Thursday, November 20, 2008


Several days ago I received a request for an appropriate reading at a Thanksgiving Day dinner table. With it was an apology for directing the question to a rabbi since "Thanksgiving is a secular holiday." Technically, of course, the questioner was correct. The origin of Thanksgiving is not a sacred text or an ecclesiastical body of religious scholars or saints but rather the government of the United States of America during the administration of Abraham Lincoln.
Yet, it is my firm belief that Thanksgiving is in essence one of the most religious of all holiday celebrations anywhere. Any occasion that highlights the meaning of gratitude in the context of our spiritual lives is ultimately a profound religious opportunity.
Football games and elaborate cuisine aside, I don't think any other holiday in America quite constructs a context in which individuals and families can encounter a sense of gratefulness for the prosperity we enjoy ,as Thanksgiving. Even places of need like food and homeless shelters go out of their way to provide a special festive meal in order to enhance the capacity of everyone to feel thankful and blessed.
So universal a sentiment is gratefulness that no religious faith anywhere on this planet is devoid of a core concept, doctrine or ritual that does not embrace the practice of articulating and acting upon a deep sense of gratefulness to the Giver of life and all things. Secularists who are spiritually inclined recognize too the human need to acknowledge the gift of life in all its manifestations.
Thanksgiving speaks to the stomach, to our taste buds, to our need to be entertained, and to our faith in family. Above all, when we feel thankful even for a passing moment, this occasion invites us to touch our souls as well.
A happy and grateful Thanksgiving to all.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


Yesterday, Shabbat Vayerah, the Sabbath on which we read of Abraham's eyes and heart opening to the divine, I ended my spiritual quest for a community that I tried to build as a rabbi myself. Having heard of the synagogue from many sources, my wife and I decided to attend Shabbat morning services at KEHILAT ROMEMU, a traditional renewal synagogue located in the Upper West Side of Manhatten.
The space was located in a church; the room was dimly lit, and we discovered a beautiful and fragrant rose at our seats. The flower lent an added dimension of sensual awareness of Sabbath's delight and divinity.
The rabbi, unlike most that I have known, created a warm, available and open presence to which everyone could respond with an open heart, never fearing the intrusion of guilt or reproach. The worship journey was saturated with song, chanting, moments of meditation and substantial portions of the traditional format of the Sabbath liturgy. We "daavened" but not in the conventional understanding of the word. Commonly, we think of "daavening "as a race of many words, an exercise in quantity rather than an experience of inner spiritual quality. Here "daavening" meant to enter into the soul of prayer through spontaneous and spirited singing and chanting.
We arrived at a prayer that I consider the most important to me-"Nishmat Kol Hai"-the breath of all things ...sing Your praise, words embossed on the "atarah," the crown of my prayer shawl, words that I have recited and sung countless times only to encounter a constricted and impermeable heart.
This time I wept as the iron gates "guarding " my heart slowly swung open and the praise of other open hearts gently turned the rusted lock of my heart with the key of community intimacy and care.
Aliyot , honors to the Torah were not assigned, not given out because of favor or status, but rather on the basis of a felt need of the congregation. This need was arrived by the masterful interpretation of Rabbi David's touching comments regarding the content of the Torah reading during which he touched the deep personal needs of the congregation with the power of the Torah text.
Blessings over the Torah were recited in group fashion, all honorees surrounding the Torah with arms extended around the shoulders of the others, forming a circle of community reminiscent of Israel standing at the base of Mt. Sinai encircling the sacredness of that moment of revelation.
Rabbi David's breadth of spiritual encirclement extended beyond the wisdom of Judaism as he recited a poem by the Sufi mystic, Rumi, and transformed those words into "divrei Torah," holy words of our own tradition.
The service ended of course with Kiddush, wine, hallah and light refreshments.
My wife and I left,spiritually saturated at least for a few moments, grateful that Romemu had opened our hearts.

Friday, November 14, 2008


" Baruch ata... shecheyanu, v'keyemanu..."
I am deeply grateful to the Source of All things that I have been kept alive and sustained to celebrate this moment.
It took a little more than nine months-but finally it has come to fruition.Above is the "Baby"s picture:

For further information please log on to:


I look forward to your comments.
Shabbat Shalom

Thursday, November 13, 2008


My car is in the shop. I had several errands to run all of which could be completed without the use of an automobile. Being "car-less" in the suburbs is considered by many comparable to being stranded on a far away island.
Yet, the absence of a car was refreshing and challenging. I stepped out of my building, umbrella in hand, and proceeded to walk toward my first destination, the local library. My tent-wide "Tanglewood" head covering comfortably protected me from the ceaseless cascade of rain drops and the fresh autumn air filled my lungs with its life-enhancing energy.
Rather than feel inconvenienced and annoyed by the inclement weather conditions of the gloomy cold, I directed my attention to all the many reasons for feeling grateful on this gray suburban morning.
I had an umbrella which I was able to comfortably carry; the air was brisk and invigorating;I was able to combine doing an errand with some healthy bodily exercise; the whistling of the wind provided a musical background to my journey; leaves of fading yellow and red drifted in the air, their pungent aroma sweetening my mind; trees swayed and danced as gusts of wind blew against my face,bracing my skin against the raw elements of the autumn chill; the waters of a fall rain would replenish the earth and fill the reservoirs; creation was being renewed as it is each day.
A memory flashed through my mind. Children in bathing suits, carousing in the rain, jumping wildly through the splattering downpour. Laughing with abandon, as free as they could ever be. The rain released their restrained vigor and joy, with myriads of drops drenched in the eruption of human energy, in the explosion of life itself.

It was good to walk in the rain today. I found myself singing in the rain, grateful for this simple, ordinary stroll.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008


We almost ran into each other, literally. I was going from room to room visiting patients as part of my chaplaincy efforts in the hospital and he, as a physician, had just met with an individual patient.
Having sustained the loss of parents and other family members over a fairly brief period of time, and wishing to honor their memory and derive comfort for himself ,Dr. H. had attended nightly services for several years at the synagogue I had served as rabbi. I always found him to be thoughtful, soft-spoken and gentle, someone easily approachable and enjoyable to be with.
We had not seen each other for several years and naturally caught up with each other's recent experiences. We found ourselves commenting on the current economic crisis and its effects on society. He shared a wonderful insight of human nature that related to my on-going engagement with the concept of gratefulness as the essential spiritual path to human joy and well-being.
" I have discovered that most important words in the English language that tap into human meaning begin with the letter "E." Perhaps the most important words that capture the driving forces of life are- Economics, Ego and Envy."
In other words, the basic motivations for all human behavior can be reduced to these three considerations.
I responded with gratitude for the insight. As I returned home and my thoughts wandered to the meaning of the day, Veteran's Day, I could not help but remember what the good doctor shared with me in the hospital corridor. At risk of over -simplification, could one not understand the root causes for war as residing precisely in the intractable power of economics, ego and envy? When one goes to war to conquer territory and natural resources, is the reason not economics? When a totalitarian state undertakes the subjugation of neighbors, is this not a reflection of personal and national egotism reaching idolatrous proportions? And when countries, greedy for power or prestige, for wealth and glory, embark on military adventures, do we not encounter the dominance of envy in human affairs?
Along with these sobering, even gloomy thoughts ,I extracted a sense of gratefulness from the knowledge that humanity can in fact conceive of a reality embraced by gratefulness and cooperation, not envy, ego or economics gone greedy!
As we honor with undying gratitude the memories of those who fought and died on behalf of a world of freedom, generosity and gratefulness, Veteran's Day should be a reminder of the side of human nature that is capable of imagining and implementing a world of grateful kindness and compassion which will hopefully render all forms of human violence obsolete, and all warfare buried deeply in the farthest recesses of human madness.
"May He who establishes peace in the Heavens grant -shalom-peace to the entire human community." Amen

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


It is too early yet to be grateful for the election outcome. Tomorrow some will be grateful while others will be disappointed.Today, however, we can all collectively share an abiding sense of gratitude for the process that enhanced our dignity as human beings and Americans
Some stood in long lines and waited long periods before they could draw the curtain around them. For others, little effort was required.
What embraced me with a special feeling of gratefulness was the face of a young man-probably a first time voter-who stepped out from behind the curtain with a smile of pride and empowerment that captured the essence of being an American. Together with this young man was an elderly woman who was guided through the mechanical steps of voting by a volunteer attendant. Her face too reflected an deeply-etched sense of determined pride and privilege for her somewhat clumsy efforts with the lines of lighted buttons in the voting machine.
Voting turnout was at an all time high-a healthy and positive sign of a vibrant democracy. This election was revolutionary in many ways which only bodes well for the future unfolding of a system of government that is the inspiration of the entire world. Perhaps not only the wall of ageism but the ramparts of racism too will finally tumble to the ground in shattered fragments never to be reassembled again, never to darken the light of freedom and hope, giving us the renewed expectation of a time when content and character will count more than all else in selecting a leader of the world's leading democracy.
For all the above, I am thankful and grateful on this momentous day in our history.