Congregation Agudas Achim has always been a part of my life. Family and friends have moved away and businesses have come and gone but the solid and beautiful building that has been the home of Agudas Achim has always stood as a reminder of the roots and histories of so many families that have entered its doors. But I think that part of the beauty is that, as solid and rooted as it is, the building houses a congregation that is able to change over time. It’s been Orthodox, now it is Reform. Services were full time and then High Holidays only. Then services were monthly and now we meet virtually. During this unprecedented era, the building and the congregation are symbols of history, strength and adaptability.
And, though we are not meeting in person, we are in many ways better connected. Friends and family from around the country spent the holidays together (virtually) and it was surprisingly intimate! If you haven’t joined us for a Shabbat, consider doing so on November 13. Tune in early for the pre-service social gathering. It’s fun!
As we move through the holiday season, we hope you will find that the stability and adaptability of Agudas Achim is a comfort. During a time when things are different than the norm, we hope you will join us…. pray with us, laugh with us and gather with your Agudas Achim family.
I. Some say that it started with destruction. In the store where Abraham’s father was said to have sold idols, there was a cacophony, as stone statues were being crushed and smashed. Abraham (then called Avram) was swinging a sledge hammer with all of his strength, breaking and shattering the pagan divinity symbols.
In this story, the father, who seems to be more than a merchant selling these totems to the public, perhaps a priest of sorts, is furious with his young son. “How dare you destroy these gods?” he asks. “If they were really all powerful gods, why wouldn’t they have prevented me from my actions?” Abraham questions, “They are not gods. They were merely graven images, carved stone. Why have you bowed down to them?”
Here Abraham, a youth, rejects idolatry, and begins his search for the One God.
This story from the Midrash-parable literature, written thousands of years after the Torah narrative which we read this week, was meant to be a
prequel to the incident, told this week in scripture. The passage states that Abraham hears God’s call to him to leave his land, his birthplace, and go to the Land where he will teach about the One God (Adonai Eloheinu) for all humanity. While Abraham takes his family, his clan, to the Promised Land, he teaches that Adonai is everywhere, most especially in the still and silence of our own hearts.
Abraham, and old man to be a pilgrim, finally finds the one God, after a lifetime of evolving his soul so that he can hear that “still small voice” that is his personal call.
He encounters God on a one-to-one, an I – Thou, a personal relationship that allows him to feel the strength to accomplish mission that he has accepted.
God is not in the “Idolatries of our time,” instead, for us, individually, God is the call we allow ourselves to receive. God is already present in each of us. Some of us might intuit that presence and find our own calling, our own spiritual connection.
There is a space in a burning Shabbat candle, between the wick and the blue flame which is surrounded by the yellow carbon edge. Mystics say that one can hear a slight hiss there, which is the sound that was heard at the creation of the world. Such sounds, they say, enable our personal search for God.
As Abraham, we can move past the cacophony of the world whirling around us, toward a quiet, private, connection with God.
II. I have been asked by members of our Chevre to shed some light on the mystical, spiritual, candlelit ritual of Havdalah, observed on Saturday evening.
To this end, I am including a link (click here) for a fabulous tutorial from Rabbi Katie Bauman from Temple Israel of Memphis, TN, which will illustrate the ritual of Havdalah, step by step, using the music of Debbie Friedman, which we use in our congregation.
In the video, a beautiful sterling silver Havdalah set is used. However, we can improvise with items we have in our home (though one can always order a modest set on line.)
The Havdalah candle of many wicks can be ordered from Amazon or from a variety of Judaica Shops starting at five dollars.
However, for craft-minded households, there are actually several “recipes” on the Internet to guide you through the creation of your own Havdalah candle. Generally, one can place a few tapers or Shabbat candles, or Chanukah candles side by side on a pan in an oven. As the candles melt, the wicks intermingle, and cool as a Havdalah candle.
One can improvise a spice box by inserting cloves into an orange, or simply by pouring cinnamon into a paper cup. Similarly, a glass can be used for wine or juice.
Mystics stared into the several flames of the candle in the darkness, and felt a spiritual presence to accompany them into the week ahead and until the next Shabbat.
One can say or sing the prayers in Hebrew or in English. One may even light and smell the spices, and drink the wine or juice without words, thus feeling the presence of God.
So, whether the candles of Shabbat, or Havdalah, we can see the sanctified Light as a means of feeling, as did Abraham, the presence of the one God.
And, by the way we live our life, we give our answer.
Rabbi Fred Pomerantz
(PS: See below for more information on Havdalah)
Join us for a unique presentation
Eric Mendelsohn: Synagogue Architect with a Vision
Please join Congregation Agudas Achim in a presentation by Michael Palmer on November 30, 2020, from 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m. The presentation itself is about 40 or 45 minutes with a Q & A period afterwards.
Between the years 1946 and 1953, the American, German-Jewish architect Eric Mendelsohn designed seven synagogues in the Midwest, four of which were actually built. Mendelsohn’s synagogues were a crowning conclusion of his career. In his book, Eric Mendelsohn’s Synagogues in America, photographer Michael Palmer records in detail these four Mendelsohn synagogues, located in Saint Paul, Saint Louis, Cleveland, and Grand Rapids. Palmer will employ his photographs as the foundation for a discussion about Mendelsohn, his Jewish identity, and his architectural mission. Palmer will also explain how the founding of the State of Israel in 1948 affected Mendelsohn’s plans and how Mendelsohn sought to create radically new architectural solutions for American houses of worship that uniquely met the functional, social, and spiritual demands of their respective, diverse Jewish communities.
MICHAEL CRAIG PALMER. Michael Palmer is a photographer whose work has explored the architectural legacy and relevance of the German Jewish exodus from Germany in the 1920s and 1930s. His first photo book documents previously ignored aspects of 1930s buildings in Tel Aviv’s historic “White City” district, a center for German and other central European refugees in the 1930s. Palmer’s most recent work focuses on the buildings of the noted German Jewish architect Eric Mendelsohn, including Mendelsohn’s breakthrough Einstein Tower near Berlin, synagogues in Saint Louis, Cleveland, Saint Paul and Grand Rapids, as well as his buildings in Israel. Michael began his photography career in 2015 with the Tel Aviv White City project. Previously, he had a career in pharmaceutical industry research and development.
A Piece of our History
by Bob Freedman, Past President
As I approach my 75th birthday, a sense of reflection fills my mind. Agudas Achim is central to those thoughts. Many congregations like ours and other who were thriving in the late 1960’s no longer exist. Why did we survive? The answer lies in the continuation of the dream of our founders. Diverse Jewish immigrants escaping the progoms of Europe and further settling in a community that did not want them united to create the essence a Jewish life. They stayed despite the the KKK and efforts to buy them out. They stood firm and united to ensure their communal needs could be met.
In the 1970’s, a different type of congregation emerged as our numbers dwindled. It required greater dedication to beat the odds. Who would have thought we could become a region wide congregation capable of survival? Our modern history begins with families named Siegel, Schwartz, Haas, Weiner, Halpern, Bachrach, Newman and others, who all maintained a strong modern Jewish identity and community as the previous generations were disappearing.
It is that community into which Lynne and I were welcomed. A few years later Don Simkin and his wife Ellen arrived. In those transitional years, Ellen served as our unofficial religious leader and educator. Don continues to play a critical role is the life of the congregation. Gary and Judy Siegel returned to Sullivan County after college to continue the contributions of their families to the synagogue. In the early 1980’s and 1990’s we grew by attracting young professionals around the county and the very special musical and spiritual abilities of Danny Maseng. After leaving us, he became a world famous spiritual leader and musician.
Even with the blessed addition of the Jeffersonville Jewish community, our our membership has dwindled again as the non-Hassidic Jewish population has shrunk drastically since then. We have faced many challenges in recent years. We have been fortunate to have the leadership of Rabbi Pomerantz. He has been our Rabbi in fullest meaning of the word. We are truly a county-wide congregation. We are adapting to the demands of the past year with our Zoom services. Judy and the Board are effectively leading us through another transformation and despite the odds, our membership once again is growing.
May God continue to hold the Agudas Achim community in the palm of his hand.
With warm regards,
Bob Freedman, Past President
Introducing our new monthly column:
Traditions & Tales
by Karen Blocker
Traditions and Tales
November. A month historically ushering in a dutiful wash of gratitude as Thanksgiving approaches with bare trees and chilly nights. Communities embark on increased food and clothing drives, monetary contributions, and multitude acts of charity, or in Hebrew, “tzedakah.”
As a focused place for making donations, almost every Jewish home uses a decorative box to hold such donations of coins. This box enables families to contribute to various charities, to give “tzedakah” as emphasized in the pages of the Torah and the Talmud, the holy writings. With these donations, one of the most basic elements of the Jewish faith was fulfilled. Those small receptacles, those coin boxes, are called in Yiddish, “pushkas.”
Pushkas would appear on our Sabbath tables near the glowing candles. They were present on holidays and at life cycle events. They were vehicles by which families could contribute their small amounts to a greater cause. In our family, we continue to support, as in generations past, orphan homes in Israel, senior programs in Jerusalem, and the familiar Jewish National Fund. Decades back, eighteen donated pennies signaled the contribution before the commencement of the Sabbath and, as conditions changed, so did contribution amounts to today’s folded currency! Now, friends and family visiting us for Shabbat also contribute to our pushkas and share our gratefulness for all the good that we have all received in our lives. We often designate the contributions to causes needing immediate attention, a natural disaster or local shortfall. Our pushkas are emptied regularly and remain important symbols of our responsibility to do “tzedakah.” And, please note that you do not need an actual pushka to do righteous deeds and contribute to causes important to your family. Once you decide to share your money or your efforts as a family, the spirit of helping your local community or our global one will engage others to contribute as well. Happy Thanksgiving!
If you have a family tradition or tale to share, please call Karen at 845-796-0892 or email her YOUR story to email@example.com. We would like to share your contributions in future newsletters or even in a special edition newsletter!
Thank you for your donations!
Creation of Allan Schneider Endowment Fund
by the Schneider Family
In Honor of
Rabbi Fredric Pomerantz
Stuart & Rosalind Alpert
Tedda & Ron Lindeman
In Memory of Judith Mehlman & Bernard Goldhammer
by Harold Goldhammer & Eileen Mehlman
In Memory of (Sandor) Shea Goldreich
by Eva Bocskor
In Memory of Elliott & Ann Pearl for cemetery fund
by Dennis & Johanna Clarke
In Memory of Jacobo Rajlevsky
by Alan & Linda Rajlevsky
In Memory of Martin Schwartz
by Neil & Shirley Schwartz
by Sewell & Hannah Martin
High Holiday Donations
Lisa, Scott & David Alper
Wendy & Steven Grossman
Jonathan & Judith Levine
Marta & Joshua Pomerantz
Joyce & Jack Rubenstein
Sheila & Lewis Skolnik
Brenda Stiefel Sherman
Plaque for Mark Bachrach
By Hope Schwartz
Plaque for Evelyn Haas
By Gary & Judy Siegel
Havdalah: An ancient rite to light the night!
The Havdalah Service comes from the Hebrew word that means “separation” and is the ritual that ends Shabbat, separating it from the start of the new week. The service can take place in the home, in synagogue or in a group. A beautiful ritual, it’s a brief ceremony that uses four elements to mark the moment we sadly say goodbye to the beauty of Shabbat but also pledge to carry its gifts into the week to come.
We drink from a cup of wine – which symbolizes the joy we experienced on Shabbat. We pass a spice box (full of cinnamon or another sweet smelling spice) – which symbolizes the lingering scent of the sweetness of Shabbat. We light a multi-wicked candle – which symbolizes how our busy separate selves come together on Shabbat. The light, the wine, and spices all come together to help us carry Shabbat with us through the week until the next Shabbat. We extinguish the candle into the wine to conclude the ceremony, as a final moment of “goodbye” to Shabbat. With the singing of Shavua Tov and Eliyahu haNavi we wish each other a “good week” to come and long for a day when Shabbat won’t need to end at all!
Click here for a fabulous tutorial from Rabbi Katie Bauman from Temple Israel of Memphis, TN on how to make Havdalah part of your Shabbat worship.
SPONSOR AN ONEG – No schlepping necessary!
In an era when we are not meeting in person, our zoom Shabbats have been a silver lining. Friends and family have joined us from all over the country for a relaxed Sabbath service. You can still do a mitzvah and sponsor one of the evenings in honor of a special event in your life; a birthday, an anniversary, the birth of a family member….anything that brings you joy.
Multiple families can share their special occasions for each Oneg since we have a limited number of Shabbat services. We will post each family’s name and the special event that evening and in the newsletter associated with that Shabbat.
Please consider choosing a Shabbat, email us the information (the occasion to be honored or remembered) by the first of that month, and send us a donation (See below for how to donate). firstname.lastname@example.org
Make a donation
There are many parts of our lives to remember with a donation. There are also certain funds into which you may choose to donate particularly: Hebrew School, Endowment Fund, Cemetery Fund, mailing costs, Mitzvah Fund, and Tzedakah fund. Consider donating $36 for either a chair, Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur prayer book. Checks should be made payable to Congregation Agudas Achim and mailed to mail to PO Box 714 Livingston Manor, NY 12758. Or, donate by credit card by clicking on the green “Donate Now” button.
It was so wonderful to see faces new and familiar on our Zoom services that we wondered how to keep these relationships across the nation going.
A perfect 2020 Social Club is a Book Club! Our first book will be:
Holy Envy: Finding G-d in the Faith of Others
by Barbara Taylor Brown.
We plan to meet in early December 2020.
Please contact Michele Hemmer at email@example.com at your earliest convenience if you’d like like to join in!
Everyone is welcome!
Thanks to Zoom
We are very excited to announce that we will be offering services in January, February and March! With that, we will be able to offer services throughout the year on the 2nd Friday of the month. Join us and read on below to participate in Havdalah in your own home!