Israeli Stories

One of my greatest wishes  since I began taking conversational Hebrew in college has been to speak Hebrew fluently, well enough to converse with Israelis, read Hebrew newspapers and teach my children Hebrew.

As a singer, I have a particular affinity for languages, and the  classical repertoire in particular, demands we learn at least French, German and Italian ( not to mention Russian) in order to sing the most beloved works in the Western cannon.

When I moved to Israel for the first year of Cantorial School in 2003, I found myself in an introductory level Ulpan ( Hebrew Immersion) at the Yeshiva, but eventually I began skipping class to speak with the Shomer-The Yeshiva Guard- who I spoke with often and whose impromptu Hebrew lessons during our conversations, I found much more interesting and helpful than classroom study.

My Hebrew during that Yeshiva year progressed dramatically and I could have basic conversations with most Israelis on any number of subjects. Continue reading →

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Buses to Solidarity March in New York

This Sunday, buses will be traveling from around the country for a solidarity march in New York.  Horrified by the antisemitic Chanukah attack in Monsey, NY, the New York Federation and JCRCs around the country are organizing a march across the Brooklyn Bridge.  Buses will leave from the JCCGW in Rockville promptly at 6am. There is a cost of $25 for the bus and a kosher lunch.

Pre-registration is required.  To reserve you place and for more details, click here.


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Refusing to Cower

“Why do people want to hurt Jews?”  That was the question a group of 5th grade Religious School students asked me recently.

What a distressing question to hear children ask.  How discouraging that our efforts to protect their childhood have been pierced by acts of violence covered intensely by social media and news outlets.  Fear, anxiety, confusion, instability and insecurity are emotions being absorbed by adults’ and children’s psyche.

It might feel easier to retreat from the dangers in the world.  Even houses of worship are not pure sanctuaries.  Just this past week we heard about the horrific Chanukah stabbing attack in Monsey, NY and the church shooting in the town of White Settlement, TX.   The emotions of the psalmist who wrote 2,500 years ago resonate with me: God, confront those adversaries who confront me, give battle to my foes, take up shield and armor and come to my defense, ready the spear and javelin against my pursuers… (Ps 35:1-3)

Continue reading →

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Sorkin Teen Trip 2019

This is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world and beyond. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. This week’s guest article comes from our very own Tali Moscowitz, who is currently in Israel with Hazzan Fradkin and 12 students who are participating in our annual Sorkin Teen Trip to Israel.


“The universe is celebrated through acts.”
-Quote found on Tel Aviv Graffiti

Shalom from Israel! Hazzan Fradkin and I are currently here on the second annual Sorkin Teen Trip with 12 students from this year’s Religious School 10th grade confirmation class. This experience has been realized in part due to the incredible generosity of Beth El members. In just the last week, these teenagers have cultivated an understanding of the people, culture, sights, sounds, and tastes of Israel.


Continue reading →

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Lost ten days

Imagine that the highest religious authority in the world (Dalai Lama, Pope Francis, Chief Israeli Rabbi?) announces tomorrow that ten days of the 2020 calendar will be wiped out. Instead of having 365 days, we’d only have 355. Think about the turmoil this would create… Instagram, Facebook and Twitter would buzz; traders at the stock market wouldn’t know what to do; conspiracy theories and governments would point fingers accusing each other. Don’t even mention physicists and astronomers. It would be chaos!

Whatever you imagine, this scenario is not new for human beings. It already happened in history.
In the year 1582, the world changed from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, the one we use today. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 2 comments

Can you help save a life?

Can you help save a life?

There is a beloved member of our community in need of a kidney. 

This member has taught hundreds of our children to speak Hebrew, know the Jewish holidays, learn Jewish songs. 

This person creates beautiful works of art, sculptures, paintings, that belong in a major collection.

It was once considered taboo to be an organ donor in the Jewish community. A widely believed misnomer that it’s not kosher to donate your organs because of Jewish burial laws.

But this has never been the case, and major orthodox organizations now promote kidney donation as a great mitzvah. See here

Living donors are more and more common and recovery from the surgery is relatively quick- 6 weeks. The after effects are slim to none.

Read more about it here:

If you are interested you should contact me directly at

The Johns Hopkins Transplant line is 410-614-9345

Please share this with whomever you can, our beloved friend needs your help.

Shabbat Shalom

Hazzan Fradkin

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Judaism as a Spiritual Odyssey

My edition of Gordis’ book

In 1995, a new book was published which I devoured.  God Was Not in the Fire: The Search for a Spiritual Judaism was written by Rabbi Daniel Gordis, then head of the Conservative Movement’s seminary in Los Angeles.  As I was considering rabbinical school myself, I became absorbed with his writing and ideas about Judaism’s relevance.  At the time, as I rode the metro from Bethesda to Union Station for work, the pages of my edition became highlighted, notated and dog-eared.

I periodically return to Gordis’ writing for inspiration and to remind myself of the questions which brought me to rabbinical school and Jewish communal life.

In a time of intense individuality, Judaism stresses we are part of something larger – a People, a history, a faith.  For eons, Jews have been part of an odyssey of meaning making, relevance and fulfilling religious obligations.  Throughout different time periods and communities, these characteristics were shuffled in priority.  In our busy modern lives, we continue to combine these “ingredients” in various ways.  Central to this odyssey has been the Torah.  It is our core text upon which each generation responds to, embraces, interprets and even pushes against.  Thus, as we become more familiar with the narratives of the Torah, we give ourselves the tools to be part of deep Jewish conversations across time.  From commentators like Rashi (click here for his commentary) to Avivah Zornberg (click here for an interview with Avivah about Genesis), our odyssey continues.

Continue reading →

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Why Jews Love Thanksgiving

This is the fourth week of the month. For Reflections Off the Bimah, the fourth week features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world and beyond. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter. I share this article by Ruth Kaplan published last year in “Jewish Boston.”  May you have a grateful Thanksgiving!


November 26, 2018

By Ruth Kaplan

The most obvious reason? It’s the great equalizer—we are all invited to the party!

Thanksgiving seems to be the most popular American holiday for Jews. The most obvious reason? It’s the great equalizer—we are all invited to the party! Ironically, it has come to be regarded as the kickoff to the “holiday season,” which, of course, refers to the all-pervasive Christmas, with a touch of Hanukkah on the side.

Now, of course, there are many Jewish people who are not the least bit bothered by the Christmas season and don’t feel at all excluded. I just don’t happen to be among them. For me, Christmas makes me feel like “the other.” Despite guarantees of religious freedom, the reality is that, culturally, the United States is a majority Christian country, and during the Christmas season, I feel like I’m “not invited to the party,” even though I’m generally invited to and attend seasonal parties. But a part of me always sees myself from the outside looking in: I don’t have a tree, I don’t buy poinsettias or a wreath and I quickly tire of Christmas music on elevators. Bah, humbug!

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 2 comments

A new Iphone or my first tefillin?

The conversations and interactions we have throughout Beth El are often fascinating and thought-provoking.

Some weeks ago during my Wednesday morning Torah class, we talked about the price of tefillin and why they are so expensive. I took advantage of the conversation to spend some time learning about tefillin. I explained briefly the rabbinical approach and gave my spiel about how the tefillin are the connectors with God. Like small “walkie talkie” devices they “connect and carry” our

prayers to God.

I showed the class my old tefillin; I opened them and showed the inside, the compartments, the tendons used to sew, the parchments and the different types of tefillin.

Then I posed my class a question: “Why do we question the price of tefillin that we will use for a life-time but have no problem spending lots of money on a mobile phone that will be good for one or two years until a new operating system will make them slow?”

Continue reading →

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The Men Who Spoke To God


When I was a boy, my grandparents were my most significant Jewish influence. We always spent parts of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur with them, going to the great shul on Hooks Ln in Baltimore, Beth El.

The Rabbi then was Mark Loeb, an exceptional human being who had rare oratory skills and was a living legend until his untimely death almost ten years ago. The Hazzan was Saul Hammerman, one of four brothers, all Hazzanim.

I couldn’t stand it, sitting there listening to the Hazzan singing on and on the same words! It just seemed like a gigantic show and I couldn’t wait to go back to my grandparents’ comfy apartment, have lunch and be with my family.

If I only knew what I was missing; I’ve never regretted my ignorance in those years more than I have these past few weeks. Continue reading →

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