Everything teaches something. Here are five ways to help your children develop an ethical-action consciousness in their everyday lives.
It was my third seder of the week, but this one was unlike any other. It was a "Seder of Women's Voices," and I felt privileged to be one of the few men in the room among a 150 or so women.
What I could never have known at the time, as I sat glumly in the back seat of my parents car on that long drive to a new, unknown life, was that Sacramento would provide me with some of the greatest experiences of my life.
Sometimes life seems overwhelming. For some, it's the stress of coping with raising their children in an apparently amoral world. For others, it is learning how to live each day in spite of enormous challenges to our bodies and our health.
The words we find in this week's parasha have undoubtedly influenced more individuals in the Western world than any other in the entire Torah.
I have three sisters, two older and one younger. My youngest sister, Debbie, was born when I was 8 years old. In the months leading up to her birth, I remember clearly the anxiety I felt over the possibility that it might turn out to be a boy and I might end up with a brother.
It's little wonder that so many parents experience emotions ranging from permanent low-grade anxiety to out-and-out panic, considering how many feel ill-equipped to identify and teach their children the key values that give life meaning.
There is something otherworldly about the experience of a Bar or Bat Mitzvah. It is perhaps the preeminent spiritual-cultural paradox in all of Jewish life. When girls and boys focus so intensely on this personal lifecycle event, each possesses a transcendent, timeless and eternal quality.
It was John who eventually told me that he experienced more terror at his inability to speak than from his inability to walk and move his hands and legs as he chose.
There I was standing in front of a tiny prison cell in the maximum security prison on Robben Island, nestled quietly in the harbor of Cape Town, South Africa. I stood in silence, staring at the cell with its three rough wool blankets, its one lonely wooden stool and the small, hard metal bed that stood abandoned in the corner.
Draped in a deep, earthen-red shukah, adorned with circles of brightly beaded necklaces and head-to-toe with body paint made from ochre and sheep fat, the Masai warrior keeps a silent vigil in the midst of the relentless equatorial heat of East Africa. His life is a mission from his god, Ngai, to protect and care for his herd of cattle and the earth itself.
I am writing this column while sitting in an Internet cafe in San Jose, Costa Rica. This Shabbat I will be officiating at the bar mitzvah of Eduardo Lev, a 13-year-old Costa Rican Jew whose parents are members of Congregacion B'nei Israel, the only liberal synagogue in the country.
"Don't wish for fish, fish for fish." These words of sage advice were taught to me by my Grandpa Manny. He was a man of action. He was filled with exuberance for life with a twinkle in his eye and a word of encouragement and inspiration for everyone.
As we watched that dark Australian night, the words of this week's Torah portion came into my head. "Yesh adonai bamakom hazeh, veanohi lo yadati," said Jacob. "God was in this place, and until this vision, I had no idea."
Three months ago, at age 19, my daughter made a decision that has changed her life forever. All of us make them, although often we have no idea at the time just how profoundly we will be changed.
When I was a junior in college, I spent the year in Jerusalem, studying at the Hebrew University. That year in Israel, more than any other single experience, determined the direction my life would take. I found myself taking every Judaic studies class I could, and I loved them so much that I decided to go to rabbinic school and spend my life immersed in the excitement and meaning of sacred Jewish texts.
When I was 16, I was elected president of my synagogue youth group. I will never forget that feeling of euphoria that accompanied the victory. But I also remember how I felt the very next day after the excitement and thrill of the victory had already started to wear off. I was suddenly struck by an overwhelming feeling of fear and near panic. "Oh my God," I remember thinking, "now I am the one responsible for whether this entire program and youth group is successful or not. How am I going to know what to do?"
A young woman called, asking if I would be willing to visit with her 95-year-old grandmother. She seemed to be slipping away from life more and more each day, and had been asking to speak with a rabbi.
We still don't like to talk about it much. The idea of Jewish domestic violence makes most of us nervous.
I remember the argument like it was yesterday. There I was, a 10-year-old kid growing up in a Reform congregation in Santa Monica, arguing with my best friend (another 10-year-old from the same synagogue) about the laws of kashrut for Pesach.
God spoke to me once when I was 12 years old. Although it happened years ago, I remember it as clearly as if it were today. Revelation is a tricky thing. I am reminded of the Midrash that when God gave the commandments at Mt. Sinai, God speaks to the Children of Israel in a divine voice so powerful they are too terrified to hear anything beyond the very first word of the first commandment. Since even that was too much to bear, God arranged it so they only heard the first letter of the first word. The first word is Anohi ("I am"), and the first letter is an alef, which is silent. So the rabbis teach us that what the Jewish people heard when God spoke was the Divine Silence of the mitzvot. Within that Divine Silence, each woman and man experienced her or his own unique divine revelation.
When I was 16, my family picked up and moved from Santa Monica, where I had been born and raised, to Sacramento.
Long ago, when I was just starting out as a teacher in religious school, I realized that singing a song was an easy and relatively painless way to learn important Jewish lessons about life.
I remember how amazed I was by the story. Tom and Pauline Nichter and their 11-year-old son, Jason, were on the nightly news, speaking with reporters from the police station.
The remarkable thing about parenting is that it often seems as if so much of our children's development is out of our hands.
I grew up the only boy in a family with three girls. Although this definitely didn't make me an expert on women, it did give me a firsthand knowledge of how women live.
I grew up as a hyperactive child. Of course, noone ever called it that at the time. They didn't yet have suchclinical labels for every childhood behavioral challenge.
A few summers ago, we went on a driving trip tothe Grand Canyon. I remember one particular day, as I stood near sometourists high up on the edge of the canyon, and looked down into adeep and beautiful gorge that seemed to stretch on forever. Amid allthe "Oohs" and "Aahs," I overheard one of the tourists remark to hisguide, "Wow, I sure would have liked to be here when this was beingmade." The park ranger turned to the man and quietly replied, "Youare."