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The Temple Emanuel 50-person mitzvah mission to Israel last week experienced the confusing reality that diametrically contradictory truths can both be true.Normal or not normal? Is Israel a nation in mourning, as Rachel Korazim taught? Or is Israel getting past October 7, not in mourning, trying to live a normal life, as Donniel Hartman taught? Yes…
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This Shabbat, I’m going to share a personal story very different from the kinds of sermons I used to give when I worked in a congregation. I want to be clear it is my story. I recognize that in this room there are Autistic people and family members who have their own perspectives that may differ from mine. They are just as important and valid. We a…
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Have you ever said yes to a commitment without knowing what that yes would mean to your life? If you have taken a new job, moved to a new city, gotten married, had children, or nurtured a loved one through a rough patch, you have said this type of yes. The address for saying yes without knowing what yes means is the famous phrase “na’aseh v’nishmah…
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The holy grail in Jewish education is “transformational.”An Israel trip like Birthright or any of our Passport experiences are supposed to be “transformational.” Going to any of our wonderful day schools is supposed to be “transformational.” Jewish summer camp--24-7 immersion, lifelong friends--is supposed to be “transformational.” The idea of a “t…
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“When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” Mark Twain I think of the Mark Twain quote whenever I ponder a signaturepiece of wisdom of my late mother that I resisted as a teen, but that I agree with …
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I have been thinking a lot about something that many of us—not all, but many—have in common: brothers and sisters. I have been in a deep brother and sister place this week for two reasons. I am the youngest of six children. My five older siblings live in different places. Two live in Los Angeles, one in New Jersey, one in Denver, and my sister Jill…
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There is a Jewish holiday that few know, Tu B’Shevat, the new year of trees, celebrated next Wednesday night and Thursday, January 24-25. If Passover is the most broadly observed holiday, Tu B’Shevat is among the least observed—a holiday about trees in the dead of winter.To prepare ourselves for the holiday next week, we are going to study three st…
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Our reading this week, parshat va’era, features otot u’moftim, signs and wonders, that are intended to persuade Pharaoh of God’s power and therefore that he should let the Israelites go. The problem is, while the signs and wonders are indeed powerful-- a rod turning into a snake, the Nile turning into blood, millions of frogs jumping up and down--t…
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If a picture paints a thousand words, then a screen shot I saw this week conveys a truth that we need to reckon with. The screenshot shows the different realities of New York City and Israel on New Year’s Eve. New York: fireworks. Israel: taking fire, the glare of missiles and rockets that Hamas still manages to fire into Israel. New York: people o…
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Wisdom. We could all use it now. Many of us had hoped andprayed for a better 2024, a happier 2024, a more peaceful 2024. But now that we are in 2024, we are faced with the same stubborn challenges of 2023, deepened. The election cycle in America. The ongoing war in Israel and Gaza and the simmering threat of war with Hezbollah. Ongoing tensions on …
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My grandfather was a curmudgeon, especially this time of year. He would start to get grumpy mid-November, when Christmas lights started going up around town and his mood would really sour after Thanksgiving when retailers began blasting Christmas carols. Then a simple trip to the grocery store would send him muttering angrily under his breath up an…
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The prayer life of the Jewish people gives voice to contradiction and dissonance.On the one hand, all week long we have been singing Hallel, in which we acclaim how God saves us: I called on Adonai; I prayed that God would save me.... God has delivered me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling. I shall walk before Adonai in the land…
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Ever since October 7, I have been living in an anxiety-filled, doom-driven stupor. All day, from the moment I wake up until I go to bed at night, I check my news apps compulsively and obsessively, worried that there will be some new development that will rock my world the way that horrible attack did. At night, I delve deeper. I doom scroll. I read…
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Before October 7, our children were blessed to live in a world where their Jewish commitments were not an obstacle to making friends or fulfilling their dreams. Yes, there has always been some anti-Semitism. But for the most part, our kids could be who they were, without hiding anything. Our job was to inspire them to give voice to all parts of the…
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This morning has been so beautiful, so joyful, just what we needed. Daniel’s Bar Mitzvah. Eli’s Bar Mitzvah. Ronna’s birthday. Elizabeth’s naming, three generations of love. And the reason it is especially joyful is that things have been so dark. Eight weeks of war later, with no clear end in sight, we don’t know when it’s going to end, we don’t kn…
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An envelope structure is a great way to tell a story. The story begins with a place, an event, a memorable moment. Stuff happens. The plot unfolds. And the story ends back at the same place or a newer, deeper version of the same event or memorable moment.A classic example of an envelope structure is God, Jacob, and Bethel.Last week’s reading: At th…
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We hear a lot these days about “the college campus,” and I just want to note, it is important to remember that every student is different and every student is experiencing his or her campus differently. I don’t speak for all college students, perhaps not even most, and what I’ll share today is my perspective based on my experience. I strongly encou…
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How do we understand the double absence of God since October 7?The first absence is obvious: where was God when Hamas butchered, maimed, kidnapped, and performed unspeakable atrocities upon the innocent? Not there.The second absence is less obvious but still noteworthy: in the countless articles, podcasts, and conversations, we hear very little abo…
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This is a Talmud class like no other for a moment like no other.One short story encapsulates the moment. There are tragically so many moments like it. On Sunday, Shira was speaking with her brother Ari and sister-in-law Tziporit who live in Jerusalem. They had just returned from the funeral of a close friend who was a member of their shul in Jerusa…
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This morning I want to tackle a question that is granular, sensitive, painful, common—and coming soon to a Thanksgiving table near you. What do we do when different generations in our family disagree, passionately, about Israel? This is not a new question. It is an old question. What is new is the urgency of the question in light of the massacre of…
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About the daily stories of rising anti-Semitism, two questions. First question: How does this current chapter compare to previous chapters? The Haggadah contains the famous passage vehei she’amdah: This promise has stood us and our parents in good stead.For not only has one enemy stood over us to annihilate us.But in every generation enemies have s…
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All of us worry about the courageous soldiers of the IDF going into the alleys and tunnels of Gaza. It fills us all with deep dread.The ground invasion, and what it will mean to Israeli soldiers, has resurfaced a very important text in Israeli history, Moshe Dayan's brief remarks at the funeral of an officer named Roy Rotenberg who was murdered in …
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Elie Wiesel talked about madness descending on Europe in the 1930s. Cultured, urbane, sophisticated Germans who loved opera and philosophy, and who were nice to their dogs and cats, warmed to the Nazis. A similar madness is descending on American college campuses and universities today. It is madness because throngs of students feel that Israel is …
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I would like to start with something lovely, the most beautiful words in the world: I love you forever. Think of the people and places that have inspired these magical words. I have a question. How long is forever? How long do we get to keep who and what we love forever? This past Monday, our beloved friend and teacher in Jerusalem, Micah Goodman, …
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The weekly Torah portion always speaks to our world, but never more so than now. The word hamas is in the third verse of the portion. The presence of hamas spells the ruination, death, destruction of the entire world. "The earth became corrupt before God; the earth was filled with lawlessness (hamas)." Genesis 6:11 In his JPS Commentary on Genesis,…
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How many of you have seen the play or the movie Golda’s Balcony? If you have, you know about that powerful moment, early in her career for Israel, she is Golda Meyerson at the time, it is January, 1948, it is three years after the Shoah, it is five months before Israel’s independence would be declared and the war for independence would start, and G…
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At the rally for Israel on Monday at the Boston Commons, there were two clarifying moments. When Senator Markey called for de-escalation, he was loudly and roundly booed. When Congressman Auchincloss observed that Israel did not ask America to de-escalate on 9/12, he was loudly and roundly cheered. What is that about? Last Shabbat was the worst day…
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The last chapter of any book is critical to understanding the meaning of the book. The last chapter of the Torah, Deuteronomy 34, which we encounter this weekend on Simchat Torah, is in several ways a surprising last chapter, given the book as a whole.The Torah is supposed to be about life. Choose life. But Deuteronomy 34 is about death. Why end wi…
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I have two classmates from the Harvard Law School class of 1986 who are extraordinarily famous. World famous, but for different reasons. One of them, Elana Kagan, is a Justice on the United States Supreme Court. She just made news recently because she has argued that the nine justices of the Supreme Court should be held accountable for their ethica…
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In his final podcast of 'For Heaven’s Sake' for the year 5783, entitled “Farewell 5783,” Donniel Hartman said something that really stuck with me. He said: “I don’t do pessimism.” Despite all the drama and tension in Israel, the many articles and voices talking about how the country is deeply divided, how this is the greatest domestic crisis in Isr…
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A writer named Robert Hubbell is not Jewish. He and his wife are both observant Catholics. But earlier this year he wrote an essay entitled “My Kippah” about the fact that one of his most cherished possessions is a kippah. He did not know any Jews growing up. One of the first Jewish people he ever got to know was a law school classmate, a woman who…
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Every August there is a show called Hard Knocks about the training camp of an NFL football team. This year the show focused on the New York Jets because of their new quarterback Aaron Rodgers. If you are not a football fan, Aaron Rodgers was a legendary quarterback of the Green Bay Packers where he won both a Super Bowl and the Most Valuable Player…
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For our Talmud class this week, we read the classic short story If Not Higher, written by the Yiddish writer I.L. Peretz (1852-1915). Dr. Stephen Greenblatt, a proud alum of the Temple Emanuel Hebrew School, and a University Professor at Harvard, where he is the world’s preeminent Shakespeare scholar, teaches us If Not Higher before Neilah on Monda…
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There is an old joke about a mother who wakes up her son and says: Honey, you have to get up. It’s time to go to shul. The son resists. I don’t want to go to shul. I want to sleep. Honey, you have to go to shul. I don’t want to go to shul. I want to sleep. You can’t sleep. You have to go to shul. Give me one good reason. Give you one good reason? W…
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One of my closest friends tells of an impish childhood. Facing his parents’ discipline, whether after a homework assignment not turned in, a skirmish with his sister, or a fly-ball through the living room window, they would ask him, “How did this happen? Did you do this?” To which he would reply, “Yes – but that was when I was younger.” We sometime…
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On March 18, 1980, a young historian named Marty Sherwin, then age 43, signed a contract with Knopf publishing to write a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the so-called father of the atomic bomb. When Marty Sherwin signed the deal, both he and the publishing house expected that it would be a five-year project. He was to get paid $70,000, $35,000…
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The story is told of a man named Harry whose business had fallen on hard times. He goes to shul and prays: God, I don’t often ask you for things, but my business is failing, and I need a miracle now. Please help me win the lottery. The lottery happens, and he doesn’t win. He is feeling the financial squeeze. If he doesn’t get help soon, he might lo…
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“In this house we believe that…” American lawn signs confidently proclaim that the members of this house all believe the same things: and the sign then lists the tenets that the members of the home all believe. These lawn signs cover a wide gamut of political convictions. All of which made me wonder: what, if anything, do we have to believe to be c…
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