Praying With Our Feet

I am new to Long Island, having moved here this past July.

This week, I learned a difficult statistic: the breast cancer incidence rate on Long Island is approximately 18% higher than the statewide average.

Even after a $30 million multi-year study showed that environmental factors don’t contribute to this increased cancer rate, the statistics don’t make sense.  Some postulate that perhaps Long Island has a higher percentage of Ashkenazi , Jewish, affluent, female residents: a population known to have a higher rate of breast cancer than other populations. There are still no answers.

More funds are needed for more research: research not just for “why”, but research for a cure, so women can be healed and lead full, healthy and long lives.

For the past 21 years, the community in Stony Brook has been coming together to raise funds and awareness for breast cancer research through its annual Ward Melville Heritage Organization “Walk for Beauty”.  During this time, this walk has raised over $1.275 million for Stony Brook Hospital Breast Cancer Research, plus donated thousands of wigs and prostheses to those in need.

This past weekend, many of my congregants from Temple Isaiah (Stony Brook) and I participated in this “Walk for Beauty”.

Part of the Temple Isaiah, Stony Brook, contingent
Part of the Temple Isaiah, Stony Brook, contingent

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel stated, when he marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr,  in Selma for voting rights in 1965, that he felt as if his legs were praying. He believed his march for social justice was a day of sanctification, filled with spiritual significance.

We, too, felt as if our communal “Walk for Beauty” was a day of sanctification. We felt the spiritual significance of coming together for this particular cause:

  • We walked with friends and family who were in the middle of treatment;
  • We walked with friends and family who finished treatment and who were “survivors”;
  • We walked with loved ones in our hearts, with names on our backs, on our arms, on our chests – of those who now live on only in our hearts and minds and memories;
  • We walked as one community: babies, children, teens, young adults, middle-aged and seniors, men and women;
  • We walked in silence at times, we walked in laughter, we walked in tears, we walked in joy;
  • We all walked together- our feet praying for a cure, praying for healing and wholeness and strength;

As we prayed with our feet, my heart was offering this prayer, for the health care workers, the researchers, those who are ill and their loved ones:

Heal Us Now
(Music and English Text: Leon Sher, 2002 Hebrew Text: Healing Liturgy, Numbers 12:13, Pslams:145:18, 85:10)

R’faeinu Adonai v’neirafeh, hoshi-einu v’nivasheah. El karov, l’chol korav, ach karov, li-reav, yishoh.
 Heal us Adonai, and we shall be healed. Save us and we shall be saved. God is close to all who call out to God. Surely, help is near to all who call out to God. 

We pray for healing of the body. We pray for healing of the soul. For strength of flesh and mind and spirit. We pray to once again be whole.

El na, r’fa na lah, r’fuat hanefesh, u’r’fuat ha-guf, r’fua sh’leimah. 
Oh God, please heal us now; healing of the soul and healing of the body, a complete healing. 

Shiru L’Adonai Shir Chadash – Sing Unto the Eternal A New Song

“Music makes pictures and often tells stories, all of it magic, all of it true.” (John Denver)

Music has been an integral part of my life since I was very young. My paternal grandmother was a concert pianist. She met my grandfather, who was a cellist, when they were both playing in the same quartet.

My father inherited his parents’ love of music and talent. Like his father, he too played the cello. And he also had perfect pitch. While we were young, my dad would sing to us on car rides, teaching us all of Tom Leher’s songs that he learned as a camp counselor (not always appropriate for young children, e.g. –  “The Old Dope Peddler”). He introduced us to Alan Sherman’s “Peter and the Commissar” with Arthur Fiedler and the Boston Pops. He was always singing.

Album cover, Allan Sherman, Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops: Peter and the Commissar
Album cover – Allan Sherman, Arthur Fiedler & the Boston Pops: Peter and the Commissar

My mother played first violin in the Rhode Island Youth Symphony Orchestra while she was in High School. She too was multi-talented. She played piano, accordion, recorder, and a few other instruments. She was a classical music aficionado. And she taught music at our Hebrew Day school.

I was thrilled when I attended Shabbat services at my new congregation this past July and saw that everyone – of all ages – took rhythm instruments to enhance the musical experience of the service.

Music has played an important role in our Jewish worship experience since biblical times. From the portable mishkan – Tabernacle (or sanctuary) in the wilderness to the Temple in Jerusalem, music was used as a way to praise and glorify God.

King David made sure that the musicians and choirs were paid salaries, furnished with homes and well taken care of. He understood that a world without music was a world without color, a world without joy, a world without warmth and a world without spirit.

Psalm 150, verses 3-6 states:

Praise the Eternal with blasts of the shofar. Praise the Eternal with harp and lyre. Praise the Eternal with timbral and dance.  Praise the Eternal with lute and pipe. Praise the Eternal resounding with cymbals. Praise the Eternal with loud crashing cymbals.

 My friend Mattan Klein has made it his life’s work to “praise the Eternal” with all different types of music. His father, Dr. Rabbi Michael Klein, z”l, was the Dean of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Jerusalem campus while I was a first year rabbinic student.

While his father immersed himself in the ancient texts of our people, Mattan’s entire life is dedicated to bringing those texts to life through the beauty of music. He is the Ensemble Instructor at a high school for the arts in Israel, he is the Band Leader for three separate groups: 4 Flute Flight, Seeds of Sun and Mattan Klein Quintet. Like King David, Mattan plays music in both the secular and religious arenas. He played a beautiful flute tribute at Ariel Sharon’s funeral last year.

Perhaps what I find most inspirational about his work, is how he influences and inspires others, especially the next generation.  Two years ago, his then-eight-year-old daughter Avigail was at one of her father’s performances and drew the following picture afterward:

Avigail Klein's view of her father's band "Seeds of Sun" performing
Avigail Klein’s view of her father’s band “Seeds of Sun” performing

Avigail placed herself playing flute  with the band in the bottom right-hand corner. This was her dream: to play flute in her father’s band, surrounded by beautiful music! She just started taking flute lessons a few weeks ago. What she envisioned two years ago can soon be sustained and fulfilled.

To me, Abigail’s musical notes surrounding each and every musician not only symbolize the music they are playing. They symbolize an important lesson for each of us: when each of us joins together to “play our own instrument” in concert with others, we create a beautiful symphony. When we join our voices together, no matter if we are playing actual music, working together on behalf of social justice or some other common goal, we become bathed in music and beauty. It doesn’t matter what instrument we play, what note we sing, or even if we just listen.

Each of us has a song to sing. Each of us has the ability to hear the song of others around us. Shiru l’Adonai shir chadash – sing unto the Eternal a new song. Shiru l’Adonai kol ha-aretz – sing unto the Eternal all the earth. (Psalm 96:1).

(A video sample of Mattan Klein playing some of his beautiful music):


I Bring My Loved Ones With Me into the New Year – A Personal Reflection

As Rosh Hashanah approaches this evening, I think of my mother, father and grandparents who are no longer alive.

Like my mother before me, I bake her special “Israeli Honey Cake” – with a whole lemon and orange, for a sweet New Year. I set my table with the beautiful festival table cloth she lovingly embroidered. I learn some new text, just as she did, for Torah study was part of the very fabric of her being.

Like my father before me, I craft my sermons and prepare my Machzor – my High Holy Day prayer book. I phone congregants who are sick or in need of a visit, because my father  instilled within me the importance of being there for one’s congregants at all times. I read a new book, for reading and studying was an integral part of who he was, even after his eyesight failed due to complications from diabetes.

Like my grandparents before me, I prepare as best as I can for these High Holy Days, trying to touch base with all my family near and far. My grandparents taught me the blessing of family and so much more.

Like all who came before me, I pray that this New Year, 5775 will see a world that realizes a time of peace and harmony. My parents and grandparents strongly believed in tikkun olam – the value of repairing the world. I learned from them that each one of us must do our part to make this world a safe place for all who dwell upon it. We must use our voices, our hands and our hearts. As Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, when we take part in social justice we are “praying with our feet.”

As we prepare to enter 5775, I carry my loved ones in my heart. May they continue to inspire me, to guide me and to do my part to make this world a better place.

Making Connections – A Blessing for the High Holy Days

Some time last year, I received a “Friend Request” on Facebook from someone I had not seen in over 30 years.

I had been Audrey’s and Don’s religious school teacher at Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts while I was a student at Boston University and for the next two years following my graduation. I had not seen them since I left Boston to attend rabbinical school.

Facebook Friend Request
Facebook Friend Request

I was delighted that Audrey tracked me down! We had some mutual friends in common and she had seen some of my postings on Facebook. I’ve since re-connected with her parents and brother, Don, as well.

This is not an unusual story. I’m sure many of us can share similar stories where we’ve reconnected with friends from our distant past. Friendships from long ago have been renewed and refreshed. And as my mother (of blessed memory) used to say: “What a m’chayeh!” What a great joy!

Rosh Hashanah and the Yamim Nora’im, the Days of Awe, begin next Wednesday evening (September 24, 2014).

Making connections is what the upcoming High Holy Days are all about: connecting with our innermost selves, connecting with our Jewish community and connecting with God.

There are times the High Holy Days arrive and we feel as if they are distant strangers. How do we make those connections so we feel renewed, refreshed and revitalized?

In a manner of speaking, we make those connections the same way we do on Facebook: by being part of a larger community. The more connected you are, the more connections you will make and the deeper and more meaningful those connections will be.

We are taught in our tradition: Al tiros min hatzibur – Do not separate yourself from your community (Pirke Avot 2:5).

Traditionally, in the Jewish world, a “community” is defined as 10 people. This concept is known as a minyan. Why? Because a group of 10 people has the power to persuade others to make decisions. If you are in the synagogue and not feeling moved by prayer, the voices of others around you can lift your spirits. There is great power, strength and fortitude in community.

When we study in chevruta, in partnership with others, we inspire each other by sharing our questions, our insights and our own thought processes.  And, as the old UJA Federation slogan said: “There is no commUnity without “U.”

As we approach the High Holy Days this year, I offer this blessing:

May you find your place & space in your Jewish community.

May the connections you build be strong and vital.

May these connections enrich your spirit and nourish your soul.

May you hear the innermost voices of your heart.

May you feel touched by the hearts and hands of those around you.

May you touch the lives of others in meaningful ways.

May you hear and feel God’s presence in your life.

Shana Tova U’m’tukah – A New Year Filled with the Blessings of Health, Joy, Contentment and Peace!




Judith’s Blueberry Bramble Coffee Cake


This recipe is one of my favorite coffee cakes from my mother’s recipe collections. My mother died four-and-a-half years ago. I think of her every time I make it. The cookbook still has her handwritten notes on it, lots of food stains and lots of wonderful memories. Everyone loves this recipe. Note: if using frozen blueberries, do not defrost before folding them into the batter.

Originally posted on My Nana's Kitchen:

Blueberry CakeThis blog is in honour of my Nana and back in July I was really happy to share my first recipe of her’s, Nana’s Date Squares. When I eat at restaurants, bakeries, friends, or even other members of my family’s, I always love to see people serving their family recipes. I feel that it’s a great way of keeping our loved ones with us, and brings out a sense of pride about oneself and the dish. This recipe comes from my family friend Sharon’s mother and it’s delicious, hope you enjoy!

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9/11 – Nizkor – Let Us Remember


Two numbers that will always carry heavy significance for those of us who remember.

How can we ever forget that dread-filled day when the United States was subject to multiple acts of terrorism?

We will not forget – we will remember: Nizkor – Let us remember.


I’m sure  each one of us has our own memories of where we were when we heard the unbelievable news of what happened. But rather than evoke images of the destruction and the horror, let us evoke memories of the PEOPLE:

  • those who died
  • those who were injured
  • those who were heroes
  • those whose lives were irrevocably changed.

This is our time for conjuring those memories – for giving life to our memories, because it is those memories which will help sustain and nurture us.

The author Philip Roth once wrote: “You mustn’t forget anything. To be alive, is to be made of memory – if a man’s not made of memory, he’s made of nothing.”

To be alive is to be made of memory. We remember our dead to show that we have grown up and arrived. It enables our loved ones to remain part of us, even though they have parted from us.   Our spiritual life does not only consist of reactions to the present and hopes for the future, but also what we can recall in our minds and hearts of what has been. This gives us a mechanism for coping with the pain, the loss and allowing ourselves to live our lives to the fullest.

If we were to attempt to crystallize the flood of memories, thoughts and feelings that now envelope us as we remember those events from that horrendous day 13 years ago, we realize that we best honor those who died, by affirming our own lives and how we choose to lead them.

Yesh Kochavim – There Are Stars, by Hannah Senesh

There are stars up aboveso far away we only see their light long, long after the star itself is gone. And so it is with people we have loved – their memories keep shining ever brightly though their time with us is done. But the stars that light up the darkest night, these are the lights that guide us. As we live our lives, these are the ways we remember.

Nizkor – We will always remember.

The Month of Elul as a Labyrinth

Around the corner from my house in Mt Sinai, New York is the Little Portion Friary.

This is a Franciscan community which is part of the Episcopal Society of St. Francis. The Friary itself is a residence for friars: Franciscan brothers who pray, live simply, study and work with others for peace and justice. Gracious hospitality is a hallmark of Franciscan life.

This particular friary sits on a lush and beautiful 63-acre piece of property. The brothers are known for the delicious bread they bake every Friday (their bakery runs on the “honor method”: rarely is someone there to take your payment. You take a loaf of bread and leave the payment in the box).

Bakery of the Little Portion Friary, Mt. Sinai, New York
Bakery of the Little Portion Friary, Mt. Sinai, New York

Behind the bakery and residence itself, are walking trails, a tranquil outdoor chapel, and picture-esque grounds.

One of the most interesting elements on the property is the labyrinth, which is open to public from 2:00 PM to dusk daily.

This labyrinth was designed by David Tolzmann of “The Labyrinth Company” (a division of Prism Environmental Group). It’s a seven-circuit labyrinth and is located on a peaceful hillside lawn rising up from the friary, surrounded by magnificent trees and simple gardens.

The labyrinth at Little Portion Friary, Mt Sinai, New York
The labyrinth at Little Portion Friary, Mt Sinai, New York

Labyrinths are not like mazes: once you begin to walk, the path always leads to the center. There is no right way to walk. The goal of walking the labyrinth is to help one find a sense of calm, meaning and peace in one’s life. By walking the labyrinth with purpose, keeping focused on the path, being intentional about staying centered on one’s body, and being open to the experience of the labyrinth itself, we are told that “walking the labyrinth helps to understand thoughts and feelings, soothes and calms one’s spirit.” It has been said that walking the labyrinth can even help one to problem solve. And, it can simply be fun or enjoyable.

As I walked the labyrinth with a friend on our evening walk the other day, it was a very peaceful and calming experience.

I realized that the labyrinth is similar to the Hebrew month of Elul, the month that immediately precedes the Yamim Nora’im – the Days of Awe (aka, the High Holy Days). We enter Elul deliberately, hoping to find purpose and meaning to our lives. We reflect on the year that is ending. We try to be intentional about staying focused on the path of renewal and t’shuvah – repentance.  And we are hopeful that the experience of this time of introspection, soul-searching and reflection will not just “sooth and calm our spirit”, but will lead us to spiritual fulfillment. We hope that when we reach the “center” – the High Holy Days themselves, we emerge from this time renewed, refreshed and recommitted to our Jewish community, to God and to the best of ourselves.



Food for Mind, Body and Spirit


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