A Big Thank You to Our 2023 Project Prom Team and Partners

by Susan Kaufman
Chair, Tikkun Olam Committee

A huge thanks to the more than 80 volunteers who helped assist over 360 young women to prepare for their senior proms! We could not hold this event without your continued support and guidance. The room was filled with laughter, smiles and lots of giggles! The event was also covered by the media:

All our shoppers were able to leave the Temple with a NEW Prom Dress, NEW Shoes, NEW Evening Bag, NEW Jewelry and a Full Makeup bag! And snacks were even provided to all the shoppers! A huge thank you to all our partners who are so generous in donating all these wonderful items; this mitzvah would not be possible without the support:

  • Dress donations: Levy Group, Bari Jay, Adrianna Papell Group, Faviana, CamiNYC, Mori Lee, Adriennes Bridal, AMSALE, DELFICOLLECTIVE, AMANDA UPRICHARD, Alex Evenings, Mon Cheri Bridals, JOVANI and The Dessy Group
  • Shoe donations: Marc Fisher Shoes, Nina Footwear Corp., Caleres ,Dessy Steve Madden
  • Evening bag donations: EKR Designs LLC EMM KUO, Basha Accessories, Estee & Lily, La Regale, Kayu Designand Steve Madden
  • Jewelry donations: EVP
  • Makeup donations: Megababe, Amanda Smeal, Bluemercury and Estee Lauder Companies

I would also like to thank the Project Prom Committee, Debbie Halperin, Marlene Yokel, Abby Solomon, Dana Covey, Eileen Melniker, Lori Vili,  Rena Goldstein and Annette Marom who worked tirelessly throughout the year to schedule all our participating schools and solicit the many donations to make this event a huge success.

Most importantly I can not say enough about our Temple’s Maintenance staff.  Without their continued support and guidance by Jesus Toribo this event would not be able to take place.  They are always there to assist in every way imaginable. I would also like to express my extreme appreciation to Mark Heutlinger, John O’Hara and Joseph Palusevic who are available in a moment’s notice when assistance is needed.

With So Much Gratitude to All,

Susan Kaufman
Chair, Tikkun Olam Committee


The 2023 Elsie Adler Yom HaShoah Program

by Caryn Roman
Acting Director of Lifelong Learning


“Not to transmit an experience is to betray it.”
– Elie Wiesel, z”l, Holocaust survivor, political activist, Nobel laureate and teacher


The obligation to remember the Holocaust and its victims is so much a part of modern Jewish life that the philosopher Rabbi Dr. Emile Fackenheim suggested it be considered the “614th commandment,” referring to the traditional 613 mitzvot outlined in Torah. At Emanu-El, our Religious School students and families honor that commitment each spring at the Elsie Adler Memorial Holocaust Remembrance Program.

Elsie Adler (z”l) was a beloved and dedicated member of the Emanu-El community, who herself escaped from Nazi Germany as a child. She was passionate about preserving the memory of the Holocaust and educating younger generations to better understand, appreciate and learn from one of the darkest periods in Jewish history. Her generosity to the Temple allowed for the creation of annual programming in this vein, geared specifically toward 10-to-16-year-olds and their parents.

On April 16 and 17, 2023, 5th through 10th grade students, parents and faculty had the opportunity to hear testimony from Holocaust survivor Martin Bloch. Martin was born in Ivje, Poland. The Nazis murdered his father in the early years of the war and Martin, his mother and older brother were forced into the local ghetto in Belarus. They escaped from the ghetto and, for a short time, they hid with non-Jews in a nearby forest before joining the Bielski brothers, a Jewish partisan group. When the war ended in 1945, they went to the Bergen-Belsen Displaced Persons Camp where they were forced to remain for seven years before immigrating to New York in 1952. Mr. Bloch eventually attended City College of New York and founded Frequency Electronics Incorporated, an aerospace engineering firm.

Following Mr. Bloch’s presentation and a Q & A period, students and their families proceeded to Blumenthal Hall for an interactive ritual service marking Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, that included opportunities for personal reflection and small-group discussion.

Click here to download a copy of the service

Click here and here to read reflections from students, parents and faculty submitted during the service.

Before leaving, participants were offered multiple ways of continuing to commemorate the Holocaust and its victims and survivors at home and in the future, and were encouraged to find ways to share what they’d learned with others outside of Religious School. Many students chose to take memorial candles and affix labels with the name of a child who perished in the Holocaust, in order to light the candle at home for Yom Hashoah in that child’s memory. Others read about Norwegian educators’ resistance to Nazi ideology during World War II and took paperclips to emulate and honor their strength.

As part of the last generation of people who will have the benefit of hearing testimony about the Holocaust from living survivors, the entire Lifelong Learning community at Temple Emanu-El is grateful to Mr. Bloch, Rabbis Ehrlich and Sapadin, and all others who planned and participated in this year’s programs.

Rallying for Democracy in Israel

by Rabbi Sara Sapadin

We received word early Shabbat afternoon: head to Kaplan Street near Azrieli between 7 and 7:30. After fourteen consecutive weeks, Israelis would rally for democracy once again— throughout the streets of Tel Aviv and in several cities beyond.  Even in the face of Friday’s terror attack, which occurred on the promenade in Tel Aviv, the rally would go on.  Organizers would comply with police and security, making some alterations to the evening’s schedule, but the demonstration would continue.  

My family and I had come to Israel for many reasons: first, it had been nearly four and a half years since we had touched down in Israel; it was past time to reconnect with the land we love so dearly.  Second, dear friends of ours were hosting B’nai Mitzvah in Israel; it was our privilege to share in the celebrations. Third, our son would be traveling in Israel with his high school class; we thought if he was going, why not get in on the action?  But as the departure date drew nearer, and as the popular uprising against the government reforms grew stronger, we recognized there was yet another reason to travel these many miles across the ocean: Israelis were fighting for the soul of their nation, and we felt drawn to offer our support, in whatever shape or form we could.

On Saturday evening, Motzei Shabbat, we met up with another family and headed towards downtown Tel Aviv.  As we walked, we began to sense a buzz around us, an energy.  It didn’t take long before we saw one person and then two and then several folks carrying, donning, or waving Israeli flags.  Here was a young man wrapped in a flag.  Here was a wee child excitedly shaking his.  Here was a septuagenarian lifting his flag proudly toward the sky and here was a teenage girl raising hers with a kind of defiant joy.  And interspersed among the Israeli flags were beautiful rainbow Pride flags, claiming their space in the crowd as well.   

When we reached HaBima Square, near the center of Tel Aviv, we saw a group of rallygoers forming.  In addition to flags and signs, makeshift torches, in the shape of Havdalah candles, were being handed out.  The torches served the purpose of lighting the way in the darkness, but they also gave life to the many signs which spoke of Israel being “on fire.”  (We took a couple of torches, but quickly realized they were much more hazardous than they were practical.  Extinguishing ours in a nearby patch of dirt, we noticed many others had done the same!). Our fears of widespread fire aside, these torches captured the acute fears of the moment, fears that the judicial changes will permanently alter the fabric of Israeli society, yielding a country in which individual freedoms- for Palestinians, for women, for members of the LGBTQ+ community, for non-Orthodox Jews, and many more, will not only be threatened but eliminated.  The risk inherent in carrying the torches reminds us that the stakes-to protect Israel’s citizens and democracy- could not possibly be higher. 

We walked with the demonstrators for several blocks, weaving through parts of downtown Tel Aviv that were completely new to me.  Every intersection brought more people into the rally; every street, another tributary of rally-goers.  We marched in the middle of the street, halting most traffic in one of the busiest sections of Tel Aviv.  It was an awe-inspiring sight to behold.  This was democracy in action! This was a people who were truly standing up to be counted. 

The streets were noisy and boisterous, full of cries for “Democratia!” and horns and whistles and drums.  Sounds were coming from all sides and every direction.  Some were singing.  Some were chanting.  Others were playing all manner of musical instruments. Even the youngest children were outfitted with noisemakers and kazoos; several times, we were surprised by toddlers peeking out from under their strollers to blow their horns! 

Standing amidst this crowd was as energizing as it was humbling. It was a privilege to walk alongside Israelis who have been steadfastly rallying for democracy, rain or shine, for the last fourteen weeks. Bearing witness to their indomitable spirit, especially in the face of Friday’s terror attacks, was truly awe-inspiring. That we could participate in this historic moment was so meaningful to us and something we will always remember. And if we brought even a small measure of strength to this noble cause, all the better.  Thinking back on the experience, I only hope to intermingle my prayers with those who were marching: may this collective uprising give way to real change, and an Israel that ensures freedom, justice, and peace for all.

Watch Rabbi Sapadin’s Recent Sermon on Israel

A Lesson from the Seder: Teaching Children as Individuals

Rabbi Joshua Davidson’s sermon from Shabbat morning services April 8, 2023, on the lesson for parents and educators from the Passover Seder’s story of the four children to teach each child as an individual according to their interests, abilities and understanding. Download the source sheet (PDF).  

Finding Our Place at Temple Emanu-El

Adapted from Lauren Bernstein’s speech at the Gather Shabbat Evening Service March 24, 2023

My husband Jon and I moved into the area in January of 2020 while I was pregnant with our son. Jon went to Hebrew school at Temple Emanu-El and was Bar Mitzvah’d here, so moving back uptown was a bit of a homecoming. We were excited to settle into the neighborhood and join the temple. The pandemic had some other plans, and we spent our first few months tracking down hand sanitizer and settling into newborn parent life. We finally joined Temple Emanu-El later that year in Fall 2020.

As soon as we joined, we immediately wished we had done so sooner. We could not believe how quickly Temple Emanu-El welcomed us into the community. At a time when just about all social interactions were done over Zoom, we found that the temple had a lot to offer in the way of social connectivity, particularly for two sleep-deprived, new parents.  Before long, we were attending virtual Young Member programs pretty consistently, where we met several people. Doing so exposed us to the Emanu-El’s Gather groups.

“One thing that is really great about belonging to a congregation of this size and with so much diversity is the ability to find common ground and interest in almost anything.” 

Jon and I soon joined both a Young Professionals Gather and a TV Watching Gather.  Through the Gather programs, we made some very close friends, some of whom are in this room right now.  And joining Gather opened our eyes to new opportunities at the temple — specifically the toddler program that met twice a week in 2021-2022.

Seeing how our son thrived at the temple, particularly with kids who are now some of his closest friends, it only made sense to become involved in Gather Family.

Gather Family has been a fantastic way to get to know member families with similarly aged kids. Thus far, we have done a number of local activities with the children, including visiting the Central Park Zoo, going to the SlooMoo Institute, and checking out the Alice in Wonderland Dreams exhibit. And while it is Gather Family, we’ve also ditched the kids and have gone out with just the parents, which has been a great way for us to connect and foster new friendships.

One thing that is really great about belonging to a congregation of this size and with so much diversity is the ability to find common ground and interest in almost anything.  And as someone with a “COVID baby,” having a community within the temple of people going through similar experiences has been both a pleasure and a stress reliever.  In addition to just having a group to attend events and exhibits with the kids, it’s also a community where we can talk about the challenges and stresses of parenting generally, and specifically to raising children born during this unique period.

And it’s been wonderful for our son as well. He loves attending temple events, and in the fall, he will be attending Temple Emanu-El Nursery School, together with two other children in our Gather Family group. We are incredibly grateful to the congregation and the clergy at Emanuel for giving us the tools to foster and grow these relationships.

Whither Jewish Peoplehood

When the Ember and the Fire Separate

Rabbi Joshua Davidson’s Shabbat sermon on our relationship to Israel and the Jewish people, from Saturday, March 4, 2023.

Read Rabbi Davidson’s March 16, 2023 article in Ha’Aretz on American Jews’ relationship with Israel (subscription required). 

We Need to Talk About Israel

Rabbi Sarah H. Reines
Evening Shabbat Sermon from March 10, 2023 / 18 Adar 5783

I have a confession to make. In my 25 years as a rabbi, I have never given a sermon about Israel. I have lots of reasons for that. 

First of all, and perhaps most importantly, my feelings for and thoughts about Israel are deeply intense and conflicting — it’s hard for me to find clarity for myself, much less express myself clearly to others.

Second, I have imposter syndrome. I don’t know enough — not enough history, not enough political nuance. I lived for a year in Israel and have visited several times. But I don’t have enough first-hand experience to claim any kind of authoritative voice. 

Third, I feel cowed by the thought that I can provide answers — answers to the tangle of challenges Israel faces, responds to and creates.

Fourth, it scares me. Whatever I say will trigger strong and barbed responses — responses that might cause people to leave a congregation or blackball a rabbi. A recent article about rabbis speaking about Israel from the bima described this phenomenon by its informal name, “Death by Israel Sermon.”

So there are plenty of reasons why I haven’t given sermons about Israel. And none of them are an excuse. Shame on me. I am breaking my own silence tonight after having spent time in Israel over the last several weeks at this critical moment in Israel’s history.  

Fascism is a real threat and religious zealots are in power. I joined hundreds of thousands of protesting Israelis — the largest number in Israel’s history. Air Force unit reservists are striking, tech companies are threatening pull outs. Orthodox preteen girls shoved, clawed at and spit on me and other liberal Jews praying at the Western Wall. Government officials are calling to wipe out Palestinian villages and encouraging police violence against Jewish protesters. While I was there, two young Jewish Israeli men from a nearby settlement were shot dead by a Palestinian resident of Hawara. Settlers responded by torching homes, cars and trees, stopping to offer evening prayers, and then continuing to terrorize this community.

So I’ll speak about Israel tonight and again in the future. I can’t promise I will speak with clarity or with the breadth and depth of knowledge I crave. I won’t provide answers, and what I say may upset you. But silence — individuals, clergy, politicians, congregations, organizations, nations —  has contributed to this tenuous place where we find ourselves. To be silent is to be complicit. It may not be too late for the change Israel needs. But that change will only have the possibility of happening if we confront truths and absorb perspectives that may anger us, frighten us or make us uncomfortable. 

I have reams of notes and articles, I’ve been swimming in facts. But for tonight, I would like to share three anecdotes. I’ll begin with something that happened in my very last hours in Israel. To get there, though, I first need to bring you back with me to 30 years ago, when Rabbi Davidson and I were first-year students at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem.

My husband, Rich, took an ulpan — an immersive Hebrew course offered by the city — and met Bassam, a Palestinian Christian living in East Jerusalem. We quickly became friends. Bassam joined me, Rich and my classmates at a dance club on my birthday. We celebrated with his community at his brother’s wedding. We shared many coffees at cafes and meals with his parents in their home. When Rich and I left our apartment at the end of the year, Bassam was there, heaving our suitcases in the cab and seeing us off with hugs and a few tears. 

We kept in touch for several years. Remember, this was 1992, so we mostly communicated by writing aerograms. Bassam loved American pop music, so Rich and I sent him recordings of WPLJ on cassette tapes. We talked about him coming to New York, us returning to Israel. But before either of those things happened, we lost touch. Rich and I moved a few times, lost an address book, and then there was really no way to find each other. We thought about Bassam a lot, but were always unsuccessful in tracking him down, even over social media.

Nine nights ago, I was spending the last hours of my trip to Israel at a restaurant in East Jerusalem. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I said to the owner, “This will sound like a crazy question. But do you know someone named Bassam? He would be in his 50s. He has a brother, Ibraham. The woman responded, “Bassam? He lives two minutes in that direction.” A customer overheard and hit Bassam on his speed dial. Fifteen minutes later, my friend was standing next to me. Muslim customers applauded when they saw their Christian neighbor embracing this American Reform rabbi, reunited after 30 years. 

This is Israel. 

And 30 years ago, this is where I would have ended the sermon I never gave. Because that is the Israel we want, the Israel we believe in, the Israel that inspires. But that is far from the full picture or the full story.

Bassam and I only had a short time to catch up. And what I heard saddened me. He and his brother are the last of their family and the last of their Christian community to live in the neighborhood anymore. Religious and political tensions within the Palestinian community, in addition to the military and political tensions coming from the Jewish community, became too much for them. 

Bassam lowered his voice when he told me that four years ago he applied for Israeli citizenship and was one of the small minority who received it. Without citizenship, it was becoming impossible for him to fully function as a tour guide who needed to travel inside and outside of the Green Line and country. “But,” he whispered, “some people don’t like that.”  

Bassam explained that despite everything, he didn’t want to leave. He was living with his wife and children in the house his family had owned for generations — under Ottoman rule, then British Rule. After 1948, his family worried for their future, and then in 1950, still in their home, they found they were living in Jordan. Then in ’67, East Jerusalem was occupied, and then in 1980 it was declared annexed. “Jordan, Palestine, Israel,” Bassam said. “I honestly don’t care what it is. I just want me and my family to be able to go to school, make a living, and enjoy our lives. I just want us to be regarded as full human beings, as people who have always had their home here, as people who belong here. I just want the basics.”

This, too, is Israel. 

Now, join me in Haifa, where I spent erev Shabbat two weeks ago tonight at Congregation Or Chadash, a vibrant Reform community. That night marked the one-year anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine and we had the privilege of hearing from Rabbi Alexander Dukhovny, Ukraine’s only Reform rabbi. In the early months of the invasion he hid in the basement of a building, pastoring his congregation as much as he could virtually, before escaping to Haifa.

Rabbi Dukhovny is a Ukrainianborn child of a Holocaust survivor. His mother and her sister were saved by non-Jewish Ukrainians while the rest of their family was murdered in the camps. A month before the Russian invasion, during an interview, he was optimistic, believing that the U.S. and the U.K. would not abandon Ukraine. And then he said, “And if the worst really happens, we have a homeland: Israel.”

Just two weeks ago, I was listening to this man’s voice, trembling with emotion, expressing grief for his dispersed community and overwhelming gratitude for the safety Israel provided for him and so many other Jewish Ukrainians. The Zionist promise of a safe haven for Jews stood right before me. 

This is still Israel.

Now join me for the last anecdote I will share tonight. I spent my last three days touring the West Bank with 10 colleagues. A Jewish Israeli security guard named Avi accompanied our group. Avi is a secular man in his early 30s. I asked where he lived, and he told me Ein Kerem. If you don’t know, Ein Kerem is a quiet neighborhood on the outskirts of West Jerusalem, home to Christian Holy sites and artsy cafes. If you’ve been to Hadassah Hospital, you’ve been to Ein Kerem.

Avi explained that he lives there instead of Tel Aviv because he seeks quiet. But he is realizing he wants a quiet that he may never find in Israel. He craves refuge from the noise and chaos and tumult and violence and suffering and shame. He described Ein Kerem as a settlement. When I reacted, he said, “Arab families lived there and then in 1948 they had to go. Now we live there. That’s a settlement.” 

Avi is planning to leave. He told me that he’s been saving his money and finally found some property he would like to buy in a quiet, forested area. Where? In Ukraine!

I reacted. And Avi responded, “It’s what I can afford. And if I can open my door and hear birds and see trees, what does it matter if I’m in Ukraine, or Italy, or America? Quiet and green —that’s all I need.”

This, too, is Israel. Israel is a place where young people — and now I’m talking about Jewish, non-Orthodox citizens of Israel — where young Israelis increasingly find themselves unable to economically or physically or emotionally or mentally or ethically feel at home. 

The irony deepens. It turns out Avi’s great grandparents came from Ukraine. Like Rabbi 

Dukhovny, his grandparents found a new beginning in Israel — this patch of land alive with the promise of a safe, productive, fulfilling future for themselves and their children. Now, only a few generations later, their Hebrew-speaking, army-trained, sabra descendant is planning to leave his ancestral homeland for the country they fled, where Jews have suffered some of the bloodiest massacres of our history, a country which is now a war zone.

Here is Avi on the left. It’s not a great picture of him. I snapped this picture to capture the vision of this seemingly lovely, well-maintained park. It’s in Kiryat Arba, a settlement adjacent to Hebron, and it is dedicated to Meir Kahane. Kahane was the ultra-nationalist founder of the Jewish Defense League and Kach, the Orthodox-nationalist party, who served one term in the Knesset before being convicted for acts of terrorism.

At the end of the park you will find the well-maintained grave of Baruch Goldstein. Goldstein was the American religious extremist, and member of the Kach party, who, in 1994, entered a mosque in Hebron and opened fire on 800 Palestinian Muslim worshippers, killing 29 and wounding 125. You can see from the stones that people — Jewish settlers, mostly — still come to pay tribute. Itamar ben Gvir, the current minister of national security, is an admirer who had a picture of Goldstein hanging in his office. 

This is where we are now. This, too, is Israel.

There is so much I don’t know. But this I will state with surety: Israel exists and needs to exist. That cannot happen if it continues the unethical and illegal practice of occupation. That can only happen if it will reflect the values of its founders, as articulated in its Declaration of Independence: 

“Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

This last picture is taken in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. I am sharing it because I think that the little boy sitting down on the ground, and the wall painting of a little girl floating away while holding a bunch of balloons, capture the desire people have to stay in their homes, while yearning to escape. 

Most people just want the basics. We are all part of the same fabric. We can find a way to live in shared space. It’s happened at other times, in other places. Why not in Israel, in Jerusalem, in Palestine? And if not now, when?

Our First Spring Mitzvah Day is in the News

March 14, 2023 Tikkun Olam Volunteers and Project Leaders gathered together in Wise Hall this past Sunday, March 12, to assemble over 1200 packages containing over 15,000 items, including Passover-related goods, for communities in need during Tikkun Olam’s first Spring Mitzvah Day. We are grateful to the over 70 community members who arrived ready to …

Torah Commentary by Bettijane Eisenpreis: Parashat Va-Yakhel/Pekudei – March 18, 2023

Bettijane Eisenpreis Parashat for March 18, 2023 On Saturday, March 18, Temple Emanu-El welcomes Orly Erez-Likhovski, Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), who will discuss religious pluralism in Israel. Click here to learn more about this special service and luncheon. Torah Commentary by Bettijane Eisenpreis “And Moses said to the Israelites: See the …

Our Town Honors Rabbi Joshua Davidson as a Notable New Yorker

“I am both proud and humbled to serve Temple Emanu-El, and through it the wider community. This recognition really should go to my congregation, its tireless staff, its extraordinary lay leadership and its wonderfully devoted membership, some of whom are present tonight and I thank them for being here.” – Rabbi Joshua Davidson March 9, …

Magic, Music and More! Emanu-El Celebrates Purim

March 8, 2023 This year, Temple Emanu-El welcomed Purim in style with four enchanting events for all ages! On Sunday, March 5, almost 500 members gathered together for a fantastical Encanto-themed Purim Shpiel and a spectacular Carnival in Wise Hall, which transformed into the Magical Kingdom of Shushan. In the afternoon, our Emanu-El Downtown community …

“A Day of Resolve” – Countering Hate with Faith

Photo: Rebecca White for The New York Daily News February 27, 2023 “We will not be intimidated or cowed by those in this country who seek to do us and other minority communities harm.” – Rabbi Joshua Davidson Together in resolve, Temple Emanu-El held its 10:30 AM Shabbat Morning Service on February 25 outside on …