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Showing posts from November, 2013

Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and Dual Devotions

This evening begins the holiday of Hanukkah. Tomorrow is of course when we will gather for Thanksgiving. Although these holidays appear worlds (and lands) apart, they are in fact connected by history and theme. First a reminder about Hanukkah. Forgive the abbreviated summary. During the second century B.C.E. Antiochus Epiphanes, the Syrian-Greek ruler over the land of Israel, made it increasingly difficult for Jews to observe Judaism. The Maccabees battled against his mighty army and eventually defeated the Syrian-Greeks. They found the Temple in Jerusalem desecrated and so declared an eight-day dedication ceremony. Hanukkah means dedication. According to later rabbinic writings they found there in the Temple only enough oil to last for one day but it miraculously lasted for all eight days. Their initial reason for eight days had nothing to do with the miracle of oil. So why did they declare an eight-day festival? It was because the first and second Temples were dedicate

Vayeshev and Settling Down

The recently released “Portrait of Jewish Americans” by the Pew Research Center offered many insights into the American Jewish community and in particular Jewish identity and affiliation. Most Jewish leaders and organizations have spent the past weeks decrying its results. Intermarriage rates have increased. Affiliation with synagogues has decreased. Religious sentiments have diminished. Most see in these statistics cause for alarm. We would be better served focusing on the bright notes found in the study. “More than nine in ten Jews (94%) agree they are proud to be Jewish. Three quarters (75%) say they have a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people.” Jewish leaders however appear only able to speak about the negatives rather than these positives. I wonder if the problem lies not in American Jews but in the institutions we have constructed. Yesterday’s synagogues were built around the premise that this is where Jews can best assert their Jewish identity. The fact

Vayishlach and Conquering Fears

The Hasidic rabbi, Nachman of Bratslav, used to say: “The whole world is a narrow bridge. The essence is to be unafraid.” And yet we read of our patriarch: “And Jacob was greatly frightened.” (Genesis 32:8) Fear is reasonable. It is to be expected. There is plenty about which to be frightened. There are our fears of terrorism and war, of sickness and disease, of the weather and its calamities. (Our hearts are joined in sorrow for those in the Philippines suffering from Typhoon Haiyan.) For most these fears give us pause. They offer us hesitation. Before setting out, we ask, “Is it worth the risk?” Most of the time we are able to forge ahead, mustering the necessary courage to overcome our fears. For others these fears become incapacitating. These people never venture far outside of their comfort zone. They stay close to home for fear of dangers, both real and imagined. We learn that even Jacob was afraid. When facing challenges, when staring at crisis, when lo

Veterans Day

In honor of our veterans, a poem by Alden Solovy. To the Soldier, To the Veteran These things I do not know: The sound of a bullet. The power of a blast. The blood of a comrade. The depth of your wound. The terror at midnight. The dread at dawn. Your fear or your pain. These things I know: The sound of your honor. The power of your courage. The blood of your wound. The depth of your strength. The terror that binds you. The dread that remains. Your dignity and your valor. For these things we pray: The sound of your laughter. The power of your voice. The blood of your yearning. The depth of your healing. The joy that frees you. The hope that remains. Your wholeness and your love. © 2013 Alden Solovy and . All rights reserved. This poem is a beautiful testament to our soldiers' sacrifice and an important reflection of what should be our enduring debt.  Take today's additional moments to pause and remember those who have fought

Vayetzei and Climbing to Heaven

“Jacob had a dream; a ladder was set on the ground and its top reached to the heavens, and angels of God were going up and down on it. And the Lord was standing beside him and said, ‘I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will give to you and to your offspring…’” (Genesis 28:12-13) Our forefather Jacob is on the run. He comes to a certain place and rests there for the night. He dreams of a ladder reaching to heaven. He awakens and exclaims, “Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16) He then names the place Beth El, the house of God, the gateway to heaven. Beth El is the most often repeated place in the Bible, second only to Jerusalem. How many synagogues today are also called by this name? Here we learn of how it came to be called this. Beth El gains its name because of Jacob’s experience. First comes Jacob’s experience of God and then follows the name. Yet more often