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From the Bimah: Jewish Lessons for Life

From the Bimah: Jewish Lessons for Life

By Temple Emanuel in Newton
Bringing weekly Jewish insights into your life. Join Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz, Rabbi Michelle Robinson and Rav-Hazzan Aliza Berger of Temple Emanuel in Newton, MA as they share modern ancient wisdom.
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Shabbat Sermon: What is the Opposite of Dismantle? with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Do you know what the word dox means—d-o-x? I had never heard of the word before this week. I learned its meaning as our community has encountered something you might have heard of, a website called The Mapping Project of BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction) Boston. The dictionary definition of dox is to publish private or identifying information about a person or organization on the internet with malicious intent. BDS Boston engages in a massive doxing of both Jewish institutions and individuals, including many who are members of our own community. It lists names and addresses of institutions and individuals, while the people responsible for this website refuse to identify themselves. BDS Boston is ostensibly about Israel and Palestinians. But in fact it does not discuss Israel. Does not discuss Palestinians.  BDS Boston is about us, the Jews of Boston. They are not after Israel. They are after us. Cloaking themselves in anonymity, they pursue a double agenda.
June 18, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Find Something Heavy to Carry with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
This past week in the holy city of Boston, a miracle happened not once but twice. On Tuesday and Wednesday nights, Paul McCartney, who is eleven days shy of 80 years old, rocked on at Fenway Park. Fenway was jammed to the rafters, and this 80-year old singer wowed and captivated a full park for two and a half hours. Thirty songs. Did I mention that he is 80? How does an 80-year-old still have the energy, the charisma, the voice to hold that big of an audience for that long? How does a performer continue to perform the same songs that he has been singing, some of them Beatles classics like Can’t Buy Me Love, Hey Jude and Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da for 60 years, with fresh energy? Can you do that? Can you do the same thing for 60 years, with fresh energy? Could I give the same sermon for 60 years, with fresh energy? Could you hear my same sermon for 60 years, with fresh energy? How does he do that?
June 11, 2022
Talmud Class: Is Self-Care a Legitimate Jewish Value?
Is self-care (the agenda of summer rest, renewal and relaxation) a Jewish value? Did Jeremiah go swimming? Did Rabbi Akiva go to the beach? Did Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi go off the grid so that he could recharge? Did Elijah ever need “me time”? Jewish sources talk about learning (Talmud) and doing (ma’aseh).  Do Jewish sources value doing neither of those in the interests of recharging? How does our context figure into this question? Since the world, and our country, are in such a challenging place now, is thinking about the next few months as a sanctuary in time where we get to focus on our own healing and our own welfare an abdication—or it is essential for the work that lies ahead?  What Jewish sources speak to this question, and what do they say about this moment?
June 11, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: A Legacy of Principles from the Principal with Ilene Beckman
Shabbat Shalom, Everyone! What a morning! I am utterly overwhelmed and so deeply blessed to be a part of this truly special community. As I reflect upon what has been most important to me on this extraordinary journey as an educator, I’d like to share three of the “principles” that have motivated and guided me.  But first, a disclaimer: You may hear things about me that will surprise you. As they say in the commercials, don’t try these at home…or at Religious School!!
June 04, 2022
Talmud Class: A Post-Columbine, Post-Newtown, Post-Parkland, Post-Uvalde Reading of The Binding of Isaac
For many decades, Rabbi Simon Greenberg would teach his students at the Seminary: Never preach about the binding of Isaac, Genesis 22 , the Torah reading for the second day of Rosh Hashanah. A parent sacrifice his child? Who would do a thing like that? A parent place some principle above the life and health and welfare of their own child? Who would do a thing like that? The whole premise of the binding of Isaac is so unrelatable, Rabbi Greenberg taught, that real people cannot relate to this opaque tale of a parent prepared to sacrifice his own son. Better to not talk about it. I have been thinking about Rabbi Greenberg’s question: Who would do a thing like that? It is now clear that the answer is: we would. Our country would. Our country does. It is now clear that Genesis 22, this opaque tale of a parent prepared to sacrifice his own child, is our current, foundational American story. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice Isaac for his principle, the commanding voice of God. America is prepared to sacrifice our children for the commanding voice of the Second Amendment, and the unfettered right of every American to own a gun, including assault rifles. We know about Columbine, Newtown, Parkland and Uvalde. But the Daily’s discussion of Uvalde taught me something I did not know. 
June 04, 2022
Shabbat Sermon with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz - Hidden Story, Healing World
How do we think about the person whose views are not only different from our own, but antithetical to our own? What they stand for, we stand for the exact opposite. And yet we share a planet, we share a country, we share a community, perhaps we even share a family. They are not changing. We are not changing. They are here. We are here. How do we see this other human being on the other end of a contentious issue in a contentious time?
May 28, 2022
Talmud Class: Can the Messiah Come Now?
Uvalde. Buffalo. Santa Ana. Bomb threats at JCCs (including our own). If the Messiah were ever going to come to fix our broken world, now would be a good time. On Shabbat we are going to take a look at three texts that deal with the Messiah. The first is an Elijah story. Elijah famously tells a rabbi searching for the Messiah that you can find him in a leper colony, among the most diseased and impoverished people. The second is a story by Israel’s Nobel Prize-winning author Shmuel Agnon called The Kerchief, which is a literary treatment of the passage from the Talmud about the Messiah coming from a leper colony. The third is a sermon by Rabbi Harold Kushner, delivered at his son Aaron’s Bar Mitzvah (Aaron would pass away later that year), on the Agnon story.
May 28, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Never Better with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
If you ever asked Barry Shrage, the long-time former head of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies, how he was doing, he always answered in an utterly unique way. In all my life, I have never heard anyone else answer this way. He would always answer: Never better. Never better. What a great response. It is unique. It rhymes. Never better. It is short and to the point. It radiates positive and hopeful energy. There is only one problem. Does it ring true? I have been thinking about Barry’s signature phrase this week given the events of the world. With Buffalo, and Santa Ana, and all the other dreadful news that you do not need me to remind you of, is it possible to say and mean : never better?  We could engage the world as it is, but that might make us depressed. We could ignore the world as it is and focus on the Eastern Conference Finals between the Celtics and the Heat. But can we engage the world as it is, and still radiate positivity?
May 21, 2022
Talmud Class: What Do Elijah and Rabbi Yose in the Ruins of Jerusalem Say to Us Now?
Two years and three months later, we now know two things. Covid is not going away any time soon. There will be new variants and new cases. And we have to get back to life. There is a short and haunting passage from the tractate Berakhot 3A that connects deeply with our reality. Rabbi Yose (from the Maxwell House Haggadah) is in Jerusalem, after the Temple was destroyed. God’s house is ruined. The people are exiled. The community that was is no more. He is there apparently alone, and he goes to the Temple ruins to pray. Elijah (he did not die in the Bible, but went to heaven in a fiery chariot, leaving him free to come and help the vulnerable in the world) pays Rabbi Yose a visit in the ruins. Please read this brief story  ahead of our class on Shabbat with an eye towards four questions. 1. The passage imagines how God must feel in this new, changed, sad world—what Abraham Joshua Heschel would call the divine pathos. God has an inner life. God has feelings. We see God roaring like a lion, cooing like a dove, and shaking his head like a resigned parent. What is the Talmud trying to say here, and how, if at all, does it connect with us? 2. Elijah and Rabbi Yose regard one another with extreme courtesy. There is a lot of “my teacher,” “my teacher and master,” “my son.” What is the point of this extreme courtesy, and what does it teach us? 3. What drives Rabbi Yose to pray in a ruined Temple? 4. What are Elijah’s concerns? After all, he comes down to earth specifically because he does not love the rabbi praying in the ruins. What does the Rabbi learn from the prophet’s concerns, and what do we learn? Like the rest of the world, Temple Emanuel has to reimagine life in this new, hard, uncertain age. What do we learn from a rabbi and a prophet conversing in the ruins of the Temple in the holy city of Jerusalem?
May 21, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Rich Strike with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Last Shabbat an event of great importance happened: the Kentucky Derby and the unexpected, unlikely, implausible victory of a horse named Rich Strike. It is a double miracle underdog story. As of the day before the big race, Rich Strike was not even supposed to be racing. At the last minute, because another horse that had been scheduled to race was a last-minute scratch, Rich Strike was the last horse to enter the field. And Rich Strike was an 80 to 1 underdog. That made his upset victory the greatest upset victory since 1913.
May 14, 2022
Talmud Class: Abortion and Jewish Sources
The conversation about abortion in this country is strident and polarized. You are either pro-life or pro-choice. Every voice is passionate and convicted. There is no space for nuance. That is why, when the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the union of Conservative movement rabbis, published their statement in the wake of the Supreme Court leak, they were unanimous and unequivocally pro-choice. But Jewish tradition, and certainly Jewish law, is never unnuanced. A close reading of the sources reveals that Judaism does not fall neatly into either the pro-life or pro-choice camp. Instead, Jewish sources reveal a third way to engage this issue—we are a tradition that is pro-life, that values the sanctity and holy potential of every spark of life, and we are a tradition that understands the need for medical intervention which can include abortion. This Shabbos, we will be doing a deep dive into the sources to explore the way our tradition invites reflection, nuanced evaluation, and a sensitivity which is all too often lacking in the political conversation unfolding around us.
May 14, 2022
Shabbat Sermon with Rabbi Marc Baker
These remarks were delivered on May 7, 2022 by Rabbi Marc Baker, President and CEO of CJP, Combined Jewish Philanthropies. You can find more information about Marc here.
May 07, 2022
Talmud Class: What If The Supreme Court Reverses Roe v. Wade?
In general, we like to say that we don’t do politics at shul. We teach Torah. We try to teach and to live Jewish values. There are other places where divisive politics can be discussed and debated. Let the shul be a political-free zone.     Does that paradigm apply now? After all, immediately after news of the leaked Supreme Court draft opinion came out, the Rabbinical Assembly (RA), the union of Conservative movement rabbis, immediately, strongly, and unambiguously came out with a robust statement criticizing this opinion:      "The RA is deeply troubled by reports that the Supreme Court will soon nullify the constitutional right to abortion. Reproductive freedom is again under assault, this time from the highest court in our nation. The RA supports full access for all those who need abortions to the entire spectrum of reproductive healthcare and opposes all efforts by governmental, private entities, or individuals to limit or dismantle such access."     What is particularly striking, and noteworthy, is that the usual Jewish rule—two Jews, three opinions— does not apply here.  What time do we pray the evening prayer, the Talmud’s first question. There are three answers. Should a woman be able to get an abortion where “continuation of a pregnancy might cause severe physical or psychological harm, or where the fetus is judged by competent medical opinion as severely defective.”? The answer in our movement is yes. What does that call on us to do now?
May 07, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Two Boxes with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
For the last 45 years or so, our shul has been distributing candles that we light at night to usher in Yom HaShoah. Each candle carries the name of one person, one out of the Six Million. As I shared at this year’s Yom HaShoah program, our members Barbara and Steve Grossman showed me their folder that has the names of the individuals that they thought about as they lit the candles every Yom HaShoah for the last 45 years. They have kept every name.  I won’t go through all 45 years, but just to give you a sense of it:  In 1994 they remembered Esther Kligerman. In 1995 Raizel Farbman. In 1996 Moshe Bikel. In 1997 Else Paradies. In 1998 Samuel Hirsch Kornblatt. In 1999 Theres Neuberg. In 2000 Moshe Fish. In 2001 Gertude Meidedner. And so it goes for 45 years. For each one, they would ask, we would all ask: where was the rest of the world? What was the rest of the world doing? That was always our question, at every other Yom HaShoah.
April 30, 2022
Talmud Class: Our Artist in Residence, Caron Tabb, in Dialogue with Our Clergy Team
Caron Tabb has, at last, solved a puzzle that I could not solve for the last 25 years: how to get an entire class of 5th graders totally immersed, totally focused, totally engaged, for a good long time on Jewish ideas and what they mean to our lives. When our 5th graders walked into shul today, they were immediately drawn to Caron’s different exhibits which are now installed in the Leventhal-Sidman Community Court and the Casty Gallery.  Caron was there to greet the thirsty young learners, and seeing her dialogue with an entire mesmerized class of 5th graders was a true delight. Those 5th graders sense that Caron’s art calls, beckons, invites, and challenges. That is why they listened with rapt attention. That is why they kept asking great follow-up questions. All of which means two things. Talmud on Shabbat will be a special segment. Michelle, Aliza, Dan, and I were taped yesterday in dialogue with Caron about her various works of art. (Elias is in Argentina visiting his mother.) The conversations are so rich and generative.  This class will be a lovely introduction to Caron’s offerings.
April 30, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Emotional Traffic Jam with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
There is a famous vignette in the Talmud that resonates mightily for our time. It concerns a traffic jam. One morning a bride and her retinue go off to her wedding. A happy procession. There is singing and joy in the air. It is palpable. The bride is so happy. She can just imagine the rest of her life, building a life with the love of her life, the good times they will have, the family they will build, the home they will create, the good that they can do together. But at the exact same time, a funeral procession takes off. A wife is now to lay her husband of many years to his resting place. There is sadness in the air. Worry. What will be? The widow weeps: I cannot imagine life without my husband. We have been together forever. I have never been alone. How am I to live alone? The bride’s laughter, the widow’s weeping, collide. The two processions cannot make it through at the same time. What should happen next?
April 23, 2022
Talmud on Shabbat: The Mystery and Miracle of Elijah
The prophet Elijah, whom we last encountered at our seders, poses a conundrum. Elijah has this favored slot in Jewish history: the harbinger of hope and redemption. At the seder, we sing Eliyahu ha’navi as we move along the trajectory from darkness to light. At your son or grandson’s brit milah, the chair of Elijah invites the prophet into our lives at our choicest family moments. We bring Elijah into every Shabbat and Hag service in the blessings after the Haftarah and Havdalah. We bring Elijah into grace after meals every time we bench. Of all the protagonists in the Jewish canon, Elijah is by far the most recurrent presence in Jewish ritual: more than Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Moses, Aaron, Saul, David or Solomon. Why so much Elijah? If you read the biblical story, this role is not only unexpected. It is a shocker. Elijah would be the last figure to get this job as harbinger of redemption. Fact 1: Elijah’s last act as prophet is to be the Butcher of Mt. Carmel. He slaughters 450 prophets of Ba’al. A war crime. An atrocity. And that is not just a modern read. Leading to fact 2. Fact 2: God fires Elijah for being only a zealot, and not being open to any other moves but hot zealotry. That is why God tells Elijah to appoint his successor, the gentler and more nuanced prophet Elisha. So why exactly do we invite the Butcher of Mt. Carmel, fired by God, to our seders, to our britot, to our Shabbat prayers, to our grace after meals, as the harbinger of redemption? We are going to be doing a four-part series to answer this question based upon a great new book that just came out, Daniel C. Matt, Becoming Elijah: Prophet of Transformation (Yale University Press, March, 2022).
April 23, 2022
Pesach Day II Sermon: Deeds, Words, World with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Now that we have finished both seders this year, I have a question: What is the relationship, if any, between the words we say at the seder, the deeds we do at the seder, or that we commit to do, and the world we live in? Does our living a Jewish life, the prayer, the rituals, the community building, in what way, if at all, does that Jewish living affect the world? Will the two seders we just had affect the world, or will they only affect how we feel going through the world?
April 17, 2022
Talmud Class: A Leprous Home, Elizabeth Strout, and Your Passover Seders
"Something like a plague has appeared upon my house." Leviticus 14:35. With these words, the troubled homeowner in ancient Israel gives voice to a truth that is universal. Homes, like human beings, are living things. Organic. Alive. Just like a human being can have healthy or not healthy practices, so too a home, and our home life, can have healthy or not healthy practices. Just like a human being can change it up and become more healthy, so too a home life can get better. Just like a human being can be overcome by illness and leave the world, some homes cannot survive their painful dysfunction. All of these truths are in our portion this week, parshat metzora. When the Talmud encountered the case of the leprous house, it insisted that we not take these passages literally. That we interpret the leprous house as a metaphor and ask: what are the forces that strengthen home life? What are the forces that undermine home life? Can a bad home life be made good? Is that even possible? Please read the attached short story from Elizabeth Strout, The End of the Civil War Days. Her story is a literary expression of the leprous house. It is also funny and risqué, and it raises the all-important question: can the patterns in our home life that are not serving us change? (I am sending the teaser early so that you will have the opportunity to read and enjoy this short and wonderful story.) Finally, with the Passover seders around the corner (April 15-16), we will consider passages from the Haggadah that invite us to be mindful of the patterns that work at creating the home life we want to create; and the patterns that need to change so that if a plague appears on our house, we can exercise some agency and make it go away.
April 09, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Seconds and Years with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
It was the slap, and the rant, heard around the world. How many of you saw Will Smith strike Chris Rock, and then rant about it,  in real time? How many of you read about it, or saw a clip of it, after the Academy Awards? It was of course raw and shocking, unscripted drama that was by far the most dramatic thing that happened all evening. If it were just a celebrity thing, a famous actor slapping the face of a famous comedian, it would just be another moment of sensationalist news. But it’s not just a celebrity thing, it is very much a human thing. Because most of us, in our own quiet way, have been tempted to do our own version of what Will Smith did that night. Something ticked us off. Something got our blood boiling. Our temper went from zero to 100 in a nano second. And we were tempted to lose it. To give the other person a piece of our mind. And yet, when we lose self-control, we lose control.
April 02, 2022
Talmud Class: How the Driest and Most Opaque Text Leads to the Juiciest and Most Resonant Question
Last Shabbat had a special name, Shabbat Parah, the Sabbath of the Cow. It is one of the special Shabbatot that tells us that Passover is coming. What does the Red Heifer of Numbers 19 have to do with Passover? This text is famously opaque. A red heifer, hyssop, scarlet, and cedar are burned up, their ashes mixed with pure water, and that solution has the power to purify somebody who has become impure by reason of contact with the dead when the solution is applied to them on days 3 and 7 after contact with the dead. Scholars have puzzled over this passage for thousands of years. They have come up with lots of explanations--which means no one explanation that compels and satisfies. Until two years ago. In the attached essay, written in 2020, before his last Pesach, in the shadow of his own advancing cancer, Rabbi Jonathan Sachs does something very rare in the world of Torah scholarship: an utterly new idea. When you read his essay, it is clear that he nails it. What he has to say is more wise and true than anything any other commentator has ever said about it. More wise and true than Maimonides, Nachmanides, the rabbis of the midrash. He says something that has never been said (or at least we have no record of anyone else saying it) before about the Red Heifer, and it goes to the heart of our deepest fears: our own mortality. If one wonders how many more Passovers do I have left? If one's anxiety about a finite number of Passovers disrupts our ability to enjoy this Passover, this text, as explained by Rabbi Sachs, provides a definite point of view. The best answer to fearing our mortality is living a life of faith. If we get Rabbi Sachs' teaching deeply, we will be able to enjoy this Passover, no matter how many more Passovers we have left.
April 02, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: In the Cosmic Battle Between Good and Evil, What Can I Do?
In 1986, Professor Ray Scheindlin of the Jewish Theological Seminary authored a book with an evocative title: Wine, Women, & Death: Medieval Hebrew Poems on the Good Life.  The book featured the poetry of Jewish poets who lived during the Golden Age of Jewish Spain.  They lived the good life, with rich homes with gardens and pools and fountains. They wrote poetry about their good life, about their gardens and pools and fountains.  Most of these poets were secular.   And they were rooted in Judaism. At home in Spain. At home in Judaism. The Golden Age. But something happened to the Golden Age. It ended.
March 26, 2022
Talmud Class: Shalshelet - The Cantillation Mark That Speaks to the Angst of Our Age
There is a rare cantillation mark called the shalshelet that occurs only four times in the entire Torah. The shalshelet goes up and down and is conspicuously drawn out, to evoke a deep hesitation. In Genesis 19:16, Lot hesitates before leaving Sodom with his family. He knows it is marked for destruction, but he is stuck. More than we know what we like, we like what we know. Sodom wasn’t perfect, but he hesitated leaving it. In Genesis 24:12, Abraham’s servant Eliezer hesitates before praying to God to help send an appropriate partner for Isaac. In Genesis 39:8, Joseph hesitates before refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife, who tries to seduce him. In last Shabbat’s reading, in Leviticus 8:23, Moses hesitates before slaughtering the sacrificial animal that would ordain Aaron and his sons as the priests. In each case, the protagonist wrestles with an inner demon before doing the right thing. Angst, self-doubt, indecision precede deed. What do we learn from the shalshelet, and the wrestling of Lot, Eliezer, Joseph, and Moses with their demons, about how to handle the angst of our age?
March 26, 2022
Talmud Class: Leadership Under Fire - Four Questions
Leadership under fire. President Volodymyr Zelensky and Regional Governor Vitaliy Kim are both inspiring the world with their peerless leadership under the fire of this war. The Times article about the death and dying in the port city of Mykolaiv, shelled every day by Russian forces, provides the context for Governor Kim’s nightly inspiring addresses. President Zelensky this week talked from the heart to the heart of Canadians and Americans in ways that inspire universal admiration. In the spirit of the oncoming holiday of Passover, here are four questions about leadership under fire.  One: what is the key ingredient to this leadership under fire? Is it the fire that creates the leadership that lands so dramatically? Or is it not about the historic context but the personalities of these two leaders?  Two: do we in America have charismatic leaders like President Zelensky and Governor Kim? Why or why not?  Three: how does their model of charismatic leadership under fire compare with our classic Torah model, which we read yesterday for the Purim Torah reading.  Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Pick some men for us, and go out and do battle with Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in my hand.” Joshua did as Moses told him and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Then, whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; but whenever he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur, one on each side, supported his hands; thus his hands remained steady until the sun set. And Joshua overwhelmed the people of Amalek with the sword. (Exodus 17: 8-13)  Four: what can we, in our ordinary quiet lives, learn from leaders who display leadership under fire?
March 19, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Representative Jake Auchincloss on Ukraine
The eyes of the world are on Ukraine. Day after day for two weeks now and counting. How can the relentless shelling of civilian targets continue day after day, captured on all our screens in real time, and it keeps happening? What can the United States do about it?  What should the the United States do about it? Will the extreme sanction regime work? How does it end? What does it portend? Our Brotherhood had arranged to have our elected Representative, Jake Auchincloss, himself a marine who had served in Afghanistan, talk about his journey from the battlefield to Congress. But in light of the urgent international crisis in Ukraine, Representative Auchincloss will instead be talking about the issue on all of our minds: Ukraine. What a gift to have a new voice, and true wisdom, on this deep tragedy unfolding before our very eyes every day. May what we learn from Representative Auchincloss help us help.
March 12, 2022
Talmud Class: Facing our World's Challenges - Three Case Studies
This week, in honor of International Women's Day and the upcoming holiday of Purim, we will learn the stories of three women: Vashti, who encountered drunken debauchery, sexism, and injustice and responded with clarity and conviction. When King Achashverosh demanded that she dance naked in front of his friends, she sent back a one-word answer: no. That response resulted in her death and did not change the status quo in the least. Today, she is just a blip in the megillah. Zeresh, who encountered racism, egotistical mania, and dreams of domination. She did nothing. Goes along to get along. Her response resulted in her disappearance and maybe even made the situation worse. She features more prominently in the megillah, but we hiss when we hear her name. And then there was Esther. Her response was nuanced. Her agency limited, but effective. In the end, she saved the day, saved her life, and saved the Jewish world. What do these women’s stories have to teach us about facing today’s challenges?
March 12, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Of Mice and Maraschinos with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
Ever since the war started in Ukraine, I’ve been feeling things that don’t make sense. The space over my heart feels achy, almost bruised. My breathing is shallow, like the air around me is thick with worry and the oxygen can’t get through. My heart races and then goes quiet and then races again.  I’m desperate for information, doom-scrolling at all hours, reading every newspaper article I can find, as if my survival depends on what I learn. On a logical level, I know what I am feeling is not real. I live in Boston, thousands of miles from this war. I am safe. And yet, I can’t shake the feeling that this is how it starts, nor can I free myself from the inherited memory of how it ends.
March 05, 2022
Talmud Class: What Does Ukraine Teach us About Israel's Future and the Jewish Future?
Is Ukraine on its own? Or is the world with Ukraine? It is so confusing. The answer seems to be yes.  On the one hand, the world is with Ukraine. The Daily on March 2 told the fascinating story of how it came to be that the European Union passed unanimously the strongest, toughest, most stringent sanctions ever, including sanctions directed personally against Putin and his henchmen. The nations of the world are supplying Ukraine not only with moral support, and economic support, but also sophisticated weaponry to fight this war.  On the other hand, the people fighting and dying and fleeing are Ukrainians. They are in the trenches alone.  Reflecting on this reality, Danny Gordis, in an unusually evocative piece at this urgent time, writes:  "Israelis watch Ukraine, and we see ourselves. We see this week, and we see one possible future. We know with no uncertainty—we would be alone. We would be abandoned. If we or you ever thought otherwise, it’s time to stop the delusion. To see our possible future, all we have to do is look north at the present." In other words, if Israel were to be attacked God forbid in any of the scenarios that Danny Gordis lays out, it would be worse for Israel than for Ukraine. We would not have the moral support of the world. We would be alone on the battlefield, and much of the world would be against us. What light does Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and the world’s reaction, shed on our beloved eretz Yisrael, and is this grim picture just what it is, or do we have any moves perhaps to make it any better?
March 05, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: How to Help Ukraine
Barbara Gaffin and Betsy Hecker spoke to our congregation about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both have worked on the partnership between the Boston Jewish community, Combined Jewish Philanthropies, and the Ukrainian Jewish community for many years. They addressed the question on all of our minds: what can I do? How can I help? We are praying for peace every morning and every evening. May our prayers for peace inspire our deeds that help real people in Ukraine now.   What can we do now? Click below to find out!
February 26, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Lightning Rod with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
How are we to understand the many stories we have all read about anger run amok in public places; about bad behavior on airplanes, at restaurants, at the bridges that connect Canada and the US blocked by angry Canadian truck drivers? This anger victimizes innocent people, the passengers and flight attendants on the plane, the waiters and fellow diners at the restaurant, drivers trying to cross the bridge who are stuck in traffic for hours on end.
February 19, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Breaking a Glass at the Olympics Final with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
Last shabbos, we gathered in the sanctuary to process the rising threat of antisemitism in our world. Officially, we were talking about the recently released report by Amnesty International which condemned Israel in very intense ways. In clearly antisemitic ways.  But we were also thinking about Colleyville, about swastikas carved into gym mats and painted on bathroom stalls here in Newton public schools. We were also thinking about the rise in hate crimes perpetrated against Jews, and about the increasingly vitriolic rhetoric against Israel worldwide.  We talked about strategies, about how we might fight these forces. Underlying our conversation, though, was a deep undercurrent of pain. How is it that even after the Holocaust, how is it the world does not see our plight? How is it the world does not see us? Does not see our context, does not see our story? How are we so invisible?
February 12, 2022
Talmud Class: Torn Betwixt and Between
February 12, 2022
February 12, 2022
Shabbat Sermon with Robert Leikind, Regional Director of AJC New England
Robert Leikind, the Regional Director of AJC New England, brought us a special sermon on a recent Amnesty International report and and shared what we, individually, and we as a community, can do to support our beloved Eretz Yisrael.
February 05, 2022
Talmud Class: Should We Combat or Ignore a False Charge?
February 5, 2022
February 05, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Courage, my friend. You do not walk alone. I will walk with you and sing your spirit home with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
How do you process a world in which doing the right thing, the kind thing, opening your doors and offering warmth and tea to someone in need, could result in someone holding a gun to your head and taking you hostage? How do you process a world in which synagogues around the country go through security trainings about evading shooters and deescalating terrorist attacks as a matter of course? A world in which our kids are so accustomed to active shooter drills, and so inured to the possibility of sudden violence, that they take news of this trauma in stride. They are not shocked. And how do you process a world in which someone could decide to fly across the world to find Jews to use as pawns for his hateful aim? A world in which someone is so stewed in antisemitic tropes that he believes that Jews run the world and would be able to pull some strings to make his hateful wish come true? How do you process a world in which Jews, who constitute less than 2% of the population in this country, are victim to almost 60% of religiously motivated hate crimes, according to the FBI? And how do you process the fact that our FBI, which produced the report on religiously motivated hate crimes, refused to acknowledge that the hostage situation was an act of antisemitism until Thursday, calling it instead a “terrorism-related matter”? For us, this was not unique. But it was uniquely heartbreaking.
January 22, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: The Gift of Gifts with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Last Saturday night Shira and I had friends over for dinner, a lovely couple we had come to know after Shira  had met the wife on a CJP mission to Israel.  They walked through our front door bearing gifts. A lovely bouquet of flowers. Very nice. And then something else. Something we had never before received from any guest ever.  The husband walked into our living room and presented me with this: a collection of gorgeously bound, all Hebrew, very religious looking, books, a five-volume set, the kind of books one would find in a yeshivah.
January 15, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: What Can I Do to Renew? with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
For the last thirty-one years, until last year,  January 6 had been tied for the very best day in our family’s calendar. Thirty-one years ago our son Sam was born on January 6. In addition, the birthday of our beloved colleague Joan Mael is also January 6. For years, before the pandemic, our colleagues would take Joan out to Legal’s for lunch. At home and at work, I just loved January 6. And then came last January 6, and the day obviously became a whole lot more complicated.
January 08, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Higher Resolution with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
In 1949, David Schacker’s life was radically transformed.  Up until that point, he had been a healthy, bright-eyed, 10-year-old boy who loved running and playing tennis.  He had the kind of raw talent that promised opportunity.  Everyone knew he would get an athletic scholarship somewhere fabulous and looked forward to watching him succeed. But that dream was not to be. At ten, Schacker was diagnosed with Polio.  Instead of running outside and playing tennis, he spent the year cooped up in St Giles hospital in physiotherapy and treatment.
January 01, 2022
Shabbat Sermon: Our Heart’s Burning Bush with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
Please enjoy this Shabbat Sermon with our wonderful Rabbi Michelle Robinson!
December 25, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Joyfully Wrong with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Adam Grant, the teacher of organizational psychology at Penn, a noted Ted Talk speaker, and the author of best-selling books, was recently on NPR sharing two very different takes on the phenomenon of being wrong. The first take concerned Adam himself when he was a teen-ager. He and a friend disagreed about a particular song in a Broadway musical. Each thought he was right. Eventually his friend summoned proof that he, the friend, was right. Adam was wrong. Adam could see the proof. Knew the proof was irrefutable. But could not get himself to acknowledge the error of his ways. His friend said: Adam, admit you are wrong. Adam could not bring himself to do it.
December 18, 2021
Hanukkah Happens Interview with Cantor Elias Rosemberg and Josh Jacobson
Join Cantor Elias Rosemberg and Josh Jacobson as they discuss what you can expect at this year's Hanukkah Happens concert on Thursday, December 23rd, 2021.
December 16, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: More Peace with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
The classic comedy “Miss Congeniality” has a montage of beauty pageant contestants, one after the other, answering the question, “What is the one most important thing our society needs?” They all give the same answer: “World peace.”  It is a long-running joke – that the notion young beauty queens can have anything to do with resolving long-standing geopolitical tensions is naïve, even slightly offensive. Enter this year’s Miss Universe. If you have been following the news this week, you may have heard that Israel is hosting this year’s Miss Universe competition. Of course, in the shadow of the unassailably ugly underbelly of antisemitism that Dara Horn captures so vividly in her book, “People Love Dead Jews,” greater than average controversy was expected – and delivered.
December 11, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Finding Great-Grandma Becky with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
At the beginning of Thanksgiving, my dad and I spent hours combing through genealogical records, trying to find his grandmother.  During the pandemic, I read Dani Shapiro’s book The Inheritance and had opened a subscription on trying to uncover my own family history. My dad remembered that he called his dad’s parents Grandpa Loui and Grandma Becky. But he didn’t remember his grandmother’s maiden name or where she was from.  He told me that when they visited, they always showed up without announcing themselves and his grandma would prepare more food than anyone could eat in a week.  But strangely, you can’t search for a Grandma Becky who cooks too much and sometimes shouts in Yiddish on  I found countless Grandma Becky’s in countless historical records but couldn’t find enough information to claim any one of them as my own.
December 04, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: What If This Is All There Is? with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
It was only 17 years ago, but it feels like forever ago.  It feels like it was a different century when, in 2004, David Brooks wrote a book about America called On Paradise Drive: How We Live Now (And Always Have) in the Future Tense.  His main point was that Americans lived in the future tense, by which he meant that whatever problems we faced in the present moment were not really problems because we imagined a future that would be so much better. Our house is too small, but no matter. One fine day we will live in a big and spacious house. Our income is too small, but one fine day we will have a better job which will generate all the resources we need for the life we want to lead. My health is challenged now,  but one fine day I will find the doctor and get the treatment that will have me feeling better than ever. Our children have not yet found themselves, but in the future they will be living just the happy life they dream of living. The key to living in the future tense is this limitless sense of optimism that the future will be better than the past. Most of us do not believe that today if we ever did.  Most of us ask a different question.  What if this is all there is? What if this is it? What if there is no one fine day?  What if the present moment is all we’ve got?
November 27, 2021
Talmud Class: Are We Sometimes Our Own Worst Enemy?
November 27, 2021
November 27, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Unjudge with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
Enjoy our Shabbat Sermon from November 20th, 2021 with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
November 20, 2021
Talmud Class: Of Sand and Pearls
November 20, 2021
November 20, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Liminal
The story is told of a woman who feels that something is missing in her life.  She has heard that there is a wise yogi, a spiritual virtuoso, who lives and radiates holiness on the top of a mountain in a remote part of India.  She is told that this yogi holds court, and that people from all over the world make a pilgrimage to see him.  It’s not easy.  You fly to India.   Then you take a three-day drive on crowded and unpaved roads.  Then you climb the mountain, and it is steep.  When you get to the top of the mountain, you wait your turn.  There is a long line of seekers ahead of you.  And here is the catch.  The yogi is so in demand, there are so many people to see him, and he is reputed to be so smart, he just intuits things from a few words, that you can only say eight words to him.  This woman, in search of something, desperate to find it,  flies to India; takes the three-day drive on crowded and unpaved roads; climbs to the top of the mountain; waits her turn among the many seekers who have come to sit at the feet of the great yogi.  At long last, after all that,  she faces the wise yogi and says her eight words:  Come home, Sheldon, it’s time to come home.
November 13, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: The Final Frontier with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
Enjoy our Shabbat Sermon from November 6th, 2021 with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
November 06, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: People Remember Those Who are Present with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
It was a hot summer day in 2008.  Rick Mangnall was driving from his rural trailer home in Three Rivers to work at the Community College in Visalia.  Living out in the wilds of California, Rick was used to encounters with wildlife.  He was used to scorpions hiding out in his clothing drawers and popping out suddenly to attack.  He was quite adept at smashing them.  But that day, he didn’t see the scorpion that must have hidden away in his clothes.  He didn’t notice it until he was driving down a granite-lined street and suddenly felt the scorpion sting his back.  In shock, he jerked the wheel and his car veered off the road, straight into the granite wall, and then went airborne.  He landed upside-down, suspended by his seat belt. Rick remembers that scorpion sting and the accident, but he also remembers a moment which changed his life forever.  As he hung from his seatbelt, he saw an old white Ford truck stop across the way.  An immigrant man got out of the car and came over to him.  He put his hand on Rick’s shoulder and just stood there with him.  Rick was worried the guy might get in trouble, he knew the ambulance and police were coming.  He tried to tell the guy he could go, but the man clearly couldn’t understand him.  He didn’t speak any English.  But what he did understand, didn’t require language.  He understood that Rick was in a tough spot, and stood there with him, quietly offering support.  This year, when Hidden Brain put out a call for unsung heroes, Rick shared this story.  A full 13 years after his accident, the moment he still thinks about the most is that man who stood by his side.  As he shared on air, “I wish I had thanked him…”
October 30, 2021
Talmud Class: What Will the First Line of My Obituary Be? - Healthy Question, or Morbid Neurosis?
Is a complicated first line an inevitable part of living a human and therefore imperfect life? Is worrying about the complicated first line, and how to avoid it, a healthy practice or a morbid neurosis?
October 24, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Momentum That Comes and Goes vs. Momentum That Grows and Grows with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times. It is the best of times: David Rosemberg’s Bar Mitzvah.  David radiates joy, and that joy fills our congregation. It is the worst of Times.  The Red Sox.  The Red Sox’s utter collapse.  We win games 2 and 3 in historic fashion, and then lose the next three games.  What is that? These two events, the joy of David’s Bar Mitzvah, and the anguish of the Red Sox collapse, have something very important in common, and it is something that we don’t talk about enough: momentum. Momentum is the strength or force that gathers and grows when something is moving in the right direction.
October 23, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Bananas with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
It was 5:30 AM.  Solomon and I were sitting in our usual seats on the boat behind the captain’s chair, watching the shores of Plymouth speed away as we headed towards our favorite fishing spot.  After chatting with the captain for a while, Solomon decided it was time for breakfast.  He walked over to our bags and pulled out a banana. “Is that a banana?!” the captain asked, turning white with what seemed like shock. “Yes,” said Solomon, “this is a banana. Why do you ask?” “Do you need that banana?” “I was going to eat it for breakfast, but...I guess I don’t need the banana.” “Man, I’m sorry, but I can’t let you have a banana on board.” “Seriously?” “Seriously.”
October 16, 2021
Talmud Class: Jon Gruden's Emails, Abraham's Worst Five Minutes, and a Jewish Theory of Legitimate Cancel Culture
Cancel culture. What two words are more fraught, more charged than that?
October 16, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Beyond Noah's Rainbow with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
Have you ever seen the cartoon of Noah’s ark floating on the water in the distance while two dinosaurs in the foreground look out and say, “Was that TODAY?” Or the one with unicorns standing at the foot of the ark saying to Noah, “We’ll wait for the next one.” My favorite of this genre pictures Noah standing on deck as two holes gush with water. He looks down and says, “Maybe I shouldn’t have brought the termites.”
October 09, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: The Catch With the Torah’s Most Important But Hardest Teaching with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
For years now, every few months I receive a failing grade as a good citizen.  Every quarter it comes in the mail: the dreaded and terrifying, triggering and retraumatizing Home Energy Report from National Grid.  It compares our energy usage to that of Efficient Neighbors and Average Neighbors. It is never pretty.  There are three possible grades:  Great, represented by a big smiling face; good, represented by a small smiling face; and the dreaded “Using more than average,” which is represented by a sad, frowning face. Shira and I try. We really do.  But every quarter, we get the sad, frowning face.  Not only do we use more energy than Efficient Neighbors, we use more energy than Average Neighbors. That is every quarter since forever.  It came then as a total shocker when, in the most recent report, for the first time ever, we did better--much better--than even our most Efficient Neighbors.  We got a big, smiling yellow face with the notation that we used “42% less gas” than efficient neighbors. I was so proud, I could not wait to bring this National Grid report to share it with you. There is only one problem.  I took one more look at this happy National Grid report and noticed that it covered a period during the heart of the summer when we were not living at home; we were living in the Berkshires on an extended Air B and B.    We did not use less energy. We used no energy, which is why our report was so good. In other words, there was a lovely report, but there was a catch that undoes the lovely report.  Beware of the catch that undoes.
October 02, 2021
Shmini Atzeret Sermon: Good Mentors and Great Mentors with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Imagine a friend or loved one comes to see you with a problem.  They are wrestling with a dilemma. Should I stay where I am at in my current job, or should I take a risk and take a new job? Should I break up with my current boyfriend or girlfriend? Should we be open to moving cities, to starting all over again? Somebody offended me. Should I talk to the person, or do I let it go? They are open to your advice.  They are seeking your wisdom.  Now further imagine that having heard their take on their dilemma, you have an opinion on the merits of what they might do. How we can be most helpful to the person who turns to us? Adam Grant, a professor at Penn, recently posted a teaching  about the difference between what he calls good mentors and great mentors: Good mentors share lessons from their experience. Great mentors help you crystallize lessons from your experience. Good mentors give useful answers. Great mentors help you ask better questions. Good mentors walk you through their path.  Great mentors help you identify your path.
September 28, 2021
Sukkot Day 5 Sermon: Sleeping in the Rain with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
Join Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger for her sermon from Sukkot Day 5
September 25, 2021
Sukkot Day 2 Sermon: Learning How to Color Hair Better with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Very often I feel that my hair is not doing anything for me.  It’s just kind of there.  So before Yom Kippur, since I was about to see the entire congregation, I have to confess that in addition to teshuvah, I was thinking about my hair. I shared my dilemma with Shira:  Should I go see my hair stylist, Tami, who works at Dellaria?  Why, she asked.  Because my hair is not doing anything for me, I answered.  I think your hair is fine.  Fine?  Is that all you can say? Married for 36 years?  All you can say is that my hair is fine?  Say more, I said.  OK, she said. Your hair is sparse. Sparse?  What is sparse hair, anyway? I found that very demotivating.  It was the day before Yom Kippur, I had more important things to think about, so I did not see Tami before the day of atonement. However, on the morning after the day of atonement, I was with Tami, who was cutting my sparse hair, we were making pleasant chit chat, and since I have been seeing her for years, I know that Monday is her day off.  I asked her:  what are you going to do this Monday, on your day off? "I am coming in to Dellaria Salon this coming Monday." But Monday is your day off. Why are you coming in? "Because I want to take a class.  They are having a hair expert teach a class on how to color hair.  And I want to learn." Wait a minute, I said.  How long have you been a professional hair stylist? "Over 30 years." And in those 30 plus years, how many people’s hair have you colored? "Thousands.  Too many to count." So you already know how to color hair. "Yes, but I could always learn how to color hair better."
September 22, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Love Your Neighbor with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
In my synagogue growing up, we had a vibrant tradition of journaling and reflection during services.  On the high holidays, they would assemble four tents in the four corners of the sanctuary and during services, it was common for community members to duck into a tent for a moment of quiet meditation or to jot down some ideas in a journal.  I always thought that writing was an integral part of Jewish practice. When I got to college, I was so lonely.  I missed home and missed the Judaism I had grown up with.  When I spoke to my rabbi, she recommended that I try some of the synagogues off-campus.  She thought multi-generational community might be a balm to my soul.  So I got up my courage, found the nearest conservative synagogue, and headed there for shabbat morning services. I was nervous. Uncomfortable. So worried about traffic that I left ridiculously early and got there with nearly a half an hour to spare before services.  Those were the days before we had to have security, so I wandered into the sanctuary and found a seat near the back.  I pulled out my journal and started writing a letter to God about how lonely I was, asking God to help me make this a good community, to help me feel at home. Just then, a group of women walked up to me.  “What do you think you’re doing?!  We don’t write on shabbos!  And in the sanctuary of all places?!  How dare you!” I was mortified. Alienated. Heart-broken.  I managed to blurt out some hasty apology.  The ladies started asking me questions about who I was and how I got there.  I answered, trying to hold it together, and waited for services to start.  As soon as they did, I fled to my car and cried all the way home.
September 18, 2021
Yom Kippur Sermon: History Has Its Eyes On You with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
When I turned 60 this past summer, I developed an intense fascination with my grandfather, my mother’s father, Will Bloom. It is not just that I am named for him. He was Will, I am Wes.  We are both Yechiel Shneyer. The connection is deeper.  My grandfather was, in the last season of his life, a traveling salesman.  He would drive hundreds of miles a week making sales calls.  He was Willy Loman. My mother could never watch Death of a Salesman because the pathos hit too close to home. One day, he died on the road, in a single car accident, suddenly, tragically, and in circumstances that were never explained.  Did he fall asleep at the wheel?  Did he intend to take his own life? We never knew.  One day, out of the blue, my mother gets the call saying that her 60 year old father had died on the road.  Her loss was shattering and unimaginable.  And she decided to respond by bringing a child into the world to name after her father, that would turn out to be me. It was an implausible choice, to bring another child into the world.  My parents already had five children, one bathroom, and no money.  The last thing they needed was another mouth to feed. But my mother was determined to name a child after her father. Will Bloom’s death, and my life, are intertwined.  If he had not died the way he had died, I would never have been born.
September 16, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: The Nobility of Our High Ideals That We Fail to Fulfill with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
How are we to think about this day, the 20-year anniversary of 9/11?  This is a day of double memory, double mourning, double pathos. We remember the lives that were lost on that terrible day, and what that meant to the families who lost them, the spouses who lost spouses, the parents who lost children, the children who lost parents, the brothers and sisters who lost brothers and sisters.  In his elegy You’re Missing, Bruce Springsteen gives voice to this pathos. Pictures on the nightstand, TV's on in the den Your house is waiting, your house is waiting For you to walk in, for you to walk in But you're missing, you're missing You're missing, when I shut out the lights You're missing, when I close my eyes You're missing, when I see the sun rise You're missing That trauma, that loss, never goes away.
September 11, 2021
Rosh Hashanah Sermon: When the Going Got Tough, We Did Not Thrive with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
The story is told of a man named Max Gelberg who was 70 years old when his beloved wife of more than 40 years, Goldie, passed away.  After mourning her for a year, he decides he has to live in the present.  He is only 70.  Life must go on.
September 07, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Does God Act in History? with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Does God act in history?  If you look at the world, does it testify to the existence of a loving and powerful God who acts to make sure that God’s highest ideals are implemented? Of course, even asking the question in this hot mess of a summer suggests the implausibility of the premise that God acts in history. How could God act in history when floods, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, massive fires cause death and destruction on a massive scale to innocents too numerous to count? How could God act in history when the Delta variant continues to rage? How could God act in history when two suicide bombers exploded themselves at the Kabul airport killing 13 American service members and more than 100 Afghan citizens and seriously wounding so many innocent civilians? In short, any honest assessment of the question would have to come down on the side that God does not act in history. That assessment seems accurate.  But there are two problems with it.  It’s a problem for the world to be a hot mess and God-less.  And it is a problem for our Jewish sources.  The Bible’s signature voice is that God acts in history.
August 28, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Two Jewish Lenses on the Tragedy of Afghanistan with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
This week I found myself watching, and rewatching obsessively, 1 minute and 11 seconds of sheer human desperation, a video link on my iPad, of chaos and confusion  at the Kabul Hamid Karzai International Airport.  Throngs of Afghan citizens were so desperate to flee from the Taliban that they ran onto the tarmac and literally clung to the outside of an American military plane as it was moving.   They continued to cling to the wings and to the fuselage as the plane began to take off, causing some of those desperate citizens to fall to their deaths.  By all accounts, Afghan citizens who helped the American war effort, who translated for us, who believed in us, who trusted us, who served with us, who walked the minefields and took fire with us, were stranded, unable to board a plane to free them from slaughter at the hands of the Taliban.   How are we to understand this heartbreak?
August 21, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: First Worst Impressions with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
“You’re gonna drown like that.” I was standing on my tip toes, trying to hold a tarp above our tent while Solomon adjusted the rope tying it to the tree above.  We were racing to get our camp set up before the rain.
August 14, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Katie Ledecky and you with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
Join our wonderful Rabbi Michelle Robinson on August 7, 2021.
August 07, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: A Different Choice with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
It was 8 PM in late August of 2000.  The subway car screeched into the 14th Street Station in Chelsea; Danny stood near the door with impatience.  He was running late for dinner with his partner, Pete. It had been a big year for them.  After nearly three years of dating, they had decided to move in together.  It seemed like he had finally found his happily ever after.  He didn’t want to let Pete down by making him wait. He rushed off the subway and headed towards the stairs.  Just as he began to dash up the stairs, though, dodging fellow travelers, he noticed something strange out of the corner of his eye.  It looked like there was a doll swaddled and wrapped up under a bench.  That was weird.  His legs pumped automatically as he walked up the stairs thinking—what child would deliberately stash their baby doll under a bench like that? He looked back.  The doll’s leg moved.  He raced down the stairs and towards the bench. He crouched by the bench and peered at the little baby.
July 17, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: My Heart’s Song with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
This year, everyone is talking about Naomi Osaka. At 23, Naomi Osaka is one of the best tennis players in the world. Literally.  She is a four-time Grand Slam champion and the first Asian player to be ranked number one in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association. In May of this year, Naomi made the bold decision to skip a press conference for which she accepted a $15,000 fine, and then to skip the French Open and Wimbledon all to protect her mental health. At the time, Naomi explained that she has struggled with depression.  She shared that questions at press conferences sometimes cause her to spiral into depressive states and harm her game. In response, the sports conglomerate explained how she was wrong. They fined, threatened her if she continued to refuse, told her they knew better than she what was best for her and claimed they are committed to supporting the mental health of their athletes. In other words, because these officials and organizers don’t experience crippling mental health challenges, they assumed Naomi’s experience was just like theirs. They thought about what it would be like for them to attend a press conference, they thought objectively about what happens at press conferences, and they arrived at the conclusion that Naomi’s needs were excessive and in violation of her contract.  They did not consider that her reality might be different.  They just punished her.
July 10, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: American Paradox with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
What do we do about what happened to Rabbi Shlomo Noginski on Thursday afternoon? What do we do when a man, a husband, a father of ten, an idealist, a rabbi, a teacher, who leaves his home in Israel and comes to our home, Greater Boston, where we live, where we try to have a rich and safe Jewish community, he comes here to be a sheliach, an emissary, at the Shaloh House, a teacher of Torah especially to our beloved Russian Jewish community? What do we do when such a man is stabbed multiple times, after being held up at gunpoint? What do we do when this happened two miles from here?
July 03, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Bashert with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
A few weeks ago I was in Los Angeles on a family reconnection tour seeing relatives I had not seen during the pandemic.  I was speaking with my niece Megan and her husband Randy, and they shared an improbable story about a dog. Randy and Megan and their children had loved their dog, a miniature schnauzer, named Kelsie, that was a part of their family for 15 years.  That is a long life in dog years.  When Kelsie passed away, it was a big loss, and they mourned her. She died just as the pandemic was setting in.  Pets became intensely popular during the pandemic.  Cute little puppies were in great demand.   Megan and her family would have wanted another dog to love, but given the great demand for puppies during the pandemic, they thought it would be a very long time until they had their new puppy. Then one night something unexpected happens.  Megan is preparing dinner, getting ready to put chicken in the oven.  The phone rings.  It is her mother-in-law Helene who says to her:  If you want a really cute puppy, a Cavapoo, come to my house right now.  Off to her mother in law’s she goes.
June 26, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: The Lesson of Achnai’s Oven with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
This week, I was speaking with one of our graduating seniors and he shared a story with me that I just can’t stop thinking about. He was at a graduation party. During the festivities, he hears some kid opining about how Jews are the worst and Israel has no right to exist. His blood immediately boils, and he rushes to confront the offender. He asks the kid, “how can you say that? That’s so Anti-Semitic.” The room falls silent. Everyone is watching and listening. No one says anything. This other kid continues unperturbed. Our graduate argues with him and yells until he is so angry and so hurt that he leaves the party. Another story. In May, during the worst of the violence in Israel, a young adult who is converting to Judaism reached out to me to talk about what was happening in Gaza. She told me her friends were all hateful quotes and videos on social media and she felt caught. She unfriended a few people she wasn’t close with who were posting terrible things, but some of her closest friends were also posting problematic videos and memes. It was making her sick. She told me that she tried talking to some of her friends about it, but she didn’t know enough yet to make a compelling case and the whole situation left her feeling anxious and stressed. She wanted to know, if she was going to be a good Jew and a good Zionist, what should she do? I have these conversations all the time.
June 19, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Wonder Takes Work with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
Some 45 years ago, in 1976, I saw an episode of a sitcom that I still remember today.  It was an episode in the seventh and final season of The Mary Tyler Moore Show entitled “Ted’s Change of Heart.”  Ted Baxter, the pompous news anchor played by Ted Knight, has a mild heart attack in the middle of delivering the evening news.  After a brief stay in the hospital, he is restored to full health, a rephuah shelaimah, as we would say. But while he emerges from his cardiac incident healthy and whole, he is not the same person.  The trauma changed him.  He is filled with an acute sense of wonder and gratitude for blessings that he had never noticed before.
June 12, 2021
Talmud Class: How Should We Respond to Anti-Semitism?
Broadcasted on June 5, 2021.
June 05, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Welcome Home with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
Enjoy our wonderful Rabbi Michelle Robinson's sermon from June 5, 2021
June 05, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: The Case of the Missing Mitzvah with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
May 29, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Orpah's Kiss with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
May 22, 2021
Talmud Class: Moral Bankruptcy or Moral Courage?
From May 22, 2021
May 22, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: New Normal with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
Join our wonderful Rabbi Michelle Robinson on May 15, 2021.
May 15, 2021
Talmud Class: Prayers for Israel
From May 15th, 2021.
May 15, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Anything, Not Everything with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
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. 
May 08, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: YOLO with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
May 01, 2021
Talmud Class: Abuser or Penitent?
From April 24th, 2021.
April 24, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: The Magic Spoon with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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:
April 17, 2021
Talmud Class: Hero or Sellout?
From April 17th, 2021.
April 17, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: A Pandemic Makeover with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
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.
April 10, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Somebody Who Got Me - A Yizkor Sermon with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
April 04, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: The Law of the Radiator with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
April 03, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Smash Room with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
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?
March 29, 2021
Talmud Class: March 27, 2021
From March 27, 2021
March 27, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: One Piece at a Time with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
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.
March 27, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Laugh and Cry with the Same Eyes with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
March 20, 2021
Talmud Class: Piano Man and the Seder
From March 20, 2021
March 20, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Happily Ever After with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
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.
March 13, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Listen, Really Listen with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
March 06, 2021
Talmud Class: Has the Pandemic Shaken Up the Three Bs?
From March 6th, 2021.
March 06, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: AQ with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
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
February 27, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Laughter Really is the Best Medicine with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
Laughter Really is the Best Medicine Follow this link to view the sermon and watch the live streaming version on our website
February 13, 2021
Talmud Class: Now We Get to Be Egyptians!
From February 13th, 2021.
February 13, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: What is Stronger Than a Storm, More Powerful Than a Pandemic? with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
February 06, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Let’s Sing the Songs We Love with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
Let’s Sing the Songs We Love!!
January 30, 2021
Talmud Class: Three Women Step Out of the Shadows
From January 30th, 2021
January 30, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Generation Gap with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
January 23, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Dickens and Democracy with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
“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.
January 09, 2021
Shabbat Sermon: Not Haunted by What Might Have Been with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
In the late 1990s, a young college student named Joshua Rothman caught the 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.
December 26, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Hitting the Wall with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
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.
December 19, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: The Moral Dimension of Happiness with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
December 12, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Amazing What You Can See When You Really Look with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
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.
December 05, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: More Than Our Situation with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
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.”
November 28, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Raising The Cup We’ve Got with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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?
November 21, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Keep Walking with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
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.
November 14, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: For a Nation United in Worry: We Strongly Disagree, And I Love You Anyway with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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?
November 07, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Two Abrahams Emerge From Depression with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
October 31, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Noah and the Pope with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
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.
October 24, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Seth or Abraham? with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
October 17, 2020
Yikzor Sermon: When You Are a Duck and It is Raining Outside with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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.
October 10, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Reading Kohelet with Rav Hazzan Aliza Berger
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.
October 04, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Sliding Doors with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
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.”
October 03, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Your Final Chapter, Not Your Finest Chapter with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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
September 28, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: For the Sin of Being an Arrogant Sheep with Rabbi Aliza Berger
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
September 26, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Infinite Good with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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
September 20, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Lord of the Flies with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
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
September 19, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Stamina — When You Are in the Shadows with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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
September 19, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Block Out to Dial In: A Strategy for Hineni in the Age of Covid with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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 website
September 12, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Ours For Now, Not Forever with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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
September 05, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Flow with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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 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
August 29, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Do We Believe in a God Who Punishes Us for Our Sins? A Question for the Elul of Covid-19 with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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
August 22, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: What’s cooking? with Rabbi Aliza Berger
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
August 15, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: BDS: Boycott, Divestment and Sanction of Only One State, the Jewish State – Hateful Ideas Have Hateful Consequences with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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
August 08, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Cancel Culture with Rabbi Michelle Robinson
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
July 18, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Is It Possible to Be At Peace in the Middle of a Pandemic? with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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
July 11, 2020
Shabbat Sermon: Pivot with Rabbi Wes Gardenswartz
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 Fram