03/29/2012 10:12 AM Posted by:

From the desk of Rabbi David Lyon
March 30, 2012


Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Beatles Shabbat rocked. If you were one of the 1400 who attended, it was a unique experience at Beth Israel that felt like nothing before. Cantor Daniel Mutlu brought us his gifts of music and musicianship. If you closed your eyes you would have thought you were at a Beatles bar mitzvah. Who knew Paul McCartney could sing in Hebrew, right? The celebration we shared was found in the synergy between our modern tastes and cultural connections and our desire to be nourished at Temple in relevant and joyful ways. No one was unaffected; no one left unfed. That’s not to say that we can sustain ourselves on a steady diet of Beatles Shabbat or Journey Shabbat or BeeGees Shabbat (just think), but in moderation even a decadent dessert isn’t unhealthy.

                The musical vision for Beth Israel is underlined by a goal for engaging and inspiring music. That leaves the door wide open for Cantor Mutlu to share his love for music that ranges from classical secular, traditional Jewish, Jewish folk, and modern and pop music, to mention just a few. His range is wide and his knowledge is deep.

Every Friday night has become a sacred hour (just an hour) to take a step away from the week’s challenges and step into the sounds that inspire us to reach higher as individuals and as a congregation. It affects me, too. I enjoy worship services weekly, but there is something special about anticipating the musical notes and care with which Cantor Mutlu offers his prayers through song.

                I didn’t have to urge you to come to Beatles Shabbat. You got the message. But, I want you think about what you want to feel at the end of every week? It isn’t stress. It isn’t just relief after a long week. Maybe it’s gladness? Inspiration? Sounds and hopes you didn’t hear or feel during the week? If these are just some of the wants and needs you desire, then you’re not alone. Worship at Beth Israel has become the “place to be”. The chapel and sanctuary are special places to come and recharge your spiritual batteries. They are renewable.

                If you’ll permit me, I also want to ask you what your recharged spiritual batteries might enable you to accomplish in a new week? Just maybe, if you feel full inside, if your soul is nourished, then you’ll have more patience for your family, more energy for work and challenges in the office, more time to lend a hand, and a more generous outlook to make a difference where you can. No one feels like doing more than they already are when they’re feeling personally depleted. The joy of Shabbat at Beth Israel, whether the Beatles are here or not, is, in my opinion, the stuff we need to feel full again. A hungry soul is weak. A nourished soul is capable of more than we know.

                So, twist and shout, tap your feet, and “imagine” what Shabbat can do for you and then for others. Beginning with Jazz Shabbat in August, we will hold a special music service every 4th Friday of the month throughout the year. To underwrite the extra cost or to support the music program at Beth Israel, please let us know. When the Psalmist wrote, “Sing unto God a new song!” he had no idea what he was starting. Let’s not disappoint the Psalmist; Let’s keep the spirit going.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

03/22/2012 11:39 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
March 23, 2012


                This week, we begin the book of Leviticus. It’s not a favorite book among Biblical readers. If it’s any indication, Hollywood hasn’t recreated any of its scenes quite like it has from Genesis and Exodus. Who can forget Charlton Heston as Moses? But, Leviticus, for all its talk about sacrifices and bodily effects, has a lot to tell us about what is and isn’t sacred. Granted, the biblical text focuses on ancient rituals, but if we lift them out of their ancient contexts and dust them off for relevant lessons, it’s possible that we can find remnants that remain timeless and timely for us.

                For example, animal sacrifices were a large issue for ancient Israelites. Their aim was to bring the best of their flock or herd as an offering to God. Each offering, specifically prescribed, communicated a message between God and an individual. There were offerings of thanks, forgiveness, atonement to cleanse one from sin, to name just a few. What the bible doesn’t tell us about them is expounded on in Talmud and subsequent texts. All this concern for animal sacrifice ended completely when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed for good by the Romans in 70 CE. Then prayer replaced sacrifice and the rabbinical age took hold. We would generally agree that the change was good for the future of Judaism, and surely for the future of flocks and herds.

                But, I’m afraid there is something that remains lost forever. In each person’s choice of animal for sacrifice was an intimate concern borne by the individual to bring something pleasing, even savory, to God. The physicality of it made it real without any room for imagination. Today, each person chooses prayer for offering, and at best, with a similar and intimate concern borne by him or her to bring something pleasing to God. The difference is that a prayer offering today lacks physicality. We’ve traded the burden of our hands that held the animal, for the duty of the heart that conveys prayer “up” and outward. We’re more advanced; therefore, we’re supposed to be able to make our experience before God more intellectual, emotional and spiritual. I guess so.

                I’m not suggesting that carrying an animal to the High Priest for sacrifice was more meaningful than bringing one’s prayer to God, personally. I wouldn’t have it any other way and neither would you. But, it concerns me that the duty to pray is not felt as heavily in our hearts and souls as it once did in our hands.

                Leviticus isn’t only for ancient times, it is meant for all times. Perhaps there is, indeed, heaviness in our hearts and souls. What if it’s the frustration in would-be worshipers who struggle to find meaning in prayer? Then we can take a cue from our ancient ancestors. They didn’t wait to bring an offering until they felt ready. They brought their offering according to God’s mitzvot, namely, festival holidays and other sacred occasions. Meaning was found through participation with others. They moved in common rhythm with the community. Now, that’s nothing new.

                Shabbat is our day for worship, though daily prayer is also welcome. The duty to thank God for our blessings still devolves upon us. We can do it through offerings of prayer in our house of worship. We can do it through Sabbath rituals at home. Light candles, sip the wine, and eat the challah. Express gratitude to your family for the blessings they are to you. Whatever you bring and wherever you bring it, make it your best offering. Make it a reflection of the duty of your heart. In English or Hebrew, through song, poetry or prose, there is nothing better than what you’re feeling in your heart and wish to share with God, alone. I join you in that effort. I pray, personally, too. I also truly enjoy our weekly Sabbath services where song, poetry, prose and community make Friday night and Saturday morning more than days of the week, they are our Shabbat.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

03/14/2012 11:37 AM Posted by:

From the Desk Rabbi David Lyon
March 16, 2012


This year, I’ve been traveling more than usual. It’s not my preference, but it’s happened that way for business and pleasure. I have great respect for those who travel regularly. Your routine must depend on precision timing: arrive at the airport, go through security, pick up your coffee and head to the gate for premier access to your upgraded seat.

                Recently, while returning from Chicago to Houston, I followed my own routine at the airport, although it didn’t include an upgraded seat. After security, I made my way directly to the gate to board on time. While hurrying down the terminal corridor, I saw a young mother with two children in tow and a large baby bag thrown over her shoulder. She had stopped in the middle of the corridor to focus on something at her children’s feet. As I drew closer, I saw that she or her child had dropped their McDonald’s soda cup. It spilled all over the floor. I stopped and asked her if I could help her with anything at all. She looked up from the wet floor and said, “No, but thank you.” Glancing towards the gate opposite her, she added, “Looks like we made it to the gate. We’ll be okay.” If I had had more time I would have bought her a drink to replace the one she spilled.

                As I continued on my way, I hesitated just to look around the gate where the young mother stopped with her children. The gate was full of people and the corridor was busy. No one else, not a single person, attempted to help this mother. I wasn’t the first one who was able to help her. By the time I arrived her soda had already begun to spread in all directions. Someone could have helped her before I got to her. But, who? Not the men and women safeguarding their seats at the gate and their carry-on bags. Not the fast walkers who were too busy to notice. And, not the airport personnel who failed to stop and lend a hand.

                After I boarded the plane and contorted myself into the seat, I began to think about that woman and her children. I thought about the sacred texts in all the faith traditions that tell us about helping our neighbors and loving them like we love ourselves. Surely, there are many examples of travelers who do come to the aid of others, but a mother kneeling on the floor while balancing a diaper bag on her shoulder, with two small kids standing in sticky soda should have prompted a rush of helpers from their seats. I don’t fault humanity; that would be disproportionate to the crime. But, I do fault the humanity of the system we find ourselves navigating at the airport, today. It brings out the worst in us. At security, we’re dehumanized as we undress before each other and stand like criminals for a private picture to be taken of us. At the gates, we’re rushed and crowded onto planes and charged for any convenience whatsoever. It’s no wonder we can’t love others as we love ourselves; from the moment we enter the airport, we loathe ourselves and the trouble we suffer to get where we’re going. I admit that the happiest moment for me is when I can reclaim my baggage and my humanity at the same time.

                Talk about long hauls and terrible conditions, this week in the synagogue we finish reading the book of Exodus. The Israelites traversed hundreds of miles under trying conditions and with wavering faith. Now, after thousands of years, we can travel farther, faster; but shouldn’t we be able to do it without hunger, thirst, and suffering? Perhaps we can learn from the words we say upon the closing of Exodus and the opening of Leviticus, “Chazak, chazak v’nitchazeik” be strong, be strong, and let us strengthen each other. As I think of the woman in the airport, and the times we’ve been in similar circumstances, these words speak volumes about how to be a human being in places where our humanity is challenged. Given the suffering in our world, O’Hare is the last place we should complain about; but, the lessons are everywhere. We have to look around our selves and lend a hand. Then we may all go from strength to strength.

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

03/08/2012 03:35 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
March 9, 2012


Hindsight is 20/20. In the last two weeks, the Beren Academy has grabbed headlines across the nation. The large feat of a small private Jewish school in Texas was irresistible for traditional and online media.

                Beren was lauded for its message in the media. They were gracious about the decision that was initially handed down by TAPPS. The coach and students demonstrated honor and humility. Then a restraining order was filed. It wasn’t unexpected. It also wasn’t unwelcome. It seemed to balance the team’s magnanimous gesture against its right to seek justice. Ultimately, the team was allowed to play. We were all thrilled that justice prevailed in the win they achieved through hard work and team spirit. Even though they didn’t go beyond that final game, they and we learned some terrific lessons for life.

                First, pursuing justice is a Jewish value. It isn’t about suing others unnecessarily (a terrible Jewish stereotype); rather, it’s consistent with our outlook to transform our world into what it ought to be. In a place where justice is lacking we find desperate and suffering people. It’s our duty to pursue justice for the sake of Torah and humanity. Deuteronomy (16:18) teaches, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” It’s stated twice to emphasize that if justice cannot be found in one court, then it should be pursued in another.

                In Beren’s case, it was appropriate to pursue what they deserved. Besides, TAPPS had already allowed Seventh-Day Adventists to play on a day other than Saturday. Torah also teaches (Leviticus 19:15ff) that “You shall not render an unfair decision.” To render a judgment for one but not the other is an offense.

                Second, pursuing justice can reveal the source of a bad and persistent problem. Even if only half the allegations are true against TAPPS in its relationship with the Muslim community, enormous good may come of it. Beren’s restraining order exposed internal problems within TAPPS, which allegedly acted with bias against groups it felt didn’t meet their arbitrary standards. When Torah teaches, “Do not show deference to the rich or the poor,” it highlights only the most obvious times we might show favoritism to one or the other. But, beyond wealth or the lack of it, we learn that we have to guard against such acts of favoritism because they neglect the greater value that comes with justice from God, not man and woman.

                This isn’t another David and Goliath story. TAPPS isn’t as big as they think they are and they were taken to task not by arms and munitions, but by justice and law. The best outcome will be a new version of TAPPS. It will be one that lives up to the letter and the spirit of the law that provides equal opportunities to groups of all kinds, regardless of their religion or manner of observance.

                So forgive me for commenting with the benefit of hindsight. My intent wasn’t to take advantage of an opportunity, but rather to comment on what I see as the middle of the story rather than the end. The media might lose interest because the story has lost its “teeth”, but it should hold our interest. It’s not over until a difference is made and justice is found. That’s the Torah way. Mazel Tov, Beren Academy on your great season and your great attitude. Kol HaKavod!

                From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

03/01/2012 09:24 AM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
March 2, 2012


Every synagogue shares a similar vision founded on the familiar lesson that the world is sustained by three things: God, Torah and Israel (the people). Congregation Beth Israel fulfills the vision by engaging you in relevant, modern and joyful Jewish living. This week, I want to be sure that you are aware of all the ways you can fulfill your vision for Jewish life with us this month.


On God: Worship is spectacular at Beth Israel. Weekly worship in the sanctuary and chapel with beautiful music and liturgy speaks to us where we are. Come early to find a seat.

March 23rd, “Beatles Shabbat” with Cantor Daniel Mutlu is not to be missed. Do come early and get ready to be engaged and inspired by a brilliant interpretation of music and prayer set to familiar songs. Sanctuary 6:30pm.


On Torah: Education takes place in many ways for the entire family at Beth Israel. It isn’t just for children. It’s also for adults who are nourished by superior lectures and events.

March 13th, “92nd Street Y” live simulcast with Senator George Mitchell will begin promptly at 7:00pm in Wolff-Toomim Hall. Mitchell was a key player in resolving the Northern Ireland conflict and US Special Envoy for Middle East Peace. Senator Mitchell will be interviewed by Howard Gardner of Harvard University.


On Israel: Our people thrives in all places but none more critical today than the Land of Israel. Beth Israel’s trip to Israel on June 10-19, 2012 is open for registration. In addition, we continue to advocate for Israel through active dialogue and learning about Middle East issues.

March 20th, “Freedom of Religion and Women’s Rights in Israel” with Anat Hoffman, Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), Jerusalem, Israel. Hoffman will speak on her tireless effort on behalf of women’s rights to pray at the Western Wall and for women’s equal pay for equal work in Israel. Not to be missed at 7:30pm in Ladin Dining Room.


God, Torah, Israel. These are the building blocks of Jewish life and living. Join us. It’s a gift you cannot deprive yourself and all are free to attend. I’ll see you there. May this Shabbat be filled with the blessing of rest and peace. May the week to come be all that you wish it to be.

From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

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