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Weekly Message

Celebrating you!

We just wrapped up an incredible holiday season packed with services, communal meals, celebrations and Mitzvos galore. From Shofar on Main Street to Kol Nidrei in the new center, from Sushi in the Sukkah to Simchat Torah dancing into the night, it was like living on a different galaxy, imbued with holiness, meaning and tradition. Touching me deeply was the individuality: the MSU student who made it to part of Kol Nidrei, the mom with a struggling baby who made it to Ne’ila, the woman in her 80’s with a priceless smile in our inaugural Sukkah mobile and the Iraq war veteran who danced with melodious soulfulness during Hakafos.

In this week’s Torah portion, Bereishis, the first in Genesis, we read of Adam’s creation. The Talmud teaches that G-d chose to create the first human alone so that we learn that “anyone who destroys a human life is considered as if he had destroyed an entire world, and anyone who preserves a human life is considered to have preserved an entire world." If we’d been created in groups, we would lack the appreciation for the uniqueness of each individual, we’d lump fellow humans into groups or categories, we’d commercialize human beings, which would be tragic.

George Carlin once said, “I often warn people, somewhere along the way, someone is going to tell you, 'There is no 'i' in team.' What you should tell them is, 'Maybe not—but there is an 'i' in independence, individuality, and integrity.” Teamwork is vital, community is precious, marriage can be the greatest blessings, but it all starts with Adam, one individual who Is independently worthy of G-d’s time and can bring about, through their specialness, a real dose of good to our fractured world.

Celebrate you, G-d thinks you’re awesome!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Mashiach speedily. May G-d protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

A dose of Samuel!

Sukkot is spectacular and the weather this year was delicious. Over one hundred and fifty local Jews joined us this holiday, in the Sukkah, at the new Shul, and on the Sukkah mobile (pics here). We internalized our vulnerability and opened ourselves up to G-d’s protection. On Simchat Torah (Wednesday) we will conclude the reading of Deuteronomy and begin Genesis, the Book of Bereishis. We go back to the beginning of the Torah, learning about creation, as we ingest history, values, ethics and instructions from on high.

A few months ago, I wrote about my buddy Adam’s Bar Mitzvah at Bridger Creek, well this impressive Bar Mitzvah boy asked if he could continue learning Torah with me post Bar-Mitzvah, and we do. Almost every week, we take out our Life Chumash, and we learn. We started from Bereishis, the first moment of creation, and the thoughtful conversations, deep foundational ideas and beautiful commentary is just amazing. I am not sure who’s enjoying it more, me or him. It’s refreshing to dig into our untainted heritage without the blurring of secularism.

Whether you will be in Shul to celebrate in person or not, resolve this Wednesday to be a learned Jew. We are the people of The Book, so let’s open The Book and leave the pathetic labels of religious/secular, reform/orthodox, member/unaffiliated aside, and just learn biblical wisdom. Step into the Lifson Library, grab a Genesis, Samuel, Zephaniah or Leviticus, and delve into the infinite wisdom embedded in these holy books. Knowledge is power and Torah knowledge is holy power. So, next time someone asks you about Kosher you won’t pass-out or get heartburn, you will be able to say “interestingly, just recently I was learning about that…”.

Celebrate the Torah, it’s what makes us who we are!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Mashiach speedily. May G-d protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

He's in the driver seat!

I left home for Yeshiva at the young age of fifteen, and lived away from home ever since, so my parents never had to endure my youthful driving. Shoshana is seventeen now and with a newly minted drivers permit and fifty hours of required parent-guided driving to get her license, I’m having quite the experience. She’s a good driver, open to learning from a sergeant-type dad, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my moments. It’s a risky idea, being open enough, even vulnerable, to place my life in the hands of this wannabe adult. It’s the only way she’ll learn, even if it ups my heart rate here and there.

Tonight, we will usher in Sukkot, a festival reminding us of the clouds of glory that G-d used for our protection while we sojourned in the desert between Egypt and Israel.  It’s a special time that helps reinforce for us the importance of being vulnerable; open to our brittleness and the state of human fragility, recognizing that G-d is the one who takes care of us. As a father I often think that I can protect my children, in truth, I can only do so much, giving them my very best, but their ultimate shelter, all of our collective shielding, is provided by our Father in Heaven. Covid proved that we can’t control how things will turn out, just whether we show up each day to give it our best shot. It’s about letting go and letting Him do Him, the way only He can. 

The snow covered the mountains yesterday and we don’t know what the weather will be like during the eight days in the Sukkah. What we do know is that come what may, no matter the winds that may gust through our Sukkah or our life, we are steadfast enough to survive and come out on the other side standing, because G-d is our Protector. We will toast L’Chaim’s and be inspired, because for two thousand years we’ve been told that the Sukkah would fall, but we relied on Hashem and our people are here to tell the tale.

Embrace the Sukkah; it’s G-d embracing you!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Mashiach speedily. May G-d protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Dear antisemite...

Dear antisemite...

I’ve thought long and hard before writing to you, as I don’t think you deserve my attention or the usage of my precious time; I do this for the sake of many fellow Jews who are alarmed by you, worried for their future on account of your rhetoric, so I’m breaking from my norm to spend a few minutes chatting with you.  

We are thirteen short hours away from Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, a day of forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation. It’s a day on which Jewish souls shine, our people’s uniqueness comes to the forefront and our holy relationship with G-d is strengthened. It’s Yom Kippur and the Jewish tenacity expressed on this day reawakens within us our infinite indestructibility; in the words of Mark Twain “All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?”

We are blessed to live in the United States where our incredible law enforcement agencies deal with you cowards every day. Here in Montana our entire state and local government bodies stand with the Jews anytime something arises that requires their intervention for the Jewish community. Yet, at times, your intimidation, your threats, the hurtful words you say, words I wouldn’t want my children to hear, gets to us, making us look over our shoulders, so today I am going to try a two-pronged approach to dealing with you and hopefully knock some sense into you:

1) Education. I am certain that you have no idea as to why you hate us and who It is exactly that you are hating. You’re either misinformed about us or misguided in your understanding of who we are and what it is we do. No, we aren’t Christians or Muslims, and your saviors aren't ours, but we are a great people who have added so much to the world in the realm of morality, ethics, values, charity, compassion, and holiness. Abraham and Sarah were our founders and Moses is our teacher. Isaiah and Deborah were among our long list of holy Prophets/Prophetesses and Maimonides was one of ours too. Like most people of faith, we strive to be good neighbors, good citizens; at our core feel connected to our 3,300-year-old traditions dating back to Sinai. 

There were people back then, like Midian and Amalek, who didn’t really like us either, they simply judged us based on external differences and a healthy dose of jealousy, but they didn’t know us, never had coffee with us, and never chatted with us personally about our families and lifestyle. Though we share the same community, you never had the decency to ask me directly how we survived the Egyptians, Romans, Communists and Nazis? You never asked me what makes me, along with my Jewish brothers and sisters, tick, and what my foundational perspectives are? You never bothered to ask me what It was like for my grandfather to lose his entire family due to poisonous hatred? I would love to meet up with you at Café M where you can share your ideas and grievances with me, the Jew, and clear it up. I bet when we are done, you’ll have a very different opinion of Am Yisroel.

You’ve been told that we are rich and powerful, but the Jews that I know are hardworking, tax paying and country loving patriots, mostly middle class, who are Jewish first, but enthralled with the country that welcomed their grandparents at Ellis Island. One of my grandfathers was a butcher and the other a truck driver, one grandmother a secretary and the other a seamstress, my mother was a kindergarten teacher and afterschool tutor and my dad tried hard to earn a living in the jewelry business with many years of financial hardship. We have no animus to anyone and only want to live side by side with you and your family, at peace.

I teach my children to respect all human beings, all of whom were created “in G-d’s image” and to respect our flag. They have many friends, Jewish and non-Jewish, and we all get along great. I want you to tell me, face-to-face, about your hatred for me, because, though I am not perfect, I can’t imagine you have a good reason to hate me. Ask yourself: Why do I really hate a nice Brooklyn-born Jewish boy living in Bozeman? Is his wife or five children a threat to your white pride or Islamic faith? So, Mr. self-proclaimed Jew hating antisemite, let’s be educated, let’s learn together, let’s Farbreng, I think you will learn a lot and perhaps I can learn a thing or two from you too.

2) Give it up: Though I believe option one is your best bet, please don’t mistaken our graciousness for foolishness. Should you choose hatred over education, judgmentalism over kindness, misinformation over fact-based knowledge, please know that we are undaunted. Tonight we will gather in Synagogues around the world and proclaim out loud “ Blessed be the name of the glory of His kingdom forever and ever” and the special blessing of Shehechiyanu “Blessed are You, L-rd our G d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion”. Jews of all flavors, those who are progressive and those who are conservative, the white Jews and the black Jews (yes, we have those too, sorry), the rich and the poor, the Australian and the Ukrainian, we will connect at the core, nourish our souls, and recommit ourselves to sharing light with ourselves, our families, our communities, and our fractured world.

You may wake up each day to promote darkness and spew hatred, but we wake up each day giving gratitude to G-d, giving all human beings the benefit of the doubt, and seeing you, yes even you, as someone who can choose sanity, being normal again, by doing Teshuva. Sure, thanks to Islamic terrorists and American Nazis, two peas in a bitter pod, we must have security at our places of worship to ensure the protection of our people who cherish life, but behind those Shul walls, in the inside of those sanctuaries, are men, women and children, determined to remain Jews despite your attacks, and who will carry that torch of King David for all eternity. We won’t run and we won’t hide; our Yarmulkes will remain on our heads, our Menorahs will remain lit in our public spaces, and our wish to educate the world with the Seven Universal Laws of Noah will march on forever.

Last week when both our Montana Senators and our Governor posted social media messages for a Shana Tova, I saw what y’all wrote in the comments. I am not naïve; I know that you don’t like me. Yet, I assure you today, as my ancestors did back in Poland, British-Palestine, and Ukraine, you can hurt us, but you can’t destroy us. We lost many Jews to your ideology of hate, but we are strong, we are defiant, we are G-d’s boys and girls, and there isn’t anything you can do about that.

I don’t write this arrogantly, just factually, we aren’t going anywhere. We love life, we cherish life, we celebrate life, and we wish you well. Take a deep breath, ponder your life, contemplate your purpose on earth, and recognize that hatred is toxic, and love is delicious.  You may choose to ignore me, but your kids will thank you for listening to my words today, imbuing them with politeness instead of cruelty.

It’s the Day of Atonement, G-d can forgive you, the Jews would be happy to pardon you, just change your heart and you’ll be better for it.

See you at the coffee shop….Have an easy fast :)

Rabbi Chaim


 

Return to who you are!

Rosh Hashana was magical. So many Jews, of all flavors, joined us for services, meals, Tashlich walk and the Shofar blowing. A highlight is always getting as many Jews as possible to hear the Shofar. Some showed up at our place up during the two days for a private Shofar experience, many others merited a visit from the three Yeshiva students, who were joined by Menny, as they trekked thirteen miles or so over the holiday to blow the Shofar for those who couldn’t make it to Shul. There is something about the Shofar that opens our hearts, exposes our souls; it allows us to be us and check in with G-d.

This Shabbos, on which we read the shortest Torah portion of the year, Vayelech, is also known as Shabbos Shuva, the Shabbos of Return, as we are in the pre Yom-Kippur repentance mode. In his powerful song "Vehashev", Shlomo Carlebach sings “Return again, return again, Return to the land of your soul. Return to who you are, Return to what you are, Return to where you are”. It’s the truth, Teshuva doesn’t mean repentance, it means return, which is way bigger. It’s not just about being a transgressor who needs to be fixed up, to be “born again”; it’s about returning to who you are at the core.

On Tuesday, as I blew the Shofar for a religious skeptic, I concluded by saying humorously “sister, return to the Lord; the Lord is waiting for you, sister”. We laughed, as a did my best impersonation of a southern preacher, but it was true. People are scared of change, because they think they need to be someone else, to change out of their skin into a new being, but Judaism teaches that real change is actually about becoming you, living by the light of your essence, and that is freeing not burdensome. Freeing ourselves from the shackles of conformity, shackles of who society says we need to be, freeing ourselves from the “wanna be” version of “me” to being “me”; “return to the land of your soul”.

“The Lord is waiting for you sister”!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Mashiach speedily. May G-d protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

Be a Pomegranate!

Summer break has been very long, and the kids are finally enjoying their first week at school, as we, their elated parents, balance five kids and five schools. Naturally, our kids always interact with teachers, school staff, fellow students and other parents. I often wonder what values guide their choices, their behavior patterns, and what ideals they will live by, and carry with them forever. What will inspire them to be the best version of themselves, and to feel connected on High as they fulfill their unique life mission.

Of all the Rosh Hashana traditions, the eating of the pomegranate always hit home for me. King Solomon chants in Song of Songs, “Your temple is like a split pomegranate from within your kerchief”. The Talmud notes that the Hebrew word for “your temples” can also mean “your empty ones.” The verse is teaching us that even the “emptiest” among Israel are full of Mitzvot, holy deeds, like a pomegranate is full of seeds. Each year as I sit at the Rosh Hashana dinner table, I see the symbolic fruit and think of the incredible lesson of how we are to see each human being, with dignity, respect and appreciation.

I have many hopes for our children, all of which are out of my control. Top of that list is for them to see themselves, and all those they encounter, as “full of seeds”, full of fruitful life and worthy of G-d’s love and blessing. There is nothing more harmful, more destructive, than a deflated self-worth, and that is something that comes from within. The pomegranate is the Jewish way of saying that each of us, every child of G-d, is filled with so much good, so much holiness, and when we see that in ourselves, we can see that in others too.

Have a pomegranate infused Rosh Hashana. Shana Tova!

May G-d guard our brethren in Israel and the world over from harm and send us Mashiach speedily. May G-d protect the armed forces of Israel and the United States wherever they may be. Shabbat Shalom! Chazak!!! L'Chaim!!!

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