The National Anthem Is Not a Loyalty Pledge. It’s Liturgy.


When I was a kid, I would always leave the service on Yom Kippur day when it came time for Yizkor, the special memorial service to remember all those loved ones lost to congregation members. I would leave because I had not lost someone in the primary circle of mourning for whom tradition dictates one recites Yizkor — parent, child, sibling, spouse — and so partly out of respect and partly out of superstition, I would leave the sanctuary.

Posted on September 21, 2016

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To Repair the World – And Not Just the Jewish People!


One of the things I most love about the High Holidays is their focus on universality. During the rest of the year, Jewish consciousness and Jewish prayer concentrate primarily on the concerns of the Jewish People, while the season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur turns our attention to the entirety of the human race and to the world as a whole. Although it is certainly understandable that throughout most of the calendar our emphasis is on our Jewish family and our Jewish needs, for me it is a bit myopic and constricting. The High Holidays come like a breath of fresh air that helps me to expand my consciousness and reconnect my Judaism to the larger tapestry of God’s creation.

Posted on September 20, 2016

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Who is this Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf?

Shmelf bookcover

It’s not even Rosh Hashanah, and some people are already talking about Hanukkah! There’s a new children’s book: Shmelf the Hanukkah Elf by Greg Wolfe. A Hanukkah Elf may sound familiar if you know of Elf on the Shelf and Mensch on the Bench, but this is a different concept. This is not a creepy elf in your home watching your every move – but rather an attempt to explain to Jewish kids why Santa isn’t coming to visit them.

Posted on September 16, 2016

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Truth, ‘Truthiness,’ and Tradition

Question Mark

I have enjoyed a number of rousing conversations with more traditional colleagues about evidence (or lack thereof) of Divine revelation at Mount Sinai. Some hold as irrefutable proof of this sacred moment that hundreds of thousands of Israelites assembled at the mountain’s foot. I ask what sources – apart from the Torah – can establish that anyone was there at all. We pound the table in intense but friendly debate over core truths within our systems of belief.

Posted on September 14, 2016

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Gender Politics of the Prayer Shawl

tallis gender

I went shopping for a new tallit (prayer shawl) at two competing Boston Judaica shops last week. In both stores I found the tallitot, the plural for tallis, separated by gender. And obviously so. The experience reminded me of when I was first pregnant with my daughter and first learned she would be a she. As I perused the baby clothing aisle at Target, I realized half the items on display were definitively not for my kid. The gender messaging wasn’t subtle. Pale innocuous, quiet, unassuming pink/purple for baby girls and bold, statement making, attention getting red, blue and green for boys.

Posted on September 9, 2016

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Make a Window in the Word


My favorite Hasidic teaching is a teaching about prayer couched in a homily on Noah’s Ark. God tells Noah to make a window in his ark. Teyva, the word for ark, means container. Teyva is also Hebrew for letter, or word, containers of meaning.  Thus, the teaching on prayer is: make a window in the word.  This means that our prayers should not be confined by the “box” of conventional liturgy. Rather, our words should be openings through which what is in us can flow out the window of the word, reverberating through our bodies and our imaginations as it expands into the universe, free in expression, free to rise up to the God on High, or sink deep into the God within us.

Posted on September 8, 2016

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