On this eve of the Jewish New Year, as day turns to night, and the new moon barely begins to glow, I pray that our poor planet is granted a year of healing, blessing and peace. May each and everyone of us be blessed and use this year that we are given to be a blessing.
This is the first Rosh Hashanah in a long time when I will not be leading services, but will be worshipping virtually from my first congregation in Louisville (https://www.thetemplelouky.org/hhd/) where I first served after I was ordained. I just left my congregation in Florida and am settling into my new job here in Nova Scotia, where I am humbled by the opportunity to work on decolonizing the field of social work and doing what I can to advocate for justice and equality in my home country.
In 2019, the Canadian Association for Social Work issued the following apology for their role in supporting and implementing policies that harmed -and continue to harm- Indigenous communities: https://www.casw-acts.ca/en/statement-apology-and-committment-reconciliation. Recognizing this truth, they have begun the important and difficult task of working to decolonize themselves and right the wrongs that they have done and continue to perpetuate.
I am profoundly moved by this apology. Too often, those who try to help, unintentionally wind up hurting those they say they are serving. This is true for social workers and this is true for clergy and this true for well-meaning individuals who volunteer or do whatever they can to try to make things better, but because they remain part of the system, they wind up reinforcing the very system that is causing the injustice.
It is all too easy to get defensive, when one’s intentions are good, and we are told that our actions are harmful. Human beings blame and judge and put up walls and dig our feet and… Taking ownership for one’s failings is rare, and yet it is so important. We can never move past the present until we do, and indeed, too many awakenings revert back to the well-worn grooves of that which is entrenched as status quo.
This is true on a collective level and on an individual level. How many arguments and misunderstandings are perpetuated by an ego that refuses to be humbled and own its errors?
Judaism teaches that on Rosh Hashanah, we should think back on all that we have done, and all that we have not done, and take stock. What do we regret, what did we do that perhaps we should not have, and what did we not do, but ought to have… We are commanded that we cannot pray for forgiveness until we make amends and right our wrongs.
I am inspired by this picture of these four flags (left to right): the French Acadian flag (my mother’s people), the Nova Scotian flag, the Mi’kma’ki flag (the Indigenous tribe upon whose unceded territory Nova Scotia rests, and whose inherent rights were recognized in the Peace and Friendship Treaties that were signed from 1725 to 1779, and which established rules for an ongoing relationship between nations) and the Canadian flag. This picture illustrates true patriotism: one where no one is diminished by recognizing the other. After a summer when the injustice against Indigenous communities has surfaced, this image is an example of the coexistence that needs to become reality.
Too often, we speak about what ought to be, instead of what is, or what we wish to become. I believe that prayer has the ability to be aspirational, and to remind us of that for which we ought to strive. On this Rosh Hashanah, I pray that all of us, individually and collectively, have the courage to admit what is true, and the strength to do what needs to happen to make amends and move us all into the direction we need to head.
Religion and prayer tends to be relegated to pretty buildings, catchy songs and things we are told to say, believe or do. Yet, time and again, prophets have come to remind us that such rituals are empty and hollow. What G!d wants, more than whether we attend a worship service or read from our prayerbook or bible, is to complete the work of creation, to right our wrongs and to make the most of every moment we are given.
May this coming year of 5782 teach us to do this, for ourselves, for one another and for the communities that we call ours… may we recognize that we are stronger when we stand alongside those who are different from us, and wiser when we acknowledge our failings… may we do whatever needs to be done to make this world one where all people are treated with respect.
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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