sad story of a scouting mission gone terribly wrong with severe consequences for the Israelites—both old and young.

    Five-and-a-half years ago, Congregation Adas Emuno was also at a crossroads. We needed to find a Cantor to lead us spiritually and an educator to lead our wonderful school. The Board of Trustees expressed its preference to find one outstanding individual to fill both positions as a way to bring together the ritual aspects of our congregation and the educational aspirations for our children.

    So what did the Board do? We formed a search committee, scouts if you will. Unlike the aftermath for the Israelites, who stood on the verge of entering the Promised Land but for the tall tales of their scouts, our scouts--our search committee lead by then-president Lance Strate--stayed faithful to their task and brought to us Cantor Sandy Horowitz. No wandering in the wilderness for us! Our new Cantor/Educator proved to be full of an abundance of “milk and honey"—both on the bimah as she has led us with joy on Shabbat and in reverence on the High Holy Days; and in the school, where a rekindled spirit of learning exists.

    Speaking on behalf of the entire Adas Emuno family, we are so grateful for what Cantor Horowitz has brought to us and will miss her very much.

    Shabbat Shalom

  • June 17, 2019 11:30 AM | Lance Strate (Administrator)

    Congregation Adas Emuno Annual Meeting

    5779 (2018-19) Report by Rabbi Barry L. Schwartz

         Each year I submit brief remarks based on the three basic functions of the synagogue as reflected in its Hebrew names: Beit Tefilah (House of Prayer), Beit Midrash (House of Study) and Beit K’nesset (House of Gathering).

         Beit Tefilah: Our High Holiday services, per the usual, were full and joyful, thanks in no small part to the contribution of Cantor Horowitz and this year to a dramatically expanded cadre of Torah and Haftarah readers. We hope all our readers were gratified rather than traumatized, and will return to read this fall.

         Our Sukkot celebration was once again highlighted by our music night; this past year was the best ever, on a Sunday evening with pizza-in-the-hut and a packed social hall, and with special thanks to Peter Hays, Elka Oliver and some of our gifted teens.

         Combining our Simchat Torah celebration with a Family Shabbat service has dramatically increased attendance, and every grade participates by reading a verse from Genesis.

         Our Hanukkah celebration was enhanced once again by an improvisational theatrical performance by Elana Fishbein right in the social hall.

         While Purim did not feature another Lance Strate original spiel, the Megillah according to Hamilton was a rousing success.

         Once again I want to once applaud the parents and students of our school who have made monthly Family Services so invigorating. Four years into our not-so-new policy, it is working, and it is fun. The celebration of seven b’nei mitzvah was indeed cause to celebrate.

              Beit Midrash: Our year-long study of Path of the Prophets and Comparative Jewish Theology two highly recommended books, made for another wonderful Shabbat morning Torah study year. I am grateful for the remarkably strong support given Torah study week-in, week-out, and the vibrant discussion that takes place on a consistent basis.

         Our religious school concluded another excellent year, under the able leadership of the Cantor, the faculty, and the education committee. Our Sunday morning experience, beginning every week with our 9:00 gathering in the sanctuary, is vibrant. Drop by some time to hear our kids singing!

         The Confirmation Class got personal this year: the theme was “What We Believe: Our Reform Judaism.” I was curious to see how personal theology and ethics would fare, but from my perspective we had a very meaningful year, and at Confirmation I am always so proud of our students.

         Our youth group struggled somewhat this year. I’d like to see it strengthen next year, because we have teens who are not involved in the school who are willing to participate.

              Beit K’nesset:  Our social action committee nicely involved many in our congregation this year. While Forest and Andy, the service dogs who were the stars of our Mitzvah Mall two years ago were not here, Mitzie the Owl was (and I have a photo with her to prove it). The souper bowl was even more super.

         Somehow we survived the departure of Virginia Gitter. In this regard I want to single out the great work of Sandy Zornek in communications, and Marilyn and Judy in ritual, with Sandy and Linda organizing our oneg Shabbat recepetins.

         Lance Strate deserves quite a shout-out for the yeoman’s work he has done on a complete redesign of our website.

         It’s been a pleasure to work with our energetic president, Michael Fishbein.

         Before concluding this year, I’d like to pay tribute to Cantor Horowitz. As I wrote in the pages of Kadima:

          As the music leader the role of the cantor (hazzan) is crucial in setting the spiritual tone of our prayer. The cantor uplifts us when we listen to his/ her voice. At the same time, the cantor elevates our own voices when we join in song.

         After five years of dedicated service we bid goodbye to Cantor Sandy Horowitz, and are deeply grateful to her for her devotion to our congregation. In her dual capacity as cantor/educator Cantor Horowitz enhanced the integration of our school families into the life of the synagogue. As a newly ordained cantor serving in a newly created position, Cantor Horowitz succeeded admirably. 

             Last but certainly not least, I am so very proud of the response to our Adas Emuno 150 Campaign. Since our launch at the High Holidays we have already met our initial goal and we have two years to go. We have raised more than $180,000 for the reserves and special programming and needs of our congregation. The generosity of our membership says something special about this place; this holy place.

          I conclude, as always, with my sincere gratitude to the Temple Board, to the Cantor and teachers, and to our “family of families” for all you do to sustain our “assembly of the faithful” from year to year.

  • May 05, 2019 11:18 AM | Lance Strate (Administrator)

    Social Action Committee News

    Annette DeMarco, Chair

    Souper Bowl IV⎯WIN!

    We requested, you provided; 215 soup items for "Souper Bowl lV!!!  We totally surpassed our score of last year, which was 183.  The staff at CFA was thrilled with all the soup so thank you, thank you to everyone who got in the game!! BUT, the shelves at many  of the local food banks are low on stock, so our work is not yet done.  Please read on.

    March Mega Food Drive⎯Mitzvah Madness

    The Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey is sponsoring a March Mega Food Drive, involving many local synagogues.  Donations will be divided among various food banks in the area.  For Adas Emuno, this is our "Community Purim Basket Collection".  Please bring donations to the vestry room and leave in the decorated baskets.  The JFNNJ considers this part of their "March Mitzvah Madness".  The JFNNJ also says that there are 900,000 people in N.J. who rely on food banks.  So, I say, please, let's do this (and thank you).  If you're planning to attend the Purim celebration, that would be a great time to donate some food.

    Do You Knit or Crochet? New Social Action at Adas Emuno

    Would you like to do so for organizations in need?  If you answered "Yes" and "Yes", please join us on Monday, April 1st, at 7:30 in the social hall.  There is much to discuss, including thoughts regarding meetings and projects.  We already have a "beginning project" but please bring other ideas.  Can't be at the meeting?  Just send me an email (feel free to include suggestions) and I'll let you know what is decided.  A very special thank you to the Rabbi, who has offered to use his discretionary fund to pay for the wool needed for the projects.

    Volunteer opportunities: Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey Great Family Program! Sunday, March 31st, 1pm at the JFNNJ office, Paramus.  The food being collected by the Jewish Federation during the month of March needs to be sorted and organized.  Want to help?  Register at <>. 

    For Nature Lovers

    A different kind of a project you can do on your time.  The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is considering listing the monarch butterfly as an endangered species.  What can we do?  Plant orange milkweed, aka butterflyweed, aka butterfly milkweed, etc. Suggestion for our youth: make it a B'nai Mitzvah or community service project.  Do some research then ask neighbors, friends and family members if you can plant seeds in their yards.

    Family Promise⎯Hike or Bike

    Sunday, May 5 th⎯Walk for 3 miles or bike for 3 or 15 miles through Ridgewood.  This event supports the working, homeless families of Bergen County.  There are fun-filled family activities plus food/drinks for all.  Details will be forthcoming regarding events, registration and timing.  Please mark your calendars.  It's a day of fun teamed up with a good cause.

Student Cantor

Joseph Flaxman

Religious School Director

Shira Friedman

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