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






   Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

    Phone:  (845) 357-2430  Extension 402






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


Signs of Spring


Each year on February 2nd, the midpoint between the first day of winter and the beginning of spring, hundreds, if not thousands, gather around groundhog holes in several locales throughout the country, waiting to see if a groundhog sees its shadow or not. The groundhog not seeing its shadow is said to be a sign of an early spring.  Some of the "star" groundhogs are even given names such as Punxsutawney Phil and Staten Island Chuck. Local news stations cover these events, and the results are reported on local weather-casts.   It is not clear if the groundhog is any more successful than the weather forecaster, though sometimes that may seem to be the case, but the impetus for this strange custom is the want for winter to end and spring to come.

While there may be some skiers, and people who enjoy the snow, among us, the anticipation of spring is part of our human condition. Spring not only brings warmer weather, but longer and brighter days. With the budding branches and the emergence of green trees, spring represents rebirth and renewal and we look for signs of spring everywhere, even in our sacred rituals.

Ritually, one sign of spring approaching comes in an interruption of our regular weekly Torah readings.  There are four Shabbatot that come this time of the year preceding Passover, the holiday of spring.  On each of these Shabbatot, an additional Torah reading is chanted from a second scroll. These four are Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Zachor, Shabbat Parah, and Shabbat Hahodesh, which leads us to the month of Nisan, the month of Passover.  The first of these, Shabbat Shekalim, occurs this Shabbat. 

Traditionally, Shabbat Shekalim was a call to raise funds for the sacrificial offerings in the Temple.  Later, it was used as an annual opportunity to raise funds for communal needs. In addition to its intended purpose, Shabbat Shekalim comes weeks before Purim and Passover and serves as a sign that spring is near.  

Another sign of spring is the month of Adar.  The Talmud teaches us that "when Adar enters, simcha - joy - is increased."  Classical commentators point out that the source of this joy is the holiday of Purim that falls in the month of Adar, and the upcoming holiday of Passover that follows.  The celebrations of Purim and Passover lift us up and elevate the level of joy felt with the onset of Adar.

Intriguingly, the origin of the Hebrew word for joy, simcha, gives us another way to understand the rabbinic saying about Adar.  The word simcha is mentioned in the Bible ninety four times and is derived from verb samach. Samach is rooted in the Akkadian word shamahu, meaning sprout or flourish.  The origin of the word simcha is found in a word most associated with, and describing, the spring season.  At its core, it may be surmised that the joy attributed to Adar is a seasonal joy of sprouting, flourishing, and renewal.

This Shabbat, in addition to celebrating Shabbat Shekalim, we will offer a blessing for the month of Adar, which begins on Tuesday and Wednesday.  As we ask God's blessing on this new month, we anticipate the upcoming celebration of Purim and Passover and feel the joy associated with them. We also recognize that the celebration of Shabbat Shekalim and the month of Adar are harbingers of spring and the sprouting and flourishing it brings.  As the calendar turns, and Shabbat Shekalim arrives and Adar begins, we sense the joy that emanates from the awakening of nature, the upcoming holidays, and the spirit of renewal that comes at this time of year.  The signs of spring are all around us.

With wishes of joy and Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein 

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Minhag Montebello


A minhag is a custom or accepted tradition that is preserved by a family. Many of us have our family minhagim, customs, that we perform on specific holidays. Sometimes they may be a specific way we conduct the Passover seder or a special dish that is made for Rosh Hashanah. Performing them may imbue a holiday or other occasion with special, greater meaning and repeating them each year preserves traditions that are passed on from generation to generation.

Communities, too, have minhagim. Montebello Jewish Center, like many communities, has its traditions of how and what we pray. Sometimes they are similar to other congregations that we have seen or been a part of, but sometimes they are different. One such "different" minhag is practiced three times a year, one of which is this Shabbat.

Three times each year we read the Ten Commandments in the synagogue. Once on the holiday of Shavuot and twice when they appear in the weekly Torah portions of Ve'Etchanan, in the Book of Deuteronomy, and Yitro, in the Book of Exodus. This Shabbat, in the Torah portion Yitro, we read of Moses ascending Mount Sinai and receiving the Ten Commandments. The revelation at Sinai is unique. It began a covenantal relationship between God and Israel centered on Torah. It shaped the course of Jewish history and changed the world. Our rabbis teach that at the moment of revelation, no sound was heard. The people were silent, no bird chirped and no animal made a noise. In their teaching, our rabbis sought to underscore how impactful the moment of revelation was.

Throughout the Jewish world, our People, in a universal minhag, recapture the impact and majesty of the moment by rising from their seats and standing as the Ten Commandments are read.   At MJC, we have an additional minhag that I had never seen or heard of before. Not only do we stand, but we lift the Torah up and we read the Ten Commandments as the Torah scroll is held open and upright by two of our members. Seeing this, one can almost imagine the awesomeness of the moment of the giving of the Torah. If you have never seen it, you should join us this Shabbat for this special reading, and this most unique minhag.

No one can remember the exact origin of this particular custom, nor can I determine how long it has been the practice of MJC. I do not know if it is particular to us, or if we borrowed it from another community. But every time I see it, I am moved by this minhag and greatly appreciate its impact on me and the congregation.

Judaism is preserved by passing down traditions and creating memories. Often these are preserved and passed down in our homes, but this Shabbat reminds us that some can only be observed in shul. This unique minhag also serves as a symbol of our unique shul. This Shabbat, we will observe our own, special minhag, but each Shabbat, it is our special place. I hope to see you in shul this Shabbat as we stand, lift the Torah, and read the Ten Commandments.

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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Exuberance with Song and Dance


In this week's Torah reading, B'Shallah, we hear the song of the Israelites, the Song of the Sea. We see how Moses and Miriam led the People in song and dance, praising God, who saved them in so many ways.

Few of us can know what it felt like to be an ancient Israelite on the shores of the Red Sea. After being enslaved for several generations, the People of Israel were given hope with the arrival of Moses. For the first time in their lives, they could imagine redemption, but the path to freedom at times seemed elusive. Initial hope is dashed as they are forced to work harder to get their own straw to make bricks. Further calls by Moses for Pharaoh to let the People go, were followed by plagues; the first few struck the Israelites, as well as the Egyptians. Plague followed plague and it seemed, at times, that they never would be released. Then, suddenly, after the tenth plague, Pharaoh sends them out. So quick are they to leave and so hurried to exit, they don't even have time to let the bread rise. They seem ill prepared for their journey, let alone their new status as a freed people, but they move forward to an uncertain future, led by a Divine promise.

Now, they find themselves on them shores of the Red Sea. The Torah doesn't say how the people felt encamped at the shore of the sea. It is possible that they felt the joy of freedom frolicking at the seashore. What we do know is that any respite was short lived as they would soon see the army of Egypt bearing down on them.

They panic and call out to Moses. Moses panics and calls out to God. God tells Moses to stop crying out and have the People move forward. Forward they marched as the sea split. They crossed on dry land as the Egyptians followed. After the Israelites passed through, God brought the sea down on the Egyptians and the People are finally freed from generations of enslavement, affliction, and hopelessness. As the sea closed on the Egyptians, the future opened up for the Israelites, and they sang and danced.

It is impossible for a story to convey the level of joy and celebration that the People felt. Finally, they were free from their Egyptians taskmasters. They no longer had to serve Pharaoh and build cities to glorify him. Finally, they could be free to sing and dance and celebrate life, for the first time in their lives, for the first time in generations. And they sang and they danced.

When we come to this story in the Torah, we pause and stand to hear the Song of the Sea. We stand as we read how the People danced and we respond as the Torah reader chants their song. We are paying homage to a moment we remember, even though we can never feel the extent of their joy and exuberance. But in remembering their indescribable joy, we are reminded of the joys in our lives, and are made aware of our own need to sing and dance and be thankful for the blessings in our lives. Each year we do this on Shabbat Shira, the Shabbat of Song, the Shabbat we read this portion, B'Shallah.

This Shabbat we will celebrate Shabbat Shira. Join me, Cantor Rubin, and our MJC Choir - Makhelat Kol Chai, as we pray and sing throughout Shabbat morning services. On Saturday night, we will have the opportunity to be together in a Community Unity Concert at Congregation Shaaray Israel and hear Magevet, the Yale University A Capella group, as well as other community choirs, including our own Makhelat Kol Chai. As we sing and are surrounded with joyful songs, we hear and remember the exuberance of our ancestors, and we will be uplifted and thankful for all the blessings in our lives.

With wishes for a wonderful Shabbat filled with song,

Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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