How My Secular Philosophy Professor Opened My Eyes to Torah:  A Letter of Tribute and Thanks to Prof. Carl Cohen  I was blessed to grow up in a home and community where Judaism was central and Jewish life was filled with joy and love. I was a committed young Jew who attended Jewish day school, but as a teen, I was also someone, who admittedly had not invested in his own spiritual and intellectual development in a serious way. In the fall of 1986, I entered the University of Michigan as a freshman. That fall changed my life forever.  Much of the reason for that change was a course I was blessed to take with Professor Carl Cohen. His class opened up parts of me I didn't even know existed. I took every class I could with him. A knowledgeable and self -described secular Jew, he wrote my recommendations for rabbinical school and other graduate programs. He was a true friend, mentor and cheerleader.  Carl, as he wanted his students to call him, sadly passed away a few days ago. I penned
Why Just Siyum?:  Two R. Davids and the Primary Soul Work for the Three Weeks “It’s not supposed to be fun.”  That’s what I used to say to my kids every year around this time, around mid-summer, when the typical fun of summer took a nosedive. No more music, dancing, or swimming. The tone in the house was different. When they complained that things were not fun anymore, my response was always the same, “It’s not supposed to be fun. That’s not what this part of the Jewish experience is about.”  And while that is true, there is still a part of us that can’t take no for an answer. Summer is supposed to be fun! So, at camps and summer programs around the world, we often see the temporary evasion of the prohibitions of the Three Weeks or the Nine Days through holding a siyum. The finishing of an entire sefer kodesh, whether it be a masechet of mishna, gemara or other holy book, allows us to celebrate and momentarily leave these restrictions behind. This is the spirit behind the latest J-Sket
Measuring Up-A Message to the Class of 2023 Class of 2023, As we bid you farewell, we do so with both excitement and sadness. You are truly a special class. You are kind-hearted, passionate, curious and so much more. You truly “measure up” in so many ways. And as you leave our school,  I want to share with you two blessings – blessings from the world of measuring.   As you know, the Hebrew word for measure is mida.  Mida also means character traits for we are all truly measured by the content of our character.  And while there are countless traits and valuable midot, Chapter 5 of Avot tells us about midot and about how to be a chasid. Not the classic chaside we all picture with the garb, but a chasid, a pious person.  .   In Mishnah 10 we read,  אַרְבַּע מִדּוֹת בָּאָדָם. הָאוֹמֵר שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלָּךְ, זוֹ מִדָּה בֵינוֹנִית. וְיֵשׁ אוֹמְרִים, זוֹ מִדַּת סְדוֹם. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלְּךָ וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלִּי, עַם הָאָרֶץ. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלְּךָ וְשֶׁלְּךָ שֶׁלָּךְ, חָסִיד. שֶׁלִּי שֶׁלִּי
Shavuot and the Embracing of the Dark  My favorite ride every year takes place in the dark.  Usually on a fall Sunday following the chagim, my bike riding buddies and I (known as the Papa Wheelies) head down to the city, way before the sun rises, to participate in the ride for MS research. And as we exit Grand Central Station and make our way to the pier, we have the whole city to ourselves. Streets that later will be gridlocked are barren and quiet reigns on our usually hectic, noisy Big Apple. As a morning person, I can identify with the famous song from Guys and Dolls which says, “My time of day is the dark time.” Because it’s not only on that riding day where I like the dark time, it’s any day that I can take time in the dark before dawn to have a moment to ground myself before the world comes to life, that I cherish.   One of the beauties of the Tikkun Leyl Shavuot, in which thousands of Jews this week will participate, is the embracing of learning Torah during the holiness of the
Our Precious Holiday of (Limited) Freedom: חג החירות המוגבל Over the past few months,  three thinkers have helped me to understand a more layered approach to the concept of freedom, one that I will bring to the Seder and Pesach this year.   Oliver Burkeman,  Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals  In this amazingly thoughtful book, Burkeman says  that while we often think and frame ourselves as free,  our “freedom” is actually very limited.  Our capacities, our abilities and our time, are undeniably finite.  And, ironically, that limit can sometimes be freeing.   He writes,   “it’s not that you’ve been cheated out of an unlimited supply of time;’s almost incomprehensibly miraculous to have been granted any time at all……There is a very down-to-earth kind of liberation in grasping that there are certain truths about being a limited human from which you’ll never be liberated. You don’t get to dictate the course of events.  And the paradoxical reward for accepting reality’s
 Mishloach Manot: The Mitzvah We May Need Most Over the years, as technology has taken over our lives, it is good to know that how we observe so many mitzvot hasn’t really changed.  Each year we hear the pure natural sound of the shofar, we shake the lulav and we dance with the Torah. The pure act of so many of our mitzvot gives us comfort, warmth and connection. But some mitzvot have dramatically changed.  For so many, including myself, mishloach manot looks radically different than what it once was.  I used to bake and assemble and spend Purim in the car and knocking on doors. Yet, over the years, I have admittedly become more tired, more lazy and more reliant on my computer to share the Purim cheer with friends and family through one-click shul, school and community fundraisers. And I think, in the process, we’ve lost our way with what this mitzvah is supposed to do.  Because at its core, the mitzvah of mishloach manot is for us to share our joy with the people in our neighborhood. 
Joy and Pruning: Two “Thinking Jew” Conversation Starters for Tu B’Shvat One of the many goals of our Kinneret 8th Grade is to become what we call a “thinking Jew.”  Thinking Jews explore new ideas in Judaism and new trends in the culture of our people both here in the US and in Israel and they integrate that information into their identity.. Thinking Jews also look at the Chagim with more mature understandings, aiming to acquire meaningful lessons they can take with them as emerging adults. With this in mind, we asked the following questions in our class with respect to Tu B’Shvat.  They helped all of us to become better “thinking Jews” and they helped us explore personal meaning in the chag.    1- Simcha: Rabbi Rabbi Dovid Hofstedter in his book the Doresh David points out that as Tu B’Shvat is the Rosh HaShanah for trees (Mishnah Rosh Hashana 1:1), and we act with joy toward this day.  We omit supplicatory prayers like tachanun and we greet each with the chag sameach greeting.  Yet,