I hope this letter finds you and your families well.
You may have noticed that the High Holidays begin very early this year. This is because the Jewish calendar is largely a lunar calendar and is about eleven days shorter every year than the solar calendar. In order to make sure Passover falls in the spring (as the Torah mandates), the rabbis established that every once in a while (seven times in a nineteen year cycle to be exact), an additional month be added, making a total of thirteen months. Our new year will have such an additional month.
Today, the Jewish calendar has been calculated for the foreseeable future, but in antiquity, the addition or intercalation of a new month was decreed by a Jewish court. The Gemara in Sanhedrin 11a-11b discusses the conditions under which a month could be added. Among these were allowing time for roads and bridges to be repaired, allowing time for the ovens to dry, and giving Jews travelling from outside Judea time to make it to Jerusalem for Passover. All of these made it easier for Jews to celebrate the holiday. In Hebrew, a year with an additional month is called a shanas me’uberes a “pregnant year.” Our liturgy suggests that it is pregnant with blessings. In the Kedushas Ha-Yom (Sanctification of the Day) blessing of the Rosh Chodesh Musaf Shemoneh Esreh, six pairs of blessings – one blessing for each month – are listed: goodness and blessing, joy and happiness, salvation and consolation, livelihood and sustenance, life and peace, forgiveness of sin and pardon of transgression. During a shanas me’uberes, we add another blessing: atonement of iniquity.
As we begin the New Year – a shanas me’uberes – we would be wise to remember that the additional month was proclaimed out of consideration of others. So too should we strive to be considerate of others. Moreover, the additional month brings additional opportunities and an additional blessing. As this particular blessing demonstrates God’s patience and love for us, we should emulate His example when we ourselves deal with other people. In this way we will hopefully merit all the blessings listed above.
We are excited as the High Holidays approach. As we have done for decades, we will be holding our Selichos service with the students from Columbia/Barnard Hillel. The service will take place on Motzoei Shabbos, August 31/September 1, 2013 and will be led by Orrin Tilevitz, as he has done for many years. This year we will celebrate our eleventh annual Rosh Hashanah dinner. I am delighted to note that our outstanding High Holiday baalei tefilah, Yosef Tannenbaum and Rabbi Reuven Hoff will be back again to lead us in davening this year.
I am also delighted to report that the New York Landmarks Conservancy has awarded us a $25,000 Jewish Heritage Fund matching grant to help pay for repointing of the exterior of the building, replacing the rear exit doors, repainting the fire escapes and restoring the rear stained-glass window. We anticipate the total cost for this project to be $60,000. In order to be eligible for the grant, we have to raise at least $10,000 for this purpose (of which we have already raised $2,000) by June 2014. We will have to make up the remaining $15,000 from savings. Please help us reach our immediate goal of raising at least the minimum $10,000 needed to receive this grant. Your support for this effort will be deeply appreciated and will enable us to move on to restoring the interior of the building.
We have had a good spring and an equally good summer. Thanks to the generous support of an anonymous donor, we were able to accommodate everyone who wished to join us for our popular Passover Seder. Daniel Fridman, who has completed his rabbinical studies at Yeshiva University this year, continues to give his excellent shiur every Sunday morning after Shacharis. This year he taught also on Shavuos and Tisha Ba-Av. Thanks to Dale Brown’s energetic efforts (with the help of Tashia Amstislavski and others) our garden in the back provides a beautiful and welcome place for contemplation. Dale also led us this past June on another very successful visit to the Old Broadway section of the Riverside Cemetery, where we weeded the graves of our deceased members and recited Kel Male in their memory. Looking forward, we have arranged to have Ben Elton, a talented rabbinical student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, present a Kiddush-Luncheon series this fall. I am also happy to say that over the last few months, we have attracted a small but growing number of new congregants. We are looking forward to further growth and success in the New Year!
Your generous help has enabled us to welcome people and provide them with beautiful davening and a warm community. You have also enabled us to maintain and restore our historic building. As the New Year approaches, we turn to you again. We hope that we continue to be worthy of your support so that we may continue to be a beacon of Yiddishkeit and Torah to many Jews in Harlem, Morningside Heights and the Upper West Side. May Hashem inscribe and seal you and your families for good health, happiness and success for the New Year.
לשנה טובה תכתבו ותחתמו,
א גוט געבענטשט יאר,
P.S. Mazel tov to Benjamin Waldman and Bracha Rubin and Sheyna Radensky and Eli Ehrenreich on their weddings this summer!