As we get older, our sense of time seems to quicken. What? Rosh Hashanah again? Memories of past High Holy Days flood our thoughts – for some people, the memories are drawn from childhood in another city or country; and for others the memories come from a more recent personal history of celebrating the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur. For those who are called to serve as prayer leaders, the High Holy Days present a double challenge: how to prepare the soul-clearing within, while also preparing for services, music, sermons, and myriad practical details so that the holy days are meaningful and uplifting for others in our congregations, institutions, and communities. (more…)
Though this has been a very challenging year for many of us, we as Jews never give up the faith that the potential for renewal and bringing forth Light from the darkness is built into the creation. On Rosh Hashana there is always the stirring of a new illumination as the Sound of the Shofar awakens us from slumber and despair to the power innate in our souls to return to G-d, to rekindle the Great Light and to reignite the treasure of new life. (more…)
By: Rabbi Mel Gottlieb
Welcome to our new website!
As we begin our new year, returning to our home at UCLA Hillel, we have much to be grateful for. As I sit here the first day, I ponder the two contradictory maxims that keeps popping through my head, “You Can’t Go Home Again,” and the other, “All Life is a Return Home.” Yes, it is complicated, I am complicated, life is complicated; so what does all this mean to me, especially at this our season of Return and Renewal!
Maybe we really are all Sephardic! After all, those who call themselves Sephardic are not just those from the Iberian peninsula (Sepharad was the Hebrew name for Spain), but most of the Jews of the Mediterranean world reaching east to India — and they were the ancestors of Ashkenazim.
For centuries, Sephardic-Mizrahi Jews of Arab lands lived in relatively peaceful coexistence with their Arab-Muslim neighbors. While never perfect, life for Jews in Arab lands was not characterized by the horrible persecutions, pogroms or expulsions regularly experienced by Jews living under Christian rule in Europe. Indeed, the Golden Age of Spain took place under Islamic rule, and only after the Catholics re-conquered Spain from the Muslims were Jews subject to the brutal inquisition and subsequent expulsion from Spain in 1492.
Every once in a while, our deepest intuitions about things – intuitions we often doubt because they seem fragile in a materialistic world – actually get confirmed by science.
About a month ago, I was in Provo, Utah, with a couple of colleagues for an interfaith conference. By chance, at breakfast in the Faculty Guest House we met Dr. Lisa Miller, who was lecturing for a different group at BYU the same evening. Generously, she gave us copies of her new book, The Spiritual Child. I glanced at it on the flight home and thought, “Ah, a good parenting advice book – and some science too!” I made a mental note to check out the science later and also see if the book might be of interest to my children who are parents of young ones.
As we observe our Jewish community today, we are struck by the impact of two distinct energies that emanate from different camps. One Voice is the voice of caution and careful deliberation in the face of an ‘awe’ (Yirah) that is transmitted within their gates. This voice gets translated into an emphasis on particularism. Another Voice is the voice of expansion (Ahavah) and outreach into the outer society to interact with its challenges and contribute to its growth and healing. (l’taken olam b’malchut Shakai). This gets expressed as a universalistic impulse within Judaism.
I was not born – I was removed from my mother dead. It was the doctor who breathed life into me. So began a life filled with pain and trauma: four other near-death experiences, multiple traumatic illnesses (including hepatitis), a lung disease that led to 3 collapses, a massive shingles episode that has added to my chronic excruciating pain for the past eleven years, and much more. And yet while I have lived constantly with immense pain, I have rarely suffered. Pain is a state of body, suffering is a state of mind. I only suffer when I lose my attachment to my soul. When I regain it, the suffering leaves and I’m left only with pain and the illnesses.
I grew up enveloped in music, singing and playing instruments from a very young age. This, along with my love for Judaism, eventually led me to pursue a career as a Cantor and to enter cantorial school at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. From my wonderful teachers, I learned about Jewish liturgy and service. I learned the history of the music of our people, and developed a new respect and love for Jewish music that I never dreamed was possible. Every day in class, as we sang together and analyzed Jewish music and trends, I felt part of a people and tradition stretching back thousands of years.
It was on the MS Volendam that I realized how much I had absorbed from my six years of rabbinic education. Like the medical doctor of an earlier time who made house calls with a medical bag in tow, I had taken a small suitcase of books with me, as well as the short sermons and other material I had pre-prepared in file folders before boarding the ship in Vancouver, Canada for the High Holy Days.