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06/30/2011 10:33 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
July 1, 2011


Would you rather read about the Red Heifer in this week’s Torah portion, or about Cantor Daniel Mutlu? Yes, I thought so. Cantor Daniel Mutlu (pronounced: MOOT-loo) will join us, tonight, on the bemah for the first time. Cantor Mutlu and his wife, Nina, and their son, Saya, will become an integral part of our congregation in quick order. Even as he unpacks his bags and begins to organize his new home with his family, Cantor Mutlu will engage us in worship and song on Shabbat.

                Our Summer Services are relaxed and easy. Guitar, piano, and restful words and thoughts make an hour on Friday night a magnificent way to begin Shabbat and the weekend. Even while the rabbis are trading places for vacation during July, Cantor Mutlu will provide a consistent role in welcoming us on Shabbat.

                When Summer Services end in mid-August, here are a few things I’d like you to anticipate with me in the New Year. Cantor Mutlu is especially interested in broadening the musical experiences we all have at Beth Israel. For example:


-          Children’s Choirs. Boys and Girls love to sing and many demonstrate their talents on their bar/bat mitvahs. In the New Year, they will have a place to continue singing and new venues to perform their songs at Temple and in the community

-          Music Ensembles. Many Beth Israel members are talented musicians. They play a variety of instruments and many perform in groups. In the New Year, they can participate at Beth Israel on a music Shabbat or in new programs to showcase their talents and share the joy of making Jewish music with friends at Temple.

-          Religious School and Shlenker School music. Our children will be singing this year. Jewish music is for worship but it’s also for fun any time of the day. Children will be part of many new ways to sing and enjoy music for modern Jewish living.

-          Sanctuary/Chapel Services. Formal liturgy and casual prayer music can be sung with a sacred quality. Cantor Mutlu masters both with tone and style that welcomes us in and moves us deeply.

-          High Holidays. Everybody is moved by Kol Nidrei and Avinu Malkeinu. They represent the best of our experience on the holidays. There is more and I know that you will cherish the sacred sounds on these sacred days.

-          Bar/Bat Mitzvah. Cantor Mutlu has new plans to take our bar/bat mitzvah program from good to great. We welcome his participation and warm manner with students of all ages and their parents.


In addition to Daniel’s musical achievements, I believe that you will come to know him as a fine man whose kindness and goodness are part of the reputation that precedes him and the qualities you will come to know for yourselves. July 1st is a holiday weekend and you might be out of town or unavailable. Not to worry. Cantor Mutlu is part of the Beth Israel family, and we look forward to sharing many Sabbaths, holidays, life-cycles, and occasions with him, Nina and Saya.

                Now, if you really want to read about the Red Heifer, you’ll find it beginning in Numbers 19:1. From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

06/23/2011 12:24 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
June 24, 2011

If you’ve ever driven on I-35 between Waco and Austin, you’ve probably passed a sign pointing in the direction of Bruceville, Texas. And, you’ve probably driven right by it on your way to somewhere else. But, if you’re parents of one or more of the 800+ Jewish children this summer who will attend Greene Family Camp, then you put on your indicator and made a sharp exit off the highway. At the top of the hill Greene Family Camp welcomes campers to do everything imaginable and with Jewish friends in Jewish time.

                This week, I’m serving on faculty. With other rabbis and Jewish professionals to guide and lead programs and events, I love to see our Beth Israel children in action. They are having a great time in all the myriad ways camp is fun and exciting. Despite the lack of rain, it is the abundance of air-conditioned cabins and main rooms, swimming pool, lake, and comfortable mornings and evenings, that make camp beautiful especially in the Texas summer.

                There is another pleasure that I find only at camp. Greene Family Camp attracts and employs counselors and administrators who are among the top Jewish students and young professionals you will ever know. Their academic and personal strengths are matched only by their outgoing and uniquely Jewish interests in sharing their summer with young campers. Having grown up as campers, themselves, in some cases, it becomes a certain rite of passage that brings them back to GFC, to serve in the roles that their own counselors once did. Two of my children chose to become counselors after years of being campers. They are having a lot of fun, earning summer money, and gaining skills for life. I anticipate that the joy they have discovered in their personal Judaism, rooted in camp experiences, will become part of their future in their own homes and families.

                Camp isn’t for everyone and Jewish summer camp might not sound like camp at all. But, you would be wrong. Greene Family Camp takes everything you think camp will be and invests it with Jewish values that make it a place your children play, think and grow just they way you want. When they come home to you, they are more aware not only of their physical strengths and personal interests, but also in tune with what they are and who they are on their way to becoming. They have the vocabulary, the will, and the faith to do it. The man who makes it all possible is Loui Dobin, Camp Director. He is a friend to everyone who passes through the camp gates. You know him. He also leads music at Beth Israel at Rosh Hashanah children’s Chapel services and at our Yom Kippur Alternative Service.

                If you’re an alumnus of GFC, your children attend or serve at camp now, or you would like to support the work I and other Jewish professionals do with inspired counselors and camp leaders, please consider supporting camp ( ). GFC is a Union for Reform Judaism camp. It’s not only my camp; it’s also your camp. I don’t usually solicit anybody for anything on my weekly blog, but I’m leaving camp on Sunday, to return home. With camp in my rearview mirror and Beth Israel coming into view, I don’t want to miss this opportunity to express my support for GFC, and to invite you to do the same.

                As Shabbat nears, I will be with all my family at camp. Six Lyons will share Shabbat at camp and worship under the stars with thoughts of God’s blessings in our life and yours.

                From Greene Family Camp this week, Shabbat Shalom.

06/17/2011 09:42 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
June 17, 2011


                In this week’s portion, Sh’lach Lecha, messengers were challenged to scout out the Promised Land and report back to the Israelites what they found there. All but two of the scouts came back and said, “The country that we traversed and scouted is one that devours its settlers. All the people that we saw in it are men of great size–and we looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them” (Numbers 13:32ff).

                These messengers brought back a report that condemned the whole search process and doomed the people’s faith that God would deliver them to the Promised Land. In case you didn’t know, the ten men who failed to convey their faith in God were killed by plague. I’m sorry to disappoint you. However, Joshua and Caleb stood out among the men who returned. They gave an optimistic report that upheld God’s sanctity and the people’s ambition to enter the Promised Land. Caleb said, “Let us by all means go up, and we shall gain possession of it, for we shall surely overcome it” (Numbers 13:30). Furthermore, Joshua and Caleb said to the people, “The land is exceedingly good; [it is] a land that flows with milk and honey…” (Numbers 14:7-8).

                Many commentaries have been written to explore whether the messengers were accurate but irresponsible, or if Joshua and Caleb were committing an early version of “bait and switch.” What do you think? Were Joshua and Caleb overstating their observations only to encourage the people forward? Do you think the other messengers were condemned too quickly for their accurate report? The fairest and most appropriate answer is often found somewhere in the middle. Let’s consider the possibility that God’s presence was at work in the Biblical account. Human fear and anxiety were real, but so was God’s promise. Joshua and Caleb’s faith overcame their fears. Surely, they saw the same things their fellow scouts saw. The difference was their faith. Whatever they would encounter in the new land could be overcome by an ample amount of faith. If God ordained it, then it would go well for them. Joshua and Caleb didn’t misrepresent their experience as scouts. They represented their claims truthfully. They would enter the Land successfully if God went with them, and God did.

                Such faith still inspires us. How many “Promised Lands” have you thought about entering in your lifetime? How many forks in the road have you encountered? You didn’t move forward because you thought you were doomed. You moved forward because you believed that the next step was going to be better than the previous ones. On some level, you believed that God would be there. Down deep you hoped. You hoped and prayed that you made the right choice. Both are connected to faith in God whose presence is manifest in the “still small voice” within you.

                 Yogi Beara used to say, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” And Torah teaches us that when you and I come to a fork in the road, we don’t have to feel confounded. Instead, we have to hear “still small voice” within us. Then, with faith, we make the best decision we can; and, like Joshua and Caleb we exclaim, “Let us by all means go up!”

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

06/10/2011 08:43 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi Lyon
June 10, 2011

              Over 21 years, I have celebrated births, baby namings, bar/bat mitzvahs, and I have mourned at funerals with my family and with you; but I have never been a mourner, myself, until my father died on June 2nd. After six weeks following a massive stroke, he was finally at peace. Surrounding my father's hospital bed every day, my siblings and our mother shared personal words and private thoughts. We recited Hebrew prayers and final words upon his death, “Baruch Dayan haEmet” Praised be the Judge of Truth. 

                There is no possible explanation I can fathom to explain why my father who always feared dying of a heart attack would be taken by a stroke. My parents had just returned from their winter stay in Scottsdale, had Passover Seder with my sister's family in Silver Spring, and were anticipating joining my family in Houston for Emma's bat mitzvah. It wasn't meant to be. My sister asked how our faithfulness could deny us what we wanted and needed desperately now? We sought reasonable answers. My father's lifetime of high blood pressure, though checked, included a regimen of Plavix, a drug that no doubt made the bleed worse than it should have been; a daily aspirin would have served him better over the years. Despite the surgeon's success in the operating room, my dad's recovery was doomed by underlying conditions. We depended on therapies and medications to give him a chance to recover. But, our efforts on his behalf could not undo what was obviously ordained for him. At 76 years-old, my dad could not overcome the destructive blow.

                 At the funeral, we sought spiritual consolation. My parents' rabbi, Isaac (Ike) Serotta, delivered a magnificent eulogy. He included the words of Job, “God has given; God has taken; Blessed be the Name of God.” Indeed, the incidents of birth and death are beyond our comprehension; they originate in that which is larger than you and me. But, the times between birth and death belong to us. Therein lies the blessing of my father's life. The obituary and eulogy summarized 76 years of his life in a perfect synopsis of the times we came to know and enjoy with him.

                 Shiva, the prescribed period of deepest mourning was important and necessary. It permitted my family to refrain from everything but grieving without guilt or feeling that we were neglecting our responsibilities. We talked about what my father meant to us and what we meant to him. We explored what the future would be for my mother and extended family. Thankfully, we extracted out of this period of misery the many joys of his life, most notably 54 years of marriage to our mother, his four children and their spouses, twelve grandchildren, and a fruitful career and meaningful retirement.

                   If I've learned anything as a mourner, it's the wisdom found in what our Sages taught so long ago: Live as if each day were your last. They didn't mean that we should live recklessly; rather, we should value each day by doing mitzvot, commandments. My parents were role models. They grew to be best friends, they volunteered in the local library and their beloved synagogue, and they devoted their travels to be with their children and grandchildren in all the places they live. Then, every Shabbat, my parents lit the Sabbath candles at home and included a prayer of thanks to God for their good health and the love they shared. My father's good health ended the night of April 24th, but the love they knew and the love he shared with his family is eternal.

                    As you remember those who are gone from life, take them into your heart and make them part of your life every day. I pray for myself and for you that memories of our loved ones will recall the blessing they once were and will always be.

                   From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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