Staying at the Table: The Women’s March and Anti-Semitism

January 13, 2019

This week’s Torah portion, Bo, includes a text from the Passover seder.  Through my family’s seder table ruckus, I always hear the special emphasis my family reads in this part.

“And you shall explain it to your child on that day: ‘It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free from Egypt.’

They always emphasize Me. I.  “It is because of what the Eternal did for me when I went free from Egypt” (Ex 13:8). What is the point of the emphasis—me, I?  It’s personal! Our story of redemption, and the redemption we bring into this world with social justice—it’s personal.

This Shabbat brings the 3rd Women’s March, another step on the road to redemption—a road that for me, feels personal.  The ongoing and heightened dilemmas surrounding the March also feel personal. Read the rest of this entry »

Remembering Refugees at Passover

April 19, 2016

This Passover (Passover celebration resources, here), as we celebrate our exodus from Egypt as refugees seeking freedom in a promised land, let’s also think of the refugees today escaping the horrors of war and oppression and seeking freedom in the United States.  When you come to RS for services, Berkman Mercaz Limud, or the Passover 2nd Night Seder, please remember to bring donations of household goods (no clothing) to RS bins at the foot of the Klehr Stairway, for refugee families who are being resettled in Philadelphia by HIAS PA (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society).  Right now there is a particular need for the following items that the U.S. government requires for every immigrant household:

Manual Can Openers

Tea Kettles

Mixing Spoons

Dishwashing Liquid – new and unopened


Tall Kitchen Trash Bags – 13 gallon

And a special request for HIAS’s after-school program for refugee children:

Oxford Picture Dictionary English-Farsi. Many of the refugee children in the after school program are children of families from Afghanistan who worked for the US government there.  They speak Farsi.

Paperback “I Can Read” books  Levels 1, 2, 3, and 4.  (They are also available at Barnes & Noble or on



Passover Resources 2016

April 13, 2016

4489007660_f7efe730ab_nPassover is coming!  Are you looking for resources?  Start to eat down your bread, get your post-it’s ready if you’re preparing a seder, and check these out!  A sweet Pesach to all!

A family-oriented Haggadah, “Now We Are Free“.

The Four Questions, chanted by Cantor Frankel.

Social Justice ideas from HIAS PA, and a Haggadah supplement inspired by their immigration work.

Registration for the RS Second Night Seder.

More Haggadah recommendations for different ages, style, and just for study.

Learn here about the holiday of Passover.

Please add comments with your own resources and creative seder ideas!

“Once We Were Slaves:” The Modern Slavery of Human Trafficking*

April 5, 2015

At this week’s seder, Jews recited “Once we were slaves.” Who, today, is still vulnerable to the shackles of injustice?  I recently learned about a sex trafficking awareness initiative of the Women of Vision, a part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. I am grateful to the Federation for shining a light on women’s inequality, vulnerability and grave injustices involved in modern slavery.

It is common to assume human trafficking is a far-off problem.  Such distance can make it easier to ignore.  But that’s just not the case.  The more survivor stories I read, the more I can imagine these victims living right in my city.  According to statistics, chances are, they do.

This fall, the Bucks County Courier Times reported on a woman named Jennifer Spry.  Spry grew up in suburban, middle-class Montgomery County and as an 8-year old, was allowed to walk to the Church playground just down the road, playing so close to her home that she could hear her mother call her for dinner.  While playing in what was practically an extension of her own yard, Spry was manipulated by a neighbor offering toys.  Once she was in his home, she was forced to allow his “clients” to perform sexual acts while he took photographs.  The neighbor told Spry that if she ever told, he would kidnap her sister and murder her mother. Read the rest of this entry »

Anti-Muslim or Anti-Jew, It’s All Bigotry

March 31, 2015

I recently coordinated a panel on global anti-Semitism. Participants learned about the efforts of the U.S. State Department and the American Jewish Committee in their work urging foreign governments to crack down on the perpetrators of anti-Semitic attacks.   I was struck by a comment from US Department of State Team Leader of Anti-Semitism and Europe in the Office of International Religious Freedom, Stacy Bernard Davis: “What used to be fringe is now voted into Parliament.”

Sadly, I believe Davis’ message can be extended.  What used to be fringe is now… published in the mainstream press… used for votes… sponsored as bus advertisements. Read the rest of this entry »

Reminder Days: LGBT Movement’s 50th Anniversary

March 22, 2015

This month, the National Constitution Center and the William Way LGBT Community Center announced a partnership for an exhibit commemorating the 50th anniversary of the first LGBT protests in the nation. In 1965, and for the next 4 years, gay rights activists gathered outside Independence Hall carrying picket signs and demanding legislation that would secure the rights of LGBT Americans. Thirty-nine people attended the first picket.  These early annual protests, called “Reminder Days” did just that– they reminded our nation that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were not yet accessible to all Americans.

This week, as we begin the book of Leviticus, we learn about animal sacrifice from parashat Vayikra: “Make the offering a male without blemish.”   Zachar tamim.  The word for male, zachar, shares the same Hebrew root for the word, memory.  A creative translation might read: Make the offering a memory without blemish.  Or, Remember, and make no mistake.  Read the rest of this entry »

Haggadah Recommendations

March 20, 2015

I hope your Pesach preparations are going well!  If you’re ready to pull out the post-it’s and prepare to lead your own seder, here’s a list of Haggadah suggestions, from most in-depth to most simple… Read the rest of this entry »

Counting the Omer: Liberated, Only to Be Bound

May 27, 2014

What is freedom in a world of obligation?  Liberation in a religion of responsibility?  As we move further from Pesach and closer to Shavuot, consider David Brooks’ ideas about how we are liberated, only to be bound.

Baruch Ata Adonai, Elohenu Melech ha-olam asher kidishanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu al s’firat ha’omer. Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Ruler of the universe, who makes us holy with sacred actions and enjoins us to count the omer.

Hayom shloshah v’arba-im yom, shehem shishah shavuot v’yom echad la-omer.

Today is 43 days which is 6 weeks and 1 day of the Omer.

Counting the Omer: What’s Left is Love

April 21, 2014

loveA story is told of a rabbi who lay on his deathbed, smiling.  “Why” his students asked, “just moments away from death, are you smiling?”

“Because,” the rabbi replied, “For the first time, I understand the words of Vahavta: You shall love the Eternal with all your heart, all your mind and all your soul.  Now on my deathbed, I see that when all else is stripped away, what’s left is love.”

The Song of Songs, the biblical scroll traditionally read on Passover, teaches: “Love is as strong as death” (8:6).

In our counting of the omer during this week focused on loving-kindness, may try to strip away ego, distraction, all else but love. Read the rest of this entry »

Counting the Omer: Destiny and Free Will

April 20, 2014

When we consider the meaning of our actions and of our days, many wonder: Destiny or free will?  Judaism says both!

A story is told about Rabbi Akiva’s daughter.  When she was born, astrologers told Rabbi Akiva that on her wedding day, she would be killed by a poisonous snake and die.  Years pass and the evening before the daughter’s wedding day arrives.  Exhausted after the rehearsal dinner, she climbs into bed, pulls her hairpin from her head, and sticks it in the wall for the next day.

The next morning, as Rabbi Akiva’s daughter is getting ready for her wedding, she pulls her hairpin from the wall and sees a poisonous snake impaled on the end!  She shrieks as she realizes how close the snake Read the rest of this entry »