Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
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

April 24, 2020

“The Workout  – Shabbat Shalom” | April 24th, 2020

When this madness started to unfold towards the beginning of March, I whimsically went online to order a Peloton. By way of a lucky fluke, what was a 10 week waiting period for delivery happened in 3 days, because they were making other deliveries in our neighborhood.It has been a special gift for me during this quarantine. I have carved out time to ride every day which has given me an escape, some “me“ time, and put me back on track to getting in shape. (Feel free to follow me on Peloton, dskirshner)

No matter which ride I participate in, I find that 2 minutes into the ride and 6 minutes left in the ride are the hardest parts of the experience. So, a 30-minute ride lets say, seems hardest for me at the very beginning and towards the last leg of the journey.

Usually, I give some sort of pep-talk to myself about how I CAN do this, how it is not much more to go, and if I reach my goals I can have ravioli and cheesecake…..( I do not partake in those yummies, but it does motivate me)! Sometimes a virtual high-five from another rider or inspiration from the teacher pumps me to keep going. Then, at the end of the ride, I cool down and let my legs continue to spin and wait for my heart rate to drop to a lower and steady rhythm. Then I stretch for 2-4 minutes, finish my water and head upstairs to fuel my body and cool down.

SHAMELESS PLUG WARNING!

CLICK HERE to Join our Temple Emanu-El Peloton Riders Group for more fitness-related content, motivation & fun!

I am sharing this routine with you for 2 reasons:
1) I am proud of myself for getting back into shape. Yesterday, I saw my shoes without using a mirror for the first time in years!
2) This is the pattern we are in as a community.The first stage of sequestering at home was hard. We did not know if we could make it. We did. We have clearly turned the corner and are closer to releasing some of the restrictions than ever before. The last leg of the journey always feels hardest. Please know – YOU CAN DO IT! WE CAN DO IT! Together, we will enjoy ravioli and cheesecake and the knowledge that together, with support and encouragement, we will cross the threshold.

And when the restrictions begin to ease, we will not jump off the bike and go on with life as usual. Like stretching, fueling and cooling down, we will need some time to reacclimatize and get used to new normals, altered routines and adjusted realities through this process.

Any good workout makes us sore afterward. But it is in the sore that we feel our personal growth.

We are emotionally and physically sore from COVID. It has taken a serious toll on our society.  But, I know we are all growing and maturing in amazing and unthinkable ways from this moment.

I am so proud of you. We are almost there. 6 minutes to go, so to speak. We can do it. You can do it. Look at what you have done and how far you have come!

I cannot wait to see you and hug you, when acceptable, at the finish line.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

April 17, 2020

April 17th, 2020 | 22 Nisan 5780

There’s a lot to be said about the Saturday Night Seder, a delightful, irreverent, and ultimately wonderful recreation of the Pesach Seder by some of the most famous Jews in Hollywood, Broadway, and American pop culture. The first thing that needs to be said is go see it! (The link is right below!)

One of the most striking elements of this heartwarming production is that there is an irony which undergirds the entire premise of the video. Somehow, though the various celebrities are engaged in a version of the Seder, this isn’t a “religious” event per se. As Jason Alexander half-whispers in the show’s opening number, Dayenu, as if letting the audience in on the joke:
There’s a smidgen of religion (but we’re keeping that part light)

And so the entire show progresses as if that line is gospel- that a seder which is lacking some of the traditional hebrew readings is not a seder. A seder that brings broadway parodies and original music instead of Echad Mi Yodea/Who Knows ‘One’ is somehow illegitimate.

As my wife Heather brilliantly pointed out after we watched the Saturday Night Seder, that line, about being ‘light on religion’- is actually only true if you think religion is purely about deep theological discussions of God, Faith, Sin, and Grace. While to some Americans, that is the core of religion, they certainly aren’t the only things that make something “religious” in Judaism, and certainly not the only things that constitute a “religion-heavy” seder.

A seder which discusses the foundational questions about slavery, freedom, growth, and liberation, is a religious seder. A seder which talks not just about our ancient ancestors about our modern American ancestors used their history and gifts to create art to fight oppression, is a Jewish seder. A seder which uses our particular story to draw attention to universal themes, is a  still, in fact, a seder. A seder which strives to connect the lessons, perspectives, and emotions of our most sacred of rites into a moving, stimulating, and honest production that encourages the giving of tzedakah- that’s a real seder.

And that’s the joke- we Jews have long known that even though Judaism sometimes takes itself too seriously, at its best, our religion is about making meaning in peoples lives. However that meaning is delivered and internalized, whether through laughter, tears, beauty, learning, or giving, is much more than a “smidgen of religion”

Wishing that the end of your Passover is filled with as much growth, joy, meaning, and religion, as the Saturday Night Seder.


Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

April 10, 2020

“Breaking the Matzah: A Lesson for COVID, for Passover and for Life” | April 10th, 2020

This is a Passover message I shared with our community just over two-years ago. It’s potency resonates now as much as ever. I made some timely edits. I hope you will think about its lessons during this challenge and for the days after.

Every year at Passover time, I try to make a Matzah sandwich. Sometimes it is with turkey and mayonnaise, other times with whipped cream-cheese and lox. Often I put tuna and egg salad on matzah with a slice of cheese. The problem is that the Matzah square is too big to be eaten at once. So, I try to either cut the matzah in half or into quarters to make a more appropriate size sandwich.

Regardless of which brand of Matzah I purchase, the Matzah never breaks evenly!

Those little lines that seem like perforations that would neatly give perfect 90 degree angles to the Matzah just never break correctly and always create some jagged edge and non-neat fit to my sandwich.

I started thinking that my culinary experience on Passover is emblematic of much of life and most certainly this challenge of COVID. Both Matzah and life break in ways we cannot always anticipate and not always neatly and perfectly.

Occasionally, I ask my self, “where would I be right now if COVID didn’t exist?” I would be getting my family ready to go to Houston for Passover. We would be hip deep in planning last minute details for our son’s upcoming Bar Mitzvah. I would be looking forward to time spent in Israel this summer.

Most of those things will not happen, and most certainly not as planned. It is like the Matzah that we hope will break perfectly, but it doesn’t. COVID and Matzah remind us that we can plan, but often life and the unforeseen challenge gets in the way.

When that happens, we are faced with simple choices: whine and complain about the unfairness of the uneven break or we can bite into the imperfect sandwich.

Quarantine and COVID reminds us that life does not offer perfect and neat breaks along the perforated lines. Like the Exodus itself, the journey was grueling and challenging but so worth the reward of reaching the promised land and celebrating self sovereignty.

Embracing that line as it breaks is the key to our nourishment, both literally and figuratively.

At the Seder, one of the first acts we do in the Seder is to break the Middle Matzah, known as Yachatz. Whether you use Shmura Rounded Matzot or Manischewitz, I doubt it will crack evenly and down the middle.

TO me, that is a clear sign from God to bless the broken and the imperfect. We learned that lesson in the Mishna, in the book Blessings of a Skinned Knee, and right now during our quarantine and isolation.

May the imperfect breaks remind you of God’s power and our ability to embrace the life we have been given.

Dori and I wish you and your loved ones a meaningful Passover filled with the embrace of life’s imperfect breaks.

April 3, 2020

“How Will We Change” | April 3rd, 2020

What will you look like when you come out of quarantine?
Will you look tired or refreshed?
Will you have a beard or be clean shaven?
Will your hair be long or short?
Will it show its natural colors?
Will you be thinner or heavier, healthier or more out of shape?

In Parshat Tzav which we will read this Shabbat, we learn about Moses taking the priests into the tent of meeting for a period of seven days to sanctify them. At the same time, Moses initiates them into the priesthood. I wonder if the priests left the tent after seven days looking different or feeling different? Sometimes how we feel inside reflects how we feel outside.

I imagine when this ordeal is over – I will feel spent and excited; renewed and depleted. I know that I will have been challenged and will grow personally, as a family and as a community. I will see differently. Will others see me differently?

We have all reached higher and been enriched and sanctified but it does not come for free. Many have become ill and some even have lost battles against this virus. There will be scars that last for a long time.

Frankly, I do not care what anyone looks like when this is over. I just cannot wait to be able to see each of you and your faces and hopefully be able to hug you and see you in person, soon! That is reason to pray to God and eventually to thank God.

Think of how you feel and how you look and how that sight will affect us when that precious time arrives.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner