Caring for our Students on Campus

A Message from Rabbi Joshua M. Davidson

Many of us are watching with dismay as events unfold on college campuses around the country targeting Jewish students and other supporters of Israel, often associated with efforts fueled by opportunistic outside organizations with their own political agendas to push academic institutions to divest from companies tied to Israel. No one should endure the intimidation we have witnessed in the news, and some of our own children have experienced, but especially not students living away from home who expect the colleges they attend to be safe places for learning and discovery.

As challenging as conditions are right now on many campuses, I nonetheless remain hopeful that this moment will become a watershed opening many school leaders’ eyes to the pernicious manner in which antisemitism enters the social and academic dynamic of their communities, and that as a result, circumstances will begin to improve.

It will take time, however. And it will take our courageous commitment to calling out antisemitism wherever we see it. So to assist us, the Anti-Defamation League has provided a number of resources:

Additionally, because much of the campus antisemitism at this moment centers around Israel and accusations against Israel, I recommend that our students learn what they can about modern Middle East History. Those who understand its complexity are less likely to engage in the provocations we are watching on the news, and, if confronted, will be better able to articulate a hopeful vision for both Israelis and Palestinians.

We address these topics in our temple’s high school program. And there are many resources available, but here are two, easily accessible: a timeline of the Arab-Israeli conflict produced by the American Jewish Committee (ajc.org is always a good resource for information); and a very readable book, also about the history of the conflict, Israel: A Simple Guide to the Most Misunderstood Country on Earth, by Israeli actress and activist Noa Tishby, who will speak at Emanu-El on May 2. I encourage you to attend.

On most every campus, there will be human resources to whom students can turn, and emotionally safe spaces where they can go. At many colleges, those will include Jewish organizations. At others where the Jewish presence is smaller, those may include compassionate advisors and professors. Sometimes they need to be sought out, but they are surely there.

And I and my colleagues are here, for both you and your kids. If you feel we can be helpful in addressing a challenge at school directly, or if you just want to talk, please never hesitate to reach out to us.

Tikkun Olam Holds its 12th Annual Project Prom

As prom season approaches, the excitement among high school students is palpable. Yet, for some, the anticipation is clouded by worries about the costs associated with this milestone event. Temple Emanu-El’s Project Prom empowers hundreds of high school seniors in New York City, offering them a boutique-style shopping experience where they can receive free prom ensembles.

For the 12th consecutive year, Tikkun Olam transformed our space into a bustling boutique, adorned with racks of dresses in all sizes, shelves of shoes, bags, and an array of accessories—all available free of charge. 

With a selection of over 1,000 dresses catering to more than 365 girls from 22 different schools, the event ensures that everyone has the opportunity to experience this milestone. Susan Kaufman, the Tikkun Olam committee chair, emphasized the inclusive nature of the initiative, stating, “the schools will invite girls who might not otherwise be able to afford to go to prom, so we work with guidance counselors so that we make sure that every girl in need gets a full, beautiful prom ensemble.”

What sets Project Prom apart is not only its scale but also its commitment to providing brand new attire. Through the generous donations from vendors within the community, every item in the room sparkles with the promise of a magical evening. We would not be able to host this event without the extreme generosity of our vendors:

  • Dress donations provided by Amsale, Mon Cheri Bridals, The Dessy Group, Adrianna Papell Group, Alex Evenings, Jump Design Group, Jovani  and the Levy Group 
  • Shoes and handbag donations provided by Steve Madden, Perry White Designs, Michael Kors, Frances Valentine, Tyler Ellis, Mundi Westport Group, Kayu, Nina Footwear and CJS Sales 
  • Jewelry donations provided by Deepa Gurnani, The Jewelry Group, Centric Brands Group, Kendra Scott and Kamilan Yuzovitskiy
  • Makeup donations provided by Orosa Beauty and Bobby Brown

It is essential to acknowledge the unsung heroes behind the scenes—over 100 volunteers from Temple Emanu-El and Park Avenue Synagogue selflessly dedicated their time and effort to act as personal shoppers to support students and ensure that every aspect of the event ran smoothly. A special thanks also goes to the Project Prom committee leaders as their constant dedication to this yearly event is how the magic happens! We are grateful to Debbie Halperin, Lori Vili, Rena Goldstein, Jennifer Rittmaster, Dana Covey, Abby Solomon, Eileen Melniker and Marlene Yokel for all their hard work. Thank you also to Karen Smul from Park Avenue Synagogue who has been the Project Prom in-house photographer for many years!

Project Prom showcases the impact of spreading joy and empowering young women, and is a unique way to introduce members of the Temple Emanu-El community to the myriad ways Tikkun Olam gives back to the larger New York community.

See ABC7’s coverage of this year’s Project Prom.

Supporting HIAS’ Avodah Fellowship: Mid-year Grant Progress Report

Founded to help Jews fleeing pogroms in Europe, today HIAS stands for a world in which refugees of all faiths find welcome, safety, and opportunity. Temple Emanu-El’s Philanthropic Fund was pleased to make a grant in the fall of 2023 to support HIAS’ volunteer infrastructure which enables volunteers in New York City to lend their time, skills, …

Giving back through Pro Bono with Family Legal Care

We extend our deepest gratitude to our dedicated volunteer attorneys, Lou Briskman, Jessie Beller, and Kyle Satterfeld, for their invaluable contributions in increasing access to justice for families navigating the complexities of the New York Family Court system.

Through their pro bono service for Family Legal Care, these attorneys offered legal guidance to clients facing challenging issues related to custody, visitation, and child support. Their expertise and commitment have made a real difference in the lives of those they’ve assisted.

By providing one-hour, limited-scope consultations, these generous volunteers have played a critical role in helping parents and caregivers when they need it most. There is a real justice gap for the 80% of family court litigants who navigate the system without representation, and that is why Family Legal Care and pro bono volunteers like Lou, Jessie and Kyle are so essential.

Their dedication to serving the community and advocating for those in need exemplifies the spirit of compassion and justice that strengthens our society. We are profoundly grateful for their unwavering support and commitment to making a positive impact in the lives of families in need.

A Jewish Perspective on the 2024 Solar Eclipse

On April 8, 2024, the skies over North America will darken as a total solar eclipse crosses from Mexico through the United States and into Canada; in New York City, we will see a 90% partial solar eclipse set to start at 2:10 PM, lasting until 4:36 PM, for a total of two hours and 26 minutes. The best time to see the partial eclipse in NYC is 3:25 PM. The next opportunity won’t come around again until 2044 in North America and until 2079 in NYC, making this event particularly special.

Historically, solar eclipses have evoked a mix of awe and fear. In the Hebrew Bible, eclipses were seen as portents, often interpreted by prophets like Amos and Isaiah as divine warnings. Amos, for example, linked the darkening of the skies to a call for ethical repentance, particularly emphasizing the need to support the less fortunate (Amos 8:8-9).

The Talmud also reflects on solar eclipses, viewing them as ominous signs for humanity. Such events were thought to forewarn of misfortune due to collective moral failings, from the neglect of community elders to injustices within the judicial system (Sukkah 29a).

A modern Reform perspective offers a more contemplative approach, suggesting that predictable natural events like eclipses should inspire deeper learning and appreciation of the natural world. As Rabbi Lawrence Troster once explained, “These events remind us of the regularity and wonder of the natural world and should move us to celebrate rather than fear the forces within it.”

Today, eclipses continue to fascinate and inspire. They offer a moment to pause and reflect on our place within the cosmos and to connect more deeply with those around us. A study on the 2017 eclipse noted that those who experienced the totality reported feeling greater awe and a deeper connection to their community and the wider world.

Rachel Lanman, a scientist and educator in Israel, suggests viewing the eclipse as a catalyst for inquiry and appreciation. Echoing the words of Jewish philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel, she advocates for seeing nature’s grandeur as a profound mystery to be revered and studied.

In her sermon on the 2017 solar eclipse, Rabbi Sara Sapadin reminded us, “As Jews, we are commanded to open our eyes and drink in the world before us, to lap up the colors and textures, and soak in the marvelous landscapes and scenery of the earth. We are urged to take notice of the majesty and the mystery, and to embrace, unabashedly, the splendor of it all.”

There is even a blessing for the occasion of seeing an eclipse or other natural wonder (including last Friday’s earthquake):

.בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם עוֹשֶׂה מַעֲשֵׂה בְרֵאשִׁית

Baruch Atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam osei ma’asei vereisheet.

Blessed are You, Adonai our G‑d, King of the universe, who reenacts the works of creation.

Whether you travel to a prime viewing spot or watch from your backyard, the 2024 eclipse offers a unique opportunity to share a profound natural spectacle. It’s a chance to marvel at the universe’s wonders with family and friends and to reflect on our shared human experience—an experience that transcends the everyday and invites us to look up in wonder and contemplation.

Insights from a Panel Discussion “Being Jewish on Campus Post-October 7th”

Led by Temple teen Ezra Sapadin, the Department of Lifelong Learning hosted a panel discussion with current college students, “Being Jewish on Campus Post-October 7th.” College is a transformative time, filled with opportunities for self-discovery, growth, and forging meaningful connections. The conversation offered invaluable insights and guidance for Emanu-El teens who will soon embark upon their own college journeys.  

“The Jewish College Panel allowed teens with completely different mindsets and experiences to begin to comprehend the complexities of the Israel-Palestine conflict in places of higher education and formulate mindsets as to how to go about it themselves” — Ezra Sapadin

A number of themes emerged from the discussion, and our teens left feeling empowered and inspired. Key takeaways from the conversation included:

Embracing the Fluidity of Jewish Identity: Your connection to Judaism evolves. Whether deeply involved or exploring, embrace this fluidity. Affirm your Jewish identity, even if not actively practicing.

Building Supportive Communities: Finding a supportive community is crucial, be it through campus groups, trusted friends, or family. Engage in open dialogue and address unsupportive attitudes to foster understanding.

Striking a Balance: Balancing academics, social life and advocacy can be difficult. Prioritize your Jewish life wisely, set boundaries and have one-on-one conversations for effective communication.

Navigating Controversial Conversations: Navigating discussions on Israel and other contentious topics needs openness and nuance. Be honest and critical about your views. Surround yourself with curious minds open to dialogue, and step away from unproductive environments when needed.

Maintaining Individuality: College is for exploration and self-discovery. Be proud of your identity, but don’t let it limit you. Embrace discomfort, venture into non-Jewish spaces and utilize social media as a platform for personal expression beyond activism.

Addressing Challenges: If faced with challenges such as unfair treatment from professors or conflicts in the classroom, don’t hesitate to seek support from the administration or fellow students. Ultimately, remember that your college experience is shaped by your choices and responsibilities.

With special thanks to Ezra Sapadin for facilitating the panel discussion, and Temple Emanu-El’s Department of Lifelong Learning staff, including Em Besthoff, for making the event possible. For more resources for teens, college students and families, visit our Stand with Israel page.

Thank You to Our Volunteers at Mitzvah Day

Tikkun Olam Volunteers and Project Leaders gathered in Wise Hall this past Sunday, March 17, 2024, to assemble over 2,000 packages containing more than 16,000 items, including provisions for food insecurity, to aid communities in need during Tikkun Olam’s Spring Mitzvah Day. We are grateful to the over 60 community members who arrived ready to …

Emanu-El Studios Presents: Purim

This year, our family Purim celebration Emanu-El Studios Presents: Purim took us on an unforgettable journey through some of Hollywood’s most magical family movies. With more than 140 families joining the festivity, Wise Hall was abuzz with laughter, joy and an array of colorful costumes that brought our cinematic universe to life. The adventure began …

Torah Commentary on Ki Tisa by Bettijane Eisenpreis

Bettijane Eisenpreis Parashah for March 2, 2024 Torah Commentary by Bettijane Eisenpreis “The Lord spoke unto Moses, ”Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the Land of Egypt, have acted  basely….They have made themselves a molten calf and bowed low unto it and sacrificed to it, saying, ‘This is your god, O …

Tikkun Olam Winter Mitzvahs

Tikkun Olam volunteers came together this February to assemble 75 Mishloach Manot packages for the Jewish Chaplains Council and 96 packages for East Harlem Community Partnership/Union Settlement. The Mishloach Manot packages included Purim treats such as Hamantaschen, candy and groggers to celebrate. The packages for East Harlem Community Partnership/Union Settlement featured hats, gloves, socks, arts …

Returning from Berlin: Temple Emanu-El’s Teen Trip to Berlin, Germany

Our recent Teen Trip to Berlin was an incredible journey filled with inspiration and hope. Two of our teens and I returned home deeply moved by the experience. Throughout our time in Berlin, we delved into the city’s history and Jewish culture, which left a lasting impact on all of us.

From the moment we arrived until we departed, our teens immersed themselves in the rich tapestry of Berlin’s past. We shared in the Shabbat Service at the Neue Synagogue, explored the former Jewish quarter, reflected on the history of the Wannsee Conference, and contemplated the significance of the Holocaust memorial. These experiences opened conversations about identity and the history of reform Judaism, fostering a sense of safety for our teens to ask questions and explore their heritage.

Traveling with 28 other teens provided a supportive environment where we could work through any discomfort together, making the trip even more meaningful. It was inspiring to see our teens engage with the history and culture of Berlin, whether it was sleeping on the bus between sites or ordering dinner in German. Their willingness to share their Jewish perspectives at the Abraham Geiger Rabbinical School demonstrated their curiosity and resilience.

In today’s challenging climate, witnessing our teens transform academic challenges into opportunities for growth was truly refreshing. As we returned to New York, we couldn’t help but feel grateful to our teens and their families for entrusting us with this invaluable experience. Blending the old and modern aspects of Berlin was priceless, and the growth we witnessed speaks for itself.

We are excited to continue this journey with our teens later this year, as we have a number of upcoming immersive travel experiences planned. Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to nurture their growth and understanding. If you or your teen would like to learn more about our upcoming trips to Israel, Arizona or Washington, DC, please reach out to me at . We can’t wait to see where this journey takes us next!

For more information about all teen and family trips with Temple Emanu-El, please visit our immersive trips webpage: https://www.emanuelnyc.org/school/immersive-trips/

Discover the Joys of Grandparenting with Temple Emanu-El

Rita Haves and family

Finding the right balance as a new grandparent can be tricky; you want to be supportive and helpful, but not intrusive and overbearing. It marks not only the beginning of the relationship with your grandchild, but also a new relationship with your adult child and their partner. 

Temple Emanu-El’s Grandparents Group was developed by Rabbi Amy Ehrlich and Jacqueline Fisher to support new grandparents navigating this delicate transition and to help them strengthen their family bonds. When temple member Rita Haves joined the group, she was looking forward to lessons and practical advice, and she was pleased to find a supportive and vibrant community as well.

“It is a welcoming environment, in which Rabbi Ehrlich and Jacqueline Fisher create a community of trust and a safe space to share. It’s been a fantastic experience learning from the other grandparents and connecting with them as well. I encourage all grandparents to join.” – Rita Haves

Guided by Rabbi Ehrlich and Jacqueline Fisher, the Grandparents Group engages in meaningful conversations and activities focused on transmitting wisdom and love from one generation to the next—l’dor v’dor. This exploration is intended to strengthen the fabric of family bonds, celebrate the unique role grandparents play in their families’ lives and bolster the connections between grandparents, their adult children and grandchildren. It’s more than a group; it’s a sanctuary for those looking to enhance their role as grandparents.