#elulgram 19: ask

Today we began post confirmation.  I’m so excited that we’ve added this opportunity this year for our 11th and 12th graders. And I’m even more excited for our curriculum. Based on the idea of civic responsibility, we are really asking the question of who we are in the world?

What’s our responsibility in this world to build the world that we envision? How do we figure out that vision?

One of the students today commented that it’s such a big question that it’s a little scary to consider. I think that the student is right. It is a little scary. A lot daunting.

Asking important questions often is.

#BlogElul #ElulGram Pray

I have a confession.  I don’t really like services all the time.

It’s been a hurdle for me in the rabbinate, but I’ve figured out over the years how to find a prayerful moment in services that I lead.  It’s harder when I’m a congregant.

That’s not to say that I don’t like prayer.  I love when i’m able to have a true prayer moment! But those moments are rare for me–and don’t always come during services.

And yet I keep trying.

And sometimes, it’s through observing the inspiration of others that I’m able to connect, myself.  And the more I try, the more successful moments I have.  And the longer I lead worship, the easier it is to find at least a moment in each service during which I’m truly able to connect to the Divine in the Universe.

That’ why it’s important to keep praying.

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#BlogElul #ElulGram 17: Awaken

Some days, we need help waking up.


Sometimes, that help comes from a cup of coffee.  Other times, that help comes from others.

When we wake up to the beauty in the world around us because of the amazement we notice in the face of a small child…

When we wake up to reality because of the words of a friend…

When we wake up out of the false illusions that are holding us back because of the wisdom of a loved one…

When we wake up to new knowledge because of the insight shared by an author…

When we wake up to new experience because of the invitation of a teacher…

When we wake up to truth because of the comment of a student…

What do you need to be woken up from?

#BlogElul #ElulGram 16: Understand

Yesterday, I was talking to some sixth graders when one of them mentioned that tomorrow was 9/11. As they nodded thoughtfully, I had a moment of realizing that they were not born yet in 2001. A brief moment of understanding how long it’s been since that day when the world changed.

I’ve written before about my memory of that day. But it’s only now, 13 years later, that I really realize the extent to which that moment shaped not only a skyline and the world, but also my own life.  And certainly my rabbinate.

3 months, 3 weeks, and 1 day before 9/11 was my ordination. I’ve never known a High Holy Days as a rabbi that didn’t exist in that reality. The High Holy Day preparation that year certainly looked different than any other I’ve experienced since, but reflecting back on that year has since been a part of that preparation.  When I read the words of Unetaneh Tokef “Who shall live and who shall die,” I will always be reminded of reading them in 2001. My brain will always flash to remembering my internal, silent addition of “who by jumping and who by burning.” But what struck me as I spoke to those 6th graders, is understanding that enough time has passed now that the new normal has begun to feel, well, normal.  Except for those moments when I’m reminded that it wasn’t always like that.

I recently watched Ghosbusters during its rerelease. Seeing pre-2001 images of New York City is always difficult. But there’s a scene in the movie in which you see rescue workers running towards a building explosion in lower Manhattan, as civilians run the other way. It was painful to watch. To remember that there used to be a different reality.

But then, at other times, I remember that there is rebuilding. And a never ending scope of new realities–some of which are painful, but some of them are full of hope.


#BlogElul15 Learn

This week, Newsweek Magazine put out the 2014 list of America’s top high schools. My own alma mater, Westfield High School, was ranked as number 29. I feel a sense of pride in that–a sense that is probably much higher than any school spirit I might have had when I went there. And I realize how lucky I am to have learned in such an environment. Did I love every day of high school? No. Not at all. Did I like every teacher? Every class? Also no. Not even close.

But I recognize that it was an environment in which learning thrived–and in which, ultimately, my love of learning was nourished. I realize that those teachers I did like, whose classes helped to spark engaged learning for me, really made a difference in my life in the long run.  And my classmates, even the ones I wasn’t friends with, helped to perpetuate a learning atmosphere that was challenging in a good way.

And I realize I’m lucky to have had that. And that socioeconomics, unfortunately, have all too much to do with the environment in which kids learn. I have hope, though, that there’s potential for change. Newsweek also published a list of schools who beat the odds–the top schools for low income students.  And there are several schools that are on the top of both lists. Education disparity is something that we need to address–so that all kids, no matter where they are from, can learn in an environment that fosters good learning.

Because from that, we get a society full of educated people. And we get kids who love learning.  And adults who continue to love learning.

#BlogElul14: Remember

Myt earliest memory is moving.  In retrospect, I know that I don’t actually remember that moment.  That I remember the memory of that moment, but not the memory itself.  Memory is funny that way.  We know the stories that are told and retold, even though we don’t actually know the moments that those stories recall. But maybe that’s the point.  Maybe we don’t need to recall the moment itself to recall the meaning of that moment. And maybe when we remember the story, we call upon the essence that is part of the original tale.

#BlogElul 13: Forgive

When we are able to forgive someone, when we allow ourselves to forgive, it can help to heal us. Forgiving does not always mean fixing the relationship–in fact, sometimes it means the exact opposite.  But to forgive is to enable ourselves to take the power away from the other–away from the action that hurt us.  To remove the hurt and the anger and to accept that what happened is over and cannot be changed and move towards healing.

We cannot control anyone other than ourselves.  We cannot force another to forgive us.  But we can allow ourselves to forgive others. Even if they don’t ask. Even if they don’t much care. Because forgiving, truly forgiving, is an internal process–not an outward act.

#BlogElul 11: Count #elulgram

As I looked through my pictures to find this image, the one I knew I wanted to use, I was reminded of how lucky I am. As I scrolled through image after image, I saw so many photos that I could have used.  So many captured moments of people who really make a difference in my life.  Pictures of friendship. Of relationship. Of love. Of caring. So many images of relationships that count–and yet this is one that shows that more than any other.

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I am so blessed to have so many wonderful people in my life.  Friends, family, friends who have become family…people that count.  People who are there no matter what.  People who are there when I need to celebrate.  Who are there when I need to mourn.  Who are there when I need to vent.  Who tell me what I want to hear (even when I’m not sure I want to hear it).  Who are there when I just need them to listen.  Who are there when I need to not talk.  Who remind me that I am worthy, I am valued, and I am awesome.  Who are there to remind me that those that don’t recognize that don’t count.  People who count.  

I’m blessed to have so many people in my life, from so many aspects of my life, who truly count. Past, present, and future.  I suppose it’s partly luck and partly that I’ve learned to cultivate relationships that matter.  And to find people that matter no matter where I am.  Regardless, I have many in my life who truly matter. And you are the ones who help to make my life count.  

#BlogElul 1: Do

Totally out of order, but….

They say, one mitzvah (sacred obligation) leads to another.  When we do good, good spreads. This is what the Elul Mitzvah Challenge is all about: making goodness go viral.

By performing mitzvot, we are engaging in acts that make the world better, or make our lives better.  By spreading the word, we encourage others to do the same, and make this idea spread.  Let’s all bring more good to the world.

Here’s my video:

Now, go to a mitzvah!

#BlogElul 6: Search

The opening of the pilot of the TV show Heroes, from a few years ago,  speaks to this idea.  While the episode is on Netflix, and I couldn’t find a clip online of the opening, you can listen to the voiceover here:

“Where does it come from—this quest, this need to solve lif’s mysteries when the simplest of questions can never be answered? Why are we here? What is the soul? Why do we dream? Perhaps we’d better off not looking at all.  Not delving, not yearning.  But that’s not human nature.  Not the human heart.  That is not why we are here.  Yet still we struggle to make a difference, to change the world, to dream of hope; never knowing for certain whom we will meet along the way.  Who among the world of strangers will hold our hand, touch our hearts, and share the pain of trying.”

In the scene itself, the very opening of the show about people discovering unimagined powers and using them for good…or not, we see a shot of a man (we later learn is Peter) jumping off of a building and taking flight.

We don’t know what’s in us.  We don’t know what we can accomplish.  We don’t have answers.  And sometimes, we will never have answers.  Some of our greatest questions will go unanswered.

And yet, we ask them.  We can’t help it.  It’s who we are.  We are destined to search for answers.  

Perhaps it’s the process of searching that is sometimes the point.