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Honorable Mensch-ion

Where Did You Come From?


This morning I met David Bluthenthal, one of the most well known basketball players in Israeli history, for Maccabi Tel Aviv. What is most fascinating about David is where he came from. David grew up in Marina del Rey. His mother was white and his father was black. His great-grandfather was the son of a white sharecropper in the deep south, and he took on his father’s name, Bluthenthal. Growing up, David was in between many worlds. In Jewish circles, he felt black, and in black circles, he felt Jewish. When the Torah mentions Rebecca, she is called, “The daughter…

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A Place to Smile


A house of worship is supposed to be a safe, sacred place. Last Sunday in Sutherland Springs, TX, a holy ground turned into a place of death and destruction. We know from our tradition, that in these most difficult times, an ordinary act of kindness can be exalted. The Torah tells us that Rebecca quickly emptied her jar, and she ran back to the well to draw, and drew for all of Abraham’s camels. Rabbi Chaim Luzatto teaches “The man whose soul yearns to perform the will of his Creator will not be lazy in the performance of God’s mitzvot….

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100 Years of Hospitality


Today, we celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. On November 2, 1917, British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour sent a letter to Lord Rothschild, a prominent Zionist and a friend of Chaim Weizmann, stating that: “His Majesty’s Government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” In essence, we met a modern Abraham, who opened a tent for all those to enter. The Rabbis ask, “Why was Lot adjudged a wicked man. Had he not, like Abraham extended unusual hospitality when the same strangers visited him?” The Torah teaches that…

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Monday Night Football


I attended the first NFL game of my life this week. My wife surprised me with a birthday present; tickets to the Philadelphia Eagles Monday Night Football game with my father. The Eagles have always been my favorite team, but I had never seen them play in person. The experience shocked me. I found myself embracing strangers after touchdowns, commiserating in sorrow after penalties, and singing Fly Eagles Fly in unison with 70,000 of my closest friends. As we exited the stadium and waited in an hour of traffic, my father looked at me and asked, “Would you do that again?”…

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The Minyan


When I was 8 years old I had a unique birthday party. It was celebrated in the daily minyan. I can still recite the names of the attendees by heart, mostly octogenarians who made prayer a daily part of their life. Yet, the minyan was as much about the words in the prayerbook as it was about the relationships built in the pews. We visited each other when we were sick, we celebrated with each other during simcha, and we became a family. Today, as I sit in our Sinai Temple chapel, almost three decades after that memorable birthday party,…

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New Normal


I spent most of my week carrying a Torah scroll from class to class in our synagogue’s pre-school. When I asked the children what we should do when we finish the Torah, most of them inherently understood that our Torah study is never complete. They yelled with joy, “We will start all over!” Rabbi Joseph Hertz, the first Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, writes that the original name of Genesis was Sefer Massaeh Berehit, “The Book of Creation.” The Torah does not start in Exodus, with the earliest commandments to the Jewish people. Rather, we learn the origins of…

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Happy and Sad


Sukkot is called z’man simchateinu, a time of happiness. The Torah commands us, v’samachta b’chagecha, you should rejoice in your festival. Yet, this week has been one of sadness. A short litany of events; personal loss in our family and community, natural disasters around the world, and the worst mass shooting on American soil. How can we sit in our sukkah this evening and fulfill this commandment to rejoice? The real question is, “What is happiness?” The Vilna Gaon teaches that simcha, joy, is an inner state of happiness, rather than an outward expression. Sukkot is a time set aside…

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The Loss of My Brother


Last week, I led our community in the Unetaneh Tokef prayer. We sang, Mi yichye u mi yamoot, who shall live and who shall die. This week, this prayer is more than words; it is my reality. Last Sunday, my brother, my best friend, and my hero, Eyal David Sherman, of blessed memory, passed away, at the age of 36. Eyal has been a quadriplegic for the last 32 years, after suffering a brain tumor and stroke. Eyal could not move a limb of his body and he could not make a sound with his voice. Yet, Eyal graduated college…

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Shofar Blast


Once it happened that a young boy from a small village came to a big town for the first time. He stopped at an inn, on the outskirts of the town. Suddenly he heard the sound of a bugle. He asked the innkeeper what it meant. “Whenever we have a fire,” the innkeeper explained to the lad, “we sound the bugle, and the fire is quickly put out.” “How wonderful!” thought the village lad. “What a surprise and sensation I will bring to my village!” Thereupon, the young boy went and bought himself a bugle. When he returned to his…

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Bless the Broken Road


The Talmud teaches that atop of King David’s bed, hung a harp. As soon as midnight would arrive, a northerly wind would blow upon the strings of the harp and cause it to play itself. The music would awaken King David from his slumber and he would arise to study Torah until the break of dawn. This Saturday evening, we follow the study habits of King David. We will gather at Sinai Temple for our Selichot service, the prayers recited the week before Rosh Hashana. We pray that our sacred music will awaken our souls to do the hard work…

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