Sunday, September 19, 2010


By this time, the day after Yom Kippur, we have all completed a thorough process of confession of sins-it seems as if there are no more sins we could conceive of at this point. Yet, I must confess one more thing; I never liked Yom Kippur! I enjoy my daily cups of coffee too much to withstand a day without them! Moreover, for over 40 years I conducted services and impatiently awaited the end of the day so that all its demands could be put behind me.
Yesterday it was totally different. I can't express how grateful I am for the experience of Yom Kippur at a synagogue called ROMEMU, at which I spent 24 glorious hours in a church setting-they can't afford a separate space yet, especially in Manhattan-during which time not a moment passed when I felt the discomfort of fasting. So elevating was the service with its rousing and heartfelt singing accompanied and inspired but never overpowered by the magical music of outstanding musicians , Rabbinic words that filled one's heart with hope and love, physical embraces of members that surrounded us with genuine expressions of sincerity and concern, and the many moments of meditative silence by which we could touch, even fleetingly, our deepest yearnings and desires. Unlike the conventional synagogue in which the hours drag on so slowly because of lengthy, mechanical and rote-like formulas of prayer , and the passive indifference of worshippers , completely unengaged, who have no focus for their hearts and their attention except for their growling stomachs and the growing parchness in their mouths, ROMEMU has created a holy community and a sacred space of honesty and acceptance in which tears of sadness and joy co-mingled into a fluid of renewed faith.
When the day ends in a conventional synagogue, it is not uncommon for throngs of people to make a mad dash to the doors at the very last gasp of the Tekiah Gedolah of the shofar, fleeing hunger and boredom at the same time. Last night, the final , crackling blast of the Shofar was greeted with exuberant singing and dancing, a celebration of hope for a reunited Jerusalem under the sovereignty of peace that continued for close to fifteen minutes. Then the spices were passed around filling the sanctuary with smells of renewed sweetness and pungent awakening, and the flicker of a Havdallah canadle danced toward the arched ceiling. Hundreds of fingers were raised toward its light, the light of the sacred being overshadowed by the darkness of the mundane and the ordinary; yet, holiness held on as the hundreds who remained in the sanctuary broke forth into another eruption of sacred energy exploding into joyful song and dance.Hunger and thirst were swallowed up in the soaring of the human spirit and the transformation was complete; at the closing heavenly gates this humble host of angels didn't "need" to eat; they did what angels do-they lifted their hearts in praise.
The day had passed like a flash; its light illumined at least one shadowy spot in everyone's soul .

PS I can't wait for next Yom Kippur.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


She was 96 years old. I approached her bed and introduced myself and my son Jeremiah, explaining that we had come to sound the Shofar for her, if she wished, and to bring her New Year greetings. She was blind but her eyes filled with light.
"How happy I am ; happy New year to you; you should have a healthy and happy New Year! " she exclaimed excitedly. Facing my son she said without seeing him: "Remember that when you are little love seems tiny; but love is bigger than the whole world!" Her worn and wrinkled face radiated joy and tenderness, and my heart was filled with the sweetness of this woman's holy presence.
We continued to another hospital room where we found a 94 year old woman at whose bedside sat her devoted daughter. She informed her mother of our presence and when she heard that my son was with me she proceeded to quote Shakespeare:"Sharper than a serpent's tongue are the words of a thankless child" -and continued to recite a soliloquy from Hamlet. " I remember these words from when I attended college over 70 years ago, majoring in English." We exchanged New Year greetings, sounded the piercing notes of the Shofar and left. What a moment of holiday inspiration.
I attended a remarkable service at Romemu-a spiritual renewal synagogue in Manhattan, and derived much gratefulness from the spirited enthusiasm and open hearted ness of the rabbi and all the congregation's participants. It was indeed an uplifting experience.
But my heart was most deeply touched in the quiet encounter with the two elderly ladies in their hospital beds. I realized again that the greatest gift I received this Rosh Hashanah for which I was most deeply grateful was the gift of gratitude shared by those alone and infirm on a festival day. I certainly received so much more than I gave.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


It is the tradition of the Jewish people to mark the beginning of a New Year by engaging in a process of conscious introspection about the year that has passed and consider ways by which to enhance and improve our lives spiritually in the year ahead. This is no easy task and most of us can only pay lip service to this opportunity for change in our lives. So much happens, there seems to be so much that requires change, so much that we are unhappy about! Where do we start? What kind of steps can we take that allow for success and not create the inevitable sense of failure because of being overwhelmed by the enormity of the task? Rabbis and preachers around the world will be addressing this question in the hope of offering guidance to our people to take at least some necessary steps toward a life of greater fulfillment and joy in the New Year.
Allow me to add a modest recommendation and clear-sighted direction as we hopefully move forward along the path of greater spiritual growth in the days ahead.
Each one of us has his/her bundle of hopes and desires, and each "peckel" is unique . I believe however that there are directions that can be followed by all which will bring us closer to our desired destinations of spiritual fullness and peace.You can probably guess what it is that I am going to suggest as a guidline by which to measure your internal movement and growth! For me, a clear barometer that takes the pulse of my spiritual movement is my experience of gratefulness at any given moment of my life. The compass of gratitude points me in the direction
of my journey toward greater meaning, wonder and compassion in life.When feelings of anger, disappointment, envy and discontent fill my heart, I know it is time to introspect, re-evaluate and meditate on the richness of gratefulness as a source of my personal joy and fulfillment. It is time to refocus my spiritual lens and gain a clarity about my life that is perceived only through the prism of gratefulness , thankfulness and the ability to praise.
Again I have no illusions about life's harshness and the myriad problems that confront all of us;
rather than becoming mired in guilt, self-doubt , and cynical rage, my urging for all of us-myself included-is to pursue the path of gratitude in the New Year, and with a sense of gratefulness for all of life's gifts and blessings be energized to respond to all of life with more generosity and kindness, more compassion and love.
May we all be inscribed in the book of life; may we all author best sellers on the theme of gratefulness and goodness, so that the world be rewarded with its most cherished of all prizes, the prize of peace. Amen.