Is zealotry good or bad? Is it good to be so passionate and so ardent that you put your career, your reputation, your life on the line for a cause? Pinhas did that-his jumping in to kill Zimri and Cozbi when they were doing cultic worship at G-d’s altar put an end to the plague afflicting Israel. Sir Rabbi Jonathan Saks said, as I learned at Parshat HaShavua, that because Pinhas acted in the moment and during the sexual act he was validated; had he responded too soon or too late he would have been vilified. 

         We know that hesitation is a hideous demon and that we cannot always hold back or analyze all the possible outcomes ad nauseum. At times we need to be zealous, to fight for what we believe in. Yet if we are zealous about everything we do not have a grounded perspective and like one who is overly hesitant, we lose credibility. We become known as one who is “my way or the highway.” The goal is to be in the middle, to carefully and strategically pick and choose our battles. 

         As we look at the world “through freedom’s eyes”, with the freedom to choose whatever we want, let us remember this lesson of zealotry. May we remember the zealotry of Pinhas, that at sometimes we need to act in the moment rather than “wait for it” even if it means putting ourselves on the line. At other times we need to carefully analyze and choose wisely, or we end up like the Sicarii zealots who began the Great Revolt against Rome, leading to the destruction of the Second Temple and ultimately our exile from Judea. As we are in the 3 weeks between the Roman breach of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple, let us remember the example of the Sicarii zealots as a time when we jumped in over our head while concurrently recognizing that at times we need to be like Pinhas, acting in the moment rather than waiting for a consensus. May we choose wisely. 


What a historic week capped off by Juneteenth, the emancipation of slavery in Texas in 1865. We also have a holiday celebrating freedom from slavery-Passover. In college at UW-Madison I took a course on Black-Jewish Relations that centered on the community of Brownsville, Brooklyn. It was fascinating to learn about how Black-Jewish relations have changed over time. I also learned firsthand from Jews of Color, being mentored by Rabbi Capers Funnye in Chicago (first time I ever gave a D’var Torah and people shouted “Amen Brother!”) and in working with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

June is also Pride Month, and we saw the Supreme Court’s legislation protecting people from discrimination regardless of sexual orientation. We also saw the Supreme Court protect Dreamers, those who came to the United States as children and many of whom have now grown up in our country. As a mentioned in our portion, “There shall be one law for you and for the resident stranger; it shall be a law for all time throughout the ages. You and the stranger shall be alike before the LORD.”[1]

We need to remember that each of us is made in the image of G-d and to love everyone for who they are, rather than who we want them to be. I thank Kim Foster for creating Bet Shira Facebook ads for Equality and for Pride which hopefully will be posted next week.

Let us also remember the quote from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”[2] Now is the time to fight against injustice, for “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”[3] Let us now lift every voice and sing (from the comfort of our homes so as not to spread COVID-19) for who we are and for what we hope to achieve as a congregation.

[1] Numbers 15:15

[2] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “I have a Dream,” August 28, 1963.

[3] Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter from the Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963.

Live in Action, Not in Fear

We learn from this week’s portion about the spies sent out and their report. We begin the journey with excitement-looking forward to hearing a wonderful report of the Land of Milk and Honey. We end with tragedy-people quickly turning an about-face toward Egypt and punished by spending an additional 38 years wandering in the desert so one generation can die and a generation that did not know slavery can emerge.

Why were the spies punished? Most say not for their report which was accurate but for the fear that they instilled in others. They did not believe in themselves or have faith that G-d was able to lead them past any obstacle that they faced. Fear ruled the day rather than hope.

When my parents moved to Arizona, gave me books from my childhood to take back with me to Miami. One of those books was As Good As Anybody: Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Amazing March Towards Freedom, which I will read some of at next week’s Drive In Shabbat Jammies and Jeans. It is about how Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel took a stand and marched with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma. Heschel took a risk in going to Selma yet he never had a doubt that it was the right thing to “pray with his feet” and march with Dr. King.

We need to pray with our feet also and speak up against the injustices that are occurring in our country. When I moved to Jericho in 2014, it was Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and Freddie Gray. Six years later in Miami it is Breanna Taylor, Ahmad Arbury, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks. The words “I can’t breathe” filled the streets in 2014 just like they do in 2020. We are angry and upset at the lack of change. We want justice and equality for all people under the law.

At the same time we find glimmers of hope. We see the Supreme Court’s decision that discrimination not be allowed on the basis of sexual orientation. We see the police, in places like Miami, kneeling to be in solidarity with protestors. We changes that are being made to make safer encounters between civilians and police. We cannot let fear and disillusionment rule the day. We cannot let the fear of the spies win out and incite us to freeze, throwing our hands up and being uncertain of what to do. We cannot flee from topics just because they are controversial. Rather we must fight for what we believe in, just as Rabbi Heschel fought with his feet.

I want to share with you some words from Rabbi Micah Caplan z”l, our synagogue’s rabbi from 2005-10, after the death of George Floyd as well as a poem I wrote after the shooting at Pulse Nightclub in hopes that they inspire us towards action to make our world a better place:

My friends,

Last week in Minneapolis, like too many times before, we witnessed painful injustice of our brothers and sisters in the black community. We are one and when they hurt, we hurt.

No one should lose their life for going for a jog, breaking up a fight, sitting in their home watching TV, driving home from dinner, buying candy at a convenience store, or having their car break down. And no one should lose their life over $20, especially at the hand of those who should keep us safe.

As Jews, we know all too well what oppression looks like based on our history. Some of the biggest lessons learned from our past are to never forget and not be silent.

The Talmud highlights that silence equals agreement. And the Torah teaches us to not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.

Elie Weisel reminds us, “The opposite of love is not hate, it is indifference.” And his sentiment is echoed by so many others that have faced oppression. South Africa’s Desmond Tutu says, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

This is no time to be silent. As Jews, we are taught to stand up for ourselves and others and use our voice for good. As Hillel says, ”If I am not for myself who will be for me. But if I am only for myself who am I. If not now, when.” Our fellow Americans need our help.

I urge you to find a way to express your solidarity peacefully. Consider calling your member of Congress, supporting a human rights organization, or being a good samaritan and neighbor if you see something that isn’t right.

As a people, let us be a light unto our nation.

With hope for healing,

Rabbi Micah Caplan[1]

Now I will read my poem for  after Ariela’s birth “Two World,” in the book Not by Might edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor. Rabbi Creditor just edited another book about clergy response to COVID-19.

In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world in which people are loved from who they are

Or the world in which people are hated for being different?


In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world of open-mindedness and compassion

Or the world of prejudice and racism?


In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world in which we work together

Or the world in which we grow apart?


In which world will my daughter grow up?

The world of self-fulfillment and happiness

Or the world of frustration and anger?


In which world would be daughter grow up?

The world where guns are melted down to make building tools

Or the world where guns are used for wanton acts of violence?

I will do my part to ensure

That my daughter grows up in the world of embracing others

Loving all people regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation

And pray that the world in which she will live

Will no longer know the horror of these shootings.[2]


Ken Yhi Ratzon, may it be our will to make it so.

[1] Rabbi Micah Caplan, Message to Congregation Or Tzion in Response to Shooting of George Floyd on May 25, 2020.

[2] “Two Worlds.” Edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor. Rabbis Against Gun Violence. 2016. pg 225.

Appreciating the Little Steps

My younger daughter  has had some gross motor developmental delays. Ever since 6 months she has not reached developmental milestones on the scheduled time. She’s been going at her own pace. It has taught me to appreciate the little steps she has taken and to have patience when she is not progressing as quickly as I’d like.

Like many of you, I have been home-bound for much of the past month trying to avoid public places to flatten the curve slow the spread of COVID-19. That has enabled me to spend much time with my wife Karina and with both of my children. During the past month I have seen my younger daughter begin climbing the steps, cruising, and as recently as yesterday standing in place on her own for a split second. Seeing these small steps, which I did not appreciate with my older daughter have reminded me of the importance for each of us to embrace and celebrate what is going on in the present. While I certainly wish that COVID-19 was not here and my heart breaks each time I hear another person I know with the virus, I wonder if I would have paid attention to these little steps my younger daughter takes if I was going about my regular routine. I’m not sure I would have noticed or appreciated these steps.

In every crisis and challenging time I look for a silver lining to hold onto. In the age of COVID-19 I am looking to how I can appreciate the steps taken by both of my daughters in their development and growth. Rather than rushing to get outside, perhaps each of us can see what is going on in our homes and find things to appreciate and in which to take pride. I can’t wait to see both my daughters’ future accomplishments, appreciating each step as it comes and patiently waiting when it does not arise as quickly as I would like. I hope each of us will have the patience to wait calmly until it is safe to go out and return to ‘our regular routines’ while we make the most out of every moment of this time at home, appreciating the little things that make life so wonderful.

Maintaining Faith in a World of Multiple Possibilities

We live in a world with multiple possibilities. As the saying goes, “When one door closes, another one opens.” At times in life we feel that we are out of options or wishing we were back at a previous moment in time. However, each moment presents infinite possibilities and opportunities to make our lives better.

In reading through the weekly Torah portions, I think about the Israelites’ lack of faith. In next week’s reading we learn about the golden calf, created because “that man Moses, who brought us from the land of Egypt-we do not know what has happened to him.” How in a span of 40 days did a people who had seen marvels such as the splitting of the sea lose their faith? How did the same people send forth a delegation to return to Egypt even after Caleb said “Let us by all means go forward and we shall conquer the land?” How easy it is to lose trust in one’s leaders as well as faith in a better future.

How relatable is Israel, travelling in the desert where food and water was scarce, becoming nostalgic about a past of Egyptian slavery where at least they had three meals a day and roofs over their heads. The slightest mishap leads to doubts and second-guessing, the “what ifs.” What is missing is faith in a better future and recognizing that we live in a world with multiple possible outcomes, that what is often most important is not the outcome but the process one takes to get there.

Think about a time in your life when you thought you were at the end of your rope, that there was no going on-only to laugh about it a month or two later when your situation changed. While sometimes inexplicable tragedies occur, more often than not things are not irreparable. The line that we say before we read from the Torah is “Those who cling to G-d are all alive today.” What do you hold onto that gives you the courage and faith to continue forward?

In our world of multiple possibilities, what gives me strength is knowing that I will do my part and let G-d take care of the rest. Sometimes I will give things right, other times I will make mistakes but either way I will be complete and whole. No matter what happens to us, especially if it is something beyond our control, we are complete and whole. At the end of the day there’s no could have, would have or should have-there’s only this moment in time and what we can do to make the most of it. When things look bleak, let us maintain our faith in ourselves and in the path on which we walk in this world and may we remember that no matter what the outcome, we will be fine and will find a way to thrive.

Happiness Comes From Within

As a rabbi I have learned that you can never please all of the people all of the time; however you can please all of the people some of the time. The question is when the right thing to do is one which will cause the displeasure of others. Moses, our people’s greatest leader, had numerous periods in which he lost the confidence of the Israelite nation, when they complained and wanted to return to Egypt. If even our people’s greatest leader could not make the people happy, how can we hope to do so?!

Happiness comes from within a person. It’s not something that we can find through materialism or through external circumstances. We often feel ‘if only _______ happened, I’d be happy’. We sometimes look to leaders, be they politicians, social workers, teachers or clergy, to fix our problems rather than reflectively looking inside ourselves. However, a leader is not a savior. A leader’s job is not to try to make others happy; that is each individual’s job. A leader’s task is to act out of the courage of his/her convictions to try to make the world we live in better, but that is not by solving every problem that comes our way. Moses could lead Israel towards the Promised Land but he could not change their mentality, making them excited to leave slavery for freedom and to enter a land of milk and honey. The hard, individualistic work of a positive mindset in spite of whatever is going on is left up to each and every one of us.

It is my hope that each of us will find the inner spirit to meet head-on any challenge we face with positivity, serenity and grace and that we are able to appreciate all that we have rather than taking it for granted. We are blessed to live in the mecca of South Florida with beautiful winter weather and with so much to offer people of all ages. When we recognize that we might not have everything we want, may we take the time to turn inward and see what we can do to better our situation rather than outward to blame others. Let each of us work hard to take ownership of and become the authors of our own lives, and in so doing may we find wholeness and happiness rather than resentment and bitterness. As Pirkei Avot (The Ethics of the Fathers) teaches “Who is strong? One who conquers his/her impulses. Who is rich? One who is happy with what s/he has.” Our leaders can lead us to the path; may we do our part so that we can reach the Promised Land.

The Young with the Old

In this week’s portion, Moses demonstrates that he is a leader for the entire community. After the plague of locusts, Pharaoh gave in and says “Go and worship your G-d in the desert; who will be the ones to go?” Moses replied, “Our young and our old will go.” This angered Pharaoh who would only allow the men to go. Pharaoh knew that if everyone left they would not return, so he wanted to hold some of the people back. Moses, however, said that either all the Israelites would go or none of them would.

Why did Moses argue for the children to come? The medieval commentator Chizkuni states that “the way of children is to celebrate.” Rabbi Harold Kushner brings two alternative interpretations in The Etz Hayim Humash: that “no celebration is complete without children” and that “a child without parents is an orphan but a nation without children is an orphan people.” The last point is especially poignant, without the children there is no future.

The commentaries are great at emphasizing the children but I believe it is equally important that Moses said the elderly must go as well. Elders bring wisdom to the community through their past lived experiences. They also provide a sense of historical precedent as to why things are as they are. Moses knew that just as the children are necessary so too are the older individuals. As we must look towards the future, so must we also remember the past and what brought us to this present day.

Moses felt it was important that everyone be able to leave Egypt, regardless of their age. This has a lot to say for how the Jewish community works: that everyone is a valued member of our community. The way of a successful synagogue is to leave no one behind, showing each person that he or she has a valued, integral place in our community.

At Bet Shira Congregation, we have brought together people from multiple congregations, whether Temple Zion, Samuel Or Olam, Bet Breirah or others. As your rabbi, I value each and every one of you exactly as you are. Our identity is not determined by where we came from but by who we are. As we move forward towards a future yet unknown but with exciting possibilities, let us remember that we are stronger together. Like Moses who went forth with the young and the old, we too must go forth united in our goal to perpetuate Conservative Judaism in South Dade. When we are together, what is not possible to achieve?

When we feel torn in life, may we us remember the excitement we shared as children, curious, with wonder and open towards the possibilities of the unknown. If we do that, we will transcend the experience of מצרים, those narrow places which constrict us and harden our hearts. Many of us, myself included, struggle with uncertainty, yet as I learned from the Institute of Jewish Spirituality, nothing is permanent and everything is ever changing. Let us keep mind of this lesson today and every day.

I’m Wrong You’re Right

Why do we break a glass at the wedding? Remembering the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem is one reason given but I’m going to give you another. Sorry Howard but when you break the glass in 2 week it’s the last time you’ll be able to put your foot down. After that Danielle will always be right. The defense rests its case (for those who don’t know, Danielle’s a Defense Lawyer, and Howard’s a Plaintiff).

All joking aside, being able to admit when you are wrong and another is right is extremely difficult to do. We think ‘if I only rationalize the situation, she’ll see it my way.’ After all, we understand why we act the way we do. To truly take a step back and say ‘I did wrong here’ when that is the case is truly a mark of bravery and courage.

Even the hardheaded, stubborn Pharaoh admits wrongdoing at the end of Parshat VaEra. He says to Moses חטאתי הפעם: ה הוא הצדיק ואני ועמי הרשעים. After the plague of hail, Pharaoh said, ‘I have sinned this time: G-d is in the right, and my nation and I are the wicked ones.’[1] This is a startling statement: Pharaoh, who believes that he himself is god, admits wrongdoing. For a split second he gets off his high horse and says to Moses and Aaron, ‘You know that G-d, you believe in? He’s right and I’m wrong.” If Pharaoh can do it, all the more so must we when the situation calls for it.

Admitting we are wrong is challenging. It is far easier to harden our hearts, continuing in the same direction we began. However, our greatest leaders each admitted their mistakes. When the Prophet Nathan exposed King David’s sin with Batsheva, our greatest king ever, David, saidלה  חטאתי “I have sinned against G-d.”[2] When Judah, who our people is named after, realized he sinned against Tamar by withholding his youngest son from her, he said צדקה ממני, “she is more righteous than me.”[3] Admitting wrongdoing when exposed is the hallmark of a leader, as well as a sign of a good partner in a relationship.

Danielle and Howard-we are so honored to be here today as you celebrate your upcoming marriage. As lawyers, both of you understand how to argue from the perspective of your client-and you do this on opposite sides of the aisle. However, as a couple you are on the same team. We know that through communication and working together you will conquer any challenges that you face in this roller-coaster and obstacle course that we call life. Always remember the love you share and the way you care about one another, letting that shine through. Howard-it doesn’t hurt to keep in the back of your head the following mantra: My wife is always right.

Mazal Tov on your aufruf and upcoming wedding. To crystallize the joy we feel about this celebratory event, please turn to the handout in your Shabbat sheet which we will read responsively.

[1] Exodus 9:27

[2] 2 Samuel 12:13

[3] Genesis 38:26

Joseph The Tzadik

What makes Joseph a tzadik? Certainly it is not being a braggadocio or a tattletale. Even Nehama Leibowitz writes such “overweening pride and self-importance [seems] remote indeed from the conception of righteousness implicit in the title.”

According to most sources, Joseph becomes a tzadik when he refused to sleep with Potiphar’s wife. Yet is this really the low bar we set for a tzadik, that he refuses to commit adultery? After all, he doesn’t know that Potiphar’s wife will fabricate a lie leading him to Egyptian prison!

Rather, Joseph is described as a tzadik because he sees G-d (אלהים) in every fabric of his life. Before he is sold into Egyptian slavery, G-d has no part in Joseph’s narrative. It is all “You bow down to me.” The first time G-d appears is when Joseph resists Potiphar’s wife, as he says “How could I do this most wicked thing and sin before G-d?”[1]  G-d next is mentioned when Joseph is imprisoned with the butler and the baker, when Joseph says “Surely G-d can interpret! Tell me your dreams.”[2] The third time is in next week’s reading (Miketz) with Pharaoh, when Joseph says, “Not I! G-d will see to Pharaoh’s welfare.”[3] In fact, G-d is mentioned by Joseph five times in that story as the source of Joseph’s power in dream telling. The fourth time is when Joseph’s brothers come down to Egypt, accused of being spies, and Joseph says “Do this and you shall live. For I am a G-d fearing man. If you are honest men, let one of your brothers be held in your place in detention while the rest of you go and take home rations for your starving households; but you must bring me your youngest brother, that your words may be verified and that you may not die.”[4] It is only after this that any of the other brothers mentions the name of G-d. The final time G-d is mentioned by Joseph is two weeks from today (VaYigash) when he says “Do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me here; it was to save life that G-d sent me ahead of you.”[5] He repeats similar words twice in the next three verses.

Elie Wiesel sees Joseph is crowned tzadik because he ultimately forgave his brothers for selling him into slavery and compassionately helps his family move to Egypt during a time of famine in Canaan. Joseph succeeds in vanquishing his bitterness and turns it into love. What does all this mean?” Wiesel asks. “That one is not born a Tzadik; one must strive to become one. And having become a Tzadik, one must strive to remain one.”

Recently I was on a panel for teens at Temple Beth Am, representing the Conservative Movement. To the left of me sat a Reform colleague and to the right a Chabad rabbi. The Chabad rabbi began his remarks by talking about how everything is predetermined and happens for a reason. A Reform colleague there said at the end of the remarks that she does not believe that. I generally side closer to my Chabad colleague but not this week. As I prepare to do a funeral for a baby who passed away at 2 days old, I think why did G-d allow this to happen? And then I think there is no lesson to be learned in the death of one so young, so helpless, so full of the potential for a full life of goodness and blessing. Joseph’s dreams might have come true but what about the dreams of these parents? He might be a Tzadik in seeing G-d’s hand in everything, in (as the Hasidim teach) bringing the heavens down towards the earth. I am no such Tzadik-I can’t see G-d’s hand in this and it would be Hutzpah to even try. Perhaps Joseph has a gift of intuition that I do not and probably will never possess, or perhaps he is too sure of himself for his own good.

Early this week I gave my secretary “The Birth of Joseph” by my grandmother, Lucille Frenkel z”l. I will conclude with another of her poems, “The Weeping.”

Joseph stands, with past unspoken,

Recalling how he lived heartbroken

Through long years of misery,

Through the years of slavery,

Wherein his sufferings were great,

Wherein he fought the thoughts of hate,

But where he learned to understand

The mood and modes of differing men.

Though many times he tasted shame,

The shame, the pain of slavery,

Joseph was conscious should he blame

Others for their treachery,

So would his soul turn bitterly

Away from God.


And Joseph, he had faith in God.

And Joseph, he believed in prayer.

Young Joseph, Jacob’s most loved son,

This Joseph, he believed in God.

Thus Joseph strongly clung to faith,

And through God’s mercy and God’s grace

He did survive from depths of pit,

He did survive and stay alive

To thrive, to prosper, and grow wise,

And rise to status where

He was now Pharaoh’s governor

Who held decision and command

Of all the grain of Egypt’s land.


Now, mighty Joseph stands and hears

His long-lost brothers’ plea for food

In Hebrew tongue well understood.

A cool aloofness masks his tears.

He hides those tears which well his eyes,

And speaks to brethren no replies,

But turns, departs with no word spoken-

His paining and his ache unspoken,

His yearning and his love unspoken.

And in a room of solitude,

A flood a tears flows from his eyes.

There, only, is the silence broken

By soft sob, as Joseph cries.[6]

[1] Genesis 39:9

[2] Genesis 40:8

[3] Genesis 41:16

[4] Genesis 42:18-20

[5] Genesis 45:5

[6] Lucille Frenkel, “The Weeping: Comment on Genesis XLII Lines 1 Thru 24 (Milwaukee, WI: The Eternity Press, 1980).

Don’t Lose Sight of Who You Are

It’s so wonderful to see families together today, on the holiest day of the year. Part of what makes the holidays so special and so meaningful is everyone being here. Please know you always have a place here at Bet Shira Congregation.

Where were you the morning of October 27, 2018? I will never forget that date, just like I will never forget September 11, 2001, and just like many here will never forget November 22, 1963.

On October 27, I was in California, interviewing for a position. I was with Karina, 30 weeks pregnant, and our daughter Ariela. I drove into the synagogue parking lot at 9:45 am PST, or 12:45 pm EST. I was greeted by the Search Committee Chair and three committee members. The Search Chair asked me, “Did you hear what happened in Pittsburgh?” “No,” was my reply. I had been to Pittsburgh once, for the Forensics Nationals in Student Congress. I loved exploring the city via light rail with one of my best friends but did not know it other than that sole experience.

The Search Chair said, “Let’s go into another room.” I was brought into a separate room and told that someone had gone into Etz Chaim, Tree of Life Synagogue, and shot what at that time was known to be 8 people.

I had 5 minutes to come up with an address to the congregation, to a Past President from Pittsburgh who did not know if his friends from Tree of Life were alive. It was Rabbi Alan Lew’s This is Real and You Are Completely Prepared. Words Fail, Words Fail, There is Nothing I Can Say.[1] On one foot, I did the best I could to respond to this unprecedented event at the start of services. I was in shock, unable to believe that such an atrocity had occurred. I was told that my words were well-received but to be honest I have forgotten what I said. I only reviewed the livestream record once since, 6 months later. What I will never forget is what I felt: anger. How dare someone come into a house of worship and murder people! My daughter Ariela loves the synagogue and can’t wait to come up and say Eyn Keloheinu. How dare someone, who if I wasn’t in synagogue, I’d have some choice words for, violate this sacred space!

Later on I learned that I knew the Rabbi/Cantor of the synagogue from a professional development course I took. I also learned that my rabbinical school roommate had grown up at New Light Synagogue, one of the three synagogues which had space in the Tree of Life complex, as his father was the rabbi there.

Six months later my mother-in-law is visiting from San Diego at the end of Passover. My phone is on in part because I have a panic button app that when pressed would put this call at the top of the list. We are enjoying lunch when I see a news alert about a shooting at Chabad of Poway-25 minutes away from where my mother-in-law lives. At afternoon services to conclude Passover I go up to a congregant who has a home in Poway and ask, “Did you hear what happened in Poway?” “No,” was her response. I go with her into a separate room and tell her. I make the mistake of not having her sit and she falls forward, my hands helping prevent her from hitting the ground. With tears in her eyes, she tells me about a friend who goes to Chabad of Poway-what if she was the one shot?

This past year we have witnessed a shooting at the Young Israel of Bal Harbour, a short drive from here. We saw graffiti on a synagogue in Racine, 45 minutes from where I grew up. We saw a synagogue in Duluth burnt to the ground and antisemitic attacks in Brooklyn. We also saw an abhorrent cartoon of Netanyahu and Trump printed in the international edition of the New York Times, a hooked-nose Jew sign at a university in Belgium as well as hearing a US representative make the comments “It’s all about the Benjamins, baby” and “Israel has hypnotized the world.” These incidents reveal an inconvenient truth: antisemitism is rearing its ugly head stronger and stronger within the public sphere.

At Bet Shira we offered two active shooter workshops, one for the Board and leaders, the other for the entire congregation, so that we can be prepared if G-d forbid an attack strikes us.

I want to read you a poem I wrote after the shooting at Tree of Life, published in the book Holding Fast edited by Rabbi Menachem Creditor. This poem is entitled “A Tree of Life.”

As I look in my newborn daughter’s eyes

I recognize the preciousness of her life.

She did not arrive when we planned

That only intensified the light she brought us.


We are a people who value life

Life is always stronger than death.

Life is not an accident to be squandered

Rather it is G-d’s most precious gift.


Those who take the lives of others

Will not see their designs bear fruit.

Our Torah is a Tree of Life

Bringing vitality to all who hold fast to it.


As I look into my newborn daughter’s eyes

I see the gift of new life

She has already brought so much light and vitality

A Hanukkah blessing for our entire family.


I know that while her body is fragile

She has an inner strength.

We are fragile after Pittsburgh

Yet we have an inner strength.


Our love for Judaism only deepens

After someone tries to scare us.

My love for my daughter only increased

After being scared by her early birth.


Let us always remember

Love is stronger than hate.

Those who seek to destroy who we are

Will only make us stronger.[2]


Conclusion Similar to What I Said Wednesday: How do we fight antisemitism? Bari Weiss has an excellent book with this title. I encourage you to read it. For today I want to end the High Holy Days where I started: with my grandmother, Lucille Frenkel z”l. My grandmother never knew a word of Hebrew, ironic since she was married to an Israeli. She always came to Shabbat morning services 15 minutes early, at 8:45 am, a habit I am still working on emulating. She read word by word in the English, often not finishing the Preliminary Service. I would tell her, “Grandma, there’s more parts of the service” yet she would only read from the beginning word by word, the essence of Kavanah.

My grandmother and I were talking one day. I was either comparing myself to another, or kvetching/complaining. She turned to me and said, “You don’t know who you are.” Harsh but in retrospect true. I did not know who I was and have since worked hard to figure out the person I am meant to be.

That’s the lesson I want each of us to take from the antisemitism occurring. They are trying to scare us, to get us to abandon our way of life, to make us afraid to go into a synagogue. As Elphaba in Wicked said, “Don’t lose sight of who you are.” Don’t let them win by changing who you are. Be proud to be Jewish, however you personally demonstrate that in your life. We fight antisemitism by being steadfast and unyielding in who we are.


Conclusion Written Before Wednesday: What can we do in the face of rising antisemitism? Bari Weiss, in her book How to Fight Antisemitism, writes “we are living in an era in which the lunatic fringe has gone mainstream,”[3] and she means it for both those on the left and on the right. She gives over 20 ways in which to fight antisemitism. I am just going to just mention 9 of them. First Weiss says to Tell the truth. Rather than looking for rationalizations to explain away the hatred, we need to call a spade a spade. As Weiss says, we need to “call it out, especially when it’s hard.”[4] When things are difficult, when those around us spew hateful rhetoric, that’s when we need to be sure to call it out rather than ignoring it. We need to respond directly and in the moment. Antisemitism is not some abstract concept ‘out there’; it is in the here-and-now and must be addressed.

The second test of Weiss’ is to Trust Your Discomfort. If something does not seem right, we need to ask questions. This occurred to me a few weeks ago when a gentleman with a backpack was on the balcony. While it turned out to be the A/C guy, I did not know and so it behooved me to ask questions rather than assume that everything was alright. Weiss writes “most of us actually underplay the discomfort we deal with, eager to put on a good face, to blend in with our neighbors, keen not to play the victim. This rule is a simple one: Don’t wait.”[5]

A third principle of Weiss’ that I chose to discuss is Don’t trust people who seek to divide Jews. Even if they are Jews.[6] When Jews are accused of being disloyal for being affiliated with a particular political party, this comes into question.  We always need to be wary of trusting people, in particular trying to assess their motivations, or if there are ‘strings attached.’

This would not be a Yom Kippur sermon if we did not end on a positive note. Weiss has three positive precepts I want to mention: Allow for the possibility of change (“teshuvah”); Notice your enemies, but more importantly notice your friends; Praise those who do the right thing (what we call positive-reinforcement); Expect solidarity; Stop blaming yourself; and Choose life.

Rabbi Angela Buchdal of Central Synagogue, said the following in her Rosh Hashanah sermon last year:

Journalist Yair Rosenberg, recently said to me, “Fight antisemitism

where you are. Not just when it’s politically expedient. It’s more credible– and more effective.”
To fight antisemitism, we must also resist our understandable desire to leave when we feel we are not wanted. It is not easy to sit at the table or engage when we feel under attack–
but we must stay in it

So let us stand up for ourselves, let us stand against hatred of all kinds, and let us stand for the human capacity to change. This is who we are.[7]

The word Yizkor from the word “Zachor” means to remember. We need to remember those who came before us, their lives and their legacies, and internalize in some way their life’s teachings. Many of our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents, as well as many people in this very room, endured pogroms and that shonda known as the Shoah, the Holocaust. Many here have endured antisemitic attacks at the workplace or on the streets. I’ll never forget the handful of times antisemitic comments were made to me in Milwaukee as well as the thinly veiled antisemitism I encountered in New York. Yet those who came before us had an unabashed pride in who they are. They did not let the bullies and the haters change them. They remained proud members of our people.

Yom Kippur, the day on which we focus on the spiritual, is the perfect day to connect with those who are no longer physically present; remembering their touch, their words and actions of kindness, all that they sought to achieve in life. We seek to observe our lives in the way that they taught us: with integrity, honesty, kindness, confidence, pride in who we are, perseverance through life’s challenges and having the strength of our convictions. Through reconnecting with our loved ones today, we set the stage for living life to the fullest, giving our all to make our parents, our grandparents, our spouses, our siblings proud of our accomplishments.


As we prepare for another Yizkor, I pray that each of us takes a moment to deeply connect with those who are no longer physically present in our lives, to remember their touch, their smile, their words of inspiration, the memories shared over the years. I hope that more than anything we will internalize the pride in who they were and for what they did for us in order to enable us to reach this day, and that we will pass the pride we feel in our heritage onto the next generation. Through Yizkor on this holiest day of the year, we rekindle their spirit and reunite with them-keeping their presence with us. This is not meant to be easy to achieve-there may be tears, frustration or sadness upon recalling one taken before his/her time or when we hoped for so many more special moments together. However, on Yom Kippur we have an opportunity to get as close as possible to the ones who came before us, who taught us values and ethics, who modeled for us how to live our lives. Let’s take a moment during Yizkor to close our eyes, taking a deep breath, letting our thoughts go, and deeply connect with our loved ones. I encourage everyone to stay in for Yizkor, even if you have not lost a parent, so that we

I will conclude with Bari Weiss’ words at the end of an article she wrote for the New York Times.

Our neighbors understood that an attack on the Jewish community was an attack on them, too. That the entire community recited the Mourners Kaddish — and that The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette ran the words in Hebrew on the front page — was further evidence that what was being protected by our fellow Americans, wasn’t simply our right to exist. It was our right to lead unashamed, full Jewish lives. Which meant that they could do the same.[8]

[1] Dear Evan Hansen, “Words Fail”

[2] Holding Fast

[3] Bari Weiss, How To Fight Antisemitism (New York: Crown, 2019), pg. 23.

[4] Ibid, 171.

[5] Ibid, 170.

[6] Weiss, 174.

[7] Rabbi Angela Warnick Buchdal, “Yom Teruah: Sounding the Alarm for Antisemitism,” Rosh Hashanah 5779/2018, Central Synagogue


[8] Bari Weiss, “To Fight Anti-Semitism, Be a Proud Jew,” https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/opinion/sunday/anti-semitism.html?searchResultPosition=1