Here we are on retreat at Camp Warren getting ready to build the sukkah…what confidence these Northern Minnesotans show! If only the directions had been intelligible….

Ready to build the sukkah

But we persisted and actually got it raised!

We got it up!

Oh, yeah, walls…..

Building those walls

I’ll ask Alice for her amazing photos by jpeg so you can all show off the beauty of the natural surroundings we immersed in for Shabbat and Yom Tov. What a lovely way to celebrate Sukkot and to close the High Holiday season….well, after dancing with sifrei Torah this Friday night that is……


Sydne’s Conversion Talk

October 1, 2009

As promised, below you’ll find the talk Sydne Westorff gave on Friday night or her conversion. It was a glorious day at my home that day doing Beit Din and then mikveh followed by a celebratory meal.  As you may know, Karen, Sydne’s mom, converted and it was an added joy to perform these rituals with and for a mother and her adult daughter. It was so moving….We’re very fortunate to have people like Karen and Synde choosing Judaism and I hope it sweetens your entrance into Sukkot to read Sydney’s talk.

It is our tradition to begin the month of Tishrei by taking time to determine where we will stand with God and with each other when the new year begins.  We do so by looking both at our own life and by listening to Moses retell the story of how we became the People Israel.  We are here on Shabbat Shuvah, in a time between what was and what will be, to make a choice as to where our journey will go from here.  In order to prepare my self for this new beginning I have been reflecting back on the journey that brought me to today; a story of my own that joins me with this people.

Growing up in a Lutheran family there were times when I was deeply devoted to the teachings and other times when I found myself at odds with the tradition.  Read the rest of this entry »

On A Lighter Note

September 22, 2009

For all of us who have worked hard to reflect on who we’ve been…a lighthearted Rosh Hashannah video. Happy New Year!!!!!!!!

Rosh Hashannah video click here!

The Power of Words

September 10, 2009

Our Sages say that the most dangerous weapon we have is the tongue.  According to them, this is why God provided two gates to keep it in – the teeth and the lips. We are approaching the time when we assess what we have created and what we have destroyed with our words.

The Power of Words

Words, the power of words, is all important.  Words can inspire. Words can destroy.  There is an insightful Midrash which says, “These are the words.”  Read Devarim and also devorim, wasps.  Read the rest of this entry »


September 9, 2009

My colleague, Rabbi Andrea London, with Julie Singer and Carol Wagner has created a course for the month of Elul for spiritual preparation for the High Holidays. Below is her teaching for the second week of that program (which includes many other components) which focuses on regret. This is an important step in teshuva and, according to Rabbi London, should not be left as a hurried practice sitting in services….if you’re reading this blog you already understand the great truth of that….

“How does one acknowledge sin?  One says: I implore You God…Behold, I regret [what I did] and am embarrassed by my deeds.  I promise never to repeat this act again.” [Rambam, Laws of Repentance 1:1, from Preparing Your Heart for the High Holy Days, Kerry M. Olitzky and Rachel T. Sabath]

Maimonides listed regret as the first part step necessary for teshuva..  S.Y. Agnon agrees with the Rambam about the importance of regret, as he wrote in the Days of Awe, “The essential purpose of teshuva is to regret the past and commit oneself not to return to that folly again in the future; for even if a man fasts frequently from Sabbath to Sabbath and performs every known form of chastisement, if he has not taken it upon himself not to return to his sin – behold, he is as one who takes a ritual bath while holding an unclean reptile in his hand.” [Siddur Derekh ha-Hayyim]

The following is a story to help us think about what role we must play during the month of Elul. Read the rest of this entry »

A Push Towards Teshuva

September 1, 2009

I often have trouble really getting it that the Days of Awe are upon us, that the time to begin the teshuva process is NOW. The reading below is a gentle but firm push towards our own annual autumnal instinct to assess, regret, and repent.

A New Season of the Spirit

Summer is passing.  The days grow shorter.  The sound and colors of nature, the stirring of the wind, speak to us of changes in the world, in life and in man’s course on earth.  We are also about to enter upon a new season of the spirit, of the soul.  It reminds us of our changing lives and fortunes, of the changes that take place within our homes, our communities, our world.  It bids us look upon the changes that have taken place within ourselves . . . Awed and subdued, we stand before the threshold of a New Year.  We recall those moments in the past year when we rejoiced in our victories and achievements, our decent impulses and our generous action.  But now, in the presence of that Eternity to which a dying year compels our attention, we are mindful that our defeats were greater than our triumphs.  We failed ourselves by failing to rise to our own level.  We failed our fellow human beings by failing them in their need for our love and respect. We failed our God by worshipping ourselves.  For all these, at this turning point in endless time, we would seek forgiveness, our God.  We come to You to help us lift the burdens of our souls, for there is none of us so virtuous or so proud whose heart does not cry out, despite ourselves, for forgiveness.

Rabbi David Polish, Moments of Transcendence: Inspirational Readings for Rosh Hashanah, edited by Rabbi Dov Peretz Elkins

As always at camp, there is already much learning happening.  I’m with Tzofim, the younger campers who elect to sleep in tents for four weeks.  The tents, the vegetable garden and the enclosure for the little animals are all down a hill from the main campus and so the tent units (Tzofim and Moshava) are “downstairs”.  I was walking downstairs for the nighttime staff meeting at around 9:30 last night when I saw an unfamiliar silhouette moving in the night sky. When I looked closer I realized they were bats. Read the rest of this entry »

I began this experiment in blogging with the generous donation of a year of web hosting from a member of our congregation. I found several things to be true during my first blogging foray.

1. Blogging takes incredible discipline.

2. Blogging takes a lot of time.

3. Wanting to do cool things (embed video, etc.) in a blog makes for frustrating, even excruciating experiences with technofrenzy. This is my term for being locked in combat with the technology that is supposed to make blogging and all other forms of creating content easier.

4. Blogging demands, as a prerequisite, time (not including that used for sermon writing) to read, absorb, digest and otherwise reflect on life. Without this, there is no material to post.

5. Single full time working mothers Read the rest of this entry »