Monthly Archives: December 2016

Be The Shamash

The following Chanukah message was shared at the beginning of the festival with the Congregation Beth El community:

The Chanukiyah, the Chanukah Menorah, serves more than just a ritual purpose. We are taught that when we light the Menorah, we should place it in the window for all to see. By doing so, we fulfill the mitzvah of Pirsum HaNes — of publicizing the Chanukah miracle. During the winter solstice, at the darkest point in the year, the flames of the Menorah add light to the darkness.

The Talmud mentions how Rabbi Shammai and Rabbi Hillel debated the proper way to light the Menorah. But regardless of their differing perspectives, there was universal agreement that you use a shamash, a helper candle, to light all the other candles. To this day, the shamash is on a different level than all the other candles of the Menorah, emphasizing its significance.

We look around the world and it is easy to be consumed by the darkness of society. But doing so means that we forget the miracles that surround us everyday. On Chanukah, we don’t only celebrate the miraculous military victory of the Maccabees, or even the miracle of oil burning for eight nights. The miracle of Chanukah is to appreciate the miracles in our lives, despite the darkness that we all too often may feel or experience.

When we celebrate the miracles in our lives, no matter how large or small they may be, we also understand our responsibility to be a metaphorical shamash. With each day, the light of the Menorah increases, until all nine candles (including the shamash) burn on the final night of the festival. The use of the shamash reminds us how easy it is to light up the darkness. Just as the light of the shamash spreads to other candles and quickly illuminates the night, we must also be the initial spark to illuminate the darkness, helping to inspire and enlighten others. 

May we appreciate the miracles of old and the miracles in our everyday lives. And may we never stop trying to light up the darkness. Chag Urim Sameach! Wishing you a joyous and inspiring Chanukah!

– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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A Statement from the Rabbis of Congregation Beth El, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, and Oheb Shalom Congregation

The following message is being shared with the members of Congregation Beth El, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, and Oheb Shalom Congregation.

Dear Friends,

As you likely know, last week there was an anti-Semitic bias incident at South Orange Middle School. Earlier this week, the four of us attended a meeting with SOMS Principal Lynn Irby, members of the SOMS Administration and Josh Cohen, Director of the New Jersey Regional Office of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). We were there to share our concern over its handling and to discuss next steps regarding both this event and, if they arise, future bias incidents. We wanted to write to you as the rabbinic leadership of Congregation Beth El, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, and Oheb Shalom Congregation to share the outcome of that meeting and what we hope to see as next steps.

We first want to make the following commitments to you. We are committed to working together to ensure that our congregations and our community remain open, welcoming and safe to each and every resident and community member. Our tradition teaches us to “love our neighbor as ourself.” Those are not simply words to us; they are a charge. We are dedicated, as individuals and as a rabbinic community, to doing everything within our power to ensure we live in a place that reflects this core value.

During our meeting we were able to gain insights into the specific events under discussion. We made clear that we are here to work as partners with the school and the ADL in any manner they request and that we, and the members of the Jewish community with whom we have each spoken, want to work with them and be a part of this process as well. We also made clear that while we were there because this was an anti-Semitic incident, we are committed, as we know, to standing up against all forms of bias and bigotry. While anti-Semitism is bias directed against Jews, we reject bias in all its forms.

Unfortunately, we sent out a similar letter to the community last spring following a previous incident at SOMS. We were hopeful that changes would be made and training would take place to prevent further incidents of bias and bigotry. With heavy hearts, we acknowledge that such changes were not yet implemented. However, we know that the school has now been in touch with the ADL’s Education Division and are putting a plan in place. They discussed the most recent incident and past incidents, as well as the school and community climate. The ADL has presented SOMS with its wealth of anti-bias resources and shared the availability of a variety of programmatic options for students and faculty through ADL’s A WORLD OF DIFFERENCE® Institute. The ADL also offers a No Place for Hate® program (NPFH) that is designed to create inclusive school communities by promoting unity and respect, and empowering schools to reduce bullying, name-calling, and other expressions of bias. We will be following up in the near future to ensure that the school takes full advantage of these important programs and creates an opportunity for education and awareness for students, training for teachers, and opportunities for parents to be a part of this process as well.

We will, of course, keep you posted.

 

Rabbi Jesse Olitzky

Rabbi Daniel Cohen and Rabbi Allie Klein 

Rabbi Mark Cooper 

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Our Jewish Community’s Commitment to Helping Refugees

The following message is being shared with the members of Congregation Beth El, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, and Oheb Shalom Congregation.

Dear Friends,

The Torah (Deuteronomy 10:19) teaches us to welcome the stranger for we were once strangers in the land of Egypt. The commandment to welcome the stranger is, in fact, mentioned more often than any other in the entire Torah. After fleeing Egypt our ancestors wandered for 40 years in the wilderness. After the destruction of the Temple in 70CE our people wandered in exile for 2,000 years. After the Shoah many of our families were once again in search of a home. Ours is a history of wandering for, too often, we have been refugees seeking a safe haven from persecution. Now it is our turn to fulfill our obligation to welcome the stranger. 
For this reason, our three congregations, Congregation Beth El, Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel, and Oheb Shalom Congregation, are joining together in our commitment to resettle refugee families in our community. Our synagogues are partnering with Church World Services to provide the most vulnerable refugees the opportunity to start again in the United States. 

Church World Services was born in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II. Their mission: Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick, comfort the aged, shelter the homeless. Since their inception they have worked with countless faith-based organizations and have helped resettle thousands of refugees from crisis points throughout the world. We are proud that our community will be working hand-in-hand with CWS to ensure that our community is home for these families. 

In the coming weeks, there will be many opportunities to volunteer as we prepare for this/these families to arrive, and once they’ve settled in the area. As a first step, in order to prepare for their arrival, we have set up a fundraising page: https://www.gofundme.com/help-resettle-refugee-families. Please help us fulfill our obligation to welcome the stranger. 

May we all work to build a community and a world that is always welcoming.  

Rabbi Jesse Olitzky

Rabbi Daniel Cohen and Rabbi Allie Klein 

Rabbi Mark Cooper 

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