Thursday, December 27, 2007

And thus begins Exodus...

And so we begin
Exodus starts with the names
That's what Shemot* means!

A new king arose
in Egypt where the Jews lived
This guy forgot Joe.

"There are too many!"
Pharaoh thought they might rise up
or join enemies.

So they made them slaves,
they had to work really hard
constructing cities.

Life was bad for Jews,
being slaves was really hard.
But they still "increased."

A new decree came:
When babies are born to Jews
keep girls, kill the boys.

Shifra and Puah,**
the midwives who were so brave,
did not do as told.

One lady gave birth
to a boy she kept hidden
for all of 3 months.

Then she waterproofed
a basket and put him in...
Placed it in the Nile.

His sister watched o'er
as Pharaoh's daughter came out
and rescued the babe.

To keep the baby
the sister offered a nurse -
the baby's own mom!

When he was ready
Mom brought him back to Princess
who named him Moses.

Mo grew up a prince
One day he saw a bad thing
a Hebrew beaten.

Mo looked all around,
saw no one was watching him,
and killed the beater.

Pharaoh heard of it
and was ready to kill Mo
So he fled from town!

He went to Midyan
and met seven girls, daughters
of Jethro the priest.

He defended them
from bad shepherds at the well
They took him to Dad.

He liked this guy, Mo,
gave him Zipporah as wife
made him son-in-law.

One day Mo was out
he saw a bush burning bright
but not burning up!

God called: "Moses! Yo!"
Moses took heed: "Hineni!"***
"You'll free my people."

"Who am I?" said Mo.
God said, "I'll be with you there."
"What's your name?" said Mo.

"I'm the God of their fathers,
Abraham, Isaac and Jake -
I am what I am."

God gave him some signs
that what was said was all true -
a rod, scales and blood.

Mo protested more,
"I am slow of speech and tongue!"
Help comes from Aaron.

They went to Pharaoh
"let my people go, God says!"
But Pharaoh said no.

Things got worse just then
Pharaoh took the straw for bricks
It made the job rough.

The Hebrews got mad
they blamed Mo for their trouble.
But God said, "Don't fret..."

Stay tuned for more of the saga next week!

Shabbat Shalom!

*Shemot is both the name of this week's Torah portion as well as the Hebrew name for the book of Exodus. For more thoughts on what's in a name, check out the Torah commentary for this week from the URJ.
**My favorite biblical name
***Hineni means "here I am."

Friday, December 21, 2007

Friday Parsha Wrap-up in Haiku

Genesis ends now
This week's parsha is the last,
the story, wrapped up.

Jake is gonna die.
He calls Joseph to his bed,
makes him swear a vow:

"Don't bury me here
take me home to lay me down
to rest with my dad."

Joe brings his sons forth
to get blessed by their zeyde*
a whole list of good.

Then the sons are blessed
(Jake's other eleven bros)
Each one hears from Dad.

He reiterates
his yen to rest in Israel's
Cave of Machpelah

Then he dies. Joe cries.
Joe orders his embalming
It takes 40 days.

They took Jake up north
To bury him as he wished
the whole family went.

The brothers got scared
that Joe would retaliate
now that Dad was dead.

Joe told them "Don't fear!"
He committed to protect
all the family clan.

Time flew - Joe got old.
He made his fam swear a vow:
"Take my bones with you."

And thus ends the book
The family saga complete
What's next for the Jews?

(Stay tuned for Exodus...)

*Yiddish word for Grandfather (pronounced zay-dee)

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Deep Breath...I'm home!

Come see the Biennial Blog!

I write this in my cab home from OHare airport at 1am Chicago time. The weather sure is different here! But so is the feeling of being back in the real world. It's a little like leaving camp - going from being surrounded by Jews and wearing a nametag to being a little (okay a lot) more anonymous. I was sad to have to leave early but glad I was able to hear Eric Yoffie's sermon this morning. What a remarkable man he is. I feel so blessed and safe with him as our fearless leader. I look forward to rereading his sermon when it is posted online and sharing it with my congregation. The biennial was great - buzzing with energy and life and friends who are like family. May blessings follow each and every one of us as we travel in safety back to our homes. Signing off for now but please continue to visit me at my regular blogs here and at Shavua tov and see you in Toronto!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Michael J. Fox is in the room with me!

I admit it. When I was 9 years old, I had a serious crush on Michael J. Fox. The TV show Family Ties was "must-see-tv" for me and all my friends.

And today, I was in the same room with him!

And not only that, but he was articulate and delightful. He accepted the Eisendrath Bearer of Light award with a lovely speech.

As my crush has moved on (although I never miss a chance to watch him...), I clearly missed the detail that he is raising Jewish children. Wow.

He even used the term "b'not mitzvah" to refer to his daughters' upcoming celebration. Wow.

This is a guy who's been on Oprah and the Today show and Jay Leno. And he was on the stage at our Biennial. Wow.

He spoke about the power of Bar Mitzvah in the life of his son who is applying to college. Wow.

Come see the Biennial Blog!

I am Joseph!

Judah comes to Joe
"Please, you can't take away Ben!
It would kill our dad."

"I'm responsible."
He takes Ben's life as his charge.
Clearly he has learned.

Joe is overcome.
He knows his brothers have changed.
he cries and cries - loud!

"I'm Joseph, your bro,
the one you tried to sell off.
And I forgive you."

They couldn't believe!
It was like back from the dead.
They were really shocked.

Joe invited them
to come move down to Egypt
and they said "okay."

Jake came to Egypt
to see his long-lost son, Joe.
Everybody cried.

The children of Jake
prospered in the land, Goshen,
and they multiplied.

See more Haiku Friday here!

What's your torah?

The conversation with Rick Warren, Laura Geller, and David Wolpe (moderated by Ron Wolfson) highlighted the importance of telling our stories. Rabbi Geller called this the "Torah of our lives." I once heard it called Torah with a small "t" -- tell me your torah. That is one of the parts of the Biennial that I really enjoy -- hearing all the stories of the presenters. The good presenters tell stories. The best presenters tell the best stories! This is a lesson that I take to heart. When I tell stories, people listen. When I stop telling the story, I think they tune out. (Okay, I know *I* tune out!)

What's your torah?

Come see the Biennial Blog!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

My Lost Book

The Biennial, like many conventions, has a great deal to offer. Lots of programs, lots of stuff to see and do. There is a program book, with 188 pages of information.

Like any good convention-goer, I marked mine up, tucked stuff inside, and made a general mess of the thing. But it's mine and I loved it. But like any bad convention-goer, I didn't put my name on it....

and it's MISSING! I lost it.

Have you seen my book? It has my pen tucked in (black) and it has many papers inside as well as notes about the sessions, etc.

If found, please contact me! My phone # is posted on the bulletin board outside the shuk.

I will be so happy to have it back.

Come see the Biennial Blog!

Rockin' out at Biennial

Come see the Biennial Blog!

Yesterday was quite an overwhelming one at the Biennial!

It seems as though I can't walk 2 feet without seeing a different old friend that I've not seen in years...each moment I turn around and see a familiar face. I haven't completed a single conversation because I keep finding someone new to whom I have to say hello!

I have gone to two different prayer experiences, both last night for Maariv, and this morning for Shacharit. Both were completely overflowing, with far more davenners than chairs. I am pleased and impressed with the desire for creative worship experiences. Last night, the Maariv service was musical and, similar to the way in which we do our Friday Night Live at Am Shalom, used a screen for the words, instead of a prayerbook. I find this to be a fascinating way to pray. Usually, I'm on the other end, the one running the presentation and not using the screen. I was able to "space out" on the music and the images on the screen unencumbered by a book, but I did find that I missed holding a siddur in my hands. The music was delightful and I felt a buzz of energy in the room. This morning's service was similar, musical but with a siddur in hand. Although I arrived late... the perils of running into people... this week's Torah portion never fails to delight. Ani Yosef!

Jay Geller told us that Biennial is a "bargain" -- and even at the prices we pay, I do believe that he's right. It's quite a joyful experience to see all these musical guests, hear all these wonderful scholars, listen to incredible speakers and celebrate Judaism. I love to walk into a tefillah and see more tallit and kippah than not. Rabbi Dan Freelander said that here we are "standing at the top of the mountain of Jewish life" and he is right. This is indeed the top of the mountain and we are blessed to be together, blessed to look out on the state of Jewish life.

More today!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

San Diego Dispatch...#1

Come see the Biennial Blog!

I giggled when I got to the airport this morning and found approximately half of the Jewish community of Chicago on my flight. Okay, just kidding...there were only about 10 people going to the Biennial. But it felt like a lot!

There is something wonderful and powerful about being in the airport (O'Hare) in a huge city (Chicago) and feeling like you know everyone.

In a sense, that is also what the Biennial is like for me. There are literally thousands of people here and yet I feel like I can't walk two feet without giving someone a hug! It's so wonderful to see so many Jews all in one place, to know that we all speak the same language (both literally and figuratively) and that we are all here together to celebrate our Jewish lives and our Jewish community.

As I write this, I'm sitting in a session on Web 2.0. I think this is one of the most interesting and powerful ideas out there right now, one of the most exciting ways to communicate and connect with people, with our congregants. Rabbi Paul Kipnes, of has a congregation, too, but I know him by his blog!) is giving a hands-on lesson in being cheeky on the web. He's right. Even this blog that you're now reading -- no one is (I hope) checking what we say or monitoring it...we are definitely being cheeky by allowing many people to communicate what they're feeling and seeing at the Biennial.

Check out the Biennial blog to read other people's opinion of what's going on in San Diego and to see what the Biennial is all about!

Friday, December 07, 2007

More of the Joseph Saga...

We meet back with Joe
Remember he's in prison
stuck there in Egypt.

Pharoah had a dream:
seven fat cows by the Nile
seven thin ones too.

The thin ate the fat
but they didn't get fatter.
what could all this mean?

Then he dreamed again:
Seven good ears of corn grew,
seven bad ones too.

The bad ate the good
but they didn't get better.
What could this all mean?

Pharaoh was disturbed.
When the pharaoh ain't happy,
then no one's happy.

What did the dreams mean?
His wisest men couldn't say.
The butler spoke up.

"I was once in jail
and I had a dream while there;
a guy helped me out."

Aha! It was Joe!
They cleane dhim up, brought him in.
Pharaoh told the dreams.

Joe credited God.
"God helps me figure it out,
I know what they mean."

Seven rockin' years
full of food and great success
are coming our way.

Then come seven bad:
no food, a famine, it's rough!
Things will go downhill.

Joe gave his advice:
"Get someone to make a plan,
set up a system,

put away extra,
save it for the rainy days
so we can eat then!"

Pharoah said: "It's great!
You're the right guy for the job,
you have God's wisdom."

So Joe was the guy.
They saved all the leftovers
to pass out later.

(This is a super long Torah portion! I'll finish it next year... ha ha.. Or see the "other version" of the story!)

And for more Haiku Friday, click here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Joseph's Tale

This week's Torah portion, Vayeshev...

Joseph was Jake's fave
so his brothers hated him -
they were pretty mean.

He was a dreamer
and he told his bros his dreams
He'd rule over them.

Jake made him a coat,
a multi-colored beauty,
the bros were jealous.

Joe came to the fields
where his brothers tended sheep -
they wanted to kill.

Reuben held them off
"Throw him in a pit instead."
Then they sold him off.

Sold the story, too,
that he had died by wild beasts,
to their dad Jacob.

Joe was sold - a slave -
to Potiphar in Egypt.
Things did not look good.

Pot put him in charge
'cuz he saw that he was blessed
Joe made things prosper.

Pot's wife liked Joseph
he was young and cute and hot -
she tried to seduce him.

Another tale sold
"he tried to force me," she said.
Pot bought; Joe to jail.

In jail he heard dreams
a baker and butler shared -
one would die, one live.

The butler lived and
he returned to Pharaoh's court
but didn't help Joe...

Stay tuned for the rest of the story next week!
P.S. I left out the interlude on Judah and Tamar...a fabulous story...I'll get it in next year!;-)

See my Chanukah Story Haiku over at my other blog and make sure to visit my Chanukah Countdown Party over there too, so you can enter into the Giveaway!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Chanukah Countdown Party!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Please come visit my other blog for my Chanukah Countdown Party!

I'm offering a great giveaway also!

Previous Chanukah Countdown Posts:

How Do You Spell Chanukah?
Chanukah Tips
Stay tuned for more...

Come and visit!

Saturday, November 24, 2007

If Martha Stewart were Jewish...

...she'd publish this magazine.

Which, by the way, I thought was a joke when I first saw it. A spoof. But it's real! And I hear it's good. I'm waiting for my first issue to arrive, although I hear that it's on the newsstands so check it out and let me know what you think!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wrestling with the Haiku, of course

Vayishlach, this week's Torah portion...briefly...

Jacob stays alone
sends the family on ahead
scared of Esau's wrath

By himself at night
he wrestles with an angel
or was it a man?

The man could not win
so he pulled the leg muscle
and he cried "uncle"

but Jacob was wise
"I can't let you go until
a blessing you give."

and so he was blessed
his name changed to Israel
means "wrestler with God."

Jake renames the spot
Peni-el, face-to-God's-face
His life changed a lot!

(okay so this is just one part of the Torah portion...but I'm tired and it's late. And this is a good part!)

Shabbat Shalom!

Friday, November 16, 2007

Jacob's Haiku, of course

Jake left Be'ersheva
On his way to find a wife
He stopped for the night.

He lay on a rock
He slept well - and had a dream
It was a good one.

A ladder he saw
Reaching up to the heavens
Angels on its rungs -

Going up and down.
And God gave Jake a blessing:
Things are good for you -

This land is your land
You will have a lot of kids
You'll spread all over.

Jake woke up and said:
"Surely God is in this place!
How could I not know!?"

"This place is awesome!"
He made an altar of rock
And named it Bethel.

Then Jake kept going.
He ran into his cousin
Pretty girl Rachel.

It's love at first sight!
"I'll work seven years for you"
he told his uncle...

"If I can have her."
And so they agreed - a deal!
But trickery loomed.

(Remember Jake's trick?
He duped his dad for blessing...
Now it is his turn.)

Instead of Rachel
Laban did a switcheroo
Leah was the girl!

After the wedding
Jacob complained he was tricked
Demanded Rachel.

Laban said, "No prob."
"Just work another seven!"
Jacob said okay.

Leah had children;
Rachel did not have any.
Lots of sons were born.

Reuben and Simeon,
Levi and Judah and Dan...
Naftali and Gad.

Asher, Issachar
Zebulon and then Dinah
Finally - Joseph!

Only one was Ray's
The rest were all born by Sis
Or by the "maid" wives.

Jake fin'lly moves on
Decides it's time to get out
But Laban's not pleased.

They leave in the night
Jake and clan sneak out of camp
But Rach messes up.

She steals Laban's "gods"
He finds his idols missing.
So he chases them.

Laban catches up
And searches for his idols
But Rach hides them well

Laban plays "sad dad"
They agree to disagree
The two make a pact.

Laban goes away
Back to his land...Jake to his
They parted their way.

Ah...the joys of Genesis!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Creative Gifts of Tzedakah

There are so many times during the holidays and during the year when we have to buy some kind of gift for someone who "has it all"...or it's a "gift of obligation" like a hostess gift or business-associate gift...and often the gifts that we come up with are not very useful, not very exciting, or just not what the person wants.

So this year, why not give the gift of tzedakah -- the gift of charity? I know what you're thinking, who do I give to, how do I choose, and how do I make sure that the recipient isn't offended by my choice of charitable organization? Be creative about it! Just think a little bit about the person, and figure out a charitable organization that "fits" with them.

Here are some of my favorite ideas, which I'm sure will get you thinking about more...

For the guys....if he likes...
…fishing...donate in his honor to Seashare, Fish for America’s Hungry People, an organization that donates fish to the hungry

…cars…donate in his honor to The Dare to Dream Camp, a racecar-theme camp that provides enrichment, recreation, and mentoring for underprivileged, at-risk, neglected and abused children.

…ties, donate in his honor to Shop Well With You, an organization that provides people undergoing cancer treatments with resources and advice on how they can dress and feel both comfortable and attractive.

…animals, donate in his honor to Computers for Communities, which refurbishes old computers and makes them available to needy families and communities.

…music, donate in his honor to Mitzvah Clowns, who bring healing through laughter to hospitals and nursing homes.

For the ladies...if she likes...
...candy donate in her honor to A Package From Home which provides candies and treats to Israeli soldiers away from home.

...fruit donate in her honor to Table to Table, an organization that delivers 4000-5000 meals weekly in Israel. The organization gleans fruit from trees to give to those in need.
OR donate in her honor to The Fruit Tree Planting Foundation, which aims to plant 18 billion fruit trees across the world to benefit our environment and humankind.

...dogs donate in her honor to Save a Pet, an organization that encourages pet adoptions.
OR donate in her honor to the Israel Guide Dog Center for the Blind. donate in her honor to Songs of Love, an organization that writes and records original songs for children who are facing life-threatening or chronic illness. donate in her honor to Shoes That Fit, an organization that provides shoes to children in need. donate in her honor to Shop Well With You, an organization that provides people undergoing cancer treatments with resources and advice on how they can dress and feel both comfortable and attractive.

...reading donate in her honor to Dream Reading, an organization that provides books for libraries.

For a new parent or a new grandparent, donate in her honor to St. Joseph's Baby Corner in Seattle, which provides basic care for new moms and babies in that city, or find a similar organization in your own city.

For kids...
Kids love birthday parties. Here are two organizations that bring birthday parties to underprivileged children: Project Birthday in Sacramento and Birthday Angels in Israel. Perhaps there is one in your city? Or maybe this is something for you to start!

Help out sick kids. Many children's hospitals have wishlists on Amazon. Pick something out and send it off to some sick kids. Perhaps the hospital in your area has a wish list. Here is the list for Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.

For kids who love skateboarding, check out Land of Plenty, which strives to spread physical activity and artistic expression through skateboarding.

Do you have a young leader on your gift list? Look at Dreams for Kids, an organization that empowers young people of all abilities through leadership acitivies.

Kids are very concerned about environmentalism. Check out Kids For A Clean Environment and make a donation in honor of the kids on your list.

There are so many different organizations out there. I love thinking about matching honorees with various different organizations. It opens my eyes to the possibilities out there for helping others, as well as makes a creative and interesting gift.

Some of these organizations will send notifications directly to your recipient. Some are smaller organizations and may not. What I often do is take a picture of my kids doing an activity that is similar to the charity donated to (example: a kid holding stuffed animals for a gift to Heifer International) and make a card on Shutterfly. I'll put information about the charity on one side of the card (usually cut and paste from their website into Shutterfly) and say: "A Donation has Been Made In Your Honor to..." Then on the other side of the card I'll put the greeting "Season's Greetings" or "Happy Birthday." This is very well-received! You could also use blank cards and do this by hand.

P.S. I also like to use these ideas for Mother's and Father's Day. I'm sick of sending flowers and candy, when they really don't need them and these are just "made-up" holidays anyway. I know that my mom appreciates the card that I make with the picture of the kids much more than any gift I could give her, and I do like choosing a charity for both my mom and dad.

Monday, November 12, 2007

It's Here! It's Here!

Each year the New York Times has a special section entitled "Giving" -- a whole section of the newspaper devoted to tzedakah. Does it get any better than this?

Here are some of the highlights (or things that I thought were interesting) in this year's Giving Section. (See the whole section at or go buy one today!)

  • My Network, My Cause - my current favorite obsession, Facebook, has got a giving component. Is it working?
  • Making a Difference From an Early Age - teaching children to be givers
  • Giving Away Money, Getting an Education - teaching young people to be philanthropists
  • Attention Shoppers: Philanthropy in Aisle 5 - what's up with all the charitable purchasing? Good? Bad?
  • Beyond the Gift of Cold, Hard Cash - giving of your time or assets
  • In the Fund-raising Game, Blogs Cut Both Ways - the power of blogging in terms of charitable giving
  • A Big Salary with a Big Stipulation: Share it - One company's requirement that their executives give 4% of their salary to charity

    Here are some Gifts of Giving ideas, from my other blog.
  • Live with the Times...

    Yesterday marked Rosh Chodesh Kislev, the new moon of the month of Kislev. Kislev is the month in which we begin the celebration of Chanukah, on the 25th.

    There is a teaching that we should "live with the times," specifically with whatever is going on in this week's Torah portion. The month of Kislev is a month of dreams, as most of the dreams in the Torah appear in this month's portions!

    The first dream of Avimelech, King of Gerar, appears in the Torah portion of Vayera, read in the month of Cheshvan. The other nine dreams appear in the Torah portions of Vayetze, Vayeshev, and Miketz, all read during the month of Kislev.

    A month of dreams...what are your dreams?

    Friday, November 09, 2007

    Jacob & Haiku

    In this week's Torah portion....Toldot...

    Rivka is barren.
    Ike prays to God - please, kids, please!
    God answers his prayer.

    Two babies inside
    Two nations within her womb
    They won't get along

    Esau is born first
    Big and hairy, with Jacob
    hanging on his heel.

    The two are real diff
    E likes to hunt, fish, and fight
    Jake likes to stay home.

    One day E wants food.
    Jake has been cooking all day.
    "Gimme some of that."

    Jake's no fool, he deals.
    "I'll trade soup for the birthright.
    You don't care for it."

    Esau is hungry.
    The birthright goes to Jacob.
    The soup to E's mouth.

    Digressive story
    Ike and Ree go to Gerar
    "She is my sister."

    The tale's familiar
    We have heard it once before.
    Whew, now that's over.

    Back to Jake's blessing...
    Logistics of getting it
    are a bit tricky.

    Ike's sight is real bad,
    He knows not about the deal
    So he calls Esau.

    "Make me food to eat,
    Kill it, I'd like meat to eat."
    So Esau goes out.

    Meanwhile, Ree hears all.
    She sends Jake to catch some lambs.
    She insists it's time.

    Esau is hairy
    Jake is not - lambskins cover
    Deception - complete!

    Into Dad he goes
    Sound like one, smell like other
    Isaac is unsure.

    Jake deceives his dad,
    The blessing is his for good.
    Esau is upset.

    Jake flees to Haran
    To escape his brother's wrath
    And to find a girl.

    Coming up next week
    Turnabout is unfair play
    Deception for Jake!

    1. is meanwhile 2 syllables or 3? I think it depends on your accent!
    2. The last stanza, I couldn't decide between "turnabout is unfair play" and "what goes around comes around..." -- what do you think??
    3. this is probably too much analysis, huh?

    What's YOUR favorite Torah portion/story? Share in comments...

    Sunday, November 04, 2007

    Are you going? I am!

    The Union for Reform Judaism's Biennial Convention is coming up in just about 6 weeks. It's an amazing convention of about 5000 Jews from all over North America. This year, it's in San Diego. (I'm a Biennial blogger....more on this later!)

    Here's a video to show you a little taste of what the Biennial is all about. There's still time to register!

    Tuesday, October 30, 2007

    Halloween...Jewish or not?

    I am not a big fan of Halloween. Perhaps stemming from my first grade experience when the principal scared me half to death with his costume, I struggle each year with the way Halloween has become so "big" these days. Lights, costumes, candy, decorations, months of build-up...

    Many Jews justify Halloween as "just like Purim." In fact, it's just about the opposite.

    On Halloween, we send our children out to beg for candy.
    On Purim, we send our children out with gifts of candy and other food.

    On Halloween, our costumes glorify death and evil.
    On Purim, our costumes glorify the struggles and triumphs of our people.

    With that said, I know that even my own children will dress in costumes and engage in the practice of

    Filing this under "if you can't beat-em, join-em" are some ways to add Jewish values into your Halloween:
    - carry a UNICEF box or other tzedakah collection instead of or in addition to collecting candy.
    - donate your uneaten candy to Children's Memorial Hospital or other groups.
    - collect your Halloween costumes after the holiday to send to children in Israel or the Former Soviet Union for their Purim celebrations.
    - talk to your kids about the origins of Halloween, what it means and where it came from.
    - discuss with your family the merits of "begging" for candy and how that works in our society. What does it mean to be a "beggar" and how can we help those who are truly in need?

    Read more here:
    Should Jewish children trick-or-treat? This was a question posed to bloggers on Mixed Multitudes, the blog for

    Here is an interesting article about Halloween and Jewish law.

    Making Peace with Halloween (a cute idea for telling the Midrash of David and the spider!)

    Can you give but not get?

    What do you think about Halloween?

    Thursday, October 25, 2007

    Helping Fire Victims

    The Union for Reform Judaism has set up a relief fund for those who have been injured or lost their homes in the Southern California fires. Click here to make a donation.

    In addition, they are collecting gift cards for those who are trying to rebuild. A gift card gives a strong measure of dignity to the recipient, allowing him or her to choose what to buy while still receiving a donation. In addition, it's simpler than shipping large quantities of goods across the country. Click on this link to see the list of companies that are in the Southern California area and from which they are collecting gift cards. In addition, the address to send your cards to is listed on this site.

    In addition, the Chicago Jewish United Fund has established a relief fund. Click here to make a donation through that organization.

    We all stand together.

    Monday, October 22, 2007

    Honors for Ed Alpert

    I am so excited to be going to Cincinnati for the installation of Ed Alpert, Am Shalom's executive director, as the new president of NATA, the National Association of Temple Administrators.

    Coming up Wednesday -- my review of our trip! Stay tuned...

    Thursday, October 18, 2007

    Moment of Silence? or Prayer?

    What's up with a return of the "prayer in schools" debate? I thought this was over, that we had certainly determined that prayer was not allowed in public education. So...this week the Illinois legistature overrode the governor's veto of a measure that mandates a moment of silence in public schools. My own son is in the public schools, and while the measure will not take effect until it is signed into law, I'm not sure how I'm going to feel about it.

    On the one hand, I can't imagine what a "moment of silence" will look like in a kindergarten classroom. They're never quiet!

    But on the other, it does seem just one small step away from school prayer.

    What do you think?

    In related news, a teenager in Texas has been banned from his school because of violation of the dress code. His religion, Rastafarianism, tells him to keep his hair long and dreadlocked, which violates the school's rules. So he's been segregated from the other students until he complies.

    The school says his religion "doesn't count." Are they allowed to do that? What if they decided that Judaism "didn't count"?

    Definitely check out this book: The Baptizing of America by Rabbi James Rudin. An interesting read that will probably scare you crazy. He spoke a few years ago at Am Shalom, and let me tell you, it makes you wonder....

    So...I ask again...what do you think? Prayer in schools? Haircuts for all? Can't wait to read your comments...

    Saturday, October 06, 2007

    Paper vs. Plastic...the Essential Question?

    I usually grocery shop at Sunset (a local chain), although at least once a month I hit Jewel or Dominick's. At Sunset, not only do they bag your groceries for you, they even take them out of the cart -- serious luxury for this girl! The other thing they ask you at Sunset is...."paper or plastic?" I must admit, I always thought that paper was the better choice...until I read these statistics:

    plastic bags consume 40% less energy to produce than paper pags, and
    plastic bags generate 80% less solid waste than paper bags.
    as waste, paper bags produce 70 times more air pollutants than plastic bags, and
    as waste, paper bags produce 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
    Plastic takes up to 1,000 years to decompose!

    (stats from the Clean Green Bag)

    The final answer...neither is really good. In fact, both are pretty darn bad.

    So today, at Dominick's, I picked up four of their re-usable tote bags, and the nice lady loaded my groceries into them. My thoughts:

    - What would have probably filled at least 10 plastic bags all fit into 4 reusable totes and one plastic bag.
    - They were pretty heavy but totally held up.
    - The handles made them easy to carry.
    - For only 99 cents a piece, they were a great deal!

    Are they sturdy enough to hold up? Listen to this little facty: "A sturdy, reusable bag needs only be used 11 times to have a lower environmental impact than using 11 disposable plastic bags." (The Sierra Club) I think my bags will make it.

    I'm so excited for them!
    (My only other question: Will Sunset care if I bring in Dominick's bags? Maybe that will convince them to get their own!!!)

    Here are some links to sites where you can get reusable bags or learn more about them...

    A bag roundup from this week's Chicago Tribune
    Skeeda re-usable bags

    Here's my question for you: Would you use these bags? What would get you to do so?
    AND...what do you do with newspapers for recycling? That's the only thing I use the paper bags for. I can use the bags that come with the newspapers for diapers...

    Tuesday, October 02, 2007

    Can't Wait for Simchat Torah!

    Don't forget to join us at 7pm tomorrow night at 840 Vernon Ave for our Simchat Torah, dancing, a celebration of our love of the Torah!

    Plus...consecration of our new students and kindergarteners into our Religious School. My own little boy will be consecrated -- he's so excited! ( am I!)

    Hope to see you there!!!

    Wednesday, September 26, 2007

    13 Things I Love About Sukkot

    The Jewish holiday of Sukkot began Wednesday night. Here are some reasons that it's my favorite holiday:

    1. The myrtle. It is part of the arbah minim, the four species, that we use to celebrate the harvest holiday. I love the smell of the brings me back to the Sukkot of my youth... (plus, the shape reminds us of the eye, through which we see the world...)

    2. The etrog. A citron, bright yellow, it smells delicious. I love the feel of it in my hand, cold and heavy, bumpy and smooth... And it reminds us of the heart, a heart full of love and joy at the holiday of Sukkot!

    3. The decorating. I am so loving the decorating thing...sometimes I wish we could put the sukkah in the front yard so the whole world can see it. (our front yard is too much of a hill but also that just isn't the custom!)

    4. A chance to put up lights. Okay, I know that this isn't totally a typical Sukkot thing, but it's the chance for me to string up some pretty lights and turn them on at night...

    5. The weather. It always cooperates by cooling down. Sometimes it chooses to rain (which is supposed to happen, actually, since we're now praying for rain) which does make it harder to celebrate outside in the sukkah. Whole holidays have gone by (it's a week long) without being able to eat in the sukkah.

    6. The gourds. They always come out at the same time as we're decorating for Sukkot. They're so cool looking and fun and festive at the fall time.

    7. Remembering Israel. Eating out in the sukkah reminds me of living in Israel, where most restaurants had their own sukkot in which you could eat during the holiday. How cool is that?

    8. The Sukkah Trolley. Each year, our congregation takes a ride around town in a trolley to visit sukkot around our congregational community. Usually we go aroudn the synagogue, but this year, because of our construction, we are going closer to our temporary site for Religious School and so the trolley is coming to my house!

    9. The food. Sukkot for me means the return of wintery food like chili, soup, stews, etc. Yum!

    10. Our indoor sukkah. Our first year living in Chicago, we didn't have a sukkah so I put one up in the kitchen. I strung up decorations like leaves and fruit as well as a little string of shiny stars (you're supposed to see the stars through the roof, hence the stars on the ceiling). It's more of the decorating fun but it also means that we are eating *every* meal in a "sukkah" more or less, even though it doesn't really follow Jewish law, it still is fun. Plus, as I said before, it often rains (or even snows, like last year) and we can't get out to the Sukkah. This reminds us of the holiday's presence...

    11. Thinking of those in need. The sukkah provides a great visual aid for teaching young children about what it means to be homeless. Imagine if you had to live in a sukkah all the time...

    12. Singing Hallel. We sing the Hallel psalms on Sukkot. Bonia Shur has an incredible musical setting for the Hallel Psalms that is performed once a year at Hebrew Union College. We sing one piece of it at Am Shalom to celebrate Sukkot (and other holidays too).

    13. The end of Sukkot is Simchat Torah, which might be my other favorite holiday. (Okay, regular readers of my blogs will note that I actually like them all!) That's next week's post, though so I'll hold onto it!

    See more Thursday Thirteen here...

    Sunday, September 23, 2007

    Building Our Sukkah

    It is customary that, as soon as Yom Kippur ends, we begin to put up our Sukkah for the holiday of Sukkot. Sukkot is the "Festival of Booths," a harvest festival for which we build and "dwell in" small huts (usually in our backyards) to recall the wandering in the desert, during which we were transient and dependent upon God for our welfare. It also serves to remind us of those who don't have homes and are in need of our assistance. It is definitely one of my favorite holidays, it's a week long and I love building our sukkah.

    This year, we put up a new sukkah, thanks to my dad (hi dad). He was tired of helping us put up our old one, which was great but very difficult to assemble each year. He created this new sukkah, which is so easy to put together, and as you'll see from the pictures below, so light that even my son can carry the parts!

    Thursday, September 20, 2007

    Chatimah Tova...May you be sealed for life!

    May your fast be meaningful and fulfilling. For more thoughts on fasting, see my other blog...

    A tiny bit of Yom Kippur of my old favorites:

    Gottlieb called his Rabbi and said, "Rabbi, I know tonight is Kol Nidre, but tonight the Yankees start the playoffs. Rabbi, I'm a life-long Yankee fan. I've GOT to watch the Yankee game on TV."

    The Rabbi responds, "Gottlieb, that's what VCR's are for."

    Gottlieb is surprised. "You mean I can tape Kol Nidre?"

    Monday, September 17, 2007

    Please check your weapons at the door...

    This is why we do recommend that you leave your guns at home when attending High Holy Day Services. Read the whole blog commentary by Robert Wilonsky on this event here, and read the actual news report here.
    An 81-year-old retired Dallas County Sheriff's Department officer who has a valid right-to-carry permit brought a .380 pistol to temple tonight -- why, beats me. At around 7 p.m. the man, who worked for the Sheriff's Department for 25 years, accidentally dropped the gun when he stood for a prayer, it fell to the floor and discharged, and a single round hit the man's 42-year-old daughter in the foot. The ambulance was called, naturally; doubtful EMS carries anything for the schpilkes. A couple in their early 70s were grazed by some from shrapnel, according to the chief. But they got a Band-Aid and were sent home -- and mazel tov, seriously.

    Assistant Chief Ron Waldrop says the temple doesn't actually have signs posted prohibiting licensed guns on the property. He also says the gun fell out of the man's suit when he stood for a prayer. "It's fortunate more people weren't seriously injured," Waldrop says, adding that no criminal offense report has been filed since it was an accidental discharge with a permitted weapon.

    Why the man felt the need to bring a gun into Rosh Hashanah services is still a mystery. At least it wasn't during Yom Kippur, as day-long fasting can make a man extra cranky. I believe the proper response is: Oy gevalt.

    File under: Things You Never Thought You'd Read

    Wednesday, September 12, 2007

    Tuesday, September 11, 2007

    Remembering 9/11 - 6 years later

    Today at 7:45am, we gathered at the Am Shalom flagpole for our annual 9/11 commemoration. We were joined, as usual, by Glencoe firefighters and police officers. We are one of the only remaining yearly commemorations.

    The day was beautiful. Clear, cool, the blue sky absolutely stunning. So much like that Tuesday six years ago.

    One of our students played Taps on his trumpet. He is a Bar Mitzvah student, about 13 years old. His beautiful playing prompted me and others to give him a hug. It's not often that you give a 13-year-old boy a hug, but in that moment, I was overwhelmed by the realization that he was only 7 years old when the 9/11 attacks happened.

    May we remember on this day.

    I share these beautiful words from Karen Maezen Miller at her blog, Cheerio Road:

    In this hush
    between the rising and dusk
    of one minute and month
    a season arriving
    a circle recycling
    we see sharp and know cold
    that not one thing stands
    or stands still
    Not one thing untouched
    but all carried intact
    by love
    deep, far and beyond.

    Remembering the day, the year, the people, the passing, the wide open darkness and then, the light.

    Sunday, September 09, 2007

    Tips for a Great Year of Sunday School

    It's that time of year is our opening Teachers' Meeting for Religious School, and our Kindergarteners and First Graders have their Orientation. Here are my tips for making a successful year of Religious School....

    Breakfast. So many of our students come in without eating a solid breakfast. Please view this like any other educational experience. It works so much better on fuel.

    Show up! Attendance and timely attendance matter to the classroom environment and to your student's experience.

    Be positive. Encourage your student to see this experience as good. This means that you need to be excited about what is going to happen, and interested in what did happen afterwards. It also means a pep talk (for yourself and your child!) in the car on the way over.

    Place value. Just like attending regular school, on which you likely place great value, remind your student of the importance of what they are doing. This also might mean...don't schedule birthday parties, family outings, etc, to coincide with Religious School. Don't say "oh, it's just Sunday School"...think of the message you are sending to your child.

    Volunteer. Even if it's only an occasional Sunday morning, this demonstrates to your child that you think this is important for them and for you.

    Pay attention. Read the materials sent by our school. Know the dates and events that are happening. You probably know what's going on in regular school -- this is just a supplement to that, and is jsut as important (if not more!)

    Talk Jewish. Further your own Jewish education by reading a book, watching a movie or tv program, attending a class or lecture. Tell your student all about it.

    As we say each year...if we have 30 Sundays at 2.5 hours each, that is 75 hours of Sunday School each year (how's my math?). Figure you'll be absent for 2 weeks this year, we're down to 70. Add in snack time, walk time, other times not spent "learning" and it's even less...then think about how many hours each week our students spend in regular school. And add up their whole Jewish education (30 Sundays a year, 2.5 hours a Sunday)...and I think you'll see that it comes out to less than one year of regular school. Not a lot of time for us to educate your children Jewishly. The rest is up to you...

    Thursday, September 06, 2007

    The Mikveh...13 Things I Loved About It

    The Mikveh is a Jewish institution shrouded in mystery and confusion for modern Reform Jews (and probably some Conservative ones too!). The mikveh is defined as a ritual bath, used not for purposes of physical cleanliness, but rather ritual purity or spiritual cleanliness. According to the Wikipedia entry, (which is actually pretty accurate - thumbs up!)

    Its main uses nowadays are:by Jewish women to achieve ritual purity after menstruation or childbirthby Jewish men to achieve ritual purity
    as part of a traditional procedure for conversion to Judaismfor utensils used for food

    It's the first one that makes many modern women crazy, the second that less people know about, the third that is the most well-known in most Reform circles, and the last that is also less well known. But what is not accurate in the Wikipedia entry is the brief entry about Reform Jews and their lack of use of the Mikveh for anything other than conversion. Okay, maybe this is somewhat accurate, but we are working on it! Organizations like Mayyim Hayyim in Boston are making mikveh more accessible to modern Jews.

    Okay, so all that said...where am I going?

    It is customary, in that second idea up there, that "men" go to the mikveh to achieve ritual purity. These days, anything the men can do, so can the women! Often, people (okay, men) will go to the mikveh before Shabbat or holidays in order to fully prepare themselves physically/spiritually. I've never used the mikveh in this way (I've only been once before, right before my wedding). This year, I decided to go to the mikveh to prepare myself for the High Holy Days. As a rabbi, I spend these weeks before the holidays stressing and preparing and basically running around like crazy and I rarely have the time to prepare myself in any meaningful way. (In an earlier post, I referred to teshuvah, which is the Hebrew word for repentance...the "work" of the High Holy Days)

    So the mikveh it was for me...and to describe it, here is a list of
    13 things I loved about it...

    1. The quiet. It was in the evening, and it was dark. It's traditional to go at night to show humility and to increase privacy (of course, blogging about it doesn't make it too private, does it). It was quiet. I had a few moments before all to myself to breathe and just be.
    2. The reminder. The mikveh lady (a technical term) reminded me of the special nature of this moment. She knows that I come all the time to the mikveh with conversion candidates but she reminded me to take my time, to pay attention to each item of clothing or jewelry or act like brushing my hair, to realize that this was more than just a shower and then a dip in the pool, and more than just getting ready for bed.
    3. The words. I hummed the tune for Hashi-veynu, one of my favorite penitential prayers that we sing at our Selichot service this coming Saturday night. To me, that tune really "kicks off" the holidays. Hashiveinu Adonai elecha v'nashuva, chadeish yameinu k'kedem...Help us to return to You, O God, then truly shall we return. Renew our days as in the past. I felt like this helped to remind me why I was doing this.
    4. The washing. As I washed my eyelashes (the purpose of the pre-immersion cleansing is to remove all "barriers" to the living waters of the mikveh, so you wash carefully all your crevices -- like blowing your nose and cleaning your navel -- and you wash the parts you might not normally wash, like eyelashes, as well as comb out all snarls and tangles in your hair so the water can fully reach every part of you.)...I thought of how unusual this was, and how much more special it made it, and different from other shower/washing/hygiene experiences.
    5. The privacy. Once I was prepared for entry into the mikveh, the mikveh lady was so careful to ensure my privacy. She is required to "guard" my immersions and to help make sure I've gotten the stray hairs from my skin, but she takes such care to be modest and private about the experience. She takes the towel and holds it up in front of her face until I'm fully immersed in the water.
    6. The water...ah, the water. It's warm and wonderful, embracing and uplifting. As I stepped into the middle of the small pool, I realized how deep it actually is -- just about my height! The water didn't weight me down, though, in fact, it buoyed me up, encouraging me to float. When I was prepared, I took my first immersion, deep under the water, spreading my fingers and toes to get water into every nook and cranny of my being...these living waters holding me up and filling me up with their powers of personal purification.
    7. The second immersion...this is the one where the mikveh lady takes a step outside the room following the immersion to offer the dipper a few moments of personal prayer or meditation. It is a mitzvah to ask for something for yourself, and as I floated in the water, feeling how safe and warm and comfortable I was, I was reminded of the title of a book by Rabbi David Wolpe - "Floating Takes Faith" -- and I knew that to be there in that moment, I was truly renewing my own faith.
    8. The third immersion. To say shehecheyanu, the blessing for a first time, it was as though I were new again, reborn so to speak. If you think about it, the last time we were so surrounded by water like this was in the womb...this is a re-creation of that living water, a chance to be spiritually re-born for this new year.
    9. The exit. As I stood in front of the mikveh lady, with my back to her, she wrapped the towel around me. She is a very traditional lady, and she avoids personal touch throughout the whole process. But as she wrapped the towel around my shoulders, she gave my shoulders a little squeeze. It felt like a whole hug, as though she were giving me her most heartfelt wishes and prayers. I really believe that she feels that what she does is truly one of the most precious jobs in the world -- and she acts like it. This squeeze was, I feel, her way of telling me that. And I am grateful.
    10. Getting dressed. I put on all my clothes, my jewelry, my contact lenses...and then I examined myself in the mirror. Am I different now? Somehow more pure and more ready for the holidays? I decided the answer is yes. I did look different. I looked relaxed and happy and ready to face the holidays with a whole heart.
    11. The drive home. To know that I was going back out into a world unchanged, but I, I was different somehow. I felt more calm, more prepared. With Rosh HaShanah only one week away, I could face the moment with far more ease than I had felt all day long. I felt refreshed, washed clean.
    12. The work. I'm not done with the work of teshuvah, repentance, just because I washed clean in the mikveh. Jewish life doesn't work that way! I still have the obligation to ask forgiveness and work on my own spiritual and personal faults and shortcomings. But somehow I feel that it will be made easier or more do-able for me after this visit to the mikveh.
    13. The blogging. I was so excited for the opportunity to share this experience with those who read this blog as well as my other one,, so I could share a different and new way of welcoming the Jewish New Year. As a rabbi, my preparations are often different than other Jews. This was a great moment for me to have a personal opportunity to expand my own spiritual practice.

    See more Thursday Thirteen posts here...
    Crossposted on

    Monday, August 27, 2007

    CNN's Religious Warriors Series

    Okay, so maybe I have to go back and watch the whole thing again. (six hours!?) I must admit, parts of the whole thing did make me cringe. And I'm not great at being unbiased when it comes to watching a program about Israel.

    But in retrospect, and after reading CAMERA's critique of the Jewish and Muslim parts of the series, I have reason to agree with CAMERA's assessment. There was a great deal of bias in the reporting. I'm not sure that it was entirely intentional -- in many ways, although CNN believes that it's reporting about apples and apples, I think the comparisons between Jews, Muslims and Christians is more like apples, oranges, and bananas. One of the comments CAMERA makes:

    It is false in its basic premise, established in the opening scene in which Jewish (and Christian) religious fervency is equated with that of Muslims heard endorsing "martyrdom," or suicide-killing. There is, of course, no counterpart among Jews and Christians to the violent jihadist Muslim campaigns underway across the globe, either in numbers of perpetrators engaged or in the magnitude of death and destruction wrought.

    There does seem to be a lot of focus in the Jewish segment on the pro-Israel lobby in this country. Far more than in the Muslim section, which does not speak about any of the oil lobbies that are waged on behalf of Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia (...home of many of the 9/11 terrorists, why are we friends with them???)

    In fact, there was, as CAMERA points out, a much more gentle tone towards the Muslim extremists, especially those in our own country...

    There was a noticeably gentler and more cordial tone toward Muslim extremists in contrast to the often snide and hectoring tone displayed toward pro-Israel Americans and Israeli settlers in "God's Jewish Warriors." In "God's Muslim Warriors," Amanpour included two apolitical segments with appealing devout Muslim women who talked about why they wear a head covering and how Islam enriches their lives. No such apolitical segment about devout Jews appeared in "God's Jewish Warriors."

    Read the rest of CAMERA's critique here...and here...and let me know what you thought!

    Saturday, August 25, 2007

    Art and Seeing

    For our motzei Shabbat activity (after Shabbat ends, on Saturday night), we had the unexpected pleasure of an hour or so m-in-law was home with the kids, and so we dashed out to see the Highwood Fine Arts Festival, a very small art show in our own small town. While much of the art was nice and somewhat ordinary, we were delighted with the art of Inna Deriy, who paints with pigmented polymers on stone, wood, and canvas. Let me tell you, it leads to gorgeous colors and beautiful images. I am not even really sure what a polymer is (I know I wouldn't eat it!) but I know what I think is beautiful.

    I wasn't able to find a picture of the small piece that we bought. It has the image of tree trunks. I love images of trees...I think trees are so incredible and wonderful as a symbol of longevity in nature. I also love the Jewish imagery of the Torah as the Tree of Life, and I also love the idea of a family tree. Overall, I'm a tree girl.

    I did find this image, though, and it is quite beautiful. There is also a story about it that the artist's husband shared with us while we perused the booth. He said a blind woman was walking through an art fair they were doing once, and she bemoaned that she couldn't really see all the art that her companion was describing. He offered to let her touch this painting (at the time it was all white, with just the texture of the image -- it's hard to see in the picture here but all her art is very textured), and as she ran her fingers over it, she said, "oh, it's tulips!" but they hadn't even told her what it was.

    It is amazing how our senses work. Many people who have full functional use of their eyes are "blind" to the world, not seeing beauty or love....or not seeing problems in the world. This story was a beautiful reminder that we shouldn't always just see with our eyes...

    Friday, August 24, 2007

    Celebrating Shabbat without TV?

    When David (now 5 1/2) was young, we told him he could only watch tv on Shabbat. When we'd visit my parents, they would let him watch tv whenever he wanted, which coined the phrase in our house: "it's always Shabbat at Bubbie and Zeyde's house!" (It raised problems for us one Shabbat that we spent with an Orthodox family. In their house, no tv on Shabbat!)

    Now we don't do that anymore. He's old enough to know that there is tv available on other days of the week....and he likes to watch it. But we learned that it is possible to be non-traditional in your observance of Shabbat and make the day very special.

    So now we struggle with some special thing to define Shabbat in our house, other than our Friday night dinner activities. I would like something special to do or not do on Saturday as well. I think that this may become easier as my children grow older. It's hard to explain to a 2-year-old and it's hard to be consistent in our house when mommy works on Shabbat!

    How does your family observe Shabbat? What are some non-traditional traditions that you've developed to make this day special? Leave me a comment!

    Tuesday, August 21, 2007

    Watch CNN Presents Tonight...

    I am right now watching God's Warriors (part 1) on CNN. It is great -- I am fascinated by the retelling of Israel's history. I'm curious to see the other two parts, the Muslim and Christian perspectives. I know (thanks to my TiVo!) that part 1 is being re-run a couple times tonight and then the others are on tomorrow and Thursday. I can't wait to write a review of the whole thing. Let me know what you think!!!

    Friday, August 10, 2007

    Torah Portion Friday: Tzedakah with your family

    This week's Torah portion, Re'eh, contains the following line:

    If however, there is a needy person among you, one of your kin in any of your settlements in the land that the Eternal your God is giving you, do not harden your heart and shut your hand against your needy kin. Rather, you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient to meet the need. (Deuteronomy 15:7–8)

    This line is one of the first lessons we teach our children as we begin to teach them about Judaism. The need to help others, no, the requirement that we help others, is a central focus of what Judaism is all about. The commandment to help others appears so often in the Torah that the Talmud tell us (Bava Batra 9a) “Tzedakah (charity) outweighs all other mitzvot.”

    So how can we make this a part of our family's regular activities? Here are some suggestions for making tzedakah a part of your regular routine:

    • keep a tzedakah box in many places in your house: on top of the dryer for loose change, in the kitchen, on your dresser, on your kids' dressers...

    • teach your kids to divide their allowance. My son has a piggy bank with separate slots for "spend" "save" "invest" and "donate" (we bought it from Amazon) -- we regularly talk about putting the money into the Tzedakah slot and what we can do with it.

    • when you sort through clothes and toys, take your children with you to deliver them to Goodwill or another organization.

    • suggest that your child's birthday party be a collection, asking for donations or items for others instead of gifts for the child

    • collect every "request" that comes into your house and once a month (or at whatever interval works for you), sit down with your family and look at all of them to determine where your family's tzedakah money will go.

    • create young philanthropists -- give your kids and/or grandkids a bank account or budget from which they can make their own gifts...discuss with them regularly what it means to make your tzedakah dollars "go far." Teach them about "matching gifts" and make arrangements to "match" your kids' gifts...or invite them to ask other family members to match their gifts.

    • use tzedakah as a reward or incentive: offer to give money to the charity of your kids' choice in honor of an acheivement or milestone.

    These and so many more ideas will help your family to make tzedakah (charity) and gemilut chasadim (acts of lovingkindness) regular parts of your family's life. Through these actions we can truly fulfill our mission on earth: to make this world a better place.

    How does your family engage in tzedakah? Leave a comment with your ideas.
    (crossposted on

    Tuesday, July 31, 2007

    Take the Bottled Water Challenge...

    My family has begun to swear off bottled water. It all started when my husband purchased a relatively expensive water filtration system for our house last September. You spent the money on that, I thought, so we should stop spending the money on bottles.

    Well, it turned out that we all love our water filter. So much so that we took the darn thing with us to camp. (It only worked for a week, though, before the filter conked out. Camp water, very much in need of filtering.) We bought a bunch of Nalgene bottles and Camelbak bottles and we seem to be all set.

    Who knew we were on the cutting edge of environmentalism. Not me.

    But we are. There are now articles about how bottled water isn't better. And how it's an example of our overconsumption and indulgence. There are campaigns to end bottled water consumption (see Think Outside the Bottle and Refill Not Landfill). And hey -- I'm all for it. I even put into both of our cars a stack of paper cups and straws so we can drink on the go from drinking fountains. (Straws make it all easier with the almost-2-year-old and more fun for all of us.) Some facts to consider:

    • Last year, Americans spent $15 billion on bottled water, even though bottled water isn’t healthier or safer than tap water.

    • While the EPA regulates the quality of public water supplies, the agency has no authority over bottled water. Some studies indicate that certain brands of bottled water test positive for chemical and bacterial contamination at higher levels than tap water.

    • One out of six people in the world has no dependable, safe drinking water. The global economy denies drinkable water to 1 billion people, while delivering to us an array of water “varieties” from around the globe, not one of which we actually need.

    • Americans went through about 50 billion plastic water bottles last year, 167 for each person. We pitch into landfills 38 billion water bottles a year - more than $1 billion worth of plastic (while the recycling rate for this particular kind of plastic is only 23%).

    • We’re moving 1 billion bottles of unnecessary water around a week in ships, trains, and trucks in the United States alone. That’s a weekly convoy equivalent to 37,800 18-wheelers delivering water. (this one scares me!)

    So...can you do it? Can you put an end to your bottled water consumption???

    Leave me a comment to make your commitment.

    crossposted on

    Friday, July 27, 2007

    A Worthy Project...

    A young lady studying for her Bat Mitzvah has undertaken a very cool project. She has created a cd of music -- her own piano playing and a little vocals, all written by this lovely teenager. Only one song was written by someone else -- Billy Joel! She contacted him and received permission to use his song Lullaby on her CD. Proceeds of the CD are going to the Susan G. Komen organization working for a cure for breast cancer.

    Jessica's website describes her inspiration in detail and gives information on how to order the CD. It's a nice collection of music and a great cause.

    Please pass this information on to others...she's already raised $1000 with sales of her CD. Let's help her out.

    Thursday, July 26, 2007

    Wanna move to New Orleans? They'll pay you!

    Not exactly. But similar to how Israel recruits new olim, the New Orleans Jewish community is now recruiting new immigrants...Out of the 10,000 Jews in New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina, only 7,000 remain. There is a strong desire amongst those who are still there to rebuil dtheir community, and so they've decided to offer incentives (from the LA Times):

    So Jewish New Orleans has cooked up a novel solution: a recruitment drive. With an ad campaign crafted by an Israeli public relations firm, the city's Jewish leaders are hoping to attract at least 1,000 Jews to the city over the next five years. They will appeal to potential pilgrims' better natures, stressing the Jewish concept of tikkun olam, Hebrew for "healing the world" — or, in this case, healing a broken city.

    They also plan to lure them with cash. Starting next month, any Jew who has relocated to the city since Jan. 1 will be eligible for up to $5,500 for moving and housing expenses, interest-free loans of up to $30,000, half-price tuition at Jewish day schools, and a year of free membership at a synagogue and a Jewish community center.The concept was hatched, in part, by Michael J. Weil, an economist who moved here from Israel in October to head the Jewish Federation, the umbrella group for the city's Jewish agencies and programs. As a consultant to the Israeli government, Weil helped settle thousands of Jewish refugees in Israel after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The New Orleans benefits were based, in part, on the sal klita, the "absorption benefits basket" offered to Israeli newcomers.

    The recruitment drive springs from an acknowledgment that city officials have done a poor job touting New Orleans' progress in the two years since Katrina. The Jewish community will have to get that message out to its people on its own, Weil said.

    "I would hope that nobody's going to move here just because of the incentive package, but it will be a lubricant," Weil said. "We cannot sit around waiting for the Road Home program and all these other things to take place, because we want to be in that great, better place tomorrow." Road Home is a state program that distributes federal funds for Katrina recovery efforts.

    So...want to relocate???

    Monday, July 23, 2007

    Thursday, July 12, 2007

    Dispatch from Camp #5: Yes You Can!

    Today we were honored to have Lloyd Bachrach speak to our group of campers. Lloyd was born with a congenital bone deficiency that left his legs unusually small, and he now wears prosthetic limbs. He does motivational speaking around the country to inspire others to embrace their own ability and bring attention to the concept of "differently abled" instead of the idea of "disabled."

    We brought him in as a Jewish hero who has overcome his circumstances. He said that he doesn't see himself as a hero, just someone who dealt with what he has. I think that his heroism is in his ability to share himself with audiences with no embarrassment or fear.

    Tomorrow is Shabbat! Yay! It is also the beginning of the end of our time here at camp. We go home on Sunday, and I know that the campers are sad that their session is drawing to a close. I am getting tired and am actually looking forward to sleeping in my own bed...

    Monday, July 09, 2007

    Dispatch from Camp #4: Judaica Bowl & Camp Heartland

    Last night we held the annual camp Judaica Bowl (see picture, it's a Judaica BOWL, get it? Ha ha. David wanted to know if there really was a bowl). It is such a cool event because we spend a lot of time cheering and celebrating and honoring the kids who know a lot about Jewish knowledge! Each eidah (unit) chooses its team and then the eidah teams compete against each other. Jerry, the camp's director, gets a big kick out of choosing hard and interesting questions to stump the campers. We, the faculty, serve as judges for the answers that might be questionable...

    Even though I love the Judaica Bowl for what it honors, it also makes me a little sad. I can answer almost every question that is asked in the Bowl (aren't you glad...considering that I'm a rabbi!?) but I know that most of our campers don't know most of the answers. Sometimes this seems a little disappointing to me because I wish that our kids had a higher level of Jewish knowledge under their belts. Most of the kids who are on the teams are kids who attend day schools. On the one hand, this demonstrates the efficacy of these schools. On the other hand, does it illustrate a problem with our supplementary schools? I think the answer might be yes.

    On the third hand (why not!?), most of our campers feel an incredible connection and spirit with and for the Jewish community. Watching them sing songs in Hebrew and celebrate Judaism here at OSRUI is hugely important. These are the kids who will feel a connection to Judaism for the rest of their lives.

    But is it going to be enough?

    Is it enough for our kids to grow up strongly connected but somewhat ignorant of Jewish law, custom, language? I know this is a struggle that so many Jews have felt thorughout the generations -- that their generation or their children's generation is growing up with less Yiddishkeit. I look at these kids and I know that Judaism is going to survive -- but will it be as strong and vibrant with less knowledge? These are the questions with which I struggle.

    Today we had a guest speaker for our units that are studying the concept of heroes. We invited Neil Willenson, the founder of Camp Heartland, to come and speak about how he saw a need and met it with the creation of his camp for kids with HIV/AIDS. He was a great speaker and I really believe that he helped our kids to "get" what we've been talking about in terms of the reality of being a gibor, a hero. He also brought with him Nile Sandeen, the young man whose story of his own struggles with HIV inspired Neal to found the camp. The two of them made a powerful team in how they spoke to our campers. One of the reasons we brought Neil was because he is a Jewish hero, but I was glad that he was able to bring along Nile, who isn't Jewish, to talk about his own story. I think it was good to show the campers that heroes can be Jewish and also not, of course.

    One other point...Neil brought up the story of Jackie Robinson. I have always heard tell of him as a hero for breaking the color barrier in baseball...but when Neil told the story, he offered me a slightly new perspective. Jackie Robinson was indeed a hero for what he did. But perhaps an even greater hero in the story is Branch Rickey, the general manager of the Dodgers who signed Robinson. After all, it was almost as difficult for Rickey to choose to bring in a "colored" player as it was for Robinson to take on the task. Interesting to think about who really is a hero.

    Thursday, July 05, 2007

    Dispatch from Camp #3: Hero Mixes

    Yesterday we made "hero mixes" -- which were snack mixes of various different food items to represent the different qualities of a hero. It's important to maintain a balance of ingredients in a recipe, just like it's important for a hero to have a balance of qualities. The kids really got into this activity and really understood the lesson. We threw in cinnamon red-hot candies as well, to signify the Yetzer Ha-Ra, the Evil Impulse within each of us, to illustrate and remind our campers of the question: Who is a hero? and the answer: The one who can overcome his evil inclination.

    Wednesday, July 04, 2007

    Construction Update! July 4, 2007

    Check out these awesome pictures of the building as we begin the demoltion. You can see the courtyard, the auditorium (2 pics) and the old entry-way (to the left are the windows that used to be Sharon's, Ed's and my offices!)


    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    Dispatch from Camp #2: The Human Knot

    Today was our first day of "Limudim" or educational programming. It is also the first "real" day of camp for our chanichim, our campers. We try not to beat them over the head with the idea of "learning" but rather make it all fun. Our theme is "heroes" and today we talked about the qualities that make a hero. Then we asked the kids to do various "challenge activities" that would require them to use some of the qualities of a hero. We started with the human knot, which I think is so much fun. In case you don't know what this is, you stand in a circle and have to grab the hands of someone across from you (not the same person for both hands) and then the whole group is "knotted up"....and then you have to, without letting go of hands, unknot the group back into a circle. It can be very tricky but also a lot of fun, and requires a lot of teamwork!

    After this, we asked them to get themselves into birthday order without talking...and then human pyramids. All of this was a lot of fun and made for a lot of group bonding and lots of laughter! But through it all, I was so impressed that the kids really got the message that we were trying to teach them -- that heroic qualities are inherent in us all. We may not all be heroes, but we all have in us the capacity to do so.

    I love seeing how, even after only one night, the campers seem like they've been here forever. There's no question that they're all having fun!

    Monday, July 02, 2007

    Dispatch from Camp #1

    One of my favorite times of the year is the 2 weeks that I and my family spend at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Insitute in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. This camp is an incredible place, a living, breathing, Jewish community that speaks English laced with Hebrew, prays twice a day, sings boisterously, cheers and chants and laughs...while swimming, running, riding, and occasionally sleeping. It is a marvelous place for the campers, and also a marvelous place for my family to come each year.

    As a rabbi, my job is to focus on the religious, spiritual, and educational life of the camp. There are many rabbis up here, each of us work with different units of differently aged children. I work with Kallah, the youngest unit. We are now in the second session of the summer, and we have 4th-7th graders in Kallah. Our group just arrived today and they are currently settling into their cabins as I type. Tonight they will eat dinner, share an evening tefillah (prayer service) and have a fun evening program...before falling exhausted into their newly chosen bunks.

    Then tomorrow the fun really begins. We don't ease into things -- a full day awaits our campers tomorrow and I'm very excited for the beginning of our limudim, "study" program. Our topic for this session is Jewish heroes, and I look forward to seeing how the staff embraces our "shtick" -- the funny skits that help to make the lessons real to the campers (as well as entertaining). Part of tomorrow's limudim program involves human knots and pyramid building, so I'll make sure to bring my camera.

    And then, of course, tomorrow night is our annual Independence Day celebration, complete with fireworks. Can't wait! Will tell this story tomorrow after the fun....

    Wednesday, June 20, 2007

    Driving with Religion?

    The Vatican has issued a "ten commandments" for drivers.

    Cars can be "instruments of sin" when used inappropriately, but the Vatican suggests that prayer is a good use for the car -- and it's a good idea to recite the rosary while driving.

    Seriously, they are behind -- haven't they ever heard of a MitzvahMobile? This is a thing that Chabad has been using for a long time.

    It does speak to the idea that any modern technology can be used for both good and ill. Internet? Good for connecting people, but has obvious downsides. Telephones? Work for calling those in need, but can be disruptive. Ipods? Can shut you out of the world but can also bring in holy music or oral teachings....and I could go on and on.

    I find it interesting that the Vatican is looking for ways to integrate their religious teachings into "modern" life -- and that they started with the CAR, something that's been around for so long.