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Honorable Mensch-ion

The Books Are Free!


Our family visited our local public library this week and our children received their first library cards. When we arrived at the librarian’s desk for checkout with a pile of books ranging from science experiments to Shel Silverstein poetry, they asked, “How much do the books cost?” They were in shock when the librarian responded, “The books are free…You just need to read them.”    Is this not true of our sacred book, the Torah? We are told that those who are chacham lev, wise hearted, should come and take part in building the sanctuary. The Baal Binah explains the…

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Does Ordinary Become Extraordinary?


The Rabbis’ gift was to infuse sanctity into each and every act of our day. We often believe that our Judaism can be checked in and out at the door of the synagogue. When we are in the sacred sanctuary versus when we are in our offices and our homes, do we need to lose the label of our Judaism?   Parshat Ki Tissa tells the Kohanim that they must wash their hands before they enter the Holy Temple in order to perform Avodah, the sacred service.   The Rabbis extend this ritual to every individual, creating the mitzvah of netilat…

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When Everyone Plays, We All Win


The world was wowed by Microsoft’s commercial advertising the adaptive device for special needs individuals to play video games with their friends and families. One child shouts, “Now everyone can play!” We are told at the conclusion of the commercial, “You never want your child to be viewed as an outsider. When everybody plays, we all win.”   My mind immediately raced back 30 years ago. For most of my life, I have identified myself as a sibling of a special needs person. My brother, Eyal, was diagnosed with a brain tumor and suffered a stroke as a 4 year…

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When You Believe


Over a decade ago, I was introduced to SHALVA, a center for special needs in Jerusalem, which leads the way that the world understands and embraces disability. I have had the privilege to visit SHALVA on multiple occasions and witness the miracle of the impossible become possible. I have witnessed mothers and fathers turn tears into smiles, as they discovered a place where they could feel safe and find opportunities, employment, and resources that greatly improve their quality of life. When I define a Jewish hero, I often point to SHALVA founder, Rabbi Kalman Samuels, who started SHALVA after his…

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Beyond the Game Itself


I did a double take several weeks ago while watching a college basketball game between Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh. At the top of each Pittsburgh uniform, was a large magen david, Star of David. I searched the roster, and did not find one Jew, player or coach, on that team. After being moved by this small but gigantic gesture, I emailed the Associate Head Coach, Tim O’Toole. I thanked him for the kind act and expressed the entire Jewish community’s gratitude, from east to west. Our Torah teaches us that we should not follow a multitude to…

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When A Rabbi And A Mega-Church Pastor Learned To Pray Together


The below article was featured in The Forward. Do you know your neighbor? I live in the crowded city of Los Angeles. I see my neighbors who live in the adjacent buildings to my home, just feet from my own front door. I could not tell you their names. We wave to each other on our way to work, but that is the extent of our relationship in our hectic lives. In rabbinical school, you are required to find a chevruta, a study partner; a person to sharpen our mind with new ideas; a person to challenge us in our…

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All That Jazz


As a high school student, I earned minimum wage working one of the best jobs of my life. I was the pianist in a big band, composed of the top jazz musicians in Syracuse. We would travel around the city playing the music of Glen Miller, Artie Shaw, and Benny Goodman. The audience? Assisted living facilities, community centers, Alzheimer’s centers, and community events. I watched the audience as we started each show- sleeping patients, frowns instead of smiles. Yet, as we concluded each show with “In The Mood,” the tenor of the room shifted to smiles, dancing in the aisles,…

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Pa-itis


There is a hereditary trait in our family called “Pa-itis.” It is named after my grandfather, Pa, who was born in Poland, spent time in a Jewish orphanage in Philadelphia after immigrating to America, and became a tire salesman. Pa, with no more than an elementary education, had the uncanny ability to tell his story to anyone and also illicit stories from those he came across. While it appeared annoying as a young kid, today I not only miss pa-itis, I realize it has been passed down the family tree. Our Torah teaches us, “You shall explain to your child…

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What’s In A Name?


As we make and often break our new year’s resolutions, I leave us with a Jewish version from our tradition. Our parsha this week is called Vaeira which, when translated, means “I made Myself seen.” This is God revealing God’s self to our leader, Moses. God’s name has been known as El Shaddai, the Almighty, but God’s true name has not been revealed. The Talmud digs deeper into this exchange. God said to Moses: I regret the loss of those who have passed away and are no longer found. Many times I revealed Myself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; they…

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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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