Monday, December 14, 2009


What is a friend?
One who knows your soul and loves it by nurturing it.I am grateful to have such a friend.
He sent me the following poem that I believe represents all of my personal spiritual stirivings and those of Hannukah and Judaism in general.
During this period of Hannukah we recite HALLEL-Psalms of Praise which are integral parts of all festive occasions on the Jewish calendar. It is my assertion that praise connected to gratefulness is the spiritual oasis of all of us, a place and opportunity by which to encounter life's miracle and endure all of life's challenges with grace, love and courage.
These are the words that should be etched on all our souls:
“Tell us, O poet, what do you do? I praise. But those dark, deadly devastating ways,/ How do you bear them, suffer them? I praise. And the Nameless, beyond guess or gaze, /How can you call it, conjure it? I praise. And whence your right, in every kind of maze/In every mask, to remain true? I praise. And that the mildest and the wildest ways/ Know you like star and storm? Because I praise.
Happy Hannukah

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


It's easy to be grateful on Hannukah! How can one not be thankful for miracles? After all, the miraculous is pretty spectacular and we all love a good spectacle.
Lights are lovely, dreidels, delightful,latkes-potato pancakes- mouth watering, gift giving or Chanukeh gelt, a good reason for gratitude. It is Jewishly ennobling to gain an awareness of the victory of the few and poorly armed Maccabees over the large and better equipped armies of the ancient Syrian-Greeks. The struggle for religious freedom is a message that resonates comfortably in the minds of modern Jews. There are no restrictions of any significance during these eight days , and the over-all ambience is one of rejoicing and playful celebration.
Enough said as a reason for connecting gratefulness to this occasion? I think not and suggest a dimension of understanding that takes us beyond the obvious of Hannukah.
The one major concrete act of the holiday is kindling lights for eight days. Its purpose according to rabbinic tradition is to "publicize the miracle" in Aramaic:pirsuma nissah . For this reason we place the Menorah in the windows of our homes for outsiders to catch a glimpse of the lights; in many communities, especially among the Lubavitcher Hassidim, we witness enormous Menorahs placed in the most populous locations of our towns and cities and observe rabbis in cherry pickers with torch in hand lighting flames that can be seen from
far away distances.
To publicize the miracle has a deeper, more modest meaning for me. The spiritual purpose of Hannukah is to enable every individual to raise one's inner consciousness of the miracle, the wonder and the remarkable realities not only of Hannukah but of all of Jewish and human experience. When we recite the special "al hanissim" prayer it is placed alongside the daily prayer in which we acknowledge and thank God for the miraculous realities of every day of our lives, evening, morning and noontime. The challenge of Hannukkah ,indeed of all of Judaism, is to publicize the miracle as an integral part of our spiritual lives and in this way respond with gratefulness to the countless reflections of the divine, of the wondrous, as they flicker and dance in the shadowy spaces of our lives.
Take a moment or two from the games, gift giving , eating , singing and praying of Hanukkah and simply observe the lights -perhaps in these quiet few moments you will gratefully rediscover life's great miracle.
Happy Hannukah

Monday, December 7, 2009


We were driving along the streets of Manhattan and I was sharing my weekend experiences as scholar in residence in a nearby synagogue with my son, Jeremiah. In particular I tried to convey how I understood the importance of Hannukah from the vantage point of gratefulness.It was somewhat elaborate-after all it had to take up at least 20 minutes of sermon time in the synagogue! Almost instinctively Jeremiah replied with a simple but very moving interpretation of Chanukah's richness as a source of connection to gratefulness living in our spiritual lives.I gratefully share his insight.
On the surface we focus on the LIGHTS of Hannukah-they capture our attention and symbolize so much of our emotional attachment to the holiday.Behind the light,however, is the oil, the fuel without which the fire and the light are impossible."I see gratitude as the oil, the fuel, that has the power of kindling the lights of enlightenment and joy," he concluded.
I became aware of a new way of understanding the popular legend of Hannukah's miracle, the oil sufficient for one day lasting for eight days.If we understand oil-gratitude as spiritual fuel, then this miracle takes on new and ongoing significance. A slight awareness of the gift of life for which to feel grateful carries the potential for the outpouring of increased capacities to see the world as a miraculous and a marvelous gift for which we can hardly hold back our response of praise and gratitude.To me gratitude, as a spiritual fuel,is entirely renewable and capable of energizing our spiritual lives with added dimensions of beauty, joy and holiness.It is no accident that we ignite an additional light each night of Hannukah; we do so to remind us of the power of a single spark to kindle a flame of passion, love and goodness which will to illuminate the many dark corners of our our lives and the world.

Happy Hannukah


I have just returned from a weekend in Long Island during which I conducted several discussions on the meaning of gratefulness at a wonderfully 'heimeshe' and welcoming congregation, East Northport Jewish Center.
Rabbi Ian and Beth Silverman were the most gracious of hosts;within minutes of my arrival I felt at home and this feeling only grew and deepened as the weekend unfolded.
Congregants were quick to warmly extend greetings and offer ways by which to make my stay at their synagogue an enjoyable and comfortable one.
I am most grateful for one particular experience. On Friday evening, in attendance were over twenty children. I am a strong believer in engaging everyone in my presentations. I directed my opening question to these pre-Bar/Bat Mitzvah age youngsters:
What are you most grateful for? I asked.
The answers were reassuring, mature, and I think quite remarkable.
For those who replied, the sources of their greatest gratitude were: family-parents, friends, synagogue, being Jewish and people in general. Hannukah was in the air and yet no one referred to the prospect of Hannukah gifts as the impetus for feeling grateful.Not a single child made mention of a video game as a reason for being thankful! I confess that I was quite impressed and felt most grateful for this group of young Jewish children who were reared to recognize the important aspects of gratefulness living.I think these responses reflected not only the uniqueness of the children but their families and their synagogue community as well.

As we approach Hannukah, and gifts are exchanged, I pray that we all feel deep gratitude for what we receive;I hope that beyond the material items given to loved ones and friends, we will once again be conscious of the enduring gifts for which to be unendingly grateful-family, friends, the synagogue, the honor of being Jewish and the gift of being human.

Hag Hannukah Sameach.

Friday, December 4, 2009


Each Thursday morning, bright and early, I board a bus for Manhattan where I teach at a local college.My stop is the first one and I take a seat next to the driver, alongside the stairs leading up into the belly of the bus.The next 40 minutes is a period of observation and thought. Unlike others, I cannot read or write while the bus is moving.Stop after stop, people ascend and descend like the angels in the Genesis story of Jacob's dream of the ladder stationed on earth with its top pointing heavenward. Each human angel is on her way up the ladder of the day, a journey to an office, shop, warehouse, factory, boardroom or schoolroom.
Sunrise fills the sky and pours into the bus, blinking eyes catching sight of skyscrapers beckoning silently, awaiting our arrival. Each ordinary bus ride fills me with amazement as I return to the place that dazzled my imagination when as a young and impressionable teenager of sixteen I stood gazing at the towering reality of Times Square on my first visit from Canada. Manhattan's magic and marvel never cease; I am transported to a world of utter wonderment with each arrival.
We wind our way along the wavy waters of the Hudson; and entering the Mid-Town Tunnel my mind leaps to the Biblical image of a people cutting through the waters of the Red Sea on dry land to safety. The engineering feat of a tunnel creating dry space for motor vehicles to drive through in the hundreds of thousands each day is a constant reaffirmation of the miracles and wonders of modern life."The waters were split, forming a wall for them on their right and on their left."
65 passengers alight from the bus and disappear into the throngs of Manhattan's morning movement. Waves of water, waves of people, the stream of life ,churning and tumultuous, ascending and descending, alive.A spectacle of surprise, another day's gift for which to be grateful.
Shabbat Shalom