“Praying for the Safety of Loved Ones” | November 3rd
In this week’s Haftorah, we read a story from the book of II Kings about the unnamed Shunamite woman who desperately wants to have a child. The prophet Elisha tells her that in a year’s time, she, like our matriarch Sarah in this week’s parsha, will have a son with the help of God. But in this story, shortly after that son is born and grows up, he suddenly and tragically dies. In a panic, the Shunamite woman rushes to track down Elisha in the desperate hope that he can restore life to her child. And with the divine help of God, Elisha breathes life back into the woman’s son.
In that liminal moment between death and life, what must it have been like for that mother not to know the fate of her son as she ran for help? Would her desperate prayers be enough to bring him back?
As with everything recently, events in Israel have changed the way I read this story. Reading about a mother who only wants to know if her son is alive or dead, my thoughts could not help but turn to those families desperately and anxiously awaiting the return of their loved ones from behind enemy lines in Gaza. What they are going through right now–having no idea about the condition of those they care about most in the world–is unimaginable. Like the Shunamite woman, they do not know if their children are alive or dead.
In the midst of all this worry and anxiety, we can find one small glimmer of hope that there is at least one family whose prayers have been answered. On Monday, the IDF announced that Pvt. Ori Megidish, a 19 year old soldier, had been taken out of Gaza in a successful secret rescue mission. Details are scarce, but she is reportedly in good physical and mental condition, and has been returned safely to her family. While we will continue to pray for the safe and speedy release of the over 200 hostages, for now, her safe return home provides even just a sliver of optimism that the rest of those who have been taken may also find a safe way home. I and the rest of the Jewish world will maintain the hope that we will soon see the day when mothers, fathers, husbands and wives, grandparents and siblings are all safely reunited with the ones they love.
Rabbi Gabe Cohen
“Lech Lecha 5784” | October 27th
I love to travel. Airports give me such an adrenaline rush. The idea of landing and exploring new places, trying new foods, meeting new people and learning about their cultures is reason for excitement.
But I would be dishonest if I told you that my excitement does not have a tinge of anxiety. What will the people be like where I am going? Is it safe? Will the food taste good? Will the language be a barrier? I also know that I am always a little different after the trip. My horizons are always broadened and it adds to the .
I do not know what Abram, Lot and Sarai were feeling when they began their journey headed south to Canaan, also known as Biblical Israel. Though, I imagine many of these feelings – the excitement and worry – were front and center.
The events of October 7th have forced all of us on a new journey that’s path is riddled with worry, anxiety, unity and fear. None of us know where this journey will take us and how it will change us individually, and as a people. But it surely will change us. Our horizons will be broadened, and some beliefs will be shattered.
I wish I had the perfect medicine to calm fears and tell you what every space and turn of this new place will look and feel like. I DO know that we will grow from this moment. Most moments of profound pain always lend itself to positive progress. I also know that the more we are with one another, and can hold each other close, it will help calm fears and fortify our resolve.
This will be a long journey. I am supported knowing you are by my side for all the parts unknown and undetermined.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
“Seeking Hope in a Dark Time” | October 20th
This week we read Parashat Noach, best known for its fantastical elements–an ark large enough to safely carry two of every animal from a flood that will drown the whole world followed by a rainbow that reassures humanity that God will never destroy the world this way again. But beneath all of that, with Israel on our mind and in our hearts, there is a story that resonates deeply right now about a world torn apart by hate. God looks at the world He has just created with great disappointment as He sees that humanity cannot get along with one another. The world’s population has been overwhelmed by wickedness to the point that God determines the only way forward is to wipe everyone out and start all over again.
And as dark as this aspect of the story feels, the lasting image we are left with is not destruction. Instead, it is the hope that the rainbow symbolizes for civilization going forward. That rainbow is God’s promise that no matter how bad things may seem, the world can be a better place. That is a message we desperately need now as our thoughts, prayers and full-throated support turn to Israel.
It is these days when we need those moments of hope and reassurance like we saw with God’s rainbow. And in light of reading the story of Noah now, there is something that makes the image of the rainbow even more powerful. Nachmanides, writing in the 13th century, notes that the shape of the rainbow carries a powerful message of peace. He explains that the shape of the rainbow is the very same arc as that of the bow and arrow. But because the rainbow is pointed towards the sky as opposed to the ground where humans reside, this is the symbol of a warrior holding his weapon in the air with no intention to fire. It is the call for peace. And so, in our dark world, as we pray for the speedy and safe return of those taken captive and that those responsible for these heinous attacks face swift justice, I share the opening words from the Prayer for Peace that we recite every shabbat on the bimah, but which have never felt as necessary as they do right now: “May we see the day when war and bloodshed cease, when a great peace will embrace the whole world.”
May this be a Shabbat of much needed hope and peace in the world.
Rabbi Gabe Cohen
“Shabbat Shalom?” | October 13th
Shabbat Shalom – A Sabbath of Peace.
It is hard to offer those words this week. I am not at peace. Our homeland is not a peace. Our people are not at peace. I am not ready to make peace. Not yet.
Shabbat comes this week with a false hope. Shabbat is a day of rest and retooling. But even after a Shabbat nap, Kiddush, HaMotzi and prayer, the sun will set and the pain, suffering and sorrow will seep back into our week.
This Shabbat might not heal our heart and might not calm our anxiety, but it can be a time of togetherness. Praying and gathering is the antidote to our loneliness and feelings of isolation. This Shabbat can remind us to draw closer to one another and to fortify our Judaism and Zionism.
Please join us this Shabbat at Temple Emanu-El. Friday night we pray at 6:15 PM and Shabbat morning at 9:00 AM.
Additionally, Temple Emanu-El has procured 2,000 lawn signs that proclaim we stand with Israel. Please pick one (or a few) up at the Temple and share with neighbors and local shop keepers. Please consider an $18 donation to cover the cost of each sign.
This is a time to proudly stand with our Jewish and Israeli community. We need to wear it on our sleeves and on our lawns to stand united and fortified.
We are also collecting focused items for Israeli soldiers. We ask all people attending in person services this Friday and/or Shabbat to please donate toothbrushes. There will be other focused items in the days and weeks to come. For this weekend, we are collecting ONLY toothbrushes for soldiers and displaced residents of the north and south.
May this Shabbat bring us together. May that help us begin the long process of healing and restoring hope.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner
“The Last Kaddish” | October 6th
On Monday evening, a few moments before our family dedicated a new Torah Scroll to Temple Emanu-El in memory of my mother, Barbara Kirshner z”l, I recited my last Kaddish in her memory.
For a Jewish calendar year, without missing a single day, I prayed in a quorum of ten Jewish adults to remember and honor her. The requirement of Kaddish for the year, shaped my daily routines, schedule and dictated all of my choices. It determined where I would travel and when I would depart and arrive from trips to ensure I could a make the Minyan. I chose only to travel to places where I knew I could find a synagogue that was operational with daily services.
In 12 months, I said Kaddish in Closter, Englewood, Teaneck and Tenafly, Florida, California, Missouri, Texas, Georgia, Michigan, Lisbon & Porto Portugal, Krakow & Warsaw, Poland, Berlin Germany, Cairo Egypt, Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, Manama Bahrain, Madrid, Toledo & Barcelona Spain, and Israel, just to name some of the many places I brought this prayer to.
A few weeks ago, as the formal mourning was winding down, my kids asked if it was hard to say Kaddish every day. I replied that it was not easy but a very small gesture to show my mother how much she meant to me. Compared to the sacrifices she made for me and my siblings, it was a drop in the bucket, so to speak. I said I would do it for five more years if needed, just so my mom would know how loved and missed she indeed is.
The next night, Tuesday, I made sure to go to our Maariv Minyan, even though this would be the first Minyan where I would not say the Kaddish prayer. As we turned to page 282, I sat down and was noticing my silence.
Ironically, a member of our congregation who is a Shabbat regular came to Minyan that night to begin his journey for saying kaddish for an immediate relative who was buried hours before. I felt empowered answering ‘Amen’ to his prayer and being present for his family.
This time reminded me of two timely truths:
First, Minyan is as critical whether we are saying Kaddish or enabling others to. That can only happen by your attendance and support. I lovingly beseech all of you to consider only 1 day a month that you can support our Minyan with your physical presence. Monday through Thursday night at 7 PM. Wednesday morning at 7:30 AM. Friday night at 6:15 PM and Saturday and Sunday at 9 AM.
Second, like the Torah that we finish and restart again this weekend at Simchat Torah, so too are the cycles of remembrance. One person ends their cycle, another begins, and our grief, memory and recollections take new shape and meaning.
I wish you all a Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah filled with renewed appreciation for life, memory and our ability to be part of the greater whole.
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner