The Freedom Seder

Throughout Jewish history, there have been, and continue to be, variations of the traditional Haggadah for the telling of the story of Pesach, aka Passover. We have the traditional ones, Haggadahs centered around the experience of a particular marginalized group, and secular Haggadahs for kibbutzniks in Israel.

I have an original copy, dated from 1969-1970, of the Freedom Seder, developed by Arthur Waskow, rabbi, climate activist, and founder of the Shalom Center, an organization focusing on a Jewish response to social problems. The original edition, like all the other editions of the Haggadah, follows the traditional order f the Seder-the Seder plate, the washing of hands, the telling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt, the Four Cups, the Cup for Elijah, the Ten Plagues, the breaking of the Matzah, the Afikomen, etc. It also includes quotes from the great social justice leaders in history, such as Martin Luther King Jr. and AJ Muste, and it directs attention to the social justice issues of that day, such as war, Civil Rights, and pollution, along with quotes from contemporary singers and poets, such as Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg.

The beauty of the Freedom Seder is, you can adapt it to discussing the current social issues of this day, such as pollution, Civil Rights, and war-still important today as it was back in the ‘Sixties. The struggle for a just world is ongoing, and the Freedom Seder shows that the we have a tradition to guide us in our struggle, and a community to take part in the struggle.

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Torah Portion Emor

This past Shabbat, we studied the Torah portion Emor, Leviticus 21:1-24:23. This portion tells of the physical and moral standards of the Levites, the tribe dedicated to the priestly duties of the Israelite community, as in verses 21:1-4: “None shall defile himself for any [dead} person among his kin except for the relatives that are closest to him.: his mother, his father, his son, his daughter, and his brother; also for a virgin sister, close to him because she is not married, for her he may defile himself. But he shall not defile himself as a kinsman by marriage, and so profane himself.” (Coming in contact with blood relatives is identified as “profaning,” why?)
Further, in 21:5, “They shall not shave smooth any part of their heads, or cut the side-growth of their beards, or gashes in their flesh.” In 21:7, “They shall not marry a woman degraded by harlotry, nor shall they marry one divorced from her husband.” In 21:9, “When the daughter of a priest degrades herself through harlotry, it is her father whom she degrades; she shall be put to the fire.” (This is the emphasis on the behavior of the women related to the priest-wife or daughter, not on the male children of the priests.) The ban on shaving their heads or beards must have been a mark of distinction, a badge signifying a member of this special class of men. And, in a patriarchal society, the behavior of the wives and daughters of the priests is reflective of the control men had over women.
Strict moral and physical standards are placed upon the Levites: “He shall not go in where there is any dead body; he shall not go outside the sanctuary and profane the sanctuary of his God, for upon him is the distinction of the anointing oil of his God, Mine the LORD’s. He may marry only a woman who is a virgin. (21:12-13) “A widow a divorced woman, or a woman in “harlotry”, a priest could not marry.
Verses 21:17-32 says, “No man of your offspring throughout the ages who has a defect shall be qualified to offer the food of his God,” such as the blind, the lame, one with a limb too short or too long, or broken limb, or a dwarf, or affected with scurvy, or blind or with crushed testes or a number of other physical defects. What is the basis of this? It could be that, as the priests are to offer to God the finest animals and produce of the land, ones with no defects and blemishes, the priests themselves are offerings to God.


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Parshat Tetzaveh

This weekend we study the Torah portion Tetzaveh, Exodus 27:20-30:10. God instructs Moses to appoint his brother Aaron and his sons as priests of the Mishkan, the traveling Temple; God also instructs Moses on the manufacture of the vestments of the priests. “…you shall instruct all who are skillful, who I have endowed with the gift of skill,” (Ex. 27.3) to make the priestly vestments. The kinds of things that God instructs to be placed on the vestments include the color of the yarns, the fabric they are made of, the gems that are set on the vestments, and how each portion of the vestments-breast-piece, headdress, sashes-were to be made, along with how the priests were to be anointed in the consecration ceremony.

To me, this is compatible to the construction of the Mishkan in last week’s Torah portion, Terumah; just as the details of the making of the Mishkan shows the presence of God in the community, so the making of the vestments of the priest, who embodies each individual Jew, shows the presence of God for each person in their daily lives.

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Parshat Terumah

This weekend we studied the Torah portion Terumah, Exodus 25:1-27:19. God outlines to Moses the plans for the construction of the Mishkan, the traveling tabernacle the Israelites carried while in the wilderness. God, the Ruler of the Universe, dictates the elements of the construction of the Mishkan-the cloth it’s made of, the setting of the jewelry, the fixing of the poles for setting up. This shows God intervening in the concrete affairs of humans.

This work requires the efforts of the entire community and its skills-stonemasons, carpenters, weavers, tailors, etc.; in fact, it symbolized and embodied the community, showing that each person, and each class in the community, has a role to play in the community’s development. 

Address for High Holy Days

On Monday, September 10, I had the honor of giving the appeal speech on the first day of Rosh ha-Shana of my congregation, Leyv Ha-Ir. Here it is:

I am a Jew by Choice.

I grew up in a small township upstate in Pennsylvania, where I attended a small Methodist church in the countryside. It didn’t connect with me, all that Sunday School teaching didn’t take with me; I could never accept the idea that THIS was the only way to get to Heaven. I always had a fascination with Judaism, the Jewish people and Israel, and I always wondered what it would be like if I was Jewish.

In early 1990, I began the process of converting. At the Israel Independence Day festival of that year, I found a booth for people interested in joining a Reconstructionist congregation coming together in Center city Philadelphia. The reason I chose Reconstructionism is its belief in being both traditional and modern at the same time, and the belief that being a Jew is not just about religion but being part of a culture, a “tribe.”

My life in Leyv Ha-Ir has been important in this conversion process, taking part in the discussions of the congregation, taking part in services, and being adopted by the members. For my Jewish education, I took a series of courses, the Reform course out of the UAHC, and the Reconstructionist course, “Jewish, Alive, and American,” run out of the Rabbinical College in Wyncote. I discussed also with the rabbi, Geela Rayzel Raphael, and she outlined an informal plan of education-reading the Encyclopedia Judaica in the Paley Library of Temple University, visiting a variety of synagogues to see the variety of Jewish worship (along with the commonality), studying Kashrut, and reading the book Basic Judaism by Rabbi Milton Steinberg.

On the Sunday after Yom Kippur in 1994, I went through the Mikveh and emerged a full-fledged Jew. Four years later, I joined in an adult B’nai Mitzvah class, and I received the Bar Mitzvah in March 1998. Last year, I fulfilled my dream of visiting Israel. I took the plane to Tel Aviv, and took the bus to Jerusalem. The driver pointed out to me the various spots in Jerusalem, and then drove me close to the entrance to the Kotel. I washed my hands, put on my kippah, wrote the little note to place in the cracks in the Wall, and placed my hands on the Wall-I had no other prayer, that was my prayer. I look forward to going back again.

Leyv Ha-Ir has been, as I always say, better than a family to me. We have our Friday evening services, with our wonderful Rabbi Julie, our lay led services for Saturday morning and Friday evening, and our educational programs that Julie leads, to further our vision of our Jewish life. we hope you can support us and join us as we continue the journey.

Elul 2018 and High Holy Days Resolutions

We are now in the month of Elul, the month preceding Rosh ha-Shona and Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days of the Jewish calendar. This is the time when we take stock of how our lives went the past year, when we did right and how we can improve ourselves. This is an important time of the year for me. I believe deeply in positive self-assessment, to forgive myself for what I’ve done wrong, and to pay attention to when I’ve done right.

A lot of the self work for the High Holy Days encompasses your/my thought patters and habits, for good or bad; what causes you/me to act and think in a certain way? This is the time to re-access your/my mind and what it thinks, so that your/my behaviors are positive.

In that spirit I continue my tradition of High Holy Days Resolutions, just like with those for New Year’s, and which I also do for Pesach and my birthday. Here they are:

I will continue to conduct myself with self-love, self-esteem, and self-respect, thinking positively about my work and my life, and practicing self-care, and know that I am worthy of it.

I will continue to advance my art and business as a freelance writer.

I will continue to advance my social and political causes.

I will continue such spiritual practices as meditation, prayer, Torah study, affirmations, etc.

I will continue to dedicate time for rest, recreation, and fun.

I will continue to be faithful to Jewish tradition, history, religion, etc.

I will continue to improve my financial situation.

Tisha B’Av

Today we commemorate Tisha B’Av, the most mournful day of the Jewish calendar. Traditionally, this is the day when the First Temple of Jerusalem, build by Solomon, was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE, and of the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in 70 AD. As part of Tisha B’Av, we read the Book of Lamentations, where the Prophet Jeremiah puts into words the desolation and sheer hopelessness that has befallen Jerusalem, and the misery of its people. This is supposedly God’s punishment for the sins of the nation, and for the false prophets who denied anything was wrong in the nation.

In the midst of this desolation and despair, is there still reason for hope that their misery will end? Any situation, bad or good, does not last forever. Jeremiah writes about how God will comfort those who return to God and from their sins. The book concludes, “Return  us unto you and and we shall return. renew our days as of old.”

On a more physical level, what can we, as individuals and as a society, do to prevent such a catastrophe from happening? Who are the real “prophets,” spiritual and secular, we should listen to for the truth? And is it “too late” to change direction from going over the abyss?

A great place to read about Tisha B’Av, and the other Jewish Holy Days is the great book by Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Seasons Of Our Joy: A Modern Guide to the Jewish Holidays. For an overview of Lamentations, please look up the Jewish website Aish,

The High Holy Days

The High Holy Days-Rosh haShona and Yom Kippur-are almost upon us. this is the time when we are called to look at our lives, look at how we behaved in the past year, noted where we dome well as people, and where we need to improve.

this is the time to put our mistakes and errors of the past year behind us, and to forgive ourselves of them, and know we can be better people. To any person I may have offended, I ask your forgiveness; and to all who have offended me, I forgive them.

One practice I have is my Resolutions for Rosh HaShona, like the resolutions I write also for the New Year-and for my birthday and Pesach. Here they are:

I will continue conduct myself with self-live, self-esteem, and self respect. I will not be bound by errors of the past, but continue to improve as a person, to think positively about myself and my life, and challenge negative thoughts and replace them with positive thoughts.

I will continue such spiritual practices as Torah study, yoga, affirmations, meditation, etc.

I will continue my art and business as a writer, seeking journals, attending writing events, practicing writing, etc. I will continue my activism for my various social and political causes.

I will continue to be loyal to Jewish relation, culture, history, Israel, etc.

The High Holy Days

we are coming upon the High Holy days, Rosh ha-Shona and Yom Kippur-the new year, the time for a new beginning, where we re-evaluate our lives, where we look at what we did right and what we could improve on.

I follow the High Holy Days tradition-IF I have offended or harmed ANY person, I ask that person’s forgiveness. AND, if any person out there has harmed of offended me, I forgive them.

Here are my resolutions for Rosh ha Shona:

I will continue to conduct myself with self-love, self-esteem, and self-respect, thinking more positively about myself and my life.

I will continue to be loyal to my various social and political causes.

I will continue to develop my art and business as a writer, with writing practice, prompts, attending readings and seminars, etc.

I will continue to attend all available avenues of education and cultural advancement, such as classes, galleries, libraries, museums, plays, etc.

I will continue to enter other artistic fields, such as acting, photography, etc.

I will continue to consciously attain downtime, for my rest and recreation.

I will continue to go deeper into my Jewish faith and life.

I will continue to develop my personal relationships.





I join the rest of the Jewish world in celebrating Pesach, aka Passover, the celebration of the liberation of the ancient Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, the crossing the Red Sea, and the marching through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land.

The Hebrew word for Egypt is “Mitzrayim,” the place of narrowness, of limitation; where do we face limitation in our lives? Where do we limit ourselves? Where do we find ourselves stifled and repressed? What are the rivers we have to cross is order to find our fulfillment, to attain our fullest potential? What would our “promised land” look like, our place of fulfillment?

Let us ask ourselves these questions as we enjoy our Pesach.