Monday, March 30, 2020

Was yesterday the day the President woke up?

Yesterday, the President said that had we not engaged in social distancing, an out of control pandemic could have killed 2 million Americans. Then he said that he had never seen those numbers before. [pause. let that sink in.]

Okay. I am glad he now knows what what every science based voice has been saying for weeks. Later, towards the fall, people will need to unpack clearly what he knew - when and why - and what he did and did not do.

For today, moving the social distance protocol to April 30 is correct. Maybe yesterday was the day the President woke up.

But, probably not. Because in the same press conference he invented a conspiracy theory of NYC hospitals using more masks than he can believe they need, and accused them of sneaking them "out the back door," inviting journalists to start an investigation into the hospitals in NYC.

I am glad he seems to have been convinced by someone of the need for national social distancing. I am saddened that he still can't comprehend the scope of the problem here in NY, NJ and CT.

For more about How 15 Days became 45, click here.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Democratic Primaries "On Wisconsin!"

The Democratic Primary Big Picture, Corona Virus Delays Abound

With the increasingly severe restrictions on public gatherings and movement, the primary season is in question.  Nonetheless, there WILL be a general election, by Constitutional law, in November.  Therefore, there MUST be Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer.  Those are in mid July.

They are almost certainly going to be held remotely, via internet links.  Expect a massive confusion around how to secure voter credentials remotely, etc., but Biden should have the 1991 needed on the first ballot to secure the nomination.  Unfortunately, at pre-coronovirus scheduling, he was on track to have it all done by the NJ primary on June 2.  Now, it will almost certainly have to wait until NY and the others on June 28.

So, the State primaries that are left will need to function in time to bind their delegates to their candidates, if the situation is to proceed smoothly.  Best practice will be to push advance paper ballots as much as possible, as in person voting should be discouraged.

At this time, I am only expecting Wyoming, Alaska, Wisconsin and Hawaii to hold their primaries in April as scheduled.  That pushes the whole process off, leaving Bernie hanging out there to sow discord and weaken Biden.  On the other hand, initial polls show Biden gaining slightly on Trump in national surveys - but after Hillary, who believes those any more?

Why Wisconsin Still Matters Now

Simply put, if Biden loses Wisconsin, he would need to win AZ or NC to win the election.  Both of those are very hard to imagine.

So, the most interesting information we will get in April is now from Wisconsin. Wisconsin (April 7) - has actual elections, not just primaries, on this date, and they probably have to do it by paper rather than leave state and local offices empty throughout the summer.

Why is Wisconsin so interesting?

Last time, Bernie showed strong in Wisconsin against Hillary.  In 2016, Bernie WON Wisconsin with 56.5 % of the Democratic primary voters.   In retrospect we now realize that was a harbinger for serious (fatal) lack of support for Hillary in general.  People didn't all vote "for" Bernie. Many voted "against Hillary" once in the primary, and then again in the general election, swinging the state (and the election) to Trump. All pundits and analysts seem to have missed this subtlety, except for the Trump campaign who responded by scheduling multiple trips to Wisconsin in the final weeks of the campaign, successfully turning a blue state red.  They simply were smarter than anyone else.

This year, Sanders  is polling BEHIND at about 38-39% of Democrats in the Primary, against Biden's 55%.  In broad strokes, that means that about 17% of the voters do NOT prefer Bernie, but voted for him because they didn't want Hillary.  While 38% is stronger than Bernie is getting nationally, so there is more enthusiasm for him there, it is not clear that there is the kind of anti-Biden feeling that there was vs. Hillary.  Conclusion:  If Bernie fails to get 40 or 50 % in Wisconsin, it is a very good sign for Biden in the national contest.

Now let's analyze that conclusion with Trump/Biden.

Where are Biden/Trump in WI polling?

From last summer through January, 2020, in Wisconsin, Biden routinely out-polled Trump by about 5% points, just outside the range of error for most polls.  During that same time period, about 13% were undecided.  But you must remember that Hillary, in November of 2016, polled almost identically, including about 13% still undecided.  Guess where the undecideds went last time?  The "undecided" voter does NOT statistically break according to the percentages of the "decided" voter in polls.  The Bernie victory should have told us that could happen.

So what is happening with those swing voters in Wisconsin this year?

In February, as the Biden campaign crashed in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada, the Biden/Trump polls moved along with him.  By the end of February, Trump was beating Biden in all head to head polls by a solid 5% points in Wisconsin.  Then came South Carolina, and the realignment of the Democratic primary in favor of Biden and against Bernie.  Biden is now, once again, polling slightly ahead of Trump and within the margin of error.

Conclusion:  As of now, Biden and Trump are in a statistical tie in Wisconsin with, you guessed it, 10-13% undecided.

Wisconsin will decide who is the next president.  But not just Wisconsin.  Drilling down, Trump won all the Republican Congressional Districts, and Hillary won all the Democratic congressional districts EXCEPT the 3rd.  This is where the President of the United States could be decided.

So What is the Wisconsin 3rd Congretional District.

91% white, 56% Rural, traditionally Republican, but with half of the city voters from MN-St Paul because of Gerrymandering.

Good Luck, Joe.

As of today, it is too close to call, but a swing back to Democrat will depend on how districts like this one view the handling of the Corona Virus Pandemic and its aftermath.

Friday, March 20, 2020

ALL Alcohol Based Sanitizers are PERMITTED on Pesach this year

As Pesach is just around the corner, a few matters for your consideration.

First, we will be offering "seder in a box" from Premier caterers here at B'nai Shalom this year.  You have the choice of the ritual items only or a full meal.  Haggadot will be provided, and a link to a Passover Seder Video that you can stream on your I-Pad in case you need help "leading" your seder.  This is all part of our electronic supports during the Corona Virus Pandemic, encouraging both social distancing and ongoing observance of our traditions.

Second, I will be announcing this Shabbat that we will be allowing mourners' kaddish to be said during our live streaming minyanim.  That means, should we still be physically closed for Pesach, we will have remote participation minyan with kaddish for Yizkor on the 8th day of Pesach.  Please plan accordingly.


Third, regarding the CDC advice to maintain a sterile environment, especially including frequent hand washing with soap and water and hand sanitizer.  The scientific community is being quite clear: soap and water is best.  In the absence of soap and water, hand sanitizer must be at least 60% alcohol in order to be effective. Most alcohol is made from grain, and traditionally forbidden to be owned or to derive any benefit from it during Pesach. The demand for Pikuach Nefesh - to save human lives - OVERRIDES that prohibition. 

To save human life, you MAY (even MUST) use alcohol based hand sanitizers, even if they are KNOWN to be derived from grain.  Halakhikly, it is possible to argue that the destruction of the grain into an inedible form of alcohol creates a d'var chadash which is not even akhilat kelev. Since it is inedible to a dog and unrecognizable as grain, the emergency situation provides room for leniency during this time of extreme need sha'ah dehak.  Nevertheless, ALL SUCH PRODUCTS ARE BEST PURCHASED IN ADVANCE OF THE HOLIDAY, AND INCLUDED IN YOUR SALE OF CHAMETZ.  In this way, you will be benefiting from the grain product of a non Jew, who themself is permitted to own it. 

This is not a leniency that operates in an area with no corona virus, nor is it a precedent for the future.

How To Join us Online on Shabbat

Please follow the slide show at this link to learn what is permissible on Shabbat for users of electronics.

  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Evening Minyan Link link at 8:00 pm weekdays, or 6:00 pm on Fridays.  (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 304-491-162)
  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Morning Minyan Link 7:00 am for weekday services and the following Shabbat services:
  • Shabbat Morning Youth Services are from 10:00-10:30 a.m. (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • Shabbat Morning Congregational Services are 10:45 am - 12:00 p.m.(For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • There will be no Shabbat minchah/havdalah online.

Please note that this leniency and system are only promised to continue until the CDC relaxes social distancing.

Please note that "counting in a minyan" will be handled as a separate issue.

FOR ADVANCED USERS:  Zoom has a sound setting that isolates one voice at a time, or tries to.  Congregational singing doesn't work so well that way.  If you want, directions to change advanced sound settings in Zoom have been prepared by Don Batschelder for your consideration.

Stay safe and well.

Rabbi Tobin

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

UPDATE: Shabbat Morning Service Online

As the curfews and other social distancing protocols increase in our area, I reach out to offer words of comfort and support.  As a caring and loving community, we will come through this together.  What follows is information about our Shabbat services online, and other important information.

First, please know that this is a human, global concern.  The tradition explains it with a story:  “Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai taught: It can be compared to people who were in a boat and one of them took a drill and began to drill under his seat. His fellow passengers said to him: ‘why are you doing this!’ He said to them: ‘What do you care? Am I not drilling under me?’ They replied: ‘Because you are sinking the boat with us in it!’” (Vayikra Rabbah 4:6, ed. Margaliot, pp. 91-92). The entire world is in the same boat. If we do not help each other, we are in danger of sinking the entire boat. 

Second, please know that we are joining together online regularly now for all of our possible social needs during this time of distancing.  We are using for our online services, meetings and more. Please go to and sign up for a free account. 

All services, weekday and Shabbat, will be online until further notice, and yahrtzeits can be observed in this way. 

I will be hosting a zoom learning session this Thursday, March 19 at 7:00 p.m. to study the permitted use of electronics on Shabbat during this emergency.  (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 547-344-607).  Here are the links for services:
  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Evening Minyan Link link at 8:00 pm weekdays, or 6:00 pm on Fridays.  (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 304-491-162)
  • Follow this Weekday and Shabbat Morning Minyan Link 7:00 am for weekday services and the following Shabbat services:
  • Shabbat Morning Youth Services are from 10:00-10:30 a.m. (For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • Shabbat Morning Congregational Services are 10:45 am - 12:00 p.m.(For those without Zoom, the call in is: 929-205-6099 Meeting ID 450-192-936).
  • There will be no Shabbat minchah/havdalah online.
Third, we are calling the entire membership.  When a call comes from a member of B’nai Shalom, we are checking in to see how you are, because we care.  If you need help with a grocery run, pharmacy, or are just lonely tired or bored stuck in your house, we are happy to keep you company on the phone. If you need help with anything, please call the synagogue office at 973-731-0160 or Rabbi Tobin’s cell phone 973-518-3534.  We would love to help.  If you want to volunteer, please let us know.

Fourth, join in healing prayers.  In addition to everything the CDC is recommending from a science point of view, take a few moments for prayer.  If you, or someone you know, falls ill - consider adding them to our “misheberach prayers for healing” at minyan.  Email me at with your information, so I can join you in those prayers.

Fifth, we will not host a second night seder this year.  We will send an email regarding upcoming programs and events later this week, but in the meantime you should plan for as small a Pesach as you can consider.  While we won’t have a public seder, we are working on supporting those who normally come to us on the second night.

And finally, for now, it is a time for patience, calm and generosity. We will all be feeling the financial hardships and anxiety of the moment. But whatever you are facing, there will be so many more who are worse off than we are.  Consider supporting our efforts with a donation, or support the work of our local Jewish Federation,, Magen David Adom, or any of your favorite local, national, international and/or Israeli charitable organizations that address health, hunger and wellness. The need will only grow in the weeks ahead.

We don’t know yet when the Synagogue will begin to return to more normal activities.  Given the seriousness of the pandemic, we are not in a rush. And in the meantime, we will stay close as we care for each other in our sacred community.
Kol Tuv, ... all good things.

Rabbi Robert Tobin

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Online Minyan at Bnai Shalom

March 15, 2020
Dear Members of B’nai Shalom,

We are friends and family, facing the challenge of rapidly spreading COVID-19 “Corona Virus” in our area and the world.  How do we stay close, when we need to be physically apart from each other? How do we build community, when obligated by our tradition to protect life by distancing? How do we join in minyan, and say memorial prayers, when we can’t gather?

Beginning this evening, we will hold evening and morning services electronically online and by telephone. One of us will lead the service from the chapel, and the rest of us will participate from home.  If you have a computer with a camera and microphone, or if you have a smart phone, follow this Weekday Evening Minyan link at 8:00 pm or this Weekday Morning Minyan link 7:00 am for weekday services.  If you want to just “dial in” on a telephone, then dial 929-205-609. The access code via telephone for morning Minyan is 450 192 936 while the access code for evening Minyan is 304 491 162.  You will be connected live to the service, be able to speak and be heard by the prayer leader. 
Beginning this Friday night, Shabbat Evening services will be held at 6:00 p.m., and conclude prior to candle lighting time.  Please use the Weekday Evening Minyan link and call in numbers for those services. I am actively working on creating the best way for Saturday morning services to be handled in a similar manner: please stay tuned.
We will add special prayers for healing and strength at these troubled times, where you can add the names of those in your heart. 

Since the prayer leader is not “in a minyan,” he/she will not say certain prayers, including the kaddish, but we will, of course, say memorial prayers at the Ark (El Malei Rachamim) in memory of any yahrtzeits you may be observing for past loved ones.  In this way, with the yahrtzeitcandle in your home, your obligation for memory is lovingly fulfilled. 
If you need any assistance with this new process please feel free to contact Gary Rothschild in the Synagogue Office (973-731-0160 x202, Gary will be available via email and telephone during business hours as well as during Minyan times to help walk anyone through this process with any issues that they may have.

Stay safe, and stay involved.  We care about you and are in this together.
Kol Tuv,

Rabbi Robert Tobin

Israel's Shocking (potential) Breakthrough

President Reuven Rivlin announced today that he is giving Ganz the first chance to form a coalition government of 61 seats in the new Knesset.  In a shocking development, both the Arab Joint List and the Lieberman-led Yisrael Beitenu party have joined the left wing Meretz/Labor/Gesher party and Kahol Lavan to support a Ganz government.  Theoretically, that would give them a majority of 62 seats.  Likkud, Shas, UTJ and Yamima have only 58 among them.

This is a shocking and potential permanent change in the political landscape.  Here's why:

1)  No government since the Rabin, z"l, days has had the support of the Arab Parties.
2)  Lieberman had vowed not to service with Arabs or the Ultra Orthodox, and the Arabs had vowed not to serve with him.
3)  Netanyahu is under active indictment, and required a favorable government to pursue legislative immunity.

Will the Arab Parties and Lieberman find common ground in their desire to avoid another Netanyahu government?  If they do, will it end the Trump peace plan, and anticipate a Biden White House and a negotiated solution?

Or will the Corona Virus create an emergency circumstance and convince Ganz and Netanyahu to form a "Unity Government" between them.

The boring deadlock has suddenly become interesting again.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Corona Virus Letter to B'nai Shalom Synagogue March12, 2020

Dear Members of B’nai Shalom,

I write you in prayer and good wishes as God’s good creation faces the global COVID-19 “corona virus” pandemic. Please know that your well being, both physical and spiritual are my deep concern. 

I believe that God gave us minds and hearts to pursue science, and that medical safety and treatments apply those miracles of God that are in our hands. The Torah commands, you shall not sit idly by the blood of your neighbor (Lev. 19:16). How much the moreso, your own and your neighbors!? Therefore, the directions of the CDC and your physician have the force of halakhah, Jewish Law and should be considered Torah Misinai, equivalent to the Torah given to Moses. It is not a choice, but a commandment to pursue public health safety to the fullest.

Given public protocols for social distancing, the synagogue’s leadership is actively exploring our policies and procedures for programming in the building. A detailed communication will be sent this Wednesday, March 18, after several important conversations will have happened.  Of course, news may happen faster than that.  In the meantime, please refer to our e-happenings for our most up-to-date information and protocols.

As your rabbi, there are several religious and educational items I wish you to know:

  1. Regarding the mitzvah of hinukh education: If the West Orange school district closes, our Religious School will shift to on-line distance learning. We are training the students this afternoon in these protocols. Monday talmud is already live streamed on the Bnai Shalom Morris and Miriam Hammer Campus facebook page.
  2. Regarding the mitzvah of nihum aveilim, please do not make shiva visits during this time period, instead make phone calls and/or write messages. 
  3. Regarding the mitzvah of bikkur holim, please do not visit hospitals, nursing homes and rehabs unless absolutely necessary. Again, please call to express your love and support.
  4. Regarding services, daily and shabbat services are ongoing at this time, and under review.  During this time period, you are exempt from the requirement of public prayer.  Should you attend services at the synagogue, please know the following:
A.             There will be no “Torah Procession” during this time.
B.             Please wish prayer leaders and honorees a hearty “yishar koach,” verbally, without handshaking, high fives or hugs.
C.             I have authorized live streaming of our services on Shabbat, (which we are working on).  While we have had passive video/audio feeds active on Shabbat for many years for security reasons, access to this data on Shabbat is new.
·       The bimah/ark will be in the camera view, and private access will be provided only to those in need of it. 
·       The minyan only counts those in the room.
·       Staying connected to the service and community in this way is important, and the mitzvah for prayer and learning is still fulfilled in this way.
·       This ruling does not extend to any other use of electronics on Shabbat, and a community learning about this topic will be scheduled in the near future.  
·       Please look to the synagogue announcements, which will provide instructions how to access the live stream.

These policies are almost certain to be modified in the days ahead, and I encourage you to remain aware of our correspondences.  

Remember, thoughtful prayer is an important part of facing uncertainty. It is normal to feel fear and anxiety at this time.  Prayer is an important way to connect with God, and with others in the community, while affirming our common destiny and the purpose of our lives.  I encourage you to safely participate in our minyanim, and to consider prayers for healing and comfort for those who are ill.  A lovely resource for this can be found at My Jewish Learning dot com.  

With continued prayers for your physical and spiritual well being,

Rabbi Tobin

Remember:  if you are exhibiting symptoms or suspect that you have been exposed to the Corona Virus COVID-19, please remain at home and call you medical provider for assistance.  Coronavirus questions are being handled by the health experts at the NJ Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

AIPAC - GOOD, but needs to be better

Having just returned from the AIPAC National Policy Conference, I was once again energized in my commitment to a broad bipartisan support of Israel on the basis of American values and mutual benefits economically and in security.

For me, this is in keeping with broad liberal social values, as well as security concerns and technological innovation.

If you seek LGBTQ rights in the Middle East, you need to love Israel - an oasis surrounded by bigotry.

If you seek women's equality in the Middle East, you need to love Israel - a model for the world.

If you seek democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, etc., only Israel secures and protects these values.

If you seek a strategic partner for tech innovation and advancement, you need Israel by your side.

And Israel is quite literally saving the world with desalination plants, which as a role model provide 80% of Israel's fresh water needs already.  Water conservation in Texas, NM, AZ, and CA all use Israeli technology, and Israel exports IsraelAID resources in Africa and beyond.

Israel is a force for good, and our support of Israel must be unflinching and united.

However, I was distraught and disturbed that Israel has become a wedge issue for the Republicans against the Democrats at AIPAC.  Not just because of Bernie Sander's dangerous and stupid rhetoric against Israel and his embrace of anti-semites and anti-zionists in his camp, but because of their own full embrace of one side of the Israeli spectrum: Netanyahu's side.  We should not interfere in their politics and they should not interfere in ours. 

By proffering a single-sided peace deal, without Palestinian engagement, and vilifying anyone else in the spectrum of Israeli politics, the Trump-surrogate Republican speakers at AIPAC made me - as a Democrat and a Zionist - feel horribly unwelcome.  Whether it was VP Pence's "four more years," Ambassador Friedman's "Democratic betrayal of Israel," or Mitch McConnell's snipes at VP Biden for (how dare he) greeting remotely by video on Super Tuesday itself, the Republicans seem not to have gotten the memo that this was to be bipartisan.  Menendez and Booker were the only Democrats on the stage, and they both followed the rules.  Why can't the GOP?

Yes, Sanders is horribly wrong.  No, Sanders will not get the nomination.  No, Sanders does not speak for the Democratic Caucus. And No, AIPAC is NOT supposed to be a surrogate for a Trump rally.  By using the AIPAC stage to paint all Democrats as Sanders people and anti-Zionists, the Republicans broke the core ethos of what AIPAC is supposed to be.

AIPAC, are you listening?  Or can you not hear us over the cheers of half the room?