Vital Chapter of Holocaust History Revisited at Vassar Temple

Complicit Audience

On June 15, 2016, approximately 150 individuals, including a group of 30 educators from Long Island, gathered at Vassar Temple to examine one of the most significant refugee events in world history. COMPLICIT, the documentary film featuring the story of the SS Saint Louis, was shown.
This film, COMPLICIT, chronicles the story of the SS Saint Louis, the ship that sailed from Hamburg, Germany in 1939 with 937 Jews aboard trying to escape Adolf Hitler’s “Final Solution.” The film explores the Roosevelt administration’s role in a series of events that transpired as the ship sought entry to Cuba, the US and Canada, and was ultimately denied access and returned to Europe.

Approximately one-third of the ship’s passengers who had to return to Europe did not survive the Holocaust. A discussion with the film’s director, Robert Krakow, who traveled to Poughkeepsie from his home in Florida for this event, as well as Sonja Geismar, a survivor of the SS St. Louis, and local resident Debbie Sylvester, the daughter of another survivor, followed the screening.
Complicit group
In 1939 the SS St. Louis departed Germany for North America. Among her passengers were 937 Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution and seeking entry into the United States through Cuba. But upon arrival, the ship’s passengers’ visas were rendered invalid and they were denied entry. After several weeks at sea pleading with the US, Canadian and Cuban governments, the SS St. Louis was forced to return to Europe where it is estimated that nearly one-third of the passengers perished in German concentration camps.

Through historical film footage, survivor interviews and dramatic interludes, COMPLICIT recounts the story of this ill-fated voyage. Included in the film is a mock trial that confronts the Roosevelt Administration’s flawed WWII refugee policy, based on a play written by Krakow. In addition, COMPLICIT documents the US State Department’s formal apologies to the surviving passengers of SS St. Louis.

Robert Krakow is the Executive Director of the SS St. Louis Legacy Project Foundation, a nonprofit organization that uses education through drama to enlighten audiences on events in world history, including the story of the voyage of the SS St Louis.

This was an extraordinarily rare and moving event in our community as it included the film’s director, Robert Krakow, participating in a discussion with a survivor and family members of survivors after the film. The event was organized in partnership with the Long Island Temple Educators (LITE) with support from the Irving and Gloria Schlossberg Family Fund of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley and the Poughkeepsie Library District. Vassar Temple organizers were Bob Ritter, Jennifer Sachs Dahnert, and Cathy Bokor.

2016 Vassar Temple Committee Reports (Combined)

Star Logo Only
Combined Committee Report – 2016

Vassar Temple Sisterhood Annual Report

We continue to open all events to women of the Temple. This has proven successful in seeing new faces as we strive to create a welcoming environment. Moving forward we will focus on tracking and enhancing the membership listing.

2015-16 Events:
Simchat Torah Dinner – Oct. 4
Shabbat Noah Dinner – Oct. 16
Paintbrush Opening Party – October 29
Rummage Sale – Nov. 8
Doris and Fannie Berlin Lecture – Rabbi Cowan and Wise Aging – Nov. 15
Hanukkah Dinner – Dec. 11
Sisterhood LunchBox – Feb. 7
Regina Jones Film Screening (with other Temple and community groups) – Feb. 21
Hamentaschen Baking – Feb. 28
Shabbat Across America Dinner – March 4
Donor Dinner – April 12
Sisterhood Shabbat Dinner and Service – May 6
Mitzvah Day – May 15
Teacher Recognition Picnic Dinner – June 10
Chai Tea – on the 18th of most months
Tiny Temple – every other month
Closing Dinner – coming soon
Cooking/Baking classes – coming this Fall
Sisterhood Contributions:
Friday Night Shabbat Onegs
Judaica Shoppe
Family Shabbat Dinners
Sisterhood Calendar
Bimah Flowers
College student holiday gift packages
Kitchen maintenance, including provision of paper goods and table cloths

Leadership: Laura Brundage and Danah Moore have completed their 2-year term as co-presidents. The new president will be announced soon.

Men’s Club:

Significant events of Men’s Club during the past year include:

• Assembly and disassembly of the sukka for Sukkot
• The annual Men’s Club Service last November
• Preparing the temple office for painting
• Sponsorship of Lunch Box during January
• Preparing and serving the pasta dinner for the temple’s Purim celebration
• Sponsoring the oneg for the recent Sisterhood Shabbat (thanks primarily to Dave S.)
• Joining forces with Shir Chadash to perform painting and landscaping tasks at Grace Smith House on Mitzvah Day. (Also, thanks to a very special MC member, giving Aaron Kaflowitz a ride in a very cool convertible that he won’t soon forget!)

Leadership: David Wolf and David Samson

Music Committee:
Committee: Bob Abrams (co-chair), Joel Kelson (co-chair), David Hecht, Jim Robinowitz, Bonnie Scheer, Marge Groten, Howard Susser, Martin Charwat, Rabbi Berkowitz
This committee started as an “interest group” in 2014, defining goals and a vision for ritual music at Vassar Temple. Our initial focus was on helping Rabbi Berkowitz’s transition as temple Rabbi from a music perspective. The group also set a vision for future activity, and later formalized as a committee to review current progress and move toward implementing that vision.
2015 Accomplishments include:
• Assessed and influenced Olivia’s role in ritual music
• Establish goals on use of, and evolving the temple Music Fund
• Arranged for purchase of an electric piano with a generous grant from the Lipshutz Fund. The piano is portable enough to use in different parts of the temple building. The KORG keyboard, and accompanying amplifier/speaker, are a wonderful addition to the temple’s music component. The piano can play a variety of sounds ranging from piano sound to strings (as in part of an orchestra), bass and other tones.
o Joe Bertolozzi introduced some new melodious sounds to our services, alternating the organ and piano, and even using the two together, producing some very exciting variations on our Shabbat melodies!
o As with anything new, the music prompted some concerns about volume, which were addressed with Joe.
• Supported purchase of accompanying percussion instruments, including a cymbal, tambourines, shakers, a djembe (African drum) and associated stands, again thanks to the Lipshutz Fund
• The committee provided feedback to Joe on appropriate volume when using the instruments. This will be ongoing.
Near-in plans include:
• Ways to improve further on ritual music, along with proposing that Joe give a talk about the various instruments, the significance and tones delivered by each.
• Proposed plans related to whether the curtains surrounding the “music pit” should stay up or be taken down. It was decided to try removing the curtains during the evening when Joe gives his talk and test congregation reaction
• Bring in a cantorial student for occasional Friday night Shabbat music, which was one of the group’s key goals in the vision for future temple music, defined earlier.

Ritual Committee:

This report contains information regarding:
• Committee Responsibilities
• New Ideas and Initiatives
• Worship Services
• Recommendations for the future.

Committee Responsibilities:
The Vassar Temple Ritual Committee has met monthly this program year except for February when the Rabbi Installation event took precedent.
There are 13 members, the majority of whom regularly attend the Tuesday night meetings.
The Chair of the Music Committee normally attends Ritual Committee meetings insuring close coordination.
The High Holy Day responsibilities are being incorporated into the Ritual Committee responsibilities and will be shared amongst many individuals. The Ritual Committee Chair is overseeing this initiative and, therefore this year, is HHD chair as well.
In general the task of the RC is to make decisions, in consultation with the rabbi, about matters related to worship services and religious practices;
The committee has been tasked:
To develop programs encouraging expanded participation in worship services by all segments of the congregation.
To nominate and choose the recipient of the Arnold Award each year (for contributions to the religious life of the congregation), and to arrange for its presentation at the Selichot observation prior to the High Holy Days.
To arrange for the setup and leadership of lay-led summer services.
To coordinate with other committees involved in the religious life of the congregation, especially the Music and High Holy Day Committees, but (as appropriate) including other committees including Religious School, Publicity, and Adult Education.
To arrange for summer service leaders in Rabbi’s absence..
New initiatives developed in the 2015-2016 calendar year:
• Introduced an opening meditation at RC meetings encouraging each member to participate.
• Developed a chanukah video designed to encourage a more an approach to the celebration that conveyed the deeper meaning of the holiday.
• Plan to offer a “proneg” before the winter services [beginning November 2016] rather than the “oneg”. In cooperation with the VTS, an appetizer type fare [cheese, fruit crackers, hummus, nuts and so one rather than sweets] would be provided between 6pm and 6:15pm, with services following immediately. This change has the advantage of allowing people to leave right after services to have dinner and allow late comers the opportunity to be present for the whole service [maybe missing the proneg, unfortunately].
• Ron Rosen offered to spearhead an initiative to take our spiritual services outdoors on occasion, offering a prayer opportunity in a natural setting.
• Added a meditation service on the afternoon of Yom Kippur.
• Reached out to families with an activity based HHD packet that could engage children and educate families about the HHDs
• Switched to Mishkan Tefilah from the Chumash as gifts for the B/M students at Simchat Torah.
• Discussed the evolution of incorporating Mishkan HaNefesh as our HHD prayer book.
• Family shabbat There was an attempt to have a monthly family type service and dinner to attract families with children. Though well received by those who have come, attendance has been low. Some suggestions might be to evaluate whether we want a 7 or 7:30 start time and to coordinate with Beth El so our family services are on different weeks (likely we will be the 2nd week of the month). Rabbi feels this is something that we can change with help from our new RS Director, who “can help us create opportunities for the kids to participate and incentives for them to show up. The services have been visual tefillah with guitar and piano (no organ) and a story instead of a sermon, as well as a birthday blessing. It is a complete service for anyone who is concerned that it wouldn’t be enough for an adult without children or someone coming to say kaddish.”
• At rabbi’s request, appeal speeches were moved to the erev HHD service
• Torah to Go Program at the Adriance Library
• Torah Passover Yoga
High Holy Day 2015/5776 changes:
In 2015 the High Holy Days were orchestrated by a sub committee chaired by Perla Kaufman. Going forward, the RC with support foremothers int he congregation will be responsible for HHD related tasks, including scheduling services and all activities related to Selichot, Rosh Hashanah, Tashlich , Cemetery Service Yom Kippur, Simchat Torah and Sukkoth.
Modified schedule for the HHDs: combined the two erev services into one. A survey was done to insure that input from a broad section of the temple community was considered before making change.
Added a meditation service on the afternoon of Yom Kippur.
Added a dance component to the Simchat Torah service
Out door hike on Sukkoth [September 27th]: Locust Grove . Nine human participants; one canine.
Reached out to families with an activity based HHD packet that could engage children and educate families about the HHDs
At the request of the President, a Sukkoth Open House was held [ October 3rd]. There was limited attendance, but those who stopped by, including one of the city’s mayoral candidates, expressed positive comments.
Discussed the involvement of additional voices during the HHD services, reimbursement policy as well as varying the musical accompaniment with different instruments.
Switch to Mishkan Tefilah from the chumash as gifts for the B/M students at Simchat Torah.
Discussed the evolution of incorporating Mishkan HaNefesh as our HHD prayer book.
At rabbi’s request, appeal speeches were moved to the erev services.
Pizza Dinner on October 4th: Israeli dancing. 40 attended. Well received.
Special Friday evening services:
October 9th: Black Lives Matter [Adam Ciminello]
October 16th: Shabbat Noach
November 6th: Ben Krevolin service leader in Rabbi’s absence
November 13th: Men’s Club Shabbat
November 20th: URJ Camp Shabbat
November 27th: Ron Rosen service leader in Rabbi’s absence
December 11th: Chanukah program
December 25th: Sandra Mamis service leader in Rabbi’s absence
February 5th: Rabbi’s Installation dinner and service: huge event with 160+ people . Guests included President of the HUC- JIR; Mayor Rob Rolison; and Cantor Kaplan. Proclamations from government officials were delivered.
March 3rd: Shabbat Across America: not attended by non members; need more RS involvement
March 11th/12th: Joint Shabbaton with Temple Beth El. Speaker was Rabbi James Michelson. Well received. A program for youth proceeded the traditional service.
April 22nd: 5th Annual First Night Temple seder
May 6th: VTS / Generations Shabbat
May13th: Jr VATY Led Service: organized by S. Teich & Rabbi
June 10th: Picnic Service
June 24th: One Year Rabbi Anniversary Shabbat and Dinner
Saturday morning shabbat services:
New Paths Services continued on a regular basis, under the competent leadership of Marian Schwartz
Arranged for Saturday morning Shabbat programs in November. January and February with a Torah Service followed by a Kiddush Luncheon at each.
November 14th: A discussion with Imam Antepli took place in conjunction with Shir Chadash; attended by over 50 people.
January 23rd: Environmental Panel with Paul Ciminello, Peter Grofman and Marge Groten, in combination of the celebration of Tu B’Shevat.
February 27th: Director, Arlene Stein, of Reform Jewish Voices of NY was the guest speaker.
Most of the programs had good attendance, with about twenty to 30 people attending each morning.
Shabbat Noach: A Greyhound Rehab and Rescue representative was scheduled as the speaker for Shabbat Noach on October 16th ; during the oneg 6 greyhounds were available to interact with service attendees . This was well attended and well received.
Scheduled Joint Tikkun Leil service on June 11th at 7:30pm [ Temple Beth El]:
Torah To Go: Adriance Library – a program to introduce the community to the Torah scroll took place in March. Well received.
Torah Yoga Program was offered by member Rebecca Acker-Kryswiski and was well received.
Scheduled Shavuot [June 12th]: Dedication of the Windows and Patio
Chanukah initiative: “The Eight Nights of Chanukah” – a video experience put together by the committee and made available on line. The content purpose was to offer members a meaningful and tangible way to be involved in a celebration of thanks, beyond gift giving.
Changed the format for the Purim spiel so that the Megillah reading and the spiel occurred on the holiday : March 23rd.
Requested the finance committee to allocate funds to the RC to be used at the discretion of the chair for the purpose of promoting RC goals; $500 have been set aside.
At the request of the chair, the committee spent several months discussing and then formalizing a Mission statement; see attached. The process helped to galvanize the committee as a working group and establish the guideline serving as a platform for future programming and policy decisions. It was very important that, if created, this be a “living document”.
Coordinated and arranged (thanks to Polly Lewis and Rosen with support from Sandra Mamis ) the first night Seder on April 22nd which was attended by about 70 people and continues to fill a need in the community.
Handled nominations for the 2015 Arnold Award, with the selection of Melissa Erlebacher as the awardee presented at Selichot in September. Preparing to select the 2016 Award winner.
Arranged for Outdoor Hike: May 7 Weather didn’t cooperate unfortunately/
Expand the committee inviting a broad range of individuals including relatively new and uninvolved to “old timers’ in an attempt to offer diversity.
Recommendations from the members and chair:
Continue to seek new committee members
Improve communication between all committees with an emphasis of making sure we provide each other support and strive toward some common goals.
Expand outdoor worship experience to events accommodating the elderly and infirm.
Add variety to shabbat worship experience through music, sermons, service types and locations.
Attempt to focus the needs of parents and children whenever possible during planning or ritual experiences.
Find creative ways to make Judaism meaningful.

Submitted by Sandra Mamis, Ritual Chair, June 15, 2016

2016 Vassar Temple President’s Report at Annual Congregational Meeting 6.15.16

Bob Ritter Receiving Proclomation at Final Cong Meeting 6-15-2016
Submitted by Bob Ritter


I have some good news, and I have some bad news. The good news, is that I am your last speaker. The bad news, is that I am your last speaker.

Eleanor Roosevelt said, “In the long run there is no more liberating, no more exhilarating experience than to determine one’s position, state it bravely, and then act boldly. Action brings with it its own courage, its own energy, a growth of self-confidence that can be acquired in no other way.”

During my years as an officer of VT, I have taken the approach of “discern, decide, do.” And tonight, in my final president’s report, I would like to tell you about our results and also the unfinished work we have.

Let me start by stating everything that your board has accomplished, we accomplished together. Even those things which may seem like an effort of just a few people would not have been possible without others!

There are five central themes that I concentrated on:
1. Hamacom
2. Recognize and Meet Fiscal Challenges:
3. An External/Community Perspective
4. Onward & Upward
5. Look to the Future

1. Hamacom:
Our temple is a holy place worthy of our care and respect. Starting with just keeping it clean. We have dealt with many difficult facility challenges these last few years. A boiler replacement with a conversion to less expensive natural gas. We abated mold in our lower classrooms and installed a new tile floor. We took measures to reduce flooding with heat tape, a new gutter, installed additional B-dry drainage and new sump pumps, removed a concrete obstruction to drainage in the rear, and made significant improvements to our roof and chimney. We did an asbestos abatement and refurbished our balcony and east chapel. We refurbished every classroom upstairs, and the three offices for the RS director, Sherrie, Rabbi Berkowitz, replaced our lobby, hall, and stairwell carpeting, and did what we could with our sanctuary carpet. Thanks to our Sisterhood we replaced our kitchen cabinets which were literally falling apart and our put up new blinds in our social hall. We repaired and replaced some AC units. We added security cameras. We converted to energy efficient led lighting. Even little things like a mailbox, a sign on our front door, and organizing our bulletin boards all make a difference. We painted the portico pillars, roof fascia, and front doors. And thanks to generous donors, we refurbished our beautiful stained glass windows and constructed a lovely new patio.

Vassar Temple has received a lot of needed attention. And we did all this without raising our dues, which leads me to the 2nd theme.

2. Recognize and Meet Fiscal Challenges:
We are not here to make a profit, but we have a responsibility to operate in fiscally proper ways. It hasn’t been easy to prepare a budget that reflects both our financial realities and our values, and it didn’t help not having a treasurer for a year. But we were determined not to raise dues!

While we were making significant capital investments, we were also making adjustments to bring our operating costs down to a more sustainable level. We’ve achieved savings in salaries, heating, and electricity expenses. Unfortunately, because of city building requirements and the needs of our building we have also picked up major costs. But despite our burdens we still managed to operate below our budget for expenses. And while dues revenue was down, we have managed to raise funds and income in other ways.

Fund raising resulted in significant support for ritual, operations and building. We began with a hugely successful gala. We had an installation dinner ($10K), Fiddler trip ($800) (I hear the play was great), a Wine & Cheese ($500), a Movable Feast/Jewish Deli Night ($1500), plus nearly $30K in gifts which made our Patio and Windows restoration possible. And there have been other individual acts of generosity. We also tried something that is significant psychologically – we made HHD tickets for non-members a voluntary donation and we raised more money and received no complaints. Scrip profits continue to be crucial to temple finances, and we have faith that it can contribute even more in the future.

We have set out to leverage our social hall, refurbished kitchen, and volunteers to make special occasions work better financially for the temple. You saw how we transformed our social hall for Rabbi’s installation dinner. We showed the social hall and kitchen is a viable venue for some special occasions. We urge our members to consider it for significant life cycle events! You can help the Temple, save money, and tie Rabbi Berkowitz’s blessing in with your occasion. What could be more perfect? Seriously … Think about it!!

Staying with finances, because we must, we sought more opportunities for support from outside the temple. We received $1700 in grants from the Schlossberg Family Fund and the Poughkeepsie Library District for today’s showing of Complicit. And $2500 from the Federation for an Israeli Day project. We can do better! We must leverage the resources of other organizations in the community through partnerships on projects, special events, and initiatives, like we are doing to put on programming at the Adriance Library and with Vassar College and other faith based groups for the Vassar Solidarity Initiative.

Our involvement with various social action projects, such as those on Mitzvah Day, Cereal Counts, Can Jam, Turkey Trot, Tzedaka collections and other projects all help heal the world without putting a financial strain on the temple.

Vassar Temple is small, but we have been blessed in big ways over our many years as evidenced by our Special Funds. Jen Dahnert prepared a sheet about our many Special Funds and what they are each for which is posted to the temple blog. Link to list of funds. These funds are meant to be used! Use brings benefits to the temple, to you, and is a blessing as well to the donor.

Use of those directed funds encourages further giving. Giving for a specific purpose is another way to give which the older generation are familiar with but had gone a bit dormant. We are bringing that back. Thanks to the Robert Lipshitz fund we were able to purchase an electric piano and percussion instruments and take our musical experience to new places. It is a special feeling which I am sure Elaine will attest to, to see your money go to something so personally meaningful. Another example of making a gift for a special purpose is the Erlebachers’ gift of funds for a new building sign which we are planning and need to get approved by the city. And there are those who give just to sustain us. Like the Seligmans. Gilbert and I were talking about the patio while it was under construction. Gilbert asked me, what did it cost. I told him, $15,876.00. He asked, did you raise that much. I said no, we received $15k from Emily and Howard Himelstein. He said then, “I want to give the remaining $876.00, but I want it to be anonymous. I want the Himelsteins to get all the credit.” After thanking him, I said I want to ask you a favor. I want to tell people about your gift. Because it may motivate others. We need that. He said, “if it will help, then OK, but I only want their name on it!”

Yesterday I got a call from my friends Michael Arnoff, and his father Richard Arnoff to tell me about trees and flowers he was planting by the gates he installed at our Route 44 Cemetery. He also hired a person to power wash the grave stones. He just did it – because it needed to be done!

In the near future we are going to try crowd funding to raise money for the new projector the temple needs. If people can raise thousands this way over the Internet, why can’t we? We shall see … we can too!

Let me foreshadow another wonderful way we can fund raise. This idea came from Alan Kaflowitz. The same guy who gave me the idea to raffle off the contents of the safe. So, are you feeling lucky? Here is sure way for everyone to be a winner! We need to purchase the new HHD prayer books which Rabbi wants us to have. Instead of the temple spending thousands of dollars we frankly do not have, we can each purchase our own books, and our Temple will inscribe them as you wish. So on the holidays, when you sit down and open your prayer book you will see a name of a member, and hopefully a friend, and if you’re lucky, your own name. So, are you feeling lucky?

Right now we need to purchase a new religious school curriculum. And Rabbi and Julie would love to have people consider a gift of books for our students – a gift that will get used for 5 or even 10 years! Maybe that’s right for you or someone you love.

Some people get uncomfortable when a temple or church talks about money. Don’t be!! Because sustaining Vassar Temple is the only way we can be Vassar Temple – it’s the only way we’ve made it 168 years!

3. External / Community Perspective:
We know Vassar Temple is wonderful. But our future depends on our ability to let the population in the Poughkeepsie area know this. There is a fundamental marketing principle referred to as AIDA, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action. Before you can expect action, let alone trigger desire, we have to catch people’s attention and interest.

The unaffiliated population in our area is the key to VT’s future. Some are Jews who’ve turned their back on all temples, but not on Judaism. Some have turned their backs on their Jewish roots, but want to find their way back. Some have a tiny bit of Jewish ancestry. Some have none but are searching, and may do well to discover Reform Judaism. The motivations for engaging with a temple run the gamete. Reform belief system and openness make Vassar Temple especially suited for Interfaith marriages, Jews by Choice, and those are Jew curious! Our ritual and Torah study is no less Jewish, it is just more accessible. And our efforts to heal the world are compelling.

The greatest days, from a membership standpoint were also the greatest growth years of the Poughkeepsie area, after which, since the late 80’s Poughkeepsie began a long slide! The past years, the USA had a great recession and the slowest recovery on record. But the days of a vibrant economy in the Poughkeepsie area have started, and they will bring greater prosperity to our temple.

A rising tide lifts all boats. The Buzz is Back in Poughkeepsie, and as Poughkeepsie gets its mojo back, Vassar Temple will benefit. We’ve seen how demographics can change everything in Beacon. It can and will happen in Poughkeepsie, the Queen City, too. And thanks to much of the work we’ve done as a board and organization at Vassar Temple, we’re ready! Bring on the Buzz!!

The community is our future so we’re doing things to make the connection. Here are examples:

We’ve developed ties with Adriance Library. We caught people’s attention and interest with Music in the Torah, and Dueling Rabbi’s and a film about the first woman Rabbi, Regina Jonas and her fearless pursuit of the Torah right up to her murder by the Nazis.

The Sukkah open house introduced the new city of Poughkeepsie Mayor to Vassar Temple.

Our Torah To Go activity has given us a very unique and powerful way to introduce ourselves while we introduce the Torah and Judaism to the community. God works in mysterious ways and I personally believe we can not calculate or foresee all the amazing possibilities this program can lead to! If Vassar Temple leads with the Torah, God will carry us the rest of the way!

This morning we had the Complicit Film Screening with Long Island Temple Educator and attracted 140 people to our Sanctuary on a Wed. morning!!

There are more examples such as:
– Our return to Gesher where we join the community to educate our high school children in ways that take a community.
– Our Social Media Presence with the use of FB, our blog, and growing YouTube Channel.
– Field Trips are another way we can go out into the community such as (Fiddler) . And we tried with RS but weather required us to postpone that.
– Support a refugee family in cooperation with VC and other faith groups
– Our Shabbatons with other temples
– The interfaith march
– We’re working with Half Moon Theater and hopefully their will be an interesting theatrical event with a uniquely Jewish theme.
– Advertisements in both the Half Moon and Vassar Powerhouse theater programs.
– Our hands came together with the community on several amazing Mitzvah day projects.
– And, let’s never forget our involvement in the Lunchbox!
– Our numerous Social Action gifts help heal the world and expose people to the very best about Vassar Temple. As they bring out the very best in us.

The Buzz is Back in Poughkeepsie … and the Buzz is Back at Vassar Temple.

4. Onward & Upward:
A temple is never done. Especially not a Reform Temple. We’re always adapting and these last few years have been filled with transition. Transition requires an openness to change and a willingness to do the hard work it takes! It took countless hours and huge effort to change our Office Manager, and Education Director, and replace Rabbi Golomb so he could take retirement. The Nominating committee has to replenish our Board and Officers,

We even changed our cleaning service and other contractors

We’ve transitioned our Committee Chairs, for the RS, Ritual, Music, and Sisterhood. With all these changes, leadership and staff have been open to change in their areas of responsibility. For example, our Ritual Chair, Sandra, worked with Rabbi to go to one HHD evening service; our Religious School Chair Shaari Roland and Rabbi are integrating the Gesher program; our new religious school education director will work with Rabbi to make our school even better with a new curriculum and teacher development;

Onward & Upward means exploring how we could use music to further enhance our ritual experience – starting with a piano and percussion. We have more exciting things in store for our members because we love song.

And, Sherrie, in our office has done a lot to improve our back-off with systems.

Onward & Upward includes enacting By-Laws amendments that make sense and are needed to right size our board, affirm our acceptance of the LGBT community, comply with new laws for non-profit organizations.

While we must remain open to change, we must also preserve the traditions we’ve come to cherish and which work. Like our community Passover Seder, Hanukkah celebration, and Purim Spiel.

5. Looking to the Future Aware That we have Unfinished Business.

(Avot 2:21) attributed to Rabbi Tarfon, says “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”

Every President leaves unfinished business. I’m no different.

We’ve done a lot to get ready to grow membership – and now we have to concentrate on that. I’ve already described a lot of the things we need to do to increase membership.

At my first HHD President’s speech, I said , “The only thing that matters is if being A Jew Matters To You, then this temple does too.” Our leadership and membership stepped up and proved being a Jew and VT do matter! And, for the last few years we have drawn on the strength of our congregation. From strength to strength – we are stronger together!

Now the question is not internal question directed at you. It’s an external question directed at people in our community. “Is there a little bit of Jew in You?” For literally hundreds of years our people have been separated and diluted. Out of fear and necessity many Jews lost touch with their roots. We faced stifling anti-semitism that lead us to change our names and our religion. And yet, I’m convinced that the image of Judaism has never been better or more desirable! According to Pew Research, Judaism has an extremely high favorable rating. Nearly twice that of either political candidates. (Had to through that in. Notice how I have balanced my criticism.)

People who have a little bit of Jew in them are curious. So are those who’ve become disenchanted with other religions. Some are going through significant life cycle moments for which a temple can help. And, because Reform Judaism is such an amazing path, and we are such a lovely temple, I’m convinced that all we need to do at Vassar Temple is help them to find us.

Drawing on the strength of our past we can build a stronger future. And, when we do, it will take care of our other needs, finance, building, social benefits, social action, and more!

When we grow our membership back to 250+ we’ll be able to build a entrance circle with handicap parking and drop off spaces. We’ll be able to repair the retaining wall and side entrance. We’ll be able to refurbish our sanctuary and build a handicap accessible restroom and changing room on the first floor. We’ll be able to install better storm water drainage. We’ll be able to give our social hall a face lift.

This final fifth theme, looking to the future, is the perfect place to end this meeting. Because we are never done, thank God. This is why VT has survived 168 year years, through the civil war, WWI, the great depression, the Holocaust and WWII, and why the Torah the and Jewish people have lasted. Because we are never done, we are forever transitioning onward & upward. And the reason we are able to do that is because of people like those who are serving on our new board of trustees who said Heneni! And because you, our fellow members and friends, who ask how can we help? How can we be a part of this community – our Jewish village.

The answer is simply this! Be on the team – the membership team. You can be a player, you can be a fan. They’re both important. Pick a position you feel comfortable playing on the membership team. And join the fun – and cheer! L’chaim!

Summary of Vassar Temple Restricted Funds


TO:  Bob Ritter

FROM: Jennifer Sachs Dahnert

DATE:  June 14, 2016

RE:  Summary of Vassar Temple restricted funds

At the request of the Vassar Temple Executive Committee I am pleased to submit the following memo for distribution to the Temple Membership at the June 15, 2016 Congregational Meeting.  I regret that a work commitment precludes my ability to attend the meeting to present this in person, and hope that the following information will achieve the objectives of the Temple leadership in asking me to provide this information.

Our conversation regarding restricted funds stemmed from questions raised within the Temple membership regarding expenditure of funds and accountability around designated funds.  In compiling this information, I seek to remove any mystery that may exist regarding the purposes of specific funds and how decisions are made regarding their use.  The information that follows is intended to provide a base of information that is reinforced through the pieces I began publishing in the Temple Bulletin last summer (“Fund Facts”).

In general, individuals wishing to make philanthropic contributions to Vassar Temple are encouraged to make their gifts for unrestricted purposes, to support operating expenses for the Temple and thus strengthen the financial underpinnings of our Temple.  Some donors, however, prefer to attach their contributions to specific purposes – also known as “restricted funds” – so that they can have a more direct awareness of the impact of their donations.  Following is a complete list of all current funds toward which those who are inclined may direct their contributions to the Temple.  

Hineni Fund

The Hineni Fund provides ongoing support for Vassar Temple’s Seth A. Erlebacher Religious School and youth programs. The name Hineni – meaning “here I am” – reflects the devotion to Jewish youth and education demonstrated by Temple President Seth Erlebacher (1965-2011) and his enduring legacy of service.

Tree of Life

The Tree of Life provides a means to honor the living and commemorate joyous events.  Half of the proceeds from the Tree of Life fund go directly into the Endowment Fund; the other provides current-use support for ongoing programs and operations of the Temple. Following are the various sponsorship levels on the Tree of Life:  Leaf — $180.00; Large Branch — $1,800.00; Rock — $2,800.00; Trunk — $7,500.00.

Memorial Plaques

The names of departed loved ones are listed on bronze plaques in the sanctuary.  On each Yahrzeit and at every Memorial Service, a memorial light is kindled beside the plauue and the name is remembered from the pulpit.  The current minimum donation for a Memorial Plaque is $500.

Sustaining (General) Fund

Contributions to this fund provide an additional source of current use funds for the Temple.  The fund is administered by the Board of Trustees and is to be used for operating expenses and appropriate non-capital projects (e.g. not building projects).  Various Temple committees rely upon this fund and as such, it has a direct impact on the entire congregation.

Capital Fund

This fund is used for repairs, maintenance and physical improvements to the Temple.  Each new Temple member unit is assessed a contribution to the Capital Fund, which is paid n the first full year of membership, but may also be paid in annual installments up to a five-year period.  Additional contributions help offset the potential need for additional capital assessments and may be made at any time.

Rabbi’s Fund

This fund is administered at the Rabbi’s discretion to provide additional professional materials or services and to make financial assistance available to individuals and causes deemed appropriate.  Contributions to this fund may be made in any amount at any time.

Nathan L. Reifler Memorial Library Fund

Donations to the Nathan Reifler Fund are used to purchase books, CD, publications and materials for our Temple and thereby build on the strong Jewish tradition of education, teaching and learning. Purchase decisions are made by our Rabbi and the Library Committee.  With a minimum contribution of $15, donors may request a bookplate noting the donor or honoree.

Community Tzedakah Fund

This fund supports Vassar Temple’s commitment to worthy organizations serving the needy in our community, particularly the Lunch Box program. In the event that insufficient food donations are made for a particular meal at the Lunch Box, money from this fund is used to offset expenses.

Groten Fund

The Groten Fund supports Social Action programming stemming from Vassar Temple and generally offsets expenses of the Social Action Committee. Expenditures from this fund are recommended by the Social Action Committee and approved by the Temple Board.

Trees in Israel Fund

Contributions are used to buy trees in Israel. A minimum donation of $18 is required. 

Robert H. Lipschutz Scholar’s Fund

This fund was established in memory of Robert H. Lipshultz to perpetuate the values and ideals he espoused. His dedication to Jewish education and community service translates to an award every other year to enable a Vassar Temple college-age student to pursue a special project in Jewish Studies and to funding for special music programs. A committee to determine the award is comprised of the Rabbi, the Educational Director and members of the Adult Education, Music and Youth Committees.

Andrew Erdreich Youth Education Fund

This fund honors the memory of Andrew Erdreich, an active member of the Youth Group who was also confirmed at Vassar Temple. Monies are used to benefit the children and young people of the congregation. Decisions about the specific use of the money will be made after consultations among the Rabbi, President, Treasurer and Director of Education.

Alexander D’Imperio Fund

This fund, honoring the memory of Alexander D’Imperio, sponsors supplementary educational experiences such as field trips and events of Jewish interest. The education of our Temple religious school students is enhanced by these special educational events.

Grandmother’s Fund

The Grandmother’s Fund was established by Dr. and Mrs. Albert Rosenberg to support programs and projects affecting the youth and children of Vassar Temple. Programs supported in the past include field trips, Shabbatons, Youth or Junior Youth Group activities. The authorizing committee is comprised of the President of the Board of Trustees, President of Sisterhood, Rabbi, chairperson of the Religious School Committee, the chairperson of the Youth Committee, and up to two additional people. The President of the Board will convene a meeting periodically, at least once a year, to determine which programs will be funded.

Mildred Gould Religious School Fund

This fund, established in memory of longtime beloved Temple member, Mildred Gould, is used to purchase materials for the Religious School based on a list of needed books and materials compiled by the Religious School Director. Donors can designate a specific item on the list or make a general gift to the fund. When appropriate, these materials will indicate the name of the contributor and/or the occasion for which the donation was made.

Paul Fa’gut Religious School Fund

This fund, honoring the memory of Paul Fa’gut, is used to purchase educational materials such as books, CDs and DVDs for the benefit of the 6th and 7th grade students in the Seth Erlebacher Religious School. The decision about the particular materials to be purchased each year will be made by the Director of Education.

Richard Satz Audio-Visual Fund

This fund honors the memory of Richard Satz, who was a prominent member of Vassar Temple. Donations are utilized to provide instructional media equipment for the Vassar Temple Religious School.

Music Fund

The Music Fund was established to support the musical programming at Vassar Temple. Expenditures from the fund are recommended by the Music Committee and approved by the Temple Board.

Prayer Book Fund

Vassar Temple’s regular prayer book is Mishkan T’filah, published by the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 2007. Through the generosity of Matthew and Muriel Lampell and Ralph and Marian Schwartz, the Temple was able to acquire a full set of the new siddurim as soon as they were published.  This is a current use fund and books purchased through it recognize the donors with a bookplate on the inside front cover of each book.  Those wishing to dedicate one or more copies in honor of a person or occasion, or in memory of a loved one, you may do so with a contribution of $36 per book, which funds the preservation of the new books and their replacement when necessary.

Vassar Temple Sisterhood General Fund

Donations “in appreciation” or “in memory” are accepted for the general fund for Sisterhood and may be used for a wide variety of purposes. Previous examples include offsetting the costs of Tiny Temple, supporting the Andrea Rabin Scholarship Fund (scholarships for teens to attend the National Federal of Temple Youth conclaves), and contributions to youth programming through the Youth Scholarship Fund (scholarships to attend summer camps with Jewish programming and also for programs in Israel).  Gifts of any amount may be made at any time.  Expenditure decisions are made by the Sisterhood leadership in discussion with the Temple Executive.

Endowment Fund

The endowment fund is a corpus of resources whose interest income provides a revenue stream that supplements dues and fund raising income to support religious, cultural, educational, social and other programming. In order to maintain the spending power of the endowment, only a portion of annual income is spent while the balance is reinvested in the principal.  Contributions to the Endowment Fund may be made as outright gifts during members’ lifetimes and as testamentary gifts through bequest provisions.  Gifts can be made in the form of cash, checks, stocks, bonds, real estate (both income and non-income producing), interests in family partnerships and life insurance policies.  Pledges may be made and fulfilled over a three-year period. A donor who makes a gift of $10,000 or more may designate the specific area to which the income generated by the gift shall be applied, and those funds shall be acknowledged in the donor’s name. Endowment gifts of less than $10,000 provide income that is used for the aforementioned purposes.  Gifts to the endowment (or any of the funds mentioned above) may be made anonymously. The Board serves as a gift acceptance committee on proposed contributions to the endowment, as necessary.  Under no circumstances shall the endowment Fund be commingled with those of any other fund.


The Temple is indebted to the generations of generous donors whose enduring support has sustained the vitality of our congregation.  I welcome questions or feedback from any members who wish to discuss any aspect of their philanthropic support of Vassar Temple.  

This Is Not Goodbye

This article marks my last one as your Vassar Temple President. This isn’t goodbye, it’s thank you!

Now I move into the position of Immediate Past President. Another two year term. I will continue to serve our beloved temple in a support role to our incoming President Mark Metzger.

Everything we have accomplished, we accomplished together – fellow officers and trustees, committee chairs, volunteers, donors, temple staff, past presidents, rabbi’s, members and friends. A very special thanks to those who were there for me when I called for advice or to vent, and who had my back at times I may not even know about. Thank you Mary Ritter, my greatest supporter. Now more of you know how special she is.

I accepted the temple presidency for four reasons:
1. A temple serves an essential role in maintaining a Jewish community and a Jewish community is critical to the survival of the Jewish culture and people.

2. At the time I was asked to serve, Vassar Temple had fundamental problems and was facing large challenges that could threaten its future.

3. To help set an agenda that would make Vassar Temple better.

4. A mitzvah is not just a deed, it is a commandment. My middle name is Jonah, and the story taught me that ultimately, we must say Hineni.

In Isaiah 42:6 we read “We are a light unto the nations.” And as a temple board, we need to be a light, so our temple will be a light in our community. As president I operated with the following principles:

Discern, Decide, and Do – There were many important things I wanted to accomplish during my term. We had an action oriented board and I commend the team on its willingness to face issues and choices head on.

Onward & Upward – As a “Reform” congregation, one of our institution’s strengths is its ability to adapt. Because change is not easy, we tend to find ourselves in a rut. I give the board credit for recognizing the difference between traditions worth holding onto, and having the willingness to embrace a positive vision.

Kindness and Respect – I am proud of the way our board meetings were conducted. Everyone was able to be heard. No shame. People were genuinely nice. A positive and supportive board atmosphere brings out honesty and participation.

Being a temple president is a great responsibility and a wonderful honor. But I liked to look at it as a privilege – as a gift. I am grateful. It has been satisfyingly to be part of a team with a shared hope and desire to make Vassar Temple a better temple. I felt rewarded whenever I saw you, fellow members, experiencing joy or taking comfort or personal enrichment from your relationship with Vassar Temple.

Over the last several years we’ve strengthened Vassar Temple for the growth ahead. Moving forward, we must all come together as a team to create the energy which WILL attract others in the community who can benefit from a relationship with our Jewish village – our temple’s members, programming, ritual, pastoral care, education, and the rich cultural history of Judaism and the values we stand for.

There is joy in being part of something on a mission. Now, team spirit will take Vassar Temple to greater heights, provided it is guided by the Torah, the prophets, our culture’s many sages past and present, and the special volunteers who have served Vassar Temple over the years.

It takes a village, a shtetl, to maintain the Jewish people in order for us to help heal the word. “Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov, mishk’notecha Yisrael,” we read from the book of Numbers in the Torah. (Num. 24:5). “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!” My wish from day one to today, is for the community and all of us to say, how lovely is Vassar Temple!

What Can Vassar Temple Do About the Refugee Crisis?

Star Logo Only
May 5, 2016

Dear Congregants:

Many of us have watched the suffering of refugee families and felt helpless in our ability to take a concrete action to actually make a difference. As Jews, ethical teachings in the Mishnah compel us to perform acts of Tikkun Olam. I am writing to share some exciting news about how our Temple and those interested can help!

Last month, our Vassar Temple Board voted to join with Vassar College and other local faith-based institutions in a collaboration called the Vassar College Refugee Solidarity Initiative. The leaders of this project expect there to be at least 8-9 congregations who will each sponsor a refugee family for the initial phase of the project. Vassar Temple’s action has set a fine example of leadership for other congregations and fellowships in our region, and others are already following our lead.
VFS Logo

Because security is essential, and because we are not inventing the wheel, this project and the refugee family that will be sponsored to resettle in Dutchess County, will be under the supervision and guidance of a designated refugee resettlement agency, also known as a VOLAG. These agencies work together with the U.S. State Department to receive and relocate refugee families all of whom have been screened and vetted through diverse offices in the State Department and Homeland Security. A full description of this project and an overview of United States Refugee Law and Policy is attached to this post (see below).

The financial obligation of sponsoring a family will be covered through funding outside of the Vassar Temple budget that will include private and community foundation resources and possible support from Vassar College. Our Temple’s Social Action Committee is spearheading our efforts, and will seek volunteer efforts to assist and support the designated family with housing, schools, medical care and employment. The Ciminello family has already volunteered to provide housing for the family we sponsor.

Through this project we are able to do more than advocacy and fundraising; we can actually welcome a family to our community and demonstrate our commitment to addressing the worldwide refugee crisis. Perhaps someday, that family’s experience will somehow shape the world in positive ways! Ken Yehi Ratzon!

In the coming months, we will be forming a committee of Temple members who want to join this project’s efforts in some way. The current leadership for the project is: Andi & Paul Ciminello, Jen Dahnert, Marian Schwartz, and Rabbi Berkowitz. We are working very closely with Dr. Maria Hoehn, Professor of History and Chair of the History Department at Vassar College. Information about the project will be available at our Congregational Meeting on June 15th and there will be media announcements about this newly formed collaboration.

If you have questions or are interested in supporting this very important project, I ask you to contact one of the members of this committee directly, or you can also speak with Rabbi Berkowitz. Naturally, you are welcome to contact the temple president about this decision from a board standpoint.

I am very proud of Vassar Temple for taking this important step. I ask you to have faith in our efforts and to put what we are doing in needed perspective. We are a progressive, compassionate and resourceful community. We can’t solve the whole refugee problem, but we can save at least one family.

Let’s be true to our teachings: “It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it.”


Bob Ritter

VC – VT Project Info Sheet

An-Overview-of-US-Refugee-Law-and-Policy 2

A Year of Firsts with Vassar Temple

Arnoff Bris
Arnoff twin’s Bris (Henry and Miles)
Parents are Daniel and Emma

This July will mark our one year anniversary of Rabbi Leah R. Berkowitz coming to Vassar Temple. Much has happened, and it is nice to recall the many happy and poignant memories. Because this is Rabbi’s first Senior Rabbi position, and her first year with Vassar Temple, it is a year of firsts. Even though Leah has performed most these rituals before, it is a first for us doing them together.

In this past year, Rabbi and the temple have experienced the full life cycle together. From baby namings and Bris, to funerals, and everything in between. From Rosh Hashanah to Shavout, we traveled through the whole Torah together. In the process, we have experienced a full range of emotions from joy to sorrow, and we come out the other end of our first year with a deeper relationship, and a greater appreciation for one another.

The feedback from our members illustrates how much Rabbi is valued. In the month Rabbi began with Vassar Temple, Dr. Irving H. Dreishpoon, passed away. We received a letter from his wife, Mrs. Gorgene Dreishpoon, in which she expressed, “Rabbi has a gift of dignity in the listening while maintaining her role as our Rabbi … The ceremony she led was everything our family wished for.”

On the occasion of their twin’s bris, Emma and Dan Arnoff wrote, “Rabbi Leah Berkowitz was wonderful in helping us prepare and celebrate our boys Bris. While I was on bed rest she came to visit me and helped choose Hebrew names for Henry and Miles. On the day of the Bris she was supportive and helpful. She worked together with the Mohelet to provide our family and friends with a service that was spiritual and moving in a way we could not have anticipated. It was a beautiful day.”

After Sammy Roland’s Bar Mitzvah, his father Mark wrote, “Thank you is not enough … let me say how wonderful Sammy’s Bar mitzvah ceremony was … you have truly touched my soul.”

As Temple President, throughout this past year I’ve had the great pleasure of working closely with Rabbi Berkowitz. The positive comments that have come my way are too numerous to list. It’s been a year of firsts for us together. As I step down as President, it is gratifying to know that Rabbi Berkowitz continues on – as we all go through our lives together.

There are things that a Rabbi and a temple provide us that no other organization or relationship quite can. In the Mishna, Ethics of the Fathers 1:6, Yehoshua ben Perachiah said: “Make yourself a teacher; acquire a friend; and judge every person favorably.” Rabbi Nachman of Breslov likened this world to a “very narrow bridge.” Indeed, life is a series of dangerous crossings and that we continually have important decisions to make. It is wise to “Get yourself a Rabbi.” At Vassar Temple, we are blessed to have a wonderful Rabbi, teacher, who I’m so very happy to also call a friend.

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

Vassar Temple’s Torah Visits First Congregational United Church of Christ

On Wed. evening, 2/25/16, Rabbi Berkowitz and Vassar Temple took our Torah on a road trip for our “Torah-to-Go” program to the First Congregational United Church of Christ (on Mill St). We teamed up with their congregation at their FCUCC’s Lenten Soup Supper in order to provide their congregation a special chance to see a Torah scroll up close and personal. Their congregation made us feel right at home by making and serving matzoh ball soup and challah! How thoughtful, and yummy!
Andi & Paul Ciminello of Vassar Temple said, “We were so very proud to assist Rabbi Berkowitz with the Torah-to-Go program. Leah gave a basic introduction for Reverend Heather and her enthusiastic parishioners, most of whom had never even seen a Torah. The presentation was excellent and the group got to see first-hand a Torah scroll, as Rabbi Berkowitz took us on a journey through the five books.
The Torah-to-Go program serves a multiple important purposes. To begin with, we are caring for our scrolls. By unrolling and rolling the scrolls we are helping to keep the parchment/skins which the Torah is written on soft and pliable so they don’t crack and are less likely to tear. For another, we are building relationship with other faiths and faithful people in our community. Our clergy and our congregations can benefit it ways that we can’t even calculate. Last but not least, everyone learns and has a fun time! So please join Rabbi and friends at our next Torah-to-Go event, which will be promoted in our bulletin, email announcements and on Facebook.

Big News Out Of Israel – And How Vassar Temple Deals with It

By Bob Ritter

Rabbi Berkowitz gave her Shabbat sermon last night, 2/12/16, on the news below out of Israel. The news about an enhanced egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, the Western Wall. Rabbi didn’t just report the news. She asked us to think about the meaning of the news. Was it a victory? For whom? And, if so, who lost?

I admire the way Rabbi Berkowitz engages us. Rabbi poses questions to us and invites us to share our thoughts and opinions. In this is way our community grows in understanding and respect. Rabbi is teaching by drawing us out – by engaging our each and every mind. Surely Rabbi’s own knowledge and views are valued, but Rabbi’s process reminds us that we all have a role too. And, Rabbi gives us opportunities to exercise our role by providing us with actionable ways we can make a difference. By empowering us our Rabbi is helping Vassar Temple to make a greater difference and to do our part, individually and as a community, to build a better world.

Each Friday evening YOU have an opportunity to be part of the wonderful way Vassar Temple is growing. We are growing by helping you, our family to grow. Vassar Temple’s tag line is “Where YOU Belong.” Come see and experience why that is very true.

Statement of the North American Reform Movement:

North American Reform Movement Applauds Passage of Plan to Enhance Egalitarian Prayer Space at Western Wall

Years of Organized Efforts Yield Significant Victory for Reform Jews, Women of the Wall: New Area to be Under Non-Orthodox Oversight

Sunday, January 31, 2016; NEW YORK, NY – In the most significant development in the nearly generation-long campaign by Women of the Wall and their allies for religious equality at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, the Israeli government today approved the creation of an enhanced egalitarian prayer space at the Wall, which, for the first time, will be under the authority of non-Orthodox leadership.

The government’s proposal – which is the result of a coordinated effort by the Reform and Conservative Movements, both in Israel and in North America, Women of the Wall, and the Jewish Federations of North America – calls for a significant revamping of the Western Wall area to create a more unified relationship between the three prayer areas (men’s, women’s, and egalitarian). The existing egalitarian space – near the area known as Robinson’s Arch – will be enhanced by the creation of an expanded platform with more access to the Western Wall, including from the ancient Herodian street. The site will be open through the main plaza by removing existing visual barriers and building a new, inviting entrance.

The approved proposal was the result of several years of intense negotiating, advocacy, and leadership, led by the North American Reform Movement and Women of the Wall and developed by Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit, Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, and the prime minister’s office.

In weeks and months to come, the North American Reform Movement will work with its partners in Israel to implement the proposal and to celebrate this new arrangement, which will allow all Jews to experience an egalitarian prayer space at the holy site.

“This is a groundbreaking agreement,” said Anat Hoffman, chairperson of Women of the Wall and the head of the Reform Movement’s Israel Religious Action Center. Hoffman, an indefatigable crusader on behalf of this issue who experienced arrests and insults through the decades of struggle, said, “After years and years of insisting that we have an equal place for prayer, after enduring campaigns of abuse against us, and being encouraged by a wave of Jewish support from across the globe, we have accomplished this extraordinary first step. We will be able to stand as part of living history, read the Torah, and pray in the spirit of pluralism and equality that we believe is critical to a vibrant Judaism. Now, we look forward to the steps that will need to be taken to implement this plan.”

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), celebrated the agreement: “This effort is the result of the extraordinary commitment shown by those in Israel who wouldn’t agree to the second-class status imposed by the ultra-Orthodox religious establishment, and by all of us outside of Israel whose unconditional love for our Jewish State compels us to tirelessly advocate for a more equal, pluralistic, and Jewishly vibrant Israel.”

Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism proclaimed, “This struggle and this potential victory is just the beginning of our efforts to ensure that the Jewish state of Israel is indeed a state where all forms of Judaism are practiced freely and without state prohibition – and where those of us who represent the largest force in Jewish life in the world today, the Reform Movement, will be a powerful force inside of Israel and a more visible alternative for worship for Israeli Jews.”

Signatory Organizations

American Conference of Cantors

ARZA – The Association of Reform Zionists of America

ARZA Canada


Association of Reform Jewish Educators

Central Conference of American Rabbis

Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

North American Federation of Temple Youth

Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Union for Reform Judaism

Women of Reform Judaism

Women’s Rabbinic Network

World Union for Progressive Judaism


– See more at: