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Rabbi P.J. Schwartz

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Barefoot young man sitting on floor against a wall, knees up with face tucked in and arms wrapped around his knees

Being a teenager is difficult. It is a time filled with all types of changes – biological and physical, social, emotional, and intellectual. What’s more, thanks to the expectations placed on them by society, parents, peers, and, frequently, the pressure they put on themselves, today’s adolescents are extremely prone to stress.

With days (and nights) filled with academics, extracurricular activities, sports, community service projects, religious studies, and homework it’s no wonder that today’s teens are more overwhelmed and worried about failure than their peers in past generations...

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Overhead shot of adult and child on the floor playing with geometric shapes

One of my closest friends, Sam, is 5-years-old. On most weekdays at about 3 o’clock, he comes into my office, puts his Spiderman backpack and lunchbox on the floor, takes a seat, and begins our conversation.

“Rabbi PJs, let me tell you about my day.”

Sometimes, Sam brings his favorite toys for us to play with, tells me about something he learned that day, or whether he liked the story I read during our preschool Shabbat. Recently, he invited me to his birthday party, and I’ve had Shabbat dinner at his home. He’s been to my house for dinner as well.

Although I know...

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Two sets of hands/arms clasped across a lap in a gesture of support

And Hannah wept. Feelings of loneliness consumed her, and she began questioning her self-worth. “What is wrong with me?”, she asked. “Am I not good enough?”, she pondered. Struggling with infertility, Hannah fell into the deep abyss of depression. Filled with sadness, anger, and frustration, she did what no one had done before. She made an impassioned plea to God, not simply praying for a child, but praying that one day she might feel whole again.

On each Rosh HaShanah, we read the story of Hannah, and are reminded that her plea to God represents one of the first personal prayers...

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Row of books with several open books in foreground

As a rabbi, I find myself busily preparing for the High Holidays. Planning services, writing sermons, and organizing programming will fill the hours of the coming weeks to ensure that my congregants experience a meaningful and fulfilling High Holiday season.

What I had forgotten, though, is that the real preparation for the upcoming Days of Awe is the hard work I need to put into myself. In order for me to be the best model for my congregants, now and at any season, I must literally practice what I preach. I, too, am obligated to reflect and to consider, to examine the deeds of the...

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Rows of hand-knit yarmulkes with Stars of David on them

As Jews, we put our hearts, souls, and minds into the rituals and customs our tradition values. It’s important that we know the origins of these traditions, how they evolved over time, and what they look like today. Only then can we make informed choices about what meaning, if any, they have for us today.

One such custom, wearing a yarmulke (kippah), is not mandated by Jewish law, but rather is a widespread custom that, for some, is practiced in the same way as traditions that are dictated by Jewish law. The Talmud includes references to wearing a head covering and there are...

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