Archive for December, 2011

Synonyms for Inspired

I am writing these words onboard an Amtrak train returning from Washington DC where I attended the most moving, uplifting, and fulfilling URJ biennial conference that I have ever attended. At this largest URJ biennial ever, we heard inspiring words from world famous statesmen. We welcomed and greeted the 2 Baraks (Barak Obama and Ehud Barak) with barak (hebrew for thunder) in the form of applause and ovation. I cannot explain how moved I was to be present as the leader of the free world declared to the Jewish people, “Hineini” I am here. But hineini isn’t about just being present, it is about “presence” in the deepest sense of the word. It is about dedication to stand with and up for something. He declared that he would continue to stand with Israel and with the Jewish people. In the living memory of some of those in the room were the times when Jews were not welcome at their local country club, and here we were listening to the President of the United States, an African American, talk to us about issues of substance and meaning, having heard our voices, our cries for social justice, healthcare reform, gay rights, equality for women, and Israel and declaring to us (in Hebrew no less) “Hineini!” Unreal.

President Obama wished us “Shabbat Shalom” and 6000 people gathered for Shabbat dinner (they’ve contacted the Guinness Book of Records on that one). Much to my shock, it was beautifully coordinated and we didn’t have to wait hours for our food.

Pre-Shabbat we had attended sessions on concrete issues: congregation management, B’nei Mitzvah teaching, dues structures, etc. (more programs on offer for each time slot than you can imagine!), but with Shabbat we turned our hearts to music and the study of Torah. Worship was conducted in a sanctuary of thousands and was projected on giant screens. The Rabbis and Cantors who lead the tefillot did so movingly (a special shout out to Cantor Frost and Cantor Novick who both sang so beautifully!) Into the wee hours of the night we rocked out at song sessions and in the morning, I was moved to tears by the speeches, sermons, and Torah study from the URJ leadership.

At this biennial, we said goodbye to Rabbi Yoffie as he ended his term as the president of the URJ. I have been often deeply touched by his sermons and was very sad to see him go. I consider him to be one of MY Rabbis and will truly miss how he consistently motivated me to be a stronger Jew and a better leader. Then we said hello and “Baruch Haba” (welcome) to Rabbi Rick Jacobs who will be taking the helm. He is dynamic with a lot of tremendous ideas. I am excited to see what he will do. We initiated the campaign for youth engagement, which I think has a great deal of promise.

In the mean time, I encourage you to view the recorded webcasts of the plenary sessions and Rabbi Yoffie’s and Rabbi Jacobs’s sermons at this link.

An Inspirational Moment

Hello!  As you’ve probably noticed, I took a little break from blogging for a few months.  I think I’m back now.  I’ve had a bit of writers block, and I think that one good way to get past it is to have a guest blogger write for me Smile.

At B’nei Mitzvah services at Temple Beth Torah, students deliver a creative prayer.  The Rabbi and I do not see or edit these before the Bar or Bat Mitzvah because we don’t believe that we have a right to edit people’s prayers.   These prayers are often both beautiful and inspirational.  A little while back, a student delivered one that I thought my blog audience would particularly enjoy.  I asked her permission to share it with all of you.  She said yes, but only on condition of anonymity.  So, I can’t tell you who wrote this beautiful piece, but I hope that you will enjoy it as much as I did.

Photo Credit: Fotolia via

Creative Prayer

I pray that everyone can have a special connection with God, no matter what your religion. Say you were born into an atheist family and you were raised not to believe in God. This does not mean that you cannot change your view on whether God exists, and if He does what is He like? Is He mean or kind? Is He fair or unfair? Is He even a He? I strongly believe that you can choose for yourself. However, this is usually not the case. Most people are born into a religion that drills into your head that God exists, resulting in blind support for a significant portion of your life. Then, as you experience more trials and become wiser, you might begin to question God’s existence. The idea of some mysterious person you cannot see hear or touch controlling you and the people around you could be hard to accept. You might also ask yourself a commonly asked question: If God exists and is generous and fair, then why are there so many misfortunes in life like hunger, homelessness, sickness, and life changing events like the Holocaust? As a believer in God, I argue that God must show us the worst, in order for us to recognize the best.

I might also add that I personally went through this journey, questioning what I was taught to believe by my parents and in Hebrew school. But after going through some experiences and figuring out my views on God and Judaism, I can proudly say that I believe in God. The way I see it, God works through the people He created. What I mean by that is say you are nervous for a test coming up in school. You do not know if you will do well, even though you studied extra hard because you know this is not your best subject. Then, a friend observes your worries and says, “I know you will do well on the test because you studied a lot, you are a great student, and I have faith in you.” I believe that God was showing Himself through that friend’s words, so that pep talk was really from God. This has definitely happened to me before, and sometimes I wonder if God ever sent a message to someone through me. Because of these beliefs, I have a strong connection with God and I pray that everyone can experience what I did with Him.