Monthly Archives: February 2016

Shabbat Shalom- Kaddish led the Kirtan Rabbi

Kaddish led by the amazing Rabbi Andrew Hahn, the Kirtan Rabbi.

Shabbat Shalom


Kaddish is a doxology,  a praise of God.  It has become a central part of Jewish liturgy appearing in various versions within our services to mark special places along the way.  The most common form of Kaddish is Kaddish Yatom, the mourners Kaddish, shared in a congregation (minyan) by those in mourning.

Ki Tisa- Trust and Fear

golden calf The relationship between Trust and Fear is very close. They are locked in a dualistic battle for supremacy.

Ki Tisa contains the story of the Golden Calf. Ex 32:1, When the people saw that Moses was late in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron, and they said to him: “Come on! Make us gods that will go before us, because this man Moses, who brought us up from the land of Egypt we don’t know what has become of him.”

 Rashi explains that the people expected Moses to return in 40 days. He was delayed according to Rashi’s reading of the texts by 6 hours. 6 hours delayed after a 40-day encounter with God, and the people rebel. What an extraordinary level of fear that possessed the people to turn against the trust of God and Moses, the covenantal relationship that took the people out of Egypt, crossed the Red Sea and brought them to the moment of revelation, all the Trust undermined by a six-hour delay.

 We learn how difficult trust is to build, how important it is and how quickly it can disappear. We embrace trust as a foundation. We speak of trusting in ourselves so that we can make decisions along our way. We believe trust is the basis for any intimate relationship, that we will be cared for and held securely and safely by another and create a deep meaningful relationship permitting ourselves to be vulnerable because we feel protected. And it is precisely in this place that Fear can exercise its damaging power. In a moment, in a blink of an eye, or in this case six hours, Fear can take all we thought we had and burn it down. Rashi suggests that it is Satan who acts to confound the people. Satan is the fear we each carry inside.

 It is in the realization that we carry Fear as a primal instinct that we can understand its place. Fear resides inside, maybe a protector from an earlier era in human development. It may have helped us survive certain threats, but it shackles us and keeps us down. Only when we consciously use Trust to defeat it, can we overcome Fear and permit ourselves to be vulnerable, creating bonds and relationships with others upon which we can build. However, these two things need to coexist. Fear continues to protect us from threats and tempers Trust. Trust likewise keeps us from becoming paralyzed by Fear. Each is a part of us and we need both to be whole. But when one takes over the other things fall apart.

 Arguably we could say that the people should have trusted in God absolutely.   But we know that for most of us that is not true. God had yet to reveal, that was why they were at Sinai and Moses was the man they followed, making God even further removed. Their trust was tested and the relationships were not strong enough. The fear was able to creep in and crush this new relationship.

 Trust needs to be nurtured and reinforced to withstand the tests fear makes it endure. The story of the Golden Calf is the story of all of us.

It is War

Israel_Declaration_of_IndependenceIsrael is a strong Jewish Democracy filled with promise for her people and for the world. She must continue to strive to remain so. However, Israel is engaged in a two-pronged war that challenges this. One front is BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction). The other front is manifested by the wave of individual stabbing assaults taking place in the streets. These fronts are critical but they are not the places where the war will be won.

BDS is a clever maneuver in the public space to demonize Israel in the world of public opinion. Although BDS appears to be struggling to gain acceptance by national governments, it is resonating with the young on the college campus and other groups who want to support those they believe are the downtrodden and persecuted. It is part of the war for the hearts and minds of the public at large and it has become a force to be reckoned with.

The second front is on the streets of Israel. There is a de facto guerilla war underway. Individuals are arming themselves with any weapon they can: knives, guns and cars, attacking wherever and whenever, creating fear on the streets. This too is a shrewd campaign to inflict maximum damage with limited resources. Each knife-wielding individual creates a bit of terror. And every one, whether caught and imprisoned or killed, is a soldier sacrificed for the cause.

Two sets of actions are required, one tactical and one strategic. The first is to combat the immediate crises effectively arguing against BDS and containing the violence. These undertakings are necessary to promote the safety and welfare of the people of Israel. However these are tactical in nature; stopping the violence with better patrols, containing the violence by encouraging vigilance and raising the profile of law enforcement to preempt the violence. Unfortunately there is an insidious component to the tactical responses to the fear and terror.

In its efforts to protect itself, Israel ironically becomes complicit in the war to undermine itself. Israel undermines its promise of a democratic state by curtailing rights to citizens and non-citizens, it promotes a culture of animosity, seeing the other side as strictly an enemy who does not want peace, the Knesset considers punishing MKs without any consideration of “due process,” internal debate is squelched and not encouraged. The democratic and Jewish underpinnings of the state are compromised. Reacting this way to the situation actually plays into the hands of the adversary. Beyond tactics there is an urgent need to engage strategically, stepping back to consider the root causes of these offensives and how to grapple with the source of the discontent.  This is the critically important second set of actions.

Strategically, Israel needs to take the actions that only a strong powerful nation can and take the risks to build a society within the Palestinian people that gives hope. A future of prosperity and peace is far better than the hopeless squalor and disenfranchisement now suffered by most Palestinians. In Gaza, economic development such as the proposed port is a concept to be seriously considered. A decision on the West Bank is required. Whether it is the pullback of the Israelis to permit a Palestinian state, or the annexation of the West Bank into Israel, the State of Israel can no longer pretend the status quo, with its continued expansion of settlements, is viable. Which of the two choices is the subject for intense and deliberate debate. But after 50 years, Israel cannot pretend this situation is temporary or the disenfranchised people living in the land will simply become satisfied with it.

The risks of maintaining the status quo are arguably even greater than the risks of taking bold actions toward resolution of the conflict. Israel is strong. Its people are energetic and innovative with a deep love and commitment to their land.   With this solid foundation, Israel can build and move forward. It is an incredibly hard needle to thread, but it can be done. Watching Israel help Syrian war victims demonstrates Israel’s ability to do just that. Israel is at war and the threats are quite real. But Israel can still forge the way toward peace.

Shabbat Shalom


We close our central prayer, the Amidah, with the hope that we are heard with a sincere heart. The extraordinary Josh Nelson set this beautiful offering to upbeat energetic music.  This is a great thought to guide us through Shabbat.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, God,

my Rock and my Redeemer.

Shabbat Shalom.

The Kotel Compromise- A win or pyrrhic victory?

kotel-black-and-white-0The Kotel is a special place. As a remnant of the Temple, we have gravitated to it to feel a special closeness to our history, to a Divine place, the home for the Almighty that we built. We feel a deep emotional and often mystical connection that draws us into the space. Otherwise it is nothing more than a large brick wall.

 I recall arriving in Jerusalem for my first year of rabbinical school in Israel. I got off the plane, hopped into the sherut to Jerusalem dropped off the bags and then headed to the Wall. It was late. I had traveled for what seemed like days and although exhausted, I was compelled to go to the Wall. The emotions welled up from deep inside. I stood in the plaza gazing upon this place. With the kind of intense reverence and awe that happens rarely, I slowly approached the Wall. It was powerful. The thing that happened to me was an extraordinary moment, an encounter between my history, my people, my God and me. But the Kotel is not the sole place of my Judaism. The Makom or place of my Judaism extends beyond time and space and includes the idea of a Jewish people. This vision of Judaism however is compromised by the very compromise announced to create separate spaces for different kinds of Jews to pray.solitary wall prayer

 The arrangement for the space at the Wall has in many ways undermined what the space itself means for Judaism. Each denomination of Judaism now has a place it can call its own. The Wall of the Temple has been segregated, sliced and diced so each sect has an area where it can feel comfortable. The gain of a place for egalitarian Jews at the wall however is also the loss of the symbol of the Wall for us all as a place of unity; for these partitions are along the fault lines of Ashkenazic observances segregating us from each other instead creating a place accessible to everyone. The remnant of where God dwelled amidst the Jewish people has become a place of division and discord within God’s people.

 We have all seen the photographs of the wall at the turn of the century. Men and women were 1891amonthinpalestineandsyriathere together. The Wall was a private space to connect individually in a public place. How you practiced or the community with which you identified did not matter. In the early post-1967 days that sense of Klal Yisrael permitted a similar experience. It was fleeting, and sadly, it has devolved into staking territory in a turf war. Although liberal Judaism may have won something important in getting a place at the wall to pray, we must regretfully acknowledge that in this agreement something else important continues to elude us, namely the unity of the Jewish people.

 Perhaps we should re-focus the issue as one regarding the kind of ceremony and ritual that are generally permitted in this public private space. The kinds of rituals that permit us to be together could be more important in the grand scheme of things than the particular observances that create schisms among us. In my experience I was solitary but in communion with Am Yisrael. Under our current circumstances an experience at the Wall might require we visit both areas, one to be among those who share our beliefs and practice and the other to be with another part of our people, to taste their experience and ponder the ideas of the Judaism values that guides us all and strive to create a Judaism that connects us all.