Thursday, October 27, 2011

Fun Things Rabbis Do in Their "Off" Time (From One of My Teachers in Rabbinical School) ...

Rabbis are lucky to have interesting work lives ... we never seem to do the same thing two days in a row ... but living in California (and in/near LA, in particular) seems to come with extra perks.  Click on the link below and check out how my Pastoral Counseling teacher got to spend his off time before this year's High Holy Days:

PS ... Here in Texas, we don't get as many opportunities for this ... but ... about six months ago, I got to help the set designers and costume designers with a movie being filmed in Smithville, Texas ... they needed some help making a Jewish funeral look authentic so I helped picking out a tallis for the dead guy and telling them how it was supposed to be used and found them appropriate kippot for the "guests" to wear at the funeral (some of our congregants were even extras in the scenes).  Just a little bit of the "out of the ordinary" ways rabbis spend their days!  : )

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Once Upon a Time in America, Men and Women Were (Supposedly) Considered Equal ...

Oyyyyy!  There is nothing worse than a professional woman writing about inequality for women ... the women who do this get labeled as being "feminists," which has sorta' become a dirty word for mainstream America.  Let me be clear, for years, I have said I am NOT a feminist ... no, I am an "egalitarian" ... I don't want women to have more rights than men, I simply want the same rights.   : )

Which means I was troubled when I read how Judaism is being used to segregate women, in the year 2011, here in the United States.  Didn't forcing people who were "different" to sit in the back of the bus end in the 1960s in America? 

Unfortunately, religious beliefs are being used to support the acceptability of segregation in Brooklyn.  Check out this article about how a publicly-awarded bus route is currently being allowed to segregate women riding the bus:

Judaism does not require that women be forced to the back of the bus - it simply does not require it - and extremist/fundamentalist views should not be allowed to even imply that this is acceptable.

Most of all, Jews have always followed the practice of "Dina d'malchuta dina" ... we are supposed to follow the laws of the land within which we reside.  This is not appropriate in the US ... solutions exist where those who choose to live in this way can not break the law ... perhaps it is time to find (and use) them.  Oyyyyy.   :(

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Some Interesting Ideas About How to Save the Jewish People ... Yet Again ... : )

It seems like Jews have always believed in the imminent destruction of the Jewish people ... and today is no different.  Of course, far too often throughout history, imminent destruction WAS actually staring Jewish people in the face ... perhaps this is why we are sometimes so pessimistic.    : )

The article below is from one of my favorite websites regarding how and why Jews give to Jewish organizations ... updating where we are after one of the (many) recent books regarding how to save us (mostly from ourselves and our success integrating into the larger society).  Take a read ... there are more than a few good ideas discussed in it:

Let me know what you think.   : )

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Orthodox Jews Wrestle with Teens Texting on Shabbat ... What Might Some Call This?

While perusing the online version of The Jewish Week today, I came across an article which discusses a tremendous difficulty the orthodox movement is facing ... teens who text on Shabbat.

My gut reaction was interesting ... "this is what we call Reform Judaism."  These are Jewishly-educated teenagers making decisions regarding how they celebrate/observe Shabbat.    : )

But then it made me think a little deeper ... perhaps this is simply teenage rebellion.  In other words, is sending a text on Shabbat a conscious decision regarding how these teenagers want to live?  Is it a conscious statement regarding how they believe they can be Jewish and modern in today's world? 

I've decided that I'm not so sure ... I don't want teenage rebellion to be mistaken for intentionality ... I don't want teenage rebellion to be mistaken for educated choice.  I don't want people to think that this kind of teenage rebellion equals Reform Judaism.   : )

Here is the article in case you want to read what some of the orthodox kids themselves say about this issue:

Sunday, June 26, 2011

How Do We Live Our Values? What Does Our Calendar Say About Us?

Tonight, I was surfing the web and ended up on the website for the Union for Reform Judaism (, doing some "homework" for an upcoming professional development trip I am taking (more on that in future posts).

As I do sometimes, I checked out the Reform Judaism blog ( and stumbled across a lovely posting by a young man ... the title was "I'm Glad My Mother Made Me Attend Hebrew School" (see  The young man explains that, while his mother would ask him whether he wanted to attend, he knew that his answer didn't really matter. 

These days, with our kids having so many competing interests, we have to be especially careful to have their calendars (as well as ours) reflect our values ... yes, playing soccer is a fabulous team sport, but how does it reflect our values?  (I don't mean to pick on soccer, but it seems to be one of the most-cited reasons why kids can't come to B'nai Mitzvah preparation appointments ... but, it could be any sport or extra-curricular activity.)

At my current congregation, we host a "Shabbaton" for kids (and parents) entering the B'nai Mitzvah process about twice a year, during which I get a few minutes to go over some of the goals and expectations of the program.  Recently, I have begun to tell families that they should consider lightening their child's extracurricular activities in the year preceding their child's ceremony date.  I also tell them that their child will have many extra appointments the last 4-6 weeks before their child's ceremony and they should consider having their child not participate in ANY extracurricular activities during this time.  Can you imagine how well this goes over?  ;-)

If you get a moment, take a look at the link above ... and you'll see why I am glad this young man appreciates his parents decisions on his behalf. 

If you read it, you will see that he isn't talking about B/M prep, but rather his parents' decision that he would attend Hebrew school through HS graduation.  Think about it, I can't imagine any parent talking to their kid about going to high school saying, "Don't worry, if you don't want to go to 8th grade (or 9th or 10th or 11th), you don't have to go." 

I believe most Jewish parents would say that receiving a Jewish education is important, but I think too many give their kids the choice about when their child's Jewish education ends (or let soccer practice or band rehearsals or some other activity make the choice for them).  To me, religious education is a necessary supplement to "regular school" for children to grow up with a well-rounded education ... I just wish more parents agreed ... and that their calendars reflected that decision.   : )

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Challenges of Giving . . .

One of the biggest challenges I have when working with B'nai Mitzvah students is helping them with the Community Service Project requirement.  At Congregation Beth Israel, we ask students to complete 18 hours of community service during the year before the date of their ceremony ... to some kids, this is easy, while it feels impossible to others.

I encourage families to start working on this requirement early, since this is only 1.5 hours a month if you start a year ahead of time ... but this doesn't always work.  Other challenges include kids who have huge ideas about what they want to do, but no idea how to accomplish it (they always have great intentions) ... but the problems I find hardest to explain to 12-year olds is the impact of collection projects.

Many kids want to set up a collection bin and then donate items to their favorite charity ... because this can seem more like facilitating someone else's mitzvah (which is also an important thing to do), we really try to encourage our kids to do something hands-on, with the direct beneficiaries whenever possible.

Another challenge when working with kids is the difficulty of getting them to understand the possible negative effects of collection/giving projects.  I loved this article about responsible giving programs ... hope you enjoy it, too.   : )

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How Cool Would This Be in the US? Israel is Leading the Way ...

When I visited Israel in November of 2010, I was fortunate to see a place called, "A Better Place," in Tel Aviv.  The company behind this is developing battery-operated cars that can drive into something like a Jiffy Lube which mechanically takes out the dying battery and replaces it with a freshly-charged battery.  How cool would that be?   : )

Israel is now taking the technology to Denmark ... check it out here:

Who Says Walking Down the Aisle Can't Be Fun? : )

A friend shared this YouTube link with me ... it is an Israeli couple walking down the aisle ... notice the (unorthodox) entrance which transitions to a traditional Jewish ceremony under the chuppah.  Looks like this was a really fun wedding!  : )

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sharing Lessons Learned (and Taught) by One of My Teachers ...

One of my teachers in rabbinical school was Rabbi Paul Kipnes (he writes a great blog which can be found here: .  He recently posted the following on his blog ... which I liked so much, I decided to share here.  : )
Rabbi Kipnes shares "18 Lessons from 18 Years as a Rabbi" ... here it is:

As I celebrate my 18th year since I was ordained Rabbi, I take stock of lessons learned along the way:

1.  Jewish spirituality without social justice can become narcissism.
2.  Social justice without Jewish spirituality might feel good but might not compel future activism.
3.  The role of the rabbi is to passionately comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
4.  The role of the rabbi is to quietly point in a direction and then get out of the way.
5.  A healthy, organic Jewish community is not afraid to experiment.
6.  A healthy, organic Jewish community is not afraid of failure, because failure is inevitable when experimenting and innovating.
7.  People who really feel warmly welcomed when they walk through the doors of the synagogue will be more likely to come back to celebrate and learn.
8.  People who answer the telephones are more important than the person standing up on the bimah; a community feels warm and welcoming when the receptionist and bookkeeper exude that warmth.
9.  Dysfunction comes easily; warm, respectful partnerships between clergy and lay leaders require patience, vulnerability, and openness.
10.  Judaism has many things to say about every thing; no issue it was or is too controversial, personal, or political to escape the moral lens of Torah and Jewish tradition.
11.  How a rabbi teaches is as important as what a rabbi teaches. Difficult lessons and controversial teachings are more easily heard when alternative perspectives are respected.
12.  God exists. God loves. God cares.
13.  The lights can be on, but if we close our eyes, we think it is dark.
14.  Jewish music has the power to touch hearts and souls more deeply than any sermon.
15.  Torah teachings and Jewish music, when combined artfully, have the potential to transform lives and touch eternity.
16.  Fear not social media or technology; like the printing press, telephone, and two stone tablets from the mountaintop, they are merely tools for spreading Torah teachings.
17.  Israel is at once ancient and modern, historic and mythic, spiritual and bricks-and-mortar. Walking its streets and alleys transforms the soul.
18.  A community that takes care of its rabbi and his family ensures that the rabbi has deep sources of strength and love to care for the community.

Monday, January 10, 2011

I've Been Gone, But Now I'm Back ... : )

It's been a while since I posted, mostly because the last time I thought about posting, I really wondered whether it was a good idea.  You see, it was the night I gave a sermon on Westboro Baptist Church and I really wanted to put it up on the web, but was afraid.  I thought about the possibility of these people searching the web for their name and coming up with my little sermon about balancing the right to exercise free speech with the right to practice one's religion at a funeral ... and was afraid.

This past weekend, twenty people were shot in Tucson, Arizona, resulting in six deaths ... and Westboro has decided to picket these funerals as well.  But this time, I'm not afraid.

Here is the original sermon I gave on December 12, 2010 ... about Westboro's plans to picket Elizabeth Edwards' funeral ... .

Sermon Title: "Just Because You Can, Doesn’t Always Mean You Should …"

Shabbat shalom.

Turning on the television these days can be a dangerous thing. You never know what is going to be on. It could be a game show, it could be a nice scripted show like a comedy, never seems to be a western anymore, could be reality TV, or, worst of all for me lately, it could be the news.

The news seems to get more and more depressing. Sometimes, it is overwhelming to hear the bad things in the news, like natural disasters. Mostly, I feel helpless and then realize that I can make it a little better for those who suffer by making a donation to a responsible social service agency to help people begin to rebuild their lives.

But what probably upsets me more is the things we humans choose to do to each other … and, right now, I’m not actually talking about the most ugly things that people choose to physically do to each other like raping or murdering someone … this stuff makes me a little bit crazy, but someone who chooses to do these acts might just be a little bit crazy themselves.

No, I’m talking about the things that we really might have a chance to control in our lives that hurt others … our speech. Two months ago, I stood on this bimah and gave a sermon about bullying, about the way some children use words to hurt … really, about the way we ALLOW some people to use words that hurt others.

Tonight, though, I want to discuss a different kind of bullying, one that hides behind the guise of protected speech.

I read this morning that members of Westboro Baptist Church plan to picket the funeral of Elizabeth Edwards tomorrow. Now I could just shrug this off and say, “these people are crazy,” but that won’t stop the harm that they will cause the Edwards family as they hold signs up saying terrible things about how her beliefs caused her to die.

Growing up in the south, I remember hearing, “the difference between a child and an adult is that the adult is supposed to understand that they don’t have to share every thought in their head.” Now, granted, I do understand that there are certain people who suffer from neurological deficits or damage to their frontal lobe in their brain, which physically causes them to not be able to evaluate a social situation and distinguish between what is appropriate to share with others, and what’s not. But you know what I’m talking about … these aren’t the people I’m talking about.

Westboro Baptist is a tiny little church in Kansas … with most of the followers are apparently members of the lead pastor’s extended family. The church’s anti-Jewish and anti-gay rhetoric has played itself out in some unusual places.

They have gained national recognition because they picketed at colleges like HUC in New York because the reform movement allows gay people to become rabbis. They picketed Congregation Beth Simchat Torah in Manhattan, a synagogue catering to LGBT Jews … what I loved about those protests is that CBST turned the protest into a fundraiser, raising $10K … supporters of HUC gave money in response to the picketing.

But I know this is going to sound sorta’ crazy, but I’m OK with people picketing at HUC … and maybe even CBST, if they don’t disrupt the business of the college and the synagogue.

No, the problem I have is the picketing at the funerals. Westboro Baptist’s members believe that our soldiers die because of our country’s acceptance of gay people. They picket at the funerals of our soldiers when they come home.

And now they are picketing at Elizabeth Edwards’ funeral because of her family’s political connections … but I’m not sure how close someone needs to be to a funeral for a person to have been considered as having exercised their free speech … the United States Supreme Court gets to decide that.

Please know that, as a former lawyer, I stand behind the Bill of Rights. I believe in our legal system, this amazing system that protects free speech, especially for minorities … heck, lots of times I’m the minority who wants to express her opinion … and I surely don’t want someone limiting my ability to say what I want to say.

But my mother taught me a long time ago … and it applies to a whole lot of things … that, just because I can, doesn’t mean I necessarily should.

She said: just because I can, doesn’t always mean I should.

And the US Supreme Court agrees with my mom. It has already said that our right to free speech is actually NOT absolute. We really don’t get to say just ANYTHING we want … for example, you can’t yell fire in a movie theatre, but they say that is for reasons of public safety.

As a member of a democratic society which we teach our children is founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs, perhaps there might be a place in the sand to draw a line. A funeral is a holy experience … it is that holy time set aside to say goodbye to our loved ones.

Elizabeth Edwards funeral will take place at Edenton Street United Methodist Church. I’m betting that God will be mentioned sometime during the service … and, yes, there will be picketers outside, picketers who, to me, are nothing more than grown up bullies, aiming their bullying at human beings in the throes of loss and pain.

Since yesterday, individuals have been offering themselves as a human buffer between the Hillsboro Church protesters and the Edwards funeral. I wish I could be there.

Where does one person’s right to exercise their right to free speech impinge on another person’s right to exercise their religion, to say goodbye to their loved one in a meaningful, dignified way?

I don’t have the one absolute right answer (and even if I did, I’m not sure if it would be my place to share it with you) … but I’m hoping we will all become part of the conversation.

Remember what my momma taught me, and it applies to a whole lot of things in life, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Shabbat shalom.