Jewish Journal

Rabbi Anne Brener

  • Torah portion: Time for a change

    September 8, 2015 | 4:33 pm

    Later generations will ask [when they] see the plagues and diseases that God has inflicted upon the land ... they will say, ‘Sulphur and salt has burned all its soil. Nothing can be planted. Nothing can grow. ...’ All ... will ask, ‘Why did God do this to the land? Why this great...

  • Navigating grief’s wilderness: Parashat Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-4:20)

    May 21, 2015 | 4:26 pm

    “You must make yourself like a wilderness in order to receive the Torah” (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:26).

    This week’s parsha, Bamidbar, begins the Book of the Wilderness, more commonly known as the Book of Numbers. We return to the narrative of the journey from Egypt to the Promised...

  • Torah portion: Balancing our priestly lives

    February 4, 2015 | 11:00 am

    I have particular fondness for Parshat Yitro. While it contains some of the defining moments of Israelite religion — the revelation at Sinai, the giving of the Decalogue and the injunction that we should become “a kingdom of priests” — my delight is in the tale that precedes these...

  • Torah portion: Embracing impermanence during Sukkot

    October 7, 2014 | 11:08 am

    When I was visiting Albuquerque, N.M., a number of years ago, a friend brought me to visit the nearby Native American community to observe the annual corn dance. As we entered the space where this harvest ritual would be performed, I noticed that all of the participants began by...

  • Torah portion: Reframing the Brit Shalom

    July 9, 2014 | 9:40 am

    How can I write a d’var Torah when I can’t stop crying? The horrific news from the Middle East — our boys, their boys, the steady progress of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria — I can’t bear to put on paper what is in my heart, as I emerge from texts on Parshat Pinchas extolling...

  • While the world was burning

    May 7, 2014 | 10:40 am

    Do you remember Roy Lichtenstein’s Pop Art portrait of an anguished woman, her hand over her face, tears falling from her eyes and a speech balloon above her head saying, “I can’t believe it. I forgot to have children!” The implication was that this woman was so busy ticking off...

  • Crossing over: Parashat Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)

    August 22, 2013 | 9:56 am

    “When you enter the land that YHVH, your God, is giving you as a heritage …” (Deuteronomy 26:1).

    Parashat Ki Tavo comes with the full moon of Elul, the last month of the Hebrew year. Moses addresses the gathered people, Ivrim (Hebrew people), on the Plains of Moab as they are...

  • The ordeal of the Sotah: Parashat Naso (Numbers 4:21-7:89)

    May 15, 2013 | 11:45 am

    In the late ’70s, I carried a beeper when it was my turn to be on call for a rape-victim helpline. One evening I had it clipped to my jacket during a faculty meeting at the community college where I taught. One of my male colleagues saw it and asked, “What’s that?” He addressed me...

  • Ritual of Return

    July 18, 2012 | 3:43 pm

    This double parasha brings us to the end of the book of Bemidbar. The Israelites stand at the edge of the Promised Land, following Moses’ last military campaign. Before the people can leave the wilderness, the soldiers must go through rituals of purification. They must stay “outside...

  • Vayeshev Yaakov (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

    December 14, 2011 | 10:51 am

    I had a dream shortly after I arrived in Los Angeles in 1981 to study at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion’s (HUC-JIR) School of Jewish Communal Service.

    I revisit that dream frequently, discovering new meanings as my self-awareness evolves. In the dream, I stood...

  • From Pain to Peace

    August 17, 2011 | 10:33 am

    “Remember the long way that YHVH your God made you travel in the wilderness these past 40 years, that he might test you, by hardships, to learn what is in your hearts: whether you would keep his commandments or not” (Deuteronomy 8:2).

    My daughter just returned from Vietnam. When...

  • Prophecy vs. Ego

    June 21, 2011 | 4:50 pm

    Shavuot, unlike many Jewish holidays, does not take place on the full moon. This celebration, when we study all night to commemorate receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, precedes the night of the moon’s peak brightness by about a week. So, along with the gift of Torah, we are given...

  • Becoming a Kingdom of Priests: Achrei Mot (Leviticus 16:1-18:30)

    April 12, 2011 | 6:00 pm

    I want to recruit you into an order to which all Jews belong: the Mamlechet Kohanim, the Kingdom of Priests. I begin my campaign as we read of Aaron, the priest, and the instructions given him when he is, according to 12th century commentator Nachmanides, “in the most severe stage...

  • Wake up to our world, ourselves

    August 31, 2010 | 6:45 pm

    I am on a deck, overlooking a redwood stand. The tall trees above me, I look down on lesser vegetation. I find myself eye level with a red-headed woodpecker as I revisit the warnings and the promises of Parashat Nitzavim.

    We read Nitzavim during the Hebrew month of Elul, when we...

  • When The Truth Is Found to Be Lies: The Coen Brothers’ Rorschach for Serious People

    March 1, 2010 | 11:51 am

    I learned about Jewish spirituality in a yoga class in 1971. I lay prone on the carpeted floor, relaxing after achieving the challenging bridge posture for the first time. I had thought that the pose’s name came from its shape: Lying on my back, I pushed my feet and hands into the...

  • Heart's Ordination

    February 23, 2010 | 5:24 pm

    I think of myself as a premature elder. I was initiated into an involuntary priesthood at a young age. Life presented me with a set of mandates that shaped my life in
    ways I would never have chosen. Twice before my 24th birthday, I sat shiva. Those seven-day periods initiated me in...

  • Embrace the Dark, Then Light a Candle

    December 8, 2009 | 4:00 pm

    Kislev, the month when we begin to light the candles of Chanukah, is the month that contains the year’s longest nights and shortest days. In Kislev we begin in darkness, like all of creation. With less brightness from above, we contemplate the essence that preceded God’s command:...

  • A Holiday for Cheshvan

    November 11, 2009 | 7:24 pm

    “And Abraham expired, and died at a good old age…. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah ... and Isaac settled near Beer-la’chai Roi” (Genesis 25:8-11).

    Despite its title, parashat Chayye Sarah, which literally means “life of Sarah,” is actually a...

  • Yizkor:

    September 9, 2009 | 5:32 pm

    The phrase “time heals all wounds” is misleading. We hold our breath, and as the years pass we hope that the pain of loss will end. Often we are disappointed. However, it is possible to use time as a healer. In so doing the progression of the seasons can bring comfort.


  • Tears in a Bottle

    July 29, 2009 | 2:04 pm

    In a cabinet in my synagogue’s foyer is a small glass bottle with two openings. It is an object from around 100 C.E. which caught and held the tears of those who mourned the destruction of the Temple. According to a legend, it was believed that the Messiah would come when the...

  • Oneness at 30,000 Feet

    May 13, 2009 | 12:56 pm

    I am blessed with a window seat and a clear day as I fly to New York for my daughter’s college graduation. Above the Grand Canyon’s chalky landscape carved in subtle shifts of pink, tan and purple, the thrill of flight’s-eye view gives me the sense of seeing as God sees. I see...

  • Turn Memory Into Blessing

    April 5, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    Holidays bring up feelings and memories about people who have died. They also offer opportunities to address unresolved issues. The four Yizkor services and the themes of their days correspond to different tasks of mourning.

    Yizkor provides temporal focal points where the new people...

  • Mourning the Morning Call—back in New Orleans

    March 15, 2007 | 8:00 pm

    If you visit New Orleans, you will certainly go to the French Quarter to seek out the well-known open-air coffee stand near the Mississippi River named Café Du Monde.

    You'll partake of the rich culinary indulgences from its spare menu.

    The first menu item you will find is a cup...

  • On completing treatment ...

    January 11, 2007 | 7:00 pm

    I have finished my eight rounds of chemotherapy. I feel like someone coming to the end of a year of mourning, about to surrender the status of "mourner" and return to face the world without a label to describe my continuing internal struggle.

    During the year of mourning, there is a...

  • The great (non) depression

    November 30, 2006 | 7:00 pm

    I overdid it yesterday. Perhaps I misjudged the line between exhaustion and sloth.

    Or perhaps my recuperation from the cancer treatment requires a slower return to fitness than yesterday's exertion.

    But this morning's desire to stay in bed needs to be honored, unlike yesterday's,...

  • To comfort me, first comfort yourself

    November 2, 2006 | 7:00 pm

    People have been generous. During the past two decades I have assisted in creating caring communities that extend themselves to people in their midst at profound turning points. These times of need include both times of tragedy and times of great joy. Baby namings, weddings,...
  • The Book of Jonah: when doves call

    September 28, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    It's time for Jonah again. I cherish this prophet, whose Hebrew name, "Yonah" means "dove," the bird of peace. I consider him a member of the family.

    Shortly after the deaths of my mother and sister in 1971, the rabbi of New Orleans' synagogue, Shir Chadash, gave my dad, Mike Brener...

  • Polish the Soul for Elul

    September 7, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    I spent the first three days of Elul polishing a lamp that has hung in the upstairs stairwell of my home for 80 years. I thought that the lamp was made out of cast iron, but discovered after applying a mixture of abrasive compounds and elbow grease, that it was crafted of shiny...

  • Finding Tools That Give Life Meaning

    June 22, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    In the Louisiana where I grew up, the Monday ritual involved a pot of red beans simmering on the stove and a washing machine chugging in the laundry room. On one of those wash days, circa 1965, our washing machine overflowed.

    Hearing noises, I ran into the washroom to find my mother...

  • First Person - My Upfsherin

    May 4, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    The upfsherin (hair cutting ceremony) took place on the last day of Shevat -- an auspicious time for a healing ritual. The day before Rosh Chodesh (first day of the month) is observed, in the medieval mystical practice of Yom Kippur katan (little Yom Kippur) -- a day for cleansing,...

  • Invitation to a Ritual

    April 27, 2006 | 8:00 pm

    My hair is starting to go. I sent out a notice to the friends who have banded together to support me since I received my cancer diagnosis:

    To: All recipients
    From: anejenzmom@aol.com
    Subject: Upfsherin

    Peter, who has been cutting my hair since 1981, will be coming over at 7 p.m....

  • Hineni

    March 23, 2006 | 7:00 pm

    I expected to be dealing with an empty nest when my daughter started college. I projected my availability to friends who had yielded my attention during my childrearing years. I dragged writing projects onto my computer's desktop to await the plane ride from NYU to the rest of my...

  • City’s Plight Brings Flood of Memories

    September 8, 2005 | 8:00 pm

    In New Orleans, the Jews are the only ones buried in the ground. Others, if their mourners have any means at all, are laid with the expectation of eternal rest in stone crypts to protect them from rising waters. My mother used to say, "Someday, we Jews'll all be floatin' down the...