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Showing posts from 2008

Hanukkah and the iMenorah

If you go to the iTunes App Store you will find an application for your iPhone or iTouch for Hanukkah. It will guide you through a digital lighting of the Hanukkah menorah. Light the candles and watch them burn as the blessings play. So here is the question: is this same as lighting the menorah? There is nothing quite like watching the candles burn. Nothing can replace the flickering of real candles. Will there soon be an app for yahrtzeit candles? There is of course something lost in the digital revolution. I have found an endless amount of information and reading on the internet. I can search through every Jewish book ever written with one stroke of my laptop's keypad. It is not the same as holding a sefer--a book--in my hand. Yet there is also something gained. One of the mitzvot of Hanukkah is to proclaim the miracle. I can light my menorah in my home and be enthralled by the burning of the candles or I can walk around with my iTouch blaring Maoz Tzur. More people ca

Electric Cars

I read Tom Friedman's column in this morning's New York Times with great interest. You can read the column here . He discusses an Israeli inventor, Shai Agassi, who may very well change the way we drive around our suburbs. You can read Agassi's blog here . I am unsure what I think about Agassi's idea—although it stirs my Jewish kishkes that he is Israeli. I have been driving a car and filling a car with gas for nearly thirty years. It is hard to imagine breaking such habits. I am unsure if the idea can even work. Yet his idea gives me hope. It says: there are people who are trying to change the way we get to and from places so that we can alter our dependence on oil. There are people who understand that we must change course. It saddens me that the American auto industry fails to grasp how much it must turn, that the world needs it to change. This industry should be leading us. I should be reading about their inventions instead of their need for billions of

Shared Blogroll

There is so much information to be found on the internet. Some of it is excellent. Some of it should never be published. So I have added a new feature to my blog. On the right sidebar you will find the Shared Blogroll. It lists worthy articles from the many blogs I now read. You can view the complete list of shared articles by clicking on "Read more…" Lately, I have found the most interesting articles on The Jerusalem Post and Jewcy . There is a wide variety of opinions out there and I try to read those that I agree with and especially those that I disagree with. The danger of the internet is that you can surround yourself with agreement. You can find thousands and thousands of people who share your opinions. You can find a web page devoted to whatever esoteric interest (or obsession) you might have. And if not, you can write a blog and then your opinion and your interest seem to magically gain legitimacy, authority and approval. (Hmm...) But countless internet pages do not

My Son's Bar Mitzvah

This past weekend we celebrated my son becoming a bar mitzvah. What follows is part of what I said to him... While it is true that Shira made me a father, you Ari made me a man. I know this might sound strange and that most people think that you become a man on your bar mitzvah or better when you get married or perhaps when you get your first job, but for me becoming a man is realized when there is another young man watching you and following you. It is one thing to have a father looking over your shoulder and saying, “Did you remember to do your homework?” Or, a grandfather who might say, “Give your grandmother a kiss.” It is quite another matter when it is a son looking over your shoulder. My son watches me like the king in the Torah portion Toldot. You watch me and I feel your perceptive stare and I feel your mind thinking, how do I speak to my Susie, how do I talk to my parents, how do I comfort my congregants, how do I treat strangers? Ari, having you as my son makes me a bet

Riches by the Pocketful

Hadassah Magazine November 2008 Like my grandfather, I am a proud Jew and a proud American, but there is something else in my pocket that defines who I am. Though I am a rabbi of a congregation, I don't carry the keys to a synagogue in my pocket. Instead, I carry the keys to a church--the Brookville Reformed Church on the North of Long Island, founded over 270 years ago. For over 10 years Reverend Allan Ramirez and his congregation have allowed my community to meet there for Shabbat and holidays. I doubt the original founders of this church could have imagined that one day a rabbi would lead a Jewish congregation in song and prayer, that the Hebrew words of the Jewish tradition and the melodies of my grandfather's past would fill the church sanctuary. This, too, is what is good and noble about this country. Here in the United States, a church can help sustain a synagogue. Christians can say to Jews, "Come, fill our home with your melodies." Some days I look o

Trying to be Honest

Recently I backed out of my driveway to discover only Newsday and the Wall Street Journal. "No New York Times," I screamed to myself. So I put the car in park and called the Times to report a missed delivery. Later I continued backing the car out of the driveway. There was the Times. It was under my car! I stopped the car again to call the Times and cancel the credit for the missed delivery. No option existed for cancelling a credit so I pressed "0" to speak to a service representative. After waiting some five minutes I finally reached a live person. I explained to him the situation and my mistake. I offered an apology. He explained that the computer would not allow him to reverse the credit. There was nothing he could do. I would have to accept the credit for the missed delivery. "But I made a mistake!" He thanked me for my call. I resolved that for my next vacation I would donate the vacation suspension to schools. I often wonder why it

Bar Mitzvah Montage

My son's bar mitzvah is fast approaching. One of the"rites" is preparing the montage. For those readers not accustomed to how things are done in these parts, the montage is a brief slide show of the child's first 13 years. I often marvel at our privilege and blessing when viewing these photographic essays. The slide shows are often filled with pictures of vacations, celebrations and birthday parties. "Look at all of the places they visited!" I often think to myself. Now I am preparing the montage. "Look at all of the places I have been able to visit! Look at all of the family surrounding us!" I am not sure how the final slide show will look but preparing it has been a true gift. I sifted through some 5,000 pictures on my laptop and a few in old photo albums. "I remember taking that picture. I remember that beach." I remember how I could throw Ari in the air. I remember how I could carry both of my children in my arms. Now m

Voting and the Vote

It was by all measures a historic occasion when Barack Obama won the election. In January he will become the 44th president of the United States. To borrow Tom Friedman's analysis this marks the end of the Civil War. I am not so sure about that analysis but I do share Leon Wieseltier's views, who said: "How can a Jew, I mean a Jewish Jew, not rejoice at the election of Barack Obama? Not politically, where the road ahead may be rough; but historically, spiritually. We, too, remember the pharaohs; and we, too, choose never to hate the world; and we, too, have a hope of being saved by America." ( The New Republic ) I do sense that there is now a renewed sense of hope in this country. I pray that there is a renewed faith in American ideals and apirations. Whether you voted for Obama or McCain the promise of something different and the feeling of participating in history adds meaning to our days. I can't remember the last time I had to wait in line to flip those levers

The American Elections

As a rabbi I think first and foremost about issues of Jewish concern. The lenses of my glasses are colored by the Torah and the Jewish people. I of course always have the State of Israel in my heart. As we get closer to the elections I continue to weigh my vote. How will the candidates conduct their foreign policies? Will they strengthen the relationship between the United States and Israel? What will they place first and foremost in their domestic policy agendas? Will they help to steer our struggling economy towards growth? Do they share my passion and concern for the environment? The following articles are worthwhile reading on these subjects. They are culled from JTA: The Global News Service of the Jewish People. I have always found the JTA to be balanced and fair in its reporting. Here are the four articles: 1. How do the candidates differ on questions of Jewish concern ? Where do they stand on such issues as abortion rights and the separation of church and state? 2. Who are the

Politics and the Pulpit

There is a debate within the rabbinic community whether or not a rabbi should endorse a candidate. My friend, Rabbi Sam Gordon of Chicago, has publicly endorsed Barack Obama and helped found the organization Rabbis for Obama. Others have endorsed John McCain. Take a look at the recent article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz about rabbis making political endorsements and that on the Hartman Institute Blog about Rabbi Gordon. I disagree with my friend! The role of the rabbi is to teach and to interpret our tradition. At times—especially in current times—his role is to interpret Judaism as it applies to the issues of the day, presenting to his congregation a coherent Jewish vision. For a rabbi to ignore our nation's problems and speak only of Shabbat and holidays is to suggest that our beloved tradition has nothing to say to the pressings problems of our generation. Judaism must speak to modernity! What does Judaism say about the environment? What can our tradition offer us in tryi

My Favorite Moon

On Tuesday evening a full moon illuminated the evening sky. It my favorite moon of the year. It is the full moon of Tishrei. It is the moon that I see through my sukkah's skhakh (roof)--every year. It is there--year in and year out, without fail. The full moon of Elul, on the other hand, gets me nervous. It signifies that I have only two weeks until Rosh Hashanah, two weeks to prepare, two weeks to finish sermons. The full moon, one month later, means that the High Holidays are behind us. I have given my sermons. I have recounted my sins. I have repented. This moon is my favorite because it means that we can rejoice. We can celebrate. We can sit in our sukkot and and be thankful for all that we have. We can eat and sleep in our sukkot and peer into our homes and be reminded how fortunate is our lot. In the Jewish year even the moons can lift our emotions.

High Holiday Musings

One of my favorite parts of our High Holiday services is looking out and seeing how many families are sitting together. In our congregation parents and children, as well as grandparents, sit together. Although we provide babysitting for our really young children it is refreshing to see entire families sitting together. It is a wonderful site to behold, seeing generations of Jews together for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, seeing young children sitting on their parent's laps. In most synagogues there are adult services and children services. Here at JCB there is only one service--for everyone. That is the way it should be. I am proud of the young people in our congregation who not only participate in the reading of the Haftarah but also sit and participate from their seats. I believe their singing and praying is more important than my own. I was especially pleased to discover how many of our young people listened to my sermons and were comfortable discussing and debating their points

Yom Kippur Morning Sermon Highlights

"Judaism and the Elections" For years I have avoided discussing politics from the bima, but this year is different. I can no longer remain silent. We must listen to the words of our tradition. We must allow Judaism to speak to the issues of our day. If Judaism is only about Torah portions and candle lighting times then it will become irrelevant. It must speak to our country's greatest problems. In addition to the economy there are four issues that most concern me.  1) The State of Israel. I worry about Israel's security. I worry about the dangers of Iran, Syria, Hamas, Hezbollah and the Palestinian Authority. Nonetheless I will not be thinking about Israel on November 4th. Here is why. It is not good for Israel and it is not good for American Jews to portray Israel as a needy, younger sister. Israel is not the perennial victim. It is a strong, vibrant country. It is a country I deeply love. The idea of Zionism is that the Jewish people will write its own history in a

Yom Kippur Evening Sermon Highlights

"Judaism and the Economy" The economy's downward spiral has us worried. We are worried about our savings. We are worried about our retirement accounts. I am worried about my bank accounts too. But I am not an economist. I am a rabbi. As a rabbi the question is not where should I invest but how can I best respond to this crisis? There are two Jewish responses to this economic crisis. 1) We must continue to give tzedakah. Judaism insists that we never ignore the poor and hungry. It is far easier to be a tzaddik during years of plenty. These years of trial will be our test. History will judge us by how we respond to these years. Will we only think of our dwindling savings or will we think of those less fortunate than ourselves? We will have less, but others will have even less. I have always been a supporter of Mazon . Mazon distributes grants to organizations that help to alleviate hunger. We must think of others. We must not turn aside. We must give tzedakah. 2) We must al

Rosh Hashanah Morning Sermon Highlights

"A Synagogue's Open Doors" The vision of our synagogue is built on three foundations: 1) A place to enjoy our Jewish learning--both children and adults. A synagogue must be a place where people can connect to their Jewish tradition and its values. It is a place where one can grapple with God and wrestle with questions of faith. For me it is a place where I both connect to the tradition my grandfather loved and continue to struggle with theological questions. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is it that the grandfather who most cared about my chanting from the Torah on my bar mitzvah could not live to see that day? 2) A community makes us better individuals. Judaism does not believe that we are at our best when by ourselves. It might bring us contentment to hike in nature and be at one with God's creation, but it does not make us better. Only others can make us better. Belonging to community helps us to look outside of ourselves and our own concerns and look

Rosh Hashanah Evening Sermon Highlights

"The Gift of Free Will" A central Jewish teaching is the idea that God gave each of us free will. We are free to do bad. We are free to do good. We are free to be a rasha (evil person). We are free to be a tzaddik (righteous person). The tradition serves as guide, helping us to choose good. But ultimately the choice rests on each of our shoulders. You can't blame God. You can't blame the devil. You can't blame your mother. People tend to take credit for their achievements but blame others for their failures. Judaism is adamant in its realism. The gift of the High Holidays is that we have these days to turn. Each of us can change. Often we cannot change by a simple act of will. We need the support of community. We need the encouragement of family and friends. Nonetheless our choices are our responsbility. The world rests on the choices each of us make.

Gossip Girl

This week I watched Gossip Girl with my 10th grade daughter. I had a lot of difficulty following the story line. It is very confusing. There is Nate. There is Serena. There is Nate's mom. They are all so complicated. All of my queries were hushed. In Gossip Girl everyone seems so mean. I reflected on this point. I recalled the shows of my youth. "Dallas" was a popular show during those years. The characters were also extraordinarily mean to each other. What is the difference? Then it occured to me. In Gossip Girl the mean characters are young. In Dallas it was older characters and in particular JR. I don't intend to sound like a prude but it upsets me to see people, especially teenagers, behave so terribly toward each other. I know it is just a show and that back-stabbing, intrigue and of course sex have been the stuff of great literature for centuries. I know it is just entertainment. But when it is played out on TV it has a different affect than when reading it in S

The Olympics

The Olympics are a remarkable sight to behold. Athletes from so many countries compete in familiar and unfamiliar sports. The hammer throw would be my favorite pick for the unfamiliar. What is most remarkable is to watch the precision of the athletes' efforts. Their strokes are picture perfect. Their strides exquisite. Usain Bolt seemed to glide to the finish line in the 100 meter. Michael Phelps' 200 meter butterfly was flawless. As a former college swimmer it was an extraordinary site to watch. I remember the end of my 200 butterfly race. Rarely did I have the strength to pull ahead by a body length in the last lap. I don't know of anyone who has that kind of strength. For most of us, by the end of that difficult race we are just trying to keep it together and not break our form. We are just trying to get to the finish line. That is what is so extra-ordinary about the Olympics and the athletes who compete in its events. They swim perfectly, they run flawlessly, they bike

My Campers

My wife and I just welcomed our son and daughter back from sleep away camp. My children just spent eight weeks at the Reform movement's camp in the Berkshires, Eisner. It is a remarkable place. It is my children's second home. Their return is an adjustment for all of us. In addition to spending days washing clothes and cleaning out trunks we must find our way back to living as a family. It takes a few days to get the locker room out of my son's vocabulary. It takes a few days for him to stop screaming that he is so bored. Every free minute at camp was filled with pick up games with bunkmates. There is only so many hours I can play basketball--both because my son is in better shape than me and I am terrible at basketball. It takes a few days for my daughter to stop crying about how I don't understand her. Only her friends really understand her. "What do you know about clothes! I need my friends!" It takes a few days to remind them that they can


This past Shabbat JCB met at Remson Beach in Bayville. Unfortunately the weather did not cooperate and we concluded our prayers while running to escape the torrential rains. Nonetheless the clouds provided us with a majestic tapestry. The most splendid of all sites appeared in the cloud filled heavens--rainbows. We recited the tradition's blessing for a rainbow: "Blessed are You Adonai our God, Ruler of the universe, who remembers the covenant, is faithful to His covenant, and fullfills His word." Unlike the other blessings for nature that praise God's creative powers--for making the great sea, for creating beautiful trees, for giving pleasant fragrance to fruits.... this blessing sees instead of the beauty and majesty of nature a sign of the promise made to Noah after the Flood. The rainbow is not about the colors painted across the sky but the promise God made to all of humanity: the world will continue forever, the world will never be destroyed. The rainbow stands

Biking to Blessings

Recently I have been thinking about the beauty of Long Island. I have heard the skeptics. I recognize that many people do not think our home is a particularly beautiful place. That is most likely because they spend most of their time negotiating traffic on the LIE. No matter how you might justify it, traffic is not beautiful. But if you venture to Northern Boulevard or even farther north to the rockly coastline of the shore you will find the beauty of this island. As far as I am concerned the best way to appreciate the beauty and majesty of this place is on a bike. This past weekend I took my new bike out for a long ride and made my way back and forth from Target Rock to Eatons Neck. I made my way up the hill to the entrance of Caumsett State Park and rode around one of the most exquisite parks on Long Island. When you venture away from the noise and tumult of the LIE you can see the lines that God drew in the rocks along the Sound. When you go slow enough you can breath in the moist,

Shabbat at Cold Spring Harbor

Last week JCB held Shabbat Services at Cold Spring Harbor park. It is a beautiful park and an extraordinary setting to welcome in Shabbat and its bride. As evening approached boats returned to their moorings after a day of sailing and fishing. A family of ducklings swam along the shore seemingly gravitating towards the songs of our tradition. The sun began to set. The horizon was ablaze with orange and red. The waters of Long Island Sound glowed with the sun's reflective gaze. The words of Maariv Aravim fluttered off of the Siddur's pages: "Adonai, Master of Legions, You create day and night, rolling light away from darkness and darkness away from light. Eternal God, Your sovereignity shall forever embrace us."

Studying in Jerusalem

Today marks the last day of my studies at the Shalom Hartman Institute. It has been an extraordinary month of learning. We begin our day with hevruta study. We gather in small groups and study texts from the Bible, Talmud and often Maimonides. We then hear the master teacher's analysis and insights into the texts. After breaking for lunch we study Jewish mysticism. Often we have a few hours off during the heat of the afternoon before making our way back to the Institute for a lecture about Israeli society and culture. The theme for the month was God and spirituality so we spent most of our days debating questions of Jewish theology. We learned with David and Donniel Hartman, Yisrael Knohl (whose controversial theory about Jesus was recently reported in The New York Times ), Moshe Halbertal, Melila Hellner-Eshed and Rani Jaegar to name a few. As impressive as our teachers are I am most impressed with my fellow participants in the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative . It is an extraordina

The Zohar and Our Questions

For the past week we have studied Jewish mysticism with Melila Hellner-Eshed. The esoteric world of Jewish mysticism begins to unfold before my eyes. In the opening chapters of the Zohar, the seminal Jewish mystical text, Rabbi Shimon, expounded on the meaning of God's name "Elohim." This name is a combination of "elleh--these" and "Mi--who" (when the last two Hebrew letters are reversed). Elleh represents the structures of religious life, the letters of the alphabet, the texts of our tradition. Elleh represents the fixed, the halachah, the edifice. Mi represents the questions. All of us bring questions and doubts to our religious lives. We have many questions, many unsolved riddles. God is the combination of the structures and the questions. Without institutions, without laws Judaism would be lost. Without questions, without doubts Jews would be bereft. God embraces both. God is both. Elohim is the combination of structures of Jewish life and our ques

Funerals, Rallies, Markets and Bars

All week I have been mulling over the scenes from the news. Wednesday morning we watched in silence as two black coffins were handed over by Hezbollah. The sound of the coffins touching the ground was the first confirmation the Regev and Goldwasser families received of the deaths of their sons. Two black coffins drove silently from the northern border to the grieving families. Israel turned over the bodies of 199 Hezbollah dead and five captured terrorists, the most astonishing of all was Sumar Kuntar who was granted an official pardon in order to facilitate his release. Kuntar received a hero's welcome in Lebanon. He walked off the airplane on a red carpet to cheers and praise. This brutal murderer received accolades in Lebanon while here in Israel there were only tears and bewilderment. The image of two black coffins and red carpets remain seared in my heart. The light of the full moon illuminated the distinction between good and evil. The chasm between those on either side of ou

Shabbat in Jerusalem

Shabbat is descending on Jerusalem. Hallah and flowers are sold on the street corners. Stores close early. Young students are picked up on street corners by family and friends to make their way to their Shabbat destinations before the setting of the sun. The sound of traffic dissipates with the approach of evening. Shabbat menucha (rest) and oneg (joy) descend on the city. Soon families will walk to friends' homes for dinner. Tomorrow morning the streets will be filled with men hurrying to synagogue with the sails of tallisim flowing behind them. There is a fervor of Shabbat joy among the people of Jerusalem and the feeling of Shabbat rest on its streets. Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem! ADDENDUM Saturday evening the city and its streets return to life. Shabbat goes out around 830 pm. By 9 pm people, cars and buses return to the streets. By 11 pm crowds fill the restaurants and cafes. Here the rhythm of Shabbat is mirrored in its architecture. The pulse of Jewish life moves through t

Prisoner Release

I arrived in Israel to news of the upcoming prisoner release. Israel has signed an agreement to exchange captured terrorists (including Samir Kuntar who brutally murdered a father and his four year old daughter in 1979) for the bodies of its soldiers, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser. Israel has agreed to release many Lebanese prisoners even though it means not the return of its soldiers but the bodies of these soldiers killed in the attack that precipitated the 2006 War with Lebanon. That the exchange lacks balance is clear. Despite this fact as of today's writing 60% of Israelis support the deal. There are a great many problems with the deal. We are negotiating with terrorists. We are repatriating terrorists with blood on their hands who will surely receive a hero's welcome orchestrated by Hezbollah in Beruit. Hezbollah and in particular Hamas who still holds Gilad Shalit (and who it seems clear is still alive) will no longer have the incentive to keep their hostages alive. Ye

You Don't Mess with the Zohan

Ok I admit it. I have seen Adam Sandler's new movie "You Don't Mess with the Zohan." It was a great laugh. There was no great message, no insightful sermon material, except it is good to laugh out loud. Part of what was so funny is that the premise is absurd--all Israelis and Palestinians have to do to make peace is move to Amerika, cut and style hair, fight corporate greed, fall in love and make love--a lot. It reminded me of the outrageous short film, West Bank Story . Nonetheless it is healthy to laugh out loud and not take yourself too seriously all the time--at least in a darkened movie theatre. I also enjoyed how much Israeli music was featured in the film. I am a big fan of Israeli hip hop, especially the popular group HaDag Nahash (Snake Fish). I thought you would enjoy the YouTube video of the song " Hene Ani Ba " (Here I Come) featured in the movie. Also be sure to check out the group's classic song, " Shirat HaStiker " (The Sticker

Counting Our Blessings

Hadassah Magazine June/July 2008 Commentary: Counting Our Blessings The Talmud teaches that a person who enjoys the pleasures of this world without reciting a blessing is like a thief who steals from God (Berakhot 35a). So the rabbis composed blessings for every imaginable event. Some are familiar, such as Ha-motzi on bread or the Sheheheyanu we recite on momentous occasions. Others are less familiar: on seeing a rainbow or the ocean or hearing thunder. We can even express gratitude for the fragrance of a rose.... I followed the rabbis’ counsel at Sam’s bar mitzva. An autistic boy with significant special needs, Sam fidgeted about the bima, picking at his talis, which agitated him at times. In lieu of a sermon, he read brief explanations of drawings of the Torah portion. Still, he touched the tzitzit to the exact place in the Torah and then recited the aliya blessing from memory. The congregation sang “Siman Tov,” but it did not seem appropriate to wish him the threefold hope of Jew

Masters of Our Own Fate

Hadassah Magazine May 2008 Commentary: Masters of Our Own Fate This month, the State of Israel is celebrating its 60th birthday, and most Jews have grown accustomed to the nation’s existence. One day when I was teaching the kin­dergartners in my synagogue school, I asked them, “How old do you think Israel is?” “A thousand years.” “Oh, no,” I said. “Five thousand years?” They kept shouting out higher numbers. When I finally told them the correct answer, they stared at me in disbelief. I explained how the history of Israel is ancient, but the state is very young. I told them that some of their great-grandparents fought to make Israel an independent nation. Do we take Israel for granted? I hope not, since only in Israel can our freedom be wed to our ancient land. Only in Israel do Jewish rights and history come first and foremost.... Last summer, on one erev Shabbat, I strolled down the trendy Emek Refaim Street in Je­ru­salem. The day was winding down. There was very little traffic. Peo