Thursday, October 3, 2019

Responding to antisemitism in America (adapted from sermon for the 1st day of Rosh haShanah, 2019 / 5780)

I began my sermon with a brief description of my trip to Pittsburgh this January to spend a shabbat filling in for Rabbi Jonathan Perlman at the New Light Congregation, which lost 3 congregants in the terrible Tree of Life massacre.

(If you are curious why I have chosen the spelling ‘antisemitism’ (uncapitalized and without a hyphen), see here.)

….Rabbi Perlman’s community, called New Light, used to have its own building, but a few years ago they sold their building and began to rent space from the Tree of Life synagogue. Rabbi Perlman says he had never heard live gunfire before, but the moment he heard the sound, he knew what it was and that he had to hide and get others into hiding. He was able to hustle the other three people with him at the front of the room into a safe area, an electrical storage closet behind the wall where the aron kodesh, holy ark is.

So in that storage closet, which was pitch-black because they couldn’t find the light switch -- were four people: Rabbi Perlman, who has high-school-age and college-age children, And 3 congregants - a woman in her 60s, a man in his 70s, and a man in his upper 80s.

Then there was a lull in the shooting. And Melvin Wax, the man in his 80s, because of his hearing loss, was not able to hear the others instructing him not to open the door. So he opened the door - and was immediately shot and killed before their eyes.

The gunman then entered the closet and fumbled around in the dark for a moment and then left, leaving Rabbi Perlman and the other two people in the closet alive. And the gunman proceeded to the Tree of Life sanctuary where he killed his remaining victims. (and we plan to remember them all by name on Yom Kippur.)

The New Light community lost several of the people who had been instrumental in every part of synagogue life. For example, Mel Wax of blessed memory had been leading Psukei Dezimra at the time when the shooting began. Two of the regular Torah and haftarah readers were also murdered.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

"Making modest changes" (Adapted from sermon from Rosh HaShanah eve 2018)

Last November, the record was set in Israel for the most expensive document ever to be sold at auction in Israel.

The story of that document starts nearly 100 years ago. In 1922, Albert Einstein had recently learned that he had won the Nobel Prize. He had a previously scheduled lecture in Tokyo, so in Tokyo he was receiving numerous letters and telegrams congratulating him on winning the Nobel Prize. Someone had sent him a package, so a bellboy from the hotel came up to deliver the package to Einstein, who looked in his pocket to find some change to give as a tip to the bellboy. But he didn’t have any.
So he told the bellboy instead: “Let me write you a note. Maybe someday it will become more valuable than a regular tip. And if not, then well I’m just giving you some good advice from my experience.” So he wrote, in German, on the Japanese hotel stationery, these words:

“A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Seder trivia - 2019 / 5779 edition

For the last several years, I have collected unusual Pesach stories, and shared three such stories with the community: two true stories, and one fictional story. Participants then have to guess which two stories are true and which one is false. (If you have listened to Wait, wait, don't tell me, you get the idea, except that only one story is false.) You can see previous editions of this game on my web site here

Here are the stories that I shared at our congregational seder last year. Answer (and relevant links) at the bottom. Feel free to use it if you wish!



 American Jewish history is full of conflicts between Jewish tradition and sports. Hank Greenberg didn’t play in the World Series on Rosh HaShanah. Sandy Koufax didn’t play in the World Series on Yom Kippur. Many elementary school age kids get to relive these famous values clarification dilemmas on a weekly basis when soccer practice conflicts with Hebrew school. And for some University of Michigan fans I know, the 2018 Second Seder posed a real dilemma, with the Wolverines reaching the Final Four.

But… did you know about the Canadian version of this dilemma? Canada’s national sport, of course, is hockey. And before the lengthening of the NHL season, hockey fans often had to contend with the Stanley Cup playoffs or finals coinciding with the Passover Seders.

It was the Stanley Cup finals of 1953 which were the crescendo of this conflict between religion and sports.