On Saying Goodbye

A message of thanks from Rabbi Weintraub:

This is a very strange month for me.  As I prepare to depart from Newburgh and Congregation Agudas Israel on July 1, 2018, I am beginning to contemplate my new life in St. Petersburg with Congregation B’nai Israel.  I wonder what will be the same and what will be different? What will my responsibilities entail? How will I be welcomed and how will I ensure that the synagogue there is a place of welcoming for all?

As I ponder those questions, I have been working on the challenging text of winding down here.  I have been trying to keep up my normal working activities, while also making extra efforts to make phone calls, meet in person, sit down and talk to the people of CAI.  For the last seven years, they have been by my side in so many different ways. We have studied Torah together, prayed together, shared celebrations and mourned together.  As I go about these coffees, lunches, dinners, meetings I have become overwhelmed by the words of kindness I have heard. I have discovered that small gestures on my part have been received as larger than life by their recipients.  A phone call, a text message, a Facebook post, a hospital or home visit.

For me, these are what I imagine is expected behavior from a rabbi.  Our job, our career is study, prayer, inspiration, but most of all, it is to be present with the souls of those around us.  The job is not just what we put down on paper or in the ether of the internet, but in the human interactions that are far harder to tally.  I might have made lists of the thousands of phone calls, hundreds of visits, and far too many funerals, but instead we all have our respective memories.  

Through it all, I am most grateful to my beloved.  She has stood by me through interrupted dinners, evenings, nights.  She has known that those “interruptions” were sacred moments, calls to be with people in their brightest and darkest moments.  Being a rabbi is more than a full time position. My phone is always nearby. Even on Shabbat, we can be reached via the doorbell. None of this would be possible without her support and her love. My work is in my office and yours,  in my home and yours, within the community in so many different ways. As I say my goodbyes around town, I discover that within the community I am a (very) minor celebrity, that my gestures of goodwill have been well received.

All in all, I am grateful for the time I have spent here.  For me, Newburgh and CAI was a place of personal, spiritual, intellectual growth.  It was a place where I took the theory of my education and turned it into practical ministry, practical rabbinics. Sometimes I made mistakes, and I hope that I took responsibility for them, that I learned from them. I have never claimed to be perfect, but am always striving to be better, to build a kesher, a connection with Gd and community.

Leaving is bittersweet.  New opportunities beckon, new adventures await, yet the love I have for this community will always remain.  CAI and Newburgh are holy places. They have been an essential part of my rabbinic journey. I pray for the strong, bright, vibrant future of these holy communities.


A Narrow Bridge

A few years back we had Mama Doni for Hanukkah. They previewed a couple of their beautiful Jewish Bluegrass songs. Now Nefesh Mountain has made it big. They are on the Top Ten Country Chart from Rolling Stone! https://www.rollingstone.com/country/lists/best-country-songs-to-hear-now-tyler-farr-tenille-townes-w519353/nefesh-mountain-the-narrow-bridge-w519356

Click here to listen to the beautiful song:

As I’m listening to their incredible entire album now (Beyond the Open Sky), I was especially moved by this song. Based around Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav’s famous statement: The whole world is a narrow bridge, the important thing is not to (make yourself) afraid.

Nefesh Mountain wrote beautiful lyrics and melody to add to the words of Reb Nachman:

The chorus is especially powerful:
Troubled times, troubled times
You don’t ease a worried mind
Troubled times, troubled times
Just stay behind
It’s not far from our homes

This song speaks to our own life journeys. Some days we find ourselves challenged. Some days we find ourselves overwhelmed, but in the beauty of this music we can lift ourselves up.

I have walked this world on the Narrow Bridge
Kol haolam kulo
From the lowlands so low, to high up on the ridge
Gesher tsar meod

The bridge may FEEL narrow, but our lives are filled with possibilities. No obstacle is insurmountable. As I listen to this song, I’m inspired. These last few weeks have been filled with so much tsurris, so many troubles, but this song brings me hope. We can overcome anything.

All we need to do is find ways of changing our perspectives. Any problem can seem overwhelming if we look at it from the wrong angle. If we can step back, if we can recognize the interaction of our emotions and our logic, we can find a new way to tackle them. This may sound like pop psychology, but it is really ancient wisdom. The world may be a narrow bridge, but it is a bridge that can take us to our next adventure. It is a bridge to our future. It is a bridge to love, life, and all the good that is coming!

Yom Hashoah

Since 1981 the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has commemorated the Shoah with Yellow Candles.

They have reminded us of the importance of remembering.  They have shown us that while the number of living survivors dwindles each year, that we are perilously close to having no one left with their own memories, WE are the memories.  Our existence as Jews is a living memorial to the Shoah.

The Shoah is in our bones.  It is in our DNA.  Every living Jew is a reminder of the failure of Nazi Germany and its collaborators throughout Europe.

Today, we must remember.  We must see the blood, the hate, and most perilously, we must see how ordinary the violence was and remains.

If only immigration was possible for our relatives.
If only more Germans had stood up against Hitler.
If only the League of Nations had done anything.
If only more Poles and Ukranians hadn’t been ready to hand over or murder their neighbors.
If only Stalin had done something, like welcomed more refugees.
If only Roosevelt had done something, like bombing the tracks to Auschwitz.
If only Churchill had done something, like opening the doors of Mandate Palestine.
If only…

And yet, what happens today?  Across the world there is violence and unrest, nationalism, fascism, hatred are again rearing their ugly heads.  What are we doing?  Are we welcoming the stranger? Are we feeding the hungry?  Are we staying quiet?  Are we speaking out?

I am proud to be Jewish.  I am proud to speak of my identity, my religion, my faith, my Gd.  I am grateful that others spoke out for me.  I am grateful that my ancestors came to the United States to escape persecution and find new opportunities.  I am grateful to the FJMC for their work in sharing memories and creating new ones.  We must continue to remember and speak out.

Please join us tomorrow night at SUNY Orange in Middletown:


Yahrzeit Candle

This annual Yom Hashoah Community Commemoration event will feature author and trauma coach Emily Cohen at the Rowley Center for Science and Engineering, April 12 at 7pm.

Shabbat Shalom Parshat Vayikra

Wishing you all a wonderful week. Hope that we will see you tomorrow for Parshat Vayikra. Below is my weekly video.

Sacrifices and New Beginnings

Parshat Vayikra: Sacrifices and New Beginnings

Posted by Rabbi-Phil Weintraub on Friday, March 16, 2018

Snow day?

Dear friends,

After a week of unseasonably warm weather, we find ourselves again in Winter.  How do we cope with these rapid changes?  How do we find ourselves in Spring, Summer and Winter all in the same 10 days?

Our tradition offers us suggestions.  Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is nothing new under the sun.  Megillat Esther shows the repetition of history, the challenges of anti-Semitism and how the Holy One can be found in even the darkest moments.  This week’s parsha of Ki Tissa shows us the power of artists, the sin of the Golden Calf, and the Holy One’s promise to allow repentance.  We’ve got a lot going on!

What do these three sources have in common?  All show that we have been there before and we will likely be in those places again.  Our history is full of joy and gladness.  It also had many moments  of darkness and challenge.  Most importantly, it tells us that we all have a role to play.  It teaches that we have choices.  We choose how we react.  We can make positive or negative choices.  We can react with enthusiasm or despair.

Is snow an inspiration to you or a loss?  For me, I’m sitting and writing as my children watch Sesame Street.  It’s going to be a challenging day to get work done, but it will also be extra family time.  It’s going to be noisy and we will all get stir crazy, yet we will also hopefully have a lot of fun.

What will you do today?  How will you use this time when the roads are dangerous?


Bad Rabbi???? Sunday at 2

Sunday afternoon, do we have a treat for you!  Join us at 2PM for a fascinating talk from Eddy Portnoy.

He will be sharing crazy and interesting stories from the Yiddish press:

“Stories abound of immigrant Jews on the outside looking in, clambering up the ladder of social mobility, successfully assimilating and integrating into their new worlds. But this book is not about the success stories. It’s a paean to the bunglers, the blockheads, and the just plain weird—Jews who were flung from small, impoverished eastern European towns into the urban shtetls of New York and Warsaw, where, as they say in Yiddish, their bread landed butter side down in the dirt. These marginal Jews may have found their way into the history books far less frequently than their more socially upstanding neighbors, but there’s one place you can find them in force: in the Yiddish newspapers that had their heyday from the 1880s to the 1930s. Disaster, misery, and misfortune: you will find no better chronicle of the daily ignominies of urban Jewish life than in the pages of the Yiddish press.”

Cover of Bad Rabbi by Eddy Portnoy

Interfaith Thanksgiving

How do we support one another?

On November 19, on Benkard Ave, I stood with a dozen local clergy members and almost 100 members of our Newburgh communities.  At St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, we heard beautiful music and had fellowship together.  We heard words from Isaiah, Psalms, and Corinthians–from the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Scriptures.  We sat and stood and sat and stood together.  We reminded ourselves that no matter our faith, we are one city.

Amidst these messages of peace and love, we shared good will.  We collected food and financial donations for Loaves and Fishes, which will feed over 1000 families in the City of Newburgh this year for Thanksgiving.  Thanks to donations from those attending, from supermarkets and the broader community, this miracle comes to pass every year.  Yet this miracle takes a lot of work to happen!

Every year it is down to the wire.  Every year, they do not know if they will have enough.  Usually, they find a way to make it work.  The families depend on the support of Loaves and Fishes.  Without it, they would have no turkey, stuffing, gravy, potatoes, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and more.  While it is just one place where the fixings for a meal are available, we know that across the city, churches, synagogues and social service agencies are ensuring that families have what they need.

My question is about the rest of the year.  What are we doing then?  Sure, I schlepped some heavy potato sacks this week, but how will I help next week?  Or in July?  I can see the appreciation when I had someone a turkey, but how do I help so they do not need one next year?

Recently, I have seen political, racial, religious divisions run deeper than ever before.  I have heard and seen hate against virtually every segment of our population.  My faith teaches that we are all created in the Image of the Holy One.  I pray that these small acts of kindness for Thanksgiving will inspire us to work together throughout the year.  Let us hire people for our businesses who don’t look like us.  Let us invite people for coffee and dinner who talk differently than us.  Let us remember that no matter our politics, our faith, our color, we are all one.  Let us be thankful for the blessings we share.  When we share a smile and a thank you, it’s a lot harder to find hate.  As Father Bill Damroth shared with us in the words of William Watkinson, it is “far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.” Happy Thanksgiving!

Second Sundays continue!

On November 12 we will have Jen Glantz.  You can read about her here: https://www.jenglantz.com/

It will be a blast!


How can we change? Yizkor 5778

YK Yizkor 5778 2017 Yom Kippur

Sep 30, 2017

Rabbi Philip Weintraub

Congregation Agudas Israel


In 1965 John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote:

There are places I remember

All my life though some have changed

Some forever not for better

Some have gone and some remain

All these places have their moments

With lovers and friends I still can recall

Some are dead and some are living

In my life I’ve loved them all

Copyright John Lennon and Paul McCartney, https://www.thebeatles.com/song/my-life


In a few minutes, we will recite Yizkor.

May God remember the soul of my ____________ who has [have] gone to his [their] eternal home. In loving testimony to his life [their lives], I pledge tzedakah to help perpetuate ideals important to him [them]. Through such deeds, and through prayer and remembrance, may his [their] soul[s] be bound up in the bond of life. May I prove myself worthy of the many gifts with which he [they] blessed me. May these moments of meditation strengthen the ties that link me to his [their] memory. May he [they] rest in peace forever in God’s presence. Amen. (Machzor Lev Shalem)


Today is a complicated day, emotionally.  We are thinking of our own lives.  We confess our sins.  We beat ourselves up.  We consider where we have been and where we want to go.  At the same time, we think about those that came before us.  This ratchets up the emotions, as well.  I am very pleased that in our Yizkor booklets this year we have two special additions–one that is for a difficult parent–how do we honor their memory when they caused us so much harm?  The second is for those who are fortunate to have living parents and offers thanks to God for that blessing.

Using my eclipse theme of the last few days, I wonder how does the eclipse change us and our views of the universe?  How do we look at the world differently, seeing that even the sun can sometimes be hidden from sight?  


In a way we find ourselves in two separate timelines–one is our own and one is that of the people we remember.  With both we are looking backwards.  We need eyes in the back of our heads, but we cannot forget the eyes in the front!  Looking forward is essential also.  If we spend the entire day (or our entire lives) beating ourselves up for the past, we cannot move forward.


In Masechet Sanhedrin 37a, we study a powerful Mishnah: we discover how the court interrogates witnesses.  This is not a simple affair.  They do not just swear to tell the whole truth.  In a capital case they are reminded that someone’s life is literally in their hands–if their evidence helps convict someone–they are the one who must help with the execution!


Several stories on the page draw my attention.  The first is of Rabbi Zeira.  He always saw the best in everyone. (I have spoken regularly about the importance of that noble trait!)  When he was presented with thieves, he tried to help them repent.   

הנהו בריוני דהוה בשיבבותיה דר’ זירא דהוה מקרב להו כי היכי דניהדרו להו בתיובתא והוו קפדי רבנן כי נח נפשיה דר’ זירא אמרי עד האידנא הוה חריכא קטין שקיה דהוה בעי עלן רחמי השתא מאן בעי עלן רחמי הרהרו בלבייהו ועבדו תשובה:

The Gemara relates: There were certain hooligans [biryonei] who were living in the neighborhood of Rabbi Zeira. He brought them close, i.e., treated them with friendship, in order to cause them to repent of their sins, but theother Sages disapproved of his actions. When Rabbi Zeira died, those hooligans said: Until now, there was the short one with singed legs, i.e., Rabbi Zeira, who would pray for compassion for us. Who will pray for compassion for us now? They thought about this in their hearts and repented. Ultimately, Rabbi Zeira’s actions were proven correct, as they repented.

What does this say about how we interact with one another?  What kind of world do we live in if we judge each other in the most lenient ways, if we expect that others are doing their best?  We are all flawed.  We are all imperfect and if we remember that about the other, how much more positive will our interactions become?


I know how difficult this is!  There are many lessons in our tradition that are regularly repeated.  The importance of fair judgement is one of those.  We are told to favor neither the rich or the poor, nor our friends.  We are told to judge others for merit, for good, to see the best in one another.  If something has so many reminders in our tradition, you can be darn sure that we NEED the reminder.  Elsewhere in Sanhedrin we learn that there is no unnecessary repetition in the Torah–if something is repeated, there is a reason!  We NEED the repetition not to judge each other harshly.  We NEED the repetition to treat one another fairly.  We are inclined to favor those who will favor us.  Depending on the moment and circumstance, we may favor the more well off or the less well off–whether for personal reasons or communal ones.


Returning to our text: the second story is part of the intimidation and interrogation of the witnesses.  There they are reminded that saving one life is saving an entire world and ending one life is ending an entire world.

לפיכך נברא אדם יחידי ללמדך שכל המאבד נפש אחת מישראל מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו איבד עולם מלא וכל המקיים נפש אחת מישראל מעלה עליו הכתוב כאילו קיים עולם מלא

The court tells the witnesses: Therefore, Adam the first man was created alone, to teach you that with regard to anyone who destroys one soul from the Jewish people, i.e., kills one Jew, the verse ascribes him blame as if he destroyed an entire world, as Adam was one person, from whom the population of an entire world came forth. And conversely, anyone who sustains one soul from the Jewish people, the verse ascribes him credit as if he sustained an entire world.

Finally the third is about how we are all created by God from one ancestor–maybe not genetically–but so that no one can claim their father is greater than another.

ומפני שלום הבריות שלא יאמר אדם לחבירו אבא גדול מאביך

The mishna cites another reason Adam the first man was created alone: And this was done due to the importance of maintaining peace among people, so that one person will not say to another: My father, i.e., progenitor, is greater than your father.

If we see ourselves as coming from a common spiritual ancestor, we see that we are all one family.  Looking at our world today, we can use this reminder.  Whether our skin is light or dark, we come from one ancestor.  Whether we like low taxes or high taxes, we come from one ancestor.  Whether we believe that government is a force for good or a force of bureaucracy, we come from one ancestor.  Whether we are right or left, love Israel or do not care, we come from one ancestor.  If I believed it was acceptable for me to have a tattoo, I might put these words on my forehead!  We must see the commonality in one another, the humanity and the Divinity in one another.

What is it about these texts that draws me back again and again: the importance of relationships; the importance of continuing to work on our relationships; the importance of recognizing that others are ALSO working on their relationships.


Ok, I want to see if you are awake for a moment.  I’m going to ask you raise your hands.  How many people here email? text?  Do you ever talk to people on the phone?  On facetime?  In person?  Now I need a shout out, which of those options creates the least amount of confusion?  Probably in person.  Yet how often do we use other forms.  They are substitutes, and important substitutes, but how often do we misconstrue and misunderstand.  We write a message with love and kindness, expecting someone will read it that way.  Yet how often is a message hastily sent, responded to in haste?  How often do we read a message and think someone is annoyed with us–and find ourselves completely wrong!  Tone, body language, facial expressions are essential to our communication–yet we are missing those so often.  I know I have this challenge, and I bet you do, too!


This is clearly not a new problem–well maybe the texting or snapchatting is–but as I shared from the Talmud–we have been having unnecessary disagreements forever!


It seems one of the main tasks of this time of year is attempting to repair relationships.  That works fine if the other party is on the same page, but what happens when they are not.  Not everyone is open to renewing relationships.  Not everyone is capable of it.  Some people just are not ready.  Some situations are not meant to be reconciled–if someone was abusive–neither side may find reconciliation productive–and it can even be harmful.  If we are the damaging party, we may ask forgiveness, but we are not guaranteed it!  If we are the injured party, we may forgive if asked, but we are not 100% obligated to do so.


Earlier this week, I met with my Tuesday morning Mishnah group.  We looked at a tshuvah, a rabbinic answer, of Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the former Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, may his memory be a blessing.  He was asked could one write a letter of apology before Yom Kippur, if one was too embarrassed to go in person.  While his answer strongly implied that going face to face was best, he implied that we should do whatever we can to repair what he have broken.  We learned that while we must make at least three attempts to ask forgiveness from a friend, from a teacher we must ask even 1000 times!  Yet in our conversation, we wondered about the broader implications.  Few relationships are broken through the fault of only one side!  

What happens if someone is gone?  If they are dead?  In these cases, expressing our feelings in other outlets can be productive.  We can write a letter, an email, speak to a rabbi, a friend, a therapist.  If we give ourselves outlets to discuss these losses, we may find ways of working through them that did not seem open before.


But of all these friends and lovers

There is no one compares with you.

And these mem’ries lose their meaning

When I think of love as something new.

Tho’ I know I’ll never lose affection

For people and things that went before,

I know I’ll often stop and think about them,

In my life I love you more.


The way we move forward is by having these conversations–before it is too late as often as we can.  Our biggest failure is thinking we cannot change–and neither can the ones we love.  We think we and they are immovable and inert.  The holidays, the shofar come to blast us out of this fallacy.  We can do it.  We can improve ourselves, our relationships.  Last night I referenced the Unetanah Tokef, reminding us that we can be alive, but we have the choice of existing or living.  The central line of that prayer is that

וּתְשׁוּבָה וּתְפִלָּה וּצְדָקָה מַעֲבִירִין אֶת רֹעַ הַגְּזֵרָה.

But teshuvah and tefillah and tzedakah (return and prayer and righteous acts)

deflect the evil of the decree.

In many ways THIS is the lesson.  THIS is how we can react.  THIS changes our fate–or at least how we understand it.  We CAN change.  We CAN pray.  We CAN help the world.  If we make those choices, our world is a better place–not in some future time, but NOW.  L’shanah tovah.  We now open our yizkor books.




Machzor Lev Shalem