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,

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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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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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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Sanctuary. A place of refuge and protection. Places of learning and growth are sanctuaries. Dance clubs where our bodies move to the wondrous pulse of music are sanctuaries. Movie theaters where we release our minds to the wonders, sounds, and sights of things real and imaginary are sanctuaries.
This week’s Torah portion is about the first sanctuary, the Mishkan, the tabernacle. A few weeks ago in the Torah reading cycle the Israelite community received the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai. We became a community who knew slavery, redemption, and formed society as a newly liberated community. There were lots of things the community needed and one of them was a place to worship, a place for God to dwell. “וְעָ֥שׂוּ לִ֖י מִקְדָּ֑שׁ וְשָׁכַנְתִּ֖י בְּתוֹכָֽם׃,” “Make me for a sanctuary/Mikdash that I may dwell among them,” (Exodus 25:8). The Hebrew root, “shin-chaf-nun” found in the fourth Hebrew word of this verse and in the word Mishkan means something greater than dwelling or place to live. As it states in a comment on this verse in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary this root “indicates a moving, dynamic presence, not one tied to a fixed location.” This is because God’s presence is everywhere.
God’s presence was in the Mishkan. God’s presence is in places of learning. God’s presence is in dance clubs. God’s presence is in movie theaters. God’s presence is in each human being.
And so, like me, like so many of us, God too is weeping over the senseless tragedy that took place on Wednesday in a sanctuary, violating the sanctity of a place of learning, humanity and hope for the future. We cry for the souls taken. We mourn for the parents who will bury their children. We applaud the acts of heroism, great and small, displayed by teachers, school staff, first-responders, and human beings who did the right thing in a moment of chaos.
It is a fact that since the start of 2018 20 people have been killed and 30 people injured in school shootings.  This is not okay.
Through our tear-stained cheeks I invite you to join me in lobbying our representatives to enact gun violence prevention legislation. We must work together to support organizations like Do Not Stand Idly By, Moms Demand Action or Every Town for Gun Safety with our dollars, our volunteer service, and our grit.
There are sanctuaries around us and within us. We must work together to strengthen them so that we can all take refuge and find protection.
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An update on my Facebook-free phone

Facebook let me know that 11 years ago today I joined. A lot can happen in 11 years. I will spare you the corny Facebook video. As you may recall, I recently removed the app from my phone. It was quite honestly one of the best things I’ve done. This article agrees with me.

I’ve noticed the following things:

  • I look at my phone less
  • My battery stays remarkably more full throughout the day
  • There are times when I look to my phone to distract myself and I’ve ended up looking out the window or taking a few deep breaths
  • I read more news
  • I need to be mindful about when I upload a picture to my personal facebook page (I have the pages app because I use Facebook or work purposes) because I can’t just check something on my phone

For me, it is working extremely well not to have Facebook on my phone. Have you ever considered taking the step? I’d love to hear about it.

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Experiment: Facebook is off of my phone

In front of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

I have just returned from a week in Europe, Berlin and Prague to be precise. And while there are many wonderful things that I observed, one thing I noticed is how much less Europeans seem to be staring at their phone screen. I also was staring at my phone screen so much less (perhaps because it was mostly in airplane mode). When I saw people in cafes, they were reading newspapers or magazines, lost in thought, or conversing with someone across the table. On public transportation people were gazing out the window watching the city go by. Phones were tucked away at restaurants, instead of being the requisite additional utensil adjacent to the fork.

Having some time away where I know I was looking at my own screen less I’ve decided to try this at home, also. As an experiment, I’ve deleted Facebook from my phone. Looking at my phone battery usage, I see that most of the time I am on my phone I am on Facebook and it is time to make a change. I can assure you that I am not abandoning social media entirely. I will still check Facebook on a computer or my iPad and I have a plethora of other social media accounts. The question will be do I turn to those other platforms without Facebook or do I just look at my phone less often? I’m hoping for the later.

Stay tuned for an update sometime soon!

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Temple Beth Hillel, Reach Out When You’re Ill

This article appeared in the Temple Beth Hillel publication, Hillel Omer.

“Reaching Out When You’re Ill”

Did you know that you can remove a sixtieth of a person’s suffering simply by visiting them? According to the Talmud (Bava Metzia 30b), we learn that by fulfilling the positive sacred obligation of bikkur cholim, visiting the sick, we can ease the ill person’s suffering. Now, this might cause you to wonder, why not cram 60 people into the room to take away all of the illness? Good question. Rabbi Abba clarifies,each visitor removes one-sixtieth of the remaining illness so even sixty visitors would not remove all remaining illness.

Bikkur cholim, visiting the sick, is an immensely meaningful sacred obligation, and a vital aspect of the work that Rabbi Hronsky and I do as leaders of our congregation. There is just one catch, we need to know there is something going on with you or your family member.

There was a time that it was the job of the clergy assistant to call local hospitals and receive the lists of the admitted Jewish patients. Since 1996 and the enactment of the HIPAA laws, a rabbi can no longer know who is admitted to the hospital unless the patient or a patient’s family member provides the information. Though there is much happening during a hospital stay, please add contacting Rabbi Hronsky or I to the list.

No bikkur cholim visits are the same. In some cases an ill person may be too weak to have a conversation so singing and praying is all that takes place. Sometimes Rabbi Hronsky or I spend time offering our support to the caregivers, the family members sitting at bedside or in a waiting room. Other times we are able to speak on the phone to a patient or a family member and make arrangements for a visit once the ill person is at home or more stable.

While we hope all hospital stays are brief, it is our hope that we can be present for you and your family in these precious moments. Please make sure that your family members are aware of your relationship with our congregation and that it is appropriate for them to reach out to us via phone call or email.

May we have the opportunity to spend moments together celebrating and sanctifying life’s beautiful moments.


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