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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

It's November and it's 65 Degrees Outside

I was told today by a friend that I need to stop apologizing for not blogging as often as I used to. She told me I use the same excuse every time. So, no apologies, just a new blog!

Well, the semester is 3/4 the way through, and we only have a few weeks of class left. I can't believe it! This is supposed to be the "hardest" and "most time-consuming" semester of my rabbinical school career. And, it's almost over. Now, I am NOT for a second arguing with the above statement. This has been and continues to be an incredibly time consuming and all encompassing semester - from schoolwork to congregational work to being an aba and a husband, etc. But, it is almost over. And, I have SOOOOOOOO much more to do before it is: 2 major papers, 1 major project, 1 "midterm," 1 "endterm," 1 Oral Talmud Exam, 1 "Mid-year" exam, an audio podcast, and everything else that goes with being a rabbinical student, an aba and a husband!

Of course, I am not complaining. I am incredibly thankful to be able to pursue my life's goals. It is just a lot to do, and not a lot of time. But, as Batya keeps telling me, I will find a way to get it all done. Somehow, someway - of course with some help from God. I mean, let's face it...none of this would be possible or even necessary if it wasn't for God.

What is really amazing is that it is November 10, and it is 65 degrees outside. I am pretty sure that by this time last year, it had already snowed. Now, don't get me wrong, Batya and I HATE Winter, so we are not complaining. But, we are a bit worried that we are going to get blitzed by snow in the coming months. Oh well, we'll take it one day at a time and deal with is as it comes!

Batya and Carlie are doing great! Carlie loves her new school, Rockwern Academy. Batya loves her job - although she'd be happy just about anywhere. It is wonderful being married to such an easygoing person. But, she LOVES her job. She loves the Museum, and it doesn't hurt that she has a great relationship with her boss. Oh, speaking of bosses - Batya started teaching Carlie's Preschool Religious School class at the synagogue we belong too. She's learning a lot, and her kids seem to love her...but then, who doesn't?

That's all for now. I am still thoroughly loving and enjoying my time at Beth Shalom in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida! What a wonderful congregation!

Shalom Ya'll!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

High Holidays at the Beach!

Shalom family and friends!

I know, I has been too long, but my life these days is filled with homework, congregation preparations, and FAMILY! I can honestly say that I have never worked as hard as I am working this year, and yet I still feel a sense of incompletion almost every day. There never seems to be enough time to accomplish everything I want to accomplish - but this is the life of a 3rd year rabbinical student. And, truth be told, I am getting a lot of things accomplished. One of the messages I gave to my congregation this year was to dwell on our successes, while remembering our failures. I seem, sometimes, to dwell on what I haven't accomplished. This is a personal goal for this year - to think more about what I am able to accomplish, rather than dwell on what I have not accomplished!

Speaking about my congregation in Ft. Walton Beach - what an amazing congregation! They are warm, welcoming, loving, and just an awesome congregation. Many of the congregants have told me I look comfortable and happy on the Bima. Truth is, this congregation makes it easy. They are incredibly supportive, and have responded very well to my sermons, adult education classes, and teachable moments. While they compliment me, I often tell them they make my job easier as they make it so comfortable.

What I love the most about this congregation is the incredible opportunities I have here to learn. I am currently working with 2 conversion families (parents and children), and a couple of other conversion students. These students are so eager and anxious to learn, and I appreciate their feedback and questions. I am also working with a Bar Mitzvah student, and I am sure more are coming. While I thoroughly enjoyed my congregations last year, the experience I am gaining this year is valuable beyond words. I truly feel as if I am the "Rabbi," and this congregation treats me as such.

I admit this semester is going to be a very difficult one, with many demands on me. But, I have my visits to Temple Beth Shalom to look forward to as the chance to enact what I am learning in school - and for this I am incredibly thankful!

I hope everyone had an amazing and joyful new year!


Sunday, August 23, 2009

Shalom Ft. Walton Beach, Florida!

Shalom friends and family!

It's true, school starts tomorrow. 3rd year, here I come. When I am finished with this year, I will be 3/5 of the way done with "Rabbi school." This weekend marked my first visit to my new congregation, Beth Shalom, in Ft. Walton Beach, Florida. When I was trying to decide which congregation I wanted to work with this year, I knew one thing was certain - AVOID (at all costs) the possibility of being snowed in. Last year, I stayed an extra night 3 times because of the snow in Trenton. I loved the congregation in Trenton - but being a South Carolina boy, NO MORE SNOW!

So, I figured I would try the other extreme, Florida. I know this is only my first visit, but wow. The people are very cordial, friendly and a lot of fun. We had about 50 people at services on Friday night, which was great! And for Adult Ed, there was probably around 25. This congregation is certainly vibrant and alive, and I am so glad I have the opportunity to grow as a rabbinical student with their help and guidance. Of course, it doesn't help that the beach is all around us!

There will certainly be more work this year, but it will provide me tremendous opportunities to grow and learn as a rabbinical student!

I certainly want to also tell you about my summer. I was hired as the Judaics Director, but was promoted to Assistant Camp Director on the 2nd day of first session. It was a lot of work, but it really taught me the ins and outs of camp, and I feel I really thrived in the position. We had to close for 8 days due to the "swine flu," (read H1N1) and that was certainly an interesting transition. Camp Livingston in Bennington, Indiana is a little slice of heaven. The new director, Ben Davis, is truly amazing and I can't wait to see what he is able to do with this camp. He will make a great camp ten times better - to be one of the best!

I promise to do a better job of keeping up with my blog. It's been a long summer and I didn't have a lot of time to write. I will try to update at least once a month...we shall see.

For those of you that will be at Camp Coleman next weekend - get excited, it's going to be great!

See you there!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Farewell to Beth Isaac Congregation

Shalom friends and family!

I am writing this post again from the Holiday Inn hotel in Trenton, Michigan - or more specifically, in Woodhaven! This has been my last Shabbat with one of my two student congregations. I started with Beth Isaac in September, 2008, and have had a tremendous year with them. We have studied quite a lot together, and I am very proud of their congregation.

I must say I am not sure how to properly thank them. I have learned an incredible amount from them. They have challenged me to become a better rabbinical student, and they have allowed me the creativity to grow. For that, I am incredibly thankful. They have treated my family very well, and for that I am also thankful. I leave this congregation a better student, having learned a great amount from them.

I do not like goodbyes, and I do intend to visit them in the future. I ended our dinner tonight by giving them all hugs and wishing them a very fond farewell. I leave them in great hands, as their student next year is an awesome rabbinical student, one that will teach them a lot, and one that will grow with them as well.

Shavuah Tov!


Friday, May 15, 2009

Wyoming "Rally in the Valley"

Greetings friends and family!

About 5 months ago, one of my friends, a firefighter in the Wyoming City Fire Department, asked me if I was interested in being the Chaplain for his fire department. After speaking with some people at HUC, and talking it over with Batya, I decided this would be an awesome opportunity. It's the real deal - I get the whole uniform, pager, even a badge! About 6 weeks ago, a police officer in the Lockland Police Force, Brandon Gehring, was struck by the car of another police officer involved in a high speed chase. PO Gehring happens to be the son of one of the firefighters in my department. A couple of weeks ago, we held a fundraiser in Wyoming, and I was asked to give an invocation. Here it is:

Invocation for Brandon Gehring

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Our God, God of our ancestors, we cry aloud to You. Answer us from Your Holy Mountain (Psalm 3:5). We gather together today as a community, seeking your guidance and support. O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, guide us as we continue to seek your help. We look to You, O God, to be our Hope. We know You are here for us when we need Divine support. At this moment, when we are sorely reminded of the fragility of life, show us Your kindness, mercy and grace.

Envelop the Gehring family, and all of us who support them, with Your love, as we pray for the healing of Brandon Gehring. Guide Brandon’s doctors as they work to restore his health. Send us the wisdom to surround the Gehring family with love and comfort. We ask also for You to protect West Chester Police Officer Kevin Burger and his family, surrounding them also with your love and support. As we learn in Psalm 46:2 - You are our refuge and stronghold, a helper very near to us.

In truth O God, we understand that at times there is a price to pay for bravery. But humanity is better because of men like Brandon and Kevin. They selflessly protect us, putting the needs of others first. So we join together in reverence and humility; inspired by their courage, and reaffirm our desire to help make this community stronger and safer. We recommit to extend our time, effort and patience in stewardship to this community. Enable us to move forward today, listening to Your holy words “May we enjoy, O LORD, Your faithful care, as we have put our hope in You.” (Psalm 33:22).

And let us say Amen!

It has been a tremendous experience working with this department! Actually, I am being sent to Hermitage, Pennsylvania on Monday and Tuesday for a 2 day training to become a nationally certified Firefighter Chaplain. I am happy to be working with the department, and I am incredibly thankful for this wonderful opportunity to learn another valuable set of skills!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Our Future in Cincinnati?

Yes, it's true. The HUC Board of Governors is going to be making some decisions regarding the future of HUC on May 3rd. And, as their bylaws do not allow them to vote in the same month a decision is made, the final decision will be voted on at their meeting in June. There have been so many rumors that have been spread. Many news articles have been written, in the US and in Israel. Truth is this: No one really knows what is going to happen. Rabbi Ellenson, the President of HUC, has told us that with the economic crisis affecting HUC like it has (and everyone else), it is possible one or even two campuses might close. The key word is one really knows. And, there are numerous other scenarios that are being discussed.

I guess what is most scary about this is the lack of knowledge. The students and faculty at HUC in Cincinnati (and I would guess on the other campuses as well) have no idea what is going on. There seems to be a lot of information that is being left "in secret." That bothers me. A conversation regarding the future of HUC - whether that conversation includes closing a campus or not - needs to involve the "future of HUC." In my opinion, that future includes the students AND the faculty. As of right now, we are not involved. I do NOT want to put blame on any one person or group of individuals...but, it is wrong to not involve the students and the faculty.

In my opinion, whatever decision is made will greatly affect ALL of the Reform Jewish congregations in the United States (also in the rest of the world). So, what does this mean? Well, no one really knows right now. But, lots of organizations (and individuals) are coming together to create solutions, responses, etc. to any and all rumors that are circulating. I hope that URJ congregations throughout the United States will get their opinions out - in letters, on websites, etc. Whatever your opinion is - it is important, and it should be considered.

Of course, as a student with a family, I would be GREATLY affected by the closing of the Cincinnati campus. After all, there is NO way my family could afford to live in LA or NY. Batya and I have talked at great length about these possibilities...and it boils down to a choice for us: Do I quit HUC (a life long dream) or do I go to *insert city here* and Batya and Carlie move to Houston while I finish school? This is the choice we will be faced with. I know my situation may be specific to my family, but there are many other students with similar situations.

Bottom line - get involved. Send letters to David Ellenson and Barbara Friedman (the Chair of the Board of Governors) ( ; and let them know how you feel. After all, if you do have an opinion, you should share it! Also, check out the following website: There are links to articles written about this situation.

Here's hoping Batya, Carlie and I get to spend the next 3 years in Cincinnati!


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ability to see the "Big Picture"

Shalom Everyone!

I am writing from my hotel room in Trenton, Michigan. This hotel has become a sort of second home as I will have spent roughly 20 nights here by the end of May. I have truly enjoyed working with Beth Isaac congregation, and although I will not miss the snow, I will miss this congregation when I move to a bi-weekly congregation next year. I have learned quite a lot working with this congregation, and I am thankful for that.

One of my closest friends, a rabbi in Atlanta, Georgia, Rabbi Bradley Levenberg, has been a great support these last couple of years. When I have been frustrated with the way things were or were not happening, he has often been there with a comforting word or hug to give me perspective and help remind me why I am on this journey to begin with. During our last year in Atlanta, before we moved to Israel, I remember something Brad told me. He suggested that there would be a point during my time at HUC where I would hit "rock bottom," and build myself back up to become the kind of rabbi he knew I was capable of being.

Truth is - I am not sure I believed him when he said it. After all, this has been a life dream of mine for many, many years. However, I totally understand now what he meant. This semester, as I have had less "homework," I have had more time to sit and reflect upon who I am, who I want to be, and what I need to accomplish to be that person, that kind of rabbi I know I am capable of being. I have also been able to think about what kind of rabbinate I want to have...and more importantly what I stand for. It is very hard to be a 32 (almost 33) year old rabbinical student with many classmates much younger than me. It is even harder to try and focus on all of the MANY things I need to focus on when the most important thing(s) are not even at HUC. Staying focused on Batya and Carlie has been hard, and I know I have made mistakes...but thank God I have a wonderfully forgiving wife who has helped me to grow and learn as this year has progressed.

So, there it is - I recognize that the most important thing is trying to stay on top of my schoolwork while being the best husband and Aba I can be. Thankfully, Carlie loves me no matter what...and I often wonder how Batya is so forgiving and wonderful. I only regret that my mother didn't have the opportunity to get to know Batya like I do. They may have been good friends...God knows these are the ONLY two women who really knew how to "put up with me." But, I digress! The important thing is that as I move forward in this HUC world, I am recognizing I have one of the greatest support teams ever, and I am working harder and harder to spend more time with them...

Oh, one other thing. Batya, Carlie and I joined the JCC back in July, 2008. I now have begun to utilize the gym. I am on a strict 3 day a week workout...30 minutes on a stationary bike, and about 13 other machines, working on every muscle in my arms, legs, and back. I hope to lose about 25 pounds and get back in the shape I should be. The workout is great because it truly enables me to work out some of the daily stress I find myself stressed out about.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Sunday, and a great week!


Friday, March 6, 2009

"Back in the Saddle Again..."

Shalom Ya'll!

It seems only too appropriate that I am blogging once again from Dumas, Arkansas. I posted my last post as I was celebrating being once again surrounded by Southern Jewry. And now, back to the South I go, once again to join the Meir Chayim Congregation in McGehee, Arkansas for Shabbat. Truly, truly, it is a blessing to be able to journey to these small congregations and learn from these Jews who are so appreciative of our visits. I have learned many things this year...but one of the most important lessons is that while I may be able to teach to these congregations, they have just as much if not more to teach me. I am learning every day with every visit!

Batya and Carlie are continuing to do great! Although Batya has been a little under the weather this week, she is getting excited that we may be beginning to see the end of winter. The temps for the past couple of days have been in the 60's, which of course may not be so warm for us southerners, but it's a whole lot better than the 30's! Cincinnati seems to be a much happier and prettier place when it's warm.

On Thursday, I finished one of the most time consuming and stressful tests I have ever taken. It was History 402 - about 400 years of Jewish history in an hour and fifteen minute test. I think I passed, or at least I hope I passed. As the second half of the semester is beginning, I am getting excited for another amazing opportunity this summer. I am going to be the Judaics Director at JCC Camp Livingston in Indiana. This is the summer camp that serves the Cincinnati and Indianapolis Jewish communities. It will be a great experience...and my co-madricha (counselor) from the Birthright trip I led will be the Aquatics Director. It will be lots of fun to work with her again.

Well, that's all for now. I have to finish up some work before I begin to get ready for tonight's services. I hope everyone has a great Shabbat and weekend...and I'll get another blog up in a couple of weeks.

Ahh....Chag Purim Sameach!!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thank Goodness for Southern Jewry!

As I grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, I have always wanted to be considered a Southerner. Some of my friends in college told me I was a Yankee because I was born in New York. Truth be told, this may be the first time I am publicly announcing that. It's not that I am not proud of our Northern states, or that I am embarrassed to have been born in NY, but nothing about me IS New York. I am a DIE-HARD Atlanta Braves fan, a Georgia BullDAWG through and through, and want to eventually return to the South to live. As Batya is from Texas, settling somewhere far away from snow is ideal! Of course, I have to admit I am a New York Giants fan, but when I was growing up in Columbia, SC, the Atlanta Falcons didn't exist yet! So, I rooted for the team my Dad did...and that has stuck with me. But, rest assured, I am a Southerner.

This past weekend, I ventured to a new congregation, Meir Chayim, in McGehee, Arkansas. This little town of a few thousand is situated close to Dumas, Dermott, and a few other small towns. The entire population of the four or five cities I drove through getting to McGehee was around 10,000. So, we're talking REALLY Southern. Truth is, there used to be a nice sized Jewish community there. For lots of reasons, mostly economic, 99% of the Jews have moved away, and the congregation in McGehee is struggling. I will tell you, though, they truly know Southern hospitality, and those that I visited are proud of their Jewish heritage! I conducted Kabbalat Shabbat services, had a short Religious School session on Saturday, and visited some very nice folks in their homes. It was a great visit, and it reminded just how important Southern Jewry is!

On another note, we are nearing the midterm of second semester. I am totally overwhelmed right now with the amount of work to be done, but I'll pull through as I always do...just have to keep my head in the books, and keep my eyes on the goal! I will be returning to Beth Isaac in Trenton this weekend, and I am looking forward to that visit. They are also a very gracious congregation, and it's always a lot of fun visiting with them!

Check out my brother's blog - it's new and improved, and it even has a new name!

Be well, and stay safe!

Monday, January 19, 2009

New Years on a plane?

Shalom friends and family!

Well, since I last updated my blog, so many things have happened! I finished my 3rd semester of Rabbinical School - the first in Cincinnati! I passed all of my classes, a big relief. I really was not concerned, but until the grades are in, there is always a bit of discomfort. It seems that this semester will be very interesting! My teachers are very nice and they seem interesting. Here are my classes for this semester: Biblical Poetry, Biblical Hebrew (focused on Poetry), Midrash, History, Theology, A continuation of my Teaching Courses, A continuation of my Life Cycle Event course, and Limud (in which we learn how to chant the Prophets and Writings - the Haftarah). It will be a busy semester - as usual - but it will be very interesting, and I am excited for it!

On December 31, I met my newest group of friends! I helped to lead a group of 35 22-26 year olds who had never been to Israel. Along with my co-madricha, Claire, our tour guide, Yael, our guard, Eviatar, and our driver, Miguel, we traversed the entire country of Israel in 11 days. We covered a lot of history, and visited some amazing places. We truly had a great time! Israel Experts, the tour provider, is an amazing organization. I would recommend to anyone who is interested in the Birthright program that they check out Israel Experts: They are an amazing organization, and I truly hope to lead a trip with them again. While in Israel, I made some great friends for life, and I was able to reconnect with many of my friends in Israel. It was truly a great time, although I missed Batya and Carlie VERY much!

Now, it's time to put my nose back in the books, and study hard. Many of my friends tell me to relax...that I work too hard. I know it may seem that way, but I really enjoy working. To be honest, it is kind of relaxing for me to study hard. I really enjoy the learning, and when I am a Rabbi one day, I want to have as much knowledge as I can. Becoming a Rabbi is a lifelong goal and endeavor, so I try to learn as much as I can whenever I have the chance!

Shalom for now...I hope it is warmer for you than it is here. Of course, it is warmer in Cincinnati than in Trenton, Michigan where my monthly congregation is. I was there this weekend, and wound up staying an extra night because of the snow and the roads! As I tell Batya...the weather could always be worse!