Yom Kippur: Just A Littler Lower Than The Angels

On the High Holy Days, we all become authors. We look back on the past year, recalling our good deeds and misdeeds, and look forward to a New Year when we write the next chapter in our Book of Life. During the Ten Days of Awe-someness, the traditional liturgy assures us that teshuvah – return, tefilla – reflection, and tzedakah – righteous acts of justice will ensure a year of meaning, and purpose, belonging and blessing. The rabbis had a name for this process: cheshbon ha-nefesh, an accounting of the soul. Read More.

A Good New Year!

Do you remember the excitement of the first day of the new year? As a kid in Omaha, Rosh Hashanah meant new things. Like new clothes. Mom always took me to Brandeis department store downtown to buy something new to wear for the new year…in the “husky” section. (I was a fat little kid.) We would dress up for shul, running to the synagogue early since Mom sang in the volunteer choir and had to be there on time. At Beth El Synagogue, there were no tickets, no reserved seats. It was first-come, first-served, so there was a mad rush to save a hard-backed pew of seats for any of the late-arriving mishpoche (family). Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur was the only time of the year the big curtains that separated the main sanctuary from the adjacent “daily” chapel were pulled back in order to accommodate the overflow crowd.

The services were majestic, the melodies inspiring. “B’rosh hashanah yikateivun, u’v’yom tzom kippur yeichateimun” – “on Rosh Hashana it is written, and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.” What’s written and sealed? Our fate in the New Year. Scary stuff for a little boy, but it served to put the fear of God in me, leading to a new year’s resolution to be a little less rambunctious. On some years, the World Series game was on during services, so we would surreptiously string an earphone from our pocketed transistor radios in order to keep track of the score. The highlight of the morning was the blowing of the shofar. We only hoped that the shofar blower would manage to get notes out of the ram’s horn. Nothing more spiritually deflating than a weak shofar sounding. Most years, the blasts were clear and loud, soul-stirring, as they were meant to be. As the services let out, the adults would gather on the steps of the synagogue, smoking their cigarettes, schmoozing for a few minutes before heading off for lunch.

And then there was the rush to the big Rosh Hashanah meal after services on the first day. The family would gather at Bubbie and Zaydie’s, everyone dressed in their New Year finery. Unlike Passover Seder with the reading of the Haggadah, there was little ritual before heading into the elaborate multi-course meal. On the menu? Chopped liver (heavy on the eggs), gefilte fish with the little boiled carrot on top, chicken soup with matzah balls (“fluffy,” not “sinkers”), brisket or stuffed veal breast, sweet carrot tzimmes with boiled flanken, mashed potatoes with schmaltz and onions, green beans with almonds, Aunt Rose’s Jello mold, and a lukshen (noodle) kugel. Oh, we would say a Kiddush over Manischewitz wine and there was always a large round challah and apples dipped in honey, but the blessings were said quickly…everyone was famished. After the main meal, there was always a “new fruit,” some unusual produce to mark the new year. Zaydie was a fruit and vegetable man, so he had one of his suppliers bring him something unusual, like kiwi from New Zealand. Once, we tried pomegranate, a favorite choice for the holiday, but it was very messy and stained everything.

The best part of the meal came at dessert. Bubbie made the most extraordinary treat – teiglach. Teiglach recipe This was a tower of small dough balls and nuts, stuck together (and when I say “stuck together,” I mean “stuck together!) with honey. It was very difficult to pull apart and, once in your mouth, the honey sealed your top and bottom teeth together…but it was worth the effort. Of course, there was also honey cake, but the teiglach was the star of the meal. As the meal wound down, we kids would roughhouse in the basement or play in the piles of golden leaves that were gathered during the early Midwest Fall.

Rosh Hashanah heralded a new season. In the Jewish calendar, September was the beginning of the new year, not January. For a kid, it made sense. We had just started a new school year…a new class, a new grade level, a new teacher. There was a new season of television shows, a new football season, and a new Fall season of fashion. To this day, I love Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur…these ten days of awe-some-ness, these ten days to re-new.

So, welcome to a new season. A new beginning.
What’s your memory of the new year?

Wishing you and yours a good, healthy and sweet New Year!

The Power of Stories to Shape Identity and Revitalize Community

Hey everyone! Here’s a new post about the power of stories to shape our identity and revitalize community:

Be the Best!

It’s true there may be only one ‘Best Picture’ a year, but my Russian immigrant grandfather – I called him ‘Zaydie’ – understood there is never only one ‘Best Grandchild.’ This is what Zaydie accomplished in telling each of his nine grandchildren we were the ‘best boy’ or ‘best girl’ in the United States of America. In calling us ‘the best,’ we were called to be the best. The message was: Aspire to be the best human being you can be. And isn’t that the best goal of a life well-lived?”

I have thought a lot about Zaydie calling me “the best boy in the United States of America.” Was Voltaire correct when he said “The best is the enemy of the good?” If there is only one “best,” does everyone else rank second? Isn’t “good enough” good enough?

I’ve been watching Jimmy Fallon as he has reshaped “The Tonight Show” in his own image. I never watched him on his Late Night show, but he has become a huge hit at 11:35 pm. He seems to know everyone, calling his guests “pal,” “buddy,” and, often, “the best!” For some, this may seem disingenuous. But, from everything I’ve read about Fallon, he appears genuinely likable, a good guy, and the celebrities who come to plug their projects enjoy the crazy games and silly sketches they get to do with their host. One thing is undeniable: Fallon is extraordinarily enthusiastic about nearly everything – ergo, he says to so many of his guests “You’re the best!”

Zaydie’s use of this term of endearment was a bit different. Calling us “the best” was not just a statement; it was an imperative. In so many ways, this barely literate man understood that his adopted, beloved country was a place that each of his grandchildren could work hard to be “the best” we could be, to make the effort to maximize our God-given gifts and talents, to succeed in whatever we set ourselves out to do or to become. In this sense, his call to us was an embodiment of the famous teaching of Rabbi Zusya, who, when facing death, told his students he was unafraid that God would ask him: “Why were you not Moses?” Zusya admitted, however: “I am afraid God will ask me; ‘Why were you not Zusya?'” Why were you not the best you you could be?

Certainly, being a “good you” is great. But, aspiring to be the “best you” is a noble aspiration. I’m curious. How did your grandparents or parents inspire you to be the best you you could be? Please share your story in the Comments section below.

Thanks for listening. I hope you enjoy the book!

You’re the Best!


Standard Events Add standard events to your code to track specific types of actions on your website. Copy the code for the type of event you want to measure, and paste it below the pixel code on the relevant page within a