Shabbat Shalom, April 30, 2021

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Dear Friends,

Prior to being admitted to rabbinic school, I was required to take a series of psychological tests that included a Rorschach Test. One by one the psychologist administering the test placed an inkblot in front of me and asked what I saw. It is an interesting test to take.  Initially I saw nothing more than paper covered with ink stains. It didn’t take long before I started seeing images in each new inkblot that he placed before me. But here’s the thing: what I saw in those ink blots said a lot about me and absolutely nothing about the inkblot itself. I “read into” the inkblot my experiences and my needs. So while each applicant was presented with the exact same inkblots, we each saw something different in them.

In recent days I’ve been thinking about the parallels between those inkblots and synagogues. Just as each applicant saw …

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Shabbat Shalom, April 23, 2020

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Dear Friends,

Earlier this week I had a thought that has stayed with me. It puts the journey we have been through over the past year, the loss, pain and sometimes trauma we have encountered
in a new light. And it hinges on the concept of liminal moments. A liminal moment is a moment or an encounter that separates life experiences.

We all have such moments in our lives.

Opening the letter accepting me into rabbinic school was a liminal moment. My life was different after opening the letter than it was before.

Standing beneath our chuppah and reciting the words “Harei At… be consecrated to me…” to Raina was a liminal moment. That experience dramatically changed both of our lives.

In fact, if we look at the various rituals that are part of Jewish life, we quickly see that each focuses on a liminal moment in the life of …

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My Israel Story (thus far) in Three Parts: Shabbat Shalom…

My Israel Story (thus far) in Three Parts

As Israel marked 73 years since its founding yesterday, I couldn’t help but think back upon my own “Israel journey.” And I realized it can be divided into three general stages.

Stage 1: Mythic Israel

Stage 1

My first trip to Israel took place in 1978 when I celebrated becoming Bnai Mitzvah on Masada. From the first moment I stepped off the plane I knew this was a different kind of trip. I was overwhelmed to hear Hebrew being spoken in the airport. (Having been a poor Religious School student I didn’t understand a word but it was still powerful.) As corny as it might sound, as we traveled the country I felt as if I had come home.

I was amazed by the archaeology. And I was moved by the realization that, no matter where I stepped, I was walking on ground that …

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Shabbat Shalom

Screenshot 2020-03-28 16.25.21 IMG_2B56523064AA-1Dear Friends,

Our TSTI in Israel group had just entered the incredibly powerful Children’s Memorial at Yad Vashem. I had told the group we would meet them at the exit because one of our participants was on a personal mission. She, one of her daughters, and I headed away from the Children’s Memorial and, after a brisk walk, found ourselves in Yad Vashem’s Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations.

As Wikipedia explains:

The Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations is part of the much larger Yad Vashem complex located on the Mount of Remembrance in Jerusalem. Along with some two dozen different structures within the Yad Vashem memorial – which is the second most-visited destination in the country after the Western Wall – the Garden of the Righteous is meant to honor those non-Jews who during the Holocaust risked their lives to save Jews from extermination by the …

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Shabbat Shalom April 2, 2021

This week’s Shabbat Message is part of Great MetroWest NJ’s Bit of Torah program. A video of it can be seen here on Facebook.

https://fb.watch/4C_PmDe1tn/

My thanks to GMW for the invitation to be part of Bit of Torah.

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Dear Friends,

This week we began our Passover festival by retelling the story of our ancestors’ escape from Egypt. And now, a week later, our festival of freedom is coming to an end.

As I look back over yitziyatt mitzrayim — the story of our ancestors’ exodus from Egypt — there is a small turn of phrase that always captures my imagination. We are told that when our ancestors left Egypt — gam erav rav alah itam — “and a mixed multitude went up with them.“

This phrase is often interpreted to mean that it wasn’t just the Israelites who left Egypt.

For example, the Reform Movement’s Plaut Commentary explains that …

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Shabbat Shalom and a Zissen Pesach

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“The epidemic of gun violence continues to plague individuals and communities across the United States, including our own Jewish communities as well as those of our friends, neighbors, colleagues, and partners. The Reform Movement, led by students and NFTY, is outraged at the current lack of legislative action and political leadership that allows this horrible violence to continue. This epidemic is not natural, nor normal and gun violence can be prevented. Drawing on Jewish traditions and values, we remain committed to taking action by engaging in community and legislative advocacy to end the gun violence epidemic.”
—Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

Dear Friends,

True to form, Passover’s arrival tomorrow evening coincides with the first signs of spring. The crocuses made an appearance early last week, and in just the last few days, buds began to appear on branches that have, until now, been dormant. And as the earth …

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Shabbat Shalom- Friday, March 5, 2021

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Dear Friends,

HIAS, whose commitment is to “Welcome the stranger. Protect the refugee” has designated this Shabbat as Refugee Shabbat. (The organizations began as HIAS: The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society to help Jews fleeing the pogroms in Russia and Eastern Europe in the late 19th century, but now welcomes all who have fled persecution.) I am proud that the URJ, the Reform Movement, is one of the major Jewish organizations partnering with HIAS.

In honor of Refugee Shabbat I will be changing my Zoom background to this.

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That is the Vaterland and, as I have previously shared, it is the ship that brought my grandfather Alexander Cohen to America.

I keep not one but two pictures of that ship in my office. One is a painting of the ship that my grandfather did shortly after arriving here. The other is an image from the New York Times of the ship …

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Shabbat Shalom: February 26, 2021

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Dear Friends,

One year ago we found ourselves rapidly trying to make adjustments to our Purim Carnival and our Adult Purim Schpiel. Experts had already begin raising the alarm but, at that time, I don’t think any of us could have imagined what was coming. One year later more than 500,000 Americans, and a total of 2.5 million people worldwide, have died of COVID-19. All of us have been impacted by this pandemic, but the family and friends of more than 500,000 of our fellow citizens know a grief that goes even deeper.

At Shabbat services this evening my father’s name will be included on the Yartzeit list prior to reading Kaddish for just the second time. It is hard to imagine that it has already been two years. But it has. I cannot think back to two years ago. My father’s death was not unexpected. He had been declining …

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Shabbat Shalom: February 19, 2021

“There is a certain people, scattered and dispersed among the other peoples in all the provinces of your realm, whose laws are different from those of any other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; and it is not in Your Majesty’s interest to tolerate them. If it please Your Majesty, let an edict be drawn for their destruction, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver to the stewards for deposit in the royal treasury.”

(Megillat Esther, The Book of Esther)

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Dear Friends,

The Book of Esther, which we read on Purim, is a far darker story than many realize. For example, Vashti was beheaded because she was unwilling to humiliate herself in front of the king’s guests. The king was the epitome of the failed leader who was given a title and influence but squandered it on meaningless pleasures. Haman was the embodiment of the …

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Shabbat Message for February 5, 2021

Dear Friends,

This week’s Torah portion begins with a powerful exchange between Moses and his father-in-law Jethro. It then describes the preparation necessary before Moses would be permitted to ascend Mt. Sinai and receive the Ten Commandments.

וַיֵּ֧רֶד מֹשֶׁ֛ה מִן־הָהָ֖ר אֶל־הָעָ֑ם וַיְקַדֵּשׁ֙ אֶת־הָעָ֔ם וַֽיְכַבְּס֖וּ שִׂמְלֹתָֽם׃

Moses came down from the mountain to the people and warned the people to stay pure, and they washed their clothes.

Through Moses God tells the Israelites to purify themselves.
He tells them to wash their clothes.
He instructs them to stand at the base of the mountain.
He warns them against touching the mountain lest they incur punishment.

But then he says this…

וַיֹּ֙אמֶר֙ אֶל־הָעָ֔ם הֱי֥וּ נְכֹנִ֖ים לִשְׁלֹ֣שֶׁת יָמִ֑ים אַֽל־תִּגְּשׁ֖וּ אֶל־אִשָּֽׁה׃

And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman.”

Under any circumstance, this would be a jarring statement but its presence here, at exactly …

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