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.

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)

Making Connections – A Blessing for the High Holy Days

Some time last year, I received a “Friend Request” on Facebook from someone I had not seen in over 30 years.

I had been Audrey’s and Don’s religious school teacher at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts while I was a student at Boston University and for the next two years following my graduation. I had not seen them since I left Boston to attend rabbinical school.

Facebook Friend Request
Facebook Friend Request

I was delighted that Audrey tracked me down! We had some mutual friends in common and she had seen some of my postings on Facebook. I’ve since re-connected with her parents and brother, Don, as well.

This is not an unusual story. I’m sure many of us can share similar stories where we’ve reconnected with friends from our distant past. Friendships from long ago have been renewed and refreshed. And as my mother (of blessed memory) used to say: “What a m’chayeh!” What a great joy!

Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, begin next Wednesday evening (September 24, 2014).

Making connections is what the upcoming High Holy Days are all about: connecting with our innermost selves, connecting with our Jewish community and connecting with God.

There are times the High Holy Days arrive and we feel as if they are distant strangers. How do we make those connections so we feel renewed, refreshed and revitalized?

In a manner of speaking, we make those connections the same way we do on Facebook: by being part of a larger community. The more connected you are, the more connections you will make and the deeper and more meaningful those connections will be.

We are taught in our tradition: Al tiros min hatzibur – Do not separate yourself from your community (Pirke Avot 2:5).

Traditionally, in the Jewish world, a “community” is defined as 10 people. This concept is known as a minyan. Why? Because a group of 10 people has the power to persuade others to make decisions. If you are in the synagogue and not feeling moved by prayer, the voices of others around you can lift your spirits. There is great power, strength and fortitude in community.

When we study in chevruta, in partnership with others, we inspire each other by sharing our questions, our insights and our own thought processes. And, as the old UJA Federation slogan said: “There is no commUnity without “U.”

As we approach the High Holy Days this year, I offer this blessing:

May you find your place & space in your Jewish community.

May the connections you build be strong and vital.

May these connections enrich your spirit and nourish your soul.

May you hear the innermost voices of your heart.

May you feel touched by the hearts and hands of those around you.

May you touch the lives of others in meaningful ways.

May you hear and feel God’s presence in your life.

Shana Tova U’m’tukah – A New Year Filled with the Blessings of Health, Joy, Contentment and Peace!




The Month of Elul as a Labyrinth

Around the corner from my house in Mt Sinai, New York is the Little Portion Friary.

This is a Franciscan community which is part of the Episcopal Society of St. Francis. The Friary itself is a residence for friars: Franciscan brothers who pray, live simply, study and work with others for peace and justice. Gracious hospitality is a hallmark of Franciscan life.

This particular friary sits on a lush and beautiful 63-acre piece of property. The brothers are known for the delicious bread they bake every Friday (their bakery runs on the “honor method”: rarely is someone there to take your payment. You take a loaf of bread and leave the payment in the box).

Bakery of the Little Portion Friary, Mt. Sinai, New York
Bakery of the Little Portion Friary, Mt. Sinai, New York

Behind the bakery and residence itself, are walking trails, a tranquil outdoor chapel, and picture-esque grounds.

One of the most interesting elements on the property is the labyrinth, which is open to public from 2:00 PM to dusk daily.

This labyrinth was designed by David Tolzmann of “The Labyrinth Company” (a division of Prism Environmental Group). It’s a seven-circuit labyrinth and is located on a peaceful hillside lawn rising up from the friary, surrounded by magnificent trees and simple gardens.

The labyrinth at Little Portion Friary, Mt Sinai, New York
The labyrinth at Little Portion Friary, Mt Sinai, New York

Labyrinths are not like mazes: once you begin to walk, the path always leads to the center. There is no right way to walk. The goal of walking the labyrinth is to help one find a sense of calm, meaning and peace in one’s life. By walking the labyrinth with purpose, keeping focused on the path, being intentional about staying centered on one’s body, and being open to the experience of the labyrinth itself, we are told that “walking the labyrinth helps to understand thoughts and feelings, soothes and calms one’s spirit.” It has been said that walking the labyrinth can even help one to problem solve. And, it can simply be fun or enjoyable.

As I walked the labyrinth with a friend on our evening walk the other day, it was a very peaceful and calming experience.

I realized that the labyrinth is similar to the Hebrew month of Elul, the month that immediately precedes the Yamim Nora’im – the Days of Awe (aka, the High Holy Days). We enter Elul deliberately, hoping to find purpose and meaning to our lives. We reflect on the year that is ending. We try to be intentional about staying focused on the path of renewal and t’shuvah – repentance. And we are hopeful that the experience of this time of introspection, soul-searching and reflection will not just “sooth and calm our spirit”, but will lead us to spiritual fulfillment. We hope that when we reach the “center” – the High Holy Days themselves, we emerge from this time renewed, refreshed and recommitted to our Jewish community, to God and to the best of ourselves.



Crossroads-Preparing for the High Holy Days

When I drive to work every day, I have to cross through a dangerous intersection. Unfortunately, at this busy crossroad, there’s only a two-way “stop” sign. I would feel much safer if the cars coming from all four directions had to stop.

As I stop, I peer over an incline to see if any cars are careening over the hill, I then look in the opposite direction. I check both ways a second and a third time to see if it’s safe and then I cross over to the other side.

Intersection of Shore Road and North Country Road
Intersection of Shore Road and North Country Road

Each time I need to cross over this intersection, I am a little anxious because the incline on the street perpendicular to me makes it difficult to see the cars approaching. I think: “will a car suddenly zoom over the hill, cross the road and hit me as I am in the middle of the crossroad?”

I am not usually a nervous driver. Yet this intersection leaves me feeling uncomfortable and unsure. I don’t feel safe until I am securely on the opposite side. And then my journey to continues.

I realize this crossroad that causes me agita is really a metaphor for our lives.

Each and every day, we travel along our own highway of life. Each of us – hopefully – does all that we can to ensure that we live our lives to the fullest and best of our abilities: we eat right, exercise, rest and do all of those other “good things.” But we never know what can come careening suddenly over the next incline: will it be an earthquake, like the one that just hit the greater San Francisco area yesterday morning? or illness? or something else for which we cannot possibly be prepared? What about our families, friends and loved ones?

How do we safely navigate these unforeseen obstacles that enter into the intersection of our paths on our life’s journey? Like the cars that come zipping over the hill, some things are simply out of our control.

The upcoming Ya’mim Nora’im – the High Holy Days, and the Hebrew month of Elul preceding them, help give us the tools so that we can chart our course and re-direct our life’s journey if we so need. We might not be able to control what happens, but we are able to approach our circumstances from a different perspective. We can find strength and support from within ourselves, from our community and from God.

The month of Elul begins tomorrow. Traditionally, Elul is dedicated to studying and preparing for the necessary work of “repairing our souls”. But this is not a once-a-year endeavor. The High Holy Days make us stop and take notice of the frailty of life. They remind us that we are on a journey, and that if we take the time to transform ourselves throughout the year – through reflection, prayer, study, acts of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and repentance, we will be prepared to enter that “danger-filled metaphorical crossroad” of life.

There are many ways to use this upcoming month to begin to prepare. Here are just a few ideas to help begin this process:

  • Join with your congregational community for Shabbat worship and study. The power of community, prayer and music has the ability to nurture and transform one’s spirit and soul.
  • Subscribe to Craig Taubman’s “Jewels of Elul”. These are short, inspirational insights on the theme of the upcoming High Holy Days written by different people, both well-known and not-so-well known: Jewels of Elul
  • Do some preparatory background reading. A few suggestions:
  1. This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation, Alan Lew, Little, Brown and Co., 2003.
  2. Saying No and Letting Go: Jewish Wisdom on Making Room for What Matters Most, Rabbi Edwin Goldberg, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2013.
  3. Rosh Hashanah (or/and) Yom Kippur Inspiration, Contemplation, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins, Jewish Lights Publishing.
  4. Machzor: Challenge and Change: Preparing for the New Machzor and the High Holy Days: Volumes 1 and 2, Central Conference of American Rabbis, 2014.

We each will encounter many crossroads in the journey of our own lives. The obstacles we encounter will seem less daunting and the more secure we will feel, the more prepared we are.

K’tivah v’chatimah tovah –May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year. ”