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Where to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in New York City this year

This story will be updated throughout Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

(New York Jewish Week) — Labor Day Weekend signals two things: The end of the summer and, for the Jewish community, the onset of the High Holidays.

On Rosh Hashanah, a two-day holiday that begins on the evening of Sept. 15, Jews usher in the New Year of 5784. Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, begins with the Kol Nidre service on the evening of Sept. 24 and continues through sundown on Sept. 25

Not a member of a synagogue or not sure how you’re going to mark the holidays this year? Not to worry. The New York Jewish Week has put together a list of local options, ranging from traditional synagogue services and family-friendly programs to volunteer opportunities and comedy shows. Our selection spans boroughs and price points, though all are open to the public. 

Whether you celebrate the High Holidays with a festive meal, praying in shul with fellow Jews or listening to a concert of liturgical music, there’s no shortage of ways to spend the Days of Awe in New York City. Keep scrolling to learn more. 

Is your synagogue or Jewish organization hosting High Holiday services or events that are open to the public? Send an email to with the details if you’d like us to add it to our list!

High Holiday services in Manhattan

Temple Emanu-El’s downtown campus offers programming curated for families with young children, including honey tasting, music, crafts and food. (Temple Emanu-El)

Ohel Ayalah 

Ohel Ayalah is hosting in-person services for both days of Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan. The traditional, egalitarian service is aimed at Jews in their 20s and 30s who are not already connected to a Jewish community. The service is free and open to the public, though pre-registration is recommended

JCC Harlem

Rabbi Mira Rivera, one of our 2023 “36 to Watch” honorees, will lead in-person services open to the public at JCC Harlem this year on each day of Rosh Hashanah, as well as on Kol Nidre and Yom KippurTickets start at $18 for family services and $36 for standard services. JCC Harlem and Embrace Harlem will also host a “wine down” walk and tashlich (casting one’s “sins” into a body of water) in Morningside Park on Sept. 17 at 4 p.m., with tickets starting at $54 per family.

B’nai Jeshurun 

The Upper West Side congregation will host a number of offerings for their Aviv community, which they describe as “Jewish young adults in their 20s and 30s, professionals and students, singles and couples, all committed to creating a Jewish life.” Aviv programming includes an Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner, Rosh Hashanah day one morning services, Kol Nidre, Yom Kippur and Break Fast. Tickets are $36 per service per meal for non-members. Learn more here. 


This year, the Upper East Side community center is hosting in-person services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. There will be a family service for those with children under 6; a youth service for kids ages 6-12 and a main service for adults. A combined all-access ticket costs $299, while individual services cost $95. Buy tickets and learn more here.

Temple Emanu-El 

The Upper East Side’s Temple Emanu-El will host a range of High Holiday services open to the public this year. Rosh Hashanah services for families with young children at the Helen Mills Theater in Chelsea will include honey tasting, music, crafts and food. The ticket for this service starts at $220, and is part of a package that includes access to the teens, young families and “participatory singing” services throughout the holidays. There will also be a Young Professionals Rosh Hashanah Shabbat Dinner on Sept. 15 for $45 per person. Many of the services will be livestreamed for the public on Facebook and Youtube. See the full schedule here.


Experimental Jewish community Lab/Shul is back at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center this year with High Holiday offerings centered around the theme of “Havaya,” which they translate to “Everpresence” or “Existence.” Per Lab/Shul’s website, the services will be “meaningful, musical and meditative celebrations that fuse our oldest liturgies with contemporary art, engaging learning programs, and communal conversations.” The services are “all ages, all backgrounds, god-optional, artist driven, everybody friendly.” Tickets are $110 per service or $370 for all-access; they will also be livestreamed for free. Register here

High Holiday services in Brooklyn


Dirah, a Chabad-affiliated organization and open-to-all community in Carroll Gardens,  is hosting High Holiday services this year at Hannah Senesh Community Day School. Their website describes the offerings as “engaging and explanatory services [that] will blend contemporary meditations & messages with timeless melodies and traditional prayers.” Tashlich will be held at the Gowanus Canal. No membership or fees are required to attend. Learn more here.

Egalitarian Sephardi and Mizrahi services 

Jews for Racial & Economic Justice has organized egalitarian Sephardi and Mizrahi services for Erev Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidre and Neilah (Yom Kippur afternoon), which will take place in the social hall of Park Slope’s Congregation Beth Elohim. The services will be led by musician Laura Elkeslassy, a New York Jewish Week “36er” from 2022. There is a suggested ticket price of $36 per service. Learn more here.

Congregation Beth Elohim 

Congregation Beth Elohim will host several services open to the public, including a free, all-Hebrew service for Israelis led by Rabbi Josh Weinberg. Rabbi Matt Green will lead Brooklyn Jews, “an experimental community for young Brooklynites looking to enter the Jewish conversation through art, text, politics, food and ritual,” for services at CBE in Park Slope and at the Union Temple House of CBE in Prospect Heights. Tickets are $40 per service or $140 for an all-access pass.

East Midwood Jewish Center

Want to spend the High Holidays in the same sanctuary that Mrs. Maisel and her family prayed in? Get tickets to attend services at East Midwood Jewish Center, a Conservative, egalitarian synagogue in the heart of Midwood, Brooklyn, which was used as the location for all the synagogue scenes in the beloved Amazon show. Non-member tickets cost $200 for either the sanctuary or Zoom, covering all holidays, and all services led by Rabbi Cantor Sam Levine. There are multiple kids services and activities, for children 12 and under, all free of charge. Learn more here.

Romemu Brooklyn 

Join Romemu Brooklyn, a “growing, dynamic, and Neo-Hasidic congregation,” for High Holiday services focused on the theme of “looking up.” The main “looking up” musical service will be led by Rabbi Scott Perlo and Hazzan Basya Schecter. Other offerings include an Erev Rosh Hashanah concert featuring music and stories, family services for children under 6 and a one-hour service, “Kids Rock the High Holy Days,” for elementary school-aged kids. The services will take place at The Arches, an event space and outdoor garden in Crown Heights. Tickets range from $49-$99, with an option to buy an all-access ticket to all services for $297. Learn more here.

High Holiday services in Queens


Malkhut, a progressive Jewish spiritual community in Western Queens, is hosting free and open-to-the-public High Holiday services this year at CUNY School of Law in Long Island City centered on the theme “Enough.” Register and find more information here.


Ashreynu, a pluralistic, musical congregation based in Astoria, is hosting free services open to the public. The first day of Rosh Hashanah will be at the synagogue while the second day will be at Ralph Demarco Park. RSVP and find the full schedule here.

High Holiday services in the Bronx

Hebrew Institute of Riverdale

The Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, also known as The Bayit, is offering “guest seats” to the public for the High Holidays. The synagogue is “open Orthodox,” which they define as “serving the entire Jewish community by warmly embracing all Jews, regardless of affiliation, commitment, orientation, race, or background.” In addition to services at The Bayit, there will also be an outdoor minyan in partnership with Century Minyan. Tickets for the Bayit service start at $350 for the entire High Holiday season; tickets for the outdoor minyan start at $225. Register and find the full schedule here.

High Holiday services in Staten Island

Congregation B’nai Israel

Join Congregation B’nai Israel, a Conservative synagogue in Staten Island, for services this year. Tickets start at $100. Email to register in advance.

Beyond the synagogue services

Rabbi Steven Blane will lead the Sim Shalom Jewish Universalist Online Synagogue’s High Holidays services at the Bitter End jazz club. (William Alatriste)

The Nosher’s gluten-free holiday baking class 

On Sept. 6 at 7 p.m., our partner site The Nosher will host a holiday baking class focusing on all the delicious ways to make your favorite treats gluten-free. The class will be taught by Orly Gottesman, a “36 to Watch” honoree and the owner and chef at Modern Bread and Bagel and Thyme and Tonic. Tickets for the online event start at $25.

Reverse tashlich with Repair the Sea

Join Repair the Sea on Sunday, Sept. 10 for their annual “Reverse Tashlich”: a day of volunteering doing waterfront cleanup. Several New York area synagogues are organizing clean-ups; check out the full list and register to join them here.

Monajat album release party with Galeet Dardashti 

In a new album, singer Galeet Dardashti has reimagined the tradition of Selichot, the prayers of repentance said in the lead up to the High Holidays. Dardashti has put together an album of original songs inspired by recordings of the Jewish prayers of her late grandfather, the Persian singer Younes Dardashti. In collaboration with the Neighborhood: An Urban Center for Jewish Life, Dardashti is releasing this album at Littlefield NYC on Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. Tickets start at $18. Learn more here

Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan

The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan on the Upper West Side will host a number of ways to engage in and prepare for the High Holidays. On Sept. 12, join Rabbi Miriam Herscher and Rabbi Adam Huttel for “The Healing Shofar: A Night of Remembrance,” a free virtual class about grieving the loss of a loved one. On Kol Nidre, the JCC will host an orchestral concert with Israeli cellist Elad Kabilio featuring liturgical and secular music. Get tickets for $25. There will also be a “pay-what-you-wish” tashlich service on Sept. 19 at Riverside Park. Visit their website for more info

Workers Circle 

The Workers Circle will host hour-long Zoom events on the first day of Rosh Hashanah and on Yom Kippur. The Rosh Hashanah session will be a “joyous musical celebration of unity, action, and renewal” and will include readings and performances by Jewish educators and Yiddish musicians. The Yom Kippur session will feature similar performances with an aim to “sing, share stories, reflect on the past year, and together commit to critical activism to make our world a better and more beautiful place for all.” Tickets are $25 for Workers Circle members and $36 for non-members; click here for info

Shofar Across Brooklyn

UJA-Federation New York has once again teamed up with several synagogues and communities in Brooklyn to put together the “Shofar Across Brooklyn,” a free, out-of-doors way to listen to the blowing of the shofar on Sept. 17 at 4:30 p.m. in various neighborhoods throughout the borough. Check out the map to find the location closest to you

The Sway Machinery concert with Congregation Beth Elohim

Jeremiah Lockwood will be performing with his band, The Sway Machinery, for an immersive musical experience titled “The Dream Past: A Sonic Conjuring.” The concert, which will focus on cantorial revival music and draw upon High Holiday liturgy, will take  place Sept. 21 at 7:30 p.m. It is hosted by Congregation Beth Elohim and will take place at Union Temple House in Prospect Heights. Tickets start at $18.

Rosh Hashanah at The Bitter End 

Join Sim Shalom, a Jewish universalist synagogue, for their annual concert and jazz-heavy services led by Steven Blane, a musician and rabbi, and featuring a jazz quartet, held Sept. 16 at The Bitter End in the West Village. Sim Shalom will also be hosting online services for all the services throughout the holidays, including a livestream of The Bitter End concert. Tickets for The Bitter End concert start at $149; access to services online also start at $149.

Bowl Hashanah with Rabbi Daniel Brenner and Jeremiah Lockwood

Rosh Hashanah returns to Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Bowl this year with musical performances led by Jeremiah Lockwood, Antibalas’ Jordan McLean and others, plus a traditional Torah service led by Rabbi Daniel Brenner. Tickets for the Sept. 16 service start at $60. Learn more here.

Yom Kippur comedy show

Prepare for the Yom Kippur fast by laughing alongside Jewish comics at West Side Comedy Club. Orli Matlow hosts “The Days of HA: A Jewish High Holidays Comedy Show” on Sept. 20 at 9 p.m. Comics include Ariel Elias, Eitan Levine, Josh Gondelman and Dana Friedman. Get tickets for $10 here.

Famous Jewish food of New York tour

Get ready for the Yom Kippur fast by filling up on all of New York’s best Jewish food, including bagels, pastrami and lox, with Scott Goodfriend, who leads Ultimate Food Tours around New York City. He is hosting a special tour of Jewish food and history on the Upper East Side on Sept. 24 at 2 p.m. Get tickets for $90.

Looking for more? 

In addition to the guide we’ve put together, be sure to check out UJA-Federation New York’s “Find-A-Service” list of High Holiday services across the city and surrounding areas, which includes services open to non-members at a range of ticket prices. (UJA-Federation is a funder of 70 Faces Media, the New York Jewish Week’s parent company.) Chabad Lubavitch also has a portal on their website to locate a Chabad-run service happening near you. For those that can’t make it to in-person services this year, our partner site, My Jewish Learning, has put together a list of virtual options of every service this High Holiday season. 


The post Where to celebrate Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur in New York City this year appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Biden Ends Faltering Reelection Campaign, Backs Harris as Nominee

Former Vice President Joe Biden talks with Senator Kamala Harris after the conclusion of the 2020 Democratic US presidential debate in Houston, Texas, Sept. 12, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Mike Blake.

U.S. President Joe Biden dropped his faltering reelection bid on Sunday, amid intensifying opposition within his own Democratic Party, and endorsed Vice President Kamala Harris to replace him as the party’s candidate against Republican Donald Trump.

Biden, 81, in a post on X, said he will remain in his role as president and commander-in-chief until his term ends in January 2025 and will address the nation this week. He has not been seen in public since testing positive for COVID-19 last week and isolating at his home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

“While it has been my intention to seek reelection, I believe it is in the best interest of my party and the country for me to stand down and to focus solely on fulfilling my duties as President for the remainder of my term,” Biden wrote.

Democratic National Committee Chair Jaime Harrison said the American people will hear from the party on next steps and the path forward for the nomination process soon. It was the first time in more than a half-century that an incumbent U.S. president gave up his party’s nomination.

Biden‘s campaign had been on the ropes since a halting June 27 debate against former President Trump, 78, in which the incumbent at times struggled to finish his thoughts.

Opposition from within his party gained steam over the past week with 36 congressional Democrats – more than one in eight – publicly calling on him to end his campaign.

Lawmakers said they feared he could cost them not only the White House but also the chance to control either chamber of Congress next year, which would leave Democrats with no meaningful grasp on power in Washington.

That stood in sharp contrast to what played out in the Republican Party last week, when members united around Trump and his running mate U.S. Senator J.D. Vance, 39.

Harris, 59, would become the first Black woman to run at the top of a major-party ticket in the country’s history.

Trump told CNN on Sunday that he believed Harris would be easier to defeat.

Biden had a last-minute change of heart, said a source familiar with the matter. The president told allies that as of Saturday night he planned to stay in the race before changing his mind on Sunday afternoon.

“Last night the message was proceed with everything, full speed ahead,” the source told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity. “At around 1:45 p.m. today: the president told his senior team that he had changed his mind.”

Biden announced his decision on social media within minutes.

It was unclear whether other senior Democrats would challenge Harris for the party’s nomination – she was widely seen as the pick for many party officials – or whether the party itself would choose to open the field for nominations.

Public opinion polling shows that Harris performs no worse than Biden against Trump.

In a hypothetical head-to-head matchup, Harris and Trump were tied with 44% support each in a July 15-16 Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted immediately after the July 13 assassination attempt on Trump. Trump led Biden 43% to 41% in that same poll, though the 2 percentage point difference was not meaningful considering the poll’s 3-point margin of error.


Congressional Republicans argued that Biden should resign the office immediately, which would turn the White House over to Harris and put House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson, a Republican, next in line in succession.

“If he’s incapable of running for president, how is he capable of governing right now? I mean, there is five months left in this administration. It’s a real concern, and it’s a danger to the country,” Johnson told CNN on Sunday before Biden‘s announcement.

Johnson in a separate interview on ABC signaled that Republicans would likely try to mount legal challenges to Democrats’ move to replace Biden on the ballot.

Biden‘s announcement follows a wave of public and private pressure from Democratic lawmakers and party officials to quit the race after his shockingly poor debate.

His troubles took the public spotlight away from Trump’s performance, in which he made a string of false statements, and trained it instead on questions surrounding Biden‘s fitness for another four-year term.

His gaffes at a NATO summit – invoking Russian President Vladimir Putin’s name when he meant Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and calling Harris “Vice President Trump” -further stoked anxieties.


Biden‘s historic move – the first sitting president to give up his party’s nomination for reelection since President Lyndon B. Johnson during the Vietnam War in March 1968 – leaves his replacement with less than four months to wage a campaign.

If Harris emerges as the nominee, the move would represent an unprecedented gamble by the Democratic Party: its first Black and Asian American woman to run for the White House in a country that has elected one Black president and never a woman president in more than two centuries.

Biden was the oldest U.S. president ever elected when he beat Trump in 2020. During that campaign, Biden described himself as a bridge to the next generation of Democratic leaders. Some interpreted that to mean he would serve one term, a transitional figure who beat Trump and brought his party back to power.

But he set his sights on a second term in the belief that he was the only Democrat who could beat Trump again amid questions about Harris’s experience and popularity. In recent times, though, his advanced age began to show through more. His gait became stilted and his childhood stutter occasionally returned.

His team had hoped a strong performance at the June 27 debate would ease concerns over his age. It did the opposite: a Reuters/Ipsos poll after the debate showed that about 40% of Democrats thought he should quit the race.

Donors began to revolt and supporters of Harris began to coalesce around her. Top Democrats, including former House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a longtime ally, told Biden he cannot win the election.

Biden‘s departure sets up a stark new contrast, between the Democrats’ presumptive new nominee, Harris, a former prosecutor, and Trump who is two decades her senior and faces two outstanding criminal prosecutions related to his attempts to overturn the 2020 election result. He is due to be sentenced in New York in September on a conviction for trying to cover up a hush-money payment to a porn star.


Earlier this year, facing little opposition, Biden easily won the Democratic primary race to pick its presidential candidate, despite voter concerns about his age and health.

His staunch support for Israel’s military campaign in Gaza eroded support among some in his own party, particularly young, progressive Democrats and voters of color, who make up an essential part of the Democratic base.

Many Black voters say Biden has not done enough for them, and enthusiasm among Democrats overall for a second Biden term had been low. Even before the debate with Trump, Biden was trailing the Republican in some national polls and in the battleground states he would have needed to win to prevail on Nov. 5.

Harris was tasked with reaching out to those voters in recent months.

During the primary race, Biden accumulated more than 3,600 delegates to the Democratic National Convention to be held in Chicago in August. That was almost double the 1,976 needed to win the party’s nomination.

Unless the Democratic Party changes the rules, delegates pledged to Biden would enter the convention “uncommitted,” leaving them to vote on his successor.

Democrats also have a system of “superdelegates,” unpledged senior party officials and elected leaders whose support is limited on the first ballot but who could play a decisive role in subsequent rounds.

Biden beat Trump in 2020 by winning in the key battleground states, including tight races in Pennsylvania and Georgia. At a national level, he bested Trump by more than 7 million votes, capturing 51.3% of the popular vote to Trump’s 46.8%.

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An ‘Abject, Squalid, Shameless’ Debate at the Oxford Union

Oxford University students in formal academic dress, c. 2006. Photo: Flickr/James

JNS.orgIn an era dominated by social media and defined by short attention spans, it’s striking that longer, more involved debates hosted by elite institutions still matter.

The Oxford Union—a debating society created at Oxford University in the 1820s, immodestly billing itself as “the most prestigious debating society in the world”—is one of those institutions. During its forthcoming Michaelmas term, which covers the winter months, the Union is planning a debate on the motion: “This house recognizes that Israel is an apartheid state responsible for genocide.”

One of the proposed speakers at the debate is my good friend Prof. Gerald Steinberg, who teaches in the politics department at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. In 2002, Steinberg founded the Israeli watchdog NGO Monitor, which has since played an invaluable role in analyzing and exposing the role of non-governmental organizations in the war against Israel on the propaganda and legal fronts. The Oxford Union rightly assessed that Steinberg would be an ideal speaker to defend Israel’s reputation and duly sent him an invite.

An invitation to speak at the Oxford Union is commonly regarded in academic and media circles as a great honor and an affirmation of one’s expertise in a particular subject area.

Indeed, the invitation to Steinberg was dripping with the kind of self-importance that makes Oxford and Cambridge Universities the continual butt of dismissive jokes among the acerbically humorous, class-obsessed British. It ran through a list of speakers to have graced its hall over the past two centuries, including three U.S. presidents, the late Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama and the radical African-American advocate Malcolm X.

For good measure, the invitation highlighted two debates from the past century to entice Steinberg. One was from 1933, the year Hitler came to power and the Union shamefully voted in favor of the motion: “This House will in no circumstances fight for its King and Country.” The other was from 1962—five years before Israel unified Jerusalem and conquered Judea, Samaria, the Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War—when the Union debated the contention that the “creation of the State of Israel is one of the mistakes of the century.”

Despite his impressive credentials, Steinberg is a modest man who can be relied upon to do the right thing. He sent the Union a response that ripped the premises of their proposed debate to shreds. Addressing the reference in the invitation letter to the infamous 1933 debate as an example of the Union’s “tradition of confronting the boldest questions of our time,” he observed: “That tradition is also described as exploiting the Oxford Union as a platform for crude political propaganda. The histories of this event highlight the fact that the debate took place shortly after Hitler became the German leader and the Nazis launched the actions and laws targeting the Jewish population. Winston Churchill described the Union’s behavior in 1933 as an ‘abject, squalid, shameless avowal. … It is a very disquieting and disgusting symptom.’”

Churchill’s condemnation applies no less to the topic on which Steinberg was invited to debate.

“The gratuitous labels of ‘apartheid’ and ‘genocide’ add to this edifice, and some might conclude that the leaders and members of the Oxford Union seek to repeat and reinforce the travesties of 1933 and 1962,” he wrote.

Steinberg then dealt with the frankly libelous claims of “apartheid” and “genocide” against Israel, highlighting the historical context and moral significance of both these terms.

Regarding “apartheid,” Steinberg correctly reminded the debate organizers that this term originally appeared in relation to Israel as a result of intensive Soviet propaganda efforts during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s to strip the Jewish state of its legitimacy, with Moscow lobbing words like “Nazi” and “racist” into the brew as well.

On the invocation of genocide, Steinberg noted that this term—applicable to the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians during World War I, the Holocaust of six million Jews during World War II and more recent events of mass killing and systemic abuse in Cambodia, Rwanda and Myanmar/Burma—was now being distorted to “delegitimize responses to military aggression, asymmetric warfare and atrocities directed at civilian populations, such as committed by Hamas and its allies.”

Part of the problem here is that while the team at the Oxford Union is gushingly proud of the debate topics covered during that institution’s long existence, they appear to be less familiar with the underlying substance.

Had they examined the examples of genocide cited above, they might have noticed a common pattern: In every case, regimes targeted minorities simply based on their identity. In Pol Pot’s Cambodia, even wearing glasses marked one out as a candidate for death, because a pair of specs was seen as evidence of a bourgeois education. These regimes then used killing methods like mass executions and concentration camps to eliminate those they targeted.

Both before and during the killings, the victim groups were dehumanized in regime propaganda. The Nazis depicted Jews as “rats” and the Hutu killing mobs in Rwanda referred to Tutsis as “cockroaches.” Victim groups were at best poorly armed, at worst utterly defenseless, in the face of their killers.

Similarly, those who invoke the word “apartheid” in the context of Israel have little idea of what that system involved or the discredited racist ideology it was based upon. For most of the 20th century in South Africa, the Black population that comprises 90% of the country was subjected to humiliating restrictions in every aspect of their lives, along with the denial of suffrage.

While South African apartheid was unique, there are some ironic parallels visible in the Middle East—but not in Israel. In Syria and Bahrain, to take just two examples, unelected, heavily armed minorities engage in brutal rule over the majorities, as was the case in South Africa. In Qatar, less than 10% of the population are full citizens. Everyone else, including the vast reservoir of migrant labor toiling in conditions of slavery, is seen as a lesser being, deemed unfit to even enter the gleaming shopping malls and hotels built with their own sweat. In Iran, women and religious minorities suffer from discrimination rooted in the Islamic Republic’s interpretation of the Quran and other religious texts.

All of this is ignored because it contradicts the dogma that Israel lies at the root of all the conflicts in the Middle East and, in increasing numbers of fevered minds, the world. The Oxford Union is no less guilty of sacralizing this dogma than is some idiot on Instagram posting an Israeli flag juxtaposed with a Nazi swastika.

As Steinberg suggested at the end of his reply, if the Oxford Union is really serious about upholding its tradition of bold debates that pull no punches, it should consider the motion: “This house recognizes that its own history of Jew-hatred in different forms is fundamentally immoral and offers its apologies.”

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Home or Synagogue?

A 1539 representation of Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

JNS.orgHow ironic that some of our most famous synagogue prayers should have come from the mouth of one of our mortal enemies. In Balak, this week’s parsha, the heathen prophet Balaam attempts to put a lethal curse on the Israelites, only to be frustrated by God. Every time he tried to curse us out of his vile mouth came the most beautiful blessings and praises of Israel. Perhaps none are more famous than “Ma tovu ohalecha Yaakov mishkenotecha Yisrael“—“How good are your tents, O Jacob; your dwellings, O Israel.”

In his commentary, Rashi shares two interpretations of this verse. In the first, he says that Balaam was referring to the Jewish homes and the modesty the people demonstrated in their town planning. The doorways were designed so they did not face each other and thus protected the privacy and modesty of family life. In his second interpretation, Rashi explains that tents and dwellings also refer to our Sanctuaries and Temples of old—namely Shilo and Jerusalem.

In the Torah, a sequence is important and instructive. That Rashi first mentions the Jewish home and only afterward the Temple tells us something: First comes the Jewish home, and then the synagogue.

What are our priorities? What is primary and what is secondary?

Far be it from me to diminish the importance of my own profession as a congregational rabbi in a synagogue, but the truth must be told and I’ve said this in my own shul many times over the years:

We cannot depend on the synagogue for Jewish continuity. Neither can we rely on our Jewish day schools, for that matter.

Too many parents today have abdicated their role as educators to the school and the shul.

Our teachers’ biggest complaint is that parents do not support their educational endeavors. All too often there is a dichotomy, even a conflict, between the home and the school. Parents and teachers are frequently at loggerheads and our children are getting mixed messages. When the teacher encourages a student to engage in a Jewish practice, he may hear his parents telling him to ignore it because they are not comfortable with that practice.

Some parents have gone to shocking and disgraceful lengths, even criticizing and condemning the teacher to their children. I once heard of a boy who told his teacher point blank, “My father said you are a total jerk!” Actually, it was much worse, but I can’t repeat it here!

Kids may well forget what their teacher or rabbi said, but it is far more likely for them to remember what their mother and father taught them.

“In our house, we don’t do that.” “In our family, we do it this way.” Parental messages leave far more lasting impressions on children. A child’s own house and his own family traditions tend to count for much more than a school or synagogue routine.

The rabbi or teacher may teach or preach about Shabbat or Kashrut, but if parents tell their children that it isn’t that important, it is unlikely the child will buck family tradition.

Of course, parents should never be dismissive of what teachers tell their children at school or what the rabbi tells them in shul. But the reality is that the home and family value system will be far more important in raising the next generation than the shul or school.

Just consider how much of Jewish life is observed at home and how much is practiced in shul.

In shul we pray with a minyan, perhaps we attend a shiur or adult education. We may be called upon to assist with communal welfare or volunteer to visit the sick, etc.

But at home, we keep Shabbat weekly and the Yom Tov festivals throughout the year. We keep kosher, put up mezuzahs, practice hospitality by inviting guests, work at our shalom bayit to keep the peace in the home and much more.

Not only does charity start at home, but Judaism starts at home too!

I was at a rabbinic conference some years ago when one of the rabbis asked the eminent guest speaker, Rabbi Shmuel Kamenetsky, about the solution to the contemporary problem of “kids at risk”—children of religious parents who go off the path and leave their religious lifestyle. Rav Kamenetsky gave a two-word answer that sent a shudder through the audience: “Shalom bayit!”

The sad reality is that when parents are not ad idem between themselves, it rubs off on the children and they look elsewhere for role models.

I don’t know who coined the phrase, but it is entirely accurate to say, “The home is the factory of the Jewish nation!”

Once upon a time, the Jewish home was the envy of the non-Jewish world. I remember back in the 1970s and 1980s, several young women who were winners of Miss South Africa beauty pageants converted to Judaism. Interestingly, when interviewed by the press and asked why, they each gave the same answer: They shared their experiences with their Jewish friends and particularly the Friday night dinners and quality family time spent around the Shabbat table as something they truly appreciated and wished for themselves.

Let us restore the Jewish home to its primacy and we will safeguard Jewish continuity.

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