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Showing posts from September, 2013

Simhat Torah

We belong to a tradition that values learning and education. A book is central to our existence. And so we read this book cover to cover in one year’s time. We pour over the words of our Torah week after week. On Saturday afternoon we begin reading and studying the week’s portion and the following Saturday morning we finish the portion. And it is this that we celebrate on Simhat Torah. On this day we unroll the Torah scroll and conclude the reading cycle and then immediately begin again. There is no pause in our study, no break in our schedule. We dance and celebrate that we are privileged to once again reach this milestone, that we can once again clutch the scroll and read its words for another year. That which defines us, that which is our essence is celebrated on this day. Pouring over the letters of a scroll is what makes us Jews and what binds us as a Jewish people. We are made Jews each and every day we open this book. We study and learn. What does it mean to be dedicat

Parenting Advice

In my Yom Kippur evening sermon I meditated on technology and its implications to the world of prayer.  What follows are some more insights about smart phones and their potential damaging affects on our children.  I admit it is from the most unlikely of sources, but the wisdom is still sound and worth noting. Louis C.K. offers this parenting advice: "I'm not here to make them happy....  I'm not raising the children.  I'm raising the grown-ups that they're going to be." Judaism might reframe this.  Our tradition reminds us that our goal is not happiness but goodness.  Our task as parents is to raise menschen.  Joy is a byproduct sometimes, but not always, of doing right.  Joy and happiness are not as well always synonymous.  Happiness can be realized by what we often call self-fulfillment.  Therein lies the danger.  The self can too often be fulfilled at the expense of others. That is why looking into the eyes of others and not into the screens we hold


As a follow up to my Yom Kippur morning sermon let me provide concrete ways we can take action. For those who are interested in supporting the Jewish community’s efforts to reach out to the nearly two million Syrian refugees I urge you to read more at Jewish Coalition for Disaster Relief .  Take note as well that Israel is quietly lending aid to Syria’s refugees and even bringing some injured Syrians to its hospitals for medical treatment. Our hearts are again broken by the senseless tragedy at the Navy Yard in Washington DC.  We join in prayer asking for healing for the families now transformed into mourners and the injured now struggling for restored health.  I know that you join me as well in sorry and worry about the devastation in Colorado.   Nechama: Jewish Response to Disaster is an excellent address to direct our concern and help.


As I watch the devastating pictures from Colorado, I am reminded again of the power and fury of nature.   Too often, in these past years, we find ourselves at nature’s mercy.   The holiday of Sukkot is a reminder that nothing we build, nothing we create with our own hands, is as permanent as it seems. For one week we are commanded to live not in our sturdy homes but in frail, temporary huts.   If these structures can withstand a strong wind, or rain, then they can no longer be called sukkot.   They must be temporary.   The roof must be thin enough that stars can be visible in the nighttime sky.   If every drop of rain is kept out then it is deemed a house and not a sukkah. The holiday’s origins trace back to our wandering in the desert wilderness.   There we lived in temporary structures as we struggled to wed our freedom from Egypt to the commitments found in the Torah.   All journeys are filled with trial and difficulties.   All travels are moments of vulnerability.   This i

Sure It's Complicated

What follows is the sermon I just delivered on Yom Kippur morning.  Again I scheduled this to post prior to the start of the holiday.  The delivered version might differ slightly from the written word. A colleague writes her sermons in June and then prays that nothing new or extraordinary, or tragic for that matter, happens in the world forcing her to revise her erudite words or even discard a well-written sermon entirely. It is good therefore that I write my sermons much later. So now at this last possible moment I wish to offer a few words about contemporary events and what Judaism can offer us as guidance. I have one contention and several illustrations. I believe that as Jews we are called to improve the world, that we cannot turn a blind eye to the suffering and pain of others. While our first concern is to the pain of fellow Jews our Jewish heart must be stirred by concern for all human beings. All are created in God’s image and all are deserving of life. It is theref

Why We Pray

What follows is the sermon I just delivered on Yom Kippur evening.  I scheduled it to post prior to the start of the Yom Kippur holiday.   I begin with a familiar story. Once there was a man who lived in a town that was often flooded by the local river. On one occasion, as the waters began to rise the authorities urged residents to evacuate. The man refused. He wanted to stay in his home. He believed that he could ride out the storm. In addition he had an unshakable faith in God. As the waters reached the steps of his home, the police came by in a rescue vehicle and urged him to join them. He refused, saying, “God will provide.” The waters of course began to rise and fill the first floor of the house. Neighbors came by in a boat and again urged him to leave and travel to higher ground. He again refused saying from the second floor window, “God will rescue me.” Finally the waters rose so high that the man had to retreat to the roof. A Coast Guard helicopter hovered overhe

Yom Kippur

I have great admiration for Reed Hastings, the CEO of Netflix. Part of the reason is that Netflix is transforming how we watch and enjoy movies. I can watch all manner of films and TV whenever I want. There is an excellent collection of foreign movies as well, and especially Israeli cinema, to be found there. And now with the advent of streaming I can watch these films wherever I want. Still that is not the primary reason why I like Hastings. It is instead how he dealt with Qwikster. You may recall that in 2011 Netflix proposed dividing the company in two. Netflix would offer streaming and the new Qwikster would become the DVD by mail service. Hastings also advocated raising the price for these services. Thousands of angry emails poured in to the corporate offices. Nearly 800,000 subscribers dropped Netflix in the fourth quarter of 2011 alone. The stock price dropped from a high of $299 to $53. So what did Reed Hastings do? He publicly admitted his mistake. He apologized.

Learning from the Whirlwind

What follows is the sermon I delivered this Rosh Hashanah Morning. This was programmed to post prior to the start of the holiday and the delivered version will as always contain some minor changes, but for those who wish, the written text follows. By the time you are reading this I hope to say that the sermon was met with resounding nods of agreement and most importantly, a rekindled resolve to act.  If it stirred the pot then let it only be for good and in the hopes of building a better future together. Let us begin with a familiar biblical story. It is the story of Adam and Eve. According to the Torah, God created Adam from the earth and Eve from his rib. God placed them in the Garden of Eden with only one instruction. You can eat from any fruit or vegetable you want except those from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. You know the ending. What is the first thing they did? They ate. “Shira and Ari, we are going to leave you home alone tonight. You can watch whatever

Rosh Hashanah

Many have asked why the High Holidays occur so early this year. I can’t remember a time when they fell so close to Labor Day. In fact the first night of Hanukkah occurs on the same evening we will be gathering with family and friends to celebrate Thanksgiving. This will never happen again. So although the timing of our fall celebrations is very unusual there is an internal logic to our holiday cycle. The Jewish calendar is a combination of a lunar and solar calendar. Our secular calendar is solar and is 365 years long. The lunar year is 354 days. The secular calendar dictates the seasons. The Jewish holidays are tied to both history and the seasons. Sukkot for example commemorates our wandering in the wilderness as well as the fall harvest. If we only followed a lunar calendar then our year would lose 11 days relative to the solar calendar and then Sukkot would eventually occur in the summer and then winter and then spring until finally returning to its proper season.  W