As Rockets Fall

•July 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Written July 9, 2014

It has been a difficult time in Israel. I have been here in Eretz Yisrael for more than a week now. Arriving just before they found the bodies of Eyal,Gilad and Naftali. When the news of the discovery of their bodies came over the news I was with several colleagues and it was a palpable moment that took our breath away. Israel went into mourning. Jews from the right or left cried with their families. I was surprised how few cars were out in the streets . I was glued to watching the funeral and crying too. And then in the midst of mourning, a young Arab teen burned alive. Retribution by a gang of Jewish thugs. But it was cold-blooded murder.

A country, a Jewish people that prides itself on the value “choose life” has within it such depravity. It shocks the nation. The burnt body of Muhammed Abu Khadeir gave Israel another blow and made many realize that the rhetoric that they have espoused has consequences. Words matter and the words of revenge, the cycle of violence represented by this has given Israel pause. This was a reason for more tears for Muhammed, his family and for my Israel who is so conflicted and so battered from every side. Even as the Army went door to door on the West Bank searching for the 2 murderers of Eyal, Naftali and Gilad.

But these deeply saddening events have taken place against a background of a barrage of rocket and missile fire from Hamas. Since the agreement of Fatah and Hamas to create their “unity” government, the rockets have fallen through the south with increasing volume. And then yesterday, as Israel called up reservists and gathered at the border of Gaza the rockets reigned down on an ever increasing circle of Israel. Sderot, Beersheva, Ashkelon, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Last night it took me a minute. I heard the sirens. But it didn’t compute. The TV was on. I was watching it and hearing it as if numb and realized this wasn’t just far away but overhead. Hurriedly I found the safety of the shelter with others in the hotel. Shaken and realizing that Israel has entered a new and frightening phase it was a night of little sleep. All of Israel is vulnerable to the missiles.

Even though I have had many tears this week. I am strengthened in my commitment to Israel by being here. By sharing in the Israel experience. Not just in times of quiet and celebration. But in these extraordinarily difficult times. And I know our rabbinic presence in Israel bring strength to Medinat Yisrael.

May Israel be kept in our prayers. For peace outside and within.
Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami in West Hollywood, CA and is President Elect of the CCAR. You can follow her travels this week in Israel @deniseeger #rabbinicmission2Israel. Or @AIPAC

Community Vigil for Kidnapped Israeli Teenagers – Thursday Night at Pan Pacific Park | The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles

•June 18, 2014 • Leave a Comment


I invite you to join me at the Community Vigil for the three Kidnapped Israeli teens, Gilad, Naftali and Eyal.  7pm-8 pm on Thursday June 19 at Pan Pacific Park near The Grove.   I will be speaking along with the Counsel General of Israel, David Siegel, Interfaith Leaders, and elected officials.  I hope you can join us in prayer and solidarity for these three young teens. And as a protest against terrorism.

Community Vigil for Kidnapped Israeli Teenagers – Thursday Night at Pan Pacific Park | The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.

Moving and Shaking: on LGBT Heritage Month.

•June 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Moving and Shaking: Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.


News from the Jewish Journal on LGBT Heritage Month

On Being Honored for LGBT heritage Month

•June 8, 2014 • 1 Comment

This was my speech before the Los Angeles City Council on Friday May 30, 2014 as I had the privilege of being honored as a Hero and Legend for LGBT Heritage month. This was one of the most amazing honors of my career.

Thank you on being recognized for LGBT heritage month

Mayor Garcetti, Controller Galperin, honored City Council members, elected officials, city staff, community members: The book of Psalms teaches The stone the builders rejected has become the corner stone. (Psalm 118) and also this is the day The Lord has made let us rejoice and be happy in it.. With joy and gratitude I thank you for this tremendous honor from our beloved City.

For more than 25 years I have served the LGBTQ Jewish community. I have been blessed to serve and to be entrusted to lead.
During the last quarter century I have been so fortunate to minister to those with AIDS and HiV. To educate members of our government in those early years, to protest when our government failed to act and to comfort the sick the dying and their loved ones and the survivors.
I have had the privilege work with Transgender people, gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and straight allies, people of every race, creed and nationality, and people of no faith at all to be a part of change and history as we helped win equality for LGBTQ folks in our city first with domestic partnership rights and adoption rights, housing and job rights and now with marriage equality. I have been witness to and a participant in extraordinary change joined with so many of you our elected officials and fellow activists. I have worked to make Judaism an inclusive and welcoming religious tradition and have been involved in every corner of the Jewish world with discussing and teaching and urging acceptance tolerance
I have had the privilege of working collaboratively with many interfaith leaders
Thank you to the members of my congregation Kol Ami. To my partner Rabbi Eleanor Steinman. To my son Ben for supporting me as I work to lift up our city and our community with pride and hope. There is still much to do together, I look forward to joining together towards a day when when all the diverse people of Los Angeles can link arms and lift up all those who are impoverished, those who have come to seek a better life in Los Angeles and live in the shadows without proper papers, when we as a city can create educational opportunities for all our children. This is the true test of equality and pride. When gay and Trans and queer people everywhere will join with all of our neighbors to dream and build up our City of Angels. That is what gay pride should be. Holding our heads high and helping others do the same.

The late Maya Angelou wrote

Whoever you are, where ever you are, start there!”
“When we know better, we do better.”
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”
“You alone are enough.”

Once not so long ago we were unable to tell our stories, we were the rejected stone
I rejoice with all of you that we can do better and rejoice in this day and this month together. Shalom.

Remember Maya

•May 28, 2014 • Leave a Comment


Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou

Today one of America’s most beloved poets and writers died.  Maya Angelou gave voice to the struggles of growing up in the Jim Crow south. She gave voice to black women and men. She gave voice to Americans who struggled in poverty and she inspired the world with her courage.  She was a dancer, an activist, a writer and a poet.  In addition to her books and poetry, Maya Angelou wrote numerous plays, children’s books and essays. She wrote cookbooks and was an actress starring in movies and television.

Her day of birth fell on April 4 the same day that Martin Luther King, Jr. was shot and for many years she refused to celebrate her birthday. Angelou’s distinctive voice whether in interviews or reading excerpts from her books or pieces of her poetry or on stage had a clarity and strength that was conveyed through her words and her eyes.  She had seen suffering and pain and also known joy and success as President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  She tried to describe the fullness of life through her writings.  Her memoir, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” is an American classic.  She was nominated for a  Tony, a Pulitzer Prize,  and won two Grammys and a National Medal of Arts and had more than 20 honorary degrees from various colleges and universities.

I will never forget listening on that cold January morning in 1993 when she read a new poem at President Clinton’s inauguration. She captured for many the moment and our America.  Here is her poem.  May her memory live as a blessing and her writings and activism continue to inspire all.

ON THE PULSE OF MORNING” by Maya Angelou written: Spoken at the Presidential Inauguration Ceremony, January 20, 1993.

A Rock, A River, A Tree

Hosts to species long since departed,

Marked the mastodon,

The dinosaur, who left dried tokens

Of their sojourn here

On our planet floor,

Any broad alarm of their hastening doom

Is lost in the gloom of dust and ages.


But today, the Rock cries out to us, clearly, forcefully,

Come, you may stand upon my

Back and face your distant destiny,

But seek no haven in my shadow.

I will give you no hiding place down here.


You, created only a little lower than

The angels, have crouched too long in

The bruising darkness

Have lain too long

Face down in ignorance.

Your mouths spilling words


Armed for slaughter.

The Rock cries out to us today, you may stand upon me,

But do not hide your face.


Across the wall of the world,

A River sings a beautiful song. It says,

Come, rest here by my side.


Each of you, a bordered country,

Delicate and strangely made proud,

Yet thrusting perpetually under siege.

Your armed struggles for profit

Have left collars of waste upon

My shore, currents of debris upon my breast.

Yet today I call you to my riverside,

If you will study war no more. Come,

Clad in peace, and I will sing the songs

The Creator gave to me when I and the

Tree and the rock were one.

Before cynicism was a bloody sear across your

Brow and when you yet knew you still

Knew nothing.

The River sang and sings on.


There is a true yearning to respond to

The singing River and the wise Rock.

So say the Asian, the Hispanic, the Jew

The African, the Native American, the Sioux,

The Catholic, the Muslim, the French, the Greek

The Irish, the Rabbi, the Priest, the Sheik,

The Gay, the Straight, the Preacher,

The privileged, the homeless, the Teacher.

They hear. They all hear

The speaking of the Tree.


They hear the first and last of every Tree

Speak to humankind today. Come to me, here beside the River.

Plant yourself beside the River.


Each of you, descendant of some passed

On traveler, has been paid for.

You, who gave me my first name, you,

Pawnee, Apache, Seneca, you

Cherokee Nation, who rested with me, then

Forced on bloody feet,

Left me to the employment of

Other seekers — desperate for gain,

Starving for gold.

You, the Turk, the Arab, the Swede, the German, the Eskimo, the Scot,

You the Ashanti, the Yoruba, the Kru, bought,

Sold, stolen, arriving on the nightmare

Praying for a dream.

Here, root yourselves beside me.

I am that Tree planted by the River,

Which will not be moved.

I, the Rock, I the River, I the Tree

I am yours — your passages have been paid.

Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need

For this bright morning dawning for you.

History, despite its wrenching pain

Cannot be unlived, but if faced

With courage, need not be lived again.


Lift up your eyes upon

This day breaking for you.

Give birth again

To the dream.


Women, children, men,

Take it into the palms of your hands,

Mold it into the shape of your most

Private need. Sculpt it into

The image of your most public self.

Lift up your hearts

Each new hour holds new chances

For a new beginning.

Do not be wedded forever

To fear, yoked eternally

To brutishness.


The horizon leans forward,

Offering you space to place new steps of change.

Here, on the pulse of this fine day

You may have the courage

To look up and out and upon me, the

Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.

No less to Midas than the mendicant.

No less to you now than the mastodon then.


Here, on the pulse of this new day

You may have the grace to look up and out

And into your sister’s eyes, and into

Your brother’s face, your country

And say simply

Very simply

With hope –

Good morning.


Walk in My Statutes: Parshat Behukotai

•May 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment


This week the irrefutable evidence of global warming has surfaced. The New York Times had two articles that showed that the effects of global warming are taking its toll on our planet. One article documented the breaking of the Western Antarctica Ice Sheet.  It said “Two groups of scientists report in journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters that a large section of West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart, partially fueled by global warming from greenhouse gases, and its continued melting appears unstoppable;” If this is melting continues the article predicts that seas will rise by 10 feet or more over the course of the century. This would be devastating to coastlines and island countries.  It means the melting of polar ice caps and in one simulation all of South Florida would be submerged and New York City gone.  (Gillis, Justin, and Chang, Kenneth, New York Times, May 12, 2014).

The second article discussed the change in rain patterns especially in the U.S. This follows data and research done as far back as 1995 by 2 Australian and New Zealand researchers. “In the National Climate Assessment, published last week, researchers in the United States reported that “large increases in heavy precipitation have occurred in the Northeast, Midwest and Great Plains, where heavy downpours have frequently led to runoff that exceeded the capacity of storm drains and levees, and caused flooding events and accelerated erosion.” (Gillis, Justin, By Degrees, New York Times, May 12, 2014).

Both articles reinforce an important message we all must heed. Climate change is real.  It isn’t something we can bury our heads in the sand about and hope it will go away.  But there are steps that we can do to help. 

Here in our home state we are facing a drought of huge proportions. Already in Northern California farmers are rationing water.  Lake water levels are low throughout the State and Gov. Brown declared a drought emergency back in January of this year.  Now is the time to take faster showers, flush less and water your lawn less.  Cut back your water usage. Or better yet, tear out the grass and put in a drought resistant yard (that’s what I did!).  The Department of Water and Power even has a rebate program of up to $2.00 a square foot to help you replace your thirsty lawn with California drought resistant plants. 

We may not be able to stop Climate Change but we can do things to slow it down!

This week’s Torah portion Behukotai, the last portion of the book of Leviticus reminds us that how we live life on the land matters. When we live a life that observes the sabbatical year (in last week’s portion Behar), when we follow the mitzvot and live a righteous life then the land will be filled with abundance and blessing.  But if we stray from the most basic mitzvot, like the observance of the sabbatical year, the observance of Shabbat, then the land becomes uninhabitable and we can no longer cultivate our patch.  The simplest mitzvoth help us focus on our tasks as partners with God in the sustenance of our globe.

Our Torah urges and reminds us in this week’s portion that we tithe from the land, and redeem it from its real owner—and that is God.  If we misuse the land, if we don’t treat it as holy then indeed we will see the consequences.  Even if you are not a farmer, the Torah is pointing us to understanding the link between agriculture and well-being. When the land is abused, when we are not scrupulous in our observance of those very basic principles then there are consequences that affect the land and all of us.

Climate change, global warning, drought or heavy rains and flooding, these noticeable and current changes to the rhythm of nature are reflected in our abuse of the land and our environment today.

Mark Kirschbaum who writes a blog at Tikkun Daily, wrote about this week’s Torah portion saying: “The Tiferet Shelomo (commentary by Shlomo HaKohen of Radomsk) answers that when we live correctly, our correct manner of living is reflected in a proper order in nature. These aren’t rewards so much as signs of proper living. Our actions, when they are correct actions, make the world around us correspondingly correct. Thus, these manifestations of correct order in nature are not really rewards, but a reciprocal alignment of nature to our actions: If we keep our lives in the proper order, then the world will be maintained in a proper order. The world about us is not so much a gift but a direct consequence of our actions (there is a similar teaching from the Baal Shem Tov regarding God’s response to us; the Baal Shem Tov explains the phrase Hashem Tzilcha, “God is your shadow” as meaning that God’s actions are a parallel reflection of our actions, we make choices in how we deal with the world around us and so does God “shadow” our choices and actions).

Climate change is a reflection of our actions and yes, inactions. It is a reflection of our lack of caring for our planet and treating the earth with the proper kavod, respect.  Our Torah specifically created rules for us to treat the earth with the same holy approaches that we give to all beings, for our earth itself is a foundation of life.  When we mistreat one another and our planet, the consequences are huge and we see this today in the dramatic changes to our earth.

If you walk in my statutes and observe my mitzvot…begins the Torah portion.  It is a reminder that living an ethical life is a choice. Let’s choose wisely and help our planet heal.

Winning Isn’t Everything

•May 7, 2014 • 1 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!


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