Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Jewish Woman’s Common Cause with Pope Francis—by Ayala Emmett

The crowds that greeted Pope Francis in America were so profoundly joyous that even those of us who are not Catholic felt drawn to the exuberance. This festivity of hope in humanity emanates from Pope Francis who is the leader of 1.2 billion Catholics. Yet, the joy comes from his real power, his compelling message of compassion that he offers in a way that makes him immediate, familiar and accessible not only to Catholics but to those of different faith communities and to non-believers alike.

As a Jewish woman of faith I rejoice to share in a common cause of compassion and justice. It is easy for me to see how a Jewish woman could feel connected to the hope that Pope Francis has brought to America by appealing to the best in us. Last week in the morning service of Yom Kippur I could clearly see that social justice that has been part of my heritage so easily joined the pope’s message. I thought about it as we read on Yom Kippur from the Book of Isaiah about the meaning of the fast, “it is to share your bread with the hungry, and to take the wretched poor into your home, and when you see the naked to clothe them.” read more

Finding Compassion on the Road to Nineveh—by Ayala Emmett

After the Nazis invaded Belgium in 1940, three of my cousins, ages two, five and nine, were saved by the compassion of Catholic families. Tragically, other family members did not survive as country after country closed its borders to Jewish refugees. When the Nazis were defeated in 1945 a worldwide slogan promised, “never again.” Over the years and most recently, the unbearable suffering of desperate refugees has reminded us that the promise “never again” has faded from memory. We realize now that compassion must be invoked, summoned and rekindled again and again. As nations like Hungary brutally shut their borders, leaders like Pope Francis, the Chief Rabbi of France and the former Chief Rabbi of England have engaged in infusing compassion by appealing for world empathy, concern and caring and urging immediate refugee relief. read more

A Rabbi’s Thoughts on Rosh Hashanah—by Peter Eisenstadt

A rabbi, in her study, a few hours before the beginning of the New Year, speaking to herself:
Oh jeez, its erev Rosh Hashanah, and I still have no idea what I am going to speak about in my sermon tonight. I’ve got to deal with my procrastination this year. Maybe that’s what I can talk about, how the calendar is inexorable, and time and tide wait for no one, etc., and calendar events like Rosh Hashanah force us out of our paths of least resistance, and make us change our behavior. Or maybe I could just say because I waited too long to write a good sermon, I wrote this one instead, and that’s what happens when you delay too long, and let it be a lesson to you. No, too meta, and it will go over too many people’s heads. Anyway, if I gave a bad sermon, most people probably wouldn’t notice anyway. read more

Torat HaAmitzot–By Ahavya Deutsch

3500 years ago, Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh, went down to the river to take a bath, and saved the Jewish people. Going about her daily life, she looked down and saw an infant abandoned in the river. No fool, she must have known this was a Hebrew baby. We are not told that she was a radical, an activist who rebelled against her father’s policies. But when she looked at the child, she did not see politics or religion. She simply saw a life that she could save. And in drawing Moses from the water, she saved us all. read more

A Late Friendship with a Writer and a Hospital Rock Star—by Ayala Emmett

Late friendships are meteors, those streaks of light that enter our lives so unexpectedly and astonish us. Such an unpredicted friendship happened when I met B.J. two years ago. We were introduced on a Friday night as we both leaned carefully on a counter loaded with Sabbath food and B.J. spoke Hebrew to me immediately right there, in the kitchen. The rich aroma of spices filled the air, and somehow we skipped the formal conversation of people who have just met. We talked about writing. She wrote, I found out, mostly creative non-fiction and poetry was not her favorite genre. She was about to publish her memoire. read more

Barefoot Reading: Using Torah Study to Confront Life and Death–By Deborah L.R. Kornfeld

Rabbi Hananyah said: “When people sit together and exchange words of Torah, the Shekinah abides between them.”(Pirka Avot, Chapter 3, perek 3)

In January 2014 four women started a Shabbat chavruta. For nineteen months we would meet at B.J’s dining room and over several cups of tea and a cookie or two, we talked Torah. Three of us were older women with grown children and growing grandchildren: we were an anthropologist, a writer and an occupational therapist and one of us was a young lawyer engaged in social justice and mothering two young children. It started out as a bikur cholim (the mitzvah of visiting the sick) project, but continued as an incubator for both new insights and social justice action read more

But repentance, prayer, and righteousness cancel the stern decree—by B.J. Yudelson*

This sentence ends the prayer that I discussed in my last blog, the one that begins, On Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed…

I don’t recall noticing it the first half of my life. In my youth, the choir may have sung it in Hebrew, which I didn’t understand. If I recited it with the congregation, it was surely in English. The English may have been the same as what appears in my grandmother’s 1927 Reform Jewish prayer book: But Penitence, Prayer, and Charity avert the evil decree. read more

Four Women’s Essays on Rosh Hashanah and on Friendships

For the past two years the three of us have formed an abiding friendship with B.J. Yudelson. Together we have engaged in two study groups that did not necessarily overlap yet nurtured us in ways that deepened our understanding of our lives and of our commitment to Jewish values, ethics and social justice.

In an essay posted just before Rosh Hashanah in 2014, and is reprinted here in this collection, B.J. wrote about a central verse in the Rosh Hashanah prayers that, “the best way to think of teshuvah, tefilah, and tzedakah (repentance, prayer and charity) is restoring the balance with oneself, with God, and with the community… By returning to one’s true self, by communicating with the Divine, and by performing righteous deeds we can cross to a place where we can write ourselves into the Book of Life. We can’t change what’s happened, but we can move forward to choose life.” read more

May We Be The Head And Not The Tail: A Blessing For Rosh Hashanah—by Matia Kam

Among the many blessings in Deuteronomy 28 we read, “God will make you the head, not the tail,” and it is customary in some communities at the meal on the night of Rosh Hashanah to recite this blessing, ending it with the words, “may it be so.”

At first glance it seems that there is an unnecessary repetition in the blessing since it makes perfect sense that the one who would be the head would not be a tail. Yet Ramban saw beyond the redundancy, he emphasized that it is feasible to hold both positions simultaneously. He noted that “it is possible that one would be the head of many nations, yet the tail of one who is higher,” so that one could be the head of wolves and a tail of the lion, “the head of weaker kings yet the tail of a strong one who rules over them”. read more