Jew By Voice

A monthly column on Jewish community dynamics by teacher and scholar Erica Brown.

The Art Of Personal Transformation

A Jewish perspective.


In my work as a Jewish adult educator, I constantly speak with people who are poised to change. Often a significant life event prompts them to return to learning — the bar mitzvah of a son, divorce, the death of a parent, the intermarriage of a child — as an anchor at a time of personal upheaval and as an opportunity to grow. Adults negotiate an alarming number of fears, from job loss to rejection in relationships. We seek higher education at a time of fear and disjuncture as a place to find answers to questions that may not be answerable. We seek inspiration.

MICHAEL DATIKASH, Music lesson, Queens Gymnasia/Jewish Institute of Queens, 2005.

The Father Of Pharaoh

Special To The Jewish Week

Candlelighting, Readings:
Shabbat Candles: 4:19 p.m.
Torah reading: Leviticus 12:1-13:59;
Exodus 12:1-20
Haftarah: Ezekiel 45:16-46:18
Havdalah: 5:23 p.m.

In this week’s Torah reading, Joseph brings his family down to Egypt to live in the land of Goshen and enjoy relief from the famine in Canaan. He tells his brothers to send a personal invitation to his father. However, the invitation is marked by irony, a telling word play and a sad statement of family distance.

Erica Brown

Touched By Angels

A New Rosh HaShanah machzor from England’s chief rabbi.

Special To The Jewish Week

It is hard to pray. It is a privilege to pray. We have a need to pray.

The new Rosh HaShanah prayerbook by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks transcends denominational borders.

Observing The Three Weeks, For History’s Sake

Special To The Jewish Week

In 1999, Dr. Ismar Schorsh, then chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, made a rather unfortunate observation. He claimed that Conservative Jews who observe the Three Weeks, a period of collective mourning for the Temples’ destruction and all subsequent calamities, was about as rare as a polar bear at the equator.

The Vows Of A Jewish Ascetic

Special To The Jewish Week

Candlelighting, Readings:
Shabbat/Shavuot candles: 8:04 p.m.;
8:06 p.m. (Tues.); 9:15 (Wed.)
Torah: Num. 4:21-7:89;
Ex. 19:1-20:23; Num. 28:26-31;
Deut. 14:22-16:17
Haftara: Judges 13:2-25;
Ezekiel 1:1-28, 3:12;
Habakuk 2:20-3:19
Havdalah: 9:12 p.m.; 9:16 (Thurs.)

Erica Brown

A Holiday Of Impossibility

Special To The Jewish Week

Shabbat Shalom
Candlelighting, Readings:
Candles: 7:24 p.m. (Fri.); 7:26 p.m. (Sun.); after 8:29 p.m. (Mon.)
Torah Reading: Ex. 33:12-34:26 (Sat.); Ex. 8:17-15:26 (Mon.); Deut. 15:19-16:7 (Tue.), Num. 25:19-25 (Mon. & Tues.) 
Haftarah: Ezekiel 38:1-14 (Sat.); II Sam. 22:1-51 (Mon.); Isaiah 20:32-12:6 (Tue.)
Shabbat ends: 8:26 p.m.
Passover ends: 8:30 p.m. (Tues.)

Erica Brown

The Image Of The Finger Of God

Special To The Jewish Week

Candlelighting, Readings:
Shabbat candles: 5:16 p.m.
Torah: Exodus 30:11-34:35
Haftarah: I Kings 18:20-39
Havdalah: 6:16 p.m.

Erica Brown

The Shelf Life Of Jewish Peoplehood

Special To The Jewish Week

The word “peoplehood” is a relatively new and highly contested term in the lexicon of Jewish life, having something to do with identity, ethnicity, belonging and membership. The supplement to the Oxford English Dictionary acknowledged it as a word as long ago as 1983, but, as any spell-check reveals, it is not considered a word quite yet by Microsoft. Will it ever be a real word for the Jewish community? Having co-authored a book on the subject, I’m still not sure.

Jacob’s Unfinished Business

Special To The Jewish Week

Candlelighting, Readings:
Candles: 4:12 p.m.
Torah: Gen. 47:28-50:26
Haftarah: I Kings 2:1-12
Shabbat ends: 5:16 p.m.


In this week’s Torah reading, Vayechi, Jacob lies on his deathbed, blessing his sons with predictive statements about their futures. When Joseph comes near, the elderly patriarch “summoned his strength” to leave him with one last message. What does this dying man, in his last moments, behest to his most beloved son?

Erica Brown

Season Of Scandals

Special To The Jewish Week

If it’s hot enough to barbecue, it must be hot enough to commit a crime. How else are we to explain the rash of scandals with Jews at their center that have hit us now for the third summer in a row? In the first weeks of August, Eliyahu Weinstein of Lakewood, N.J., was charged by federal agents for his involvement in a $200 million Ponzi scheme and could face more than 50 years in prison.

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