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Note: The opinions expressed here are solely those of each individual blogger and do not necessarily represent the views of TRT.

What is YOUR commandment?

June 2013

Newsletter Article June/July 2013

Growing up, I remember being taught about Mitzvot as good deeds, rather than commandments. I think the reason for this was that at the time, Reform Jews viewed Judaism as “ethical monotheism.” They believed that teaching monotheism was important and that the important commandments were the ethical ones. (Acting ethically is good or a good deed, so mitzvah was appropriated as a good deed, doing the right thing).  At camp, I remember learning about commandments falling into two categories: ben adam l’chaveiro (concerning people’s interaction with each other) and Ben adam l’makom (concerning people’s interaction with God).  Because of the emphasis in Reform Judaism on living in the modern world, and on ethical monotheism, we elevated the mitzvot ben adam l’chaveiro over those just concerning God. We elevated acting ethically towards our fellow humans, and towards animals and the world, above commandments concerning our relationship with God.

So What's This Rock Hashanah?

March 2013


Talmud teaches the following story:

While Moses was watching God write the Torah he asked why God made the letters with fancy crowns on them, and God responded that in several generations Akiva would use those crowns to interpret Torah Law. Moses asked to see this man, so God sent Moses into the future where:

Babylonian Talmud, Menachot 29B


Moses went and sat in the back of Rabbi Akiva’s class, and had no idea what they were saying.  He became weak and disoriented.  Soon the class reached an issue and a student asked, “Rebbe, what’s your source for this ruling?”  He said, “It’s a law of Moses from Sinai.” Moses was relieved.

Nachshon’s Water: Faith in the Face of Travail

January 2013

Shabbat Shira: January 25, 2013

            I began thinking about Shabbat Shira and what tone I wanted the music to take, and what I wanted to say, shortly after Hurricane Sandy. While Sandy may not be a constant thought in our minds today, I do still hear people speaking about it. Last week I heard congregants asking each other about their hopes for beach plans for the summer - is the beach they usually go to intact? Have they started rebuilding the boardwalk there? Is there beach between the water and the boardwalk position? And, on the radio just the other day I heard about people in the Rockaways still without heat battling these bitter cold days. I cannot imagine still being without heat. I also cannot imagine staying in my home if it was without heat, but perhaps this is just a failure of my imagination.



To be a Light

November 2012

Hanukkah is the holiday of rededication. We cleaned up the temple and the country after many years of war. Even with rededication of the community to religion, remember that the war was fought in part to battle assimilation. The Judaism that came after Hanukkah was not quite the same as what was previously practiced. In order to win the war, the Maccabees had to compromise and assimilate. This included fighting on the Sabbath. After the war, people didn't just stop everything they had picked up under Assyrian rule. They continued to be influenced by Hellenistic writings and culture. So rededication also meant having to accept a new face of reality. Judaism would be different than before. Even if the temple looked the same, the people were irrevocably different.

So too are we, after Super-Storm Sandy. We are fortunate enough that to the best of our knowledge no TRT congregants lost their lives or their homes, but we are forever changed.  Some of these changes may help us. Perhaps learning to appreciate electricity more will help us be more responsible with it, or at the very least more grateful.  Perhaps knowing how we fared so much better than others helps us to be grateful.  But I believe we are also more wary, more aware that the items we spend so much time and money and energy acquiring can be lost, just like that. We are more aware of the fragility of life as we know it, and this knowledge can shake us to the core.


As we celebrate the Festival of Lights, we might remember what sitting in candle-lit rooms for days on end felt like, but it also should remind us that it is not over for all of us. We might have fixed the damage to our homes, caught up on our work and school, or even, put it out of our minds... But there are others who remain in temporary housing, or who continue living with relatives.  There are others who are struggling to keep their business open after losing so much work, or after losing the whole thing.  There are those who are sick and tired of relying on charity, but have no idea what else to do.  This is where rededication comes in.  We must rededicate ourselves.  We, who are blessed enough to share the lights of Hanukkah inside our warm homes, must rededicate ourselves to helping others find their light in the darkness.

Like in Maccabean times, we rededicate not to become the same as we were before, but to recognize the difference the destruction created in our lives and the lives of our community. We rededicate in order to be better than before. There are so many things you can do. Check out our website to find the newest information for helping.  Be sure to dedicate your sixth night of Hanukkah not to give yourselves or your children gifts, but to buy gifts for those who will have none this year.  Spend a few minutes by the light of the hanukiyyah remembering your time in the dark and: find a way to be grateful for what you
have; and dedicate something to those who have not.

Rededication is not a onetime event. If we are to learn from this tragic experience we must continually rededicate ourselves to the lessons it taught us.  The lessons are not the same for all of us, just as the experience was not the same for all, but I hope the commitment to not leaving our community behind, the commitment to being changed, can be one we all take on so the whole community can benefit.

Happy Hanukkah, may your lights truly be a light to the world!                     

Becoming Part of Rock Shabbat

September 2012

Well, it’s already been a busy musical year and it’s just October! We’ve had two Rock Shabbat events, our High Holidays and begun a new and exciting musical year in our Center for a Jewish Future. This year we plan on having nine more Rock Shabbat services (that’s one per month), other services featuring our volunteer choir Kolot Yafim, two special musical healing services featuring our music teacher Karen Joseph and Rabbi Shira Stern (in November and April) and even a ticketed Rock Concert featuring Sheldon Low coming in March.

With all this excitement, it has come to my attention that people are confused about what it means to sponsor a Rock Shabbat event, and what it costs.

Thank you for trying new things

September 2012

Kol Nidre Machzor

Temple Rodeph Torah has accomplished the near impossible! You have permitted and embraced change with almost no complaint over the last year or two.  First in December of 2010 we changed our prayer book. We stopped using the prayer book so lovingly put together by TRT, and took up the newest version of our movement’s prayer book.  Mishkan T’filah is a new envisioning of what the Reform Movement’s prayer book should be, and while heavy, it has beautiful writings. Using it gives us new opportunities to understand old prayers and introduces us to new prayers as well. Then in September 2011 we radically changed the aesthetic of one worship service a month, with the introduction of Rock Shabbat. Rather than rebelling from this radical change leadership, the community and our amazing sponsors have all embraced Rock Shabbat.  I thank all of you for embracing these changes and opening your hearts and minds to new ways to connect with God and community.

            The time has come to explore another new change.  The Reform Movement, having changed our Shabbat Prayer book, has now embarked on a new High Holiday Machzor.  We are honored to be chosen to participate in a pilot edition of the Kol Nidre Service.  This service will look and feel different from previous Erev Yom Kippur services.  You will have a physically different book in hand.  The Machzor is set up differently than the one we have been using. Like Mishkan T’filah, our Kol Nidre book will have a one page spread of options (Hebrew and transliteration on the upper right page, a translation below that, with an alternative reading, poetry or text study on the left hand page). These options are both freeing and confining.  It is very difficult to PRAY when everything is new. On the other hand, there is so much to explore: new ways to understand our High Holiday liturgy, new ways to understand God and our relationship to God, new ways to understand transgression and repentance and Yom Kippur itself.  We know this could be a very hard transition: High Holidays are a time people really want what they are used to, they want tradition! Yet, we are so excited for the opportunity to explore these new insights into our faith, and feel blessed to be able to transition to a new Machzor gradually by starting with the introduction of just this one service.

On a musical note, I am also very excited for this new service, because it includes many prayers which we have not had the opportunity to sing at TRT before. One example of this is one of my favorite High Holiday prayers: Sh’ma Koleinu. This prayer pleads with God that God will listen to our voices, show us compassion and accept our prayer with love and goodwill.  There are amazing and haunting melodies for this inspiring text but our current Machzor “On Wings of Awe” only includes the text in the morning service, and due to our double service time constraints we have chosen not to sing this text.

The Machzor is not yet complete so we will also be asking you to fill out an online evaluation survey ( so the creators can make changes to best meet the needs of the community (please remember the community, in this case, is all of North American Reform Jewry).  Thank you for your amazing openness to change in the past few years, and thank you for being open to this amazing journey as we re-explore High Holidays and re-explore our relationship to God, community, transgression, and repentance on these most holy of days. I hope you will find our new texts inspiring and helpful, and I hope you will join us with an open mind to experience this different Kol Nidre service.

                                                                                                            Shannah Tova u’m’tuka!

                                                                                                            Cantor Alexander

Music and the Young

August 2012

We are finishing the second year, of junior choir since I have come to TRT. There are currently six 6th grade girls. We sing, laugh, clap, perform, try to be divas, and just have fun together! I work very hard trying to find “cool” music for us to learn, music I think they will like, music that can be used in services, and music they might hear at camp or NFTY. Since I’m not a 6th grade girl, sometimes I miss the mark; the music is too hard or decidedly uncool. Or it works when we sing it but not when we add accompaniment. Getting to sing on the bima with Eric Komar and Sheldon Low is a highlight for the choir, and some of the girls were disappointed when junior choir was not scheduled to sing the night Cablevision recorded Rock Shabbat. So is it cool? This is something I really don’t have an answer to. We have so much fun but others aren’t joining; did I not invite them? Are they too busy? Or is it not cool to sing in the junior choir?

I was thinking back to Rabbi Weber’s sermon a couple of years ago on males participating in Judaism. He grew up with exclusively male teachers, rabbis, and singers. We have only female teachers, and in all likelihood future hires (rabbi, cantor, or educators) will also be women. Who will our male Jewish role models be?


August 2012

Religious school students recently asked me what my favorite story in the Bible was.

I told them that my answer regularly changes, but it’s currently the story of Ruth. The book of Ruth is traditionally read at the time of Shavuot, our third festival of the year (Sukkot and Pesach being the other two), which this year takes place May 26-27. In Reform congregations, we celebrate Confirmation on Shavuot, and we always read the Ten Commandments from the Torah. It is a holiday where we celebrate receiving the law, which is our special set of rules from God.

So much has changed

August 2012

So much has changed in the last year of my life, and I cannot believe it has been a full year.

I knew, because people told me, that becoming a mother would “change everything” and would be “different than you can ever expect.” I knew this would be especially true because every image I had of motherhood was for one child at a time, and yet I was going to be a mother of twins. Now I cannot imagine having just one child. Why would anyone want only one child climbing into your lap at a time? Why would you want only one child laughing when there could be two? As they say, I don’t know anything different. I cannot believe my babies are one year old. I cannot believe the worry and fear of visiting them in the hospital every day for a month has turned into laughter and crawling and standing, into the joy of watching them learn, understand and do. I am in awe of my children and I am in awe of God for creating us this way.


August 2012

A Light to Nations

In the darkest time of the year, we celebrate with light.

In the Book of Isaiah The Jewish people are commanded to “be a light to the nations.” At this festival of lights how can we be a light to the nations? We all know about the 6th night of Hanukkah where we are asked not to receive gifts but to give away gifts, and this is a wonderful act of tzedakkah. But is this being a light to the nations? What would it look like if you saw a light? What kind of act would it have to be to compel you to change your ways, give up something you love but are told is bad? What does it mean, what kind of responsibility is it for us to be asked to be “or lagoyim” a light to the nations?

Let's Make Some Music!

August 2012

Let's Make Some Music!

Upon returning from maternity leave our president, Brion Feinberg approached me with a new initiative; it is simultaneously the most exciting thing and scary thing he could have asked me to do. Brion has a vision for this congregation in which people come to services because they love them and want to participate in them and because they leave feeling connected and uplifted (these are goals Rabbis and Cantors have, too, and to have them shared by the president makes life that much better). He feels that now, most people attend services out of obligation, for service scrip, for yahrzeit, or ushering obligations, and if we were able to change the music and the feel of the service perhaps we could motivate attendance through desire because of how the service makes you feel. You want more music? This is the kind of request cantors live for. You want to help fundraise to make it happen! Even better. But as part of this request is a desire to change the minhag (traditions) of this place. This is very scary for a Cantor, as I feel it is my job to balance the musical traditions of our Temple with the traditions of the Jewish People, while introducing the newest trends and the things our kids learn at camp. “Lets do something new” is a great opportunity but also terrifying.

Coming Home?

August 2012

As I write this newsletter I am anticipating great changes in my home just around the time you will receive it.  What does home mean? And what does it mean when “home” changes completely?


As college students, young adults, newlyweds, and new home owners (or renters) we spend a lot of time turning houses and apartments into homes.  Just think about the number of TV stations or hours of television devoted to home improvement, home decorating, upgrades, DIY… creating a home by changing something physical about the space we sleep and eat in seems to be what they are selling.  But I think it is also what we are buying.  As I’ve seen the changes to our TRT space over the last 3 years (the sanctuary and the atrium and now the youth lounge/oneg room) people don’t just say “oh what a beautiful renovation” they say “it’s so warm in here” “it’s so inviting.”  Clearly the physical space does affect the emotional one. 


This I Believe

August 2012

Looking to God

This I believe.

Over the past three years I have struggled with God. At first, when we started trying to have children, I didn’t know anything was wrong. I was excited, I would pray to God to help us conceive, but I was not terribly worried. I was only 27 after all; it would happen when it happened. Then as nearly 2 years had gone by I thought it was time to see a doctor. My doctor said all the tests she ran showed nothing was wrong, but as I wasn’t pregnant I should see a fertility specialist and they would probably put me on an ovulation stimulating drug. I think I cried, I was terrified and angry. If nothing is wrong why should I need drugs! What are the consequences of these drugs? Am I going to be sick and moody all the time? Am I at risk for multiple-birth? What’s wrong with this country that we just drug all our problems instead of finding the root cause…? Apparently personal anger had turned into a critique of the whole country’s psyche.

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