In this time when medical testing for COVID has become a commonplace occurrence, we ought to do a check on the health of our Congregation. I can say that despite the pandemic, the patient is holding its own and is expecting a complete recovery.The patient is not,however,without problems.We have fewer members and fewer people attending services and events. Much of that is due to anxiety about the virus,while some comes from members moving away from Staten Island. In addition, the population of Hebrew School‐age children among our Congregation has diminished. Despite the pandemic,our Congregation is definitely showing signs of strength. We have minyanim most Shabbats, and our virtual Friday gatherings and Havdalah services have a very loyal following. Even more important is that those who attend our services find them very meaningful, uplifting, and an essential part of their lives. Will Temple Emanu‐El endure the storm? That depends on us. If we continue to care and show our caring by being generous with our time and funds and by attending services and events, the future can even be brighter than the past. Let us pray that these difficult times will pass and that we will emerge from them in good health and spirituality,strengthened by our faith and way of life.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
It’s been a difficult year, Covid 19, the nation torn apart by political and social divides and the alarming increase in anti-Semitism. We thought the vaccine would make the virus disappear. Now we know it’s not that simple. These times make our wishes for a Shanah Tovah a good year all the more poignant and heartfelt.
How do we help make it a good year? As Jews our tradition calls upon to increase the light. We do this by focusing on the positive and making it grow. We do this by filling our lives with Mitzvahs, by helping people around us whom we know are in need of emotional or practical help even if we are in need of help ourselves. We increase the light by trying to judge people favorably as human beings even when we disagree with or even detest their politics. We increase the light by being proud Jews and clinging even closer to our faith and way of life despite or even because of those who seek our harm.
Moses and the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. It wasn’t easy but they did not give up and eventually joyfully reached the Promised Land.
May the year to come be one of health, reconciliation and of drawing closer to our heritage our people and our G-d.
May we be inscribed and sealed for a year of life and peace. Amen
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
Who would have thunk it? Who would have ever thought that a trip to the supermarket would be a death-defying mission or that our children and grandchildren would actually miss going to school? Who would have ever thought that the simple pleasures of life like going to the movies or a ball game or having a cup of coffee with friends would be something dangerous or even illegal? Could we ever have imagined that our synagogues would be closed and that all of us would agree that it was the right thing to do? How we miss the everyday enjoyments of life and yearn for the lives we lead a mere two or three weeks ago. When the crisis is over, we will look at ourselves so differently and learn to appreciate all the simple goodness and beauty of our lives rather than fret over what we lack or find troubling. May that day come very soon and find all of us together and in good health. Passover’s story reminds us that Judaism is about overcoming obstacles and never giving up hope. The Jewish message is about being able to find joy, even in the most difficult times. We as Jews realize that none of us are perfect. We are taught that G-d wants us to do the best we can in the circumstances we find ourselves. This Passover, we may not be able to observe the holiday the way we have been used to. Loved ones and friends may be missing, and we may not be able to obtain everything we would like to have for the holiday. Pesach, however, is about not about all these things, no matter how much we enjoy them. The story of Passover is of how G-d rescued us from slavery to begin our journey through history, a journey that every one of us continues through the stories of our own lives to this very day. Chag Sameach, A wonderful Passover to all.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
In August, White Supremacists marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, passing the synagogue with their swastika banners while shouting, “The Jews will never replace us”. On a quiet Shabbos in October, a gunman walked in into the Etz Chaim Synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire on the worshippers, killing 11 while shouting “Jews must die!” The Women’s March scheduled for January 19 was supposed to demonstrate the power of women’s demand for equality and protest the harassment and intimidation of women. It was however marred by a controversy around Anti-Semitism on the part of some of its leaders. Over the past few months, newly elected member of Congress Ilhan Omar has used her seat to raise the issue of the loyalty of American Jews to the United States; she has stated that American Jews have used their “Benjamins”, i.e. their financial power, to induce the US Government into taking pro-Israel positions which are neither moral nor in the best interest of the Unites States. Congressional attempts to censure her and condemn anti-Semitism were met with determined resistance. A resolution proposed to condemn anti-Semitism encountered strong opposition and was changed to a resolution condemning many kinds of hate and prejudice. Ilhan, rather than being shamed by her display of bigotry, is regarded as a hero fighting the good fight by many. All of this sends us a message. Something has changed. The Anti-Semitism we thought was trivial has returned in a powerful way. I suspect that this is only the beginning. This year is not like all other years. This year we are being called upon to stand up for Jewish pride and dignity. We must proudly fight those who defame us, especially in the political system. We must not hide and instead must loudly proclaim our pride in our identity, our faith and the state of Israel. We must oppose all those who, after our long commitment to equality and social justice, seek to marginalize us and silence our voices. There are many ways to do this. One is the Interfaith committee we have organized at the Temple together with “Communities United for Respect and Trust” to come up with strategies to fight anti-Semitism. We will announce the date of the group’s next meeting soon, and I hope you can be there and help with the task. With the arrival of Passover, we remember our Exodus from Egypt and those who wanted to take away our freedom. We pray that the plans and schemes of all of those who seek to do us ill come to naught and that our lives be filled with joyful celebration. Rabbi Gerald Sussman
Dear friends, Most of us, no matter how non-tech savvy we are, have gotten used to GPS. We type in a destination and a map of how to get where we want to go appears. To make things even easier, a voice issues from the speaker system telling us every turn we must make to reach our destination. Some of us wonder how we ever got anywhere without GPS. Try to imagine a kind of personal GPS to help us get through life. Imagine having a tool which would help us set our destination and also provide us the ability to get there. In a certain metaphorical way, our Torah and our Jewish way of life can do just that. It helps direct us towards that which is whole, life-affirming, productive and loving. When popular culture pushes us towards over-absorption with self or the idealization of wealth or social status -- things which often lead towards nihilism and viewing life as essentially meaningless -- the Jewish way of life pushes us back from these principals through its observances, rituals and literature. This push-back occurs because our traditions are the refraction of the life experience and wisdom of the hundreds of generations of Jews who went before us. They also connect us with the realm of that which is beyond human wisdom and understanding, the mystery of the divine. The road may be bumpy, and sometimes it even seems like the signal fades, leaving us stranded, or we make a wrong turn and find ourselves lost. But our GPS always comes through, and no matter how lost we seem to be, we can always find our way. L’Shanah Tovah Tikatevu V’techatemu. May we be inscribed and sealed for a year of health, happiness blessing and peace.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
JUNE, july & august 2018
Summer vacations are fast approaching, and some of us will be traveling or visiting places both nearby and abroad. Even those who spend the summertime at home find that they have time to read a book or simply relax in the sun. Summertime is also a time to think about and evaluate the months that have gone by. At the start of summer, each one of us should appreciate the highlights of the past year, be proud of what we have achieved, and try to make ourselves aware of what we could do better on in the year to come. For the Jewish people, the 70th birthday of the State of Israel is not only the highlight of the year but perhaps the highlight of many centuries. Though it is still embattled, Israel has become a major player in world affairs as well as the source of some of the greatest advances in technology and medical research. Despite the increase in anti-Semitism, Israel at 70 shows that the days when the Jewish people were the powerless and unwanted pariahs of the world are gone. The 70th anniversary of Israel, despite the difficulties, testifies to the success of the Zionist dream. I know that Israel wants peace with its neighbors; perhaps these dreams will also come. Closer to home, our Temple Emanu-El community experienced many wonderful moments. Our High Holiday services with the beautiful singing of the Chazzan and the choir were the equal in beauty and aesthetics of any service anywhere. I think of all of the beautiful celebrations, both religious and personal. There were many interesting classes, events, and speakers from many places. I hope you noticed that the Congregation became a lot younger. For the first time in years, we have a group of new parents rather than new grandparents, and that is truly a joy. We must in the year to come widen our core group to include new families and individuals as well as bringing many of our present members more into the circle. Judaism brings us so much, so each one of us should try to spread the word For Boni and I, some of the bright spots of the year were being with our children and grandchildren and our Temple family at the Temple dinner where we were honored for 35 years of service. Our highlights also included our journeys to Nicaragua and Ivory Coast where we were involved in over 200 conversions. Sadly, some of the converts in Nicaragua are seeking refuge after being adversely affected by the civil strife that has erupted there. We were thrilled by the Bar Mitzvahs of two grandchildren and deeply saddened by the loss of Boni’s mother Evelyn Nathan who was also a proud member of our Temple. It is my hope that despite the many problems, we realize that we have much to be grateful for and have accomplished a lot and that our people, our country and our Temple be blessed with peace and success in every way.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
At long last, the winter is gone. Warm and sunny days have replaced the cold and clouds we lived with for so many months. This season of beauty and hope is the perfect time of the year for the celebration of the Shavuot holiday. Shavuot celebrates several different, but related ideas. The first is gratefulness. Shavuot is known as Chag Habikkurim, the festival of the first fruits, when our ancestors brought the first fruits to the Temple to thank God for the harvest. Today’s world is filled with pessimism. Many of us feel that we are on the brink of disaster, whether it’s from war or global warming or political chaos. Shavuot, however, tells us to focus on the good and on the many things, large and small, that should be occasions for gratitude. The second is the importance of religious belief. Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah. In our increasingly secular age, there are some who stigmatize religion as the refuge of the hateful benighted and the ignorant. The giving of the Torah reminds us that faith is a gift. Faith gives us the stability, hope and strength to get through the most difficult times. We also think of the countless good deeds that are motivated by religious belief that collectively make the world a much better place. Shavuot also teaches us the value of time. This is because in the counting of the Omer, we count each and every day between Shavuot and Passover. This teaches us that each day is an irreplaceable treasure, and that we should make each day count. Wishing you a happy Shavuot.
Rabbi Gerald Sussman
march & april 2018
This is a joyful time of year. We just celebrated Purim, marking our triumph over those who would have destroyed us. In a mere few weeks, Passover will be upon us. On a personal level my wife and I just celebrated the Bar Mitzvahs of two grandsons. Despite the joy of the season, the airwaves and our social media are filled with anger, resentment and bad feeling. Today, instead of thanking G-d for being saved from Haman, we would more likely express our indignation for having been endangered. Instead of praising G-d for the Exodus, we would probably fill ourselves with bitter complaints blaming G-d for the injustice and suffering of slavery. Purim and Passover would be solemn and bitter memorials rather than days of celebration. Instead, we as Jews are asked to focus on gratitude. This is not to deny the pain we may experience. but to not let that obscure the good that we experienced as well. A rabbi suggested an exercise I would like to ask you to try for the upcoming month. Every day, write down something you are grateful for, and on the thirtieth day, read through the list and put them in order of importance. Emphasizing the positive will go a long way towards achieving happiness. Our tradition teaches the same, that happiness is best found not by focusing on our troubles, but by engaging with those around us, by being part of a community and by being thankful to G-d for all the good that that we have experienced. Passover is a time when no Jew should be alone. If you need hospitality for a Seder, let me know. Also, we are having the second Seder at the Shu, l which is a good way to share the Passover experience with the community that we are all part of. Chag Kasher V’sameach a zissen Pesach, Happy sweet and kosher Passover to all.
Many of us were introduced to the word “Crypto-Jew” when we welcomed the Brazilian artist known as Jonatas as a guest speaker to our Shul. He explained to us that a ”Crypto-Jew” was a descendent of families forcibly converted to Catholicism by the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions. He described his experience growing up, where he and his family very privately followed half remembered fragments of Jewish custom and practice. He also described the difficult process of returning to the full practice of Judaism and living openly as a Jew. I was moved by his recounting of how precious he and his family regarded their heritage, and by the great sacrifices they made to maintain whatever remnants of it that they could for 500 years. All of this was done without synagogues, schools, rabbis, or even as much as a Jewish book. They were able to do this because they treasured what Judaism gave them. We are blessed with so much. A rich Jewish life is available to us, with so many opportunities to learn, to experience and to enjoy the richness of the Jewish culture and faith. Do we take advantage of the opportunities we have? Or are we in a sense “Crypto-Jews” whose Jewishness consists of fragments of practices and memories? Our Jewishness is a strong part of our inner identities, but how does it translate into actions and activity beyond the recesses of our hearts and minds? At the very end of the month, we will celebrate Jewish survival with the joyful holiday of Purim. Today, our survival is endangered from without by anti-Semitism and within by apathy. It is my hope that all of those who realized the great value of our Jewish heritage and were willing to sacrifice for it will inspire us to action so that we can overcome both anti-Semitism and apathy and continue the miracle of our survival.
"It’s cold out there!” I write these words to you as the temperature dips into the mid-teens and lower. The phrase “its cold out there” can be understood in several ways. The most obvious way has to do with the temperature. When the number of degrees dips, many of us prefer to stay home and stay warm, and thus disengage from going out and participating in the life of the community. “Its cold out there ”can also be taken as a metaphor for the society we live in. Itisincreasingly aworld where each of us stands alone, unconnected and uncared for, our lives not shared, our personhood un-recognized,and whoweareexperienced byfewifanyatall. Itisthecoldnessoftheworldaround us that has, on a societal scale, led to the despair that feeds today’s epidemic of drugs and alcohol, that has led to the increase in the death rate and lowering of life expectancy that marks our country today. The answer to the cold is of course to get warm. Warmth is not only about putting on an additional sweater or raising the thermostat a few degrees. It is about sharing our story with those who want to listen. It is about shared values and shared heritage that joins us to people with whom we share beliefs and/or life stories. It is about finding others who care about us and our struggles. our pains and ourjoys.Itisalsoaboutfindingacauseorasetofbeliefsthatgiveourlivesmeaning,purposeand direction. Where do we find the warmth we seek, both physically and metaphorically? It is of course at our synagogue, Temple Emanu-El. Some of those who attend regularly have said that they have found their “family” at Temple Emanu-El, that it provides that caring and nurturing plaice that they find lacking elsewhere. They have told me that it’s one of the few truly warm places they experience. During the winter, many of our people have departed for warmer climes. There are also others who just can’t get out because of the winter weather. It is all the more important that all of us make an effort to support Judaism and our Jewish identities by attending services and making sure that we have a minyan on Friday night and Shabbat morning. I invite you all, especially those who intend infrequently. to come and get outof the cold by making your way toTemple Emanu-El to experience the warmth of Jewish living.