Archive | October 2013


Dear Officers Demeola and Achison,
On the eve of July 15, 2013, you responded to my call at the Orangetown Jewish Center. In the Jewish tradition, this evening (the 9th of Av) is observed as one of the saddest days on our calendar. At first, it seemed that the terrible losses we recall on this day would be increased by one more. When you arrived at our grounds, I led you to our entrance and pointed to the magnificent deer that was lying on its belly in our garden. Her head upright, her eyes shining through the flowering bushes, she did not move a muscle. I explained that she had been in the same place for at least four hours, that during that time 150 people had passed by her as they headed in and out of the building for prayer, and that she had not even twitched. (See the picture of her below, taken earlier in the evening.) You were certain she was injured; otherwise, she would have moved. You told me, so sadly, that there was nothing either of you (or anyone, for that matter) could do for her. She would have to be “dispatched” and moved in the morning.
Officer Demeola, you called upon your fellow officer because you could not bring yourself to do such a thing; Officer Achison, you were called upon as the “hunter” who would best know what to do. Indeed, you took your shotgun from the trunk of the police car, you put on your ear muffs, and you approached the beautiful animal. Standing no more than 6 feet from her, you raised and pointed your weapon, and prepared to fire. And then it happened. Was it a voice from the heavens that said “Do not send your hand against the animal?” Or was it a voice from within that called to you? With all that adrenaline pumping through your veins, all that focus and steely determination to do what had to be done, how did you hear the voice that called you to stop? What made you lower your weapon, climb into the bushes, stand three feet away from the deer, and clap 3 times? What gave you the sense that she would push herself to her legs, gingerly step out of the garden, and limp off into the woods?
I believe deeply that God has implanted within us the Divine quality of compassion. We don’t always hear that still, small voice that is calling out to us. So often it is drowned out by other noise. On this sad evening, however, you showed the power of compassion. You gave a living being the benefit of the doubt, a second chance, and in so doing you saved a life. If one could show such compassion for an animal, how can we not find the same compassion for each other. How often do we “pull the trigger” in word or in deed before giving our target the benefit of our compassion? Why can’t we offer our fellow man a chance to redeem themselves through a caring word of constructive criticism, or even an unearned and unrequested measure of forgiveness?
This week we celebrate the holiday of Sukkot. We trade in our homes for a week in a temporary shelter. We pray for clear skies, but we accept our vulnerability and we appreciate our connection to the natural world. We invite Ushpizin, honored guests, into our makeshift dwellings in an effort to show our purest and best selves. We connect to God, the world and our neighbors on the highest of spiritual planes. And we pray that the experience of these days will shape our conduct for the year ahead.
Officers Demeola and Achison, this week you are my Ushpizin, my honored guests. You honor us all with your service, your bravery, and your compassion. You have inspired me with your strength and your humility, and I am eternally grateful to you both.
Chag sameach,
Rabbi Craig Scheff

This is a Conservative Jewish synagogue?

As I looked at all of you from my place on the bima on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I was thinking, “Where exactly is all the doom and gloom we read about in the Jewish press?  From all the articles and essays, one would think that the entirety of Conservative Judaism was in trouble.”  Yet you were all there, strong in numbers and spirit, singing the High Holiday tunes you love, reaching to honor the Torah in the processional, eager to hear the message of the sermon. Orangetown Jewish Center, tucked into a neighborhood close to the border of Rockland county, New York and
Bergen county, New Jersey, looks small and unassuming from the outside. Within its walls, however, on this second day of the New Year, members of forty years sat together with members who joined this past year and ten guests who joined us through the ticket bank of the Rockland Jewish Initiative (RJI). Hundreds joined together in the sanctuary, another couple of hundred prayed in the Havurah minyan.  Families with babies and toddlers celebrated the day in a Torah for Tots service, and grade school children participated in an interactive Rosh Hashanah experience led by three of our young adults.
On the first day of Rosh Hashanah families with young children and unaffiliated Jews from Rockland and Bergen joined us for a family service just before more than one hundred of us walked a mile together to a stream for the ritual of Tashlich (throwing away the bread crumbs of our sins). Everywhere I looked, I saw Jewish people looking for something meaningful and finding it.  Who could blame me for feeling optimistic as we enter the new year?
There are those, perhaps, who wonder about our congregants who come to synagogue just for the High Holy Days. There are people who judge our “Three time a year Jews.”  Rabbi Scheff and I feel quite differently about those who join us each year for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  We are delighted to see our congregation turn out in full. In our view, Jewish people who look at their calendars, see the Jewish New Year and begin making plans to celebrate and observe… are Jews who are keeping the sacred brit (covenant) of God and the Jewish people.  Every year, there are some congregants who are moved by their experiences on the High Holy Days to come see what all the excitement at Orangetown Jewish Center is about on the other days of the year.  
Someone might attend a class, a Shabbat service, a holiday celebration or a volunteer experience.  I am confident that if that seeking congregant is you, what you will find at OJC is a vibrant, welcoming home of egalitarian, Conservative Judaism. If you are looking for a way in, please contact us and  We cannot wait to welcome you home. G’mar chatimah tovah. May you be sealed for a joyous and meaningful new year.
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

A new year, a new web site, my first blog…

Allow me to preface my remarks by saying that Rabbi Drill and I believe we have an important message to share. We believe the OJC has an important message to share. If we didn’t, we probably would have hung up our tallises long ago. In a world where we are being bombarded by messages constantly, often with little relevance to our lives, we believe it is our obligation to share our message as widely and as effectively as possible. That is, in large part, the reason that we launch this second generation of the OJC website today.
Sharing our message in this way, I must admit, does not come so easily to me. I would much rather share our message on a Shabbat morning in synagogue or sitting around a table in my office. I realize, however, that relationship-building can take place in many diverse ways and through many diverse media. As a communicator and a relationship-builder, it is my task to grow in the year ahead, and to learn how to utilize all the different media that can assist us in disseminating our priceless message, in engaging others and in bringing them closer to God and to community.
This website in general, and this blog in particular, will give us the ability to share the pearls of inspiration that we gather from you every day. It is time for those who don’t find themselves regularly within the physical walls of the OJC to know about the Torah that is being revealed in our discussions; the prayers that are being answered every day; and the Divine presence that is made manifest in the acts of selflessness taking place in our community every day.
A new year, a new web site, my first blog…. Truly a shehechiyanu moment!
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