Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Rabbi Benson Offers a Blessing at Steve Bellone's Inauguration

I'm very honored to have had the opportunity to participate in Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone's inauguration ceremony today:
Steve Bellone is sworn in for his second term as Suffolk County executive on Dec. 30, 2015. (credit: Sophia Hall/WCBS 880)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rabbi Benson Around Town, December 2015

Two Announcements to Share:
1.  I'm proud to tell you I have a piece in the current issue of the Port Times Record and related papers.  You may be able to find a link to it here:  
2.  Next week I am very honored to deliver a blessing on Wednesday the 30th at the Inauguration Ceremony of Suffolk County Executive Steven Bellone.

Rabbi Benson

Sunday, December 20, 2015

NSJC Takes Bold Steps to Keep Synagogue Life Relevant and Strong

Share this message from Rabbi Benson about NSJC's dramatic and exciting steps to keep it the strong center for Jewish life in Suffolk County it has been for over 120 years:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The 18th is Coming - Go Team Malachim!

Friday is December 18th, the next day for Team Malachim to commit to doing one extra good deed somewhere for someone.

For some extra inspiration, check out this website which is full of good ideas:

Good Luck!

Rabbi Benson

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Join us Friday Night, Sleep in Late(r) Saturday!

Join us at NSJC for the next in my series on on Intermarriage and Interfaith Relationships this Friday at 8pm during services.  We take a look at issues surrounding dating.

Come back on Saturday morning at 9:15am for the next in our Extra Soul Shabbat Saturday morning services.  We promise to end at (just about) the same time, but provide all the same rich, intellectual, emotional and spiritual uplift you'd normally get from Saturday mornings.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah,

Rabbi Aaron Benson

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Special Prayers for San Bernadino Victims this Shabbat

Please join us at NSJC for special prayers in memory of the innocent victims of the attack in San Bernadino during our Shabbat services this Saturday.  
Services begin at 8:45am and special prayers at around 9:45am.  
Let the light of the Hanukkah season shine even in the face of this dark moment in our country.  
Rabbi Benson

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My Remarks from the Interfaith Clergy Council Thanksgiving Service

We had a wonderful service last night together with other members of the Three Village Clergy Council at Caroline Episcopal Church (built in 1729 - quite the beautiful and historic house of worship).  Funds were collected for Hobbs Farm ( in keeping with this year's them of "The Welcoming Table."

As is our custom, a text from out of the represented faith traditions is read by one clergy member and then reflections are given by another.  Rabbi Sharon Sobel of Temple Isaiah shared this text from the Talmud (Shabbat 127a) on which I commented:

These are the obligations without measure, whose reward too, is without measure:  to honor father and mother; to perform acts of love and kindness; to attend the house of study daily; to welcome guests; to visit the sick; to rejoice with bride and groom; to console the bereaved; to pray with sincerity; to make peace when there is strife; and the study of Torah is equal to them all (because it leads to them all).

Why try to be religious?  Why bother in our day and age?  A question we all hear and must all wrestle with.  Too many people today confuse religion with the mere performance of ritual, with solely the complexities of theological debate.  Too many people who would describe themselves as religious make this mistake let alone the numbers of those who have rejected religion for these reasons – what need have I of religion’s secret handshakes and code words, of its arguments over angels and pins if that is all it offers?

Our text seeks to fix the focus of religious life in the life of relationships – to live with active consideration of the true needs of those around us and to respond to them as best as we can.   To be there out of a love for our shared humanity, to celebrate, to mourn, to advocate for, to fight for even, those who need the help of another human being.

And our text, in its last line, adds a revolutionary note to this already valuable lesson.  For without it, our text teaches a consideration for others that we might very well learn and practice in any number of venues, through any number of outlets.  I don’t need ritual alone to be a good person, and I can certainly do good in this world without being associated with a religious tradition.

Our text does not deny this to be true.  But it does reveal to us that care for others through actions like those listed for which there is no fix limit – no minimum that isn’t enough nor a maximum that is too much – by connecting these all to the study of God’s revelation, God’s will, here called Torah – this teaches us what we might not learn otherwise, which is that having been born into life in the first place, we are born in to relationship with it, that this is undeniably our great blessing and great duty – to the world around us, to the people in it, to God the Creator of All, however the Author of the Universe might be understood by us. 

And so the true purpose of religion is thus revealed to us – for it to be that system by which we seek to be ever mindful of our duty to Creation to be loving stewards of it.  To remember always our human “need to need” and to seek to fill the needs of others and to see in so doing our own needs for purpose and meaning and love to be met as well.

Through our own faith traditions let us study regularly this great truth.  Let it open our hearts to welcome others.  Others who are not strangers, for no other human being is truly strange to us when we in fact all share the same human needs and wants and the same potential to reach out to others confident in the knowledge that we each have been blessed by God with the ability to contribute our share towards aiding our fellow human beings and aiding Creation itself.   

Happy Thanksgiving!

Rabbi Aaron Benson

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Prayer at the Time of the Paris Attacks & Attacks in Israel and Elsewhere

"God and God of Our Ancestors, be for us a God of Justice and of Mercy. A God of Consolation & Hope to those who mourn. A God of Strength & Wisdom to those whose task it is to lead and protect us. Teach us all how to fight Evil and at the same time remain Good. Help us to be Your agents for love and tolerance as well as for righteousness and truth. Let us live to bring about the day when all people will recognize Your Name and dwell in the shelter of Your Peace, Amen."

Come join us for services this Shabbat, Friday at 7:30pm or Saturday at 8:45am. Add your prayers to ours in this time when the world needs them.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

"Thump and Stump"

This Friday at 8pm we will have our first Extra Soul Shabbat service and this one will include "Rapid Fire Kabbalat Shabbat" with Cantor Kramer and "Stump the Rabbi" with Rabbi Benson.  Bring you're singing voices, Jewish questions and sense of participation and fun!  

Friday, October 16, 2015

Solidarity with Israel Shabbat - This Friday and Saturday

Please join us at NSJC as we mark a Solidarity with Israel Shabbat tonight, Friday the 16th and tomorrow, Saturday the 17th.  

Friday night we will honor and celebrate the resilient spirit of the Israeli people whose strength during these difficult times is truly impressive.  We will also recite additional prayers for peace and security.

And tomorrow again we will recite additional prayers for the safety and security of Israel, her citizens, all who protect her and all the Jewish People.

As the Prophet Isaiah teaches us:  "For Zion's sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem's sake I will not remain quiet."

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Benson

Thursday, October 1, 2015

High Holiday Sermons from 2015/5776 Now Available

Please visit my website at:
to access my High Holiday sermons from both this year, 2015 as well as from last year, 2014.

Thank you so much,

Rabbi Benson

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Team Malachim Kick-Off, September 18th!

Those who heard my proposal to create "Team Malachim" a mission to encourage NSJC members and really anyone else, to do extra good deeds on the 18th of every (secular) month this (Jewish) year starts this Friday the 18th of September.  

Please consider being a "malach" "angel" and doing some mitzvah, some kind or good act, above and beyond what you'd normally do, on this day and every 18th this year.

And please feel free to share with me the results or any other questions, comments, ideas you might have.

Thanks so much,

Rabbi Aaron Benson

Friday, September 11, 2015

Observe the 14th Anniversary of 9/11 this Shabbat at NSJC

We pause to remember and pay tribute to those who were murdered on this day fourteen years ago.  Tonight at services at 8pm and tomorrow during services which start at 8:45am please come to show your respect for all those victims of terror and to stand together with hope and love in the unity of our community.

As we say in our prayers, "may they find perfect peace in God's eternal embrace.  May their souls be bound up in the bonds of life, may they rest in peace, and we say, Amen."

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Benson

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Remember Your Loved Ones in NSJC's Yizkor Memorial Book

It is not too late for you to add the names of your departed loved ones to the 
North Shore Jewish Center's Yizkor Memorial Book.  

This time honored custom is an important way to fulfill the mitzvah to give charity in memory of those whom we have lost.  It also extends their influence in the world around us today through the good we do in memory of them.

To list a name, we ask for a donation of $10.  Please send the list of your names to or call 631-928-3737.  Please send in all names by Friday, September 4th.  

Allow me to wish you all the best for the upcoming New Year.

Shanah Tovah,

Rabbi Aaron Benson

Monday, July 20, 2015

Rabbi Benson's Shabbat Remarks on Iran Agreement

Obama is a secret Muslim and anti-Semite and this is the worst deal possible.  The Iranians will without a doubt abide by all the details of the agreement and this is the best deal possible.  The Americans “win”.  The Iranians “win”.  Of course not!

Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, Queen Elizabeth’s husband, said a long time ago that the trouble with being a royal was that the press wants nothing more than to get a picture of you picking your nose (this from the same man who just this month was recorded on camera at an event honoring World War II veterans telling the photographer to “just take the --- picture”, so…). 

For anyone hoping to “catch me picking my nose” today, for anyone who was hoping I would say just what Sean Hannity or Rachel Maddow always says so you could finally, righteously and justly, tell me what you’ve been telling the TV screen all these years, I’m sorry, I think I shall disappoint you as well. 

While, just like the Rabbinical Assembly, which in its press release this week on the Joint Agreement, referred to, “our reservations about the deal as it is currently being reported”,  I did express in my message, which I’m glad so many of you saw, my troubles with the deal, and I do have troubles with it. 

But for those of you who took me to mean that “troubles” meant “bomb” or for that matter that “troubles” meant “you’re a cowardly sell-out”, I will disappoint again. 

For then, as now, my primary goal as your rabbi, and really, my primary goal for myself on this matter, is to really understand what is going on, for us to see clearly that like any work of mortal hands, this Agreement is not perfect.  That there are Israel military leaders who support it and that there are Democratic leaders who are against it.  That you are not a traitor or a fool to be in favor or against it, but that given its 159 pages and tremendous level of jargon, given that I have encountered thoughtful pieces written about it in everything from The Forward on one side to The Times of Israel on the other to the Atlantic somewhere in the middle, I think our best approach now, as once again the Rabbinical Assembly suggested, and that I think our legacy as Jews should mandate, is to approach this thoughtfully and be sure we understand the matter so we really know how to respond and act going forward.

And so I will attempt to share with you, in what I intend to be a neutral and fact-based way, what I have come to understand about the deal, and following that I will share with you my suggestions for what we do about it.

Specifically, I have three main points – 1) what is good about the deal, and I must say that there was a point where I did not expect there would be anything, but having been immersed in attempting to understand the deal my attitude has changed.  2) The challenges or issues with it.  3) What we should do in response to the deal.

Allow me to mention that as I said, there have been any number of articles and reports I have read on this.  I am also very much guided in my thinking by what was shared with members of the Rabbinical Assembly by Dr. Robert Satloff, the head of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy, who briefed us by phone yesterday. 
11)    So with that said, let me tell you what is good about the deal:
I.                    Not a Slam Dunk Either Way
II.                 Achievements
a.     Bargain – do this, no bomb
b.     Not end to nuclear program – postponement of military program
c.      So Called “break out” time will be variable, but probably expands it from where it is now.
d.  Experts do think this is all reasonable from the perspective of real limits on the nuclear weapons program.
2) The four Issues or “Trade-Offs”:  Monitoring, Consequences, Sanctions, Regional Alignment
d.     Monitoring – the deal essentially has “anywhere” but not “anytime” and Iran has 24 days to confirm an inspection.  This doesn’t mean they can build a bomb and then hide that in 24 days, our experts told us, but at the same time, there are other types of violations that could be clouded by that delay – so that is an issue.
e.     Consequences – there are many, many rules that are going into place in terms of what Iran must do – from dismantling facilities to producing centrifuges, to what kind of uranium can be enriched.  There are many places where big, small, major, minor or even inadvertent violations could take place.  The deal does not clearly lay out the “consequences” the “punishments” for all these.  So if enriched uranium levels are a couple of percentage points off where they should be – is it likely that sanctions are going back into place?  That is not really addressed.
f.       Sanctions Relief – understand that some American sanctions on Iran have nothing to do with nuclear weapons development and these will stay in place.  But some sanctions from the US will not and many from elsewhere will not.  That said, Iran will likely end up with, realistically, $100 billion dollars of benefits from sanctions relief.  There is much reason to think that some of this will go into the Iranian economy.  As many Americans forget, Ahmadinejad lost the presidency for failing to turn the economy around and Rouhani was elected on a campaign of doing so.  BUT, that said, Iran currently gives Assad’s Syria around 2 billion dollars and so you can see how even an extra billion could make a huge difference there or elsewhere.
g.     Alignment – As I just said this could likely change the scales in Syria and has clearly, rightly or wrongly, upset many in the Sunni Arab world and brought the Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog together with PM Netanyahu in standing against this issue.  The lasting and unintended impact of these changes will have to be seen.

3) So what happens next?  Robert Satloff, among others, argues that it is not a case of The Deal or War at this point.  For the following reasons:
1.      The deal will be presented and probably approved (but not go into action) at the UN before the 60 day debate period in the US.
2.     Congress can “at most” keep the present from lifting sanctions – it really can’t say yes or no on the deal itself.
3.     Even if Congress does this, Iran, as the Supreme Leader’s comments about some of the negotiating powers being “untrustworthy” suggest – may very well stick to the agreement, work to isolate the US and work more with Europe, Russia and China.
4.     Doing so would be a far more effective strategy than a “mad dash” for a bomb – which would confirm everyone’s suspicions about them anyway, and Iran all along has said they have been unfairly sanctioned, etc.

Bottom line, what do we do?  I’d love to be here telling you we are marching in the streets for something, but I have to believe now that I don’t know what that would look like and to what end – at least not yet. 

What I can and do encourage everyone to do is continue to look at the deal very closely and truly seek to understand so important a document as well as possible. 

If that leads you to advocate against it, make sure your choices for such advocacy are effective and meaningful and aren’t solely about proving who’s right and who’s wrong.  I have sheets with the contact information for our elected officials available for anyone who wants.

Look, I could certainly understand the person who says just because Iran doesn’t have a gun to shoot Israel from across the street (i.e. a bomb) doesn’t mean I like it that they can run up and stab Israel with a knife (more funds to support proxies). 

But I could equally understand the person who says more accountability and restrictions than before on what was already a bad actor have to be better when it comes to building a bomb and represent a giant improvement in relations and security.

There is a story from the Parshah that is of real guidance to us this week.  The tribes of Reuben and Gad come to Moses to ask for land in the trans-Jordan and not in Israel, it being better for them logistically there.  A great deal of negotiating takes places and the tribes agree to fight for the conquest of Israel before returning to the lands they want.

Moses tells them that if they do this, if they commit to this agreement then, vihyitem n’ki’im me’Adonai u’mi’Yisrael, “you shall be clear before the Lord and Israel.”

The modern commentator Shlomo Ressler notes Moses response reflects “being able to accept other perspectives, despite initial fears and uncertainties, is the true test of being a thoughtful Jew and understanding person.”

But the great Chafetz Chaim takes it a step even farther in guiding us on how we should move forward in relationship to advocacy about this deal, number one; and number two in relationship to those others in our community with whom we might disagree.  It is certainly advice I needed today:

Once student of the Chafetz Chaim asked him about whether he should take a pulpit or not.  He responded, “First the rabbi must ensure his own proper observance of the Torah so he is ‘clear’ before the Lord and only afterwards fill his obligations to his community.  That is the order the Torah states.  If a rabbi reverses the order and is interested first in being in the good graces of his community and only afterward in being in God’s good graces, he will not succeed.”

 Like me, each and every one of you must decide how to respond to this important issue for America and Israel.  How each of us does, I pray, will be guided by a knowledgeable understanding of the facts combined with a true listening to our own hearts, to our own response to God’s call to us, and not what we think we have to or should do in the eyes of others. 

Shabbat Shalom


Contact your Representative:
Charles E. Schumer                                                 
Charles Schumer, Senator for New York, Democrat.  Website:

Washington, DC Office
322 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510
Phone: (202) 224-6542
Fax:  (202) 228-3027
TDD:  (202) 224-0420
Melville Office
145 Pine Lawn Road, #300
Melville, NY 11747
Phone: (631) 753-0978
Fax:  (631) 753-0997

Kirsten Gillibrand
Kirsten Gillibrand, Senator for New York, Democrat.  Website:

Long Island Office
155 Pinelawn Road
Suite 250 North
Melville, NY 11747
Tel. (631) 249-2825
Fax (631) 249-2847
Washington, DC Office
478 Russell
Washington, DC 20510
Tel. (202) 224-4451
Fax (202) 228-0282

Lee Zeldin
Lee Zeldin, Representative for New York, Republican, NY-01. Website:

Washington, DC Office
1517 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515
Phone: (202) 225-3826
Fax: (202) 225-3143

Patchogue Office
31 Oak Street
Suite 20
Patchogue, NY 11772

Phone: (631) 289-1097

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Rabbi Benson's Initial Statement on Iran Deal

Text of Statement:
Fellow Congregants.  Like me, I’m sure many of you are following closely the developments tied to the recent “Iran Nuclear Deal” agreed by the United States and her Allies with Iran.

And also like me, I am sure many of you have concerns for what the impact of this agreement will be on the safety of Israel and the safety of the world.  Without wanting to speak before knowing as much as I can, I will say the early indications leave me feeling troubled. 

In an effort to learn more, I am participating in phone conference set up by the Rabbinical Assembly tomorrow with leading Middle East experts to unpack for us rabbis the meaning of this deal. 

I expect to address the subject this Shabbat morning in shul.  Further discussion and any action we as a congregation choose to take regarding this matter, will be communicated to you in due time.

For now, I am sure you all join with me in praying the words from the Prophet Isaiah:

L’ma’an Zion lo eh-che-sheh, u’lma’an Yerushalayim lo esh-kot, “for the sake of Zion I will not be silent for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest, till her righteousness shines and her salvation blazes.”

I look forward to seeing you all on Shabbat.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Teaching Judaism with Joy?

What does it mean when something is "fun"?  You laughed?  You didn't think about homework, credit cards, or global warming for an hour?  You created a memory or had an experience that will last a lifetime?

What does "joy" mean?  Is it the same as fun?  Different?  How so?

I often hear people talk about religious school at synagogue not being any "fun" and how the kids or parents or whoever want it to be more "fun".  Or that if we do an activity where maybe the play a game or get up and move around while learning something Jewish, that is that is more "fun".

But I don't think that is what the kids or whoever mean.  It may be "fun" but it is really "joy" that they are looking for or experiencing.  A sense that the Jewish experience they are have or material they are learning is having an inspiring, uplifting, and lasting impact on them - that's what they are calling "fun" but it is really more than that.

As we prepare here at NSJC for a new school year, we are working hard to put the "Joy" back in th "Teaching Judaism".  In big ways and small, you'll be seeing how that plays out.

Register your kids today for Jewish Learning at NSJC, Teaching Judaism with Joy:

Friday, June 26, 2015

Prayer for Solidarity Shabbat, June 27th, 2015

The North Shore Jewish Center will participate in the observance of a Solidarity Shabbat, this Saturday, June 27th, as called for by the leading institutions of American Judaism.  This is in response to the shootings at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina last week.

Ribbono shel Olam, Master of the World, on this Shabbat of Solidarity with the vicitms of the Emanuel AME Church shooting, their families and community and with all people who strive to truly know You, we search for ways to bring the values of understanding and unity, tolerance and respect into our daily actions and deeds.  To be inspired by the likes of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, HY'D*, who was both clergyman and politician - to be unafraid to let our religious convictions guide us in all facets of our lives.  To not limit our concern and outrage, our love and kindness, only to our sanctuary, but to let those virtues spread out as forces for goodness and Godliness in our lives and the lifeblood of our great nation, Amen.

* Hashem yinkom damo, may God avenge the blood of righteous martyrs. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Vote Mercaz for the World Zionist Congress

Now more than ever it is critical that the Conservative movement be strongly represented in the World Zionist Congress. It is there that the leadership of the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish National Fund, and the Jewish Agency will be determined, impacting on policy and budgets of hundreds of millions of dollars that will affect the character of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state as well as how resources will be expended on enhancing Jewish communities around the world.

It is vital and urgent that we make our voice heard. This is our Israel, our Judaism, our future that we are talking about and every vote cast will make a difference. We need you to vote MERCAZ, Slate #2 in the elections to the World Zionist Congress taking place at this very moment, and we need you to urge your friends, congregants and colleagues to do the same. The 5 minutes it takes and the $10.00 it costs (a fee that goes directly to the American Zionist Movement to cover election expenses) are a small investment to make in promoting an Israel where everyone will be able to live, practice, pray, educate and celebrate as they wish.

A vote for MERCAZ is a vote for pluralism, egalitarianism, environmental sustainability, democracy and peace. Do it now at The Zionist Congress elections will run through April 30th.

- From Mercaz USA

Friday, March 6, 2015

Passover Help is Here

The Rabbinical Assembly offers its very useful guide for Passover preparation once again this year.  Please find the link to the Guide here: RA Passover Guide 2015/5775

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Faith and Personal Struggles - This Sunday

Join me and other members of the Three Village Clergy Council as we consider together how faith can guide us in times of personal struggle.

The program takes place at Temple Isaiah, 1404 Stony Brook Road, from 3-5pm.

Learn how Christianity, Judaism, and Islam handle this question of faith.  And come back the following two Sundays for the rest of this three part series.  March 8th at All Souls Episcopal Church for "Faith and the Family", and March 15th at the Islamic Association of Long Island for "Faith in the Larger World".

Rabbi Benson

Thursday, January 15, 2015

In Time for the New Year - My 2014/5775 High Holiday Sermons

Some months ago you may recall me giving these sermons on the High Holidays.  Since then I have wanted to posted them online and now I have finally done it.

But they aren't here...

To find them, you must visit my website, and you can find them there.

Or try this link:

Please note, the text represents what I wrote down prior to speaking and therefore in some ways will be different from what you heard delivered during services.


Rabbi Benson