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Honorable Mensch-ion

What’s Your Story?


Reading bedtime stories to our children is a favorite ritual of any parent. We are cognizant that show and tell is the greatest way of teaching. The sole purpose of our Passover Seder is to entertain the children through the Exodus narrative. The rituals are the props of the theater presented before us. Our tradition commands us to tell our own story, but before we can narrate, we must be able to listen to the stories that came before us. Every Jewish child grows up understanding the Exodus because we continue to tell it. By Kindergarten, most children can recite…

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A Good Joke


A Rabbi and a Pastor walk into a restaurant is usually the start of a good joke, but I have been fortunate to live this reality. Over the past two years, I have established a beautiful friendship with Pastor John Paul Foster of Faithful Central Bible Church, a young professional who is passionate about faith, community, and Israel. Pastor Foster and I break bread together regularly, discovering news ways in which we can assist the other’s community in our sacred work. Rabbi Joseph Hertz emphasizes that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart ten times and nine times God caused his intransigence. Over…

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Roses and Thorns


My friend has a tradition at his dinner table. He asks each member of his family to share a “rose” and a “thorn,” something positive and something negative that occurred that day. This activity is a way for the children and parents to connect and puts the day in perspective. Theologian Paul Tillich writes that a symbol opens up levels of reality which otherwise are closed for us. Roses and thorns are purely symbols, but they represent the reality of the world in which we participate. We each have difficult and beautiful moments, often occurring simultaneously. As Moses shepherds his…

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Acts of Lovingkindness


As Rabbi Guzik leads the Nazarian Teen Fellowship Israel trip, I have had the honor of schlepping our children to winter camps, preparing the meals of their choices, renting movies that will entertain them, and thinking of creative activities that will distract each of us equally. When the silence of bedtime arrives, I gather several moments for myself to process not only the day that was but the day that will be. As Jacob lives out his remaining days, he asks his son Joseph to place his hand under his thigh and “to deal with me kindly and truly.” Rashi teaches…

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Questions and Answers


Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav taught, “As your answers become my questions, perhaps my questions may become your answers.” In just over a week we will both conclude the secular year and finish reading the first book of the Torah. During these transitional times, we take an introspective look inside ourselves, prioritizing our values, and deciding which paths we wish to follow in the year ahead. Rabbi A.L Scheibaum teaches that the beginning of any endeavor is critical; the success depends on the quality of its inception. Our forefather Jacob, when he sees his son Joseph, does not reciprocate the hug…

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Small Flame, Big Light


The Chofetz Chaim suggested that even the most feeble of flames is powerful enough to dispel the thickest darkness in the largest of rooms. We often ask, “What difference will my flame make?” If I keep kosher, observe Shabbat, or give tzedakah, will it matter?” Rabbi Bernard Poupko teaches that the heroic Maccabees never in their wildest dreams foresaw that their revolt would restore Jewish sovereignty for well over two centuries. The statistics were against them, but they fought and prevailed. They knew their actions would affect the generations to come; ancestors whom they would never encounter. As you light…

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Ultimate Concern


Waking up to the smell of ash and a sky painted with an orange glow of fire was fearful and nerve wracking. The theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Faith is the state of being ultimately concerned.” Over these past 48 hours, I have witnessed true acts of faith. Community members opening up their homes to others as they evacuated, children baking cookies and making sandwiches for the Los Angeles Fire Department on the front lines, and synagogues and schools welcoming in those in need. We often discuss faith in grandiose terms; this week, faith, ultimate concern, is real. In times of…

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What God Do You Believe In?


A typical complaint a Rabbi receives: “I don’t believe in God.” Here is my answer. “Tell me about the God that you don’t believe in.” Rabbi Neil Gillman, my first theology professor, helped me create this response. I recall the questions he asked us as college freshmen, immature in our theologies. “Where was God on 9/11? Where is God on a pediatric cancer ward? Where was God during the Holocaust?” Rabbi Gillman never provided an answer, but always provided a space to ask these difficult yet important questions. Here was the final assignment: Write your personal theology. The artists drew a…

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Honest Thanksgiving


Our tradition tells us  kol ha’omer davar b’shem omro, mevi geula l’olam – whoever says something in the name of the one who said it first, brings redemption to the world. The words below are the words of my father, Rabbi Charles Sherman, a Thanksgiving message for all. “The holidays are wonderful. But for many of us, the holidays are difficult. This is the first Thanksgiving since our son’s passing. So my family and I are confronted with an existential, universal, and ancient question: How does one express gratitude with a broken heart? For many, the heartbreak may not be about grief, but instead, illness, family tensions,…

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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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