A Remembrance of Steven Satloff

•September 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The news seems grim. With deep sadness another journalist is murdered
by ISIS. This time we mourn Steven Satloff who was beheaded in a
horrific video like his fellow prisoner and journalist James Foley.
Steven Satloff grew up in Miami, Florida at Temple Beth Am. He was a
Reform Jew. He went to Jewish Day school. His mother who many of you may have seen pleaded for his
life in a video she made last week and was broadcast on Al-Arabiyah
television.  She taught religious school at Temple Beth Am for many
years. He had both Israeli and American citizenship. He went to University in Israel.

He wrote for the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for Time magazine and Foreign Policy
He was an observant Reform Jew who fasted for Yom Kippur even while
held in captivity by ISIS although often fed just one meal a day. He
pretended to be sick refusing his only sustenance which on that day
was eggs. But his spiritual sustenance also sustained him through the
terror of his captivity. As we say kaddish for Steven this week let us
be inspired his courage, his faith, his commitment to tell the stories as he saw
them. May his family find comfort among all who mourn in Zion and
Jerusalem. And may his memory live for a blessing

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More about Elul and Repentance

•August 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The new month of Elul began on Monday night of this week. Elul is the last month of 5774 and with its arrival we start to turn our hearts and minds and souls toward the High Holy Days.  In some synagogues the shofar is sounded each morning during daily worship. In other communities, special meditations, psalms, and prayers are read daily.  Each is a call to repent from transgressions and sins in preparation for the New Year and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

As Elul unfolds around us this is a good time for each of us to begin the process of cheshbon hanefesh, taking an accounting of our soul.  It is time for each of us to ask the big questions.  What relationships need repair? What can I do better in the year to come? How will I achieve and follow through with my goals? How can I be a better Jew?  A better person?  What must I change? How will I change?

Our Torah portion this week, Shoftim, tells us “You must be wholehearted before God” (Deuteronomy 18:13).  This means we must be sincere in our relationship with the Divine, with the Holy.  We must not be distracted by or serve other  gods and goddesses or worship power.   Even if we have doubts and questions, we Jews are to be in relationship with that Source of All.  During the month of Elul as we take an accounting of our acts, deeds, words, transgression, sins and accomplishments we do so in order to stand at the New Year with a whole heart before our community and yes, our God.

This is exactly what happened to Moses our teacher.  On the first of Elul after the Exodus, Moses is said to have climbed Mt. Sinai again.  This is after he broke the first set of the Ten Commandments in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.  During these next 40 days Moses communed with God. Moses wrote the second set of Tablets (The first had been written by God).  And during this time Moses reconciled God and the Jewish people.  Moses according to tradition was able to seek God  and come to know God  when God’s back passed before him.  He learned the power of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation and sought that for the people of Israel. That is why this month of Elul is such a powerful time for forgiveness from our transgressions and sins.  God’s attributes of love and compassion are turned toward us as they were turned toward our ancestors. 

So take advantage of this month of Elul to prepare to stand “wholehearted before God” and prepare your soul for the important holy days ahead.  And in 40 days from the first of Elul-on Yom Kippur Day we will arise together at the close of Neilah, healed, renewed, and forgiven from our errors. But the time to begin the process is now.


Honoring Rabbi Regina Jonas and Judaism’s Pioneering Women Rabbis | Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

•August 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

More on my summer trip to Berlin and Prague from the perspective of a fellow traveler.  Andrew Berger is the chair of the Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an important leader in the North American Jewish community


Honoring Rabbi Regina Jonas and Judaism’s Pioneering Women Rabbis | Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

A new month begins

•August 25, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Tonight at sundown begins Rosh Chodesh Elul.  This is the last month of 5774. Traditionally, the beginning of this month signals our turn toward the High Holy Days and the process of Repentance.  During this month we are to take an accounting-of our sins and transgressions during the last year.  How honest were we?  Did we cheat on our taxes or our business partners?  Did we overindulge in the amounts of food we eat or alcohol we drink? Do we have a problem with prescription or otherwise? Were we harsh to someone who didn’t deserve it? Did we engage in risky sexual behaviors? Did we treat our employees unfairly? Did we “forget” to give to charity?  Were we gossips? Did we lash out at someone? Did we use foul language?  Did we plot or execute revenge against someone?  Did we distance ourselves from God?

Jewish tradition teaches us that we all cross the line at some time. No one is perfect. But this season of Repentance and the High Holy Days come each year to help us re-set our spiritual selves.  The wisdom of our tradition is that we all have a chance to reflect, to change, and to grow.  I think this is one of things I appreciate most about Judaism.  It recognizes the human impulse to change and helps us capture the change for the better!

So my friends. Give thanks for the new month of Elul and for the chance to renew yourself, to heal from the past, to make amends with human beings and yes, with God who is waiting to embrace the new you!  

The month of Elul, the rabbis teach is an abbreviation for the Hebrew phrase, Ani l’dodi v’dodi li, I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.  (Aleph, Lamed, Vav, Lamed – Elul). This is a phrase of the Song of Songs in the Jewish Bible, Tanach.  It is indicative of the love, according to the Sages, between God and individual person.  Sin takes us away from God-it puts distance between God and the individual. Elul comes with the promise of renewing our relationship with the Eternal.  That is why this is a month of healing, love and promise.

Chodesh Tov-May it be a good month




Lights in the Forest

•August 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Friends, I am so excited to announce the publication next week of the new book “Lights in the Forest” by CCARPress. Edited by Rabbi Paul Citrin, I have contributed to this important anthology which has several essays about theological and philosophical questions.  This time of year as we prepare for the Jewish High Holy Days we begin to ponder questions of life’s meaning and our role in the world.  This timely book offers much food for thought as we reflect on the world, humanity, good and evil, God, healing our world-Tikkun Olam, sin and repentance and renewal.  I hope you will consider ordering it.  

Here is a link to an interview the editor to whet your appetite!    

•August 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

@USATODAY shame on ur headline writer. Hamas/Terrorists launched attack against Israel and broke the ceasefire. Not Israel. #IsraelUnderFire

Thoughts for the police in Ferguson

•August 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Below is my sermon from this past Friday night.  The police and government of the city of Ferguson, Mo. could learn a lot about policing from the changes that happened in Los Angeles. 

Shabbat Shalom!

It was 45 years ago today that the most iconic music festival began. In the summer of 1969 in upstate NY Woodstock would begin.  32 bands- billed as” An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”.” 80,000 people were expected; 400,000 showed up to Max Yasgur’s farm in the Catskills.  400,000 people mostly peaceful, sliding in the mud, walking barefoot, tripping on acid, became part of one of the most iconic moment of the 1960’s and as Rolling Stone magazine said, one of the 50 most important moments that changed Rock n’ Roll.

Those seemed like more care-free days.  When we could gather, and listen to music for hours on end.

But in truth that counterculture experience was just that –counter-the –culture of a violent war in Vietnam and a Cold War that cast a dark shadow over most of the world.  Not really much different in 45 years.  During our time too-a dangerous virus of terrorism wracks the Middle East from Gaza to Syria to Iraq in the guise of ISIS and and Hamas.  Relations are colder than ever between the US and Russia.

And in our own country we watch helplessly as St. Louis, Mo erupts night after night in violent protest of a seemingly excessive use of force against a young black man.  Race relations in this country haven’t moved very far from the late 60’s until now in many places in our country.

Tonight on this Shabbat it is good to take a look at our assumptions about race and color.  We all need to be reminded that color of our skin must not be the filter of the way we treat others.  Inside we are all the same color. 

It was 50 years ago this summer that Freedom Riders came south to help register black voters.  And 50 years ago this year that a group of rabbis   were arrested in St. Augustine Florida, protesting on behalf of black Americans.  One of those Rabbi Richard Levy, one of my teachers will be speaking at Kol Ami later this fall about that experience and his role in the civil rights movement.

But now as we Jews are in the sacred time of looking toward the New Year, these are the weeks we begin the process of examining our lives, our strengths and our weaknesses.  We try to learn from the past to build a new future in a new year.  This same process is good not only for people but for institutions

It’s not surprising to me that as Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head that racism is infecting our country.  For they go hand in hand.  Anyone who is perceived as other—Jews, Blacks, Latinos, immigrants by the society at large is often subject to discrimination.   The problem here is that it is institutionalized. And so you have an entire police force in Ferguson, Mo. That clearly is ill equipped spiritually and emotionally to understand the symbolism of a mostly all white police force policing a majority African American community.  We here in Los Angeles learned this too the hard way.

The riots and revolt in 1991 as part of the Rodney King case, changed the way the LAPD did policing.  First the finding of the Christopher Commission urged serious changes in policing. This was followed by another report 5 years later that reviewed some of the changes including a new police chief at the time and noted a reduction in crime and use of excessive force. Yet it acknowledged that there were still within the LAPD problems around race and gender.  The Rampart Corruption Case put the LAPD over the edge. 

And finally, “after a series of lengthy negotiations, the City of Los Angeles and the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to enter into a consent decree on November 3, 2000, which allowed for federal oversight of the L.A.P.D. reform process for a period of five years. In exchange, the Justice Department, which had been investigating the L.A.P.D. since 1996 for excessive force violations, agreed not to pursue a threatened lawsuit against the city.”  (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/lapd/later/decree.html)

The Rampart case is often referred to as the worst police scandal in modern U.S. history. It involved the investigation of 70 to 100 LAPD officers following reports of widespread corruption within an anti-gang unit in the department in the late 1990s.

“Terms of the Decree were negotiated between the city and the DOJ, and included emphasis on management and supervisory measures to promote civil rights integrity, integrity audits, community outreach and other training.

In July 2009, U.S. District Judge Gary Feess granted the joint request of the United States and the City of Los Angeles to terminate the Decree.” (http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/05/16/civil-rights-consent-decree-over-lapd-lifted-after-almost-12-years/)   This changed the culture of the LAPD and the way in which policing is done here in Los Angeles.

Now the Sheriff’s Department is under similar investigation. 

And certainly it seems the Ferguson, Mo. Police department should be under similar investigation.

It is time to learn from the past.  And time for not only the people of St. Louis, Missouri to demand an examination of the way the police do business in their neighborhoods but it is all of our responsibilities to hold our police accountable. 

Not all police are problem. Not all deputies are racists.  Not all cops are on an ego trip.  To the contrary our Sheriff’s department here in West Hollywood trains the deputies that serve here in all kinds of sensitivity training and diversity training. 

But citizen oversight of police goes hand in hand with demanding police be trained to de-escalate situations, not through use of force but through other means and tactics. 

Perhaps Mike Brown would still be alive if the Ferguson, Mo police force had been trained that way.

I wish sometimes we could return to the carefree-music filled summer of Woodstock; when we didn’t have to worry so much about race riots, anti-semitism and war in Israel and the Middle- East.  I wish the summer could be care-free and easy. But at least for now, let us take a few deep breaths, and drink in the Shabbat that comes to whisk away to eternal time and space.  Shabbat Shalom


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