Thank You, Rabbi

To our beloved Rabbi (and Sylvia, too),

This site is Rabbi Jehiel Inspires, and what an appropriate title, as you have inspired us in so many ways.  Even before we spent 2 years in your living room formally studying Judaism with you, your kindness, compassion and wisdom inspired us to join the community and find ways to bring more Judaism into our lives. 

When we first moved to the area, our Rabbi from Hoboken pointed us your way, and you graciously hosted us at our first Shabbat Dinner at Beth El. There was no judgment, or even discussion, about the fact that we were an interfaith couple.  When I was pregnant with our first son, Brian started thinking, “should I convert?”  He spoke with you about it, and, displaying your deep wisdom and understanding of people, you told him not to make any big decisions when another huge life change was in the works.

After the birth, we still had not become members, because we didn’t feel we could afford dues with a new baby.  Only because of your phone call to us, did we join, and did I follow your advice to join Sisterhood and fundraise for the community to make up for what we couldn’t pay in dues. The brilliance of this was not just because it got us to be members, but because of the way it helped build community – I met women with whom I am still friends who I otherwise probably would not have interacted with due to differences in our age.  And this talent of yours, to put community, and Shalom Bayit, at the forefront of all that you do, is yet another way that you inspire us.

Of course, as a teacher you have inspired us as well, through your sermons, and during all those Shabbat afternoons at your home.  Each year at our Seders, we still tell the story you told us about how each Egyptian Pharaoh picked an animal to be their own personal god. You taught us that the act of sacrificing the lamb was not just following God’s directions, but also a supreme act of civil disobedience by the Hebrews because the lamb was the Pharaoh of Exodus’ god (a lesson in justice as well as in living according to God’s word).  We remember well your lesson that all religions play with the same deck, they only rank the suits differently (not only a lesson in comparative religion, but also a lesson in tolerance).  We recall with great reverence our many discussions from our readings in Pirkei Avot. Rather than simply focus on the basics of Judaism, you wanted us to have an understanding of the soul of Judaism – its core foundation in ethics.

And if we missed something in those lessons, we had many, many opportunities to learn these core values from watching your actions.  You have inspired us by your leadership, on so many occasions. A great example of the way you lived what you taught is how you led change. We remember so clearly when you told us in class that you felt it was time for the Emmahot to be added to our prayers, but that you felt it would be a hard change for some, and that you couldn’t just impose this change. You told us that you wanted the community to engage in a year of study.  Sarah still remembers the pain and tears in the S’lichot speaker’s voices and eyes, one arguing for including the Emmahot, one against.  While we both strongly supported he change, this event, in which congregants felt safe speaking in front of the whole community about this potentially divisive issue, not only helped us understand the other perspective, it helped us both respect those who held differing views and have compassion for them.  But the real kicker, if this had not been enough (Dayenu!) was the policy you ultimately guided the ritual committee to adopt after the year of continued study and discussion over Kiddush – to leave it up to the Sh’liach Tzibor. How brilliant! How compassionate! How inclusive! How to make a change, and make everyone still feel whole, feel that they were heard, that their position was respected, and still feel comfortable davening together!!! 

And still – it was not only in your professional life that you taught by your actions the values that are so central to our heritage.  We know you quietly helped scores of people in need – with donations of money, or time, or a voice, or even just a bottle of milk, if that’s what they needed, inspiring us to try to do the same. And you inspire us by your never ending romance with Sylvia. We have watched week after week, year after year, how you stand hand in hand, and side by side, always, through joy and through pain.  And how you happily ceded the floor to Sylvia, with great respect for her knowledge and wisdom, during our living-room lessons.  A favorite – “Rabbi, why can we eat milk with fish, but not with chicken?”  Sylvia, passing through on her way to the den, “Because we lost! Let me tell you about the argument in the Talmud on this point. . . .”

We love you both, and yes, we are not only inspired to be better Jews by your lessons and actions, but to be better HUMANS

Happy, Happy Birthday (Just a month late)!

Sarah and Brian McNamara


By: Sarah McNamara

One response to “Thank You, Rabbi

  1. Dear Rabbi Orenstein,
    Thank you for all the wisdom and inspiration you provided over the years. One of the most memorable of your sermons was about your visits to the sick and dying. You mentioned that people don’t complain at that time, “Oh, I wish I had spent more time at the office.” They regret that they did not spend more time with their families. I have used the message from that in my own life and in guiding clients.

    You also helped me realize the significance of my parents’ experience as Holocaust survivors on my choice to become a therapist.

    I will always remember your words at your birthday party: “Enjoy life!”

    I pray for a cure for your illness and those of others. May you continue to be courageous and inspire.


    Margie Freeman

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