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Showing posts from 2013

On the way to the URJ Biennal

As rabbi’s kids my daughters are dragged to attend more than their fair share of Jewish events and activities and right now we are on a train headed to the URJ 13th Biennial - the world’s largest gathering of Reform Jews. I have been looking forward to Biennial - seeing old friends sharing best practices and hearing about all the ways that Reform Judaism is thriving. With multiple options for worship and study and discussion it is a chance to live Judaism that is not always as easy in the real world. It is Jewish camp from grown ups.
I want my kids to see that you can be an engaged Jewish adult without being a Jewish professional. That the feeling of connection and community that they have at camp can be found well beyond their teenage years. To know that those NFTY friendships made in high school really do become lifelong friendships.  To see that a vibrant Jewish community happens when people work together to create one. That all the things they love about camp can exist even when th…

Rosh Hashanah Sermon: Be Vulnerable in the New Year

My father died seven months ago.

He spent the last few weeks of his life in the ICU, and we were there with him almost every moment. Many of you know what that’s like — the heartbreak of watching someone you love, slowly dying. You know about the fear and the sadness and the pain. You know about the endless days waiting... the hours you can’t keep track of... careening between hope and despair. 

It was awful.

During the weeks my dad was in the hospital and after his death I was blessed to be surrounded by community and friends... but I found it difficult to accept help. People offered meals, but I turned them down. Friends offered to come sit with me, but I turned them down. I wanted to be strong. I wanted to handle it well. I wanted to control an uncontrollable situation. Those closest to me saw through me, and took care of me despite my protests that I was fine, but I put on a brave face for the rest of the world.

Until one friend didn’t let me get away with it. I was politely refusing …

Israel As A History Book

I'm blogging for the URJ this week - check out my post about traveling in Israel with Birthright here:

http://www.reformjudaism.org/blog/2013/09/09/through-time-and-space-visit-historic-jewish-sites

The Death of Miriam Changes Everything

We learn about Miriam’s death in just one short line, all the Torah tells us is that “Miriam died there, and was buried there”; there are no details of how the community mourned her, but it is clear that her loss is felt by the community and by Moses. The Israelites complaining about conditions in the desert and longing for Egypt is not new. Throughout Numbers the Israelites are quick to complain to Moses and long for the delicacies they had in Egypt. In this case we might excuse their complaints as insecurity. They are grieving and they are uncertain about the future -- what if the well was only there because Miriam merited it? In their sorrow, the community falls back into their old pattern of complaining. They forget about all the other miracles in the desert and myopically only see the current crisis. Grief narrows their vision to only the negative. When Miriam was alive they danced and praised God; after her death they are quarrelsome.  Moses and Aaron are also changed by grief. At…

Packing for Summer Camp

My family and I have been going to Camp Newman for seven summers now, and we have packing down to a science. I’ve got a list of some “must-have” items you’ll want to through in your kids’ bags, but first things first: here’s what you really need to know.
You’re going to forget something, and that’s OK.
Nobody gets everything into the bag, but that’s not a problem. Your kids will be filthy, and they will wish they had brought something they forgot, and they will share clothes... and that is part of the fun. Don’t overpack, and don’t worry about how they’ll manage at camp – they will.
Also: not everything that goes to camp comes home again. One summer one of my kids left her duffel bag at camp; she brought home everything in her laundry bag instead. Don’t send anything to camp that you would be heartbroken if you never see it again. 
Packing: beyond the list.
First, you’ll need a list. Start with the suggestions from camp, and adjust it until it seems right. Our camp’s list never includes a …

Stop Complaining: Dvar Torah on Be'ha'alotekha

The desert is not a happy place for the Israelites. We spend much of the Torah repeating the same story over and over again: the people sin, God punishes them, the people ask Moses to make it stop, Moses prays, the punishment ends, and wherever they are gets named after the events that happened there. It happens over and over and still the Israelites never learn from it.
Three verses that appear in our Torah portion are a story in and of itself:
The people took to complaining bitterly before God. God heard and was incensed: a fire of God broke out against them, ravaging the outskirts of the camp. The people cried out to Moses. Moses prayed to God, and the fire died down. That place was named Taberah, because a fire of God had broken out against them.
How can we understand these three verses? This short piece is a complete story in and of itself. What can we learn from it. We all know that it is not good to complain, there must be something else here that we can learn. The Torah does not …

Getting Ready for Pesach

How many of you have ever forgotten a birthday or an anniversary? 
There’s an app for that.
Most phones these days will remember your loved ones’ birthdays and anniversaries and remind you to say happy birthday. You can even ask for a reminder a week in advance, giving yourself time to write a card or buy a gift.
This Shabbat, Shabbat HaHodesh, is the equivalent of that email reminding you that you have a meeting.
FYI: the meeting is in two weeks, and you’ll need plenty of apples, nuts and wine.
Yes, Shabbat HaHodesh reminds us that we need to get ready for Pesach, but as Reform Jews we may not be as concerned with the Pesach halacha – the laws surrounding Pesach – as we should be about other things.
Most of us are not getting out the second set of dishes and kashering the oven. Instead, we begin a different type of preparation. Well, we do IF we get the reminder. And since tonight is the start of the month of Nisan, the alarm has just gone off.
That is not to say that we are not also cleani…

Eulogy for my father

When I was about seven years old we were walking back to the Sea Gypsy in Pismo on a little side street. I was balancing on the edge of a tall curb as we were walking and I lost my balance. I remember starting to fall and putting my hands out and bracing myself for skinned hands and knees but I never hit the ground. Instead of falling down I was lifted up in the air and I was so startled that I started to cry. My dad had caught me, mid-fall. He had reached down and caught me right out of the air before I hit the ground. I always thought my dad was like Superman; whenever he could he would catch me and stop me from falling. Around my dad, I always felt safe and protected and loved.  
My dad believed that every day was a gift – he lived his life like every day was a blessing. While he was serving in Vietnam he was shot, and though we all laughed about how he lost a butt cheek in the war, the reality was that he was very lucky to be alive. He was laying on his stomach and the bullet graze…