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Honorable Mensch-ion

Fragile Foundations


On Yom Kippur afternoon, we read from the book of Vayikra, the holiness code. As we concluded, the honor of dressing the Torah was given to a young 7 year old boy named Eli. As he placed the crowns on the Torah, accompanied by his parents, I watched his parents beam with a smile. Just days after Yom Kippur, we transition from the holiest day, with a sure foundation under our feet, into the sukkah, the most fragile dwelling we find in our tradition. Each evening, in our Haskiveinu prayer, we pray for a sukkat shlomecha, a blanket of peace…

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Who’s Older Now?


The following piece was included in this week’s Jewish Journal. Here is a rabbinic secret. Each year before Yom Kippur, rabbis send an e-mail, asking a simple question: “Has anyone compiled a list of notable deaths for the past year?” The impressive list for 2019 includes architect I.M. Pei, journalist and author Cokie Roberts, business magnate Barron Hilton, businessman and former presidential candidate Ross Perot and actor Peter Fonda. But two years ago, as this email appeared in my inbox, I had no choice but to respond to my fellow rabbis that I had just suffered the loss of my…

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Change?


A woman proudly hung on her mantelpiece a plaque that read, “Prayer Changes Things.” A few days later, the plaque was missing from its place. The woman asked her husband if he had seen it. “I took it down, I didn’t like it,” he replied. “But why?” the woman asked. “Don’t you believe that prayer changes things?” Yes, I honestly do,” her husband answered. “But it just so happens that I don’t like change, so I threw it away.” Over the next several days together, we will ask God for change; change in our lives, change in our communities, and…

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New Friends


Last night, I had the opportunity to meet new members of Sinai Temple. I asked a simple question, “What is your most formative Jewish experience?” Each answer given was more powerful than the next. For one, it was the death of a loved one years ago, and now she wants to show her children the love of Judaism and synagogue that her father showed her. For another, a grandmother who moved to Los Angeles to help raise her grandchild, and another who followed his children to Los Angeles and wishes to seek community. Each individual, with a full and vibrant…

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18 Years


18 is Chai. It means life, a time to celebrate. But 18 years ago, the world changed. I am amazed at how quickly the years fly by, feeling as if I just wrote this same message yesterday, and the day before that. 9/11/2001, as a sophomore at Columbia University and a pre-med student, I saw a different future than the present I live in. That day changed my life as I asked myself, “Who do I want to be?” That semester was the end of my pre-med career and the beginning of my Rabbinic and musical journey, intertwining at each…

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Zero Debris


Our family spent Labor Day at the Santa Monica beach, teaching our children to boogie board and build sand castles. A man sat in the car next to us as we arrived, filming a documentary. Out of curiosity, I asked him what he was filming. He handed me his card, and announced he was the proud founder of Zero Debris, an organization that cleans the Santa Monica Beach and other bodies of water around the world. He then continued, “I soon realized after I started to clean the debris on the beach that I also have debris in my soul….

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Empty Handed


We are commanded when we appear before God on the three festival holidays not to be empty handed. Give what we can give, but give we must. While this must be taken literally in the times of the Temple, it also must be a metaphor for the Judaism we wish to practice today. Rabbi Bernard Berzon explains that an optimistic Jew looks at the rush of people to the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah and shouts, “Our future is here.” Yet when they leave they are empty, thinking the Jewish year can go on without them. The pessimistic Jew sees indifference…

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Satisfaction


We are required to recite birkat hamazon, grace after meals, after we eat a k’zayit, the amount of an olive. The Torah teaches, achalta vasavata, uverachta, we should eat and be satisfied, and then we should bless. There are two conditions before the blessing is recited; both eating and satisfaction. So what if I eat an olive’s worth and am not full? Our Rabbis teach, you still say a blessing. The lesson is deep; while we may not feel satisfied, it is up to us to find satisfaction within any moment of being nourished. The word savata, to be satisfied,…

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Study


When I meet a new parent in our synagogue community, I often ask this question and do not expect an answer, “I know what you want for your child; a well rounded Jewish education, with knowledge of the customs and laws of Shabbat, and history of the holidays. But have you thought of what you would want from your Torah learning?” A Jews is obligated to participate in daily Torah study. The Rabbis place texts within our daily prayers to ensure this practice takes place. The fear was that neglect of Torah study would be the neglect of Judaism, and…

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Stones


The common custom when visiting a cemetery is to place a stone upon the grave. Several explanations exist… Moses carves the tablets from stone, a stone is a metaphor for the eternal God, and Jacob’s ladder arises from a stone. The Zohar teaches us tzur hei haolamim, the soul arises from the stone of the mountain. It is a two-fold ritual. The grave symbolizing the soul that left, and the stone we leave symbolizing our own soul, bound together by our deeds. This Shabbat, we read the Haftarah in the melody of Eicha, Lamentations. We literally cry due to the…

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