Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Help Preserve Religious Freedom in Israel - URGENT!!

This past Monday, the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee of the Knesset, Israel's Parliament, passed, by only one vote, a bill which would give the Chief Rabbinate of Israel sole authority in the area of conversions in Israel. If this bill passes the Knesset, then all conversions held by progressive (Reform, Conservative, and Reconstuctionist) rabbis in and out of Israel will be called into questions, if not entirely negated. Please read the following letter, from Rabbi Eric Yoffie (President of the Union for Reform Judaism) and ACT NOW!!!

Dear Friend,

Emergency is not too strong a word. This week, despite commitments to the contrary, the Israeli Knesset is considering legislation that would fundamentally change the Law of Conversion and further concentrate power with the Chief Rabbinate. The bill would give the Chief Rabbinate exclusive oversight of all conversion matters, putting non-Orthodox conversions performed abroad at risk, and greatly limiting the options available to Israelis and olim (immigrants to Israel) wishing to convert or in need of ‘official’ recognition. Sadly, this happened within hours of the arrest of Anat Hoffman (Director of the Israel Religious Action Center and Founder of Women of the Wall) for praying at the Western Wall with a Torah scroll, yet another reminder that non-Orthodox Jews don’t enjoy the same religious freedom in Israel that we do in North America.

It is critical that Prime Minister Netanyahu hear a loud and clear message from Diaspora Jewry that further alienation of non-Orthodox Jews goes against our deeply held beliefs in Klal Yisrael and creates a dangerous rift between Israel and world Jewry at a time when the relationship between North America and Israel is so vital. We urge you to contact the Prime Minister as soon as possible and share your concern over the future of religious freedom in Israel, the character of the Jewish State, and the relationship between Israel and the Diaspora.

The Union for Reform Judaism, along with our Reform counterparts in Israel and affiliates around the world, will be closely monitoring the legislation over the next few days. We are prepared to take any action at our disposal necessary to prevent passage of this bill. We’ve dispatched senior members of the Union’s staff to join with Rabbi Daniel Allen, ARZA Executive Director, in Israel to personally meet with members of the Knesset and convey to them the significance of this matter. At the same time, our Israeli and international Reform communities are mobilizing as well to convey their concern.

Your email and support are essential to our success. For more information on this issue you can visit We hope you will join us in this cause.


Rabbi Eric Yoffie Peter Weidhorn
President Chairman of the Board

Contact Prime Minister Netanyahu Today!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Shavuot is almost here!

Well, friends, Shavuot finally arrives tomorrow night, May 18, at sundown.

I hope that, since you have discovered at least 10 reasons to commemorate this festival, you will have a Chag Sameach, a Happy Holiday!

How will YOU be observing Shavuot this year?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Shavuot: Reason #10!!!

As if you needed yet another reason to celebrate this important festival, here is the ultimate reason: It allows us to celebrate the Torah and the Ten Commandments!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Shavuot: Reason #9

The Forgotten Holiday – Why?

Shavuot is, as I have said before, tragically ignored by many of our congregants. I have at least three reasons why that might be:

  1. Usually falls after the Religious School year, so we barely get to teach it to our students
  2. It doesn't hold the same emotional impact as Pesach, and it isn't celebrated in the home
  3. It doesn't include the same meaningful visual object as Sukkot

Do you have any other ideas of why we might not focus enough on Shavuot?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Shavuot: Reason #8

Shavuot and Social Action

Each holiday lends itself well to various Social Action themes and advocacy opportunities. Shavuot is no exception. With gratitude to the URJ Social Action Guide to Shavuot, here is some food for thought:

  • Economic Justice: In Leviticus, Shavuot is linked with the commandments of pei-ah (leaving crops at the corners of the field for the poor) and sh'chicha (leaving the fallen grain for the poor). Even as we celebrate the first fruits and the bounty of the land, we are to remember those in need. We are commanded to provide for the stranger, the orphan and the widow (Deut. 24:19). Hence, our rejoicing is incomplete unless even the poorest and most vulnerable members of society have enough to eat.
  • Environment: As we celebrate the summer harvest, we can strengthen our connection with the earth. In particular, how can we ensure that we live in an ecologically responsible manner? For instance, we can drive fuel-efficient cars, recycle, refrain from using harmful pesticides and herbicides and consume food grown in an environmentally responsible manner. As we make these choices in our personal lives, we can also advocate for environmental awareness in the broader community.
  • World Jewry: The entire Jewish community entered into the covenant at Sinai. Some say that "those who are standing here with us this day" refers to our ancestors at Sinai, while "those who are not with us here this day" refers to the Jews of future generations. The covenant is given to us all, reminding us to be concerned for Jews across the centuries and around the world, regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, or ethnicity.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Shavuot – Reason #7

Ready for the 7th Reason to Celebrate Shavuot?

We have the privilege of remembering our loved ones who have passed away in the ritual of Yizkor. This memorial service takes place 4 times throughout the year (not just Yom Kippur!).

Thus, the four times are:

  1. Yom Kippur
  2. Sukkot
  3. Pesach
  4. Shavuot

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Shavuot – Reason #6

This one is going to blow your mind – There are NO actual Mitzvot associated with the holiday!

Other than abstention from work, tradition includes no laws for this festival. Rather, there are many customs associated with it:

  • Eating dairy products (perhaps due to Song of Songs referring to Torah as similar to "milk and honey under your tongue" – Shir HaShirim 4:11). So, be sure to have some cheesecake, blintzes, and a milkshake to celebrate!
  • The Book of Ruth is traditionally read. Since Ruth is considered a convert to Judaism, she is heralded as someone who readily chooses to "accept Torah."
  • Decorating with Greenery, because of the connection to the harvest, as well as a midrash that teaches that Mt. Sinai suddenly blossomed with flowers in anticipation of the giving of Torah.
  • Confirmation – Reform and many Conservative congregations will often hold Confirmation ceremonies on or close to Shavuot for 10th graders. The celebration of Receiving Torah is a natural time to honor our students' continued learning of Jewish tradition.
  • Tikkun Layl Shavuot, an all-night study of Torah and other Jewish texts. Traditionally, The Tikkun Leil Shavuot ("Rectification for Shavuot Night") consists of
    • excerpts from the beginning and end of each of the 24 books of the Hebrew Bible (including the reading in full of several key sections such as the account of the days of creation, The Exodus, the giving of the Ten Commandments and the Shema)
    • The 63 chapters of the Mishnah.
    • Sefer Yetzirah (a Kabbalistic text),
    • the 613 commandments as enumerated by Maimonides

    • excerpts from the Zohar, the central text of Kabbalah.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Shavuot – Reason #5

The fifth reason to celebrate the wonderful festival of Shavuot!

Shavuot is Connected to the Harvest!

Shavuot was the first day to bring Bikkurim, First Fruits, as an offering to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Bikkurim were selected from the Seven Species known to grow in the Land of Israel:








Monday, May 10, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Shavuot! Reason #4

Need another reason to celebrate Shavuot? Check this one out!

Reason #4:

Concludes the Counting of the Omer

We count a Week of Weeks – (7 X 7 Days = 49 Days) starting on the 2nd day of Pesach. On the 50th Day, we celebrate Shavuot.

The Counting of the Omer symbolizes the time between our Exodus from Egypt and the receiving of Torah. Anticipation for this exciting moment is great!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Shavuot: Reason #3

Let's learn something new about Shavuot –

Reason #3:

A "Founding Member" of the Shalosh Regalim – the Three Pilgrimage Festivals

What are the other two holidays? Pesach and Sukkot

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Shavuot: Reason #2

As we continue our list, here is Reason #2 for why we should celebrate the festival of Shavuot:

Reason #2: Shavuot by any other name…

How many festivals have THIS MANY names?!?!

Chag HaShavuot ~ The "Festival of Weeks" (Exodus 34:22)

Chag Matan Torateinu ~ The Festival of the Giving of our Torah

Chag HaKatzir ~ The Festival of the Harvest (Exodus 23:16)

Yom HaBikkurim ~ The Day of First Fruits (Numbers 28:26)

Atzeret ~ Solemn Conclusion, the name given to the holiday by the Mishnah and the Talmud, due to its being the conclusion of the weeks after Pesach.

Pentecost – Because the holiday falls 50 days after Pesach, Hellenistic Greeks gave it this name, meaning Fiftieth Day.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Top Ten Reasons to Celebrate Shavuot – Reason #1


We are coming closer and closer to the tragically underestimated holiday of Shavuot, the festival on which we celebrate the Giving of Torah. Over the next ten days, I will be sharing my personal top ten list of reasons to celebrate this terrific, important holiday. Here we go!

Reason #1:

Z'man Matan Torateinu: The Time When We were Given our Torah

Shavuot celebrates the day on which we were given Torah, including the Ten Commandments, at Mt. Sinai.

It is noteworthy that the holiday is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. The sages point out that we are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, that we receive it every day, but it was first given at this time. Thus it is the giving, not the receiving, that makes this holiday significant.

Thursday, April 29, 2010


Shalom, friends!

It's been a busy year, as I am sure you can tell by my less-than-frequent blogging. I would love to be blogging more, but free time has been minimal.

Rabbi-life: I am loving my first year as the rabbi at a wonderful congregation in Wantagh, New York. The congregants are terrific, the area is lovely, and the job is fulfilling. I feel supported by family and friends, and I am blessed by a strong, competent lay leadership at the temple. I've learned so much so far about leading a congregation. There have been plenty of challenges (oy!), but also plenty of successes. I love it there!

Jenny Craig: Those of you who were following my Jenny Craig posts may want an update in that area. I stopped doing Jenny Craig last summer when I began my new job. My psyche is such that I can only handle (as I am sure is true for many of you) so many stressors at once. I just didn't have the brain power to continue at that time, and I was feeling burnt out after 8 months of participation. I have high hopes of continuing again soon.

Wantagh: The weaning process is nearly complete - I will be officially living the confines of NYC in one month. I am finally moving out to Long Island. I have found an amazing townhouse (with an outdoor pool, fitness center, tennis courts) and I can't wait to begin this new chapter. Packing over the next month will be CRAZY, but there are good things on the other end. I will be walking distance from the temple, so I hope to walk often!

Karaoke: I have the coolest congregants! Many of them LOVE karaoke, so we have lots of fun singing together. I just have to explore the karaoke joints in and around Wantagh. If you know of one, let me know! There is much singing to be done!

Cats: Lindsay and I adopted a new baby kitten!! He is so cute, and you must check out this video of him when he was still a stray at the vet.

He was named "Magellan" then, but now we have decided to call him "Snickerdoodle." That being said, we call him "Baby Boy" more than anything else. :) Precious and Caramel are adjusting to their new friend.

Well, I hope you have good things in your lives, and that you are happy and healthy.

Friday, March 19, 2010

National Day of Unplugging


Join me in a National Day of Unplugging, brought to you by Sabbath Manifesto. This is a noble, important effort at encouraging us to unplug from technology, and turn, instead, back to our families, friends, and selves. It starts tonight at sundown, and ends tomorrow night at sundown.

There are TEN PRINCIPLES to follow:

  1. Avoid Technology
  2. Connect with Loved Ones
  3. Nurture Your Health
  4. Get Outside
  5. Avoid Commerce
  6. Light Candles
  7. Drink Wine
  8. Eat Bread
  9. Find Silence
  10. Give Back
Won't you join me?

Shabbat Shalom!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Tweet the Exodus!!!

Happy Rosh Chodesh Nisan!!

In honor of the beginning the Hebrew month in which we celebrate the wonderful holiday of Pesach, something AMAZING is happening on Twitter. For the first time ever, a group of rabbis and educators from all over the country (including moi!) will be tweeting the story of the Israelites' Exodus from Egypt.

This will be a huge multimedia experience, and I strongly encourage you to check it out.

To join in the fun, please visit TweettheExodus on Twitter!!

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Actor's Nightmare - Rabbi Style

Are you familiar with the phenomenon of the "Actor's Nightmare?" It is a dream that many, many people in the performing arts have at some point, in some way, shape or form. Typically, in this dream, you find yourself about to go on stage for a performance for which you are completely unprepared. There is a deep sense of anxiety that corresponds with this dream, a lack of control, and a general "sucky" feeling.

I have had a variation of this dream, on and off, for my entire life.

Well, folks, I had a RABBI version of the dream a few nights ago!

I dreamt that was almost ready to go out onto the bimah (the "stage" in a sanctuary) when I realized, in a total panic, that I had forgotten to prepare for both a baby naming and a wedding blessing. I didn't have the materials with me, I hadn't created the requisite certificates, and I didn't even know their names!

I told the cantor to go ahead and start without me, while I scrambled up and down stairs, down long hallways, and through my files, looking for all the info. Of course, at some point, I lost my glasses, so I couldn't see while having to do all of this.

I made it back to the bimah, with all the paperwork, only to find that I had missed the entire service. The cantor was finishing up, and everyone was on their way out.

I found the baby naming family in the lobby, apologized profusely, tried to fudge my way through something resembling a blessing, and gave them a hastily prepared certificate. Bleh!

You can only guess how I felt as I woke up....

Have you ever had one of these?!??!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Working my way through the Oscar Films....

Based on various lists published by Entertainment Weekly, my friend, Mike's, movie review site, and others, I have been trying to see as many Oscar-worthy movies as possible.

So, most recently, I've seen (500) Days of Summer; Star Trek; District 9; The Hangover, and, Inglourious Basterds. All four were just as amazing as everyone said.

(500) Days of Summer totally broke my heart while totally uplifting my spirit. The movie, which covers, in non-chronological order, the 500 days of a relationship between the two main characters, is an emotional roller coaster.... but not in a bad way. I was in physical distress towards the end of the movie, but also ready to go out and fall in love.

As a pretty big fan of the various incarnations of "Star Trek," I really loved the new Star Trek movie. The action was exciting, the nods to the original series and its beloved cliches were adorable, and the ending was moving. Loved it!

District 9 was... gosh, how to even put it? So creative, so ground-breaking, so surprising. A profound statement about racism, apartheid, and bigotry, all in the guise of a sci-fi alien flick. Brilliant all around.

The Hangover was absolutely hilarious, and was all the more fun because I left for Las Vegas a few days later! Great writing, terrific acting, and mind-bending plot points.

Inglourious Basterds, a perfect addition to Quentin Tarantino's oeuvre, has been described as a "revenge fantasy." It made me want to scream out in victory as the Jewish characters slaughtered the nazis, but also made me want to cry over the fact that it was all mere fiction. Boy, did I wish this one was a documentary!

Did you see these? What did you think?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Reflecting on the past decade....

Last night, as we approached midnight, Lindsay and I were reminiscing about where we were 10 years ago. The year 2000 was upon us, and we were in Jerusalem.

I was in my first year of rabbinical school at HUC-JIR, on the Jerusalem campus. I lived there for one year, and Lindsay was kind enough to come out for a visit over winter break. We were so afraid that either, a) the world would end (Y2K, etc) as midnight approached, or b) some crazy group would decide to decimate Jerusalem. Thus, my class chose to celebrate the new year at school, a few yards from a bomb shelter. We were overlooking the Jaffa Gate to the Old City, and we watched as Christian pilgrims carried torches into the gated city. It was majestic, awe-inspiring, and even a little terrifying.

Nothing happened, of course, but there was nowhere else I wanted to be as the new decade began (and, yes, I know that, technically the decade began in 2001, but no one seems to count that way).

What an amazing way to enter the new decade.

Here are some highlights of the decade in my life:

  1. Moved to New York for the duration of rabbinical school in August, 2000.
  2. Ended the engagement to my college fiance, started to figure out who I truly was for the first time - Fall, 2000
  3. Appeared on the short-lived Oxygen Network game show, "Trackers," and won! (a karaoke machine, naturally!!) - Fall, 2000
  4. Adopted my calico, Precious, in January, 2001
  5. Developed a long-standing passion for KARAOKE!
  6. Began a two-year student pulpit in Brandon, FL at Congregation Beth Shalom - learned so much about being a rabbi - 2001-2003
  7. Lindsay moved to NYC, and in with me, in 2002
  8. Was in a longterm relationship from 2003-2007
  9. Ordained as a rabbi in 2004
  10. Worked at an amazing NYC congregation for five years (2004-2009)
  11. Started THIS BLOG in February, 2007!
  12. Underwent successful spinal fusion surgery in December, 2007
  13. Joined the Temple B'nai Torah family in Wantagh as their rabbi this past summer.
So much to celebrate - and these are just a few of the highlights. Wishing you all a blessed 2010 filled with light, joy, and love. Here's to another terrific year!!