Here’s a radical idea that I wish weren’t radical: if you consistently feel nothing in the Jewish community, it’s time to take notice and ask why. And a corollary: if you serve the Jewish community, a keystone goal should be to encourage authenticity, depth, and safety of emotional experience. True, Jewish civilization survived and thrived… Continue reading Don’t Just Sit There: Feel Something
Category: Rabbis Without Borders | My Jewish Learning
Home of the Brave?
This moment in national life, and this moment in the Jewish spiritual calendar, both ask deep and real bravery. What’s more, they impel us to ask ourselves and each other a few direct questions: Are we brave? Are we the “Home of the Brave”? What does bravery mean for us now? Francis Scott Key, whose… Continue reading Home of the Brave?
The Soul of Waiting
"Time waits for no one,” quips the adage, but maybe that’s backward. Maybe the soul of healthy waiting is cultivating a healthy sense of timelessness that we don’t try to control. Easier said than done. One challenge of waiting is precisely that we wait inside time. The longer our wait, the more our impatience and… Continue reading The Soul of Waiting
“Say No to Non!” – Let’s Ban the Phrase “Non-Jew”
To all who care about the Jewish community and the Jewish future, let’s ban the phrase “non-Jew.” Let’s never again speak this phrase or even think it. People in spiritual life are too important to describe in negative terms. Like any broad-brush label, the phrase “non-Jew” evokes inclusion by implication (“Jew” is the in-group) and… Continue reading “Say No to Non!” – Let’s Ban the Phrase “Non-Jew”
See Different: Don’t look now, but Passover’s not over.
Actually, scratch that. Please look now – right now – and see this: the point of Passover isn’t the Seder. Yes, Passover’s symbols, stories, foods and traditions can be highlights of the year. For millions, that’s what a Seder is, and with good reason. Passover is a Jewish birth certificate – the story of Jewish identity birthed from exile,… Continue reading See Different: Don’t look now, but Passover’s not over.
Target the Heart
How should I respond to my congregants who express fear, helplessness, and hopelessness about school lockdowns and assault weapons in the hands of crazy people?” I asked this question after an “active shooter” school lockdown in my New York county. I directed my question to my 1,500 Facebook friends – not a scientific sample, but… Continue reading Target the Heart
Nu, What’s New?
What’s new? No, not the colloquial “What’s up?” but rather “What’s new in your life?” Like a Russian matryoshka doll, this question contains other questions that telescope toward a central core: “How well do I notice my life?” “How do I make new in my life?” “Can anything really be new?” “Why does any of this… Continue reading Nu, What’s New?
How Small Stuff Can Set Big Examples
A funny moment reminded me how anyone's small behaviors can affect others in big ways. A synagogue invited me and a colleague for a weekend teaching spirituality. As guests invited to explore "spiritual Judaism," we expected some to view us as what Jack Bloom called "symbolic exemplars" – people observed carefully (consciously or not) to show… Continue reading How Small Stuff Can Set Big Examples
A Century Since Balfour: Israel and the Trap of Over-Simplifying
It's a momentous anniversary for Israel and world Jewry. This week marks 100 years since the Balfour Declaration (November 2, 1917) conveyed the British government's support for a Jewish homeland in Mideast territory under British control after World War I. This year also marks 70 years since the State of Israel's founding on May 14, 1948. We… Continue reading A Century Since Balfour: Israel and the Trap of Over-Simplifying
Exhaling After the Holidays
Like Whitney Houston’s 1995 movie hit about four friends living through different phases of love and life, many in post-Yom Kippur life are experiencing some version of Waiting to Exhale. Some exhale with relief that the High Holy Days are over. (Clergy, I’m looking at you.) Others exhale with regret that their heady High Holy Day… Continue reading Exhaling After the Holidays
The Way We Were – Anniversaries, September 11, and Standing Together Again
Today is the 16th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington. For awhile, 9/11 changed much about how we see ourselves, each other and the world. For many, these changes are permanent – in lives lost, innocence shattered, industries changed, and political ripples around the globe. For awhile, we stood together as a… Continue reading The Way We Were – Anniversaries, September 11, and Standing Together Again
Judaism’s Three Rs for the 21st Century
Decades of educators used the Three Rs as a teaching slogan. Think what we may of “reading, writing and arithmetic,” the Three Rs are a catchy enough line that most of us recognize it. The environmental movement has its own Three Rs (“reduce, reuse, recycle”), as does the cognitive psychology of forming good habits (“reminder, routine, reward”).… Continue reading Judaism’s Three Rs for the 21st Century
In Cloud’s Shadow: Spirituality and Darkness
Is it just me, or lately do there seem to be more clouds of confusion and despair obscuring hearts, minds, communities and public discourse? As I write these words, even my East Coast home is shrouded in a bizarre meteorological June gloom more reminiscent of coastal California. Amidst literal and metaphorical cloudy skies, what should… Continue reading In Cloud’s Shadow: Spirituality and Darkness
A Missing Friend is a Holy Clue
We all know how it feels to be sick. What I didn’t realize until recently is that what scientists call “sickness behaviors” – lethargy, self-care and social withdrawal – can have vital social and spiritual purposes, if we pay careful attention. “Sickness behaviors” are among the ways that bodies are hard-wired to protect themselves. For… Continue reading A Missing Friend is a Holy Clue
The Healing Sound of Silence
He was hurting. He had shared with me bad news about his personal life, and now it seemed my turn to speak. The seconds of silence while he waited were pregnant, deafening, heavy like lead. Thickness hung in the air and seemed to freight his breath. His pain in waiting seemed almost desperate. “Say something,”… Continue reading The Healing Sound of Silence
A Seder for Israel?
The idea of a seder (“order”), using a haggadah (a “make-telling” text) to tell a spiritual story, is wired into Jewish life. Jews call ourselves a “People of the Book,” but first we’re a “People of the Story.” For countless generations, Jews self-defined partly by a universally human Master Story – creation, bondage, liberation, revelation, journey, redemption, continuity, change – told through the… Continue reading A Seder for Israel?
Who is Worthy to Lead: The Torah of Modern Politics
This week’s Torah portion (Yitro) offers a key lesson for today’s politics. It comes just before the fateful Ten Commandments scene at Sinai. Moses father-in-law, Yitro, teaches his son-in-law how to delegate power and – even more importantly – who is worthy to lead. I first experienced this teaching, without fully realizing it, while a… Continue reading Who is Worthy to Lead: The Torah of Modern Politics
How to Be a “Player” in Jewish Life
What does it take to be a “player” in Jewish life? No, not that kind of “player.” I mean, what does it take to be a responsible and influential participant in the Jewish communal life you want? It’s a provocative question – and it’s supposed to be. The answer puts you (yes, you) – not just… Continue reading How to Be a “Player” in Jewish Life
Saying No to Silencing: The Jewish Duty to Speak Out
Spirituality is biography. Jewish spirituality and Jewish biography both demand a duty to speak out, reject silencing, and stand up against any power that would silence another. Such is the call of Chanukkah and this moment of meaning for Jewish life. I come with skin in the game. As a judicial officer, my state’s judicial ethics code bans me… Continue reading Saying No to Silencing: The Jewish Duty to Speak Out
(Thanks)giving — A Thanksgiving for the Rest of the Year
Happy Thanksgiving! For many, Thanksgiving gathers us with family and friends, inviting us to reflect gratefully on our blessings. For others, Thanksgiving can be a day of quiet despair and even shame for those who don’t feel grateful and festive. Like all holidays, Thanksgiving espouses values that resonate during the rest of the year. Its deeper… Continue reading (Thanks)giving — A Thanksgiving for the Rest of the Year