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Honorable Mensch-ion

The Mensch Award


This week, I traded my suit and tie for a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers, as over 80 campers attended Sinai Temple Basketball Camp, with long days full of conditioning, learning new skills and drills, and engaging in hard fought competition. Yet, this year has been different. Sinai Temple Basketball Camp now places a strong emphasis on social action. While our younger campers perform a mitzvah a day, be it food and book donations, or writing cards to homebound members of our community, our older campers take time out of their basketball schedules to be trained in special education. Today, ten…

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Graduation


We are in graduation season. Pomp and circumstance constantly plays in my mind as I attend religious school, day school, and pre-school graduations. Parents shed both a smile and a tear, acknowledging accomplishments and challenges overcome. Yet, what will we do tomorrow? How can we appreciate the feat achieved while keeping in mind that there is work ahead? The Talmud teaches that we cannot understand the words of our teachers until 40 years have passed. The words seem simple, but later become deep and profound as we experience the world. In essence, each day is a graduation for every one of us….

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The Kippa Drawer


The kippa drawer is a defining place in a Jewish home. It is that top drawer of a credenza where we collect head coverings from lifecycle events. This week, we cleaned out our kippa drawer. As we went through this process, memories flooded my mind. My Bar Mitzvah kippa, the kippa from our wedding, the kippa I wore at my children’s namings and brises, and the kippa I wore at various events of joy and sorrow. There were big and small kippot, white and black, all shapes and sizes. Yet, every kippa told its own story. The Torah tells us…

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Second Chances


I thought I knew about the tooth fairy until I didn’t. This week, my daughter lost her first tooth. In speaking with other parents, I learned that there are different philosophies about how the tooth fairy works. Does the tooth fairy give more to the child for the first tooth and then decrease its payments, or does the payment start small and increase over time? Our tradition teaches, maalin bkodesh vlo moridin, we should go up in holiness and not down. When a child loses baby teeth, there is a sense of loss. Yet, there is also an opportunity for a…

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Shalom


Shalom is typically the first Hebrew word that a Jewish child learns. Hello, goodbye, and peace. Our liturgy is filled with prayers for peace; peace for the world, peace for the land of Israel, and peace within our hearts and souls. Our Jewish lives are filled with this desire and wish. As a rabbi, I recite the Birkat Kohanim, the ancient priestly blessing, at all sacred occasions; when a child is born, at B’nai Mitzvah, and under the chuppa as bride and groom wrap themselves in tallit. This three fold prayer asks for three distinct blessings: material, intellectual, and spiritual….

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Inspiration, Imagination & Soul


I learned a great lesson from a second grader this week. In preparation for the Valley Beth Shalon OurSpace Special Needs Art Gallery showing of by brother’s art, I spoke to their temple’s day school students. To introduce the artwork of my brother, Eyal z’l, who was a quadriplegic, I asked, “What do you need to create art?” I expected to hear answers such as hands, crayons, and paper. Instead, they told me, “Inspiration, imagination, and soul.” The Torah tells us to “lift up our heads.” Perhaps we should use our mind to learn and pursue knowledge. Yet, lifting our heads…

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The Liberty Bell


No trip to Philadelphia is complete without a visit to the Liberty Bell. And no visit to the Liberty Bell is complete without mention of Parshat Behar, for the words of our tradition, “And you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land,” is inscribed on that bell. Our Torah tells us that we must sound the shofar on Yom Kippur of the Jubilee year. The Rabbis ask what is the difference between sounding the shofar on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur? On our new year, the shofar awakens our soul to a season of forgiveness and repentance. Yet, the shofar on…

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Turning Hatred Into Blessing


Today, I am being shadowed by a 4th grade student from Alice and Nahum Lainer School, who will have the opportunity to be a “Rabbi for a day.” The questions I have been asked are both innocent and deep. One such conversation revolved around the upcoming holiday of Shavuot and the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. The Talmud teaches us that God gave the Jews the Torah at Mount Sinai. Why was it called Sinai? Because it was at that mountain, when the Jewish people were chosen, that the hatred (sinah) of the other nations of the…

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Holy Work


Are we involved in holy work? Recently, I have had the good fortune of teaching Torah outside the walls of Sinai Temple. Our clergy have dispersed throughout greater Los Angeles to teach Torah in our congregants’ offices, over lunch. We often think holiness must be confined to a sanctuary or synagogue building. Yet, Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai engage in this exact talmudic debate. While Bar Yochai is under the impression that we must be in formal Torah study each moment of every day, Rabbi Yishmael lives in the real world. Our worldly endeavors are, in fact, Torah…

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Making the World a Safer Place


The Lubavaticher Rebbe once said, “Evil is simply the absence of good, it has no real existence of its own, and is dispelled in the light of goodness.” The Rebbe’s teaching is a beautiful guide towards making the world a safer place. We know this is easier said than done. Last night, in discussion with Professor Adam Winkler and Dr. Francine Lederer, our community had this exact discussion. While we examined the roots of violence in the workplace, homes, and our society at large, we also heard ways in which we can model for our next generation a life of…

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