Vassar Temple is Blessed by the Generosity of Its Donors

Stained Glass Windows - grouping

On Sunday morning June 12th. after our 10am Shavuot Service we will recognize those who made significant gifts to our Temple for two important projects. A lovely catered lunch (oneg) will follow the service. It is hosted by Lila Matlin and her daughters Barbara Aronson, Elizabeth Schwartz and Susan Piccone, as well as the daughters of Bea & Marty Gross, Nancy Gross Belok and Maggie Greif. (Important: Please RSVP to the Vassar Temple office 845-454-2570.)

The children of James and Dawn Effron, Craig, Blair, Drew, and Brooke, and their families, made generous gifts in memory of their father James, to fund the restoration of the magnificent stained glass windows in our sanctuary. The children of Bea & Marty Gross, Nancy and Maggie, together with Lila Matlin and her daughters also contributed.

The original inspiration for the installation of the windows was to honor the late honor Dr. Melvin Matlin (z”l). Dr. Matlin, husband to Lila Matlin, loved Vassar Temple. The windows are symbolic of Dr. Matlin’s strong Jewish values, and include images of some of his other loves – children and gardening. The Gross’s and Matlin’s were very close friends, and when Dr. Matlin passed away, Marty and Bea, led an effort to make the windows happen in his memory. The temple’s Sisterhood joined the effort as well, and today we are blessed to have these three magnificent works of art gracing our Sanctuary and telling the story of the Jewish people through images depicting milestones in our past.

From outside on Friday Shabbat evening services, or any evening occasion when the sanctuary lights are on, for people driving by or walking down the walkway to our temple, the windows are a delight to see. Now, thanks to the restoration they will be even more visible.

Emily and Howard Himelstein made an extremely generous gift to Vassar Temple in order to construct a stone patio in front of our existing portico and entrance overhang, facing the stained glass windows. Two existing large shrubs on the edge of the portico, which block the view of the windows, will be removed and in their place a 45’ x 15’ patio will be installed by Adams Landscaping in May, just in time for our June picnic, and of course, for our Shavuot service.

The Himelsteins feel blessed by their relationship with Vassar Temple over the years, including the many friends they’ve made at the temple. To show their affection and appreciation for our temple, they wanted a way to make a gift that could be enjoyed by all of us for many years to come. This new patio will give our temple needed space and a place to gather when coming & going from services and other occasions. We can use the space in many ways, and once benches are added, the patio will offer a lovely place for friends to sit and talk. There will be new landscaping and lighting surrounding the patio. Emily and Howard and found a wonderful way to show their everlasting love for Vassar Temple.

Together, the patio and the restored windows make a beautiful combination and a tremendous enhancement to our temple. How fitting it is that the ceremony to dedicate the patio and the windows restoration is at the same time – and on Shavuot! Vassar Temple, and all of us, are blessed by the generosity of donors. I am grateful and extremely pleased to see these very fine enhancements come about!

Bob Ritter
Vassar Temple

Shavuot Blessing - 6-12-2016
This photo was taken by Len Greenberg of the blessing by Rabbi Berkowitz on Shavout. The blessing was bestowed on the Matlin, Gross, and Himelstein families, and all those involved in the stained glass windows and the new patio, including multiple generations. Rabbi spoke to the value of legacy.

Related article from August 2015 about the Window restoration.

Shavuot Dedication - Original Rabbi Arnold

Original Stained Glass Windows Committee:
Mrs. Elaine Bard
Mr. George Friedman
Mrs. Beatrice (Bea) Gross
Mrs. Marge Kallman
Dr. Burton Katz
Mr. Matthew Lampell
Mrs. Elaine Lipschutz

Temple President – Kent Mardon
Builder of Windows – Donald Samick Owner, Lamb Studios and Barbara Hopp
Artist – Hendrick Vanderburgt


Survival Requires Both Sustenance and Sweetness

(Cross-posted to This is What a Rabbi Looks Like)

Rather than create my own haggadah for our 2nd night seder, my family builds upon a basic template like The Promise Haggadah or, this year, The Kitchen Passover Game. We add readings, songs, and reflections (one of mine appears on the Jewish Women’s Archive Blog, “Jewesses with Attitude”), as well as a break for discussion just before dinner. This year’s discussion topic appears below:

The earliest version of the Passover seder appears in the Mishnah, a rabbinic text from 2nd century Israel. While most of the rules deal with commemorating the Passover sacrifice, the final chapter lays out the rites and rituals of the seder itself. The very first instruction is this:

“On the eve of Passover from the time of the afternoon offering, no one must eat until nightfall. Even the poorest Israelite should not eat on the night of Passover until he reclines at his table. And they should provide him with no fewer than four cups of wine, even if the funds come from public charity” (Mishnah Pesachim 10:1).

The rabbis took their responsibility to care for the poor very seriously. Though the members of the Jewish communities of that era were by no means part of the one-percent, they pooled resources and provided handouts to the poor on a daily basis, assessing each person’s need and responding accordingly: whether that was bread and water, wine and meat, a horse and driver, or even a house and a wife! (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 67a-68a).

Today, we find ourselves in a society in which we debate whether the poor are entitled to assistance even to meet their most basic needs. Lawmakers and commentators argue about whether the poor deserve “luxuries” such as fresh produce, quality education, or even disposable diapers.

Here, the rabbis make a powerful statement about how we care for the poor. In the Mishnah, including the poor in the celebration does not stop with providing ha lachma anya, the bread of affliction. We must also provide the most decadent aspects of the seder experience:

Though the Torah commanded to eat the original Pesach offering with “your loins girded, sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand…hurriedly” (Ex. 12:11), the rabbis demand that even the poorest among us have the freedom to stop working for several hours and recline. How many of today’s working poor would have that same freedom? How many on public assistance could afford to buy a bottle of wine, and not face any judgment for doing so? Though the Torah mentions nothing at all about four cups of wine, the rabbis insist that we provide even our poorest neighbors with this luxury.

Which means, of course, that the rabbis did not define these provisions as luxuries, but rather as necessities. The celebration of a festival such as Passover was not an “extra,” but an integral part of every Jewish life. Survival, then, is not about meeting one’s most basic needs. Survival requires joy and celebration. Because otherwise, what’s the point?

At the end of our seders we say, “Next Year in Jerusalem,” and throughout the seder we remember God’s promise to “bring [us] into a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8). This reminds us that true redemption requires both sustenance and sweetness.


As we gather around our seder table we ask ourselves: What is it that a person needs in order to survive in our society today? What is it that a person needs in order to thrive? And how can we be a part of providing both sustenance and sweetness to everyone in our community?

Questions to ask at your Passover Seder:

  1. What is something you need in order to survive?
  2. What is something you need in order to thrive? What brings you joy?
  3. How might we help those in need to have access to what brings them joy?

Chag sameach and a Zisn Pesach (Sweet Passover) to all!

Torah Study Notes 4-16-16

Page 754 of Plaut

These malaise’s were thought to have a spiritual basis – rather than medical. Here we have plagues in the house and how it can affect you spiritually. This could be mold, blight or fungus that discolors the plaster, etc.

14:33 The priest orders the house cleared and examines it. Red and green streaks – close up for seven days. Scraped and dumped at a location for impure contaminants. (Much like an environmental cleanup today.).  Why is God doing this to the owners? It is inflicted upon them. The home is contaminated by a transgression. Perhaps a lack of hospitality to the stranger or even the presence of an idol. Bob R: The basement downstairs at VT had mold and it was very disturbing because we had children going to school there. Part of the cleansing is acknowledging the problem and be willing to address it. RB: This is also a social justice issue. Are you responsible only for what you see and know that is close to you? Or now that we know what is going on elsewhere in the world are we responsible for them as well? LL Latent and patent defects in the sale of a house are the distinctions made in the law. Note  that the structure is not “impure” until the priest declares it so. This provides for an opportunity to clear out the furniture – and the people – so they are not also declared impure. This all has the effect of giving the priest more power.  There was clearly an opportunity for corruption here.

14:33   If the plague breaks out again in the house… the house shall be torn down. If you enter you are impure and must be washed. Purification procedure described. See hand out of thoughts from Talmud and Midrash. The hoarder is exposed. If one gets a plague it has to do with one’s previous conduct. If you are a hoarder and will not share – the plague exposes you. LL: Protestant denominations such as the Puritans elevated this concept to a whole new level. If you were poor or unsuccessful it was because one had sinned in terms of being slothful. As a general rule hard work would be rewarded.

15:1 Abnormal discharge from a man’s member. Impure!! Don’t touch him. Bathe! Wash up! Different rules for normal discharges. Seven days once it clears up. Make a purgation and a burnt offering.

Even after regular intercourse there has to be a period of purification. Note that modern mikvas have a separate entrance.   Next: Woman’s discharges!

Perhaps not surprisingly there does not appear to be an analogous Haftarah portion for this text.

See Essays at Plaut page 760. Early Talmudic scholars have asserted that this condition of tzara-at in dwellings was virtually unknown in Israel. Which makes sense given the dry air and strong sunshine. The ritual for purifying a house is very similar to that prescribed for a human being.

For additional commentary see:

Torah Study Notes 4-9-16

April 9. 2016

From last week’s questions for the Rabbi – What is the spiritual basis of the dietary laws?   Philo of Alexandria (see: ) said that pig is the nicest of all meats and those fish without scales are the tastiest. Abstaining from these foods shows our self-control and hence is a movement toward spirituality. Chewing the cud is the equivalent of mulling over a problem. The parting of the hoof is symbolic of two paths in life. – or at least understanding that there are multiple paths to follow.  Note that there is a Jewish tradition that one cannot hunt animals for sport. They are to be eaten.

Page 738

13:29 An examinations of infections – in detail. Isolation for seven days.  Marsha – I have heard that the reason for sitting shiva for seven days is to isolate the family to see if there are contagions from the person who has died. Rabbi – the question is not the disease itself. It is the issue of transmitting  impurity to the temple. Cohanim are not supposed to attend funerals because of the risk of coming into contact with a dead body. But who is coming to examine the scall? It is the priest. There seems to be a contradiction here. PC: This has no relevance today. RB: Agreed – particularly since we no longer have the holy temple and priests. One way to consider all of this in the modern age is to think about who are outside our walls because they are ill or old or disabled and what we can do to bring them in.

13:38 The isolation of lepers and others who are impure.  PC Why aren’t they brought to the Temple to be cure?. It seems we are isolating those in most need of care. LL This is a public health issue. RB But also the concern of impurity entering the Temple. In the Talmud it is suggested that crying out “unclean” is a way of letting others draw strength from your experience. It is also notice that one is sick and needs help.  This is the priestly author who is very interested in detail.

13:47 An eruptive infection – shown to the priest – isolation for seven days and examination of the clothing – which must now be burned. Or if not too bad the clothing can be washed. The eruptive affections of wool. If faded only that part need be removed. This may have also been an attempt to ease the restriction on those who were poor and perhaps only had one garment.  PC One of the beauties of Christianity is compassion for the week and the sick. RB Many of the stories of Jesus have to do with breaking down the priestly barriers. He is a revolutionary. But for the “son of god” issue he would be considered a great rabbi in Judaism. RB There is compassion and justice in both religions.  SF It is useful to have structure and process in order to deal with these frightening mysterious issues. RB This is an effort to understand illness and find a spiritual solution. Note that the descriptions are primarily of afflictions of the head, scalp and beard. This may be because of cultural modesty. See footnote 48 on page 740 as to the “warp and woof.” LL I wonder if this was a colloquial expression for deeply stained? See the note on page 742 re defilement by leprosy. See commentary on page 743 “Chapter 13 of Leviticus is full of uncertainty as to the meaning of words and phrases and as to the nature of the symptoms and the diseases discussed…. As portrayed in Leviticus the Israelite priest is not a physician. His role is entirely ritualistic…In this regard Judaism differed from some ancient and modern religions…The Bible says almost nothing about medical practices.

The Haftarah portion for Tazri’a 12-1 to 13-59 is II Kings 4:42 – 5:19 This is the tale of Naaaman, a Syrian general, who is healed from a skin disease by the waters of the Jordan through the mediation of the prophet Elisha. In consequence he acknowledges God as the sole ruler of the world.

The following notes were on a hand-out from Rabbi Berkowitz:

Tazria Torah Study April 9 2016 VTLRB

Split hoofs: provides finger-like dexterity and traction in precarious habitats, some cultures associate it with the devil. Philo,The Special Laws IV 97ff (20 B.C.E. to 40 C.E., Alexandria,Hellenized Jew, philosopher who explained Jewish concepts through the lens of Greek philosophy):

  • IV: 17:101-102: “Now of land animals, the swine is confessed to be the nicest of all meats by those who eat it, and of all aquatic animals the most delicate are the fish which have no scales; and Moses is above all other men skillful in training and inuring persons of a good natural disposition to the practice of virtue by

frugality and abstinence, endeavoring to remove costly luxury from their characters, at the same time not approving of unnecessary rigor…nor undue effeminacy…but  keeping a middle path between the two courses, so that  he has relaxed what was over strict, and tightened what was too loose.”

  • V: 18:106-108: “And these signs are both of them symbols of instruction and of the most scientific learning, by which the better  is separated from the worse, so that all confusion between them is prevented; for as the animal which chews the cud, while it is masticating its food draws down its through, and then by slow degrees kneads and softens it, and then after this process again sends it down into the belly, in the same manner the man who is being instructed, having received the doctrines and speculations of wisdom in at his ears from his instructor, derives a considerable amount of learning from him, but still is not  able to hold it firmly and to embrace it all at once, until he has resolved over in his mind everything which he has heard by the continued exercise of his memory (and this exercise of memory is the cement which  connects ideas),and then he impresses the image of it all firmly on his soul. But as it seems the firm conception of such ideas is of no advantage to him unless he is able to discriminate between and to distinguish which of contrary things is right to choose and which to avoid of which the parting of the hoof is the symbol; since the course of life is twofold, the one road leading to wickedness and the other to virtue, and since we ought to renounce the one and never to forsake the other.”


“Now to the split hooves. Hooves separate the animal from the ground. In the spiritual sense we have to have a barrier-hooves­ between us and earthliness, we can’t get swallowed up by materialism. On the other hand, we’re not supposed to become hermits. We’re supposed to interact with the physical while keeping our distance. This balance is represented by the split hooves. The hooves, the separation is there, but there is also a split in the hooves- a window through which we can shine spirituality that will imbue  the physical world. To quote of the title of Tzvi Freeman’s latest book: “Be Within, Stay Above.”” -Rabbi Yossi Marcus,Ukutei Sichot 1:222,,498/Piease-expIain-the-significanee-of-split-hooves-and-cud-chewing.htm1

“Split hooves also has a spiritual message for us.

In the Torah, there are two categories of mitzvot (commandments). There are mitzvot between man and man,and those between man and G-d. People often gravitate to one type over the other. Some may be very observant with the mitzvot between man and

G-d. They keep a strictly kosher home,observe Shabbat, etc. But when it comes to the mitzvot between man and man,they  are not as careful. on the other hand, many Jews pride themselves on their moral standards. They honor their parents,give charity,visit the sick, but they are not as enthusiastic when it comes to the mitzvot between man and G-d. A Jew must split his hooves n he must be equally committed to G-d and to his fellow man. These two are not a contradiction; they actually complement each other.” -Rabbi zushe Greenberg,­

Leviticus 13:29-59:


Torah Study Notes 4-2-16

Page 712

The laws of Kashrut. See:  These are first things children learn at Yeshiva – where there is an emphasis on the rules. The question is presented as to how to evaluate new foods that are introduced into our diet. Rabbis are ruling on these issues to this day. To some extent these rules are designed to make the people self identify as separate from the surrounding peoples. Today everyone adapts the rules to their own lifestyles. There is a family and tradition element, health and safety, as well as spiritual and discipline elements. It is a form of spiritual training to be ethical and moral.

11:1 These are the creatures that you may eat from all of the land animals…  Split hoof and chews the cud – which indicates the animal is vegetarian. Generally prohibited are animals that eat other animals.

11:9 Animals that live in water. Things that have fins and scales are OK. Abomination here does not mean taboo – it is more “disgusting.”. Here the word is “sheka” which means not allowed.(And is also the root for “shiksa.”  Abomination in the English is a very strong word. A basic of Reform Judaism was rejection of the dietary rules. They wanted to live and socialize with their neighbors. So the kipa and beards were also set aside. The first ordination party at Hebrew Union College was known as the “tref” banquet.  It was an effort to create an American Judaism. We follow social trends = today everyone has their own dietary rules. Today we adopt kashrut as a way of ethical eating.

11:13 The birds that are edible. No winged swarming things. Again no carnivores. These rules were not made by marine biologists or other experts that we have today. Note that life comes first in most situations where it is at issue. If you are starving in the desert you can eat anything you can find.

11:24 What you touch can make you impure. Generally, touching a dead animal or even things you should not be eating. Swarming creatures cannot be touched. If you do you are impure until evening. Some would suggest that in the evening you are washing up and that therefore makes you pure again.

11:39 Anyone who to touches a carcass becomes impure until they wash. See Essay on page 718. Kashrut has an ethical quality in terms of being “upright.” The thing that makes us human. AF – as a Jew by choice I feel I have to make an effort to be that way by learning Hebrew and keeping kosher. M– I feel the same way even being born Jewish.  Rabbi – I feel ambivalent about community Seders because that is something that strictly speaking should be done in the home. It has been outsourced.  We have to be sensitive to and accommodate the traditions of others. LL: To often strict adherence to these rules of Kashrut are a way to be superior – a better Jew –  “holier than thou…” and is annoying.

Torah Study Notes 3-26-16


March 26, 2016

Page 694

8:5   The ordination ritual of Aaron and his sons. A very detailed description of the Temple cult. The role of the rabbi is very different today. We don’t have the same level of ritual purity and instead focus on study and prayer. Here we have a description of the special clothing worn by priests. Aaron has four items that are unique to him. The umin and thurmin are speculated to be twelve stones that were stored in the breastplate – that reflected each of the tribes. About the time the temple was destroyed there was a consciousness of the corruption of the priesthood. Note that woman had a more active role in medieval Judaism than is generally thought. If the men were busy studying someone had to run the household and the business. SF There is something called the democratization of enlightenment which is self-actualization that effectively describes this process of change. See:

Also, after the fall of the second Temple there is a movement away from primogeniture with inherited status. Today we find relevance in this text via metaphor. There is also a notion from Avivah Zornberg that this text is all about managing the unconscious. She has a book about each book of the Torah. See:

8::10 Anointing the altar and Aaron and his sons. Here ‘the anointed one” is not the messiah it is a righteous king. The bull of purgation offering – obviously a very important offering. Here the offering is burned completely and no part is consumed by the priests. Note the “laying on of the hands” on the bull. (LL Here it appears that the sin of the priest is purged by transmission to the bull – hence one should not re-adsorb the sin by eating any part of the sacrifice. Instead it is consumed by divine fire)

8:18  The ram of burnt offering. An offering by fire – again the entire animal is consumed by the fire. Here God does not eat but can smell. LL – There is a current notion in anthropology that the process of cooking food is what made man separate from the apes – who spend at least half the day masticating their food to make it digestible. See:

RB – There is also an argument that making bread is indicative of the origins of civilization. See the work of Michael Pollan. Claude Levi- Strauss argued that there are three kinds of food – the raw, the cooked and the rotten. Grain is “rotted” by fermentation. See:


8:22 The ram of ordination.  The bread and the fat is an elevation offering and part of the ordination. Note the use of unleavened bread – matzoth. This might be a memory of the Exodus but there is no mention of it. Note that matzoth and mitzvah are written with the dame letter and much has been made of that.

8:30 The anointing oil. Confinement to the Tent of Meeting for seven days. The seven days are related to seven days of creation. RL As a practical matter how could they be locked up for seven days with all these bloody clothes?  Would the purification end with a destruction of the garments? Some have suggested that the seven days is actually Aaron sitting shiva in advance for the death of his sons.  SF Note that there is so much pressure and urgency in the modern world – these people had more time to develop and practice their rituals. RB: These people were bound by the seasonal cycle of their lives whereas today we are able to create our own cycles.