By Date

Dear Friends,

The story is told that sometime before the start of Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Mordecai of Nadvorna, a 19th-century sage, stopped another rabbi who was obviously in a great hurry.

“Why are you rushing from place to place?” Reb Mordecai asked.

His colleague replied, “I must study the High Holiday prayer book and put the Rosh Hashanah prayers in the proper order.”

Mordecai paused, smiled, and said, “You know very well that the prayer book hasn’t changed since last year. Better to examine your heart and your actions since the last Rosh Hashanah. Try to put yourself in proper order!”

The Hebrew month of Elul began yesterday. Elul is

…the last month of the Jewish year and the final month prior to Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. This is a month in which to spiritually prepare for the High Holiday season of reflection and repentance.

Elul is traditionally a time of introspection and personal stock-taking, known in Hebrew as cheshbon hanefesh — literally “an accounting of the soul.” (My Jewish Learning. Learn more.)

My colleagues and I have spent time making sure “the Rosh Hashanah prayers are in the proper order,” but, as Reb Mordechai’s colleague pointed out, that is not the point of Elul. Elul is about our self-reflection and, subsequently, taking responsibility for our actions. Such quiet reflection is increasingly difficult in our always-connected world, but the challenges of doing so are amplified by the timing of the Holy Days so close to the end of summer and the start of school this year. At the same time, I wonder if the pace and constant demands of this time of year make setting aside such time more critical and potentially impactful than ever. That will not, however, happen on its own.

In the same way we schedule time for work meetings, lock in appointments with doctors, therapists, and others, make sure never to miss our regular workouts, and set aside time to help children with their activities, Elul challenges us to do the same for ourselves. Some of the practices people have embraced and found meaningful include:

– Setting a daily appointment with yourself to go outside and sit quietly for a few moments each day.

– Signing up for Jewels of Elul to receive an email with some daily inspiration and then read and contemplate it over coffee each morning.

– Sitting quietly listening to a song that inspires and touches you each evening.

– Pausing each morning and evening before bed this month and reciting the Shma.

There are myriad ways to “use” Elul effectively. But it starts by committing to do SOMETHING each day. Give it a try this year. I suspect you will find it is time well spent.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Daniel Cohen

— An Important Security Update —


As you may have read in the New York Times, swatting incidents have grown over the past six weeks. (“Swatting” is the term used to describe people reporting a false emergency to elicit a police response.)

These swatting incidents have primarily been directed toward our community, but have expanded to include Black churches in the last two weeks.

Such incidents are intended to raise anxiety, disrupt worship, and get on the news. Thus far, the swatters have primarily, although not exclusively, targeted synagogues that have live streams so the swatters can watch as the building is evacuated.

Incidents usually follow this pattern.

A member of the group doing the swatting places a call to 911 and reports an active threat to a Jewish institution. (They often use voice changers and VPNs to hide their identity.)

Not knowing whether or not the emergency is real, law enforcement responds under the assumption there IS a threat.

The building is evacuated and reopened only once law enforcement has swept the building and determined the call was indeed swatting.

It is important to note that there is NO physical threat connected to swatting, but neither the synagogue members nor the police knows that when the call is first received.

Please know we have already taken steps to help limit the possibility of being swatted:

  • Access to the livestream feed from the temple website is now password protected with the same password included in each week’s Shabbat message.
  • We will include fewer details about programs on Facebook and other social media.
  • We are reviewing our evacuation plans for the building with staff, ushers, and security, and we have been in touch with the South Orange Police Department. (We are, as always, grateful for their support of our community.)

While swatting is not a physical threat, we will not take any chances with the health and safety of our community. If we are subjected to swatting we will follow instructions from our security and the SOPD. If we do have to leave the building due to swatting we will, as we have done previously, reopen and resume full, normal operations as soon as law enforcement allows.

The swatter’s goal is to disrupt our time together as a community. Thanks to local and national law enforcement, the ADL and all of you, we will not allow their hate to deter us.

I/we will, of course, keep you updated on any additional information as we receive it.

I am saddened there are individuals filled with such hate but know that when we stand together and work together they will not win. Thank you for being our partners in maintaining our sacred community.

Rabbi Dan Cohen