A community of communities

May 2016

Fri, 05/27/2016 - 11:58am -- Rabbi


Memorial Day flagsThe Young Dead Soldiers, by Archibald MacLeish

The young dead soldiers do not speak.

Nevertheless they are heard in the still houses.

(Who has not heard them?)

They have a silence that speaks for them at night

And when the clock counts

They say,

We were young.  We have died.  Remember us.

They say,

We have done what we could.

But until it is finished it is not done.

They say,

We have given our lives

But until it is finished no one can know what our lives gave.

They say,

Our deaths are not ours,

They are yours,

They will mean what you make them.

They say,

Whether our lives and our deaths were for peace and a new hope

Or for nothing

We cannot say.

It is you who must say this.

They say,

We leave you our deaths.

Give them their meaning.

Give them an end to the war and a true peace,

Give them a victory that ends the war and a peace afterwards,

Give them their meaning.

We were young, they say.

We have died.

Remember us.

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Fri, 05/20/2016 - 4:00pm -- Rabbi


[Rabbi Akiva taught:]  Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is granted.  And the world is judged favorably, yet all depends on the preponderance of good deeds (Pirkei Avot 3:19).


Rabbi Akiva addresses a basic problem of human action in a world with a God who is, as the ancient rabbis taught, both omniscient and loving.  If God already knows what we are going to do, then why does it matter if we do good? And if the world is judged favorably - if, as we hope, God focuses on our good intentions rather than our often lacking deeds - then why does it matter if we do bad?  Akiva answers both questions by embracing paradox.  Yes, all of our actions are foreseeable by God, but still the choices we make matter deeply.  And yes, God judges the world favorably, but still the good deeds that we do are the foundation of the world's continued existence.

Today, our questions may be phrased somewhat differently.  When such large forces are at play in the world, how could our choices possibly matter?  And when we seem so small, how could our good deeds make a difference?  To answer both, we, too, need to embrace Akiva's paradox.  Yes, the world is large and we are small, and yes, our choices and our deeds still matter.  The ancients push us to see cosmic significance in the smallest of our actions.  Our next choice, our next deed, could tip the balance and fate of the world.  May we make the right one!

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Mon, 05/16/2016 - 9:31am -- Rabbi

This week we commemorated Yom HaZikaron and celebrated Yom HaAtzma'ut, Israel's Memorial Day and Independence Day.  These days encourage us to look back at Israel's past and remember both the tragedies and the triumphs that have been part of Israel's history.  But they also encourage us to look forward.  How can the difficult moments we remember spur us to change the future for the better? And how can the blessings we celebrate give us the confidence and optimism to look toward tomorrow with hope?  This strikes me as a very Jewish project.  Through our experiences of the Jewish holidays, through the rituals we use to mark the cycles of our lives, and through our studies of ancient texts, we continually look to the past and try to comprehend its sorrows and its joys. Individually and as a community, we mine those experiences for meaning as we shape the future that lies ahead of us.  In a society that sometimes focuses too much on the "now" and can be obsessed with what happened in the last 24 hours, living in Jewish time helps us to take a longer view and to gain the wisdom that only comes from a more expansive perspective.  May we always seek and find that wisdom and feel it buoying us up as turn our faces forward.

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Mon, 05/09/2016 - 8:12am -- Rabbi


As our daughter finds language, mornings we hear her in her crib reciting lists of names:

"Hannah. Kliel. Emma. . . " she says,

calling out the names of her classmates at ECP. "Bubbie. Zaydie. Mommy. Abba. Nana . . ." Sometimes, when she is unsettled,

she reaches for her names.

Practicing the shapes of the sounds.

Stringing together vowels and consonants.

An incantation.  

The way we pray to the God of 

"Abraham. Isaac. Jacob. Sarah. Rebecca. Rachel. Leah. Bilhah. Zilpah."

The way we insist on continuity.

The way to cling to life.

This week I have been thinking about names. We observed Yom Ha-Shoah, remembering the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. The eleven million individuals killed by the Nazis. The survivors, their resilience and their legacies. It is impossible to wrap our minds around the gravity of this loss. In many communities, there is a custom of reading names of those whose lives were taken from them, to honor their memories. At the JCC of Manhattan, for the fifteenth consecutive year, people from all streams of Jewish life came to read names all through the night. They have not yet reached the one million mark of names spoken out loud. We pray that all their names and memories will be for blessing. 


As we give voice to each name, may we remember deep in our bones the irreplaceable holiness of each life. May the living waters of names nourish our world and our children.

May justice well up like water and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Amos, 5:24)




by Zelda


Each of us has a name

given by God

and given by our parents

Each of us has a name

given by our stature and our smile

and given by what we wear

Each of us has a name

given by the mountains

and given by our walls

Each of us has a name

given by the stars

and given by our neighbors

Each of us has a name

given by our sins

and given by our longing

Each of us has a name

given by our enemies

and given by our love

Each of us has a name

given by our celebrations

and given by our work

Each of us has a name

given by the seasons

and given by our blindness

Each of us has a name

given by the sea

and given by

our death.

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