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Sevivon Take Five....

  Last year on the 5th night of Hanukkah, I posted the piano part of this Hanukkah song. Carol Lester then added vocals. This year we re-recorded it and are excited to bring you the most appropriate song to sing on the 5th night of Hanukkah while you spin your five-sided dreidel… with appreciation to the great Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck. Happy Hanukkah!

Fear, in Jacob's day and in our own: Comments on Parashat Vayishlach and the Rittenhouse verdict

  This is adapted from my sermon on November 20, 2021 at the United Synagogue of Hoboken, referencing the Rittenhouse verdict: About 30 years ago, the award-winning Israeli novelist David Grossman wrote this children’s book, איתמר פוגש ארנב - “Itamar meets a rabbit.” It’s a story about a boy named Itamar who loves animals of all kinds, except that he is terrified of rabbits. He is so scared of rabbits that he refuses to even look at a picture of a rabbit in a book. He is so scared of rabbits that when he goes to the zoo, he makes his parents warn him when they are approaching the rabbit cage so he can close his eyes. As a result, the only ‘rabbits’ he has ever seen are in his imagination. They are huge and ferocious and they eat children, and they even have teeth on their tails. Until one day, Itamar is in the forest and sees an adorable little creature that he has never seen before, and he strikes up a conversation with this animal, at which time he learns two surprising facts. (a

"Shabbat Shalom, Earth!" (2nd day Rosh HaShanah, 5782 / 2021)

Shabbat Shalom!....... How embarrassing!  I got you all to say ‘Shabbat Shalom’ even though as far as I know it’s Wednesday!!  Actually, this happens all the time. Raise your hand if you have ever mistakenly said ‘Shabbat Shalom’ to someone when it wasn’t Shabbat. I bet this is especially likely to happen in the synagogue - where many of us are here so frequently on Shabbat that it just seems natural to say Shabbat Shalom when we’re here.  (And being here more often than most, I am a prime offender.)    Well I have some good news for you:  Today, you’re entitled to say Shabbat Shalom even though it’s Wednesday. And in fact, every day for this entire year of 5782 you are entitled to say Shabbat Shalom --   (though truly, most people don’t). Because Jewish tradition defines this entire year that started yesterday as a Shabbat La-Aretz - a Shabbat for the land.  We are beginning what the Torah describes as a Shnat Shmitah - often referred to as a sabbatical year.     This Sabbatical Year

Listening Boot Camp, a.k.a. Rosh HaShanah (1st day Rosh HaShanah 5782 / 2021)

The Hebrew and Yiddish writer and Zionist leader Shmaryahu Levin would tell a story of a transformative incident that took place when he was age 10, in Eastern Europe. He received a gift of his very own Shofar.  So as Rosh HaShanah approached, he was so excited to practice blowing the Shofar.  But try as he could, he just couldn’t get any sound out of it at all.  Each day, during the month of Elul leading up to Rosh HaShanah, he would spend at least an hour - holding his mouth in various positions, making various kinds of rude vibrating noises with his lips, trying to produce any sound with the Shofar.  But to no avail.  The day before Rosh HaShanah, as he was practicing outside his home, a Russian farmer came by.  “What’s that?”  So he explained it, and the farmer said, “Can I try?”  and he took the Shofar, held it up to his lips - and out came a Tekiah Gedolah that would be the envy of any Shofar-blower in the world.  And young Shmaryahu raced back to his teacher and choking back tea

Question Marks for the New Year (1st eve of Rosh HaShanah, 5782 / 2021)

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Question Marks for the New Year  (1st eve of Rosh HaShanah, 5782 / 2021) Let me tell you about the song I can’t get out of my head today as we begin the new year 5782.  Noting that it is, after all, the ‘80s:   years ago, back in the 1980s, there was a minor Israeli hit pop song that began with the words כל שנה מתחילה בסימן שאלה kol shanah mat’ h ilah be-siman she’elah , ‘every year begins with a question mark.’  but it rhymes in Hebrew.  Now there’s nothing earth-shattering about this insight.  Obviously we begin the new year with a question mark, because we begin the new year with uncertainty about the future. That has been a theme of new years since ancient times. Even the image of the book of life that is written on Rosh Hashanah and sealed on Yom Kippur affirms that we’re preoccupied at this time of year with uncertainty about what the coming year will bring.  New years always fill us with uncertainty, and that is probably what the writers of this Israeli pop song from the 1980s

Thoughts on violence in Israel, May 2021

  I’ve been spending some time this week sending notes of concern and support to some of the many many people I know who live in Israel -- relatives, colleagues, and friends, including many who used to live in Hoboken and Jersey City. Though because of the time zone difference, many of these notes were sent between 2am and 4am Israel time, in many cases I got a response on Facebook or email immediately - because these friends and relatives were spending sleepless nights. A friend in Tel Aviv described the challenges of comforting her terrified young children after waking them up to bring them into the safe room, while also being terrified herself. A colleague in Ashkelon was awakened by a barrage of rocket fire and then learned that a woman was killed by that rocket fire in her home just a block away from his home -- and another fatality was in the southern Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Letziyon not far from the home of my cousins. A friend in Herzliyya sent me videos of the Iron Dome miss

Thoughts on the verdict RE the murder of George Floyd: "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor" (Leviticus 19:16)

Jewish tradition calls us to view events in our lives and in our world through the lens of the Jewish calendar -- and so the Minneapolis verdict that was announced this week resonated in for me in this week’s torah portions of Aharei Mot / Kedoshim, especially in the verse לא תעמד על דם רעך, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:16).  According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 73a), this is the commandment requiring bystanders to become upstanders, with the requirement to save lives of those we see in danger.  The ancient midrashic collection called Sifra adds:  מניין שאם אתה יודע עדות לחברך שאי אתה רשאי לשתוק ת"ל לא תעמוד על דם רעך  “From what verse do we know that someone who knows testimony about another that they are not allowed to be silent?  From the verse:  ‘Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor’ .”  (Sifra Kedoshim 4:8) During George Floyd’s tragic final moments, there were remarkable acts of heroism by many bystanders who became upstanders, peo