Monday, November 30, 2015

Chavaya Family Mitzvah Day ... Sunday, December 20

The months of November and December are certainly filled with opportunities for us to give of ourselves. As we finished celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday, we reflected on the things and people we appreciate. Perhaps we even had the opportunity for someone else to let us know that something we did meant a great deal to them. 

This month the temple will be buzzing with opportunities for people to give back and do good. Our annual “Giving Tree” made its debut in the lobby in November so if you have not yet had the chance to “adopt” a child and purchase a gift or if you wish to make a donation to HOPE Community Services and sponsor food, please visit the “Giving Tree” today! Gifts are being collected until Sunday, December 13.

Families of all ages have the chance to give this month at our first Chavaya Mitzvah Day on Sunday, December 20, held in partnership with the Social Action Committee. Mitzvah Day will run from 9:30 a.m.-12 p.m. with various activities.

HOPE Community Services - the New Rochelle non-profit that provides cooked meals and non perishable foods to families in need. We will be creating decorations for their upcoming Christmas meals.
Community Service Associates - provides services that nourish not only the physical but also the social and psychological needs of the poor and disenfranchised in the Mount Vernon area. We will be creating food baskets for the soup kitchen.

My Sister’s Place - strives to engage each member of society in our work to end domestic violence, so that all relationships can embrace the principles of respect, equality, and peacefulness. Temple Israel will be creating baby toiletry packages.
The Sharing Shelf - provides new and gently used clothing to children living below the poverty line in Westchester County. We will be collecting new hats, scarves  and gloves for children. 

The Humane Society of Westchester at New Rochelle - dedicated to promoting the human/animal bond through the compassionate care and treatment of animals throughout the communities we serve in Westchester County and beyond. Temple Israel will be creating pet friendly chew toys 

Additionally, we will be collecting new diapers, baby wipes, baby shampoo, new hats, scarves and gloves to send to the organizations listed above. If you are able to help with these collections please bring these items to the collection boxes located near the Chavaya and Kehillah offices or in the Temple lobby.

Chavaya Mitzvah Day will conclude with a pizza lunch co-sponsored by the Brotherhood and Sisterhood. We are very excited for Chavaya Mitzvah Day and thank the Brotherhood, Sisterhood and Social Action Committee for helping make this a successful event! We look forward to seeing you then, giving back to our community.

Click here for the flyer ... and email Rebecca Elkus Ferst (Chavaya Director) or Mia Egelberg or Amy Ecker (Social Action Committee Members) to volunteer your time! We need your donations and time to make this event successful!

Rebecca Elkus-Ferst
Chavaya Director

When purchasing for the "Giving Tree" or any other holiday shopping this season, please consider Temple Israel through Amazon. Click here to be directed to Temple Israel's dedicated Amazon link.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Rabbi Weiner in Jerusalem-World Zionist Congress Day 3

Va’yahee erev, va’yahee voker, yom shleeshee! And there was evening, and there was morning, the third day! (Gen. 1:13)

Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to us, as I wrote. In my post, I said there were a few points where we outright disagreed – truly, I thought that if I brought his Holocaust comments into the post, some would think that I was trying to smear the PM and that others would think that I either misheard, miswrote or both. Surely, by now, you have heard that one of the PM’s 10 “truths” was that Hitler didn’t want to murder Jews, just expel them. That is, until he met the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. Without getting into the whole parashah (yes, that’s modern Hebrew for a scandal), let’s just say that was not historically accurate.

While I thought this week was filled to brim already with the Artzeinu pre-conference, the WZO conference and terrorism afoot, now we have a full-blown (inter)national scandal while I am in town. It seems Israel has pulled all the stops out for me. I say it is a big scandal because it isn’t every day that the German government has to come to the aid of the despicable Mufti’s reputation (he instigated pogroms here in Palestine) by making it very clear that only Hitler and the Germans were to blame for the Holocaust. Everywhere I went today, people were talking about it: soldiers in the elevator, the doorman of the hotel, friends at dinner and pretty much everyone else I saw today. I even got texts from Israeli friends saying how “lucky” I was there to see it in person!

The comment was also a topic of discussion for MK Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, the leader of the Knesset opposition, who addressed the WZO this morning as the first official business of the day. While he had prepared comments about Zionism, returning to Israel’s founders’ ideals and living up to Jewish values, he couldn’t begin without addressing the issue. Bougie, as everyone here calls him (a nickname his mom gave as a mash-up of “doll” from French and Hebrew), said that the PM’s comments were the worst kind of incitement – by putting the Mufti on the same level as Hitler, it put Palestinians on the same level as Germans during the Holocaust, knowing full well that every Israeli is raised with the ethos that Israelis will do anything to prevent such a thing from happening again. His criticism of the PM had serious zing in it, for sure. While not directly attacking the PM on the political grounds, he did highlight a vision for future that would, as he put it, reground Israel in its values. One Orthodox man jumped up and yelled at the Labor MK, akin to Rep. Joe Wilson yelling at President Obama at the State of the Union. It was the only public disrespect, to that point, in two days of meetings of people with sharp disagreements, both between the PM and Bougie and the delegates themselves.

Next, we went into our first session where committees of the convention went through the first round of vetting, passing, amending and rejecting various resolutions. Every one of the more than 500 delegates was assigned to one of eight committees; I was assigned to the committee on constitutional amendments. This is where the nitty gritty work of WZO policy gets done. It isn’t exciting, sort of like watching Congress on C-SPAN, but it is where the real stuff happens. In my committee, most of the amendments had to do with making the WZO fairer in how delegates are elected or appointed and governance policies. It wasn’t exhilarating work, but it was important as these amendments would affect the fairness of the WZO, whether or not the smaller parties and Jewish communities get a voice and whether the oversight of the WZO would keep the organization on the straight and narrow.

While one would think that all parties would be interested in such things, this is not the case. Most of the defeated amendments were blatant attempts by small groups to get more leverage in the WZO than they deserved, gave financial decision making powers to cronies and took the rights of small communities away by larger groups that try to suppress their voices. Almost every one of those amendments (except one about an appeals process, that is so filled with minutiae, that I will not even explain) was defeated by our coalition, working with others from varying delegations that also opposed them. There were two galling proposals that were defeated that are worth mentioning. Both were proposed by the Orthodox parties and supported by the Likud party. The first tried to eliminate language from the WZO constitution which stated that no delegate or organization can be discriminated against “based on origin, nationality, race or gender.” After we defeated it (I was the leader of our faction dealing with this amendment), we succeeded in getting that section of the constitution amended to also include sexuality and religious streams to the list of things for which one cannot be discriminated against in the WZO. The other, tried to make it “kosher” to call any group of Jews a Jewish community worthy of sending delegates to the WZO. For example, this would allow Chabad, who sends emissaries all over the globe, to be able to claim that one Chabadnik living in a hut in the jungle is a Jewish community and therefore his Zionist party could claim more communal delegates. It was kind of humorous; kind of not so funny!

We finished our three hour session on this with three minutes to spare and without the kind of yelling and screaming (and we’ve been told about past furniture throwing) that these sessions are reputed to have been like in the past (we certainly heard much more yelling form other meeting rooms). Then all the delegated were sent on mini afternoon-long missions in Israel to scout the land, so to speak. Our delegation’s first stop was to a school that the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, picked for us – in East Jerusalem. It was an Arab, all girls, high school. The school was in good condition and the girls all wear uniforms, most had their heads covered a few had makeup on and they seemed like typical teenage girls, giggling with friends in the halls and being shy towards strangers like us. We were asked to teach them about MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Even though they get instruction in English, they didn’t speak enough English to really grasp the text without the teacher translating it for them. What was shocking was that their Hebrew, having lived in Jerusalem all of their lives, wasn’t up to the task either. We later learned that the girls learn from a curriculum from the Israeli Ministry of Education specifically for Palestinians, which differs from the curriculum at both Jewish public schools and Israeli Arab public schools. By contrast, no Israeli teen (these girls are not Israeli citizens even though they have lived their whole lives in Israel’s capitol city) speaks English as poorly as these girls. The mifgash, or interaction, was still upbeat and once outside of the classroom in the front yard of the school they seemed a little freer to be themselves and even asked me to be in a selfie! It was odd to see the girls, at their age being dismissed in groups instead of just heading home. When we inquired as to why, we were told that a student was shot last week, a girl, whom a Jewish man on the street accused of threatening him. He shot her in the arm 12 times. He fled and is unidentified and she has been at Hadassah Hospital where she has already undergone two surgeries. It was a good meeting, but reminded us all of the tense situation right now.

Next, we went to the ancient Dormition Abbey church, where the Virgin Mary died according to Christian tradition. We met the priest, who is a German national. He began by saying how pleased he was that we were there and said that he was sorry for what his people had done to ours throughout history and the Holocaust in particular. He then told us about the church and about how in each of the last three years, the church has been vandalized by Jewish extremists, who graffitied in Hebrew words from the Aleinu (traditionally understood as saying that Jews are better than all other peoples) and tried to burn down the church each time. Another time the graffiti likened Christians to monkeys. All told, millions of dollars of damage was done to one of the oldest historical sites in Jerusalem in what are known as “Price Tag” attacks – exerting a price for a perceived wrong, or to trying to get people to leave. The priest chanted a Psalm of peace, we sang a peace song. He said he took great solace from our group because Orthodox rabbis will never come to meet with him, and because our fellow Reform congregations in Israel send letters of support and comfort every time the church is attacked. It gives him hope to continue with his ministry in Israel.

Our last stop was at the Kotel, the Western Wall, in two stages. First, we went to the Azarat Yisrael, the egalitarian section at the Wall. There, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, the President of the Reform Movement, addressed us and informed us of the progress to have a real egalitarian section at the Wall. You see, the existing section is hidden away where no one can find it, below ground level and, where the plaza meets the wall, it is so small that you cannot have more than 10 people there at a time. Our Temple Israel Mission went there this summer and took advantage of the moving ability to be together as families, but our group couldn’t get to the wall at the same time. Part of the group had to wait at the upper platform for the others to finish before getting a turn. Rabbi Jacobs assured us that the work continues and that the government is trying to find a solution to this issue. From there, we went to the Kotel Plaza, and where we are forced to separate men and women, we held a service – men and women together. It was a moving service, led by Rabbi Jacobs and musician Peri Smilow. It was emotional for our group to pray at the holiest spot in Judaism, trying to connect with the divine, where Jews have prayed for thousands of years, but being worried that we might be arrested by the police of the Jewish people or be spat upon by the ultra-Orthodox, or maybe even worse.

In the beginning, we were praying with our eyes moving side to side, making sure we were safe. But, as we sang out our prayers, we became more and more comfortable – even with the eyes of Haredi children on us like animals in the zoo, even with some Haredi men yelling at us, even with the lackey of the rabbi in charge of the Kotel trying to get the police to arrest us. In the end, Anat Hoffman, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and a leader of Women of the Wall (who has been spat upon, beaten, arrested and harassed for praying at the Wall for more than 25 years), convinced the police officer in charge that it wouldn’t be a great idea to arrest the global Reform delegation, here in town for the World Zionist Congress, including our “chief rabbi.” No policeman wants to wind up on the front page of a newspaper. So, knowing that our prayers would soon end, he looked the other way.

We finished with the singing of Hatikva. That Hatikva rang as true as ever and reflected exactly why we are here in Jerusalem: the hope of what Zionism can be has not yet been realized. The “hope” of Hatikva was to be “a free people in our own land.” We certainly have achieved our own land, but if Jews are afraid of arrest or bodily harm for praying in Israel the way we would in any other civilized country, we are not yet free. Our work at the Congress has been focused on this very issue. In the last day of the Congress, this is where the work of all of our supporters, all those votes, will come to fruition – we will use our rights to move Israel and the National Institutions towards a freer, more egalitarian future. It might seem cliché to quote Theodore Herzl at the WZO, but “if we will it, it is no dream!” If we will a better Israel and are willing to do the hard work to achieve it, we will. And we will it with all our hearts!

If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand wither and may my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth; If I do not remember you, If I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy! Psalm 137:5-6


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rabbi Weiner in Jerusalem-World Zionist Congress Day 2

Va’yahee erev, va’yahee voker, yom shaynee! And there was evening, and there was morning, the second day! (Gen. 1:8)

Today, the business of the World Zionist Congress itself began. Actually, before it began, the negotiations had to be finished. And it was, about 3 feet from my breakfast table in the hotel dining room. You see, the Congress is kind of a misnomer, it is more like a parliament where parties make agreements to have coalitions (here they call them factions) and, in the process, you agree to use the collective votes of the faction to get as much control for the parties making up your faction over whatever is at stake. In a government, like the Knesset or the British Parliament, that means as many ministerships as your and coalition can get. Here, it means getting as many positions within what are known as the three National Institutions, both paid and unpaid (like chairman of the board): The JNF (think land, planting trees and blue boxes for tzedakah), the Jewish Agency (think shaliachs or emissaries to Jewish communities around the world and immigrant absorption) and the WZO itself which controls certain things like Zionist education programs around the world among others.

The ink was hardly dry two tables over as the parties in our faction decided how we would use our collective votes in this manner. The Reform Movement delegations from around the world put our votes in with the Labor party (Israel’s and their global partners), the Meretz Party and Zionist Youth Movement (HaNoar HaTzioni). Together, we make up the largest faction in the entire WZO. Because of that, we will have leaders that share our values and ideology leading the boards and departments in part or in the whole at each of the three organizations. All of that was before the opening gavel!

Once we began and voted (rubber stamped) those new appointees, we heard from former Supreme Court Justice Tova Strassberg-Cohen who warned of a crumbling of the unity of the State of Israel as more and more Israelis did not fully participate in the shared discourse of society.

This was followed by the main event of the day – an address by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. As with any head of state, there was a lot of security before-hand, a lot fanfare during and a lot of chatter afterwards. From the get-go it seemed that the PM wasn’t there to actually address the WZO, rather, his remarks were targeted at the media. How do we know this? Well, at the WZO, the largest gathering of Zionist officials (half of whom are Israeli and the other half comprising a large group of fluent Hebrew speaking non-Israelis), the PM spoke in English – not the language of Zionism! I don’t recall the PM even using the world Zionist (if he did it was in reference to his grandparents making aliyah in 1920). Instead of addressing issues of Zionism in the year 2015 and the years to come, he focused solely on the current wave of violence. He enumerated ten myths being circulated and then debunked them on by one. The first was the libel that the Israeli government is trying to undermine Islamic sites (particularly the Mosques on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem). Israel is doing no such thing – I agree totally with the PM, as I did on 5 other of his points. Two others, I think that the PM was fudging or obfuscating the truth, he is, after all, a politician! As an example, the PM said that Palestinian violence could not be caused by the settlement issue. He proudly claimed that in his first term as PM he built more than 5,000 units a year in the West Bank and now he’s only building 1,500 units a year, so the Palestinians couldn’t be more angry now, they should be less. What the PM didn’t mention, regardless of how you feel about the Occupied Territories, is the fact that the Palestinians don’t want any new units in the West Bank, nor did he mention the cumulative effect of going from zero settlers to more than half a million during the years of the occupation is not producing an anger free environment. There were two others that where I disagreed, but they were on small matters, semantics really about the use of force and how every country would react the same way as Israel. I don't think that is true in both good and bad ways. Other countries would be far harsher than Israel has been, and others would not use as much deadly force as Israel has lately. In the end, the PM was kind of lifeless, which is unusual for him. Usually, no matter what the subject, there is humor, fists pounding the lectern and raised voices. But, there was none of that today. I think he was tired, due to the situation, I am sure he’s short on sleep. More than that, however, he was treating his speech more like a press conference and I think that’s what it really was we delegates just happened to be there!

After that, it was a day of panel discussions on various topics related to the conference theme of “Non-Stop Zionism.” The first dealt with the connection between Judaism and Zionism. Professor Arnold Eisen of the Jewish Theological Seminary summed it up best by saying once cannot exist without the other. Today, world Jewry would suffer without the State of Israel and the State of Israel would suffer without world Jewry and its religious people (meaning all kinds of Jews no matter what the denomination). Later, there was a discussion on religious freedom in Israel and how the liberal streams of Judaism are second class citizens, how secular Jews are forced to interact with the ultra-Orthodox Jewish movement by the State and how, in the long run, it is Israel and all Jews, who will lose out because of this. Rabbi Chaya Baker, a Conservative Rabbi from Jerusalem was so amazing in how she dealt with a fellow panelist, a secular professor who was, more or less saying that Reform and Conservative Jews should stop whining about equal rights and just take what you get and wait and see if things will change on their own. She ran so many circles around him and beat him up with is own words so many times that he might as well have been gagged and bound by the end – he was motionless and speechless!

The last was a panel on how to combat the global BDS movement. The panel was very interesting in that even the most ardent anti-BDS person on the panel (they were all against it) said that we are overdoing the issue. As a researcher, she said that isn’t one country in the world where anti-Israel sentiments are more than 50% when real research is done (except in the Arab world), meaning that we have more allies than those who are against us. She also told us that while there is a tough atmosphere on US campuses, Americans have the most favorable views of Israel in the entire world! One of the PM’s former media aides was also on the panel and felt that much of Israel’s dealing with BDS is misguided because it fundamentally doesn’t understand how to combat BDS among non-dyed in the wool anti-Semites/anti-Israel camps. The terms we use don’t work because we try to tell them our story from our point of view and not their own. We shouldn’t tell Americans to love Israel because it is a “democracy just like Israel,” because even the most unlearned American knows that Israel has an official religion and therefore is, in the most fundamental way, not a democracy in the way Americans understand it. Instead, the message should be that we share the story of liberating the oppressed and downtrodden to give them freedoms to pursue life, liberty and happiness in the same ways, we’re both melting pots, we thrive on immigration generation after generation and so on. A last example was of a failure to understand the nature of media in today’s battle to thwart anti-Israel movements. Israel tries over and over to combat images with words – from Op-Eds to the PM’s speeches all over the globe, to eloquent diplomats dispatched to every country. Israel doesn’t realize that no one is listening and they certainly aren’t reading. Everything today is about images in the Internet/FB/Instagram/Snapchat world. The powerful example is that every defense of Israel seems to come down to the David versus Goliath story, one that is well known around the world in almost every culture (small David with just some rocks and his slingshot versus Goliath with armor, a helmet and real weapons). Israel is always shouting from the rooftops that they are little David (small little country) versus Goliath (the whole Arab world). Since, no one is listening, they rely on images to vet this account of things. And what do they see? Israeli soldiers, all over the media, with weapons, helmets and body armor fighting people who are armed with rocks. The very invocation of the David story bolsters the Palestinians and lowers the credibility of Israel. This isn’t about just use of force or not, merely about perception of the situation. To combat BDS, it is very clear, Israel and her advocates, like all of us at the WZO, need a new arsenal of terms and images to fight in a new way in the modern era.

Since I have done little more than sit, since I boarded my El Al flight, in the two and half days since I was here, I decided to skip lunch and have a run instead. I ran down and back up the mountain that houses Israel’s national governmental institutions: the Knesset, the Supreme Court, the Israel Museum (and the ministries of Finance, Immigrant Absorption and a few other unsightly government buildings) – the view was just spectacular and I just had to get my feet onto the holy soil of Israel. I also couldn’t abide just being holed up in a hotel or a conference center during the current violence, I had to be out among the people – our people – it was a great run.

I learned so much today, it was a very good day!

P.S. Another Israel first - today I met up with a former bar mitzvah student who is now a first year cantorial student at HUC Israel!

Shomer, shomer Yisrael, shmor shayreet Yisrael…am echad goy echad – Guardian and Protector of Israel, protect the remnant of Israel…one people, one nation – Jewish Hymn (based on the Psalms)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Rabbi Weiner in Jerusalem-World Zionist Congress Day 1

Va’yahee erev, va’yahee voker, yom echad! And there was evening, and there was morning, the first day! (Gen. 1:5)  

It is hard to believe that I only arrived here in Israel 24 hours ago as we have packed in so much already! While I am here for the World Zionist Congress (what people like to call the parliament of the Jewish people as it brings representatives form almost every Jewish community in the world), our delegation is Artzenu (Our Land), which is the global partnership of all the Reform Zionist organizations from around globe. ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) is not only the largest group in Arztenu, but the largest single group in the world. Artzeinu has been in meetings since I arrived to prepare us for the work of the Congress, which begins tomorrow morning with an address from Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Last night, we began by hearing from Orthodox Rabbi Michael Melchoir. The black suited, long bearded rabbi is a bit of an enigma in Israeli circles. He not only served as a minister in the government and member of Knesset, he did so as a part of the liberal Labor party. The Holocaust survivor, while still living in Israel, is also the Chief Rabbi of Sweden! He brings a hopeful message at time where hope seems, at times, in short supply. He summed up the current situation in Israel, in general, by saying that “Fear and despair is not a good policy to run a country!” He feels that what Israel is lacking is enough pluralism and that the country is becoming more and more factionalized because of this lack in pluralism. “We’ve created a situation where Judaism and democracy are seen as opposites,” and that the state was created to bring the two together. How much pluralism does he believe we need? Well, he has had private meetings with the Waqf (the Muslim authorities that rule their holy sites), the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic Jihad to try and reach peace on shared religious beliefs and he believes that it is possible! (I said he was an enigmatic Orthodox Rabbi).

This morning, we heard from the head of the Israeli Reform Movement, Rabbi Gilad Kariv, who taught us about the interesting demographic shifts in the air here. Just to name a few, that in recent surveys, 8% of the country identifies as Reform or Conservative; that’s about 500,000 self-identified non-Orthodox religious people. Another interesting datum: 25% of Reform Jews here are Sephardic. More Sephardic Torah scrolls were donated here this year to Reform congregations than Ashkenazi ones (many even pulled by families who own them from the Orthodox synagogues that have housed them for two generations). Lastly, 95% of Israeli boys have a Bar Mitzvah – only 2% of girls have bat mitzvahs that have any Jewish content at all (the rest are more like 12 year old sweet sixteens). Of those, almost all are Reform and that number is growing rapidly and bringing in new families in droves!

Then, we moved over to the Knesset where we met with five MKs (Members of Knesset), each from a different political party and position on the spectrum of ideas: Michal Biran (Labor), Michael Oren (Kulanu), Ayman Odeh (Arab List), Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) and Benny Begin (Likud – and son of the former Prime Minister). I learned too much from each of them to share here, but it was an incredible session that lasted for many hours. Our leaders at the Israel Religious Action Center, run by the Reform Movement, put the whole day together and they are to be commended. The IRAC (bad name in English!), is led by not one, but two outstanding women, both of whom have met with Temple Israel in the past: Anat Hoffman and Rabbi Noa Sattah.

Our day ended with a dinner honoring some great Reform Zionists as they retire after a life-time of service, most notably Rabbi Stanley Davids and Menachem Leibovich who is finishing his term as the Vice Chairman of the Board of JNF, and who happens to be the husband of our good friend, Rabbi Maya Leibovich from our partner congregation in Mevasseret Tzion.
And yes, and it rained today (twice). That’s not big news at home, but it was the first time since March here in Israel! I guess our special prayer for rain at the end of Sukkot worked!

Sha’alu shalom yerushalayeem – pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Temple Israel Serving the Community! You can too!

This fall, book-ended by Sukkot and Thanksgiving, reminds us to take notice of God’s creation, be grateful for what we have, and help those around us. Our Temple Israel community is engaged in a number of activities that foster these values of awareness, gratitude and generosity. If you are not already involved in one of these projects, we hope the beauty of fall will inspire you to join in.

  • Farmigo – Temple Israel is partnering with Farmigo, an online farmers market, to bring fresh, local food to our members. In addition to promoting sustainable agriculture, Farmigo shares part of the profits with Temple Israel. To learn more about this “farm-to-neighborhood” movement, come to our Food for Thought lecture on Wednesday, October 14. Farmigo Educator Alissa Stoltz will be speaking on “Connecting Food, Nourishment and Jewish Values." Click here to join the Food for Thought lecture. To find out how to order food for your family, go to

  • Temple Israel Feeds the Hungry in Two Ways! – We continue to partner with HOPE Community Services to provide food for their food pantry. While our High Holiday food drive is complete, we continue to collect food all year long. If you did not get a reusable shopping bag at the High Holidays, pick one up in the lobby. (These reusable shopping bags are not for your own groceries, but serve as a reminder to fill a bag with food to donate.) When you drop off a full bag, take another one so that you will always have a reminder that people in our community are in need. Also, the Social Action Committee is helping to feed the hungry through their "Cook for a Cause" effort, so please help them out as well! Temple Israel makes and serves dinners for the Community Service Associates in Mount Vernon. The next two dates are Wednesdays, October 21 and November 18. Nanette Sacks is the contact and lead on this, and very often handles this on her own. Please help her out! Email Nanette Sacks and let her know you will volunteer your time. Look for future monthly dates in this ongoing effort in Temple Topic and weekly eblasts.

  • Pet Blessing – Celebrate our animal friends on the weekend we read Noah’s Ark in the Torah! On Sunday, October 18 we will gather in front of the Temple at 12:15 p.m. to bless our pets. Callie Nichols looks forward to seeing you! 

Rabbi Beth Nichols

Thursday, July 23, 2015

The Iran and US Nuclear Program Pact

For two decades, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been, metaphorically speaking, screaming from the rooftops that Iran was on the verge of attaining a nuclear weapon and that the world had better pay attention. While Prime Minister Netanyahu has been far off base in claiming, since the early 1990’s, that Iran would imminently have a nuclear weapon, I wholeheartedly believe that if it weren’t for Prime Minister Netanyahu, no one would have paid attention to this issue whatsoever. That would have had disastrous results. Prime Minister Netanyahu made the world wake up to the Iranian threat even when they desperately wanted to look the other way.

Prime Minister Netanyahu hasn’t just talked the talk of making Iran Israel’s top priority, he has walked the walk. The Prime Minister’s belief that Iran was the biggest threat facing Israel was carried out in policy. Billions of shekels have been spent on monitoring and counteracting this threat.  Furthermore, the Prime Minister’s focus on Iran has been a clear priority over dealing with other security issues such as the Palestinians, settlement expansion in the territories and internal security matters. Time and again, he has warned that Iran must not be allowed to “break out” (make the final pieces of a nuclear weapon).

Along the way, Prime Minister Netanyahu has convinced others, albeit reluctantly, that something must be done. None of the world’s powers want Iran to have nuclear weapons. While Iran has threatened Israel consistently for more than three decades, the entire world is at risk from an Iranian nuclear weapon. While skeptical at first, I too have been convinced by Prime Minister Netanyahu that this is a vital issue for Israel and the world. That the world woke up to this threat is to the Prime Minister’s credit. However, in his criticism of President Obama’s policies over Iran during this last year, the Prime Minister has not given the US, or the President, any credit for keeping Iran’s nuclear program in check. The United States was Israel’s partner, Israel’s only partner, in assassinating the head of the Iranian nuclear program – setting it back, according to experts, by a year or more. The United States was Israel’s partner, Israel’s only partner, in developing and deploying the Stuxnet Worm which infected Iranian nuclear centrifuges, destroying thousands of machines and setting the Iranian program back by years. I wouldn’t categorize that as sitting on one’s hands as the Prime Minister has intimated that Obama has done.

Contrary to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s depictions of President Obama, the US has done these things even though the risk of Iran considering them acts of war was high – exposing the US to either terrorism or direct military action from Iran. Additionally, every Israeli Minister of Defense over the last seven years has proclaimed publicly that the Obama Administration has done more than any previous administration to build up Israel’s defensive capabilities and has increased military and intelligence cooperation to never before seen levels. The Prime Minister is not only disingenuous when he depicts the US as some Chamberlin-esque capitulator, he has been a most ungrateful recipient of help on what is his self-proclaimed most important issue.

With that as a backdrop, I would like to highlight why I am not opposed to the deal with Iran.

First, this is a good deal for Israel. If Prime Minister Netanyahu is correct and the biggest threat to Israel is an Iranian nuclear weapon, then Iran not having one achieves this goal. The deal is far from perfect, and clearly falls short of what the Prime Minister would like it to do, but that doesn’t mean that it is a bad deal under the circumstances. As the deal is structured, it would be at least 10-15 years before Iran could reinstitute parts of its nuclear program – longer for other parts. That is 10-15 years, or more, of Israel not living under the threat of nuclear attack, something that, without the deal, could happen as soon as two months from now. Even if the deal provided fewer years of safety, it is better than a two month breakout period. 

Of course, there are trade-offs that do not make me happy in this deal, but trade-offs are exactly what happen in a negotiation – any negotiation. You have to give to get and both sides did plenty of giving and getting. One area of concern that has been raised often in this last week is that of conventional weapons. With the inflow of cash to Iran and with the easing of the embargo, Iran will clearly be able to increase its conventional weapons budget which could certainly be a threat to Israel and even, perhaps, to the United States. That is possible. However, Israel has made it very clear that its concerns were with nuclear weapons, not conventional ones – until now. By asking for no nukes and by trying to limit conventional weapons, Israel is trying to have her cake and eat it too. Israel has shown that it is the regional superpower with conventional conflict and it will continue to be that superpower. Of course, Israel has its own nuclear program that gives its conventional warfare a mighty hammer to go with its anvil. Hard numbers also show that Israel will not only have the qualitative edge, it will have the quantitative edge, even with a cash boost to Iran. Iran’s current military budget is $15 billion. Israel’s is $18 billion ($3 billion of which comes from the US).  Without the billions of dollars Israel spends each year countering Iran’s nuclear program, that will feel like an extra billion or two; putting Israel 25% ahead of Iran right out of the gate. If Prime Minister Netanyahu were a diplomat, he would be flying to each of the 6 countries who negotiated with Iran to ask for more military aid. If, on average, each added $1 billion in aid (which they are capable, and I would even hazard, willing), Israel could be outspending Iran tomorrow by nearly double. Of course, Israel doesn’t use all of its military spending against Iran, but neither does Iran use its spending in any meaningful way against Israel. Even those numbers, however, do not reveal the biggest edge that Israel has – its heretofore unnamed allies: Sunni Muslim countries. They spend $130 billion alone and also seek to keep Iran both without nukes and without the means to upset the apple cart further in the Middle East. Without any adjustments, today, Israel and the Sunni countries outspend Iran ten to one on military spending. They will spend more if Iran does. Iran will not be able to outspend their enemies. Israel might even make some new friends out of this situation. That is why this is a good deal for Israel: no nukes for Iran, more money for Israel (you can be sure that the US alone will sweeten the pot) and alliances with strange bedfellows.

Second, this is a good deal for America. The United States has too much to lose by not working with the other countries involved and we were receiving ample pressure, particularly from Russia and China, to end the sanctions against Iran. If they decided to pull out of the embargo on their own, the US would have no leverage to get a deal later. China alone has the need and the money to buy every drop of oil that Iran produces at market rates – and they want to. The US has been holding its finger in that dike for years and there is only so long you can do that.

The US has other interests here too – whether we like it or not, Iran is already our ally in the fight against ISIS. We have been bombarding by air and Iran has been fighting on the ground. The Administration and the overwhelming majority of US citizens would like to keep it that way – with as few US boots on the ground as possible. With the exception of China, the other nations in the negotiations, like the US, have been fighting ISIS attacks on their own soil. Iran’s fight against ISIS gives those nations more tools to defend themselves against domestic terror attempts. We can debate the soundness of using Iran for a proxy war with ISIS, but it has been US policy for over two years now. Opponents of this deal are fighting an uphill battle because of real US strategic interests. This is a good deal for America because it makes us safer, preserves important alliances and deepens our ability to fight our enemies.

When it comes to Iran, the US has a national security interest which is not in lock step with Israel's. That is rarely the case, but in this case, it is true. I chose my words carefully – not in lock step is not the same as opposing interests. Both the US and Israel want to keep Iran without a nuclear weapon, want to keep Israel as the regional superpower and want to avoid an outright war with Iran. That is hardly the chasm that some portray between our respective national interests in this matter. So, US interests in Iran and Israel's differ, slightly. Reflective of that, we have different approaches to dealing with the issue. Prime Minister Netanyahu doesn’t negotiate, with anyone about anything. He has that perverse luxury because Israel is relatively isolated in the world, politically speaking, as is. The US, on the other hand, negotiates because it can and because it should. The two countries have different parameters for how they deal with the rest of the world. One is the only superpower and the other is a small country that is a regional superpower with few allies as good as the one superpower. Those are the truths. Israel cannot arm twist a different reality into the world no matter how hard it tries to do so.

Israel and the US have differing interests here. Are we, therefore, by default, as Jews, supposed to look the other way, as Americans? There are complicated conflicting values at play here. Everyone is trying to make it so simple. The US and Israel are allies, but they are not one country. Each would be doing a disservice to its citizens if it didn't look out for its own interests first. That is what the US (and Germany, England, France, Russia, China and the UN) has done. Israel is trying to do the same. Israel doesn't have the influence that the rest of the world has to get its agenda accomplished. 

Third, there are no better alternatives. Opponents of this deal have said repeatedly that no deal is better than this deal. This is far from true. No deal means the following in short order: Iran develops a nuclear weapon in 60-90 days. China and Russia, for their own economic reasons break the embargo (are we willing to fight our biggest trade partner and tell them they cannot buy the oil that fuels the economy from which we buy so much?), Iran will use the threat and protection of a nuclear weapon to attack our allies in the region such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, etc…

Could there have been a better deal? Maybe, but unlikely. Short of being treasonous, no one can offer a legitimate reason why President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry wouldn’t have gotten a better deal if they could have. The worst case scenarios to not having a deal in place is all out war with a nuclear nation.

Yes, this deal just kicks the can down the road, but that is far better than having that can blow up in our faces right now.  The monitoring system in place is also flawed, but gives us 99% of the access we wanted and it is nearly impossible for Iran to hide serious infractions under these conditions. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu has insisted over and over that no deal would be better than this one, but, not once, has he offered a realistic alternative. He knows that there is no military option because they don’t have what it takes to do the job. Even if the US gave Israel the bunker busters that are needed, it would only set the Iranian program back a few years – while at the same time, it would likely spark an all-out war between Iran and Israel, which is why the US has held onto those bombs so tightly.  There is no better deal and having no deal is worse than this deal.

Lastly, I think that this whole issue comes down to whom you trust. Do I trust Iran? Not as far as I can throw them. We shouldn’t just keep a watchful eye on Iran, we need to keep both eyes on them every step of the way for the next 25 years, until this deal expires. What I do trust about Iran is that they have real needs as a nation. They need money and this deal gives them access to it. This deal gives them money and it is naïve to think that it will all be used for military purposes. The ayatollahs are not idealists who are seeking to open up to the west, they are seeking these funds to keep a grip on their power – to give their people something they hope the people will not overthrow them to get.  I don’t trust them, but I trust their desire to stay in power – what else do tyrants have? They have a lot to lose by blowing this deal.

Do I trust Israel? Yes, of course. While we have a divergent path here, Israel is a rational country and will not do anything that will permanently harm itself. That is why they haven’t tried a military option against Iran and why they haven’t been even more brazen with the US (and Germany, Israel’s second largest supporter). The issue is that I do not trust Prime Minister Netanyahu. I don’t think he will try something foolish with Iran, or even with the US. What I don’t trust is his style and the collateral damage he is causing to US/Israel relations and what he is doing to the American Jewish/Israel relationship. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s campaign against this deal comes dangerously close to forcing American Jews to choose between supporting our own administration and his. We have worked far too hard, for far too long, to shed the “dual loyalty” accusation to allow the Prime Minister to tear it all down. He has nothing to lose by using this approach, after all, he has said very clearly that he believes that all Jews should live in Israel. So, in his mind, if the US gets uncomfortable for us, the better. All the more so if he gets what he wants in the process. It is a dangerous game for him to play with our loyalties.

US Jews, by and large, and most especially in the Conservative and Reform Movements, have almost nothing in common with the Prime Minister. Both movements favor a territorial compromise with Palestinians so that they can have their own state. Besides a little lip service, he has shown that this is not his intention. Both movements have stated their opposition to settlement expansion. The Prime Minister is their biggest advocate. Both movements have advocated for religious freedom for non-Orthodox Jews in Israel and he makes partnerships with those who oppose us and accuse us of not even being Jews. Our movements have been at the forefront to combat Israeli racism and sexism and his coalition aids and abets it at every turn. This is not about opposing the Prime Minister’s policies, it is about his values – we just don’t share them. Except for one. We both love Israel.  Sometimes, love just isn’t enough. 

I trust President Obama for the very reasons I cannot take sides with the Prime Minister. While not Jewish, we liberal movement Jews share an immense array of values with the President. Each and every accomplishment of the Obama Administration has had broad Jewish support: healthcare, gay rights, civil rights, environmental issues, saving the economy through stimulus, not allowing crippling tax cuts, and much more. We share values. And, I truthfully believe, we share a love for Israel – not the same kind of love, but a love nonetheless. Plus, President Obama has never asked us to choose between our love of country and our love of Israel. He would never ask. I have had my share of frustrations with the President, but I have never questioned his sincerity or his prudence. On the contrary, I am often exasperated with his lack of fire and the measured pace he takes with everything he does.  

In summary, this is a good deal for Israel and a good deal for the United States. Besides, there isn’t a better deal out there– despite people wishing that were so.

I encourage you to participate in this dialog. Read, pay attention and speak your mind (thoughtfully and respectfully). If you would like to read further about this issue, I think you should have a look at these pieces:
From NY Times Op-Ed Columnist Tom Friedman

Rabbi Scott Weiner
"TINR Tablet" Blogger

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Summer is Here at Temple Israel ... finally!

Summer is here, and it's full of possibilities!

We all have high hopes - whether we are 9 or 90 years old. The sun is shining and we all hope to take full advantage of the extra light and frivolity. If you are anything like me, your calendar is already filling up with summer activities like concerts and beach trips.

Here at Temple Israel, the summer is also filled with possibilities. The possibility of trying out things you did not have time for, or energy for, during the year. So, if your kids are away at camp, or your work schedule is just a little less hectic, or you just have more hours in your day this time of year - bring a little of that freedom this way. In case you didn't know it, we have MORE people attend our Friday night services during the summer. They are usually in our courtyard (newly renovated and ready for action next week) and are lovely, musical, joyous, and lighthearted. Come and partake in the beauty. Also, there's another reason you don't want to miss Friday nights at Temple Israel. Two Community Shabbats (July 10 and August 7), the first of which will be a BBQ and our two Shabbat ShaBeaches at Five Islands Park (July 24 and  August 21) are all on Friday nights! Click here to see all the events Temple Israel has to offer!

Also, many of you have flexible Fridays in the summer. Why not try our fabulous Talmud Class which is growing every week. It takes place on Fridays from 9-10 a.m. Check the Temple calendar as there are a few weeks with no classes.

Saturday morning services are also a great opportunity to try something different in the summer. They are "come as you are", casual, shorter than during the year and no b'nei mitzvah. They are really a wonderful way to start your Saturday morning.

As we shift gears into summer, I hope to see you here more than your regular schedule allows. You will not regret it and it will make your summer even better!

Rabbi Scott Weiner
"TINR Tablet" Blogger

Monday, June 1, 2015

Farmigo ... Temple Israel's Online Farmers Market

Farmigo is an online farmers market which delivers weekly bounties of fresh, seasonal produce, meats, cheeses, breads and other goods sourced from local farms and producers. Farmigo is a certified B Corporation, which is to business what Fair Trade certification is to coffee or what a USDA Organic certification is to milk and other products. This company meets rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability and transparency.

Farmigo delivers fantastic produce and artisan goods to Temple Israel every Wednesday, making it easier than ever to make sure our families are eating right and learning about where their food comes from. The food is all harvested and made to order, so it's super fresh - and buying from small farms supports sustainable practices and the local economy. Even better, 10% of the total sales are donated back to Temple Israel every week to support us in keeping with Farmigo's mission to be a socially conscious partner with whom they do business. We are even working on creating a Shabbat Box unique to Temple Israel of New Rochelle!

Ordering couldn't be easier - just sign up and head to to start adding items to your basket. You have every week until Sunday, at midnight, to place your order. The next day, the farmers and producers harvest and pack your items, to be delivered every Wednesday afternoon. You will be able to pick up your orders from the Temple Israel lobby every Wednesday from 3 - 7 p.m. Updating your items is easy - you can choose to have standing weekly orders or place them on a week-to-week basis, and put your delivery on hold at any time. There are no commitments, order minimums, or delivery fees. For your first order use the coupon code FARMIGO40 at checkout for a 40% discount! Temple Israel member, David Soberman, is happy to answer questions about this program - email him at

Doing Jewish - fulfilling mitzvot - cannot  get any easier than this! Give it a try. For more information go to!

Rabbi Scott Weiner
"TINR Tablet" Blogger

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

TINR's First Blog! 3 Reasons Why Temple Israel of New Rochelle's 2015 Gala Was a Success!

Our first "TINR Tablet" blog ... and here we go!


3 reasons why Temple Israel of New Rochelle's 2015 Gala was a success? 


#1 Joyce Engel
#2 Janice & Warren Agatston
#3 Mara & David Roberge

For those who joined in the festivities and the honors at the 2015 Gala on Saturday, May 2nd, they were treated to a fabulous TINR time! Thank you to Beth Feldman, Gala Chair and her Gala committee that explored and acted on every detail to make attendees comfortable and entertained. And, thank you to the honorees above, that make Temple Israel the congregation that it is ... a friendly face, everlasting, up and coming! We posted pictures of the Gala on our Temple's flickr account, so click now ... and see all those friendly faces!

This is our first blog at Temple Israel's "TINR Tablet." Come back, join in, make comments below, have a say, and let's all explore what makes Temple Israel ... a friendly face, everlasting, up and coming!

See you next month!

Rabbi Scott Weiner 
"TINR Tablet" Blogger