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Showing posts from October, 2016

When the Student is the Teacher

In the Jewish tradition we read the concluding words of the Book of Deuteronomy, and then without skipping a beat open to the first chapter of Genesis. We read about Moses’ death and then in our next breath, the creation of the world. This is how we order our year. This is how we read our lives. Several years ago a close family friend died. Throughout his many years, Jerry served as a mentor. Recently his grandson, with whom I, as well as my son Ari, have now grown close, shared a surprising discovery. When he, and his family, searched through his grandfather’s library they came across a stack of letters, a pile of correspondence between Jerry and me. He scanned the letters to his computer and emailed them to me. There, these pages remained. Yesterday I began to read, and reread, the letters. Their meaning was unfurled... This post continues on The Wisdom Daily.

Five Lessons in Democracy

At last night's debate, and throughout the prior week, Donald Trump suggested that he would not accept the results of the upcoming election--that is I presume assuming that Hillary Clinton wins and he loses.  I have often believed, and taught, that the greatest lessons in our American democracy can be discovered in the concession speeches of those who lose.  They speak about the values we hold dear.  The victor speaks about grand promises, many of which go unfulfilled.  The losing candidate leans on the values that hold us together. And so in order to restore my faith in American democracy I reread those concession speeches--at least as far back as the 1996 election.  Here are the highlights, with some of my own commentary and of course rankings. 5. Bob Dole said in 1996: Let me say that I talked to President Clinton. We had a good visit. I congratulated him.  I have said repeatedly in this campaign that the president was my opponent not my enemy. And I wish him well and I p

Simhat Torah's Party

We are nearing the conclusion of the Tishrei marathon. We observed Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and very soon, Simhat Torah. We travel from personal introspection and repentance to fasting and the recounting of our many failings to the wandering and fragility of temporary booths to the joy and dancing of Simhat Torah. We celebrate the conclusion of the Torah reading cycle and its simultaneous beginning. On this day we begin the cycle all over again. We believe that everything we ever wanted to know is in this scroll. It is only perhaps a matter of reading it at a different angle if the wisdom is not immediately apparent. This is because all wisdom is contained in this book. That is our Jewish faith. This day is therefore cause for great celebration. Simhat Torah is the quintessential Jewish holiday. It is about dancing and singing. And these more than anything else are more the Jewish postures than the fasting and litany of sins on Yom Kippur. We are supposed to celebr

UNESCO's Every Grain of Sand

Elie Wiesel said: “[T]hen, too, there are the Palestinians to whose plight I am sensitive but whose methods I deplore. Violence and terrorism are not the answer. Something must be done about their suffering, and soon. “ Once again Palestinian methods diminish the justice of their cause. Terrorism continues. And then yesterday, the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) whose motto is “Building peace in the minds of men and women,” affirmed a biased anti-Israel, and antisemitic, statement about Jerusalem. In particular this statement, which was fashioned by Palestinian and Arab leaders, recognizes the Muslim connection to Jerusalem but is silent about the Jewish attachment to the holy city. It denies our historical connection to the Temple Mount.... This post continues on The Times of Israel.

Sacrifice, Courage and Healing

What follows is my Yom Kippur Morning sermon. On this Yom Kippur morning I wish to tell but one story. I hope that it offers insights into the meaning of being both an American and a Jew. I hope as well that it offers a measure of healing during these tumultuous and fractured times. It is the story of William Shemin. Here is his story. William Shemin was born in Bayonne, New Jersey on, October 14, 1896 to a Jewish family who had recently emigrated from Russia. During his teenage years, Shemin played semi-pro baseball for the Bayonne Sea Lions. He graduated from the New York State Ranger School in 1914, and went on to work as a forester in in the Adirondacks. After the United States entered World War I, Shemin enlisted in the Army and served in the 47th Infantry Division. On August 7, 1918, his unit battled the Germans in France. For those who may have forgotten their World War I history, that war was marked by soldiers charging out of their trenches at the enemy’s trenches.

Some Angry Prayers

What follows is my Yom Kippur Evening Sermon With the Cards knocked out of the post season I was not sure what to pray for this fall. Should I pray for the Mets to defeat the Giants? A Mets win would have certainly made a lot of people I care about really, really happy. Then I realized that if the Mets were to have defeated San Francisco (why not dear God!), the fourth game of the series against the Cubs—that is of course assuming that all of the prayers for the Mets to sweep in three games went unanswered—would have occurred this evening on Kol Nidre, and at Citi Field no less. So many of those whom I love would have been really, really happy but would have also been faced with an excruciating Sandy Koufax like dilemma. Kol Nidre Services or the Mets game? The religion of baseball or the tradition of our ancestors? What should a rabbi prayer for? As you know, I don’t have to answer that question until, we hope and pray, next year. Go Cards! Still the question rem

Yom Kippur's Particular Readings and Universal Prayers

The opening Torah reading and concluding Haftarah reading of these High Holidays offer a universal message to these particular Jewish days. Let me explain. In our congregation we read Genesis 21 on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. This story speaks of the birth of Isaac. It is read for several reasons. The opening line tells of how God remembers Sarah. Rosh Hashanah is known as the day of remembrance. We pray that God will remember us for life and for good. For many years Sarah longed for a child. God hears her prayers, and she conceives, at the age of 90, and gives birth to Isaac. It is through Isaac that the Jewish people trace their lineage. Thus we affirm that God will remember us and hear our prayers. The chapter concludes, however, with the story of Hagar and Ishmael. Now that Sarah has her own child she no longer wishes for her maidservant Hagar and Abraham’s son Ishmael to remain with them. She instructs Abraham to send them out to the desert. Abraham is distressed

Lessons from Unlikely Places

My inspiration for this High Holiday sermon derives from the fact that my congregation is celebrating Rosh Hashanah services in a church. Rather than bemoan this occasion I choose instead to ask, “What does this teach us?” Let’s talk about the Catholic Church. I don’t know what would have made me think about that. All kidding aside, what can we learn from where we are sitting on this day? Let’s ask, what are we supposed to learn from others and from those unlike ourselves? For answers to those questions I wish to journey back some 50 years. This year marks the 50th anniversary of Nostra Aetate. Nostra Aetate, is the Catholic Church’s document, issued during the Second Vatican Council under Pope John XXIII that opened the Catholic Church to other religions. It was officially called the Declaration on the Relation of the Catholic Church to Non-Christian Religions. It was promulgated on October 26, 1965. In many ways that document changed our world. In fact it led us to this