Books CCAR Press Death

Regaining Grounding after Loss: Rabbi Lisa Grant and Cantor Lisa Segal on ‘The Year of Mourning’

Rabbi Lisa D. Grant and Cantor Lisa B. Segal discuss the motivation behind their new book The Year of Mourning: A Jewish Journey, the complementary digital app, and what they hope readers and users will gain from the project.

What inspired the creation of The Year of Mourning?

Rabbi Grant: During the months following my mother’s death I formed a “Kaddish club” at my synagogue where I invited other mourners to join with me in sharing memories of their loved ones, in studying Jewish sources related to mourning, in singing and praying together, and in being a supportive community to one another as we journeyed through our process of grief. The Year of Mourning grew out of these experiences and includes many of the same components that were part of those in-person gatherings.

The book and app are composed of seven units. Can you describe these sections and how they correspond to various parts of the mourning experience? 

The material is organized around seven themes that are common experiences of mourning (pain, brokenness, sadness, comfort resilience, acceptance, gratitude). Each theme includes seven units, which begin with a song, which can be listened to on the app version. This is followed by a question that sets an intention for exploring the materials to follow. Then there is a brief text to study with guiding questions, followed by a contemporary poem. Each unit concludes with the Mourner’s Kaddish, which also can be heard on the app. Just as mourning does not follow a predictable path, we invite mourners to use the materials in ways they find most meaningful.  

What makes the app different from the book? How can the two be used in tandem?

The book and the app are identical in terms of their content, but the app allows the user to carry it with you in your phone, and to access the materials in a variety of different modalities: reading, journaling, and listening to the music.

One of the major advantages of the app is the beautiful recordings that can be listened to as part of each given unit: one can explore a theme, or a kavanah or sacred source, and listen to the music connected to them. Alternatively, any of the musical selections can be listened to by pressing the Music icon, at any time or in any order. In addition, for those unfamiliar with reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, we also provide a recording to follow and to gain literacy and grounding in that experience.

To help you move through weeks of mourning, you can set daily reminders in the Settings menu and a notification will appear with a quote. As with the music, you can always just scroll through those quotes. There is also a handy option in the app to write reflections in a journal that can be saved or edited as you go along.

Music is a key part of The Year of Mourning. What role can music play for someone experiencing bereavement?

While our traditions offer so many deep and comforting texts and rituals created to hold us in our losses, for many mourners, music holds a special place. Music can touch our hearts and souls in ways that transcend words. Often, in the journey of mourning, we find ourselves unable to articulate or express a feeling or emotion, and music has the potential to touch those recesses to comfort us or help us express the inexpressible. There is an intentional repetition of a number of the songs as expressions of different emotions and themes, recognizing the fluidity of the way music can speak to us within varied emotional states. We hope that the musical choices we made for the app—in both text and style—connect to and enhance the units’ themes, kavanot, poetry, and sacred sources.

What are your hopes for this project’s impact? 

We hope that rabbis and cantors will recommend these resources to mourners in their communities who are looking for sources of support, wisdom, and comfort during this time of grief. These resources are intended to help individuals regain their grounding after the death of a loved one, by making deeper connections to memories and to the richness of Jewish wisdom and tradition.

The Year of Mourning: A Jewish Journey is available in print and as an Apple and Android app. Rabbi Grant and Cantor Segal can visit communities to teach on the topic; please email for details.

Rabbi Lisa D. Grant, PhD, is Director of the New York Rabbinical School program, Eleanor Sinsheimer Distinguished Service Professor in Jewish Education, and Coordinator of Special Seminary projects at the Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion.

Cantor Lisa B. Segal serves as cantor and is a founding member of congregation Kolot Chayeinu/Voices of Our Lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

Healing News shabbat Social Justice

Hope, Healing, and Action

Pirkei Avot teaches: In a place where there are no people, strive to be a person. Meaning, even when other people are acting irresponsibly or unethically, we are still obligated to be guided by our highest selves. Even when others are disregarding basic rules of civility and humanity, we are still obligated to act with integrity and not give in to the basest of human impulses. It reminds us that to be human means striving to be our best.

What happened on Wednesday in our nation’s Capitol was an example of how low we can go as humans when we let hate and anger rule us, when we give in to demagoguery and hate. And indeed, while Wednesday was a terrible and violent day, what undergirded the drama of that day has been happening for a long time in our country now.

Our tradition teaches us to love the stranger, to care for the oppressed, to give voice to the voiceless. That is not partisan politics, but foundational Jewish teachings that comes from deep within the Torah, our prayer books, our Passover Haggadah.

A central text in the Haggadah teaches:

For the sake of redemption—ours and the world’s—
we pray together hallowed words
that connect us to Jews everywhere,
and to all who are in need:
the stranger and the lost,
the hungry and the unjustly imprisoned.
For our redemption is bound up with theirs,
and with the deliverance of all people.

As Jews we are called upon to understand that our destiny is bound up with the destiny not just of people like ourselves and people who think like us, but with the destiny of everyone around us. That is a message of unity and strength—that none of us can rest when some are suffering, and therefore we must care for one another.

So too as Americans, we are called upon to care for one another. No matter who I voted for or who you voted for, our destinies are bound up together. We can disagree—that is part of the democratic system that makes this country great. We can vote, we can speak our mind, we can argue, we can respectfully hold different opinions, we can peacefully march in protest, and then we can vote again. But what we cannot do is destroy the very system that gives us that precious freedom.

The terror that we saw at the Capitol on Wednesday, and the lackadaisical response on the part of law enforcement, will not define the American future and it does not define us. Rather, it serves to strengthen our resolve to work together to dismantle the forces that would divide us, to better understand and take responsibility for our own biases and prejudices, and to turn toward our neighbors with love. If anything, it shines a light on how much work we still have to do in order to rid our society of the diseases of racism, antisemitism, and white supremacy. And it propels us to get to work rebuilding our hope for a better future. 

Our hope in tomorrow must never fade. When I spoke to my mother on Wednesday she was in tears, not believing what she was seeing in her America. And I suspect that many tears were shed that day. Yes, it was heartbreaking to see our democracy being trampled upon. But I will not let my heart shatter in the face of all this violence and hate, because I need a heart to help guide me out of despair and into hope. A shattered heart cannot withstand the vitriol and divisiveness around us. A shattered heart is a defeated heart, a heart unable to respond with caring and compassion. And that I refuse to give in to. But there is another kind of brokenheartedness, not a shattering but a cracking open, an enlarging, which allows in the light and makes more room for love and empathy, for compassion and hope.

We all have a choice to make, as we’re reminded by the words of Pirkei Avot. Do we let go of our humanity and choose fear and hate, or do we call on the best of our humanity, choosing empathy and its companion, love? Let us then go forward into this Shabbat and into this new year, with hearts cracked open just enough to let in light, to let in hope, to let in love, so that we can be part of the healing of America.

Rabbi Hara Person is the Chief Executive of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. This message was delivered as part of the Reform Movement’s program “Hope, Healing, and Action” on January 8th, 2021.

chaplains Healing mental health

Bikur Cholim: Bringing God with You on Your Visit

“One should follow the attributes of the Holy One of Blessing…Just as the Holy One of Blessing visits the sick as it is written with regard to God’s appearing to Abraham following his circumcision: ‘And the Eternal appeared unto him by the terebinths of Mamre’ (Genesis 18:1), so too, should you visit the sick.” (Sotah 14a)

Bikur cholim is, of course, a large part of our job as rabbis, especially these days during the midst of the pandemic.  And the visiting is hard, because it is all virtual. We don’t get to be like God and visit Abraham while he was sunning himself outside his tent as he healed from his formal, ritual entry into the b’rit with God. And yet, we know how important our presence is, even an online one or a phone call. The visit is real, even if the technology is virtual.

As someone with chronic illnesses, both “physical” and mental, I am often on the receiving end of bikur cholim. Whenever I am in the hospital, I always ask for a visit from the chaplain office, Jewish or not; I like a chance to talk theology and theodicy, and I find relief in a visitor that is concerned for me, but not so upset at my illness that I have to comfort them in return. Over the years, I have (as I am sure many of you have), collected favorite “what not to say” sayings. One chaplain (a lay person, not Jewish) came into my room as I was recovering from a medication reaction. With a big smile, she said, “Hi, I’m Marie, from the chaplains office. I understand you are Jewish. I love the Jews!” It’s hard to follow up on that. I mean, I want to be loved, but…

We all know, at least in theory, that bikur cholim is all about the “I-Thou” moment, the being together, person-to-person, recognizing the Divine in the other, and opening ourselves up to the other, to risk showing who we are, the Divine in ourselves. And truly doing that, creating that safe, gentle holding space for the sick person to just be—well, that, after a while may be, not only moving and profound, but also exhausting. Being vulnerable is risky; it may be frightening. And in the midst of all the other things one has to do these days simply to keep one’s congregation, one’s nursing home or other job function, summoning all that energy to be fully present when calling/ Zooming with yet another sick person may simply feel like too much. 

Instead, we text or email: “I’m thinking of you.  R’fuah sh’leimah.” And that is not nothing. Being remembered matters, at least to me, when I am ill. It is not, however, the same as the gift of your presence—even if our time together is only a short phone call. The warmth of your voice on the phone (even just a message on my voicemail) feels healing, and I save it for months to play back in hard moments; if we actually connect, you might make me laugh for a moment or let me cry in your presence. All of this matters more than you can imagine.

And all the more so when my illness is psychological and not just physical.  From the depths of my depression, I do not have the energy to reach out, to figure out what I need and ask for the help I need. When you extend your hand, it can be a lifeline into my abyss. 

In the time that I have been struggling with my depression (over 35 years and counting!), as well as my struggles physically with my stroke and its aftermath, I have been visited by rabbis and friends of all sorts. So many of them, of you, have talked with me, made jokes, sat with me in silence (although most people find that hard to do, it is necessary at times; a good thing to remember!). And many, virtually all of the rabbis, as well as my best friend, who is an Episcopal priest, have offered to pray for me, to put me on their Mi Shebeirach list. I was, and am, always grateful for that; praying for me, for anyone, is, in my belief, is a way of placing me, metaphorically, from one’s heart into God’s hand. But in that time, only one person, a rabbinic friend, has ever offered to pray WITH me at that moment. 

And that is also what I needed. When I am depressed, it is not just that God feels hard to reach. It is that when I reach out to God, I experience a deep, dark, whirling abyss, and I fear that I shall fall into in, falling forever into nothingness. I can’t pray. But if someone were to pray with me (and sometimes I find the strength to ask a clergy friend to pray with me), then I have a hand to hold. My theology, my belief feels tenuous at best, but when you pray with me, I can lean on your faith, as it were, if only for a moment.  And that is a blessing.

I know it might feel awkward to ask each person: would you like me to say a prayer with you? But if you don’t ask, you don’t know. Some people might just like to say the Sh’ma together, or sing whatever Mi Shebeirach your community is using, while others might like a Psalm or a prayer you make up in the moment, just for that person or family. Especially in these days, when we cannot hold the hand of the person we are visiting, offering a prayer as part of our bikur cholim may be yet another way of connecting with those who are hurting. It is bringing the Holy One of Blessing right there, into the FaceTime call.

Rabbi Sandra Cohen teaches rabbinic texts, provides pastoral care, and works in mental health outreach, offering national scholar-in-residence programs.  She and her husband live in Denver, Colorado.  She may be reached at

Books Healing Poetry Prayer spirituality

Book Excerpt: “Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice,” By Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar

CCAR Press is honored to release Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar’s latest book, Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice. This collection includes prayers for personal use, prayers for use at communal gatherings, prayers and readings for moments of grief and moments of joy, a collection of daily Psalms, and focus phrases and questions for meditation. Rabbi Kedar’s new book is available for purchase now.

Below, we are share one of the many inspiring passages found in Amen.

Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice, and other publications by Rabbi Kedar, are available for purchase here.

“The Archaeologist of the Soul”

I suppose that the archaeologist
delights in brokenness.
Shards are proof of life.
Though a vessel, whole, but dusty
and rare, is also good.

I suppose that the archaeologist
does not agonize over the charred
lines of destruction signifying
a war, a conquest, a loss, a fire,
or a complete collapse.
The blackened layer
seared upon the balk
is discovery.

So why do I mourn,
and shiver,
and resist?
Why do I weep
as I dig deeper
and deeper still?
Dust, dirt,
buckets of rubble,
a fire or two,
shattered layers
of a life that
rebuilds upon
the discarded,
the destroyed,
and then
the reconstructed,
only to break again,
and deeper still,
shards upon shards,
layers upon layers.

If you look carefully,
the earth reveals its secrets.
So does the soul,
and the cell,
and the sinew,
and the thought,
and the wisp of memory,
and the laugh,
and the cry,
and the heart,
that seeks its deepest truth,
digging down,
down to bedrock.

Rock bottom they call it,
and in Hebrew,
the Mother Rock.

God of grace,
teach me
that the layers
of brokenness
create a whole.

Rabbi Karyn D. Kedar is the senior rabbi at Congregation BJBE in the Chicago area. Her previously published books include God Whispers, The Dance of the Dolphin (Our Dance with God), The Bridge to Forgiveness, and Omer: A Counting. She is published in numerous anthologies and is renowned for her creative liturgy. Rabbi Kedar teaches courses and leads retreats that explore the need for meaning and purpose in our busy lives, creating an intentional life, spiritual awakening, forgiveness, as well as inspirational leadership and creating the synagogue for the twenty-first century. Her latest work has culminated in the newly released Amen: Seeking Presence with Prayer, Poetry and Mindfulness Practice, now available for purchase through CCAR Press.


Rabbi in Crisis: How a Community Conspires to Care

Imagine having to make this decision: to fly home to hold your wife’s hand as she buries her mom on the West Coast or to remain on the East Coast to oversee the diagnosis and care of your mother who just had a major stroke. What would you do?

Nothing could have prepared me for the emotional tumult of having to decide whether to skip my mother-in-law’s funeral to remain at my mother’s bedside. Nothing.

Not five years co-teaching rabbinic pastoral counseling at HUC-JIR. Not 28 years as a rabbi, holding countless congregants hands and broken hearts as they navigated through their own pain. I am the rabbi, a human being regularly called to care for others; but I am also a husband, son, and son-in-law, struggling to figure out how to keep my head above the rising waters.

An Impossible Choice

This impossible choice, at the unfortunate intersection of two painful events, pushed me to my emotional edge. For the first time I was the one needing a community to help me through. Our communal values – henaynu (being there for one another) – were again being put to the test. Was the community really up to the task of caring for the caretaker?

Thank God that our synagogue, Congregation Or Ami (Calabasas), had for years been practicing the art of Henaynu. Thank God for the healthy relationships between our lay leadership and clergy that allowed us to see each other as partners and humans. Thank God for the Central Conference of American Rabbis’ (CCAR) deep commitment to caring for rabbis and teaching us how to care for each other.

When I, a community leader, was adrift, they all stepped in.

I skipped the funeral. My wife made the decision easy by making it for me. With the enthusiastic though saddened agreement of her father, whose wife died on the same day that my mom had the stroke, my wife and our family decided that I needed to remain in Florida to care for my ailing mother and help direct her treatment. It was the right decision for us.

Yet in my mind’s eye, I kept seeing my wife’s hand, the one I’ve held for almost thirty years, whose every freckle and fine line I have memorized to the touch. There was that hand, at the funeral, hanging there unheld. I imagined her sitting at the funeral, needing the hug that I couldn’t give her. This thought almost destroyed me. 

What got me through?

Even Rabbis Need A Rabbi (Part 1)

To survive, I had to reach out and let go, falling into the arms of my Rabbinic community.

Four rabbis separately conspired to take care of me. This one walked through the hospital doors, wrapped his arms around me, and held me as I cried like a baby. That one held onto my hand as tears ran down my face and gave me the space to talk through the tortuous journey of the last few days. A third one took over our pulpit, no questions asked, thus allowing me to get lost in the incomprehensible. The fourth sent a text, then took my call, and walked me through the painful process of accepting the choice I had no choice but to make.

The first two are former Rabbinic interns of mine, now full grown rabbis themselves. They sensed my need and just showed up. The third pair are my rabbinic and cantorial  partners at the synagogue, who immediately became caregivers and rabbi to my family who haven’t had one beside me for years. The fourth, an older colleague, is a rabbi’s rabbi who instantly became my rabbi, helping me figure it through.

In unspoken partnership, these four rabbis – each a gift from the Divine – along with so many other colleagues who phoned and texted – carried me through this particularly difficult period.

Fortunately I had known enough to reach out by myself. But if I didn’t or couldn’t, the CCAR, my rabbinic organization, was prepared to find me some rabbis to care for me. Rabbi Betsy Torop, the CCAR’s Director of Rabbinic Engagement and Growth, called and offered.

As Rabbi Torop and other CCAR leaders explain, according to a professionally administered self-study of our Conference, we rabbis experience a unique and deep sense of isolation and stress that is compounded during times of crisis. The CCAR is addressing these challenges of being a rabbi during crisis.

Thanks to my colleagues and the CCAR leadership’s continued intentionality and caring, I made it through the first week of crisis. With their help, I shall endure. (Among the greatest investments in rabbinic excellence would be to endow the CCAR’s Department of Rabbinic Engagement and Growth, so that all rabbis will always have a rabbi to help them through.)

Can the Synagogue Care for its Caregiver? (Part 2)

To be a clergyperson is to make oneself available 24/7 to meet the unending pastoral needs of the community. Rabbis show up when people are in need, no matter how it hard affects our own families. We are born to be caretakers. But what happens when we rabbis are the ones in crisis?

From its earliest days, Congregation Or Ami embraced the Jewish value of henaynu(radically being there for each other) and placed it at the center of our community. We believe this fulfills the vision of what God and Torah expects of us: to be a community that cares. Integral to that vision is a commitment to extend that same communal caring to the clergy who cared for us.

We have all heard horror stories of congregations and clergy, locked in battle over finances and failure, roles and responsibility. At Or Ami we focus instead on intentionally building up trust and practicing partnership. Hard as it sometimes is, the rabbis and cantor practice vulnerability, sharing our stresses big and small with our leadership in order to teach them how to help and support us. The community has learned to accept the humanness of their clergy and to intentionally allow us have moments of fragility.

Just as the clergy care for others compassionately, the congregation has long practiced caring for clergy through a variety of challenges: when a family member is struggling, a spouse has the flu, caring for older parents, and multiple periods of parental leave. Along with deep conversations about congregants who are struggling, we talk openly during our board and staff meetings about the rabbis’ struggles, most recently with trauma and burnout following the devastating SoCal fires and a mass shooting not far from the synagogue. We teach that compassion is a muscle that must be exercised.

So when, on the same day, my mother-in-law died in California and my mother had the stroke in Florida, I leaned on our time-tested partnership and made just four calls:

  1. To my clergy partners – a rabbi and cantor, telling them I was wasn’t coming home and I was stepping aside
  2. To our synagogue president sharing the tsuris (problems) so he could inform our leadership and partner with our clergy to envision the way ahead
  3. To our Shabbat dinner coordinator asking her to take over arranging the communal seudat aveilut (shiva meal) and meals for my family
  4. To two communal leader friends, asking them to “be me,” watching over my wife and family since I could not.

They all took over and played their parts. They supervised staff and made decisions. They checked in with me only on the most important issues. They arranged for the funeral to be live-streamed and for graveside to be FaceTimed so I could witness it from afar.

They took care of my family and me, insisting, in the most compassionate way, that I release control. And I did. Mostly.

Then they endured my moments of wanting to micromanage, listening patiently to my concerns, responding with openness, and then holding me metaphorically as they moved me once again to release control.

My partner rabbi and cantor sometimes channeled me – asking WWPD (what would Paul do) – and other times doing whatever they deemed appropriate. I trusted them as they sent explanatory emails to the congregation, sharing with them first about the death of my wife’s family’s matriarch, and later about my mom’s stroke and the reasons why I would be absenting myself from the funeral.

Our synagogue president and Shabbat dinner coordinator ensured that meals were delivered, that the large communal shiva meal was taken care of by the community, and that the staff and clergy understood that volunteers were prepared to do everything and anything to help.

One community leader texted me throughout the funeral service, narrating whatever the video would not pick up, ensuring that I felt the unseeable sense of the room. My rabbinic friend walked my wife into the chapel, holding her up, and he read my eulogy of sadness and loss.

Surviving Crisis and Trauma

We know that most clergy will experience intense crisis, trauma, or burnout a few times in their careers.

Pastor Wayne Cordeiro, in his book Leading on Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion, describes how he overcame his struggle with crisis, burnout, and depression by facing it honestly and by engaging his leadership and church. By allowing them to step up, he allowed himself to step away and face his struggles. When they do it compassionately, without stigma or retribution, the healing comes quickly and recovery is possible. Pastor Cordeiro encourages all religious communities and clergy to prepare for these eventualities.

I am proud and appreciative that Congregation Or Ami accepted the challenge and embraced it fully. I am so thankful that my rabbinic colleagues reached out and continue to do so

They all held on. And we survived. My family. My synagogue. And me.

[Note: Once his mother was stabilized, the author returned home for the last few nights of shiva (memorial services). As his wife embraced the true sadness that surrounds her mother’s death, he skipped the CCAR national convention, and headed east again to settle into a few weeks of caretaking. But that’s another story.]

Rabbi Paul Kipnes serves Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA.  This blog was originally posted on

Death Healing

Mourning My (Unknown) Child

It was one of the happiest moments of my life. Holding my wife’s hand in the ultrasound room, we heard that rapid thump thump thump of newly created life. My wife was about 8 weeks pregnant with our next child. We left the room smiling and filled with a glow. I watched as my wife rested her hands gently on her abdomen. I smiled at her, and for the briefest of moments, felt a twinge of envy, knowing that I would never know our child as she would. It turned out, however, that life had other plans.

Within the following two weeks, my wife kept repeating to me that she felt something. She knew that there was something wrong with our child. Back to the ultrasound room we went, and, instead of that familiar and comforting sound of that thump thump thump, we heard silence, deafening silence. The life growing inside of her stopped growing; her cradle of life, my wife’s womb, now held lifelessness. The following week, after nurturing life for almost three months, my wife underwent a procedure, known as a “D&C”, to remove the silence.

There is so little in our literature, in our tradition, to guide the women who go through such tragedy, and less to offer wisdom to their partners on how to support in these moments of terrible loss. Over the ensuing weeks, I watched my wife mourn for the child we would never come to know. I sat silently as she would break out crying for no apparent reason, then run to hug our one and a half year-old son so tightly, and tell him how much she loved him. So often I wanted to say “something,” but I never knew the right words to say to her. What was I, a partner who could not carry life inside himself, who could never know life on that intimate of a level, what could I say besides that I grieved with her, and mourned with her.

But I’m a rabbi, aren’t I supposed to know what to do? I’ve been through chaplaincy rotations, studied the halakhot of mourning, pastored to people, shouldn’t I have been able to find something to comfort her? I soon realized that I was at a loss. There is almost nothing for a mourning of “the could have been.”

The Rav taught that the mourning of the intimate lives we know, this is aveilut hadashah – new mourning. This label has a double meaning for a situation such as this – it is new not simply because it is not the aveilut yeshanah of the Temple and ancient tragedies, but also because until very recently, Judaism has failed to recognize the need of the parents to mourn for what could have been.

My wife and I were experiencing a form of this aveilut hadashah, and even with the small collection of new material and liturgy, it felt so foreign. We didn’t discuss it in seminary, and it’s a small section of the rabbi’s manual. However, we are now living in a world where the marvels of medicine allow us to look at the fetus earlier than ever before, to hear the heartbeat of life sooner than ever before, and, we are having children later than any previous generation. Taken together, this is changing our understanding and attitudes of mourning for the loss of a life that could have been.

Standing nearly a year removed from this terrible moment, I cannot believe how completely unprepared I felt as a husband and a rabbi. It is time, I believe, that we begin to change our understanding of mourning beyond years 0 – 120. Unlike our ancestors, we live in a world where the hidden is not so hidden. Talking about and preparing our spiritual leaders, from rabbis-to-be to those already ordained, this too I believe is a part of our obligation as rabbis when we pastor. Our Mishnah, Niddah 5:3, goes so far as to say that a child one day old can be counted for mourning; perhaps it is time to take this halakhah one step further.

Rabbi Jeremy Weisblatt serves Temple Ohav Shalom in Allison Park, PA.


So That’s What Rabbis Do: A Rabbinic Student Reflects on a Synagogue’s Fire Response

I dialed the phone number, not knowing exactly what I would say. They answered and I started talking: “Hello, my name is Elana Nemitoff, and I am one of the rabbinic interns at Congregation Or Ami. I am calling to see how you doing.”

I could guess how she was doing, given that she had just lost her house to the fires raging through Southern California. She probably was in something akin to shock, anger, frustration, confusion, denial, or some combination of these stages of grief. Still, I sat on my end of the phone and just listened.

After all, I was on a mission: I had to help convince this congregant to accept tzedakah, a gift of help from her synagogue and the rabbis who care about them. By the end of the conversation, she had opened up to the community’s chesed (kindness) and ahavah (love) and I had made sure an electronic Target gift card was on the way to her email inbox. After five more of these conversations, my own heart hurt and simultaneously felt very full. Having spoken to five individuals in varying stages of grief, I realized I was actively providing rabbinic pastoral care as I interacted with each of them.

Creating a Kids Camp and Adult Hangout

My week began as any other. I was preparing to teach religious school classes, plan retreat programs, and help mentor our teens through mental health and wellness exercises. By week’s end, I had spent many days in a row, morning to night, answering the call from Congregation Or Ami’s rabbis to help craft a compassionate, effective response to the fires raging through our part of Southern California. As the world seemed to be falling apart for so many in our community, and as the synagogue building itself was threatened with destruction, we pushed forward.

It began with a quiet comment. “There is a voluntary evacuation nearby,” I heard one parent tell another. Knowing the fires were less than twenty miles away, Rabbi Paul Kipnes conferred with Rabbi Julia Weisz and me. They decided, to evacuate both of the Torah scrolls from the building, as well as the computer server and other valuables. As their rabbinic intern, I watched, listened, and tried to offer another set of eyes and ears to ensure we had thought of everything. I asked questions, noticing what was occurring and wondering aloud to the rabbis: Had the tutoring students for later that night been called? What was our plan for tomorrow: did we have a place to set up a temporary office and a way to reach out to community members affected by these fires?

Once the synagogue was evacuated, instead of returning to my Los Angeles apartment, I spent the evening (and eventually the night) at the home of Rabbi Julia Weisz. It occurred to me: What about all these young people who won’t have a place to go because of school closures? Maybe we should set up a kids camp for them? Rabbi Kipnes began working his contacts to gain space at de Toledo High School in West Hills, while Rabbi Weisz and I began visioning what would become our community Kids Camp and Adult Hangout. Once we were clear on our mission, I spent the night planning, finding volunteers to staff the camp, making lists of supplies, and partnering with these amazing mentors.

Consulting with Colleagues

Over the next days, as the fires raged through our congregation’s backyard, I found myself growing into the rabbi and Jewish educator I hoped to become. Three years ago, I would have jumped immediately into action. Due to my training in the Rhea Hirsch School of Education of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, I slowed down and assessed the situation. I asked questions based on what I noticed. I became more aware of my surroundings and the needs of those around me. I stepped into my role as a soon-to-be rabbi and Jewish educator, fully embodied.

We consulted with rabbis and educators from synagogues which experienced major disasters – fires in Santa Rosa, CA, floods in Houston, TX, and the mass shooting in Parkland, FL – to gain insights into what we might do and what we might expect. But to be honest, often we were making it up as the hours rushed by, combining gut instinct with necessary triaging of needs. I was amazed at the stamina of Rabbis Weisz and Kipnes, and learned how to value other staff members by their open embrace of my questions, suggestions and assistance.

Connecting with Federation Leaders

One afternoon, Rabbi Kipnes called me over and said: “Please walk these two leaders from the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles through our Kids Camp and Adult Hangout. Show them what we are doing.” Easy, I thought: just show them around. But as we walked and began to talk, I started to narrate our tour. I pointed out the snacks we had out and shared the process of finding volunteers to provide them. In the gym I narrated the experience of the kids: where they were from, who was supervising them, and where all the different toys had come from. Returning to de Toledo High School’s lobby, our guests turned to me and promised that they would gather as many resources as possible so that we could continue our camp. They assured me that they would ensure that those people received the best resources for their needs. I took a deep breath; we were changing lives by responding quickly. I was changing lives.

The “to do” list for our makeshift office kept growing exponentially. I asked Rabbi Weisz what I could do to take something off of her plate. “Kesher (Wednesday religious school) and Menschify (Sunday family program) need to be solidified,” she responded. It became clear to me that she was not inviting collaboration or consultation; rather Rabbi Weisz was trusting me to handle it. Since our synagogue was in the fire zone, we had to create pop up programs in donated space at the High School. With another intern, I went right to work, determining what staff were needed and how the programs were going to work. We developed the framework and organized volunteers to collect or purchase supplies. Given the intensely emotional nature of these gatherings in the midst of the fire evacuation, we wrote out both the educational session plan and the words to articulate the framing of what to say to each group of students.

Light Emanating from a Pop Up Chuppah

As Shabbat was departing, Rabbi Kipnes and I departed deToledo High School and drove to the Shutters Restaurant in Santa Monica for a wedding of two excited brides, whose ceremony and celebration had been relocated in less than twenty four hours from its intended Malibu location. As we sat in the lobby of the hotel, I listened in on a conversation with Federation leadership about how to coordinate support for the eight plus synagogues impacted by the fires. Then, we drafted an email to the outside world about how they can help (after being inundated with offers of assistance, we decided to detail just how people could help). We posted the information to our social media channels and shared it with our national Reform Movement offices.

Right before the ceremony, we went outside and at Rabbi Kipnes’ invitation, I joined him to walk down the aisle to the chuppah (wedding canopy). Standing at his side, I watched him officiate. I marveled at the fact that this wedding was a small tikkun, a small fixing of the brokenness in our world at the moment. For Jews, the chuppah, open on the four side, represents our homes and our community. This couple, unsure at that moment whether or not their apartment and all their possessions still stood or were destroyed by the raging fires in Malibu, nonetheless were welcoming all of us to witness their marriage. With their love, they brought positive light into the world and shined it onto all of us as we surrounded them. Their chuppah transformed into a vessel to both hold in their light and shine it out, demonstrating that even when their world is unsteady, the light and love permeating the world still exist and still shine forth.

So That’s What Rabbis Do

I learned many eye-opening lessons in the weeks immediately following the Woolsey and Hall fires. I gained first hand insight into the process of successfully helping others in the midst of a crisis. I discovered anew the power of rabbinic networks, of partnering with staff and community leaders, and of the utilizing our resources, both in the Federation and in the greater rabbinic community, to forge a path forward. I witnessed resilience in the face of fire, demonstrating the fortitude of community, love, and engagement. More than anything, I developed my own sense of groundedness in this new role – rabbi, and look forward to formally embarking on the journey with Ordination in May.

Elana Nemitoff is a rabbinical student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and is the rabbinic intern at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA.  This blog was originally posted on


Hero or Imposter? As a Rabbi Struggles with Post-Fire Trauma

Another week passed, and with it, the ups and downs of caring for a community traumatized by the triple devastations: a synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, the mass shooting in the local Borderline (country western dance) Bar 12 miles away in Thousand Oaks, CA, and a once raging fire – now extinguished – that forced the evacuation of about 80% of our congregation.

Now most people are back in their homes. Now the synagogue is cleaned up (we rededicated the shul on Shabbat Chanukah). Now the news cycle has moved onto the next tragedy. So,

Why do I sometimes still feel drained and despondent?

One Shabbat, in the midst of our Pop Up Teen retreat, I stepped aside with our community social worker, a longtime friend, for a preplanned session to explore the nuances of the continuing trauma. She attended the teen retreat as part of a corps of social workers invited to support the teens. Focusing on Where is the blessing?, the retreat was intentionally designed as both an escape from, and a processing opportunity about, the past weeks of devastation. Unexpectedly yet importantly, most of the social workers found themselves supporting the staff as much as the teens.

We sat under a tree in Simi Valley’s Camp Alonim; she patiently awaited my sharing. I began quietly, controlled, well-aware of my inner stuff. Soon enough, warm tears again were running down my cheeks.

I confessed that I felt like an imposter.

Like we were not doing enough. Although my congregants were for the most part back in their homes, many are not. And I worried about them all.

Our congregants and their neighbors were:

Fighting with insurance companies.
Dealing with the trauma of evacuation.
Dealing with the trauma of the mass shootings.
Worrying about mudslides down the denuded hillsides.
Realizing that although their houses survived, the damage was severe.
Discovering upon return home that the mix of smoke and toxic soot has caused in some homes the walls to dangerously pucker, and elsewhere, piping melted causing internal flooding.
Struggling still to get things back together, even feeling guilty that their homes survived while neighbors’ homes did not.

Even those who made it through ostensibly unscathed were struggling. This child was wearing oversized socks that turn out to be the father’s because everything still needed to be cleaned. That child shed tears as she confessed she felt she looked foolish in these donated clothes. That mom was overwhelmed by the sheer volume of calls to banks, credit card companies, and the like. This dad was frustrated that the road ahead is so long and arduous.

And I worry about all those I don’t even know about.

In truth, even after the multiple calls the previous week to the whole congregation, I could not assemble a true picture of the needs of my flock. After weeks of trying to be there for them, after partnering to organize the Jewish community, after raising money and gift cards to help them, and trying to be out there as a calming and hopeful presence, I felt unable to get a handle on the situation.

Hero or Imposter?

I said that if one more person called me a hero, I just may lose it. Because I felt less like a hero and more like an imposter,  or like a former star quarterback, standing on the sidelines unable to figure out how to move the team forward.

I confessed how I relished a day last week – finally a blessedly normal day – spent helping a young Bat Mitzvah student see her parasha in a new light, counseling an older woman through challenging life changes, and walking a couple toward the end stages as the cancer ravages his body.

My social worker friend smiled at my statement, understanding how ironic it was that sitting with someone with cancer would feel like a “blessedly normal day.”

She asked me, “What are your expectations for yourself?” I looked at her incredulously and said, “Well, of course, to seek out my congregants and others, to ascertain their needs – immediate and longer term – and to help fulfill them. After all, I have gift cards and volunteers who want to help and I have… myself. My expectations are to do the work we started.”

“And what might be a slightly more realistic expectation?” she asked.
I stuttered, struggling to fully comprehend the question, “M-m-maybe to have others call and triage the needs for us, and then for me to respond to those.”

“And slightly more realistic?”

I just look at her with incredulity. “Lower my expectations of what we need to accomplish? How can I do that? People are in need. In crisis. I am a caregiver. How can I stop?”

She told me about her decades’ long work with rabbis and congregations, about how when people talked about how their rabbis were there for them, it was rarely about the rabbi providing a specific thing. It was not a car payment or new clothes or a new way to solve an insurance problem. There were other organizations, leaders, and professionals who do that, and do it a lot better. People who talked about their rabbis being there for them, she said, most often talked about the comfort and solace the rabbi offers, a spiritual support unique to the rabbinic role and persona. They relished the knowledge that their rabbis were there when they needed them. As a listening ear. With a supportive shoulder. As someone to turn to when they feel lost and alone.

She said, “After all the amazing work you and your team did, being there 24/7 during the crises, maybe it’s okay to slow down and breathe for a bit. Maybe you might entertain a more appropriate (or realistic) expectation: to let people know you are here and available, and to respond to the needs that arise.”

I try to sit with that.

Ratcheting down the level of “being there” is challenging.

It violated my self sense of what the Biblical henini (“here I am”) demands. And yet my body (exhausted), my heart (aching and spent), and my mind (well aware of the dangers of continuing at this pace) all were asking me to agree with her.

Yes, I was (at times) spent. I was (at times) lost amidst the overwhelming needs that keep arising. My inbox was (still is) backed up. My programmatic responsibilities were about to resume. And (at the time of this meeting) we were not even back in our building.

She asked how things were with my family. I confess that my wife and I had an argument, which became something much bigger than the issue deserved. We had to figure out this issue, but in no way did it require the intensity I brought to it. We talked about other family concerns that needed my attention. She reminded me that after weeks of outward focus, it was okay to turn inward for a bit.

Tears rolled down my cheeks some more.

I wanted to be the hero for those who need one.

I am constitutionally wired that way, to help others. But I was worn down.

I talked about the list I carry around in my head – of all the people I should call, text, or check in on.
For them.
For their families.
For the good of the congregation.

That list haunted me.
It weighed me down.
Because I just couldn’t get to them all.

I recall that my colleagues who have faced crises before me shared how they too felt this way, that they just try to keep slogging through.

My friend reminded me of our work years ago teaching pastoral counseling together at the Rabbinic school. When we taught about the need for the rabbi to set boundaries. About the importance of taking time to rejuvenate. About the limits of our effectiveness in the face of burnout.

I smiled knowingly. How ironic! I delivered those lessons to our Rabbinic students many, many times. Could I listen to them now for myself?

She pushed forward, like only a trusted confidant can:

Can I find a way to do something for myself?
Can I get away – for a few hours, for a day – for some fun?
Can I stop for a moment with all the social media?
Can I cease for a moment answering my phone and texts?

I laughed, thinking she was asking me to cease being me.

Yet I know she was right.

That night my wife took me out to a movie about an aging rock star who finds love, nurtures another, yet becomes spent and self-destructive.

I loved the music and the love story. I identified with the sense of exhaustion. My wife worried that the ending might upset me. I was not bothered by it, as I was just glad to have turned off my phone, to enjoy a night out holding my wife’s hand.

The next night my wife took me to Come From Away, a play about the heroic efforts of the Newfoundlanders, who care for 7000+ “plane people” who are forced to land when 9/11 closed US airspace. I identified with the Islanders’ sense of responsibility for others. My heart was warmed by their organizing acumen and their overflowing sense of compassionate action. My heart broke a little as some of the joy was tempered by sadness. I too felt the letdown when the crisis ends and things begin to return to normal (whatever that is). My wife and I both saw ourselves in those Newfoundlanders.

As we walked back to our cars, I remarked at how wonderful it was to smile and laugh. It’s been weeks.

How am I taking care of myself?

  1. I participated in a webinar about caring for teens in times of crisis, more to listen to and learn from the wisdom of the JCC professional from Pittsburgh and our colleague Rabbi Melissa Stollman from Parkland, as to share my own learning.
  2. I met for Spiritual Direction by phone with the CCAR’s Rex Perlmeter to continue to mine these weeks for lessons of transcendent holiness.
  3. I met by Zoom with my Rabbinic Coach Diana Ho who guides my partner rabbi and me toward self-care, and realistic expectations.
  4. I talk in person with my therapist, and my social worker friend.
  5. I regularly consult with rabbinic colleagues (Marci Bloch, Stephanie Kramer, Oren Hayon, David Lyon) who have been through crises ahead of me, who kindly drop everything to listen to and teach me. They probably have little idea how much our conversations have carried me through a particularly difficult moment. Nonetheless I am grateful.
  6. I try to eat well, sleep a lot, walk daily, and attend to the forgotten parts of my life.
  7. And I write. Because writing helps me consolidate and clarify the thoughts and prayers and emotions running unchecked through my brain and heart.

And I will be okay because I am doing what I must to again become okay.

And I bless:

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, ha-gomel l’chayavim tovim she-g’malani kol tuv.

Blessed are You, Eternal our God, Guide of the universe, Who nurtures within the undeserving goodness, and Who – through these blessedly caring souls – has reminded me of my goodness within.


[Author’s note: I wrote this a few weeks ago to help reflect upon this journey for my own edification and to illuminate the journey for other caretakers who might find themselves on a similar journey. I am consciously pulling back the curtain. I am able to do so because what I share has ceased to be [as] raw, though it is still very real. I am able to write because while reflecting upon this, I am fully engaged in my own healing process and am not using the writing to deflect or skirt the feelings and challenges. I am able to share this now because I know that I am fully functioning, yet sad and at times fragile. This is some of my story. Here’s some from earlier.]

Rabbi Paul Kipnes serves Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA.  This blog was originally posted on


Rabbi’s Disaster To Do List: 10 Community-Restoring Actions from the SoCal Fires

Southern California’s Woolsey and Hall fires were not the first, and assuredly won’t be the last disasters that synagogues face. But they were ours, coming on the heels of the devastating mass shooting in nearby Thousand Oaks’ Borderline country western dance bar. As the devastation grew, and more than 70% of our congregants evacuated, we quickly became aware of our responsibility as a communal organization to respond to the immediate needs of our community, our congregants, and our evacuated synagogue.

Here’s our Disaster To Do List, based on what we did, and the advice of colleagues who faced them before us. Of course, partnership with other synagogue and community professionals ensure the greatest success in meeting overwhelming needs. Our success in responding correlated directly with our ability to mobilize our staff and HUC-JIR interns (Elana Nemitoff, Meir Bargeron, Tammy Cohen, and Julie Bressler), to quickly set up a working office offsite, and to partner with others (especially Rabbi Ben Goldstein of Temple Aliyah).

10 Community-Restoring Actions from the SoCal Fires

When disaster is on the horizon, download a complete roster (with cell phones, email and kids names). Prepare ahead by putting your data and files safely online (we use Shulcloud). Because of this pre-planning (thanks, Or Ami President, Fred Gruber), we were able to set up a complete office in a remote location the very next morning.

1. Call: Call your congregants ASAP. Multiple times. To accomplish this, engage your own congregants, or invite trusted Facebook and Instagram friends to help call. Choose an offsite professional (thanks, Mike Mason) to organize, and share with them your synagogue contacts. Write a calling script, create a google form to collect info, and invite callers. Make sure to text people before calling them so they know the new call is coming on behalf of Rabbi XX. The collected information helps you triage which congregants most need your personal outreach. The warmth of calls from people all over the country inspires both the caller and recipient.

2. Organize Offers of Help: People will offer help. You won’t even know what you need. In a google doc – shareable and accessible from everywhere – compile a list of those offering help to return to as needs arise. And the needs will keep increasing even though it appears to the outside world that the crisis period has concluded. Don’t be shy about asking days or weeks after the initial offer.

3. Coordinate: Bring together the affected synagogues or religious organizations. Try to meet at a safe location or by conference call to pool resources and discover needs. Set up twice daily calls immediately (we met at 6am and 6pm) and then continue daily or less frequently later. Partner with Jewish Federation which can draw on national experience with disasters and bring other partners like Jewish Family Service and Jewish Free Loan Associations to the table. After discussing larger issues, spend time inviting each leader to check in personally – you will become each other’s support. End with a prayer led by a different participant.

5. Hire a Crisis Manager: Make your first order of business to engage an experienced crisis manager, someone trained to know how to help you lead your community through the crisis (thanks, Chris Joffe of Joffe Emergency Services). You will come to value their expertise with communications (they drafted twice daily emails and phone calls), setting up offsite locations to get synagogues and organizations up and running (every synagogue was able to reconstitute and office and hold services that Shabbat), contacting insurance (never to early to call your insurance carrier), and engaging the professionals to evaluate the safety of your building. Most importantly, an experienced crisis manager will guide you to ask the questions you hadn’t considered.

6. Fundraise: Set up a fundraising link on your own website or gofundme ( – Fire Response Fund). People want to help now so give them an option. Decide what you do not need or want. We decided to not be a distribution center and directed all material donations elsewhere, except for gift cards, tzedakah, and Judaica. Identify specific useful gift cards but clarify that cash gives maximum flexibility. Communal organizations will promise money but it may take them time – sometimes days or weeks – before funds are available to give to individuals. Inform National Jewish organizations of your needs and links so they can publicize (thanks, Union for Reform Judaism and Central Conference of American Rabbis). We succeeded in helping people within the first 24 hours because of this.

7. Network with Crisis Veterans: Call Rabbinic colleagues who have been through crises for advice. Again and again. (Thanks, Rabbi Stephanie Kramer from the Santa Rosa, CA fires, Rabbi Marci Bloch and Rabbi Melissa Stollman of the Parkland, FL shootings, and Rabbi Oren Hayon of the Houston, TX floods.) Their unique wisdom on all aspects of the communal trauma and response, and the way to endure the longer term change in our rabbinates, was invaluable. Ask them to check back in on you.

8. Open a Meeting Place: If you build it, they will come. Our Kids Camp and Adult Hangout (thanks, de Toledo High School in West Hills) became a meeting place for everyone, including leaders from other synagogues, Jewish Federation, Jewish Family Service, and volunteer social workers. Initially the childcare held only a few children but as people returned from evacuation and schools were closed it became invaluable. Social workers showed up and approached adults to check in. Volunteers came by ostensibly to help but we quickly realized they needed pastoral counseling and support themselves. Publicize “come on by to give or get a hug.”

9. Communicate, Post, Connect: Become a hopeful presence during a scary time. Use all communication channels – email, social media, robbocalls, and live videos (including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat) – to spread the message that you are here, you are aware, and you care. Live stream Shabbat services and/or Havdala to offer inspiration and provide an anchor. Email twice daily. Joffe Emergency Services taught us that during a crisis, people need more communication, not less.

10. Face Your Trauma: Don’t underestimate the drain on the leaders’ inner strength. Make yourself an appointment with a therapist or trauma specialist within the first week. We each hit the wall by day 7, if not before. The pressure is overwhelming. The CCAR, our national rabbinic organization provided confidential crisis counseling, as did Jewish Family Service. We also held Zoom conference calls with my Rabbinic Coach (thanks, Diana Ho of Management Arts) to help the Rabbinic staff process and plan a way forward.


Finally, Eat well. Exercise. Face Mental Health and Wellness: Take care of yourself. Regarding your self-care, partner with a trusted friend/partner/spouse, or perhaps hand over the responsibility for it, ensuring your ability to go the distance. Meet regularly by phone or in person with a therapist, because the ripple effects of leading others through trauma are intense. And breathe…

We are not the first synagogue or community to experience a disaster, and assuredly we will not be the last. But we found these aforementioned steps, gleaned from the collective wisdom of others, allowed us quickly to be present and responsive to the needs of our community, to partner with other communal organizations, and provide a beacon of hope in the midst of the flames. It helped let the light and warmth of the synagogue and community envelop a community burned by the fires.

May you be blessed with the fortitude, courage, self-awareness and patience to rise up to the challenges ahead. And we are always here to listen and/or help.

Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Rabbi Julia Weisz both serve Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, CA.  This blog was originally posted on Rabbi Kipnes’s blog

Chanukah Healing

Blackboards in Pittsburgh

For two weeks before Shabbat Chanukah, four black boards with a question at the top and multi-colored chalk in the chalk trays were placed in the entrance commons of Rodef Shalom in Pittsburgh. The question: “Chanukah means Dedication. What do you (re-) dedicate yourself to this year?” All who visited the congregation had the opportunity to write on the boards their answers to the question.

On Thursday before Shabbat, I took those answers and created “Rededication, A Hanukah Prayer from Pittsburgh,” which Rabbi Sharyn Henry and I edited together. At Friday night services, I read the prayer at a joint service of Rodef Shalom and Tree of Life / Or L’Simcha. The goal: add a bit of healing by using the hopes and ideals of the community as the core of a new piece of liturgy.

The week before, the Pittsburgh community marked the shloshim — the thirtieth day of the post-burial mourning process – following the October 27 attack that left 11 dead and seven injured as congregants of Tree of Life were gathering for Shabbat morning services.

This is our second collaboration using black boards. In 2015, we used the same blackboards for an “Elul Memory Project.” The goal: gather memories from the community to use as the basis of customized Yizkor prayer.

Rabbi Henry was inspired to conceive these black board projects by the work of artist Candy Chang’s international public art project “Before I Die.” In that project, artist Chang created large outdoor public blackboards with a series of blank lines inviting passers-by to fill in the end of the sentence: “Before I die I want to _______.”

For both of our projects at Rodef Shalom, I wrote the initial draft of the liturgical combination of the responses, then we edited the pieces together. I also read both pieces from the bima. In both cases, after services, people approached us both to share how they felt hearing their contributions included in the prayer.

Part of the success is a thoughtful approach to the formulation of the question. For the Elul Memory Project, Rabbi Henry and I tested two different formulations of the question with staff, asking how the structure of the question might change the answer.

The blackboards have proven to be a useful means of capturing both community memories and congregational hopes and dreams. It is a project that can be easily adapted to a variety of holidays or community experiences.

Here is the prayer we created for Shabbat Hanukkah:

Rededication, A Hanukah Prayer from Pittsburgh

The oil,
That one cruse of pure oil,
Made holy for the dedication of the Temple,
That should have lasted only one day,
Lasted for eight days
Until new, pure oil for the Eternal Lamp
Was prepared.
We rededicated holy space
To God and the people of Israel.

That light shines now in Pittsburgh.
The ancient light, 2,000 years old,
Shimmering across millennia from the dedication of our ancient home,
Mingles with the glow of the lamps we light tonight,
Our rededication to:

Family and friends,
Patience, Empathy, Sympathy.
Health and sobriety.
Meeting neighbors.
Learning from each other.
Petting more animals.

We rededicate ourselves to kindness,
Building a more peaceful world,
Combating hate,
Acts of compassion to one another.
Tikkun olam, repairing the world.
Tzedakah, giving charity.
Taking risks and being vulnerable.
Being the action of love.
Simply… being.

This is not easy
With broken hearts.
Yet this is who we are.
Inspired by the past,
Inspired by our faith,
We rededicate ourselves,
In this new generation,
To holiness and sacred convocation.

We will be vigilant in support of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish education.
We will be vigilant in advancing the dignity and the rights of all people.
Positive thinking and openness to new ideas,
Considering other points of view,
Trusting the mystery of life.
Paying forward these gifts.

To speak gently, with fewer words,
Criticizing less and helping more.
Simply doing the right things,
With dedication to truth.
With dedication to understanding.
With Peace –
Saalam, Shalom –
Udo, Paz, Vrede, Mиp, Paix, Friede –
In every language,
In every land,

The flame from that oil,
That one cruse of pure oil,
Still shines upon us,
Within us,
From those days
To this season.

By Alden Solovy and Rabbi Sharyn H. Henry
© 2018 Alden Solovy and Rodef Shalom, Pittsburgh

Alden Solovy is a liturgist, author, journalist and teacher. His work has appeared in Mishkan R’Fuah: Where Healing Resides (CCAR Press, 2012),L’chol Z’man v’Eit: For Sacred Moments (CCAR Press, 2015), Mishkan HaNefesh: Machzor for the Days of Awe (CCAR Press, 2015), and Gates of Shabbat, Revised Edition (CCAR Press, 2016).He is the author of This Grateful Heart: Psalms and Prayers for a New Day, published by CCAR Press in 2017, and This Joyous Soul: A New Voice for Ancient Yearnings,now available!