Please visit these three sites for more information and spread the word….

Blessing Our Fallen Soldiers

On this Memorial Day weekend, as we remember our soldiers who lost their lives while serving our country, I share with you the lyrics of the famous Israeli song, “How Can I Bless?” by Rachel Shapira.

“How can I bless him, what gift shall I give
 to this child” said the angel of love.

And he gave him a smile that was radiant as light.
 And he gave him two eyes that were open and clear 
to seek out each flower and each creature and bird.
 And a heart to rejoice in each day of the year.

“How can I bless him, what gift shall I give 
to this child” said the angel of love.

And he gave him two feet that were light in the dance, a soul to rejoice in each tune and each song,
 a hand that collected the shells on the shore,
 an ear to respond to the old and the young.

“How can I bless him, what gift shall I give
 to this child” said the angel of love.

But those hands that were able to make flowers grow,
 were blessed with the skill to drive engines of might. And the feet that could dance also knew how to march. And the lips that could sing, also summoned to fight.

“How can I bless him, what gift shall I give 
to this child” said the angel of love.

“I have given him all that an angel can give,
 two light dancing feet, and a song and a smile,
 a delicate hand and a sensitive heart.
 What else can I give him? I’ve given him all.”

“How can I bless him, what gift shall I give
 to this child” said the angel of love.

He has joined the angels, that wonderful boy, 
he has no more blessings, no longer is blessed.
 Oh, Lord above, did your angel forget
 to bless him with life along with the rest?

May we all remember and honor the sacrifices made by our soldiers. May the families of fallen soldiers feel the love and support of our nation. And may the memory of those who lost their lives while serving our country only serve as a blessing.

Four To Watch

Last Friday night, four of my teen-age students gave end of the year presentations about the role that Judaism plays in their lives.  Once you hear their words, you will understand why I consider each of them to be some of my best teachers.

Benjamin Schachner

Andrew Dolberg

Rebecca Turko

Jenna Ellenbogen

Be A Levite!

This week’s Torah portion, Naso, describes how the Tabernacle, the ancient desert sanctuary, was taken apart and carried by the Levites as the Israelites journeyed to the land of Israel. Given the fact that the Tabernacle represented God’s earthly abode, the Levites had an extremely important job. This is captured later on in the Torah when it is explained that the Levites were responsible for carrying the holy ark – which contained the Ten Commandments. Essentially, the Levites were entrusted with protecting and safeguarding the communal items and objects most closely linked to God. This was no small task. However, they were ultimately successful.

Where are the Levites today? Where are the people responsible for protecting and safeguarding the things in our lives most closely linked to God? I find myself asking these questions as I read the Torah and hear the news reports that the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico might very well impact our own South Florida coastline. Over the centuries, Judaism has evolved and now teaches us that the protection of sacred objects is not limited to a select few – but to all of us.

Is there anything more sacred than our planet? It allows us to exist. It is, without question, a divine gift. If our coastlines become contaminated with oil, this will have catastrophic effects upon us all. Life will be thrown off balance. Do we just stand idly by and let this happen? Our Judaism teaches us that we can’t do this. When it comes to our coastline, we are the modern day Levites. It is up to us to insure that they remain safe. If we don’t, who will?

Sadly, BP has been given free reign to try to “resolve” the oil leak. They have failed and the oil keeps coming. There seems to be one solution out there that, according to experts, has an 80% chance of being successful: using explosives to demolish the oil well, causing the rocks to collapse inwards and seal the leak. The former Soviet Union, a major oil producer, used this technique successfully in the past. Clearly, one of the major reasons explosives are not being used is because it would destroy the well completely and BP has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into this project. If they were able to stop the leak without destroying the mine, they could repair the well and guarantee future usage and future profits. But this leak is much bigger than BP and oil profits. It is about the sacred balance of nature that is being thrown off kilter by oil gushing into our water.

We worry, rightfully so, about illegal immigrants breaching our national security by secretly crossing our borders. Right now, as you read this, toxic oil is being washed ashore in Louisiana destroying the marshes and wetlands and all the living things that call the water home. Those who rely upon the water for their livelihood are now stripped of an income. And this nightmare is getting closer to us. And, unlike the illegal immigrants who enter secretly – we all know the oil is coming. It is no secret.

Each of us has a responsibility to protect what is holy. This is a no brainer. It is time for each of us to act. This should not be left solely in the hands of BP. Do your homework. Share your opinions with our local and national leaders. Speak up. If you can give a cash donation, there are several different non-profits working on relief efforts. I am not endorsing any of organization, however, I have learned that the following organizations are actively involved on the ground now:

Mobile Bay Keeper is looking for funds to help with cleanup of the Mobile Bay Watershed.

Sea Bird Sanctuary is gearing up for cleanup when the oil reaches the Florida panhandle’s beaches.

The Greater New Orleans Foundation started a fund to assist communities in the area that will be affected by the spill.

I’ve also learned that Mote Marine Laboratory and Save Our Seabirds in Sarasota have put out calls for volunteers. The National Audubon Society is also looking for volunteers to help out. In Mississippi, volunteers can train this week and help clean up the beaches before the oil makes landfall. Clearing debris from the beaches in advance will help make the eventual oil cleanup easier. Hopefully, the oil will stay away from us – but we should keep the cleanup idea in mind……

Go be a Levite. Protect what is sacred.

When Simply Watching Can Make A Difference

The father of captive Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, put out a video statement a few weeks ago.  It has only received 45,000 hits.  The number should be much higher.  Much higher.  Please watch it.  Listen to him.  Learn from him and pass on the video.  Let him know that we have not forgotten the Shalit family!  Pray from Gilad’s freedom.


Torah Equality

3,314 years ago (give or take a few years), something incredible happened to the Jewish people.  It was so incredible that we still celebrate it.  The celebration begins on Tuesday night and lasts for one or two days depending upon your tradition.  We call the celebration “Shavuot” and it commemorates a pivotal moment in our history.  Tradition teaches us that in the Jewish year 2,456, on the 6th of Sivan, Moses climbed Mt. Sinai and received the Torah from God.  It is at this moment that our ancestors received the stories, laws, and rituals that guide us to this very day.  Whether we believe that God literally gave the Torah to the Jewish people on 6 Sivan 2456 or not, there is no question that the Torah has been and remains the rock and the foundation of the Jewish people.  Whether it was written by God or written by authors who were divinely inspired does not matter.  What matters is that for centuries it has defined who we are and made us a holy community.

Some of us feel little to no connection with the Torah.  Our knowledge of it is limited to our own bar mitzvah training.  The stories remain confusing and completely unrelated to our own lives.  Some of us have never read the Torah.  For us, it remains a mysterious book that is beyond reach.  Some of us know the stories well but have not taken the time to make a connection between the lessons they teach us and the issues we struggle with.  And there are those of us who read it, get it, live it and love it.

Every Shabbat, from my vantage point on the bimah, I watch as a mixed multitude of people take part in a Torah service.  It is usually pretty easy to pinpoint how people feel about the Torah by observing how they relate to the scroll when it is walked around the sanctuary.  Those who are comfortable with the Torah are often the first to approach it and use a siddur or a talit to kiss the scroll.  Those who feel that the Torah is beyond their reach keep their distance or timidly touch the scroll.  Those who have yet to make a connection between the Torah and their own lives often let the Torah pass them by without touching it – yet they watch it closely.  And there are those who have no feelings whatsoever about the Torah – they are the ones who talk to others while the Torah processes around the sanctuary, paying no attention to the rituals going on around them.

While it is interesting to watch people’s reactions to the scroll as it passes them by, what always fascinates me is that the scroll leaves the protective confines of the ark and the relative safety of the bimah (where I could quickly grab it if need be) and travels around the sanctuary – often in the sweaty, shaking hands of a pre-teen.  I have no fear as it travels into the congregation.  It always makes it back to the bimah to be read and put safely back into the ark.  In synagogues across the globe, this ritual of processing the Torah takes place over and over again.  The scrolls that are carried around are sacred, precious, holy.  Like our own scrolls, many are very old and delicate.  But this does not stop us from processing our Torah.  We do it because this is what Moses did as soon as he came down from Mt. Sinai on the very first Shavuot.  He brought the words of God to the people.

The Torah was not created to be kept away from us.  It was created for us.  It is there to read, study, question, challenge, learn from….It belongs to us – each of us – equally.  It belongs to the person who rushes to kiss it when it is carried around the sanctuary.  It belongs to the person who is afraid to kiss it.  And it even belongs to the person who lets the Torah pass by without doing anything.  The Torah belongs to the people.

For those of us who go out of our way to protect and respect and study Torah, the idea that the Torah still belongs to someone who sees no value in her might seem unfair.   This is because we fail to realize that people come to appreciate Torah in different ways and at different times.  Shavuot reminds us that the Torah does not belong solely to those who have discovered great meaning in her – but to those who are struggling to find the meaning and those who have yet to begin the struggle.  Shavuot is there to remind those of us who love Torah to insure that everyone gets a chance to kiss the Torah.  Shavuot is there to remind those of us who crave for an opportunity to learn from the Torah that the stories are waiting for us to read and explore.  Shavuot is also there to remind us that the Torah is an unconditional gift of Judaism.  It is always there, waiting patiently to share precious lessons.  And, as many of us know well, sometimes it takes years before we let these lessons speak to us.