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.)

The Age of 80 – The Age of Strength: Happy Birthday Rabbi Dow Marmur! (An Open Letter)

Rabbi Dow Marmur at 80: Happy Birthday! (February 10, 2015)

Dear Dow,

Happy birthday! At the age of 80, you have now reached the age of strength, according to our Jewish tradition. (Pirke Avot – Ethics of the Fathers – 5:22).

At 80, your strength comes not necessarily from your physical prowess, but from the life experiences and lessons that come with living for eight decades. Each of us has a story to tell, but your particular story is a story of triumph over evil, and success in overcoming extremely difficult beginnings. You have earned the strength of your years, the strength that comes with time and experience. (To read more, you can purchase Rabbi Marmur’s autobiography here: Six Lives: A Memoir, Rabbi Dow Marmur. Key Porter Publishers, 2004).

At 80, your strength comes from the intellect that you have developed and cultivated over the many years of learning, reading, teaching and sharing. You are one of the most gifted teachers I know. People flock to your courses, to learn from your wisdom. Your prolific writing is articulate, concise, thought-provoking and timely. You like to tell people that you have no “hobbies” per se, other than reading and writing. Your goal of reading at least one book/week has always inspired me to broaden my horizons, to stretch beyond my own comfort zone. Your passion for learning has helped to give knowledge, wisdom, learning and strength to so many others over the years.

At 80, your strength comes from knowing that you have done your part to help make this world a better place. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook once said: “I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent.” You exemplified this ideal throughout your life: speaking out for those who could not/cannot speak for themselves. You taught that we have a moral obligation as Jews to speak out for injustice, to speak truth to power, to work toward a world where all God’s children can live with dignity. You taught that we must head the prophetic call and work for social justice, even if it is not popular.

At 80, your strength comes from the blessings of family and friends who surround you with their love, warmth and caring. Your family is, has been and will always be your number one joy in life. Your beloved wife Fredzia, your devoted children Viveca, Michael and Sarah, Elizabeth and Anthony and your doting grandchildren will always be your “strength of strengths” and the “heart of your heart”. Your dear friends enlarge that circle of love because you have been such a good friend to all of us. We all love you so because you have nurtured us and helped us to be the best we can be.

Dow, you have helped to give me strength. I feel so blessed to have your guidance and friendship for almost 26 years, first as my senior rabbi when I served under you at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto. Since that time, you have been my trusted advisor and friend. We are also taught in Pirke AvotAseh l’cha rav, u’kneh l’cha chaver. – Make for yourself a teacher, and you will find for yourself a friend.” (Pirke Avot, Ethics of the Fathers 1:6) Dow, your friendship, sage wisdom and counsel always inspires me, guides me and encourages me. You have helped me become the rabbi and person who I am today.

Rabbi Dow Marmur blessing me at my Installation as Rabbi of Temple Isaiah, Stony Brook
Rabbi Dow Marmur blessing me at my Installation as Rabbi of Temple Isaiah, Stony Brook

So Dow, on this your 80th birthday, this age of strength, I wish you the blessings of continued strength, continued good health, much joy and laughter. Chazak, chazak v’titchazek. May you continue to go from strength to strength!

Happy Birthday!

Lots of love,


To read more about Rabbi Dow Marmur, Rabbi Emeritus of Holy Blossom Temple:

(Note: Rabbi Michael Marmur, Rabbi Dow Marmur’s son, suggested that as a surprise for Dow on his 80th birthday, all those who choose, email him something in writing entitled “Dow at 80”, since Dow is usually the one sending out something in writing to all of his friends. This piece is written in tribute to Rabbi Dow Marmur on his 80th birthday. May we all find the same passion for learning, the same zeal for social justice, the same love of family and friends and the same strength to live life to our fullest as does Dow.)

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!




Zoe’s Beautiful Eyes

My 7-year old niece Zoe has the most beautiful eyes. From the time she was little, everyone has commented on the remarkable beauty of her big, blue eyes.

Zoe - eyes
Zoe’s beautiful eyes

But what makes Zoe’s eyes most beautiful, is that they reflect her inner beauty: her way of looking at the world that often belies her age. Zoe will often say things that are both wise beyond her years and reflect the innocence of her youth simultaneously.

Her ideas and notions are often deeply (and unintentionally) rooted in Jewish tradition and there is great wisdom to be gleaned from what she shares.

So on this New Year’s Day, I would like to share these lessons from Zoe for 2014. If we can strive to live up to these four ideas shared by Zoe, 2014 will be a very good year indeed.

1. Zoe has only recently joined a swim team. Physical activity has been a challenge to her and she has worked hard over the past year taking both physical therapy and occupational therapy to overcome some challenges. At her first “away” swim-meet, she placed last. But she was so thrilled to be there. On the phone, she told me in a very excited voice, “Auntie Sharon, I wasn’t disqualified!” She had a fabulous time and she was still “in the game”! Zoe appreciates all that she has. She lives life in the moment, with joy, zest and contentment.

We learn from Pirke Avot, “Teachings of the Fathers”, 4.1 “Who are wise? Those who learn from all people…Who are rich? Those who rejoice in their portion.” We too, can find a way to live “in the moment, ” to rejoice in our achievements and celebrate our success, to live with joy and contentment and to be thrilled that we are still “in the game.”

2. One day, out of the blue, Zoe told her mother, “Mom, I have a very big heart. My heart is so big, it can hold 1000 elephants.” Zoe’s heart IS tremendous! She is generous and kind. She feels empathy for others. She understands that we have an infinite capacity for love and for reaching out to others with a helping hand, a loving touch and a kind word.

The third book of the Torah, Leviticus 19:18, instructs us: “V’ahavta l’re’acha ka-mocha” – You shall love your neighbour as yourself. This is known as “The Golden Rule”. I could write a piece just on this, but suffice to say for now, that each of us has to feel as if our own heart can “hold 1000 elephants.” We need to feel a way to reach out to others and make a difference in their lives.

3. December 26, 2013 was the fourth anniversary of my father’s death. As my brother was observing our father’s yahrzeit (anniversary of death), Zoe said, “Grandpa, I love you as much as I’d love the world to live in peace.”

Zoe and her generation deserve to live in a world filled with peace. 7-year olds should not have to be worried about war, violence and terrorism.

Pirke Avot also teaches us: (1.12) “Be like the disciples of Aaron, loving peace and pursuing it.” It’s our obligation to work toward making this world a more peaceful place. If 7-year olds can verbalize that wish – we must act on it.

4. Zoe also gave my brother a 5-point business plan for his work. It was a fabulous business plan (Harvard Business School – watch out!) Her first part applies to us all:

Smile more. If people see you smile more, they’ll feel better about themselves. Then THEY will smile more and do a better job and make other people feel better about themselves. If you are smiling, perhaps that will encourage everyone to enjoy what they are doing. This ties back to the very first point above.

So, if we strive to live our lives in the year ahead through Zoe’s eyes, we will appreciate what we have and live life with zest, open our hearts to others, strive to make this world a more peaceful place and smile!

All the best for a 2014 filled with the blessings of health, contentment, joy, love and peace!