Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
June 12, 2020

“The Difference” | June 12th, 2020

In the Torah portion of Shelach that we read this Shabbat, twelve spies are sent out to do reconnaissance on the land they are about to enter. Predictably, there is no unanimity amongst the spies. 10 spies find the land uninhabitable because those that are currently in the land are so large, they “make us look and feel like grasshoppers.” They will destroy us. Two spies, though, Caleb and Joshua, didn’t see despair and a sense of being little. They saw hope and opportunity.

What a great metaphor for this time that we find ourselves within and a paradigm for moving forward.

We can be negative or positive; full of despair or full of hope. Personally, I keep leaning towards the direction of Caleb and Joshua and hope. If it were not for their optimism, we would never have made it to the promised land and overcome our challenges. That ethic was passed forward to King David and to Hillel and Rabbi Akiva and to Herzl and to Ben Gurion and Gold Meir and to you and me.

Let us lean towards hope and let us shape the world we will inherit full of possibilities for today and tomorrow.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

May 22, 2020

“Sunrise-Sunset” | May 22nd, 2020

Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don’t remember growing older,
When did they?

Our son, Elias Gabriel, has grown up in Temple Emanu-El. The Temple building has been his second home and the congregation, his extended family.

In what seems like a blink of an eye, Elias has turned 13  years young and is celebrating his Bar Mitzvah this shabbat, tomorrow, Parashat Bamidbar. Elias will lead us in davening, reading from the Torah, and the Haftorah and sharing what this day means to him and his family.

Needless to say, this is not the day we dreamt of from when we walked him in his stroller down the Temple parking lot 13 years ago. But, it has all of the most important ingredients of a Bar Mitzvah: his attendance, his health his ability to lead, and his appreciation of the moment surrounded by his immediate family. We are sad that his three living grandparents will not be physically present nor aunts, uncles, and cousins. However, as the Talmud teaches, we are willing to sacrifice this Shabbat for the opportunity to celebrate many more Shabbatot to come.

What will make this day full and complete for our family is having you join us for this simcha. You can click here to log on at 9:00 AM EST (Elias will lead from the very beginning).

You have all been meaningful members of the village that has helped us raise our son for this moment and beyond. Having you celebrate with us via livestream will fill our hearts and raise the sanctity of the moment for Dori, me, and especially Elias. Thank you in advance.

We wish you a Shabbat Shalom and look forward to feeling your presence this Shabbat morning.

Dori and David-Seth Kirshner

May 15, 2020

“20 Years” | May 15th, 2020

This coming week marks 20 years since my ordination from JTS Rabbinical School.

In some ways, it feels like 50 years, in other ways, more like 20 minutes. Through the many good and few challenging moments, were someone to ask me to summarize these years and my role, I would offer the following statement: I am a marriage counselor.

Before you jump to any conclusion, allow me to explain.

The word to “marry”, in the less traditional sense, is connecting two concepts, ideas or things. I think that is what I (and most rabbis) do most often.

In no particular order, I marry Jewish people today to older customs, ancient laws, and timeless traditions. I help marry tradition and modernity.  I help marry Jewish people to a love of Zionism and the State of Israel. I try daily to marry people to meaning when they are lost and purpose when they are confused. In essence, rabbis facilitate connecting people and feelings and ideas. Rabbis marry memory and mourning to love, history, and perpetuity. I aim to marry our liturgy to a sense of modern value and meaning.

For me, personally, watching these marriages develop and mature and blossom over time into a deep love is the most rewarding part of my career.

Like all marriages, these connecting points are filled with peaks and valleys. Hopefully, there are many more peaks than valleys. As we say when we wrap the tefillin around our ring finger in the morning, We marry You, God, forever, in righteousness and faithfulness.

Rabbis might facilitate these “marriages” but ultimately, it is you, that consecrate and consummate the moments. That is where the holiness lives and the very reason I chose this career as my passion and path.

Thank you for being such a formidable part of my rabbinate. I have been blessed to stand under the proverbial Huppah with countless members of our community watching the marriages you have had to our people, our land, our history, and our future. Oh, how I look forward to many more years in good health of the very same.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

May 11, 2020

“IT IS OK” | May 8th, 2020

I am not sure where or when I morphed into a perfectionist, but I am one. It is quite annoying to my family and close friends, and it is even annoying to me at times. I look for excellence and am too often dissatisfied when things do not hit the high goals I set for myself.

During this pandemic, maintaining perfection has proven to be very challenging. Keeping a smiling face, a cheery attitude and a sense of unbridled optimism does not always flow from my being. Some days, though not too many, are just hard. When the weather is damp and dark and bad news comes through the airwaves you can hear the deflation whistle away from my spirit, like a tire losing air. I just get sad and feel so imperfect.

As someone who aims to spread sunshine and cheer to others, I feel bad when I cannot feel those feelings myself.

But, guess what?

Not everyday can be perfection. Not every moment is one of opportunity and optimism. We are allowed to feel down, upset, sad, angry, anxious, worried, concerned, and annoyed. These are all real and permissible feelings. Further, having those feelings does not in ANY way make us less than perfect. It makes us real, authentic, and genuine.

I tell you – and myself – IT IS OK to feel these feelings. It is acceptable. Just try not to let it be your only feeling for all times.

The Talmud explains (Yonah 75a) that when we feel anxiety and worry, the best way to address it is by either countering it with positive thoughts or expressing those feelings to a trusted friend.

So, when feeling the feelings that are OK to feel, think of a positive angle, a valuable perspective, or a silver lining.

If you have a trusted friend, share with them, and listen to them share with you. That is a foundation of trust and friendship.

It is OK to just be OK right now. We are all dealing with so much, and you are all doing amazing. You really are. And this perfectionist thinks you are pretty darn perfect!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

May 1, 2020

“Seeing God in this Crisis” | May 1st, 2020

Where is God during this pandemic?The question of where God can be found during a crisis is a familiar query. I have heard it in cancer wards, during wars, at cemeteries and now during this challenge, I overhear (even at a social distance) one asking the other, where God can be found.

I know exactly where God can be found during this crisis called, COVID-19.

In almost all hospitals where patients are convalescing, or in some tragic cases are dying alone, certain nurses, doctors, and orderlies are spending their breaks and times they would otherwise be off duty,  holding up their own iPhone and calling the immediate family and allowing loved ones to say goodbye, albeit virtually, to their beloved. In many cases, they hold up their phones for hours at a time. They organize zoom calls with people they have never met and ensure that the sick person is given tender loving care. I know a few cases where this indeed took place.

Dying alone is an unmitigated nightmare. At the very least, being able to see your loved one and say your goodbyes by video only happens when a nameless and faceless person holds a piece of technology up for hours at a time. I am sure these hospital workers are filled with tears as they do this heroic act. Even in the middle of an unimaginable tragedy for those who have lost a loved one to COVID, knowing that some have helped soothe the pain by their selfless acts is nothing short of a blessing.

Where is God? The steady hand, holding that phone is God’s hand. Where is God? The patience of the orderly that stays with that patient, so they do not die alone, is God’s presence. Where is God? The care and love and sharing of responsibility for people they have never met or do not know but, share the DNA of being made in God’s image, is seeing God and feeling God’s presence.

God’s face is visible in even more than hospital workers. God’s presence is felt in the postal worker that delivers medicine, the truck driver delivering milk and eggs to the grocers, the tech gurus making sure modems and computers are working, and the friend that checks on her neighbor daily.

We should not ask where God is only in the midst of tragedy but, be prepared to witness God’s face and powerful hand in the acts of goodness that are abound. I see God in more places than ever today. I hope you can too.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner