Last night, the Jewish community began Shabbat (Sabbath) by also celebrating the beginning of the week-long festival of Sukkot, which is commanded in the book of Leviticus 23:42-43- “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt”.
Traditional rabbinic commentary explains that this commandment to live in temporary shelters, that are open to the elements, for week, is intended to help us re-experience the escape from slavery, reflecting on the long and painful journey from bondage to freedom. It is one thing to read about this story in the bible, it is very different to live it… by being forced to dwell in this transitionary space, we are asked to viscerally experience what it is like to live without knowing what the future will be… to live with the memory of slavery heavy upon us, a collective trauma that impacts our ability to move forward… to recognize that such hardship is part of the process of healing… to empathize with others who live in similar challenges, by being reminded, year after year, of all that our ancestors went through… to remind us that the past is not over, and that the quest for justice, equality and freedom continues.
For many of us, the deeper spiritual lessons of Sukkot feels profoundly relevant… so many of our brothers and sisters continue to live in bondage, the trauma of slavery continues to pervade our world, and its systemic injustices continue to be manifest… the journey toward the promised land must continue for each of us… we might need to pause and rest along the way… but we cannot allow ourselves to revel in those moments of respite… they should be like a sukkah… a pause that gives us the strength and courage to persevere…
These past few weeks, many of us in Louisville have been cruelly reminded of these truths, as we watched the travesty of justice that led to the failure to charge the officers who shot Breonna Taylor in her home in the middle of the night. As we listen to recordings and continue through conflicting narratives to seek out truth with hopes that it may guide us forward in this historic quest for justice and freedom for all of G!d’s children… we might be tempted to give in to despair. But this year’s holiday of Sukkot has given us an opportunity for hope in the midst of our painful journey forward…
What happened to Breonna Taylor and George Floyd has happened to countless unarmed people of color, as well as too many others who those in privilege have been unable to recognize as created in the Divine Image… What is new this year, is the growing number of individuals who are awakening to the pervasive systemic injustice that allows such events to go unpunished…. I choose to draw strength and comfort from the people of all races, religions, gender expressions and backgrounds who are coming together to say: enough is enough… until black lives matter to us all… all lives are in jeopardy.
I also draw profound strength and courage, hope and comfort, by the interfaith clergy of Louisville, my beautiful and brave colleagues, who have come together to be a sukkah (a sanctuary) for those protesting… to serve as intermediaries and mediators inserting themselves between protesters and police… and providing safety for those who are leading the battle for justice and equity…
To see a contemporary example of being a Sukkah in the wilderness, please see this interview about the ways that Louisville churches are providing sanctuary to those who are channeling the voices of the biblical prophets to demand justice for all people:
Originally from Montreal, Canada, I studied in Jerusalem at several Orthodox yeshivas, prior to beginning my studies as a Reform rabbi at Hebrew Union College. I am a second generation Holocaust survivor, and early on, wanted to do whatever I could to build a world where hatred and prejudice would never again have the upper hand.
For me, studying Judaism from traditional perspectives was crucial because “it was important to understand what we are reforming”. I believe in making educated choices from the rich set of resources provided by Jewish tradition, in order to ensure that every ritual and prayer is meaningful. I was a founding board member of the Society of Classical Reform Judaism (now Roots of Reform), due to my unwavering commitment to advocacy for interfaith families and the creation of inclusive Jewish communities that are unconditionally welcoming of all spiritual seekers, regardless of their religious background, relationship status, identity or Hebrew speaking ability.
In addition to nearly two decades working in synagogues, teaching, counseling and participating in life cycle events, I am also a social worker, psychotherapist, mediator and trained as an interfaith chaplain. I worked with the American Red Cross after 9/11, providing counseling and support at the family assistance center, Ground Zero and the morgue. My doctoral research was focused on burnout and compassion fatigue, as part of my years of work in hospice and palliative care. My life experiences have taught me hope and how to cultivate resilience and wisdom.
This blog reflects my attempts to distill rabbinic wisdom into insights that can speak to all people. I have dedicated my life to healing and spiritual alchemy. I first began the writings that formed the basis of this blog as part of my role as Vice President of Mission for KentuckyOne Health, an interfaith hospital system that brought together Catholic, secular and Jewish hospital systems, in order to bring wellness, healing and hope to all, including the underserved. I began my weekly reflections on the Torah portion, in order to share some of Jewish Hospital's heritage and values with staff that may not have known much about Judaism. These reflections were then shared by staff with others who asked to be placed on my blind copy list, as well as by the system mission leader of Catholic Health Initiatives to his own reader list, along with his own reflections.
I have been profoundly humbled by the reactions to these writings, and as more people have asked to have access to them, I eventually worked to overcome my discomfort with the internet in order to publish them online. I realized that Jews and non-Jews were drawn to my inclusive interpretations of the biblical text, and my reflections on how to apply these in our every day. I believe that, much like the Sufi teaching that describes all the religions of the world like different prayer beads, with the same string of truth that runs through each of them, so too can these ancient spiritual and mystical teachings can come to life, when we reflect on the echoes of other world traditions and by contemporary psychological theory.
As my professional journey has continued to evolve, and I have found myself transitioning from pulpit rabbi to community rabbi, to who I am becoming as I seek to move beyond all labels, I have found that this site remains an important way for people to get to know me, and understand my theology.
I am fundamentally committed to the sacred act of translation- seeking to discern the Divine through text and life, and to translate those words of Torah and wisdom into reflections that can speak to people of all faith traditions... and in so doing, hopefully encouraging others to do the same. We are all created in the Image of G!d, and as such, each of us has our own unique understanding of the Sacred. In the same way as the rabbis teach that if even one letter from the scroll of the Torah is missing, the entire Torah has lost its sacredness (is no longer kosher), so too is this world diminished so long as people silence themselves. For too long, organized religion has been used as a weapon, to keep people silent and to teach shame... my quest as a rabbi, and indeed, as a human being, is to work to translate religious teachings into redemptive and healing truths, to seek to liberate s/Spirit and to work toward "tikkun olam" (the healing of the universe).
My current rabbinate is dedicated to teaching and mentoring other rabbis, and working with interfaith families, as well as those traditionally marginalized from mainstream Judaism. In the same way as the holiness of the Jewish prayer shawl (tallit) can be found in its fringes (tzitzit) so too do I believe that the most important contribution I can make to the Jewish people is "Keruv" (helping people find their way home), and to the broader world is "shleimut" (helping people to find wholeness). I also serve G!d as a social worker, doing what I can to work for justice for all people.
It is my prayer that the insights in this blog will bring healing and insight to others, and encourage others to find their voice and path. Thank you for your time reading my work.
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