May the Force Be With You: A Jewish View

This is a very special Shabbat – ‘Shabbat Star Wars.’ I’m sure that everyone is aware that the new Star Wars movie opened last night. So I  thought that this evening would be a good time to spend a few moments sharing some thoughts on the many things the movies can teach us and the themes they share with our ancient Jewish texts.

r2d2This sermon — which takes place a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away — can be found here. (And you can find all my sermons by clicking “On the Bima” in the menu.)

Chanukah: Lighting the Sparks of Justice

My six-year old nephew Max is a wonderful combination of raucous Ninja-turtle-loving boy and mature-beyond-his years sensitive soul.

I love sitting with him in restaurants as he spontaneously compliments our server by telling her: “You’re beautiful!” Or, when we’re at a family gathering, he will suddenly tell everyone: “I love you! Group hug!”

So when my sister-in-law posted this photo of Max on Facebook from the first night of Chanukah, I wasn’t surprised to see the most beautiful expression of joy on his face as he observed his Chanukiyah with its glowing candles (a Chanukiyah is a menorah specifically used for Chanukah. A menorah is any multi-branched candelabrum). He made this chanukiyah himself and his face is just radiant – like the candles:

Max Chanukah 2015

Max, and his nine-year-old sister Zoe, care about the world around them. Even at their young ages, they understand that not everyone feels the warmth and glow of the holiday lights, or the love of family and friends, or the feeling of having food in their bellies or the security of a safe and secure home.

The word “chanukah” means “dedication.” Historically, our holiday is a celebration of religious freedom – freedom of the Jewish people’s right to practice our own religion in our own country in safety and security. We celebrate the rededication of our Temple in Jerusalem which had been desecrated by the Greek/Syrian army in 165 BCE. The actual ritual celebration evolved to become a “Festival of Lights.”

(For a more complete description of Chanukah – please see the description here: History of Chanukah)

There are those who still threaten to fracture our world today. Every day, we read of examples of xenophobia (fear of foreigners or “the other”), hatred, violence, war, bloodshed, refugees with nowhere to go, hunger, poverty, homelessness, racism. The list of maladies which afflicts us seems never-ending.

Yet, Chanukah is all about hope. The flames on the candles remind us that all it takes is one spark to light a flame: a flame that leads to justice, a flame that leads to healing and wholeness. One flame in the darkness can bring great light, great warmth to a very dark place: one spark of righteous deeds can inspire others to do the same.

This Chanukah, this Festival of Lights, as we kindle our Chanukah candles, I hope that we can dedicate ourselves anew to bringing justice, hope and light to our broken world.

Let each of us be that spark or flame that ignites others to join in repairing our world: “ani v’atah n’shaneh et ha’olam” – together, you and I can change the world.

And we’ll work together to keep the flame alive, as Peter, Paul and Mary sing: “Don’t Let the Light Go Out”


We Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem… And All Who Dwell There

On Shabbat, we typically light two candles.

Why? Because in the Torah the Ten Commandments are repeated twice, the first time in Exodus 20 and the second time in Deuteronomy 5.

In each of these, the commandment about Shabbat is slightly different, in Exodus 20:8 we are told to “remember” (zachor) the Sabbath day to keep it holy. In Deuteronomy 5:12, we are told to “observe” (shamor) the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

Thus the rabbis of old say we light two candles on Shabbat, one to represent “remember” and one to represent “observe”. The act of “remembering” is passive, while the act of “observing” is active. Shabbat requires that we do both: we remember our history, while we do something physical do make Shabbat our own unique experience.

Candles for Shabbat
Candles for Shabbat

We light candles because the flame is a symbol of God’s divine presence. It is symbolic of the spark of goodness in each of us. Light one candle in a dark room and the entire room is illuminated by the warmth and glow of that single flame.

Shabbat is a taste of that time to come when the world will be filled with the divine sparks within each of us and when each of us can see the divine sparks in the other. No more war, no more violence, no more bloodshed.

This week, we observe Shabbat during a time of terrible violence and unrest in Israel. Let the light of our Shabbat candles be a beacon of light and hope for all. Let us pray for an end to that violence, an end to the acts of terrorism, an end to the bloodshed.

We know that the light of the Shabbat candles reminds us that fire can either spark acts of goodness in others, or can ignite the flames of hatred or enmity. We pray that the flames will ignite passion for righteous deeds, acts of love, the pursuit of peace.

(What follows below is from Amichai Lau-Lavie, The Founding Director of Storahtelling, Inc.)

I share with you a beautiful ritual created by two religious leaders who are mothers and lovers of peace. They came came together during a previous time of violence in the Middle East to compose a new prayer for peace: The Prayer of the Mothers.

Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed and Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum invite us to take their prayer into our hearts and into the world.

Read it below – in Arabic and Hebrew.

They also created a new ritual at that time: Inviting us all to light a candle on Fridays – for peace. Another candle for the Sabbath Keeping Jews, a candle for Muslims on their sacred day.

See the invocation for this ritual below. They ask that we help spread this precious new prayer and ritual.

May we not light this extra candle for the rest of our lives. But let’s start lighting it tonight.

Shalom. Salaam. Peace.

Candle for Peace
Let us Light Candles for Peace
Two mothers, one plea:
Now, more than ever, during these days of so much crying, on the day that is sacred to both our religions, Friday, Sabbath Eve
Let us light a candle in every home – for peace:
A candle to illuminate our future, face to face,
A candle across borders, beyond fear.
From our family homes and houses of worship
Let us light each other up,
Let these candles be a lighthouse to our spirit
Until we all arrive at the sanctuary of peace.
Ibtisam Mahameed Tamar Elad-Appelbaum

!تعالوﻭاﺍ نضﯾﻳئ شمعاتﺕ اﺍلسلامﻡ

وﻭاﺍلدﺩتانﻥ وﻭطﻁلبﺏ وﻭاﺍحدﺩ: خصﯾﻳصا اﺍلانﻥ, في ھﮪﮬﻫذﺫهﻩ اﺍلاﯾﻳامﻡ, اﺍﯾﻳامﻡ اﺍلبكاء اﺍلكبﯾﻳرﺭ, في اﺍلﯾﻳوﻭمﻡ اﺍلمقدﺩسﺱ لدﺩﯾﻳاناتنا, في ﯾﻳوﻭمﻡ اﺍلجمعة وﻭمساء اﺍلسبتﺕ, نضﯾﻳئ في كلﻝ بﯾﻳتﺕ شمعة للسلامﻡ: شمعة تطﻁالبﺏ بوﻭجﮫﻪ اﺍلمستقبلﻝ, وﻭجﮫﻪ اﺍلانسانﻥ. شمعﮫﻪ تنتصرﺭ على اﺍلحدﺩوﻭدﺩ وﻭاﺍلرﺭعبﺏ. منﻥ بﯾﻳوﻭتﺕ عائلاتنا وﻭبﯾﻳوﻭتﺕ صلوﻭاﺍتنا نضﯾﻳئ اﺍحدﺩنا للاخرﺭ وﻭاﺍلشموﻭعﻉ تكوﻭنﻥ اﺍلبرﺭوﻭجﺝ وﻭاﺍلفنارﺭ لارﺭوﻭاﺍحنا

!حتى نصلﻝ لمعبدﺩ اﺍلسلامﻡ. اﺍبتسامﻡ محامﯾﻳدﺩ

!تمارﺭ اﺍلعادﺩ-اﺍفالبوﻭمﻡ !!!

!בואו נאיר נרות שלום

שתי אמהות ובקשה אחת: שדווקא עכשיו, בימי הבכייה הגדולה האלה, בימים המקודשים לדתות שלנו, בשישי ובערב שבת, נדליק בכל בית נר לשלום: נר שמבקש פני עתיד, פני אדם. נר שצולח גבולות ואימה. מבתי המשפחות ומבתי התפילה שלנו נאיר זה לזה והנרות יהיו מגדלור לרוחנו

עד שנבוא אל היכל השלום

איבתיסאם מחמיד

תמר אלעד-אפלבום

The Mother’s Prayer
God of Life:

You who heals the broken hearted, binding up our wounds.

Please hear this prayer of mothers.
You did not create us to kill each other
Nor to live in fear or rage or hatred in your world. You created us so that we allow each other to sustain Your Name in this world:

Your name is Life, your name is Peace.

For these I weep, my eye sheds water:
For our children crying in the night,
For parents holding infants, despair and darkness in their hearts.
For a gate that is closing – who will rise to open it before the day is gone?

With my tears and with my constant prayers, With the tears of all women deeply pained at these harsh times

I raise my hands to you in supplication: Please God have mercy on us.

Hear our voice that we not despair That we will witness life with each other, That we have mercy one for another, That we share sorrow one with the other, That we hope, together, one for another.

Inscribe our lives in the book of Life

For Your sake, our God of Life Let us choose Life.

For You are Peace, Your world is Peace and all that is Yours is Peace,
May this be your will
And let us say Amen.

Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed and Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum, English translation Amichai Lau-Lavie

أغنية الحياة والسلام

صلاة مشتركة

اله الحياة
الذي ُيشفي القلوب الحزينة والمتألمة استمع لو سمحت الى صلاة الأمهات

لأنك لم تخلقنا لكي نقتل بعضنا بعضا
وليس لكي نعيش بحالة من الخوف, الغضب والكراهية في عالمك هذا
بل لكي نسمح لبعضنا البعض أن نذكر أسمك
اسم الحياة, اسم السلام في العالم.

على جميع هؤلاء أنا أبكي دوما
أبكي خوفا على الأطفال في الليالي
يحمل الآباء أطفالهم الصغار واليأس والظلام في قلوبهم على البوابة التي أغلقت والتي لا نعرف من سوف يقوم بفتحها

وبالدموع والصلوات التي أصليها طيلة الوقت
وبدموع النساء اللواتي يشعرن بهذا الألم القوي في هذه الأوقات العصيبة
أنا أرفع يدي اليك يا ربي أن ترحمنا
لنعيش مع بعضنا البعض
ونشفق على بعضنا البعض
ونواسي بعضنا البعض

ونأمل الخير لبعضنا البعض

ولكي نكتب قصة حياتنا في كتاب الحياة من أجلك يا اله الحياة
امنحنا أن نختار الحياة

لأنك السلام ومنزلتك السلام وكل ما لديك سلام بإذن الله لنقل آمين

ابتسام محاميد وتمار العاد- أفلڨوم

מלך חפץ בחיים הרופא לשבורי לב ומחבש לעצבותם

שמע נא תפילת אמהות

שאתה לא בראתנו על מנת שנהרוג זה בזה ולא על מנת שנחיה בפחד, כעס ושנאה בעולמך אלא על מנת שנדע לתת רשות זה לזה לקיים את שמך שם חיים, שם שלום בעולם

על אלה אני בוכיה עיני עיני יורדה מים על ילדים בוכים מפחד בלילות
על הורים אוחזים עולליהם וייאוש ואפלה בלבם על שער אשר נסגר ומי יקום ויפתחהו טרם פנה יום

ובדמעות ובתפלות שאני מתפללת כל הזמן ובדמעות כל הנשים שכואבות את הכאב החזק בזמן הקשה הזה
הריני מרימה את ידיי למעלה
אנא ממך אדוני רחם עלינו
שמע קולנו ה׳ אלהינו בימי הרעה האלה שלא נתייאש ונראה חיים זה בזה
ונרחם זה על זה
ונצטער זה על זה
ונקווה לזה לזה

ונכתוב את חיינו בספר החיים למענך אלהים חיים. תן שנבחר בחיים

כי אתה שלום וביתך שלום וכל אשר לך שלום וכן יהי רצון ונאמר אמן

Do Not Remain Indifferent – Syrian Refugee Crisis

It is up to us to act, to mobilize, to raise our arm and be that beacon of light “lifting our lamp beside the golden door” helping people find refuge, safety, security and a place to call ‘home.’

The Statue of Liberty is a “quintessential” New York landmark, anchored in the Harbor in lower Manhattan, just south of Battery Park.

We take this special iconic site for granted. We see it all the time. We have a tendency to forget what Lady Liberty is supposed to represent.

How often do we think of the poem inscribed on its base, by Jewish poet, Emma Lazarus, in which the Statue of Liberty is depicted as the “Mother of Exiles?

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The huddled masses “yearning to breathe free” are crying out to us now: from Syria, Eritrea and so many other places throughout the world: 60 million people world-wide are displaced for one reason or another. We are in the midst of one of the worst refugee/humanitarian crises of our time since the Holocaust.

It is up to us to act, to mobilize, to raise our arm and be that beacon of light “lifting our lamp beside the golden door” helping people find refuge, safety, security and a place to call ‘home.’

Our hearts ache. Our joy these Holy Days is incomplete. As long as people are suffering, our world cannot be filled with shalom (peace) or shleimut (wholeness). 

The time for action is now. There is much to do. Together, you and I can change the world.

"Hear the Call, Be the Call" - Action Steps
“Hear the Call, Be the Call” – Action Steps

Click here for my Rosh Hashanah morning sermon with more details: “Do Not Remain Indifferent – the Syrian Refugee Crisis”


See the flyer for a few suggested action steps.

Dying with Dignity, Strength, Gratitude and Love: A Lesson for Us All

My friend and congregant Lisa is passionate about hearts.

She finds them in the clouds, she sees hearts in the pattern in the cracks on the sidewalk, she has the uncanny ability to find the one beautiful autumn leaf that is formed into the most perfectly shaped heart.

Lisa radiates love and light. The heart as a symbol of love, life and hope perfectly represents Lisa’s upbeat and positive approach to daily living.

“Find Your Heart” – Artwork and Book by Pedie Wolfond

And as a way to help others understand her approach, Lisa has started to collect hearts, post inspirational sayings on Facebook expressing her philosophy and sharing her writings.

Perhaps the most important and precious heart Lisa has ever found, she discovered over 25 years ago. Lisa connected with the one true heart that would ever root itself within her own heart and make its permanent home there: she met her soon-be-husband Doug while she was teaching at a small private pre-school in Commack.

Immediately, Lisa and Doug each knew that their relationship was special and that their two hearts were meant to be together. Thus began a 25+ year love affair which many of us can only hope to achieve: they share the same values and core beliefs, they have raised two beautiful and wonderful boys and share the same parenting goals. They encourage each other to grow and learn as individuals, enriching their marriage and their family in the process. They celebrate each other’s achievements and support each other every step of the way.

Truly, Doug, Lisa, and their sons, Evan and Jordan – have hearts that “beat in sync” and even in harmony.

So a few months ago, when Doug was diagnosed with metastatic colon cancer the family was initially devastated. However, their strong family bonds, Lisa’s deep spirituality and positive attitude, enabled the family to be together in powerful and meaningful ways. The nurturing heart embraced them all.

Lisa also believes it’s important for the greater community to be part of the healing process. We’re told in our Jewish tradition, that when you visit the sick, “you take away 1/60th of their pain.” We know from studies, that there is great power in reciting prayers for healing for those who are ill – even if they are not aware they are being recited. So Lisa reached out to every resource available: the Jewish community, her own friends and family.

Every day, she would post positive messages and quotes on Facebook, she would surround Doug with symbols of healing and other positive images. The family was able to share wonderful bonding experiences together over the summer.

At the same time, Evan and Jordan were still able to experience the summer as teenagers, having fun with their friends and girlfriends. Doug started chemotherapy treatment not too long ago and things seemed to be moving forward toward a better future.

At the end of last week, Doug took a turn for the worse. And then two nights ago, everything came crashing down. They were told that the cancer had further metastasized and basically, there was nothing more that could be done. Doug’s situation is very serious.

Doug did not want to be poked and prodded. He wants his remaining time to be comfortable. The family made the decision for Doug to enter hospice care two nights ago.

When I went to visit yesterday, I wasn’t sure what I would find. The family had been so full of hope for Doug’s recovery. Doug, Lisa and the boys are young. The future still has so much in store for all of them. Were they ready to accept that Doug was now on a new journey, one where his physical body would die sometime in the near future?

My visit yesterday with Lisa, with Doug and the boys was extremely powerful and moving.

How do you prepare those around you for the fact that you are now on the final journey of your life and that death is imminent?

How do you prepare yourself for this final journey when you know you will be leaving this earthly world?

How does one prepare to say “goodbye” to our loved one who is making this final journey?

She and I sat talking outside in the healing garden while Doug slept.

Waterfall in the healing garden at Good Shepherd Hospice
Waterfall in the healing garden at Good Shepherd Hospice

I was in awe of Lisa’s tremendous strength at this most difficult and painful time.

Doug’s heart is so deeply embedded within Lisa, and she and Doug have spent so much time speaking about what is taking place now, that Lisa has been preparing herself for this moment. She knows this will not be an easy time. She knows that she cannot possibly know what she will feel when “the time comes.” However, she knows that she will always feel Doug’s beautiful heart with her always. 

I was able to spend time alone with Doug. Obviously, this is not where Doug hoped his illness would lead, but he also knows that he cannot change things. Doug’s heart is so open and full, full of love and gratitude: he expressed love and gratitude for all the blessings he had in his life: his beautiful family, gratitude for his wonderful supportive congregation and me, for his co-workers, for everything in his life. We spoke of ways to make this part of the journey meaningful for him and his family, to say “goodbye” and “I love you”. We spoke of what it might mean when he’s physically gone, but we hope his beautiful heart and spirit will still be felt by those close to him. We spoke of these things and so much more.

His attitude, his dignity, his approach, his tremendous sense of love, gratitude and acceptance brought me to tears. I felt as if he was the one leading the way for all of us. He was showing us that everything was going to be ok. He would be the one in the driver’s seat, and then he would hand the steering wheel to someone else at the designated time, when it was time for him to “go off into the sunset.”

As Lisa, Evan, Jordan and Lisa’s mother came into the room, we spoke of these things for a bit longer.

Lisa, Evan, Jordan and Doug held hands – and I took a photo.

The Walters' Family Hands
The Walters’ Family Hands

Lisa has always loved my blogs. I had asked if I could write something about Doug’s and her tremendous strength during this time (without using their names) and her reply was: “Please – use our names.” And Doug gave his permission as well. They both feel if they can help someone else going through something similar, that it is so important and worthwhile to do so.

I asked everyone to hold hands and make a circle of love. I sang two different mi sheberach prayers – prayers of healing. I asked for healing of mind, body and spirit for all of them. I asked for them to find the strength for this journey with the love, support and nurturing embrace of each other.

El na r’fa na la – God please heal her now,
R’fu-at ha-nefesh, r’fu-at ha-guf, r-fu-ah shleimah – healing of the soul, healing of the body, complete healing.
Heal us now.

Doug and Lisa, Evan and Jordan – we wish you comfort and strength on this journey. Know that we are here for you however you need us, whenever you need us. Doug, you are going to a place where we cannot accompany you. We wish you peace and smooth sailing. We will take care of your family. Your heart will live within all of us, beating strong and loud, lighting the way toward the future. Inspiring us to live as you would want us to live.

L’chi lach – to a place that I will show you.
Lech l’cha – to a place you do not know.
L’chi lach – to a place that I will show you,
And you shall be a blessing, And you shall be a blessing, And you shall be a blessing,
L’chi lach.
(Debbie Friedman, based on Genesis 12:1-2)

Breathe In…Breathe Out: Preparing for the Days of Awe

When I was young, my parents would take my siblings and me on long car rides to visit relatives out-of state. One of our favorite songs to sing on those rides was: “The ants go marching one-by-one, hoorah, hoorah!…” When we played outside, we loved watching ants climb into their colonies, busy with their work. The ants fascinated me.

I was not quite so fascinated with ants, however, these past few weeks, as they took over my kitchen. At first, there were just a few, scurrying over the counter and near the sink. I set traps. I sprayed. Nothing helped. The situation became so bad that I realized I had to call in the exterminator.

He sprayed the entire exterior of the house and then the inside: the kitchen, upstairs, the bathrooms, and I thought I was finished (although he did tell me to call him back in two weeks if I still had a problem).

And then after two weeks, “the ants go marching one-by-one…” Just as I was preparing for a dinner party, I went to my floor-to-ceiling pantry, and I realized that I had floor-to-ceiling ants. Everywhere. Crawling up the walls. On the ceiling. In the pantry. Everywhere. And not “one-by-one” but by the thousands! A million times worse than before. It was as if they thought THEY had been invited to the party! And my guests were coming in five hours! Eek! I still had a lot of cooking to do. OY! How was I ever going to get it all done?!

I called the exterminator again in a panic. Left a message. Started to empty the pantry. Thankfully he called back right away and said he could come that same day. But I did have to empty the entire pantry and a few other cupboards.

Thankfully, my food was not infested. But I was thinking, how am I going to pull off getting this dinner ready? I now had the contents of my entire pantry on my dining room floor, table and in parts of the kitchen.

And then I realized, just breathe.

BreatheNo one was sick. No one was hurt. It wan’t an emergency. My house looked like a mess, but if I took a minute to just breathe, I would find a way to get everything finished.

So I breathed, slowly – in and out. I reviewed my list of what I was serving. I prepared each item one at a time. I ignored the mess on the floor. I found things that needed to be thrown away that had been sitting in the cupboard for too long.

The exterminator came. I finished prepping. I even had time to put everything away and clean up the kitchen before my guests arrived. I just didn’t have time to change my clothes, but it was ok.

And I sat down with my guests and just relaxed. And breathed and enjoyed being with them in my serene backyard.

My situation with the ants comes at a time on our Jewish calendar when we are also supposed to metaphorically “breathe”. This coming Saturday evening, we usher in the Hebrew month of Elul. This is the month that immediately precedes our High Holy Days. We’re supposed to slow down, breathe in, breathe out. We’re supposed to stop rushing around trying to “get it all done.”

During this time we review our own lists: how was our past year? What went well? What could have been better? What relationships can we improve? To whom do we need to say “I am sorry?” Do we have excess “stuff” that we’ve been carrying around for too long that we can/should “throw away” or let go?

How do we prepare our own souls, our own selves, so when Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur do arrive next month we are spiritually, emotionally and physically ready for all they entail?

If we stop, take the time to breathe, reflect and think, we can enter these Days of Awe refreshed, renewed, and with full intention of heart, mind and spirit.

Kol ha’n’shamah t’haleil Yah, hal’lu Yah!

Let all that breathes praise God, Halleluya! (Psalm 150:6)

Torah and T’filah in the Garden (Aug., 2015, 2016)

Temple Isaiah’s weekly Shabbat morning Torah study moves to Rabbi Sobel’s serene garden.

Every morning during the warmer months, I drink my morning coffee and eat breakfast in my garden. It’s a beautiful setting for contemplation, reflection and meditation.

During the summer, my congregation hosts one of our regular Shabbat morning “Torah and T’filah” sessions in my garden so everyone can experience the spiritual nature of this beautiful and serene space.

Torah & T’filah in the Garden

No Longer Feeling Trapped – Breaking the Silence on Mental Illness

Last week, I went for sushi with a friend.

As we were eating, I became aware of the 75+ gallon fish tank that was a focal point of the dining room. What fascinated me about this tank was not only were there a few large gold fish swimming inside, but that the entire tank was dominated by one huge fish. It appeared that this fish was much too large for the tank. I observed the fish swish it’s tale once or twice, immediately arrive at the end of the tank and then maneuver to turn around and begin this process again – over and over and over.

Fish in TankNow, I’m no fish/fish-tank expert, but it seems to me that this fish needed a different size tank for its home. Its current tank was too small and it seemed to be trapped, constrained by the walls of this inappropriately sized tank. I actually felt sorry for this poor fish (I know…it doesn’t make sense: I was eating fish as I watched this).

There are times in our lives, when we too, feel trapped or constrained by the circumstances of our lives. Sometimes, we might be suffering from mental health issues, sometimes from physical issues, sometimes from circumstances that we feel are beyond our control. We feel boxed in like this fish – we can’t seem to budge, we can’t make headway, we think we have nowhere to go.

We are often loathe to share our feelings because we don’t want to burden others, or we think we’re the only ones to experience this, or we think we should be able to “snap out of it” on our own, or we think there’s a stigma attached to these type of feelings.

Everyone around us seems so…happy, so content. Their world seems so much larger than ours. The rest of the world seems so wonderful and perfect. So why are we so miserable?

Sometimes, we don’t even realize we’re feeling like this. It’s our friends, family and those around us who realize that something’s wrong. How do we approach a loved one when we are concerned for their well-being? How do we let someone “in” if they express concern for our health, whether it’s our physical health or mental health?

As a community, we need to begin talking about mental health issues and increasing mental health awareness.  Let’s keep in mind a few things about mental health issues:

  • About 1 in every 4 people in the US will experience some type of mental health issue during their lifetime.
  • Mental illness is a real illness, the same as every other kind of illness. It is not “all in someone’s head”.
  • Mental illness comes in many different forms – just as other illnesses come in all forms. And there are many different types of treatments.
  • Just as more research is needed to discover new treatments for cancer treatment, the same is true for mental illnesses.
  • The more we talk about mental health issues, the more educated we become.

As a Jewish community, we too, need to become more pro-active about mental health education. We need to encourage conversations, outreach and advocacy about this issue.

We’ve had no problems addressing the issues of cancer, diabetes, ALS, weight-loss. Now it’s time to bring mental health issues out of the darkness and into the light. For too long, many people with mental health issues feel like they live under a cloud of anguish and despair. Their families and friends feel distraught and worried. To whom can they turn for solace, comfort, support, community, hope and healing?

As long as people have roamed the earth, illness has existed. Both physical illness and mental health illness. We see mental illness in the Hebrew Bible going all the way back to King Saul. David used to sooth Saul when he was exceedingly agitated by playing his harp. Where can we find what soothes us now, as we cope with our own struggles and those around us?

Every one of us knows someone affected by mental illness: it could be a loved one, a friend, a co-worker, an acquaintance or ourselves. And mental illness has many forms – just as physical illness does. It can be subtle or wildly out-of-control; it can be easily managed or difficult and painful. We need to understand what we can do so that everyone in our embrace feels nurtured and strengthened, so that everyone knows that they feel safe, so that everyone knows that they do not have to feel “trapped”.

Our Jewish tradition teaches us that we are all created “b’tzelem Elohim” – in the image of God. It is up to us to educate ourselves so that we can remove the stigma, and treat everyone with dignity, respect and honor in that “image of God” that each and every one of us so deserves. And so that those who are ill no longer feel they have to remain under the cloud of silence and secrecy about their suffering.

May we open our ears so that we hear the pain in the voice of those who are mentally ill. May we open our eyes so that we see what is going on in front of us and truly see the suffering in the eyes of another. May we open our hands to act on what we see and offer help to those in need. May we open our mouths to respond to the emotional pain in those who suffer, and may we offer healing words of love and comfort. (adapted from Rabbi James L. Simon)

If you feel burdened or trapped or feel that you need to talk to someone (or if you have a loved one in this situation) please know that you can always do the following:

  • call your physician
  • call your rabbi, priest, minister, clergy person
  • go straight to the emergency room if you feel that you might harm yourself or someone around you.

For some excellent Jewish resources on Mental Health issues, please click on the following links:

The Reform Movement’s Religious Action Center Mental Health Page

A book for families dealing with mental health issues: Caring for the Soul, R’fu’at Ha’nefesh

A terrific article on mental health issues and the Jewish community: From Darkness to Light: by Rabbi Marci N. Bellows (The Jewish Week. 4/20/12)

Temple Isaiah’s Summer Garden Concert (July, 2015)

Rabbi Sobel’s scenic backyard is an ideal setting for a lovely summer garden concert.

I love to entertain congregants at my home. It’s a wonderful opportunity for creating community and friendships in a relaxed and intimate setting. My beautiful backyard provides an ideal backdrop for hosting different types of events.

In July of 2015, Temple Isaiah hosted a delightful evening “Garden Concert” in my backyard. Everyone brought their own picnic dinner and appetizers and desserts to share. Our own talented congregants, Karen Rose (flute), Allison Aldrich (clarinet) and Sarah Weber (violin), treated us to an extraordinary concert. It was a truly magical evening!

Iran is the Wild Middle East – Can it Be Trusted?

I was born at the end of 1960.

I grew up at the time when young Americans were drafted into the US war in Viet Nam.

I vividly remember the Six-Day War in Israel and how that solidified Jewish pride and identity for so many Jews around the world. I was six years old at that time.

Just before I became Bat Mitzvah in September of 1973, Israel was attacked by her neighbors on Yom Kippur and yet another war – the “Yom Kippur War” – began, taking its toll on so many in our beloved homeland.

I spent my childhood and youth protesting wars, marching in rallies to support Israel, and trying to make sense of the world around me.

“War is Not Healthy” Necklace

I wanted to make my protest visible. So I wore a necklace around my neck that was popular with so many of my friends at that time: “War is not healthy for children and other living things.” I also wore a bracelet on my arm with the name of an American soldier who was taken Prisoner of War in Viet Nam: Sgt James Ravencraft (I wore that bracelet for decades – until I visited the Viet Nam Memorial in Washington, DC and found his name on the wall, saw that he died and made a paper engraving of it).

We shook our heads in disbelief every time a plane was hijacked by terrorists, every time the PLO made radical statements and demands. This was in the era before suicide bombers, before car bombs and plane bombs and the World Trade Center was destroyed.

We cried out at poverty and hunger, the plight of the Soviet Jews and at other injustices taking place in our world.

Sadly, the world has not changed. Violence and war rage on. The fundamentalists appear to become more extreme. The internet and social media have enabled messages to be disseminated around the globe in a nano-second. Terror tactics have become more sophisticated. And our enemies have become more wily, more conniving.

In trying to understand the dynamics that exist between enemies and in the hopes that peace would be less elusive, Canadian filmmaker Simcha Jacobvici made a wonderful, stark and fascinating documentary about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “Deadly Currents” on the tails of the First Intifada. One professor interviewed in the film made a comment that still rings true today (I am paraphrasing): We are Westerners. We approach this conflict from our Western perspective with our Western sensibilities. The Israelis are, for the most part, Westerners as well. But they are Westerners living in the Middle East. This is not the “Wild West.” This is the Wild, Wild EAST. With a different sensibility, a different culture and a different mindset. It is difficult – if not almost impossible – for Westerners to understand the mindset of Easterners.

As Westerners, we might think we have an agreement, an arrangement with set protocols, set standards, set directives. Yet, that is only because that is how we work from our Western perspective. However, that is not necessarily how things work from an Eastern perspective.

So what does that tell us about the P5+1 Agreement that was signed on Tuesday with Iran? Iran is an Eastern country signing an agreement with Western allies. Is Iran to be trusted?

Israel and her Arab neighbors do not want a nuclear Iran. There are murmurings that Israel, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf States have been meeting clandestinely to figure out how to deal with a nuclear Iran because they all feel that Iran is not to be trusted.

If Iran attacks Israel, all the countries surrounding Israel will be affected, so it’s in all of their best interests to come up with a cohesive plan – even if those countries do not have relations with Israel.

Why was Obama so adamant on signing this agreement? I’m sure he’s aware that Iran’s actions will speak louder than any document they sign.

Our children, our future, our Jewish homeland deserve to live in a nuclear-free world. We deserve to live in a world at peace.

However, we need to be sure that our agreements will not be exploited for other nefarious purposes.

As David J. Cape, Chair of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said in his opening paragraph in the press release issued yesterday:

“While we share the goal of a diplomatic solution to this crisis, the Iranian regime has a long record of exploiting diplomacy as a cover to advance its nuclear program. The success of today’s agreement depends on Iran’s actions, not its words.”

(For CIJA’s full statement, click here: CIJA Statement on the P5 +1 Agreement )

Reform Movement and AIPAC Statements:

Reform Movement Statement on the P5 + 1 Agreement

AIPAC Statement of the P5 + 1 Agreement

It is my hope that one day, the prophecies of Isaiah and Micah will be fulfilled, when peace will reign:

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb
The leopard lie down with the kid…
Nothing evil or vile shall be done;
For the land shall be filled with devotion to the Eternal.

Isaiah 11: 6 & 9

And they shall beat their swords into plowshares 
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation shall not take up sword against nation;
They shall never again know war.

Micah 4:3