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Passover 2016 | A Baseball on the Seder Plate

Over the past years, I have had the good fortune to attend many incredible Pesach seders including those led by my beloved father (z’’l) and by good friends in this community and others.  And so today I want to share a wonderful tradition introduced to me by Bob Lebeau, Leora Batnitzky, and family of Princeton with whom my Mom and I had the pleasure of celebrating Passover a number of years back.  On the Lebeau-Batnitzky seder-plate each year there is the requisite haroset and bitter herbs, the salt water and karpas for dipping, the shank-bone and the egg.  But in addition to all of these items, sitting in a proud place of prominence, is something that I had never quite seen before in this context – a well-worn, well-loved, dirt-encrusted baseball!  Why a baseball on the seder plate, you might ask?   Continue reading → 

Passover 2015 | The Burning Book

One of my favorite renderings of “The Four Children,” the section of the Passover haggadah where we are instructed to teach the learners around our seder table each according to his or her disposition and ability, displays four books: one open with Hebrew writing, one open with blank pages, one open with fire erupting from the spine, and the last closed.  At first glance, it seems like the burning book must correspond to the “wicked” child – particularly when one notices that the picture was created by David Wander in The Haggadah in Memory of the Holocaust.  There can be nothing more sacrilegious than setting holy words aflame, as we remember all too well from the horrors of Nazi Germany.   Continue reading → 

Passover 2014 | Ma Nishtana

There is a famous story about Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics, who was once asked why he decided to become a scientist rather than a doctor, lawyer, or businessman like most of the other children from his immigrant neighborhood.  Rabi credited his career choice to his Mom.  He wrote, “My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it.  Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘Nu?  Did you learn something today?’  But not my mother.  She always asked me a different question.  ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘Did you ask a good question today?’  That difference – asking good questions – made me become a scientist.” (Donald Scheff, New York Times, Jan. 19, 1988)   Continue reading →

March 24, 2018   I  March for Our Lives

It’s been a while since Shabbat got in the way of something that I really wanted to do.  At the beginning this was less true; when I started becoming observant about 20 years ago, during my junior year of college, it often felt like Shabbat got in the way – of shopping or taking the bus downtown, of doing homework (which required writing and typing) or going to the movies with friends.  But as the years have passed and I have settled into a routine, not to mention a community, I’ve come to appreciate the break from it all that Shabbat affords, the time for other things like reading or rest that Shabbat carves out, and I rarely find myself wishing that things were otherwise.    Continue reading →

March 10, 2018   I  Happy Birthday, Dad!

I almost started crying the other day smack in the middle of DSW.  You see, it seems that Bass Weejuns have made a come-back this year in women’s fashion and so the aisles of the shoe store were suddenly full of every possible variety of classic penny loafer – exactly the kind of shoe my father, of blessed memory, used to wear.  When we think about loss, we often anticipate the times and occasions that will be difficult – birthdays, anniversaries, life-cycle moments, holidays. But almost as often, at least when it comes to missing my Dad, it is the simple, everyday things that set me off.     Continue reading →

March 3, 2018   I  Kangaroos and Emus

I promise - this will be my last Erev Shabbat Message that leads with Australian wildlife!  But I learned a fun fact about kangaroos while I was abroad last month, one that happens to be true for emus as well, and I think there just might be something here that connects a little bit to our world today and to Judaism and to the Purim holiday that we’ve been celebrating all week.   So I hope you’ll bear with me; I couldn’t quite resist!   Continue reading →

February 24, 2018   I  Home Sweet Home 

I thought the koala would be a crowd-pleaser!  But rather than cuddly Australian wildlife, what I really want to write about this week is a lesson shared by my teacher, Rabbi Shai Held, at a class for clergy taught earlier this fall here in Chicago.  Speaking to a group of colleagues during the week immediately preceding the High Holidays, Held encouraged us to fight against our better instincts and to listen to his lecture not with sermons in mind but rather with a spirit of Torah lishma (Torah for its own sake), something that Jewish professionals don't always experience amidst the constant pressure to preach and teach.  Continue reading

December 1, 2017   I  Camp Shabbat III 

They say a picture is worth a thousand words and I’m particularly fond of this one, taken circa 1993.  A Camp Ramah in New England tradition, once each session – on a much anticipated but carefully kept secret day – firetrucks arrive on the sports field, spraying it with mountains of foam in which for campers to romp around.  The event, aptly named Yom Foam (Foam Day), is one of the highlights of the summer and embodies the magic that is overnight camp – a place where impromptu mosh pits of froth can suddenly appear and where there is nothing more important to do than have lather fights all afternoon with your friends.  That’s me, in the middle, with my cabin-mates Sarah (Levine) Glasser and Shira (Miller-Jacobs) Fishman. Continue reading →

November 22, 2017   I  Two Beggars 

An Afghani-Jewish folktale tells of two beggars who went each morning to the king’s palace to ask for food, each receiving a daily loaf of bread.  One of the beggars would always thank the king for his generosity.  The other would always thank God for giving the king sufficient wealth that he could give to others so graciously.
The second beggar’s words stung the king, and so he decided to teach him a lesson.  He ordered his royal baker to create two identical loaves but to place inside one of them precious gems, making sure that it was this loaf that arrived in the hands of the first beggar.  The baker did as instructed, handing the jewel-filled bread to the one who always thanked the king himself. Continue reading →

November 9, 2017   I  Burning Scrolls 

While in New York this past week for Rabbinical Assembly meetings, I had the privilege of hearing my colleague, Rabbi Phil Scheim, speak about a member of his congregation in Toronto, a 97-year old survivor of Nazi Germany.  One of this gentleman’s strongest memories of the Holocaust was of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass that we commemorated just yesterday, where he witnessed German soldiers brazenly toss Torah scrolls out the window of a high apartment building only to be trampled and burned on the street below.  Many years later, long settled in a new country across the ocean, this man had the honor of having a Torah at his beloved synagogue, Beth David, dedicated in his name.  In his words that special day he said, “This Torah at least makes up for one of those that was destroyed so long ago.” Continue reading →

October 30, 2017   I  Me Too. 

Over the last few weeks, these two simple words have launched an incredible campaign of solidarity across social media, as thousands upon thousands of women have come forward as having been the victims of sexual harassment or assault. The sheer number of testimonials, along with the terrible range of experiences which they describe, is staggering as is the fact that so many women are sharing their stories for the very first time, having long since buried them out of shame or fear or concern that they would not be believed. Continue reading →

September 19, 2017   I  Laugavegur Street 

Since my trip to Reykjavik this past summer, I have become enamored with all things Iceland which is how I came upon the story of Noel Santillan, a 29-year old New Jersey man who became an overnight celebrity in the Land of Fire and Ice all because of a very small spelling error. You see, Santillan arrived at Keflavik Airport one February after a long international flight, eager to reach his hotel in the country’s capital, and thus typed “Laugarvegur” Street into his rental car’s GPS. Continue reading →

May 9, 2017 | Counting Up 

These days you can do just about anything on a smart phone! And this includes, evidently, creating a customizable count-down clock which will tick off the seconds, minutes, hours, and days until an occasion of your choosing. Not surprisingly, lifecycle events such as weddings or the birth of a child tend to be most popular for this kind of treatment along with peak moments like retirement, although some of the online count-down clocks I saw marked time until baseball season or Thanksgiving or even tax day (presumably for planning purposes rather than out of sheer joy for April 15). Continue reading →

Mar 21, 2017 | In Vogue

Suddenly Shabbat has become very trendy. Or so it would seem from this week’s latest edition of Vogue which featured an article entitled “How to Host a Shabbat Dinner and Why You should – Even if You  Aren’t Celebrating.” I will admit that I approached this piece of journalism with more than a little bit of skepticism, wondering what of significance a women’s fashion and lifestyle magazine could possibly have to say about the holiest day of the Jewish week. Continue reading →

Mar 24, 2017 | How Free is Free Will    

What does a California home-maker have in common with Egypt’s great Pharaoh? To answer this question we begin with a 1960’s psychology experiment conducted by Drs. Jonathan Freedman and Scott Fraser. In this study, a team of researchers telephoned California housewives and asked the women if they would be willing to answer a few questions – a relatively simple request with which most subjects complied. Continue reading →

Mar 31, 2017 | Four Cups of Milk  

 Once, before Pesach, a man entered the home of Rabbi Yossi Ber, and asked him a question: “Tell me, Rabbi, can I fulfill the commandment of the four cups with milk instead of wine?” The rabbi asked him, “Are you – God forbid – ill?” The man answered him, “No, thank God, I am quite healthy, but I cannot afford to buy wine this year.” Rabbi Yossi turned to his wife and said,” Give this man twenty-five rubles.” Continue reading →

Apr 14, 2017 | A Band-Aid on the Seder Plate    

My teacher, Dr. David  Kraemer, tells the following story about a Passover he celebrated many years ago when his daughter was little. On seder night, the Kraemer family gathered together for candle-lighting and recited the blessing, finishing with the words l’hadlik ner shel Yom Tov – Praised are You, God, who commands us to light the holiday candles. Continue reading →

May 2, 2017 | More Exciting Than the Moon 

Thomas Friedman tells the story of the late Neil Armstrong, a devout Christian, who visited Israel after his trip to the moon and was taken on a tour of the Old City of Jerusalem by Israeli archeologist Meir Ben-Dov. When they got to the Hulda Gate, atop the stairs leading to the Temple Mount, Armstrong asked Ben-Dov whether Jesus had stepped anywhere near where they were now standing. “Jesus was a Jew,” Ben-Dov replied. Continue reading →

May 24, 2017 | Lighting Up the Eyes  

I’ve always been a terrible liar. When I was a little girl, it was my body that would give me away. I would fidget or blush or avert my face, and my parents would always know that I wasn’t being honest with them. Even as I got older, however, and learned to hide my fibs in more sophisticated ways, my parents were never fooled by my small acts of deceit. My eyes always gave it away. Continue reading →

May 31, 2017    Safe Travels  

When I was in rabbinical school I spent two summers working as a hospital chaplain at Beth Israel Singer Division under the wonderful direction of Reverend Trudi Jinpu Hirsch, a Buddhist monk and CPE (Clinical Pastoral Education) supervisor. Of all the many amazing rabbis and teachers I have had in my life, Trudi is amongst the very most influential, helping me to learn about holy listening and conquering fear, speaking one’s truth and the sacred power of presence. She also taught me a great deal about gratitude. Continue reading →

June 20, 2017    Let’s March for Pride!    

Marching in the Chicago Pride Parade last June as part of BHCBE’s first ever delegation to this event was one of my favorite days of the entire programming year! Coming just weeks after the Pulse Nightclub shooting in Orlando, the walk afforded many of us the opportunity to actually do something about the difficult state of our world and speak out for our values in a tangible way. Many of us felt motivated to take part in the march out of love for a particular LGBTQ individual (or individuals) in our lives while others were inspired by a broader sense of commitment to civil rights and social justice. Continue reading →

June 27, 2017    I Scream, You Scream    

Ruggelach. Apples and honey. Chocolate gelt. Believe it or not, these are real ice-cream flavors developed by the kosher brand Chozen, a New York-based creamery created in 2009 by mother and daughter entrepreneurs Meredith and Ronne Fisher. Indeed, the Fishers may be the most creative purveyors of frozen treats around, but there is a long and proud history of Jewish involvement in the ice-cream industry whether it be Haagen-Dazs Continue reading →

September 5, 2017    I  Welcome Back

Happy Labor Day!  While the unofficial end of summer is definitely bittersweet, it’s nice to see the synagogue begin to fill up again as families return from vacation, children come back to the Academy, and our programming year kicks off in earnest starting with last Friday’s fabulous Shabbat in the Shade BBQ and block party.  We hope that the last few months have been relaxing and fun for everyone and look forward to hearing about adventures near and far.  If you have a minute, please stop by and say hello next time you’re in the building! Continue reading →

September 12, 2017   I  No Questions No Class    

A story is told of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the legendary teacher at Yeshiva University – a great philosopher and Talmudist – who demanded that his students prepare rigorously for each class. Often he began his class by asking if any of the hundreds of students crowding his lecture hall had any questions on the assigned text. Many of the students had reviewed the material and yet they feared to ask, lest the questions reveal their ignorance to their teacher. Once, when not one of the hundreds of students dared ask a question, Rav Soloveitchik demonstratively slammed his Talmud closed and walked out saying, “No questions? No class.” Learning begins with questions. Continue reading →

Mon, May 20 2019 15 Iyyar 5779