Getting ready for Sinai

Shabbat Shalom! As Shabbat concludes we have the special opportunity to go from kodesh to kodesh, holy to holy, as Shavuot, the Feast of Weeks, commences. Our tradition teaches that on Shavuot our people stood at Mt. Sinai and established the communal covenant with God as a community for the first time. The Torah is the evidence of this sacred relationship.

This week I had opportunity to summarize each Torah portion in just a few words. So, I am re-posting that effort here because you may learn something and want to study a little bit more. Feel free to ask me questions, too. The audience for this list were 5th graders by the way.

Genesis

Bereshit – Two creation stories, Garden of Eden

Noach – Story of Noah and the flood, Tower of Babel

Lech L’cha – Meet Abram, the first Jew. Hagar has a son. The making of the covenant

Vayera – Sarah finds out she will have a child. Story of Sodom and Gemorrah. Binding of Isaac

Chayei Sarah – Sarah dies. Abraham makes arrangements for a wife for Isaac

Toldot – Jacob and Esau are born. Sibling rivalry

Vayetze – Jacob leaves home and goes to his uncle’s. Jacob’s ladder. The first stories about Jacob’s growing family.

Vayishlach – Jacob and Esau reunite. The bad situation with Dina. Rachel dies as does Isaac.

Vayeishev – The beginning of the musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat

Miketz – The end of the musical mentioned above. Joseph sees his brother’s again.

Vayigash – Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and the family reunites in Egypt

Vayehi – Recounting of Jacob’s life and his final blessings to his children.

Exodus

Shemot – We meet Moses. Moses grows up an Egyptian prince. Moses does something bad. Moses flees and meets God for the first time at a bush that is on fire but is not consumed.

Vaeira – God and Moses make some arrangements. Moses goes to Pharaoh and says, “Let my people go!” plagues begin

Bo – Plagues continue. The Israelites get out of Egypt

Beshallach – the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, the people are really free!

Yitro – The Israelites get to Mt. Sinai and the 10 commandments are given.

Mishpatim – lots and lots of laws are given in this Torah portion

Teruma – Instructions to build the Mishkan, the tabernacle, are given in detail (dolphin skins included!)

Tetzaveh – the clothes the priests will wear are described in detail here

Ki Tissa – Aaron and some Israelites build the Golden Calf, bad idea.

Vayakhel-Pekudei – Reminders to observe Shabbat, the building of the Mishkan is completed. God’s presence fills the space at the conclusion of this book of Torah.

Leviticus

Vayikra – the beginnings of the sacrificial cult, the way the Israelites are going to worship God are described

Tzav – more sacrifice descriptions and the details of the ordination of the priests (Aaron and his sons)

Shemini – Beginning of the usage of the altar for sacrifices. Two of Aaron’s sons get in big trouble for not following directions

Tazria-Metzora – purification rituals are described and biblical medical treatments, too

Acharei Mot-Kedoshim – Laws of Yom Kippur and how the Israelites are going to be a holy community are included here

Emor – Holiday observances are detailed

Behar-Behukotai – Laws of sabbatical and jubilee years and a lot of rewards and punishments for following rules

Numbers

B’midbar – a big census

Naso – some unique rituals included here, including the laws of the Nazarite

Beha’alotecha – setting up the menorah, 2nd Passover, and some complaining and speaking ill of others

Sh’lach Lecha – 12 spies are sent out to check out the land of Israel. Their report has important consequences

Korach – Korach leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron

Chukat – Red heifer ritual, Miriam dies, Moses gets angry and strikes a rock. Aaron dies.

Balak – Balak wants to curse the Israelites, it doesn’t work out the way he thinks and includes a talking donkey

Pinhas – Zealousness is brought out here. Inheritance for woman is a big issue, offerings for holidays, too.

Mattot-Masei – laws about vows and who the arch-enemies of the Israelites are. Distribution of land and the inheritance for woman issue is reprised

Deuteronomy

Devarim – Moses reminds the people of their journeys in the wilderness

V’etchanan – Moses reminds the people of the rules. The Shema and V’ahavta are in this Torah portion, too

Eikev – Moses is still talking. Reminders of the special relationship mGod the Israelites possess and some of the experiences since Egypt

Re’eh – Israelites have some choices, a life of blessings or curses. Review of kosher laws.

Shoftim – Judicial procedures and laws of war

Ki Teitze – a cool mixture of 72 different commandments

Ki Tavo – foreshadowing the Israelites’ life in the land of Israel

Nitavim-Vayelech – We are reminded to choose life and that the covenant is with us, too. Moses calls the people together to hear his final poem.

Ha’azinu – Moses’s final poem.

V’zot Habracha – The end of the Torah. Moses dies.

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To a RHSOE graduate

This year I served as a member of the Clinical Faculty of the Rhea Hirsch School of Education at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religious Jack H. Skirball Campus. It was an honor to mentor a student in his work at Temple Beth Hillel. Today, the day of his graduation, I was able to offer him this blessing:

Time, precious time, continues to be a blessing and a curse. And so, as we do, I thought to turn to words from our Kohelet, Ecclesiastes, that marvelous source of wisdom and guidance, to reflect and to bless you on your journey.

לכל זמן ועת לכל-חפץ תחת השמים:

A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven.

So too, The Rhea Hirsch School of Education sets a lesson for everything, a time for every educative experience under heaven.

A time for Understanding by Design, and a time for throwing out the plan and generating a new one.

A time for John Dewey’s constructivism and a time for E.D. Hirsch‘s core knowledge in our Jewish educational settings.

A time for the structural frame. A time for the human resources frame. A time for the cultural frame. A time for the political frame.

A time for Bloom’s Taxonomy and a time for Piaget’s theory of cognitive development.

A time for a Dewey-ian deliberation and a time for noticing, appreciating, and wondering.

A time for a supervision cycle and a time for a walk-through.

A time for project based learning and a time for memorization of facts.

A time for camp and a time for the classroom.

A time to lead as a teacher and a time to engage as a student,.

A time to see the forest and a time to study each tree.

There is a proper time for it all.

May you go from strength to strength with your expanded tool kit to teach the next generation of our people. Amen.

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What does it mean to stop and remember?

Today is Yom HaShoah v’haGevurah, literally translated as Day (of remembrance) of the Holocaust and Heroism. Are you able to find a moment to stop and remember?

I am worried that we, as an American Jewish society, are getting worse at remembering. It is like we are losing the muscles.

Today is Yom HaShoah, next week is Yom HaZikaron, the Memorial Day for Israel’s fallen heroes that immediately precedes Yom Ha’atzmaut. In the 70 years that we are joyously celebrating Israel’s statehood, so many have lost their lives for the cause.

In Israel, this moment of stopping is nationwide and it looks something like this, https://www.timesofisrael.com/israel-solemnly-remembers-6-million-victims-on-holocaust-remembrance-day/

Last week on the final day of Passover was Yizkor, one of the four times of the year we gather to recite memorial prayers for our beloved dead (Yom Kippur, the last day of Sukkot, and Shavuot are the other days). As the prayer leader I was extremely worried that we would not have a minyan, a quorum of 10 for prayer. I go to Yizkor because my mother died (in Jewish tradition one recites these prayers for a spouse, parent, sibling, or child). I know that I am not the only person in my congregation who has lost a parent, unfortunately. Why was the sanctuary mostly empty? I truly intend this question without judgment, I am really seeking to understand. Feel free to leave a comment on this post with your idea.

What does it mean to stop and remember? What does it mean for us as Jews? As Americans? Hopefully we can continue to exercise those remembrance muscles.

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What can one accomplish in 39 years?

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the murder of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He was 39 years old. Dr. King was a tremendous person, and like all people, imperfect. In just 39 years he was a pastor and leader of his flock in congregations in Montgomery and Atlanta. He received advanced degrees and built a family.

In the eleven-year period between 1957 and 1968, King traveled over six million miles and spoke over twenty-five hundred times, appearing wherever there was injustice, protest, and action; and meanwhile he wrote five books as well as numerous articles (from here).

His words, both in written and aural format inspired our nation to reconsider laws, social norms, and institutional biases that were unfair, unjust, and morally wrong. And yet, we as a nation have so much work to do.

Dr. King’s life was taken violently, he was a victim of gun violence.

He did so much in 39 years.

I am feeling the weight of the notion of legacy as my 39th birthday approaches in a few months. How will I create the world that I want to live in?

If you are able to do so, I hope you will consider joining me tonight in Los Angeles at this event. It will be my honor to represent Temple Beth Hillel and the Jewish community during the program. Details here.

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Happy Passover and Happy 100th birthday, Papa

Happy Passover, Chag Pesach Sameach! Tonight as my family gathers around my Seder table (spoiler alert Seder guests) we will also remember my Papa who would have turned 100 today.

There is, perhaps, no better day to honor his birth. Passover is a holiday where we commemorate a journey and Papa loved to travel (granted the Exodus from Egypt probably did not have accommodations that were quite his style). Papa had no greater delight than celebrating with his family and so tonight, though three sons and three grandchildren’s families will be there in spirit, JAS, SJS and I will bring our families together to connect with our tradition, eat delicious food, and celebrate.

It will be a great honor for me to lead the seder with DLE, just like he did when I was a young girl. While our Hebrew pronunciation would be slightly different, his pride would know no bounds at And as we look to his kiddush cup, this year to be used as Elijah’s cup, we will drink the sweet wine and celebrate Robert Steinman’s enduring legacy, the sweetness of freedom, and sacred time shared with family and friends. May we all have a liberating Passover.

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#ThisIsWhatARabbiLooksLike

What does a rabbi look like? Do you envision the rabbi of your childhood when you picture a rabbi? Is it an iteration of Tevye the lead character from Fiddler on the Roof? At the annual convention fo the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) this question was posed in a myriad of ways, especially as the work of the Task Force on Women in the Rabbinate led a program on creating cultural change. 45 years after the ordination of the first female rabbi in North America, too many people struggle to break that old image. One way Reform Rabbis the CCAR is changing the narrative is the hashtag and amazing photos, #ThisIsWhatARabbiLooksLike (I encourage you to search for this hashtag on your favorite social media platform).

By elevating the voice of the Reform rabbinate in the press, on social media, in the coffee shop, in the classroom, in the hospital room, and in the communal organization, Reform Rabbis are changing the perception of what a rabbi looks like.

A rabbi is tall. A rabbi is short. A rabbi is strong. A rabbi is differently able. A rabbi is a woman. A rabbi is a man. A rabbi is trans. This is what a rabbi looks like. Rabbis reflect the beautiful tapestry of humanity.

As I’ve been thinking and reflecting at the annual convention about these issues my amazing colleague at Temple Beth Hillel sent me the following photo and text.

“Ariela says, ‘this is Rabbi Ellie in the front.’”

As part of young Ariela’s imaginary play, one of her rabbis participates! This too is what a rabbi looks like.

And the next day this arrived:

“Today you are the top doll. She also said you like zebras.”

Thank God, children with the their profound imagination really understand what rabbis look like. May we continue to learn from them.

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Gratitude

When I was five years old I started piano lessons. For my parents, especially MY MOM, it was extremely important that music play a role in my life. I took lessons on my grandmother’s piano. My grandmother died when MY MOM was fourteen. That piano and music were one of the primary ways that I connected with her memory. The Chickering parlor grand piano had a prominent place in our living room, in fact it was the first thing that you saw upon entering our house in Los Angeles. I took weekly lessons and learned to plunk out notes. And in time I was playing Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and others.

When I was in third grade in my public school we had the opportunity to select an instrument for orchestra. I selected the clarinet. So for one academic year I played that woodwind. I would never become Benny Goodman.

The next year string instruments became an option and I switched to cello. Because I was able to read music, I was allowed this flexibility of instrument.

In the meanwhile, piano lessons were ongoing.

When we moved to Minnesota, I switched from orchestra or band to choir. Eventually as I got older, I think the tenth grade, my piano lesson days came to an end. I was still singing in choirs in my schools (for the record I attended public schools for elementary and secondary schooling). I did take guitar lessons for a bit, too.

When I went to college I elected to sing in the University Chorus for two years. In addition to a full academic course load, this was one of my extra-curricular activities. Music was always important to me.

Last year, I started taking guitar lessons again because I use my guitar in my work as a rabbi and I like it. (I have the greatest guitar teacher. (Happy to make a recommendation if you’d like. Use the ‘contact’ option to be in touch). Making music lowers my stress and I love it.

This past week, during Purim celebrations, I found myself as the page-turner. I am so incredibly grateful that I am able to read music and play multiple instruments. Thanks MOM and DAD for all of those music lessons. All of these years later they are still paying off.

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