Seder Trivia Game, 2021-22 edition

  At our synagogue's congregational seders for the last few years, we have played the following game:  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 listen 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 here . This is what was presented at our congregational seder in 2021.  2 are true; one is fictional. Answers at the bottom! ============================== ========================= The Passovers of 2020 and 2021 have truly remarkable in Jewish history.  Our trivia game this year includes three stories about pandemic-era Passover observances; 2 of these stories are true and one is false.  #1: Seder 2020 required a lot of changes in the seder procedure - coming a

Wordle in the Torah? (Parashat Pekudei)

With all the turmoil and tragedy in our world, some of us are glad to have Wordle to distract us. You probably know that Wordle is the incredibly popular word guessing and unscrambling game that a software developer in Brooklyn created as a present for his spouse, and in November 2021 it had been played by a total of 90 people.  Now it is played by millions every day (many of whom, for unknown reasons, are eager to tell you their score).  Believe it or not, there are connections between Wordle and this week’s Torah portion of Pekudei, which describes the garments of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest) and the other Kohanim.  The Kohen Gadol would wear a Choshen Mishpat, often translated as “the breastplate of decision,” which looked a little like a Wordle grid, with four rows of three precious stones, each stone corresponding to one of the tribes of Israel and engraved with the name of that tribe.  The Torah portion goes on to tell us about the “Urim ve-Tumim,” which were to be put in the Ch

Looking up, or looking down? (Parashat Beshalach)

  Looking up, or looking down?  Let me share a memory from January 2021, otherwise known as the “middle pandemic period.”   My daughter is a student at a high school in New York City.  Last winter, she was attending two days a week in person, and three days remotely.  In a normal world she would be commuting by bus or subway, but in the winter of 2021 we were not comfortable with this -- so when she would be going to school, I would drive her in and pick her up.   Whereas Fridays were normally designated for her as remote days, there were some occasional Fridays that were in-person days for her, but only for half the day.  One such day took place in January 2021.  On that day, it was clear that it would just not be worth it for me to drive into the city, drop her off, return to Hoboken, and then less than an hour later, drive back into the city to pick her up. It would be much better for me to stay in the city and work from remote.  In a normal world, I would have parked the car, found

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