Calm in the presence of coronavirus

 I am not calm.  

Like all of you, I’m a mess… facing the possibility of school closures, trying to figure out what to do at Cool Shul, and trying to help my kids whose sports and speech and debate seasons are over, with a senior wondering if she is going to get to have a graduation.  I know some of you are planning Bar/Bat-Mitzvahs, graduations, or weddings, and now everything is up in the air. It is understandable if you feel nervous and uncomfortable about health or simply about all of this uncertainty.  

So, let’s take a deep breath together (well, virtually together), and see if we can create some calm in this storm.

I talked to my class of middle schoolers yesterday about the fact that many traditions acknowledge an aspect of light within dark and vice-versa.  In our prayer book, we thank the universe for the coming of day AND the coming of night.  We acknowledge these cycles, and understand there is no light without dark.  My rabbinical buddy, Walter, always said in class, “Don’t be so sure dark is all bad — there is magic in the stars and beauty in the unknown.”  So, here we are, definitely dealing with a time in history some may label as “dark,” but it is our job as spiritual beings to find the magic in the dark, and uncover the light shining through as stars.   

So, yesterday, I asked my students what light we could create from this scary time. Here is what we came up with: 

  • Appreciate the little things.
  • Be less stressed about small problems
  • Although it sounds “fun” if school is closed, enjoy the parts you love because you will actually miss school if you can’t go.
  • Hope that medical advancements that come from this will help generations to come.
  • Hope that new habits such as washing hands and being respectful of other peoples’ space lasts so that we will have better health for our lifetimes and teach this to our children.

Our challenge is for ourselves and for our children, to go find the light.  If you must be at home for awhile, enjoy the simple pleasures of curling up on the couch, snuggling with the family, watching a dumb movie you never would watch under normal circumstances.  Step into your yard or your balcony, or even just open the window (they say fresh air is good!) and breathe in the freshness.  Enjoy the spot of sun coming through and touching your face.  Pet your dogs, your cats, your birds, your chinchillas, whatever pets you may have, and allow the natural stress relief wash over you of caring for them. If you live alone (or not), find a neighbor or friend to chat with, maybe even invite them for a cup of tea (as long as everyone feels healthy!).  Laugh together, and feel what laughter can do to relieve worry.  And when you catch yourself finding relief in these moments, say Modeh/Modah Ani.  I am grateful.

Just a few times in each of our lives, the universe demonstrates to us how connected we all are.  The whole world is concerned, and that makes us One.  For at least this moment, we are one people, as we should always be if humanity was vulnerable enough to allow itself to acknowledge it.  Let’s bring light from today into the future, that perhaps this can be one of those moments that changes the course of history.  Maybe this is the moment when we truly all start caring for one another, no matter what.

Every morning, I sing that Modeh/Modah Ani, a Jewish chant of gratitude, to help me manage my own anxieties.  Today, I sing the Shema, where we declare “Hear this, everyone, Adonai is One!”  For me, Adonai is the potential for connection, hope, love, and yes, a little bit of fear and awe in the understanding of how delicate the balance of the world is.  This balance lives in all of us, and we live in it.  So we are all One.  We are in this together as one humanity.

Shema Yisrael, Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai Echad.  Hear this Israel. Hear this Humankind.  Adonai is in all of us, and we are all called One.

Here is our Shema.  Andy and I hope that if you choose to play it, and sing along with it in your times of worry, it will help you find the light.   

Listen below or click here if it didn’t come through.

I’m here to talk as needed.

Rabbi/Cantor Diane

Don’t Let Them Win — Yom Kippur Sermon

My husband, besides being a stunning musician, makes the perfect cup of coffee.  I don’t know if it’s the variety of coffee, our particular machine, or if he lovingly talks to the beans before grinding them, but there is little in this world that makes me smile more than when he appears in the bedroom with a cup of it, on a lazy weekend morning.

The day I started to write this sermon, I walked into my yard with a hot cup of this decadent coffee in hand, sat on the steps with our Maltipoo, enjoyed the gentle breeze coming in off the Pacific Ocean, and exhaled.  It was August, and the marine layer overhead was a welcome respite from the heat that had been and would follow. Etsy, our little rescue dog, tucked her face under my arm for a bit of love and protection, and I gave her a scratch, sipped another sip of my coffee, and got lost in the fact that there were so many varieties of the color green in my eyeshot.  It was one of those perfect summer mornings when I didn’t have to be anywhere quite yet and could just be and enjoy the moment.

And then, the guilt set in.  I literally ripped myself out of the stillness in a rage of internal anguish.  It was the week of both the El Paso and Dayton shootings, on the heels of the murders in Gilroy, Ca, and the morning of stabbings in Orange County.  That week I had attended a protest at City Hall about the treatment of asylum seekers, was considering a caravan to Adelanto detention center, and planning on attending another event at a different Detention Center downtown that weekend.  With all of the pain and dangers in the world, with all that so many are facing , how dare I enjoy my little yard, my maltipoo, my perfect cup of coffee, or the color green? How dare I feel joy or be nourished when there are too many without joy or nourishment?  How do I not spend every waking moment writing, marching, screaming at the top of my lungs about the state of our world? And if I’m not doing that, at least be writing my sermons (which I guess in a way I was), working on the curriculum for our classes, brainstorming about growing our community so I can maybe provide others with a tiny slice of sanity and calm from the storm through our Kehillah Sababah, our Cool Shul?  Ocean breezes and maltipoos? I’m a spoiled brat, and I have no right to either one.

But I decided, that summer morning, to try to quiet my mind for a little while, and enjoy the coffee, the dog’s snuggle, the gentle breeze, and the color green.  And here is why… 

If there is any gift for us in this time in history, it’s the gift of paying attention to the little joys of life…  To remember to breathe, to eat something delicious, to admire nature, and to hug our loved ones (be they furry or not).  Because not enjoying them isn’t helping anyone and will leave us drained and exhausted. We can’t fight 24/7.  We can’t stress 24/7. If we do, we will not have the strength to face everything we may have to face in the future months and years.  And that’s what those who would separate nursing babies from their mothers’ arms at the border, want us to do.  They want us to ignore our kids, our work, our fun, and obsess over them, and run out of steam, and give up.  But we won’t.

Plus, with the trauma of the news cycle, as I spoke about during Rosh Hashanah, we are often reacting a bit too strongly to the little things because our nerves are frayed.  Taking a few peaceful breaths and sips and cuddles is what we need to center ourselves. We need to remember that many of our problems pale in comparison to what others are going through, so we might as well not make ourselves suffer through them and enjoy what we have instead.  So, our kids aren’t perfect. So, camp cost more than we expected. So, our car needs repair again. So, the printer jammed. So, the cell phone got dropped in the toilet. All of this is mild in comparison to overcrowded detention centers, or another shooting. So we might as well just tackle our issues one at a time, in gratitude for the instances when our problems are not crises, and try not to lose it over the small stuff so we have the strength to battle the big stuff.  

I have mentioned that I recently took a class in modern Jewish thought, and one of the authors we studied, Emil Fackenheim, wrote a book entitled, The Commanding Voice of Auschwitz.  Fackenheim believed that the existence of the Holocaust created a message as loud and as clear as any heard at Mt. Sinai in the Torah.  This message, which he calls a new, additional commandment for all Jews (and in my mind, for all people), is the 614th commandment. That commandment is to not do the work of the Nazis for them by extinguishing ourselves.  To uphold this commandment, Fackenheim says we should never, ever stop telling the story of the Holocaust. He says we must not abandon the promise of Jewish existence, either through our own Jewish practices, or through the support of the Jewish people.  But most importantly, Fackenheim says we must do this, by living in joy.  Yes, we should mourn the tragedy of World War II, but he warns us against allowing Judaism to exist only for the sake of existence or to have the main thrust of Jewish culture and practice be one of mournful remembrance.  He says we must find song, and love, and beauty and meaning and passion and joy in how we demonstrate our Jewishness. If we do so, if we find glory and peace in Jewish spirituality, culture, food, and community, then we will have performed the ultimate resistance against Nazism.  Fackenheim believed that Hitler would want nothing more than for the Jews remaining on this planet to allow themselves to survive only in states of despair. If Judaism is only about beating ourselves on our chests, only about sad melodies, only about the pain of the past, then we have destroyed ourselves.  We have let them win. Yet everytime we find happiness in Jewish expression, it is a fist in the face of Hitler.

I think the same is true now in this world, and specifically in the United States.  Every time we don’t allow ourselves to go insane with the next news update or spend dinner arguing around the table about the latest tweet… every time we, instead, choose joy, we win.  If we share a meal, share affection, share a job – yes, with those we know and love, but especially with a stranger, or with someone who might be considered “undesirable” in this new American dynamic, or a person of a different faith than our own, a person of a different color than our own, a person from another country than our own… then we are spreading love, not fear.  Doing so is shaking our fists in the face of those who are anti-immigrant, anti-diversity, and are thriving on a message of fear and hate not so different from the one Fackenheim is begging us to remember.  

It is our mandate, and I never use that word, but I feel it so strongly right now, to step boldly and fearlessly into the light, as dangerous as it might be, and spread joy and live in joy, and scream out to the world, “I am here!  I won’t hide! I will live joyfully! You can’t take that away from me!” We owe this kind of thinking to our children, who are hearing us discuss the news, or are themselves reading or hearing the news, or worse learning about it from their friends.  Many of them are confused and afraid, and we must be examples for them of dreams still being alive, hope still being alive, and discovering solutions together in a world with endless possibilities of reconciliation and beauty. If we live in fear, anguish, hatred and anger, especially in front of our kids… If we spend our time fighting and screaming, the more “fun” the other side is having watching us fall apart.  Then we have done their work for them. We have allowed them to rob us of our very souls.  

If we could band together, not just in protest, but arm in arm in pride, we win.  We already have Gay Pride Parades, and now a Women’s March, but let’s also organize Diversity Pride Parades, Immigrant Pride Parades, Minority Pride Parades, Interfaith-Pride Parades, Education Parades, I Believe in Science Parades (I think there actually was one of those!) and take to the streets not only in despair but with hope.  Let’s celebrate the world we know we can mold. That will annoy them the most.

And so, yes, now it is time to beat our chests and admit the times we were wrong, the times we were selfish, the times we were petty, the times we were mean, the times we were jealous,  the times we didn’t see or didn’t listen. We will try to shake it all out, and let go of the guilt of the past and start with a new day, so we can be like Jacob of the Torah after his wrestling match… who faces his past, earns a new name, loses the title of his past errors, and finds a second chance.  He leaves that wrestling match with a limp, and perhaps we, too, after the past year will have some remaining scars, but then it is time to move on. Let’s not wallow in this regret. Let’s say our sorries (especially to the next generation who will have to clean up our world), march boldly into the light, and live this life with joy.

If we don’t, we will have let them win.

Humbly Correct Yourself

Hi all! Just sharing my Rosh Hashanah morning sermon because a few people have asked for it. Enjoy and feel free to share it. 🙂 – Diane

I have noticed that in our current social/political climate, people seem a little on edge.  

When I was crossing the street on a green light recently, but had not pushed the button to turn on the walk symbol, a man in his truck chose to lean out the window and scream at me that I didn’t have the right of way.  He’s correct I should have pushed the button, but his reaction was mildly extreme.  

When my daughter and I were leaving a protest a month or so ago, no longer at the protest, just walking to our car, someone must have seen our cluster of people with our signs, and chose to lean out of, again a truck, and holler “America First!”  Again, there is a right to disagree, and then there is the choice to lean out one’s window and yell at strangers.  

One more person leaning out of a window… In my neighborhood an injured lady was crossing the street with her injured dog… very… slowly.  They both had bandages around their legs. A driver leaned out the window to yell at her that she was taking too long.  

And finally, when my daughter and I were at a recent book signing with Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotamayor, there was a near brawl about how long it was taking to get through the line to meet her and who was pushing in front of whom.  Once again, lots of screaming, finger pointing, and hot tempers.  

I’ll return to these experiences in a moment.  

This morning, we will hear the first portion of the Torah, Breisheet, the creation of the world. We celebrate this New Year (some say the birthday of the world) with this mysterious, poetic story about how our ancient people imagined it all began.  It’s about building, creating, newness, imagination, and taking the time to reflect on the work done to assess its beauty. The God of the Torah puts forth effort for 6 days, and then rests and beholds the results.

And yet, just one portion later, this same God is ready to destroy every living thing on the planet.  God creates humankind along with all of the animals of the land, sea, and air, but once the world is full of people and birds and fish and cattle, God sends down rain to destroy everything except for one family.

There are flood stories in nearly every culture’s history from every part of the world.  Many of us know of the Epic of Gilgamesh and how closely it parallels the story of Noah and his ark, but there are similar stories in the Islamic, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions along with Greek, Roman, Egyptian and many, many other mythologies.  What is it about the flood that appeals to so many? Is it water’s potential for renewal and starting over? Is it, as some dream analysts say, that the rain represents tears, obstacles, or depression? Or is it simply that there have been horrific floods in history around the world, documented by each culture as a supernatural event because at the time, it was believed that surely only such a deluge could be at the hand of a destructive god.  

I often ask my students when we learn about Noah and the flood, “What do you think could happen in the world to make all creatures, not just humans, but pigeons, camels, and even bunny-rabbits, be so evil that a god would want to wash it all away and start over?”  The answer at which we often arrive, is some kind of ecological catastrophe… a drought, a famine… all animals with their ecosystems so out of whack, that everyone from the lion to the gnat are searching for a way to adapt and survive, willing to kill anything that might result in a meal for itself or its family or tribe.  And even if there is no God, the way the story can be true, and not true, is that a real drought led to real famine which led to deviant animal behavior, and that was followed by heavy rains that the earth could not contain because the land was so dried out. And so, a great flood, or perhaps even a mudslide, having nothing to do with a god, destroyed the local suffering animals and plant life. 

In synagogues around the world today, communities will either read the story of the binding of Isaac or the creation story of Breisheet which we will hear, but I think it would actually make a ton of sense if we read the story of Noah.  For these holy days are all about returning to a place of knowing within oneself, restarting, redoing, washing away mistakes. And in just a moment, we will sing B’Rosh Hashanah – when we ask the Universe, Who, this year, will live and who will die?  And of those who die, who by fire and who by water?… Like a flood. We will also add more modern tragedies to our list that were unthinkable when our machzor was composed, but some of those modern tragedies are wrapped up in this more traditional text and in the story of Noah.  After all, with the state of our planet, with rising tides and rising temperatures, it is not unthinkable of a great drought and a great flood coming upon us again, not because of a god, but because we didn’t do what we had to do to turn our climate crisis around. The ancient questions of who by hunger, who by thirst, who by storm, are not as far reaching as they used to be.

Yet, this flood, be it a symbolic or literal flood, may come upon us not just because of the global warming climate, but because of our current political climate (and once again, I promise you this isn’t really a political sermon).  Many of us are speaking out against the policies that go against our understanding of human rights and ecological sanity.  We are marching, signing petitions, writing to officials, and soon, voting!… We are making a lot of noise to scream out to the world that we are not okay with how things are, and all of that is necessary and glorious.  But are we also listening? Are we learning about others? Are we remembering to search, no matter how hard, for the spark of holiness in the “other?” When we recite the Shema, are we only asking to be heard but not willing to be the ones who listen?

If we can’t find some small shred of common ground, some place to start… like, can’t we all agree that it stinks when people don’t pick up their dogs’ poop?… Then we can’t talk about agreeing on the bigger things, like how nice it would be if our children and grandchildren had clean air to breathe and livable temperatures.  When we point the finger at the “other” for being intolerant, impatient, selfish, angry, ignorant, it may be true, but we are doing the entire world and the next generation a disservice if we don’t at least ask ourselves, “Am I, also, even just a little bit, any of that?”  Intolerant of another person’s opinion.  Impatient when someone doesn’t understand what we think we understand.  Selfish when we expect more or better for ourselves or our families than another’s.  Angry at another side of an argument. Ignorant to the ways even our treasured figures may be weak or have been in error.  We have to at least point that finger, for a moment, at ourselves. Or we may participate in our destruction. 

At my kid’s elementary school, the head once asked a parent in an all-school meeting, “What does it mean to humbly correct yourself?”  This parent said, in front of a hall full of young children, “Well, I don’t know what you mean by humbly correct myself, but I know what it means to humbly correct someone else.”

Well, there’s a foreshadow of our flood right there.  

Our country, and our world is in a state where we can’t hear each other anymore.  The ability to have any kind of civil discourse is disappearing and it’s disappearing quickly. Now, I don’t blame us.  We are all suffering from some variety of political PTSD. We don’t know whom to trust. We are having flashbacks to events in our own lives when we have struggled with dominating figures, bullying, or even abuse.  No wonder our minds are fried and our nerves are frayed. No wonder people are screaming from their trucks or pointing angry fingers at one another when standing in line at a book-signing. Many of us feel like ticking time bombs, ready to pounce at the first sign of any more injustice, even if it’s just the guy or gal who cut us off on the 10 freeway.

Yes, we are heading for a flood, because we only know how to humbly correct others and not ourselves.  Because if we don’t find a way to start with some kind of common ground, we will not change this course of history.  No, our behavior won’t lead, in my mind, to a god flooding us out, but if we can’t gather ourselves together and face uncomfortable and unsettling confrontation, we may not deserve this planet anymore.  Our self-righteousness may lead to disaster.  And we can’t only blame the other side. If we don’t find a way to communicate, even with those we despise most, as we attempted to do during our meditation a few moments ago, this planet may just shake us off.  Call it global warming, call it God, but our lack of decent behavior with each other will be the reason for the next biblical flood.

Johnny Holmes, who happens to be African American, was the head of security in the 90’s at a high school in Blue Island Illinois.  He knew a student named Christian Picciolini at the school who had ties to white nationalists. Christian once said to Holmes, while being hugged by him to calm him down during an altercation, “Get your filthy hands off me.  I live to see the day when a n—— will be hanging from every light pole in Blue Island.” Years later, after Christian changed his views, and he and Johnny Holmes reunited, Christian said, “It was that compassion when I didn’t deserve it that eventually stuck.”  Holmes found it in his heart to try to help turn that young man around, and to see the humanity in him. If he can, so can we.  

And Matthew Stevenson, an Orthodox Jew at New College in Florida was the only Orthodox Jew at school, so he used to invite over a mixed group of Jewish and non-Jewish friends for Shabbat dinner every Friday night at his apartment.  When his friend circle realized that there was a well-known white nationalist attending the same college, they discussed what to do. Rather than ostracize him, they invited him to Shabbat dinner. Not only did he come, but he became a regular member of the dinner group, and slowly changed.  If Matthew can stare into the eyes of a perceived enemy, so can we.

So what do we do?   We build an ark. Not with cubits of gopher wood, but with ahavah rabah, abundant love, rachamim, compassion, chesed, kindness, and shalom, peace.  We build it, not to sound corny, by going high when others go low. We build it by never, ever, succumbing to taunts or teases or claims of false victories meant to provoke us and demonstrate our most basic, unrefined selves.  We build it by finding the ruach, the spirit of God that Johnny Holmes and Matthew Stevenson found within themselves and in others. We build it by remembering the words of Rabbi Chaim Nachim of Breslav who said the words we will sing during Yom Kippur:

Kol ha’olam kulo gesher tsar m’od, v’haikar lo l’fached klal: The whole world is a narrow bridge, but the essence, is not to be afraid.  Do not be afraid of this challenge. Do not be afraid of a lack of clear results. Do not be afraid of seeing goodness in someone who appears only evil at first, second, and even third glance.  We owe it to the next generation to leave a world of civility and progress so they can get to work fixing the mess we have made. And this means humbly correcting others, but mostly humbly correcting ourselves.

As we read last night, “Now is the time for the world to know that every thought and action is sacred.  This is the time for you to deeply compute the impossibility that there is anything but grace.”


Protest Song

I haven’t written a blog in ages… so much to say, I can’t find the words to say anything. We are all suffering so with what someone on my Facebook feed called PTND (Perpetual Traumatic News Disorder). How to talk about it? What to say? I’m frozen. So, I am returning to my roots… music.

This was quickly recorded at home just on my phone. You might even hear the jingle of my dog’s collar in the background. But I didn’t want to perfect it, just share it in case it helps any of you feel less lonely in this insane world.

Lyrics below 🙂

Why are you so afraid of giving up a gun?   
So afraid you’d rather chance a shooter hits your son?
And why is it my daughter should be fired for her love?
Is that the message your God sends from above?

My God say no children should be caged or in tears.
What happened to you to make you so full of fear?
If you were running from a war to save your life,
Wouldn’t you want freedom? Or is that only for whites?

Tell me what we can do to help you.
Tell me what we can do to be heard.
Tell me why you want us to go backwards,
Afraid of an educated world.

Tell me you feel the pain that I feel.
Tell me you just want to live your life.
Tell me how this makes your days better.
I’m telling you we will fight.

Cause we aren’t going anywhere.
We will not lie down.
We won’t let you take our rights away.
We are here.We are here.We are here.

Why are you so afraid to admit the earth is cooked?
Has anyone fought cancer by refusing to look?
And if you’re poor and hungry in a long forgotten town,
Keeping out the immigrant won’t bring coal jobs around.


As I walked toward the Federal building on Wilshire today to join the Pro-Choice rally, I started to have what I have rarely ever experienced… a panic attack.  And I didn’t know why.

As I approached the protest alone, no sign in my hand, just hoping to be counted as someone who showed up, my heart started to pound. I wandered the length of the people, and walked to the curb to join the protesters chanting and hooting and waving signs, not knowing what exactly to do with myself. I paused next to a small group of people banging on percussion instruments, and someone put one in my hand.  I started striking the drum stick against the bell along with the communal beat and… cried. With each “beep” of approval from a passing car or “woo” from the protesting crowd, my eyes welled up again, and I still did not really understanding what was triggering this reaction.  I fought back the tears (trying not to look like an idiot crying on a street corner while banging on a bell in the middle of a protest), but the release was immense none-the-less. And then it hit me why this was happening.

We all are carrying around so much pent-up emotion these days.  We all have so much doubt and fear about the future of this country and other countries embracing extremist views.  We are worried about the environment, our freedoms, our rights, bigotry, war, and hatred. It’s noisy, and if we just carry on… go to work and feed the dog and hang out with the kids, we can kind of ignore the cacophony for awhile (and that’s important too, because life also has to continue and 24/7 of feeling like this may drive us all insane).  But the reason I cried is because I had to stare right at my fears by standing with those protesters… fear that our rights will be taken away, fear that our government is inhumane, fear that we are heading toward ecological disaster, fear of war, fear that the current level of hatred and anger of this world is insurmountable.  I just couldn’t keep it all inside anymore.

After the tears, and several rounds of letting out my emotions on a bell, I gave the instrument to someone else to bang on for awhile and started to walk away.  I must say I felt a little better. And as I headed to my car, I started thinking about what I was supposed to write a blog about today (this wasn’t it), which led me to chanting the Shema to myself over and over, like a mantra.

I was going to write about our last Shabbat when we talked about defining God as Memories.  I won’t get into all of why… that will be another blog someday. But if it is so that God=Memories, then it turns the meanings of the prayers we say at Shabbat inside out and upside down, including the Shema.  Here is the traditional translation of each word of the Shema.

Shema (Listen or Hear)

Yisrael (The people Israel – let’s expand it to ALL people)

Adonai (our substitute name for God which means “my Lord” but Adon also means Master or Leader so… “my Leader” is a possibility)

Eloheinu (our God)

Adonai (see above)

Echad (One)

If God=Memories, then we could theoretically translate the Shema alternatively as this: Listen, everyone, I am led by our Memories, I am led toward Oneness.

I cried today because for so many of us, our memories of this time in history are and will continue to be painful.  I cried because of memories of a time when we weren’t all so afraid. I cried because I fear for the future I won’t see, and the memories our children will have to endure.  I cried for the memories being formed by women who can’t make choices, by immigrants who are being separated from their families, by the children who have been in lockdown at schools.  But as I chanted the Shema on my way to my car, I remembered that these memories are the fuel for how we handle tomorrow. We are led by these memories, even if they are unpleasant, and we CAN lead ourselves toward a time when more of us see the connectivity in all things, that we are all part of One, and that we better start acting like it.  

Shema Yisrael.. Listen everyone.

Adonai Eloheinu… I am led by our memories

Adonai Echad.. I am led toward Oneness.

May the memories of today, the joyous ones and the painful ones, lead to a future with more understanding, compassion and connection.  And if you feel panicky one day, like I did today, maybe this new translation of the Shema can provide you with a mantra in times of struggle.  

But don’t walk away from the fear. 🙂

For inspiration, hear our Shema here.

Reflecting on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Me: “So, tell me what you have already learned about the Holocaust?”

My class: yawn.

With yesterday being Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), I had the challenge of figuring out how to talk about the Holocaust with my 5th-7th grade students at Cool Shul.  One wouldn’t think it would be a challenge, but it is. Now that in many schools a study of the Holocaust is part of the curriculum, some of my students seem almost “over it.”

It’s odd to think of anyone (even a pre-teen) being “over” learning about the Holocaust, but it’s true.  We are so grateful that such an education is no longer kept to the synagogue or the dinner table. We want generation after generation to be well-educated on the subject and to make sure that not just Jews, but all people, understand what took place so they can lead us into a future without such atrocities.   And yet, once it is part of the curriculum, it isn’t “special” anymore within a Jewish education context, and sometimes kids have a Been-There-Done-That feeling… probably because at some point they had to take a test on the subject rather than just experience it.

This is where art comes in.

What captures the joy and agony of the human spirit better than art?  As I became frustrated that my students weren’t glued to every word during my lesson about the quality of life for children in the Ghettos, I realized that what did move them was the poetry and art works left behind by those children.  It was the stories, the sounds, the music, the paintings, the written words that finally moved them and took them out of their hormonal slumber and into engagement (if you want to check out the website we used, go to and be patient, it takes awhile to load).

Another artful moment was the evening before when I attended a Yom HaShoah event at the synagogue where I used to be the Cantor.  Once again, it was music and poetry and stories that lifted us out of ourselves and transported us through time. The Rabbi (and one of my mentors), Neil Comess-Daniels, asked a minister to read the following poem that Rabbi wrote back in 1996:

Twelve is a small number.

We purchase items in increments of twelve.

Twelve million of anything is unfathomable.

How much the more so twelve million murderers?

Six million Jews and six million others…

Gypsies, homosexuals, the mentally and physically “imperfect”,

The politically and/or morally abhorrent.

Twelve million is as unknowable as one dozen is certain.

Yet, we must know this number, this twelve million, for this number knows us.

This number has shaped us.

Everything we are and can be will be measured in increments of


It left me and everyone else in the room speechless.

I was honored to sing during that event, and one of my offerings was a stripped down version of one of my most favorite choral pieces, written by Michael Horvit in honor of the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht.  It is the setting of a poem found written on the walls of a basement in Cologne, Germany, left there by someone hiding from the Gestapo (you can hear me sing it by clicking the poem or the picture at the bottom of this post [and yes, that’s my dog jingling in the background]):

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining.

I believe in love even when feeling it not.

I believe in God even when God is silent.

I can’t sing this piece without feeling the tears start to swell.  How can three sentences pack so much emotional depth and complexity?

Perhaps the most interesting art piece for Yom HaShoah this year is an unbelievably creative project by @eva.stories.  This Instagram account is following the true story of a young girl with the premise of: what if a Jewish girl living during the Holocaust had Instagram?  No, it isn’t a piece of music or a poem or a novel, but it is an attempt to reach today’s teens with a thoughtful, artful, contemporary look.  Although it has drawn some criticism, I totally appreciate this attempt at a modern take on Holocaust education and art.  As an educator, I love the audacity to try a new “art” form.

So, what does this all mean?  It means…

Create art.  

Whether you are a choreographer, songwriter, composer, painter, storyteller, photographer or film maker (and ya don’t have to be a pro, a dabble will do!), keep documenting our times so we can express what is happening today to future generations. We may not be facing anything like a Holocaust in the U.S., but we are facing historic and troubling times. Many of us don’t know what more to do than what we are already doing to bring more compassion to our nation and the world.  Many of us fear that most of our efforts are demonstration rather than action. But when we feel that way, let’s turn to our imaginations. Let’s create, and create, and create to capture our thoughts and experiences and the stories we are told.  As we know, sometimes it is just one image, one lyric, one frame that can change the hearts and minds of America.

It may be a splatter on a canvas, a turn of a phrase, or even a bit of comedy that will alter the course of history.  Why not from your hand?

Shabbat Shalom

“Rantor” Diane

Invitation to the National Day of Unplugging

Last weekend, I read a wonderful article in the New York Times about unplugging.

Oh, I just heard you sigh.  Take that back! This is different.

This article was written by a New York Times writer whose column focuses on the intersection of technology and business… in other words, someone for whom it is not easy to unplug.  And he didn’t. This article is simply about his journey toward having a healthier relationship with his smartphone.

Come on!  Now I’m pretty sure I felt you roll your eyes!

We all know many of us are like rats in cages, continuously pushing that little button for a fix.  As a wise friend said to me recently, “I changed my phone habits when someone showed me that it is no longer a tool we use, but that we have become a tool of it.”  Frightening.  

So, this quick blog post is NOT about giving up technology.  After all, I am LOVING the new laptop with which I’m writing this blog.  But it is an invitation to change our relationships with technology.  Our inclination to unlock our phones just to “check what happened” since the last time we checked it… like… 5 minutes ago… is changing our brains, our relationships, our habits, and our culture.  So, let’s stop sighing and rolling our eyes, and just do these three things (I’ll try to do them too!)…

  • Read this article.  I know none of us want to think about unplugging, but do it for your yourself.  Do it for your kids. Don’t be afraid. You won’t be sorry. 🙂
  • In honor of this weekend which is the organization Reboot’s National Day of Unplugging, come to Cool Shul this Saturday morning for an Unplugged Shabbat event.  We will have some old fashioned Board and Card games at 10:30am, and some old fashioned snacks, too! For details, go here:  
  • Ok, so you’re still hesitant, and you aren’t going to do either of those things above?  Fine. Be that way. At least read these quotes from the NYT article, and do me a favor, during this National Day of Unplugging from sundown Friday night to sundown Saturday evening (yes, folks, that’s Shabbat), find a time to literally put your phone in another room, if at all possible, and feel the freeing effect of having no idea what’s going on, at least for an hour or two.  Trump can wait.

Quotes from Kevin Roose,

Do Not Disturb: How I Ditched My Phone and Unbroke My Brain:

“My symptoms were all the typical ones: I found myself incapable of reading books, watching full-length movies or having long uninterrupted conversations. Social media made me angry and anxious, and even the digital spaces I once found soothing (group texts, podcasts, YouTube k-holes) weren’t helping.”

“I confess that entering phone rehab feels clichéd, like getting really into healing crystals or Peloton.”

“…her program focuses on addressing the root causes of phone addiction, including the emotional triggers that cause you to reach for your phone in the first place. The point isn’t to get you off the internet, or even off social media — you’re still allowed to use Facebook, Twitter and other social platforms on a desktop or laptop, and there’s no hard-and-fast time limit. It’s simply about unhooking your brain from the harmful routines it has adopted around this particular device, and hooking it to better things.”

“I became acutely aware of the bizarre phone habits I’d developed. I noticed that I reach for my phone every time I brush my teeth or step outside the front door of my apartment building, and that,  for some pathological reason, I always check my email during the three-second window between when I insert my credit card into a chip reader at a store and when the card is accepted.”

“Mostly, I became aware of how profoundly uncomfortable I am with stillness.”

“It’s an unnerving sensation, being alone with your thoughts in the year 2019.”

“Studies have shown that people who don’t charge their phones in their bedrooms are significantly happier than those who do.”

“Psychologists have a name for this: “phubbing,” or snubbing a person in favor of your phone. Studies have shown that excessive phubbing decreases relationship satisfaction and contributes to feelings of depression and alienation.”

“But I cannot stress enough that under the right conditions, spending an entire weekend without a phone in your immediate vicinity is incredible. You have to try it.”

Convinced yet? Okay, no matter how we do it, let’s try to unplug a little bit this weekend, maybe even for that full 25 hour period of sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  No, there is no need to ignore the phone call from Grandma, or the fact that your daughter will call when she needs to get picked up, but perhaps we can at least get off of social media and observe ourselves when we are habitually checking our email or Instagram.

It can all wait. But our souls and the connections we have with our friends and family cannot.

Love, “Rantor” Diane

P.S. Total honesty? I’m waiting in a restaurant for a to-go order as I finish this blog, and I totally just clicked on my iPhone twice to look at my email when there was no need to. I am so busted!!!

Don’t Wish Me a “Happy New Year”

Since Cool Shul hosts a Shabbat service only once per month, last Friday was our “New Year’s” Shabbat.  Hope you enjoy my talk for that Shabbat. 🙂

Love, Rabbi Di

Our Torah portion this week is Parshat “Bo”, which means come. During Parshat Bo, where we experience the final three plagues, God tells Moses to go (bo) to Pharaoh.  You may have noticed that I translated bo as go, even though I just said it means come.  Rarely does a translation say “come to Pharoah,” but that is what it actually says, and many have wrestled with the fact that the word is confusing in its use.  Why would God say, “Come to Pharaoh” rather than “Go”? It’s a fun puzzle to try to solve.

In my research, I found that most commentators agree that in God’s telling Moses to come, and not go, God is present with Moses during his interactions with Pharaoh, so God is really saying “come with me” to Pharoah.  Another idea is that God is hovering near Pharaoh all the time, so God is asking Moses to come to where God is already present.

Of course, I have another interpretation to add, and it fits perfectly into the New Year’s theme.  

Be it the secular New Year or the spiritual New Year of Rosh Hashanah, we often say to each other (when using English), “Happy new year.”  During Rosh Hashanah, however, when we greet one another in Hebrew with Shanah Tovah Umetukah, we wish each other a good and sweet year.  My question for you is the following: is good or sweet the same as happy?

To me, what may be good or sweet doesn’t have to come with the pressure of making us happy.  Depending on what has gone on in one’s life during the prior year, a good year or a sweet year may not necessarily lead to happiness, and it certainly won’t lead to happiness all the time.  Good or sweet might just be improvement or going in the right direction.  And what does being “happy” even mean? It’s not the same as present or content.  Being happy or not seems too black and white for me, too two-dimensional. Personally I think we all are often kind of happy and kind of not.

One of my students studying the creation story talks about the eating of the fruit in the Garden of Eden as taking away our happiness because we became aware of all of the problems and possibilities of our world when we ate it.  But, he asks, “Is it better to just frolic around the garden like a bunny… unaware and simple but happy?” To face our powers and weaknesses is, in many ways, to be unhappy. So he also asks, “Would we want it any other way?” And so there we are — happy and unhappy, but maybe content that way, and perhaps that state is even the key to the meaning of life.  So wishing each other a happy new year is asking us to move away from what might be a healthy state of being and setting each other up for failure.

Maybe the purpose of the inspiration for renewal at a new year, is not to become more happy, but to get a step closer to home… to being the people our natural states are asking us to be.  Perhaps we can make New Year’s resolutions not to go toward something we aren’t, but to come… or “bo” back to ourselves.

Returning to Moses, we have to remember that he grew up in the Pharaoh’s court.  While it’s believed that the Pharaoh of the exodus story could not possibly be the Pharaoh of Moses’ youth (and no one has figured out if there is a true Moses/Pharaoh relationship anyway), Moses’ return, at least in the story, is a march to his old home and to everything he left behind.  I think that the word “come” is used because Moses isn’t just moving away from his life, but he is actually coming home to a familiar place. As frightening as it would be to be put in the position of being the reluctant hero as Moses was, imagine how frightening it would be if we were also returning to our old homes, to a place we had to run from.  Moses is coming back to face a part of himself, his history, and his experiences within Egypt. He has to come to himself.

And so, with New Year’s, we can focus on those usual surface goals – like the ever present losing weight and going to the gym —  but so often those kinds of resolutions fall away and dissolve partly because the hope is to become something we aren’t rather than coming home to what we already are.  Perhaps we need to focus not on a product, but on a process, on “bo”, on coming toward ourselves and what can free us, just as Moses had to “bo” in order to be completely free from his past and be strong enough to free others.

If you’ve already made some New Year’s resolutions, it isn’t too late to retool them.  Let’s see if we can focus on our potential. Let’s see if we can focus on activities and expressions that create wholeness within us and for those around us.  Let’s see if the promises we make can be about coming and not going.

Gratitude and Mindful Judaism

This is a re-post of a Thanksgiving blog I wrote 4 years ago (with a few gratitude updates).   Enjoy!

Judaism is a tradition of gratitude.

It is said, in Jewish practice, that we should say 100 blessings each day.  Jewish structure helps us reach that goal by providing blessings for when we wake, when we eat, when we pray, when we see beauty, light candles, wash our hands, drink wine… just about everything. Any child who gets a little Jewish education learns at least a few of these blessings, but rarely is it suggested that when one is uttered, what we are actually reaching for is our own gratitude.  Each blessing is intended to make us to stop for a moment, “press the enter key” (as Zalman Schachter-Shalomi would say), and remind ourselves to take intentional notice of all that is before us, around us, and within us, 100 times a day.

This is mindful living.

One often looks to other philosophies and traditions in a search for mindful living practice, but Judaism is actually wrapped around a nougat center of mindfulness with those 100 blessings at its core.  When we live mindfully, we don’t pass through our lives with blurred vision like a movie stuck in fast forward.  Living mindfully means we remain in the present in order to fully experience every bite of food we chew, every scent we inhale, every push on the gas pedal while we drive, every errand we run, every task we complete.  We take our steps with purpose, we dry the dishes with contentment, we pay the bills with joy.

Mindful living sounds great, doesn’t it? …Wish I did it.

There are always occasions when gratitude hits me.  When my children are making me laugh, or we can see a particularly fiery sunset from our balcony, or I’m taking a drive through the mountains, it’s easier to feel the miracles of life flowing through me.  But in my busy days, between getting kids to school, getting on the treadmill, heading to work, meetings, students, making sure everyone gets picked up, dropped off, teeth brushed, homework done, I often forget to be mindful or grateful.  How do we mindfully clean up the spaghetti we just dropped on the floor?  Or feel gratitude for being stuck in traffic?  I guess it’s all in how we look at it.  Yes, we dropped the spaghetti, but the blessing can be for the fact that there is more in the cupboard.  Yes, we are stuck in traffic, but the blessing can be for the fact that we are in a car, safe and comfortable, and not walking in the rain.  Perhaps, we all focus too much on our glasses being half empty.  I know I do.  Yet, Judaism points us toward appreciating our fullness by asking us, 100 times a day, to stop, live, be, notice, breathe, taste, feel, and express all that action and inaction through blessings.

Okay, readers, it is Thanksgiving.  It’s the season for gratitude.  Can we experiment with acknowledging as many mindful/blessing/gratitude moments as possible this holiday?  Can we take an instance of frustration and transform it into one of contentment?  Can we remember to notice the positives and negatives and remind ourselves that there are often blessings hidden in those negatives?  And if we can do all this, how do we register it?

We don’t need to say a blessing each time we have one of these “noticing” moments.  We could just make a mental note of each one.  I must say, however, there is a power in vocalizing gratitude.  If we feel the desire to say something out loud to acknowledge an experience, we could say: Baruch Atah Adonai /Blessed are you, Adonai (a more masculine, fatherly side of God), or B’ruchah At Shechina /Blessed are you, Shechina  (a more feminine, motherly side of God).  But we can also say just plain old, “Ooh” or “Ahh” or “Sigh” or “Thank you, world.”  It’s all the same.  No belief in God required for practicing Jewish gratitude or mindfulness.

Now, I don’t know if we can reach 100 blessings or “notice-ings” in a day, but maybe we can.  Let’s choose a day, and even write down our focuses of gratitude.  Let’s see if we can get to 100.  And if you like, share your list in the comment section.

Here is a starter list to get the ball rolling.

Thank you world for:

1. My husband
2. My children
3. My parents
4. My niece and nephew
5. My brother
6. My in-laws
7. My friend who made me laugh
8. My friend who made me cry
9. The memories of those I have lost
10. Morning toast and coffee
11. My new dog
12. The refrigerator
13. Clothing
14. My breath
15. Health
16. Sight
17. Touch
18. My heart and all my organs
19. Shoes
20. My work and the Cool Shul Community
21. Money
22. Yoga
23. The breeze
24. The shade
25. My children’s school and their teachers
26. My mentors
27. My education
28. Who I am
29. Who I want to be
30. A perfect salad
31. A piece of dark chocolate
32. A pet (don’t have one, but if I did, I’d be grateful for it!)
33. A comfortable bed
34. Running water
35. My car
36. Heat in the house
37. A drink of water
38. A glass of wine
39. My students who teach me so much
40. A good book
41. Music
42. Having the time to paint my nails.
43. The piano in my living room
44. My voice
45. Smoothies
46. My blog readers
47. A Parisian Baguette
48. A vacation
49. Airplanes
50. Creativity
51. A Simple dinner
52. Art
53. Time to play
54. Photographs
55. A day without pain
56. My soul
57. Laughter
58. The sun
59. The stars and moon
60. The sunset
61. Colors
62. Trees
63. Flowers
64. Mountains
65. Grass
66. Rain and rainbows
67. Renewable energy
68. That for today, I live in a land without war
69. Freedom
70. Community
71. My children’s friends
72. Sleep
73. Medicines
74. Windows With a view
75. A clean home
76. A trusted babysitter
77. Exercise
78. A song with great lyrics
79. Love
80. That my body can heal
81. A comfy blanket
82. The New York Times
83. My doctor
84. Swimming
85. Walking
86. Tasting
87. Smelling
88. Electricity
89. Curly hair
90. Tissues when I have a cold
91. Appliances that make life easier – even when they break
92. People we never knew who are part of our history
93. The earth and the Universe
94. Charities
95. Candlelight
96. The beach
97. KCRW
98. Kindness
99. Learning from challenges
100. Having 100 things to be grateful for.

I’m grateful you read all the way to here. 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving!!!!

Say the Shema WHEN (not if) You Vote

In the Jewish prayer book, morning and evening, we have a love trio.  The first part — Ahavat Olam or Ahavah Rabah — is about an everlasting and abundant love that surrounds us and is ours to access.  The last statement— the V’ahavta— reminds us to teach and act with love in all we do and see, when we are home and when we are away.  Sandwiched in between those two elements is the Shema. The Shema is open to lots of interpretations and translations that direct our hearts toward the nougat center of the meaning and not hang on the literal one.  At Cool Shul, we translate it as: Hear this, humankind, God is in all of us, and we are all called One. It is during the Shema in which we contemplate and process that abundant love coming toward us before we send it back out to our homes and to the world.

The spiritual love of the prayer book isn’t intended to be interpreted as a romantic love, though this kind of love certainly should be the basis of any romance.  This is a love steeped in listening and forgiving and acceptance.  It’s the kind of love that has an openness to all humanity — even the humanity of a perceived enemy, for the Shema (the center of our trio and the center of the Jewish people) asks for all to hear the message we are delivering… that we are all One.  

I was reminded of this love, based in listening and understanding, when I was on a group call with T’ruah, a Rabbis for human rights action group.  We were there to discuss how to help our congregations heal during these times. For some of us, we are trying to make peace in communities bitterly divided over the current political climate, while others of us are attempting to pick up the pieces for and with our communities that are so despondent over what is going on in our country, they are finding it challenging to continue with normal life. During this phone gathering, we heard from the organizer most of us know as “the woman in the elevator,” who confronted Senator Flake during the Supreme Court hearings.  Interestingly, she told us that her team didn’t really have a plan that day and had no idea if anyone might see them or listen to them in the small amount of time they had. Their presence was built solely on a sliver of hope. Her message to us was that the most important thing we can do to help our communities heal is to make sure their voices and their messages of hope are heard, by encouraging everyone and anyone to vote.  Most of us will never have a moment like she did, when an elected official has to face us and listen.  So, since none of us will likely find ourselves in an elevator with a senator, voting is our best bet. Yes we can be heard with bullhorns, through social media, through emails and phones calls, or maybe at a march or a rally, but the most powerful tool we have is at the polling place.   Marching without voting means nothing.

One rabbi on the call reminded us that the Shema is not only about listening but also about being heard.  And so the Shema says, “listen to me, this is important!” But if each us shouts, “listen to me!”, that means we also have to do a whole lot of listening.  We can’t only speak. This is perhaps why the Shema is placed between two liturgical pieces about love. Because there is no real love without the ability to listen and the ability to be heard.  Not with couples, not with families or friends, and not in government.

Now, I have never considered the Shema as a prayer to say while voting.  There are other Jewish prayers that are prescribed to say when fulfilling a civic duty (for example, “blessed is the opportunity to pursue justice” or “blessed is the opportunity to engage in the needs of the community”).  But how fitting it would be to invite the Shema into the polling place as we do our duty to be heard! And perhaps we can also say the Shema when we do anything that helps create fairer elections, such as fighting against voter intimidation, driving people to their polling places, or making sure our employees have time to vote without penalty.  Because when we do any of these, we are fighting for all voices to be heard, not just the ones that align with ours. That is listening and being heard.  That is the heart of the Shema: Hear this, all humankind, we are One.

I’ll see you at the polling place on Tuesday.

vote image

Newton’s Law and the Binding of Isaac

The story we read on Rosh Hashanah morning, the story of the binding of Isaac, just came and went in our annual Torah cycle, so I wanted to share the sermon I gave Rosh Hashanah morning for those that missed it.  After all, isn’t every day a potential New Year? It’s up to us to choose today as the first day of the rest of our lives and call it day 1.


It was supposed to be an ideal trip.  10 days, mostly unplugged and unreachable, trucking through Alberta, Canada in an RV.  We planned to spend every night sleeping with the trees, after days full of hiking and discovery in one of the most stunningly gorgeous parts of the world.  We were to ride down the river in Banff, go on a scenic cruise in Jasper, and row our way around Lake Louise. We were to visit the quaint towns that hosted each natural treasure and soak in all of that Canadian kindness we all envy these days.  

At least that is how it was supposed to be.

Okay, I have to admit that our kids weren’t as thrilled as we were about the idea of us being stuffed into an RV together for 10 days, but we figured we would barely spend any time in the vehicle.  Days would be out exploring, and evenings would be spent sitting around the campfire, making up silly songs, roasting marshmallows and trying to figure out how to make the jiffy pop really pop. And with our daughter heading off to college in two years, we realized this was probably our last chance for such a memorable experience.  However, the kids must have known something we didn’t, for this trip was definitely not meant to be.

It all started out okay other than the grumbling from our kids about… well… most things. But then we ran into a few issues.

First, we were told we weren’t allowed to use our stabilizers, so anytime someone walked around the RV, we felt nauseous and like the world was wobbling.  Annoying, but nothing to write a sad song or a sermon about. Then we were told that there was a ban on all fires in the campgrounds. That meant no songs around the crackling fire, no cooking dinner on open flames, and worst of all, no s’mores.  Okay, that stank, but we could always sing songs anyway and make s’mores on the stove, right? But then it started to rain. A lot. Which brought the mosquitos… which meant meals inside instead of at the picnic table. In fact, my husband slapped one with his lightening fast eye/hand coordination (which, by the way, has been clocked at astronaut level speed) and blood went running down his leg.  Gross, but we carried on.

Did I mention my daughter got a cold, then I got a cold, then my son got a cold?  But we were fine enough. Did I mention that the hoses started leaking? The water coming in and the water (and other things) that had to run out were not, well, secure.  Kind of wasteful in one direction and kind of disgusting in the other. But fixable, so we carried on again.

But then, the phone started ringing.  We weren’t even sure if we would have any cell service in the campgrounds, but, unforunately, we did!  First was a minor work emergency for Andy. Nothing scary, but it took some phone and internet savvy directions to get what needed to get done, done.  Then a day later the phone call was something positive, but something that had to get dealt with that left me and Andy reading documents on his phone. But a day after that, it was something big.  An emergency that had to get dealt with right away, which left my poor husband not only having to deal with driving the RV, having hoses leak all over his shoes, but also spending most of his time talking on the phone to clear up an important issue rather than participating in all of our planned fun… which the kids and I also coudn’t do because he was the only one who knew how to drive the dang RV!

Sound fun yet?  Wait! There’s more!

While we were driving, the sleeping level over the head of the driver started to sink.  The pin fell out that holds it up (okay, maybe we forgot to put it in, but we would like to think it fell out).  Next thing we knew it was totally lopsided and no longer usable. We were down a bed. We decided to find a hotel to spend the night and call the RV company to make the repair, which they did, and we intended to return to the vehicle. But while they were there, they discovered that the refrigerator had stopped cooling and that overnight all of our food had spoiled.  

We had had it.  Everyone was cranky, cooped up, and tired of dealing with problems.  So, Andy and I made a decision. We drove the RV back, found a hotel in Calgary (which by the way is a lovely city, especially in the summer), and spent three days being the urban people we are.

We actually had a wonderful time in Calgary.  We searched for the perfect bean bun at all of the bakeries in Chinatown.  We ate delicious omelets at a little French diner and grilled our own food at a Korean BBQ.  We went to Monster Mini Golf, a VR arcade, and an escape room. We took walks along the perfectly manicured park that runs along the river, and we went to a fantasic music museum where we learned how to sing Indian scales and heard a player organ demonstration.  We drank great coffee, we swam in the hotel pool, we slept in comfy beds… We made lemonade out of lemons (figuratively, not literally!), and although the trip ended up nothing like we planned, we at least had a few truly memorable days at the end.

And this all relates to the Torah portion we heard this morning.  

Personally, I have trouble changing directions once I am on a path, and I was definitely the most resistant to changing course on our trip.  If we were supposed to be in an RV, gosh darn it, we were going to stay in the thing and see it through. If we were supposed to go north, it stressed me to no end to switch and head east.  When there is a plan and a process, it fills me with great pain to break the plan and change the process. I am the human embodiment of the scientific principle that a body in motion stays in motion.  I have the feeling many of us probably are.

Newton’s first law of motion says that a body in motion at a constant velocity will remain in motion in a straight line unless acted upon by an outside force.  In order to accelerate or decelerate or change directions, an outside force must be acting upon it. This is also true for people. In the Huffington Post article that considers the human embodiment of this law, “Why Humans are Goverened by the Law of Inertia Too,” the author says:

We can now see that people aren’t “stuck” as so many refer to themselves, when they are dissatisfied with their lives.  In reality, they are moving at warp speed propelled by multiple forces along their life path. As a result, small forces such as a modest insight, a brief ‘Aha!’ moment, or a nudge from a friend simply won’t provide adequate force to counteract those that currently drive us.  On the contrary, because of the great forces that are already controlling our lives, even greater forces must be applied if there is going to be significant change.

… People may feel helpless to change the course of their lives.  As much as they may want or have tried to, they just can’t seem to alter its trajectory.  And the reason that change is so difficult is that first law of human motion. If they’re going to change, they need to apply forces that are greater than the forces currently controlling the direction of their lives.  To slow down, change direction, and go where they want to go will take a huge amount of fresh energy.

So, let’s return to Abraham and the Torah.  The portion we heard this morning, in which Abraham is willing to sacrifice his beloved son because God tells him to, is so difficult to explain, so horribly out of the characteristics we hope for ourselves, that many communities have stopped reading it on Rosh Hashanah morning all together.  After all, are we to emulate a faith so deep that we would be willing to sacrifice a child because a voice told us to? Are we to keep secrets from our spouse about the fate of our beloved baby in fear she will hold a mirror up to us (Because you know Abraham’s wife Sarah would have stopped this!)?  Traditionally the interpretation of the Akedah, the binding, is that we are to admire Abraham’s relationship with God — a belief that ran so deep that he was willing to do what God said was needed (which, again is odd because at other times Abraham argues with God). Well, that doesn’t sit well for most progressive Jews, so instead we talk about the fact that Abraham’s life didn’t go so well after this incident, and that therefore maybe we are to learn that we should NOT listen to a voice that demands a passionate commitment so vast that we would be willing to harm another.  We also talk about the possibility of the portion being a historical source that included this story to direct its readers against human sacrifice at a time when it was still practiced by other religions.  Or, we preach that we have this story in order to consider our own tests and sacrifices.

Well, I have another interpretation to add to the long line of commentaries.  I think this portion is about Newton’s law of motion, and the first law of human motion described in the Huffington Post.  

In this story, Abraham, for better or for worse, believes he has to do this act.  For a moment, let’s not concern ourselves as to whether or not God in fact tells Abraham to do so as the story suggests or if Abraham is in fact hearing some other voice of direction.  All we know is that he is silently climbing Mount Moriah with his son with all intention of sacrificing him as he believes he needs to. Let’s picture Abraham… his son now bound to the alter they built together, his hand raised in the air with blade pointing toward his boy.  What kind of emotions must be heating up inside him, how much energy built up in the arm ready to thrust down to fulfill this most painful of all actions? Abraham is definitely a body in motion, physically and spiritually, so in order to change directions, it has to be one heck of a strong external force working on him.  So, what stops him? What has enough power to pull him off his course? Another voice. Traditionally it’s taught that it is the voice of an angel, an extension of God. But perhaps it is another person, maybe even Isaac’s voice Abraham really hears. Or it could be Abraham’s inner dialogue or an imagining of what his wife Sarah would say, that tells him to stay his hand.  No matter what the voice was or is, it’s so powerful, it stops him in his tracks.

It’s easy for us to judge Abraham for what seems like an insane act, but perhaps we should not condemn him too harshly.   I mean, Abraham, for reasons hard for us to understand, believes he is on the right path and is determined to see his task through.   If in the story there had been a boulder blocking him, I believe he would have found a way around it. If the story described blinding winds and rains, Abraham would have trudged through it in order to perform the act he thought necessary of him.  None of those could have been forces strong enough for him to change directions. After all, the voice he trusted most had given the directions to follow, and he was following… like so many of us do.

Let’s look at ourselves.  How many of us are walking along a path that may seem necessary, listening to voices inside or outside of us that we believe we must obey, but we have a nagging feeling it isn’t truly the correct path or at least not the ONLY correct path?  How many times do we march around boulders and trudge through wind and rain, because we are sure this is where we need to be and the direction in which we need to go, even if we hate that path as much as Abraham must have despised his? How often do we keep our heads down and carry on, sure not to look up for fear we might see our own suffering reflections in a loved ones eyes much like Abraham must have avoided the gaze of his wife?  How much outside force do we need to take a fork in the road or even turn around?   It may not be a literal sacrifice we are heading for, but do we not sacrifice ourselves for what we think others expect?  Are we any less stubborn about what has to happen? Do we, also, need to be affected by an energy as strong as a voice of a god to listen, ignoring the more likely whispers telling us to head toward something else?

I think about the old joke about the man who is stuck on his rooftop in a flood, praying to God for help.  In case you don’t know it… This man is trapped in a flood, and another man in a rowboat comes by and shouts, “jump in, I can save you.”  But the man on the roof replies, “No, it’s ok, I’m praying to God and He will save me.” So, the man in the boat moves on. Next a man in a motorboat comes by and offers the same.  The man on the roof replies again that he is praying, and that God will save him. The motorboat moves on. Finally, a helicopter comes by and drops a rope to lift the man to safety. For a third time, the man refuses, and says God will save him.  The helicopter flies away. The water keeps rising, and, of course, eventually the man drowns. When he reaches heaven and gets to discuss the matter with God, he is extremely upset that with all of his faith, God allowed him to die. And God replies… “I sent you a rowboat, a motorboat and a helicopter!  What more did you expect??”

Perhaps the man on the roof in the joke read the Akedah, our Torah portion this morning, too many times.  Perhaps nothing more than an angel or a voice of God could convince him to change directions. But we can’t take the voice literally.  We have to keep our eyes open to the warning signs that are often silently blinking and standing in our way or we will be too stubborn to see or hear the forces nudging us toward our new paths.

When we were leaving our RV, I told my 16 year old daughter that a sermon was forming in my mind about our experiences on that trip.  I gave her a quick summary of what, in fact, this sermon is about. She said to me, “Sometimes a broken refrigerator is the voice of God.”  She was kidding, but she’s right. We have to read the moment and be like water, ready to flow as needed rather than stuck in one direction.  As my husband’s mentor used to say, “Grab an oar and row.”

Well, here we are on Rosh Hashanah.  Every year we ask why this of all Torah portions is designated for this day.  And yet, this time, it all seems very clear to me. This is the day we change directions.  This is the day we plant a seed and make a plan for the next 10 days and the year ahead. This is the day we throw our mistakes into a body of flowing water (or for us, the promise of a body of flowing water) and tell ourselves we are ready.  No hand of God or angel of God or voice of God is going to tell us which elements of our lives are ripe for a change of direction. It will be a gentler nudge, a whisper, a breeze. And although scientifically it is an outside force that must work on us for us to embrace newness, it has to be an internal recognition of that outside force to make it so.  

Yes, change is hard.  It’s easy to tell someone else how to change, but it is extremely difficult to tell or allow ourselves to change.  So, let’s observe keenly the actions and hints offered by the people and situations around us. It may be the words of a spouse or a friend offering advice that we know deep down is sound but is still difficult for us to hear. It may be obstacles in a path that at first feel like tests but start feeling like true roadblocks.  It may be our own inner pain. But let’s not be so stubborn, as I often am, that it has to be a kick to the head as monumental as a holy voice for us to pay attention.

Today is the day to begin that journey toward renewal.  Abraham just told us so. We don’t have to change everything about ourselves or our lives.  But there is at least one path that each and every one of us is on that is begging for a fork in the road or a U-turn.  So let’s pay attention. The cue may be a man in a boat, or a broken refrigerator, or a voice from within or without, but let’s listen.  Today, and for the next 10 days, let’s hear, watch, think, and see as Abraham could eventually see.

Today is the first day of the rest of our lives.  

body in motion

Pass the Quinoa and Save the World

With the recent dire news about the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystem and the human impact upon it, many of us (including me) are in a bit of a panic.  I keep looking at my children, ages 10 and 16, and wondering if I have brought them into a doomed world. If you are like me, you feel like you have to do something… anything… to start helping this planet, even if it seems like a small gesture.  We all already know we can buy eco-bulbs, install solar panels, and drive hybrid or electric cars to do our part. And perhaps the most important thing we can do is vote for representatives who care about the environment as much as we do (An aside — I know some say the verdict is still out about global warming, but knowing somewhere between 97-99% of scientists agree we are to blame for the earth’s new moody nature, disagreeing is kind of like giving the finger to education, knowledge, and research, isn’t it?  So, let’s skip that argument and make sure that no matter how we feel about other issues, we vote for our children having a planet to live on, okay? — Back to our regularly scheduled blog…). However, no matter who wins the many elections around the world this year or in the future, or whether or not we can afford solar panels or a new fuel-efficient car, we can all try something very ancient and yet, for many of us, very, very new, that can help save the world right NOW. It won’t cost a thing.  In fact, it will save you money. Are you ready? Let’s do this!

In the Judeo-Christian creation story, God “manipulates” (that’s my word) the elements for six days to create everything on the planet… water, sky, land, moon, sun, stars, plants, animals and humans.  And for one day, God leaves everything alone. God stops changing things. It says that God rests, but does God need a rest or does God know the earth needs a rest?  We have an environmental lesson here, and we don’t need to believe in any God or book or religion to catch it.  In fact, forget about the God part. Let’s talk science. What would the scientifically proven, number-crunching impact be on this planet if every single human could (and would if they could) simply leave the earth alone for one day – one, 24-hour period – each week?  Now I know many of us work nearly every day, and any day “off” is not so off and is filled with errands, sports and other activities for the kids, etc.  But what if we could clear the decks for just one day? And if not one day, maybe 12 hours? That’s not so hard if we include our sleeping time! Can we commit to an Eco-Shabbat?

Here are the rules of Eco-Shabbat…

For a designated amount of time (24 hours in a perfect world, but fewer if that is all we can do) we all take a Sabbath.  Now this Shabbat doesn’t have to follow any traditional Jewish (or other) rules. We can turn off the lights when we go to bed (that’s better for the earth not worse!) and walk to the farmer’s market and use money (buying locally without use of a car must be okay!).  Plus, it’s fine to “manipulate” the earth if it helps it, like planting a garden or a tree. But in the spirit of the creation story, for that designated time, we do minimal to no harm to the planet. What does this mean? It means for one day:

  • Put down that phone and turn off Netflix! — The average home uses approximately 2.5 kWh per day.  If the TV is off, the phones and tablets don’t need charging, the air conditioning only used for extreme heat, and the eco bulbs are only on when needed, we can take a nice chunk out of that usage.
  • Skip the shower! — Yes, still wash your hands and flush the toilet!  But a 15 minute shower uses 32 gallons of water. Maybe skip the shower for today or take a really, really short one.  Plus the energy used to heat the water will hike up the electric or gas usage. Oh, and while we are at it, put on a sweater and save some of the energy used for heating too.
  • Walk, bike or take public transit instead of driving!  — The average car gives off 20 pounds of CO2 each day.  Maybe we can find another way to get where we want/need to go?  
  • Go vegetarian!  — Now, I am NOT a vegetarian, so know this one truly comes from the heart and not part of any animal right agenda.  But eating vegan for one day can do more for the earth than everything above combined. Did you know that eating no animal products for one day is equivalent to taking your car off the road for 5 WEEKS??  So maybe it’s time to at least greatly limit our intake of meat, dairy, and eggs, and for our eco-Shabbat, pass the quinoa.

It’s time to take matters into our own hands.  We can’t wait and shouldn’t wait to save our planet.  Pick a day… pick half a day. Let’s do this, and let’s do it together!  Let’s give the planet and us a break. Let’s gather in each other’s homes and entertain and eat and inspire each other in ways that allow us to leave mother earth alone.  She needs a Sabbath more than anyone.


Liberal Judaism is (Mostly) Making the World a Better Place

There has been a fair amount of heat surrounding a recent cover article of the Jewish Journal, “Why Tikkun Olam Can’t Fix American Judaism,” and with good reason. Its author Gil Troy attacks liberal Judaism in which community is often based around tikkun olam action rather than around (as he describes them) “red lines.” He says, referring to the acceptance of intermarriage (which the editors chose to print in a bold, hot color), “How can a community survive with no red lines: not regarding belief, not regarding belonging, not regarding intermarriage, not regarding Israel?” Of course Troy is missing the fact that in the progressive movements, Rabbis are not supposed to create red lines or be judges of halacha. The whole point is to create a more universal and individual practice.
Mr. Troy’s article continues by insulting (as he calls them) “tikkun olam-ers,” and he supports his argument by citing a recent book entitled To Heal the World? by Jonathan Neumann. Troy states, “The tikkun olam overstretch, Newmann shows, reduces modern Judaism to an ‘E-Z listening’ format, covering American liberalism — but hostile to Jewish continuity…”
It’s enough to make any modern Jew cringe as we are attacked for what we thought was perfecting the world, not destroying it. Many Jewish leaders have come out against this article, including Rabbi Sharon Brous of IKAR who said on Twitter, “It is an ill-informed, unnecessarily antagonistic jab at an imaginary enemy: the pernicious, dimwitted liberal rabbi who cares so little for Judaism s/he’ll use it only to prop up the Dem Party platform.” And the irony is not lost on me that in this same copy of the Jewish Journal, there is an article about Rabbi Brous’s own son, who makes handmade dolls to raise money for the legal defense for children separated from their families at the border. The Journal enables the bashing of liberal activism and then supports its praise, 30 pages later.
In my mind, making such an article the cover story of the Jewish Journal alienates the progressive Jews among its readership,… a mistake they should not make. For how many of us who consider ourselves liberal activist Jews still pick up a copy of the JJ on our ways out of the deli with the goal of connecting to and feeling accepted by the greater Jewish community? How many of us will think twice before picking it up next time?
And yet, as much as as I disagree with Troy, and as queasy as I got reading his article, I am going to go out of my expected liberal commentary here and say there is one element of this article with which I do agree. It is true that some Jewish communities have become finger-wagging entities in which one who does not align with the liberal social/political agenda of the congregation does not and cannot feel comfortable (ironically, those are exactly the “red lines” Troy asks for, just [for him] drawn on the wrong sides of the issues). Now, I’m not saying that those causes they champion aren’t worthwhile. What I’m questioning is the purpose of synagogue and whether or not being lit by the same fire has to be a requirement for being part of a community.
At my own congregation, Cool Shul, I don’t think anyone wonders about my political leanings (especially if they peek at my personal Facebook feed). If they know me, they know how I tilt. But they also know they will still be embraced by me even if we disagree. We have created and nurtured an environment that is non-judgmental, and I don’t believe it is my role as their spiritual leader (not political leader or activism leader) to tell them what to think. I offer them traditions, possible interpretations, a few innovations, historical truths and facts, and then I ask them to make up their own minds about their activism. Yes, I’m sure that my curriculum is colored by my beliefs, but I never give conclusions. I don’t tell my young students or adult congregants what to do or what causes to get behind. I give options. I invite them to express their Jewish identity and spirituality through their choices, but it is up to them to figure out who they are, what they want to support, and at what level they will use their money, their bodies and their minds to do so. Yes, I invite them to join me in supporting the causes that mean something to me, but there is no shame when they choose not to.
To me, as a spiritual leader, I believe my job is to help my community find peace, stillness, and completeness (in other words, shalom), not force a fire of my choosing to burn within them. If marching in the streets is how they find their peace, how they can look at themselves in the mirror and believe they spent their freedom as they should, then they should go for it! However, if sitting in meditation and studying mindfulness is how they find peace, and what they need to do to be whole, then that’s how their time should be spent. If raising money, or teaching, or weaving, or painting, or registering voters, or anything else helps them in this crazy world to have the strength to carry on, that is what I wish for them. And for those who can do little more than care for their families and tend to the careers that allow for a roof over the childrens’ heads, no guilt. Their lives are full enough. The mistake some of us make is judging those who don’t choose to spend their time as we believe they should, and forgetting that inner-peace can emanate quietly but still do a world of good.
So, yes, we need to heal the world. Some of us do that on a grand level to affect large changes. Some of us do it on a more local level by delivering meals, donating blood, or volunteering at a hospital. And some of us feel so out of control already, all we can do is find a little quiet to center us before we snap. Action before peace can be effective, but I believe it will be more effective if a little stillness comes first.
There is a story about a Rebbe who was deeply studying Torah while his baby cried nearby in the cradle. He was so lost in his texts, he didn’t notice the wails and did nothing to soothe the child. However, the Rebbe’s father (another Rebbe) heard the cries, soothed the child, and later admonished his son saying, “No matter how engrossed one may be in the loftiest occupation, one must never remain insensitive to the cry of a child.”
This story is a double edged sword.
For Troy and Neumann, the lesson is: there is no point in studying Torah if we aren’t aware of the cries for help around us. If we don’t soothe those cries, we have missed the point of studying in the first place.
For those infuriated by those who won’t express their outrage at a desired level, in the same fashion, or on an agreed topic, there is a different lesson: we must listen to the cries of our children, loved ones and inner-selves as well as those outside of our immediate circles. If our minds or bodies are telling us we need a break and some self-care, we cannot continue on and ignore those calls for help unless the “doing” heals those injuries. And if our children (as has happened in my home) are showing signs of distress because our involvement in the “world out there” is causing our home lives to be strained, then we must hear those wails for attention and need as well.
The key is not to judge. Mr. Troy should not be judging the many ways in which American Jews discover and express their Jewish identities, including an identity based more on action than traditional religion. However, we also need to remember that people need to be allowed to believe what they believe, and that some peoples’ “activism” is quiet and subtle. We need to consider the possibility that an inner-knowing, peace, and strength will eventually help us do more, not less, for others.
At Cool Shul, my mission is to help our congregants find all of this, and then it’s up to them to decide where their feet will walk, where their signatures will fall, and for whom they will vote.
Peace photo


Light my Fire

Sharing my sermon from last Shabbat…

If his book The Sabbath is a window into Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s thinking, I believe that if he were commenting on Parshat Emor (the portion for last Shabbat), he would say that it deals a lot with time and not so much with space.  In his book, he emphasizes Shabbat as a way to reflect on time, and worry less (or theoretically not at all) about our space and what we may have or have not produced during the other 6 days in that space. 

So, in Parshat Emor, we are instructed to stop work and have a Sabbath of rest. We are told to eat unleavened bread for Passover. We are given rules about the Day of Atonement and Sukkot, and we are taught to bring an omer (a portion of the very first reaping) to the priest, followed by 7 weeks of counting until we were required to bring new grain.  Note that all of this is attached to a specific time and not to a place or space.

We are in the midst of the season of counting the Omer right now, which begins at Passover and ends at Shavuot.  It is considered a time of semi-mourning because when it was tied solely to agricultural concerns, we were worried about weather patterns and we knew (and those of us who have lived through extremely abnormal weather still know) how important good conditions are for the harvest.  It is also said that there was a great plague that afflicted the students of Rabbi Akiba at the time of the Omer and that that is why it’s a time of mourning. Observant Jews, therefore, refrain from public joyous activities during the Omer such as weddings, parties, listening to instrumental music, or even cutting one’s hair.

However on the 33rd day of the Omer there is a break called Lag B’Omer (33 being represented by the letters Lamed and Gimel which add up to 33 in their numeric equivalents).  It is a semi-holiday also about marking time.  Observant Jews move from utter seriousness to utter light-heartedness for one day. So there are bonfires symbolizing the light of the Torah, and folks go hiking. Children have field trips at school. There are many, many marriages on Lag B’Omer, and 3 year old boys line up for their celebratory first haircuts. … And all this was last Thursday.

As modern Jews we may or may not count the Omer, and we may or may not see this as a time of semi-mourning. But as with all things Jewish, we can always pull from the tradition a Universal lesson for us and for all humankind.  So, in the spirit of Lag B’Omer and the many bonfires that were lit recently, here is my question for you…

What lights your fire?

We all have times in our lives, maybe 7 weeks like the Omer, maybe longer or shorter, that are mournful or stressful or dark in one way or another.  And when we are facing difficult times, we all need a little break, don’t we? We need a chance to forget about whatever crisis we are swimming in, even if we only have the strength or ability for a small distraction.  And when we are in that situation, what lights us up?  What help us feel alive and charged and ready to take on reality?  Is it throwing Pottery? Or Volunteering?  Swimming in a lake??  Playing with children or grandchildren?  And do we really have to wait for an extended time of pain or for Lag B’Omer to light that fire? Can we dedicate a slice of time to adding some excitement to our lives even when things are pretty normal?

Take a moment now and think of at least 3 activities that light your fire.  And maybe give extra thought to ones that not only light your fire but someone else’s too through an act of loving kindness.  If you’re willing, share them in the comments so we can inspire each other to find even more ways to light our fires.

I’ll share some of mine to get you started

  1. Sleeping where I can hear the ocean
  2. Volunteering for Meals on Wheels
  3. Teaching
  4. Cuddling with my kids in the morning when we don’t have anywhere to be
  5. Traveling… anywhere.

So, to come full circle, let’s try to remember that it’s time that is precious. The way we spend that time and how we mark the cycles of that time are more precious than the products of that time.  And let’s, as part of that observance of the cycles of time, make sure that we find some activities that light our fires.  For some of them, maybe we can simultaneously light someone else’s fire too by bringing them joy, warmth, love, food, or care and a little distraction.  

So let’s seal this sermon with a blessing from Havdalah.

Baruch Atah Adonai, Eloheinu, melech ha-olam, borei m’orei ha-eish. 

Blessed is the Source of the creation of the light of the flame.

heart of fire

Gratitude is Prayer

I haven’t written a blog entry or done a video blog (I refuse to call if a Vlog!!) in awhile.  I apologize.  But I’m grateful for each and every word you read or listen to even after I have disappeared awhile. 🙂

So, here goes…

With my students, we often talk about the possibilities of and many forms there are to what we might call prayer.  For most teens, there is no point to any of it, and we have extremely interesting conversations about whether or not there IS a point to prayer.

To give my students an example of when and why prayer can be important, I often tell them about when my father was dying.  Yes, I prayed, but what does one pray for when one is dealing with an inevitable?  He was, at that time, already overwhelmed with cancer.  So, was I to pray for him to live?  That would have been asking for too much in my opinion.  That would have been asking for the impossible — a miracle on par with the splitting of the sea.  If I prayed for recovery, I would have only been disappointed that my prayer had not been “heard” or “wasn’t answered”.  But for me, there was still reason to pray.

What do we pray for in times of distress if not for recovery or miracles?  To me, prayer is all about gratitude, and my moment in distress was no different.  Maybe it’s a gratitude that we assign to an outside Force with a particular text or our own poetry.  Maybe it’s just an inner gratitude we can allow to emanate without any words at all.  To me, the deepest “prayer” I can muster is just a sensation of thanks.  If nothing else, it creates an opportunity for me to talk (even if it’s to myself) and an opening to realize what I really need at any given time, which is usually not a miracle.

So, for my father, all I prayed was gratitude… Thanks for the life we had together.  Thanks that I could be there with him and my mother at that crucial time.  Thanks that our relationship wasn’t complicated or riddled with unanswered questions.  Thanks that we had peace.  Instead of “God, would you?”, I prayed, “God, thank you.”

A few days ago, I found myself deep in prayer again.  No one was ill this time, fortunately, but I was definitely in full-prayer-mode as I awaited a 12-person jury to make a decision.  The issue wasn’t about me personally, but it was about an organization I cherish, love, rely upon, and desperately want to be safe and healthy.

You can probably guess that when I prayed, I didn’t ask God for a miracle.  I didn’t even ask God to give us the decision we hoped for, and I certainly didn’t pray for the decision to hurt the other side.  Instead, I tried to fill myself with gratitude for my family’s relationship with this organization and thanks for the many lives that had been touched by it.  I chose to simply pray for fairness and justice, not the ultimate possible outcome.  I kept repeating to myself like a mantra… “Please let there be fairness and justice, whatever that looks like.  Please let there be fairness and justice, whatever that looks like.”

I won’t get into the details, but I will tell you fairness was delivered (big sigh of relief!).  Do I think it was because I prayed?  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t.  🙂 But at least praying gave me a way to do something with and for myself in a time of feeling powerless.  It also forced me (and my entire family) to realize how lucky we are for the past and present, without focusing on the outcome of the future.

The next time you find yourself in a moment that calls for prayer, let it flow, whatever it is.  Don’t judge yourself if you don’t believe in God or if you think praying is silly.  Sometimes we just need to talk, and it doesn’t really matter if anyone is listening.  It’s just about us figuring out what we need to say.  And as you pray, even if the “prayer” is just an uprising of emotion, ask yourself what you REALLY need out of that moment.  Is it for an outcome?  Is it for a thing?  Or is it the opportunity to connect to the sliver of gratitude we can find in even the darkest of situations?

In fact, we usually say a Shehechianu at joyous occasions, but I’m starting to think it’s for the less joyous times too.  Perhaps the next time we find ourselves in a pickle, we can also say: Thank you (God) for my life which continues to flow, and thank you and for this exact moment right now, be it joyous or challenging.

Okay, maybe I took a little poetic license with the Shehechianu, but that’s what it means to me. 😉

Talk again you soon,

”Rantor” Diane


Would Sarah have said #metoo?

Hi Readers!

I’ve been waiting for the Torah to come around again to share this sermon from the Holy Days.  It examines Sarah’s journey through her life with Abraham, ending with the binding and near sacrifice of her son (which is our Torah portion this Shabbat).   It seems particularly relevant with the wave of women coming forward to share their stories of surviving in this patriarchal world.   It makes me ask if Sarah would have been a voice of #metoo.  But a warning… this questions everything we’ve been taught about our Torah and Abraham.  So be ready. 🙂

We read the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, every Rosh Hashanah morning.  Our reader today, with amazing skill, read about God calling to Abraham, Abraham answering, and God asking him to take his beloved son (whom God calls Abraham’s only [or unique] son even though Ishmael is also Abraham’s son… ponder that for a moment and we will get back to it…) to the land of Moriah and offer him as a sacrifice to God.

So, Abraham, certainly not winning any awards as “father of the year,” does just that. He brings his son to Moriah to be sacrificed, as asked.  Now, how old Isaac was at this time is unsure.  There are theories — as young as two and as old as 36.  The Torah does not suggest that father and son said much to each other during their journey except for Isaac asking, “Hey, dad! Where is the lamb for the offering?” So, it’s hard to know how mature Isaac was.  For the moment, instead of imagining an Isaac that is an emerging adult, let’s imagine him as a boy old enough to ask questions, but not old enough to resist his father’s bidding.

For those of you who were here last night, you heard my sermon about children feeling like their parents are as powerful as any king or queen.  Think of Isaac’s vision of Abraham here.  Most likely, to Isaac, Abraham was the sun or the moon, as important as any king.  But Abraham’s father figure is God himself, and almost like a small child, Abraham is blinded by the celestial light.

So you heard the rest of the story:  Abraham builds an alter, binds Isaac, and lifts his hand with a knife to sacrifice him.  Again, the Torah says nothing about Isaac.  Did he resist?  Was he afraid?  Was he simply too young to question his father?  But an extension of God calls out to Abraham to stop.  The parental figure, this “Avinu Malkeinu,” must restrain his child Abraham, because, maybe, his child didn’t fully understand the directions given or perhaps the Father regretted his words, not realizing the extent of power he held over his spiritual son.

We can explain these events and preserve a fully positive vision of Abraham with the many commentaries that provide such support.  But I’m wondering if our patriarchal authors, in recording this story, didn’t want us to examine closer WHY Abraham was willing to do such a thing, and whether or not Sarah… a woman with her own flaws for sure, should actually be the one considered the true parent of the Jewish people.

For those of you who read the Red Tent with me (which is the feminist point of view of Jacob’s family, told through the eyes of Dinah), I’m playing with the same theme.  What would the Abraham story be, if told from the perspective of Sarah?

Now, to understand the mental state of Sarah and perhaps excuse some of her quirks, we have to reach back to when she first has a real role in the Torah. We first get to know of her when she (who was named Sarai back then) and Abraham (who was Avram) are suffering from a great famine and enter Egypt — the Torah’s favorite place for tragedies. Avram, commenting on how beautiful his wife is, decides he should tell the Pharoah that Sarai is only his sister so that the Pharoah doesn’t kill him in order to have Sarai for himself.  In fact, the Pharoah does want Sarai, and in return not only did Avram get to keep breathing, but he also got sheep and oxen and he-asses and she-asses and men-servants and maid-servants and camels, including Hagar who will soon have a starring role in our story.  Nice trade.  But according to the text, God steps in.  God plagues the Pharoah and his house, and once the truth is known, Avram and Sarai head off, now wealthy in cattle, silver and gold.

Okay, ladies.  Tell me…  If during hard times, your husband decided to let another man have you so that he (and okay, both of you) got to live and become rich, what would you say?  Even if it was royalty?   There is no comment about how Sarai felt about all of this just as later in the Torah Isaac seems oddly quiet.  But we know that according to the Torah, God didn’t approve of Avram’s actions and stood by the side of Sarai.  And Sarai is barely mentioned as we continue with Avram’s story.  Was she well?  Did she change? Did she suffer from a little PTSD from her husband pimping her out to the Pharoah?  We don’t know.  The Torah is silent.

What we do know is that Sarai is barren and asks Avram to have a child with her handmaiden, Hagar.  What follows does not make Sarai look good as she becomes full of rage and jealousy for the handmaiden and the boy.  But when a woman had a child through a handmaiden at that time, that child belonged to her.  This is a notion that may seem insane to us now, but Sarai felt robbed.  Ishamael remained Hagar’s son.  Sarai didn’t name him, she didn’t raise him, she didn’t care for him.  She allowed her husband this blessing but the return never came.  How could Sarai not feel burned, watching Avram’s excitement for his new child?  How could she not still remember the heart ache of being given so easily away and feel the pain of the reality of her lack of child?  What reason did Sarai have to trust Avram that she, the barren older wife, would remain in any position with him when she knew he could give her away, because he had done it before?

And guess what?  As they traveled south to Gerar, Abraham (not Avram anymore, now fully blessed by God as Sarah was) offers Sarah to King Avimelech.  He does it again!  Claiming she was only his sister… again!  And once again God intervened. According to the Torah, the King never touched her, but interestingly, it is after she is given to the King that she conceives Isaac and not before.  We wouldn’t be thinking critically if we didn’t ask, is Isaac even Abraham’s son??

Regardless of who the baby-daddy was, we have to ask why is it that Sarah couldn’t be compassionate with Hagar and Ishmael still, even now with her own baby.  But I ask, how damaged was Sarah?  Twice given away?  The website Healthy Place states that when emotionally abused, one could show signs such as confusion, anxiety, aggression, low self esteem, emotional instability, and lack of trust.  Well, that would explain a lot.

But I also wonder if Sarah was unsure if Isaac was actually Abraham’s son. Perhaps she felt she needed to send Ishamel away knowing that HE was truly Abraham’s only child? And did Abraham suspect it as well?  Is that why he was willing to sacrifice Isaac?  And did God call Isaac Abraham’s ONLY son because God was trying to convince him otherwise, whether it was true or not?

And what happened after the attempt to sacrifice Isaac?  Can you imagine the tale Isaac must have told his mother when he returned home?  Well, Sarah and Abraham lived in separate places…  Abraham in Beer-Sheva and Sarah in Hebron 26 miles away.   Why? Did Sarah hate Abraham for what he did and demand that they separate?   Did she stand up for her son in a way she couldn’t for herself?  And where did Isaac live when his parents split?  We don’t hear of him again until after Sarah’s death when he is with his father in search of a bride.  But I’ll put my money on Isaac choosing to live with mom.

So, Reflecting on all of this, I believe that Sarah should be considered equally, if not more than Abraham, the parent of our generations.  Now, make no mistake, the Torah tells no other version than the one in which Abraham is a prophet of God, and my midrash here is nothing but one that would be rejected by most.  But as critical readers and thinkers, we must question everything.  Yes, we can still love Abraham, because all of our Biblical ancestors were flawed and made many mistakes. This is why we can love them… because they truly are our parents and aunts and uncles and cousins — human — in some ways strong and in some ways quite weak.  The same can be said for Sarah.   But I would love to be able to hear this tale told again through her eyes and see how our understanding of Biblical history might change.  Sarah is the loving parent of Isaac who protected him even when she couldn’t stand up for herself and separated them both from Abraham’s misguided ways.  She intervened, as God did, to protect her son from an unhealthy father/son relationship as long as she could.  She is our mother, and she is worthy to have her name placed at least beside if not before her husband’s.  

And so, I offer you a feminist version of the first paragraph of our Amidah… Baruchah At Shechina, Eloheinu veilohei imoteinu… Elohei Sarah, Elohei Rivkah, Elohei rachel, V’elohei Leah.  Blessed is Shechinah, God of our Mothers… God of Sarah, God of Rebecca, God of Rachel, God of Leah.  And by the way, let’s add Zilpah and Bilhah who may have been handmaidens, but were also the mothers of the tribes of Israel.

May Sarah and all the women who identify with her, women who find themselves feeling like they could be given away, like they cannot find stability within themselves or around themselves, find peace and place themselves and their names beside if not before their husbands’.  And may they find storytellers to tell their stories through their eyes, even if other versions of their histories keep them oddly silent.   


Join Cool Shul for upcoming events:

Havdalula (Havdalah and dinner at Lula’s!_

Social Action Committee (meets November 15)

Possible Adult B’nei-Mitzvah class (email me,, for info)

Say YES to Diversity

Sharing my Yom Kippur morning sermon, in honor of my kids’ school New Roads School, and in honor of those who keep being harmed just for being themselves.

When my kids were small, my 15 year old still in elementary school, we were having a day at the beach when a little boy came over and asked if he could play with them and their sand toys.  I don’t remember what they were doing… some imaginary process that involved multiple steps of pouring and measuring sand and sea water.  I’m pretty sure they were content alone, but they said yes, and the boy joined in.

What was interesting was that the little boy had some challenges with speech, communication, and what might be considered normative age appropriate behavior, and that was clear from the moment he came over.  But the children happily played together, led by my daughter as the oldest, and I remember my husband and I being proud of both of our kids as they adapted and re-adapted to the situation and created space so they could all enjoy that experience together.

When the little boy’s mother came over and told him they had to go, my husband and I praised our kids for opening their minds and their hearts to the child when they could have easily frozen under the pressure to entertain themselves and him since the interactions weren’t always easy.  My daughter responded with, “We learn how to get along with everyone at New Roads!”  We smiled knowing that the reason we had chosen the school we did was evident in her.

My kids go to New Roads School, and a big part of why is because of the promise of that exact moment.  It’s a school that was created to reflect the diversity of Los Angeles.  On an obvious level, that means children of all colors.  But on a deeper level unapparent to the eye, that means socio-economic diversity, sexual orientation diversity, gender identification diversity, and of course, a diverse community of learners with a variety of strengths, struggles, and quirks.  At New Roads, we have it all, but because we have the flexibility that comes with being a small school, the teachers are able to guide the students to not just navigate AROUND each other but to to navigate WITH each other. This is part of the culture and the curriculum.  And this isn’t just lip service.  It is truly what happens every single day.

Now, this all sounds lovely, but being a private school that does not send a child away as soon as he/she demonstrates an inconvenient truth about him/herself is messy business. I’m sure most of us believe diversity is important and don’t imagine ourselves as people who would run away from the opportunity to navigate WITH and not AROUND, but I also think we need to reach deep down inside and admit our own inconsistencies.  Are we nervous for our children to be around other kids who learn differently from how they learn?  Or for us to be around people who aren’t the same religion?  Are we nervous about having friends not in the same socio-economic strata? Or chatting with those who don’t share similar political beliefs?  Placing ourselves in unfamiliar social territory is messy business for us too.  So maybe we desire it, but in the end, pull ourselves and our children away from the opportunity to live and breathe diversity.

But you know what?  Diversity is good for us, like kale and exercise.  

In an article presented by the Century Foundation entitled, “How Racially Diverse Schools and Classrooms Can Benefit All Students” it is examined how diversity in K-12 schools benefits students intellectually, culturally, and in attaining important life-skills. It says:  

As Amy Stuart Wells, Lauren Fox, and Diana Cordova-Cobo of Teachers College Columbia vividly demonstrate in this important new report, “the benefits of school diversity run in all directions.” There is increasing evidence that “diversity makes us smarter,” a finding that selective colleges long ago embraced, and increasing numbers of young parents are coming to appreciate at the K–12 level. The authors write: “researchers have documented that students’ exposure to other students who are different from themselves and the novel ideas and challenges that such exposure brings leads to improved cognitive skills, including critical thinking and problem solving.”  

…Apart from the cognitive benefits, there are additional reasons increasing numbers of middle-class families now want to send their children to diverse schools. Middle-class and white Millennials realize that their children are growing up in a very different country, demographically, than previous generations. For the first time since the founding of the republic, a majority of public school K–12 pupils in the United States are students of color. Students can learn better how to navigate adulthood in an increasingly diverse society—a skill that employers value—if they attend diverse schools. Ninety-six percent of major employers, Wells, Fox, and Cordova-Cobo note, say it is “important” that employees be “comfortable working with colleagues, customers, and/or clients from diverse cultural backgrounds.”

And so, understanding that getting out of our comfort zones and inviting in the “other” is good for us and our children, how do we, day to day, invite these opportunities into our lives?  Schools and jobs are part of the answer, but can we go beyond?  After recent events in Charlottesville, not to mention around the world, sitting around a table with diverse ideas and beliefs seems less and less feasible, doesn’t it?  How do we educate those who want to shut out diverse people and thoughts and lifestyles about the benefits?  How do we encourage a diverse population toward choosing peace?  How do we encourage each other to vote for diversity?  How do we invite into our spheres even those would dare to march down the street with torches in their hands chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”? For if we are to have true diversity, beyond color or religion or gender or identity, we have to walk toward those who appall us.  We can’t only run in the other direction.  

An article from the Jewish publication “The Forward” gave me a piece of the answer.  In it the author suggests that the way to combat intolerance is not through our own hate and rejection, but to go directly to the communities that breed this kind of belief and… lift them up.  According to the author, Neo-Nazis are primarily products of broken homes, and the author refers to a Washington Post article that cites “an economy capsized, a job market contracted, a student-loan crisis erupted” as economic factors. Young men who need a place to belong, need a family, and need to blame someone for their situations, find homes within the Neo-Nazi movement.  The article reads:

What would it mean for American Jews to combat not merely Neo-Nazism, but also the conditions that contribute to it?  For American Jewish organizations, it would require opposing economic policies… that widen the chasm between America’s rich and poor. It would require pushing for more funding for the treatment of opioid addiction, and the kinds of issues that American Jewish groups don’t typically consider part of their agenda.

If we, as Jews, help those who are in these small towns where the poverty level is impossibly high with the mills closed, the jobs gone, and hope vanished and be part of their solution, we can change opinions. With the refugee crisis, Jewish organizations took the lead in guiding families not only to help them thrive but also to show them that American Jews are not a community to fear but one to embrace.  It may be time for us to embrace more communities where hatred is born and bred.

So, after our morning service today, part of our afternoon activities is going to be having a round table conversation about possible Tikkun Olam projects with the goal of doing something we don’t normally do as Jews… invest in depressed town where the community is nearly or in fact is one hundred percent non-Jewish, and invest not only in their futures, but in encouraging them to find faith-based organizations to call home.  In other words, help them find a church.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you.  I wanted to come up with some amazing task already set for us today.  But, as you may have guessed, it is difficult finding churches in small towns who answer the call for a synagogue to help them with church membership. 🙂  And when one of them referred me to a Rabbi that does a lot of interfaith work in North Carolina, her response was that we should “focus on the hurricane victims”.  I told her I didn’t understand why we had to choose.  So, instead we are going to have an open dialogue, brainstorm and collaborate how we could start a Jewish effort to lessen anti-semitism.  How do we go to the breeding grounds of hate and make a difference?

The end of the article in The Forward says:

In ways that would have been unimaginable to the Jews of medieval France, or 20th-century Eastern Europe, we answer hate by repairing the country in which we live. This is not a moment to turn inward. It’s a moment to reach out to the places we usually ignore or dismiss. By instilling hope in others, we can provide safety for ourselves.

In honor of my kid’s school, New Roads, and the many murdered or injured in the name of hate, let’s talk today and find a way to bring a little joy to a place that needs some hope.  And let’s pray that our efforts will encourage just one young man or woman to say no to anti-semitism, racism, sexism, and homophobia, and say YES to diversity.

**Since most of this blog’s readers were not with us when we held our discussion, please feel free to comment here with your ideas.**


Avinu Malkeinu is Also Dad

I want to share my sermon from Erev Rosh Hashanah with you.  I hope you will join me at Yom Kippur to sing Avinu Malkeinu together again.

Avinu Malkeynu… Our father, our King.

Imanu Malkateynu… Our mother, our Queen.

For many of us, it is when we hear these words, Avinu Malkeinu, and hear the haunted melodies that elevate them, that we finally feel transported into the powerful possibilities of the Holy Days.  And as our spiritual leaders guide us in a call/response — them calling out the Hebrew “Avinu Malkeinu Shema Koleinu!”, us responding with “Avinu Malkeinu, hear our prayer!”— what sometimes seems like an extremely distant relationship with this traditionally defined Divine parent can fold just an inch or two into the divide.  We plead with the idea of God, with this parental figure – to hear us, to remember us, to forgive us, to give us a good year.  We become intoxicated with the grandeur of the moment.  At least I always do.

But I’m going to ask you to help me take away all of this grandeur for just a second. Instead, let’s attempt to make the experience a bit more personal.  Perhaps in this intimacy, we will find an even more potent majesty.

Our Father our King, or our Mother our Queen… Imagine for a moment that you are literally the child of a king and queen.  To the world they are as all-powerful and all-important as they are to you.  But the outside world could never understand what it’s like to have your king also be “daddy” and your queen also be “mommy.”  For the children of royalty, the relationship is closer than anyone else can imagine, for you experience them intimately on a day-to-day basis.  I guess in L.A., it’s kind of like being the child of movie stars.  We just can’t picture George Clooney in his underwear (as much as we might want to) or in bed with the flu, unless we are part of his normal life.

But, in some ways, I believe we are all the children of kings and queens and movie stars. Can’t nearly all of us recall a time when we were very young that we believed our parents were the sun and the moon and All Powerful in our eyes?  Can’t we recall how their words, their sideways glances, their approval, and their admonishment seemed to make the whole world change?  Weren’t they as important to us as any king or queen?  

Some of us, now adults, still experience this dynamic with our parents, even when we know it’s time to carve out our own space.  We still are moved and shaken by a parental word or look or silence, or now… a text. 🙂    We feel ourselves still shrinking in their power, even if their energy has not shared this earth with us for a long, long time.  And those of us who are parents, while still looking above ourselves, may forget that we have children (or grandchildren) who are in some stage of processing who we are.  Are we sun and the moon to them?  Or have our lights begun to fade in the minds of teenaged children?  Or is our status slowly returning as those children emerge as their own adults, soon to have their own princes and princesses?  We may forget, while we still feel like we are standing in the shadows of our royal parents that our own children are blocking out the sun by hovering in our shadows.  They have visions of us we will never completely understand as our parents could never completely understand us.  And so it is with every parent.  We are all part of this cycle.

And so, as we address this Divine parent – be that parent literal or figurative in your mind, are we really any different than any other children who are in awe of their parents?  Are we not just children asking for attention?  Asking to be safe?  Asking for guidance?  Asking the questions we know cannot really be answered, but we ask them anyway because we want to be comforted, and held, and told that everything will be okay?

Avinu Malkeinu… Shema Koleynu… (Our father , our King, Hear our voices).  Dad, please listen to me.

Avinu Malkeinu… chatanu l’fanecha… (Our father, our King, We have done wrong before you.)  Dad, I’ve done something you won’t like, and I’m nervous about how you are going to react.

Imanu Malkateinu… chamol aleinu v’al olaleinu v’tapeinu… (Our mother our Queen, Be compassionate with us and our children.)  Mom, please remember that I am still learning and try to be kind as you deal with me and when you judge how I am raising your grandchildren.

Imanu Malkateinu… kaley dever v’cherev v’ra’av mei-aleinu… (Our mother our Queen, Keep from us sickness, war, hunger, and destruction.) Mom, can you help me? I don’t feel well. Can you help me? I’m hungry.  Can you help me? I’m afraid.  

Avinu Malkeinu… kaley chol tzar umastin mey-aleinu… (Our father, our King, keep us from being persectued.)  Dad, can you keep me safe, even from those who would harm me simply for being me?

Imanu Malkateinu… kotveinu b’sefer chayim tovim… (Our mother our Queen, inscribe us in the book of a good life.) Mom, can you teach me how to be happy, how to be satisfied with my life?

Avinu Malkeinu… chadeish aleinu shana tovah… (Our father, our King, renew us for a good year). Dad, can you provide for me, at least for this year?

Now try to go back to a moment when you stood before your parents.  Maybe close your eyes.  Do they feel like the sun or the moon?  Maybe you asked them one of these questions I just asked.  Maybe you asked something else?  Maybe these kinds of questions were racing through your mind but you didn’t know how to form them or were afraid to utter them?  Maybe you stood silently wishing you could ask the un-askable.  Maybe it was all a feeling, and you didn’t even know what to ask to lessen the heartache.  Maybe you still have questions for them that have gone unanswered.  What would you ask now if you could?   

We will now read and sing and try to be heard, if not by a Divine parent, at least by ourselves and by each other.  For whether or not our messages are received, we need to receive them for the next generation.  Yes, let’s ask if we can be heard but we also need to ask, do we listen?  Yes, ask, can we be safe but also ask, do we protect?  Plead to be provided for, but also wonder, do we provide?  We may want to be forgiven for not always being the people others want us to be, but do we have understanding for others who fall short of our visions?  We may not always be the people we want us to be, but can we forgive ourselves?  Love me, care for me, hold me, we direct others, but are we instruments for love, care, and embrace?   We hope it’s never too late for the answers to be YES, but we also need to never create time lines for ourselves or others.  

It’s never too late to become YES.

Leaders Don’t Lead Alone

I’m not ready.

Taking a walk today, I started to feel an overwhelming sense of unpreparedness for the Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is just a few days away, and yes all of my music is in order, yes I have prepared everything I’m going to say, yes the choir and musicians have been rehearsed, and yes our Torah chanter is amazing (she really is!).   The “me” that is the hardworking, organizing, “CEO” of Cool Shul is definitely ready, but what about the me that is a wife, mother, daughter, friend, and spiritual leader?  Is she ready?  Am I as prepared inside as I am on the outside?  The answer is no.

Who am I to think I could or should lead others?  Who am I, so full of flaws and stress and worries, to think I have any business telling others how to process their own? Here I am, full of doubts and fears as it relates to personal and career matters, the earth’s wellness, and (of course!) national and international affairs.   I don’t have any answers, much less all of them!  I’m as confused as the next guy (ok, gal).  So, what profound thing am I supposed to say at the Holy Days that hasn’t already been said about Charlottesville or the hurricanes or the government or the world, when here I stand without any prescriptions for remedies?  Who the (bleep!) do I think I am to lead anyone? 

Maybe I’m weak.

Or… maybe I’m right where I’m supposed to be.

We know what it’s like when leaders forget that their roles are to serve the people and not vice-versa.  We have all experienced occasions on which people in powerful positions, be they teachers, clergy, bosses, or (gulp!) politicians, are no longer humbled by their opportunities to lead and make decisions to benefit themselves more than others (even if they can’t see it).  I suppose it’s healthier to be nervous about my ability to lead than overconfident.  So, maybe I’m perfectly hesitant, right where I should be.

At the Holy Days, the Cantor chants Hineni, a text in which we spiritual leaders admit that we are not strong enough to take on the responsibilities of the community.  We admit that we are afraid in the face of our leadership.  We cry out loud that we are here, but that we are humbled before the task at hand.  I suppose that is just where I am.  And that’s okay.  I have always thought that Rabbis (or any other spiritual leaders for that matter) aren’t supposed to be expected to (or act as if) they have all the answers.  We are simply humans with positive and less positive traits.  We search our tradition for our own answers, but we truly can only share with our communities where we are in our own learning. We don’t have all the answers (and if we say we do, run!).  So, Hineni, here I am, humbled before the task to lead my community through these days, but ready to share what I have discovered.  Nothing more.  But also nothing less.

These Holy Days, I will be honored by each and every presence before me who invites me into their spiritual realms.  But I will also ask you to lead too. Every educator knows that students often teach as much as they learn.  I promise to try to lift my community up and share a thing or two, but I hope you will also do the same for me and the person sitting next to you.  Let’s all teach and share.  Great leaders don’t lead alone, and I can’t wait to hear about your journeys.

Join me, either in person or online these Holy Days.  We will be in Temescal Canyon, inspired by the trees peeking through the windows of Cheadle/Woodland Hall.

Reserve a place at our Holy Days Here.

Become my “friend” on Facebook so you can see our live stream here.

A special thank you to my friend who delivers meals for Meals on Wheels with me every week and who inspired this blog.  Today she led me. 🙂GREAT_LEADERS

Dance Partners

My blog this week is coming to you from the UJUC website.  It’s the last of my vacation-inspired writings… at least until the Holy Days.  🙂

See if I can convince you that Jewish and Hawaiian spirituality intersected at some point. 🙂

Dance Partners

Rabbi Diane Rose
Those of us who are part of progressive spiritual groups and participate in interfaith activities often speak of the belief that all religions are here to serve the same purpose in different ways. Whether we are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu… aren’t we all searching for answers, working toward peace, and living our lives according to a structure that reminds us to connect to our communities and to our inner-worlds? I believe the answer is yes.

We cannot deny, however, that our Books and Teachers don’t always preach this. Yes, we can stay safe and quote Leviticus:

“The stranger that sojourns with you shall be as the home-born to you, and you shall love him as yourself.”

Or Hillel:

“What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow man.”

Or Jesus:

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

or the Quron:

“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48).

But we can just as easily point out the opposite from each religion. The Israelites were not to adopt any rituals from their neighbors and in fact were to destroy their altars, pillars, and sacred trees. The Gospel of John has some not-very-nice things to say about Jews, and the Quron outlines some serious doom and gloom for non-believers.

But I still hold on to my belief that all of our religions have been dancing with each other since humanity first asked the question, “Where did we come from?” I hold on to the idea that our goals are (or at least used to be) the same, and that we have learned and borrowed from each other since we first searched for a God. So it is really refreshing when we find those undeniable interconnections between religions or cultures. Think of the incredible similarities between the stories of Gilgamesh and Noah, or the many religions with creation stories that begin with the world being a dark, watery emptiness.

Well, I may have a new one, and I learned all about it at… a Luau.

“Ha” in Hawaiian means “the sacred breath of life.” When we think about common Hawaiian words, many include “ha.” Alo-ha, Ha-waii, O-ha-na, Ma-ha-lo. These words aren’t just about a greeting, a place, a family, and a thank you. They are infused with the idea that when we speak to one another, our sacred breath is acknowledging the sacred breath of the other.

I find it interesting that in Judaism we have S-ha-lom which not only includes a “ha” but also closely matches the meaning of Aloha. Aloha is known as hello and goodbye, but it also means love, compassion, warmth, and friendliness (think of when people say “the spirit of Aloha”). Shalom similarly means hello and goodbye as well as peace (as any kid who had a Jewish education can tell you), but the root of Shalom, Shin-Lamed-Mem, means complete. Shalom is the completion of the soul… the way to peace. Doesn’t Shabbat Shalom mean a lot more than just a peaceful Shabbat? Two complex words at the center of Jewish and Hawaiian spirituality.

Of course, we cannot discuss “ha” without talking about Avram. In the Torah, God gave Avram a “ha” and Sarai an “h” (hey) as well when God blessed them as God’s own and promised them they would be the parents of a peoplehood. Their names were affected by God, the sacred breath of life now infused in them.

Maybe this is a stretch, but even just the word “ha” in Hebrew (which means “the” ) could have a spiritual connection. Everything definite has the letter hey in front of it. Each item, person, place, even adjective, with the “h” sound is as sure and true and real as our breath. Maybe not connected to Hawaiian language, but I like it anyway.

I wish the Hebrew word for breath/spirit was Ru-cha instead of Ru-ach. If it was, I’d be doin’ a mic drop. Maybe it’s close enough that we have to flip the letter chet and the “ah” vowel so it at least looks like Ru-cha?

Now, I don’t know if Hawaiian culture and Jewish culture ever danced around one another early enough to affect each other in these ways. It would be fascinating (for someone smarter than I am!) to find out if the trading and emigrating communities ever ended up in the same place at the same time. But even if they didn’t, I am going to add a little extra “ha” to my Hebrew and infuse the sound with my belief that we all share the same sacred breath of life.

And with that I say, S-HA-lom and Alo-HA to you. 🙂

The Spirituality of a Knotted Ball of Yarn


This is literally the knotted ball of yarn that is in my hand.  Please don’t ask me to share how it got this bad.  It had something to do with me (as my kitting-expert daughter said) “not respecting the yarn.” And it might have also had something to do with me yanking on one end out of frustration (I searched google for the best way to untangle knotted yarn, and the article I found said: Whatever you do, don’t pull.  Oops).  The result is the worst tangled web of gorgeous handmade yarn perhaps in the history of string.

Now, this yarn was expensive… for yarn.  But not expensive for my life.  So, why oh why have I spent countless hours slowly following the loose end through each twisted lock only to be (again according to the knitting expert) half-way through?  Well, I’m not sure if my obsession about this little project of mine is 100% healthy, but I am not giving up.  I’m not sure what it is, but I must be getting something out of working through this labyrinth.

I think part of the attraction has been the hope that the next achievement would lead to a big reward of loosened material.  But, of course, one knot seems to lead straight to another with minimal freedom.  Just like life, right?  Bam!  We hit a road block and we have to choose whether to go around it or try to push ourselves through.  Whichever we choose, bam!  Another road block waiting for us on the other side.  Now which way do we go??

My yarn didn’t have to be such a nightmare.  I’m the one who made it worse by trying to shake it and pull it and find a simple way out instead of doing the painstaking work of following the path before me.  Don’t we do the same when we hit those road blocks?  We try to ram our way through a problem or toward wealth or fame rather than take one step at a time with grace and finesse?  I know I have!

So maybe my attraction to solving my yarn puzzle is part of a wish I could go back and undo some of the choices I have made when I stumbled along the way.  Maybe it’s to undo some of my wrongs.  Maybe it’s to prove to myself that when I hit my next life-snag there will be a path to peace. Maybe it’s to show myself that there is always a solution when the world seems like it’s out of solutions.  Maybe it’s to prove that life is a labyrinth.

Rabbi Marshal Klavin asked a group whether or not they see their lives as mazes or labyrinths.  Interesting, the younger set saw their lives as mazes, as a set of twist and turns where they could get stuck and never make it to their goals.  The older set saw their lives as labyrinths, as paths so wrapped around themselves one could feel lost but also know that, in the end, we all get where we need to go.

May we all think of our lives as labyrinths, all of us on the way to where we need to go even if it seems frightening and far away, and let’s try to remember not take one end of the labyrinth and pull like I did.  That’s the only way to get stuck.

And may I finally finish this stupid yard!!!!!  🙂


Miserable in Paradise

Hello readers!

First an apology for being gone for so long… end of year madness turned into a much needed vacation which turned into blogs written but not posted.  So, here is my first of three vacation inspired blogs. 🙂

Miserable in Paradise

Ok, I wasn’t really miserable, but “Kind of Down in Paradise” wasn’t a catchy title.  I was in Paradise though… spending my days watching ocean waves crash on rocks from under a shady tree.  And I was working some stuff out that left me feeling a little low for a few days despite my surroundings.

Most of us usually go on vacation to get away from it all, and this was no exception.  The family had been through a bit of stress this spring, and we agreed that our summer trip would be a do-nothing-but-sit-by-the-pool/beach kind of experience.  We arrived at our beachy spot with the expectation of leaving all of our worries behind and enjoying some uninterrupted family time.  But as we all know, worries don’t get left behind like an extra pair of flip-flops, and my issues definitely came along for the ride.

My walks on the sandy shore included serious conversations with my husband about subjects we knew we had to deal with but hadn’t had the emotional or chronological space at home.  Our time splashing in the pool included a few arguments with the kids that probably needed to occur to help us and them be heard as well as help them grow up.  But most affecting my mood were my quiet moments alone which forced me to face the loss of my father… a loss I had processed intellectually but discovered my heart hadn’t quite caught up.  The result was feeling a (little) miserable in paradise.

At first I was angry at myself for not being in pure bliss on my vacation, but then it hit me.  Yes, vacations are there, in part, to escape the norm, but maybe (and more importantly), they are also there to unpack what has been going on in our lives with a little distance and a new perspective.  It’s a time to deal with all of the things that get swept under the rug during our day-to-day cluttered lives.  We need the quiet to even hear ourselves and each other, and that can lead to resolving conflicts and stored away emotions… not always the most pleasant way to spend a vacay.

Perhaps this is all that religious practice is supposed to do for us as well.  In Judaism, Shabbat is to be a mini-vacation every week, filled with family and friends and prayer and peace.  However, maybe it is in that silence that we find the internal dusty corners that need to be cleaned out and end up arguing with ourselves or each other over Shabbat lunch.  Maybe in the act of prayer, the search for God can lead to a revelation of our unresolved issues rather than the revelation of something Divine.

Much like vacation, we have expectations that religious observance should make us feel only positive.  We are waiting to feel peace, feel connection, feel Holy.  When we don’t, we are disappointed and sometimes become disillusioned with doing anything spiritual at all.  And yet, maybe things like prayer and a Sabbath (and a vacation) were never meant to lead us toward being “one” with the Universe but simply toward being “one” within ourselves.  To do that means clearing out a lot of internal muck.  And maybe instead of running away from those thoughts and feelings, we need to run to them, work on them, process them, resolve them, and only then possibly get a glimmer of peace.

After a few days of quiet and facing what needed to be faced, I did start to truly enjoy my time in paradise.  It just took a little effort and work.  The next time you are entering a moment of religious action (or inaction) or prayer, remember that it is probably going to take some effort and work for you to find peace then too.  Don’t judge yourself.  Don’t run away from the opportunity, but accept the dissonance with open arms rather than a defiant fist.  Allow the work to happen without a goal in mind, and then just be grateful when that second or two of peace washes over you.  Something Divine may emerge from peace, but Holiness may also appear out of resolution, and for that, the conflict must exist first.


Stay tuned for my next vacation-inspired blog which is about… yarn (I bet that’s not what you expected).

Talk soon and feel free to comment and send me your thoughts.

Rabbi Di

unhappy vacation

The Poem “Refugees”

Last Sunday, I participated with Ikar, HIAS (the Jewish organization committed to relocating and advocating for ALL refugees), and several other communities in a Vigil at the LA Museum of the Holocaust remembering the SS. St. Louis.  In 1939 this luxury boat was loaded with German Jewish refugees who were fleeing Nazi persecution and travelled to Cuba to await their quota number in order to be able to enter the United States.  This was the last hope for many of these refugees as visas had tightened after so many had fled in 1938 immediately after Kristallnacht.  The tickets for this voyage were expensive, and families had to sacrifice enormously to find or earn the money for the passage.

A nazi flag flew over the boat, but the captain ordered the crew to treat the passengers as they would any other.  The passengers actually enjoyed themselves with fine food and lots of on-board activities.  However, just a few days after they departed, the captain got word that his passengers might not be allowed to disembark after all because of changing political tides.  But the boat carried on and those on board kept hoping.

When the SS St. Louis reached Cuba, they were denied entry except for 29 of the 937 passengers.  The US tried to convince Cuba to take them, but the boat ended up heading for the US instead with 907 refugees still aboard.  But when they reached the US, they were denied entry again.  Pressure was put on Canada to accept the people, but they were denied a third time.

Refusing to take these people back to Germany, the captain returned to Europe and took them to Belgium.  They were accepted by the UK, France, Belgium, and the Netherlands.  But with the Nazi invasion of Europe, 254 of them, a little over 1/4 died… 254 people that could have been safe in Cuba or the US or Canada, but were sent away.

With this story in mind, and considering today’s new ruling against the President’s travel ban, I bring your attention to the poem below by Brian Bilston.  Read it twice… once forward and once backward, and see how identical words can be turned around, much the way the SS St. Louis was turned around again and again.


They have no need of our help
So do not tell me
These haggard faces could belong to you or me
Should life have dealt a different hand
We need to see them for who they really are
Chancers and scroungers
Layabouts and loungers
With bombs up their sleeves
Cut-throats and thieves
They are not
Welcome here
We should make them
Go back to where they came from
They cannot
Share our food
Share our homes
Share our countries
Instead let us
Build a wall to keep them out
It is not okay to say
These are people just like us
A place should only belong to those who are born there
Do not be so stupid to think that
The world can be looked at another way

(now read from bottom to top)

To learn about the poet, go here:

To help refugees, become a supporter of HIAS at

To support the LA Museum of the Holocaust, go to

To support Cool Shul so we can keep making the world a better place filled with non-judgmental, flexible, open-minded Judaism, go to


Be Your Own Best… (fill in the blank)

I once had a student who asked me a little angrily, “Why do you always answer every question with another question??!!”  Of course, I had to answer, “Why do you think I do that?” 🙂   My student left exasperated that day, but a week later he returned and told me he had been thinking about why it is that I always answered his questions with another question and had an answer.  He said:

“I guess it’s because eventually everyone loses his mentor and has to mentor himself.”


I have been thinking a lot lately about mentoring myself, about being my own Rabbi.  Recently, as I have been dealing with issues of illness, life, birth and death, I have found that all of my training goes right out the window when I’m dealing with my own life and my own family.  Sure, philosophical thoughts sound wonderful when advising someone outside of that inner-sanctum, but when everything hits close to home, all of those lofty ideas can sounds straight up silly to me.  However, as I have been traveling through the realities of my reality, I have tried to ask myself, “Well, what would I tell me right now if I was my own congregant?”  Asking this question actually helped.  If we can quiet down our minds long enough to step back from our own situations and imagine what we would tell another, the answers come more easily.

I don’t think this conundrum exists only for clergy.  I think it actually pertains to most of us.  How many of us are teachers who get frustrated when there is some new technique or topic we struggle to master, and meanwhile we just spent all day helping students move past their hurdles and hang-ups?  How many of us are therapists who find ourselves faced with conflict and momentarily forget how we advise others when dealing with our own dispute?  How many of us are employers who make sure our employees have ample vacation and sick time but we, ourselves, are running ragged?  How many of us are parents who exhibit as much patience with our children as we can muster but have no patience for ourselves?   Maybe we know a librarian who doesn’t have enough time to read, a politician who forgets to ask himself what he really thinks (no, never!), or a cardiologist who keeps eating fatty doughnuts for a quick snack between patient visits. 

It is definitely challenging to be our own best rabbi or pastor or teacher or librarian or doctor or parent or therapist or employer.  But we have to be. 

Tonight, the Jewish people begin celebrating Shavuot, which honors the receiving of the Torah. The Torah (especially if we don’t just mean the 5 Books of Moses but include the Prophets, the Writings, and the generations of commentaries that followed) is kind of like a Jewish guide book for better living.  As we celebrate the fact that the Torah exists and that it is all of ours (not just for Jews of course!) to study in order to make life a little more complete, I think it’s important to remember that we have inner guide books as well.  Those tools we use in our professional and parental systems… those nuggets of good advice we hand off so easily and nobly to others but often forget to apply to ourselves… these are our internal guide books and are as important as any external religious text.  We must pull from the wisdom that exists inside of ourselves as well as outside in order to create our paths and find Shalom (completeness). 

So, on this eve of Shavuot, maybe do a little study as is the tradition (some stay up all night learning in honor of this holiday).  I don’t expect you to do that, but you could take a little time tonight or tomorrow to learn a bit of Torah or gleam a morsel of wisdom from some other external text.  Or… maybe even more importantly, you could take a little time to ask yourself what your inner guide book says.  Ask yourself if the guidance you have been giving others can be a gift to give yourself as well.  Tonight and tomorrow, take a few moments to close your eyes, read your own guide book, and start taking your own advice.

The Magic is in the Mess

Hi Cool Shul readers!

So sorry I disappeared for awhile.  You’ll see why when you read this sermon which I shared at our Shabbat celebration Friday night…


I’m not going to give a Torah talk tonight, especially since many of you will be hearing a gorgeous sermon from our Bat-Mitzvah tomorrow.  I’m going to leave the Torah to her. But there is something that has been on my mind lately, and I thought I would share it with you in case it helped any of you as well.  After all, I always say being a spiritual leader isn’t about having all of the answers.  It’s about searching for answers and sharing any discoveries with your community.

I have long said that my favorite part of the prayer book is the Ma’ariv Aravim.  Why?  Because it ushers in not light, but dark.  It is gratitude for the night and the cycles of night and day, darkness and light.  Of course, this can be taken literally but it can also be considered emotionally and spiritually.  I often tell the story of a Bat-Mitzvah student who once studied with me, whose friend’s father had passed away.  My student had a very strained relationship with her own father, and while she watched her friend grieve, she began to appreciate her father for what they DID have, and she committed to repairing their relationship as much as she could.  But she felt immense guilt that someone else’s loss led to her increased happiness.  I told her not to worry… it is all there in Ma’ariv Aravim.  Darkness leads to light and light leads to darkness and so on and so on and so on.  It’s our job to accept that cycle, learn from it, and do our part to make sure some light always comes out of the dark.

I think it was Rabbi Zalman Schachter- Shalomi who suggested that it might, in fact, be the purpose of humanity to get comfortable with the uncomfortable: to accept that all that is negative has a shred of positive and vice-versa… to accept that the world is not black and white, right and wrong, up and down, but a muddled mess of all of the above. 

Most of us, myself included, spend a lot of time trying to force our realities into defined spaces where they don’t belong.  We want to feel all good about something or all lousy, all joy or all pain.  But according to Reb Zalman, part of the purpose of our lives is to find peace in the grey, to stop judging ourselves for being so darned complicated, and to accept living in a perpetual state of bittersweetness.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because I recently lost my father, and I’m finding myself lost in a sea of conflicting emotions.  He was a wonderful dad, and I miss him.  That’s emotion number one.  But in his last days, he was very much no longer himself and no longer had a life worth living.  So, I found myself relieved when he was gone.  That’s emotion number two.  Of course, I also felt guilty for feeling relieved.  There is three.  I felt angry there was nothing the doctors could do (that’s four) but also grateful for their gentle care (five!).  And when we decided it was time for hospice, the pain of making that decision was acute.  That’s six.  Now, it is time to try to re-enter what was previously a pretty joyous life and find that joy again, which I am.  So that’s seven.  Finally, the illness brought my family and I much closer together, and I’m feeling a much deeper sense of love for them and from them as a result of all we shared.  That’s eight.

So, I find myself wrapped in loss, guilt, anger, and pain but also relief, gratitude, love and joy.  It’s like ping-pong balls of emotion bouncing around in my head, leaving me exhausted and confused.  I think we’ve all been there one time or another and most of us probably torture ourselves about it.  But what if we stop judging and instead start believing that this mixed up sensation is part of the purpose of our lives…  To find peace in confusion and comfort in the dichotomy.  To allow ourselves to swim in the unresolved. 

Think of a time when your emotions were betraying one another and pointing at each other in disbelief that the other simultaneously existed.  Got it?  Now let it go for once and for all.  Realize that the struggles of that moment, and the many moments yet to come in our futures that will be tangled webs of sensation, are part of the purpose of our lives. Only when we learn to accept this state and navigate those waters will we ever be able to truly care for one another.

Let’s forgive ourselves for being complicated, and find peace and magic in the mess.  




Life is Like a Box of Matzah

Life is like bread.

Sometimes our lives feel like a crusty loaf of French baguette right out of the oven from a tiny bakery on the Ile Saint Louis…  inviting, warm, delicious, and just slightly exotic.  Maybe those baguette days take place at weddings or during vacations or even when we decide to spend the whole day in our pajamas watching movies and eating pizza.  Those are good days.

Sometimes our lives feel more like a piece of matzah just pulled out of yet another box of factory made unleavened bread… flat, flavorless, cold, and if we eat too much of it, it forces our bodies to stop flowing as it should.  😉

Of course we all wish for a majority of our days to resemble baguettes, but how do we reach those glorious days?  Most of us don’t get to the vacation without first having to work hard to plan it and afford it.  We don’t meet the person we want to marry without first going on a bunch of dead-end dates.  And we don’t usually get the career promotion without first making the extra time-consuming effort.  It takes a heck of a lot of labor to get to a “Promised Land.” 

In our Passover story, the unleavened bread was our traveling companion.  It wasn’t exciting or delicious, but it accompanied us on our journey from A to B.  Similarly, we have to get ourselves from A to B, from less ideal situations to more ideal ones.  What accompanies us on those journeys?  It may not be matzah, but it may be feelings that are just as cold, flat, and tasteless.   We might feel that our lives aren’t moving forward, or in the right direction, or quickly enough.  We might believe we will never find true love.  We might be frustrated with all of the mundane or even unpleasant activities we must bear while doing our best to keep our eyes on the prize.

So, most of life is a bit like matzah.  But that’s okay, because matzah (and our journeys) don’t have to be so intolerable.  Last weekend, I took part in a Passover cooking demonstration with my community, Cool Shul, and Chef Danny Corsun from Culinary Kids.  There my feelings about matzah were changed forever.  We made our own… flour, water, olive oil, and no more than 18 minutes in the oven to make sure it was still technically matzah.  And you know what?  It was warm and flavorful and delicious!  We dipped it into a freshly made pesto and charoset with pomegranate seeds, and rather than being a lifeless culinary experience, matzah became something kind of divine.

So, maybe we can re-think those laborious days of our lives the way I got to re-think matzah.  Maybe there is a way to make our daily journeys more flavorful.

Let’s remember that while we were slaves, we were also well-fed.  I’m not so sure we remembered to have gratitude for that little blessing.  Then, when we were free, we were hungry and afraid and really struggled with holding on to our beliefs and to thankfulness for our new position.  This means the “negative” places we are may have some positives if we look hard enough, and that the hard-won freedoms we are looking forward to may come with a cost.  So, perhaps we can do our best to treasure the small triumphs and notice the positive things hidden in our day to day journeys.  Maybe we can be mindful enough to be present with with the mundane or even the painful rather than focusing on the fact that we aren’t already in better days. 

Let’s pack some freshly baked matzah in our sacks (no more boxes of Streitz’s!) and walk boldly toward the possibilities of tomorrow without losing sight of the challenges that will come with “arriving.”   Let’s enjoy our baguette days, but also never forget that every life will include more matzah days ahead as well.  It’s partly up to us whether or not we find the blessings in those flatter moments.

Hope you will join me and Cool Shul at our Community Seder on April 15 in Temescal Canyon.  Click here for more info

I’m listening, but I can’t hear you.

A great Torah scholar was sitting in his home study, deeply engrossed in the portion of the week.  He was concentrating so completely, he didn’t hear the knock on his study door and didn’t notice that his father, another great Torah scholar, had entered the room. “Don’t you hear that the baby is crying?” asked the elder man.  His son, startled because he hadn’t heard him enter said, “I’m sorry, father.  When I’m studying, I don’t hear or notice anything outside of my work.”  The wise scholar replied, “There is something wrong with any learning that prevents one from hearing the cries of a child.”

I wish it had been studies that distracted me this week, but in many ways I felt like I was that engrossed scholar.  A variety of events collided that led to my being distracted to the nth degree, spending most of my time stressing, emailing, and talking on the phone, rather than focusing on my work or my family. Even when I was with my children, I found it infinitely difficult to be in the moment with them.

I am fortunate that my children were understanding and waited patiently for my attention. But as my internal stress level and their searching eyes reached what felt like an unhealthy peak, I knew I had to break the cycle we were in.  And I realized my children weren’t the only ones hoping for some attention. My soul was begging for it too as my energy ceased to be helpful or healthy.

That’s when I remembered another story:

There was a busy mother who was clearing away dishes and straightening up after a long day at work while her child tried to tell her something. The child kept asking his mother if she was listening, and she kept replying that she was, while still busily moving about the kitchen. But the child didn’t feel heard so he stopped his mother and held her face between his chubby hands. He said, “Can you listen to me with your eyes?”

With this story in mind, I turned off my phone and whisked my kids away (and I wish my husband had been able to come because he needed it too!) for a night, just down the road from our home. We ordered room service, watched cooking shows, ate cookies in bed, and went for a morning swim.  We laughed. We cuddled. We listened with our eyes.

I’m lucky that my circumstance allowed me to indulge with my children in such a way, but all of us need to find ways, big and small, to recharge when the going gets tough.  It could be as simple as watching a silly movie, spending the afternoon on the beach, baking cookies together, or spending the night in a tent in the back yard.  The escape doesn’t need to be long or expensive. But when we end up in a stress cycle like I did this week… when our families or our souls are asking to be seen, let’s not talk ourselves out of indulging a little, as we are able. After all, it’s what we do every Shabbat!  We save up, no matter how little or much we have, and allow one day per week to be as special as possible in what we eat, what we do, and in the amount of presence we allow ourselves.  This is no different.

No one can avoid times that lead us to being temporarily unable to hear the cries of a child. But when we find ourselves there, let’s remember the stories told here, and do something to break the pattern, even if it seems a little frivolous.  We and our families deserve it.


Look up.

I’m not kidding.  Stop reading, go outside or peek through the window, take a deep breath and…

Look up.

Look at the sky.  Is it gray or blue?  Is there a bird flying by?  Leaves wiggling in the wind? Notice the slight changes in light as a cloud passes over.  Allow yourself to be filled with the wondrous possibilities that exist in the “up,” be they spiritual possibilities of a guiding light or scientific possibilities of 7 new planets.  Be open to inspiration…

Recently I was taking my son to school, and while at a red light, I noticed something kind of sad about human focus.  Most of us spend all of our time only considering the “down.”  As people drove past me in the opposite lane, I took note that the first driver was still looking at his phone as he drove.  “I wonder how many in a row will be looking down?” I asked myself.  So, I counted.  1… 2… 3… 4… 5!  I seriously got to the 6th consecutive car before I saw someone who had his/her attention completely on the road, who was looking “up.”

Now, this is not going to be lecture about texting while driving (though we shouldn’t) or about the dangers of technology.  I love my iPhone, and I’m as guilty as the next guy or gal of squeezing in a text at a red light.  My concern is about focus.

Our vision is narrowing.  Our news, communication, work, interests, and social lives increasingly exist within the borders of a teeny, tiny screen (yes an iPhone 6s is still too small).  Too often our joy and anger are released into that rectangle.  Our opinions are formed there, our disappointments are aired there, and all of this digital interaction keeps our heads pointing down.

Again, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for those energies moving toward the “down,” but there is also a big, wide world out there that we cannot forget exists.  Information being packed in a minute package does not have to mean that how we perceive humanity, how we connect to nature, and how we view the world also has to be contained in such a tight space.  Our perspectives need to be way out there too, with the stars and the distant mountain, or we will lose our ability to think big and to think outside the box.   And if we don’t think big and outside the box, how are we ever going to get ourselves out of the messes we are in?  We need to think simultaneous large and small.

It is not only healthy, but absolutely necessary to take a break from the constant information feed and find time to recharge and look up.  In fact, in the workshop we had a Cool Shul last week about processing anxiety in trying times, Dr. Feldmann emphasized that it is absolutely NECESSARY for our long term health and well-being to take a break… to do something purely fun and frivolous… to forget about our worries and fears for a moment.  That is how we survive stressful periods in our lives without burning out.  In other words, we need to put away those phones and tablets and allow ourselves, just for a few hours, not to know what was just tweeted or posted.  We need to give ourselves permission not to engage and instead to

get our nails done,

or go for a cell-free walk on the beach,

or watch a silly movie (on a big screen please!),



This Saturday, in association with the organization Reboot, Cool Shul will be hosting an unplugged Shabbat afternoon.  From 12-5pm, we will have board games everywhere, and phones will be left at the door.  We will have pizza for all.   Unplug with us for a few hours, and please invite your friends.  This is not a religious event, so invite anyone who might be interested!  I promise we won’t try to turn them into Jews.  😉

Click here to register.  We ask for a $20 donation per person to cover food and table rentals.  But if you can’t swing that, just leave a smaller donation when you come.  Email me at and let me know you are planning to join us.  The flyer is below.

We all need this.  We all need a little time to Reboot.


Poised for the Battle

Hooray!!  My blog has successfully been transferred to  If you are still interested in hearing about events at Cool Shul but are not yet on our mailing list, you can go to our new website at and contact us there.  But now, this blog isn’t speaking for Cool Shul, just little ole me.  🙂

And now for the blog and an invitation…

You are not in battle.  You are merely poised for the battle.

These words resonate within me nearly every day.  I heard them on a yoga CD from a teacher I enjoy (shout out to Santa Monica Yoga), perfect for doing when I can only squeeze in a little solo yoga at home (usually at 6am!).   During the practice, we are guided into Warrior 2: legs spread and slightly bent, ready to spring at a moment’s notice, arms stretched out from the shoulders with fingers elongated, eyes peering over the fingertips which guide our attention toward some distant point.  I am standing in that position when I hear those words:

You are not in battle.  You are merely poised for the battle.

Certainly yoga isn’t a physical art form that has any sort of combat.  If anything we are to find peace within ourselves and our surroundings, not be in battle.  Yet we are practicing yoga to become more centered, stronger, and grounded while simultaneously being elevated… all excellent traits for one who has to be ready for a war.  Warrior 2 prepares us mentally and physically for a fight we hope will never come.

I know, my friends, that we are all glued to the New York Times, CNN, MSNBC, and Fox these days.  With all of the information coming in, regardless of where our loyalties lie, it is nearly impossible not to feel a little off balance, confused, and in conflict.  How do we go on about our daily lives when there is so much anger and worry surrounding us?  How do we care about what to make the kids for lunch or whether or not to put new curtains up in the bedroom when our phones are pinging every 5 seconds with another dramatic update?

I don’t have an answer for you.  Except that I am trying to live my life in Warrior 2.

There are so many battles worth fighting for.  I, like you, care deeply about so many issues that it’s hard to decide where to put my money, my time, and my emotional capital. I want to come out swinging to protect my children, my community, my country. But I’m not a boxer.  I’m a Rabbi, and my job and responsibility (at least for the Rabbi I try to be) is to never create panic in those in my circles, but to offer them a path toward inner peace, a complete Shalom, even when our inner-fighters emerge.  Yes, let’s take on an issue.  Yes let’s do what our hearts tells you is the appropriate effort for us, but let’s never lose that center that keeps our feet on the ground, our minds elevated, and our eyes looking to the future.  Let’s never lose that inner-knowing that keeps us poised before and during the battle.

So, I try to live in warrior 2.  I am not in a literal battle, but I am poised for the battles when they come.  And even when I do choose to strike, I will do so remembering the Jewish text that tells us that the world stands upon three things: Study, Effort and Kindness. Even when in conflict, I hope never to forget who I am and to remain a peaceful warrior in word and deed.

If you are feeling stressed out by your outer world or your inner world, please join me with Dr. Cheryl Feldmann for a group discussion about how to live our lives unclenched, even in stressful times.  Email me at to let me know you’re coming.  The event is free, but a donation is appreciated.  

Tuesday, February 21, 7pm at Cool Shul.  

13323 West Washington Blvd. #101 LA CA 90066


Holier Than Thou

I was taking a walk near my home this morning and found myself on a cul-de-sac which I know is populated primarily with Jewish Orthodox families.  As I walked though, I tried to imagine what life would be like if I lived there as one of them… same neighborhood as mine, same weather, same parks for our children to play in, and yet a totally and completely different life.

What would it feel like to have the kind of existence in which every decision I made was informed by my faith? Would I feel “more holy” than that guy eating a slice of bacon?  Would I feel as if I were more important than that mom getting into her car on Shabbat to take her kids to soccer practice?  Would I think myself more deserving because my husband wears a kippa on his head?  I’d like to think not.  I’d like to think that those choices would enhance my life while maintaining the utmost respect for those who choose differently.  But honestly, I’m not sure.

I worry that in some ways, separation is what makes us feel special, or even holy.  I am reminded of a time I was in a Jewish concert and the Cantor of a local synagogue who was on stage made some kind of “wink-wink” joke about being kosher into the mic… you know, the kind of joke that (of course!) all of us could relate to because we were probably all kosher.  Well, as a Jewish clergy person who was in the room and who is NOT kosher, the joke didn’t make me giggle.  If anything, I felt like maybe I wasn’t “holy enough” for the company I was in, or at least not holy enough for that Cantor.  I was separate.

Our news is saturated with stories of “us versus them” these days.  We have cultural divides, religious divides, political divides, and so much separateness. In these times when there are such clear sides about so many issues, I am concerned about us all enjoying our separation a little, for it is possible that feeling “other” (while we all claim to unconditionally love the “other”) also encourages us to feel superior… dare I say, “holier than thou.” 

Am I holier than you if there is a cross around my neck?  Am I holier than you if I don’t eat shrimp?  Am I holier than you if I pray down on my knees?  Am I holier than you if I hold a protest sign, if I agree or don’t agree with a policy, if I call my senator or if I don’t?  Maybe the actions that make us feel good about ourselves, and perhaps even closer to God, are the very things that also allow us to feel superior.  Is it possible to be confident in ourselves, be separate in some ways, but also view one another as complete equals?  Or has “separate but equal” proven time and time again to be a concept that just doesn’t work?

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I admire those who allow their choices to be informed by their souls.  I’d like to think that in some ways I am one of them.  And I admire those who carry signs at protests as I’ve carried a sign or two myself.  But in this present time of stress, anxiety, and fear, we need to invest in discovering the holiness in “everyone else” as much if not more than in ourselves, even if they are counter to us in nearly every way.  If we don’t, the whole world will lose. 

Yes, we should all fight for what we believe in, but we also don’t want to become what we detest.. someone arrogant in our opinions, unable to hear a differing thought, and unable to admit the weaknesses that may be present in our “own side” or the sliver of merit in the “other side.”  Let’s never assume that our worth is any greater than anyone else’s. 

All we have are our choices, and may we make the clearest ones we can.  But when debating those who make different choices, let’s try to remember to still have kindness in our hearts for the opposing debater.  As my friend said the other day, “love the person, hate the idea.”

Join us for our next Cool Shul Shabbat this Friday, February 10 at 7pm at Cool Shul, 13323 W. Washington Blvd.  LA 90066.  And join our mailing list to know everything going on at Cool Shul by emailing me at

Troubled Water

As clergy, I really try not to show partisanship when acting on behalf of my community.   And yet, I’m finding it more and more difficult these days because of basic ideals that I never dreamed would be considered political…  Like the value of truth.

In Judaism, we often pray to the God of Truth, and speak of the Torah of Truth.  And in Talmud, Rashi explains that God is present when there is Truth and absent when there is not.  I never imagined that “real” facts versus “alternative facts” would become a debate to be had, but apparently truth doesn’t mean what it used to.  How is it possible that truth and facts are now a partisan issue?   How is it that the freedom of the press is now an endangered species?  How does it serve mankind to silence the educated?  I mean, argue about whatever you like.  Let’s disagree.  But no amount of pushing will ever make 2+2 not equal 4, and no amount of finger pointing will ever make it palatable to suppress the fact-finding of our news sources and scientists.  Some things are opinions.  Some things are just plain facts.  So, let’s have an honest debate based on truth.  But we will all lose if we debate with fiction.

With these thoughts pulsing around in my mind, I watched the video below which features the Statue of Liberty.  After viewing it,  I started singing these words, which are mounted to her pedestal, and ended up humming them to myself all day:

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teaming shore.  Send these, the homeless tempest-tost to me.  I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

These words by the Jewish American poet Emma Lazarus were written to welcome incoming immigrants.  And I’m so sad these days, as I know many of you are, that those words are fighting to remain in the hearts and minds of the American people while truth is is being silenced, freedom is being suppressed, immigrants desperate for a new home are being turned away, and a wall is being built.

The rain falling in this video is certainly representing our tears and the storm so many feel internally and fear externally.  And yet, there is hope as the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Ronald Regan appear against the darkness.  I hope after you watch, Emma Lazarus’s poem will be ringing in your ears as well.

Let’s never give up on the pursuit of facts or on the American dream. We owe it to Lazarus, to King, and even to Reagan (what do you think he would be saying right now?) to keep fighting, even when we are tired from the battle.  It may be raining today, but it is up to us to create that first break in the storm.  We are our own messiah.

Thank you to my dear friend Beth Gallagher for creating this gorgeous and moving video.

Wishing Shalom (peace, contentment, completeness) for all mankind.

Rabbi/Cantor (“Rantor”) Diane

Be a Community Organizer

I opened my computer this morning to write a blog about President Obama’s farewell speech, and to invite my readers to Cool Shul’s MLK Shabbat and Farewell to Obama this Friday. I wanted to talk about Obama as a community organizer, and I wanted to encourage others to become community organizers themselves (for I can tell you, as someone who runs a community, organizing one is no easy task!). I hoped I would write an entry that would be elegant and eloquent enough to inspire all of you to (quoting POTUS) “…lace up your shoes and do some organizing… grab a clipboard, get some signatures, and run for office yourself. Show up. Dive in. Stay at it.”

And yet, as I sat down to start writing, I spotted this blog that said everything I wanted to say with more elegance and eloquence than I ever could.

Please read this amazing article by Erika Davis which starts with a quote by Frederick Douglass that is often attributed to Heschel:

I prayed for twenty years but received no answer until I prayed with my legs.

Read the blog, and after you read it, come to Shabbat this Friday at Cool Shul at 7pm. Let’s celebrate the inspiring words of Martin Luther King and our outgoing President and choose how we want to change this world together.

Read Erika Davis’s blog here:

Evite to Cool Shul Shabbat is here:

Bi-Partisan Search for Jewish Truth!

On November 7, I emailed my community the following blessing that is said when voting:

Blessed is being called upon to exalt our nation with righteousness, and for being taught: “Seek the welfare of your community and pray on its behalf, so that all may share in its well-being” (Jeremiah).

I rarely step into politics in my blog, but today I couldn’t resist because what I will say will not only align with Mitch McConnell, John McCain, and Paul Ryan, but also John Podesta, President Obama, Hilary Clinton, and (oh yes!) the CIA.

It is our Jewish (heck, human!) responsibility to use our power to exalt our nation with righteousness, to seek the welfare of our community, and to make sure all share in our country’s well-being.

At the Holy Days, one of my sermons spoke not of politics, but of the opportunity to base our political decisions on the Jewish ethics we embody.  Every time we make a political, or any other kind of decision, we are invited to remember the lessons learned through our holidays, our holy days, our texts, and our traditions, and allow them to inform and affect us.  What actions we all take, with our votes or otherwise, while understanding these Jewish pillars, are up to us.  

And here we are, Democrats and Republicans, nervous that a foreign leader has affected the outcome of our most important democratic process.  The Republicans wants answers. The Democrats wants answers.  10 Electoral College members want answers.

This isn’t a political post.  This is a spiritual post echoing the words of Jeremiah.  What does everything we have learned teach us about this moment in history?  What does being a couple weeks away from Chanukah, the holiday that celebrates fighting for one’s identity and right to exist even in the face of a more powerful force, tell us about how we should feel?  What is more worth fighting for than our democracy’s right to exist?

Readers of this blog and partners of my community, I don’t know where this is all leading… maybe nowhere.  But I want to promise you this.  I am here with you and for you, not to fight for Democrats or Republicans, but to fight for the welfare of our community, and that means fighting for Emet, for Truth!

Jewish Guide for Stressful Times

Al sheloshah d’varim        Upon three things

ha-olam omeid.                  The world stands.

Al ha-torah,                          Upon torah,

V’al ha-avodah,                  And upon prayer,

V’al g’milut chasidim       And upon acts of loving kindness.

—Pirkei Avot

These are stressful times. Whether you are fearful about the future or regretting the past, whether your stress stems from politics or health issues, whether your worries are about your parents, your children, yourselves, or the planet (or all of the above), it seems few of us are relaxed these days. We don’t know which way to go, which way to turn, what to fund, what to sign, whom to support, and whom to condemn. We are lost in a sea of news and social media, all while needing to keep up with the strains of every day life. No matter what we read on Facebook, Twitter or the New York Times, there are still sick children and parents.  There are still groceries that need to be purchased, homework that needs to get done, bills that need to be paid, and career woes that need to get solved. Lately, it seems many of us wake up in the middle of the night finding we’ve been grinding our teeth and sweating through uncomfortable dreams as our subconscious works through its agitations. We find ourselves a little more testy, a little less patient, and a little less thoughtful.  We feel afraid and alone.

But Judaism offers a simple statement that can carry us through, if we listen, one day at a time…

Upon three things the world stands. Upon torah, upon prayer, and upon acts of loving kindness.

In some ways, this quote from Pirkei Avot is all we need to guide us. It won’t solve our problems, but it is a three-step road map to action and to inner-peace if we follow it, and for now, that will have to do.

My old Rabbi and mentor used to talk about big T Torah and little t torah. Big T is for the text of the Torah scroll itself. Little t moves beyond those Five books of Moses to all forms of learning, teaching and study of wisdom, Jewish and otherwise. So, the world first stands upon knowledge: spiritual, scientific, social, political and personal wisdom. The world stands upon learning our personal truths and the truths of the universe.

How does this relate to feeling stressed and out of control? Let’s all choose one element (I suggest just one to start when we are feeling like there are so many issues to face) of what is worrying us, and learn, study, and understand that issue. Let’s get the facts (oy, please let’s not be part of this “post-fact” world we keep hearing about!), rather than rely on hearsay or headlines or word of mouth. Let’s gather truth, and whether these truths are about the world’s problems or about what a doctor or teacher may have reported about a loved one, let’s make sure we are as armed with wise, factual information as we can. That’s step one.

Ready for step two?

According to Pirkei Avot, the next thing the world stands upon is prayer… well, only sort of. The Hebrew word for prayer actually means “work” or “labor.”  So, this means that the world doesn’t only stand upon prayer but stands upon our efforts. It means the actions we do can be prayerful.  So, let’s act! Let’s put some effort towards improving the situations about which we just educated ourselves. This may mean going to meetings or therapy, donating to a cause, or marching, demonstrating, or volunteering. You decide what the right action is, but they key is that there is action. The key is doing. Let’s not sink into a sense of defeatism over what crushes us, but get up on our feet, “pray with our legs,” and get out there, even if the action itself seems small… even if our efforts will only make a difference to ourselves, knowing we gave it our best shot. 🙂

Finally, we are told the world stands upon acts of loving kindness. G’milut is actually a giving, it’s charity. And chasidim? Boundless kindness and love. G’milut chasidim is giving away boundless kindness.

So here we are at step three. While we are improving our knowledge, and going into action, let’s try to remember to be full of endless kindness as we do. After all, a big part of the knowledge we seek is to understand what and whom we don’t already understand. So, let’s look into opposing eyes with openness. Let’s face dissenting voices with strength wrapped in grace. Let’s stare into the depths of illness and issues and fear, holding ourselves tall. Let’s allow our power to filter through kindness with every encounter, no matter how difficult it is. Remember what our first lady said, “When they go low, we go high.”

Knowledge… Effort… Boundless kindness… Three simple Jewish ingredients for spiritually surviving trying times. This road map won’t solve everything, but we will be bathed in truth while marching toward resolution with grace in our hearts. Maybe that is enough for us to gain control over what appears to be out of control.

So, the next time we feel ourselves spinning, let’s remember this post. Let’s learn, act, and do our best to offer boundless kindness as we take it one step at a time, one day at a time.

B’shalom (with inner-peace),
Rantor Diane


If Only Bannon were Abraham

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary. – Hillel

An aged Abraham, recovering from his circumcision, is sitting at the entrance of his tent with the hot sun gleaming above him.  When he looks up, he notices three men standing near.  As soon as he sees them, he runs to greet them.  He bows to the ground and offers them food, water, shade, and to bathe their feet.

Think of this man, nearly 100 years old, with searing pain between his legs, running toward strangers.  Why run?  Why not walk gently and calmly?  Could he sense that they were messengers of God?  Or did he simply not want to lose the opportunity to do the right thing… to offer some travelers food, water and shade on a hot day, even when he, himself, was suffering?

We all, but particularly those of us (Jews, Christians and Muslims) who are the descendants of Abraham, have an opportunity with this week’s Torah portion to be inspired by him, and to run, not walk, toward what we think is right, even when it’s painful.  And if we are paying attention, we will not miss that Abraham is running toward strangers… not after they asked for help, but simply to do something that might make their lives a little brighter.

There are many ways we can interpret who our “strangers” are.  But for now, let’s consider those we think of as strangers because they hold on to different ideals than we do. It is essential that we take the opportunity to try to understand those with whom we do not agree, even on the most fundamental issues.  This does not mean we have to alter our own opinions.  But it does mean that our compassion and willingness to listen must reach beyond our comfort zones.  It means we try to stand in another person’s shoes.  It means we never forget that they have journeys full of love and pain and disappointment that brought them to their place, and that we, too, travelled through love and pain and disappointment to get to where we stand.  But we share some common experiences, and so we don’t walk toward this conversation, we run toward it.

That being said, we also have to run toward conflict when we believe human decency is at stake.

Now, as a spiritual leader, I try to stay out of public politics, and I never, ever told my community for whom to vote.  In fact, my community is centered around acceptance no matter who you are, who you love, or what you believe.  But we are also committed to protecting those individuals.   So what I’m about to say isn’t about party lines or politics.  My disgust has nothing to do with Republicans or Democrats or Independents.  We need to talk about the basic human rights we treasure in this country and that we can’t have an America where we believe anyone who isn’t exactly like us is a stranger to avoid or harm rather than run toward with good will.

I’m lookin’ at you Steve Bannon. 

You seem to think the opposite sex are the “strangers”:  Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy (title from Breitbart News article).

Anyone with color to their skin is a “stranger”: There’s little question that Breitbart has regularly published materials designed to stoke fears about African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, and other groups, and to explicitly normalize white-nationalist and white-supremacist beliefs (New York Magazine).

Those of other religions are “strangers”: Mary Louise Piccard said in a 2007 court declaration that Bannon didn’t want their twin daughters attending the Archer School for Girls in Los Angeles because many Jewish students were enrolled at the elite institution.  “The biggest problem he had with Archer is the number of Jews that attend,” Piccard said in her statement signed on June 27, 2007. “He said that he doesn’t like the way they raise their kids to be ‘whiny brats’ and that he didn’t want the girls going to school with Jews,” Piccard wrote (NY Daily News).

A loving relationship you don’t experience yourself is “strange”: That’s why there are some unintended consequences of the women’s liberation movement. That, in fact, the women that would lead this country would be pro-family, they would have husbands, they would love their children. They wouldn’t be a bunch of dykes that came from the Seven Sisters schools up in New England (Bannon quote as reported in Cosmopolitan Magazine).

And in case that isn’t enough for you, my dear readers, check out this guide to Bannon and Breitbart News’ “alt-right” language in the LA Times:

This is not my America, or Obama’s, or Bush senior’s, or Bush junior’s, or Regan’s, or even Paul Ryan’s.  Don’t tell me this is politics.

But, you know what?  Even with all that, I stick to what I wrote.   It is my responsibility as a Jew, as a child of Abraham, to welcome someone I don’t yet know or understand.  And so, Mr. Bannon, I invite you to come to California and speak to our Jewish communities.   Explain to all of us how these quotes and reports don’t define you. Explain to us whether or not we should accept sexist, racist, homophobic, anti- diversity attitudes in the United States of America.  Help us explain to our non-Christian, non-white, non-straight family and friends why they should not be afraid.  Help us understand what you feel when you look at the statue of liberty and read these words written by a female, Jewish author, “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

We will welcome you if you come, Mr. Bannon, in fact run toward you as our “stranger” with open arms, and offer your food, water, shade, and an opportunity to be understood.

But we will also run, not walk, toward human rights, human dignity, and caring for one another if you can’t. 


After Election Day

Whether you wore a hat with an H or one that ordered you to make America great again,

Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life,

Whether you live in rural Texas or urban Los Angeles,

There is one thing we can all agree on…

This country is divided.

People wept at the thought of their candidate losing, or maybe more to the point, at the thought of the opposition winning, unable to imagine how the people of their country could possibly elect the other.  In the backs of some minds, we wondered if the sun would even still rise if our candidate didn’t win.

I can relate. I was one of them.

But the sun did rise, and it rose for ALL of us.  Children got ready to learn and teachers got ready to teach.  Hurrying parents ran out the door with coffee cups and toast in their hands. Restaurant deliveries were made and babies were born, in red states and blue.

Whether your candidate won or lost, your world kept going.

When we feel disoriented in a divided country, a divided community, or a divided home, it’s essential to find places to come together and find peace, even if it’s just for a moment. You might find it in a yoga class, a book club, a card game, or a spiritual community, but I hope you find it somewhere.     

I find this comfort in my spiritual community.  Now, spiritual institutions aren’t always without their own personal struggles. Goodness knows we have all experienced communities that are suffering with some sort of divide of their own.  But my community was created to get away from all that.  It was our hope to be small, intimate, caring, and supportive even when the going gets tough.  It’s a place to come and leave your worries at the door. A place to be lifted when you are down, and a place to lift others when you are up. We even wrote conflict resolution into our bylaws for any time drama may arise (but so far, so good, no drama 🙂 )!

So, whether your candidate won or lost last night, find a safe place to navigate this divided country of ours. Let’s create safe environments for ALL of us to share and rejoice and weep. If nowhere else on this planet of ours, let’s be together in our churches, synagogues and mosques, with an eye toward the future, an eye toward peace, and a helping hand for those who need us.

For those of you in Los Angeles, I’ll see you Friday night at Cool Shul for our spiritual getaway. Let’s focus together on all for which we are grateful (red or blue).  New adventures are coming, our students are becoming men and women, and we are fortunate enough to be able to supply the items needed for the boxes YOU will put together for Operation Refugee Child.  

I think we can all agree that all of that is worth celebrating.  

Be with us.

Evite to Shabbat

Sign Up for Items for Hope Boxes

Time to Reboot

In case you didn’t read my blog last week, I challenged you all to have Device Free Dinners as part of a movement by the organization Common Sense Media to put our phones and other devices away from the table while we eat.

This week, I offer you a new challenge offered by the organization Reboot.


Go to and download their FRIDAY app.

Yes, we are going to use technology to inspire us to stop using technology.  🙂

Now, what does the app do and why should you put it on your phone?

Just before sunset every Friday, no matter where you are in the world, the FRIDAY app reminds you that it’s time to slow down, and the phone goes into a “sunset” mode (don’t panic, you can reawaken it any time).  Why Friday?  Well, because that’s the start of Shabbat, of course.  But this FRIDAY app is by no means only for Jews.  Reboot is using Jewish tradition to make life better for ALL people.  Something this Universalist Rabbi really likes.   Under the heading WHY FRIDAY? on the app, it doesn’t even mention Judaism!  It says:

As long as there have been workweeks, there have been sighs of relief on Friday evening.  Think of Friday night as a time to press pause, and this app as a very shiny pause button… Maybe this app will help you quiet the noise for 15 minutes.  Or maybe you’ll make it all night long without sending a single text.  It kind of doesn’t matter.  Either way, it’ll be time well spent.

I love these guys.

So, hopefully you still have your Devices-Go-Here sign from last week pointing to a place where all devices go during dinner to make sure your family connects, or you connect with yourself (yes!  even do it when you’re alone!).  But let’s add this to the mix.  Let the device that grabs our attention most remind us to unplug tonight and every Friday night.

Shabbat Shalom everyone!

And if you are in the Los Angeles area and won’t be elsewhere for Shabbat next week, join us at November 11, 6:30pm, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Santa Monica where we will have a pre-Thanksgiving Gratitude Shabbat, celebrate with a new Bar-Mitzvah, and make hope boxes for refugee children for Operation Refugee Child.  We’ll be so busy you won’t have time to even think about looking at your phone.  🙂

See you there!  See the evite to Shabbat Nov. 11 here.


Sermon on Sacrifice

Hi all!  I’m sharing my sermon from Kol Nidre. Hope you enjoy!  And join us for Simchat Torah Shabbat October 21 at 6:30 pm in Ashland Park – 1650 Ashland Avenue. Santa Monica Ca 90405.   We will have a Torah activity, mini Shabbat, and (of course!) unroll and surround ourselves in the entire Torah.



So, I’m fasting for Yom Kippur. So far so good considering it’s only been a few hours. I fast every year, and I must admit, I really look forward to it. Fasting allows me, with every inch of my being, to sense that Yom Kippur is truly a day different from all others. It allows me to concentrate on the spiritual journey I present to you and go on myself without distraction. And let’s face it… by the end of the day I’m feeling pretty punchy, and it’s wayyyyyyyy easier to embody some of the themes of these holy days and give myself over to the Divine. Remember the sermon about connecting to blessings (for you blog readers, this was my last blog!) from Rosh Hashanah?  Doing so is much easier on an empty stomach. 🙂

You probably know there are many cultures and religions that include fasting in their observances. I mean, come on, even just being a Los Angelino encourages SOME kind of fasting… Anyone out there ever done a juice cleanse? That’s a fast for sure, and honestly, I think that is way harder than not eating at all.
In researching how various religions connect to fasting, I found a list of fasting religions  as well as why they do it, and when. On the list were the Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Hindu, Jewish, Mormon, Muslim, Pagan, and Evangelical and Mainline Protestant faiths.
And the reasons for the fasting? Take each one in…

To focus on love of God.

To purify oneself.  

To teach control of fleshly desires.  

To feel solidarity with the poor.  

To open oneself to God’s grace.  

To enhance concentration during meditation or worship.

To sacrifice.  

To atone for sins.  

To make special requests of God.   

To find closeness to God.  

To petition for a special cause such as healing a sick person.  

To raise vibrational levels.  

To counterbalance the modern consumer culture.

Was there one that spoke particularly to you?
Now, I am a Universalist Rabbi, which means I don’t expect myself or you to follow the traditional letter of Jewish law, and even when we do choose to follow law, I expect many of us often find reasons to do so that vary from the traditional ones. All of those reasons for fasting I just mentioned are pretty noble, and I kind of accept them all for myself as for the reason behind why I fast on Yom Kippur. I hope that at least one moved you as well.

So, here is a conversation starter for you…

Maybe you are fasting too, but maybe giving up food just isn’t the way you choose to achieve the spiritual quest we are on for the next 24 hours. Maybe you can’t fast because of age or health or pregnancy or nursing or any other reason. Maybe you just find you don’t connect to transformation through a fast.  But you heard all of those worthwhile reasons to shake up the norm by giving up something desirable. Let’s not make it so that we can either fast from food or not fast at all. Let’s open up our minds to some new possibilities.
I ask all of you to take a moment now to think, brainstorm, talk to your neighbor about ideas.  What could you give up, other than food, for the next 24 hours that would open a door for a spiritual transformation for you? Now, it has to be something you would truly miss… Kids can’t say “brushing my teeth.” Adults, don’t say “Oh! I won’t pay any bills for 24 hours.”

What about giving up looking at your phone? At all!  Fasting is probably easier. 🙂 What about sleeping without a pillow or sleeping on the floor and giving up your bed? Maybe you can give up wearing make up, or putting lotion on dry hands, or taking a hot shower. Take a moment and chat and think… Even if you are fasting from food right now, consider something else for the day when there is a reason why you can’t fast.

And here is a challenge…

I challenge you to give up something for the next 24 hours. I challenge you to allow a little discomfort to remind you that today is the Shabbat of all Shabbats… The ultimate Jewish experience of release, renewal, and return. It’s hard to feel all this in your core when (other than sharing this service with me) we live life as it always was. Remember the fasting purpose that spoke to you most. Grip it tightly in your mind and… Give up something. Shake things up. Mess with your body’s and your mind’s expectations.
Sacrifice. Not for me, but for yourself.


P.S. For all of you reading this long after Yom Kippur, just choose a day to do this.  It doesn’t have to be a Holy Day to try to mix things up and focus on our souls.

“Harvester” (one of Diane’s sermons)

Blessings and Prayers…

Oh boy! There is nothing more exciting to a group of Jews than a sermon about blessings and prayers.   🙂

But I really do want us during our Holy Days together to think about opening ourselves up to the structures of Blessings and Prayers.  It’s difficult, I know.  I find it difficult too.  We say a bunch of words and kind of wait for something emotional to happen, and it just doesn’t.  But, honestly, isn’t it naive to think that we live in a kind of Harry Potter world where we can simply say a few words and expect some kind of spiritual magic to happen to us?  Like anything else, spiritual connection takes practice and a willingness to be a full participant in the activity… just like painting, writing, or math, even becoming the first string Quarterback for the LA Rams (lookin’ at you Goff). 

Of course, over the Holy Days we get lots and lots of practice saying blessings and prayers.  But the openness to the experience is what I suspect we may continue to need to work on. And, believe me, I speak to myself as much (if not more) than I speak to you.   Finding a connection to Blessings and Prayers can truly be a frustrating task.

So, why do we think prayer is so difficult?  It is because we feel pressure to believe in something or not believe in something?  Maybe, so I’m going to invite you to live in the unknown, to embrace the ambiguous.  Connecting to a blessing or a prayer does not actually require belief in anything as we will see.  So, if you feel like you aren’t ready to commit to a belief structure of any sort, don’t!  But also don’t assume that blessings and prayers are beyond your reach, because they aren’t.

Perhaps part of our hang-ups is the ancient language, the prayer formula, we use in Judaism: Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melech Ha-olam,  Blessed are you, Adonai our God, King of the Universe…  The Masculine forms of the words Blessed, You, and of course, King make God male.  That can give some of us pause.  So, maybe we switch it to the feminine?  Baruchah At Shechina, Eloheinu Malkat ha-olam?  Sure, that’s kind of nice.  And now God is in the feminine.  But then we have excluded half of the population again, and we have lost the connection we feel by uttering the same formula that has been used since Talmudic times.  Perhaps it isn’t even the gender of God but this image of God as royalty ruling over us.  Many of us don’t relate to that image.  But, literal understanding of these words is not necessary or even encouraged to connect to prayer.  Our ancient authors likened God to the most important human form they could come up with, not because it was to be taken literally.  So, let’s move beyond the formula and know they did the best they could.

Maybe we just reject the words Blessing and Prayer on their own.  Maybe they call up too many uncomfortable memories from negative experiences in a synagogue or a church or with some insensitive clergy.  Maybe those words make us feel old or from another time.  Plus we are back to the start of this conversation about belief.  After all, if we’re not sure what we believe in, who the heck are we praying to?? 

We all struggle to varying degrees at different phases of our lives to get beyond all of these words and find a way to own them in authentic ways.  And there is no way I can solve this issue for all of us during these Holy Days.  But I do want to at least attempt to open up our minds a little bit, beyond word formulas and hang-ups, and I’ll start by showing you a photograph…


This is a photograph taken by the photographer Erik Castro, of a worker right after he finished his day in Sonoma County picking grapes at a winery, now set to return to his home in Mexico.  This is one of many photos of Sonoma County grape-pickers taken by Castro and shown in his exhibition called “Harvester.”

I came upon this series of photos in the LA Times when it was reported that Governor Jerry Brown passed legislation that would gradually, by the year 2022, require farmworkers to receive overtime after an 8 hour day rather than after a 10 hour one, or after 40 total hours per week.

But what does this all have to do with prayer and blessings?  Well, I figured, in an attempt to practice opening ourselves to prayer, we could start with one of the most well known and widely used blessings, the blessing over wine.  Baruch Atah Adonai Eloheinu melech ha-olam, borei p-ree hagafen.  Blessed are You, Adonai, Our God, Sovereign of the Universe, creator of fruit of the vine.  Easy enough to say.  Harder to find a true spiritual connection to it.   But when we say that blessing, we are blessing ALL that went into the cups in our hands.  We are blessing the earth, the sky, the sun, the wind and the rain.  We are blessing the soil, the seeds, and the many generations of seeds that came before.  We are blessing the owners of the land and all that went into their being alive and able to own and cultivate that land.  We bless the machinery, the drip lines, the tractor, the baskets, the stakes in the ground, and all that went into creating those supplies.

And, of course, we are blessing the hands that picked those grapes as well as the eyes and hearts and souls that belong to those hands.  We bless their parents and grandparents who sacrificed for them, and we bless the spouses and children who miss them while they are away from home. 

THIS is what a blessing is all about.  THIS is what prayer is all about.  It’s stopping time for just long enough to connect to an understanding that we will never, ever be able to appreciate enough every one, every thing, every accident, every happenstance that led to that single moment…. be it a moment of nourishment or drink or lighting candles or wearing a tallit or praying to the Unknowable.  We are losing ourselves in gratitude and finding humility in this Great Dance.  We are Blessing God as the source of all that got us to this time… so your God can be a king or a queen… or an energy, or light, or nature, or love, or space, or luck, or a dance… God is however you define the Source of that experience.

So, I’m going to invite you to view many images of those workers who head north from Mexico to Sonoma County to pick grapes so that the bottles of wine we bless may exist.  While you look at each image, hear the blessing over the wine ringing in your ears.

May these faces find better working conditions with this new legislation, and may we think of  them the next time the words Baruch Atah Adonai emerge from our lips.  Let’s practice feeling how deeply a blessing can go.

View Erik Castro’s collection “Harvester” here.

Join Cool Shul for Yom Kippur by going to our High Holy Day page.

Growth Mindset/Fixed Mindset

I’m struggling.

Struggling to know all the answers.  Struggling to achieve all I want to achieve.  Struggling to be the parent I wish to be.  Struggling to be the wife I aspire to be.  Struggling to find enough time to do it all.

I’m struggling, and that’s actually a good thing. 🙂

My dear friend (and educator) was chatting with me recently about the idea of the Growth Mindset versus the Fixed Mindset.  Check this out


Bottom line?   Struggle is good for you.

You heard me… struggling is good for you, like broccoli and jogging.  😉

When we struggle, so often we put ourselves down. 

I’m no good at this… I can’t do this… I’m not strong enough… I’m not smart enough… Or even… I’ve always been told I’m smart and learning is easy for me, so if I’m struggling I must be failing.

This kind of thinking puts us in that Fixed Mindset that shuts down our brains to the opportunity to grow from our struggles.   But our minds need that struggle.  The brain actually engages more from mistakes and searching than from getting things right the first time.  So, like brain games, struggle helps your mind expand.  Yet we have to invite in that struggle for the brain activity to increase.  If we just say no to the tension, we have lost before we have begun.

In my conversation with my friend, we turned this idea of healthy struggle toward topics away from academia. 

What if I’m struggling in my relationships?

We can’t promise you those are going to work out, but maybe, if we are in a Growth Mindset, we may be able to welcome the opportunity for those personal struggles to lead to mental (and emotional!) growth.  Perhaps the struggle can allow our relationships to end up new and improved as we work through the tension.   Yet, if we are shut down in Fixed Mindset mode, then we are, well… shut down to making things better.

What about religion and spirituality?  What if I can’t decide if I want to belong or not belong, believe or not believe, participate or not participate?  What if I am struggling with the fact that I want to feel like there is more to the world, more than meets the eye, but my intellect just won’t allow that kind of belief?

Well, welcome to another struggle.  Invite it in.  Rather than fighting the dichotomy, let’s experiment with living comfortably and knowingly within this questioning.  Trying to find spiritual answers to our biggest questions and wrestling with what we find may be healthier than simple belief.  So, let’s go for it!   Let’s struggle.

As we step ever closer to the Jewish High Holy Days, I’m thinking a lot about struggle.  As a spiritual leader, I struggle just to get everything done that needs to get done before our services.  That also means I am struggling to be as emotionally and spiritually prepared as I would like to be for these upcoming Holy Days.  And once we get to the services, I have to struggle with the process of looking at myself in my virtual mirror, taking those arduous steps toward returning to myself, returning to the person I believe I was meant to be, and attempting to lead all of you through that process as well.  All of this responsibility can make my head spin out of control, and I find myself battling with my own struggle.  I find myself stuck in a Fixed Mindset.

But I guess, according to this Mindset theory, if my life was just a piece of cake, there would be no growth.  Just because I’m (gulp!) 43 years old doesn’t mean my mind should stop firing in new ways, does it?  If I accept my struggle and keep an open mind to it, I may just be able to step into a Growth Mindset that can invite my brain into new and interesting territories… even if I’ve been stuck in Fixed Mindset for most of my life.

I invite you to play with this idea of Growth Mindset, and consider expanding with us during the Holy Days.  Together we can encourage each other to embrace the struggles that are today, that we will encounter during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and that are inevitably waiting for us around the corner.  Let’s stand shoulder to shoulder while we struggle, open our minds, and grow.

You can get Holy Day information right here.

Hey!  I think I can see your mind expanding already!!!!

Love ya,

“Rantor” Diane

Don’t Think, Just Move.

Don’t think, just move.

These are words of advice from a dear friend (and part of the Cool Shul family) on how to get up in the morning at the crack of dawn to exercise.  I’ve set my alarm for the wee hours of the morning many times to do just this, but inevitably, I start talking to myself and shut it off.  In my mind, my inner-voice says, “Well…. you could always exercise tonight.  You didn’t really get a good night’s sleep, you need more rest.”  So, my friend said:

As soon as you say “well….” to yourself, it’s over. Just keep saying to yourself, “don’t think, just move.”

Excellent wisdom for this situation.  But imagine us all telling our elementary school children, “In life, don’t think… just move.”  Don’t we usually spend most of our time saying, “Think before you act”?  Clearly this doesn’t work for all situations.  😉

With the Holy Days around the corner, I started thinking about which way this thinking-versus-doing thing works for those of us deciding whether or not to attend Holy Days services somewhere.  So, for that process, I offer you this piece of advice, inspired by my friend:

Don’t think, just move…. and then think.

For those of us who don’t really feel connected to a Jewish community or to Jewish practice, there can be much internal chatter that inevitably prevents us from finding a place to at least explore the Holy Days even when something inside us is drawing us there. 

Here’s the chatter:

“I don’t really believe in a Book of Life”

“I think it’s silly to think we can erase our bad deeds with one day of fasting.”

“I don’t believe in God.”

“It’s boring.”

“It’s long.”

And then the next thing you know, on the holiest day of the Jewish calendar, we’re at work, eating a hot dog at our desks.

Halt!  Don’t think.  Move.

Quiet that chatter for a second and find a place to experience the Holy Days.  Do a little research.  If you want a more traditional setting, with grand ceilings, pews, maybe an organ… go find it.  If you want a place that is musical and experimental… go find it.  If you want small and intimate… go find it.  Don’t think about it too much.  Don’t tell yourself why you shouldn’t go. Just go.  Get in the room.  Be shoulder to shoulder with other people… some who know exactly why they are there, and some who, like you, aren’t sure at all.

Then, as the prayer book is opened and the ark is opened… you open up to.  Open your mind to sounds and words that didn’t call to you in the past.  Concentrate on a word or a phrase in the prayer book that speaks to you, and don’t even move on with the crowd if you don’t want to.  Allow the wake up call of the shofar to shake things up for you, even if you didn’t think you needed a shake. 

In this moment of openness, now start thinking…

Who am I?  Who do I want to be?  Where did I succeed this year?  Where do I fall short?  Can I be proud of how much I’ve grown?  Is there still room for improvement?  Can’t I allow this structure to help me explore myself without having to believe in God or books of life?

Yes. That’s it.  Don’t stop.  Keep thinking.  I’m proud of you.  😉

Of course, I hope you will consider spending your Holy Days with Cool Shul.  We will be in Temescal Canyon, surrounded by the glorious trees, with amazing musicians, a choir, and a non-judgmental, open-minded, come-as-you-are atmosphere (with child care!).  Services are short and sweet… just enough to get you your where you need to go spiritually without weighing you down. 

I’ll see you there…

Join us for a pre-Holy Days Shabbat this Friday at 7pm.  Evite here.

Join us for the Holy Days.  Info here.

P.S.  I actually did get up today for the first time at the crack of dawn to do some yoga.  Let’s see if it lasts!!!  🙂

The Dream of Cool Shul (and the LA Rams)

Who’s house???!…. Rams house!!!!

Who’s house???!……Rams house!!!!

The arena was so loud you would have thought it was the playoffs and not a pre-season football game, but we Los Angelinos are just so excited about having a football team again, we can’t contain ourselves. 🙂

My family and I were right there in the middle of the football madness screaming with the rest. I’ve never really been much of a football fan, but even I can’t help but get caught up in the atmosphere. It’s more than football. It pride in our city and her history. It’s knowing that while Los Angeles is much about Hollywood and fame, it can also be about a stadium built in 1923 and an L.A. team of the toughest sport around that reaches back to 1946.  Sitting in the Memorial Coliseum hollering for the Rams allows us to live for a moment in the nostalgia of a Los Angeles time gone by.   It’s also an opportunity to be there from the start, supporting something that just might be big and dreaming as a community.

My life is wrapped up in dreaming with a community these days. I don’t think my dream will ever touch even a fraction of the numbers I sat with at the Coliseum, but I’m dreaming none the less.

You see, Cool Shul (as a blog) began because a friend (whom I lovingly call my Temple Mom) encouraged me to write more. So I wrote and shared what I have come to learn in my off-the-beaten-path Jewish life… that Judaism doesn’t have to be about laws or dogma or guilt or pressure, but be a glorious guide that helps us live more joyous, peaceful, productive lives. Originally, my blog had the subheading “For the Liturgic Allergic” (a term invented by that Temple Mom) because it focused on the nougat centers of Jewish practice and traditions and texts that allow the universal themes buried in Judaism to shine through, with or without the rules, with or without a belief in God.  In other words, no need to love the structure of religion to love these Jewish lesson.

When I left my last position to go to Rabbinical school with JSLI and join the Jewish Universalist movement, Cool Shul began to evolve. It wasn’t just a blog anymore, but a new community that held to the same principles as the original writings. At first we tip-toed into being… We held Holy Days services, Shabbat once per month, and taught a few kids.  But within the year there was a full educational program, a gorgeous Seder, a book club, and bar-mitzvahs. And so we began to dream…

What if we broke the mold of synagogue? What if we were more like a community center? After all, Not everyone demonstrates their Judaism through prayer… Some prefer Jewish dance or cooking or art or music or Hebrew language or yoga or meditation. What if we could offer all of that? What if we provide ways to connect to Judaism in one’s own way on one’s own terms in one’s own time without asking anyone to fit into a mold of who or what someone should be to be Jewish?

And that’s where the dream comes in.

That’s where you come in.

Our organization runs on a small budget compared to most, but we still have rent and the website and salaries and supplies and… dreams.

We cannot and will not survive or thrive without the support of those who value our words, our work, our celebrations, our music, and our educational activities. In other words, we can’t do it without you.

Please consider becoming a partner in our dreams and share in the excitement of all that Cool Shul is and all it could be by offering a monthly, tax-deductible donation.  Below is the letter from our president inviting you to partner with us as well as links to our partnership form and our donation page.

Thank you for your eyes, ears, and hearts, and I hope to see some of you locals at our next Shabbat on September 9.

Rabbi/Cantor/”Rantor” Diane  🙂

A Message from Cool Shul’s President

Link to our Partnership Form

Link to our PayPal donate button

Argue with the Torah!

Sometimes it’s hard being Jewish, and even more difficult being a teacher of Judaism.

What do I tell my Bar and Bat-Mitzvah students when we read in their Torah portions that the God we pray to washed away all of human and animal kind except for one family?  Or opened up the earth and swallowed not just rebels but their households?   Or didn’t just save the Israelites but made the Egyptian army get stuck in the mud so they would drown?  These portions can send our students running, and I must say it’s hard for me not to run too.

So, what do we do?  Well, we follow the advice of the author and Torah scholar George Robinson who said, “To fully understand the Torah as given, we would need to fully understand the world into which it was thrust.”  So, I ask my students questions such as: Who do you think wrote the Torah?  Why do you think the people were meant to be afraid of God?  What is the essence of the lesson we can take with us in a modern context, now hopefully evolved enough not to have to be frightened into action?  

You’d be surprised by the wisdom hiding in a 12 or 13 year-old’s mind. 🙂

Well, last Shabbat, we had a portion that is full of text that is easily loved.  After all, the ten commandments are there, the Shema the first paragraph of the V’ahavta are spoken, all pointing us in the direction of living spiritual, noble lives through a filter of love. 

And yet… at the end, we have something that trips me up, especially as a Universalist Rabbi.

Moses is speaking to the people of the many nations they are to defeat once they enter their promised land.  He says, “… and you shall strike them; then you shall utterly destroy them: you shall make no covenant with them, nor favor them; neither shall you make marriages with them; your daughter you shall not give to his son, nor his daughter shall you take to your son.  For he will turn away your son from following Me, that they may serve other gods: so will the anger of the Lord burn against you, and He will destroy you quickly.  But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their sacred trees, and burn their engraved images with fire.”

Now, I became a Rabbi through JSLI, and I chose to be a part of the Jewish Universalist movement because I believe deeply in the Universalist ideals.  On the UJUC website ( it states, “JU teaches that one’s religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth and that God equally chose all nations to be lights unto the world.  We reject the concept of a G-d who would choose among G-d’s children… JU embraces Interfaith Families and unconditionally welcomes all people to participate in our Jewish worship and rituals.”

Imagine if today we, as Jews, entered a new land, completely destroyed all non-Jewish religious houses, shrines, and articles and burned it all to the ground.  What if we acted as the Torah suggests here, as if our religion was to be the only one and refused to spend even a tiny bit of energy finding ways to leave peacefully side by side with other religious practices?  What if we denied their right to exist? 

Doesn’t sound very Universalist, does it?

And what about the refusal of interfaith marriage?  Now, I know that many Jews still do not approve of interfaith marriage, but again, this directly goes against the doctrine of Jewish Universalism.  I was taught, and I believe with every fiber of my being, that when an interfaith couple seeks me to officiate their wedding, my role is not to judge them or tell them a set of requirements they must meet in order for me to be satisfied that the couple will be “Jewish enough.”  My job is to create the most loving, embracing, comfortable, meaningful Jewish experience I can for them.  My job is to create a sanctuary of sorts for the non-Jewish partner to explore his/her spirituality without fear within this Jewish experience. My job is to help both members of the couple leave my presence knowing that Judaism can be a nurturing, understanding, flexible framework, and that choosing to live their lives within that framework  could and should feel like falling into a large embrace.  My job is to honor and acknowledge the non-Jewish partner, not frightened him/her away with a judgmental, Rabbinic glance.

Anyone who has ever worked in a synagogue with interfaith families can tell you that very often, it is the non-Jewish parent who volunteers for the Chanukah party, runs the Purim Carnival, brings the family for Shabbat, and makes sure the child studies for her Bat-Mitzvah.  By making sure Judaism’s umbrella is large enough to cover all of us, Jewish or Jewishly curious or related to Jewish, we are better ensuring the survival of this most amazing peoplehood than if we shoo them away or treat them as secondary citizens.

I understand that in a different time, when the Jewish peoplehood was in its infancy, that we may have had to behave in a certain way to stay together.  But in this time in history, teaching that all religions have a place in this world is what I, and the Jewish Universalist movement, are all about.  The lesson of this Torah passage isn’t to fear or destroy the unfamiliar.  The lesson is to hold on to the beauty of our faith, share it with others, and learn from others with open hearts.  If Judaism has wisdom to offer, it will survive not out of fear, but out of its own merits.


What the (bleep) is Tisha B’Av???

What is Tisha B’Av? Is it the birthday of the trees?

No, that’s Tu Bish’vat.  Sounds similar, I know.

Does it have something to do with the Torah?

No, that’s Shavuot, the other holiday that lands during summer vacation so kids don’t learn about it and adults don’t remember it.

So, what is it?

Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning in remembrance of both destructions (which happened on the same date) of the two Ancient Temples in Jerusalem.  It has become a day of mourning for all kinds of tragedies (some of which also happened on the 9th of Av), from Jewish expulsion from England and Spain to the Holocaust to even the tragedies of 9/11. It is observed with chanting the Book of Lamentations to haunting descending musical motifs and with fasting. 

Tisha B’Av is not a happy holiday for sure. But I’m feeling kind of psyched for it.  Weird, right?  Well, here’s why…

I recently finished reading the book THIS IS REAL AND YOU ARE COMPLETELY UNPREPARED by Rabbi Alan Lew.  It’s a wonderful book about the Holy Days, and for Rabbi Lew, Tisha B’Av is the start of those days.  For this is not only a day to start facing our mortality and the loss of our ancient spiritual center.  This is also a day for letting go of attachment, for setting down our baggage, for embracing (rather than fighting) the impermanence of life, for facing the past and the future… the themes we encounter during the Holy Days.

When the Ancient Temples were destroyed, the Jewish people had no choice but to adapt and evolve.  Without a Temple for sacrifices, new methods of connecting to God had to be created.  If the Temples hadn’t been destroyed, there would be no private prayer, no synagogues, no Rabbis or Cantors, no personal relationships with God, no Jewish communities around the world.  Those things were all created out of necessity because of the destruction.  And for many of us, a return to the ancient sacrificial days is not what we are hoping for, so as much as we may mourn the loss of the old Temples, we also don’t necessarily yearn for their reconstruction.   This is why so many of us don’t fully observe Tisha B’Av… because we don’t want to return to the sacrificial cult.  Judaism has grown, changed, and evolved, and we like where it is going (thanks, by the way, to one of my teachers who posted a great article about this from Times of Israel.). 

There is even a theory out there that the creation story (yes THAT creation story) of the Torah was written DURING the Babylonian exile.  Imagine this: the people are without their Temple, the place they believed was the earthly resident for God, and they don’t know if it’s possible to reach that God anymore.  Their future as a peoplehood is at stake with no center for their religion.  So, what happens? Maybe a story was created… a story that connects the Jewish God to the creation of the universe itself.  With this story, if God, in fact made everything, God must be everywhere.  God must be Universal.  God must be able to find us wherever we are and live inside and beside us. The people no longer believed that they needed a tabernacle or a Temple to reach God.  With such a story, the people had the faith to carry on, and one of the most well-known pieces of spiritual literature may have been born because of destruction.

Once upon a time we built a house for God.   Now we build houses for ourselves.  What if they disappear as that one did? What if all of our expectations become knotted or broken? What if we lose our jobs or have to move to new neighborhoods or have to leave communities we love?  What if we are faced with illness?  What if our lives don’t turn out as planned?   What do we do then? 

Well, we do as our ancestors did.  We keep putting one foot in front of the other.  We find new ways to have as joyous as lives as possible.  We try to hold the memories of lost realities and lost people, places, and things in our hearts, but not allow those memories to keep us from attempting wholeness again.  We build new things.  We start new trends.  We bend, but we don’t break.

I have never really observed Tisha B’Av before, but I’m thinking that maybe this year is going to be the first year that I do.  Not to mourn the temples or to wish for the “good old days” but to celebrate the opportunities that come from letting go, from adapting, from obstacles becoming opportunities. I may fast not as an exercise of mourning but an exercise in clearing myself out (mind, body and soul) of my expectations, of my attachment to all of the “stuff” in my house (thank you George Carlin), to what my career should look like, to the house itself.  I will fast to remind myself that life keeps evolving, that I must be like water and move with the tides.  And I will fast as a reminder that if I have to lose some thing or even many things, if it is only the building, the stuff, and the career, but not those I love, I will be just fine.

Tisha B’Av is the “opening ceremony” for the Holy Days, for as we start this journey of turning and returning to who we know we could and should be, we must leave our “stuff” at the door.  We can only find our true selves, our inner peace, our most magnificent goodness, if we entertain the notion of the house falling down, and still finding light.

Join us for a Cool Shul Shabbat and an honoring of Tisha B’Av this Friday, August 12 at 6:30pm.  Click here for the evite:

Taking it out on the Little Guy


Hope you all enjoy this commentary I offered during the Sim Shalom online Shabbat morning service.  Join me next time August 6 at 8:30am PST/11:30 EST by going to

In the portion for this Shabbat, we have a king named Balak.  Balak is not too happy about the fact that the Israelites (who, by the way, are still in the wilderness heading toward the Promised Land) seem to be able to conquer whatever enemies they encounter.  Knowing the Israelites are protected by their God, Balak figures he needs some strong magic to defeat them, so he calls upon Bilaam, the sorcerer, to curse them.

Now, Bilaam is not an Israelite, but he’s caught on to the power of their God and not only believes in that God but seems able to have full-fledged conversations with God.  So, when Balak sends messengers to ask Bilaam to curse the Israelites, Bilaam talks to God and says no.   But over time, they wear him down, and God says he can go as long as he only says and does what God tells him to.

So, off Bilaam goes with the king’s soldiers, riding on his donkey, when an angel of God stands in their way.   Apparently God decided it wasn’t such a good idea after all to let Bilaam hang with the king’s soldiers.   Perhaps God could sense that Bilaam’s allegiance was wavering.  The donkey can see this angel, and she stops in her tracks (yes, this is a girl donkey).  Bilaam is quite angry at the donkey because he can’t see the angel, so he beats and beats her.  And then, the donkey does the unexpected.  She speaks.  She says to her rider, “What have I done to you that you have beaten me these three times?  Look, I am the she-ass you have been riding all along until this day!  Have I been in the habit of doing thus to you?”  

Bilaam realizes the error of his ways, and with that, his eyes also open so he can see the angel of God too.  Now all is understood about what he must do.  In the end, Bilaam blesses the Israelites rather than cursing them, naturally angering the king to no end.

As I was thinking about this portion, it occurred to me that it has a great deal in common with the Harry Potter story.  Once I chatted with my 14 year old (who knows all things Harry Potter), I was sure.

In Harry Potter, the king Balak is played by, of course, the evil Lord Voldemort.  Both of them are powerful.  Both of them act out of fear of their own deaths.  Both of them send others to do much of their dirty work.  God is represented by Dumbledore, the ever-wise, good, and powerful wizard who is lovingly protective of his “nation”, but will kick butt if he needs to, in spite of his peaceful soul.  Balak is Snape, the teacher who picks endlessly on Harry and whom no one quite knows if he is an instrument of Lord Voldemort’s or Dumbledore’s until the very end.   The angel is Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix, who comes to the rescue only to those who believe in the Good and is no help to those who don’t. 

And who is the donkey?  Why, Harry Potter himself!  He is “ridden” constantly by his teacher Snape… cornered, accused, and threatened at every turn.  And why?  Because (at least while he’s young) he is easy prey for Snape’s anger, and because Harry has his mother’s eyes which are wide open to the Good while Snape’s are too confused to fully see. 

It’s easy to understand why fantastical stories such as this one in the Torah or Harry Potter are popular.  They have obvious sides of good and evil, and there are clear heroes for whom we can root.  But most intriguing are the middle-men, Bilaam and Snape, the ones we aren’t quite sure whether they are part of the light or part of the dark.

They are us.

None of us are Voldemort and none of us are Dumbledore.  None of us are Balak or God. We are all somewhere in between.  We all serve something that might be considered a “dark lord”.  It could be an abusive relationship, a nasty boss whom we feel we have to appease, our egos, or an addiction of some sort no matter how minor that addiction is, but we’ve all got something. However, we all serve light masters too… children who remind us who we really want to be, supportive spouses, mentors, parents, communities, faith structures, and friends.  We find ourselves battling with these two sides all the time, and often the negative voices seem to be louder than the positive.  And while we are arguing with those voices in our heads, we may find there is someone younger or smaller or weaker we can let out some of our frustrations on because we believe they won’t fight back.  Maybe we find ourselves being less than our best to an employee, or a waiter, or a less popular kid in class, or a bagger at the market…  Maybe we hurt the ones we love most, like our children or our spouses, because we know they will forgive us. 

But maybe, just maybe, those “little guys” are the guys who can see the Truth, who can see the angel, who can be heard by Fawkes.  We might not consider them enough, or give them enough respect to notice that they are staring straight into the eyes of an angel of God.  We miss the opportunity to learn from them because it appears they have nothing to teach. But let’s remember the idea that we should treat every human as if he/she was the Messiah, because if a Messiah comes, it might not appear as a king or as a president, but as some kind of quiet request.  The student.  The employee.  The waiter.  The homeless. 

We may not be sorcerers or wizards, but we all harness an enormous amount of power over each person we encounter every day.  Which master do we serve as we engage with each one?  Do we act from love or fear?  Let’s be truthful with ourselves, and when we catch ourselves operating from fear, let’s try to open our eyes, see the angel before us with a hand open-palmed in a gesture of “Stop!”, and try again from a place of love.

shabbat online

If anyone would like to share a short Shabbat morning with me and Andy, we will be on Facebook and Zoom tomorrow (Saturday) morning at 9:30.

For Facebook: 
For Zoom: 

Wishing you all peace, safety, and health.  Please follow the guidelines of your local governments, and do not go out unless needed.  But do still get some fresh air!  Just keep a safe distance from others.

I know we all feel lonely right now, but truly, never (at least in my lifetime) has every human had more in common.  

We are all in this together.


Online musical offering

Hi all,

Just a note that for this week, Tuesday-Friday, at 9:30am, I am going to do a short musical offering (just 15 minutes) online to help us center and prepare for our stressful days. Andy (my husband and musical wonder) will join me for some of them as well. If there is a need for it, we will continue on next week as well.

Join us either on Zoom at or Facebook

Be well, and please follow all of your local guidelines!


A Sermon about hope

Hi all, I just wanted to share my sermon from last Shabbat and a musical offering on the theme of hope. On this day… soon after New Year’s Day, immediately after a weekend honoring MLK, and the beginning of an impeachment trial, it seems like we could all use a little hope. 🙂

MLK/New Year’s Sermon

When we were in New York over the Winter Break, we stayed in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  If we hadn’t read the news while we were there, all we would have seen and experienced were trendy new restaurants, young couples, families pushing strollers and walking dogs, and the occasional Chasidic Jew asking me if I needed Shabbat candles for that night (I guess I look Jewish).  But since we DID read the news, we knew, day after day, that there was yet another anti-semitic attack of someone on the street, or a horror taking place in the Orthodox community at one of the Rabbi’s homes, literally in our neighborhood or a couple of miles away. Two stories happening at the same time… amazing pasta and cabernet and croissants without a care in the world, AND suffering… all in the same place.

Last week, when the situation with Iran started to unravel, a popular MSNBC news show host talked about two realities, two stories happening at the same time… a “split screen” that we are all going to have to get used to, because the news is so eventful in this time in history, we can’t possibly focus on only one story at a time.  The split screen was, yes, literal, but my gal, Rachel, was also suggesting that our brains are going to have to be split screens, because that’s how the world works these days.

With the secular New Year now come and gone, a time when nearly the entire human population thinks about starting over and new goals, we can accept this split screen, but rather than allow it to cause us insanity, invite it to carry us through these interesting times.  On one side, yes… awareness, reality, caution, understanding, even fear. But on the other side… balance and hope… dogs and babies and croissants.

Maybe it’s no coincidence that while we were staying in New York, we went to see the most recent, and theoretically, final Star Wars movie.  And what is the thread through all 9 movies? Hope. As Gyn says in Rogue One, “Rebellions are built on hope.”  

For several decades, we, as Jews (or those of us who love and live with Jews), didn’t have to “hope” too much as a peoplehood.  We were pretty settled, except for certain activities here and there. We weren’t in the news all the time. We didn’t find ourselves oddly unsurprised when we heard of an anti-semetic action.  In fact, we were shocked at such a thought. We didn’t have to hope.  But now, it’s time to take hope out, dust it off, and experience just a little taste of what some of us or our parents or grandparents had to feel when outward anti-semitism was more normal and expected around the world.  When one of them, maybe on the streets of Brooklyn, on their way to school, got knocked down and called “Dirty Jew,” they got back up, dusted off their backpacks, and marched on… with hope. And so we will have to do again.  We need hope that this bizarre chapter in our history will evolve into a new one decorated with more acceptance and civility. Hope that there will be a time of healing for our country, when we can see and hear each other again.  Hope that our leaders will eventually have the “beytzim,” (which means eggs and is, I just learned, the polite way of saying testicles in Hebrew, to stand up and call out madness when they see it. It’s here, around the corner. It’s the message of Chanukah, of Pesach, of, on this weekend, Martin Luther King, even of Star Wars… rebellions are built on hope.  In Egypt. In Jerusalem. In Selma. On Yavin 4. And yes, in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.

I hope you have many ways that in the New Year you might choose to start over and improve yourselves or the world.  And I invite you to welcome the split screen rather than be afraid of it. Yes, be informed. Yes, march and donate and volunteer and cry when you need to.  And then when you need a break, focus on the other side… the side that says there is hope and beauty in the future. It’s exactly what our ancestors and Martin Luther King and Gyn from Star Wars would want us to do. 

To quote Martin Luther King Jr. on this eve of his celebration weekend, 

“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.  I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.”