Our Spiritual Nuggets contain a short teaching, quote, and/or question for contemplation from the clergy. We invite you to make this your daily spiritual practice.


Spiritual Nuggets for Sukkot


Spiritual Nuggets for Elul


Friday, June 12
with Rabbi Stoller

“Law that lacks tzedakah, that does not draw from the wellsprings of feelings and tenderness, of heartfelt ways of pleasantness and inner kindliness, that is confined by its boundaries and does not break through its borders to go beyond what the law requires – such law is absolute wickedness.”
–Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, Halakhic Morality

I was up late last night watching the movie “Just Mercy.” It’s the true story of Walter McMillan, a black man who was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Alabama, and the civil rights attorney Bryan Stevenson who proved McMillan’s innocence and got him freed from death row. The movie is emotional and inspiring, and if you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend it. “Just Mercy” is streaming free right now on Amazon, to help raise awareness of racism in our criminal justice system.

In addition to racial bias, one of the key issues raised in the film is the relationship between law and justice. We sometimes think of them as synonymous, but these concepts are actually quite different. “Law” refers to the rules, the principles, and the processes that are written in law books and constitutions, whereas “justice” (“tzedek” or “tzedakah” in Hebrew) refers to what is right and fair. Oftentimes (usually?), law and justice coincide – but not always. Sometimes, the laws on the books produce immoral outcomes. Sometimes, the law fails to deliver justice. (“Just Mercy” explores this truth, particularly in its examination of the case of Herbert Richardson, another death row inmate represented by Bryan Stevenson.)

Two mantras of American culture are: (1) “the law is the law” and (2) “justice is blind.” But, “Just Mercy” shows that when it comes to real life, justice should not be *completely* blind. It should not be blind to the particular circumstances in which people exist and act, or the nuances and vagaries of practical living. And that’s where the Jewish concept of tzedakah comes in, and becomes essential to law. It’s found not in books, but in *life*. It’s about real people, living day to day. It’s about listening to their stories, and empathizing with them. It’s about understanding that life is messy and complicated, and that, sometimes, mechanically reading the text without also considering the context, and applying the rules without also considering what is right, may produce outcomes that are lawful, but not necessarily outcomes that are just. And such law, in R. Soloveitchik’s words, is “complete wickedness.”

The antidote to such wickedness is what our Sages call “mishpat she-yesh bo tzedakah” – justice that incorporates righteousness. This, in Jewish tradition, is the meaning of *true* justice.

How do we get there? I don’t know, but I’m confident it won’t be easy. Perhaps we should listen more to people like Bryan Stevenson. I encourage you to read this very insightful and poignant interview with him in this article, which Cantor Joanna Alexander shared with me last week, where Stevenson sheds some light on the historical and cultural factors at work in the criminal justice system and the response to George Floyd’s murder.

In the meantime, let us pray and work for a society in which “mishpat she-yesh bo tzedakah,” law that incorporates righteousness and justice, prevails. Barukh atah Adonai, ohev tzedakah u’mishpat. Blessed are You, Adonai, who loves righteousness and justice.





Thursday, June 11
with Rabbi Stoller

This is the bell. My great-grandmother’s bell. It used to sit on her dining table, and whenever she wanted Walter to bring something from the kitchen, she rang it. Walter didn’t have any trouble hearing it, because the kitchen was only three feet away. Walter was black.

Today I had a long talk with a friend about the bell. She asked me: How do you think Walter felt every time he heard that bell? Do you think he was gnashing his teeth in anger? Do you think he was humiliated? I don’t know, I said. As far as I remember, Walter was smiling and friendly whenever we came over to my great-grandmother’s for dinner. Why was he smiling? Was it just because he was a nice man? Was it because he liked our family and enjoyed seeing us? Was it because he liked his work, or because he was happy to have a job? Was it because he was taught by his parents to smile and be friendly at work, even if you’re miserable? Was it because the culture in which Walter was formed, the culture in which my great-grandmother was formed, the culture in which I was formed, expected him to know his place and be happy about it – or at least, *pretend* to be happy about it?

Honestly, I don’t know. I don’t know how to answer the questions my friend asked me today. Because I didn’t know Walter. I only knew he worked at my great-grandmother’s house and served our dinner on Friday nights. I only knew that he showed up when she would ring the turtle bell – and that my mom forbade me from ringing it because it was disrespectful to Walter.

I do know that I loved my great-grandmother. She came to everything – my school events, my baseball games, my birthday parties – always dressed immaculately in a long-sleeved dress, jewelry, and high-heels. She was a pillar of our community. For me, this bell is a happy reminder of my great-grandmother and the indescribably positive role she played in my life. It’s a reminder of all those wonderful family dinners, the amazing childhood I had, with my great-grandmother and grandparents and parents and brother and aunts and uncles and cousins all around me.

For Walter, I have a feeling this bell meant something quite different. I think I need to learn more about that.

There is so much history, so much humanity, so much love, and – hard as it is to acknowledge – probably so much pain and humiliation, too, wrapped up in this bell. All of it is true. All of it is real. Life, if we are honest about it, demands that we hold conflicting truths and conflicting realities at the same time.

I have always loved this bell, my great-grandmother’s bell. I still do. And at the same time, I must admit I am now starting to see an additional dimension of this bell I hadn’t seen before. It doesn’t feel good at all. But then again, I’m sure it didn’t feel good for Walter either.



Monday, June 8
with Rabbi Stoller

“Teach them to your children.” – Deuteronomy 6:7

Yesterday I took my kids to help sidewalk-chalk the words “Black Lives Matter” in the Temple Israel parking lot, in preparation for last night’s Tri-Faith solidarity gathering. It was 96 degrees and the masks we were wearing made the heat even more brutal, but I explained to my groaning children that we were doing this because it’s important to stand up for fairness and equality for everyone no matter the color of their skin. At the gathering last night, they were excited to stick their heads up through the sunroof to look out at all the cars there to participate and see the words they had helped to chalk on the ground. When I asked them, “Do y’all remember why we’re here?”, they answered without skipping a beat, “Because black lives matter.”

At the sidewalk-chalking yesterday, there was one other mom with her two young adult children, two teens whose parents I know have taught them about the importance of advocating for justice and equality, and one other adult whose parents probably did the same for him. In my years as a rabbi, I have been so impressed by kids who just embody kindness, compassion, maturity, empathy, and a sense of duty to something bigger than themselves. In every case I can think of, it was their parents who modeled those things for them. “Teach them to your children” is one of the Torah’s foundational mitzvot, and its impact cannot be overstated. There is no question that our children learn from watching what we do. To borrow a line from one of my childhood rabbis, we as parents are charged not only to teach our children with our lips, but also to teach with our lives.

And that responsibility never stops. After my sermon Friday night about my family and race, my dad sent me an incredible email reflecting on his own experiences with race growing up in Dallas in the 50s and 60s. It was the longest email I’ve ever received from my dad, different from our usual exchanges. In it he talked about how he remembers the public bus stopping at the corner by his house every morning, a whole group of black women getting off to go to work as housekeepers at the white homes in his neighborhood. How he and his friends, when they would go out for a hot dog on the weekends, never really questioned why there was a sign on the bus saying “Blacks must sit in the back,” or why black people had to sit in the balcony at the movie theater and in a special section at Cowboys’ games, or why there were no black golfers and no white caddies at the club where he and his dad used to play golf on Sundays. My dad talked powerfully about how, after going to army boot camp, as a Jewish white kid he was able to secure a spot in the reserves and go home to Dallas, while the black guys who were in boot camp with him got sent to Vietnam. And there are so many more stories.

As we get older, it’s easy to fall into patterns of how we interact with our parents and our children, and it can be hard, and uncomfortable, to break those patterns. In sharing these uncomfortable experiences with race that he rarely discussed with us when we were growing up, my dad showed me that relationship dynamics do not need to remain static, that you can always go deeper, and that there is so much potential for mutual discovery and growth when we do.

Most importantly, my dad reminded me, as he often does, that parents never stop teaching their children. I hope I can make the same kind of impact on my children that he makes on me.



Thursday, June 4
with Rabbi Stoller

“Thus Adonai would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
-Exodus 33:11

The ubiquitous scenes on TV of people in surgical masks protesting the unjust murder of George Floyd will surely be an image etched into our memories of 2020. To me, these images reflect a paradox of the moment: the need to wear masks in order to protect human life during the pandemic, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, the way those masks dehumanize the wearer by rendering them faceless. As Billy Idol hauntingly sang: “Eyes without a face / Got no human grace / Your eyes without a face.”

The Talmud (Ketubot 66b) tells a story of Yochanan ben Zakkai, a leader of the Jewish people at the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Leaving Jerusalem as the city was under siege by Rome, Yochanan came upon a desperate, hungry young woman, rummaging around in the garbage for something to eat. When she saw the renowned rabbi approaching, she covered her face with her long hair to avoid the shame of being recognized. From behind her mask, as it were, she pleaded to the rabbi for help. The wealthy and prominent rabbi, riding by on his horse, could easily have tossed a few coins her way and kept going – a transactional gesture toward a faceless being. But that is not what Yochanan did. Instead, he stopped and asked her, “Who are you?” He cared about knowing her. At which point, she removed her mask and they had a face to face interaction in which Yochanan listened to her story and came to understand her unique circumstances and struggles. Being able to see her face made all the difference between a cold, transactional I-It interaction and a warm, human I-Thou connection.

Of course, wearing a mask when out in public is essential during the pandemic, and I’m glad to see many of the demonstrators wearing them. But we should not make the mistake of looking at these masked individuals as faceless, interchangeable bodies – because they are not. Each one is a human being with a story, a history; each one is a whole world. We have to remember that the black men and women, and other people of color, who are victimized and who live under constant suspicion simply because of their skin color are real human beings, impacted quite personally by the rules and laws on the books. So if we are serious about doing something about racism in our country, we have to (metaphorically) un-mask those victimized by it, and, like Yochanan ben Zakkai, ask, “Who are you? Tell me your story. I want to know your circumstances and struggles.”

I invite you to read this essay, in which Ibram X. Kendi describes his own experience as a black man in our country. “What I am—a black male—should not matter,” he writes. “WHO I am should matter. We can build an existence wherein the fearful stop fearing me, and terrorizing me with their fear. Wherein they strive to get to know who I am…” Justice has to start with listening to the stories of people whose lives are directly impacted by the realities we seek to change. And the only way to do that is to remove our (metaphorical) masks, and relate to each other as human beings, face to face.



Thursday, May 21
with Rabbi Stoller

While I was teaching the Omaha Beit Midrash last night in my basement, my son came down and, a bit timidly, put this note on my desk. I was right in the middle of talking to the class and wasn’t able to read it right away. I think I probably gave him the “one second” or the “I’m in the middle of something” hand-motion, and he went back upstairs. Omg, I should have just stopped in the moment and read the note. But the surprise that was waiting for me when I was done was priceless.

After a couple weeks of trying, and a couple more of losing interest, Zachary finally found his balance and learned to ride a two-wheeler a couple nights ago, and really began to master it yesterday. One of the bright spots of the quarantine is that I’ve been able to help him learn when I could steal a little time during the day, at lunch or in between Zoom meetings. Yesterday afternoon, the kids on the street were out in force riding their bikes…and Zachary was with them! It was such an awesome experience for me to be able to be out there with them, too!

Judaism teaches us to say a blessing when we experience something joyful, because God is present in the moment. Saying this blessing, the shehecheyanu, is a spiritual practice of embracing the rush of emotion and excitement we experience when something is new or happens for the first time. It can be something big, like buying a new house, or celebrating a wedding or bar mitzvah, or your child learning to ride a bike for the first time. And it can also be something small, like getting a new book or shirt, or seeing a friend you haven’t seen in the last 30 days. (We can, or will, certainly appreciate that one after being in quarantine for so long: imagine what it will feel like to see your friend in person, rather than just their image on a screen!). Big or small, these are experiences worth celebrating – so we should take care not to let them pass unnoticed, or unacknowledged. These moments are gifts. The ability to experience joy is a divine blessing indeed. So today, and going forward, my invitation to you is to look consciously for the moments, big or small, when you can say shehecheyanu.

OK, that’s it for me. I gotta go get ready for my bike ride!

ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם שהחיינו וקיימנו והגיענו לזמן הזה

Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam, shehecheyanu, v’kiy’manu, v’hig’yanu lazman hazeh!
Blessed are You Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, you have given us life, sustained us, and brought us to this joyous time!



Tuesday, May 19
with Rabbi Stoller

“We should strengthen ourselves like a lion to arise in the morning to the service of the Creator.” —Tur, Orach Chayim 1

It’s 7:30 a.m., and the familiar sounds of the quarantine (and let’s be honest, pre-quarantine too) fill my house: ornery children screaming, stomping, arguing, aiming (with some effect?) to strong-arm weary parents into lifting the newly imposed limits on daily iPad/YouTube time. By 8:15, though, all is well and quiet. As Chuck Berry famously sang, “‘C’est la vie,’ say the old folks / It goes to show you never can tell.”

I woke up bleary-eyed this morning and said to Karen, this whole being-at-home-all-the-time thing is getting old. “Going” to work every day in my pajamas with un-cut hair sticking up all over the place because I can’t drag myself out of bed early enough to take a shower beforehand has become tiresome. I miss the days when I was disciplined enough to wake up at 5:15, exercise, pray, and read before waking the kids up for school. Life in the quarantine is paradoxical: my lazy-bum factor is at an unprecedented sky-high level (I’ve never gone this long in my life without bothering to put on real shoes), and yet in some ways I feel more productive – and, oddly, more energized – than ever.

So it’s in that latter space, the energy and productivity, where I want to try to focus my thinking, and from which I’d like to tell my quarantine-story. Yes, the screaming kids and world-war-level battles over technology are draining and nerve-eating. But I do believe God has a purpose for me, and for all of us, as we weather the siege that the microscopic, stream-of-RNA-fatty-whatever world-dominating conquerer has laid to our lives. Learning to streamline and focus on what’s essential is surely part of it (see Greg McKeown’s excellent book “Essentialism”). So is learning to be better parents, which, as my daughter wisely and blatantly said to our faces, means being firmer and setting more rules and consequences (yes, she did actually say that!). Learning to think differently about old questions, experimenting with innovative ways of doing conventional things, supporting those in need from afar, challenging ourselves to look beyond the horizon of what we can see – all these are also, to my mind, our callings today. So tired and bleary-eyed as I may be each morning, I try to remember the call of our tradition to “strengthen myself like a lion to arise each morning to the service of the Creator.”

Yes, I’m tired; we all are. But don’t sleep too late. There’s sacred work to do.

.ברוך אתה יי אלהינו מלך העולם המעביר שנה מעיני ותנומה מעפעפי

Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-loam, ha-ma’avir sheinah me-einai ut’numah me-afapai.
Blessed are You Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, you remove the sleep from my eyes and the slumber from my eyelids.



Monday, May 18
with Rabbi Stoller

Karen stayed up late last night watching “The Joker.” I’d seen it before and found it to be powerful, but I couldn’t bring myself to watch it again. The part about child abuse is just too sad, too painful for me; I just hate to picture the little innocent boy being tortured by his mother or her boyfriend, or whoever it was. Martha Nussbaum, a philosopher of literature and law, says that fiction gives us a window into slices of life in which we have no personal experience; it opens our eyes to realities that exist out there behind closed doors, and because of that, fiction has the power to affect us deeply, and change us profoundly. “The Joker” did that for me – which is why I can’t watch it again. I choose, instead, to look away.

But, of course, the fictional story points to an actual reality, the reality of child abuse – and it’s a reality from which we cannot look away. “You must not remain indifferent” (Deut. 22:3); “you must not cover your eyes, pretending not to see it” (Rashi). I have been distressed in recent days reading news stories about child abuse during this pandemic; stuck at home with their abusers, an unknowable number of children are subjected more than ever to indescribable torture and evil at the hands of people who are supposed to love them and safeguard them. According to news accounts, reports of child abuse are down significantly these days, not because abuse itself is on the decline, but because it’s more hidden from view now: “Teachers, coaches and other adults who interact with children and are legally required to report signs of abuse can’t always see red flags over Zoom or other remote connections — if they’re able to get in touch with at-risk kids at all.

And kids who are at-risk are less able to signal distress if their abusers are in the background of calls” (CNN, May 17).

Turns out that staying at home isn’t saving every life equally.

Thank God, there are righteous people and organizations out there who make it their mission not to look away; good, caring, kind, angels of human beings who rescue abused children. Project Harmony is one of those organizations here in Omaha, and I encourage you to support their work. May God bless them and strengthen them in their sacred work.

Evil, tragically, is part of our reality – but thank God righteousness is, too. As we say in our daily morning prayers, “Blessed are You Adonai, the staff and stay of the righteous.”



Friday, May 15
with Cantor Alexander

For Rosh Hashanah, Noah Aronson created this amazing video from around the world (that also so reminded me of all our #alonetogether video’s bringing people into one song across the black boxes of zoom).

For Rosh Hashanah, we are charged to wake up, to reset, and to ask what are the most important parts of life. What things will I carry into the new year, and what things will I leave in the past? And yet here we are, in May, living through a global reset. What are the important things in my life? What do I need to continue but maybe change? We’re also asking which parts of our quarantine life added value that perhaps we were too busy to know we were missing.

I have enjoyed spending extra time with my kids. We’ve played hours of Monopoly, Spades, and Five Crowns. I’ve loved watching them play together, the games they’ve created, the imagination they’ve expended because the quantity of time to fill necessitated it. It feels like magic.

So how will I reset my intentions for my life, no matter the length of time needed in quarantine? How will I reset my connections, my actions, my balance? How will we as a community, as a nation, and as a world, reset ourselves learning from this experience to be stronger, more creative, and better enjoyers of this gift we call life? Let us rejoice, renew, wake up, and reset!



Thursday, May 14
with Rabbi Stoller

The ground under me feels so uneven right now.

Each day is different in its sameness. I feel like I’m moving quickly and frequently between joy, energy, exasperation, frustration, contentment, melancholy, irritation, optimism, fear. The smallest things can alter my mood, and I don’t know what to think about the world right now. I read one thing and think one way, then read something else and change my mind. I’m ready for the quarantine to be over already, but then again maybe I’m not. I think we should resume life again, but then again, maybe I don’t. I feel great about many things I’m doing right now, and I’m also nervous because I’m going for my annual physical today and I’ll have to answer to the doctor (and myself) about why I’ve been stuffing my face with chocolate pretzels and not exercising like I should. The ground under me feels so uneven right now.

I got to thinking about this today when I read the prayer in our morning service, “Blessed are You Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who strengthens our steps.” It’s a daily affirmation that life is unsteady and throws us off balance occasionally, or maybe more than occasionally – perhaps now especially, but in general, too. And we can’t always regain our balance alone; lots of times, we need to hold on to something outside ourselves to steady our feet, and our spirits.

Daily prayer is one of those things for me. Its constancy helps me feel anchored; the words I say over and again each day generate new insights every time, help me frame my day, and feel connected to God. My prayer practice is especially important to me these days, to help me find and keep my balance on the rapidly shifting ground. I am grateful for the gift of prayer, and for the blessing of a wonderful community to pray with each morning.

Barukh atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-meikhin mitz’adei gaver. Blessed are You Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who strengthens our steps.





Wednesday, May 13
with Cantor Alexander

Everyday: Eil Nah R’fana La—Or and Felize Zohar
Everyday we struggle, God, everyday brings new fear and new thoughts
Everyday we ask is this the new normal?
How long can I live just inside my house?
Yet everyday I am grateful,
I have a job, I have my health, I have people who love me

At my core I am safe.

Everyday there are others where home had been a place from which to escape
Where life had been drowning them before a virus shut down all they knew.
Everyday there are those, who do not know how they will feed their children,

How they will find medicine, is it safe to even see the doctor?

Everyday there are those who find only a way to self medicate
The fear is real, the pain is real, the cure is also the disease.
Everyday there are those seeking to escape the pain they live with

Escape the shame they feel,

Everyday people ask:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change
God grant me the courage to change the things I can
God grant me the wisdom to know the difference.

God please heal us all.


Tuesday, May 12
with Rabbi Stoller

One of those things Judaism teaches us is “limitless, whose reward, too, is limitless” is “making peace among people.” Making peace among people who are in conflict with each other is a tall order. Is it even our business to get involved? Judaism’s answer, unequivocally, is yes.

We learn why from the story behind this day on the Jewish calendar – Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day between Passover and Shavuot. Lag B’Omer is celebrated as a day of joy, usually with bonfires, parties, weddings, and haircuts (yes, we can appreciate the joy of getting a haircut these days!). Why? Because, according to the Talmud, during the second century of the common era, the famed Rabbi Akiva and his disciples were persecuted intensely by the Roman authorities simply for observing their religion. But the persecution stopped, miraculously, on Lag B’Omer, which is why we celebrate it as a day of joy, or, rather, relief from persecution. According to the Talmud, the persecution came upon Rabbi Akiva and his students because “they were treating each other disrespectfully.” To wit, our tradition understands that when we are in conflict with those closest to us, it strains our relationships, frays our nerves, erodes our community, and makes us vulnerable to destruction.

I, like many of us, feel that very strongly in our American society today. Democrats and Republicans, Trump-lovers and Trump-haters, despise each other on a visceral and personal level. And sadly, everything in life, it seems, has been completely subjugated to politics, and the way we view our neighbors, our friends, even our family members depends almost wholly on what they think about Trump. How sad; how absurd. We do not speak with each other respectfully anymore; we certainly do not disagree respectfully. It seems we’ve lost sight of the humanity of those with whom we disagree. This absolutely has to change.

“Making peace among people,” our tradition says, is a responsibility, a mitzvah, a religious duty. The frayed state of our society today is very much our business. And the ability to change it is very localized; it starts with each one of us. Today, on Lag B’Omer, I invite you to ask yourself: are you helping to make peace among people, or are you contributing to the problem? This, I believe, is a key spiritual test of our time.



Monday, May 4
with Rabbi Stoller

In our daily prayers, we describe God as “shome’a t’filah,” the one who “hears prayer.” Why: who “hears” prayer, rather than: who “answers” prayer? One reason, I think, is that prayer is not a transactional endeavor, in the sense that I give God a prayer, and therefore I should expect something, an answer, in return. Rather, prayer is a *relational* endeavor: I open myself in prayer to God, and God hears me. Like a dear and loyal friend, God is there to listen to us, to “hear” us, when we need to talk, to share, to open up. In fact, God is the best friend ever, because unlike any other friend, God never gets tired of hearing what we have to say.

And remember, prayer doesn’t only happen in services; Rav Abraham Isaac Kook taught that we’re praying all day, every day – by living. “And I, I am my prayer to You” (Psalm 69; from the “Mah Tovu” liturgy). I sometimes say that my house has a soundtrack. Usually, it goes something like this: “Ow, stop!, Ouch!, Zaaac!, Lindsay hit me!, MOM!” That’s certainly been true for much of this lockdown, although I’ve noticed an additional “track” in recent days. My kids are starting to talk about the future: “Next year, when I’m in 6th grade…” “Did you know they have lockers in middle school?” “When corona is over…” These aren’t just words; they’re prayers. My kids – and I think a lot of the world, too – are starting to move beyond the feeling of stuck-ness, and talking about their aspirations again. They’re praying, and we’re beginning to pray with them.

Listen to the sounds all around you. They are prayers. And God hears them, too. Baruch atah Adonai, shome’a t’filah – Blessed are You Adonai, who hears prayer.



Friday, April 1
with Cantor Alexander

“One Voice” by Ruth Moody as sung by The Wailin’ Jenny’s 

As we join together for prayer or class or just to connect, we feel less alone. We know we are all in this together with our fears, our isolation, and our struggles to do all the things we used to have teachers and institutions and restaurants for. We all must do more for ourselves and often by ourselves. So when I re-found this beautiful song, it filled me with sadness and also with hope.

This is the sound of one voice; one voice is what I have right now. On zoom, I cannot raise it with yours, even as I ask you to sing, for the electronic delay means we are never truly singing together. One voice is all I have right now. I cannot invite my musicians into our space to make beautiful harmonies and accompaniment; it is my one voice. And yet, this is the sound of one voice. My voice makes a difference. Your voice makes a difference. Joining together even while staying apart makes a difference. This beautiful song joins three voices singing of one voice with the hope and understanding that we will all know our voices rise together, praise together, and make change and understanding and love together. Our voices are supported and strengthened by each other. With our one voice, we cannot know our many voices. Sing out with joy and love, praise God, find each other, voice your heart’s desire. This, too, is the sound of one voice.


Thursday, April 30
with President Andie Gordman
Counting the Omer and COVID-19

By mid-March it was clear to me that I would be spending weeks at home in order to “flatten the curve”. Although I knew I would be working I also knew that I needed to put structure in my day and try to make sense of what was happening in our country. I have always found comfort in the ritual of prayer even during the most difficult times in my life. When Rabbi Stoller decided to offer a morning minyan via Zoom, I jumped at the opportunity to participate. Starting my day with minyan at 7:00am has provided me a reason to get up at the same time every morning and add structure to my weekday mornings. Some mornings it would be much easier to sleep in but I am motivated to keep up my attendance at minyan.

A few weeks after our daily minyan started, we celebrated Passover and then started counting the Omer. I knew that the counting Omer occurred from Passover to Shavuot but I really didn’t understand why we performed this ritual. When Rabbi Stoller added the counting of the Omer to our minyan I wanted to learn more. Rabbi Stoller recommended a book entitled, “Omer: a counting” by Rabbi Karyn Kedar. Rabbi Kedar is the Senior Rabbi at Rabbi Stoller’s former congregation, BJBE in Deerfield, Illinois. The introduction to the book which includes an explanation of the practice of counting the Omer was written by Rabbi Stoller.

I learned that the counting of the Omer coincides with the Spring harvest in Israel. The Torah explains the ritual of offering part of the harvest to show gratitude to God for a good harvest. In his introduction, Rabbi Stoller explains that in modern times the counting of the Omer is now increasingly regarded among Reform Jew as a meaningful way to mark time, express gratitude, refocus priorities and contemplate deeply the meaning and purpose of existence. This explanation of the ritual really resonated with me especially during this time of self-quarantine. Even before this time, I had established a regular practice of looking for five things during the day that brought me gratitude. I look for the small things; a sunny day, coffee with a friend, a compliment from a co-worker or time with my family.


After contemplating Rabbi Stoller’s explanation and thinking about my gratitude practice I decided to combine the two rituals. Every night after dinner I sit and reflect on my day, write the five things I am grateful for in my journal and now I read the daily commentary from Rabbi Kedar’s book. After saying the prayer, we count the Omer by stating how many weeks and days it has been since the Omer started. This was especially interesting to me because I had started counting the number of days that I have been in self-quarantine. Not to mention I am having trouble remembering what day it is. The combination of my journaling and the counting of the Omer has provided me a way to evaluate and mark each day by recognizing the challenges and blessings it brings.
During this time when it is so difficult to make sense of what Covid 19 has done to our country socially, emotionally and economically it is easy for me to find comfort and hope in the counting of the Omer, morning minyan and our wonderful, caring Temple Israel community.



Thursday, April 30
with Rabbi Stoller


“Each day points to eternity; the fate of all time depends upon a single moment.”
-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel
Human history, in Jewish teaching, is forward-moving, directed, purposeful. There are cycles of the year, and cycles of life, but time is not a never-ending cycle, or hamster-wheel, on which we happen to be running, fated to end up in the same place at the end of our journey just where we began. No, we are moving ever toward something, toward something great. Hope, vision, and the belief in forward momentum are what keep us going. As Andrew Sullivan put it in a poignant column this week, “We remain human beings, a quintessentially social mammal, and we orient ourselves in time, looking forward to the future. When that future has been suspended, humans come undone.” Sullivan is not alone; many people are feeling that way now.In the Jewish calendar, we are in the midst of the Omer period, the 49 days between Passover, when God freed us from Egyptian slavery, and Shavuot, when we stood at Sinai to accept the Torah. It is a mitzvah, a religious obligation, to count each and every day of the Omer – physically, aloud: “Today is the 1st day of the Omer,” Today is the 2nd day of the Omer,” etc. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik taught that this practice of counting the days orients us on a time-continuum, reminding us that we’ve arrived to where we are now from some past (yesterday, the day before), that we are heading somewhere tomorrow, and that the present moment is unique and absolutely essential to that journey. These days, during the shutdown, it is easy to feel like time is standing still, or that the days are bleeding one into the next, that, in the words of Damon Linker (quoted by Sullivan in his article), we are living in a “present without a future.” But that is a delusion; time and history have not stopped moving forward, even if we feel like they have. Counting the Omer is a powerful spiritual practice we can do to affirm our sense of direction and purpose, even and especially during this crisis. Time is not directionless, and neither are we. We have arrived here from somewhere, we are going somewhere, and, as Rabbi Heschel so beautifully put it, “the fate of all time depends upon a single moment” – this moment.Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam, asher kid’shanu b’mitzvotav v’tzivanu al s’firat ha-omer. Blessed are You Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, you sanctified us with your commandments, and commanded us to count the Omer. Today is the 21st day of the Omer.

Wednesday, April 29
with Rabbi Stoller

Last summer, when I picked Lindsay up from OSRUI (her Jewish summer camp in Wisconsin), she sang “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem, on semi-repeat for much of the 7-hour car ride home. OSRUI, like other Jewish summer camps, teaches children to love Israel, and why it’s important to them as American Jews living in the 21st century.

Jewish summer camp has made, and continues to make, a deep impression on my child. When she comes home after a few weeks there, she’s like a different person: mature, helpful, sunny, cooperative, kind to her brother, respectful to her parents. Karen and I call it “Post-Camp Lindsay.” It lasts for a good 2 weeks or so before routine sets back in, and it’s bliss. Post-Camp Lindsay reminds us that in sending our child to Jewish summer camp, we’re doing something good for her soul. I know there’s a fierce debate happening right now in the Jewish camp world about whether there can and should be camp this year. I don’t know the right answer. All I know is that my child’s life, like the lives of so many other children, is enriched by her experiences at OSRUI. Whether or not she is able to go this summer, she carries with her, in her very being, a love for Judaism and Israel that she’s learned at her home-away-from home in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.

To OSRUI, and to all those other wonderful Jewish summer camps out there, thank you for what you do for our children. On this Yom Ha’atzma’ut, Israel’s 72nd Independence Day, my daughter offers this rendition of “Hatikvah” on the piano (which she picked out completely by ear, by the way), as a gift, a testament to the impact of Jewish summer camp on her young life.


Tuesday, April 28
with Rabbi Stoller
My children never cease to amaze me. I’m sure most parents feel that way. I came down to my basement this morning – which, I should note, is also my children’s playroom – to find this simple and yet deeply inspiring sign (to me anyway) that my daughter must have made yesterday at some point. (Either it wasn’t there yesterday morning, or apropos my post yesterday, I just hadn’t noticed it before.)
How many times have Karen and I talked to our kids about the importance of being kind, only to feel completely defeated when they talk back disrespectfully, and fight almost constantly with each other, and scream and yell like crazy people, and refuse to help set the table, and…well, you get the idea. So often I feel we’re failing at the basic precept to “teach them to your children”; so often I worry that our (my) parental incompetence is failing them. And then…this sign. Lindsay made that – completely on her own initiative! It brought a smile to my face, and pride to my heart.


Our Sages taught that G’milut Chasadim, acts of kindness and compassion, are among those things “without measure, whose reward, too, is without measure.” In contrast to tzedakah, which is a mitzvah we do with money, there is no limit to how much kindness we can give, because we never run out of our supply of it. There is no limit to how much we can smile at another person, or how many compliments we can give in a day, or our ability to do some small thing to help someone else that takes just a couple seconds. In this environment of isolation we’re in, there is no limit to our capacity to send our friends and family and colleagues a quick “good morning” text, just to let them know we’re thinking about them. And especially now, as many of us find ourselves at home all day with our children, there is no limit to our ability to model caring, concern, interest in, and love for them. There is no limit to our ability to “teach them to our children” – nor, thank God, is there a limit to their ability to continue to amaze us.
Kindness, to wit, is the ultimate renewable resource. So spread that stuff everywhere!




Monday, April 27
with Rabbi Stoller


“One who sets a fixed place for his prayer, the God of Abraham assists him. … How do we know that Abraham set a fixed place for his prayer? As it is said, ‘Abraham arose in the morning to the place where he had stood before God’ (Gen. 19:27).”
-Babylonian Talmud, B’rakhot 6b


What an energizing morning! I came down to my basement for morning minyan, and stood in my usual place, my fixed place for prayer. I stand in the exact same spot every morning (pictured below), but something struck me differently today. I’ve been dragging a bit lately, probably from “Zoom fatigue” and being cooped up too long, but today feels different. Today, I noticed my surroundings in a different way, though I have seen them a thousand times before. The colorful rug my kids chose for our basement; the positive messages on the walls; the happy array of children’s artwork that decorate our play area; the workspace my daughter made for herself for e-learning; the sun shining through the windows all around me. And then, as we got into our prayer, the words I recite every day – often glossing over them without paying much attention – brought it all together: “In mercy You illumine the world and those who live upon it. In Your goodness you daily renew creation. … Praised are You Adonai, Creator of all heavenly lights.” I am grateful this morning that God has illumined our world yet another day, and that, in doing so, God has illumined my eyes to be able to see the blessings all around me, even as I stand in the very same place I’ve stood every day for the last six weeks and more.


Just because you find yourself in the same place every day does not mean that every day has to be the same. Today, try to look anew at your familiar surroundings. What do you see in them that inspires you? For God renews Creation every day, and illumines our eyes with heavenly light. Today, once again, we are at home; and yet there has never been a day like today, and never will be again. “Baruch atah Adonai, yotzer ha-m’orot – Blessed are You, Creator of all heavenly lights.”



Thursday, April 23
with Cantor Alexander

Wonder: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GslJRQksUuA

Rabbi Josh Warshowsky created a wondrous beauty in this time of separation to remind us to be thankful for all that we have. Each bit of health is a blessing, each day of a smiling friend (even across a screen), and here new music written and performed separately bringing all together in a magical glorious way. Please take a moment to think of the blessings in your life. Think of how you might bring blessings to others lives; and thank God for a moment of Wonder.



Tuesday, April 21
with Rabbi Stoller
A little garden,
Fragrant and full of roses.
The path is narrow
And a little boy walks along it.
A little boy, a sweet boy, like that growing blossom.
When the blossom comes to bloom,
The little boy will be no more.
-Franta Bass, age 14, Terezin
(Printed in Mishkan T’filah, p 526)Today is Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. This poem resonates powerfully with me today; I teared up as I read it this morning. As I write this from my basement, I hear the sounds of my children running around upstairs, getting ready for breakfast. Yesterday evening, I started teaching my son how to ride a bike; it was his first day on two wheels, and he’s excited to learn. As I sat next to my daughter yesterday, listening her talk with her teacher, I was so impressed by how thoughtful and mature she’s become, how clearly and insightfully she expressed herself to an adult. How come she never talks that way to me? My children are growing up before my eyes; this pandemic is giving me an opportunity to witness it in ways I usually can’t, because I’m away at work, always in meetings. The words of this 14-year-old girl, a victim of the Shoah, remind me today what a gift this time is; what a gift our children are.Karen says that ever since becoming a parent, she can’t watch movies or TV shows about the Holocaust. It’s too painful. Too painful to even think about the victims we see from history being our own children. I feel the same way right now, reading this poem; the vivid imagery is alive right now in my mind. And it’s scary, painful, heart-wrenching. I think about my own children, riding their bikes, playing their musical instruments, talking to their teachers with such maturity, such promise. I need to look away. But of course, I can’t look away. None of us can. We must never, ever look away. We must never forget.Zichronam livrachah. May their memories always be for a blessing.



Monday, April 20
with Rabbi Stoller

How many times have you found yourself standing in front of an open, well-stocked refrigerator or pantry and saying to yourself, “there’s nothing to eat in this house”? I’ll confess, I find myself doing that way too frequently. I thought about that this morning during the silent Amidah, as I contemplated the theme of abundance. Like many of us, my family and I are blessed with abundance: we have plenty of food, a comfortable home to live in, all the things we need to survive this pandemic, including wi-fi and enough devices for both my children to do e-learning, and both my wife and I are blessed to still have jobs. But as we know, this is not the case for everyone, especially these days.

On Friday night, Mike Hornacek, CEO of Together, Inc., a great organization that helps people who are hungry and homeless in Omaha, told us at services that the number of people utilizing their food pantry has increased by 500% over the last month. There are far too many people in our community who have lost their jobs and who open their refrigerators and pantries only to find that there really is nothing to eat in this house. Abundance is a blessing that, sadly, is not falling upon everyone.

If you are in need of help, or you would like to help others, there are several things you can do. One is to reach out to Jewish Family Services here in Omaha; in partnership with the Jewish Federation, they have collected a significant amount of funds to use to help people who are in need. Secondly, under the leadership of Rabbi Berezin and our social justice team, Temple Israel is also collecting donations which we will use to help our members in need and to support the broader Omaha community. And thirdly, I encourage you to get involved with Together, Inc. Temple Israel was one of the founding institutions of Together after the 1975 tornado, and we are proud partners with them in helping to combat hunger and homelessness in our area.

This morning, I thank God for the abundance with which my family and I are blessed, and pray that God, together with the help of generous and compassionate human partners, will be there to share some of that abundance with others who are struggling. Baruch atah Adonai, m’varekh ha-shanim – Blessed are You Adonai, who blesses the years.


Thursday, April 16

with Rabbi Stoller

This quarantine is really starting to drag. I’m feeling lethargic, losing motivation. My brand new elliptical machine sits 3 feet away from me in my basement, but I’ve been staring at it for nearly a week and I’ve only gotten on it once. Listening to friends and the news, it feels like people and patience are wearing thin. Each morning in our prayers, we say a blessing praising God for “giving strength to the weary (ha-notein la-ya’ef koach).” I know a lot of us need strength now; we’re feeling weary – for different reasons, to be sure. Some are weary because they have the coronavirus, or a loved does, or they’re recovering from it. Some are weary because they live alone and can’t visit their friends or family, and the isolation hurts. Some are weary trying to manage working full-time and parenting/homeschooling full-time.

In the wording they chose for this prayer, our Sages linked it back to the story in the Torah about how the Israelites were attacked by Amalek in the wilderness. The Torah says Amalek, a wicked band of raiders, ambushed us from behind, when we were weak and “weary”; they hit us at our most vulnerable (Deut. 25:17-18). And the name Amalek is symbolic, too: in Hebrew, the letters comprising “Amalek” have the same numerical value as those comprising the word “safek,” which means “doubt” or “uncertainty.” To wit, the meaning of this story is that we were pursued and attacked by uncertainty when we were at our most vulnerable. Feels familiar. Uncertainty, anxiety, doubt, lack of clarity about when all this will come to an end – these things are with us every day, and they are taking an emotional and spiritual toll. When we say we’re “tired of all this,” we don’t mean we’re just tired, or just irritated; we mean we’re *weary* – weary of a situation that is fraught with anxiety and uncertainty; and just as they did to our ancestors in the wilderness, these things are exploiting our vulnerability and draining us of our physical, spiritual, and emotional energy. We need that energy to get through this; we need resolve. God, we need strength.

That’s why, during minyan today, I lingered a bit on the words: Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam, ha-notein la-ya’ef koach – Blessed are You Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who gives strength to the weary.”



Wednesday, April 15

with Rabbi Stoller

Water, Crisis & God’s Leadership: Reflections on Pesach and Yizkor

Water, in Judaism, is a metaphor for life. Today, during our service for the 7th day of Pesach, we encounter two very powerful images of water: the first, when we read the Song of the Sea, and the second in Yizkor, when we say the 23rd Psalm (“The Lord is my shepherd…He leads me beside still waters”).

At the Sea, the water is chaotic and scary, moving intensely and violently as the sea splits and opens a way forward for the Israelites as pharaoh’s chariots pursue them. In that scene, God is described as a “warrior,” a general, leading us ahead into a terrifying unknown. We can barely even see what’s in front of us as the water, thrashing about, obscures our view. We can only follow the Warrior-General in the faith that he will lead us safely to the other side.

As we transition to Yizkor, we encounter a very different image of water: the “still waters” of the 23rd Psalm. Unlike the waters of the Sea, these waters, as described by medieval commentators Radak and M’tzudat David, are gentle, slow-moving, clear, and cleansing. God, who leads us to these waters, is described here not as a “warrior” but as a “shepherd”; and in contrast to the Warrior-General, the Shepherd walks not ahead of us but beside us, compassionately guiding us to the peaceful waters.

If water is a metaphor for life, we see in this juxtaposition in today’s service a metaphor for two spiritual journeys: one, the spiritual journey through the Covid-19 pandemic, and two, the journey from personal loss to healing.

At this point in the pandemic, we are still at the Sea, perhaps beginning to make our way through the parting waters. Even as a path begins to be cleared, the waters are raging violently; much is being caught up and lost in the roaring waves. The experience of walking upon the uncharted path is scary, uncertain, and terrifying. We’re moving, but we’re not quite sure what’s at the end of the road. And, we fear, the parted walls of water feel like they could close on us at any moment. The only way we’ll make it there is to have faith that we are led by a courages Warrior-General, a powerful Guiding Force (whose power is made manifest in the world through doctors, scientists, and those in the public trust) – and to follow. What else can we do? Our hope – and because we can’t see it for certain, it remains a hopeful vision – is that we will emerge safely on the other side. At that point, we will need not the power of a warrior, but the gentle guidance of a shepherd who will compassionately guide us to the peaceful, still, clear waters.

So it is, too, with loss and mourning. In the pain of our loved one’s suffering and death, or in the sudden terror of tragedy, the waters of life are intense, violent, scary, and disorienting. We try to move forward – we have to – but we have no idea where we’re going, and the parted waters feel like they could close any time and drown us completely. The only way to make it through is to have faith that God will guide us, safely, to the other side. Once we emerge from the tumult of grief, and the pain gives way, at least a little bit, to memory, we need – and we will find – the comforting, gentle guidance of the Shepherd. That Shepherd will bring us into the shelter of his tent, and lead us beside still, slow-moving waters that do not threaten to drown us, but rather will wash over us, cleanse us, and sustain us. From the intense and awful experience of losing one dear to us, we will emerge into a serene, gentle life, sustained by the warmth of memory. This is why we say in Yizkor: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.”


Tuesday, April 14
with Cantor Alexander

Rav Nachman of Bretzlev teaches, “All the world is a narrow bridge and the most important thing is not to be afraid.” This is like the commandedness of love, you can no more dictate the love of your heart than the fear you find in the world. So how can we understand this differently? The key to getting across the narrow and fear-inducing bridge is overcoming your fear. We must breath into it. We must find the systems of support that hold it up. We must trust in the science of engineering that allow for it to stand even if it looks like it will not.


And so as we walk in the narrow places in life, as we were in Mitzrayim (Egypt) and as we are with our isolation and fear of illness; with our fear for our welfare and our livelihood. As we walk through this narrow place together, we acknowledge our fear, we breath it in, we “don’t look down, keep going, don’t look down keep growing… keep moving.” We put one foot in front of the other and breath with our faith in our fellow humans making wise choices. We put one foot in front of the other and grow our understanding of the dangers around us. We grow our understanding of where we can help, of where and how we can control our worlds. And taking one day at a time, we “keep moving.”

This time of Coronavirus is indeed a very narrow bridge, but for most of us it isn’t the first difficulty in life we’ve encountered and it (God willing) won’t be the last. For all the world is a … gesher-bridge.


Monday, April 13
with Rabbi Berezin

The words of one of our morning blessings help me to set my kavannah, my intention, each and every morning. When I wake up, I meditate on the words “Hareini m’kabel alai, et mitzvah haborei, v’ahavtah l’rei-acha kamocha.” “Here I am, ready to take upon myself the sacred charge of my Creator: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Even in this time of physical distancing from one another, we are still obligated to fulfill this sacred charge. And so I invite you to reflect on this mandate with me this morning and make it your intention. Ask yourself: How will I love my neighbor as myself today?



Sunday, April 12
with Rabbi Stoller

Redemption. It’s one of the things we pray for in the daily Amidah (the segment of our minyan when we pray silently). “Redemption” is a word we hear in our liturgy frequently, but not one we tend to use in daily conversation. I think of redemption as moving from a lower state of being to a higher one. Whatever that might mean to you at any given time, depending on where you are in your life.

These days, redemption, for me, means becoming a better version of myself. I suppose I am a decent person, but I know I have the capacity within me to be better – a better friend, a better husband, a better father, a better colleague, a better rabbi. This doesn’t mean transformation or radical change; it just means being a little better. I know that higher, better version of myself is in there; my spiritual work right now is to open the pathway for him to emerge. When I pray for redemption each morning, I am praying for the strength, courage, and capacity to move upward, from who I am to who I want to be.

So I ask you: what does that better version of yourself look like, and how can you move to that higher state of being in your life? Baruch atah Adonai, go’el Yisrael. Blessed are You Adonai, Redeemer of Israel.”


Friday, April 10
with Cantor Alexander

Body is a Temple: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_NcklEz1DFY 

How do we behave when we know are bodies are holy temples? Do we care for them differently? Do we care for the bodies of others differently? In this time when we have heightened awareness that our bodies might betray us, that a tiny unseen microbe might destroy our health and has already succeeded in destroying our peace of mind. I am brought to tears by watching the community in this video gather together to feed the hungry. They are caring for the most basic bodily need in a holy and profound act for providing food. This act, of course, could not be achieved in the same way today: shoulder to shoulder with so many in one room. But one by one, we could care for the bodies of others by buying something a little extra for the food pantry. One by one we care for other bodies by ensuring our social distancing, and one by one we care for ourselves by dedicating our bodies to holy work.

As we gather separated, we must re-create the holy atmosphere of the sanctuary. Or the fun and lively atmosphere of the classroom. We must use our creativity to maintain true connection over artificial means, whether at a time of distraction, education, prayer, or heartbreak. We must center ourselves and understand the needs of our sacred bodies so that even as we stand apart, we can feel the love of being together. Let us have bodies dedicated to holiness, and healing and the health of all those in need around us. For my “Body is a Temple.”



Thursday, April 9
with Rabbi Stoller

The Hebrew name for Egypt is Mitzrayim, meaning “the narrow place.” In the ancient world, Egypt was the most civilized, advanced place on earth, the pinnacle of wealth and human technological achievement. And yet, our Torah calls it the “narrow place.” Because the worldview Egypt represented was a narrow one – a worldview obsessed with, and constricted by, material wealth and earthly possessions. The grandiosity of the palaces and pyramids and gold crowded out Egypt’s ability to see the bigger picture of life; it was, to wit, the “narrow place.” Our Sages say the Torah was given in the desert for a reason. Because it’s only in the “broad space,” where we’re undistracted by the countless material things that dominate our attention, that we can hear the still, small voice of God. The exodus from Egypt into the desert is a metaphor for our ongoing spiritual quest to create space in our lives and hear God’s voice in the midst of all the noise and preoccupations that crowd our lives; to transcend our obsessions with the material and devote at least some time and energy to dwelling in the eternal. This is the primary focus of Pesach. As we sing in the Hallel (and at the conclusion of each daily morning minyan), “Min ha-meitzar karati yah, anani va-merchav yah – From the narrow place I call out to God; God answers me in the broad space” (Psalm 118). Chag sameach! 



Wednesday, April 8
with Rabbi Berezin

This evening, Jewish people across the globe will celebrate the holiday of Passover. We will tell the story of how God brought the Israelites out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. We will say the same words and take part in the same rituals that our people have taken part in for centuries, from the “old country” to the “new world.” So many things are the same. And yet, this year, so many things are different, and the question “why is this night different from all other nights?” might take on new meaning this year.

Even as we celebrate, many of us may also be grieving the loss of normalcy in this new world. But as is often the case, our tradition makes room for all that we might be feeling as we engage in these rituals. And so, as you dip the parsley in saltwater tonight to remind you of the tears the Israelites cried as they were in bondage, it is ok to think about how you yourself may be feeling the shackles of bondage a bit differently this year. And when you eat the maror, the bitter herbs, it is ok to also feel the anger of isolation and separation. But so too when we sing of freedom, and bless God with the words of hallel, praise, let us not forget to be thankful for what we do have, to celebrate our ability to sit as free people and engage in our religious practices, to find gratitude for the technology that has allowed us to remain connected to those we love despite the physical distance. This year, this Passover, will be different from all other nights; it is how we live with both the grief of  could what have been and celebration what can be, that will become our story.



Tuesday, April 7
with Cantor Alexander

Uptown Passover: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Q7Jo7FkLH4 

Well it won’t be quite the same without the family all in the same room. But that doesn’t mean it can’t still have a bit of levity (just not leavening!)  

Some Seders are long, some are short, some tell the whole story others “skip to page 27 if young children are present,” but non are quite as fun and uplifting as 613s Uptown Funk. I’ll leave it to speak for itself, fitting the whole megillah into one 5 minute song was quite a feat. This year as we think about how Passover is forced to be so different from previous years, give yourself a bit of a break. Each year we re-enact having been slaves in Egypt, and each year we end with a taste of freedom. Perhaps this year, our biggest connection will be our ability to better understand the narrow place of Egypt. While I do not believe we are experiencing slavery, the Corona virus has surely narrowed our world, and constricted us in unfamiliar, uncomfortable and scary ways. May we soon feel the joy of freedom with newfound appreciation of our health. May we soon bring the joy of freedom to those left behind, and left in mourning, in the wake of this devastating illness. May we soon join together in joy and freedom once again. 



Monday, April 6
with Rabbi Stoller

In light of a recent conversation about the relevance of Orthodoxy’s attitude toward Reform halakhah, consider this statement by Rabbi Dr. Mark Washofsky, one of the leading scholars of halakhah in the Reform movement:

“Liberal halakhah, like the Orthodox variety, is the intellectual practice of a particular self-defined community of interpretation. It is our practice, and we, as its practitioners, need not seek legitimacy or validation in the eyes of another community of interpretation. Our decisions are ‘correct’ when they satisfy us. Our responsibility, therefore, is to ourselves and our own practice, the same responsibility shouldered by the participants in any other intellectual discourse: we should seek to conduct our practice according to our own best understanding of it . . .Though we need not seek Orthodox approval of our work, we do seek our own; we measure it according to the criteria of value that motivate us.”  

—Mark Washofsky, “Against Method: Liberal Halakhah Between Theory and Practice,” in Beyond the Letter of the Law: Essays on Diversity in the Halakhah, ed. Walter Jacob (Pittsburgh: Rodef Shalom Press, 2004), 55. 



Friday, April 3
with Rabbi Stoller

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam pokeiach ivrim. 

Blessed are You Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who opens the eyes of the blind. 

-From the Blessings for Daily Miracles 

What does it mean to be blind? On the literal level, of course, it means that one’s eyes lack functionality. But on a metaphorical level, we may be blind even when our eyes are working perfectly. For example, we talk about having a “blind spot” – meaning there are certain things we 

just can’t see even when they are painfully obvious to everyone else. The Torah warns us, “Do not place a stumbling block before the blind,” meaning: do not exploit someone’s vulnerability or weakness for your own gain. We are all blind to certain things about the world, about other people, and about ourselves. Maybe it’s because we’re naïve. Maybe it’s because we’re willfully blind and we don’t want to see those things. Maybe we are too settled in our existence that we don’t even have the capacity to see beyond our own circumstances. “ 

The rabbis’ choice of words in composing this second blessing for our daily miracles is poetic. The phrase “opens the eyes of the blind” hearkens back to the story in Genesis when Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden fruit and “their eyes were opened.” Their eyes had always been working fine; what happened when they ate the fruit is that they gained awareness of themselves and their surroundings to which they were previously oblivious. This awareness changed their lives and changed the course of human history. Like them, all of us are blind to something. Each morning, we ask God for help in opening our eyes – in helping us become more aware of the realities of who we are and the world in which we live. 

What, would you say, are your “blind spots”? How might you be able to overcome them? 



Thursday, April 2
with Cantor Alexander

Heal Us Now:

Cantor Leon Sher wrote these beautiful words of healing:

We pray for healing of the Body, We pray for healing of the Soul, for strength of flesh and mind and spirit, we pray to once again be whole…

We pray for healing of our people, we pray for healing of the land, and peace for every race and nation, every child, every woman, every man.

I cannot imagine a time more appropriate than this moment, when it is not a pocket of war or a pocket of suffering that I, in my comfortable house can ignore. But truly a global cry going into the unknown void asking, begging and praying for a time to true and compete healing. Whether you are sick of body or sick of heart. Sick to think of the balance between economy and human life, or sick because your economy is endangering your life. In this time of the unknowable, I will ground myself with prayer. A prayer for myself and my loved ones, my community and my world. Dear God Please Heal, Hear Us Now.

Tuesday, March 31
with Rabbi Stoller

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melekh ha-olam asher natan la-sechvi vinah l’havchin bein yom u-vein lailah. 

Blessed are You Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who gave the rooster the ability to distinguish between day and night. 

-From the Blessings for Daily Miracles 

Today we look at the first blessing in the section of our morning prayers called Nissim B’chol Yom – Blessings for Daily Miracles. Though it may seem odd to thank God for what a rooster can do, this blessing has a lot to do with us – how we organize our patterns of living and think about time. It’s especially relevant right now, as so many of us are doing our jobs from home. In this mode of living, it can be challenging to set boundaries – for example: boundaries between home space and work space, boundaries between work time and family time, boundaries between being on and being off. Jewish tradition teaches that there are natural boundaries in time – boundaries set not by the human clock but by the cosmic clock, God’s clock. Time has a natural and orderly flow that’s inherent in Creation itself, and all of nature understands and abides by it. Trees blossom, flowers bloom, winter gives way to spring, and the sun rises and sets according to the cosmic clock, not the human one. Even the rooster understands that there is a natural boundary between day and night, that there is a time to sleep and a time to wake up, a time to work and a time to rest. Unfortunately, we humans, even when we’re not isolated at home, ignore these boundaries; indeed, we do everything we can not only to transgress them, but to obliterate them. 

The home-quarantine we’re all living under now offers an opportunity to reset spiritually. We have the chance now to break from our unhealthy living patterns. Saying this blessing each morning is an invitation for us to rediscover what the rooster already knows intuitively: that God created boundaries in time – not to oppress us or make life difficult, but as a precious gift to make life easier and less stressful. 

I wonder: is it possible for us to reclaim these boundaries in time and live within them? How can you use this time at home to establish healthier patterns of living? 


Monday, March 30
with Cantor Alexander

It’s Monday lets move our bodies: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ah032sY7U4U 

There are so many things that are hard about our current time: living in fear, living with the unknown, not being able to do our usual things, not being able to see people as we normally do. And sometimes the very best thing you can do: burn off some energy and turn your mind away from the insanity is to just have a full-on out loud dance party! It’s Monday, the kids are home, lets gather around for a little “P.E.” Or if you don’t have kids at home pull out your inner child and tune into this amazing song. The Hebrew word gufi means my body, you can learn some Hebrew, dance like no ones watching (oh right 

they aren’t) and get your stuck inside, tired of the couch, tv or desk, homeschooling with no training, working like a dog, just lost your job and worried about the future body into motion. Sometimes it’s the best spiritual remedy. 


Friday, March 27
with Cantor Alexander

Sanctuary: https://youtu.be/2W_XxCh2b30 

Just a few weeks ago we read in Torah “make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among THEM.” What does it mean to not gather, to create sanctuary from nothingness? Yet God does not dwell IN the sanctuary God dwells AMONG them, the people. Even as we cannot be physically together, we prepare ourselves for sanctity and sanctuary. We prepare ourselves, mind body and spirit to put into the world love and care of others, shake off the stress and frustration that life isn’t working as we expected, and breath into our world a moment of sanctuary, and moment a peace and a piece of God. Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true; and with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living sanctuary for you. 


Thursday, March 26
with Rabbi Stoller

“Speak of them when you lie down and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:7) 

My spiritual nugget today is the bedtime prayer I say with my children every night. My grandmother used to say some version of the first part with my mom when she was a child. My mom added her own words to it and said it with my brother and me when we were growing up. I added more when I got a little older and started saying the prayer by myself. And when I became a dad, I added more to say with my own kids. This is the way of Jewish prayer. The longings of each generation build upon each other and rise ever higher toward the heavens. 

Sh’ma Yisrael Adonai eloheinu Adonai echad 

Baruch Shem k’vod malkhuto l’olam va-ed 

Hear O Israel, Adonai is our God, Adonai is One. 

Dear God, thank you for all our beautiful blessings. Thank you for our food, our clothing, our house, our family who loves me, and for us all being together safe, healthy, and well. Dear God, please help me to help myself to be a good, sweet, kind, loving, respectful, and grateful little girl/boy. God please bless our precious family. Amen. 

V’ahavta et Adonai eloheikha… 

You shall love Adonai your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might, because God loves you very, very, very much. God created you, and blessed you, and made your life holy and special. 

No matter where you go, no matter what you do, mommy and daddy will always love you, and we will always be there for you, and we will always stand by you. Because you are our precious, precious little girl/boy. Thank you for being our daughter/son. 

Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam ha-mapeel chevlay shaynai al aynai ut’numah al afapai. 

Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the universe. You make the sleep fall into my eyes, and the slumber into my eyelids. 


Tuesday, March 24
with Cantor Alexander

Adonai Love Me  https://youtu.be/IWo6FfJ9YE4 

It’s so simple and so powerful. God Love me, in times of anxiety and stress what more can we ask but to feel loved by an unending love. To reach for healing in a world absorbed with fear. To seek guidance from the true source of guidance and strength from the source of life. Adonai love me, Adonai guide me, Adonai heal me, how comforted I would feel to find all that right now, right here. 


Monday, March 23
with Rabbi Stoller

“On hearing news that is good for you and for others, say the blessing “Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam ha-tov v’ha-mayteev – Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who is good and does good. And you should say this blessing even if you are concerned that perhaps something bad may later come of it.” (Tur, Orach Chayim 222)  

The world today is in such flux. The world, it seems, changes almost from one minute to the next. There is so much fear and anxiety, so much in the news that is scary and unsettling. And yet, amidst it all are bits of good news, too. A friend who was exposed to the virus tests negative. Public officials act responsibly to help curb the spread. Researchers make some progress expanding access to testing. Judaism teaches us that expressing gratitude in the moment is a powerful spiritual practice. Even if there is reason to doubt that it will last or chances are that more bad news is still to come, our tradition teaches us to say “thank you” to God anyway. It’s about being present in the moment. It’s about recognizing that every little bit of good news you hear is a blessing, a moment to celebrate – and one not to take for granted. Baruch atah Adonai eloheinu melech ha-olam ha-tov v’ha-mayteev – Blessed are you Adonai our God, ruler of the universe, who is good and does good. 


Friday, March 20
with Rabbi Stoller

I am a member of the CCAR Responsa Committee, which answers questions from Reform rabbis and communities about matters of Jewish practice. Our committee just published this t’shuvah (response) to a question about the practice of using technology to create virtual minyanim during this time of crisis. I invite you to read it and share your thoughts in the comments section. And please join us tonight for a virtual Shabbat service with Cantor Alexander and me at 6 p.m. or a virtual Tot Shabbat service with Rabbi Berezin and Ben Mazur at 5:45 p.m. Shabbat Shalom!
Virtual Minyan in Time of COVID-19 Emergency
May we rely on technology to create a virtual minyan in a time of crisis when we cannot gather in our synagogues? If so, what are the criteria for constituting a valid virtual minyan? How does one recite Kaddish in a virtual minyan? At what point do we know it is appropriate to discontinue the virtual minyan and return to a physical minyan? (submitted by numerous CCAR members)
Although we have a recent decision that rejects the virtual minyan, we are now in an emergency situation. In an emergency situation a bet din is responsible for taking action for the welfare of the community, and may issue a temporary ruling (hora’at sha’ah) to prevent the kahal from going astray. People will certainly “go astray” by turning to all sorts of sources of comfort if we do not ensure that the kehillah kedosha, the holy community, can continue to function.
The minyan and participation “outside” the minyan: The essence of the minyan is the reciprocity of the social contract – the shared obligation that binds all ten individuals to one another, transforming them from a number of individuals into a community, a virtual bet Yisrael. The halakha translated that conceptual essence into a physical one by mapping it onto a space, requiring the members of a minyan to be in one room together. The majority view in the halakha is that the individuals who constitute the minyan must be in one room, though some authorities hold that it is sufficient for them to be able to see each other, thus including, e.g., the individual who is visible through the window of the synagogue.
Now, however, we are in a situation where people may not gather in one room. Therefore, for the duration of this emergency, we permit the convening of a minyan by means of interactive technology, i.e., technology that enables all members of the minyan to see and hear each other. Two widely used examples of this type of technology are Zoom (available as a smartphone app) and Microsoft Teams. In essence, therefore, we are requiring the use of Zoom or Teams – or any app with the same capabilities that may appear on the market now – to constitute a virtual minyan. (As always, and especially in this time of economic distress, we presume our congregations and all of our people will adhere to all intellectual property and copyright laws as they obtain software.)
As long as there are ten people connected in an interactive manner, any number of additional people may also be “present” passively, via live streaming. In accordance with the precedent of 5772.1, we do not count these individuals in the minyan. In our current context, the obstacle to counting the livestream viewer in the minyan is that s/he cannot be seen or heard, and therefore cannot be an equal participant in the minyan’s underlying social contract. Additionally, there is no way for the service leader to know how many people, if any, are watching a live stream, and therefore no way of knowing whether a minyan is “present” in the absence of ten interconnected members.
We affirm that one who is viewing a livestream should still respond to all the prayers; this is considered the same as having recited them. The same is true for the livestream viewer who recites the words of the Mourners’ Kaddish along with the service leader.
The CCAR plenum has never taken a stand on whether a minyan is required for public prayer, but its importance has been a given for most Reform rabbis and their congregations. In a 1936 responsum, Jacob Mann advised that “every attempt should be made to have a full minyan,” but allowed congregations to rely on the Palestinian custom of fixing a minyan at six or seven.” Many small congregations rely on this responsum. Some congregations of varying sizes disregard the minyan completely. We are not saying now that every Reform congregation must adhere to the requirement of a minyan of ten, but we encourage it, even in small congregations, as a way of bringing the community together.
Torah reading: All parts of the service can be conducted in a virtual minyan with the obvious exception of actually reading from the Torah scroll. As a further hora’at sha’ah, it is sufficient to read from a printed text without any aliyot. However, this is still a fulfillment of the mitzvah of Torah study and requires a b’rakhah (although all authorities agree that if one has earlier said la’asok be-divrei Torah, this requirement is merely for the honor of the community). Under these present circumstances, we suggest reverting to the practice set forth in the Mishnah: The first reader recites the blessing before the reading, and the last reader recites the blessing after the reading. An alternative practice, for those who do not want to use the Torah blessings for anything other than reading from the scroll, is to recite la’asok b’divrei Torah before reading from the printed text. Either way, we also strongly encourage including serious Torah study in addition to the reading.
The duration of these temporary procedures: Finally, at some point in the future, we know that this health crisis will end. When the authorities stop restricting attendance at public functions, this hora’at sha’ah should be set aside. People should return to the synagogue and the practice of interactive virtual minyanim should cease. We realize that some people may be fearful, but we rely on experts in these matters. “As rabbis, we are not competent to render judgments in scientific controversies. Still, we do not hesitate to adopt ‘the overwhelming view’ as our standard of guidance in this and all other issues where science is the determining factor.” Nevertheless, individuals in the most vulnerable populations (especially the elderly with pre-existing medical conditions) may benefit from live streaming. In these circumstances, the precedent of our earlier responsum, 5772.1, offers sufficient guidance.
Joan S. Friedman, chair
Howard L. Apothaker
Daniel Bogard
Carey Brown
Lawrence A. Englander
Lisa Grushcow
Audrey R. Korotkin
Rachel S. Mikva
Amy Scheinerman
Brian Stoller
David Z. Vaisberg
Jeremy Weisblatt
Dvora E. Weisberg


Thursday, March 19
with Rabbi Berezin

“Everything depends on the person who stands in front of the classroom. The teacher is not an automatic fountain from which intellectual beverages may be obtained. The teacher is either a witness or a stranger. To guide a pupil into the promised land, the teacher must have been there themselves. When asking themselves: Do I stand for what I teach? Do I believe what I say?, the teacher must be able to answer in the affirmative. What we need more than anything else is not textbooks, but textpeople. It is the personality of the teacher which is the text that the pupils read: the text that they will never forget. [Edited for gender neutrality]”

-Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, I Asked for Wonder: A Spiritual Anthology

Rabbi Heschel helps us to understand that teaching is about more than books and worksheets. When we teach from our experiences and areas of passion, we are the very best teachers. In this time when many of us find ourselves not only working differently than we are used to, but also serving as teachers for our children as they learn remotely, lets try to remember that the textbooks are not the most important pieces of education. Our children learn from us each and every day, and today is no different. We don’t all need to be experts in math or English lit. When we make lunches, we teach healthy and intentional eating. When we reach out to others we teach caring and compassion. We teach simply by being ourselves. And perhaps we teach the most when we model that it is ok to say “I don’t know the answer, but lets find one together.”

Wednesday, March 18

with Rabbi Stoller

“Adonai spoke to Moses and Aaron saying: When a person has…a scaly affection on the skin of his body, it shall be reported to Aaron the priest…It is a leprous affection; when the priest sees it, he shall pronounce him unclean….The priest shall isolate the affected person seven days.” (Leviticus 13) 

Like a number of our congregants, I am under quarantine in my home due to direct exposure to the coronavirus. During this time, I have come to understand this passage in Leviticus in a very poignant way. In some sense, I have become a leper. My wife, concerned about me exposing my family, has confined me to my bedroom – and my kids, knowing of my exposure, shout “you’re quarantined!” any time I dare to venture out of my isolation chamber (aka my bedroom). Anytime I reach for a door or a glass of water, I’m met with shouts of “don’t touch!” And not only that. People don’t want to be around my family either because they’re concerned about being exposed to someone who has been exposed to someone who has been exposed to the virus. All of this is very understandable; I would feel the same way if the shoe were on the other foot. But here’s what my experience has taught me: it’s really lonely to be the leper. Even when people’s intentions are good, you feel self-conscious, isolated, and weird.  

It’s important for us to be mindful that the coronavirus has made many people among us into lepers. Our distancing from them may be well-intentioned, it may be smart, and it may be necessary. But that doesn’t change the fact that to be a leper is to be in a difficult and painful spiritual condition. So what can we as a community – and what can you as an individual – do to support our friends and fellow congregants like me who have effectively become modern-day lepers? Even as we keep our necessary physical distance, how can we draw them close emotionally and spiritually? 


Tuesday, March 17
with Cantor Alexander

Olam Chesed Yiboneh https://youtu.be/ZHp-jcPlKIY 

I will build this world from love. 

How do we build a world from love when being with those we live might endanger them? Yet how do we do anything but build a world from love when all of life has turned inside out? If we allow ourselves to live only in the fear and only for our own personal safety and comfort our world is all but destroyed. Even as we sit locked behind our doors we must push out of ourselves and reach for those trapped behind other walls. Pick up a phone and make a call, send over a grub hub or delivery, just to show you care. Find a way to connect to people you didn’t even really know before. Because we’re all in this together. Olam CHESSED yibone. Together you, me and God, we will build a world exuding love. 


Monday, March 16
with Rabbi Berezin

“Our Rabbis taught, A father has the following obligations towards his son: to circumcise him, to redeem him [if he is a firstborn], to teach him Torah, to find him a wife, and to teach him a craft or a trade. Some say, to teach him to swim too.” (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 29a). The text points out the obligations a parent has toward a child, but interestingly, basic necessities and care such as food or shelter are not included. Instead, we find religious, spiritual, and emotional support in the forms of the ritual of circumcision, teaching Torah, and helping a child to find his/her partner. The requirements conclude with teaching chidlren to swim, representing the need to teach our children the tools of survival and the ability to make their way in the world. Today, as we navigate the realities of social distancing and virtual connections, how can we teach our children, and one another, to swim in this new world?


Sunday, March 15
with Rabbi Stoller

Hillel taught: “Do not separate yourself from the community.” This axiom is particularly poignant at this particular moment in time. Due to our forced physical separation from our colleagues, our temple, and from people we care about, we and others can easily become isolated, lonely, and sad. What concrete steps can you take to stay connected to the various communities you’re part of and to help people who are feeling isolated?