We have big news: With gratitude for the past and hope for the future, we are pleased to announce that Rabbi Debra Orenstein is leaving Los Angeles to become the new spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Israel in Emerson, New Jersey. Congregation B’nai Israel is a Conservative, progressive synagogue in Bergen County, just outside New York City.

We are in the midst of our transition and look forward to seeing as many of you as possible in our last days in Los Angeles and in our new location. Some upcoming dates are listed below. Please keep up with the RabbiDebra.com website and the B'nai Israel website for further information. Siman tov umazal tov. May this move be a good sign, and may it bring good fortune, for us and all the people of Israel!

In this Shavuot edition:

Where and How to Receive - a message from Rabbi Debra

Who's Speaking, Please? - Torah commentary on Parshat Yitro by Rabbi Debra. This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal

Craig’s Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

Torah As The Word Of God In this sample track from Debra’s teaching CD, Awe Always, Debra responds to a congregant’s question about the revelation at Mt. Sinai.

Upcoming Dates of Note

Thank you

Where and How to Receive

Dear Friends,

The Book of Numbers begins: “Adonai spoke to Moses in the Wilderness of Sinai.” The Rabbis derived from this wording that wilderness was the required setting for receiving Torah. They elaborate: “Anyone who does not make himself like an ownerless wilderness cannot acquire wisdom and Torah” (Bemidbar Rabbah 1:7).

Wilderness – like water and fire, two other elements associated with the revelation at Sinai– is free. “Just as these are free to everyone in the world,” the Rabbis explain, “so are the words of Torah free…”

In our society, “free” is often associated with “cheap.” In this midrash, “free” indicates “open” and “accessible.” Precisely because it is ownerless and available to everyone, Torah – like the Wilderness – is priceless. If we can open ourselves to God and the world in that same spirit of humility, then – and only then – we make room to receive wisdom and Torah.

This teaching holds special meaning for me this year, as I find myself in uncharted, open land. After 18 years in Los Angeles, I am moving with my family to New Jersey. We are saying goodbye to a community and friends we love, and we are headed with excitement to the state where I was raised, where my parents still live, and where, beginning in July, I will serve a warm and progressive Conservative synagogue: Congregation Bnai Israel (www.bisrael.com). I am leaving one synagogue community, and haven’t yet joined another. We have sold our house… and haven’t bought a new one. My home is no longer my own, and I myself feel a bit “hefker” – ownerless, unclaimed, disorderly.

Although this “wilderness condition” is obviously uncomfortable, I know that it is also temporary. Soon, I will be ensconced in a new physical and spiritual home. In the meantime, I intend to make the most of the uncertain, open terrain in which I find myself. In this environment, I am thrown open. Therefore, I pray, as Shavuot approaches, to be as expansive and free as the Sinai desert. No matter how rooted or uprooted you may be in these tumultuous times, my prayer for you is that you always remain wild.

-- Rabbi Debra Orenstein

Who's Speaking, Please?

Click here for a Torah commentary by Rabbi Debra on the ten commandments. This article originally appeared in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal as a commentary on Parshat Yitro.

Craig’s Corner, notes from the rebbetzin

In my teenage years I used to do a fair amount of backpacking. My most memorable trip was eight days into the backcountry of Yosemite National Park. Yosemite is popular, and every trail within a day’s hike of a road sees a good deal of foot traffic. Two days out, the passers by grow fewer, and as you pass into a third day’s hike deeper into the park, the terrain quiets considerably, and you start to experience the wilderness in a very different way.

From my vantage point of “middle age,” I think I value this journey now even more than I did then. I had this sense at the time that my life would be filled with more and more similar adventures, but with college, career, and family responsibilities, the opportunities for this sort of trip have grown more rare. And in leaving California now, I feel that loss even more acutely. But the benefits of age and Jewish experience provide for a perspective on what was so valuable about this trip into the wilderness – and how, with practice, that spiritual engagement can be acquired in almost any place.

When you are in the wilderness, the stakes of life are higher, the margin for error and correction drops. Motivations are more primal, more clear. And it is that clarity of purpose that I find myself pursuing and hungering for especially in the tumultuous, over-scheduled life of the “civilized” world. As Shavouos approaches and I feel myself, along with Debra, uprooted by our cross-country transition, I strive to hear wisdom and to recognize opportunity. I recall that feeling of enlightenment, being deep in the wild in my youth. As Debra relates, this feeling of ready openness requires not so much the wilderness of the land, but the wilderness of the soul. Grab your spiritual backpack. I’ll see you on the trail.

Torah as the Word of God

In this sample track from Debra's teaching CD, Awe Always, she responds to a congregant’s question about the revelation at Mt. Sinai.

Upcoming Dates of Note

May 21-23: Rabbi Debra will officiate at an Open House weekend on May 21-23 at CBI, 53 Palisade Ave. in Emerson, NJ.

June 4: Her final Friday evening service in Los Angeles will take place on Friday, June 4 at 7:45 pm at 5619 Lindley Ave. in Tarzana, CA.

June 5: A farewell event for Rabbi Debra Orenstein and Craig Weisz will take place on Saturday, June 5, beginning at 6 pm. The Makom Ohr Shalom community will walk with the Torah from 5619 Lindley Ave. in Tarzana to its new home at 17500 Burbank Blvd., Encino, CA. Rabbi Debra will lead havdalah, together with Rabbi/Cantor Monty Turner.

July 16: Rabbi Orenstein will conduct her first Shabbat service as spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Israel. The service will take place at 8 pm at 53 Palisade Ave., Emerson, NJ.

Click on the CD's above for more information.


Thank you for your interest and subscription. For those of you in the Southern California area, thank you as well for your kind support of and participation in Rabbi Debra’s teaching and outreach work during her years here. While we have great excitement over the next unfolding chapter, we leave California with a tinge of sadness, grateful for all the warmth and good will that we have found here. Please know that it is greatly appreciated.

We always enjoy your feedback about the newsletter and the website. We invite you to forward this E-Newsletter to anyone you think may enjoy it, and we always appreciate links to our website on your own site or listserve.

Chag Sameach,
Debra & Craig