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A Bisl Torah

Make it Different


A common refrain: Thanksgiving just won’t be the same. Not the same people. Not the same food. Not the same traditions. Heaviness and disappointment blanket each conversation. It is true for many of us. This holiday season does not have the same kind of celebratory feel when we know it is best to stay home, feasting alone or with a much smaller guest list. But perhaps, one of the ways to lift our spirits is by first, acknowledging that things will not be the same. Allow the frustration and sadness to sit within. Not ignoring the pain. Recognizing the bit…

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What do we need?


My mom and I began to discuss Thanksgiving, a favorite holiday among the Guzik family. Usually, the dining room is bursting with relatives, new friends, tons of food, a warm fire giving the illusion that we experience seasons in California. Last year, my brother and sister-in-law announced their engagement and life felt content, a moment preserved in time. This year, the planning is different. A slim guest list, plans to eat al fresco, donned masks, and limited exposure to the people we love the most. Past Thanksgivings, we baked pumpkin and brownie pies and traditionally, picked up apple, pecan, cherry…

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Shameful Acts


As I have watched the election unfold, I have done exactly what I vowed not to do: scroll through Facebook and Instagram. And while many comments call for action and advocate for a better world, others directly shame people, attack “friends”, and amplify hateful speech and dangerous rhetoric. Whatever this day brings, I am reminded of this important verse from our tradition: “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. Reprove your countryman so you will not be guilty because of him.” Meaning, don’t harbor hate because you have something to say to someone with whom you disagree. Civil…

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Please, face to face


In 2004, Julia Wood, Professor of Communications and Humanities offered a new definition for communication. She deconstructed communication as “…a systemic process in which individuals interact with and through symbols to create and interpret meanings.” In her explanation there is a process of expressing through reaction. Meaning, I say something to you, you interpret what I am saying, your interpretation informs your reaction, and your reaction continues the process of communicating. However, when I say something to you, speaking is only one crumb of the pie. Your interpretation is based on my tone, facial expression, style of dress, whether I…

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Those Shtiebel Moments


A dear congregant gifted me a beautiful memoir about her father growing up Poland during the Shoah. Prior to the onset of the war, her father described the ways in which religious men would frequent the “shtiebel.” He explained that although the shtiebel was a place for prayer, it was also a place where men flocked to schmooze, eat, give and take advice, and listen to each other. I miss the idea of the shtiebel. In a more mundane sense, I miss the coffee room at work, the lounge or lobby in office buildings, a place where people congregate to…

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Taco Tuesday


Our family went around the table to discuss our favorite Jewish holiday. My husband is rare in naming Yom Kippur. I love Sukkot. Our older children gave solid explanations for Channukah and Passover. And finally, with a serious expression, our youngest proclaimed, “My favorite holiday is Taco Tuesday.” Through our laughter, my husband and I can’t decide if we failed or succeeded in our passing down of Jewish knowledge. But we optimistically concluded that in our home, ritual reigns. Our youngest craves repetition. And it has been the Jewish calendar that helps regulate the tenor of the home: what we…

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Is the roof falling in?


Erez and I developed a new pattern upon entering and sitting in our sukkah. We look around, sideways, and eventually upwards. One of us says, “I love this sukkah.” The other responds, “Yeah, me too…I hope the roof doesn’t fall while we eat.” And we continue passing out napkins and water as if it is normal to remark that the roof might fall in during the meal. In fact, we settle further into our seats, comfortable with the understanding that we will know what to do if indeed the “ceiling” caves in. Sukkot is a holiday in which we remember…

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Same Sukkah, Big Changes


Several years ago, we inherited a beautiful sukkah from our good friends Cantor Arianne Brown and Rabbi Randall Brown. Next, we shared the sukkah with our dear colleague and neighbors Jessie Fruithandler and Rabbi Jason Fruithandler. Over the course of many years, the sukkah inhabited new members of our family, congregants, students from Sinai Akiba Academy and Sinai Temple Religious School, staff members, children, and adults alike. Our traditions expanded to include pumpkin pie at Sukkot dinner, serve apple cider, hang orange twinkle lights, and use funky outdoor rugs to brighten up the sukkah floor. This year, we finally decided…

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Ellipsis of a Lifetime


In speaking about relationships, my professor remarked, “With every first hello, there is an impending goodbye.” Meaning, with each birth, new connection, endeavor or beginning, an ending is inevitable. With a start, there is surely a conclusion. It is a natural phenomenon to begin missing someone even as they stand before us; knowing that one day, their physical presence will no longer be there. Knowing that one day, our physical presence will no longer be here. I believe this is the reason Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are adjacent to each other. We acknowledge the birth of the world, our…

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Thanks for Listening


I relay a wonderful story from Philip Goodman’s “The Rosh Hashanah Anthology”: At the conclusion of the service, the cantor approached Rabbi Vevel, the maggid of Wilna, to extend New Year greetings and to be complimented for the manner in which he led the congregation in prayer. The rabbi returned the greeting and added: “It says in Pirke Avot: ‘The world is based on three things: Torah, prayer and deeds of kindness.’ Blessed is our congregation which fulfills these three requisites. I teach them Torah; you pray for them; and they perform deeds of kindness by listening to both of…

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