Why Alexander Puts Out Fires

My grandson Alexander puts out fires. Like a lot of kids with active imaginations, he sees himself as a fireman. We’ve put out countless fires in houses, cars, and even this synagogue.

He knocked on my door one day, dressed as a fireman, and asked me if I had any problems. I didn’t understand at first, but then I saw that he was holding yellow caution tape in one hand and red danger tape in the other and he was ready to place tape wherever it might be needed in my life. He was there to protect me and fix anything that I needed.

In his world, fires occur, but he can deal with them. (more…)

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Jonah, Pinocchio & You in the Belly of the Terrible Shark

I was raised on the Bible and Disney movies. So I have always seen a connection between the Book of Jonah that we read on Yom Kippur afternoon and the fairy tale of Pinocchio.  In both stories, a big fish or a whale swallows the main character who escapes that certain death.  Over the years as a rabbi, I have often introduced the reading of Jonah by mentioning this similarity to Pinocchio and people have always responded with a smile or a chuckle. (more…)

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Up, Up, and Oy Vey or It’s Not Easy to Be Us

Once there was a survivor. His parents and everyone he knew were killed. His world was literally destroyed. And so he came to America as an illegal immigrant. He was given a new name and no one knew about his origins. He assimilated into the melting pot called America. He didn’t want anyone to know who he really was. And he dressed like all the Americans in suit and tie and hat, and he starting going out with a nice white Anglo-Saxon girl. And while he knew who he really was, all that history, and all that pain, was too much to think about, and so sometimes he just tried to forget it. (more…)

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When You Hear the Sound of the Shofar, Please Leave a Message

Everyone knows what a marathon is. There are people here today who have run a marathon, twenty-six miles. These people work hard and they have my respect. Remarkable.

Most of us know a story about the origins of the marathon. The story relates that in the year 490 BCE, an Athenian herald named Pheidippides was sent to Sparta to request help when the Persians landed near a place called Marathon in Greece. He ran 150 miles on two consecutive days. He then ran the 25 miles from the battlefield to Athens to announce the Greek victory with the words, “We have won” and collapsed and died on the spot from exhaustion.

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Why Hanna’s Sabbath Dress Got Dirty

There was once a little girl named Hanna.  Her mother made her a white Sabbath dress.  Hanna couldn’t wait to wear it.  On Friday afternoon, she took a bath and then put on her new dress.  It was beautiful.  Hanna was very happy. Her mother was happy, too.

Then Hanna went outside.  Just past the gate her dog, Zuzi ran up and barked.

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What Have We Learned From The Holocaust?

May 2nd will be Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  In a certain way, there should be nothing to say. We should be at this point in time, between sixty and seventy years after the whole world knew that six million Jewish people had been murdered during the smokescreen of World War II, be left with little to say that has not been said a thousand times. All these years later, we should be looking back at the murder of millions of people and be able to say, “We all have learned so much from that horror-filled catastrophe. The world is now a different place than it was then. The world has not allowed anything like that to happen since and it will never allow anything like that to happen again. The millions who were killed at least did not die in vain; their deaths woke the world up to what evil can be and what evil can do.” (more…)

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Mrs. Medina and Her Candles, David and His Grandfather’s Yalmukas

I’d like to tell you two stories at this solemn time before Yizkor on Yom Kippur.

One is from an experience I had in my late grandmother’s apartment; the other is from my father’s notes, as I’ll explain in a couple of minutes. Both stories are about remembering and keeping, about what remembering means. Yizkor means to remember. But what does it mean to remember? That’s the question I want to pose to you at this hour: What does remembering mean? (more…)

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How to Swim the Catalina Channel or Hayom

I’m always in the car, going to visit someone or to officiate at something. Wherever I go, I have a driving companion and his name is Tom.

Tom has an Irish accent. In a very charming way, he calls highways “motorways” and traffic circles “roundabouts.” When I need to turn, he gives me advance warning and reminds me immediately before the turn comes. When, nevertheless, I take a wrong turn, he patiently tells me to turn around as soon as possible. He never says that I’m stupid or criticizes me in any way. Worse comes to worse, when I still get it wrong, he tells me that he’s “recalculating.” And when I finally successfully get where I’m going, he triumphantly exclaims: “You have reached your destination.” This always makes me feel like a million bucks. (more…)

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Heroes and Villains: Washington, Jefferson, The Dark Knight and You

When I was growing up near Washington D.C., George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were two of my great heroes. I lived in the Washington area and rooted for the Washington teams; my family often went to Washington’s home called Mt. Vernon and Jefferson’s home called Monticello, near the re-created colonial town of Williamsburg. Along with Davy Crockett (whose coonskin cap I wore and for whom I named my little brother) and Biblical figures like Charleston Heston, Washington and Jefferson were my heroes. They were the epitomes of what made America great. They were two of the Founding Fathers, legendary geniuses who with seemingly divine wisdom created the greatest political system known in human history. (more…)

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I Doubt It

Do you remember the card game “I Doubt It”? On every turn, a player claimed to be holding the required card; she would say, “I have two threes” or “I have one four.” And then everyone else had to guess if she actually had two threes or one four; if you thought she didn’t, you’d say, “I doubt it.” And if she were lying, she couldn’t get rid of any cards. The goal was to get rid of all your cards before anyone else. If you were smart, you paid attention to what players said on every turn and you remembered what they had and didn’t have. In this game, intelligent doubt was good. (more…)

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