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09/22/2016 06:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
September 23, 2016

Just another week. The Jewish New Year begins on Erev Rosh Hashanah, Sunday evening, October 2, 2016; the 1st day of Tishrei 5777.  What should you anticipate at Beth Israel? A new High Holyday prayerbook. You’ll have the privilege to hold onto beautiful prayers written in gender-neutral language, poems and reflections for personal meditation, and exquisite liturgy for the rabbis and cantor to share with you. I believe that you’ll enjoy the flow of the service, the personal ways to find meaning, and the sounds of the music that Cantor Mutlu uniquely interprets on High Holydays. Here’s a sample of personal meditation you’ll find in Mishkan HaNefesh (Tabernacle of the Soul), on page 41:

Personal Prayer: Know Before Whom You Stand, by Rabbi Norman Hirsch (b.1930)


You can’t rush a prayer to God,
If it comes from the heart
It will rush out on its own
Speed through receding galaxies or
Silences in the soul,
And God will hear.


Honesty with all, but
Speaking to God is different.
Mine the soul
For your coal and gems and regular earth,
No pretense,
And God will hear.


Don’t force the prayer
Or string words together,
Pause, perhaps
Better not to pray,
Silence will be a message of awe,
And God will hear.


Now step off into the very deep.
Beyond the way of prayer:
We glimpse unknown magnitudes of God,
No more, or we would be stunned into silence.
Except that Love makes itself small,
We could not pray at all.


Before Rosh Hashanah, we come together at Beth Israel on Saturday night, September 24th, when our rabbis and cantor lead us in Selichot (Forgiveness) learning and worship. The program begins at 8:00 p.m., with Rabbi Herman and David Scott, who will present on Mishkan HaNefesh; followed by a dessert reception and Selichot worship at 10:00 p.m., with Rabbi Lyon, Cantor Mutlu and Rabbi Herman. You’re welcome to all or part of the evening.

                L’Shanah Tovah, to the beginning of 5777, filled with hope and promise for sweetness, good health and peace.

You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

09/15/2016 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
September 16, 2016


                When I was a child I used to say, “Finders keepers, losers weepers.” You probably did, too. It was a juvenile phrase. We said it when we found another child’s ball or a few coins and claimed them as our own. Kids still say it, but now they find lost iPods and iPhones. They recite the old adage like it’s a moral password that allows them to snatch up lost items and keep them forever. It’s a terrible saying and it’s contrary to Jewish ethics about lost property.

                In this week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, we read the first rule about lost property in Deuteronomy 22:1-3, “If you see your fellow’s ox or sheep gone astray, do not ignore it; you must take it back to your fellow…You shall do the same with his garment, and so too shall you do with anything that your fellow loses and you find.” Just because the verse doesn’t mention iPhones doesn’t mean you can keep them.

                The verse is clear; when we find something that doesn’t belong to us we must return it to its owner. Furthermore, if we can’t find its rightful owner then we must keep the lost item until the owner turns up. And, if he doesn’t turn up, we still have an obligation to store it and save it until he does, whenever that might be.

                Finally, at the end of verse 3, we learn, “You must not remain indifferent.” In Hebrew we read “Lo tuchal l’hit’aleim”. Given that Hebrew roots often share related meanings, the verse has also come to be translated as “You must not hide yourself.” When we hide ourselves from the truth, we become indifferent. It begins with small items. A small ball or some coins, for example; when we stuff them into our pockets we begin to believe that we change the truth about the matter. The child says, “I didn’t see any ball. I don’t know anything about coins.” A good parent or authority figure sets the child straight with a lesson about moral behavior. Eventually, the child learns that the old adage about “finders-keepers” is a bad rule. No matter our lies or deceptions, we can try to hide ourselves; but, the truth always exists no matter our efforts to hide it.

                This verse should be of great interest to us at this time of year. Just before the High Holidays, we begin to take an accounting of our personal journeys. We all feel lost sometimes. We all wander and wonder. Reality can hurt. It’s not always easy to face it and what it requires of us. But, we aren’t hiding just from reality. We’re also hiding from the larger purpose we can find on our life’s journey. If we knew where we were going, then we would do exactly what we needed to reach milestones along the way. But, it isn’t that easy and our future isn’t revealed to us. Faith in a larger purpose to our life, even if it’s hidden from us, can motivate us; it can be a source of joy when we do reach milestones along the way. No life is going to be permanently happy; but, it can be permanently meaningful. That might not be enough for everyone. Some people need constant happiness and joy. I love happiness and joy, too, but if I can’t maintain it, I’m honestly very content with meaning whether it’s found in joy or sorrow.

                Meaning allows me to face reality without hiding from it. I accept my blessings but also my lumps. I’m not perfect. I don’t have a perfect life. But, the meaning I seek and always seem to find is mine every time. Meaning makes it easier to show up; I don’t have to hide anymore. I don’t have to feel indifferent. If I accept my reality, then I’ll always feel something. Of course, I hope it will be mostly joy, but even when it isn’t, I’ll look for meaning in those moments. I hope that you do, too.

You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

09/08/2016 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
September 9, 2016


If you know me, I’m not a fan of food. We just have a love/hate relationship, that’s all. It doesn’t mean that I don’t eat. When I’m hungry, I eat quickly to get it over with and then move on. However, I do like watching cooking shows when they’re preparing something sweet and delicious. Their kitchens always have everything they need. Is it just my kitchen where we turn breakfast (turkey) sausage with an ice-cube tong?

                On one of those shows, I learned the French term, “mise en place.” It means “putting in place” or “everything in its place.” A good chef will prepare everything the recipe needs in advance and skillfully add it accordingly. I missed that vocabulary lesson in 8th grade French class; so, I just dump cheese out of the bag or cut up some leftover chicken and push the microwave to 30 seconds for starters. If it isn’t melted enough, then another 20 seconds will usually do it. I call it my “melt in place” method. It works for me.

                This month, there’s something I know more about and it begins with the Hebrew month of Elul, which precedes the Jewish New Year in the month of Tishrei. It’s an entire month of putting things in place before the New Year begins. It’s nothing to rush into. There’s so much on the line, personally and communally. In small measures, familiar prayers and songs begin to set the tone for ten days of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

                One custom is to hear the sound of the shofar daily, except Shabbat, to awaken us to the season. There is nothing like the Shofar sound. Its tone is often used in interfaith settings where the ancient call turns us towards a shared purpose of unity and peace. On Rosh Hashanah, the mitzvah is to hear the Shofar so that the tekiah, shevarim, and teruah move us to return to God, Torah, and Israel.

                Granted, preparations take on different forms in different families. Some do take time to hear the Shofar and engage in personal contemplation and prayer. It serves their religious need to participate in the rhythm of Jewish life at this season. Others prepare their families to welcome the holiday. Invitations to join in Rosh Hashanah meals or Yom Kippur break-fast become important rituals, too. They welcome home family and friends to the season’s promise of renewal. It all takes time to prepare properly.

                The alternative is that we rush to the synagogue to find a parking space and then our seat. We look at our watches or check email on our phones to pass the time before the doors open for us to leave. It’s a terrible way to do anything, let alone engage in High Holiday worship. It’s like pushing the microwave button to 30 seconds and standing impatiently for the time to pass.

                The goal for Elul is to prepare to stand before God. Though we might imagine trembling before God, the name of the month, Elul, can be seen as an acronym for the verse, “Ani l’dodi v’dodi li,” I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. These words come from Song of Songs (Shir HaShirim) in the Hebrew Bible. Song of Songs is called an allegory of God’s love for the people Israel. Therefore, Elul is about two “lovers” preparing to return to each other. The imagery prepares us to see our weighty task of repentance, prayer and charity, as valuable work that will bring us back into the embrace of our lover. In Judaism, God is not interested in the death of a sinner, but rather that those who transgress or stray too far from the covenant will repent and return. The rabbis, so fervent about God’s love, explained that even if we can’t return all the way to God, God will meet us where we are and accompany us to wholeness.

                Our Judaism’s hope for the season is bound up in God’s unconditional love for our people. During Elul, we say, “Hashiveinu v’nivashei’a,” bring us back, and we will return. May all our preparations for Tishrei go well for us. May the New Year be as sweet and delicious as we can make it and with God’s help.

You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

09/01/2016 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
September 2, 2016


(republished by request)

In Torah this week, Re’eh (see) is the first word of the portion. “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse…” Our Sages teach that the word is written here in the singular form. In subsequent uses, the word is written in the plural form. The reason is that while the “commandments are set before the whole people (plural form), each individual must ‘see’ (singular form) and decide whether to obey or disobey.”

                Long before Reform Judaism was organized, our Sages recognized a reform idea. Indeed, we are commanded as a people with the same set of texts and teachings. We are inheritors of the same Torah. But, we also respond to God and God’s teachings as individuals. Reform Judaism is predicated on individual educated choices. Nowhere does Reform Judaism liberate Jews from Jewish obligations. On the contrary, Reform Jews are duty-bound to make Jewish choices every day. What kinds of choices do Reform Jews make every day?

                Jewish choices should never lead to an answer as simple as “yes” or “no”. For example, “Do you observe Shabbat?” “Do you keep kosher?” “Do you give tzedakah?” Even if the answer is yes, it demands some qualification. If the answer is no, it requires more attention. Jewish choices should lead to full answers, and a Reform Jewish answer should include a reason thoughtfully formed. For example, “How do you observe Shabbat?” “How do you keep kosher?” “How do you give tzedakah?” These are questions that we are all obligated to answer, and which we have the liberty to answer as individuals.

                For Reform Jews, Shabbat is an essential part of our week. Rest from work and anxieties can refresh the heart and mind. Working on Saturday might be necessary to support one’s household and generations of Jews have done so, but not without also setting aside time for family. Keeping kosher was rejected by very early reformers in order not to set themselves apart from full participation in society; but, today, many Reform Jews keep kosher by making ethical food choices. Many choose not to eat veal or prefer free-range chickens. Obesity is at crisis levels in America. A Reform Jewish food ethic includes eating to live, not living to eat. (“The Sacred Table: Creating a Jewish Food Ethic,” CCARPress, Tzedakah is always a personal choice and part of every person’s obligation to participate in repairing the world.

                Seeing God’s blessings is something we are all obligated to do. Some do it more easily than others. But, all of us are uniquely created to contribute to the world of God’s blessings uniquely. Personally, I have never been a total conformer or a total individualist. I have never been comfortable on either extreme. Rather, I cherish my individuality and the privilege to choose how I will participate in the world around me.

                How will you observe Shabbat this week? How will you make an ethical food choice? And, how will you build a better world? Here’s a suggestion: at your Shabbat dinner table this week, talk about how you might answer these and other questions individually and as a family. Where is there room for individuality and where is it important to conform? You’re more than welcome to reply to me and share the outcomes of your discussions at It’s my job to ask; It’s all of our jobs to answer.

You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

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