The Voice of the

Pelham Jewish Center

April 2024/Adar II- Nisan, 5784


Learning Center

In This Issue

Leadership Messages

Rabbi Benjamin Resnick

Education Director

Ana Turkienicz

PJC President

Lisa Neubardt

HaKol Editor

Barbara Saunders-Adams

Congregant News

& Donations

Book Notes

Barbara Saunders-Adams

Food For Thought

Congregant's Corner

Efrem Sigel

Share a Simcha

Tributes & Donations

Rabbi Benjamin Resnick

Dear Friends,

Among the many peculiarities of the Seder—one of the manifold moments when the authors of the Haggadah want us to pause, our jaws agape, in order to ask, “Wait a minute, why is this different?” We notice the difference in the way that we recite Hallel. Admittedly, it may not be the most obvious or urgent example of the Seder subverting our expectations–as a ritual salvo it’s aimed squarely at real liturgy hounds, a somewhat rare bird to be sure. But it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot this year and it’s worthy of consideration.

The Hallel that we sing during the Seder (which is identical in content to the special selection of Psalms that we sing on all festivals other than Purim) is strange for two main reasons. First, it’s sung at night when, at all other times, Hallel is sung during the day. Second, it’s split up–we recite the first two Psalms before eating dinner and then (ideally!) complete Hallel later on before drinking the Fourth Cup of wine. So what gives?

The source of this liturgical weirdness appears to be some homiletic indeterminacy about why exactly we’re saying Hallel–an uncertainty that reflects a broader, deeper uncertainty about the Seder experience itself. At its heart is the following question: Is the seder, on the one hand, primarily a commemoration of an extraordinary event in our mythic past? Or, on the other hand, is it re-enactment–an elaborate LARP–during which we are meant to symbolically (or, perhaps, literally) re-experience exodus and salvation? 

Like much of the Haggadah, it’s a subject that has invited and continues to invite endless speculation and rabbis and commentators have considered both options throughout history. For now, I will give only two examples.

The first is a two-thousand-year-old dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai that relates to the question of how, exactly, Hallel should be divided. Specifically, the two ancient schools offer two different opinions regarding when, exactly, we should recite Psalm 114–”Betzeit Yisrael”–which includes the line “When Israel went out from Egypt…” According to Beit Shammai it should only be recited after dinner because the Israelites were not actually redeemed (and therefore did not actually “go out from Egypt”) until midnight. Beit Hillel, on the other hand, rules that it should be recited before dinner because, after all, we know that we were indeed redeemed! Behind his disagreement there appear to be two rather divergent conceptions of what we’re really doing as we move through Haggadah. According to Beit Shammai we are reinhabiting an ancient, timeless experience, in the context of which we should sing about our salvation only after we have been saved. Meanwhile, according to Beit Hillel, we are recalling a moment of mythical triumph, the celebration of which is appropriate at all times, even “before” it happens. As in most cases–and despite the fact that the Haggadah itself, which includes the famous line “This year we are slaves, next year we will be free,” seems to militate in the direction of Beit Shammai–at the Seder we do follow Beit Hillel. Psalm 114 comes before dinner (and hopefully well before midnight!). But the specter of Shammai remains. 

The second aspect of this debate that I will share here is a much later attempt, on the part of R. Hai Gaon, the leader of the Babylonian yeshiva in the 9th Century, to make sense of the Seder’s strange presentation of Hallel in the first place. Why do we split it up at all? In answering, he says that there are really two kinds of Hallel. There are obligatory Hallels that are “read” on specifically mandated occasions, like on the yearly festivals. And then there are what he calls Hallels of “song,” which are the spontaneous response to miraculous events. The Hallel on the Seder, he says, is of the second kind. And although we fix the liturgy in accordance with Beit Hillel’s idea of the Seder as a commemoration, the Hallel that we actually sing is really a “spontaneous” expression of thanksgiving offered by people who have just experienced a great miracle.

As Jews we are, unquestionably, in the midst of a very difficult time. One of the central Pesach questions this year is, “What does the Festival of Freedom mean in a year such as this?” Our hostages are not yet home. We are exhausted and embattled. How and what and to what extent do we celebrate? The constellation of thought surrounding the nature of Hallel reflects this complexity in a very poignant way. So when we recite Psalm 114 before midnight we are celebrating our redemption in the midst of bondage. Or maybe we are affirming that we are free even though midnight has not yet arrived. Or maybe we are saying, tacitly, that we aren’t re-experiencing the salvation of our ancestors. Or maybe, following Hai Gaon, we are affirming that we absolutely are. 

Thankfully, because we’re Jews, we do not need to choose among these many options. We can simply allow them to linger. The Haggadah, in its majesty and wisdom, imagines us as, simultaneously, as gloriously free and irredeemably bound. For that reason it is perfectly suited to our present moment and for that I am very thankful.  

Wishing all of you a hag kasher v’samealkh, a meaningful and joyful Pesach–


Education Director

Ana Turkienicz

As daffodils and cherry blossoms bloom, filling the paths with color and aroma, they herald the imminent arrival of Passover. Yet, amidst our efforts to plan our Seder as a joyful celebration, the shadows of war in Israel loom ever darker.

The stark contrast between the vibrant colors of spring and the painful reality of hostages enduring over six months of captivity in the darkness of Hamas tunnels in Gaza complicates our holiday preparations emotionally and spiritually.

The Passover story, once a distant tale steeped in Jewish mythology and tradition, suddenly feels alarmingly relevant as we witness Sinwar's repeated refusal to release our people. Our traditions offer us a path to navigate the challenges of these times as we celebrate a biblical holiday that seems strangely closer to our reality than to ancient times.

In Hebrew, "Mitzrayim" (Egypt) means "narrow places”, evoking the tunnels under Gaza where 133 hostages have been held since October 7, 2024. Despite numerous failed negotiation attempts, Sinwar, the Hamas leader, adamantly rejects any liberation efforts, echoing Pharaoh's obstinance in the Exodus story. Just as G-d hardened Pharaoh's heart in response to his refusal, so too does Sinwar's heart seem hardened, devoid of empathy or humanity, consumed by hatred and anger, even in face of his own people’s demise.

During the Seder, as we recount the ten plagues, tradition dictates that we remove a drop of wine from our cup of joy for each plague, to symbolize that we do not rejoice in the suffering of others, even our enemies. We even refrain from licking our fingers after dipping them in wine, reminding ourselves not to take pleasure in the pain of others.

This year, we will add an empty seat for a hostage in our Seder. When we ask the 4 Questions, the “Ma Nishtana”, we will ask a fifth question: “How can we celebrate the holiday of freedom when our brothers and sisters are still captive in the narrow places of Gaza?” 

The last cup of the seder, Elijah’s cup, also called the “cup of redemption”, will be dedicated to the absent hostages in their families’ seder. We will raise a cup for the end of their suffering, and for their swift release. We’ll raise a cup for the end of the war so both peoples can rebuild their lives and strive for peace.

At the Learning Center, we've immersed ourselves in teaching the holiday at all levels, with each class exploring different aspects of the story with enthusiasm. It seems that adversity strengthens us, enhancing our resilience and knowledge. It reminds us of one of the symbolic reasons for placing a hard-boiled egg on the Seder plate: just as the egg becomes stronger when boiled, so too do we become stronger under pressure. 

For example, recently, Rabbi Resnick and I spoke with a new family who decided to join our community. They expressed concern about the world's events and their children's future, emphasizing the importance of grounding them in their roots and traditions. Their words resonated deeply, highlighting the significance of our work: in times of adversity, we cling to our core values, finding meaning and purpose in our traditions, and strengthening our bonds within our communities.

That is why our teachers’ dedication to their work is humbling. Learning, questioning, and community solidarity have always been our response to challenges. Knowledge, creativity, and reasoning are our response to grief, fear and loss. Our children, our future, embody hope and resilience. May they be blessed with G-d’s protection and love.

May the hostages be released safely and returned alive to their families in the near future. May your Pesach be zissen (sweet) as the harosset even though mixed with the maror (bitter herbs) and the chazeret. And may our children, our kinderlach, continue to be a source of strength and love as we navigate the narrow paths of these challenging times. 

Am Israel Chai!



Lisa Neubardt

“Do not overthrow the customs that have made it all the way to you.”

—Leon Wieseltier, Kaddish

Seder means order.

Our world is so completely out of order.

What do we do?

There’s always a stab at humor. Some recent texts from family/friends.

From my brother-in-law who lives in South Carolina.

Me: Did you hear we had an earthquake today?

Him: Between the rain, the wind, and now an earthquake, it’s like the 10 plagues.

Put something on your door so the Egyptians will leave Charlie alone.

Or from a friend who works for the Mets organization.

Me: How goes the season so far?

Him: My season so far…11 games, 4 rainouts, an earthquake and an eclipse. I’m

keeping an eye out for frogs and locusts.

Funny, but not so funny.

I have decided, as the quote above indicates, to follow the “customs that have

made it all the way to (me.)” Instead of going online for ideas and maybe even

new recipes, I have pulled out old, old haggadot and the recipes books I

inherited from my mother over 30 years ago. In doing this, I realized I lost track of

so many traditions and so many dishes I used to love. It made me smile to go

through the cookbook, not only to be reminded of family reactions to some of the

dishes made, but to see my mother's handwriting on scraps of paper with cryptic notes

that I vividly remember her fleshing out when we were together. For me, dessert

was the best part of the meal. Divine. As such, I am sharing two of my favorites

here (with some of her verbal clarification in italics.)

Follow your customs or partake in mine. Either way, I wish you and your family a

Zissen Pesach--a Sweet Passover.

Next year in calmer times.

Crème de menthe Pie

Make crumb crust (with things we can eat for Passover)

8 mins 350 degrees

1 jar fluff (regular size)

¼ cup crème de menthe

1 pint cream – whipped

Add crème de menthe to fluff - mix until blended – fold in whipped cream

Pour into baked pie shell – freeze at least 8 hours.

Ellie’s Peanut Brittle Pie

Make crumb crust (with things we can eat for Passover)

2 cups heavy cream

1 tbsp instant coffee

Sugar to taste

10 oz package peanut brittle

Beat cream with coffee and vanilla until stiff in large bowl

(handful of crushed peanut brittle to set aside)

Fold remainder with heavy cream

Spoon into baked pie shell

Sprinkle remainder of peanut brittle over top

Put in freezer (maybe overnight)


HaKol Editor
Barbara Saunders-Adams

בכל דור ודור חיב אדם לראות את עצמו

כאילו הוא יצא ממצרים

In every generation a person must see oneself as if he/she had been liberated from Egyptian bondage.

Dear Friends,

The Haggadah not only tells the mythic story of our people's liberation from Egyptian bondage, it rings true today when we recall the fate of the October 7th hostages still in captivity. We are one people, when one of us is enslaved our people mourn and do whatever it takes to free the others. At least, that is as it should be.

It is unusual for a people to place emphasis on what it feels like to be an outsider, a stranger in a strange land. We are taught to have compassion for those who are displaced. Empathy is achieved when we see ourselves as if we had been liberated from Egyptian slavery. Compassion is the touchstone of Judaism.

This year, the reverberating trauma of October 7th, the ongoing war in Gaza, thousands of Israelis displaced from their homes, rising antisemitism and weakening bonds with our allies around the world, give us new lenses for understanding the Exodus story. In some instances, the words of the Haggadah feel eerily relevant. But, how can we celebrate our freedom in the middle of so much violence? Especially violence that is affecting Jews worldwide - both emotionally and physically? How can we stay true to Jewish values and honor Jewish teachings when the world is crumbling around us? How do we call for all who are hungry to come eat at our tables when so many Israelis are not at their own seder tables and millions of Palestinians are suffering from famine?

Despite it all, Jews are a hopeful people. Our national anthem is Hatikva, "The Hope". In the words of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, "Pesach is the oldest and most transformative story of hope ever told. It is a story of the defeat of probability by the forces of possibility. It defines what it is to be a Jew: a living symbol of hope".

When we sit down with family and friends at our seder, let's keep in mind that we are not truly free until every one of us is free to celebrate with their loved ones. That is the message of the Haggadah.

Chag Pesach Sameach/Happy Passover


Book Notes

The Best Place On Earth

by Ayelet Tsabari

The eleven short stories in Ayelet Tsabari's, The Best Place On Earth, will keep you mesmerized with their honesty and humanity.

Tsabari's stories interweave a range of ideas - discrimination, loss, displacement, sex, death and religion, to name a few, yet remain intimately personal. While exploring the different facets of Israeli society, the broader forces of history move not merely across the nation but within the souls of Tsabari's beautifully conceived characters.

Focusing on the experiences of Mizrahi Jews, these stories feature mothers and children, soldiers and bohemians, lovers and best friends, all searching for their place in the world.


Food for Thought

A Passover Poem by Yehuda Amichai

The Eleventh and Twelfth Commandments: Don't Change! Change!

My father was a god and did not know it.

He gave me The Ten Commandments neither in thunder nor in fury;

neither in fire nor in cloud

But rather in gentleness and love.

And he added caresses and kind words and he added “I beg You,” and “please.”

And he sang “keep” and “remember” the Shabbat in a single melody.

And he pleaded and cried quietly between one utterance and the next,

“Do not take the name of God in vain,” Do not take it, not in vain, I beg you,

“Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.”

And he hugged me tightly and whispered in my ear “Do not steal. Do not commit adultery. Do not murder.”

And he put the palms of his open hands On my head with the Yom Kippur blessing. “Honor, love, in order that your days might be long on the earth.”

And my father’s voice was white like the hair on his head.

Later on he turned his face to me one last time

Like on the day when he died in my arms and said I want to add Two to the Ten Commandments:

The Eleventh commandment – “Thou shall not change.”

And the Twelfth commandment – “Thou must surely change.”

So said my father and then he turned from me and walked off disappearing into his strange distances.

Congregant's Corner

Face the Bloody Double Standard: Young Americans' Opinions On War Endanger Israel and The United States (Published in City Journal)

Efrem Sigel & Hannah E. Meyers

Overnight, the United States and other allies helped deflect hundreds of Iranian cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and drones that rained down on Israel. As regional tensions continue to mount, the long-term support of the U.S. will be more critical than ever for the Middle East’s lone democracy. Waves of anti-Israel protests—coming from American campuses, in particular—pose an increasing threat to this support. Recent rhetoric from the State Department and the White House suggest that insistent demonstrators have shaken America from its firm support of Israel in its existential, defensive war in Gaza. This has encouraged Iran and groups like Hamas, whose primary goal is to destroy Israel and exterminate its Jewish population. 

College students are understandably horrified over war in Gaza and thousands of civilian deaths. Every innocent death is a tragedy. But they sidestep reality: the number of deaths in this defensive war is a fraction of victims killed, tortured, and imprisoned—with indefensible aims—by the Muslim leader of Syria, as well as leaders in Russia and China. Yet, American students are not chanting “Death to Syria!” They are not barring Russian professors or musicians from appearing on campuses. They are not calling for the bombing of Beijing. There’s no outpouring of outrage against the perpetrators of these ongoing massacres, which are far worse both in carnage and in objective.

As the Iranian menace grows, it is critical that American university students confront the moral double standards that have led them to champion forces committed to death and oppression. And to recognize that there is no other name for this lopsided crusade than rank anti-Semitism. Indeed, the skew in these conflicts and their aims is stark. In the second Chechen war, from 1999 to 2009, perhaps as many as 100,000 civilians were killed. Under relentless Russian bombing, the capital, Grozny, “became a ravaged moonscape,” writes New York Times correspondent Carlotta Gall. There were no safe corridors for civilians, no warnings of attacks, no procession of aid trucks from the UN. Almost all the victims were Muslim. Nor was the existence of the Russian Federation ever at stake in this conflict; the Chechens merely sought independence.

In the Syrian civil war that began in 2011 and continues today, more than 300,000 civilians and perhaps as many as 500,000—mostly Muslims—have died from ceaseless bombing, artillery fire, and chemical weapons attacks ordered by Syrian Bashar al-Assad and assisted or carried out by the Russian air force. The death toll includes “at least 14,000 people” who have perished by torture or summary execution in Syrian prisons. “By now almost every war crime and crime against humanity” has been committed in Syria, confirmed Paulo Pinheiro, chair of a UN commission of inquiry, adding that today nearly 17 million people in Syria are in need of food, water, and medical care. Here, too, Again, Assad is not battling to preserve his state’s existence, only his own murderous rule.

In China’s Xinjiang province, more than 500,000 Uighur Muslims were arrested and imprisoned between 2017 and 2021 as part of China’s Strike Hard campaign against Muslim religious practice and cultural identity—a campaign that continues today. 

One million Uighurs have also been subjected to “political re-education” that includes “arbitrary detention, torture, cultural persecution [and] forced labor.” The treatment of the Uighurs by Chinese authorities amounts to “a crime against humanity,” says the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Xinjiang’s 11.5 million Muslims are less than one-tenth of 1 percent of China’s population of 1.4 billion, so the Uighur struggle for Muslim religious practice and identity could not possibly threaten the security or existence of China.

In contrast to these deadly confrontations, Israel is the only state waging a defensive war for its survival. Hamas’s codified goal is annihilating Israel, killing or exiling its 7 million Jews. That’s also the stated policy of Iran, a Muslim country of 89 million people ruled by the country’s foremost religious authority, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khamenei is yet another Muslim leader responsible for the detention and torture of Muslim women protesters, and whose regime supplies money, weapons, and training enabling Hamas and Hezbollah to murder innocent citizens of Israel, the U.S., and other countries. Indeed, Iran’s act of naked aggression now confirms it to be a third source of direct attack, along with Hamas and Hezbollah, in the war of survival forced on Israel by the attacks of October 7.

The UN’s roster of 197 member states includes such violence-prone countries as Afghanistan, Haiti, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo—and such unrepentant violators of human rights as Myanmar, Syria, North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran. Yet Israel, a democracy whose Jewish, Arab, and Christian citizens enjoy freedom of speech, religion, and the right to vote, is the only country whose existence is still being challenged, 76 years after independence. Zionism was originally a movement seeking self-determination for Jews and their return to their historic homeland, similar to the independence movements in India, Poland, Ireland, Algeria, Brazil, and dozens of other nations. Today, Zionism is, at its core, an affirmation of Israel’s right to exist and of its role as a homeland for Jews. 

Unless American youth take a good look at the world around them, at all of the carnage, and consider the moral imperatives behind why and how a country wages war, they will continue to push geopolitical power toward forces driven to oppress and kill. They will put the United States itself into a weaker position in our ability to maintain our own freedom and act as a beacon and defender of freedom in the world. And they will expose to destruction countless more Muslim lives and sacred sites. Indeed, the only Israeli hurt by Iran’s barrage last night was a young Bedouin girl, who is fighting for her life in an Israeli hospital. At the same time, they maintain such geopolitical myopia, America’s youth will become just the latest in history’s ponderous ledger of those too morally weak, too willfully ignorant, and too easily led by demagogues to do anything but campaign for dead Jews.

In the mean time, Israeli defenses dramatically intercepted Iranian missiles in the air above Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque—where Muhammad is held to have journeyed to heaven.

If they maintain such geopolitical myopia, America’s youth will become just the latest in history’s ponderous ledger of those too morally weak, too willfully ignorant, and too easily led by demagogues to do anything but campaign for dead Jews.

Efrem Sigel is the author of two novels as well as op-eds that have appeared in the New York Daily News and The Times of Israel. Hannah E. Meyers is a fellow and director of public safety at the Manhattan Institute.

Share a Simcha

"Share a Simcha" allows congregants to share their news with our PJC community. Please submit news about family members -- engagements, births, job updates, kid achievements, community acknowledgements and any other milestones -- to the HaKol Editor, Barbara Saunders-Adams.

. Mazal Tov to Gloria & Sheldon Horowitz on the Knighting of their son-in-law, Sir Clive husband of their daughter, Lady Jean

. Mazal Tov to Isaac Lief who was a finalist in the Congressional Debate of the Forensic Speech Team of PMHS

. Mazal Tov to Joel Peck, Larry Cohen, Rob Rossman, and Bob Goldman in honor of their April birthdays

Share a Simcha is a regular HaKol feature, so keep your news and updates coming!

Tributes & Donations
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Donations to the PJC

Nathan and Fannye Shafran Philanthropic Fund

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Billing statements are emailed monthly. 

Checks made out to the Pelham Jewish Center can be mailed to Pelham Jewish Center, P.O. Box 418, Montvale, NJ 07645. Credit card payment instructions are on your monthly emailed billing statement, or go to https://thepjc.shulcloud.com/payment.php

If you are interested in paying via appreciated securities or IRA distributions, please email Mitch Cepler.

It is the policy of the Pelham Jewish Center to make every effort to assist members experiencing financial challenges. Financial challenges should never be a barrier to being an active member of the PJC community. You can reach out to President, Lisa Neubardt, Treasurer, Mitchell Cepler or Rabbi Benjamin Resnick to speak confidentially concerning your ability to pay PJC dues and Learning Center tuition.

Happy Purim!

Pelham Jewish Center Families With Love:

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