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)

The Hidden and Revealed

This week we Jews prepare for the holiday of Purim.  Perhaps you think Purim is only for the kids.  If so you miss some of the most important lessons for our day and time.  

Purim is a holiday of merriment but it masks some very important discussions and questions!  The whole notion of dressing in costume is but one example.  When we are in a costume we are ourselves but at the same time not ourselves.  We are dressed as other.  But inside the costume we know that we are our self.

This is such an important message for the story of Purim-knowing what is exposed and what is hidden.  We know that Esther hid her identity and then exposed her identity when the stake were a matter of life and death.  Same is true for many of us in our daily lives. We remain hidden until the stakes are so high we can no longer hide. 

Sadly there are still some people who choose death rather than grapple with their own identities. 

Imagine if Esther had remained silent.  She would have watched Haman decimate the Jewish people and eventually perhaps she ould have died too.  The cost of remaining hidden and silent is always a great one. 

That is why on Purim we are told to make noise.  Noise enough to drown out the name of Haman and all threats to the Jewish people and threats that would hide any of our identities. 

This theme of hidden and revealed is woven throughout the holiday.  Even the special scroll we read, Megillat  Esther is a pun of sorts.  Megillah comes from the word Megaleh which means to reveal and Esther is related to the word – nistar or hester which means hidden.  This is the only book of the entire Bible where God’s name isn’t mentioned–and so God is hidden in this book only to be revealed in the great miracle of Esther’s actions.   This holiday of Purim is often called Yom Nes Nistar-the holiday of hidden Miracles.  This is in contrast with Pesach which comes one month after Purim which is a holiday of revealed miracles, a nes niglah, i.e. the plagues and splitting of the Red Sea. 

For each of us today the lessons are many fold.  What is hidden and what is revealed?  What parts of our lives do we hide or share? What miracles still abound? And where do you find the Source of All Being revealed in our world today?

I wish you a very happy and joyous Purim and I hope to see you Saturday night as we read the megillah and celebrate together. 


COME TO CONGREGATION KOL AMI 1200 N. La Brea Av West Hollywood, CA 90038–7 pm!  Martini Bar available!

Laugh Laugh Laugh

Purim is just a couple of days away.  The story of good Queen Esther, who doesn’t really know she is Jewish marries King Ashuereus who is a bit of an oaf.  The Evil Haman, descendent of the arch enemies of the Israelites, manipulates the King into decreeing the death of all the Jews of the Kingdoms of Persia and Medea and the more than 120 countries he rules over. But in the end Queen Esther at the urging of her very proudly Jewish uncle Mordechai speaks truth to power and reveals that she too is Jewish and reveals that Haman is behind this ethnic cleansing plan. Haman is hung on the gallows with his ten sons.  The Jews of the realm are saved by the heroic actions of this young woman.

If this story weren’t in the Bible itself we would laugh! It has all the makings of a genre of plays known as a farce.  Here is the definition of a farce from Wikipediea:

In theatre, a farce is a comedy which aims at entertaining the audience by means of unlikely, extravagant, and improbable situations, disguise and mistaken identity, verbal humour of varying degrees of sophistication, which may include word play, and a fast-paced plot whose speed usually increases, culminating in an ending which often involves an elaborate chase scene.

This is our story.  But it is meant to teach us many lessons because we can learn from fiction, literature and plays about our lives and the meaning of life and justice and hope and despair.  
The way we learn in the Esther story is through laughter and tears.

We learn to never abandon your roots.  You can live an assimilated life in the palace of the King as it were but you will always be Jewish. You can pretend your are not but your proud lineage and heritage will indeed be noted at some point.  And you will also need to decide if you will stand with your family or abandon them.  

We learn that justice only happens when we speak the truth to power as Esther did in this story.  

We learn about fighting back as the Jewish community did at the end of the story.

We learn that God may be hidden (Hester panim) in this story but the reason it was included in the Bible was to teach us that while God’s hand may seem hidden, the strength that God provides Esther to speak is there if we ask and invite it in.  Esther prayed before her meeting with the king.  She fasted and prayed and looked within herself to build courage for this important encounter.  And yet the story of Esther in the Bible never mentions the word God.  God doesn’t speak to Mordechai or Esther as God speaks to Moses and Abraham in the Bible.  

This teaches us in our time even as we are assimilated into the society at large be proud of being Jewish .

This teaches us in our time and maybe especially in our time we must speak up when family and friends are under attack. When governments try to annhilate its citizens we have an obligation to speak up.  The torah teaches us also: “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.”  To do less is   inhuman. 

This story teaches us that God is present even if God seems hidden from us.  All we have to do is tap into that Force of the Universe.  Jews do this through prayer, reflection and community and yes, occasionally fasting (although most often we are feasting! But that’s another blog altogether.) 

So Purim is here it begins on Wednesday night.  Laugh at the story of Esther after all it is written like a farce. But pay close attention to the lessons that it teaches.  Chag Purim!




Stop Genocide: Walk

Have you registered yet?  I mean for the Jewish World Watch Walk to End Genocide on Sunday April 10.  It is a few weeks away I know.  But as we just observed the Holiday of Purim and today is Shushan Purim (Purim observed in walled cities (like Jerusalem) now is a good time to be inspired to sign up to walk and raise funds for Jewish World Watch in the fifth annual Walk to End Genocide.

The work they are doing to bring attention to the situation in Darfur and the Congo is amazing. Jewish World Watch is hammering electronic companies to not buy conflict minerals from the many militias that are wreaking havoc upon the villages and towns of the Congo.  The minerals used in all of our electronics from cell phones to computers are plentiful in the Congo.  And the terrorizing gangs of militias use the funds to buy more arms and rape and murder the women and men throughout the country.

The situation for the refugees in Darfur in southern Sudan continues to be desperate. As the world’s attention shifts from crisis to crisis, from Egypt to Bahrain, to Libya to Japan we can’t forget the genocides that are still brewing in other parts of the world.

Purim was about genocide of the Jews averted through the heroism of Esther. She spoke up. She advocated to the royal powers.  Jewish World Watch helps us to speak up and advocate for those who can’t.  Come walk with Kol Ami Social Action and our Religious School If you click on that link you will be taken to our page and if you can’t walk DONATE on our page.  We are trying to raise 1500.00 dollars from our Congregation. It is an easy stroll in Woodland Hills and an important way we turn our words and prayers into action. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught that protest marches were like “Praying with your feet”.  Come pray with your feet.  And raise awareness of what is happening in Darfur and the Congo.

Laugh in the face of turmoil

We all need a little levity.  The world is so upside down right now. And the world is not an easy place to be.  The Libyans are still engaged in a bloody civil war to oust the terrible dictator Gaddafi.  Israel is still reeling from the murders of a settler family in Itamar.  And of course the situation in Japan is devastating.  So many people are still out of work.  Gas approaches five dollars a gallon. And life is hard for many people.

So Purim’s arrival is not a minute to soon.  And The holiday of Purim shows us how to laugh even in the face of impending destruction.  The story of Esther and her cousin Mordechai and how they saved the Jewish people from genocide foisted upon Persia by the evil Haman is a story of redemption. But it is a story with serious themes.  It raises questions about intermarriage you see Esther marries a non-Jewish king!  And slowly but surely slips into the Palace life.  Of course she is warned by her cousin not to reveal her heritage.  “Pass” says Mordechai.  But in the end Esther can’t really pass herself off as a non-Jew.  Her Jewishness can’t be tossed aside.  She must risk all to speak up.  And she does.

So this story is also about speaking truth to power.  Esther risked death by speaking to the King when not summoned. But she managed to do so understanding that she might have been placed inside the palace by divine powers to exactly be in the right place at the right time!

So this story is also about synergy. Divine Synergy.  Opening your eyes up to the possibility that God’s hand is always present. Our tradition calls it “hester panim” . The hidden face of God that is within the story although the Purim story doesn’t mention God!

So while we play Purim for laughs and levity and turn propriety on its head -the Purim story teaches us important lessons to help us cope with the world.

So join me tomorrow night- Saturday March 19 at 6:30 pm at Kol Ami (1200 N. La Brea, at Lexington.West Hollywood) for an opportunity to hear the story of Purim.  We will read the megillah and then take a few moments to laugh even though the world is in turmoil.  We need to laugh.   Join us for the Rocky Horror Purim Schpiel.