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Showing posts from 2013

A Cantor At Christmastime

It was a good question in response to a good question. 

Original question posted by me on my Facebook page: "In no particular order, favorite Christmas movies. Mine: Love Actually, Alastair Sim's Christmas Carol (aka Scrooge), Holiday Inn, White Christmas, Meet Me In St. Louis (Judy, of course), A Charlie Brown Christmas. Discuss."

Response from a rabbi colleague: A Christmas Story, and Charlie Brown Christmas. (And what are a rabbi and a cantor doing discussing favorite Christmas movies with a bunch of Jews?)

It's pretty simple: It's not our holiday but we we may as well enjoy it since it's everywhere. It sounds and looks really pretty, and it's fun to observe what's going on. It's the 366th day of the year, the delicious day-off-without-guilt (except on Shabbat, but that's another story) when my family is usually all at home, and we can just enjoy ourselves. 

As a synagogue cantor who spends hours prepping for and leading Shabbat and Festival se…

Zimmerman and Martin: Was Justice Served? A Devar Torah on Va'etchanan.

Devar Torah – Va’etchanan July 20, 2013 Cantor Penny Kessler
I’m not going to teach about George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. Not about the wrongheaded “Stand Your Ground” gun laws that created the environment for this tragedy. Not about the trial. Not about the jury’s decision except to say that given the many imperfections of the American jury system, we have to assume that they based their deliberations on the facts presented as evidence and came to what they believed to be the only legal conclusion available. Not about a teen’s swaggering bravado, typical for young men of his age, that innocently exacerbated a bad situation. I won’t teach about what would have happened had that teen chose to stand his own ground and wound up killing the older man. And I won’t teach about the racial implications of someone’s following a suspect based only on the color of his skin or about a man who went out, armed with a deadly weapon, spoiling for a fight instead of obeying the directions of the 911…

Boston 4/15/13 - Part 2 - A Prayer

I cannot pray on other people's behalf and I do not presume to write a prayer for anyone other than myself. Yes, as a Jew my traditional prayers are usually in the plural - we, our, us - but for right now, my prayer is my own.

Dear God, my anger is mixed with sadness and fear. 
I know that unjustified and unfettered anger and fear are potentially emotionally dangerous and damaging to my soul, however right now my anger and fear are equally appropriate to my sadness. 
And so I pray:
Guide me in directing my anger at the right source: at the people who perpetrated evil, deliberately targeting for maximum devastation and loss of life. Guide me in channeling my anger into positive energy, finding ways to help support people whose lives were changed forever in yesterday's events. 
Guide me in keeping my fear for myself and the people I love from ballooning out of proportion to the point that I isolate and fearfully avoid living life to the fullest. 
Help me keep my sadness in check…

Boston 4/15/13 - Part 1

Making sense of the Boston Marathon bombing is like wading through mud.

I love Boston. I spent vacations bouncing around Boston when my sister's family lived in a suburb. It's a great city, and my husband and I spend time there each year. Hell, I even like the MTA (which automatically designates me as a non-Bostonian), even if I - like Charlie - usually get lost. Boston was safe territory for me ("Combat Zone" be damned). And now it's not. It has joined New York City and pretty much every city in Israel.

My husband ran the NYC Marathon a few times. He never tried for Boston because it was THE marathon for the real runners. I never ran a race, much less a marathon, but as a spectator, I know what it's like to hang out near the finish line area at the 4+ hour mark waiting for a loved one to seemingly crawl across the line. That's about the time that the rest of the pack starts coming through, the runners who deserve all the applause and cheers for their det…

It all began with a $9 cup of beer ...

It's appropriate that it came to a head at Yankee Stadium last April. My right inner thigh muscle had been bothering me off and on for several years. It would seize up and then let go, and if I weren't really careful, I'd go down with it. This time it was different: I was carrying an obscenely expensive cup of beer back up to my seat when my right inner thigh muscle did its thing, only this time I did fall.

I saved the $9 cup of beer. Time to see the doctor.

PT on it and an unrelated IT band issue didn't make it better. An MRI and X-ray revealed osteoarthritis that had damaged the hip cartilage (from the inner to the outer, not the usual thing), and it was only going to get worse. After several futile regimens of ever-stronger anti-inflammatories, the local orthopedist recommended I consider thinking about considering hip replacement.

I flipped out. Freaked out. Went hysterical. Five stages of acceptance? I slid through denial and anger, went straight from bargaining …

Eliyahu ha-huh?

I thought about "The Polar Express" when I talked to the religious school kids this morning at our model seders. Some of them looked interested; too many of them gave me the patiently condescending look usually reserved for elderly grandparents who repeat themselves too often and the mildly lunatic.

Mind you, some of these kids have no trouble believing that a big fat guy with a beard and a red get-up squeezes down chimneys (their friends and sometimes their own) and leaves presents under decorated trees. But a Jewish guy with a white beard who shows up at every seder, sips some wine and brings hope of a perfect world? Not so much.

Maybe it's because moms and dads insist on syphoning off some of the wine in Elijah's Cup while the kids are standing at the open door. Grownups, please stop. Let your kids use their imaginations. Heck, let the grownups use their imaginations. But maybe it's precisely because of the Jewish connection, where maybe it's not so cool …

Cleaning up (our souls) for Passover

Yesterday marked the official beginning of Passover preparation. We read the special Torah portion, Parah (Num. 19:1-22), that spells out the impossibly mysterious mobius of becoming ritually and spiritually clean by washing with the ashes of a perfect/no-blemish/no-gray-hairs-anywhere red cow.

For some Jews, this means an onslaught of serious housecleaning, getting rid of the chametz (unleavened aka not-kosher-for-Passover) stuff or a rampage of cooking - or a combination of both.

But kicking off the season with a reading of the Red Heifer suggests there's more to Pesach Prep than the physical. Pesach Prep involves more than hauling garbage bags, scrubbing the stoves and refrigerators and cooking up a storm. It involves getting ourselves ready to experience God's miracles.

Our souls and minds need to be as ready for Pesach as our homes and kitchens. Are we ready to let go of slavery? Are we ready to be taken out of slavery?

The point of our Passover observance - no chametz, a…