Twenty Years

As you have read on this blog, I am still fascinated more than 50 years later by the assassination of President Kennedy. In addition to the many books and magazines that I have, I also have several clippings of poignant pieces that have appeared in various places over the years. One of those clippings is of a comic strip from the “Arlo and Janis” series. In this comic, which appeared on November 22, 1988, Arlo walks through the house with a sad look on his face, wandering from room to room in silence, ending up on the back porch stairs saying the simple words: “twenty five years”.

For all of us who remember the JFK assassination, watching the years go by reminds us that we are, in fact, that many years older. We perhaps speculate a bit as to how the world might have changed had President Kennedy lived but I think that for most of us, the assassination’s impact is one of the horror of a particular day in our lives, the desire to know for sure what really happened in Dallas, and the number of years that have passed since that moment.

Tomorrow, November 4, is the 20th anniversary of the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin Z’L. While, like with our reaction to the JFK assassination, it is hard to believe that 20 years have passed and to think of how quickly the years have flown by, the “speculation” piece is perhaps much more vital to the observance of the anniversary. Twenty years ago, we seemed to be on the verge of an agreement to bring an end to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinian people. Now, twenty years later, we still see terror, we still see oppression, we still see the conflict and see little hope for the peace for which Rabin gave his life. It is hard not to imagine where we would be had Rabin lived.

As I have said from the bima twice during the past few weeks, I recognize without question that many people thought that the entire process of Oslo and the thoughts of a “two state solution” were misguided from the beginning. Many criticized Rabin for the steps that he took and it is possible that had he lived, the peace process would have collapsed or led to even more tension and danger for Israel. I accept that that would have been a possibility.

But, it is also possible that it would have worked. It is possible that had Rabin lived, Israelis and Palestinians would have found a way to live in peace with each other. It is possible that economic and cultural ties would have developed. It is possible that we would now be seeing an entirely different reality in Israel and Palestine.

There is no way to know which of these scenarios would have taken place. But, what we do know is that the horrendous, obscene act of one man inspired by teachers who preached violence in the name of Torah and in the name of God diminished the possibilities of peace.

I have heard from both Jews and Palestinians here in this country and from Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East that they feel the 2 state solution is dead. For many on both sides, this is good news as they feel that such a solution would have been dangerous as it would have required them to trust the other side  and to believe that compromise was worthwhile.

If it is true that the 2 state solution is dead, I would ask: what is the option? Is what we are seeing now: indiscriminate, unjustified and uncivilized violence against innocent Israelis and retaliation and further restrictions on an already frustrated Palestinian people devoid of hope the way of the future? If the 2 state solution is dead, what solution is there?

For now, I pray that israel will protect its citizens and respond in a measured way to violence. For now, I pray that the Palestinian leadership would refrain from preaching hatred and revenge. That might calm the situation to an extent in the weeks and months to come.

But, I see nothing happening now which makes me think that 5 years from now, we won’t be sitting and shaking our heads at the fact that 25 years have passed and Yitzchak Rabin’s dream, a dream shared by so many of us, will still not have been achieved.

I pray I am wrong.

May the memory of Yitzchak Rabin be for a blessing and may Israelis and Palestinians find a way to a real, lasting, strong peace.


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The Sounds of ’67

Today, October 1, is the 48th anniversary of one of the most memorable days of my life. On October 1, 1967, the Boston Red Sox achieved “The Impossible Dream” by beating the Minnesota Twins to capture the American League Pennant for the first time in 21 years and, more significantly, for the first time in my life. The entire season was unforgettable and back in 2002, in honor of the 35th anniversary of that incredible season, I wrote this piece for a now defunct magazine called Elysian Fields Quarterly. I’m glad to reprint it here. 

The Sounds of ’67

During the fall of 1967, when I was twelve years old, much of my life was defined by cadence, by the rising and falling rhythmic sounds that seemed to occupy so much of my life.

First, there was Latin. As a seventh-grader, a first-year student at Boston Latin School, I began to learn the basics of this language that would torment my classmates and me throughout our high school years. More often than not in that first year, Latin class meant chanting, in unison, the rudimentary structure of the language:

Amo, Amas, Amat (stifling a yawn), Amamus, Amatis, Amant

On and on, through declensions and conjugations, voices filling the halls of the old building on Avenue Louis Pasteur in that great part of Boston called the Fenway.

Then, there were bar mitzvah lessons. My teacher, Abraham Shindler, would stand by us (usually chewing on an apple), monitoring our progress as we, in our voices at various states of change, chanted the notes for the cantillation of the readings of the Prophets.

Mahpach Pashta, Zakef Katan (These meaningless Hebrew words sung repeatedly to learn the chanting.)

Over and over again, the sounds filling the school wing of our synagogue in Brookline at 3:30 on a weekday afternoon. The rising and lowering voices preparing to chant the warnings of Jeremiah or the comforting words of Isaiah, but first trying to appreciate the cadence of the system that we would hear in our sleep for months and years after the big event.

And then there was also the cadence of WRKO radio. Whatever the norm with kids today, boys in those years began listening to Top 40 radio right around the time they were twelve. The rhythms of the voice of the radio “personalities”, the jingles, and, of course, the songs themselves, filled our ears and defined our era.

Sixty-Eight RKO (loud and then softly fading to)…Boston.

In 1967, however, there was one sound, one cadence that drowned all of the others out. We had heard these sounds before, but in the past they had rung hollow, meaningless in the long run, an exercise in futility. But, that year, the chants began to mean something.

We want a hit (emphasis here). We want a hit.”

We had chanted these words since we were little kids, barely old enough to see over the head of the person sitting in front of us, let alone see around the post we invariably found ourselves sitting behind at Fenway. They were part of the sound of growing up in Boston, but not until ’67 did they fill with melody and meaning.

Even the rhythmic clapping, so much a part of Fenway Park tradition began to take on new meaning. There weren’t as many empty seats, so you couldn’t bang the one next to yours quite as easily. But the sheer excitement of the people throughout the park made up for that. It was a season that no one who lived through the fall of 1967 in Boston (or maybe all of New England) will ever forget.

The voices of Ken Coleman, Ned Martin, and Mel Parnell on WHDH were heard in every store, on every car radio, on loudspeakers at bowling alleys and in movie theater lobbies. Baseball on the radio had always been a constant feature of a New England summer, but that year we were actually listening, not daydreaming. And who could forget the thrills of win after win by the Cardiac Kids.

Looking back over that magical season thirty-five years ago, we have only our memories to go by. But one aspect of those memories is alive today and still so very clear: the sound of the radio voices that seemed to have their own special music, their own unique cadence in that most magical of seasons.

I don’t know if we appreciated it then. I don’t know if it’s only in retrospect that the voices sound this way. But when I listen to the sounds of the season as captured on records and tapes, the voices of the Red Sox broadcasters strike me as musical- a religious chant that underscored every aspect of that season.

I’m sure that fans of any other  team would say the same about the broadcasts of their heroic years. But clip after clip after clip of recording from the Impossible Dream season provides accounts so musical, so rhythmic, so full of the cadence of miracles that their sound has never left me.

Ken Coleman in New York during Bill Rohr’s near no-hitter in his first major league start in April, calling Yaz’s great catch for the first out in the bottom of the ninth:

Yastrzemski is going hard, way back, way back (each time his voice rising)…and he dives (this word said with a “diving” voice) and makes a tremendous (voice breaking completely on that word) catch,”

Ned Martin calling Jose Tartabull’s throw from right field to catch Ken Berry trying to score the tying run in the ninth inning of an August game versus the White Sox:

Tartabull coming on, has a weak arm, here’s the throw, it is…(and here two voices are heard from the pressbox yelling “safe,safe” and then, after a slight pause, Martin continues seemingly to those press box voices rather than to us) out at home! He is out! Tartabull has thrown the runner out at the plate and the ball game is over.

Then, the game that will never be forgotten. The Red Sox come back to beat the Angels in the second game of a doubleheader. Trailing 8-0, they win 9-8. Ken Coleman:

Flyball to deep left-center field and it is…(voice rising in quiet disbelief) a home run (said with this great lilt in his voice. Then, you hear a fan near the press box come out with a cheer with its own rhythm, “woo, woo-woo-woo:” and the noise continues, ebbing away until all that is left is an eerie silence and a full ten seconds before Coleman continues) Jerry Adair has hit his second home run of the year and the Sox, who trailed eight-nothing, now lead in the eight inning nine to eight (with those words said slowly to convince the skeptics).

I remember that particular game for another reason: My father, a long-suffering Red Sox fan if there ever was one, pumping his fist (or whatever people did then) and saying in his own unique cadence, “They WON it, GOD DAMMIT, they WON it: when the ninth inning ended. It was the most positive expression I had ever heard him make about the Red Sox.

Finally, there were the last two games of the season. The two must-wins versus the Twins. Game one and Coleman says:

And Scott (emphasis) hits one deep into center field. This one is back (voice rising); this one is gone! (voice breaking.

One game to go.

The sixth inning, Sox have just tied it at 2-2 on a Yaz single when Ken Harrelson hits a grounder. Coleman:

High Chopper to Versalles, no chance(these words almost sung with an upward lilt as the ball comes toward the plate too late)…and a throw to the plate: safe. Jones scores and the Red Sox lead 3-2.

Then, with the crowd chanting: “We want an out! We want an out!” in the ninth inning, Ned Martin:

Looped toward shortstop. Petrocelli’s back, he’s got it. The Red Sox win! And it’s pandemonium on the field. Listen!

There are moments when broadcasters come up with great lines on the spot. There are those who prepare months for what they would say if their team won a championship. But, among all of those calls, Martin’s was brilliant.

That last word sums it up. “Listen”. In our house, we were watching the game on TV, but since I was a Ned Martin fan, we had the radio on for the final inning.

So when Martin said listen, that’s what we did. The sound of the crowd streaming on the field, accompanied by the noise of those long, red plastic air horns and the little kids screaming into their Red Sox megaphone popcorn holders was the most beautiful music a twelve-year-old child could ever hear.

I can still conjugate a verb or two in Latin. I can still chant my bar mitzvah haftarah by heart. I can still get pretty much the whole way through “Georgy Girl” and “Up, Up and Away”. But, though so many years have gone by, the sounds I remember most clearly from the summer of ’67 are the voices of Ned Martin and Ken Coleman.

“Listen” said Ned Martin. And I can still hear.

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It is Yom Kippur in ancient Israel.

The High Priest stands alone in the inner sanctum, the Kodesh HaKodashim Holy of Holies of the Temple.

He stands alone with the spiritual fate of the people hanging in the balance.

Our rabbis painted the scene for us: the Kohen Gadol performs the atonement sacrifice and then recites aloud a verse from the Torah: ki bayom hazeh yichapayr Aleichem litahayr etchem mikol hatotaychem lifney ado–nai “for on this day, atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all of your sins before God”.

He draws out that name of God using a unique pronunciation of the name used only at this moment.

And when the people hear the name said in this way, they prostrate themselves and respond Baruch Shem K’vod Malchuto L’olam Va’ed. Blessed be God’s glorious kingdom forever and ever.

When the High Priest hears the people’s response, hearing them acknowledge faith in God only then he would conclude the verse with the divine promise, “titharu”, you will be cleansed.

What a cathartic moment this must have been. The moment that atonement takes affect and the burden of guilt is lifted from the shoulders of the people.

But it was also a cathartic moment for a reason that might not occur to you. There was always a persistent, fear that the Kohen Gadol, God forbid, would make a mistake in the ritual thereby preventing atonement. The first chapter of the Mishna for Yom Kippur contains a detailed explanation of the preparations for the day including instructions that the High Priest rehearse the ritual in front of the elders over and over again for seven days before Yom Kippur to make sure he didn’t make a mistake.

When the ritual was completed, the people realized that nothing had gone wrong. The High Priest, their spiritual father, had done his job perfectly. Repentance had been accepted and the rest of Yom Kippur turned into a day of confidence and even, in some rabbinic descriptions, a day of celebration.

In our day, our shlichei tzibbur, our hazanim, our Torah readers and Haftarah readers practice, as the kohen gadol did, before coming up on the bima to conduct part of the service. We try very hard to be perfect, but none of us are. We all will make a mistake or two. And yet, as you have heard me say before on the High Holy Days, we don’t believe that occasional liturgical mistakes undermine the power of the ritual or the relationship built up with the congregation. No one is perfect. When we get things wrong, we assume that people still love us and respect the ritual and we believe things are ok with God.

Going back to the idea that the moment I described was a cathartic moment, I have a question to ask: When, in our observance of Yom Kippur, do we have such a cathartic moment, a moment in which our fears and our concerns vanish, yielding to a sense of satisfaction for a job of repentance well done and atonement achieved?

That time does not come until the blast of the shofar marking the conclusion of the fast. We think of neilah, the concluding service, the service of the closing of the gates, as the last opportunity for teshuva, repentance in the context of Yom Kippur. Until the shofar is blown and the gates are closed we still have the serious work of confession and repentance to do and that is reflected in the saying of the selichot, penitential prayers, right up until the end of the day.

But, clearly the mood of our synagogue lightens a bit as the day goes along and certainly that is true at Neilah here when this congregation engages in uplifting, powerful, confident and yes, even joyous singing. So, I’ll rephrase my question: when is the watershed moment for us on Yom Kippur, the moment that divides what came before from what potentially lies ahead, the moment when the burden of the day begins to lift? We are approaching that moment now. It is that moment when the divine gift of memory draws out the tears and the soft smiles which, once released, leaves us feeling a burden lifted from our shoulders.

That cathartic moment is Yizkor.

This is the moment. This is the pivotal moment and the most difficult moment of Yom Kippur in so many ways. It is so hard and at times, so painful. But, it is the one that we must experience and move on from in order to truly find the uplifting mood waiting for us as the gates begin to close.

This year, I want to give you something to think about as we enter into this critical moment in our day. This year, I want to share with you a simple thought to accompany this transforming moment of Yizkor. It has nothing to do with the High Priest or the sacrifice but you may find some foreshadowing in my description of the ritual with which I began.

I want you now to think about a beloved person, from an older generation, that you remember at Yizkor today, someone who taught you: a role model whom you still cherish today for the lessons that he or she shared. For those for whom this applies, I expect many will choose a parent or a grandparent. Some will choose someone else and I fully understand that. I will leave that to you but please permit me to talk generally about parents knowing that some of you will be thinking about someone else.

I want you to think about a specific lesson that this person taught you which guides your life to this day. Take a few moments to think. The more specific you can be the better.

Now, let me share with you an excerpt from an essay written by the author Verlyn Klinkenborg. It appeared in the New York Times on March 1, 2010. The essay was called “Sometimes the Smallest Things”.

“Lately I’ve been thinking of the things my parents taught me — all those habits that were handed over to me one by one when I was a child. These are the sorts of thoughts I always have when I’m teaching writing, which is partly the act of revealing bad habits to their surprised owners. What got me thinking this time was the discovery that I’ve been tying my shoes wrong for more than half a century.

I’ve been tying a granny knot in my laces, a lopsided knot that tends to come untied even when doubled. It’s the knot my mother taught me. But thanks to a tip on the Internet, I learned that if I wrap the lace around the first bow the opposite way, I get a reef, or square knot, which lies evenly across the shoe and doesn’t come untied.

I believe that if my mother had known about the reef knot, she would have taught it to me. What mother wants her child’s laces to come undone?”

The author then goes on to point out that his father taught him to adjust the car mirrors in a way that unfortunately led to an increased blind spot. He didn’t realize this until he saw a piece on the Internet about safe driving that taught him that he had been doing it wrong for 40 years.

He concludes by saying: “I’ll discover more, I’m sure — slight, but somehow significant adjustments to the things my parents taught me, the deep habits of a lifetime. Something has changed, and I welcome it.”

When I first read that piece five years ago, I immediately thought about how my father taught me to shoot a basketball. My dad had actually been a basketball coach for a small high school in Vermont at one time- it was a really small school and I think he was the only male teacher. And, he taught me that he shot a basketball like this, with his elbows right up against his body, and that I should try it too. I took his word for it. After all, he was my dad and he was the coach. I soon realized how foolish it looked and how it really didn’t work besides. Maybe that’s why basketball is the one sport I really never liked to play.

But, when I read the essay again a few months ago, I didn’t think of basketball but of the bigger picture courtesy of one of the most powerful scenes I have ever seen on television.

In a classic episode of the iconic TV Series; All In the Family, an episode called: Two’s a Crowd, Archie Bunker and his son in law, Mike, have accidentally locked themselves in a storeroom overnight and must wait to be let out in the morning. Over a bottle of brandy these two classic antagonists talk with each other through the night in a way that they never had done before.

At one point, Archie starts to reminisce about his days in elementary school, revealing to Mike his childhood nickname: Shoebootie, for the fact that his family was so poor he had only one mismatched pair of footwear to wear to school. All that he has heard from Archie brought sympathy to Mike and that sympathy continues until Archie mentions one African American child, Winston, who Archie says used to beat him up in school. When Mike asks why, Archie says, no reason. But, then he casually mentions that he used to call Winston by a certain well known racial epithet. And Mike says: “Well that’s the reason”. And Archie says that’s no reason everyone called him that.

Archie says then: “That’s all my old man used to call them.”

Here is the rest of the dialogue and I’ll do my best to do it justice.

Mike looks at him and says: “Archie, your father was wrong.”

“No, he wasn’t”.

“Yes, he was. Your father was wrong”.

Archie then says; “Don’t say Your father was wrong! Don’t tell me my father was wrong.

Let me tell you somethin’ Father, who made ya? wrong? Your father the breadwinner of the house there. The man who goes out and busts his butt to keep a roof over your head and clothes on your back? You call your father wrong? Hey, hey.

Your father. Your father. That’s the man that comes home, bringin’ you candy? Your father’s the first guy to throw a baseball to ya? And take you for walks in the park? Hold you by the hand?

No, he says, don’t tell me that my father was wrong.”

And this dialogue goes on but here it needs a Rashi. It needs a commentary.

Archie, I’m glad you remember all those right things your father did for you. Life is so deeply enriched when we have such good memories. This would be a far better world if everyone could talk as glowingly about their parents.

But, Archie, your father was wrong for using that word. He was so, so wrong even if people didn’t know it then. He was wrong.

But that’s no surprise because all parents are wrong on occasion. And, admitting that and recognizing that and changing the way they taught us to do things from tying shoes to adjusting mirrors to shooting a basketball to talking about people does not mean we don’t love them or respect them. When we realize they were wrong and change the way we do things, it is simply called growth.

Assuming they truly loved us and embraced us and sought to be good to us, the fact that our parents were occasionally wrong must not change the way we honor their memory and hold them in our hearts and in our minds. We can love them. We can honor them but as we do, it is all right, in fact it is critical, that we also remember those inaccurate, frustrating, embarrassing, infuriating things they that taught us or made us do. They were human beings and human beings aren’t high priests on Yom Kippur. We’re all sometimes wrong.

We must embrace the fact that they were sometimes wrong just as we must accept the fact that our children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews and students will, if they haven’t already, realize the same thing about us one day and they will be right too.

There can be no progress in our world or in our lives unless we are willing to say it: “Our parents were sometimes wrong”. If people hadn’t been willing to say that, a confederate flag would still be flying over the capitol building in Columbia, South Carolina. If we hadn’t been willing to say that, marriage would still be denied to same sex couples who love each other so deeply. If you and I don’t occasionally say that, we would still be tripping over our shoelaces, missing free throws and living our parents’ lives not ours.

When we are old enough, and be careful kids and listen to those words: when we are old enough to decide to do things differently than our parents do, to see life differently, or to do a simple task in a different way than our parents taught us, we become the people that we need to be, people who find our own way in our world.

So, before we start Yizkor, we’ll take a moment for you, if you haven’t already, to think back to the person you thought of so lovingly a few minutes ago and think of something that person taught you that you always knew or more recently learned was just plain wrong- something that they told you that you do not follow today, something that through change has made you less likely to trip over your own feet or fall victim to a blind spot in your life.

Then, after you’ve done this, celebrate their memory with a full heart: cherish their memory as a person you learned from. Learning from the right most of the time and learning from the wrong occasionally.

When we say the memorial prayers, I hope that you will realize that of all the things that we have to thank those who came before us for, we should remember to thank them also for the things they taught us that we now know were wrong. Because it is only by recognizing and acknowledging and changing things which turned out to be wrong that we become the grown ups we yearn to be: the grown ups they wanted us to be.

Archie, let me tell you: my father, whose 15th yahrzeit will be observed this year, a man whom I loved deeply and whose memory I honor today and every day, was wrong about more things than basketball. I know it now even if I didn’t know it then. And all of our children and our grandchildren will inevitably someday say that about us and like we do today for our parents, I pray that after saying it, they will still love us and honor our memory all the same as they become the adults we want to them to be and that they need to be:their own people in their own world.

Take a few moments to think and then we will begin Yizkor that cathartic moment: the moment when we remember the people whom we will always love, including, for many of us, the people that taught us how to tie our shoes.

Take a few moments to think and then we will begin Yizkor that cathartic moment: the moment when we remember the people whom we will always love, including, for many of us, the people that taught us how to tie our shoes.

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I delivered this sermon at Beth Israel Congregation, Ann Arbor, Michigan on the first day of Rosh Hashana:

This morning, I want to teach you or remind you of a simple Hebrew word. The word is spelled Mem, Alef, Hey: Meah.

Meah means 100.

Today, as we gather on this first day of our 100th year as a congregation, it is a word that we should all become familiar with.

This is such an important milestone and cause for saying the Shehecheyanu. We will say it often over this year so let’s start our year of “meah” by saying it together now.

Last night, I spoke about the importance of the members of the Congregation. This morning, I want to talk about Beth Israel as an institution and to address a question that I have been thinking about for several years now.

To begin: an apocryphal story.

A minister was teaching a Sunday School class of 7 year olds. He asked the children: “What is it that is grey, has a bushy tail and runs around the park collecting nuts for the winter?”

None of the children raised their hands so the minister asked the question again: “What is it that is grey, has a bushy tail and runs around the park collecting nuts for the winter?”

Finally, one of the children timidly spoke up: “Reverend, I know the answer must be God…but, it sure sounds like a squirrel to me.”

I’ve known that story for years and used it as the beginning of a d’var Torah I gave at a Rabbinical Assembly Convention some years ago. That day, I urged my colleagues to recognize the importance of teaching our young students to answer our questions honestly and to not simply say what they think we want to hear. I also stressed that we, as rabbis, had to answer questions concerning faith and the realities of life honestly rather than rest on simple platitudes as our students and congregants of all ages might expect to hear from us.

While I certainly still endorse those messages, that Sunday school story speaks differently to me today. Today, I hear that simple story in the context of the question that I referred to earlier.

The question is simple: What are we doing here? What is the role of a synagogue in an American Jewish community in the 21st century? To put it slightly differently: what is our niche among the growing number of Jewish organizations responding to and focusing on different aspects of what it means to be a Jew?

The question is a critical one for us to consider today. In recent years, we have seen great changes in the structure of Jewish communities, both globally and locally. Impressive and critical Jewish organizations such as Federations, Jewish Community Centers, Jewish Family Services have grown, occasionally taking on roles which once were the province of the synagogue. This reality demands of us that we seriously consider our role as an institution.

And, this is a critical question for us to ask here and now. As we at Beth Israel celebrate our 100th birthday as a congregation, it is vital that we consider where we have come from, where we are now, and most importantly, where we are going.

To begin to answer this question, I want to share with you a selection from a book that I have mentioned previously from the bima. The book is entitled: The God Letters. Written by Paul Rifkin, it consists of responses the author received to questions he sent to famous people from all walks of life. The questions: “Do you believe in God? And, if so, how has God made his presence known to you?”

In order to assure that the answers were honest and uncomplicated, Rifkin identified himself as a 5th grade student doing research for a school project.

One of the answers he received came from Joseph Papp, then the theatrical director and producer of the New York Shakespeare festival. Papp wrote the following:

“When I was your age, God was to be found in the synagogue, a small storefront shul in Brooklyn. He was everywhere: in my father’s tallis, in the tefilin that appeared on my father’s arm and forehead every morning, in the cracked voice of the neighborhood cantor who was a glazier by trade, in the chanting of the small, poor devoted congregation…Today”, Papp concluded, “I still find God in shul…”

I have read that answer countless times over the years. I find it to be of the utmost importance to who I am as a rabbi and who I believe we must be as a congregation. And, as our community changes, as our world changes, the words are increasingly meaningful.

“I still find God in shul”.

The concept of God dwelling in the synagogue is childish and limiting. We know that. We have known that since the beginning. When God commanded the people to build the Mishkan, the sanctuary in the desert, God tells Moses, “v”asu lee mikdash v’schachanti bitocham” “Make me a sanctuary and I will dwell within them” not within the sanctuary, but within the people. God cannot be limited to a physical structure. The structure is a symbol of God’s presence in the lives of a community. It is misleading to think of a synagogue as the “house of God”.

But, as our Jewish community changes, as more and more institutions dot our landscape all legitimately looking for support and involvement from members of our community, thinking of the synagogue as a house of God is not misleading but it is right on target.

When thinking about the role of the synagogue in a Jewish community, I have to begin with the words of that honest 7 year old, “I know the answer must be God.”

The purpose of a synagogue in the 21st century, amidst all of the critical, successful and impressive organizations that have developed in this Jewish community and in others, is that the synagogue is the place where God’s presence in sought and felt in every celebration, in every interaction, in every educational effort, in every social action project, in every gathering.

The role of the synagogue is to foster an approach to Judaism from a spiritual perspective, one in which God is present in all of our questions and hopefully in our answers as well. The synagogue must be the place that inspires us to question what it truly means to be a human being and inspires us to be a more caring, more loving human being in a world of justice and equality. We do this best by remembering always that we are creations of God: a God who created the human being with a purpose in mind; a God who created a world where through the random magic of biology, you and I have come into being and entered this world with a n’shama, a soul and a mind: possessing the tools to leave this world better than we found it; a God who, through the mystery of revelation which I can’t even begin to understand, initiated the process of imparting wisdom through sacred texts which have inspired us for centuries as we have sought to find our true way in the world; and a God who, again through a process that I can’t adequately explain inspired ethical standards and ritual traditions which are our hallmark as a people.

The synagogue must be a place which guides Jews in reaching out to that force that created us and teaches us and sustains us in good times and bad, urging us to persevere, encouraging us to elevate life and to view our world and its temporal issues from a spiritual and ethical perspective. It is that force which demands that we commit ourselves and those who come after us to bringing the world to perfection. It is that force that reminds us always that that perfection, redemption, is attainable. This story we are writing can have a happy ending.

Now, let me be clear to offer two explanations before I continue.

As I have said many times, there are no theological litmus tests to join or participate at Beth Israel. Our synagogue would be significantly changed for the worse if those of you who consider yourselves atheists or agnostics felt you weren’t welcome and didn’t participate actively. Please don’t think that for a minute. And, don’t think for a minute that I’m closing any doors or endeavoring to convince people to believe in God. That is your choice. But, at Beth Israel, everyone is welcome because in the end, what matters is not whether we say we believe in God but whether we act like we do.

And, remember that Jews do not profess particularly dogmatic beliefs about God. Each of us is entitled to our own personal conception of the word: “God” and no one should feel forced to squeeze their beliefs into one box or another.

But, given those disclaimers, I stand by my statement. “I know the answer must be God”.

I am not at all suggesting that we limit our mission as a congregation. We must continue to reach out to our congregants in times of need through deep friendships, congregational efforts and through appropriate and critical rabbinic pastoral support. We must continue to address the global issues and social justice concerns that should concern us deeply, such as poverty, gun violence, racism and others through education and advocacy programs, volunteer opportunities and sermons and presentations from the bima. We will continue to stand with our people throughout the world and work for their safety and security. We must continue to create social opportunities for our members through our programming as well, but we must always remember that those are reflections of the ultimate purpose of our synagogue not the goals in and of themselves.

The synagogue must be the place in the community that not only talks about Jewish values but wrestles with what calling a value Jewish really means. The synagogue must be the place that urges people to look at their lives and their newspapers as well through the lens of hope and faith and mystery and awe and wonder. The synagogue must be a place where prayer matters, not just for the sake of tradition, but for the sake of elevating ourselves through a connection with our source. The synagogue must be the place where we can open a traditional Jewish text and temporarily suspend the rational, academic world in which we live, immersing ourselves in a world of mythic beliefs about our origin and our destiny as human beings.

But, as nice as all of that sounds, I know that it is not always a popular idea in our world.

Last May, when our son, Avi, graduated from Emory University, the commencement address was given by Sir Salman Rushdie. It was a brilliant commencement address. But one line caused many in attendance and certainly the graduates of the school of Theology, whom we were sitting close to, to audibly gasp. Rushdie was talking about changes the graduates could make in the world and he said about belief in God: “It’s shocking how many Americans swallow that old story. Maybe you’ll be the generation that moves past the ancient fictions.”

I was beside myself. To tell graduates that faith in God which can be the foundation for the spiritual, communal, and traditional aspects of their lives doesn’t matter was a terrible message and I say that fully acknowledging the events in Rushdie’s personal life that might have led him to that conclusion.

The synagogue must fight tooth and nail against calling belief in God outdated. While many religious people in the world, sadly some Jews included, express a belief in God that justifies unspeakably horrible violence, or profess a faith that is divisive or infantilizing, those with a more constructive, ennobling and elevating approach to faith, have the responsibility to keep belief in God alive and to do so, and please listen to me clearly: despite our frequent inability to put what we believe into words and despite the significant doubts we all have at times. And here, let me add an aside, I wish I could be among those who welcome Pope Francis to the United States this coming week. Despite our obvious theological and ideological differences on key issues, I believe that he represents the type of religious leader we need so deeply. I said that in a sermon a few months after he was named pope and he hasn’t disappointed me since. His work echoes the exhortation that Abraham Joshua Heschel expressed in the famous interview we showed and discussed a week ago before Selichot services: the idea that rather than being people who turn our personal needs into ends, religion’s goal is to turn visionary ends, goals, dreams into needs. That is what makes us human beings.

And those ends, those goals, of embracing what it truly means to be a human being and helping to bring redemption for the world are what it means to be a person of faith. And if we don’t keep a vision of faith alive, we will be denying an essential part of our lives as Jews and human beings. And, if we don’t keep a vision of faith alive, there will be no need for a synagogue in the not too distant future, let alone 100 years from now, because other institutions will offer all that a Jew needs.

Imagine for a moment a Jewish community without synagogues.

Earlier this summer, I read an essay written by Nathan Lopes Cardozo. It was called: “God is Relocating.”

Cardozo began his piece with an anthropomorphic description of God preparing to leave a synagogue. He talked about God standing in the doorway, dressed in a coat and ready to go.

When I read this far, I thought that the author was going to lament, as I have, the fact that too many synagogues push God off the agenda and worship other gods: the god of political influence, the god of “Jewish continuity” or even the god of the state of Israel. All of those are critically important elements of our lives as Jews but none of them are God.

I was ready to pat ourselves on the back as I began to read the article because while we work in all of those important areas as a congregation, I believe that we approach them from a more spiritual, values based perspective and, of course, we care about God as we are very serious about prayer and still fill this building every Shabbat morning.

But, then I read on and realized Cardozo was going in a different direction in talking about God relocating. Suddenly, I felt a bit less sure he wasn’t talking about us.

He was not addressing synagogues that were abandoning God. He was addressing synagogues that were paying lip service to a belief in God rather than looking for ways in which Judaism could matter on a spiritual level, appealing to the soul. He claimed this was more likely found in other places: secular yeshivot in Israel, college campuses where students talk through the night about serious questions, board rooms of corporations which struggle with ethical issues.

And, that is when I started to think again about where we stand in our role as a spiritual institution.

Let me be clear: I am so proud of this congregation for so many reasons. We study Torah seriously, we engage in critical social action efforts, we address significant issues from the bima- I spoke about Iran a few weeks ago and the sermon is on our website- we fill this room with song, our children are engaged in so many ways in our religious school, our high school madrichim do service projects in Ann Arbor, Detroit and far beyond, our Women’s League and Mens Club support our shul and inspire our members.

We are justifiably proud of what we do in so many areas.

But, this article about God relocating reminded me that we must go further in one key way. We must remind ourselves at every moment that we do these things with a greater foundation and a specific perspective: that of fulfilling the responsibilities that God expects from us.

So, this year keeping in mind the niche of the synagogue as an institution imbued with the spirit that nourishes the soul, we will be embarking on some new efforts to make sure that God doesn’t sneak out the back door despite our accomplishments and successes.

We will, as you have heard, be offering a new class from the Hartman Institute on the subject of the dilemmas of faith, what it can mean to us, what it gives us and how we address the dilemmas faith in God presents in today’s world. This will be an opportunity for participants to re-open the search for a meaningful faith in God in your lives. We hope that many of you will engage in this effort as we strive to understand what it means to be a person of faith in contemporary times. This is an extraordinary opportunity. Please consider joining us on Monday evenings at dinner time for this program.

We will continue to study Torah through a class in Midrash in Hebrew and our Shabbat Limmud early morning Torah study.. Our tradition holds that studying sacred texts are a form of worship, and an opportunity to tap into the deep questions that our rabbis wanted us to ask about our lives and our relationship with God. In both of these groups, we will, as we did this past Shabbat morning, begin each session with the b’racha for Torah study to emphasize the sacredness of learning.

We will again offer a course in mussar, which encourages participants to improve their lives by focusing on middot, soul traits, which can transform our lives into ones of greater and deeper meaning and help us to transform the world through our actions.

But, learning is only one way to address the question of faith. There have to be other as well. So, we will, as a response to suggestions made by members of our taskforce on spirituality this past year, be instituting a monthly opportunity for contemplative prayer called Sounds of the Soul outside of the regular structure of our services. Rabbi Blumenthal, working with congregants has developed this effort and the first of these music, chanting, and inspiration filled gathering will take place on October 13.

And finally, while we will honor our commitment to traditional prayer and not aim to fix what isn’t broken in our Shabbat services, we will continue to consider ways to invigorate them and give opportunities for people to find more spiritual depth that our tradition has always offered but that has, through the ages, sometimes become hidden behind our commitment to ritual.

While searching for a stronger connection with God, we can not and will not abandon intellectual honesty. We will never waver in our commitment to care for the welfare of our members. We will not stop engaging about and supporting Israel, or caring about Jews throughout the world or those in need in our Ann Arbor community. Those are also sacred responsibilities.

But, we must be sure that this remains God’s house where doing these things is reflected in our hearts and in our souls and in our dreams as well as in our minds and in our hands.

Several years ago, on the first Rosh Hashana after our sanctuary and social halls were renovated, I spoke about the Hebrew word: Mah. Mah means “what”. But, it also serves as a primal expression of wonder. Mah Nishtanah: How different this night is from all other nights! Heenay Mah Tov: How wonderful it is to sit as brothers and sisters together! And, Mah Tovu Ohalecha Ya’akov. How beautiful are your tents of Jacob!

We should all be full of wonder at what has been built over the last 100 years. We should all look and say: “Mah” with wonder and awe and appreciation at what goes on in this building and throughout our community under our auspices.

But, let me share with you a thought as we embark on our 100th year. The word Meah is spelled just like Mah but with an aleph in the middle. The alef is the silent letter, the letter of beginnings, the letter of mystery, the letter of the still small voice. It is, the first letter in anochee, “I” as in I am the Lord your God.

I believe that Beth Israel will flourish over the next 100 years if we remember that our existence as a congregation depends upon our keeping that aleph, right in the center of everything we do. And if we ever stop searching for the real meaning of that aleph, if we stop taking leaps of faith, if we stop nourishing our souls, we may find in fact that this aleph has left us and if that happens: Mah?, what will we be left with?

I pray that the next century will be even more beautiful for our shul than the years that have passed. They will be if we remember why we are here and if we continue to focus on our faith and our souls as we do what no other Jewish institution can do, base ourselves on the truth that little girl expressed so simply:

“I know the answer must be God”.

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A Prayer for the New Year

Most years, I write an original prayer to share with the congregation on the first night of Rosh Hashana.

I try to base the words of the prayer on something that has occurred during the past year or something that we look forward to in the year ahead. Occasionally, my prayer is in tribute to a person who died during the previous year and that was the case this year.

There were many influential people who died during 5775. Names such as Oliver Sachs, Sarah Brady, Leonard Nimoy and Theodore Bikel immediately come to mind.

But my prayer this year is a tribute to a man who died this past spring whose name is perhaps not quite as well known as the others I mentioned, but one whose work has touched me and I imagine many others, deeply over the years. His name is Ben E. King and he is best known for co-writing and performing a beautifully touching song with the simplest of melodies which has become a personal favorite of so many.

The song is entitled Stand By Me.

Stand By Me is so well loved that it has been “covered” by more than 400 musicians including John Lennon, Tracy Chapman (who performed it on the David Letterman show just a few weeks before Mr. King’s death), Ike and Tina Turner, and last but not least, Timon and Pumbaa from the Lion King.

Inspired by a Christian spiritual and by the words of Psalm 46, the song speaks of the power of loyalty and confidence inspired by loved ones and by God. As such, it seems perfect as a setting for my original prayer.

As we enter into 5776, I hope you will find the prayer meaningful and inspirational and I would not be surprised if you break into song upon reading it:


When the night has come

And the land is dark

                           And the moon is the only light we’ll see.

                           No I won’t be afraid, I won’t be afraid

                           Just as long as you stand by me.

As we gather together at the beginning of this New Year, O God, help us to stand through the days and months ahead.

         Help us to stand by our family and friends, to share their joy and comfort them through sadness.

         Help us to stand by and for our people and our faith. Let us express the pride we feel in our tradition, our history and our commitment for our future. May we always remain connected and committed to our people throughout the world.

         Help us to stand by the values You and our great teachers have instilled in us: values which compel us to search endlessly for peace and justice and to hear the cries and concerns of all people everywhere: the hungry, the oppressed, the refugee, the unfairly and unjustly imprisoned and to those who live in danger and isolation. May we hear their cries and reach out a hand to help them.

         Help us to stand by our hopes and our dreams. Help us not to give up the wild, revolutionary and authentically Jewish idea that the world can be a place of perfection if we join hands with all throughout the world to make it so.

         And, O God, stand by us as we navigate this frustrating, difficult, maddening and so, so beautiful and sacred world. When the night has come and the land is dark, help us, O God, to find the moon and stars to guide us one step at a time to fulfill our responsibilities and embrace our world with confidence and hope.

         May we stand by those we love and may they and You, O God, always stand by us as this New Year unfolds.

Shana Tova

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Rosh Hashana 5776: Music and Memories

I had two experiences this week which involved music and memory. They were two vastly different experiences but each made me think about the High Holy Days and the experiences that the Holy Day services bring.

The first experience took place one afternoon this past week when I turned on my car satellite radio to the 60’s station. I tuned into the station in the middle of a song and the melody of the song that was playing was immediately recognizable to me. It was the melody to one of my favorite songs from the late 60s but the words weren’t right. I had heard the song so many times but these words were unfamiliar. I was absolutely mesmerized as I listened to the end of the song.

When I got to my office, I did a quick search and found out, in fact, that there was an “extended” version to the song which wasn’t played very often. I found the extended version on youtube and played it over and over again for the next few days and found that the new words added so much to my enjoyment of the song. Now, I can’t think of the song without thinking of the “extended version” which keeps playing in my head.

The second experience came courtesy of my colleague and friend since childhood, Rabbi Josh Hammerman, whose father, Cantor Michal Hammerman Z”L was the hazzan at the shul I grew up in: Congregation Kehillath Israel in Brookline, MA. Rabbi Hammerman posted a recording of his father chanting the Rosh Hashana service.

Listening to Cantor Hammerman brought back so many fond memories of my childhood at KI. He was such a wonderful hazzan  and such a mentsch and listening to his beautiful voice just was such a treat.

But, what really made it so significant to me was that I heard a melody to one of the prayers that I had been trying to think of for years. We sing a different melody to this prayer at Beth Israel and over the years, I had forgotten the melody that I had grown up with. Hearing it sung by Cantor Hammerman was like recapturing a piece of my past. Now, I have that melody stuck in my mind too and it is vying for space in my head with the Top 40 song whose additional verse I heard for the first time.

As we enter into the High Holy Days, I hope that everyone who attends services will have experiences like these.

May we all hear words which open up a vast treasure of memory, from our childhood or later in life which brings warmth and a sense of “home”.

And, may we read or hear words that we never noticed before, words which will continue to echo in our minds as a new found treasure. May we find those words so unexpectedly meaningful that they remain in our mind and continue to inspire us through these holy days and beyond.

May these holy days bring great meaning to all who celebrate them and may the New Year be a year of peace, inspiration and song for all.

Shana Tova.


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Galaxy Quest Revisited

A friend posted a story on my Facebook page this morning. The story concerned the plans to produce a TV series based on the movie Galaxy Quest. That made me very happy. I loved that movie and chose to use it as the basis for a sermon before Yizkor, the Memorial Service on Yom Kippur.

Here is the sermon which I delivered on Yom Kippur 2007:



There is no question that for many of us prayer is a meaningful and life affirming, life enhancing and occasionally life sustaining activity.

Spontaneous prayer can bring about a sense of calm, a sense of peace and can give us the personal encouragement to be the best we can be. Whether or not we believe that prayer can actually in and of itself affect the reality of a situation that we face, we feel our prayers have a great impact on our lives.

But all of those benefits can elude us, especially when the subject turns to ritualized, standardized daily prayer.

While gathering in shul on Shabbat morning has benefits and meaning beyond the words we say, there is a problem with ritualized prayer and each and every one of us who ever comes to shul experiences it. For some, it is only an occasional concern. For others it is an overwhelming and sometimes seemingly insurmountable obstacle. No matter who we are, there are times during prayer when we feel we are going through the motions, when the words of the prayers seem hollow and meaningless, and when we feel like an actor playing out a scene which does not reflect what we really believe and which seems to be, frankly, a waste of time.

It is a familiar experience for all. No less a figure than Mother Teresa wrote in a recently published letter: “The silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear, the tongue moves” — and she was referring here to prayer -– “but does not speak.” So we are in good company. And it happens to Conservative Jews more often than to others.

Our theology and our philosophy tend to bring into question and doubt, more than for Orthodox Jews, the traditional words of our faith; and yet we are clearly more tied to tradition than Reform Jews. The result is that, in general, we say more words that we have trouble believing in literally. We do not have quite the same level of spontaneity and innovation as Renewal Jews, and we are more reluctant than Reconstructionist Jews to overhaul the traditional liturgy, holding fast to the idea of the traditional hiyyuv, obligation to prayer.

Conservative Judaism occupies such a critical and necessary role in the Jewish community: holding on to tradition and embracing modernity. When it works it is priceless. But when it doesn’t, and it occasionally doesn’t, our ritual does become less meaningful. A little too often, perhaps, we feel like we’re going through the motions.

That’s the problem. And it is real. So, what is the solution?

There are many ways to address this issue, and I mentioned some last evening in a different context: we need to understand the concept of obligation more deeply, we need to find ways to connect ritual to our lives; we need to expand our spiritual horizons as we expand our communities; we need to learn more Hebrew; we need to learn to bring God into our lives and into our vocabulary so that these words take on more meaning, and we do need to do more to bring innovation into our prayer without violating traditional norms.

Those are all long-range solutions.

But, while we seek to change our attitudes toward prayer by considering all of those different points, I want to look at the problem in a different way this morning. I’d like us to consider that maybe it isn’t such a problem after all. Maybe it is just a reality to be reckoned with and understood. That occasional boredom, the lack of passion, is inevitable and shouldn’t sour us on prayer at all. Maybe it can, in fact, help us to appreciate one of the many and often overlooked purposes of standardized prayer.

In that spirit, I want to share with you a beautiful midrash on prayer and Jewish ritual in general, courtesy of Hollywood.

I love movies with creative story lines and a few months ago, some time in the middle of the night, amid the infomercials and reruns of programs which weren’t that good in the first place, I caught a movie that I hadn’t seen in a few years.

The movie is called “Galaxy Quest” and is about the cast of a cancelled fictional TV show of the same name, a show about a group of space travelers and “good guy” warriors, “Star Trek” if you will. The show had been cancelled but still had a loyal, passionate following. The cast members now spend their time traveling to fan conventions and other gatherings dressed as the characters, uttering their great lines and reliving plot lines from old episodes.

Most of the cast is clearly doing it just for the money; but the main character, played by Tim Allen, obviously takes this very seriously and loves the adulation since he really has nothing else of importance in his life. He plays his part with passion. However, his attitude changes when he overhears people mocking him and suddenly realizes what a phony he is and what a waste all of this is.

He goes home distraught. The next morning, he awakens with a terrible hangover only to be greeted in his home by four people who turn out to be aliens. They have seen what they call the “historical documents,” the episodes of the show which have been beamed into space. They are convinced that the cast members are real space warriors and, based on what they saw in these documents, they believe “Galaxy Quest” crew members are the only ones that can save their planet from destruction by their enemy.

In an obvious stretch of the imagination, the crew accepts the challenge and goes into space. They go for fun, but they quickly realize that real life is different from TV acting. They realize that they are completely out of their league dealing with real space warfare, and confess their inability to accomplish in real life what they did on the stage. But the aliens have no concept of acting, and encourage the crew to keep at it and to take to heart the show’s catch phrase: “Never give up. Never Surrender.” Without any other choice, the crew carries on clumsily; and with one small and unexpected success, those words which sounded so hollow take on new meaning. Suddenly, they gain confidence and begin to see their situation as an extension of the show’s plots. They make all the right decisions, creatively solve new problems and, of course, save the day.

What a great story.

And it is our story.

Yes, occasionally, we are just acting. Occasionally, we are playing a part. The ritual and the prayers do not always mean what the philosophers tell us they mean, they don’t always mean what we tell our children and our students they mean. Occasionally when we come to shul, we are playing the part of a Jew seriously invested in ritual and prayer when we might not be there in real life at that moment.

If that is true, for what possible reason would we continue to play these scenes?

One reason we do — and it is a very critical reason to recognize — is that we continue to play the part because the moment is going to come when it will not be just a play. The time is going to come when what sometimes strikes us as devoid of meaning will suddenly become real, when we will desperately need to connect with the tradition in a meaningful way to be reassured by the presence of God and our connection with the divine. And when that moment comes, if we have rehearsed the part well, we will find the words are there for us, tripping more easily off of the tongue. We will find ourselves comfortable in the synagogue and in the arena of Jewish tradition; and we will be able to access, to our great and lasting benefit, the wisdom and the purpose of our tradition, even that wisdom and purpose which eluded us on those long days of play acting. The long hours of acting suddenly are worth it when the lines help us respond to real needs.

Sometimes those moments are unexpected. They awaken us out of our rote reading of the siddur when a word or a phrase resonates in ways we couldn’t have anticipated even a moment before. And it is those moments that every person who prays anticipates … and believe me, they happen often.

But sometimes, they don’t come “out of nowhere”. Sometimes we fully expect those moments of meaning. With nowhere else to turn, we turn to the words of the tradition and hope beyond hope they will help us confront the experiences in life that are difficult. And they are more likely to help us do that when we have, through long periods of rehearsals (some of them less inspiring than others), learned the words to say.

There are times when these words sustain us as human beings, save us from our enemies, enable us to at least envision a happy ending at times of difficulty. Just the other day, I was speaking with a colleague whose religious faith does not have standardized prayers which respond to specific situations, and he was recalling how difficult it was after the attacks of September 11, 2001 to figure out exactly what to say with his congregation. He envied, he told me, any faith — and Judaism is certainly one — which has structures in place, structures which people are familiar with to respond to situations. And he realized how important it is to have practiced those responses and to be ready to use them.

We all have moments when we need them. And, of course, the most obvious moment is when we confront the death of a loved one.

When life demands of us that we rise above the situation we confront and attempt to make sense of it or at least accept it, these words and these rituals are most needed. It is for those moments that we rehearse day after day and week after week.

The words don’t always do the job completely. We know that. We depend also on community, on family and friends to help us through. But the words help point the way.

How different is it to say the words of the Kaddish at the graveside when you know them well enough so that you don’t stumble over them, but you know them well and you understand the meaning they can have.

How different it is to walk into this room for a funeral, knowing you have been here so many times before. It might make it just a small bit less difficult to face the horrors of the death of a loved one when you are on familiar ground.

And, as one who has said the Shema with or for a person who lay dying, I can see clearly how much peace it can bring at this time of transition both for the individual and for the family, how it can reach through layers of confusion or unconsciousness or sadness and reach deep into a person’s soul … but not if the words are foreign.

So much of the practice we do is for moments like those when we confront our greatest enemy: the enemy of death. The words are our weapons against despair and loneliness. They are our support, and being trained in their use will make them more effective.

But that is only half the story.

The practice is not just for moments when we confront death. It is for moments when we wish to address the happy times of life as well.

So many of our prayers are about the glory of creation; we say them quickly and move on. But what happens when we say Baruch Sheamar, the hymn to God as creator, while standing on a mountaintop watching the sunrise? Suddenly it isn’t just a script, it is a real thought coming from the heart.

Think about the psalms we say that talk about God’s protection. If we have felt that we have been saved from a difficult situation, how different those words suddenly sound.

The day we become engaged to be married, the day our children are born, the day we celebrate a significant birthday or anniversary … each of these are moments when the rehearsed words suddenly mean something, and that meaning justifies every moment we spent thinking we were only play acting.

Every time we say Yizkor, I begin with the reading that we will say in a few moments: We remember them.

The reading by Rabbi Jack Riemer and Rabbi Sylvan Kamens should be familiar to you:

At the rising of the sun and at its going down

We remember them.

At the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter

We remember them.

At the opening of the buds and in the rebirth of spring

We remember them.

At the blueness of the skies and in the warmth of summer

We remember them.

At the rustling of the leaves and in the beauty of autumn

We remember them.

At the beginning of the year and when it ends

We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live;

for they are now a part of us

as we remember them.

When we are weary and in need of strength

We remember them.

When we are lost and sick at heart

We remember them.

When we have joy we crave to share

We remember them.

When we have decisions that are difficult to make

We remember them.

When we have achievements that are based on theirs

We remember them.

As long as we live, they too will live;

for they are now a part of us

as we remember them.”

As you look at this reading, ask yourself: who or what is the “them?” Of course, it is the people we remember. That’s the p’shat, the intended meaning.

But let me offer you a different meaning. This time read the prayer as if the “them” were not the people we remember, but the words of our tradition, the traditional words of prayer.

At the rising of the sun and at its going down, at times of new life and at times of death, we remember the words and find them meaningful. When we are lost and are sick of heart, and when we have joys we yearn to share, at sad times and at happy times, we remember the words and feel the support and the wisdom our tradition has to offer. With the warmth of summer and chill of winter, at beginnings and at endings, we remember the words and they help us accept and find comfort in the cycles of time.

In a moment we will begin Yizkor, and at the end we will say Kaddish. I know you rehearse for this moment. I see you moving your lips to the words of the Kaddish even when you do not have yahrzeit, even when you are not mourning. God willing, your time to use these words as a mourner will not come this year or anytime soon. But when you need to say them, you will say them more easily and they will be more meaningful.

But remember, it is not only at times of sadness, it is at times of happiness as well that we need to find these words more accessible and more meaningful, and we have to look for opportunities to use them.

And we, as a shul, must provide you more opportunities to say them.

And, that brings me to my final comments before Yizkor. They may be a bit out of place and, truthfully, I had thought of sharing them after Yizkor. But now is the time.

I have, together with the Religious Committee, developed a means to help us all find more meaning in daily prayer and, by doing so, solve a very specific pragmatic problem as well: never again should we have a problem getting a minyan in the evening.

Here is the solution: beginning tomorrow evening, we will conclude the minyan not with the mourner’s Kaddish but with the shehecheyanu. We invite each and every one of you to accept the obligation — as you do to say Kaddish when mourning or at yahrzeit — to come to the daily minyan either on the day of, the day before or the day after your birthday, the birthday of your child or grandchild, your anniversary, the day you recovered from a serious illness, whatever it might be. We ask you to come to minyan on the happy occasion just like you come at a time of sadness because those moments, too, are the ones you rehearse for. Those moments, too, are the moments when the words make more sense. Those moments, as much as the moments of sadness, are the moments prayer was made for.

And what we all will find is what we find again and again and again: when we daven in community and there are those for whom the words are personally more meaningful, that sense of meaning is contagious. It helps us all believe that we, too, can find the meaning in the words we say.

When you say Kaddish, we too think about our loved ones. And when you say shehecheyanu, we too will think about how much we all have to be grateful for. And suddenly, the words will become more meaningful for us as well.

Yes, there are many other things we could do with the time every day or on Shabbat evening or morning. And I think that it is perfectly reasonable to say that sometimes staying home and reading, engaging in some Shabbat-appropriate act of loving kindness, or just taking a walk and enjoying the beauty of this world may be a reasonable choice to make instead of coming here. But that doesn’t negate the power of what we do here each and every evening and each and every week. We come here because at every moment these words have meaning, whether actual or potential, present or future; and that is why we need to keep saying them. They need to be said constantly, for in that way we can be sure that they will always be there to bring us meaning when our lives will be changed, our challenges met, the moment elevated when we remember them.

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This morning, I wish to share my thoughts about an important issue that I have not yet addressed from the bima. I have written about it and talked about it with many of you. However, this is the first and I hope the only time I will address it from the bima.

The issue is the proposed “deal” with Iran.

Right from the start, I want to make it clear that I will not tell you whether you should support or oppose this deal. I leave it up to you to decide. You are all well aware of the issues and I am no better informed on any of the details than you.

But I do have some important things to say and I want to say them today rather than on the High Holy Days. I don’t want to talk about Iran on the holidays as I think that one of the ramifications of spending so much time, energy and resources on this one critical issue is that other areas so important to our people and our faith are being ignored. There are many, many Jews who don’t want to hear about this from their rabbis on Shabbat, let alone on the holiest days of the year. Instead, they are looking to their rabbis to inspire them from a spiritual perspective. We need to be sure synagogues are engaging people who look to Judaism for spiritual and traditional guidance in their lives not focusing only on political issues, as important as they may be.

But, I have felt for a while that there is a piece to this issue that I, as an American rabbi, must address from the bima and will do so this morning.

Before I get to that point, there are four other statements that I wish to make as background.

First, I believe that it is a Jewish value to do everything we possibly can to live peacefully in this world and to avoid military confrontation if at all possible. Attempts at diplomacy and negotiations must always come first. But, diplomacy and negotiations do not always yield successful results and we need to analyze any proposed negotiated settlement to evaluate its wisdom. We must not feel obligated to accept any negotiated settlement as a positive step if it doesn’t achieve what it is intended to achieve.

Secondly, we must accept the fact that Iran is a dangerous nation, a sponsor of terror worldwide. I do believe that there are significant numbers of Iranian citizens who truly want their country to be a responsible member of the world community and look for opportunities to end its isolation. But, Iran’s leaders and many of its citizens continue to spew threats against Israel, against the US and others. Because of this, the threat Iran poses, God forbid, as a nuclear power is immense and horrifying.

But, I absolutely believe that our nation’s leaders understand this. I believe that those who negotiated this plan on behalf of the United States sincerely believe that this negotiated agreement is the best way possible at this time to insure that Iran does not develop usable nuclear weapons. You may agree with them. You may disagree with them. However, I absolutely reject the statement that this “deal” reflects an administration that is full of anti-Semites who take Israel’s security concerns lightly or are apathetic to Israel’s needs. Every time those accusations are raised about our administration or about supporters of this agreement, it just makes the situation that much more tense and adds fuel to an already smoldering fire. It is lashon hara.

Finally, it goes without saying but needs to be kept in mind for what I will say in a few moments; a loyal American does not have to support this treaty just because President Obama supports it. How one feels about this “deal” can not be a litmus test of national or even political party loyalty. This, as all issues, should be looked at objectively by all of us.

With all that being said, let me share the one point that has been on my mind continually for the past six months and, as a leader in an American Jewish community, I feel it must be stressed.

I believe that despite any legitimacy his words and his thoughts contain and they are due serious consideration, the decision by Prime Minister Netanyahu to directly address American Jewish leaders and American Jews in general in urging us repeatedly and publicly to oppose this deal is a dangerous strategy with potentially significant negative implications for all of us.

Because of this tactic, it now appears to many that American Jews are expected to take marching orders from a foreign leader and that is a very troubling development in our attempt to balance our love and commitment to this country with our concern for and strong connection with Israel.

Because of this strategy, many in the Jewish community now approach this whole issue primarily as a matter of choosing between supporting Prime Minister Netanyahu and our identification with Israel on the one hand or President Obama and our identification as Americans on the other.

That is not what this debate should be about. It should simply and clearly be about the question of what is the best way to prevent Iran from having usable nuclear weapons given current realities and possibilities.

Opposition to this deal is legitimate. But, the opposition should have been expressed from the beginning through our American political system by our elected officials, not principally by Prime Minister Netanyahu. This has been an issue since his speech in the capitol building in this spring. The Prime Minister should never have addressed the issue in that setting in the way he did. It was too visible an intrusion into our political process and it put American Jews, supporters or opponents of the plan, in a potentially precarious situation.

And, to bring up a more general point, in this situation and in others recently, Prime Minister Netanyahu has said in so many words that he speaks on behalf of Jews worldwide. Regardless of how one feels about exactly what he or any prime minister says at any given time, this is not true.

The Prime Minister of Israel, whomever he or she is, can not speak for all Jews. Each Jewish community must trust its own leaders to guide them on how to address political issues that arise in their particular community. We certainly should be listening to what people are saying in Israel but no one speaks for Jews throughout the world and the claim that that is the case is misguided.

Sadly, I think this tactic shows a clear lack of understanding or respect on the part of Israel’s leadership to the reality of Jewish life outside Israel and how diaspora Jewish communities conduct themselves in their home countries. American Jews have for decades carefully balanced our deep concern for Israel with our proud identification as American citizens and I am afraid that we have lost our balance in recent months due to this debate.

I am heartsick over the tone of this debate. I absolutely believe it is a critical issue and Israel’s security should certainly be a factor for all of us as we consider this question. But, the way in which the debate has been held is wrong.

The date of the vote can’t come soon enough. Then, whatever happens, in addition to being vigilant about Iran’s nuclear capability, we can set about trying to restore the precious, nuanced, and carefully balanced relationship that the American Jewish community has built over the decades, as we remain loyal to our country while we care deeply for Israel.

Meanwhile, I urge you all to educate yourself, make a decision if you haven’t already, contact your elected officials and pray for peace for all.

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A Journey for Family

Today, in the small city of Preili, Latvia, a ceremony will be held to dedicate the newly restored Jewish cemetery. The cemetery had fallen into disrepair over the decades and through the efforts of many of the descendants of the Jews of Preili and with the support and cooperation of the local authorities and citizens, the cemetery has been restored.

Here is the sermon I gave on the Rosh Hashana following my trip to visit Preili in 2011:


Let me begin this morning with a verse from a song called Sunday Morning Sunshine, written by Harry Chapin. In many ways, it describes some of what I feel, looking back on my 25 years here in Ann Arbor:

I came into town with a knapsack on my shoulder

And a pocket full of stories that I just had to tell.

You know I’d knocked around a bit and I’d had my share of small town glories.

It was time to hit the city and that crazy carousel…

These streets were never highways. I had not known the sky above.

These days were never my days for I had not known your love.

It’s funny how a city can put on a different face. When it holds the one you care for.

It becomes a different place

You brought your Sunday Morning Sunshine here into my Monday morning world.”

I have grown to know and to love this community. It holds the ones I care for, all of you whom I have gotten to know over 25 years. And, of course, the one whose love sustains me every day.

I did come into town with a pocketful of stories. Some were the classic rabbinic stories rabbis pick up along the way, but some were personal stories I chose to tell during classes or occasionally from the bima. Now, many years later, I have many more stories to share and today, I want to tell you the story of one of the most significant experiences of my life.

It is a story about darkness and a story about sunshine.

One Shabbat morning in January, I was at home, having taken that Shabbat off for vacation, when the doorbell rang. The mail carrier was at the door with a registered letter.

I had been expecting the letter. It was from the governmental archives of the nation of Latvia. A few months before, I had submitted a request for information about my paternal grandfather’s family. My grandfather came to America from Latvia in 1907 and died when my father was a young man.

Our family had been fascinated with the history of the Dobrusins for decades and the search for information had been a true adventure. Despite significant effort, we were unable to find any meaningful information about the family until an extraordinary experience brought progress to our search for our roots.

A friend from college whom I hadn’t been in contact with for 30 years suddenly emailed me one day telling me that she had just learned that her husband’s maternal grandmother’s maiden name was Dobrusin. She wondered if we might be related. It turned out her husband’s grandmother was my grandfather’s sister. We were second cousins. A rift in the family had occurred in the 1940s and there was very little contact between the first cousins for decades. Now, through this coincidence, a generation of second cousins a generation removed from the rift found each other and combined our knowledge about the family’s past.

Then, in another extraordinary coincidence, I found out that a good friend’s father had come from the same city of D’vinsk that my family had come from, and he knew exactly to whom I had to write to get the information I wanted.

And here the letter was in my hand.

I sat for a few moments staring at it and then opened and began to read.

The letter contained the details of the family from the Russian census of 1897. It listed my great grandparents Itzik and Hilda, whose father’s name was Hayim, and apparently the one for whom my father was named. It listed four sons and daughters; Julius, my grandfather; and his two siblings, Annie and Louis, who also came to America. It noted their sister Rebecca who died at a young age in Latvia. The census records listed their occupations, education level, and even their street addresses in D’vinsk (now known as Daugavpils). Immediately I decided I had to go to Latvia and stand on those streets and see where I came from.

But something was missing. We knew there was another brother. We knew his name was Shael. Where was he?

I turned the page and found that, in fact, Shael and his family had moved to a different town. He had moved with his wife and children, one of whom, my father’s first cousin, shared his name Hayim, to a town called Preili, 30 kilometers to the north. There, Shael lived with his wife Luba who was to die young, three children, their spouses, and three grandchildren.

So what happened to them? According to documents taken from the Soviet Archives of the 1940s, Shael, his children, and his grandchildren were all killed during the first days of the Nazi occupation of Latvia in a massacre of the Jews of Preili on August 9, 1941. All of them were murdered simply because they were Jews.

You might know of a TV program which deals with genealogical searches of celebrities called; “Who Do You Think You Are?” At that moment, I realized my answer to that question “Who Do You Think You Are?” had forever changed. I could no longer say as I had said for years: “No one in my close family died in the Holocaust.” In that one moment, the Shoah became more than the Jewish story. It was now my family’s story and virulent anti-Semitism was not just a concept but a family reality.

Now, I had to go Latvia, go to Preili to stand in that place, and immediately after Shabbat, I began to make plans to go during the summer.

In the next months as I did more research, I learned quite a bit. First, I discovered that my great uncle’s and cousins’ deaths had been recorded at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, and testimony was accessible on the Internet. Why hadn’t we looked? No one in our family had thought to look at the records of Yad Vashem in searching for information about Shael. Were we escaping what we knew in our hearts to be true?

Those Yad Vashem records also contained the name of the man who had submitted the testimony concerning my family. He was a resident of Preili who was in the Russian army at the time of the massacre. He lived in Haifa, Israel and I found his phone number and called him. After a moment of hesitation, he spoke to me briefly and he acknowledged that he knew my family. He said: “Shael Dobrushin was the gabbai (the assistant to the rabbi) in the old shul in Preili.”

When I heard him call my uncle by his name, I cried.

I also learned that there was a Holocaust memorial in the town of Preili, alongside the abandoned Jewish cemetery, the site of the massacre where my family members were slaughtered. The names of the victims were buried in a capsule under the monument and my family’s names were there.

At that moment, the focus of my planned trip became Preili and one June day, after a four-hour train ride from Riga, and a 45-minute bumpy drive across the back roads of southeastern Latvia, I arrived in Preili.

As I walked from the car to the monument, a line from a movie suddenly came to my mind. It was an odd movie to think of at that time. It wasn’t Schindler’s List or any other Shoah movie. Rather, it was a line from the children’s movie “Lilo and Stitch” which at one time was a favorite in our family. The movie features a comment on the Hawaiian word for family: “Ohana means family. Family means no one left behind or forgotten.”

I thought of that line and cried again. My family members had been left behind. But now they would no longer be forgotten.

I walked up to the monument and performed the simple act of remembering: placing stones I had brought from Ann Arbor on the memorial. Then, I stood for a few moments in silence.

After those few moments, I found myself wanting to say something to Shael and his family and the words that came out of my mouth surprised even me. I said: “I am ashamed that in over 70 years no one from the family came to visit you. I apologize but I came as soon as I heard.”

“I came as soon as I heard.” Those were the words that came to me – words that we say to people when they think we haven’t cared when in fact we didn’t know. But sometimes we don’t know because we don’t try hard enough to know and, deep in my heart, I knew we had blinded ourselves for several decades. We should have known. Whether we knew the details or not, we should have realized what had happened to our family.

After saying the memorial prayer and walking around the abandoned cemetery for a few minutes, I left and, truthfully, if I had gone right back to the airport in Riga and had flown home, my trip would have been worthwhile. But I was in Latvia for another few days and so I visited Daugavpils, my grandfather’s birthplace.

With the help of my guide and a local Jewish historian, I learned about the city, a place of great Jewish learning and serious intellectual debate. It was the town where my grandfather came to reject his family’s Jewish tradition and embraced socialism and Zionism. It was the town where his eyes had been opened to seeing something more than the closed, shtetl-like Judaism of his father and his brother, the gabbai of Preili. It was the town from which he left to come to America, and that is exactly what occurred to me while standing on the street where the family lived in Daugavpils.

I didn’t think to myself: “This is where he lived” but “This is the town he left.” This is the town he escaped from to start a new life in America. After seeing what there was to see, I couldn’t wait to join him in leaving.

It was a pleasant enough city and people were friendly, but it was not my place. There was no one and nothing there that made it my place. To paraphrase Harry Chapin: “Those streets were never my ways and I had not known this sky above.”

I spent my second and last night in Daugavpils tossing and turning as voices I didn’t recognize and didn’t understand bounced around in my head. Some of this was brought on by the exhaustion of travel but it was more likely emotional turmoil as I felt as if my grandfather and all of the others who left like him were telling me to go home, back to America, the place they came to. I couldn’t stop thinking about it or watching the clock. It was the longest, most unsettling night of my life. As much as I had needed to go to Daugavpils and as much as I was glad I had done so, that was how deeply I needed to leave.

It was raining when I boarded the early morning express train to Riga. I fell asleep almost immediately, a deep blessed sleep. I woke up when the train made its first stop an hour and a half later to see the sun shining. I smiled from ear to ear.

That day, Friday, was a great day. I thoroughly enjoyed Riga: a lovely city. The sun was shining. I went to the city’s central market and on an architectural walking tour and basked in the sunshine of the city which was once called: “The Paris of the North.”

On Shabbat morning, the sun was still shining when I went to the one active shul in Riga to say Kaddish for Uncle Shael and his family.

As I was settling into my seat, I looked around the synagogue and my eye was drawn to the Hebrew inscription around the aron kodesh. It shocked me. It wasn’t the type of quotation you usually see above the ark, expressing spiritual yearning or simple faith. It was a verse from Psalms: “Blessed be God who did not abandon us to become prey for their teeth.”

Being survivors defined this community’s existence as Jews and I could not turn away from the inscription.

I focused on two Hebrew letters: nun and vav,“us,” who did not abandon us. I asked myself: how had the knowledge I had gained in the past six months changed me? Who do I think I am? Am I part of that us?

In the sense that all Jews are intertwined, of course, we are all part of that us. But beyond the platitudes, what does the story of my great uncle’s death mean to me? Am I now, in some distant way to consider myself and my family as survivors? How does knowing the fact that there were more second cousins that I would never meet because they died in the most horrible ways imaginable affect who I am and how I see the world?

That was the key question for me. I started thinking: does it still make sense to do what I have done more ardently as the years have gone along: embracing the liberal perspective of the late 20th century American Jewry I was raised in, idealistic attitudes that were influenced by freedom and comfort? Here I am working for interfaith causes, spending time on more global concerns, believing we can form alliances with people who used to hate us or still may. Here I am now serving as the co-chair of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, an organization which believes that high on our agenda as Jews, we must be addressing the human rights of all peoples throughout our country and throughout Israel and the territories? What do I say now that I am confronted with my family’s history? Is this a path I have to reconsider? Can I be as positive about the future? Should I still find time to reach out beyond the Jewish world in the work that I do? Or do I think of my great uncle and his family and focus entirely on the survival of our people knowing that the world stands against us and – that “if I am not for myself who will be for me”?

Of course, I recognize that many who came out of the Shoah are dedicated to those same idealistic values and, in some cases, it was the experience of the Shoah which led them to those commitments. But it does seem obvious that the values of trust and idealism are easier to come by if you have not experienced such pain. I have been told very often by people in this congregation that I would likely feel differently about the world if my parents had been born in Europe or if I had sat in the lap or at the feet of those whose had suffered unthinkable harm at the hands of the Nazis. I know it is not true for all survivors or children of Holocaust victims, but it is true for many that the pain and agony has led them, quite understandably, to be less open and trusting of others in the world. I understand and I acknowledge that. But how does this apply to me, and is the answer different than it was before I read the letter from Latvia and sat staring at the inscription in the Riga shul?

So I struggled with this question and tried to figure out where I fit in. I thought of what it means to grow up in freedom, what the benefits and potential dangers are. I thought of my parents, my teachers, my colleagues who have inspired me to fight against the apathy and selfishness that good fortune sometimes brings. Then, I thought of so many of my colleagues who see things so differently from me.

I spent several sleepless nights wrestling with these questions and after weeks and weeks of wrestling I came up with an answer. I cannot change who I have come to be.

Of course, this experience will have an impact on my thinking. It will strengthen the obligation I already feel and hopefully share with all of you to respond to incidents or threats of anti-Semitism at home or elsewhere. I will, I assume, respond a bit more quickly as my words to Shael: “I came as soon as I heard” echo in my mind.

This experience will also further solidify my commitment to Israel as I was reminded again how much safer a world this is for Jews with a Jewish state.

But even though that is true, I still worry about linking Israel too strongly with the Shoah. It is not enough to think of Israel solely from the perspective of Yad Vashem. We have to think about Israel in other ways than just a response to or the prevention of another holocaust. Jewish survival is not enough. We need to think about the values we embrace, the way we live, what we do with our survival, and what we teach the world.

This trip didn’t change how deeply I feel that. I am still an idealist.

Because my grandfather came to this great country, I have had the blessing of security which has given me a completely different set of experiences and a completely different perspective on what it means to be a Jew than Shael might have had.

So, ultimately, Shael’s life and death will never be as great an influence on my life as the story of my grandfather Julius.

When Grandpa Dobrusin left Latvia, he left for a place where he could give his children and grandchildren a better life, a place where three generations later, we live safely as Jews in a multi-cultural, more universalistic society. I have grown up nurtured by that freedom and that dream. That is who I am. And nothing, not even the tragic story of Shael’s life is going to change that. Nor should it.

I think of Mordecai Kaplan’s words; “The past has a vote but not a veto.”

My experience in Latvia will have a vote in how I view the world and my role as a Jew.

But it will not have a veto.

Whether I am part of the “us” who was saved from the Holocaust could be debated. But what can’t be debated is that I am part of the “us” whose life has been lived in freedom and comfort, and that has fostered in me to a set of priorities which I feel are critical and necessary for the Jewish people and for the world at large. Just as our people must hear with great reverence and respect the stories of those who have experienced anti-Semitism most directly to remind us of the threats to our people and urge us to be vigilant and protective of our own needs, so too do our people need to hear our stories: the lessons of those of us who have been blessed with a safer life and who have worked to advance the ideals and possibilities life can hold for us and all people. We need to tell our stories and to continue to embrace the perspective with which we have been raised.

I am indebted beyond words to my grandparents for giving me the opportunity to be who I have come to be. I didn’t do anything to deserve that gift, but I will not apologize for it. My life in America has been one of Sunday Morning Sunshine and my trip taught me not to take the sun for granted.

I am my grandfather’s grandson, and while I will never forget and never abandon my great uncle and his family’s memory, I will always be guided by the sunshine that has graced my life because my grandfather came here. I hope and pray that those of us who have been as fortunate as I have will be grateful for the sunshine that shines on us and find ultimate meaning, self definition, and obligation in that blessed light.


eed to grow up but never so old that we stop questioning who we are.

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It’s Good to be Older: Thoughts on Tom Brady and the Patriots

I turned 60 this past spring. I know what everyone says: “It’s better than the alternative.” (That is certainly true.) or “60 is the new 40” (I’m not so sure of that.) But, still, when I put my age down on a form of some kind, it’s hard not to feel some anxiety and even a bit of sadness.

But, this morning, I’m glad I’m 60. At least I’m glad I’m not 11.

When I heard the news yesterday about Tom Brady’s alleged (or proven) destruction of evidence, I stared at the computer, shook my head and frowned quite a bit. But then, I moved on to something else and I’m glad I could.

I am a huge Patriots fan and have admired Brady since the day he took over as quarterback for my team. I really believed that he was, if not innocent, at least no more guilty than the other quarterbacks who tampered with game balls or any of the other players who crossed over the line a bit when trying to gain a competitive advantage. All of professional sports seems to be about players going right up to the line of what is prohibited and daring someone to catch them if and when they cross that line.

My problem right now is not with what Tom Brady allegedly (I’ll still use that word) did.I still believe it was borderline and could easily fall into the category of just taking a bit of an advantage for comfort rather than for significantly better performance- a perspective justified by the results of the 2nd half of the Colts game and the Super Bowl when the balls were being monitored and he was superb. It seems that the league picks and chooses whom to investigate and whom to punish and how much and I do believe that the whole affair seemed like a witch hunt. I still believe that. And, I still believe that the league will be worse off with quarterbacks being monitored more closely regarding footballs.

But, all of that is immaterial right now. If it is true that Tom Brady knew he was guilty all along and lied and destroyed evidence of that guilt, he is not worthy of the adulation that we give our sports heroes. Yes, I still believe he is a great quarterback but I have lost respect for him. I don’t know why he didn’t say from the beginning: “Quarterbacks all manipulate the balls. I like mine softer and maybe we crossed the line in taking air out here or there. We’re all looking for that advantage and we pushed it just a bit too far”. I would have had tremendous respect for that type of statement.

Obviously that is a bit idealistic and I know the sports world doesn’t work that way. But, at least I would have been able to cheer for him with a full heart.

Now, about being 11. I am old enough to keep sports in perspective. I am old enough to have other aspects of my life to concentrate on (I have to be at work in a few minutes). And, I am old enough to know that not everyone lives up to our expectations of them and we can shrug our shoulders and move on.

But, I worry about the 11 year old Patriots fans.

They’re the ones Tom Brady let down.

I just hope they don’t lose faith in all us “grown-ups”.

Oh, and what will I do when the Pats season starts? I’ll be cheering for Jimmy Garoppolo, the back up quarterback to lead the Patriots to a 4-0 record. When Brady comes back? We’ll see. I just don’t know. But, if I decide not to watch the Patriots and not to cheer for them, I’ll be OK.

I wish I could be as sure about the 11 year olds.

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