Archive | June 2015

True Solidarity

In an extraordinary display of unity, a broad cross-section of American Jewish organizations have joined to declare this coming Shabbat, beginning the evening of Friday, June 26 and ending the evening of June 27, to be a “Shabbat of solidarity with the African-American community.” In light of the horrific act of violence in Charleston, South Carolina, leaders across the North American Jewish community are asking their members to participate in this Sabbath of solidarity.

Among the suggested actions for rabbis, congregations and organizations, are to speak out in synagogues this coming Shabbat on the issue of racism in society and to express rejection of hateful extremism.  All rabbis and congregations are encouraged to reach out to AME churches in their communities with expressions and demonstrations of support.

So would it surprise you to learn that our synagogue is not participating?

Solidarity is defined as “unity or agreement of feeling or action, especially among individuals with a common interest; mutual support within a group.” It would indeed be important for our own synagogue community to come together in a feeling of unity about our rejection of hateful extremism. And it certainly is nice that a large cross-section of the Jewish community is showing displaying unity about something! The solidarity we sorely need, however (and especially here in Rockland County), is the solidarity between our communities. This solidarity can only happen beyond the walls of our synagogue – not on a Sabbath, when we are far less likely to extend an open invitation to our brothers and sisters from across the spectrum of religions to a 2- or 3-hour service. It must happen during the week, in the synagogues, churches, mosques and streets. It must happen in places where we can all speak the languages of our own prayers at the same time, wear our particularity, share our melodies, join hands in a unified chorus, be identified clearly for who we are, and be seen just as clearly for what we advocate.

Paula at rally

On Sunday night, at the First Baptist Church of Spring Valley, nearly a quarter of the crowd of 200 who came together to pray for the victims and their families was Jewish. We stood, we held hands, we watched people sway and cry out in devotion, and we cried ourselves (okay, at least Nancy and I did) at the sight of gratitude trumping hatred and God’s love overcoming retribution. The four rabbis sitting in the congregation were asked to rise, be acknowledged and join the ministers and choir on the stage. And the largely African-American crowd cheered when Rabbi Ariel Russo was invited as a female rabbi – something many of the Spring Valley residents had never seen – to offer words of blessing. I was grateful that my sons experienced something so transformative in their teens; it was so apparent how moved they were. They learned the true meaning of solidarity, and I believe they will never be the same for the experience.

Charleston victims

On Monday night, at Spring Valley’s Memorial Park, hundreds gathered to demand a vote on legislation that would bring state oversight to the embattled school district of East Ramapo. One of our congregants consciously chose to wear his kippah. He wanted to be certain he would be identified in the crowd as a Jew standing for the values we cherish as Jews. We marched through the streets of Spring Valley – young and old, black and white, Christian and Jewish. It was so apparent how moved his thirteen year-old son was to be a part of the experience, and to be acknowledged by so many for being a Jewish person willing to step up for a cause.

Mitch at rally
Whether our prayer vigil effected change or our legislative efforts in the short run are successful, I believe we have established a new framework for future community relations. We have expressed our shared values in more than words. We have stood together for consideration, deliberation, transparency, education and tolerance. We have stood together against discrimination, extremism, and political favoritism. And at least in the minds of some, we have shattered stereotypes that have supported ignorance, suspicion and hatred.

Solidarity Shabbat? I say Solidarity Sunday to Friday. And on Shabbat, all will be One.

Rabbi Craig Scheff

The Honoring Months

We are in the midst of months of honoring. My calendar is filled with dinners and galas throughout May and June. Every Jewish organization in Rockland and New York State chooses worthy honorees and invites the community to attend and support.   Our own Rabbi Craig Scheff was honored by the Jewish Community Center with the highly esteemed J-Award. Jewish Family Service, Rockland Jewish Academy, Holocaust Museum and Study Center, Torah Fund of Conservative Judaism, Israel Bonds and Federation of Men’s Clubs have all celebrated community members for their contributions. This past week I attended the Annual Meeting of the Jewish Federation of Rockland County to honor Melton graduates and Leadership Development Institute graduates.   Many OJCers were among the honorees.

Melton Gerri and Paul

Rabbi Scheff and I attended the METNY USY Scholarship Dinner where our colleague and friend Rabbi Paul and Gerri Kurland of Nanuet Hebrew Center were honored. Organizations that are not Jewishly-based, of course, also honor people in fundraisers. This week I attended an   NYCLU dinner honoring Oscar Cohen and Willie Trotman for their trailblazing work on behalf of the children of East Ramapo Central School District. NAMI Rockland, Jawonio, United Hospice of Rockland and the Center for Safety and Change celebrate their accomplishments with honorees.

Oscar CohenOscar and Willie

It is such a hectic time of the year. As I plug yet another destination into my GPS, I often wish that I were hitting that top line “Go Home” instead. But I think of your rabbis’ attendance at these many communal events as our modeling a core value of the OJC. In Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, we read: Do not separate yourself from community.

The Orangetown Jewish Center is our home, but that home is buoyed and supported by a greater community where values are taught, new ideas are spun, important work is begun.

When we make our best effort to attend and support, we are saying that the success of the greater community is our success. Our hard work here at the OJC is just a piece of ensuring the vitality and vibrancy of our community.

And beyond the value of community, there is the value of simcha. Many days and weeks pass by with repeating schedules and commitments. Moments of joy are like punctuation marks at the end of run-on sentences! We look forward, we participate and then our spirits lift to a different plateau. We are present in many sad and difficult moments of people’s lives. How wonderful to balance the times of sorrow with times of celebration! Let these spring months of galas remind us to embrace opportunities to honor those we respect and love and celebrate with our community.

L’simcha, to joy, Rabbi Paula Mack Drill

Scout’s honor

I did not know that this something was missing from our grounds. When Jared and his father Matt presented the idea to our synagogue board, I started having an inkling of what it might feel like. As the grounds were prepared for their new guests, I felt the energy of those involved in the project–younger and older, Jewish and not–and my anticipation grew. But nothing could prepare me for the sight of seeing those flags flying at the entrance to our synagogue. And there are few things about which I have ever felt as proud as the sight of those flags outside my bedroom window each morning as I roll up the shade.

Eagle scout

It took a scout to have the vision. To be exact, it took an Eagle Scout. Ironic, given that as the Israelites send out scouts to see the land promised to them, their shortsightedness and narrow vision caused the great majority of the scouts to see themselves as unqualified for the task. In contrast, our scout inspired a community, excited the leadership, and motivated us to achieve the possible.

Scouts with flags

There is something to these stars and stripes, the blue ones on white, and the red, white and blue ones. They remind us of sacrifices made, traditions upheld, identity shared and loyalty earned. For many, they call up feelings of pride and courage; for others, they stir up conflict, enmity and resentment. Even among the standard bearers, the flag can be a source of disagreement as to which of our freedoms requires protection at any moment in time, and as to how we go about providing that protection. (This is what happens when you see the final scene of A Few Good Men three times in the same week!)

flags against sky

As for me, the two flags represent companions to the mezuzah on my doorpost, a gateway through which I will pass each day as I leave my home. And I will be reminded in my coming and my going to scout my world with the lasting hope that I can advance the cause of liberty and justice for all.

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Craig Scheff


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