2017 Thanksgiving Message from Rabbi Mel

I want to wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving and hope that you, your families and loved ones are well and flourishing.  I have always viewed Thanksgiving as a very Jewish holiday since the theme of gratitude is such an integral part of our tradition. The very first thing that we do in the morning is recite the Modeh Ani prayer acknowledging the gift of life to our Creator, and then begin reciting blessings thanking G-d for all the gifts bestowed upon us that we often take for granted.
The simple act of walking, having clothes to put on, the ability to go to the bathroom and have our bodily functions working are all acknowledged and connect us to a soulful way of living, creating a connection to the awesome universe and all that we are connected to. Indeed, our tradition exhorts us to recite 100 blessings every day.
It is through the  mitzvoth that our consciousness grows, alerting us to the fact that we are more than our bodies, more than isolated human beings, but that we are souls within our bodies, and connected to the entire universe. Thus we express gratitude to our Creator for the gift of life, and our hearts become filled with kindness that we bestow upon others. SO indeed, in the Jewish way of life, everyday is a Thanksgiving, and this is an attitude that bring joy, and an expanded way of living, that enables us to have meaning and bestow kindness upon others.
At AJRCA this year we have much to be grateful for! In addition to our wonderful staff, alumni, Board Members, faculty and students who make everyday a celebration of joy, we have had an abundance of visitors passing through our corridors who want to attend our school. Our offering of hybrid (low residency) online courses has appealed to a broader spectrum of the population and this bodes well for our future growth, and contribution to our society. We have been blessed with exciting ‘Lunch and Learns’ and other programs as well: including author Maggie Anton, Very Special Syrian Refugees, and a full day of a wonderful Chaplaincy Conference.  In the next few months we will be having a conference on Aging, a forum on Anti-Semitism, and a program celebrating the contributions of Sephardic Culture.
There is so much to be grateful for.
So I wish you a wonderful day of gratitude tomorrow, and may that spirit continue for all of us throughout the year, so that our positive energy makes a loving impact upon all those whom we encounter and thereby elevates our world to reach the level of beauty, justice and peace that we all hope and pray for.
Happy Thanksgiving,
Rabbi Mel

Blessings and Affirmations for a New Year – 5778

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…)

Return and Renew – A Message for Rosh Hashanah

A High Holy Day Message from AJRCA

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!


A Sephardic Vision for Arab-Israeli Peace

by Rabbi Daniel Bouskila

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.


Science and Spirituality – For Our Children

by Dr. Tamar Frankiel

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.


To Separate or Engage: an Age-Old and Contemporary Question

by Rabbi Mel Gottlieb

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.


My Journey Through 5 Near-Death Experiences

by Rabbi Stephen Robbins

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.


3 Ways Cantorial School Taught Me to be a Better Chaplain

by Mitzi Schwarz

Mitzi Schwarz, ChaplainI 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.