Dan Ornstein

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: My Masterpiece

Dec 25, 2013

She walks up to me after morning services, her face uplifted and bright.  “I wanted to let you know about some great news I got from my son,” she grins.  Those few moments after morning worship before I go back to my office are usually when members of my synagogue tell me their worst news about sadness, illness, death.  Her promise to tell me about something happy intrigues and relieves me.  “He has been writing since he was sixteen,” she begins.  “After more than twenty years of writing professionally, he sold a screenplay for a new movie.  My husband and I will be visiting him on the set

Below is my imaginary letter to Sergei Brin, the co-founder and owner of Google.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Searching For Khaled

Sep 19, 2013

I was a twenty-one year old junior in college when I met Khaled Nusseibeh.  We were both undergraduates at Columbia University in New York thirty years ago, and my memories of him and our brief friendship are now quite old and likely distorted.

Dan Ornstein: Anxiously Remembering to Live

Aug 15, 2013

A half-hour north of Albany outside the town of Stillwater you will find the Still Point Interfaith Retreat Center, in my opinion, one of the Capitol District's most beautiful and serene rural settings.  Sheltered and almost completely hidden by a wooded thicket, Still Point is exactly what its name implies: a place of blessed silence and spiritual respite, whose chorus of rustling leaves, birds, and crickets sings a song that drives out the whining musak of daily life from my ears. 

Dan Ornstein: Buying Two Stairways To Heaven

Jul 18, 2013

A few months ago as we drove to an appointment, one of my daughters and I bonded around the British rock band, Led Zeppelin's 1971 classic, "Stairway To Heaven."  With some uninterrupted time and the windows rolled up tightly in the car, we let loose.  Every word, melody change, and voice inflection of lead singer Robert Plant's that we could remember, we imitated.  We even tried to imitate those famous instrumentals that build the song up in a crescendo from a quiet renaissance style recorder solo to a battle of angsting, angry guitars and screaming lyrics.  Finally, we put our voices together to echo Plant's heartrending acapella solo: "And she's buying a stairway...to heaven."

Dan Ornstein: Music As Preschool Teacher

May 16, 2013

Each year in May, my synagogue hosts the Albany Symphony Orchestra's Tiny Tots concert series for preschool, kindergarten and first grade students from across the capital region.  Over three days, Maestro David Allan Miller, the ASO's beloved conductor, demonstrates his passion for classical music and his devotion to educating young people with a varied program of famous pieces that engage kids and their teachers in serious fun.  Dressed,  as always, as the irrepressible Cowboy Dave, he and members of the orchestra lead students on a wild musical adventure of the imagination, along with a 

Each Passover season for the past twenty one years, the Jewish residents of our region's group homes for developmentally disabled adults have been coming to our synagogue for a model Seder, or Passover meal, prior to the holiday.  Our volunteers spend a long Sunday afternoon cooking, setting up our social hall, and serving between twenty five and thirty people and their overworked, underpaid aides.  Over the years I have learned that some of the residents have families who look after them, yet some of them were abandoned by loved ones or forgotten in the family shuffles caused by aging, physical distance and death years ago.  Their disabilities are a spectrum of severity, a variety of developmental delays, neuro-motor and communication disorders.  From what their helpers tell me, our Seder is one of the highlights of their year.  We welcome everyone as they come through the door. We play music and sing, we tell the story of the ancient Israelites' liberation from Egypt, we eat a nice meal together and we have fun. We are a noisy bunch performing a boisterous narrative about redemption for people whose voices, literally and symbolically, are imprisoned or extinguished.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Springsteen Raised a Cain

Mar 15, 2013

Bruce Springsteen stands out almost without equals among the musicians who touch my soul. I rarely regret his outsized melodies, gritty voice, and emotionally explosive poetry that explore working class struggles and the general human condition with such passion and compassion.  I am especially drawn to Springsteen's use of biblical and religious imagery in songs such as Adam Raised A Cain, from his album Darkness On The Edge Of Town.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein - To Speak the Truth, or not?

Feb 14, 2013

At a recent writing workshop I attended, I read a short, painful piece about the illness and death of a high school friend to my fellow writers.   For some time since writing the piece, I have been struggling with the wisdom of attempting to publish it because some of my friend’s family members are still alive, and much of what I wrote might be quite distressing to them if they saw it in print.  The group told me to stop worrying about this, specifically because they felt that the essay honors her memory, and that the main goal of personal essay and memoir is honest self- expression.  Still

Rabbi Dan Ornstein - Lessons at the Clark

Jan 10, 2013

The Clark Art Museum once hosted an exhibition of the works of the great French artist Jacques Louis David, whose magnificent scenes chronicled the French revolution and the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte.  David was a close friend of Napoleon’s as well as his official painter. Napoleon was not at all a modest man.  He once declared, “Power is my mistress,” and looking at his life, we know that he meant it.  A brigadier general at twenty four, Napoleon’s vision of himself was matched fully by his ambitious successes.  Since it’s in the best interests of a court painter to flatter the rulers that he paints, David spared no effort to portray Napoleon, a man of no small ego and accomplishment, as smarter, braver, taller, and stronger than everyone around him.  My favorite example of David’s flattery is his painting of Napoleon crossing the Alps to defeat the Austrians.  Napoleon is dressed regally, exuding confidence, courage and power.  As his troops move forward in the background, he takes a moment from battle to look imperiously at the artist and at us. To lend even greater mightiness and grandeur to Napoleon’s image, David painted him on a sleek, muscular, white battle horse, an awesome example of natural beauty and power.