Tag Archives: Jewish Holidays

RIP Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks

It takes a special person to join the clergy of any religion. It is more than leading prayers and being the layperson at various stage of life events. That person has to be able to speak of that religion and its tenets in a way that connects to everyone, regardless of any specific faiths.

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks was one of those special people. Cancer took his life today.

I had the pleasure of seeing him speak in person a few years ago. It was nothing short of inspiring. It was just before the High Holidays. Those who have attended High Holidays services can attest that as important as those days are, they are quite frankly, difficult and not exactly fun. But they shouldn’t be fun.

Rabbi Sacks was able to explain in very simple terms the emotional and psychological importance of those days. I’ve been attending High Holiday services since I was very young. But that was the first time I was truly able to understand the meaning of the High Holidays.

He recently was a guest on the Unorthodox podcast. Though he was there to publicize his latest book, he also spoke about current events and how morality is as important as it ever was.

May his memory be a blessing. Z”L.

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Thoughts on Tashlich in 2020

To say that this year has not been easy has been an understatement.

Tomorrow night starts Yom Kippur, the most important day in the Jewish year. On this day, we confess our sins and ask our heavenly creator to allow us another year of life.

But before we can make such a request, we must be honest with ourselves about our flaws and mistakes. That is where Tashlich comes in.

As I threw my bread in the water earlier today, I felt a sense of peace. Though the past can never be undone, we can learn from our mistakes. We can become better than who we were before. That I believe is the message of the High Holidays and Tashlich in particular.

May those who are fasting have an easy and peaceful fast and may we all be written in the book of life for another year.

L’Shana Tova.

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Unetanneh Tokef, Yom Kippur and the Year That is 2020

No one has a crystal ball when it comes to the future. We can only live in the moment.

This coming weekend is Yom Kippur, the most important day on the Jewish calendar. One of the prayers we chant is called Unetanneh Tokef. The purpose of the prayer is to ask our heavenly parent for one more year of life on Earth. The text is as follows:

“All mankind will pass before You like a flock of sheep.[38] Like a shepherd pasturing his flock, making sheep pass under his staff, so shall You cause to pass, count, calculate, and consider the soul of all the living; and You shall apportion the destinies of all Your creatures and inscribe their verdict.

On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed – how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die; who will die after a long life[39] and who before his time; who by water and who by fire, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst, who by upheaval [40] and who by plague, who by strangling and who by stoning. Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But Repentance, Prayer, and Charity annul the severity of the Decree.”

Looking back at the year that is 2020 so far, this prayer feels like a message we need to hear. Before Covid-19 hit, life seemed so sure. But between the virus, the racial inequities, and everything that has happened this year, I’m not so sure anymore.

No one knows exactly when their time will be up or how they will go. We can only ask for as much time on Earth as possible.

For those who are fasting, have an easy fast and may we all be written in the book of life for another year.

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A Very Covid-19 Rosh Hashanah

As indestructible as human beings believe we are, Mother Nature has a way of reminding us that she will always be one step ahead of us.

Next weekend is the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah. Covid-19 has forced Jewish instuitions to rework how to approach one of the most important days of the year.

To say that it will feel weird is an understatement. Traditional holiday services will be limited and many will turn to Zoom to participate virtually. Instead of getting together with family and friends, social distancing and wearing masks will continue to be the norm.

To those who celebrate, wherever you are and whatever you do, have a sweet and Happy New Year.

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Purim, Queen Esther, and the Fight to be True to Yourself

We live in a culture and a world that values conformity over originality. To be different, to be an outsider is not ideal.

The story of Purim and Queen Esther is about being an outsider.

Esther is an orphaned young woman growing up in ancient Babylonia. Jewish by birth and by practice, she is drafted to be one of the young women presented to the King Ahasuerus as a future bride. Chosen by the King to be his Queen, Esther must hide her identity. When her people are in danger, Esther must make a choice: continue to hide her true self or put herself in danger to save her people.

There are very few stories in the Bible in which a woman is not only front and center, but she is the heroine. The fate of the Jews rests on her shoulders. She knows that remaining silent would save her life. But she also knows that deep down inside, she cannot stand by and watch those she loves being slaughtered simply because of their faith.

My personal takeaway from the story of Purim and the courage of Queen Esther is that being yourself in the face of conformity is the hardest thing anyone of us can do. But, if we are willing to take the risk, the results may just outweigh the fear.

Happy Purim!

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Purim

History says that women are supposed to be meek, mild, subservient and if she has a brain or ambition, she has to hide it. Women who are up front about their needs, their intelligence or openly exhibit ambition are often shamed for speaking out.

This past week was the Jewish holiday of Purim.

The heroine of Purim is Esther. Living in ancient Persia, Esther is an orphan taken in and raised by her cousin Mordechai. She expects to live the life of an ordinary Jewish girl: marry the young man chosen for her, bring children into the world and continue with a lifestyle that Jewish women have been living with for an untold  number of years.

But fate has something else entirely different in mind for this young lady.

Inside the palace, King Ahasuerus (thought to be Xerxes I by historians), is entertaining. Deep into his cups, he orders that his wife, Queen Vashti be brought to the revelers, revealing her beauty to them (meaning coming in wearing just her birthday suit). Vashti refuses and is banished. Not wanting to be alone (not that he truly was alone, the King had a harem full of women), the King orders his ministers to find a new bride from among the eligible women of Persia. Esther is chosen to be one of the potential brides, but is warned by Mordechai to hide her identity.

When King Ahasuerus finally chooses a new wife, Esther is crowned Queen. But there is a plot afoot that could endanger the lives of Esther and the Jews of Persia. One of the King’s advisers, Haman, wants to rid the kingdom of her Jews.  Esther is at a crossroads. She could say nothing and live, while watching her family and her people be massacred, or she could reveal her true identity, put herself in danger and potentially save her people.

Esther makes the bold and dangerous decision to reveal her identity, knowing that she could go to the gallows. In the end, Esther saves her people and Haman and his ilk are punished.

Among the heroines of the bible, Esther for me, stands out. She is strong, smart and true enough to herself, even to the point of knowing that her fate could be that of Vashti’s.  She is a heroine for the ages, a woman who is willing to speak out in a time when women were not supposed to speak out.

To those who celebrated, Happy Purim.

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