Brooklyn Boro

Faith In Brooklyn for June 2

June 2, 2014 By Francesca Norsen-Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Rabbi Dr. Alvin Kass to Be Honored for 36 Years of Service To East Midwood Jewish Center at June 8 Dinner-Dance

Honoree Is Also Longest-Serving NYPD Chaplain

Rabbi Dr. Alvin Kass will be honored at the East Midwood Jewish Center’s (EMJC) 90th Annual Dinner-Dance for 36 years of service as the Center’s esteemed and distinguished spiritual leader this coming Sunday, June 8.

“This event is the highlight of the Center’s social season,” said Toby Sanchez, co-president of EMJC. “It is a time to pay tribute to a leading rabbi, who is also chief chaplain of the New York City Police Department and who has contributed so much to our Center and city, enjoy each other’s company and, not coincidentally, it is a major fundraising event.”

Sanchez continued, “Rabbi Kass is a gifted orator whose uplifting, insightful and intellectually-stimulating sermons inspire us at Shabbat Services, the High Holidays and life cycles, as well as at community events.

Randy Grossman, co-president of the Center, pointed out, “Over the years, Rabbi Kass has exerted a powerful influence over the spiritual life of the synagogue and has devoted his entire professional life to ministering to the needs of others in the wider community, in the armed forces of our country and in the Police Department of our great city.”

“What makes East Midwood special?” Rabbi Kass said, “It is an all-service institution that provides for a person’s total needs – socially, spiritually, educationally and physically.”

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Rabbi Kass served as an Air Force chaplain for two years, followed by 14 years as rabbi of the Astoria Center of Israel, before joining East Midwood Jewish Center to preside over his second pulpit. He is a past president of the Brooklyn Board of Rabbis and the New York Board of Rabbis and edited the United Synagogue Review and the Mercaz newsletter.

During his 36-year tenure at East Midwood Jewish Center, Rabbi Kass has been instrumental in organizing a program to help Russian Jews find neighborhood housing, as well as offering them English classes at EMJC. He also worked with the police to block off Ocean Avenue so that Russian Jews – and others – could dance and celebrate Simchat Torah as they did in their homeland. Rabbi Kass built community ties by hosting private and community Seders and Sukkot receptions that welcomed not only members, but neighbors as well. He also helped establish Braille Club, in which members transcribed books into Braille.

For the younger members of East Midwood and United Synagogue Youth (USY), he held group luncheons at his home following Sabbath services and worked closely with the Day School when two of the students were national winners of the Intel/Westinghouse competition. He was the driving force to get EMJC children to experience Camp Ramah and he helped organize USY and Camp Ramah Pilgrimages to Israel. He participated on the UJA, Israel Bonds, Seminary breakfast committee and helped lead an interfaith trip to Athens, Rome, and Israel.

Moreover, Rabbi Kass is highly esteemed around New York City. He is now the longest-serving chaplain in the history of the NYPD, where he has served since being appointed in 1966. He was promoted to chief chaplain in 2002 and became the first chaplain to achieve the rank of assistant chief. He administers an office of seven chaplains — four of them are Catholic, one is Protestant and one is Muslim, in addition to himself. He visits precincts throughout the city and considers himself a clergyman to all, not just the NYPD’s Jewish members. It is estimated that there are 2,500 uniformed police officers who are Jewish out of a total 35,000.

As chief chaplain, he has made East Midwood Jewish Center a place at which many important city and police events are hosted. Every mayor and police commissioner has dropped by for a visit. Police Commissioner Ray Kelly came for Passover dinners. Commissioner Bill Bratton was the guest speaker when Rabbi Kass was installed as president of the New York Board of Rabbis. Rabbi Kass has also given the invocation at the swearing-in of every police commissioner since he came on the job. Recently, Commissioner Bratton sent out a Tweet saluting Rabbi Kass’s “outstanding service for almost half a century.”

The Shomrim Society, a fraternal organization for NYC Jewish police officers, has its annual prayer service and dinners at EMJC. Rabbi Kass has been honored as the group’s “Man of the Year” and, before Passover, led its first trip, pilgrimage and march to Israel in March 1972.

Kass, who teaches ethics at the Police Academy, waged a successful campaign to have the force formally recognize the religious right of Jewish police officers to take time off to observe the Sabbath.

At the celebration of 100 Years of Jewish Chaplaincy of the New York Police Department in June 2011, Cardinal Edward Egan, former archbishop of New York, mentioned that Rabbi Kass “is a man of God. We listen to you because we know you listen to God and we thank you, Rabbi, for being wise and holy.”

Commissioner Ray Kelly said, “Across the decades, Rabbi Kass’s “wisdom [and] compassion have been a great gift to the police department. He is a scholar, a counselor and an inspirational speaker, equally adept at quoting Frank Sinatra and the great Talmudic debates.”

Remarking on the rabbi’s people skills, New York Times reporter Robert Lipsyte wrote that Kass, besides counseling and offering spiritual guidance to officers of all ranks, was credited, in 1977, with talking a suicidal man off a ledge of the World Trade Center. Four years later, he convinced an armed Jewish hostage-taker to give up his gun and release a female hostage for a pastrami sandwich. Together with his fellow chaplains, Rabbi Kass spent countless hours at Ground Zero on Sept. 11, 2001, providing support to the thousands of first responders performing rescue and recovery work.

Rabbi Kass has said that World Trade Center terrorist attack on 9/11 was unquestionably the “greatest challenge” that he has ever faced in his career.

“The sight at Ground Zero was sickening,” he said. “It was a veritable war zone. Destruction was everywhere. It was incredible to think that those Twin Towers were no longer standing. I was called to Police Headquarters, where I worked with my colleagues in the police chaplaincy to offer strength and comfort to families of police officers who were unaccounted for; 23 were missing. Even those police veterans who had seen every conceivable phenomenon were crying.”

In the immediate aftermath, he met with the gathered relatives, trying to comfort them. He spent time with families over the ensuing months, trying to help those who had lost relatives.

Rabbi Kass told his EMJC congregation “that the attack brought out the best and the worst in the human spirit. Those who executed this sordid scheme represent the most nefarious ingredient of the human personality. On the other hand, the heroism, courage, self-sacrifice, nobility and generosity evoked by the attack validate our profoundest beliefs in man’s redemptive potential.”

A participant in “A Prayer for America” held in Yankee Stadium on Sept. 23, 2001, Rabbi Kass was nearly drowned out by applause, reported one broadcaster, when he said, “What the victims want more than anything else, what they would tell us if they were here, is that we should continue to live for what they died for — a place where government by the people, for the people and of the people will not perish.”

A native of Paterson, N.J., Rabbi Kass earned a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts in History from Columbia University and a B.H.L. and M.H.L. from the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he also received rabbinical training. He earned his Ph.D. in History and Philosophical Foundations of Education from New York University. Besides graduating Summa Cum Laude and being the Class Salutatorian of his undergraduate class at Columbia, he was also a Quackenbush Foundation Scholar and a Harry J. Carman and National Woodrow Wilson Fellow. In 2009, Rabbi Kass was a recipient of the coveted Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which pays tribute to our nation’s immigrant heritage, as well as individual achievement.

Rabbi Kass and his wife Miryom have been married for 50 years. She is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Columbia University with a master’s degree from Brooklyn College. She has taught at the Rabbi Harry Halpern Day School, the East Midwood Jewish Center’s Adult Institute and the Talmud Torah High School. She is a member of EMJC’s Sisterhood, past president of both Dena Hadassah and a vice president of East Midwood Neighborhood Association (EMNA).

For information on dinner reservations and placing an ad in the journal, please call the Center office at 718-338-3800. Co-Chairpersons of the 90th Annual Dinner Dance are Elaine Adelin and Amy Nitzky. The Center is located at 1625 Ocean Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11210.
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Congregation Beth Elohim Hosts Shavuot Nocturnal Study Fest

The Jewish festival of Shavuot commemorates the occasion on which God gives the Ten Commandments (and the Torah) to the prophet Moses for the Israelites, binding them as a new nation. Interestingly, the Book of Ruth, in which this Moabite heroine willingly adopts the God of her mother-in-law as they build a new life together, is also the traditional reading for Shavuot. Shavuot customs include sharing a dairy meal — including blintzes — and all-night study. This year, Brooklyn’s synagogues and minyanim have joined forces to create a nocturnal celebration of Shavuot, complete with mini-courses. Shavuot begins at sundown on Tuesday, June 3 and lasts for two days, until sundown on Thursday, June 5.

Congregation Beth Elohim in Park Slope hosts this nocturnal program of learning, singing and dancing as some of Brooklyn’s finest teachers gather in one place for one of the most diverse Tikkun Leil Shavuot celebrations around. And with social media as a way of expanding outreach, participants are encouraged to RSVP via Facebook.

The night begins at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday with Shir l’Shavuot for kids ages 6 and under and their families. Sing and dance with the Torah, Debbie Brukman and Cantor Josh! Then, at 8 p.m., adult participants can enjoy their choices of Shavuot evening services (Orthodox, Traditional Egalitarian, Reform, or Meditation).

Following a festive dairy oneg (reception) starting at 8:45 p.m., the learning blocks begin. The oneg room will remain available all night. Over the course of seven learning blocks (sections of time), a rich variety of mini-courses will be offered. A sampling: participants can discover the secrets of successful Challah baking, quilt for an end to gun violence, or find one’s inner Torah through yoga and meditation. Other mini-courses cover discussions of justice; the Jewish Diaspora (including what it means to be a Latina or Arab Jew); Radical Renewal in the Kabbalah; writing personal prayers; “Loneliness, Love and Revelation: A Meditation Workshop;” and Kavanah in the bedroom, which covers human sexuality and ethics of intimacy, such as intent. Psalm study marathon takes place through the night. As of press time, rabbis, cantors and educators from Brooklyn Heights Synagogue, Congregation Mount Sinai, Congregation Beth Elohim and Congregation Kolot Chayeinu are expected to participate.

One of the highlights will be a session titled “To Heal the World: A Multi-Faith Discussion.” Many religions, including Judaism, have a long history of inspiring people to respond to the needs of others. A multi-faith panel will share stories of why they have pursued a professional path of tikkun olam (meaning “to heal the world”) and how they motivate others to make the world a better place. Moderating this panel will be Lisa Levy, director of policy, advocacy and organizing for the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Confirmed panelists, as of press time, are Joel Berg, executive director, New York City Coalition Against Hunger; Lauren Phillips, program manager, Cathedral Community Cares, The Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine; Rabbi Andy Shugerman, director of Major Gifts for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism; the Reverend Robert Emerick, pastor of Bay Ridge United Methodist Church; and Melony Samuels, executive director of Bed-Stuy Campaign Against Hunger.

The celebration concludes with Sunrise Shavuot morning services in Congregation Beth Elohim’s Chapel.

For a full description of the topics offered, visit Congregation Beth Elohim’s website, or its Facebook page at


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Program Will Discuss Second Amendment As ‘Most Misunderstood and Controversial’

Now at the center of heated arguments over gun ownerships and safety, the Second Amendment will be the topic of a talk this week at Congregation Beth Elohim.

The president of the prestigious Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law presents “The Second Amendment: A Biography with Michael Waldman.” He will explain the life story of the most controversial, volatile and misunderstood provision of the Bill of Rights.

At a time of renewed debate over guns in America, what does the Second Amendment mean? Waldman will explore history to provide some surprising, illuminating answers. His talk begins at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 5. Tickets are $10. For more information, contact Congregation Beth Elohim (274 Garfield Pl. in Park Slope) via email at [email protected].
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Franciscan Friars of Renewal Offer Catholic Underground Vespers

Contributed by Lydia Gordon, Parishioner, Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral

The congregation of Our Lady of Lebanon Cathedral experienced the wonderful world of Catholic Underground conducted by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal this month.

The evening vespers was the most reverent and inspiring service I have ever experienced. The congregation, led by Brother Gabriel on a piano/organ instrument, sang the service and hymns. There was a short reading by one of the brothers and Brother Youssef Mariam gave a short homily, telling us how he was inspired to leave his dissolute life for a life focused on God. As the service progressed, the Cathedral was slowly darkened and the Eucharist was exposed, at which point the church was completely darkened, the only light being supplied by two candelabras alongside the Eucharist. The service concluded in the darkened church, as worshipers sat quietly. For the first time in many services and masses, I felt the presence of God in our beautiful Cathedral. It was both rejuvenating and calming to meditate and pray in the darkened church with the Eucharist exposed.

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Greek Cultural Festival Week Begins at Saints Constantine & Helen Cathedral

The 37th annual Greek Festival begins on Monday, June 2, at Saints Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Schermerhorn Street. The festival, which runs through Sunday, June 8, will feature homemade entrees and pastries, folk dancing and Agora and flea markets.

This portion of Schermerhorn Street, between Court Street and Boerum Place, has also been named “Honorable Nicholas Coffinas Way” after a beloved New York State Supreme Court Justice and congregant who died in 2006. Sts. Constantine & Helen Cathedral marked its 101st birthday in May.

Festival hours are: Monday, June 2, through Thursday, June 5, 11 a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday, June 6, 11 a.m.-1 a.m.; Saturday, June 7, 4 p.m.-1 a.m.; and Sunday, June 8, 1-4 p.m.

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Gregory Eaton Plays Farewell Concert in Thanksgiving for 21 Years at St. Ann’s

Gregory Eaton, organist and director of music at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church for 21 years, will present a free farewell concert on Sunday, June 15, at 7 p.m. to honor and thank the many people who have supported his Wednesday lunchtime recitals, numerous fundraising concerts and music ministry over the years.

Through his efforts, Eaton has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in support of the maintenance and restoration of the historic church and landmark E.M Skinner organ he plays.

Eaton is well known for his mastery of the organ and his superb musicianship. He has composed both sacred and secular works for organ and choir and has arranged and transcribed orchestral and chamber works. His popular transcriptions of music by Scott Joplin have been published. Eaton is an accomplished choir conductor and has led church choirs, including St. Ann’s own, each Sunday in performing a rich and varied musical liturgy.

Gregory Eaton came to St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church in 1993 as director of music and organist. From 2009 to 2012, he served as dean of the Brooklyn Chapter of the American Guild of Organists. He is a graduate of the University of Redlands, Calif., and came to New York in 1984 to join the music staff of Trinity Church, Wall Street. After two years at Trinity, he served as director of music at the Church of the Epiphany in Manhattan before coming to St. Ann’s. Eaton was also lecturer in church music of the General Theological Seminary from 1984 to 2006. In addition to his church music activities, he is, with David Hurd, one of the co-founders of Chelsea Winds recorder ensemble.

The June 15 program will include favorites that have delighted Eaton’s audiences and reflect his wide-ranging musical repertoire of more than 600 musical works from the 15th Century to the present, including Elgar’s “Military March #4 in G,” Louis Vierne’s “Clair de Lune,” Joplin’s “The Entertainer,” Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings,” works by noted church composer David Hurd such as “Flourish for Easter” and three settings of “Nun komm der Heiden Heiland.” The concert will conclude with a dramatic finale as the Arcadia Brass Ensemble and percussionist Ed Gonzalez join Eaton in performing the “Craig Phillips Suite for Organ, Brass Quintet and Percussion.”

The concert is open and free to the public. A reception will follow the concert.


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St. Paul’s Church Rummage Sale Set for This Weekend

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church holds its annual spring rummage sale on Saturday June 7, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Parish Hall (199 Carroll St., just off Clinton Street) will be filled with books, clothing, compact discs and DVDs, bric-a-brac and other popular rummage sale items. Franks and sliders just off the grill will also be available for sale — all promised at bargain prices.

St. Paul’s rummage sales are a neighborhood tradition.

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Oldest Non-Hasidic Orthodox Synagogue In Brooklyn Marks its 145th Anniversary

Congregation Honored its Rabbi of 43 Years as He Retires

Congregation Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom, considered to be the oldest Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn, Queens and Long Island, recently celebrated its 145th anniversary.

The celebration took place during the synagogue’s annual dinner, which honored Rabbi Joshua Fishman and his wife Rebbetzin Esther Fishman. Rabbi Fishman is retiring after 43 years as the synagogue’s religious leader and Rebbetzin Fishman is the director of the Satmar Senior Center in Williamsburg.

Rabbi Fishman has been a major leader in Jewish life in the United States and worldwide, having served for many years as the executive vice president of the international Hebrew school support organization Torah Umesorah, from which he retired two years ago. Morris Schulman is the synagogue’s president.

World-renowned Rabbi Nosson Scherman, general editor of Artscroll Publications, was the event’s guest speaker.

Congregation Beth Jacob Ohev Sholom is the only remaining non-Hasidic Orthodox synagogue in Williamsburg. It continues to hold services every morning and evening throughout the week.

The synagogue was formed in 1869 by a break-away group of congregants of a reformist Shul, immediately after an organ was brought into that Shul for Yom Kippur services, a practice that is totally contrary to Orthodox principles.  

With the construction of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway and the resulting demolition of their original building and that of another synagogue nearby, the two congregations merged and the synagogue’s current building was constructed and opened in 1957.

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