How I Think of God

As the Hebrew month of Elul, the month before Rosh Hashanah begins, our tradition urges us to turn our thoughts toward the spiritual realm of life. Toward that end I want to share with you the way I think of God and the role the Eternal One plays in my life.

I understand God in two specific ways:

  • God is the invisible, incorporeal force Who initiated the process that led to the evolution of the world, as we know it. The process was orderly and purposeful. I believe God created humanity to be in charge of and responsible for God’s world.
  • God is a Force that lies in potential within each of us that wants each of us to use the talents with which God has blessed us to make the world a more just caring and compassionate place.

We have free will.

In many ways the aspect of God inside of us is like a muscle. We must cultivate and strengthen that muscle if it is to be useful to us.

We humans are not puppets.

God wants us to do good, but God does not make us do good.

There is both good and evil in our world. We can choose to incline our thoughts and actions in either of those directions. God wants us to use the minds with which we are blessed, to analyze the ramifications of choices we make, and choose to perform acts of kindness and caring that make a difference in the lives of others.

There is much about God that we cannot understand, that we will never understand.

As humanity continues to solve the mysteries of life and gain greater mastery over the forces of nature, the possibilities for both good and evil multiply.

A prime example is the internal combustion engine. The invention allows us to get from point A to B at speeds unimaginable even100 years ago. Yet no one can deny that invention has claimed the lives of millions of people.

Two things are clear to me as we continue to unravel life’s mysteries:

  • The gap between what we know about God and what we cannot understand will always be infinite.
  • The consequences of our choices for good or for evil will escalate dramatically.

At the end of the day, though, God’s desire for us today and forever is the same as God’s desire for humanity at the time of creation: to use our talents to make a more just caring and compassionate society. Each of us must choose whether and in what ways we wish to work toward that goal.






I Will Stay on Facebook

While I remain incensed by Mark Zuckerberg’s decision to leave the Facebook microphone open to those who spout the venomous lies of Holocaust denial, I am not closing my FB account.

I am most grateful to the many of you who urged me not to leave the field open to Holocaust deniers without providing my counter voice. Your arguments have persuaded me to remain

My recent shoulder surgery, as did my serious illness in 2016, reminded me once again of the great value of this forum The best explanation of why FB is so important to me I can offer is to repost my essay, “Saving Facebook,” that appeared in The Jerusalem Poston February 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 atypical 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.


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!







“Lead Me to the Rock that is Higher Than I”

“Lead me to the rock that is higher than I .” (Psalm 61,verse 3)

Since I was ten years old, Psalm 61 has been a favorite of mine.

In those days we read a Psalm each morning in public school. I am glad that practice is now unconstitutional, but I am also glad the experience taught me the beauty of our people’s first prayer book.

Today, one of the mainstays of my personal spiritual practice is to study a Psalm each (well almost each), morning. I move progressively through the book’s 150 chapters from day to day.  Sometimes I spend two or three days on a given Psalm if the Hebrew is difficult or I want to ponder it further.

Since I retired as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in 2011, I have been making my way through the Book of Psalms and starting over when I finish

When I was a ten-year-old camper at the New Jersey YMCA Camp Minnisink, we had Cabin Prayers every night before lights out.  Our counselors or one of the campers would lead the prayer, saying anything he wished.  I really admired our bunk’s senior counselor. His name was Ray. But through the summer, Ray never led the cabin prayers … until the very last night of camp.

 Then he explained he would read his favorite prayer, Psalm 61.

 When, in front of the whole congregation at my Bar Mitzvah three years later, Rabbi Avraham Soltes asked me what my favorite Psalm was, I answered, Psalm 61.  Then he asked me to quote it from memory, and I did.

Because it has remained my favorite, I think it more than a coincidence that as I face rotator cuff surgery tomorrow morning, Psalm 61 has come up once again in my rotation.

My favorite line is:

B’tzar ya-room mi-meni tan-cheri – Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. (Psalm 61, verse 3).

When I was ten, the main reason I liked Psalm 61 was because the counselor who I looked up to liked it. Now it speaks to my heart, especially the prayer of verse 3.

To me it expresses the hope that if I try my best to do what is just and right, God will lead me to a higher level of ability to do just that.

 As I face surgery tomorrow, I pray, perhaps selfishly, as the Psalm begins:

“Hear my cry, O God, attend unto my prayer.”


  • Let this surgery be successful.
  • Let me be pain free
  • Let me rehab successfully and return to the tennis court
  • But most important, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” Let me continue to learn, grow, serve our people and do what little I can to make a more just caring and compassionate society on earth.

If each of us strives — in whatever way our talents and interests dictate –- toward that goal, we will have a better world.

And, “Make a better world, ” has been, I believe God’s most important charge to all of us since the time of creation.



How Should Reform Jews Observe Tishah B’Av? (published on URJ.ORG)


I had never even heard of Tishah B’Av until I was 12 years old and participating in the inaugural season of the Camp Institute for Living Judaism (later to renamed URJ Eisner Camp) in Great Barrington, MA. Since then, I have struggled with the significance of this day for me as a Reform Jew.

On Tishah B’Av, traditionally observant Jews fast in memory of the two magnificent Temples of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE. The day also commemorates other historical tragedies. For example, it is said that the beginning of the first Crusade in 1095, a time of persecution and slaughter of the Jews of Europe and in 1290 the expulsion of Jews from England both took place on that date. Tishah B’Av also coincides with the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

The destruction of the two Temples and the exile of Jews from our sacred land that followed were occasions of death and suffering, so sorrow is an appropriate means of commemoration. Certainly, all the other historical tragedies associated with that date are important to remember, too.

On the other hand, the destruction of the Temple ended the control of a hereditary priestly class over Jewish life and ended animal sacrifice as our chief way of communicating with God. Today, only ultra-Orthodox Jews would like to see the restoration of the Temple and the practices associated with it.

How can we reconcile the remembrance of genuine tragedy with the growth and development of the Judaism that the destruction of the Temple made possible?

I observe a fast on Tishah B’Av until midday, when I study the traditional text for the day, the biblical Book of Lamentations. Then, at 1:00 p.m., I partake of a midday meal in which I express gratitude for the Judaism that has been bequeathed to us over the years, a Judaism that no longer slaughters animals and sprinkles their blood as a sign of gratitude or as a petition to God. I celebrate the fact that a Judaism without the Temple and its hereditary priestly class has been replaced by a Judaism that, through study, prayers and acts of kindness, calls on each of us in our own way to make the world a better place.

Tishah B’Av, for me, is also the day when I begin preparing for the period of introspection culminating in the rituals of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Impetus for beginning the process of repentance comes from the middle of the book of Lamentations: “Let us search and examine our ways and return to the Eternal One!” (Lamentations 3:40)

For Reform Jews, Tishah B’Av can be both a day of mourning and a day of joy. We mourn for the destruction of the Temple, but we rejoice that we have developed strong and resilient ways to thrive as Jews. Mourning the tragedies of the past we let us search and examine our way forward and face the future with hope and courage!


About the Author
Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs is the Rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands. He is the author of “Who Created God,” “What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives” and three other books. He is the former president of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and rabbi emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, CT.


Heading for the Six-month DL

Aside from my work as Rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands, my greatest joy in Sanibel last season was playing as a member of the Beachview Tennis Club Blue team. I played in the number one spot, compiling a 13-1 record with two different partners.

The guys on the team are really great, and I looked forward to every match and practice. I particularly loved the “tough love” clinics that the club’s terrific pro, Toni Halski, conducts early in the morning. Those sessions were wonderfully helpful.

My right shoulder has been problematic for a number of years. I have done everything I could to avoid surgery:  cortisone injections from time to time, several rounds of physical therapy, and ample doses of painkillers. I probably should have purchased stock in the KT Tape Company.

Unfortunately, playing competitively last season, even though I mostly just dumped my first serve into the box, pushed me over the edge. Since the season ended the pain has been constant.  Tests reveal three different significant tears in the right rotator cuff, and I am scheduled for surgery this coming Thursday, July 26.

While my carefully chosen surgeon says there is no guarantee the procedure will be successful, I am hoping for a full recovery and to be back to playing tennis once again. If I should be so fortunate, though, it will be at the end of an arduous six-month process of physical therapy and rehabilitation.

Aside from the fact that I still love the game, why is a 72-year-old man so eager to be back on the courts?

During my life I have had many years of formal education, but without doubt I have learned more about people, teaching and life in general from the competitive tennis I have played and from the five summers I spent as a teaching pro while in school.

So, I head for the (at least) Six-month Disabled List with genuine regret that I will not be able to represent Beachview next season but with the hope that there will be more seasons in the future for me to feel the joys and frustrations of the game I so love.


Saying Goodbye to Our Home After 21 Years

We are no longer Connecticut homeowners. Today we closed on the sale of our beloved West Hartford, Connecticut home.

Last year I accepted an offer to serve as the seasonal (September through April) rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel, Florida. We moved in immediately after people could return to the Island after Hurricane Irma. We held the Selichot service and discussion that precedes Rosh Hashanah in the home we rented that very evening.

Vickie found the place on a trip last spring, and I moved in sight unseen. The minute I looked around and sat down, I said, “I could live here forever.” Because the Temple community, our neighbors and the friends we made at Beachview Tennis Club have been so welcoming to Vickie and me, we decided to purchase the home we rented and sell our home here. Fast forward to today.

Our Florida home is little more than half the size of our home in Connecticut. So the move involves a major downsize. After all the emotional angst about leaving our home, and all the physical angst of clearing 21 years of accumulated clothes, books, appliances and everything else imaginable from our CT home, we are Florida homeowners.

This morning Vickie and I took a long last look as we walked through the home we have loved. We will miss our quiet cul-de sac-neighborhood. We will miss the charming stream that flows behind the house, and we will miss all our friends at Congregation Beth Israel, and the friends we have made outside the synagogue as well.

All credit goes to Vickie who did 90% of the work involved in getting us to this point.

Currently we are camped out in the lovely home of our son, Ben, his wife, Kristin and their children, 4-year-old Flora and 1-year-old Logan. The kids are treasures, and we love being together.

Since my contract in Sanibel runs from September to April 30, we hope to spend considerable time in the warm weather months here in Connecticut. This coming Sabbath Eve (at 7:30) I will speak at Beth Israel about our experiences during the five weeks we spent in Germany this spring, and I will lead Torah study on Shabbat morning this Shabbat, next Shabbat and August 4.

Even though I am away most of the year, I consider being Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel to be both an honor and a responsibility to help out there whenever I can. I am glad to be able to give our wonderful rabbis, Michael Pincus and Andi Fliegel, a little relief.

When I decided to retire as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in 2011, I had no idea of the world wide adventures that awaited me. The past seven years have been like a dream. Serving Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel has been icing on the cake. I feel very blessed, and I only hope my efforts are a blessing to others as well.

President Trump: Donate Mar-a-Lago As a Refugee Center

It would not completely solve the problem of refugees, but what a magnificent symbolic gesture it would be!

Mar A Lago is a 20-acre estate with a 126-room, 62,500-square-foot mansion. It would make a great center for welcoming refugees to our great country and helping them adjust to their new home.

There they could receive nutritious food, decent clothing, and quality medical care. A cash donation from the President would enable these services

While they are at Mar-a-Lago, officials could carefully vet the refugee residents. All of those found to be drug dealers or other types of miscreants could be sent home.

 What a game changer such a donation would be for Donald Trump! In one masterstroke he could change his image from venal to venerable. He could become the president with a heart of grandeur instead of greed. It would gain him millions of votes in the 2020 election.

Who knows how many future doctors, social workers, teachers, scientists, musicians and others contributing to the greatness of society would look back with gratitude at the chance for a better life they received at Mar A Lago?

Mr. Trump, you can always buy another place for your vacations. And Camp David is already at your disposal. There’s no reason to delay.

So, make the gift! You can save many lives and take a big step in fulfilling your promise to “Make America great again!”




With Pastorin Ulrike Wohlfahrt

Pastorin Ulrike Wolfhahrt and I After my sermon at the Bonhoefferkirche  in 2015


I never expected she would come to the train station herself … but there she was. I mean it was one of the biggest days of her life, the day when she was to be formally installed as Pastor of the Ev. Lutheran Church in Brokstedt, Germany.

She wrote that “someone” would meet the train, so we would know how to find the church, but she rode her bike to the station to greet us herself. The four of us walked back to town together,  Ulrike, Vickie, the bike and me.

In the hour before the service, a group of young scouts were busily preparing the churchyard for the reception afterwards. They worked with purpose and determination. They seemed so proud to take part in such a special day for the village.

The church was beautiful. Ulrike had asked me to read portions of Psalm 103 in Hebrew while her husband, Pastor Alexander Wolfhahrt read the same passages after me in German.  It was a touching moment.. the choir sang beautifully, and their voices clearly resonated with a feeling of how very special the day was.

Then the Propst, Dr Kurt Riecke charged Pastor Wolfhahrt and the Congregation to cherish the bond they had created. Then he invited me up to share a thought with Ulrike and join him in asking God to bless her.

As I walked to the front of the church, my mind flashed back to the first time I met Pastorin Ulrike Wolfhahrt in 2015. She was one of the Pastors At the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Church in Neumünster, and she asked me to preach a sermon explaining why Jews do not believe in Jesus as Christians do. She wanted the congregation to hear a frank explanation to the community of this important theological difference between our two religions.

Her welcome and warm encouragement of me to deal with this difficult subject gave me strength. We formed a bond that day that was very special. We shared a mission to deal with a sensitive subject in a way that was open, honest and mutually respectful.

A year later, on our next visit to Germany she brought her beautiful four-year-old son Samuel to visit me in Bad Segeberg. The three of us took a nice walk on a chilly autumn afternoon and then had cocoa in a lovely coffee shop.

Afterward that visit, Pastor Wolfhahrt wrote me that Samuel had said, “I like Stephen because he knows my heart.”

And so as I walked to the front of the church last Sunday I thought of the biblical passage when Samuel revealed that he chose David to be King over his brothers because God knows his heart. (I Samuel 16:7)

And before I placed my hands and on her head to ask God to bless her, I said, “Just as the Biblical Samuel said of David, God has chosen you and Alexander to be parents of your Samuel and leaders of this church because God knows your heart.”

When the Propst formally presented Pastorin Wolfhahrt to the congregation, they rose in a touching standing ovation for her. It was a beautiful tribute that sent shivers down my spine.

Then Pastorin Wolfhahrt began her sermon about the Prodigal Son (Luke 15: 11-32). My German is not nearly good enough to understand all that she said, but I know that she spoke with conviction and passion and held the congregation in the palm of her hand.

After the service Pastor Wolfhahrt received the warm congratulations of the many people who crowded the church, and a lovely outdoor picnic reception ensued.

Vickie and I returned to Bad Segeberg filled with joy that we could share such a wonderful event.   We felt we had been blessed to witness such an extraordinary moment of spiritual unity between a Pastor and her community.

Days later the feeling endures.

Flora’s Torah

Grandma and Saba were staying with Flora and Logan while Mommy and Daddy were out. Tomorrow, Flora will be four years old.

While  Grandma was putting Logan to bed, Flora and Saba were sitting at the table while she finished her dinner.

”Saba,” Flora Asked, “How did God make the world?”

”I don’t know how God made the world,” I answered. “That is why I pray to God, because there is so much about God we don’t know.”

“Although I don’t know how God made the world,” I continued. “I think I know why: So that all of us will try to make the world a good and kind place for everyone to live.”

”I think God made the world,” Flora answered, “with lots of paper and tape. Then God made the tape really strong, really, really strong so that everyone can stand on it.”

”That’s an interesting idea.”

”Saba, why did your Mommy die?”

”She died because her body was old and worn out.”

”Tell me the whole story of how your Mommy died,”

”Well, she lived for a long time in New Jersey, and then Grandma and I wanted her to live closer to us in Connecticut. So we brought her here to live. She was happy here, but one day she fell, and then she got sick. We thought she was getting better, but her body was just too frail, and so she died. We were very sad. She was very nice, good and kind, and that is why we were so happy when Mommy and Daddy named you after her.”

“Was God ever a little boy?”

”No Flora, God is not a person, God is an invisible force in each of us who wants us to try however we can to help others and make the world a better place. God is not a boy or a girl. God has no shape or form or any body that we can see. God wants us to help others, but God does not make us. We have to decide to help others, and I hope you will.”

As I reflected on my talk with Flora, I know she will have lots more questions, but it was most important to me not to tell her anything that I don’t believe myself.

Rita Goldberg

June 3, 2018

Today, Vickie and I are at the picturesque church in the village of Schulensee in northern Germany where I am preaching to the Lutheran congregation about the events on Mount Sinai and how they can speak meaningfully to Christians as well as to Jews.

Yes, our bodies are in Schulensee but our hearts are at Rita Goldberg’s funeral.

From the day I first met her in Columbia, Rita appreciated interfaith outreach, and enthusiastically encouraged my efforts in that realm. I dedicate my words today in her memory.

Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania with few Jews, Rita particularly appreciated the importance of inter-religious understanding and cooperation. She took a keen interest in what Vickie and I do in Germany, and I dedicate my words today to her memory.  Although Rita would be glad we are here, Vickie and I wish we were with Dick and all of you today.

Rita Zieve Goldberg … I always thought of her as Rita Z.

She was the daughter of a beloved small-town physician who made house calls. Rita inherited his wisdom and compassion.

We met in 1973. They came to Columbia and Temple Isaiah just before I arrived to begin my one-year internship with the congregation. We have been dear friends ever since.

I was first in awe of Rita when I learned she had personally known the great baseball player Richie Allen in high school. The subsequent years would yield more substantive reasons for me to be in awe of Rita.

To me she was ageless. She never seemed young, and – even when we visited her a few weeks back in hospice care—she never seemed old.

Her speech had a unique and endearing lilt, and her laugh was unmistakable. Perhaps it was Rita’s greatest triumph that she was able to laugh and smile despite the tragedy and endless list of illnesses that marked her life’s path.

The first—of many—volunteer jobs I remember Rita taking on was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to serve as a luncheon for the monthly family services Temple Isaiah began holding at Swansfield Neighborhood center.

I remember Dianne Tobin playing a toy organ, I remember the smiling faces of children, some of whom became rabbis, sitting on the floor before me as I told a Shabbat story, but the magic that makes those memories so special was Rita’s sandwiches.I

Rita wore many hats, loving wife and occasional ego deflator of Dick, devoted mother of Andy, advisor to the rabbi, confidante of Vickie, peerless hostess and dear friend to so many.

As memorable as Rita was as a hostess, she was even more memorable as a guest. When she came to your home for any social occasion, you could count on a beautifully handwritten note of thanks appearing in your mailbox the next business day.

Our lives intersected frequently at events big and small, both joyous and sad. She was a fabulous storyteller.

Her home was a favorite sleepover destination for our son Leo when he was small. Vickie was very pregnant with Sarah when we attended second night Seder at their home in 1979. We always recount how Rita’s Matzah balls that evening were the catalyst that sent Vickie into labor to give birth the following day.

Fast-forward to recent days, and it was Rita and Dick who visited out children in San Francisco to give wise council to each of them at a difficult time.

I remember Andy’s Bar Mitzvah like it was yesterday. The date was the Shabbat during Sukkot. Because I was very big on having families build Sukkot, I suggested to Andy that his family should build one. It did not take Rita long to appear in my office to share that Sukkah building was not a Goldberg family forte, and that we should think of some other way to connect Andy’s Bar Mitzvah to the festival. After we put our heads together, Rita and Andy came up with the idea of a model sukkah made out of Popsicle sticks. I can still see it in my mind.

That episode was so typical of Rita. If sukkah building was not her forte, finding equitable solutions to potential conflicts surely was.

More clearly than the miniature Sukkah, I can still see the joy Rita’s face radiated at how much Andy learned and how skillfully he taught the congregation at his Bar Mitzvah.

Inevitably my memories of Rita on that wonderful day in October 1981 scramble discordantly together in my mind with my memories of that horrible day in March of 2009 when Andy died.

There is no greater heartbreak for a mother than to lose a child, and if possible, the heartbreak is even greater when that child is your one and only, and your souls are so inextricably intertwined as are Rita and Dick’s souls with Andy’s.

And yet Rita pushed on with determination and purpose.

Miraculously she found joy in life despite the horror of losing Andy and despite the incredible list of medical issues with which she lived. Through all she endured, even on her deathbed, Rita was always smiling and always looking for ways to help others.

That is why I will always be genuinely in awe of her.

She and Dick shared a remarkable marriage of well over 50 years. Truly they were meant for each other, so much so that it is hard to imagine one without the other. No more poignant definition of the word, “Alone,” comes to my mind than Dick without Rita.

I cannot say with certainty what happens to Rita now, but my hope is that she is not alone. In my mind’s eye I see her reunited with her parents and most of all with Andy.

Together, unfettered by infirmities, they will laugh, smile and revel in each other’s company. They will look after one another, and together they will hope that we will look after Dick with the incredible love and devotion with which Dick looked after her.

That is the best way I know to insure that the memory of Rita Zieve Goldberg will be an enduring blessing!