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Personal Reflections on Race, Responsibility and the Jewish Community

06/15/2020 08:01:11 AM

Jun15

Rabbi George Gittleman

Sometimes the Torah seems archaic and irrelevant. And then there are moments when the ancient text leaps across the 3,500-year divide as if the words were written for this very moment. That’s how I felt when I read this passage from last week’s portion:

Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman he had married: “He married a...Read more...

Religious Imagination

05/18/2020 09:10:24 AM

May18

Rabbi George Gittleman

Being hopeful is perhaps our greatest spiritual challenge. That is why I love Norman Fischer’s latest book, The World Could Be Otherwise.

 

“The imagination is powerful…(and) essential for our humanness.” He writes.  “The Bible and other religious texts, folktales, myths, … poems, plays, novels, …music, ritual,...Read more...

The World Could Be Otherwise

03/11/2020 09:15:58 AM

Mar11

Rabbi George Gittleman

Being hopeful is perhaps our greatest spiritual challenge. That is why I love Norman Fischer’s latest book, The World Could Be Otherwise.

“The imagination is powerful…(and) essential for our humanness.” He writes.  “The Bible and other religious texts, folktales, myths, … poems, plays, novels, …music, ritual, dreams – all imaginative productions rise up from the unconscious to expand...Read more...

Noah and the Kinkade Fire

12/09/2019 03:56:32 PM

Dec9

Rabbi George Gittleman

As the Kinkade fire ravaged northern Sonoma County, synagogues around the world were reading about Noah and “ha-mabul”, the great flood, the archetype of natural disasters.

According to the Torah God brought the flood to cleanse the earth of, “lawlessness” or...Read more...

A Guide to the Holy Days

09/10/2019 03:18:33 PM

Sep10

Rabbi George Gittleman

By definition, Reform Jewish Practice is hard to summarize.  Nevertheless, I thought it would be helpful to have an outline of the essentials.

The Month of Elul

We often think of the Holy Days as beginning with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur.  In fact, the Yamim Noraim (The Days of Awe) officially begin a month before the start of Elul. I think of Elul as the month of...Read more...

Open Door, Open Heart

06/12/2019 03:19:39 PM

Jun12

Rabbi George Gittleman

The summer Torah readings are all b’midbar, in the wilderness, part of the story of our ancient ancestors’ mythic 40-year trek from Egypt to the Promised Land. Most of the story is laid out in the Book of Numbers (the Hebrew name is actually B’midbar). Some of Numbers is captivating, like the story of Bilam and his talking donkey, and other parts of the book are, well… pretty boring, like all the censuses: the lists of the...Read more...

Marley, Reggae and Passover

04/17/2019 03:24:35 PM

Apr17

Rabbi George Gittleman

With Passover just a few days away, I am thinking about Bob Marley. I fell in love with Bob Marley’s music before I fell in love with Judaism. I was a freshman in college at the University of Vermont, a long way from my home in Louisville, Kentucky and even farther from...Read more...

Freedom is an Inside Job

03/27/2019 03:31:11 PM

Mar27

Rabbi George Gittleman

With Passover around the corner, my mind naturally turns towards its many themes. This year I am especially interested in how we can relate Passover to our inner lives.

The story of the Exodus from Egypt that we retell at Pesach is rich with metaphor. Many years ago, my...Read more...

Companionship or Death

01/09/2019 03:35:27 PM

Jan9

Rabbi George Gittleman

As we approach Tu B’shvat, I am reminded of the story of Honi Hamagil, Honi the Circle-Maker and the carob tree.

Honi lived in Israel around the year 100 BCE. He was a shaman and a miracle-worker.  He’s called “the Circle-Maker” because in times of drought...Read more...

Hanukkah and Hypocracy

12/05/2018 01:06:28 PM

Dec5

Rabbi George Gittleman

“Hypocrisy of Hanukkah: It’s a holiday that commemorates an ancient battle against assimilation. And it’s the one holiday that most assimilated Jews celebrate.”

More interesting than the title is its point that the heroes in the story, “The Maccabees”, were more like the Taliban (my words) in their particular, tribal religious zealotry, and the villains, at least some of them, were more like us, assimilated Jews who were...Read more...

Another Day

11/19/2018 01:07:49 PM

Nov19

Rabbi George Gittleman

It was a day like any other with the usual raft of email, follow-up phone calls, community building and program planning, a bar mitzvah lesson and a meeting with synagogue staff and then an emergency.

“I’ll come now. It will take me about a half hour to get there. I’ll see you soon.”

The way is familiar. We’ve shared a lot of life together. At the door, I get confused for a second but see the mezuzah and ring the...Read more...

Silence and Healing

05/11/2018 01:09:04 PM

May11

Rabbi George Gittleman

’m writing this on the plane back from a seven-day silent retreat offered by the Institute for Jewish Spirituality. It’s the first of three I will attend as part of a Jewish Mindfulness Meditation Teachers program. The retreat was at Isabella Freedman, a rustic but beautiful Jewish camp, built around a small lake in New England’s Berkshire Mountains, 70 miles northeast of Hartford.

Modeled after Buddhist...Read more...

A Lesson in Hope

03/20/2018 01:12:08 PM

Mar20

Rabbi George Gittleman

When you think about all the challenges we face, it is easy to be cynical or just give up. Remaining hopeful in a world where so much seems out of our control and where we know so much is an essential spiritual challenge.

Thank God for Pesach because Pesach is a lesson in hope. It’s all in this story…

The Israelites seem doomed from the very beginning: a nation of slaves pitted against the super power...Read more...

Trees and Hope: A Tu bish'vat Reflection

01/23/2018 01:50:14 PM

Jan23

Rabbi George Gittleman

There is hope for a tree;
If it is cut down it will renew itself;
Its shoots will not cease.
— Job 14:7-9

The wind and the smell of smoke woke us. We stumbled out of bed and joined our neighbors in the cul-de-sac to stare at the raw, red glow lighting up the hills behind our houses. Forty miles per hour gusts of wind fanned the flames, like billows blowing into a cosmic furnace.

We grabbed family photos,...Read more...

What We Take With Us

11/08/2017 01:53:16 PM

Nov8

Rabbi George Gittleman

Rabbi George’s talk, “What we take from our homes when we flee for our lives”, was delivered as part of the interfaith healing service at The Center for Spiritual Living a week after the fire:

The wind woke Laura up. She smelled smoke, walked out our front door into the court and saw the fire coming from Calistoga Road.

“George, you’ve got to get up….”

We live in Rincon Valley and the first two times we...Read more...

Mourning the Fire

10/27/2017 01:55:01 PM

Oct27

Rabbi George Gittleman

Over the past week, I came to the realization that the dominant framework for what we are all experiencing after the fires is loss, grief and mourning, as if someone or something died.

When we lose a loved one, shock and bewilderment come first. Next, comes brain fog – “Why can’t I think straight!” –, an inability to concentrate and a sensation of being out of focus, or bogged down in the mud.  Then comes irritation...Read more...

After Charlottesville

08/16/2017 02:38:41 PM

Aug16

Rabbi George Gittleman

The conflagration of hate and bigotry in Virginia is appalling but not surprising; Trump’s cozy relationship with members of the alt-right (think Steve Bannon) and his inflammatory language has emboldened the haters and bullies in our country. Half-hearted in his condemnation of the perpetrators, the President ultimately defended the “very fine people” who marched alongside and in lockstep with the Nazis and the KKK.

As members...Read more...

Rabbi Michael Was Larger Than Life

08/14/2017 02:40:58 PM

Aug14

Rabbi George Gittleman

These remarks were originally delivered at a conference of Reform Rabbis (PAR) in Palm Springs, the year of his death in 2006.

Michael Robinson was bigger than life in many ways. He was a tall man, well over 6 feet. I’m 5’ 10” and when we hugged, my head rested on his chest. He was a good looking man in an angular, proud, southern sort of way. He had sharp features, a roman nose, big, bushy eyebrows and piercing blue eyes. He...Read more...

An Ode to the Jewish-American Experience in Honor of Independence Day

07/03/2017 02:12:43 PM

Jul3

Rabbi George Gittleman

Jews have been a part of the American experience from the beginning.  We’ve shared in her trials and tribulations.  We arrived with the first settlers in New Amsterdam, and later we participated in the great migration west.  We’ve plowed her fields, fought in her wars, and in general, participated in almost every aspect of her short but great history.

We’ve been here from the beginning but for most, the...Read more...

Pesach and Hope

04/11/2017 02:15:38 PM

Apr11

Rabbi George Gittleman

When you think about all the challenges we face it is easy to be cynical or just give up. Politics, the Environment, the Middle East; the list of serious issues is overwhelming, making it a great spiritual challenge to stay hopeful in a world with so many seemingly intractable problems. Thank God for Pesach because Pesach is a lesson in hope.

Let’s look at the story:

The Israelite’s seem doomed from the...Read more...

The Arc of History Bends Toward Justice

12/14/2016 02:17:10 PM

Dec14

Rabbi George Gittleman

Now that the shock of the election has passed, we are in a state of limbo watching, wondering, worrying what President-elect Trump and his administration will be like. In the congregation emotions are running high; more than anything, people are afraid and their fears mirror where they feel vulnerable. A mom calls frightened for her daughter at college where sexual assault is already a serious problem; will Trump, a man that was caught on...Read more...

Interfaith Thanksgiving Service

11/15/2016 02:18:28 PM

Nov15

Rabbi George Gittleman

The following remarks were delivered at the interfaith Thanksgiving service at Shomrei Torah on November 13.

What a challenging week it has been since the election on Tuesday. We have had two large gatherings here since the elections and the overwhelming feeling of the congregation has been one of mourning. The last time I remember such a collective sense of despair was 9-11. Just yesterday I was sitting with folks eating lunch after...Read more...

Election Got You Stressed?  Just Breathe

11/04/2016 02:20:39 PM

Nov4

Rabbi George Gittleman

As I write this, we are five days from the election. Oy! This political season has been the worst in memory. Everywhere I go people tell me how anxious and upset they are about the campaign, and the truth is, I feel the same way. We all want it to be over. But let’s face it: The divisions this election cycle has laid bare won’t go away after November 8th.  What do we do?

Many years ago I was talking with Rabbi Robinson,...Read more...

Holding the Ladder

08/31/2016 02:22:39 PM

Aug31

Rabbi George Gittleman

A story…

The Baal Shem Tov, the founder of the Hassidic movement, took a long time to pray over Shabbat.  He would begin Shabbat morning services with his followers, and a couple hours later, they would be done yet he would still be engrossed in prayer.  They would sit in quiet reverence and wait; twenty minutes, a half hour, even an hour until he was done.  Together they would make Kiddush and eat a...Read more...

Shomrei Torah Update

07/01/2016 02:26:29 PM

Jul1

Rabbi George Gittleman

“Summer time and the living is easy…” or not!  While the Jewish calendar slows down in the summer, life in our community continues at a fast pace.  In June we celebrated our last Shabbat with Cantor David.  We are sad to see him go but happy he found his first full-time position (he was only quarter-time with us) close to home; Cantor David’s wife, Carla Fenves is an Associate Rabbi at Temple Emanu-el in San Francisco,...Read more...

Religion & Politics in Your Synagogue

05/10/2016 02:29:32 PM

May10

Rabbi George Gittleman

As the presidential race heats up, the question of the role of religion in politics, especially here at Shomrei Torah, feels more urgent to me.  We do have a few guidelines.  For us to keep our non-profit tax exempt status we cannot favor one candidate over another.  We can and do get behind issues, just not candidates.  Following Rabbi Michael Robinson’s lead, may his memory be for a blessing, I do not declare my...Read more...

A Moment Away From Being Free

04/21/2016 10:20:08 AM

Apr21

Rabbi George Gittleman

So I’m walking in Hood Mountain in the early evening and I am in deep thought over what to write for Passover which is just two days away. I bet I look preoccupied, like when someone is talking to you while checking their smartphone. If someone could plug into my brain, my internal dialogue would sound something like this: “’From degradation to exaltation….’ ‘ Didn’t you write that last year?’ ‘Passover is the...Read more...

Rabbinic Mission to Poland and Germany: Part III

01/06/2016 10:21:52 AM

Jan6

Rabbi George Gittleman

Like many Jews, for me, the word “Germany” provokes a visceral response, as if it were synonymous with “murderers”. Just hearing the word could turn my stomach like a bad smell. But that was before I went to Berlin.


No wonder, then, that I was anxious when we got off the plane from Cracow to Berlin, but the tension in my gut quickly dissipated when our young German host greeted us. I’m not sure what I was expecting –...Read more...

“Hanukkah and the Drum Beat of War” is locked Hanukkah and the Drum Beat of War

12/09/2015 10:24:04 AM

Dec9

Rabbi George Gittleman

With the arrival of Hanukkah I am reminded of the choice our ancient sages made when they created the holiday, making it a celebration of the miracle of light rather than the triumph of war. The war-weary rabbis of old saw beyond the short-lived military victory to the larger picture—the cost of war paid by those who fight and those caught in the crossfire. They were not pacifists; rather they saw war as a last resort, justifiable...Read more...

Rabbinic Mission to Poland and Germany Part II: After Auschwitz

11/18/2015 10:25:42 AM

Nov18

Rabbi George Gittleman

There is before Auschwitz and after Auschwitz. Before Auschwitz, the Shoah looms over one’s psyche as an undifferentiated horror, a big, dark cumulous cloud always on the horizon, sometimes near, other times far, but never gone. Once you actually go there, feel the gravel crunch under your feet, see with your own eyes, smell the air, then the amorphous fear – the monster in the closet – is replaced by facts on the ground. You...Read more...

Thu, July 16 2020 24 Tammuz 5780