The other day, I was listening to an episode of This American Life titled “Save the Girl,” documenting all sorts of crazy stories of people swooping in to save damsels in distress, when I heard the most unbelievable story. Yong Xiong grew up in Laos, part of the ethnic Hmong minority. A few years ago, she met the man of her dreams at a New Year’s party. They fell in love. They decided to get married. Because the love of her life is a naturalized US citizen living in Minneapolis, their love story involved lots of government appointments and official paperwork. After months and months of proving their relationship, filing all of the correct forms, and waiting for the appropriate government officials to grant them permission, Yong received a fiancé visa and found herself on a plane to meet her beloved.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/believe-me-when-i-tell-you-who-i-am/
When I was still swiping for dates, I had a strict no-fisherman policy. Any time I saw someone posed with a large, freshly caught fish, I swiped no. No matter how cute they were, no matter how smart or Jewishly engaged, I was convinced there was no way I would ever fall in love with someone who liked to torture small, scaly animals for sport.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/go-fish/
Sergei Rachmaninoff was arguably one of the best pianists ever. He was a virtuoso, with giant hands that could easily grasp complex harmonies and move with lightning speed up and down the keyboard. He was not only a performer but also a compositional genius; he could coax the most nuanced sounds from the piano. Maybe because his own internal landscape was filled with dramatic ups and downs, or maybe just because of his musical brilliance, he had a special ability to write music that creates emotional experience.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/piano-concertos-and-prophecy/
Growing up, my Aunt Vanessa was my hero. Whenever we saw her, it seemed like she was just coming back from some herculean triathlon or from an epic marathon through the Colorado mountains. She was fearless. Every year, she would take us to the amusement parks and would gladly ride all the scariest rides with my sister and younger cousin. (I never had the guts to join them.)
In the kitchen, she had this sixth sense. She could coax the most incredible flavors out of fresh ingredients and made the most gourmet foods with seeming ease. And she was super mom. She went back to school as she was mothering her first child and pregnant with her second. And even though she was running around with her son all day and just studying at night, she graduated with honors, first in her class, and went on to become a stellar labor and delivery nurse. She would wake up before the sun and spent her days at the hospital, helping women to find their own strength and capacity to bring new life into the world. It wasn’t long before Vanessa was asked to teach nursing and to mentor new nurses as they began their careers.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/shavuot-the-spiritual-assignment/
Ugandan Human Rights Activist, Qwin Mbabazi, Celebrates One Year of Political Asylum in Boston. Join Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz and Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger as they sit down with Qwin who shares her story of life as a LGBTQ activist in Uganda and how she found refuge in America. She was persecuted as a child because she was born left-handed in a culture where left-hand dominance is considered the work of the devil. She was persecuted as a teen and as a young adult because she was born gay in a country where being gay was legally a death sentence until 2013. Uganda remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be LGBTQ. And despite this persecution, Qwin had a clear sense of self and a clear sense of purpose from an early age.
Read the press release here: https://www.templeemanuel.com/in-the-news/temple-emanuel-fetes-ugandan-activists-year-of-political-asylum/
The story is told of the time that the Pope and the Prime Minister of Israel decided to deepen the relationship between the Vatican and the Jewish state by co-cohosting a friendly golf game that would be played by premier Catholic and Jewish golfers. The Pope invited Jack Nicklaus to be the Vatican representative. Jack Nicklaus is a devout Catholic and a great golfer. After the golf game, Jack Nicklaus goes to the Vatican to report.
Your Holiness, I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I played the best golf I have ever played. God was with me like never before. My play was inspired from above.
Then what is the bad news?
The bad news is that I lost by three strokes to Rabbi Tiger Woods.
Unfortunately, today, relations between Jews and the non-Jewish world are no laughing matter.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/linden-tree/
One day a fifth grader gets sent home from school for taking another student’s pencil. When he gets home, his father says why in the world would you take another student’s pencil?
We don’t steal in this family. Your mother and I have taught you better values than that. We expect more from you than that. From now on, if you need a pencil, just tell me. I’ll bring them home from the office!
This story is told by Dan Ariely, an Israeli, and a professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University who wrote a book with an evocative title: The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves.
Ariely argues that there is a creative tension within everyone of us. On the one hand, we want to be decent, honest human beings. We want to be mensches. That’s the father who wants to teach his child not to steal.
On the other hand, it is human nature to want more, which can lead us to get close to the line or to cross the line. When we cross the line, we rationalize our decisions in order to justify them. That’s the father taking pencils home from work.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/the-real-yous/
There is a preacher named T.D. Jakes, the pastor of a non-denominational megachurch in Dallas, who saw something in the book of Deuteronomy that I had never seen. It comes from Moses’ poetic speech in parshat haazinu, in which Moses observes nesher yair kino, a mother eagle stirs its baby eagles who are happily at rest in their nest. This is the climax of Moses’ life. This is the end of the Torah. This is Moses’ closing argument. Why is he talking about nests?
Pastor Jakes’ answer is that while nests are comfortable, that baby eagle cannot soar until it leaves the nest. This is not only a problem for baby eagles. It is a problem for all of us.
We love our nests. We love our safe spaces. We love our comfort zone. But comfortable can become too comfortable. Familiar can become too familiar. Safe and secure can become too safe and secure in ways that prevent us from soaring, from becoming who we are meant to become.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/pushed-and-pulled/
Four words. They are just four words. They make up a simple sentence. But how you say this sentence makes all the difference in the world.
What can I do? Emphasis on I. Meaning that I am so small, the world is so large. My energy is limited. The problems of the world are unlimited. What can I do? Not much. A recipe for contraction.
But then there is: What can I do? I cannot do everything. But I can do something. What can I do to make our world a little more decent. A recipe for doing something.
Which way do you say it? Are you a what can I do person? Or a what can I do person? What life are you living? What life do you want to live?
In the spirit of these questions, and in the week of San Diego and Yom Hashoah, I want to tell you two stories about a man named Rabbi Herschel Schacter who died six years ago at the age of 95. He never said what can I do? He made his troubled world a little more decent.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/in-the-wake-of-san-diego-what-can-i-do/
I want to name a problem that is very common, perhaps almost universal, but we don’t talk about it. If not now, at Yizkor, when?
It is the problem of recency. It looks like this. Your loved one was fabulous when he or she was in the full bloom of their life. And then, X years ago, they faced a serious health challenge.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/the-problem-of-recency/
When I used to sing competitively, I remember there was always this moment. I would go with my vocal studio to various competitions, which they always held in some university auditorium far away. After months of practicing and preparing, we would pile 4 or 5 divas into a small beat up car for whatever number of hours it took to arrive at the competition location. In the car, we would be singing vocal warm-ups, or blasting out musical theater tunes, or perseverating about which song we should sing first. (The way these competitions work is that each singer gets to choose their first piece, and if they choose wisely and the judges like it, they can ask for additional songs.) And after the anxious ride, and a quick change of clothes and a dash to the stage, I remember the feeling walking out in front of those judges. If you were lucky, they would let you sing your first full song, and then another. Sometimes, a judge would interrupt with a curt “thank you” and then leave you worried about what they didn’t like it.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/half-hallel-our-passover-challenge/
Host Cantor Elias Rosemberg interviews pianist Constantine Finehouse on how he got started with the Temple Emanuel Chamber Music Concerts. Plus, listen to a sneak peak of some of the music that will be featured at our upcoming concert on May 5th.
Learn more about the event here https://www.templeemanuel.com/event/chamber-music-concert-series/2019-05-05/
I have a confession to make. I am a hopeless romantic. Starting when I was a little girl, I devoted endless hours to dreaming about what it would be like to meet my partner and fall in love and live happily ever after. I have journals from when I was 12 peppered with lists of what my ideal partner would be like because I was convinced that if I could imagine him clearly, he would appear.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/beyond-linens-n-things/
What a complicated time. Today is Shabbat Hagadol. We are supposed to prepare ourselves for the first seder next Friday night. But most of the big issues that one might discuss at our s’darim are even more fraught than usual.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/conviction-and-humility/
Help me finish this sentence. You cannot be any happier than…your least happy child.
The emotional life of a parent is deeply connected to the emotional life of their child.
Perhaps that is why there is such a thing as a helicopter parent.
Follow this link to view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/helicopters-teacups-and-swimmers/
At the beginning of chapter two in the megillah, the talented heroine of Purim is introduced by two names. In the words of the megillah:
[And he was the guardian of Hadassah, (that is, Esther) the daughter of his uncle] (sung)
Why did she have these two names? The midrash explains that Esther was born green. Literally. Her skin had a sallow, yellowish-green tone and for this reason, she was named Hadassah—myrtle. As a little one, she looked like the plant. But as she grew older, God made a miracle for her. God concealed her green skin and made it so that anyone who saw her experienced her as the most beautiful woman in the world. That’s why she was named Esther—Esther for hester—the Hebrew word meaning hidden.
The miracle of Purim is not just that Esther saved the day. The real miracle of Purim is that Esther found the courage to be herself no matter what.
Purim is over. Let’s take off our masks. No more Esther syndrome. It’s time to be you.
Every year the Oxford Dictionary comes up with a Word of the Year, a word that captures the ethos and mood of our time. For 2018 the word of the year is toxic. Toxic was used widely to describe our natural environment, relationships, culture, politics, the state of our national conversation.
The word of the year is toxic because all too often our world feels toxic.
Here is my question for you. If the world is toxic, do you have a counter world to which you can retreat where you feel safe and sound, seen and heard, loved and valued?
I recently saw a film, and read an article, that made me realize we have all won the lottery. No matter what issues or problems we have going on in our lives, and we all have issues or problems going on in our lives, we have still totally won the lottery. The holiday of Purim is not just fun for the kids, it is super relevant to adults because it deals with the very real and adult theme that luck happens and has a huge impact on our day to day lives. How should we respond to the importance of luck as an important driver of our lives?
Sometimes I feel like a spiritual hustler (and I don’t mean I daven quickly). I meet young people in bars and cafes and ask them questions about their Judaism. Questions like, “what do you love about being Jewish?” and “do you feel it is important to live a Jewish life?” But sometimes their answers catch me off-guard. So many young adults are living Jewish lives for other people in other times. We are so committed to safeguarding what we received that we’ve forgotten why Judaism exists in the first place—as a way for us to connect with God, with ourselves, and with our larger Jewish community.
I want to raise a large question with you today, which is this: Is knowing more better? Is knowing more facts about yourself, your history, your biology, your family history, better? In our reading this morning, the High Priest, the Kohein Gadol, keeps in a pouch above his heart an ancient device intended to discern God’s will on hard questions. It was called the Urim v’Tumim. Let’s say there were a vexing question the Israelites could not answer on their own. The Urim v’Tumim was an instrument of decision that only the High Priest could use that would enable him to ascertain God’s answer to this hard question. He kept this instrument in a pouch above his heart.
Namely: How should we think about the aspiration to be the greatest, the best? Is thinking this way, is dreaming this way, is acting this way, I want to be the best, healthy? What happens to our heart when we are focused on becoming the goat? I remember as a teen being drawn to the climactic line in the poem Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson. “To strive to seek to find and not to yield.” Is this a good thing? How does the goat beat the ram? With a lot of help from our friends. That is true for Tom Brady. That is true for all of us.
It was early in the morning. I had just sat down at my kitchen table with a cup of coffee, when I happened to look out the window and caught my breath. A deer stood there, ears erect, eyes darting around. I live in a condo in Boston, built along a busy street by VFW Parkway. Where did that deer come from? How does it spend its days? Is it always wandering between scraps of forest, pockets of grass and trees? Does it miss just running through the woods, without having to dodge cars and hide from people? Where does it go during the day? And as I pondered the deer’s predicament, I began to see the ways in which we are all like that deer. Our lives are hemmed in on all sides with work and obligations. So many of us wake up extra early to nibble at that patch of grass—the 5 minute meditation app, the chance to drink a cup of coffee sitting down, to read the paper—and then we’re off, darting from task to task until late at night.
When you see somebody do something that you do not understand–perhaps it is puzzling, perhaps it is more than puzzling, it might even be offensive to you–how are you supposed to think about and respond to this challenging conduct? Consider three vignettes. Read the full sermon here https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/their-battle-that-you-know-nothing-about/
I was recently speaking with my son Sam about a book he was reading that he was raving about. He said it was giving him so much to think about every day when he went to work and interacted with his colleagues. The book is Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter by Liz Wiseman.
Have you ever read a book that articulates a concept that you have never quite heard that way, but it totally captures reality? You say yes! O my God, yes! I never saw it before, but what she writes is so true. And helpful. It is going to help me take up my game!
Read the Sermon here: https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/becoming-a-multiplier/
We knew it was coming, this report from an expert who had been spending a lot of time investigating, but when it landed, it really hurt.
I am talking of course about the recent report that concluded that French fries are bad for you. According to Eric Rimm, a professor of nutrition at Harvard, French fries are, in his cruel phrase, “starch bombs.” He argues that French fries—even though they are made out of potatoes, and even though potatoes are a vegetable, that grows from the ground, and even though vegetables that grow from the ground are usually good for you—in the specific case of French fries, they are not so good for you.
Read the full sermon here: https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/after-the-crash/
There is a town in northern California called Paradise which was destroyed last month by fire. Ninety percent of Paradise residents lost their homes. What this meant for the people who lived in Paradise was brought home to me by an article I read about the Paradise High School football team.
Read the sermon here: https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/love-in-paradise/
Tomorrow night we will be singing the song of a man who died 28 years ago. Had he been alive, Leonard Bernstein would be 100 years old. However he died relatively young, at the age of 72. And yet, all these years later, we still think about Leonard Bernstein.
Which raises the question: do you have to be a musical genius for your song to play on after you are no longer here? Let’s say that you are an ordinary person who works and loves and lives and gives and passes, with no soundtrack attached to your name. Is it possible that 28 years after you pass people will still remember and celebrate you?
Read the full sermon here: https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/a-song-that-plays-on/