A Weekly Message from Rabbi Sam Levine 4.30.20


This entry contains:

  1. Some words from Rabbi Sam

  2. The Week at EMJC in Review

  3. A few words about Ben Schaeffer

  4. Details about Yom Ha’atzma’ut programming this Sunday

I heard my esteemed teacher, Dr. Yakir Englander, tell a story this week about his father.  Yakir comes from a Chassidic (Vizhnitzer) family in Israel.  He left the community as a young man, but is still very close with his family, who remain Chassidim.  Sadly, Yakir’s father contracted Covid-19, and was in critical condition (he’s ok now).  As we are all aware, one of the great difficulties around illness and death in the Coronavirus era is that we are not able to visit our loved ones in hospital – we are not able to be with them in their greatest time of need.  Yakir’s father very much wanted a visit by (and a blessing from) the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, but of course the Rebbe was not able to come.  He did, however, call, and he delivered the following message: “Feel my hand.  We are walking together.”

I found this statement incredibly moving.  Rather than telling him that everything was going to be ok, rather than uttering prayers of healing, his simple statement delivered what Mr. Englander needed most: presence and empathy.  

This was another difficult week in our EMJC community.  We bid a final farewell to Mel Lantner, Murray’s father; Gay Baskin, Carolyn’s mother; Sadie Sigler, great grandmother of Eva Fried; and Ben Schaeffer, known to many of us as the tireless advocate of singles-programming.  Two of these were a result of Covid-19.  In addition, others in our community have lost dear friends and family within the last week.  We mourn with all of them.  

And our confinement continues.  I am measuring time by Sam Gusel’s bar mitzvah, which took place on March 14th.  If you remember, we convened a tiny congregation (mostly family) in the main sanctuary and performed a full service, broadcasting it on YouTube live.  That was the last time we held a service in the sanctuary.  Tomorrow will mark our 7th Zoom service, the format we switched to the following week, making it eight weeks since we have effectively been practicing social isolation.  

I wish I could say the end was in sight.  I wish I could say that all who are ill will get better.  But what I can do is point out that EMJC has tried to be, as per the Vizhnitzer Rebbe, a model of presence and empathy.  I can proudly say that we were among the earliest adopters of online services, recognizing the threat and acting on it before most others (thanks, primarily, to guidance from Dr. Lenny Berkowitz); that within 24 hours of Sam Gusel’s bar mitzvah, Audrey had researched, purchased a subscription to, and made it her business to master Zoom so that EMJC would be there for its community, members, and families without interruption (to date, Audrey has set up and hosted well over 100 Zoom “events”).  We did not miss a service, we did not miss a RoomJ class, we held Shabbat Katan, BimBom, classes, interfaith programs, and committee meetings all on Zoom.  We reached out to every member with a personal call and continue to reach out to those in need.  We have supported one another by providing food for grieving families and charitable donations in memory of those who have passed.  

Ours is a great community, and we should all take tremendous pride in our accomplishments.  We have created a “virtual neighborhood,” and are fulfilling our role in it with vibrancy and relevancy.  In a time when so many of us are scared, on edge, and going a little crazy with isolation fever, I believe that we are truly acting on the “thesis” of this week’s Torah portion – “You shall be holy for I the LORD your God am holy.”  By serving one another, by remaining connected in community, by “loving our neighbor as our self” (also in this week’s parasha!), we are elevating the entire EMJC endeavor.  

The Week in Review

It was another full week at EMJC.  We had all-day programming to celebrate Yom HaZikaron (Memorial Day) and Yom HaAtzma’ut (Independence Day) on Tuesday and Wednesday.  I want to thank Zohar Nahum, our shinshinit, for putting on a truly powerful presentation on Yom HaZikaron.  Zohar told us the story of a remarkable young man from her moshav who was killed in the Lebanon War.  Her moving account brought tears to our eyes, for real.  It was a perfect Yom HaZikaron experience.

Our daily minyan has been supporting a growing group of mourners, and has been a great support to many in this difficult time.  If you’re up at 7:45 am, please join us for Shacharit.  Evening minyan is at 6:45 every night.  If you’re interested in leading any of these services or reading Torah on Mondays or Thursdays (or Shabbat, for that matter), please be in touch with me.

There was a meaningful Room J shiva on Thursday night to support the Lantner family on the loss of Murry and Moran’s father (in-law) Melvin Lantner and, more specifically, Ma’ayan, Meitar, and Alma’s grandfather.  I know this was a great support to Murray and Moran.

Dr. Jack Salome was featured in a short piece in New York Magazine.  It is absolutely worth a read.  You can find it here: https://www.thecut.com/2020/03/what-it-takes-to-survive-a-disaster.html?fbclid=IwAR1yUTjuwU80mhGcCUqP9go-1y3Gzz4xwDW-y_dN6mEhxs73bPhMpZfWuoI.

Ellen Levitt had a very nice article about Zoom Bar and Bat Mitzvahs (at EMJC) published in The Wisdom Daily.  You can read that here: http://thewisdomdaily.com/throw-candy-at-the-screen-witnessing-a-virtual-bar-mitzvah/

Join us for services:

-Kabbalat Shabbat this evening at 6:15

-Shabbat-a-BimBom tonight at 6:30

-Shabbat morning sat 9:15 – We are privileged to have Dr. Howard Honigman deliver the d’var Torah, so make sure to Zoom in!

-Shabbat Mincha/Maariv at 7:30

As always, you can contact Audrey for Zoom links and for help with getting into Zoom meetings.

On Sunday, there will be a full day of Yom Ha’atzma’ut festivities online sponsored by the Jewish Agency, including a program with members of the cast of the Israeli hit series Fauda.  Please see the schedule and log-in information below.

A Word about Ben Schaeffer

Many in our community were shocked by the death of Ben Schaeffer, myself included.  Without ignoring the fact that he could sometimes be controversial, he was one of the characters who made our community vibrant and interesting.  His vociferous advocacy of programming for Jewish singles was a real contribution to the Jewish community; he was an ardent political activist; and he was a remarkably good listener who would often cede a point when he heard something new, a rare quality, especially in someone whose views were so strongly held.  He was young, healthful (as far as I know) and filled with life-force.  It is hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that he was a victim of this brutal and undiscriminating disease.  I think many of us feel this way.  May his memory be for a blessing – the world is a poorer place for his loss.

Wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorach – a peaceful and blessed Shabbat.

Rabbi Sam Levine

Yom Ha’atzmaut Celebration

Sunday, May 3, 2020


FAUDA cast Q&A,

PJ Library

Israel Story Podcast and more!

All events will be streamed live on FaceBook here:


Schedule of events

10:30 AM – 11:15 AM

*** Music Talks 

Musical journey throughout Israel based on the children’s book “Ella’s trip to Israel” (ages 4-6)

10:30 AM – 4:00 PM

*** Israeli playlist 

Come and tune into upbeat Israeli music all day long and celebrate Israel’s 72nd birthday (all ages)

11:00 AM – 12:00 PM

*** Piven Workshop 

What is Home Made of? Leading artist Hanoch Piven leads a view of surroundings through new, inspiring, and empowering lenses (all ages)

11:00 AM – 4:00 PM

***Israel Games and Trivia

Challenge yourself and your friends with Israel trivia games. Get started on your own time and at your own pace (all ages) 

12:00 PM – 12:30 PM

*** PJ Library 

An interactive story time for ages 6 and under. Bring your favorite stuffy along to meet some Israeli animals! (ages 0-6)

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

***Music in the Mitbach

 Israeli farmer and chef Hedai Ofaim hosts three renowned musicians in his kitchen as they cook and discuss songs and texts that connect to their dishes and personal stories (all ages) 

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

***Al Regel Achat / On One Foot

Mayumuna Kids, Israeli Stomp lead an energetic dance set to Israeli music (families with young children)

1:00 PM – 2:00 PM

***Global Trivia Challenge

Interactive Kahoot challenge with students from across the globe on some of the biggest moments in Zionism and the history of Israel (grade 6 and up)

2:00 PM – 2:45 PM

*** Fauda Cast 

Conversation with three leading actors from the hit Israel show Fauda (ages teens and adults) 

2:00 PM – 2:45 PM

*** Music Talks 

Musical journey throughout Israel based on the children’s book “Ella’s trip to Israel” (ages 4-6)

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

*** Time Travel Through Israel, The Bible Players 

Travel on a hilarious adventure with The Bible Players’ time machine through the last 100 years of Israel’s history (Ages 5 and up. Parents welcome!)

3:00 PM – 4:00 PM

***The StoryTellers

Yochai Maital and Mishy Harman from Israel Story – the world’s largest Jewish podcast, will share how (and why) they stumbled upon telling stories for a living. They’ll share clips from Israel Story, reveal insights to the art and power of stories and offer advice on telling our own (grade 5 and up, and their families)

4:00 PM – 5:00 PM

*** Festive Israeli Party with DJ Jewel  

Dance together with the big hits you know and love. Celebrate Israel’s Independence Day and wear blue and white! (all ages)

8:00 PM – 9:30 PM

*** Pub Quizrael 

How much do you know about Israeli culture and history? Join us with your drink of choice for fun pub style trivia! (adults)