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Showing posts from July, 2012


This coming Shabbat is called Black Shabbat.   It receives this name because of its proximity to Tisha B’Av, the fast day marking the destruction of the first and second Temples.   These were considered the greatest of Jewish tragedies (until the Holocaust occurred) and so the Sabbath preceding the Ninth of Av takes on a mournful tone.   This year however Shabbat is darkened for two additional reasons. This evening the Olympics will open in London.  While this is usually cause for great celebration and excitement, this year it is colored by sadness.  40 years ago at the 1972 Olympics in Munich 11 Israeli athletes were murdered by Palestinian terrorists.  The International Olympic Committee refuses to observe even a moment of silence at the game’s opening ceremony to mark this yahrtzeit.  Noted historian Deborah Lipstadt writes: “ Never before or since were athletes murdered at the Games. Never before or since were the Games used by terrorists for their evil purposes. Never be

Jewish Blood Is Cheap

The Olympic Committee Seems To Think That Jewish Blood Is Cheap – Tablet Magazine Deborah Lipstadt's provocative article about why the Olympic Committee refuses to observe a minute of silence  in memory of those Israeli athletes murdered at Munich's 1972 games.  She concludes: I have long inveighed against the tendency of some Jews to see anti-Semitism behind every action that is critical of Israel or of Jews. In recent years some Jews have been inclined to hurl accusations of anti-Semitism even when they are entirely inappropriate. By repeatedly crying out, they risk making others stop listening—especially when the cry is true.  Here the charge is absolutely accurate. This was the greatest tragedy to ever occur during the Olympic Games. Yet the IOC has made it quite clear that these victims are not worth 60 seconds. Imagine for a moment that these athletes had been from the United States, Canada, Australia, or even Germany. No one would think twice about commemorating


There are any number of customs that are prevalent at today’s b’nai mitzvah parties whose origins do not trace back to ancient times.   Let’s explore three.   And the DJ announces, “It’s Hora time.  Everyone to the dance floor!”  And we jump from our seats and join together in dancing and singing the words of Hava Nagila.  “ Come, let us rejoice and be happy!  Come, let us sing!  Awake, awake brothers!  Awake brothers with a joyful heart!”  Most people don’t realize that the words to this familiar song are not that old.  In fact the tune is based on a Hasidic niggun, prevalent among Jews living in 19 th century Ukraine.  It is apparently similar to a Ukrainian folk song.  A niggun is a wordless melody.  They are passed from one generation to the next.  They are typically attributed to specific rebbes, although I have been unable to discover the authorship of Hava Nagila’s tune.  It was the belief of Hasidic Jews that music helps to connect us to God.  Music is the universal la

The Late Yitzhak Shamir

The Late Yitzhak Shamir: Israel's Grittiest Prime Minister – Tablet Magazine This is an excellent article about Yitzhak Shamir by Daniel Gordis. He writes: For all the misgivings many now have about Shamir’s intransigence or his specific policies, part of his legacy is that Jews ought not to pretend not to know what, deep down, they know. Yitzhak Shamir knew what he had seen, both in Europe and then in the Arab world, and he knew what it meant. He was no less ambivalent about the Arabs than he was about the Poles and refused to vote for Begin’s peace treaty with Egypt. Presumably in deference to Begin, he abstained; but he made it clear that he thought Israel was paying far too high a price. Today, three and a half decades later, with the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power in Cairo, and with Israel now missing the Sinai as a buffer, who was wiser? Was it the Nobel Prize-winning Begin who’d turned peacemaker, or Shamir, who had not? Will the sword devour forever? Yes, Shamir sad

Hava Nagila

Below is a great video about the meaning and origins of the familiar Hava Nagila.   The familiar words are translated as follows: Come, let us rejoice and be happy! Come, let us sing! Awake, awake brothers! Awake brothers with a joyful heart! Perhaps the DJ's at so many of our simchas should watch this video to better appreciate the meaning of the song that brings everyone to the dance floor.  Perhaps it would be helpful if we took a few moments to remind ourselves of the meaning of this not so ancient but ever popular song. I particular like the Hasidic saying that Danny Maseng shares: " There are ten levels of prayer.  And above them is music."  I often find this to be true, especially when praying at the JCB accompanied by our cantor and musicians!


“There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks by the power of the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind.  After the wind—an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake.  After the earthquake—fire; but the Lord was not in the fire.  And after the fire—a still small voice.”  (I Kings 19:11-12) These words were first spoken to the prophet Elijah.  God is not found in the grand and majestic, the awesome and even terrible.  God is instead found in the quiet, in the ordinary, in the unexpected.  God is found in what we must strain to hear.  Each of us holds on to a thread found within our tradition.  And this verse continues to serve as my thread. These words also form the concluding words of this week’s Haftarah.  The connection between the Torah and Haftarah is clear.  Our Torah portion begins by recounting the deeds of Pinhas who was so zealous in his faith in God that he killed a fellow Israelite who had sexual relations with a Midianite wom


I am again in Jerusalem studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute’s annual conference where I am learning alongside Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, Reconstructionist and Renewal rabbis.  Our teachers are the leading thinkers in the Jewish world.   Here I can renew my spirit and rekindle my Jewish passions.   I remain grateful that the congregation and its leadership afford me this time. Being here during the first two weeks in July provides the most curious of circumstances.  I have for many years only observed July 4 th from afar. This provides an interesting symmetry for it is also true that I have celebrated Israel’s independence day from a distance.  The question then is what does this distance teach us about what we love? On the surface distance promotes fear and uncertainty.  What we look at from afar we worry about and feel we don’t fully understand.  As I sit here in Jerusalem I for example worry about the weather in the states.  Was there any damage in my neighborhoo