Congregation Agudat Achim
Weekly Announcements
4 February 2021 - 22 Shevat 5781
Parashat Yitro
Rabbi Rafi Spitzer -- President Jackie Rowen
Words from our Rabbi
The Shulchan Aruch codifies a Talmudic dictum that a person should read the Torah portion twice in Hebrew and once in translation during the week. My personal favorite way to do this Mitzvah is to each day read one aliya of the seven we read on Shabbat through twice, and read some commentary. Since this weekly newsletter comes out on Thursday (the fifth day of the week), I am going to try, each week this year, to comment on something in the fifth aliya.

The fifth aliya of Parashat Yitro contains the lead-up to theophany, the moment of revelation, the receiving of the Torah. Ex 19:17 says that the Israelites encamped at the foot of the mountain, but the words "btachtit hahar" which idiomatically mean at the foot of the mountain, can also be understood as meaning "beneath the mountain." This strange phrase leads the Talmud, in Tractate Shabbat 88a, to offer this discussion:

The Torah says, “And Moses brought forth the people out of the camp to meet God; and they stood at the lowermost part of the mount” (Exodus 19:17). Rabbi Avdimi bar ama bar asa said: the Jewish people actually stood beneath the mountain, and the verse teaches that the Holy One, Blessed be He, overturned the mountain above the Jews like a tub, and said to them: If you accept the Torah, excellent, and if not, there will be your burial. Rav Aa bar Ya’akov said: From here there is a substantial caveat to the obligation to fulfill the Torah. The Jewish people can claim that they were coerced into accepting the Torah, and it is therefore not binding. Rava said: Even so, they again accepted it willingly in the time of Ahasuerus, as it is written: “The Jews ordained, and took upon them, and upon their seed, and upon all such as joined themselves unto them” (Esther 9:27), and he taught: The Jews ordained what they had already taken upon themselves through coercion at Sinai.

This is an extraordinary passage in so many ways, but let me highlight a few of them. First, the fact that Rav Aha bar Yaakov is able to say-- hey, if God threatened the people "take this Torah or else" then the Torah is not binding on us-- that is amazing. He is saying, if you really accepted Torah under duress, then it is an unacceptable contract. The rabbinic system holds even the covenant of the Torah to the same standard of ethics that it holds other more mundane contracts. Second, the fact that the response is to tie the people's acceptance of Torah to a different time in Jewish history, namely, the time of the Purim story, rather than refute the "substantial caveat" is also amazing, because it means that Rava (and the rabbis in general) agree that the covenant at Sinai wasn't binding! That whether or not God literally held the mountain over the people's heads, the experience of theophany, of directly experiencing revelation, is so unequal as to be just like having a mountain held over your head. Meaning if God appears to you and says "let's enter into a covenant," your relationship with God is so unequal that it can't possibly be understood as anything other than acceptance under duress.

So, in order to accept Torah, you or I, or the people of Israel in the desert, or any of us-- we have to choose to accept it of our own accord. We have to be Jews by choice, covenanted through our own free will, not because we were asked to enter into an agreement by revelation. This understanding also leads us to a clear reason why, of all the places in Tanakh, the rabbis (Rava) choose to tie acceptance of the mitzvot to the book of Esther. The book of Esther is one of two books in Tanakh without the name of God. It is almost like the rabbis are saying, let's tie acceptance of the Torah to a place where there is not even a whiff of revelation, where God's presence is hidden, as it is in our own world, where there is no way to say that the people were forced by an unequal relationship. We each have to come to Torah on our own terms, because it brings is to a life of meaning.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Spitzer
A Message from our President

All these really cold days and fresh layers of snow are a constant reminder that we are still in the deep days of winter. It’s hard to stay energized and optimistic during any winter, but add to it the ongoing challenges of this pandemic and I know the impact it has had on all of our home, at work, with our families and friends. As much as I’ve been saying “brighter days are ahead” and “we’ll get through this,” I think we need to pause to think about and embrace where we are today, and we should be proud of ourselves. Last week Governor Cuomo said “‘times of pressure show us who we are and show us the real character of people’. He urged, “find your best self in this moment.” While we all want to look ahead to better days, I am encouraging you to stay present, look closely, and celebrate all that we, as a community, are today.

Jackie Rowen
Birthdays: Herb Reich,
Jonathan Weil, Jill Lovenheim,
Sonya Trevizo, Caroline Weiss,
Steve Cramer, Jessica Hausler,
Ron Scharf, Joe Shiang,
Harold Haber, Josie Moses,
Este Sylvetsky

Jake & Amanda Middleton
Yahrzeits: Philip Klein,
Hyman Brooks, Arnold Cooper,
Max Haber, Robert Oshins,
Richard Siegal, Lenore Greenberg, Celia Cohen, Sadie Hausler,
Hermine Reichner, Betya Shpigel, Ann Weiner, Chay Khirge,
Wolf Pasler, Esther Reich,
Charles Rudin, Robert Gelwarg,
Jack Swerdlow, Jeno Weiss,
Harvey Mayer, Harvey Stein
Mazel tov to Barbara & Alan Miller on the arrival of their grandson, Alexander!

Mazel tov to Sally Moise on the arrival of a great-granddaughter in Israel!

Our condolences to the family of Lisa & Jeffrey Shapiro on the recent passing of Lisa’s brother, Scott Mitchel.
Thank You
Thank you to the individuals who participated in this past week's Shabbat services.
Yashar koach!
Torah and Haftara Readers: Steve Schmidt, Alexandra Schmidt, Dan Mayer
Daveners/Service Leaders: Rabbi Spitzer, Orit Shiang
Other Service Participants: Neal Shapiro, Barby Harris, Steve Schmidt, Alexandra Schmidt, Susan Sharfstein, Dan Mayer, Orit Shiang
Service Coordinator/Gabbai: Murray Jaros
COVID-19 Compliance Guarantor/Shamash: Sharon Wohl
Contributors to our Security Fund, Attendees…“…those who give funds for heat and light, wine for Kiddush and Havdalah, bread to the wayfarer and charity to the poor, and all those who devotedly involve themselves with the needs of this community… May the Holy Blessed One reward them, remove sickness from them, heal them, and forgive their sins. May God bless them by prospering all their worthy endeavors, and let us say: Amen.”
Would you like to see your name on this list?
Get in touch with Howie Mittleman or Rabbi Spitzer!
Schedule for the Week
New Kabbalat Shabbat Time
This week: 3:52p
Our Friday afternoon Mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat service will be exactly 60 minutes before candle lighting, on Zoom.
SIYR with Rabbi Melanie Levav - Tonight at 7:30p
Judaism & Science
Mishloach Manot
We hope that you received your paper copy of the Mishloach Manot information and that you will consider participating in this fun and important fundraiser! Please note that even if you are not able to participate, we still need your complete form! It contains important information - including whether or not you would like gluten-free hamentashen and whether or not you will be home during the delivery dates. 

Remember, every congregational family will receive a package, whether or not you are "local" to CAA! If you live out of town, your package will be arriving between February 20 and February 23.   If you have any questions or if you need another copy of the information, then please contact Hillary at or 518-331-4208. A copy of the information can also be found here

Your Mishloach Manot committee (Susan Jarrett, Anita Merims, Rise' Routenberg, Sharon Wohl and Hillary Fink) thanks you for your support!
School Information
Click here for a schedule of classes for the Elementary Grades.
Click here for a calendar for the school year.
Click here for a single page calendar of the year.

Please take our survey below on what solo classes you might like from Ely Wohl. Open to grades 6-12!
Join us Saturday 6 February at 6:00 - 6:30 pm
All are welcome to attend!

As You Like It Catering
We still have a huge selection of Meals-To-Go!
Meat, dairy, and pareve; side dishes, main courses, and dessert!
Click here to view available offerings.

Please contact Rise' at with any inquiries about food for sale.

Arrangements can be made for pick up on an individual basis.
More Adult Education Offerings
Click the buttons below to read information on each upcoming event!
PJ Library Havdalah
Next Week!
13 Feb @ 6:10 pm on Zoom
Life Line Screening
Life Line Screening of America will be on site at Congregation Agudat Achim on Thursday 18 February, to conduct a series of five preventive screening tests for all who register. Call the number below to register or call the synagogue office for assistance.
Have you ever thought about the following?
  • I want to see my grandchildren grow up.
  • I want to continue living independently.
  • I don’t want to be a burden on my family.
Preventive screenings can help and we have partnered with Life Line Screening to provide these valuable screenings. 
The mission of Life Line Screening is to provide advance, yet affordable and convenient health screenings that supplement your traditional healthcare. 
They can help make you aware of a previously silent, unrecognized problem that can now get treated at an early stage, or confirm that you are on the right path and should continue your healthy habits. 
Don’t let heart disease and stroke get in your way of the life you love. Call toll free 1-888-653-6441, or text the word, “circle” to 797979 to schedule your health screening. 
A package of 5 vital screenings is offered for only $149. If you call today to register, you will receive a $10 discount!
Ongoing Events
Parashat Hashavua Class with Rabbi Spitzer
Next Class 9 February 2021
Rabbi Spitzer teaches a class on the weekly Torah portion on Tuesdays from 12:30p – 1:30p on Zoom. The link is on the CAA Online Programming Google Doc. If you are interested in exploring the weekly Parashah please attend. All are welcome. If you missed this week's class (2 February) on Parashat Yitro, the teaching we learned together can be found here. Rabbi Spitzer invites you to call or email with your comments or thoughts.

Hebrew Classes in 2021 with Zipporah Harris                                                                  
Please become part of this group of learners! Classes  2, 9, 16, 23 February;  2, 9 March, all at 6:00 PM until 7:00 PM, via Zoom. Open to New and Returning Students!
Born in Israel, Zipporah is an experienced teacher who has taught Hebrew at beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels for over 30 years. The class meets for 10 consecutive Tuesdays via Zoom and the cost is $10 per class, payable to Zipporah. The class covers reading, writing, and conversation. Please become part of this group of learners! Classes. If you are interested in joining, write to Zipporah at

CAA Healthy Living Group Maximizing Optimal Health and Resilience -Dr. Sheryl Spitzer-Resnick. Wednesday 17 February 10:00a EST
CAA Book Club Meets on the Second Wednesday at 12p
CAA Men’s Club Torah Study Meets twice monthly on Sundays at 7:40p; next meeting 7 February 2021
S: 8:30a Shacharit/Morning Minyan (joined by TI of Scranton), 7:15p Maariv/Evening Minyan
M: 7:15a Shacharit/Morning Minyan, 7:15p Maariv/Evening Minyan
T: 7:15a Shacharit/Morning Minyan, 1:30p Mincha/Afternoon Minyan, 7:15p Maariv/Evening Minyan
W: 7:30a Shacharit/Morning Minyan (joining TI of Scranton at their minyan link, password 1921), 7:15p Maariv/Evening Minyan
Th: 7:15a Shacharit/Morning Minyan, 7:15p Maariv/Evening Minyan (Note: on Thursday 29 October, minyan will be at 6:40p to accommodate the 7:00p adult ed program)
F: 7:15a Shacharit/Morning Minyan, Mincha/Afternoon Minyan and Kabbalat Shabbat will take place 60 minutes before candle lighting (this week 3:22p)

Shabbat Morning Services will be live-streamed beginning at 9:45am here

Rabbi Spitzer is also available for individual prayers for healing with congregants. Make an appointment: 

Siddur Supplement
Many congregants have noted that some of our regular prayers are not easily accessible now that we are using the big/full Siddur Sim Shalom (which has both the Shabbat and Weekday prayer services) in our own homes, rather than the “Slim Shalom” (which includes only the Shabbat/Festival prayers) in the sanctuary. Rabbi Spitzer has made the following four prayers accessible (click on the links below and feel free to print for your use at home):
We would like to make everyone’s experience of the service at home as barrier-free as possible so please get in touch with us if there are other things that we can do to increase ease of access.
January 2021 Donations
In the Community
COVID-19 Vaccine Registration Information

The Schenectady County Department of Senior and Long Term Care Services has been working collaboratively with Congregation Agudat Achim to share information as it comes out, regarding the availability of appointments to register to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Please go to for the most up-to-date information or call the synagogue office at 518-393-9211 for assistance with website navigation.

If your name was included on the list compiled by the synagogue office, please see the note below:

Thank you for submitting your information regarding the COVID-19 Vaccination for people age 65 and older. The Schenectady County Pre-Registration Form for the COVID-19 Vaccination for people in this age group is now available.

Please go to, which will bring you directly to the pre-registration form for people 65 years of age and older. Complete the pre-registration form. Be sure to enter your date of birth in the following format mm/dd/yyyy. You can enter your date of birth manually since it will override the calendar that appears on the page. Also, be sure to enter an email address, as this is a required field. After you click “submit,” you will receive an acceptance notice that will appear on your screen (the text of the notice is below). Be patient, it might take up to one minute for the notice to appear. Others are trying to pre-register at the same time as you.

At some point in the future, when appointments become available, you will be contacted with information regarding the next step. Please be patient with this process, there are more people interested in receiving the vaccine than there are available supplies.

Please feel free to contact the following New York State resources at 1-833-697-4829 (Vaccination Hotline) or the Am I Eligible web site at to try to schedule an appointment at one of New York State’s distribution sites. Please note that these New York State resources are separate from Schenectady County.

Also, you may have heard that CVS will be receiving doses of the vaccine. The CVS in Schenectady County that will provide the vaccinations is located at the CVS in Glenville, 259 Saratoga Road. Scheduling will start on February 9, with appointments starting on February 11. People can go to or call CVS customer service at 1-800-746-7287 to schedule an appointment. Walk-in vaccinations without an appointment will not be provided.

Schenectady Police Department's Reform
and Reinvention Collaborative Survey

As part of our local community's response to the protests against racial injustice this summer, a number of Schenectady Clergy Against Hate leaders have participated in the Schenectady Police Department's Reform and Reinvention Collaborative.

This group of community leaders, working in collaboration with local police and government officials, have been tasked to conduct a comprehensive review of how racial injustice and disparities in treatment can be addressed in our local criminal justice system.

As part of that process, the general public has been encouraged to participate in a roughly ten minute survey by Monday, February 15, 2021 that can be found here:

Please lift up your voice as part of the effort of building just, safe and inclusive Schenectady!
The Welcoming Project - LGBTQ Activist Scholarships
We're excited to announce that The Welcoming Project will once again offer a $500 scholarship to an undergraduate student and a $500 scholarship to a graduate student who make outstanding contributions to LGBTQ activism! The application and more information can be found on The Welcoming Project website. Applications are due March 1, 2021.
Staff Emails
Rabbi Rafi Spitzer,, (518) 348-9478
Joshua Cooper-Ginsburg, Executive
Jack Mintzer, Education Director:
Chris Parisi, Administrative Assistant:
Rosalie Fadem, Bookkeeper:
Rise' Routenberg, Catering:  
Board Emails
Jackie Rowen, President:
Steve Schmidt, Program VP:
Jeff Shapiro, Youth VP:
Neal Shapiro, Treasurer:
Our Sponsors
[518-393-9211]  []