Feeling the Effects of the Jewish Holidays

Every Purim afternoon, my family finds itself driving around dressed in costume, plugging in addresses and delivering bags of mishloach manot to surprise and delight our friends. I can distinctly recall the joy and excitement we have felt  – and have helped others feel  -over the years.

The sense of joy we feel is not just connected to this ritual but to many more as we welcome Purim and its colorful festivities. We dress up in fun costumes, read the megillah – a story of redemption from a dangerous predicament for the Jewish people, feel the glow of supporting those in need of our care, and join together with others for a festive meal. The abundance of these rituals and activities literally brings us into community and relationship with the memory of our people, which reminds us that there is reason to rejoice not only because of the circumstances of our current lives but because of an emotional relationship with the historical memory of our forebears.

There is a cyclical relationship between performing these mitzvot (the commandments of Purim described above) and the joy we feel. The mitzvot bring us to a place of joy and feeling joyous during the holiday provides the impetus to express generosity to our community and read the stories of our ancestors’ gratitude.… Read more

Why Do We Publicize the Miracle This Year

This evening as I chanted the blessings with my family before lighting the Chanukiah, I was reminded of the many miracles that have brought us to this day. We are blessed to live in a country, and specifically, in an area of this country where we can boldly place chanukiot in our windows for all to see. Yes, the chanukiah makes it clear that there are Jewish residents living within, but it also says much more.

Publicizing the miracle of Chanukah through lighting a chanukiah has many different meanings. For some of us the miracle is about Jewish continuity. How incredible it is to imagine that the Jewish people have maintained these lights each year, and are able and proud to proclaim again that we are still here and we are full of hope and gratitude for our lives and our heritage.… Read more

Hope Amidst Pain

As I filled out my ballot this morning I felt a tremendous sense of pride. I am the first of my family on both sides to be born in this country at a time when others like me whose families have come to this country from around the world are running for office. Maital and I stood next to our children as we voted, 100 years after women were given the right to vote, with an acknowledgement that we are both very fortunate to be voting in America today. And at the same time it is a painful time for America. There is real fear and distrust, rhetoric and actions from our leaders which defy our country’s core values.

This moment is painful. As Americans go out to the polls and we wait to see the results of the election I am reminded of Rebecca, who in this week’s parashah is pregnant with twins, and experiencing tremendous pain. God’s explanation to her is that there are warring factions, separate nations in her womb. And ultimately one will dominate the other. The Torah describes that responding to the pain, Rebecca cries out- “Im ken, lama ze anochi?” “If so why do I exist?” She cannot understand why life must be so painful. Is it really worth it?

Each election feels like that painful experience of birthing Jacob and Esau. Our nation feels pain and asks the question- is it really supposed to be like this?

Do we see this as the new normal? Of a country at odds with itself that feels like two separate nations? Like Rebecca, can our system sustain the birth pains of the present?

Despite these questions it felt good to put the ballot through the machine I prayed that this pregnant moment leads to more peace, to a return to our core values, and to a confidence in our country’s ability to bare the pain of the current with hope for the future.

With a Little Help from My Friends

Whether you hear it sung by the Beatles or Joe Cocker, the importance of getting by with a little help from a friend is central to the opening story of this week’s parashah, Vayera. The scene opens with Abraham sitting at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day, healing from his recent circumcision, which left him in pain but still conscience of his responsibilities to offer a little help to his friends. Sure enough, three men (angels, according to many Torah commentators) approach Abraham, who immediately rushes to help them on their journey through the desert.

The Torah describes that Abraham rushes around, despite his pain, to provide water and food for his guests. The Midrash describes that in response to the kindness that Abraham offers his guests, God responds, “as you have brought a little water to My emissaries, I will give your descendants water in the desert. As you brought them bread to eat, I will sustain your descendents with manna for forty years. As you gave them shade under a tree, I will give the Israelites a cover of clouds to protect them from the desert sun.” (Genesis Rabbah 48:10)

As we celebrated together this past Saturday evening at our 10/20 event, I was so inspired by the way that Abraham’s sense of kindness and responsibility towards his new friends was echoed throughout the years of our community.… Read more

Gratitude Amidst Loss

There is a Jewish value called hakarat hatov, which I believe to be an important discipline for my life. Hakarat hatov means recognizing the good. There are some moments when I find it more challenging to recall good things happening around me and there are other moments when it is easy to do so. No matter what I am feeling or what kid of day I am experiencing, I believe that recognizing goodness is an important everyday activity. When things are going well we are encouraged to remind ourselves of that goodness and to specify the person that helped to make that goodness a reality. It helps us remember the source of our blessings and helps us appreciate the gifts we receive and never take goodness for granted. When things are not going according to our expectations or when we feel that life is not treating us well, hakarat hatov reminds us that despite all of the reasons for upset there is usually still something to be grateful for.

I imagine that this is what Noach, the protagonist of this week’s Torah portion, feels as he emerges from the ark after God destroys all of creation except for the humans and animals inside of the ark by sending a flood. Looking around, the images of destruction that Noach sees must be unimaginable. What Noach sees must shock him.… Read more

Happenings at Shaarei Tikvah

There were many many beautiful moments over this holiday period. However, there were two moments when I felt that my breath was taken away. The first was at Neilah, the final service on Yom Kippur, when I witnessed families and individuals coming before the ark and standing in front of the Torah scrolls. For some it was a chance to reflect on the past year and offer a prayer for the year ahead. For others it was a chance to meditate on the themes or ideas in the service, and for others a chance to offer blessings to family members. And of course there were tears. I was lucky to witness the way that so many of you connected with this ritual and our sacred objects and spaces. It simply was a beautiful outpouring of emotion and it gave us all hope for the year to come.

The second moment was last week when I saw the final result of our food drive for the Interfaith Food Bank. We collected 140 bags of food! I got chills as I saw Shaarei Tikvah’s generous heart take shape in the hallways and closets of our building and was very proud as I helped our volunteers schlep heavy bags out to the car for delivery.

With the holidays behind us I want to call our attention to some amazing events happening at ST.

The topic for our first Midtown Midrash will be “Communal Responsibility Against Sexual Assault.”… Read more

Healing the Relationship Between North American Jews and Israel

I want to take a moment to highlight next Shabbat, Saturday September 1st.  At services that morning, we will celebrate Eugene and Diane Linett’s 50th anniversary together with their family. In the evening,  we will hold a very special service called Selichot that helps to spiritually prepare us for the Yamim Noraim, the days of Awe, which are a time for introspection and commitment to change in the coming year.

We will begin our evening at 8:30pm with a fascinating conversation about one of the relationships in our lives in need of healing this year- the relationship between North American Jews and Israel.

One of my teachers and colleagues, Rabbi Menachem Creditor, recently featured in the Jewish Week  will have a conversation with Maital Friedman about the rough edges of this relationship.… Read more

Judaism is not just about observing laws. It is about treating people well.

Rabbi Israel of Rizhin once asked a student how many sections there were in the Shulchan Arukh (16th century code of Jewish Law). The student replied, “Four.” “What,” asked the Rizhiner, “do you know about the fifth section?” “But there is no fifth section,” said the student. “There is,” said the Rizhiner. “It says: always treat a person like a mensch.”

In this week’s parashah, Vaetchanan, there is an interesting passage which relates to this story. “You shall diligently keep the commandments of the Lord your God, and God’s testimonies and statutes, which God has commanded you.  And you shall do what is right and good (hayashar vehatov) in the sight of the Lord, that it may go well with you, and that you may go in and take possession of the good land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.” (Deut. 6: 17-18)… Read more

Reflections from Jerusalem Parashat Devarim 5778

Hi friends!  My time in Israel is winding down and I am getting ready to head back to the US in a few days.  My experience here has been very rich and meaningful.  I spent most of my time in Jerusalem except for a day in Tel Aviv and in Haifa.  I read about but did not witness the attacks in the South of Israel.  Thank you to those of you who reached out to make sure I was safe.  The learning I did with many rabbis of all denominations was fascinating and inspiring and I am looking forward to sharing it with you in sermons, classes, and in my writing.

In my last week here I am reflecting on the experience of visiting places at which something meaningful occurred in my past. … Read more

Greetings from Jerusalem!

I hope you have been enjoying your summers thus far. I am grateful to be in Jerusalem these few weeks where I have been enjoying my time learning with incredible teachers and over 150 rabbinic colleagues at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, including a number of rabbis and educators from Westchester! Most days go from 8:30am to 9:30pm and are filled with fascinating courses and lectures that have been filling my mind and my notebook with precious Torah, which I am excited to share with Shaarei Tikvah.

I want to offer you a few nuggets of Torah from the learning… Read more