Several years ago, I published a book entitled The Long Way Around: Stories and Sermons from a Life’s Journey. The book was a memoir and the sermons which were inspired by the experiences of my life. Writing the book was a process lasting many years and it was very satisfying to finally see it in print. The book is still available on Amazon. 

         When I retired from the full-time pulpit rabbinate in 2018, one of my goals was to write another book. I had two different ideas for books and began to work on them. But I turned my attention to other pursuits: the production of a weekly podcast, teaching adult education classes and volunteer work which had become very meaningful. As a result, I limited my writing to the occasional sermon I gave when filling in for another rabbi and relatively infrequent postings on this blog.

         Lately, I have begun to feel the “writing bug” again and I have decided, as we say in Hebrew b’Ii neder (no promises), to pursue one of those book ideas that I had considered and see whether a second book comes out of the process. 

         My idea for the small book is to present and discuss the texts which most significantly inspired me in my work as a rabbi. While important in the rabbinic context, these texts do not only serve rabbis, but I believe they also can be inspirational to everyone as they consider their jobs, their relationships, their thoughts about God and the ongoing questions we all have about how to best live our lives in this world. 

         The selection of texts is eclectic. Some texts are well known while some are obscure. Some lead to obvious lessons while some yield important ideas only after a significant amount of midrash. Some are from traditional Jewish sources, others come from sources far removed from Torah and Talmud and have their origin in other areas such as movies or popular music. They are united in that each is meaningful in its own way and provided inspiration and meaning to my life as a rabbi, a husband, a father, a friend, a human being.

         So, I am going to begin this project and, occasionally, I will share some of the texts and my commentary on this blog. I invite your reaction to these postings and to the idea for the book, in general. 

         This week’s edition of my podcast features one of the texts that I will include in the book. The text is a commentary on a verse in this week’s Torah portion by Ish Yehudi, the 20thcentury German Rabbi Joseph Tzvi Carlebach. The verse in question is part of the process of consecration of the priests to serve in the mishkan, the traveling sanctuary in the wilderness. In Exodus 29:20, we read that God commanded: “Slaughter the ram and take some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear and on the ridges of his sons’ right ears and on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet.”

         It doesn’t seem that this verse would yield significant lessons for life but that is the genius of Torah commentators: finding important messages in the most mundane of texts and Ish Yehudi rises to the occasion with his commentary.

         He writes: “The ear, the hand and the foot must be excellent and distinguished in each leader of Israel. The ear to hear the cries of Jews so that the leader can know and understand the needs and wishes of Israel. The hand to give blessing to all. And the feet to be ready to run to help anyone who is in need.”

         I love that text for two reasons. First, it is a marvelously creative interpretation of a rather uninspiring text. 

         But, more importantly, the text teaches us something critically essential: the importance of listening. 

         I first encountered this text after I had been a rabbi for more than 15 years. I was satisfied with much of the work I had done but I knew that there were aspects of the role of rabbi that I needed to improve upon, but I was searching for a place to start. This verse helped me to realize one of those areas that needed improvement. 

         While I considered myself sufficiently proficient at being at services and meetings (getting there by my feet) and giving people what I felt they needed (that’s the hand part), this verse made me question whether I was as good a listener as I should be, and the answer was: “no”.

         I realized that I wasn’t listening to people as well as I should: cutting off critical discussions because I was needed someplace else, missing subtle verbal clues about what people were really saying to me, not making eye contact and not asking questions which needed to be asked about what people were saying. 

         So, I was determined to change and while I never came close to being a perfect listener, I did find myself listening more intently, interrupting far less frequently and willing to be late someplace else if the conversation demanded more time. 

         And the lesson I learned from the commentary of the Ish Yehudi is a lesson for all in every part of our lives. 

         Truly listening to our partners, our children, our friends, our employees, is one of the greatest gifts we can give and one of the most important responsibilities of a human being. It is also one which we are most likely to take less seriously. So, we all must do better. We must not only be where we are needed (our feet) and do what is needed (our hands) but we must take the time to truly listen to those with whom we are in any kind of relationship to fulfill our responsibility as human beings.

         Let us all take that message to heart. 

         But that’s not the end of the story. The commentary leaves me with one additional thought. 

         Ish Yehudi mentions hearing the cries of the Jewish people and that is essential for a rabbi and for any Jew.

         But God created us with two ears, and I believe that rabbis must use that second ear to hear the cries of those outside of the Jewish community, to hear the cries of anguish from those who are victims of violence, innocent victims of war and of those generally in need. Leaders of the Jewish people have a particular responsibility to hear our people’s cries but that other ear must be attuned to others in the world, and we must respond to those cries as well.

         And this applies to all of us. We are inclined not to hear the cries of the “other”. But there is no “other” when there are tears of pain. We can not ignore the cries we hear. This is particularly relevant, as I discuss at length in my podcast, as we consider the war in Gaza.

We must listen and let what we hear inspire our hands and our feet to go and do good work that needs to be done to quiet the cries that we hear. 

         May we all be better- and more universal- listeners. 

         I look forward to your responses to the idea of the book (title suggestions are welcome) and your thoughts on this piece. 


This past Shabbat, I delivered a d’var Torah in an area synagogue. The d’var Torah was based upon the same texts that I shared in my podcast episode this past week. You can hear that edition of my podcast at I shared some memories from my days in Junior Congregation learning from our beloved teacher Harry Kraft z”L which I will invite you to hear on the podcast. I will omit them here because they are much more effective as “oral Torah”.

The d’var Torah reflected on a difficulty in understanding a verse in the Torah. In the introduction to Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea, in Exodus chapter 15, we read: Az Yashir Moshe u’bnai Yisrael: “Then Moses and the children of Israel sang this song to God”. The question is: How did the people know what to sing?

The rabbis discuss this question in a text in the Talmudic tractate of Sotah. Three opinions are presented. The third of which is that the people sang along with Moses word for word, apparently through a miraculous prophetic ability.

But, the other two are more interesting. Rabbi Akiva states that the people only repeated the first two words of the song over and over again after each phrase that Moses recited. The people sang: Ashira L’adonai. “I will sing out to God.” All they had to do was repeat those two words.

The second opinion, that of Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Yossi Hagalili, is that the people repeated the very words that Moses sang phrase by phrase. They said different phrases but only after hearing them from Moses.

So, whether they repeated one phrase or said different phrases, they only sang what Moses told them to sing.

Did they ever grow up and sing on their own?

According to one rabbi, they did.

In a later text, Yalkut Shimoni, Rabbi Avin HaLevi said that they learned to sing on their own and forty years later, they did. In a verse in the book of Numbers, we read about a song about a well: “Az Yashir Yisrael” “Then Israel sang”. They sang on their own, without Moses’ lead.

I imagine Moshe Rabbenu, our consummate teacher, standing on the sidelines, listening to the voice of the people of Israel and feeling nachas, satisfaction, at the people now grown up and sharing their own words of praise.

In my years as a pulpit rabbi, working with bar and bat mitzvah students was one of my favorite parts of the job. I always tried to impress upon the young people how one of the most important parts of the bar or bat mitzvah service was the d’var Torah. They had the opportunity to teach Torah to the congregation. Instead of merely repeating the words that previous generations had chanted – the blessings, the reading of the Torah and the haftarah- they had the chance to move forward and, as it were, sing on their own. Hearing the chanting of sacred words in the manner of our ancestors is critical for continuity. But, hearing their own thoughts is critical for growth. I reminded them that if they had a personal commentary on the texts they read or if they shared their own personal opinion on an issue, not everyone would agree. But, hearing their voice was so important for the future because it gave people an insight into how at least one young person was thinking.

I concluded my d’var Torah with a reflection on a phenomenon taking place in the Jewish community today. I am not painting with a broad brush. I know that there are many exceptions to what I am about to describe but it is a reality that has been documented over and over again. It was the subject of a piece in the New York Times just two days ago and it is a reality in many Jewish families today.

I speak of the reality that many of our young people see the war in Gaza from a completely different perspective than their parents and grandparents do. Many are asking probing questions that older Jews are not asking. Many are learning from sources of information many of us quickly dismiss. And, many are questioning assumptions many of us take for granted.

I know that hearing these opinions can cause dismay, frustration or even anger. But, as difficult as it may be, I believe we need to listen to these voices. We need to validate our children and grandchildren’s right to hold their opinions. We need to listen to their concerns and their perspective. We need to make sure they hear our perspectives, and patiently but clearly explain why we feel as passionately about the issues as they do even if we see things completely differently. We can not let this issue draw a wedge between us and we need to be careful not to be quick to label them. We may not agree at all but we must be careful not to speak in words or tones which will alienate them from our tradition and our community.

Again, this is not meant to overgeneralize. They are many older Jews who have serious questions about Israel’s actions and many younger Jews who are passionate in their complete support of Israel.

But, the phenomenon can not be ignored.

We may not always sing the same words but we are still part of the same people.

This Week’s Podcast

As you may know, I record a weekly podcast entitled: Wrestling and Dreaming, Engaging Discussions on Judaism. You can access the podcast at and other sources for podcasts.

In this week’s edition, I discuss one of the most perplexing aspects of the Torah’s story of the Exodus. Why did God “harden Pharaoh’s heart” so that he would not listen to Moses’ plea to “let my people go”? Why was Pharaoh not given “free will” to make the decision on his own?

I invite you to listen to the podcast to hear the message in its entirety but I want to share here the major points that I raised.

First, I shared one of the ways in which traditional Torah commentators tried to explain this phrase while claiming that the king still had free will. I find those commentaries to be largely unsatisfying.

I then gave my own comment on this idea. While I certainly believe that we have free will and that God does not “micromanage” our lives, it is clear that the Torah is written from a different perspective at least regarding the Exodus. The Exodus from Egypt is presented as God’s plan that God had disclosed to Abraham hundreds of years before when God told him that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years and would leave with “great signs and wonders”. God has pre-planned all the details of the Exodus with the goal of bringing these “great signs and wonders” to the world.

In order to make that happen, God clearly uses Pharaoh is a tool in this story. Pharoah’s role in the “script” is to refuse to listen to Moses so that God would have reason to bring signs of power and strength-the plagues and the splitting of the sea- in order to make God’s reputation and name great to all who witnessed it- Egyptians and Hebrews alike.

Had Pharaoh agreed to Moses’ demands from the beginning, these expressions of power would never materialize. So, from the Torah’s perspective, there is no reason to make excuses for God’s “hardening Pharaoh’s heart”. It is an essential part of the story and it was all part of God’s plan to make God’s power known in the world.

But, unlike Pharoah, we are not captive to any script. We decide whether to be compassionate in any given situation and, in that spirit, there is one commentary which I particularly find meaningful. Many commentators point out that for the first several plagues, we read: “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened”. It is only after several plagues that we read: “God hardened Pharoah’s heart”. These commentaries point out that originally it was Pharaoh who hardened his own heart but that only after God saw that this was Pharaoh’s choice did God then make it impossible for Pharaoh to change his approach.

The lesson here is that when we act in a particular way, positively or negatively, we gather momentum to continue to act in that way. Whether we attribute it to God helping us go in the direction we choose to go or just see it as a matter of human nature, the truth is that one action or attitude leads to a similar action or attitude as we become accustomed to acting in a particular way.

Compassion, the opposite of hard heartedness, is one of the most foundational of all human emotions and one of the most vital. However, there may be certain times when we might decide that compassion should not guide our actions. For example, if survival as an individual or a nation is at stake, we might find that focusing on compassion would make us less able to do what is necessary to protect ourselves and those dear to us.

But, that being said, once we begin to minimize the importance of compassion, we run the risk that Pharaoh faced: becoming so accustomed to acting hard-heartedly that it becomes our modus operandi- the natural way in which we live our lives under all circumstances. We have to be extraordinarily careful for once we have decided that our lives are better without compassion, even in one instance, we find ourselves on a slippery slope which leads us to becoming truly hard-hearted and without any sense of compassion.

This is the lesson that we must learn, as individuals, as communities, and as nations. We suspend our inclination to be compassionate at a great cost.

The Eighth Night

         We are approaching the end of the holiday of Hanukkah. As you prepare to light the 8thcandle tonight, it’s time for a question about the holiday that you might never have considered. It is a rather quirky question which some might consider trivial, but it has given rabbis throughout the centuries an opportunity for thinking about the nature of what we call “miracles” and the meaning the holiday has for us.

         Here is the question: According to the traditional story of Hanukkah, the Maccabees found a small jug of oil sealed with the seal of the High Priest indicating its appropriateness for lighting the menorah in the Temple. However, as we all know, the story teaches that there was only enough oil in the jug to burn for one day. A miracle took place and the oil burned for 8 days. So, given that, why do we light the menorah for 8 days in recognition of the miracle? It would seem that there were only 7 days of miracles as there was enough oil to burn naturally for one day.

         I love this question and I am fascinated by the answers that rabbis have given over the years. I am only going to share two of the answers here. I present a few others on my podcast this week which you can hear at and I invite you to listen to the episode entitled “Seven or Eight” which I posted this morning. But, even in my podcast, I can only offer some of the many answers that have been presented over the years.

         Before I offer the two answers which I find most meaningful, it is important to point out that the idea of celebrating Hanukkah for 8 days is explained independently of the oil story in the much earlier texts of the books of Maccabees in the Apocrypha.

         The dedication of the Temple in the time of Solomon lasted for 8 days so it would make sense that the “re-dedication” would also last 8 days. In addition, the second book of Maccabees connects the 8 day celebration with the fact that the Maccabees wanted to celebrate Sukkot which they had missed a few months before because of the war. So, they celebrated Sukkot for 8 days and then declared that future celebrations of the re-dedication would also last 8 days.

         But, to return to the question, here are two answers to the question as to why we celebrate the miracle of the oil for 8 days.

         First answer: some rabbis teach that 7 days of Hanukkah are for the miracle of the oil and the 8th is to celebrate the military victory of the Maccabees which also was a miracle.

         This is really a critical thought because it must be viewed in the context of the Talmudic (and later) rabbis who adamantly and deliberately and the focus of the holiday from the celebration of a military victory to the celebration of a purely divine miracle of making 1 day of oil burn for 8 days.

         The rabbis had reasons for making this shift. It focused attention on God rather than on human power and, in an era of foreign domination, it was likely more prudent to downplay the idea of political rebellion the Maccabees represented. But, the story of the Maccabee’s faith and courage can not be forgotten and thus the mentioning of the Maccabees in the context of this question, even if it is “one” versus “seven”, is a critical reminder that we do not depend on divine miracles. Human beings must act rather than merely depend upon God.

         Another answer to the question focuses on the oil itself and claims that the very fact that a pure jug of oil was found after the desecration of the Temple was, in and of itself, a miracle. So, we light one light for the fact that the oil existed and then 7 lights for the miracle of its endurance.

         I love this answer because it reminds us that when we look for “miracles” around us and look for the things which make life significant and meaningful, we can often find them in the aspects of our life which are readily visible, which we might otherwise take for granted. 

         It is the very presence of those things always around us which make our lives meaningful and which can be the most spiritually uplifting and sacred.

         May the meaning of the celebration of Hanukkah continue to uplift us in the days ahead and inspire us to bring light to a world which so desperately needs light. 

Hanukkah 2023

         Tonight begins the holiday of Hanukkah. Needless to say, this holiday feels so different. 

         It will be difficult to celebrate the joy of the season while the memories of the horrific terrorist attacks of October 7 are so fresh in our minds. Israelis and Jews throughout the world are still grieving, still attempting to recover from the horrors of that day and still praying for the return of the hostages. The scenes from Gaza are so horrible and we pray for the safety of those who defend Israel as we grieve for the innocent in Gaza, especially the children, who are suffering so horribly from this situation completely beyond their control.

         But, in the end, it is a holiday, and we should seek to find positive meaning in this festival of lights.  

         This morning, I posted a Hanukkah edition of my podcast: Wrestling and Dreaming: Engaging Discussions on Judaism. You can hear the podcast at In this podcast, I speak about the hope that the Hanukkah lights can inspire in us even in dark times. We can not give up on our hopes and dreams even at times of such turmoil and sadness. 

         In addition, I invite you to listen to the previous podcast episodes about the meaning of the holiday. They are episodes 22-23, 72-74 and 128. These can be found on the website.

          I wish a meaningful, happy and hopeful Hanukkah. And for those from other religious traditions, may your holy days and celebrations bring you hope and may we all see a world of peace in the coming New Year. 

60 Years Ago Today

I am re-posting a piece I posted in November, 2013, the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. This is a subject I have written about quite a bit including in a chapter of my book The Long Way Around: Stories and Sermons from a Life’s Journey.

As we recognize other “days of infamy” that have taken place, including the terrorist attacks of October 7 and the aftermath that continues and as we wait for hopeful news concerning some of the hostages, I can’t let this day pass without recognition of this watershed moment in so many of our lives.


For our parents’ generation, it was December 7, 1941. For our children, it is September 11, 2001. For those of my generation, it was November 22, 1963, 50 years ago this Friday.

It was the day the world changed. It was the day our nation changed forever. Daniel Moynihan said it best when he said:  “We will laugh again but we will never be young again”.

And, those of us above the age of 55, will never forget that day.

For those who were old enough to understand the nuances of politics and society, it was an end to Camelot. The assassination of President Kennedy brought a sudden and abrupt shocking end to the young, smiling Presidential family which had seemed to corner the market on good looks and culture. But, they knew that it was more than that. It was also an end to the youthful, joyous, spring in the step early 1960s which had survived the Cuban Missile Crisis and the beginnings of involvement in Vietnam.

For kids like me,  8 years old at the time, it was something simpler. It was the first time many of us saw our parents- and perhaps even more dramatically, our teachers- cry. It was the cancelled parties and games. It was the horror of watching, over and over again, the man who had made our parents and our nation cry killed on live TV. It was seeing the flags at half staff and having to ask why over and over again.

I saw President Kennedy in person  a few months before the assassination when he came to Boston College  to deliver an address. The motorcade  passed one block from  our house. The line was two or three deep but someone pushed me right into the front and he waved right at me. I will never forget his smile.

As I got to college,  with the memories of the motorcade and of November 1963 buried in the back of my mind, my interest in TV news and journalism in general sparked a fascination in the assassination. I suppose it  began in earnest when I heard Mark Lane speak at Brandeis. He was the first to make a name for himself in claiming that there was a conspiracy that was being covered up. He brought all his pictures and his films (but not the Zapruder film to be sure) and it was just what all of us wanted to hear, another thing to be cynical about in the era of Watergate. It was also a great detective story and I wanted to search for clues. And, it brought to the surface those emotions of that weekend, emotions which still felt fresh after all  the intervening years.

So, as the years have gone along, I have become even more deeply fascinated with the assassination. I have read countless books, watched all of the TV specials and in 1999, I finally made the trip I had wanted to make for many years, to Dallas, to stand in Dealey plaza and to visit the “6th Floor Museum”.

It was a pilgrimage in every sense of the word. I stayed in a hotel a few blocks away and walked towards the plaza and suddenly and sooner than I expected, I looked up and saw the Texas School Book Depository. I stopped in my tracks and just stood staring, as so many do. I did not expect to cry but I did. It was truly a cathartic experience to stand in that spot and I spoke about the lessons that I learned from that experience at Kol Nidre services the following Yom Kippur.

But, through it all, through all of the studying and the watching and the speculating and through all of the realization of the impact this moment had on our nation and the world, the memories I remember today are the simplest ones: my mother leaning out of the 2nd floor window as I arrived home from school to tell me the news; my father taking me with him to pick up my grandmother who was at the movies and hadn’t heard (it’s interesting that they didn’t stop the movie) and hearing him say to the people gathering around him as he told my grandmother what had happened: “I’m not going to be a God damned town crier”; walking with the members of our synagogue which was the closest house of worship to Kennedy’s birthplace to lay a wreath at his childhood home; and most emotional of all: seeing my mother staring out the window into the darkness and then turning to tell me, with a tear in her eye, that it would all be all right.

I still think that there are some aspects to the story of the assassination that we just don’t know enough about and, maybe 50 years later is a good time to let those questions go. But, honestly, I still find them compelling and still think we may learn something new sometime in the future.

But, that doesn’t seem important today. The most important thing to remember today is that while it was a day that will live in infamy, as happened in 1941 and in 2001, our nation survived, sadder, perhaps wiser or at least less naive, still able to smile but not quite in the same way.

I wonder what the 60s would have been like had John Kennedy lived. I wonder what our world would have been like if we hadn’t cried that weekend. We will never know.

May the memory of John F. Kennedy be for a blessing. May we who remember that weekend continue to move forward while the memories stay with us.


Note: These are my personal thoughts and are not necessarily reflective of any institution or organization.

We have just passed the end of the shloshim period, the 30 day period of intense mourning for the victims of the October 7 terror attacks in Israel. Shloshim often marks the end of the formal mourning period and the transition moment when we move on from a loss.

But, we can not move on from this horrendous loss. The heinous, unspeakably horrible attacks by Hamas terrorists must not be forgotten. We can not move on from the memory of that dark day because it reminds us of what this war against Hamas is about. It is about the survival of the State of Israel against an enemy which seeks its destruction. 

And we also need to face the reality that many of the pro-Palestinian demonstrations are not calling for an end to the occupation, a cause which I, and many who love Israel would support. Rather, they are a call for an end to the Jewish State. 

Those are the realities of the situation today and we must always keep them in mind. Those who are fighting to defend Israel from an enemy which seeks its destruction are standing up for all of us who care about the existence and safety of the State of Israel.

However, these realities should not preclude us from feeling heartbreak and pain of what we are seeing in Gaza, the pain and suffering of those who are truly innocent including the babies and young children. We can not look at the video and pictures from Gaza and not feel such pain and heartbreak for those who have been caught in this war because of decisions made by their leaders. We should be heartbroken and devastated by what we see. 

The realities I mentioned above also do not remove from Israel the responsibility, rooted in our ethical tradition and Israel’s own stated values, to conduct this war as ethically as possible and in accordance with international law. This has always been stated as a point of pride for the IDF and it is critical that it continue to be so in practice. 

The realities of this struggle should not lead Israel to oppose the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza, with the provision that it is done in a way in which the aid reaches the people who really need it, not going to aid Hamas’ efforts at attacking Israel. 

These realities do not in any way justify the attacks by settlers on Palestinians in the West Bank which have been taking place in recent weeks. We must condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms. 

And, finally, none of these realities remove from Israel the responsibility, as stated in our tradition, to seek every possible way to achieve the release or freeing of the hostages who have been held in Gaza for more than a month. The taking of these captives was another example of the horrendous attack which still touches everyone in Israel and Jews throughout the world. The suffering of the hostages and their families is immeasurable. Redeeming captives is an absolute priority in our tradition and should be here. While we pray for and work for the safety and security of Israel and peace and safety for all in the region I will close with a prayer for their return of the hostages. 

For all our family of the House of Israel who face anguish and captivity. 

May God have compassion upon them and may they be brought from distress to relief, from darkness to light, from subjugation to redemption, speedily and soon, Amen. 


As have so many, I have found myself constantly thinking about the situation in Israel and struggling to put into words how I feel at any given moment.

A couple of days ago, I was not able to join with a group of clergy friends for our monthly virtual meeting because I was participating in an online briefing concerning the situation. These are people whom I have talked with about many important issues over the past few years and I was disappointed that I couldn’t talk with them this week.

This morning, I wrote an email to the members of the group expressing how I feel. I wanted to post my note to them for others to read. I’ll offer a bit of a disclaimer that this is how I am feeling at this moment. I might feel very different in a few hours but I am confident enough in my thoughts to post them here.

I know everyone will not agree and I respect that but this is a horribly complicated situation brought about by a heinous, evil attack which we can not completely comprehend.

Here, then are my thoughts as I share them with my colleagues:

I missed talking with you especially since it is always comforting to be with friends, even virtually, during difficult times. 

These times have been very difficult for me but of course exponentially less difficult than for those who have lost loved ones to this massacre or who are wounded or who are waiting to hear news from family members who have been taken hostage. I have close friends and extended family in Israel and everyone I have contacted is OK physically but I’m sure there are people I know who have been personally touched by this tragedy and everyone in the country has been traumatized in so many ways. 

An issue that I have raised on many occasions in sermons and in my writing is how Jews must be careful not to allow the memory of the Holocaust to dominate our thinking. We must remember the victims and join with others in teaching the world the dangers of bigotry and hatred but we have more to offer our children than to think of ourselves as perpetual potential victims. 

I still believe that, but the nature and extent of this horrible attack brought back Jews’ historical memories of  anti-Semitic violence from the Crusades to Pogroms to the Holocaust and I think it is fair to say that in striking back against Hamas, Israel is also striking back against the ghosts of the past through times when Jews had no power to respond with force to their enemies.

 I have never idolized the Israeli Army like some do. I have always recognized their vital and irreplaceable  role in keeping Israel safe and deeply respect the dedication of those who fight for their country- something I have never done- but I haven’t felt comfortable buying into celebrating the Israel Defense Forces like some do. Still, at times like this, to know that there can be a forceful response to violence of this kind is a matter of deep pride and complete gratitude. I wish each and every one that is fighting or has been called up on reserve strength and courage.

I do grieve for the innocent children and adults who are caught in the crossfire in Gaza. But, Hamas planned and executed these attacks knowing precisely how Israel would respond and that response would certainly put every person in Gaza in mortal danger. This was their choice. I don’t believe that that removes responsibility from Israel to do all it can to minimize the possibility of killing innocent civilians and hopefully Israel is doing  this as it has done before but it is inevitable that innocent people will die because of the decisions that Hamas has made. Israel now must make a calculation as to whether it is strategically wise to start a ground campaign especially given the reality that it would cost many more lives on both sides. That is a military decision that I can’t evaluate. Of course, I pray that there will be an end to this madness but to even suggest that Israel is “to blame” for the situation is totally misguided and wrong. The attack on Saturday was not a response to Israel’s policy towards Palestinians. This was a step in Hamas’ stated goal to completely destroy the State of Israel. 

I read yesterday that a Palestinian journalist wrote that the retaliatory attack on Gaza won’t bring peace.That is an understatement. And, as one who has been very blunt in my criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza (although we need to remember that Israel pulled out of Gaza in 2005, leaving infrastructure that could have been used positively and the leadership in Gaza has chosen to divert funds that could have been used to build up a reasonable society to build tunnels and rockets with the goal of destroying Israel)  and who has advocated for an end to the occupation and the creation of a  Palestinian state, I am devastated by the reality that whatever fading hope there might have been for some kind of movement towards a settlement of this enduring conflict any time soon has disappeared completely in the wake of this attack. 

I pray that there will be an end to this violence but I am also deeply concerned for the future of the State of Israel. While Israel’s founding as a nation was not the simple, clean picture that we might have been taught it was in our Hebrew school classes, the reality is that Israel was formed through the dedication of Jews seeking a place of refuge and endorsed first by the British, then by the United Nations, surviving a war after the state was established and through several wars since and  has sought and achieved peace with some of  its neighbors. Israel has not been blameless in this conflict. There is blame on all sides, but the nation carries with it the hopes and vision of Jews throughout the world for a place of refuge and strength. And for many of us, that also means striving for a country embodying the most sacred of spiritual and ethical values. 

I fear for the future as we mourn for those who have been killed, pray for the healing of those in pain and for the return of those who have been captured. After that, I pray for peace for the entire region and for an end to this horrible conflict between cousins who have so much to live for. 

That is the end of my note to my friends. I encourage your response on this page.


One of the most important aspects of the Jewish faith, and one which is reflected in so many ways in the Jewish community, is that debate and disagreement are accepted and honored.

This is certainly true regarding our perspectives on Israel.

Jews who feel emotionally connected to Israel are “all over the map” in our opinions. We discuss Israel’s actions and priorities endlessly and find ourselves often disagreeing with family and close friends over even the most basic questions.

But, tonight, I would hope that all of us, regardless of our political or philosophical perspective, are united in our shock, in our horror and in our absolute commitment to stand with Israel and her citizens at this terribly sad hour.

While there will be some debate about exactly what form the response should take, we know that Israel must respond to these attacks strongly. There is no option.

There are many questions about today’s attacks which must be asked and there will be disagreement in the future about where we think Israel should go from here.

But, tonight, let us stand together, as one, in support, sadness and love.


         I began my d’var Torah this past Shabbat with an admission that on that beautiful Shabbat morning, I was feeling a bit sad. I told the congregation that as one who is not reluctant to quote contemporary song lyrics in sermons, it was only because we had just learned of his death that morning, that they were spared a sermon based on Jimmy Buffett lyrics. 

         To say the least, it didn’t quite get the response that I was hoping for. Apparently, the synagogue was not full of Jimmy Buffett fans- or at least those who would admit to it. 

         I am a Jimmy Buffett fan. To real Buffett fans, I probably wouldn’t qualify as a “parrothead” because although I always intended to go to one of his concerts, I regret that I never did in fact. And, I really know only about 15 or 20 of his songs and they’re probably the ones that “real fans” are somewhat tired of hearing. But I know what I like and the songs I know and love never fail to bring a smile or perhaps, in some cases, a bit of a tear.  

          As a songwriter and an entertainer, he was captivating. His energy, his smile and his interaction with the audience were always a joy to watch (on video in my case) and I found his songs to be creative and, in most cases, fun to listen to and sing along with. 

         So many of the songs celebrated the simple and somewhat decadent pleasures of life-Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise, for example- and while some clearly reflected joy in values that I would prefer not to extol, it’s always good to remember that life is worth enjoying and I thank him for bringing a smile to my face.

But, he also wrote songs which touched on a subject near and dear to my heart: aging.  

        And those are the songs I find myself thinking about in these days after his death at age 76.

         In a song with the provocative title: A Pirate Looks at Forty, a man laments choices and decisions he has made and realizes that he has followed a path which has left him as “an over forty victim of fate”.

         In my favorite Buffett song: Captain and the Kid, Jimmy tells the story of his relationship with his grandfather who was a sea captain and taught him to love life on the sea. He writes of the aging “captain”: “His life had gone from sailing ships to raking Mom’s back yard. He never could adjust to land although he tried so very hard.” While the entire song is moving to me, those two lines capture the image of a man who could no longer live the active life he was accustomed to and for whom only death allows him to escape the confinement of land. 

But aging is not all sad and in the song Pencil Thin Mustache, he notes the trend towards nostalgia among younger people by reminiscing and celebrating the characters he knew in his youth: Boston Blackie and Ricky Ricardo and encourages people to celebrate growing older: “So if you find yourself in that nostalgic rage Honey, jump right up and show your age”. He unapologetically expresses a joy in advancing age in rather blunt language that would not be my choice of expressions but captures the sense of security that comes from living life as one chooses. 

Finally, in Changes and Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes he sings: “If it suddenly ended tomorrow, I could somehow adjust to the fall” but reminds us adamantly that: “Oh yesterday’s over my shoulder so I can’t look back for too long. There’s just too much to see waiting in front of me and I know that I just can’t go wrong.” Comforting and energizing words.

I don’t think that Jimmy Buffett sought to present himself as a deep-thinking philosopher. But his songs touched something in me, sometimes in their escapism but more deeply especially in these past few days, in listening to songs which depict a person coping with aging. 

In Psalm 71: 9, we read a verse which is chanted several times on Yom Kippur as part of the penitential prayers: “Do not cast me off in old age; when my strength fails, do not forsake me.” I read a beautiful interpretation of that verse recently. The word “cast me off” is the same word as “throw” and the interpretation read that in that verse, we are asking God not to throw us into old age, but rather to allow us to age gracefully, step by step as the years go along. 

I have to admit that when I heard of the death of Jimmy Buffett at age 76 and earlier this year the death of Gordon Lightfoot at age 84 and now find myself looking up the age of many of my longtime favorite musical performers and finding many are in their late 70s and 80s, it really makes me more than a bit sad at what seems to be the somewhat sudden reality of my own aging.  

Then, I take a deep breath and realize, God willing, that “there’s just too much to see waiting in front of me” to worry about getting older and I’m ready to move forward again making every day count by staying active and vital.

But, first, in memory of Jimmy Buffett, I’m going to take a trip in my mind to that “one particular harbor” and put my feet up. I’m not going to eat a cheeseburger and I don’t like margaritas but taking a bit of time off with a drink (only one) and relaxing on a beautiful day is a pretty good idea because, after all, it’s 5 o’clock somewhere and tomorrow is soon enough to move forward again. 

May he and his songs live on in our memory.