A Hidden Gem!

In less than a month (Saturday evening, June 11) the Festival of Shavuot arrives. The festival has come to celebrate the revelation of the Ten Commandment at Mount Sinai. But just after the Ten Commandment is one of Torah’s most important lessons.

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

Quick Comment Parashat Yitro (Exodus 18:1-20:23)

It is easy to overlook a gem of a lesson that lurks unobtrusively behind the Ten Commandments, but it is a lesson that can change our lives.

“And if you make Me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of cut stones; for if you lift up your tool upon it, you have polluted it.” (Exodus 20:22)

God loves us just as we are

We all have the potential to be stones in God’s altar and we all have the potential to see in others the same potential.

But too often we want to cut those other potential stones to fit our expectations of how they should be.

God welcomes all to worship at the Divine altar whether we are Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, another religion or no religion at all. It does not matter if we are gay, straight or transgender.

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A Grateful Tribute to Gogi Grant

https://youtu.be/lVcPdD3QIAw

In 1956 when the first wave of Elvis popularity—with Hound Dog, Don’t Be Cruel, “I Want You, I Need You, I Love You,” and “Love Me Tender” were number one on the Hit Parade, a Jewish girl from Philadelphia pushed Elvis down the list

Myrtle Audrey Arinsberg, the eldest of six children born to Russian-Jewish parents, took the number one spot from the King. Between Elvis first chart topper, “Heart Break Hotel,” and the above-mentioned classics, Ms Ginsberg, better known as Gogi Grant, reigned for five weeks at number one with “The Wayward Wind.”

Sixty years later the songs timeless beauty endures. It is one of the best, most tightly told and evocative “story-songs” of all time. Ms Grant’ dead on performance of her classic at age 80 (above) is a remarkable achievement.

In recent years I have seriously considered the contrast between ‘the wayward wind’ of the song and the “’wind’ (spirit)’ of God” that hovered over the waters   (Genesis 1:2) at the beginning of the Torah’s creation story.

The wayward wind is a random breeze that sweeps up those who follow it and symbolizes a life of aimless selfishness. And of course the bottom line in the song is because of it, as Ms Grant so plaintively sings, “I’m now alone with a broken heart.”

By contrast the wind of God that hovered over the primordial waters presages the story’s vital lesson that God does not want the wind or spirit within us to be random.

The whole point of the creation story is that life is not an accident and that we should live with purpose and meaning. Everything in the story is created in an orderly fashion and with great purpose. The message is our lives should have purpose and direction. Only we human beings (Genesis 1:26) are created B’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God. That means of all creatures on earth we have the most power. As intelligent as our pets or the chimpanzees or the dolphins are, they are not going to perform life-saving brain surgery. They are also not going to build bombs or bullets whose only purpose is to kill or to maim.

Indeed the overarching message of the creation story is that God wants us to use the awesome power we each possess to positive purpose and for each of us to contribute in some small way to the creation of a more just, caring and compassionate society.

But God doesn’t make us do that. We have a choice.

We can allow the wayward wind to swirl us around aimlessly through life or we can find the “wind of God” deep within our souls and make our lives a blessing to those with whom we interact.

Gogi Grant sang of the wayward wind but seems to have heeded the “wind” of the Eternal one. She honed her vocal gifts so that critics hailed her as “one of the premier vocalists of the 1950s and 1960s, is known for her crystal clear voice, perfect pitch, and a strong vocal range.”
After Riding the top of the charts and starring as the voice of Helen Morgan in the 1957 movie biography of the 1920”s singer, she made 15 LP albums.

She also weathered the stormy winds of two failed marriages.

In 1967, when her son Joshua (actor Joshua Beckett) was an infant, Ms Grant stepped away from the performing world for 20 years to focus on raising her children. When she launched her comeback, the critical verdict was that she had not lost a beat.

Gogi grant died last month at age 91. She harnessed the wayward wind that beckons to all of us and lived a life of purpose and meaning, a life that enriched her loved ones and enriched her many fans.. May her memory endure as a blessing!

Clicking “LIKE” Matters!

Because I am so deeply moved by the outpouring of prayers and good wishes on my recent cataract surgery, I want to repost an essay that I originally published in The Jerusalem Post on March 3, 2013.

 

 

Rabbi Fuchs to Have Open Heart Surgery,” read a late-June 1996 headline on the first page of the local news section of The Nashville Banner.

While I had neither hoped for nor wanted such publicity surrounding my surgery, the headline symbolizes the difference between the surgery I underwent at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville back then and the more complex open-heart surgery I underwent at the Cleveland Clinic on November 29, 2012.

In Nashville, because I was known in the community, my surgery to replace a congenitally defective aortic valve attracted more attention, advice, visits and support than I could ever imagine.

By contrast my surgery in 2012 was in Cleveland where I knew almost no one.

My Connecticut cardiologist encouraged me to have my much more complex 2012 procedure done in a major heart center where they do lots of these unusual procedures.” With his encouragement, we settled on the Cleveland Clinic.

It was a great choice.

The surgeon, Dr. Lars Svensson, is world-renowned, and the medical, nursing and technical care were all superb! The problem was that except for one incredibly wonderful and supportive family with whom we are very close and a couple of very gracious and concerned rabbis, we knew no one in Cleveland.

The love and care I continue to receive from my wife Vickie is priceless, and my three adult children all interrupted their very busy lives to fly in for the surgery from both coasts. But after a few precious days, my children – as they should have – flew back to their spouse, children and professional responsibilities.

Into the breach in a surprisingly meaningful way entered FACEBOOK.

When I travelled the world for an 18-month period as President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism – making 65 visits on five continents and living both in Israel and in New York City – I checked in on FACEBOOK only occasionally and posted even less frequently. Since my surgery, I have been a frequent contributor.

Why?

I repeat the words I posted from Cleveland two days before my operation with even more feeling than when I originally wrote them:

“FB friends, if ever you wonder whether the short messages of encouragement and support you are thinking about writing to people facing difficult challenges in the lives (illness, surgery, loss of a loved one or a job a few examples) do any good, trust me they do. My FB contacts have made the surgery I face Thursday and the events leading up to it much easier to deal with, and I am very grateful to each one of you who has reached out …”

One of the first things I did when I returned from intensive care after the operation was to post the following:

“Dear FB friends, it is still difficult for me to type, but I have read with deep gratitude (and will surely read again and again) each and every one of your messages to me. I cannot express how much they mean. Although I feel as weak as a kitten, your prayers, thoughts and good wishes have given me strength…”

It was strength I needed. People I knew in elementary and high school, college and grad school, in the three communities I served as rabbi and in my travels for the WUPJ have lifted me up. Some I knew intimately; some I had never met in real life. I have tried to pay it forward because lifting the spirits of another is a huge return on an investment as small as typing a few short words or even simply clicking “LIKE.”

 

As I anticipated my recent cataract procedures many people told me, “Oh, cataract surgery is nothing.” For me the thought of somebody cutting on my eyeballs was far from, “nothing.” Although it did not reach the level of my two open-heart procedures, my anxiety level was high. Once again, the support I received from people at every station and locale of my life was so comforting. Today, I repeat with more fervor than ever:

Clicking LIKE matters and encouraging comments matter even more!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Kinder Gentler Chad Gadya

 

Since I was a child, Chad Gadya has been one of my favorite parts of the Passover Seder. Its catchy melody and its underlying message always resonated with me.

Singing the song was such fun as we outdid each other to remember the words and sing them as quickly as possible until we came to the refrain, Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya, My father bought for two zuzim, Chad Gadya, Chad, Gadya.

The people of Israel were the Chad Gadya, Aramaic for the innocent little goat, devoured successively by one power after another. The ultimate hope of course is that one day the Eternal one would destroy “the Angel of Death” and the human propensity for conquest and violence. Israel would live in peace and harmony with her neighbors, and all would be right with the world.

For those unfamiliar with it the lyrics are:

Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya, (An Only Kid, An Only Kid)

Refrain: (At the beginning of the song and after every stanza):

 My father bought for two zuzim (a small amount of money) Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya!

Then came the cat and ate the Kid …

Then came the dog and bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the stick and beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the fire and burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the water and quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the ox and drank the water that quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the butcher and slaughtered the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the Angel of Death and slew the butcher that slaughtered the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid …

Then came the Holy One blessed be God and destroyed the Angel of Death that slew the butcher that slaughtered the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burnt the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid

My father bought for two zuzim Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya!

A few years ago Vickie and I hosted a Seder in San Francisco for our son and daughter and their families that consisted of four children five and under. Everything was going smoothly until I got a call from my son Leo, who said, “Dad we have a problem. Liz (our daughter-in-law) doesn’t like Chad Gadya.

“What’s not to like about Chad Gadya,” I asked?

“She says it’s too violent,” he answered.

“But it’s a wonderful metaphor” I replied, “for the history of our people. Let me talk to her.”

Surely, I thought I could make Liz see the light. “That song and that melody,” I told her,” have been cornerstones of our Seders for all of our children’s lives.”

“I have no problem with the melody,” she said, “but those lyrics are so violent. I am just not comfortable exposing my children to them.”

So, I sat down to write kinder, gentler lyrics to Chad Gadya. And that Passover we sang:

 

Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya

 Refrain: (at the beginning of the song and after every verse)

My father bought for two zuzim

Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya

 Then came the cat and nuzzled the kid …

 

Then came the dog and licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the fire and warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the water and quenched the fire that warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the ox and drank the water that quenched the fire that warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the butcher and fed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the Angel of Light and smiled at the butcher that fed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid …

Then came the Holy and Eternal One and blessed the Angel of Light that smiled at the butcher that fed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that warmed the stick that was fetched by the dog that licked the cat that nuzzled the kid

My father bought for two zuzim

Chad Gadya, Chad Gadya

 If I had only written these lyrics to make Liz happy, Dayenu, “It would have been enough” to make me glad I wrote them. But it turned out that the rest of my family liked them too.

And so now we have the option to replace the metaphor for the violent struggles of our people and the hope that one day God will make everything right with a kinder gentler hope: that one day all of humanity will realize the banality of war and bloodshed, that nations and individuals will learn to live together in mutual harmony, respect and affirmation. It is a good note on which to end the Seder.

 

 

 

 

Do We Really Need an Orange on the Seder Plate?

In a little more than three weeks Passover will be here, and sociologists tell us that more Jews will participate in some form of Passover Seder than will participate in any other religious event during the year!

The Seder is the most successful pedagogical tool in Jewish history largely  because it stimulates all of our senses: sight, touch, taste, hearing and smell.

In addition to the traditional symbols many will include an orange on their Seder plates.

The most prominent myth behind this custom is that years ago, a man confronted  Professor Susannah Heschel and told her,”The idea of women rabbis makes as much sense as an orange on a Seder plate.”

Today it is impossible to think of  meaningful non-Orthodox Jewish life without the enormous contributions women rabbis have made since the ordination of Sally Priesand in 1972. Personally, I would prefer to retire the orange and spend serious time at the Seder discussing the vital role women played in the Exodus story.

This conversation will do much more than an orange to teach the vital role women have played in Jewish history and to stimulate them to think of what role they might play in shaping a proud Jewish future.

Instead of an orange I want my daughters and granddaughters to know that without the actions of no fewer than six women heroes, Moses never would have gotten so far as to say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” I want every Seder participant to know that without these six women the Exodus could not have taken place, and we would have no Passover to celebrate!

Shiphrah and Puah were humble midwives. Pharaoh ordered them to kill every baby boy that emerged from his mother’s womb. The most powerful man on earth – one worshipped as a god — gave them a direct order! The midwives, though, answered to a higher authority than Pharaoh. Their bravery rings across the millennia as an answer to those Nazis’ who claimed they had no choice but to kill Jews. They were only following orders. Shiphrah and Puah teach us we always have a choice.

Yocheved, Moses’ mother, hid her baby in defiance of Pharaoh’s decree. Then she placed him in a wicker basket and floated him among the reeds of the Nile. What courage that took, but her gamble paid off!

Miriam, Moses’ sister watched the basket from afar. When Pharaoh’s daughter drew it out of the water, Miriam runs to her and suggests the baby’s own mother as its nurse. In so doing she saved her brother’s life.

The heroic role of Pharaoh’s daughter also should not escape our attention. She defied her father’s decree and saved Moses. For this she received the privilege of giving Moses’ his name, and she herself received the name Bit-yah, which means “daughter of the Lord.” (Va-yikra Rabbah 1:3; B, Megillah 13A).

The final female hero of Passover is Zipporah, Moses’ wife. She circumcised their son Eleazar when apparently Moses had neglected to do so (Exodus 4:24-26). The passage really does not fit into the flow of the story, so the rabbis could have interpreted it any way they wished. They could have deemed it crucial or inconsequential. The chose to to teach us that God would have killed Moses had Zipporah not intervened and circumcised their son!

The heroism of the women who made Passover possible is a strong and accurate answer to those who claim that women always play a secondary or subordinate role in Jewish thinking. An orange does not make their case. Telling their story does.

Savor Every Joy for We Never Know When it May Suddenly End

( A thought about Parashat Shemini, Leviticus 9:1-11:47)

After a lifetime in his younger brother Moses’ shadow, Aaron was finally having his moment! Moses led the people from slavery. Moses received Torah on Mt Sinai. Aaron was always “the second banana.”

But for eight glorious days all of that was behind him as he reveled in the ceremony establishing him as the high priest of the people.

And then in an instant the celebration turned to ashes.

Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu offered “esh zarah” “alien fire” (Leviticus 10:1) on the altar of the Eternal One and in an instant the fire consumed them.

Why?

Midrashic and modern commentators offer several explanations:

They wished Moses and Aaron dead so they could take over the leadership of the people (B. Sanhedrin 52a).
They worshipped idols.
They were irreverent.
They were drunk
They attempted—unauthorized–to enter the holy of holies.

But no explanation satisfies.

We will never know why Nadav and Abihu died but the account teaches us a vital lesson illustrated by this story told by Rabbi Jack Riemer!

A weeping man lingered at his wife’s gravesite after her tragic death. In time the rabbi urged him to return to the car waiting to take him home.

“You don’t understand, Rabbi,” the man weeped, “I loved her!”

“I know you loved her,” the rabbi answered…”

“I loved her,” the man interrupted, “and once, I almost told her.”

Tragedy can strike any one of us in an instant.

In a moment our joy can turn to sorrow and our dreams to ashes. No amount of money, power or fame protects us from that possibility.

The tragedy of Nadav and Abihu urges us to embrace and savor every moment of joy and love that life offers because none of us can know what tomorrow will bring.

Trump May Be ISIS’ Legacy!

It is a fear growing larger in the pit of my stomach.

If between now and November President Obama and the free world cannot stop  ISIS’ terror and thwart their ability to put fear in our hearts, the prime beneficiary of that failure may be Donald Trump.

In the circles I travel no one (maybe I should say almost no one) is going to support or vote for Donald Trump. My feelings about him have only intensified since December 6 when I posted the essay about him that you can easily search for on this blog.

So what I write here is a fear not a hope, a nightmare not a dream.

If ISIS’ terror continues unchecked, whom do you think Joe and Jane Sixpack (or Sixshooter) among American voters are going to believe has the better chance of bringing this scourge to an end:

Rational, analytical Hillary or tough talkin’ Trump?

Many have compared the Trump phenomenon to Hitler in the twenties? It is a scary comparison, but it is not without merit. Hitler played on the anger and shame of Germany’s defeat in World War I.He promised strong, firm leadership to relieve Germany’s pain. He found scapegoats at which to target the people’s anger, and we all know how that turned out.

Trump is doing similar things. He chides Obama’s “weakness” in not “even” being able to defeat ISIS. He makes Muslim and Mexican immigrants his scapegoat just as Hitler did with Jews, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses and gypsies.

He promises to make America great again just as Hitler promised to restore Deutschland to glory!

He knows Americans are in Pain over ISIS, and he promises he has the answer!

We can wring our hands all we want. We can call him a bigot, a buffoon and a bully. He is all of those things and more. But if the free world cannot contain ISIS’ reign of terror, Donald Trump may well be (and my fingers tremble as I type the words) the next president of the United States.

The worst thing we can do is to think it will never happen!

 

 

Another Human Sacrifice

 

Yes, another human sacrifice, a practice God and Abraham taught the world to abhor in Genesis 22, and we still don’t get it.
And yet some continue to see the story as other than a warning against human sacrifice. Chapter VI of “What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives makes the case more fully, and I urge you to read it. I am happy to send anyone who messages or emails me at sl.fuchs@comcast.net the chapter.
Still, some will continue to say, “Abraham failed the test,” or “How could God have asked such a horrible thing of Abraham.” And just as bad, some of us will continue to support football by watching this carnage or worse allowing our children to play with the same enthusiasm that those ancient Rome watched the gladiators.
Make no mistake by watching football we are supporting a spectacle that leads too often to pain filled, dementia plagued, and shortened lives of those who play.

Other Women in My Life

Although I am not 100% decided, I will probably vote for Hillary Clinton in the Connecticut Democratic Presidential Primary.

If I do, it will only be because I dislike her as a candidate less than I dislike Bernie Sanders.

Because I have written that I am not eager to see Ms Clinton become President of the United States, some have accused me of being sexist.

I would not like her any better if she were a man.

If anything, I would favor her because she is a woman. During a trip to Israel in 1984, I’d learned that the late Geraldine Ferraro would be running for Vice-President. I considered it a cause for celebration.

Looking back over my career as a rabbi, I believe I have done my part to advance the status of women as Jewish clergy.  I am proud to have played a pivotal role in bringing:

  • The first female rabbi to Columbia, Maryland
  • The first female Cantor to Columbia, Maryland
  • The first female rabbi to Nashville, Tennessee
  • The first female Cantor to West Hartford, Connecticut
  • The first lesbian rabbi to West Hartford, Connecticut

I wonder if any of those calling me the “S” word can make such claims. All of those initiatives met resistance, and I did not make these hires unilaterally. But because I was the Senior Rabbi of the congregation in each case, none would have occurred had I not pushed for them. In each case I’m glad I did.

Because of my track record, I bridle when people say that I don’t like Hillary Clinton because she is a woman. My wife says I am jealous that nobody will pay me $250,000 to give a 45-minute speech to Wall Street bigwigs. She is right.

But like Mr. Sanders, I wonder what great wisdom Ms Clinton could impart to warrant such munificent compensation.

Yes, I believe those fees are unseemly to say the least, but I am equally disturbed by Whitewater and Ms. Clinton’s quick turn of profit in the commodities market.

There are other things about Ms Clinton that displease me, but the time has come for me to overlook them. She is not only my likely preferred Democratic candidate, but she is the one with the far better chance of defeating Mr. Trump in the general election.

That to me is job one.

As for the fact that Ms Clinton is a woman … that is the best thing she has going for her.

 

Looking Backward with Gratitude; Looking Forward with Hope: Thoughts on Reaching Seventy

https://youtu.be/2R1jiVcIGcg

Just as ‘”Yankee Doodle Dandy” attributes his priorities to the fact that he was born on the Fourth of July, I attribute mine to the fact that I was born on Shabbat Zachor, the Shabbat before Purim.

It has been exactly forty years since I first began reflecting on my life in a sermon. Forty years ago I treated my congregation to an address entitled, “From the Top of the Hill Looking Down, Thoughts on Reaching Thirty.“

On my 30th birthday, March 16, 1976, I was among a group of Baltimore area rabbis gathered in an upscale Spanish restaurant to celebrate the upcoming retirement of Rabbi Abraham Shaw who had spent 40 years as rabbi of one congregation, Oheb Shalom in Baltimore.

As colleagues paid tribute to Rabbi Shaw, I found myself imagining that the gathering was really in honor of my 30th birthday.

I found myself wondering, “What would I want people to say about me when they reflect on my life as a rabbi?”

As I looked around the group I saw some wonderful role models. But I also saw a “scholar rabbi” who spent most of his time studying and writing learned articles read only by specialists. His congregation basked in his reputation as “a brilliant man.”I saw one I considered “a glad hander rabbi,” who always had a smile and a slap on the back for everyone. I saw a “businessman” rabbi who was a Cracker Jack fundraiser, and a great administrator. I knew I did not want to be like them.

I wanted, and I still want to be remembered as a rabbi who cared deeply about his congregants’ lives and whose love of Torah enabled him to help others find greater meaning in its stories.

 I never had the privilege or the burden of working with a senior colleague. Surely I could have benefitted from the experience of a wise and seasoned Senior Rabbi. At the same time I am glad that from the outset of my career, I had the opportunity to make my own decisions and my own mistakes.

I have had the privilege of working with younger colleagues in each of the three congregations I served. Some of these relationships were wonderfully harmonious and successful. Some, I acknowledge, were not.

I take a good measure—though not all of—the responsibility for those partnerships that were less than mutually enriching. There were times when I should have stepped back instead of stepping in, and there were times when I should have listened more and talked less.

Certainly, I have made other mistakes and not—as Frank Sinatra sang—“too few to mention.” At times I have been too focused on what people think of me and at times insufficiently sensitive as to what the impact of my words and actions on others would be. I own these shortcomings and still try to work on them.

I am also very intense, and some find that intensity off putting. If I could live my life over again, I would dial it back a bit.

But, I would emphasize, that very intensity also drove me and continues to drive me to do things as well as I possibly can.

I can honestly say that I have never “phoned in” a baby naming, Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a wedding a lesson, a sermon or a funeral.

Yes, I am proud that in some ways the life course I envisioned for myself in that Baltimore restaurant eventuated as I hoped.

But when I was thirty, I had no idea how important the lessons of the Purim story would become to me.

I have always loved Purim. The first real responsibility I took on in my high school youth group—long before I considered becoming a rabbi–was to chair the Purim Carnival at our Synagogue.

Our work in Germany for the past two years ties directly to Purim and to the special Torah reading for this Shabbat from Deuteronomy (25:17-19) “Remember … Do not forget!”

The first time I read these words in my first congregation in Columbia, Maryland, Father George Cora, of blessed memory, head of the local Catholic Church, was among the worshippers. Afterward he challenged me, “Why do you feel commanded to remember the past? Isn’t it time to move on and focus on the future?”

I had not yet learned George Santayana’s famous quotation, ““Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it”.

Even so, I responded then as I do now. We must learn from the lessons of the past in order to shape a better future.

Fast forward forty years, and the answer I gave to Father Cora resembles the answer I give when people ask why we spent ten weeks these past two years in Germany and why we plan to return this coming fall:

We cannot undo the past, but the future is ours to shape!

I also love the Purim story for what it teaches us about our destiny in life.

In the Purim story Esther’s heroism averts the tragedy Haman planned.

But she was reluctant to go to the King. When he heard that, Mordechai’s message to her was clear: You must! Who knows, he “texted her” through their go between, Hatach, if you did not get to be queen just for this opportunity that only you have to make a difference.

And so she went

I believe each of us has these moments in our lives.

The first one I remember was when I was fifteen and walking to our synagogue’s Chanukah celebration.

I stopped in to buy my girlfriend a gift when a girl about ten years old entered the store. She was literally dressed in rags and reminded me of the Little Match Girl of Hans Christian Anderson’s famous story.

“I want to buy a Christmas present for my Mother,” the girl told the storekeeper, “but I don’t have much money.

The man showed her a few inexpensive items, and when she saw one she liked, she asked how much it was”

The girl frowned when he told her the price, and she realized after counting her money, that what she had was not enough.

To this day I believe the Eternal One put me in that store at that moment so that I could make up the difference between the amount of money the little girl had and the cost of the gift.

I believe these moments when we like Esther have a chance to make a difference come to all of us. But we must be on the alert for them. Or they can quickly pass us by.

The rabbis say that a burning bush was an odd way for God to manifest the Divine Presence to Moses.

After all burning bushes are not so unusual in the desert. But only because Moses was on the alert did he realize the bush was not consumed and contained a life changing message for him.

That is why Vickie and I went to Germany.

 We had opportunities to:

  • Teach German high school students that they are not responsible for what happened, but only through learning about it can they prevent such things in the future.
  • Conduct holy day services in synagogues that would have gone without a rabbi.
  • Share the approach to Torah in my book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives with audiences that had always felt they had to choose either to take the Bible literally or dismiss its stories as quaint fairy tales.
  • Speak in more than fifteen churches where a rabbi had never spoken before and where many of the worshippers had never seen a living, breathing Jew before.
  • Speak at three Kristallnacht commemoratives in Leipzig, the city where my father, z’l, was arrested on that fateful night.
  • Conduct the first Jewish service in the city of Friedrichsstadt since before World War II.
  • Offer Seminars and lectures at the Abraham Geiger College and the University of Hamburg.

In the scheme of things these are not great accomplishments. We did not cure cancer or make peace in the Middle East. But we made a difference.

I am proud that we have taken advantage of these opportunities, and I hope we can always be on the alert for moments when destiny calls to us with the message of the Purim story:

Who knows if you are not where you are just for the opportunity to make small difference for good in peoples’ lives?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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