The Holy Day Sermons I Won’t Deliver

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Ceiling Tile Kof (Named by Akuokuo Vallis) who won our kof naming contest a few months ago.

The Hebrew letter Kof is the first letter of the word Kadosh. Kadosh means, “Holy.”For Jews this season of the year is holy ”

Simply defined, “Holy,” means different or opposite from the ordinary.

Our Holy Day table is beautifully set.

In just a few hours, we shall welcome a new Jewish year.

To prepare for this holy day I have just finished my annual reading of S. Y. Agnon’s The Days of Awe (See my essay, If It’s Elul, It Must Be Agnon) that I began mid-summer.

For Vickie and me it will be a new year, in a new home in a new congregation. It is a daunting challenge but one we eagerly embrace.

These are troubled times for our country and our world. Many rabbis will devote their Holy Day messages to these troubles. Some will read as part of their sermons a beautifully crafted statement written by leaders of our American Reform movement about these issues.

I will not. Here is why:

These problems will remain unchanged long after Yom Kippur ends in ten days. They will remain no matter how eloquent or how eloquently passionate a rabbi’s statements about Donald Trump or the problems faced by non Orthodox Jews in Israel, the threat of North Korea or any other issue will be.

No sermons will solve them.

But there is a chance, perhaps a small chance but still a chance, that my messages and those of others, will affect the way a person relates to these sacred days and their message of self reflection, repentance and change.

Because there is that chance, all the time, effort and thought that I put into those messages is worthwhile.

It is natural to want change in our country and in our world.

It is understandable that many are unhappy about any number of salient political issues.

Certainly some of these issues, like our Torah’s most frequently repeated imperative to welcome the stranger and treat him or her with dignity and respect touch the core of our values as a people.

But my messages will not change national policy.

But …

  • if they change the heart or mind of one person,
  • or if they enable someone to see meaning in a biblical passage in a different light that speaks to their lives …

Then I believe I will have fulfilled the purpose for which the Eternal One allowed me to become a rabbi. And I will be content

 

Rosh Hashanah 5778

“This is the day of the world’s creation,” our Rosh Hashanah prayer proclaims.
In this new year, may we recreate in ourselves all that is kind, gentle and compassionate …
And may we curb all that is cruel, violent and selfish …
And may our world be blessed by our actions!

L’shanah Tovah לשנה טובה
A happy New Year to all from Vickie and me!

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Vickie holding the recently published booklet about her mother’s life and journeys from Breslau in 1921 to Sand Francisco in 2015

In the Wake of Irma

“For You, O God, silence is praise!” (Psalm 65:1)

In the face of the hurricane that devastated the lives of many and disrupted our lives, silence is appropriate.

There are no words to convey our feelings.

There are no words to express our relief that we are still here and that though our property may have suffered damage, we are still here.

This season is one of renewal and atonement. Rosh Hashanah celebrates the creation of the world. More specifically it celebrates the values of Genesis creation story.

For me the “Truth” of that story is that our lives have purpose and meaning and that we humans-–not the alligator or the shark—are in charge of and responsible for the quality of life on our planet.

God’s hope, I believe, is that we humans will use our individual talents to forge a just, caring and compassionate society on this planet.

A natural disaster like Hurricane Irma challenges those ideals but has the potential to strengthen them. We must find the strength to re-create our world.

Silence and reflection help us find that strength.

One of my favorite prayers is (from the URJ’s Shabbat Manual): “Help us O God, to distinguish between that which is real and enduring and that which is fleeting and vain.”

Our house, our car, our boat our furniture, our whatever —they all mean a lot to us. They represent years of hard work and pride in what we have achieved. But at the end of the day all of these things are “fleeting and vain.”

How we live, and how we use the opportunities we have to help one another … these are the real and enduring bases on which we build meaningful futures.

Perhaps silence is the place to start.

Confronted with the disastrous sudden death of his two sons, Aaron, the High Priest of Israel was silent (Leviticus 10:10).

Thankfully the impact of Irma on most of us has been less devastating, but silence is still an apt response. To listen with empathy to our friends and neighbor as they describe their losses and is a great gift. To silently contemplate how we might best help others at this time is another.

But then we must move forward.

We cannot undo Irma’s’ impact, but the future is ours to shape.

My prayer is that we come together as a community—no matter where we live–and face that future with hope and courage.

 

 

 

We Can Do Better

I cannot get the image our of my mind!
On a morning walk when I lived in Jerusalem, I could see minarets, church spires and the Western Wall of the ancient Temple courtyard.

I cannot get the sound out of my ears!
At this time of the year—this month of Elul that precedes Rosh Hashanah—I could hear the mingled sounds of shofars, church bells, and muezzin calls urging Muslims to prayer.

These persistent images and sounds represent harmony and mutual respect.

I treasure them.

Yet we all know that the realities of Jerusalem and those of the world at large are a far cry from the images and sounds that my heart holds fast.

And yet I cling to hope! We can do better!

The greatness of humanity is not that we have always lived up to our lofty ideals but that we have never failed to hold our ideals aloft.

Those words are not original with me (I would love it if a reader can point me too their source), but I wish they were.

It is easy to look at our world and launch into angry rants.

We can demand change in our government, protest many policies, and feel good that we are taking a stand for social justice. “It is (to quote Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address) altogether fitting and proper that we do this.” We hope our protests will bring change down the road.

But real change–immediate change—can begin in our own hearts and with our own actions.

This may not be the year that the images of  harmony, affirmation and respect that I treasure from Jerusalem become reality.

But 

  • It can be the year when we express our own pain less and listen more to that of others.
  •  It can be the year we spend less time on our business and more time with our loved ones.
  • it can be the year we spend less on luxuries and more on helping others who have so little

It might not be the year that we change the world, but it can be the year that we change ourselves.

 

 

 

The Shrine of St Cecilia

The song was originally recorded in 1941 as a message of hope in response to World War II bombings.
But it is the Doo Wop version by Willie Winfield and the Harptones
(1957) that runs through my head as Hurricane Irma wreaks havoc on Florida.
Certain Doo wop songs have the ability to touch my heart and bring me comfort in troubling times. This is one of them:
Our home is in shambles
All I treasured is gone
The town seems deserted
Everyone’s so forlorn!
A storm came from up above
But somehow it missed
The Shrine of St Cecilia.

Irma, like Charley, Katrina and other disaster, has taken lives and left much of what we treasure in shambles.

Some have suffered greater loss than others. Regardless of the level of personal devastation, the key to our future is to find a “Shrine of St. Cecilia” in our hearts.
There are so many inspiring stories to hear and read of people coming together in the face of disaster to rebuild their lives and their dreams.
Not every story has a happy ending, but for those who have been spared it is the ability to cling to and build on hope that will determine the future.
The courage and resolve of many inspire me and, I pray, all of us, to do however little or much we can to bring hope and encouragement to others as the hurricane goes her way:

I kneel in my solitude
And silently pray
That Heaven will protect us dear,
And there’ll come a day
The storm will be over and
We’ll all meet again
At the Shrine of St. Cecilia.

Amen

Waiting

Waiting is the hardest part!

I have never dealt with a hurricane so personally before, but waiting is excruciating. We are safe , thank God, in Connecticut because our children and others prevailed on us to postpone our journey to Sanibel until the storm passes, and the island is safe.

In checking with members of my new congregation most of them are safely elsewhere. Many have tales of what Charley did in 2004. Moods range from resigned and anxious to hopeful and upbeat.

I learn a lot from them!

TV reports are increasingly ominous. Fort Myers’ streets are deserted. The trees are swaying, and the waves are high. In Naples wind and rain are increasing rapidly. Similar reports come from Sanibel. It seems like a prelude to a frightening drama called:

STORM SURGE

A week ago that term was not even part of my vocabulary. Now I wait for it to unfold, and waiting is the hardest part.

Ecclesiastes teaches: לכל זמן ועת  L’chol zman et! “To everything there is a time. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

We were all psyched, almost packed and ready to move to the house in Sanibel that will be our home until May. I am eager to settle in, meet members of my new congregation, prepare for and welcome the New Year with them.

But now is the time to wait and to pray.

And waiting is the hardest part.

The Zookeeper’s Wife

I have a new favorite movie.

I don’t go to movies much, but Vickie urged me to see the Zookeeper’s Wife that she saw on a plane to San Francisco. On the way home I watched it too.

IT IS SO POWERFUL!

It is about Antonina and Jan Zabinski who ran the zoo in Warsaw when the Nazi’s invaded Poland.

It is a beautifully told story about how this heroic couple saved 3000 Jews from the jaws of Nazi savagery.

The movie is “based on a true story.” I will research the details to sort reality from fiction, but I know there is enough truth in the story the movie depicts that the State of Israel has recognized the Zabinskis as “Righteous Among the Gentiles,” the highest honor the nation can bestow on non Jews for heroic feats of saving Jews during World War II.

The Holocaust testifies to the depths of bestiality to which human beings can descend. But stories like this testify to the heights of heroism to which we can aspire and attain.

The words of Psalm 8 come rushing to my mind.

“What is humanity that You are mindful of them … For You have made them little lower than the angels and have crowned them with honor and glory.” (Psalms 8:6)

Each of us has the potential to attain such a crown, but sometimes it takes courage that nearly defies the imagination to wear it.

In this month of Elul that leads up the sacred season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur our tradition urges each of us to seek the angel that resides in our soul. This month, more than any other, calls us to reach for and grasp hold of our best selves.

I don’t go to movies much, but I will watch this one again hoping it will help me to reach higher than I have to enhance the “Divine Image” (Genesis 1:26-28) in which each of us was created.

 

 

Converging Generations with Her Brush

 

 

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My mother-in-law is a genius! At 96 she lives independently and still does artwork for which she is justly renowned!

Yesterday, Vickie and I took her out to lunch. As we dropped her off I walked through her garage turned gallery where some of her wonderful works hang. I noted two lovely water colors of Vickie and her sister Claudia.

As her son-in-law for 43 years, I thought there should be one of me. So I asked her when she might do it?

Vickie gave me a dagger look, but Stephanie smiled and said, “How about now? Wait here.”

Five minutes later she returned with a towel, a brush, a few tubes of paint, a small dish of water and a small canvas.

“Sit here,” she instructed.

So I sat.

As she began dabbling with the paint, her face transformed. Years, even decades dropped away as she alternately tilted her head this way and that, looked up and down, and smiled. Her beautiful eyes sparkled.

Ten minutes later she handed me the photo at the top of this essay.

I was floored!

For years people have told me that I look like my mother who looked like her father (pictured next to me, above),  but I never saw it.

Now I do. Clearly!

With her unique eye and exquisite talent, Stefanie converged the generations. Through her genius I see my Poppy, my mother and me all at once.

Yesterday was the eleventh anniversary of my mother’s death. I miss her terribly. There is a tribute to her (just search for Florence Fuchs) on this blog.

My grandfather died when I was ten, and if you read my essay, “Poppy” (also on this blog), you will know how my mother and I both felt about him.

Now, miraculously, Stefanie has brought us all together again!

It is a priceless gift for which I shall always be grateful!

 

 

 

Draw That Kof! by Susan Marie Shuman

Hi Everybody!

My name is Susan Marie Shuman and I am your guest blogger today.

You may recall a few months ago, my friend Rabbi Fuchs & I ran a Name That Kof Contest in honor of his book, Why the Kof? Getting the Best of Rabbi Fuchs. 

It  went over so well that this time we decided to appeal to your artistic side & ask you to draw the Hebrew letter Kof.

Click here to view a slideshow of Kofs that I’ve created so you can get an idea of what one looks like. Use any medium you’d like and enter as many time as you wish. The deadline is October 4th.

Send your entries to me at SusanWritesPrecise@gmail.com

The artist who creates the most appealing/creative/coolest Kof will win a free signed copy of Rabbi Fuchs’ soon-to-be-published book, “Why Triple Chai? More of the Best of Rabbi Fuchs.”

You’ll also get shout-outs all over Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, WP, and any place else I can think of.

I hope many of you will participate and have some fun with this. If you have any questions, feel free to email me at the address above.

Thanks & Good Luck!

 

Ceiling Tile Kof (Named by Akuokuo Vallis) Click to view her blog!