Move Fast and Break Things: Disruption in our Lives

Below is my Rosh Hashanah Morning sermon for 5778

Shana Tova to each of you. Let me take this moment to wish you each a heartfelt blessing for the New Year.

 “Move Fast and Break things”- this is the advice of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.  It’s his philosophy for the New World we are living in.   And he is not alone.  The technological and economic forces of the 21st century are causing us to rethink some of our most cherished ideals and institutions. This is the result sociologists and business leaders tell us of the disruption economy.  We have seen the disruptions come in every aspect of our life.  Politics, art, business, media and even how we have and find relationships!  All have changed.  And all have been impacted and changed by technology.

The political realm perhaps is the most obvious because we are bombarded every day by another headline.  The current occupant of the White House is an example of disruption.  He campaigned differently than what was typical of politicians. You never know what to expect. His policies are born out of that disruption modality.  Turn everything upside down- do it quickly.  And don’t do what is expected.  His Administration is changing and disrupting the lives of many.

But it is also important to look at how it is done. Where do we turn for his latest policy initiative?  Yes-you guessed it Twitter.  140 characters.  In the not too distant past—we relied on policy papers and think tanks but today we find ourselves reeling from moment to moment waiting for the next twitter pronouncement. And The Twitter feed itself, with its often anonymous posters, and computer bots in turn churn out fake messages have shifted conversation by attacking and trolling people. And the lies that are promoted as truth has become its own industry.   Fake journalism is something to be wary about.  And Fake news is everywhere on Twitter and Facebook and numerous websites masquerading as journalism.          Even coming from government officials.  These are all examples of the disruptions we now live with.

Art too has affected.  The music industry was one of the earliest to take a hit from these disruptions.  As documented in his book (pic of Book Cover) Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy, author Jonathan Taplin documents the move from records to cd’s to mp3s and how it caused deep havoc for composers and musicians.  What once was a 20 billion dollar industry in 1999 is now a $7.5 billion dollar industry.[1]  This precipitous drop began with the appearance of Sean Parker’s Napster website site that enabled users to download music without paying for it. This disrupted the normal course of the music business and allowed counterfeiting and piracy to soar.  Coupled with sharing made easy with a few clicks and consumer expectation of getting something for free has eaten into the music business. But also the same can be said of film, television, graphic design and other arts and other businesses that provide content as well. Even how we hail a ride has changed. Once you hailed a taxi. Now its uber and lyft driven by your neighbor down the street. Technology has changed the way we get and share content and changed many of the basics of how we live and work.

Look at how we do business!  (picture of parking meter and driverless car

There are fewer grocery checkers because we can scan the bar codes ourselves; donations made online rather than writing a check; parking tickets at the parking lot? Now there is a machine to pay and good luck if it takes cash because it is likely only done on a credit or debit card.   There will be further disruption to our lives as robots and automated systems, driverless cars increasingly replace people and jobs in this new economy.

And there will be more disruptions to come.

(Amazon logo/whole foods logo) Amazon first smashed the book business putting out of business the local book store.. Then it is remade the retail business bringing any item to your doorstep with a few clicks. Malls, once the shopping mecca for America, now sit empty, as brick and mortar stores can’t compete with the convenience of Amazon. And now it seeks to transform the grocery business as it has acquired Whole Foods. Just you wait—as product availability narrows. And farmers are even further affected.

And Google and Facebook are ever present -they can track your movements and your conversations.  Even as Google Home and Alexa listen to your every wish, make a play list of music and add to your shopping list; they can also listen to your conversations.  Even as you click through your friend’s Pintrest account, ads for similar clothes will appear. And with so much of our personal information available online, it can be shared quickly with the NSA or government and has been as these large internet companies have little regulation. And in this information Age- data mining is the key to success both the hackers and these large corporations and creating a lack of privacy if we even have it any more.

And even relationships are disrupted We swipe left or right to find a date or playmate. We upload our most perfectly retouched photo, and seek out former loves on Facebook.  There are benefits no doubt—we can reconnect and stay in touch with family and friends and be a part of their lives even a great distance. We can skype and facetime with our grandkids and children away at school rather than have a disembodied voice at the end of the line.  But even as we post more personal information about how we feel, there is a false sense of intimacy that is highly edited and curated sometimes to the point of being a lie.

For the Jewish world these disruptions have also influenced and affected us greatly.  It has caused the synagogue to grapple with profound changes and patterns that are ancient in a new kind of environment.

And so you see some adaptations even here at Kol Ami.  Traffic has impacted our ability to get around and we are city without adequate public transportation as well as a culture that has resisted switching to it.  And so for many of you it becomes a burden to even get to synagogue no matter where it is located because fighting traffic leaves one so frazzled. And so we live stream our Shabbat services in the hopes that by using technology to bring services and community to you that you will avail yourself of it.  The changes and developments in technology affect how we train our kids in their Judaism, and even how we have meetings to run the synagogue’s day to day.

But there is a cost to all of this. For the synagogue, for our relationships, for business, for art, for people.  There are costs that have profound effects on society at large. Not only are people displaced from their jobs and lives with industry changes and technology-the very definitions of community come into question. And some are questioning whether or not these changes also affect the very fabric of our democracy.

Such as when data mining can be used to manipulate elections and then manipulating the algorithms that influences your newsfeed and ultimately influences your decision making. This is the process that changes what you see on Twitter or Facebook, Snapchat or Instagram and even the way the news is influenced on cable or in the digital press have been shown to influence your decision making.  There are examples of how Facebook did this actually over a two-week period in 2016.

These disruptions and potentials for manipulations and rapid changes are difficult to adapt to and guard against.  The way the digital world and those in charge have such control over the content we see based upon data mining should give us all pause.  These disruptions to the way of life we have known are difficult because we human beings haven’t really changed. But many of us have a hard time keeping up and managing the forces that are overwhelming our day to day lives.  And further we all want to believe and know that our own decisions are in our hands.

In Judaism we believe that we have the choice over good and evil decisions. Our tradition teaches us that we all possess a Yetzer HaRah—and evil inclination and a Yetzer HaTov-a good inclination.  We can give in to the evil inclination or we can choose our Yetzer HaTov.  And this season is meant to help us reflect on our moral choices.  These Holy Days are meant to help us examine the moral failures we have had- when we have given in to our Yetzer HaRah and rebuild upon our Yetzer HaTov.

With the arrival of this New Year we have a moment of pause to reflect and gather our thoughts in this fast moving world.  Ironically, it is our ancient spiritual tradition that can provide some guidance for how to manage in these times with these challenges.  And this morning I want to share with you some ancient wisdom for living and thriving in these times.  And in particular this morning I want to show you three ways Judaism is itself a disruptor for these disruptive times!

First the most important-

Take a time out!

The constant 24/7 of our lives of always being at work and online destroys the quality of our lives and our health and well-being.  It can be an addiction itself.  One of our core principles as Jews is the Shabbat.  Shabbat is an antidote to the fast paced, demands of businesses that sometimes care little about you and your family life.  Shabbat is the ultimate gift of our tradition.  Part of the covenantal promise made to us and that we affirmed at Mt. Sinai.  Shabbat is day of rest and wonder, a day of gratitude and thanksgiving for your life. But unless you take a Shabbat and you make it sacrosanct in your life—you will succumb to these larger forces that run your life without your consent.  You will not be free.

As the great philosopher and Rabbi, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote in his book, The Sabbath:


“Gallantly, ceaselessly, quietly, (hu)man(ity) must fight for inner liberty” to remain independent of the enslavement of the material world. “Inner liberty depends upon being exempt from domination of things as well as from domination of people. There are many who have acquired a high degree of political and social liberty, but only very few are not enslaved to things.”
― Abraham Joshua HeschelThe Sabbath

Heschel understood that our true freedom and liberty comes when we aren’t dominated by things, people or the material world.  Shabbat is a way to disrupt the disruptors who want to control your decisions, your thinking, your purchases and your pocketbook.         .

Judaism teaches us that God took a group of Hebrew slaves and set them free by giving them a spiritual structure for their lives.  Shabbat is at the core of that structure and it is literally timeless.  As Heschel called it a “palace in time”.

Shabbat is the pause for the overwhelm we feel by the pace of the world. Shabbat is the antidote to being online. Put your phone away.  Turn it off. Take a Facebook break. Disconnect from the World Wide Web to gather your own ideas, your own thoughts not influenced by the fake news and propaganda. Take the Shabbat challenge—and put your phone down for 24 hrs.   Instead, connect in the real world.

Shabbat is a day to love, to be outside, to meditate, pray, give thanks, acknowledge your blessings.  Literally a day to restore your breath—restore the God who lives inside of you.

As Heschel writes:

There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord (Prologoue, The Sabbath, p.3)


Let Shabbat be your tool, your gift to change the pace of your days and uplift your spirit in a world of chaos.

The second key for living in this disruptive world is to live a life of Jewish morals and ideals. In the Mishnah: Hillel declared “In a place where there are no humans strive to be a human.  Meaning when the world is ugly and people are behaving poorly, we should strive to be a mensch.

This is not a simple as it sounds.  It is easy to succumb to what is happening around us. To get caught up unintentionally in destructive behaviors. And even easier still to remain silent when others are behaving badly.  And if we hide our heads and don’t speak up then we are complicit in the sometimes simple evils that destroy our lives.

Society depends upon treating each other with honor, respect and dignity. Try to be a decent human being.  The temptations to act like the crowd will be huge.  The temptations to take advantage of others, disregard human life, enrich your own wallet at the expense of others-these are the kinds of behaviors we see all too clearly in the world today. And yet Judaism, the ultimate disruptor, has long taught a set of values and ideals through our mitzvot-through our commandments that teach us to act differently than the crowd.

We are taught because we are all created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, we must treat one another with dignity and honor.  For when we honor our fellow human being we honor God.

One of my favorite stories in the Talmud is in Gitten 56 a/b

It is the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza;  And it is the story that the rabbis tell is the reason for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

A certain man had a friend Kamsa and an enemy Bar Kamsa He once threw a party and said to his p.a., “Go and bring Kamsa”.  Except the assistant went and brought Bar Kamsa (to the party). When the Host found Bar Kamsa there instead of his friend he confronted him, “See, you tell tales about me; what are you doing here? Get out.”

Bar Kamsa said: “Since I am here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.”

The Host said, “I won’t.”

Bar Kamsa then sweetened his request: “Then let me give you half the costof the party.”

The host said emphatically, “No.”

Bar Kamsa then offered: “Then let me pay for the whole party.”

The host grew even angrier that Bar Kamsa was in his midst still said, “No”and he took him by the hand and threw him out.

Bar Kamsa humiliated said to himself: “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and inform against them, to the Government. He went and said to the Emperor, “The Jews are rebelling against you.”

The Roman Emporer said: “How can I tell if that is true or not?”

Bar Kamsa proposed a test. “Send them an offering and see whether they will offer it [on the altar of the Temple]. So the Roman Governor sent with bar Kamsa a fine calf.  While on the way to the Temple, Bar Kamsa made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say on the white of its eye, in a place where we [Jews] count it a blemish but Roman pagans do not. Thus it made the whole offering treif.

The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government again Once again they were going to remain quiet.  But another Rabbi spoke up to protest the in appropriate offering on the altar.  And so

The rabbis then conspired how to get out of their dilemma. They then proposed to kill Bar Kamsa so that he could not go and inform against them. And there would be no evidence of the blemished calf, or an affront to the Roman government- a true cover-up.  And for these reasons said R. Johanan our House has been destroyed, our Temple burnt and we ourselves exiled from our land.

This story-teaches us what happens when we harden our hearts. Even when someone has done something wrong to us.
The host of the party humiliated Bar Kamsa in front of everyone. Even though Bar Kamsa had said terrible things about him behind his back-the story is trying to teach us to engage our differences with respect not hatred and anger.  Bar Kamsa offered to pay his own meal, and then even for the whole party—perhaps as a good will gesture of atonement for his misdeeds.  But even that couldn’t be accepted by our host.

And the rabbis in this story are at fault—they remain silent and don’t speak up at the party when there is immoral behavior going on and then even plot to murder and cover it up.  No one is a mensch in this story

The unintended consequences of our anger, and in this story the hosts anger, and Bar Kamsa anger set in motion something so terrible that it had the power to destroy our entire way of life—the holy temple destroyed, God no longer living in our midst.

This whole story- teaches us that anger and rage and hatred and holding onto a grudge can bring down the core institutions of our lives. The story teaches that being cruel and inconsiderate even of someone who has gossiped about you –can have unintended consequences.  The rabbis of the Talmud are trying to teach us a core Jewish value—Anger destroys; always always be a mensch. Act with dignity and treat others with that dignity too.

Take a moment to reflect on where our country is at the moment.  Can we even talk to one another? Think of the trolling that happens on line.  Think about the way we react when someone holds different views than we do. Do we write them off completely? Think about when you hold your own anger at someone for so long—what are the unintended consequences of your anger…That perhaps you don’t even see.  Think about the policies that don’t uphold human dignity.

 We can use our better selves, our Yetzer HaTov—our good inclinations to strive to live by ideals that treat people fairly and uplift their dignity.  Our entire Torah is written with the emphasis that we should be fair in our business dealings, fair to the worker, welcome the stranger, honor our elders, help couples begin their lives together, teach our children well as the (Crosby Stills and Nash song goes).

Rosh Hashanah reminds us that despite our sins, we are not finished products- and we can change the course of our behavior, our lives and ultimately the life of the world.

If we can do this, model this, actually treat those who are so different than ourselves with love-as Dr King taught- then we can create the beloved community that will transform everything.  Love can conquer Hate.

And finally the 3rd piece of ancient wisdom that can change the quality of our lives and the direction of the world as it is-  is for us to be a Rodef Tzedek, Rodef Shalom. One who pursues Justice and Pursues Peace.

 The Psalmist teaches: Seek Peace and Pursue it, and the Torah says: Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof, Justice Justice shall you pursue.  Our Tradition demands of us to walk in the ways of justice and peace.  Not to just watch on the sidelines. Not just to wait for God to send it-but to actively work for justice and peace and run after it—that is what it means to pursue peace and pursue justice.

The prophets of our tradition, Isaiah, Amos, Micah and Jeremiah cried out in their day when society was off the rails. When there was corruption among officials.  They carried God’s message of truth to be loyal to our covenant and to act with tzedek u’mishpat—act with justice and righteousness. The prophets of old taught us that God doesn’t want your pious platitudes and empty rituals-but that God wants us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.  On Yom Kippur Morning we will read the section of Isaiah that reminds us of this.  Is this the fast that I want? Says God—No- what I want is for you to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. In other words, create a society –not of religious details but a society that cares for one another and is based up the principles of fairness, ethics, and morality.  And we Jews according to our tradition have been and must remain a light to the nations of the world.  The light we shine when we act with justice and dignity and pursue peace brings illumination to the dark corners where evil lurks.

“One way we illuminate the world is through the justice we pursue and the justice we bring about by shining light on the ugliness and the inequities that are sometimes the result of human interactions.” ( Seven Days Many Voices.)

We don’t have the luxury of burying our heads in the sands when so much is at stake in our world. We don’t have the luxury of ignoring the signs of  our times.

We are the light that can change the world by being Rodfei Tzedek, Rodfei Shalom

Anne Frank’s words matter just as much today:

“It’s really a wonder that I haven’t dropped all my ideals, because they seem so absurd and impossible to carry out. Yet I keep them, because in spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart.”
Anne FrankThe Diary of a Young Girl

I share this with her.  Together we can make a difference. As Kol Ami we can make a difference. Our new Tzedek Council=Justice Council has began its work-I hope you will be a part of it. As a Jewish community we can make a difference. As a country we can make a difference when we act with others and treat others with respect honor and dignity.


To change the world, to change ourselves, let us commit in this New Year-to being the light of peace, the light of justice, the light of goodness, the light of fairness, the light of menschlikite, the light of hope. Then then this New Year can really be a New Year of Change for us, and all the world.  Be the light.

[1] Taplin, Jonathan, Move Fast and Break Things: How Facebook, Google and Amazon Cornered Culture and Undermined Democracy, (Little, Brown and Company NY 2017) p,91



The Urgent Cry of the Shofar

Below is the text of my Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon for 5778.  I use pictures to accompany my sermon as well.


Happy New Year. Shana Tovah to everyone.  It is wonderful to see you tonight.

There is an urgency – clean out the old and bring in the new.  That’s what we do this time of year. Rosh Hashanah. It’s a time to reimagine and renew and rethink who we are and how we will be in the world.  And pray with all of our hearts that we can help our fragile planet change the course from the tohu v’vohu— the chaos of our times to the beauty of the Garden of Eden.

On Rosh Hashanah it is the blasts of our shofar that call us to wake up out of our stupor.  Wake up to what we need to do to change ourselves and change the world. And if ever the world needed our help it is now.

Like many of you, I was shocked and incredulous at the hatred that has oozed out into the world and most especially in our country. I wasn’t shocked that the hatred exists. Nor that racisms exists.  Nor that anti-Semitism exists, nor that homophobia exists or xenophobia exists- these hatreds and jealousies have always been around. But it all used to lurk in under the cover of white hoods and the gatherings in the back woods. It wasn’t polite to show all this in public. Nor was it acceptable .

)     Instead what we saw in Charlottesville was out in the open, lit by the tiki torches, illuminating the hatred for all to see and hear.  And these were young faces, angry faces.  My friends this is our wake- up call like no other. Seeing the neo-Nazis marching through the streets, bearing arms, flags with swastikas unfurled, menacing Jewish institutions in our country, vandalizing synagogues and Holocaust memorials like what happened recently in Boston for the second time this year, is frightening.  And taps into our Jewish reservoir of thousands of years of being the victim of such hate and violence.

 The murder of Heather Heyer and injury of so many on that fateful day in August is a symptom of a great evil that has infected our country.  And this is evil is perpetuated by a President that is deaf. He doesn’t seem to understand how his words inflame and give permission to the white supremacists, racists and bigots to march and perpetrate their brand of hatred.  And we all must pay attention.

Charlottesville and its violence, was an attack on the Jewish community, on people of color and our country itself. An inside job of terrorism as that has the potential to be as damaging as anything Al-Qaeda or ISIS can do. This is pernicious this kind of hatred and racism. And it seeps into everything we are doing.  And now these past few weeks it is focused on that young group of immigrants known as Dreamers—young people and children who were brought here by parents and have grown up here and only know this country as their home. Where will it stop? Muslims have been the targets, Trans people, Women, Mexicans, immigrants, Jews, Blacks, browns, Disabled people, it seems everyone is a target for their anger and it is blessed and fomented by policies of this Administration.

I am scared for our world. For our children and grandchildren. I am scared for our country.

But at the same time I take comfort in this community of Kol Ami. We have strength when we are together. We have experience in how to gather against such hatred. So I am glad we are together.  In the solidarity of this community we heal and care for our souls. In the comfort of Kol Ami, among friends, among family we strengthen each other to face the future. Together at this holy season as we pray, sing and make teshuvah we bring comfort and support to one another and encouragement to one another.  I am glad we are together to commit ourselves to a New Year of Life.  I am glad we are together to put our collective voices as one. The urgency this time will help us change the story.

 As the great founder of modern Zionism, Theodor Herzl said, “Im tirzu Ayn zo aggadah—If you will it, it is no dream.”  And tonight on Rosh Hashanah let us begin to dream of a new world, a New Year, recreating ourselves and our futures!  It is urgent that we do so.

The Torah tells us Rosh Hashanah is Yom Terurah-the day of sounding the shofar.


Adonai spoke to Moses, saying: 24 Speak to the people of Israel, saying: In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a day of complete rest, a holy convocation commemorated with shofar blasts. (Leviticus  23:23-24)


With the sounds of the shofar we will usher in the rebirth of the world and the rebirth of our souls. We will refashion who we are and how we behave in the world. We will give birth to our new selves starting today.

You see the shofar and Rosh Hashanah is loaded with birth imagery: The shofar has a narrow mouthpiece and wider opening that resembles the birth canal, the air rushing through it to create a plaintive cry that is the breath of life, and the sound that we hear recalls the cries of labor.

Our rabbis taught that when the first human being was created, God breathed the first breath into Adam. And as the first human opened its eyes—the first sound it heard was the sound of its soul entering its body.  What was that sound? What did it sound like the Rabbis ask? It was the sound of the shofar. When we hear the shofar on Rosh Hashanah we are reminded of the very moment when our neshama, our soul entered us. The shofar gets into the fiber of our being urges us to awaken into a new year of life.

When we hear the notes of the shofar, Tekiayah shevarim, Teruah-the notes of the shofar remind us of our birth at some deep soul level (Newborn crying) and we are like newborns ready to answer the cries of labor with that first hearty cry of an infant’s lungs, fresh and ready for a new world.

The shofar is connected to this image of birth and rebirth through the great midwife of our tradition Shifrah.  The story of Shifra and Puah the two midwives opens the book of Exodus with the first great act of resistance to the oppressive powers of Pharaoh.  Their story is important for our times now.  Shifra and Puah delivered the Hebrew babies in Egypt despite the Pharoah’s decree to murder them.   Shifra’s name, according to the great Rabbi Rashi –shares the root with the word Shofar and means “the capacity to make something better, or to improve its quality”, and that is what she did: She made the lives of the Israelites slaves better and that of the world in her defiance of evil. Today we have as a remembrance of her acts of great resistance to evil, the shofar which calls us to do the same.

And if this birth imagery of the shofar and its connections to birth and rebirth hasn’t completely freaked you out yet—then just know this.

The word “Shafir” in  Hebrew (the same root as Shofar and the name Shifra –Shin Fay Resh) means ‘fine’, but ‘mei shafir’ means the amniotic fluid that surrounds the fetus.

There is no getting around it…. The images and metaphors of this season is urgently sending us a message.  This is the time for the world’s renewal and rebirth. This is the holiday for your renewal and rebirth.  And the shofar is urgently calling each of us to that task.

It is calling to announce and remind us that today is Yom Harat Olam-the day the world was conceived.  Yet another connection to birth imagery.  And the Torah reading and Haftarah reading tomorrow morning will be about how God answered the prayers of our matriarchs, Sarah and Hannah and Rachel to bring them children and let them give birth. Could it be a clearer message? The birth of the world, the sounds of the shofar, bring us into life, just as God brings life into the world and into us at this season. Even when there is no hope, even when like Sarah and Hannah who were barren, infertile, both became mothers, Sarah a mother of Isaac and her people, and Hannah the mother of the great Samuel protector and defender of the Israelites.

And the shofar with its broken blasts and staccato notes, of shevarim and teruah tells us the time is now.  The task is urgent.


Now more than ever I want to hear the sound of the shofar calling us to new life and to recreate our world and ourselves.  The shofar sounds the first blast of the Shofar;  Tekiah – Wake up you sleepers. Your birth is soon.  Shevarim sounds the alarm; Teruah announces the urgency of task and calls us to action; and the Tekia Gedola gives us strength to sustain the effort.  Each of the 100 notes of the shofar we will hear on this Yom Teruah- this day of Rosh Hashanah, this day of renewal is our 100 steps to a new world and a new you.

The great Rabbi Nachmanides, the Ramban in his discourse on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah links the word shofar to this verse:


“By God’s breath the Heavens are cleared. (shifra).”

Job 26:13
This verse refers to the dispersing of the clouds to reveal the clear blue sky. The sounds of the shofar will make what was clouded over and concealed – revealed. The work of clearing out the last year—through repentance for our sins, that have clouded up our eyes and our hearts, the notes of the shofar disperses. The sounds of the shofar help us repent for not speaking up when we should have; for saying too much when we should have kept our mouths shut; for not being generous of wallet or spirit or kind enough to those we work with or live with.

And the shofar gives us a clarity to see beyond the clouds, to see to the blue sky beyond. The shofar helps us clear the clouds away and is the hopeful instrument of our rebirth. The shofar sounds-will remind you to return, make teshuva, and find your spiritual center again in our God, in our covenant.  In these shaky times, the hatred and chaos push us away from one another. The shofar helps us draw near to each other and God.

The shofar is meant to stir in us our own desire to renew.  While it also stirs in God the desire for compassion. The Zohar, the mystical book of our rabbis teaches, (Vayikra, Section 3, Page 99b) “The shofar below awakens the shofar above and the Holy One blessed be, rises from the glorious throne of judgment and sits in God’s throne of compassion.”  And that is how God’s compassion is upon us and upon the world.

Even with all of this love poured upon us through the shofar-it’s hard in the world as it is today to heed the call. To feel the urgency of now.

Natan Sharansky, the former Soviet Refusnik, who made Aliyah to Israel and heads the Jewish Agency wrote these words after he was released from the Soviet Gulag and living in Eretz Yisrael:

In Freedom, I am lost in a myriad of choices. When I walk on the street, dozens of cheeses, fruits, and juices stare at me from the store windows. There are vegetables here I’d never seen or heard of, and an endless series of decision that must be made: What to drink in the morning, coffee or tea? What newspaper to read? What to do in the evening? Where to go for Shabbat? Which friends to visit?

In the punishment cell, life was much simpler, Everyday brought only one choice Good or evil, white or black, saying yes or no to the KGB. Moreover, I had all the time I needed to think about these choices, to concentrate on the most fundamental problems of existence, to test myself in fear, in hope, in belief, in love. And now lost in thousands of mundane choices, I suddenly realize that there’s no time to reflect on the bigger questions. How to enjoy the vivid colors of Freedom without losing the existential depth I felt in prison? How to absorb the many sounds of freedom without allowing them to jam the stirring call of the shofar that I heard so clearly in the punishment cell? And most important how, in all these thousands of meetings, handshakes, interview, and speeches, to retain that unique feeling of the interconnection of the human souls which I discovered in the Gulag? These are the questions I must answer in my new life, which is only beginning.

(Fear No Evil, Natan Sharansky, translated by Stefani Hoffman, Public Affairs, NY 1988, 1998)

It is no different for us. We too have to answer these questions. Among the busyness of our lives. Among the difficulties of the world around us. The hate and bigotry, among the pressures of work and finance, love and family and loneliness; among health issues and loss, our success and achievements, will we heed the urgent sound of the shofar calling us? Will we devote over the course of these next 10 days the time necessary to reflect and discern the inner truths necessary for our teshuvah? And will the shofar blasts we hear ,inspire us to action?

The blasts of the shofar cry urgently for each one of us to do so. It’s spiritual technology that is designed to wake us up to the tasks even though there are a myriad of choices around us.

Sharansky built a new life, literally for himself. He has served in the Knesset and as a founder of a political movement in Israel. He went from the Gulag, imprisoned as a traitor to the Soviet Union to head the largest organization of the Jewish people based in Israel but bridging the gap between the Diaspora and the Holy Land.  All the time in prison his Judaism, even as little as he knew, sustained him.  All the time in prison the strength of the Jewish people worldwide-working for his release, sustained him. And he was able with the efforts of many, and the political and social justice work of our people, to finally attain his freedom.  A new life. An opportunity to start over.

We are granted this gift at this season to start over, anew. And we like Scharansky can be sustained in our own personal journeys by our deep connections with one another here at Kol Ami.  You are not alone. When we act together, make a difference together, pray together, sing together, build relationships of meaning together we can sustain each other through these difficult moments in our personal lives and in the life of our nation.

Now more than ever we need each other.  When bad things happen –we tend to hunker down, draw up the gang plank, pull the covers over our heads, isolate.  We don’t feel like being with others. We withdraw. And yet, my friends, the shofar is calling us to act differently.  It is calling us to find solidarity together; Strength and support together.  It is the only way we can fight back against the Anti-Semitism, racism, and bigotry of our times. The Shofar is calling you and me. The time is now. The cry is urgent to strengthen this ourselves and our Temple community? Will you have the courage to re-imagine and reinvent yourself this year as Sharansky has done?  And go on to live and work for a better world? Will you have the courage with me to reimagine our Temple and strengthen it for the world as it is now?

Many Americans especially in the latter stages of life, of a career or in retirement discover that it’s never too late to reinvent and reimagine themselves.

Folk Artists Grandma Moses was in her late 70’s before she began her painting career.  Colonel Harland Sanders was in his 60’s when he launched Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Actor Samuel Jackson didn’t have his first film til 46 and you know here in Hollywood that is ancient already!

This is sometimes referred to as “encore careers”, these second acts can reinvigorate you and give you a reason to greet each day with anticipation. .(Bits and Pieces)

From Roget yes, the fellow that created Roget’ Thesaurus written at age 73, to Vera Wang clothes designer, who used to be a competitive ice skater, we always have the opportunity to reimagine and renew who we are in the world.  These examples are of people who changed careers or began a new business venture or began a new hobby that was recognized as talent.

I am suggesting that our Rosh Hashanah and the shofar call (bright color shofar) say to you “Don’t wait, become the person you want.”  Become a better person. The shofar says, “Don’t wait.” “Look inside and listen to your heart.”  The shofar sounds and says, “You can do better in the New Year.”  The shofar says to us it is the time of renewal and rebirth. The shofar wakes us up to our potential to live our dreams in the New Year.  Use this season as a time of reimagining and rebirth. Let the sounds of the shofar wash over you and into you to so that you may let go of the errors and sins of the past and re-invent, and renew your essence.  Let the shofar help you jettison and clear away all that has been covered so that the beautiful soul that God placed within you can shine more brightly in this New Year.

One thing we know all too well.  Life is short.  Listen to that voice in you. The shofar is calling you to write your own inscription in the book of Life. The shofar is calling to you to take advantage of this season of repentance and renewal. Let the shofar wash you in love. Let the shofar wash you in hope. Let the shofar herald a renewed sense of self and lift up your spirits that the time of redemption is near. May the shofar guide your renewal of life. And may the Shofar sounds uplift you to true repentance, reflection,renewal and rebirth in 5778.   Ken Yehi Ratzon. So May It be God’s will.


Eger Urgency of Now RH PM 5778 copy 2



The Jewish Women’s Archive is an amazing compendium of resources documenting the role and importance of Jewish Women!  The have started a special section on women rabbis.  I am thrilled to be among some of the first women included in the rabbinic section of the archives. It is a great honor. 

Here is the link to visit.  

Synagogue Etiquette: The Sequel

Well yesterday’s post about synagogue etiquette and the unwritten rules of the synagogue struck a chord! I have had hundreds of people share things they have observed and have questions about.  So today-the sequel. More unwritten rules for those who are part of a synagogue community whether a member or just a visitor.

First no talking on  your cellphone in services.  If you are in an Orthodox synagogue on a Shabbat or holy day you should not be on your cell phone on Shabbat or the Chag in the first place. It violates the strict interpretation of Halakah (Jewish law).  If you are there during the daily minyan, or in a Reform, Reconstructionist or Conservative Shul at any time–refrain from talking on your phone in the prayer space.  If you absolutely must–leave the sanctuary, chapel, or prayer room and attend to your business.  But it is a distraction from the kavannah, the spiritual intentions necessary for prayer.  On Shabbat and holidays we are not to conduct business! At the very least silence your phone.  And please do not snap photos during services.  It is tempting I know to take a picture of the Bat Mitzvah giving her d’var torah and upload it immediately to Facebook or Instagram.  I know everyone wants to hear the Bar Mitzvah chant his Haftarah portion and you think no one will mind if you video record just a few seconds to upload to You Tube but it is not appropriate to utilize these devices during worship. It destroys the holiness that is present by creating an intrusion in the sacred space.  A b’nai mitzvah is not a performance.  It is a sacred moment of transition for the young person and their family from childhood to young teen age responsibilities.

Same at a wedding.  The ceremony is a holy ritual called kiddushin. From the word for holiness.  If you have been invited to the wedding, you are part of the congregation and holy witnesses to the couple’s creation of their family! The wedding ceremony is a holy moment and most likely the couple has hired official photographers. Leave your phone in your pocket or your purse!

Next a reminder when the Holy Ark is open-Jews stand up as a sign of respect. If you are physically unable to stand then sit taller in your chair.  Above many arks are written a phrase “Know Before Whom You Stand”. Of course this means God.  We aren’t so casual around the Holy One of Blessing–so when the Torah is lifted, or the ark is open we stand.  If you have left the prayer space to go to the restroom and you are coming back in to the service and the ark is open- WAIT.  It is a peak moment in the worship service.  If the Torah is processing or being held aloft, WAIT to return to your seat.  It is a sign of respect and honor to not be distracted when the ark is open or the Torah held aloft. So if you must go out and come back in please do so in the least obtrusive way.

Other areas of importance are the gatherings before and after services.  Often there will be on Shabbat evening an Oneg Shabbat either before or after the Friday night service.  Oneg means joy.  This is a time to gather to socialize and visit and build holy relationships with each other.  On Saturday morning after services this is called a Kiddish or kiddish luncheon.  Sometimes after the daily morning minyan there is also a light nosh before people go on their way.  At any of these gatherings even if you don’t know someone else there it is always appropriate to introduce yourself. Synagogues want to know you.  And if you are a regular at temple-then you have an especial obligation to welcome newcomers. Don’t just hang out with  your own friends. One of the biggest criticisms of synagogue life that I hear as a rabbi is that I went to such and such temple and  no one bothered to talk to me.  I don’t think anyone does this on purpose. But it is important to be mindful that there are always visitors and synagogue members even if not a board member or a chair person should warmly embrace those who are not a regular part of the community.  Who knows they may be checking your temple out!

Every synagogue is different when it comes to saying the Mourner’s Kaddish. In some congregations everyone stands to say the Kaddish prayer. In others only those in the period of mourning or observing a yarzeit stand.  In others they begin with the those in mourning and those observing a yarzeit and then ask everyone to stand in support. In some communities there will be an opportunity to say the name of your loved one that you are remembering aloud.  In other congregations it is appropriate to call ahead if you want to ensure that your loved ones name is said aloud and they don’t have a yarzeit (memorial) plaque at that synagogue.  But it is appropriate if you ask for a name to be read aloud for Kaddish and you are a visitor or they don’t have a memorial plaque to make a donation to the congregation. You can sponsor the bima flowers, sponsor the oneg in your loved one’s memory or give to one of the many funds of the congregation.  This is a free will offering for the synagogue.

Synagogues vary in custom and culture and vary from place to place.  North America is different than Australia or Germany.  If you aren’t sure the best advice is to ask. Ask the rabbi about or a lay leader if you are unsure about what to do.  It is not a sign of weakness or ignorance.  When we ask about the customs we are learning and showing respect for the community.  So don’t be shy.  After all, in Judaism we love questions! Don’t we?


Synagogue Etiquette

If you belong to synagogue or if you don’t there are so many unwritten rules of the road. I thought I would take a moment to help you navigate being part of a synagogue community. Synagogues or Jewish temples are sometimes referred to by the Yiddish term–Shul which in the German means School.  And every synagogue, temple or shul is unique.  Ok, they share some things in common.  The have some kind of holy ark-where a Torah scroll or scrolls is kept.  They likely have prayer books known also as a siddur (unless it is for the High Holy Days then it is called a machzor).  Most temples or synagogues have classrooms for learning for adults and children. Some will have special programs for early childhood or nursery school but not all. Many congregations will have a rabbi.  Some both a rabbi and a cantor. Large congregation will have multiple rabbis and cantors. But there are some communities that can’t support even one clergy person. And that is one of the things that makes Judaism unique.  Lay people can lead worship and teach. Unlike the Catholic Church where only priests can perform the sacraments. There is nothing in Judaism that a non-ordained Jew cannot do!

Most congregations finance themselves with a combination of dues, fees, voluntary offerings and fundraising.  Some congregations are now experimenting by getting rid of the dues model and going to a completely voluntary offering.  But in either case support for the institutions requires generosity of resources.

In congregations where dues are still the main financial support for the congregation there is either a set fee to be become a member or a percentage of income often at 2 or 2.5 percent.  Membership in the synagogue is something to be proud of. It goes beyond money. Membership is a foundation of Jewish life-supporting the ongoing engagement of Jews with Judaism. Membership in a synagogue enables the Jewish people to thrive through engagement with learning, celebration, the arts, and most importantly one another. The synagogue is a place where Jews and their families can build relationships with each other! In an era when most people don’t even know their neighbors this is so important.

But now to the some of the unwritten rules of synagogue.

It is customary to put on a kippah or yarmulka when you come into the temple. Even if you might not normally wear one in your day to day-when you come into the synagogue most likely there is a stack of head coverings. This goes for both men and women. It is a sign of respect that in the holy place you cover your head.


It is customary that if you observed a yarzeit or the rabbi or cantor officiated at a lifecycle event for your family that you make an extra donation of charity to the synagogue.  Judaism believes strongly in the power of tzedakah. When we recite the El Maleh Rachamim prayer at a funeral or memorial service the words of the prayer challenge us to give charity in memory of the deceased! So if you are observing the yarzeit of someone in your family, or you asked the rabbi to come help you hang the mezzuzah in your new condo, or she officiated at the baby naming of your grandchild make an extra donation to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund, or Cantor’s music fund, or the campership fund in your congregation as a way of saying thank you.

If someone dies in the congregation or a parent of a congregant that you know dies, it is customary to make a small donation in their memory to the temple.    The Synagogue will send a note to the family to let them know of your kindness in their loved one’s memory.  You should also try to attend the funeral and shiva (The week-long memorial period at the home of a mourner).  Helping to make the minyan (the prayer quorum) necessary for the mourners to recite the Kaddish prayer is a wonderful show of support and caring for a fellow congregant! You don’t have to be close to the deceased or to the mourner. This is what temple members do for one another.

Also when someone is ill.  Many congregations will create a meal train. Helping bring meals to those at home after a surgery or with a lengthy recovery period.  Even if you don’t know the person you have a bond already. You are part of the same synagogue community. This is how we help each other in times of sorrow or difficulty.

And in times of joy as well.  Show up at the B’nai Mitzvah services. They are not meant to be private affairs. It is a coming of age of the young person in the context of the Jewish community and specifically the synagogue community. In a congregation everyone should rejoice in the youth of a synagogue. The Bar or Bat Mitzvah child is the next generation and when we celebrate that as a temple community we go a long way to help sustain the Jewish people! You don’t have to know the parents or grandparents or the child.  But you share a bond together with that family. All are part of the Temple community!

Being a part of synagogue community can be enriching and rewarding through the relationships that are built.  It is a place like no other. It is sacred place of sacred learning and sacred relationships. And it is so necessary in these cruel and rough times to have a place that helps to elevate our souls.  That is what the synagogue can do. But it takes us being there to help bring about that sanctity and spirit. I hope you will add yours

There are a lot more unwritten rules–stay tuned here for more.