Rosh Hashanah Message - JCCNS, Jewish Community Center of the North Shore
Rosh Hashanah message from Executive Director Marty Schneer

Dear JCCNS Members and Community,

We are encouraged to spend the month leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur focusing and reflecting on our own spiritual and ethical status and behavior over the past year. If taken seriously, and considered with unflinching honesty, many of us will recognize that we have fallen short, or missed the mark, to some degree. However, true soul searching is the first step toward growth and improvement and therefore should be embraced, for self-awareness is a prerequisite in any meaningful change.  

Once we achieve awareness our goal, naturally, is to pursue a higher plane of existence as I do believe we all yearn to give meaning and purpose to our lives. Whether you believe Torah is the actual word of God or is inspired by God, I propose that the answer is to study and learn from traditional Jewish texts. You will find, as I have, that many of the answers we seek are accessible and available with a little help from your Rabbi or other learned individuals who I have found to be more than happy to share their knowledge and wisdom. Jewish study offers guidance for daily life, whether it be personal or business related. I have found a great deal of clarity when, throughout my life, I have looked to Jewish text for wisdom. In this regard, I am thrilled to announce that the JCCNS has hired Rabbi Michael Schwartz and his wife Tamar, to work with us to provide opportunities for learning and Jewish/Community engagement in the coming year.  

Each year, at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we are given the unique opportunity to embark on a new journey of self-improvement. We are encouraged to reflect and start anew. Inspiration for this journey can come from the most unusual places. To quote the Grateful Dead (lyrics by Robert Hunter), “Once in a while, you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” My own journey started many decades ago when I was seated next to a modern-orthodox Rabbi and his family at a Passover retreat. The Rabbi was hired to lead a communal Seder for the retreat participants. My prior experience with Orthodox Jews stemmed from growing up in Brooklyn, when I often felt that my own religious practice, which I would describe as more “cultural than religious,” was frowned upon by my Orthodox neighbors. This background led me to be skeptical toward this family at the retreat’s Passover Seder, until I had the benefit of getting to know them better. The “light” came from spending hours with them and witnessing how they treated each other, and me, with immense kindness, respect, understanding, and acceptance. From that experience, I began to look at Judaism with a very different lens. The quality of their relationships, the obvious support, and the devotion to learning, opened my eyes to what I was missing and could learn from those so dedicated to my own faith.  

This new open-minded and willing-to-learn approach has allowed me to benefit from so much in life throughout the past 40+ years.  Specifically, I have been honored to spend 30 minutes each week with my colleague and good friend, Tom Cheatham, learning from and with another friend, Steve Singer who I met on an Aish Hatorah trip to Israel years ago. On the trip we were given time and space to engage in one-on-one learning (Chevrutah) for a period each day. I was partnered with Steve from Brooklyn and following the trip he asked if I would be interested in continuing to learn with him virtually after the trip ended. The knowledge and insight we have each gained from these weekly reciprocal learning sessions has been both relevant and inspiring, and my hope is that we will be able to offer a similar experience to some of our community members when Rabbi Schwartz begins his work at the JCCNS. Questioning and learning are highly important in Judaism, as studying is part of the process of improving ourselves. This is what we are tasked to do at the start of each new year.  

Another noteworthy teacher in my life, Rabbi Michael Stern of blessed memory, once told me that each of us is born with a complete understanding and knowledge of Torah. He claimed that the little indentation over our top lip is where God touches us at birth, and at that point we immediately forget all that we learned in the womb. Our goal in life, he taught, is to remember what we already once knew, a theory that maintains that knowledge is equally accessible to us all. Rabbi Stern took this one step further claiming that this accessible knowledge is what we need to perfect ourselves first as we strive to meaningfully impact our families and then the rest of the world. 

We live in a period of political and social dysfunction and sadly, many seem to have a hard time listening to others and finding common ground, even among those in our own family. Erring on the side of merit when dealing with our fellow human beings, acting with kindness and compassion, accepting and valuing differences, are just a few of the middot, or values, found in the Torah. Judaism surely doesn’t have a monopoly on such values, but I do believe you will find a wellspring of knowledge and inspiration from expanding your own learning to include the study of Jewish text. It is our goal at the JCCNS this year, in a significant way, to help you on your journey of learning. Please join us! 

L'shanah Tovah! 

Marty Schneer
Everyone's Welcome

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