Montebello Jewish Center   34 Montebello Road, Montebello, N.Y. 10901   (845) 357-2430 facebooktwitter






   Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

    Phone:  (845) 357-2430  Extension 102






Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein joined Montebello Jewish Center with over twenty years of pulpit experience within the Conservative Movement serving congregations in New York and New Jersey. He received his ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary and his Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy from Columbia College of Columbia University in New York. Rabbi Finkelstein was a Visiting Lecturer at the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he taught the first-year seminar required of all rabbinical students guiding them to recognize and communicate the meaning and vitality of Jewish rituals and texts.

A past president of the New Jersey Rabbinical Assembly, Rabbi Finkelstein also served as the Chair of the Intergroup Relations Committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the UJA of Northern New Jersey. He was on the editorial board of the Community Faith and Values section of The Record. He is married to Elana Gershen Finkelstein. They have three children, Sarah, Eli, and Becky.  

Rabbi Finkelstein looks forward to speaking with you about Montebello Jewish Center and your Jewish journey. He can be reached at MJC or by email at


From the Rabbi's Study

Land O'Goshen 


In this week's Torah reading, Joseph reunites his family, saving them from famine in the Land of Canaan by bringing them down to Egypt and settling them in a province of Egypt called the Land of Goshen. Joseph's family will reside in Land of Goshen for generations, eventually being enslaved and finally redeemed from there at the time of the exodus.
One of the enduring phrases that resides in the recesses of my mind is "Land O'Goshen." I never used it and didn't really know what it meant, but as a child, I had heard it on television shows or read it in comic strips and somehow always remembered it. According to Urban Dictionary, "Land O'Goshen is a Southern expression of amazement or frustration."
The eminent columnist and wordsmith William Safire traced the original usage of the phrase as a replacement for using the Divine name, Gosh coming to replace God, and "Land O'Goshen" being a non-blasphemous way of shouting amazement. "Land O'Goshen" became a suitable replacement for an unacceptable use of God's name, much like "gosh darnit."
While I defer to William Safire about word usage and origins, other explanations offered for this strange phrase have been offered in various sources, and perhaps we can even see the origin of this southern expression in our medieval Jewish commentaries.
One suggestion for the origin of this phrase is that the place Joseph brings his family to for security will become the place they are enslaved. Joseph brings them to Goshen to escape the famine in Canaan. There are five years of famine ahead, and Goshen, a region of Egypt, is close to Joseph and under his control. Joseph will provide for his family and ensure their safety there. But we know the rest of the story. After Joseph passes away and generations change, his family, the People of Israel, are enslaved by a Pharaoh who doesn't remember Joseph and sees his family as a dangerous, foreign element in the Land of Egypt. Goshen, the place of our refuge, becomes the place of our enslavement. "Land O'Goshen," how can this be?!
For our classical commentators, the amazement associated with the Land of Goshen predated the enslavement of the Israelites and originates in their settling in Goshen in the first place. When Joseph brings his family to Egypt he says, "Come down to me without delay. You will dwell in the region of Goshen, where you will be near me..." (Genesis 45:11-12). Joseph invites his family down, but settles them not with him, but in Goshen near him. We could imagine the Israelites saying, "Land O'Goshen, Joseph brought us down to be with him, but then settles us in the next town?"
While it may seem a slight, or even a lukewarm reception, the medieval commentator, Abarbanel sees Joseph's action in a positive light. He explains that Joseph knew his father would feel uncomfortable in the middle of the immorality of the Egyptian capital, where Joseph lived, and instead, settled his father and his family nearby in Goshen, apart from the corrupting influences of Egyptian society.
While "Land O'Goshen" became a phrase of amazement and bewilderment, and the actual Land of Goshen became a place enslavement, in our reading it is a temporary haven from famine and starvation. It is the place for his family - close enough for Joseph to provide, but separate enough for them to thrive.
In the end, Goshen is an early stop for our people, where we found respite, safety, and security when we could not be in our Promised Land. It is the beginning of our journey that we continue throughout our history.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Joshua S, Finkelstein 
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 Kiddush Levanah-Blessing the New Moon


Much of what we do at MJC occurs indoors. We pray in our sanctuary, we gather and celebrate in our social hall, we learn in our chapel and classrooms. But sometimes we go outside, as we did tonight for our 2nd Annual MJC Outdoor Menorah Lighting. Next Thursday we will again go outside for a different sort of celebration - Kiddush Levanah - the blessings for the new moon.
Kiddush Levanah is a celebration of the new moon, the new month, and life. Each month on the Shabbat before a new month, we ask God's blessings on the upcoming month, as the date of Rosh Hodesh (the beginning of the new month) is announced in shul. Kiddush Levanah is a simple ceremony that takes us outside, as we bless God for the continual renewal of creation and the opportunities that await us in the new month.
It is particularly appropriate for us to be holding our first Kiddush Levanah this month, which coincides with the end of Hanukah. On Hanukah we light candles in the dark of night. The lit Menorah is a symbol of the light that penetrates even the darkest of nights. After Hanukah, when we no longer have the light of the Hanukiah, we will go outside to see the first light of the new moon. This light that God created serves to remind us that God's presence is always with us and is a constant and perpetual source of hope and support.
My wife Elana and I are excited to bring this tradition to Montebello Jewish Center. We will begin indoors with meditations and learning. Then step outside to gaze at the new moon with blessings, song, and dance, before returning indoors for warmth, reflections, community and food. 
Join us next Thursday night, December 13th at 7:30 PM for Kiddush Levanah, a new tradition at MJC. In this season of darkness and longer nights, we will gather to find and celebrate the light in our lives, our community and our world in the first of our monthly celebrations of renewal.
With wishes for a Happy Hanukah, Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov (a good month),
Rabbi Joshua S, Finkelstein
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The True Miracle of Hanukah

The holiday of Hanukah begins this Sunday night, December 2nd as we light the first Hanukah candle after dark. Each year on Hanukah, we light candles and say a blessing to God, "who performed miracles for our ancestors in ancient days at this time of year," acknowledging the miracle of Hanukah that happened to our people over two thousand years ago. Our tradition is unified in recognizing a miracle happened, but we are divided as to exactly what the miracle of Hanukah was. Some focus on the Menorah and miracle of oil lasting eight days, others on the battles and victory against the forces of oppression. Our tradition recognizes both.

The story of the Menorah and the miracle of the oil is well known to all. The Hasmoneans (Maccabees) recaptured the Temple from the Assyrian-Greeks and found enough oil to last one day. In an act of supreme faith, they lit the menorah knowing it would take a week to produce new pure olive oil. Their piety was rewarded, as the oil lasted for eight days, time enough for new oil to be produced. The miracle of the oil has been indelibly imprinted on the Jewish soul and is celebrated each night.

Historians and rationalists look askance at the story of the oil. For them, the miracle of Hanukah is affirmed in the military victory of the Hasmoneans. They see the true miracle of Hanukah as the victory of the few over the many and the weak over the mighty. We recognize the "miraculous deliverance" and the victory as a miracle.

Each side in this debate throughout the ages has had its supporters and detractors. While we tell both the story of the victory of Judah Maccabee and the subsequent story of the last vial of pure olive oil that lasted eight days, perhaps we are missing the true miracle of Hanukah. The true miracle of Hanukah is human action.

On other holidays we celebrate how God saved our people, how God gave us shelter during our wandering in the wilderness, and how God gave us the Torah. On Hanukah, we celebrate the action of human beings. Our ancestors stood up to persecution and fought the Assyrian-Greeks and then when hope seemed lost, they lit the menorah, not waiting for God to act. While we talk of miracles, Hanukah for us is a festival of deeds more than faith.

As we light our Hanukah candles this year and say the blessing to God "who performed miracles for our ancestors," we should recognize that the greatest miracle God does for us is giving us the ability to act on our own behalf. Over two millennia ago our ancestors acted and brought light and freedom to our world. Hanukah is a celebration of this action and a reminder to us of the power God has given us.

I look forward to our MJC family gathering for our 2nd annual outdoor community Hanukiah lighting on Thursday, December 6th at 6 PM. Join us for food, fun, and festivities for all!

With wishes for a happy Hanukah filled with light and joy.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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