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Honorable Mensch-ion

The Summer Camp Experience


This week, Rabbi Nicole Guzik and I are serving as Rabbis-in-Residence at Camp Ramah in Ojai, CA. Please enjoy the words that we sent to the families of Ramah campers. While I cannot count the number of times I have put on tefillin, I do know that I have never been witness to or a participant in the process of creating a pair of tefillin…..Until today. How do you answer the question, “What happens at Jewish summer camp?” The typical responses are celebrate Shabbat, learn about and connect to Israel, and create strong Jewish relationships that will last a lifetime….

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The Best Teachers Are Our Students


RecentIy, I was impressed when a young child told me that the tooth fairy gives him a $10 allowance for each tooth. I asked him, “What do you do with all that money? He said, “The first time I gave it to tzedakah.” A simple act of reward, transformed into an act of chesed, lovingkindness. Our Torah teaches in the Shema that we must teach Torah to our children. Sefer Hachinuch tells us that if a parent and a child both need to study Torah, the child takes precedence. Repeatedly, we learn more from our children than the lessons we…

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I Wonder If…


I recently sat in a meeting where we had the ability to set a vision for a program that would impact the Jewish world. We put no budgetary constraints or limits to what could impact this vision. At the conclusion of the meeting, each participant went around and recited “I wonder if….” Our true vision occurs when we do not confine our minds to what could be. Yet, we know, in reality, we are faced with what is. Tomorrow evening, we begin Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the Temples in Jerusalem. The prophet Isaiah teaches that our offerings have…

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Summer Journeys


As we finish the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar, we read the travel log of the Israelites. For several years, I led high school trips to Israel as we read this parsha. The tour guide would point to a sign on the road, and instantaneously reference the verse in this week’s Torah portion. It was as if we were holding the world’s first AAA guide book. Thankfully, the Torah is more than our tour guide. It is our moreh derekh, our spiritual handbook. The question we must ask is not where our journeys have taken us, but rather what…

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Recalculating


It is difficult to make a wrong turn anymore. Protected by our mobile devices’ innate ability to have us reach our destination in the shortest time possible, even when we think we veer off course, a quick reminder tells us, “recalculating.” Our Torah permits us to recalculate our spiritual life this Shabbat. In the midst of our journey through the wilderness, the Torah tells us the appointed times to set in our calendar. In a world of autopilot, it is valuable to turn off our GPS and attempt to navigate our lives manually. Chris Washburne, jazz professor at Columbia University,…

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Tents


While I have little experience camping, I do know that pitching a tent is a must. A Jewish tent seems to differ from the tents we are used to. Mah tovu ohalecha Yakov, how good are your tents, oh Jacob. The tents of our tradition are not closed, but are rather open on each side. A chupa, for example, a wedding canopy, allows the public to see into the most intimate sacred moment. The Talmud teaches that creating peace between people offers rewards both in this world and in the next. We do this by greeting people properly. Rabbi Yaakov…

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The Mensch Award


This week, I traded my suit and tie for a t-shirt, shorts, and sneakers, as over 80 campers attended Sinai Temple Basketball Camp, with long days full of conditioning, learning new skills and drills, and engaging in hard fought competition. Yet, this year has been different. Sinai Temple Basketball Camp now places a strong emphasis on social action. While our younger campers perform a mitzvah a day, be it food and book donations, or writing cards to homebound members of our community, our older campers take time out of their basketball schedules to be trained in special education. Today, ten…

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Graduation


We are in graduation season. Pomp and circumstance constantly plays in my mind as I attend religious school, day school, and pre-school graduations. Parents shed both a smile and a tear, acknowledging accomplishments and challenges overcome. Yet, what will we do tomorrow? How can we appreciate the feat achieved while keeping in mind that there is work ahead? The Talmud teaches that we cannot understand the words of our teachers until 40 years have passed. The words seem simple, but later become deep and profound as we experience the world. In essence, each day is a graduation for every one of us….

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The Kippa Drawer


The kippa drawer is a defining place in a Jewish home. It is that top drawer of a credenza where we collect head coverings from lifecycle events. This week, we cleaned out our kippa drawer. As we went through this process, memories flooded my mind. My Bar Mitzvah kippa, the kippa from our wedding, the kippa I wore at my children’s namings and brises, and the kippa I wore at various events of joy and sorrow. There were big and small kippot, white and black, all shapes and sizes. Yet, every kippa told its own story. The Torah tells us…

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Second Chances


I thought I knew about the tooth fairy until I didn’t. This week, my daughter lost her first tooth. In speaking with other parents, I learned that there are different philosophies about how the tooth fairy works. Does the tooth fairy give more to the child for the first tooth and then decrease its payments, or does the payment start small and increase over time? Our tradition teaches, maalin bkodesh vlo moridin, we should go up in holiness and not down. When a child loses baby teeth, there is a sense of loss. Yet, there is also an opportunity for a…

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