B’nai Jeshurun Rabbis Rolando Matalon, Marcelo Bronstein and Felicia Sol and Cantor Ari Priven are recognized leaders in revitalizing the Jewish experience. The Shabbat and holiday experience at BJ’s Upper West Side synagogue is legendary, transformative and imitated around the globe. The Jewish transformation is truly a group effort, and JInsider plans to feature each of these BJ-based Top Jews. Last year we honored Cantor Priven as he celebrated his 20th year with B’nai Jeshurun. As we approach 5771 we feature Rabbi Matalon (widely known as Roly), who is now in his 25th year at BJ. Here are excerpts from the JInsider interview showcasing Rabbi Matalon’s practical and inspiring wisdom (www.jinsider.com).
“Why is it important to me to be Jewish? It’s who I am. Being Jewish is what gives me incredible resources to go through life in a meaningful way, as part of a community, as part of a people, with its own vision, its own history, destiny and future. Being Jewish is also a language, a way of expressing oneself in the world. All of these resources are waiting for us to open them and use them, to contribute and to participate in enriching them, and to leave our mark for those who come after us. We’re part of a continuum. We have to enrich Judaism so that those who follow us may benefit from our wisdom and our contributions, our struggles and our journey, incorporating everything that came before us. Being Jewish is about understanding that you’re part of something greater than yourself.”
Reflection: Holidays & Shabbat
“The Jewish holidays and Shabbat really punctuate life. They give us an opportunity to think about values and issues, ourselves, our relationship with God, with the community, with the world. Going through life without Shabbat, without the holidays, is like reading a book without punctuation: you can’t make sense of it. It enables us to devote ourselves to thinking about certain things, and to work on ourselves and on the world around us.
“Shabbat comes back every seven days to remind us of what it is that’s worth living for, to recalibrate ourselves once a week. We work so hard, we’re in the midst of all the rushing noise, the computers, the phone, the BlackBerries, and the concerns which today are greater than ever — we become out of sync, out of spiritual shape. So once a week Shabbat comes to allow us to re-balance ourselves, and to get spiritual nourishment that allows us to be creative, to be open, to have vision. Shabbat is about an ultimate vision. Once a week, we go back to Torah, to prayer at greater lengths, with the community. In that sense we are drinking all the spiritual nourishment and vitamins that allow us to do the work that we do, because we don’t just live in the material world: we have to draw spiritual energy as well.”
“By the time the holidays are over, maybe you’ve had a minute or five minutes or 30 seconds of something absolutely real and deep. All the hours invested are worth, in other words, the 30 seconds or the five seconds of something really, really deep — with God, with the community, with the music, with the text, with my great grandparents, with Israel, with the language. There are a million possibilities where our connection may happen. And that moment of connection is worth the hours invested because if it’s a real deep connection, there is nothing like it. It’s huge. Our culture is a culture of immediate gratification: You want it and you want it now, with the least possible money and with the least possible effort. In the spiritual world, it doesn’t really work like that. To get higher, you have to put in a little time and a little effort and you have to take the risk that it may not happen this time. We have to learn that these things take preparation, reading, thinking, coming and putting in the time.”
Bring in 5771
“For a great way to kick off 5771, contact B’nai Jeshurun to attend its High Holy Days services. (www.bj.org). The services are brillantly orchestrated with inspirational prayer and teachings built on a single theme. Always good celeb- and Top Jew-watching opportunities with likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Debra Winger, John Ruskay, Jerry Nadler and Michael Steinhardt typically in attendance. Please no cameras. It is so popular three locations are required, including Lincoln Center and Sympnony Space. Tickets are required.