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HUC-JIR Senior Sermon

September 12, 2019 - Ki Teitzei

 

My fourth-year (senior) sermon examined through a Jewish lens the problematic practice of separating migrant children from their parents at the US border.

Watch the video here:  Senior Sermon

Read the full text here:

North Fork Reform Synagogue

April 17, 2020 - Shemini

 

Many Reform Jews don't bat an eye at the idea of mixing milk and meat, or eating shellfish  and that's ok! But let's not be too quick to remove the word "kosher" from our vocabulary...

Read the full text here:

Mussar

During my summer residency at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, I was privileged to compose the 5780 edition of the congregation's annual mussar initiative, "The Jewish Values Project: Ethics for Elul." During the month of Elul a traditional period of introspection leading up to the High Holy Days congregants received a daily e-mail with a teaching from the Jewish ethical practice of mussar, sometimes with an accompanying video of additional reflections on that day's middah (value).

Hachnasat Orchim — Hospitality

August 2020 / ​Elul 5780

 

There is a longstanding tradition that the prophet Elijah — who is said to be the one who will announce the coming of the Messianic Age — often disguises himself to test people’s virtues. Once, he dressed up as a poor beggar and appeared to Rabbi Eliezer to test the strength of his hospitality. When Elijah arrived, he was technically breaking the rules of Shabbat by carrying all of his possessions on a day of rest. Yet, rather than reprimanding him, the rabbi welcomed Elijah kindly, attended to all his needs, let the man stay for the night, and even gave him some money in the morning. As Elijah left the next day, he blessed Rabbi Eliezer, telling him that he would have a son who would “enlighten the eyes of Israel.” (see Legends of the Jews 4:7:82).

It is not always easy to offer hachnasat orchim (hospitality). If Rabbi Eliezer had allowed himself to be disgusted by Elijah’s appearance, or to be angry about him violating the rules of Shabbat, Elijah might never have made it over the threshold. Before Elijah’s arrival though, Rabbi Eliezer had already made a habit of greeting every poor person in the town; so, when Elijah showed up, it wasn’t too hard for the rabbi to open up his heart and his home. This story reminds us that hachnasat orchim is not just a physical act but also a state of mind. If we train ourselves mentally and emotionally to be welcoming to friends and strangers alike, we will be better prepared to act on it when the time comes.

“[God] ...loves the stranger, giving [the stranger] food and clothing. So shall you love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (see Deut. 10:18-19).

Newsletters

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North Fork Reform Synagogue (Jan-Feb 2019)

        First, I’d like to extend a hearty mazal tov to the "A" family in honor of "R" becoming a bat mitzvah on December 7. Those of us who were able to attend the service – as well as those offering their support from afar – are all very proud!

        I’d also like to share a recap of the Reform Movement’s Biennial conference, which I recently attended in Chicago. Biennial brings Reform leaders – laypeople and Jewish professionals – together to study, meet new people, and set the priorities of the Reform Movement (specifically in the US & Canada) for the coming years. As a 3-time attendee, I can tell you it’s an amazing, educational, and energizing experience. Per the URJ’s website, this year’s “5,000+ participants from 525 congregations hail from 54 states and provinces, and 75 international congregations.” The hallways of the convention center featured large billboards with the names of each congregation in the Movement, and North Fork Reform Synagogue was no exception! (See picture above)

        Some overarching themes of this Biennial were:  celebrating the role of women clergy and lay leaders, while also acknowledging the challenges many of us still face; discussing ways that congregations can be more welcoming to youth/millennials, interfaith families, LGBTQ Jews, and Jews of color; full and consistent inclusion of people with disabilities; and the Reform Movement’s support of the State of Israel, even when we disagree with the government’s policies. If, like me, you would like liberal Judaism to have a bigger voice and more funding in Israel, you can opt in and vote Reform in the World Zionist Congress elections, beginning January 21. To learn more about the impact of your vote, you can visit the ARZA website at https://arza.org/who-we-are/world-zionist-congress-elections/.

        Biennial also allows congregational delegates to vote on policy statements or initiatives that have been proposed and discussed over the last two years. The Reform Movement has a long and proud tradition of doing what it believes is required to work towards tzedek (justice) and tikkun olam (repairing the world). At this 2019 convention, three resolutions were approved:  1. a resolution calling for federal and state governments to phase out private prisons; 2. a resolution encouraging education on the opioid crisis and support for individuals and the families of those living with substance use disorder; 3. a resolution advocating “for the creation of a federal commission to study and develop proposals for reparations” – which can range from a formal apology to monetary payments – to redress the historic and continuing effects of slavery on Black Americans. Each resolution also asks for Reform congregations and organizations to support these efforts.

        I look forward to continuing the conversation about the learning, music, prayer, comedy, and Reform Movement policy-setting that took place at Biennial – not to mention the “Jewish Geography” that had me run into THREE former student rabbis of the North Fork Reform Synagogue. Wishing you all a happy and healthy New Year, and a “fruitful” Tu BiShvat; see you at the seder on February 7!

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Temple Tikvah

(Oct 2016)

 

        A belated Shanah Tovah to everyone. Welcome to the “High Holy Day Edition” of my letters from abroad! I hope 5777 is off to a good start for each of you.

        As you might imagine, the lead-up to the holidays is an exceptionally busy time. Choir rehearsal was twice a week, two hours per session. Although the bulk of our 25-person choir was rabbinical students, there was definitely a high expectation of music literacy. Fortunately, there were several songs I already knew from our Temple Tikvah Choir.

                Preparing for the holidays was also much more comprehensive than my choir duties. As one of the five rabbinical students invited to lead a study session on Yom Kippur afternoon, I had to carve out some time to plan that experience with my co-leader. Those of you doing the math are probably thinking that this still leaves a number of free hours in my week, but fear not! As every infomercial ever produced has said, “But wait! There’s more!”

        Each student in our program is matched with a volunteer project for the year. Mine is to work with another rabbinical student and his wife to lead monthly Kabbalat Shabbat services at a nearby retirement/nursing home. Our first scheduled services were for October 7, the Friday between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. We conducted back-to-back services, first on one floor and then another, entirely in Hebrew, though my colleague’s wife also threw in some Russian for residents whose Hebrew was not very fluent. Two days later (yes, we have school on Sundays instead of Fridays), it was my turn to lead mid-day mincha services on campus, though per the tradition here, a different student delivered the d’var Torah (sermon).

        After accomplishing all of that – with a few classes and some homework sprinkled in – it was time for the holidays themselves. Rosh Hashanah was nice and most of us coordinated group dinners, brunches, etc. over the holiday. Yom Kippur, though, was amazing! For Erev Yom Kippur, the College asked us who was available to host prospective students overnight. I wound up with only one young woman sleeping at my apartment, but six people for dinner, since my friend’s apartment was too small to feed everyone staying with her. We braved the hustle and bustle of the shuk (market) together to get all of the dinner food and planned what we were preparing for the break-fast on campus as well. I was so busy in my planning that the experience of Yom Kippur itself, here in Jerusalem, really took me by surprise.

        A Jerusalem Yom Kippur is like a US Christmas on steroids. Not only are all but a handful of stores dark and shuttered, but even the traffic stops. City buses stop running at 2:00 in the afternoon. Cars are completely off the road, despite the fact that there is no law that says you can’t drive on Yom Kippur. Traffic lights and walk signals turn off. The only engines you hear are periodic police cars making a routine sweep, or, on rare occasion, a diehard motorcyclist weaving through the empty roads. I even saw a man set up a camcorder on the road in the middle of King David Street, a major thoroughfare!

        The services were beautiful – it was my first full holiday season using the new Reform machzor called Mishkan HaNefesh – but nothing compared to looking up from my book to watch the sun set over the Old City, as droves of people dressed in white marched through the gates to pray at the Wall. It reminded me again that when I read the words in our liturgy “v’al Yerushalayim” or “hamachazir shechinato l’Tzion,” I’m not referring to some far-off place. Jerusalem is here, outside my window, under my feet. I’m referring to the people sitting next to me, the land I’m living in.

        And speaking of the land… As you know, the holiday season doesn’t end with Yom Kippur. It’s harvest time! We need more feasting to make up for the fasting! We are officially on a school break for Sukkot, but that doesn’t mean we get to rest on our laurels (or our lulavs!). Yesterday, I joined an excursion to the shuk to buy my first lulav and etrog set. (Fun side note:  Israelis don’t seem to call the full set of greenery a lulav like we typically do in the US; they reserve that term just for the tall palm frond, for which lulav is actually the specific name.)

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