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Yahrzeit: time to contemplate

Posted on 05 October 2017 by admin

January is named for the two-headed Roman god Janus, who could look backward and forward at the same time. I feel the same at the start of 5778.
My husband has been gone for more than three years. On the proper Hebrew date, I was in synagogue to say Kaddish. On the exact secular date, I was at the cemetery, not to pray, just to sit and think: about him, of course, but mostly about all that has happened since his passing and all that I’ve learned.
These have been the longest and the shortest years, for the same reason: because time is different when one becomes alone after not being alone. Time goes too quickly when there are tasks to be done solo that were once shared; estimated allotments of how long they will take are never correct; everything screams to be taken care of as fast as possible. And time goes very slowly when there is little or nothing that demands to be done right away; those were old occasions when a couple could share some low-pressure hours or days together. But now those hours and days drag…
So this is the most important lesson I’ve learned: I can do all the things I have to do, taking on alone those responsibilities I used to share with my important “someone else,” and see them through to completion, not really missing his help. The sharing is what I miss. I miss most of all someone loving nearby to remind me, when a task challenges me or threatens to defeat me completely: “This isn’t the end of the world. Nobody’s going to die from this. You’ll get through it!” There are times when it’s really necessary to hear words like this, but the words aren’t the same when I have to say them to myself. Although of course, I do…
It’s truly comforting to be in synagogue for his yahrzeit. When I stand with other mourners, surrounded by the understanding and sympathy of friends who’ve become like family, I am truly “home” — more at home, it often feels, than in my actual home. And I find a different kind of comfort when I’m alone in the cemetery, sitting on a bench near my dear husband’s gravesite and thinking about so many things — past, and future.
This year: A beautiful late afternoon cooled down more than a bit for me after scorching hours before. Lots of puffy white clouds floated overhead, which reminded me of my childhood, lying flat on my back on summer grass, staring up at the sky and seeing pictures in them. (Never mind that if I dared to lie down on my back these days, I would never be able to get up again without assistance!) And what I saw in the clouds that day was far, far different from the images I’d imagined in those long-gone years, because — I saw Fred! His head. His eyes. His nose and his mouth — which was smiling! This image was too real, and too moving, for me to look at for more than a moment, so I shut my eyes. And when I opened them again just an instant later, everything had re-formed and he had vanished, as pictures imagined in clouds always do.
Does that sound strange? Or — maybe you’ve had the same experience yourself? If so: Have you ever told anyone about it? I thought more than twice before I decided to tell this, because it was such a very personal moment, and one that might sound silly to someone who’d never experienced anything like it. But here I am, urging you to go outside on a not-too-warm late afternoon when there are fluffy white clouds populating a beautiful blue sky, and look up at that sky and remember yourself as a child, and remember all the loved ones who have gone on before you. And perhaps, just perhaps, you will see them again, too…

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Sukkah activities give larger view of world

Posted on 05 October 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
Could you please explain what is accomplished by sitting and eating in a sukkah. We understand it is a mitzvah to do so and the kids love it, but, truth be told, it is sometimes quite a schlep, both building it, taking the food in and out and sitting in the sometimes not ideal weather. Could you provide some insight which would perhaps add some meaning?
— Bart & Kimberly W.
Dear Bart and Kimberly,
The holiday of Sukkos (some refer to it as Sukkot), which began Wednesday night, is referred to as “our time of joy.” Although there is a mitzvah of joy on every holiday, as the Torah says, “vesamachta bechagecha,” “be joyous on Sukkos.” Sukkos has something unique about it as a time of joy which transcends that of any other time in the Jewish year.
Let’s consider for a moment what brings us happiness. Most people would say that they feel happy and comfortable in their homes, where they have their nice furniture, creature comforts and familiar surroundings. If that was truly the source of joy, that joy is quite vulnerable and transient. What if one suddenly lost their home in the Hurricane Harvey flood, as did so many? What if someone lost their job and had to foreclose on their home? As tragic and unsettling as that would be, Jewishly one would still need to find a way to be joyous in life. In order to do so, we must find a deeper source of joy than our physical surroundings. We have been “wandering Jews” for thousands of years, uprooted from homes and communities with barely the clothes on our backs, but have somehow never lost our joy for life.
The true source of Jewish joy is our timeless connection to a higher Essence. Our connection to the Almighty has no relation to time and place. We had a special connection in Israel with the holy Temple, but even when we lost those we retained our connection through Torah and mitzvos. For millennia Jews lived an interconnected, yet separate, existence with our Diaspora neighbors. The “place” we live in is our Jewish world, with its own language, customs and loving relationship to God.
We bring that relationship alive on Sukkos. On Rosh Hashanah we “coronated” the King and entered His palace. On Yom Kippur we purified ourselves, transcending food and drink, and forged a new, even deeper connection. This bond is not of a transient nature; it becomes part of our very existence. Sukkos is the time we celebrate that eternal bond. By the very nature of the celebration it’s not sufficient to simply “do something”; we need to “live” that bond.
Hence the mitzvah of Sukkos is to build a spiritual place to live, to live our lives outside of our usual physical surroundings. In that way we can focus on our real, grounded existence, our loving connection to God. This brings us to a unique state of joy, as we know that this is the one thing that no foreclosure or flood can ever take away from us. We are that connection!
After solidifying that relationship with joy for an entire week we can then transition it back to our regular homes and lives. Although we return to our familiar places after Sukkos, somehow something seems different. What’s changed is that it’s not all about the house anymore — we’ve learned that our joy is linked to something much larger and higher. We can then use our homes and everything in them as vehicles to take us even higher. This cycle spirals us upward higher and higher every year!
A very joyous Sukkos holiday to you and all the readers!

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Meaning behind fast

Posted on 28 September 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
I have fasted on Yom Kippur as long as I can remember and am nostalgic about the bagels and smoked fish break fasts with my late parents and aunts and uncles. Truth be told, I’ve never been uplifted by the fast. I’ve never felt inspired by causing self-inflicted pain and starving myself. I fail to see what it accomplishes or how it makes me a better person. I still have my health, thank God, and plan to fast this year, but would appreciate some inspiration to make it more meaningful.
— Beatrice W.
Dear Beatrice,
I’m glad you still have your health! May you continue to enjoy good health this year and many more to come!
If the fast was indeed to cause pain and starve ourselves, I wouldn’t be very inspired to do so either. Furthermore, if the point is to feel pain, why do Jews traditionally wish others to “have an easy fast?” It should rather be “have a miserable fast”! I think we need to reframe the entire concept of the fast on Yom Kippur, which will enable us to view it in a different light.
The source for fasting is in the Torah, which states “But on the 10th day of this (the seventh) month is the Day of Atonement… and you should afflict your souls…” (Vayikra/Leviticus 23:27). “Afflicting” is interpreted by our sages in the Talmud to mean we should fast, hence the mitzvah to fast on Yom Kippur. This, however, needs explanation. The Torah does not say to afflict our bodies, rather our nefashos or souls, through the fasting. This seems strange, as a fast would seem to afflict the body, not the soul. How can we understand this?
The answer is that the affliction is not the fasting itself. The fasting, which enables us to rest for a while from our physical pursuits, merely provides the backdrop to enable us to focus on our souls, which is the real point of the day. When we focus on our souls and how far we may have strayed from the right path, then the soul is afflicted with that realization. Maimonides points out that the mitzvah on Yom Kippur is not “to fast” as with other fast days, rather to “refrain from eating.” When we are on a higher, more spiritual plane, we have the opportunity, indeed the mitzvah, of getting in sync with our souls and seeing how we can better ourselves.
The mitzvah to “rest” from food and drink also includes desisting from bathing, from wearing leather shoes and from marital relations. All this elevates us to a higher, spiritual world where we can view the world and ourselves from a different vantage point.
My mentor, the late Rabbi S. Wolbe ob”m, once gave us a powerful illustration by which to understand the day of Yom Kippur and its laws. Maimonides, in discussing the final world of reward, says the following: “The World to Come has no eating nor drinking, rather the righteous sitting with their crowns upon their heads, and basking in the glow of the Shechinah (Divine Presence).” This is the feeling one has on Yom Kippur. This holy day is a bit of the next world transposed to this world. On Yom Kippur, by refraining from the mundane pursuits of this world, we are transformed into an angelic state whereby we don’t need to eat, much like the angels above are above eating and derive their sustenance from the glow of the Shechinah. With the closeness we enjoy we can intensely feel any distance from the Shechinah we have caused, and fulfill the mitzvah of teshuvah, or return to God and our true selves.
May you and all the readers have an easy, meaningful fast and be inscribed in the Book of Life for a sweet, happy New Year.

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To all an easy fast, promise of good year

Posted on 28 September 2017 by admin

At sundown tomorrow, we will enter the longest day of our Jewish year.
Yom Kippur is an odd one, a singular one as our holidays and holy days go. Many of those help us remember historic events, while others mark seasonal milestones. But this one, alone, depends on us for existence. It is, indeed, US.
By the time we rise together for the traditional Kol Nidre, we (at least should) have made our personal peace with everyone we may have offended during the past year. We should be fully cleansed of our own personal sins by the miracle of forgiveness through our own participation; we are now ready to stand as a people and pray to God as one for the divine forgiveness of us all.
I always look around my shul at this instant, wondering which of those I see will not be granted another year of life, to rise with us next year. I don’t believe those who must answer the final call are selected for that last journey because they are sinners; their attempts at personal repentance have surely been as good as mine or better, and I don’t discount the possibility that I myself may be among 5779’s missing. But I sense a kind of beyond-our-understanding randomness as I also see in memory those who were standing along with me last year but are no longer present. Those now gone were an amalgam of behaviors; they encompassed all.
Then those heavy words sing out, first in beautiful solo, and then again with all of us contributing our varied voices. If I were not awe-struck at this moment, I would never be. Three times, the Kol Nidre, and as the last sound fades away, I am already missing it. Will I be one of those granted another year in which I can stand and hear its glory once more? Every year, I listen more closely and carefully, and sing with more fervor, hoping this will not be my last time, but putting my heart and soul into it as though it might be…
Let’s be honest: The day drags. (Remember? It is indeed the longest day of the Jewish year!) It is next to impossible to remain totally spiritual with a growling stomach and an increasingly dry throat or tongue. From childhood until I graduated from college, I attended a synagogue that put heavy wooden blocks over all the fountains and sinks in the building, in the event of any cases of congregational deprivation desperation. I never heard of anyone trying to sneak a sip; I never heard of anyone fainting, either. Because any shul that goes to such an extent in honoring this law was also certain — as mine was — to recognize medical needs and those of specific ages and life conditions: No small child, pregnant or nursing woman, or anyone of any age with a condition that ruled against the total fast would have been applauded — but would rather have been remonstrated against — for trying to carry it out. After all, the law is the law, always of fairness and compassion.
Memories from one of those days: I had a college boyfriend whose mother invited me to break the fast at their family home. But I refused her request to leave early — not before I heard that last great shofar blast. My relationship with her son dissolved soon afterward. That same Yom Kippur, exiting later with the crowd, I heard one young man hustle up another: “Hey, bub — holiday’s over. Gimme a cigarette.” There are all kinds of Jews among us…
These days, my shul’s bimah is crowded with past presidents as the Kol Nidre is sung to begin the last long day, and the whole congregation joins in a welcome break-the-fast meal as it ends. A “dayenu” time! I wish all of you such a time, after an easy fast, with the much-hoped-for promise of a good year to come.

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Think before we eat, act

Posted on 28 September 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
So many wonderful holidays and so many things to eat! Even on Yom Kippur, we think about what to eat before Kol Nidre and then plan for a delicious “Break the Fast.” Judaism is filled with holidays and specific things to eat or days when we don’t eat.
Eating is a Jewish thing although I tell many that I am certainly not a “Gastronomic Jew” (I don’t define my Jewishness by what I eat). However, as a Jew we don’t just eat — we must think about what we are eating (kosher or not) and say a blessing before we eat (being thankful for what we have).
In the many offerings from myjewishlearning.com before Rosh Hashanah, here is a list of food and related meanings from the Talmud:

  • After eating leek or cabbage, say “May it be Your will that our enemies be cut off.”
  • After eating beets, say “May it be Your will that our adversaries be removed.”
  • After eating dates, say ”May it be Your will that our enemies be finished.”
  • After eating pomegranate, say “May it be Your will that our merits increase as the seeds of a pomegranate.”
  • After eating the head of a sheep or fish, say “May it be Your will that we be as the head and not as the tail.”

The writer then went on to suggest that we make up our own “May it be Your will…” and gave as an example to eat a raisin and celery and ask God for a “raise in salary.” All joking aside, stopping and thinking before we eat has much value both for our physical health and our spiritual health. Saying blessings before eating, makes you stop and think which of the many blessings is appropriate and then recognize how lucky we are, not only to have something to eat, but to have choices. Gratitude is healthy!
Keeping kosher also makes you stop and think even if you think, “My grandmother would be rolling over in her grave if she knew what I was eating.”
As we begin this New Year, let us think before we eat and more importantly, think before we act. We ask for forgiveness before Yom Kippur and if I have written anything that has upset or offended you, please forgive me. And, if I have written anything that has made you stop and think or question or struggle, I hope I can continue in the year to come.

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Don’t forget stories of Evian Conference, Sosua

Posted on 28 September 2017 by admin

A historic event known as the Evian Conference of 1938 is rarely if ever mentioned in American history textbooks, nor is its anniversary imprinted on calendars … for good reason.
It was originally publicized as an attempt by the United States President Franklin Roosevelt to save displaced German and Austrian Jews who were seeking refuge from the Nazis. An international conference of 32 nations was held July 6-15 at the resort town of Evian-les-Bains, France.
Months before, Nazi Germany had marched into Austria, extending its policy of confiscation of Jewish money and property. These penniless Jews were still allowed to leave Nazi control if they could find a nation that would accept them.
America’s immigration quota system, the rise of the Ku Klux Klan, anti-Semitism and the increasing cost of fighting the Depression, all worked to prevent allowing penniless refugees into the United States.
Many humanitarian organizations, mostly Jewish, were present as observers at the conference, including Golda Meir, but were not allowed to participate.
German Nazis were present as well, even though they had not been invited. No doubt the anti-immigrant comments made by the British who were blocking European Jews from entering Palestine, as well as the general lack of immigration support by the conference, pleased Hitler.
The failure of the Evian Conference, the unwillingness of nations to save the Jews, was probably Hitler’s “green light” to advance his plans for the Holocaust.
Only one small nation, the Dominican Republic, represented by President Rafael Trujillo, offered to allow up to 100,000 Jewish men and/or married couples to settle in his country, under certain conditions.
Why Trujillo, well-known as a ruthless dictator, would make such an offer, is explained by historians this way: It was well-known that Trujillo was obsessed with favoring white-skinned people. He was known to powder and lighten his own dark skin daily.
By opening his country to 100,000 Jewish refugees, he would be countering previous bad publicity about his cruelty to his black-skinned Haitian neighbors.
The land in the north central Sosua area needed to be cultivated and what better way than to have white-skinned Europeans farm the land, marry Dominican women, and thereby expand the white population.
Because of the expanding war and bureaucratic red tape, it was becoming more difficult after the conference to fulfill the original promise of 100,000.
Of 5,000 visas originally issued by the Dominican Republic, only 600 European Jews had taken advantage of the offer. An additional 100 Jews arrived in Sosua by war’s end from Shanghai, China.
The American Joint Distribution Committee assisted in working out an agreement between the new Jewish settlers and the government of the Dominican Republic.
Many former city dwellers who had never been on a farm, found themselves behind a plow and building new homes.
A collective at first, much like an Israeli kibbutz, the land was worked by little more than half the Jewish population, with the remainder instead choosing commercial and financial enterprises.
As the (Jewish) village of Sosua evolved, enterprising residents developed commercial ventures and public services such as a school, a library, water works, a medical clinic and, of course, a synagogue.
The original farming venture eventually developed into a more successful dairy, meat and cheese production company, known today as Productos Sosua, well-known for its meat and cheese products, including ham.
Jewish life has diminished greatly in Sosua over the years as children are often sent off to the United States for higher education, Jewish men have intermarried with Dominican women, and others have left for business and job opportunities in larger cities.
Like most island bays, Sosua has become a resort community, a favorite with many European tourists.
Only six or seven of the original settlers have family members still remaining in their haven of Sosua. There is a small Jewish museum and a synagogue which is maintained, whose presence memorializes the original founders who escaped the Holocaust, a relative few survivors when there could have been so many more.
We must never forget the Evian Conference of 1938 and the relatively few Jews who escaped the Holocaust.

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Confessions of a meaning-aholic

Posted on 20 September 2017 by admin

I admit it. I am a “meaning-aholic.”
I know that no such word currently exists in Webster’s Dictionary, but I think it’s high time that this word, or a word like it, found its way into the holy grail of English parlance. Ever since I was a child, thoughts concerning the meaning of life and its expression in this world have never been far from my mind. Is there a G-d? What does He want from us? What is my unique mission in life? The search for answers to these age-old questions has consumed many of my waking hours and forms the primary colors on my palate of meaning. It was this search, no doubt, that spurred my religious awakening in the midst of my teenage years, and with it my adoption of greater spiritual commitments and Jewish practice. My career choice to become a rabbi, and an outreach rabbi in particular, seemed a natural extension.
At the tender age of 26, having dedicated the last eight years of my life to Torah studies in some of the finest study halls that Israel and America had to offer, I was finally ready to share my knowledge with others. I was recruited by DATA (Dallas Area Torah Association), a Dallas-based kollel (an advanced institution of higher Jewish learning for married men) and Jewish outreach organization, straight out of Ner Israel Rabbinical College, and was ready to hit the ground running.
What I didn’t realize back then was how much my “meaning-aholism” would impact my many encounters with Jewish individuals over the years. I was and am always on the lookout for others like me who have meaning on the mind and am quick to discern — to the best of my ability — those individuals around me for whom meaning seems to comprise less than a starring, or sometimes even supporting, role in their lives. Over 10 years after arriving in Dallas, and thousands of conversations and meetings later, I am certain of one thing that would have surprised my younger self: Most people are not meaning-aholics.
So, where do most people stand? As it relates to the pursuit of meaning and purpose I have discovered four distinct groups of individuals.

Group 1: ‘Leave-Me-Alone-ers’

These are individuals for whom the call to purpose and meaning does not seem to acutely resonate.
If there lies in man an inborn drive to seek out life’s meaning, there also lies in man an opposing impulse to do away with or shut one’s eyes to anything that might hinder one’s freedoms and autonomy. For as much as meaning offers its actor, it is rarely acquired without a healthy dose of newfound personal responsibility. Meaning isn’t cheap and its truth demands action. For those to whom the burden of responsibility looms heavier than whatever joys meaning might bring their way, the pull to escape meaning’s grasp will be an ever-present one.
“Leave-Me-Alone-ers” may couch their distaste for meaning mechanisms like religion and the like in calculated intellectual dialectics, but by the end of the many conversations I have had with “Leave-Me-Alone-ers,” a rooted self-interest in personal autonomy and freedom is always uncovered as a present and prominent feature of their personalities. As I have written about before, it is virtually impossible for human beings to separate their emotional and intellectual lives from one another. If your emotions find religious or meaning-oriented duties distasteful, your intellect will quickly develop the logical arguments to support that position. (As an aside, the opposite is true as well. A religiously motivated individual will similarly discover the intellectual rationale to support his practice. The question for the truth-seeker is, then, not whether or not there are logical arguments to be made on both sides, but as to which argument is stronger, and therefore worthy of making demands upon our lives.)

Group 2: ‘Busy Bodies’

These individuals are so busy with daily life and all its details that they find no time to consider the larger issues of life.
A recent lunch and learn with a group of 30-somethings illustrates the dynamic of this group perfectly.
I asked the participants of this group if they had yet identified what they were living for, what the purpose of their lives was. Each participant, blank-faced, turned their gaze toward the others, hoping that one of them might break the growing silence that was slowly filling the room. One of them finally piped up, “I guess we’re at a point in our lives where we’re mostly focused on developing our careers and haven’t given much thought to those kinds of questions.”
What the above group may not have realized is that if they were not dedicating the time to ask and answer the important questions of life now, there would be little reason to assume that they would suddenly wake up one day in the future with newfound focus and interest. In the world of meaning, there is no time like the present!
In my experience, the 30-something population is only slightly more likely to fall into the “Busy Body” population than older populations. It seems that either the bigger questions of life matter to you or they don’t, the aging process adding but limited motivation to an otherwise disinterested soul.
Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (1707-1746), the illustrious Italian kabbalist and philosopher, writes of the plague of “busyness” on the purpose-driven life in Chapter 2 of his magnum opus The Path of the Just:
One who walks along in his world without contemplating whether his ways are good or evil is similar to a blind man walking on the bank of a river. His danger is certainly very great and his calamity is more likely than his escape…
In truth, this is one of the cunning strategies of the evil inclination, to constantly burden people’s hearts with his service so as to leave them no room to look and consider which road they are taking.
For he knows that if they were to put their ways to heart even the slightest bit, certainly they would immediately begin to feel regret for their deeds. The remorse would go and intensify within them until they would abandon the sin completely.
This is similar to the wicked Pharaoh’s advice saying “intensify the men’s labor…” (Exodus 5:9). His intention was to leave them no time whatsoever to oppose him or plot against him. He strove to confound their hearts of all reflection by means of the constant, incessant labor.

Group 3: ‘On-My-Terms-ers’

This group of people seek out meaning and recognize its importance, but only adopt those elements of meaning that conform or coexist with their preconceived ideas of what their life should look like. They want meaning, but on their terms. They want the life-sustaining gifts that meaning offers without the sacrifice and commitment that meaning demands.
In a sense this group is similar to the “Leave Me Alone-ers” in that personal autonomy remains a prized possession. The difference between the two lies primarily in the “On-My-Terms-ers” recognition that meaning, too, is a highly valued commodity. “On-My-Terms-ers” seek a “happy medium,” adopting those elements of meaning that feel comfortable in their lives and discarding those elements of meaning that require a trip outside of their comfort zone. “On-My-Term-ers” reap the gifts of meaning and spirituality to the same degree that they adopt meaningful practices. Pragmatism, unlike truth, seems to be the principal determining factor in their lives, and meaning must bend itself to their will, not the opposite.

Group 4: ‘Meaning-aholics’

This small group of people is consumed with discovering the meaning in this world and is willing to turn their lives around in order for their lives to be in consonance with the dictates of meaning, no matter the cost.
My general rule of thumb is that people change their lives when the pain of not changing is greater than the inevitable pain of changing. For “Meaning-aholics” the knowledge that their lives are not being lived meaningfully and to the fullest extent is much more painful than the pain caused by leaving their comfort zones.
As we enter the High Holiday season and the meaning of life lies keenly on the mind it is worth asking ourselves the difficult question as to which group we most prominently align. For some of us it might be clear, but for others it might be more difficult to isolate. Some of us don’t fit so neatly into just one group, and for some of us it might depend on the day, or the mood we are in.
For most of us, we can identify on some level with all four groups. We’ve sensed the pull and desire for personal autonomy, we can identify with how busy life can get and how little time we feel we can dedicate to our spiritual lives, we’ve felt the internal tug-of-war between our values and our desires and yes, we’ve experienced those blissful moments of clarity when all there was in the world was God and His will.
The question we must ask ourselves: Which group will we commit to be a part of for the year to come?

To contact Rabbi Yogi Robkin email him at yrobkin@dataofplano.org.

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Empathy, action go hand in hand during disasters

Posted on 20 September 2017 by admin

Dear Families,
One of the most important Jewish Values is “empathy — rachamim” and one of the best ways to teach it is by modeling. Rachamim, the Hebrew word, is usually translated as compassion. As we acknowledge other people’s feelings, thoughts and experiences, we feel compassion for them — we identify with them and want to help them, which is also called empathy. Psychologists tell us that compassion and empathy begin to develop in the first years of life. In fact, scientists assume that we are biologically wired for these feelings. Yet, we must also teach our children to be empathetic and compassionate. Rabbi Wayne Dosick in Golden Rules says:
You can teach your children that a good, decent, ethical person has a big, loving heart when they feel you feeling another’s pain, when they know that you are committed to alleviating human suffering.
You can teach your children that a good, decent, ethical person has big, open hands when they watch you give of your resources — generously and often — and when they watch you give of the work of your hands — willingly and joyfully.
You can teach your children that a good, decent, ethical person can fulfill the sacred task of celebrating the spark of the Divine in each human being and the preciousness of each human being when you teach them to imitate G-d, who is “gracious, compassionate and abundant in kindness; who forgives mistakes, and promises everlasting love.”

Family talk time

  • What does it mean to be kind to a friend? What does it mean to be kind to an animal?
  • Think of a time when someone hurt you. How did it feel?
  • Try to “put yourself in someone’s shoes.” What does that mean? How does it help us to understand others?
  • Tell about Rabbi Tanchum of whom it is said, “When he needed only one portion of meat for himself, he would buy two; one bunch of vegetables, he would buy two — one for himself and one for the poor.” How could you do this in your family? Make a promise to think of others when grocery shopping — buy a second portion of something for the food bank.

Today as we read, hear and watch the sad and frightening stories of hurricanes, we question how much to share with our children and that is an individual family matter. Yet, we must look inside ourselves not only to feel empathy toward those who are suffering and struggling but to decide how we can act to help others. This is part of the healing for those in need and for growing for each of us as we reach out to help.

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Thoughts on sounding, hearing shofar

Posted on 20 September 2017 by admin

Dear Rabbi Fried,
What should I be thinking about when I hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah? It seems like there should be more focus than just how well of a job the blower did this year!
Wishing you a happy Rosh Hashanah,
— Jill K.
Dear Jill,
I don’t want to toot my horn, but I blow the shofar in our shul and also hope that people are thinking about more than just how I did (or if I deserve to have my shofar’s license renewed, all puns intended).
The sages have pointed out many hidden reasons for blowing the shofar; we will try to enumerate a few of them in the space we have available.
Maimonides in his Code offers the most popular understanding; his words are quoted in many machzorim/High Holiday prayer books: “Even though the real reason we blow shofar is a Heavenly decree and its reason is not revealed, we find a hint for it in the verse ‘wake up the slumbering from your sleep’ — wake up and repent! This is referring to the people who are ‘asleep’ in the vanities of the time.” According to Maimonides the shofar is a spiritual, annual alarm clock which awakens us from our reveries and makes us become focused upon our purpose in the world and begin the process of teshuvah: self-improvement and growth.
Another important focus is that shofars and trumpets were blown upon the coronation of a king. Rosh Hashanah is the day we “coronate the Heavenly King” and declare him as our King and us as his subjects. At the moment of hearing the shofar we resolve to live our lives as loyal subjects of our beloved King and to heed His decrees, the mitzvos, and live lives which bring only the most honor to His Kingdom as dedicated members of Klal Yisrael.
A further hint mentioned is that the Talmud declares the ram’s horn to be reminiscent of the ram offered by Abraham in place of his son Isaac. This further teaches us the lesson of complete dedication and subjection to the Divine Will, regardless of the difficulty involved or the level of sacrifice required. This thought deepens the level of our fealty to the Kingdom of Heaven.
One thought which I always feel connected to is the notion that our shofar reflects the shofar blast sounded by the Al-mighty at Mount Sinai. With this, one accepts upon themselves, at the moment of hearing the shofar, to become more dedicated in the coming year to the study of Torah, thereby becoming more deeply connected to Sinai and all it represents.
One final thought I’ll mention is that our shofar is a precursor of the “shofar hagadol,” the great shofar that will be sounded throughout the world with the arrival of Moshiach, the Messiah, ushering in the next period of history, the “time we’re all waiting for”! This is not just allegorical; rather, through our teshuvah at the time of our shofar blowing, we actually bring the world a step closer to that final shofar.
Personally, I usually shift my thoughts during the blowing to all of the above at different moments, as well as other thoughts, some of them personal. Each person should think about what connects them most to the moment.
All this is in addition to the most important thought of all: to have in mind to fulfill the mitzvah of shofar! (Make sure not to blow that one!)
This year we’ve all had a “shofar blast” of sorts leading up to Rosh Hashanah with the devastation wreaked in our backyards in Houston and Florida. It’s certainly created much food for thought for introspection; our belief is that whatever happens in the world has something to do with Klal Yisrael. It gives us that much more to contemplate during the Shofar Service this coming Rosh Hashanah!
Best wishes for a very meaningful Rosh Hashanah. May all y’all and our people everywhere be blessed with a sweet, joyous New Year filled with peace, good health and much blessing!

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Historic church visit enjoyable, valuable decision

Posted on 20 September 2017 by admin

As I write what you read now, it is last Sunday afternoon, after Kever Avot, our annual pre-Rosh Hashanah cemetery visit to recall and honor those we love who have predeceased us.
I visited many family graves during a recent stay in my hometown, but I remembered everyone again as I placed a stone on the local grave of my husband. And this was certainly a far different Sunday experience for me than the one I had just a week before …
On Sept. 10, I was in a small group of National Federation of Press Women members who stayed on after the conclusion of the group’s annual conference (this year in Birmingham) for a four-day tour of the homes, and other places of importance, in the lives of Alabama’s most honored writers. Our first stop — and its picture graces the front of the state’s official Civil Rights Tour brochure — was Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the first pulpit of Martin Luther King before he became a figure of history. Its name has long since been expanded to Dexter Avenue King Memorial Baptist Church, and it is a current candidate to become a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
This was an auspicious Sunday for our group of 30-plus to visit: It was the church’s Women’s Leadership Day Celebration, with all elements of the service introduced and/or led by women, some of whom are ordained ministers; current Pastor Cromwell A. Handy, latest in the line of MLK’s successors, had only a minor role.
The enthusiasm with which Black worship is so often portrayed on TV and movie screens was somewhat in evidence — but only somewhat. Decorum ruled. Parishioners arrived wearing what I would call “Sunday best,” their young children in suits and party dresses. The nearby parsonage which was once MLK’s home is now a museum; although it is closed on Sundays and no tours of it or the church are given on those days, there is a sign welcoming all to worship. And indeed, our group was warmly welcomed by the large congregation already in attendance as we entered and took seats on several of the old wooden pews toward the back of the second-floor sanctuary.
A period of quiet meditation with an organ music background preceded the Call to Worship: “…we are God’s handiwork, created to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. God is a Spirit, and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth…”
After several readings and musical selections, by percussion ensemble and choir, came the formal recognition of visitors. As we entered, we had been given press-on cards to fill out with our names and addresses. Then, when the offertory was taken — called the “celebration of giving” and involving the ritual passing of collection plates — we were asked to remove those badges from our clothing and drop them into the plates, so the church would have a record of its visitors. (Of course, all of us also contributed something more tangible to the collection…)
But what was most interesting, and most touching — quite literally: As money flowed and music played, everyone rose, and many parishioners left their rows to walk where we visitors were standing, to give us handshakes and hugs, and to say, “God loves you, and we love you.” There was no reason to doubt their sincerity.
In our visiting group, only three of us were Jewish, and afterward, we talked a bit about the service, which we found paradoxical — very informal in a very structured way — but a most enjoyable and valuable learning experience. I didn’t hear anything from the Catholics among us, but the Protestants, almost to a woman, said they’d be much happier if their own church services were more like the one we’d just attended and participated in.
And that — the participation of loving and giving — was my takeaway from this very special interfaith Sunday.

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