Tag Archives: rabbi lavey derby

Exploring Questions of the Heart, Mind, & Spirit

by on January 26, 2016

When it comes to nurturing our Jewish lives, much attention and energy is focused on the communal, public business of the Jewish people. This ranges from working on behalf of Israel and fighting anti-Semitism to engaging in Jewish politics, both internal and external. While these tasks are essential for the Jewish community, at the same time it seems important, as well as prudent, not to shirk from paying attention to the spiritual and ethical sensibilities that nourish our inner Jewish lives.

Our hearts and souls have serious questions: When we are faced with the pain and anguish of life’s tragedies, how do we cope? How can we attain that elusive feeling of being “whole?” What does it really mean to “repair the world” and how do we best take up the call of our tradition to fill the earth with righteousness? What does it mean to create a sacred community? We might wonder where is God when we need God, or how can we pursue a meaningful relationship with God? What Jewish wisdom can help heal our befuddled souls?

So many questions.

The answers may lie in taking that first step toward a Jewish spiritual journey that is not easy but can be richly rewarding. Focusing on this journey means attending to three central and overlapping areas of life.

Establishing a Relationship with the Divine
I prefer to speak of the divine rather than use the word “God,” since that word is loaded with immense baggage, ranging from the image of a man with a long white beard to the image of an angry and aggressive deity such as we find in Torah stories. We may have long ago stopped believing in those gods, but might perhaps find resonance with a different form of divinity, such as the idea of God as the Oneness of all Being, or the energy of life.

Emphasizing and Activating a Concern for Social Justice
Jewish tradition encourages Tikkun Olam (repairing the world) and Gemilut Chesed (acts of loving-kindness) as pathways to achieve the well-being of others.

Finding Meaning in Life
This requires us to face the suffering that life brings and find solace when faced with life’s challenges. Diving into Jewish teachings and seeking those pearls of wisdom that make life meaningful is a path best navigated by a guide; one who is familiar with the yearning of the human heart.

Rabbi Wayne Dosick, the 2016 North Peninsula Scholar-in-Residence, is such a guide.
In his book, Dancing with God, he notes that “there has been a dramatic awakening to the knowledge that the universe is so much more than we can see, feel, hear, or experience at this moment in time…. The once comfortable world of Rabbinic Judaism is no longer enough for most of us…. Its insistence on the primacy of the law no longer speaks to our spiritually questing hearts and souls.”

Rabbi Dosick has been described as “a rational intellect with the soul of a mystic,” and Rabbi David Ellenson (former president of Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion) recently called him “a spiritual master for our time.” During the two weeks that Rabbi Dosick joins our community, he will take us on an exploration of the spiritual journey. He’ll address our need for solace and the Godly in our lives, as well as the Jewish ethical teachings that can help make our world one of goodness and righteousness, providing a rare opportunity to learn from a great teacher. Embrace this time to reflect upon and discuss the ethical and spiritual understandings that make our lives meaningful.

North Peninsula Jewish Community welcomes 2016 Scholar-in-Residence
Rabbi Wayne Dosick • January 28 – February 10, 2016
Don’t miss this mystical educator, writer, and spiritual guide!
To learn about Rabbi Dosick’s additional speaking engagements throughout the North Peninsula Jewish Community, please visit pjcc.org/scholar.



Eight Wise Hanukkah Insights

by on December 6, 2015

Hanukkah insights

The clock is ticking and it’s time again for those eight crazy nights of Hanukkah. So this would be an apt time for eight wise Hanukkah insights. Well, maybe not so wise but maybe interesting. Perhaps…

  1. I never really understood the fascination with latkes. Sure, because of the miracle of the oil we are supposed to eat foods fried in oil – who thought that was a good idea? – but why latkes? They always seemed like glorified hash browns to me. Well, as with everything Jewish, there’s a story behind this: Seems that the Babylonian king Nevuchadnezzer sent his general Holofernes to destroy Jerusalem, and Holofernes decided he wanted to have Judith, daughter of the High Priest, as his bed mate. She agreed and as a gift, brought him latkes for dinner. He got very thirsty and she gave him strong wine. He got good and drunk, fell asleep, and Judith cut his head off, saving her people. Take note this story has nothing to do with Hanukkah, but oh well, it’s a good story so pass the latkes! As for me, I’d prefer fried chicken. (By the way, the latkes Judith made were made of cheese, so I guess we could think of Cheez Doodles as a new Hanukkah food.)
  2. How come, Jewish composers and songwriters wrote those beautiful Christmas songs that are impossible to escape, yet we, their people, have to sing “I Have a Little Dreidel?” Couldn’t someone write a classy Hanukkah song? Adam Sandler doesn’t count, though his song, now in version 4, has done more for kids’ Jewish identity than Hebrew School.
  3. Most people know that gift-giving is not an old-time Hanukkah tradition. From the Middle Ages on parents gave their children “gelt” (not to be confused with “guilt”) – money – with which to gamble with the dreidel. But what can we do? Capitalism reigns and God forbid our kids be left out of the gift -receiving frenzy. Just remember, we have more to give than toys and as we give let’s remember the most needy among us.
  4. The story of Hanukkah centers of the Syrian Greeks who defiled the Temple sanctuary in Jerusalem by putting idols in it and sacrificing pigs on the altar. When Judah and his small militia drove the enemy out of Jerusalem the first thing they did was to purify the Temple sanctuary. In that time, the Temple was thought of as the home of the Divine, so it was comparable to cleaning out the House so that God could return to dwell among the People of Israel. It’s very hard to survive as a spiritual person without having a sanctuary. What are we to do in our era? Perhaps we should take a page from our deepest mystical teaching that says that God’s sanctuary is within us; It’s in our hearts. As the gospel song goes, “O Lord prepare me, to be a sanctuary, pure and holy, tried and true…” So we need to work on purifying our hearts, polishing our souls, and lighting up the world.
  5. Here a conundrum for you: When Judah came to the Temple all he could find was a little cruse of oil with which to light the menorah, just enough oil for one day. So in an act of faith he lit the menorah and the oil lasted for eight days. That means that the miracle of the oil was only for seven days (you do the math)! So why is Hanukkah eight days? (There’s a fried latke for you if you know the answer.)
  6. Here’s one thing we can learn from the Maccabees: A small group of people can accomplish great miracles. So when we are overwhelmed with doubt and despondency, we can adopt the attitude that we can make miracles.
  7. Don’t forget to include family, friends and community in your Hanukkah celebration. The more people we include the more love and light we create. And isn’t that the idea? To make as much light as we can at the time when the days are shortest and the world is darkest?
  8. Each night when you light the Hanukkah candles, why not dedicate that evening’s candle to a hope you have for yourself, your family, for Israel or for the world? It will make the candle lighting more meaningful and will help us remember that we can make a difference in our world, even if it’s a small difference.

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At-One-Ment: Returning To Ourselves

by on September 21, 2015

Yom Kippur (Hebrew for the “Day of Atonement”) is said to be the most solemn and introspective day of the Jewish calendar. It is the culmination of a ten-day period of reflection, beginning with Rosh Hashanah. During these ten days we are invited to engage in a fearless moral inventory to assess the state of our souls and to reset our moral compasses.

These ten days are traditionally the time to approach people we have hurt, if we have not done Continue reading

Let It Go! The Benefit of Forgiveness

by on September 8, 2015

shofar rosh hashanah yom kippur

Central to the understanding of the Jewish High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) is the simple yet fundamental belief that people can change. We need not be stuck in habitual conditioned behaviors. We need not repeat the same behaviors that are hurtful to ourselves or to others over and over again. We are capable of change and growth. The great mystic and sage Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev taught that it is incumbent upon each individual to believe that with the next breath we can become new beings. The possibility of personal renewal is the great mystery of being human.

The blowing of the shofar – the ram’s horn – is the climax of the High Holiday ritual. The sound of the shofar is meant to cut through our web of routine, rationalization and conditioning, to wake us up to our true nature, which is goodness, love and compassion, and to urge us to leave behind behaviors and actions that cause suffering to ourselves or to others.

Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur offer us the personal and communal spiritual task of teshuvah – repentance. Repentance is the self-aware practice of assessing our deeds and our spiritual condition. To participate in the practice of repentance requires a willingness to engage in a courageous moral inventory, to ask for and give forgiveness and to make amends where possible. Repentance is achieved when we recognize and regret our hurtful behavior; we discontinue the behavior and determine not to repeat that behavior in the future. Repentance also requires asking forgiveness from those we have hurt. While we ask others for forgiveness, it is also important that we find a way to forgive ourselves. We are, after all, merely human.

While asking for forgiveness can be hard, offering forgiveness to others can be much more difficult. Sometimes we feel so hurt by others that the possibility of our forgiveness seems impossible. We simply can’t let go of the hurt and the anger. We hold on to our hurt as if it were a prize, a badge of honor. We have no desire to be in relationship with the person who has hurt us. Or, we feel that to forgive that person would be to condone what they did to us.

What we fail to understand is that as we hold on to our hurts and wounds for dear life, all we accomplish is to prolong the hurt. It has been said that holding on to our anger at the person who hurt us, is akin to holding on to a burning coal: the only person who gets burned is us.

Forgiveness does not require us to trust the person who hurt us or to re-establish a close relationship with her, nor does it mean we condone what was done to us. It simply means that we put down our anger and let go of it. As my teacher and friend Sylvia Boorstein likes to say, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of a better yesterday.” We cannot change what happened, but we can change our attitude about what happened. We don’t need to bear the painful burden of it forever.

Receiving forgiveness from others is a relief; asking forgiveness of others is an act of grace. Either way, forgiveness is a miraculous experience. Without the possibility of forgiveness we would live with constant despair. The promise of the High Holidays is that we can live instead with profound hope.

May this New Year bring us all health, happiness and abundant hope.



Don’t Let Go Of Hope

by on July 24, 2014


As the violence in Israel and Gaza continues to escalate and claims more victims, the pain I feel is palpable.

My heart aches for the IDF soldiers killed in action, and for the Israeli civilians who suffer an endless torrent of rockets fired at their homes and their children. My heart aches as well for the innocent civilians of Gaza who are killed or wounded, caught as they are in a deepening web of warfare. My guess is that many of you feel this same way. My guess is, too, that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians share the common wish that their children grow up to thrive in the sunshine, without fear of rocket and mortar fire. At the very least, I need to believe that.

And yet, I and so many others are falling into a malaise of hopelessness. In the words of Israeli Continue reading

Mindfulness–What Is It & Why Do I Care?

by on March 24, 2014


Ok, now it’s on the cover of Time Magazine. Mindfulness meditation, that is. Mindfulness is everywhere! Newspapers and magazines carry stories on the benefits of mindfulness; medical journals report on the latest research about mindfulness; businesses have mindfulness programs to help combat stress and to increase creativity and productivity; schools have begun to introduce mindfulness meditation to students and mindfulness is even taught is preschools; there are classes in mindful parenting; even commercials refer to mindfulness.

What’s this all about? Why has mindfulness suddenly become a cultural icon?

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Foodie-ism & Meditation

by on January 15, 2014

Dear PJCC Friends and Fans,

A hearty welcome to our inaugural PJCC blog issue. We created this digital publication to serve your needs and interests. Our goal is to help you be better informed, educated, and entertained for your greatest health and wellness.

You can count on receiving blog content that includes everything from raising inquisitive, confident children, to caring for your personal wellness, to experiencing the arts and exploring contemporary Jewish themes. We will sprinkle in fun along the way as we know that lightness is a key ingredient for a happy heart and a healthy community. Continue reading