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04/27/2011 01:50 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
April 29, 2011


Where have I been all week? I took a very early flight to Chicago, on Monday morning, to be with my mother and siblings. We rushed to Evanston Hospital where my father was in ICU following a stroke late on Sunday night. The worry and pain that consumed us was difficult to address as we came to grips with the shocking reality before us. You see, my parents are in their mid-70’s and active. They traveled with us to Israel last year, and made it on every leg of the trip like the troopers they are. In addition to seeing my brother who lives in the Chicago suburbs, they travel to see the rest of us where we live in Lansing, Michigan; Silver Spring, Maryland; and Houston, Texas. With 12 grandchildren, who could blame them? And, they just returned from Scottsdale, where they have spent winters for many years now. Every Sunday, when we talk on the phone, they never fail to tell me how fortunate they are that they have each other and their health. They sympathize with their friends who are ill or facing difficult life choices. And, then it happened to them.

                To me, it felt like the ceiling fell in and I was lifting the beams off my body slowly and awkwardly to clear a path to safety. If I could only get to Chicago, I could be with my father and assure him that he would be okay. At that point, I had no idea what his prognosis was, but my aim, like my siblings’, was to be there at any cost. Apparently, the airlines obliged, but the price of the ticket was worth getting to my father’s bedside as early as possible. I had only just spoken with my eldest sister a few days before to wish her a happy birthday. We looked forward to seeing each other in August, when we would come together to celebrate my mother’s 75th birthday. Now, we were literally reaching out to each other to find the support we came so far to find.

                My mother was stronger than I expected her to be. She was there for her husband, her soul-mate, with whom she deepened her friendship since the four of us left the house so many, many years ago. My dad was sedated and on a ventilator. He couldn’t open his eyes or speak, but he could hear us. Like my siblings and my mother, I held his hand and told him, “Dad, it’s David. I’m here.” He squeezed my hand with his strong right hand; thankfully his writing hand and his painting hand. A retired architect, he returned to his first passion which was painting, and has enjoyed his art and craft every day. My siblings and I stood with my mother at my father’s side and shared a prayer for his health and recovery. The diversity of faith in my extended family covered all the bases we needed to help my father know that there was nothing more important to us than his recovery. It was an unexpected moment in which we found each other; and the prayers that bound us were an unexpected gift we gave together to my father.

                Later that day, my father underwent a 3-hour surgery. At the end of the interminable wait, the surgeon reported to us that he accomplished what he set out to do. He conveyed the results to us in a compassionate and clear way. We were overcome by relief and gratitude. We didn’t take the moment for granted; we shared a prayer of gratitude that we had reached this milestone with my father closer to the beginning of a real recovery. As of Tuesday night, he is off the ventilator and prepared to take very small steps on what will be a very long journey. Today, he experienced a setback. With confidence placed in an excellent medical team at an outstanding hospital, and faith in what we believe is possible, our prayer is that our father will be granted a “refuah sh’leimah” a complete healing.

                Forgive me my open journal, but I thought of you as I stepped through each part of my urgent trip to Chicago, the agony of waiting for information, and the hopefulness that at times seemed nearly impossible to grasp, but without which we could not go on. During the day, two rabbis and a chaplain came to see us. One rabbi was my dear friend and colleague who lives and works in the area, and one was the rabbi of my parents’ Temple. I thought of the times I visited you in the hospital or spoke to you by phone. Their visits broke up the time and our loss of purposefulness in just sitting around. They were thoughtful and engaging. Their comments were helpful and hopeful. It isn’t easy to be the rabbi to your own family when you’re also a son and a brother; so, my colleagues’ Rabbi Paul Cohen and Rabbi Ike Serotta served their purpose with skill and compassion.

                I promise not to write every week about the progress my father makes. But, this week I wanted to share with you that I know all too well what you have experienced, too, when your loved ones faced a medical crisis and your family ran with urgency to come from separate lives to fill a single room with love and hope. I have spent many times with you in hospital rooms; so thank you for being with me in my thoughts. It helps me help my family to maintain hope when the day grows long and the answers are not forthcoming. So, thank you for letting me share this with you, and for being part of my thoughts this week.

                I will return late in the week and resume my care for you. My siblings and I will rotate time to see my parents, and my weekly call will grow to a daily call for news and time to talk with my father. Maybe we’ll Skype, too. In the event that you have a family member who is ill or on the mend, join me in our prayer for their health and well-being,


“Baruch Atah, Adonai, Eloheinu Melech haOlam, Rofeih haCholim,” Blessed are You, Adonai, our God, Ruler of the universe, Healer of the sick; help our loved ones feel Your presence; guide the hands of those who help in healing; and enable our loved ones to return to all that they have come to love at home and with family, speedily and in peace.”


                As Shabbat nears, let it be a time of real rest and healing. Let it also focus our heads and our hearts on what matters most in our life, if even for the day:  real health and wholeness, refuah v’shalom.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

04/22/2011 08:52 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
April 22, 2011


Passover Seders are behind us, but not the memories of a beautiful holiday. At Congregation Beth Israel, we held a second-night Seder. Open to all Temple members, guests and friends, we seated nearly 280 people for a very special and successful night. Why was this night more special than other nights?

                At the end of the Seder, a couple approached me. They explained to me that they traveled in their RV year-round. They were passing through Houston, during Passover, and without any friends or family they didn’t know where to go. They learned about our Seder and joined us for the evening. They were so happy to be included and to share the experience. They told me that they were on the road again the next day and would likely be far from Houston shortly. I wished them a safe journey, invited them to return any time and to consider Beth Israel their home in Houston.

                Many guests and Temple members said thank you for the warmth and generosity of spirit that made the Seder unique. In a room filled with 280 people, it was one of the friendliest and most joyful evenings. The food was delicious. The Haggadah was the perfect length that told the perfect story. The kids loved looking for the Afikomen. Dessert was a hit. We sang familiar and parody songs. And, when it was all over we promised that we would hold a second-Seder next year at Beth Israel, again.

                Second-Seder is familiar to some, but not to all. My family enjoys two Seders. The first night is usually with good friends at their home, but second night has been a more personal night often at the request of our children to be together. But, as they make their way to college and the house is quieter, coming to Beth Israel is for us the place to be less alone and more included. It might sound redundant for me to say it, but for Lisa and me, Beth Israel is our home, too, and you are our Temple family.

                Looking around Wolff-Toomim Hall, I could tell that you share the same feeling. The Seder met the needs of those who can’t prepare a full Seder anymore, who don’t have the time to make it at home, or who can’t travel to be with family, but who want to participate in the mitzvah of telling the story of Passover with traditional foods, familiar prayers and songs, and special memories. We all came for the same reason, to celebrate Passover. No one was turned away. As the Haggadah begins, “All who are hungry come and eat,” and, so we fulfilled the meaning of Passover.

                Our Second-Seder could not have happened without the extraordinary gifts and help of Kathy Knott, Beth Israel’s Executive Director, Marsha Gilbert, Beth Israel’s Catering Director and Event Planner, and Patrick Colbert, Director of Building Facilities. Their effort made it possible for me and my colleagues, Rabbi Adrienne Scott and Cantor Robert Gerber, to lead the Seder.

                So, why was this night more special than other nights? Come next year and see for yourself. Until then, Lisa and my children join me in wishing you a pleasant Passover holiday, with hope for the future and peace for Jerusalem.

                Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover.

04/13/2011 11:01 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
April 15, 2011


                You thought I was going to write about tax day, but this year the deadline is April 18th, for reasons unclear to me. Like the Israelites’ offering before fleeing Egypt, maybe our tax bill is our last offering before beginning our Seder this year. In any event, I am confident that having mailed your tax return by the deadline, you will be able to sit more like a free person than ever before as Seder begins on Monday evening.

                The coincidence of tax day and Passover should not be lost on us. The fact that we pay taxes as citizens and not as serfs or slaves speaks volumes about the real journey our people has made. Though we have enjoyed relative freedom in other lands at different times in history, there is no question but that Jews and Judaism have enjoyed a relative golden age in America. I don’t mean to overstate the case. It didn’t come without paying a price that included overcoming quotas, bigotry and anti-Semitism; but, in overcoming it in large measure, Jewish men and women have played and still play significant roles in shaping our nation’s future. Thus, the taxes we pay today support our way of life and the values we espouse as Americans and as Jews.

                We aren’t always satisfied with the way our taxes are being used, but our participation in our democracy permits us to elect those who will represent us. And, even when our candidate loses, there are many civil and meaningful ways to effect change, anyway. At Beth Israel, we promote the Jewish value of “Tikkun Olam” to repair the world through active participation on local and state levels. Our Tikkun Olam Committee represents us in promoting Jewish values. Letters to Austin legislators, participation in parts of TMO’s initiatives, and hands-on work at home on Mitzvah Day demonstrate real ways to make a real difference. Taxes serve a Jewish value when we contribute to a social network that provides for us and for those who are out of sight and sometimes out of reach. Our social safety-net, so called, is part of our responsibility as a society, and our taxes and charitable contributions maintain it.

                This Passover, our hope is bound up in our people’s prayer that Jerusalem will be at peace in the hands of a strong Israel; and, that we who live in Houston, will always know peace at home in America. At your Seder table next week, you might include this passage from the prophet Amos (9:15),


“I will plant them upon their land, and they will never again be uprooted from the land which I have given them.”


It is our duty to stand with our people wherever they may live. In Beth Israel, we stand with Israel, through our Israel Advocacy Committee and its commitment to a strong US-Israel relationship; and, we stand with America, the place to which our ancestors came with dreams of religious freedom, prosperity and peace. Let’s say “Amen” to their dreams, our hopes, and the promise of tomorrow founded on the words we share, “Next Year in Jerusalem!” Peace today and always.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover.

04/07/2011 10:18 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of

April 8, 2011



                 Metzora is one of those portions in Leviticus that is generally skimmed by casual readers. It speaks of bodily emissions, skin infections and other ailments. It’s just not a pleasant portion to read in English, and not from the bemah on Shabbat. Nevertheless, it’s a particularly poignant Torah portion for us. In ancient times, the ailments were really a cause for fear and anxiety for the individual and the community. Such ailments were regarded as God’s punishment for personal transgressions. No wonder this is the same portion that reckless preachers cite when they look for reasons to condemn so-called “transgressors”. But, they and we misunderstand the Torah portion if we conclude that the purpose of the text was only to exclude ailing people. If read for the purpose it was recorded, the text also provides means to include them. The goal was not to ostracize, but to provide opportunities to return and participate in a sacred community. In Leviticus, those who were sent away expected that they would be welcomed back after they demonstrated their healing to the high priest.

                  Today, there are more serious concerns than ancient accounts of green stuff growing on the walls of a house (mildew) or scaly skin infections (eczema), for which we have real therapies. Today, we face real sins of homophobia, xenophobia (fear of foreigners), bigotry, racism, and anti-Semitism. These are the sins that plague us. They dismantle the social structures we depend on when we think of community. Torah is an antidote that provides us some relief from our learned fears. In Torah we find our Golden Rules, chief among them, “Love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19). Our fear and insecurity often come from what we don’t know about ourselves or others. Unlike the plagues that affected ancient communities, no one can “catch” xenophobia or “catch” homosexuality. Unfortunately, modern records attest to the gross insecurity we have felt and later foisted onto minority groups in society. At times, our behavior has been no better than our ancestors’; perhaps, it has even been worse.

                   The lesson from Metzora places the burden on the individuals to heal themselves from the conditions that caused them to be excluded. Likewise, today, anyone who possesses a personal challenge that can be overcome should strive to overcome it, including a medical ailment or even a language barrier. But, Metzora also places an equal burden on us, especially the leaders of the community, to be ready to receive those individuals again and to include them with full rights. I urge you to look around your neighborhood and into your heart to examine whether or not you have done what you should to meet the expectations of your Judaism, “to know the heart of the stranger because you were strangers in the Land of Egypt” and “to love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” And, above all, to remember Rabbi Hillel, who taught, “What is hateful to you, do not do to others; that is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”

                    On Friday, April 8, 2011, in our sanctuary, we will worship using the Union Prayerbook (UPB) and Rabbi Samuel E. Karff will give the Shabbat message. Please join us at 6:30pm. All are welcome.


                    From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.


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