Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Shavuot - Confirmation - Community 2018

We start out the Confirmation year by having our teens read from The Faith of Israel: A Guide for Confirmation, published by the Reform movement in 1917. This guide uses phrases such as “old-time Bar Mitzwa” and “good Jews and Jewesses.” I love starting with these excerpts because the language makes the teens giggle, but it also helps the teens place themselves in the history of the Jewish community. This year’s Confirmation class will be the 106th Confirmation class at Temple Israel, joining thousands of young people who have pledged their commitment to Judaism standing before our congregation on the holiday of Shavuot.

To understand the placement of Confirmation on the holiday of Shavuot, it is important to know the dual meaning of Shavuot. The Faith of Israel describes it in the following way: It was the first harvest festival of the year, and the people gave thanks for the yield of the land. Besides, it was observed in memory of the giving of the Law at Sinai, and the people gave thanks for the gift of the Law. Both meanings of the Feast of Shavuot are important. On the one hand, we commemorate Israel’s receiving of the Law. On the other, we give the first-fruits of our spiritual life to God. Therefore, we have set Shavuot aside as the day for Confirmation.

Our confirmands symbolically celebrate the two meanings of Shavuot, both through the Confirmation year as well as through leading the celebration of their Confirmation on Shavuot itself. By choosing to participate in Confirmation, young people  symbolically receive the Torah at Sinai by studying Jewish tradition and declaring its place in their lives. They also symbolically offer their "first-fruits" by articulating their individual understandings of God and prayer, and choosing for themselves elements of Jewish practice that add meaning to their lives.

Shavuot, however, is not a holiday only for Confirmation students. The dual meanings of Shavuot issue an invitation to each one of us to consider, and confirm, the role that Judaism plays in our lives. We can each ask of ourselves, how do I receive Torah in my life? and, how do I offer the fruits of my spiritual life through prayer or action? Whether you celebrated your Confirmation or not, we can all see Shavuot as an opportunity to stand at Sinai and confirm our Jewish identities and commitments.

If we need further inspiration, May is a month full of celebrating exemplars of Jewish life in our community. At the 110th Anniversary Gala on May 5 we will celebrate the illustrious history of our community along with Cantor Helene Reps, Beverly Hoffmann and Amy Bass; three women who repeatedly confirm their Judaism through a diversity of volunteer activities, on-going study and religious expression. On May 11, we will bless our High School Graduates, young adults who have expressed their Judaism in the classroom, on the bimah, as role models to our children, in our youth groups and on the basketball court. And on May 19 and 20, as we celebrate the receiving of Torah at Mount Sinai, we will be led in worship by our newest class of Confirmands.

May this month be a month when we are all inspired to stand again at Sinai and receive Torah for ourselves, each in our own way.

Rabbi Beth Nichols

For more information on celebrating Shavuot, click here!

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Yom Huledet Samech l'vashingtone (Happy Birthday to Washington)!

"A rose by any other name would smell as sweet," declared Shakespeare's Juliet about her beloved Romeo. The upshot of this line is to imply that names do not matter, actions do.  While I am in full support of the notion that actions mean quite a lot - a notion that Jewish values completely supports - I believe that names are equally important and so does Judaism. For the ancient rabbis, it was a near heresy to quote Jewish law without giving the appropriate attribution to the rabbi who conceived the law or legal concept. It was considered theft! Perhaps this was an early version of intellectual property rights, but it seems that it went far deeper than just giving credit where credit was due. A name, when given the proper respect will endure forever. 
Yad Vashem, The World Holocaust Remembrance Center,  derives its very name from this concept.  People who have a working knowledge of Hebrew might assume that the words yad vashem mean "hand and name." But, a yad is not only a hand in biblical Hebrew, it is a monument and shem is not just a name - but a name that endures. The words yad vashem come directly from a verse in the Book of Isaiah, "I will give them, in My house, and within My walls, a monument and a name - better than sons and daughters, I will give them an everlasting name which shall not perish." (56: 5) The establishment of Yad Vashem, the museum, was meant to be both the place of the Jewish people's permanent monument to victims of the Holocaust, but also a place where names would endure forever, fulfilling the Jewish value of remembering the dead even when there remains no family to mourn them.
I bring this up, this week, because on Monday the United States will celebrate Presidents Day. Except, we aren't celebrating Presidents Day at all - there is no US holiday with such a name! That is the colloquial name for the day, but, in truth, the holiday is Washington's Birthday (he was born on February 22), established officially as a memorial day on Washington's first birthday after he died in 1800. In 1885, Washington's Birthday was, by law, established as a federal holiday. For the last four decades, however, we have celebrated it, not on February 22nd, but on the third Monday in February (to give us all a three day weekend). This created the false notion that it was meant to commemorate both Washington and Lincoln (who's birthday is the 12th), which some states, like Lincoln's home of Illinois, already celebrated. As time marched on, people started to refer to it as Presidents Day, and thus, began to lump all the presidents into one omnibus holiday - even the short lived, scandal filled, philandering Warren G. Harding!
This is what flies in the face of the Jewish concept of creating a yad vashem (not THE Yad Vashem) - that some individuals deserve both physical monuments and to have a name that endures forever.  We can all agree that some presidents are worthy of neither a monument, nor an enduring reputation! We might not all agree on which presidents fall on which list, but I think we are unanimous in that George Washington was worthy. He was worthy not only as the first president for our country, but because of the ideals he represented. Washington had every reason not to volunteer for his role as General and later as President. He was a wealthy land owner, who could have been like most of his fellow gentry, who sided with the British merely to protect their own interests. Later, after two terms as President, he could have been president for life, as many wished he would be, but he refused in recognition that we did not want dictators, but elected officials with finite days as leader of our nation. Add to his bravery, kindness and honesty, among other laudable qualities. These are the characteristics which led both to the Washington Monument, and his name being given an enduring memorial by having his birthday made the only federal holiday named for a President of the United States.
For we Jews, Washington set an important precedent, that we would be treated as equals here in the new Promised Land. He set that tone in his letter to the Jewish community in Newport, Rhode Island, which I have excerpted here:

The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy - a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants - while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. [as quoted from the prophet Micah 4:4)
So, while many of our fellow citizens will celebrate Presidents Day this Monday, I would encourage you to celebrate Washington's Birthday. Names matter. Washington mattered - for us Jewish Americans, for all Americans. His ideals seem to matter more today than ever.
Shabbat shalom and Yom Huledet Samech l'vashingtone (Happy Birthday to Washington),
Weiner Signature
Scott Weiner

Friday, January 5, 2018

Songs That Changed the World Music Benefit at Temple Israel!

Temple Israel of New Rochelle Presents
“Songs that Changed the World” Concert

From rituals of mourning to exuberant celebrations, from rebellion to times of healing, history has always had a soundtrack to mark key events, figures, and movements. A concert at Temple Israel of New Rochelle, January 26 will highlight how music has reflected and inspired change throughout history.

Temple Israel’s Cantor Randall Schloss, who initiated the concert concept as the perfect way to showcase the recent renovation of the sanctuary, said, “Music gives voice to the important events in history in ways that are digestible and memorable and often expresses meaning beyond mere words.”

Cantors Erik Contzius, Shira Ginsburg and soprano and Cantor Schloss’ wife Leah Schloss perform to the accompaniment of organist Christopher Creaghan, pianist Isaac Ben Ayala and oboist Alan Hollander. Temple Israel’s youth choir Kol Simcha, will sing an original composition, “This is Just a Song (But a Song can Change the World!)”

A Musical Journey that Changed Our World
The evening presents a musical journey with a variety of songs focused on change, including within the world of music itself. The program features: “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, that integrated plot and song in a revolutionary way, to the contemporary, ground-breaking Hamilton, in which Lin-Manuel Miranda tells the story of the “founding father without a father,” blending hip-hop with traditional ensemble pieces.

Selections from Fiddler on the Roof, about a traditional village adapting to a changing world, and from West Side Story will be performed. “In West Side Story, we have music that blurs traditional lines between musical theater and classical music,” says Schloss. “It’s appealing like pop music with the depth of expression of opera. And it introduced the world to the brilliant lyrics of Stephen Sondheim.”

The program also includes selections from Joni Mitchell to Bob Dylan that perhaps best encapsulate music with overt political messages, from the civil rights and human rights movements. “We Shall Overcome,” for example, an anthem with gospel roots that helped expand the work of civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., was first sung by striking tobacco workers in South Carolina in the 1940s and has been recorded by everyone from Odetta to Joan Baez, Pete Seeger to the Jewish Young Singers.

But protest music didn’t start or end in the 1950s and 1960s. The stark “Strange Fruit,” written by Bronx schoolteacher Abel Meeropol (Lewis Allen), the son of Russian Jewish immigrants who adopted the Rosenberg children, was recorded in 1939 by Billie Holiday. This haunting anti-lynching song is one of the earliest and boldest political statements of American culture. At CafĂ© Society in New York, one of the first integrated nightclubs in the country, Holiday closed her set with it each evening, while waiters stopped service, and the lights were dimmed, while Ms. Holiday closed her eyes as some patrons walked out in disgust.

Just as Holiday considered performing “Strange Fruit” a sacred responsibility, notes of social justice ring throughout the music of the world’s religions. The program will also explore the original musical prayers, the Psalms in settings from Middle Eastern music to gospel, reggae and spirituals.

Following the concert in Temple Israel’s sanctuary, a dessert reception will be open to all.

Temple Israel of New Rochelle, 1000 Pinebrook Blvd., New Rochelle, will present “Songs That Changed the World,” Saturday, January 27, 2018 at 7:30pm.

The concert is a benefit to raise funds to support music programming at Temple Israel, including its youth and adult choirs. Tickets are $36 for adults, $18 for students and seniors, and $5 for children, with tots under 6 free. Special ticket packages with reserved seating and recognition in the concert program are available, as are ticket sponsorships for those otherwise unable to attend. For more information and tickets call 914.235.1800 or visit:

Monday, December 4, 2017

Chanukah is Here at Temple Israel! Join us!

Chanukah is only 2 weeks away ... 

So why not share it with Temple Israel! 

Visit to see how Temple Israel's services and events will make your Chanukah festive and spiritual. There are opportunities to worship, sing, cook, hike, learn and give ... click on the link above, and see how and sign up today!

Monday, November 13, 2017

Camp Pinebrook is Coming ... Open House: Sunday December 3rd, Noon

Camp Pinebrook at Temple Israel of New Rochelle is where children (ages 4-8) make friends, build skills and have fun in a vibrant community infused with Jewish values. So learn more about the program, the facilities and meet the leadership team!

Camp Pinebrook is an inclusive child-centered day camp with a wide variety of activities - from sports & games, crafts & music to swimming and outdoor adventure. This camp offers fun, immersive Reform Jewish experiences that empower children to better themselves and their communities. Located on the grounds of Temple Israel of New Rochelle, camp facilities sit on 15 wooded acres centrally located in lower Westchester County.

Come join us on Sunday, December 3rd ... and see why we're excited about Camp Pinebrook!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Rabbi Weiner's Sabbatical "The little things do matter."

As I write this, I am just a few days back into my regular schedule after my summer sabbatical. Even in these few days, lots of you have asked me if my time away was what I had hoped it would be and if there was some great take-away from the experience of a prolonged absence from the day to day of my professional life. In short, the answers are yes and yes, without a doubt.

Indeed, the sabbatical (including the part in the spring) was all I had hoped for. It was a great gift from the congregation to both recognize the regular commitment of time on my part to Temple Israel and the value for me, my family and the congregation, for me to have a chance to recharge the batteries. This summer, I got to do many things that I have not had the chance to do in a long time – or ever!

In the early part of the summer, I got to volunteer, as I always do, at the URJ Kutz Camp. This summer however, I was able to be there for nearly the entire session of camp – something I haven’t done since I was a student, nearly 20 years ago. My service to camp, as the faculty dean, has never felt more helpful to camp and, at the same time, it has never felt more fulfilling to me. The weeks there were not just about the teaching and programming for which I was responsible. It allowed me to make more and deeper relationships with campers and staff alike. Likewise, it was so wonderful to have those weeks with colleagues from around the world. I got to learn and be inspired by their work in their communities and be moved by the kinds of collaborations that occur when excellent rabbis, cantors and educators come together in a camp environment. On the one hand, I was there to volunteer, but on the other, I gained so much from being there for such a long stint. It will be hard to be back there only for one week next year!

For the remaining six weeks of the summer, I had the gift of spending nearly all day, every day, with both of my daughters, something that hasn’t happened – ever! Some of you may be wondering if I’m being truthful, but I promise I am! I love being a rabbi and serving the Jewish community, but that comes with a trade-off of having an atypical schedule. I serve the community most nights and weekends. The six weeks with my daughters was an opportunity to just be a dad without running out to meetings at odd hours, or being the one dad on the soccer field in a suit and tie! Before leaving for Israel, we used that time to take day trips all over the New York area. We went to the Statue of Liberty (where I hadn’t been since 5th grade), national parks, museums, a Broadway show, lunches and walks and so much more. At night, we got to have dinner as a family and on weekends we spent time with family and friends. Being a one man daddy day camp was tiring, but I cherished it!

And then we went to Israel for a month, where our daily journeys to and fro in that country were amazing as well. Israel may be a small country, but even we, who have been to Israel countless times, still find new places and sites to visit as well as our favorite haunts that we never miss. We went to Israel’s biggest yogurt and pudding factory (Israelis eat an average of 2 per capita, per day, so this is a place of national importance!), lots of beaches, an escape room (you try doing that in a non-native language!), we made art with our family’s favorite Israeli artist in her private studio, we went to a stalactite cave, explored the treasures of Jerusalem, I got to run with my daughter in 95 degree weather (even less fun than it sounds), ate donuts at our favorite Arab bakery in the heart of Old Jaffa and so much more. Limor and I even got away for a vacation on our own to celebrate our 20 years together.

So yes, I got to do everything I wanted to do on my sabbatical. The great take-away, however, wasn’t grand, but it was profound. The little things do matter. Having the time to do important and meaningful things, not in the minutes or days one finds in between the other things, but doing them solely for the enjoyment of them, was amazing. It has given me insight, at this time of year, on how I’d like to prioritize my time – doing more things, more often, that I love, with those I love. I can’t wait another seven years to make the space for such important things. With the New Year just begun, I hope I live up to it! I hope this year is, for you too, a year of doing things you love and being with those you love, more than ever. Make the time, it’s worth it!

Rabbi Scott Weiner

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Hurricane Harvey ... How Are You Helping?

Dear chevrei (friends),

Ah, unhappy, storm-tossed soul, with none to comfort you: I will make garnets your building-stones, and sapphires your foundations.
Two weeks ago, these were the opening words of the Haftarah portion from the prophet Isaiah. And now, there are millions of Americans storm-tossed by Hurricane Harvey. Our thoughts and prayers are with all those impacted by the storm as well as those on the ground providing aid and shelter. Reports are only beginning to quantify the amount of destruction, making it clear that recovery will be long and difficult.

Many in our community are looking for ways to provide assistance to the communities affected by the storm. In relief efforts following natural disasters there is often confusion about how best to provide help. In this case, the challenge is compounded by the ongoing rain and flooding, making it difficult to assess the damage.
With help from the Social Action Committee, we have compiled a short list of organizations that we know are directly working with storm victims and have immediate needs. We encourage you to give generously to these and other organizations.
  1. URJ Greene Family Camp: The Reform Movement's camp in Texas is spearheading two different initiatives. They have opened up the camp facility for families who need shelter. They are also organizing "Hurricane Harvey Houston Day Camp." In addition to providing a full day of supervision and activities for kids whose parents need to focus on storm recovery, the Day Camp will be serving families meals.
  2. Texas Diaper Bank: The Texas Diaper Bank helps families all year long, but are receiving a tremendous volume of requests from displaced families in need of diapers.
  3. Food Bank of Corpus Christi: The Food Bank is focused on getting food and water to displaced families.
There are two Reform congregations in Houston, Congregation Emanu El and Congregation Beth Israel. While they are still compiling data on the impact of the storm on their families, we do know that Beth Israel suffered extensive damage to its building, including the sanctuary flooding. Emanu El's building suffered only minor damage and will be hosting the day camp described above. In the coming weeks we will let you know if there are specific ways that we can help these congregations recover. We are especially proud of the work that Rabbi Josh Fixler, grandson of our member Thelma Fixler, is doing to provide comfort to his community in his first year as a rabbi at Congregation Emanu El.
In the Haftarah portion this week, also from the prophet Isaiah, God tells the people, "with love unending I take you in." May those forced to flee their homes by Hurricane Harvey feel this love through the actions of brave first-responders, kind neighbors, compassionate volunteers, and generous donors.

With great hope,
Rabbi Nichols signature
Rabbi Nichols