Upcoming Event Modifications at Sinai

For links to all programming, see your Sinai eNews or School Newsletter
Friday Night
Wine and Cheese – 530pm
Shabbat Services – 6pm
Torah Study with Rabbis Brickman and CohenSaturdays 9:00am
Schmooze: Current Events Through a Jewish LensMondays 11am
Rabbi Brickman’s Bible Study ClassWednesdays
Adult B’nai MitzvahOngoing
B’nei Mitzvah TutoringOngoing

May 26, 2020

Jewish Values: How/When to Physically Reopen of Our Institutions

As we “gather” to consider when and how to begin returning congregational functions to our building, I want to share a list of Jewish values that speak directly to the task a hand. As a synagogue community, we ought to conduct our deliberations in a manner informed by Jewish values and sacred texts that continue to guide us throughout this crisis. These include:

פקוח נפש~ Pikuah Nefesh – “Safeguarding Life” is a bedrock principle of Jewish law, and supersedes most other obligations or mitzvot. To that end, we must ensure that any steps towards returning to the synagogue place preserving life first and foremost.

סכנת נפשות~ Sakanat Nefashot – “Endangering Life” – congregants, staff, and clergy should not be in positions where they will be unduly endangering their own lives or the lives of their families due to pressure to restore activities. We must honor the needs of those who lead or participate in our communities when they have individual circumstances requiring the need to reduce risk to themselves or to those with whom they live.

שעת הדחק~ She’at Hadehak – “Moment of Urgency” – Jewish life has always made adjustments in times of emergency and crisis. We will need to come to terms with the fact that this crisis may last for well over a year, and that we will need to continue to be responsive enough to change our expectations and operations. Our commitment to innovation will help us as we strive to strike a balance between tradition and this new and different reality, unprecedented in our lifetimes. 

 כל ישראל ערבים זה בזה~ Kol Yisrael Areivim Zeh Bazeh – “We Are Responsible for One Another” – It’s our job to ensure the mental and physical health and safety of one another. This includes the effect our actions surely will have on others in the wider Milwaukee community. If the Coronavirus has taught us anything, it’s the extent to which our health is contingent upon others, both our friends and families, and others throughout the wider community. And;

חסד~ Hesed – “Profound Love and Kindness” – Decisions around Sinai’s organizational life and the risks involved create uncertainty, grief, and anxiety, and we must act with tremendous love and kindness towards the members of our families, communities, and the world at large.

We should therefore:

~ Act with caution before undertaking activities that allow for physical proximity. Given all of the values above, and despite the fact that a lengthy hiatus from the building will challenge of Sinai’s finances, our concern for health and safety should make us among the last to return to physically proximate activity, rather than the first.

~ Ensure partnership in decision making among clergy, staff, and lay leadership. Institutions should establish a committee that involves all of these leaders, along with medical professionals with appropriate expertise, to evaluate next steps (that’s all of you!).

~ Continue to use technology whenever possible for prayer, education, and community building. Even when not ideal, these tools continue to ensure health and safety and help avoid tempting people who should not attend because of age or health conditions from endangering themselves.

Realize that the path toward resuming “normal operations” will be long.

~ Understand that even when we have the medical technology to overcome the challenge of this virus, our communities will still be forever changed in the way we operate and we should be looking for the ways in which our new modes of operation can permanently enhance our reach and impact.

Work together with others in the Milwaukee Jewish Community, particularly with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation and the other synagogues, in order to develop a coordinated approach. 

~ Respect decisions made by Sinai’s lay leaders, clergy, and staff. These decisions are hard, the data and guidance from authorities is sometimes not clear or ambiguous, and the perception of risk and safety can vary. Anxiety around making the right choice needs to be met with patience, deep listening, and acceptance.

As we plot, in the short term, the return to physical proximity with each other at Sinai, we should continue to envision how to incorporate what we’ve learned during this period and how we might continue to explore alternative ways of participating in Jewish life as we continue to meet our congregation’s spiritual and communal needs.

Rabbi David B. Cohen

The list of Jewish values based on an article from Rabbi Jacob Blumenthal, CEO if the Rabbinical Assembly, the association of conservative rabbis.




Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Gabriel García Márquez’s “Love in the Time of Cholera” has been on my mind this past week. Set in South America (some say Colombia) near the turn of the 20th century, it concerns a series of fraught relationships between its protagonists, one of whom is a doctor who aims to eradicate the disease.

While Cholera and the Coronavirus are different pathogens, they both represent a cessation of all that is normal and expected. As someone recently said to me, referring to the generalized sense of fear and dislocation, “our lives right now are like we are in a wrinkle in time.”

Among Milwaukee’s Jews, there are current efforts to problem solve, innovate and sustain our precious community. In particular, synagogues have gone virtual, utilizing technology to create types of communities not reliant on proximity. Our rabbis consult each other frequently: what can we do to meet the needs of our communities and their members? How can we pray together? How can we continue to study Torah? Celebrate Simchas together? G-d forbid, mourn together?

What historical Jewish experience has taught us suggests we have the tools at our disposal to meet this challenge.

Two ideas, in particular, come to mind. The first is that love, itself, is contagious. So teaches Phoenix rabbi Shmuley Yanklowitz:

“To give up on the better angels of our nature is akin to defeat. At the least, to acknowledge people’s good intentions and engage others out of love rather than fear are ways to help defeat the trials put before us by the coronavirus. Spread love, spread warmth, spread optimism. The times may seem bleak, but we can all do our part to ensure that a brighter tomorrow is around the corner.”

The second idea maintains we know something else from our collective Jewish experience: while we may not have control over the emergence of disease or the difficulties we face in life, we can control how we respond. Not on every occasion. Not without extreme effort. But the potential for changing our own perspective is ever-present.

Reb Nachman of Breslov, the grandson of the Ba’al Shem Tov, wrote:

״כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאד. והעיקר לא לפחד כלל.

“All the world is a narrow bridge and the important thing is not to be afraid.”

If you or your children ever attended Jewish camp, you may recognize Nachman’s saying as a popular folk song.

It turns out, however, that is not exactly what Nachman first penned. He initially wrote:

״כל העולם כולו גשר צר מאד. והעיקר לא יתפחד כלל.״

״All the world is a narrow bridge and the important thing is to not make yourself afraid.”

Fear and anxiety are real and justifiable and making space to experience the full breadth of emotions that come along with this scary and unknown moment is an important part of the spiritual process. But we Jews have a long history of overcoming adversity. The Talmudic principle, kol Yisrael aravim zeh ba’zeh (all of Israel is responsible for one another) sets our agenda and alerts us to our responsibilities. As we establish social distance to staunch the virus’s spread, let’s not forget how connected we really are.

As each of us strives to meet this challenge, we take solace in Gabriel García Márquez’s reminder: “The heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burner of the past.”

And let’s remind ourselves that we each hold the key as to how we respond to adversity, no matter its form. And more: we also have the capacity to support each other, even at the very moment we ourselves feel afraid. Let’s embody the phrase we say when we finish of the five books the Torah: hazak hazak v’nithazek – strength, strength, may we strengthen each other.


March 17th, 2020

The term “social distancing” sounds counter to Jewish values. From of old, Jewish community has been founded on proximity to one another. Being “together” is a vital source of our people’s strength.

The current Coronavirus pandemic has posed a particular challenge in terms of community building. Nevertheless, our staff in partnership with Sinai’s Board of Trustees, has made extraordinary efforts to bring the Sinai presence online and, where we can, to make our programs interactive.

Perhaps the most daunting challenge for us is to gather information about our congregants. In the age of HIPAA, we’ve turned to you, our fellow community members, to let us know when someone is sick, or God forbid, hospitalized. I am turning to you to reemphasize how much we need you to be our eyes and ears and to let us know if a fellow congregant has a need. So often we find out about congregants’ needs when someone comes into the Sinai office and happens to mention that so and so is not well. Needless to say, we don’t have anyone passing through the office these days.

In consultation with our board, we’ve created a short form questionnaire to help out. The questionnaire asks if you have a particular need a Sinai congregant might be able to help you meet. The form also asks if you might be able to be the person offering assistance in a variety of ways. Please look at the form, fill it out and submit it. Your effort will enable all of to reach out to each other in this hour of community need.

As always, please let me, the cantor or the office know about someone who is ill, hospitalized or who could use a phone call from us or other congregants. When you do so, you are in a very real way acting as God’s surrogate, embodying God’s love and compassion. In these difficult times, we need nothing less.

L’Shalom, David Cohen, Rabbi



March 12, 2020

Dear Congregation Sinai Family,

As the sun dawns on a beautiful day in Wisconsin, we want to give you several updates on what is unfolding as an unprecedented disruption to our lives and what the Sinai community is doing to help us support one another. In this moment of elevated caution and fear, a robust effort of communal spiritual and emotional care is more important than ever.

While it pains us to cancel programs and classes, the physical health and safety of our families and communities is the guiding factor in any decision we make. At the same time, we know that rising anxiety along with social isolation have real consequences for our physical and spiritual/emotional health, a fact that is particularly true for those populations most vulnerable to Novel Coronavirus. Whether you are yourself sick, affected by communal quarantine or just digesting the non-stop news cycle, the stress of this situation is affecting us all, likely in more profound ways than we realize. These facts suggest a clear direction.

At Sinai, we are working to adapt our activities to the “virtual” world:

  • You can join us for Shabbat services this evening at 6:00 pm by going to Sinai’s YouTube channel, here. You can download a copy of our Shabbat evening service here.


  • At 9:00 am. Shabbat morning, you can join an interactive online discussion about this week’s Torah portion. Through the magic of “Zoom” technology, we will be able to present the actual Torah text and translation on your screen, as well. Just go to here (meeting ID 563-864-4589 and password gosinai. If you’d prefer to participate by phone, call +1 646 558 8656 and enter the meeting ID and password when prompted.


It may go without saying, but try to keep a positive attitude. If you are at home, use the opportunity to read a book you’ve been looking forward to reading or address a home project that has been waiting. Consider this for inspiration In 1665, the University of Cambridge temporarily closed due to the bubonic plague. Isaac Newton had to work from home, and he used this time to develop calculus and the theory of gravity.

I wonder how productive we might be working remotely?


We don’t know what is going to happen tomorrow or next week. We’re not sure if this situation will get worse before it gets better. Along the way there will be real hardships – physical, financial or otherwise – but I for one am confident that we will make it through if we lean hard on the wisdom of our tradition and the strength of our communities.

Fear and anxiety are real and warranted, making space to experience the full breadth of emotions that come along with this scary and unknown moment is an important part of the spiritual process. But let’s not forget we are a people with the best track record in history of overcoming adversity. As has always been the case, it has been our sense of achdut (oneness and connection) and a commitment to the principle of kol Yisrael aravim zeh ba’zeh (all of Israel is responsible for one another) that has carried us through. As we take seriously the need to distance, let’s not forget how close we are.



March 6, 2020


Dear Congregation Sinai Family,


As the Chinese say: May you live in interesting times. With a growing focus on the Corona virus that emerged in Wuhan, China, and is now spreading across the globe, our times have become very interesting, indeed.


I am writing to share two items: the first, are a set of pragmatic practices we have put in place at Sinai in response to the public health concerns. The second is a more metaphysical message.


Currently, the best medical advice is the same we have received for decades to combat seasonal influenza: cover your face when you sneeze, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, wash your hands, and stay at home if you don’t feel well. In particular, experts suggest that you wash your hands for at least twenty seconds (two rounds of singing Happy Birthday or, alternatively, Hinei Mah Tov), or use a hand sanitizer that contains at least sixty percent alcohol.

At Sinai, we’ve instituted a number of changes to address this health concern:


  • We have increased the frequency of cleaning surfaces such as doorknobs, handrails, tabletops, and office equipment with disinfecting cleaners.


  • We have set up additional hand sanitizing stations around the building.


  • We have redoubled our supply of disinfecting hand soap, hand sanitizer and tissues.


  • We have set out tongs and utensils with all food.  Please use them when serving yourself a nosh during Kiddush and Oneg – including the challah.


We have created protocols for making further decisions regarding activities at Sinai, should the need arise. In the meantime, stay calm and carry on.  In the spirit of president Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s observation that, “we have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772 to 1810) taught: “The world is a narrow bridge. And the important thing is not to be afraid.” Actually, his original teaching was slightly, but significantly, different. His actually said: “The world is a narrow bridge. And the important thing is to not make ourselves afraid.”


So, as we wash our hands, and touch elbows instead of shaking hands or hugging, we should do what we can to not surrender to fear. As we say upon completing one of the five books of Moses in the Torah: “Hazak Hazak, v’nithazek” – “Strength, strength, may we continue to strengthen each other.”


Shalom uveracha – peace and blessing,



David B. Cohen                                   Nick Padway                                         Janet Padway

Rabbi                                                   Co-President                                       Co-President