Monthly Archives: February 2012

Our Brilliant Teacher

Dear Jehiel,

    I am so very sorry that I will not be able to attend the event of the year — an extraordinary party for an extraordinary man.   My thoughts and wishes will be with you and Sylvia.  There is no one I would rather celebrate and I do celebrate you everytime I think of you.
   I have so much to be grateful for in the many years you have been my rabbi, teacher, friends, and I have loved you for your kindness, sincerity, compassion, humor, modesty and goodness.
   I miss you leading our Sisterhood Bible Class which had evolved into a class of learning how to live using the Bible as a springboard for the most fascinating discussions.  We were a diverse crew — ranging from zero knowledge to quite advanced students.  How to thank you for never humiliating us for foolish questions, for making us feel comfortable discussing profound ideas.  We had many a laugh — not at anyone but sharing a naive or comical remark.  We aired problems and gave each other advice.  And we learned a lot — from you our brilliant teacher.
   Thank you for making Tuesday morning the highlight of my week.
   And most of all – Happy Birthday!
    Love, Hattie

By: Hattie Segal

You have a gift

Dear Jehiel,

As a Rabbi, you have a gift for recognizing the universal yet making it feel so personal to your listeners. You are open and not afraid to admit your own struggles. You accept people as they are, helping others navigate their own personal Judaism. You have a special spot for children and grandchildren. I’ll never forget what you said at my father’s funeral: “for a grandparent, all a grandchild needs to do is breathe for him(or her) to be the greatest!”

You have taught me anew this year about acceptance by accepting Nikki’s and my weekly Friday lunches with you. You have never told us not to come. You patiently listen to our chitchat. You have shared some stories, previews from your book about your Seminary days, and the various chochmas from your children and grandchildren. You ask us about our families. You continue to inspire us by your selflessness.

We love you very much!

Rusty, Sam, Marin, Aliza,and Jenna

All our life passages


We met you at your first Shabbat at Beth El which just happened to be our first Shabbat also. From the very beginning you have been our rabbi: to inspire us, to educate us, to lead us on the higher road ethically, emotionally and Judaically. We have come to you through all of our life passages from Debbie’s naming, when you danced with us as the congregation wished us Mazal Tov; to the death of our parents when you travelled several times in one week to NY to comfort us; to the loving counsel you provided when our son, Michael married outside the faith and our son David divorced; and lastly to Debbie’s wedding in Atlanta where you wowed us all as you chanted the sheva brachot.

We have learned from you that in life it is not where you travel but rather with whom you journey that matters. Therefore, we honor you with love and gratitude as our rabbi, our friend and our inspiration.

Much love,

Bambi and Bob Granovsky


Warm memories

We remember back to the 60s when Rabbi Orenstein first came to Congregation Beth David of Lynbrook, LI, NY.  My Dad was synagogue President at the time and was instrumental in hiring Rabbi Orenstein.   What a turn of fate it was when Rabbi Debra joined our shul in Emerson and once again we had the pleasure of a Rabbi Orenstein on the bima!

Mazel Tov on this lovely honor.  We wish you the happiest birthday!

By: Paula and Bob Javits

Moses’ children

On Shabbat Parshat Yitro, Marianne Sender spoke to our minyan about something she learned from R. Jehiel in the adult Bar/Bat Mitzvah class she attended with him a number of years ago.  She recounted that she asked him: Whatever happened to Moses’ children?  Jehiel told her that there was nothing in the Torah about what kind of people they became.  He observed, in passing, that the children of great leaders do not always become themselves great leaders or distinguish themselves in any way, possibly because the demands of the public role distract from the involvement of the leader in the home.  Marianne went on to speak about Moses as a family man and what can fairly be inferred from the text on that point. 

Afterwards I found myself dwelling further on what she had reported: Jehiel’s observation that great leaders do not always produce great children.  I found myself reflecting that R. Jehiel himself, while he has been intensely involved as a leader of the community, nevertheless has also produced three very distinguished and wonderful children.  In this, of course, he was assisted by Sylvia (joke! understatement!), but there is no doubt in my mind that whatever the demands of the community, Jehiel has been a very involved father to his children.  I was always amazed to observe how he drew out his children (and later his grandchildren) at the Shabbat table, how he took their ideas so seriously and encouraged them to ponder difficult questions.  He listened closely to what they said, and probed and questioned further, without ever telling them what the “right” answer was, and he often used their insights in his sermons–much to their mortification, I believe.  And of course there was the extraordinary example, set by both Jehiel and Sylvia, of service to the community and of menschlichkeit in action.  They must have done something right, because they have produced three amazing children, who are not only intellectually gifted but also very good-hearted, caring people, committed to the betterment of the community, each in his or her own unique way. 

By: Nikki Pusin

Enriched and Inspired

Dearest Rabbi Orenstein,
You have been a major part of our family’s milestones over the last 30 years. Thank you for being there for us and for enriching and inspiring us.
Happy 77th Birthday!

With gratitude, admiration and love,

By: Ellin and Fred Cohen

Lessons and Fond Memories

The Nierenbergs joined Beth El at about the same time that Rabbi and Sylvia came to the congregation and throughout the years, we had so many opportunities to learn from both their teaching and their modeling of how to live a life full of acts of lovingkindess.  In the early years, Rabbi Orenstein led the Young Couples Club in studying Pirkei Avot, and we learned that to grow in our practice of Judiasm, we should try performing just one mitzvah at a time. If it wasn’t working for us, he taught that, rather than give up, we could place that mitzvah on a lower rung of the ladder and move on to another. His sermons on Shabbat morning usually gave us a teaching that helped us become better people in the week ahead.  A memorable act of lovingkindness that Rabbi Orenstein performed for our family occurred when he appeared at the hospital with his newspaper on the morning of Arnie’s open heart surgery.  He was prepared to remain with Arnie until he went into the operating room, and indeed, he sat with him outside the operating room until the nurse came over to ask if they were finished praying so Arnie could be prepared for surgery!  What a comfort it was for us to have him there at that stressful time!

Claire and Arnie Nierenberg

By: Claire & Arnie Nierenberg

Always Our Rabbi

Beth El became our second home when we moved to New Jersey. Rabbi Jehiel (Jerry to our Ramah memory) and Sylvia immediately  became part of the fabric of our family. You were always an integral part of our Shabbatot, our Life Cycle events, our Jewish studies, and most certainly our “dugmaot” in  life. However, what we also loved were the “other” times – your home was always opened to our children when they played at the park, paying attention to our kids on our walks home from shul, attending Avi’s First Grade Siddur Play because he had invited you on one of those walks (and then writing him a thank you note!!), witnessing the joy you felt becoming a grandparent for the first time when you picked up a carriage, and not to mention your competitive tennis in our backyard even when the temperature  reached 100 degrees!! Jehiel, you are always our Rabbi, our teacher, our dear friend. The world changes around us but one constant is our love, our respect and our friendship for you and of course for Sylvia.   We are honored to help celebrate your 77th! With much love, Brenda and Jerry

By: Brenda & Jerry Deener

A Very Special Connection

Dear Rabbi Orenstein and Sylvia,

I came to work at Congregation Beth El in 2005 as the Rabbi Roston’s assistant. Of course, I had been connected to my Judaism my entire life, having grown up in a large Conservative congregation in Queens, NY. My husband and I were members of B’nai Keshet, the Reconstructionist synagogue in Montclair, from 1978 to 2007 when we became Beth El members.

How astounding it still it is for me to think about how early in my working at Beth El, I discovered that Rabbi Orenstein’s father-in-law, Sylvia Orenstein’s father, was Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz, my rabbi from that large Conservative congregation in Queens – Hillcrest Jewish Center. It was Rabbi Mowshowitz who performed my marriage to Marc in 1971. It was Rabbi Mowshowitz who always visited my Hebrew School classes regularly, especially to keep the kids on their toes! It was to hear Rabbi Mowshowitz’s sermons on Shabbat that my maternal grandfather rushed to services when he visited us.

Then, in the summer of 2006, Rabbi Orenstein was getting ready to officiate at High Holy Day services at a congregation in Montreal. My family and I were getting ready to celebrate my son and daughter-in-law’s wedding in Montreal in August. The rabbi who was marrying my children was the rabbi who Rabbi Orenstein would be working with at High Holy Days. In a conversation with Rabbi Bright of Montreal, Rabbi Orenstein told him that he would be marrying the children of congregants from Beth El. He then said to me, “Cheryl, I told Rabbi Bright about who you are –so the pressure is on!”

And one more connection….in February 2010 when Rabbi Orenstein turned 75 and the naming of our granddaughter Ashley coincided with his birthday celebration…we shared the simchas together at Beth El. It was so sweet. And to this day, we are connected to you. As are so, so many other people whose lives you have touched.

Happy Birthday, Rabbi!

With love,

Cheryl Slutzky


One year ago we celebrated Jehiel’s 76th birthday at Beth El in South Orange.  The sanctuary was filled to capacity, and everyone had nice things to say about Jehiel.  We were all feeling quite warm and fuzzy by the time Jehiel himself went up for an aliyah.  And of course, being on the bimah, he had to speak.
    “I just want to express my deep –” he paused a moment “– disappointment in the committee that organized this celebration.”
    He paused while we all cackled.
    “This is supposed to be a warm, caring, inclusive congregation, open to everyone,” he continued, looking out over the thousands of people present.  “And yet I see the committee has invited only my best friends.”
    And that’s how, in the space of about thirty seconds, he had us laughing, crying and loving him.  Virtuouso!

By: Nikki Pusin