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Congregation Brothers of Israel

L'dor Vador - From Generation to Generation since 1883 לדור ודור


For those keeping count, we have completed 2 of 6 B’nei Mitzvah in 5 weeks. Tali and Becca were amazing, and Mira will be leading services this week. Maddox, Charlie and Sarah are preparing diligently for their B’nei Mitzvah in the next few weeks. I am proud of each of them because they have truly put their heart and soul into everything they are preparing for their special moment when we welcome them into the Jewish community as Jewish adults. Just as impressive as their preparations are for their day, I am amazed at their enthusiasm, their determination and joy at becoming B’nei Mitzvah.

Leviticus 18:5 teaches, “You shall therefore keep My statutes and My judgements, which if people do they shall live by them (V’chai bahem).” Menachem Mendl of Kotzk teaches, “You should do the commandments with vitality (chiyyut) and not like ‘a human commandment learned by rote.’” (Isaiah 29:13). The Kotzker Rebbe is famous for placing big moral demands upon his followers. They accepted these demands because they found their lives to be morally significant and satisfying. Fulfilling the Mitzvot (commandments) with chiyyut (vitality), they were more enthusiastic, determined and joyful at doing what is very habitual. Let’s get real for a moment, we know that our B’nei Mitzvah students have great demands upon their time. Between school, sports, home, and synagogue, they have very little free time although they do hang out with friends, play computer games and more. Our students spend an inordinate amount of time singing, reading and chanting the same lines over and over again. You would think they were bored with these actions (you may be right) but they have each put so much energy and determination into their work that there is a strong sense of chiyyut that pushes through. There is a vitality and energy they exhibit which not only gives them joy but gives us joy in watching them.

If we reflect on our lives, how many activities do we do repeatedly without thought or without energy? We, too, are bored of those routinized actions. The Kotzker Rebbe would say those actions are dead, because they lack the vitality needed to not only accomplish them but for us to feel accomplished. He teaches that if we approach even the most mundane ordinary task with joy and determination, the act, no matter how boring, can be infused with excitement and will be fresh for us every time we do it.

We must psyche ourselves up to complete the task and to do so with joy. For example, think about brushing your teeth. This is perhaps the most boring two minutes in the world. We are thinking about what we have done and what we might do, hoping to finish soon. It can be the longest 2 minutes in the world.  We are almost ignoring the brushing action thinking about everything else.  Instead, as you place tooth paste on your brush, think about the party you are giving to your teeth.  Think about the health you are creating, consider that with fewer cavities, there are fewer dentist visits and the ability you will have to continue eating your favorite foods because you have healthy, vitalized teeth.

The Mitzvot (brushing teeth is a mitzvah) are meant to bring positive energy, joy and happiness into our lives especially when we are mindful of what the Mitzvot do to help us every moment of every day.  I pray that our B’nei Mitzvah continue to exhibit and feel the same enthusiasm they do today as we learn from them what it means to approach the most difficult tasks with joy and a feeling of great achievement by putting ourselves into the moment and being mindful of what we are truly doing.


4/20/2018  Yom Haatzmaut

70 years ago, David Ben Gurion declared Israel’s independence and the first sovereign Jewish homeland in nearly 2000 years.  This declaration did not happen on a great field of honor nor was it pronounced from some august building, it was declared on a Friday afternoon in a crowded basement of a former Tel Aviv home, turned art museum.  And another cry was raised by Bnei Yisrael, not one of panic or despair but one of hope and optimism for a bright future.  Today, Israel is a technology and economic leader in the world.  Israel accepted hundreds of thousands of Jews from displaced persons camps after World War II, it rescued Jews from Arab countries, African countries and from the former Soviet Union.  Israel stands proud of its heritage, its history and its accomplishments.  And continues to struggle to navigate the best course for refugees.

As I write this, Israel is making a transition from Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, to Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.  To mark the loss of those who fought to protect Israel, there is a two-minute siren in the morning and in the evening marking the sacrifice but as Jews do best, we go from sadness to joy by celebrating Israel’s independence almost in the same moment, we continue see the hope and optimism of a great future even as we mourn those we have lost.

As many of you know, my daughter, Aliza has spent the past year in Israel.  This week, along with approximately 90 other NATIV participants are receiving Israel advocacy training.  She has met with Palestinians living in Israel and in the disputed territories, she met with settlers and with those who oppose the settlements.  She visited Hevron, the cave of Machpelah and Kiriyat Arba as a way to further understand the conflict that exist between people.  She visited the border between Gaza and Israel talking to various people.  She is learning how to advocate against the BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanction Israel) movement so prevalent on college campuses in the United States.  The disputes and challenges remain great but when people of reasonable mind and attitude continue talking, change is possible.  To cap her day of learning, she and the rest of NATIV marched to the Kotel (Western Wall) for a special Yom Hazikaron commemoration.  NATIV was honored with leading the march and at the head of the group was Natan Sharansky, Jewish Agency Chairman, former Knesset Minister and Soviet Refusenik who walked arm in arm with these young people from America.  Aliza shared with us that as they walked together, Natan Sharansky interacted with them including playing a game of chess in his head with a Nativ participant.  The young person loss badly.  Not surprising, Sharansky replied.  “If you too had played chess in your head for 9 years while locked in a soviet gulag, you would be pretty good as well.”  In just that moment, Sharansky taught patience, thoughtfulness and hope for a better time.  He achieved a miracle, he stood up for what he believed then and continues to be the strongest advocate for Israel’s future.

As we remember those who sacrificed for Israel’s freedom and celebrate Israel’s independence, let us join with our Israeli brothers and sisters and shape Israel into a Jewish homeland, living out the values of the Torah to create a just and righteous society and culture.

Here are links to a very moving Yom Hazikaron animated video and a beautiful rendition of Hatikvah.  May their sacrifices lead to Israel’s great future.




Avinu she-be-shamayim, stronghold and redeemer of the People Israel: Bless the State of Israel, [that it may be] the beginning of our redemption. Shield it with Your love; spread over it the shelter of Your peace. Guide its leader and advisors with Your light and Your truth. Help them with your good counsel.  Strengthen the hands of those who defend our holy land. Deliver them; crown their efforts with triumph. Bless the land with peace and its inhabitants with lasting joy. (Lev Shalem Siddur)

I am at a lost to write and even to really speak coherently on the jumble of feelings I have about the events in Israel. I am elated with the US Embassy moving to Jerusalem, formally recognizing it as the capital of Israel. I am saddened by all the deaths and those hurt in the demonstrations and rioting on the Gaza-Israel border. I am proud of the IDF working to its best abilities to protect life and to protect Israel from those who wish to do harm. I am angry at Hamas and Palestinian leadership which calls rock throwing and bombs being placed on the border fence as “peaceful demonstration.” I am appalled by the terrible media coverage which blames Israel for the events on the Israel-Gaza border without taking to task Hamas and the Palestinian leadership for their part in the morass. Most of all, I am heartbroken that we have a beautiful set of values and morals from the Torah meant to help us build a just and righteous society, and still we wallow in polarized politics and hawkish attitudes on all sides pushing people farther apart and not helping us to find the most appropriate solution to the chaos of the Middle East.

I have struggled to write this article because I want to convey to you, my community, the heartache and emotions that I feel every time I think about Israel. I want to convey to you that the young soldiers protecting Israel from Iran and Hamas and the like are the children of my lifelong friends. I want to convey to you my joy for my daughter, Aliza, who comes home next week after an incredible year, but had her sleep interrupted last week because Iran fired missiles at Israel. Thankfully Iron Dome and Israeli fighter jets stopped the missile attacks and she is safe. Lastly, I want to convey that Israel is always close to my heart and soul because it is truly the homeland for the Jewish people and represents to me the embodiment of our prayers and dreams for the potential of a just and righteous society based on the Torah and the values of peace and love.

As I enter this Shabbat and Shavuot, I pray that leadership in Israel, the United States, for the Palestinians, and around the world will see that peace is better than war and giving hope is better than killing. I hope one day we can embody the words of Psalm 133 – Henai mah tov umanayim, shevet achim gam yachad. May we one day dwell pleasantly with each other as brothers and sisters.


The links below are to articles written by Israeli thinkers and those who have been directly involved in Israel for many years. I am always interested in discussing articles with you, please email me or call me.


Shabbat Shalom.




Fri, May 25 2018 11 Sivan 5778