“Fundamentally, your job is not that different from my job,” screenwriter Alex Litvak told a room full of rabbis assembled at American Jewish University for the annual High Holy Days conference sponsored by the Board of Rabbis of Southern California.
How life teaches us! We read the wisdom of books and study the lectures of professors and we think we are ready for what life brings us. Armed with our learning, we venture into the world and discover that the formulas of the brain don’t help bind the wounds of the heart.
What is the singular essence of Rosh Hashanah? The core meaning of Rosh Hashanah is the sovereignty of the divine. By sovereignty of the divine, I don’t mean any particular level of Jewish practice. Jewish pietistic literature is well aware that anyone can go through the motions of outward observance. By sovereignty of the divine, I mean finding a way to find a standard for the duties and habits of the inner life.
Few prayers are as well known to Jews as Ashamnu (“We have sinned ...”) and Al Chet (“For the sin ...”), the twin confessions of Yom Kippur. Belief in human sinfulness is more central to Judaism than we think. Sin may not be “original,” as it is in Christianity — inherited from Adam, that is, as a sort of genetic endowment ever after. But it is at least primal: It is there, patent, indelible and unavoidable. We may not be utterly depraved — the teaching with which American Protestantism grew up — but we are indeed sinners.
As we prepare for the High Holy Days, we often do not consider one aspect of ourselves, our voice. I’m taking about our actual vocal cords; our means of producing sound.
When Eric J. Diamond wants to understand something, he’s very methodical in how he goes about it.
Paul Jeser did the right thing in buying an ad in The Jewish Journal (“I am the Guy who has Been Sending the Mails Calling for a new Editor-in-Chief”, July 1)
An acquaintance recently asked me about the difference between holiness and spirituality. In America, this person noted, everyone talks about spirituality but no one
discusses holiness. What is Judaism’s view, my friend wanted to know, about these two ideas?
What blow against Western decadence were they striking by targeting a Chabad house, whose entire purpose it is to spread spirituality to people whose lives lack it?
Three-dozen rabbis and cantors are sitting in silent meditation in a sun-filled room at the Brandeis-Bardin Campus at American Jewish University in Simi Valley.
They open their eyes and Rabbi Sheila Weinberg guides them in a mindfulness exercise.
The first time I visited the Kabbalah Centre, I thought it was weird. The congregants all wore white; the man on the bimah called out letters of the Hebrew alphabet ("Alef to bet to taph!"); the letters themselves were displayed in massive typeface on posters around the sanctuary.
Despite the fact that Orman has not been associated with Judaism in any traditional sense for decades, this search for purpose continues to inform her work. She says she is still a spiritually inquisitive person and that she has never stopped contemplating the concept of God.
It's another bright sunny day in Encino, but Deborah Gordon manages to almost outshine the sun. In her hot pink and purple ensemble -- from ankle-length skirt to long-sleeved blouse topped by a fuchsia hat -- this rebbetzin wasn't kidding when she said she was all about colors.
The Master of the Universe has given us a gift that can connect us to the spiritual world, the one that exists beyond our physical reality. That gift is music, yet, sadly, most synagogues ignore the spiritual power of highly organized art music, the form many refer to as "classical music."
As we think about rewriting our personal narratives in the New Year, adding new pages and chapters, several new books inspire new visions, renewed creativity and new relationships between the calendar and a sense of holiness.
In sermons on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur throughout Southern California this year, rabbis will continue to exhort their congregants to look inward and outward, to reflect upon and repair themselves, their families and communities, the nation and the world.
I am not sure how your rabbi would react if you sat in the pews reading T.S. Eliot or William Faulkner, but if you were found poring over the pages of 1966 Nobel Laureate S.Y. Agnon's "Days of Awe," originally published in Hebrew as "Yamim Noraim," I trust most rabbis would happily approve. So would Agnon. In his introduction, Agnon states that he created this book so that one may read it "between prayers," as a way of intensifying one's spiritual experience during the High Holy Days.
Thoughts on happiness.
Talking with Dana Mase is like listening to her sing. Her gentle voice calms, even soothes, and you find yourself compelled to listen as she recounts experiences of her troubled childhood and her passionate faith.
The milchama with lechem stops when we can eat it proportionately and spiritually. When we enjoy our fill -- rather than demonizing, avoiding or sinfully binging on it -- we are redeemed. By the mouth of God, bread was created, as was light, as were we, in His image. Our purest source of nourishment is Divine love, manifest in our capacity to lift up the vital force in all foods through our own utterances of gratitude.
The model for the day was dying for the sake of rebirth. Think meditation, think spiritual awakening, think psychoanalysis.
You haven't lived until you've waited three hours in a cramped living room waiting to see a Chasidic rebbe so that you can ask him, at 1 a.m., for a bracha to meet the man of your dreams; or for your wife to recover from cervical cancer; or to do well in your med school entrance exams; or, simply, to ask him whether you should start a low-end schmatta line that you'll produce in China, and, if he says yes, to get a bracha that you'll succeed.
"Now, once again, a group of gifted scholars gather to reinterpret the Jewish project, to reassert its meaning, re-envision its institutions and reimagine its future," asserts the introduction of the new book: "Jews and Judaism in the 21st Century: Human Responsibility, the Presence of God and the Future of the Covenant," edited by Valley Beth Shalom's (VBS) Rabbi Edward Feinstein (Jewish Lights Publishing, $24.99).
Interview with Jerome Groopman, a physician and clinical scientist at Harvard University, a specialist in AIDS and cancer. He's also a writer for The New Yorker, with a successful and thought-provoking series of books on such topics as the intersection of spirituality and medicine and the importance of a physician's intuition.
Lag B'Omer, literally the 33rd day of the counting of the Omer -- the period between Passover and Shavuot -- is a relatively minor Jewish holiday that in recent years has become more popular among spiritually seeking Jews. It marks the day that the plague that killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students ended; it also marks the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, who some think wrote the primary Kabbalistic text, the Zohar. The holiday has always been observed by the Orthodox, and in Israel, it's celebrated nationally and is a school holiday, but these days, some non-Orthodox synagogues, Jewish youth and singles groups and others have also taken to the beach to build fires, sing and revel in the fun.
Have you heard of these new hybrid cars that combine the traditional engine with an electric one? Well, this is the equivalent phenomenon -- hybrid Jews -- Jews who embrace a new tradition, but keep a connection to their old one.
And yet despite these avocations, the 40-something Kenneth Klee said he felt there was something missing in his life. He's now studying for his smicha, or ordination, as a rabbi, which he intends to compliment his sideline as a spiritual counselor.
When my student Adam confronted me recently with this question "In a post-Freudian world, how can we trust the honesty of our intentions?" my response was, "Our conscious and subconscious can be likened to matzah and chametz."
You'll have to forgive me this week if I get all wistful and spiritual on you, but there's something about Passover I need to get off my chest. I have a question for my readers. How many of you have been so moved by a Passover experience that something inside of you changed?
Letters to the Editor
Although all the presenters were united by their passion for the study and practice of Kabbalah, the most observable differences lay in their approaches as to how Judaism's most sacred and intimate teachings should be disseminated.
"Ramah is a place where campers and counselors have their first experience in not only participating in, but helping to form and lead the Jewish community in which they find themselves," said Camp Ramah of California Executive Director Rabbi Daniel Greyber.
If you were in Jerusalem at the crack of dawn on a Monday or Thursday, you would see dozens of bar mitzvah boys davening by the Western Wall, being taught to lay tefillin for the first time. In Persian families this practice includes a morning prayer service and a breakfast for close family and friends.Since the b'nai mitzvah ceremony is rife with spiritual meaning, a lovely way to start the sacred day is an early morning gathering to greet the sunrise.
"Synaplex provided us an opportunity to experiment and explore and suggested new ways to create a sacred community," Moskovitz reported. "In a sense, it's completely transformed our service. Our Synaplex Shabbat was like a stone dropping on a calm pool of water. The ripple effect continues to reverberate in a positive and profound way across our temple community."
Father Michael Engh thinks it's only natural that a Catholic university host the citywide commemoration of Kristallnacht, which is marked by many historians as the beginning of the Holocaust.
"Religion is for stupid people," my father observes. "Didn't I tell you that?"
"You did," I say. "Lots of times."
Unlike my Pesach in Argentina, where we had to walk through metal detectors to enter the five-star hotel in Patagonia, this Rosh Hashanah service was open to anybody and everybody, bringing together quite an eclectic mix of travelers.
If you are willing to inflict physical pain upon yourself as a service to your god, why not treat others to the same spiritual experience? Paradoxically, they will be killed or harmed because of your love for them.
Mysticism, for my family, and I think for most people as well, usually shows itself through nature.
Jewish adventure enthusiasts not only make an effort to do the hobbies they love with other Jews, but they do so looking for religious or spiritual meaning. By combining their dual interests, this growing cadre of adrenaline seekers is building a new definition of what it means to do -- or be -- Jewish.
One day last year Rabbi Levi Meier, the Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, was summoned to the room of an elderly Russian man in the ICU who had cancer.
He was in poor spirits, so Meier decided to bring in the Torah from the chaplaincy ark. The patient's eyes lit up at the sight of the Torah that Meier, and volunteer Sandy Gordon, brought into a room.
"He's the James Brown of the Jewish community, the hardest-working man in L.A. Jewry," Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss said. "I see him everywhere."
Although in some ways, Fishel is everywhere but nowhere. A bearded, slender man with a direct gaze, the shy Fishel seems to prefer keeping his own counsel. He sometimes materializes at events in his well-tailored suits and then slips away after talking to but a handful of folks.
Me'ah, which began in 1994 with 50 students in greater Boston, is also now being offered in Baltimore, Cleveland, Rhode Island, Florida, New Jersey and New York.
Stan is deeply attracted to the Lubavitch way of life: He longs for a wife and house full of children and is drawn by the prospect of fully expressing his Jewish identity as a member of a tight-knit community, steeped in Jewish tradition and insulated from the pressures of modern life.
Driving down Wilshire Boulevard about 35 years ago, Savina J. Teubal saw the bumper sticker that changed her life.
In the last few weeks of her life, Barbara Sherman had the help of Jewish Hospice Project-Los Angeles, which offers spiritual end-of-life care for the Jewish community, regardless of religious affiliation. Sherman, whom her family describes as a life-long spiritual seeker, was brought back to her roots upon hearing Jewish songs and prayers in her final days.
"Please understand, rabbi. I'm very spiritual. I'm just not religious."
It is the anthem of a generation.
I'm spiritual: I wrestle with the meaning of my existence. I cultivate my inner life. I feel God is very close. I sense my connectedness to others and to the earth and I try to live compassionately.
But I'm not religious: I'm uncomfortable in the institutions and structures of organized religion. Formal religion binds my freedom and gets in the way. I'm eclectic. I take the best of all traditions but I belong to none.
When my aunt Arlene was 24 years old, she paid $500 to have her nose done. The year was 1957. Her father was against it, so she paid for it herself with money she earned at her first teaching job.
Nicole Berger's empathy for demons began early in life."I'm always fascinated by the falling of a soul or the sensitive tender side of an evil character," she said. "When I saw 'The Exorcist,' I thought, 'Why is this demon so screwed up?'"
Quietly studying a page of the Talmud on a crowded plane, the great Orthodox teacher and thinker Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik was interrupted by a passenger in the next seat.