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Hanukah and Hope

12/05/2012 10:25:38 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Hope is one of those essential elements like air, water, love… It’s very hard to be fully human without hope. There is lots of hope in the narrative of Hanukkah: the victory of the few against the many, light in a dark time – even in the darkest of times, as during the Shoah, there is the light of hope.

For years I resisted the connection between Hanukkah and the Shoah: “does everything have to be defined by the...Read more...

Who Shall Live & Who Shall Die

10/17/2012 10:27:03 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Proposition 34 , which would abolish the death penalty in California, begs the question, what does Judaism have to say about capital punishment? While it is a common perception that “Judaism is against the death penalty,” the Jewish story (as is the case most of the time) is more complex than that.

The first place to look to discern Jewish notions of capital punishment is the Torah and, according to the plain reading of the...Read more...

Sinat Hinam

07/31/2012 10:30:09 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

The place was packed and tense before the meeting even started. To make things worse, the air conditioning wasn’t working and it was rapidly getting as sticky and humid as a locker room.  Usually getting a seat at a meeting of the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights is not a problem, but not last Thursday; the local Jewish Community was out in force and the North Coast Coalition for Palestine had brought in a number of...Read more...

Meditation Before Kaddish – I Took My Dogs For A Walk at The Beach Today

06/25/2012 11:04:08 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Took my dogs to the beach today–the old lady Sarah and the young upstart Emmy.

Sarah, a lab mix, used to live to go places but is now mostly confined to the yard – she was very excited.

Nevertheless, I had to lift all 95 lbs. of her
into the back of my Prius.

Emmy, a sharp and alert 68 lb. Sheppard,
practically jumped over us to fit in as well.

They smelled the beach miles before we...


05/24/2012 11:05:51 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I am writing this blog from the porch of my room in Ein Hod, an artists’ colony in the Carmel Mountains overlooking the Mediterranean; two days here, Shabbat with Levi in Harduf (see last blog), and then back to Sonoma County!

Since my last blog, I spent a week at Ulpan Or (Hebrew language intensive) in Tel Aviv, and a week at Ulpan Or in Jerusalem, as well as 3 days at the beach – in Tel Aviv – with Levi: Ezeh Kef/What...Read more...

Sabbatical Notes

04/30/2012 11:34:31 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I’ve been on sabbatical for over 3 weeks now – what a gift!

I spent a week with Laura mostly on the Sonoma Coast, 5 days on a silent retreat at Spirit Rock, a couple days with my father and his wife in Louisville, and now I am in New York City en route to Israel.

One of the gifts of sabbatical is extra reading time. The top of the list for Jewish fiction so far is Nathan Englander’s book of short stories, What We...Read more...

In Praise of Leira

04/02/2012 11:35:53 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

In Praise of Leira

Leira, we have lived a lot of life together, almost all of it in this community. I believe Dianne found you at Simcha Sunday, a few months before I arrived. You were the new Choir Director. And, it was Dianne who also suggested that we might try leading services together.

This may sound natural to those of you who have prayed with Leira these last 16 years, but in fact at first, Leira was quite frightened of...Read more...

The Tragedy in Toulouse

03/21/2012 11:37:13 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Our hearts go out to the families of those murdered in Toulouse on Monday. What can we say in the face of such cold-blooded killings? There are no words for such a loss; silence is better than trying to fill the void with well- meaning but meaningless babble.

There is nothing we can say to make this tragedy okay, but we can and should speak out against all forms of bigotry and discrimination, including but not limited to,...Read more...

Freedom is an Open Heart

03/12/2012 11:39:27 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I just came home from teaching at the Sunday night meditation group at Shomrei Torah hosted and often lead by Sheila Katz & David Rubinstein. They have been faithfully holding the meditation space at Shomrei Torah for years. Thank you David & Sheila!

My focus for the evening was “Loving Kindness” or as the Buddhists call it: “Metta”. Metta is a meditation practice where you wish people – yourself, loved ones, folks...Read more...

Jewish Identity – An E-mail Dialogue

02/10/2012 11:40:11 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

So, what does it mean to be a Jew? Other than the Halakic/Jewish legal definitions – your mother was Jewish or you converted through a recognized/acceptable process – are there other elements of Jewish identity, like a minimal level of religious observance, that one can point to as a clear marker that one is in fact an MOT (member of the tribe)?

The following dialogue is copied almost verbatim from a lively e-mail debate I had...Read more...

Reflection on the Jewish-American Experience & Anti-Semitism

01/09/2012 11:42:26 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Last month, I gave two talks on the Jewish American Experience as a “Lunch & Learn” and also for the “Rebbe’s Tisch”.  I started with an overview of American Jewish history, and then made some general observations about the exceptional nature of our experience here; we have never been as safe, as free or as prosperous as we are in America today: Ein ayin harah!

This unprecedented prosperity did not come all at...

Thinking About Hanukkah

12/19/2011 11:52:29 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Last night, to get ready for Hanukkah, I pulled off the shelf a volume of the Mishnah Torah, Maimonides’ great compendium of Jewish law, to see what it had to say about Hanukkah. Four chapters deal with the laws of Hanukkah but one ruling jumped off the page:

“In a time of danger one may place the hanukkiah inside one’s house. Even if it is lit upon a table inside, it is sufficient”

A chill went down my spine… I...

A Jewish View of Occupy Wall Street

11/14/2011 11:53:23 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

The recent eruption of the “Occupy” movements and their focus (if you could call it that) on economic justice has gotten me thinking about how tzedek, the Hebrew word for justice, applies to economics. Of course, Judaism is not monolithic on this or hardly any subject. Nevertheless, there are some basic and fairly accessible principles worth mentioning.

Rabbi Michael Robinson (z”l) used to say that the Torah has a Socialist...Read more...

1,000 for 1: Why It’s Worth It

10/19/2011 11:57:13 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

As a parent I thought I had some insight into why Israel agreed to the terms of Gilad Shalit’s release: 1,000 Palestinians freed from jail, hundreds of them with blood on their hands, for his freedom. I thought to myself, “I would do anything to get my child back, anything!” But then I read some of the remarks of the parents and other family members whose loved ones were murdered by some of the Palestinians being released and I realized...Read more...

Holding the Ladder

10/15/2011 11:55:55 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

One of my favorites stories about the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism is about his morning prayer practice. Apparently he would daven Shacharit (pray the morning service) much longer than his followers and they became accustomed to waiting for him to finish. One morning one of the group suggested that...Read more...


08/10/2011 11:59:24 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

The Hassidic saying attributed to Rabbi Levi Yitzkhak of Birditchev, kol haolom kulo gesher tzar meod v’ha-eekar lo l’fakhed klal/The whole world is a narrow bridge but the essence is not to be afraid, has been running through my head a lot lately; it’s hard not to be frightened by all the economic and political turmoil. I can’t be the only one fighting back apocalyptic thinking that the end of life as we know it is just around...Read more...

Two Weeks of Study In Israel

07/22/2011 12:00:26 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

It’s been almost three weeks since Laura and I returned from our trip to Israel and many folks in the congregation have asked me when I was going to write about the trip. I am not sure why, but this trip/experience has been particularly hard for me to “blog” about. Below you will find my best attempt at a partial expression of my most recent Israel experience.

We arrived late Thursday afternoon and went from Ben Gurion Airport...Read more...

Reflections on Pride Week

06/16/2011 12:02:12 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I think it was the Fall of 1998 that Eve (I have since forgotten her last name) suggested that we (Shomrei Torah) should march in the Sonoma County Gay and Lesbian Pride Parade.  “After all”, she pointed out, “the church (Christ Church United Methodist who we shared space with for over 30 years) does.  Why don’t we? “Why not?”  I replied, calling Stephen Harper a few minutes later to see if he and “Social...Read more...

Why Obama is Right About Israel

05/20/2011 04:29:44 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Not long ago I watched the movie, “127 Hours”. It’s about an extreme outdoor athlete who, while out on a solo hike in the Arizona Desert, gets trapped in a canyon, his arm pinned by a boulder that fell while he was descending.  It took him 127 hours to free himself.  He did it by cutting his arm off at the elbow with a dull, Swiss Army knife!

Today, Obama called on renewed peace talks between the Palestinians and...Read more...

What is a Jew?

05/16/2011 12:02:12 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Not too long ago my 16 year-old nephew Josh asked me, “what is a Jew?” His high school humanities teacher had insisted that “Jews were a race.” Josh knew this wasn’t true but was struggling to find a better definition, so he asked me. Twenty minutes later I was still trying to explain what “Jewishness” is all about. Eventually I gave up and went online to find him a definition he could take back to his class.

What are...

Israel @ 63

05/10/2011 04:30:52 PM


Rabbi George Gittleman

“My heart is in the east, while I am on the edge of the west” wrote the famous medieval poet, rabbi and philosopher, Yehudah Halevi. His words, his longing, his life, reflect the ancient and profound connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel. Israeli independence? That was beyond Yehuda Halevi’s wildest dreams! All he hoped for was “to see the ruined shrine” (the Temple in Jerusalem), to quench the longing of his...Read more...

Is Osama Bin Laden’s Death a Cause for Celebration?

05/03/2011 11:23:20 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

“How was your day?” I asked my 15-year-old son. “Fine,” he said. “How about yours?” “No complaints. Did you talk about Bin Laden in school?” “Yeah. Feels kinda weird to me, I mean to celebrate. I don’t want to celebrate someone’s death, even a bad person’s death.  Do we do that Dad? Is that what Jews do?”

What a great question and yes, I could not have been more proud to hear it from my own son.  As...Read more...

Dream Big, Pesakh is Coming

04/15/2011 11:24:44 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

With Pesakh just days away, my mind turns to the epic tale of our Exodus from Egypt.  The moment that always gets me is that pregnant pause before the seas split; one can only imagine what was going through our ancient ancestors’ minds. Surely some thought death was about to be their reward for this first taste of freedom.  Others turned to Moses for deliverance and, at least according to the Midrash, some took things in their own...Read more...

Do the Movements Matter: A Personal Reflection

04/06/2011 11:25:53 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

In many ways, I am a “post-denominational” Jew. My grandfather was a Conservative rabbi his whole working life. My family was unaffiliated when I was growing up, but as a Jew in my 20’s I found my niche in a small Conservative synagogue in San Francisco called B’nei Emuna. As my Jewish journey unfolded, it was Rabbi David Hartman, one of the leading modern Orthodox thinkers of the 20th Century, who really inspired me to become a...Read more...

The Morality of Earthquakes, Tzunamis and Nuclear Disasters

03/15/2011 11:27:18 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Our hearts go out to the Japanese people, and all the other folks affected by the recent earthquake, tsunami and ongoing nuclear crisis. These are sad and scary times…

Natural disasters often beg the question: “Where was God?” both regarding the suffering that such natural disasters cause, as well as the role God in the unfolding of reality: did God cause the earthquake and everything else that followed?

Was the...

Israel on our Minds

02/24/2011 11:28:57 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

With the Middle East in turmoil, the Jewish world turns to Israel wondering what the future will be. Coincidentally, just last Thursday I met with 15 members of our Social Action Committee to lead a dialogue about Israel as a pilot for a community-wide program. The goal was simple: to create a safe environment for people to express a diversity of opinions about Israel without fear of conflict or judgment.

As simple as that seems...

Death Don't Have No Mercy

02/10/2011 11:30:31 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I recently met with some members of the Chevra Kadisha of Sonoma County, the Jewish Burial Society of Sonoma County. We talked at length about the various challenges they face, especially the need to get the word out about their holy work and how we can help.

In general, Americans are death-averse; we don’t like to talk about death and we work hard to keep the messy details as far away from us as possible. But, “death don’t have...Read more...

Alienation, Take 3

02/01/2011 11:32:13 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

This past Sunday, 30 members of Shomrei Torah gathered together over an exceptional breakfast provided by Leira and discussed their responses to my blog and the issues it raises. We split into four groups of approximately 8 people and had focused conversations based on the following questions:

What about the Blog spoke to you? What draws you to Judaism – beliefs and practices? What seems like an obstacle? What does your heart long...Read more...

Does Evil Exist?

01/31/2011 11:34:10 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

I just returned from an IJS (Institute for Jewish Spirituality) retreat on the Brandeis-Bardin Campus of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles. As an alumnus of the institute, I have access to two retreats every year. The retreats are a rich mix of prayer, meditation, study and small group discussion. The focus this year was the challenging subject of “evil”, its place in Jewish Tradition, as well as in our own experience. The...Read more...

Martin Luther King Jr and The Exodus

01/17/2011 11:35:33 AM


Rabbi George Gittleman

Every year Martin Luther King Jr. Day coincides with our weekly readings in the book of Shemot/Exodus. This past week we read from Parashat B’shalakh, the portion that describes the Israelite’s exodus from Egypt and their miraculous delivery at the Sea of Reeds.

This story from degradation to freedom is as well-known as any in our tradition. Revolutionary movements from ancient times until today draw from the deep well of this...Read more...

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