The Journey to a Better Tomorrow Begins Today

This morning many of us in this country and congregation feel as though they are in mourning. I certainly feel that way. This is not because of Democrats or Republicans but because our country has been through a horrific experience in which our language has been debased and our old hatreds, once thought to be diminishing, have returned. For those bothered by the uncertainty of the election, the uncertainty of the future is far worse.

Why the Supreme Court’s Decision Is Not a Problem

(reprinted from
Yesterday the U.S. Supreme Court decided in a split decision to keep intact its perceived understanding of permitting sectarian prayer in civic meetings. Most of the American Jewish world is concerned.

For instance, Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued this statement: “We are deeply disappointed by today’s Supreme Court decision in Town of Greece, New York v. Galloway, upholding sectarian prayer before a legislative session. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that requiring invocations be nonsectarian would call on the legislatures sponsoring these prayers and the courts to intervene and ‘act as supervisors and censors of religious speech.’ Yet, Justice Kennedy did suggest there were limits to such prayers, among them: denigrating non-believers or religious minorities, threatening damnation, or preaching conversion — leaving courts in exactly the same role as line-drawers.The record has shown that the overwhelming majority of prayers offered were Christian. That is why we were pleased to join an amicus brief to the Court, opposing the constitutionality of the town of Greece’s practices, along with a diverse array of faith and religiously-affiliated groups.”

Would I prefer the Court to have ruled differently? Yes. Am I surprised it did not? No. Futhermore, its decision does not bother me for three reasons.

Pesach Blog: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Buy a New Haggadah – Reprinted from


My history with haggadot is probably typical but certainly multi-layered. I grew up with the venerable Union Haggadah. In rabbinical school I was exposed to its successor, the “Baskin” Haggadah. I then worked for an HUC administrator in researching various haggadot. Even in the mid-eighties there were countless varieties, including one for vegans: The Haggadah for the Liberated Lamb. Around this time David Moss was previewing his soon-to-be famous haggadah, Song of David. I joked to my fiancée that she could have that instead of an engagement ring. She took me seriously and we use the haggadah (alas, only one copy) every year.

Ten Minutes of Torah: Delving into T’fiah (reprinted from

The N’ilah service on late Yom Kippur afternoon is notable for its image of the Gates of Repentance closing their doors. At this late and hungry hour, for the final time during the Day of Atonement, we are summoned to repentance. The fact that many Sages argue we can actually delay our atonement to the end of the Sukkot holiday does not lessen the drama of the moment.

At the end of N’ilah, often as the sun has set, we will hear the final blast of the shofar. We will also declare the most essential teaching of the entire season: God is Merciful! We actually chant this seven times, just to make sure we get the point. The Gates are closing, but the mercy of God never ends.

Remembering the Message

** An edited version of this article is available in our newly printed D’var**

The upcoming beautiful new D’var is a paradigm shift. It reflects rethinking how we present what is happening at Temple Sholom. In this spirit, the following remarks, adapted from my installation address in September, present my take on the future of synagogues in general and Temple Sholom in particular.

When the phone rings during the dinner hour, it is usually a good idea to just ignore it.

Chances are pretty good these days that the caller on the other end is someone trying to sell you life insurance on your credit card, solicit a donation for some charity fund, or poll your opinion on some topic you really don’t care to discuss with a stranger.

These telephone solicitors have so perfected their techniques into an art form over the last few years, however, that once you answer the phone it is virtually impossible to escape their clutches.

Peet’s Coffee, You’re Better Than That!

This morning, after two months in Chicago, I made it to my favorite coffee place for the first time, Peet’s Coffee. Boy, do I love that coffee! Nevertheless, my joy was tempered by the young woman I met who was sitting outside the shop. She was quietly asking for support to have her job reinstated. She has worked at that store for five years. She was fired last week because three times in the past year she was late to work. Her problem is that she is not paid enough to live near the Peet’s Coffee store. Therefore she has to commute from far away. She also has to be at the store at 4:45 am. Her manager wanted to keep her on but her supervisor overruled the decision. The reason for this unusual step is that last year the employee took part in an effort to raise remuneration above minimum wage and also to allow for sick days. Not having sick folks make my coffee seems pretty sound to me.

Nobless Oblige Is Always Noble but Not Always Obliged Sermon for Rosh Hashanah Morning 2013

Shanah Tovah! What an honor it is to be here as your new rabbi. I am so grateful for this opportunity and look forward to greeting the New Year with you. Offering a sermon this morning from this bima is very daunting. For one thing, I still need to introduce myself to you. In addition, I am frankly intimidated by the history of preaching here. But I am also inspired! We all have our strengths to bring, after all. Many years ago I attended the groundbreaking for the Skirball Jewish Cultural Center in Los Angeles. The featured speaker was the head of the J. Paul Getty Museum, soon to be the neighbor of the Skirball. The director admitted that the Getty felt a twinge of insecurity to be located near an institution of 4,000 years of history. Then again, declared the director, “We have Getty’s money, so we’re not too concerned.” I don’t have Getty’s money or four thousand years of heritage in my personal portfolio. But I do have a passion to share with you. It’s a passion about my own story and what it means for me and I hope for you. The Torah portion this morning was a story about our ancient family. Today I would also like to share with you my family story. It’s an important one I think. I will make a complicated tale brief: My mother was born in 1926 in a small town near Berlin, Germany. She had four older brothers and one older sister. In the 1930s her eldest brother, Leonard Ohringer, graduated medical school but as a Jew could find no residency in Germany. He was able to find one in the States. The three younger brothers also left Germany. My mother, Reggie, and her sister and parents stayed behind. In October 1938 my mom was called to the principal’s office and told she was being taken to jail. She met her parents and sister there. Soon after they found themselves dumped unceremoniously over the Polish border, literally in No Man’s Land.


Wednesday begins the month of Elul, the month preceding the New Year. It means that change is calling us. It means that the tough question we have put off so long must now be addressed, if we wish to live authentic lives. Here is the question: what will you change in your life? What about your self should be improved? To be alive means to keep growing. Standing still is not an option. The only issue is if we change with mindfulness or with obliviousness.

Ten Minutes of Torah: Kol Nidrei


In Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, at the beginning of their first date, Woody asks Annie for a first kiss. As he explains it, he knows both of them will be thinking about it all through the night so wouldn’t it be better to get it out of the way and then enjoy the evening?

I think something similar happens on Kol Nidre as we listen to this most beautiful of melodies, asking God to forgive our shortcomings and transgressions. After the Kol Nidre chant is finished, traditionally – and included in the Mishkan HaNefesh pilot – we feature a verse from Numbers 14:20 wherein God says “I forgive you.”

At first glance, this verse seems strangely misplaced. We just asked that our vows be released and our failures forgiven. The service literally has just begun. The observance of Yom Kippur is barely started. And God says, “Okay. I forgive you.” Talk about anticlimactic! It would be understandable if we said, “Great. Let’s go home before God changes God’s mind!

Tisha B’av: Ancient Day of National Mourning

This year, the sacred and solemn day of Tisha B’av (the Ninth of Av) falls tonight (July 15) and tomorrow. The day commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples in Jerusalem, as well as many other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish People. Many Jews fast for a full twenty-four hours (as on Yom Kippur) and mourn the passing of the Temple. The biblical book of Lamentations is sung as a dirge. It is a dark day. Nevertheless, the day has a hopeful side in that, from Tisha B’av we start counting off the seven weeks that lead to the New Year. Tisha B’av is a sad day, but it is also a day of hope.

Over the last one hundred and fifty years Reform Jews have often chose not to commemorate Tisha B’av. In the beginning, since Reform Jews did not look to at the ancient Temple as something they wished to restore, the day did not make sense. In more recent times, feeling sadness at a time when the State of Israel is so robust appeared unreflective of reality. Even so, many Reform Jews appreciate the sadness of the day and are more willing to consider its importance as a day of somber reflection.

Although Temple Sholom has no scheduled activities for Tisha B’av, we hope you will consider participating in one of the many community opportunities that are available. Our neighbor, Anshe Sholom will be offering services and a check of the Chicago Jewish News website will provide other ideas.

We are told by the ancient Rabbis that the First Temple was destroyed because of idolatry and the Second because of gratuitous hatred between Jews. I no longer worry about idolatry but the gratuitous hatred is still a threat. So I pray that, on this Tisha B’av, we can remember how important it is to befriend each other and honor the divinity within.