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In Memoriam

Just a brief word to mark the passing of a longtime Village Temple member and extraordinary woman, Elinor Ratinor, who died on Wednesday May 15 in her home, at age 94.

I last saw Elinor a few months ago at lunch with Harriet Zimmer. These two amazing women—both in their 90s—were Founding Mothers of The Village Temple. After lunch I accompanied Elinor home. She insisted on walking, though she wasn’t strong and there was a powerful wind that chilly afternoon.  As we made our way across the Village, Elinor talked about her work with the Educational Alliance and various programs to help children in the Bronx and elsewhere. She was smart, tough and inspiring.  Elinor, for many years deeply involved with the Village Temple Soup Kitchen, didn’t just believe in mitzvah, she lived according to that belief.

When I heard that Elinor died I called Harriet to give my condolences for the passing of her dear friend. Harriet told me she was trying not to feel sad though it was hard. She and Elinor were close for more than 50 years. When Harriet turned 90, five years ago, Elinor threw the party for her. Harriet told me the two of them had often discussed death and agreed that when life became so difficult the hardship outweighed the pleasure, they were ready to go.  So, Harriet said, she felt Elinor was ready. But Harriet also said that belief doesn’t soften the blow of losing someone whose friendship was such an important part of her existence for so many years.

Here’s the New York Times obituary celebrating Elinor’s life:

RATNER--Elinor Frances Goodfriend, died peacefully in her home in New York on May 15, 2014, aged 94. She was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania and received her Bachelor of Arts from Wellesley College in 1944. Shortly after her graduation she moved to Washington, DC., where she worked in the Office of War Information. Later she worked for the State Department in New York. Elinor Ratner had a lifetime commitment to social and civil projects. She was a passionate advocate for child welfare programs, principally with Day Care and Head Start in the Bronx. She was Vice President and Trustee of the Educational Alliance, a Co-Founder, former Secretary and Vice President and Board Member of Leake & Watts Children's Services and a co-founder and Board Member of the GO Project. She was an adviser to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and a founder of the Village Temple as well as a tireless supporter of the Temple's Soup Kitchen. In 1944 she married Robert S. Ratner (1918 1980) and after the war they moved to an apartment on lower Fifth Avenue where she continued to live until her death. She is survived by her two sons, Peter and David Ratner, her daughters-in-law Carol Walters and Dr. Laura Schiller and her beloved grandchildren, Molly, Sophie, Sacha, Suzanne, Erin, Simon and Frances and her great-grandchildren, Ezra, Lilith and Elinor. She held so many in her warm embrace and will be dearly missed. Funeral services will be held on Wednesday, May 21 at 11:45 at Riverside Memorial Chapel, 76th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, Manhattan. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the GO Project or the Educational Alliance.

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The Village Temple 2013-2014 Report to the Congregation

The Village Temple 2013-2014  Report to the Congregation


A year ago, after a series of Town Hall meetings, Rabbi Koster and The Village Temple leadership embarked on a year of kesher, or connection, with the goal of reinvigorating our 65 year old congregation. Thanks to the commitment and hard work of numerous volunteers, Rabbi Koster, and the participation of our wonderful community, we’ve accomplished more than we would have dared to dream was possible. Weekly attendance at regular Shabbat services has steadily increased, while Synaplex and other special events pack the house.  Our regular musicians—Gerard Edery and Anita Hollander, together with Lisa Loren on flute—have treated us to marvelous interpretations of familiar prayers, frequently joined by fabulous musical guests. Our communications have improved greatly, with our new website and the reintroduction of our synagogue newsletter, Kesher. Our religious school continues to be a vibrant center for education and connection, building on Village Temple tradition while creating new forms of learning. And week in and week out, Rabbi Koster provides comfort to the bereaved, blesses our newborns, presides over our B’nei Mitzvahs, marries us, and provides a safe space to look inward, to discover our place within Judaism’s history, present and future.

Here is a survey of what’s been happening at The Village Temple with thanks to the Rabbi, Alex Tansky, our musicians, our office staff, custodians and board of directors as well as the many, many volunteers who brought it all together.  Like Judaism itself, The Village Temple remains a work-in-progress, and what it becomes depends on all of us.  So much of the special programming is carried out by volunteers. We welcome your suggestions and your help, either through joining a committee, or occasional volunteering for a specific project. Every bit is appreciated!!

Shabbat Services and Special Events

Prayer Project

                 Every month Rabbi Koster has selected a prayer from the service for closer study by the Rabbi and our musicians. On the last Shabbat of the month, one or two congregants have provided intriguing, personal interpretations of the prayer—and Sandi Knell Tamny donated her contribution, a beautiful interpretation of V’ahavta, now hanging in our social hall. You can read all of these on our website, in the Prayer Project section of the Worship category. The Prayer Project will continue next year. Let us know if you’d like to participate. Thanks to this year’s participants: Paul Hamilton, Ann Temkin, Julie Salamon, David Smith, Esther Siegel, Stephanie Kanarek, Lisa Feitel, Sandi Knell Tamny, Bill Abrams, Barbara Leopold, Mickey Rindler, and Deborah Wolf. On May 30, we will have our final Prayer Project presentation for this year, from Andrew Wilkinson and Fred Basch. 

 Synaplex and Special Shabbats

                Our Synaplex committee has produced a remarkable series of speakers and programs. We’ve learned about the Jews of Cape Verde, Bolshevism and the Jews, and Jewish Renewal in Poland.  Music was central to our Jazz Shabbat and Andalusian Shabbat. As always, the Purimschpiel (“Jewsies”) was standing room only. Our Friday night speakers have included a member of the Knesset, an editor of the Washington Post during Watergate,),a survivor of Auschwitz, and on May 16 the senior minister of Judson Memorial Church  will discuss her experience raising children in an interfaith family. Congregant Joseph Siegel graced our social hall walls with an art exhibition, and Alice Chernik moved us with her personal story on our Disabilities Awareness Shabbat. Special thanks to the Synaplex committee: Joel Roskind, Judy Schiff, Sandy Knell Tamny, Sheila Renert, Sharon Weinstein and Joy Kestenbaum.

The Village Temple Children’s Choir

                Throughout the year, our children’s choir and their fabulous leader Anita Hollander add immeasurable joy and energy to holiday and other special services. On Martin Luther King Shabbat the choir joined Broadway star Andre de Shields for a memorable tribute to the civil rights leader. The choir helped lead the congregation in celebration of the High Holidays, Chanukah, Sukkot, Thanksgiving, Purim and Passover, and will be there again on Yom Ha Atzma’ut on May 9.

 The Film Series

                Throughout the year we have presented films with Jewish themes, accompanied by a Q&A with the director or producer. Our films this year: 50 Children; Koch; and one more film, to be announced shortly.. Thanks to Ellen Goosenberg for helping procure the films, and to Ellen and Emily Hacker for being ace interviewers.


Religious School

                Under the leadership of Alex Tansky and oversight of board member Jill Wilkinson,, enrollment was strong. The Village Temple continues to provide our children grounding in Jewish tradition and liturgy, celebration of holidays, and a respect for the importance of Tikkun Olam. In addition, several new initiatives were put into place.  These include:

                --Increased communication with parents via curriculum night at the beginning of the year and regular faculty reports         informing parents what the children are learning, as well as how each individual student is doing.

                -- Electives that include student newsletter, drumming circle, Biblical drama.

                --Flexible schedule for our Monday/Wednesday students.

                --Participation in social action projects.


B’nei Mitzvah Program

                Cantor Jenny Izenstark conducted our training of B’nei Mitzvah students.  When Cantor Jenny had to be absent because of a serious illness, Rabbi Koster and Liotte Greenbaum stepped in to make sure our B’nei Mitzvah students had continuity in their training. For next year, we will be offering more days of training to provide more flexibility for our B’nei Mitzvah families, and an additional trainer, Geoffrey Brown, who brings a warm soul and years of experience.The Social Action Committee worked with B’nei Mitzvah families to help match each B’nei Mitzvah student find a community service project in conjunction with their religious training.

Hartman Institute “Engaging Israel” course

                Twenty-two adults enrolled in this monthly course, led by Rabbi Koster, organized by Israel’s Hartman Institute.  This was the third year the course was offered. This year’s topic has been the “Tribes of Israel,” an examination of all the people who lay claim to Israel. Thanks to Jerry Arbittier for handling administration.

 Social Action

                The Village Temple Soup Kitchen continues to be a source of pride to our community, under the excellent supervision of Dean Chavooshian.  Building on this historic center of mitzvah, our social action committee organized several powerful events this year.  The second annual Village Temple blood drive drew 40 people who volunteered to give blood; 24 pints were collected.  And this year the blood drive was supplemented by bone marrow donor registry. The committee sponsored the speaker from Bend the Arc, who discussed two federal campaings to protect voting rights and advocate for immigration reform.   In April, The Village Temple held its first “Mitzvah Day,” a clean-up of Washington Square Park, attended by about 70 Village Temple members, half adult, half kids.  Mitzvah projects for B’nei Mitzvah students became part of the B’nei Mitzvah process.  In May, The Village Temple will once again put on its “Kites for a Cure” event, which was such a success last year, both as a fundraiser for lung cancer research and a community builder. Many thanks to committee chair Harvey Epstein and Fred Sachs, Nelly Szlachter, David Levit, and Arthur Schwartz.

 Interfaith Initiative

     Through a grant from the UJA, The Village Temple offered several programs aimed at engaging our interfaith families. In November, we co-hosted the annual Greenwich Village Thanksgiving service, together with Judson Memorial  church. The result was a rousing evening of poetry, song and dance, with participation from numerous denominations and faiths. In addition, interfaith congregants were welcomed to a brunch last autumn, hosted by a Village Temple family, and to a Havdalah service and dinner at another family’s home this spring. In May, Donna Schaper, senior minister of Judson Church, will be speaking at the VT about her experiences raising children in her interfaith home. Also in May, a UJA representative will provide training to our religious school faculty and board of directors on how to improve connections with our interfaith families. Thanks to Emily Hacker, Barbara Gerolimatos and Jill Wilkinson.



     Our newly designed website has provided information about Village Temple events in a much more attractive, user-friendly format. Rabbi Koster and the co-presidents have maintained updates on blogs posted on the website, and Alex Tansky has taken over weekly management of news posted on the site from its superb designer, Emily Hacker.            


     Janet Falk, Elyse Grusky and Jill Boltin have done a wonderful job of reviving the temple newsletter, now called Kesher. This bi-monthly newsletter provides news, an easy-to-post-on-the-fridge calendar, and insights into our community.

E-blasts and flyers

     We’ve redesigned all our materials to provide a cohesive look to all Village Temple materials.


 We now number approximately 250 family units, representing about 700 adults and children. Thank s to Betsy Krebs for heading up membership. And thanks to Alexandra Pomerantz for overseeing our Shabbat Amabassador Program, and all the volunteers who participated in this program to greet people at services and events, and provide information about The Village Temple.


Our Fundraising Committee organized our annual Phonathon; thank you to everyone who contributed. Major supporters of The Village Temple attended a private tour at MoMA, conducted by Ann Temkin, chief curator of painting and sculpture—and a Village Temple member.


The office

     Sandy Albert and Sandy Gonzalez-Wilson, our office administrators, have worked diligently to make our office run more effectively. Please thank them when you can!

 Business affairs

     501 c 3 filing with IRS. Some organizations with matching programs require this. The Village Temple filed several months ago; we are now subject to the IRS timetable.

      Conflicts of interest policy was adopted and our Certificate of Incorporation was amended.

      By-laws revision. Special thanks to Carole Sadler for overseeing this important task.

      Accounting and building oversight: Special thanks to Fred Eichler and Fred Basch.

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A year ago, we declared that we were embarking a year of kesher, or connection.  Every week since then, we have been amazed and gratified at the breadth and depth of our small congregation’s talents and resources. Almost every weekend our programming has led us to think: We can’t match this—and then we are proven wrong again. This past weekend, beginning with Friday night services and continuing with our Yom HaShoah commemoration, was the most recent of those occasions.

The importance of legacy was the unstated theme throughout the weekend, where congregants ranging in age from 11 to 95 gathered for three powerhouse presentations. 

At Friday night services, the congregation had the chance to connect Jewish values to two American traditions: the rights and demands of a free press, and the spiritual practices of Native Americans. Harry Rosenfeld, the Washington Post metro editor who oversaw the Watergate coverage in the 1970s, provided fascinating insights into the relationship between his personal history and professional path, which became the basis of his memoir, From Kristallnacht to Watergate. Mr. Rosenfeld was introduced by his daughter, Village Temple congregant Stefanie Rosenfeld and appreciated by all, including his lovely wife and grandchildren, who were also present.

Deborah Wolf, an integrative cognitive therapist and anthropologist, who has worked with indigenous healers and spiritual leaders for over twenty-five years, presented a remarkable and moving interpretation of Yedid Nefesh, that linked this ancient Jewish prayer with a Native American pipe ceremony.  (While words can’t  adequately convey the experience of watching Deborah perform the ceremony, her beautiful text is available under the Prayer Project link on The Village Temple website.)

On Sunday morning, with the guidance and wisdom of Rabbi Koster, Alex Tansky, Anita Hollander, and our religious school music leader  Ty Citerman , members of the Village Temple Religious School led a reverent and meaningful Yom HaShoah service for the religious school students and our adult community, more than 100 participants in all—including one of The Village Temple’s most revered and longtime congregants, Harriet Zimmer, age 95.

They were joined by Lilly Salcman (mother of co-president Julie Salamon), who is, among many other things, a survivor of Auschwitz. In a living example of l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation, Lilly recalled her experiences and answered the sincere and probing questions provided by the religious school students. Inspiration overflowed in all directions.


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Spring Awakening

As we write this we have two images in our minds: On one side of the screen in our heads: delight. We see the 70 members of The Village Temple, half of them children, who spent a recent Sunday morning volunteering to clean up Washington Square Park. It was a wonderful occasion, welcoming spring by doing an act of Tikkun Olam in the community where we live., 

On the other side: horror. We can’t shake the image of a crazed, hate-filled man murdering innocent people present at Jewish institutions in Kansas City. The facts that the killer was a self-proclaimed anti-Semite, that his victims were  not Jewish, and that the heinous act was perpetrated on the eve of Passover and the Sunday before Easter, added symbolic weight to havoc wreaked by a madman.

As we send our condolences to the families of the innocent people destroyed by the madness, we search for a way to process the irrationality. The violence has become the catalyst for many responses. Two were especially compelling.  Frank Bruni wrote a disturbing Op-Ed piece in The New York Times ( about contemporary anti-Semitism.  Here is an excerpt:

“The Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps statistics, the most recent of which are for 2012. In the United States that year there were 6,573 hate-crime incidents reported to the bureau (a fraction, no doubt, of all that occurred). While most were motivated by race, about 20 percent were motivated by the victims’ perceived religion — roughly the same percentage as those motivated by the victims’ presumed sexual orientation. I didn’t expect a number that high.

Nor did I expect this: Of the religion-prompted hate crimes, 65 percent were aimed at Jews, a share relatively unchanged from five years earlier (69 percent) and another five before that (65 percent). In contrast, 11 percent of religious-bias crimes in 2012 were against Muslims.

Our country has come so far from the anti-Semitism of decades ago that we tend to overlook the anti-Semitism that endures. We’ve moved on to fresher discussions, newer fears.”


We share Bruni’s article not to promote fear but awareness.  The question, especially pertinent on Passover, is how do we respond to ignorance and violence? Joel Braunold, a liberal blogger on Jewish issues, wrote a thoughtful piece in Ha’aretz


Braunold offered this rumination on how we should respond to the kind of hatred promulgated by the Kansas City killer.

“One can look at Jewish history and know that the line from the Haggadah “In each and every generation they rise up against us to destroy us,” is true.

Yet what should our response to this be? We are within our rights to be hostile to the outside world, to close ourselves off and be suspicious of all those around us. Yet by doing so we would be failing in our duty to be an or l’goyim (a light onto nations.)

Being Jewish is not easy. We need to be able to deal with the tensions that our traditions demand from us. We need to understand our own particularism while being open to the universalism of the world around us. Sadly, even today, there are those who rise up to destroy us, but we cannot allow them to destroy our way of life.

Our resilience is shown by not withdrawing from the world and enclosing ourselves in the comfort of our particularism. Nor is it found in assimilating into the universalism of all of that around us. Rather, our quest to demonstrate what it means to live as a happy and free people, celebrating our traditions and impacting those around us, is found in balancing the wonder of the cosmos and the glory of our rich history together.”

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Just saw Darren Aronofsky’s “Noah” and highly recommend it on cinematic and theological grounds. It’s a mesmerizing, brilliant, crazy interpretation of the Bible story—deeply personal, intelligent and serious. Don’t be thrown by the Transformer-like angels and the nods to Lord of the Rings and other fantasy epics. Aronofsky has simply done what most of us do when confronted with Biblical texts: he has internalized the story and its message, and made it his own.  

On returning from the movie I immediately went to Genesis to read the original. The story is rich with metaphoric and narrative implications for religious and philosophical contemplation, but surprisingly skimpy on details. Aronofksy has colored the gaps with a remarkable combination of razzle-dazzle Hollywood convention, contemporary thinking,  and Talmudic investigation. Yes, he fiddles with the story, enhancing with plot twists and characters notably absent from Genesis.  Yes, his Noah is a vegetarian but also a bloody warrior—fiercely depicted by Russell (“Gladiator”) Crowe, whose Noah represents many sides of humanity.  This Noah is fierce, dogmatic, tender and fragile; a flawed but courageous man aiming for righteousness while condoning mass destruction to achieve the divine. His “triumph” is shadowed by sorrow.

With courageous and refreshing sincerity, the movie trumpets the critical dilemma Noah faced—can man be obedient to God (called Creator in the movie) and still exercise free will?  

Lots to think about as Passover approaches and the story continues, many generations later….

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