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Keep, Toss, Repair: Yom Kippur as a Day of Spiritual Cleaning

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I have a confession: I am terrible at keeping my car clean. Every so often I pull the car out of the garage and give it a thorough cleaning. Like any good Californian, I keep an emergency kit in my car in case of earthquake or fire — but I am really bad about cleaning and updating it. During my most recent cleaning I discovered that my emergency kit still contained diapers and long-dried-out baby wipes — my children are now 15, 17 and 19 years old. It seems that the only emergency I was equipped for was one that included time travel. I enjoy having a clean car, but I am not a big fan of doing the actual cleaning. 
However, cleaning is what today is all about. Yom Kippur does not actually mean “Day of Atonement.” We often translate it that way: “yom” as day and “ki-PUR” as atonement… or if we are trying to be clever as a “Day of At-One-Ment” — but that’s not really what it means.
In the Torah the word “ka-PER” is a verb and it means to clean, to purge or to purify. Yom HaKippurim — what …

Unstuck – Rosh Hashanah 5779

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In San Jose, California, there is a small museum set in a beautiful garden; the front of the building is guarded by an army of ram-headed lion sphinxes similar to those found in ancient Thebes. It is the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, and inside there is a replica of an Egyptian tomb which you enter down a dimly-lit flight of faux rock stairs, designed to create the illusion that you are climbing down into an ancient pyramid, not a museum basement.
Life after death was a paramount concern of the ancient Egyptians, and the tomb is a testament to all the measures they determined one could take to ensure a happy afterlife. The ancient Egyptians believed that whatever you depicted in your tomb would come true after your death, so every luxury imaginable was either placed in the tomb or painted on the walls. 
The main room of the tomb was painted with a mural of the Egyptian Book of the Dead and depicted what the afterlife of the deceased pharaoh would look like. Each wall portrayed a differen…

Science, Creation and Paper Midrash at URJ Sci-Tech

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When Isaac stood up and ripped a page right out of the comic book, he was met with gasps and expressions of horror. But that was the plan — after all, we were explaining to the campers at URJ Six Points Sci Tech West how they were going to destroy comic books to create their own paper midrash.
We spent several days last week with the campers at at the newest URJ Summer Camp - Sci Tech West, talking about Torah and midrash and creation, and teaching them how to use cut-up comic books to make new works of art.
One of the first things we did with the campers was ask them who their favorite heroes were. We were met with answers ranging from “which universe, Marvel or DC?” to Einstein and Darwin — superheroes of science. We weren’t surprised, because it’s a science camp, after all. That’s one of the reasons we focused on the story of creation for our midrash workshop; it’s often a flashpoint in debates about teaching science in schools, and it was an opportunity to explore how the science of…

All Hands on Deck - Fingerprint Mosaics at Camp Newman

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This summer at Camp Newman Isaac and I were asked by Rabbi Allie Fischman to help create some new tallitot (prayer shawls) to be used when the counselors bless their campers on Friday nights. We were tasked with finding a way for each eidah (session) to work together to create a single tallit, at the same time giving each camper and counselor a chance to contribute in a personal way.

The challenge was that the groups ranged in size from 30 people to 120 people. How could we find a meaningful way for each participant to be a part of a large group project? And all in an hour-long evening program?

We decided to create fingerprint mosaics, where each camper had a chance to add their personal mark to the tallit and, ultimately, create a work of art that was not just for those campers, but would be enjoyed by everyone. The idea was that fingerprints are personal, but combined together they create a mosaic-like pattern, creating a communal work rather than an individual one — and that it woul…

Shavuot: Our Origin Story

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Superman is the last son of dead planet, raised by salt-of-the-earth parents who taught him to use his power to help others, in support of “truth, justice, and the American way.”
Wonder Woman lived her entire life on an island of peace and prosperity; learning of the injustice and imbalance in the larger world she commits herself to being an ambassador of peace and defender of the weak.
Spider-Man is bitten by a radioactive spider and gains the proportional strength and abilities of a spider; he chooses to be a super hero because of the lesson from his uncle that “with great power comes great responsibility.”
Enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt and in fear for their lives, the children of Israel escape their bondage and travel to a mysterious desert mountain, where they are gifted with a moral code and a mission: to be a holy people.
On Shavuot we celebrate the revelation of the Torah, and our acceptance of our unique destiny. On Passover we reenact our liberation from slavery, but on Shavuot we…