Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

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…




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So, now that High Holidays are officially over, with the completion of Simchat Torah, I really didn’t want to let much time go by without talking about what an incredible experience I had at Temple Beth David, in Palm Beach Gardens.

I must start off by saying thanks to Cantor Ann Turnoff, for recommending me to Rose, the Education Director, at TBD.  Rose is just amazing.  She was so happy, upbeat, and positive, every single time I spoke to her.  I know she is a busy woman – but she always had time for me, and greeted me with a big smile – even over the phone!  The pleasure I received from my HH experience was a direct result of Rose’s passion and enthusiasm, as well as Rabbi Michael Singer, and Cantor Jennifer Kanarek.

First – I was pretty much given carte blance, to create a service that would be fun, upbeat, and engaging.  This was something I’ve been doing for 10 years, but, definitely not for a Conservative synagogue.  I was caught in a conflict between trying to keep my nusach “correct” and making it FUN.  And, even when I thought I had the last draft finished, Rose said – make it a little MORE fun!

So – I cut loose, and created a service that would engage my littlest congregants, as well as the parents.  It was so much fun!  On Rosh Hashanah, the kids acted out the story of Creation.  For the Hakafah, they had about 40 small Torahs, and all of my kids paraded around the room singing and dancing.

On Yom Kippur, we acted out the story of Jonah and the Whale.  We asked questions, and talked about forgiveness, appreciation, and making new promises for the coming year.  In all, I did 5 services, and while I’m still recovering from mental exhaustion, it was the most amazing experience of my life.

I cannot forget to thank Rabbi Singer and his wife and children, for inviting me to their home for both Erev Rosh Hashanah, as well as RH afternoon, on the 2nd day.  Their home was lovely, and it felt so good to be invited, and cared about by them.  Rose invited me to her daughter’s home on Erev Yom Kippur – and that was amazing, too.  Her daughter cooks the BEST challah I have ever tasted!  Her family was lovely, and again, they treated me so well – I felt like this was my family, too!

I also want to say thank you to the many TBD congregants who made me feel like I was at home.  On the second day of RH, after my service was finished, I went in to the main sanctuary, to listen to Rabbi’s sermon (which was also amazing) and they offered me an aliyah!!  That was so nice, and I am so appreciative to each and every one of the members and staff at TBD for including me.  I think the families really appreciated having a venue where they could worship with their children, and I think it’s so important for children to watch their parents worship as well.  Otherwise – how else will they learn?

I am hoping that TBD will become a home away from home for me.  I want to work with them, to help increase their family participation, and attract members with fun and exciting ways to worship.  If watching Rabbi Singer and Rose in action are any indication – we’ll be soaring to new heights, in 5769.

L’Shanah Tovah to everyone at TBD!  Thank you for making my High Holidays such a special experience!

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Wow, 8 days with no posts – I know, pretty unacceptable in the blogging world, but until they manufacture a 25th hour to the day, there has just been no way!

I just wanted to wish everyone a very Happy New Year, and convey my intention for you to bring everything you dream of into your lives this year.  For the first time ever, in my life, I am really living my dream, and so it is more important for me than ever to continue to take inventory of what I have accomplished, succeeded and failed at, and what I want to do better.

I also wanted to stress that we cannot ask for anything at all, if we have not appreciated yet what we have in the present.  I know it may sound hokey, but, it seems that every time I write about my appreciations for what has come into my life, more just comes in!  And it seems that when I focus on what I don’t have that I want, more of what I don’t want comes in its place.  So, once again – keep thanking whoever you want to thank for what you have.  Don’t forget to be thankful for crazy things like tires on your car, and elevators, and hair color in a bottle.  It’s the little things that make our lives interesting!

This year, I am asking God to help me find more ways to be a better, deeper, more productive person.  I can’t expect anything more to come to me, without finding more ways to give.  I’ve written about it before, but I really would like to become more involved in a charity that is meaningful in my life, and that I can make a difference in.  I’m not sure what that is, but I intend to find it this year.

I’m incredibly excited (but a little nervous) about my Family Service at Temple Beth David in WPB.  I’m so lucky to have found this amazing little Conservative synagogue up there with the coolest Rock and Roll Rabbi (Rabbi Michael Singer), the sweetest little Cantor (Cantor Jennifer Kanarek), and the most amazing Education Director (Rose Rosenkrantz) I have ever met.  They are warm, loving, supportive, empowering, and creative.  They have welcomed me into their world, and I cannot wait to be a part of it.  They have been so generous to me already, by offering my family space in the services, and inviting me to dinner on Erev RH.  I can’t wait to celebrate with them, and bring a warm, loving, exciting presence to their Family Service.

So, over the next few days, I will be vocalizing, practicing my guitar and warming up my fingers, meditating and getting focused for the upcoming services.  Of course, I still have a new Sunday School program starting up this weekend, and weddings to write and plan, but, there just won’t be much spare time, so I may not be back until after RH.

In the meantime, L’shanah Tova.  May God inscribe you in the Book of Life.  May you achieve everything you dream of, and may you be blessed with a good year, an abundant year, a year of peace, and a year of blessings.


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Shabbat – The busier I get, the more I crave a Shabbat day to retreat from the world, reflect, meditate, and pray.  I remember sitting at the windmill park next to the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.  A true Shabbat – just me, fresh air, no traffic, no chaos, no radios, phones, or tv’s.  Some days, I just wish I could transport myself back there.

“Not this weekend”, the chilling voice of reality shouts.  SO much to do, and the weekend just got busier.

I had planned a quiet day, but it will now start at 6am with a quick workout, and then a shlep all the way out to Weston Volvo to pick up my car.  (Very thankful that it is still under warranty, by the way)  After that, a newly scheduled 9am call with the daughter of the 91 year old man I am doing a funeral for tomorrow.  I was thankful that it was someone who had lived a full life, but then I learrned that he was the father of 3 daughters, and I immediately thought of my Dad.  I’m so lucky he’s young, and healthy, and that the thought of that kind of sadness in my family is so far off, but, it makes me sad to think about, nonetheless.  But when I spoke with one of his daughters, she was so excited that I would be doing the funeral.  She felt my personality through the phone, and was happy that there would be a woman to eulogize him, and to pray for him.  The theme of strong women in their family was their mantra, and he loved his girls.  I’m proud to be able to be a source of comfort to them in their time of need.

Then, I will have to get busy and finish the wedding ceremony for Saturday, because early Saturday morning, I will attend Mindy’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah (as a guest) for just long enough to hear Emily chant her Torah & Haftorah portion, because then, I will be in a car headed for Orlando, to do the wedding of Michelle & Brandon.

This is a very cute couple.  Their years are young, but their heads are wise.  They have a very mature relationship.  They work hard to live a proper life, with incredibly strong family values.  I cannot wait to meet them.

Then – with a little luck, I’m going to try to see the kids, somehow, if they have time for their Mom.  I miss them soooo much this week.  We might even go do something fun in Orlando.  Or – they will be too busy, and I’ll just head home to get a head start on more High Holiday prep.

Speaking of which – the plans have changed for High Holidays – I’ve decided to work exclusively this year with Temple Beth David in West Palm Beach.  I fell in love with the Rabbi & Cantor, and I hope I have found a new little home there, because I just love the energy they bring to their work.  I’ll write more next week about the decision, but I know in my heart it was the right one.

Now, off to prepare for a very busy weekend.  Shabbat Shalom.  (Truly – may you have peace)

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Jackie Olenick, Leon’s wife (and my all time favorite Judaic artist on earth) put this beautiful invitation together.  Seats can be reserved with your $72 donation through Paypal – to debbi@mypersonalcantor.com
Please call me at 954-646-1326 if you have questions.
High Holiday Invite

High Holiday Invite

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Tonight, Leon & Jackie and I joined Karen Modell from The Friends Meeting House in Lake Worth for dinner, and a tour of the house.  It is a quaint house right off 10th Ave N & I-95, and it is the perfect space for our High Holiday service.

We are going to hold a full service, including Erev Rosh Hashanah, Rosh Hashanah morning, Erev Yom Kippur, Yom Kippur, N’Eilah, and a light break fast – all for the amazingly reasonable price of $72 per person, not including donations.  Leon is a wonderful Rabbi who cuts through all of the ego stuff, and gets right down to the meaning of worship.  Have you grown tired of condescending Rabbis who yell at you on the pulpit?  Are you over the fashion show that makes you feel like you’re wearing last years sale items?  Have you felt like your worship experience is parallel to a used car sales pitch?

We won’t have any of that.  Not if we can help it.  We don’t care what you wear.  We don’t care what you have (or don’t have)  We really mean that.  The only thing that is limited is space, so it’s first come first serve.  We do have to pay for the house, for advertising, and for the food items for break-fast, so of course, donations are gratefully accepted, but not required.  If you want a loving, warm, and spiritual place to pray, this is it!  We don’t even care if you speak Hebrew.  Come and sit for an hour – and just contemplate the year you left behind, and the year you wish to have for yourself.  That’s all that is required.

I’m so excited to do something with meaning.  Yes, I loved the experience of standing in front of my congregation in years past, especially my solos and my 20 seconds of fame, but this is so much more worthwhile.  Even if there are 20 people in our congregation, if those 20 people are praying their kishkes out, then it was worth the trip!

So, I’m putting it out there, and I have full intention of filling the room with passionate, spiritual folks like me, who just want to get a little closer to Hashem this month.  Won’t you join me?

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Gary Rosenblatt, Editor of The Jewish Week, wrote an incredibly insightful and timely article today, that I felt compelled to finally write about, after giving this much thought for oh – 20+ years or so.

Even though the work I am doing is moving rapidly in that direction, I have been somewhat fearful of putting my exact thoughts in writing, because my feelings really don’t do anything to enhance the traditional synagogue’s reputation in educating our Jewish children. I just got another phone call from a local parent, lamenting about the poor quality of education, the “factory” type of experience, and the negative feeling she had from one of our local synagogues, and she was looking for a more engaging, personal, and meaningful experience for her roughly $20k investment in her child’s Hebrew School education.

Like it or not, families ARE belonging, just for the lifecycle. The majority of Jewish families choose to no longer associate and pay dues to synagogues, once their children become Bar or Bat Mitzvah. Even when families do continue to pay dues, however, the child more often than not ends his or her connection, inevitably to focus on activities in their secular lives, rather than their religious lives.

Overall, families complain to me that they are certainly not getting their 20 thousand dollars worth – Instead, they are relegated to ridiculously early services, only to be RUSHED out of the building, to make room for the NEXT group of Bar Mitzvah attendees – and then what? The service is over at 11 – and – they can’t even have the nice room to make a luncheon, if they weren’t FIRST on the lottery to get the room. Top that off with an impersonal service, a condescending Rabbi on the pulpit who doesn’t even know the child’s name, and a measly two or three aliyot, so they can barely honor grandparents, let alone the Aunts and Uncles and Cousins.

Gary writes, “One seeming disconnect that Wertheimer found in his study is that while most parents see the chief role of secondary schools as preparing children for bar or bat mitzvah, only 7 percent of the schools surveyed listed that as their primary goal. Most schools cited giving children positive Jewish experiences as their top objective.” I believe the disconnect is that synagogues are too busy trying to figure out how to balance the budget with overpaid clergy and Executive Directors, and not enough time actually figuring out how to actually deliver the positive Jewish experiences. Kids are bored, and tired of teachers who are incapable of managing behavior, and have to spend 80% of their time quieting the room, leaving only 20% of their time to effective lesson delivery.

Parents feel that the clergy is more concerned with they themselves want to GIVE, rather than what the families want or need to feel connected. Sermons on the bimah that seem like scolding, or subject material completely irrelevant to today leave families wondering WHY they pay 20k to belong. The whole experience is a disconnect, and all people really want, at the end of the day, is to feel GOOD about being Jewish.

We must define what it is – or will be – that makes us get those warm and fuzzy feelings about being Jewish. Why do huge monstrosities of churches pop up on every corner, with traffic jams EVERY Sunday, and we can’t get a full room at a Sisterhood opening event? Because synagogues aren’t giving families what they really want – and they haven’t even spent a minute trying to figure it out. They decide what the Rabbi will do, and dictate the programming to the congregants, and then wonder why they cannot fill rooms. They’re all coming at it from the wrong direction.

At the end of the day, today’s families want less rules and more engagement. I’m not sure if a synagogue can even possibly meet the needs of today’s families, but I do see more and more spiritual cheerleaders – like myself, popping up all over the U.S. People who want to bring the “feel good” stuff that Jewishness creates, without the annoyances of organization. Synagogues used to mean “community”. Today, we find and create our own little communities, without needing to go inside a building.

I believe, what we really want from Hebrew Schools is less structured, engaging material, that Jewish children can understand and enjoy. Let’s learn more about the 10 Mitzvot, about being a good Jew, about what V’Ahavta means, and why the Sh’ma is so incredibly important to us. Let’s learn less phonetic memorization, and more about what Abraham and Sara really stood for, and why they’re important to us today.

Let’s learn how to live our lives as good Jewish people, doing good deeds, repairing the world, healing the sick, and appreciating what our ancestors stood for. Let’s make Jewish prayer resonate within us through music, ruach, and FUN. It can be done. At least, I’m working on it – every day.

My Rabbi told me I can’t save the world. But, if I can save 20 Jewish families next year, it’s a job well done.

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