Where Have I been

Dear Friends and Readers

I have been a bit AWOL as 2015 begins.  That’s because I have been busier than ever!

Kol Ami is growing and program-wise thriving!  Our building is getting refreshed and I am so exicited.  Here is the an article that appeared in WEHOVILLE  about the amazing refurbishing and renewal at Kol Ami!  Come by for a visit.

This week alone is an amazing program on Thursday night about Jews from the Middle East  cosponsored with JIMENA–with a panel about Jews from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Egypt and their traditions.

Friday night for Shabbat evening services we will be blessed with the amazing poetry of Alden Solovy who is one of the most interesting people. He is from Jerusalem. He is a poet and prayer writer.  Here is the link to his wonderful spiritual blog. And he will be bringing his insights to us as a way to touch our deepest spirits.

Saturday night you don’t want to miss our Cabaret, fundraiser headed by Glenn Rosenblum, David Kaminski and others….

AND on Sunday if you are in your 20’s and 30’s our Kol Atid group is having an OSCAR VIEWING Party at Kol Ami
And then Purim on March 7 at 7;30 pm with our annual crazy Purim Schpiel….. So get ready to roll to an reinvigorated, dynamic Congregation Kol Ami–where there is something for everyone!

Kol-Ami-Exterior-Color-Stripes (1)

Reflections of Israel on the 40th Anniversary of the Yom Kippur War

Yom Kippur Morning – Reflection of Israel on the 40 Anniversary of the Yom Kippur War

Boker Tov, Good Morning.Gmar Chatimah Tovah. May you all be sealed in the Book of life.

As many of you know this summer I completed my Shalom Hartman Institute Rabbinic Leadership Initiative and graduated as a Sr. Rabbinic Fellow of the Jerusalem based Institute.  The Shalom Hartman Institute is a place of higher learning, teacher training; it is a Jewish think tank and research institute, a place of rabbinic leadership and Jewish communal lay leadership training. It is a place where academics from all nations gather to discuss Israel, Judaism and modernity, and religious ethics.  The Hartman Institute runs two Orthodox High School one for boys and one for girls, trains IDF, Israeli Defense Force officers in Jewish ethics and the ethics of warfare, and provides an opportunity for North American Rabbis of all denominations to gather to study in a free-wheeling Yeshiva setting, encountering the texts and philosophies of our Tradition and apply them to the contemporary world.
It is important that you know my three years there were sponsored by the Los Angeles Jewish Federation.  They underwrote my learning and travel to Israel for the last three and half years.  I would be remiss if I didn’t give a public thank you to the leaders of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles, the Shalom Hartman Institute and all of you who continue to support the Jewish Federation Council.   I would also be remiss if I didn’t thank you, our congregation and our staff for supporting me in this opportunity to broaden my learning and vision and engagement with Israel and the texts of our tradition.

My encounters in Israel these last 3 ½ years have only made my love for our ancient land grow deeper. I have learned to see a different Israel; a more complex and mature Israel than the naïve Zionism of my childhood. And it has changed my heart. As the medieval poet Judah HaLevi wrote  “My heart is in the east, but I am on the edge of the west.”   This morning, as we commemorate 40 years since the Yom Kippur war, my heart is turned eastward to Eretz Yisrael and her neighbors.

I don’t know about you, but in 1973 I still remember as we exited the grand sanctuary of TempleIsrael in Memphis, TN. (after counting the pipes of the organ all morning) everyone was standing on the steps outside and the foyer worrying and talking.  The Rabbi had announced at the conclusion of the morning service that Israel had been attacked that day.  Everyone was so upset.  I remember the following days as the casualties grew and the fierceness of fighting continued as Egypt and Syria kept making incursions into Israeli held territory. It would be almost three whole days until Israel could muster enough of its forces to begin to hold off the combined Arab armies.

Somehow this war would be a different war than 1967’s six day rout by Israel.  Fierce fighting continued for three weeks.  Ending only by diplomatic cease-fire and when Israeli troops had made their way within 25 miles from Damascus in Syria and crossed the Suez Canal encircling the city of Suez and Egypt’s entire Third Army and the Israeli army was only 63 miles from Cairo.  Despite the UN Ceasefire there were skirmishes between the Egyptian army and Israel until January of 1974 and on the northern front with Syria until May 1974.

But the 1973 war was different.  Despite many warnings as early as Rosh Hashanah that both the Syrian army and Egyptian army were amassing troops and tanks, the high level military commanders in Israel did not believe that the Arab armies would strike out against Israel post 1967.  And in papers recently released then Prime Minister Golda Meir, admitted she knew war was imminent but could not call a preemptive strike. This left the Israeli army very unprepared for the attacks on Yom Kippur Day 1973.  They were taken by surprise.

That war also almost led to a real confrontation between the U.S. and the Soviets.  In those years Egypt and Syria were client states of the former Soviet Union. Both were armed by the Soviets and its officers trained by the Soviets.  Throughout the war as tension increased the US and the Soviets almost entered the war. In one naval battle, Israeli and Soviet gun ships exchanged fire off the coast of Syria.  Luckily Henry Kissinger’s brilliance saw this encounter as a way to woo Egypt from the Soviet sphere. And today Egypt still receives serious financial and military aid from the U.S.

Five years later-the Camp David Accord of 1978 would bring peace between Egypt and Israel and the price was the return of the Sinai Peninsula.  But the Yom Kippur war changed something in Israel and her soldiers and the country.  For the first time they were defending the territories captured in 1967.  And Israel came within hours of losing the entire country and using nuclear weapons.  The losses were great for Israel during that war 40 years ago today.  And for the first time Israelis began to question their own governmental and military tactics in a new way.

And that questioning that began there 40 years ago today-is never more apparent than in Israel than now.   What kind of state should Israel be?  As it in now 65 years old, what kind of Jewish Democratic Israel should unfold?

Israelis have had enough.  There is an important debate that is going on in Israel about the role of public and governmental Judaism.  As the Haredim, the ultra Orthodox communities continue to grow through tremendous birth rates, traditional and secular communities in Israel have become embittered at the public control of the Chief Rabbinate over daily life and the lack of involvement in the State by the Haredi communities by paying taxes, and being part of the workforce.  Hence the recent law that passed the Knesset requiring Haredi Ultra Orthodox men to serve in the Israel Defense Forces.  I have to admit when I spent a day at the officers training headquarters this summer I was stunned by the number of Hareidi Jews black hats, knee briches and arba kanfot flying as they walked briskly through the corridors on their way to army offices.  This is a definite change. While not all Hareidim are supporting this change and several Haredi soldiers have been beaten up as the came home on the weekend to their ultra-observant neighborhoods, increasingly this compulsory service will indeed change the Hareidim-it will help them adjust to modernity and force them to learn a trade and it will change the Army and all of Israel as secular Israelis and Hareidim meet and must work side by side.

This questioning and protests within in Israel has been a fascinating progression in the life of the Jewish state. Just a couple of months ago –there were elections for the New Chief, Ashekenazi and Sephardic rabbis of Israel.  For the first time ever, more moderate Religious Orthodox Jews ran against the Haredi rabbis.  While they didn’t win this time they came very close.  There have been many reports and questions even asking why there still is a chief rabbiniate in Israel controlling such areas of life, including marriage, birth and death and conversion and Kashrut.  These have been questions Reform and Masoriti communities have long asked and fought for, now it is being asked in many other corners of Israel and within the Israeli government itself!  In Jerusalem in Machne Yehuda, the large central market, a group of restaurateurs have gathered to create their own certificate of kashrut, rejecting the Jerusalem Chief rabbinates’ certification and the fees and often outrageous rules they must follow. This is but one example of the pendulum swinging and people asking for themselves: “What kind of Israel do we want?”

And many of you no doubt have followed the news stories about the Western Wall and the efforts of Women of the Wall to organize its monthly women’s prayer service there.  I have spoken about it before on the High Holy Days.  Again this summer I went in July for Rosh Chodesh Av to pray in the early morning service at the Kotel.  It was really different than previous summers, because this year group leader Anat Hoffman recently named Person of the Year by Haaretz Newspaper in Israel and the Women of the Wall group sought a new court ruling from Jerusalem District Court about the ability to pray at the Kotel.  It used to be that the police would arrest the Women of the Wall for praying there. Now the police have been charged with protecting the Women of the Wall in prayer.

We gathered at 6:30 am at Gan Hapamon, Near the Inbal hotel 350 women and 100 men boarded buses and were now escorted by police into the OldCity. Now the police was protecting us from the angry crowds of Haredim.  When we arrived we were ushered into the KotelPlaza without a hassle but we didn’t make it very far.  For the Heads of the Right Wing Yeshivas had called on the young women age 12-17 to arise even earlier and more than 5000 young girls blocked our way by filling the women’s side of the Kotel.  And stuck in the upper plaza we faced a line of young Charedi teenagers in their streimels and payot yelling obscenities at us while old women blew whistles.  The police would not let us try to push forward near the Kotel and so we led our joyous Rosh Chodesh service in the back of the plaza-with the Charedim, screaming at us, and throwing water bottles and eggs and the many us who had gathered. There were lots of N.American women rabbis in this gathering in July because all of us who were at the Hartman Institute this summer had joined together in solidarity for these Rosh Chodesh prayers. One young pregnant rabbi was hit by a water bottle.  Luckily she was okay. But it was disheartening. The man was arrested.  Here we had changed the way the police acted toward Women of the Wall but we were outnumbered and outgunned by the Yeshiva students.

Last November, the story and the momentum began to change-when the police arrested Anat for wearing a tallit during prayer at the wall.  They arrested her as they have before. But this time they stripped searched the former city council woman, and threw her in a cell with several prostitutes naked until the next morning.  Usually she would be charged and released in several hours.  After the outcry from within Israel and from liberal Judaism here in North America the Israeli government officials had to take note.  They were embarrassed but still the following months the police under orders of the Kotel rabbi arrested several prominent Reform women rabbis as well for carrying their talitot into the KotelPlaza.

Again the cry of Diaspora Jews was beginning to be heard.  I worked closely here in Los Angeles with our Counsel General here in Los Angeles to create a Rabbinic Task Force.   I knew that we had a unique opportunity to influence Israel and to convey the urgency to the Israeli government that squelching the prayers of women dedicated to prayer, and continuing to empower Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz the rabbi of the Kotel to have the police act like thugs would only aver to damage Israel further in the larger Jewish community outside of Israel.  On that task force are Rabbi Laura Geller and I,  Rabbi David Wolpe, Rabbi Eddie Feinstien,  Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky of B’nai David Judea,Rabbi Kalman Topp modern Orthodox rabbi of Beth Jacob, Rabbi Eleazar Muskin Modern Orthodox rabbi of Agudath Yisrael of Century City,  Rabbi Yitzhok Adlerstein of the Wiesenthal Center-who represented even more right wing Orthodox movements, Rabbi David Eliezeri of Chabad of Orange County, and Rabbi Judith HaLevy and Rabbi Steve Carr Reuben of the Reconstructionist movement.  It was a group that never had sat down before. We began to talk about the Kotel and what does it mean for the State of Israel to discriminate against some Jews.  It has been an interesting roundtable.  Not that we always agree. But unlike the Board of Rabbis where some of these further to the right rabbis won’t participate, they all do care about Israel, and what kind of Israel is going to exist!

Over the last year, we have met several times. Including a private meeting with Ambassador Michael Oren, scholar Michah Goodman, Rabbi Rick Jacobs,  the president of our Union for Reform Judaism and of course Natan Shransky who was charged with solving the situation at the Western Wall and the ability of WOW to be able to pray and the issue of egalitarian prayer.—Men and women together.

There have been ongoing negotiations at the highest level. In Jerusalem, in Washington, D.C. and New York, leaders of the Reform and Conservative movement and Modern Orthodox movements here in the Diaspora have been heard. And when recently the Minister of Religious Services and head of the Israel Beytanu Party, Naftali Bennett  tried to do an end run around the compromise that has been reached, again the voices of North American Jewry spoke out and were heard.

But the compromise that has been reached is as follows: Women of the Wall are allowed to pray with their tallitot, in the manner of their custom, with their prayerbook at the Kotel, but also eventually there will be adequate facilities in another area of the Kotel, near Robinson’s Arch that will be open 24/7, and that will be entitled for liberal prayer, including Reform and Conservative prayer of men and women together.  There are more than 100 torah scrolls owned by the State of Israel at the Kotel, but so far Rabbi Rabinowitz has refused WOW access.  The new compromise will allow access to the Torah scrolls and prayer books.  But this plan will take time to make happen.  And much remains to be seen as to how the interim is handled!  Women of the Wall had a beautiful and successful Selichot service at the Kotel including the sounding of the Shofar on Sept. 1.  So it remains to be seen how on Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan the story will unfold.

But a significant part of the compromise is that for the first time Reform and Conservative Rabbis will be recognized by the State and there will be a new configuration of the foundation that controls the Western Wall Heritage Site, including liberal Jews and women who will make up the group!

Israel is changing in many positive ways.

But Israel won’t change if we just walk away.  If we simply opt out and say we don’t care.  We American Jews, we have a stake in Israel. Even if we don’t make aliyah, move to Israel.  Israel is our homeland. It is the land of our heritage, our roots as a people.  Even if you as a Jew have yet to visit there, Israel belongs not just to Israeli citizens, but to the Jewish people. The land of Israel is a pillar of our faith, God Torah, and Israel.  The land and the people of Israel-the People of Israel is not a political message but a spiritual one and include each of us here.  We are Am Yisrael. I want to encourage each of you-to visit Israel. To understand the place you have there, can only be if you visit there. And revisit there.  Going to Israel is even if it is your vacation-is different than a trip to China, or Greece, France or a Caribbean Cruise. A trip to Israel is a spiritual pilgrimage because it is a visit to the land of your ancestors.

The conversation in our country these last few weeks of the horrors endured by the Syrian people, and the potential for strikes against Israel by chemical weapons of Syria or the nuclear weapons of Iran should give us all pause.  It is not if Iran might make a nuclear bomb it is only when.  And the brilliant tactics that they have used agreeing to engage in talks and disarmament only to ramp up their spinning centrifuges should make us wonder at this new offer by Russian and Syria to engage in disarmament of chemical weapons when we have been trying for years to have this happen, only to be blocked at the UN Security Council by Russian and China!

We Jews have strived to learn from our history.  We Jews have said “Never Again”. Never again will we let a Dictator round us up and gas our people.  What about our obligation to other people? Will we stand silently by? As our Torah portion this afternoon asks of us?   Will we stand silently as Israel faces a chemical and nuclear threat? Or a barrage of rockets from Hizbollah or Hamas?

Will we stand silent when we seek an Israel that is more just and more democratic, when it fails to be? Will we stand silent or will be as members of the Jewish world, be willing to raise our voices for Israel?  In good times and in bad? We can argue Israeli politics, just like we argue politics here in the states.  But Israel is more than its politics. It is a place of complexities, and irony. It is a place of contradictions, and history, the home of many peoples and our Jewish home as well.

My experiences at the Shalom Hartman Institute have taught me this: We Jews are all a part of Israel.  We have a stake not only in Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel but whether we live in the modern state of Israel or not, we Jews around the world have a stake in the success of the nation of Israel and we have a voice there as well.

In November I will return to Israel to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Women at the Wall along with a number of women rabbis. We will help usher in Rosh Chodesh Kislev. While we are there we hope to continue to uplift our voices that Israel matters not just to Israelis but to give evidence that Israel matters to all Jews everywhere and the right to pray and to practice Judaism in our custom is a powerful testament to our Jewish values and faith.  Israel is a precious place not just for Israelis but for you and me.  Use your voice as a voice for Israel, now and always. Use your miles to get there.  It is making a difference both here and there.

May Israel continue to flourish in this New Year.  And may we help to bring the bonds of friendship between America and Israel even closer in this year ahead.  Protect her and all its residents.  And let the gift of peace flow upon Israel as a nation as she seeks peace with the Palestinians and all of her neighbors.

The Bluebird of Happiness

Below is my Rosh Hashanah Evening Sermon for 5774.      



Shanah Tovah u’metukah-I want to wish each of you a happy and sweet New Year!  Tonight we have begun our New Year’s observance with exuberance, with music and song, and reflection.  Thank you to Cantor Saltzman to our student Rabbi Jeremy Gimbel and our musical director Lisa Sylvester and are musicians. You have helped us create a place of pure happiness, especially as we live in a world of chaos.  

As this holiday arrives we wish one another Shana Tovah tikateivu. We wish one another Happy New year and good inscription in the Book of Life.  This is our way of saying we hope it is a good year for you. We hope it is a happy year for you.  The New Year comes with a promise, a hope, a dream of happiness.

Our Declaration of Independence declared that each citizen shall have the inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness! This perhaps more than many other written guidelines have defined the American ideal.  Each of us as citizens, whether native born or naturalized has, as the founders of our Country held, has the God-given right to these three things. 

          Tonight as the New Year begins I want to focus on the pursuit of happiness. This wish we give one another to have a happy life.   It is our entitlement, our right as Americans to have the liberty and freedom, to pursue our happiness.   After all isn’t living a happy life our goal? We all want to be happy.  Even the philosopher Aristotle wrote so long ago:  Happiness then, is the end of action… –the whole point of life!

Many of us spend our own lifetimes trying to search out what will make us “happy”.  Sometimes it is a new car. Sometimes it is a special vacation. Sometimes it is pursuing an educational goal.  Sometimes happiness is sought through finding the right relationship. It is different for each one of us. It is personal. It is unique.

But the Pursuit of happiness certainly has defined our American ideals. And perhaps just perhaps, it is simply an important part of being human. 

For many of us the wonderful decision that brought an end to DOMA-the defense of Marriage Act and the Supreme Court Decision that threw out Prop 8 on an issue of standing-brought a kind of happiness that many of us could have only dreamed of.  It was a day of joy; the ultimate expression of our humanity to have a relationship solemnized and to be formally recognized as a family by society.

To be really able to marry the one you love for so many of us has been fleeting.  And now that avenue of the pursuit of happiness is available.   Will all of you who are getting married or have gotten married since Prop 8 was overturned please stand?


We wish you blessings of peace and joy, health and yes, happiness. May your lives together be entwined with patience and caring through sad times and time of joy. And May you create a home filled with reverence, faith, laughter and hope.  Let us all say Amen!  (You can be seated)


Now that was a happy moment.  But happiness is a state of being not just a state of mind.  And there is science to back that up!

Years ago an experiment was conducted in which test subjects were asked to mimic facial expression for six different emotions; happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, fear, and disgust. According to the researches when the subjects showed fear, their skin temperatures dropped and their heart rates increased. Appropriate physical responses were recorded for each of the remaining expressions.

So wouldn’t it make sense to act happy, confident and positive as often as possible? That’s not to say you won’t have sad days or experience any negative feelings. It simply means that by making a choice we can embody and manifest the absolute best for ourselves. 

 Finding the key to your happiness is not just a matter of your attitude but your health!


As Daisaku Ikeda a Buddhist teacher said: One thing is certain; that is that the power of belief, the power of thought, will move reality in the direction of what we believe and conceive of it. If you really believe you can do something, you can!

You can pursue happiness.  And Act happy.

     On this first day of the New Year, we Jews are so lucky. We can toss out the past behaviors, errors and sins that block our road to happiness and contentment and we have rituals that are designed to help us move toward greater happiness.  We are encouraged to confront the transgressions that muck up our relationships and to sort through them.  That’s not always happy business. But the goal during these High Holy Days of our tradition is to lead you through a process that will restore and purify your spirit, purify your soul in an effort to create a space of spiritual contentment. Rosh Hashanah and our traditions try to restore the balance in your life – so that you can be happy.

          Judaism recognizes that contentment and peace are huge part of the happiness equation.  If you are content with your lot in life, the Mishnah teaches you are rich indeed.

          In Jewish tradition that is why we say 100 blessings a day. We try and frame our day with a certain kind of mindfulness. A deep sense of gratitude for everything; from the food we eat, to the ability to get up in the morning, to move your bowels, and to have the chance to learn something new! Everything has a bracha, a blessing.  Not to be cumbersome-but to remind you of how much we have to be grateful for each and every day.  And the blessing, the bracha, is a way to take an inventory and remind yourself; how happy you should be given the many blessings in your life.  The blessing is the antidote to difficult moments. And if you are affirming the goodness in your life, well then you tend not to focus on the irritations and setbacks.

          This isn’t to ignore existential pain, physical pain or suffering. These are real and disrupt our inner and outer worlds. And yet even when we are faced with such overwhelming grief or distress, to continue with life we must “count what blessings we have”.  Appreciating our blessings, even if they seem few in number help lead us on a path toward greater contentment and the ultimate gift of peace and happiness.

          There is a great emphasis on mindfulness meditation.  Time and again people are telling me that their doctors and psychologists are recommending they take mindful meditation classes to help with everything from their high blood pressure to their anxiety disorders.  This is exactly what prayer is about.  We are here these 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur to engage in mindful meditation about our lives and how to restore our souls and our bodies to a state of equilibrium!  We do this each week as Shabbat services.  And in truth if you pray daily as a Jew this is the goal! We Jews wrote the book on mindful meditation and how prayer can lead to a fuller, happier life.

A sign in a pet store read, “If anybody has seen the Bluebird of Happiness? It used to live here but seems to have flown away.  The bluebird of happiness supposedly flies over the rainbow somewhere, elusive at best.  But when we can find it, all happiness and joy can be ours.

     But Joy and happiness are not always the same things. Happiness can be thought of as more of a temporary, emotional condition, often based on outside circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, is deeper. It is often contentment in spite of the unsettling present. We can be basically joyful, regardless of a particular unhappy situation that we may be enduring. It is sometimes just a matter of keeping perspective on our troubles, and especially when those troubles seem to be in long supply.

You may know the story of the man who had a marvelous way of keeping joy in his life. He was a carpenter (No, not that carpenter.). He followed the same ritual every day when he came home from the job. He stopped by a small tree in his front yard and placed his hand on a couple of branches. Then,

when he walked into his home, it was as if a magical transformation had occurred. All of a sudden, the stress was lifted from him. He became energetic and joyful, dare I say happy, able to fully interact with his children and his wife.

He explained it this way: “That tree is my trouble tree. When I come home I stop by the tree and, just like I leave my tools in the truck, I leave my troubles outside of my home. I hang them on that tree before greeting my family. Anything that does not have to come in my house stays outside. Anything that I do not have to deal with at home, I leave on that tree. And in the morning, I stop by the tree and pick up the troubles I left there in the evening.”

       Then he adds, “It’s a funny thing, though. Every morning I always find fewer troubles remaining than I hung the night before.”

     Here is a man who has no doubt seen the Bluebird of Happiness.

Chances are it is nesting in a tree just outside his home. 

     For most of us we too get so caught up in the things that drag us down during a day that we forget to leave our troubles outside our home.  The ancient tale of the bluebird of happiness teaches us that happiness is often found just near our own homes! Happiness and contentment is close to home, with our family and friends who add meaning to our lives.

     But studies show one more thing-and that is happiness changes over time—we are not static in our desires and dreams-rather our sense of self and our needs change as we change, as we age.  What made us happy at 21 is different than at 40 and different yet again at 70 or 90.   We are different people in the course of our own lifetimes. 

      The Grant Study was a longitudinal study of 238 men who graduated Harvard University in 1938-1940, of course this study might be flawed because it contained no women and tracked college graduates. Nevertheless, it does give us a glimpse into a long time over 75 year study of a group who was monitored and checked with over the course of their lifetimes.  And the universality of the results were astounding. There are five lessons that come from this study, (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/11/how-this-harvard-psycholo_n_3727229.html)

Love is all that matters, being a part of supporting and caring relationships is the most important factor in this study. But equally important is not pushing away love. Moving from the narcissistic self, focused on the “me”, and being able to move to care deeply about others also was an important factor.  We call this maturity.  Connections with other people are a must especially as we get older. As we age our circles of people who cared about us gets smaller and so for our own longevity, and reduction of stress we need other people.   Money and Power was not the key to happiness, it contributed something to the equation but when measured against the full life, the biggest factor was contentment at work.  You can make a lot of money but be miserable at your job and the money isn’t comforting in the end. It might make things easier but true contentment and peace comes from the satisfaction you get from your work. Finally, the ability to change your perspective-make lemonade out of lemons is crucial. These five factors were the results of this long term study.

     But how do we get there? What tools do we have for helping us find the secrets to a happier life? Many Jews look elsewhere, they seek it out in Buddhist practice, they explore political philosophies and politics as if it is their religion. They try new age spiritualties as an authentic expression that they can relate to.  I went to a service at Agape with a friend not so long ago and there were more Jews sitting there than here tonight! 

  My dear friends, I want to let you in on a secret.  Judaism is an age-old recipe for living a life of happiness.  Perhaps you don’t know it well.  Perhaps you didn’t have a strong Jewish education, perhaps the Hebrew has been a barrier or you think the only brand of Judaism that is authentic is an Orthodox one. And you say to yourself I can never do all those things like stop driving on Shabbat or wear those clothes or only eat kosher. I know more people in this room that limit their kind of food in one way or another-some of you are vegan, or gluten free, or carb free, or dairy free. You have the discipline and capacity to live out your values in your food consumption.

  But if you look at contemporary Judaism, even as we age and our focus on what makes us happy as human beings, Judaism is really a constant. It reminds us that we ought to live in a moral universe and we human beings ought to live our lives no matter what age we are—seeking contentment and happiness through the goodness of our character and, as the Grant study at Harvard showed the relationships we build.  .

Judaism teaches us happiness comes not from things but from relationship.  Just a tree blooms and bears fruit from the watering of stream as it says in the first chapter of Psalms, a person has contentment when they have right relationships with people and with their Higher Power-that we Jews call God. When we water and nurture our spirits and our good character then we are on the path toward happiness.  For these next ten days we are focused on getting right in our relationships. This is a time to own up to your mistakes, this is time to make amends. These next 10 days are part of your natural Jewish path towards a life of happiness, contentment and peace.

      Our tradition –teaches happiness is not found in external things but within ourselves-

“A truly happy person does not allow his happiness to be dependent on any external factor over which he may not have control.” (Chochmah Umussar, vol.2, pp.331-2) Teaches an ancient Jewish text.

The happiness factor in Judaism comes not from how much money one has or how big a home, because our tradition teaches that things are fleeting. As the book of Ecclesiastes taught us that everything, all labor can add up to is nothing but vanities—one day we are have money and the next it can be gone with the whims of the market.  We all sat here at Rosh Hashanah 2008 in panic because the accounts we had were tanking. Money comes and goes, jobs are not forever but to be truly happy is to be content in yourself.  That is the key to happiness according to Jewish tradition is to be someone who is just and kind and moral.  Be a person who is a mensch.   Then we will know true happiness because we will find that contentment comes when we have made peace with ourselves, peace with our loved ones and peace with God.  

The key to happiness is not out there.  But in Here.  In You.  The key to happiness can begin on this Rosh Hashanah and help you re-order, re-prioritize and return to yourself.  That is the nature of Teshuvah. It helps us return to the pursuit of happiness grounded in our authentic selves.  Thus equipped we can through the process of these High Holy Days, seek authentic relationships, feel love, feel our own worth, and remember that God made you just as you are. The Sound of the Shofar is calling to you to remind you of that spark inside you that is God’s presence and can radiate through you into the world.  When you let that spark shine through your actions, your mitzvoth, and your attitude it will change you for the better. There was a boy, whose family was very wealthy. One day his father took him on a trip to the country, where he aimed to show his son, how poor people live. So they arrived at a farm of a very poor family, as he considered. They spent several days there. On their return, the father asked his son, did he like the trip. “Oh, it was great, dad” – the boy replied. “Did you notice, how poor people live?”. “Yeah, I did” – said the boy. The father asked his son to tell in more details about his impressions from their trip.

     “Well, we have only one dog, and they have four of them. In our garden there is a pool, while they have a river that has no end. We‘ve got expensive lanterns, but they have stars above their heads at night. We have the patio, and they have the whole horizon. We have only a small piece of land, while they have the endless fields. We buy food, but they grow it. We have high fence for protection of our property, and they don‘t need it, as their friends protect them.”

The father was stunned he could not say a word. Then the boy added: “Thank you, dad, for letting me see how poor we really are.”

This story shows that the true wealth as well as happiness are not measured by materials things. Love, friendship and freedom are far more valuable.  And it also shows us the very point of the Grant Study-that our perspective and attitude and ability to make lemonade from lemons is the greatest measure of attaining happiness.

In other words, our attitudes and our outlook matter in the pursuit of happiness.  So how in this year of 5774 will you be engaged in the pursuit of happiness?  Will it merely be acquiring more things? OR chasing after vanities? Or can you shift your perception to include a focus on your inner being, your character, your attitude of gratitude in the world?  Can you use these High Holy Days to enhance the pursuit of happiness, the meaning of life and your Jewish birthright to lift you to higher planes of spirituality, contentment and peace? 

     Rosh Hashanah is called Yom Harat Olam, The day the world was born.

Is it literally the birthday of the world—exploding into a new year-a new time, this is the chance to have tonight, Rosh Hashanah be the beginning of a new world for you.  So sound the Shofar at the arrival of your re-birth.  Sound the shofar that the new you is soon arriving.  Sound tekiah in welcome of a commitment to a new way, a change in our attitude, healing our relationships with self, and one another and God and yes connecting in a community built on Jewish ethics and values that guide us today and into the future as well.

Ken Yehi Ratzon so may it be God’s Will



Light filled Chanukah!

I want to wish each of you a light filled Chanukah.

I hope you will extend your inner light to someone else this year.

A smile, a helping hand, a listening ear, a gift of tzedakah for those in need.

I hope you will be inspired by the story of Chanukah with the courage of the Macabees.

I hope you will be inspired to believe that you can do what seems impossible.

I hope you will dedicate and rededicate holy space in your life to blessing life and God’s gift of life.

I hope that you will come celebrate Chanukah with me on Friday, Dec. 14, at 7 pm at Congregation Kol Ami  and don’t forget your Chanukiah so we can do all these things together!

Happy Chanukahlens18883572_1321325460Menorah

Kol Ami celebrates Gay Pride from the Jewish Journal


LGBT Jews take pride in inclusiveness



Crowds of revellers pack Santa Monica Boulevard during the L.A. Pride Parade in West Hollywood on June 10. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reutershttp://platform.twitter.com/widgets/tweet_button.1338995330.html#_=1339704744007&count=horizontal&id=twitter-widget-0&lang=en&original_referer=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.jewishjournal.com%2Flos_angeles%2Farticle%2Flgbt_jews_take_pride_in_inclusiveness_20120613%2F&size=m&text=LGBT%20Jews%20take%20pride%20in%20inclusiveness%20%7C%20Los%20Angeles%20%7C%20Jewish%20Journal&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.jewishjournal.com%2Flos_angeles%2Farticle%2Flgbt_jews_take_pride_in_inclusiveness_20120613%2F&via=jewishjournal Share Repost This
Crowds of revellers pack Santa Monica Boulevard during the L.A. Pride Parade in West Hollywood on June 10. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/ReutersCrowds of revellers pack Santa Monica Boulevard during the L.A. Pride Parade in West Hollywood on June 10. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Before he told members of his family, Nathan Looney told members of his synagogue, Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), that he was transitioning from female to male. He says the encouragement he received is typical for members of this Pico Boulevard congregation.

“I see my family once in a while, but I see the people here once a week, sometimes more,” said Looney, who added that the synagogue gave him “perfect support.”

Looney was among more than 100 participants who attended Pride Shabbat at BCC, a Friday night kickoff to a weekend of activities celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities.

Marking the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a watershed moment in the LGBT rights movement, Pride festivities in Los Angeles included parties, a lesbian-led march, a festival and a Sunday afternoon parade along Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood. In a year that has seen the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and President Barack Obama becoming the first president to support same-sex marriage, the LGBT communities had much to celebrate.

The Jewish community participated in LGBT events throughout the weekend with a combination of philanthropy and prayer as well as celebration.

In addition to Pride, BCC’s Friday night service also marked the 40th anniversary of its first Shabbat service. Congregants were invited to prepare short speeches to read from the bimah throughout the service to share memories, describing their personal journeys to spirituality as well as coming out to themselves and their communities. The congregants’ stories started with the earliest members of the congregation and continued toward the more recent.

Davi Cheng, a computer graphics designer who helped create the biblically themed stained glass windows in the sanctuary, first came to BCC in 1996 when her partner, Bracha, began keeping a more Jewish household. Cheng, a former BCC president, recalled how she celebrated her 17th anniversary with her partner at the synagogue.

“[Bracha] arranged to have ‘The Song of Songs’ sung to me during Friday night services. We were invited to light the Shabbat candles. What a powerful night that was — to be able to be who we are and celebrating publicly our anniversary. Just this act of sharing our love with the community was very affirming,” she said.

At Congregation Kol Ami, a congregation in West Hollywood, Rabbi Denise L. Eger and Cantor Mark Saltzman led Pride Shabbat services. Congregants also took part in a professional clothing drive for the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center’s Jeff Griffith Youth Center, which gives shelter and supplies to homeless LGBT youth as well as helping them obtain GEDs and vocational assistance.

“That is really what gay and lesbian pride is about,” said Eger, who served as a judge for the parade. “It is about creating an environment of total inclusion. Tolerance does not mean that anyone does anything. To really include means you go another step further.”

Celebration of diversity was also reflected in an interfaith service at the intersection of Santa Monica and La Cienega boulevards before the start of the Pride Parade on Sunday. The service included live music and was led by spiritual leaders from Kol Ami, BCC, Metropolitan Community Church Los Angeles (MCCLA), the International Buddhist Meditation Center and the Los Angeles Queer Interfaith Clergy Council.

The Rev. Neil Thomas of MCCLA worries that young people are leaving the church “because they are equating religion with bigotry and hatred.” He believes the interfaith service is important for dispelling the idea that God does not love gay people.

Victor Bumbalo of the Buddhist Meditation Center agreed. “Young people coming out think people of faith have turned their backs on them. Being LGBT should not stop someone from being spiritual,” he said.

While the mood throughout the weekend was supportive and optimistic, it was also acknowledged that there is still work to be done in obtaining civil rights for the LGBT community.

Eger stressed that the LGBT community will continue to exist in a state of second-class citizenship until the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act.

Rabbi Lisa Edwards of BCC agreed.

“It was great to see that the president came out in support of gay marriage, but that same week, North Carolina passed the law banning it. … Minuses always come with pluses. It’s two steps forward and one step back, to put it in parade terms. But we’re still moving forward.”

A version of this article appeared in print.


Source: Jewish Journal (http://s.tt/1esW2)

Calypso #Chanukah

Don’t forget tonight is the fourth candle!  Celebrate with me and Kol Ami at Hollywood & Highland in the main courtyard-Calypso Shabbat Chanukah!  It will be an amazing Shabbat Chanukah experience.   We begin the festivities at 6 pm….  Hollywood & Highland is at 6801 Hollywood Blvd.

Afterwards dinner at BOHO!