Memorial Day Musings


o-AMERICAN-FLAG-facebook.jpg             proud navy family.jpg

She was wearing a ribbon

“Family member of a soldier.”

“Thank you for his service, “said I

“and thank you for supporting your family

and making the sacrifices you do.”

Her face reflects many feelings

All at once

As she expresses appreciation for this recognition.

Connection made.

I mention my dad,

Who served in WW II

From 1938-1942

He did two “tours,”

Clearing the beaches in the South Pacific

Beaches, tours – sounds like vacation

More like a living nightmare

Still haunts him, his dementing mind

holding on to these ”unforgettable” memories

Why is trauma what we remember most?

Her husband has done seven tours in Iraq

“PTSD,” I state.

“Yes,” she replies with resignation and without complaint.

“It is really tough for him…and us”

I can’t even imagine being in the war

Not the same as being at war.

And still young men and women join the armed forces.

What I have learned as a “lay chaplain”

For the Jewish program at the

Navy’s Great Lakes Recruit Training Command

Has given me insight into recruits and their dreams.

They seek jobs, not war.

Many have been raised by family members

Other than their parents.

A percentage sign up

Because serving is intergenerational

Others, to escape a difficult past

College degrees, GEDs and high school diplomas,

First and seventh generation Americans,

And immigrants,

Every race and religion,

Geographically and culturally diverse,

Married and so young,

Raising children or expecting,

Older recruits seeking a second chance

The privileged and less fortunate,


Learning to support one another

Without prejudice.

All loving this country.

All seeking a better life.

Respect abounds

They search for meaning more openly

Than their non-military peers.

My dad began believing in God

In the midst of war.

My friend, a Rear Admiral,

Told me one needs faith

To make it through.

The Navy chaplaincy program supports this by

Offering a wide and diverse range of

worship services and study.

On Friday nights

Shabbat service attendance ranges from 8-35.

Jews, though never the majority,

From every background and none,

Children of the intermarried and of Jewish clergy,

Some in the process of conversion,

Some because a sibling has married a Jew,

Some because a grandparent was Jewish,

Messianic Jews, knowledgeable and Jewishly observing,

Atheists and seekers,

The curious and

Those supporting a Jewish shipmate.

Christians and Hindus and …

All defy our stereotypes

They all love Shabbat.

Open to the journey of prayer,

We chant, meditate and pray,

Seek to understand the messages of Torah,

Ask hard questions,

Discover commonality and difference,

Find a bit of peacefulness,

If only for a short while.

Walking out of the chapel,

I overheard some recruits talking about

The gas chamber exercise –

A somber reminder of

The cost of war

For all of humanity.

Today we remember those

Who gave their lives

For the sake of this great nation,

Especially as we struggle through

What has become a disturbing search

For a new leader.

Inequality, intolerance and prejudice

Have been outed.

The news is not journalism.

Everyone is shouting over one another;

Respectful discourse seems off the table.

We have much to learn –

From the unknown soldiers

To the highest ranking officers

Who yearned and still yearn for peace

Ours is an angry, hurting and increasingly dangerous world.

Discipline, respect and process

Lay an important foundation for leadership.

But it comes at great sacrifice for all.

We have much to do

For the survivors who suffer from PTSD

And their families.

We pray for their complete and speedy recovery –

A healing of soul and body.

More needs to be done

To help them  and their families

find hope and meaning once again –

These courageous lovers of our great country.

For those who gave their lives in service-

May they be remembered as a blessing.

And may we honor their memory

Through our own renewed commitment

To the pursuit of

“Liberty and justice for all.”


Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi

Memorial Day, 2016


Reduced to poverty

help-others-quotes-2-e1420732833267Two weeks ago we read in the holiness code, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Dt. 19). What does the Torah teach us about how the Israelites are to care for those experiencing financial troubles? What is the community’s responsibility when family members or others in the community fall into hard times, risk losing their land and property, and are struggling to keep themselves and their families alive? The answers to these questions lay the foundation for ethical standards of care for those in need.

Consider the phrase, “ve-chi yamuch, “and if your brother [or sister] should be reduced to poverty”, from this week’s parasha, B’har. We are instructed that when our neighbors are in need we act not out of pity, but out of tzedek – doing what is right and just. The rich are warned not to take advantage of those who have lost their financial base. Those in need are to be treated as “resident aliens.” They are not to be charged interest on loans or food. And, under no circumstances, are they to be treated as slaves. If they work as hired laborers, they must be freed in the Jubilee year.

Rabbi Assi (3rd century) teaches that the mitzvah of tzedakah “is more important that all the other commandments put together (Baba Batra 9a). We are also taught, “If you wish to raise a person from poverty and trouble, do not think it is enough to stand above and reach a helping hand down to him. You must go where the person is…Then take hold of him with strong hands and pull until both of you rise to the light” (Solomon ben Meir ha-Levi of Karlin,18th century). Rashi teaches, “Don’t let those in need fall and become impoverished so that it will be hard for them to recover. Instead, strengthen them the moment their strength and fortune fail.”

This Shabbat and always, may you and your family be blessed with all you need. And, when others are in need, may you be blessed with the spirit of generosity.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi
Shabbat Behar 5776

Getting to the essence

Achrei Mot-Kedoshim (Leviticus 16 :1 – 20:27)

(note: this year these two parashiot are read on consecutive Shabbatot, though they usually are combined and read on one Shabbat.

“Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat and confess over it all the iniquities and transgressions of the Israelites, whatever their sins, putting them on the head of the goat; and it shall be sent off to the wilderness through a designated man. And thus the goat shall carry on it all their iniquities to an inaccessible region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.” (Leviticus 16: 21-22)


6 words:     Can Scapegoat liberate community’s wrong-doings?! Wilderness.

“Say to them further: If anyone of the House of Israel or of the strangers who reside among them offers a burnt offering or a sacrifice and does not bring it to the tent of meeting to offer it to the LORD, that person shall be cut off from his people.” (Leviticus 17:8-9)


6 words:     Actions. Result. Excommunication. Spiritual? Physical? Communal?  

NOTE: “person shall be cut off from his people” – this type of punishment which separates an individual from the community is known as kareit.

How would we interpret such a ruling in our society today, which places so much value on individual freedom? On one hand, perhaps this harsh approach unified the people. Later, in the earliest centuries, the rabbis taught the following as a fundamental ethical principle: “Do not separate yourself from the community.” How do people separate themselves today from their cultural, religious and national communities? How does this shape our understanding of the value of community – especially in the contexts of a world where people belong to multiple communities?

“And if any Israelite or any stranger who resides among them hunts down an animal or a bird that may be eaten, he shall pour out its blood and cover it with earth. For the life of all flesh – its blood is its life. Therefore I say to the Israelite people: You shall not partake of the blood of any flesh, for the life of all flesh is its blood. Anyone who partakes of it shall be cut off.” (Leviticus 17: 13-14)

ethical eating.jpg

9 words:   Life-blood. Hunt. Kashrut. Vegetarian. Humane. Sustainable. Local. Free Trade.

NOTE: While the rabbis may see vegetarianism as an ideal (from the Garden of Eden), they recognize that human beings crave meat. The rulings around not consuming blood reflect the view that we need to keep these carnivorous cravings in check to remind us of the value of all life.

What set of ethics or factors inform what you choose to or not to eat?

What is your view on hunting for sport? for food?

If eating is viewed as a sacred act and a reflection of our values, what rituals and practices elevate our mindfulness of what and how we eat?

Can one not keep traditional kashrut but adopt practices which take into account not only needless suffering for the animals, but also sustainability, humane practices for workers and care for the earth?

Why does the Torah teach us to recite a blessing of gratitude before and after eating?

Rosh Chodesh Iyar begins on Sunday, May 8th – Monday, May 9th: Rosh Chodesh Tov!

And to all mothers, living or kept alive through memory, Happy Mother’s Day!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi

4 May 2016/ 26 Nissan 5776