Friday, August 17, 2018

From Summer Days to School Days (Shoftim 5778)

The rhythm of transitioning from summer days to school days echoes the rhythm of transitioning from the closing days of the Jewish year to Rosh Hashanah and the High Holy Days. Our attention turns from aimless moments to purposeful days, from carefree activities to careful self-reflection. 

This week the JCHS professional community worked on campus to prepare for the coming school year. (And our largest student population ever - 187!) This week also began the Hebrew month of Elul, which winds down the Jewish year and comes just before Rosh Hashanah. For many it is a season of introspection and self-reflection – seeking to see ourselves honestly and as others see us.  

This summer also brought renewed attention to the Supreme Court and its justices as we often expect them to advance or discern justice even when it seems most elusive. But justices are only human as confirmed by a story about Associate Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. when an impressive full-length portrait of him was painted for Harvard Law School. On seeing it - the handsome face, flowing robe, and distinguished white hair – Holmes exclaimed, “That isn’t me. But it’s a darn good thing for people to think it is!” 

Friday, June 15, 2018

Resilience v. Resistance (Korach 2018)

Each summer as students engage their assigned summer reading, the entire JCHS Professional Community (educators and staff) also have assigned reading. This summer it’s Elana Aguilar’s “Onward: Cultivating Emotional Resilience in Educators.” I selected this book for the JCHS professional community to deepen our individual and collective reservoirs of reflective learning, self-awareness, and ability to engage in thoughtful conversations about growth and learning for ourselves and our students.

Ironically, it is the lack of these same attributes that dooms the biblical Korach and his followers when Korach launches a rebellion against Moses in this week’s Torah portion. Korach has a fixed mindset believing he is infallible, smug about his talents, and lacking doubts about his abilities. Korach’s rebellion falls because of his intellectual and political hubris. Moses, by contrast, faces the Korach’s rebellion with open humility and eagerness to learn more about and grow in his leadership. As a result, Moses leadership endures.

JCHS is blessed with dozens of educators and professionals whose growth mindset empowers students and inspires colleagues. Our professional community’s commitment to a growth mindset began a decade ago when the JCHS 2009 summer reading was Carol Dweck’s seminal book, “Mindset.” 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

To Lose Memory But Not Be Erased (Beshalach 5778)

This week I want to focus on memory. I am especially drawn to memory this week because it is the 2nd anniversary of my mom's death and the 20th anniversary of my dad's. On the Hebrew calendar, they died exactly 18 years and 1 day apart. I dedicate this week's post to their memories.*

In this week's Torah portion, there is a first of its kind mitzvah (divine exhortation) involving memory. In the Torah narrative up until now, there have been people remembering places or things that God did to help us. But this week for the first time there is a mitzvah for people to remember a person. The stage is set for this new type of memory with the dramatic parting and crossing of the sea as Moses and the ancient Israelite slaves are running from their Egyptian pursuers. Safely across the wilderness journey begins. 

Early in this journey, the Israelites are attacked by Amalek and his tribe. A fierce battle follows, which the Israelites win. Then, Torah instructs us to remember Amalek by writing his name . . . which God will erase from existence. (Exodus 14:17). This is the first time in Torah when we are told to remember a particular person. Just to observe the name being erased!?! What good is a recorded memory if it can so swiftly be erased?

A story about memory and erasing it …

Almost ten years ago this winter on an icy day in Maine, a Reform rabbi, Alice Goldfinger, slipped on ice outside her synagogue. Her brain crashed into her

Friday, January 5, 2018

Our Most Precious Relationships and Places (Shemot 5778)

Last week, during winter break, we were in Israel and I spent a few afternoons in the Jerusalem neighborhood where I lived 25 years ago. Jerusalem - the place and the relationships nourished there - is still on my mind this week. Inspired by Jerusalem, this week's dvar Torah about the places and people most precious to us is in three parts.

Part 1: When I was living in Jerusalem, the (then 30-year old) comedian Jon Stewart would tell a joke about the intensity of claims to Jerusalem. "Israel is a tiny, tiny country. Yet every monotheistic religion began in Israel. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all began in Israel. All began in Jerusalem. All began within like a two block radius of each other. You know what this means? It means Jesus, Muhammad, and Moses all went to the same high school!" Stewart would get a lot of laughs - precisely because it is so untrue as the three lived several centuries apart and neither Moses nor Muhammad ever lived in Jerusalem. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

I Can't Hear You: Could It Be the Banana In My Ear (Miketz 5778 and Chanukah)

Banana in Ernie's Ear Shows He Isn't Listening to Bert
How often do we see others in pain, but ignore it? How often do we hear the cries of others, but don't listen?At this season of short days, our vision often is obscured by darkness. Our hearing often is dulled by long nights in our own homes. 

This week's Torah portion and the festival of Chanukah come together this week as a kind of warning and an inspiration. 

The warning comes when Joseph's brothers believe that they caused their own current distress two decades earlier when they first tried to kill Joseph then sold him into slavery. They are not yet even aware that the Egyptian viceroy who is toying with them is, in fact, Joseph. They say to each other, "We saw [Joseph's] pain and ignored it. We heard his cries, but paid no attention to them." (Genesis 42:21.) It is a startling revelation.

Friday, November 3, 2017

"Who is silent? Who speaks?" (Vayeira 5778)

2017 Limited edition MetroCard
Photo by Job Piston in the New York Times
This week New York city's transit authority released some limited edition MetroCards with pointed questions about privilege created by artist Barbara Kruger. A version of the conceptual art cards reads, "Who is healed? Who is housed? Who is silent? Who speaks?" Kruger has expressed these questions through her art since 1991.

This particular MetroCard seems to echo recent news stories about sexual harassment. This extreme misconduct often is hidden (or enabled) when some voices are privileged and others systematically silenced.  This MetroCard also seems to echo the arc of this week's Torah narrative, which is among the most profoundly complex interpersonally, emotionally, socially, culturally and nationally of all Torah. 

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down . . . Or Do We? (Noah 5778)

Camp Newman Star Survives on Hillside Blackened by Fire
Many imagine that the nursery rhyme phrase, "ashes, ashes, we all fall down" is a dark reference to 17th century London's Black Plague. But origins for this phrase seem more difficult to comprehend or explain.

It is even more difficult to comprehend or explain the northern California wildfires that in recent weeks have killed more than 40 people and destroyed more than 100,000 acres. It seems too much to take in. Included among the more than 7,000 properties that were destroyed, was much of Camp Newman (the beloved Jewish summer camp that succeeded Camp Swig where I was a camper, record producer, assistant director, and board member).*

These fires have created losses that are immeasurable -- of precious life, treasured livelihood, and valued property. Whole worlds were destroyed. 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

In the Dark Shadow of a Las Vegas Massacre (Sukkot 5778)

2010 Sukkah Made from Signs From the Homeless
Our school community held its weekly gathering on Monday in the dark shadow of Sunday's Las Vegas massacre in which more than 500 people were wounded and nearly 60 killed. 

There are no words adequate to make meaning of such a monstrous tragedy. We are stunned. We are angry. We are afraid. We are speechless. 

Yet, something about Las Vegas calls to mind a story often told by my colleague, Rabbi Eddie Feinstein, about his young daughter, Nessa's fear of alligators under her bed or monsters in her closet. Inspired by his story I shared its themes with

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Ask the World, Why? Ask Ourselves, Why Not? (Rosh Hashanah and Ha'azinu 5778)

Apple Laffy Taffy & Bit-O-Honey
given to each JCHS student for Rosh Hashanah
This evening starts the new Jewish year of 5778. The timing of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) is in sync with the start of each school year. These new beginnings bring the opportunity to visualize our path and our learning in the year ahead.

Echoing the custom of dipping apples in honey at Rosh Hashanah (see below), I hand out lots of Apple Laffy Taffy and Bit-O-Honey at this time of year. Usually, Laffy Taffy riddles are juvenile. But this year, I discovered three that were (nearly) existential! 

#1 - Why was the boy covered in gift wrap? His mom told him to live in the present. #2 - What kind of tea is sometimes hard to swallow? Reality. #3 - What would you do without your memories? Forget.  

Embedded in these three riddles is the secret of this season that begins with Rosh Hashanah -- a season of reflection, introspection, and renewal. We have to be deeply present in order to reflect on our memories of real, authentic moments from the year past to inform a commitment to doing better in the new year. 

Along with the Apple Laffy Taffy and Bit-O-Honey, I shared an insight this week with our students from Rabbi Israel Salanter (19th century, Lithuania). He taught we have two eyes for a reason.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Measure for Measure: As You Judge Others, So Will You Be Judged (Ki Tavo 5777)

A blog post this week in three parts. A folktale. A framework from this week's Torah portion. And an apology.

The folktale*: There was a very wealthy man who loved only two things in life: work and cake. When he wasn't working he was admiring or eating cake. He had a favorite bakery that sold the most beautiful and delicious cakes. He went there every day on his way to work.

Once when he was walking out of the bakery with a beautiful slice of cake, the man stumbled. His cake fell to the ground. His piece of cake rolled in the dirt where it was covered with pebbles and grass. On his way back into the bakery to buy a replacement piece of cake, the man noticed a homeless person peering into the bakery's window. The man picked up the dirty piece of cake, handed it to the homeless person, and went inside to buy more for himself.