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Showing posts from 2010

What Gives Me Hope this Thanksgiving - a sermon for the Bethel Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

Honi and the Carob Tree[1]Honi the Wise One was also known as Honi the Circle Maker. By drawing a circle and stepping inside of it, he would recite special prayers for rain, sometimes even argue with God during a drought, and the rains would come. He was, indeed, a miracle maker. As wise as he was, Honi sometimes saw something that puzzled him. Then he would ask questions so he could unravel the mystery.One day, Honi the Circle Maker was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, "How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?" The man replied, "Seventy years." Honi then asked the man, "And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?"The man answered, "Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able …

The Egg

Alert the media: I just ate an egg for breakfast.
This earthshaking move was seismic in several ways.
I'm always concerned with cholesterol; at my age, who isn't? So for the past lots of years, I've been choosing egg whites or egg substitute. I like those things because in addition to appearing virtuously healthy, I seem to get more product-size bang for the calorie/Weight Watcher point buck.
So why an egg?
For one thing, my nutritionist friend keeps screwing up her face in one of those "I don't get it" looks when I tell her that I don't do eggs. She insists that studies show that eggs - eaten in moderation - do NOT raise the nasty cholesterol levels. She assures me that the higher fat/calorie/ww points in one egg is more than made up for by the satiety and nutrition that the real deal offers compared to the things that get lost in the translation. Oh, yes - and quite frankly, a real egg tastes better than the substitute, not to mention that there ain't…

Halloween - A Jewish Observance?

With thanks to the URJ plus input from Rabbi Librach and UJC Principal Daryl Bain, I wrote this letter that was recently distributed to the members of the United Jewish Center. Friends,On Sunday, October 31, you will most likely send your child out for Halloween “trick or treating.” Many of Halloween’s originally pagan-based rituals – some of which are antithetical to a purposeful Jewish life – have been transformed to an American cultural experience. And while Halloween is not a Jewish holiday, we want to encourage you to think about how you can bring Jewish values into your “observance” of this event.Here are some suggestions for including the Jewish values of tzedakah (justice) and ba’al tashchit (avoidance of gratuitous waste) into your Halloween experience:As a family, list the amount of money you would usually spend on costumes, decorations, and candy. Add up your estimates (there’s a math lesson in this activity too!) and see how much total expense Halloween will cost the your …

A Cantor's Craft

The Cantor stood before the congregation and, in a bellowing voice, bragged, "A couple of years ago, I had my voice insured with Lloyds of London for $1 million."
 A silence immediately came over the crowded room. Suddenly, the voice of an elderly woman at the back of the room called out, "So, what did you do with the money?"
I am an athlete. I play my sport professionally at least twice a week. Like most athletes, my success is based on a blend of technical skill, knowledge of the sport and intuition, and I practice those skills each day. Similarly, I have a coach with whom I meet at least once a week; she guides me in running up and down, jumping, skipping and gliding and periodically we run through other drills, experimenting with new moves and new techniques. Maintenance of my sport’s equipment demands 24/7 attention; I feel it if I miss one day of practice … those who witness my presentations know it if I miss two or more days.
While I do indeed enjoy working o…


You want to talk hair issues? I have hair issues. My congregants joke (?) that they never know from one shabbat to another what my hair is going to look like. My hair has been afro'd, perm'd, colored, shagged (you should excuse the expression), curled, straightened, Sinead-O'Connor'ed and Vidal-Sassoon'd.

At least twice I have gone into sobbing fits over a haircut, swearing that I looked like one of my late mother's old friends. When my daughter was born, one of the first things I noticed - other than how absolutely gorgeous she was - was the cowlick center part (MY c.c.p.) in her amazingly thick black hair. Oy.

I take hair - my hair - VERY seriously. A bad hair day can take me down. The older I get, the less cooperative and predictable my head mop becomes, the more obsessed I am. I iChat with my son in Korea and even as I kvell over his adorable self, I'm checking out the mess on the top of my head, with the internal voice shrieking that I look like Flat Top…

Time to shut down the "Jewish self-loathing" bitterness

I am fed up with claims that dissension in the Jewish ranks of the "I love Israel block" is a prima facie case of uneducated self-loathing, self-hatred and Jewish anti-Semitism. To those who promote such canards: you are not only off base but you are engaging in behavior that would make anti-Semites proud. So there ... it cuts both ways.

A friend forwarded this article by Daniel Gordis to a group of friends. It has me very upset, so I'm going to weigh in.

Thanks to a family graduation, I plan to be at Brandeis to enjoy Ambassador Oren's speech [as I did at the URJ Biennial in Toronto in November] and Paul Simon's music [he's receiving an honorary degree and word on the street has it that he's going to sing].

Please understand that I take a back seat to NO ONE in my love for and loyalty to Israel. It is a mansion in a crappy neighborhood and there is way more right about it than wrong. You want to disagree with me? Let the back-and-forth begin…

The Seder's Over ... Not

It’s late and we’re tired. Let’s leave out the songs at the end of the Passover seder. I mean, they don’t even mention Passover, so who cares. Yawn. But wait: Adir Hu (God Is Great), Echad Mi Yodeia (Who Knows 1?) and Chad Gadya (the little goat song) contain the answer to a great secret and mystery! The secret to the mystery is that all these songs, found primarily in Ashkenazi (the tradition of European-based Jews) reflect God’s role as redeemer, our optimistic hope for the future – and most important – understanding Passover not just as a Festival celebrating God’s freeing us from Egyptian slavery but also as the first step in our journey to Mt. Sinai on Shavuot, seven weeks later. Songs can tell all that? Keep reading.The text of Adir Hu (God is Great), built on an alphabetic acrostic, dates to the 6th/7th Century when it was originally chanted during all the Festival services. The melody – simple, repetitive and easily learned – was first notated in Germany in 1644 and has become…

I have a problem with "Precious"

I saw "Precious," the movie about the obese, illiterate, pregnant (by her for the second time) teenager's road to humanity, a few weeks ago. The story is harsh (see more below), the acting for the most part is brutally realistic, the racism is overwhelming, and maybe - just maybe - there is a positive point to be made.

By the way, yes, I said "the racism."

Let me start with the story itself, so I can get this out of the way: if it were a similar story dealing with beautiful white women set in a trashy South, it would have been aired on the Lifetime Movie channel (all-women-in-distress-all-the-time). Maybe it's a sign of our stereotypical cultural reality that a movie about fat black women (or Jewish women, too) probably wouldn't be touched by LTM; I don't know. Mo'nique may have given the performance of her life, but rather than find her credible, I couldn't lose the image of Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford beating up on her daughter. The readi…

God and the NFL

I had a chance to talk about God with my Hebrew School kids this morning, several hours before the last two football playoff games. I think - I hope - that I challenged some of them to think about God in a previously unconsidered way. In traditional fashion, I asked the questions and then provided the answers.

"Does God care who wins the playoffs/Superbowl?"
No. Corollary question: Does God favor one team over another? No.
God only cares that the players play fairly. No "juicing" up, no dirty tricks.

"Does praying to God for the (pick your team) to win make a difference?"
No more than praying for a bicycle gets you one or for a good grade (minus the studying) gets you a B. And in fact, it's actually pretty demeaning to God - if something can be said to demeaning to God - to ask God to intervene on behalf of a football game, as though God were some kind of cosmic puppet master, moving the strings on the players.

An aside: I've always wondered exactly w…