A Balanced Life, Redux

Now that we’ve passed another Day of Judgment, we can ask ourselves what are we going to do with the life that we’ve been granted? Do we live up to our values, our ideals? Since my teens, I’ve been passionate about worldly causes, but it has always been a challenge to maintain the delicate balance between the sacred and the secular. [Read more…]

The National Anthem Meets Colin Kaepernick

KaepernickColin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, created an uproar by remaining seated for the national anthem before a football game.

Many people have jumped to judgment. He is right, he is wrong; he is either validating something we feel, or he is being disrespectful to something we treasure. Right or wrong, his actions were thoughtful and deliberate and deserve consideration rather than a reflexive reaction. Kaepernick used his position and visibility to express his views about the state of affairs in our country.

America is not perfect. We are engaged in the ongoing process of creating “a more perfect Union.” We are building on our principles and ever aspiring to do better for everyone in our country. We have come a long way, but there remains a long way to go.

Jews have long participated in this process and historically struggled with this issue. In our tradition, we have argued for centuries to discern what we should do and when. Arguments to advance our understanding are elevated to “Arguments for the sake of Heaven.” In the same Talmud, we also learn that the law and the application of law exist in our world for us to interpret and implement. Were it otherwise, we would simply be blaspheming.

Kaepernick’s stand (or lack thereof) might be seen as the cynical protest, perhaps biting the hand that feeds him. However, as I have learned, Kaepernick is active in trying to make our country a better place through his work supporting Camp Taylor, a camp for children battling heart disease. From personal tragedy, Colin Kaepernick has tried to make meaning and help others using his position and wealth to promote Camp Taylor.

Social justice and civil rights issues also have clearly touched a nerve in Kaepernick. On his social media pages, he began posting months ago about what he saw and what angered him. The sitting down during the anthem was yet one more step on a path he had already begun to travel, including sitting out the anthem earlier in the preseason, although he was not suited for play during those games. This particular act of protest, however, did garner attention. Through this act of sitting down, he raises awareness and becomes a part of making social change by keeping the active conversation alive.

Whether or not one agrees with his actions, Colin Kaepernick should be respected for what he did. He is “walking the walk.”

May the Angels Carry You

— by Reb Simcha Raphael

I am pleased to announce the release of my most recent book, May the Angels Carry You: Jewish Prayers and Meditations for the Deathbed

This book provides a collection of traditional and contemporary Jewish prayers, meditations and sacred readings designed to offer comfort and solace for those wrestling with dying and the approach of death. May the Angels Carry You is a simple, practical and functional deathbed manual for people on an end-of-life journey, for family members who accompany them, and for professional care-givers in search of practical tools for Jewish patients.

Honoring the legacy of Jewish deathbed practices and inspired by the spiritual insight of Jewish renewal, this small volume — the third in the Albion-Andalus “Jewish Death and Transition Series” — is a valuable and unique deathbed resource for contemporary Jewish life. Among material included in this book are:

  • traditional and innovative Vidui prayers;
  • an essay entitled “What Does It Mean to Pray for Someone Who is Dying?”;
  • Prayer for When Life Support Is Being Removed” and
  • a Foreword by Rabbi Nadya Gross.

In this book of deathbed prayers and meditations, Dr. Simcha Paul Raphael provides us with powerful insights into Jewish tradition. His look at the role and power of prayer as life ebbs provides the reader with a foundation for comfort, compassion and caring that links us with a sense of the sacred. His desire to have us ritually engaged with life’s last passage serves as a practical tool for the mysterious journey at the end of life. May The Angels Carry You guides one’s soul with a sense of dignity and celebration of the gift that is our life.

—Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, Director, Jewish Sacred Aging

Elul and Mercury in Retrograde: What Happens When Astrology and Judaism Collide?

Astrological table showing the retrograde of Mercury along with the alignments of the other bodies.

Astrological table showing the retrograde of Mercury along with the alignments of the other bodies.

Mercury has been in retrograde. From August 30 through September 22, Mercury was moving backwards in the sky from our perspective. This was the third of four such occurrences this year according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac. Astrologers say this event is supposed to mark a time for reflection rather than new action. This is not a time for decision-making. Instead, we are to assess priorities and plan to move forward by reviewing projects and determining where to appropriately focus energy.

Elul is the month preceding Rosh Hashanah. It is our Jewish time for deep reflection and repentance as we prepare for the High Holidays. For many of us, this is our period of teshuva, the “return to God” that requires seeking and granting forgiveness as we strive to understand where we went astray and how we can get back on the path of living a meaningful righteous life. [Read more…]

How Do I Mourn?

Ilona Engel Fuchs (circa 1950, Tokaj, Hungary)

Ilona Engel Fuchs (circa 1950, Tokaj, Hungary)


— by Marta Fuchs

My 98-year-old mother died last week and I’m waiting to feel something. I watched family and friends cry at her funeral and I listened to their outpouring of love and accolades for the remarkable woman my mother was. To a person, they spoke of how loving and generous and talented she was — and yes, that she was also forceful and insistent — how much of an impact she made on them, how they remain in awe of how she survived Auschwitz at great odds, and how she rebuilt her life multiple times with flair, energy, and optimism. [Read more…]

In-depth Intro to Judaism Class Starts This Week

Carrying the Torah scroll.

Carrying the Torah scroll.

By Charles B.

I’m the product of a Jewish father and a Catholic mother. While my father had a bar mitzvah ceremony, and I was brought up in a primarily Jewish neighborhood, I had no formal religious upbringing or training. What I learned about Judaism, I learned from my friends who were b’nei mitzvah, and my neighbors who observed the Jewish holidays and attended synagogue. When I was 18, I left home for college, and for the next 40 years was totally divorced from any religious affiliation or practice.

While I have had a successful career, married a wonderful woman, have two grown children that I am very proud of, and have good friends, I have expressed the feeling over the last several years that there was still something missing in my life. My wife, a Presbyterian, encouraged me to explore and take the first steps to rediscover the “faith and rituals” I had experienced as a child living in a Jewish community.

Lighting Shabbat Candles

Mother and daughter lighting Sabbath candles.

I decided to take a course in introductory Judaism and Hebrew sponsored by the Conservative movement and taught by local Conservative rabbis. It is a 30-week course that is taught annually at Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania. Many of the students who took the course were there to convert from the outset (mostly because of marriage commitments). I did not make the decision to convert until I had almost completed the course. What I learned from this course was that the beliefs and principles that took me almost 60 years to formulate, are the tenets and practices, and the moral and spiritual compass that Judaism provides.

As importantly, this course provided me with the tools and foundation to move forward on my journey. I am now studying with a rabbi, attending services regularly, and incorporating the lessons learned from this course into daily practice. The overall experience from this course has been transforming, both intellectually and spiritually. The practice of Judaism nurtures me, and provides me with the fulfillment and guidance I have searched for.

Editor’s Note: Charles has successfully completed the Introduction to Judaism class, and will soon be taking the step of formally converting.

The Rabbi Morris Goodblatt Academy is a 30-week “Introduction to Judaism” course sponsored by rabbis of the Conservative movement in the Philadelphia region. The next cohort will begin on Wednesday, September 14, 2016. The course is designed for Jews and non-Jews, singles and couples to learn more about Judaism (history, language, culture). Interested students have the opportunity to convert to Judaism under Conservative auspices following successful completion of the course.

The Reform movement also has an Introduction to Judaism class.

Being Jewish and American on 9/11

www.flickr.com/photos/vosherov/ Second Tower on Fire, 9/11 Vladimir Osherov

Twin Towers burning, view from Queens. Credit: Vladimir Osherov

by Lou Balcher

With the High Holidays around the corner, remembrance and reflection are part of our Jewish DNA. So what is the significance of 9/11 for us as American Jews?

Prominently placed on my suit jacket lapel is a 9/11 pin that is worn while speaking about Israel at community events. It always is a conversation starter. After the talk, unfailingly someone asks, “Why the 9/11 pin?” My answer is that on 9/11, our Christian neighbors and friends finally began to understand what it means to be Jewish and supportive of Israel. [Read more…]

“Gates of Shabbat:” A Guide for Reform Shabbat Practices

Gates-of-ShabbatThe Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) Press, the official publisher of the Reform Movement, is releasing a 25th Anniversary edition of a guide for Shabbat practice titled, “Gates of Shabbat: A Guide for Observing Shabbat.” This new edition is a completely revised and updated version of the classic guide for Shabbat observance. [Read more…]

Tú Sos Muestro Dio: You Are Our God – Reclaiming a Sephardic Identity in Guayaquil, Ecuador

by Heidi Schultz.

7 Reading from the Torah during Shabbat 1

Family Shares Torah Reading.

A small but extraordinary Jewish cultural renaissance is taking place in Guayaquil, Ecuador. The port city of Guayaquil is Ecuador’s largest urban area. Among its over two million inhabitants, there is a small but growing congregation of Jews who attend services at Templo Bet Jadesh (Beth Chadesh Temple). Most of the attendees who have affiliated with the synagogue are not the sons and daughters of Jewish Ecuadorians, but rather are new converts to Judaism. Yet many of them do not feel themselves to be newly converted. Instead, they see themselves as returning to their own religious tradition, lost hundreds of years ago when the Sephardic Jews were expelled from Spain in the eventful year of 1492. [Read more…]