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Rabbi Sharon G. Forman

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Italian flag/banner with Italy written underneath

On Saturday afternoons during my childhood, my mother blared the Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcasts in stereo on every radio in our house. Although the Italian operas generally ended with a young, beautiful heroine succumbing to murder or a bout of tuberculosis, I particularly adored the colorful and tragic characters in these performances. To my young ears, the singers’ flowing Italian arias meshed with the formal Hebrew I knew from synagogue, creating a wonderful mash-up of cultures and languages.

Perhaps it was my family’s personal mash-up.

My dad’s olive skin and dark...

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Phases of the moon arcing across the sky; full moon in the middle

When I was a girl, my siblings and I used to help family friends decorate their sukkah, located just yards from the waves and dolphins of Virginia Beach. Not a strictly kosher edifice, their sukkah was unlike any other I’ve ever seen. Created in a grove of pines, it had colorful ribbons and garlands woven throughout the trees’ green needles. Some of its side walls were formed from standing trees and the bracing Virginia pine scent was the backdrop for shaking the lulav, smelling the etrog, and demonstrating our gratitude for the fall harvest.

A few weeks ago, in the temple parking...

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Person facing a choice: Order to the right; chaos to the left

Growing up in Southern Virginia, I was one of the only Jewish students in my public school. Although my brother had to fend off misguided children, who occasionally called him “Christ Killer,” I was dubbed “Hanukkah Person” for my love of the colorful candles, the chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil, and, of course, the presents, which, in our home, often were real coins – the silver dollar variety.

For good reason, no one ever called me “Purim Person.” The ear-splitting sound of whirling groggers often triggers a migraine, hamantaschen stuffed with mysterious dark jellies turn my...

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Forest in summer; sun streaming in on tall, full leaf trees

In Joan Micklin Silver’s 1988 cinematic gem, “Crossing Delancey,” the actor Peter Riegert portrays Sam, the humble mensch and pickle man who woos Amy Irving’s snobbish but sympathetic character, Izzy. So excited about the promise of a long-awaited date with her, Sam confesses, he uttered the Hebrew blessing for planting trees. This line has always melted my heart, although, in fact, there is no such blessing.

Because blessings release divine gifts into the human realm, the ancient rabbis did compose a blessing to mark the exact moment we appreciate trees in bloom for the first time...

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Two people in total shadow jumping on the beach with sunlight behind them

Before my dad ever put our Buick station wagon into gear – whether we were heading off on vacation, to take the SATs, or have wisdom teeth extracted – he would turn to face whomever was in the back seat. In a voice reminiscent of Ted Lewis, the 1920s jazz band leader (born Theodore Friedman in 1892), he would ask Lewis’ famous question: “Is everybody happy?” He wouldn’t budge until we had dutifully responded that we were.

A recent New York Times article about happiness and the immune system reminded me of my dad’s signature question, and confirmed that he was on to something. It...

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