Archive | October 2014

Empowering our children

Foresight. Vision. Strategy. Whatever led to the decision, it was nothing short of brilliant. It will pay dividends in the short run by providing benefits to consumers, and it will bring a return on investment in the long run by developing a broader base of financial supporters and leadership. Brilliant.

This past Sunday night, Jawonio (Rockland’s premiere provider of lifespan services for those with developmental disabilities) held its annual gala at the Paramount Country Club in New City, New York. This relatively pricey, black-tie optional, politician-studded fundraising event has been held for decades and has catered traditionally to a pretty high-end crowd to benefit the organization.


Jawonio honors

This year, Jawonio got creative. The organization chose to honor the Orangetown Jewish Center Youth. 25 of our finest kids got dressed up, purchased tickets at a reduced price of $36, rubbed elbows with the big shots, and danced the night away like few at this event had ever seen. Oh yeah, Rabbi Drill, our youth director Sharon Rappaport, our youth chair Mitch Brill, our USY division director Bruce Varon and I were there to make sure the kids behaved, to share a few words, to shep a bit of naches, and to shed a few tears as well!


Over the years our youth group has studied the Jewish value that every person is created b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. Their learning has led to their communal commitment to serve those of varying abilities by visiting group homes, running carnivals, holding bowl-a-thons and hosting social gatherings. Their actions have helped them individually conquer fears, break down barriers, increase sensitivity, and generate love for all of God’s creations.


Jawonio’s leaders took a risk. By subsidizing the attendance of these youth, and by choosing to honor a group that doesn’t make a large financial commitment to its bottom line, Jawonio chose to inspire. Jawonio inspired our kids by helping them see themselves as valued and contributing members of society who can make a difference; Jawonio inspired its own supporters by showing how its mission is changing the world for the better, both for its consumers and for the larger community; Jawonio reminded us all that our children are our future, deserving of recognition for their contributions and investment in their leadership development. That’s what I call vision!

Mazal tov to our community, to our Naaseh/USY program for empowering our youth to make a difference, to our kids who choose to be a part of holy work, and to Jawonio for helping us see the image of God in every person.

Rabbi Craig Scheff

Sukkot Success by the Numbers

Here I am, heading into the month of Heshvan this week, not a holiday in sight after four intense weeks… and there is only one question on my mind: How do we measure the success of celebrating Sukkot at the OJC?
I could try to count the hundreds of congregants and guests who spent time in our sukkah. I might count the number of times we gathered to pray together as a community, marching with lulav and etrog or dancing with the Torahs. I’d count the number of programs and classes in the sukkah that we all enjoyed (eight, by my count!).

Sukkot 2

I’d certainly count the number of young children and their grown-ups who attended one of Rabbi Hersh’s programs: EKS with spaghetti in the sukkah, grilled cheese supper before Simchat Torah eve and ice cream party on the day. I would add in the number of Religious School children who tried to keep up with Rabbi Scheff’s My Sukkah it has Three Walls routine.

Rel School in Sukkah 2 Rel School in Sukkah
I could absolutely count our success by these numbers.
And I would have it all wrong.
Success in a synagogue community is about holiness, moments of Godliness, and the joyful heights reached through ritual.
I cannot measure such success by counting to eight or one hundred and fifty students or three hundred.
I can only measure holy success with the number one.
I count one congregant who joyfully bentsched (said the blessings for shaking) lulav and etrog at a rehabilitation center. He told his rabbis that October 17 had been his goal for release after surgery because he didn’t want to miss Simchat Torah at the OJC. He could not make it this year, but promised himself and us that he’d be dancing with a Torah next year.
I count one congregant who came to celebrate the holidays with her family each holy day. She is mourning her mother, but rose to the joy of the days. Just as she was kept home from school to attend synagogue when she was a child, so she now keeps her children home from school.
I count one congregant who came into the sukkah after Shabbat evening services to make Kiddush with us and was so entranced by the little ones celebrating that he joined in for a plate of spaghetti and meatballs.
I count one congregant who danced while holding onto her walker with a four year old who danced by jumping with both feet to the rhythm of the Orangetones at our annual Sukkot dinner.
I count one congregant who read Torah at Simchat Torah for the first time (and second, third and fourth) as everyone in the synagogue received an aliya.
I count one congregant who told me that he had never before celebrated the festival and was so excited by the energy and joy that he was going to plan now to take off these days from his busy medical practice next year to celebrate again.
I can only measure holy success with the number one:
One holy moment experienced by one cherished congregant.
One moment of eternity, one moment of Torah.
One community together celebrating joy as commanded by One God.
It is what we are all about at the Orangetown Jewish Center.
May this new year be one of holy moments for each and every one of us,
Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

Smiling willows

Even at the age of 90, Morris is amazing with his hands. And he is so loving and thoughtful. Every year just before Hoshana Rabbah, the seventh day of Sukkot, he collects willow branches and bundles them together in fives with palm branches. He prepares enough for everybody who will attend the early morning service to complete the ceremony of Hoshanot with seven circles around the sanctuary and the beating of the willow branches (aravot). In contrast to the willow branches of my lulav, which are badly browning and bent by the seventh day of the holiday, these bunches of willow are fresh green.

Arava Morris 2Arava old

I recite the words of the ceremony “Kol M’vaser m’vaser v’omer” (“The voice of the prophet resounds and proclaims … good news of peace and deliverance”) three times, and I whip the floor hard with the willow branches. As this season of repentance comes to a close, I hope to shed the willow leaves that represent the deeds I want to leave behind in the year that was. Much like the breadcrumbs that I tossed onto the flowing waters of Tashlich, hoping they would be carried far away from me, I hope these willow leaves will be carried away by the wind and rain. But the batch that Morris prepares for our service sheds nothing as I beat the floor! The expertly wrapped bunch is beautiful and green and lush and cool to the touch. The leaves cling tightly to the long, thin branches. And I smile. I smile for myself and for all the other people who know that they have done the work that needs to be done in preparation for this season of repentance. We can dance with joy over the next days with confidence in God’s acceptance of the imperfections that cling to us, the broken pieces that we carry with us and make a part of our lives, like the broken tablets of the Ten Commandments carried in the ark along with the unbroken set.

I can smile because I have faith that, with good intentions and deeds shaped by the desire to heal the world around me, God will forgive me for that which I don’t accomplish in my quest. I smile because the perfect willows, despite having no fragrance and bearing no fruit, remind me that I can forgive myself for being the perfectly imperfect human being that I am.

Chag sameach,

Rabbi Craig Scheff

%d bloggers like this: