Mt Kilimanjaro – Symbol of Strength, Fortitude and Resilience

Last Friday evening, I had a conversation with a congregant about overcoming personal obstacles to achieve personal goals. He shared with me that one of his goals was to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Mt Kilimanjaro
Mt Kilimanjaro

Kilimanjaro is the highest mountain in Tanzania, Africa and the highest ‘walkable’ mountain in the world. The trek to the summit is a magnificent and spectacular five-to-nine day undertaking. It ranks amongst the greatest outdoor challenges on the planet. One needs to train in a very specific way in order to reach the summit, as often people get altitude sickness and cannot make it to the top.

I thought about Mt. Kilimanjaro as a symbol this past week. A symbol of strength, fortitude and resilience.

This was a difficult week on many levels.

1. Strength of the Human Spirit: Earlier this week, we commemorated the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Berkinau. As we recalled all those who perished in the Holocaust at the hands of the Nazis, we remind ourselves that we still live in a world filled with hatred, xenophobia and violence.

The Jewish people survived, despite the Nazis. We are testament to the strength, fortitude and resilience of the human spirit in the face of incredible evil. We can overcome the obstacle of long-held enmity if we work together, just as everyone needs to work together to reach the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro. We must pledge to renew ourselves to the task of making this world safe for all who dwell upon it.

2. Fortitude: The Northeast of the United States was clobbered by a severe winter storm. In parts of Massachusetts and Long Island, as much as 24-33 inches of snow fell, high winds raged and power outages blacked out peoples’ homes. As people hunkered down to brace for the weather, they reached out to their friends and neighbors to make sure everyone was safe, warm and had enough food. People showed their fortitude and solidarity for their neighbors by helping clear driveways and walkways and cars without being asked. We cannot control “Mother Nature”, but we can deal with its effects with our patience, fortitude and helping those around us.

3. Resilience: A few days ago, I learned that a colleague and friend was diagnosed with breast cancer. She is the senior rabbi of a major North American Reform congregation. The letter she sent out to her congregation was filled with grace, dignity and eloquence.

She wrote: “Resilience is a distinct kind of strength. It has something to do with the ability to cope when hardship comes along…Jewish resilience is a distinct kind of resilience. It has to do with time. When the Jewish People is faced with adversity, our greatest evidence that we can endure it is the past and our greatest motivator to endure it is the future…”

She spoke first of the Jewish people, then of her congregation, then of her personal challenge. Her personal “summit” which she now needs to climb – is to overcome the hurdle of breast cancer. She is the very model of leadership and inspiration for her community.

As we approach the days, weeks and months ahead, we will each face our own challenges, our own Mt. Kilimanjaro’s: either by choice or by happenstance.

If we find strength, fortitude and resilience, along with faith in God’s abiding presence in our midst, we too, can reach that summit and rejoice in the beautiful view at the top.

Esa enai, el he-harim, me-ayin ya-voy ezri?

Ezri, me-yim Adonai, oseh Shamayim, va’aretz.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains, from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Eternal, maker of Heaven and Earth. (Psalm 121)


Why I am a Reform Zionist – Vote for Me and Vote for ARZA!

I became Bat Mitzvah in September of 1973, immediately after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur war. I desperately wanted to be able to go to Israel, volunteer and do something.

I have been a fervent Zionist from the time I was very young. My beloved paternal grandmother, Florence Sobel, of blessed memory, an ardent Zionist and passionate Hadassah member and leader, gifted my mother, aunt and me with Hadassah Life Membership in 1967 when I was 7 years old. I was the very first child Hadassah “Life Member!”

I have strong memories of attending meetings and learning about the wonderful work that Hadassah accomplished both in Israel and the United States. My grandmother was one of the strongest influences in my life: her strong Zionist ideology, her passion and commitment to volunteering for Hadassah, her synagogue and the Jewish community all inspired me to study for the rabbinate and pursue a career as a Jewish communal professional.

So the summer following my Bat Mitzvah, I used the financial gifts I received and went on a six-week teen tour in Israel. I absorbed the history, the sights, smells and sounds. Ahavat Yisrael – Love of Israel was now forever deeply implanted in my heart and soul – more strongly than ever.

Since that time, I have lived in Israel for two years: the first time when I was 17, immediately following high school. I lived on a kibbutz for a year, doing volunteer work and studied Hebrew. The second time, I lived in Jerusalem for my first year of rabbinical school at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

I served for nine years as the Executive Director of ARZA Canada, the Association of Reform Zionists of Canada and organized and led many study trips to Israel. I learned first-hand about the wonderful, critical and important work that the Israeli Reform Movement is doing to impact Israeli society on so many different levels: social, religious, economic, political, humanitarian and so much more.

I helped to facilitate, deepen and strengthen the connection of the Canadian Reform Movement to the Israeli Reform Movement. Along the way, I developed a strong network of friends and relationships in Israel that are so important to me to this day.

For eight years in a row, I participated in a fundraising bike ride in Israel to raise funds and awareness for the Israeli Reform Movement (known as the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, IMPJ), raising the most funds of any individual each and every year.

Me and my group on the Israeli Reform Movement's "Ride4Reform" bike ride in 2008.
Me and my group on the Israeli Reform Movement’s “Ride4Reform” bike ride in 2008.

My life-long relationship with Israel and with the Israeli Reform Movement has taught me that it is critical for us as North American Jews to be involved with our beloved Jewish homeland.

Our voices matter more than ever. Our Israeli brothers and sisters need our support, they want to hear us speak out on issues, they want to see us as partners in their lives.

And the time for us to use our voices is NOW.

Right now elections are taking place for seats in the World Zionist Congress – the supreme body that allocates funds and makes decisions about multiple issues that affect the future of the life of Israelis.

As Americans, we have an opportunity to vote between now and April 30th. In the US, ARZA represents the Reform Movement’s voice and has put together a slate for the elections.

I am on that slate, with over 200 other Reform Movement affiliated individuals who care deeply about Israel’s very soul.

These elections are so critical to the Israeli Reform Movement. Your vote for me and the ARZA slate could lead to the distribution of approximately $27Million dollars for the Israeli Reform Movement. This will be distributed over four years and will be used for programs, services and our beloved Reform organizations and congregations in Israel.

This election is our opportunity to make change in Israel. We are working for an inclusive Israel, a pluralistic Israel and a democratic Israel. An Israel that is a better place for all its citizens.

To vote, you must be:

  • Jewish
  • 18 years old
  • You must be a resident of the United States
  • The registration cost is $10 USD (or $5.00 for those under 30)

I have already voted for ARZA in the World Zionist elections. Please join me by voting NOW to help make Israel a better place for all its citizens. Click this link to register and vote:

Vote for ARZA and Make a Difference!

Who Will be the Moses of Today? Some Thoughts on the Crisis in France

Go down Moses

Way down to Egypt land

Tell ole’ Pharaoh, to

Let my people go!

This week, we begin reading the book of Exodus in the Torah (the Five Books of Moses). The narrative begins with the story of the Israelites enslavement in Egypt. We’re told how God chose Moses to go back to Egypt to help free the Israelites from Pharaoh’s grip.

This week, we are reminded that there are still Pharaohs who exist in this world. They rear their ugly heads under the guise of whatever extremist religion/ideology they tout.

The massacre in France at the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in which 12 journalists were murdered by Muslim extremists is reprehensible. The world was, rightfully, outraged. Journalists should be able to freely express their ideas and thoughts without fear of reprisal or revenge.

All over social media, people were uploading images of solidarity and support “Je Suis Charlie” (I am Charlie) – even in Hebrew (“Ani Sharlie”).

Then just as the two assailants who perpetrated the heinous crime were caught and killed, another anti-Semitic hate crime occurred in France. This time, it is thought (still to be confirmed) that an associate of the first two militants took hostages at a kosher market earlier today, on Friday, right before Shabbat. Four hostages were killed and five were injured before the rest were freed and the attacker was finally killed in the final rescue.

The Jews in France were told today to “close the doors of their businesses, to stay home from their synagogues.” Is there a fear of more anti-Semitic attacks? Can Jews in France not live safely in their own country any longer?

Over the past few years, anti-Semitism has been rapidly growing in France. Until today, the world has not expressed its horror and indignation in the same manner that it has since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. 

An attack against one peoples is an attack against all peoples. As we are told in Genesis: God made humans in the image of God – b’tzelem Elohim (Gen. 1:27). We are all created equally and we all are created in God’s image. If you commit a hate-crime against one people, you commit a hate-crime against God.

Where is the outrage when hate-crimes are committed against Jews? Against women and children in Syria? Against so many others? Does it take an attack against journalists to make us raise our eyebrows about anti-Semitism in France?

Who will be the Moses of today to lead us out of the slavery of the hatred and violence caused by extremists and fanatics?

When will Jews, Muslims, journalists, African-Americans and all people be able to live our lives in peace – and not be afraid?

Moses had the courage to stand up to Pharaoh. He did not back down. We too, need to find the courage and the strength to stand up to the forces of evil, of hatred and violence and not back down.

Je suis Charlie. Je suis Juif. Je suis Musulman. Je suis African-Amerique. Je suis journaliste. Je suis… humain.

I am Charlie. I am Jewish. I am a Muslim. I am African-American. I am a journalist. I am… a human-being.

May the days, weeks and months ahead enable us to find the Moses within each of us. Let us find the words, actions and deeds to rid our world of the Pharaohs , so that each of us may live in this world as a free human-being.

Shabbat Shalom.

In Praise of Nurses…Unsung Heroes

We have a lot of Registered Nurses in my family (and a few physicians as well).

My mother was an RN. My sister-in-law Marilyn, is an RN (and is certified in Palliative Care nursing). My cousin Lynn is an RN (and is a Nurse Practitioner as well). My Aunt Libby is an RN.

All of these women have multiple degrees and a great deal of theoretical and practical training. They are all highly skilled in their fields and take courses every year to maintain their licenses and keep up with the latest in medicine.

RN_symbol_webMore than that, however, they are all extremely nurturing, compassionate and responsive individuals. They know how to be fully present for their patients.

I know we think that all nurses are supposed to behave in such a way, and physicians as well. However, in my work as a rabbi and pastoral caregiver, I observe many instances when some health-care workers are so busy that they are harried, insensitive or seemingly uncaring.

Sometimes they forget that the “Leukemia in Bed #2” is not an illness, but a living, breathing human being, with thoughts, feelings and emotions. That person has an entire life that exists BEYOND the hospital and is much larger than his or her illness.

And when someone is ill and in the hospital, it affects their family as well. Treating the patient includes bringing their family into the process.

Our Jewish tradition places high value on the mitzvah (commandment) of g’mi’lut hasadim – doing acts of lovingkindness. We are taught that the act of caring for others is fundamental to how we live out our relationship with others in our lives, both personally and professionally.

Therefore, if someone is sick in the hospital, it’s incumbent upon both the medical professionals, as well as the rest of us, to care for that person and their family physically, spiritually and emotionally.

Nurses are generally “on the front lines” of care for those in the hospital. They are the ones who provide most of the patient care and don’t receive enough credit for their hard work and efforts. Additionally, they often get the jobs that are not always pleasant and they are not always thanked for their efforts.

A few nights ago, I sat with my congregant at the hospital as her mother was in the final hours of her life. The nursing staff could not have been more incredible. They were so completely compassionate, sensitive and caring.

The nurses facilitated an end-of-life experience that was as life-affirming, merciful and tender-hearted as was possible. They helped take a difficult and painful experience and made it less so, by their actions, deeds, words and their very presence.

Truly these nurses are a great gift to this hospital, the patients and their families. We are so blessed to have them in our midst.

These nurses – and so many others – exemplify the Jewish concept of g’m’lut hasadim – doing acts of lovingkindness.

To all of you, I say: Todah rabbah – Thank you so very much!