September 20, 2018

Promises Worth Breaking – A poem for Kol Nidre by Rick Lupert

All vows –
This legal document
written in unholy language

a prenuptial agreement
for our inevitable failing.
This relationship with

the year itself
a contract awaiting
the biggest signature.

Please, cancel my subscription
but charge my card anyway.
I don’t deserve the content.

Every promise I make
a guaranteed broken one
between today and

a year’s worth of
Jewish days from now.
The next time the shofar

is dusted off,
we’ll have this conversation again.
Forgive me this year

and last year and next.
Forgive everyone who ever
stood at the mountain.

Forgive our promises
our oaths, our vows, all vows
You made the whole world

and on this day and every day
You knew this would happen.
Pardon me. Please.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Holy Days in the Hospital

Last December, I was a “guest” at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for a week that felt like an eternity. Every day I prayed that I would be well enough to go home and every day brought new problems. It was impossible to keep the dark thoughts at bay.

One of the most important things that kept my spirits buoyed was a visit from Senior Rabbi and Director of the Spiritual Care Department Jason Weiner, along with one of the other Jewish chaplains. They came with little prayer cards, get well wishes, and they helped allay my fears.

It was an absolute blessing at a time when I was feeling incredibly vulnerable. So how much more vulnerable must someone feel to be in the hospital during the High Holy Days — a time when we are supposed to confront our mortality? I reached out to Rabbi Weiner to ask.

“It’s a very difficult time for people, it’s a lonely time,” Weiner said. “It’s a time when they want to be with their families or want to be in the synagogue.”

At this time of year in particular, Weiner said there are so many conflicting emotions for patients, “especially on Yom Kippur, when there’s so much talk about the Book of Life and the Book of Death. Often an existential crisis comes up and patients wonder if it’s a bad omen if they’re starting their year in the hospital.”

“Often an existential crisis comes up and patients wonder if it’s a bad omen if they’re starting their year in the hospital.”
— Rabbi Jason Weiner

 

Weiner said his job is to listen to patients “and let them articulate their fears and provide support and compassion.”

Patients sometimes ask him, “Does this mean I’m likely to die this year because I’m in the hospital over the High Holy Days?”

Weiner said, “I tell them ‘There’s no Torah source that says that.’ I’m more likely to say, ‘Why is that on your mind right now?’ and then explore it with them and help them through it.”

Weiner and his staff do a lot to help make the holidays special for patients. Sometimes they reserve rooms and have entire families come in for Rosh Hashanah dinners. The hospital’s kitchen prepares a special kosher meal and hands out apples and honey and sweet cake. There are pre-recorded High Holy Days services that patients can watch on the television from their beds, and the chaplains will blow the shofar in every room where patients request it.

“We try to give the patients extra TLC and talk about the holidays,” Weiner said.

For those who are well enough to leave their rooms, they can attend services. While the hospital has on average 180-200 Jewish patients over the holidays, services have to be moved from the chapel to the Harvey Morse Auditorium because close to 600 people attend.

“The services are geared for the patients,” Weiner said. “They sit in the front row and we have their nurses with them. But we also have a lot of [Jewish] staff who are working attend, as well as past patients and even people who live in the neighborhood.”

Weiner leads the services himself with Cantor Jordan Gorfinkel, and the hospital has its own machzor in Hebrew, Hebrew transliteration, English and English commentary. The services are truncated. “We call it a learning service,” Weiner said. “There are full Torah readings and a full shofar blowing, but for the prayers, we skip around a bit.” On Yom Kippur afternoon, however, there are full services.

“We try to [hold services] in a way that Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and unaffiliated will all feel comfortable,” Weiner said.

The full Neilah service at the end of Yom Kippur is something Weiner cherishes. “There are so many tears because people are literally praying for their lives.” He recalled a particularly moving moment when he saw two women hugging and crying. “One said, ‘I was praying for your husband,’ and the other said, ‘I was praying for your son.’ It was so profound,” Weiner said. “And really meaningful.”

Kol Nidre LIVE 2018

Worshippers will come together September 18 at 6:30 p.m. for a Yom Kippur service led by Rabbi Naomi Levy of Nashuva.

The service will be broadcast worldwide and later archived at kolnidrelive.com. Viewers will be able to follow the service in a downloadable prayer book, and connect via commenting with fellow “congregants” around the world.

Kol Nidre is the evening service of Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement, the most important holiday of the Jewish year. Many Jews who do not observe any other Jewish custom will refrain from work, will fast and/or will attend services on this day.

Sign up for Kol Nidre LIVE updates!

 

[Support this program by donating to Nashuva]

Levy, a rabbi and best-selling author, whose latest book is Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul, was ordained in the first class of women at Jewish Theological Seminary. She founded and leads Nashuva, Hebrew for, “We Will Return.” Nashuva is a post-denominational, non-membership community open to all that meshes spirituality with social action.

You can also preorder the new CD: Heaven on Earth – Songs of the Soul

Tribe Media Corp. is dedicated to improving the world through media. Our brands include Jewish Journal, jewishjournal.com, and the Daily Roundtable.

Check back on this page for updates!

 

 

High Holy Days Services Calendar 5779

Photo courtesy of Nessah

Sept. 9 Erev Rosh Hashanah
Sept. 10 Rosh Hashanah
Sept. 11 Second Day Rosh Hashanah
Sept. 18 Kol Nidre
Sept. 19 Yom Kippur

Debating where to go for the High Holy Days? We got you covered. Here’s a list of services happening at more than 60 synagogues across L.A. and Ventura Counties. By no means complete, but hey, we tried.

Whether you go traditional or alternative, we hope to see you in the pews. L’Shanah tovah!

SAN FERNANDO AND CONEJO VALLEYS

ADAT ARI EL
The Conservative congregation holds Erev Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services at various times and at various locations at Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village. General public purchase tickets by calling (818) 766-9426.

BEIT HAMIDRASH OF WOODLAND HILLS
Ashkenazic, Sephardic and Yemenite services feature guest Rabbi Shalom Hammer from Israel and Rabbi Shmuel Kessin. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:30 p.m., Rosh Hashanah Day and
Second Day 8 a.m., Mincha 6:30 p.m. Kol Nidre 6:15 p.m., Yom Kippur 8:30 a.m. 5850 Fallbrook Ave., Woodland Hills. Call ahead for reservations. Ashkenazi: (818) 999-2059, Sephardic: (818) 610-7683, Yemenite: (818) 601-7100.

CONGREGATION BETH OHR
Independent spiritual and cultural community combines tradition, spirit, new thought and music. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8 p.m., Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m., Kol Nidre 8 p.m., Yom Kippur 10 a.m., Yizkor 12:30 p.m., community discussion follows afternoon break. Closing service 4 p.m. Light break-fast follows. 12355 Moorpark St., Studio City. (818) 773-3663.

CONGREGATION OR AMI
Musical services led by Rabbis Paul Kipnes and Julia Weisz and Cantor Doug Cotler. Various times. Evening and morning services for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur require tickets for each worshipper. Family services in the afternoon, Tashlich and Neilah services don’t require tickets. $290 seniors 63 and older; $280 grades 4-12; $20 grades pre-K-third grade. Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theatre, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Yom Kippur Family Service and Neilah at Congregation Or Ami, 26115 Mureau Road, Ste. B, Calabasas. (818) 880-4880.

KOL TIKVAH
Erev Rosh Hashanah youth and family service 5 p.m. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah day 9:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Tot service 1:30 p.m.; Rosh Hashanah second-day outdoor hike 10 a.m. Yom Kippur youth and family service 4:30 p.m.; Kol Nidre 7 p.m.; Yom Kippur morning service 9 a.m. Yom Kippur Tot service 1:30 p.m. Yizkor/Neilah 5:15 p.m. $325 ages 23-69. $200 for all others. All services held at Kol Tikvah except outdoor hike. Kol Tikvah, 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

LEO BAECK TEMPLE
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day service and Yom Kippur service tailored to families with elementary school children 9:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur service for the entire community 2 p.m. $250 children of current members ages 26-29, $300 general guests. Leo Baeck Temple, 1300 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 476-2861.

MALIBU JEWISH CENTER AND SYNAGOGUE
The Reconstructionist synagogue holds services led by Rabbi Michael Schwartz and Cantor Marcelo Gindlin. Featuring the MJCS Choir and chamber orchestra. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 9:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 10 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m-7:15 p.m. General public purchase tickets by calling (310) 456-2178. Malibu Jewish Center and Synagogue, 24855 Pacific Coast Highway, Malibu.

SHAAREY ZEDEK
The Orthodox congregation holds three simultaneous minyans for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Various times. $385 includes all services. Shaarey Zedek, 12800 Chandler Blvd., Valley Village. (818) 763-0560.

SHOMREI TORAH SYNAGOGUE
Erev Rosh Hashanah Apples and Honey Service for preschool through second-grade families 5-5:45 p.m. Shira service for adults and children elementary age and older 6-7 p.m. Traditional ma’ariv 8-8:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day service 8:30 a.m.-1:15 p.m. Children’s Rosh Hashanah 9 a.m.-1:15 p.m. USY-led service for teens and tweens 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Kol Nidre, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Children’s Kol Nidre Experience 6:30-8:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 8:30 a.m.-3:15 p.m. Children’s Yom Kippur 9 a.m.-2 p.m., Teens and Tweens 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Neilah 5:45-7:30 p.m. $250 for general public. Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. (818) 854-7650.

STEPHEN WISE TEMPLE
The Reform congregation’s Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur services are held at Stephen Wise Temple, Skirball Cultural Center and the Bel Air Church and include an all-community erev Rosh Hashanah service in the Stephen Wise Temple sanctuary. 8 p.m. Check Stephen Wise Temple website for information on other services. All-service passes $390 adult, $240 senior 65 and older, $160 youth (ages 10-26). No ticket required for Rosh Hashanah Second Day service. Stephen Wise Temple, 15500 Stephen S. Wise Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 476-8561, highholydays@wisela.org.

SYNAGOGUE FOR THE PERFORMING ARTS
The city’s original entertainment industry synagogue holds High Holy Days conducted by Joseph Telushkin and Cantor Judy Fox. Individual service tickets $125 each. Full set of tickets to all services $500 each. Second Day Rosh Hashanah free. Sportsmen’s Lodge, 12833 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. (310) 472-3500.

TEMPLE AHAVAT SHALOM
The Northridge Reform community’s main service features contemporary readings, music and reflections, its family service is geared toward families with children in grades 3-7 and its Bim Bam services are for infants and children up to 7. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:45 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 8:45 a.m. family service, 10:30 a.m. main service, Bim Bam Service 11 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:45 p.m. Yom Kippur 8:45 a.m. family service, 10:30 a.m. main service, 11 a.m. Bim Bam Service. Yom Kippur Afternoon 3:15 p.m. Yizkor 4:30 p.m. Neilah 5:15 p.m. General $300; Seniors 67 and older, students $160. Temple Ahavat Shalom, 18200 Rinaldi Place Spirit, Northridge. (818) 360-2258.

TEMPLE B’NAI HAYIM
Erev Rosh Hashanah with the Conservative congregation in Sherman Oaks begins at 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 9 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:15 p.m. Yom Kippur Day 9 a.m. Neilah 6:15 p.m. $300 for general. Temple B’nai Hayim, 4302 Van Nuys Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 788-4664.

TEMPLE ETZ CHAIM
The Conservative congregation in Thousand Oaks holds services and educational children’s programming. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day, Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur morning service 9 a.m. Yizkor 4:15 p.m. Mincha 5 p.m. Neilah 7 p.m. Children participate in Neilah carrying light sticks into the main sanctuary. Guest admission $250. Temple Etz Chaim, 1080 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. (805) 497-6891.

TEMPLE NER SIMCHA
Free High Holy Day services with the Agoura-based community, which blends Reform and Conservative Judaism. Reserve tickets early. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 9 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. All services held at Canyon Club, with the exception of tashlich, which is held at the Westlake Village Inn. Canyon Club, 28912 Roadside Drive, Agoura Hills. (818) 851-0030.

TEMPLE JUDEA
The Tarzana synagogue’s services for families with children of all ages are open to the general public. Traditional machzor, song-leader and guitar for high-energy experience. Rosh Hashanah Day 9 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day, open to the entire community, 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur Day 9 a.m., 12:15 p.m. $300. Temple Judea, 5429 Lindley Ave., Tarzana. (818) 758-3800.

TEMPLE SINAI OF GLENDALE
Led by Rabbi Rick Schechter and Cantor Steven Hummel, Temple Sinai of Glendale services are for adults, teens, children and families. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m., family service 3 p.m. Kol Nidre 8 p.m., Yom Kippur morning service 10 a.m., afternoon service 3:30 p.m., 5 p.m. Yizkor, 6 p.m. Neilah. $300 for all services. Free tickets available for active military, college students and visiting members of other congregations. Temple Sinai of Glendale, 1212 N. Pacific Ave., Glendale. (818) 246-8101.

VALLEY BETH SHALOM
Main services feature traditional and contemporary prayers and melodies led by VBS clergy, accompanied by piano and members of the VBS congregational choir. Sephardic service features traditional Sephardic melodies led by Sephardic cantors. Erev Rosh Hashanah first service 6 p.m., second service 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day main services 7:45 a.m., 1:15 p.m. Sephardic service 8:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day main service 7:45 a.m., Sephardic service 8:30 a.m. Kol Nidre Main service 6 p.m., 8:45 p.m. Sephardic service 6:30 p.m. Yom Kippur Main service 7:45 a.m., 1:45 p.m. Sephardic service 8:30 a.m. Yom Kippur evening service free and open to the community. Bring your own shofar and participate in the final T’kiyah G’dolah. 5 p.m. Mincha. 6:15 p.m. Neilah 7:30 p.m. final sounding of the shofar. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. For ticket information, call (818) 788-6000.

VALLEY OUTREACH SYNAGOGUE
The interdenominational congregation holds musical High Holy Days services led by Rabbi Ron Li-Paz and chaplain Jennifer Nye. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m., Rosh Hashanah Day 10 p.m., children’s programs 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Teen Lounge 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m., Yom Kippur morning service 10 a.m., Children’s programs 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m., Teen Lounge 1 p.m. $225. The Shepherd Church, 19700 Rinaldi St., Porter Ranch. Yom Kippur afternoon services at 3:30 p.m., Valley Outreach Synagogue, 26668 Agoura Road, Calabasas. Yizkor 5 p.m. Free. (818) 882-4867.


WEST HOLLYWOOD/HOLLYWOOD AND EASTSIDE

BAIS NAFTOLI
The Orthodox congregation on La Brea holds free High Holy Days services for the community. Rosh Hashanah both days 8:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:30 p.m. Yom Kippur morning service 8:30 a.m. Neilah 6:00 p.m. Bais Naftoli, 221 S. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 931-2476.

BETH SHIRAH CONGREGATION
Led by Cantor Estherleon Schwartz. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m., Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m., Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m., Yom Kippur 10:30 a.m. Free. Matrix Theatre, 7657 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. (323) 653-7420.

CONGREGATION KOL AMI
Rabbis Denise Eger and Max Chaiken and Cantor Patti Linsky conduct services for the West Hollywood LGBT community. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m., children’s service 10:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 8 p.m. Yom Kippur morning service 10 a.m. Afternoon healing/Neilah 3:30 p.m. $200 includes all services. Single-service tickets available. All services held at Harmony Gold Theater, 7655 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, except for Rosh Hashanah Second Day held at Congregation Kol Ami, 1200 N. La Brea Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 606-0997.

HOLLYWOOD TEMPLE BETH EL
Hollywood Temple Beth El invites all who are hungry for spirituality and community to attend participatory services led by Rabbi Dr. Norbert Weinberg, Rabbi Steven Rosenberg and Hazzan Stacey Morse. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 9 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. $100 general admission. Free for active military, first responders. Hollywood Temple Beth El, 1317 N. Crescent Blvd., West Hollywood. Reserve your seat by calling (323) 656-3150, emailing temple@htbel.org

MOVABLE MINYAN
Movable Minyan’s congregant-led High Holy Days services integrate interpretative, spiritual and educational ideas. Highlights include song and study sessions for children and adults. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8-9:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day and Second Day 9:30 a.m-1:30 p.m. Kol Nidre 6:15-8:15 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m.-7:30 p.m. All services $200 for an adult, $60 for one day. Institute of Jewish Education, 8339 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (310) 285-3317.

NASHUVA
Led by Rabbi Naomi Levy. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:45 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 9:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 8:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m. $350 suggested donation. All services held at Founder’s Church of Religious Science, 3281 W. Sixth St., Los Angeles, except for tashlich on Monday at 6 p.m. at Venice Beach, Rosh Hashanah Second Day at Temescal Canyon and Neilah at Brentwood Presbyterian Church, 12000 San Vicente Blvd., Los Angeles. Kol Nidre Live, presented by Nashuva and the Jewish Journal, streams free at 6:30 p.m.

SANCTUARY@PICO UNION
Artists, musicians and teachers Craig Taubman, Rabbi Tova Leibovic-Douglas, Stuart Robinson and Shany Zamir lead the alternative community’s fourth annual deep dive into the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah Day 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Lunch follows. Kol Nidre 8-9:30 p.m. Yom Kippur Day 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Neila 6 p.m. at the Open Temple, Venice Beach. $275, all-service pass; $125, good for one High Holy Day experience; $200, good for two services. Pico Union Project, 1153 Valencia St., Los Angeles. (213) 915-0084.

TEMPLE BETH ISRAEL
The Highland Park and Eagle Rock congregation holds services at its historic synagogue. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m., Rosh Hashanah Day 9 a.m., Rosh Hashanah family service 2-3 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur morning 9 a.m. Yizkor noon. Yom Kippur family service 2-3 p.m. Mincha and Neilah 5:30 p.m. Break-the-fast potluck 7:30 p.m. $250 per adult gets entry to all services. Family services: $36 per family per service. No one will be turned away. Email shul President Josh Kaufman at joshtbila@gmail.com to discuss payment. 5711 Monte Vista St., Los Angeles. (323) 745-2472.

TEMPLE ISRAEL OF HOLLYWOOD
Erev Rosh Hashanah and Kol Nidre services led by Rabbis John Rosove, Michelle Missaghieh and Jocee Hudson and Cantorial Soloist and Music Director Shelly Fox, a 12-voice choir and pianist Michael Alfera. K-6th grade family Kol Nidre Service led by Rabbi Jocee Hudson. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur morning services in the sanctuary. For times, visit the Temple Israel of Hollywood website. $350. Temple Israel of Hollywood, 7300 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 876-8330.


WESTSIDE

ADAT SHALOM
The Conservative congregation holds erev Rosh Hashanah services at 7 p.m., Rosh Hashanah Day 9 a.m., Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9 a.m., Kol Nidre 6:30 p.m., Yom Kippur 9 a.m. $400 for adults, includes all services. Full-time students free. Adat Shalom, 3030 Westwood Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 475-4985.

AISH HATORAH
For information on user-friendly beginner services for Erev Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur call (310) 278-8672. 9100 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.

COMMUNITY SHUL
For information on traditional Ashkenazi services for Erev Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur call (424) 354-4130. 9100 W. Pico Blvd.

BEVERLY HILLS JEWISH COMMUNITY
Traditional choral services, led by Rabbi Yossi Cunin and Cantor Levi Coleman. $900 for adults, $75 for children ages 3-13. Sephardic/Moroccan services led by Rabbi Avshalom Even-Haim and Cantor Yossi Avitbol.  $150 for adults, $100 for Young Professionals 18-31 and $75 for children 3-17. Call (310) 276-4246 for times. The Beverly Hills Hotel, 9641 Sunset Blvd., Beverly Hills.

BEIT T’SHUVAH
At the Venice Boulevard synagogue, the message is “Leave behind your old notions of High Holidays as mandatory and monotonous. At Congregation Beit T’Shuvah, the No. 1 concern is uplifting your soul.” Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m., Rosh Hashanah Day 9 a.m., Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9 a.m., Kol Nidre 7 p.m., Yom Kippur 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Individual tickets $75 per service. $375 for all services. Tashlich at Venice Pier free. Beit T’Shuvah, 8831 Venice Blvd., Los Angeles. No parking at Beit T’Shuvah. Uber and Lyft suggested. Shuttle from Shenandoah Street Elementary. (310) 204-5200, ext. 255.

BETH JACOB CONGREGATION
Rabbi Kalman Topp, Chazzan Arik Wollheim and the Maccabeats lead services in Beth Jacob’s Shapell Sanctuary. Erev Rosh Hashanah Services 6:45 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day Services 7:45 a.m., 6:45 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 7:45 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 8:30 a.m., 4:45 p.m. $650. Explanatory Minyan promises to be a great start to a new year. No Hebrew skills necessary, Rosh Hashanah Day and Second Day, 9 a.m. 11 a.m. Pomtinis, fresh fruit bar and shofar. Kol Nidre 6:45 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m., Yizkor 11 a.m. $150. 9030 W. Olympic Blvd., Beverly Hills. For additional services contact the synagogue at (310) 278-1911.

BETH CHAYIM CHADASHIM
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:15 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 9:30 a.m. Catered luncheon, 12:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:15 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m. Yizkor 5:30 p.m. Neilah 6:20 p.m. Community break-fast 7:30 p.m. Guest tickets $310 for all services, $250 for full-time students (includes one-year membership), single services, $140. The second day of Rosh Hashanah is free. Services held at Temple Isaiah, 10345 W. Pico Blvd., except for Rosh Hashanah Second Day, held at BCC. 6090 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 931-7023, ext. 205.

B’NAI DAVID-JUDEA
The modern Orthodox congregation holds Erev Rosh Hashanah at 6:50 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 6:45 a.m., 6:50 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 7 a.m., 6:50 p.m. Kol Nidre 6:40 p.m. Yom Kippur 7 a.m., 6:40 p.m. For general public, 18 and older $180; for sixth-12th-graders $100; for 6-month-olds to fifth-graders $100. No one will be turned away. 8906 W. Pico Blvd. (310) 276-9269.

COOL SHUL
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m., Yizkor, Neilah and break-fast 3 p.m. General adult tickets $180 and children $80. Single-service adult tickets $80, child tickets $20. Cheadle Hall, Temescal Canyon Park, 15900 Pacific Coast Highway, Pacific Palisades. (310) 745-4578.

CREATIVE ARTS TEMPLE
Led by Rabbi Jerry Cuter, Rabbi Herb Freed and Cantor Paul Dorman. Featuring full choir conducted by Gary Nesteruk, Elizabeth Cohn and Chelsea Cutler. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 8 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m. Westwood United Methodist Church, 10497 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. Tickets $250. (818) 855-1301.

HAPPY MINYAN
Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach-style shul holds erev Rosh Hashanah at 6:50 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 8 a.m., 6:45 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 8 a.m., 6:45 p.m. Pre-Kol Nidre Mincha 6:15 p.m., Kol Nidre 6:45 p.m. Yom Kippur 8 a.m., Neilah 6 p.m. All tickets $180. No one will be turned away. 9218 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.

IKAR
Join the progressive egalitarian congregation for High Holy Day services. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:15 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 8:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 8:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 6 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. Yizkor 2 p.m. Neilah 5:45 p.m. Adults and children required to have IKARds for services and programs. All services $400, Rosh Hashanah only $280, Yom Kippur only $280. Erev Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah Second Day and Yom Kippur after 2 p.m. free, not including $10 fee for registration. Shalhevet High School, 910 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 634-1870.

KAHAL JOSEPH CONGREGATION
Modern Sephardic services. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:15 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day and Second Day 8 a.m., 6:15 p.m. Kol Nidre 6:15 p.m. Yom Kippur 7 a.m., Mincha 3:45 p.m., Neilah 5:45 p.m. Havdalah and fast ends at 7:39 p.m. $300 adults, $150 teenagers post-bar and bat mitzvah through high school, $150 undergraduate and graduate students. Kahal Joseph, 10505 Santa Monica Blvd., Westwood. (310) 474-0559.

KEHILLAT ISRAEL
Join the Reconstructionist synagogue for erev Rosh Hashanah family services 5:30 p.m., evening service 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah morning service 10 a.m. Alternative Multi-Generational Service 10:30 a.m., Kol Nidre family service 5:30 p.m. Evening service 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur morning service 10 a.m. Alternative Multi-Generational Service 10:30 a.m. Tickets $400. Rosh Hashanah Tot Service 4:30 p.m., Second Day early service 11 a.m. Mincha 4 p.m. and Yizkor 5:00 pm., free. Services held at Kehillat Israel, 6019 W. Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades, and at Westwood Village Theatre, 961 Broxton Ave., Westwood Village. (310) 459-2328.

KEHILLAT MA’ARAV
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 9 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9 a.m., Kol Nidre 6:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. $250, $100 per service. Olympic Collection Grand Ballroom, 11301 Olympic Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 829-0566.

MISHKON TEPHILO
Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day and Second Day 9:45 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:15 p.m. Yom Kippur 10:15 a.m. Tickets for guests of members of any age $165. Nonmember adult seats 13 and older $325 for reserved seats, $255 for general admission. Nonmember child seats 12 and younger $200 for reserved seats, $165 for general admission. 206 Main St., Venice. (310) 392-3029.

NESSAH SYNAGOGUE
Rabbi Shmuly Boteach is the Yom Kippur special guest speaker at the Iranian congregation. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 9 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9 a.m., 6:30 p.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 8 a.m., 3 p.m. Neilah 6:15 p.m. $100 for ages 6-17, $150 for ages 18-24 and $275 for 25 and older. Nessah Congregation, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400.

OHR HATORAH
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 8:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m., Yom Kippur 8:30 a.m. Tickets $200; children age 3-17, $100; college students (with ID), $50. With the exception of Rosh Hashanah second day, the non-affiliated synagogue’s services held at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, 4401 W. Eighth St., Los Angeles.  No ticket required for the second day service at Ohr HaTorah, 11827 Venice Blvd., Mar Vista. (310) 915-5200.

OPEN TEMPLE
Featuring Kabbalistic kirtan, sound bath, rock band, goat yoga, Mincha meditation and more. Erev Rosh Hashanah family service 4 p.m. Erev Rosh Hashanah Kirtan Chant Service 6:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m. Family Service 4 p.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m. Yom Kippur Family Service 4 p.m. Goat Yoga 5 p.m. Erev Rosh Hashanah family service and Rosh Hashanah Day family service $50. Erev Kabbalistic Kirtan $36. $180 Rosh Hashanah Day. Kol Nidre $180. Yom Kippur $180.  $360 admits to Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur services. Electric Lodge, 1416 Electric Ave., Venice. (310) 821-1414.

PICO SHUL
Orthodox user-friendly Days of Awesome services handcrafted for the young and young at heart. Featuring a Kabbalistic kiddush, breakout sessions and an interactive atmosphere. Erev Rosh Hashanah 6:30-8:30 p.m., Rosh Hashanah Day and Second Day 9 a.m.-1 p.m. Kol Nidre 6 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m.-1 p.m., followed by afternoon discussions, Mincha and Neilah. All services, $500. Rosh Hashanah:  $89 general, $136 reserved, $49 for young professionals younger than 36. Same prices for Yom Kippur. Pico Shul, 9116 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles.

PACIFIC JEWISH CENTER
Orthodox congregation a.k.a. Shul on the Beach holds services on the Venice boardwalk. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 9:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur 9:30 a.m. Neilah 5 p.m. Tickets are priced on a sliding scale; contact the office for more information. Pacific Jewish Center, 505 Ocean Front Walk, Venice. (310) 392-8749.

SANTA MONICA SYNAGOGUE
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m., film and discussion 1 p.m. Family Service 3 p.m. Afternoon service 4 p.m. Yizkor 5 p.m. $225 for adults 18 and older. Free for those under 18. United Methodist Church, 1008 11th St., Santa Monica. (310) 453-4276.

SINAI TEMPLE
5,000 people are expected at the Conservative synagogue. Erev Rosh Hashanah 5:45 p.m., 8 p.m.  Rosh Hashanah 8 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day 8 a.m. Kol Nidre 6 p.m. Yom Kippur 9 a.m. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd. For ticket prices, call (310) 474-1518 or visit sinaitemple.org. Atid alternative services with Sinai Temple young professionals, ages 21-39. Rosh Hashanah Day 4-6 p.m. Kol Nidre 9-10:30 p.m. Yom Kippur Neilah 5-8 p.m. Break-fast follows. Tickets $100 for an individual, $150 for couples. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Westwood. (310) 481-3244.

TEMPLE AKIBA
Erev Rosh Hashanah family service 5 p.m., erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m. Children’s Service (at Temple Akiba) 3 p.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m.   Yom Kippur 10 a.m. Yizkor 3:30 p.m. $75-$230. College students free. Veterans Auditorium, 4117 Overland Ave., Culver City (310) 398-5783.

TEMPLE BETH AM
Erev Rosh Hashanah led by Temple Beth Am clergy and featuring song, spirit and community. 6:15 pm. Open to the community at no charge. Registration required. Kol Nidre Under the Stars, a spiritual, musical, in-the-round prayer service on outdoor lawn, 6 p.m. Space limited. $100 per seat, $50 under 26 and seniors 65 and oolder. 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7354, ext. 211.

TEMPLE EMANUEL OF BEVERLY HILLS
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 8:45 a.m., Tot Service 11 a.m., second adult Service noon. Rosh Hashanah second day adult service 9 a.m. Kol Nidre 6:15 p.m. Yom Kippur adult service with Yizkor 8:45 a.m., family service 8:45 a.m., adult service with Yizkor, noon. Contemporary Issues Forum on the #MeToo movement with Good Men Project experts 2:45 p.m. “Music, Mediation and Jonah” 4:30 p.m. Adult Neilah/Havdalah 5:20 p.m. Children 12 and younger are free. For nonmembers 13 and older, tickets are $175 for each of the six services or $550 for the package. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. (310) 288-3737.

TEMPLE ISAIAH
Reform congregation holds Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day Family Service 8:30 a.m. Morning service 11:15 a.m. Teen Service 11:30 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Second Day Tot Service 9:30 a.m. Morning service 10:30 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur Family Service 8:30 a.m. Morning service 11:15 a.m. Teen Service 11:30 a.m. Speaker at 2 p.m. Healing Yoga and Meditation 3:30 p.m. Afternoon Service 3:30 p.m. Yizkor and Neilah 4:15 p.m. Except for second day of Rosh Hashanah, all services held at Royce Hall at UCLA, 10745 Dickson Court, Los Angeles. All-service adult tickets $575, youths younger than 25 and seniors, $280. Individual services, $165 adults, children and seniors, $80. Rosh Hashanah second day services at Temple Isaiah. (310) 277-2772.

BEVERLY HILLS TEMPLE OF THE ARTS
Experience the High Holidays through music, art, drama and film and with speakers from around the world. Erev Rosh Hashanah 8 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 8 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m. Saban Theatre, 8440 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills. $150 for young adults ages 18-35, $400 for nonmember adults. (323) 658-9100.

UNIVERSITY SYNAGOGUE
Reform services include Erev Rosh Hashanah Brentwood Havurah service 7:30 p.m., regular service 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day tot service 8:30 a.m. Morning service 10:30 a.m. Kol Nidre Brentwood Havurah service 7:30 p.m., regular service, 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur tot service 8:30 a.m., regular service 10:30 a.m. Afternoon service, Yizkor and Neilah 2:30 p.m. Nonmembers adult tickets $425, $210 for children under 26, no charge for college students or for children under 3. $118 for Brentwood Havurah Services (for 20s and 30s). University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 472-1255.

WILSHIRE BOULEVARD TEMPLE
Adult open seating services, family services and musical services on both days of Rosh Hashanah, Kol Nidre and Yom Kippur. Various times. Mincha, Yizkor, Neilah in the sanctuary 4 p.m. Nefesh Neilah 5:30 p.m. Various prices. Wilshire Boulevard Temple Glazer Campus, 3663 Wilshire Blvd. (213) 388-2401.

VITAL TRANSFORMATION
Free erev Rosh Hashanah and Rosh Hashanah services with Rabbi and Kabbalist Eliyahu Jian. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:15 p.m., Rosh Hashana Day and Second Day morning service 9 a.m., Torah and lecture 9:45 a.m., shofar 10:45 a.m. Free lunch provided after Rosh Hashanah day and second-day services. RSVP mandatory at debbiejian@gmail.com or (561) 400-7796. Private home, 1471 S. Crest Drive, Los Angeles.


SOUTH BAY

CONGREGATION NER TAMID
South Bay Jewry comes together at the Conservative synagogue in Palos Verdes. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day and Second Day 8:15 a.m. Rosh Hashanah Day Two Family Picnic 5:30 p.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur 8:15 a.m. Yizkor 10:15 a.m. Mincha and Neilah 5 p.m. Nonmembers 26 and older $250 per adult. Members’ relatives 26 and older $125 per adult. College and graduate students, first responders and military admitted free. Congregation Ner Tamid, 5721 Crestridge Road, Rancho Palos Verdes. (310) 377-6986.

TEMPLE EMET
Musical, spiritual and inclusive services led by Rabbi-Cantor Didi Thomas. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 p.m., Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m., Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m., Yom Kippur 10 a.m. Adult ticket $180, students 18-25 and active military free with valid ID. Temple Emet, 2051 W. 236th St., Torrance. (310) 316-3322.

TEMPLE MENORAH
Led by Rabbi Leah Lewis and student cantor Kelly Cooper. Erev Rosh Hashanah 7:30 pm. Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m. Mishpachah Minyan 10:15 a.m. Children’s Programming follows. Rosh Hashanah Second Day Tot Service 9 a.m. Morning service 10:15 a.m. Kol Nidre 7:30 p.m. Yom Kippur Tot Service 10 a.m. Morning service 11 a.m. Mishpachah Minyan 11:15 a.m. Yizkor 5:30 p.m. Neilah 6:30 p.m. Havdalah, shofar, break-fast. Nonmembers, $360. Second day Rosh Hashanah service is free. Free for active military personnel and their dependents, dependent children and full-time students. Temple Menorah, 1101 Camino Real, Redondo Beach.  (310) 316-8444.

TEMPLE SHALOM
Erev Rosh Hashanah 7 p.m. Rosh Hashanah Day 10 a.m. Children’s Service 10 a.m. Kol Nidre 7 p.m. Yom Kippur 10 a.m. Children’s Service 10 a.m. Neilah 4:30 p.m. Nonmembers tickets $180 per service. Children services free for K-fifth-graders with adult paid ticket. Neilah and Break-the-Fast open to all ticketholders, RSVP required. Temple Shalom, 1818 Monterey Blvd., Hermosa Beach.  (310) 613-3855.


PASADENA

PASADENA JEWISH TEMPLE AND CENTER
Erev Rosh Hashanah with the Conservative congregation begins at 7:30 p.m., Rosh Hashanah Day 9 a.m., Rosh Hashanah Second Day 9 a.m., Kol Nidre 8 p.m., Yom Kippur morning service 9 a.m., Neilah 6 p.m. $350. No ticket required for Rosh Hashanah Second Day. Pasadena Jewish Temple and Center, 1434 N. Altadena Drive, Pasadena. (626) 798-1161.

Rosh Hashanah in the midst of a hurricane

Chabad Rabbi Mendel Zarchi hands out food and water in San Juan, Puerto Rico, after the island was devastated by Hurriance Maria on Sept. 20. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Mendel Zarchi

It took three phone calls via WhatsApp to connect with Chabad Rabbi Mendel Zarchi in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

A week after Hurricane Maria had torn through the region the day before Rosh Hashanah, Zarchi spoke with the Journal via a “hotspot” — someone else’s phone that had internet connectivity, because his did not. Most of the tiny island territory still was without water or power.

Zarchi’s voice cracked as he talked of living through the night of the storm in the storage room of San Juan’s Chabad House with his wife, Rachel, their 7-year-old-son, Ari, and two other families.

“We experienced a torrent of winds that is unfathomable,” Zarchi said. “When you see windows shaking, hear the winds howling and see a raging river flowing contrary to its natural flow with waves close to 3-feet high, there’s no illusion that this can be conquered. This was God’s force.”

The families were safe in the Chabad structure, which was built 15 months ago and designed to withstand such storms.

Venturing outside the day after the storm, Zarchi said the area looked like a war zone. “The streets were deserted, there was flooding, chaos, downed wires and telephone lines,” and the roof of his home had been torn off, he said.

And yet, it never entered his mind to cancel Rosh Hashanah services.

“At around 3 p.m. [on Erev Rosh Hashanah], the trauma wore off a bit, and the reality set in that it was going to be Rosh Hashanah,” he said.

Zarchi said his first concern was the safety of the community. For those who could make it to synagogue, there would be davening and meals, courtesy of the rebbetzin, made possible by Chabad House’s generator that provided power for cooking and light.

Together with local volunteers, Zarchi made his way to the synagogue. “It was flooded with hundreds of gallons of water, and our roof had been ripped off, but we rolled up our sleeves and opened the doors,” he said. “The brooms were brought out — we had no mops — and the sweeping began. It took about two hours. We barely made it.”

Usually, 50 to 100 people attend High Holy Days services at the Chabad shul. On this Erev Rosh Hashanah, 15 people made it.

“At around 3 p.m. [Erev Rosh Hashanah], the trauma wore off a bit, and the reality set in that it was going to be Rosh Hashanah.” — Rabbi Mendel Zarchi

The next morning, another small group braved the elements to attend services, which were conducted without a cantor. The cantor was stranded in Chicago after his flight was canceled due to hydraulic problems. He missed his alternate flight because it left two hours early to reach Puerto Rico ahead of the hurricane.

Zarchi said his prepared sermon “went out the window. It was about the emotions of the moment, and it didn’t need preparation.”

In his improvised sermon, he spoke of how we seek security in our families, our homes and our businesses. “We want to feel protected, and in a moment we see how vulnerable we are and how we’re dependent on our creator,” he said. “And on the other hand, we don’t control the events around us, but we do control how we respond to them.”

Zarchi told his congregants that when he walked outside at 7 a.m. that first day after the storm, seeing few people, he noticed “one old man bending down and picking leaves out of a drain. He did that for hours. He chose to respond in a selfless way and he made a difference.”

Zarchi also met with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. He said he told her, “We have deep roots in this community, and we will remain to see the rebuilding of this beautiful island.”

Zarchi said the mayor requested that he keep her and the island in his prayers. Zarchi said he promised he would. In return, he asked for the nightly curfew to be lifted for those wanting to attend Kol Nidre services on Erev Yom Kippur. He said she told him, “I’ll send out a tweet immediately, encouraging the Jewish people to go to their synagogues and asking the police to allow them to go pray.”

Throughout the days after the storm, Chabad flew in supplies.

Zarchi said visiting some of the poorest communities was important.

“We bring them food and water, and also a message of hope that they can rebuild and somebody is thinking about them,” he said. “It could take months for government resources to come. I told them, ‘We’re here, we’re thinking about you,’ and it meant so much to them. We can all make a difference. We can all bring some order to the chaos.”

This article has been updated.

After Las Vegas shooting, rabbi uses High Holy Days poem to protest gun violence

Concertgoers taking cover at a country music festival on the Las Vegas Strip following a mass shooting attack on Oct. 1. Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

In the wake of the shooting Sunday night in Las Vegas that left at least 58 people dead, a New Jersey rabbi has used a Jewish poem as a vehicle to argue against gun violence.

Those who attended synagogue during the recent High Holy Days likely chanted or read the “Unetanah Tokef,” which describes how God decides at the beginning of each Jewish New Year who will live and who will die.

“On Rosh Hashanah it is inscribed/ And on Yom Kippur it is sealed/ How many shall pass away and how many shall be born/ Who shall live and who shall die/ Who shall reach the end of his days and who shall not/ Who shall perish by water and who by fire,” reads the most recognizable part of the poem, which goes on to list different ways people can die.

The version by Rabbi Douglas Sagal of Temple Emanu-El, in the central New Jersey town of Westfield, substitutes gun models and makes for the causes of death: “who by full automatic fire, and who by semi auto; who by AR, and who by AK; who by pistol and who by revolver.”

But unlike the “Unetanah Tokef,” in which the reader is comforted to know that “repentance, prayer and righteousness avert the severe decree,” Sagal ends by saying that those actions “will do absolutely nothing to avert the decree, nothing, for our politicians are too frightened.”

Read Sagal’s poem here:

Unetaneh Tokef for AmericaToday it is written, today it is sealed in the United States of America-Who shall die, and…

Posted by Douglas Sagal on Monday, October 2, 2017

Neilah: The gates are closing, but where? When? How?

Photo courtesy of Pexels.

Like the grand finale culminating a fireworks show, something amazing occurs in the synagogue’s sanctuary at the end of Yom Kippur.

After 24 hours — a full day of fasting, praying, reciting po etry and absorbing scriptural readings — our souls have immersed in the flow of a day of spirit. Like angels, we dress in white and refrain from eating or attending to bodily needs. And like angels, we seek to soar upward, aided by our renewed sense of authenticity, purified from the distractions and dirt of daily life. The culmination of this packed day — filled with more mitzvot than any other 24-hour stretch during the year, crammed with ample time for reflection, contemplation and honest self-scrutiny — asks for something noble to drive home its message.

The uncertainty

Neilah delivers that grandeur, in music that is a hit parade of the High Holy Days Top 10, asking us to stand throughout the entire final service, ark open, all eyes forward, and with a culmination of responsive back-and-forth liturgy between cantor and congregation, culminating in the final blasts of the shofar.

Small wonder that as the noise crescendoes and then finally tapers away, we have the sense of being at a rally, at a crop harvest or in the final paces of a marathon. We’re sweaty, tired and hungry but champions of the spirit.

Again and again, our liturgy suggests the image of gates closing. We rush to squeeze through, but the gates are closing.

Which gates?

The gates to our hearts, cracked open by the time of intense prayer and introspection?

The gates of God’s compassion, eager to welcome us home?

The gates of heaven, inviting weary pilgrims to return?

Perhaps the gates of evening, as the setting sun meets a darkening firmament?

Or maybe the gates refer to a time limit. Isn’t part of what is special about Yom Kippur is that it is a time of particular promise for repentance, for changing our ways, for remapping our journey toward a more worthy destination? If so, then the closing of the gates refers to the time yet available for us to repent.

The gates: when and where

It turns out that the liturgy doesn’t help us resolve this ambiguity. Where are those gates? Inside our hearts? In God’s ample love? At heaven’s door? We never step outside the spatial metaphors to specify their location.

The choreography of keeping the ark open throughout the Neilah service offers a visual that the closing gates are literally just before our eyes: the gates of Torah.

But that “where” is never nailed down, never specified. And we don’t identify the “when” of our gates, either: The end of services? The end of Yom Kippur?

For us, the bigger paradox is that the very tradition that is rushing us to repent while there’s still time is unambiguous in holding that God always welcomes the sinner, is always eager for us to turn in repentance. There is never a time when God’s love is not greater than our shortcomings; never a time when God is too fatigued by our presence that we are not welcome to return. But if God always is eager to receive the sinner in repentance, then what’s the rush? Why do we feel pushed to hasten our process to coincide with the conclusion of Yom Kippur?

Unspecified gates in multiple time frames hardly sounds like a recipe for spiritual growth. Yet, it turns out that it is precisely in this uncertain swirl of multiple possibilities and shifting occasions where human transformation becomes possible.

Through paradox to growth

Were we to operate only with the assumption that repentance always is available, then we would never be motivated to actually change at a particular instance. Just as knowledge of our certain mortality infuses our life with a need to seize the day, so does the push of Yom Kippur as a time particularly favorable to teshuvah inspire us to more focused contemplation than a more open-ended process would.

But if all we had was a sense that we must repent today, before the end of the day, then repentance is paralyzed by the ticking of the clock, by the desperation inspired by time running out. It is precisely the paradoxical balance of an open-ended process joining hands with a particularly favorable moment that makes forward movement happen.

Similarly, were our tradition to limit the gates to one, then so many other portals would be closed to us. The gate of Torah is precious and vital, but it is not the only door we pass through. We turn, in different moments of our lives, to different openings: family, marriage, children, professional training and practice, spiritual discipline, pursuit of justice — to name a few. Each of these gates manifests the ways that the cosmos creates new possibilities for us, shows different ways that the sacred lures us toward our own optimal greatness. The gates must be specified, but not limited. There, too, it is precisely the paradox that allows us to squeeze ourselves through, self-surpassing, as is our God. 

RABBI BRADLEY SHAVIT ARTSON holds the Abner and Roslyn Goldstine Dean’s Chair at Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies and is vice president at American Jewish University.

Kol Nidre: When the melody meets the moment

People play instruments during a Tashlich ceremony, a Rosh Hashanah ritual to symbolically cast away sins, during the Nashuva Spiritual Community Jewish New Year celebration on Venice Beach. Sept. 21. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/REUTERS.

Kol Nidre ve’esarei

Every year, during the month of Elul, if not before, cantors return to these ancient Aramaic words in reverential search of meaning and inspiration, for they possess a power beyond any others in our long liturgical tradition.

What is it about these seemingly simple, legalistic terms that hold such mystery and transformative power? To me, the compelling power of the Kol Nidre prayer is founded on two truths: 1) the meaning is the moment, and 2) the power of melody.

First, a brief history of this storied text. The first appearance of the opening words of Kol Nidre (literally, “all vows”) has been found on bowls used for magical incantations, curses and spells, which were discovered in ancient Persia (now Iran), dating as far back as the seventh century C.E. Consider this for a moment: The origin of Kol Nidre is a magical spell to deflect harmful curses.

We next encounter an expanded version in the ninth century siddur edited by Rav Amram Gaon. When it appears again a couple of centuries later in the Machzor Vitry, the custom of chanting Kol Nidre three times has taken hold and its meaning has been transformed from magical incantation to legal document, granting the annulment of vows.

This practice eventually led to a controversy that reached its apex in the 19th century, when German Reform rabbis were forced, in response to virulent anti-Semitic charges of dishonesty, to delete Kol Nidre from the machzor. The anti-Semitic claims used Kol Nidre as a proof text for Jewish distrust. Anti-Semites would say, “Look at the Jews! On their holiest day of the year they state openly that their vows are not valid.”

Until its reinstatement in the Reform machzor in 1961, the Jewish community took solace in its melody. The Kol Nidre melody that Ashkenazi Jews recognize as traditional originated in the 16th century and became embellished over the next several centuries. Its collection of simple, short melodic fragments are woven together to form an unforgettable musical moment in sacred time.

Consider the power of just two simple notes, those first two notes of Kol Nidre. In those two notes, an entire community is bound together. Beethoven also needed only two notes to compose what is arguably the most memorable symphony ever composed, his Fifth Symphony.

So potent were those first two notes of Kol Nidre that there was an outcry among the German Reform Jews when the text was deleted from their machzor. However, it wasn’t the text they desired, but the melody. In response, they chose a psalm sung in German to the Kol Nidre melody as a temporary replacement.

The other part of Kol Nidre’s power is the moment. The beginning of the evening of Yom Kippur is arguably the most palpable moment in the entire Jewish communal year. According to our tradition, our very lives hang in the balance. We dress in white and refrain from eating and drinking, as if preparing for our own funeral. We are facing death. Kol Nidre, with its strange and controversial history, its simple but unforgettable melody and the very sounds of its ancient Aramaic words all converge in what is a holy moment in time.

Chanting Kol Nidre for the first time remains a powerful and intimate memory. I was a high school senior in my hometown of Cleveland when our 2,000-member Conservative synagogue experienced a breakup. For reasons unimportant now, nearly 500 members decided to form their own congregation, and I was asked to serve as cantorial soloist.

I was honored to accept but also concerned at my lack of experience and the enormity of the responsibility. I spent the summer preparing with relentless diligence, rehearsing with my accompanist and eight-voice choir. In the end, I felt ready and worthy. Rosh Hashanah went well and I was emboldened with confidence in anticipation of what we then commonly referred to as “Kol Nidre Night.” 

When that moment came, I found myself trembling with fear. I remember being grateful for the loose-fitting white robe that hid my shaking legs. I began the first of the traditional three offerings with timidity, which was all I had at that moment. Then the second with growing confidence, and by the third I was fully present.

I honestly don’t remember much of what followed, other than complete relief and exhaustion. Still, years later, the fear and trembling are present — not from inexperience, but rather from a deeper and more mature understanding of the moment and it’s meaning.

So what does a 21st century cantor do to prepare for such a monumental moment in the Jewish communal drama? We do what we’ve always done. We delve yet again into its history, text and melody, the countless commentaries and personal stories. Deeper and deeper we search so that in that Kol Nidre moment we can let go and become fully present, one with the entire community of Jews as time stands still.

Cantor Don Gurney is a cantor at Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

Why Kol Nidre keeps calling

Although you are not sure why, you don’t want to be late for Kol Nidre. As the sun is going down, there you are in the car, even running a yellow light or two, hurrying toward the shul, temple, rented room or wherever it is you go to begin Yom Kippur.

It’s not as if you’re that religious, but somewhere in your head, where yontif memories are filtered into expectations, and doubt rubs up against belief, the majestic music and solemn words — of which you know only a few — are calling: Kol Nidre, ve-esarei, va-haramei, v’konamei.

As you look for parking, you wonder where these feelings are coming from. Is it that Kol Nidre is a powerful prayer or blessing? It’s neither. Kol Nidre, which means “all vows,” is a legal formula for the annulment of “vows, renunciations, bans, oaths, formulas of obligation, pledges and promises,” made not to another, but to yourself and God.

The murky origins of Kol Nidre do not provide much of an explanation for why it has had such a lasting grip on us. Although in Spain it might have relieved some Marrano Jews of guilt from the vows they took upon being forced to convert, many researchers believe the legal formula already was in existence long before that, sometime in the eighth or ninth centuries. The tradition of saying Kol Nidre also is supported by a Talmudic statement that calls for a similar practice to nullify every vow.

Whatever its origins, according to “A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice” by Isaac Klein, the purpose of Kol Nidre has been “to provide release from vows in matters relating to ritual, custom and personal conduct, from inadvertent vows; and from vows one might have made to himself and then forgotten. It does not refer to vows and promises to other people.”

Yet, throughout the formula’s history, that has not been the universal understanding. During the Middle Ages in Europe, for instance, some Christian courts and monarchs held that it meant a Jew could annul any promise. Some mid-19th century Reform rabbis, recognizing the confusion it could cause, even tried to do away with the legal formula.

Written in Aramaic, the language in which most Jews were conversant at that time, the idea was that everybody should understand it. Connecting us over the centuries to that age is the Jewish perspective that words are important, and that at times a promise made to ourselves or God was not made thoughtfully, realistically, with enough knowledge or the right intent, and we need a way to start anew. Kol Nidre presents that rare opportunity to reset, and perhaps it is this opportunity that draws us to hear it year after year.

Adding to its place in our lives, during the Ten Days of Repentance, the period of time from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, there is an opportunity to resolve issues between you and other people, but during Kol Nidre, there is an opening to resolve issues of the self and your relationship with God.

Helping to add drama to the recitation of this legal formula is the setting. Standing before the heavenly court of life and death brought to mind by the Yom Kippur liturgy, the recitation of Kol Nidre is the time to deliberate on our vows. The tradition is to repeat the formula three times, and thank heaven for that because even if we are late arriving, we still can hear the words: May they all be undone, repealed, canceled, voided, annulled.

Traditionally, the first time, one says the words softly, as one who hesitates to enter the ruler’s palace to make a request; the second, a little louder; and the third even louder, as one who is used to being in the ruler’s court.

Embellishing the courtly setting is the Torah pageantry. Before Kol Nidre is said, all of the congregation’s Torah scrolls are taken from the ark, and as an honor, presented to individuals to hold. In an unambiguous display, the staging lets us know under whose authority the court has been convened, and for good reason.

The Torah contains several verses concerning vows, and teaches that “you must fulfill what has crossed your lips and perform what you have voluntarily vowed to the Lord your God”(Deuteronomy 23:24). In so doing, it helps to explain the need and urgency for a legal formula that covers instances when we have messed up.

But for what year? Originally, the text read that the period the formula covered was from the “past Yom Kippur until this Yom Kippur.” However, according to “The Encyclopedia of Jewish Prayer,” Rabbeinu Tam (1100-1171), the grandson of the famous French Torah commentator Rashi, argued “’of what value is the cancellation of all vows to him who takes them and immediately declares them null and void?’”

He revised Kol Nidre to read “from this Yom Kippur to the next,” the text that most machzorim use today, although some Ashkenazi and Sephardic congregations use both, covering past and future. Others feel the revised text sufficient since it is ambiguous enough to cover the past and coming years.

For many Jews, the rush to hear Kol Nidre is not so much about the words as it is the music. Setting the table for a spiritual experience, and answering our emotional needs, if ever there were a song to begin a fast by, this would be it. Several variations are in use today, but most are derived from what is called a “Mi-Sinai” (from Sinai) melody — that is, according to Cantor Jonathan L. Friedmann, a tune “treated as if they came from Moses himself” — that emerged in Rhineland communities of Germany and France sometime between the 11th and 15th centuries.

Even if your singing voice is not one with the angels, or you can’t carry a tune in a bucket, you still can remember how some of Kol Nidre goes. Especially where it drops down low, then rises majestically, the music seems to imbue us with a sense of identity and a way to acknowledge our frailties.

The rush to shul has been worth it. Standing in the presence of Torah scrolls, family and friends, dressed in your best, maybe even in white, with the words and music washing over, we have arrived at that rare point in time when we can feel regret, and nullify some of our poor judgment.

Whether the formula gives us cover for the coming year or a chance to disavow past vows, we stand at a rare and powerful moment. Kol Nidre can lift us over missteps of the past year and help us to think, not twice but three times, before stepping into the new.

Why some rabbis used their High Holy Days sermons to bash Trump – and others demurred

Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar, an independent congregation, delivering an invocation at the inauguration of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti in July 2017. Photo courtesy of Ikar

As spiritual leader of one of the most widely known Reform synagogues in America, Rabbi Joshua Davidson tries not to be divisive on the holiest days of the year.

So on the High Holy Days of years past, when he stood before thousands of congregants at Temple Emanu-El in New York City, Davidson stuck to universal and uncontroversial topics. In 2015, he spoke about the synagogue’s history and mission. A year ago, in the heat of an acrimonious election, he talked about civic duty and the value of political participation.

But this year, Davidson criticized President Donald Trump.

His Rosh Hashanah sermon last week was on “trying to lift ourselves above the dishonesty, the incivility, the indecency which so many feel has become the societal norm,” he said. One of the hallmarks of that indecency, according to Davidson, was Trump’s response to the August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

“I certainly mentioned the president in certain contexts,” he told JTA. “I mentioned his response to Charlottesville and condemned it. We have to condemn any sort of equivocation when it comes to bigotry in the strongest terms. His response was an affront to decency.”

Whether or not to use the bimah as a bully pulpit has become a particularly burning issue in the first year of the Trump presidency, which even his supporters acknowledge has been unusually divisive. Non-Orthodox Jews, who make up the vast majority of American Jewry, voted against Trump in wide margins. According to a recent poll, a majority of Orthodox Jews voted for him and approve of his performance.

But rabbis disagree when it comes to talking politics from the pulpit, especially when more Jews attend their synagogues than at any other time of the year. For every rabbi who insists on taking clear stands, others worry about alienating congregants who may disagree.

Rabbi Shalom Baum advocated policies as a past president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of America. But he avoids discussing politics from his pulpit at Congregation Keter Torah in Teaneck, New Jersey. The High Holy Days, he said, are a time to rediscover the good in other people, not to find more reasons to disagree.

“It’s a time for spiritual growth which increases both our connection to God and our connection to people,” he told JTA. “When it comes to the way we view other people I try to focus, on the High Holy Days, on what’s right with other people, as opposed to the things that divide us.”

Rabbi Joshua Davidson delivering a High Holidays sermon at Temple Emanu-El in New York City, September 2017. (Courtesy of Temple Emanu-El)

Other politically active rabbis agree that partisan political opinions don’t belong in a sermon — and especially not on the holiest days of the year.

Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld of Ohev Sholom-The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C., protested Trump’s 2016 speech at the AIPAC conference while wearing a prayer shawl. But he studiously avoids talking politics in synagogue.

Herzfeld’s first sermon focused on his experience volunteering to clean up Houston following Hurricane Harvey. His Yom Kippur sermon will be about the Charlottesville rally, but it won’t mention Trump. And though he has titled the sermon “Removing Our Walls,” Herzfeld insisted to JTA that he is not alluding to the border wall with Mexico that Trump has proposed.

“This group of Nazis was trying to put up walls between different communities,” he plans to say in the Yom Kippur sermon, referring to the marchers in Charlottesville. “If we are an ‘us against them’ world, an ‘us against them country’ and an ‘us against them community,’ then we are all in big trouble.”

Davidson is one of several prominent rabbis who used their pulpit on the holiest days of the year to criticize the president. Some are open about their politics and said opposition to Trump was either a matter of consensus in the congregation, or his actions have been too egregious to ignore.

“This isn’t a time for us to be silent or to be too careful not to offend anybody,” said Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar, an independent congregation in Los Angeles. “But instead, it’s a time for us to speak as clearly as we possibly can about the dangers we are facing as a community and a nation.”

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah, Brous in her sermon accused Trump of making America “a place in which anti-Semitism is condoned by the state.” She also criticized establishment Jewish organizations for not speaking out enough against Trump for what she said are rhetoric and actions condoning the white supremacists.

Brous has opined publicly about her politics in the past and delivered an invocation at President Barack Obama’s 2013 inauguration. Her second-day Rosh Hashanah sermon this year advocated reparations for African-Americans.

“Many of our Jewish institutions failed to find the words to condemn the spike in anti-Semitic attacks that coincided with the 2016 presidential campaign,” Brous said in the first-day sermon, adding that they “failed to speak out against white nationalist sympathizers — men who have trafficked in anti-Semitism and racism for years — becoming senior White House officials.”

Rabbi Menachem Creditor speaking to his Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, Calif. (Courtesy of Creditor)

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, an LGBT synagogue in Manhattan, likewise accused Trump of cozying up to anti-Semites. Her whole congregation opposes the president, she said, so calling him out was not a risk.

“I don’t think everyone agrees with me on everything, but overall our congregation is horrified at what’s happening in our country,” Kleinbaum said. “As Jews who are all immigrants, we’re horrified. As gay people, we’re horrified at the gender violence.”

In May, Trump signed an executive order allowing clergy to endorse or oppose candidates from the pulpit. The order effectively repealed the Johnson Amendment, which threatened the tax-exempt status of religious institutions if they appeared partisan.

While a range of Jewish groups criticized the order as eroding the separation of church and state, Trump characterized it as an expansion of freedom of religion.

Another rabbi unafraid to get political, Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley, California, sermonized about not becoming ensnared in the now-endless stream of headlines and presidential tweets. While he stressed that his point was not to be consumed by any one issue, his sermon did criticize Trump’s policies on immigration and climate change.

He also spoke about the virtue of mixing religion and politics, which has been a hallmark of his career. An outspoken advocate for immigrant rights and gun control, Creditor announced recently that he would be leaving his pulpit to become a full-time activist.

“I think the posture of religion has always been within the world,” he told JTA. “Even the most devout of religious communities all band together to vote in certain patterns, act in certain patterns to influence the world. To abdicate that responsibility is to become islands and ultimately self-idolize.”

This Panoramic Sukkah re-creates Jerusalem in your backyard

The interior view of a Panoramic Sukkah. Photo courtesy of Eliyahu Alpern

When it comes to Sukkot, the weeklong festival in which Jews live and eat in temporary huts known as sukkahs, no place does it better than Jerusalem. City schools and plenty of workplaces close, and a festive spirit permeates the air.

Many Jews around the world make a tradition of visiting Jerusalem to celebrate the holiday, which is also known as the Feast of Booths. Can’t make it to the Holy City? Fear not. Your sukkah can now transport you and your loved ones here.

Well, sort of. The Panoramic Sukkah is a creation by Andy “Eliyahu” Alpern, a photographer specializing in 360-degree images. Thanks to his sukkahs, which consist of panoramic photos of famous places in Israel, celebrants can easily pretend that they are actually at notable Jerusalem sites such as the Western Wall at night or smack in the middle of Mahane Yehuda market.

Alpern, 50, is a native Chicagoan who now lives in the northern city of Safed, where he runs his own gallery. Five years ago he was wandering through Safed during the festival, listening to the voices of families who were celebrating in their sukkahs, when the idea for the Panoramic Sukkah hit him.

By providing an immersive, inside-Israel experience, the Panoramic Sukkah is “a way of sharing Eretz Yisrael with people all over the world who can’t be here,” he told JTA, using the Hebrew term for the Land of Israel.

Alpern added that the point of Sukkot is to hearken back to life during biblical times — for example, wandering in the desert after the Exodus from Egypt (hence the origin of the sukkah), thus one of his panoramic images is of the Negev Desert. Also, as Sukkot is one of the three pilgrimage festivals  (the others being Passover and Shavuot), it was tradition for Jews to travel to the Temple in Jerusalem.

Launching Panoramic Sukkah as a business two years ago, Alpern had to find the material to print the walls on and a printer to transfer the images, taking into consideration both quality and affordability for the consumer.

Alpern declined to say how many sukkahs he has sold to date, but said his goal is to sell 100 by the time next year’s festival begins. (And while it’s too late to purchase a Panoramic Sukkah for this year, it’s not too early to plan for next: Keep an eye out for a sale during the intermediary days of the holiday, when Jews have Sukkot on the brain.)

A view of a Panoramic Sukkah from the outside. (Courtesy of Eliyahu Alpern)

A variety of images and styles are available. The full Panoramic Sukkah kit (from $1,080) includes a frame, as well as four walls with a 360-degree image on semi-translucent fabric. Other options include walls only (from $800) or single-wall panels (from $210) if, as the website says, you’re “looking to bring Israel into your Sukkah, but not for quite so much Israel.”

Of course, Alpern can also create custom sukkahs. This year he created a wall panel for a customer depicting the Ushpizin, mystical special guests that are ritually welcomed each evening of the holiday. The panel included the images of the traditional “guests” — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph and King David — and interspersed them with images of the customer’s family members and inspirational figures such as Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

If Alpern’s Panoramic Sukkahs can bring Jerusalem to anywhere in the world, then it’s probably no surprise that the reverse can also be true. Perhaps the greatest custom sukkah that Alpern has created was for himself: Wrigley Field. A diehard Chicago Cubs fan since he worked as a vendor at the iconic ballpark in 1984, Alpern was disappointed that he could not make it back to his hometown last year for the World Series. So he took a panoramic photo of Wrigley that he had shot a few years back and turned it into a Panoramic Sukkah of his own.

Last year, Alpern and his three sons slept in the sukkah, waking up in the middle of the night to watch the games broadcast over the internet. This year — with the Cubs on a hot streak and ready to defend their title — they plan to do the same: Major League Baseball’s postseason begin Oct. 3, the night before Sukkot begins.

Rosh Hashanah sermon: Rabbi Steven Z. Leder

Rabbi Steven Z. Leder

My name is Steve and I’m procrastinator.  For years the Temple staff has known that when my assistant says, “Steve is home working on his High Holy Day sermons,” it really means, Steve is home cleaning the garage.  Every year it’s all there, calling out to me:  the car mats from two models ago, vases from flower arrangements dead for a decade, a dirty aquarium filter, an electric chainsaw I never use, hinges, screws, light bulbs, paint cans, one refrigerator full of beer we never drink.  One empty refrigerator—up and running in case the Zombie Apocalypse arrives– an infomercial ladder I can’t figure out even with the Youtube video, Aaron’s 9th grade Lacrosse gear, Hannah’s college microwave, a dried-out sponge mop, tangled cords, cables, clippers and a Poncho Gonzales tennis racket from 1972—it’s all there just begging to be reorganized.

Each August I reorganize, but by the next August there’s the same mess waiting for me.  How does that happen?  It happens because I have been making the same mistake most of my life—a lot of us have.  As Marie Kondo put it in her book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, “Putting things away creates the illusion that the…problem has been solved.”

Are we hear tonight to create an illusion–to listen to the music, read the prayers, acknowledge a few troubling things about ourselves and then store them away until they spill into next year, and the next, and the next until our lives are over?  Or are we here to really get rid of some things, to make real peace, to really say goodbye to our bitterness and our regrets, casting them away forever?  Are we here to engage in change Kabuki, or real change?

Kondo’s method for deciding what to keep and what to discard from our homes is to pull everything out of the closet, everything off the shelves, everything out of the cabinets, the drawers and the boxes, everything in in every room and then, hold each thing up to light of a single question:  Does this spark joy?  If the answer is no, let it go.   Does this spark joy?  If the answer is no, let it go.

Imagine if we ask ourselves “Does this spark joy?” not about our overstuffed garage or chaotic kitchen drawers, but about our inner lives.  That is what the rabbis meant when they commanded a cheshbone hanefesh during these ten days—an inventory of our souls.  These next ten days are not for reorganizing our sins into neater piles and storing our demons in newer, stronger containers; not for restacking our regrets in the basement of our souls, but for facing them and letting them go.

The Rosh Hashanah custom of tashlich, when Jews all over the world take the lint from their pockets and throw it into water, must be done in a body of water that contains fish.  Why?  Because as one sage suggests, just as fish have no eyelids, so too the eyes of God are always upon us.  Jews going to the oceans, rivers, streams and wells of their villages, cities and suburbs on Rosh Hashanah afternoon to do tashlich is more than a metaphor.  It is a promise.  A promise before the ever-watchful eyes of God that we will cast away our sins and our guilt.   Tashlich is a promise to let go….

So is prayer.  That’s what we are doing here with these ancient words and soaring melodies—we are letting go.  God is not some cosmic grantor of wishes.  To pray is not to wish, not to get, not to persuade God to change our fortunes.  To pray is to change ourselves.  To rid ourselves of the sin of indifference, the sin of bitterness, the sin of having betrayed another, of gossip, of cynicism, of pettiness, of an angry, senseless grudge that has gone on for too long.  To pray, is to let go, to lighten, to shed and to know that the shedding and letting go is at one and the same time an embrace of a lighter, better, freer, happier, wiser, more beautiful life….

Ask yourself, what grudges, what bitterness, what guilt, what shame, what avoidances, what foolish pride, what sins tucked away in the cabinets, closets and secret hiding places of your life should you hold up to the light tonight and admit bring you no joy?  Tonight, God and three thousand years of Torah are asking us to hold our joyless, ugly habits, our joyless regrets, mistakes and grudges up to the light.   To think about what we are carrying inside and to ask, does it spark joy?  If the answer is no, pray tonight to let it go.

Is your life not what you hoped for?  Is that what is weighing you down tonight?  After thirty years of being on the inside of other people’s lives—I have learned that no one—no one has it easier than anyone else, and no one has it all.  Tom Waits put it pretty well when he sang:  “Got the sheets, but not the bed.  Got the jam, but not the bread.”  My Yiddish speaking grandmother put it differently:  “God,” she quipped, “doesn’t give with both hands.”

That billionaire you envy may have an ill child, or a child who will not speak to him or grandchildren she rarely, if ever sees.  That woman’s body you envy, she might be living with chronic, debilitating pain in her gut.  The uberkinder you wish your kid could be like might be headed for an unbalanced life that will someday implode.  No one has more or less than you have when you add it all up.  Does envy or jealousy bring you joy?  Count your own blessings, and let your jealousy go…. 

“OK Rabbi, I can let go of my envy, but not my pain.  Do you know what she did?  What he said?  How he hurt me?”  Is it the bitterness of betrayal that is cluttering your soul tonight?  I don’t blame you, unless… Unless the person who hurt you has stopped, has apologized, has changed, and has asked to be forgiven.  We know what Jewish law demands of us then, especially tonight.  We have to forgive; to let it go.  Have you never betrayed another?  Have your passions never gotten the best of you?  Have you never dealt with the stress of your life in some terribly dysfunctional and hurtful way?  Is it right to carry bitterness in our hearts for someone who has done what we ourselves have also done?  Maybe it is, if the person who hurt us shows no remorse.  If that person has not stopped, has not apologized, will never stop or apologize, then it’s true that we do not have to forgive.  But we can let go, move on, make peace with what they will never be—we can release ourselves from their grasp.  To paraphrase the Buddha, “In life, we are not punished for our anger, we are punished by our anger.” 

Remember the 23rd Psalm?  “The Lord is my Shepard, I shall not want.”  Remember that line that says:  “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies?”  Most people consider it is a verse about revenge in the afterlife.  A vision of eternity wherein we will feast at a table while our enemies who wounded us in life can only watch, starve and suffer.  I do not see it that way.  I think sitting down at a table with our enemies is about an opportunity in this life, the opportunity these High Holy Days present us with.  Sit down with your enemies, reach out to those with whom you have fallen out but whose arms may well be open, pick up the phone, apologize, seek forgiveness, do your very best to make peace with what can and what cannot be changed, what ought and ought not to be held in your heart. 

Your unloving mother, your stubborn brother, your egotistical boss, your friend who let you down, hurt you, gossiped about you, failed to be there for you—do your best with them, and when your best creates no change, ask yourself how long will they remain a poison in your heart?  Does that bitterness in you spark joy?  Let it go….

And invite one more kind of enemy to your table this year too.  Sit down with your enemies that dwell within and punish you every day–your shame, your regret, your moral failures, stupidity, arrogance, pettiness, greed—get help to change what you can, stop what you can, vanquish what you can, and then, sit at the table with your own sins, make peace, loosen their grasp on you and grant the most difficult forgiveness of all–the forgiveness, after honest effort, you owe yourself. 

Look at this.  I bought this in a tiny village in India outside of Bhubaneshwar.  It is a village that time forgot.  No running water.  No electricity.  No paved road.  No doctor.  Most people without shoes and with only a goat or a small garden with turmeric and lentils drying in the sun.  It was the kind of place our ancestors during the time of the Torah likely lived their entire lives. 

Inside this is a tiny elephant surrounded on the outside with this beautiful filigree.  This began as a solid piece of stone rounded by an artist who then carefully, meditatively, with the deepest of intention, removed small bits of stone with ancient tools hewn over time, until this delicate, amazing, work of art remained.  This was created by taking away everything that was not beautiful–everything that prevented light from entering.

People think the Torah is a book of light and love but that mostly isn’t true.  Every family in the Torah is incredibly dysfunctional.  Eve convinces Adam to eat of the forbidden tree.  Cain murders his brother Abel.  At his infertile wife’s request Abraham has a son with the housekeeper.  Then Sarah makes him banish the boy and his mother to die in the dessert.  Next, as we read in the Torah tomorrow, Abraham nearly murders his other son Isaac.  Jacob steals his brother Esau’s entire inheritance.  Joseph’s brothers sell him into slavery and tell their father he was dead.  Add to these stories the hundreds of thousands dying in plagues or at the tip of a spear. 

Why?  Why is Torah so filled with negative examples of human behavior?  Why of the 613 commandments in the Torah, are 248 positive “Thou shalts,” but 365 are negative “Thou shalt nots?”  Because the Torah knows we can become better people by choosing how not to behave.  Because what we choose not to do, not to say, not to envy, not to hold onto from within any longer, because of what we remove from our hearts and lives…the true light of Torah, of God, of who we really can be, shines upon our innermost soul.       

Reject the America of Charlottesville and you will find within you the America of Houston’s good Samaritans; that rag tag navy of compassion.  When you see someone, anyone, who does not welcome the stranger, the gay, the new kid, the neighbor of color, the poor, the immigrant, the slow, the large, the small, the disabled, the different, the devout Muslim, the faithful Christian, the pious Orthodox Jew, the liberal or the conservative of good conscience—when you see anyone who hates without reason, without even knowing the object of their hatred–reject that narrowness and that arrogance and that indecency.  Throw it out and let the light of tolerance shine in our country and our souls.   

When you see unkindness reject cruelty.  When you see cheating reject the moral short cut.  When you see someone abusing his or her body with drugs or too much or too little food, or exercise, or alcohol, or cigarettes, or weed, reject the desecration of you own God given body. 

When you know you have a problem with money, with anger, with addiction, with workaholism, with stubbornness, with anxiety, depression, with the friend you no longer know, the loved one you no longer call—do something, get help, don’t just tidy up, reorganize, re-shelve and wait another year.    

When someone is truly sorry, forgive, let go.  If you have slayed some terrible demon because you did face it, you did stop, you did confess, you did change, you did hold your moral failing up to the light—then forgive yourself.  Your shame, your regret, they spark no joy–let them go.  We are all, after all, only human.      

Why three-hundred-sixty-five “Thou Shalt Nots” in the Torah?  Because every day we encounter something we should no longer hold onto, or someone we should never become or believe in.   Because every day we have the opportunity not just to reorganize that which brings us no joy, but to cast it from our lives forever. 

The High Holy Days, repentance, forgiveness are all tashlich—are all a casting away with the time hewn tools of Torah, Teshuvah and love.  Use these ten days.  Use these tools.  Use them to finally let go of what is hurtful, and ugly and brings you no joy.  Then, what remains for you in the New Year will be lighter, gentler and more beautiful than before.

L’shana tova.

Rosh Hashanah sermon: Rabbi Jonathan Aaron

Rabbi Jonathan Aaron

If you don’t know our theme phrase by heart yet, I’m sure that by the end of the days of awe you will. “In a place where no one’s acting Human, strive to be human.” It seems like a pretty straightforward phrase. But tonight I want to show you four approaches to the verse from Pirke Avot, with the hopes that you may relate to at least one of them, and make it a part of your process during the 8 hours or so we will congregate here in this room over the next ten days. For me, our theme, and the themes we have introduced over the years, is a big kavannah, a direction of thought. It is like a liturgy and poetry filter, a way to think about this whole through a distinctive lens. But each of us comes into this room from such a different perspective, and we go out of this room, after the introspective process, with different areas that we need to work on in our lives. So here are four ways to enter into the High Holy Days this year.

The first approach is the way we have introduced the text through our translation. “In a place where no one’s acting human, strive to be human.” When a place is devoid of morals, be moral. Someone put it more bluntly to me, “When people are morons, be a mensch.” This leads us to social action, social justice. Reading it this way is about standing up for the rights of others when they can’t stand for themselves, about standing up for injustice and inhuman behavior, and turning injustice to justice, the inhumane to the humane, the inhuman to the human. This is how we translated it, this was a big part of our online High Holy Day message. Feed the hungry, care for the elderly, attend public rallies, be human. There may be some of you here who are unsure how you want to react to the actions of certain people or groups. You’re affected by Charlottesville and racism and sexism and any other “ism,” discrimination, intolerance, hate, genocide, and the subversion of the rights of those who cannot help themselves. But you are unsure as to how or where you can participate. Perhaps these ten days can be reflections on what really matters to you, and where you want to make a difference in the world. That is our opportunity. That is our challenge. (by the way, bringing food for the hungry and diapers for refugees is a great start)

For the Second approach I have to point out the Hebrew wording of our theme. In our translation, we say, “In a place, where no one’s acting human.” That is certainly a valid translation/interpretation. The actual words in Hebrew – she ayn anashim – means, “where there are no people” (it’s actually “men,” but we are in the year 5778/2017, lets take the gender out of it), hishtadeyl l’hyot ish, “Strive to be a person” (or, man). So if I use similar wording to our translation it becomes: In a place where there are no humans, strive to be a human.

Consider how Hillel, who said this phrase two thousand years ago, became the head of the Sanhedrin, the court in Jerusalem made up of 21 great scholars and leaders. It is said that he only agreed to became the head of the Sanhedrin when he realized that there was no one else more qualified than he to answer questions of Jewish law regarding the Pesach offering. For him, perhaps the phrase meant: “In a place where there are no people to lead, take it upon yourself to be a leader,” or, “In a place where there is a vacuum, fill the vacuum.”

I think reading it this way offers the opportunity to search through our lives to identify those places where you feel you can step up, where you can fill a void, perhaps become a leader,  even a reluctant one. This void could be at work, could be in an extra curricular activity, or volunteer work, could be here in the synagogue, could be in our homes or within our larger family. Sometimes it is difficult to take the reigns of leadership. We are all afraid to fail, and there are times when it is intimidating to be thrust into a leadership role. We may feel that we are not worthy. But to summon the courage, to open ourselves up and put ourselves out there, to become more, that is our opportunity, that is our challenge.

The third idea focuses more on the first line: “In a place where there are no people.” If we take this line literally, then no one is around, and we are left with a basic question: Who are we when no one is there? What do we act like, “when there are no people?” According to this text, we must still “strive to be human.” Even though no one is looking, even when there isn’t a person around, that doesn’t mean we can just throw all morals out the window. Pinchas of Koretz wrote the following:  A person can act as purely innocent, and yet be involved in all types of devilish schemes, or he can pose as the most humble of all men, while pride rages within him. The Torah stresses that in both the cases God, as it were, tests you, and while you may be able to fool others, you cannot fool God.” Isn’t that the same idea that the High Holy Days sets up? There is a book, and all of our deeds are found in that book, because nothing escapes the view of heaven, and whether there is anyone around or not, we still need to live up to the standard.

It’s like the Jewish folktale of a man who takes his young daughter into a neighboring field to steal corn. He asks her to be his lookout. After a minute or so, she says, “Daddy, someone sees you from the North!” he stops what he is doing, looks to the North and doesn’t see anyone. He throws her a look and goes back to his business. Minutes later, “Daddy, someone sees you from the south.” He looks, no one there, he throws her a perturbed, suspicious look. “Daddy, someone – “ He stops her. “Sweetie, why do you keep saying someone sees me, there is no one around.” She looks up at him and says, “God sees you.”

Now it may or may not be a part of your theology to imagine that God can see us, but it does beg the question, “Are we the same when we feel like there is no one to see us, to judge us?” Perhaps for some of us, we need to reflect on whether we are who we are at all times, when we are in public around others, and when we are alone? The opportunity and challenge is to align both our public outer selves, and our private inner selves.

The last concept really ties them all together. It is the word hishtadeyl. We are translating it as “strive.” I like that translation because it encompasses the essence of the root of the word. All Hebrew words (with some exceptions) have three lettered roots, and those three letters have a core meaning. In this case SHADAL has a couple of meanings that work. First, in its simplest form, it means, “to be wide open” (like a door opening). Another active form means, “to persuade”.  But the form of the verb is the key. It is reflexive, we do it to ourselves. We open ourselves up, we persuade ourselves to act. So I have news for all of us. This will not be easy. It is difficult to stand up to injustice. It is hard to take on leadership, even when you need to be that leader. It is not always an easy thing to be the same person when no one’s looking as when you know you are being seen. We need to open ourselves up to the possibility, and we need to persuade ourselves, convince ourselves to do what we need to do.

That’s why “strive” is our word. To strive towards something is to exert yourself, to make the effort – to “convince” yourself to contend in opposition to something. It is an effort towards a goal. And the effort comes from within us. Striving is a process, not a destination. We may never be able to solve injustice completely, we may not become that leader, we may not achieve parity in our private and public selves – this week, month, year, or ever. But we can strive to get there, we can move the arrow in the right direction. And it only comes from inside of us, not from anyone else. To strive, in the hishtadeyl sense, is to open yourself up to the possibility of making things happen, convince yourself to act, persuade yourself to be human independent of others.

This is the work we have in store for us over the next ten days of honest reflection. May we find what we strive for: a place to combat injustice; a place to become the leader we need to be, where we need to be it; to a place where we can be proud of our public and private actions. May we find that place, and open ourselves up, convince ourselves, persuade ourselves, to be that person we want to be. This is our opportunity. This is our challenge.


Jonathan Aaron is Senior Rabbi at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

The Earth Does Shake – A Poem for Unetaneh Tokef by Rick Lupert

Let us speak of the awesomeness…

I – Fear and trembling

This is where we learn how we’ll go
Who by old age? Who before they’ve

had the opportunity to be old?
Before a single wrinkle comes to visit?

Who by failed election?
Who by blaming the other side?

Who by menage a-hurricane?
Who by the climate changing them

right off the Earth? Who by
freak paper-cut accident?

You never know. You never know
how you’ll go, until your gone

and then what can you
say about it?

II – God judges us

This is where we learn how we’ll go
Who by old age? Who before they’ve

had the opportunity to be old?
Before a single wrinkle comes to visit?

Who by failed election?
Who by blaming the other side?

Who by menage a-hurricane?
Who by the climate changing them

right off the Earth? Who by
freak paper-cut accident?

You never know. You never know
how you’ll go, until your gone

and then what can you
say about it?

III – We are helpless

In case you didn’t know
you are a walking, living,

breathing sack of dust.
You have always been this dust

and when you forget how to talk
you will dissipate in the wind.

So if you were wondering
when was the time to say you’re sorry

it is now, before the wind
takes your breath away.

IV – God is enduring

If we could say Your name
it’s all we would ever say.

It’s how we would order our coffee.
It’s the only command we’d tell

our Siris and Alexas. It’s the only
thing that could have the potential

to replace the word love. Or maybe
that’s been Your name this whole time.

Thank You for putting even one vowel
of Your name into ours.

It is the smallest glimpse
of eternity.


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 21 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Donut Famine” (Rothco Press, December 2016) and edited the anthologies “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

Key to a great break-fast: Prepare a simple menu in advance

Turkey Meatloaf. Photo by Cyndi Bemel

Yom Kippur, one of the holiest and most important days of the Jewish year, is observed by prayer and fasting all day. The 24-hour fast begins at sundown, and since no cooking traditionally is permitted during the holiday, all food that will be served for the break-the-fast meal must be prepared prior to the holiday.

 When planning a break-the-fast gathering at your home, a buffet of dishes that can be prepared in advance is the perfect answer. Your menu should offer something for everyone — from those who wish only a snack to the hearty eaters who crave lots of well-seasoned food to make up for their fasting. 

 In our home, after the shofar has sounded to mark the close of Yom Kippur, we begin the evening with apples dipped in honey, served with my special holiday challah — baked with apples and raisins — and our favorite honey cake.

 This year, I hope to make the preparation of the rest of the holiday meal less stressful with a delicious menu that can be ready to serve when we all gather for the break-fast. Consider this Turkey Meatloaf. It can be made in advance, stored in the freezer and served with Potato Salad, Carrot Slaw or Coleslaw. Include a Cauliflower-Anchovy Salad — the color and zippy flavor of its Parsley-Anchovy Dressing give the understated vegetable a dynamic boost. Add some surprise to the meal by serving candied apple slices with the meatloaf. 

 For dessert, a large platter of Crisp Almond Butter Cookies is the perfect end to the evening. My son-in-law, Jay, has been making delicious homemade almond butter that he always shares with me. It is the cookies’ secret ingredient. The cookie dough can be made in advance, kept in the freezer and baked before serving.  

TURKEY MEATLOAF

2 pounds ground turkey
2 eggs
1 medium onion, grated
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
1 can (15-ounces) crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup dry red wine
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1/2 cup ketchup

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, eggs, onion, breadcrumbs, and 2 tablespoons of the minced garlic cloves; mix well. Add cumin, salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a skillet and sauté remaining 2 garlic cloves, sliced onions, tomatoes and wine until soft.

Place garlic mixture in a large roaster. Shape 1/2 of the meat mixture into a flat loaf and place on top of the onion mixture in the roaster. Place hard-boiled eggs lengthwise along center of molded turkey loaf. Mold remaining turkey mixture on top of the eggs, pressing to make a firm loaf. Spread ketchup on top of the loaf, frosting the loaf like a cake.

Bake in preheated oven, covered, for 1 1/4 hours, until baked through.

Makes about 8 servings.

POTATO SALAD

8 to 10 medium potatoes, cooked and diced
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced fresh fennel
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely sliced green onions (scallions)
1/2 cup minced parsley, optional
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garnish with diced red bell pepper

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, celery, fennel and red bell pepper. Add enough mayonnaise to moisten and toss gently. Add the green onions and parsley, and season to taste with salt and pepper; toss gently again. Garnish with diced red bell pepper.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

COLESLAW 

1 head cabbage
1 large carrot, peeled and grated (optional)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sugar or honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut cabbage lengthwise into wedges small enough to fit in feed tube of food processor. Remove core. With slicing disk in place, slice cabbage using moderate pressure on pusher. Or, using a sharp knife, slice the cabbage as thin as possible. Transfer sliced cabbage to a large bowl. Add carrot and toss. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sugar and lemon and blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add additional sugar or lemon juice to taste. Toss with cabbage mixture to moisten completely.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

CARROT SLAW

6 medium carrots, peeled and grated
3/4 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced apples
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste 

In a large bowl, toss the carrots, celery, apples and raisins. Mix in the mayonnaise; season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on a lettuce leaf.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CAULIFLOWER-ANCHOVY SALAD

1 cup Parsley Anchovy Dressing (recipe below)
1 head cauliflower, rinsed and separated into florets

Prepare Parsley-Anchovy Dressing, cover with plastic wrap and chill.

In a large saucepan, using a vegetable rack, steam cauliflower until tender when pierced with a fork — about 10 minutes. Transfer cauliflower to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes. To serve, spoon just enough dressing over cauliflower to moisten and toss. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings. 

PARSLEY-ANCHOVY DRESSING

1/4 small onion, diced
1 can (2 ounces) anchovy fillets, drained
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups tightly packed parsley sprigs, stems removed (about 1 bunch)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade, blend onion, anchovies, olive oil and vinegar. Add parsley, a little at a time, and puree until the dressing is a bright green color. Season with pepper to taste.

Transfer to a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill. If dressing thickens after chilling, add additional olive oil and mix well. Dressing will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

CRISP ALMOND BUTTER COOKIES

1/2 cup unsalted nondairy margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup almond butter
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Additional sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

 In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the margarine and sugars. Add almond butter, egg and vanilla; beat until smooth. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder; add to creamed mixture and mix well. For easier shaping, chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Shape cookie dough into 1-inch balls. Place them 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten each ball by crisscrossing with the tines of a fork dipped in sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until bottoms of cookies are lightly browned and cookies are set.

Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies.


JUDY ZEIDLER is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

A shofar master blaster shares his calling

Michael Chusid puts a blowhole into an African antelope horn in his shofar workshop. Photos by Ryan Torok

At first glance, Michael Chusid’s workshop looks like most any utility shed at the back of a house — a space somewhere between Tim “The Toolman” Taylor’s garage from “Home Improvement” and Jason Segel’s man cave from “I Love You, Man.”

Electrical cords run across the roof. A power drill rests on a wooden workbench. A loveseat that could use a good cleaning nevertheless appears comfy and inviting.

But Chusid’s Encino workspace differs from others in one major respect: It’s filled with the horns of rams and antelopes, piled up in bowls like pieces of fruit.

Chusid is a self-described ba’al tekiah, a shofar master blaster, and creator of the blog “Hearing Shofar.” He studies them. He buys them. He sometimes alters them. And he blows them.

Each year, Chusid blasts a shofar at synagogues on the High Holy Days, at American Jewish University and Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, and as a member of Shofar Corps, which blows shofar for the sick and elderly who cannot make it to synagogue on the holidays.

“The most difficult thing for me as a blower is to remember to listen,” Chusid said. “Sometimes in shul, I start thinking, ‘Oh, I’m blowing it really good; I’m impressing people. Look at how great I am.’ And then I’m completely out of it. When I’m really into it, I disappear, I no longer exist, I feel the energy coming out of the earth, rising through my body and going out the shofar and connecting with heaven, like the [Hebrew] letter, vav.”

As he stood barefoot, wearing a sarong, with a rainbow yarmulke covering his gray-white hair, he demonstrated what he meant. He closed his eyes, held his hand to his face and said a prayer. Then he blew one of his shofars, sounding the three different bursts familiar to anyone who has attended a High Holy Days service: tekiah, one long blast; shevarim, three broken sounds; and teruah, nine staccato notes.

“I have a calling for shofar,” he said later. “I would be diminished if I didn’t teach it.”

Chusid, 64, knows almost everything there is to know about shofars. Archaeologists have discovered images of the instruments that date back at least 20,000 years, he said, and while the shofar blast awakens the spirituality of the Jewish people every Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, other historical peoples also have created sounds for ritual purposes.

“Almost every ancient culture found a sound through which they heard and which they spoke with that which is unknowable,” he said.

How to make a shofar

If you have a ram's horn lying around, consider making a shofar:

Posted by Jewish Journal on Friday, September 15, 2017

 

Chusid purchases shofar horns online, from Amazon, eBay and Atlantic Coral Enterprise Inc., a Florida-based wholesaler of seashells and wildlife products that imports horns from South Africa.

“There is something dramatic about the long ones — you can get more pitches on them — but the short ones are just as functional and easier to transport,” he said. “I have some that I slip into my pocket so I can carry it with me all the time just in case the Messiah should show up.”

Atlantic Coral Enterprise sold Chusid the horn of a gemsbok, a large antelope native to South Africa that has horns longer and straighter than ram horns. One end of the gemsbok horn is ribbed, which creates a percussive sound when a tool is rubbed against it.

A variety of horns, from different animals, sit in a pile in Chusid’s workshop.

“This, I believe, is biblically accurate,” Chusid said of a gemsbok shofar he made. “And it’s showy and beautiful, and it’s versatile. We’re told to praise God with shofar and drums.”

Chusid said he first heard the shofar when he was 8 years old. However, he didn’t hear it as an adult until 1994, after he had entered his 40s.

“I went out and bought a shofar, and I’ve been hearing it since,” he said.

As he crafted the gemsbok shofar, Chusid threaded a wire through the horn to determine its hollowness and the location of its bone. He marked the horn with a Sharpie where it would need to be cut to create a mouthpiece at one end. He debated whether to cut off a tip of the horn, which would compromise its dramatic shape, or drill a mouthpiece hole on its side so he could leave the shape intact. He chose the latter.

“People ask me, ‘Did you make that shofar?’ and I have to say, ‘No, I didn’t make it. The sheep made it. Or the antelope. I just fabricated it a little bit,’ ” he said. “This comes from beyond me. The horns come from dead animals.”

And then, Chusid said it was time for my lesson.

As we walked outside, he began to explain technique: Buzz the lips and press the shofar’s blowhole tight to the place where the air comes out between your lips.

I managed a weak but on-point tone out of the gemsbok shofar. It wasn’t much of a blast, but it was something.

Chusid laughed and offered encouragement, adapting an expression of Jewish wisdom that, like the blast of the shofar, has resonated through the ages.

“The rest is practice,” he said. “Go and study.”

The mensch test

Last Friday, I was rushing through a to-do list from hell. It’s High Holy Days season, which means my rabbi wife disappears into her study, and if she emerges before five sermons are finished, it’s a sign that fall will be extra harsh, or at least seem that way.

So the list was all on me,  and by 11 a.m., I had barely made a dent. I raced through Santa Monica Kosher, loading up my shopping cart until the wheels splayed, then headed for the cashier — where I was, miraculously, first in line.

If you’re strictly the Ralphs or Amazon Fresh type, let me describe Santa Monica Kosher, or as I call it, S&M Kosher.  The clientele is largely Persian Jewish, except on Sundays, when they set up a BBQ grill in the parking lot and the smoke from the koobideh and kebab lures Latino families by foot and Brentwood types by Tesla. The produce is varied, fresh — and a bargain. You can find exotic flatbreads, Israeli cheeses, organic meats, even “Original Pistachios,” which means they’re really from Iran — and the best you’ve ever tasted.

But on the day Shabbat begins, it can be a blood sport. Can you get to the cucumbers before the grandmother parks herself in front of them and inspects them, one by one, as minutes tick by? Can you grab the attention of the man behind the meat counter before the customer who came after you commandeers him? Sure, there’s a ticket dispenser, but I think it’s for decoration. Or Ashkenazim.

And at the cashier, the shopper in front of you always seems to use the conveyor belt as her personal shopping cart, putting down a bunch of fenugreek, then going off and returning with a bag of chicken thighs, then leaving again to bring back some eggplant — oblivious to the line growing ever longer behind her.

So imagine my relief to be first in line at the checkout. The problem was, when I looked behind me, I saw a middle-aged Persian woman holding four items in her hands. She’d wait 20 minutes for me to get through.

I said, “Please, go ahead.”

Her tense face melted.  “Really?” she said.  “Are you sure?”

“Of course.”

“Oh, you are so nice!” she said. “You have done your mitzvah for the day. For the week!”

As she moved ahead, she said to the cashier, “Did you see what he did?”

Either she was laying it on thick, or she was genuinely shocked — which might just reflect how rare it is for her to come across an act of kindness in the bustle of the Friday market.

Then another woman got in line behind me — and she had two items. Really? The clock was ticking on my to-do list — and my parking meter. But what could I do?

“Why don’t you go ahead?” I said.

The first woman overheard my offer. She turned to the cashier.  “Did you hear that?  This is the nicest man!  I think this is the nicest man!”

The cashier smiled. The elderly Persian man wearing a security guard uniform, who doubles as a grocery bagger, didn’t even look up.

Maybe he didn’t understand English. Or maybe he suspected that as nice as I was face to face with a kindly woman at S&M Kosher, 20 minutes later I’d be in some parking structure, screaming at the SUV in front of me who was crawling up all three levels looking for a space. Go faster, you idiot. Just go! And I would blast my horn like a shofar — which, by the way, is exactly what happened.

Almost as quickly as I earned my sainthood, I blew it away. It’s true we all tend to be nastier versions of ourselves behind the wheel — or behind a computer screen. But what’s also true is that if we can control our harshest impulses, no matter where, we always feel better.

There was a lot of commentary after the violence in Charlottesville and after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma about the power of exercising “the better angels of our nature.”   Americans came together in times of tragedy and emergency, put aside their differences, and helped one another. 

But then, more often than not, the better angels take a hike.  We go back to nursing our grievances, emphasizing our differences, taking advantage, losing our patience, distancing ourselves from other people’s needs when they aren’t part of an urgent disaster or on CNN. 

In other words, being an angel is easy, being a mensch is hard. Angels make the news, mensches make a few minutes a little better.

But those minutes add up, and they are the minutes that most of us experience as daily life. That’s why, in the wisdom of the tradition we follow these High Holy Days, the liturgy doesn’t ask us to be great, just good. The faults we are held to account for — such as stubbornness, gossip, indecision, anger — they don’t make us evil, they just make the people around us a little worse for wear.

In these messy, cruel, divided and confusing times, I don’t really see a grander path forward than each of us struggling to behave a little better to the person beside us, and to the person we can’t see.   

Let the struggle begin, again, for 5778.

Shanah tovah.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Some High Holy Days sermons become words to live by

Jennifer Stempel, a Los Angeles-based writer, changed her approach to life after hearing a High Holy Days sermon at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills.

Stempel was shul-hopping when the wife of a Temple Emanuel rabbi gave her and her husband tickets to the synagogue’s holiday services. Little did she know that Temple Emanuel Rabbi Jonathan Aaron would deliver a sermon that, inspired by “A Complaint Free World” — a book by Will Bowen that posits that people can transform their lives if they stop complaining — would have such an impact on her.

Aaron concluded the sermon by challenging his community to go the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur without complaining. If they caught themselves complaining, they were to start their 10 days over again. They could keep track of it with bracelets that read, “Be Complaint Free,” distributed to all 1,200 people in the sanctuary that day. He told people to wear the bracelets on their right wrist, and if they caught themselves complaining to move their bracelets to their left wrist.

The sermon so resonated with Stempel that she asked the rabbi for a copy of it and even shared it with her friends who were therapists, with the suggestion that their patients might get something out of it.

Nearly a decade later, she remembers the sermon.

“For me, personally, it was a very profound experience,” she said. “I felt like this was the first time I was engaged in a High Holy Day sermon. I was challenged and I actually took action from it.”

Every year, rabbis across Los Angeles attempt to deliver High Holy Days sermons that will leave a lasting impression on their congregations. The test, perhaps, is whether years later congregants can recall — and live by — what their spiritual leaders said.

In 1992, the Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinic arm of the Conservative movement, did not recognize the rights of gay people to be ordained as rabbis. Moreover, it prohibited its rabbis from officiating same-sex marriages. This, despite the fact that it had been two decades since the Reform movement had admitted Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC), an LGBT synagogue in Los Angeles, into what is today known as the Union of Reform Judaism, an umbrella organization for the Reform movement.

It was against this backdrop that Rabbi Harold Schulweis, spiritual leader of Conservative congregation Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), set out to determine whether homosexuality actually was the sin some believe it is described to be in the Torah, which says one man is not to lie with another. He visited BCC and spent time speaking with some of its congregants. He read many scientific studies on the subject. On erev Rosh Hashanah in 1992, he delivered a sermon that addressed his movement’s position on gays in a sermon titled, “Morality, Legality and Homosexuality.”

In part, it said, “It is one thing to quote a verse. It is another thing to look into the pained eyes of a human being. I’m not dealing with words, and I’m not dealing with texts. … I do not regard these people as sinners or their love as abomination. The God I have been raised with is el moleh rachamim — God who art full of mercy — and the attribute which Jews are to emulate is that of compassion.”

Stephen Sass was seated in a pew that day. He was both a member of BCC and of VBS. He was in a same-sex relationship. What he heard made an impact on him.

“To hear him saying, ‘If this is what the tradition is saying, the tradition is wrong and we need to do something about it,’ that was very groundbreaking,” said Sass, an attorney and president of the Jewish Historical Society of Southern California.

“It’s hard to imagine now, but at the time, there was a conspiracy of silence where nobody would talk about that,” he said. “Even then in those days, people at BCC would not be identified by their last name; they would just use an initial because they could lose their job or their family.”

Schulweis’ sermon paved the way for the acceptance of gay Jews in the Conservative world. A support group for gays and their families launched at VBS. Eventually, same-sex couples could join the synagogue together as members.

“The Reform movement had made those strides and in a way the Conservative movement was just catching up,” Sass said. “He took this on. He didn’t have to, just like he took on so many issues.”

In 2004, Schulweis, who died in 2014, made another deep impression with a High Holy Days sermon titled, “Globalism and Judaism.” In it, he asked where Jews who said “never again” to the Holocaust stood as a genocide was unfolding in  Rwanda in 2004. Janice Kamenir-Reznik, then an attorney who was an active volunteer at VBS, was in the sanctuary that day. She was struck by Schulweis imploring his congregation to open a newspaper: “You can’t close the newspaper once you believe in a global God,” he said.

“It fortified the theology I had developed anyway about the relevance of Judaism and the relevance of Torah to daily life,” Kamenir-Reznik said. She went on to co-found Jewish World Watch — an anti-genocide nonprofit organization that is active in Sudan, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo — with Schulweis.

Last year, Emily Alhadeff, a Seattle resident and member of Temple De Hirsch Sinai, the largest Reform synagogue in the Pacific Northwest, was transfixed as Rabbi Jaclyn Cohen delivered a sermon on Rosh Hashanah about postpartum depression.

“It wasn’t my first dance with depression, and I’ve dealt with anxiety throughout my life. But when the crash came, I felt completely alone and deeply ashamed,” Cohen said in the sermon.

Alhadeff, a chef and founder of Emily’s Granola in Seattle, said the rabbi’s willingness to make herself vulnerable was transformative. 

“This idea — this strong woman having to confront her congregation — I just found it to be so powerful,” Alhadeff said.

Cohen, a Los Angeles native who joined Temple Beth Torah in Ventura this year, said she was nervous about opening up to her congregation that way. She did not know how people would react to a sermon that called on eliminating the stigma around mental illness. So when the community erupted with applause at the end of her remarks, she was at a loss for what to do.

“I was so taken aback, I looked down uncomfortably,” she said. “I said something that mattered. It was really amazing.”

Effective sermons are speaking to the realities of the times, Stempel said.

“What’s going on in the world, the sermon should take that into account,” she said. “I think you should be talking about a universal truth, something everybody in the room can relate to on some level.”

Of course, a profound sermon for one person is a dud for another. Stempel acknowledged that her husband did not respond to Aaron’s “complaint” sermon in 2008 as enthusiastically as she did.

“He likes to complain,” she said.

Hug a chicken and 4 other twists on traditional High Holy Days rituals

Sarah Chandler leads a twist on the kapparot ritual in which participants hug chickens rather than swinging them over their heads. Photo courtesy of Chandler

Picture services for the High Holy Days: What likely comes to mind is a roomful of congregants sitting with heavy books in their laps listening to a rabbi sermonize or a cantor chant.

Baking pizza? Embracing a chicken under a tree? Not so much.

But those are some of the things that Jewish clergy, educators and activists are doing to zetz up observance of the holiest days of the year.

Aside from attending synagogue or dipping apples in honey, the extensive body of High Holy Days traditions includes rituals that are participatory, intricate and even acrobatic — but also obscure, inaccessible and sometimes distasteful.

In recent years, Jewish educators have tried to reclaim these rituals — changing and innovating them to be more engaging, understandable and relevant.

Here are five ways Jews are getting creative with the High Holy Days this year.

Forgiveness is a warm chicken

If you walk into a haredi Orthodox neighborhood the day before Yom Kippur, don’t be surprised to see men swinging live chickens above their heads. The ritual, called kapparot, aims to symbolically transfer a person’s sins onto the chicken, who then is donated to the poor and slaughtered for food.

Some observant Jews, unable or unwilling to gain possession of a live chicken, now swing money over their heads that then goes to charity. Others have taken to protesting communities that still use chickens.

But at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in rural Connecticut, Sarah Chandler has a different response: Instead of grabbing the chicken and whipping it through the air, just give it a hug.

Chandler, who was ordained as a Hebrew priestess at the Kohenet Institute and also goes by Kohenet Shamira, will take a group to the center’s chicken coop on the Sunday before Yom Kippur and begin to recite the kapparot prayers. Then, if the chickens agree, the assembled will take them, retreat to a shaded area and individually embrace them while completing the prayers, confessing their sins or meditating.

At the end of the ritual, the worshippers will simply let the chickens walk free.

Although Chandler is a vegan, she appreciates the parts of ancient Jewish rituals that involve connecting to animals. This version of kapparot, she said, strengthens the relationships between people and animals while causing the animals no harm.

“How can we include these chickens in our Jewish life?” she asks. “I want the ritual to be so embraced that people really really believe that this chicken, and this moment looking into the chicken’s eyes, will help them be written in the Book of Life.”

The crowdsourced confession

Every year on Yom Kippur, no matter where he’s lived, David Zvi Kalman has joined other congregants at synagogue in standing through a long list of communal sins recited by the entire congregation. The confessional prayers, known as the Viddui (Hebrew for confession), all begin “For the sin we have sinned before you …”

The laundry list of transgressions, covering everything from eating impure foods to berating a friend, is a central piece of the day’s liturgy and is repeated eight times. Worshippers are supposed to gently beat their chests at each line.

Kalman had trouble identifying with the prayers, finding the confessions to be overly general and prescriptive. They’re the sins the liturgy says you should feel sorry for, not necessarily the ones you actually committed.

So in 2013, he created AtoneNet, a bare-bones Tumblr where people can anonymously post the sins they would like to confess and receive forgiveness for. While the response rate has tapered off in the four years since it launched, the past couple of weeks have seen a fresh batch of posts regarding “sins,” such as not giving enough charity or getting angry.

One post reads, “For caring more about being perceived as woke or the least racist than about the actual impact I have on the people of color around me.”

Or another: “For taking housemates’ food that isn’t mine without asking.”

Kalman prints out the entire site each year as a booklet and ships it to those who order it for use on Yom Kippur. He hopes the booklet allows them to atone for sins they feel are closer to their lived experience.

“A lot of people have specific regrets about the way they treated a family member in the time of illness,” said Kalman, a doctoral student in Near Eastern languages at the University of Pennsylvania. “You don’t see a recognition of that in the traditional confession.”

Cast your pizza crusts upon the waters

One of the more hands-on rituals of Rosh Hashanah is tashlich — literally, “cast away” — a ritual where people gather at a natural body of water and toss in bread, representing the casting away of their sins. (Sensing a theme here?)

Rabbi Jeremy Fine of the Conservative Temple of Aaron in St. Paul, Minnesota could never get people to come to the Mississippi River for the ritual after they had sat through a long service. So this year he’s involving the congregation’s kids.

The Sunday before Rosh Hashanah, about 100 Hebrew school students will come to the synagogue and bake pizza for lunch. Then they’ll eat the pizza, but not the crusts — they will go in bags marked with the kids’ names to be stored in the synagogue refrigerator. After services on the first day of the holiday, the kids will retrieve their crusts, head with their parents to the river and chuck them in.

Last year, Fine got about 50 worshippers to tashlich. This year he expects 150.

“If we just did a little piece of bread, we don’t know if it’s so important,” Fine said. “But when the kids see the crust cut off, it’s like there’s actually something we’re giving away.”

Yizkor for gun victims

Yizkor, the memorial service for deceased relatives, is among the most well-known and best attended parts of the High Holy Days service. But what to do if you live in a place where people are regularly getting killed?

That’s the challenge confronted by Tamar Manasseh, a rabbinical student and anti-gun violence activist on Chicago’s South Side. Manasseh runs Mothers Against Senseless Killing, a group of moms that patrols a street corner in the violence-plagued neighborhood of Englewood. Given the local strife affecting the largely non-Jewish neighborhood, Manasseh felt a service focused only on relatives who passed would be inadequate.

So last year, Manasseh organized a Yom Kippur service on her street corner for the community that along with a shofar blast and prayers included a reading of the names of Chicago’s gun violence victims that year. Just reading the list, she says, took 15 minutes — and she hopes to do it again this year.

“A lot of times the funeral is closure,” she said, regarding the families of victims. “It’s not like their loved ones are spoken of after that, and they’re definitely not prayed for.”

At the Yizkor service, she said, “You get to remember, you get to pray.”

Zen and the art of Noraa Kaplan

For Ashkenazi Jews, the kickoff to the High Holy Days happens this year on the Saturday night before Rosh Hashanah. That’s when congregations gather to begin saying selichot, or prayers of atonement. Depending on a congregation’s tradition, the prayers range from a lively call-and-response to long, complex poems muttered almost silently.

But this year, two people are doing it differently.

At Lab/Shul, an experimental Jewish congregation in Manhattan, Rabbi Amichai Lau-Lavie noted that Rosh Hashanah this year coincides with the beginning of the Muslim year — so the synagogue’s theme for the High Holy Days is interfaith worship.

The congregation will be praying with Muslims throughout the holidays, but for the Selichot service, it will partner with the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care, a meditation space. The service will intersperse Selichot prayers from a range of traditions with meditation practices.

“It’s a way to begin the season by taking responsibility and accountability for who you are in front of God,” Lau-Lavie said. “The liturgy and the assumption of saying sorry to God feels a little challenging, so we feel that scaffolding and pairing [that] with introspection and the tools of meditation and contemplation are everyone-friendly. They don’t assume faith.”

Another take on Selichot is happening in Providence, Rhode Island, where musician Noraa Kaplan is turning the service into a concert. Kaplan has invited fellow musicians to perform, and is ending the night with a piece of performance art that challenges a range of Jewish rituals. It will include her parodying a bad bar mitzvah DJ, as well as swinging a rubber chicken over her head.

The event, at a concert venue she runs in Providence called “Al Dios No Conocido,” will be a benefit for charity, but Kaplan is going to let the crowd decide where the money goes at the end of the night. To her, there’s not a lot of difference between traditional Selichot and a weekend show.

“Selichot is supposed to happen in this late-night setting, and in many communities you see these Jewish people gathering at midnight or later,” she said. Playing a DJ, she plans to “ask people to clap their hands, and then ask them to clap their hands if they’ve ever wronged someone.”

5777: Coping with a year of rage

White supremacists, foreground, face off against counterprotesters, top, at the entrance to Emancipation Park during the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., Aug. 12, 2017. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

We hear the word “high” a lot during the High Holy Days — and it’s not just because we live in pot-friendly California.

This time of year is supposed to elevate us, lift us up. It’s so integral to the mission of the holidays, and it’s embedded into the choreography of the service: The ark is opened and we rise; the shofar calls us to stand and wake up; the fast on Yom Kippur alters the chemistry of our brains. Prayer itself promises to bring us “higher and higher,” inching us closer to the profound mystery at the heart of the universe we call God.

Everything about this 10-day annual ritual titillates us with the promise of spiritual intoxication: If we take the holidays seriously enough — if we repent, return, forgive — Jewish tradition tells us we can change our lives; that everything we thought lost is still possible. Begin again, we’re told. It’s a new year. 

But for so many of us, the task of getting high this year seems especially hard because this last year was so full of personal and global anguish. How do we reclaim a space for the spirit when life can be so profoundly dispiriting?

Most of the major events of 5777 have given us reason to worry, rage and fear. We lived through the most polarizing election in our lifetimes, followed by the installation of an equally polarizing administration. We learned about Russian subversion of our democratic process. We endured nuclear threats from North Korea and the rising threat of economic imperialism in China. We watched the Syrian civil war and genocide spread into its sixth tragic year. We divided ourselves over Israel, agonizing about the challenges it faces within and without. We witnessed terror in Europe.

And, most recently, we watched with utter helplessness as the wrath of nature devastated American cities and communities, and as DACA was rescinded, putting the futures of hundreds of thousands of young immigrants in limbo. All of this courtesy of the constant churn of the 24-hour news cycle that knows no Shabbat. 

For these reasons and others, we feel drained. Can prayer and community have any impact on healing these wounds? And what if the very polarizing politics we wish to escape appear in our rabbi’s sermon?

For those of us who already are politically engaged, philanthropic and working with great devotion to fight injustice in this world, we hope the High Holy Days will pour some light onto the canvas of our aching souls.

Just before Rosh Hashanah, I asked Rabbi Mordecai Finley, the spiritual leader at Ohr Hatorah in Venice who teaches and counsels through the prism of psychology and philosophy, how we can move from a year of rage, grief or simply exhaustion to a period of spiritual elevation.

His answer was surprising — and kind of Buddhist.

“Every philosophical system that takes morality seriously detaches wisdom from emotions,” he said over warm apple pie at Sophos Café, the Italian-coffee hangout that serves as the lobby at his shul. (I had to put aside my extreme satisfaction with the pie to understand his point.)

But aren’t you angry about what you see happening in our country, or in the world, I asked?

“I don’t get that emotional [about it],” he said. “Anybody who is that upset [over politics], I’m wondering how efficacious their spiritual practice is to begin with. When people say to me, ‘It’s been the worst year ever,’ I say, ‘1862 was a bad year for our country [it was the Civil War and the Union was losing]. 1942 was a bad year for the world.’

“There are those who love divisiveness and get all emotional. It’s a choice you make. I’m among those who find [President Donald Trump] repugnant, but if I talk to somebody on the other side, I don’t bring that into the conversation. I say, let’s have rational conversation based on moral values. For people who say politics is personal, I think they like to be angry.”

Finley admitted that different people seek different things on the High Holy Days. Some people want and need to vent about politics.

“It can feel extremely satisfying when your leadership vents what you’re feeling,” Finley said. “But when people are venting, they don’t want to process. My congregation is populated by people who want an oasis during the High Holidays. I’ve asked, ‘Would you like me every week to rehash the new litany of Trump’s latest outrages?’ They say, ‘No, we get that from The New York Times.’ They’re after personal depth and transformation. They want leadership there.” 

Finley believes that for most of us, the way to a better world is through higher consciousness, by cultivating what he calls “the higher self,” or the soul. And the best way to test and exert the functioning of our higher self is through interpersonal relationships.

“There’s a moral framework in which we live that for most people, the first place they experience it is interpersonally,” he said. “You’ve been hurt by others; they’ve been hurt by you. That’s the first thing we have to deal with.”

It’s a lot harder to take on the problems of the world if we’re suffering at home. So for those of us who are grieving, heartbroken, angry or stuck, the holidays are a time to examine and refine our most sacred relationships.

Simple acts of being kinder, more generous and more compassionate can make our broken world a little brighter and bring us higher — indeed, closer — to God.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

A short guide to a new head for the new year

As the High Holy Days approach, it’s natural to start thinking about the biggies. Like, who am I? What am I doing with my life? And why is there even a world? God didn’t have to make one! 

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, may commonly be translated as “head of the year” but it also can mean “a new head.” What would we give for a new head, a fresh approach to navigating this fantastically mysterious treasure chest we inhabit. So in the holiday spirit, here is a short guide to achieving a “New Headedness.”

Let’s begin with a simple but profound truth — the mind believes, but the soul knows.

Let’s try to visualize the difference.

Imagine a submarine that is underwater, far from the clarity of dry land. How does the submarine see beyond itself? There is a periscope that reaches from the top of the submarine, out of the water, and from there the people on the submarine can see what is going on above the surface.

So it is with us. Our body is the submarine. We are surrounded by a world where God is hidden. In Hebrew, the word for “world” (olam) has the same root as the word for “hidden” (ne’elam). This is because God is hidden in this world. 

Our soul is like the periscope. It transcends the hiddenness of this world and sees God. As a result, our soul doesn’t have to believe — it knows the existence of God with clarity and certainty.

The question is: How can the mind, which is steeped in the confusion of this world, achieve the same level of clarity as the soul and also come to know?

Here is a three-step approach based on Torah wisdom:

Step One — See

Look at how the Shema is written in the prayer book. Something deep is going on. The last Hebrew letter of the word shema (hear/understand) and the last Hebrew letter of the word echad (oneness) are written in a significantly larger font. Our rabbis teach that taken together, these two letters spell the Hebrew word for “witness” (ayd). If you reverse the two letters, it spells the Hebrew word for “know” (da) — as in, “Know before Whom you stand.”

In other words, if we witness the amazing ways in which God interacts with the world around us — eclipses, babies, ice cream, waterfalls, mind-blowing coincidences and the internet, to name a few — then we will come to know” with certainty to whom the entirety of creation belongs.

Step Two — Do

When we accepted the Torah at Mount Sinai, we made an amazing declaration. We told God, “We will do and we will hear” — in Hebrew, Na’asay v’nishmah (Exodus 24:7). God marveled at this declaration and asked, “Who taught them the secret of the angels?” 

What was so remarkable about our words? By saying, “We will do and we will hear,” the Jewish people committed to doing the mitzvahs before we even heard what they were. The Kotzker Rebbe writes that doing first and hearing the explanation later is akin to climbing a ladder. First we do the mitzvah. The holiness that ensues lifts us to a higher spiritual level, and from that increased place of clarity we are now able to hear the Torah in a deeper way. (Cool aside: The Hebrew words for “Sinai” and “ladder” share the same numerical value.)

This process repeats itself over and over. As we do more, we climb higher and achieve increasing degrees of spiritual clarity. In this way, we’re able to transform the mind’s belief in God into the soul’s knowledge of God.

Doing and seeing are key steps toward achieving a New Head, but I don’t think they’ll work without the third step.

Step Three — Love

The Prophet Hosea writes, “I will betroth you with belief and you will know God” (Hosea 2:22). The whole secret of turning belief into knowledge is in the opening words — “I will betroth you.” If our belief comes from a place of love, then we will know God. 

Wow. 

Love is the secret formula. Through love you become one. All else falls away. (Cool aside: “Love” and “one” share the same numerical equivalent in Hebrew).

Amazingly, in the Torah, the very first word after the Shema is v’ahavta (and you shall love). God is telling us that if you want to reveal His Oneness, then love Him with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your me’odecha. This word is translated as might or money, but literally it means with all of your “very” (me’od).

What an unusual phrase. How do we serve God “with all our very”? The answer is by taking the fire of our hearts, the things we feel most strongly about in life, and using them to serve God.

The New Year is upon us. Our new heads are arriving!  If we want the latest model — one where our minds have the same clarity as our souls — then see, do and, most importantly, love.

Shanah tovah.


DAVID SACKS is an Emmy Award-winning writer and producer. His weekly podcast, “Spiritual Tools for an Outrageous World,” is available at Torahonitunes.com.

In prison, but not alone anymore

Morris Treibitz. Photo courtesy of Morris Treibitz

It’s 1999, two days before Rosh Hashanah, and I can’t think of anything positive to look forward to in the coming year. Rabbi Shalom Leverton is coming to see me with some supplies to celebrate the holiday. I know that he’s going to try to lift my spirits. He’s going to tell me what a beautiful soul I have or something like that.

Although I am eager to get my hands on some of the food he will be bringing, I am not too eager to be around this upbeat man. His unbending optimism is contagious, and today I don’t feel like being happy.

At this point, I am 23 years old and I have been in prison for two years with eight years to go, serving a term for armed robbery. The rabbi is a member of the Aleph Institute, a program designed to reach Jews in prison and the military and help advocate for their religious rights. I am waiting for the officer to unlock my cell so I can go to the chapel and meet him.

Finally, 30 minutes past the appointed time, the officer comes and lets me out. He tells me that my “priest” is at the front gate, and they are waiting to hear from the administrator for approval on the items he brought. I am directed to go to the chapel and wait.

Walking the long corridors of the prison, I start to get angry, assuming they will not let him in. Or even worse, maybe they won’t let the food in. Maybe the chaplain forgot to submit the special request to the administrator, and it would be too late to do so at this point. Maybe the officers were giving the rabbi a hard time.

Assuming all of these things and feeling as though I have no recourse, my eyes begin to burn with tears that I fight back. This is not a place to let people see me cry.

Suddenly, the door swings open and Rabbi Leverton is standing there with the biggest smile a person could muster. As if I am the only person in the world, he shouts out my nickname as loudly as he can: “Moe!” I am so happy to see him that I forget my tears and decide to forgive him his cheerfulness. I see he’s empty-handed and I ask him if they denied the food. As I ask the question two guards step into the chapel, each carrying huge boxes. I should have known that nobody gives this rabbi a hard time. His very presence commands respect.

He brought me all of the traditional New Year foods along with a shofar, a holiday prayer book and a new Aleph calendar. Although I am wearing a happy face, he can tell that something is wrong. When he asks me about it, I let him know I’m feeling hopeless. I explain that I can’t even fathom what eight more years will bring.

The rabbi looks at me and starts to compare me to an onion. He’s saying something to the effect that I am like its layers and that each time rot sets in, a layer is peeled and a newer fresher one is underneath. While he’s saying this, all I can think is that onions stink.

The rabbi asks me if I know how to blow the shofar. I tell him that my father had taught me years ago. He hands it to me and I try to blow it. I don’t do very well. He takes it from me and proceeds to blow the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard. I could hold back no longer. Without warning, the tears that threatened to start earlier begin to stream down, staining my cheeks. I am reminded of walking with my father to shul to hear the shofar. It makes me realize how much I miss my family and they are missing me. My body is racked with sobs like a hysterical child.

After I collect myself, the rabbi explains to me that one of the sounds of the shofar, shevarim, represents the crying of the Jewish heart. He explains that we are crying for the missed opportunities of the past year, our misdeeds, repentance and, most importantly, the yearning to connect and grow. At the moment the shofar is blown, he says all the Jewish people are standing in front of our creator as one — no walls or barriers, and certainly no bars or barbed wire fences. My family and I will be together. I smile.

I begin feeling like a new person, cleansed of sorrow and grief, free of pain and the walls that surround me. I explain this by telling him how good it felt to cry. He then tells me that for now on, whenever I need to cry and can’t, due to my environment, I should just let the shofar do the crying for me. He tells me to just close my eyes and remember what it sounded like, and I will feel the same way I feel right now. He gives me a hug and leaves. As he walks, out I think how much I love that man for his words, his kindness and especially his optimism.

On Rosh Hashanah that year, alone in the chapel, I prayed for forgiveness. I prayed for my family and I prayed to be a better person and a better Jew. I was not miserable, but I did feel lonely. Until I blew that shofar. Or at least until I tried to. I am sure that it didn’t sound majestic or mystical, but to me, in my head, it sounded just the way the rabbi blew it two days earlier. Just like my father blew it for me so many years before.

I was not alone anymore. I was standing as one with my family, my friends, my people. I was connected, happy and free. It was at that point I knew that although there may be times that I would feel lonely, I would never be alone again.

Artist Zhenya Gershman adds dose of ‘Awe’ to UCLA Hillel

Zhenya Gershman’s painting “Lift” is on exhibit at UCLA Hillel. Photo by Zhenya Gershman

As congregants climb the stairs to reach High Holy Days services at UCLA Hillel, they will be surrounded by far more than empty walls. 

Hard to miss will be a towering 11-foot-tall canvas, an oil painting depicting an ethereal, cupped pair of hands adorning the wall just outside the sanctuary.

“That’s exactly the idea,” said Zhenya Gershman, the Russian-born artist responsible for the work and its placement. Standing before the piece, titled “Lift,” she giddily descended a few steps then strode back up, arms open wide. 

“They will be greeted by God’s hands,” she said.

“Lift,” along with 10 other larger-than-life pieces, make up her latest collection, aptly called “Days of Awe,” a reference to the 10-day period beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur. “Days of Awe” will be on display through December at the Dortort Center for Creativity in the Arts at UCLA Hillel’s Hilgard Avenue home. It will be prominently featured in and around the third-floor sanctuary, which doubles as an art gallery, during the High Holy Days services led by the congregation’s rabbi, Aaron Lerner.

The works are mostly varied portraits of Gershman’s often-used model Mark Snyder — the back of his head, a magnified profile, or just his hands in “Lift.” They toy with neutral grays and Rembrandt-inspired plays of light that help bring out a water-like translucency. She also used ceramic tools normally meant for clay to carve into layers of paint. One of the effects is providing the skin with realism; even the fingerprints have distinctive raised lines. It’s a technique she discovered by accident.

“With art, you’re either on cloud nine or you want to die. There’s nothing in between,” she said. “I was having a bad day. It’s subconscious. I saw this tool and grabbed it and, in my agony, I just slashed. It removed the paint that was there and it revealed some of the layers underneath. It created this dimensionality and sculptural texture that I had never seen anywhere in other people’s art or in my art. I couldn’t stop. I was like a kid in a candy store.”

Gershman said she hopes the works inspire introspection within viewers.

“These paintings were made as an amplification of this meditative process. They are helping you, in my mind, and the way that I intended for them to be viewed, to facilitate you finding your humanity, your stability and your core,” she said. 

Perla Karney, the Dortort Center’s artistic director, said holding Conservative High Holy Days services with massive displays of artwork is certainly a first. She had the idea when she met Gershman at an art fair several months ago. She said she was moved by a striking portrait of a pensive Snyder.

“He looked otherworldly and was staring at me,” Karney said. “I took down [Gershman’s] contact information and, I suppose, the rest is history.”

Karney, who admitted to being a longtime fan, commissioned Gershman to put together a solo exhibition for the Dortort Center meant to coincide with the High Holy Days. Upon seeing the results, she said she and Lerner felt strongly that the collection would heighten the message of services, not detract from it.

“I find that Zhenya’s art conveys the human condition in a deeply spiritual, mystical way,” she said. “It is therefore so fitting to show her exhibit ‘Days of Awe’ during the High Holy Days at Hillel. Her art is a meditation on life and its profound mystery, something we can never fully understand but stand in awe of.”

Born in Moscow, the internationally renowned artist held her first solo exhibition in St. Petersburg at age 14 and was hailed as a prodigy in her native Soviet Union. Gershman, who now lives in Brentwood, immigrated to the United States as a teenager in 1991. She’s widely known for her portraiture work, which is housed in public and private collections around the world. The Grammy MusiCares Foundation selected Gershman to create portraits of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan; her portrait of Sting is part of the permanent collection of the Arte Al Limite Museum in Santiago, Chile.

Gershman said that her latest solo exhibition is one of her most meaningful.

While growing up, Gershman and her family faced daunting anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union, unable to openly practice Judaism. She wore a Star of David necklace underneath her clothes but never learned much in the form of Jewish customs or traditions. Her inclusion in Lerner’s services, in a way, brings everything full circle.

“I’m very spiritual and I feel my Jewish roots that were forbidden deep within me. But services and prayers were always foreign to me,” she said. “That was cut down from the roots of my family. It’s very meaningful to now create a work that will participate in a ritual. It’s not a Bible illustration, and it’s not meant to be prayed to. But it is for raising spiritual awareness.”

Gershman has never attended High Holy Days services. This Rosh Hashanah at UCLA’s Hillel will be her first.

“For me to know that 500 people will be facing the ark framed by my artwork on either side, and everyone will be experiencing the Torah through my work, I can’t even describe how that makes me feel,” she said, becoming emotional. “For me, art is a way to communicate with people and, in this, their most intimate state of prayer and meditation, with my art used to heighten and communicate the experience — that’s paradise. I’ll probably be a ghost in the back just crying.”

The official “Days of Awe” opening is Oct. 26, and is free and open to the public. n

High Holy Days alert: Be prepared to look out the windows

This is the time of year when Jews begin preparing for the High Holy Days. Part of that preparation inevitably involves picturing oneself in services, head buried in the prayer book. This year, however, perhaps we should prepare for a different posture.

The prophet Daniel, Scripture tells us, prayed in the upstairs room of his home. Why upstairs?  Because that’s where the windows were, showing him the world outside, facing Jerusalem. For Daniel, real prayer calls attention to the real world, the happenings outside the sanctuary of one’s comfort zone: in the sobering suffering of the public square.    

The diversity of the Jewish community is a wondrous feature of our people; it’s amazing that we can be so different yet cling to the same Torah. No two synagogues are alike, just as each community sings with its own voice and animates our age-old duty to pursue justice in its own way.

However, despite this astonishingly variegated nature of communities, every single sanctuary in our tradition has at least one commonality: They all, thanks to Daniel, have windows. They all, by Jewish law, forbid a prayer setup that is, in essence, “soundproof” from the noise outside of the thick walls of our buildings.  

The realities of our world today demand Daniel’s prayer posture, gazing out the window, as our liturgy urges us to make teshuvah, to “turn” to our core obligations, as a people in Covenant with God.  

This year, we look out the windows of our sanctuaries and confront our world. We look out the windows to see a world torn by suffering and hatred. We look out the windows to acknowledge pernicious public policies that propagate bigotry, oppression and racial and ethnic supremacy upon the most vulnerable among us —­ the proverbial “ foreigner, widow and orphan.” This year, we look out the windows to see the world as it really is, rather than the alternate realities prevaricated by corrupt leaders who, we pray, may yet find their pathways to moral rehabilitation.

This year, recognizing that, in the words of the late Abraham Joshua Heschel, “the hour calls for moral grandeur and spiritual audacity,” we look out the window, with our eyes open, our ears attuned and our hearts willing to be broken. And with our hearts broken, may we allow the letters of Torah to enter through the cracks and provide meaning and strength for what in the year 5778 surely will be a fierce, urgent and critical fight for the values of truth, justice and peace.

As we approach this High Holy Days season, while we practice the inherently introspective tradition of cheshbon ha-nefesh, “taking account of our souls,” be prepared to look out the windows.


Rabbi Matthew Soffer is the senior associate rabbi at Temple Israel of Boston, is on the board of the Jewish Alliance for Law and Social Action and is a member of the advisory council of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University. Rabbi Joel Thal Simonds is the founding executive director of the Jewish Center for Justice and is the rabbi of the synagogue for the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles. 

Moroccan-inspired tzimmes with saffron, white wine and chicken

Moroccan-inspired tzimmes with saffron, white wine and chicken. Photos by Chaya Rappoport

I didn’t grow up with tzimmes, so the idea of stewed, mushy vegetables with dried fruit has never much appealed to me. I say “idea” because I am pretty sure I have never actually tasted tzimmes. The dish always seemed too sweet to be appealing, even if sweet foods are traditionally enjoyed for the New Year.

But recently, while thinking of new ways to reinvent a few classic Rosh Hashanah dishes, I began thinking about tzimmes. And perhaps with a couple of very liberal (and namely savory) changes, who’s to say it couldn’t become something newer, grander and much more enticing for a palate like mine?

My experimentation has produced a colorful, show-stopping and nontraditional chicken dish.

Wonderfully savory chicken now complements the sweet tzimmes of yore, which I have updated by swapping fresh, juicy plums and apricots for their dry, pruney counterparts, adding sweetly swirled candy cane beets (you can also use red or golden beets); switching out regular carrots for vivid, tricolored ones; and tossing in a handful of golden raisins to be plumped up with aromatic pan juices. Alongside the requisite onion, aromatic rosemary and heady cloves of garlic, the striking fruit-and-vegetable mixture roasts in a cinnamon, ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend) and spiked date honey sauce.

Once the fruits and vegetables have softened a bit, they are topped by the chicken and doused in a saffron-infused white wine mixture, which saturates the entire dish as its components roast together in happy, fragrant harmony.

Now we have a delicious dish with tender fruits and vegetables, bronzed chicken and a saffron-and-white-wine-flavored gravy that puddles at the bottom of the pan and would be splendid spooned over fluffy couscous. Serve this holiday-worthy chicken with even more wine and with shreds of fresh green parsley, then watch as even the most vehement tzimmes haters come slowly, then speedily around.

Ingredients:
For the fruits and vegetables:
2 bunches small colored candy cane beets, tops removed, scrubbed and sliced
1 bunch colorful young carrots, scrubbed and thicker ones sliced in half
4 apricots, halved, some quartered
4 big purple plums, halved and some sliced
1/2 cup golden raisins
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into thick rings
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
chopped parsley, for serving

Some of the fruits and vegetables that go in a newfangled tzimmes dish.

 

For the chicken, sauce and saffron white wine marinade:
4 chicken bottoms, cleaned
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup water
3/4 cups good white wine
3 tablespoons date honey (silan)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 pinches cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ras el hanout

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Rub the chicken bottoms with the sea salt and the 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary.

2. Toast the saffron threads in a small pan over low-medium heat for about 3-5 minutes until they are slightly toasty and fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat, add the 1/4 cup of water and let it sit and turn yellow as the saffron infuses its flavor into the water.

3. Combine the cooled saffron water, of which you should have 1/4 cup, with the white wine. Mix and set aside until needed.

4. Make the marinade: Whisk the date honey, oil, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne and ras el hanout in a large bowl.

5. Add the chicken pieces, carrots, onion, cardamom pods, garlic, apricots, plums, carrots, beets, golden raisins and rosemary to the large bowl and toss to combine.

6. Remove the chicken and set aside in a clean, baking paper-lined pan until needed. Spread the fruits and vegetables on a baking paper-lined rimmed baking sheet.

7. Pour half of the saffron/white wine mixture on the chicken and half on the vegetables. Cover the vegetables tightly with foil. Roast 15 minutes, then remove from oven. Remove and discard the cardamom.

8.  Remove foil, lower the heat to 400 F. and top the vegetables with the chicken and the rest of the saffron/white wine mix.

9. Continue to roast until the beets and carrots are tender, the chicken is golden brown and the whole mixture smells divine, around 40 minutes to 1 hour. (If the fruits and vegetables get too dark, you can remove the sheet tray from the oven, place the chicken in another pan and return that pan to the oven until the chicken is nice and golden, leaving out the vegetables.)

10. When the chicken and vegetables are done, transfer chicken mixture to serving platter. Pour pan juices over. Top with shredded parsley before serving.

Chaya Rappoport is the blogger, baker and picture taker behind retrolillies.wordpress.com. Currently a pastry sous chef at a Brooklyn bakery, she’s been blogging since 2012 and her work has been featured on The Feed Feed, Delish.com, Food and Wine and Conde Nast Traveler.


The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.

Allegations of cow tongue price fixing troubles Persian Jews

A local rabbi is using his Facebook page to urge the Jewish community to boycott several local kosher supermarkets, alleging they and their suppliers are involved in a “scheme of price fixing” over the cost of kosher fish and meat, including cow tongue.

In a Sept. 14 post, Rabbi Netanel Louie, founder and director of Hebrew Discovery Center in Woodland Hills, said the recent price of kosher cow tongue “has exceeded a ridiculous $20 per pound in certain stores.” Louie also called for Los Angeles rabbis and local Jews to “boycott buying meat from all kosher markets in L.A. until prices drop.”

Most Iranian Jews consume cow tongue as a Rosh Hashanah siman, or sign to be “at the head and not the tail,” according to a passage in Deuteronomy.

Asked if he has verifiable evidence of price fixing, Louie said he knows people who can confirm it but declined to identify them.

Louie did not mention specific stores, but at least two are selling tongue at $19.99 per pound, citing low supply. At Elat Market on Pico Boulevard, a representative of the meat department, who asked not to be identified, said although he understood customer frustration, his distributors “don’t always have the supply. And when they do have it, they usually give it to clients who purchase more of it during the course of the year.”

Cow tongue has sold at lower prices at other times of the year.

A message from our very own Rabbi Louie, to the community: Dear members of the community, I am personally writing to…

Posted by Hebrew Discovery Center on Thursday, September 14, 2017

Glatt Mart, also on Pico, claims to have lowered the costs of beef and chicken to make products more affordable during the Jewish High Holy Days. Elat Market says it has done the same.

Representatives from both stores offered to make their recent invoices of tongue purchases from suppliers available to the public to demonstrate that they have not engaged in price fixing.

Meir Davidpour, a partner at Glatt Mart, called Louie’s allegations “false” and said they could be challenged “in a legal manner.”

Glatt Mart co-partner Aaron Nourollah said the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has cut imports from what they claim to be “any inside parts of the animal, such as tongue, liver, and brain,” particularly from Uruguay and Costa Rica. One of Glatt Mart’s primary meat suppliers, a company that asked not to be identified, also claimed that there is a “major shortage” of cow tongue available this year.

USDA import-export representatives could not be reached for comment.

Drew Alyeshmerni Leach, 32, a resident of San Pedro who runs an educational nonprofit, said she drove three hours round-trip last week to the Pico-Robertson area to purchase Glatt kosher cow tongue for Rosh Hashanah. An Iranian married to an Ashkenazi Jew, she said she enjoys sharing Persian-Jewish customs with her husband and his family.

“When I took the tongue off the shelf, my heart sunk — the tongues were priced at $40 to $50 [whole] or even more! Performing a mitzvah shouldn’t have to be a luxury,” she said. Instead of tongue, Alyeshmerni Leach bought a package of turkey necks for $6.

“We are hosting our very first Rosh Hashanah as a married couple and I’m sad that because of the high price, I won’t be able to continue this Persian tradition with my husband as we build our new home together,” she said.

Eman Esmailzadeh, a 35-year-old entrepreneur from Westwood, said he has decided to adopt the Ashkenazi custom of displaying a fish head at his family’s Rosh Hashanah table this year.

“To my dismay, there are many that take Rabbi Louie’s claims of price fixing as another reason to bash kashrut altogether. The fact is that if you truly want to be kosher, you could keep kosher without ever buying a pound of meat,” he said. ​

Louie and representatives from Elat Market and Glatt Mart are expressing concern that the controversy will deter many Jews from adhering to kosher meat standards.

“When I took the tongue off the shelf, my heart sunk — the tongues were priced at $40 to $50 [whole] or even more! Performing a mitzvah shouldn’t have to be a luxury.”

“Such shameful actions over greed for money are examples of what perpetuate the community to wrongly criticize Judaism and in some cases even stop eating kosher,” Louie said on Facebook, adding in an interview, “It has to be very clear to the community that in no shape or form does boycotting kosher meat mean that they are encouraged or allowed to purchase nonkosher meat. All it means is do not eat meat for a short amount of time till the industry feels the pain and regulates itself.”

At Glatt Mart, Nourollah says that rather than high prices, accusations of corruption such as those by Louie are deterrents that turn people away from kosher practice.

Louie, who says he has received “99.99 percent positive feedback” for his call to boycott, is open to speaking with both markets and distributors. He would, however, like the supermarkets and distributors to agree “to an open audit of their books.”

He also is passionate about reminding Iranian Jews that enjoying cow tongue on Rosh Hashanah is only a custom and not a formal halachah, or Jewish law.

“I must inform the community that there is no halachic obligation, neither from the Torah or the Rabbis, to eat cow tongue on Rosh Hashanah,” according to his Facebook statement. Louie has encouraged Iranian Jews to display fish heads, instead. “If you can’t afford it [tongue], don’t buy it.”

Sam Yebri, a 36-year-old attorney from Westwood and board member of Builders of Jewish Education and the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles, also has joined the boycott.

“To me, the issue is not about allegations of price fixing, price gouging or supply-and-demand economics, and it certainly goes beyond cow’s tongue,” Yebri said. “I am hopeful that this debate reflects a tipping point for the Jewish community. The crisis of affordability of Jewish life is real and is as serious a threat to the future of American Jewry as any our people face, anti-Semitism and assimilation included.”

15 tracks to top your High Holy Days playlist

For centuries, the blast of the shofar has jolted generations of Jews into the proper frame of mind for the introspection needed to pursue teshuvah, or repentance, during the Days of Awe.

But that doesn’t have to be the only way to get into the spirit of the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement. For a more modern musical approach, try listening to a little Justin Bieber or Nirvana. Because while “Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word” — as Elton John sang in 1976 — it’s still the best place to start.

Here are some other songs and lyrics to get you going.

“This Is the New Year” (2014)
A Great Big World
“Another year you made a promise
Another chance to turn it all around
And do not save this for tomorrow
Embrace the past and you can live for now”

“Sorry” (2015)
Justin Bieber
“I just need one more shot at forgiveness
I know you know that I made those mistakes maybe once or twice
By once or twice I mean maybe a couple a hundred times”

“Please Forgive Me” (2010)
Bryan Adams
“Please forgive me
I know not what I do”

“Sorry, Blame It on Me” (2006)
Akon
“As life goes on, I’m starting to learn more and more about responsibility
I realize everything I do is affecting the people around me
So I want to take this time out to apologize for things I have done
And things that have not occurred yet”

“The New Year” (2003)
Death Cab for Cutie
“So this is the new year
And I have no resolutions
For self-assigned penance
For problems with easy solutions”

“The Apologist” (1998)
R.E.M.
“When I feel regret
I get down on my knees and pray
I’m sorry, so sorry”

“All Apologies” (1993)
Nirvana
“What else should I be?
All apologies”

“Man in the Mirror” (1987)
Michael Jackson
“I’m starting with the man in the mirror
I’m asking him to change his ways
And no message could have been any clearer
If you wanna make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change”

“Let’s Start the New Year Right” (1942)
Bing Crosby
“Let’s watch the old year die
With a fond goodbye
And our hopes as high
As a kite”

And, of course, Leonard Cohen’s riff on the Unetanah Tokef prayer from the High Holy Days liturgy:

“Who by Fire” (1974)
Leonard Cohen
“And who by fire, who by water,
Who in the sunshine, who in the nighttime
Who by high ordeal, who by common trial
Who in your merry, merry month of May
Who by very slow decay
And who shall I say is calling?”

Others:

“Sorry” (2005) by Madonna

“Oops! … I Did It Again” (2000) by Britney Spears

“New Year’s Day” (1983) by U2

“Hard to Say I’m Sorry” (1982) by Chicago

“(Just Like) Starting Over” (1980) by John Lennon

The Akedah Dilemma

Rembrandt, The Sacrifice of Isaac (excerpt), 1635

The binding of Isaac passage has posed a perennial problem for those affirming universal moral norms. Struggling with the dilemma of a God who commands Abraham to sacrifice his ‘chosen’ son has yielded a steady flow of creative interpretations. Herein my latest suggestion.

One way of presenting the Akedah challenge is to define the quandary that confronts Abraham as the choice between fulfilling the command to “Love the Lord your God” and the obligation to ‘Love Your Fellow as Yourself.” Which one has priority, the commitment to principle and law or the devotion to interpersonal love and relationship? Is the essential religious message that one must be prepared to sacrifice everything for the sake of the Divine or that we must do everything in our power to sustain our human relationships? Is obedience and submission always the appropriate religious stance or is resistance and disobediences sometimes the more holy/moral response?

Here again, as in the Sodom episode, Abraham emerges as our radical mentor. At the moment that he refrains from sacrificing Isaac he demonstrates that the perceived contradiction between the two Love commandments is only imagined and that, at the deepest level, the fulfillment of the Love of God is achieved through one’s acting to Love one’s fellow human being. Indeed, Abraham concluded that the God with whom he is covenanted would never desire that he sacrifice his beloved son nor demand the violation of any other universal moral precept.

And so, once again Abraham the iconoclast shatters the idol of religious absolutism in favor of the moderating virtues of compassion, mercy and love.This is the gift of a religion that proclaims loud and clear: “and you shall live by means of the commandments”(Leviticus 18:5), to which the rabbis append, “and not die because of them”(Yoma 85b).

To life, and to a year filled with health, love and peace.

 

Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller is Director Emeritus,UCLA Hillel

 

Watch Trump’s High Holy Days greeting

President Donald Trump in the Cabinet Room of the White House Sept. 13. Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images.

Per White House tradition, President Donald Trump released a greeting ahead of the Jewish High Holidays. The White House sent the video message on Monday, ahead of Rosh Hashanah, which starts this year on Wednesday evening.

Below is the transcript and video of Trump’s address:

“On behalf of all Americans, I want to wish Jewish families many blessings in the New Year. The High Holy Days are a time of both reflection on the past year and hope for renewal in the year to come. Jewish communities across the country, and around the world, enter into a time of prayer, repentance, and rededication to the sacred values and traditions that guide the incredible character, and spirit, of the Jewish people. We reaffirm the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel, and we ask God to deliver justice, dignity, and peace on Earth. Melania and I wish everyone a sweet, healthy, and peaceful year, which we hope will bring many blessings to all. Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless America.”

How Houston’s synagogues are handling the High Holy Days after Harvey

Piles of ruined books from United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston. The congregation lost many of its prayer books and replenished them through donations. Photo courtesy of United Orthodox Synagogues

A few weeks ago, Holly Davies was getting ready to homeschool her kids and preparing the family for the High Holy Days. When Hurricane Harvey hit, she helped evacuate 150 people from her neighborhood by airboat and shelter nearly 100 people in a local church.

Then came the hard part.

For the past three weeks, Davies has been leading a force of up to 300 volunteers who have mobilized to repair homes and synagogues in and around the heavily Jewish housing development of Willow Meadows. Davies has spent September  coordinating teams who are clearing Sheetrock, stripping floors, preventing mold and distributing aid.

Her volunteer operation is headquartered in Beit Rambam, a Sephardic synagogue that was spared flooding, and has helped rehabilitate the homes of about 100 families. But Davies is also helping lead the effort to make sure those families have a place to pray when Rosh Hashanah begins Wednesday.

“It’s very important for the community to have their central worship place, to not feel fragmented, not only in their homes but in their community,” she said. “A lot of people are staying with friends or other people in the community.”

As the entire Houston area recovers from Harvey, synagogues face the added difficulty of drying out their buildings days before the holiest and busiest days of the year. Three large synagogues sustained substantial damage from the flood, forcing them to improvise, relocate or make do with whatever floors, books and ritual objects remained intact.

“There was not any part of the synagogue that was immune to the flooding,” said Rabbi Brian Strauss of Beth Yeshurun, a Conservative congregation. “There was water covering the first seven rows of the sanctuary. You couldn’t even see the seats.”

Strauss said his synagogue sustained about $3 million worth of damage. Along with cutting out floors, cabinets and Sheetrock, and disinfecting the building — the basics of flood recovery — the synagogue will have to bury nearly 1,000 holy books that were ruined in the flood. The synagogue will set up a Harvey memorial at the burial space.

United Orthodox Synagogues, another Houston congregation, had up to six feet of flooding in some places and also lost most of its prayer books. Congregation Beth Israel had damage in its sanctuary, mechanical room and offices. No Torah scrolls were damaged at any of the congregations, as they were in high places when the flooding began.

United Orthodox isn’t sure if the building can ever be completely repaired, while Strauss is shooting for his building to be back to normal for the High Holy Days — in 2018. In the meantime, the synagogues have found makeshift solutions. United Orthodox’s 300-some families have been praying, meeting and eating in a large social hall that avoided the worst of the water. The synagogue has also had hundreds of new prayer books donated from publishing companies and synagogues outside Houston, including 400 machzors, or High Holy Days prayer books.

A room in United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston, stripped of its furniture and floors. (Courtesy of United Orthodox Synagogues)

Beth Yeshurun has been holding bar and bat mitzvah services in a nearby high school auditorium, and otherwise has joined with Brith Shalom, a nearby Conservative synagogue that was not flooded. For the High Holy Days, Beth Yeshurun will be meeting at Lakewood Church, a Houston megachurch that’s donating its space and support staff. To give the building a Jewish feel, Beth Yeshurun will be projecting photos of its artwork on the church’s walls.

“Everyone is being incredibly cooperative and patient,” said Rabbi Barry Gelman of United Orthodox Synagogues. “This is an incredibly responsive community. Despite this, we’re really looking forward to a beautiful Rosh Hashanah.”

The rabbis have handled their synagogues’ recovery while also dealing with personal crises. Both Gelman and Strauss had flooding in their houses. Gelman, along with a few dozen Jewish families, has moved to an apartment complex near the synagogue that he now calls a “kibbutz.” Other religious families are hosting displaced neighbors who want to stay within walking distance of their synagogues.

“There’s a lot of expenses, there’s the physical upheaval, the emotional upheaval,” Gelman said. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, stress. The human cost of this is really unimaginable and ongoing.”

Houston’s Jewish community has also been buoyed by outside donations. Aside from approximately $9 million raised by the local federation, Israel pledged $1 million in aid, and the Orthodox Union and Chabad also sent money and volunteers.

A kosher barbecue food truck from Dallas drove down and has been making up to 1,000 meals a day, and three kosher caterers from Dallas also sent meals to Houston’s Jews. Seasons, a kosher supermarket chain, and Chasdei Lev, a charitable organization in New York, sent trucks of kosher perishable items and dry goods, including clothes. Two Israeli wineries, Golan Heights and Galil Mountain, donated 100 crates of wine to Houston Jewish institutions.

“Food is getting semi-back to normal,” said Tzivia Weiss, executive director of the Houston Kashruth Association.

Weiss said that while donations are plentiful, people are hesitant to take them because they “want to feel like people that can go to stores and buy their own clothes.”

The flood has also affected what’s usually troubling rabbis the most ahead of High Holy Days — their sermons. Strauss, who was going to talk about pressures affecting teens and young adults, will instead be discussing his family’s personal experience during Harvey and how to avoid fixating on material possessions. Gelman will talk about the connection between homelessness and repentance, as well as how to respond to the flood while thinking of the future.

“I’ll talk about long-term thinking, and not relying on short-term answers to life’s difficulties,” Gelman said, describing his Rosh Hashanah sermon on the second day. “Rosh Hashanah is the anniversary of the birthday of the world. We see this as an opportunity for our own rebirth.”