Category Archives: Rav

Items of interest to those who follow the ‘Rav’ side

One More Step Toward Equality

There was a late anniversary present for my parents last week – Doma, the Defense of Marriage Act was declared unconstitutional and Prop 8 was declared void and unconstitutional. My parents celebrated their 50th anniversary two days before and as the court handed down their decisions, I cried tears of joy. Finally, we are on the right road toward marriage equality.

This ruling means that the 13 states in which marriage is legal for GLBT, the Federal government must recognize the marriage and the over 1138 rights and benefits afforded each couple.

I’ve read and heard the stories of families overjoyed when they told their children they were finally equal and legal. No family should have to fight for the basic rights each of us should be afforded. No child should have to defend the love of his or her parents to peers.

Why was this an anniversary present for my parents? Because they have always taught me that every individual should be treated equally and with dignity. When my mom moved to Florida as a teenager, she was outraged at the sight of separate water fountains, one for whites and one for blacks. Just to spite them, she drank from the water fountain marked for blacks.

I am proud that we are a congregation who believes and states that we are a congregation for all. We put this on the front of our website:

We celebrate our rich diversity as a congregation, a community of many communities. We are a great intergenerational family in a place where we care for and about one another. We are newcomers and old-timers, children and adults, individuals and couples and families, multi-racial families, LGBT and straight, Jews by birth and by choice, non-Jewish partners and spouses. Interfaith families are always welcome.

We know that there is still much to do toward bringing marriage equality and adoption rights to each state. There are still 33 states in which one can be fired for being gay. No, the fight is not over. But last Wednesday was a wonderful beginning.

 

B’Midbar – Who’s Counting?

I’ve been thinking a lot about names lately. In just the past couple of weeks, I have been honored to help families give seven children Hebrew names! This must be a record! One family of three, one set of triplets and a baby boy. But still, to offer seven Hebrew names in such a short time, awesome! These are the names that each of them will be called upon when they are called to Torah; these are the names that they will sign the ketubah; these are the names that God and Israel know them by as they perform acts of loving kindness in making our world a better place.

Parashat B’midbar is an accounting of the people who were in the desert following the Exodus from Egypt. We are gathered together and God instructs Moses to take a census of all the tribes. The tribal leaders come forward by name and share the count of those who are with them. While the count only includes the men, we know the women stood there with them and today, that count would be very different, very inclusive. But why count? The numbers are great! 603,550 men – again, include the women and children and you have a whole new number!

This great number marks stability amongst the Israelites. They are so great in number that they are not going away, no matter how much some of the surrounding nations wish they would. The people are flooding the desert like a great river flowing through a canyon. They extend for miles, as far as the eye can see. Truly, the Israelites are a stable and growing nation.

We too are growing, we welcome new children and people into our community at all times. There is stability within the count of the Jewish people. And how appropriate it is that we read this portion the Shabbat prior to Shavuot, the holy day during which we celebrate when God gave the Torah to the Jewish people. We are taught that every Jewish soul who lived then and who was yet to be born but would be a part of the Jewish people (born into and those who choose Judaism) stood at the mountain together. All of us, together, in the shadow of a great mountain and with the potential of what is yet to even be fully realized.

We are still at that mountain and we still receive Torah today. While the words might be fixed on the parchment they are still fluid in understanding and inspiration. It is each of us, called by name, who are responsible for reading, embracing and sharing these words of Torah. It is each of us who are called by name to hold these words and the traditions shared by each generation, given to us, and then share them with the next generation. It is each of us, called by our name who are to stand up when called, be counted as a part of the Jewish people, and know that the gift we are given in our names is a precious one, one that should not be forgotten, for every name, every person, is a blessing.

Passover is to Celebrate Freedom for All

I am inspired that today, the first day of Passover, one of the holiest days of the Jewish year, the day that we celebrate our freedom from slavery in Egypt and not take for granted our own freedom today. But we do take so much of our freedom for granted, especially the freedom to love and be loved. Today, on this first day of Passover, arguments are being heard in the Supreme Court regarding marriage equality for all and tomorrow, DOMA.

In 2003, I was 7 months pregnant with Yoni and had to get doctor’s clearance to fly to Washington DC so I could perform the wedding of my two friends, Sarah and Rachel. I walked into a colleagues synagogue that was bustling with activity that Sunday. Sarah and Rachel were already upstairs taking pictures and quickly walking past me, was an orthodox Rabbi heading straight for the Rabbi whose synagogue we were in. Seemed that he was here for a bris taking place downstairs. He stopped to glance at me, in my maternity suit, kipa on my head and talit in my arms. He gave me a once over and seemed even more perplexed. He went to my colleague and asked, ‘what else is happening here today?’ Calmly and with a bit of over excitement in his voice, my colleague said, ‘oh there’s a wedding today! And she’s the rabbi, pointing to me.’ The orthodox rabbi looked at me again, and then back to my colleague, ‘I saw the two kalot, where are the grooms?’ And without missing a beat he said, ‘no, no grooms, my colleague there is marrying two women together!’ You could have seen the steam from his ears! I smiled and headed straight upstairs to celebrate with Sarah and Rachel!

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Almost 10 years later, Sarah and Rachel are proud moms of adorable children. They live a life like any other married couple, except for the fact that Federal Law still prevents them from having the same rights as Matt and me or any other heterosexual married couple. This is not freedom!

Today, Passover, is about freedom for all! We are all created in the image of God and we all deserve the same rights to love and be loved by the one we want to spend our lives with.

I’ve since performed other weddings for same sex couples and I am proud to stand under the chuppah with each of them and those yet to come. Today is about celebrating our freedom, I just pray that everyone can share in that freedom as well.

L’Shalom or B’Shalom

At the bottom of most emails there is a “signature” consisting of our name, maybe our company and some with a poignant quote from a favorite author or text. Depending on the type of email we send there is the salutation – ‘sincerely,’ ‘see ya soon,’ ‘ttfn (ta ta for now!),’ or any other host of salutations. In many of my letters, you see my salutation of either ‘kol tuv’ (be well), or ‘l’shalom.’ However, I see many use ‘b’shalom’ and I feel a bit uncomfortable. Why? Because there really is quite a big difference between the two salutations. On the surface, they both seem innocent enough – ‘to peace’ and ‘in peace’ respectively.

To understand the differences let’s start with this week’s parasha, vayeshev. Jacob sends Joseph off to check in on his brothers while watching the flocks. Joseph, donning his brand new beautiful multi-colored coat, a gift from his father, goes out to the fields. But the brothers have had enough with this “favored son” and decide it’s time to be rid of him. There, in the wilderness, a band of merchants just happens to pass by and the brothers sell Joseph to the traders. Returning home with the coat soaked in blood, the brothers tell their father that Joseph was killed by a wild beast, never to return again.

For the brothers, they were saying to Joseph, ‘go in peace’ instead of ‘go to peace’ – a hope that they would never have to see him again. But we know that eventually, they will see him again and be very grateful as he saves their lives.

The salutation the brothers might have given their brother, ‘lech b’shalom’ is almost the equivalent of saying, ‘drop dead.’

In tractate Berakhot 64a, we read where Rabbi Avin ha-Levi says, “When you take leave of a friend do not say, ‘lech b’shalom’ but say ‘lech l’shalom.’ This is what Jethro said to Moses (Exodus 4) and Moses went on to success; David took his leave of Absalom by saying ‘lech b’shalom’ (2 Samuel 15:9), and Absalom went and got himself hanged! Rabbi Avin ha-Levi further says: when you take leave of the deceased (at the graveside) do not say ‘lech l’shalom’ but rather ‘lech b’shalom’ (based on Genesis 15:15) (From Rabbi Simchah Roth as quoted in From Aleph to Ze’ev.)

As we sign off in a letter or an email, the simplest of salutations can mean more than we think. Each of us should go l’shalom, with the blessing that every journey and every experience should be that of peace and success.

L’Shalom,

Rabbi Heidi Cohen

Today is the day…

One opinion was that the character of the generation is determined by its leader. According to the other opinion, the character of the leader is determined by the generation.” (Talmud, Arachin 17a).

Today is one of the greatest days of the year as citizens of the United States of America. Today is the day each of us are responsible for having our voices heard.  No matter who one votes for, what proposition one agrees or disagrees with, today is the day during which we are called upon to speak our mind and vote our conscience. This is a great responsibility and one that should not be cast aside.  And while it is easy to say, ‘my vote doesn’t matter,’ we must realize that every voice counts. Pirkei Avot teaches us, “Don’t separate yourself from the community,” therefore, we must get out there with the community and vote.

And in doing so, may all people maintain a respectful level of civility. Unfortunately, this election cycle has groups and individuals on all sides acting in ways that reflect bullying and harassment. This is not how we should treat one another. We are taught that each individual is created in the Divine Image and as such, each person should be treated with dignity and respect.  Through our civil discourse, we may not always agree with one another, but in the end, we must respect each other.

Please, get out and vote, have your voice heard because you DO matter. And later tonight, tomorrow, or the weeks ahead, no matter the results, we need to remember, we are one country and one people and we have a lot of work to do to care for one another.  Let us not be complacent, but let us be respectful, true and kind, today, tomorrow and the weeks ahead so that we can be proud of our community and our country.

Four Great Words from Camp

This has been a tremendous week at Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be a part of the camp community for a week each summer. To get to know the campers and to experience life here is truly amazing and gives a glimpse to our future Jewish leaders and community.
There were four words shared throughout this week that summarize camp.
Last night, Rabbi David Eschel asked the campers at Hess Kramer what do History and Memory mean? The campers shared thoughts about how one is long standing and will continue for years to come while another might eventually be lost. That history involves the pictures and documents passed down, but memory are the stories that are shared over generations. That both are a part of l’dor vador, and that we are expected to pass them on.
While at Hess Kramer, I had the opportunity to spend some time with Leadership, most especially on the final leg of their leadership hike. For three days, these campers traveled the Santa Monica Mountains, up on to ridges, down into a grotto and sleeping under the stars. On the final leg, a walk along the coast back to camp, this group was not so exhausted that they walked in silence. No, they chanted. Their energy building as they approached camp and the promise of a tradition passed on, to share the adventure with the other campers by literally giving each of them some of the earth they brought back. (All with some help of the mud pit created on Fitch Field).
Last night, Leadership Night, many alumni of previous Leadership years descended upon camp and shared their history and their memories of their Leadership experience. And together, the entire camp and guests sang our closing night songs, Shema and Hashkiveinu/Shelter Us. To hear all the voices together as one created more memory moments.

Throughout the week we also talked about Keva and Kavannah with both camps. Keva, the words of the prayers that we read from our prayerbooks. Kavannah, the meaning we find within the prayers either through word, song, or even art. Todd Silverman, the educator at Hilltop asked the campers what the differences were between keva and kavannah and how they can create kavannah when they pray. How can each individual find meaning in the service that goes beyond the words in the siddur but also in how each moment is an opportunity to reaching out to God and also to ourselves. To recognize and hold on to the moments that each of them create at camp. I led a special t’fillah during which I asked the campers to think about their favorite prayer and illustrate it only with paper and glue sticks. Their creations, filled with kavannah, said so much for how they internalized these words and their connections to God and the world.

Today, I picked up JediYeled from his 8 days of camp and the first thing he said, “I don’t want to leave!!!!” the best five words I could hear! I’m so excited that JediYeled had the opportunity to learn the history of years past and create memories of his own. While the campers sang they not only sang the words to prayers and farewell songs, but the emotions surrounding these moments were amazing!
This is camp! This is the foundation for so many years yet to come. These are moments that will last a life time!
Thank you Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop Camp! Thank you to all of the staff and to all of the campers! You created this! And it is very good!

Go Out and Play! B’haalot’chah

For two years the Israelites lived at the base of Sinai. It was there that Moses brought Torah and the Ten Commandments down to them. It was there that they set up their tents and established a regular routine after having left Egypt, crossed the Sea of Reeds, and saw Pharaoh’s army swept up in the waters, leaving them to be free. But now, two years later, it is time for the people to move again. And only a few days into the next journey from Sinai into the desert, do the Israelites begin to complain again.

“The people took to complaining bitterly before the Eternal.” (Numbers 11:1) “The riffraff in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites wept and said, ‘if only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!’” (Numbers 11:4-6)

It seems natural, according to Rashi and Nachmanides, for the Israelites to be complaining. They are out of their comfort zone. While they were enslaved in Egypt, at least they knew they had shelter and food. But here, in the desert, the Israelites are lost. They rely on this simple white sticky substance, manna, to nourish them and they are only permitted to take enough for that day (unless it is Shabbat and they are allowed to take a double portion). They must rely on God to care for them – God, who they just reentered into a relationship with after 400 years.  And they must have confidence in Moses, to ensure their safety. Where is the trust, the confidence?

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch offers another interpretation of the Israelites behavior.  Like all children, they’re bored! Their needs are met; they have shelter, they have sustenance, but the manna is just not cutting it. While we hold the legend to be true that manna will taste like anything you want it to, Rabbi Hirsch argues contrary to that – this manna is boring! The people seek substance, flavor, and variety!

Today, we seek the same thing, variety. We don’t want standard, boring, or tasteless. We want life and our activities to stimulate us. We cry out when we’re bored and we don’t feel like we are being entertained. But we cannot only rely on others to stimulate our senses or to peak our interest. We are all responsible for quenching  our thirst for stimulation.

Rather than saying, nothing excites me anymore and hope that someone else will fix it or entertain us, we are the ones who must take action. No one is a mind reader; no one can fulfill those of your needs if those needs are not shared. We are all partners in this world and in our community who seek the same thing – to be challenged and moved.

Summer is upon us and now is the time to be inspired. Our children will soon be done with school and it will take less than 24 hours for them to turn to us and say, ‘I’m bored!’ And as God, our parent told us in the desert, and as we tell our children, it’s time for us to listen to our own advice, ‘go out and play – entertain yourself.’

Do you want to keep your brain active? Come to Torah study on Shabbat morning. Participate in some of our summer class opportunities. Join us for an inspiring book review.

Do you want to explore your spiritual side? Join us for Shabbat services at 6:00 pm in the Sukkah plaza every Friday night.

Do you want to stay in touch with people or meet new friends? Join one of the many Reservation Only events still open.

Your TBS staff and congregational family are available to hope you not be ‘bored,’ but you have to take responsibility for yourself and go out and play!

 

Will you jump into the fire? Acharei Mot

Nadav and Avihu, two boys who some would argue, should not have played with fire. As Aaron’s son’s (Aaron, Moses’ brother and High Priest), they should have known better. They should have known that they were not to make the offerings they did without permission. But they did. Hence, why some commentators suggest they were killed.

However, another way to read Nadav and Avihu’s death is that through their passion about making an offering to God they stood too close to the fire.  As God accepted their offering they too were consumed by the fire God sent for their offering.

This week’s parashah, Acharei Mot-Kedoshim, begins with the offerings Aaron must make in expiation for his family. These offerings are meant create a strict structure of worship for the priestly clan as they served God and the people.  The detail of each of the offerings is carefully laid out in order to ensure there is no confusion as to what is expected of the Cohanim.

There are two thoughts toward achieving holiness: First, from Leviticus 10, where Nadav and Avihu were killed because of their offering, to later, these passages in Leviticus 16 setting a very clear structure and order for sacrificial offerings. Nadav and Avihu were overjoyed in their desire to make offerings to God. But is that passion considered to be dangerous? For the Priestly writers, those who took the job description of the Priests very seriously, yes. Nadav and Avihu were giving permission to others that if their sacrifices offered with such passion, were accepted, others would be free to do the same. The Priests were very concerned with anyone who went outside the religious practice box. Hence, why the commentators will suggest that they were killed because they were not following the rules.

On the other hand, is it wrong to be passionate about prayer? Of course not. Prayer is a way of expressing gratitude and seeking guidance and strength from and with God.  For some, being able to quietly reflect and focus on each word of prayer is a passionate way of speaking to God. For others, it is through singing out with full voice and body that brings the relationship with God ever closer.

These words in Leviticus are most challenging because we struggle to find meaning in a practice that is no longer relevant in our lives. We are challenged to take these words and find how we are able to bring them into our world. Where do you fall on this continuum of prayer? Where does prayer speak to you and how are you able to express it? We no longer live in Temple times when offerings to God were left to the Priests. Rather, it is each of us who have the responsibility to offer our prayers to God. How do you accept this responsibility?

#BlogExodus – That Which Plagues Us

I love this year’s Exodus Internet project, #BlogExodus, found on Twitter. And this year, #ImaBima has challenged regular and occasional bloggers to post on a new topic each day as we prepare for Passover. While I was excited to engage in this project, the past few days have passed me by without being able to post on the daily topic. I have been plagued with a busy schedule preventing me from being able to spend time reflecting and writing.

All of us have our plagues in life. We are plagued by too many commitments; plagued by having to juggle not only our own schedules but also the schedules of our family – children or elderly parents. We are plagued with health issues; plagued by not having time for ourselves; we are plagued by unfulfilled goals; plagued by demands placed on us by others. We are plagued by not being in touch with our emotions; plagued by not realizing our passions; plagued by not knowing how to act on our passions; plagued by someone else fulfilling our visions when we did not have the courage to do so ourselves.

And while each of these ten plagues and so many others that go unnamed, and seem to darken our world, we are challenged to recognize them, name them and then learn how to walk through them.

Do these plagues control our lives or are we able to gain control of them, stripping each one down to its basic core and recognizing how we might shed it’s control over our lives? A plague can destroy us or it can strengthen us as we remove it from controlling each moment.

Our magid, retelling of the story of Passover, is not just to remind us of our history and our passage to freedom thousands of years ago. Our magid is our opportunity to tell our story today, recognize that which plagues us and then free ourselves from that which enslaves us.

What are your plagues and how will you move from the darkness that envelops you so that you may join the march toward freedom and light? May this Passover season be one that brings all of us to a new freedom and an embrace of the light of redemption that’s just within reach.

#BlogExodus – Chameitz as learning, art, and luck

I get it: get the chameitz, leavening out of the house before Passover. The Israelites had to leave Egypt in great haste that they had no time to let their bread rise before having to pack it all and leave.

For anyone who has ever tried to bake fresh bread, you know that there is chemistry, art, and luck all involved. The chemistry is having the water temperature just right so that the yeast will not die from being too hot or too cold – yes, think of the three little bears, that climate has to be just right for the yeast to do it’s thing…grow! Not to mention, mixing the yeast and water with some sugar to feed those little yeast creatures – what a great brood of bubbling goodness. The art; to get it all mixed together and holding tight, there is the art of kneading. Not to fast, not too slow. Don’t pull too hard and don’t be too gentle. Get the mass of ingredients mixed just right so that it can sit in a warm spot (chemistry again) allowing the dough to rest and rise. And then there’s luck; you’ve followed all the instructions passed on from generation to generation. You hope the yeast is still alive and the temperature seems just right for rising, but you still have to cross those fingers and hope that luck is on your side and the bread will rise to satisfy your hunger.

It takes time, it takes patience, it takes art to make a perfect loaf of bread, let alone the challah that will make our Shabbat table that much more special. But there is no time, there is only haste and the need to hurry. And when that happens, we are only left with a tight, heavy, mound of bread – too hard to eat, too touch to break, too challenging to enjoy.

Get the chameitz out of your house, hurry! And then during the week of remembering and celebrating our freedom, remember: when you return the chameitz into your home, do so with knowledge and learning (chemistry); art and the careful consideration of traditions passed down from one generation to the next – you can’t rush everything in life; and luck – we can always use a little faith that it will all turn out just right.