What's Happening in West Orange Synagogues?

This week's focus returns to B'nai Shalom on Pleasant Valley Way.

Only the synagogue can be the center of Judaism.

For a long time it was wrongly taught that “synagogues replaced the ancient temple.” In fact, this is not true. From well before the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 C.E, our people had gathered in our towns and communities to hear the Torah read and to say public prayers. 

One of my favorite artifacts is the Theodotus Stone, which can be found in Jerusalem’s Rockefeller Museum. This stone, carved in Greek and found in excavations in the City of David, declares Theodotus to have been a head of a synagogue whose purpose was to welcome the wayfarer in a gathering place of Torah. Even in Holy Jerusalem, with her hallowed Temple and Priesthood functioning fully, there was a need for a synagogue to welcome and gather people to learn from the Torah. 

Look as well at the ruins in Gamla, in upper Galilee. A 1st century synagogue there has a central reading table, and benches seated all around the walls facing in. Far from Jerusalem and into the hills, the community needed its center, and even the building was oriented to draw attention inward to the lessons of the sacred text. 

The synagogue was not founded because of a lack of the Temple. It grows from the center of our people’s need for meaning and for community. We find God talking among us and to us in these sacred buildings and places. The gathering place is an institution, which is still vitally needed today. 

In recent years, many sought to redefine the “center” of Judaism. At first non-religious institutions such as community centers, and federations claimed the center by virtue of their “non-sectarian” nature. Worse, recent funding trends have courted the peripheral Jewish community at great cost and with rare success. Formal Jewish institutions can speak for Jews, but only synagogues can speak for Judaism. 

America has always been a religious culture, and there is no “post-religious” future in view. In an age where the fastest growing religions in America include both Mormonism and Islam, our next generation needs to be brought into religious dialogue with our American neighbors by first having a strong religious identity of their own. This cannot be provided by the community center or the federation, and is seldom the goal of initiatives to reach the unaffiliated. 

The Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest has encouraged synagogue affiliation, much to its credit. It knows that synagogue affiliation is a lead indicator of likely future donors, but it also knows that synagogues provide a soul to Jewish society. The moral teachings of our various synagogues are what give us strength and purpose. 

The Mormons and the Moslems will be speaking religious language. If we truly wish to get to know them, will we be able to do the same? 

In every generation, in every culture and historic circumstance we have faced, it was the synagogue that was the heartbeat of Jewish living. The doors are open as the New Year begins. Come back to the center. 

L’shanah tovah tikateivu,
Rabbi Robert L. Tobin

This Shabbat the Torah portion is Ki Tetze.
Service times are as follows:
Friday, Aug. 31
Candle lighting is 7:13 p.m.
Friday Evening Service at 7 p.m.

Saturday, Sept. 1
Shabbat morning services: 9 a.m.
Mincha, study with Rabbi Tobin, Maariv and Havdallah 7:13 p.m.

Sunday morning at 9 a.m.
Monday morning, Sept. 3 (Labor Day) 9 a.m.
Mornings Tuesday– Friday: 7 a.m.
Evenings Sunday–Thursday: 8 p.m.

Upcoming Programs at B’nai Shalom
Friday, Sept. 7 – Welcome Back Barbecue 5:30 p.m.
For old, new and prospective members
Followed by Kabbalat Shabbat Services at 7 p.m.

Saturday Evening, - Selichot Program and Service
9:30 p.m.- Film: 18 Voices Sing Kol Nidre- a taste of that familiar prayer and melody from different perspectives, to help bring us into the high holiday mood.
10:45 p.m. – Memorial Plaque Dedication and
Late Night Selichot Service

Sunday, Sept. 9 at 9:30 a.m. - Shofar Blowing Workshop for those 8-120. Learn techniques for shofar blowing and explore references to the shofar that are found in the Torah. Led by Don Batchelder and Jeff Kirschenbaum 

10 a.m. - Sisterhood Brunch and Presentation on “Getting Organized”- A New Year, A New You. Discussion presented by Jo Nossen. 

Sunday, Sept. 16 Erev Rosh Hashanah Services at 6:40 p.m.
Monday, Sept. 17 - First Day Rosh Hashanah Services
9 a.m. Main Service led by Rabbi Robert Tobin and Cantor Yossi Zucker
10 a.m. - Family Service led by Jeffrey Kirschenbaum
10-10:45- Children’s Service
10:45-1 p.m. - Children’s holiday activities
6 p.m. Tashlich at the creek behind B’nai Shalom, to cast off our sins and start anew!

Thursday, Sept. 20: 4-8 p.m.
B’nai Shalom Blood Drive and Bone Marrow Screening
Volunteers needed to donate blood to The Blood Center of New Jersey and/or be tested (cheek swab) for the Gift of Life Bone Marrow Registry. (For those who have not yet been screened.)


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