June 2018

   “Ani V’ata, You and I.”  This is the beginning of a beautiful song which translates as: “You and I will change the world, then everyone will join us;  we will start from the beginning, it will be tough but that doesn’t matter;  you and I will change the world.”
 
   This came to mind as I recently read the following quote from Anne Frank’s Diary: “How wonderful it is that no one has to wait, but can start right now to gradually change the world.”   Anne’s birthday is this month, in June, and as we know, in 1942 she received a very special birthday present, a diary in which she chronicled her life in hiding.  No one can know which birthday presents will later become meaningful, or how our lives may be transformed with one such gift.  Neither do we know in what ways we may inspire others, giving meaning to the miracle of life and to the efforts of tikun olam, repairing the world.
 
   Perhaps you attended Prime Stage Theater’s stage adaptation of The Diary of Anne Frank last month, at New Hazlett Theater, North Side.  Or, no doubt, you have read the book, and our children are reading it, too.  Through it, we have the ability to study our past and to learn from it, affirming that the greatest gift of all is the gift of remembrance that inspires good deeds. 
 
   What can we do to help heal the world today?  Thinking about this is a wonderful gift to Anne Frank in this season of her birthday.  May we say (and sing) “Ani V’ata, You and I,” and continue to work together toward making a difference.     
  

L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

May 2018

   We are now in the period of the Omer, which lasts for seven weeks from the second day of Passover to Shavuot.  This period of time serves to connect the anniversary of the exodus from Egypt with the festival of the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  Tradition has is that the Israelites, so eager for the promised day of receiving the gift of the Torah, began to count the days, just as we would anticipating the arrival of something special. 
 
   Psalm 90 tells us, “Teach us to number our days that we may attain a heart of wisdom.”  Let’s take a look at numbers.  The number 7, which has many associations in the Bible and Rabbinic tradition, is primarily associated with the creation of the world.  The week, the basic unit of our lives, is 7 days long and culminates in the perfect rest of Shabbat.  Multiples of 7, similarly, are related to life, as the Psalmist says, “Three score and ten our years may number.” 
 
    We may experience in the Omer’s 7x7 a symbolic movement through life, from our launching at birth (liberation) to spiritual fulfillment (revelation).  The period of the counting of the Omer provides an opportunity to prepare ourselves for the moment when we will stand once again at Sinai to receive the revelation of Torah, on Shavuot.  We have a chance to restore our soul to wholeness and to re-establish our connection with God.
 
   As I have said before, we not only count the days, but we try to make each day count.  Counting our days is a lot like counting our blessings, as we get from our Start to our Finish.  We can make each day count when we appreciate the gift of each day and make it special.  
 
NOTE: We will be saying Yizkor on Saturday, May 19.       

L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

April 2018

    As I write this, we have finished celebrating Passover and are now in the period of the Omer, counting the days to the festival of Shavuot.  On Passover we read in Exodus, “The children of Israel sang...” as God brought the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea.  Song has been a part of our tradition at these transformative moments as well as in personal ones, whether they be of joy, grief, or gratitude.
 
    There is a Midrash which recounts the song that everything sings to God -- the seas, the mountains, the flowers, and the animals.  Each part of creation carries its own special melody, joining together to make the harmony of the universe.  When we sing our prayers, we add our voices to that harmony. 
 
    In the ancient temple, the prayers were accompanied by music.  King David, the musician and the precursor of the Messiah, aroused the spirit of the people with song.  Sometimes the song has no words: it is called a nigun and it has the simple magic of melody alone.  It allows us to connect to our past and/or it is the vehicle for us to access a path to God in the present.
 
    I am reminded of the Peter, Paul, and Mary song lyrics: “Music speaks louder than words, it’s the only thing that the whole world listens to; when you sing, people understand.”  Jewish music is as old as Jewish tradition, and singing is as natural as breathing.  Faith and music are intertwined.  Be part of the musical symphony of the world.  Come to our Shabbat services and let your soul soar through song!
 

L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

March 2018

   There is a saying in the Talmud, “It is because of the merit of women that God freed us from bondage.”   As soon as Purim was over, we started to panic that Passover is only a month away!  As our mothers and grandmothers did, we start the shopping lists for cooking, we begin the cleaning, and we get ready for the main event, the seder.  The women, and now thankfully some of the men, undertake this task.

   Another saying: “God is in the details.”  At no season is that more apparent than in the spring, especially at Passover, the holiday of spring.  So, God and mothers and grandmothers have a great deal in common at this time of the year.  Their work is often done so reliably and competently that unless we pause to take notice, we may not appreciate the greatness in these details.

   Behind the central liberation story of our people is the bravery of Miriam, the saving of the baby Moses in the basket, the defiance of Pharaoh by the Hebrew midwives Shifra and Puah, who made sure that the male babies would live, and so on.  Our tradition treasures the value of the work behind the scenes and acknowledges the importance of details in Jewish life and community.  Doesn’t Passover, in particular, invite us to take notice of every crumb?  Such attention makes us mindful of, and grateful for, the great miracles of liberation and the small miracles of every day life.

   I invite you to attend our congregational seder on the second night of Passover, March 31.   We will recount the story of our liberation and joyously sing of the miracles.  Chag sameach!

February 2018

    This year in the Jewish calendar, 5778, is a special year.  The fiscal year 2017-2018 is also notable in terms of Israel’s history.   Let me mention a few of the anniversaries that come to mind. 
 
    First, you probably know that this year, 2018, marks Israel’s 70th anniversary of the creation of the State.  It is also the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War.  The year 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, which paved the way for the establishment of Palestine as a home for the Jewish people.  It’s also 100 years since Hadassah realized its dream of providing innovative health care in Israel.
 
    All of these events, and a few more, have come together making this a special year in our history.  There is also much Jewish music which has come out of Israel (and the US) over these last 70 years.  These songs tell our story to us and to generations to come.
 
    On Friday, March 9, 2018, we will celebrate Shabbat Across America at BSJC.  As we have in past years, our families and congregants will come together to enjoy Shabbat together with a delicious meal and a program to mark the event.  This year I will be recounting a bit of our history as above, and I will lead us all in some familiar songs which trace our recent history and that of the State of Israel.  It promises to be a fun and interesting evening and I invite you to mark your calendars and watch for emails and notices.  Happy milestone birthday, Israel!
  

L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

January 2018

     We wished each other a happy new year back in September at the time of the high holidays, and we can now wish the same on January 1 for the secular new year.  But we have 2 more opportunities, coming up, to extend this greeting!  The first of these two comes at the end of this month, just six weeks after Chanukah is over, in the Hebrew month of Sh’vat.  It is called Tu B’Sh’vat, the holiday of the trees.  It is a kind of Jewish Arbor Day which marks the first day of spring in Israel. 
 
    Tu B’Sh’vat, or the 15th of the month of Sh’vat, exemplifies the Jewish people’s strong link to the land of Israel.  Many people take this opportunity to do a mitzvah by planting a tree in Israel through a donation in honor of, or in memory of someone special.   In addition to planting trees, we eat foods associated with the land, such as dates, almonds, grapes, figs, and olives, to mention a few.  We also conduct Passover-like seders celebrating the themes of this festival of trees.
 
    In Israel, largely waterless, trees were regarded as special gifts of God.  There are many symbolic illusions to trees in the Torah, and trees are represented as symbols of goodness and nobility.  We are familiar with at least one of the references in the liturgy of our Shabbat service: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”  (Psalm 92)
 
    So, when else could we wish people a happy new year?  The month of Nissan  is considered the first month of the Jewish sacred year, when we observe Passover, and that is another time we could say “happy new year.”  Therefore, we actually have four new years, four chances to start anew and give blessings to others.  Be sure not to miss these opportunities!  
 
L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

December 2017

    Sometimes we think that the way we observe traditional rituals is the only way that such rituals have ever been observed.  We have only to look at the Talmud to discover one of the well-known discussions as to how to light the Chanukah menorah.  Following Hillel, we add one candle each night.  Shammai, however, taught that we should light eight candles the first night and decrease the number each night thereafter.  Perhaps this practice more accurately evokes the experience of the miracle, which is the essence of the Chanukah story.
 
    Although we follow the school of Hillel in most matters, this particular teaching of the school of Shammai offers a special message to us: the quality of our lives can be more important than the quantity of our possessions, our activities, or even our days.  Even the single candle can bring light, purpose, and fulfillment.
 
    In our high-tech world, which grows more complex each day, we continue to receive comfort and inspiration from the simple light of the candles.  It is no coincidence that the festivals of light converge across cultures at this darkest, coldest season.  When the moon is obscured and the winter solstice is close, we celebrate the greatest gift of Chanukah, and that is light.  May our prayers, tzedakah, and deeds of lovingkindness spark hope and strength and illuminate our lives with renewed meaning, perspective, and direction.

 L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

November 2017

    During the month of November, in which we celebrate Thanksgiving, we will be reading the parsha, “Vayera.”  There is an interesting connection between these two things.
 
    In the opening section of this part of the Torah, Abraham and Sarah are visited by three beings, perhaps men, thought to be angels, or prophets from God.  These beings reveal that Sarah, who is getting on in years, will soon bear a child!  After first offering a bit of bread to these modest and unassuming strangers, Abraham and Sarah go to great lengths to serve them a sumptuous meal.  It is said that this act of generosity provided the slogan about the righteous, from Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of the Fathers, that they “say little and do much.”   According to the Talmud, from which this saying is derived, “the righteous promise little and perform much; the wicked promise much but do not perform even a little.”
 
    Jewish tradition has always emphasized “hachnasat orchim,” welcoming guests, as well as generosity to strangers.  Following the example of Abraham and Sarah, we all can do this mitzvah.  Whether helping to serve a Thanksgiving (or other) meal in a local food shelter or donating to community organizations which provide for the food insecure, we have many opportunities to reach out and be hospitable.  This month, in particular, we are aware of our rich fall bounty and the need to share it with others.  Let’s remember our ancestors and continue the chain of tradition, “l’dor vador,” from generation to generation.  We can involve our children and can teach them to make this a part of their lives. 

 L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

October 2017

“Music speaks louder than words,
It’s the only thing that the whole world listens to;
Music speaks louder than words,
When you sing, people understand.”

     This is a folk song whose message I can really relate to, and perhaps, many of you can, too.  I remember a wonderful concert I attended at Vassar College a number of years ago, entitled, “Stories and Songs from Around the World,” with Theodore Bikel and his renowned accompanist, Tamara Brooks.  A poignant quote in the program read, “Music is a special kind of bridge – reaching over time and ethnicity, over chasms of silence, able to speak and understand in tones when we are unable to utter words.  Songs of loss, of pain, of grief and sorrow, songs of hope and joy, are common to all.  When we sing each other’s songs, we understand our common humanity.” 
 
    I remind myself of this quote from time to time, knowing that the music of the service can enable you to experience prayer on a deeper level, drawing you in and allowing you to connect with our Creator and with our community.  Here at BSJC, we do a lot of singing in our Shabbat services.  On the High Holidays I spoke about accessing prayer and connecting with Adonai, and music is just another one of the vehicles we have at our fingertips to work on this.  I hope you find these thoughts and quotes useful and enlightening.  Our world is in need of some more understanding between people, as it always is, and music may just be the bridge we need. 

 L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

September 2017

    Nobody can predict the future.  In the Unetaneh Tokef prayer on the High Holidays, we sing and pray, wondering what the coming year will hold for us all.  Our attempts to peer into the future are like looking ahead with a miner’s cap on – a small area is illuminated in front of us so we can see our next step, but that’s about it.  Life presents obstacles to moving forward, such as time, energy, stress and obligations, and these are all reasons for us all to stay stuck.  But the future is coming, whether we slide into it enthusiastically, or wait for it to wash over us. 
 
    Rosh Hashanah is a new chance, another beginning, an opportunity to move forward and advance your light.  Don’t know how to do that?  Here’s a suggestion.  The first words at the beginning of each Amidah are, “Open my mouth, Oh Lord, and my lips will offer praises.”  Even when we think we do not know how to communicate with God, we can always start with gratitude and praise.  I will be addressing this more during the coming High Holiday services.
 
    All during this month of Elul we say Psalm 27, which begins, “The Lord is my light and my help.”  Let that light be our guide as we prepare to move toward and through the Jewish new year.  May it hold many blessings for us all.  Shana tova u’metukah.  May you have a happy and sweet new year.

 
L’hitra’ot, until next time!
 

August 2017 - "See you in September"

    As I write this article, the High Holidays are more than 2 months away, but I have been thinking about them and preparing for awhile already.  And so, the song, “See you in September” comes to mind.
 
    On these holidays we will be confessing our sins, and asking for forgiveness, as we sing and pray together.  As part of our actual preparation for the High Holidays, and to widen our knowledge about Judaism, we have invited a colleague and friend of mine from New York City, Rabbi Judith Edelstein, to visit BSJC on September 8/9.  She is an expert in the Mussar movement, which teaches us to examine the importance of interpersonal behavior and how to live more deeply ethical lives attuned to the divine.  If this sounds new to you, don’t worry, Rabbi Edelstein is used to teaching this to students on all levels, and she will enlighten us.  How open should we be?  How much of our private lives should we share?  Mussar  is the practice of accounting of the soul, and how we may reconcile these and other questions.
 
    More information will be coming to you describing this topic and the Shabbat services in which Rabbi Edelstein will be teaching us. She is a delightful person and an excellent facilitator for a subject she knows well, and I encourage you to mark your calendars and plan to attend Shabbat evening and morning services on September 8 and 9. Our Shabbat experience will consist primarily of education and learning, so that we may immerse ourselves in this fascinating topic and prepare ourselves for the holidays.   

 I hope to see you soon, and certainly to “See You in September.”

L’hitra’ot , until next time.

July 2017 - Catch the Spark

    As I write this article, the days are getting longer and we are enjoying more daylight.  This is one of the things I love about the summer.  Come with me as I shift into how we are reading in the Torah about the light of the menorah in the temple, as prescribed in the Book of Numbers.  Another kind of light, but equally inspiring.

    The Torah tells us to let the light travel up on its own after the kindling of the lights.  This can apply to the 7-branched menorah, or even to the Shabbat candles.  But what does that mean?  The light should reach up on its own?  There is a literal meaning and a figurative one.  When you kindle a light, you don’t know if it has taken root unless it is ignited and burns on its own after you take away the match.  Sometimes it doesn’t “take,” and we try again. 

    And, this is also a metaphor for education.  It is not enough to teach someone a skill or a theorem or a lesson.  We must watch as our students turn the learning into action on their own and apply it themselves.  The learning has to burn on its own, like the flame.

    So, as we teach our children to know and love Judaism, we transfer the fire that is Judaism to ourselves and to others, both intellectually and emotionally.  This way, it burns within all of us.  Catch the spark!  It will brighten your life and the world.

L’hitra’ot, until next time!   

June 2017 - "It is good to give thanks to God."

    “It is good to give thanks to God.”  This is the beginning of Psalm 92, which we sing both Friday evening and Saturday morning.  I have taught you my favorite melody, composed by my teacher, friend and colleague, the well-known Cantor Sol Zim, and we sing it at almost every Shabbat service.  This Psalm for Shabbat is basically one of thanksgiving and praise for God’s faithful love in caring for the world, the marvelous works of God’s hands.

    This summer we will sing it together at our monthly Friday evening “Shabbat in the Park” services.  These are always delightful events for all ages, casual, and fun.  This summer these services are on the 4th Friday – June 23, July 28, and August 25. 

    There is a Midrash (a story) that says that Adam sang this psalm with great joy after his first night on earth on the first Sabbath.  Supposedly, he had been sitting in the dark and crying, and when he saw the sun in the morning, he composed this psalm of thanksgiving.  Because of this, the psalm is recited when the Sabbath is welcomed at sunset on Friday night and again in the morning on Shabbat when the sun shines.  In the course of time, this psalm was forgotten until Moses re-introduced it with other psalms.

    In these lazy, hazy days of summer, let’s reflect on the things we have to be thankful for.  One, I can suggest, is our own Beth Samuel community.  Whether we come together to a picnic on a hot summer night or at Yom Kippur services, we have each other, our synagogue family.  When Roger Segeleon first invited me up to Ambridge, he told me, “Come and meet the people.  You will like them.”  Well, he was right!  I am grateful to you for your friendship and your faith in me as your Spiritual Leader, and I thank our Creator for opening this path to me. We go where life takes us, and I am happy it took me here.

 

May 2017 - Spring is here

Spring is here!  As I write this message, we have just celebrated Chag Ha’aviv, the Festival of Spring.  This is one of the names for Passover, which I described at our well-attended, and wonderful community seder.  From Passover to Shavuot, we count 49 days, and then, after celebrating our liberation from slavery, we celebrate z’man matan Torateinu, the season of the giving of the Torah.   This occurs on the 6th day of the Hebrew month of Sivan, which is May 31.  Remember, we count the days, AND we should make every day count!         

It is also appropriate during this season of recognizing the Torah that we welcome our new Religious School students to the study of Torah with a Consecration service.  We do this every few years to mark the beginning of their Jewish studies and their commitment to learning Jewishly, here at Beth Samuel Jewish Center.  We will offer special blessings to these young people and invite them to participate in the service and to receive recognition of their dedication.  It is a joyful time for their families and for our congregation.

Our children are gifts and blessings to us all.  They are the continuation of the chain of our ancestors from the earliest of times to the present.  Consecration is the first of several events in the life of a Jewish child, followed by bar/bat mitzvah, and then Confirmation in High School.  We hand down our teachings l’dor vador, from generation to generation, as we have done for so many generations.  

I invite everyone to attend this year’s Consecration service on Friday, May 19, 2017, at 7:30PM.  It promises to be a beautiful event.  We will offer songs and prayers and a certificate to each of our students.  May we all witness this special moment in their lives.

L’hitra’ot, until next time!      

April 2017 - Freedom

     One of the central experiences of us as a people is the journey from slavery to freedom.  We recall this event each Passover when we recall the story of the exodus from Egypt as we read the Haggadah and sing the songs at the seder.  In the retelling, Judaism elevates economic, social, and psychological freedom to a religious principle.  Freedom is an ongoing endeavor.  As individuals, we need continually to reflect on the ways we get stuck – in other words, how we live imprisoned lives and how we are thereby diminished.
 
     Judaism gave us an opportunity to reflect at the time of the High Holidays, and then again now, halfway through the year, we have another chance.  How can we free ourselves from limitations which constrict our spirits?  How can we help others tear down the barriers which limit their freedom?  Though we haven’t experienced slavery first-hand, it is such a pivotal event in our history as a people that it is never far from the surface, and the exodus and its wonderment appear in all of our prayer services.  In our daily morning prayers is a blessing that says, "Praised are You, Adonai, for making me free,” that is, for not making me a slave.
 
     This year, as we convene in our homes for our family seder or here at synagogue for our community seder on the second night, may we be ever mindful of the freedom in which we live, and may we extend its blessings to those who still live under external and internal oppression.  We sing “Dayenu,” it would have been sufficient, as we thank God for the many miracles bestowed upon us.  Best wishes for a chag sameach!
 

L’hitraot –- until next time.

March 2017 - Purim

    This month we will all join in the merriment of the Purim holiday.  The day before Purim is the 13th of the Hebrew month of Adar, and it is what we call a minor Fast Day.  A minor fast day begins at daybreak and lasts until sunset, unlike Yom Kippur or Tisha B’Av, on which the fast is observed from sunset to sunset.
 
     The 13th of Adar, known as the Fast of Esther, is in commemoration of the 3-day fast undertaken by the Jews of Persia at the request of Queen Esther prior to her pleading the cause of her people before King Achashverosh.  Fasting has several purposes, all relating to the theme of the particular day.
 
     Long ago the prophet Isaiah realized that it is not the fast itself that is important, rather what it means to accomplish.  Perhaps we could take the money we save by NOT eating on this Fast Day and give it to someone who needs it.  We could make an extra donation to any organization fighting hunger, in our own community or beyond.
 
     The merit of a fast is the charity it produces.  May we all be conscious of the needs of those less fortunate, and may our deeds of tzedakah reflect this awareness.  And remember, each of us needs only to do our part, and in doing so, we will accomplish a small bit of Tikun Olam, repairing the world. 


L’hitraot –- until next time.

Feb 2017 - Leonard Cohen, Part 2

As promised, this is the second in the 2-part series on the life and works of Leonard Cohen.  The grandson of a Rabbi, he was born in Canada to a middle class Jewish family in 1934.  From what I gather, they were Orthodox, and observant and knowledgeable about Judaism and its traditions.  Cohen remained connected to Judaism all his life, even as he was open to other streams of religion.  And yes, he was a Kohen. 

 The bright and talented Cohen became a singer, songwriter, musician, poet, novelist, and painter.  Writing was his first career, in the 1950's and 1960's.  In the late 1960's he released his first album, to be followed by many more.  His final one was released just 3 weeks before his death.  If people hadn’t been singing his “Hallelujah” all along, they certainly were then. 

 He attended McGill University and then Columbia graduate school in NYC, and went back to Canada and later to a semi-reclusive life on a small Greek island.  In the late 1960's he moved back to the US to pursue a career in folk music and Judy Collins recorded his song “Suzanne” (referred to in last month’s column).  Things turned around for him at that time and he became a big name.  His Jewish background was a large influence on his words and music, and you can find many liturgical and Biblical references in his lyrics. 

 He toured in this country, Europe, and Israel.  His style expanded to include jazz and Gypsy violin, and other influences, and he continued to tour with his band.  His well-known “Hallelujah,” first released in 1984, has since been performed by almost 200 artists, and in various languages.  Critics have compared Cohen to Bob Dylan and Paul Simon.  Cohen was described as a Sabbath observant Jew, who also practiced Zen Buddhism.  Cohen did not find the 2 philosophies mutually exclusive.

 In a 2009 concert in Israel, Cohen sang Jewish prayers and blessings in Hebrew and opened the show with Ma Tovu and closed with the Priestly Blessing, the Birkat Kohanim.  He passed away this past November, and was laid to rest in a simple pine casket, in Canada with a Jewish service, and in a family plot.  He is survived by 2 children and 3 grandchildren, and a large legacy of poetry and song, known the world over.  May Leonard Cohen’s memory be for a blessing.

 

 

 

 

Jan 2017 - Leonard Cohen Part 1

This is the first in a 2-part series devoted to the life and works of Leonard Cohen, a topic which some of you requested when I spoke about him recently and taught some of his songs.  We lost a sage of our era with his recent passing.  His absence has prompted me and so many others to revisit his words and to absorb his wisdom. 
 
Leonard Cohen was a prophet of brokenness, a seeker of the light who did not ignore the inherent frailties of the human condition.  In my column last month I quoted his “Anthem,” about how the cracks/imperfections let the light in. 
 
Cohen’s words echo the teachings of Jewish mysticism.  The Kabbalists of the 16th century explained the brokenness of our world with the story of its origins.  Accordingly, when God attempted to create our world, God poured infinite Divine light into the vessel of creation, but it was impossible to contain all that light.  This caused the vessel to crack, and while much of the light escaped and rejoined the Divine source, much also remained hidden in the shards of our broken world.
 
Our task is to find the countless sparks of Divine light (as I spoke about in December in my talk on Chanukah and sparks of holy light).  As we do this, we are participating in tikun olam, repairing the world. 
 
As Cohen taught us in his song “Suzanne,” we need to “look among the garbage and the flowers,” to find the holy sparks of light.  They can be anywhere.  As we enter the secular new year of 2017, that is our task!
 
More next month about Leonard Cohen.    

Chanukah - Sparks of Holy Light

“I see Chanukah as a time when, as we light the candles, we pause in awe before the Jewish people, whose survival through diversity brings light into the darkness of the human soul.”  Jewish feminist writer Anne Roiphe wrote these words in Tikkun magazine, and they certainly express an appropriate message for us this month.  The sense of awe is not only reserved for the High Holy Days! 

Every year, as December rolls around, we are bombarded with holiday pressures for all religions, from the secular world.  While we seem to want to withdraw from all the hoopla (or maybe you like it!), at the same time we gather together with our own family and celebrate our blessings.  That celebration can take many forms, and many of us celebrate in different ways with more than one religion represented.  Chanukah is family time to share food, fun, songs, and the light in the darkness, both literally and figuratively.

 This is a time to drink deeply from our own spiritual reservoir, and to remember that it supports us throughout the year.  We have our own compelling symbols: the sukkah, the seder  table, the Purim costumes, the shofar blasts, the eight candles in the Chanukiah, and even the two stately white candles we light 52 Friday nights a year.  Please come to Shabbat services on Friday, December 16, when I present a short musical sermonette for this season, entitled “Chanukah –  Sparks of Holy Light.”

One of the prayers we recite as we light the menorah is, “Blessed are You, who accomplished miracles for our ancestors in ancient days, and which we experience, both at this time of the year and throughout every year of our lives.” As Leonard Cohen (of blessed memory) wrote:

 “Ring the bells that still can ring,  forget your perfect offering;

There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.”

 May the light of the Chanukah menorah bring peace and light to you and yours this season.

Blessings & Gratitude

A well-known Jewish scholar, Martin Buber, said, “The older we get, the greater becomes our inclination to give thanks, especially heavenward.”  I know many of us can identify with this!  Our tradition has many prayers of thanks, teaching us that showing gratitude is part of our way of life.  One such example is the modim anachnu lach paragraph in the Amidah, when we bend to bow deeply and show reverence.  Interestingly enough, the numerical value of the letters of the Hebrew word modim is equivalent to the numerical value of 100, hinting that we are thankful to God with the 100 blessings we are supposed to say each day.   

Nearly all Americans celebrate the holiday of Thanksgiving, with all the traveling to be with family and the usual smells and tastes to enjoy together.  When I was growing up (in an Orthodox family), we also sang secular songs of Thanksgiving!  This holiday does not feel particularly “Jewish,” but since the pilgrims celebrated their good fortune by thanking God for all with which they had been blessed, the original Thanksgiving dinner was also a kind of religious one. 

Although our table will NOT be set with any religious artifacts or rituals, the act of sharing prayers and words of thanksgiving can give a Jewish meaning to the gathering.  We can make a motzie and share reasons for being grateful.  When we do mitzvot of donating food and funds to local charities, helping to feed the poor and the hungry, we are doing tzedakah and tikun olam, charity and repairing the world. 

Blessings allow us to pause and give gratitude, and to acknowledge beauty, goodness, and God’s presence in our lives.  May we all once again celebrate our gratitude for the many blessings we have, on Thanksgiving.   

Until next time –- l’hitra’ot!