#Inspired, #Grateful


Back in September, we were focused on being grateful for the people, things and moments that enrich our lives. We realized that we often become distracted and, instead of looking for what makes us grateful, we dwell on what makes us stressed. Some of you are still wearing your grateful bracelets and succeeding at living a life of gratitude. Most of us, however, have allowed the life’s stresses to steal our focus. While we would like to feel grateful for all that we have, it’s hard to experience the gratitude when so many other things get in the way. Fortunately, the Jewish calendar is designed to help us get our focus back.
On Tuesday evening, Chanukah begins. As we light the candles for eight nights, we remember the inspirational story of the Maccabees, who, despite facing tremendous challenges, managed to overcome the Greeks and save Judaism. For eight nights, we get to gather around our Chanukah Menorah and eat latkes and donuts while sharing gifts and laughter with those we love. If it weren’t for the Maccabbees, none of this would be possible. Their courage and determination allow us to experience eight nights of gratitude and for this, we must be grateful for the Maccabees.

Almost three months after Rosh HaShanah, just as the lessons of gratitude begin to fade away, Judaism fills our life with the inspirational light of Chanukah and the story of the Maccabees. Each of the eight candles urges us to look for someone, something or some moment that inspires us. Eight opportunities to be inspired – this is the miracle of Chanukah! Allow yourself to experience this miracle. Let the light of the candles help you focus once again on being grateful. Let yourself be inspired.

Civil Rights in Israel

securedownloadAs our nation is embroiled in a civil rights struggle, Israel too finds herself in the midst of her own civil rights battle. This battle centers around attempts by Israeli leaders to pass legislation that will formally establish the status of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Shockingly, there is no Israeli law that does this. The challenge that those behind this legislation face is how Israel legally both becomes a Jewish State and guarantees equality to non-Jewish citizens.

In the same way that the facts surrounding the current civil rights conflict here in America have been difficult to discern, so too has it been challenging to get a grasp of the struggle going on in Israel which has led to Prime Minister Netanyahu to break up his coalition and call for early elections.

It is so important for us all to get the facts about what is going on in the US and in Israel. I found this article to be extremely helpful navigating the situation in Israel.  I encourage you to read it and ask yourself how Israel can formalize her Jewish identity and uphold Jewish values while insuring that all citizens, regardless of religion, are treated equally. It is a tremendous challenge. This being said, as we get ready for Chanukah, the holiday that celebrates the determination and the strength of the Maccabees, we must believe that Israel and America have the ability to overcome tremendous challenges while maintaining democratic principals.

A Thanksgiving Blessing

thanksgiving-for-kids-thumbCheryl, Abigail, Jonah and I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!

Rabbi Naomi Levy | Prayer

For the laughter of the children,
For my own life breath,
For the abundance of food on this table,
For the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast,
For the roof over our heads,
The clothes on our backs,
For our health,
And our wealth of blessings,
For this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends,
For the freedom to pray these words
Without fear,
In any language,
In any faith,
In this great country,
Whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants.
Thank You, God, for giving us all these. Amen.

The Chanukah Countdown Begins!


In Christianity, the four weeks leading up to Christmas are known as Advent – a time to prepare for Christmas spiritually and educationally. For some, Advent Calendars are an integral part of this four week preparation period. These calendars contain little “windows” that are opened on each day of Advent. Inside each “window” is a little teaching or treat that is intended to prepare the Advent Calendar user for Christmas. After reading an article a few weeks ago about the Advent Calendar, I realized that we need aJewish version of this holiday countdown tool. What an incredible way to remind ourselves and teach our children and grandchildren about the upcoming holiday of Chanukah. And so, Cheryl and I have created The Kislev Calendar: Your Chanukah Countdown which you can find online HERE (www.chanukahiscoming.com).

Our calendar begins this Saturday night, the first night of the Jewish month of Kislev. On the 25th day of Kislev (Tuesday night, December 16), we light the first candle of Chanukah. Each night, beginning Saturday night and running through the last night of Chanukah, we invite you and your family to click on the virtual window corresponding to the appropriate date. Inside the windows you will find a special Chanukah lesson, blessing or gift. Some of the windows will get you thinking. Others will get you laughing. All of them, we hope, will make this year’s Chanukah celebration more meaningful for all of you. Remember, The Kislev Calendar begins tomorrow night. This morning on Twitter, The Kislev Calendar got the attention of Manischewitz. We hope it gets your attention. Share it with family and friends and enjoy!

What Do I Do Now? What To Do When There Is A Death In The Family

what do i do nowIn this week’s Torah portion, we read about the passing of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. We watch Abraham purchase a burial plot for her and begin the mourning process. As we have spent a lot of time talking about recently, Judaism urges us to count our blessings and focus on the things that bring us happiness and joy. This being said, Sarah’s passing and Abraham’s experience as a mourner remind us that we do need to spend some time planning for the unhappy moments of our lives. I believe that if we do this planning, we can, to the best of our abilities, make the death of a loved one and the mourning process less complicated. Click HERE to download a copy of What Do I Do Now? What To Do When There Is A Death In The Family, which I hope you will never have to rely upon but I hope you will read. As you do read it, let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Disagreeing, Moving Forward, Growing Closer – Learning From Abraham and God




In this week’s Torah portion, Abraham and God don’t agree with each other. God is disgusted with the immoral behavior of the residents of Sodom and Gemorrah and plots to destroy these cities. Abraham, while not condoning the people’s behavior, disagrees with God’s plan to annihilate the cities. He works very hard to change God’s mind by challenging God with great respect. In turn, God listens attentively to Abraham and responds with due respect. Ultimately, Abraham is not successful in changing God’s mind, but the relationship between Abraham and God is not strained by this disagreement. If anything, they grow closer to each other and forge a stronger bond.

After Tuesday night’s election, lots of us don’t agree with each other. This ability to disagree is one of the blessings of living in our country. But, our ability to disagree feels more like a curse than a blessing these days. Many who are unhappy with Tuesday’s election results have failed to reflect upon the growing frustration in our country and have resorted to explaining Tuesday’s results on the ignorance of those who were satisfied with the results. At the same time, many who felt victorious on Tuesday night, are chomping at the bit to suppress the views of those who lost and dismantle what has been built over the past few years more out of vengeance than out of what is best for our country. Both sides are behaving recklessly – showing no desire to respect, listen to or learn from, those with whom they disagree politically. As a nation, we have a lot to learn from Abraham and God’s ability to disagree, move forward and grow closer.

Judaism teaches us that there is nothing wrong with a good disagreement. The rabbis teach us that “any dispute which is for the sake of Heaven will ultimately endure.” (Pirkei Avot 5:20) If you passionately believe in something and are certain it will make the world a better place, stand up for it! But, Judaism warns us, don’t stand up for something by undermining someone else: “Who is honored? The one who honors others.” (Pirke Avot 4:1) Honoring each other, even when we do not agree is a fundamental Jewish value. No matter what we feel about Tuesday night’s election results, we owe it to each other to embrace this value and come together as a community that can model the lesson expressed by the ancient disagreement between God and Abraham: we can respectfully disagree and actually grow closer to each other.

Dybbuks, Demons And Other Things That Go Bump In The Night: A Haunted Synagogue


image003Two of our 7th graders experiencing our “Haunted Synagogue” at Ramat Shalom

As you might have heard, Wednesday night we transformed Ramat Shalom into a “Haunted Synagogue” for our 7th-12th grade students. While Halloween is by no means a Jewish holiday, Judaism has its own collection of ghosts, witches and things that go bump in the night. What better time of year to teach our teens about this creepy side of Judaism than the week before Halloween?
On Wednesday, the Oneg Room became The Dybbuk Museum. For centuries, there have been Jewish stories describing haunting spirits and demons. In the 17th century, these spirits and demons, particularly those that sought to possess the body of someone who is alive, became know as “dybbukim” (singular: “dybbuk”), or those that cling to another being. In response to these possessing spirits, exorcism became a rite practiced within Judaism. You can see an example of a 16th century exorcism here.

In 1914, S. Ansky completed his play, The Dybbuk, which was based upon Jewish folk beliefs pertaining to possession and exorcism. The play remains an important piece of Jewish/Yiddish theater. The Dybbuk has influenced many other artistic works. It was adapted into a film in 1937. In 1951, the opera The Dybbuk, also based on the play, premiered. In 1974, Leonard Bernstein composed music for Jerome Robbin’s ballet, Dybbuk. The Dybbuk: An Opera In Yiddish premiered in Tel Aviv in 1999.
While by no means an adaptation of Ansky’s play, the 2012 horror movie, The Possession, uses the concept of the dybbuk to frighten modern audiences. While the film relies more upon Hollywood scare tactics than Jewish tradition, it does indeed capture draw upon Jewish sources. As you can see by looking at the Jewish exorcism cited above, it was believed that a dybbuk could be removed from a person by drawing it into a vessel. This concept has certainly fostered the birth of dybbuk boxes – haunted vessels that hold possessed souls. Oddly enough you can buy supposed dybbuk boxes on eBay!? The Possession claims to tell the “true” story of a family that purchased one of these dybbuk boxes at a yard sale.
On Wednesday evening, our 7th-12th graders got a chance to learn about the real history dybbuks in a dark, candlelit Oneg Room. After this, they watched clips from The Possession and had a chance to see and touch what they thought were actual dybbuk boxes (unbeknownst to them they were 100% fake). In a wonderfully staged series of events, one of our parents, Tracy Rubens, grabbed one of the boxes and opened it to prove that nothing bad would happen to anyone. Well, wouldn’t you know it, Tracy, (who is a wonderful actor and member of our theater group, HaBimah), became possessed and began acting the part rather well. Fortunately, I had planned for this. As our 7th-12th graders stared in horror, dismay, confusion, I called upon our resident exorcist (another member of our theater group and a great actor), Bruce Abrahams, to perform the 16th century, Jewish exorcism cited above. And, thankfully, it worked. Once Tracy returned to her normal self, she passed around candy…..but many of our teenagers wanted to know, was that all real?

So no, Halloween is not Jewish. But a lot of spooky stuff that makes Halloween so much fun/creepy, is very Jewish. With this in mind, if you are planning to go Trick-or-Treating this evening, please note that Judaism teaches us in Pirkei Avot 5:6 that demons were created as the sun set on Friday night. Some say these demons are still being created at this time…beware…I hear that lighting Shabbat candles and having a nice Shabbat dinner before Trick-or-Treating helps to keep them away. (Try making Challah filled with candy!!!)

Shabbat Shalom and Chappy Challah-ween