Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Iyunnim & Benedictions Yom Kippur Day 5780 - Temple Bat Yam

Yom Kippur Day - Iyunnim - 5780

Kavannah on Torah Study

Think for a moment about our Jewish story.  The one that unfolds form our sacred Torah and continues through Jewish memory.  It is one that illustrates for us the first layers of our collective tale - the narrative of the Jewish people.  This begins with our father Abraham, who contends with his own world view from Ur, a land of idolatry and paganism.  The son of an idol merchant, our sages tell us, Abraham breaks through the story that has been his whole world view to see the world differently.  He, together with his partner Sarah, set out to alter the way others around them see the world, to change their own narratives.  It is through this story, and the countless ways it unfolds over millennia, that we have been molded as a people, by a narrative, by our tale.  And the power of this seed of our existence as a people, the redemption found in our collective narrative is that of change.  It teaches that we can find the right path forward, as Abraham and Sarah did, through not only our intuitive and snap judgement and decision making based only in our narratives, but being able to truly reason and lead us where we ought to be…  This story of Lech Lecha - going forth is about separating from a singular way of seeing the world and forward to what will be shown to us.  As we embrace this b’racha - blessing - for the study of Torah, let us know our own stories and identity well and know that we can be the authors of our own path, our own lives….

Benediction - YK Morning

In the days leading to this season, the High Holy Days, the Hebrew month of Elul engages us in spiritual preparation.  Among the practices, we are inspired to recite twice daily the words of Psalm 27.  Embedded in this poem, we sing out:  Achat Sha’alti - One thing I ask of Adonai, and the one that I seek is to dwell in the house of Adonai all the days of my life and to gaze upon the sweetness of Adonai and frequent God’s Temple.

May each of us, on this Yom Kippur, and all days of this New Year, merit to dwell in the house of Adonai and to gaze upon God’s sweetness.  May we see the spark of the Divine in every other being so that we see their sweetness, and dwell together in blessing, joy, harmony and Shalom and Shleimut - Peace and Wholeness - Amen. 

Introduction to Jonah

Written By Michael Frank - Board Member at NTHC:

Like the speaking she-ass who sees the avenging angel of God when the great pagan prophet called Balaam does not, the story of Jonah uses fantasy-like incidents and metaphors; this time with a reluctant Jewish prophet. We have a prophet, Jonah, who is told to go to Nineveh and prophecy against it but instead gets on a boat headed in the opposite direction across the Mediterranean.  Nineveh was the largest city of the Assyrian Empire back in 760 BCE and the worst enemy of the two kingdoms of Israel. So, a Jewish prophet going to Nineveh is rather like a Jewish prophet preaching in Spain in 1492. The ship encounters a storm that only affects that ship. We have polytheistic pagan sailors who believe that Jonah’s God, the LORD God of the heavens… who made the sea and the dry land, is all powerful. We have lots cast that always point to Jonah as the cause of the storm which subsides as soon as Jonah is tossed overboard. Jonah is swallowed by an enormous fish and is sustained for three days in its belly before the fish vomits him up onto dry land. We then have the weakest prophecy ever recorded. As  Jonah walks through Nineveh, he says only: “Forty days more, and Nineveh is overthrown.” He does not explain why or how. He does not attribute this to God’s displeasure and power. Nonetheless, Nineveh gets the message. The people miraculously and immediately don sackcloth and sit in ashes in repentance. Then the king tells all people and beasts to repent by wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes in the hope that the decree will be changed. Beasts repenting? As you will see, that’s what the story says.

The time setting of this story is revealing. Jonah is said to have ended his career as a prophet about 750 BCE which precedes the destruction of the Northern Kingdom with its 10 tribes at the hands of the Assyrians by only 28 or 29 years.

Except for Jonah, the prophets of Israel all worked in context limited by concerns of the nations of Israel. Their messages were addressed to the people of Israel, often with explicitly political concerns, and the messages were focused on the fate of the nations—such as its destruction by foreign powers if it does not repent its sinful ways, and also the hope of national restoration after the disaster has occurred.  The perspective of Jonah is, by contrast, decidedly universal. The prophesy is to take place in the Assyrian Empire, the very foreign power that destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel and scattered the ten tribes. It addresses the sins of those people rather than sins of the tribes in Israel. It takes place at the time of extraordinary expansion of that empire. It is almost as if God is helping the Assyrians prepare for their role as God’s avenger against Israel by having them repent. It is ironic that the Ninevites exhibit exactly the behavior that God wants Israel to do.

For the first time in Tanach, God is portrayed as having influence over, if not dominion over, humans of all nations, livestock and beasts, fish, oceans, plants, and wind, none of which are in the land of Israel. Indeed, God seems to have less control over his Jewish prophet than over the rest of the world.

So, the story of Jonah represents a major expansion of the notion of God, from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the God of the nations of Israel to the God of the world and all its inhabitants. It reinforces the hope expressed in the prophesies of the second Isaiah that some day all nations will recognize the God of Israel as the one God.

 At the end, the story uses a metaphor of a plant that gives shade to Jonah and then disappears. Jonah complains of the loss of the plant and tells God that he did not want to go to Nineveh because Jonah was afraid that God would be merciful thus contradicting Jonah’s words. Jonah says of  God, “You are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in kindness”, which are words directly from Genesis 34:6, and one of the themes of Yom Kippur. God admonishes Jonah for his complaint because it is so selfish. Jonah is angry over the plant and his failed prophecy while God is concerned about her citizens in a great city and its beasts. Taken in all its odd twists and turns,  the book of Jonah is a fitting story for Yom Kippur because of its overarching theme of repentance to a universal, powerful but compassionate God.

Introduction to Avinu Malkeinu

In a moment, we will engage with the sacred words of Avinu Malkeinu - Our Father our King.  These words always leads my mind to a tension.  There are very different roles for a parent and for a sovereign.  The notion that God as parent provides a sense of mercy pervades my hopes as this time of year; yet the reality that God is sovereign, decreeing justice, is the reality check.  And yet, thinking about those earliest moments in our lives when parents, for most of us, were viewed through a lens lending them a sense of sovereignty – they know everything…they knew everything.  That is the blending of the Avinu and the Malkeinu.  The two come together when we recognize with awe the power that God is in our lives, our world.  The two come together when we see in God the loving mercy that is Avinu.

The lines of this prayer build up.  We petition God for one thing after another.  We beseech God for blessing, for health, for a good life, for sustenance.  Yet, at the end, the build up is our humility.  We are humbled before both Avinu and Malkeinu.  We are humbled before God and community.  We want to ask all of those things of Avinu – our father…our parent.  Yet, in the conclusion, the line we often sing together brings us to a sense of humility before Malkeinu – our Sovereign. 

O God, may we with honest and pure intention recite the petitions, prayers and sacred words of these holy days.  And, may we also bring ourselves, through humility, to recognize both our smallness and our greatness in God’s world and know how to say: 

Our Father, Our King, be gracious with us and answer us, we may be of little merit, act with us in righteousness and goodness and save us.

Introduction to Yizkor

As we embrace the memories that inspire us, as we wrestle with our own mortality and as we engage in this mitzvah of Yizkor - of memory, we will continually hear the melody of the well known piece Eli Eli, penned by the heroine Hannah Senesh, may her memory be for a blessing.  Her story is one that symbolizes the best and the most tragic of our collective Jewish memory.  IN 2012, a previously unknown poem, written in Hebrew, was discovered by Hannah Yasur, the daughter of the woman to whom it was sent.  The poem, written form he perspective of an exile like Senesh, evokes the feelings of solitude and the moment of almost grasping something, but having it evade your reach.  As we memorialize our loved ones, may we never forget the inheritance they have bequeathed to us, and may we always live with the zeal for life with which Hannah Senesh is said to have carried to her last moments:

Hora to an Exiled Girl

A hora, roaring, tempestuous, blazes around me
With the mystery of rhythm, gladdening and forging,
It tugs at my body and heart
The foot marches, the back quivers, the song is ignited, a searing chorus
Dance and song, a wordless prayer,
Hail to the future, hail to creation

But then a figure flutters before my eyes
My arm has escaped my friends’ embrace
My heart spurns the tempestuous singing,
Far and near it consumes me whole

Blue eyes
Such a bewildered glance
A sad silence and a stubborn mouth
The stillness grows in me
I remain standing
Alone, in a crowd of a hundred, her and I

(Translation by Elie Leshem)

Introduction to Neilah

As we stand now at this moment of Neilah, as the gates of teshuvah begin to close, may we re-center ourselves to our personal missions.  May we find the spiritual guidance we yearn for to lay out before us our path, our charge.  May we always own our narratives, our personal story and always, always, make room for to embrace those of others.  May we strike this balance between what it is we need and search for and be part of the sojourn of our fellow human beings.  Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “Judaism is spiritual effrontery... [we must] insist that life involves not only the satisfaction of selfish needs, but also the satisfaction of a divine need for human justice and nobility…Who is a Jew? A person whose integrity decays when unmoved by the knowledge of wrong done to other people.”  May we not allow our integrity to decay, may we therefore be moved to continue writing our stories, stories that a part of bringing goodness, light, mercy and justice into the world, for us and for all.

Psalm 118 Introduction

Let us consider verse 18 of Psalm 118:

פִּתְחוּ־לִ֥י שַׁעֲרֵי־צֶ֑דֶק אָֽבֹא־בָ֝ם אוֹדֶ֥ה יָֽהּ׃

Open the gates of victory for me that I may enter them and praise the LORD.

We often consider this as a petition to the Divine, to God, to the Mystery of Creation to open those gates for us.  Yet, when we explore the Hebrew of this verb, to “open”, it is a request to a plural, and our commentators teach us that at its origin this was a request to the gatekeepers of the ancient Temple.  Having transcended the ancient reality that atonement was found only in the ancient Temple, to the realization that atonement is found in our own acts, behaviors and choices as well as those of community surrounding us, here and wider, we see this verse having a deeper meaning.  It is our request to all of those around us for a shared journey of seeking the righteous path.  May we all find ways in this season to discover, working hand in hand, the Gates of Righteousness, and know we can travel that path together.  Shanah Tovah!

Bear...Narratives....& Reason - Yom Kippur 5780

The Other Day I saw a Bear…  Our Narratives and our Reason
Yom Kippur 5780

Join me if you know this one….The other day, I met a bear, a great big bear, oh way out there….  He looked at me, I looked at him, He sized up me, I sized up him….

Sure, many, if not all of us, could continue this fun and whimsical camp song to one of the various endings.  But, what does happen when you see a bear? 

I would imagine, trying not to assume of course, but I would imagine that to most of us who are residents in the area, seeing a bear is exciting, sure, but a regular enough occurrence that we may snap a photo or two, share the story over the coming days..maybe, but then file the experience away until the next time.  It may not illicit the famed and very real response we call:  Fight, Flight or Freeze. 

And for some of us, those less seasoned to living in the mountains, and perhaps those visiting, we may in fact certainly feel that Fight, Flight or Freeze response.  I distinctly remember a moment during my first year or so in Tahoe.  Enjoying a summer meal in my backyard with three teachers from Temple and our older son, Caleb, who was about a year old at the time.  When a bear came to enjoy lunch too!  While my guests, my friends, our religious school teachers, with no less than 40 years of living in Tahoe among them, turned their gaze to appreciate the bear and I don’t believe they ever even got up from their chairs.  I, on the other hand, made sure Caleb was safe, then grabbed our dog Sasha by the collar to attempt to scare the bear!  Riling Sasha up to bark and growl, I did my best!  I chose to Fight! 

My guests, these seasoned Tahoe residents, barely batted an eye, while I, on the other hand, experienced this moment quite differently.  I had to protect something, I riled Sasha up, and tried to scare the bear off…  My collection of experiences led me to quite a different response than others.  I did not pause, or stop to discuss the situation.  I did not use my reason to discern the best response, I jumped to action, I made a decision, a flash judgment, and using my intuition alone, made that snap judgement, at least in the psychological description, to Fight! 

Our lives are full of moments just like this one.  The collection of experiences that make up our identities shape the human being that each of us is….  We draw on them constantly to make decisions, to make judgements and to continue charting our human path through this life on a daily and moment to moment basis.  These experiences collectively make up the stories of our lives, they are the narratives we carry that help us define our identity.

Sure, in the moment of seeing a live, large and sometimes aggressive animal in the wild may indeed require us to forego the process of reasoned decision making and force us to act and act quickly.  But, what about the millions of decisions our complex minds make on a daily basis?  Are they always the best?  Most reasoned?  What about when we discover that a decision, a value position that we have held, or that we just argued for, may in fact not be in line with our best self? 

What about this example, a story we surely know well:  I am Sam, Sam I am….Do you like green eggs and ham?  Would you like them here or there?  Would you like them in a house?  Would you like them with a mouse?  I do not like green eggs and ham, I could not would not in a house or with a mouse…I do not like green eggs and ham.  I do not like them Sam I am.  Try them, try them and you may, try them and you may I say.  Sam, if you let me be, I will try them and you will see….  Say, I like green eggs and ham!  And I will eat them with a mouse and in a house….I will eat them anywhere…. Thank you, thank you Sam I am!

Certainly another whimsical example of our quick responses, and one used by Dr. Suess to help young people learn to read.  And, of course, it is kind of fun to mention “HAM” in the Temple!  But, perhaps, just maybe there is more to this story, and more that reveals just how brilliant it is.  The unnamed protagonist, whom we will call Knox, who eventually tries the Green Eggs and Ham is first annoyed by Sam, then disgusted by the thought of green eggs and ham.  This is probably because eggs and ham are not supposed to be green, and in fact when food becomes green it usually tells of spoilage…  Yet, as the fun story concludes, this unnamed protagonist - Knox - teaches us more than how to read.  Knox helps us identify a natural phenomenon of being human - that we often fail to try something new, yet we just may like it even if it does not seem appealing at first.  Knox, at first, is unwilling to even try the dish, and then reasons that he therefore would not like the entree no matter the setting, the company and the conditions.  His reasoning is not based on reason, but rather justifying the decision he’s already made!   Yet, in the end, showing a true openness to the newfound experience, Knox is willing to enjoy the green eggs and ham here and there, in a house with a mouse….anywhere!

We are all Knox!  It is simply part of being human.  We make decisions, we make judgments that are steeped in our own life experience…our narratives.  In this room, we share, at some level, the Jewish story as the first chapter of our personal identity.  And, we layer upon that our own stories.  (NTHC:  Because John is from rural Minnesota and Bob from Philadelphia, they hold, however slight, different ways to engage with Judaism.  Because Asher embraced Religious School so strongly and Hannah is choosing to engage in Bat Mitzvah by her own volition, this paints a new version of an old picture for their parents.) (TBY:  Because Jane lived in Israel and Karen has yet to visit, they hold, however slight, different ways to engage with Judaism.  Because Layla was raised in Tahoe and Ezekiel joined us at age thirteen, their visions of B’nai Mitzvah are certainly different pictures.)  It is through the lens of these experiences that each and every decision we make, our value judgements and our behaviors become yet more layers, more chapters in our lives.  Just like Knox, though, often times, we see only green eggs and ham, and using our intuition, we make a decision.  From there, our confirmation bias, which is our tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of our existing beliefs and theories, begins to work and we reason NOT what is necessarily the best decision, rather the ways we can support our earlier choice, our claim.

Sure, the most often benign black bear from around here, and Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham help us see this human challenge in this light hearted fashion.  How do we make decisions, respond to those of others and how do we reason, do we reason?  And, what about the big questions?  The issues?  The pressing issues of the day, in our democracy, in our world?  A friend of mine, Alissa Nourse, who is a local leadership coach and organizational consultant drawing on the work of Brene Brown, a PhD Social Worker and author of Daring Greatly, shares a powerful example of our flash judgments and intuition.  Perhaps we can recall a moment when someone shared a story to which someone responded, “Who does that?”  A seemingly benign response of disbelief, or even disgust of another’s choice.  But, what this does, Alissa teaches, is that it devalues, maybe even dehumanizes the other, the one WHO DID THAT.  Why?  Because someone did do that and it is someone who makes up more than seven billion others in the world; someone whose narrative, whose story is simply different than your own.

How do we respond to others, and based on what, do we make our decisions, our value judgements and take a stance on issues?  Jonathan Haidt, a social psychologist, a professor of ethical leadership at NYU’s Stern School of Business and an author, presents important perspectives on the way we make moral decisions, the way we reason and the power of our intuition.  During numerous TED Talks and through his writing, he presents clear ideas about how we, as human beings, as social beings, are driven to hold our ideas and our ideals.  At one point in his book, The Righteous Mind:  Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, he presents a finding of his and numerous other psychologists that, “We do moral reasoning not to reconstruct the actual reasons why we ourselves came to a judgment; we reason to find the best possible reasons why somebody else ought to join us in our judgement.”

Yet, we stand here on this day, this Day of Atonement, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, to explore the ways in which we have reasoned well and reasoned poorly over the previous months.  We engage with one another, with our collective voice in prayer and with a deep acknowledgement of our imperfections.  Could there ever be a better or more appropriate time to re-engage with the ways we have reasoned in the past?  Perhaps by re-reasoning, not based on the desire to confirm our own story, our singular perspective, but to engage with a broader and deeper view of the world around us, can we strengthen ourselves, each other and our world.

The Kol Nidre prayer is perhaps the best example of this notion.  The reality that we articulate, as we stand for all three recitations of this medieval prayer poem, is that we are imperfect in our judgement, our ideas and our ideals.  Rabbi David Stern, senior rabbi of Temple Emmanuel in Dallas and past president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, writes, in the New Mishkan HaNefesh - the Reform Machzor: 

In its emphasis on humility, Kol Nidrei provides a corrective to the toxic certainties of polarized discourse.  What if we approached each other with the humility to recognize that our most confident conviction will always be qualified by the limits of our own knowledge and understanding?  In its haunting melody and strangely legalistic language, we begin to sense the twilight truth:  our high horses too often stumble, and our soapboxes stand on shaky ground.  Kol Nidrei grants us the gift of sacred uncertainty:  the chance to begin this new year with a sense of what we do not know, rather than a narrow certainty about what we do. It’s what Buddhists call “beginner’s mind.”  What if every time I were ready to proclaim some self evident truth, I allowed Kol Nidrei to whisper in my ear, “Says who?”
Last month, our nation witnessed what some consider the most significant political experiment in U.S. history.  526 voters from forty seven states joined in Texas for three days to engage with issues, but more so with each other.  One participant from Kennewick, Washington shared, "Life affects us all very differently. We all have a story to tell and all of our views are important. There's no right answer for everyone. But if people take the time to hear (and truly listen) to other people and their story, then just maybe you'll discover something that you never considered before."   

This powerful exercise in American Democracy was not designed to sway opinions, rather it sought to understand if democracy was still alive.  One thing is for certain from this experiment, in each piece sifting the results from this monumental gathering we notice to the power of story, the import of the narratives we hold and the way we understand our world through the lens of our own, singular, experience.  As Haidt also posits to help us understand this further, “The human mind is a story processor, not a logic processor.”  He continues to point out that the stories we know best are the ones about ourselves and these are what Dan McAdams, a leader in the field of narrative psychology, refer to as life narratives. The challenge, they both contend, is that these narratives are not necessarily true stories, rather they are selectively recalled and often reconstructed versions of the past that help us connect to an idealized vision of the future. 

As recounted in a New York Times piece about the event, personal narratives may inform our own view, but they can help shape those of others too.  The article shared that, "In one room the debate among a dozen voters over what to do about the Affordable Care Act moved from one personal testimonial to another:  One man's deductible rose to $3000 from $500 after the law took effect.  Another man's family premium had gone up to $2600 a month.  Across the table, one woman said her father had been found to have colon cancer right after the law forced him to acquire insurance for the first time in his life.  “He would be homeless without it," she said.  "I don't really know how I feel about it either, but I can tell you from personal experience, it saved one life."  As the room grew more somber, a man across from her said, "But now I can’t argue because of what your dad dealt with.”  Everyone broke into laughter. 

Sure, some positions changed over the course of this experiment, but researchers found that the swings shed the extreme positions and that “Voters at the event on both the left and the right appeared to edge toward the center.”   Positions may not have changed, but reasoning was enhanced.  The power of this collection of individuals was held in their ability to empathize enough to reason through the narratives of their fellow human beings.  But this cannot be achieved when we do not share those stories.  It certainly will not be realized when we remain insulated from opening up to know the lives of others. 

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks chief rabbi of England until 2013 and an English Knight, elucidates for us a beautiful passage from Talmud Berakhot concerning the power of dialogue, of engaging in one another’s narratives.  He writes, “In the course of a discussion about the origin of the afternoon prayer, the Talmud refers to Isaac who “went out to meditate in the field toward evening” [an echo from the encounter between Isaac and Rebekah] and concludes that “meditate” must mean “to pray.”  However, the Talmudic statement, “ein sichah ela tefillah,” can also mean “conversation is a form of prayer.”  That is a startling and powerful idea.  A genuine encounter with a human other can be a prelude to an encounter with the Divine Other.  The disciplines required are the same:  to be open, to listen as well as speak, to be capable of empathy and humility, to honor the other by an act of focused attention.  Nor is this a minor matter.  The greatest command of all, Shema Yisrael, literally means “Listen, O Israel.”

“Conversation is a form of prayer.”  This conversation begins within ourselves.  We have our story, our narrative that is our identity and how we see the world.  “Taken together, psychologists' narrative research makes one resounding point:  We don't just tell stories, stories tell us.  They shape our thoughts and memories, and even change how we live our lives.”  Yet, we must take seriously the responsibility of being the authors of our lives.  This requires of us to engage in this kind of conversation and allow ourselves to peel back the layers of our own narrative to ensure we are not only reasoning to hold fast to our stumbling high horses and remain on our shaky soapboxes, but rather to embrace the ways we can enrich our world through the narratives our fellow human beings live as well.  As is sometimes attributed to the Talmud, "We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.”

In this season of Teshuvah, of turning to discover, perhaps to re-reason, our best selves, it is incumbent upon us to not only rely on our intuitively driven judgment and decisions, but also to take that next step to search deep and unpack all that we have become.  Rabbi David Hartman, an American-Israeli leader and philosopher of contemporary Judaism, founder of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, and an author, wrote:  The personal significance of Yom Kippur ultimately turns on the individual’s ability to believe that his or her life can be different.  The main obstacle to t’shuvah is not whether God will forgive us but whether we can forgive ourselves - whether we can believe in our own ability to change the direction of our lives, even minimally.  T’shuvah is grounded in the idea of an open future, in the belief that the possibilities for human change have not been exhausted, that the final chapters of our personal narratives have not been written.

And these personal narratives are, necessarily so, deeply intertwined with those of every other human being… “to be open, to listen as well as speak, to be capable of empathy and humility, to honor the other by an act of focused attention….to Shema Yisrael, to Listen O’ Israel.”

In peeling back the layers of our own stories, and embracing that our intuition often leads, not our reason, we honor others.  I don’t know how you, (NTHC:  Miles, or you Libby) (TBY:  Steve, or you Layla) respond when you see a bear because our stories are different.  We all have our own response to the bear, and maybe at first, we all should be disgusted by green eggs and ham….but it mustn’t stop there.  We MUST be better skilled, we must practice unpacking those intuitively guided decisions, those value judgements so that we may reason, or better re-reason, so that not only are we bettering our ability to be in life with others, but also owning our responsibility as authors of our narratives, the narratives we want to be our story…our life.  Maybe, just maybe this will lead to more honed intuition in the first place…..

May the year 5780 be one filled with becoming authors, authors of the narratives that become our lives.  And, may we be more discerning at how those stories lead our judgment, our decision making and our values, knowing that all persons have their own, and valuable, story too.  In this way, we have the potential to better our world.

G’mar Chatimah Tovah - May We all Be Sealed for Good in the Coming Year

Shanah Tovah

Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Erev Yom Kippur Iyun & Benediction

Erev Yom Kippur - Kol Nidre - Iyunnim - 5780

Welcome & Tone Setting:  Kindness and the Balance of our Deeds

A bookstore worker recently wrote this Facebook post describing an encounter with a “little old lady” who shocked everyone at the register. The post has since gone viral, and for good reason.  The subject posted:

    I work in a decent sized, local, indie bookstore. It’s a great job 99% of the time and a lot of our customers are pretty neat people. Anywho, middle of the day this little old lady comes up. She’s lovably kooky. She effuses how much she loves the store and how she wishes she could spend more time in it but her husband is waiting in the car ‘OH! I BETTER BUY HIM SOME CHOCOLATE!’ She piles a bunch of art supplies on the counter and then stops and tells me how my bangs are beautiful and remind her of the ocean (‘Wooooosh’ she says, making a wave gesture with her hand.
    Ok. I think to myself. Awesomely happy, weird little old ladies are my favorite kind of customer. They’re thrilled about everything and they’re comfortably bananas. I can have a good time with this one. So we chat and it’s nice.
    Then this kid, who’s been up my counter a few times to gather his school textbooks, comes up in line behind her (we’re connected to a major university in the city so we have a lot of harried students pass through). She turns around to him and, out of nowhere, demands that he put his textbooks on the counter. He’s confused but she explains that she’s going to buy his textbooks.
    He goes sheetrock white. He refuses and adamantly insists that she can’t do that. It’s like, $400 worth of textbooks. She, this tiny old woman, boldly takes them out of his hands, throws them on the counter and turns to me with an intense stare and tells me to put them on her bill. The kid at this point is practically in tears. He’s confused and shocked and grateful. Then she turns to him and says ‘you need chocolate.’ She starts grabbing handfuls of chocolates and putting them in her pile.
    He keeps asking her ‘why are you doing this?’ She responds ‘Do you like Harry Potter?’ and throws a copy of the new Cursed Child on the pile too.
    Finally she’s done and I ring her up for a crazy amount of money. She pays and asks me to please give the kid a few bags for his stuff. While I’m bagging up her merchandise the kid hugs her. We’re both telling her how amazing she is and what an awesome thing she’s done. She turns to both of us and says probably one of the most profound, unscripted things I’ve ever had someone say: ‘It’s important to be kind. You can’t know all the times that you’ve hurt people in tiny, significant ways. It’s easy to be cruel without meaning to be. There’s nothing you can do about that. But you can choose to be kind. Be kind.’
    The kid thanks her again and leaves. I tell her again how awesome she is. She’s staring out the door after him and says to me: ‘My son is a homeless meth addict. I don’t know what I did. I see that boy and I see the man my son could have been if someone had chosen to be kind to him at just the right time.’
    I’ve bagged up all her stuff and at this point am super awkward and feel like I should say something but I don’t know what. Then she turns to me and says: ‘I wish I could have bangs like that but my darn hair is just too curly.’ And leaves. And that is the story of the best customer I’ve ever had. Be kind to somebody today.  You never know how your actions may affect others around you, so you might as well be kind to all.

In the days leading to this season, the High Holy Days, the Hebrew month of Elul engages us in spiritual preparation.  Among the practices, we are inspired to recite twice daily the words of Psalm 27.  Embedded in this poem, we sing out:  Achat Sha’alti - One thing I ask of Adonai, and the one that I seek is to dwell in the house of Adonai all the days of my life and to gaze upon the sweetness of Adonai and frequent God’s Temple.

May each of us, on this Yom Kippur, and all days of this New Year, merit to dwell in the house of Adonai and to gaze upon God’s sweetness.  May we see the spark of the Divine in every other being so that we see their sweetness, and dwell together in blessing, joy, harmony and Shalom and Shleimut - Peace and Wholeness - Amen. 

Monday, September 30, 2019

Rosh Hashanah Morning - Study Page 116

Having shared the b’racha - the blessing for Torah study, let us consider verse 18 of Psalm 118:

פִּתְחוּ־לִ֥י שַׁעֲרֵי־צֶ֑דֶק אָֽבֹא־בָ֝ם אוֹדֶ֥ה יָֽהּ׃

Open the gates of victory for me that I may enter them and praise the LORD.

We often consider this as a petition to the Divine, to God, to the Mystery of Creation to open those gates for us.  Yet, when we explore the Hebrew of this verb, to “open”, it is a request to a plural, and our commentators teach us that at its origin this was a request to the gatekeepers of the ancient Temple.  Having transcended the ancient reality that atonement was found only in the ancient Temple, to the realization that atonement is found in our own acts, behaviors and choices as well as those of community surrounding us, here and wider, we see this verse having a deeper meaning.  It is our request to all of those around us for a shared journey of seeking the righteous path.  May we all find ways in this season to discover, working hand in hand, the Gates of Righteousness, and know we can travel that path together.  Shanah Tovah!


Rosh Hashanah Morning - Intro to the Amidah

As we prepare for the Amidah, the central portion of our Jewish prayer, we recite words from Psalm 51, verse 17:
  אֲ֭דֹנָי שְׂפָתַ֣י תִּפְתָּ֑ח וּ֝פִ֗י יַגִּ֥יד תְּהִלָּתֶֽךָ׃

Adonai, open up my lips, that my mouth declare Your praise.

Malbim, a 19th century Bible commentator teaches that in this declaration, we are asking that we be open to the words that follow to show, to teach us the praises of which the Divine, the Mystery of Creation, that God is worthy of receiving.  It is about being open to that which may be beyond our current understanding….the way in which we see the world through our own lens.  May this Amidah lead us to greater understanding, that which is beyond ourselves at this moment… 


Rosh Hashanah Morning - Intro to Unetaneh Tokef

As we prepare for these challenging words, the words of Unetaneh Tokef, we often hear a fatalistic resignation, but Max Arzt former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, teaches that the poet’s intention with this words is rather quite the opposite.  It is to deny that our human life is subject to an irremediable fate.  Rather, the prayer, he says, reaches its climax when it assures us that it is within our power to annul an evil decree, to reopen the future, and to reclaim the initiative it gives:  the quantity of our life may be in the hands of God, however the quality of our life is only in our hands as the Rabbis teach in Talmud Berakhot:  Everything is in the hands of God except the fear of God. (33b)  Raba, a 4th century sage remarks on this idea that these are among the questions to be asked of us in judgment:

Did you conduct your business with integrity?  Did you set aside fixed times for study of Torah? Did you concern yourself with the duty of raising a family?  Did you retain a confident faith in the fulfillment o the prophetic ideals of Israel’s redemption and the coming of an era of universal peace?  (Shabbat 31a)

As we hear these words of Unetaneh Tokef echo through the room and the chambers of our souls, may we ask these questions and others that inspire us towards life goals.  The goals of choosing life, the goals that lead to a healthy balance of self and other.
Optimism & Antisemitism:  A Plan for 5780 and Beyond
Rosh Hashanah 5780

There is an anecdote told about Jews living in Germany in the 1930s.  Two Jews were sitting on one of the few park benches permitted to Jews.  One of them was reading one of the Jewish communal newspapers; the other, reading Der Stürmer, the virulently antisemitic Nazi publication.  “Why on earth are you reading that thing?” the latter was asked.  “When I read a Jewish publication,” he replied, “I hear of our woes and terrible fate.  When I read Der Stürmer, I read how we control the banks, world media, international governments, and how powerful we are.  I much prefer the latter.”

In her recent publication, Deborah Lipstadt, a pre-eminent scholar and professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, shares this as sort of a joke, albeit certainly not a laugh out loud kind of joke.  In the sharing of this anecdote about an era we can all reference as perhaps the darkest hour of our collective Jewish memory, we can also recognize a sense of Jewish levity and optimism. 

When we recollect the Shoah, the Holocaust, it is our tragedy.  And that is our responsibility on Yom HaShoah - Holocaust Remembrance Day - to make certain Never Again.  And yet, it is bigger than a tragedy that befell one group, it is also a human tragedy…it is a time in the human past that must be recognized as the darkest; it was a time when humanity chose evil over good; it was a time when annihilation was chosen rather than tolerance…  But if we only see this with Jewish particularism, we lessen our ability to mold humanity with growing compassion, optimism, love and possibility. 

When it comes to the past year, we can point to Pittsburgh and Poway, and to the numerous events of defacement and ridicule, as well as others unfortunately, as events that scream to our Jewish consciousness for our attention.  We are uncomfortable in our seats as we recall these horrific events.  These, too, are moments in our collective Jewish memory that shock.  They certainly cause us all to question, to ponder…to ask:  Why?  …and even lead towards a lack of understanding, towards disbelief. 

It is not enough to think about them, to listen to the news about these horrific moments, but we must take the time to reflect on how to respond.  What can change…  With all of these horrific moments we must reflect on how we respond.  Oh my, another attack, a massacre…  Again?  Is there something to be done?  What should MY response be?  What does our community need to do?  What is the individual, the collective response?  What is the learning, is there learning?

Those two Jews sitting on the park bench in Germany paint a picture for us of the different ways we can discern the realities of our day.  Lipstadt also shares in her book, and in numerous interviews since its publication a joke, again one that does not necessarily garner laughter:  Who is a Jewish optimist?  Someone who thinks things can’t get worse.  Who is a Jewish pessimist?  Someone who thinks that it can.  Who is a Jewish realist?  Someone who knows that they are…

So, which one is each of us?  Realist?  Pessimist?  Optimist?

Let us choose none of the above, at least not as described in that joke.  Let this moment, this New Year beginning continue to unfold as one that allows us to celebrate our treasured tradition, heritage and shared memory rather than bemoan the countless past injustices and oppressions levied against us as a people.  And, let us use it to treasure the richness of all humanity and combat hatred in all its forms.  But, this is hard…seemingly impossible and yet, let us allow that adage to remain as such, a not funny joke from which we can capture something to learn.

Antisemitism has been in the headlines again and again in recent years.  It has been dubbed “the longest hatred” for its endurance throughout our storied history even before the term itself was coined in the latter part of the 19th century.  What is it?  What is antisemitism?  It is hostility to, or prejudice against Jews simply because they are Jewish.  Throughout its history, throughout our own history as a people it has taken numerous forms:  Religious persecution and replacement theology, it has become a political argument in past eras and today and it has been about Jewish dominance.  And let’s be clear:  That in an ever increasingly complex world, full of grey and nuance, antisemitism is no different than any other “ism”, because its complexity and nuanced expressions have evolved as well. 

We can decry the rise of it and all forms of hate.  We can be the objects of this particular form of “anti” and build up our defenses.  We can take active steps towards security, toward safety, we can build layers upon layers of insulation to surround us - we can build walls.  Over the past year, members of our own community here at Temple Bat Yam and North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation have participated in webinars, conference calls, in person workshops focusing on the safety of our Houses of Worship.  We have learned a great deal about the ways in which we can mitigate the physical threats associated with this hatred directed at us. 

Yet, this is not the only way it presents itself.  Take the not so funny joke at the outset, and ponder for a moment the non-sensical reality expressed therein.  From one source, Jews rule and are in charge of all….from the other, we are doomed.  Isn’t the simple telling of this joke a way to perpetuate these age-old myths? 

As Jews in America we have been blessed with unprecedented freedoms and opportunities.  Yet, we are discovering, whether it be attributed to new or growing threats or the result of complacency, this age old and baseless hatred towards Jews as Jews is alive.  It feels so foreign, yet so familiar.  For many of us, the echoes reverberating around us ring of a time we recall living through and hearing in countless stories from our parents, from our grandparents.  For others, being hated simply for being a Jew is foreign, for we have been blessed to live now, at this time, at least as some call it:  Before Pittsburgh.  Are things different now?  New security measures, re-formulated education of our community and strengthened awareness are all called for.  With antisemitism on the rise, with hate defining our identities, either as the object or even the subject, we increasingly see the world through a lens of what we are “anti”, what we are against.  And so, we insulate ourselves and our communities. 

But can’t we see these events, the uptick in acts of hate as a blip, an aberration for we do live in America, blessed with unprecedented freedoms and opportunities.  Over the last fifty years, we, the Jewish people, have attained so much.  Some call it assimilation, but others integration - being a part of the promise of a better tomorrow for everyone.  Sure, we should be aware and watchful, we ought to pay attention to this virulent hatred, but more so to all hatred, to the baseless claims against any group as a group mis-characterized in disgusting ways. 

The statistics may certainly be cause enough to maybe not sound the alarm, but certainly know where the panic button is located.  But I am not sure that is the only way to view this new reality:  After Pittsburgh.  In a poignant moment of her book, Deborah Lipstadt makes a claim that it is not about the numbers, the data, the statistics.  She writes, “…numbers should not be what drives us.  What should alarm us is that humans continue to believe in conspiracy that demonizes.”

Dr. Kenneth Stern, who currently serves as the Director of the new Center for the Study of Hate at Bard College, has served as director on antisemitism, hate studies and extremism for the American Jewish Committee, recently presented to a group of rabbis in a talk entitled:  Old Fears, New Fears:  How to Discuss Today’s Antisemitism.  He taught about how hate has always been part of the human condition.  Understanding this phenomenon is crucial in connecting the dots between these old and new fears.  His work presents the reality that our brains, our human psyche identifies a reality about how we see the world often as “us” versus “them” and that antisemitism plays best in this binary world, a world in which sentiment foments an “us” versus “them” attitude. 

This leads us to define ourselves dominantly by what we are not, what we are “anti”.  It begs us to consider the countless ways identification into one of these groups, the “us” and “them” categorizes, and perpetuates the Old Fears and morphs them into New Fears.  “What should alarm us is that humans continue to believe in conspiracy that demonizes.”

In the early 1970s, a teenage boy in a small town in northern Wisconsin had recently been confirmed by his Lutheran Church.  About the same time one of his older brothers met a Jewish woman while studying at the University of Wisconsin.  Over the following years, this older brother brought his new love home, the first Jew, they believed, to ever visit their home town.  Later, that older brother chose Judaism and engaged in a journey of gerut, of conversion.  This younger brother, molded by if not a hatred or dislike of Jews, certainly a wariness, he could not make sense of this new reality:  A Jewish brother?  Some time later, this younger teenage brother was playing pool and drinking beer in the local bar when he heard someone utter the common castigation:  Don’t Jew me down!  Somewhat surprisingly, especially to himself, this youngster turned around and stood in that other’s face:  Don’t say that!  It means nothing!  Some of my best brothers are Jewish!

That young teenager was my Uncle Mark of blessed memory, and one of his “best brothers”, that is my father. 

The evolution from unknown, baseless dislike, maybe even hatred towards Jews in this tiny town in northern Wisconsin needed to be addressed.  Yet, it could not have been done if we insulate our communities and only build barriers.  Quite the opposite is what allowed that to change…for that town to have welcomed one of its grandson’s, a rabbi, home to eulogize his grandmother.

It is about understanding that these conspiracies, the baseless hatreds, what our tradition calls sinat chinam - must be unraveled and we can only do that through relationship, through connection and through building bridges - whether between “us” - Jews and “them” - non-Jews, or across countless other boundaries, across cultural, ethnic and religious differences.  We must discover ways for “us” and “them” NOT “us” versus “them” and this is not only on “them” to reach over those barriers, it lies with “us” too!

Sure, we must still take measures, and we have and continue to, in order to ensure our safety, personally and communally.  Yet, it cannot, it must not stop there.  There is a different response that is possible in 5780 than we have ever experienced.  Because of countless stories like my Uncle Mark’s we know that exponentially more relationships exist between Jews and non-Jews than arguably ever before in history.  And, it must step beyond this paradigm of and through only the lens of antisemitism.  It must, and is upon us to recognize the human tragedy that hate creates again and again.  We must understand ever more the realities of the rise of antisemitism AND THE RISE OF HATE IN GENERAL.  We must understand that there are real and present dangers tearing at the fabric of our humanity and we have a responsibility, informed by our Jewish identity, to every other being.  Last year at this time, I spoke about overcoming “otherness”, and that work may not be realized in our time, but we must try.

In June of this year, when antisemitic graffiti was discovered under a bridge in South Lake Tahoe we could have insulated ourselves, we could have asked for the scourge to be cleaned up and moved on.  But, this would likely have been another moment of raising those barriers.  So, rather than this route, we chose something different.  We engaged in the bridges that had already been built and stood in solidarity to say Not In Our Town, Not in Lake Tahoe.  With clergy of all stripes, with elected officials and educators, with business and non-profit leaders, we stood together against this blatant antisemitism, but not only as antisemitism, but as hatred.  It was more, though.  It was not so much about what we were “anti”, it was about what we stood for as human beings sharing this world.  In that moment, we stood in celebration of all that we are:  A rich tapestry of cultural, religious and ethnic identities. 

In 1946, the German Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller made a confession which has become a call to all humanity to recognize what may set us apart and use it to bring us to a common fate, that of human:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —
    Because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —
    Because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —
    Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

Sure, we must recognize and identify that antisemitism is alive and therefore we must take steps to counter.  Yet, IT CANNOT STOP THERE.  It is our Jewish, and even better, our human responsibility to recognize hatred in all its forms, and to stand up to the “conspiracy that demonizes.”  Let us live Pastor Niemöller’s words differently:

When she is denied respect because she is a she —
    Let us make sure she is given a podium.
When our neighbor is slandered because they do not look like us —
    Let us set the record straight and make them whole.
When our fellow is demonized for his beliefs —
    Let us show the world his humanity.
Then, just maybe then, our tapestry of what makes us human will be displayed in all its brilliance.

I am a Jewish optimist.  Not because I don’t believe it can get any worse.  Nor because I am blind to this wave of antisemitism.  But, I am a Jewish optimist because I am Jewish and because I know that we have a rich heritage that guides us to believe that we can continue the work before us.  That we can strengthen the relationships that link us to those around us. 

Following Pittsburgh, my friend and colleague Rabbi Micah Lapidus penned a powerful blog post entitled:  An American Pogrom:  An American Response.  No he does not equate the events of recent years to the state sponsored pogroms of Eastern Europe.  Rather, he is arguing that these antisemitic acts of hate require a response borne out of our American Jewish reality, identity and existence and one that is correctly situated for this time, now in our world.  He argues that we must continue the work of interfaith solidarity and action to bolster and lengthen the reach of our communities.  We must engage in Jewish solidarity and action to ensure that we convey to our children, and to one another, the unique value of Jewish teaching and tradition.  It is incumbent upon us to raise the Jewish Voice in American Life because Judaism, he says, is a tradition founded upon a belief in human dignity.  And we must teach, model and show our children that they can be kind to one another and they can make an effort to get to know people who are different from them. 

To Rabbi Lapidus’ words, I would add  that we also need to discover the American Jewish Response.  This begins with us.  It begins by looking in the mirror.  As our religious school students have experienced and explored in recent years, the mirror is one layer of looking at ourselves.

Hold Up the Mirror!  And you may notice upon this mirror are words scribbled to inspire..  It says:    Kindness, compassion, love, care for our world….

There is more to each of us than what is reflected in this simple glass.  There are layers to our character…  what do we want to write on these mirrors to remind us of our aspirational selves - the person we want to continue becoming. 

We must ask ourselves in what ways do we perpetuate these myths?  What “jokes” do we tell that open the doors for others to continue these baseless hatreds and keep them on the human psyche? 

As we look in this mirror, we also know that there are others standing with and behind and around us.  There is more to combating “conspiracy that demonizes” and we must reach out to build those relationships so that we no longer build tribes of insularity, but rather a growing tribe of humanity, and one that celebrates the richness of the human tapestry

May we all experience a year of health and growing humanity.  May we write on our mirrors the character we aim to see in ourselves, be part of others journey towards the same and may it lead to a Good Year and Good Years ahead.  Shanah Tovah!

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Erev Rosh Hashanah - Welcome & Explanations

Shanah Tovah!  For some of us, the roller coaster of the Yamim Noraim - Days of Awe -  has been guiding us for the month of Elul, and for others it begins in earnest this day - Yom Teruah - the Day of the Blast.  We celebrate as we welcome the year 5780 and we also know that the deep introspective work of these Days of Awe will carry us towards Yom Kippur.  This is not always easy, I would contend it is not meant to be easy, for reckoning for ourselves, our deeds, our behaviors and choices over the past year can often lead us deep within…   Let this celebration of Rosh Hashanah, this engagement with this time of year, lead us to places unknown within ourselves and may it also lead us towards the recognition of our humanity - yes full of foibles, but also capable of glimpsing perfection, within ourselves, others and our world.  May those glimpses guide us to being our best selves, to support others on their journeys and in that way, those shadows of perfection begin to become illuminated.  Shanah Tovah! 

Erev Rosh Hashanah - Drash on Light - Before Candle Lighting

With these lights, We welcome Rosh Hashanah.  In their glow of contrasting colors, we discern the light and dark of our days; We recall all the disappointments and joys we have shared, all the hopes and intentions we now nurture for the New Year. 

In Psalm 27, read each day for a month leading to this day, we recite: Adonai is my light and my help; whom should I fear? Adonai is the stronghold of my life, whom should I dread?  From this we discover an inspiration that the Divine, the Mystery of Creation, Adonai - whatever it is we hold in belief - illuminates that which may cause us pause, fear or anxiety and we know that through working to continuing becoming ourselves, as individuals and as a community, the path becomes illuminated for us.  May the coming year be one of growing light, for us, for our community and for our world.  ~Amen


Erev Rosh Hashanah - Drash for Hineni - How Do We Present Ourselves

There is a fellow who owns a jewelry store in Israel. One day a nine year old girl walked into the store and said, “I am here to buy a bracelet.” She looked through the glass cases and pointed to a bracelet that was $3,000. The man behind the counter asked her, “You want to buy that bracelet?”
“Yes,” she replied.
“Wow, you have very good taste. Who do you want to buy it for?”
“For my older sister.”
“Oh that is so nice!” the storekeeper replied. “Why do you want to buy your older sister this bracelet?”
“Because I don’t have a mother or father,” the little girl said, “and my older sister takes care of us. So we want to buy her a present, and I’m willing to pay for it.” She pulled out of her pocket a whole bunch of coins that totaled just under eight shekels, a little less than two dollars.

The fellow says, “Wow! That’s exactly what the bracelet costs!” While wrapping up the bracelet he said to the girl, “You write a card to your sister while I wrap the bracelet.” He finished wrapping the bracelet, wiped away his tears, and handed the little girl the bracelet.

A few hours later the older sister entered the store. “I’m terribly embarrassed,” she said. “My sister should not have come here. She shouldn’t have taken it without paying.” “What are you talking about?” the storekeeper asked.

“What do you mean? This bracelet costs thousands of dollars. My little sister doesn’t have thousands of dollars – she doesn’t even have ten dollars! Obviously she didn’t pay for it.”

“You couldn’t be more wrong,” the storekeeper replied. “She paid me in full. She paid seven shekel, eighty agurot, and a broken heart. I want to tell you something. I am a widower. I lost my wife a number of years ago. People come into my store every single day. They come in and buy expensive pieces of jewelry, and all these people can afford it.

When your sister walked in, for the first time in so very long since my wife had died, I once again felt what love means.”
He gave her the bracelet and wished her well.

During the High Holy Days, we come to the Almighty and we want to buy something very expensive. We want to buy life. But we cannot afford it. We don’t have enough money to pay for it. We don’t have the merits.

So we come to the Almighty and we empty out our pockets, giving him whatever merits we have plus promises for the future. I’ll pick up the phone and call someone who is lonely, I will learn an extra five minutes of Torah, I will be kind and I will be scrupulous about not speaking lashon hara (gossip) for one hour a day.

The Almighty says, “You don’t know how long it’s been since I’ve felt what love means.” He sees how much we love Him and how much we yearn to improve, and He says, “You know what? You have touched my heart. Here it is, paid in full.”

The story was told over by Rabbi Go’el Elkarif who said he heard it from the person himself


Erev Rosh Hashanah - Drash on the Miraculous - Before Mi Chamocha

The Baal Shem Tov taught:  “If we were to walk in the woods and a spring appeared just when we became thirsty, we would call it a miracle. And if on a second walk, if we became thirsty at just that point again, and again the spring appeared, we would remark on the coincidence. But if that spring were there always, we would take it for granted and cease to notice it. Yet is that not more miraculous still?”

As we prepare for this moment recalling our redemption as a people with Mi Chamocha, what are the miracles for which we are grateful?  And as we consider the miracles that fill our daily lives, may we all be thirsty for them and make sure our souls are focused to recognize them, to be grateful for them and be open to helping others continue to discover them too! 

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Traveling to Israel, taking the boys for their first trip!

Reflection on Our June 2019 Trip to Israel

Shabbat June 15, as the adventure begins in earnest it is hard to balance the excitement with the realities of my wonderful boys.  They are excited and they are anxious for the unknown.  I could not imagine a better destination for this first overseas trip for our family.  Israel is a people and a place that has and continues to enrich Rachel and my life.  There are certainly realities that continue to challenge both of us in regard to Israel, yet being ohavei Yisrael - lovers of Israel - is part of our beings.  Sitting on the plane and waiting to take off has finally allowed the reality of returning to Israel with my family for the first time sink in in earnest.

Hopes abound for the experience at hand. I am dreaming first about moments of realization for Caleb and for Jonah.  I am dreaming that their minds will seize the connections between being Jewish and being Jewish.  And what I mean by that is the hope that their identity as Jews - a minority in Tahoe - will connect with the identity of Jews as majority in Israel.  This is something that must just happen for them and no matter how hard I may try I cannot manufacture it for them. 

I pray that our days are each filled with such unique gifts that both boys continue to unpack them throughout their lifetimes.  In that, I am also praying that these twelve days leave indelible and positive experiences that our family grows in our love of Israel and continues to struggle alongside her in reaching for Israel’s potential.