Rehearsal for Death: Can This be Life Affirming?

Posted by on Sep 18, 2015 in Blog | 6 comments

  So have you heard the story of Alfred Nobel and how he started the Nobel Prizes? He was the inventor of dynamite, a Swedish chemist and pacifist who thought he was creating something so terrible that it would end all wars. When his brother Ludwig died, one paper mistakenly ran Alfred’s obituary, with the headline calling him the “merchant of death,” reporting that “Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.” He was horrified and realized that he didn’t want to be remembered that way, and that was the catalyst to the Nobel Prizes. I have heard from a couple of you that my description of...

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Choosing Life: Nitzavim 5775

Posted by on Sep 10, 2015 in Blog | 4 comments

  Choose life. I have to admit, this is one of my favorite phrases in the whole torah. Choose life so that you and your seed may live. Who in their right minds wouldn’t want to choose life? Since this is not a verse about suicide prevention or martyrdom, what it is really trying to teach us?   These are also the verses we read on Yom Kippur morning, our day of atonement, trying to make ourselves at-one with ourselves and God. As we face our shortcomings, the reminder that we are being urged to choose life is powerful.   So how do we do it? How do we choose life?   Rabbi and psychiatrist Abraham Twerski, in his book Happiness and the Human Spirit:...

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Opening Your Hand: Re’ah 5775

Posted by on Aug 9, 2015 in Blog | 6 comments

I want to start with a story about the Baal Shem Tov, the 18th Century founder of modern Chasidism. There is so much to say about him and Chasidism—or Chasidut, but the two points I’ll share is that his name means Master of the Good Name, and people saw him as the quintessential Jewish saint, if we had saints—brilliant, insightful and totally attached to God. Chasidism, meanwhile, comes from the word, chesed, that means lovingkindness. The Chasidic movement grew up around his goodness and was in opposition to the type of Judaism in which we argued about every jot and tittle in the text, but did not feel the mystical connection with the divine source of...

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Facing History: Black Lives Matter

Posted by on Jun 24, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

I keep trying to imagine what it would be like if parts of Germany–or parts of the US–flew the Nazi flag in government areas, or if streets were named Hitler Avenue, Goebbels Street, or Mengele Court. Wouldn’t every Jew feel even more anxiety than we already do? Wouldn’t there be an outcry? Wouldn’t we be talking about how such a horrible thing could only breed even more antisemitism than already exists in the world? I’ve never really experienced antisemitism—moments of people saying weird things that roll off my back, or going to a school that was 77% Jewish but didn’t give excused absences for Jewish holy days. My family got out of Eastern Europe long...

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What Did She Mean? Be’aholetecha 5775

Posted by on Jun 5, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

When I was six, my mother, a single mother going back to work, hired Margie, an African American woman, to be our housekeeper. Her jobs included being there when my sisters and I got home from school, cleaning the house, doing the laundry and making us dinner, while my mother, who struggled with depression, worked, came home, took her Darvon and Librium, and read late into the night. Margie was wise and comforting and funny and in a lot of ways, more available and present to me than my mother was.   Margie’s son, Willis, who was two years older than I was, would come over to our house after school, do his homework alongside us, and play with us or watch TV. He ate...

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We All Shed Tears of Joy

Posted by on May 31, 2015 in Blog | 1 comment

I am still beaming and kvelling from the last wedding I officiated. This sweet couple (two nice Jewish doctors, no less!) had burrowed themselves deep in my heart, as their community held them with even more love. Located at a winery in Santa Rosa, it was a destination wedding for everyone, because when the two men first started to plan, they could not marry in any of the three states in which they or their families live. Even as that changed in their home state, they wanted to be married in a place where they could be assured all the vendors would be supportive of their marriage.   Early in the ceremony, I asked who had ever been to a Jewish wedding before. Most...

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