MAZAL TOV! Sigal Plotkin Bat Mitzvah!

Debbie Zimelman B Mitzvah pic
MAZAL TOV to the entire Plotkin-Kozolchyk family and to their friends and community on the Epic December 31st 2015 Bat Mitzvah of Sigal Plotkin atop Mount Massada. Sigal did a REMARKABLE job leading the entire service and chanting all three aliyot (the second in unison with her mom, Shaun). Her dvar Torah was creative and inspiring – on the Women of the Exodus -and she included a visual Midrash, a song as well as a rich and powerful teaching. This GREAT picture was taken by the talented Modi’in based, freelance photographer, Debbie Zimelman.
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Mazal Tov to Bar Mitzvah Zev Haworth & family!

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MAZAL TOV! On Thursday morning July 2, 2015 Zev Haworth became a bar mitzvah at the Davidson’s Archeological Park of the Western Wall, an egalitarian section of the Kotel, the holiest site in Jerusalem and in all of Israel. His family was there to celebrate this special day with him – his mom, dad and younger sister all beamed with pride. Zev chanted beautifully and skillfully from the Torah, from parashat Balak in the book of Numbers, and he delvered a spontaneous dvar Torah about what he had learned while studying. It was a beautiful, cool summer morning and everyone was uplifted and moved by this special and historic moment and experience.

Joyful Jerusalem Bat & Bar Mitzvah Celebrations

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After more than 25 years working in Congregations across the United States, serving as a leader, cantor, facilitator, teacher and spiritual counselor I am THRILLED to offer joyful bat & bar mitzvah celebrations at the holiest site in Jerusalem!  I continue to officiate lifecycle celebrations of all kinds – weddings, commitment ceremonies, renewal of vows, baby namings and welcoming ceremonies and bar and bat mitzvah services – throughout Israel and at your favorite sites world-wide. Please see my LinkedIn site for more information about me my rabbinic work and to read testimonials from satisfied families and couples. Contact me TODAY for a free initial consultation and to reserve a date for your celebration!

In Deep Silence

Autumn in Barre, MA.

Autumn in Barre, MA. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

Every day during my three-month, silent meditation, retreat at IMS in 2011, I sat, walked and strolled contemplatively for some 4-7 miles on the beautiful property and woods surrounding the center.  Whether in the sun, rain or snow of that cool New England Autumn and frigid early Winter  I ventured out to behold the magnificent sky, land and water. This particular day filled with gorgeous bursts of color and clear fresh air was incredibly alive and nourishing.

To take an extended break from a driven life to wade deep into silence is a blessing unlike any other. In that place every color is more briliant. Every breath is fuller. Every insight more profound. Every moment rising and passing is examined and recognized as a rich treasure.

True, my blog title is “The Rabbi Speaks,” and it is indeed full of words. But sometimes as the Sages say, there is more wisdom in silence. It is not a surprise that the Hebrew words medabber, speak, and midbar, desert are related.  To live a life of spirit one must – from time to time – step out of the noisy, clamoring world and enter a vast expanse, open like the desert, to find quiet calm and inner stillness.  Only in that place where the constant chatter of ones own mind can finally settle can one finally hope to hear the “still small voice” whispering a deeper truth – a truth more profound than any other.

Shabbaton: Music, Study & Celebration

Sing and learn with Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

Congregation Etz Chayim, Palo Alto, CA

Rabbi Rosalind Glazer
Rabbi Rosalind Glazer

7:30 PM Friday July 15th

This Erev Shabbat service with drum accompaniment promises to be a lively, inspiring and energetic musical Tefillah experience. In a Dvar Tefilah (teachings on prayer) I will discuss some of the ideology and theological concepts that have motivated liturgical changes to the Reconstructionist siddur, particularly the Aleynu.  An oneg Shabbat and shmoozing will follow.

9:00 AM Saturday July 16th

Torah Study on parashat Pinchas will include a discussion and exploration of teachings by the late Slonimer Rebbe (d. 2000), who took a hybrid Hasidic-Musar approach in his Torah Commentary, Netivot Shalom al haTorah.  We may also explore other contemporary scholars.

10:00 AM Saturday July 16th

Shabbat Morning Services will include vibrant and harmonious singing, meditative niggunim, Torah chanting and special group aliyot with blessings coordinated to the verses of Torah, a celebratory aufruf,  reflections on the Parasha and a brief concluding service.  Services will be followed by a light Kiddush luncheon and a meet and greet / shmooze and cruise.

8:00 PM Saturday July 16th

Our Shabbaton wraps up with a Melavah Malkah Experience – a delightful storytelling and uplifting musical and rhythmic sing-along event for the whole family.  It includes dessert and music-making  indoors and concludes with Havdallah and smores under the stars in the shul courtyard at 9:45 PM.

Please join us for this spiritually enlightening and uplifting Shabbaton.

Come along and bring a friend.  Everyone is invited!

Making Our Days Count

Once again it is time to count the omer, the forty-nine day period between Pesach and Shavuot, the latter of which is named for the seven weeks between the two festivals.  

Many customs are associated with the count and as the practice builds in popularity, new methods and tools are created.  You can use an omer counter with a scroll that turns daily to display the precise combination of days and weeks that have passed.  You can purchase or design an omer calendar (there are almost as many choices as there are hagadot) or find one on the Web.  

Traditional Olive Wood Omer Counter
Traditional Olive Wood Omer Counter

The pages of an omer calendar can include space for notes, artwork (with or without color-it-yourself charts), spiritual teachings, or pithy aphorisms. Some calendars denote the sephirot of the kabbalistic tree which assign a different spiritual quality to each day. Others list a middah  (ethical attribute) that can be developed through mindful attention on ones actions throughout the day.  Some print mishnayot, verses from Pirkei Avot (the Ethics of the Sages) for reflection. (Traditionally, one of its six chapters is studied on each of the six Shabbatot between the spring holidays.) And true to the times, there are omer counting apps you can download from the web!

The count begins on the second night of Pesach, so I’m sure I recited the omer blessing at the family seders of my youth.  But it wasn’t until an 8-day Pesach meditation retreat I attended in my late twenties that I learned of the practice and discovered its potential for spiritual transformation.  Similar to lighting the Hannukiah whose flames are supposed to be observed and not used for any other purpose, the secret of the omer practice lies in its simplicity. The recitation of the traditional blessing and count are meant to bring us into squarely into the present; no retelling of the past, no prayers for the future.  It’s just a “be here now” moment.

When former JCCSF Executive Director, Rabbi Jason Gaber z’l was battling AIDS, a story about his omer count that year was published in the Northern California Jewish Bulletin (now the j).  Jason, who had been ordained by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi a few months earlier, described it as a daily practice in making each precious day count.

Psalm 90 reads, “Let us number each day that we may gain a heart of wisdom – limnot yameynu keyn hoda v’navi levav chochma.”  Each day we count the omer we pause and simply dwell in full awareness of life’s blessings. The true wisdom, however, comes in making a daily habit of counting of our blessings and not waiting for the omer or until we’re staring face to face with our mortality.

Leaving Mitzrayim in EVERY Generation

“I cannot think of a more striking example of the Exodus in our own day,” concluded Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Jerusalem-based IRAC, Israel’s Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. As part of our January Mission to Israel the Northern California Rabbis had assembled to hear an up-to-date briefing on the status of Women of the Wall. We got that – and so much more.

Ms. Hoffman’s comment referred to the hundreds of refugees who make the journey by foot each month from the Sudan, through Egypt and across the southern border into Israel. She told us that in exchange for a brand new pair of New Balance sneakers, a social worker had recently collected one man’s shoes. The shoes were then mounted and preserved in a museum-quality box frame for display and sent to congregation in the US that had donated a sizable sum to support IRACs legal and social work on behalf of asylum-seeking refugees in Israel.

For days after returning from the mission I was haunted by the story and wondered whether it would be even remotely possible to raise the thousands of dollars needed to secure such a remarkable pair of shoes. I wrote to Ms. Hoffman asking where I could learn more about the project and she responded immediately. “We have another pair that made the journey from Darfur, but we are having difficulty interviewing the shoes owner because he works from dawn to midnight every day. We are thinking of offering him a day’s work pay to come tell us his story and also receive a new pair.”

Levinsky Park.  Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.
Levinsky Park. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.

The impact of hearing this story powerful story was equal to that of seeing the Israeli neighborhood in which many of these refugees live. Our delegation visited BINA, a secular yeshiva in South Tel Aviv where students live and work with the most diverse of Israel’s ethnic populations. Our guide told us that refugees often find work as day laborers; yet their status remains precarious. As he introduced us to a volunteer-run, multi-lingual lending library they had set up in Levinsky Park, we witnessed one refugee taken into custody by a police officer. This is apparently not uncommon.

Refugee Library in Levinsky Park, South Tel Aviv.  Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.
Refugee Library in Levinsky Park, South Tel Aviv. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.

It is heart breaking to imagine risking everything to begin a new life in Israel only to land in prison and face deportation. Yet many refugees say that they’d rather die in Israel than to be deported back to Africa. Speaking on the refugees’ behalf one social activist remarked emphatically that, “The failure of other countries to treat refugees properly does not give us an excuse to do the same.” Refugees are unlike migrant workers in that they simply have no option other but to flee for their lives.

Levinsky Library: Media are available in Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, English, French, Hebrew, Hindi, Romanian, Spanish, Tagalog and Thai.  Photo:  Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.
Levinsky Library: Media are available in Amharic, Arabic, Bengali, English, French, Hebrew, Hindi, Romanian, Spanish, Tagalog and Thai. Photo: Rabbi Rosalind Glazer, January 2011.

These comments reminded me of a scene in “Out of Sight,” a new play by actress and playwright Sara Felder. In it she recounts her mother’s inability to forgive herself for not speaking against the FDR government when it refused entry of the SS St. Louis into the port of Miami thereby sealing the terrible fate of hundreds of Jewish refugees. Yet, in every generation, many courageous individuals do step forward to save the innocent. For example, I recently learned of Nicholas Winton, a righteous gentile from Great Britain who helped 669 Jewish children escape Nazi Germany and who until recently had never told anyone about it! When a youth activist asked him his philosophy of life he stated, “Don’t be content…just to do no wrong. Be prepared everyday to try and do some good.”

At Pesach we recall the Exodus, the Holocaust and all historic persecutions of our people. But remembering history is not enough. To live “as if we had personally gone forth” requires that we name and respond to the Exoduses of our own time; to put ourselves in the shoes of those struggling right now to escape Pharaoh’s death-grip. This Pesach let us refuse to indulge feelings of powerlessness; let us not surrender to paralyzing indifference. Rather, let us courageously step forward together to fight all forms of tyranny and oppression in our day – for the sake of our generation and generations to come.