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Archive for the ‘Judaism’ Category

My friend, Linda, is wrapping up a very important project.  I know I have mentioned her here, and she is certainly on my blogroll, but in honor of her 1000th Mitzvah, I needed to send out a reminder.

Linda, who lives in Portland, Oregon,  decided to perform 1000 mitzvahs in honor of her father’s memory.  For anyone who doesn’t know, a Mitzvah is a good deed – regardless of how big or small, but it is having an intention in your heart to help someone or make someone feel good.

Linda’s blog entry, as she reaches 1000 was about how she felt it needed to have something to do with food, because her father loved to cook, loved to eat, and loved to serve.  In her blog, she asked everyone, near and far, to consider making a donation to feed someone less fortunate, and I am echoing her request, because in these days, many of us forget that even though times are tough – they are tougher for others.  I certainly need to watch every penny I spend, however, today I remembered that I was fortunate enough to eat breakfast, and lunch. But certainly, in my town, there were hundreds of families who could not say the same.

So, in honor of Linda’s 1000th Mitzvah, I made a $36 donation.  Nothing big, nothing major, but the thought counted more than anything.  Now – I know that charity is not something that should be advertised, and I certainly want NO kudos for making my donation, but – I would like to ask everyone who reads this blog today, to please take a moment and help someone in greater need than yourself.

If you live in Florida, our local food bank is in dire need of donations. For $35, 2 families of four won’t go hungry for eight days, because they can pick up groceries at an emergency food pantry.  The link is http://www.dailybread.org/index.cfm/category/2/page/11/lang/en.html

If you live outside the area, please consider making a donation to your local Jewish Family Services or Daily Bread Food bank, or any other program that helps others put food on their tables.

Linda – thanks again for inspiring me to remember how fortunate I am.  Congratulations on your 1000th Mitzvah, and may your father’s memory be for a blessing upon this earth.

B’Shalom

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I just looked at the date, and realized we are halfway through March, and I haven’t even finished blogging about February, yet.  March has already been a very fun month for me, as I just got back from spending a few personal days in Atlanta, and had such a great time.

When I came back from the Puerto Rico wedding, I quickly got ready for Leah’s Bat Mitzvah.  I have a friend who tutors children, and they were looking for someone to officiate the ceremony, so we worked as a team together.  It was really enjoyable, and the family was so much fun to work with.  The Bat Mitzvah was held on a Saturday evening, so we held a Havdalah service, which seems to be super popular these days.  It happens to be my favorite service, because I love including the contemporary Havdalah music and including everyone in the song and ceremony.  What great fun!  Leah did a great job, as did her sister, who also chanted from the Torah.  It was a beautiful night!

Just before the Bat Mitzvah, I spent a few personal days in Orlando as well, and saw my newest favorite musician, Matt Shenk.  He’s so awesome, and his music is at the top of my “most played” list in Itunes.  He is a master guitar player, has an awesome voice, and his words are so relatable!  Check him out at www.mattshenk.com.

Last week, I had the pleasure of officiating the wedding of Micha and Sam.  I don’t have pics yet, so I am saving the blog story, but they were so adorable, I just had to mention them here.  One of the youngest couples I have married, they are also one of the most mature.  I can’t wait for them to get back from their honeymoon, so I can hear how their first week of marriage went!

This weekend, I am performing the wedding for Annie & Greg. Annie is working incredibly hard at pulling off her wedding on a tight budget, and I think she has done an amazing job.  I can’t wait to see the result of her efforts.

I am also performing a Baby Naming for Mason and Emily, Sage and Jonah.  This is the couple I wrote about last week, titled, A Baby Naming, For all the right reasons…I can’t wait for this beautiful event, and to meet these two lucky little boys.

Trevor is home, and in between, I’m going to try to spend as much time as possible with him.  It’s a busy month, and I am so blessed to be so busy!  And I count those blessings, every day…

B’Shalom,

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Several months ago, I received a marketing package from Esta Asteroff, of MP Artworks, telling me about her clergy referral program.  I have to admit, I may not have taken notice of the site without it, but, after closely looking at her products and prices, I decided to begin recommending her site to my clients.

Several months later, MP Artworks is absolutely my favorite website not only for Jewish and Interfaith Ketubot, but for other wedding products as well.  (My clients love the glass products she sells, also)  Esta personally gets involved with each and every client I recommend, and every client I have had speaks incredibly highly of her.

In today’s economy, every couple should have an affordable, but beautiful, meaningful Ketubah, and MP Artworks makes it possible to have the Ketubah of your dreams.  Drop by, and let Esta know I sent you.

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I guess I should start this blog entry, by clarifying that no event I’ve ever done has resulted in 3 (or more) entries, until now. Somehow I feel that’s important, because usually, as much as many of my events are warm, moving, loving, and well…exceptional, the story of Max’s Bar Mitzvah is more than all of that put together.

As I sit here in the hotel lobby (drinking massive volumes of coffee), I’m trying to figure out what made it SO exceptional. Was it Audrey, whose grounded-ness, sense of humor, red curls, big hug, and joie-de-vivre is so contagious you just want to sit in a room and talk her head off, forever? Was it Rob? Her Non-Jewish husband who was equally as driven to give his son the perfect Bar Mitzvah as she was?

Audrey & Rob

Audrey & Rob

Was it Edith? Audrey’s Holocaust survivor mother – clear – I mean – as CLEAR as a sunny day, whose only dream in her life was to see her grandson Max become a Bar Mitzvah?

Edith, Audrey's Mom

Edith, Audrey's Mom

Or was it Max, himself? My darling Skype student, who calls me a Robo-Rabbi, and with whom I have shared many deep, spiritual, inquisitive, and wondrous moments together – despite headsets and disconnects, from 1500 miles away?

Max, My Robo-Bar Mitzvah!

Max, My Robo-Bar Mitzvah!

Or maybe it was the other cast of characters. Sharon, my soul-sista, the common thread, that brought Audrey and her family and I together. Or, Hal and Sharon’s children, Bess & Hannah, who so beautifully chanted the V’Ahavta at Max’s Bar Mitzvah.

Audrey with Sharon, Bess, & Hannah.  Where was Hal??

Audrey with Sharon, Bess, & Hannah. Where was Hal??

Perhaps, it was Rob’s sister, remember…Non Jewish Rob, his sister, Judy, who so meaningfully read the D’Var Torah last night, explaining the meaning of the Parsha, Bo. Her desire to complete this simcha for Max and his family, was far more important than the fact that she had never even known what a parsha was before this week. Perhaps she didn’t even know the true story of the Jews’ exodus from Egypt, and the meaning of the story in our lives, but she read with the same passion and conviction I would have expected Edith to read with.

Judy & Doug

Judy & Doug

Or Lara – Audrey’s brother’s wife, with a personality bigger and kinder than anyone I have met in ages. A total rockstar-redhead, with more energy than a whirling dervish. (what is that, anyway?)

Sharon and Edith with Lara (on the right)

Sharon and Edith with Lara (on the right)

Oh wait – it certainly had to have something to do with Rev. Sarah Lammert. I must digress by saying that the Bar Mitzvah was held in the Unitarian Universalist Society, where Edith and Audrey have been attending for quite some time. It is the Society they landed in, when they realized that there were no synagogues that were going to meet their spiritual needs, and whose arms they felt so warm and loved in, when all else, spiritually, had failed them. It was Sarah who opened the Bar Mitzvah last night, and closed – with me – immediately after I led our congregation in Kaddish – and she led with The Lord’s Prayer. (Did you ever know that The Lord’s Prayer is deeply rooted in the words of the Kaddish? Perhaps a separate blog entry for later..) A deeply moving moment, bringing us all of different faiths and walks of life together, harmoniously, in one room, with the feeling that G-d was around each and every one of us.

Gee, maybe it was the amazing New York Klezmer band, who rocked the house in the first couple of hours. As Max and I danced the hora, and led most of the guests around in a hora line, and had an amazing time.

Or Audrey’s friend, husband, and children, who played and sang “I Hope You Have the Time of Your Life”.

Or ultimately, it was Edith’s speech to Max, a moving wish from his grandmother, expressing her deep pride, and a transformed relationship with her G-d, as a result of this night. Or Lara’s moving recount of what a Bar Mitzvah means to her (another non-Jewish family member, expressing her love and hopes for Max).

I think there is way too much to recount, and I’m not sure how I’m going to be able to accurately express just what made last night so incredible. I just know it was, because of what I felt in my heart – before, during, and after the ceremony, including now. I know because of the comments and feedback, and joy and love I received from everyone there, Jewish and non Jewish alike. Even the kids, who sat on the floor, in front of Max and I, were enthralled and participative, a moving experience in itself.

Maybe it was the sum of the parts. Each of those parts brought incredible meaning, connection, spirituality, and unity to the night. It was beshert, I suppose, for Audrey and I to connect, through Sharon, and I will be forever grateful for the experience. It not only brought meaning to my life, but I know it did for Audrey and Rob, Max, Edith, and all of the friends and family that joined together in that room. I’m sad that it is over, but richly rewarded for having been through it. I’m sure the impact has yet to reveal itself to me, but it will be my pleasure to carry these memories with me along the road, and remember how I changed one family’s life. It changed mine, too. Audrey, Rob, Max, Edith, Lara, Judy, Sharon, and Rev. Sarah – you are angels, and I’m so thankful for each of you! Max – you are my Robo-rock-star-Bar Mitzvah. I will be forever proud!

The best time EVER! Love u, Audrey!

The best time EVER! Love u, Audrey!

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I’m so excited.  This is a divine weekend, for sure, and I have been so looking forward to its arrival.  There is such an amazing story about how I got here, which I will tell later, but, for now, the beauty of the fact that I am here is enough.

So, tonight begins Max’s Bar Mitzvah experience.  I’m in Montvale, New Jersey, and we are holding the ceremony tomorrow evening at the Unitarian Church.  Who’d-a-thought?  Audrey, Max’s Mom and I have only seen each other a few times through a unique video-chat setup in their home, so Audrey wasn’t sure we would find each other as I arrived in baggage claim, in Newark, but as soon as I stepped one foot into baggage, we knew immediately who each other was.

Have you ever had one of those times, where you met someone for the first time, but felt sure you had known them all your life?  Well, this is Audrey.  But, it shouldn’t surprise me, because we must not forget that I am connected to Audrey, because of Sharon, my soul-sista from Yelena’s wedding in the DR.  And, there’s a whole story about how I got connected to Yelena, (through Rabbi Andrea in New York) so this whole thing is one big insane Law-of-Attraction story that nobody will really ever believe.

But what’s important, is that I’m here.  I’m here to keep a boy connected to Judaism, whose family has left 4 synagogues, because they never felt welcome, in fact, quite the opposite.  I’m here to let a boy know that his Jewish heritage will never let him down, as long as he stays connected to it, and that the effort he makes is worth way more than the quality he performs with.  I’m here to bring a Jewish and Non-Jewish family together, to help them see the richness of our faith, and the blessings we receive when we embrace it.  I’m here, because G-d brought me here, and I couldn’t be more proud.

Max, I can’t wait to share this moment with you tomorrow.  Audrey, thank you for dinner tonight, and for making me part of your family.  Sharon – I adore you.  You are more my soul-sista tonight than ever.  Rob – you’re an amazing father and husband, and I’m honored to be part of this simcha.  Stay tuned…Max’s Bar Mitzvah, live, Friday night!

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I just read Rabbi Lev Ba’esh’s post over on www.Interfaithfamily.com, one of my most favorite Interfaith relationship resources, and was touched by how similar our experiences and positions are on performing Interfaith ceremonies.

Anyone who reads my story on my website, www.mypersonalcantor.com, knows that when I married Wayne, my Christian ex-husband, the list of available Rabbis to perform our wedding was a very short one, at best.  I can’t remember his name, nor do I have a good memory of him at all.  Looking back, he struck me as someone who would marry a cat to a dog, for a check.  Uninspiring, to say the least, but he certainly did not help the Jewish factor in my marriage, as my husband formed a strong impression about him, and related that impression to the faith, overall.  Bad mistake.

I can’t even begin to recount the numerous run-ins we had about how judgmental, critical, conditional, and exclusionary the Jewish faith was, which couldn’t be farther from the truth – but you know as well as I do, that perception IS 100% of our reality.  Sad.

Today, I, like Rabbi Lev, feel I have a completely different impact on the families I touch by my ceremonies.  Also, like him, I am more frequently approached by the Jewish guests than the Non-Jews, with comments about how much I taught them about their own faith.  As Jews, we learn to do and say very certain things, but never learn why.  We don’t learn the meaning in our lives, we don’t learn why.  Our traditions are beautiful.  The fundamental message of our religion is “Do the right thing”.  Read the words to the V’Ahavta – the prayer that follows the Shema, the most important prayer a Jew can utter.  The words tell us to love God, to speak of Him, remember Him, and take him with us in our hearts every day.  If we do that, we will surely make decisions that prove that we were made in his image.  We are beautiful people, with a rich, touching history, and being Jewish is a magnificent thing.  Unfortunately, too many people aren’t shown the beauty of being Jewish.

My ceremonies include lessons about why we do what we do, and what the meaning is in our lives.  I always try to relate a Torah portion or lesson from the Torah in my ceremonies, so everyone can take a piece of God home with them.  In this way, nobody feels excluded, nobody feels alienated, and even the Jews learn just a little more about our beautiful faith than they knew before.

The end result, hopefully, is that everyone who attended that wedding, or even Bar or Bat Mitzvah feels the beauty that eminates from Jewish lessons.  When a couple has decided to marry, it is not up to the officiant to judge that decision, but it is our responsibility to strongly and proudly represent our faith.  It is up to us to hold our heads up and take a stand for why this Interfaith family should NOT turn their backs on Judaism.  It is up to us to put being Jewish in their hands, however we can make that happen.  We should NOT try to force anything on anyone, but I just don’t see how strongly representing something so beautiful could possibly be looked down upon.  If we believe that God brings man and woman together, what gives Rabbis the right to second-guess his decision?

Jewish, done right, is a magnificent thing.  Judaism is the cornerstone of my life.  It is my road map to God.  It is my light that guides me, teaches me right from wrong, and holds me up when all else fails me.  Why wouldn’t I help someone else have that feeling?  We cannot be afraid as Jews.  We cannot run away.  We couldn’t run away in the past, and we must not run away today.  We must stand up proudly, and teach our Interfaith couples that Judaism is beautiful, and can be the light that guides us all.  Thanks, Lev.  You reminded me again how amazing it is that we have the opportunity to do what we do.  I am so grateful.

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After the amazing wedding in St. Pete, I rushed right back to South florida, to get ready for Rachel and Mara’s Havdalah Bat Mitzvah.  Rachel and Mara are sisters, almost 2 years apart, who prepared for their special day together, and it was a great experience, for them, and me.

I always learn from my experiences, and this was no exception, but in the process, the girls became very special to me, as did Robin, their Mom.  I think because the parents were divorced, and I could feel the dynamics of that divorce as it was something I went through myself, I identified even more.  But, Jeff and Robin did a great job of creating a unified front, and making their daughters’ day the priority.

The Bat Mitzvah was held at the Hyatt Bonaventure, on Saturday evening.  The girls’ theme was New York City, and it was really beautiful.  Learning their Torah portions were not easy for both girls, but I must say, they did the most incredible job.  Especially Mara, who had the hardest time, so I just want her to know how PROUD of her I really was that night.

The girls each did 3 Aliyot, the V’Ahavta, and I must say, they both wrote amazing D’var Torah portions.  Their parsha, Lech Lecha, was about Abraham’s journey to a new land, and each girl related their experience of their journey into young adulthood, comparing it to Abraham’s journey into the new Land.  Both girls were amazing writers, and will always look back and remember the special moments of  listening to them express themselves through their own written words.  The opportunities to write personally really made this experience more meaningful to both of them, which…isn’t that the purpose??

Yasher Koach, girls.  I’m so proud of you both.

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