Jehiel Orenstein Inspires Sun, 18 Nov 2018 00:37:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Letters from 1974-75 Sun, 18 Nov 2018 00:37:46 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Sylvia, Rabbi Orenstein’s widow, recently discovered a collection of letters composed by Jehiel in 1974 and 1975.  They offer a lovely insight and remembrance of the rabbi.   Click on the link below to read the letters.

Letters of J Orenstein



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Thank You, Rabbi Fri, 30 Mar 2012 02:38:13 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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

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Thank you! Sun, 25 Mar 2012 03:16:21 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Dear Rabbi Orenstein,

Thank you for officiating our wedding 5 1/2 years ago.  You were such a special part of that day for us.  The ceremony was beautiful, and we feel honored that you were the one to help bestow upon us our first priestly blessing as a couple.  Now we have two young children of our own, and we aspire to pass on the Jewish traditions, customs and wisdom that you so eloquently passed on to us over the years.

Sending you lots of love and strength,

Esther (Cohen) and Dan Levy

By: Esther and Dan Levy

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A Rabbi for Life Sun, 25 Mar 2012 03:15:44 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Dear Rabbi Orenstein,

So sorry to come late to the party, but I’m grateful to add my voice.  It’s only the rarest of rabbis who not only follows you as you grow up, and officiates at your wedding, but also continues to visit you well into your professional career—in Indiana, no less!  What a great honor it has been to learn from you at Beth El and beyond: from being called up to do Ein Keloheinu through Adon Olam, to learning how to sit through a sermon, to learning how to understand a sermon, to learning how to give a drash, to being humbled by my rabbi reading my first book, to watching with patience as I cajole my infant daughter into sitting through Shabbat dinner.  To this there is no equal.

With warmest wishes—

Judah Cohen.


By: Judah Cohen

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Thank You Sun, 25 Mar 2012 03:14:28 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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

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Times Together Wed, 07 Mar 2012 03:18:01 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Jerry darling,

   Because you mean so much to us, we are looking forward to celebrating your 77th birthday with you and all your loved ones.
   There are so many happy memories of our times together that I will always treasure.  I often recall the time you found Libby and me in the hospital coffee shop to tell us the good news — “Libby,” you said, “you are now the grandmother of a baby BOY!”  We shierked with joy and you were sooo ecstatic.  We ran upstiars like two nuts. Sylvia looked so gorgeous and was so alert and rested – not like a woman who had just suffered the pains of childbirth.  I remember commenting on Rafy’s beautifully shaped lips.  I am reliving those moments right now while writing this — and smiling.   All my memoires are filled with love and laughter — alwayslaughter.  How wonderful — beautiful and lucky you and Sylvia are that you both have “upbeat” personalities; that’s a blessing.  That twinkle in your eyes, Jerry, your ready smile and your quick wit — all that came from your mom.  Mathilda was adorable and a pleasure to be with.
  As Bob Hope would say, “Thanks For the Memories.”
  We will always love you.
Estelle and Eugene Ferkauf.


By: Estelle & Eugene Ferkauf

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“God Lives” Jehiel Wed, 07 Mar 2012 03:16:53 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Dear “God Lives” Jehiel,

I’m sorry that I couldn’t attend the celebration in your honor but I did want you to know that I think of you, often. I remember when we first met, when you took the assistanship at Temple Israel, Great Neck. I believe that I was an undergraduate at that time in the Joint Program. I enjoyed inviting you to speak with my Hebrew High School students and having you as a friend and mentor in the old Youth House. I also remember Sylvia, fondly, from those days.
Later, when I had my  own congregation in Toms River, I enjoyed seeing you at NJ- RA meetings. I particularly remember how impressed I was when visiting your synagogue, Beth El, in South Orange. It was obvious from just a visit what an enjoyable, meaningful  and vibrant Jewish experience  you had created for the community. Now, I have a further connection:
 Our daughter, Leah, recently moved to South Orange and is a member of Beth El. Though she has seen you at the synagogue, I don’t  know that she has ever identified herself to you. She is the more “reticent” of our kids. She teaches Kindergarten at Golda Och and attends services regularly on shabbat and often during the week.
Incidentally, knowing of your devotion to Schechter schools, I’m also proud to tell you that our son-in-law, Joshua Rabin, who was at Beth El a couple of years ago working on Synaplex, I believe,  is rabbi of the Schechter school in Nassau County. His wife, our daughter Yael, is interning at Schechter in Manhattan. She is a rabbinical student at JTS.
Two of our 3 granddaughters will be starting Schechter in Westchester next year. Their father, Eytan is now a rabbi in Mahopac. His wife, Rebecca is Assistant Dean at JTS. 
In short, like you, we, too, have “children in the family business.”  You have done so much for so many and continue to inspire us.
Warm good wishes and Mazel Tov on the celebration. May you continue to have much nachas both from your immediate family and the Jewish Family which you have inspired for generations and continue to inspire, now, despite your illness.
B’vracha raba,

By: Rabbi Reuven Hammerman

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You will always be our rabbi Tue, 06 Mar 2012 20:11:52 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Dear Rabbi Orenstein, 

Today is the day of your bday celebration, and I’ve been thinking about what to say to you for weeks. There is so much that fills my mind and my heart, and although words cannot do you justice, it is a joyous responsibility to represent my family in speaking to you. My first memory is attending schul during one of the high holidays. My children were in the childrens’ service, and I had the opportunity to sit as an adult and listen and pray. It was a fairly quiet, mostly adult, room. You, Rabbi, were speaking, delivering your sermon, I believe. I don’t remember what you were saying, in content, but I so remember what you said, in humanity. The air was suddenly pierced by a child crying, and your sermon was interrupted. The perpetrating child was being carried out by an embarrassed parent. You stopped your sermon, looked at the family, and said “Please stay here with us and your child. Your child was just making music to accompany my words. I appreciate the interaction.” That said it all for me.

I remember studying with you, Rabbi, and other young mothers. It was a chance for us to get together and bond and use our brains in learning. Always relevant, always inspiring. The coffee and tea and sweets were a chance for us to socialize with our Rabbi and hear about your tennis games. I remember a field trip into NYC with you, Rabbi, and our same ladies group. Again, I don’t remember where we were going, in content, but I do remember what you said, in wisdom. We had lunch in a NYC diner. I asked how you could eat in a non-kosher establishment. You said that it makes you think about being Jewish and the point is less the strictness of the kashrut and more the thinking about being Jewish and what that means for each of us and how we each negotiate our Jewish journey through life. You and Sylvia housed my Orthodox cousin (and her boyfriend) so that in the spirit of Shalom Bayit (conservative mixed seating and women to the Torah was difficult for them, but if they could walk to schul…), they could attend my son’s Bar Mitzvah.

 There was my own adult Bat Mitzvah and learning with the Rabbi and the Bnai Mitzvah of David and Michael. Warmth and wisdom. The cherishing of the children. Life cycle memories. You personally promised to make my receiving The Get efficient and painless. I resisted, but you knew I wanted to remarry in the Conservative tradition. So much empathy for my distress. And then my remarriage to Harvey. You made the day so special. You said under the Chuppa that you had to admit you came from “the bride’s side” — the 50 plus year old bride. You made me feel so young and so special. You were family. And I will never forget your travel to NYC to sit with David following the loss of his girlfriend. You talked with him about life and grief the way only a beloved uncle could approach and be heard.
Your were already unfortunately in the early grips of your illness for the marriage of Michael and Pam. But Pam’s parents remember sitting in your living room meeting you for the first time and connecting with you over conversion and family. They adored you, as we all did. And when Michael confessed to you that he had anxiety about a tic and not being able to stand still under the Chuppa, you said to him “I will also have trouble standing still. We will move about together.” And you married our children, standing there with your cane, a little less strong on your feet, your big voice just a little softer, but the words and the wisdom and the love oh so loud. And you made the day for us, warm and special. Thank you from the bottom of all our hearts.
Daivd and Erika, Michael and Pam, Pam’s parents Gail and Bennett, Harvey and I wish you a happy birthday and peace and love as you are surrounded by those who love you, honor you, and care for you.

 With love, Sue (Horowitz)

By: Sue Horowitz

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Such a Presence Tue, 06 Mar 2012 20:10:36 +0000 Continue reading ]]> Dear Jehiel,

Thank you so much for being such a presence in the Polachek family and seamlessly picking up the mantle of your father-in-law Rabbi Israel Mowshowitz z”l in all matters spiritual and rabbinic. You have been there to comfort us and you have been there to celebrate with us. We are delighted to have this opportunity to be part of your birthday commemoration.

Much love, Linda & Richard Borkow, Hal & Rachel

By: Linda Borkow

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Tikkun Olam Mon, 05 Mar 2012 18:40:38 +0000 Continue reading ]]> 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

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