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Rabbi Victor S. Appell

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Close-up of flame of single yellow candle

The Bronx neighborhood in which I was raised was densely populated by Jews. Among them were survivors of the Holocaust. It was not uncommon, when in the supermarket or bakery or appetizing store, to see the tattooed numbers on the outstretched arms of customers as they paid for their items. These numbers signified that they had experienced and witnessed unthinkable horrors.

As a child, this was my primary connection to the Holocaust. Both sides of my family came to the United States decades before World War II. My mother’s family arrived in the late 1800s and my father’s family...

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Hanukkah lights in the window

Growing up, my friends and I exulted in the Hanukkah practice of receiving one gift on each night. Even if our Christian friends received multiple gifts on Christmas, we were sure the number did not exceed eight. Of course, we never shared that some of our gifts were practical items, such as clothing.

Fast forward to today, and my own children now expect eight nights of gifts. Though our kids have a long list of things they want, my husband and I try to navigate the week-long celebration with a balance of gifts, donations, and experiences.

Each night, our Hanukkah...

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Each year the ancient story of Passover is told through the Haggadah, "the telling" of the story. The Haggadah includes prayers, biblical passages, stories, and songs, all designed to make the participant feel as if he or she were actually moving from slavery to freedom. Many remember the Haggadah provided by Maxwell House® Coffee. Over the years, many wonderful Haggadot have been published. Some have featured beautiful art. Others link the contemporary struggles of women, LGBTQ people, African-Americans and Palestinians to the plight of the ancient Hebrews. Some are designed to be...

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A Prayer for Peace in Paris

Source of all being, May peace come swiftly to the people of Paris. May the hostages be comforted, May the wounded be healed, May the mourners be consoled. May all the people of Paris find comfort under your sheltering wings. 

O Guardian of life and liberty, Give strength to those tending the wounded, Give safety of those protecting the innocent, Give peace to the people of Paris. 

As we prepare to welcome Shabbat we are especially mindful of the Jewish community of Paris, now in fear for their very lives. Allow them to lie down in peace tonight and spread over them your...

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Recently, I Googled images of Jewish men. I was wondering what – or more precisely, who – represented the modern Jewish man in our culture. Hundreds of photos appeared. Surprisingly, neither Woody Allen's nor Jon Stewart's photo topped the list. The photos fell into two categories. The first included men who were handsome, young, and dark-haired. They were Jewish actors or actors who had portrayed Jews. The second category comprised ultra-Orthodox men in Hasidic-style clothing, including long back coats, white shirts, and shtreimels, the large fur hats worn by many Hasidic men. Of course,...

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