Wednesday, July 18, 2012


This fall, Rabbis of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism are joining with Reform, Reconstructionist and Orthodox colleagues to take the FOOD STAMP CHALLENGE organized by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) and Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger. We have created two weeks around which we will focus this project, the week before Rosh Hashanah (September 7-13) and the week before Thanksgiving (November 11-17). I am writing to urge you to support this effort by creating your own Food Stamp Challenge web page and inviting other colleagues, congregants and friends to join us. Here is the background: In the midst of economic turmoil and threats of severe cuts to government programs to address our nation’s debt and deficit, hunger in America has reached historic levels with no relief in sight. Recent studies by a number of agencies and organizations highlight this disturbing trend: between 2007 and 2009, the number of households struggling with hunger increased more than 33%, with nearly one in four U.S. households with children unable to afford enough food. And the U.S. Census Bureau reported that the U.S. poverty rate rose to 15.1% in 2010, with one out of every six Americans, or 46.2 million, living in poverty. Not surprisingly, enrollment in federal food and nutrition programs is dramatically on the rise. In April 2012, SNAP/food stamp participation rose to a record level of more than 46.2 million Americans – an increase of more than 1.5 million people compared with one year before. Yet even as the number of Americans enduring the gnawing pain of hunger increases, proven federal hunger relief programs such as SNAP are being targeted for significant cuts and potential restructuring that would irreparably limit the government’s ability to bring relief to millions of Americans suffering from hunger. Sadly, there is a deafening silence when it comes to protecting programs that serve the poor, the hungry, and the downtrodden. Here is what you can do: In response, Rabbis across the country will join together to take the Challenge and for one week live on the average food stamp allotment of $31.50, or just $1.50 per meal. For more information on the program and how to register visit my personal food stamp challenge web page: /my/donate.jsp?supporter_my_donate_page_KEY=4806 To multiply the impact of the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, ask your congregants, family, and friends to make a contribution to support the JCPA’s anti-hunger advocacy work and denominational anti-hunger efforts in honor of your participation in the Challenge. Donations will support the advocacy work of the JCPA and the efforts of the Masorti movement in Israel to fight hunger and food insecurity. To help you: We have created a participant handbook, the Food Stamp Challenge website (, and other resources to make it easy for you to participate in and contribute to this meaningful anti-hunger effort. Your engagement will make a difference. More information about how to participate in the challenge and prepare a week of meals on a limited budget can be found at: Thank you for sharing this information and joining our campaign.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Growing through Parnterships: A new model

Myself and Rabbi Daniel Berman at the training for USCJ sponsored SULAM FOR EMERGING LEADERS in New York. My Congregation, Mishkan Tefila in Chestnut Hill, MA has a wonderful history, a central location, a large parking area, a large Sanctuary and building and an equally large campus setting alongside a nature reserve. We also have a fully subscribed pre-school program. That said, we are not in a high growth area or an area with many unaffiliated younger families, and our Religious School and Youth programs have not been growing in recent years. So, the question is how do we grow? Is membership growth the best metric for measuring success? How does one measure vitality? buzz? impact? For the short term we are embarking on a strategy of growth through partnerships. That is, by putting out the welcome mat and trying to maximize the use of our building on Sabbaths and holidays as well as on weekdays, we are trying to build our reputation, bring in new audiences, and from there plan for increased member satisfaction, donations, and EVENTUALLY growth in membership. First steps have included welcoming a small Reconstructionist Havurah into our building for High Holiday services and some Shabbat morning services. We will partner with them for Simchat Torah, Purim and a Hanukkah party. Their rabbi will teach adult education with us and lead a number of Friday night services during the year and have an office in our building. We are also hosting LIMMUD Boston for the second year in a row and a special Friday night on the eve of Limmud. We are planning joint Religious School and Youth programs with neighboring congregations, and a joint summer study program and Selichot service involving synagogues of other denominations in the area. And we are working towards a regional Tikkun Lel Shavuot next year. We have begun conversations with a non-denominational Jewish after school program about moving into our building. And most recently, we have reached out to the Boston Jewish Music Festival about hosting a Friday night service, a Jewish salsa concert and perhaps a concert of classical Jewish organ music. All in all, an ambitious program to grow our program without investing large amounts of our own capital and limited professional resources. More to come as we continue on this path.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jewish Camping and my shabbat at Ramah Palmer

Dear Friends,

Jewish summer camping has a long tradition. A hundred years ago, immigrant families, often living in crowded cities, sent their children "to the country" for the summer to enjoy the sun and fresh air and advance the process of becoming real Americans. By the 1940s the emphasis of Jewish camping had shifted and now included fostering Jewish identity through camps that emphasized Yiddish, Hebrew and Zionism, and in some cases, love of Jewish learning, prayer skills and the observance of kashrut. In the post-war era, some camps, like the growing Ramah system sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary, became an elite training ground for future leaders trained by the best of the Conservative movement's academics and educators.

This past weekend, Lori and I had the opportunity to visit the Ramah camp in Palmer, MA, the Conservative movement camp for our region, and a year round retreat center. Miskhan Tefila used the camp last spring for a family shabbaton (an experience we hope to repeat this coming May). Some of you also know Ramah - Palmer as the site of the FJMC Laymen's Institute. The guest facilities are gracious, the porch overlooking the lake is beautiful, the sports facilities are diverse and up to date (rock climbing, ropes, alpine tower, fields, tennis courts, and on and on).

Ramah New England is a bustling village and Shabbat at camp is a uniquely moving experience. This Shabbat was Tikvah Shabbat where children who are developmentally challenged were welcomed as leaders throughout the Shabbat davening. Not only their staff, but the entire camp, applauded their leadership and the campers led with comfort - an inspiring success story.

At Ramah, students experience the fullness of Shabbat observance in an atmosphere where the prayer service is engaging and participatory, the melodies are sung with spirit and accompanied by dance (especially Friday night). Meals over Shabbat are accompanied by zemirot and at the conclusion of the Shabbat evening meal especially soulful versions of the grace after meals and of other table songs create an atmosphere of saying goodbye to Shabbat. The teachings we heard over Shabbat from campers and staff focused on the meaning of the torah and haftorah readings with special emphasis on the contemporary Jewish situation and the connections being formed to the State of Israel. The presence of young Israelis sent to the camp on shlichut (as emissaries) was felt everywhere.

At Mishkan Tefila we send our children and grandchildren to a wide variety of camps, Jewish and secular and this year we have only one camper at Ramah. I want to encourage our families to think about Ramah and visit their website or visit the camp to learn more about the program, the plans for growth, scholarship opportunities, programs for children with special needs, and the lasting impact of a Ramah experience. For more information go to: The director, Rabbi Ed Gelb, will be glad to answer any questions you may have.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Two Minute Torah: On Truth Telling and Morality

I posted a dvar torah on the morality of truth telling and parshat Vayetzei at the Koach website. Available as a podcast and as text. You can go to the website or cut and paste the url below. Shabbat Shalom and best wishes for Thanksgiving weekend.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

In great company: GJC recognized as one of America’s most vibrant synagogues

The Germantown Jewish Centre was recognized this week by NEWSWEEK magazine as one of America’s “25 Most Vibrant Congregations,” the only synagogue so recognized in Pennsylvania or New Jersey. The honor was based on an assessment of GJC’s community engagement, growth, outreach, diversity of program, innovation, dynamism and rabbinic leadership. Specifically, GJC was cited as “a model for pluralistic and egalitarian worship and community.” Other synagogues and minyanim in the list included B’nai Jeshurun (BJ) and Kehilat Hadar in New York City and Sinai Temple and IKAR in Los Angeles.
For the full list go to:

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

ARISE: 5 Steps for dealing with the Economic Crisis

The Conservative Movement's Commission on Social Justice and Public Policy has produced a two page pdf (reproduced below) defining five steps every community can take to respond to the Economic Crisis. The document begins with three texts (two classic and one an excerpt from a talk given during the Great Depression in 1931) and continues with the five steps organized around the acronym ARISE.

I. Arise and shake off the dust,
Wear the clothes that suit your glory, My people.
“Lecha Dodi,” from the Kabbalat Shabbat Prayers

II. There can be no real prosperity among any people where either
capital or labor is persistently trying to give as little as possible,
and get as much as possible. One of the most sweeping causes
of unemployment is the prevalent individualism that causes a
lack of social responsibility.
To the extent that we have made no vigorous effort to apply the
principles of divine justice and righteousness to the practical
problems of economic and social life, we have greatly neglected
our duty. When we realize that the moral conditions under
which people live are vitally affected by economic conditions, it
becomes clear why the synagogue should interest itself in all
questions of economic justice: social responsibility forms the
basis of Jewish ethics and underlies most of the teachings that
fill our sacred books.
Adapted from Rabbi Alter Landesman, “Lessons We Can Learn from the
Economic Crisis,” Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly, 1931

III. Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says: Without Torah, there is no
decency; without decency, there can be no Torah… Without
sustenance, there is no Torah; without Torah, there can be no
Mishnah, Avot 3.17

How Can My Community Respond to the Economic Decline?

The Commission on Social Justice and Public Policy of the Conservative Movement
A ssure your congregants of their continued value in your community. The financial
effects of the economic downturn are difficult enough, but the worst part could be the fear
and uncertainty. Will our family lose our community by not being able to afford
synagogue membership, school tuition, or other dues? What will people think of us if we ask for
help? Find ways to calm these anxieties. Some communities have sent an open letter to the
community, addressing these questions; others have held parlor meetings in homes or informal
meetings with the rabbi and communal leaders in order to create a safe space for members of the
community to share their experiences.
R each out to families in need. All too often, people in need don’t ask for help – they might
feel embarrassed or overwhelmed, or they might not even realize how their synagogue can
help. If you know that a family is having trouble, don’t wait for them to come to you;
reach out. Encourage the people in your community to tell you, discreetly, if they know of friends
in need. Wherever appropriate, enable friends to reach out and help one another as well. An
economic downturn presents a priceless opportunity to put fellowship and community to work.
I dentify local resources. In most cities, the local Federation, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Vocational Service, and other organizations already offer a wide range of support for people
who have fallen on hard times. Larger communities may even have a Jewish Free Loan
Association. Get the word out to your community about the resources that already exist – some
people may need their help, while others may be in a position to support these organizations’ critical
S upport job‐seekers. The Rabbis of the Talmud believed that match‐making was so difficult,
God needed to arrange the matches personally. Become God’s partner in this holy work: set
up a Job and Resume Bank within your community. Inevitably, some members of your
community will be looking for work; others will probably know of available jobs. Your Job
Bank can bring them together. If people in your community haven’t needed to look for jobs in a
while, they might want to brush up on resume‐writing, interviewing, and other professional skills.
Host workshops that offer job‐seekers a leg up in their search. Leverage your organization’s
connective power even farther by working together with other local synagogues and organizations
to create a community‐wide Job Bank.
E xchange services and used items. Ultimately, all families need some help, but all families are
able to offer help as well. Set up a “swap meet” in your community that enables people to
trade used items, childcare, professional expertise, and anything else that might be of value
to others.
Produced by the Commission on Social Justice and Public Policy of the Conservative Movement
Rabbi Leonard Gordon, Chair
Abe Friedman, Rabbinic Intern
ARISE: Five Ways Your Community Can Respond to the Economic Downturn

Friday, February 20, 2009


The Gift of the Dream: A Transformative Conference

Sunday, March 15, 2009
8:25am - 5:00pm
Germantown Jewish Centre
400 West Ellet Street
Philadelphia, PA, 19119

For registration information:
Contact Elana Shaw, Program Director
215-844-1507 x19

Information & Registration at

Join us as world class professionals and scholars present a variety of opinions and worldviews that promise to challenge and shape whole new ways of looking at dreaming.

The Gift of the Dream Conference is an exploration of the history, philosophies and science of dreams as they affect us spiritually, emotionally and physically. This event will center on Rodger Kamenetz’s most recent book, The History of Last Night’s Dream, in which he challenges Judaism and Jewish texts into communication with current trends in psychology and neuroscience. Modern psychiatric and psychological theories of the dream, as well as recent advances in brain science studies of dreams and what those findings could portend for the future will make the conference equally appropriate for individual seekers as well as those giving pastoral or psychological counseling.

Workshops include:
Introduction to Archetypal Dreamwork and Demonstrations with Marc Bregman and Christa Lancaster
Harnessing the Imagination with Carol Rose
The Dreams of Joseph’s Journey with Sarah Braun, M.D.
The Contemporary Theory of Dreaming with Ernest Hartmann, M.D.
Dreams in the Jewish Tradition a panel with Professors Joel Hecker, Chava Weissler and David Kraemer
A Journey Into Dreams with Jessica Dibb
Music with Rayzel Raphael

Co-sponsors include:
Inspiration Community of Baltimore; Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia; Minyan Sulam Yaakov @ the Gershman Y; North of Eden; Psychoanalytic Center of Philadelphia; Temple University Jewish Studies Department; P’nai Or; Reconstructionist Rabbinical College (RRC); Big Blue Marble Bookstore