Monday, March 10, 2014

Zombies in Annie? Yes! This is "Thriller" from our Purimspiel

In our Purimspiel this year, based on Annie, there were Zombies. You really have to see the whole thing to understand how it all worked, but the scene is very funny.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Why You Should Care About Crimea

Those who forget or never learned history are doomed to repeat it.

On September 30, 1938, Neville Chamberlain returned from Berlin and said:
My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. 
We know of course that the wish for "peace for our time" did not come to fruition. Often overlooked is the fact that this was the second time that a British Prime Minister had returned from Germany with such an assurance. The first was Benjamin Disraeli in 1878 returning from the Congress of Berlin. That conference concerned fighting between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. Heavily influenced by German Chancellor Otto Von Bismark and seeking to maintain the interests of Britain and other European nations, the Conference of Berlin created a solution that limited Russia's influence to the west while increasing Austro-Hungarian influence in the Balkans. The failure of the Conference of Berlin to achieve a complete solution to the problems in the Balkans and differences between the nations of Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and Russia eventually led to World War I and one could argue continued in part with World War II. Even the Cold War could be seen as being based upon this conflict. But it did not begin in 1878 with the Russo-Turkish War. It began with the Crimean War.

During the Crimean War of 1853-1856, Russia lost to an alliance of France, Britain, the Ottoman Empire and Sardinia, aided by an ostensibly neutral but functionally allied Austria. The focus of the conflict was on the rights of Christians in the Ottoman controlled Holy Land. The French promoted the Catholics. The Russians the Orthodox. Meanwhile Britain and Austria were primarily concerned with keeping the Ottoman Empire alive so as to limit the growth of Russia. Fighting began with Russia destroying the Ottoman fleet in 1853 and finally ended when Russian allied Sevastopol fell in 1856.

Today, Sevastopol is considered by many to be a Russian city within Ukrainian borders. It is a focal point in the ongoing civil strife in the Ukraine. Concerns grow that Russia may use force, perhaps even invade, in order to protect its allied citizenry in the Ukraine and particularly in Sevastopol. Additionally, the Russian navy maintains a major naval base there with a lease expiring in 2042. 15,000 Russian naval troops and support personnel are stationed there.

This conflict did not begin this month or last or last year or last decade. It didn't begin with the fall of the Soviet Union or the aftermath of World War II. It wasn't created by the events of World War I either. This conflict between Europe and Russia in the Crimea has been ongoing since 1853. It isn't a matter of Russian meddling in a neighboring country as much as it is truly about internal conflict within it.

Ukraine is a nation of divided identity. For the country to be maintained as a single nation, it will need to respect its dual nature. If it cannot do that successfully, history tells us that violence is all but guaranteed. Russia is poised to act in its best interests. It is more than questionable as to whether or not European nations along with the United States are prepared to respond as they have for the past 161 years. What is at stake is the same thing that has been at stake throughout that time, the balance of power between East and West and the security of Europe or lack thereof which is dependent upon it.

Friday, January 10, 2014

My Version of the Classic Sea of Reeds Joke

Mother: “What did you learn in Religious School today?”

Child: “I learned about the crossing of the sea in the Exodus story.”

Mother: “Tell me the story?”

Child: Well, when the Israelites came to the shores of the sea they saw that the Egyptian army was closing in on them. So Moses posted a Tweet and then updated his Facebook status asking for reinforcements and soon thereafter a fleet of drones appeared and attacked the Egyptian army, holding them off. That gave the Israelites time to build a pontoon bridge across the sea. As soon as the Israelites had finished crossing, Miriam and the women danced, taunting the Egyptians. I don't think they were twerking, but it was pretty offensive, I guess. The Egyptians got angry and stormed across the bridge, but Moses and the Israelites used remote detonators to blow it up before they could reach the Israelite’s side. The Egyptians couldn’t swim and there were crocodiles. It wasn’t pretty.”

Mother: “Is that really what they taught you?”

Child: “Well…not exactly, but if I told you what they really taught me, you’d never believe it!”

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thanks and Not Enough

On Monday at 1 pm Central Time, I will be attending two very different funerals. One I will attend in person. One I will attend in spirit. Both are for wonderful human beings who had a tremendous impact on all who knew them.

In Des Moines, I will officiate at the funeral of Dr. Henry Corn. Recently turning 102 years old, Dr. Corn was a pediatrician who began his practice before there were antibiotics.  He brought health and joy into the lives of thousands of people over decades. No one ever heard him complain. Every time I visited, he said "Thank you" including on his last day right after I offered the Priestly Benediction.

A life of shalom. Completion.
Thanks and thanks and thanks.

At the moment that I help celebrate his long life another much shorter life will be celebrated a few hours drive away in Chicago. I will be there too with Phyllis and Michael Sommer, with their family, with their friends, with my rabbinical colleagues,  with medical providers, with angels. Tears and tears. Smiles for happy times. More tears. More and more.

EIGHT years! Superman Sam was so bright for those eight years! Thank you. Thank you. But not " Dayeinu." Not that. Not enough. Not enough at all.

Two very different lives. Two very different funerals. I will be at both of their funerals with tears for both lives lost. Celebrating life. Mourning that it is simply never enough. Not 102 years, but certainly not eight.

Again I wrestle with God this today. I wrestle with nature and life. This is Judaism. It and we as part of it, do not hide from life. We are Jews. We say "dayeinu" knowing that it never was and never will be enough for us.

Thanks, but not enough. Not enough at all.

May shalom come.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Maccagawea and the Thanksgivukkah Miracle

Was it a couple of millennia ago in the land of Israel, maybe a couple of hundred years ago in 1804 in the Northwestern Territory, or perhaps on a fall day in 1621 in New England, a woman from the SheineSheine family named Maccagawea [pronounced Mac-a-Jew-ee-oy because while in the northeast it would have ended "er" in the northwest it's "oy"] helped lead her people to victory over those who had determined that the biggest shopping day of the year should always precede Chanukah. Maccagawea prayed to God and filed suit to move the holiday so that the Jewish people could have the two Thanksgiving turkey drumsticks hold the Chanukah candles for the second night while allowing the people to use the turkey neck, often heretofore disposed of without use, to be used with the Shamash candle.  Miracle of miracles, it was made so, but because of scheduling problems only happens every 70,000 years or so.

Because of Maccagawea, this year Jews around the world will be getting great discounts and even door busters during Chanukah! 

In celebration of this great miracle, the Governor of the colony who was not named Antiochus and the Chief of the Wampamberg tribe, Squanto (the q is pronounced like “ch” in Bach), decided that the people should hold a great feast when the calendars align properly, light candles, and sing songs about gambling with spinning tops called dreidels while eating far too much and watching football.

For the Thanksgivukkah day meal eaten on the occasion of the confluence of the holidays of Thanksgiving and Chanukah, some say that it is customary to make Gefilte Fish out of Cape Cod and eat potato latkes with cranberry sauce.

We owe it all one heroic woman, Maccagawea. 

Maccagawea is also known for saying that 
April Showers bring Mayflowers.

 Happy Thanksgivukkah!!! 

Friday, November 15, 2013

Wrestling with God - In Honor of Superman Sam, Ethan Kadish, and Blake Ephraim

In Honor of Samuel "Superman Sam" Sommer, Blake Ephraim, Ethan Kadish and their Families

I thought that after Typhoon Haiyan brought devastation to the Philippines, and at a time when I am contemplating traveling to Indianapolis for a special fundraiser for Ethan Kadish, the boy who was struck by lightning while at camp this summer about whom I spoke on YomKippur, I might talk about how we react to forces of nature in our tradition even though that topic isn’t connected to our Torah portion this week. Then this week, two things happened.

The first is that I found out that earlier in the month, a sixteen year old active cheerleader from Kansas City with whom our Goldman Union Camp campers have attended camp named Blake Ephraim, suffered a debilitating stroke, cause as of yet unknown. Her sister was in the bunk next my daughter this summer. A sixteen year old active kid with no known risk factors having a stroke?

The second was the revelation this week that the eight year old son of friends from rabbinical school, Samuel “Superman Sam” Sommer, whose parents have chronicled his year and a half long battle with Leukemia and his recent bone marrow transplant through an inspirational blog kept daily,, has now lost that battle.

The posting on Wednesday from Sam's mother Phyllis that announced Sam’s relapse made untold numbers around the world burst into tears:
We are so desperately heartbroken and filled with sadness.
Sam has relapsed.
His ninja leukemia is so very strong... There is no cure.There is no treatment... [The doctors] are sad too. Terribly, horribly sad.
There is no cure.There is nothing they can do to cure our boy.
520 days ago we were told "your son has cancer." I never thought I could feel more pain than that day. I was wrong. He still feels well. We don't know how long that will last.We're going to "suck the marrow out of life" as long as we can.
Quite literally and figuratively.Capitalize on his good days.Fill them with joy and blessing and delight.Stick his feet in the ocean and his head in the clouds.Fill his days with wonder and love.
We have to tell Sam. Although we think he knows….he is wise.We have to tell David and Yael.These are the tasks that consume us today.How do we deliver such darkness into their shiny happy world?Love. We just remind them how much we love them. Over and over...
I can’t read yesterday’s post from the blog, entitled simply "Tears," out loud. It relays Sam’s thoughts after being told that his cancer is back and that there is nothing that can be done. The first line of that posting is more than enough, “I don’t want to die.”

Devastating. Heartbreaking.

We live in a world where it is now possible to repair DNA, to use stem cells for a wide variety of amazing, even miraculous, outcomes. We can restart hearts, fertilize human eggs, implant them, and turn them into wonderful children. We know and understand so much more, vastly more, than our ancestors did. But they understood something probably better than we do because they experienced it more often in their lives than we do in ours; 

sometimes things happen that we 
cannot control, 
cannot prevent, 
cannot change and 
cannot comprehend.

In just a couple of weeks, the night before Thanksgiving, we will celebrate the first night of Chanukah, the Festival of Light. Chanukah is a celebration of hope and light amid darkness. As we gaze upon the bright flames of the candles, we will focus on their light and remember wondrous events involving our ancestors that have enabled us to reach this day. Let us also think of and be thankful for those “miracles” that happen every day in our lives. Let us appreciate what we have and what we lack that we’re happy we do not have.

This year, I’m going to pray for a few big miracles as I think of my friends and their loved ones, give thanks for the bright lights in my life right now, and cherish those flames etched in my memory that will forever give me light.

With all of this, I indeed found myself thinking of this week’s Torah portion. In it, the angel tells Jacob that his name “will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, for [he had] wrestled with beings divine and human, and prevailed.” This week, my colleagues, friends, and I are wrestling with issues divine and human. There is no battle in which to prevail, but we’re certainly struggling and I think living up to the name of our people, Israel, a name which means wrestling with God.

May this Shabbat bring comfort to the heartbroken and peace and well-being into houses far and near.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

My Words of Prayer for The Iowa Holocaust Memorial Dedication

Words of Prayer for The Iowa Holocaust Memorial Dedication
October 23, 2013
Rabbi David Kaufman

I would like to start with a special thank you to Judy Blank whose persistence, energy, enthusiasm and commitment of time and resources have brought this memorial to completion. It is an honor and a privilege to be here today.

To all who have been involved in the process of its creation, especially to Judy:

Thank you, thank you, thank you- for the many hours of contemplation, discussion, design, debate, support, construction; for dollars generously given and well spent and for open space put to good use; for bipartisan support of something that affects all of us, every race, every nation, every faith; for remembering; for a willingness to confront the concept of evil among humankind; for the strength and courage not merely to say the words, “Never again”; and for striving to prevent this kind of evil from happening to any people in any nation ever again.

The Iowa Holocaust Memorial is far more than a memorial honoring those who died during one historical period: it is a tremendously moving educational resource focusing on humankind's potential for acting inhumanely toward others and of our capacity to rise up against evil. It is not a site that makes one consider past events alone. The memorial's greatest strength is that it makes each individual think, "What can I do?"

In that vein, the words of Rabbi Tarfon come to mind, “It is not up to you to complete the work, but neither may you desist from it.” We must try. And the words of Martin Buber:

When people come to you for help, do not turn them off with pious words, saying, ‘Have faith and take your troubles to God.’ Act instead as though there were no God, as though there were only one person in the world who could help -- only yourself.

It isn’t enough to pray, though we should. It isn’t enough to hope for help, though we should. We must act as if our action alone might make all the difference.

So the motto of the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum, a simple four words, is meaningful for us today, “What you do matters.”

What I do, what you do, what we who are gathered here do, what our state does, what our nation does matters. The real power of this particular Holocaust memorial is that not only does it remember those who died and those who saved the living, not only does it make one think about the dark events of decades ago, educating us about what happened and why, not only that, this memorial makes us consider our world today and what we should do now.

We should care about people across oceans as Iowans have long done. We should care about those suffering in Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia and the Nuba Mountains. “Never again” should not be allowed to become again and again, not on our watch.

So I offer this prayer today:

May the words of the Iowa Holocaust Memorial be felt in our hearts when we walk through it,

May it reflect the motto of the State of Iowa, “Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain,” as human liberties and human rights for all people everywhere,

May people of all faiths and of every nation who read the verses etched upon its faces, see his or her own face, his or her own faith, his or her own nation and people within them,

May this memorial inspire heroic character: a conscience willing to protest injustice, to advance the cause of freedom and right, and to promote peace and understanding,

May it teach of sacrifice, of hope and not despair, of courage in the face of evil,


May it inspire generations to come not merely to remember the past and never forget, but to remember why and not let it happen again.

And let us say, Amen.

Now as we dedicate the Iowa Holocaust Memorial, it is customary in the Jewish tradition to say this prayer at a time of dedication and because its meaning is so poignant on this particular day and for this particular event, let us sing the words of the Hebrew prayer Shecheheyanu, which means, “Blessed are you, O God, sovereign of the universe, who has kept us alive, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this day.”