Tag Archives: prayer

Why High Holiday Services Matter

On the eve of Rosh Hashanah, I share these wonderful words of wisdom and hope from Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, PhD.

“The High Holidays are the unique message of … the human dream.”

“One should rise at the end of the High Holiday service committed to the proposition that … we are historical moments in the making.”

L’shana Tova uMetukah!

Make it a “Day On”

As we prepare for this weekend’s commemoration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I share the thoughts of a friend and colleague from the Main Line in Philadelphia:

 This weekend, we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday.  Even more, as we celebrate Dr. King’s legacy, and remember his teachings and challenges to us, we hopefully can embrace Todd Bernstein’s challenge to us (Todd is the founder of the Greater Philadelphia MLK Day of Service) to make Monday not a day off, but a day on–a day of service.  We will commemorate Dr. King’s visions, dreams and hopes as we join with the members of Zion Baptist Church and Rev. Jim Pollard, and of Beth Am Israel and Rabbi David Ackerman, and our Unity Choir at services on Friday night at 8:00 pm and Sunday (note-Sunday services will also be at MLRT) at 11:00 am, and in two service opportunities on Monday-one at MLRT and one at Calvary Baptist Church.

 Rabbi Joachim Prinz, himself a refugee from Germany (my parents were members of his congregation in Newark, NJ), introduced Dr. King before he delivered his now famous I Have a Dream Speech on August 28, 1963.  His words seem as relevant and moving today as then.  He said:  “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things.  The most important thing I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem.  The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence…. America must not become a nation of onlookers.  America must not remain silent.”

 I look forward to being with you for this wonderful weekend of prayer, music, fellowship and service.

 Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Straus

What is prayer? Lessons from Channah

Why do we pray?

The Haftarah portion for today is taken from the Book of Samuel.  This is the story of a barren woman, Channah,  one of two wives of a man named Elkanah.  Elkanah loves Channah and tries to show her affection.  But this is insufficient for Channah and she goes to Shiloh to pray for a son who she would dedicate to God’s service.

What is it to Pray?

Is it asking for something?

God I want a pony.

I have a vision akin to sitting on the lap of a giant Santa Claus asking for stuff-

A new iPhone, maybe a new Audi convertible or

if you like cooking gadgets as I do,

a new Vitamix 7500.

Stuff that makes us feel good on the surface- But this is a rather pediatric view of how God fits into our lives.


A more sophisticated version of prayer is to seek connection;

to reach out,  wishing someone you love will be healthy,

that the distance we often feel from another person will be bridged

and we are reconciled.

Prayer is to admit a feeling of emptiness or a void and a yearning for it to be filled.

Channah’s story is fascinating.  She yearns for a child.  The void is in her life is both spiritual and physical.  Her husband, clueless, as many of us are, tries to assuage her with baubles.  He even lavishes attention on her.  But none of this can penetrate beyond the surface and is essentially meaningless to Channah. She turns to prayer.


Prayer is actually difficult, it is uncomfortable because it requires of us to be vulnerable.

We must bare our soul- to God and to ourselves.

We must look into the mirror, as it were,

and see that in the cold harsh light of reality,

the reflection we see is not as beautiful or perfect as we pretend.

That new vitamix is a great toy, but if I do not have someone to cook for

it is just another expensive gadget collecting dust on the countertop.


So Channah prays a fervent prayer.  And as if to emphasize the point, our great prophet Eli mistakes this woman for a drunkard and harshly rebukes her.

But the prayer Channah prays gives her strength,

she becomes resolute enough, comfortable enough in her own skin, not to accept the scorn of the Prophet and speak in his presence explaining herself.  It turns Eli’s heart.


Prayer is powerful it can be awesome and even frightening.

Do we have the courage and inner strength

to look honestly inside ourselves and see truth,

our unvarnished reality with its shortcomings and desires unfulfilled?

It is hard and scary,

but if we are willing to try,

the results can be extraordinary.

And now we read the story of Channah.