My Former Congregation brings sifrei Torah to new building

Putting Holy Touches on a New Home

3-Mile Walk Brings Torahs to Va. Jewish Congregation’s Nearly Completed Temple

By Lisa Rein
Washington Post

They looked like pioneers as they made their three-mile pilgrimage amid the suburban sprawl of Leesburg yesterday, some pushing baby strollers along the W&OD Trail, through a new subdivision, across a highway overpass. The elderly followed in a small procession of cars, playing traditional Jewish music.
In their hands, the walkers cradled two Torahs, sacred scrolls containing the Hebrew scripture, as the march began. A third Torah rode on a man’s lap in the back seat of a Toyota convertible.

Yesterday, a new building in Leesburg became a holy space.

Forty families from Loudoun Jewish Congregation, some wearing shorts and sneakers and grasping their children’s hands, consecrated the county’s first synagogue with a Torah service. They marked the end of an eight-year search for a permanent home, after worshiping in living rooms, community centers, schools, a church and a storefront, with their move to a new temple on Evergreen Mill Road.

Dumpsters brimming with construction debris and mounds of gravel stood on the property, and only scaffolding was visible through the elegant arched windows. But the first glimpse of their temple filled the families with the kind of intense joy that comes when a collective goal is finally in sight, literally.

“It’s just overwhelming, incredible,” Pam Manas said as she prepared to enter the sanctuary, recalling how hers was one of three Jewish families when she settled in Sterling 32 years ago.

“The idea that you could take a piece of land and turn it into something like this. . . . It’s almost like getting married,” she said.

“It’s a big day for us,” added Mort Libarkin, a retired nuclear engineer who also has deep roots in Loudoun County. Reflecting on its journey from a handful of families to 85 today, the congregation imbued yesterday’s ceremony with religious symbolism. Starting at 9:10 a.m., members removed their three Torahs from the ark in their storefront at Cardinal Park Drive for the trip to the new space.

The Torahs were passed around as the march continued. At an approximate halfway point on an overpass above the Dulles Greenway, the congregants stopped by the side of the road, joined hands and danced to “Hava Nagila,” the Hebrew song whose name means “let us rejoice and be glad,” around three women holding the Torahs.
Officially, the temple is still under construction, with unpainted ceilings, iffy plumbing and plastic covering the inside doors. But the congregation wanted desperately to use the sanctuary for its first High Holiday services, which begin Wednesday night with Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Architect Daniel Tully rushed his construction crew to complete the sanctuary. The county supplied a temporary occupancy permit, and in the next few days a moving truck will bring tables, chairs, bookcases and desks from the old building.

As of yesterday, 160 people were signed up for Wednesday’s services. Libarkin and Barry Memberg, the president, marveled at how quickly the congregation has grown.

The congregation is marking its new beginning with a new name, Sha’are Shalom, or “gates of peace.”

It’s a Conservative congregation that “conserves tradition in a creative way,” said Debbie Immerman, a lay leader making yesterday’s journey. Women are allowed to read from the Torah, and services are performed in English and Hebrew. Families come mostly from Loudoun but from as far as West Virginia. The county has another congregation, part of the Reform movement, that worships in rented space.

Sha’are Shalom is missing a permanent rabbi and relies on lay leaders and part-time rabbis from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. A full-time rabbi who would live close enough to walk to the temple in keeping with Jewish tradition is the next goal.

By 11 a.m. yesterday, the first of the group turned into the driveway at 19357 Evergreen Mill Rd., where the temple’s three adjoining hexagons came into view. The copper roof gleamed in the morning sun. The outside walls stood elegantly in beige stone that looked as if it had stood for centuries.

“Shalom!” the first arrivals said as others walked up and stared at the temple. A few cried. The crowd fell silent as Immerman introduced the man responsible for the building before them, Irwin Uran, a multimillionaire investor who lived in Leesburg in the late 1990s and donated more than $3 million. As a blessing was read, Uran attached a mezuza to a strip of Velcro on the right side of the door, a makeshift perch for the ornament containing a sacred text that adorns the entrance to homes of observant Jews.

Inside, Mindy Walbesser, whose great-grandfather owned one of the Torahs in Upstate New York in the 1920s, handed out prayer books fresh from boxes. Everyone walked into the circular sanctuary, whose distinct feature is its domelike roof — with six sides, one point for each point of the Star of David. People could not help looking up at the light-filled ceiling of longleaf pine.

Betsy Uran, Irwin Uran’s wife and an Episcopal minister, proudly recounted the moment when she suggested to her husband another gift of philanthropy he could offer to his community.

Perry Immerman, Debbie Immerman’s husband, blew the shofar, a ram’s horn used on the High Holidays, and the congregation joined hands for another round of “Hava Nagila.”
Then everyone repaired to the recreation room for celebratory cookies and apple juice.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

"Torah From Terror" article in "Doing Jewish in Toronto"

Torah from Terror

By Mark Mietkiewicz
In 2001, September 11 occurred less than one week before Rosh Hashanah (as it does again this year.) Rabbis dispensed with the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur sermons they had prepared and wrote new ones to help their congregations grapple with the horrors they had just witnessed. Theirs were words of grief, anger and consolation.
Thanks to the efforts of two men, we can still learn from those words today. Rabbi Neil Gillman, a professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, and Jason Miller in the rabbinical school at JTS, have been preserved over 100 sermons on the website, Torah from Terror: The Rabbinic Response to 9/11.
Reading through these sermons is a sobering experience. Three years ago, we vowed that things would never again be the same. For most people, life has returned to its familiar rhythms. Not so in this website where you feel the raw emotions and hear the questions which had so few answers. Some excerpts from Torah from Terror:
Rabbi David B. Cohen, Congregation Sinai, Milwaukee, Wisconsin:
When the children of Israel defeated the Canaanites, Deborah composed a song to bless God and the Jewish people. Near the song’s end, Deborah spoke of the mother of Sisera, the murdered Canaanite general: “The mother of Sisera looked at the window and moaned through the lattice. ‘Why is his chariot so long in coming? Why are the hoofbeats of his steeds so tardy?” (Judges 5:28) The Midrash states that the mother of Sisera cried, screamed, and moaned one hundred times while waiting for her son to come back from battle. According to the Bible, the Shofar is sounded only nine times on Rosh Hashanah. The rabbis of the Talmud expand the number to thirty times. Yet for two thousand years the tradition has been to sound the Shofar 100 times on Rosh Hashanah. Whence the number one hundred? Every Shofar blast, we are told, corresponds to one of the 100 anguished cries and moans of Sisera’s mother. If the Bible bewails the death of one of Israel’s enemies, how much more might we cry out for friends and neighbors we’ve lost this past week. How many agonies will our hearts have to bear?
Rabbi Wayne Dosick, The Elijah Minyan, San Diego, California:
My holy father used to tell the story of Yom Kippur, 1942, the first Yom Kippur after Pearl Harbor, the first Yom Kippur that America was at war in World War II. In the small Orthodox shul which he attended, the men sat downstairs, and the women sat upstairs in the balcony. As the chazzan chanted the Kol Nidre prayer, when he came to the words, M’Yom Kippurim zeh ad Yom Kippurim habah, alenu l’tova… “From this Yom Kippur until next Yom Kippur, may it be for us for good…” a great cry arose from the balcony and washed across the whole shul. The wives and mothers had just sent their husbands and sons to war, and they greatly feared what would happen from one Yom Kippur until the next. Then and now, the days that unfold, one by one, from one Yom Kippur until the next, tell the tale of our lives. And the great question always looms, “Who shall live, and who die? Who shall live out the measure of days, and who will be cut off mid-way?” The answers to those questions, we know, are in God’s hands. Yet, this year, as we gather for our Yom Kippur worship and meditation, we are filled with wondering. For the Divine response that was given to us this year is bewildering, and overwhelming, and filled with pain.
Rabbi Ruth M. Gais, The New York Kollel at Hebrew Union College, New York City:
Thousands lived. Thousands died and are still buried in the pit of death.
I have no answer why some lived and some died.
I have no answer for why there is such hatred in the world.
Ani Ma’aminah be’emunah shlemah
I do believe with perfect faith
I do believe with perfect faith that God is good.
I do believe with perfect faith that God is the creator of good and evil.
I do believe that God has granted us free will to choose one or the other.
I do believe that God has not hidden His face from us.
I do believe that God reveals that face through every act of love and mercy and pity that we do.
Torah from Terror: The Rabbinic Response to 9/11 contains 138 sermons from rabbis in 25 states and three provinces. If you have access to a sermon delivered following September 11, 2001, the website’s creators would like to hear from you.

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Mark Mietkiewicz is a Toronto-based Internet producer who writes, lectures and teaches about the Jewish Internet. He can be reached at

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Operation Bubbe!!! Get out the vote!!!

Operation Bubbe is an effort to recruit Jews unhappy with the leadership in Washington who live in northeastern “safe states” to travel to Florida for the five day weekend before Election Day as Get Out The Vote (GOTV) volunteers to make sure Jewish retirees get to the polls. Once in Florida, volunteers will participate in a variety of activities, including up to four days of GOTV work in the Jewish community, an Operation Bubbe volunteer party/pep rally, and a victory celebration after the polls close on election day. All volunteers will be trained before deployment. Operation Bubbe will not provide transportation to Florida, but will provide any other reasonable assistance necessary to enable all volunteers to participate fully, including transportation and lodging within the three targeted counties in southeastern Florida: Miami-Dade, Broward, and Palm Beach. The counties encompass the Jewish communities of North Miami Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, Boca Raton, Delray Beach, Boynton Beach, and West Palm Beach. We will focus on helping Jewish seniors in selected condo associations and retirement communities.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |


  • A dime has 118 ridges around the edge.
  • A cat has 32 muscles in each ear.
  • A crocodile cannot ! stick out its tongue.
  • A dragonfly has a life span of 24 hours.
  • A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds.
  • A “jiffy” is an actual unit of time for 1/100th of a second.
  • A shark is the only fish that can blink with both eyes.
  • A snail can sleep for three years.
  • Al Capone’s business card said he was a used furniture dealer.
  • All 50 states are listed across the top of the Lincoln Memorial on the back of the $5 bill.
  • Almonds are a member of the peach family.
  • An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.
  • Babies are born without kneecaps. They don’t appear until the child reaches 2 to 6 years of age.
  • Butterflies taste with their feet.
  • Cats have over one hundred vocal sounds. Dogs only have about 10.
  • “Dreamt” is the only English word that ends in the letters “mt”.
  • February 1865 is the only month in recorded history not to have a full moon.
  • In the last 4,000 years! , no new animals have been domesticated.
  • If the population of China walked past you, in single file, the line would never end because of the rate of reproduction.
  • If you are an average American, in your whole life, you will spend an average of 6 months waiting at red lights.
  • It’s impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.
  • Leonardo Da Vinci invented the scissors.
  • Maine is the only state whose name is just one syllable.
  • No word in the English language rhymes with month, orange, silver, or purple.
  • On a Canadian two dollar bill, the flag flying over the Parliament building is an American flag.
  • Our eyes are always the same size from birth, but our nose and ears never stop growing.
  • Peanuts are one of the ingredients of dynamite.
  • Rubber bands last longer when refrigerated.
  • “Stewardesses” is the longest word typed with only the left hand and “lollipop” with your right.
  • The average person’s left hand does 56% of the typing.
  • The cruise liner, QE2, moves only six inches for each gallon of diesel that it burns.
  • The microwave was invented after a researcher walked by a radar tube and a chocolate bar melted in his pocket.
  • The sentence: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” uses every letter of the alphabet.
  • The winter of 1932 was so cold that Niagara Falls froze completely solid.
  • The words ‘racecar ,’ ‘kayak’ and ‘level’ are the same whether they are read left to right or right to left (palindromes).
  • There are 293 ways to make change for a dollar.
  • There are more chickens than people in the world.
  • There are only four words in the English language which end in “dous”: tremendous, horrendous, stupendous, and hazardous
  • There are two words in the English language that have all five vowels in order: “abstemious” and “facetious.”
  • There’s no Betty Rubble in the Flintstones Chewables Vitamins.
  • Tigers have striped skin, not just striped fur.
  • TYPEWRITER is the longest word that can be made using the letters only on one row of the keyboard.
  • Winston Churchill was born in a ladies’ room during a dance.
  • Women blink nearly twice as much as men.
  • Your stomach has to produce a new layer of mucus every two weeks; otherwise it will digest itself.

    …Now you know everything

  • (c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |