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Numbering Our Days with Meaning

We find ourselves in the midst of the Omer, the period when we count seven weeks between Passover and Shavuot. The custom originated in biblical times when we counted from Passover’s wheat harvest until Shavuot’s barley harvest. An omer is a sheaf of grain. During this time semi-mourning practices are observed, namely no weddings are celebrated. The explanations for this are various and somewhat mysterious. I have often thought that it was most likely because there was worry about the upcoming harvest. Others suggest that during rabbinic times a plague afflicted the disciples of Rabbi Akiva. According to some accounts 24,000 students died. Miraculously on the 33rd day of the Omer the plague lifted. Today is in fact the 33rd day called Lag B’Omer. On this day the mourning practices are lifted. People celebrate and gather around bonfires. We are no longer downcast. Our worry disappears. The Omer serves to connect the freedom celebrated on Passover with the giving of Tor
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Remembering Annie, Remembering the Holocaust

Shalom and welcome to Congregation L’Dor V’Dor. I am Rabbi Steven Moskowitz, and I am so pleased that you have joined us for this special occasion when we dedicate Annie’s Garden in memory of Annie Bleiberg, a longtime member of our synagogue community…. I had the privilege of serving as Annie’s rabbi for almost eighteen years. It was one of my greatest honors that she chose to call me rabbi. Hearing someone say that who has lived through the history that I only study and teach about feels especially weighty. And sometimes, when I am reading and learning about the Shoah, I can still hear Annie’s voice in my ears. I can still hear the words she would offer to our students when she came every year to our sixth-grade class to speak about how she survived the Holocaust. I recall how she would tell them how her life was similar to theirs before the Nazis invaded her native Poland. I remember many things, but a few notes from her story are deserving of mention. She told the students h

Enlarge Your Vision and Feed the Hungry

After several courses at our Passover seder, including matzah ball soup, chicken, brisket, tzimmes, various vegetables, and of course many glasses of wine, dessert was finally served. And then after that quintessential Passover sponge cake, we still found room for a few macaroons, jelly rings and candied fruit slices. What a feast! It seemed fitting for a king or queen. That is of course by design. When crafting the rituals for our seders the rabbis looked toward the lavish meals of the Greeks and Romans. They thought to themselves, “This is how free people eat. They recline. They are served. They dip their foods. This is how we should celebrate our feast of freedom.” I think of this lavishness, and yes, its overindulgence, when reading this week’s portion. It contains a list of all the holidays. Shabbat leads the list. Then comes Passover, Shavuot, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and finally Sukkot. (The Torah does not mention our beloved Hanukkah or even Purim because the events these ho

Israel Is About Tomorrow

People often return from trips to Israel and speak about the power of visiting its ancient sites. It is extraordinary to stand in what was once King David’s palace or to play in Ein Gedi’s waterfalls and read the psalms a young David penned when hiding from King Saul. Walking through such archeological sites one can also imagine the moment when the young king and Batsheva first saw each other from afar. In Jerusalem, one can envision Abraham and Isaac walking those final steps before reaching Mount Moriah where the father was instructed to sacrifice his son. As I trace their path, I think to myself, did they speak? The Torah suggests they walked in silence, but I wonder, how could they not if it also states they were bound together as one. It was there that our ancestors built the holy Temple. All that remains is the Western Wall. How many people touched these very same stones? How many people tried to reach this place, but died during what was once a perilous journey to the holy lan

Numbers Don't Tell the Whole Story

Today marks Yom HaShoah. The day the Israeli Knesset set aside, in 1959, to remember the Holocaust. Setting aside one day, or one service for that matter, to remember six million souls and the countless more they would have fathered and mothered, and the many Jewish towns and villages erased from the map and the flourishing of Jewish culture that is no more, seems immeasurable when compared to the enormity of our loss. How can any gesture or ritual, song or remembrance capture so much destruction and loss? Think about this. If one were to recite all six million names it would take nearly five months to read the list from start to finish, assuming no breaks for sleeping or eating or even pauses for taking a breath between names. (For the mathematicians among us, I am assuming it takes two seconds to read each name and that there are 31,536,000 seconds in a year.) Now imagine this.... This post continues on The Times of Israel.

Uneasy Lies the Teacher's Crown

There are many “fours” at the Passover table. There are the four cups of wine, the four questions and of course the four children. The Haggadah recounts: “The Torah alludes to four children: one wise, one wicked, one simple, and one who does not know how to task.” Each asks a question. And each is answered with an explanation appropriate to their understanding. I have often bristled at the description of the wicked child. This suggests that the child is beyond teaching, shaping and even saving, that the teacher’s role is inconsequential. Labeling any child, as wicked most especially or even simple, for that matter, implies that the teacher’s role is negligible. The wicked child’s character appears set in stone. The Haggadah continues: What does the wicked child say? “What does this service mean to you?” This child emphasizes “to you” and not himself or herself! Since the child excludes himself or herself from the community and rejects a major principle of faith, you should  “set tha

Taste the Matzah of Pain

Most people think that the purpose of Jewish rituals, most especially those performed when we gather around our seder tables, is to make us more Jewish. While this is true, their spiritual goals reach far beyond our Jewish identities. They serve to raise awareness in our hearts. Rabbi Shai Held comments: “Jewish spirituality begins in two places. One is a place of gratitude, and one is a place of protest. The challenge is to be capacious enough to hold gratitude for life, along with an equally deep sense that the world-as-it-is is not how it is supposed to be.” The seders we are about to celebrate encapsulate this teaching. On the one hand, they are replete with symbols reminding us that we are free. We drink wine, recline, and eat far too much food to instill sentiments of joy and gratitude in our hearts. We are free!. At the very same occasion, and at the very same moment, we remind ourselves that we were once slaves by eating matzah, maror and charoset. We are commanded to taste b