A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 4.2.21

I have a few loose items that I’d like to cover this week – a little mid-Passover house-keeping, if you will. So here’s the 1-2-3-4-5-6:


  1. Pandemic Update

In a moving and emotional appeal to the country earlier this week, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expressed, in scientific terms, the mood of the country. On the one hand, she acknowledged the mood of optimism that is gently sweeping the nation (and the developed world): the vaccines are proving to be efficacious – remarkably so. And the national effort to vaccinate the population is successful beyond expectations. There are other reasons for optimism too. On the other hand, she said, it is not yet time to let down our guard! She expressed serious concern about a “fourth wave” as people grow careless about mask-wearing and social distancing. And indeed, the number of infections is rising again, this time among younger folks as the older population, a majority of whom are now vaccinated, is increasingly protected.


This succinct summary reflects the discussion that is going on at synagogues (and most institutions) across the country. Some congregants are eager to get back to in-person services, others are more cautious and nervous. While the scientific data suggest that a return is safe (following the usual COVID-19 protocols), many are reluctant to venture out “unnecessarily.” This reluctance is a result of what can only be described as trauma. A year ago, our lives were turned upside down. The world changed overnight. We were consumed with fear, rightfully so, and we were bombarded with a never-ending parade of terrible news. The pandemic, as we have experienced it over the last year, may end, but our emotional response to it will likely linger for a long time.


There should be no judgement on this front. Each of us should be allowed to process our fears and our reluctances at our own pace. Before too long, we will begin having in-person services again. Those who feel comfortable venturing out will do so. We will continue to offer Zoom services for those who need more time (it’s clear that Zooming services is here to stay). There will not be an overnight transformation – we are looking at a gradual return to something like what we once had. We will slowly help each other out of the trauma just as we supported one another going into it. This is the mark of community. 


Please rest assured that the conversation about a return is happening in earnest. We do not yet have a date for opening the synagogue again, but it won’t be long, and we are discussing what such a return will look like – needless to say, there are a variety of factors to consider. We welcome your continued input and are grateful for it.


  1. Acosta-Molina Family

I mentioned in services last Shabbat that the Acosta-Molina family have crossed the border! They are safely in Texas and will be flying up to New York on April 5th. This is wonderful news. They will be upstate for a spell, and will soon make their way to Queens. We hope to have a full report and more information to share by next week. We will be able to share more of their story too, and explore ways to help them acclimate to life in the United States. 


  1. Passover (Matzah brei/fried matzah and Echad Mi Yode’a)

 We are, of course, still in the middle of Passover. For some reason, I’ve been having a recurring fantasy all week in which someone asks me, What’s your favorite brei?, to which I answer, matzah brei, of course. If you’re aware of any other use of the word “brei,” I’d love to hear it. It turns out there’s a Wikipedia page for matzah brei (why should that surprise anyone?). The entry helpfully explains that “the German word brei refers to a “porridge-like mush.” In modern Yiddish, brei means ‘fry.’” Both are true – matzah brei is a fried porridge-like mush. It works for me. I can’t get enough of it. 


I hope everyone had meaningful seders this year. For some, it may have been a first venture out to a family gathering since COVID began, and for others (like my family), another Zoom experience. I mentioned last week that my mother’s side of the family has its own special melodies passed down over many generations, particularly for the four songs that conclude the seder. The jewel of these tunes is (arguably) Echad Mi Yode’a – Who Knows One? Apropos of that, I’d like to share a video of the Batsheva Dance Company’s extraordinary performance of Echad Mi Yode’a, choreographed by Ohad Naharin. The video begins with a preamble in Hebrew. The translation is: The illusion/deception of strength, and the thin line that divides madness/craziness and serenity. The panic that is behind the laughter, and the coexistence of fatigue and elegance.


You can see this amazing video here (this is not my family’s tune):



And you can find a nice written piece about the performance here:



  1. Yizkor

This Sunday morning we will recite Yizkor. To supplement the Yizkor service and to give folks an opportunity to share some reflections about their loved ones who have passed, Audrey Korelstein and I have created a supplementary Yizkor service that will take place on Sunday afternoon at 4:30. Through readings, psalms, and personal sharing, we can all process some of the losses of the past year and reflect on the important people in our lives who are no longer with us. Please join us. We will use the evening service Zoom link. Reach out to roomj@emjc.org if you need the link.


  1. Yom HaShoah

As per yesterday’s blast: Next Wednesday night and Thursday we observe Yom HaShoah. We will be commemorating the day with two events: on Wednesday night at 8:00, we will join with Madison Jewish Center for our annual observance (more details to follow early next week). On Thursday evening from 6:30 to 7:15, we will join together with the Brownstone Brooklyn community as co-sponsors of a multi-synagogue commemoration. Following that event, Temple Beth Elohim is sponsoring a book discussion with Menachem Kaiser, author of Plunder: A Memoir of Family Property and Nazi Treasure. For more information, and to RSVP for the Thursday night event, click here: https://cbebk.shulcloud.com/adultopportunities/menachem-kaiser


Reminder: The final installment of the Melton Class We Are What We Remember also takes place Thursday night at 7:30.


  1. Social Worker

EMJC has renewed its relationship with the JBFCS (the Jewish Board of Family and Child Services) and through the auspices of the PIC (Partners in Caring) program we have secured the services of an on-call social worker (Rabbi Adam Huttel) to handle any crises that might emerge for any of our congregants. If you or a loved one is in crisis and could benefit from speaking with a social worker, please contact me (Rabbi Sam Levine) at salevine66@gmail.com or through the synagogue office.


Also, the City of New York is now offering COVID related crisis counseling. Here’s the blurb from the website:

There’s a lot to navigate during the pandemic and that can be stressful. There are masks to wear, distance to keep, and then there is loss. And loss takes all kinds of forms. There are activities you don’t do now, friends you don’t see, and then there are friends and family you have lost.

There’s simply a lot going on right now and feeling stressed or anxious is to be expected. The key is what you do with the stress and anxiety – how do you handle it so it doesn’t get a hold on you.

The city is offering crisis counseling for a host of COVID related issues (this is defined very loosely). You can get more information at https://nyprojecthope.org/cope/ or you can reach them here:

Emotional Support Helpline

Talk to a crisis counselor:

Call: 1-844-863-9314

Confidential • Anonymous • Free

8am-10pm / 7 days


I’d like to wish you all a Shabbat shalom um’vorach and a chag same’ach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat and a happy end-of Passover. May the holiday of redemption bring us all renewed hope for a better year.


Rabbi Sam Levine