Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Rabbis' Post-Election Reflections and Prayers

Rabbis from around the country have written a number of meaningful reflections and prayers as we try to wrap our minds around the outcome of this election.  Here are a few that have touched me...


From Rabbi Rachel Timoner:

My friends, we do not know for sure how this election will end, but if Donald Trump is president, here's what I want you to know: you will not be alone. We are in this together. We will be in this together. In the last several months and years, we have articulated together a vision for this country centered on the dignity and humanity of people of every gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and ability. We will likely need to get very clear, brave, and outspoken about these values in the coming days and years. We will need to find a deeper courage and resolve than we've ever had to show before. We'll need to organize, protest, take risks, and stand up against real evil.

Whenever we grow as human beings there is backlash. This is backlash. We are getting a snapshot right now of where our country is emotionally and politically. It's reality, but it's not forever. It's one stage in our process of development. We should not deny it. We should endeavor to understand it. So we can get ourselves through it preventing as much harm as we can.

There are tears in my house tonight and there is real fear. But this is why we are alive -- for moments just like this -- to stand for goodness in the face of evil and to stand with other human beings when they are in peril. To show the best that humanity is made of, not only when it is easy but also when it is dangerous and difficult.
I need you. We need each other. Let's cry and mourn, and then let's organize.


From Rabbi Paul Kipnes:

There was that moment at the Red Sea when our people despaired like never before. Looking behind, the people saw an enemy coming for them. Looking ahead, the waters seemed ready to swallow them up.

To stand still was not an option.

We pray,

Eloheinu veilohei avoteinu v'imoteinu,
Our God and God of our fathers and mothers,

When our nation is divided
When our people are afraid
When our children are confused
When we ourselves are unsure about how to move forward.

Grant us,

Like Nachshon, the courage to face our fears and walk forward into the unknown.

Like Miriam, the insight to find the hidden waters in the wilderness to quench our thirst.

Like King Solomon, the wisdom to decide wisely as we face difficult questions in the days  and months ahead.

Like the prophet Nathan, the faith to speak truth to power, demanding as he did from King David, truth and justice, compassion and kindness.

And may we lie down in peace and rise up each tomorrow refreshed and renewed, prepared to  work toward blessing for all.



From Rabbi Jonathan Blake:

Good morning.

The election is over and the American people have voted. The results have stunned the world and revealed once and for all the deep and alarming schisms in American society.

American Jews have long expressed their patriotism through civic engagement, advocacy for social justice, and steadfast acts of Tikkun Olam.  The coming weeks, months, and years will be no different.  Indeed, our principled and passionate engagement in a hurting and divided America is needed now more than ever.

In 1790, George Washington wrote a now-celebrated letter to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island, home of the country's oldest Jewish house of worship (Touro Synagogue, 1763).  In it he pledged that the "Government of the United States... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance."

Westchester Reform Temple will work vigilantly to hold our American government to Washington's founding promise as we prepare to inaugurate Donald J. Trump as President.  His rhetoric on the campaign trail and his record of public opinion have exposed a willingness to  indulge in hateful speech and incitement toward minorities, women, and people with disabilities.  His campaign attracted the vociferous support of some of America's most hate-filled voters:  citizens who openly espouse White supremacy, the embrace of violence against the vulnerable, and Anti-Semitic lies made familiar throughout centuries of discrimination against Jewish people.

Today is November 9th, which Jewish history commemorates as Kristallnacht, the night of broken glass.  On the night of November 9th-10th, 1938, the Nazis carried out an organized pogrom against Germany's Jews, claiming the lives of at least 91 Jews, destroying 267 synagogues and 7,500 Jewish-owned businesses, and arresting 30,000 Jewish citizens.  Our People does not forget the lessons that history teaches about what happens when hate is wedded to power.

On this Friday night, November 11th, which happens to be Veterans Day, we will gather for Shabbat services in our sanctuary at 7:45.  Prayers and sentiments of unity, peace, and our commitment to confront hate and discrimination will be offered.  I have invited our interfaith area clergy colleagues and their congregants and parishioners to join us.  I hope you and your loved ones and friends will join us, too.  Our "house will be a house of prayer for all people" (Isaiah 56:7).

I will also hold open office hours at WRT today, Wednesday November 9th, from 5:15 - 6:15 PM.  Please feel invited to come to the temple and speak to me and other concerned congregants.  Know that WRT will always be committed to the physical, emotional, and spiritual safety of all who enter, a source of strength and comfort in a reeling world.

May God bless our country and may God bless all who work for a better tomorrow.


From Rabbi Zoe Klein:

When God offered King Solomon anything he wished in I Kings 3:9, King Solomon asked for one thing only: "Give me a listening heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong. For who by himself is able to govern this great people of yours?"

He didn't ask for might. He didn't ask for wealth. He didn't even ask for wisdom. He asked for a listening heart.

May the new Leader of the Free World be blessed with a listening heart. A heart that listens to the pain of a divided people. A heart that listens for commonalities. A heart that listens to those whose voices are tiny and soft. A heart that listens for the weeping at the margins. A heart that listens to the dreams of the poor, the hopes of the young, and the faint prayer of the dying. A heart that listens to the call of the earth and the haunting song of the sea. A heart that listens past language, dialects and differences to the very pulse of humanity. A heart that listens to the resounding message of history. A heart that listens to the spirits of our ancestors and the hum of the future. A heart that listens to you and listens to me and hears the mysterious harmonies that are hidden to us.

May we all be blessed with listening hearts, and step into tomorrow together with a commitment to hear one another. To receive each other's presence with hearts that are open and compassionate. With hearts that listen to one another's fears. With hearts that listen to one another's devotion. With hearts that listen to one another's achievements. With hearts that listen to one another's disappointments. With hearts that listen to one another's beauty. With hearts that listen to one another's goodness. With hearts that listen to one another's pride. Let us step into tomorrow with our hearts channeling Solomon's gift. With our hearts attuned to one another's precious and unique music, and learn to sing in harmony.

This land is your land. This land is my land. From California to the New York Island. From the Red Wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters. This land was made for you and me.

God let us wake with listening hearts, and let the circle of compassion widen enough to include the vast and diverse American family, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Bless us that we may bless each other.



From Rabbi Stacy Friedman:

We will
Wake up tomorrow
And come together
We will work with all our hearts
And might
For the rights of all people
For decency
And respect for all people.
We will work tirelessly
So that people do not feel fear
We need to protect and surround
One another
With love
And honor the hope deep within our hearts.


And our prayer from the clergy of Temple Isaiah:

Our God and God of our ancestors,

In the midst of great changes, let us hold fast to the eternal ideals of our faith: to pursue justice, to welcome the stranger, to respect, include and value all peoples of our nation in its great diversity - women and men, immigrants, refugees, the disabled, Muslims, Jews, Christians and people of all faiths, the LGBT community, the under served and the unnoticed, the hungry and the homeless. Let us understand that our fates are intertwined as we shoulder our responsibility to galvanize the forces of good that are within us and within our country.
Today the Jewish community marks Kristallnacht, a night of destruction and terror rooted in hatred. Despite horrific losses, our people survived and we continue to focus on our traditions of morality, kindness and tikkun olam~repairing the world. We are called to this work today and every day.
In the Mishneh we read: "The task is not ours alone to complete. But neither are we free to walk away." With strength, not fear, we must live with integrity and hope, decrying injustice and reaching across divides to work for healing. May our Temple Isaiah community be, always, a sanctuary for all who seek knowledge and truth and an ever-thriving source of people who bring compassion and help to all those in need.
O God of Blessing, strengthen our hands and our hearts to do Your work.

Rabbi Judy Shanks, Cantor Leigh Korn, Rabbi Alissa Miller, 
Rabbi Jay LeVine, and Rabbi Nicki Greninger

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Why "JQuest" instead of "Religious School"?

There are many reasons we decided to change the name of our program, but perhaps the most important reason is that the term “Religious School” just doesn’t fit, as neither “religious” nor “school” is a good description of our program of Jewish education for kids at Temple Isaiah:

  • Jewish education works best when it doesn't look like, sound like, or feel like "school."  Yes, we have a curriculum and teachers, and yes, our goals include student learning and discovery.  However, that's where the similarities between "Jewish education" and "school" should end.  We do not teach subject matter for the sake of mastery of facts or progression from one grade to the next.  Rather, we are trying to develop identity, seeking to instill in our children a sense of commitment to and excitement about Jewish life and Jewish peoplehood.  Many studies have shown that the best forms of Jewish education (i.e. the ones that 'work' the best) are informal - Jewish camps, youth groups, trips to Israel, etc.  So the less our educational programs look like 'school,' the more successful they will be in trying to achieve our goals of building Jewish identity, connection, knowledge, enthusiasm, and commitment.

  • Jewish education is not necessarily (and certainly not always) "religious."  Judaism is a religion, but it is also a culture, a people, a way of life, a tradition, a community, a nation, a civilization, a sense of identity and a way of seeing and understanding the world.  Jewish education ought to help kids discover various entry points to Jewish life - to see themselves as part of the chain of tradition of the Jewish people, in whatever way that might be.  So when we call our program "religious," it can be misleading.  For some people, the religious aspect of Jewish life is essential, compelling, and meaningful.  For others, the term 'religious' is a turn-off and something to avoid.  We do talk about and learn about 'religious' things in Jewish education - we explore different connections to God, we study 'religious' texts, we experience prayer - but it is a misnomer to say that what we are doing is 'Religious School' in its entirety.

We changed many aspects of our education program in the last seven years, but we had not yet changed the name… so it is time!  Our parent committee (formerly known as the “Religious School Advisory Group”) spent many months working on the change.  We discussed the attributes of our program and the feelings we want the new name to evoke.  We researched the names of other synagogue-based Jewish education programs for kids, we brainstormed entirely new names, and we consulted with Temple Isaiah’s clergy.  In the end, we chose the name “JQuest” in order to capture the spirit of Jewish learning, discovery, community, and fun that our students and families experience in Temple Isaiah’s education program.  We hope all our families will embrace the new name and will find it preferable to talk about sending your kids to “JQuest” as opposed to “Religious School.”   Your child’s Jewish quest awaits! 

Friday, December 12, 2014

New Chanukah Videos!

There are several new Chanukah songs / videos this year - Enjoy!

"Light" by Lisa Loeb -

"All About that Neis" by The Maccabeats -

"Hanukah - Dreidel Music Video" by Shir Soul -

Plus, here is an interesting article about Chanukah music -  "Why Jews Skipped Hanukkah and Wrote the most Beloved Christmas Songs"

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Navigating the War in Israel / Gaza

The last few weeks have been incredibly painful as we witness the escalation of violence in Gaza and Israel.  My heart is filled with a deep sadness about what is happening, and worry for the safety of friends, family and others I know in Israel.  My email in-box and Facebook feeds have been filled with links to articles about the conflict - some articles have been outstanding, others are not particularly helpful to me.  Instead of posting individual articles on my Facebook page or elsewhere, I thought it would be useful to share a series of articles that have helped me better understand the complexity, nuance, and pain of the matzav (situation).  There is no single article that could possibly explain 'everything' - rather, I think we have to put many different perspectives together and then sit with many truths at once.  The Rabbis taught us the value of holding multiple truths, even when they're conflicting or opposing truths - "Elu v'elu divrei Torah" - "these words AND these words are both words of Torah."  The same can be said for all the commentary on this war - it's important to be able hold multiple perspectives and multiple truths at once.  I share these articles along with my most heart-felt prayers for peace.   (The articles are in no particular order, except that I recommend starting with my friend Rabbi Josh Strom's article "Caring is not a Zero-Sum Game")

Added Wednesday Sept 3

Did We Win the War? "Everything OK?" -

I Have Two Nightmares about a Palestinian State -

Added Wednesday Aug 6

Israel in Trying Times: Unity not Uniformity -

Dear Guests: Revelations in the Gaza War - 

Added Friday Aug 1

Interview with Amos Oz -

Added Wednesday July 30

Gaza Myths and Facts -

Arab Leaders Silent, Viewing Hamas as Worse than Israel -

Added Tuesday July 29

No War is an Island: When Middle East Conflicts Become One -

Added Monday July 28

Tunnel Vision -

An Israel without Illusions: Stop the Grindstone of Israeli-Palestinian Violence -

The War in Gaza: What I Know and What I Do Not Know -

Added Thursday July 24

The Bizarre Moral Criticism against Israel -

A Letter to Friends who Want to Understand what is Happening in Gaza -

Fighting a Just War Against Hamas Justly (from 2009, but equally relevant now) -

The Israeli Army Knew Gaza was a "Ticking Bomb" Before War Broke Out -

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Flipped Classrooms

There is a new approach to education called "flipped classrooms," and there was a great article in the NY Times about it today - "Turning Education Upside Down." The assumption is that you make the best use of class time when it's interactive and hands-on... when kids can work together, ask the teacher for help, and do things they could not otherwise do at home and on their own.  On the 'flip side,' lectures from teachers can be watched from why not watch the lecture at home and then interact with the topic / material while at school?

I think it's a really interesting approach to education and I can see why it's taken off in some communities. 
I'm wondering how this 'flipped classroom' model  might be adaptable to Jewish education / Religious School, particularly since we don't assign homework.  How can we try to create 'flipped classrooms,' when we don't have an assumption that students will do work outside of class, on their own time?  Any ideas or suggestions out there in the blogosphere?

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

No Text is Worth a Life: A High Holy Day Pledge

 By Rabbi Zoe Klein

As we turn to thoughts of a new year and a new start, here is a pledge to refrain from texting while driving. Texting while driving is responsible for a quarter of all car accidents today, and is six times more dangerous than drunk driving. Please share this pledge from the High Holy Day pulpit, or make it part of your personal Rosh HaShanah spiritual preparation. Perhaps be making this verbal oath in a sacred space amidst a community of witnesses, we may contribute to saving lives.

Whoever destroys a single soul destroys a complete world.
Whoever preserves a single soul preserves a complete world. – Talmud Sanhedrin 37a
 At this season we ask: who by fire and who by water?
Today we also ask, who by texting while driving?
An epidemic is sweeping our country.
DWI, Driving While In-text-ified causes 1.6 million accidents a year.
Driving While In-text-ified causes 330,000 injuries per year.
Driving While In-text-ified causes 11 teen deaths every day.
75% of teens say Driving While In-text-ified is common among their friends.
Half of young drivers have seen their parents Driving While In-text-ified.
Driving While In-text-ified makes you 23 times more likely to crash.
Driving While In-text-ified slows your brake reaction speed by 18%.
Driving While In-text-ified is the source of nearly 25% of all car accidents.
Driving While In-text-ified is 6x more likely to cause an accident than driving drunk.
Driving While In-text-ified is the same as driving after 4 beers.
Driving While In-text-ified is the same as driving blind for 5 seconds at a time.
At 55 mph, that’s like driving the length of a football field completely blind.
Who by fire, who by water? Who by texting while driving? On this holy day, as we reflect on our deeds and resolve to better ourselves and the world, we invite you to put your hand on your heart and join us by repeating this sacred pledge:

We will not Drive While In-text-ified.
We will use only hands-free devices in the car.
No text is worth a life.
No text is worth a life.
No text is worth a life.
We will not Drive While In-text-ified.
יְהִי רָצוֹן מִלְפָנֶיךָ יְיָ אֱלֹהֵינוּ וֵאלֹהֵי אֲבוֹתֵינוּ. שֶׁתּוֹלִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתַצְעִידֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם.וְתַדְרִיכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם. וְתִסְמְכֵנוּ לְשָׁלוֹם.
וְתַגִּיעֵנוּ לִמְחוֹז חֶפְצֵנוּ לְחַיִּים וּלְשִׂמְחָה וּלְשָׁלוֹם
 Yehi ratzon milefanecha Adonai Eloheinu veilohei avoteinu v’imoteinu shetolicheinu leshalom vetatzideinu leshalom vetadricheinu leshalom vetismecheinu leshalom vetagi’einu limechoz cheftzeinu lechaim ulesimchah uleshalom.
May it be Your will God of our fathers and mothers that You should lead us in peace and direct our steps in peace, and guide us in peace, and support us in peace, and cause us to reach our destination in life, joy, and peace. Amen.
Rabbi Zoe Klein serves Temple Isaiah in Los Angeles, CA.
Blog post originally found at

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Who are our learners?

In graduate school I learned about Joseph Schwab's "Four Commonplaces of Education" - the four 'commonplaces' that must be considered when creating an educational program.  They are 1) the learner, 2) the teacher, 3) the subject matter, and 4) the context / milieu of the learning.  If any one of those things changes, the whole educational experience will change.

So... who are our learners in Jewish education today?  And how does that affect what kinds of educational programs and experiences we create?  I've been thinking about this a lot, especially when I spend time with my havurah.  I am in a havurah with 7 families (my own family included).  All families are members of our Reform synagogue, and are raising their children as Jews.  Of the 14 adults, we have the following:

-7 born & raised as Jews (1 in Israel, 6 in the United States)
-1 raised secular, and 6 raised in other religious traditions (2 have converted to Judaism, 2 others are considering or in the process of conversion)
-3 Hebrew speakers
-3 Chinese speakers

I could go on with statistics, but you get the picture.  None of the 7 families is comprised of parents who were both raised Jewish.  Our backgrounds are all over the map, yet we all want to connect to the Jewish community.  Despite our very different experiences with religion and religious communities growing up, we are all dedicated to Jewish life and want to raise our children with a meaningful sense of Jewish identity.

So the question and challenge for today's Jewish community is this: what kinds of educational experiences will speak to the hearts and minds and souls of every child in my havurah?