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5778 Sermons

Jewish Pirates...

Immigrants we get the job done!

     It has been the worst year to write for the High Holy Days. This year encompasses so much controversy, upheaval and pain for so many throughout the world. I want to say so much and yet find it hard to put it all into words. I’ve looked to the past in hopes of building a better future.

     Ten years ago, a friend gave me an autographed copy of a book her friend wrote. Robert Kurson’s, book, Shadow Divers, describes the adventure of the men who in 1991 discovered a lost World War II, German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey.

     About five years ago, when my son, Sammy, was in the hospital, my friend brought Robert to visit him. Robert sat on Sammy’s bed and told him about his new book. He told Sammy about an infamous pirate, the battle that sank his ship, and the modern-day explorers who searched to find it. He told him of swashbucklers and modern treasure hunters, ancient history and daily victories and defeats in the search for this rare, lost, sunken pirate ship. His story left Sammy with thousands of questions and a look in his eye as if he should buy a parrot, don an eye patch and head for the high seas. When Robert finished talking he gave took Sammy a small bag containing a few of the pirate beads that had been recovered when the ship was found.  We all thought this was amazing and incredibly generous. We put the beads in a safe place and you all know the rest of these last five years.

     This summer, I’m browsing at Barnes and Noble, and I find the book Pirate Hunters by Robert Kurson on the shelf. I buy it and read it in a day. The history and search for the lost pirate ship, The Golden Fleece leaves me breathless. I close the book and immediately start scrambling around my room trying to remember the safe place I put Sammy’s pirate beads, safe even from myself apparently.

See, when Sammy received the beads we thought it was just a really cool gift. After reading the book and seeing a photograph of the bowl of beads that Sammy’s beads came from, I fully understood how long the beads had rested at the bottom of the ocean and how rare they were. I now understand that these beads sank to the ocean floor during the golden age of piracy during the1680s, over 337 years ago. These beads, are the oldest artifact in my home and one of the most precious gifts ever given to our family out of love for Sammy.  

I was so hyped on reading about pirates now that I thought “If this book was this great then the book Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean should be even better!” Yes. This book exists. Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean. Look it up. Phyllis gave me this book as a gift years ago, but I never found time to read it, until now.

     I know, I say the word Jewish and Pirates in the same sentence and you all think I’m asking if we want Mizrachi Grill or Latkes at the deli for dinner before we go see the newest Pirates of the Caribbean Disney film. Edward Kritzler wrote Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean about the history of Jewish pirates, their role in discovering the new world, and the founding of the Caribbean. Of course, in the Disney film adaptation of the book I think Woody Allen might play Captain Meshuganah sailing the great ship Oy Vey, And Jerry Seinfeld could be his nemesis, the dread Pirate Matzah Ball Soup.

     As Jews, we don’t even think of ourselves as sailors let alone swashbucklers. The Israelites wandered the wilderness for forty years, crossed into the promised land and have been fighting over the same sand and deserts for over 3000 years. We think of our history as land locked without reading into Jonah and the Whale for references that talk about our sailing history. Jonah departs from Jaffa, one of the oldest ports in continuous use from pre-biblical times through today. Jonah flees God’s job posting. Not the smartest guy who thinks getting on a ship to escape God’s anger is wise.

     The Mediterranean coast of Israel has been a port for trade as long as there has been sailing on the Mediterranean Sea. The Jewish people have been experienced in trade and sailing for as long as we’ve been on the western coast of the promised land. Jews became sailors, traders, and some of the earliest navigators along with every other culture who thrived by sea trade.

            So, this leads you to ask, how is there enough history to write an entire book on the Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean? How did Jews become Pirates? Why did Jews become Pirates? What does this have to do with Rosh Hashanah and the New Year? All great questions.

     You all already know one of the important dates by memory, we just don’t always think of what the date meant in Jewish history. If I start the phrase “In 1492…” what do you finish it with? “Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” In 1492 Queen Isabella also exiled all the Jews from Spain. Spanish Jews had three choices. Convert to Catholicism, flee, or face imprisonment, torture and death.

King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella established the Spanish Inquisition in 1478 with operations throughout their Spanish colonies and territories. Its intentions were to identify heretics among those who had converted from Judaism and Islam to Catholicism but weren’t really practicing Catholics. So often, neighbors or business competitors, accused people of being heretics and secret Jews. Whole families would be whisked off by the Inquisition most likely never to be seen again. The Inquisition was not abolished until 1834, during the reign of Queen Isabella II. That’s 356 years of persecution of former Jews who even in their Catholicism weren’t trusted or accepted by their Catholic monarchs, neighbors or the evil Inquisitors.

     I believe 1492 was the beginning of the end of the Golden age of Spain as the monarchs caused their greatest brain drain in history by exiling all of their Jewish businessmen, scientists, bankers, teachers, goldsmiths, silversmiths, advisers, navigators and sailors while torturing any converts they deemed heretics. On the sea, all Jewish sailors with any skill were more than willing to be part of any ship that set out to attack Spain’s fleets and steal her wealth.

     The New World offered potential safe havens as a means of escaping violence and certain death in Spain or any of her closer territories. “Outlawed in the civilized world and vulnerable in the Diaspora, Jews became skilled in ways to find and explore new lands. They were the eras foremost mapmakers, and also perfected the nautical instruments and astronomical tables the early explorers sailed with.” (Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean, Kritzler pg 30.) This is why there were so many Jews sailing with Columbus and helping navigate the seas, on so many ships around the world.

            Many of the Muslim rulers welcomed the fleeing Jews into their territories in Northern Africa. Holland was the most tolerant country who welcomed many Jewish immigrants. They established the largest Jewish community in Amsterdam beginning in 1593. My suggestion is that you go read about Gaspar the Jewish pilot and Samuel Palache the Pirate Rabbi. The book isn’t as easy to read as Pirate Hunters, but the history is fascinating. The Spanish Jewish names do get confusing, but glean the importance Jews played in settling and establishing the Caribbean, South America and Mexico.

            As a people, Jews come from a long line of explorers dreaming of a homeland, sanctuary, safe space and protection since Abraham dreamed of a life where he wasn’t persecuted or ridiculed for his beliefs in one God. Since the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple in 587 B.C.E. Jews have explored the greater world and dreamt of safe havens and of being free from the threat of violence. We’ve been expelled from England in 1290, outlawed from living in France in 1394, exiled from Spain in 1492, from Brandenburg, Germany in 1510, from Italy and Bavaria in 1593, massacred and driven from our European homelands during the Holocaust, and forced to flee Arab and Muslim countries from the moment the State of Israel was founded through the 1970s until almost no Jews remain in any of those countries.

     This past year Jewish Lesbians were expelled from a Gay pride parade because their Jewish Pride made the parade organizers feel uncomfortable with their display of their Jewish stars, symbols of an oppressive regime.
When the oppressed become the oppressors because they have swallowed some other oppressor’s propaganda opposing the historically oppressed you have to question where our world is headed.

     As the historically oppressed, our Jewish history has forced us to explore the world and work hard to make our dreams come true. Time and time again we have found ourselves as strangers in strange lands, with our never-ending history of expulsion from one country after another forcing us to continually work to make this a better world, a safer world, a world where not just Jews, but everyone, can live without fear of persecution of any kind, for any reason. As Lyn-Manuel Miranda wrote so beautifully “Immigrants, we get the job done.”

     On Rosh Hashanah, we celebrate the birth of the universe as we know it and celebrate all of creation, not just the creation of the Jewish people. We celebrate the creation of our galaxy, our universe, our world, home to so many individuals of so many colors, faiths and creeds. We celebrate the natural food resources that sustain us and the connectedness of all things that fit together so well to keep everything going. One planet, created for one humanity, meant for all to share while learning to dream together in our oneness.

     As Jews, most of us have stories of when members of our family were immigrants who came to America to flee persecution and pogroms. We have photographs, old passports, copies of foreign birth certificates. Some can count all the relatives who didn’t make it out of Europe alive during the Holocaust because no safe country would let them in. We remember the Steam Ship St. Louis. One-third of her passengers perished, refused a safe haven by the United States, Canada and Cuba, turned away from port after port, a political pawn forced to return to Europe.

     Jews are the scapegoats throughout history. Other religions, other world leaders have blamed the Jews for their hardships or persecuted them since the Romans destroyed the Second Temple in 70 c.e. Many in our country have a history of blaming the immigrant for the woes of this country and paint these individuals seeking a better life for themselves and their families in dark and dangerous terms. While former immigrants ignore their own immigrant heritage, they demonize today’s immigrants just as their ancestors demonized our own Jewish immigrant ancestors, in an attempt to prevent anyone new from calling the United States their home and seeking citizenship.

     So why, back then, did so many Jews become Pirates? For the same reason that we became freedom fighters and partisans during World War II, to stand against our oppressors and those who attempted to destroy our lives and our livelihood. Jews became pirates to prove their value to their new protectors in Amsterdam and to exact revenge upon Spain. Jewish Pirates sailed fleets against Spanish trade ships and returned possessing not only dozens of Spanish ships but all the gold, silver and precious cargo they were carrying back from South America. One year the rewards of these attacks filled the bank of Amsterdam and helped avert a national fiscal crisis. Piracy allowed Jews to attack the powers that had forced them to flee for their lives, while enabling them to search for a new promised land. Jewish Pirate attacks combined with all the other attacks upon the Spanish fleet changed the development of the New World as we know it and Spain’s dominance of the oceans for all time.

     In this modern age when some would paint immigrants as a scourge on society we all know that we came from somewhere else at some point. As Jews, we have a long memory of what it feels like to be banned from countries, driven out, persecuted with nowhere to go. 

     Why pirates though? Because pirates made up their own rules, typically treated their crews fairly, voted on their course of action and attack in the most democratic manner of one person one vote. Some pirate captains were known to offer some of the best treatment of their crews and when capturing a ship would always ask the captured crews how their own captain behaved toward them. Any violent treatment an enemy captain bestowed upon his crew was bestowed upon him by his pirate captors.

     Why is any of this relevant today? Because once again we are being described as the “Other.” In the current political climate once more the tropes of anti-Semitism and hatred towards Jews ring out in the streets and can be seen in graffiti on the walls of our Temples and Synagogues, on the internet, nightly news and in so many forms of media.

     We’ve been part of creating this great country since the beginning and yet somehow, we are still seen as outsiders, the other, to be hated and feared. The cries of “Jews will not replace us!” rang out in Charlottesville only a few weeks ago. Does this really mean that they think there is some Jewish plot against their existence in this great nation of ours?

     Throughout our history as a nation, Jews have stood as integral parts in any movement seeking the freedoms and equal rights of individuals in our society being discriminated against based on skin color, religion, country of origin, sexual preference or gender identity. And yet somehow a small fraction of white men and women fill themselves with hate and believe all the lies they’ve ever been told about our people and our heritage.

     A percentage of the people who call themselves American citizens have a vision of a country filled with only white, formerly European people like themselves. They whitewash history ignoring the thousands of years Native Americans called this land home before the Puritans ever arrived. They ignore the fact that the majority of the world has never been white. They fight for something that will never be, holding onto dark dreams which in the past have been the foundation for Jewish nightmares.

    As Jews, we cannot stop exploring and dreaming for the whole world, a peaceful world for a time where there is no fear of the immigrant, the stranger, the orphan or the widow. We dream of a world where violence ceases to exist between neighbors, religions, nations or states. We became pirates to fight against the tyrants of the world just like we became lawyers, judges, senators presidential and vice presidential candidates to fight tyranny, speak truth to power and create a just system that provides justice for all those who come after us.

     We did not help build this country from the very beginning or fight World War II to defeat Nazi Germany and National Socialism so that neo-nazis and racists can march in our streets saying no one belongs in America but them.

            A year like we have experienced makes me wish I was a Pirate Rabbi bringing fear to tyrants and righting all the wrongs in our world. I’ve looked into the cost of a good parrot these last several weeks. They are not cheap.

It hurts to read about all the pain and suffering still caused by religious intolerance and anti-Semitism, but it was heartening to read about some of the successes of the past Kritzler wrote about, incredible histories of Jews who in fleeing persecution helped establish the world as we know it. I loved reading about a portion of Jewish history I knew nothing about.

            So, this year, as so many in this country try to help our leaders envision and enact DACA and a DREAM Act we can all support, we should always remember when our parents, grandparents or great grandparents dreamed of a better life for us here and came to America from foreign lands.

     May we all do what we can to remember what the American Dream represents and what it stands for. Looking back to our past should always remind us how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Today we remain free to pray together and share our Jewish heritage in relative peace. We must continue to pray for a time when all the Jewish world may pray in peace without ever fearing persecution or senseless violence again. We pray as a community knowing many cannot. We pray with our families knowing many cannot. We live in freedom and comfort knowing many do not.


     May this Rosh Hashanah usher in a time where we cleanse the ancient memory of so many who still hold onto hatred of our people. May we find our year 5778, filled with blessings, family, health and peace. May our freedom, comfort and safety remind us of what we have and why we work to pave the way, for those who wish to share in our dreams and in our future, towards building a better world for all to live in in peace.

Kayn yehi ratzon – May this be God’s will - L’shanah Tovah 5778

Rosh Hashanah 5778 – Rock & Roll & Anti-Semitism

When I write too much about politics I get emails or talked to. When I don’t talk enough about politics I get emails or talked to. It isn’t too often, but when it happens it is as if those people no longer want to have a healthy dialogue together. This person or that person asks to be removed from our mailing list or cancel their partnership with Har-Shalom as if I’m not going to write about different things other weeks and meaningful things on different matters of great importance. It happens. Not too often, but enough for it to be hard to talk about current events and how they affect us as a community and how they affect the Jewish people without offending someone these days.


My mother taught me that it is very impolite to talk about Sex, Politics or Religion at parties or social functions. I was like “Mom, I’m a rabbi, that leaves almost nothing to talk or write about! The whole Torah, the whole of Jewish history is about sex, politics and religion. I can’t stand up here and just read Abraham had a little ram, its horns so shiny they would make great shofars.” She told me to just figure it out.


The great Chicago rabbi, Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf of blessed memory, believed that if half the congregation wasn’t angry with your stances and the other half wasn’t speaking to you, you weren’t doing your job as a rabbi correctly.  My how times have changed.

I’ve decided to take both their words to heart and I believe I found the loophole I was looking for. My mother never said I couldn’t talk about Drugs and Rock and Roll!! I’ve loved music all my life. In Spring of 1981, when I was finishing sixth grade, Pink Floyd’s single, Another Brick in the Wall, was big on the radio. Its lyrics spoke to me as I was preparing to leave grade school, was practicing for my Bar Mitzvah, and contemplating going into seventh grade.


The chorus menacingly chants:

“We don’t need no Education, We don’t need no thought control

No Dark sarcasm in the classroom, Teachers, leave them kids alone.”


The words spoke to me. We’ve all had teachers, way past their prime, or ones who took out all their petty complaints about their lives on us, their students. I thought the song was so brilliant that I ran to the record store, purchased the 45-single, placed it on my record player and played the song over and over while recording it on both sides of a 90-minute cassette tape. Please take a moment to explain all that to anyone 35 or younger, …what a 45 single was or why we had to record things on frail cassette tapes that our sound systems inevitably ate when our cassette players got hungry.


My intent was to bring it to school on the last day of classes and play the song over and over as our personal, sixth grade, end of year anthem. Now I was a very respectful student, so let’s just fast forward knowing I didn’t actually get to play the song once that day, but sometimes it is the thought that counts.


Pink Floyd’s music has been inspiring fans for almost fifty years. For some seeing them in concert or listening to certain albums is almost a religious experience. Their double album, the Wall, was made into a cinematic masterpiece that strikes out at World War II, fascism, post-World War II reconstruction, the cold war, and the lost generation of children raised by overbearing widowed mothers.

Some of these children grew up educated by those who fought the war or missed the war. The film depicts one such boy raised in an emotionally abusive home taught by an emotionally abusive teacher. The boy grows up to become a charismatic rock star whose followers become a very fascist, hateful and violent cult, similar to everything the Allies fought against during World War II and after. It remains one of the most powerful musical films created, and much of its enduring imagery would find parallels in everything we saw in Charlottesville only a few weeks ago.


The star of the film, musician Bob Geldof, went on to produce the 1985 Live Aid concert and became one of the greatest Rock Musician humanitarians of his age.


At this point you’re wondering what rock and roll or any of this has to do with our Judaism, Israel or our lives today. Roger Waters, the Bass player of Pink Floyd, has become one of the most famous voices of the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement against Israel, known as BDS. He is one of the biggest supporters of Palestine without any consideration for the violence and hatred Israel has faced since 1948 from their surrounding Muslim neighbors or any of the atrocities committed by the terrorists of Hamas. He describes Israel as an apartheid state, uses the most horrific old forms of anti-Semitic tropes and has rallied many famous musicians, religious leaders like Rev. Desmond Tutu, and artists to his cause using lies and distorted facts to support his claims.

At a concert in Belgium Waters used flying pig props with Jewish Stars of David and dollar signs drawn on them. Charles Asher Small, the founder and director of the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy, spoke to the Jerusalem post discussing Roger Waters anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activities:


“A lot of imagery, combined with his call to boycott Israel, gives off a horrific message – and he’s making profit from it... we felt that it was time to take a stand.” Small’s organization launched a website, petition and campaign against Roger Water’s BDS activities.


Waters wrote in June, how it was “the 50th anniversary of the occupation of Palestine by Israel. 50 years living under military occupation, 50 years for a people with no civil rights, 50 years of no recourse to the law, 50 years of apartheid. The BDS picket line exists to shine a light on the predicament of the occupied people of Palestine, both in Palestine and those displaced abroad, and to promote equal civil rights for all the people living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea no matter what their nationality, race or religion. All human life is sacred, every child is our child, exceptionalism is always our enemy. There is no Us or Them, only Us.”


            Forget that this is a biased, one sided view of the last 50 years. What about all the violence and atrocities committed against Israel from multiple forces who feel the country has no right to exist and refuse to peacefully come to the negotiating table to talk about creating a sustainable peace in Israel and the Middle East?

It certainly feels like there is only room for them in their world vision, and never room for us, for the truth, for historical facts, for acceptance of unbiased reality.


In April, there was a huge push by artists who wrote an open letter to Radiohead to protest them agreeing to hold a concert in Tel Aviv this past July. Musician Robert Wyatt commented on why he supports BDS and signed the letter.

“These international cultural events are of course great propaganda for this ruling regime’s desperately sophisticated image, flagrant camouflage for their relentlessly accelerating ethnic cleansing campaign in, for example, Jerusalem. Are you really comfortable with that?”

Radiohead’s, Thom Yorke, pushed back against the BDS movement's attempt to get them to cancel their concert and the band played their longest concert to date. Yorke commented about the concert

“Playing in a country isn’t the same as endorsing its government,” adding, “Music, art and academia is about crossing borders not building them, about open minds not closed ones, about shared humanity, dialogue and freedom of expression.”


When the Israeli government is accused of ethnic cleansing, a line has been crossed. Unfortunately, it isn’t the first or last time this line has been crossed. The overall goal of a movements like BDS is to delegitimize Israel’s right to exist and the Jewish people’s right to hold up a mirror to reflect the atrocities that have been committed against our people in the last century and for much of the last 1600 years, since Christianity and Islam have become dominant waring religions.


Israel has not preached the destruction of any people in the last fifty years and has never sworn to push any other peoples into the sea. Throughout the last 1600 years Christians and Muslims have done everything possible to try and eradicate the Jewish people.

Now, understand, that I don’t think Israel is perfect, but for all of us that

comprehend Jewish and Israeli history, we know that Israel remains the only peaceful country in the Middle East that has repeatedly approached the table for peace talks with the intent of creating peace.


In the Palestinian territories, governmental corruption, an education system that teaches racism and hatred, and state funded violence remain the true barrier to peace. Israel is the only truly democratic society in the Middle East. It is the only Middle Eastern country where Israeli Arabs, Palestinians and Christians may vote in free democratic elections. Throughout the world, Israel is emphasized as the only cause to Middle East instability and the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist rhetoric is constantly used to deflect attention from all the other racist, violent and theocratic nations who surround Israel.


Since the very beginning the Arab world has refused to accept the existence of Israel.


"On the 23rd of September, 1947, the UN General Assembly established an ad hoc Committee on the Palestinian Question to consider the UN Special Committee on Palestine report. The Arab Higher Committee rejected both the majority and minority recommendations within the report. They "concluded from a survey of Palestine history that Zionist claims to that country had no legal or moral basis". The Arab Higher Committee argued that only an Arab State in the whole of Palestine would be consistent with the UN Charter.The Jewish Agency expressed support for most of the UN Special Committee on Palestine recommendations, but emphasized the "intense urge" of the overwhelming majority of Jewish displaced persons to proceed to Palestine. The Jewish Agency criticized the proposed boundaries, especially in the Western Galilee and Western Jerusalem (outside of the old city), arguing that these should be included in the Jewish state. However, they agreed to accept the plan if "it would make possible the immediate re-establishment of the Jewish State with sovereign control of its own immigration."


We all know what happened in Israel in 1948 during the war of Independence. Many of us know our history and what Jews have faced over the last 2000 years as well as in the last 70 years. Israel isn’t the problem. There are problematic elements within the country, but Israel isn’t the underlying problem except to those people in this world who believe it has no right to exist.

After watching the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the end of the Cold War and the historic signing of the Oslo Peace Accords only four years later, I thought that the world had turned a corner, learned from the lessons of the Holocaust and that Palestinians and Jews would finally work together to build a peaceful future with a two-state solution.


Twenty-four years later we seem further away from peace in the Middle East than we have ever been. The war of lies and propaganda seems to be winning when former Rock legends begin to believe their own importance and reveal their true inner beliefs, espousing lies and shameful rhetoric without holding both sides accountable for wrongs committed against each other.


Marisa Martin of World Net Daily recently wrote a commentary on Roger Water’s latest speaking tour across the country and the showing of his latest film project at UCLA.


“A new Waters project makes his loathing even clearer [in the film]: “The Occupation of the American Mind: Israel’s Public Relations War in the United States.” The rocker is the narrator, and by now he could be called the Official Voice of Anti-Semitism. Produced by Sut Jhally, a professor at the University of Massachusetts, this video features some of the world’s harshest critics of Israel (in addition to Waters). Recently the rocker appeared in the flesh to peddle this “documentary” at UCLA. He must have felt right at home. Waters was uninterrupted, with signs at the scene informing students that “disruptions would not be tolerated.” This is an unusual tack for UCLA, which seems to have no problem with disruption, threats, violence and cancellation of pro-Israeli and conservative events. Anti-Semitism is their official policy now. Hillel, Stand With Us, and other pro-Israel groups blasted the “anti-Semitic film” as perpetuating ancient and genocidal “Zionist conspiracy” theories. “The Occupation of the American Mind” updated them a bit, throwing in “apartheid,” anti-terrorism walls, and accusations that the U.S. is controlled by Jewish lobbies (or “well-oiled propaganda machines”). Although fans find it almost impossible to pan a rock icon, even the notoriously left-serving Anti-Defamation League (ADL) “sadly” came to the obvious conclusion that “Roger Waters is an anti-Semite.” He worked very hard for that designation.”

     Today, even rock and roll isn’t sacred anymore. It is painful to watch A handful of famous, aging rockers show their true inner beliefs, revealing their anti-Semitism. We can’t blame drugs and psychedelics for this one when we all know that baseless hatred has the power to make people believe any lie they want to believe. 


I thought Rock and Roll was always meant to unite people. When we crossed the Red Sea on dry land Miriam took up her tumbrel, took all the woman to dance and celebrate the great miracle they had all witnessed. We sing her rock lyrics in every service. King David remains known as one of the earliest and greatest Jewish rock heroes. He wrote poems and songs we still read and sing to this very day. “Sing us a song all the world unto God, Sing us a song unto God.” His son, King Solomon wrote a love song so incredible that Brides and Grooms everywhere still quote it on their ketubahs and have pieces of it read during their ceremonies. “Dodi Li v’ani lo ha-row-eh bashoshanim. My beloved is mine and I am his. He feedeth among the lilies.” Music and words have been powerful tools since first put to song, to parchment, sent as time travelers into the future for us to learn from and find peace in them.


Rabbi Bob Marley wrote in his song 400 years

"400 years And it's the same, the same philosophy, I've said it's four hundred years;
Look, how long And the people they still can't see.
Why do they fight against the poor youth of today?
And without these youths, they would be gone - All gone astray
Come on, let's make a move: I can see time
And if fools don't see I can't save the youth:

The youth is gonna be strong. So, won't you come with me;

I'll take you to a land of liberty Where we can live – live a good life And be free."

Rabbi Bob Dylan wrote:

"How many times must a man look up before he can see the sky?
and how many ears must one man have before he can hear people cry?
and how many deaths will it take 'til he knows that too many people have died?"

So many great poets and prophets have put their words to music, touched the lives and souls of countless fans and never felt the need to speak hatred and lies against any one people or nation. Some voices have risen up against the BDS movement and spoken against Roger Waters, but not enough organizations or concert venues have cancelled his events to indicate that they won’t tolerate blatant racism or anti-Semitism in a world where we are working to get closer to peaceful resolutions and cease the spread of lies and anti-Semitic propaganda.


There are enough composers and rock stars who promote love, peace, tolerance and acceptance. There are more of us who believe the world is an amazing place, that Jews have their place in this world just like anyone else and that Jews are part of the solution, not part of the problem. We all want a strong Israel safe from all terrorist attacks, but truth be told we want a world where no one need fear any terrorist attack of any kind. We dream of a world where all religions can coexist peacefully side by side just as we dream of a world where all countries can coexist peacefully side by side. No one wants to live in fear. We all pray for a world where no one holds onto baseless hatreds. We have so many heroes of music to turn to that remind us of the good in the world and the promise of peace. Our prophets and sages taught so many generations how to dream, love, compose, sing and believe. In this new year, 5778, I pray we all join our hearts in words of peace. I pray we find musical heroes worthy of our time, who work only to make the world a better place. I pray we find moments to lift our voices in song together, causing our souls to shine and send notes of love as high as our aspirations may carry them.


Our Modern Prophet John Lennon said it best in words he thought might be the only way for all of us to create world peace:

"Imagine there's no heaven
It's easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today


Imagine there's no countries, It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace, you


You may say I'm a dreamer, But I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one"

Kayn yehi ratzon - May this be God's Will

L'shanah tovah

Erev Yom Kippur 5778 - Fear {Less}

         Thank you all so much for your kind words about last week’s services and sermons. I’d like to announce my official retirement starting now. If last week was so good, it can only go downhill from here. You are all too kind, and it is always an honor to share my thoughts and words with you. I’ve been told I’m causing a lot of sleep loss to those used to taking naps during High Holy Day sermons. My son Solomon will tell you I am available for bedtime stories if ever the need arises to help with bedtime.


     My friend, Alden Solovy, wrote in his recent book of Poetry, This Grateful Heart, a Prayer Before Sleep:

Watch over my sleep.

Grant me a night of rest and renewal,

And spread Your loving shelter

Over my family and friends,

My [wife/husband/partner/child/children/mother/father]

And all who are dear to me.

Keep us safe throughout the night

And stay present when the morning comes

This night I’m keenly aware of those in special need of Your care.

Ancient One,

Ease my mind,

Soothe my heart,

Rejuvenate my body,

Restore my strength,

Revive my faith,

So that when I open my eyes

To the new day

I will see beauty in Your Creation

And marvel in all Your works.

Then, I will rise

In service to Torah and Mitzvot,

In service to Your will,

A testimony to Your holy name.


     We need this prayer tonight of all nights as we prepare for Yom Kippur. These days we all need more comfort and more rest. I’ve had to learn to shut my brain down at night and just sleep. But some days I wish I could sleep away the entire day. We all need more sleep, more rest, more peace of mind, rejuvenation, comfort and spiritual renewal. We all need times when we put our technology away, put down our screens and look out at all the beauty and serenity around us. We need to remember how to ground ourselves in the now and stop dreading the when, the if, the “I don’t knows”, our doubts, our yesterdays, our tomorrows, our uncertainty.

We need more moments of personal stillness, where we allow serenity to flow over all of us, inside and out, a time when we embody peace and love so that we may heal ourselves, our souls, our inspiration, our minds our missions. Now is the time to reset ourselves, to remind ourselves of the light placed within us by God, our individual sparks, that guide us on our journey through each day, towards the people we need the most and towards those who need us the most.


Kol Nidrei is about freeing ourselves from the dread of all those promises in the coming year we may fail to keep due to circumstances we cannot foresee. Breathe. Accept your humanity. Accept your oneness. Accept that you are not alone in this.


For the past two years, I’ve been listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast. He’s the best-selling author of The Four-Hour Body, The Four-Hour work week, Tools of Titans and his latest book Tribe of Mentors. In his podcast, he interviews some of the most interesting people in the world, breaking down their best practices to better understand how they succeeded in their fields of expertise. A few of my favorites are his conversations with

Jaime Foxx,

Arnold Schwarzenegger,

Scott Adams, the Creator of Dilbert,

Brian Koppelman, film and television writer and producer,

Rick Ruben, record producer and co-founder of Def Jam Records

and the list goes on.

Go look at the long, impressive list of people he has interviewed and I promise you will find at least one of his podcasts that compels you to listen. At this point I’ve listened to over 240 of his podcasts totaling over 400 hours of listening time.  I listen in the car whenever I am driving to weddings, funerals, baby namings, meetings, to the homes of students, or even just to run errands. I feel as if I’ve taken what used to be lost time and turned my car into a classroom where some of my favorite individuals from so many industries of interest become my professionals.


Recently, Tim Ferriss took his interviews to television, producing a show titled Fear{Less}. I believe today is a time where we must all learn to fear less. On Kol Nidre and Shabbat we reflect on our lives, creating a day of peace, a time to just be, sitting both within our own personal thoughts while surrounded by family and friends. It is the time of year when we feel the Gates of Repentance opened.


Our liturgy tells us every year that for wrongs against God we must just ask for forgiveness. But for wrongs against each other we must actively do our best to seek forgiveness and extend our own forgiveness. This is a season made for fear and for learning how to let go of our fears. We each feel personal uncertainty of what the year ahead holds for us. Many of us remain unsure how we survived the trials of last year, let alone the trials of last month, last week, last night. It is a time to just let go, freeing yourself for today, this moment, breathing in as the time slips into tomorrow. Then just continue breathing as you do what must be done and live your life one day at a time, the best that you know how.


A while back Tim Ferriss created a concept he calls "Fear Setting." He created this to help him overcome his personal fears and accomplish the goals he wished to set for himself. “He believes that the hard choices -- what we most fear doing, asking, saying -- are very often exactly what we need to do. His system is meant to help us overcome our self-paralysis so that we might take the actions we need to take. His process encourages us to fully envision and write down our fears in detail.”


“Begin by thinking of a goal that is important to you but that you've kept yourself from attempting, and divide a piece of paper into three columns.

  • In the first column, write down all of the things that could go wrong should your attempt fail. Think of the most terrible things possible.

  • In the second column, determine ways that you can mitigate the possibility of each of those bad consequences from happening.

  • In the third column, think of how you would recover from each of the scenarios you imagined and wrote in the first column.”


In my life and my work, I’ve experienced some of the worst we can experience in our lives, and I’ve comforted families experiencing similar moments of suffering and loss. I’ve also experienced a lot of the best that happens in all of your lives and in my own. When working, I often fear I’m going to say the wrong name at a lifecycle event, have a car break down that prevents me from getting to a funeral, wedding, baby naming or b’nai mitzvah. I fear being late, driving to the wrong address, letting someone down, getting sick when I need to be healthy.


All of this causes me to fear my own humanity. Not all the time, but somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. In my heart, I always know how healthy I feel, do my best to drive safely and keep my car well fueled and well maintained so that I can successfully be where I need to be and do what I need to do with compassion and confidence. I do my best. I’ve spent the last ten years working to face my fears both the irrational ones, 

(Zombie Apocalypse – No more Walking Dead for Me) and the rational ones.

I’ve spent countless hours reading some of the most meaningful books to teach myself how to be comfortable in my own skin and how to control the things I can control in order to mitigate my fears and truly embrace who I am.


I make sure to always be present with all my families so that all the important names are always clear to me. I do my best to learn about my students, who they are, what sports they like, what books they might be reading. I’ve taught myself to embrace city traffic on a Saturday night and to pick a good podcast for the 90 minutes it usually takes me to drive to a wedding. Every day I try to learn something new, and read about methods to be more organized, a better rabbi, a better teacher, a better parent, a better spouse, a better human.

Most of the time I succeed, sometimes I fail. Sometimes we all fail. Sometimes our worst fears are realized and we must pick ourselves up and regroup. Life happens, but we put ourselves under such pressure that our fears almost paralyze us at times preventing us from living.

People always ask my wife and I how we do it, how we keep living, keep carrying on through every day. I don’t have an adequate answer for you. All I know is I have three children and a family that need me, and many people who depend on me. I can’t stay in bed every single day, but I sure as hell pick a day here and there where I just never get out of my pajamas and sometimes suffice with a bowl of cereal when hunger finally drives me from my despair. And then I either prepare for school pick up or look at my schedule and get my tutoring bag as I head out the door to teach and be the rabbi I love being and risked everything to become.


It took me five years to gain enough experience to be accepted to Rabbinical School after being turned down the first time I applied. I failed the Hebrew entrance exam twice and had to spend a summer studying Hebrew in Boston before passing the exam on my third attempt. My fears of never becoming a rabbi outweighed my fear of failure. During that time, I was married to a lovely person who in the end decided she didn’t want to be a rabbi’s wife and give up her work to follow me. No kids, no harm, no foul. We divorced on the best of terms as supportive friends. I met my wife of almost 18 years six months later, on my second day in Israel.

Good thing she likes slightly used, vintage models, and needs her head examined, or I might still be single.


Rabbinical school was so challenging that I failed Philosophy, a class taught in English, using concepts and words I still fail to understand on certain days. The second time taking the course, I took copious amounts of notes and practically lived at my professor’s home doing his laundry so that I could better understand what he wanted me to learn. Some days, during school, I feared I’d made the worst decision ever. Other days I feared for my life. Worst of all, I feared what the process was doing to my soul.


When student teaching and leading services as a student rabbi, I felt I was doing what I had always been meant to do. In the classrooms, I felt many of our professors were speaking a different language with little or no understanding of who we were or what we did out in the real world. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and in my heart of hearts I swore they would have to drag me out of that institution before I allowed my fears, failures and doubts to prevent me from achieving my dream of standing before you today.


It took me seven years to complete a five-year program. During my sixth-year, Phyllis started working at Am shalom and I commuted every week from Chicago to Cincinnati, leaving my wife and baby boy five days a week to complete my academics. My seventh year I only had my thesis to complete and couldn’t think of a word to write down that hadn’t already been thought of or written already. I put my fears, writer’s block and reservations aside, finished my thesis, Fed-exed it to Hebrew Union College, March of 2005, boarded a plane to Israel to visit friends in rabbinical school, was ordained as a rabbi that May and welcomed my son, Sam, into the world that November 8th. I often refer to him as my Thesis baby.


Even standing here before you as your rabbi proved challenging with years of politics, and many twists and turns that often made me think I never should have gotten out of bed, let alone left my Ol’ Kentucky home to travel the world, meet the woman of my dreams and become the rabbi I was meant to become. And yet I am just a human, struggling against my humanity, my fears, my failings, my insecurities just like many of us struggle every day.


We all face our fears daily. We’ve all completed journeys on our paths that felt as if they would never end. We’ve faced setback after setback after setback until we feel we don’t know what success or victory look like anymore. We all have such courage and fortitude as we push forward to achieve our goals and fulfill our dreams. We need tools to face our fears and overcome our frustrations in order to unleash our true inner selves and our full potential.

We sit, here, safe, praying together as a community, evolving as we let go of yesterday, sit within this moment, and look forward to tomorrow. We sit together after gathering for Yontif dinners, where we talked to each other about our hopes and dreams as well as our fears.  Kol Nidre is a time to face our fears. Shabbat is the time to find our peace. Tim Ferris’ tools help us to write down our fears so that we can understand that even if they occurred we would know what to do. We must see our fears for what they are and find solace in our strengths that allow us to face almost anything.


In an interview with Tim Ferriss, motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, teaches that it is impossible to stay angry or be afraid when you count your blessings or think of all the people you love in your life. He says "you can't be grateful and angry simultaneously." We can only hold one powerful emotion in our center at a time and fear/anger are the opposites of love/gratitude. When you find yourself being pushed by your fears or anger, begin thinking of all your blessings and feel the love for all the people you have in your life. This switch will alter how you feel and allow you to view your fears with less trepidation and lesson your anger.

Tim Ferriss Podcast 186 with Tony Robbins


Robbins also talks about how “if we let it, fear can keep us locked up in the prison of the comfortable and predictable.” He explains that fear can also erve a valuable purpose, helping us break through the frustration to achieve the life we truly desire. Some of the most successful people leverage fear instead of allowing it derail them from achieving their dreams. “They know that the real fear is the price they will pay if they don’t give their goals and visions every ounce of energy and focus they have. They know the real fear is living a life where they have settled or compromised on what they really wanted.”

Robbins gives 5 tips to stop letting fear control our happiness, to leverage our fear to our advantage:

Ask yourself what it will cost you if you do not push past your fear. This will help you discover whether or not achieving a specific goal is a “must” and not just a “should.”

Try imagining yourself when you are 80 years old, nearing the end of your life. You are sitting in your rocking chair, reflecting on how you lived your life. Now, look back on your life as if you had not achieved the goal you are after at this moment in your life. How has this affected the course of your life? What are your regrets? What do you wish you had made more time for? What do you wish you had tried? Is there sadness and regret? Are you wondering, “what if…?”


I personally couldn’t imagine never having these opportunities of praying with you, learning from you and being blessed with being part of all your lives. What are your musts? Who are the people who help you quell your fears and achieve your dreams?


It’s easy to push our hopes, desires and dreams aside. We make excuses: there’s just not enough time, I don’t have the money or the resources, I have a family, I’m just too busy. And we start to hide behind those excuses. Because they’re comforting. They’re safe. But excuses will also bring you back to exactly where you started. So remember that the next time an excuse floats into your mind."

What are your excuses? At times, I allow certain professors words form years gone by hinder me from writing because I was told often enough that my writing doesn’t have what it takes, that I should seek some other profession. We all need to silence the fears that hold us back, telling us what we can’t do. We must always remember that trying reminds us what we can do.

People often give up on what they want because they believe that reaching their goal is beyond their abilities. But most successful people foster a growth mindset. They don’t think of their abilities as fixed, but rather as flexible. And when faced with a setback, they try harder. They adopt a new strategy. They keep seeking a solution."

The saying goes that if you believe you can you are right and if you believe you can’t you are also right. In order to overcome our fears and be the best human we can be we must believe that we can even if it takes hard work and a lot of exertion. Every day is a struggle for some of us, but our people are there if we look around to give us the encouragement and support we need.


The most painful experiences can help refine what you want, and what you don’t want in life. Failure, disappointment, dead-ends — these can all be used as a means of reflecting and saying, “this didn’t work. It wasn’t the right fit. So what do I really want?” Remember, we are built to adapt."

Going through all the pain in my life, the one thing that kept me focused was being able to learn from it, learn how much I could stand, letting it teach me how to be there for others who were going through the same pain, and trying to understand that everyone experiences painful moments, we just don’t always know how we will be on the other side of our pain. We can’t do this alone. It takes community to remember that we aren’t alone in this. So many people helped pick me up every time I got knocked down that I’ve lost count. We all have angels in our lives who help dust us off when we need it the most.

You will fail. It’s just part of the process. Any successful person will tell you that. But failure offers insights and inherently corrects the faulty ways of approaching a problem. There is no teacher as impactful as the sting of failure. And no lesson in resilience better than the burn of rejection. But if you use these experiences as unique information, and adjust your strategy and approach the next time around, you will have an advantage that no one else does.”

We all fail at some point or other. We all have fears that try to isolate us and prevent us from being our best selves. If we learn to embrace both our fears and our failures we will learn that nothing can keep us down or hold us back unless we let it. Kol Nidrei is our annual wakeup call reminding us to look back and look forward to who we were and who we want to be. Our liturgy reminds us of all the worst aspects of being human and we need to remind ourselves of all the best aspects of our humanity. We are born of light, we hold lightening within the bottle of our bodies that send thoughts at the speed of light through our mind, that bring our visions into the real world in color and full celebration.


Blogger, Beth Woolsey, once shared the fable, The Lobster and the Crab from Fables by Arnold Lobel

“On a stormy day, the Crab went strolling along the beach. He was surprised to see the Lobster preparing to set sail in his boat. “Lobster,” said the Crab, “it is foolhardy to venture out on a day like this.” “Perhaps so,” said the Lobster, “but I love a squall at sea!” “I will come with you,” said the Crab. “I will not let you face such danger alone.” The Lobster and the Crab began their voyage. Soon they found themselves far from shore. Their boat was tossed and buffeted by the turbulent waters. “Crab!” shouted the Lobster above the roar of the wind. “For me, the splashing of the salt spray is thrilling! The crashing of every wave takes my breath away!” “Lobster, I think we are sinking!” cried the Crab. “Yes, of course, we are sinking,” said the Lobster. “This old boat is full of holes. Have courage, my friend. Remember, we are both creatures of the sea.” The little boat capsized and sank. “Horrors!” cried the Crab. “Down we go!” shouted the Lobster. The Crab was shaken and upset. The Lobster took him for a relaxing walk along the ocean floor. “How brave we are,” said the Lobster. “What a wonderful adventure we have had!” The Crab began to feel somewhat better. Although he usually enjoyed a quieter existence, he had to admit that the day had been pleasantly out of the ordinary.


Woolsey talks about loving this, because she believes it sums up all of friendship and all of love. The crab, is afraid and yet joins his friend saying, “I will come with you. I will not let you face such danger alone.” And when the boat actually sinks, which, metaphorically happens at some point in all of our lives, Crab yells “Lobster, I think we are sinking!” Lobster calmly replies to his friend, “Yes, of course, we are sinking,” said the Lobster. “This old boat is full of holes. Have courage, my friend. Remember, we are both creatures of the sea.”


We all know that life is full of storms and danger. Leaky boats, dangerous waters, uncertainty. We all feel at some point in our lives as if the storm will overwhelm us, as if we will drown, as if all our efforts will be for nothing.


Woolsey explains that “On our way to the bottom of the sea, which is where our imperfection lives, and our inadequacies are on display, and we fear we may be found out. We forget, of course, that facing our humanity and sinking into who we really are is always part of finding our way home. And that we don’t go it alone. Not into the storm. Not down with the ship. We go there together. And we find ourselves home. Have courage today, friends. We may be sinking, but we are creatures of the sea.”

I’m sure Monday, I will be hearing interpretations of this fable explaining how I’ve declared that Crab and Lobster are now Kosher, especially on Yom Kippur. Living our lives takes courage. Taking risks, accepting failures as part of the process of obtaining our goals takes chutzpah and fortitude.

So, as we experience our fasts differently on this Yom Kippur and Shabbat hold close in your mind all you love and cherish in this world so that your fears may fade into their nothingness. May you feel your mind freed from its servitude, free at least to carry you forward to accomplish your goals and make your dreams real.

Let go on this Yom Kippur.

Understand your inner light.

Understand that you are created in God’s image.

Understand that the soul God placed in each of us is pure light allowing us to create the reality we wish to live.

Let go of any yesterdays that continue to hold you back because it is today,

the Day of Atonement, where we free ourselves from the obstacles and burdens of the past.

Cayn yehi Ratzon – May this be God’s will. L’shanah tovah metukah

Some of my other Favorite Tim Ferriss Podcasts (in no particular order):

1. Kevin Costner

2. Robert Rodriguez

3. Vince Vaughn

4. Jon Favreau

5. Christopher Sommer, former U.S. National Team Gymnastics Coach

6. Jocko Willink, former Officer in Charge of Training for all West Coast U.S. Navy Seals

7. Joshua Waitzkin, the inspiration behind the film Searching for Bobby Fisher

8. Ryan Holiday

9. Ramit Sethi

10. Justin Boreta, a founding member of The Glitch Mob

11. Mr. Money Mustache

12. Cal Fussman, best selling author and writer-at-large for Esquire Magazine

Yom Kippur 5778 - Wanting vs. Needing

I’m a rabbi because my dad died when I was 23 and I couldn’t even recite the mourner’s kaddish. At that point in my life I decided that I wanted to honor my father’s memory and become something more, someone who had the ability to be a force for good in people’s lives the way my father, as a psychologist, helped bring goodness and growth into his patients’ lives.


I wanted to become a rabbi because my Bar Mitzvah made me feel proud to be Jewish and understand the joy of leading services. I became active in my youth group and met friends who changed my life and have stayed friends for over thirty years, some even becoming rabbis also. My experience in Israel on my JCC Teen tour in 1985 influenced me so much I wanted to make Aliyah and join the Israeli army.


During undergrad I attended Yom Kippur services in Jacksonville, Florida where Rabbi Stanley Garfein’s sermons and demeanor have stayed with me ever since. I became a rabbi to try and understand why so many Jews walk away from congregational life. I strive to be different than the last four decades of Jewish life and create an experience we can all relate to and all embrace, one that doesn’t forget that we are all human, all struggling to figure out what it means to be our best selves. I want to be the difference that allows you to allow us to be part of each other’s lives in order to create a more meaningful Jewish experience worth living.


You are all here observing Yom Kippur. Together we look inward and try to figure out what we can do better, how we can become better versions of ourselves in this next year. I ask you to search for your love of your Jewishness. What do you love about being Jewish? What you relate to? What do you need that makes you feel Jewish? What do you want to experience as a Jew every day? Every week? Every Year? Are you excited for Purim, Passover Seder? A Jewish wedding in the family? Your child’s b’nai mitzvah? Shabbat dinner next year? I want you to search for the meaning of your Jewishness and Har Shalom needs to help you find what you’re looking for.

As parents, we all hope we can leave our children with our Jewish values and the self-confidence to be their best selves and always know they can turn to us.  I believe it is important that our kids know while we are alive our hopes and aspirations for them:


Dear David, Sam, Yael and Solomon,

I grew up a hopeful kid, in a warm reform, Jewish home who trusted in the adults who surrounded me. I believed despite the turmoil of the 60s and 70s that we would figure out the Cold War, racism, anti-Semitism, Africa and that eventually all wars would end. I thought the United Nations stood for a world in which all governments worked towards peace, especially for Israel, and that it might figure out health care for world citizens, end world hunger and a cause a cessation of all battles over borders, ancient feuds and baseless hatred. I'm still waiting. I've lived through some amazing times and yet for the first time I have more fear for Jews and humanity now than I did during the last years of the Cold War.


Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur have arrived once again. You haven't really seen or heard from us, your rabbi parents, in about a month although you all know how much we try to be present and not allow High Holy day preparations to ruin the end of our summer, the start of school and labor-day weekend. This year, from 5777 to 5778, feels as if it has flown by.

You've all grown taller, smarter and better looking. And you all tell me often how much more hair you have than me. Poet Merrit Malloy wrote “I'd like to leave you something better than words or sounds.”

My hope is that in our moments together I can leave you precious memories, sage advice and Jewish lessons that inspire you to live your best lives each and every day. Abraham Maslow first introduced his theory of a hierarchy of needs in his 1943 paper “A Theory of Human Motivation.” I’ve lost you already since that sentence didn’t mention American Girl Dolls, Minecraft, Ninjago or anything about Swing Choir, but bear with me.


Maslow writes that humans cannot concern themselves with becoming better people without dealing with our basic needs first, those being: Food water, warmth, rest, security and safety. From there we need to deal with our psychological needs: our intimate relationships, friends, prestige and feelings of accomplishment. Only once those are met can we work on our needs of self-fulfillment: achieving our full potential including in creative endeavors.  

         If we take time to understand the difference between our wants and our needs in our lives we just might be able to understand what is important in our lives towards becoming the best Jew and the best human possible.

David, Your mother convinced me that we should have a baby during rabbinical school because school had a co-op preschool on campus. I tried to convince her we just needed another kitten. Ever since my father died, I dreamt of having a son who I could name after him. I wanted you to carry on your grandfather’s memory and legacy. In your height, theatricality, sense of humor and charm you shine and do honor to your Grandpa David’s memory who you never had the chance to meet. I’ve done my best to wait patiently for you to get old enough for us to share books, movies, music, insight, comedy and art.

I tried valiantly not to cry myself to sleep when you thought my recommendations were less than stellar, or a book I offered you was beneath your consideration. I thrilled as you aged and took on drawing, acting and singing on your own and slowly picked up the books I’d left like stepping stones in your path, claimed them as your own favorite books and handed them back to me as books you thought I would enjoy. I’ve known you the longest of all my children and have shared the most with you of what is important in life.


As my oldest, you have the maturity to understand the difference between one’s wants and needs and how to differentiate between what will add the most value to your life and what will not. You shine like the brightest star and always make me proud in how you treat your family, your friends and how no stranger stays a stranger long when they are around you. You make friends of everyone. You are kindness personified and continue to grow and understand what it means to truly be a decent human in this lifetime. I pray you enjoy your Jewishness all the days of your life. I pray that you follow your dreams and your passions. I hope you grow to understand failure as a natural part of succeeding at the things we work our hardest to accomplish. I pray you always know how proud we are to be your parents.


My dearest Sam, I miss you every day. I'm not sure you would even recognize the world we live in today. The world has filled itself with as much darkness as it has light. Both forces gather strength, but really only love wins in the end, because we have no choice but to defeat senseless hatred with love and hope.


You remain one of the greatest blessings in my life. I hope eternity is kind to us and allows our spirits to reunite in the world to come someday. Your spirit inspired us to create the family we have. Your memory is always a blessing. You were my thesis baby, my promise to your mother that we would bring our second child into the world as soon as I finished my thesis and was ordained as a rabbi.


You were the best baby, so much so that your mother and I felt we needed to have another baby as soon as possible before the magic that created you wore off. I swore to be better than the Brady Bunch ever were and never make my middle child feel middled. Yet you hated being in the middle just because. You were convinced that you needed more of everything and wanted so much for life to be fair and all things to be made equal. You never felt you got enough time, enough playdates, enough of anything. We too feel we never got enough time with you.

What you never realized is that you and Yael had more time with me than anyone else. David lost me to graduate school five days a week for a year, only seeing me on weekends. I started working full time by the time Solomon was 9 months old.

With you and Yael, I spent five days a week staying home, working nights while your mom worked days for six years. I strove to give you the attention and love you both needed, take you to all the tot Shabbats and instill in you a love of going to temple and being Jewish. You always loved the foods, smells and sounds of the Jewish holidays and took such joy in celebrating with all our family. When I wasn’t taking you two to the Children’s Museum or to Pump it Up, I convinced you both that Toy’s R Us was one giant toy museum so that you could play with every toy that intrigued you, satisfying your curiosity and need to explore. I tried to give you everything you both needed knowing that no parent can keep up with the wants of any toddler. Some days it was enough. Some days it wasn’t.

On our most challenging days I made up stories and songs. I hoped they would let you both know how much I loved you in those final moments before sleep carried you somewhere where you got everything you wanted and there was always enough. For us there will never be enough time, pictures or memories. I regret every video I never thought to take, thinking we would always have all the time we needed.

Yael, We couldn’t bring you into the world fast enough. Sammy was such a good baby that we couldn’t wait to bring you into the world. Fifteen months later you arrived with a barbaric yawp and have been making beautiful noise ever since. When you were born, the doctor told us we were the proud parents of a baby girl, and after having two baby boys we were both like “Doc, count again, a baby what?” We had no experience with baby girls or babies born in February since your brothers were both November babies.

You have always been a blessing in our life. You are beautiful, funny, brilliant, talented, fun to listen to, be around and share the day to day with. I love how you love going to Jewish sleep away camp, spending time with your Jewish friends and telling us all about what you learn in Sunday school and Hebrew school. I can’t believe that in only two years you will become a bat mitzvah already.

I love seeing what color you bring to every day. You are artistic, musical, theatrical and dramatic. You want to be heard, understood, hugged, loved and appreciated. You don’t always want to listen, remain calm, see things from the other person’s perspective or understand why you can’t have your way all the time. I pray you find patience and understanding. I pray that you become the teacher you dream of becoming to inspire your students the way your favorite teachers have inspired you. I pray that you love how your Judaism shapes your life and spirit in all the things that you do. I pray that your love of learning inspires your love of teaching and that you know how much love you came into this world with so that you may share your love with your world.

Solomon, A film inspired you being brought into this world. Your mom never thought she’d hear the words, “We should have another baby,” cross my lips ever. Knowing we could never outbreed stupidity, I knew I could at least bring one more smart and cute baby into this world. You are everything a parent could want in a child. I know you want every Pokemon card you can get your hands on, all the mods for minecraft and every app with fancy colors, bells and whistles. As a seven-year-old, you are all about your wants, thinking that you need all of them to enhance your life and make it better. You aren’t old enough to differentiate between your wants and your needs, to understand what really matters.

When you need to go to sleep you want to stay up. You feel punished and persecuted, feel ostracized from all things fun and engaging. You want McDonalds for every meal and Sprite for every drink even though your body needs healthier meals once in awhile and less sugar than your appetite would indicate. You want not to be little when only time will give your body what it needs to grow and mature. You want life to happen faster so that you can do all the things you want to do and experience everything you think you are missing out on. (You are missing out. Period. I hate to break this to you, but after your bedtime, adults play Minecraft all night long while eating ice cream and watching all the Lego Movies on infinite loop).


I love how you love telling us everything you know about being Jewish, celebrating the holidays with such enthusiasm and being proud of your ability to blow the shofar so well. We should all have such enthusiasm and adoration for our Judaism which makes us who we are.


Solomon, I pray that you keep your endless curiosity and that your artistic inclinations only grow with you into adulthood, improving with age and allowing your imagination to put pen to paper to create all the worlds and magical creatures you dream of. Life is meant to be an adventure. Our Jewish lives is meant to be the spiritual adventure we all want it to be. Use your curiosity to lead you where it will and don’t let anything hold you back. You amaze all of us with the light that shines behind your eyes and the endless amount of questions and insight that fit into young frame.


To you, my children, I want to leave you: Jewish eyes that see the world as a place of possibilities, hope, potential and goodness. Human eyes that see through the darkness of the world, and the violence into the humanity and human potential for us to create a world filled with peace, and humans that care for and about each other. I want to leave you Nations that understand that there are no real borders, lines or barriers to our human condition. The ability to love one another is the only barrier to sustainable peace and global human kindness.

Each of us sitting here are Jewish children. We are all Jews by choice because we choose to embrace and live our Judaism each in our own way. We have all descended from Adam and Eve, from Abraham and Sarah to arrive here today, thousands of years later, still searching for meaning, trying to find the words to leave our children that will see them through their Jewish lives, sifting through the words and memories of our parents and grandparents that set us on our paths.


Every day we want to leave the world a better place than it was yesterday. We strive to take care of the needs of our families, of ourselves, of our jobs. We volunteer for the organizations we believe in and hope that we make a difference in the choices we make. Every one of us started out tiny and frail, in the arms of the adults who made a wish and brought us into this world. Many of us have made our own wishes and brought our own miracles into this world. We all sit her on this Yom Kippur perfectly imperfect wondering about our role in the world and how we can make it all better just by being ourselves.

Once there was an old woman who had built herself a house, on the top of a hill. She had lived there for a long time — for as long as anyone could remember. She had no running water and had to get it for herself every morning. Every morning, she followed the same routine. She’d walk outside and pick up her long pole. Next to the pole, there were two buckets, each with a loop of rope over the top. She would take the first bucket, and hang it from the left side of the pole. Then, she would take the second bucket, and hang it from the right. Always the same bucket on the same side, in the exact same way. She would rest the pole across her old, but strong shoulders, and she would take the narrow, dirt path down the hill, to the stream at the bottom. She would take the pole off her shoulders, gently and carefully take each bucket off the pole, and then, one at a time, dip each bucket in the stream, filling it with cold, clear water. Then, just as carefully, she would place each bucket back on the pole, carefully lift the pole back up, and onto her shoulders, and turn to make her way back up the path, to her little house at the top of the hill.


Her right-hand bucket, had a small crack in the bottom of it, a crack that had been there for decades. And so, as soon as she started walking up the hill, the bucket would start leaking. A steady persistent drip, the bucket running out of water, step-by-step, so that by the time she reached the top of the hill, the bucket would be completely dry. She would put the right-hand bucket back where it had started, and take the left-hand bucket with her, to use throughout the day. Day after day, year after year, her mornings unfolded in the exact same way. Left bucket on the pole, right bucket on the pole. Walk down the path, take the buckets off the pole. Fill the buckets, put them back on the pole. Pick up the pole, march back up the hill. Drip drip drip. Right-hand bucket gets put back where it started; left-hand bucket gets used. Every. Single. Day.


The days passed. The months passed. The years passed. Nothing changed. The same routine, every day. Until one morning. while the woman was getting ready for her day, about to head to the front door to pick up her buckets, and her pole, and then down to the stream, she heard a loud knock at the door. She was more than a bit surprised — no one ever visited her. Ever. She open the front door, looked outside, and saw – nothing. No one was there. She looked around again, wondering if someone was hiding in the woods around the house, and saw no one. She started to turn back into the house, ready to close the door, when she heard a voice call out. “Hey!” She wheeled around and stuck her head back outside the door. No one. “Hey! Down here!” She looked down, and to her great surprise saw the right-hand bucket, the one with the crack in it, sitting on her front porch.


She stared at it for a brief moment before speaking, “um… Yes?” Not really knowing what she expected to happen. But, whatever she might have expected, it probably wasn’t for the bucket to answer back. “Do you know who I am?” It asked her.


“Why, yes. Of course. You’re the bucket from the right hand side of the pole.” She spoke to it as if this was completely normal, even though it very much wasn’t.


“That’s right. I’m the bucket from the right hand side of the pole. And I. Am. Furious.”


“Furious? At what?”


“At you.”


“At me? You’re furious at me? What in heaven’s name for?”


“For mocking me.”


“Mocking you?” She asked in stunned disbelief. “How? What? What do you mean?”


“Every day. Every single day. You put me on that pole, and carry me down to the stream. You fill me with water, just like a bucket should be filled. And then, you carry me back up the hill, as if nothing was wrong. And I fail when I need to be succeeding. Every single time. Because, I’m broken. And you, you won’t fix me. I’m a bucket. I’m meant to carry water. That’s what I want to do; that’s what I am. That’s what I’m here for. But I can’t be that, and I can’t do that, because I have this crack, this defect. I’m a failure at the one thing I want to do.


“Do you have any idea — any idea, at all — what it’s like for me? What it’s like to go through this life, day after day, wanting more than anything to succeed that my one purpose? Knowing that I’m useless? All I want is to be a bucket — a proper bucket. A good bucket. A useful bucket. It’s not a lot to ask, but you won’t give me even that much. If you had the common decency to spend a few minutes — just a few minutes — repairing me, I’d be fine. I’m so close to being a decent bucket, but you don’t seem to care enough to help. Instead, you carry me back and forth, up and down that hill, day after day. Each and every time, failing at the one thing want to do. Failing, one drip at a time, one day at a time. What have I ever done to you to deserve this much cruelty?”


The old woman looked down at the bucket, this bucket which had been on her right side, for all these years, with a look on her face which was a mix of sadness and caring. After a long moment, she began to speak. “My good friend. I’m so, so sorry. I had no idea that you felt this way. You’ve been suffering all this time, and you have no idea at all, do you?”


“What you mean? No idea about what?”


“Here. Let me show you.”


She gently picked up the bucket, and carried it over to the top of the path which they both knew so well. “Look down the right side of the path,” she said. “What do you see?”


“Nothing. It’s just the path. The same path we walk, every day.”


“That’s right. That’s what it is. That’s all that it is. Now look at the other side. What do you see there?”


The bucket looked and noticed that the two sides were nothing alike. Looking down from the top of the path, the right-hand side was bare. But the other side, the other side was alive with color. The other side was covered with flowers, thick and lush, showing off every hue you could imagine. It was so alive, so beautiful.


“I planted those flowers, many years ago,” said the old woman. They’re lovely, but they need a lot of care. And, they especially need a lot of water. So when I found you, I knew I had found exactly what I needed. Every morning, I fill you with water. And every morning, as I walk back up this hill, you sprinkle out, so carefully, so precisely, drop by drop, exactly the right amount of water to keep these flowers alive. To keep them flourishing. To keep them beautiful. This path is the most wonderful place in My entire world. And it’s all because of you.


“I’m so sorry that you never knew this. So, so sorry that you thought that you were broken. That you were a failure. You’re not a failure, and you’re not broken — you’re perfect.”



The bucket stood there, stunned into silence. And the old woman looked at it with ancient, wise eyes and said, “What’s amazing is that precisely the thing that you thought made you broken was the exact same thing which made you so powerful. What you thought was your greatest flaw, was exactly what I needed to make our world a more beautiful place. The crack which you thought made you nothing, was exactly what I needed to make our world holy.”


We spend our lives trying to understand ourselves and where our Judaism fits into our lives. We exist to bring our own uniqueness in the world and create the Jewish life we want to live. Yom Kippur is not only a day of atonement, but a day of forgiveness. It is a single day that strives to stretch our understanding of being and living into eternity. It is a day to remember we are holy, created in God’s image, meant to be here to fulfill our own particularity.


I pray you all can feel your inner light driving you towards the Jewish journey you need to take. I pray that the things you want in your lives are attainable and that your Judaism adds value to your days. To my children, you are everything I could want in the world and more than I ever expected. You are colorful, smart, creative, funny, silly, fun to talk to and be around, athletic, ambitious, and curious.


You embody everything you need to learn how to get the most out of your Jewish and secular lives in this world. In the end, most of all, I want you all to understand that while you won't always get what you want, perhaps with the foundations of your Judaism and the love and support of your of your family, friends, your hard work and determination will always provide you with what you need.

Cayn yehi ratzon – May this be God’s will

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