Here’s a snippet that has stuck with me: a little riff between Jehiel and Debra on the subject of lotteries.
Jehiel said that he has spoken with a number of people who have won the lottery. (I imagine one of them was probably the court officer in the Hudson County courthouse where Sylvia clerked, who won $20 million.) “People who win the lottery rarely ask, ‘Why me?'” said Jehiel.
And Debra said that when she hears of people in this country playing the lottery, she tells them: “Don’t you realize that if you’re living here, you’ve already won the lottery?”
By: Nikki Pusin
Among one of Rabbi Orenstein’s prodigious gifts is the ability to deliver words of Torah in such a way that you hear them and they stick. I remember a High Holiday sermon where he taught that every one of us has a special mitzvah– a special skill or talent that God has given us–and it is our job to own that mitzvah and do it. As an example, he mentioned that Rich and I have taken on the mitzvah of teaching Torah to children and their families. Not only did he affirm to me the value of our work with young children, but he helped me to recognize that every individual– no matter how simple or how elevated– has an obligation to give what they can–in their own way– to make the world better. And I continue to hear his “voice” and wisdom every time I try to grow by taking on a new mitzvah.
By: Treasure Cohen
Most of my learning from Jehiel has been informal, around the dinner table rather than in the classroom. Only once did I have an actual course with Jehiel, as far as I recall. I believe it must have been while I was in Central Hebrew High School, which would have been in the late 1960’s, and it was a course in Mishnah. I remember coming into the classroom for the first class with some of the other students. Jehiel was a little late coming in. As the students were settling in around the table, one of them picked up a wallet from the floor. The wallet had a $50 bill in it, as well as a black-and-white photo of a baby, but no other identification. I remember spending some time scrutinizing the photo for any resemblance to anyone I knew, but I could not make a positive ID. Then Jehiel came in. We spent the next hour discussing what rights and responsibilities we might have with respect to the wallet, what the Rabbis said about hashavat aveda (return of lost property) and how we might go about making an ethical decision about what to do with it.
I have never forgotten that lesson. A few years ago, my daughter Molly found a wad of cash in a lake on Cape Cod where she was swimming. I told her that return of lost property was an important law in the Torah, and I was very proud when she then went around to everyone on the beach to ask if they had lost some cash. When no one claimed it, she gave a substantial portion of it to tzedaka. I consider that that tzedaka was to Jehiel’s credit.
By: Nikki Pusin
The last time Rabbi Orenstein taught at Beth El was a class my wife asked him to teach on his remembrances of Abraham Joshua Heschel, some of which is excerpted in his bio on this website. I can still hear him regale us still with his strong voice, filled with joy and levity, discussing the man who was so central in creating the Rabbi Orenstein we all love. His face beamed with pride in knowing this great man — the face so perfectly captured in his picture and in his bio. Paraphrasing what Rabbi Orenstein said of Heschel, I am privileged to know this great man. All who learned from him will never forget his teaching.
President, Beth El
By: Bill Gold
Thank you for your many years of service and inspiration. I remember one teaching that you shared with us at a NJRA meeting somewhere between 13 and 30 years ago while I was in the NJRA region. You said that in reality, as rabbis, we preach about five sermons in our career. I now see more clearly the significance of this insight. It is somewhat like in Pirkei Avot in which Rabbi X says three things. Obviously Rabbi X said more than three things but is best known for concentrating on those. So it is with us.
By: Robert Rubin
Hi, Abba! In your honor and in honor of your brother-in-law and my uncle, Solomon, my kids and I will read the Jr. Jewish Encyclopedia. For those who don’t know, Solomon read the entire Encyclopedia Judaica and celebrated the completion of each volume with a siyyum (completion party) devoted to that letter. I recall that the B volume was celebrated with bubbly beverages and bagels. At the conclusion of reading all the entries for each letter in the Jr. Jewish Encyclopedia, Emmett and Hannah Mathilda are very excited to hold a “letter party” and share what they have learned with their Saba. By: Debra Orenstein