A guide to making Friends with the Prayerbook-an overview of our first session and an invitation to the next.

This is part one of a guide to making friends with the Siddur, the Jewish Prayer Book. We will be continuing the discussion Sunday, February 12th at 11 am at Adat Shalom Synagogue. It is open to everybody who is open to nurturing their own spirituality. 

The purpose of the Siddur is to help your spiritual development

(It is not your responsibility to make the Siddur happy)


The Jewish prayer book, the Siddur, can be a helpful tool for developing your own spiritual life, but it can also be a tremendous barrier. Too often, we come into the sanctuary and immediately start looking for the right page. Once we find it the next page has been called and we are starting to feel a little frustrated. If we don’t know the order of the service or if we are not very good at Hebrew we begin to grow a little resentful at the Siddur, it starts to feel a little heavy in our hands. You feel like a pretty competent adult in the rest of your life, but now you are having a waking version of the dream of not knowing what you are doing in school. By the time services have over we have probably checked out emotionally and spiritually and are relieved that at least the cake at kiddush will make our day a sweet one.


I want us to think about the Siddur not as a book, but as a place where we can find a sense of comfort, peace, meaning and joy. I offer the following as a guide that I hope will help you make friends with the Siddur, or at least a close acquaintance you are happy to see on a regular basis.


1. You do not have to go to the page we announce. You do not have to go to any page of the service we are praying at the time. You may even browse completely at random. If you find something that moves or interests you, stick with that for a while. We only announce pages to let you know where we are in the formal service. You may join in at the parts you enjoy, and then go back to browsing at other times.


2.You do not have to open the Siddur at all. This is your time. If you just want to think quietly, please do so. I would just recommend standing when the congregation stands and sit when they do, not necessarily for religious reasons, but that so others around you won’t (politely) suggest you stand or sit. It is, though, ultimately your decision.


3. Bring something else to read that you find spiritually uplifting. I would love to hear what it is.


4. Even if you are planning on following the formal service it would be helpful to begin by asking yourself the following questions. Don’t be afraid of the answers or be concerned that they may not be Jewish enough. Allow yourself to think and feel what you really think and feel. Theses questions and your responses will give you insight on what you should be focusing on once you do begin praying, and will help you with the rest of your day, too.


Questions before prayer


To Whom are you speaking?



What do you need today?

What are you happy about?

What are you afraid of?

How do you feel?

How do you want to feel?



How to start making the Siddur (The Jewish Prayer Book) your friend-This Sunday Morning at Adat Shalom

The Siddur, the Jewish Prayer book, is probably the most important book in Judaism. It is also for many people one of the most frustrating, opaque, and inaccessible ones. We will discuss how the Siddur can be a powerful tool for developing your own sense of spirituality, both in the synagogue and privately.

No knowledge of Hebrew is necessary, just a willingness to rethink certain assumptions of what Jewish prayer can be.

We will meet this Sunday morning, January 22nd,  at 11am in the main sanctuary of Adat Shalom Synagogue. Everyone is welcome. There is no charge.

Our Past is Not Our Destiny

This last Thursday night I had my first and likely last experience singing in a Broadway type musical. I was the guest opening singer in a delightful local production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I somehow managed to remember a fairly large number of the right lyrics and did not trip over and fall on one of the children, which would have been extremely awkward, especially on opening night.

The show itself and this production in particular is very entertaining and fast paced. The songs are good and everything moves nicely to an upbeat conclusion. What gets lost in the show is that there are some really bad people who are involved in the Joseph story.

I do not just mean the brothers who throw Joseph in a pit. That is certainly bad enough. I was thinking more about the Midianites to whom the brothers sell Joseph. The Midianites were not merely merchants. They were in the slave trade, as well, and could care not less about the humanity of their cargo. They could have used, “We will be your brother’s keeper” as their business motto.

The Book of Genesis warns against having any contact with them because of their lack of morality.

It is fascinating, then, that when Moses, in the Book of Exodus, leaves Pharaoh’s palace, the only home he ever knew, and flees into the wilderness, lost and alone, The people in he runs into are Midianites. He rescues some of them from a bad situation, but ultimately they save him. He marries a Midianite woman. His children are half Midianite. His most trusted advisor, the man who really teaches him about leadership and selflessness, is his father-in-law Yitro, a Midianite priest.

The Torah is teaching us that our family history does not have to be our destiny. We can recreated ourselves to be the kind of person we want to be. We may have very difficult and challenging people in our past. We may have painful memories of things they did, maybe even to us. It does not mean that we are destined to relive and perpetuate those things.

Every morning in our prayers we remind ourselves that our souls are pure. Our souls cannot be damaged or made unclean. We have the potential to rise above the difficult aspects of our past. This does not mean we need to make a complete break with our past, or that we should. I hope we all have positive and loving memories of our past.

I want us to be able to face the past with compassion, and get on with the kind of lives that would make us happier, without hearing those negative voices or thoughts from our history.

This Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr. day, which I am thrilled that we observe as a nation. He understood that history is not destiny. This is a quote from his I Have a Dream speech.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

Dr. King understood that you had to believe in the potential for the children of your enemy to transcend their past and become better people.

True freedom and liberation begins with the realization that we can honor what is best of the past, but we do not have to be slaves to it. We can recognize that God created us already free.

Notes from my class on how to use irritation for meditation and greater (but not total) calm

Things that irritate you

and how to use them for greater calm



-to disturb the peace of mind

-to provoke anger, impatience or displeasure


Why do we get irritated?


It helps us feel superior to others.

It hides our insecurities.

We grew up around irritable people. They were our role models.


What are some causes of irritation?


Too Much Noise

Not Enough Noise

Not Getting What We Want

Getting What We Want

Things That Are Not True

Things That Are True





Irritability is a habit and condition. It is a choice we make.

(This idea is probably irritating.)


Things that can help


If your irritation is caused by a person, send them compassionate thoughts. The same applies if you irritate yourself.


Ask yourself if you are really irritated or you are just acting out of reflex and conditioning.


Ask yourself if the irritation is identifying an essential truth, and then be grateful for it.




Try saying this each night before bed


From The Bed Time Sh’ma

(translated by Rabbi Jonathon Sacks)


I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or provoked me or sinned against me, physically or financially or by failing to give me due respect, or in any other matter relating to me, involuntarily or willingly, inadvertently or deliberately, whether in word or deed: let no one incur punishment because of me.


How to use the things that irritate you as tools for meditation and calm-This Sunday Morning

Most of life is not facing existential or life changing decisions. Usually, we are trying to deal with the hundred and one things that irritate us every day. We tell ourselves not to let these things bother us. That causes us to be even more irritated.

This Sunday morning at 11 am at Adat Shalom Synagogue, we will look at using irritating thoughts as a tool of meditation. Everyone is welcome, particularly the people who are the reasons you are coming to this session.

This is part of hamakOhm, a program designed to help you find or even create your place in the world of Jewish spirituality.

Why are Jews called Jews?


If you were to ask most characters in the Torah that we think of as Jews whether they were Jews, they would have no idea what you were talking about. They may have thought of themselves as Hebrews or Israelites, but certainly not Jews. That word does not appear until toward the end of the Hebrew Bible when Mordechai is called a Jew. That story occurs at least a fifteen hundred years after Abraham.


Why, then, are we are called Jews? The simple answer is that at the end of our last period of independence before the rise of the modern State of Israel, the part of the promised land we lived in was called Judea, which was named after Judah, one of Jacob’s children. For the rest of our history we have retained the name Jew, a descendant of Judah.


The biblical Judah, though familiar, is not very well known among Jews. He is not as famous as Moses or David. He is not even the most famous Judah. That would be Judah Maccabbee.


Why aren’t we the Mosesites or Davidites?


Judah does something very powerful and courageous. His father had sent him and his brothers to get food, because there was a famine in Canaan. Pharoah wants something in return. He wants Judah’s youngest brother as a hostage.


Judah begs the vice-chancellor of Egypt, the second to Pharaoh, for the life Benjamin. He does so not just to spare Benjamin, but his father Jacob, too. Under normal circumstances this would be admirable, but expected. These were not normal circumstances.


Judah probably has no great love for Benjamin. Benjamin is the new favorite of Jacob once Joseph disappeared. Judah also knows his father does not love him, or at least care much about him. Every family has its issues, but this family in particular had problems that would never resolve.


There is no advantage to Judah in pleading for his brother’s life. In fact there was a disadvantage. He was putting his own life on the line, even though he knew his father would not appreciate it. Judah could have saved himself and begun a new life in Egypt. Nonetheless he spoke up.


We know this story has a happy ending and that Joseph reveals as the person Judah was talking to. Judah had no reason to think that would happen.


Judah does the right thing simply because it was the right thing, even though he had nothing to gain and much to lose, even though he did these things on behalf of those he did not love and who did not love him.


He put aside his anger and frustrations and fears. This is genuine compassion. It is the absolute core of what it means to be Jewish.


I was thinking about this in regard to the morning blessings that we say every single day. They describe God’s attributes, such as freeing the bound, giving sight to the blind, returning dignity to those bowed over, guiding our steps, etc. These are all things we are supposed to emulate.


I finally noticed what isn’t there. Seeking vengeance against our enemies. Nurturing a grudge, no matter how righteous we are. Rebuking people we think have faults.


The list of kindnesses we are supposed to do each day are for both those we like and those we don’t.


Obviously we should defend ourselves if we are in danger, and showing kindness does not mean that we condone every behavior or put up with it when it is directed to us.


Judaism understands that hatred and jealousy only create more hatred and jealousy, and that anger, no matter how righteous, only creates more anger.


Judah said that when we make our decisions based on compassion and not ego, we can accomplish wonderful things that ultimately make our lives better.

Judah understood that Benjamin was not going to thank him for saving him. He knew his father would not give him any credit, but would just return to complaining about everything in the rest of his life that did not go well. He even knew that Joseph would never admit to being a brat who kind of deserved to get tossed in a pit.


Judah’s willingness to do the right things for others despite the difficulties it created for himself had a positive impact on his children. They become the tribe that survives. Their strength came from their compassion.


We are their descendants. We are still here as a people not just because of our allegiance to ritual, but because the core of our philosophy, our deepest understanding of what God wants, is the courage to do what is right for the whole world, not just ourselves. This is a critical idea that will help carry us into the future.


Calling ourselves Jews does not just mean that we belong to an ethnic or religious group, but that it is a mission statement for bringing sanity and calm into a world that really needs it.



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