When my mother, Shulamit E. Kustanowitz, died in May 2011, the in-person Jewish community provided all the basics — post-shivah meals, abundant hugs and three places to say Kaddish: Temple Beth Am for daily minyan, Friday nights at IKAR and Shabbat mornings at B’nai David-Judea. Although I was grateful for the support, my emotional needs during that year turned out to be more complex.
Film directors call this end-of-day light the "golden light." It's not the bright, naked light of the mid-day, nor the dramatic darkness of the night. It's the light that bridges those two worlds. Spiritually, it's the time when the past and the future caress each other -- the day is still fresh in our mind, but we can feel the breath of the approaching night.
We have more synagogues and more freedom to use them here in Los Angeles than we did in Iran, but that doesn't mean we're any closer to fulfilling the true purpose of gathering in a house of worship.
So here we are seven years later, about to enter the Jewish year 5769. The deaths of Sept. 11 have been compounded by more deaths in Iraq and throughout the Middle East. In many ways our world is more violent and certainly more fearful than it had been. Evidence of evil abounds.
Elul is traditionally a month for polishing the soul. During this time, we search ourselves for blemishes. Then, through the process of teshuvah, we polish and refine ourselves. The culmination of this refinement is the fast of Yom Kippur, from which we hope to emerge shining and radiant.
While projects like tempera-painted honey dishes and party-whistle shofars are de rigueur, preschool and elementary school teachers take seriously the idea of having the High Holiday message of personal accountability set the tone for the whole year
"Who shall live and who shall die ... who shall perish by fire and who by water?"
When I was a small boy -- 6 or 7 -- I became acutely aware that being a Jew made me a member of a tiny minority.
Early morning on the day before Yom Kippur, groups of Jews will be gathering to hold squawking chickens by the feet and twirl them over their head while chanting a prayer. After the twirling, the chickens will be ritually slaughtered and given to the poor.
Kaparos, literally atonements, which has been performed in Los Angeles at the Santa Monica Chabad House and at Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad, is one of the strangest-looking customs in Jewish liturgy. It is done to inspire repentance and to impress upon its adherents the seriousness of Yom Kippur. However, the practice has inspired the ire of animal rights groups, who consider it cruel to the chickens, and many are urging that Jews who practice this custom do so using money instead, which is an acceptable substitute.
If you've ever been to Ocean Parkway -- that long thoroughfare traversing all neighborhoods Brooklyn, connecting the BQE from "The City" (Manhattan), to the Belt Parkway from Long Island -- you'd have seen the two "island" streets lining the two outer streets like an Israeli flag, where old men played chess, young mothers strolled their children and we teenagers hung out.
"Go away!" Gabe, 15, yells at his two younger brothers, having been rudely awakened by a blast of the shofar.
As a scientist and a believer in human progress, I have been concerned about how well the established process of teshuvah (repentance) has worked. Yom Kippur after Yom Kippur - in fact, since the 11th century - we have recited the same confessional prayer, "Al Chet." If we were any good at repentance, shouldn't the list have changed in 1,000 years? Even if we don't want to change the ancient formula, shouldn't we be able to feel that we had eliminated or reduced at least a few on the list? Yet the list of sins remains the same, as does the ritual for expunging them. Why haven't we improved?
Each night before retiring, the great Chassidic master Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav would make a list. At the end of a long day, he would write down all the wrongs he had committed - against other people, against God, against himself.
In a High Holiday letter to Jewish friends, New York's Roman Catholic cardinal has expressed "abject sorrow" for centuries of anti-Semitism, and called for a new era of respect and love between Christians and Jews.
Another year come and gone. Another one beginning. For me, an occasion more for recollection than repentance.
I begin by expressing my admiration and respect for Monsignor Vadakin whom I have known for close to three decades. I have reason to know of his integrity and moral courage, his deep respect for Judaism and his love for the Jewish people.
It is not with anyone that I would broach the sensitive topic of the Holocaust and the call to repentance.
To deal with the Holocaust is to touch a raw nerve in world history.
Pope John Paul II himself referred to the Shoah as "the nightmare of our century." It is worse than a nightmare.