New Beginnings

This week, we begin a new book of Torah, Devarim, (Deuteromony) in our cycle of Torah readings. When we leave one book to begin another, our tradition creates a ritual of transition. “Chazak, chazak, v’nitchazeik” is said at the end of one book – “Be strong, be strong, and thus we will be strengthened,” and there is even a big white space in the Torah as we proceed to the next. That space reminds us to pause and take a breath before we start something new. For me, the transition is very concrete. I must pull out new volumes of books for Torah study, as the ones I use have separate volumes for each book of Torah. This physical act is a good reminder that I’m starting something new.

We are blessed to start over multiple times throughout the year, and for those “beginnings” to be foundational to our yearly cycle. The Baal Shem Tov says that “… the world is new to us every morning – this is the Holy One’s gift and every person should believe they are reborn each day.” Can you imagine how differently we would approach time if we saw each day as something entirely new from the day before, as if we were entirely new than the day before?

I think it is healthy and helpful to pay attention to the beginnings that already exist and even more so, actively create opportunities to start new things. We’ve had too many endings lately, and personally, I need some fresh perspective. We can easily notice and appreciate the beginnings around us: the start of every season brings not only new weather, but also new scenery. Every time there’s a vegetable growing in Jonathan’s garden, I get excited. And we can make beginnings happen: plan a new vacation; start a new new class or lecture series; binge a new tv show or listen to a new podcast – all of these and more can lift us with inspiration and sparks of energy.

In a time when many of us have lower levels of energy, I invite you to either look for newness in your life, the “beginnings” that already exist. Or, even better, choose to start something new. Not something that feels like it’s going to take work and deplete your energy, but something that will do the opposite: bring joy and increase energy.

Just like when we open the pages of a new book of Torah or turn the Torah scroll to that space between the books, we pause to catch our breath with anticipation. What awaits us? Something unknown calls to us, and whatever it is, we know it will be a new experience. A fresh start, a beginning, a “new-ness” is worthy of gratitude.

TES Summer Institute 2022

I imagine I should probably make appropriate rabbinic comments about yet another mass shooting in Highland Park on July 4th, just one of over a dozen that took place this weekend, but I just can’t. I am angry and afraid and disheartened, and I have no more words.

Instead, I want to write about the goodness and beauty that exists in our world, created and nurtured by compassionate human beings. Some work to provide for others the necessities of life – food, clothing, shelter, and healthcare. Others focus their energy on improving the quality and availability of education, arts and culture. As Jews and as human beings, we are commanded to repair what is broken, and to contribute to these efforts of caring for each other.

In our prayerbook, Mishkan T’filah, there is an English passage that stopped my breath for a moment. You know that feeling when you are so struck with awe and clarity that an internal flame sparks?

We pray for love to encompass us for no other reason save that we are human…”

This one line and the theology it represents is the prooftext, so-to-speak, of why each one of us deserves love, joy, and dignity as well as the more concrete rights mentioned above and many more. Our humanity, made in the image of God, is holy, and we deserve no less than to be seen and known, face-to-face, as Moses saw God – holy.

Worcester is blessed to have so many organizations filled with staff and volunteers dedicated to this mission. For this year’s TES Summer Institute, the Lifelong Learning Committee chose to highlight some of the more unique organizations so you can learn about our community’s needs and how our neighbors are making a difference. Some of these organizations may be new to you, and all of them are connected to our congregation or particular congregants. In this way, they are part of our family.

During July and August, we encourage you to not only attend our Shabbat Services to learn from staff and volunteers of these organizations, but also to welcome those who are visiting Temple Emanuel Sinai – some for the first time. Let us be gracious hosts, fulfilling the mitzvah of hachnasat orchim, as they share with us how they perform acts of lovingkindness – gemilut chasadim – every day.

I look forward to celebrating Shabbat with you throughout the summer, both in person and online.

Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization

Last week, I served as faculty at Crane Lake Camp during staff orientation. Although camp is a “bubble”, separate from the real world, important news still seeps in. On Friday, we all heard about the Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe v. Wade’s 50-year precedent of protecting reproductive rights.

We immediately held an optional discussion session – which was attended by some international staff along with our American staff, but it wasn’t enough. We needed prayer and healing. I was asked to share some comments before Mi Shebeirach, and this is some of what I said:

Many of us are feeling a little broken now as we process the decision made by the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade. Personally, I am angry and sad and scared. What does this mean for our country? Most importantly, what does this mean for the generations who will follow me?

In our morning blessings, we have prayers for our bodies and our souls. The prayer for our body thanks God for the miraculous gift that has been placed in our care. Dan Nichols, a Jewish singer/songwriter familiar to many of us, wrote a beautiful interpretation of that prayer, including these lyrics:

“I thank You for for my life, body and soul
Help me realize I am beautiful and whole
I’m perfect the way I am and a little broken too
I will live each day as a gift I give to you.”

Our bodies are beautiful and whole and perfect and broken.

The world is beautiful and whole and perfect and broken.

Our bodies, gifted from God, belong to us for as long as we’re alive. Friday morning, we were told that other people have permission to control what happens to our bodies – people who don’t know us, people who can’t begin to understand our experiences. Strangers are making decisions about an individual’s reproductive rights even if it is counter to that person’s religious beliefs and values.

The choice should belong only to us.

The last line of the lyrics above tell us to live each day as a gift to God. Our gift to God, to each other, and to our country is to live each day with Jewish values guiding our actions.

The chatimah (the signature/one-line summary) of the prayer for our bodies is Baruch atah Adonai rofei chol basar umafli laasot, loosely translated as: Thank you God; you can heal our bodies and make miracles happen.

As partners with God, we begin with healing; soon we will move toward action and the making of miracles to repair our broken world.


To listen to Dan Nichols’ song, I Am Perfect and I Am Broken, click here

Statement from the Union for Reform Judaism

Statement from the Central Conference of American Rabbis





Earth’s Embroidery

Earth’s Embroidery by Solomon ibn Gabriol (11th century poet, Spain)

With the ink of its showers and rains,
with the quill of its lightning, with the
hand of its clouds, winter wrote a letter
upon the garden, in purple and blue.
no artist could ever conceive the like of
that. And this is why the earth, grown
jealous of the sky, embroidered stars in
the folds of the flowerbeds.

The official first day of spring was almost two months ago, but today really feels like spring is here. Instead of one or two random days of warmth, we have many days of higher temperatures to look forward to, with both sunshine and rain as their companions.

Our Jewish texts have long acknowledged both the importance and beauty of nature. The miracle of life, of God’s creations, is a source of connection to the Divine. In a moment of exceptional natural beauty, we are struck with awe and motivated to express words – or be present in the powerful silence of gratitude.

I have recently rediscovered our medieval poets, like Solomon ibn Gabriol and Yehudah ben Levy, among others. I had forgotten how well they paint pictures with words, transforming our feelings into a concrete form that brings them forward. As winter turns to spring outside my window, I can imagine the contest of colors happening between the sky and the earth, and the earth saying, “it’s my turn now.”

I look forward to searching for the stars among the flowers.

Baruch atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haolam, oseh ma’aseh v’reishit.

Praise to You, Eternal our God, Sovereign of the universe, Source of creation and its wonders.

Supreme Court Leak, Reproductive Rights, and Jewish Values

I was not surprised to hear about the brief that was leaked from the Supreme Court on Monday, but that doesn’t mean I was any less devastated. Okay, maybe I wasn’t surprised that these five Supreme Court Justices were willing to overturn Roe vs. Wade, but I am still in disbelief about what was written in the opinion and the long-term ramifications for women’s health and so much more.

But I  am not a lawyer; I am a rabbi, a dedicated Jew, a woman and a mother of a young woman, so I can only speak to the subject of reproductive freedom from my perspective with Jewish values as my guiding principles.

Access to abortion is a Jewish value and essential health care. From the Torah to the Talmud to Maimonides, there is profound support within Jewish sacred texts and scholarly teachings for the right to abortions and for prioritizing the life and wellbeing of the living woman over the rights of a fetus.

The Jewish community overwhelmingly agrees with the need to protect abortion access. Polls show that 80-90 percent of Jewish Americans believe that abortion should be legal in most or all cases.

For a Jewish perspective on abortion, you can read this excerpt on from The Social Justice Jewish Commentary by Rabbis Joshua R. S. Filler and Emily Langowitz;

The Reform Movement, including Reform rabbis, support and defend a person’s right to control their own reproductive health decisions. We believe that all people should be equipped with the information they need to make the choices that are right for them, in consultation with their loved ones and health care providers. The Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) and the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) have affirmed these rights on record going back to 1967 through multiple resolutions and Reform Responsa (answers to questions about Jewish law).

We have a lot of work to do, and I’m not even sure where to start. I just knew I had to start somewhere so I started here. We hope to provide more Jewish resources and ways to be involved in the future. As someone said to me just this morning, as Jews we have a responsibility to be a “light unto the nations,” to be role models for improving society and lives of individuals, to repair the world.

Kein Yehi Ratzon – May it be God’s Will and our own.

Central Conference of American Rabbis Statement on Draft Supreme Court Opinion Overturning Roe V. Wade, May 3, 2022

Haggadah through the Ages

I love teaching. One of the things I love most about teaching is that I always learn something new, both from my preparation and from the participants in the class.

This is exceptionally true for my most recent class, The Story of the Story: History, Art, and Culture of the Haggadah. We have discovered so many interesting tidbits as we take a journey alongside the development of this “book” – a text that continues to change.

In 2011, Edward Rothstein wrote in a New York Times article that over 5,000 editions of the Haggadah had been published since the invention of the printing press. Considering that 5,000 doesn’t include the many illuminated manuscripts created in the Middle Ages nor does it include the vast number of editions that have been published in the past 10+ years, I can’t even imagine what the real number is. And with the explosion of online and DIY Haggadot… the number is incalculable.

Why so many editions? The liturgy in the Haggadah is not exactly mandated or required. The main goal is to tell the story, to relive the Exodus, to celebrate our freedom and commit to working toward the freedom of all people.

The “traditional” text of the Haggadah wasn’t fully in place until the late Middle Ages. Although some basics were outlined in the Talmud, there was no book or instructions. In the early Rabbinic period, they held a study session instead of telling the story of the Exodus, and they were forbidden for taking part in the Afikomen. What? No searching for the Afikomen? In those times, as the Passover Seder was modeled after Greco-Roman banquets, “afikomen” or “dessert” referred to the post-dinner revelry that we should most definitely not participate in. Parents were encouraged to create a game of matzah snatching to keep the children engaged; perhaps that was the precursor to the Afikomen search.

Some tidbits we have discovered is that the order of the Passover Seder wasn’t written down until the 12th century; that Maimonides wrote the passage Ha Lachma Anya – the “bread of affliction; and the Seder Plate itself didn’t make an appearance until the 16th century.

The most interesting to me – so far – was a question asked and later answered (through some research) by a class participant about a fox seen in an illuminated manuscript. It turns out that many illuminated manuscripts include the motif of a rabbit or a hare being chased by dogs or hunters or even a fox. In every image, the hare escapes. Why is this non-kosher animal in our Haggadah? It could be that the hare was a common image for the time. But in the context of the Haggadah, the hare symbolizes the Jewish people being persecuted and surviving time and time again. From one odd image almost hidden in Haggadah illustrations, we find the main theme of Passover symbolically represented: freedom.

There’s so much to learn, so many creative ways to explore our past, our present and our future in this holiest of days.

Chag Sameach – Happy Passover (almost)

Shabbat Shira, 1-13-22

We celebrate the power of song this week with our Torah portion Beshallach, which includes the Song of the Sea – the song that Moses and the Israelites sang after they crossed the sea onto dry land escaping the Egyptians. Every year, the Shabbat of Beshallach is called “Shabbat Shira” – the Sabbath of Singing.

Music, and the actual act of singing, often comes forth from emotion. Music, like most art forms, can be an outlet for any emotion. As I imagine the Israelites leaving Egypt, the swirl of emotions seems almost palpable. I say swirl because there wasn’t just one emotion. We may think that the Israelites were celebrating their newfound freedom with joy, and perhaps many were. But swirling around with joy must have been fear and grief, relief and anger, excitement and anxiety. How beautiful that they could express their feelings in song. And what kind of song? Not a discordant cacophony as we might expect such conflicting emotions to produce, but rather a complex harmony. The words don’t really matter in this moment; it is the emotion that speaks out loud.

Music is powerful. The experience of singing is differently powerful. We sing and stretch muscles; we sing and feel the vibrations created by our own voice; we sing and move our breath, sometimes to the point of breathlessness.

One melody can inspire a different emotion in each listener and in each person who sings the tune. On this Shabbat Shira, I invite you to pay close attention to how you respond to the music of Tefilah: what emotion does it evoke in you as you listen or sing along? Does it reflect what you were feeling as Shabbat began, or did the music move you to a different place? What music did you want, what music did you need, and what music did you receive?

My hope is that the music of Shabbat Shira brings us healing and release; joy and comfort; an opportunity to express grief and anxiety; and most of all, an encounter with the Divine.

First Anniversary of January 6th, 2021

I imagine we can all name a few decisive moments in our lives around national crisis or trauma which we will never forget. We can picture exactly where we were when we heard the news, what we were doing, and what we were thinking or feeling.

We could list some that many of us have seen in our lifetimes: the assassination of President Kennedy; the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger; 9-11; And now, January 6. These last two don’t even need descriptions – just dates.

Today, this first anniversary of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, feels both like it was years ago and just yesterday. Last night, I listened to a Capitol police officer speaking about his experience, and he said that January 6 hasn’t ended for him and many of his colleagues. The issues the instigated the insurrection persist, and they don’t see much change. His words as well as his voice, posture, and facial expression communicated his ongoing trauma.

We have a lot of work to do. On ourselves, as we continue to claw our way out of this pandemic, only to be shoved back down again; with our communities, struggling to find a way to live together even as we are separated by opinions, demographics, and masks; and for our nation, as we fight for the freedom and democracy that our country was founded on, and which is so precious to us as Jews.

Our current situation cries out for Hillel’s famous words: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”

In commemoration of the events of January 6, 2021, on this first anniversary, I share these words written by Dr. Andrea Weiss as we gaze – always with hope – into the future.

“Every inch of America is sacred, from sea to shining sea. There is much to be done in our time, the sort of hard work on which God smiles because it is done for the sake of the dignity and well-being of all God’s creatures. Together, let us work to preserve and make manifest the values upon which our democracy was founded. The task of all people of faith is to call governing authorities to fulfill God’s purpose of bringing about justice, mercy, and peace. Individually and as a nation, may we heed our obligations to each other as we navigate the tensions of building a just society. Rather than a politics of divisiveness, may we move our country toward a politics of empathy. May we use our power well so we do great things for all God’s creatures, all those made in God’s image who yearn for an equal place at America’s table. If we do all this, may grace and peace be ours in abundance. May we be a beacon and a blessing to the world.”




Sheldon Low Music 12-9-21

There is something to be said about Chanukah falling in the darkest time of the year: when we need extra light, physically and spiritually, the lights of Chanukah bring it to us.

But what about the week after? During this time of year, we need a little extra something to brighten up our days. For each of us, that can look different: spending time with friends and family, participating in a hobby or activity, sitting by a special lamp – like the ones which imitate sunlight, waking up extra early to experience the morning light, taking a vacation, walking outside … and much more. For me, listening to music and singing often bring light and energy when I need them most.

“There are palaces that open only to music.” (Hillel Zeitlin)

Music has the ability to unlock places (palaces?) inside that we never knew needed opening, to bring recovery in times of difficulty, to enhance a joyous moment, to make us think or even the opposite – to help us stop thinking so much! Music is powerful in our everyday lives and even more in our spiritual lives.

Temple Emanuel Sinai has been blessed to be on a musical journey this year, to be exposed to so many different types of music and musical leaders. This Shabbat, we will experience the musical leadership and teachings of Sheldon Low.

Sheldon is a not only a Jewish musician, performer, and social entrepreneur, he is also a highly regarded Jewish educator and innovator. With his music and leadership skills, he has raised money to feed the hungry, mentored young people, taught other musicians how to integrate music and technology, and so much more. Sheldon is also the creator and host of “Jewish Songwriter”, a podcast devoted to the people and stories behind contemporary Jewish music.

I’m looking forward to a Shabbat filled with music and meaning, and especially interested in seeing the “palaces” that will be unlocked by our Shabbat musical experience.

Thanksgiving Message from Rabbi

In Judaism, thanksgiving is not relegated to one day of the year. We are taught to cultivate a daily gratitude practice, and express that gratitude as our first act of the day. The ancient rabbis tell us, “Let your first words be an expression of gratitude and job.” When we wake up – even before our first cup of coffee! – we are supposed to recite the prayer Modeh/Modah Ani. With these words, we thank God for the gift of life. From this we learn that Judaism considers the expression of gratitude as essential and powerful.

In anticipation of November, I signed up for a daily Gratitude Art Journaling Class. Online, of course, and pre-recorded. Which is a good thing since I only have time to view one video per week instead of per day.

The class combines gratitude prompts with new art journaling techniques. Early on, I found the gratitude prompts to be not only meaningful, but also thoughtful and deep, and even more rewarding than the art projects . One prompt in particular was especially uplifting. I still smile when I think about it.

The prompt began with a couple of questions: Whose wise advice do you still follow?  What lesson did you learn from a friend, parent, mentor that proved to be quite valuable? Once we identified the lesson or advice, we were instructed to do two things: first, create a page in a our journal based on the quote or lesson or advice that we still follow; second – and most important – contact the person who taught us the lesson and thank them for their wisdom.

Although I haven’t finished the artistic expression around the advice I still follow (I’m taking my time and enjoying the journey), the second was much easier. I emailed my mentor, told him about the class, and shared with him my immense gratitude for all that he had taught me. I probably would not have thought to contact him to thank him in this general and yet very important way. I had thanked him many times in the moments when he helped me. To go back in reflection and offer my thanks to him had a significant and long-lasting impact on both of us.

And, once I finish the page in my journal, I will always be able to look back at that page and remember: remember the good advice, my relationship with my mentor, and the effect of a few simple words.

I invite you to ask yourselves the same question, reflect on which lesson or advice you still follow, and thank the person who shared their wisdom with you.

Happy Thanksgiving: may we all find happiness in giving thanks, tomorrow and every day.