Category Archives: Gemilut Hasidim

Stories of how Rabbi Jehiel Orenstein did acts of lovingkindness or inspired good deeds for others; dedications to do specific acts of lovingkindness in his honor.

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

Thank You

To Rabbi Orenstein who taught me that the most important value to live by to treat others with care and respect. I will always remember his sermon about going to the home of someone who invited him to dinner to thank him for a deed he had done. This hosting family was not Jewish or familiar with the rules of kashrut. So despite the fact that Rabbi Orenstein had explained his dietary restrictions, the family eagerly welcomed him and served an ellaborate lobster dinner. Rabbi Orenstein told the story explaining that he knew that this lobster dinner was a huge financial burden for his hosting family—showing how much they hoped to honor him. I remember him explaining his decision to eat the lobster dinner—that it was more important to him to honor his guests and keep them from feeling any embarrassment. To this day, I continue to think about that story as a reminder that living a noble life is to do everything possible to keep for allowing embarrassment or humiliation to another.

By: Jessica Cohen

Tikkun Olam

Dear Rabbi,

When I see Natan Sharansky at the Jerusalem Pool or on Emek Refaim, I am reminded of the trips you and Sylvia made to Russia to visit refuseniks, the buses that Beth El filled to march in Washington, and the families that Beth El resettled — including my cousins from Moscow.

When I read in the Israeli papers about the influx of asylum seekers from Africa, I am reminded how you and Sylvia took Christophe into your home and invited congregants to your home to get to know him.

You gave a sermon (maybe more than once) about conversing with the toll takers on the Garden State Parkway and taking action to show appreciation to others we encounter in our daily lives.  I have watched with pride as our children acknowledge people just this way — whether at a movie theatre, office reception desk, or checkpoint.

You have taught us well and taught us by example…in South Orange, Sweden, and Israel..

With much love,

Jo Anne Adlerstein

(and on behalf of Dave, Veronika, Laurie, Moti, and Dan)



By: Jo Anne C. Adlerstein

Tzedukah box

Dear Rabbi,

You inspired us in so many ways over these years. Almost every Shabbat you gave the bnei mitzvah a tzedukah box and told them to put the spare change in the tzedukah box at the end of the week. Then when the  box was full, they should come back and talk to you about where to donate the money. You know the speech. You made it almost every week and we listened every time!

Each week we put our spare change in our two tzedukah boxes and you would be amazed at how quickly it adds up. We have great fun opening the boxes, rolling the coins and then picking a charity.

So it is just fitting that for your birthday, we opened our tzedukah boxes and made a donation in your honor to Solomon Schecter Day School of Bergen County.

Thank you for more than 20 years of teaching and inspiration.

Robin, Scott and Jamie

By: Robin Sitver

Acts of Loving Kindness

Dear Rabbi Orenstein,

Over our many years together at Beth El, you have always encouraged our mutual interest in music and art.  The program assembled for your birthday celebration attests to your desire to always be (in the presence of) surrounded by beautiful music. Love of music is, after all, an “Orenstein tradition”.

Your artistic talent, on the other hand, has not been primarily expressed in the form of physical paintings, but rather by the way you paint pictures with your words.  Your ecumenical ability and skill in bringing people of diverse interests and faiths together attests to your desire to always promote peace and harmony in a world in desperate need of more transparency, enlightenment, and especially acts of loving kindness.

As one of many of former congregants of yours, rest assured that your efforts will be forever appreciated by those whom you have touched.

Our love and best wishes!

Erv and Harriett Katz

By: Erving and Harriett Katz

Your presence

Dear Jehiel, We thank you and Sylvia for being a part of our lives.  You inspire us by your example.  You have made many passages in our lives more meaningful by your presence.  We are privileged to call you our Rabbi and our friend.  We embrace you both.

By: Ruth and Aaron Bernstein


Dear Rabbi Orenstein,
There is little the Sender family can add to all the accolades posted. Like all who have had the privilege and pleasure of knowing you, we have learned from you, laughed with you, looked up to you — but not too far up, because despite your learning and accomplishments, you were never separate from us, your congregation. To our children, you are their rabbi — and the image of what a congregational rabbi can be. You are also the rabbi who lead us on our first trip to Israel. We owe so much to you! Happy Birthday, and refuah shlemah.

With love, Marianne, Stuart, Rachel, Josh, Michael and Ben Sender

By: Marianne & Stuart Sender

In Honor of you

Hi Rabbi Orenstein,

I was sorry to read in the Jewish News of your affliction but think this is a wonderful way to honor you on your 77th Birthday. As you might recall, I taught at SSDS in West Orange many years ago. I still recall how well you listened to what I told you prior to my wedding about myself and my beliefs and how you wove it into your words to me.

I am still a teacher but I also work at Overlook Hospital in their Palliative Care department. If I can be of any assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me. As Gemilut Hasidim, I visit the sick and try to bring comfort or at least some distraction.

I wish you a happy birthday surrounded by your loving family.


By: Debra Tambor

The Part You Play In Our Lives

You have shared so many of the highlights of our lives, but, evenmore meaningful are the memories of times we have no photographs to capture of those moments – Walking around the block as we entered life again after sitting shivah for a beloved parent. – Seeing you walk into our hospital rooms in Newark and Boston after our surgeries. – For all of this and so much more, we are so grateful for the part you play in our lives.  With much love and Happy Birthday wishes,

– Joan and Harvey Bucholtz

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