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In Between Times

05/16/2024 03:56:31 PM

May16

When does the day begin and end? On the Jewish calendar, a new date begins with the evening, and so, with the setting of the sun we embark on a new day. However, this is by no means an obvious answer. Of course, in our modern world, the answer is assumed to be midnight. In some ways, this makes things very easy. Very little is going on in the middle of the night. Most people (I’m told) are asleep at that time, so it's easy to make...Read more...

Fearing Mothers, Honoring Fathers?

05/09/2024 02:47:19 PM

May9

Even as we observe Mother’s Day this Sunday, Judaism asks us to celebrate our parents every single day. The Ten Commandments, found in Exodus and Deuteronomy, demand “honor your father and your mother.” Then, in the portion that we read this week, Kedoshim, a key verse (Leviticus 19:3) also reflects our...Read more...

After the Dancing

04/25/2024 12:08:27 PM

Apr25

As the father of two college students, perhaps I could have been accused of being oversensitive to the climate on American college campuses over these past few months. At this point, the situation on many campuses has reached a point where it is of concern just to those communities, but to society as a whole. Shortly before Passover, one of the rabbis at Columbia University urged his students to go home because the university was either...Read more...

A Shabbat of Greatness

04/18/2024 05:35:38 PM

Apr18

The Shabbat before Passover is always called “Shabbat Hagadol,” literally “the Great Sabbath.” However, as any grammatical pedant will tell you, this does not make sense, because in the gendered Hebrew language, Shabbat is feminine, and Hagadol is masculine. Scholars throughout the generations have posited different reasons that the Shabbat might be great, some of which resolve the grammatical discrepancy. There are many...Read more...

Standing with Israel Before Passover

04/14/2024 05:08:11 PM

Apr14

For the second time in seven months, a Shabbat of peace was jarred by terrifying news from Israel. Hundreds of drones and missiles were on their way from Iran. On October 7, help did not come for many until far too late. This time the outcome was different. Israel’s forces were ready,...Read more...

Eternal Flame

03/28/2024 01:31:48 AM

Mar28

There really is no rest after Purim. Just as soon as we have loaded up on gifts of junk food and consumed wine without measure, we put away the Megillah, and change gears to start clearing the pantry and preparing to drink precisely four cups of wine at seder. Of course, Kroger has had the matzah out since shortly after Hanukkah! This Shabbat, Parashat Parah, is one of three out of the next four weeks where there is a special Torah...Read more...

Why Fast Before Purim

03/21/2024 02:32:23 PM

Mar21

This Shabbat is Shabbat Zachor, as we begin observing Purim on Saturday night. As I write, today is a fast day, Ta’anit Esther, which normally precedes Purim. However, its purpose and schedule are both doubly odd this year. The fast is traditionally observed on the day immediately before Purim, but in years like this when Purim starts Saturday night, the fast is adjusted to avoid fasting on Shabbat or even leading into it. ...Read more...

Meet the New Betzalels

03/07/2024 03:39:15 PM

Mar7

The process of finding community leadership has never been easy. Who has the charisma? The time and temperament? Where would one even learn the technical skills needed to focus the energies of a diverse and sometimes querulous community? This week, we explore those challenges both in the portions that we read from Exodus and in real life. Parashat Vayakhel reflects the consummation of the previous 10 chapters of the Torah....Read more...

Keeping a Covenant: Disability Inclusion and the Terumah

02/13/2024 10:52:27 AM

Feb13

Welcoming special guest Paige Rohe, in observance of Jewish Disabilites Awareness Acceptance and Inclusion Month.

 

Recently, my family worked with experts...Read more...

18 Weeks on the Way to 40?

02/08/2024 06:40:59 PM

Feb8

As I write, I am still digesting the intensity of the my week in Israel. I would have imagined using every opportunity this weekend to share my experiences. Indeed, this Shabbat morning, I will be reflecting on my journey. Then, on Sunday February 18th at 3:30PM at Or Hadash, I will be part of a forum where rabbis who participated in the trip will engage in dialogue with members of the entire community.  We are also working to...Read more...

Day 5, What I learned from Yitzhar and Yitzhar

02/01/2024 06:06:21 PM

Feb1

Day 5 A tale of two Yitzhars.

Today we had a chance to focus on the painful present, but also think about the future.

We spent time at Mount Herzl, Israel’s main military cemetery.  Our original intent was to visit the graves of two fallen soldiers who had made an impact on our community, and honor their memories. One was Rose Lubin, H”YD, who grew up in Atlanta and made Aliyah as a lone soldier.  Yesterday I...Read more...

Day 4- A Story of Shoes, as Told to Yitro

01/31/2024 05:44:06 PM

Jan31

This week, as I find myself in the midst of an intense mission to Israel with 20+ other rabbis and community leaders, the Torah portion, Yitro, has offered me some wisdom that helps me put these experiences into context. We read that Yitro, in his dwelling-place of Midian heard (“Vayishma Yitro”) everything that happened to Moses and the Israelites. He went to meet them. When Moses told him everything that happened, Yitro had an...Read more...

Day 3: A Helping of Helping

01/30/2024 06:25:39 PM

Jan30

Today’s part of the #Atlantaprofessionaljourney was a day of listening, with a healthy helping of helping. We spent much of the day in the Yokenam Megiddo area. They are Atlanta’s Jewish federation partners with this region. We met the mayor and other local leaders, and learned about the struggles to get bomb shelters, especially those in older buildings inhabited by economically disadvantaged residents, back into usable condition,...Read more...

Day 2: Resilience, Poetry, and German Engineering

01/29/2024 05:47:28 PM

Jan29

(for pictures see my Facebook feed here)
Today was an intense first day on the ground in Israel, as we came to appreciate the impact of October 7th on Israeli society, a story of deep pain and remarkable resilience. One major focus was on the hostages and their families. The Hostages and Missing Families Forum has taken over a six story building, and involved dozens of professionals and volunteers to advocate in the media, the...Read more...

Day 1, A Bittersweet Homecoming

01/28/2024 05:45:16 PM

Jan28

I’ve gone much longer between trips to Israel, but the last 113 days have made it seem much longer. Bittersweet and proud to be here with the Atlanta Rabbi and organizational leaders mission.

Read more...

Hard of Hearing, Hard of Speaking

01/11/2024 03:40:34 PM

Jan11

As any 6th grade teacher will tell you, it can be very frustrating to try to communicate when people are just not listening. You may be having a parallel but even more stressful experience, talking about the situation in Israel/Gaza or our experiences of antisemitism, with people who are either uninformed and uninterested or even actively antagonistic. In our portion this week, Moses finds that not...Read more...

Make a Holy Visit

12/28/2023 11:11:27 AM

Dec28

Within our congregation, our Kesher Committee makes such a difference, as groups of volunteers do things reaching out to those facing illness, helping families prepare for shiva after a loss. As our synagogue continues to grow, we are seeking additional volunteers to help fulfill these Mitzvot. To volunteer, you can reach out to Rashelle Berry, rashelle.berry@gmail.com. To understand just how important these Mitzvot are, we need...Read more...

Who Speaks for Dinah?

11/30/2023 05:40:30 PM

Nov30

This week we read one of the most violent stories in the Bible, one often skipped in Hebrew School. Jacob’s daughter, Dina goes into the town of Shechem, where the local prince rapes her. One voice is missing from the story. The Torah does not share anything of Dina’s perspective or experience. Though modern writers, like Anita Diamant, apply their creativity to fill in the gaps, she is an object, not a subject in the story....Read more...

Thanksgiving and an Empty Chair?

11/22/2023 01:46:54 PM

Nov22

This Thanksgiving Shabbat, there will be an open seat in our B'nai Torah sanctuary. Since shortly after October 7th, we have had seats reserved in our sanctuary for two young Israelis believed held captive in Gaza, Hersh Goldberg-Polin and Shani Gabay.  The open seats were signs of concern and solidarity, and hope that those seats would be filled with their return. We were one of dozens of ConservaReserved seatsRead more...

A Passing of Generations

11/16/2023 02:44:57 PM

Nov16

Sorry for the broken link- Shabbat Shalom for Thanksgiving weekend is at https://www.bnaitorah.org/rabbi-heller-blog?post_id=1478887

 

Eleh Toldot Yitzchak Ben Avraham- Avraham Holid et Yitzchak. “These are the generations of Isaac. Abraham begat Isaac.” The words that begin our portion this week resonate for me in a deep way at this moment. The portion tells us that Isaac’s journey to parenthood can only be...Read more...

Alumni

10/31/2023 02:36:08 PM

Oct31

As often as I can, I will work into my sermons that I'm a Harvard alum. Now I have a child who attends as well. Following the horrific events of October 7, my alma mater was the one of the first points of focus for concern about anti-Israel and anti-semitic activity on US campuses. I share my own journey in case it...Read more...

A Captive Audience

10/26/2023 10:48:02 AM

Oct26

The Shabbat of October 27-28, Conservative synagogues around the world are observing Solidarity Shabbat in support of our brethren in Israel.  Please wear blue and white to services, and see https://www.masortisolidarityshabbat.org/  for more resources.

I’ve gotten requests for my sermon from last shabbat.  You can find it (and other sermons) at https://www.bnaitorah.org/sermons      ...Read more...

Kindness on the Ark

10/19/2023 04:28:39 PM

Oct19

This week we continue to be overloaded with challenging news, and there is almost too much to say. At B’nai Torah, we are doing our best to keep sharing information without duplicating what is being shared elsewhere. In addition to the Shabbat live stream, we have posted selected sermons at https://www.bnaitorah.org/sermons, and my sermon for this coming Shabbat will be posted there late Saturday night. As many of my colleagues have...Read more...

We Stand with Israel

10/09/2023 08:54:07 PM

Oct9

Dear Friends,

We are still reeling from the news of Shabbat morning, that Hamas terrorists swept across the Gaza border, killing hundreds of Israelis, wounding and maiming thousands, and taking an as-yet unknown number captive, to be subjected to brutality that we cannot conceive. There is much that is still unsure, but we know that we stand with Israel.

On Saturday morning, as we prepared for the Shemini Atzeret...Read more...

Saving the Best for Last

10/05/2023 03:54:20 PM

Oct5

I’m a last-minute kind of person, which is why I appreciate the holidays of Hoshana Raba (Friday) Shemini Atzeret (Saturday) and Simchat Torah (Sunday). Each of them has a distinct flavor, with opportunities for repentance, spiritual growth, and joy, but all of them represent a different aspect of the closing of a season.

Hoshana Raba is the last day of Sukkot, the last opportunity to shake lulav or sit in a...Read more...

Dry and Wet

09/21/2023 03:56:38 PM

Sep21

This week we read as our Torah portion Ha’azinu, Moses’ second to last discourse to the Jewish people. In this poem, Moses returns several times to very distinctive imagery to describe God, calling God a “Tzur,” a rock. The metaphor implies constancy and security. God is eternal, like the very bedrock, and the ultimate source of protection, impregnable as a rock fortress. However rock is also unyielding, and Moses...Read more...

Wet and Dry

09/07/2023 05:26:50 PM

Sep7

This week we read parashat Nitzavim, in which Moses gathers the entire nation to warn them of the potential consequences of their actions, positive and negative. One of his more colorful turns of his phrase is that people will think in their hearts “I will be safe following my heart’s urges”, but this will lead to something terrible. In Hebrew, the phrase is “Lema’an sfot haravah et hatzmeah” which could be read to mean,...Read more...

Bird Brains?

08/24/2023 04:17:01 PM

Aug24

Ki Teitzei, our portion this week, includes more mitzvot than any other. One of my favorites is the commandment of “shiluah haken.” When you find a bird’s nest and you take the eggs or fledglings, you must send away the mother bird, and if you do, you will be rewarded with a long life. This is one of the few commandments where a specific reward is offered for its observance. Today we are more likely to get our eggs...Read more...

At the Gates

08/17/2023 03:44:27 PM

Aug17

This week, we begin the Hebrew month of Elul, and the season of repentance. We also read a Torah portion, Shoftim, which describes in depth the organizational structure that the Jewish people are to set for themselves in the promised land. King, prophets, priests, generals, elders, judges and officers each have their role in ensuring an orderly civil society. 

The portion begins by commanding that judges and officers...Read more...

Tisha B'av and Nachamu

07/27/2023 12:39:27 PM

Jul27

With greetings from Sabbatical: I am grateful for the opportunity to spend six weeks taking a break from communal life. At the midway point, I’ve spent time at Camp Ramah and in travel, and made progress on several study projects. It has been restorative to redirect my focus, which means putting much of the “tzuris” of the world (starting with my email) on mute.  However, the news from Israel this week cannot be...Read more...

Pinchas- Taking a Break from the "Ands."

07/06/2023 02:14:20 AM

Jul6

This weeks’ Torah portion includes a broken letter- the only time that this is permitted in a Torah scroll. There is an ancient tradition (dating back to the Talmud) that the word Shalom (“peace”) must be written with a gap, a break, in the letter vav. This is surprising because normally, even a single broken letter, out of hundreds of thousands, would invalidate an entire scroll. Indeed, in one of our scrolls, an inexpert scribe...Read more...

A Higher Power

06/22/2023 01:22:12 PM

Jun22

For many years (with a hiatus for COVID) B’nai Torah has hosted regular meetings of several support groups, including Alcoholics Anonymous and Al-Anon.   Many of us have preconceptions of what these groups are about, and who they serve, and it is worth dispelling stereotypes.  This coming week, you can find out firsthand, as the AA chapter will be hosting an “open meeting” on Tuesday, June 27 at 7:00 PM. The meeting being...Read more...

How Many Fingers am I Holding Up?

06/15/2023 01:30:58 PM

Jun15

When I was growing up in the New York area, the Salute to Israel Parade was one of the events that brought together almost every element of the  entire Jewish community. On a Sunday in early June, we schlepped in from the suburbs to march up Fifth Avenue, wearing our proudest blue and white. Many years, various Israeli dignitaries and Jewish (or Jewish adjacent) politicians would participate as our songs and chants reverberated across...Read more...

Does the Punishment Fit the Crime?

06/08/2023 03:36:42 PM

Jun8

What is the most effective form of punishment? What makes a punishment fair? This week in parashat Behaalotecha we read that Miriam and Aaron engaged in gossip against their younger brother Moses, criticizing him for some aspect of his personal/family life, and declaring that they were just as close to God as Moses was. God called the three of them to the Tent of Meeting (the principal’s office had not been invented yet) and...Read more...

What's it Worth to You?

05/11/2023 04:39:09 PM

May11

How do we value people? The fact that we are created in the image of God should mean that every person has infinite value and there is no way to compare one human being to another. In reality, we do have to offer evaluations and comparisons. Personal injury attorneys ask juries to put a price on people’s very...Read more...

Blasphemy in the Camp

05/04/2023 05:19:32 PM

May4

My message from this week: Many members of our community were deeply affected by the mulitple shooting that took place in a Midtown Atlanta medical office this week. Some were friends of the woman who was murdered. Others went into lockdown in nearby buildings, or were patients of one of the medical practices in that building, and, but for the grace of God, might have been there that day. I generally do not comment on these events. They...Read more...

Israel- Cause and Effect

04/27/2023 04:20:25 PM

Apr27

Just over a week ago, I had the privilege of observing Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance day, in Israel. It is remarkable to see the 10AM memorial siren bring huge segments of the country come to a stop. People emerge from their cars and stand at attention, remembering the overwhelming losses of 80 years ago. A week later, the country halted again as Israelis commemorated Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s memorial day for its fallen,...Read more...

The Twice-Read Haftorah

04/11/2023 02:19:04 PM

Apr11

Each Shabbat and holiday has a unique haftorah, but there are exceptions. The haftorah that we will read on Thursday, from Isaiah chapters 10-12, is read once a year, twice, or not at all, depending on your perspective. Despite being the haftorah for Passover, it barely touches on the Exodus. Instead, it focuses on the coming of the Messiah, a time where violence will cease, to the point where “the lion will lay down with the...Read more...

Blessed is the Generation....

03/23/2023 01:52:34 PM

Mar23

The first half book of Leviticus strikes fear into the hearts of sermonizers, homileticists, and B’nai Mitzvah. The next few weeks of our Torah reading will focus on the sacrificial order, and it would seem there are only so many ways that you can talk about burnt offerings and the sprinkling of fat upon the altar.  However, even in the midst of presenting a ritual order that seems so alien to us, the Torah reflected values that...Read more...

Fighting Anti-Semitism under the Dome

03/17/2023 02:41:55 PM

Mar17

HB30 is finally going to be heard in the Senate Judiciary Committee, this coming Monday, March 20 at 4pm, in room 307 of the Coverdale Legislative Office Building, across the street from the Capitol.

And, this is where your help comes in!

Act on March 19th and 20th by reaching out directly to  Senate Judiciary Members

In the coming days, you may also need to reach out to  Senate Rules Members and Your State...Read more...

Vayakhel-Pekudei:  When Enough is not Enough

03/16/2023 06:50:02 PM

Mar16

When is enough not enough?

   This week, in addition to the "HaHodesh" introduction to the month of Passover, we read Parashat Vayakhel-Pekudei, which describes the implementation of the construction of the Tabernacle, carrying out the plans that had been given to Moses previously.  The Israelites and their leaders bring gifts of every type of material imaginable: gold, silver, jewels, precious fabrics, simple yarn,...Read more...

Approaching Purim, Erasing Amalek: Justice and Vengeance

03/05/2023 10:38:21 AM

Mar5

 

I had prepared remarks for this past Shabbat, but there was not sufficient time to present them with the completeness and nuance that they required.  I offer a version of what I had hoped to share, updated to include passage of...Read more...

A Topsy-Turvy World

03/02/2023 04:04:45 PM

Mar2

Purim begins this Monday night. We think of it as a fun holiday, with gragger noisemakers, costumes, and hamantaschen cookies with fillings delectable and deleterious. Megillah readings, shpiels and sing-alongs bring raucous merriment, and there is often just a bit of drinking as well. To see all we have planned, see bnaitorah.org/purim. These festivities mask (pun intended) an existential philosophical message, “Vehanafoch...Read more...

Terumah- Everyone Can Contribute

02/23/2023 12:53:05 AM

Feb23

This shabbat we read Terumah, the first in a series of portions that comprise the last 2/5 of the book of Exodus and describe the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle that accompanied the Israelites through the desert.  God begins  (Exodus 25:2) by describing the gathering of the materials: “Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts, you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so...Read more...

Mishpatim: Do Not Curse a Judge

02/16/2023 05:07:39 PM

Feb16

Many of us have been watching the news from Israel, as the new government has proposed laws and policy changes which have prompted weekly protests of over 100,000 Israelis, but few here in the US have a clear understanding what is really at stake.  As always, our Torah tradition offers insights.  It starts, but does not end, with judges.

This week the portion we read is called Mishpatim.  It includes many of the...Read more...

Bo: Going to the Dogs

01/26/2023 05:43:33 PM

Jan26

In this week’s portion, Bo, dogs play an unexpectedly important role. As God is telling the Israelites what to expect on the night of the Exodus, He says (Exodus 11:7-8) “And there shall be a loud cry in all the land of Egypt, such as has never been or will ever be again. But at the Israelites, no dog will whet his tongue, neither against human or animal, so that you may know that God makes a distinction between Egypt and...Read more...

Rediscovering A Name We Already Know

01/19/2023 05:39:55 PM

Jan19

I rotate multiple Humashim (Torah commentaries/translations)  through the prime spot on my desk. Two that have a permanent spot in the rotation are the Orthodox "Artscroll Chumash" that we have been using in our sanctuary, and the Conservative Etz Hayim Humash that we give our B’nai Mitzvah students. The Humashim have very different approaches, not only in how they spell the very title of the book (H vs CH), but also with how they...Read more...

What Kind of Job is that for a Nice Jewish Boy?

12/29/2022 04:35:52 PM

Dec29

This week’s Torah portion includes an emotional reunion, as Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and invites his father and extended family to join him in Egypt. It is notable that Joseph cautions his brothers to be careful in how they describe themselves to Pharaoh. They are to reveal that they are keepers of sheep and cattle. In our modern society, people often define themselves by their professional roles, without a...Read more...

Joseph and the Maccabees

12/22/2022 04:28:45 PM

Dec22

Parashat Miketz is almost always read on Shabbat of Hannukah. Though these two readings are often aligned in the liturgy, they reflect very different understandings of what it means to be a Jew in the world. While Miketz reflects the desire to blend in, perhaps to an extreme degree, Hanukkah is about the fight for a distinctive identity in the face of pressures of assimilation. Many Jews today feel a tension between those two poles, even in how...Read more...

The Bones Told a Story

12/01/2022 01:56:49 PM

Dec1

A construction project in a small German town, has shed new light on the Jewish legacy that can be carried, quite literally, in our bones and our blood.  In 1453, the Jewish community of Erfurt was exiled, bringing an end to several hundred years of Jewish presence. A storehouse was built over the centuries-old Jewish cemetery. Recently, that storehouse was renovated to serve as a parking deck, and 47 of the original graves were...Read more...

Sat, May 25 2024 17 Iyyar 5784