Honorable Mensch-ion

Spirit and Soul

A beginning in the Jewish year is often a repeat of the past. Copy…paste….repeat. But this year is different. It is a beginning like we have not seen in our lifetime. Just two weeks ago, our Sinai Temple religious school students entered our sacred walls for the first time in almost two years. Children are learning the aleph bet, Torah on their tongue, sweet as honey. In Bereshit, we learn that a human being only becomes a living soul when God breathes into our nostrils the breath of life.

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Dancing in the Streets

We are called Yisrael, the people who struggle with God. Yet, Yisrael can also mean Yashir-El, the one who sings to God. The Piezetzner Rebbe explains, “Music is the key to our souls, waking it and its passions. It is possible to open our soul and release some of our spiritual essence.” Music cannot be seen; it can only be heard and felt. Joey Weisenberg, a leader in the modern musical prayer community, tells the story of an intense service he was leading in Minneapolis. Every participant was heavily involved, swaying their bodies and using their voices. At the height of the experience, the Rabbi opened the door and a negative twenty-nine degree wind rushed in and stunned the congregation. The Rabbi said, “This is to remind us that what we do here, with our prayer and music, must go back out there, must be taken back to the streets.”

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Yom Kippur Miracle

A miracle occurred yesterday that must be shared. This year, we have been neither here nor there. Last week, the moment that our Sinai Temple community received the devastating news that our families could not gather inside our sacred space for Rosh Hashana was the same moment we envisioned a way for our community to gather in a meaningful and safe way on Yom Kippur. Words cannot express the gratitude we have to our communal institutions who all said, “Yes!” to open their doors for our worship spaces. Dr. Sarah Shulkind of the Milken Community School and Dr. Jeff Herbst of American Jewish University answered our call and helped us in unimaginable ways, guiding us to find the best spot in our community.

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Twenty Years After 9/11

Each year, on the anniversary of 9/11, I dedicate this column to Joshua Birnbaum. Joshua, a recent Columbia University graduate, worked for Cantor Fitzgerald and was trapped on the top floors of the World Trade Center on that fateful morning when he knew that he would not make it home.

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The Shofar

The shofar is the most popular Jewish instrument. Unlike a trumpet or trombone, there are no valves to play exact pitches. Every shofar is unique, and the sound is pure and simple.

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Second Chances

Isaac Yosef owns Frena Bakery, the only kosher bakery in San Francisco. Four years ago, Carlos Flores walked in to the bakery and asked for a job. Carlos was open about his past. He had been in prison for the last 23 years and was released three days prior. Isaac told him he could start work the next week. What happened next is the meaning of cheshbon hanefesh, introspection of the soul. Isaac started hiring former prisoners, and today, he has had over 40 former criminals working in his bakery, baking challah and other goodies we all enjoy.

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Sit Down

There are signs the holy days are around the corner; the shofar call each morning, the sun setting earlier, and the sermon preparation. Yet, there is one marker that is often overlooked: Psalm 27, the Psalm of Repentance. We recite this morning and evening as we say, “I seek to dwell in the house of God all the days of my life.” The Metzudat David points out the word dwell, shavti, literally means to sit. Thus, when I sit in the house of God, it will be good for me.

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Everyone’s Lost

On our way to the Grand Canyon, we spent a day in Sedona, hiking the magnificent red rocks. As we traversed the Bell Rock path, only a quarter up the mountain, we noticed that there were no more trail signs to follow. We waited for other hikers to show us the way. After a few short minutes, a group gathered, no one with the ability to be the leader. Our children were looking forward to reaching the top, but their hopes were dashed. My son looked at me and said quietly, “Everyone is lost!”

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Several years ago, I had the chance to meet comedian Jackie Mason in a New York deli. During that thirty second conversation, it was obvious that Jackie Mason on stage was the same Jackie Mason in daily life. He knew how to make us laugh, but he also allowed us to look at the world with a Jewish perspective.

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