Monthly Archives: July 2014


Let’s take time out from the serious, frightening, gut-wrenching issues in the news and focus on something less earthshaking but something that touches me deeply.

Today’s New York Times featured a piece which was really a rant by Neil Genzinger in what is called the “Critic’s Notebook” The piece was called; “Sure you Loved Lucy, But Vintage Has Limits”.

The reporter was complaining about the proliferation of old tv situation comedies around the cable networks and, to an extent, I agree. There is one station that apparently shows Mr. Ed for several hours on weekend mornings.

Say what you want about that phenomenon but it was this line that stunned me: “But today, the broad humor (of I Love Lucy) draws only the occasional chuckle.

I am shocked.

I was so astounded by this line that I ran to my I Love Lucy Box Set and watched Lucy, dressed as Carmen Miranda, lip-synch to one of her records while it unexpectedly sped up and then slowed down. “Occasional Chuckle”? I was on the floor laughing and I’ve seen it more than 100 times.

Every single episode of I Love Lucy has at least one example- and many have many more- of precise comedic timing, daring bits of physical humor, unforgettable facial expressions and the beauty of an ensemble cast working together. It is genius.

And, while we’re at it, the author of the Times’ piece called Green Acres “empty-headed”. What? Green Acres was one of the most brilliant pieces of comic writing, full of self-deprecating humor with cute, creative touches (such as when Lisa would find the credits written on the sheets she took out of the laundry).

He claims that the Honeymooners’ seems sad because Alice and Ralph screamed at each other. The verbal abuse is a little hard to take but watch that show carefully, they love each other with a depth that comes through the yelling. And, when Jackie Gleason plays Ralph Kramden, you are watching an artist at work.

Well, enough of that for today. Just so you know how I feel. Now back to the real world. Do we have to?


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July 16, 1974, July 16, 2014

I remember exactly where I was 40 years ago this morning. I was in a summer program at Hebrew College (then called Hebrew Teachers’ College) in Brookline, Massachusetts. On that Wednesday morning, July 16, 1974, we took a test and when I finished taking the test, I went out into the hallway where some other students were gathered around a radio listening to the news reports of the lift off of Apollo 11.

As I have written on many previous occasions, I was- and remain- a big fan of the space program. I remember that week in 1969 so clearly and, as can so many others I’m sure, remember so vividly the landing on the moon and the first moonwalk. Those days are indelibly etched in my mind.

As we mark this anniversary, the inevitable question comes up again: Was it worth it? Couldn’t the billions of dollars spent on space exploration have been used for more pragmatic purposes- to feed the hungry or house the homeless?

Of course, we could have found more immediate uses for the money that went into the space program. But, human beings were meant to be explorers. We were created with a thirst for knowledge and a desire to learn more about who we are and where we came from. I know that there were political issues involved in the space program for the beginning- gaining an advantage of the Soviets- but there was also a desire to learn, to understand more about the universe in which we live, to expand our horizons. We have all benefitted in so many ways from this effort and no amount of second guessing can change that.

We all decide, as nations and as individuals, how to budget our resources. What do we choose to spend money on? How do we use our energy, our talent, our intelligence and our curiosity? And as nations, those questions become even bigger: Do we choose to build or to destroy? Do we choose to elevate our goals for the good of our people and others or do we seek power and control?

When the astronauts landed on the moon in July 1974, they placed a plaque which read in part: “We came in peace for all mankind”. Whatever the lunar landing accomplished, it did not bring peace to the world and here 40 years later, those of us whose hearts and minds are connected with what is happening in Israel and Gaza know this full well. And, Israelis and Palestinians on the ground know it better than anyone.

Through all of the questions and all of the issues that this conflict raises, one which continues to arise is: Why did the Palestinians in Gaza choose to follow a path of attempting to destroy Israel rather than to build up their own state and feed and house their people? Why did they choose to use their energy, talent and intelligence to find new ways to threaten Israel rather than to attempt to build up an economy to benefit their own citizens? These questions need to be considered for all of their implications.

You know from reading my blog and other pieces that I have written that I have expressed criticism for some of Israel’s policies over the years including some of the policies relating to Gaza. I stand by those criticisms. But, it can’t be denied and it should not be forgotten that there was potential for Gaza to be turned into a peaceful, economically stronger area with self-determination and independence. It would not have been easy for sure. But, it could have been done. A different choice was made, a choice to seek to destroy rather than to build and the ramifications of that choice are still being felt today.

The beautiful pictures of the earth rising above the surface of the moon taken by the astronauts of Apollo 8 show such an inviting, peaceful place contrasting to the barrenness of the moon and the darkness of space. That picture gave us all hope but hope only becomes reality when people, all people, commit to building rather than destroying.


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Thoughts From Off the Pulpit

As I wrote previously on this blog, I began my vacation two weeks ago. My first day out of the office was the day on which we received the tragic, horrible news of the death of the three kidnapped Israeli teenagers. Since that day, we have heard the unspeakably terrible news of the killing of a Palestinian teenager for which Israelis have been accused. Then, the rocket fire increased against Israel and Israel began its bombing of Gaza. So much has happened in the past two weeks and I have tried to keep up on this blog with thoughts about the situation as I try to have some time away from the pulpit.

So what more is there to say that hasn’t been said already? It seems that there is little new to say but I feel an obligation to write something.

I believe without question that Israel has the right and the obligation to defend itself against these horrendous rocket attacks which means not only utilizing the Iron Dome Missile Defense but also to do what could be done to stop the rockets from flying in the first place. That means legitimately trying to wipe out Hamas’ capacity to fire these rockets. I would hope that Israel would do this with as little harm to civilians as possible but I also recognize that many in Gaza, at least according to the reports that we are hearing, are choosing to stay rather than to leave in response to Israel’s warnings. This places Israel in a terribly difficult position but as I have written previously, I hope that Israel will do all that it can to minimize civilian deaths and to seek every opportunity to reach a cease fire which both sides would honor. The scenes out of Gaza are horrible and we should grieve for the children and innocent people on both sides who are scarred by this terrible situation.

Yes, without question, Israel needs to defend itself but as I wrote on my Facebook page last week: …we must never take for granted or merely accept the necessity of bloodshed, especially of innocent children and we must never fall victim to the celebration of military might. May Israel find the proper course as it fulfills its responsibility to protect its people from harm and continue to seek every opportunity possible for an end to this madness.

But, in addition to saying this, I believe that we must look at the bigger picture. I am not trying to justify the actions of Hamas, God forbid, but Israel needs to ask itself how the settlement policies, the oppression that the occupation brings and policies concerning the blockade of Gaza are among the factors that exacerbate the conflict. Obviously, this is not the moment to move forward with discussions of the two state solution but when this operation in Gaza is over and some calm is reached, the ball will be back in Israel’s court to look at its policies towards the Palestinians and ask itself how the status quo can be changed. Again, let me be clear, I say this not to justify at all the attacks coming from Gaza and those rocket attacks need to be taken into account at every moment when evaluating Israel’s actions. But, it is certainly right from an ethical standpoint and wise from a pragmatic standpoint as well for Israel to look at its own policies and do what it can to restore calm in the region and trust in the eyes of the world.

In the meantime, even if I am not “on the pulpit” at this critical moment in time, I pray for all of my brothers and sisters in Israel, for those who defend her and for those innocent people on both sides who are caught in the crossfire or who are bearing the brunt of this terribly violent time. May peace and calm come soon to all.

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The Sadness Continues

No one can deny the fact that the horrific kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teenagers is merely the most recent in dreadful, violent terrorist attacks by Palestinians against innocent Israelis. These unjustifiable acts are horrendous and despicable. But, in the same vein, to express shock and disbelief that Jews could be capable of an act as despicable as the murder of the Palestinian teenager or the beating of another young man is disingenuous. While these are extreme acts, they are not unique. As innocent Israelis have been the victims of terror, so many innocent Palestinians have suffered over the years.
These latest incidents will draw attention because of the timing and the particularly violent nature of the acts and I have no doubt that those who committed these acts will be brought to justice as they should be. But, the truth is that the conflict has produced daily acts of intimidation, humiliation and physical abuse of Palestinians by Jews just as it has produced so many horrendous acts of terror against Jews by Palestinians. While we may be sickened by what we have read in recent days, we can’t take it out of the context of the cycle of violence, oppression and violent calls for revenge. We should be saddened and deeply pained. But, we shouldn’t be surprised.

This piece, appearing in Ha’aretz yesterday, needs to be read:


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This past Sunday, I stood under the huppah with a couple beginning their life together. It was, as it always is, my favorite moment as a Rabbi.  To see two young people walk out of the synagogue with their whole life ahead of them is a marvelous sight.

Then, after the ceremony, I participated in another ritual which Rabbis enjoy, I went on vacation.

The joy of that moment under the huppah was still in my mind as I began my vacation with a quick trip out of town and, in fact, out of  email and cell phone contact for a while on Monday. So, it wasn’t until late in the afternoon that I heard what so many had heard hours before, the tragic, heartbreaking news from Israel that the bodies of the three kidnapped teenagers had been found.

And so, even as I  was surrounded by the beauty of one of my favorite places in the entire world, taking a deep breath after what has been a long and difficult year, the reality of the world hit me full force.  And as I thought about how these young men would never stand under a huppah with their beloved, I began to cry.

But, of course, this is not about me, nor in a way is it about any of us six thousand miles away. It is about three families suddenly plunged into mourning.

Those of  us with specific perspectives on the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people are ready to see this tragedy through political eyes. But our understanding of the conflict should not cloud the fact that this is a personal tragedy, experienced by three families.

I want to echo the words I have read in various places over the last few hours and have felt myself since the news of the kidnapping broke and even more so since the bodies were discovered: this is not the time for politics. Let us stop with the political analyses for a while. Let the families sit shiva. Let them start to face the heaviest burden a parent should have to face. Let us not preach nor pontificate nor use this as an opportunity to advance our political aims, whatever they may be. Let us stand in silent prayer for the souls of these young men.

And, finally, and this is not a political statement, it is a Jewish statement, let us pray for consolation for these families and all families  in the Middle East throughout the world whose children have been taken from them.

May Eyal Yiftach, Naftali Fraenkel and Gilad Shaar and all of the other children rest in peace and inspire us to work for an end to suffering for all.


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