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. http://www.coolshul.org/event/highholydays

Become my “friend” on Facebook so you can see our live stream here. https://www.facebook.com/diane.o.rose.9

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

“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.

An Invitation to Fight Illiteracy

Have you ever had a book you loved so much you read it over and over again? Or do you remember reading a book that was so enveloping that when you reached the final page, you were a little sad?

Our Torah is such a book.

Every time we read the Torah, we find something fresh and different that we didn’t catch before. As we learn and grow and age, different elements of the story become more or less fascinating as our experiences change. So, we keep reading it, and we make sure that we never have that moment of sad stillness of our book being complete.  At Simchat Torah, which is right around the corner, we finish the last Torah reading of our scroll and then immediately begin again with a story of creation. We are all immersed in the darkness of a deep vast void for just a moment before the call for light illuminates us again.

Day 1.

This Friday, Cool Shul is going to host a Simchat Torah Shabbat.  Then we will unroll our Torah completely, surround ourselves with every handwritten word of this incredible journey of a peoplehood, chant the very end of the Torah, and then without anything more than a call to be strong, chant the first words at the start of the scroll.

If you don’t have a spiritual home and would like to join Cool Shul for Shabbat this Friday, please email me at diane@coolshul.org, and I’ll make sure you get an evite. We will be at Big Red Sun in Venice, CA for a pot-luck dinner and celebration at 6:30pm.

And now, I share with you the sermon I gave Yom Kippur morning. It is appropriate for Simchat Torah as well, for it is about literacy.

Diane 🙂


A true story…

After the conclusion of a Bar-Mitvzah service, a guest of the Bar-Mitzvah family went up to the officiating Rabbi and said, “Oh, now I get what you people are doing!” The hair on the back of the Rabbi’s neck stood straight up in the air as the phrase, “You people,” lingered in the air. He braced himself for what was to come next. “Really?” The rabbi replied. “Yes,” said the stranger, “you make sure all of your children are literate.” The Rabbi relaxed and smiled.

Originally Bar-Mitzvah was merely a recognition of legal and religious status, and a boy became a Bar-Mitzvah at age 13 years (and one day) regardless of whether or not there was any public demonstration of learning. But since the Middle Ages there has been an academic component to this rite of passage. So, without ever saying, “It’s important to learn how to read,” Judaism has stressed literacy since Rabbinical Judaism began.

In a few minutes, we are going to hear a Torah reading, and in this reading, we are at Moses’ final day of life, and we are hearing part of his final speech to the Israelites before they finally enter the land of Cana’an. Now, this speech obviously took place way before Rabbinical Judaism, however the seed for a literate peoplehood was planted right there and then.

This great story of our Torah, this story that ties the creation of the world all the way to the Israelite people’s entrance into their land while delivering 613 Mitzvot along the way, simply can’t easily be memorized. It was to be written in a scroll, and some believe Moses himself wrote the first scroll over 3000 years ago. Well, such a literary work mean nothing without people who can read it. And gathered here at this final moment with Moses were all people… young children, converts, woodcutters and water drawers, women and men, and they were all being instructed to study and know and live Torah. Clearly they were all to be able to read, and teach their children to read so they can study and know and live by these words as well. No matter who you were or what role in the community you possessed, you were to study. Literacy was not to be a skill of the privileged few alone.

This Torah portion also asks us to “Choose Life.” A Rabbi named Elliot Kukla wrote eloquently about this idea of choosing life. He said, “Our choices affect not only ourselves, but life on a global level–when we choose to drive less, spend less, and consume less, we are choosing life. And we choose life each time we lift our voices to advocate for civil rights or environmental protection.”

I believe that part of how we can “choose life” through civil rights is to do what we can to make sure that our children, and all children of the world, know how to read so they can be educated enough to make intelligent choices for themselves as they choose life. Having access to what the rest of the world believes is how we can sometimes have the strength to shout, “No more!” and be inspired to change our circumstances.

I think particularly of all of the little girls around the world who never get the opportunity to go to school, learn how to read, and experience what other girls around the world experience. In Afghanistan, for example, according to The World Bank, in 2013, the percentage of women over the age of 15 who could read and write a basic sentence was 18%. And while the men were three times that, the number was still frightfully low. We can speak of all of the tzedakah we can give and deeds we can do, but perhaps there is no greater deed than making sure someone can understand the realities of what is happening around them. How can we do that? By teaching them to read and giving them access to global content. Perhaps countries with low literacy rates that are torn apart with war, strife, social, religious and political tensions, could find more understanding in themselves and in each other if we make sure the women are educated enough to able to lead other women (and men) in demanding a more compassionate and just society.

At Rosh Hashanah, when we all committed to goals of improving ourselves, our relationships and the world, and discussed at least taking the first baby steps toward these goals by Yom Kippur, I spoke of wanting to do more for places far outside of my circle, places I know I may never even see. With this Torah portion you are about to hear, I am committing myself to giving time and energy to a charity that encourages literacy around the world, particularly with girls. The book “I Am Malala” was required summer reading for my daughter’s school, and so I am going to begin with Malala. I have already made my first donation to the Malala Fund.

I wish you all G’mar Chatimah Tova, (a positive end/seal to your year) and an easy fast. And I hope that as you all sign your names into your own books of life, that learning and education be part of your promises to yourself and to the world. Let’s remember to be grateful for the little things, like the simple gift of literacy, and let’s be on the front lines of ensuring that all peoples of the world can read.


To donate to the Malala Fund, click here: https://www.malala.org/

Returning to Healthy Relationships

Right now, I have an old friend who is really hurting… and there is nothing I can do about it.

Well, that’s not exactly true.  I could do something about it, but swooping in to “save the day” would mean re-entering into a relationship that isn’t healthy for me. Ever have one of those?  Sometimes we can care deeply about someone but also know that we have a dynamic that brings one or both of us to a sunken place. Such is the case here, and as much as I want to put on my superhero cape, I know that for my well-being, I need to keep my distance.

Why is it so tempting to jump back into unbalanced relationships?  What is it that keeps us crawling back for more?  We know we would be better off without certain people, yet we just can’t stop ourselves from being drawn back in.

I have often heard it explained that this attraction comes from missing our own dramas. The stresses we feel and the struggles we endure feed our visions of our basic identities.  We don’t know who we are without the pain, and as relieved as we are when we find ourselves pain free, we also don’t know how to live without it.   After all, if I’m not the person in that hostile relationship or living in that abusive environment, who am I?  The distress helps us feel alive.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about my old friend as I prepare for the High Holy Days because a major theme of the these days is “returning”.  Teshuva is often described as “repentance,” but it actually means “to return,” specifically (in a traditional sense) returning home to God.   In exploring these themes of regret and “coming home,” I find myself attracted again to that uncomfortable friendship. There is much to be sorry for in my behavior, and I hope my friend feels the same. That’s the repentance piece. And, in a way, being in the embrace of this relationship fills an identity gap and makes me feel like I’m “home,” maybe just not an ideal one. So is Teshuva asking me to return to this friend in order to try and fix both of our damaged souls?  Is that what I need to do in order to get closer to Truth?

I don’t think so.

I believe the idea of Teshuva means quite the opposite.  “Coming home to God” is arriving in a place, maybe for the first time, that encourages inner peace. How do we find our way home?  I think when we can hush the chatter in our minds and the rapid beating of our hearts for a moment, most of us can hear at least a whisper toward the road less travelled that leads us away from dysfunction. As much as we would like to change those people (or even help them), we usually can’t and can only truly change ourselves. Teshuva is not about flying back into the eye of a storm, no matter how tempting, but about learning from our past patterns and not falling into the same traps we slipped into so many times before.  It’s about saying, “Stop!” to ourselves, and not to anyone else.  It’s about “coming home” to an emotionally healthy place even if we’ve never been “home” before.  It’s about learning to feel alive without the pain.

I know, that in the long run, my friend will truly not be better off if I swoop in like a superhero and try to make the problems go away.  My friend has to make it through a difficult time, and as much as I care, those burdens are not mine to bare.  I have to be careful and restrain my instinct to “return,” because if I do, when I realize I’m participating in a draining drama again, I will have no one to blame but myself.

For these Holy Days, my personal exploration is going to be about my inclination to jump into situations that overwhelm me.  My whole life, I have somehow stumbled into being in over my head, and I continually lose sight of the real prize… a healthy me.  It may sound selfish, but if I’m not healthy in body, mind, and spirit, what use am I to my family, my friends, or the people I serve?  This is teshuva.


If you are searching like I am, and don’t have a spiritual home for the Holy Days, I welcome you to join us as we walk through a “returning” together.  For information about and tickets for Cool Shul’s High Holy Day services, click here:



This image came from the blog: https://karmawaves.wordpress.com/2014/04/20/blessings-roll-call-check-in-on-the-baal-teshuva-contemplation/