Song of Peace
The general consensus of most news outlets is that it is the wrong time to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and that it should only happen after a comprehensive peace agreement between the Arabs and the Israelis. It seems to me that there is a misunderstanding regarding exactly where the proposed new location of the embassy is.
Many don't realize that Jerusalem is actually divided into two separate cities. There is the new Jewish city, known as West Jerusalem or New Jerusalem, and the Old City which has always been home to four different ethnic minorities; Jewish, Arab, Greek Orthodox and Coptic. While the two were united in 1967 after the Six Day War and are now one city they are nonetheless very different.
The American embassy is set to be moved to West Jerusalem, the Jewish city, which is only about 150 years old. This New City, New Jerusalem, is located in an area that was recognized as Israeli undisputed territory by the UN since Israel's independence in 1948, way before 1967 when the Old City became part of Israel. The embassy is moving to an undisputed Israeli area.
When the US recognized the state of Israel, (the first one to do so among all nations) it recognized the right of the Israelis for self determination. That meant that they can choose their capital to be anywhere they want as long as it is within a recognized Israeli territory. Therefore putting any embassy in West Jerusalem back when Israel became independent in 1948 should have not created any political issues.
So why the refusal to locate the embassy in a legitimate Israeli territory? While the Arab leadership does not claim West Jerusalem to be an Arab territory, they have a problem with any Israeli territory. Despite the fact that West Jerusalem has always been an Israeli city, it still represents by its very name the eternity of the Jewish people and the permanency of the state of Israel. The Arab leadership can't have that!
When Israel became a state, only the undisputed West Jerusalem and not the disputed Old City of Jerusalem were part of the territory. The excuse the Arab leadership gave with their insistence that embassies were to be located in Tel Aviv was that the fate of the legitimate Israeli territory of West Jerusalem should be decided in a negotiation. That means that any Israeli territory is up for negotiation translating to Israel’s existence is up for negotiation.
America and the rest of the world bowing to Arab demands to not locate its embassy inside a legitimate and recognized Israeli territory is not only illegal but also amounts to political extortion. In 1995 Congress recognized this and enacted into law the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem. Our American presidents circumvented the law through a loop hole which allowed the postponement of this decision. The constant circumvention of this law is not the way to respect the decision of the Congress.
By being a part of this travesty, the United States gave legitimacy to an Arab claim that at present Israel has no right to exist and that its fate as a country depends on negotiation with the Palestinians, many of whom in Gaza, Lebanon as well as the West Bank want nothing less then a complete destruction of Israel. This is what the leadership has been teaching their children (or shall we say brain washing them) for the last 70 years.
If the Palestinians want a destruction of Israel why are they willing to negotiate a peace agreement? To begin with, many of the Palestinians in Gaza and Lebanon flatly refuse to negotiate peace with Israel not now not ever. Those who are willing to negotiate live in Judea and Samaria ("the West Bank")
But in order to understand their motive, one needs to understand what for them is not negotiable. They will not negotiate their right to "Return to Israel" which means they want to flood Israel with (according to them) 1.5 million Palestinians "Refugees" as a way to slowly but surely erode the Jewish Majority in Israel.
In other words, it is their long range plan to take over the country without war. The Palestinian emblem is the map of Israel. Their doctrine which they refuse to change is Palestinian control of Israel with a Jewish population as a minority with no influence.
Therefore, the reason the Arab world is so upset with this preeminent decision is because it symbolizes the eternity of the state of Israel. It tells the many fanatics among the Arab countries as well as the Iranians that the destruction of Israel is nothing but a pipe dream.
Mindfulness, a form of meditation, seems to be quite popular lately. With its benefits now widely acknowledged including that it combat stress and helps us to become happier, this practice of being aware of each moment is being taught in classrooms, prisons and workplaces. “Being in the moment” or mindfulness is actually a major part of Jewish practices. One could even say that the observance of Judaism is in itself mindfulness.
The ancient rabbis have given us many tools to practice mindfulness including the recommendation that we recite 100 blessings a day. This fits in perfectly with the secular notion of mindfulness as gratitude is a major component. This approach of the ancient rabbis happens to be one of my favorite practices as it is easy to teach and follow. Each blessing of gratitude gives us the chance to pause, take a breath and appreciate the little things in life. In our busy, rushing, hectic world where there never seems to be “enough time” what an easy way to gift ourselves with “pauses.” It gives us the opportunity to develop a different perspective and appreciate everything around us, our life, our friends, family, things we enjoy doing. When life becomes hectic we tend to take the small details of our life for granted and have limited appreciation for them.
Assuming being awake an average of 16 hours every day, if we commit to 100 blessings a day that translates to one blessing every 10 minutes of our waking hours! While many of the blessings are prescribed and are recited together as part of the daily morning service, there is room for many other blessings to appreciate the small events of the day. In fact, Judaism has formulated blessings for many seemingly mundane as well as rare daily personal and natural occurrences. But we are also told to develop our own blessings.
The significance of this kind of constant awareness goes far beyond the personal level. It leads to other biblical teaching of interpersonal relationships such as love your neighbor as yourself, pursue peace, protect the earth, and to always practice compassion and justice.
In Hebrew School we have been having some fun with practicing mindfulness with the older children by having them eat their challah blindfolded. We begin by asking them to visualize how the challah began as seeds of wheat, recite the blessing and then continue with how it smells, feels on the fingers, on their teeth, when chewed, swallowed etc. Not only are the children integrating a major Jewish value but they are receiving the additional benefit of practicing focusing techniques which aid in the learning of Hebrew.
Judaism asks us to always pause before eating by reciting a blessing with the intent to not only appreciate but enjoy our food. In fact the table where we eat is considered to be a mini altar modeled after the altar in the Holy Temple.
As we continue to instill in our children and also remind ourselves of this beautiful core Jewish value to be in a state of appreciation for our life and everything around us, nothing will symbolize this state of mind more profoundly than the Thanksgiving holiday which we will be celebrating shortly.
Now I wonder what it will be like to eat turkey blindfolded….
May we all be blessed with much to appreciate! And may we all remember to laugh!
There are always glitches at weddings. It may be a lost or misplaced item, a delay in the starting time, late relatives, bad weather, you name it. It just seems to be part of the whole experience.
At our most recent wedding in Clearwater Beach, the weekend after Rosh Hashanah, the weather decided to again have its say. Twenty minutes before the ceremony was due to begin a decision was made to move the ceremony inside. Naturally the bride was devastated. Instead of overlooking the ocean from a sixteenth floor balcony, the ceremony would be in in a room that wouldn’t have enough chairs for all the guests.
I knew that as soon as the bride walked down the aisle and stood under the chuppah, (the wedding canopy) it wouldn’t really matter whether we were inside or outside. For something magical always happens under the chuppah. The Divine Essence that comes is Shechinah, the Feminine aspect of G-d. She transforms the entire space with Her Sacredness and Love.
But it seems there was another glitch. There was no longer a chuppah. The winds were so strong the whole thing was knocked down and it couldn’t be re-erected! Rabbi David and I quickly came up with a plan. We would just make our own chuppah, modeled after the traditional hand held one we often use. It is made with four bamboo poles and uses a tallit (prayer shawl) as the canopy.
I had an extra tallit with me. We just needed something to take the place of the four poles. The hotel came to the rescue and found four tall easel holders. Perfect! It would do! But then there was a further glitch. The groom was unusually tall, too tall for our makeshift chuppah!
Okay, we would have to institute Plan B. Two of the groomsmen would hold the tallit over the couple during the ring exchange. I asked the two tallest groomsmen to practice holding the tallit and yes, the groom just fit underneath! We still wouldn’t have a chuppah throughout the entire ceremony but this would be better than nothing! But even so, I was still like a disappointed bride.
Rabbi David had his own ideas. Right before the ceremony he told me to make sure the people remained standing after the bride circled the groom. He then told everyone we would be creating a Canopy of Love to replace the wind blown one. He asked us all to raise our hands, form an arc with our arms and send Love to create a canopy over the couple.
And a canopy was truly created! But this one wasn’t just over the couple, Rabbi David and me but extended over everyone! The wedding ceremony itself was filled with such Joy and Laughter! The Canopy of Love truly connected each one of us…
On our way home we stopped in Port Charlotte, the half way point between Clearwater Beach and our home in Boca Raton. Our hotel manager told us that the hotel was booked to capacity with people from all over the country who had come to help with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
My heart was so touched by this!
It seems that a Canopy of Love is everywhere…
Our Tallit Chuppah at my daughter's wedding...
The Bridal Couple under the Tallit during the ring exchange...
Rabbi David's Rosh Hashanah morning sermon
Who We Are
We are living in a tumultuous time, no doubt.
We have just experienced nature's rage and fury first hand.
Some say it’s just a weather pattern cycle, with no connection to man.
To others it looks like man made global warming with glaciers melting, holes in the ozone, millions of cars all over the world polluting.
But either way, Mother Nature as we all know is not happy.
In the last several weeks we have all witnessed just how fierce Mother Nature's fury can be.
Like many of us, I believe that there is an intimate spiritual connection between all living things and Mother Nature. Ask a Native American and he will tell you that earth is a living thing. It is a living entity. It has its own consciousness.
This Rosh Hashanah when we reflect on last year’s events, when we take stock of who we are, it is also a good time to reflect on what we have just experienced with the storms and what this experience tells us.
It seems in the last couple of years and as time goes by, we have been experiencing so many sharp divisions between different ideologies. In certain campuses and cities, rioting and intolerance is spreading like a disease with no shortage of blame everywhere. Opinions have become so emotional that division and strife has even torn apart families and friends. From social media, to certain universities and schools, and public places, and even in certain cities, disagreements are answered with aggression and intolerance.
It seems that we have allowed social, political and racial unrest and even violence to divide us. Even racism is rearing its ugly head.We watch as rioting is taking place in cities across the country. We are silent as certain freedoms, the corner stone of our life are being challenged. We have allowed our differences to painfully divide us. We should never allow ourselves to fall into this cesspool because that is not who we really are. And all this is in the face of so many other issues.
And I know that we, like Americans everywhere, are not willing to accept these kinds of situations. We despise violence because, as we teach our children, violence is never the answer. We all have the Light of G-D within us.
Then came Harvey and Irma.
I don't think there is one person here who was not affected by the epic devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Hurricane Irma here in Florida and the Caribbean. We all saw the incredible human suffering and misery inflicted on so many of our fellow Americans in Houston and Florida. Especially those who live in the path of those two monsters.The total devastation of flooding and powerful winds caused so many people to lose everything they had.
It must have been a day or two after the storm as they were showing the devastation in the Keys on TV that I saw something amazing. There were several homes next to each other, completely demolished with nothing left.
Yet, on top of the rubble which was once the roofs of the buildings, American flags were either displayed or flown.
And I understood the power of that message.
From the devastation, from the agony, we all emerged the way we really are, strong in spirit, compassionate, caring for each other.
We have seen scenes of rescue unfolding in front of the camera which are difficult to believe. Heroic efforts to rescue entire families from raging waters or from underneath the rubble.All over the Keys and on the West side of Florida, people driving around looking for anyone who needs help or water or shelter. Neighbors helping neighbors, strangers doing anything possible to help.
Rioting in cities across the country are the work of the very few with twisted goals and agendas. Coming together in times of need is really what we are all about.
And I am proud to say that.
So I, with you together, pray today that this spirit of caring and unity, will forever be our true mirror. And we can look at ourselves with pride.
I bless all of us this Rosh Hashanah with a prayer to our Eternal G-D of Israel for a Year of Health and Prosperity.
A Year of Love, Tolerance and Understanding.
A Year of Happiness.
(This was written before the devastation of Maria. Our prayers are with the beloved people of Puerto Rico and all affected by Nature including our neighbors in Mexico)
If you have heard rumors that Rabbi David and Cantor Lee have been putting blindfolds on children, yes, they are true! It is actually part of our new program, the Infinite Child Institute where children are taught focusing and mindfulness techniques. The results of the program thus far are not only interesting but enormously exciting!
Not only are children having an easier time learning and reading Hebrew (as one student put it, “it was magic when I had to practice for my Bat Mitzvah the next day!”) but they are also improving in secular school subjects as well as having transformative changes socially and emotionally.
Just to prepare you, the next sentence may be initially difficult to fathom…With training the children are actually able to see and read while wearing the blindfold as well as perform other activities such as coloring, doing a puzzle or walking around the room! It seems we all have the ability to use our inner eyes, our Infinite Light Vision. It is just that we were never taught or encouraged to use this sacred gift of our inner sight.
As people learn of our work with the Infinite Child program, it has been interesting to observe the gamut of reactions which range from utter amazement to total disbelief! We sometimes think we can in a small way relate to Abraham’s feelings with bringing the idea of monotheism into the world. Not only did he declare that there is only one G-d but this included the difficult perception that this One G-d is invisible!
But Abraham as the first Hebrew (the term Jew wasn’t in use yet) crossed over into a new realm of consciousness, a new way of being. The word Hebrew actually means to “cross over.” For the last 3000 years the Jewish people have crossed over into many new realms of consciousness, bringing to the world revolutionary ideas such as justice for all, caring for the helpless, for animals and for our environment as well as repairing the world through acts of good deeds.
Even Congregation Shirat Shalom when it was first conceived over twenty years ago crossed over from the status quo with our own revolutionary ideas. And one of those ideas was that the main focus would be the children. We somehow understood at the deepest levels that it is our children who will create a world of Peace and Love.
Perhaps they are beginning to create it right now. For as these Infinite Children show us what we perceive as impossible really is possible, we too cross over into a new realm of consciousness. And with this new way of being, of believing our possibilities are unlimited, a world of Peace and Love doesn’t seem too far away!
May it be soon....
Rabbi David and Cantor Lee
Infinite Child Institute
Here is a child at the stage of first reading blindfolded.
Rabbi & Cantor's Messages
Connection to Healing
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In Jewish communities around the world, the entire month of Elul, the last Hebrew month of the year, is considered the month of Teshuva - repentance. We recite Slichot, prayers for forgiveness and sound the Shofar in the morning service. This of course is done as a spiritual cleansing in preparation for the High Holy Days. Although traditionally Ashkenazic communities recite Slichot for the last 10 days before Rosh Hashana, many follow the tradition of non Ashkenazic communities and recite Slichot for the entire month of Elul.
During Elul we all do a "Cheshbon Nefesh", an evaluation of our soul based on our deeds during the passing year. This is a period in Jewish life that is meant to awaken us to our spiritual existence. The first day of this month of spiritual evaluation is so important that it is considered equally important as participating in Slichot services and listening to the Shofar for the entire month.
It is amazing that the solar eclipse happened exactly a month to the day before Rosh Hashanah. Coincidence?
There is an interesting story that happened in the western US in the month of May 1833. A day before the sun eclipse of May 15th that year a few families who were traveling west in search of land to settle were captured by the Sioux Indians. It just so happened that one of the captured men was a novice astrologer and knew about the eclipse that would happening the next day. (An astrologer by the name Dr. Bessel had come up with the basic though somewhat primitive math in 1820 to be able to accurately predict sun eclipses.)
The novice astrologer told his captors that he had power over the sun and the moon and as a warning to them he would hide the sun for a few minutes. If they wouldn’t let their captives go free he would hide the sun forever. When the eclipse happened the next day the Indians were scared enough to heed the threats and release their captives.
Seeing the sun eclipse as a warning or as a sign for some upcoming significant event is not new to us. It seems that as long as thousands of years ago the Sumerians, Persians and Greeks were very much aware of sun eclipses and saw them as omens. Many throughout the centuries believed the same.
This rare sun eclipse fell on the day that many of us were getting ready to recite forgiveness prayers as part of our preparation for the High Holy Days. The official start of Rosh Chodesh Elul (new moon month of Elul) was sundown Aug. 21st just a few hours after the eclipse.
Maybe the "Jewish timing" of the eclipse is a special sign from heaven signaling a very unique opportunity. It is therefore incumbent upon us, who were designated to be a Light unto the Nations some 3,300 years ago to continue to transmute all negativity from the world through our prayers for peace for our country, for Israel, for the world.
Especially with what we have been facing, this High Holiday season will give us the opportunity to come together with our collective spiritual power and deliver a powerful "Message" to the world.
Despite the turmoil everywhere we will stand strong in the face of all adversities. With the Power of Love and Peace we will "eclipse" all evil.
As we were taught by our mothers and fathers we shall remain a Beacon of Hope for a better world for oppressed nations, for the removal of brotherly squabbling in our own beloved country and the elimination of wars and terror around the world.
Who will be that Beacon if not us?
So much excitement about the Solar Eclipse! I still remember the solar eclipse in 1979! But this time I will be doing something I didn’t do back then, well at least consciously that is…
Rabbi David and I will be joining hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions of people around the globe who will be meditating or praying for world peace, love and harmony during the eclipse. What a beautiful way to bless G-d for creating the eclipse! And what a wonderful way to become co-creators with G-d to bring peace to our world! We so hope you and your children will join us with your own meditation or prayer!
Praying for peace is as natural to the Jewish people as breathing. As Rabbi David likes to say, it is ingrained in us. In the traditional liturgy we recite prayers for peace three times daily. We also have many beautiful teachings for peace including aligning ourselves with the Divine Light that is within each one of us. The Hebrew words are “Ner Adonai Nishmat Adam.” “The Light of G-d is my Soul.” Proverbs 20:27
In Hebrew School each week when we practice lighting the Shabbat candles we teach our children to become aware of their Divine Light and to send it to those in need of healing. A favorite always is sending our Light to the animals!
We also often focus on bringing Peace into the world. Here is one variation our children are familiar with that you and your children may wish to try also!
1. Light a candle and set the intention to connect to G-d’s Light to bring peace into the world.
2. Feel your feet firmly on the ground. Pretend you have roots growing from your feet that go down into the earth.
3. Hold up four fingers up and look at them. Four is a sacred number in Judaism.
4. Take a deep breath in to the count of four. Exhale your breath slowly to the count of four. Repeat this round three more times.
5. Think or see the color blue which is the color of Peace.
4 6. Breathe in blue to the count of four. Bring it up through your roots into your heart.
4 7. Exhale the blue to the count of four back down into the earth. Repeat three more rounds.
8. Feel or see this blue Light of Peace in your heart and hands.
9. Say or think the Hebrew word Shalom (Peace) to connect to G-d even more and make the Light stronger.
10. Send or radiate the Blue Light of Peace into the world.
11. Stare at the flame of the candle and see people hugging each other, soldiers returning home, your family members getting along, however you see Peace.
12. Thank G-d for being a co-creator with you to bring Peace into the world!
13. Don’t worry if you didn’t do all the steps exactly so… However you bring Peace into the world is Just Beautiful! Thank you!
Introducing the Infinite Child
In this video a seventh grader has reached the stage of reading blindfolded.
I love to look at one particular picture from my son’s Bar Mitzvah which was over 20 years ago! During one point of the service Rabbi David and I sang to him. The picture is of my son looking up at me as I sang.
But the picture wasn’t taken by a photographer. This was a conservative shul and pictures were never allowed on Shabbat! That meant we couldn’t even take pictures before or after the service!
So you are probably wondering how I have that picture! Did someone take it secretly? Well the picture was actually taken by my heart and put in my memory. And still to this day, each time I see that picture, my heart brings me back to that most precious moment!
In Congregation Shirat Shalom we also have the same rule about not taking pictures during the ceremony. You would think that being so alternative (we were even nicknamed the Rebel Temple when we first began!) that it would be fine to take pictures during a Bar or Bat Mitzvah service. After all we allow them before the ceremony.
Well believe me, we have tried at various points throughout the years and even recently to allow pictures. And each time it has affected the energy in the room making it more difficult for us to create and maintain a sanctuary.
We all have had that experience of entering a regular synagogue or church sanctuary and feeling the quietness, the sacredness there. When a room is used time and time again for sacred ceremony, the Divine Energy builds up and is always present. Since we don’t have our own building we have to create that same feeling in a regular room. And yes, some places are more difficult than others. Before the service Rabbi David and I not only spiritually prepare ourselves to be channels of this Divine Energy but also energetically prepare the room as well. That sacred space then needs to be maintained throughout the service.
When a child becomes a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, a new aspect of his or her soul is brought “online” and yes there is truly a shift in the child. There is also much Healing and Love from G-d that penetrates the hearts of each person in attendance. It is up to each individual how that is accepted. As servants and instruments of G-d, Rabbi David and I take the responsibility of creating an environment that allows this to happen very seriously!
During this past year there were two separate occasions where the photographer was quite upset with our policy of no pictures during the service. After all, other rabbis allow it… We only have the utmost respect for other rabbis. How wonderful allowing pictures works for them! But it doesn’t work for us. End of Discussion. Period.
Quite honestly we don’t understand ourselves why taking pictures with a camera even without a flash affects the sanctity of a service but a stationary video camera does not. So yes, we allow a video camera that remains stationary in the back of the room during the service.
So until such time where our policy may change (as we are always open to all possibilities) pictures of the ceremony will just have to be taken by the Heart Camera.
But perhaps this is what G-d really wants. For each time those pictures are revisited, the Love of that moment is brought back into our world!
And it seems to me in today's world, we need as much Love as we can get!
On May 24th this year, the 28th day of Iyar, Jewish people all over the world celebrate the Hebrew date of the 50th anniversary of the reunification of the city of Jerusalem. The actual secular date was June 7, 1967.
As the UN wants to force Israel to give the city of David (Old Jerusalem) to the Arabs, it is important to remember that except for the times when Jerusalem was conquered by foreign occupiers who restricted the Jews from living there (Byzantines, Crusaders, Ottoman empire etc..) , Jews were always the majority of the population in the city. It is also important to remember that any non Jew who is freely residing in the city today is in fact a descendant of foreign occupiers.
During the 15th -18th centuries, the Ottoman empire, like the many occupiers before it, prohibited Jews from moving into Jerusalem. The Jewish population, therefore, dwindled significantly. However, beginning in the early1800’s Jews regained majority status in the city until 1948. In May of 1948 the Jews were brutally forced out of the city through starvation by the Jordanian army, with the generous help of the British who supplied the Jordanians with heavy artillery, ammunition and advisers.
But of course, our connection to Jerusalem goes way beyond being the majority population of the city. The Jewish spiritual bond to Jerusalem is so strong that Jerusalem is in fact Judaism itself. It is us, our collective soul. Taking Jerusalem away is removing our soul from our body.
I remember once I conducted a marriage ceremony for an Orthodox family. The excitement, love and happiness was clearly visible on the faces of the bride and groom. Nothing else mattered to them as they were standing there under the chuppah. At the end I asked the groom to break the glass, as tradition dictates. The groom, who no doubt was thinking of nothing else but his bride got ready to break the glass. But first he did something which has been traditional in Jewish weddings for many centuries. He pulled out a small prayer book and to the teary eyes of some of the guests he read the following psalm, strong and loud:
"If I forget Thee, O Jerusalem let my right hand forget her cunning, Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I forget Thee, if I set not Jerusalem above my greatest Joy" Only then did he go ahead and break the glass.
I also remember one of the most important days in modern history well. It was June 7th, the 28th day of Iyar 1967. In the early afternoon Israeli paratroopers broke into the old city running like madmen to the Kotel while Jordanian snipers were still positioned on rooftops. Running with them was a reporter from “Kol Israel” “The Voice of Israel.” We did not have Israeli TV yet so the entire country gathered around their radios to listen.
It is about a fifteen minute run between the Lions gate, the western gate of the old city wall, from which the paratroopers broke into the city to the Kotel. We could hear the chaos around the reporter as the war was still going on around him and as 19 year old paratroopers who never saw the old city, were desperately trying to locate the wall.
Then there was an eerie silence for a few seconds. The reporter could not talk. All we could hear was his quiet crying. All he could say was "I am not a religious man but....." and he could not finish his sentence. He was at the Kotel.
For the next few minutes all we could hear were the paratroopers singing "Yerushalayim shel Zahav" "Jerusalem of Gold" which they had been taught a few day earlier. Rabbi Goren Z"L the chief military rabbi keep on sounding the Shofar on and on and on...
The entire country was sobbing around the radios. Even as a young kid at the time I understood that I was experiencing what countless generations before me were so desperately praying. What a privilege it was to be a part of those electrifying moments.
On June 7th 1967, 50 years ago, our heart was returned back to our chest. Our soul is back in our body. No more taking it away from us. Ever!
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