Time To Look Into the Three-Way Mirror

We are less than two weeks away from the Jewish month of Elul which begins on August 7th.   As Elul is the last month of the Jewish year 5773, we are encouraged to use this time to closely examine our lives.  Some have compared this self-examination process to looking into a 3-way mirror – the type you often find in department stores.  People generally have one of four reactions when standing before such a mirror. Probably, the most common reaction: we are startled by the part of us that we never knew was there.  Reaction two: dread – if we have the courage to open up our eyes and actually look into the mirror, it will force us to look at that part of us we knew was there, but never wanted to acknowledge.  Reaction three: we stand before the mirror and see a side of ourselves that makes us happy.  Finally, we might stand before the mirror and simply see clothing and pay no attention to the body that fills the clothing.


I hope that each of us has the courage to stand before a spiritual 3-way mirror this Elul.  As we do so, I pray that none of us ignores the soul (our essence) that fills our body.  Taking a step back and honestly looking at who we have become will be challenging for many of us.  The difficult aspects of our lives that we have worked very hard to ignore will be completely visible before the spiritual mirror.  We will discover attributes or behaviors that we never knew existed and would like to change.  And, without a doubt, we will be given an incredible opportunity to see what makes us truly special – holy.

How do you stand before the spiritual 3-way mirror?  By performing Chesbon HaNefesh, an examination of the soul.  Good news, such an exam does not require an office visit or a co-pay.  It simply involves your time and honesty.

Below, you will find the “Cheshbon HaNefesh: End of the Year Exam” that I often share at this time of year.  Take it during the month of Elul.  You don’t have to share your answers with anyone.  Study your answers as they are the spiritual mirror.  Learn from them.  Embrace what you love.  Commit to changing what you can as you enter the new Jewish year 5774.  Make the new year, which begins with Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, a year of personal growth.  Give yourself the gift of the spiritual 3-way mirror.

1.      Have you taken care of yourself this year?  Did you get a physical, go the gym on a regular basis, eat well, give yourself time to relax and reflect?  If you have not taken care of yourself, what has kept you from doing so?

2.      Have you taken care of the important people in your life? How have you treated your spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, children, parents, siblings, friends, extended family, colleagues, etc. this year?  Would you like to change anything?  Are there relationships in your life that need improving?

3.      Do you owe anyone an apology?  If so, when will you apologize?

4.      Have you refused to make amends with someone who apologized to you?  Why?

5.      Have you been financially responsible?  If not, what can you do to change this?

6.      This year, what was your number one weakness?  How can you get over it?

7.      Most of the time you feel________________(fill in the blank).  Do you like the answer?  If not, what can you change?

8.      As this Jewish year ends, what do you regret the most?  What can you do to not feel this way next year?

9.      As this Jewish year ends, what are you most proud of?  Have you congratulated yourself?  Do you accept praise and compliments?  Are you too hard on yourself?

10. What are you afraid of?  What can you do to overcome this fear?

11. What unfinished business do you have to complete before the Jewish year is done?

12. Overall, are you happy with your life?  If not, what do you want to see change this upcoming year?  List three ways you can make these changes.

13. Have you given tzedakah (charity)?  Do you volunteer your time to help others?  Do you have a “cause”?  If you answered “no” to any of these things, would you like the answer to be “yes”?  Why?

14. Have you taken the time to explore your spirituality?  If so, what have you learned?

15. How do you feel about God?  Are you happy with your answer?  If not, what can you do to make your answer different next year?

16. If you believe in God, have you been angry or upset with God this year?  Have you expressed your feelings? If not, why?

17. Have you prayed this year?

18. What is one thing you want to accomplish in the new Jewish year?

-Additional thoughts, feelings, etc…..

Good luck!  If you need some help, please let me know!

A Nice, Romantic Jewish Holiday – Tu B’Av

The Jewish calendar takes us on a bit of a roller coaster during the summer.  On Tuesday, we marked one of the darkest days of the Jewish year, Tisha B’Av – the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av. We now move away from the sadness of Tisha B’Av – and prepare for one of the most romantic days of the Jewish  year, Tu B’Av – the 15th day of Av – which falls on Monday.

Tu B’Av began during the second Temple period (before the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE).  It was a matchmaking day for unmarried women who would go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards while saying: “Young man, consider whom you choose (to be your wife)!

Tu B’Av, like several Jewish holidays begins on the night between the 14th and 15th day of the Hebrew month.  This is the night of the full moon in our lunar calendar. Linking the night of a full moon with romance, love, and fertility was not uncommon in ancient cultures and clearly embraced by Judaism.

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70C CE, the only way Tu B’Av was celebrated was that the morning prayer service on that day did not include any penitence prayers, stressing that this was a day of joy.  With the re-establishment of Israel in 1948, Tu B’Av began to make a comeback.  Modern Israeli culture promotes festivals of singing and dancing on the night of Tu B’Av. Israelis give cards and flowers to their loved ones on Tu B’Av and the date is popular for weddings. In the past, the Israeli homepage for Google featured hearts placed in the Google icon.

So for those of you who with a special loved one in your life, mark your calendars – Tu B’Av 2013 is this Monday!!!

The Zimmerman Trial

Below, are the words I wrote back in March of 2012 when we all learned about the tragic death of Trayvon Martin.  They still capture how I feel about this tragedy.

Before you read these words, I want to add that recently, I sat in a courtroom at the trial of a woman who was accused of driving under the influence and killing a dear friend of mine.  The jury’s decision was not what I and my friend’s family wanted.  We were heartbroken.  However, I understood why the jury came to the decision it did.  The jurors relied upon the evidence.  They did not go by emotions.  While I wanted a different verdict to punish the woman whom I felt killed my friend, I can say that the system worked.

As far as the George Zimmerman trial – the system worked.  This is not to say that the death of Trayvon Martin is not a tragedy.  It is just, according to the jury, not a crime.  Based upon the evidence presented, Mr. Zimmerman did not break the law.  I know there are some who were hoping for a guilty verdict because they oppose the Stand Your Ground law.  I know others were hoping for a guilty verdict because they oppose current gun laws.  A guilty verdict would not have changed these laws.  The trial is now over.  If you want to bring about legal change – focus your energy on the laws, not Mr. Zimmerman, the jury and the system that acquitted him.

My words below (from 2012) capture my thoughts on the racial aspect of the case.

Our Very Broken World: Trayvon Martin, George Zimmerman and Sensationalism

March 30, 2012


In 1983, my great-aunts, Phoebe Shapiro z”l (of blessed memory) and Anne Stern z”l were brutally attacked in their home on President Street in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.  Phoebe was 83 and Anne was 78.  They begged their attacker not to hurt them, telling him to take anything he wanted.  He took nothing. Instead, he severely beat both of my great aunts.  Phoebe’s jaw was badly broken and she spent many weeks with her mouth wired shut, recuperating in the hospital.  She eventually recovered and moved into an assisted living facility where she lived until she was 97.  Sadly, my great-aunt Anne succumbed to her injuries and passed away days after the attack.   According to Phoebe, with whom I was very close, the attacker was a young, black man.  He was never caught.  Not long after Anne’s death, I remember sitting with my grandfather, Phoebe and Anne’s younger brother, as he wrestled with the reality that his sister’s murderer might never be brought to justice.  This tormented him for the rest of his life.


I have been thinking a lot about my family’s tragedy this week as I read about Trayvon Martin and his death.  Despite what some are saying about Martin and the shooter, George Zimmerman, there are many questions yet to be answered about this case.  But one thing is clear: this death has become a racially charged tragedy.  Zimmerman has been labeled a criminal by many.  The New Black Panthers have offered a $10,000 reward for his capture.  Celebrities like Spike Lee and Rosanne Barr are tweeting the home address of Zimmerman’s parents to their followers.  Zimmerman, who is not in custody and has not been charged with anything, might be guilty of a crime.  But, he also might be innocent.  In this country, we believe that one is innocent until proven guilty.  A 17 year old is dead.  I understand that emotions are running high, understandably so.  But, this is no excuse to disregard American values and laws.


Unfortunately, national leaders are fanning the flames.  Reverend Al Sharpton has made it clear that Trayvon was killed by George Zimmerman because Trayvon was a “black kid”.  In response to Martin’s death, Reverend Jesse Jackson said that “blacks are under attack”.  Some elected officials have acted and spoken out in ways that lend support to Sharpton and Jackson’s assertion that race is the reason Trayvon was killed.  We don’t, however, know why Trayvon was killed.  Zimmerman might be a racist.  He might have been acting out of self-defense.  We don’t know.  There are too many unanswered questions.  An investigation needs to take place.  Rushing to judgment will get us nowhere.  Surely, Jackson and Sharpton know this.  They were very much involved in the 2006 Duke Lacrosse scandal – which, as many of you know, stirred racial tensions and resulted in charges being dropped against the falsely accused lacrosse players. Sharpton also knows the dangers of rushing to judgment after the Tawana Brawley controversy in the late 1980’s.


I know personally the emotions that surface when a loved one is killed.  In my family’s case, while the perpetrator was never captured, we know that he was black and that he murdered my great-aunt.  As my family learned about the horrific crime back in 1983, emotions raged.  The attacker was unknown – but, nonetheless, he was hated by my family.  There was an intense desire to find him and bring him to justice.  Yes, there were questions about whether or not he attacked my great-aunts because they were white and/or Jewish (this pre-dated the infamous Crown Heights riots in 1991).  But, there was no media coverage of this incident.  There were no press conferences.  There was no intensive investigation that followed the murder (perhaps if the attacker was caught, this would have been different).  The murder was considered a burglary gone bad.  As I reflect back on this nightmare, I realize that despite their anger and sorrow, I never once heard my great-aunt Phoebe, my grandfather or any other family member assert that white citizens of Crown Heights or Jewish citizens of Crown Heights were under attack.  My family’s loss never became “us vs. them”, “white vs. black”, “Jews vs. non-Jews”.  It could have.  But, my family understood that by asserting, without proof, that my great-aunt’s murder was a racial or an anti-semitic hate crime would have been racist in and of itself as the only “evidence” we had was the attackers skin color.  To blame something on skin color is racist.  Despite their emotions, my family managed to accept the fact that Anne’s murder was a horrific tragedy committed by a deranged individual who just so happened to be black.


I find it telling that as the media’s attention has been focused upon the Martin tragedy in Central Florida, most of us had no idea that on Wednesday, in Sarasota, Shawn Tyson, a black, 17 year-old, Floridian received a life sentence after a jury convicted him of first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of James Cooper, 25, and James Kouzaris, 24 – both white tourists from England.  I find it telling that while most of us know about Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, we are unaware of the fact that 41 people were shot in Chicago earlier this month and 10 of them were killed!  One of the victims was 6 year old Aliyah Shell who was shot by gang members.  Her murder, the murder of other innocent souls in Chicago and the conviction of Shawn Tyson received very little media coverage.  There are no celebrities speaking out on behalf of little Aliyah Shell.  There are no rallies. Why?  No politicians spoke out on behalf of James Cooper and James Kouzaris and their parents are asking why?  The answer – the media focuses on sensationalism and gives the spotlight to those whose words startle and shock rather than teach and heal our very broken society.  This is so sad given that we live in such a broken world.

Let me be clear, I know that racism is alive and well.  I know that people are killed because of their skin color. This being said, at this point, it is completely irresponsible for anyone to declare that George Zimmerman is a racist who murdered Trayvon Martin because of his skin color.  And it is irresponsible for the media to put the spotlight on those making such declarations.  Let the investigation take place.  Allow the courts to pursue justice.  Give the jury time to deliberate.  And while we wait, perhaps the media can send their reporters and their cameras to places like Aliyah Shell’s neighborhood to determine why a 6 year old little girls was killed!

No matter what the outcome of the Trayvon Martin investigation may be, I pray that many in our nation come to realize, just like my great-aunt Phoebe and my grandfather did after the death of my great-aunt Anne, that despite the terrible racially motivated crimes that do take place, there are indeed many horrific crimes that are committed by deranged individuals whose skin color represents them alone and not an entire racial group.  If we can embrace this reality, perhaps we will do a better job at pursuing justice and bringing about the healing of our very broken world.


Podcast: Tisha B’Av – The Tragedy That Led To Our Blessing

My latest podcast can be found here: HERE


Rabbi Andrew Jacobs talks about Tisha B’Av, the holiday that marks the destruction of the ancient Temple. It is a solemn holiday that involves mourning and fasting as we remember the loss of the Temple. Rabbi Andrew explores the Kabbalistic view of shattering – and how great things come about as a result of other things falling apart. He relates this to Tisha B’Av and the destruction of the Temple. From the ashes of the Temple came Rabbinic Judaism – the religion that has become the faith embraced by Jews today. As a result of the destruction of the Temple, Judaism evolved into a sustainable, meaningful and inclusive religion. From shattering comes blessing.

The Rituals of Tisha B’Av: How Jews Remember

Tuesday, July 16  corresponds to the 9th day of the Jewish month of Av on the Jewish Calendar.  This day, known as Tisha B’Av (which means the 9th of Av), is one of the darkest days of the Jewish year.  It is on this day that we are taught that the Temple that stood in Jerusalem – the very heart of ancient Jewish life – was destroyed not once, but twice.  The first destruction took place at the hands of the Babylonians on the 9th of Av 587BCE.  After being rebuilt by our ancestors, the Temple was destroyed again on the 9th of Av 70CE by the Romans.  We are also taught that many other calamities befell our people on this terrible day, including: in 1280, the King of England signed an edict expelling Jews from the country; in 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain; in 1942 the Nazis began deporting Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to concentration camps; in 1994, the Jewish Community Center in Argentina was blown up.

As a result of all of these tragedies, Tisha B’Av is a day of intense mourning and grief.  It is a fast day.  There are to be no celebrations.  Personal comfort is put aside.  Many sit and even sleep on the floor.  Idle chatter, leisure activities like listening to music, even work in many cases, are to be avoided.  The synagogue service includes a very solemn service where the lights are dimmed as the Book of Eicha, a lamentation over the destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians, is chanted.

For many contemporary Jews, Tisha B’Av is overlooked or ignored.  It falls in the middle of the summer when many people are busy with summer activities. It is certainly not a “fun” holiday that excites us to get involved in the observance.  For some Jews, the idea of mourning the loss of the Temple, where animal sacrifice was the way we connected with G-d, is not something they are willing to do. I appreciate those who embrace this argument; they are not simply ignoring Tisha B’Av.  They have given the holiday and its rituals some thought.  However, not only are they ignoring the many other tragedies that befell the Jewish people on the 9th of Av, they are also missing the bigger picture: Tisha B’Av and the rituals of loss that we engage in during the holidays capture how we Jews “do history”.

As Jews, we are frequently reminded to zachor/to remember our history.  Remembering Jewishly does not simply involve opening up a book and reading about our past.  If this was the case, the dramatic seders, matzah and spicy horseradish of Passover would not be necessary. Neither would be the building of sukkot or the antics of Purim.  As Jews, we are taught that remembering is not simply done by thinking about something.  Remembering entails using our mind, heart and soul.  We need to feel history, taste it, live it.

And so, on Tisha B’Av, while some of us might not want to return to the sacrifices of the Temple, this is no excuse not to remember the tragedies associated with the 9th of Av.  The destruction of the Temples were huge events in our past.  They redefined who we were as a people. The sense of loss that our ancestors felt as a result of the destruction was overwhelming and, if we embrace some or all of the rituals of Tisha B’Av, that loss is still palpable to us today. As a result, remembering Jewishly makes history come to life in a powerful, often challenging, way.  Granted, fasting on Tisha B’Av and bringing the pain of the past into our lives today is not a pleasant experience – but it reminds us of the struggles of our past and sweetens the blessing of our modern Jewish lives.

On Tuesday, I encourage you to mark Tisha B’Av by remembering Jewishly.  Whether it be by going all out and fasting or doing something as simple as not listening to music for the day, embracing a Tisha B’Av ritual will deepen our appreciation of the incredible journey of our people.  While this journey has been more than painful at times, commemorating Tisha B’Av allows us to stand back in awe and realize just how incredible it is that we Jews have not only survived the journey, but we are thriving as the journey continues.  Am Yisrael Chai/The Jewish people live!