Winning Isn’t Everything

•May 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Los Angeles is in a winning frenzy and it isn’t even award season!  Los Angeles teams, the Kings, Ducks and the Clippers are battling in their respective sports ‘ playoffs.

Even if you are not a great basketball or hockey fan you can’t escape the determination and grit that these players show during each game.  Add to that both the Dodgers and Angels play almost daily along with Los Angeles soccer teams the Galaxy and Chivas USA.  Women’s Basketball season begins next week and we are home to the LA Sparks.  And I couldn’t mention pro sports without mentioning the LA Lakers who had perhaps their worst season ever. It’s a veritable rainbow of colors and mascots!

But even with all the competitive play and the enjoyment fans of all stripes get from cheering on their favorite players and teams it is clear that winning isn’t everything.

The Donald Sterling debacle of racist attitudes that were revealed publically proves that sports have something to say about many other issues.  Winning isn’t everything.  More than contracts and coaching changes, the state of sports and the owners and players and yes, the fans matter. Attitudes matter because they infect and affect the nature of the game.   When Sterling’s words and disregard of people of color were revealed by TMZ and the subsequent reaction teach us that the lessons of our Jewish tradition should be heeded.  We are taught that all people are created in the image of God-b’tzelem Elohim.  I guess Mr. Sterling missed that lesson in Religious School.

The deep wound of racism in our country continues to bleed.  No matter whether it comes in the form of a basketball team owner, a rancher in Nevada, or being picked up for driving while black, our country must confront the deadly divisions around race in our country.  Where can we have those conversations in safety? There are deep reservoirs of hurt, resentment and anger in our country around race and discrimination that still exists.  And we cannot sweep it under the rug.

Judaism is supposed to offer us guidance in learning to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Judaism teaches us that we cannot judge a person by the color of their skin from the story of Miriam, Moses’ sister who pointed out the dark skin color of his wife Tziporrah. Tzipporah was a very righteous woman who helped bring her sons into the covenant with Abraham even when Moses her husband neglected it.  It was Miriam who was punished for her racism. And in the Bible’s ironic voice, Miriam was turned snow white even as she pointed out Tziporra dark skin! The Torah story teaches us that a person must be judged by her deeds not by the color of her skin.  A winning attitude is about living a righteous and upright life and anyone can strive to achieve this.

So yes, as the playoffs continue, we cheer for our various teams and we hope they win. But winning isn’t everything.  Words and deeds matter and how we treat one another. We still have a long way to go before we will be truly color blind.  In the meantime, we have to engage in the conversation about race openly and honestly and our own roles in continuing to support institutional racism.  And most importantly, we ought to strive to live by our Jewish values and overcome the racism around us. Then the only colors we ought to see are our team colors!

Yom HaAtzmaut 2014: 66 Israeli Heroes

•May 6, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Complex Miracle, Israel

•April 30, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Israel’s Independence Day is a day for rejoicing. Next Tuesday Israel will mark 66 years since its rebirth on the international stage.  Yom Ha-atzmaut, Israel Independence Day is not just a secular holiday but for all Jews around the world, Israel’s rebirth day is the fulfillment of an age – old dream.  It is a miracle.

It was only 2 weeks ago as our Passover Sedarim ended that we all exclaimed, “Next Year in Jerusalem”. Dreaming of Israel and Zion has been a deep part of our rituals and prayers throughout millennium.  And today, when we as the Jewish people are blessed with seeing a vibrant Israel before our very eyes, we should give thanks for this miracle in our midst.  We will observe Yom Ha-atzmaut at services this Friday night at 6:45 pm.

Today more than ever Israel needs our support.  And supporting Israel doesn’t mean that we agree with everything that happens politically in Israel.  But it does mean that we Jews have responsibility to correct the naysayers, who want to deny Israel’s existence, or are a part of the BDS movement which urges boycotts and divestment of companies that do business in Israel.  This movement’s real aim is to destroy Israel.  Israel is a thriving democracy, different than ours, but it is a democracy.  Israel is trying to define itself. What is a Jewish Democratic State to be like? What is the role of others? How do we balance these things?

Sadly, the peace process once again has been paused.  But as Israel celebrates its 66 years of modern independence we cannot let those who would destroy Israel succeed.  Israel like the United States has policies to praise and policies we wish to change.  Society is complex. But there is much to celebrate on Yom Ha-atzmaut. Not the least of which is the miracle of Israel’s rebirth!

I want to share a poem with you written by a young man, Eitan Press who made Aliyah to Israel in 2009. It captures the complexities of the modern State of Israel and of life there. Happy Birthday Israel.

In Israel

by Eitan Press


In Israel, people with guns

are shooting at people with bombs


In Israel, everywhere is dangerous

“don’t get blown up” they say


In Israel, Moses saw the Promised Land

Jesus returned pardon for injury,

& Mohammed tramped with Gabriel


In Israel, a lot of people talk to God

In Israel, God whispers back “One”


In Israel, Arsim & Chassidim & Haredim

Walk in the park with Datim & Chilunim


“Ma Ha Matzav?”

It’s everywhere, it hasn’t ended,

& the eyes of man offer no resolution


In Israel, there is more gas

generated by falafel

than many other countries


In Israel, there is a little coffee shop

That sells used books and people come & write

While young beautiful Israeli’s sweat for Shekalim

And still smile even though they are tired.


In Israel, most people don’t fight

Just like everywhere else.


In Israel, the army is a part of puberty.


In Israel, Jews want to know “Why?”

Just as much as everyone else.


In Israel, a lot of people are waiting.


In Israel, soul eaters are dressed like soul savers

& the water in the mikvah is dirty.


In Israel, apathetic hipsters don’t care about the fact that they are in Israel


In Israel, hash is more available than weed


In Israel, the land is still a maiden who loves you

Even though she has a thousand scars

Her eye is still bright & she holds out her hand.


In Israel, my heart has found a place to put down roots.


In Israel, wrestling with angels is a national past time.


In Israel, what is forgotten is remembered.


In Israel, brothers play paddle ball

every week on the beach in Tel Aviv


In Israel, a dream greets the dawn

And is a babe, a man, and an elder all at once.


In Israel, the City of Gold’s light,

Is not made of pavement.


In Israel, Shabbos is coming

And it’s time to rest.


This poem appeared in the Huffington Post April 15, 2013

Holocaust Remembrance pushes us toward peace

•April 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

This weekend we will observe Yom Hashoa, Holocaust Memorial Day.  With every passing day more and more Holocaust survivors die. And more veterans of World War II who were eye witnesses to the camps and liberators of the camps die as well.  This is why it is absolutely imperative to gather to remember and pray for those who were murdered so ruthlessly by the hands of the Nazis be they Jew or Gentile and why it is imperative to seek understanding of the human capacity for evil.  The Holocaust isn’t God’s doing but humanity’s doing.  The Nazi’s filled with a sense of their own super-human power created an environment where cruelty and sadistic behavior reigned unchecked. The fear and terror of their empire and its tentacles of evil kept many good people silenced.  God calls us to confront such evil and to fight it.  And if we cower away in fear we allow that kind of evil to thrive.  

Yom HaShoa reminds us that we can never be silent.  Not here and not anywhere. That is why speaking truth to power is critical. That is why our Congregation walks in the Walk to End Genocide with Jewish World Watch.  

As we see the rise of terrorism and violence rise worldwide, as we see the attacks on Jews, on Gay people (particularly in Africa, as the clash of East and West comes to play out in the Middle East, and Russia threatens Ukraine just as it did parts of Georgia, we must speak up lest more pain and suffering are brought into the world.  

So light a memorial candle on Sunday to commemorate not only the six million Jews and 7 million others who perished at the hands of the Nazis, but bring attention to the many place on our planet where evil is evident.  And then lets do the work of bringing peace.  

Easter/Ishtar and the violence of the Season

•April 23, 2014 • Leave a Comment

 This was my sermon from last Friday night  April 18, 2014 

Today Christians around the world marked Good Friday.  This is the day when Jesus died at the hands of the Roman Empire on the cross that would then become the symbol of Christianity.  On Sunday Christians will gather for Easter morning services to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and his elevation to the status of God. 

Easter however was a holiday that proceeded Jesus time.  It was a spring holiday dedicated to the ancient near eastern Goddess Ishtar.  (The same Goddess for who the good Queen Esther is named for).  Ishtar or Astarte was worshipped throughout the ancient near east. She was a goddess of sexuality and fertility and war. 

Like all good religions, once the Roman Empire became the Holy Roman Empire and Christianity became the official religion, the early church adapted local customs so they would be observed by the people.  In Greek the holy day of Jesus Resurrection is Pascha from the Hebrew for Passover.  And so the adaptations continue into our time.  There is more confluence of the mythic stories in various religions that often we would like to admit.  The offerings for Ishtar were golden painted eggs that were buried. Of course on Easter, an egg hunt is always fun and of course we Jews have an egg on our Seder plate and a hunt for the hidden afikomen! Yes, we all take a little from here and a little from there.

But the convergence of Passover week and Christianity’s Holy Week share more than myth or eggs or children’s games of hide and seek.  There is a dark underside to this week that has shown itself yet again. That dark underside is Anti-Semitism and violence against Jews

For centuries Easter Week was a dangerous and violent week for Jewish communities throughout Europe.  Pogroms were common against Jews during this week.  More than one shtetl burned as the locals accused the Jews of killing Jesus, words that word preached in their Church services.  T

Since 1634 in the city of Oberammergau in Bavaria Germany, the Passion Play has been continuously performed.  The text of the play is based on manuscripts from the 15th and 16th centuries and blames the Jews for Jesus death.  The Christian Science Monitor, in its article, Capturing the Passion, explains that “historically, productions have reflected negative images of Jews and the long-time church teaching that the Jewish people were collectively responsible for Jesus’ death. Violence against Jews as ‘Christ-killers’ often flared in their wake.”[38] Christianity Today in Why some Jews fear The Passion (of the Christ) observed that “Outbreaks of Christian antisemitism related to the Passion narrative have been…numerous and destructive.”[39]

This led to a change in many people’s Passover seder.  There are two specific parts of the Seder , one where we open the door for Elijah.  Many families in earlier generations were leery of attacks by Christians as many blood libels swirled in Medieval Times.  The blood libel was that Jews used Christian baby blood to make the matzah.  Opening the door was to check not for Elijah but to make sure that things were okay and calm. 

And the following prayer was traditionally recited from Psalm 79 “Pour out Thy wrath upon the nations that know Thee not, and upon kingdoms that did not call upon Thy name. For they have consumed Jacob, and laid waste his habitation. Pour out Thy rage upon them, and let Thy fury overtake them. Pursue them in anger and destroy them, from under the heavens of the LORD.”  Sometime before the 1200s the tradition was added, with both fear and anger borne of the Crusades and other assaults carried out against Jews by our neighbors. This anti-Christian prayer, was grown from the many violent and murderous attacks against the Jews during Passover and Easter. 

This week we have experienced a bit of that violence as the week began with our attention turned toward Overland Park Kansas, when an Anti-Semitic gunman murdered three people, 2 at the Jewish Community Center and 1 at the Jewish Senior home called, Village Shalom.  No denying it is a hate crime the suspect, yelled “Heil Hitler” when he was arrested and has a long history of associations with the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party.  He was Jew Hunting during Passover Week and Holy Week on Palm Sunday.   Ironically, he didn’t shoot a single Jew.  The people he killed a grandfather, William Corporan and  his 14 year old grandson Reat Underwood at the JCC were Methodists and the woman in her 50’s, Terri LaManno was visiting her mother at the Village Shalom was a Catholic.  In America even Catholics put their mom in the Jewish Home and Methodists uses the Jewish Community Center facilities! This speaks to how much has changed on the one hand from Medieval Europe and on the other hand how much hatred and ignorance there still is in the world. 

And of course the situation in the Ukraine and in particular in Crimea was not just some prank as a few news outlets have called it. A leaflet distributed to Jews coming out of the synagogues in Donestk by three masked  men in uniforms waving a Russian flag, called upon Jewish citizens of Ukraine to appear at the town hall, to register, pay a $50 fee and detail their property.  Both the local Russian backed Ukrainian officials denied that it was an official order and the Ukrainian government also denied it.  But it is clear that this is exactly the kind of behavior that would happen all the time in the Ukraine during Holy Week and Passover.  They would use the Jews and Anti-Semitism to incite others to riot.  These are the same tactics the Nazis used, the same tactics the Cossacks used, the same tactics that were used by the Crusaders. The National Conference that Supports Jews in the FSU,  said in a press release   “NCSJ has contacted the Donetsk Jewish community leaders, who called the flyers a provocation. They said that all authorities have denied any connection to the flyers, and that Governor Dennis Pushilin has denied authorship,” the NCSJ says. “Several members of the community went to the Nationalities Commissioner, who repudiated the flyer, and said that the leaflets were distributed to cause unrest among the Jewish population.”  Natan Schransky head of the Jewish Agency in Jerusalem, who is no stranger to Russian Anti-Semitism said “midst current political tensions, different forces are trying to take advantage of playing the “Jewish card” in these circumstances, and this is just another disturbing example of such incitement.”

The group adds that similar leaflets have been distributed targeting international students at the local university. But the specter of Anti-semitism has been used by both sides of the conflict for months.  New reports from Khazakstan shows Anti-Semitism on the rise as well as in Hungary and well-documented cases in France.

This week we opened our doors easily to Elijah, most of us weren’t worried about a gunman or a Cossack on the other side. But for our fellow Jews in many places this is not the case. We can’t let ourselves be lulled into thinking that everywhere is like Los Angeles.  And in the comfort of our own community where we easily wish our Christian neighbors Happy Easter without fear of reprisal, we must help out our fellow Jews who are living on this perilous edge. We should each take time this Pesach to give to the World Union of Progressive Judaism. Which supports our congregations in Ukraine and around the world The WUPJ has initiated an emergency campaign to support our communities throughout this crisis, and to provide urgently needed protection measures, supplies, equipment as well as assistance with the installation of security systems.

At this time, the most urgent short term needs are the physical state of the building in Simferopol, and tightening the security measures..  Please do what you can so our family in Ukraine can return to the task facing an entire generation – rebuilding Jewish life, which was lost over the last century.  Please consider supporting the World Union of Progressive Judaism  at

That would indeed make this a very Good Friday.


Hoppy Passover!

•April 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment


To Eat or Not to Eat: Kitnyot that is!

•April 9, 2014 • 2 Comments

Every year at Passover the great debate rages: to eat kitniyot or not.  Kitniyot are a classification of food that Jews of Ashkenazi descent (European) do not eat and Sephardic  Jews (Mediterranean) do eat them.  For example, Ashkenazi Jews would not eat rice on Passover and yet, Jews from Morroco, Spain, or Turkey would absolutely eat rice on Passover.  Some Jews won’t eat corn or corn products like corn syrup (which is ubiquitously in almost everything processed here in the U.S.). Corn of course can be turned into corn meal.

Kitniyot is a classification of foods that includes grains and legumes such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds. Some forbid not only the grains and legumes but also any products derived from them  such as peanut oil or sesame oil!  The prohibition in the Torah for Passover forbids the eating of Chametz which comes from 5 different grains only: wheat, spelt, barley, shibbolet shu’al (two-rowed barley, according to Maimonides; oats according to Rashi) or rye.

A custom grew in the South of France in the 13th century to include a larger and larger group of grains as kitniyot.  Because people might get confused about what was permissible and what was not! Prohibiting kitniyot was a way to make sure that no one violated the rule of possessing chametz. The Shulchan Aruch, in Orach Chaim 453, defines kitniyot as those grains that can be cooked and baked in a fashion similar to chsmetz grains, yet are not halachically considered in the same category as chametz.

The Conservative Movement of Judaism several years ago felt that so many people were worrying about whether or not a product had kitniyot in it or something derivative of kitniyot that they did away with the category permitting kitniyot because people were losing sight of the holiday by being enslaved with the food prohibitions.  The point of Passover is to celebrate freedom!

I know when I lived in Israel for a year, Passover in 198,3 I attended a seder of distant relatives.  All were vegetarian and had been born in Israel.  Needless to say I was shocked to have been served rice because growing up I know we were not allowed to eat it.  I learned from that experience about kitniyot and the differences between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewish traditions.

So as Passover approaches you too will have to answer the big debate—kitniyot? Yes or No on Passover?

In either case, I wish you and yours a joyful, sweet and kosher Passover!


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