Eighteen Years, Six Blessings and One Wish

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Cheryl and I at our wedding, 18 years ago, May 30, 1999

On Tuesday, May 30th, Cheryl and I will celebrate our 18th anniversary. As many of you know, 18 is a powerful number in Judaism – the symbol of life. And, as Cheryl’s husband, I’ve been blessed with a lot of good life in these 18 years.

Numbers in Judaism – so many of them have significance. One/Echad is mentioned in our most important prayer – the Shema – and symbolizes the centrality of God in our tradition. Seven is the symbol of creation, a reminder that God created the worldin six days and rested on Shabbat – the seventh day. Ten reminds us of Charlton Heston (or Moses) and the 10 Commandments that, tradition teaches us, were given to the Jewish people on Shavuot – the holiday we will celebrate on the evening ofMay 30 and all day May 31. Since Passover, we’ve literally been counting the days leading up to Shavuot. This counting, known as Sefirat HaOmer (the counting of the Omer), was an agricultural tradition that evolved into a spiritual practice, one that connects our redemption from Egypt with the gift of Torah given to us at Mt. Sinai. These two important moments in Jewish time are separated by seven weeks and we count each day that makes up these seven weeks. Of course, most of us know that our ancestors had to wander in the desert for 40 years prior to entering the land of Israel. And just this week we marked the 50th anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem. Interestingly enough, this Shabbat we read Parashat BaMidbar – the beginning of the Book of Numbers that details how our ancestors counted all of the Israelites. Numbers – they’re a big deal in our tradition.

As I get ready to mark my 18th year as Cheryl’s husband, I’ve been thinking a lot about numbers. Yes, the number 18 – but also the number seven, specifically the Shevah Brachot – the seven blessings – that were chanted by our Rabbis and Cantor at our wedding – the same seven blessings I get to chant for couples whose weddings I am fortunate enough to officiate at:

  1. Blessed are You,Adonai our God, Ruler of the Universe, Creator of the fruit of the vine.
  2. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has created everything for Your glory.
  3. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the Universe, Creator of human beings.
  4. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who has fashioned human beings in Your image, according to Your likeness and has fashioned from it a lasting mold. Blessed are You Adonai, Creator of human beings.
  5. Bring intense joy and exultation to Jerusalem through the ingathering of her children amidst her in gladness. Blessed are You, Adonai, who gladdens Zion through her children.
  6. Gladden the beloved companions as You gladdened Your creatures in the garden of Eden. Blessed are You, Adonai, who gladdens these two soulmates.
  7. Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the Universe, who created joy and gladness, soulmates, mirth, glad song, pleasure, delight, love, companionship, peace, and harmony. Adonai, our God, let there soon be heard in the cities of Judah and the streets of Jerusalem the sound of joy and the sound of gladness, the voice of these married partners, the sound of their jubilance from their canopies and of the youths from their song-filled feasts. Blessed are You who causes these partners to rejoice with each other.

I am fortunate to have blessed many couples with these ancient words and beyond fortunate to have had been blessed, alongside Cheryl, with these same words 18 years ago. I know them by heart and find them beautiful every time I get to say them.

But, it took me 18 years to realize that while the first six of the Shevah Brachot are blessings – expressions of gratitude to God – something changes when we get to number seven.

In the first six blessings we thank God for wine – the symbol of joy, for creating the world, for creating humanity, for filling us with a spark of holiness, for the blessing of the land of Israel and for making the couple happy on their wedding day.

But, when it comes to blessing number seven, we don’t just thank God. We express our hope that the joy of the wedding extends beyond the moment under the chuppah, beyond the moments that follow at the party. We ask that the couple’s joy outlives the wedding day and is passed on to others, spread throughout the city and picked up on by the youth – the children. This is our hope that we share with couples as they stand under the chuppah. This is the desire of every couple on their wedding day.

I am so blessed to be celebrating my 18th year of marriage to my soulmate. We both remember feeling so blessed on our wedding day. We both remember the desire to carry the joy of that incredible day with us and share it with others. Together, over these past 18 years, we’ve learned that the key to keeping that joy alive isn’t simply to give thanks for it. It’s not to assume that it will just be there day after day, year after year. After the wedding, the chuppah gets returned to the florist. The dress and tuxedo are dry cleaned and packed away. The guests go home, the flowers shrivel up and life goes on. And it can be hard. And that joy can fade – especially if you assume it will just be there, just like it was on the wedding day.

The seventh blessing of the Shevah Brachot asks God to give the couple the strength, determination and courage to nurture their love for each other every day. The seventh blessing urges the couple to act in ways that not only cultivates the joy of the wedding day, but turns that joy into something deeper – something that doesn’t need the fanfare and formality of a wedding ceremony, something that brings about serenity and contentment even in the messiness of life.

These past 18 years I have been so blessed to have a partner by my side who has dug deep with me as we worked hard not just to maintain the happiness of our wedding day, but as we found the courage to let this happiness evolve into the beautiful relationship we have today. We think we’ve shared our happiness with our kids. We hope we’ve shared it, not necessarily with our city, but with our family, friends, community.

On this my 18th anniversary, I give thanks to God who causes partners to rejoice with each other. And I give thanks to my wife, Cheryl, for being my partner, holding my hand for all these years and making it possible for us to find new and incredible ways to rejoice with each other. I love you Cheryl.

This is a popular time for Jewish weddings and, therefore, a popular time for anniversaries. If you are celebrating an anniversary at this time, Cheryl joins me in wishing you much joy and happiness now and always. And she also joins me in wishing each and every single one of you a Shabbat Shalom.

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My wife and kids making matzah on Periscope

Passover is a week away!

I was happy to hear such great feedback about the Fill In The Blanks Haggadah I sent out last week. This week, my wife, Rabbi Cheryl Jacobs, and I want to share with you our short, simple Passover video series that we are calling Passover 101. We started the series Sunday evening. Each night, from our kitchen, we share a little tidbit or teaching about Passover online via Periscope, a livestreaming service based on Twitter. You don’t need Twitter to watch the videos. We usually stream live around 8:00PM from @spiritualish on Twitter, but we record and post the videos HERE so you can watch when you can. We’ve encouraged folks to ask questions and get involved in the discussion – and they have! We’ll be posting videos through next Thursday evening. We invite you to join us for this fun, online adventure that we hope gives you some new insight into the Haggadah, the Seder and the overall Passover experience. Tonight, at services, I will be sharing and streaming the next episode of Passover 101. I hope you will join us, either in person or online!

Fill In The Blanks Haggadah

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Passover is coming. The first seder is two weeks from tonight!

As many of you know, I am a strong believer in making the seder fun and engaging for all ages. The purpose of the seder is to bring the story of Passover to life and make it relevant for everyone sitting around your seder table. Inspired by Mad Libs, my wife Cheryl and I have put together a short “Fill In The Blanks Haggadah” that we hope will add some laughter and engage your family and friends this Passover.

You can download the ”Fill In The Blanks Haggadah” HERE.

We’ll share some more fun seder ideas next week! Stay tuned!

ISH – Innovation, Spirituality, Home

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As many of you know, last year Ramat Shalom began an innovative project known as The Center for Jewish Life. The Center was a project that I was inspired to pursue as a result of my Fellowship with Rabbis Without Borders. Its primary goal was to reach out to the 90% of unaffiliated Jews in Broward County and provide them with a connection to Judaism – a connection that would encourage them to become more involved with Ramat Shalom. Thanks to the support of the national team at Rabbis Without Borders, our own Board of Directors, the generosity of our member Craig Lamm and the leadership of my wife, Rabbi Cheryl Jacobs, The Center for Jewish Life has grown and evolved over the past year. We have helped many folks find a meaningful connection to Judaism and, at the same time, strengthened the Ramat Shalom family. In April, I was invited to speak about The Center for Jewish Life at the annual meeting of Clal – The National Jewish Center for Leadership and Learning in New York City, where I received tremendous support for our program. As we move forward, we expect that our outreach efforts will continue to attract national attention and provide meaningful ways for the unaffiliated to connect with Judaism. In addition, our efforts will encourage membership growth here at Ramat Shalom and subsidize many of the synagogue’s programs and events.

Earlier this year, in an effort to ensure that The Center for Jewish Life would truly strengthen our community, we engaged in a visioning process with a professional consulting team at no expense to Ramat Shalom. This visioning process helped us further develop our goals and mission while transforming The Center for Jewish Life into a truly unique program that would appeal to a vast number of spiritual seekers. The results of this process have been incredible.

We learned very quickly in the process that if we are trying to appeal to unaffiliated Jews, many of whom are turned off by institutionalized religion, The Center for Jewish Life is the wrong name. Further, we learned that there are many spiritual seekers out there who might not officially identify as Jewish, but are very interested in exploring our faith and eventually finding a spiritual home among us. Over the past several months, Rabbi Cheryl has officiated at numerous conversion ceremonies and welcomed proud new Jews into our community.

As part of our visioning process, we were encouraged us to create an interactive website that will enable us to expand our outreach efforts well beyond Broward County and help an even larger audience engage spiritually with Judaism. Further, we talked about how there are many pathways to Judaism – each pathway leading folks closer to a meaningful connection with our faith. All of this encouraged us to change our name from The Center for Jewish Life to ISH – Innovation, Spirituality, Home. At ISH, your path can be left-ish, your path can be right-ish, your path can be somewhere in between-ish. At ISH, you will always find something meaningful and always connect to something Jewish. (For a great article on the birth of ISH as a word click here.)

Rabbi Cheryl is the Director of ISH. As with The Center for Jewish Life, Cantor Debbie and I play no role in ISH lifecycle events. We are here for our members. I will be teaching some online courses at ISH and I am excited to announce that all of ISH’s online learning programs and other events will be accessible to Ramat Shalom members, including an online Kabbalah class that I will be teaching beginning the end of the month. ISH’s website officially launches this weekend. I invite you to check it out – www.FindYourISH.com. For those of you who enjoyed last year’s High Holiday’s Gratitude Project, I encourage you to take part in ISH’s 30 Days of Gratitude which begins this weekend on the ISH Blog.

Words From My Rabbi, My Wife – Rabbi Cheryl Jacobs

Last week, I promised to share a few stories about some of the influential people that have defined the past 13 years. This being said, I turn my weekly post over to the person who has influenced me the most, my wife, Rabbi Cheryl Jacobs.

 

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Every Friday you expect to receive an inspiring message from your amazing rabbi…but you never really specified WHICH rabbi it should come from, so I asked Rabbi Andrew to step aside this week and allow me to write the weekly message to you.

This week, the invitations went out asking you to join together with our congregation on March 29th as we celebrate Rabbi Andrew’s, and by extension, all of us Jacobs’ thirteenth year at Ramat Shalom. It is truly amazing to sit back and think about how much has happened and how we have all grown over the past 13 years as a congregation and as a family. It is hard to believe that it was 13 years ago when Andrew said to me on a walk through our neighborhood in White Plains, NY, “What would you think about moving to Florida?” I will be honest and tell you that I was dead set against the idea. We had a new baby and our entire family was north of Virginia. We didn’t know a soul in Florida and the thought of moving down here was terrifying, but Andrew fell in love with this congregation and I was in love with my husband, so we made the move and the rest, as they say, is history.

I won’t offend you by pretending that everything has been perfect over the past 13 years. For sure, there have been hiccups along the way, days that we were really homesick for the Northeast, times when we missed our family or just had a really bad series of days. There was a period of time when I worked to establish myself as a rabbi in my own right, making a name and a reputation for myself apart from my husband, and that, in itself, was a very difficult growing process for us all – being apart for holidays, celebrations and Shabbat.

Just last week, we read in the Torah about the giving of the Ten Commandments to our ancestors. It was a “WOW” moment, to be sure. Then this week, we read Parshat Mishpatim, a laundry list of laws regarding property damage, kidnapping and cruelty to animals, to name a few. Seemingly, our “high” from the Ten Commandments comes to a screeching stop as we read rule after rule in this week’s Torah portion. But why? Why would the Torah do this to us? We were excited, pumped up and now we stop and go, “wait a minute, what just happened?” Well, one interpretation is that the Torah portions are two sides of the same coin. The spiritual high of the Ten Commandments is great, but it doesn’t solve the problems of the real world. In order to work through the everyday “hiccups” that occur, we need that one burst of energy, that one exciting moment that carries us through even the darkest days. The great commentator, Maimonides explains it like this:

Imagine you’re lost at night, trudging knee-deep in mud through a dark and vicious rainstorm. Suddenly a single flash of lightning appears, illuminating the road ahead. It is the only light you may see for miles. This single flash must guide you through the night. So too, one burst of inspiration may need to last for years.

Thirteen years ago, our family came to Ramat Shalom and experienced that amazing moment of light. That flash has carried us over the years, bursting through again and again through every bump and hiccup, in good times and even in bad. You, my friends, are our light. You are our home.

Please join us in a celebration, yes of the Jacobs’ 13th year at Ramat Shalom, but even more so, a celebration of that light that brought us together 13 years ago. A celebration of family. A celebration of home. To learn more about the celebration, please click HERE.