From the Heart with Rabbi Liebowitz

Dear Friends,
No sooner has the shofar sounded at the end of Yom Kippur N’ilah; one tradition bids us to hammer a nail into the first beam of what will be the sukkah. At this time of writing (and recovery) from Yom Kippur and preparing for Sukkot, I am mindful of the intensity of our Jewish holiday regimen, as well as its variety of moods. The existential imperatives of the High Holidays bidding us to deeply consider the choices before us in life gives way to the quiet joyousness of the feast of tabernacles; all of which culminates in boisterous celebration that is Simchat Torah. I have come in recent years to think less of the intensity of the moods these holiday shifts impose and more about their gestalt, how they create balance; dark mystery of existence versus natural light of creation; hopeful anticipation versus a gentle fatalism (read the poetry of Ecclesiastes i.e. Kohelet “all is vanity”). We cannot have one without the other.

One tradition suggests that, in addition to hosting family and friends, we invite specific Jewish historical figures as Ushpizim (guests) to enter the sukkah with us: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and David. More recently, a novel invitation has gone out to Jewish historical women:Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah, Miriam, Abigail, and Esther. To add and extend this tradition, one exercise asks whom would you invite from history and why? Einstein? Picasso? Amelia Earhart? Such a personal review would possibly serve as a Rorschach to your soul and mind, a mirror into your heart as to where your interests now lie. No doubt I would invite Sigmund Freud. Quite possibly he would say “Rabbi, sometimes a mezuzah is just a mezuzah” disabusing me of my overwrought tendency to look for explanations when there is none. Or just maybe I would like to stand in the presence of Hannah Senesch, that brave paratrooper who returned to Hungary to save her fellow Jews; be awed by her spirit of devotion and her poetic achievements. Most notably among these and others would be Darwin whose revolutionary spirit and intellect paved a new way for beholding nature’s gifts;

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

So whom would you welcome into your sukkah?

It occurs to me that the gift of being Jewish is that of entertaining ambiguities such as I have hinted at above. For this reason and others our reform faith more than tends to be non-dogmatic. So I hope you enjoy these last days of the holiday month of Tishrei. For the month that follows Cheshvan is called Mar Cheshvan “Bitter Cheshvan!” as it is bereft of holidays save Shabbat and the New Moon. There is a beautiful custom among traditionalist to take a bit of wine from the Havdalah cup and paste it to one’s eyebrows. This symbolizes the commitment to take the sweetness of the Sabbath into our week, its joys, its hope, and its future anticipation for the time of ultimate peace and brotherhood.

May the beauty of the holidays that were continue into the months to come!


Rabbi Yossi J. Liebowitz D.D.

Must-Know Sukkot Words and Phrases

Key terms for the holidays of Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah.

Arava — Literally “willow,” one of the four species.

Arba minim — Literally “four species,” a quartet of plants used in Sukkot rituals: lulav, , hadas, and aravah. They symbolize joy for life and dedication to God. The four species are held and shaken during the Hallel service.

Etrog — Literally “citron,” one of the four species.

— Literally “rain,” additional prayer for rain read on Shemini Atzeret in the fall, introduced in the poetic form of an alphabetic acrostic.

Hadas —Literally “myrtle,” one of the four species.

Hakafah — Literally “circuit,” a celebratory processional  around the room done on Sukkot and Simchat . On Sukkot hakafot (the Hebrew plural of hakafah) are done holding the four species, except on . On Shemini Atzeret the hakafot are done while singing, dancing, and carrying Torahs.

Hallel — Literally “praise” this short service is a collection of Psalms and blessings recited on festivals and Rosh Hodesh (the new moon) as a display of joy and gratitude.

Hatan/Kallat Bereishit — Literally “Groom/Bride of Genesis,” this is a designation of honor for the person who is called up to the very first aliyah of the Book of Genesis on the morning of Simchat Torah.

Hatan/Kallat Torah 
— Literally “Groom/Bride of the Torah” this is a designation of honor for the person who is called up to the very last of the Book of Deuteronomy on the morning of Simchat Torah.

Hol Hamoed
 — Literally “the mundane of the festival,” the intermediary days falling between the most sacred days of the festivals of Sukkot and Passover. These days have fewer prohibitions and commandments associated with them than the first and last days of the festivals.

Hoshanah Rabbah 
— Literally, “the Great Call for Help,” the seventh day of Sukkot during which hakafot are made and Hoshanot are recited. According to one tradition, it is the very last day for God to seal a judgment.

Hoshanot — Prayers of salvation that are chanted on Hoshanah Rabbah while holding the four species. At the end of the hakafot, each person takes a bundle of willow twigs and strikes it on the ground for symbolic purposes. Each prayer begins with the word hoshanah, which means, “Save, I pray.”

Kohelet The Book of Ecclesiastes, a collection of wisdom, traditionally attributed to King Solomon. It is one of the five books from the part of the Bible called the Writings (Ketuvim) and is read on the intermediary Shabbat of Sukkot.

Lulav — Literally “palm branch,” one of the four species. It is also the name given to the general bundle of willow, myrtle, and palm branches.

Pitom — Literally “protuberance,” the bulging tip at the blossom end of the etrog. If it falls off naturally, the etrog is considered to be kosher. If it has been knocked off, the fruit is considered to have a blemish and thus be unfit for ritual use as one of the four species.

Shalosh Regalim
 — Literally “three legs,” the three major festivals of Passover, and Sukkot. On these occasions during biblical times Jews went on pilgrimages to Jerusalem to make special offerings at the Temple.

Shemini Atzeret
 — Literally “the Eighth Day of Gathering,” the eighth day of Sukkot, which holds special significance as its own holiday. Jews thank God for the harvest and ask for winter rain to prepare the ground for spring planting.

Simchat Torah
— Literally “rejoicing in the Torah,” the holiday that celebrates both the end and renewal of the annual cycle of reading the Torah. Typically, the congregation takes the Torah scrolls from the and parades with them in circles (hakafot) around the perimeter of the sanctuary.

Skhakh — Literally “covering,” the roofing of the , which is made from natural materials such as bamboo or palm branches.

Sukkah — Literally “hut” or “booth,” a temporary structure that is built in order to be dwelt in for the duration of the holiday of Sukkot. Its purpose is to commemorate the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and to make a symbolic gesture that acknowledges humankind’s reliance upon God. The construction of a sukkah follows a set of specific regulations.

Ushpizin — Literally “guests,” the biblical guests that the Zohar teaches are to be invited into the sukkah (along with the poor) during each night of Sukkot. Traditionally these seven guests are Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Aaron, and David. Today many people add the names of women to the list.

Zman Simchateinu — Literally “the time of our rejoicing,” an expression often used when referring to the days of Sukkot.


This Week’s Event Schedule!

Friday Service, 9/21, will begin at 5:30 with refreshments & 6:00 service to follow.

Minyan & Tisch this Saturday, 9/22 at 9:00 am
Sunday 9/22 there will be Sunday school beginning at 9:20 with Hebrew as well as Sukkot raising!
The Sukkah decorating will take place at 4:30 on Wednesday, 9/26, and will take the place of Hebrew school classes.
**Please be reminded that if you have not paid for Break-Fast, the Yizkor book, or have not RSVP’d and paid for Sukkot Dinner on 9/28, please see Jan in the office. 
Sukkot Dinner will be at 6:00 pm on Friday 9/28 with 7:30 Service to follow.

September 2018 Worship Schedule


August 31 & September 1

Friday: 6:00 Kabbalat Shabbat-Dinner Out After

Saturday: Morning Service 9:30

September 7 & 8

Friday: 5:30 Refreshments 6:00 Kabbalat Shabbat

Saturday: Morning Service 9:30

September 9

Erev Rosh Hashanah Service at 7:30 pm

September 10 & 11

Rosh Hashanah Services at 9:30 am

September 14 & 15

Friday: 5:30 Refreshments 6:00 Kabbalat Shabbat

Saturday: Morning Service 9:30 Minyan Tisch

September 18 & 19

Erev Yom Kippur Service at 7:30 &

Yom Kippur Services beginning at 9:30 am

September 21 & 22

Friday: 5:30 Refreshments 6:00 Kabbalat Shabbat

Saturday: Morning Service 9:30

September 28 & 29

Friday: 6:00 Sukkot Dinner 7:30 Service

Saturday: Morning Service 9:30

From the Heart with Rabbi Liebowitz

Dear Friends,

As you can see from the accompanying cartoon, it is so easy to make a promise, but not so easy to keep it. Poor Cartoon Abe regretted
what he promised. As our High Holy Day prayer book impels us to consider:

“Last year’s confession came easily to the lips, Will this year’s come from deeper than the skin?”

Religion has been rightly criticized for being perfunctory and at times hypocritical. Our high ideals are easily turned against us for failings, large or small. Even so, a serious devotee of faith must exercise a great effort of introspection and from the Jewish point of view a change of behavior for its own sake. The tradition from the Ethic of the Ancestors to (Pirke Avot, Chapter One) put it this way: “Lo hamidrash hu ha’ikar elah ha’ma’aseh” (1:17) – “It is not the interpretation of the tradition that is essential, but our deeds.”

Jewish ideology thwarts the view that we are born in sin, rather we speak of two contesting impulses; the Yester Tov “a will to do good,” and a Yester-ra “a will to do evil.” A mid second century rabbi Shimon ben Elazar explained it this way; The “will to do evil” is like iron in a forge: While it is there, one can shape it, make utensils of it, anything you like. So with the will to do evil: There is only one way to shape it aright, through the words of the Torah which is like fire.”

Not so different from New Year’s resolutions is the resolve we have to diet, be more charitable, control our impulses, and so forth. How does real change occur? Many have cited a few crucial ways to effect change.

First is to realize you cannot do anything alone: As a former 5th step counselor at the Betty Ford center I learned the value of a trusted partner to review one’s struggles. In Jewish terms we find that dynamic expressed in Pirke Avot Chapter One, K’nei lecha chaver, find a friend (for study and reflection). Second, is to take realistic steps – one by one by one; do not overplay your expectations. Third, take time every day for reflection and prayer. Note taking and journaling is most helpful. Make up your own Sefer Chayim – Book of life. Fourth and last, be nice to yourself, accept you are not perfect and trust in a forgiving God.

Wishing one and all the very best for 5779 Rabbi Yossi Liebowitz D.D.


Selichot: A Spiritual Warm-Up for the High Holy Days

Creative concept image of a woman profile with a bright sunset appearing as though its inside her head

My first experience with Selichot occurred during my first year of rabbinical school in Israel.

In the wee hours of the morning, we boarded a bus to a Sephardi synagogue in Jerusalem. The service, in the Sephardi custom, was held before sunrise. Forced to take anti-nausea medication before the bus ride, I remember little of that service, except for the warm, spiced tea that was shared with us during the service. Ever since, though, I have had a fondness for Selichot.

There are a variety of points during the summer that could mark the coming of the High Holidays – Shabbat Nachamu after Tishah b’Av, the full moon of Tu b’Av (a minor Jewish holiday that celebrates love, observed primarily in Israel), the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul – but it is Selichot, more than any other moment in our calendar, that tells me the High Holidays are near.

Typically, Selichot occurs at the close of Shabbat just prior to Rosh HaShanah, but when Rosh HaShanah occurs within close proximity to the Shabbat that precedes it, as it does this year, Selichot is observed a week early.

It seems to me that this adjustment in the timing of Selichot tells us something of its importance. The word “s’lichot” means “forgiveness” or “pardon.” We know it from modern Hebrew in Israel, where s’lichah means, “Excuse me,” (or sometimes, “Out of my way!”). In the context of the High Holidays and the lead-up to them, S’lichot are prayers asking for pardon from God. They first appear at Selichotat the close of Shabbat before Rosh HaShanah, but the S’lichot prayers appear throughout Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur and even into the remaining fall holidays of Sukkot and Simchat Torah.

The presence of these prayers before, during, and after the High Holidays are a reminder that the path to forgiveness extends beyond the High Holidays themselves. We are encouraged to begin early, work earnestly, and take a little extra time, if we need it, to remedy whatever went wrong in the year that has drawn to a close.

For me, the key to Selichot is the early start it offers.

In reality, each and every day, no matter the time of year, is the right time to seek forgiveness, but Selichot encourages us to jumpstart our cheshbon hanefesh (the accounting of our souls) that the High Holidays demand of us. Regarding this early start, Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, in Michael Strassfeld’s The Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary, shares this teaching:

Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi said that during Elul the thirteen midot—attributes of mercy—are shining. While this is also true on Yom Kippur, the difference is that during Elul the King is on the road; therefore, you are more comfortable addressing the King if He stops at your house. By Yom Kippur, the King has returned to His palace, and even though the thirteen attributes of mercy are still shining, you feel intimidated in approaching the palace without even knowing how to get past the palace guards.

For many of us, myself included, the spiritual work of the High Holidays can be overwhelming. I often find myself caught off-guard by the liturgy, wondering if I can be better in the year that comes. Selichotoffers us the opportunity to prime the pump, to get our t’shuvah juices flowing before the big day.

I know that’s what I’ll be doing this Selichot; perhaps, you will, too.

A Year Later, Charlottesville’s Lasting Impact on American Jewry

Stop sign next to the word HATE written on a chalkboard

One year ago this week, a group of Nazis marched through Charlottesville Virginia. (You may call them “white nationalists,” “white supremacists,” “alt-right,” or what-have-you, but “Nazis” works for me.) They followed another group of Nazis and a march of KKK members who were attempting to reclaim the small college town for white racists, targeting Jews, African Americans, and other minorities with signs, lit torches, violence, and, ultimately, a tragic death that occurred when one of them killed a protester with his car.

One year later, chants of “You will not replace us!” and “Jews will not replace us!” still ring in the ears of a town that has struggled mightily to overcome the associations the word “Charlottesville” now evokes.

A year ago, reflecting on all this, I urged people to consider the fact that this could have happened in their own towns – and might still happen there. I wrote that it could well be the start of something profoundly worrying for American Jews.

I was wrong on several fronts.

Post-Charlottesville, we haven’t seen mass rallies by armed anti-Semites and racists in small towns around the country. Follow-up events in other cities have been regulated to avoid the carrying of weapons or lit torches, and various lawsuits aimed at the organizers of Charlottesville’s Unite the Right rally have been successful insofar as we’ve seen a raft of guilty pleas, consent decrees, and other legal bulwarks against a repeat performance of Charlottesville in other cities. (That said, there are still rumors of events in Charlottesville itself to commemorate the anniversary of last year’s atrocity).

And Charlottesville itself is still in pain, working through city government and police reform issues that lay bare the structural problems that long predated August of 2018. And plans to replicate the August 12 rally with an event opposite the White House this year are on track, an event for which a permit has been granted, as of this writing.

Maybe that’s the best metaphor for the anniversary of one of the most frightening acts of anti-Semitism of 2017: After the President declared that there were “very fine people” on both sides – a claim he continued to make long after a massive backlash ensued – white supremacists and anti-Semites were emboldened to consider themselves supported by the White House, where they will gather this year.

An uptick in Anti-Semitism was the inevitable byproduct. White supremacists continue to crow that their numbers have ballooned under Trump, and attacks on Jews, synagogues, and people of colorcontinue to rise. But because Charlottesville increasingly looks like rock-bottom – the one-off Kristallnacht never to be repeated – it’s created a paradoxically new paradigm: Any act of anti-Semitism that doesn’t involve flaming torches, Nazi salutes, and physical violence starts to look benign by comparison. I mean hey, at least it’s not Charlottesville….

After Charlottesville, the question we obsessively asked was whether such marches and violence would become the new normal. It is heartening to see that, despite the failure of the president to deplore and decry armed white nationalist rallies in unequivocal terms, a rash of copycat rallies have not been planned, and that, as a result of the Charlottesville event, its organizers and participants have lost jobs, prestige, and military positions; entire organizations have been disbanded. In the grandest scheme of things, the scorecard pretty much nets out to Nazis: 0, Democracy:1.

Still, to conclude that Charlottesville is behind us is to elide the ways in which “Charlottesville” has become a word that signifies moral mushiness, “both sides” equivocation, and victim-blaming – and each of those phenomena remains in full flower today. Jews may be able to breathe more easily about attacks on our places of worship, but we have, all of us, internalized the new normal that comes in its wake: the presence of armed guards, and email threats to our children in Jewish preschools, and the newfound fear of walking around in America as a Jew. The fact that this isn’t a causore of daily horror and consternation shows how very far we have all traveled in a year.

A year later, I find that I still cannot get through a panel discussion about the events of August 12 without tearing up.

A year later, my two teenage sons still talk about Charlottesville with complicated feelings that I cannot, even as an adult, quite yet manage.

A year later, the anti-Semitic tweets and death threats directed at Jewish public figures I know are more graphic, explicit, and harrowing than ever.

One continues to hope that Charlottesville – with its grieving town, its brave citizens, and its bone-deep efforts to contend with racism and rage – will never happen again, anywhere. But I continue to believe that what Charlottesville revealed, what it refracted and allowed, plays out daily under the surface of American life, and that it no longer shocks us as it ought to.

American Jewry is safe from actual attack, yes, but the Nazi chant of “You will not replace us” lives on in ongoing immigration policy, in public discourse, and in international movements. That has never been a story that redounds to the benefit of the Jews. Charlottesville is mostly a distant memory of how bad it could get – but the currents that caused it to happen are more robust than ever.


And We Begin our Preparation for the High Holidays

ROSH HASHANAH is the Jewish New Year marking the anniversary of the creation of the world. Rosh Hashanah is also called the Day of Judgment. God is said to inscribe the fate of every person for the upcom- ing year in the Book of Life. Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Ten Days of Awe, during which time Jews seek forgiveness for their transgressions.

TESHUVAh – The Hebrew word for “sin” is “chet,” derived from an old archery term used when an arch- er “misses the mark.” Teshuva is the process by which Jews atone throughout the Ten Days of Awe.

MITZVAH OF THE SHOFAR – The essential mitzvah (commandment) of Rosh Hashanah is to hear the sounding of the shofar.

APPLES AND HONEY- There is many Rosh Hashanah food customs but the most common is the dipping of apples into honey to signify our wishes for a sweet new year. A special round loaf of challah symbolizes the cycle of time.

“L’SHANA TOVAH” -The traditional Rosh Hashanah greeting appropriate for Jewish friends on Rosh Hashanah is “L’Shana Tovah” or simply “Shana Tovah” which loosely translates as “Happy New Year or “L’Shana Tovah u’Metukah,” wishing someone a “good and sweet year.”

TASHLICH – On Rosh Hashanah, many Jews may follow a custom called Tashlich (“casting off”) symboli- cally cast off their sins into the water by throwing pieces of bread into the stream.

YOM KIPPUR – DAY OF ATONEMENT was instituted long ago Leviticus 23: And the Eternal spoke unto Moses, saying: “Howbeit on the tenth day of this seventh month is the Day of Atonement; there shall be a holy convocation unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls; and ye shall bring an offering made by fire unto the Eternal. ……to make atonement for you before the Eternal your God.” It is our last chance to change God’s judgment of one’s deeds in the previous year who decides our fate in the coming year. In the Bible, Yom Kippur is called Shabbat Shabbaton, “Sabbath of Sabbaths. “Abstention from work and solemnity characterize the Sabbath as most complete.

In the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, the high priest conducted an elaborate sacrificial ceremony on Yom Kippur. Clothed in white linen, he successively confessed his own sins, the sins of priest, and the sins of the people, and then entered the Holy of Holies in the Temple to sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice and offer in- cense. The priest then sent a goat (the “scapegoat”) into the wilderness, where it was driven to its death, to symbolically carry away the sins of Israel.

OBSERVANCES OF YOM KIPPUR – On the eve of Yom Kippur, the Kol Nidre is recited. The Kol Nidre (“all vows”) annuls all vows made throughout the year. But the Kol Nidre actually refers only to vows made between oneself and God, and especially frivolous vows made to God or those made under duress. Even so, obligations towards other people must be upheld. God will forgive sins one commits, but if one has wronged another person, he must seek forgiveness from that person and try to make it right. The Mishna teaches, “Yom Kippur does not atone until one appeases his neighbors.” In the Yom Kippur synagogue ser- vice the confession is recited in the first person plural to emphasize communal responsibility for sins. The concluding service N’ilah is the last chances to get in a “good word” before God’s judgment are sealed. At nightfall, the Yom Kippur service concludes with one last long blast on the shofar.

HAPPIEST TIME OF THE YEAR – There were no days as happy for the Jewish people as the 15th of Av [when marriages were arranged] and Yom Kippur. It brings about reconciliation with God and other peo- ple. Thus, if they have observed it properly, many people feel a deep sense of serenity by the end of the fast.