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Showing posts from May, 2015

Naso, Privilege and Desire

In ancient times we were divided by classes and tribes. In fact the reason why King David chose Jerusalem as the capital of our ancient land was because the city was ruled by no one tribe. It was the Washington, D.C. of ancient days. The Torah offers a record of these divisions. “All the Levites whom Moses, Aaron, and the chieftains of Israel recorded by the clans of their ancestral houses, from the age of thirty years up to the age of fifty, all who were subject to the duties of service and porterage relating to the Tent of Meeting…” (Numbers 4:46) The Levites were charged with attending to the sacrificial rituals. The Cohenim, priests, were the most privileged of this tribe. In a traditional synagogue the aliyas are still awarded by this division: Cohen, Levite and Israelite. And on the High Holidays the Cohenim rise to bless their congregation. These honors are not earned. They are a matter of birth. With the development of rabbinic Judaism, following the destruction of the

Memorial Day's Fallen

On Monday our nation will observe Memorial Day.  Its barbeques and beach parties belie the day’s somber theme.  Like the Shavuot that precedes it its meaning and import is forgotten.  Memorial Day is a day intended to remember and mourn those who were killed while serving our country, those who died defending the land we call home.   Among the many thousands I urge you to take these names into your hearts .  These are the names of the 50 American Jewish casualties of our wars since 9-11 and although these names are no more precious than the thousands of others casualties they hold a special place in our hearts as American Jews. In addition I commend this article about the Normandy Kaddish Project . My cousin and fellow Long Islander Alan Weinschel has made it his mission to photograph the 149 Jewish gravestones on Normandy Beach.  He has called us to remember these names on the Shabbat closest to the anniversary of D-Day.   May the many sacrifices we recall on this Memorial

Shavuot: The Torah's Many Faces and Multiple Voices

Saturday evening begins the holiday of Shavuot. It remains an orphan among Jewish holidays. Passover with its glorious seder is more compelling. Even Sukkot with its back to nature like pull offers more. The High Holidays with their grandeur and majesty beckon us to attend. Shavuot appears forgotten. And yet Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Could there be a greater theme? The moment of the giving of our Torah, zman matan torateinu, was an extraordinary event. “All the people saw the thunder and the lightning, the blare of the horn and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they fell back and stood at a distance.” (Exodus 20:15) It was so miraculous that the people saw what normally could only be heard. They saw thunder! I wonder. Do we still retreat from the Torah? Shavuot remains distant. The midrash suggests a cure. “All the people saw”—sounds of thunder and flashes of lightning. How many sounds could there have been, and how m


Last evening we hosted a program with StandwithUs , an educational organization deeply involved in combating BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) and antisemitism on the college campus.  Shahar Azani, Rabbi David Siegel and Professor Robin Charlow were incredible, outstanding speakers.  They contributed a great deal to our understanding of the issues as well as sharing their personal experiences.  I do however remain biased.  My favorite speaker was none other than Shira Moskowitz! Below is the text of her prepared remarks.  I hope that many find her words equally inspiring.  I hope my young students hear as well her call to action. It had been a month since resolution AR 3-050 had been brought before our Central Student Government (CSG). The resolution called for the University of Michigan to create a committee that would look into the ethics of the university’s investments. However, this resolution was inextricably tied to the BDS movement because the only companies it singled

Behar-Bechukotai, Nature's Fury and Blossoming Trees

This week’s Torah portion, Behar-Bechukotai, makes clear that the land of Israel is particularly dear. It is of course the holy land. This is why it alone is granted a sabbatical year. “When you enter the land that I assign to you, the land shall observe a sabbath of the Lord. Six years you may sow your field and six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in the yield. But in the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath of complete rest, a sabbath of the Lord: you shall not sow your field or prune your vineyard…” (Leviticus 25) One might therefore think, especially with the success of modern Zionism, that only the land of Israel is holy. But in fact all lands are sacred. The earth, the very ground beneath our feet, must be held dear. Our blessings do not say, for example, “Blessed are You Adonai our God Ruler of the universe, creator of the fruit of Israel,” but instead “the fruit of the earth—borei pri ha-adamah.” The Psalms declare, in a decidedly universal tone, “Th

Emor, Lag B'Omer and Playlists

Before leaving on a recent long car ride I downloaded a Spotify playlist: “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” The journey began with Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” We pulled into our driveway to “The House of the Rising Sun.” In between we listened and debated the choices. I could have done without Johnny Cash but I appreciated the iconic choice. The B-52’s “Love Shack” restored memories of late evenings dancing and partying. I recalled: Prince really is that good. And it really did begin with Elvis. The mileage remained the same. The trip was lengthened by three construction delays. 12 hours door to door. In the end the count was 137 songs to home. The playlist did not of course change the length of the ride. It did however transform the experience. “And from the day on which you bring the omer (sheaf) of elevation offering—the day after the Sabbath—you shall count off seven weeks. They must be complete: you must count until the day after the seventh week—fifty d

"Primary Wonder"

I wandered to the beach for lunch, accompanied by Denise Levertov and her poems. I discovered: Days pass when I forget the mystery. Problems insoluble and problems offering their own ignored solutions jostle for my attention, they crowd its antechamber along with a host of diversions, my courtier, wearing their colored clothes; caps and bells.                                                           And then once more the quiet mystery is present to me, the throng's clamor recedes: the mystery that there is anything, anything at all, let alone cosmos, joy, memory, everything, rather than void: and that, O Lord, Creator, Hallowed One, You still, hour by hour sustain it. (Sands of the Well) I looked up... Creator! Hallowed One! Days pass when I forget the mystery...

Look at Those Jews!

Below are my remarks from our annual fundraiser. I want to begin by thanking everyone for being here. You did not have to come tonight and support your synagogue. Yet you chose to do so. Thank you. In fact in this day and age belonging to a synagogue, participating in Jewish life can no longer be assumed. I recognize that your choice remains unique. I am grateful for your devotion. I am thankful for your involvement.... To reflect on the meaning of this hour, and the import of our merger, I wish to share a story. Years ago, when Susie and I were still in rabbinical school, we were the unit heads for a newly created six week summer program for 10th graders at Jacobs Camp in Utica Mississippi. Part of the program was taking these Southern Jewish kids on two trips. On one we took them on their first trip to the big city of Atlanta and to this new 24 hour news place called CNN and also for many of them to their first major league baseball game. The Braves lost in extra innings