Busy brain


Lost in thought

My busy brain

Doesn’t allow for interruption

You could be standing right in front of me

I can’t hear or see you

Your presence just doesn’t compute.

Deep thinking was praised in my family

So I thought this was a good thing.

Turns out, not so much.


The land of thinking

Can be a deserted island

Lost and isolated

We don’t notice

That as our mind has opened

our heart has closed


Balak, the Moabite King,

Blinded by his task,

Of cursing the Israelites

Could not see the angel

Standing in front of the talking donkey (Numbers 22)

How many angels do we

Encounter every day –

And we are mindless of their presence


They interrupt our precious thoughts

Pulling back into reality

Which makes us feel resentful

We treat them

As unwelcome outsiders –

But they are not


When Balak finally opened his heart

He saw the angel

And spoke

Words of blessing.


It matters

That I see and hear you.

However mundane or profound

Angry or funny

Your words

I need to be present for you

Listening, patiently or not,

Despite my struggle to land

In this moment.

Because a missed moment

A lost blessing

Cannot be recovered.

In the scheme of things

That matters.


Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi

Shabbat Balak 5776/ 22 July 2016














Unity and Dialogue Trump Fear

sharing-on-natural-resourcesParashat Chukkat, Numbers 19:1-22:1

The Israelites, 40 years into their journey through the desert, are yet again desperate for water. In their distress, their fears drive them to reactive, rather than rational behaviors. They approach Moses, looking to pick a fight.

“Why have you brought Adonai’s congregation into this wilderness for us and our beasts to die there? Why did you make us leave Egypt to bring us to this wretched place with no grain or figs or vines or pomegranates? There is not even water to drink!” (Numbers 20: 4-5)

Lack of access to water, the most basic need for survival, water, the Israelites yet again question why they have been led out of Egypt. At that moment, even slavery seemed better than this fate. And this is the generation born in the desert!

The uncertainty around access to water leads to stress—or as the text describes in Moses and Aaron’s case, “fall[ing] on their faces” (Numbers 20: 6). Emotions elevate and become toxic: when God instructs Moses to speak to a rock to draw water, Moses violently strikes it instead. Even after the Israelites have moved on, the bitterness of this episode endures and the place is immortalized as “Mei Meribah,” waters of strife (Numbers 20:13).

Access to water is escalating as a contemporary global issue. The agendas of industry and government around maintaining access to and control over natural resources like land and water seriously impact communities – especially poorer communities. They face survival issues around the most basic needs, such as food and shelter, maintaining their sources of livelihood and preserving their cultural heritage and sense of community.

With so much at stake, worries lead to disagreement, conflict and even violence—both within community and between community members and their leaders. Such conflict can fracture and render a community ‘s efforts to be futile. This, when they need to advocate for rights to the land and resources and manage the changes taking place on its own terms. Such collaboration requires good communication.

As we witness among the Israelites in the desert, when communication breaks down, communities break down. Sound familiar in today’s national climate?

Danya Rockowitz, writing for American Jewish World Service (https://ajws.org/who-we-are/our-team/staff/dahlia-rockowitz/), offers guidelines for facilitating open dialogue before problems emerge. This trust-building dialogue can help community members:

  1. Work their way around internal conflict as stress rises
  1. Create a community protocol for communication & action that:
  • Addresses changes happening on their land and to their environment.
  • Captures the community’s history and roots
  • Set goals, rules and procedures for moving forward by articulating the community’s values, preserving traditional knowledge and laying out the community’s development priorities for the future.

When a community is on the same page, there is less in-fighting. Working together puts the community in a position of strength to collaborate and negotiate with outside actors like governments, land developers or NGOs. To make their case, they need to draw on national and international laws to justify and reinforce the community’s demands that governments and developers respect their access to resources. And, they need to have a say in the management of these resources. This ideally comes with the guarantee communities can benefit from them in the years to come.

Shaping this kind of protocol for dialogue can be a powerful tool for fostering cooperation. Buy-in across the community and for advocacy directed at outside actors affects the change they need to do more than survive. They need to thrive.

In contrast to this inclusive approach, the Israelites involved in the conflict at Mei Meribah pay a terrible price for their divisive behavior. For hitting the rock, Moses and Aaron are denied entrance into the land of Israel. For provoking Moses, the people must part with their long-time leader when they need him the most.

This Shabbat, keep in mind the escalating disputes around the globe sparked by lack of access to natural resources. Communities and countries are engaging in an ongoing struggle for survival that is based upon direct access to water and land. Fear can lead to hostility. This may incite those in power to tamp down further on human rights.

Shabbat is a day for “remembering” with amazement, humility and gratitude the beautiful world that has been given to our care. Week after week we celebrate this gift. The question is: What is our role in preserving human life and dignity by ensuring that all people have access to its abundance of resources?

May you and yours be blessed with an abundance of joy and an overflowing of love.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi

9 Tammuz 5776/ 15 July 2016

Transmitting Light in the Face of Darkness


wiesel quoteThe recent death of Elie Wiesel compelled me to reach out to my own adult children. Not because I am an educator, but because I am a parent who continues to challenge my children to use their passion and intellect to make a difference in the lives of others, regardless of the scale of impact.   Teachable moments occur 24/7.  When we are awake to them, we can discover within the simplest interaction or within the complexity of a global situation an opportunity to transmit to our children their heritage of social justice.  Reflecting together, in a developmentally appropriate way,  we can identity how actions and inactions taken by one person or a group impact – positively or negatively – on others.  Reflection creates space for us to impart ethical, moral, cultural, spiritual and social values, identifying desirable and undesirable behaviors.  I found such a moment in my own reflections on the passing of Elie Wiesel.

The media is replete with accounts of how Elie, through his words, spirit and  deep sense of humanity influenced and shaped young lives. His life-long focus on the particular and universal experience of suffering  will continue to call for a moral response for generations to come, but only if every parent understands his or her role in the transmission process.  One opportunity to do so is by sharing the personal impact Elie had on you.  Another is through sharing personal accounts found in the media.  This includes the secular press as well as through publications such as Tablet Magazine, The Forward, and Ejewishphilanthropy.

I wrote the following to my own children and step children on this day of marking the independence of our great nation:

“I will be forwarding you several pieces written about Elie Wiesel, who recently passed away.  There is as much to be learned from what people write about his influence on their lives as there is by reading his books.

“In a time of disruptive terror, it is important to continue Elie’s relentless work in addressing the great suffering humanity continues to wreak upon the innocent – and how one man (woman) can inspire and transform us.  Elie’s  words reveal the depths of human pain and suffering and his actions demonstrate an enduring hope  for what is good, compelling us, each in our own way, to reveal the light within the darkness.

“I had the opportunity to spend an evening with Elie Wiesel when I was  Hillel Director at Washington University.  He was the real deal.  “May his memory inspire us to be better and to work harder to impact humanity for the good – whether through person-to-person engagement or through systemic change.  And may his legacy  inspire generations to come.”

Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi

4 July 2014/ 28 Sivan 5776


Embodied Stories


Hands.jpg Embodied Stories


My body has many stories to tell

They are filed

In bones, muscles, connective tissue and organs

By genre,

As in a library

Stories I have spun, co-authored or inherited

Part fact, part fiction

Tragedy, fantasy and adventure

Mystery, comedy and documentary

Endings of relief, joy, peacefulness and connection

Of regret, loss, trauma and brokenness –

Sometimes intertwined.

Thankfully, my spirit is resilient,

And always has been.

In my mind,

No step of self-reflection or opportunity for emotional growth

Was missed along the way

To healing and wholeness.

Yet each time

The knowing, kneading hands

Of the massage therapist

Move deeply, following

Connective tissue to points of attachment.

Inevitably and often surprisingly

Revealing remnants of the stories

Still embedded in my physical body.

And so, visit after visit,

Layer by layer, story by story,

My life unfolds in that tiny room

On that narrow table

Covered only with a white sheet.

Listening to the lull “massage music”

Drawing me into a meditative state

Which invites the mind to be elsewhere

But sometimes all I can do

Is breathe into the pain

And pray for the knot to dissolve

Or hope it does not relocate.

No conversation to distract

As each embedded story surfaces

With gratitude and patience

I notice, acknowledge and try

To let go.

And let be.


Rabbi Nina J. Mizrahi, Community Rabbi

25 Sivan 5776/ 1 July 2016