Sign In Forgot Password

Coronavirus Update

Update: 6/1/2020

 

Dear Friends,

When Denis Papin invented the forerunner of the pressure cooker at the end of the seventeenth century, I’m not sure he knew the extent to which pressure and its release would become household metaphors. Those metaphors seem particularly pertinent today – to both those clambering to reopen and to those aggrieved by an act that was senseless at best and monstrous at worst.

Over Memorial Day weekend, we saw photos of mask-less men and women in crowded public spaces in the midst of a pandemic. The images may have been upsetting, but they were  unsurprising. Having been confined and constrained for months on end, is it any wonder that so many people would emerge from their quarantine with too much gusto to preserve the public health recommendations that have been keeping us safe?

Over this past weekend, the images were even more dramatic. Protesters took to the streets and it wasn’t long before death and destruction followed. The causes that the agitators were championing were sensible enough. But it should go without saying that violence and criminal activity make for feckless remedies to entrenched problems.

The recklessness of the first group and the agitation of the second are not the same. I’m thinking of them together only because they are linked by a common force that surely exacerbated how each group responded. Without a safety valve, pressure can build in dangerous ways. That we understand these respective responses does not mean they are justified, just explicable.

The Megillah we read just two days ago offers an important Jewish perspective on this issue. Boaz is described as an ish gibor chayil. The expression conjures up images of military might or valor. But there are no military campaigns in the Megillah. Whatever battles were raging at the time, the text is silent about them. Not only is the book of Ruth not about war, its quietude is one of its defining qualities. So why portray Boaz as a gibor?

Gevurah in the Megillah is, in fact, not about physical might at all. It conveys an entirely different kind of strength. It refers to a kind of inner fortitude that should rightly be translated as resolve or restraint. The act that Boaz does not perform when Ruth appears at his feet on the threshing floor is the defining moment of the narrative. His restraint preserves the legal and cultural norms governing remarriage. Before he could marry Ruth, Boaz had to be sure that Naomi’s closer relative was willing to forgo his obligation to do so.

This pandemic has called on all of us to be many things. In this moment, it calls on all of us to be restrained: Both those rushing to embrace freedoms denied them by our public health experts; and those rushing to champion the causes of justice and equality. When caution fails to prevail in its enduring battle against haste, we all suffer. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn once told Shimon Peres, “Only self-restraint can pave the way for saving the world from sure destruction.” Maybe he had in mind a moment like this one.

With warm regards,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi

Reminders

Keter Torah Awards
Please join us for our 9th Annual Keter Torah Awards on Wednesday evening, June 3rd at 8pm as we honor Barbara Paris and Adira Hulkower.

Join our new JC WhatsApp group!
Keep up-to-date with all our classes and programming. https://chat.whatsapp.com/LHRdougPFwxC6JDOH9MiOd 

Thursday Night Series
Join us Thursday evening at 8pm for our next session of Vision and Values in an Age of Pandemic. This week I will host Dr. Rivka Press Schwartz and Rabbi Dr. Jeffrey Kobrin to talk about, “The State of Jewish Education.”

Update: 5/28/2020

Dear Friends,

On January 1st, I stood together with close to 100,000 people at MetLife Stadium to celebrate the Siyum HaShas. Looking back, it seems like a lifetime ago. It felt special at the time, but not categorically special. For us denizens of a bustling metropolis, crowds are a commonplace; they form part of the fabric of our city. This particular crowd was just larger than usual. 

But in Talmudic thought, the idea of the crowd was considered a novelty. The sight of 600,000 Jews in one location, the Gemara teaches, calls for the recitation of a bracha. These days, when virtually any crowd is verboten, the idea that seeing people together warrants a blessing is particularly resonant. 

The text of the bracha is revealing. We refer to Hashem as the “Knower of secrets.” While it is so easy to lose sight of individual faces among a crush of people, the bracha reminds us that within a crowd are unique individuals possessed of thoughts and feelings very different from one another.On the surface, they may stand shoulder to shoulder; but this says nothing about their inner lives. 

As we commemorate revelation on Shavuot, we think back to a moment when 600,000 souls stood at Sinai “with one heart.” It is axiomatic that we were awash in feelings of national unity. But to take the metaphor to its logical conclusion, even one heart contains within it an infinite number of feelings.  

Someone asked me recently, “What’s the dominant sentiment in your community that’s been generated by this pandemic?” The question is unanswerable, of course, because it is predicated on a series of false assumptions. The feelings are as variegated as our members; those feelings are rarely static; and they cannot be reduced to single words. 

The media has a habit of articulating its conception of the world in binary terms: doves and hawks; liberals and conservatives; those in favor of reopening and those opposed. But people are much more complicated than that. As centrifugal forces pull us toward one pole or another, it’s worth remembering that the overwhelming majority of the issues we now face cannot be placed neatly into a box and labeled. They are complex and multifaceted. Even calling covid-19 a global pandemic is misleading. Yes, the virus has spread to regions all over the globe, but not in the same way. To many, the outbreak in New York City felt apocalyptic. But what about the person living in a suburb of Boise who didn’t know anyone who’s even been exposed to the virus? It’s the same pandemic; but not the same experience. To forestall the predictable fractiousness among those who will reach different conclusions about how to steer their respective lives, calling to mind the crowd bracha will be beneficial. God knows the inner thoughts of all people. We mortals are lucky if we can say that we know our own. 

With warmest regards and best wishes for a chag sameach,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Reminders

Sefirat ha-Omer

Today is the 49th and final day of the Omer. Kudos on concluding the count!

Networking

The JC Business Networking Committee, chaired by Elana Kaminetzky and Grant Silverstein, is now in full swing. I encourage you to take a moment to complete this short survey before Shavuot so that we can best leverage the exceptional talent of our membership. If you or someone you know is actively looking for a job, kindly complete the candidate questionnaire or reach out me or to the committee directly at businessnetworking@jewishcenter.org. We would love nothing more than to help.

Keter Torah Awards

Please join us for our 9th Annual Keter Torah Awards on Wednesday evening, June 3rd at 8pm as we honor Barbara Paris and Adira Hulkower.

Join our new JC WhatsApp group!

Keep up-to-date with all our classes and programming. https://chat.whatsapp.com/LHRdougPFwxC6JDOH9MiOd 

Support Our Local Businesses 

May local establishments are struggling and can use our support. Download this handy app to find a kosher restaurant that is open and will happily deliver: https://openduringcovid19.app/Due to the outbreak of COVID19, West Side Judaica will remain open and in business exclusively for phone orders, storefront pickups and nationwide shipping. They will also be offering free, door to door delivery in Manhattan. All of their sefarim, books and other Judaica items are in stock and they will be making deliveries 6 days a week. To place an order or ask for more information, please email sales@westsidejudaica.com or callThey are open on Sunday through Thursday from 11:00am-5:00pm.

Missed a message?

digest of these messages can be found on our website.

Update: 5/27/2020

Dear Friends,

Once the province of villains and reluctant superheroes, masks are now as ubiquitous as socks. Suspending judgment, we put them on because they keep us safe. Or at least safer. I don’t in any way intend to challenge this wisdom. I wear a mask whenever I venture out into public.

But I do want to note that the creation of a mask-wearing society comes at a cost. I find the inability to see another person’s face disconcerting. Smiles are hidden; frowns are concealed. Words represent only a small portion of human communication.

Maybe we will adjust over time. The stage actor, for instance, cannot whisper. So if the scene calls for him to communicate something in secret, he raises his hand to his mouth to convey that his words are not meant for all to hear. Gradually, perhaps, we’ll learn to nod more emphatically or say more with our eyes. But such adaptations take time and practice. They certainly don’t come naturally to most of us. The art of reading people is the art of identifying clues, so many of which are subtly conveyed by the expressions we wear on our faces. In an age of masks, it’s as if we’ve been asked to read in the dark. Yes, it can be done. But only with great difficulty.

The Megillah we’ll read on Shavuot makes an important contribution to this discussion. Why does Ruth follow Naomi? Her sister-in-law, Orpah – who doubles as a narrative foil – hears Naomi insist that to accompany her to Bethlehem would be an exercise in futility. And so she turns back to Moab. What makes Ruth so persistent?

The Midrash suggests that Ruth’s name contains within it the solution to the riddle. Why was she called רות? Because, the Midrash answers, she saw (ראתה) the words of her mother-in-law. Which is to say, she saw beneath the surface meaning of Naomi’s words. When Naomi said, “Return to your homes,” Ruth interpreted the sentiment behind that statement. She understood just how much her mother-in-law would benefit from companionship at a moment of such utter loneliness. Behind the mask of Naomi’s self-assurance, Ruth saw the vulnerable face of a woman bereft.

That we’ll have to work harder to see beneath the surface does not absolve us of our responsibility to do so in this masked world of ours. The spread of coronavirus has brought along with it the spread of anxiety and loneliness. We need to listen closely to the words we hear – and even more closely to the sentiments that attach to those words. Particularly in this fraught moment, empathy is in high demand. Let’s rise to meet it.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi


Reminders

Sefirat ha-Omer
Today is the 48th day of the Omer. Please remember to keep up the count!

Virtual Erev Shavuot Yarchei Kallah with Yeshiva University
Please join us tonight at 8:30pm for my shiur, Preparing for Revelation in 2020, followed by a talk by Rabbi Ari Berman at 9pm.

Networking
The JC Business Networking Committee, chaired by Elana Kaminetzky and Grant Silverstein, is now in full swing. I encourage you to take a moment to complete this short survey before Shavuot so that we can best leverage the exceptional talent of our membership. If you or someone you know is actively looking for a job, kindly complete the candidate questionnaire or reach out me or to the committee directly at businessnetworking@jewishcenter.org. We would love nothing more than to help.

Keter Torah Awards
Please join us for our 9th Annual Keter Torah Awards on Wednesday evening, June 3rd at 8pm as we honor Barbara Paris and Adira Hulkower.

Join our new JC WhatsApp group!
Keep up-to-date with all our classes and programming. https://chat.whatsapp.com/LHRdougPFwxC6JDOH9MiOd 

Support Our Local Businesses
Many local establishments are struggling and can use our support. Download this handy app to find a kosher restaurant that is open and will happily deliver: https://openduringcovid19.app/
Due to the outbreak of COVID19, West Side Judaica will remain open and in business exclusively for phone orders, storefront pickups and nationwide shipping. They will also be offering free, door to door delivery in Manhattan. All of their sefarim, books and other Judaica items are in stock and they will be making deliveries 6 days a week. To place an order or ask for more information, please email sales@westsidejudaica.com or callThey are open on Sunday through Thursday from 11:00am-5:00pm.

Missed a message?
A digest of these messages can be found on our website.

Update: 5/26/2020

Dear Friends,

This pandemic is trying our patience. Being cooped up tests our resolve. We’ve flattened the curve and we’ve learned how to mitigate the risk of exposure to this virus. Add to the mix the allure of sunshine and better weather and it’s little wonder that so many people are clamoring for a return to normal.

To be sure, there is a debate to be had about how best to balance the preservation of public health on the one hand and the preservation of our financial well-being on the other. But there’s also something that needs to happen before we go back. Covid-19 has caused the loss of more American lives than the Vietnam and Korean Wars combined. We need to mourn our dead.

The institution of met mitzvah is instructive. Should a person chance upon a corpse, the halacha demands that he stops what he’s doing and devote his attention to the burial of the deceased. The loss of a human being created in the image of the divine requires not only that we acknowledge the loss, but that we accord it every measure of dignity. What’s required is nothing less than urgent attention at the expense of virtually any other halachic priority.

I am certain that we’ve all attended more than our share of Zoom shivas. But personal grief is not the same as national grief. National tragedy requires national mourning. The notion of met mitzvah says that if no else is attending to the dead, it’s the responsibility of any decent citizen to do so. If our federal government can’t muster the requisite empathy, then the obligation falls to us.

I was heartened when a reporter from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency called to learn about the members we have lost in support of a project called Bonds of Life. The idea is to memorialize those who have perished during this pandemic. It’s not the entirety of the answer, but it’s the beginning.

Without proposing a solution, allow me to at least propose that this should be a topic for discussion. Before we can move forward, we need first to take stock. There is a reason we assign times to remember the fallen; there’s a purpose to grieving as a community. To rush to return to normal as if nothing has changed is to risk unwittingly trampling upon the memory of the those who deserve much more. The victims of this pandemic mattered a great deal. Let’s make sure we honor their memory – and in the process – our own values.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi

Update: 5/22/2020

Dear Friends,

This week we celebrate the bar mitzvah of our eldest son, Akiva. Needless to say, it will not look like the celebration we had envisioned. But whether the young man is ready for the world or the world is ready for the young man, a bar mitzvah is a bar mitzvah. A moment in time comes; ready or not. Rachel and I are overjoyed. Before us is our opportunity to take stock of how far Akiva has come and to dream, with God’s help, about how far he will go. It’s also a chance for us to say thank you. 

 why the Torah writes, These are the progeny of Aharon and Mosheand then proceeds to list only the children of Aharon, Rashi cites the Talmud (Sanhedrin 19a). One who teaches Torah to the children of someone else is also considered to be their parent. While not their biological father, Moshe was no less a father figure to the sons of Aharon. 

In fact, this comment is part of a larger Talmudic discourse. A teacher may be considered a surrogate parent. And so may those who help raise or support the process of child-rearing. Naomi, the Gemara notes, surely did not give birth to Oved. Ruth did. But the townspeople could say in good faith, A son is born to Naomi because she helped to rear him. 

With heartfelt appreciation, Rachel and I wish to thank not only Akiva’s teachers, but all of his surrogate parents among our beloved Jewish Center family. For 13 years – on all 11 floors – in a million ways – you have nurtured and encouraged him. You have taught him how to daven and modelled for him the value of chesed. You’ve shown him the richness of Talmud Torah and the power of community. 

In a word, you have helped create for him a virtual home. So we hope you will join us in our virtual celebration. That we will be together over some distance will not make our celebration any less real. The sentiments are real. And that’s really all that matters. 

With appreciation and love,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/2/2020

Dear Friends,

I have always found the study of humor to be humorless. If one has to think too hard about what makes something funny, it probably isn’t funny anymore – to the extent it was ever to begin with. Jokes should be told; not analyzed. At the risk of violating my own rule, I’ve been thinking about the role of humor during a pandemic.

Surely, there is a case to be made that amidst so much suffering, it would be unseemly to indulge in laughter. Times like these, the argument goes, call for sobriety and empathy, not levity and amusement. At the same time, however, we must appreciate that there is something healthy about injecting a dose of humor into an otherwise dreary forecast. Trafficking only in the news of the moment can leave us feeling depleted, if not defeated. I even read about a prominent cardiologist who recommended laughing at least 15 minutes a day. 

The value of humor was not lost on the Talmud. Rabbi Beroka frequented the marketplace where Elijah the Prophet would often appear to him. Once Rabbi Beroka asked him, “Is there anyone in this market worthy of the World-to-Come?” Elijah could scarcely identify anyone up to snuff until two brothers arrived. “These two have a have a share in the World-to-Come,” said Elijah. R. Beroka approached the men. “Tell me,” he said. “What is your occupation?” They said to him, “We are jesters; we bring cheer to those who are dejected.” 

It’s no secret that some of the darkest moments in history have produced some of our funniest jokes. Humor doesn’t just help us laugh. It helps remind us that we are not alone. Someone else has shared our fear or our anxiety; someone else has endured what we have. They’ve lived to tell about it; and so will we. So the next time you hear a funny joke, make sure to laugh. And then retell it. Until there’s a vaccine, it may be the best medicine we have. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

 

Update: 5/20/2020

Dear Friends,

I learned a new Yiddish word recently: Oysgezoomt. It means something like utterly fatigued by the overuse of Zoom. Exasperated at the end of a day full of online meetings, one might say, “Ich bin azoy oysgezoomt!” (I’ve had it with Zoom!)

It’s a kind of metaphor for what many people are feeling these days; it’s just that – as if often the case – Yiddish captures the feeling so much better than does our native tongue. This pandemic is draining. And it’s not just that everything takes longer. Every adjustment to “life-as-normal” reqauires mental energy. Nothing can be taken for granted, not to mention the attention necessary just to maintain social distance any place we go. We’re exhausted. 

In the normal course of things, some of this exhaustion might be tempered by social contact with friends or family. We might be energized by chatting or sitting together over a cup of coffee. But now even small pleasures such as these – or their virtual equivalents – require special effort. Recognizing that all of this will not be over tomorrow, how do we manage? 

Rabbi Pereidah is often held out in Talmudic tradition as the paragon of patience. If a student proved incapable of absorbing a given lesson until it was reviewed 400 times, R. Pereidah would review it 400 times. But perhaps even more fundamentally, R. Pereidah was a paragon of perspective. With one eye trained perpetually on the goal, he appreciated that each review brought him that much closer to it. 

ome 40 years ago, Prof. David Weiss Halivni said in an interview, “I look at a line – sometimes 400 times…. I can sit here six hours at a stretch going over the same few lines. If they yield their meaning, the whole thing is worthwhile.” In other words, the downward pull of fatigue can be overcome by the ascendant pull of aspiration – the recognition that accumulated effort can translate into having accomplished something over time. 

Hard as it may be to imagine, each passing day brings us one step closer to the end. As Ruth Messinger once said, “We cannot retreat to the convenience of being overwhelmed.” We won’t beat this pandemic by claiming to be oysgezoomt. We’ll beat it by being persistent. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Update: 5/19/2020

Dear Friends,

Among the consequences of spending extended periods of time in a given state is the tendency to fantasize about living in an alternate state. Among those to whom I’ve spoken, there is evidence of this phenomenon across virtually all demographics. Those living alone long for company or family. Those living with family, long for a moment alone. Older people long to turn back the clock so as not to feel so confined and so dependent on the young. Younger people long to be older so as not to feel so dependent on those older than they.

In times such as these, Ben Zoma’s simple maxim is often the first to come to mind. Who is rich? The one who is happy with his lot. Of course this saying contains within it intrinsic wisdom. But this adage is but one of four that the Mishnah records in Ben Zoma’s name. Only within their broader context are they properly understood. 

Ben Zoma said: Who is wise? He who learns from every man…. Who is mighty? He who subdues his [evil] inclination…. Who is rich? He who rejoices in his lot…. Who is honored? He who honors God’s creations…. 

Ben Zoma deals here with four qualities that are often thought of as hereditary – blessings of birth beyond one’s control: Intellect, strength, wealth and honor. Particularly in a pre-modern world, one could easily convince oneself that the very notions of mobility or progress in these realms were impossible. To such a notion Ben Zoma says, think again. One needn’t consign oneself to passive acceptance of one’s lot. Endowed with human agency, each of us can be the arbiter of our own destiny. It’s all a matter of perspective. Wisdom is not inherited; it’s acquired. Strength is not genetic; it’s cultivated. Wealth is not objective; it’s subjective. Honor is not accumulated; it’s conferred on others. 

It’s precisely this outlook that we need in these time. We may be limited, but we are not helpless. Just because our fantasies can’t be achieved in this moment doesn’t mean that nothing can be achieved. We may not have woken up feeling wise, mighty, wealthy and honored. But if we’re willing to give Ben Zoma’s tactics a try, by the end of the day, we may feel differently. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/18/2020

Dear Friends,

Older adults are under assault. And not just because the mortality rates of covid-19 are higher for them than they are for younger people. But because consciously or otherwise, we’ve started to think differently about a certain segment of our population. The unstated argument goes something like this: At some point life will have to continue and some folks will just have to stay home.In one of the most grotesque offenses, a protester outside Tennessee’s state capitol on April 20 held a sign that read, “Sacrifice the weak; reopen Tennessee.”  

It should go without saying that such an argument is anathema to our tradition. But left unchecked, it seems this sentiment could become increasingly prevalent. What happens when public life becomes the exclusive province of those who are deemed “young and healthy?” 

Our sages were keenly aware of how easily people can fall into the trap of disregarding those who are older than they. The very word zaken, they wrote, is nothing other than a kind of acronym for ze she-kanah chochmah. In place of biological age, they insisted we see biographical accomplishment – the accumulated wisdom that attaches to life experience. 

The Talmud wonders what images were minted on the coin of Avraham Avinu. It suggests that on one side was the image of an older couple; on the opposite side was the image of a young man and a young woman. It was, perhaps, testament to the fact that Avraham and Sarah could be faithfully depicted in two ways. Their Jewish lives began when they were “older.” When we’re introduced to them, Avraham was 75; Sarah was 65. But to judge by what they achieved, they were vigorous, spry and youthful. 

One virus has given us quite enough to manage. Let’s not allow another kind of virulence to dominate our discourse. For those of us that become a little older every day, to do so would be unbecoming. 

Wth warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/15/2020

Dear Friends,

To paraphrase the first Rashi of our Parsha, what has Yovel got to do with a global pandemic? Three answers come to mind. 

The first has to do with time. On one level, this entire experience is unprecedented. We look back only to discover that we have no memories from the past that can inform our present. But the institution of the jubilee year reminds us, too, that time isn’t always linear. Sometimes its cyclical. Life chugs along; a trauma interrupts it; and then we move on. While it’s true that we’ve not experienced an interruption quite like this one, it’s equally true that we always find ways to resume. And more often than not, we emerge better or stronger for having undergone the trauma. 

Which brings us to the second point. Difficult as it may be to imagine, Yovel insists that things really do return. Eventually, everyone gets to go back. Strikingly, the Torah tells us Each person shall return to his/her family. At a time when a virus has kept parents from their children and grandparents from their grandchildren, we can take comfort from these immortal words. A time will come when we can yet again embrace the people from whom we’ve been separated.

And finally, there’s a metaphoric answer to the question. The Rambam writes that the Yovel may only be observed when all 12 tribes occupy their respective places in the Land of Israel. The system only works when there’s a sense of solidarity among the citizenry. To be sure, there will always be violators at the margins, born of varying degrees of malice and ignorance. But by and large, what we’ve seen over these past two months is a sense of shared empathy for those we’ve lost; a sense of national pride in the heroism of our frontline workers; and a sense of collective responsibility for the social and economic well-being of our country. 

Let us pray that the day soon arrives on which we can proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. For that will be the day on which we’ll be able to declare that this pandemic is behind us and a new cycle in our lives has begun. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/14/2020

In the nineteenth century, plagues in Europe gave rise to a phenomenon known as the black wedding, or the plague wedding. Orphans or those lacking means were married in weddings arranged by the local Jewish community. The ceremony itself often took place in the cemetery.

Our current pandemic has created its own cultural phenomenon: the minyan wedding. So far, the sample size is too small to know if this is the name that will stick. But the moniker is self-explanatory. In locales where small groups are permitted to congregate, a wedding takes place with a minimal number of guests – just a minyan, or maybe a few more than a minyan. The elaborate banquet with all its attendant accoutrements that we’ve come to associate with the modern wedding has suddenly given way to the simplicity and modesty of the wedding that characterized an earlier time. When Boaz and Ruth married, the Megillah tells us, they did so in front of an audience of ten.

Attached to the minyan wedding are undoubtedly a sense of loss; dashed expectations; and grief over the wedding that might have been had the cruelty of covid-19 not reared its ugly head. But I wonder if the minyan wedding might also give us a chance to rethink, if not reset, communal norms. Six months hence, will the newlyweds feel less marital bliss because there were fewer friends at their wedding? Will their lives be less joyous because they were married in 2020 rather 2019? I am not suggesting that in the post-covid world guest lists ought to be limited to 12 people. But maybe they don’t need to be unlimited either.

In pre-modern Europe, sumptuary laws were a common means by which to defend against conspicuous consumption and protect members of the community who could not afford to keep pace with extravagant norms. A typical provision might put a cap on attendees or insist that one indigent member of the community be invited to the celebration for every so many guests. Our modern communal landscape has rendered such an idea all but unthinkable and entirely unenforceable. But the sentiment at stake is as relevant as ever.

Particularly as we brace for the economic impact of this pandemic, now is the time to bring these issues to the fore. If we dial back communal expectations around the way we celebrate simchas, we’ll not only be giving a gift to the growing number of those who would otherwise struggle to keep up; we’ll also begin to create a conversation around values-driven economic priorities. Davening with a minyan carries with it a great reward. Marrying with a minyan does, too. But where do we draw the upper limits? And when do we invoke the Talmudic truism: sometimes to add is to detract?

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Sefirat ha-Omer.

Update: 5/13/2020

Dear Friends,

What are the effects of a pandemic on memory? Anecdotal evidence is not encouraging. It’s hard to remember what day of the week it is; eyeglasses are perpetually lost; and resetting our forgotten passwords seems to be an almost daily ritual. Experts say that none of this is surprising. Stress and memory are inversely proportional. Moments of heightened anxiety tend to diminish our capacity to remember.   

But I’m thinking about another type of memory loss – the loss that attaches to absence. The Talmud tells the story of R. Elazar ben Arach, one of the great disciples of R. Yochanan ben Zakai. Following the death of his teacher, R. Elazar moved away and left organized religion. When he returned, he tried to read the simple words of the verse, ha-chodesh ha-zeh la-chem. But he had forgotten how to read them. Instead, he said ha-cheresh hayah libam. Over the course of his time away, that which had been transparent suddenly turned opaque.

I’m confident that the words of our liturgy are safe. Physically distant from shul, we continue to daven in our homes. But what of the unwritten words of shul life? Having adapted to a shul-less existence, I’m worried about what we’ve forgotten: The warm greetings and the songs of celebration; the mental notes we make when we notice someone’s absence; the excitement of the small children as they line up for Kiddush on Friday night; the glow of the yahrzeit lights; the enthusiasm of the volunteer who collects the chumashim after laining; the broad smile of a friend who hasn’t seen you in a long time; and a hundred other intangible facets that we’ve been living without.

Yes, we can survive without shul. But going without comes at a cost. I fear that even after our community returns to our Center, our sense of community will lag behind. What’s the value of a smile when it’s hidden behind a mask? How much comfort can we offer without the warmth of an embrace?

We’ll continue to adapt and find new solutions. But memories have their own value. Even if only in our minds’ eye, we can preserve them. With God’s help, we’ll be able to reactivate them soon enough. Until then, let’s be sure to keep them close by. Who knows what they’ll inspire.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/12/2020

Dear Friends,

The world is taken up right now with counting: hospitalizations, casualties, covid tests, weeks of quarantine and days of lockdown. And it’s during these days between Pesach and Shavuot that the Jewish people is absorbed in its own count as we number the days of sefirat ha-omer.

One of the oddities of our system is our practice of counting in ascending order rather than descending. We begin with one and work our way to 49 rather than the other way around. The question is why.

Among the most compelling answers that I’ve seen has to do with history. We mimic the counting of the Israelites in the wilderness as they made their way from Pitom and Ramses to the foot of Har Sinai. When they left Egypt, they were constrained by their lack of data. They knew the date on which they had left, but not the day on which they would arrive at their destination. By counting up, we preserve an element of the original narrative: those doing the counting were privy to only one end of the timeline.

The application of the analogy to our present moment requires little explication. We know well the dates of our lockdown. But the day on the calendar on which we will return to our past lives remains a mystery.

As our sages remind us, the reward for a mitzvah is having done the mitzvah. Counting the omer is an end unto itself. But this year, perhaps it carries with it an added significance. The Talmud teaches (Makkot 23b) that refraining from wrongdoing is tantamount to the active performance of a mitzvah. Each day that we decide to protect ourselves and those around us by staying at home rather than venturing out constitutes an accomplishment in its own right. So the passing of each day represents justifiable cause for acknowledgment.

We surely could have taken a more direct route to Sinai. The journey took seven weeks because that was the length of time we needed before we were ready for Revelation. In a matter of weeks or months, we’ll be ready, too, for what awaits us on the other side. Until then, we’ll keep counting.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/11/2020

Dear Friends,

Around 500 years ago, the Chief Rabbi of Egypt, David ibn Zimra (1479-1573), received an unusual query. A Jewish prison inmate had may a plea for clemency of his local governor and was granted a one-day furlough. The date of the furlough was left to the discretion of the prisoner. What day, the querist wondered, should he choose?

I’m thinking of this responsum because tonight is Lag Ba-Omer. An enigmatic holiday, it’s said according to at least one tradition, to mark a break in the weeks-long plague that devastated the students of Rabbi Akiva. As we’ve come to appreciate, any amount of good news during an epidemic is noteworthy. But to the extent that the plague continued after Lag Ba-Omer, why celebrate a day that decidedly failed to mark its end?

Perhaps our question from the sixteenth century is our answer. Amidst a sea of darkness, even a solitary day of light is cause for celebration. Because it reminds us that there is light; that hope is possible; that the status quo is not a lifetime sentence.

The Chief Rabbi’s advice was not to wait until Purim or Yom Kippur, days on which there were special mitzvot. Instead, he suggested that the inmate use his furlough at the first possible opportunity and seize the moment to accomplish everything he could.

In the midst of this pandemic, Lag Ba-Omer invites us to imagine: What would we do if this plague stopped for the next 24 hours? What if all these restrictions were temporarily lifted and we could go about our lives as normal? Where would we go? Who are the people we would embrace? What are the mitzvot we would race to perform? Today’s fantasy could soon become tomorrow’s reality. Let’s not be caught unawares.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/8/2020

Dear Friends,

Long before coronavirus, Rabbi Daniel Fridman delivered a brilliant talk on the erosion of the boundary between the public and private sphere in the 21st century. There was a time when the walls of one’s house could insulate a person from the world outside. It was possible to shut the door and in one fell swoop put an end to the bombardment of stimuli and distractions that characterize the public domain. The home was the province of focused conversation, quiet contemplation and deep reading. In the age of the smartphone, the threshold marking the boundary between these two worlds has all but disappeared.

Now that we are confined to our homes, the challenge has been exacerbated by orders of magnitude. Our homes have taken on more functions than at any time in living memory. They have become schools, shuls, offices, restaurants, bakeries, gyms, libraries, coffee houses and barber shops. Just trying to make lunch last week I ended up walking right into the middle of a virtual pre-school classroom. (Luckily, sandwich starts with the letter s so I was able to integrate smoothly.)

Halakha has always recognized the distinction between public and private domains, particularly with respect to Shabbat. Surely there is something lamentable about the loss of this timeless boundary.

But there is a model in the Torah for the situation in which we surrender the autonomy typically provided by our domiciles. And we read about it in our parshah this week. It’s the holiday of Sukkot. Our actual homes are transformed into pass-throughs and our sukkot become our homes. Provided it conforms to the rules, a sukkah can be built virtually anywhere. It can go on a roof or on a boat; atop a camel or in the back of a truck. One can build a sukkah at the intersection of the city’s two busiest streets. The demarcations between public and private descend quickly into a tangled mess.

If this moment of blurred boundaries reminds us of Sukkot, then it should remind us, too, of that holiday’s most trenchant message. The sukkah screams out to us to see our lives through the lens of transience. How attached can we become to something short-lived and withering? The sukkah pleads with us to acknowledge that whatever situation in which we find ourselves in this moment is but a phase. Because every moment in life is but a phase. No pandemic goes on forever. Neither will this one.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/7/2020

Dear Friends,

The New York Times announced recently that it would be suspending its Travel section in the Sunday paper. Its new section is aptly called At Home. I suppose in the midst of a global pandemic, not many people are planning vacations. It’s a pity. Because many people I know could use a vacation right about now.

The vast majority of Jewish history, it seems, is characterized much more by movement than by stasis. The biblical precedents are almost without exception. Literally from the word go, our patriarchs, who were peripatetic shepherds, were constantly on the move. The balance of the Torah is taken up with the journey from slavery to the Promised Land. And the exilic Jew was cast about so many times that the notion of the wandering Jew became the stuff of legend.

So what happens when forces beyond our control conspire to keep us in place?

It’s instructive to notice that whenever one stops moving in the Torah, we almost always find that the narrative turns to building. When the patriarchs pitch their proverbial tents, they build altars or monuments to Hashem. When the Israelites stop their journey through the wilderness, they erect the mishkan. When we arrived in the Promised Land, it was with the vision of building the Temple. And when we came home to the land of our fathers after two thousand years of exile, we built the modern state of Israel.

To put it differently, when we stop moving horizontally, we focus our attention on building vertically. When the roads here on earth are closed, we look toward the heavens, which are eternally open.

I suppose it would be ironic if Jews became more godly at just the moment when all our shuls were shuttered. But before us is a unique opportunity. The pace at which we daven, the types of Torah we learn and the ways in which we relate to Hashem aren’t governed in this moment by institutional inertia or communal norms. As we look out on God’s created world; as we reflect on the fragility of life; as we deepen our capacity for gratitude; and as we cling to our ancient tradition of hopefulness, now is our chance to create a different kind of movement: a movement that brings us closer to the Almighty. Let’s not miss the boat.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Sefirat ha-Omer

Today is the 28th day of the Omer. Please remember to keep up the count! And be sure to see

New Thursday Night Series

Join me this evening at 8pm for a new series called Vision and Values in an Age of Pandemic as I host experts and innovators to discuss how we can best approach the challenges of this moment. This week I will host Drs. Jeremy Brown and Barbara Paris as they discuss The State of Covid: Where We Are and Where We are Headed.

Update: 5/6/2020

Dear Friends,

For his book The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Building on the work of Otto Rank and Martin Heidegger, Becker argued that denying one’s own mortality was a kind of defense mechanism necessary to function in the world. But of course that denial comes at a cost. One of those costs is the propensity to procrastinate when it comes to our responsibility to plan for the day we leave this world.

In Judaism, it seems we’ve always tried to develop a healthy balance. We don’t obsess over the topic of mortality. But neither do we flee from it. The liturgy of the Yamim Nora’im forces us to confront the question of “who will live and who will die.” We don’t hold viewings or wakes where death is hidden under clothes and cosmetics. We don’t immunize mourners from the harshness of seeing a casket lowered into the ground or hearing clods of dirt fall into the grave.

Denying death in the age of covid-19 is simply not possible. The numbers are staggering. Who doesn’t know someone who’s been lost? And perhaps even more poignant – if less quantifiable – are the fear and anxiety in the air that we live and breathe on a daily basis. It seems every trip to the supermarket raises legitimate feelings of apprehension. What will happen if I catch the virus?

To be sure, confronting one’s own demise can create a sense of urgency and appreciation for life’s fragility. But I would also like to propose that we have before us an opportunity to make the kinds of decisions and arrangements for which there is no good time. I have in mind issues like wills and life insurance policies; ethical wills and health care proxies; and funeral and burial arrangements. I think of all the conflicts and heartache that I’ve seen in my rabbinate – so much of which was eminently avoidable. I think, Would their mother have simply left instructions, those siblings wouldn’t have had to agonize over those end-of-life decisions. Perhaps the solution is to think of the plans we make now as a gift. After 120 years, someone we care about will have more clarity, less to worry about or fewer decisions to make.

I have always been moved by Rashi’s incisive comment about the timing of Yitzchak’s decision to bless his eldest son when he did. At the time, he was 123 years old. In retrospect, Yitzchak would go on to live for another 57 years. What compelled him to bestow upon his son the blessing usually reserved for the end? It was, Rashi writes, the thought of his mother. Sarah died at 127. As he began to approach that age, Yitzchak could not help but think of his own demise. And so he acted. At a time when we’ve been forced to consider the fragility of our own lives, we would do well to act, too. We won’t be here to see it, but someone will thank us that we did.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/5/2020

Dear Friends,

These past several weeks have offered contrasting lessons in leadership. As elected officials and health experts have stood on the public stage, they have succeeded and failed in ways too numerous to count. Absence creates longing. So we yearn for those leaders or statesmen who earned reputations for radiating confidence, competence, compassion and integrity.

I have been thinking about a letter Abraham Lincoln wrote to Ulysses Grant after the Battle of Vicksburg on July 13, 1863:

My Dear General

I do not remember that you and I ever met personally. I write this now as a grateful acknowledgement for the almost inestimable service you have done the country. I wish to say a word further. When you first reached the vicinity of Vicksburg, I thought you should do what you finally did — march the troops across the neck, run the batteries with the transports and thus go below; and I never had any faith, except a general hope that you knew better than I, that the Yazoo-Pass expedition, and the like could succeed. When you got below, and took Port Gibson, Grand Gulf and vicinity, I thought you should go down the river and join Gen. Banks; and when you turned Northward, East of the Big Black, I feared it was a mistake. I now wish to make the personal acknowledgement that you were right and I was wrong.

Yours very truly

A. Lincoln

In times such as these, when we face an enemy that is so utterly confounding and challenges that are so utterly unprecedented, it is axiomatic that our leaders will make mistakes. We all will. The question is what we do in the moments following our mistakes. Can we own them and own up to them or do we shift the blame and duck responsibility?

Since this pandemic began, we’ve been including Avinu Malkeinu in our daily tefillot. And we begin with a very simple declaration: Our Father, our King, we have transgressed before You. We confess that we were wrong; that we made mistakes. It’s when we’re in the habit of saying these words to Hashem that we can say them to other people. Admitting we were wrong is a great sign of strength. It signals not only humility, but a desire to do better next time around.

If our national leaders today don’t model such behavior, we’ll have to remember that there was a time in which they did. To long for Lincoln is to remember that politics and principles needn’t always be at odds. Who knows? Maybe this pandemic will inspire the nation’s next great leader – the leader who can admit to having been wrong.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/4/2020

Dear Friends,

As we mark the midway point of sefirat ha-omer, we have before us an opportunity to think about what it means to be in the middle. The columnist Molly Roberts recently made an insightful observation. She wrote that the “coronavirus is the Goldilocks amount of deadly: not too lethal (then the virus would kill people too fast and too furiously for the virus to replicate), not too mild (then we could simply get ill, build herd immunity, and bid the menace goodbye), but just right for a pandemic.” And it seems to me that our elected officials are now searching for the Goldilocks amount of antidote. Open the economy too quickly and we risk unleashing a second wave of the virus; open too slowly and we risk crushing people under the weight of financial hardship.

The Rambam long ago popularized the notion of a golden mean wherein the goal is to achieve balance between two extremes. And this is often a governing principle in Jewish tradition. But not always.

I’m reminded of a conversation I once heard at the home of the late Rabbi Yehudah Cooperman, of blessed memory. One of his guests mentioned off-handedly that he could never be accused of extremism; his approach was always to stay in the middle of the road. Citing the Kotzker Rebbe, Rav Cooperman quipped, “Have you ever looked in the middle of the road? The horses walk in the middle of the road. The people walk on the sides.” Not every consideration is co-equal.

I don’t envy today’s decision-makers. They’re working under great stress with woefully imperfect information. But it’s important to note that the halakha imagines very few values that supersede the ethic of preserving life. And issues that pose a danger to human health are accorded a category all their own. The Taz writes, for instance, that the normal laws of bittul (the notion that small quantities of a problematic substance can be overwhelmed by larger quantities) are entirely suspended when there is a risk to one’s health.

So perhaps it’s worth remembering that the story of Goldilocks ends badly. Chairs are damaged, porridge is pilfered and a little girl is so startled that she jumps out of a window. We’ll need to balance lots of competing values before this pandemic has passed. But we’ll have our thumb on the scale when we do. It will mean that we have to accept the responsibility of alleviating the financial stress of more Americans than we can count. But if proceeding with caution means that we will have saved more lives, that will ultimately spell a happier ending to this tale.    

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/1/2020

Dear Friends,

One of Israel’s great treasures is its Blind Museum in Holon. Pitched into utter darkness, visitors get a sense – even if only in a small way – for what daily activities are like for those who cannot see. Lately I’ve been wondering about all the things we cannot see during these days of seclusion.

For starters, our visions of the future have become cloudy if not altogether opaque. Who can see clearly past the uncertainty of this moment? And what about those who ae vulnerable? We talk regularly about the invisible people in our lives: Low wage workers or people in the service industry to whom we should pay more attention. But at least under normal circumstances, we can see those people. Now they are totally out of sight.

I’m thinking, too, of the many issues in our lives for which sight is a group activity. We rely on others to help us see what we cannot. Someone else has surely figured out how to apply for government aid or buy flour or personalize their Zoom settings. And if we had the luxury of seeing people, we could benefit from their knowledge. Or maybe we could share something salutary with them. But alas, we’ve been confined to an existence wherein human contact is simply too dangerous. And so our vision is impaired.

One of the paths to holiness, the Torah tells us, is the path tread by the blind. Should we block that path, we block, too, our own road to the achievement of sanctity. The Torah’s prohibition against placing a stumbling block before the man who cannot see may have literal application, but as Rashi reminds us, it’s first and foremost to be understood metaphorically. Recognizing that everyone has blind spots, we need to treat them accordingly and steer them in the right direction.

So it behooves us to recognize that everyone living through a pandemic suffers in some way from visual impairment. We need to actively search out those who are unseen and offer succor and support to those who cannot see. Every morning we thank Hashem for opening our eyes. When we do, we refer to ourselves as ivrim – those who are blind. To the extent we are blessed with the capacity to see, we would do well to share that blessing with others. And may Hashem grant us the clarity to see our way past this pandemic to better times ahead.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 4/30/2020

Dear Friends,

The 11th century Spanish poet Solomon ibn Gabirol once wrote, “At the heart of all understanding is the realization of what is and what cannot be, and the consolation of what is not in our power to change.” These days, it seems, less and less is within our power. So many issues that had been under our control are now outside of our control. Our calendars and our daily routines have been overturned. Our social, professional and religious lives have been thrown into a state of unending uncertainty.

The question is: How do we respond?

One impulse is to consume massive quantities of news in the hope that knowing more about the virus and our battle against it will somehow restore a portion of the control we’ve lost. But I’ve not seen many experts endorse going down that rabbit hole. Their best advice, it seems, is for us to search out areas that do give us a sense of control. And so we’ve seen no shortage of thoughtful tips about establishing routines, keeping up with friends, dressing as if we were going out, exercising, and so on.

So it should not be lost on us that – particularly in the realms of Torah and Tefillah – our mesorah all but compels us to remain tied to a routine. Tefillah orients us and forces us to organize ourselves around regular times for davening. As Rav Soloveitchik famously put it, “When halakhic man… sees the fading rays of the setting sun… he knows that this sunset… imposes upon him anew obligations and commandments.” Even when it’s not possible to daven with a minyan, the halacha tells us that we should daven at the time the minyan would have been.

Torah study, too, is meant to be regular. Daf Yomi is just the most routinized manifestation of the principle that we are meant to set aside fixed hours for Torah every day of our lives.  

But perhaps less obvious is the notion of performing chesed on a daily basis. There is no set time and there is no canonical text. But as the Chafetz Chaim writes, no day should go by without the performance of an act of chesed. Starting with the mitzvah of checking in on neighbors and the elderly, opportunities for chesed abound. Let’s bake one into our daily routine. Lots of things these days are beyond our control. How much chesed we do isn’t one of them.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi


Update: 4/29/2020

Dear Friends,

One of the watchwords of the moment is waiting. We’re waiting for scientists to develop a vaccine. We’re waiting for our government to ramp up testing. We’re waiting for schools and shuls and businesses to reopen so that we can reclaim a semblance of our pre-covid lives.

Jewish tradition has nothing against waiting. The very first Mishnah in Avot cautions us to be deliberate in judgment – to wait rather than to rush headlong into an impulsive decision. After the Exodus, we waited 40 long years before we could taste the fruit of the Promised Land. For two millennia, we waited to come home to an Israel we could call our own. We wait daily for the arrival of the messiah.

It’s when we make the mistake of confusing waiting for deferral that we betray our tradition. Waiting can never become an excuse not to act. The same Mishnah that counsel’s deliberation insists that we become teachers and raise up many students. Our time in the Wilderness was taken up with the study and mastery of the newly-received Torah. And while we waited to return to Israel, we learned its laws, we davened, and – in modern history – we organized a movement that actively fought to transform dream into reality. It’s quite amazing to think of all that we’ve accomplished while we were waiting.

They say Isaac Newton developed calculus during an outbreak of the Plague in 1665. Our contribution needn’t be so grand. But neither are we free to simply pass the time. We have lives to lead and milestones to mark. We have books to read and children to teach. As Robert Frost might say, we have promises to keep and miles to go before we sleep. There will be plenty to celebrate when the day of return arrives. But there’s also plenty to do until it does.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi

Update: 4/28/2020

Dear Friends,

Many wonderful stories have begun to emerge from the shadows cast by this pandemic. One of my favorites was the story of IDF soldiers in Bnei Brak. Of all the issues that divide the citizens of Israel, few are as contentious as army service. It goes without saying that we in the Religious Zionist camp are possessed of a deep and abiding support for Israel’s armed forces and its soldiers. Military service is a great source of pride for our community. Many of our members are parents and grandparents of chayalim. Most residents of Bnei Brak, however, live by a philosophy that does not encourage army service. When soldiers and Haredim have come together in the past, they haven’t always seen eye to eye.

Over the past few weeks, however, it seems a new chapter in this relationship has begun. When soldiers were deployed to Bnei Brak to help alleviate the strains caused by the coronavirus, they were welcomed and embraced (metaphorically, of course). Together with volunteers, the soldiers took up the task of delivering toys, medical supplies, prepared meals, and groceries to those who were quarantined. In an uncharacteristically generous piece by The New York Times, it was reported that the residents of Bnei Brak were enthusiastically singing the praises of the soldiers and showering them with candy. One resident said, “Suddenly, one day, there are all these military vehicles, they’re going to the elderly and people with special needs. Seeing this will be engraved on my heart. It’s not just that they’re watching the borders, they’re also coming to help us in this crisis.”

Tonight we begin Yom Haatzmaut. We’ll put our pandemic lives on pause, we’ll sing Hallel and we’ll reflect on the miracle of Israel. We’ll celebrate the miraculous birth of a nation that represents two thousand years of longing and two thousand years of wandering. As we do, let’s celebrate, too, the smaller miracles – the moments when acrimony can melt into affection. And then let’s find ways to create more of them.

Chag Atzmaut Sameach,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi

Update: 4/27/2020

Dear Friends,

Tonight is Yom Hazikaron. We will remember and pay tribute to our fallen soldiers. But sometimes we fall into the trap of believing that for someone to be considered a hero, he or she needs to have lived in some earlier time. To dispel that myth, all one need do is learn the story of Roi Klein. Every Jewish child should know his name. And they should know that his name is synonymous with Jewish heroism.

Born in 1975 to parents who were survivors of the Holocaust, Roi was a deputy commander in Golani. In 2006, during the second Lebanon War, he gave his life so that others could live. Tonight we’ll remember Roi. We’ll remember his sacrifice. And we’ll remember that Jewish heroism is very much alive. The video below says all there is to say. 

 


With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi

Reminders

Update: 4/26/2020

Dear Friends,

When rabbinic authorities are confronted by a the challenge of something they’ve not seen before, their first impulse is to find a precedent. If the issue has come up in the past, well then it’s not in fact new and we can simply fall back on the well-reasoned arguments of yesteryear. Think of the rationale that says: cooking with a microwave is simply cooking.

When there are no precedents, the next path usually involves analogy. We haven’t seen this specific issue before, but we’ve seen issues that are analogous. Turning off an electric light is like removing the fuel from an oil lamp. Comparisons can guide us.

The way we’ve approached covid-19 isn’t all that different. It became abundantly clear early on that there simply was no precedent in our living memory – or maybe ever – for this kind of global pandemic. So the analogies began. It’s our Pearl Harbor moment or 9/11. It’s the AIDS epidemic or a polio outbreak. It’s the Blitz or pre-war Germany. All the analogies fell flat because the coronavirus is not any of those things.

We use metaphors to make sense of the world. When the problem is so intractable, of course we’re drawn to ways that can help us conceptualize it more easily. Consciously or otherwise, we’re trying to build an internal scaffold that will support us as we grapple with the new challenges of the moment. In this case, I’m afraid, our usual tricks fail us.

If it’s not possible to build internal support, then we need to build external support. Groups of old friends getting together on Zoom are springing up everywhere and with good reason. In the long run, I’m not sure it’s going to be possible to get through this alone. Particularly in the absence of our communities and venues for assembling, we need smaller groups to help support and sustain us. Whether they’re former roommates or classmates, cousins or co-workers, now is the time to reconnect. I guess the message is this: When metaphors refuse to be our friends, we need real ones.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi

Update: 4/24/2020

Dear Friends,

I want to share with you a Jewish Center trade secret. When we sit down at the beginning of the year to map out the annual calendar, I always flag Tazria-Metzora and say something like, “That’s probably a good weekend for a scholar-in-residence…. Or maybe a public lecture on 18th century Jewish history.” How much can we say about a Biblical disease that we cannot even meaningfully translate? 

But every parshah in the Torah has its moment. I feel as though these parshiot have been waiting for 2020. Other than epidemiologists and students of the Black Death, who talks about quarantines and self-isolation? Suddenly the chapters in the Torah trafficking in the diagnosis of an implacable disease and its victims look as contemporary as ever. Who would have thought the notion of a 14-day quarantine (along with a proscription against haircuts!) would be something we read about publicly on an annual basis? 

This Shabbat, I invite you to explore these chapters more deeply. With eyes newly opened to the effects of disease and hearts newly sensitized do the challenges of isolation, what resonances can we find? Can we discern from the Torah and its commentaries messages that may inform how we see ourselves and our community as we endure this pandemic?

I, for one, am moved by an observation from the author of the 13th century Provençal commentary, Ḥizkuni. As part of his purification process, the metzorah releases a little bird into the wild. And the question is why? It’s neither a sacrifice nor a gift. What’s its meaning? 

Ḥizkuni suggests that the procedure captures the feelings of the metzorah: a creature cooped up who longs to be free. And yet it signals to him, too, what his aspirations ought to be. Once permitted to return to nature, the bird immediately seeks out its companions. She returns to her flock. Likewise, the person afflicted with tzaraat should be dreaming of returning to the warm embrace of his/her community. 

And yet there is no picture in the Torah of the scenario wherein every member of the community is consigned to isolation. When the day comes on which we’re all free to return to shul, we will have a celebration like no other. May that day come quickly.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 4/23/2020

Dear Friends,

Imagine if this global pandemic were taking place in 1990. No Zoom; no smartphones; no email. We would all be struggling with our call-waiting and stocking up on postage stamps. If covid-19 had to strike, it’s surely better that it struck now – in an age when the technological tools at our disposal can contribute meaningfully to easing the burden of our isolation by connecting us to one another and the larger world. Our devices and our gadgets have never been so valuable. 

At the same time, however, it’s important for us to pause every now and again and assess the extent to which we are attached to those devices and gadgets. We know all-too-well that their overuse can be problematic at best and dangerous at worst. It’s not just that we need to do a better job limiting our screen time. It’s that we need to replace some of the hours we’re spending online with hours spent in ways that will nurture our cognitive and spiritual development. 

In an excellent piece in National Affairs called, “The Erosion of Deep Literacy,” Adam Garfinkle makes the provocative argument that our online habits can turn us into shallower people. Without deep reading, we lose our capacity for abstract thinking. If ever there were a time to return to books, this is it. 

In a certain sense, our history has trained us for this moment. How many Jewish communities were confined to ghettos or otherwise restricted? When the world outside was off limits to us, we turned inward – to our texts and to our books. We’ve always placed an enormous emphasis on the study of the written word. And for good reason. Of course the goal is to master our mesorah and connect with our canon. But the process matters, too. To be a Jew is to be a student. And to be a student is to be a reader. As Maimonides wrote, Do not say, “When I have free time, I will study,” for perhaps you will never have free time. If we turn ourselves into deeper readers now, we’ll be deeper people when this pandemic is all over. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 4/22/2020

Dear Friends,

“It looks like I picked the wrong week to quit smoking.” So said the immortal character portrayed by Lloyd Bridges in the movie, Airplane. For most of us who made plans in 2020, it seems like we picked the wrong year. 

Covid-19 has wiped clean our calendars for this week and next week and the week after that. How can one make plans of any kind during a global pandemic? Across virtually all sectors, deferrals and suspensions are now the norm, to say nothing of professional milestones or family celebrations. It’s important to recognize that these assaults on our calendar lives are doubly harmful. We haven’t just lost the events themselves; we’ve lost the joy of anticipating them. 

There’s something psychologically healthy and even necessary about having horizons. They ground us and orient us. Great Jewish leaders have always had specific destinations in mind. Think of Avraham or Moshe or Herzl. Having something to look forward to is basic to the human condition. And the more concrete the vision, the higher its value. A vague idea of time away is not nearly as meaningful as a specific plan to be at your favorite restaurant in Herzliya on August 11th

These are real losses and we need to compensate for them. So we need to amplify the moments that are on the calendar already and we need to create new ones. We might think of days like Yom Haatzmaut, Lab Ba-Omer or Yom Yerushalayim. Or what about birthdays, anniversaries or graduations? Rather than just letting them pass because we can’t be together with lots of people – or bemoaning our inability to adequately celebrate them – are there ways we can turn these into moments to which we can look forward? Can we find an opportunity to learn something new, remember something old, or connect virtually with people whom we never would otherwise have seen? 

Hype about the country reopening notwithstanding, this is going to be a long haul. To stay sane and to stay positive, we need to reclaim our calendars. Let’s populate them with events that will lift our spirits and people who will stir our souls. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 4/21/2020

Dear Friends,

When covid-19 pulled us out of shul and into our homes, it struck a blow to one of the pillars of our identity. Membership in a shul isn’t transactional; it’s foundational. It’s core to who we are. As this virus has kept us away from our fellow shul-goers, we’ve been actively searching for alternative ways to keep up and keep connected. We’ve studied together online; we’ve celebrated together; we’ve even mourned together.

But our community plays many other important roles in less overt ways. One of those roles involves helping our members professionally by connecting them to contacts in their respective fields. In the face of so much economic distress and uncertainty, the opportunity to contribute in this area has never been greater. 

I am pleased to share with you the launch of the JC Business Networking Committee, chaired by Elana Kaminetzky and Grant Silverstein. You will soon receive a short survey which will help us improve our database. I encourage you to take a moment to complete it so that we can best leverage the exceptional talent of our membership. And if you or someone you know is actively looking for a job, please feel free to reach out to me or to the committee directly. We would love nothing more than to help. 

As Rabbi Meir Twersky once wrote, the notion of areivut doesn’t just mean that every Jew is responsible for one another. The root ערב also means to mix or to blend. The idea is that “all Jews are bound up with each other.” The bonds that bind us together have always been our greatest source of strength. Let’s be sure we keep it that way. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 4/20/2020

Dear Friends,

Tonight we will commemorate Yom Hashoah. Though the task of testifying about the Holocaust falls exclusively to survivors, the task of remembering the Holocaust falls to every one of us. In fact, remembering the atrocities of the Holocaust is itself a declaration over Nazism – even if only in a small way. 

 

In the opening pages of The Drowned and the Saved, Primo Levi explains that erasing the memory of the Jew was among the Nazis’ goals. “Many survivors recall that the SS soldiers used to enjoy taunting the prisoners with a cynical warning: No matter how this war ends, we have won the war against you. No one will be left to testify. But even if one of you does survive, the world will not believe you. There might be suspicions, discussions, historical research, but there will be no certainty, because we will destroy both you and the evidence. And even if some evidence should remain and some of you do manage to survive, people will say the events you describe are too monstrous to be believed.” 

It wasn’t just genocide. It was genocide compounded by a cover-up so sweeping that it was intended to whitewash all the blood-soaked annals of history. Bernard Henri Levy argues that this was sui generis. There is, nor ever was, a parallel in history: “Crimes in which the victims are stricken not only from the rolls of the living but also from those of the dead.” 

Of course we are possessed of a sacred duty to remember. But perhaps even more importantly, each of us has a responsibility to learn as much as we can about the Holocaust and teach everything we know to the next generation. When memory becomes history, we will be left to testify about what we heard from those who survived. We would do well to listen carefully.

With special thanks to our Yom Hashoah sponsors, Harriet and George Blank, I encourage you to join us this evening, April 20th via Zoom at 8pm. We are honored to hear from Holocaust survivor, Jacob Kaminetzky, father of Jewish Center member, Elana Kaminetzky. And if your children are old enough, they should join as well. At 9pm, we will participate in the community-wide Reading of the Names. 

That we struggle now with a crisis of our own does not absolve us from the duties of history. Honoring the past may be even endow us with more clarity about the present. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

 

Update: 4/19/2020

Dear Friends,

While waiting passively has been the prevailing culture of these times, we have never been very good at standing still. And so, while observing the guidelines set forth by our government, we have quietly been finding ways to contribute to those who have been affected: collecting and distributing tzedakah, organizing a team of volunteers to help those who are homebound and procuring tens of thousands of surgical and N95 masks and delivering them to those on the frontlines. 

Today I want to encourage you to make a direct contribution to the cure. 

Our community was among the earliest to be struck by covid-19. And we now sit squarely at the epicenter of this pandemic. Because each of us knows someone who has been affected by this virus, we are in a unique position to contribute. 

Mount Sinai Hospital is one of 34 institutions participating in the National COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma Project. The idea is to gather the antibody-rich plasma of people who have recovered from coronavirus. When that plasma is transfused into patients suffering from the virus, it can be life-saving. If you have had a documented case of covid-19 or experienced the symptoms of covid-19 and are now fully recovered, you may be eligible to participate. 

If you know someone who has recovered from coronavirus, encourage them to register. Their antibodies can save a life. 

We will soon read the Torah’s imperative to never stand idly by when one’s neighbor is in mortal danger. I’m not sure the verse has ever held more literal poignancy. לא תעמד על דם רעך. Do not stand idly by the blood of your brother. When our brother needs blood – or the antibodies contained in our blood – we have a duty to act. 

Imagine if our community responded to this call with all the vigor of which we are capable. Of course we will each do everything within our power to prevent this disease from spreading. But prevention is only half the answer. Here is our chance to be part of the cure. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi 


Update: 4/17/2020

Dear Friends,

I have been pleasantly surprised to hear from so many Jewish Center members that their Yom Tov was “better than expected.” I’ve heard notes of relief, satisfaction and even joy. And yet, those feelings are tinged by the sadness of the profound losses our community has recently suffered. 

Aharon occupied a not dissimilar position in our Parsha. The joy of participating in the Temple service was overshadowed by tragedy. Va-yidom Aharon. The Torah tells us, not that Aharon was silent, but that he was actively silent. In contemporary parlance, we might see that he compartmentalized his emotions. In the face of celebration and grief, he identified a middle path. 

I’m afraid that the coming days and weeks will call on us to summon quantities of equanimity and fortitude that may at times appear superhuman. Our forebears remind us that we are equal to the task. Let us pray for the time when we won’t have to be. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine 

Rabbi

Update: 4/14/2020

Dear Friends,

What awaits us on the other side of Covid-19? Is there any sector we can confidently predict will soon return to normal? The path before us appears awash with uncertainty.

When the Israelites stood at Yam Suf, they, too, faced a fate unknown. And they, too, knew that no rose garden awaited them on the opposite bank of the sea. Having survived one trauma, they were destined to weather not a few difficult days in their future. How did they manage? 

A Midrashic tradition gives us at least a piece of the answer. Following the Song at the Sea, Miriam took hold of her drum and led the women in celebration. But from where, the Midrash wonders, had the women produced these instruments?

The instruments, the Mirdash writes, were a product of the faith kept by Miriam and her contemporaries. So confident were they in God’s salvation that they packed drums for the journey ahead. 

It is hard to know what awaits us on the other side. And so it’s awfully hard to prepare. But there is one commodity that we can be certain will be as valuable tomorrow as it is today: Faith. Imperceptible as it may be, salvation is never far away. Neither is the confidence to believe as much. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 4/13/2020

Dear Friends,

The weeks between Pesach and Shavuot, the Talmud tells us, were marred by a plague. Tens of thousands of R. Akiva’s students perished because they failed to accord one another the kavod they deserved. What so many centuries ago was a cause, today appears to be a symptom. Where is the kavod? Victims of Covid-19 are dying alone. People who cared about them can’t attend their funerals. Burials are delayed. The recitation of Kaddish has been suspended. What then are we to do?

Jewish tradition offers a radical solution. It might be called vicarious kavod. In the absence of those rites to which we would normally turn, the halacha proffers an alternative. When the forces governing the world are beyond our control, we turn instead to that which is in our control. We eschew public ceremony for private reflection. The response to tragedy, Maimonides writes, is introspection. To the extent we can elevate our own conduct, it cannot help but reflect well on the deceased. If their passing has inspired us to improve – even in a small way – then we have transformed their loss into meaning. If we cannot honor the dead by gathering together, we can still honor the dead by gathering strength from what they stood for. 

We know that R. Akiva promoted the value of ואהבת לרעך כמוך. Perhaps it was in the aftermath of the plague that he became the champion of this ethic. Perhaps it was his way of honoring the students he had lost and according them the kavod they had been denied. 

With God’s help, our plague will soon come to an end. When it does, let’s continue to honor those who have died by honoring them vicariously in the way that we live. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 4/12/20

Dear Friends,

I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Ramble lately. I haven’t seen any data yet, but my impression is that the park’s wildlife activity is inversely proportional to human activity. As people recede into the background, animals and plants advance to the foreground. I’ve never seen so many squirrels or so many species of birds. I even saw a fish jump out of the lake. 

Pesach is the only holiday in the Torah that has to be celebrated in the springtime. We’re called on to notice the rhythms of nature and the transformation of our environment. It’s during the month of Nissan that we recite a special brachah upon seeing fruit trees in blossom. 

If nothing else, the notion of quarantine should give us a renewed appreciation for the grandeur of God’s created world – the blessing of a walk in the woods or the sight of a songbird. To the extent we urbanites have been too distant from nature, these difficult days remind us that we ought not to be. As Rainer Maria Rilke once put it, “We alone fly past all things, as fugitive as the wind.” To the extent we can help preserve our magnificent planet, we’ll be preserving, too, a divine imperative.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 4/8/20

Dear Friends,

The Pesach Seder always seems to trigger nostalgia. Because its primary locus is the home, Pesach cannot help but conjure up memories and images of families gathered together. I think if we were asked to observe Yom Kippur alone, our feelings would be very different from the ones we experience today.

So perhaps it’s worth remembering that the first Jew was also plagued by loneliness. Throughout his life, Avraham was constantly faced with the prospect of separating from the people closest to him. When they came to a figurative fork in the road, his nephew, Lot, chose one path while Avraham chose the other. Sarah was twice abducted. Yishmael and Hagar were banished. And Avraham was asked to sacrifice Yitzchak.

Is it a coincidence, then, that one of the loneliest men in the Torah was also the paragon of hospitality? Maybe it’s the lonely person who develops the keener sense of togetherness. Maybe it’s the person most in need of company who leaves his/her door open the widest.

Arami oved avi, the snapshot of Jewish history uttered by the farmer in Temple times, is the centerpiece of the Haggadah. At length, we explicate virtually every line of the passage. But just who was the Aramean referenced in the verse? Some suggest it was Yaakov; others suggest it was Lavan. The Rashbam insists it’s a reference to Avraham. After all, he was the wanderer par excellence, leaving his home and homeland behind in the pursuit of ethical monotheism. But Avraham doesn’t just appear at the center of the Haggadah. It’s with Avraham’s ethic that we begin the Seder when we say the words: Whoever is hungry, let him come and eat.

The Jew clamors for company and community. Particularly during these times of isolation, we long to be together. And so I invite you to join me this afternoon at 5:30pm for some pre-Pesach Seder highlights. (Please find the Zoom link below.) Provided they can be cajoled, I even hope some of our kids will join us, too. I wish I could share a more literal invitation. For now, a virtual one will have to do. As we think of Avraham – the lonely knight of faith – I hope we’ll capture a little of his spirit on our night of faith.

Rachel joins me in wishing you a chag kasher v’sameach. To paraphrase the Haggadah: This year we are alone; next year we will be together.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi

Update: 4/7/2020

Dear Friends,

Why do we count the dead? Does doing so confer more significance on those who have perished? I am not sure. But with so much death in the headlines – and so many bereavement notices in our email’s subject lines – it’s hard to escape thinking of the pasuk describing the night of the exodus: There was no house in which someone had not died (Ex. 12:30). It seems we all know someone who has been afflicted by this terrible disease. And because of the guidelines currently in place, neither are we able to properly mourn those who have been lost. As a result, we are at risk of becoming inured to daily tragedy as it becomes routine. Our zoom shivah calls are beginning to feel a little like taking drops of wine from our own cups at the Seder table. It is surely better to make a gesture than not make one. But it also seems woefully insufficient. 

Of course we have tried to compensate for the loss of human interaction – not only in mourning – but in times of joy, too. It’s wonderful to be able to participate in a Zoom bar/bat mitzvah or bris, but something is surely lost when friends and family cannot come together. And so we are also at risk of becoming less invested in our communal celebrations. 

So here’s my radical suggestion: Let’s make a value of conserving positive energy. Let’s imagine the time we would have devoted to attending a bris or paying a shivah call and preserve it. That time should be considered hekdesh, designated specifically for a holy purpose. In lieu of the mitzvah we’ve been forced to shortchange, let’s repurpose our time and contribute it to other sacred acts that we are able to perform: calling those who are alone, davening for those who are unwell, or studying Torah online. 

Rather than allowing these difficult circumstances to dull our sensitivity to that which is sacred, we can turn the tables. We can make sure that when we emerge from this pandemic, we’ll do so with heightened sensitivity to what is most precious. And we’ll be able to contribute to higher purposes the positive energy we’ve conserved – positivity energy the world will surely need. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 5/6/2020

Dear Friends,

In many ways, it seems that time has been standing still these past few weeks. We have been busy waiting. But at the same time, it seems that The Jewish Center has been in perpetual motion. 

Toward the end of the Seder, we’ll say many times, Hodu la-Hashem ki tov. We usually take this to mean that we give praise to Hashem for He is good. But Rabbi Lamm once rendered it, Give praise to Hashem because it’s good [to give praise]. And in fact, in the course of the Seder, we pause many times to stop and give praise. Just think of all the segments of the Haggadah devoted to this theme: Baruch ha-Makom baruch Hu; Dayeinu; Lefikach; and Hallel. Just to name a few. 

So amidst all this chaos, I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge and thank both our professionals and volunteers whose efforts these past few weeks can only be described as extraordinary. 

We have:

  • Collected and distributed tens of thousands of dollars so that Jews can celebrate Pesach with dignity;

  • Run errands and done grocery shopping for those who are now homebound;

  • Arranged for one-stop shopping for those spending Pesach in the city;

  • Procured thousands of masks and other supplies and distributed them to local hospitals;

  • Made hundreds of phone calls to JC members;

  • Created a JC Youth Department Haggadah;

  • Held zoom classes that engaged thousands of viewers both locally and from around the world;

  • Created a means by which those spending Pesach alone can join a virtual Seder;

  • Begun a pen-pal project to connect junior and senior members of our shul;

  • Delivered Haggadot to members of the community unable to procure them;

  • Circulated worldwide a special Tefillah for those battling coronavirus;

  • Created voluminous content to help our members prepare for and celebrate Pesach more meaningful

  • Provided resources to those struggling with anxiety.

I share these accomplishments with you for three reasons. First, at a time when people need an uplift, we can never say thank you too often. Second, every member of our community has a share in these achievements and should take great pride in them. And finally, I hope that what we’ve managed to do thus far will serve as a reminder of all that we can accomplish together. The coming months will be filled with uncertainty. Ahead of us will be challenges like none that we have faced in recent memory. But these past few weeks should give us all the confidence that – when the time comes – our community will step up once again with the energy, generosity and wisdom to overcome them. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 4/5/2020

Dear Friends,

We have been hard at work recently developing creative ideas to help the members of our community feel less lonely this Pesach. I’m pleased to share with you one such idea that we hope will be helpful to those celebrating Pesach alone. 

In consultation with poskim at Yeshiva University, my friend, Rabbi Mark Wildes and I have arranged a virtual Seder on the first night of Pesach. The Seder will be run by our colleague, Rabbi Yonah Bookstein in Los Angeles. By conducting the Seder before the onset of Yom Tov on the West Coast, we are able to sidestep the halakhic challenges that attach to a live Zoom seder. Participants will tune in before Yom Tov begins and will use one-way audio and video. They will be able to see and hear the Seder leader live and in real-time. Of course it won’t be the same as being a guest in someone’s home, but we hope it will be the next best thing. 

This remedy will not help connect family members to one another. But it will allow individuals who are alone to participate in a larger Seder and feel a sense of community at a time when such a feeling is not easy to achieve. And if this makes staying home more viable for even one more person, we will have contributed, too, to slowing the spread of the virus.

It should be understood that this dispensation applies uniquely to the circumstances created by the current pandemic. It is my fervent hope that, come next year, discussions of a virtual Seder will be a distant memory as we will be celebrating Pesach together with our families and friends. 

Below, please find the information you will need to join by Zoom or by phone. Please be sure to join early to guarantee your participation. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 4/3/2020

Dear Friends: 

This Shabbat is Shabbat ha-Gadol. I wish we could be together at The Jewish Center. It was wonderful to see so many of you and learn with so many of you on Thursday evening. Links to a recording of the drashah and a transcript can be found below. 

I hope very much that you will join us for Kabbalat Shabbat this afternoon and Havdallah tomorrow night. 

With warmest regards for a Shabbat Shalom,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Click here to watch the video

Click here for the transcript

Update: 4/2/2020

Dear Friends, 

I have been thinking a lot recently of Ben Bag Bag’s statement in Pirkei Avot about the expansiveness of Torah: Turn it over and over again, for one can find everything within it.  

As the world changes daily, the halakhic system has had to keep up. Questions have arisen in every precinct. It seems virtually every aspect of Jewish life is being put to the test. So many of these issues are simply unprecedented. Who could have dreamed up a scenario in which every shul around the world would be closed? Who could have imagined a shivah in which no visits are permitted? 

And yet across this country and in Israel rabbis have been working round the clock to find ways to apply timeless halakhic values to these new circumstances. Mining sources both known and obscure, they have reified Ben Bag Bag’s proposition. They’ve found accommodations for people unable to immerse new utensils in a mikvah; creative alternatives to disposing of chametz rather than burning it; and remedies for people unable to take haircuts before the Omer. (Together with our poskim, Rabbi Wildes and I are now working on a potential solution for people who will be alone for the Seder. Stay tuned!)

Of course we wish our circumstances were different. But there is also comfort in the knowledge that are our mesorah is so rich and so vast that we can keep pace with a life-altering pandemic. In the process, we’ll be writing new chapters in the annals of halakha. Let’s hope those chapters will soon become academic. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update 4/1/2020

Dear Friends,

Seeing the construction of a field hospital in Central Park this week was almost other-worldly. Perhaps not less upsetting was seeing a sign outside a Central Park playground that read, “Play at Your Own Risk.” Needless to say, the playground was empty. So many aspects of our lives have been thrown off kilter. That children have to be told that playing might put them at risk is particularly poignant.

So I just wanted to pause for a moment to acknowledge the extraordinary and even heroic efforts of our schools in these past few weeks. For the children who have seen their lives overturned, our teachers have provided a sense of stability, constancy and inspiration. So many of their tools have been taken from them and yet they have found endless forms of creativity. They have been asked to do so much with so little and yet our children continue to learn and grow and thrive.

The very word Haggadah is built around the notion of telling the Jewish story to the children. But the Targum traces the roots of the word to the notion of thanksgiving. The farmer thanks Hashem (ve-hegadeta) for his bounty (Deut. 26:3). So it’s particularly apt during this Pesach season to appreciate the contribution our teachers make in the lives of our children. For those of us who see their impact on a daily basis, let’s be sure to let them know how much we appreciate them.

The Talmud (Shabbat 119b) teaches that the breath of schoolchildren sustains the world. Imagine the reward for those who sustain the schoolchildren. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 3/31/2020

Dear Friends,

Throughout the ages, it seems that epidemics and scapegoats have often gone hand in hand. And Jews made for easy targets. Inkwells have run dry documenting the massacres of Jews that followed the Black Death in the middle of the fourteenth century. 

But this story is not just about medieval European history. Much more recently, this phenomenon came to our shores. When passenger ships in 1892 brought cholera with them to New York, fingers began pointing at all-too-predictable targets.

Here is an unedited citation from the New York Times. 

I offer here only two comments. 

First, the absence of this sort of language in the mainstream media today should not be taken for granted. If we have to endure the travails of a pandemic, at least we endure them at a time when our country has no tolerance for this sort of rhetoric. Free speech is still free and there are surely fringe elements in our society that spew anti-Semitism at times like this. But by and large, our public discourse has spared us the kind of opprobrium that would have been all-too-familiar to our great grandparents. 

Second, our own experience should make us even more sensitive to the repugnance of racism at a time like this. Everyone has their hands full these days. But we can’t allow bigotry of any kind to slip through the cracks. Prejudice against Asian Americans is unacceptable. We have to call it out and insist that our citizenry rise above it. Viruses do not discriminate. Neither should we. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 3/30/2020

Dear Friends,

As scientists around the world race to find a vaccine for Covid-19, I would humbly suggest that we should be thinking about preventative measures of our own. Commenting on the pasuk that insists we help our faltering kinsmen (Lev. 25:35), Rashi long ago gave voice to the notion that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. 

As a new week dawns, more and more Americans are waking up to joblessness or the prospect of underemployment. It is certainly heartening that the government is trying to do its part, but we also need to do ours. The Talmud teaches that among competing priorities the needy of one’s own city come first. In a world of limited resources, proximity matters. We need to think first of the people closest to us. I have two groups in mind.

First, let’s make a special point of supporting our local establishments. I already miss seeing my friends in the shoe repair shop around the corner and wonder how they are faring. Among the businesses that remain open, maybe our patronage can help keep them afloat a little longer. I don’t think I’ve ever encouraged anyone to splurge on take-out food, but if ever there were a time… this is it.

And second, let’s think about how we can help the people in and about our homes: babysitters and tutors; nannies and domestic help; aides and caregivers. If we can find ways to continue supporting them, it could make all the difference. 

Who knows? Maybe in the merit of our pursuing a policy of prevention, Hashem will deliver the cure. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 3/27/2020

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Dear Friends:
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
I hope very much that you will join us for Kabbalat Shabbat this afternoon and Havdallah tomorrow night. Please find the links below.In the meantime, I hope you will enjoy these short videos. The first two feature Rozzie & Jacob Pinto and Yehoshua Goldstein.I’ve also provided a few reminders for Shabbat as well as links to a few articles that I thought you might find of interest.With warmest regards for a Shabbat Shalom,
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Yosie Levine
Rabbi
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG 3477
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG 0116

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

a9b65698 4334 4197 8a25 5416dce73250
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Though we can’t physically daven in the same location, we can at least daven at the same time. Please join us tomorrow at 9am.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Please recite this special Tefillah for the victims of the coronavirus.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
We won’t hear the parsha read in shul this week, but we will still have the opportunity to read it ourselves. This week we begin the book of Vayikra.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Because Tachanun is not recited in Nissan, we will discontinue the recitation of Avinu Malkeinu.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Articles of Interest
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Update 3/26/2020

Dear Friend,

Growing up, it was always a source of pride for me that my father was a doctor. And it still is. I’ve always had a deep and abiding respect for the medical profession. In its noblest form, medicine provides a platform for empathy, altruism and self-sacrifice.

So it’s particularly upsetting to see daily news stories about supply shortages in our local hospitals. The headlines look as though they’ve been lifted from another time or place. But the stories are all too true. Here in New York City, our local doctors and nurses are desperately low on supplies.

In a time of crisis, our natural impulse is to turn inward. We are preoccupied adjusting to our new realities. We are searching for ways to cope with stress and anxiety. And on top of it all, we are preparing for a Pesach, the likes of which we’ve not seen in our lifetime.

Pesach itself is celebrated inside the home. But the Torah tells us that before Pesach, we need to venture out – to find and prepare the paschal lamb.

I’m not suggesting that we leave our homes. I’m simply suggesting that – even if only briefly – we turn outward.  

Our doctors, our nurses and every one of our health care professionals are putting their lives on the line for our community and our fellow New Yorkers. The least we can do is to make sure that they have the equipment they need. In what I hope will be a project in conjunction with our sister synagogues, The Jewish Center is asking you to donate disposable hospital masks, gloves and gowns. If you have supplies to contribute, just be in touch with us and we will arrange for them to be picked up.

If it’s axiomatic that to save a life is to save a world, then to save the life of a doctor is to save a thousand worlds.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 3/25/2020

Dear Friend,

In rabbinic parlance, there are two models of Pesach: Pesach Mitzrayim and Pesach Dorot. In this formulation, the one and only Pesach observed by the Israelites in Egypt was sui generis. Never again, went the thinking, would Jews be forced to sequester themselves in their homes on Seder night so as to avoid the dangers of the plague raging outside. 

Sadly, I'm afraid, this Pesach will be like no other that we have experienced. Fundamental to Yom Tov itself and to Pesach in particular is the ethic of hospitality. We invite into our homes family and friends, guests and beginners. The people around our tables are indispensable. 

This year, we will once again find ourselves sequestered in our homes as we try to keep this virus at a distance. But unlike our Seders in Egypt, heartbreaking as it may be, no guests will be permitted. In many if not most cases, even grandparents will be separated from their grandchildren. Much as we wish we could, we cannot have it any other way. The risks are simply too great to bear. These times don’t call on us to be cavalier; they call on us to be careful.

The Talmudic logic enabling one to violate Shabbat to save a life speaks directly to our moment. We violate one Shabbat so that a person may live to observe many Shabbatot in the future. By keeping guests away from our Seder tables – by insisting that people celebrate Pesach alone – we do indeed violate the spirit of a holiday that begins with the announcement, “Whoever is hungry, let them come and eat.” But we can all take great comfort in the knowledge that by playing our part, we are doing nothing less than saving lives. By surviving Pesach alone this year, we will give everyone the chance to celebrate Pesach together next year. 

Our doors will be closed, but our hearts will be open. 

There is still much to do. I hope the information below regarding upcoming classes and Pesach preparation will be helpful.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi 

Update: 3/24/2020

Dear Friend,

I was saddened to learn that yesterday 100 Americans lost their lives to coronavirus. In our tradition, that number holds a special significance.

The Talmud (Menachot 43b) teaches that a person should always make a point of reciting 100 blessings on a daily basis. According to the Tur, this tradition dates all the way back to King David. There was in those days, he writes, a plague ravaging the nation. Every day 100 people were lost. In response, King David enacted legislation prescribing that every Jew recite 100 brachot.

As a plague ravages our nation, it is surely appropriate for us to do the same. 

In these days of uncertainty, that I was healthy yesterday says nothing about what my status will be today. And so our daily recitation of brachot takes on so much more meaning and so much more urgency. Whatever our anxieties, we would do well to remember the most basic of tenet of all: What a gift it is to be here. 

Let's make our blessings count. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine 

Rabbi 

Update:3/23/2020

One of the best signs I have seen recently read, "We are Essential. We are Open." It was posted on the front door of a liquor store. I was happy to know that the proprietor was able to keep a sense of humor even during these trying times.

This pandemic has highlighted the question of what is essential and what is discretionary. What must we have and what can we live without? In pushing us away from one another, this cruel virus has reminded us that we really cannot live without one another. Friendship; companionship; community. All of these are essential and fundamentally indispensable. 

If absence makes the heart grow fonder, then perhaps this pandemic will give all of us a renewed appreciation for all the people we're not seeing these days: the schoolchildren waiting for their bus; our fellow shul-goers; the familiar faces on the subway. 

We are all adapting to this new reality. And every crisis brings with it its own opportunity. One of my Zoom classes last week brought back two Jewish Center members who had made aliyah more than ten years ago. 

I invite you to adapt along with us and join one or many of the below opportunities to get together virtually: To study, to daven or just to connect. And if you're technologically savvy, I invite you to reach out to someone who is less so and share with them all the ways they can join us. 

We will all get through this. Together. 

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update: 3/20/20

Dear Friends,

I will miss seeing you at The Jewish Center this Shabbat, but I hope we can see one another both before Shabbat begins and after it concludes. On Friday afternoon at 630pm, I invite you to join us for a virtual Kabbalat Shabbat led by Cantor Jonathan Green. And on Motzaei Shabbat at 8pm, please join us for a musical Havdalah with our multi-talented Teen Coordinator, Yoni Stokar.

In the interim, I hope you will enjoy three short videos. Please find two short clips from JC kids (Livia, Sienna & Cora Schilowitz and Eli Menchel) that I hope will lift your spirits. The third video features words of Torah for these fraught times.

Below, please find a few important reminders.

With warmest regards for a Shabbat Shalom,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi

The Schilowitz Kids Sing

Shalom Aleichem by "Cantor " Eli Menchel

Erev Shabbat Message 3/20/2020

Update: 3/18/2020 

Dear Friends,

While I have been missing see you in shul, it has been nice to connect with many of you by phone, email, text, WhatsApp and Zoom. Our older members have been particularly appreciative of all the support that they have been receiving from our shul and our volunteers.

As Pesach approaches, I wanted to share with you a brief update on our preparations and a number of communal issues. Many people are home for Pesach for the first time or for the first time in a long time. Please know that, particularly under these difficult circumstances, we are here to help.

Errands

We have established a committee of volunteers, chaired by Jessica Gross and Chani Segall, to help anyone who may need a hand with errands. To request help or to volunteer, please email jr1445@yahoo.com or chanisegall@aol.com.

Mechirat Chametz

This year, facilitating the sale of chametz will not take place in person. Instead, we will make available to you forms that can be scanned and mailed or emailed as well as an online form that may be submitted directly.

Hospitality/Guests

As a general rule, there is no time of the year at which our community excels more in the area of hospitality. The homes of our members are open wide for guests from within and beyond our community. Heartbreaking as it may be, we may have to drastically limit guests or insist that people not host at all. Because the situation is so fluid, we are just not sure yet what the guidelines will be when Pesach rolls around.  

As a community service, we are working on a Pesach-in-a-Box option that will allow our members to order all-inclusive pre-prepared Pesach meals for the Seder, Yom Tov meals, or both. We will share the details just as soon as we have them.

Shopping/Ordering

Both national organizations and local retailers have indicated that they are not anticipating any inventory shortages. By way of example, Kosher Market Place, Fairway and Broadway Farms are already well-stocked with Pesach products. We are also exploring the possibility of working with some of our vendors to make prepared foods available for order and pickup at The Jewish Center.

Toveling

The Keilim Mikvah will continue to operate daily from 9am-2pm.

Kashering

We are exploring whether it might be possible to arrange for drop-off kashering at The Jewish Center. In the meantime, we will disseminate resources (text and video) to help you at home. You can already find our Pesach-in-ten-easy-steps guide on our website. And of course you are welcome to call, email or text with any questions. We are here to help.

Maot Chittim

In the weeks leading up to Pesach, we always ask that people contribute Maot Chittim so that those in need can enjoy Pesach with dignity. This year, I worry that the economic impact of coronavirus may leave some individuals and families in particularly dire straits. Please make checks out to the Rabbi Dr. Leo Jung Fund or donate online and earmark your donation with the words: Passover Relief.

Siyum Bechorim

Our siyum this year will take place virtually via Zoom. We will send the details soon.

Yizkor

While it will be difficult not to be in shul for the recitation of Yizkor on the final day of Pesach, please be assured that Yizkor does not require a minyan and may be recited in its entirety at home.

Youth Department Haggadah

The Jewish Center Youth Department is now hard at work on the creation of a Jewish Center Haggadah. Submissions of artwork, divrei torah, poetry, etc. are welcome! If someone in your family would like to get involved or contribute, please email sarah@jewishcenter.org.

Eruv

I am happy to report that the Manhattan Eruv has experienced no disruption.

Mikvah

We are taking a number of important precautions to insure that our Mikvah not only remains open, but conforms to the highest possible standards:

-To facilitate social distancing, the Mikvah has moved to an appointment-only model. Please call 212-579-2011 to schedule an appointment.

-We have asked that all preparations take place at home.

-The Mikvah facility and its preparation rooms are thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between every use.

-The water in the Mikvah is not only kept clean and safe by an advanced filtration system; the water is also treated with bromine, which the CDC advises “inactivates” the virus that causes COVID-19.

-According to its guidelines, the Mikvah requires that anyone who is unwell, under quarantine, or has been exposed to anyone with a positive COVID-19 test may not come to the Mikvah.

Announcements

I have heard from a number of members that they have been missing the announcements I typically make at the end of services on Shabbat morning. While I confess that this has not been at the top of my priority list, I do want to be responsive. I believe the best solution is this: I will accumulate all of the announcements over the coming weeks and then – on our first Shabbat back in shul – I will read them in their entirety. (Just kidding! I think we all need a little humor to help get through this difficult time….)

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Update 3/16/2020

Dear Friends,

We are all searching for hope during these dark times. I confess that I have not been much moved by the bromides that have been circulating. But I was moved by a conversation I had yesterday with a Holocaust survivor. He has oriented his life around a philosophy of optimism and hopefulness. And he reassured me that – even if we can’t see it right now –  there will be an end to this madness. He was even thinking positive thoughts about how ultimately this pandemic might end up strengthening the Israel-Diaspora relationship. It was so refreshing to gain a little perspective from someone who had actually lived through something far worse. With God’s help, we’ll make it through this, too.

In a world dominated by fear of a virus, it was his optimism that was contagious. I put down the phone and felt energized about all the opportunities that lay ahead in the coming week. I hope you will join me in seizing them.

On that note, please find below a brief update. The doors to our shul may be closed; but the opportunities before us are wide open.

With warmest regards,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi

Torah and Adult Education

All of our classes are migrating to a virtual format. Zoom and google meet will allow our members to join classes either by video conference or phone. Please be on the lookout for an email with further details. Our Daf Yomi is already up and running and meets daily at 7:45am. Login on your computer meet.google.com/feu-rzrb-iyp and click join or dial in by phone: 732-631-4531 and enter pin number: ‪410 132 748#.

Tefillah

We continue to daven for all those victimized by coronavirus, but particularly those closest to home. Please keep in mind אברהם שמואל בן רחל as well as גימפל מרדכי דניאל בן שרה איטה.

In addition, it is appropriate to insert Avinu Malkeinu into our daily Tefillot. 

Finally, we invite you to join us on Zoom for Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday afternoon and Havdallah on Saturday night. Stay tuned for details.

Yahrzeit and Kaddish

If you are saying Kaddish or observing a Yahrzeit, the best solution is to find someone who is in a safe area that still has minyanim to say Kaddish on your behalf. It is not appropriate to search for an existing minyan. As a community service, Congregation Beth Joseph in Greater Phoenix is offering a Kaddish service at http://www.phoenixbethjoseph.org/?page_id=387

Chesed

We have established a committee of volunteers, chaired by Jessica Gross and Chani Segall, to call and check in on older members. We’ve already made hundreds of calls and have members standing by to help with errands. To volunteer, please email jr1445@yahoo.com or chanisegall@aol.com.

A Message to Older Members

With forgiveness, I have been advised by the health department that, with respect to the coronavirus, “older” means those over the age of 60. I have been receiving calls, emails and texts from your children and friends. They sound something like this: 

“Dear Rabbi,

Can you please help. We’ve tried to convince mom to stay put, but you know how stubborn she can be. She prides herself on her independence and insists that doing a couple of errands won’t put her in harm’s way. We’re afraid she just doesn’t understand the gravity of the situation.”

Please: Let someone else do your errands. We have dozens of volunteers who would love nothing more than the opportunity to help. Just reach out to me, Aaron, Jessica Gross (jr1445@yahoo.com) or Chani Segall (chanisegall@aol.com) and everyone will be better off.

Virtual Gatherings

Just because we can’t come together at The Jewish Center doesn’t mean we can’t come together. We will be setting up a series of virtual breakfasts to give people an opportunity to socialize online. Please keep an eye out for an invitation.

Best Practices

We have been inundated with wonderful ideas and suggestions. We have set up a centralized address: suggestions@jewishcenter.org. Among our members are some of the smartest, most thoughtful, most creative minds I know. We would love to harness your energy and channel it into solutions to problems that may not have even occurred to us yet. If you have ideas or have seen best practices at other institutions that could benefit our community, please let us know!

Tzeddakah

In the weeks leading up to Pesach, we always ask that people contribute Maot Chittim so that those in need can enjoy Pesach with dignity. This year, I worry that the economic impact of coronavirus may leave some individuals and families in particularly dire straits. Please make checks out to the Rabbi Dr. Leo Jung Fund or donate online and earmark your donation with the words: Passover Relief.

Youth Department (Please read even if you are a not a parent!)

Our youth director is working on creative materials and ideas that we hope will be helpful to your children and will help supplement the distance learning that they are doing at home through their schools. She has in mind a Mitzvah project, a pen-pal project and lots of other creative ideas. If you have a talent that you would like to share virtually with the youth department (are you an amateur magician, musician, juggler, something else?), please let us know by emailing sarah@jewishcenter.org.

Communication

We are committed to keeping in touch and providing regular communication with our membership. Though most of our staff will be working from home, Aaron and I will be at The Jewish Center and you can reach us at any time.

Pesach

With Pesach just around the corner, we are thinking creatively about ways that we can support our members. Again, if you have ideas, please email suggestions@jewishcenter.org.

Finally, a word of thanks. These difficult times have created enormous strain for all of us. I want to take a moment to acknowledge and thank the special people with whom I work: Andrew Borodach and all of our officers and Aaron Strum and the entirety of our professional staff. Under exigent circumstances, they have been working round-the-clock to make and implement decisions that keep us true to our mission as a community even as they focus with abiding compassion on the needs of every individual.

Update: 3/14/2020

Dear Friend,

I am writing to inform you that we have received word of another confirmed case of coronavirus. The individual attended services at The Jewish Center earlier this week. His condition is serious and he currently is hospitalized. We are davening for his complete and swift recovery. 

He attended services at The Jewish Center at the following times:

1.   Sunday morning, March 8 Shacharit at 8:30am (First Floor Auditorium) – He was sitting in the back on the left side (facing toward the bima/stage).

2.   Tuesday morning (Purim), March 10 Shacharit (Main Sanctuary after 8:30am) – He was standing in the back on the left side (facing toward the bima) near the doors leading to the vestibule.

Steps You Can Take

Please review the information described here by the New York State Department of Health to better understand the symptoms and preventative measures we can each take during this time.

If you or anyone in your household (i) exhibits symptoms of coronavirus (such as a cough, fever of over 100.4F or trouble breathing) or (ii) were in close proximity for an extended period of time to the individual described above, please contact your healthcare provider or the New York State Department of Health at the Novel Coronavirus Hotline at 1-888-364-3065.

If you or someone in your family has been in contact with an individual who tested positive for coronavirus or tests positive for coronavirus and have been to The Jewish Center during this period, please notify Aaron Strum, Rabbi Levine or me immediately. This will enable us to provide accurate information to the New York State Department of Health and obtain the best advice.

We also urge you to dramatically reduce your social interactions to the bare minimum to help slow the spread of the disease. It is our collective responsibility to work together to contain this virus.

On a personal note let me add that this was an especially challenging Shabbat, shuttering our shul for Shabbat for what may have been the first time in our more than one-hundred year history. My family and I truly missed not engaging and interacting with our many friends who comprise the Jewish Center family. We daven for those who are ill from the coronavirus and for a speedy resolution to this pandemic; and we look forward to sharing good times together soon. In the meantime, let us together rise to the challenge of these difficult times and ensure that the most vulnerable in our community are well looked after and taken care of. 

Sincerely,

Andrew Borodach, President

Update: 3/13/2020

Dear Friend:

I know that we will not see one another at The Jewish Center this Shabbat. So I wanted to bring a little of The Jewish Center to you. Below, you will find three sections. In the first are three videos. On The Jewish Center calendar, this Shabbat was scheduled to be our Youth Shabbat. Please find two short clips from JC kids (Kira Borodach and Ari Levine) that I hope will lift your spirits. The third video is a short thought for these fraught times. In the second section are some practical suggestions that I thought might be helpful. And in the final section are some links to reading material that may be of interest.

With warmest regards for a Shabbat Shalom,

Yosie Levine

Rabbi

Virtual Youth Shabbat 1

Virtual Youth Shabbat 2

Special Erev Shabbat Message

Update: 3/12/2020

Dear Friend:

I am writing to you to provide a further update regarding the coronavirus and its impact on The Jewish Center.

Confirmed Coronavirus Case at The Jewish Center
We have confirmed that an attendee of the Young Leadership minyanim this past Shabbat tested positive for coronavirus. The individual attended the Young Leadership Kabbalat Shabbat on the 5th floor on Friday night, March 5, and was at the March 6th Young Leadership Shabbat morning minyan in the Auditorium on the 1st floor from approximately 11:30am to 1:30pm. We send our wishes for a full and speedy recovery to this individual.

Update: 3/9/2020

Dear Friend:

As Purim approaches, we are all concerned about how to balance our health and well-being on the one hand with our halakhic obligations on the other. Of course The Jewish Center has been following the situation closely and we are adhering to the guidelines set forth by trusted national and state agencies to keep everyone safe and healthy.
  
In particular, I wanted to take a moment to share our plans for Purim at The Jewish Center. While all of our minyanim and Megillah readings will take place as scheduled, we recognize that some members of our community may not be able to attend services as they normally would. 

On Purim, we usually encourage participating in communal Megillah readings in accordance with the principle b'rov am hadrat melekh, more honor is accorded to Hashem when we congregate in large numbers. For many people this year, it may be optimal to hear the Megillah is a smaller setting. 

If a person is unwell or self-quarantined, or has been advised not to attend large gatherings, one should read or hear the Megillah at home. Below, I include guidelines shared by the Orthodox Union.

We want to be especially sensitive to the fact that coronavirus may prevent part of our membership from coming to shul - not only on Purim - but in the weeks to come. We will follow up with specifics, but we will need all of our members to step up and take a more active role reaching out to members at home.

As I said this past Shabbat, we will continue to daven every day for those who have been affected. And we’ll continue to daven that this epidemic disappears with the same swiftness with which it appeared. But until that day comes, it’s up to us to make sure those suffering the absence of community at least know that we’re there for them. 

With warmest regards for a Purim Sameach,

Yosie Levine
Rabbi 

Update: 3/5/2020

Dear Friend:
We are all on edge about the coronavirus. At a time like this, the role of a shul is particularly important. It reminds us that we are not alone; that others share our values and our concerns; that someone will be there to help in a time of crisis; and that the gates of tefillah are always open.
I want to let you know that The Jewish Center has been following the situation closely and we are adhering to the guidelines set forth by trusted national and state agencies. Because the situation is so fluid, my rabbinic colleagues and I are in touch regularly just as our executive director and lay leaders are in touch with their respective counterparts. Our goal is to strike a balance between caution on the one hand and our best attempt at normalcy on the other. We share best practices in the hope that we can keep everyone safe and healthy.

Update: 3/2/2020

The Jewish Center has been monitoring the coronavirus (COVID-19) that first emerged in Wuhan, China, late last year, and has now spread to Europe, South America, Israel and even the United States. We hope that the coronavirus transmission is reduced in the coming days ahead, and that all those who have fallen ill have a speedy recovery. 
However, as the virus spreads and out of an abundance of caution, we are taking proactive steps to ensure the health and safety of our community. We are monitoring the situation and obtain regular updates from the New York City Department of Health and the CDC. In order to plan for a potential appearance of the virus in the New York City area, we are taking certain steps with immediate effect, which are based on the current CDC recommendation of focusing on general illness prevention:

Our maintenance staff is being especially vigilant to disinfect the building each day.
We are purchasing Purell dispensers to place throughout the building, which will be regularly refilled. While washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is best, hand sanitizer will be available as well.
We are asking that, if you recently traveled to countries significantly affected by the coronavirus (including China, Hong Kong, South Korea and Italy), you not enter the premises of The Jewish Center for a period of 14 days beginning from the date of your return. In addition, if you have come into close personal contact with someone (for example, a family member residing in your household) who recently returned from any of these areas, this restriction also applies.

Tue, June 2 2020 10 Sivan 5780