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.


Can a Lemon Trump an Etrog? Spiritual Connections in the South Pacific

by Rabbi Corinne Copnick

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.


Reflections on my Mother: Judaism and Radical Life Extension

by Rabbi Rochelle Robins

As a Chaplain, the topics of aging and death are something I deal with on a daily basis. This experience became even more personal for me, when my own mother recently passed away after struggling with cancer.

Our society has somewhat of a dualistic relationship with the elderly. We often see them as burdens, unable to contribute to our world and out of date with the times. Yet when someone we love reaches a certain age, we struggle to accept their fate. Society’s negative response toward the elderly doesn’t mirror our personal relationships with those whom we love, honor, and want to hold onto for as long as possible. There was little burden in being my Mother’s daughter. She was and remains a great source of love and inspiration.


5 Little-Known Facts about High Holy Day Music

by Cantor Jonathan L. Friedmann, Ph.D.

ChoirThere is a general rule in synagogue music: the less frequent the holiday, the greater the desire to preserve its melodies. The High Holy Days have benefitted from this tendency. A handful of venerated Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur tunes are treated as if they came from Moses himself. These so-called “Mi-Sinai tunes” actually emerged in Rhineland communities of southwestern Germany and northeastern France between the eleventh and fifteenth centuries. They include the familiar strains of Kol Nidre, “The Great Aleinu,” the “Ma’ariv tune,” sections of the Amidah, various settings of Chatzi Kaddish, and others. Although these special melodies are sung at special times, their rich history and unique properties teach us about the wider significance of music in Jewish life. (more…)

3 Things You Didn’t Know About the Dead Sea Scrolls
(and what we can learn from them today)

by Dr. Marvin Sweeney

The Dead Sea Scrolls, now on exhibit at the California Science Center, are one of the most important archeological discoveries for understanding Judaism in antiquity. Found in caves at a site called Qumran near the Dead Sea, they were written by a sect of Judaism known as the Essenes, who lived there from the 2nd century BCE to the war with Rome about 200 years later.


Purim Insights

by Cantor Fran Burgess

Redemption . . . Diaspora . . . Assimilation —

What do those words mean to us today?

When I think of the verb “to redeem”, I remember my mother bringing home “green stamps” with her groceries. We would lick them, put them in a book, add up their point values and redeem them for some prize in the catalogue—a real cause and effect, and such excitement to get “something we redeemed.” You save the stamps; you trade them in for something else that you want.


Chaplain Bob Lifson

Chaplain Bob Lifson was a man who loved simple things. Bobby – as he was called by almost everyone – loved his family, his friends and his home. A major source of both joy and strength to Bobby was his Judaism, and this was evident in his commitment to serving and being an active member of the Jewish community.


Ralph Mannheimer & Batya Malick

Batya & RalphRalph Mannhimer has been a member of the Board since its founding.  In addition to his years of service on the Board, Ralph agreed to serve as our Chief Financial Officer from 2008 until his retirement in 2014, overseeing several improvements to our financial systems as the Academy grew, went through the process of accreditation and was certified to obtain Federal loans for our students.  Here is how he describes his first encounter with AJRCA-to-be:

“About thirteen years ago, my friend, Rabbi, and teacher Stan Levy asked me to join him for lunch.  Stan asked me to serve on the Board of the Academy and I agreed. Thirteen years later I look back with a great feeling of personal satisfaction and accomplishment.  The Academy’s growth has been phenomenal – over 100 graduates from an accredited school!  It has been a labor of love to be associated with and to support the Academy financially.”


Rabbi Joseph Levine

by Naomi Vanek

N.Vanek - Levine Pres LobbyRabbi Joseph Levine was the thirteenth child of immigrant parents from Russia.  He grew up in a traditional home in Pennsylvania.  As a young man, however, he came under the influence of Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, who represented for him an American rabbi, living out his ancient heritage in a modern democratic nation.  America was a marvel to my father and its heroes were real to him.  Rabbi Wise encouraged his ambition to become a rabbi.

When the Jewish community of Texarkana asked him to be their rabbi in the 1950s, it was a marriage made in heaven.  They were becoming more open and American, including developing relationships with the Christians of Texarkana. My father reached out to all, and they welcomed him in turn.  The Jewish and Christian groups met in synagogues and churches, shared ritual and symbolism, and learned the value of each other’s traditions without fear.