Talking peacefully? (Parashat Vayeshev 5784 / 2023)

  Talking peacefully? Parashat Vayeshev 5784 / 2023 This week I saw a very chilling video and a very inspiring video, both of which were both recorded on the same day in the same location.  Both videos were recorded at a place very dear to me, the campus of Columbia University in New York City, this past Wednesday December 6.  Both were recorded in the lobby of the Columbia School of Social Work. A student group in the Columbia Social Work school had announced a ‘teach-in’ in support of Gaza to take place this past Wednesday December 6. If the topic of  this event had been the plight of people in Gaza currently, the difficulties and horrifying loss of life faced by civilians in Gaza in the face of Israel’s bombardments, that’s something I would have expected. But that’s not what this event was. This event planned by Columbia Social Work students was an event specifically to applaud the violent events of October 7.  In fact, the title that the students gave to this “teach-in and discuss

Yom Kippur Day 2023/5784: "Asking 'When' rather than 'Why'

  If you’re going to invite a speaker to speak in your community, you probably want to make sure you know how to introduce them correctly - how to pronounce their name, what titles they prefer to be known by, and if you’re inviting someone who is known for having written a best selling book, you probably want to get the title of the book correct. This year the world lost a great author of several wonderful books who was especially known throughout his life for one of those books in particular, and he had story after story about people getting the title of this most famous book wrong when they would meet him or introduce him. For many years this author was probably the most famous rabbi in the United States, and definitely the most famous Conservative rabbi. You may have guessed that I am referring to Rabbi Harold Kushner, who died this year at age 88. He was also  known as a mentor to so many of my colleagues, and a person of outstanding intellect and also outstanding sensitivity.  Eve

Rosh HaShanah Day 2 5784 / 2023: "To Be Alone" and to be together

  “Winning the lottery was the worst thing that ever happened to me.” That’s the kind of statement you might expect to hear from someone who has led an extremely charmed life.  Like you ask them ‘what’s the worst thing that ever happened to you,” and they say -- “come to think of it, with all the awesome things about my life, winning the lottery was a little disappointing by comparison.”  But actually this is a true story. And it’s a sad story. This is what a hospital patient named James said to his doctor when describing the origin of his very significant health problems.  James’ doctor  went on to write a book about his experiences. He wrote: James “looked tired as he spoke. His gestures were listless. He seemed defeated by life.”   “He was dealing with diabetes, high blood pressure, .....stress…..”  And then he shared these surprising words - that winning the lottery had something to do with his medical problems.  James’ doctor writes:  “ It turned out [James] was being quite litera