1 Tishri, 5774

On behalf of all six rabbis who have participated in Elul Reflections 5774, we wish you and yours a Shanah Tovah Umetukah! May the New Year be good and sweet for you and your loved ones!


As we move from 5774 to 5775, we want to thank those of you who have been reading our Elul Reflections, especially if you have been reading them for five years. One of the great High Holy Day texts reminds us that T’shuvah, T’filah, and Tzeddakah help nullify judgment’s severe decree. We hope we have put you on the road toward T’shuvah (repentance) with these daily messages. That is surely our goal. We also hope to have gotten you in the mood for T’filah of the High Holy Days, which began last night. If you have appreciated these messages, we also hope you will consider a gift of Tzeddakah to one of the synagogues represented by these daily Elul thoughts. Your gifts help keep us inspired to bring messages of renewal to our six congregations.


Thank you, and Shanah Tovah!

Rabbi Charlie Citron-Walker, Congregation Beth Israel, Colleyville, TX

Rabbi Bradley Levenberg, Temple Sinai, Atlanta, GA

Rabbi Eric Linder, Congregation Children of Israel, Athens, GA

Rabbi Alan E. Litwak, Temple Sinai, North Miami Beach, FL

Rabbi Daniel Treiser, Temple B’nai Israel, Clearwater, FL

Rabbi David N. Young, Congregation B’nai Tzedek, Fountain Valley, CA

Published in: on September 25, 2014 at 11:38 am  Leave a Comment  

29 Elul, 5774

A local Starbucks recently experienced a “pay it forward phenomenon.” At 7 am, a woman paid for her own coffee at the Starbucks drive-thru, and asked to pay for the person behind her as well. That driver continued the trend. After a few people in a row did it, the baristas started keeping a tally. Every time someone pulled up to the window, the barista would say “the person who went before you paid for your drink. Would you like to continue the trend?” This went on for 11 hours. 378 people paid for someone else’s drink after receiving theirs for free. (It seems the chain broke because #379 did not understand what was being asked.)

In the section of the Mishnah called Pirke Avot or Ethics of our Ancestors, Ben Azzai teaches “Mitzvah goreret mitzvah… the performance of one mitzvah leads to the doing of another.” That, he is teaching, is the true reward for the performance of a religious obligation. Not that we derive some benefit from doing a mitzvah, not that we earn a reward or prize, we learn how to do more. In the year to come, we can begin to pay it forward with the performance of a single mitzvah, a single religious habit, an individual act of compassion and kindness. And that will lead to another, and another… a year filled with mitzvot!

Published in: on September 24, 2014 at 11:37 am  Comments (2)  

28 Elul, 5774

It is Never Too Late, Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis

The last word has not been spoken,

the last sentence has not been written,

the final verdict is not in.

It is never too late to change my mind,

my direction,

to say no to the past and yes to the future,

To offer remorse,

to ask and give forgiveness. 

It is never too late to start over again,

to feel again

to love again

to hope again….

Published in: on September 23, 2014 at 11:36 am  Leave a Comment  

27 Elul, 5774

Growing up, video game play was taboo, and my parents drilled into my head that they were a complete waste of time. Of course, that didn’t stop me, because I knew I was the Mario who could save the Princess. As it turns out, businesses that are hiring young employees like to see some time in front of the screen with thumbs twitching. They consider it an asset when as applicant spends about 30 minutes a day playing video games, because video game players are used to failing.

It is not that businesses want their employees to fail; it is that they know they will. Everyone does, from time to time. The question is not whether they will fail, but how they will react when they do. More often than not, a person who plays video games is used to seeing the big, red GAME OVER sign on the screen. When they do, they simply start over and try a different tactic. There is no crying, no complaining that it isn’t fair, just reset and try again.

While we don’t often get Nintendo-charged chances to immediately reboot and start again, we always have a choice about how we react to failure. We can get upset and kick and scream at our misfortune, or we can dust off, get up, and try a new tactic, hopefully having learned from our failure.

Published in: on September 23, 2014 at 11:35 am  Leave a Comment  

26 Elul, 5774

David Foster Wallace wrote this story: There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the heck is water?”


We are like those fish, going through life without understanding, without gratitude, without introspection. Our High Holidays help us to better understand our world, our religion, and most importantly, our selves.

Published in: on September 21, 2014 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  

25 Elul, 5774

Three Questions

I once heard a story about a rabbi who was stopped by a Russian soldier while he walking in his shtetl. The soldier aims his rifle at the rabbi and demands, “Who are you? Where are you going? Why are you going there?” Completely calm and unfazed, the rabbi asks, “How much do they pay you?” A bit surprised, the soldier responds, “Twenty-five kopecks a month.” The rabbi pauses, and in a deeply thoughtful manner says, “I have a proposal for you. I’ll pay you fifty kopecks each month if you stop me here every day and challenge me to respond to those same three questions.”

Published in: on September 20, 2014 at 11:34 am  Leave a Comment  

24 Elul, 5774

At the start of moments that are incredible, weddings and baby namings and bar and bat mitzvah

ceremonies, we turn to words of liturgy: May God bless you and keep you; May you always draw

comfort from a close relationship with God; May a loving God guide your steps and inspire your

decisions and may our lives be filled with peace.

Now we gather at the twilight of this year, and I can borrow language from Jewish liturgy to capture

this moment: “I confess that I have left much undone, yet I know also the good that I did and the

good that I tried to do. May my acts of goodness give meaning to my life, and may my errors be

forgiven.” How have your acts of goodness, as opposed to errors, given meaning to your life in


Published in: on September 19, 2014 at 11:33 am  Leave a Comment  

23 Elul, 5774

From Rabbi Ari Lorge: On this day of Elul, we remember a man who changed the world with

music. He reminds us that bringing men and women together in song can heal and that song can be

a great tool in the fight for justice. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XU78iwQBkYg

Published in: on September 18, 2014 at 11:32 am  Leave a Comment  

22 Elul, 5774

The Sling by Rabbi Hirshy Minkowitz

Question: Imagine you are right handed and you suffer a bad fall on your right side. You end up with torn ligaments in your shoulder and the doctor says you need to wear a sling and cannot use the arm for a week. You are right handed so now it becomes difficult to write, drive, text, email, etc.

How are you supposed to go on with your regular day to day functioning with your primary arm immobilized?

I thought about this all week since a fall last Wednesday put me in this exact predicament. And of course the allegory and metaphor associated with this was swimming in my mind all week. What does one do when their figurative right arm is unavailable? When the thing they rely on most for so many of their basic functions and survivals is simply not there? How is it even possible to continue?

My life the last four months was relived in a metaphoric microcosm the last eight days.

And then I discovered the answer, it was a very simple and short one, and it applied to the last four months as it did to the last week.

Answer: You learn to use your left arm.

As you consider the year that is almost passed, how have you “learned to use your left arm?”

Published in: on September 17, 2014 at 11:31 am  Leave a Comment  

21 Elul, 5774

We celebrate Rosh Hashanah as Hayom Harat Olam, the Birthday of the World. We read the story in Genesis that tells us that Shabbat began when “…the heaven and the earth were completed and all their array. On the seventh day God finished the work that God had done.” (Genesis 2:1-2) And yet, Creation never really came to an end. In the prayer Yotzer Or, we praise God every morning as the One who in goodness renews the work of Creation every single day: uv’tuvo m’chadeish b’chol yom tamid ma’aseh v’reishit.

Over 30 years ago, Rabbi Harry Danziger spoke to his congregation on Rosh Hashanah Eve at Temple Israel in Memphis, TN. He said “When God finished creating the world after those six days, He left a lot of unfinished business…You and I have the power to do God’s Unfinished Business.”   With that sermon, God’s Unfinished Business, or GUB, began as an outreach network within Temple Israel to help connect members with one another, to provide help and support to each other at different moments in life, and continues to offer many services today.

Each day we have the power to take up God’s unfinished business, to complete one more part of the acts of Creation. In the year to come, what talents and skills can you lend to completing the task?

Published in: on September 16, 2014 at 11:30 am  Comments (1)