We’re In This Together

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“All the lonely people, where do they all come from? All the lonely people, where do they all belong?”
The Beatles

Friends,
Belonging is a basic human need. This has been proven in various studies, including one performed by psychologists Roy Baumeister of FSU and Mark Leary of Duke. Baumeister and Leary state that we need to create and maintain meaningful interpersonal relationships in order to be healthy and happy and lead meaningful lives.

As many of you you know, our High Holiday experience this year will focus on three themes: Belonging, Gratitude and Hope. Next Saturday evening, September 20th, we gather for our Selichot service at 8:30PM. Selichot is the spiritual “kickoff” of the High Holiday season. Throughout this service, we will be urged to think about the importance of belonging in our lives. We will be inspired by fellow congregants, Peggy Angelici, Lisa Cohen, Sharon Jacobs Brown, Spencer Krimsky and Aaron Sortal, who will share with us what belonging means to them. The music and prayers of the Selichot service remind us that, while the High Holidays urge us to reflect upon our own lives as we enter a new year, we can’t do this reflection alone. We need community in order to grow as individuals. We need a sense of belonging in order to experience the power of the High Holidays.

Avinu Malkeinu, the most well-known High Holiday prayer, reminds us that while we all made mistakes this past year, we can all move beyond these mistakes in the year to come. Avinu Malkeinu does not say “I made a mistake and I want a new beginning.” Rather, the ancient prayer says: “We made mistakes and, as a group, we want a new beginning.” Avinu Malkeinu stresses that teshuvah, the ability to start over, is a group process. We can’t do it alone. We need to belong to each other. At our Selichot service next Saturday night, we gather together to recite Avinu Malkeinu for the first time this High Holiday season.

As we recite Avinu Malkeinu, we are urged to reflect upon the mistakes we want to leave behind as the new Jewish year begins. We continue to do this during our Rosh HaShanah services – again as a group of people that belong to each other. On Rosh HaShanah afternoon at 3:00PM we gather for Tashlich – the service where we come together, once again, as a community to cast our individual sins into the water – symbolically letting go of them. This year, at our Selichot service, everyone will receive a slip of water-soluble paper onto which you are urged to write the “stuff” you want to leave behind. We will bring our individual slips of paper to our community Tashlich service and together toss our “sins” into the canal on Hiatus Blvd. Again, we do this together as a group of people who belong to each other. If you are not able to attend our Selichot service, slips of paper will be available in the office when you pick up your High Holiday tickets.

I look forward to seeing many of you this weekend and next Saturday night for Selichot,

Thank You

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Embraced, touched, soothed, and counseled

These are the words of one of the readings included in our prayer book. For Abigail, Jonah, Cheryl and me, this reading came to life for us this weekend in an extremely powerful way.

Ours are the arms, the fingers, the voices

The countless arms that embraced us as we celebrated Abigail becoming a bat mitzvah. The guiding fingers of Cantor Debbie and Abigail’s tutor, Amy Freund, directing Abigail to the words she would chant in the Torah. The 700 voices that joined us in song on Shabbat morning.

Ours are the hands the eyes, the smiles

The hands of people who stayed late on Friday night to help us set for Saturday morning or took the time to make something special for our daughter or wrote us beautiful messages to let us know that they were thinking of us. The joyful eyes of members of our community who watched, with so much love, as we took to the bimah as the bat mitzvah family. The beautiful smiles on your faces as you shared in our joy. All of these things and more, reminded us that:

We are loved by an unending love.

This past weekend, each of you, in your own way, reminded us that God can be experienced in the holiness of community.

Blessed are you God, who loves your people of Israel

From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for the love you have shown us.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbis Andrew and Cheryl, Abigail and Jonah

Elul Grateful Photo Project

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Back in July, I shared with you the exciting news that, because of my fellowship with Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders, Ramat Shalom has been one of a handful of synagogues invited to participate in the first ever, national study of the impact that the High Holidays have on our lives (you can see my post about this here). To determine the impact of our High Holiday experience, we will all receive a survey via email both before and after the High Holidays. The survey will measure how we were affected by the holidays. It will be anonymous. The information we provide will be a novel contribution to the fields of positive and social psychology as well as to the Jewish world as a whole. This Wednesday, August 27th, we will receive the pre-High Holiday survey. Wednesday is the first day of the Jewish month of Elul – the month that precedes the holidays. It is during Elul that we are supposed to begin reflecting upon our lives in an effort to get the most out of the High Holiday experience.

With all that is broken in our world today, Cantor Debbie and I are determined to put the “Happy” back into “Happy New Year”. Of course we will spend time reflecting upon important issues like Israel’s security and the violence in Ferguson. At the same time, however, we will be focusing upon three truly positive themes that run throughout the High Holidays: Belonging, Gratitude and Hope. For our spiritual, mental and physical well-being, as we begin a new year, it is imperative that we focus on the good that is in our lives. To begin doing so, I invite you to join with me and take part in the Elul Grateful Photo Project. Beginning this Wednesday, challenge yourself to take/find a photo of something that you are grateful for. It does not need to be a photo of something incredible – in fact, oftentimes, simple things fill us with tremendous gratitude. I began taking/finding grateful photos last month – you can see mine by following my Instagram account @ rabbijacobs. Also, watch 365grateful.com‘s video which inspired me to create our Elul Grateful Photo Project here.

I can truly say that by pushing myself to post a photo of something that I am grateful for every day has truly brought more joy and happiness into my life. Please, join me. Every day until Rosh HaShanah (you can keep going after the holidays!), take/find a photo. If you want, share it with family and friends on social media AND please, email it to me at grateful@ramatshalom.org. I will be collecting all photos I receive and creating a special presentation that will be shared during the High Holidays.

Here is my grateful photo from yesterday – a photo of me and Ryan, who became bar mitzvah last week. An incredible guy who inspires us all.

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Enjoy the photo project! And Shabbat Shalom!!!

Robin Williams – May His Memory Be A Blessing

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With the death of Robin Williams, the world lost a blessing. For years, he made us laugh and, goodness knows, with all the heartache out there, we need to laugh. Robin Williams brought much needed joy into our very broken world. But, sadly, we learned this week that behind his comedy, his personal life was filled with so much pain. While we knew about his struggles with addiction, most of us were not aware of his battle with depression which had to have made his attempts to live a life of sobriety even more challenging. We were also not aware that Williams was struggling with Parkinson’s Disease, which, in addition to affecting movement and speech, causes depression. How overwhelming this must have been for a man who battled mental illness while defining himself by his incredible ability to use his words and his body to make us laugh. We were also not aware that Williams was, despite his fame and success, reportedly facing significant financial troubles and was questioning his own professional accomplishments. It was all too much for Williams who took his own life this week.

While it is so tragic that a man who blessed us with laughter has taken his own life, we pray that his memory – which now includes both the laughter and the sorrow – only serves as a blessing. Of course, it is easy to see how his comedy will continue to be a blessing for generations to come. I dare anyone to watch Mrs. Doubtfire and not laugh. As for his mental, physical illnesses, financial and personal struggles, Williams’ tragic death has sadly given the world new insight into depression, addiction, Parkinson’s, debt and self-doubt. Yes, even someone as funny, talented and successful as Robin Williams can struggle with darkness. His death has filled us all with pain – but, hopefully, it will encourage us to reach out to those in our lives who are struggling with darkness and offer our support and strength. In this way, we will insure that Robin Williams’ memory only serves as a blessing.

Finding Shalom This Shabbat

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As we prepare to wish each other a Shabbat Shalom , we know that the extremely fragile “Shalom” in Israel was shattered by Hamas rockets once again being fired into Israel. We also know that President Obama has taken a stand against ISIS in Iraq, promising airstrikes against the terrorist organization that shares the same goal as Hamas: the destruction of anyone who does not embrace Islam and the establishment of a Muslim caliphate that operates according to Shari’a (Islamic law). How on earth do we wish each other a Shabbat Shalom today? How on earth can we look forward to a Shabbat of peace, contentment and joy when we are worried and heartbroken?

On Wednesday, I was honored to officiate at the funeral of an aunt of one of our members. She lead an incredibly meaningful and inspiring life. Her family and friends laughed and cried as they honored their matriarch. It was a powerful memorial to a life well lived. After the service, as I was walking to my car, I was approached by the extremely elegant, elderly cousin of the deceased. She emotionally thanked me for the service and begin searching for something in her large purse. She pulled out a Werther’s Original, handed it to me and, again, thanked me – a sweet token of appreciation from a sweet woman who was mourning the loss of her dear cousin. Such a simple gesture – but so meaningful. As she was mourning the loss of her loved one, she still took the time to find something sweet to share with me. We can learn from her.

As Shabbat begins in a few hours and we struggle to wish each other a Shabbat Shalom, I ask that you remember the Werther’s Original that I received this week. Even in the midst of all of the madness, we must dig deep into our metaphorical purse and find a Werther’s Original. Something happened this week that brought us joy. Someone made you smile. You did experience, even for a moment, beauty. As we enter Shabbat, grab hold of this moment. Feel it again. Share it with someone else. And, as you do, wish them a Shabbat Shalom and mean it.

Shabbat Shalom – I look forward to seeing many of you tonight at 7:30

Israel Through Maps

A short video I put together to answer lots of great questions I have received regarding Israel’s history and her borders.  Not the most “exciting” video – but, hopefully, informative….any questions, please let me know!

STOP THE INSANITY: SPEAK UP FOR ISRAEL

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These are incredibly trying times for Israel and the Jewish people. While I wish I could return to weekly messages that are uplifting and spiritual or that publicize exciting events coming up at Ramat Shalom, my thoughts are focused on Israel, the security of her citizens and the safety of Jews across the globe. I pray for peace, but realize that, at the same time, we need to talk about the war.

As you know, Israel is again forced to defend herself from Hamas which fires missiles into Israel and, as has now been exposed, digs tunnels into the Jewish State from which terrorists enter the land to slaughter Israelis. Hamas deliberately uses Palestinians as shields, launching attacks on Israel from crowded urban areas. Israel has no choice but to defend her people. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) works extremely hard to avoid civilian casualties – but Hamas works extremely hard to put Palestinians, especially children, in the line of fire. Why? Because the images of these dead children horrifically helps Hamas demonize Israel, makes people who do not know the facts question Israel’s actions and, worse, encourages people to hate the Jewish State and the Jewish people. As we have watched across the globe, many people act on this hate. Anti-semitic violence in on the rise. And the propaganda war against Israel is encouraging people to shout “Hitler was right!” We – the Jewish people – need you to help us all stop this insanity. We all say – “Never Again!” Now, it is time to mean it. It is time for each of us to find a way to stand up for Israel and the Jewish people. Correct friends on social media. Challenge your co-worker who speaks poorly about Israel in the office. Sit your children down and teach them about the importance of Israel. And, most importantly, spend time educating yourself about the Jewish State. I know – I say this a lot and have been preaching this a great deal over the past few weeks. This is because we really need you to stand up now. This is serious and it is time for us – American Jews – to step outside of our comfort zones and speak out strongly in support of Israel, her people and Jews around the world who are in danger.

Here is some material to help:

Tomorrow night, there will be a protest against Israel in downtown Fort Lauderdale. There was a similar protest on July 20th in Miami. Please, watch some of the footage from July’s protest and see that right here in South Florida, openly on our streets, Hamas is seen as the hero and Israel is cursed.  The insanity, the lies and the hate are right here in our own neighborhoods! We can’t ignore this.

Today, you will probably hear about the Israeli attack on a school in Gaza. You will hear about the tremendous number of casualties in Gaza. You will hear Israel be accused of committing “war crimes” and “genocide”. Given this, I ask that you watch this clip from CBS featuring Israel’s Ambassador speaking out about claims Israel attacked a school last week AND this clip from FOX  of the Ambassador discussing yesterday’s attack.Also, as you see the video of UNWRA spokesperson, Chris Gunness crying in Gaza, please know that while it is heartbreaking that people in Gaza are being killed, just two weeks ago, Israel asked the UN to suspend Mr. Gunness because because of his blatant anti-Israel bias and support of Hamas.  Please, share this information.

Finally, I encourage you to read this article from the Times of Israel which asks: is the war with Hamas a “watershed moment” for Jews living outside of Israel? The article highlights how Jews across the globe, including South Florida, have been affected by the situation in Israel.

If you watched and read the material that I shared, I thank you! Now, please, share this information with others. I know this is not easy. But – “Never Again!” We are obligated to speak the truth and do our part to stop the insanity.

This is my last Friday night “off” for the summer. I look forward to getting back on the bimah next week and seeing many of you at services. I thank Mike Richmond and Jim Kraut for filling in for Cantor Debbie and me this evening.

May this truly be a Shabbat Shalom.