Sunday, September 18, 2011

A Decade of 9/11

This is just a guess – but I’m pretty sure you’re all aware that we just passed the tenth anniversary of 9/11.

I want to talk about what this means – and what tarnished the its legacy. A decade ago, terrorists commandeered American passenger planes and – in a well-coordinated attack – destroyed the World Trade Center and attacked the Pentagon. There was a fourth airplane that was headed for either Congress or the White House, no one’s sure. We only know that when the brave passengers realized what was happening, they fought back and crashed the plane. They all died. Thanks to their heroism, no one else did.

Therefore, every year on September 11th, we memorialize and recall the tragedies.
Ten years ago, we mourned – and feared. We were attacked. On our soil. American soil.

Who did such a thing? Would they do it again? Was the government safe? Were WE safe?

We were all patriotic. SO patriotic. We bonded as a nation. We cared. We turned to each other. We cried together. We hoped together.

That day has become known as “the day that everything changed.”
The unanswered question: did things change for the better? … Or, did we let our fears overcome us … and divide us.

Let’s think about patriotism. How do we define it? Love of country

But what on earth does it really mean to love your country?

I do love our country – because I love our ideals.

These words – from the Declaration of Independence -- are our cornerstone: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

American history is the long story of trying to make this text come true. These are not mere hopes. This vision is the real stuff of patriotism.

The clarion call 9-11 – the national zeal for patriotism – could have been a renewed passion to cling to American ideals more than ever.

Renewed patriotism should have meant an even more intense commitment to:
• Justice – for everyone

• Freedom – which includes the right to dissenting opinions, your own religious ideals, and most importantly, the right to select our leaders.

• Unity – the knowledge that we all have a stake in our country, our government.

• And finally – security. Security from foreign invasion, certainly!
But … security also means that we do not live in fear.
Living in fear does corrode our psyches.

Unfortunately, 9/11 gave us a legacy of fear. We must do everything we can to stay safe.

If safety means we shun everyone that’s not like us … well, at least we’ll be safe.

If we have to close our eyes to torture – well, if it keeps us save, it’s worth it.

If we have to surrender some of our own values to stay safe – well, okay.


Since 9/11 – our freely elected government is less and less dependent on us for votes. Elections cost obscene amounts of money. What happens to you and me in the process?
Even worse, the incredibly expensive political ads tell us nothing about the candidates. The more money coming in, the more vicious the campaign.

In a recent Menorah, Bob wrote movingly about his own experience with xenophobia – which is fear of people who aren’t like us.

This fear has infected the nation – causing planes to be diverted when Muslim imams – were dressed like imams – and when young Jewish men prayed with tefillin!

Freedom of speech is often the freedom to shout down anyone who disagrees with us.
And unity? Has anyone ever seen the nation as divided as today?

I haven’t.

Processing the events of 9/11 has not been easy. The last decade has not given us America at its best.

But … as we approach a new year … and another decade of post-9/11 history … we can work to fix “what’s broke.”

Yes, stay patriotic! But we have to remember, the patriotic ideal is for ALL Americans. It’s supposed to keep us united.

That doesn’t mean that we all think the same. God forbid. We only learn if we can discuss different ideas.

We MUST respect the freedom to be different.

We must respect not just our own ability to vote – but the rights of ALL citizens to vote.

Of course, to be an informed voter, we have to listen to opposing viewpoints and NOT BE POISONED by the vitriol flowing into the public arena. And yes, that vitriol comes from all sides.

9/11 CAN BE the day that changed America – for good.

It can and should be a time to both remember the dead and celebrate the greatness and promise of our country.

When we ask God to bless America … we MUST ADD – God, please help us make America worthy of Your blessing.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Rabbi Shaina’s Book Suggestions to Prepare for the Days of Awe:

To find them, try our library, the public library, Amazon or other websites.

You can’t go wrong with any of these! (Note, this list is NOT inclusive)

1. Days of Awe: A Treasury of Jewish Wisdom for Reflection, Repentance, and Renewal on the High Holy Days by Nobel Laureate S.Y. Agnon. This is a book you’ll probably want to read and re-read every year in preparing for the holidays.
2. Forty Days of Transformation: Daily Reflections of Teshuvah by my colleague Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins. (
3. Meditations for the Days of Awe also by Rabbi Elkins and available at same website.
4. Repentance: the Meaning and Practice of Teshuvah by Louis Newman. This book is new and is excellent. It is written from the vantage point of one who has been through the twelve-step program and is both helpful and spiritual.
5. Words that Hurt, Words that Heal by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. A must-read!
6. Hillel, If Not Now, When? Also by Rabbi Telushkin.
7. Man’s Search for Meaning by the noted, late psychiatrist Dr. Victor Frankl – incredible insights here.
8. A Formula for Proper Living: Practical Lessons from Life and Torah by (Rabbi/Dr.) Abraham Twerski.
9. Filling Words with Light by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner


View from the Bimah: I’m Not a Sinner, So Why Must I Repent?

About three decades ago, I wrote a novel called “Open the Gate.” (No, it never got published). The title came from the Yom Kippur service and the concept of God opening His gates of spirituality to us. Ironically, as soon as Isabel, the main character opened her machzor to pray the Yom Kippur service, she immediately closed the book in anger and walked away. My heroine muttered: “I am not a sinner, I don’t need to do this.”

It’s been so long, I don’t remember much about that novel. My outstanding memory is that my main character, the only Jew in the book, was clueless about Yom Kippur.
That’s because I was clueless about the Days of Awe. Thirty plus years later, I like to think I’ve learned a bit more.

Yes, I’ve grown over the decades. I’m sure we all have. None of us is going to consider ourselves as sinners. Or are we? I’m not so na├»ve that I could honestly stand before you and say that I have not sinned during the last year. I could not stand before you and say that I don’t regret anything I’ve said or done.

None of us could that – at least, not honestly.

Let’s phrase this differently. Have we done and said things we regret? Did we pass up opportunities to help our loved ones and our community? Did we treat ourselves kindly?

More questions for self-reflection: Have we stereotyped ethnic groups? Have we spread gossip and rumors that could be hurtful? Have we embarrassed and disrespected other people?

If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us will answer “yes” to at least some of these questions.

We can brush past our behavior by saying, that’s human nature; I try to do my best.
But how honest is that answer? Really?

And what is human nature?

Judaism teaches that to be really human – to be true to our innermost nature – we must strive to be our best. Recognizing that we are human does not give us permission to act down to our baser nature! Rather, it’s the opposite. We must learn and grow and aspire to be better people.

When all is said and done, can we look at God and say that we haven’t sinned – against Him and against others?

Not if we’re honest. We all have room to learn and grow.

God wants us to do this! He wants our closeness – and to be close to Him, we have to aspire to the “better angels” of our nature.

On the High Holy Days – the Days of Awe – we come together as a community and pray both for ourselves and our community.

By the time you get this issue, it will be the month of Elul (the month begins on August 30 and 31). Elul is supposed to usher in a period of introspection as we approach Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Elul is an especially appropriate time for reading spiritually oriented books. Elsewhere in the Menorah, you’ll find a list of some of my own favorites. The most important thing, though, is honest self-reflection – which must include the things that we’ve done right as well as the things we’ve done wrong.

We culminate this process in our services for the Days of Awe. There are deep wells of spirituality to tap – if only we try!

God desperately wants us to come to Him in love. He wants to forgive us. And He wants us to grow in love and goodness so that we can be worthy of being part of the House of Israel.

L’shanah tovah u’vrachah tikateivu – May you be written for a year of goodness and blessing,

Rabbi Shaina

Friday, July 29, 2011

Elijah's problematic anger

Tomorrow’s haftarah is a rare treat. The intricacies of the Jewish calendar dictate that by now, we’re reading from Jeremiah. The reading cycle often skips the story of Elijah and his revelation of God.

Now, a question: did you ever wonder why at every brit milah we set aside a chair for Elijah? Are we waiting for an honored guest? That’s certainly a fair description of the great prophet…

But there’s another, darker reason. We’ll see from the following Scripture that Elijah actually makes God angry.

From I Kings 19:
9. And he came there to a cave, and lodged there; and, behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said to him, What are you doing here, Elijah?
10. And he said, I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; for the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword; and I am the only one left; and they seek my life, to take it away.
11. And he said, Go out, and stand upon the mount before the Lord. And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
12. And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
13. And it was so, when Elijah heard it that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice to him, and said, What are you doing here, Elijah?
14. And he said, I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword; and I am the only one left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

From these verses, what statements aroused God’s ire?

Here’s the good news – Elijah was passionate for Hashem.

The bad news – Elijah was passionate for Hashem.

Elijah’s zeal … for what HE saw as right … blinded him to Israel’s strengths. He could only see what was wrong.

God’s revelation was not a reward!

Yes, of course prophets reprimand the people when they see wrongdoing. They want the people to turn back toward God!

The prophets act out of both love for God – and love for the people.

Elijah acted out of love for God only – not out of love for the people, as we look again at verse 14:
And he said, I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts; because the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword; and I am the only one left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

This is a warning for all of us – for none of us have attained Elijah’s greatness.
If even a prophet could be blinded to the goodness of the people, so can we!
How many times do we hear a rumor and assume that we’re hearing the TRUTH?

Elijah fell into the trap of believing his own preconceived ideas. He decided the people were unworthy. Elijah let his anger blind him.

Unfortunately, that’s how most of us see. We don’t see issues in their entirety. We see what we expect to see. If we’re already angry at someone or something – everything we “see” will reinforce that anger.

That’s what happened to the prophet Elijah. In his case, he could at least claim that love and passion for Hashem blinded him.

Most of us, can’t make that excuse. Our anger is RARELY born of love of God.
Because of his anger and condemnation of the people, Elijah ended his prophetic career. He literally passed the mantle to Elisha.

But I don’t want to leave you thinking that Elijah was always angry and condemning. When we first see him, it is in the context of two miracles born of love.
He meets a destitute widow and her son during a famine. His first miracle is to provide an unending supply of food.

Despite their newfound plenty, the son became ill and died. Elijah stretched himself out over the boy three times and prayed: “Oh Hashem, my God, let this child’s life return to his body.”

The child came back to life.

Where others saw death and despair, Elijah saw life and hope. And through God, he brought that hope to life – literally…

Later, Elijah became disillusioned and forgot that he needed to love the people as much as he loved Hashem.

He lost the gift of prophecy.

WE must learn from this – we must remember – always – even when we see problems – sin – or evil – we must not lose sight of goodness.

We may even find out that our first conclusions are wrong!

That’s what happened to Elijah.

As you probably know, he never really died. God took him to heaven in a chariot of fire.

Legends abound. He roams the earth in disguise and helps those in need.
And he attends every single brit milah. However, the reason has to do with his anger. Have you guessed?
Elijah the Prophet angered – seriously angered -- Hashem by saying that the people stopped keeping the covenant.

Therefore, Elijah eternally bears witness to the fact that yes, we DO keep the covenant. That’s why he attends every bris. It’s God’s way of saying: Elijah, you were wrong then, and I hope you see that the Jews have always – will always – keep My covenant.

I like to think that Elijah derives a great deal of pleasure from knowing he was wrong to be angry – wrong to think the worst of his own people.
Our tradition is clear, Elijah’s condemnation was just plain wrong. Let us be careful to avoid the same trap … We won’t have the same opportunity to roam the earth after we die and visit and help Jews.
We must remember to see the good in each other – and IN OURSELVES – during our lifetimes…

If we do that, we are truly and clearly hearing the word of God.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Learning to Speak: George VI and Moses

In Torah, we read about Moses, who reluctantly accepted the mission of redeeming our people.

Moses flatly told Hashem that he wasn’t up to the task. Now a question: what excuse could Moses possibly have used with the Creator of heaven and earth?

He said he was heavy of speech. According to tradition, Moses stammered. We don’t know if that was the case, just that he was reluctant to speak: he didn’t think he could.

A recent Oscar nominee, The Kings Speech, describes a reluctant king, George VI of the United Kingdom. There are interesting parallels between the story of Moses and the British king:
• Neither wanted the job
• Both understood they were obligated to accept the job
• Both Moses and King George were brought up in royal courts
• Both men came to their careers at the time of historical crises: for the king, WWII was breaking out; for Moses, Egyptian slavery had become intolerable to both the people of Israel and to Hashem
• Neither was born to his mission – Moses had no idea that God would call on him; George VI had an older brother who was destined to be king
• And both had trouble speaking. George VI, known as Bertie, definitely stammered.

Neither one could possibly fulfill his mission if he couldn’t speak.

The story of King George certainly doesn’t have the religious meaning and depth of the story of Moses. Still, The King’s Speech is a compelling story of a person who took great risks to overcome serious obstacles. One obstacle is learning to speak; the other obstacle? Finding his humanity.

At this point, I should issue a spoiler alert. However, this is history.

Bertie didn’t start out as the world’s most likeable person. After all, Bertie was raised in a royal court. He only knew a world of privilege and title. He had a sense of entitlement – because he was entitled… to so much.

Now, compare this to Moses. His first trip out of the royal palace led him to encounter his enslaved Jewish brethren. His anger at their condition led Moses to kill the taskmaster and flee for his life.

Bertie had no such experience. He didn’t know how to be a “real” person. Therefore, humility wasn’t his strong suit.

Bertie’s speech impediment embarrassed him no end. Seeking help also embarrassed him no end.

Bertie’s wife Elizabeth took matters into her own hands. She’d watched her husband go from therapist to therapist and still, get no relief. She’d watched – and shared – his abject fear every time he spoke in public.

Without telling her husband, Elizabeth visited a speech therapist who used unorthodox methods. Her love and support proved crucial to her husband’s growth.

Critical to the process: the patience and skill of the therapist, Lionel Logue. He took on a difficult patient for whom the stakes were really high!

Without going into much detail – I hope you see the movie! – Bertie embarked upon a difficult process of growth and learning.

An important component of the movie: we see fantasies shredded: the life of royalty may seem fantastic, but its difficulties overshadowed any so-called glamour.

George VI had little control over the shape of his life. He didn’t want to be king. When his elder brother abdicated the throne, Bertie had no choice. He had to be king.

As with all of us, we often come to life events we cannot control. It’s often difficult, but often, the only thing we can manage is … our response—our attitude.

We can give up… or rise to great challenge.

For George VI, hostilities were breaking out with Hitler. The timing couldn’t be worse. His speaking difficulties loomed even greater.

A king has to speak.

Mr. Logue became the first “commoner” that Bertie had known. They became close friends. And Logue remained his lifelong coach.

George VI did learn to speak because of his:
• Supportive wife
• Amazing coach
• Personal courage in facing obstacles.
• And sense of duty to something far greater than himself

During WWII, King George VI became a tower of strength and comfort for his people during WWII.

For Bertie, the task was difficult, yet through an incredible act of courage and will, he overcame tremendous obstacles.

The story of Moses learning to speak … of King George learning to speak … isn’t just a story about famous people.

We can apply these lessons to ourselves.

For both of these men, speaking wasn’t just a matter of diction.

They had to learn to speak to minds and hearts.

To accomplish this, they had to overcome their own fears.

Perhaps most difficult of all, they had to humble themselves in order to grow.

For both Moses and King George, heavy obstacles provided opportunities for incredible growth.

We can learn and be inspired by both of these men who lived in very different worlds.

We don’t have to let our “flaws” define us. We don’t have to let obstacles deter us from accomplishment.

If we are to grow, we must serve a higher good – one that is found in community – and with God.

And finally, a highly recommend this movie!

B'shalom u'vrachah,in peace and blessing,

Rabbi Shaina Bacharach

Goldstone and Operation Cast Lead a Year Later

Do you remember Israel’s military operation, Operation Cast Lead? It happened two years ago, when Israel retaliated against Hamas for an eight-year rocket barrage attacking southern Israel.

Many of us hailed Operation Cast Lead by saying: it’s about time that Israel defended her people.

The world cried out against Israeli brutality.

The United Nations immediately “investigated.”

The UN Human Rights Council appointed Judge Richard Goldstone – a prominent, respected Jew from South Africa – to lead the investigation.

Surely that was good news, asking a Jew to lead the investigation…
But it wasn’t good news … because it came from the UN Human Rights Council.

The UN Human Rights Council is blatantly anti-Israel – and not at all a favorable arena for promoting human rights. An example, in late February the Council commended Libya for its human rights efforts!

As a human rights watchdog, the group is a bad … macabre … joke. So, to no one’s surprise, the Goldstone report branded Israel as blatantly guilty of war crimes.
Goldstone did accuse both Hamas and Israel of these war crimes. However, this report made Israel sound a lot worse than Hamas.

Goldstone accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians.
Fact: Israeli policy was to warn civilians of every military action.
Fact: there were significant civilian casualties in Gaza.
Fact: Hamas used civilians as human shields.
Fact: War is brutal and chaotic and mistakes are always made. War is horrible.

Forget that Hamas targets are always civilian. Forget that Hamas had attacked Israelis for years. Forget that Israel spent years resisting even adequate self-defense, let alone retaliation.

Israel was the bad guy, a terrorist nation. Naturally, the world hailed the Goldstone Report as further proof of Israeli atrocities. The damage to Israel – and to Jews – has been far-reaching and incalculable. I bring this upfor two reasons:

1. The Middle East is more dangerous than ever. There are multiple rebellions and we have no idea who – if any – are the good guys. The vilification of Israel makes our situation even more precarious.
2.And because Judge Goldstone recently issued a semi-retraction in the Washington Post.

On April 1st – yes, April Fool’s Day – Judge Goldstone wrote: “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.”
Goldstone explained that “today we know more” than they did at the time of his investigation.

We could ask: why didn’t you wait and make sure all the facts were in?
In his semi mea culpa, Goldstone blamed the victim. He complained that Israel didn’t cooperate. He also expressed the hope that both Israel and Gaza would investigate the war on their own.

Israel has been investigating Operation Cast Lead for two years. Goldstone expressed surprise and disappointment that no such investigation came from Hamas.
In his article, Goldstone further expressed the hope that his criticism of Gaza would lead them to “curtail their attacks.”

Hamas has recently renewed their attacks on Israel, the most recent target a school bus with children. Yes, Israeli retaliation was swift and strong – but Hamas rocket attacks shouldn’t be happening at all.

Was Hamas encouraged by Goldstone’s mild criticism the world directed toward them – coupled with the unrelenting accusations of Israel for war crimes?

Goldstone’s admission is astounding and tragic. While he excuses the bias, he seems to understand that he operated without facts.

However, our question is this: can any amount of teshuvah, repentance, undo the damage Goldstone unleashed?

Let’s take a moment to look at how seriously Judaism takes lashon harah – often considered to be gossip, but literally defined as evil speech. This week’s parshah, Metzorah, is ostensibly about skin disease and matters of ritual impurity.

My colleague – Rabbi/Doctor Leonard Sharzer points out that there is nothing medical about the parshah. There are deep truths. One of the hidden messages of Metzorah relates to lashon harah. According to tradition, speaking lashon harah leads to the skin afflictions detailed in the Torah.

Do note: Jewish theology does NOT blame a sick person for getting sick. The connection between disease and speech cannot be taken literally.
What the Torah does teach: if a person spreads distortions and lies, his inner essence will become evident to all. This doesn’t mean through physical disease – just that the truth will eventually come out.

People will know. The person speaking lashon harah is liable to be shunned and isolated.

After all, speaking lashon harah does eventually put one outside the community….
Moses Maimonides, the Rambam, taught that slandering a community makes complete repentance virtually impossible.

Repentance – teshuvah –requires restitution. How can you do that with an entire community, let alone a nation? Further, suppose others were harmed as a result?
The damage can go a long way.

Our world loves rhetoric and often shuns serious fact-checking. News comes to us in snippets – lacking context and history. We forg the art of reading between the lines to see what information we’re missing.

Unfortunately, Richard Goldstone’s original report did so much damage, Israel’s reputation … and safety … cannot be assured with even the deepest of apologies.
We must carefully weigh our statements and pronouncements. Goldstone didn’t do that, and needlessly caused a lot of damage to Israel and the Jewish people.

We can easily do the same thing by repeating lies and distortions we hear in the media.

We must always be mindful of Torah – which teaches us to be cautious, just, and compassionate in even our daily speech.

In other words, God really does require fact-checking… may we guard our own speech and carefully weigh that of others as we prepare to re-enact our journey to freedom and holiness.

B'shalom u'vrachah, in peace and blessing,
Rabbi Shaina Bacharach

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Sanity and Song

I want to talk about two things. They’re both important and have impacted me deeply.

This Shabbat is known as Shabbat Shirah; a Shabbat of song. It’s because tomorrow we’ll read the joyful song that we sang at the shores of the Sea of Reeds. Crossing the Sea meant that we were no longer slaves. We were redeemed!

But do we really feel like singing? …

A Prayer for Tucson
by Rabbi Naomi Levy

On this Shabbat Shira, the Sabbath of Song,
We sing to God a song of grief
For innocent victims
Cut down too soon.
May their memories be a blessing,
May their lights shine brightly upon us.
Gather them into Your eternal shelter, God,
Your shelter of peace.
We sing to God a song of mourning
For the broken hearts,
The senseless loss, the shock, the emptiness.
Send comfort, God, to the grieving families,
Hear their cries.
Fill them with the courage
To carry on in the face of loss.
We sing to God a song of healing
For the wounded.
Lift them up God,
Ease their pain,
Restore them to strength, to hope, to life.
We sing to God a song of peace
For our nation.
Teach us how to rise above hatred
And cruelty and indifference.
Show us how to live up to the beauty You've planted within us.
Let us rise up from this tragedy,
Let us walk together hand in hand
United in hope
On a path of peace, Amen.
Kavannah for Moment of Silence by Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky
"Our tradition is that in the event of suffering, we fall silent and pray for mercy." - Bavli Berakhot 62a

May we fall silent now, and listen to these gunshots still reverberating, and hear these bullets ricochet through our society. Let us never make such a deafening noise. Let us add soft voices, instead, to human discourse, in which we seek to understand before we insist on being understood. Thus we may merit to be like the students of Hillel, esteeming the words of our adversaries… (pause)

Repeating Rabbi Kalmonofsky’s words: “Let us add soft voices, instead, to human discourse, in which we seek to understand before we insist on being understood.”

Here’s the irony: Many blamed the shootings on the vitriol and violent language of public debate; they rightfully called for increased public civility; at the same time, the finger-pointing and blame has escalated all week!

What have we learned? As a society, we are still not seeking to understand. Public debate remains a point-scoring contest.

And despite the finger-pointing, we have absolutely no idea what really led to the shooting.

Now for the shocker: we don’t have to … we shouldn’t… blame anyone… not the right, not the left, not those who missed the signs of the shooter’s mental illness.

What we should do: Look inward.

Listen to the words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, z”l: "Above all, the prophets remind us of the moral state of a people: Few are guilty, but all are responsible."

Rabbi Heschel would remind us to look to our own souls … and to work at making a difference. He would tell us: use this as an opportunity to our own roles in society.

Do we really seek understanding? Or, do we believe that ideas and beliefs can be easily labeled and drawn in shades of black and white? Are ideas out there to be rebutted … or should we think them through?

Labeling is always a problem. Depth of understanding is always highly nuanced. Black and white labels are false tags that lead away from truth.

When we attach labels to ideas or to people, we effectively close our ears.

We need to listen to others with our hearts and minds.

We cannot change events, but we can change our attitudes. Even in the midst of tragedy, we can find sparks of inspiration.

Those sparks can be found:
• In the bravery of the shooting victims
• In the heroic struggle of Congressman Giffords to survive
• And in an unrelated event, the recent death of singer/songwriter Debbie Friedman

Debbie Friedman died last Sunday. For those unfamiliar with her work, her contribution to Judaism is immeasurable. Her songs and her attitude enriched us and brought us to participate with a full heart.

Debbie spent the last two decades of her life with a debilitating neurological condition. She couldn’t walk. She fatigued easily. She spent most of her time in a wheelchair.

Yet when she sang, she stood … unaided. Her songs were her prayers. They became our prayers.

Debbie Friedman gave of herself with heart full of song… and courage.

She didn’t blame anyone for her illness. She didn’t use it as an excuse to stop giving to others. Instead, her illness drove her to reach out others … to bless them with song… to give us a tool to withstand life’s difficulties.

We can and must learn from her courage and heart.

We can and must make our lives a blessing.

We can and must learn the art of listening to others … without judgment, without blame … and with civility.

We pray that the tragedies and difficulties of the last week will teach us to be better people. We ask the Kadosh Baruch Hu to help us open our ears and hearts to others.

We ask the Holy One to give us the courage to face life’s adversities with song, that we may live with blessing and bring blessing into the lives of others, and let us say, amen.