Showing posts from 2011

Yom Kippur Sermon - The Happiest Day of the Year

You can read my Yom Kippur Sermon here

Temporary Refuge

I am writing while I am sitting in my sukkah this morning. Sukkot is my favorite holiday and I try to enjoy my sukkah as much as possible during the week that it stands in my yard. My family and I eat, read, work and even sleep in our sukkah. I look forward to it all year and I am always a little sad to take it down at the end of sukkot.

This year I was not sure our sukkah was going to last until the holiday started — the winds were over 20 mph and I was sure the whole thing was going to fall apart. With lots of rope and sandbags my husband managed to keep our sukkah upright, but it was a very clear physical reminder that a sukkah is supposed to be temporary and offers little protection from the elements.

I sat down this morning to write about how much I love my sukkah and how part of my enjoyment is accepting that it is only temporary. And then my friend Rabbi Lisa Levenberg posted this article from the New York Times and I realized how trivial anything I could say would be.

It is am…

Rosh Hashanah Sermon

This Rosh Hashanah I talked about Google and how we need to let ourselves be uncomfortable in order to grow. You can read it here.

God does not control the weather

This morning I read that Michelle Bachmann is blaming the recent earthquake and hurricane on God. While this is not the only ridiculous thing she said recently, I take particular issue with her suggestion that she knows how God works.

God does not control the weather. I have written before about how hurricanes and earthquakes happen because they are part of nature—not to punish us.

Even if I did believe that God uses nature to punish humanity, how would Senator Bachmann know what we are supposedly being punished for? She seems certain that God is sending a message to politicians.

The antidote to Michelle Bachmann is this article by Rabbi Edward Bernstein. God does not use the weather to punish us, and certainly I can't believe in a God who would kill 35 people in a hurricane to prove a political point.

I do believe that there are consequences for our actions. Although God does not control the weather to reward and punish humanity, we certainly punish ourselves when we ignore scien…

Deciding to choose Blessing

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions...

John Tierney, The New York Times' science columnist, recently wrote an article about decision fatigue: the idea that our ability to make a decision gets degraded from making hundreds of small decisions throughout the day. The more we choose, the less able we are to make more choices.

The Torah (always ahead of its time) teaches us in this week's portion that there are only two choices we need consider: blessing and curse. Blessings will abound if you follow the commandments and curses if you do not- the obvious decision, in any case, is to follow the commandments. The portion then provides lists of commandments about where to worship, how to worship, what to eat, how to mourn, and how to celebrate the major festivals.

As Reform Jews we often struggle with the concept of mitzvot and what it means to be commanded. And yet we are very aware that we are all Jews by choice -- we define our Jewish identity by the choices we make every day.

A mixtur…

What I learned at Camp #5 - Take a Leap of Faith

Riding the Zip Line at Camp Newman

Number five: take a leap of faith While at camp this year Isaac and I got to try the zip line. A zip line is a long suspended cable that runs downhill—you put on a harness, climb to the top of a tower, and get clipped on to the line with a D-ring and a roller. You slide to the bottom of the hill, suspended in the air by the cable, cruising along at about 40 miles per hour, soaring over the trees, and when you get to the tower on the other side, someone lowers you to the ground on your rope. It was lots of fun, but to get started you literally have to take a leap of faith. From the top of the tower you stand on a little platform and you have to jump off. You just jump and let the rope do the work. When it was my turn to hide my nerves at being up that high I asked lots of questions: What if I could not slow down when braking? How should I hold my hands? How hard do I tap the cable to slow down? Finally Tal, the young and tattooed Israeli woman who runs t…

What I learned at Camp Newman #4 - Change your perspective

Number four: change your perspective While we were at camp we experienced the first rainy day in summer ever in the 17-year history of Camp Newman. This is California; rain gear wasn’t even on the packing list! And this was serious rain—not a drizzle, but a downpour most of the day. Trying to entertain 600 very active kids indoors all day was a challenge, but it wound up being a great day. It started with reciting the schecheynu at breakfast; from the beginning, the counselors and campers faced the day with positive energy. It was not a rainout—it was an adventure. There were lots of board games, and tables were flipped over for indoor gaga. The camp was like a multiplex, with every available room showing a movie. There was even a sculpture-making class in the director’s kitchen. What could have been a disaster turned out to be a fabulous day. Sometimes you have to just be flexible—take a step back and look at the bigger picture; one rainy day was not going to ruin camp. Our expectations…

What I learned at Camp #3 - Prayer is about you, not about God

Hiking with Rishonim and Rabbi Paul Kipnes at Camp Newman Number three: Prayer is about you, not about God This summer at camp I was with a group of eighth and ninth graders who were spending a month exploring Jewish experiences in nature. Every other day Rabbi Paul Kipnes and I would get a new group of 14 kids to take hiking. At the beginning of each hike we started with tefilat haderech—the travelers’ prayer. We talked with the kids about why, historically, we needed a travelers’ prayer and what kinds of things we would pray for today as we started our short journey up the hills of Napa. The kids went around the circle listing things they wanted protection from—like poison oak, bees and sunburn—and what blessings they hoped to find, like connecting with friends and having fun. We turned all these hopes and fears into a prayer, our own customized tefilat haderech. I could stop here and tell you about the beauty of writing our own prayer—and it was beautiful—but that was the point of the…

More lessons from Jewish Summer Camp: #2 Pray in English

Shabbat at Camp Newman

Number two: pray in English It can sometimes seems that our tradition feels praying in Hebrew is more authentic than praying in English—but there’s a reason there’s so much English in our prayerbook:  sometimes you just need to pray in English. It’s the language that many of us are most familiar with, and in which it is easiest for us to express our thoughts and feelings. You may not be surprised to hear there is a good mix of English and Hebrew in prayer services at camp, but you might be surprised that English is not the only vernacular to find its way into the prayer service. One of the prayers we say in every service is the kaddish. We are all familiar with the mourners’ kaddish that comes at the end of our service, but there is also a hatzi kaddish—a “half kaddish”—that is a marker between parts of the service. When the kaddish was added to the service, it was considered so important that its words be understood by the person praying them that it was not writte…

5 things I learned at Camp Newman this summer #1

TAS Alum and Camp Newman Counselor Sam Avishay welcoming campers on opening day.

Number one: be welcoming. As soon as you arrive at Camp Newman you are greeted by a large group of teenagers, clapping and dancing and singing “Shalom Aleichem.” You know you are in the right place and—more than that—you know that you belong there, and that the people around you want you to be there. Judaism values the welcoming of guests. Abraham and Sarah welcomed strangers into their tent, rushing to help them wash the dirt off their feet and preparing them something to eat. On Sukkot we symbolically welcome our ancestors into the sukkah, already filled with the friends and family we’ve invited. On Passover we say, “let all who are hungry, come and eat.” And of course, Shabbat is traditionally a time for inviting others to share a meal with us. We are a welcoming people. “Come in, sit, have a nosh.” Arrival at camp takes welcoming guests to the extreme. And while our own guests might be taken aback if we gr…

Made with love

Next Spring my daughter will become bat mitzvah and I will present her with the tallit that I am making for her. I have spent the last two days rubberbanding fabric and carefully pouring dye to create what I hope will be a very cool tie-dye effect for her tallit. Last year when I had the chance to make a tallit for myself I knew that this summer I would make one for my daughter to wear. I have been thinking about colors for a year now, so I was ready to start on the first day of camp.

I thought I was ready, but I have been surprised at how spiritual the experience has been so far. Holding the blank fabric in my hands, I realized that less than a year from now I will be standing next to my daughter on the bimah and presenting it for her to wear. The blank canvas was full of possibility and I felt the pressure to get it right. I wanted it to be perfect for her, something that she will love and treasure and hopefully want to keep and use for many years. It took me much longer than I exp…

My tips for packing for Summer Camp

My family and I have been going to Camp Newman for 5 summers now and we packing for camp down to a science. Here are my tips for packing for camp:

15 tips for packing for camp:

1. Make a few copies of the packing list for camp - I write each kids name on the top list and use it as a checklist, I keep one in my purse so when I am out I can look to see what I still need to buy.

2. Zip top bags - I use them for everything - shampoo in one, sunscreen in another, bug spray in a third. They also hold stationary, pens and friendship bracelet string. I write their names on the outside of the bag and what goes in it so they can find their stuff.

3. Label everything, and I mean everything.  My favorite tags are Name Bubbles and Label Daddy, but I also keep a sharpie next to me while we pack. My kids tease me about putting their names on everything, but I have seen the inside of a cabin half way through camp - stuff is everywhere, the kids just throw all their stuff together when they are in a h…

Thinking about God

I love it when people try to connect religion and science.

Whenever there is a natural disaster there are always those who announce loudly that it is the will of God or that God is punishing us. Jon Stewart points out that there are those who are just as quick to proclaim miracles. Either way, it seems people can't help but imagine that God is acting directly in their lives.

Scientific American blogger Jesse Bering writes about why people make that connection; in essence, experiments seem to show that once we hit a certain age our brains are more likely to interpret random occurrences (a picture falling, or lights flickering) as signs of supernatural existence. (You can read the article in its entirety here.) I'm not saying there's isn't a God, if you know me or have ever taken a class with me, you know I am quite vocal about my belief in God -- just that not everything that happens is because of God's direct involvement.

It's not surprising that people see God…

God is not in the earthquake

The earthquake in Japan yesterday and the tsunami that followed it were devastating. Here in California we are not strangers to the destruction caused by earthquakes — though our thoughts are with the people of Japan, for many of us the destruction was a reminder that what we were watching on our TVs and on the web could also happen here.
The world can be a scary place. As much as we understand about earthquakes, we are far from being able to predict them. So what do we do? We prepare our emergency kits and try not to let our fear paralyze us.
For many of us, there are questions. “Where is God in all this?” “How can God allow such destruction?” Unlike the man-made tragedies in Africa — tragedies that organizations like Jewish World Watch are able to address and fight — there is nothing we can do to stop earthquakes or tsunamis.
As always, we seek answers in our tradition and in our holy writing. In the Book of Kings we read about Elijah. He is standing on the mountain before God:
And Adon…