I want to tell you an odd story, not well known. I’ll call it the case of the missing mitzvah. The Hebrew Bible relates two cases when important mitzvot were lost to the Jewish people. Jews just stopped doing them, in one case for 40 years, in the other case for hundreds of years.
We have all been thinking a lot about Israel the last two weeks. I want to talk to you this morning about an Israel story, and a human story, that you won’t find in the papers. It is about a kiss.
It is a kiss that many of us will give, and many of us will receive, in our lives. It is a kiss that we about this past Tuesday, on Shavuot, in the Book of Ruth.
Madeline always loved to sing. As a teenager, she had a gorgeous voice, a two-and-a-half octave range, and the kind of creative artistry that made people swoon. She and her friends would sing along to Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Judy Garland, and she took the stage at every wedding and bar mitzvah she could. In high school, won an adult talent contest at the Adams Theater in Newark. On her way out, comedian Joey Adams told her that she “had a very good voice and…should pursue it.”
That dream was tempting....but Madeline’s family was struggling.
We’ve known this for a while, but suddenly the realization that you only live once has taken on a fierce urgency. The acronym YOLO, you only live once, was popularized by the rapper Drake in 2013, but as we are emerging from the pandemic YOLO has a new energy as a call to action. Last week New York Times writer Kevin Roose authored a piece entitled “Welcome to the YOLO economy” about how many millennial workers, as they emerge from the pandemic, want to make real changes to their lives because you only live once.
I want to tell you a story about a magic spoon. The story comes from a different time and place, the 1870s in a town in Romania called Stefanesti, where there was an illustrious Hasidic dynasty. The most famous of these Hasidic masters was Rabbi Avrohom Mattisyou Friedman, who became the Second Shtefaneshter Rebbe in 1869 and continued for 64 years. He was considered a hidden tzaddik who could effect miracles. The most famous of these miracle stories concerns a Hasid who comes to see the Rebbe because his daughter had typhus. She was desperately ill. She had very little time left. Rebbe, only a miracle can save her. What happens next is told in a history of this Hasidic dynasty:
I heard a story on NPR this week that kind of blew my mind. They were talking about how, since the start of the pandemic, requests for plastic surgery procedures have gone up something like 85%. Plastic surgeons shared that they are getting so many more requests that they have had to hire additional people just to field those phone calls. They are working overtime, late into the night, trying to accommodate everyone. And what is so interesting is they are getting requests for procedures that did not used to be so popular. People are looking to tighten their jawlines, adjust their nostrils, tighten their necks, and bodywork as well. And when people reach out, nine out of ten people share that they’re reaching out because of ZOOM. Because now that they’re on ZOOM all day long, they’re looking at their faces and they’re noticing the way they look when they talk, when they interact, when they work. They’re noticing places they never knew they wanted to improve.
You do not have to be Jewish to love Shtisel, the fabulous Netflix series about a Haredi family in Jerusalem. While this family is Haredi, their problems are human and universal. Anyone can relate to them. Season 3 was just released, and one vignette is so poignant it captures the complexity of saying Yizkor.
Shtisel, the family patriarch, has been a widower for seven years. One day he experiences heart pain. He calls the number of his kupat cholim, his medical network in Israel.
Again, while it’s about Israel, and the dialogue is in Hebrew, the story connects with any human anywhere who has ever been caught up in electronic phone hell and cold bureaucracy.
If you know teens who play hockey, you know how all important it is for them to get their time on the ice. That time is limited and hard to come by. Hockey parents are wont to drive their young hockey stars to the ice rink at 6 in the morning.
In a place like Seaforth, Ontario, the ice rink manager, Graham Nesbitt, had a quality problem. There was only one ice rink. But hockey in Canada is super popular. Far more kids want to play hockey than can comfortably skate in the city’s one rink. But Graham Nesbitt was committed to the idea that any teen who wants to skate can skate, and he would go out of his way to open up the rink early in the morning, to stay there and keep it open late at night, seven days a week. He would keep the rink open in the face of major snowstorms. When other businesses were closed, his ice rink was open for any young skater whose parents were willing to drive them through the storm to get extra ice time. Graham Nesbitt did not see his job as managing an ice rink but as nurturing teen athletes who dreamed of becoming hockey players.
Graham Nesbitt embodies a principle that is important to Judaism and eastern religions like Hinduism and Buddhism. The principle is what my sister Lee calls the law of the radiator. What you radiate comes right back to you.
How are you? We’re conditioned to answer, “Good,” “Fine,” “Okay,” or, perhaps if you are like me, “Thank God.” When we are in person and someone asks you this question, the response comes automatically – a habit, a construct of polite conversation. But from the comfort of your own home or wherever you are, behind the privacy of a screen, let me ask you again. And let me invite you to pause before you answer. How are you?
Tom Ammiano struggled in high school. A teenager in the late 50s, he was gangly and effeminate, with a high-pitched voice. Even though he wasn’t out of the closet, everyone knew that he was different, and they bullied him mercilessly for it. Back then, homophobia legally enforced. Same-sex partnerships were criminalized. Being gay was seen as a mental health issue, and one deserving of ridicule and scorn. Tom knew there was no universe in which he could be his full self.
Nevertheless, he tried to fit in.
This week a member of our community told me something that was so interesting, so unexpected, so profound, and so previously unknown to me, that I have been thinking about it pretty much non-stop ever since.
From our earliest childhood days, we read a story – told through multiple characters in multiple ways – which always follows the same orderly and optimistic script: a young girl falls in love with a doting prince, who whisks her off to a gleaming castle where she lives in luxury and attendant joy all the days of her life. The princess lives “happily ever after.”.....Except when she doesn’t.
One fine afternoon I was listening to Fresh Air on NPR, and the interview totally drew me in. Terri Gross was interviewing a woman who did something out of her ideals and idealism. It was self-sacrificing. It took her time, a lot of it. It exposed her to danger, a lot of it. What was so compelling to me about the interview was that she had to explain that her mother, herself a person of high ideals and idealism, objected to what her daughter did, for reasons of her own principle. In fact, the mother loathed what her daughter did, and told her so.
We have heard about IQ, the Intelligence Quotient, a measure of our intellectual capability – our book smarts. More recently, we came to understand the critical complementary role of EQ – Emotional Quotient, or people skills. Now there is a new Q on the block – AQ, Adaptability Quotient, our ability to adapt to unanticipated changes in the landscape of our lives. Boy, do we all need a hefty helping of AQ right now.
There is a lively tradition of debate as to how much of our IQ, EQ, and AQ are innate, and how much we can grow along any of these tracks.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-michelle-robinson/aq/
Laughter Really is the Best Medicine
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/laughter-really-is-the-best-medicine/
If I had to pick a word that captures the place where many of us find ourselves, that word would be stuck. S-t-u-c-k. Stuck.
We are stuck in winter. We’ve been through December’s cold, January’s cold, this past week’s storm. It’s early February, still cold, still icy. In previous years we might go somewhere warm. But not this year.
We are stuck in month 11 of the pandemic. While more people are beginning to get vaccinated, we still have such a long way to go. We are so far from Israel’s experience with vaccines. The wisest counsel that our wonderful health advisors give us is: be patient. We are in for a long ride, not clear how long, but long. We are stuck for longer than any of us wants living a pandemic life. We are stuck without places to go and things to do. A quiet and isolated Super Bowl, to go with all the other quiet and isolated holidays of this surreal year.
This past Tuesday night, erev Inauguration, in a cold classroom with the windows open, and the January wind coursing through, I decided to get a sense of how our seventh graders felt about America. So I gave each student a sheet of paper that had a prompt on it, and asked everyone to think about the prompt and write their response which they would then share.
The prompt was: “America is the greatest country in the history of the world.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Please explain your reasoning.
That prompt came from me, from my heart and soul. I grew up believing it. I went to college in the late 70s and early 80s, majoring in American history. After studying American history, I still somehow believed it. Shira and I brought three children into the world, and I believed it. And taught it to my children. I told Nat, Sam and Jordana many times, while they were under our roof, America is the greatest country in the history of the world–because it welcomes immigrants from all over the world.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…” In just a few words, Charles Dickens penned one of the most powerful and gripping opening lines in the history of literature. It is also, frankly, a questionable line. If you read the rest of the story, you will notice that A Tale of Two Cities does a glorious job capturing the grit and despair that Dickens describes as the “worst of times.” It is much harder to identify what makes it the best.
In the late 1990s, a young college student named Joshua Rothman caught the dot.com fever. So did two of his close friends. These three undergrads fancied themselves budding high- tech executives, entrepreneurs who were going to create some cutting-edge business in the new economy, sell it off for untold riches, and then do it again. They worked and worked, they hardly slept, and out of their dorm rooms they created an early version of an internet dating service and insurance business. Alas, having invested the better part of their college career in this business, the outfit that they hoped would buy it was not interested in it; they had no other suitors; they had bills they could not pay. It was their senior year in college, they were graduating, and their business dreams came to naught.
There is an amazing new sculpture on Commonwealth Avenue. Carved out of a tree trunk, in mid-stride is a magnificent runner confidently bounding up Heartbreak Hill. I pass him every day on my way to Temple Emanuel and am always struck by how he never seems to run out of energy. A little more than 10 years ago, I ran a marathon. Well, “run” is perhaps too generous a word. I jogged for a super-long time until I crossed the finish line in what I had hoped would be under six hours. To this day, I am still not entirely sure what possessed me to do this.
Every time I pass that tree trunk runner, I think back to my marathon. The tree trunk runner was carved to life in the middle of a global pandemic – at a time that the Boston Marathon has now been called off for a second season. The tree trunk runner is, by definition, rooted in place – stuck – on Heartbreak Hill, the hardest part of the route. Yet the sculptor filled him with eternal boundless positive momentum.
It is the Shabbat of Hanukkah, typically a time when we give and receive gifts. But this Hanukkah takes place in the tenth month of our pandemic. What is the right kind of gift to give in a pandemic?
In his book Morality, the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks contrasts the happiness that comes from the market with the happiness that comes from a moral dimension. When we try to find our happiness in the market, he puts it this way: we spend money we don’t have, on products we don’t need, for a happiness that won’t last. By contrast, the biblical and rabbinic traditions emphasize a moral dimension. Happiness is not what you buy or what you own. Happiness is what you do, living a moral life, being a force for good in the world.
We all know the old Jewish teaching that if you save a life, you’ve saved a world. We all know that each human on this earth is created in God’s image. We are all holy. And yet, all too often we forget the magic, the unique brilliance of every person around us. All too often, we see people only for the functions they perform in our lives. We see grocery delivery people and mail carriers, we see clerks and landscapers, we see employees and teachers, but we forget that within each person is a whole world of wisdom, life experiences, and love.
Today I want to share with you the story of someone you may have seen but may not have seen.
Drake Thadzi was born in 1964 in Lilongwe, Malawi. The country had just been liberated from British rule and was settling into a new totalitarian state led by President Bandas which would last for the next thirty years. There were death squads that would kill dissidents and everyday citizens had to carry id cards to prove their affiliation with the proper political party before they could ride the bus or access groceries. Drake’s mother was murdered in front of his eyes and he became a fighter out of necessity. At that time, boxing wasn’t a sport, it was a survival tactic.
When Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks passed away earlier this month, he was arguably the most impactful English-speaking rabbi in the modern world: prolific, profound, patient, persuasive, powerful. His words of Torah touched and transformed countless lives.
If anyone was born to be a rabbi, it was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks – though to hear him tell it, becoming a rabbi, let alone the spiritual guide of a generation, was not his plan.
In an interview this past summer with Tim Ferriss, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks tells a story about himself as a young 20-something. Young Jonathan thought he would grow up to be an accountant or a lawyer. The year, he says, was “1968, when Simon & Garfunkel were counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike and they’ve all come to look for America. In 1968,” he shared, “the end of my second year at university, at 20 years old, I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know much about Judaism, about religion, but I do know there are lots of distinguished, distinguished rabbis.’ And so I decided…to take a plane to the States and buy a Greyhound bus ticket — a hundred dollars, unlimited travel…I went around looking for America and counting the rabbis. Not the cars. And I met lots and lots of terrific rabbis.”
The great preacher in Atlanta, Andy Stanley, has recently given a series of sermons about a topic that is always relevant, especially now. What happens, he asks, when it is what it is, and what is isn’t great. You don’t love it, but you are stuck with it.
Your marriage is what it is. Your health is what it is. Your kids are what they are. Your financial situation is what it is. Your job is what it is. There can be so many areas in our life where it’s not great. We are not loving it. But there is no clear way to change it. No easy way to get out of it. What do you do?
That universal problem has a particular application in month nine of the pandemic, when the number of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are all soaring— and all of us are suffering from Covid fatigue, social isolation and numbing routine. Our Thanksgiving this year is what it is: small, different, disconnected, not like any other Thanksgiving.
When life is what it is, when Covid is what it is, how do we think about it, what do we do about it?
Today, I want to share the story of a woman who stood in the shadows of history, but whose vision, whose courage, whose convictions have paved the way for generations. We always talk about Ruby Bridges. We never talk about her mother.
Lucille Commadore Bridges, who passed away this week at the age of 86, grew up in Tylertown, Mississippi. She was the daughter of sharecroppers and dreamed of a world where she could learn and grow and become everything she was meant to be. But that world was not her world, and though her parents dreamed of a better life for her, reality limited her opportunity. After the eighth grade, she was forced to leave school so that she could help her parents in the field. She grew up, hemmed in by Jim Crow and blatant racism. She became a housekeeper, married a mechanic, and saved away her dreams for her children.
Paradoxically, it turns out that we are the United States of America after all.
United in our insomnia. Both Republicans and Democrats report not being able to get a decent night’s sleep.
United in our fear. Both parties fear that if the other candidate wins, the very future of our nation is endangered.
United in our alienation from national unity. However you voted, the reality is that about half the country voted for the other candidate. United in not getting that fifty percent.
United in living with a pit in our stomach.
United in handling all this stress not well. We eat too much. We drink too much. We perseverate too much.
The United States of America. United in our dividedness. United in our 50-50 split.
In the face of this division, I want to raise a single question. For each person listening, here is the question: what can I do, what can I personally do right now, to make this grim situation a little better?
In her classic study of presidential leadership entitled Leadership in Turbulent Times, Doris Kearns Goodwin observes that Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Lyndon Baines Johnson all shared something in common: each fell into a deep depression years before they became president, and each was able to recover to the point that they could become and function as president.
In our fast and furious news cycle with so many historic moments of upheaval and anxiety covered every day, in the middle of this past week came a report that was different from all the rest. Instead of division and despair, it noted that the current Pope had said supportive words about the LGBTQ community. “They are children of God and have a right to a family,” Pope Francis said. “Nobody should be thrown out or be made miserable because of it.” He continued, “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."
This was instantly met with backlash both from conservatives who railed at what they saw as a betrayal of Church doctrine, like Father Gerald Murray of New York, who said, “Pope Francis has overstepped his bounds,” and from liberals – too little too late.
Our Torah reading today is loaded with characters who get lots of press: God creating the heaven and the earth; Adam and Eve and the serpent in the garden of Eden; Cain and Abel. All these stories are well known. But the character who speaks most powerfully to us now, in our time—in month eight of the pandemic, in the last month before an epochally divisive election—the person who has the most to say to us now is the one person most of us have never heard of. His name is Seth.
Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel. But Cain killed Abel. If we pause here, and take this epoch narrative seriously, imagine what it would be like to be Adam and Eve, the parents of this murderously dysfunctional sibling pair. One child is dead, murdered by your other child. The other child has blood on his hands and is sent away by God nah v’nad b’aretz, to wander the world.
Growing up, Ann Patchett dreamed of becoming one thing, and one thing only, a writer. “I wrote and read and read and wrote, ” she observes in the current edition of The New Yorker. She didn’t like sports. She didn’t like clubs. She didn’t like socializing. She liked books, reading them and learning how to write them. She fulfilled her dream. Her many books, like Bel Canto and The Dutch House, have become both critical and commercial successes.
Yet for all her acclaim as a writer, her father Frank never believed in her as a writer, and told her so, explicitly, painfully, and repeatedly.
On Tuesday, Solomon and I spent hours lugging wood and trellises up three flights of stairs to assemble the frame of our sukkah on the roof. At the end of the day, I asked Solomon to take a picture of me, in between the walls of our sukkah, in a power pose. I sent the picture to our family with the caption “we did it!”
דִּבְרֵי֙ קֹהֶ֣לֶת בֶּן־דָּוִ֔ד מֶ֖לֶךְ בִּירוּשָׁלִָֽם׃
On Sukkot, we read Kohelet and Kohelet has a lot to say here.
On Wednesday, I woke with a start. An ominous crash sounded on our roof. I catapulted out of bed, imagining that our sukkah had collapsed or was about to blow off the roof to cause who knows what damage. I ran up to the roof in my pajamas, dodging the plants that had toppled in the wind. Our sukkah was still standing, but barely.
A while back I was searching my bookshelf for Viktor Frankl’s “Man’s Search for Meaning,” a philosophical masterpiece from the Holocaust era that has shot up Amazon’s bestseller list, a balm for our pandemic world. Frankl’s most profound point? That the answer to the question, “What is the meaning of life?” is, “To make meaning."
I love the book. I needed the book. I know I have the book; my copy is dog-eared from repeated reading. But I couldn’t find the book.
As I searched high and low, an entirely different book jumped out at me. Its spine read, “Not Quite What I Was Planning.” If ever there were a phrase that captured where we are right now, that would be it! I would wager there are not many of us who can say, “Yes, this is exactly where I thought I would be come Sukkot.”
When I first heard the story of Thom Brennaman, I knew that I had to talk about it on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of our year. Thom Brennaman has something to teach everyone of us.
Thom Brennaman was a sportscaster who called Major League Baseball games for 33 years. There are a 162 games in a Major League Baseball season, and at least nine innings per game. Thom Brennaman therefore called at least 48,114 innings of baseball over 30 years, not counting the many games that went into extra innings. He had a special relationship with the Cincinnati Reds, whose games he started calling 14 years ago. His connection with the Reds was generational. His father Marty Brennaman had also called games for the Reds, and the son took over the mantle when his father retired, m’dor l’dor.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/your-final-chapter-not-your-finest-chapter/
It was right after Erev Rosh Hashanah services that I heard the news. Ruth Bader Ginsburg had died. Erev Rosh Hashanah. Happy. New. Year.
I wanted to cry and scream and panic all at once. My throat constricted. My breathing hitched. Tears threatened to burst from my eyes.
I was heartbroken. And I was furious.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/for-the-sin-of-being-an-arrogant-sheep/
December 30, 1983 was a freezing cold day in New York City. On that day a New York firefighter named Eugene Pugliese was fixing a broken pipe in SoHo. Just then a man comes running up the street shouting that there was a fire. Pugliese follows him, running towards the fire as fast as he possibly can. The firefighter can see that an apartment building is on fire. Smoke is billowing out from the sixth floor. He runs inside the building. Is anyone here? Is anyone here? He can see that an artist’s studio is engulfed in flames. Pugliese sees a woman crying hysterically. My baby! My baby! My baby is in the fire.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/infinite-good/
With four children schooling from home last spring, people would often ask me how things were going at our house. I would smile and reply, “It’s one part Little House on the Prairie, one part Lord of the Flies.”
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-michelle-robinson/lord-of-the-flies/
If you had to pick the single most essential personal quality to be working on right now, what would it be? Let me place this question in a context by sharing three recent conversations.
One was from a beloved long-time member who really misses coming to services on Shabbat morning. She misses it so much that she has counted exactly how many Shabbatot it has been since she was last in shul. At the time we spoke, she had not been in shul for 25 Shabbatot.
A second was from a wonderful couple that told me how much they used to love the energy of coming back to services on Rosh Hashanah. They have had the same seats, in the same pews, near the same friends, for years. It just won’t be the same this year, they observed.
A third was with a high school parent who shared their teen-age daughter, upon hearing that the Newton high schools will be all virtual this year, lamented that her high school experience has been, in her words, “ruined.” She points to all the things that she used to do, has not done since March and will now not be able to do again for a full year, including not seeing her friends every day. Hence her dark verdict, ruined, and her father is at a loss for how best to love her through it.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/stamina-when-you-are-in-the-shadows/
100% of us share the same problem. 100% of us will be experiencing the same problem next week on Rosh Hashanah. 100% of us experience the same problem in different ways every day. Here is the problem. I’ll use the language of the High Holidays. When God calls on Abraham, Abraham says: Hineni. I am here. Our problem is, how do we say I am here, when I am not here?
How does the Newton North or Newton South high school student say I am here for their new school year, when they are not here? The learning is remote.
How does your college sophomore or junior say I am here for my college experience, when they are not here? They are in their high school bedroom.
How do you say I am here for my office or workplace environment when there is no office or workplace environment?
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our websitehttps://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/block-out-to-dial-in-a-strategy-for-hineni-in-the-age-of-covid/
The new NFL season begins next week. For the first time in 20 years, Tom Brady will not be playing for the New England Patriots. He will be playing for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If you are not a football fan, here is some background. Tom Brady is widely regarded as GOAT, the Greatest quarterback Of All Time. In a league in which most players play a short time, get injured, and are replaced by a younger, healthier player—NFL stands for Not For Long—he has played 20 years and counting. In a league set up to promote parity, where every team has the chance to win the Super Bowl, and no one team is supposed to dominate year after year, Brady has led the team to an unrivaled dynasty. In his 20 years, he has led the Patriots to 17 playoffs, 13 Division titles, 9 Super Bowl appearances, 6 Super Bowl victories. His sustained excellence over two decades is literally without precedent. But instead of retiring as a Patriot, or playing another year for our team, he is going to start for another team. And my question is: how should we regard that?
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/ours-for-now-not-forever/
I want to talk to you about something that is very pleasant and productive at the same time. You hear a lot about it from creative types, from artists, singers, composers, writers, athletes—but it is not limited to these fields. It is the feeling of having flow. F-l-o-w. Here is how having flow is defined by dictionary.com:
In positive psychology, a flow state, also known colloquially as being in the zone, is the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.
When you have flow, when you are in the zone, you are doing something that you are really good at, something that you have been trained to do, something that evokes the 10,000 hours Malcolm Gladwell taught us it takes to get really proficient at our chosen craft, and you are gushing forth with your creativity. The hours go by. Time melts away. You don’t even notice. The writer writes, the pianist plays, the singer sings, the athlete competes, and before they know it, several hours have passed.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/flow/
I am about to violate three cardinal rules of giving sermons. One: Don’t talk about sin. That’s too old-school. Two: Don’t talk about punishment. That’s too draconian. Three: Don’t talk about God. That goes whoosh, over peoples’ heads. Too many folks are not God people.
So in view of those three cardinal rules, here is my question: Do you believe in a God who punishes you for your sins?
Why bring up this heavy topic now, on a late August summer weekend? Two reasons.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/do-we-believe-in-a-god-who-punishes-us-for-our-sins-a-question-for-the-elul-of-covid-19/
In our American milieu, we pride ourselves on individualism. We believe in the power of the American dream—the ability of every person to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, to make of themselves something great. Because we believe so much in the power of every individual, we tell stories of success as if each person were fighting against the current of the world, we talk about how they did this and thought that. Rarely do we remember to include in their stories the people that helped them along the way.
It’s true that each one of us has the potential to live our American dream. But that dream doesn’t just come because we’ve got talent or because we work hard. More often than not, our dreams come true because there are people in our lives who care about us and support us, and who help us to open the doors to our future.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/whats-cooking/
I want to speak to you today from the heart about something that is very important to me, I care a lot about it, yet I have never before in 23 years spoken about it from the bimah: BDS, the movement to boycott, divest and sanction Israel, the movement to single out Israel, from among all the nations in the world, not China, which imprisons its Muslim minorities, not Turkey, which stifles its dissenters, not any of the number of countries where being gay is a capital offense, but BDS focuses only on the Jewish state for special boycott, divestment, and sanctions. BDS does not say boo, does not raise a peep, about all these countries that violate basic human rights, but it saves 100% of its anger, 100% of its energy, only for the Jewish state. Why is that? Is there some agenda here?
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/bds-boycott-divestment-and-sanction-of-only-one-state-the-jewish-state-hateful-ideas-have-hateful-consequences/
The latest symbol of the American culture wars is a can of beans. In case you missed the political scuffle, last week Robert Unanue, the CEO of Goya Foods, the largest Hispanic owned company in the U.S., stood next to the President in the Rose Garden and declared his support.
The response was swift and severe: a massive outcry that took social media by storm with clips of Hispanic celebrities flushing Goya beans down their toilets, tweets of tutorials for how to hand-soak beans, calls to boycott Robert Unanue and Goya Foods for what he had said. No question of why he was there or what his words meant to him.
A similarly swift response came from the right – a “buycott.” No question of why so many were so hurt.
Boycott or buycott, one thing was clear. Goya had just taken center stage in what has become the template for how we in America engage with each other today – through what is colloquially called “cancel culture.” The concept of “cancel culture” is a political flashpoint, often attributed only to liberals on the left. But the truth is that both on the left and the right, we in America today are quick to “cancel” those with whom we disagree.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-michelle-robinson/cancel-culture/
Is it possible to be at peace in the middle of a pandemic?
Every morning we hear the grim statistics, how many infected, how many hospitalized, how many died. Every morning, these numbers keep growing. Is it possible to be at peace while hearing these numbers?
And while statistics convey one kind of truth, individual stories convey a deeper truth. Like the story of Charles Hiser. Charles Hiser was an 82-year old widower. He had been married to his beloved wife Shirley Mae for 43 years. When she passed, he was all alone. His main source of human connection was the Graystone Baptist Church in West Virginia. For several months, while the church was closed, he saw nobody. The only human contact he had was with his daughter who would drop off groceries and talk to him over the phone. At last his church reopened. He could not wait to get back. He chose not to wear a mask. He contracted the virus. He died. Is it possible to hear that story—the pathos of his loneliness, the urgency of his need to be with people, the tragic ending—is it possible to hear that story and somehow be at peace?
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/is-it-possible-to-be-at-peace-in-the-middle-of-a-pandemic/
In honor of the Fourth of July, I want to tell you a true story about our beloved nation in a hard season on its finest day.
Our story begins in Aleppos, Syria, where a young boy named Abdulkader Hayani left school at the age of 9 to learn the craft of tailoring. He got to be a master tailor and came to own his own tailor shop in Aleppo, overseeing six employees and ten sewing machines. But when the Syrian civil war began, Aleppo was reduced to ruins, and his tailoring business was no more.
Together with his family, Abdulkader Hayani fled to Jordan. They applied for refugee status to come to America. They wait and wait, in limbo, for five years. Finally they are given papers. They arrive—husband, wife, four young children—in 2017. Volunteers from Temple Beth Elohim help them settle into their new life: rented home in Framingham, child care, clothing, technology, job interviews, transportation, and navigating a whole new language and culture.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/pivot/
This week, I had the most interesting conversation with one of our now-7th graders. I asked her what advice she would give to incoming 6th graders about how to succeed in middle school. I thought she would say something about the importance of doing homework on time or paying attention in class; something she had learned which helped her academically. Instead, immediately and without hesitation she said, “sometimes it’s hard to fit in, but if you try really hard, maybe you can.”
Her answer pulled at my heartstrings. I remember that feeling, of being in middle school and knowing there was a crowd of cool kids I wasn’t a part of. I remember all the ways I contorted myself, thinking that if I behaved in this way or joined that club, then people would like me and I would fit in. I remember being bullied mercilessly. And with shame, I remember watching other kids being bullied and thinking Thank God for once it’s not me. The idea of doing something that would alienate me further from my peers was horrifying. And while that fear has quieted over the years, that little inner 6th grader is still very much a part of me.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/lessons-from-a-6th-grader/
Since the murder of George Floyd, I have heard two voices from the members of Temple Emanuel.
By far the more common voice is moral outrage at the structural racial injustice that the murder of George Floyd revealed. I knew, but I didn’t know. I saw, but I didn’t focus. I should have done more. I am complicit. But now I am awakened. What books can I read? What films can I see? Where can I get an education around my own implicit bias? What can I do to help?
That is the first reaction, and the more common. In the last two weeks both Michelle and Aliza have delivered powerful sermons channeling and responding to this voice.
But there is a second voice as well. Less common. Often spoken with a bit of trepidation. Often framed with words like: Of course George Floyd’s murder was terrible. Of course racism is a problem. After these preliminary framings, there is always a but. But Black Lives Matter as a movement is anti-Israel. Many of the activists demanding racial justice are openly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel. Why can’t you be honest about black anti-Semitism? So today I would like to talk about black anti-Semitism.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/but-what-about-black-anti-semitism/
I want to speak to you today as a millennial.
As a millennial, people tell me I don’t understand—that problems take time to resolve, they take nuance, they take patience. But I know that just because things have been a certain way, doesn’t mean that’s how they need to stay. As a millennial, I know that often we do not have the luxury of time. If we want to make our world conform to our values, we may have to upset industries, we likely have to forge new paths, and we can’t always rely on the systems that existed for our parents and those before them. As a millennial, I know that often the greatest obstacle to the evolution of the planet is the common human aversion to change. As long as we are more attached to the certainty of what is known than the uncertainty of change, progress will remain elusive.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/time-to-drag-out-our-mattresses/
When the coronavirus first hit and schools around the world shut down, Israeli mother Shiri Kenigsberg Levi rose to internet stardom, sharing her displeasure with the world in a hilarious homeschool harangue. A few weeks later she was at it again – this time in honor of Mother’s Day, reflecting on the super-power of one word.
She begins: “I realized something that if not for the coronavirus I would not have paid attention to – that the children say one word without adding anything, and I already know what they need…Ema.” Mom.
“There’s this…‘E-maaah’ [deep voiced] which is a teenager who hasn’t eaten in 10 minutes and is already starving.”
“There’s this…‘EE-MAAAAHHHH!’ [annoyed]…which is a teenager who’s been fortressed in her room for fifty days…and one of her brothers dares to open the door for a second.”
She goes on for several minutes, sharing lots of ways “Mom” is called out in tones that any mother, in any language, immediately understands.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-michelle-robinson/somebodys-baby/
In the 70s, Walter Mischel began the experiment that we all know and love, and which became one of the most famous psychological experiments of all time. At the time, he wanted to explore the relationship between a child’s patience and ability to wait and their success later in life. To conduct the experiment, he sat four-year-old children in front of a marshmallow and told them they had a choice. They could eat the marshmallow right away, or, they could wait 15 minutes at which point they would receive an additional marshmallow.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/abra-kadabra/
In case we did not have enough to worry about, earlier this month news broke about a whole new out-of-left field threat: murder hornets. If their name itself does not do it, the description of these vicious insects is enough to send shivers up the spine. The nearly 2-inch predators can singlehandedly destroy the entire population of a honeybee hive in a most gruesome manner within the span of just a few hours.
So far, the American honeybee population, which was already waning (remember the “Save the Bees” campaigns of previous years?), have absolutely no recourse. The so-called murder hornets are impervious to their stings. The bees cannot flee far enough or fast enough, and they cannot protect their queen.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-michelle-robinson/murder-hornets/
I realized I had a problem last Friday when I was doing our weekly shopping for Shabbat at Whole Foods—when I saw, and could not resist buying, this large package of 16 toilet paper rolls that we definitely do not need.
One of the glories of the Whole Foods where I shop is that often they have large packages of toilet paper available, one per customer. I go there once a week, and whenever they happen to have the toilet paper available, I buy it. The lockdown has been 8 weeks. Five of those 8 weeks they have had toilet paper. Which means that in the past two months I have bought 80 rolls of toilet paper. That’s enough toilet paper. It’s just Shira, Sam and me. We are good. We don’t need another roll.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/bigger/
A few months ago, when I would send an e-mail to the congregation, I would get scores of bounce-backs – out-of-office replies like, “Thank you for your e-mail, I’m travelling for business and will get back to you as soon as I can.” Or, “I’m on vacation. I’ll be offline with limited access to e-mail. If you need something, call someone else.”
I sent an e-mail last week and received exactly one bounce-back. What does it mean for our days (and nights) that while most of us are home, almost none of us are “out of office?” What is the impact of waking up every day in the same place with the same limited range of options before us, plugged in 24/7 on the same screens, and no clear end in sight?
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-michelle-robinson/unflattening-time/
There is a very poor neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa that is regularly terrorized by two rival street gangs. These gangs literally kill each other and extort, harass, and intimidate townspeople. Police could not stop the violence. Preachers, pastors, counselors, star soccer players could not stop the violence. You know what did stop the violence? The Coronavirus.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/more-is-more/
There is a nurse in Florida who lives in a town that is blessed not to have much Covid-19 activity. When she heard about the surge happening in our Commonwealth this week, she decided to help. She left her husband, her children, and her home in Florida and got right to work in one of our hospitals treating those infected with the virus. She leaves all she knows behind to run towards the population that the rest of us are running away from. She was asked by an NPR reporter whether she was worried about getting infected. No, she said. She will take all proper precautions—but what she is worried about is whether she is doing her part.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/lord-please-help-me-be-gentle-with-myself/
[sung] My life flows on in endless song, above earth’s lamentation. I hear the real, though far off hymn, that hails a new creation. Through all the tumult and the strife, I hear that music ringing. It sounds an echo in my heart, how can I keep from singing?
Every year when we read the Passover story, and every time we sing the Song of the Sea, I wonder what it would have been like to be an Israelite passing through those tumultuous waters. I imagine them exhausted after weeks of not sleeping because of the plagues and because of the Egyptians crying in the night. I imagine them worn tired by the journey to the sea. I imagine the way their heartbeats must have thundered in their ears as they crossed through the waters, the way they must have panicked with each squelchy step, turning to see Egyptians approaching from behind.
And that moment, the ultimate moment, when they reached the other side and watched the waters crash down on their pursuers. What did they feel?
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/how-can-we-keep-from-singing/
One of the consequences of our surreal season has been greater clarity about what really matters in life. I hear that again and again—what really matters—from people in various stages of life.
There was a bride and groom who were going to get married this summer. It was to be a glorious venue, with a stunning view of the water, in a historic villa, uber elegant, with hundreds of guests. The tables were going to be set with the finest linens, china and flowers. Now all of that is up in the air. When I asked them how I could be helpful, they said: simple. Just hold the date. We want to get married. The venue, the view, the villa, it doesn’t matter. The linens, the china, the flowers, it doesn’t matter. What really matters is our love and our marriage. If we have to do it privately, virtually, so be it.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/what-really-matters-a-contemporary-coronavirus-dayeinu/
Last year, I made a Passover parody playlist to help our family get in the holiday spirit. This year, a friend sent me a coronavirus playlist with songs like, “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” “U Can’t Touch This,” and “It’s the End of the World as We Know It.” Or my personal favorite for this Pesach: “From a Distance.”
Last night, many of us connected with our loved ones from a distance via Zoom, FaceTime, and other virtual platforms. In Israel, there’s a new Pesach move: ochlim b’nifrad, shirim b’yachad – eat separately and sing together.
Last night, all over Israel, with the entire country on lockdown and not allowed even to leave their homes, people took a page out of two other major Jewish holiday playbooks. Apartment-dwellers channeled Hannukah, moving their tables to their front windows. Those with more outdoor room channeled Sukkot, setting their tables out on balconies or in backyards, so they could join neighbors in song. Eating at separate tables, singing together.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-michelle-robinson/do-what-you-can/
It was 2012. I was standing on the sidewalk of Emek Refaim holding a blindfold, ready to begin the simulation.
I put the blindfold on, feeling excited for the challenge. I was determined to be the best temporarily blind person ever. But as the darkness set in, I was surprised by how quickly my excitement fizzled in the face of anxiety. Without the ability to see, I was paralyzed by fear. Even the classmate posted next to me, whose job it was to protect me and prevent me from stumbling, didn’t relieve my anxiety. I slid my feet along the sidewalk slowly, checking for bumps and trying to feel my way along the path. In the end, though I was determined to be the best temporarily blind person ever, the only award I could have received that day was “most anxious”.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/blind-faith/
Mazal Tov Lily on your Bat Mitzvah! And mazal tov to your parents, David and Melissa, to your sisters, Tove and Emma, to your grandmother Lee. Lee, we are so happy that you now live at Evans Park, so close to our shul. And mazal tov to your aunt and uncle, Jessica and John, and to your cousins, Hannah, Noah and Olivia. This is not the day that any of us would have envisioned, but it is a deeply beautiful and meaningful Bat Mitzvah in its own way.
Which leads to the obvious question: what is the meaning that we are supposed to make of the fact that your Bat Mitzvah Lily has coincided with a pandemic? Years from now, you will be able to tell your children, grandchildren and great grandchildren that your Bat Mitzvah took place just when the world was contending with Covid-19. What is the meaning we are to make, what is the meaning you are to make, of this fact?
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/your-finest-hour/
A story is told about Rebbe Zusha of Anipoli, a beloved Chasidic rabbi who lived in Northern Poland in the 1700s, a place that was not particularly friendly to its Jewish residents. One night, Reb Zusha left his house and began to walk. Two big, burly, policeman stopped him and asked: “Where are you going?” Zusha took a breath and replied, “I don’t know.”
“That’s ridiculous. You must know where you’re going,” one policeman growled. “Tell us now or there will be severe consequences.” “I don’t know,” Zusha again replied.
“That’s it!” the second policeman shouted, lunging forward to grab him by the shoulders. The two officers marched him roughly to the prison and threw him behind bars. “Now,” they roared, “answer the question – WHERE ARE YOU GOING?”
“I told you,” Reb Zusha replied, “that I didn’t know – and clearly I was right. I thought I was going to shul, but instead here I am in jail.”
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-michelle-robinson/where-are-you-going/
Tune in as Rabbi Michelle Robinson interviews Jonathan Ornstein, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Centre of Krakow. We look forward to hearing Jonathan speak at Temple Emanuel on Tuesday, March 17th.
Follow this link to learn more https://www.templeemanuel.com/event/building-a-jewish-future-in-krakow/
It was Monday morning. I had just parked in the Wegman’s lot, and was gathering my re-usable bags when the phone rang. I answered, and the familiar recording began to play, [robotically] “an inmate from the Donald D Wyatt Detention Facility would like to speak with you….” I settled back into my seat as I waited for the end of the recording. “This call is being recorded. To accept charges, press 0. Thank you for using Global Tel Link.” I pressed zero.
There was a pause, and then a voice filled my car. “You’ve got to help me. I just can’t take this anymore. Please, you have to get me out of here.”
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/dont-be-indifferent-make-a-difference/
On February 24, 2020, Donniel Hartman, President of the Shalom Hartman Institute, spoke to us about how we can reclaim and deepen the Israel conversation in his lecture titled “Talking about Israel: Missteps and Opportunities.”
Do you know somebody, or are you somebody, who walks around carrying a heavy weight? It could be a secret. It could be a regret. It could be a mistake. It could be a broken relationship. It could be a rift in the family. It could be some small thing—the Yiddish term is faribble—that grows into a big thing. And you don’t know quite how to deal with this heavy weight. You don’t know how to get rid of this heavy weight. You don’t know how to travel light. So you carry it around with you. Weeks turn into months turn into years turn into decades.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/talk-to-2/
Once upon a time there was a woman named Olivia who was married to her husband Lee. They lived in Los Angeles in a neighborhood known as Pacific Palisades. They were blessed to have two sons. The family joined a Conservative synagogue in west L.A. named Adat Shalom. Both boys went to the religious school, and they both celebrated their Bar Mitzvah there. There is a picture of the pious young lads, both wearing tallesim, flanked by their proud parents, in front of the aron kodesh, the holy ark. Both boys have Hebrew names. The older brother is Gedalia Yitzchak, the younger brother is Mendel.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/kvell/
On February 8, 2020, we celebrated a very special moment in the Torah, a very musical moment in Jewish biblical history. On Shabbat Shirah we read the Song of the Sea and our service included extraordinary music to celebrate Moses and Miriam leading the Israelites across the Sea of Reeds (The Red Sea) and out of Egypt.
Cantor Rosemberg delivered the Shabbat Sermon. His topic was Jewish Italian Music and Traditions and his teaching explored the rich history and different musical traditions of the Italian Jews.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/shabbat-shirah-sermon-cantor-elias-rosemberg/
What do the late Philip Roth, one of the greatest writers of our time, and Steph Curry, one of the greatest basketball players of our time, have in common?
Philip Roth was once asked by Robert Siegel, an NPR host, how he was able to write so many award-winning novels. Roth answered that there is no secret. Rather, he works all day, every day, six or seven days a week. He offered that many times he will look at what he has written, in a ten-hour day, and he does not like anything he wrote, he throws it all away. Robert Siegel asks him: how do you feel on a day where you end up throwing away everything you wrote, and his answer is: “You wouldn’t want to have dinner with me.” But the next morning he is at it again.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/daily-page/
On September 26th, an officer from the Los Angeles Police Department was walking through the Wilshire-Normandie subway station in Koreatown, when a beautiful voice caught him off guard. Ahead stood a slight, middle-aged woman. Her shoulder-length blond hair was tied up in pigtails, her clothes swallowed her tiny figure. Her right-hand rested on a pushcart, filled to the brim with personal belongings and covered with a blue plaid blanket, while her left-hand juggled bags and tubs of belongings as she sang an aria from Gianni Schicchi.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/lapdhq/
Jon Levenson, a professor of Bible at Harvard, offers a rich hypothetical that I have shared with you before, and which I share again now because it goes to the heart of the meaning of the holiday of Thanksgiving.
Imagine you are driving to the airport on the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. It is 4:00, bumper to bumper traffic. You are in the tunnel and, oh no, your car dies. Just dies. You turn on and off the ignition, you pray, you start sweating profusely. People are honking, cursing at you. It is already one of the heaviest traffic days of the year, and now it is even more jammed because your car is stuck. You are stuck. You have no idea what to do. OK, you’ll call AAA. You reach for your phone, but it is out of juice, it is one of those days, the honking gets louder and louder. Help!!
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/gratitude-is-not-just-a-feeling/
I want to play a new game with you this morning, Jewish trivial pursuit. I am going to ask you two simple questions about the Hebrew Bible, and the winner gets a free bagel at kiddush this morning.
First question, what character in the Hebrew Bible is most associated with blessing? The word blessing, berakhah, is prominently and repeatedly associated with his story?
Second question, what character in the Hebrew Bible, more than any other, is tested? This character is tested so frequently, and so painfully, that there is a midrash speaking to the ten tests, or ten trials, or ten ordeals, of this character?
The answer to the first question is…Abraham.
The answer to the second question is…Abraham.
The answer to both questions is Abraham. The blessed one is also the tested one. The tested one is also the blessed one.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/the-tested-one-is-also-the-blessed-one/
Years ago, when I was living in Israel, I remember going to visit the Tomb of the Patriarchs (Ma’arat haMachpelah) in Hevron. I remember feeling totally overwhelmed by the sheer number of visitors and by all the sounds. There were tourists snapping their cameras and talking loudly about the history of the place and about plans for lunch. There were what felt like hundreds of Orthodox Jewish men praying in blocs, Hebrew prayers racing fluently through their mouths as they turned pages in unison. There were Hassidic Jews swaying and crying out, tears literally streaming down their faces as they poured out their souls to God. There were so many people there, it was hard even to move through the site.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/beyond-the-hashtag/
Do you remember where you were when you first learned of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last year, a year ago tomorrow, October 27, 2018? I remember exactly where I was. I was right here. It was Shabbat morning, in the middle of services, and from the bimah I could see a restless energy, an edge, in the people in the pews that I had never seen before. Soon enough I would learn that people’s cell phones were going off, telling them that the massacre had happened, during Shabbat morning services, at a sister Conservative shul, in Pittsburgh. Here we are, a year later. We are on the eve of the first yahrtzeit of the Pittsburgh massacre, the worst bloodshed of American Jews in American Jewish history.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/when-suffering-and-blessing-are-inexplicably-intertwined-reflections-on-the-first-yahrtzeit-of-the-pittsburgh-massacre/
Is it a good thing to go through life always feeling that you have something left to prove? Or do you ever reach a point where the healthier move is to say: you know what, I have nothing left to prove?
You are a tenured professor in your chosen field for 20 years. You have authored definitive works in your field. You cannot get fired except for moral turpitude. When you go to your classroom on Monday morning, what is the healthier mindset: I have something left to prove, or I have nothing left to prove.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/something-left-to-prove/
Next time you are hungry, next time you need a quick pick up, consider eating a protein bar known as an Rx Bar. It comes in a variety of attractive packages and delicious flavors. Blueberry, Maple Sea Salt, Mango Pineapple, Chocolate Sea Salt, Chocolate Chip, to name just a few. I live on them, though I am not getting a commission from the Rx Bar company for this sermon.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/overnight-millionaire/
A rabbi once heard about a preacher who gained notoriety by giving the world’s longest sermon. Not wanting to duplicate that feat, and, perhaps more importantly, not wanting to put everyone in shul to sleep, the rabbi decided to preach the world’s shortest sermon instead.
In the weeks leading up to the holidays, he shared the big news with the congregation in e-blasts, social media, and in person. Come to shul – and hear the shortest sermon ever! Sitting down to write, though, he realized the task was harder than it sounded. How to say something meaningful, something impactful, something true, while at the same time making it short? As Rosh Hashanah drew closer and closer, he found himself living iconic mathematician Blaise Pascal’s words that he would have written a shorter letter, but he didn’t have enough time.
Follow this link to the view the sermon on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-michelle-robinson/love-2/
Pastor Jeremy D. Battle, from the Western Avenue Baptist Church is a third-generation pastor hailing from Brighton, Alabama. Pastor Battle lives by the personal mantra, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Tune in to hear more about Pastor Jeremy Battle in his own words and hear him on Wednesday, Oct. 9 at 4:00pm.
Once, there lived amongst us a man with the stature of a prophet, a man with the moral vision of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. His name was Elie Wiesel, and he taught for years just a few miles from here at Boston University.
In his book Witness, which is about Elie Wiesel’s teaching at BU, Ariel Burger, his student for 25 years, tells a story that Elie Wiesel shared in class. The story concerned a man named Isaac Babel, who was both a Jew and a lieutenant in the Russian cavalry. That cavalry was a fierce fighting force conquering a lot of areas where Jews used to live in the Pale of Settlement. Isaac Babel himself had a reputation for being a fierce, even bloodthirsty, fighter. He embodies this enigma. He is Jewish. And at the same a Russian military man who is about to conquer Jewish towns.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/rebbe-please-give-me-fervor/
I want to talk about two words I have never uttered from this bimah. Taylor Swift. Taylor Swift is dramatically germane to the moment in which we now find ourselves.
As you know, Taylor Swift is one of the best-selling, most popular singer songwriters of all time. She has sold more than 50 million albums. She has won 10 Grammy Awards. Her first five albums were all huge, runaway hits, full of simple and catchy tunes that dealt with universal themes like falling in love and fear of rejection.
Then came her sixth album, Reputation. That is where things got very interesting.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/be-like-taylor-swifts-seventh-album-not-her-sixth/
Tune in as Rav-Hazzan Aliza Berger interviews Rabbi Becky Silverstein on his upcoming Parshat Nitzvaim “Entering into a Brit Hashem, Together,” and his journey to becoming a Rabbi. Rabbi Becky will be joining us on Shabbat morning, September 28th. You can learn more here https://www.templeemanuel.com/event/entering-into-a-brit-hashem-together/
Recently I came upon an article in the New York Times which took my breath away titled, “He was shot and paralyzed 37 years ago. That’s not how the story ends.”
Thirty-seven years ago, thirteen-year-old Jeff Williams was hanging out with his brother and a friend, Maury, in the Bronx when the unthinkable happened. Maury got out his uncle’s gun and started showing it off: spinning the chamber and pointing the it around the room. Jeff’s brother, Reggie, tried to convince Maury to put the gun down. But Maury insisted it was perfectly safe, pulling the trigger to prove the point. It wasn’t safe, though. The gun was loaded. Jeff collapsed.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-aliza-berger/take-your-best-shot/
Tune is as Rabbi Michelle Robinson interviews Robert Mnookin, author of "The Jewish American Paradox: Embracing Choice in a Changing World." Robert Mnookin is an American lawyer, author, and the Samuel Williston Professor of Law at Harvard Law School. He will be kicking off our year of adult learning at Temple Emanuel on Sunday, September 15th. Check out his book and join in on a lecture and Q&A with Mnookin himself! Learn more here: https://www.templeemanuel.com/event/adult-education-opening-lecture/
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin authored a book called Jewish Humor: What the Best Jewish Jokes Say About the Jews. In a section about parents and children, he shares the following:
Two Jewish women who haven’t see each other in twenty years run into each other on the street.
“How’s your daughter Deborah?” the first woman asks, “the one who marriedthat lawyer.”
“They were divorced,” the second woman answers.
“Oh, I’m so sorry.”
“But she got married a second time, this time to a surgeon.”
“They were also divorced.”
At this point the first woman decides to keep her mouth shut. “But now everything is all right,” her friend goes on. “She’s married a third time, now to an architect—and he’s very successful.”
The first woman shakes her head from side to side.
“Mmmm, mmmm, So much nachus from one daughter!”
Now in some ways this joke is obviously dated. The gender norms, the premise that the job of a daughter is to get married off to a successful professional, is not only dated but offensive. And yet, for all that, there are two truths about this joke that are not dated. Two truths that are timeless.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/nachus-a-reinterpretation/
Whenever there is a mass shooting in our country, including last Saturday in El Paso and Dayton, there is this civic ritual where leaders of both parties say that they are sending thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families. How are we to understand this? Is this helpful?
There is a cynical read. We send thoughts and prayers in lieu of action. We send thoughts and prayers in lieu of fixing the problem, which is why the nightmare of mass shootings in our country continually recurs. I get the cynical read. It has a certain plausibility.
But this morning I want to try to make the case for a non-cynical read. I want to try to make the case that thoughts and prayers are not only helpful, but essential.
Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website https://www.templeemanuel.com/rabbi/rabbi-wes-gardenswartz/sending-thoughts-and-prayers/
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/