By Jennifer Sachs Dahnert

Few people stop to think “Where would we be without the Vassar Temple Sisterhood?” That is why the Vassar Temple Board voted unanimously at their early January meeting to adopt a citation recognizing the Vassar Temple Sisterhood. The citation acknowledged the Sisterhood’s “continuous generosity and tireless good will through its numerous projects to support Temple operations and initiatives.”

So where do we see the impact of their generosity and tireless good will? Everywhere! The Onegs every Friday are a result of Sisterhood work; scholarships for teens to attend the NFTY conclaves, the Youth Scholarship Fund, the renovated kitchen and upgraded restrooms have all been funded with Sisterhood resources; the ever-popular calendar that keeps us all on track with simchas and anniversaries is a Sisterhood project; the Rummage Sale, Tiny Temple and the thousands of Hammentaschen produced on that special Sunday in the spring are financed and run by the Sisterhood; and very often, the Bimah flowers are a Sisterhood donation. . . .the list goes on. . . . Yes, the Board’s citation was well-deserved!

These projects are made possible by proceeds from Sisterhood dues and benefit events throughout the year including the annual Opening, Donor and Closing Dinners, and the Rummage Sales, but also, to a large degree, by voluntary donations to the Vassar Temple Sisterhood General Fund. The next time you want to honor a special occasion or do something meaningful to recognize one of our beloved Temple Sisters, a gift to the VTS General Fund would be the perfect gesture; it is truly a gift that keeps giving!
Sisterhood Citation


Torah Study Notes 1-23-16

January 23, 2016

RB will not be here next week – RG will preside.

page 437

A very dramatic Torah portion that includes The Song of the Sea – which may be older than the rest of the writing.

14:26: Hold out your arm the over the sea… the Eternal hurled the waters over the Egyptians. A theological problem as to joy in the suffering of others. Schadenfreude. See:

PC: There is a contradiction here with the commandment of not committing murder. Are we obligated to kill someone for our safety?  But these are Egyptian soldiers and the deaths are arguably in self defense. Is all war that way?  SF: Over the years this has been a very rich topic for the rabbis. Even punishment should not come from anger but from a place of love. LL Modern warfare tries to be selective in terms who is killed – hence “targeted killings” and drone strikes designed to avoid civilian casualties. This is a basic tenet of the Israeli army.  RB: The midrash is “Do not rejoice as these are my people.” This was a display of power “shock and awe.” How do we envision the “Wall of water..?” RB: There is an apocryphal woman who is present when they enter and when they leave Egypt – named Sarah Bat Asher. She describes the wall of water as “Like lighted windows.” See The Jewish Woman’s Archive at

Note that this section is attributed to the P author439 I will sing to the Eternal… See Essay p. 451 and 452. A poem of triumph. Some of the cadences and rhythms here are resonant of the poetry attributed to David. This images God as a warrior and as humans, created in God’s image, we have an element of the warrior within us. AS: This reads like a screenplay. Not surprising that it became the basis for some great films.  Note that the waters “turned back” on the Egyptians and they are “hurled into the sea.” LL These conflicting impulses are what make us human – and hence complicated and interesting. SF: The moral code of the Torah is designed to control our baser impulses. These impulses are not to be suppressed – they are to be channeled. RB: Note that the next leader is Joshua who leads a military campaign.  The last line of the poem refers to “ransom” which is akin to bailing someone out of jail.

Torah Study Notes 1-9-16

January 9, 2016

Page 388

Exodus 3:18

We have now have had Moses’ second visit with P. It is written mostly by the Elohim (E)  author except for the section on boils which is written by the Priestly (P) author. It is interesting to consider what might be the agendas of the authors. P is characterized by an enormous attention to detail.

8:16 M threatens swarms of insects as instructed by God. This is an example of a  Hapax legomenon in that it appears only once in the text. See:

LL There is a theological statement here about why humanity has to take action rather than God doing it for them. See the recent cartoon in the New Yorker where Moses says to God “Can’t you do this yourself?” What is the strategy here via God acting through human actors? RB The goal is to create a people who will worship one God.

8:21 Than Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron… and told them to sacrifice to their God in the land. And to plead with their God on behalf of P. SF: The people are not ready to leave in that they need to be cleansed – a process that continues as they wander in the desert. They were also concerned that the Egyptians worshiped some of the animals that they would be sacrificing and would consider their action an “abomination.” Here everything is black and white – we are either slaves in Egypt or we are free. The same was true upon entering the land of the Canaanites – they could not tolerate cohabiting with a people of another religion.

8:21 The Eternal did as Moses asked and removed the insects. But P would still not let the people go. Now the livestock of the Egyptians is threatened.  Yet P remained stubborn. Interesting that the Israelite’s had their own livestock. Were they really slaves? Or just lacking refrigerators?  They also left with gold. Taken from the neighbors? Was this more like being an indentured servant? Egyptian archaeologists and scholars insist that the Israelite’s were paid for their labors. See: but see

RB: Some religious schools teach the Torah as history when in fact it is a series of stories that teach lessons. LL Sometimes those lessons are obscure and difficult – hence this tradition of study.

9:8 Boils. This is believed to be the Priestly author. There is a human intermediary between the people and God and ceremony. Note the inconsistency of giving boils to animals that have all been killed in a previous plague. The redactor should have noticed this but didn’t do a good job in creating a consistent whole.  There is also a possibility of time compression. Aaron is in this parsha so that is another indication of a Priestly author.

9:13  All of the plagues will be sent. A very heavy hail. All not sheltered shall perish. This is a sequence designed to convince the Israelite’s to worship their God. Note that Moses speaks in the first person – as if God is speaking directly through him.

9:22 Moses held out his arm toward the sky and devastating hail came down. Except in the region of Goshen where there was no hail.

9:27 P says he will let the people go. But his heart stiffened again. Next a plague: locusts. See Essays on page 393. Why is it important to always leave the enemy with something to eat? A discussion for another day.

Vassar Temple Organist Plays the Eiffel Tower

Vassar Temple’s congregants and guests have the pleasure of hearing our talented pianist, organist, percussionist, and composer, Joseph Bertolozzi during Friday evening Shabbat services, holidays, and other occasions.

Joseph’s career as a musician has taken him in many directions, and some of you may be familiar with his work, “Bridge Music,” where Joseph created a sound library and then composed a collection of songs using the Mid-Hudson Bridge as his instrument. Joseph built on this imaginative approach to creating music from physical structures, this time with the Eiffel Tower in Paris France as his instrument.

Joseph Bertolozzi has posted the first Official video of his upcoming album “Tower Music / Musique de la Tour” on YouTube.

YouTube Link

Facebook Link

Who knew the Eiffel Tower sounded like this except our Joe? Please ‘like’ and ‘share’ from BOTH sites as much as you can!

Tower Music

Vassar Temple Men’s Club – Always Willing to Lend a Helping Hand.

By David Wolf

Members and friends of Men’s Club came through in a big way on the first Sunday of the new year to help some less fortunate members of our larger community. Seventeen volunteers assisted chef extraordinaire Kurt Quackenbush in preparing a delicious meal of chili, rice, salad, and fruit at the Lunch Box on January 3. Several recipients of the meal commented favorably about the generous portions that were served and about the overall quality of the meal! Many thanks to Kurt and the other volunteers: Jeff Brenner; Howie Brown; Paul Ciminello; Alan, Aaron and Haley Kaflowitz; David Lampell; Jacob Moore and his friend Robby; David Posner; Bob Ritter; Jim Robinowitz; Eric Rosenfeld; Dave and Max Samson; Jerry Slate; Howard Spilke; and Dave Wolf. Men’s Club would also like to thank Linda and Joel Babas for their assistance in preparing for the event and to the Brenner, Ciminello, Creedon, Hecht, Kaflowitz, Lampell, Moore, Posner, Quackenbush, Ritter, Robinowitz, Rosenfeld, Rosenthal, Samson, Schwartz, and Wolf families for their food donations.
Volunteering at the Lunch Box is a wonderful way to schmooze with your temple friends while helping the community. It’s also a great way for students to earn community service credit.


Torah Study Notes 1-2-16

January 2, 2016

Introductions to start the New Year. About sixteen present. Welcome back to Christian Judd!

Page 355

We are coming to the end of Exodus. Sh’mot means “Names.” These are the names of the people who came from Egypt.

4:18  Moses asks his father in law Jethro for permission to return to Egypt and see how his kinfolk there are faring.  God now tells him to return to Egypt and bring the rod of God – which he subsequently uses to perform “magic” in front of Pharaoh. LL:  Was Moses circumcised?  If he was raised as an Egyptian it seems unlikely.  How did he find out he was of the tribe of Israel? Various explanations in the films.[i] Why did God stiffen P’s heart? MS: We do not want this to be easy because this struggle eventually unites the people.  RB: Also, P is a “god” so the redactors are setting up this god vs God situation. There is a theory that each of the plagues deals with a separate Egyptian god.  God is in the process of proving to the Israelite’s that He is a powerful god.  This is one of the few cases where God interferes with human free will. Paul C: I am troubled by what seems to be an excess of cruelty here. There seems to be a lack of creativity in addressing a crisis by the Hebrew God. RR We are still in the very earliest stages in the development of Judaism. There was much cruelty in the religions of the Middle East at that time. RB The rabbis have struggled with this as well in terms of justifying this level of wrath against the Egyptians. This section of Exodus is attributed to the “Elohist” author. See Friedman Who Wrote the Bible.

The “Yahwist” is credited with the part[ii] where God is telling Moses to go back to Egypt. The “harden his heart” language may have been added later. Note that there is no word for “brain” in ancient Hebrew. The heart was considered to be the seat of thinking as well as emotion. Those actions are undifferentiated.

4:20   The account of the circumcision of their son by Moses Midianite wife Zipporah. See excellent Essay on page 365.  Recall the effort to retain the priestly line via Aaron. We are not told much about the line of Moses. At the time circumcision was done eight days before the wedding night. The origin of circumcision is not really known. It may have pre-existed the Israelites. Z takes on this responsibility. See Apotropaic – blood has a supernatural power. See:

5:1 Moses and Aaron ask that P let the people go. Aaron is brought in as spokesperson for Moses –who had some speech defect.  Here they seem to be asking for a few days off. There is a suggestion of three days of travel to festival. Later this becomes Passover.

5:6  In response to their plea Pharaoh charges the taskmaster – let the people gather straw themselves. LL This is like a labor dispute initially. The people could not complete the same amount of bricks. They are accused by P of being “shirkers.” The people are now angry at Moses and Aaron for bringing these troubles upon them. God tells them that P will :drive them from this land.” The people are not responding well to the prospect of change.

———————————————-Films of Moses and Israel in the desert


[1] The Jahwist, or Yahwist, often abbreviated J, is one of the sources of the Pentateuch (Torah), together with the Deuteronomist, the Elohist and the Priestly source. It gets its name from the fact that it characteristically uses the term Yahweh (German Jahwe, Hebrew YHWH) for God in the book of Genesis.