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The Case for Keva

מודה אני לפניך מלח חי וקים שהחזרת בי נשמתי בחמלה רבה אמונתך.

I am grateful to you, living and present King, Who mercifully restores my soul to me and Whose faithfulness is enormous.
As I wake up each morning, these are the words I say. This morning, as hard as I tried to let my mind wander where it wanted to journey during my morning meditation, I was repeatedly drawn to these words. Was it the words that were comforting - or confronting - me? The Klepper melody? No, the comfort came from the familiar, the routine.  
I feel comfortable and safe when I'm in a routine, when I know what my day will be like, when I can let go of fear because I am prepared for what will probably come my way. I take comfort in the "keva" of life. Keva is the rote, the usual, the expected.

This is not always a great way to live. I admit I am more confident when I know or have a sense of what to expect each day or at least create an outline. But life is also blessed with kavvanah, the white …

Deep Breath - Update I

My friend reports that her friend sent a follow-up email stating that the Whole Foods Hates Israel thing is a hoax. I'm glad to hear that, but there's a lot of truth to those stories about the feathers or the broken mirror. (You can look it up if you don't know those tales.) Even Pandora couldn't put all the stuff back in the box.

Let's All Take a Deep Breath

I got one of those emails today. You know the kind: Run for the hills! Save yourselves! Anti-Semites and Anti-Israelis are on the attack! Klingons off the starboard bow!

Gevalt.

Fortunately my friend simply wanted to know if I had heard anything about an email that had been sent to her. In a nutshell, it said that Whole Foods boycotts and removes Israeli goods and supports Ramadan - TAKE ACTION NOW!!! This person claimed to have investigated every possible website that does investigating and it's true and we have to take action now.

Did I mention that we have to take action now?

Gevalt.

It took me about a minute to find the ADL's response; you can read it here. Bottom line, it's not true. Well, except for the teeny, tiny reality that - to help its Muslim customers celebrate/observe Ramadan - WF has provided halal foods that "meet the company's high quality standards."

Let me quote from the ADL's press release: "In particular, some have specifically c…

An effete elite? Guilty, sort of.

Disclaimer: I like Lady Gaga, Frank Sinatra and James Taylor. The radio buttons in my car are set to public radio, classical music, the Top 40 and oldies stations. I admit to watching way more Food Network, Bravo and TNT than PBS. My web browser's bookmarks run the gamut from the New York Times to a site about makeup.

But PT Barnum got it partially right. It's not underestimating the intelligence of the American people that makes people rich; it's underestimating the taste factor combined with intelligence. I'm prepared for jeers, flaming and catcalls and to be called elitist, effete and snob. Bring it.

The bottom line: We Americans could use a dose of elitism and snobbery. We could also use a mega-dose of discretion and discrimination. No, not the "no Jews, Catholics or Blacks allowed" or "no Mosques in my neighborhood" kinds of discrimination. The discrimination I want to see more of is the one that's defined in Webster's as"subtle appr…

Re-visioning the Jewish Ritual: Thoughts on Chukat (5771)

Jewish rituals comfort and support us during times of anxiety and joy. They mark time, space, events and experiences. When I light Shabbat candles, I take a deep breath and allow Shabbat peace to enter my hectic life. When I light the Chanukah menorah, I claim my seat at the table of Jewish history.
As Jews, we should be embracing Jewish ritual for many reasons. They provide religious and spiritual nourishment. They acknowledge our dependency on our Jewish community – which means that our practice strengthens the Jewish community and provides communal memory and history.
But for many liberal Jews, performing Jewish rituals – as a concept and a viable, living practice – has become things, “other Jews do.” We look at Jews who perform Jewish rituals throughout their daily lives as suspect, odd or “Orthodox.” A few weeks ago, Rabbi Gellman taught us that we Jews have ceded some of the things that made us unique – such as a loving God providing one law for everyone or the hope of a world to …

6,200 Blessings

This July and August, make 100 blessings a day. Jewish tradition teaches this time-tested formula for getting over our selves and ascending into the realm of God’s great goodness. It’s the spiritual equivalent of drinking the recommended 64 fluid ounces of water each day.
Making 100 blessings a day helps us find God and good in our lives. Our lives are wrapped up in so much negativity. Making 100 blessings a day, from the moment our eyes open until they close at night, let’s us see that God’s little and large blessings are always available to us.

You can make them up as you go along: Baruch Atah Adonai – You are praised, our God … fill in the blank.

Baruch Atah Adonai … I’m awake! Baruch Atah Adonai … my body still works! Baruch Atah Adonai … You provide all sorts of food for the hungry!Baruch Atah Adonai … I am satisfied with what I ate and drank! Baruch Atah Adonai … You have created this world in all its glory! Baruch Atah Adonai … You create the seasons (even the hot and humid ones)!

It Happens: Thoughts on Balak (5771)

“It just happened” is a phrase we hear a lot in a variety of forms. Have you ever noticed that politicians rarely acknowledge that they actually did something wrong? Pronouncements like these usually come in a variation of “something happened.” My personal favorite? “Mistakes were made.” Even we non-politician types, especially but not limited to children, resort to this kind of “non” experience: we didn’t break the cookie jar - the cookie jar broke. This morning’s parashah teaches us that a life well lived is a life in which we both are called by God and we respond.

Towards the middle of parashat Balak (Num. 23:3-5), we read that 3 God appeared to Bilam. 'I have set up seven altars,' said [Bilam] to [God], 'and I have sacrificed a bull and ram as a burnt offering on each altar.' 4 God manifested Himself to Bilam, who said to Him, "I have set up the seven altars and offered up a bull and a ram on each altar." 5 And the Lord put a word in Bilam's mouth and …

Me First?

The New York Times recently reported that after analyzing language and lyrics in 30 years of hit songs, University of Kentucky psychologist Dr. Nathan DeWall found “a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music,” and claimed that, “Late adolescents and college students love themselves more today than ever before.” I’m no fan of such blanket pronouncements on generational issues that pop up periodically and create a fuss with representatives of the accused age group howling in protest while the older folk sigh and sing a chorus of “Kids!” from “Bye Bye Birdie.”

Coincidentally, in the past few years there has been a huge surge in popularity of the narcissism of Ayn Rand, the so-called “philosopher,” and her belief in and promotion of what she called “Objectivism,” an emotion-free reason-based concept that glorifies (in her words) “man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life …” Simply stated, in Rand’s ethic, a person…

The Day the World Did Not End

"Celebrating the creation of the world (and a young man's entry into adulthood) at Shabbat services."

That's what I said when I was asked what I'd be doing on May 21, 2011, the day that the world was supposed to come to an end. And that's what I did - along with counting the 32nd day of the omer.

Because I'm a Jew, I refuse to waste time worrying about when God's going to pull the plug on this world. So last Friday I welcomed Shabbat, said the b'rachah "... al sefirat ha-omer," and counted off the 32nd day of the omer. And the next morning - in gloriously sunny weather - I davvened Shabbat morning tefillah and sang siman tov u-mazel tov over both a soon-to-be-married couple and a bar mitzvah.

If the deluded folks who were hell bent (so to speak) on being carried up in a Jonestown-type rapture had spent nearly half their energy on living each day to the best of their ability as they did on packing up and preparing to meet their maker, I thin…

Lenders and Borrowers?

How should we Jews respond when our rituals are taken up by Christians? That’s a question that I have been asked quite often over the last few weeks, ever since an article appeared in the New York Times describing Christian brides/grooms who are ordering ketubot – Jewish marriage contracts – in order to feel closer to their “Jewish” roots. I have Christian friends who claim to observe a Yom Kippur fast or a Passover seder because they believe that Jesus might have experienced those rituals, hence deepening their faith. I also know of “bait and switch” ritual observances: taking a Jewish ritual, such as a seder for example, and layering it with Christian symbolism (i.e., the three matzot become symbols of the trinity, the wine is transmogrified into Jesus’ blood, etc.). What are we supposed to make of such appropriations of Jewish ritual by Christians? My reactions are grounded in yet another question, “Is it good for the Jews, specifically American Jews?”
If someone who is not a Jew ch…

The Words of a Tragedy

Words matter. If they didn't, if there were no consequences to our utterances - good and bad - Jewish literature would not be chockablock with cautionary tales from Talmud to midrash to watch what we say. Those stories of the rabbi and the feather pillow and the broken mirror did not come out of a vacuum; they were written for a reason.

Let's be honest: politicians love rhetoric and television/radio pundits need inflammatory language the way an active alcoholic needs booze. No political party has been innocent, yet the right wing has taken the cake lately. An American president accused of not being an American, "don't retreat, reload," the "2nd amendment remedies," Nazi, Hitler (briefly abused by the left against VP Cheney but taken to the nth degree by Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and others), death panels, a Sarah Palin map of the US with gun cross hair sights over names and places of politicians who were on a political hit list and a politician hosting an …