Category Archives: Yom Kippur

Kol Nidre Sermon 10 Tishre 5773

BI-TWT Kol Nidre Sermon

September 25, 2012 – 10 Tishre 5773

 I do not get to go to the movies very often – and lately, Harry and I have been visiting the library and selecting films that we missed during their first-run status. We had heard much about the film Avatar – as well as all the hoopla about the super-advanced technology used to film it and the 3-D aspect that makes the figures jump off the screen… It was time to see it – and we did… on our very not-up-to-date television and without the 3-D glasses.  And despite the absence of super-technology – or maybe because of it – I was very moved by this movie and knew that it would make its way into one of my sermons.  And so it has.

As it came out a while ago, a short synopsis of the of the film is in order: Avatar tells the story of Pandora, a distant moon in the year 2154 where there is a conflict between human colonialists of the Crusher Corporation, who are mining Pandora’s resources because they have exhausted earth’s, and the indigenous inhabitants called the Na’vi, who are trying to expel the foreigners.

The film follows Jake Sully, a former marine who is paralyzed during combat on Earth. His twin brother was working for the Avatar Program on Pandora which constructed genetically engineered human-Na’vi hybrids that allow the humans to control these “avatars” with their minds while their own bodies sleep. An avatar can only be controlled by a person who shares its unique genetic material and when Sully’s twin brother dies, he is asked to take his place and join the squad, as he is the only one who has the genetic make-up to control that particular avatar.

On his first assignment, Jake’s avatar gets lost and is attacked by a gang of dangerous creatures. It looks like he might not make it until he is saved by a female Na’vi named Neytiri. While her people fear outsiders, Neytiri feels like there is something different about Jake – something special. So she takes him to the Na’vi Hometree, the spiritual and physical home of her clan. The Na’vi then decide to teach Jake about their culture.

However, once back at his base, Jake is ordered by Colonel Miles Quaritch to initiate a diplomatic mission, in order to obtain the trust of the Na’vi tribe and is given three months to convince them to abandon their Hometree, which sits above a large deposit of unobtainium – the valuable substance that the humans are mining. [And, as you can tell from its name, it is fairly unobtainable.]  As Jake learns the way of the Na’vi, he gradually finds himself caught between the military-industrial forces of Earth and a new found love for his adopted home and people. In fact, Jake is successfully initiated into the tribe after passing their rites of passage to become a man of the Na’vi .

At the end of Jake’s three months, because he has not convinced the Na’vi to abandon Hometree, Colonel Quaritch leads a military campaign and destroys the Na’vi’s beloved home. The Na’vi are devastated and when they find out that Jake knew of the plan, they are furious and abandon him. Faced with a decision of fighting with his race, the people who are destroying Pandora and wiping out the Na’vi, or his newfound tribe whom he has come to love, he chooses the Na’vi and leads them in a revolt against Colonel Quaritch. With the help of the Na’vi, the other tribes on Pandora, and even all of the Pandorian wildlife, Jake is successful in fending off the attack and sending the human mission home.

And, finally, Jake decides that he has become more Na’vi than human, so he agrees to have his soul transplanted from his human body into his Na’vi avatar at the “holy” Tree of Souls. As in all good Hollywood films, Jake ends up marrying Neytiri, the Na’vi princess who discovered him three months prior.

Yes, it’s very Hollywood.  But there are some subtle – and not so subtle – themes that are quite moving.  Indeed, it shouldn’t escape us that as one of those rare films meant to be watched ideally in 3-D, it literally begs to be viewed in every dimension, with keener vision and deeper understanding. And, indeed, as we examine certain aspects of the movie, the themes of vision, understanding and community come into focus.


The name of the heroic people who live in the Garden-of-Eden-like moon of Pandora is Na’vi. Interestingly, the Hebrew word navi means prophet; but not in the sense of prophet able to predict the future. The root word navi really means seer, someone with the capacity to see more than others. And that is exactly the point of the story.

With all the technological prowess of the earthly invaders, the humans who came to despoil this new-found planet simply could not see – they did not have the vision; they could not see what the far simpler and “less civilized” inhabitants recognized so clearly.  The inhabitants of Pandora lived together in a balanced system – a balanced eco-system – with their environment.  Their Hometree was indeed their Tree of Life, the center of their system.  James Cameron, the movie’s director, explained that he saw his movie as a metaphor for our presence here on our own planet Earth. “We’re here, we’re big, we’ve got the guns, we’ve got the technology, we’ve got the brains; we therefore are entitled to every thing on this planet and beyond. But… that’s not how it works, and we’re going to find out the hard way if we don’t wise up and start seeking a life that’s in balance with the natural cycles of life on earth.”


Along with vision, comes understanding – a deeper understanding of one’s surroundings and those who are in it.

The Na’vi, when they are in a total reciprocal relationship with someone, will say “I see you.” This is a deep type of seeing, the type that the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber would have called an “I-Thou” relationship and explicitly makes the act of seeing into a spiritual discipline. For Pandora’s people, the Na’vi, these words “I see you” express what, in Hebrew is “yode’a,” an interactive “knowing” that is emotional, intellectual, physical, sexual, and spiritual all at once. 

In contrast, the invading business and military presence is completely blind to the presence of others – seeing only their needs and making it very evident that when we do not truly see another, when another is seen only as “other,” [Martin Buber would call that kind of relationship “I-It”] – we will indeed become destructive toward them.

Dr. Michael Rand, a member of our congregation and professor of Communications at Cleveland State University, focuses on this “I-It” relationship in his documentary film “Defining Race.”  When a person (or a group of people) is seen as “other” (as not human) that enables the haters, the bigots, the Nazis – to negate the humanity of that person or group.  And in their disregard of the humanity of that person (or group of people), they in turn, think nothing about destroying that person (or group of people).


         With true vision comes an awareness of, an appreciation of, and an understanding of one’s surroundings.  And with this larger, fuller understanding comes a true sense of community.  For the Na’vi, this sense of community is found in the sense of interconnectedness they feel with their environment, with each other, and with their goddess – Eywa – all are truly part of the Pandoran web of life.

Set against the uber-technology of the earthly invaders, the Na’vi appear to have no technological resources.  But that is not true.  They have a technology, but it is not mechanical. It is organic. The Pandoran ecology forms a vast neural network spanning the entire lunar surface into which the Na’vi and other creatures can connect.

The biological fringes with which they connect to each other are living, pulsating versions of the tzitziot, the fringes on the corners of the tallit.  Rabbi Arthur Waskow describes them as “… the technology of organic intimacy.” There is even a point in the film when one of the Crusher Corporation’s engineers sees, in an uncharacteristic moment of deep vision, that their biological fringes make possible a “global network.”

I must admit, when I saw these fringes and how they were used to connect to fellow Na’vi-im, and to the creatures they rode upon, and to the Tree of Souls to connect to their goddess – I saw tzitzit. Through their fringes they made their connections, they made their community.  Through our fringes, through our tzitzit, we, too, have the spiritual technology to make connections – to each other, to our environment, and to the Holy Presence in our lives.

In the book of Numbers (chapter 15, verses 37-41), we are instructed to make tzitzit on the corners of our garments and to look at – to see – the tzitzit and be reminded of what we are called upon to do.

Traditionally, the collective number of strands and knots of the four tzitzit on our prayer shawl equals 613, the traditional number of mitzvot – of holy actions that connect us to each other, to our world, and to God.

When we visit the sick, we are connecting to each other through the mitzvah of bikkur holim.

When we recycle and re-use, we are connecting to our world through the mitzvah of baal taschhit, in helping to sustain our planet.

When we light Shabbat candles, when we hang the mezuzah on our doorpost, when we study Torah – we are connecting to the Holy Presence in our lives through the mitzvot of l’hadlik ner shel Shabbat, lichbo’ah mezuzah, and la’asok b’divrei Torah.

Am I asking you to take on all 613?  No.  It would be impossible, anyway, since many of the mitzvoth have to do with the Temple and the ritual of offerings and sacrifices.

I am not talking about those.

The English translation of Yom Kippur is “Day of Atonement.”  The word “Atonement” can also be read as “at one-ment”… and, indeed, that is what we are to seek on this day… on this day and throughout the coming year.  As we think of the tzitzit as symbolizing the mitzvot – the holy actions in our lives – they can provide us with the spiritual technology to truly be at-one with each other, with our world, and with the divine.  Our goal is to connect broadly and deeply, by seeking out what is truly important in our lives.

Although many of us recognize the word avatar as a representation of the self in computer games (a “mini-me,” so to speak), in fact the term originates in Hindu mythology. An avatar is a personification or an embodiment of a divine principle. 

So, let us take Avatar’s themes to heart and make the conscious effort:

  • to see and appreciate each other and the world around us,
  • to more deeply understand each other, and
  • to connect with each other and build our community in a richer and more meaningful way… in a holy way.

Then, truly, each of us will embody the divine.

L’Shanah Tovah u’Metukhah Tikateivu v’ Chotmeinu – May we all be written and sealed for a good and sweet year.


A Sermon Regarding Anti-Semitism


September 29, 2011

Rabbi Dr. Ronald L. Androphy

East Meadow Jewish Center

         If it were not for a judge’s ruling, on Tuesday, November 8th, the citizens of San Francisco would be going to the polls to vote on a referendum to ban the practice of circumcision.

We may ridicule this attempt to outlaw a ritual that is at the very core of Judaism.  We may laughingly dismiss the anti-circumcision ban as being so “left coast,” thinking, “It is, after all, San Francisco.”  We may have felt certain that the referendum would have been defeated; we may have had faith that even if it were enacted the circumcision ban would be ruled unconstitutional by a court.

But, my friends, let us not be so smug in our assumptions, for San Francisco is not the only locale where circumcision is being condemned, nor is circumcision the only Jewish practice that is being challenged.  At this very moment the Netherlands is considering whether to ban shechitah, the traditional Jewish method of slaughtering animals for kosher food.  If passed, Holland will join Switzerland, Norway, and Sweden in banning the practice.  At this very moment, similar anti- shechitah campaigns are underway in Australia, New Zealand, England, and Denmark.  And lest you think that this type of campaign takes place only overseas, an anti-shechitah initiative was recently ruled off the ballot in Washington state.

As those of you who have been with me for the past twenty-eight years are keenly aware, I am not, nor have I been, a person or a rabbi who sees anti-Semitism lurking behind every tree.  In fact, I have delivered sermons, even on the High Holy Days, in which I have declared that anti-Semitism is no longer a major challenge or issue for us Jews, and should not consume a tremendous amount of American Jewry’s energy or resources.  I have suggested that the fact that almost every one of the Ivy League colleges and universities and their Sisters – schools that not so long ago placed quotas on the number of Jewish students they would accept – have had Jewish presidents or deans of their constituent schools; the fact that most Gentile families do not oppose their children’s marrying a Jew; and the fact that few Fortune 500 businesses are Jew-less – all demonstrate that anti-Semitism has virtually been vanquished.

Well, the High Holy Days are the occasion on which we admit our mistakes.  So let me admit my error: Anti-Semitism is not dead; rather it has reemerged in a particularly insidious form: this contemporary anti-Semitism is not an attempt to kill Jews. No; understand it for what it is:  Today’s anti-Semitism is an attempt to delegitimize Judaism.  That’s right: it is an attempt – curiously not primarily from the right, but equally, and I might even add “especially,” from the left – to delegitimize our Jewish religion.

Don’t believe me?  Let’s examine the San Francisco referendum.  Those who were proposing the ban claim that circumcision is a form of mutilation over which the victim, in our case the eight-day old boy, has no say.  They claim that it is unfair to inflict such permanent damage on a child who has not reached the age of consent.  But let me ask a question:  why are these people fighting only circumcision?  Why don’t they seek to abolish, for example, the piercing of young children’s body parts?  I am certain you have seen babies who have had their ears pierced.  Now you might argue that ear piercing is reversible in that a person can let the holes fill in.  Not always.  And I am sure you have seen young children with other parts of their body pierced, obviously before the age of legal consent.  Why not ban that?  You know, we live in an age in which tattooing has become the rage.  How many men and women did you see this past summer — when people wear shorts, and short-sleeve shirts or tank-tops — sporting tattoos on one part of their body or another?  How many times have you seen men and women who look like walking cartoons with their arms and legs almost fully tattooed?  I have also seen children with tattoos, children far below the age of legal consent, and I have a feeling that there are more cases in San Francisco than there are on Long Island, and despite laser abrasion, tattoos are still extremely difficult to remove.  Why don’t the anti-circumcision supporters try to abolish child tattooing and/or child piercings?  I’ll tell you why: because their goal is to delegitimize Judaism.

Need further proof? – Look at the rhetoric they use.  They employ words like “mutilation,” barbaric,” and “child abuse” to describe circumcision.  These are words of delegitimization.  Is anyone here in favor of mutilation? barbarism? child abuse?  Of course not.  What they fail to mention is that a brit milah, a circumcision performed by a skilled mohel, is not barbaric at all; it is invariably quick and safe.  While I am not going to tell you that a bris is painless, I doubt very much if any of us males remembers his bris or was irreparably harmed by it.

As all of us know, brit milah is one of the foundational mitzvot of our Jewish religion.  Every Jewish family knows that circumcising our infant males at the age of eight days is what we Jews do; it is constitutive of being Jewish.  That is why bris is probably the most observed Jewish ritual, even amongst unreligious or non-observant Jews.  A Jewish boy without a bris, while still Jewish, is an incomplete Jew; he always stands in need of repair.  A bris is the hallmark of male Jewish identity; it is the quintessential symbol of male Jewishness.  That is why throughout history Jews have fought and sacrificed their lives in order to circumcise their young.

And what about the anti-kosher slaughter campaigns?  Shechitah, the traditional Jewish method of killing an animal in a kosher manner, reflects the Jewish concern for what is called in Hebrew tsa-ar baalay chaim — not causing pain to an animal.  In the hands of a skilled shochet, using the required razor-sharp knife, an animal is killed almost instantaneously, and virtually painlessly.  When I was in rabbinical school, I saw kosher slaughter performed.  I was as close to the animal as I am to the people seated in the third row.  The shochet drew his long, sharp knife across the cow’s neck, there was a massive outpouring of blood, and, almost instantaneously, the animal was dead.  No lowing, no contortions of the animal’s face, no screaming; the animal didn’t even blink its eyes.

What the anti-shechitah movement is campaigning for is to require that all animals be stunned, either electrically or percussively, prior to slaughter.  Supposedly, this causes the animal less pain, but I cannot imagine that being shocked with electricity or being smashed on the skull with a high-powered pneumatic device, is painless for the animal.  From the kosher standpoint, stunning is problematic because it causes coagulation of the blood, and prevents its free flow, as is required.

By banning kosher slaughter, these people are undermining one of our cardinal Jewish observances.  Whether you personally keep kosher or not, you must be concerned that attempts are being made to ban a traditional Jewish practice, a ritual that has been observed by our people for thousands of years.  And, again, the opposers of kosher slaughter are using the language of delegitimization: they call shechitah “cruel,” “barbaric,” “inhumane,” etc.  And who is in favor of anything “cruel,” “barbaric,” or “inhumane?”

Switzerland first enacted its anti-shechitah ban in order to keep Jews out of the country.  Once Jews began fleeing Russia and Poland in the face of pogroms, Switzerland did not want to be inundated with what they considered to be backwards, dirty Jews. So it passed laws to prohibit kosher slaughter so that Jews would not immigrate to Switzerland.  See, even in the 1890s the Swiss did not want us, a situation that would be repeated during the Holocaust.   But in Europe today the anti-Semitic, anti-kosher slaughter campaign is more devious.  The European Union is considering a requirement that all meat bear a label indicating whether an animal was stunned before slaughter.  Obviously, kosher-killed meat would not bear such a stamp; some treyf meat would, some would not.  Sounds harmless, no? But here’s the insidious part: what would happen next is that there would be a campaign to pressure stores to carry only meat that was stunned prior to slaughter, and/or to boycott meat that was not derived from animals that were stunned.  Sounds relatively benign, right?  But, as you probably know, only the front quarters of an animal are koshered in the United States and Europe; the hind quarters are sold to non-kosher meat packing companies.  This helps keep the price of kosher meat lower than it would otherwise be. But imagine that under pressure from the anti-shechitah movement, stores would no longer buy meat that came from the hind quarters of kosher-killed animals.  The price of kosher meat would at least double or triple, rendering keeping kosher extremely difficult.

And the attempt to delegitimize Judaism does not end with bris and shechitah.  It even goes to the very heart of Judaism.  As all of you know, I have earned a doctorate in Bible.  Those of you who took a Bible course in college undoubtedly learned about the Documentary Hypothesis, the theory, enunciated in its clearest form over 120 years ago by the German Protestant scholar, Julius Wellhausen.  This theory suggests that the Torah is not a monolithic text, but rather an edited book comprised of four different strands written over a period of approximately 500 years.  As a Bible scholar, I can tell you that much of the Documentary Hypothesis is beneficial for the study of the Bible, and much of it is simply wrong and is no longer accepted in the realm of modern Bible study.  Today, however, an even more daring theory has gained considerable acceptance: this minimalist hypothesis claims that none of the Bible was written before the Persian Period. What this theory suggests is that there never was an Israelite/Jewish presence in the land of Canaan/Israel prior to the fifth century B.C.E.  In other words, there was no Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; no Moses and Exodus; no Joshua and Conquest; no King Saul, David, and Solomon; no Kingdom of Judah or Kingdom of Israel.  Its more radical expression denies the historicity of such great prophets as Elijah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Micah, and Jeremiah.  While I am not a Biblical fundamentalist, while I do not believe that everything the Bible records occurred exactly as stated, while I realize that the texts and stories of the Bible were subject to the some of the same forces of transmission and story-telling that characterize all literature, nonetheless, I maintain that substantial evidence – archaeological, linguistic, etc., — supports much of the Bible.  Do you realize what this theory – the product of European universities – means for us Jews?  It totally delegitimizes our religion; it totally delegitimizes our claim to the Land of Israel.  It says that the Jewish religion is a sham, and that we Jews have no right to the Land of Israel.

Which leads me to the most concentrated attack against the Jewish people, and that is the attempt to delegitimize the State of Israel.  And, my friends, at this point the attacks against Israel – especially in Europe, but also here in the United States – go far beyond demanding that Israel surrender the West Bank and Golan Heights. These attacks deny that Israel has any right to exist as a Jewish state.  In other words, these assaults delegitimize Israel.  Israel, they claim, has no right to exist – not within the 1947 Partition borders, not within the 1949 armistice borders (which are the pre-Six Day War borders), and certainly not within Israel’s current borders.  They would argue that the Jewish State of Israel should be erased.  Just look at the boycotts against Israeli products that have been organized around the world.  Until recently these embargos were directed only against products that emanated from the West Bank, Golan, or Gaza.  More recently, however, the sanctions have involved a boycott of all products made in Israel, no matter whether those items derive from the West Bank, etc., or whether those Israeli products are produced within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.  Some of these boycotts have been successful in Europe (witness the recent closing of the Ahava store in London), some have failed on college campuses here in this country – but almost all of these boycotts today unjustifiably equate Israel with South Africa of the apartheid era, and just as many people refused to buy goods from South Africa, so, according to these anti-Zionists, should people boycott Israeli products.  And these attempts to delegitimize Israel will only become more pronounced and more vociferous with last week’s appearance by Mahmoud Abbas before the United Nations seeking the UN’s recognition of a Palestinian State.

As all of us know from seeing the article that has circulated on the internet, if a person boycotts Israeli products, he/she will have to give up his smartphone, her computer, etc., since all of these technological devices were invented in Israel.  Such a person would also have to refuse many forms of medical treatment since many medical devices and pharmaceuticals were developed in Israel. Nonetheless, these Israel delegitimizers should have all of us worried.  With the Palestinians about to proclaim unilaterally a Palestinian State, these delegitimizers will make Israel’s already tenuous standing in such international forums as the United Nations even more unstable.  Israel’s existence as we know it is very much in the balance.

So what do we have here?  We have an attempt to delegitimize bris, the basic Jewish symbol of identification for males; a challenge to the legitimacy of shechitah, the indispensible method of eating kosher meat; the denial of the sacredness and basic historicity of our Bible, the foundation of everything we Jews hold sacred – our religion, our rituals, our morals and ethics, our history, our homeland; and a massive campaign to deny Israel’s right to exist as an independent Jewish state.        So what is left?  Not much, and that’s the whole point.  By delegitimizing much of what is Jewish, these modern anti-Semites do not intend to kill us physically; they are out to destroy us spiritually and to rob of us all Jewish distinctiveness.

And this attack against us is not coming from its usual sources: right-wing, super-nationalistic groups like the skinheads and neo-Nazis.  These attacks against Jewish individuality are coming from the academic and political left.

I am certain that most of us here today, including me, consider ourselves liberal to one degree or another, though I am well aware that here on Long Island there is a tendency for former liberals to magically transform into conservatives.  Nonetheless, those of us who view ourselves as liberal must realize that liberalism today, at least in its academic form, has changed radically.  No longer is liberalism about supporting rights of all people, like fighting against discrimination and supporting liberalization of immigration laws, and the like. Academic liberalism today basically works toward the elimination of all distinctions amongst people, especially those associated with First World groups like Jews, and in its political forms its goal is the elimination (which is a polite word for “destruction”) of all supposedly bourgeois societies.  It does so by branding a group’s distinctive practices as “barbaric,” and its society as “evil.”  And since we Jews are one of the most distinctive ethnic/religious groups, and since these delegitimizers know that Jewish rituals and our Bible are major factors in our distinctiveness, they label our practices “barbaric,” and question the validity of our sacred texts.  And since the State of Israel has been one of the most successful countries on the face of this earth in terms of economy, technology, education, social services, and integrating immigrants; and since Israel does exert authority over more than a million Arabs on land that these groups erroneously consider Arab land, the State of Israel is vilified and its legitimacy denied.

That modern academic liberalism is the epitome of hypocrisy is manifest in a phenomenon that occurs on many college campuses, an action that defies logic.  As you probably know, Israel is frequently maligned on college campuses, and pro-Israel speakers are commonly heckled and prevented from speaking, even though a university campus is supposed to be a bastion of free speech.  But the ludicrousness goes beyond that.  Isn’t it farcical that many feminist groups on college campuses have issued anti-Israel resolutions and taken anti-Israel, pro-Arab stances?  Something is wrong here.  How free exactly are women in Arab countries?  In many they cannot vote.  In some they are not allowed to drive a car.  In all Arab countries they are legally subservient to their husbands, fathers, and brothers.  How many Arab women have been murdered in honor killings by male members of their very own families?  Yet, these women’s groups on campus, which include many Jews, incidentally, praise the Palestinians and condemn Israel, the very country in which women have more rights, have achieved more equality, and have attained the highest levels of success than in any other country in the Middle East or in the rest of the world, for that matter.  Let me ask a question: would any woman here today want to live in an Arab country?

Or what about gay and lesbian groups on college campuses that have denounced Israel and proclaimed their solidarity with the Arabs, or those GLBT groups that have prevented Israeli representatives from marching in gay pride parades in Europe?  How can they condemn Israel and voice support for the Palestinians and Arabs when homosexuals have been executed in Iran and other Arab countries, have been maimed and imprisoned in others, and have been victims of, for lack of a better term, embarrassment killings in the Palestinian controlled areas?  Do you know that many Palestinian homosexuals flee their homes in the West Bank or Gaza, and settle where? – In Israel, which takes a live and let live attitude towards GLBT people and hosts one of the most popular gay pride parades in Tel Aviv.   I would love to ask the members of these college LGBT organizations if they would want to live as open, active homosexuals in any Arab country; somehow I doubt that they would. Yet, the delegitimization of Israel and anything Jewish is so rampant that it causes these activist groups to endorse ridiculous positions that fly in the face of the very principles for which they were created.  That’s how deep and pernicious this anti-Israel, anti-Jewish campaign has become.

My friends, these modern anti-Semites are out to deny the validity of everything we Jews hold sacred: our Bible, our religious traditions, our Jewish way of life, and our ancestral homeland.  It is not that they are out to kill us; instead, they want to destroy us spiritually, they want to destroy us religiously, they want to destroy us politically.  They want to obliterate everything that is unique about the Jewish people.

And we must not let that happen.

Those of you who have been here over the years know exactly in what direction this sermon is heading.  You can probably guess – correctly – that I am going to suggest that the way we counter this modern anti-Semitism that seeks to deprive us of our uniqueness and our identity is through greater devotion to Judaism; more observance of Jewish laws, rituals, practices, and traditions; stronger determination to conduct our lives according to Jewish morals, ethics, and values; and greater allegiance to the State of Israel.

Specifically, if bris is under attack – we make sure that we circumcise our male children.  If attempts are being made to outlaw the traditional Jewish method of slaughter – we keep kosher.  If the validity of our Bible is challenged – we both study and live by the Bible.  If the very existence of the State of Israel is questioned and threatened – we increase our support for Israel, through visits, through financial donations, and through political activism.  If Jewish uniqueness is derided – we celebrate our uniqueness.

All of us here today must decide what Jewish course of action we want to undertake this year.  All of us here today must decide what Jewish rituals, traditions, and observances we are willing to assume this year.  All of us here today must decide on those Jewish values and ethics by which to live this year. All of us here today must decide on how we will demonstrate our support for the State of Israel and the Jewish people this year.  All of us here today must decide how we will demonstrate our support for the synagogue and the Jewish community this year.  And every person here today must decide on how he/she will express through ongoing deed and action his/her uniqueness as a Jew.

If we fail to engage in any of these actions, then we will hand a victory to these modern anti-Semites who seek our delegitimization, and, trust me,  Judaism will become a bastard religion, our Bible will be viewed as a forgery, and Israel will become even more of a pariah state, God forbid.

One final thought:  as a Rabbi, I do not want anti-Semites to define how I express my Judaism.  Yes, I have just asked you to assume greater Jewish commitment and identity in the coming year in the face of the multitudinous attempts to delegitimize much of what is Jewish.  But that should not be the only reason we embark upon a more intense Jewish way of life.  We must do so primarily because it is the right course of action to undertake, and because it can add tremendous meaning and significance to our lives.

Remember: it has been the Jewish willingness to be distinct and unique that has not only molded us into the extraordinary people we are as individuals and as a people; through our distinctiveness and our uniqueness we Jews have contributed disproportionately to the betterment of the entire world, the world whose creation we celebrate this day.

I call upon each and every one of you: do your share so that עם ישראל חי  — the Jewish people continues to exist!

Shana Tova.

When Hatred Becomes the Core Value

Yom Kippur Morning 2012/5773

When Hatred Becomes the Core Value

I am proud to be your Rabbi.  I am proud to be an Israeli.  I am proud to be a Jew.  I am proud to be a Rodefet Shalom v’tzedek… one who at her core pursues, teaches and insists upon peace and justice.  The essence of Yom Kippur is exactly that.  It is the opportunity for each of us to do an honest accounting of where we are and what our deeds have been…and to commit to and insist upon the changes necessary to protect, sustain and prioritize “sacred living”.

Atonement is reaching for the sacred.  True atonement requires a stubborn refusal to succumb to or make excuses for or tolerate evil.

Three weeks ago during the days of Elul, the period of heightened awareness leading up to these days of Awe… as I prepared my Shabbat Sermon on Parashat Shoftim, the portion named “Judges”, I was inspired by the words of Deuteronomy 16:20 Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof; justice justice you shall surely pursue.  And as the teaching of the weekly Torah portion came into focus so did the breaking news from Israeli newspapers that in downtown Jerusalem, Tzion Square, a late night hangout for young people, 10-15 Jewish youth, their ages ranging from 13-19, beat a 17 year old East Jerusalem teenager Jamal Julani until he was unconscious.

What can I tell you, my Congregation.  How do we make sense of this heinous act?  Jamal was beaten almost to death…by a group of Jewish Israeli teens, for no other reason than because he was Arab.  The attack was unprovoked.  He was set upon by with a ferocity and hatred and willingness to kill.  But as if that is not devastating enough, a few dozen other young people stood by and watched without intervening.

In the aftermath of the incident eight young Israeli’s were arrested, two of them girls.  After his arrest a 13 year old countered: “he could die for all I care he is an Arab.”  The Times of Israel ran an article entitled “The Kids are not okay and neither are their parents”.  The discourse evolving from Israel described not an aberrant tragic incident but rather a world view that has tragically become tolerated.

Two weeks ago Germany was shaken by a series of anti-Semitic incidents.  In one incident a Rabbi wearing a kippah was approached by several youths who asked him if he was a Jew.  When he answered in the affirmative they attacked and beat him.  Horrendous, intolerable… the Rabbi was beaten…by a group of German teens, for no other reason than because he was Jew.

Tzedek Tzedek tirdof , the word for Justice appears twice in succession.  Wanting justice for ourselves, that is simple.  The repetition of the word suggests implicit reciprocity; justice must be assured for the other as well.  The phrase Tirdof is the assurance, we will surely pursue.

Justice Justice you shall pursue.  Do not pervert justice.  Do not oppress your neighbor.  Love the Stranger as Yourself.  More than any other mitzvah commanded in the Torah, 36 times we are implored to love the other.  Thirty six times because when we really care for the other, then we forge justice.

It is too easy to hear these stories and point a finger at the anti-semitism that rears its ugly head in Germany.  It is too easy to point at the Arab communities and remind ourselves that they teach violence and hatred to their children.  But ultimately, the only way forward is for us to ask ourselves, what are we teaching our children.  What message do we justify in our hearts.  Are we ourselves harboring, justifying and tolerating racism?  What action do we take in this world that we live?  There is only justice for us when we assure justice for the other.

Let me tell you what followed in Germany.  A kippah campaign was launched in response to the unprovoked attack on the Rabbi.  Prominent German actors and politicians were asked to and elected to wear a kippah in an act of solidarity with the Rabbi and defiance of the resurgence of racism.

Let me tell you what happened in Israel.  Knesset Member Reuven Rivlin visited Jamal Julani in the hospital.  He said these words “we are sorry… it is hard to see you hospitalized because of an inconceivable act… what happened is the responsibility of every leader and Member of Knesset.”  The Education Ministry ordered schools to confront the episode in the opening day of the school year in EVERY middle and high school classroom throughout Israel.  Educators were told to let they youngsters express themselves, but that “the unequivocal message must be a condemnation of racism and violence.”  I am proud of these steps that Israel has taken but we all must recognize that an unequivocal message of condemnation of racism and violence must emanate from the very top of Israeli leadership and must be reflected not only perfunctory platitudes but must be protected and preserved as policy and creed.

As your Rabbi, a proud Israeli and a proud Rabbi I cannot accept that racism will be tolerated by us.  Whether we are behaving poorly and inadequately with our Ethiopian Brethren, whether it is our intolerance and lack of compassion for illegal African immigrant workers in Israel or illegal immigrants in the United States arriving from Central and South America or whether it is a hatred of Arabs that is fostered and tolerated in Israeli Society and in the fear tactics and nuances of American society, this we cannot afford to condone or allow.

Last year I delivered a sermon describing an act of racism in the parking lot of my children’s high school.  Here we are today Yom Kippur 5773 once again racism is a topic that I feel compelled to address if we are to make an honest accounting of where we have been and where we are going.

May our teshuvah lead us to an insistence of tzedek.  We must be vigilant, not about other’s racism, but about the racism that we harbor through our ignorance, justifications and complacency.  Real teshuvah means that we do not repeat the same mistakes.   Tzedek tzedek tirdof, we will have justice for ourselves only when we assure justice for the other.

– Rabbi Yael Romer

Creating a Culture of Jewish Food on Yom Kippur Day

5770 Yom Kippur Day Sermon

Rabbi Alex Lazarus-Klein

Creating a Culture of Jewish Food on Yom Kippur Day

There are generally two topics which are taboo to discus in mixed company: religion and politics.  On Yom Kippur we add a third: food.

Today I have planned a sermon that deals almost exclusively with that very delicate subject matter.  Don’t worry, though, I will do so not to tempt your taste buds, but instead, hopefully, to remind us why we are not eating and drinking in the first place.  (I should warn you that there is one potentially dangerous area of the sermon.  At that point I will let you know, so anyone who chooses to can cover his or her ears.)

Let’s start with the other important “f-word” of this day: fasting.  According to the Torah, on Yom Kippur we are commanded to “Anitem et Nafshechem,” “to impoverish our souls.”  “Anitem” comes from the Hebrew word, Ani, for poverty.

While the Torah offers no explanation of what this word, Anitem, means, our rabbis, of blessed memory, have proscribed six specific prohibitions on Yom Kippur: not eating, drinking, wearing perfume, bathing, wearing leather shoes, or sexual relations.    By refraining from these activities we are literally impoverishing ourselves and forcing our attention away from our bodies and onto our souls.

Of course, as all of us in this room are no doubt aware, by depriving ourselves of our basic physical needs, we, in fact, focus more attention on these needs than on any other day of the year.  While there are other fasts in the Jewish calendar, Yom Kippur is the only one where work is also prohibited, and thus we have little to distract ourselves from the pangs in our bellies and in our hearts.

As Americans in the 21st Century we live in a world of utter and almost incomprehensible abundance.  Nothing epitomizes this more than the search for non-leather shoes on Yom Kippur.  While leather used to be so rare that only the wealthy could afford such a luxury, it has now become so commonplace that it is difficult to find a shoe, of any kind, that does not include leather.  I, myself, always choose my Teva sandles, both because they are Israeli, and because when else can I wear them to synagogue and get away with it.

At no time in human history has food been cheaper and more readily available.  While the economic crisis of this past year has brought a slight increase in price in some of our basic necessities, compared to the struggles many of the people in this room went through in the 1920’s and 30’s, we still have it easy.

I am reminded of a story that I shared in one of my newsletter column’s this past year.  It involved a lobbying session I participated in a few years back in Washington DC, where, as part of a contingent of Reconstructionist rabbis, I visited with former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorim.  Our group, led by Rabbi Shawn Zevit, had confronted Senator with the statistic that over 36 million Americans, including 8 million children, are hungry.

“I don’t like the word hunger,” Santorim said to us. “Hunger implies starvation and we all know that there are no starving people in America?”

While the Senator’s suggestion is, of course, ludicrous, he does point out the plenty that is seemingly available to almost every single person in this country.  According to statistics I culled in Barbara Kingsolver’s wonderful book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, “US farmers now produce 3,900 calories per US citizen, per day.  That is twice what we need, and 700 more calories than they grew in 1980.”  She goes on to say, “in fact, all the world’s farms currently produce enough food to make every person on the globe fat” and can continue “to sustain world food needs even for the 8 billion people who are projected to inhabit the planet in 2030.”

To find evidence of this extreme production, one has to look no further than your own refrigerators or drive down the street to the nearest Wegmans or Topps.  I remember a call I received from Ashirah a few days after our arrival in Buffalo.  She had gotten lost in the Wegmans in Alberta.  And, I do not mean lost getting to the Wegmans on Alberta.  She had literally gotten lost in the store itself!!!

“Alex,” she told me, “you would never believe this.  There are twenty-seven aisles just for the checkout.”

Still, with all of this food readily available, how much do we really understand about where it comes from, what’s inside of it, and how it gets to our plates?

In her book, Kingslover, who is better known for her novels like The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Tree, tells the story of her family’s one year journey to eat locally.  She, her husband, Steven, and two children, Camille and Lily, move across the country from Tucson, Arizona, to rural Virginia, to experience life on a farm.  They commit themselves to growing as much of their food as possible, and, other than the one luxury item each family member is permitted, buying as much food from local sources as possible.

This, as the family quickly finds out, is not an easy task.  We are so used to eating foods out-of-season at any time of the year, we hardly have any sense of what in-season means anymore.  A perfect example of this is apples on Rosh Hashanah.  While we know that this is the traditional fruit of the High Holidays, how many of us are aware that the reason for this is this is also the time of the year of the apple harvest?  Yes, apples help us bring in a sweet new year, but they also remind us of what is happening in nature.

Kingslover uses her book to argue that Americans, as well as many people of the world, have lost their food cultures.  By this she means, that the secrets that were once passed down from generation to generation, about how to grow and prepare food, are no longer being passed down.  “Food cultures,” she writes, “concentrate a population’s collective wisdom about the plants and animals that grow in a place, and the complex ways of rendering them tasty.  These are mores of survival, good health, and control of excess.”

We have forgotten our roots, literally- our connection to the roots that grow in the ground.

In fact, so little is taught today about food production that, Kingslover argues, it is almost like we think the food magically appears for us at our neighborhood supermarkets.  She writes, “when we walked as a nation away from the land, our knowledge of food production fell away from us like dirt in a laundry-soap commercial.  Now, it’s fair to say, the majority of us don’t want to be farmers, see farmers, pay farmers, or hear their complaints.  Except as straw-chewing figures in children’s books, we don’t quite believe in them anymore.”

By fasting on Yom Kippur, I would argue, we are reminding ourselves, that there is no fairy godmother of food.  That hard work does go into growing, preparing, and presenting food.  And, that despite the incredible food production of our nation and world, 800 million people live on the edge of starvation because they simply cannot afford to eat the plenty that our farmer’s provide for us every day.

Anyone who has any relationship with their Bubbe, or is a Bubbe themselves, knows that Jews have a very strong food culture.  And – (this would be the time to cover your ears) – from how our knowledge of how to make the perfect kneidelach, to what temperature to roast a brisket, (okay you can open them) Jewish food culture is very much alive today.  I have the luck of having married into a family that cares deeply about these traditions and preserves them from one holiday to the next.  Ashirah’s maternal grandmother Rose, who is now 97-years-old, still knows how to make a… and, you can close your ears again… fluffy matzah-ball and chicken soup (okay you can open them).  While she suffers from dementia, and has difficulty communicating with the word around her, her hands still have that precious food memory that was passed down to her from her long deceased family who, almost all, perished in the Holocaust.

Even on Yom Kippur, food is the centerpiece that all else revolves.  As they say in the Hillel world, if you are going to hold a program for students, just write “Free Food” in really big letters, and the name of the actual program in the smallest font possible.  Or in the joke about what connects all Jewish holidays: “we were enslaved, God saved us, now we can eat.”

Jewish cookbooks, like all other Jewish books, abound, and are filled with tasty and long standing recipes.  These recipes come not just from our Bubbe’s, but from over four thousand years of Jewish writing.  In the Torah, the laws for kashrut teach about what our ancestors believed about what foods are permissible or forbidden.  And, while the sacrificial texts from Leviticus, like the one we just read today, may make Reconstructionists’ squeamish, they teach us about how the priests both prepared and used food.

One of my favorite texts on Jewish food culture, comes from the pages of Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, the first real abstract written about Jewish law.  A physician for the Kalif, he preached the value of moderation and while some of his teachings on food still hold true today, others not so much.  Here are just a few of the gems from his writing, several of which are extremely applicable to our environment here in Buffalo:

  • In the summer, one should eat unseasoned foods without many spices and use vinegar. In the rainy season, one should eat seasoned foods, use many spices, and eat some mustard and chiltit.
  • One should follow these principles in regard to cold climates and hot climates, [choosing the food] appropriate to each and every place.
  • All pickled fruits are harmful and should be eaten only sparingly in summer weather and in hot climates. Figs, grapes and almonds are always beneficial, both fresh and dried. One may eat of them as much as he requires. However, he should not eat them constantly even though they are the most beneficial of fruits.
  • Honey and wine are harmful to the young and wholesome for the old. Certainly, this applies in the rainy season. In summer, one should eat two-thirds of what he eats in the winter.

As evidenced by Rambam, just as Jews have lived all over the world in every possible climate, so too Jewish food comes from all over the world.  Every stop Jews have made, and often have had to make, along the way, has been an invitation to learn about the delicacies of that particular area and make them our own.  Many Jewish food didn’t start out Jewish at all, but became Jewish with the love and the care of our Bubbies in our Jewish home.

That said, when Kingslover talks about a food culture she is not only referring to the preparation of food in the household, but also how food is grown in our gardens.  And, for much of Jewish history, Jews have been forcibly removed from this segment of food culture.  While Judaism began as an agricultural religion, starting in the middle-ages, Jews in Europe and other places were forbidden from owning land.  This made us almost completely dependent on others in fulfilling our basic food needs, and made it much easier for Jews to be expelled the powers that be decided we were no longer needed, or they had more to gain by kicking us out.

Our synagogue president, Adrienne Crandall, writes about this in her October newsletter column: “This summer I had the good fortune to visit England.  I took an opportunity to visit the East End of London where a guide explained the history of Jewish England.  I sat in a synagogue, Bevis Marks, the oldest Sephardic synagogue in Europe and listened to how the Jews were first invited to England by King William I (William the Conqueror of Normandy) around 1066 CE so that they could act as money lenders to aid the King in financing his endeavors.  But as our history so often reveals, this created a situation that eventually led to their expulsion in 1290 by King Edward I.  They did not return for 400 years.”

At the turn of the 20th Century as Jews explored returning to Israel to create a homeland of our own, they realized that there was a sizable impediment to making this happen.  After all the many centuries of being off the land, how would we possibly able to reclaim our agricultural roots?  Nationhood would only be possible if Jews once again could grow and produce our own food.

To this effect, a group of ten men and two women, all of them teenagers, established the first Kibbutz in 1909 at the southern end of the Sea of Galilee.  They called their community “Kvutzat Degania,” after the cereals which they grew there.  And, while the work was backbreaking and dangerous, Degania grew in size to fifty members by 1914.

In 2001, on my year in Israel through the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, I had a chance to spend time at Degania and learn about the trials and tribulations of the first Kibbutzniks.  The land that they dedicated themselves was filled with dust and mosquitoes.  They worked until they could work no longer, and then spent the night arguing about ideology.  Many of this first cohort died of malaria and starvation.

But out of this came some of the leading lights of modern Israel: A.D. Gordon, Joseph Trumbeldor, Moshe Dayan and, even, David Ben Gurion.  With Rabbi Amy Klein, and two other rabbinical students, I toured the famous cemetery down the hill from Degania, right on the edge of Sea of Galilee.  The passion of those first settlers came through on their gravestones, many of which were marked with pictures of mosquitoes.  Most remarkable was how young they were, and how much they sacrificed for all of us here today.

These are the words of the poet Rachel, a woman known just by her first name, who is buried in that famous cemetery:  “I have not sung you, my country, not brought glory to your name with the great deeds of a hero or the spoils a battle yields. But on the shores of the Jordan

my hands have planted a tree, and my feet have made a pathway through your fields. Modest are the gifts I bring you. I know this, mother. Modest, I know, the offerings of your daughter: Only an outburst of song on a day when the light flares up, only a silent tear for your poverty.”

On this Yom Kippur Day, I think about the efforts of those few Israeli pioneers.  They made many mistakes, including purchasing only male trees and not realizing why they would not spread their seeds, but they did something, that, I believe Kingslover would be proud of, they restored our Jewish agricultural soul.  After two thousand years of wandering, finally, we had been returned to a land flowing in milk and honey.

“L’Dor L’Dor, from generation to generation,” is a phrase we recite at the end of the Kedushah.  On a day like today we feel the very real thread that ties us to our ancestors.  It is as if our hands are extended through the ages from grandparent to grandchild.  And, by touching that long line of our Jewish past, we know the struggles our ancestors went through to preserve this faith we call Judaism.

Our fast is a way of showing our commitment to maintaining this line of knowledge.  Here in this room, we have once again stripped away the gadgets of the 21st Century, and stand impoverished just like our ancestors have been for thousands of years.

“Anitem et Nafshechem,” “to impoverish our souls,” by abstaining from eating and drinking, let us be reminded of the bounty that we have in our world.  We should not take our good fortune lightly.  In Judaism, food is spiritual nourishment as well as physical nourishment.  At the beginning of each meal we recite, “Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha’Olam, Ha’Motzi Lechem Min Ha’aretz.”  “Blessed are you God, King of the Universe, who has allowed us to bring forth bread from out the earth.”  By this, we are saying that food is only made in partnership with God.

Nothing at Temple Sinai symbolizes this partnership more than our Tzedukah Garden.  Conceived of by one of my predecessors, Barry Schwartz, and then worked on for over ten years by our synagogue members, most notably Marty Bates, zichrono l’vrachah, may his memory be a blessing, our Tzedukah Garden demonstrates our commitment to a dictate that was given to us at the beginning of Genesis, “L’Avodah V’lishmorah,” “to till it and to tend to” the earth.  With all of the produce from the garden, goes to local food banks and other charitable operations.

This past summer I had a chance to work in the garden.  Now, I can assure you that I was not born with a green thumb.  My childhood was spent in the city of Philadelphia with very little land to call my own.  Coming to work with Marty, was extremely intimidating to me.  He stood tall, with his farmer’s physique and strong, weathered hands.  And, he seemed to know everything about the garden.  We rototilled the ground, I word I had not even heard of before this year, and smoothed it out for the planting.  I watched as he lay the strings to define the area of each vegetable that we would be growing.  Then, we planted.  Suddenly, within a few weeks, the barren earth was transformed into a bed of luscious growth.

On one of my days with Marty, I went close to his good ear, and asked him whether he had grown-up gardening.  “No,” he said with the wide smile he always carried with him.  “It’s just something I picked up along the way.”

In that moment, with the sun beating down on us, Marty was one of the first Kibutzniks, slaving at the ground, to ensure that our community and this generation would not lose its culture of food.

On this Yom Kippur day, in the spirit of our beloved Marty, let us remind ourselves about the sacred value of food.  May each bite you take at your break-the-fast, whether here or elsewhere, be for you a step closer to your understanding and appreciation of food.  In this age of overindulgences, let us choose not to overindulge, let us choose, “l’acaltah v’savatah,” “to eat and be satisfied.”

An easy fast, a safe fast, a meaningful fast to us all.


Taking a Stand

Yom Kippur Morning

 September 18, 2010 / 10 Tishrei, 5771

Rabbi Charles K. Briskin


There’s a brief but memorable scene in the 1980 movie comedy, Airplane. The flight attendant, Elaine, asks an elderly woman if she’d like something to read. “Do you have anything light?” the woman asks. Elaine responds, “How about this leaflet; Famous Jewish Sports Legends?

While few of our people—Mark Spitz and Sandy Koufax notwithstanding—are legendary athletes, we do have some talented coaches and successful owners, and to be certain, legions of great fans. I was never able to hit a fastball, dunk a basketball, or toss a football very far but that never stopped me from cheering wildly for the Red Sox, Celtics and Patriots throughout my childhood. I’ve always stood by my teams, through the good years and the bad, and still do to this day.

Had we lived over two thousand years ago in ancient Palestine, we might have spent the afternoon in a Roman style coliseum. The “national pastime” was not baseball, but rather gladiator fighting. Two swordsmen, dressed in the regalia of their sport, one arm supporting a heavy iron shield, the other a sharpened sword, fought—often times to the death. Today’s mixed martial arts pales in comparison. Back and forth these ancient warriors sparred until one was killed or laid down his shield conceding defeat. If the defeated gladiator was still alive, the spectators were asked to judge: Had he fought valiantly?  Did this gladiator deserve mercy?  Did he deserve to live?

If so, the people raised their voices, calling out “release him!” thus sparing the gladiator’s life from the sword of his opponent. If the people thought otherwise, they voted with a quick gesture. . . the downward thumb. This vote of disapproval signaled the victorious warrior to slay his opponent in the presence of all the spectators.

The rabbis who lived in ancient Palestine were appalled by this barbaric sport. In fact, most of them prohibited Jews from attending this spectacle. They strongly believed that Jews—who value life above all and consider each human being to be a gift from God—could not be spectators at an event where life was so callously disregarded.

Rabbi Nathan disagreed. He believed that those in the stands had a critical role to play. Their vote would decide the fate of the defeated gladiator. Rabbi Nathan demanded that Jews be there, in the arena, if only to make their voices heard and save an endangered life.

Rabbi Nathan took a bold and unpopular stand against the prevailing opinion of the day. These gory spectacles were an integral part of Roman culture but sitting in the stands of a coliseum was not quite like watching a game at Dodgers Stadium (except, perhaps in the Top Deck section when the Giants are in town.)  The atmosphere in these death fights was fraught with sheer terror.

Today, when a football player lies injured on the field, the fans are hushed, gravely concerned, until they see the reassuring thumbs up from the fallen athlete. But when a gladiator was stabbed by his opponent, the spectators cheered wildly, calling for more blood. Yet, Rabbi Nathan insisted that Jews be present in these frightening battles because the consequences of their absence would be so devastating.

Two thousand years have passed, and the gladiators have receded into history. But Jews today face a question not unlike the one rabbi Nathan faced long ago. When should we be present and take a stand for something we truly believe in? How loudly should we raise our voices in the arena, with the words of our prophets and sages as our guide?

These should not be difficult questions. After all, Jews have been raising their voices for millennia. Just think of the words that the prophet Isaiah proclaims to us in the haftarah: “Is this the fast that I look for.?  A day of self-affliction?  Is not this the fast I look for: to unlock the shackles of injustice. . .to let the oppressed go free?” (Isaiah, Ch. 58). The ancient prophets of our tradition spoke the word of God. Their prophecies were often unpopular and often times ignored by the people and the leaders who needed to hear them most. Even so, they took a stand.

The prophetic voice has inspired Jewish leaders since then. Within the last one hundred and fifty years, we’ve heard the contrarian opinion of Rabbi David Einhorn of Baltimore preaching against slavery from within the slave state of Maryland prior to the Civil War and abolition.

We’ve heard Rabbi Steven S. Wise, a leading Reform rabbi advocating for a Jewish state in Palestine in the 1920s, long before Zionism was normative among Reform Jews. We’ve heard the great and revered Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who marched with Martin Luther King to bring about full equality between blacks and whites.

There are, however, two crucial differences between the prophets of our tradition and the prophetic voices of our era: First; Isaiah, Jeremiah and Micah spoke the word of God. Einhorn, Wise and Heschel interpreted the word of God. They filtered their ideas through the lenses of our entire tradition, including the ancient prophets, and they incorporated their own experiences into their advocacy as well. They rooted their messages in a three-thousand year old tradition of justice, mercy and compassion and applied it to the pressing matters of their day.

Second, when the prophets of our tradition spoke, the message often fell on deaf ears. When these modern-day rabbis spoke, people listened. They filled lecture halls, theaters and even arenas with eager people absorbing every word, ready to act.  They stood for freedom, Zionism, justice, equality and peace, all deeply rooted within a Jewish context.

Einhorn, Wise and Heschel inspired others to stand with them. Who do you stand with today?  And what do you stand for?  This question is important on Yom Kippur as our sacred texts of this day reveal. This afternoon we read the narrative of Jonah who was punished for his failure to raise his voice in the arena. When God told him to warn the people of Nineveh of their impending destruction, he fled. This afternoon’s Torah portion, the Holiness Code of Leviticus reminds us of our sacred responsibility to care for our poor, vulnerable and disenfranchised and to love our neighbor as ourselves. In this morning’s haftarah, Isaiah chastises the people for their lack of business ethics, despite their punctilious ritual observance.

The Torah portion that we will read shortly gathers the entire community of Israelites to enter into the covenant that God is giving to them, and to us. These verses and all of today’s texts inspire us to take a stand and make our voices heard.

Atem Nitzavim Hayom, kulhem lifnei Adonai Eloheichem—You stand here today, all of you, before Adonai your God.”  So begins this morning’s Torah portion. The choice of the Hebrew word for stand, nitzavim, is unusual. The more common form for standing is omeid, which is used a few verses later, as the entire community stands together, eagerly awaiting their charge from Moses. Omeid suggests waiting for something to happen, letting the action come to you. It’s passive. Nitzvaim is active. We see this form in the Book of Genesis too, when Abraham hastens to take care of his three visitors. Nitzavim suggests being prepared, ready to leap into action, being more proactive. It also means standing your ground, remaining strong and resolute.[1]

Omeid and nitzavim. On this Yom Kippur, how do we move from the more passive form of standing, omeid to the more active form, nitzavim?  What do you stand for? I hope you’ll join me in standing for two important values: tolerance and diversity.

Do you stand for tolerance?  I hope so, because we need all the tolerance we can muster. Too many are far less tolerant of other ideas, opinions, and people. We harbor such deeply ingrained stereotypes of others, and others of us that we reduce individuals to caricatures. We attribute negative qualities and prejudicial attitudes that are viewed as acceptable yet seem to justify terrible behavior towards others. We Jews have been the object widespread intolerance. We, too, have objectified others. We’re all guilty of this in some respect. I know that I’ve had to overcome this attitude myself.

One group has helped me is the Peninsula Interfaith Fellowship, a group of clergy and other professionals who work with faith communities. I am one of the leaders of this group. We meet monthly for food, camaraderie and learning. Over the past several years I have developed close relationships with my colleagues including Catholic priests, Presbyterian ministers, a Unitarian pastor and a Sufi Muslim. Conversations about controversial issues that might be difficult to have with others are much easier and more forthright with this group because we know and respect one another, even when we don’t always agree.

Despite some valuable interfaith work, we’ve not yet developed our relationships with local Muslim leaders. So it was with a bit of trepidation that I accepted the invitation of my friend and colleague Reverend Reinhard Kraus to join last week at St. Luke’s Presbyterian Church for an hour of Qur’an study with Christians, Muslims, and a few Jews. I had to overcome my misgivings. Reverend Kraus organized this community gathering in response to the Florida Pastor who threatened to burn the Qur’an. Kraus thought that studying the Qur’an was a better choice.

My trepidation quickly vanished once I arrived. It had been quite some time since I was with such a diverse group of people. The Muslims in the room were from Pakistan, India, Syria and Houston. The Christians from Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills Estates. I saw just one other Jew, that I recognized, at least. Some Muslim women covered their heads, others did not. There were young people, older people, American born and immigrants. Men and women studied together and learned from one another.

This one hour of learning reminded me powerfully that dialogue with others creates greater understanding, appreciation and mutual tolerance. It was an important first step especially because too often we treat the entire Muslim community as a single monolith. We base our prejudices on a single caricature that many of us continue to see. We stereotype the entire Muslim community as extremist Arab Wahabis who are out to conquer the West through acts of violence and terror. Unless of course we’re friends with a Muslim; then we see the person, not the caricature. It’s our personal relationships with others that make us more tolerant because it’s harder to demonize a friend.

The Muslims I met at St. Luke’s were born and raised in America, or emigrated from elsewhere. Some were Arabs, most were not. They were all faithful to their tradition yet moderate in their expression of it. I can just about guarantee that no extremists were present because, after all, extremists don’t do interfaith dialogue. Extremists don’t engage; they demonize.

Reinhard Kraus helped us move one step forward in breaking down the barriers that separate our communities. He helped us recognize the diversity of our community which is, in pockets at least, comprised of tolerant people of faith.  Those who gathered want to learn from and better understand one another. We want to reduce our shared suspicions of one another and better appreciate one another’s aspirations. Those who participate in interfaith dialogue know that the conversations are not always easy. We recognize that our disagreements will persist. However, if we can begin first by uncovering shared understandings, then move our conversations forward by discussing our differences openly, safely and face to face, only then can we make progress in building a more sustainable culture of tolerance and mutual respect.

Reinhard Kraus stood up for tolerance. He raised his voice in the arena and fought against intolerance and extremism with words and dialogue. I stood with him because I know and respect him. I’m not sure I would’ve attended had it not been organized by someone else. But my relationship with him helped me overcome some of my own biases, not only what I thought of them, but also what I perceived they thought of me.

Do you stand for ideological diversity?  Can you respect, like or even love people who express ideas that are very different than yours?  Or who make choices for themselves than you may not choose to make for yourself?  Accepting ideological diversity requires patience, a willingness to listen to one another, and a commitment to respect the other person even if your beliefs are fundamentally different.

I have come to understand much about this congregation in the last five years. One is that we express a wide range of values and attitudes. One person shared with me a conversation he had with another congregant at an oneg Shabbat a few years ago. The first was mentioning something he had heard from the conservative talk radio host Dennis Prager. The other congregant looked at the first one and said cautiously, “You listen to Dennis Prager?”  The first congregant braced himself, not sure what the other person was thinking. He was put at ease quickly when the second congregant whispered to him, “I do too. I love him.”

Temple Beth El is a member of the Union for Reform Judaism, the national organization representing Reform congregations. The URJ is known for its historical commitment to liberal and progressive values, born out of its leaders’ interpretation of Jewish tradition. Nevertheless, an increasingly large number of Reform Jews including a significant percentage our congregants do not consider themselves liberal; far from it.

The ideological diversity within our congregation leads to passionate and sometimes heated exchanges. People have been known to get quite upset. Many of you appreciate when I take a stand on a pressing issue of the day whether it is the health care debate, immigration reform, or gay marriage. Nevertheless, I know that many people prefer I just sit down and lower my voice. I’m sorry I can’t do that. I wouldn’t be true to myself or to my rabbinate. Yet, I respect and will listen to the opinions of others who disagree with me. That’s the Jewish way.

I expressed this in a recent e-mail exchange with a congregant. I told this person that one of my many rabbinic responsibilities is to speak publicly to the pressing issues of the day, as viewed through a Jewish lens. It is what rabbis have been doing since the time of the prophets. It’s what Einhorn, Wise and Heschel did. It is what many of my colleagues continue to do. We represent our three thousand year old prophetic tradition to the people we serve. We take a stand and raise our voices in the arena.

I pride myself on being fair and reasonable when I preach on contemporary issues. I ground my teaching within Jewish texts, both ancient and modern. My primary goal is not to convince or convert but rather to initiate a conversation among smart and thoughtful people who don’t often agree, yet are willing to look at a different side of a familiar issue. I don’t imagine I’ll change one’s mind; I just hope to open it a bit more.

We will always have a seat in the arena, raising our voices for the principles and values that matter most to us. It’s what Jews do. We’ve been doing so since the time of Rabbi Nathan. My hope and prayer for our entire community is for us to take a stand, yet to be mindful and tolerant of those who choose not to stand with us. I want us to raise our voices to issues, yet refrain from raising our voices against the individuals with whom we disagree. Our community is big enough to accommodate a variety of opinions and ideas. So, as we move through this new year of 5771, I humbly ask; can we find new and helpful ways to create an environment of tolerance and mutual respect?”  Is that really asking too much?


My thanks and appreciation to my friend, Steve Beitler for his thoughtful analysis, and to my friend and colleague Rabbi Zachary Shapiro of Temple Akiba, Culver City, CA for our fruitful exchange of ideas in the weeks leading up to the High Holy Days.

[1] Thanks to Rabbi Cookie Lea Olshein for sharing this interpretation of nitzavim and omeid in her d’var Torah on Parashat Nitzavim prepared for the American Jewish World Service and referenced on the website,

The Bridge To Forgiveness

Yom Kippur Eve- 5768

By Rabbi Robert H. Loewy


My dear friends, the plaintive call of Kol Nidre reaches out to us, as we entreat God to forgive us for all that we have done wrong in the year gone by. At the same time we are called to be forgiving of others. Forgiveness is the basic theme of the day.

The author, Naomi Remen, describes how one year she attended Kol Nidre worship and the Rabbi was giving his traditional forgiveness sermon, when he paused to pick up his squirming one year old from his wife’s arms, then continued his message. She was adorable, making faces as he spoke, at one point grabbing his tie, sucking upon it. Then she grabbed his nose. At that point, he departed from his printed text and asked, “Think about it. Is there anything this beautiful baby can do that you could not forgive her for?” Then she grabbed his glasses and burped. “And when does it stop? When does it become hard to forgive another? At 3? At 7? At 14? At 35? How old does someone have to be before you forget that everyone is a child of God?”

This evening, let us once again explore this topic of forgiveness. Rabbi Karyn Kedar has written an entire book on the subject, which I will draw upon, beginning with her opening poem entitled “The Bridge:”


Forgiveness is a path to be walked.

There are steps along the way:

loss, anger, acceptance, learning,

forgiveness, restoration.

And along the way, you will come upon a bridge.

When you step upon it, it will carry you,

support you, connect you to another side of life,

a side waiting to be discovered.

Forgiveness is a perpetual journey.

There are many bridge crossings.

Each restores a bit more of what you have lost.


This whole process begins with a sense of loss. When we are wronged, someone offends us, hurts us, is cruel or uncaring, and we feel loss. How could she do that, taking away my position, undercutting me in such a way, messing up everything? How could he say that, when it’s not true and is so insensitive? How could he act in that fashion? We lose trust in those, who we felt would not behave in such a manner. Our security is shattered, since we felt comfortable and safe. And the loss is more poignant since it is often inflicted upon us by those who are dear to us, friends and family, trusted associates and co-workers, professionals upon whom we relied. At times we even lose faith, questioning how God can allow this injustice to occur, whether the sudden illness that invaded our body or the storm that blew through our lives, changing us and our community forever. Something good is taken from our lives and we are diminished.

And then we become angry. Of anger Rabbi Kedar writes:

There is good reason to be angry.

There is good reason not to be angry.

Anger can be like a river

that swells beyond its banks,

flooding and destroying everything in its path.

Or it can be like a river

that flows through your soul,

washing away all that needs to be gone.

Discernment is

knowing when to be angry and when to let it go.


Anger is natural and necessary as a response to loss leading to forgiveness. It is the first reaction. When we are angry, it is difficult to think or speak rationally. Our spirit burns from what we see as an assault, whether it be the unkind word, an undermining act, unfair criticism or simply unacceptable behavior. When we are undone, anger often is our first line of defense. It tells us that this is wrong and forms a shield around us, protecting us momentarily.

The problem with anger is that it can be destructive, not constructive when it permeates our response to a situation. A midrash teaches, “when the kettle boils, it spills hot water down its side.” So it is when we boil over with anger. We merely scald ourselves. We feel so hurt and disgusted that we cannot move on with our lives.

For some, being the victim is a comfortable role. It allows you to feel as though you deserve goodness, wholeness and love. However, remaining in that role denies you the possibility of growth. Anger is healthy, but only as a first step to healing and forgiveness.

Sometimes we will have to realize that we are angry with a spouse, a parent, a brother or sister, a friend, co-worker, angry at ourselves, even God, before we can move on to forgiveness. Forgiveness will mean letting go of our anger, leaving the darkness that is our reality in order to gain control of our spirit.

Then comes acceptance as part of the forgiveness process. “Acceptance is the compassionate embrace of yourself and your place in the world: without judgment, without fear, without regret.” (p. 5) We suffer loss and initially respond with anger, but ultimately if we are to heal, we accept our reality. There is frequently no choice. The illness strikes; the storm arrives; the mistake has been made; the job is lost; the marriage is no more; the death is real, whether we like it or not. Life does not always turn out the way we desire. Sometimes it is our own fault, sometimes due to others and sometimes by forces beyond our control.

Acceptance does not mean that the pain, the hurt goes away completely. To some extent it is like the athlete, who during the week is sidelined by an injury, but when game day comes will play through the pain. As some of you know, I often am subject to headaches. However, I’ve observed an interesting phenomenon, that being, when I am on the pulpit or busy with some activity, the headache seems to abate. Later when life calms down I might feel the pain afresh. So it is with our emotional pains; when we accept them we can lead our lives more fully, though on occasion they will give us a jab.

One of the challenges of acceptance is how to deal with the question of “why” something has happened, but as most of us are aware there is no answer. Sure we know the meteorology of storm tracks, but not why it came our way; we understand that cancer attacks cells in the body, but not why those cells belong to me or my loved one. In trying to deal with this question Rabbi Kedar writes: “I do not know why some die too soon, or others never find love, or how others are able to forgive. This, I do know: that it is only in this state of not knowing that I am humble enough to approach the mystery. To forgive you must embrace the mystery.” (p. 81)

For some the “mystery” is that part of reality, which is chaotic, that part of the world we simply cannot comprehend. It is randomness. For others it is God. We can blame God, be angry with God, but then turn to God as well for the strength to accept that which is our lot in life.

Coming out of acceptance is the opportunity to learn and grow. Forgiveness can be an evolving understanding. We learn from loss, from anger, from survival and perseverance. When we release the pain of the past we can then learn to be open to what the future can bring.

Literally, while sitting at my desk preparing this sermon I heard the ring, telling me an e-mail had arrived. It was from a woman I have not seen or to be honest even thought of in over 30 years. She saw my name on a list of former staff members of the URJ Eisner Camp and wanted to make contact. Janice wrote: “I remember you helping me through a rough time at camp in 1975. Do you remember Allan Z?  Well, he DUMPED me that summer, and I fell apart!!!  I have a memory of you letting me hang out in your room and looking after me.  I’m happy to say as soon as camp was over, I met a new boyfriend, and we just celebrated our 26th anniversary. I’ll never forget your kindness….” We never know when we make a difference in someone’s life.

I do recall how torn, angry and inconsolable she was at the time. I was her camp supervisor, but she just could not function as a counselor for a while. She needed time to recover, but ultimately was able to pull herself together, accept where she was, forgive Allan for the hurt and move on effectively. Clearly she learned and prospered from what was a calamity at the time.

When we are in the midst of a painful moment, it is difficult to find that silver lining, to glean understanding or wisdom, to grasp a greater lesson. Forgiveness involves learning. In some cases it will be intellectual growth, prompting us to better evaluate and analyze future situations. Emotionally we will grow, counterbalancing devastation with hope. Even spiritually we can come to realize that making the Divine connection is possible and does not have to only be a refuge of last resort. That connection is open any time you want it to be. Pain can be a powerful teacher.

Friends, forgiveness is not a matter of unconditional love: forgive and forget. “There should be no forgetting of evil acts, no condoning of offense, sin, hatred. To forget is to run the risk of allowing these evils to happen again. Yet at the same time, to hold within us the horror and pain of every offense diminishes our lives.” (p. 3) We recognize our loss, allow a period of anger, accept our reality and even learn from the experience. Forgiveness is not condoning the wrong in the world or the offense inflicted upon us. It is not forgetting. It is a state of being that allows us to move on and be restored.

Ultimately that is our goal. We want wholeness in our lives. We know we cannot go back to where we were before our equilibrium was disturbed. Our world is never the same after we have suffered a hurt, but it can be reconstructed, perhaps even better than before. Through full forgiveness we restore our faith and trust in others, in ourselves and God. For a while all seemed dark and ugly. With forgiveness we can once again find a sense of beauty. Where briefly all seemed lost, we can regain optimism and hope.

I invite you now for just a moment to close your eyes and envision those who have hurt or angered you the most this past year. You may need to address this to yourself. Try out these phrases:

Tonight I forgive you.

I am moving on with my life.

I will not let my resentments pull me down.

I give up my anger which has been holding me back.

Tonight I forgive you.”

May this Day of Atonement that we begin tonight provide us with the opportunity to make the spiritual journey across the bridge of forgiveness.



Much of this sermon was based upon the writing of Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar in her book The Bridge of Forgiveness.

From A Mother To Her Girls

Yom Kippur Yizkor 5768

By Rabbi Robert H. Loewy


This day of Yom Kippur is intended to help us grow as human beings, created in God’s image. We do this by introspection, evaluating how true we have been to the values instilled within us, and where we fall short, make amends. If we are honest, we will admit to those areas of our behavior that have been sinful, commit to remedy them and seek forgiveness. If we are observing this day with depth and integrity, we confront the quality of how we live our lives with the backdrop of our own mortality.

The primary other time when this kind of soul searching occurs is when we are facing our own deaths or that of loved ones. The following poem, written by Rabbi Karyn Kedar, whose thoughts informed my Yom Kippur evening sermon, entitled “From A Mother To Her Girls,” speaks to this moment. It is written from a daughter’s perspective and the connection between parent and child seems to have been strong and positive. I believe it addresses many of our losses. You will not relate to all of what she writes, but perhaps some of it. She begins:

“The morning you wake to bury me

you’ll wonder what to wear.

The sun may be shining, or maybe it will rain;

it may be winter. Or not.

You’ll say to yourself, “black, aren’t you supposed to

wear black?” Then you will remember all the times we went

together to buy clothes: the prom, homecoming,

just another pair of jeans,

another sweater, another pair of shoes. I called you my Barbie dolls.

You will remember how I loved to dress you.

How beautiful you were in my eyes.


When we lose loved ones, especially when we have experienced the gift of years with them, we immediately recall time shared. While often they will be major events- weddings, birthdays, B’nai Mitzvah, or anniversaries, but frequently they will be the more mundane moments- time spent shopping, enjoying a meal, holiday observance, a story that was repeated over and over, a childhood experience, a trip that was shared. Then after specific recollections will hopefully arrive a sense of calm: the knowledge that there was a special relationship, one that will be missed, but whose memory provides a warmth and glow. Rabbi Kedar continues:

The morning you wake to bury me

you will look in the mirror in disbelief.

You’ll reach for some makeup. Or not. And you won’t believe that

this is the morning you will bury your mother.

But it is. And as you gaze into that mirror, you will shed a tear. Or not. But look. Look carefully, for hiding in your expression, you will find mine.

You will see me in your eyes, in the way you laugh.

You will feel me when you think of God,

and of love and struggle.

Look into the mirror and you will see me in a look, or in

the way you hold your mouth or stand, a little bent, or maybe straight.

But you will see me.


When loved ones die, we are disoriented. The simplest task is difficult to accomplish. Tears flow one moment, while at other times we feel like we want to cry, but the tears do not come. They are gone and our world is just not the same.

At the same time our loved ones live on in us. When it comes to parents and siblings, there is often physical continuity. We look like them, walk and talk like them. If you want to see what I will look like when I am in my 90’s (I should be so fortunate to reach that age in health), just look on the pulpit. But beyond physical links, we all carry aspects of dear ones who are gone within us, whether we realize or not. It can be in an expression, facial or verbal. It can be in situations, where we have learned from the best how to respond. When relationships are solid and healthy, we can even grow from our losses. Rabbi Kedar teaches:

So let me tell you, one last time, before you dress,

what to wear. Put on any old thing. Black or red, skirt or pants.

Despite what I told you all these years, it doesn’t really matter.

Because as I told you all these years, you are beautiful the way you are.

Dress yourself in honor and dignity.

Dress yourself in confidence and self-love.

Wear a sense of obligation to do for this world,

for you are one of the lucky ones and there is so much to do, to fix.

Take care of each other,

Take care of your heart, of your soul.

Talk to God.

Wear humility and compassion.


We honor our loved ones most by leading our lives fully. There is a time to mourn and a time to rise up from mourning. Loss is something that each of us incorporates and even compartmentalizes in our lives. It has its place, but cannot dominate our being, for that would not be a way to honor loved ones.

Deeds of goodness are the more lasting tribute.  They were not saints. They had strengths and weaknesses, moments when they were endearing and others that simply had to be endured. Still we take the positive lessons they taught by word and deed and incorporate them in our lives. The fact that we are here and they are not is a gift to be appreciated and out of tribute we can make a difference.

Lastly we honor them by preserving that which was most precious- families, friendships and your relationship with God. Then Rabbi Kedar concludes:

When you wake to bury me,

put on a strong sense of self, courage and understanding.

I am sorry. Forgive me. I am sorry.

Stand at my grave clothed in a gown of forgiveness,

dressed like an angel would be, showing compassion

and unconditional love.

For at that very moment, all that will be left of me to give is love.



The major theme of this day is forgiveness, always a challenge. When death comes, forgiveness is more possible than ever. Perhaps we were hurt by them. We need no longer carry that baggage. What would be the purpose other than to continue as victim? Put it down and grant forgiveness. Reciprocally, we can ask forgiveness for what we have done wrong with the knowledge that it can never happen again.

What does endure is love. Even when they are gone, the love we have and the love they gave continues to be a source of positive spiritual energy within us.

On this Yom Kippur afternoon, may the lessons of this day and those of memory,  bring us comfort and strengthen us for our New Year.


In The Footsteps Of The Prophets


By Rabbi Robert H. Loewy

            This morning I want to tell you about some real people whom I have met in recent days. I think of them as “mitzvah heroes.” Some are even seated on our pulpit this morning. They have heard the message of the Prophet that we just read and internalized it. Fasting is good, but it’s not enough. Words and sentiment are good, but it is not enough. What God requires of us are deeds, actions that make a difference in this world.

From our tradition we have the story of the cartman’s horse, which suddenly stumbled and fell dead. This was a catastrophe for the cartman, as he sat in the street in tears, for this was his livelihood. A crowd gathered, observed the poor man’s predicament, shook their heads sympathetically, mumbling, “too bad, too bad.”

A rabbi amongst the observers took out a paper bag, placed ten dollars in it and said, “Friends, I’m sorry for this man too, ten dollars worth. How sorry are you?”

When the crowd followed suit, they moved from observers to doers, from people with feelings to givers of tsedakah. We all can be such people and when we use the term tsedakah, this is not just donating our dollars, but also includes the pursuit of justice in our world.

Our Haftarah began with God telling the prophet: “Cry aloud; do not hold back, let your voice resound as a shofar.” There are a variety of ways we can cry out against injustice. At Jacobs Camp this summer I became reacquainted with Jen Marlowe. She had been a counselor and Unit Head many years ago. Since then her path has taken her around the world, where she has been an activist involved in creating and implementing youth co-existence programs between Israelis and Palestinians, Turkish and Greek Cypriots, Indians and Pakistanis among others. She was working with a theater group in Seattle, when she connected with an old friend in 2004, who was planning to make a film about Darfur.

This was early on in the fighting and Jen like the rest of the world was unaware of the genocide taking place. She collaborated with two others, helped raise funds and journeyed to Darfur and throughout Sudan to make the film, to let the world see and hear the reality. “Darfur Diaries” presents the personal narratives of the people who have been attacked, displaced and are fighting for basic dignity. The only words spoken are by the people of Darfur as they tell their story to the world. Jen and her two co-workers dialogued with dozens of Darfurians either in their villages or in refugee camps in Chad. We learn about their history, hopes and fears, the tragedy and resilience of their everyday lives. By meeting real people with full lives, a rich culture and heritage, their story becomes more than a 30 second sound bite on the nightly news.

Jen screened her film to the older campers and shared how she pursues tikun olam, the betterment of our world. She is continuing her mission and is back in the Sudan making a second film. In addition she is diligently striving to keep a number of individuals who are depicted in the first film from being killed by the Sudanese government. Her movie has been shown around the world, so that no one can say, we did not know. Individuals can make a difference. Walking in the footsteps of the Prophets, Jen is a mitzvah hero.


Then we read that part of our prophetic duty is “to unlock the shackles of injustice, to undo the fetters of bondage, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every cruel chain.”

Let me tell you about Kristine Smith. Kristine initially came to see me to discuss issues of Jewish identity and her family history. Then she began to share one of her great passions. With her baby slung around her, she described how she is a one woman campaign to create a law that would ban the sale of products designed to inflict pain upon children.

I had no idea that there are companies around the country selling whips, rods and paddles, specifically designed to beat children. One in Oklahoma markets “The Rod,” buttressing their advertising with quotes from the Book of Proverbs:

22:15- “Foolishness is bound in the heart of the child; but the rod of correction shall drive it from him.”

23: You shall beat him with the rod and shall deliver his soul from hell.

Their ad goes on to promote their product with bullet points such as:

  • Less likely to cause injury
  • Less confusion to the child
  • Belts are for holding up pants
  • Spoons are for cooking and eating
  • Paddle ball paddles are for games
  • Hands are for loving
  • Rods are for chastening

This last item is written in bold letters, with a little smiley face instead of bullets. It goes on to describe that this is a rod of love and how to effectively beat your child.

Another Arkansas Company sells the “Rod of Correction” a spanking stick with Biblical verses on it. Joey in Pennsylvania of “” began his mission to sell spanking paddles, when he became filled with God’s spirit while praying in his shower.

I’m not going to tell you that this is one of the most pressing issues of our time.

What impressed me so was Kristine’s passion. She had stacks of cards ready to be sent to Rep. Jindal, which she personally stamped with her resources with a goal for him to be one of the supporters of legislation that would ban the sale of these products. Along with similarly minded people around the country, that legislation is now before congress. Individuals can make a difference. Walking in the footsteps of the Prophets, Kristine, who is not Jewish, is still a mitzvah hero.

Earlier we learned “If you remove the chains of oppression, the menacing hand, the malicious word… then shall your light shine in the darkness, and your night become bright as noon.” Ben Kfir is a big strong Israeli, who has had to face great darkness.

His beautiful, bright and artistically talented daughter Yael was killed by a Palestinian suicide bomber. By all rights he could be filled with anger and vengeance. Over dinner in Jerusalem he detailed how initially his reaction was withdrawal. He stayed in bed, rarely leaving his apartment in Ashkelon.

Then a friend told him about a group called the “Parents Circle,” now renamed “Family Forum.” The goal of the organization is to avoid further bereavement as a result of the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. A reconciliation process between the two communities based on the conviction that pain and suffering are common to both peoples is their goal. Using bereavement as a universal experience, they strive to alleviate the hatred between the two communities, while educating toward peace and tolerance.

Specifically they connect Israeli parents who have had children killed in the fighting with Palestinian parents whose children have also died. They commiserate with one another and build bridges to end the demonization of each by the other. In teams of bereaved parents from both sides of the conflict, they create dialogue encounters at colleges, high schools and community centers in Israel and Palestinian territories. In some cases it is the first time that a Palestinian speaks to an Israeli who is not in uniform with a gun or an Israeli meets a Palestinian, who is not seen as a possible terrorist. The hope is for tolerance and reconciliation instead of hatred and revenge.

I asked Ben why he does this, literally risking his life on some occasions to speak in places such as Ramallah, a Fatah stronghold. For Ben it is not a matter of forgiveness, but rather to make his daughter’s death mean something.

Shutafim l’kaev-shutafim l’tikvah- Sharing Pain-Sharing Hope. There are now some 500 families involved in this human effort. Individuals can make a difference. Walking in the footsteps of the Prophets, Ben is a mitzvah hero.


There is little more compelling than the exhortation “to share your bread with the hungry, and to bring the homeless poor into your house or when you see the naked, to clothe them.” We hear these words and cannot help but think of the enormous needs in our community, many related to Katrina, but others that pre-date that catastrophe.

In this regard we have many mitzvah heroes within the congregation already. Matt Tarr, who chanted the Torah blessings headed our Religious Action Committee last year. Working with Marc Beerman, who led our Katrina Response Committee, he went out into the community gutting homes. Carol Asher, who chanted the Haftarah blessings, labors tirelessly for the Tipitina’s Foundation to bring musical instruments and musicians back to New Orleans. She and her husband, Harold, are both active board members for two different Charter Schools, Carol with Lafayette Academy and Harold with Langston Hughes Middle School. Buddy Bart, who read the Haftarah translation, is busy promoting positive developments in our community through a television show on Cox cable. I also salute Mindy Caplan, whose Pajama Program literally puts clothes on the backs of children. Rick Streiffer took a leave from his medical practice in order to help lead the effort to restore primary health care for the State. Gary and Suzy Lazarus have led a number of clean-up and rebuild projects, including one recently on behalf of Federation. And I’m sure others of you are heroes in your own right and I may not be aware of what you are doing. As I learn of you and your activities I will be pleased to share that good news with the congregation through our newsletter.

However, Gates of Prayer became particularly linked to one project to make a difference through the efforts of the Silverman family. Shortly after Katrina, Jeffrey Silverman returned for a visit home for a year and volunteered for Common Ground and their Women’s Shelter; his mother, Jackie, then started helping out, Jackie who does not know how to say “no” when she sees people in need. Her years of experience at Jewish Family Service prepared her. She could see that the shelter was running poorly; the building was dilapidated and ill-equipped and there was little leadership. That’s where her husband Dan entered the scene, to apply his organizational skills honed by years in synagogue leadership, including renovating this building in 2000 and again in 2005.

They mobilized a variety of members of this congregation to provide beds and bedding, carpeting, proper electrical and plumbing, food, clothing, medical care and more for the women and children flowing through the facility. We can be proud how with their initiative, we have risen to meet a need.

That need continues. Recently, what was called the Upper 9th Women’s Shelter linked to Common Ground has been spun off by Jackie and Dan to become an independent operation and will be known as The New Orleans Women’s Shelter. A better and larger house, two doors down from the old, has been rented and will be able to serve more residents. Jackie and Dan, working with a number of people to ensure its quality, are committed to helping one group of underprivileged Katrina victims regain independent living.

The facility now operates as a family-style transitional women and children’s home with a focus on helping women stabilize, obtain proper medical treatment and other locally available social services, enroll children into school and day care, register for job training classes, secure employment, locate affordable permanent housing and move on to successful independent living. Since October of 2005, over 200 different women and children have been served.

This Shelter is a wonderful opportunity for our congregational community to make a difference. We are looking for major donors both here and outside our community, who can help underwrite the basic monthly operational costs for rent, utilities, food, transportation assistance, pharmacy and medical assistance, general housekeeping and facility maintenance. In addition we will be collecting food, cosmetics and toiletry items on a regularly announced basis; Brotherhood and Sisterhood have agreed to periodically cook for the shelter members in our kitchen and then bring the food to the Shelter. At holiday time we will engage in projects to make the season joyous. We can all make a difference. We can all be mitzvah heroes.

On Rosh Hashanah evening I wished you a “Happy New Year,” teaching that real happiness can come by being engaged in worthy projects, doing for others. This is one such opportunity. There are hundreds of other possibilities in our community as well where one person can make a difference.

We truly walk in the footsteps of the prophets. It was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who wrote:

“Daily we should take account and ask:

What have I done today to alleviate the anguish, to mitigate the evil, to prevent humiliation?

Let there be a grain of prophet in every human being!

Our concern must be expressed not symbolically, but literally;

not only publicly, but also privately;

not only occasionally, but regularly.

What we need is restlessness,

a constant awareness of the monstrosity of injustice.”

May we be inspired to respond to the challenge on this Yom Kippur.


I am Jewish

Yom Kippur Eve 5769

By Rabbi Robert H. Loewy

Hearing Kol Nidre…. sitting in the sanctuary…. scanning the room…. These are the sights and sounds and senses, which remind us of who we are. We are linked to those around us, those who preceded us and who will follow after us. This embracing moment enables most here tonight to comfortably say, “I am Jewish.” I say, “most,” since I gratefully acknowledge that our congregational family includes a number of wonderfully supportive men and women for whom this is respectfully not their faith tradition, but are very much part of our congregation.

This evening, let us ask what it really means to say, “I am Jewish?” I know that may seem like a straight line for any number of jokes, but this evening I present it as a challenge. During the course of the next 24 hours, I invite you to reflect upon your answer to this essential question. Through words of prayer, teaching from this pulpit and your own private pondering, I hope that as we conclude our worship tomorrow afternoon you will have formulated a response that is both meaningful to you and will prompt your actions in the year to come.

Do you recall the tragic story of Daniel Pearl? He was the Wall Street Journal reporter, who in 2002 was captured and executed by Al Quaida terrorists in Pakistan. Videotaped moments before his execution, he stated, “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.” Then, his life was snuffed out. Why he expressed what he did, we will never really know, but we are free to examine its potential meaning. In death he left behind his parents, Judea and Ruth, a sister Tamara, and his pregnant wife Mariane, who would later bear his son, Adam. This past year, Mariane’s book on the subject, “A Mighty Heart” became a film starring Angelina Jolie.

In response to this horrific act, Alana Frey, a 12 year old Bat Mitzvah girl launched a project to collect writings from people she knew on what it means to say, “I am Jewish.” This was to be a gift to Daniel’s newborn son, Adam, that he might know the possibilities of what his father meant by those words. Inspired by this, Daniel’s parents similarly solicited responses from a cross section of Jewish men and women around the world to create the book, I Am Jewish- Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl. This too would be a gift for Adam, but for all of us as well. By exploring the responses of others, perhaps we can formulate an answer for ourselves, which will motivate us for the future. There is of course no single definition to the question, but one can discern a number of patterns to the responses.

For many, to say “I am Jewish” is a matter of identity. It all starts with biology. When your parents are Jewish, it automatically connects you to being Jewish. If even just one parent is Jewish, you feel linked in some way, whether or not you are raised as a Jewish child. In my Judaism class at Loyola University, invariably a few of the students enroll because they have a Jewish parent or grandparent and feel a kinship with being Jewish. It is also not unusual when one who approaches me for conversion, there lurks a Jewish ancestor somewhere in the family tree.

Being Jewish by “identity” implies that we are part of a large Jewish family for good and for ill. We identify with our fellow Jews wherever they are. We’re all cousins. This often comes up in connection with oppressed Jews or acts of anti-Semitism. The reality is that prejudice and persecution of Jews continues in our world, whether in diatribes from Iran, violence in Europe or incidents here at home. I believe this to be a negative, even destructive base for identity. Martin Peretz, Harvard educator and long time editor of the New Republic states, “Jewish meaning is made out of life, not out of martyrdom.” (p. 60) I believe we are stronger as a community when we focus on what we have done, not what has been done to us.

From our own recent experience, we identify with Jewish communities in a different kind of trouble- nature. As Jews we relate to all victims of natural disasters, but to say “I am Jewish” prompts us to identify with our particular people, like family. As the poster in our lobby so magnificently depicts, we were the beneficiaries of thousands of Jews who reached out to us following Hurricane Katrina. This past year, we in turn have responded to the Jewish communities in San Diego, devastated by fires, Iowa deluged by floods, and most recently in Texas, ravished by Hurricane Ike.

“I am Jewish” also means that we identify with individual Jews as they achieve success and fame in secular realms, including Jewish athletes, celebrities, performers, Nobel or Pulitzer prize winners, politicians, authors, composers and many others. Their prominence may have little or much to do with their being Jewish. Regardless, they are part of our family, and so we identity with them, even bask a bit in their glory. On the flip side, when we discover Jews behaving badly, we feel personally embarrassed and ashamed.

However, I argue that simply being Jewish as a matter of identity is not enough to sustain us as Jews. Modern reality demonstrates that Jews freely enter and exit our community at will. There must be something more than a biological identifying link. Certainly that is true for the wonderful, dedicated members of our community who have come to us through conversion!

Many speak of heritage as the key component of what it means to say, “I am Jewish.” We relate to past historical trials and triumphs, the teachings we have contributed to civilization and accomplishments we have attained, while hopefully building upon them. For example, Larry King, like many others, describes himself as a “cultural Jew.” He writes: “I love the Jewish sense of humor. The shtick of the Jewish comedian burns in me. I love a good joke.” Though he doesn’t observe High Holy Days, he admits to a certain reverence at that time of year as he thinks about his parents. (The rabbi in me hopes it is guilt, not always such a bad feeling, when it prompts us to do what is right.) He goes on to say, “It’s an imprint I carry with me everywhere. I was taught to hate prejudice. I was taught the value of loyalty- the value of family…I was certainly embedded with strong Jewish values of education and learning, no matter what the form.” (p. 52) The problem I have with this approach to being Jewish is that while it gives meaning to his life today, it will neither transcend him or be transmitted to a future generation.

German born Michael Blumenthal, former Secretary of Treasury and now President and CEO of the Berlin Jewish Museum, also embraces heritage as his link to being Jewish. He writes: “Without strong religious anchors there was a time when still young, I wondered whether my Jewish heritage was only a burden to be borne, rather than a privilege and blessing to be acknowledged with pride….The Jewish religion is the foundation for the sum total of ethical and moral values of the Western World. Jewish men and women, wherever they lived, have contributed enormously to every facet of human life. It is a tradition and a heritage to be cherished and valued.” (p. 54) For him, “I am Jewish,” combines appreciation of the past leading to responsibility for the future.

Similarly, Daniel Gill, a childhood friend of Daniel Pearl’s, draws upon heritage as a rallying cry for action. He states: “Being a survivor is not what I think when I say ‘I am a Jewish’.. I think about how we’re different.. We are a people of the book, of law…We question, challenge, debate, extrapolate, construct and deconstruct… We focus on this life, not what comes after…Being Jewish means striving for Tikkun Olam, a repairing of the world, of hesed and rachamim and tsedakah…We built nations, changed the histories of music, arts, science, law and jurisprudence, politics, academia, philosophy, finance, agriculture, every field imaginable. We marched with Martin Luther King Jr. and made Duck Soup and E.T.” (p. 86) We can proudly reflect upon our heritage and say, “we are different and we have made a difference.” Heritage can be a source of nostalgia or a foundation for the future.

Many express their being Jewish through “Tikun Olam- repairing the world.” Numerous respondents stressed that saying “I am Jewish” is an imperative to make the world a better place. In many ways, this was Daniel Pearl’s kind of Judaism. A history of oppression and martyrdom becomes the impetus to shape this world as less cruel and more humane. “I am Jewish” is to side with the oppressed, rather than with the oppressor.” (p. 165) For others- “we are raised to believe that the world can be made better. That the work of creation is a joint venture, with God and humanity partners- maybe even equal partners.” (p. 203) To say “I am Jewish” means to stand upon our Judaism as the foundation for improving the world.

Tomorrow afternoon we will read the story of Jonah. It teaches that God’s love and our concern extends beyond our own particular community. We care about the Ninevites, who were our enemies, even the vegetation which we did not plant. Tikun Olam is the Jewish mandate to be universalists.

Identity, heritage, Tikun Olam are all important. They are significant aspects of what it means to be Jewish, branches and limbs of the Jewish tree of life. However, I believe that the trunk and roots lie in our covenantal relationship with God, which is linked to the faith of Judaism.

Rabbi Harold Kushner discusses how heritage and identity focuses on the past, while the statement of “I am Jewish” needs to address the present and future. “To say ‘I am a Jew’ says something about how I will live this day: how I will treat other people in my life, how honest will I be in my business dealings, how much of my income will I set aside for tsedakah, will I find time in my day for prayer and study? And it says something about the future: what sort of world do I envision and work for? What are the most important values I will strive to impart to my children and grandchildren?…“Life’s challenge is to realize that divine potential in me and the Torah is the instruction manual to guide me to do that.” (p. 165)

My friends, this kind of Jewish self definition does not just happen. It is not achieved by eating Jewish food, socializing with fellow Jews, or even donating to Jewish causes. Rather it requires an investment of self in prayer and ritual to connect with the God, who is understood in so many different ways in our faith; it springs from studying Jewish texts to appreciate the values that will guide our lives; it is inspired by spending significant time in the land of Israel to feel a greater link to our past and current history;

I know that the concept of “requirement” sounds onerous, burdensome. It does not have to be that way. We begin most of our services with the words emblazoned on our gates: Ivdu et Adonai B’simcha. Serve God, whether through prayer, study, daily activity, tikun olam, but serve God with a sense of joy.

7 year old Jade Ransohoff says it so well: “I am Jewish means having fun being a Jew.” This is why so many of you and our children loved going to Jewish cultural summer camps. It can be fun being a Jew. Our Nursery and Religious Schools embrace that philosophy as well. One of the many reasons I became a rabbi was that I concluded, “what could be more fun and fulfilling than being Jewish as my life’s work?” I encourage you to venture forth, experience and celebrate Jewish life with joy.

So what do I mean when I say “I am Jewish?” It begins with indebtedness to my parents, who by their words and deeds made it clear to me who I was. Through formal and informal education I have come to appreciate that I am part of a history and community much larger than myself. The historical episodes of the past, both the valleys of travail and the peaks of triumph are part of my Jewish family heritage. All of this is rooted in a relationship with a loving God, who in mysterious ways instructed our people in the past and continues as an active presence in the future. Through God inspired teachings I possess a moral compass that guides my daily activity and prompts me to realize that I am linked and have a responsibility to all people. And as I navigate my way through each day, I am able to serve God with joy.

Part of Daniel Pearl’s legacy was his final words. They were perceived as an expression of community, a challenge to his executioners, an acceptance of his fate. They have become a source of inspiration for us. I invite us all to consider what it means to say, “I am Jewish” throughout this holy day and then live accordingly in the year to come.



Quotations in this sermon are from I Am Jewish: Personal Reflections Inspired By the Last Words of Daniel Pearl, edited by Judea and Ruth Pearl, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004.






Coping With Loss: Models To Consider


By Rabbi Robert H. Loewy

            Let me begin this afternoon with a word of thanks. I have had the mitzvah opportunity of standing with many of you during your times of loss. This past year was our time to mourn, first with the death of my father, Edwin Loewy and then a few weeks later, my father-in-law, Justin Rosenfeld. My family and I most sincerely appreciated the outpouring of support, expressions of condolence and donations of caring.

On one occasion I was sitting with a congregant, who while dealing with her sorrow, was also consoling me. I explained to her that we all are served the same plate. It is just a matter of timing when it comes to us. This year was our time. The great challenge is how to cope. There are many approaches and sources from which we can learn.

On Rosh Hashanah morning I shared insights to be gleaned from the life of Abraham Lincoln by way of Doris Kearn Goodwin’s book, “Team of Rivals.” As she describes the life of Lincoln, along with the rivals, who would one day become part of his leadership team, there is a subtext of death and how it impacted upon each of the men. We can learn from them as we develop our own coping skills.

Salmon Chase of Ohio was Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury, a brilliant financier who enabled Lincoln to fund the Civil War. We are familiar with his name, as in Chase Manhattan Bank. His father died when he was 9 years old and he went to live with a domineering uncle. There was always gloom in his life. It is reported that he simply did not know how to have fun. His father had died of a stroke following major financial reversals, so that fear of failure plagued Chase throughout his life.

Death continued to stalk Chase in adulthood. Between the ages of 25-44 he buried three wives. Granted, death in childbirth and other diseases was not unusual in the 19th century, it was still a lot for one man to handle. He accepted death as a burden, which weighed him down. An intense work ethic and a fixation on raising his daughter as a perfect woman and proper partner became his focus. He once said, “Death has pursued me incessantly ever since I was twenty-five … Sometimes I feel as if I could give up- as if I MUST give up. And then after all I rise & press on.” (p. 36) Never fully satisfied with his own accomplishments, the main solace he found was belief in a world to come for his loved ones. He coped by immersing himself in work and as a result in many ways was a bitter man. Wallowing in pain is not a foundation for healthy living.

Edward Bates of Missouri was Lincoln’s Attorney General. Like Chase, his father died when he was 11 years old and like Chase a belief in an afterlife brought him comfort. His father’s death impacted upon him as well, but not in the burdensome way of Chase. Rather, Bates was committed to provide and protect his family in ways that his father never could. Not having had a stable home as a youth, Bates delighted in his marriage to his wife Julia and was pleased to consider himself “a very domestic, home man.” While he led an active public career, home and family eclipsed politics as the main pleasure of his life. (p. 63) Bates coped with his early loss by creating the kind of life he would have liked as a child and by all accounts was highly successful.

Edwin Stanton was Lincoln’s Secretary of War. While he did not lose a parent at an early age, first his daughter died and then his wife, at the age of 29. His younger brother also met a tragic end. Dealing with his losses he withdrew from his world for months. Then somewhat like Chase, Stanton immersed himself in his work. Many claimed that the multiple deaths turned him from outgoing to gloomy. As a litigator he became very aggressive in court, intimidating witnesses unnecessarily and antagonizing fellow lawyers, as he did Lincoln. His primary pleasure came from his growing reputation and amassing of wealth. (p. 178) None of this would I describe as healthy coping skills.

However, he remained warm and tender towards his family and especially his son, who was 2 years old when his mother died. Realizing that the boy would have no real memories of his mother, Stanton wrote a letter of over 100 pages telling the boy about his mother, the kind of woman she was, details of the love that he had with her and more. Preserving memory is indeed a positive way to cope with loss.

And then there was Abraham Lincoln. His mother, Nancy Hanks, died when he was 9 years old. His older sister Sarah helped to raise him, but sadly, she too died at a young age. Then the love of his life, Ann Rutledge, died at the tender age of 22. Upon her death he fell into a deep depression. Unlike Chase and Stanton, Lincoln did not believe in a world to come. In truth he was not necessarily very religious at all. As a young man he confided to a neighbor, “It isn’t a pleasant thing to think that when we die that is the last of us.” There are those who suggest that all this loss at a young age provided Lincoln with strength and a deep understanding of human frailty.

Then came his years as President. The catastrophic loss of life during the Civil War weighed heavily upon him. He became a bit more philosophical as he came to embrace the idea that we live on through what we have done. As President, he often penned notes to families upon the death of a soldier. In one such message of condolence to a young girl he wrote, “In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and to the young it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You cannot now realize that you will ever feel better. And yet this is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable. I have had experience enough to know what I say.”

Indeed Lincoln had vast experience on the topic, losing his mother, sister and beloved at a young age. And like many others of his era, two of his children died as well. First was his son Eddie, who died of tuberculosis in 1850. At the time, his wife, Mary, was inconsolable, until she embraced a belief in an afterlife, but Abraham simply maintained a stoic attitude. He did find a measure of consolation in the belief that some part of us remains alive in the memory of others.

Their son Willie was born shortly thereafter. He was inquisitive and playful as he grew into adolescence. The White House became a big playground for him, until Typhoid fever snuffed out his life. Again Mary sunk into a deep depression, while Abraham deeply grieved, held onto the mementoes of the young boy’s life, believing deeply that the dead live on through memory. He would face difficult hours of loss and found comfort in looking at a picture Willie had painted along with a scrapbook he had maintained. Though surrounded by the death of war, the loss of his son caused him to relate to others during their times of loss in a more profound way. In that same letter I mentioned earlier, he wrote, “In time the memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.”

Ironically the day before his assassination Lincoln spoke of future life. Perhaps like many who begin to face their own mortality, the hope for a world to come came into his mind.

Friends, there is no one model guaranteed to help us cope with our losses. Each situation and individual is unique. No one philosophy will ensure solace. Looking at the exampless I have presented this afternoon we can learn positively and negatively from each. Certainly when death comes we are entitled to be sad, lost, even inconsolable. Hopefully that phase will pass with time. For some a belief in the afterlife provides great comfort. Please know that this path is open to us as Jews. While the rational founders of Reform Judaism tended to minimize the emphasis on concepts of afterlife, the belief in a world to come, open to the righteous of all people, is a strong part of Jewish tradition. I cannot tell you what that world is like or definitively that it even exists, but if that is a belief that provides strength and hope, I am not about to deny or demean that possibility.

Our friend Lincoln coped with his losses with what he knew and what we can confirm. Loved ones do live on in our memories and the impact of their lives resonates in the world in which they once lived.

As for me, I embrace all of the above. Though in my early years I rarely thought in terms of a world to come, I am now comfortably open to that possibility. I do not depend upon it, nor will I devote my life to reaching that end. Still, the traditional Jewish belief that our loved ones live on in ways beyond our knowledge provides a measure of solace and the hope of a future time of reconnection. And like Lincoln the gift of memory and the knowledge of lives well lived provides me with comfort, even as I continue to mourn.

At this hour of Yizkor, a time of sacred memory, may we learn from those who have gone before us as we hallow the lives of our loved ones.



This sermon is inspired by the speech of Doris Kearns Goodwin at the 2007 CCAR National Convention, based upon her book, Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln.