#BlogElul 11 & 12: Trust & Count

When we trust others, we count on them.

When we count what we have, or count time, we trust that we have enough.


Both of these can be challenging.  It’s hard to trust people, and truly count on them. It’s hard to trust that we truly have enough of what we need, and that we will continue to have it.

And it can be just as challenging to count on ourselves. To trust that we will be able to do all of the tasks that we count on our to do list.  A list that (at least for me) never seems to get shorter.

We look at the world, and it can be difficult to trust that everything will be ok–violence, hurricanes, illness…we see these things and we struggle with considering that we can trust in the universe.  Even when we see that people who help others–who do extraordinary acts to counter difficulty–it’s hard to imagine that we can count enough people out there to make up for the destruction.

For those of us who struggle with God–who have trouble believing, who have trouble with faith, who have trouble with ideas that are counter to rational thought–it is a struggle to trust that there is anything we can count on.

And yet, we persist.  We learn to trust ourselves.  We learn to count the patterns of nature and rely on the fact that they mean that the universe will continue.  We learn to have trust in the idea that good is stronger than evil, and that the good that is within any of us will be the stronger force for most of us.

And, at this season, we count our days and we count our own acts and we place them in trust.  So that when we need to count on ourselves, we will, ourselves, act.


#BlogElul 9 & 10: See and Forgive

Sometimes, I see things around me and don’t do enough to respond.

Sometimes, I see things that I don’t need to look at and they blind me to what I really need to notice.

Sometimes, I see too much and I don’t know what to look at first, much less what to do about it.

Sometimes, I see only the shadows and miss what is real.

Sometimes, I need to find a way to see forgiveness.  To forgive myself for missing out on the important sights.  To see a way towards allowing myself to see what is in front of me. To embrace the vision laid out before me, and walk towards it.  Into the future.

#BlogElul 8: Hear


The sound of the shofar is designed to wake us up.  Not just physically (although, for some, who don’t get much out of services, it serves that purpose, as well), but spiritually.  The shofar calls us to awaken to the world, to our selves, to the possibility that exists in the world to come.

But there are certainly other sounds this time of year that call us.  This year, I think of: the sounds of children returning to school, the sounds of souls moaning as their homes and community are flooded, the sounds of voices joining in shouts for justice, the sounds of women trying to pray at Judaism’s holiest spot and drown out by whistles, the sounds of love drowning out the hatred of those who march in the name of bigotry, the sounds of people just trying to do their best, the sounds of people engaged in conversation.

I invite you this month, to hear the sound of someone who sounds different from you.  Maybe they are from a different background.  Maybe they look different.  Maybe they speak a different language.  Maybe they believe differently.  But, maybe, you can hear each other–and you can learn from each other.  And, together, you can create a new sound–that ushers in a new age of a different kind of peace.

Perhaps that can be what the shofar calls to us this year.

#BlogElul 7: Understand

We spend a lot of time trying to make others understand us.  And, hopefully, trying to understand others.  It’s how we learn–both general knowledge, and the knowledge of other people.  But to what extent do we really understand ourselves?

Maybe that’s a piece of what Elul and the High Holy Days are really about–learning to understand not only the world, not only each other, but us.  If I examine my mind and my heart, then perhaps I’ll realize something new about myself.  Perhaps I’ll understand myself a little bit better.

Judaism teaches about 2 kinds of repair: tikkun olam, repairing the world, which we talk a lot about (the world is pretty broken, after all) and tikkun middot, repairing ourselves.  Through different values and different character traits, we are taught to constantly strive towards being our best selves.  And we are also taught to keep this all in balance–to practice those traits that are harder for us, and to recognize when one trait might be more useful than another.  And also to use these traits and these values to view our lives differently.  Tikkun Middot is about positioning our personal moral compass–in order to navigate our complicated lives within an ever increasingly complicated world.seesaw-self-vs-other

The balance, of course, also exists between when we focus on the world and when we focus on ourselves–and the recognition that both play into the same process.  It’s like a seesaw, which constantly goes back and forth, and works best when the center of gravity is found.  Just like we work best when we are centered and grounded–understanding those around us, as well as ourselves.  Even if just for a moment.

#BlogElul 6: Want

54 years ago today, these words were spoken by Rabbi Joachim Prinz, immediately before Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

4 years ago today, I used those words as I addressed the San Antonio City Council to advocate for a non-discrimination ordinance to offer limited protection to veterans and LGBTQIA+ individuals.

I quoted Rabbi Prinz’s words:

“…Our fathers taught us thousands of years ago that when God created man, he created him as everybody’s neighbor. Neighbor is not a geographic term. It is a moral concept. It means our collective responsibility for the preservation of man’s dignity and integrity.”

A few days later, when I shared my words again, standing with clergy from across denominations in San Antonio, I ended up on Texas Public Radio, the local ABC affiliate, and on the front page of the San Antonio Express News. While not everyone in my community was so pleased, my advocacy for the NDO (which eventually passed) is one of the acts that I am the most proud of. As I said then, “It is by my religion, that I am called, I am compelled, I am obligated, I am commanded, to support the rights of all human beings and to support the fight of those who are oppressed.”

Today, I used that same conviction to join again with faith leaders from across denominations, this time from across North America, for the Thousand Ministers March for Racial Justice.  Together with thousands of religious leaders, I stood and marched for a more just world.  Together, our voices sang out and shouted loud: What do we want? justice.  When do we want it? Now.

It seems like a simple desire.  Yet history shows that it’s a long path towards completion–and that we’re still walking that path.  And so, my conviction continues to continue to walk–towards the world that I want, and that I know that we can achieve.

In one of the most powerful moments of the day, Rabbi David Stern blew a shofar for the gathered marchers, as a call for us to “Get Woke,” as invited by April Baskin, a Vice President of the Union for Reform Judaism.

“Tekiah! Wake Up.  Tekiah! Wake from your slumber… Tekiah! Our nation needs to wake up from the fact that the the Rev Dr Martin Luther King’s vision of ‘I Have A Dream,’ as he so beautifully articulated in his speech, years ago, that it still largely remains an unrealized dream.”

Indeed, we all must wake up, so that we can someday awaken to the world that we want. In the meantime, we must wake towards the call to action to build that world.

Today, I joined others to take a small step towards that world.  Tomorrow, I hope to continue that work.  I’m not sure I know exactly what those steps will look like, but I know that we can build that world.

As I said 4 years ago, on the steps of San Antonio City Hall, it is our sacred obligation

“To support the fight against discrimination.  To work for righteousness in our city, our country and in our world.  To pursue legislation that is based not on prejudice, but on justice.”

As we heard today, to sing is to pray twice.  And so, I leave you with this music, written by Rabbi Menachem Creditor for his daughter, born shortly after 9/11.  And may these words both be a prayer, a collective vision, and a shared mission.

#BlogElul 5: Accept

There’s a sort of mantra I have with some friends: Good enough is good enough.  Sometimes, we need to accept things for what they are.  They’ll never be perfect, and that’s ok.  At some point, we need to realize that they are good enough to fulfill their purpose.

But there are other instances when we need to look around and reject what we see around us and determine to fix it–to perform the sacred tasks of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and tikkun middot (repairing ourselves).

The question is: How do we know which to do when? When do we accept things the way they are and when do we keep working to make them better?

When do we step forth to do the work, even though we know we can never complete it (as we are taught in Pirkei Avot)? And how do we know when we’ve done all we can?

It’s a rough world out there–and the work is certainly not done.  I can accept that I need to keep working on it.  And I can accept that I need to keep working on myself.

I hope I can accept, and learn to accept, when small pieces of my life, and even of the world around me, are good enough–at least good enough for now.

#BlogElul 3 and 4: Prepare and Choose

I took of Friday night for Shabbat, so I’m catching up with a double BlogElul post.  And I as I mentally prepare for our opening faculty meeting tomorrow, preparation and choice are definitely on my mind, and as I see the on adjacent days of Elul themes, it strikes me as how connected they are.

In order to prepare, we must make choices.  AND, when we make a choice, we must prepare for that choice to become a reality, or for the consequences of that choice.

As a rabbi/educator, that is apparent this time of year: to prepare, I must make choices about curriculum, about the makeup of the faculty, about what books to use (which, for me, is only Hebrew books–our Judaics classes have no books), about where to put each class, about where to put each student.  And, based on many choices, I must prepare: teaching the teachers how to facilitate the curricula, working with veteran teachers and getting new teachers ready, making sure that the teachers have plenty of tools on hand to create learning experiences, making sure all of the classrooms are ready (thanks to the professionals and volunteers making that happen!), and reshuffling students when I realize someone needs to be moved.  And, as a rabbi starting to think about the High Holy Days, all of that is equally true.

I hope that tomorrow, I’m able to help the faculty navigate this same process of preparation and choice, as they get themselves and their classrooms ready to welcome new students. I hope that together, we’re able to continually navigate that process as neither preparation nor choice are one time occurrences.

How do you get ready?

How do you make choices?

How do the 2 come together for you?

#BlogElul 2: Search

Tonight, over vegetarian General Tso’s chicken and moo shoo,  with a dear friend and her 2 10 year old children (who are both quite awesome), I laughed more deeply than I have laughed in I’m not sure how long.

During a conversation about language, one of the kids said something, based on an understandable  misconception, that was both funny in the way that kids are sometimes unintentionally funny–with multiple levels of why it was particularly humorous for all of us as a group that has shared and formed memories before, and so full of irony that it was actually brilliant (we had even been discussing irony just a short time before, and trying to explain the term).

The next thing we knew (and I can’t remember how this connection took place), we all started singing the Addam’s Family theme song.

And then we all laughed.  We weren’t laughing at the child or the mistake by any means; we were laughing with each other and in the moment.  And my laugh was deep and pure and loud and wonderful.  And I realized, even as I was laughing, that I didn’t remember the last time I had laughed like that.

Don’t get me wrong, I laugh all the time.  And I even laugh loudly all the time.  And I find moments to laugh despite everything else in the world.  And I am generally a person that both appreciates and finds humor in the universe.  But this was different.  You know what I’m talking about.  It’s that laugh that you don’t realize is in you until it comes out of you–that brings joy to your heart by its very nature.


I think most of us don’t laugh like that very often.  And it’s not an experience that we can really search for, even though our souls might be feeling its loss and wanting its return. Children laugh like this a lot more often than adults do–perhaps that’s why it’s through children that we often find these moments of laughter, as long as we allow ourselves to enjoy these moments.

I think we need more laughter.  And now that I’ve found that one momentary laugh, I think I need to search for more.

#BlogElul 1: Act

It’s Rosh Chodesh Elul–and again, I’m starting off this month with writing my first post for #BlogElul, a project started several years ago by the wonderful Rabbi Phyllis Sommer,  which invites people (rabbis, cantors, educators, youth professionals, or anyone else) to reflect on various themes during the month leading up to the High Holy Days.

I have a love hate relationship with this time of year.  I love the idea that our tradition includes the idea of marking the mont before our sacred time as a month that is different.  The recognition that it takes effort to truly renew our days.

If we are to start anew, we must first take ourselves away from the ordinary in order to consider what we want that new to look like, and do the work to prepare to make it happen.  It takes a lot of action beforehand to get ready to act.

In the world of a Jewish professional, that happens naturally, to a degree.  We must prepare for a new school year and new programmatic year.  We must get ready for the experience of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (and Sukkot, and Simchat Torah, not to mention Shabbat).  We have classrooms to prepare, curricula to write, and sermons to get ready.  We need to figure out what we are wearing (a much more difficult process than one might imagine).

But it’s also easy to forget, in the midst of all that, to get ourselves ready, as well.  That takes action, too.  Blogging Elul has been part of that for me in the past several years.  And I hope that it helps me to do so this year, as well.

I had a conversation today about how I need to take vacation time in August, because even though I’m stressed when I get back, I’d be even more stressed if I didn’t take the time away.  Getting ready is a lot of work, but it also means taking a step back.  Sometimes, stopping is as important an act as stepping forward.

Israel Education Manifesto

I’m in the middle of an Executive Masters program from Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion to get a Masters in Religious Education.  It’s a great program, I’m learning a ton, have made terrific connections with my cohort, and am feeling good about taking part in learning in a construct.  As part of our program, this past January, we had a 2 week seminar in Israel–traveling the country with our cohort and the cohort ahead of us, looking at things through the lens of exploring multiple narratives of Israel.  It was an unforgettable trip, and one that was different from any of my prior trips to Israel.

As our final project for that class, we had to write our “Israel Manifesto.”  A statement of our concept of Israel education.  It was a powerful assignment and a process that I think was important.  I don’t think mine is perfect–I know it needs work and tweaking.  But I like it as a start.  And I thought it would be good to share.



When I was 15, like many a “product of the movement,” I traveled to Israel for the first time with NFTY, with the Camp Harlam trip.  In our group journal that summer, my entry on the experience included the comment that before the trip, my view of Israel was textbookized, and that it had been transformed by traveling in the actual place, with my camp community.  Reflecting back, I can identify that it is not the textbook version of Israel, a place of history and described Jewish identity, that I want to offer as the lens for Israel education.  And I can also identify that my view of Israel from that trip was as much an idealized view, based on seeing it with camp friends, through a tourist’s lens—ignoring the subtleties, and (if I’m honest) paying as much attention (if not more) to the group dynamics on the bus as we paid to the dynamic history and living dynamics of the sites we were seeing.  While that was surely a positive experience, and while I left that trip from Israel with the knowledge that would be the first and not the only trip I would make, I’m not sure it was the ideal lens, either—I’m not even sure how I’d define that particular narrative.

My NFTY in Israel trip, by the way, took place in the summer of 1988, the summer of the First Intifada; many of my peers who might have, did not join me that summer.  But it wasn’t a question for my family.  And from that, I learned that the Israel in the newspaper was also not the narrative that was the one that I was to believe as the true, full story of Israel.  I also knew that I was traveling to Israel at a complicated time—it was many years later that I realized that any time is a complicated time in Israel.

Fast forward a few decades to the 2002 CCAR Convention in Jerusalem—what would have been my first CCAR Convention; my senior rabbi was going, so I couldn’t go.  My parents were attending the conference, as well as many friends.  And at the height of the start of the second intifada, I saw the news of the Cafe Moment bombing, and experienced for the first (and only) time the fear of having people I loved being in Israel during a time of terrorism.  That is not to say that it was the only time that I have had people I care about be in Israel during times of terror—but that it was the only time I was fearful as a result.  That momentary narrative was not one that lasted, but is one that I remember vividly.  And that was a moment at which I understood the Israel that was the reality that persisted for many in the diaspora—the narrative that Israel is a place of war and terror, a place that is always unsafe.  While the Israel I know is not that Israel, that was my glimpse at understanding that narrative.

It is, quite honestly, much easier for me to paint the narrative of Israel that I do not believe in teaching, than the narrative of Israel that I wish to present.  I know it is not a war torn Israel that I want to teach, and that such is not a solitary image that is either true or helpful.  I know that Israel is not monolithic, and that pretending that it is will not present an understanding that will add to the narrative of the Jewish people in a dynamic way.  I know that it is not a magical fairy land Israel, or a Disney Land Israel, that I want to convey—the image of Israel that many adults seem to have of Israel as a wonderful place that can do no wrong, in which all Jews can thrive and be safe.  While I’m not sure that such is the exact image that was portrayed for me as a child, I’m fairly certain that many of my teachers would not have objected to me coming away with that view—and even more certain that many of those teachers themselves had that view.  And I’m just as uncomfortable with the more nuanced version of that attitude that while Israel is not perfect, we shouldn’t talk about the non-perfect parts of Israel.  I firmly believe that we can’t form real relationship with idealized notions—and that relationship should be one of our primary goals.  In order to have relationship, there must be nuance—there must be a recognition of flaws.  And, on the other side of that balance, Israel can also not be portrayed as being bad.  As nuanced my expectations about the positive portrayal of Israel, my hope is that the negative, and even problematic, aspects of Israel will also not be the solitary, or even primary focus of education.

I seek an Israel education that presents diversity.  True diversity.  Not just diversity in name, by offering Sephardic and Ashkenazic narratives of Israel, but also one that offers a fuller picture that offers Mizrachi narratives, so that more knowledgeable Jews know that there are Arabic speaking Jews.  And so that Muslims and Christians are part of the story of Israel that Jews learn when they learn about Israel.  It is important for us to educate about a comprehensive and nuanced Israel—in all of its aspects.  Anything more than a surface engagement cannot exist without this.  As Evan Traylor, Presidential Fellow for Millennial Engagement for the URJ, commented, “This idea of a comprehensive and nuanced Israel education is important.  I don’t know of anyone in high school or college space that is really doing that.”  Within the context of direct Israel experience, it is a missed opportunity to create these dynamic moments.  As Traylor points out, “Thinking comprehensively: if we offer a comprehensive, nuanced picture of Israel, then we also need to delve into the parts that are often left out.”

In Israel trips, it is vital to include diverse pictures of Israel in the schedule.  A trip must include visits to places like the Yad B’Yad School in Wadi Ara, to hear about the successes and challenges of parallel education of Arab and Jewish children in the only such school in an Arab town in Israel.  A trip must include meeting people who work, teach, and learn there or in similar settings.  A trip must include a visit to places like the Kiryat Ono Haredi Campus to hear from Orthodox Jews who are sharing a narrative that is not typical of the ultra Orthodox narrative with which many Reform Jews are familiar.  A trip must include opportunities like the graffiti tour of Tel Aviv, to see the evolving messages of modern Israel and how that tale continues to be told—and how race and economics continue to have an impact on the story of that city.  None of those experiences themselves must be a part of the experience—but experiences like them, which allow for different stories to be told and heard, must be considered in the creation of any Israel trip.

I would even consider the idea that an organized, Jewish trip to Israel should include a trip to the West Bank.  I feel it is vital for diaspora Jews to understand the impact of the settlements, and to see the dichotomy between the Jewish settlements and the Palestinian towns that are beside them.  I also feel it is vital for Jews in the diaspora to meet individuals in the Palestinian territories and hear their stories and further understand that narrative and its complicated history.  When American (and other diaspora) Jews visit Hebron, East Jerusalem, and other non-Jewish areas, in programs that allow them to interact with Christians and Muslims in dialogue and conversation, the overall education about Israel is enhanced.  And the experiences should not be one sided.  It is equally important to engage in dialogue with someone who lives in the settlements, in order to hear from that point of view, and to hear that aspect of the narrative, as well.  I realize that these opportunities are not realistic for every American—but I believe that we should strive for these opportunities for every American Jew who visits Israel.

The greater question, because travel to Israel is not a possibility for all of those we teach (however much we want it to be) is what Israel education looks like at home, for those that have not visited Israel, and may not visit Israel.  Dana Berman, the shlichah for Delawre, commented, “The relationship part is big.  It shouldn’t be taught in a history class like something that happened in a  faraway country.  It should happen with people, like Israelis in the community…With each age group the answer will be different.  It should be relevant to the person in front of you.  Also to what interests the person learning.  There should be content that speaks to both the person with the connection at home and the one without.”  Ideally, the education we do in the diaspora is relevant to those who already have the relationship and those who do not. In order to do so, we must teach on multiple levels, and through multiple narratives.

Traylor touched on this, as well, in speaking of utilizing peoples’ interests as a doorway towards Israel engagement, “If they are passionate about immigration rights.  Starting with what’s the connection between Israel and immigration rights, creating a door to broader, comprehensive engagement in Israel.”  Which also leads to presenting an Israel, particularly to teens and adults, that is about complexities, but not just about the conflict.  As he said, “What I’d love to see expanded…and have those informal conversations and cultural understandings—and expand that to have intentional spaces for conversation about the more challenging issues, societal and political: not jut Israel/Palestine/2 state solution, but also pluralism, immigration, etc.  Also, more than just Women of the Wall, but other areas that the rabbinate has control over.  In some ways, there’s not enough programming on political issues.  But then people get tired of political issues, so it reverts back to shwarma and falafel.  It needs to be about creating a balance of programs that are both comprehensive and nuanced.”  He further points out that Israel must be part of our concern for tikkun olam, and that we support Israel in a way that is genuine, while not alienating other areas of repair work.

Berman pointed to a similar idea, in talking about the success she has seen in programming around ideas that are difficult, “The Yom HaZikaron service we had here (was an excellent example of Israel education).  Phenomenal opportunity (in bringing Israeli teens to Delaware, and holding a memorial service) because it’s easier to explain happy things and harder to convince teens to take part in mourning something sad, especially not theirs.  But the opportunity to bring Israeli teens here was important, and they were able to connect outside of the official hours, and spent time together, and they’re still in touch.  And talking about experience.  We brought video clip of a mom from Arad, which allowed the group to feel the pain—it’s harder to describe that if it isn’t yours.”  It is so easy to shy away from challenge and difficulty, and yet we cannot.  Berman further explains this challenge and the necessity to meet it, “[For many North American Jews in regard to Israel, there is a] lack of interest–some people are just oblivious or just don’t care.  I have my world and classes and after school programs and don’t get why it matters.  In later years the younger crowd hasn’t heard a well rounded story of Israel and don’t feel comfortable, and may become anti.  It’s a painful spot for many Jews, including myself.”  Indeed, if we do not tell a well rounded story of Israel, then our students have not heard it and have not learned it.  They have not developed the nuanced relationship that can allow for them to ask healthy questions and challenge difficulties.  They are more likely to turn away.

As Barry Chazan points out, “Israel today lends itself to diverse vantage points, perspectives, and tellings of the story.  Indeed, the diverse pictures of Israel are in some ways the essence of life in Israel.  The richness of Israel is that everyone is a narrator and everyone is a photographer.”  The Israel education that we provide must allow our students to engage as narrators and as photographers as they discover their own perspective, through our guidance.  As Robbie Gingras taught us, it is through Convictions, Connections, Content, and Conversation that this learning can take place.  We must be careful to include each of these at different levels of learning.

The challenge remains of how to help our teachers to reframe their own narrative, or to at least recognize that other frames exist.  But the fact remains that in order to form a real relationship, and a deep level of engagement, a comprehensive Israel education, with diverse narratives presented, must exist.  There must be opportunities to meet Israelis and hear their stories.  There must be the chance to eat the food and hear the music—but also to engage in difficult conversations.  The challenges should not be ignored.  But they should also not be the only focus.  We do not want our teens to go to college and hear from an anti-Israel advocate some of Israel’s imperfections—and wonder about how much else we’ve lied to them about.  We also want for them to be able to speak intelligently about the conflict when presented with that conversation.  And, in this age in which antisemitism and antizionism seem to go hand in hand, and in which antisemitism seems to be increasing at an alarming speed, we must help our young people be ready to answer the challenge.

This isn’t easy.  None of this is easy.  But it’s Israel—it’s not supposed to be easy.  It’s a country that’s named after struggle, after all.  How can educating about that struggle—and embracing that struggle—be any easier?


Berman, Dana, Delaware Shlichah, Interview: January 17, 2017.

Chazan, Barry, “Diverse Narratives,” 2015.

Traylor, Evan, Presidential Fellow for Millennial Engagement, Union for Reform Judaism, Interview: January 26, 2017.