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

 

 

 

 

 

   Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

    Phone:  (845) 357-2430  Extension 402
    E-Mail: rabbi@montebellojc.org

 

  

 

 

 

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 RabbiJSF@gmail.com.

 

From the Rabbi's Study

  

Resolute and Rally

  

This Sunday, January 5th, beginning at 11 AM, the Jewish community of greater New York will be marching under the banner "No Hate. No Fear." The march will begin in Foley Square in downtown Manhattan, cross the Brooklyn Bridge and culminate with a rally at Columbus Park, near Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn. 

This march comes as a response to the most recent attack in Monsey and the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks throughout the metropolitan area. It also comes as a marked contrast to our social and civic standing throughout Jewish history that traces its roots back to this week's Torah portion. 

There could not be a more striking contrast than the opening of this week's Torah reading, Vayigash, and the world in which we are living. At the beginning of Vayigash, the sons of Jacob are in Egypt pleading for the life of their brother, Benjamin. They are powerless, and at the mercy of a strange Egyptian viceroy. They originally come to trade for food, basically to beg for bread, that their families in the Land of Canaan may survive the famine. Having no standing in Egypt, they are relying on the kindness and mercy of a foreign ruler. So they beg. Soon they will discover that the Egyptian viceroy is their brother Joseph, but even Joseph with his high station in Egypt, knows that his power is dependent on Pharaoh. 

The story of Joseph in many ways is the story of the Jewish people over the past two thousand years. We, the Jewish people, were either fleeing our homes and destitute, seeking survival in a foreign land or chased out by persecution and searching for refuge and a more hospitable home. Throughout the ages, we have been at the mercy or whims of foreign rulers, strangers in strange lands. Our situation now is different.

When Jews started to emigrate to America, we saw ourselves as strangers, as others. In a sense, we were, but in a greater sense, we were not. America is different because of its founding principles, its rule of law, and its Constitution. The opening words of America's supreme document read, "We the People...". Our country does not belong to other people, but to all of us, and our government is not in the hands of strangers, but in our hands. For this reason, it is understood that when outside forces attack any citizen of this country, they are attacking the United States itself. That is true whether it is an individual citizen traveling abroad, or a community of citizens living here among us.

The past few years has seen a rise in anti-Semitic attacks throughout the United States and with each attack, has come a growing unease in the American Jewish community. Rather than seeing this as a rising tide of hatred specifically against Jews, historian Jonathan Sarna sees this recent outburst of anti-Semitism as a symptom of social and cultural crisis that America is experiencing. Anti-Semitism is a symptom of the larger crisis that our society is facing, and once again Jews find themselves easy targets of those fearing larger cultural, economic, and social shifts. While Sarna may explain what is happening and why it is happening now, his words offer little salve to the families of those who have been killed, those injured, and our Jewish community living with increased unease these past few years.

America is different. It is not a monarchy or a nationality, in which ethnicity binds our nation together. It is an ideal expressed in our founding documents, codified in our laws, and embedded in our national DNA. While Jews have been citizens of other countries, those countries were either subject to the whims of a monarch, or newly established republics without a long history of American democracy and pluralism.

America is not perfect, but it is different and that difference allows us, compels us, to march, and rally for our rights as Americans for "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." For that reason, our Jewish community of greater New York will march against hatred and for hope. We will show that the hatred of anti-Semitism cannot be tolerated and any hatred and racism is an anathema to our American ideals. In marching, we will be resolute in the face of anti-Semitism, fight hatred in all its manifestations, and as Americans carrying out our civic responsibility to help "create a more perfect union."

In biblical times and for thousands of years, we were strangers in someone else's land. America is our home and it is our right and responsibility to fight for all that it stands.

As we enter 2020, let us have clarity in vision, so that we can fight hatred in all its forms, promote love, and teach tolerance as we root out evil and embrace each other with kindness.

With wishes for a Shabbat filled with Shalom,

 

Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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Three Torah Scrolls and Hanukkah at Montebello Jewish Center

  

On Tuesday night, our community gathered for the third night of Hanukkah, to light our outdoor Hanukkiah, celebrate Hanukkah together, and enjoy Chinese food dinner with latkes and jelly donuts. We had a wonderful turnout. By lighting our outdoor Hanukkiah, we were able to share the message of Hanukkah - faith, tolerance, and hope - with our entire community. 

Hanukkah continues this week, with a special Shabbat. We celebrate Shabbat Hanukkah and Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the Hebrew month of Tevet.

You can tell a special day on the Jewish calendar by the Torah readings read in synagogue. Each day has a designated reading and each day has a special set number of aliyot. Shabbat is considered the most special of days and on each Shabbat, we read seven aliyot. On Yom Kippur, six are read. On Holidays, including Rosh Hashanah, we read five aliyot and on Rosh Hodesh we read four. This helps determine individual holy days, but what happens when special days overlap? 

When these days overlap, we read an additional reading for the day from a second Torah scroll. For example, on a Shabbat which is also Rosh Hodesh, after the regular Shabbat reading is read, another reading is read for Rosh Hodesh. This Shabbat, three such days overlap, Shabbat, Rosh Hodesh, and Hanukkah and therefore we have three distinct Torah readings, which we will read from three separate Torah scrolls; something that can only happen at most twice in a given year. 

The rarity of this occasion offers us insights into our heritage and our lives. One lesson comes in the order of the readings. Our sages teach that when opportunities come together, and one is more common and the other less so, do the common one first. This principle gives us the order of readings for the three scrolls. We read the regular Shabbat reading first, since Shabbat comes every week. It is followed by the reading for Rosh Hodesh, which comes 12 times a year (13 in a leap year). The final reading is the reading for Hanukkah, which comes only eight times a year. In its unique way, our tradition is reminding us never to take for granted what we have. Often times we look for the new bright, shiny object, overlooking that which is constant and ever present in our lives. Before we can celebrate Hanukah, we must acknowledge the new month, and prior to that, we have to appreciate that it is Shabbat.

A second lesson comes in the confluence of celebrations that have different focal points. Shabbat focuses us on the week that was. It is a day of rest after a week of work and calls on us to reflect on the immediacy of our lives. Rosh Hodesh is a celebration of the month to come. We look forward to the potential held and anticipate the blessings that the future holds for us. Hanukkah represents eternity. In the blessing we say each night when we light the Hanukkah candles, we recall the miracles that God did for our ancestors in the past and for us in our day. Implicit in the blessing is the hope that God will continue to perform miracles for us in the future. We pray and thank God, who was, is, and will be the Guardian of our People.

The three readings and the three scrolls we read from remind us to focus on the present, look to the future, and remember our place in the continuity of the Jewish experience. In its subtle way, our tradition is calling on us to be mindful of how the past, the present, and the future interact in our lives. In doing so, it helps give meaning to each and every day. 

With wishes for a Shabbat Shalom, a Hodesh Tov (a good month), and a Happy Hanukkah,

 

Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

 

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Be Like Ike

 

In this week's portion we are told about the death of Isaac. It comes almost in passing, without fanfare, pomp, or ritual. We are simply told that at the age of 180, he breathed his last breath and he was buried by his sons, Esau and Jacob. That alone would be surprising in light of the stories we read over the past few weeks, but at the beginning of this week's Torah portion, there seems to be a rapprochement between the two brothers.   At the end of his life Isaac's sons stand together at his grave. 

This story makes me want to take another look at Isaac. From the stories in the Torah he seems to be the overlooked patriarch. He seems to be a passive figure in the bible. He follows Abraham up the mountain and is tricked by Jacob and Rebecca into blessing Jacob. But in his quiet way, he exudes a strength, that our rabbi's pick up on in the Midrash 

Indeed many of our Sages see Isaac as a heroic figure and that view is born out in a midrash found in the Talmud: 

In the future to come God will say to Abraham. 'Your children have sinned against Me.' Abraham will answer God, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Let them be wiped out for the sanctification of Your Name.' 

Then God will say 'I will turn to Jacob, who experienced the pain of bringing up children: perhaps he will plead mercy for them.'  So God will say to him, 'Your children have sinned.' Jacob, too, will answer Him, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Let them be wiped out for the sanctification of Your Name.' 

God, exasperated, will decide to turn to Isaac: 

The Talmud then says: God will say to Isaac, 'Your children have sinned against me.' But Isaac will answer Him, 'Sovereign of the Universe! Are they my children and not Your children. At Mount Sinai, You called them, Israel my son, my firstborn: Now, when they sin, they are my sons, not Your sons!

Isaac then will argue: God, how much have they sinned? How many are the years of man? Seventy. Subtract twenty, since You do not punish people for the sins of their youth...and there remain fifty.

Subtract twenty-five which comprise the nights - what sins could they do when asleep...and there remain twenty-five.

Subtract twelve and a half for the time that they are in prayer, eating, and the bathroom, and there remain twelve and a half.

Now, Isaac says to God, if You will bear all their sins, 'good; if not, I'll take half and You take half.

Isaac continues: But should You say to me, all of Israel's sins must fall on me, Okay! I offered myself up before You as a sacrifice once before, I will do so again!

Who is Isaac? He is our ancestor who literally put his neck on the line, and in the Midrash our Sages see him as our ultimate defender. Each time we read about his sacrifice, it calls on us to be like Isaac. We have to be Israel's defenders. We have to be like Isaac.

There will be much more to contemplate in the coming weeks, but as we say farewell to Isaac in this week's portion, we should remember him as not only our Patriarch, but our defender, and an ultimate role model.

Shabbat Shalom,

 

Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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