My father is at the epicenter of my heart, along with my mother, and all those early formative loves that became part of the fabric that is me.
And, as one of my great teachers on how to live, how to love and how to be- my father is at the heart of my heart. He inspires me and teaches me. I think of him when I want to be courageous or funny or strong or creative or resilient or happy or generous or compassionate.
My father sometimes jokingly calls himself antisocial or a “misanthrope” – his self-depracating jokes and sense of humor a tool that immediately puts others at ease- creating safe space and sacred space for others. As a rabbi, this has been a strategy I have learned from and found myself using on the pulpit: when people make a mistake- using humor to heal the wounds of perfectionism- that idol that imprisons the soul.
Watching him professionally, I learned a strong work ethic, creativity and the ability to turn every negative into a positive. This, along with my mother’s unending desire to see the good in everyone and everything are absolutely at the heart of my own capacity for joy. My father’s resilience and creativity has led my spouse and I to turn my last name, “Siritsky” into a verb… “To Siritsky something” is to find a way to make the impossible, possible. Whether it is duct tape or rubber bands, whenever I see an obstacle, I hear his wise words in my head: “Don’t complain of the noise when opportunity knocks at the door”.
When I was 5 years old, my father wanted to teach me the Jewish value of tzedakah. We were driving downtown when we passed a homeless man living under a bridge, with a shopping cart full of books. He gave me a dollar and told me to give it to this person. I approached and explained that my father wanted me to give him a dollar bill. This man looked me in the eyes, looked at my father, and looked back at me and said: you need that dollar more than I do.
Many years later, I learned that my father then (quietly and reverently) befriended this man, bringing him books and buying him coffee. Over the course of decades, they became friends, learning from one another, and embodying Martin Buber’s teaching of “I and Thou”. As this friend approached the end of his life, my father became his primary medical emergency contact, and even helped bring him back in touch with his family. My father inspired my inner social worker as an expression of my sense of calling and purpose.
I believe that when we recognize the “Thou” in one another, we experience G!d’s Revelation. When we act in Divine Ways, we make G!d’s Presence visible. Sometimes, we experience things that seem negative, but that is only because we don’t yet understand. I have learn how to understand the world and other people, not just with my brain, but with my heart. Where others might see the absence of G!d, I hear an invitation to act in a G!dly way, and do what I can to make the impossible possible. I learned how to say “hineni” (=here I am) to G!d’s Call, from my father.
I became a rabbi in large part because of my father. While he does not identify as a person of faith, and has every reason to question mainstream religion’s simplistic beliefs, because of what he should never have witnessed as a child… nevertheless, my own faith is rooted in all that I have learned from him. He was a hidden child during the Holocaust- a story that, in itself, demonstrates (in my theology) the Presence of G!d, incarnate in the courageous kindness of those who risked their lives and the lives of their families to help Jews they did not know. To me, the decision to hide Jews during the war defies understanding. The only way I can understand anyone making that otherwise irrational decision is to recognize such courageous Actions as the incarnation of G!d in this broken world.
I would not exist, were it not for the faith of those “righteous gentiles” who risked everything to rescue him and his mother. I owe, to each of them, a debt of gratitude… and today, I honour also all those who made my father into who he has become, for they are now also a part of me, as I remember them.
My father has “paid it forward” helping others in countless ways, many of which I barely know… speaking to schools about his childhood, helping to develop the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Montreal, volunteering with my mom to drive people who are alone to their chemotherapy appointments… When I think about what kind of faith I want to impart to others in my rabbinate, I think of my parents.
I may not always put all this into words, but these are the truths that are deep in my heart, and on this day, dedicated to celebrating fathers, I celebrate the Torah that I have learned from knowing and loving my father.
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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