A Cocoon of Peace and Tranquility

Last Shabbat – last Saturday – I “escaped” from the media coverage of what was happening in Israel and Gaza and the horrifying news of the downed Malaysian airplane to the serenity and peacefulness of the Reform Movement’s Camp Eisner in Great Barrington, MA.

If only the rest of the world could experience the sense of tranquility, wholeness and community that exists at one of our Reform Movement camps!

We began our morning together with a beautiful outdoor  Shabbat morning service.

What caught my attention most this Shabbat was the interaction between the parents who were visiting for the day and their children who were spending an extended time up at camp either as campers or staff.

I observed how parents and their children sat really close together during the service because they wanted to be close together. Some parents rubbed their children’s backs during the service, some children had their arms around their parents. Some siblings sat on their older siblings laps. It was truly a time of family togetherness.

I was incredibly moved when one father took his tallit (his prayer shawl), draped it over his daughter and drew her in close. They prayed wrapped in the safety of their father-daughter “cocoon” connected both physically and spiritually. It was their own safe-haven from the rest of the outside world for a short while.

Shoshana  Maniscalco and her father Ron "Buff" at URJ Camp Eisner
Shoshana Maniscalco and her father Ron “Buff” at URJ Camp Eisner praying together

tallit literally represents the 613 mitzvot commandments in the Torah. On each of its four corners is a set of fringes. Each set of fringes is comprised of a specific number of threads, tied with a specific number of knots and one thread is wrapped around all of the others a specific number of times.

If you add together all of the threads, the knots and the wrappings from all four corners, they add up to 613.  By putting on a tallit, we are symbolically taking upon ourselves the responsibility and obligation of the commandments.

There’s another purpose to a tallit, however. It acts as a “cocoon” and separates us from what is taking place around us. Having a tallit wrapped around our shoulders during a time of prayer and meditation can help  keep us focused on our connection with God and community.  It serves as our refuge from the world outside.

During times like these, when war is raging in Israel and Gaza and planes are being shot down from the sky, I almost wish I could wrap an infinitesimally large tallit around the world and cocoon everyone from all harm….”and nation shall not lift up sword against nation, they shall never again know war.” (Micah 4:3)

The following poem is by the late Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai. It depicts some of the symbolism, feelings and emotions captured by our memories of the tallit.

A Tallit Poem, by Yehuda Amichai

Whoever put on a tallis when he was young will never forget:

taking it out of the soft velvet bag, opening the folded shawl,

spreading it out, kissing the length of the neckband

(embroidered or trimmed in gold).

Then swinging it in a great swoop overhead like a sky,

a wedding canopy, a parachute.

And then winding it around his head as in Hide-and-Seek,

wrapping his whole body in it, close and slow,

snuggling into it like the cocoon of a butterfly,

then opening would-be wings to fly. 

And why is the tallis striped and not checkered

black and white like a chessboard?

Because squares are finite and hopeless. 

Stripes come from infinity and to infinity they go 

like airport runways where angels land and take off.

 Whoever has put on a tallis will never forget.

When he comes out of a swimming pool or the sea,

he wraps himself in a large towel, spreads it out again

over his head, and again snuggles into it close and slow,

still shivering a little, and he laughs and blesses.

Open Closed Open: Poems, trans. by Chana Bloch and Chana Kronfeld (New York: Harcourt, 2000), p. 44

May we all come to know the peace, safety, serenity and tranquility that comes from being wrapped in the cocoon of a tallit at all times.

Light these Candles for Peace – Shalom – Salaam

On Shabbat, we typically light two candles.

Why? Because in the Torah the Ten Commandments are repeated twice, the first time in Exodus 20 and the second time in Deuteronomy 5.

In each of these, the commandment about Shabbat is slightly different, in Exodus 20:8 we are told to “remember” (zachor) the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  In Deuteronomy 5:12, we are told to “observe” (sham or) the Sabbath day to keep it holy.

Thus the rabbis of old say we light two candles on Shabbat, one to represent “remember” and one to represent “observe”.   The act of “remembering” is passive, while the act of “observing” is active. Shabbat requires that we do both: we remember our history, while we do something physical do make Shabbat our own unique experience.

Candles for Shabbat
Candles for Shabbat

We light candles because the flame is a symbol of God’s divine presence. It is symbolic of the spark of goodness in each of us. Light one candle in a dark room and the entire room is illuminated by the warmth and glow of that single flame.

Shabbat is a taste of that time to come when the world will be filled with the divine sparks within each of us and when each of us can see the divine sparks in the other. No more war, no more violence, no more bloodshed.

This week, as we observe Shabbat during this time of violence and unrest in Israel and Gaza, let the light of our Shabbat candles be a beacon of light and hope for all.

(What follows below is from Amichai Lau-Lavie, The Founding Director of Storahtelling, Inc)

I share with you a beautiful ritual created by two religious leaders who are mothers and lovers of peace came together this past difficult week to compose a new prayer for peace: The Prayer of the Mothers.

Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed and Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum invite us to take their prayer into our hearts and into the world.

Read it below – in Arabic and Hebrew.

They also created a new ritual: Inviting us all to light a candle on Fridays – for peace. Another candle for the Sabbath Keeping Jews, a candle for Muslims on their sacred day.

See the invocation for this new ritual below. They ask that we help spread this precious new prayer and ritual.

May we not  light this extra candle for the rest of our lives.  But let’s start lighting it tonight.

Shalom. Salaam. Peace.



Let us Light Candles for Peace
Two mothers, one plea:
Now, more than ever, during these days of so much crying, on the day that is sacred to both our religions, Friday, Sabbath Eve
Let us light a candle in every home – for peace:
A candle to illuminate our future, face to face,
A candle across borders, beyond fear.
From our family homes and houses of worship
Let us light each other up,
Let these candles be a lighthouse to our spirit
Until we all arrive at the sanctuary of peace.

Ibtisam Mahameed Tamar Elad-Appelbaum

!تعالوﻭاﺍ نضﯾﻳئ شمعاتﺕ اﺍلسلامﻡ

وﻭاﺍلدﺩتانﻥ وﻭطﻁلبﺏ وﻭاﺍحدﺩ: خصﯾﻳصا اﺍلانﻥ, في ھﮪﮬﻫذﺫهﻩ اﺍلاﯾﻳامﻡ, اﺍﯾﻳامﻡ اﺍلبكاء اﺍلكبﯾﻳرﺭ, في اﺍلﯾﻳوﻭمﻡ اﺍلمقدﺩسﺱ لدﺩﯾﻳاناتنا, في ﯾﻳوﻭمﻡ اﺍلجمعة وﻭمساء اﺍلسبتﺕ, نضﯾﻳئ في كلﻝ بﯾﻳتﺕ شمعة للسلامﻡ: شمعة تطﻁالبﺏ بوﻭجﮫﻪ اﺍلمستقبلﻝ, وﻭجﮫﻪ اﺍلانسانﻥ. شمعﮫﻪ تنتصرﺭ على اﺍلحدﺩوﻭدﺩ وﻭاﺍلرﺭعبﺏ. منﻥ بﯾﻳوﻭتﺕ عائلاتنا وﻭبﯾﻳوﻭتﺕ صلوﻭاﺍتنا نضﯾﻳئ اﺍحدﺩنا للاخرﺭ وﻭاﺍلشموﻭعﻉ تكوﻭنﻥ اﺍلبرﺭوﻭجﺝ وﻭاﺍلفنارﺭ لارﺭوﻭاﺍحنا

!حتى نصلﻝ لمعبدﺩ اﺍلسلامﻡ. اﺍبتسامﻡ محامﯾﻳدﺩ

!تمارﺭ اﺍلعادﺩ-اﺍفالبوﻭمﻡ !!!

!בואו נאיר נרות שלום

שתי אמהות ובקשה אחת: שדווקא עכשיו, בימי הבכייה הגדולה האלה, בימים המקודשים לדתות שלנו, בשישי ובערב שבת, נדליק בכל בית נר לשלום: נר שמבקש פני עתיד, פני אדם. נר שצולח גבולות ואימה. מבתי המשפחות ומבתי התפילה שלנו נאיר זה לזה והנרות יהיו מגדלור לרוחנו

עד שנבוא אל היכל השלום

איבתיסאם מחמיד

תמר אלעד-אפלבום



God of Life:

You who heals the broken hearted, binding up our wounds.

Please hear this prayer of mothers.
You did not create us to kill each other
Nor to live in fear or rage or hatred in your world. You created us so that we allow each other to sustain Your Name in this world:

Your name is Life, your name is Peace.

For these I weep, my eye sheds water:
For our children crying in the night,
For parents holding infants, despair and darkness in their hearts.
For a gate that is closing – who will rise to open it before the day is gone?

With my tears and with my constant prayers, With the tears of all women deeply pained at these harsh times

I raise my hands to you in supplication: Please God have mercy on us.

Hear our voice that we not despair That we will witness life with each other, That we have mercy one for another, That we share sorrow one with the other, That we hope, together, one for another.

Inscribe our lives in the book of Life

For Your sake, our God of Life Let us choose Life.

For You are Peace, Your world is Peace and all that is Yours is Peace,
May this be your will
And let us say Amen.

Sheikha Ibtisam Mahameed and Rabba Tamar Elad-Appelbaum

English Translation Amichai Lau-Lavie, The Founding Director of Storahtelling, Inc.

أغنية الحياة والسلام

صلاة مشتركة

اله الحياة
الذي ُيشفي القلوب الحزينة والمتألمة استمع لو سمحت الى صلاة الأمهات

لأنك لم تخلقنا لكي نقتل بعضنا بعضا
وليس لكي نعيش بحالة من الخوف, الغضب والكراهية في عالمك هذا
بل لكي نسمح لبعضنا البعض أن نذكر أسمك
اسم الحياة, اسم السلام في العالم.

على جميع هؤلاء أنا أبكي دوما
أبكي خوفا على الأطفال في الليالي
يحمل الآباء أطفالهم الصغار واليأس والظلام في قلوبهم على البوابة التي أغلقت والتي لا نعرف من سوف يقوم بفتحها

وبالدموع والصلوات التي أصليها طيلة الوقت
وبدموع النساء اللواتي يشعرن بهذا الألم القوي في هذه الأوقات العصيبة
أنا أرفع يدي اليك يا ربي أن ترحمنا
لنعيش مع بعضنا البعض
ونشفق على بعضنا البعض
ونواسي بعضنا البعض

ونأمل الخير لبعضنا البعض

ولكي نكتب قصة حياتنا في كتاب الحياة من أجلك يا اله الحياة
امنحنا أن نختار الحياة

لأنك السلام ومنزلتك السلام وكل ما لديك سلام بإذن الله لنقل آمين

ابتسام محاميد وتمار العاد- أفلڨوم

מלך חפץ בחיים הרופא לשבורי לב ומחבש לעצבותם

שמע נא תפילת אמהות

שאתה לא בראתנו על מנת שנהרוג זה בזה ולא על מנת שנחיה בפחד, כעס ושנאה בעולמך אלא על מנת שנדע לתת רשות זה לזה לקיים את שמך שם חיים, שם שלום בעולם

על אלה אני בוכיה עיני עיני יורדה מים על ילדים בוכים מפחד בלילות
על הורים אוחזים עולליהם וייאוש ואפלה בלבם על שער אשר נסגר ומי יקום ויפתחהו טרם פנה יום

ובדמעות ובתפלות שאני מתפללת כל הזמן ובדמעות כל הנשים שכואבות את הכאב החזק בזמן הקשה הזה
הריני מרימה את ידיי למעלה
אנא ממך אדוני רחם עלינו
שמע קולנו ה׳ אלהינו בימי הרעה האלה שלא נתייאש ונראה חיים זה בזה
ונרחם זה על זה
ונצטער זה על זה
ונקווה לזה לזה

ונכתוב את חיינו בספר החיים למענך אלהים חיים. תן שנבחר בחיים

כי אתה שלום וביתך שלום וכל אשר לך שלום וכן יהי רצון ונאמר אמן


Is This the Fast I Desire?


This week, so much has been written about what has been happening in Israel and Gaza. My friend and colleague, Rabbi Judy Schindler, (Senior Rabbi, Temple Beth El, Charlotte, North Carolina) expresses my sentiments perfectly, so I share her blog post with you:

Originally posted on torahbuzz:

By Rabbi Judy Schindler

On Monday night, I made an unusual promise not with my words but a click on my computer. I made a commitment to take part in an event called Choose Life: Ramaddan and the Seventeenth of Tammuz. Apparently thousands of other people also thought this commitment would be a powerful one to make.

You see Tuesday represented an interesting intersection between the Islamic calendar and their community’s month-long observance of Ramadan and the Jewish calendar and our observance of the Seventeen of Tammuz. On that day, both communities observed fasts during daylight hours and I chose to join them.

The minor fast days of Judaism do not often speak to me. I have never fasted on the 17th of Tammuz. Traditional Jews observe this day as one of mourning because it is the day on which the walls of Jerusalem were breached in 69 CE. Three…

View original 310 more words

A Prayer for Peace

As we watch the escalation of events unfold in Israel and Gaza this week, we pray for an end to the barrage of missile attacks on Israel, an end to the violence on both sides.

We pray for a time of peace and harmony. When neighbours do not hate, do not kill, do not treat each other as “less than”.

We pray for a time when Jerusalem can live up to the meaning of its name: City of Peace - Iyr Shalom.

The notion of “Jerusalem” is a metaphor. In our tradition, we have a concept of two Jerusalems: Y’rushalayim shel lamala – the heavenly Jerusalem, and Y’rushalayim shel lamata – the earthly Jerusalem.

The heavenly Jerusalem is the ideal to which we aspire. The earthly Jerusalem is the daily reality of our lives as they exist now.

Thus “Jerusalem” is more of a concept rather than simply a city – it represents a time when  all the inhabitants of Israel will live together in peace, when justice will prevail and all will be in harmony. “Jerusalem” is our ideal version of what life should be.

As the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 122:2-4; 6-9

“Our feet our standing within your gates, O Jerusalem.

The built-up Jerusalem is like a city that was joined together within itself.

There ascended the tribes, the tribes of God, testimony to Israel, to give thanks to the name of the Eternal…

Request the welfare of Jerusalem; may those who love you enjoy tranquility.

May there peace in your walls, tranquility in your palaces.

For the sake of my brothers and my companions, I shall now speak of peace in you.

For the sake of the House of the Eternal our God, I shall beg for goodness for you.”

May the peace of Shabbat bring peace to all: in Jerusalem, Israel and all the world. Amen.

We Mourn the Lives of Three Young Teens

For the past three weeks, we held out hope that the three Israeli teens who were abducted by terrorists on June 12th would be found alive: #bringbackourboys

Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, zichronam livracha
Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach, zichronam livracha

Yesterday, we  were shocked and grief-stricken to learn that they had been killed within a short time of their kidnapping.

What kind of world do we live in when innocent teens become pawns in terrorist warfare? When the lives of young students have no value?

In this week’s Torah portion Balaak (Numbers 22: 2-25:9), the king of the Moabites wanted to curse the Israelites for being too numerous. He was fearful that they would overtake his land and eventually, his people. He calls upon the prophet Balaam to curse them. Then, God intervenes. Ultimately, when Balaam opens his mouth, words of blessing pour forth: “Ma tovu ohalecha Ya’acov, mish’k’notecha Yisra’el – How goodly are your tents o Jacob, your dwelling places o Israel.”

There are always those who want to cause harm and destruction to the Jewish people. There are always those who will go out of their way to wreak havoc and cause us great pain and anguish. But ultimately God’s blessing will be with us, because we value LIFE above all else.  We are a religion that celebrates and affirms life no matter what life sends our way. And because of this, the Jewish people has survived and thrived. We are a people of great fortitude and stamina. With God by our side, we can persevere.

I join with people in Israel and all over the world in mourning the tragic deaths of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frenkel and Gilad Shaar. May their families find comfort and strength in the loving embrace of community and family and friends.

May we come to know a time of peace when children can walk in the streets freely – without fear, without bloodshed, without violence.

As we mourn these unfinished lives, let us pray that that cycle of violence ends. Let us pray for a time of peace for all of God’s children.

Od yavoh shalom aleinu, v’al kulam – let peace come upon us and upon everyone. Speedily and in our time. Amen.

Baruch Dayan Ha-emet, Praised Be the Righeous Judge
Zichronam Livracha – May they be remembered for a blessing





And the Sun Sets on Congregation B’nai Torah

In Ecclesiastes we are told:

For every season there is a purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, a time to die…a time to build, a time to tear down. (Ecclesiastes 3:1ff)

This Shabbat is my final service at Congregation B’nai Torah in Highland Park, Illinois. Next week, is the congregation’s final service before it closes its doors for good on June 30th.

I will be moving to Stony Brook, New York to become the rabbi of Temple Isaiah.

For me, I get to begin a new chapter in a vibrant and vital community.

For my B’nai Torah community, however, the congregants have to cope with the pain, loss and anguish of watching their beloved congregation of almost 60 years cease to exist.

Sunset on Lake Michigan, view from B'nai Torah. Photo credit: Sharon Sobel
Sunset on Lake Michigan, view from B’nai Torah. Photo credit: Sharon Sobel

Congregation B’nai Torah was once the center of liberal Jewish religious life on the North Shore of Lake Michigan. As the sun sets on this once prestigious synagogue, it represents the end of an era.

This is a sad day for us all. But just as the sun sets each evening, a new dawn does break. It will take time to find the beauty in the new day. To find a way back toward healing and wholeness.

I will offer these words to my beloved community this evening:

My Farewell Remarks to My Congregation B’nai Torah Community, Friday, June 20, 2014

Rabbi Evan Moffic, of Solel Congregation also wrote a beautiful piece:

We All Hurt When A Synagogue Closes

Shabbat Shalom – may it be a Shabbat of peace, healing and community.


Yes, Time Magazine, He IS “Worth It!” Bringing Sgt. Bergdahl Home…A Jewish View

The cover of this week’s Time Magazine has a drawing of US Army Sgt Bowe Bergdahl against a backdrop of a US flag.

The large caption reads: “WAS HE WORTH IT?  The Cost of Bringing Sgt. Bergdahl Home”

Cover of Time Magazine, June 16, 2014 issue
Cover of Time Magazine, June 16, 2014 issue

I know that headlines sell magazines. But I find this very troubling. “Was he worth it?” Really? Aren’t we taught in our tradition that each and every one of us is made “b’tzelem Elohim” – in the image of God?

Later that same day, I was working with one of my pre-Bar Mitzvah students on his d’var Torah for the fall. His Torah portion is Noah. He chose to focus on the verse that states: “Noah was righteous in his generation” (Genesis 6:9)

My student did a beautiful job summarizing the Torah portion, explaining its meaning and sharing what commentators have to say about it.

Then the discussion became interesting when it was time to relate it to modern times. What does it mean to be “righteous in one’s time?” What does it mean to expend one’s effort on behalf of others and do the right thing? The student then went on to criticize President Barack Obama for making a deal to trade 5 Taliban terrorists to free the “deserter Bowe Bergdahl.”

I paused when I read this. On the one hand, I encourage my students to apply the lessons of Torah to modern life. On the other hand, it concerns me that we have been so quick to judge Bowe Bergdahl when all the facts are still not known.

I used this as an opportunity to engage in a dialogue about what our tradition has to teach about justice. In Deuteronomy 16: 20, we are taught: “Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof, Justice, justice shall you pursue...”  and we are also taught:  “Truthful witness saves lives,  but one who breathes out lies is deceitful.” (Proverbs 14: 25)

We don’t know the entire story about what happened to Bowe Bergdahl, or why he made some of the choices he did. What we do know is this: every human life is sacred. Israel makes many of the same sacrifices to bring back their captured soldiers, just as President Obama made the decision to bring back Sgt. Bergdahl.

We need to wait to learn the rest of the facts, for justice to run its course before we are quick to judge.

My colleague, Rabbi Keith Stern, (Senior Rabbi of Temple Beth Avodah of Newton, MA) wrote a beautiful piece about this, an open letter to Sgt. Bergdahl’s parents, which sums up how I feel.  I share that with you below:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Bergdahl, 

I truly can’t imagine what these past several years have been like for you. Knowing your son was being held captive by the Taliban, not knowing where he was or the status of his health… I’m sure you haven’t slept well for years. And then this: the anxiety over whether Bowe would be freed (we know there had been similar plans aborted), the thrill of his safe release… and now the firestorm of criticism and hypocrisy.

I’ve never met you nor have I met Bowe. Thankfully I found the Rolling Stone article written by Michael Hastings (who tragically died in a car crash last year). http://tinyurl.com/kxtb6yf I feel like I know you and Bowe and his situation a little better.

Bowe’s childhood growing up on 40 acres of lush farm tucked into remote country sounds like another world to me, a suburbs boy who’s raised his kids in a fairly insulated and protected environment. Bowe had a whole world to explore on a dirt bike. He loved his bb gun. It sounds glorious and free.

But you tempered his freedom. You homeschooled your kids and rigorously set out a moral system by which they could evaluate their actions. They learned about accountability for their behavior.

Bowe tried to find his balance point between responsibility and adventure. Mr. Bergdahl, you seem to have been a tremendous influence on Bowe, telling him not what to do but rather to do what he thought right. What an honorable man you are. It is not easy to parent a child with so much energy and drive and curiosity, a kid who seemed determined to push the envelope, to become an Olympic fencer or to join the French Foreign Legion or, for that matter, the US Army.

The two of you obviously know a whole lot more than I do, so you may know much more about Bowe’s story and why he left his post. The Rolling Stone article painted a disheartening story about his unit and its lack of leadership and discipline. Being stuck in the middle of nowhere with the kind of chaos that seemed to constantly flare up into trouble must have been mentally challenging and exhausting. The point is, nobody knows yet why he left his post. So why are so many people judging Bowe? He is being pilloried in the press by pundits and politicians who profess to know something. These people use lies and half-truths to turn your son into a shirker, a deserter, a turncoat. It is striking to me that there is no such thing as circumspection, no benefit of a doubt. There is no empathy, no mature sense of propriety. I am ashamed of the way some of our country’s politicians and journalists have spoken, for they truly besmirch the good name of this country, not to mention, of course, your son’s honor. In the Jewish tradition such talk is utterly unacceptable.

So now you are in limbo. Bowe is safely returned to the US, but I would guess you are still not sleeping. You’re wondering what shoe may yet drop. But I know that you must be so relieved that at least you know where he is. I am so saddened that his welcome home ceremony was cancelled. I get it, but that must have been yet another bitter pill to swallow.

I’m sure people have pointed out all of the facts about the prisoner swap that enabled your son to get home. As a Zionist and a Jew, I know that Israel has released thousands of prisoners in order to return Israeli soldiers from captivity. In fact, Israel has swapped prisoners to get dead Israelis back. It’s never easy. It’s always controversial. But in the end most Israeli parents need to know at the end of the day that their children will not be abandoned in captivity.

 Like I said, I don’t know what happened. We may never really get the truth. But this I do know: It doesn’t matter if Bowe had deserted his post or not. The story may end up unfavorably. Your son may be in legal trouble. As David Brooks wrote today: It doesn’t matter if he is a confused young man who said insulting and shameful things about his country and his Army. The debt we owe to fellow Americans is not based on individual merit. It is based on citizenship, and loyalty to the national community we all share. Soldiers don’t risk their lives only for those Americans who deserve it; they do it for the nation as a whole. http://tinyurl.com/n4mbt8h

I am so sorry for your anguish. I hope you are soon reunited with your son. And if things get harder, if there is litigation and more circus antics in the press, please know that many of us who are parents and grandparents and proud Americans send you our love and support. No matter what, he’s still your boy.

Sincerely, Rabbi Keith Stern


Food for Mind, Body and Spirit


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