Tag: Judaism

The Spiritual Lives of Families: How do you play the Dreidel game?

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My Personal Journey from Snow Banks to Sunshine

As I sit here in my study, preparing to write, I find myself very far from the home in which I was raised. Most days, indeed most weeks, I do not think about this fact except in passing. In the three years since my little family moved from Manhattan to Los Angeles, we have tried our best to plant roots. My wife, Marita, in addition to holding our family together, is working hard as a hospital chaplain and studying at AJR (Academy of Jewish Religion); our two sons seem to be flourishing in our schools; and after a long search, we recently bought our first house. Yes, there are challenges and ‘bumps in the road’, but in general things are going well.

And yet, we are far from our families and, as you can imagine (or perhaps you know), that can be very difficult on so many levels. So I have to wonder, how did a Boston boy like myself wind up 3,000 miles away in Laker country? The answer is simple: Stephen S. Wise Temple…and Israel; however, the story is a bit more complex, and I’d like to share it with you.

When I was 13 years old, to celebrate my bar mitzvah, we toured through Israel on a Family trip with our synagogue. This trip, in addition to giving me an understanding of, and pride in, Judaism that has stayed with me through present day, began a relationship with the State of Israel that has, in some ways, defined who I am as a person. Growing up, and through my 20’s, sometimes I was more mindful of this relationship, and at other times, less so; but my connection to our historic homeland, and the other half of the world’s Jewry, was always there.

Throughout college and the years that followed, I was certainly supportive of Israel, but not particularly involved in public leadership or even participation. My personal relationship with Israel continued to grow in a manner personal, with extended visits allowing a deeper connection to The Land and her people…our people. In the late 90’s I found myself running a business in Silicon Valley. I got involved with pro-Israel activities, organization and demonstrations. Before long, I had made a decision that I needed to listen to this ‘calling’ to work hard for Judaism, and the Jewish people. And so I went to rabbinical school.

Even there, however, to my surprise, many students and even professors claimed a ‘tough love’ for Israel, although truth be told, the ‘tough’ often eclipsed the ‘love’. Five years later, when it came time to interview for jobs, I sat down with

Rabbi Herscher. There were many, many students applying for the position, and more than a dozen had preceded me that very day. After exchanging pleasantries, Rabbi Herscher picked up my resume and I saw that he had circled the word ‘AIPAC’, which I had listed under my ‘extracurricular activities’. What is interesting is that I had debated with myself whether or not to even include ‘AIPAC’ on my resume, for I feared that professing a passion for pro-Israel political activism might be held against me by certain congregations in the interview process (and to this day I have no doubt that it was). But in the end I had decided to include it because, despite the tight job market, I did not want to have to hide who I was or what I stood for. It was a good decision. Rabbi Herscher and I spoke about Israel, and he let me know the importance of Israel to this congregation. In fact, he told me a large part of the job would be to spearhead the temple’s ‘Israel pillar’ by connecting as many congregants with The Land and her people as possible. I could not believe it! It was more than my ‘dream job’ because I did not think that it could exist…and perhaps, outside of Stephen S. Wise, it does not.

Ours is a Temple, along with its Schools, that, when it comes to Israel, does not just ‘talk the talk’, but ‘walks the walk’. Whether it is from the pulpit or our Social Justice work, from the congregational trips to Israel or our Tiferet semester abroad, from our celebration of Israel’s accomplishments or our many classes and courses designed to bring us closer to Israel, one thing that we can proudly say: Israel is a vital part of who we are as a religious community. For this reason, and the fact that Stephen S. Wise is truly a beacon of good emanating out into the world, Marita and I decided to move our family to Los Angeles. We are happy and eager to engage our community in the holy work that is still to be done.

And, we have a lot more work that we can do! Currently, a group of congregants and I are engaged in a revisioning process to figure out how to better engage and connect with Israel over the next decade. This spring, we have our AIPAC at Wise afternoon and Policy Conference, and a number of inter-campus celebrations, opportunities for Social Justice in Israel, and Temple trips. Our goal is to help you connect and get involved with Israel. If you are looking for ways to do this, or if you would like to help us come up with other avenues for connection, please let us know by getting in touch with me directly. I look forward to hearing from you about your personal journey.

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