Shabbat Shuvah: Recharge

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This coming Shabbat is Shabbat Shuvah, the Sabbath that comes between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  Traditionally, it has been considered (along with Shabbat Hagadol before Passover) to be one of the most “important” Shabbatot of the year; it was one of two times during the year when rabbis were required to give a sermon to get the flock in order.
Why is this Shabbat so critical?  In the coming days, we will observe Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  According to our tradition, this is the day on which our sins are forgiven and wiped away…well, at least some of our sins.  Transgressions committed against God could be erased, but those committed against our fellow human beings could not be forgiven until we had made proper atonement for our offenses.  
But can’t this process occur at any time?  Can’t we choose to make things right with God and those around us during the other 364 days of the year?  Yes we can.  Yom Kippur, however, is kind of like marking a fiscal year; it is the day that Judaism recognizes as a time to take care of all that unfinished business.  The fact that it is accompanied by fasting and prayer helps us to focus on our spirits and less on the everyday distractions that often prevent us from being our best selves.
Shabbat Shuvah is the day on which we rest and recharge from Rosh Hashanah to prepare ourselves properly for the task at hand.  We need all our energy–physical and spiritual–to make the changes so that we can be right with our fellow humans and God.  Shabbat Shuvah (with or without a sermon!) is essential for our success.
Wishing all a Shabbat Shalom, and meaningful and productive fast.

Asking “Why?”

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I’m not usually big on New Year’s Resolutions–either for the secular or Jewish New Year–but for the Jewish Year 5780 (which commences in just a few hours), I have resolved to ask “Why?”

I have found that many times in life I have jumped to conclusions about why someone feels the way they do or acts the way they do. I often think that I know what their motivations are. I make assumptions about who they are, their background, their situation, or even their hopes and dreams. Often this is based on the political party they support, the TV News channel they watch, or their views on issues in the US and in Israel. I think we all do that.

Sometimes we nail it, but other times we are not exactly right or completely wrong. How will we ever know if we don’t ask?

This year I am resolving to as “why?” a whole lot more. Instead of thinking that someone is a jerk, or an idiot, or uncaring, I will ask “why do you feel that way?” “Why did you do that?” “Why do you support this?” “Why do you oppose that?”

In the end, it may turn out that I do not like their motivation or their explanation. I might still disagree with that person on an issue. Even so, it least I will have a better understanding of where they are coming from and what makes them tick.

Even better, instead of just dismissing a person out of hand or giving them a round of applause and a bunch of “you rocks,” I will let them know that I am truly interested in them. I think we need more of this in the fractious society in which we live. We all need to stop judging books by their covers and start asking “why?”

Want to know more about why I chose this as my resolution? Perhaps you can ask me why.

Be Prepared…for Rosh Hashanah

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As the clock ticks down to Rosh Hashanah, there is a lot on my mind.  Just like any Shabbat, there are all kinds of preparations that need to be completed:  food prepared, Divrei Torah to write, clothes to get ready, etc.  
In the midst of all those preparations, we can sometimes lose sight of why we are doing all this preparation.  If we have a wonderful meal on the table, new clothes, shiny shoes and the house all tidied up, but we have not given serious thought to the hard job of Teshuva–doing atonement–we are not really ready for the holiday.
We are lucky to have this coming Shabbat to take a break in the rush to get ready for the spiritual part of the holiday.  It is a great time to consider:  what have I done well this past year?  What needs improvement?  What goals did I set last year, and did I achieve them?  How will this year be different?
None of this is rocket science, but it is easy to forget the “reason for the season.”
Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah from my family to yours!

Reasons to be Thankful…Really

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As the Jewish year draws to a close, many of us are thinking about our successes and failures, triumphs and tragedies over the last 13 months (it was a leap year). We also begin to think about the changes we want to make in the coming year.

One area upon which we should be reflecting is “what are we grateful for?” For sure, we have no problem coming up with what didn’t work right, what is annoying, and what is just a hot mess. Most of us probably spend a lot less time thinking about what is going right: the people in our lives, the many blessings we enjoy, the love that surrounds us. It reminds me of people who complain when a flight is delayed (which is an annoyance for sure), with little thought for the wonder of flight and little regard for the fact that just 100 years ago the same trip might have taken days or weeks.

A study reveals that developing a greater sense of gratitude is good for our health–mental and physical. It is described in this article: https://dailyhealthpost.com/gratitude-rewires-brain-happier/?utm_source=link&utm_medium=fb&utm_campaign=sq&utm_content=dhp&fbclid=IwAR1Jaqb8PoCWfKtVmcG8YprLSbpisoYATjfM1mR1byrtV8lVtg5C-lPcXvU.

People who developed a practice of recognizing and expressing gratitude had a more positive outlook and had less health problems according to the study. The more optimistic you are the less likely you are to have sleep disorders, inflammatory diseases and heart failure.

The neuroscience also shows that it is possible to nurture our sense of gratitude and actually rewire our brain (through new neural pathways) so that we can strengthen these healthy tendencies. Of course, this means we will emit more positive “vibes” which will rub off on others. This can create what the article calls a “virtuous cycle.”

This will not happen automatically. We need to create patterns of thankfulness. In the study, participants were asked to keep a log of positive things that happened, or things for which they were thankful each day. This along heightened the sense of gratitude. It went beyond just the rote recitation of the words “thank you,” often stated quite thoughtlessly.

Psalm 92 says “It is good to give thanks to the Lord.” This is true, but now there is scientific truth that backs it up…and we can achieve that “good” by thanking those around us too.

Thanks for reading this!

A Victory in Israel

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What a week it has been in the Jewish world.  Just a few days ago, Israel held its re-take election and although there weren’t any major shifts in the results from the last elections held earlier this year, there was enough of a change to put Kachol v’Lavan ahead of Likud by two Knesset seats (at last count).
For some people, this was a sigh of relief; they have viewed Netanyahu’s tenure as having gone on too long with too little progress made.  Others are distressed, wondering how they will be kept safe given the rough neighborhood (Iran and Saudi Arabia as a case in point).
No matter where you fall on the political spectrum in Israel or in the US, this week was a victory for Israel.  The Torah–and in particular the Book of Deuteronomy–outline what the new society in the Promised Land would like.  We never achieved the ideal.  After the destruction of both Temples and the dispersion, Jews dreamed that a messiah would return us to our homeland.  That did not happen either.
Instead, with hard work, determination, political savvy and too many wars, Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel is a reality.  It has not reached its ideal yet.  The relatively young nation is still finding its way, but Tuesday’s elections show that democracy is alive and well.  Another reason to celebrate this Shabbat!

A Sad and Sobering Day in my Jewish Life

The Jewish community in the US has not been the same since the massacre in Pittsburgh last year. The incident in San Diego, as well as the arrests of those wishing to do Jews harm in Toledo and Youngstown have only made things worse. There is a real sense of fear. At my congregation there are those who have chosen to stay away from the synagogue until more stringent security measures are put into place–which is quickly in process.

Tonight we held a “dry run” for an evacuation drill that we will hold on Shabbat during services.

What has our society come to? Who could have imagined such a scenario. As we prepared for the dry run, we discussed not only how we would evacuate the building, but also how we would help those who might have a hard time getting out quickly. It was a sobering and sad conversation knowing just how vulnerable we are, and knowing that we even have to have these kinds of conversations.

The cold truth is that it isn’t a question of if there will be another mass shooting (most likely perpetrated by a white supremacist), but rather a question of when and where. There is an epidemic of hatred and gun violence in our nation and there is very little political courage being shown by our elected officials to confront the issue; it comes at an enormous cost to families, the healthcare system, and our society.

This coming Shabbat morning we will have our drill. It will be a sad interruption in our holy day of rest–like smashing a glass at the end of a Jewish wedding. The difference being that the breaking of glass at a wedding is only a momentary pause in an otherwise joyous day. The reality of what evacuation and active-shooter drills represents appears unfortunately to be here for quite a while.

I am saddened that in this country that I have called home for my entire life it has come to this. Jews have a long history of being persecuted in nearly every place we have lived. I always believed that this country of immigrants was different…and I hope that it still can be. In the meantime, sadly, we prepare for the worst.

Oseh Shalom Bimromav, Hu Yaaseh Shalom Aleinu v’al Kol Yisrael v’al Kol Yoshvei Tevel v’imru Amen. My God who makes peace in the heavens, make peace for us, for all Israel, for all who dwell on Earth. Amen.

Impossible Whopper Review

I have had a lot of conversations with folks about the Impossible Burger. As a pescatarian (vegetarian who eats fish), I have heard that is as close to the “real thing” as anything out there. Unfortunately, it appears to only be available in certain restaurants, most of which are nowhere near where I live.

On a ride to Columbus, my wife and I were getting hungry; the timing of our drive meant that we hadn’t eaten lunch yet and it was near 3 pm. Then the light bulb went off in my head; Burger King has an Impossible Whopper and there was one at the next exit. We decided to give it a shot.

Let me say that aside from a bathroom stop on a long highway drive and the occasional meal from Subway, I have not been in a fast food establshment in a looooooong time. It was surreal just to walk into a BK in the first place. This place did not hide the Impossible Whopper, but rather prominently featured the plant-based burger on the outside and inside of the store.

So, how was it? It is kind of difficult for me to compare it with real meat since I have not eaten meat in so long that I really don’t remember the taste and texture. Compared with other beggie burgers, however, I have to admit that it was pretty good. It looks a lot like a burger (as does the Griller Prime from Morningstar Farms). What made it so special was that it was served with all the same fixings as a regular whopper; it really felt like eating fast food which is a memory from my pre-teen years.

In terms of how healthy it is, the Impossible Whopper is about 660 calories and the regular Whopper is about 675 so it’s not really a “diet” alternative to the all-beef burger. Leave off the mayo and the bun and would be a lot fewer calories. Also, the manager told us that you can request a “vegan” Whopper that will be cooked in a microwave instead of on the grill–although we were assured that when they grill the Impossible Whopper they clean off the cook top so there isn’t any meat residue; the vegan is also mayonnaise-free.

Would I eat an Impossible Whopper again? If I were on a road trip and looking for something quick to eat on the way, I would definitely consider it. As a regular meal, I don’t think so. The Impossible Whopper is itself not so high in calories, but add the fries and a drink and it’s not the healthiest combo. If you haven’t tried it, though, I recommend you give it a shot. It is good to support businesses that are making more alternatives available to vegetarians.