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View of empty pews from pulpit with an open book (Bible) on it

Preaching from the pulpit is a real challenge these days. With few exceptions, rabbis have had to trim their sermonic sails, even during the High Holidays, sidestepping politics, throwing in autobiographical snippets and a joke or two, and ending gracefully, like docking a family boat.

In contrast, when I was growing up in the 1960s, sermons were among the most anticipated events in synagogue life, especially on the eve of Rosh HaShanah and Kol Nidre night. At Oheb...

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Time for change written in the sand with waves coming toward the words

Last week, a good friend of mine invited me to join them when they received their two-year coin at Alcoholics Anonymous. This is not a world that I typically inhabit, and I discovered during the meeting that world had a lot to teach me about building community, making meaning, and doing t’shuvah (repentance).

In the synagogue world, and especially in small congregations, it often feels like we are one step behind in the latest trends, one marketing campaign or social media strategy or new melody away from transforming our congregations.

It was fascinating to watch people...

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Four college students from behind talking and walking along the outside of an academic building

The Talmud (Shabbat 151b-152a) recognizes that people cry different types of tears. There are tears of sorrow and pain, of relief and catharsis. According to the Talmud, some kinds of weeping are beneficial, and some are not.

Today, as Heidi and I bring our oldest child to his first year of college, the Rabbis’ observation seems especially insightful. Of course, we are tearful. But we are well aware that there are many reasons parents may cry when their children leave for college.

Some parents may cry because they realize their family structure will now be different. Sure,...

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Profile of a woman staring off  into a sunset on the water with her hair blowing around her in the wind

“Hayom harat Olam!” “This is the day of the world’s birth,” we proclaim each time we hear the shofar’s blast. It is the central message of Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish new year: to celebrate the teachings and ideals of Genesis’ magnificent creation story.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” our Torah begins, so many ask: How could God have created the world in seven days? What about the dinosaurs and evolution? Don’t we believe in that?

Of course we believe in that! The creation story in...

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Eight individuals (adults and children) in shadow walking single file in front of a sky of sun and clouds

It is not my place to tell Usumain Baraka’s story. It is not my place to recount how the Janjaweed attacked his village in Darfur when he was a child. How they killed his father and his older brother, and how Usumain fled while his home burned, not knowing whether he’d be reunited with the rest of his family or if they even were alive.

I tell his story only so you will know that when Usumain arrived in Israel after four years of searching for a safe place to call home, he was desperately in need of a country that would open its arms to him. After learning about the Holocaust from a...

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