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From the Rabbi's Study

Small but Mighty

In last week's Torah reading, we were told that when the People of Israel left Egypt there were about 600,000 men, plus women and children, in addition to a "mixed multitude" who left with them. There is little doubt that the number given is meant to be impressive, especially when compared to the seventy souls who originally went down to Egypt with Jacob. Clearly the people had grown exponentially, and the image of the mass of Israelites leaving Egypt was meant to be impressive.

The image changes somewhat in this week's portion, as we see the Israelites camped at the shore of the Red Sea. We know God will split the sea and the Israelites will escape unharmed, while the Egyptians drown as the waters crash down on them. Before God saves them, the people are trapped between the sea and Pharaoh's chariots. No longer do we see a massive people, instead we are presented with a fearful community, huddling by the sea, with the Egyptian army bearing down on them.

It is this image that most resonates with Jewish consciousness. We tend to see ourselves as a minority surrounded by an outside world. When the Torah portrays the people of Israel crossing the sea and emerging free from the bonds of Egypt, it is a depiction with which we are comfortable. The scene we are left with is a fledgling people singing praises to God and celebrating their redemption. This is a scene that repeats throughout Jewish history. Rather than seeing ourselves as a large, massive people, we see ourselves as a small, but mighty nation that draws our strength from God and our traditions. Throughout our history, we have been small but mighty. Our might is not seen as much in our physical prowess, but in our spirit, faith, and devotion.

Small but mighty is an apt description of the Jewish People and an equally appropriate description of Montebello Jewish Center. Last year, I attended the graduation of the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning at the annual meeting of the Jewish Federation of Rockland County. I was delighted to see that six of the eight graduates were members of Montebello Jewish Center. Throughout the year, whenever I attend meetings or gatherings, I see our members, active in all sorts of communal activities and organizations. MJC is truly small but mighty.

It should, therefore, be no surprise that two of our members are being honored at the Lila Stern Premiere Brunch of the Israel Bonds Rockland/Bergen Woman's Division. Michele Newmeyer is the honoree of Montebello Jewish Center, and Jodi Schiller is the honoree of the JCC Rockland. Jodi and Michele are tremendous supporters of MJC and the Rockland Jewish Community. We are proud of their contributions and the honor they are given.

Please join me in wishing Mazal Tov to Michele and Jodi and join me at the Lila Stern Premiere Brunch on Sunday, February 3, 9:30 AM at The Rockleigh, when they will be recognized for their contribution to our community. I hope to see you there.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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Bubba's Torah


Elana's mother, my mother-in-law, Mildred B. Gershen passed away on December 28, 2018. When I first met Mildred B. Gershen, she was already Bubba. Some called her Mrs. Gershen, some Mimi, or Mim, some Mom or Aunt, but to me, she was, and always will be, Bubba.
Bubba was a woman of tremendous accomplishments. She prided herself on her work and would take great joy in telling people that she was still working, whether it was a classmate from Hunter College that she recently re-connected with on Facebook, or someone new she met.
When her husband died almost 30 years ago, Bubba continued building their business. She continued their legacy, and continued building a family.
I have long felt that while people die, their love, memories and their teachings--their Torah-live on in the hearts and minds of their loved ones. As stories, influences, memories, and wisdom are passed on, their memory continues to bless generations and people who did not, could not, know them. With that in mind, I would like to share some of Bubba's Torah with you.
A few years ago, Bubba was going into Mt. Sinai Hospital for a procedure and she asked me to copy two prayers for her. They are found in the beginning of the morning prayers and each Shabbat she would say them to herself when she arrived in shul and sat in her seat, before services began.
Even before I looked at the prayers, I was reminded that Bubba always arrived before the service began. One reason was to help ensure that there was a minyan at the beginning to help anyone who needed to say mourner's kaddish. The second reason was that those moments before the service began, allowed her moments of individual reflection and prayer, including the two prayers she asked me to copy for her.
One was a prayer for the body, the other a prayer of gratitude for the soul. They are found on page 63 of Siddur Sim Shalom that we use every Shabbat.The first, a blessing for the gift of the body, thanks God for the miracles that happen every day that allow us to breathe, our blood to flow, and our bodies to function in ways that we, too often, take for granted.
The second, a blessing for the gift of our souls, reminds us that we are imbued with a spiritual dimension that connects us with God and eternity. With the gift of the soul comes an opportunity to find meaning, purpose, and holiness in our lives and in our world. It is our soul that gives us the opportunity to create such moments of holiness for ourselves and with all whom we come in contact.
Together these prayers remind us of the preciousness of each day and the potential each day affords us to live lives of purpose and meaning. They impart this wisdom taught to us throughout our tradition, and also remind us that though our time on earth is limited, our souls bond us to God and eternity.
"You formed my soul, You breathed it into me; You preserve it within me, You keep body and soul together. One day you will take it from me, to restore it to me in life eternal."
Bubba shared these prayers with her entire family. It was her Torah, the wisdom she imparted to all every day of her life. Life is a gift to be treasured and lived, and once life comes to an end, we can look forward to life eternal. Bubba lived and taught that Torah, and left it as her legacy for us to continue in this world.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein
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Doubly Blessed


The world has just celebrated the beginning of a New Year. Throughout the world, New Year's Eve seems to be the only truly universal celebration. Like all holidays and celebrations, there are rituals associated with New Year's Eve that help us mark the occasion and infuse meaning in what would otherwise be an ordinary night. Celebrating for some may involve going out to a party, watching the ball drop in Times Square on television, or for the truly "religious," going to Times Square to celebrate outside. Instead of Kiddush at a meal, there is champagne at midnight, and a Hebrew prayer is replaced by a Scottish poem (Auld Lang Syne). Some make New Year's resolutions, which portend their goals for the coming year, and everyone offers wishes for a Happy New Year. 

As Jews, while we associate wishes for a good New Year (Shanah Tovah) with Rosh Hashanah, we clearly have no reservation against wishing each other a Happy New Year at this time of year. To some it might seem odd to celebrate two different New Years, but not for us. In our Mishnah, our rabbis teach us that there are actually four different New Years in the Jewish calendar alone.

According to rabbinic tradition, on the first of Nisan we begin to celebrate a new cycle of holidays. The first of Elul marks the beginning of a new cycle of tithing in regard to animals. On the first of Tishrei, we celebrate the new calendar year, Rosh Hashanah, and the final New Year, dealing with the tithing of fruit trees, is Tu B'Shvat, the fifteenth of Shevat.

For those who question the notion of multiple New Years, we only have to look at our own reality. We live with our calendar year beginning in January, our fiscal year beginning in July, and the school year beginning sometime in September. 

While we do not always focus on the multifaceted nature of our calendar year, as Jews, we cannot help but be aware that only a few months after wishing each other a Shanah Tovah, a good year, we once again are wishing everyone a Happy New Year. Putting aside the differences between our greetings of a Happy New Year and a good year, the redundancy seems at times awkward. Were our wishes in September not efficacious? Are we somehow not being true to our traditions by recognizing another (secular) New Year?

Rather than see this secular New Year as competition with our Jewish New Year, I choose to see it as a complement to our tradition. In September, we were reflective and introspective. We looked inside ourselves and vowed to improve. Our motivations were genuine and our intentions were pure, but at times our resolve failed us. Our second New Year offers us the opportunity to reconnect to our desired changes and recommit to our new path. This secular New Year becomes a second opportunity to realize our change. If Rosh Hashanah offers us the blessing of starting anew, than this secular New Year is our second blessing. Often Jewish leaders bemoan the dangers of assimilation and living in a secular world, but sometimes living in secular society reminds us that we, as American Jews, are doubly blessed.

With this in mind, let me take the opportunity to again wish all a Happy New Year. May all our wishes be fulfilled and may we continue to carry out that which we began on Rosh Hashanah.


Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi Joshua S. Finkelstein

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