Jewish Journal


Rabbi Laura Geller

  • The Kotel compromise: Recognizing there is more than one way to be a Jew

    1 week ago

    Margaret Mead once said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” In the case of the recently announced historic victory regarding egalitarian prayer at the Kotel (the Western Wall), it was...

  • A collective effort to remember the first woman rabbi on her yahrzeit

    September 30, 2015 | 2:52 pm

    This summer, we had a wonderful congregational riverboat cruise along the Danube, exploring the Jewish dimensions of Europe, and the roles Jews played throughout the centuries in what is now Hungary, Austria, Germany and the Czech Republic. In almost every town, even when there...

  • Torah portion: A good death

    December 30, 2014 | 9:43 am

    It was a good death. 
    Jacob had finished all that was left to do. He gave his son Joseph explicit instructions about what he wanted when he died: “When I lie down with my ancestors, have me taken out of Egypt and be buried in their burial place.”
    He had the chance to...
  • Torah portion: Remembering the journey

    August 13, 2014 | 10:47 am

    Many in the latest generation of women rabbis don’t think of themselves as feminists. For them, being a rabbi is a birthright; they grew up with women rabbis. They have little sense of what it took to get to this point. For those of us in the first generation, that is a bit...

  • Boomers looking forward to what’s next in life

    June 25, 2014 | 3:39 pm

    The stages of a life are measured differently now from the days of Pirke Avot, a classical Jewish text from the second century. But in some sense, the work of those of us who have reached a mature age remains the same as it was back then: How do you apply the wisdom you have...

  • Who counts?

    May 21, 2014 | 10:43 am

    For the past five weeks, the entire Jewish community has been counting … counting the days between Passover and Shavuot, the anniversary of the day we received Torah. This linking of Passover and receiving Torah reminds us that our exodus from Egypt wasn’t only about our own...

  • We can stop violence against women and girls today

    March 19, 2014 | 2:59 pm

    Last weekend, as I listened to the reading of the Purim Megillah, I was struck by its theme of reversals: The pompous king who decrees that men should have authority in their homes ends up taking orders from his wife; the villain Haman is hanged on the very gallows he erected for...

  • Down-to-Earth Sinai: Parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

    January 23, 2014 | 3:06 pm

    I just returned from a four-day alumni retreat for rabbis and cantors who had taken part in an Institute for Jewish Spirituality program designed to deepen our own spiritual commitments. During this two-year program we studied Chasidic texts in a weekly telephone chavruta and...

  • Talking end of life with next of kin

    January 7, 2014 | 11:46 am

    Maybe it is thinking about the New Year that brings up the subject. Or maybe because the holiday season is a time when families come together and talk.  For whatever reason, within the last few weeks NPR did a story on “The Conversation Project,”  and the LA Times had an Opinion...

  • In the face of strangers: Parashat Vayera (Genesis 18:1-22:24)

    October 16, 2013 | 12:18 pm

    This week’s Torah portion begins: “YHVH appeared to Abraham as he was sitting at the entrance of the tent … looking up, he saw: behold, three men standing opposite him. As soon as he saw them he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them, and bowing down to the ground he said:...

  • Cracking open our hearts

    September 24, 2013 | 3:50 pm

    Tradition tells us that the Gates of Repentance stay open until the end of Sukkot. The intensity of Yom Kippur has diminished, but we still remember the hours together, knocking on our hearts, trying to do spiritual CPR, to wake us up to the truth of our lives. On Yom Kippur, we...

  • A difficult conversation

    September 3, 2013 | 11:52 am

    The conversation is supposed to begin like this: “Will you forgive me for anything I might have said or done this year that has hurt you?” 

    You are sitting with a friend over coffee, during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, and you ask this question. Not easy. What...

  • And you will be a blessing …

    July 19, 2013 | 10:18 am

    I was in college when I first heard the Beatles sing “When I’m Sixty-four.” The idea of getting older, losing my hair or wondering whether my partner would still need me was not my concern. But now, with Paul McCartney over 70, and me just one year away from 64, it’s a different...

  • How best to honor diversity?

    July 10, 2013 | 1:46 pm

    This is the week of Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av, when we mourn the destruction of the Temples. Why are we still mourning when Israel has been reborn? 

    Tal Becker, a research fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute, puts it this way: “Why should our pain and memory be marked in the...

  • Healing the broken – Parashat Tazria-Metzora (Leviticus 12:1-15:33)

    April 10, 2013 | 1:57 pm

    Most people try really hard to avoid having their bar or bat mitzvah on the Shabbat when we read Tazria-Metzora. I know this not only because I am a rabbi, but because this was my bat mitzvah portion. 

    Tazria is about purity and impurity, including the impurity that comes with...

  • ‘All That I Am I Will Not Deny’

    February 27, 2013 | 2:12 pm

    In reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking “The Feminine Mystique,” Stephanie Coontz wrote in The New York Times that “readers who return to this feminist classic today are often puzzled by the absence of concrete political proposals to change the...

  • ‘The Feminine Mystique’: ‘All that I am I will not deny’

    February 21, 2013 | 11:54 am

    In reflecting on the 50th anniversary of Betty Friedan’s groundbreaking The Feminine Mystique, Stephanie Coontz wrote in the New York Times that “readers who return to this feminist classic today are often puzzled by the absence of concrete political proposals to change the status...

  • Women praying to be heard at the Western Wall

    December 19, 2012 | 10:23 am

    We approached the entrance to the Kotel Plaza a little before 7 a.m. on Rosh Hodesh Tevet. In my bag was my tallit, the beautiful purple-and-blue one that was hand woven as a gift from the students and faculty at USC more than 20 years ago, when I completed my time there as the...

  • At 60 for Zikna

    August 29, 2012 | 5:33 pm

    The High Holy Day liturgy includes the poignant plea: “Do not cast me off b’eyt zikna,” which is usually translated as “when I get old.” It is a fear many of us have, but are often afraid to articulate. We live in a youth-intoxicated culture where older people are sometimes...

  • Bury Korach

    June 20, 2012 | 12:56 pm

    This is a tough Torah portion. It’s the story of Korach, the man who led a revolt against Moses. He gathers 250 of the most important leaders and challenges Moses:

    “You take too much upon yourself, Moses. Not just you, but all the congregation is holy, every one of us. Why do you...

  • The Torah of our lives: On writing the next chapter

    May 23, 2012 | 10:22 am

    “Boomers [people born between 1946 and 1964] are the first generation in human history … to reasonably anticipate living well and wholesomely into their 80s and 90s, if not beyond,” sociologist Steven Cohen writes. “But not only are Jews (as others) living longer, they are...

  • Blot out the memory

    March 1, 2012 | 2:59 pm

    Purim is every child’s dream holiday; the story is like a fairy tale. Little girls dress up like Esther; little boys like Mordechai. In synagogues around the world we chant the story from the Scroll of Esther and boo every time the evil Haman’s name appears. It is a wonderful...

  • Parashat Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27)

    November 1, 2011 | 8:29 pm

    Last week’s Torah portion ends with a genealogy, a long list of names of who begot whom and how long they lived. It is one of many genealogies in the Torah. It used to be that when I encountered those lists, I tuned out; I found them boring. But then I read a book by Thomas Cahill...

  • Silence is consent: Parashat Matot (Numbers 30:2-32:42)

    July 19, 2011 | 4:22 pm

    I recently received an e-mail with the subject line “The Arab Mentality.” It described a Palestinian woman who had been badly burned and successfully treated in Israel, only to be arrested later for attempting to infiltrate Israel’s borders as a suicide bomber. The sender...

  • Parashat Tzav (Leviticus 6:1-8:36

    March 15, 2011 | 5:18 pm

    In some prayer books, the opening verses of this week’s Torah portion serve as a preparation for prayer. The verses repeat over and over again that a perpetual fire shall continue to burn on the altar. Why the focus on the need to keep the fire burning? And what does it mean to us...

  • Turn my mourning into dancing

    January 10, 2011 | 10:18 am

    My first encounter with Debbie was in 1986 at the Simchat Chockmah ritual for becoming an elder she helped create and lead for the feminist Biblical scholar, her friend, Savina Teubal.  Two moments in the ritual took my breath away.  The first was in the middle of the ceremony, when...

  • Following in Maimonides’ Footsteps, Pursuing His Wisdom

    November 23, 2010 | 6:24 pm

    On a recent trip to Spain, Morocco and Israel called “In the Footsteps of Maimonides,” the members of our group from Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills were the honored guests at a reception at the residence of the American ambassador to Spain, which became the occasion for a...

  • Reading With Rashi Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

    June 22, 2010 | 5:10 pm

    “Anyone who has never read the entire Chumash with Rashi is simply not Jewishly literate,” said Rabbi David Hartman, with whom I was studying 14 years ago at the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. “It doesn’t matter whether you read it in Hebrew or English, but you must...

  • Making Prayer Real

    March 16, 2010 | 4:30 pm

    This week’s portion begins a new book of the Bible, Leviticus. It is fascinating to look at the first and last words of each of the books of the Torah:

    Genesis: When God began to create the heavens and the earth ... in a coffin in Egypt.

    Exodus: These are the names of the...

  • Remember Light

    December 16, 2009 | 2:48 am

    Miketz is almost always read during the week of Chanukah. Is this a coincidence of the calendar or is there something to learn from this juxtaposition?

    As Miketz begins, Joseph has spent two years in an Egyptian prison, which is much like the pit he was thrown into by his brothers...

  • Mystery in Creation

    October 14, 2009 | 3:20 am

    Hebrew letters, when decoded, are magical. So it was especially powerful when my adult b’nai mitzvah Hebrew class was working on the letter Bet and opened the Torah to this week’s portion to find that it’s the first letter of Torah.

    “Why not Alef?” one student asked.


  • Joy Is Vital

    September 30, 2009 | 2:27 am

    After two days of Rosh Hashanah and a very long day on Yom Kippur, you’d think that Jews would be exhausted. Isn’t it enough already?

    But no, we still have Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Sukkot has the most mitzvot: to dwell in the sukkah (booth), to take the four...

  • Acknowledging the Pinchas Within

    July 8, 2009 | 3:57 pm

    Last week we began the story of Pinchas, grandson of Aaron and great-nephew of Moses. Pinchas saw Zimri, a Jewish leader, and Cozbi, a Midianite princess, engage in a public display of immorality connected to the idol worship of the Midianites. Frustrated by Moses’ hesitation in...

  • Listen to Our Enemy’s Cries

    February 4, 2009 | 3:52 am

    One of the real pleasures of my work as a rabbi is that I get to spend time with the children in our schools. Recently, the third-graders of Temple Emanuel Academy Day School decided to interview me.

    They asked all kinds of questions: “How do you get to become a rabbi?” “What...

  • Reflections on an Impossible Age

    September 11, 2003 | 8:00 pm

    Thirteen is a difficult age. I know this as a parent, and I also know it as a rabbi who interacts with lots of 13-year-olds. I know this as well as a student of Torah. And now I know it as a moviegoer.

    Every parent should see the movie "Thirteen." If you are the parent of an...

  • God’s Belongings

    May 15, 2003 | 8:00 pm

    This week's Torah portion is called "Behar" because it begins "The Lord spoke to Moses behar (on Mount [Sinai]). Upon reflection, something seems out of order. We left Mount Sinai in the Book of Exodus.

    Most of the laws in the Book of Leviticus were revealed in the Tent of Meeting....

  • One Community

    February 27, 2003 | 7:00 pm

    Our Torah portion begins after a tragedy -- the tragedy of the golden calf. Moses assembles the entire Israelite community in order to renew the covenant between God and Israel. Vayakel -- "and he brought them together" -- he made them one community.

    It is not so easy to be one...

  • Serah’s Legend

    December 12, 2002 | 7:00 pm

    For many of us, this season is marked by being with families and sharing our family stories. In the Torah cycle it is the time of the year that we read the powerful story of a family of brothers, a story about forgiveness and reconciliation. Buried in this story about brothers is a...

  • The Sacred Narrative

    August 22, 2002 | 8:00 pm

    This summer, I had a reunion with female cousins who are all my age. We live all around the country, so we hardly ever see each other. Remembering the little girls we once were, and discovering the women we've become, was really amazing.

    Here we were together again, no longer...

  • In Times of Sorrow

    October 23, 1997 | 8:00 pm

    Ceramic bas relief by Albert Greenberg

    "I am sure," said Sinai Temple's Rabbi DavidWolpe in his Rosh Hashanah sermon, "that in almost every pulpit inAmerica from whatever denomination rabbis are speaking about theterrible strife we are enduring -- Jew against Jew, as well as Jewagainst Arab -- in the Land of Israel." ...

  • The Torah of Our Lives

    October 9, 1997 | 8:00 pm

    Left to right, panelist Rabbi Elliott Dorff of University ofJudaism, Rabbi Lisa Edwards of Beth Chayim Chadashim, moderator MarkLevine, panelist Rabbi Leila Gal Berner and lawyer and AIDS activistDavid Rephun, the panelist from an Orthodox background. Below,panelist Rabbi Allen...