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Showing posts from May, 2009


This evening begins one of the most important, although ironically least observed, Jewish holidays: Shavuot. I have often wondered why the day that celebrates the giving of the Torah is not number #1 of our holidays. I suspect it is because the holiday lacks a central home ritual--and perhaps because it falls in late spring or early summer. Passover is better timed (especially because of school vacations) and has of course the seder. Sukkot the sukkah. Hanukkah the menorah. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur draws people to their synagogues. Purim carnivals entice parents to lead their costumed children to celebration. Shavuot has a book--the Torah. This to be sure is a hard sell. But this book is the center of our lives. It is the love of Torah, the love of books that has nurtured the Jewish soul for countless generatation. Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch (who died in 1719) takes this view to an extreme when he argues that if one even finds a book shelved upside down, one is to turn the book

Memorial Day

One year I was driving back from officiating at a funeral at one of the Jewish cemeteries on Pinelawn Road. As I approached the military cemetery I realized that it was Memorial Day weekend so I pulled into the cemetery. I parked my car and with my Rabbi's Manual in hand I walked the grounds searching for a Jewish grave marker. It did not take me long to find such a grave. I opened my manual and recited El Malei Rachamim (the traditional prayer said at a grave). It was a beautiful Spring day and the cemetery grounds had been manicured and prepared for the next day's services. The distance between sacrifice and every day life is far too great. I suspect it was less in prior generations, but in mine it is so great as to be almost invisible. I had to take a detour in order to see the multitude of sacrifice--thousands of crosses and hundreds of stars. I had to look through the beauty of Spring to see the simple grave with a Jewish star, standing among rows of thousands. I

Yom Yerushalayim

A few weeks before Israel's 1967 Six Day War Naomi Shemer submitted her now famous song entry, Yerushalayim shel Zahav, to the Independence Day song competition. The theme for that year, at the insistence of Teddy Kollek, was Jerusalem. Jerusalem of Gold was performed on May 15 and became an instant sensation. Interestingly the first version of the song did not contain any mention of the Old City. By the time of the competition, and at the suggestion of friends, Shemer added the second verse about the empty market places and the Jewish longing for the Temple Mount's Western Wall. A few weeks later the IDF's soldiers stood at the Wall and cried. The army's chief rabbi blew the shofar and those gathered there broke out into song, singing Jerusalem of Gold. In a few short weeks the song had become the war's anthem, its hopes and longings a new reality. Shemer composed a new and final verse: "We have returned to the cisterns, to the market and the square.

Obama and Israel

I have been thinking a lot about this question. Does our new president understand and appreciate the worries and existential angst of Israel and Israelis--and of course Jews? Jeffrey Goldberg's article in Saturday's New York Times provides an excellent analysis of this dilemma. While I fully believe that President Obama appreciates the significance and importance of the State of Israel to the Jewish people, his priorities will not always coincide with those of Israel's leaders. His interests are not the same as Israel's. That Israel's government and the United States's leaders might sometimes disagree is normal and natural. If Obama disagrees with the priorities of Israel's Netanyahu this does not necessarily mean that he is abandoning Israel. Friends can also tell friends that they are wrong. In actuality this does not mean that they are not friends. It is in reality a greater testament to friendship when friends can disagree. Loving criticism me