September 19, 2019

A Very Jewish and Musical Finale for ‘Transparent’

Gaby Hoffmann (left) and Kathryn Hahn in “Transparent.” Photos courtesy of Amazon Prime Studios

After four groundbreaking, critically acclaimed seasons, and surviving the shock of a sexual harassment scandal involving its star, “Transparent” bids farewell to the Pfefferman family with a musical movie that’s celebratory, healing and very Jewish.

Created by Jill Soloway, whose own parent came out as transgender, the series starred Jeffrey Tambor as Maura Pfefferman, until harassment allegations led to his firing in 2018. Soloway opted to kill off the character with a “Musical Finale” episode that allows Maura’s loved ones to deal with the loss and reflect on living — in song.

“After everything happened with Jeffrey, we were looking for a way to surprise ourselves, try something different and go in a new direction. And from the ashes arose this thing we never would have expected,” Soloway told the Journal after a screening of the film. “My sister Faith is a songwriter, and we have always wanted to write a musical together. This was our chance to have fun together and make all of our dreams come true.”

Maura’s death and the ensuing arrangements and memorial are cause for much discussion about Jewish ritual, guilt and the Holocaust, and sets up the return of Rabbi Raquel Fein (Kathryn Hahn). “It’s very Jew-y. There’s a lot of Jewishness in there,” Soloway said, noting the perfect timing of the movie’s Sept. 27 premiere. “We come out at the end of September so people are talking about it during the High Holy Days.”

Jill and Faith Soloway and several cast members subsequently participated in a panel at the Television Critics Association press tour, where Jill further elaborated on their journey with “Transparent,” calling it “a kind of thrill ride for neurotic people.”

“We could have just said ‘goodbye’ and backed away and waved and been grateful for the love and the transformation around trans liberation. But as storytellers and as artists, I think this was actually not just the finale, but it was our chance to heal together,” Soloway said. “I think making it into a musical in some ways just rescued it from being overly serious. We didn’t want to tell a story of Maura’s death that was a complete mourning, a sad farewell. We had to find our way back to joy, and the musical allowed us to do that.”

“I’ve been writing songs about our family, my gender expression, my sexuality, Jewishness and my family all my life, and I’m in my 50s,” Faith Soloway said. “To get the chance to do this is a dream come true.”

Judith Light in “Transparent.” Photos courtesy of Amazon Prime Studios

But the actors weren’t exactly thrilled about the prospect of singing, especially at (first. “[Sarah] sings first, which scared the crap out of me. I don’t have musical theater experience,” Amy Landecker said. “I was full of fear, but I had courage because I was supported. I would literally bring Faith next to me and make her sit in the studio while I sang.”

“We had to express ourselves in a whole new way, and it totally made sense,” added Jay Duplass (Josh). “Not that we weren’t kicking and screaming and terrified the whole way, but that’s what makes the show what it is.”

Although she has a musical theater background, with shows including a Los Angeles production of “Company” and a European tour of “Guys and Dolls” on her resumé, Judith Light (Shelly) was similarly apprehensive about singing. “Like Amy, I had Faith standing next to me at the microphone when I was laying down the tracks. I wanted to make sure that I was going to give everything I had, my best self,” Light said. “Facing this fear and being able to do this in this way with this kind of safety changed everything for me.”

In the movie, Shakina Nayfack, a transgender Jewish woman, plays the actress Shelly casts as Maura in the play she’s producing about her family. An actor best known from “Difficult People” and founder of the Musical Theatre Factory in New York, Nayfack embodies a spiritual guide to the Pfeffermans. “We were looking for our new North Star, and Shakina guided us in believing that we could believe in something again,” Jill Soloway said. “We always seem like we’re on this kind of spiritual journey here at ‘Transparent.’ It feels like so much more than a TV show for us.”

After the presentation, Light confided she will miss “Transparent” and Shelly, “But the arc is completed now in a very beautiful way. I will miss being in this space with these people. They have become my family and I’m trusting our relationships will continue. That’s dearly important to me,” she said. 

From the outset, Light studiously avoided making Shelly a Jewish-mother cliché. “It was always my and Jill’s intention to never make her a stereotype or a caricature in any way,” Light said, noting she has “always felt connected” to her own Jewish heritage. 

Light, who next will play the mother of Richard Jewell, the wrongly accused suspect in the Atlanta Olympics bombings in Spectrum’s “Manhunt: The Unabomber,” will sing on the “Musicale Finale” cast album.

As for the Soloways, plans are underway for a Broadway version of the movie, and Jill is writing and will direct the superhero movie “Red Sonja” and is “working on some new TV projects for Amazon.”

Sweet New Year Recipes From Molly Yeh

Whether she’s planning menus for her family or her Food Network series, “Girl Meets Farm,” Molly Yeh likes to work backward. “I usually start with the dessert, because that’s what gets me the most excited,” she said. 

Yeh also has a soft spot for challah, the first of her Jewish mother’s recipes (her father is Chinese American), which she learned to make when she moved out on her own. Just in time for Rosh Hashanah, she shared two recipes that will get your New Year off to a sweet start.

Baked Challah French Toast
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup part-skim or whole-milk ricotta
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
6 large eggs
1 lemon, zested and juiced
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
12 thick-sliced (3/4- to 1-inch) day-old challah bread slices
1 cup frozen blueberries
Powdered sugar, for serving

Combine the brown sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg in a small bowl and mix to combine. Set aside.

In a large bowl, add the milk, ricotta, vanilla, salt, eggs and lemon zest. Whisk to combine and set aside.

Pour the melted butter in a 9-by-13-inch casserole dish. Dip each slice of bread lightly in the egg mixture and shingle the bread in the casserole dish, sprinkling a large pinch of the sugar mixture on each layer.

Pour the remaining egg mixture on top of the bread and then pour the remaining sugar mixture on top. Cover with aluminum foil and refrigerate for at least 6 hours and up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Bake the casserole for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake until the custard is set and the bread is golden brown, an additional 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the blueberries and lemon juice to a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the berries burst and thicken and the sauce begins to bubble, about 15 minutes.

When ready to serve, spoon blueberries over the center of the casserole and sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Molly Yeh’s Chocolate Sea Salt Rugelach , as seen on Girl Meets Farm, Season 3.

Chocolate Sea Salt Rugelach
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup unsalted butter, cubed and cold
8 ounces cream cheese, straight from the fridge
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract, optional
Egg wash (1 large egg beaten with splash of water)
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
Flaky salt, for sprinkling
Sprinkles, sanding sugar or turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Combine the flour, granulated sugar and salt in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.

Add the cubed butter, distributing it all over the top of the dry ingredients, then dollop in cream cheese (1-inch dollops should do it, but it doesn’t need to be perfect).

Turn on mixer at low speed and mix until the ingredients are mostly mealy and there are still some larger clumps of butter and cream cheese intact.

With the mixer still running, add the egg yolks, vanilla and almond extract, if using, then continue mixing until the dough comes together.

Divide the dough in half and shape into 2 discs. Wrap each tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler, stirring constantly, or in a microwaveable bowl in 30-second increments, stirring after each. Set aside to cool briefly while you roll out the dough.

Make the egg wash. Roll out a dough disc on lightly floured surface, dusting with flour as needed to prevent it from sticking, until it is a wide rectangle, 18-by-9-inches.

Use an offset spatula to spread half of the chocolate over dough in a thin even layer, leaving a 1-inch border along the long edge that’s farthest from you. (Try to work quickly so the chocolate doesn’t harden.)

Brush the border with a thin layer of egg wash. Starting on the long end closest to you, roll the dough into a long, tight log, then place it seam-side down on a cutting board or baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough and chocolate.

Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days (depending on fridge space, you might want to cut the log in half so there are four shorter logs instead of two long ones; wrap in plastic if refrigerating for longer than 1 hour).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Brush logs with thin layer of egg wash, then sprinkle with a few pinches of flaky salt and lots of sprinkles or sanding sugar.

Cut into 1 1/2-inch slices and transfer to the baking sheets, spacing them 1 inch apart.

Bake until golden brown on top, about 24 minutes. (You might notice that the cookies seem to sweat and leak some fat while in the oven; this is completely normal.)

Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely, or enjoy them warm! Fully cooled cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days.

“Girl Meets Farm” airs at 11 a.m. Sundays on Food Network. The “Jewish New Year” episode premieres Sept. 22. 

I Did the Math, and I Don’t See a Coalition

In the midst of all the promises of “coalitions” after the razor-close Israeli elections, who’s doing the actual math?

On one side, you have a right-wing block that maxes out at 56 seats, and on the other, a center-left block that maxes out at 53 seats, both of them agonizingly short of the magic number of 61.

Forget all the fancy analyses—right now, all that matters are those numbers.

A desperate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu must surely be losing sleep over his missing five seats, which would allow him to stay on the throne and fight off a criminal indictment.

He can bluster all he wants about a “Zionist coalition,” but where will he find those missing seats? From his ideological enemies at Labor-Gesher (6 seats) or Democratic Union (5 seats), who have been waiting years to see him replaced? From Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman (9 seats), who has staked his whole reputation on opposing Bibi’s ultra-religious partners?

And what about Benny Gantz’s center-left block of 53 seats? Ganz can bluster all he wants about a “secular unity coalition,” but where will he find his missing 8 seats? From the Arab Joint List (12 seats), which Liberman swore he’d never join? From an extremist party that would be unacceptable to anyone in Blue and White?

Even the much-discussed union of Bibi’s Likud and Gantz’s Blue and White, which Bibi is apparently considering, looks like a pipe dream. Why? Because it would necessitate two highly unlikely scenarios. The first is that Bibi would be replaced as leader of Likud, something he’d fight to the death. The second is that Gantz would team up with Bibi, something he’s sworn he’ll never do.

And in the middle of this messy stalemate is President Reuven Rivlin, who has promised he’ll do everything he can to ensure a coalition is established so as to prevent yet another “do-over” election. 

But numbers are numbers. No amount of effort from Rivlin or anyone else can fit square pegs into round holes. Over the next few days and weeks, we can expect lots of posturing and horse trading, lots of analyses about cynical politicians selling their souls to gain power, but that won’t change the stubborn numbers.   

Of course, this is Israel, the land of miracles, so it’s always possible something dramatic will happen to break the deadlock, like a revolt in Likud against Bibi, who has now failed twice this year to bring victory to his party.

At least one thing is for sure: Both sides will have plenty to pray for during the coming Holy Days. 

Upping the Ante to Sell High Holy Days Seats

The following is a work of satire. Names (except for famous showbiz people), characters, synagogues, places, events and incidents are fictional. 

The High Holy Days are fast approaching, and synagogues everywhere are trying to fill as many seats as possible for the three-day service. For many shuls in North America, selling holiday seats provides the funds to sustain the organization for an entire year. A few weeks before the start of the holidays, in every synagogue boardroom, directors hope that the changes envisioned for this year will bring in additional revenues to the shul coffers and offer participants an entertaining and inspiring Holy Days experience. Some temples have decided to “up the ante” by offering new features, special guests and a more enlightening holiday service.

Several prominent synagogue presidents detailed during exclusive interviews some of the remarkable features and events being planned for this year’s High Holy Days extravaganza. 

In one shul in Frozen Lake, Minn., the upper balcony has been converted into a VIP section. The newly installed seats are upholstered in faux leather and contain built-in back massagers, fold-out refreshment trays and cup holders. Ushers will be assigned to each section, and patrons can order liquor, wine, soft drinks and artisanal bottled water. Party sandwiches, knishes and other finger foods will also be offered throughout the Rosh Hashanah service. 

For the only shul in Hortonville, Ontario, in Canada, there’s no need to bring your machzor (prayer book) this year. Airplane-style LED screens have been installed on each seat and will display the entire holiday service in Hebrew and English. Page calling and page rustling will be a thing of the past. The prayer currently being chanted will be highlighted so everyone is “on the same page.” 

A new Dolby Digital Surround Sound system, featuring Shabbos-approved kosher microphones, is being installed at Congregation Bess Myerson in upstate New York. The new state-of-the-art system will ensure that everyone will be able to hear the prayers, songs and sermons that are integral to the services. The higher volume will help drown out the snoring of some of the older members.

By far the major coup for President Mitch Malkowitz of Temple Austintachos in Herman Oaks, Calif., is lining up three special guests who will participate in this year’s liturgy. Actress and singer Barbara Streisand will perform her signature tune “Avinu Malkeinu”; New York native Neil Diamond will perform “Kol Nidre”; and Adam Cohen, son of the late Canadian singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen, will sing his father’s special version of the “Usanah Tokev” prayer, “Who by Fire.” Malkowitz hinted at other guest stars as well, but declined to confirm anything further at this time. This reporter has learned from reliable sources that former President Bill Clinton, former Lakers star Kobe Bryant or comedian Jackie Mason will deliver a guest sermon.

In one shul in Frozen Lake, Minn., the upper balcony has been converted into a VIP section.

At Congregation Beit Shachor, a Sephardic congregation just outside of Detroit, an African American gospel choir will join Chazzan David Ben-Louloulou for the liturgy. It was a major undertaking for choir members, who had to study Hebrew and learn all the ancient Sephardic melodies. 

“We don’t think this has ever been tried before,” President Michel Abesera said. “I’m expecting a full house.”

Congregation Beit Shalom in Neckpain, N.J., has rented an old drive-in movie theater on Route 9. The intent is to project the entire holiday service on the gigantic screen so people won’t have to get out of their cars. Of course, the snack bar will serve gefilte fish, herring tidbits and hot knishes.

A shul in High Mountain, Colo., will serve hashish-infused brownies at its Rosh Hashanah Kiddush and for the breaking of the fast. “Well, it is the High Holidays …” Rabbi Scott Newman explained.

When asked about the costs of tickets for this Holy Days season, most of our presidents were reluctant to commit to an answer. “No doubt, with all the new features and entertainment, the price will be several percentage points higher than last year,” one president said. “I would ballpark the regular seats at about a grand and the VIP section at five large.” 

“We always get a few freeloaders who refuse to pay full retail for their seats,” said President Georges Sokolof of Temple Limoni in Richman, Va. “This year we will be segregating these nudnicks in a special Shnorrers section in the back of the shul. We hope that they will be embarrassed into paying full fare next year. 

“Last year, one man told the security guard that he was just going into the sanctuary to give a message to his brother-in-law, but one of the ushers actually caught him praying. We had to call security — it was an ugly scene.”

“What about those Jews who cannot afford to pay?” we asked. 

“Then they can just go to Chabad,” Sokolof answered angrily. “They’ll let anyone in.”

Advertising is a key factor in increasing market share, and some synagogues are using radio, TV and social media to get out their message. As one rabbi put it, “Now we have to compete with the World Series, Netflix and Amazon Prime. If we don’t do something to enhance the service, we will lose more customers every year.”

So get your seats early. It looks like 5780 will be quite a year. Shanah tovah.

Paul Starr is a recently retired systems analyst living in Montreal. He belongs to a Modern Orthodox congregation.

The Mixed Blessings of Jewish Holidays

At the risk of being religiously incorrect, perhaps it is time someone said out loud what most observant Jews think to ourselves: Jewish holidays can be really, really difficult. 

Every Jewish holiday is filled with purpose and meaning. Although some holidays are a breeze, even fun, such as Hanukkah, Purim, Simchat Torah and even Shavuot, let’s face it, the upcoming High Holy Days and Sukkot are stressful, expensive and exhausting. And wait until Passover rolls around.  

It’s midsummer, the migraine you got from fasting on Tisha b’Av finally subsided, when you see a huge Manila envelope in your mailbox. You know it’s your synagogue membership renewal, crammed with more forms than when you refinanced your house. 

You tear open the envelope and search for the enclosed calendar that will be your roadmap to Jewish holidays for the coming year. 

“How do the holidays fall? Are they early or late? They never are on time. How much work will I miss? Can Moshe come home from law school? Will his professors believe Simchat Torah is a real Jewish holiday? 

With all the days of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot, navigating the household holiday social calendar is a feat that would challenge Einstein. You know you have to extend meal invitations, so you sit on the couch and mentally review who was naughty or nice to you the past year.

The High Holy Days and Sukkot are a piece of babka compared with Passover.

“Who do we owe? What weddings did we go to and still haven’t sent a gift? There’s the first night, first day, next night, day and the last days. What if someone invites us and messes up the plan? Nah, nobody likes us.” 

You grab your laptop and/or smart phone and start to email and text. For the very special people, an actual phone call. 

“Hi, Laura, this is Judy. Are you available to eat by us Sukkot second-day lunch? Oy. How about first night? How about second day, night or day. We have two seats open but they are on the low, wobbly folding table. You know, the one your Chana tripped over and broke two years ago.”

Operation holiday hosting is in full swing. Your house is transformed into an OpenTable reservations app.

Next stop, the garage. You step around the empty Amazon boxes you’ve been saving in case you need to return something and make your way to the sukkah tucked way in the back next to the Pesach dishes. 

“How does this go again? Where are the screws? I’m short on bungies. Do I even use bungies? Why is this picture from Adina’s first-grade project still stuck on the tarp? She’s married.” 

But the High Holy Days and Sukkot are a piece of babka compared with Passover, unquestionably the most labor-intensive, expensive and nerve-racking holiday of the year. It starts weeks before with the traditional donning of the hazmat suit. Every corner of the house, corners that you forgot existed, must be inspected for chametz (leaven that is forbidden to possess during Passover). Inevitably, you see a lone Cheerio between a bed and the wall. Out comes the vacuum. You shove down the tube attachment hoping the vacuum will inhale it. It does the trick but you scratched the wall and now have to paint. 

Cleaning is just the beginning. Then there is the shopping, cooking and hosting the seder(s), if you hate yourself enough to go through that. As hard as it is, let’s be honest — wives make Passover. We guys would just take a leaf blower to the living room, pick up a box of matzos at the 99 Cents Only store and call it Passover.

The beauty of the Jewish religion lies in our traditions, most of which are expressed through our holidays. The High Holy Days keep us connected to our spiritual side while Passover keeps us connected to our historical roots when we became a nation. 

So although we muster our energies and resources to face yet another cycle of Jewish holidays, we somehow always manage to get through it, and hopefully find the meaning that awaits us. 

Just wish it wasn’t so much stress.

Harvey Farr runs a West Los Angeles-based public relations firm specializing in nonprofit marketing.

Dear Persian Jews: Tradition Is Not Enough

Like many children in the U.S., I once begged my mother to let me attend a Friday night sleepover.

“It’s Shabbat night,” she declared in Persian. “You don’t go out on Shabbat night.”

“Why?” I prodded. “I want to go to this sleepover and eat something called ‘Chinese food.’”

“But we’ve always ‘done’ Shabbat.” she cried. “It’s a time for family and ‘Full House.’”

I should note that I grew up in the 1990s, when ABC aired “TGIF” television programs like, yes, “Full House.”

I didn’t accept my mother’s response because there was no soul in it. 

There’s something about this story that’s uniquely Persian, and at the risk of excommunication, I’ve been waiting 20 years to declare the following:

Given our misguided belief that tradition alone is enough to ensure Jewish continuity, many Iranian American Jews likely will not have Jewish descendants in the coming decades.

It’s our fault. We applied an old formula to a new country.

In Iran, we didn’t worry much about assimilation. First, social anti-Semitism made marriage between Jews and non-Jews very difficult. In the U.S., anti-Semitism doesn’t break up relationships. For Persian Jews, the job of promoting Jewish marriage often belongs to parents, and if those parents die without having imprinted the need and beauty of Jewish continuity, intermarriage will be the result. 

“If your kids find little meaning in synagogue services, find another synagogue.”

Second, we felt less need in Iran to go beyond tradition (toward more learning and Jewish practice), particularly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, because we were merely trying to survive. No one worries about whether their children will retain their Jewish identity in a country that constantly keeps them in their place as Jews. That’s not an issue in the U.S.

Third, there was an unspoken distance between Muslim and Jewish children in Iran. Often, they learned and played together (at non-Jewish schools), but the level of interaction that Jewish children who attend public schools in the U.S. today have with non-Jewish friends is much greater.

In Tehran, I didn’t partake in non-Jewish traditions with non-Jewish children; in the U.S., I couldn’t wait to help my Christian friends hang ornaments on their Christmas trees, and I viewed them — with their “free” Friday nights — as truly liberated.

There are many Persian Jews who actively are staying connected to Judaism but they now seem a minority. 

The High Holy Days are a good time to observe my assumption in practice. If you’re a parent, ask yourself if your children — whether 12 or 25 — are exhibiting true joy, or at least, curiosity, about the holidays, or are they simply going through the motions? Are you basically forcing them to attend synagogue services? There’s no joy in that.

Do they ask even one meaningful question at the Rosh Hashanah table, or do they view the meal as a mandatory experience to which they must “pay their dues” before returning to their beloved phones?

Are you using this extraordinary time of year to guide your children, or are your children watching as you roll your eyes in synagogue because you’re bored out of your mind, too?

I’m Persian, and I don’t get Persians.

Beautifully but maddeningly traditional, we actually throw ourselves at sefer Torahs when they’re brought down to the pews, but in our homes, we outsource our children’s hearts and souls to their friends and phones.

My mother used to practically shove other women out of the way to steal a kiss on the Torah, but she never managed to invade my heart with an intoxicating love of being Jewish, because her mother had raised her only with tradition, too.

But my mother grew up in Iran. In the U.S., my Judaism was competing with public school and Friday night sleepovers.

If your kids find little meaning in synagogue services, find another synagogue. If they associate Shabbat only with food (however comforting) and idle chatter, start telling stories. Above all, if they don’t exhibit passion about being Jewish, you must start modeling this for them by practicing Jewish customs with joy — right before their eyes. 

Soulful joy makes for a full house.

Tabby Refael is a Los Angeles-based writer and speaker. 

Why I Won’t Be Sending my Kids to the High Holidays Baby-Sitting Room

When I was little, Rosh Hashanah was always my favorite holiday of the year. My mom would buy me a fancy new dress, and we would cook all my favorite Jewish foods for the big lunch we hosted for family and friends. It kicked off the start of the new school year and I looked forward to all of it. Except for going to shul. 

On a typical Friday night Shabbat service I was always allowed to sit next to my mom, hold the giant prayer book on my lap, people watch, sing along when I could…and most weeks I really enjoyed it. But on the High Holidays I was forced into kiddie jail (as I referred to it), surrounded by other kids I hardly knew doing anything we could to escape from this random extra day of what felt like meaningless Hebrew school. I once did actually escape via a trip to the bathroom through a back staircase the janitors use.

As someone who grew up regularly attending services the ‘new rules’ of separation that we needed to follow just for the ‘two days’ Jews felt extremely unfair and hurtful. I think it did a disservice to my perception of what the High Holidays are all about. As a Jewish mom, I feel responsible for giving my children a Jewish experience that feels warm, welcoming and joyous – so the babysitting room isn’t going to cut it.

Now that I have kids of my own I am adamant about not sending them to the babysitting services offered by the synagogue. I’m sure things have improved slightly in twenty years and the kids probably enjoy a chance to play and run around with their friends, but for me, the whole point of the chaggim is to be together with people of all ages and walks of life. Jewish tradition is fundamentally about coming together. It’s why a minyan of ten people is required just to pray. 

These core structural elements of Judaism are designed to create community and to support Jewish families. Traditionally women are exempt from many synagogue based mitzvot because of course who would watch the kids if they had to be there? Now that women can play an equal role in the synagogue we need to make welcoming our little ones there as equally important.

How can a mom pray with little feet pattering around and little voices making noise? To me, the Rosh Hashanah services are a time for communal prayer but total silence and internal reflection can be done somewhere else some other time. When I need to talk to God with no one else around I go on a hike, or if I’m feeling like I really need to atone or pray with my whole mind and heart I’ll go to the mikvah. 

This year, and I hope every year moving forward, I will go to Rosh Hashanah services to teach my children the joy of Jewish community and loud exuberant prayer. Yes, I’ll bring some sticker books and yes, we’ll have to take many bathroom breaks. We also choose to belong to a synagogue that has family services so we don’t need to be separated. 

For more tips and ideas for celebrating Rosh Hashanah with kids you can watch my video all about it here:

Marion Haberman is a writer and content creator for her YouTube/MyJewishMommyLife channel and Instagram @MyJewishMommyLife page where she shares her experience living a meaning-FULL Jewish family life. Haberman is currently writing a book on Judaism and pregnancy titled “Expecting Jewish!” to be released Winter 19. She is also a professional social media consultant and web and television writer for Discovery Channel, NOAA and NatGeo and has an MBA from Georgetown University.

What’s Happening: Shofar Workshop, Itzhak Perlman, Comedy Film


Rimonim Shabbat
Come as you are to Valley Beth Shalom’s monthly Rimonim Shabbat and be prepared to leave transformed by the Rimonim-style singing, dancing and praying. Rimonim is the Hebrew word for pomegranates, which hold hundreds of seeds. Jewish tradition teaches that seeds represent the 613 good deeds one must accomplish in life. 6 p.m. snack and schmooze. 6:30 p.m. Rimonim service. Free. Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000.


Shabat Shiur
Getting into High Holy Days mode, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila turns to three of the most incisive minds of 20th-century modern thought to interpret their deep perspectives on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Bouskila explores the texts of Rav Joseph Soloveitchik, who was rosh yeshiva of the seminary at Yeshiva University; Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon; and Nechama Leibowitz, one of the most highly regarded female thinkers. 5:30 p.m. Westwood Village Synagogue, 1148 Westwood Blvd., Westwood Village. (310) 824-9987.


Trump’s Impact on Jews
The USC Casden Institute’s 2019 Burton Lewis Lecture examines one of the hottest issues of the 2020 election, “The Impact of Donald Trump’s Presidency on American Jewry.” Speakers are Saba Soomekh, lecturer in Middle Eastern History and Women’s Studies at UCLA; political advocate Donna Bojarsky; Jewish Journal columnist Dan Schnur, a political strategist and USC professor in communications; and Bruce Karasik, a founder of the Republican Jewish Alliance.Steven Windmueller moderates. 4-6 p.m. Free. Town and Gown Hall, USC University Park campus. (213) 740-3405.

Unity Project
With Rosh Hashanah just two weeks away, Nessah Synagogue invites the community to learn from a group of two dozen rabbis, lay leaders and educators about the concepts encircling Jewish unity and love of Israel. The unusual program offers multiple simultaneous breakout sessions on a wide spectrum of subjects taught at varying levels.. Children’s programming available. 10 a.m. $10 advance, $20 at the door. Nessah Synagogue, Simcha Hall, 142 S. Rexford Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 273-2400.

JQ Orthodox Barbecue
Join the JQ LGBTQ+ Orthodox group for a kosher barbecue in a casual setting. All are welcome to spend quality time in space that is safe and supportive. Confidential registration. 12:30-2:30 p.m. Suggested $10 donation collected in cash at the door. The address provided upon confidential RSVP. (323) 417-2627.

Rosh Hashanah Challah Bake
In the run-up to Rosh Hashanah, Layla Book, aka The Dating Concierge, brings single men and women together in the same kitchen for challah baking. Get in the mix and learn step-by-step how to make your own challah. Later, you can bake your own challah at home with all supplies provided. Refreshments served. Government-issued ID required for entry. 6:30-8:30 p.m. $20. Temple Beth Zion, 5555 W. Olympic Blvd. (323) 933-9136. challah2019.

Amy Bernstein

“From Fear to Faith”
With disagreement becoming a national pastime, the Pacific Palisades Interfaith Clergy holds “From Fear to Faith,” a discussion about individual and collective responsibility to address prejudice in the community. The panelists are Rabbi Amy Bernstein of Kehillat Israel, Monsignor Liam Kidney of Corpus Christi Roman Catholic Church, and Brother Satyananda of the Self Realization Fellowship. Rev. Grace Park of Palisades Presbyterian moderates. Light refreshments are served. 4-5 p.m. Free. Community United Methodist Church, 801 Via De La Paz, Pacific Palisades. (310) 459-2328.

Come Blow Your Horn
A free and all-ages shofar-blowing workshop at Hollywood Temple Beth El includes the blessings of the shofar and its significance as well as drills in getting the reluctant ram’s horn to sound the notes of the festival. Participants should bring their own shofar. The temple has a limited number of shofars for use. Reservations requested. 10:30 a.m.-Noon. Free. Hollywood Temple Beth El, 1317 N. Crescent Heights Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 656-3150.


“Angels in the Sky”
A discussion at Cedars-Sinai focuses on the birth of Israel’s Air Force (IAF), which was made up of hundreds of idealistic volunteer airmen from countries around the world. Tonight’s program is dedicated to one of those volunteer pioneer aviators, Mitchell Flint. In conversation with Rabbi Daniel Bouskila, Flint’s son, Mike Flint, talks about the brave airmen and his association with the book “Angels in the Sky: How a Band of Volunteer Airmen Saved the State of Israel.” 6 p.m. registration. 6:30 p.m. program. $10 general admission, $5 Cedars employees, volunteers. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Harvey Morse Auditorium, Plaza Level, 8700 Beverly Blvd. (310) 423-3277. RSVP to

“Is Religion Still Relevant in the 21st Century?”
Renowned religious skeptic and author Michael Shermer (“The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity Toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom”) and Scott Shay, chairman of Signature Bank and author of “In Good Faith: Questioning Religion and Atheism,” wrestle with the question, “Is Religion Still Relevant in the 21st Century?” Rabbi David Wolpe moderates the debate, which pits Shermer’s view that religion is unnecessary for a fulfilling life against Shay’s belief that our greatest threat is increasing abandonment of religious heritage. 6:30-9 p.m. Free for Sinai members, $10 for general public. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd. Questions: (310) 481-3228.


Melanie Nezer

“Welcoming the Stranger”
Noting that the worldwide number of refugees and displaced persons has surpassed 70 million in the past year, Melanie Nezer, senior vice president for public affairs at HIAS, leads a conversation about the plight of refugees. “Welcoming the Stranger: A Jewish Call to Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers” features Nezer in discussion with Kimberley Plotnik of the Anti-Defamation League, Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom, and Robyn Samuels of Leo Baeck Temple. Registration required. 7 p.m. Free. Beth Shir Shalom, 1827 California Ave., Santa Monica. (310) 453-3361.

“Sisters in Law”
“Sisters in Law,” the new play at The Wallis about Supreme Court Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a Democrat, and Sandra Day O’Connor, a Republican, introduces two brave pioneering women who were friends but polar opposites in many ways. Based on Linda Hirshman’s 2015 bestseller of the same name, Tovah Feldshuh and Stephanie Faracy star as Ginsburg and O’Connor, respectively, in the production that opens tonight with a three-week run. Through Oct. 13. $70. The Wallis, Lovelace Studio Theater, 9390 N. Santa Monica Blvd., Beverly Hills. (310) 746-4000.


Itzhak Perlman
Master violinist Itzhak Perlman makes a rare solo appearance when he opens the season at Cal State Northridge’s The Soraya, the Valley’s Center for the Performing Arts. Accompanied by pianist Rohan De Silva, Perlman performs Beethoven’s Violin Sonata in E-Flat Major, Opus 12, No. 3; the Franck Sonata in A major for violin and piano; and Dvorak’s Sonatina in G major for violin and piano. 7 p.m. $59-$250.  CSUN’s The Soraya, 18111 Nordhoff St., Northridge. (818) 677-3000.

“Land of Milk and Funny”

“Land of Milk and Funny”
The documentary “Land of Milk and Funny” traces the steps of stand-up comedian Avi Liberman as he brings a succession of American funnymen and women to Israel. The film is the newest offering in American Jewish University’s documentary film and discussion series. Liberman is present to bring to life the experiences of such comedians as Craig Robinson, Gary Gulman and Ray Wood Jr. 1 p.m. $10. American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1572.

Navonel “Voni” Glick

“Responding to Disasters”
IsraAID Co-CEO Navonel “Voni” Glick provides a glimpse of crisis-response thinking and introduces his audience to the cutting-edge methodology used by IsraAID responders in global crises. He recounts IsraAID’s challenges in combating Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq. Proceeds support IsraAID programs worldwide. 6:30-8:30 p.m. $18. The Cedars-Sinai Innovation Space, 8601 Beverly Blvd., West Hollywood. (310) 423-3277.  

Opioids Talk, Charity Bike Ride, Selma Visit

Attendees at the Technion discussion included (back row, from left) Technion Professor Itamar Kahn; ATS board member Michael Steuer; (second row, from left): ATS board members Marilyn Strumwasser; Joan Seidel; Charles Levin; Sherry Altura; Janey Sweet; Oli Halfon; Regina Shrekenhamer; Karren Ganstwig; Ruth Flinkman-Marandy and (front row, from left) ATS board members Mark Dorner and Robert Hanisee. Photo courtsey of of the American Technion Society

During a visit to Southern California, Technion associate professor Itamar Kahn led a conversation with community members about his and his team’s dedication to understanding the science of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, ALS and other brain disorders. 

The discussion, held on Aug. 6 at the InterContinental Hotel in Century City, was titled “Autism to Aging: Innovative Methods for Tackling Neurological and Neurodegenerative Disorders.”

Kahn studies brain function in health and disease, focusing on failures in organization that result in disrupted communication across brain systems. He is the director of the Technion’s Allen and Jewel Prince Center for Neurodegenerative Disorders of the Brain.

The American Technion Society, which raises funds and awareness for the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, organized the evening.

From left: Rabbi Mark Borovitz, Harriet Rossetto, author Harry Nelson and Beit T’Shuvah Board Chair Janice Kamenir-Reznik. Photo courtesy of Beit T’Shuvah

Jewish rehabilitation agency  Beit T’Shuvah held an Aug. 25 event in Culver City featuring author Harry Nelson and Beit T’Shuvah founder Harriet Rossetto in conversation with Rabbi Mark Borovitz, founding rabbi at Beit T’Shuvah.  

The topic was “The Opioid Epidemic Is Also a Jewish Problem” ahead of International Overdose Awareness Day on Aug. 31.

Nelson’s book, “The United States of Opioids: A Prescription for Liberating a Nation in Pain,” offers a comprehensive picture of how the opioid crisis evolved and what tangible steps people can take to address this issue. For their part, Rossetto and Borovitz have been treating addiction for over 30 years through Beit T’Shuvah’s unique treatment, which combines Jewish teachings, spirituality, psychology and the 12 steps to help those struggling with addiction.

“Beit T’Shuvah allows residents to stay in treatment for up to a year regardless of their financial situation and uses Judaism and spirituality as an integral part of recovery,” a Beit T’Shuvah statement said.

Attendees received a copy of Nelson’s book. They included Janice Kamenir-Reznik, board chair at Beit T’Shuvah.

Nelson, founder and co-managing partner of the L.A.-based law firm Nelson Hardiman, is considered a leading healthcare attorney and top expert on the future of U.S. healthcare.

Valley Village bike riders Dr. Jan Moore and Moshe Kinsbursky completing Bike4Chai’s 180-mile ride benefitting Chai Lifeline. Photo courtesy of Chai Lifeline

Valley Village bike riders Dr. Jan Moore and Moshe Kinsbursky joined 575 riders from across the U.S., Mexico and Canada to participate in the 10th annual Bike4Chai, held Aug. 14-15.  

Bike4Chai is a two-day, 180-mile bike ride and the top fundraising event for Chai Lifeline, which has grown from a small, community-based summer camp program for children who have cancer to one of the preeminent international health support networks supporting seriously ill children, their families and communities.

Bike4Chai raised $10 million for Chai Lifeline. Together Moore and Kinbursky raised over $19,000.

During the first day, riders traveled 109 miles from Princeton, N.J., through the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, finishing at the Kalahari Resort. That evening, Camp Simcha kids joined the riders in a joyous celebration. The next day, the riders rode the rest of the way to Camp Simcha in Glen Spey, N.Y., where hundreds of family members and volunteers celebrated the riders’ arrival, campers presented each rider with their finisher’s medals and a celebration ensued among campers, staff and riders with music and dancing.

“The energy was off the charts,” Moore said. “It was incredibly emotional to see the pure joy and simcha in the eyes of the campers as we continued singing and dancing with the kids. All the work we did raising money and training came to an amazing conclusion. Seeing the campers and knowing the challenges they face made all our work training seem trivial.”

“We were happy to do our part to help this wonderful organization,” Kinsbursky said. “Hopefully, next year Team L.A. will have an even bigger team for
Bike4Chai 2020.”

Matt Baram has been named the executive director of Hillel 818, which serves more than 6,500 students at Cal State Northridge, Pierce College and Los Angeles Valley College, effective July 1.

Before joining Hillel 818, Baram spent eight years as the millennial director at Sinai Temple. He succeeds Hillel 818’s longtime executive director, Dave Katz.

“The Hillel 818 board and community stakeholders are thrilled to welcome Matt Baram as our new executive director,” Kathi Mangel, chair of the Hillel 818 board, said in a statement. “Matt brings enthusiasm, creativity and a drive to connect with Jewish students throughout our community. He is dedicated to ensuring continued growth and development of this Hillel for the benefit of all the students served today and for many years to come.”

Dave Cohn was named the Allen and Ruth Ziegler Executive Director at USC Hillel, which serves Jewish undergraduate and graduate students, as of July 1.

According to the USC Hillel website, Cohn previously worked as the director of Emory Hillel in Atlanta, retooling its campus engagement internship while achieving recognition from Hillel International.

The Chicago native is a former camper and staff member of the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute, a Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin. He also previously worked in development and strategic projects for Hillel at UCLA and as a music educator in public school and synagogue settings.

The Central Conference of American Rabbis organized a rabbinic delegation to Montgomery and Selma for more than 50 Reform rabbis. Photo courtesy of Central Conference of American Rabbis

Ahead of the High Holy Days, the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) led a contingent of more than 50 Reform rabbis from across the country to Montgomery and Selma, Ala., “on a journey of truth, justice and reconciliation,” according to CCAR.

The visit took place from Aug. 19-21, during which time rabbis took part in discussions with leading scholars, clergy and activists about the history of and current racism in the U.S. They also visited sites including the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. 

According to CCAR, the participating rabbis used the visit as an opportunity to “discuss how Jewish communities, and the country as a whole, can confront our nation’s history and the present reality of racial injustice.” They also explored how the issue of reproductive rights is being debated in Alabama and throughout the South, where they have been laws passed that restrict a woman’s access to abortion.

In a statement, Rabbi Hara Person, chief executive of CCAR, said the trip reinforced the important part the Jewish community plays in confronting racism. 

“Reform rabbis in particular have a key role to play in advancing all forms of justice, including racial justice, in our communities,” Person said. “The High Holy Days provide us the opportunity and the obligation to repent for not just our individual sins but for our harmful actions as a society.”

Rabbi Betsy Torop, director of rabbinic engagement and growth at CCAR, said the trip was in line with the mission of CCAR, a Reform rabbinic leadership organization.

“The CCAR has a long history of confronting injustice in many areas, including racial justice,” Torop said in a statement. “This seminar continues CCAR’s proud tradition as a leading Jewish voice on racial justice throughout its history as rabbis recommit themselves to advancing this cause in our own time.”

Trip leader Rabbi Seth Limmer of the Chicago Sinai Congregation and Rabbi Judith Schindler, the CCAR Montgomery seminar leader, also participated.

“This sacred journey provides an opportunity to renew the Jewish commitment to racial justice,” Limmer said.

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ADL Addresses High Holy Days During Security Briefing

The ADL security briefing; Photo by Ryan Torok

With the High Holy Days around the corner, how do we keep our synagogues safe but also welcoming?

This was just one of the questions the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) addressed on Aug. 27 at its annual pre-High Holy Days security briefing at its Century City office.

Speaking to approximately 30 people, including security representatives and staff members of Jewish and non-Jewish organizations, ADL Deputy Regional Director Ariella Loewenstein said everyone has a role to play in ensuring their institutions are friendly but secure during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. 

“Security is driven by people, not by dollar signs,” she said. 

Lowenstein also spoke about national hate crime trends, stating that those facing threats today include not just Jews but Muslims, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community and women. Unfortunately for Jews, she said, the basis of all hatred is anti-Semitism. “The victims may differ, but the ideology remains the same.”

The day’s speakers included two law enforcement experts whom the ADL asked the Journal not to name.

“We’re living in an era now where hate travels very quickly.” — Ariella Loewenstein

While the presenters spotlighted recent shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and at the Chabad of Poway, they also discussed hate crimes that have affected the wider community, including the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, by
a white supremacist who published a manifesto targeting Hispanics before the incident.

Loewenstein said the shooter at the Tree of Life synagogue set the precedent for a perpetrator sharing his hateful beliefs before committing the violence, and through online forums and social media, the message spread like wildfire. 

“We’re living in an era now where hate travels very quickly,” she said.

A longtime member at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada who volunteers on his synagogue’s security board asked what the best practices are for handling visitors who come to the synagogue and want to participate in services and events. He asked if security guards were allowed to physically search nonmembers of a synagogue.

Speakers responded that everyone must be treated the same regardless of their membership status at the synagogue. However, following the briefing, the man, who requested only his first name, Ted, be used, told the Journal he is concerned that Jews are at greater risk than ever following President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about Jews being disloyal. 

He said on the High Holy Days, when a large group of Jews is in a single area, Temple Beth Ohr is ramping up efforts to keep its members safe. 

“We’re taking efforts to secure our building and population,” he said. “I’d be surprised if other temples or churches weren’t trying to protect themselves.”

Elul Reminds Us It’s Time for a Personal Audit

Summer comes to an end and fall begins — for the Jewish calendar, that means we are entering the month of Elul. It not only represents the call to prepare for the upcoming High Holy Days, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but it is a reminder of our relationship with God, which we often ignore or neglect throughout the year. 

It is the sixth month and the name itself has a powerful meaning. The Hebrew spelling, Aleph-Lamed-Vav-Lamed, is an acronym for a verse from the Song of Songs, “Ani L’dodi v’dodi Li,” which means, “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine.” It may seem like a strange description for a relationship with God, but like all beautiful relationships, there has to be a presence, nurturance and a form of communication. 

The love poetry of Song of Songs is not only the romance and eroticism between a man and woman, but the rabbis read it on two other levels. First, as the mystic relationship between Transcendent Divinity, Kadosh Baruch Hu, and Imminent Divinity, Shechinah, and second, as the covenantal relationship between God and man/woman. Each one of us has this connection, though we may not consciously pursue it. Every year, we are given another opportunity to discover its potential or to reinvest in shaping a deeper, richer union. 

Elul therefore is a period with the incredible aura of love, kindness and acceptance as we work to prepare for the High Holy Days. Rosh Hashanah is a time of judgment, demanding deep introspection and evaluation of who we are, how we have behaved and who we need to become. Elul is the spiritual alarm clock waking us from our slumber, as we often sleepwalk through life. It reminds us our virtual vacation is over and it is time to go home, to the source of our being, to our authentic and true self, and to the arms of our beloved, HaShem. 

The multifaceted character of the Divine becomes even more pronounced during this time. We not only return to our beloved, but also the unconditional love of the Divine Father and Mother, the Sovereign who rules, the Judge who levies justice, and the Shepherd/Shepherdess who guards and protects His/Her flock. For 21st-century man and woman, these are foreign concepts to relate to. But in a world where we fight for control, Judaism asks of us to relinquish the impossible and to surrender to what may be the unthinkable so that we can be elevated in new and holier ways.  

Every facet of our everyday lives demands preparation. The High Holy Days also demand of us to do the soul work required so that we “return” (teshuvah) more fulfilled and more connected to family, friends, our true selves, and the Holy One. Teshuvah, the theme of these days, begins with inner work called cheshbon ha-nefesh, “the accounting of the soul,” an inner audit, making a list of the areas of our character or the sins or the neglect that require recognition and accepting responsibility. Elul calls us to review our lives so that we can make meaningful change for our future.

Elul is the spiritual alarm clock waking us from our slumber.

The shofar is blown in the synagogue during Elul as another reminder to awaken your spirit. The raw sound captures our deepest shame and guilt. However, God wants us to “turn from our wicked ways and live.” Each day of the month, take time to assess, meditate or explore with another person to gain greater insight into how you have inadvertently or purposively hurt another or even hurt yourself, thereby pushing God away.

It is the love and kindness that makes it possible to face our misdeeds and own our arrogance. Forgiveness awaits. We must begin by forgiving ourselves our humanness and our frailty, knowing we make mistakes and sometimes give in to the evil inclination. In a month of deep love, take the opportunity to prepare and work for change.

Rabbi and Cantor Eva Robbins, author of “Spiritual Surgery, A Journey of Healing of Mind, Body, and Spirit,” is on the faculty of the Academy for Jewish Religion California. 

President Trump and the Meaning of Personal Penitence

President Donald Trump’s reactions to the recent massacre by a white nationalist in El Paso came to mind the other night at my local minyan. Whenever I’m there, I teach a short lesson between minchah (the afternoon service) and ma’ariv (the evening service). We are proceeding, one paragraph at a time, through Maimonides’ Laws of Repentance. Our pace might or might not put us on target to finish around the High Holy Days in October. We are now in the second chapter, which moves from a Temple-oriented conception of atonement to a conception of repentance much more focused on the actions of the individual penitent. The first chapter is built around the notion of sacrifices and atonement — and ultimately the scapegoat that carries off the sins of Israel — though admittedly, the rationalist Maimonides works hard to minimize the almost magical power of the scapegoat and sacrifices, and insinuates personal penitence into the equation. 

In the second chapter, the focus is completely on personal penitence. It begins with a definition of what “complete repentance” is, and moves on to the parts of the process of repentance and the attitude and practice of the penitent. In the third paragraph of the chapter, Maimonides excoriates one who confesses a sin but does not cease committing that sin. He uses a rabbinic analogy to explain the deep problem of confessing a sinful practice that one has no intention of abandoning. Maimonides says it’s like one who bathes in a mikveh / a ritual bath while holding a sheretz / a creature which holds peak impurity. A sheretz and a corpse are equally impure. They are both called the “aboriginal impurity.” One who bathes in a mikveh while still grasping a sheretz is using a practice of purity for its performative value while essentially missing the point. The person is still impure. So too is the “penitent” who performs the confessional act of repentance with no intention of ceasing their bad behavior. That person has performed penitence in the worst way, while not having reformed at all.

As if on cue, the events of the day supplied me with a perfect example of how this would look in real life. After the massacre in El Paso, carried out by a white nationalist whose manifesto echoed much of the rhetoric of the Trump campaign and Trump himself over the last months and years — invasion, infestation, criminals and on and on—Trump made a public statement decrying racism. If one had been asleep for the last two years, one would be excused for thinking that the president was actually denouncing racism and white nationalism. 

However, the sheretz never left his hand. Almost immediately after his on-script performance of the speech in which he denounced the racism and violence he himself has incited—a speech in which he sounded somewhat like a political prisoner reading a list of his imperialist crimes at gunpoint—Trump again equivocated in his condemnation of right wing extremists. He was against all extremists. Those who massacre people and also those who try to stop those who want to massacre people. 

Maimonides cites a verse as a source of his view: “He who covers up his faults will not succeed; He who confesses and gives them up will find mercy.” Proverbs 28:13. The word translated as faults is the Hebrew word pesha, which in modern Hebrew means crimes. Maimonides is reading the second half of this verse as saying that only one who confesses and gives up his bad deeds will find mercy. Trump has obviously not done this. Coincidentally, the first half of the verse seems to be also prophesying about the president. To which we can only add: Speedily and in our days.

Aryeh Cohen is rabbi-in-residence for Bend the Arc: Jewish Action in Southern California and Professor of rabbinic literature at the American Jewish University. 

‘The Leftovers’ and God’s Cosmic Hug

The month of Tishrei had always been a riddle to me until I saw HBO’s television series “The Leftovers.” 

In the heart-racing opening scene of the pilot episode, two percent of the world’s population suddenly disappears in a rapture-like event called “The Departure.” The show then immediately jumps ahead to the three-year anniversary of The Departure and exquisitely explores the struggles of those left behind after The Departure.

Their core struggle can be distilled into the following: “Are you OK?” “I am OK.”
“It is going to be OK.” “You are going to be OK.” Everyone is broken by The Departure and feels a profound sadness that threatens to destroy them. There is no escape from this sadness. There is only trying to “be OK” with it. 

This is the soul of “The Leftovers.” It is also the soul of real life.

Societies are built on the faith of tomorrow. Without faith that today’s work will pay off in the future, work becomes an overwhelming burden. People are driven by the need to feel they are going to be OK. We dress up our opinions with fancy arguments and airtight logic, but in the end we choose the option that makes us feel safest.

“Societies are built on the faith of tomorrow. Without that, the work becomes an overwhelming burden.”

Pro-gun rights activists believe they are safer with fewer restrictions on gun ownership. For gun-control activists, the reverse is true. The racist is motivated by the (false) conviction that safety can be found only by living with his or her own race. The pro-diversity progressive is motivated by the conviction that we are safer when all people are treated as equal.

“The Leftovers” distills this idea by raising the stakes. Someone who feels safe now would have a much harder time feeling so if 140 million people suddenly disappeared.

Only one thing in “The Leftovers” can unburden others from their debilitating anguish: a hug. Holy Wayne, a cult leader and pedophile, exorcises the demons of ambiguous loss with a genuinely compassionate hug, as if to say, “I feel your pain, I share in your pain and I am here to help carry your pain. I cannot tell you everything is going to be OK, but you are not alone.” 

Like everything in “The Leftovers,” it is unclear if the hugs are magical or a placebo. Regardless, they work.

The month of Tishrei begins with the High Holy Days funneling Jews into their synagogues for long days of prayer and introspection. I call Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur indoor holidays. A few days later, Sukkot flings us outdoors. For one week, there is a mitzvah to eat, drink and sleep — to live — in a flimsy hut. Sukkot is an outdoor holiday.

The two halves of Tishrei are also a contradiction of emotions. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are somber days as the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Who will live? Who will die? Then, a few days later, Sukkot flips the mood completely. The Bible calls Sukkot “The Festival of Joy.”

How do such opposing pieces fit together in one single month?

Praying for our lives as we stand in judgment can leave us with a lingering sense of dread and fear. The melodies are haunting, the liturgy is dark and apocalyptic. Worst of all, our verdict is sealed in the Book of Life but we have no idea if we are written in it. We try to have faith that the coming year will be a good one but we do not know if we will be OK. The existential ambiguity can be paralyzing.

A few days later, when we enter the sukkah, we are surrounded by mitzvah, enveloped by its makeshift walls and meager thatched roof. The sukkah is God’s cosmic hug. God is not going to tell us we are going to be OK, but God’s hug has the power to unburden us.

Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

Using the Bully Pulpit on High Holy Days

Editor’s note: Over Rosh Hashanah, local rabbis spoke on a variety of topics, but three in particular took aim at the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration. Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica made national and international headlines when he excoriated his former congregant, Stephen Miller, now Trump’s senior adviser. IKAR Senior Rabbi Sharon Brous received a thunderous standing ovation after her 30-minute sermon pointing out how unwell our country is but that it’s not too late to build a new America. And Rabbi Steven Leder of Wilshire Boulevard Temple spoke about the “daily cocktail of anxiety” we see in the news and how the Unetane Tokef prayer can help guide us in these troubled times. Below are edited excerpts from their Rosh Hashanah sermons.   

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels: An Open Letter to Stephen Miller
I was once your rabbi. When you were about 9 or 10 years old, your family belonged to Beth Shir Shalom in Santa Monica. You attended our religious school.

The actions that you now encourage President Trump to take make it obvious to me that you didn’t get my/our Jewish message. I understand that you were a major contributor to the zero-tolerance policy Attorney General Jeff Sessions initiated to punish and deter desperate families from coming to the United States by separating children from their parents at the border. That notion is completely antithetical to everything I know about Judaism, Jewish law and Jewish values.

Mr. Miller, the policy that you helped to conceive and put into practice is cruel. What you would have learned from me is that ours is a spiritual path that is focused on one task: bringing the shattered pieces of the vessel in which the universe was born back together in both a literal and spiritual repair — a healing of transcendent influence and impact. Mr. Miller, Judaism is a way of responding to the mundane and the unexpected, always seeking the response that is at once the most just and the most merciful. We Jews have chosen our history to be our mandate. We choose to recall and emphasize our most ancient ancestor, Abraham, as a “wandering Aramean,” i.e., a refugee, an immigrant. We choose to remember and underscore that the quintessential experience of the Jewish people is both the slavery in and the exodus from ancient Egypt. We are all refugees, Mr. Miller.  

Honestly, Mr. Miller, you’ve set back the Jewish contribution to making the world spiritually whole through your arbitrary division of these desperate families at our southern border. It’s not that we can’t reverse what you’ve done. We can, we are, and we will. 

We’re not going away, Mr. Miller, and whether you identify now as Jew is not really my concern. What is troublesome is that some of my colleagues and others are concerned about what I might have taught you when you were a member of our community. I can assure you, as I can assure them, that what I taught is a Judaism that cherishes wisdom, values honed over four millennia, wide horizons and an even wider embrace. 

Is there still time, is there still a chance that you might change your attitude? That’s up to you, Mr. Miller. I will never give up hope that you can open your heart.

In the meantime, I will act in accordance with the values that our tradition conveys, values that go beyond the superficial and time-limited expediencies of your allegiance to party and a temporal leader, and I will engage against you in a machloket l’shem shamayim, a struggle for the sake of all that is righteous, not merely what you may deem as right.

Know this: Regardless of whether the Trump administration decides to be accountable, we are choosing to be accountable. We believe, as Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us so precisely, “In a free society, some are guilty, all are responsible.” Because we want this society to remain free, we will continue to act. Someone needs to clean up this mess and, in concert with many others, it will be your long-suffering, uncomfortable Jewish people.

Do you know the Yiddish word mensch, Mr. Miller? In Yiddish, a mensch is a fully-constituted, human and humane being. In Hebrew it parallels to the word ish. Hillel the Elder taught us: “B’makom she-ein anashim, hishtadeil l’hiyot ish”. (Avot 2:5) In other words, “In a place where no one is acting like a mensch, be one!” That’s what we will be doing, Mr. Miller, because that’s who we are. We can only hope you will decide to join us.

Read more of his sermon’s here. 

Rabbi Sharon Brous: Building A New America
We are not well when racist dog whistles today sound more like bullhorns, when Black athletes are scorned and penalized for engaging in nonviolent protests against police violence. When the Justice Department actively works to roll back civil rights achievements of previous administrations

Yes, it’s a victory that only a dozen pathetic Nazis showed up to march in [Washington,] D.C. on the anniversary of Charlottesville, but friends — they’ve moved from the streets to the ballots! There are now several avowed white nationalists, Holocaust deniers and Nazis on the ballot in state and federal races this fall. Organizations that monitor hate groups say it’s clear that white nationalists feel emboldened when the president himself advances their agenda every time he discharges an insult about Muslims, Mexicans, African Americans. No, we are not well.

We are not well when there are one or two shooting incidents in American schools every single week. When middle schoolers report being afraid to return to the classroom because they’re scared they might get shot. And when the Secretary of Education toys with the idea of allowing states to siphon federal funding intended for the arts and music, mental health and technology programs instead to the purchase of guns for teachers. We are not well.

“Oh, keep your politics off the pulpit!” they say. 

As if our Torah is not an inherently political document. As if the story of slaves rising up before the most powerful ruler of the ancient world to demand freedom and dignity is not a political message. 

This I know: Our Torah did not survive thousands of years only to be muted precisely the moment its eternal message matters most. We make a mockery of our tradition when we suggest that the way we live in human society, the way we treat one another, the way we care for — or neglect to care for — the least among us is outside the scope of religion.

What we need is not to return to a time of mythical greatness. We need to build America anew, equipped to hold us in all our diversity and complexity. 

Yes, we are unwell, but we can — and we must — build a new America.

And it’s already happening. This year, we witnessed the beginning of a nonviolent revolution, as a million students walked out of their classrooms and took to the streets. This army is led by 16-year-olds who, while hiding under desks and behind file cabinets, saw their friends shot. Who saw the sickening inaction, the hypocrisy and complacency of our elected officials, and stood up to insist that if the grown-ups wouldn’t do it, they would bend the arc of history themselves.

Our children are in the streets shouting, Pasul! Pasul! It’s not kosher! This is old America, the America of greed, corruption and hatred, of systems built to protect and sustain white supremacy, to entrench power in the hands of the few and keep guns in the hands of the many. It is foul and corrupted. And unlike us, the grown-ups, these kids won’t even consider that change is impossible.

It is their passion that will lead the way to a new America. It’s their moral clarity. Their fidelity to the truth. Their chemical allergy to hypocrisy. They are leading, and we need to stand behind them now, with the full force of our political, spiritual, intellectual and material resources. To do anything less would be a gross abdication of moral responsibility.

There may be a time when it really is too late to redeem America. Thank God, we are not there yet. 

The new America won’t come easily; we’re going to have to fight for it. 

We will rebuild this nation with love. There is a new America being born, and it is fierce, gorgeous and fair. It is built on justice and mercy, and it makes room for everyone. 

To usher this new America into the world, we — every one of us — will need to be brave, brave, brave. 

Read, listen or watch the full sermon here.

Rabbi Steven Z. Leder: Double Down on Your Relationships
I suffer from anxiety. It is very real and sometimes very frightening. It can ruin parts of days, weeks, months and years. As a rabbi, I see so much dysfunction, so much hurtful gossip, so much cancer and death that it is hard not to feel like I’m next.

And, of course, there is the news. That daily toxic cocktail of mind-boggling instability, criminality and drama in Washington, tweeting and testing the very fabric of democracy itself — wildfires, Putin, Assad, Iran, North Korea, global warming, Mueller, racism, corruption, sex scandals, immigration cruelty, floods, homelessness — over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again. And tonight we’re supposed to wish each other a shanah tovah? Really? Yes. Really.  

Our ancestors put celebrating on Rosh Hashanah ahead of the past remorse we face on Yom Kippur. First comes hope in the future, then the muck of our past. And believe me, the sages knew a lot more about anxiety than we do. Consider the Unetane Tokef prayer we say on Rosh Hashanah. The one that asks, “Who by water? Who by fire? Who will be troubled? Who will be needy? Who shall live and who shall die?” That prayer was written at least 13 centuries ago.  

Life 13 centuries ago was nothing but anxiety. Rape, murder, muggings, death by fire or flood or plague or starvation or war were regular, daily occurrences. But our ancestors had a different, more powerful prescription for managing their anxiety and fear. I try to use it every day. Remember how that prayer ends; what comes after that long list of terrible things to worry about in the coming year? It ends with three simple things that can get us all through. “But teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah (generosity),” says that wise prayer, “Ma-a-virin et roah ha-gezarah (will make whatever comes next year easier to live with and through).” 

This was the ancient rabbis’ simple, three-part formula for surviving in their time, and it can be ours, too. First, teshuvah — repentance. And what is repentance really, other than trying to make things right with others? Our ancestors lived in small villages, where the key to survival was the quality of relationships with a handful of people who really mattered. Are we any different? Do any of us have more than a small handful of people in our lives who really matter?    

So double down, says the Unetane Tokef. When you are in pain, when you are lost, when you are afraid — double down on your relationships. Cherish them. Nurture them. Whoever you came here with tonight or called to wish a shanah tovah, that person by your side right now, he loves you, she loves you, he will shelter you when the rain falls, she will hold you when the darkness is too dark to see. No one endures suffering better alone. Tend to your relationships with teshuvah. Do not let the centrifuge of life’s stresses whirl your family and your friendships apart.

Double down. Make things right with the people you love. For only love can lift us from our suffering and our fear. Click here to read the entire sermon. 

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 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,, and the Daily Roundtable.

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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!


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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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,

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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 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

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.

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.

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.

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 to discuss payment. 5711 Monte Vista St., Los Angeles. (323) 745-2472.

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.


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.

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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 or (561) 400-7796. Private home, 1471 S. Crest Drive, Los Angeles.


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.

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.

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.

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.


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 ceremony on Venice Beach. 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.  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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

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.”