Searching for Blessings in Life

  Dear Friends, What does Joe Dimaggio have to do with this week's article?  I am celebrating the 56th anniversary of my Bar Mitzvah.  Joe Dimaggio's hitting streak in baseball was 56 games. So what does that mean? Dimaggio's streak was a model of consistency and as I look back on becoming Bar Mitzvah and the trajectory of my life, Judaism has in one way or another been consistently important to me. There were times I wrestled with my  faith, thinking about becoming Bahai, struggling with observance, and wondering whether Judaism really was the religion for me.  When I was in college, I took an introduction to Judaism at the University of Illinois with Professor Gary Porton.  It was a revelation to me since I found that learning about Judaism in a serious way was immensely rewarding and inspiring.  I realized that to be Jewish was and is a blessing. As I learned more about the Torah portion, Naso, from which I read and which we read this Shabbat, I realized that the portion

A Special Shavuot and Memorial Day Message

 Dear Friends, As we celebrate Shavuot, Shabbat, and commemorate Memorial Day weekend,  I hope that we all find meaningful ways to connect to Shavuot that marks the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, Yizkor (remembering our loved ones), and when we read the scroll of Ruth that emphasizes the importance of kindness.   One of the tributes I find to be most meaningful  on Memorial Day weekend is the following by Archibald MacLeish: THE YOUNG DEAD SOLDIERS DO NOT SPEAK Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses: who has not heard them? They have a silence that speaks for them at night and when the clock counts. They say, We were young. We have died. Remember us. They say, We have done what we could but until it is finished it is not done. They say, We have given our lives but until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave. They say, Our deaths are not ours: they are yours: they will mean what you make them. They say, Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new h

Beginning my 70th year

  Dear Friends, As I turned 69 this week and entered my 70th year of life, I have become even more reflective. In this week's Torah reading, B'Midbar (in the desert) which begins with our ancestors in the desert, we are all counted.  I got to thinking about making life count and whether my life counts. When I was growing up my parents used to talk about their aging and hoping to be blessed with three score and 10 years and if blessed with strength, 80 years.  They lived to 82 and 86. In my 50's I was diagnosed with prostate cancer which was cured (fortunately) and in my  60's I had a heart attack (mild) and I am fully recovered.  I feel very blessed but also very motivated to fill every day with some sort of activity which helps others.   I thought you would enjoy reading the lyrics to a song by Simon and Garfunkel which was one of my favorites and now has extra meaning.  (See below)  Although it is a sad song and today, living in one's 70th year is much different,

In Loving Remembrance

  Dear Friends, It is important to me to let you know when we are dealing with a significant loss.  This column is dedicated to the memory of Hazel Solomon whose funeral was on Friday, May 12.  Hazel was one of our Bar/Bat Mitzvah tutors, led services, helped with the Torah ritual as a gabbai(literally "treasurer" helping guard our treasure, the Torah). May 12 corresponded to the 36th day of the counting of the omer.  As some of us know, 36 is double chai (2X18) and 18 is Chai in Hebrew letters.  Each Hebrew letter has a numerical value and chai means life so double chai means double life.  This is all called gematria for those who want to look it up online.  (check out the following link) What Is Gematria? Hazel, with whom I stood on the bima every Saturday for 25 years, was a treasure to our congregation.  Her love of Judaism and the Jewish people was inspirational. When I think of Hazel's life and the lives of the students she touched, I am in awe. Hazel loved children

A Tribute to Rabbi Harold Kushner, of blessed memory

  Dear Friends, This week I want to write a brief tribute to Rabbi Harold Kushner, of blessed memory.  He died a week ago and as most of us know, he wrote, "When Bad Things Happen to Good People." Many years ago we lived in Tucson, AZ.  One of my mentors, Rabbi Arthur Oleisky, of blessed memory, contacted Rabbi Kushner when one of our children was diagnosed with cancer and was having potentially life and death surgery.   I will never forget his kindness when he called us to check in and make sure we were supported.  Our son survived and we are very  blessed that he is well.  I will never forget his outreach and how important that was in teaching me that sometimes the Divine appears in the simple acts of kindness that we perform. I often teach about Rabbi Kushner and want to share an excerpt from his book mentioned above. "Are you capable of forgiving and accepting in love a world which has disappointed you by not being perfect, a world in which there is so much unfairnes

That's What Happiness/Holiness Is

  Dear Friends, I gave a presentation recently where I talked about an old commercial for a cigarette company that was based upon a tune "that's what happiness is."   2:15 1965 Ray Conniff Singers - Happiness Is (mono 45) YouTube   ·   The45Prof 2 minutes, 15 seconds Dec 17, 2021 As we read from  the Holiness Code this Shabbat, I asked the group a question about what holiness is? We are taught that G-d told us we would become a holy people.  As I reflect on this, I do wonder what holiness means and whether holiness and happiness are tied together. When I applied to rabbinical school, I wrote that I believed that a rabbinical career was avodat kodesh, a holy task.  As I approach the 42nd anniversary of my ordination, I do believe that rabbinic work is sacred.   However, as I think about whether it made me happy, I have to pause.  Sometimes holy activity is so intense that it drains a certain amount of happiness from the one who is doing the work and one's loved ones wh

Dancing Lessons from G-d Inspired by Yogi Berra (a NY Yankee baseball player)

 Dear Friends, As a rabbi who was trained at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, I have always subscribed to the belief that Judaism is a civilization.  You can certainly learn more about this by either reading Mordecai Kaplan's book, "Judaism as a Civilization" or reading a summary or review of it. One of my takeaways is that we are fortunate that we are free to live as Americans and as Jews, enjoying the best of both American and Jewish civilizations.   After 31 years of serving in congregations I now have the ability to choose what I do on Saturday mornings since I don't have congregational responsibilities.  Last Saturday, instead of going to services,  I offered remarks at the dedication of Little League Batting Cages in a local suburb in Northern VA.  They were dedicated to a man who devoted his life to helping young people grow through their participation in youth baseball. In my remarks I quoted a number of Yogi Berra (NY Yankees baseball player) comment