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Honorable Mensch-ion

Stop & Listen


On a short but sweet family vacation this week, I overheard this conversation in a hotel lobby between two people… “You know, sitting through a 3 hour service in a synagogue……” I was quite nervous what was to come next, so I attentively listened. “Sitting in a synagogue for three hours is very valuable…..it forces you to stop and listen.” It was destiny for this conversation to occur in front of my eyes, so as to validate our tradition and Shabbat synagogue rituals. I am grateful my ears were open to listening. As we begin the book of Exodus, Moses…

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30 Years After: Pan Am 103


Thirty years ago, I attended a Syracuse University basketball game as a six year old boy. Over 20,000 fans were about to cheer on the home team. That night was also when my world view changed… Sitting in the stands, my father told me that we just learned about Pan Am Flight 103, an airplane bombed by terrorists over Lockerbie, Scotland. 35 of the 270 passengers and crew killed that fateful day were Syracuse University students returning home from a semester abroad to spend the holidays with their families. I recall my father, a Rabbi, leaving the stadium to make…

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How Does A Rabbi Comfort His Congregants After California’s Wildfires?


The below article was featured in The Forward yesterday. I was confused as I lit the Chanukah candles this year. How could it be that I recently watched thousands of firefighters in Southern California douse out life threatening flames, while my job as a Jew on the holiday was to ignite a spark, and spread that flame throughout the world? How could it be that last month I smelled the smoke of the Woolsey fire in my driveway, prompting the cancellation of a communal outdoor havdalah, but this month, I sniffed the aroma of burning menorahs in my living room crafted…

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By Spirit Alone


The prophet Zechariah teaches us on this Shabbat of Hanukkah, “Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit alone.” The great Jewish composer and musician Debbie Friedman sang, “Not by might and not by power, but spirit alone, shall we all live in peace.” I thought of these words as I watched the funeral service of President George H.W Bush. President Bush was eulogized as a leader of this country, as a friend and as a father. A very telling story came from Bush historian Jon Meachem, who told of his visit to a pediatric cancer ward in…

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The Good Old Days


As a child, I recall hearing about “the good old days.” The days of the Catskill Mountains, the days of a nascent State of Israel, the days of filled synagogue sanctuaries. I would wonder, “When will the good old days be my days?” Have they passed me by or are they still yet to arrive? As I am now a parent of three young children, this same question has crept into our conversations. “Abba, what was school like when you were a kid?” This conversation is highlighted in the manner in which we light the Chanukah candles. The famous debate…

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Lights On


Our tradition teaches, “The flame of God is the soul of the human being.” Paradoxically, as firefighters extinguished rousing flames, the Baal Shem Tov explains that we bring kindness into the world by igniting a spark and creating a flame in our soul. There is a difference between a Shabbat candle and a Hanukkah candle. The Shabbat candle should be used to enjoy, oneg Shabbat, celebration and delight. Hanukkah is meant to stare into the flame. We are even prohibited to use the light for other purposes. The word for candle is ner, spelled with two letter, nun and resh….

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Toda, Give Thanks


Thursday evening, we will sit around a table full of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. Many will continue the tradition of reciting what we are thankful for: family, friends and community. It appears to be one of America’s greatest rituals. As Jews, we can be thankful for our name, in Hebrew, yehudim. We are named after our ancestor Judah, yehudah. The Torah tells when Leah bore a fourth son, she named it Judah, for “this time I will thank God.” The word for thanks, toda, is encompassed in the name of our people. The Talmud teaches, “The following…

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Dayeinu


Dayeinu! I wish I could wait until Passover to say these words. Yet again, we wake up to a mass shooting. For us in Los Angeles, Pittsburgh felt spiritually close. Yet, today, in Los Angeles, Thousand Oaks was physically close. As I was glued to the television, I watched the procession of the hearse of Sergeant Ron Helus down the freeway. Thousands of citizens in the greater Los Angeles area lined sidewalks, streets, and overpasses. Traffic ground to a halt on the opposite sides, paying respects to a man who put his own life in front of others to save…

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May We Remember


The sociologist Erich Fromm taught, “We all have an overpowering urge to leave our mark on the world and to change it.” The Torah tells us, shenei chayei Sarah, these are the years of our mother, Sarah. Sarah lived 120 years, during which every minute blended the physical and the spiritual in the service of God. The eleven lives cut short this past weekend were trying to do just that- live both a physical and a spiritual life. The Rosenthal brothers, both with the genetic condition of Fragile X, were found each week in the back of the synagogue, greeting,…

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Freedom Journey


As I landed in Philadelphia this past week, on vacation with my children, the pilot joyfully announced, “Welcome to the city of the birthplace of freedom.” Yesterday morning, my parents drove us past Independence Hall, the place where the United States Constitution was debated and adopted. My father asked, “Does anyone know what happened here?” My daughter, almost 7, answered, “Yes, grandpa, it is the place where the Jews got their freedom!” While this was not the precise answer, it did ring true of the teaching of our Torah this week. The Jews received physical freedom in the Exodus and…

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