Rabbi Fabián Werbin

Sukkah and bubblegum

I know English pronunciation is not my area of expertise. It is good to know one’s limitations. I’ve done so in the past but I ask you one more time to forgive me, to give me a pass with pronunciation. An “S” or a “Z” does not make a big difference in this post. Not for me, and I hope not for my readers either.

As I recall my childhood days, many were the challenges I faced. Looking at kid’s challenges from an adult perspective can be an unfair act. I remember how difficult it was for me to do the monkey bars… No I can walk under them but I couldn’t climb them!

I remember how difficult it was for me to open my eyes under water. I still don’t do it very well.

One of the biggest challenges I faced as a kid was to blow bubble gum. I still remember the day I was able to accomplish that first “balloon” as we called it in Argentina. I felt I was about to take off the ground. I could feel how that balloon elevated me. It was such a big accomplishment; I felt such happiness. I didn’t envy other kids who blew bubble gum anymore. I was relieved from the shame because I now longer felt that I was the only one in the world who did not know how to blow bubble gum.  Freedom was knocking on my own doors.

Since that moment and until today, I cannot stop making a connection between Sukkot and bubble gum. Continue reading →

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Visiting the Sick

There is a passage of the Talmud (Sota 14a) that always caught my attention and I am happy to share its beginning and end with you.

“R. Chama b. R. Chanina said: What is the meaning of the verse, “You shall walk after HaShem your God” (Deut. 13,5).  Is it possible for one to walk after the Presence?  Is it not written, “HaShem your God is a devouring fire” (Deut. 4,24)?  Rather, it means, follow in God’s ways:

Just as Hashem clothes the naked, as is it is written, “HaShem God made for Adam and his wife coats of skins and clothed them” (Gen. 4:21) – so you too clothe the naked;

God buried the dead, as it is written, “He buried him in the valley (Deut. 34:6) – so you too bury the dead.”

This explanation by Rabbi Chama describes the beginning and the end of the Torah. At the beginning, God acted with Chesed, loving-kindness, by clothing Adam and Eve. At the end of the Torah,  God acts with Chesed again by burying Moses.

Guess what other example is brought in this passage? Continue reading →

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Being home… Nothing like being home.

As I return from 20 days away in Argentina, I feel so blessed to be back in my home. Yes, being a tourist in the country you were born, enjoying the extended family, the traditional foods, the old and new friends, a good asado (BBQ), hugging my dad, playing with my nephews and nieces, seeing my kids enjoying them as well and doing it all with an amazing group of Beth El families! All that is great, but nothing compares to the excitement I saw in my kids (and myself as well) when we arrived home. Their smiles, their running to get there as soon as possible, their feeling when their saw their beds, their things that made it home.

It is not a surprise then, that many (if not most) of the synagogues I know of have the word bait, home, in their name.

Why is this so? Continue reading →

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Expect the Unexpected

Casa Rosada

Casa Rosada, “The Pink House”

Our trip is about to start. On Wednesday June 20th, B’ezrat Hashem, Gd willing, a group of 22 Beth El congregants will leave Washington and go to Argentina, my native country, where we will spend 10 days together traveling, learning, eating a lot and enjoying all that the country offer.

We will visit many meaningful places. For example we will be welcomed by the government as  an “official trip” at the Pink House (the equivalent of the White House), we will go to Iguazu, to see the famous falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Even as a native I’ve never been either to these attractions, so the trip will offer some new experiences for me too!

As we communicated details of the trip and worked to build new relationships with the group, I also tried to explain how different it is in Argentina; the customs, the economy and the lifestiles are very unlike the US.

To put it in simple words: the group of travelers should expect the unexpected. Continue reading →

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Going to a circus has been always a great experience for me. First as a child and more recently as a parent, I’ve always had fun and lots of laughs when the circus is in town. All that a circus can offer can make long lasting memories.

I have been always impressed by two of the attractions that, until recently, you could find in almost every circus. The elephants and the trapeze artists.

I remember when I was a child, one particular time we went to the circus, we arrived before the show and we had a chance to see all the animals up close. I was especially impressed by the size of the elephant. I was even more impressed by the tricks the elephant was able to do. I wondered back then why the elephant would not try to escape. At the end of the day, when I saw the elephant, chained with a very simple and plain chain to a post, that the elephant could break it and easily escape.

Later in life I read a nice explanation about this very situation. Apparently, when circus elephants are born, they are chained and they typically try very hard to pull away and escape from this bondage. The young elephants cannot do it and after several attempts, they get tired and give up. The calf knows the chain is stronger and therefore learns not to try again – they remain chained. Of course, the chains do not prevent the elephants from performing nicely.

The trapeze artists are also always great attractions for me. They’re appealing not only because of theit amazing tricks but also because they have long, wide strong nets that they use for protection. As they finish their performance, they let themselves fall on the net; they rely on it and then come down to the main stage to receive their due applause. I was always fascinated by how much they relied on that net to end their show.

Why am I telling you all this? What does a circus have to do with a spiritual reflection? Continue reading →

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Perspectives on Conversion

I want to share an old story with you. Samuel was a perfect son. He was loving, caring, respectful, and a successful lawyer. What else could his parents ask for?

One day Samuel arrives home and tells his parents he would like to introduce them to his girlfriend, Sandy. He said to them, “I am in love and I want you to know Sandy. We are going to get married soon. – I also want to warn you that Sandy is not Jewish.”

That news almost killed his parents. The reaction was very bad. –“A non-Jewish girlfriend will bring you a lot of problems”, they warned.

Those were the last words the parents spoke to Samuel for a long time. They did not attend the wedding; they were not part of the happiness of the birth of their grandchildren. The basically didn’t talk at all.

One day, a long time later, Samuel’s parents decided enough is enough. They decided to invite Samuel and his family over for a visit.

They called him on the phone: Samuel, it is time to reconnect. We would love to invite your family over. Why don’t you come over on Friday night?

Samuel was happy and replied, “Thank you parents, we would love to. But since Sandy converted and we got married we decided to have an observant life and we do not ride on Shabbat. – Maybe Sunday?”

“Ok” said his mother. “I will cook your favorite food from your childhood, Lobster!!!”

“Sorry mom. Since Sandy converted and we got married we decided to have an observant life and we do not eat shellfish.”

“Ok” said Samuel’s dad. “Maybe I can do a BBQ and then we can eat good ice cream.” Continue reading →

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Reflecting on Spring

Spring brings with it many interesting possibilities. We know that this week, spring brings snow! More traditionally, it brings hope for freedom and deliverance, nice flowers and flourishing trees, lots of Matzah and, for some, it also brings allergies.

Sneezing is something that happens to every human being and also some animals. A mysterious and fascinating thing happens when we sneeze. Nobody can sneeze without closing their eyes. But even more interesting is that if someone hears us sneeze, he or she will very often say, “Bless you.”

Many people have become accustomed to saying “bless you” or “gesundheit” when someone sneezes. In Hebrew the term we use is “libriut” לבריאות (good health) and it is not surprising that in Spanish we say “salud” (health or good health).

The custom of wishing someone well after they sneeze probably originated thousands of years ago.

There was a custom among the Romans to say, “Jupiter preserve you” or “Salve” after sneezing, meaning “good health to you.” The common belief is that the phrase “God bless you” is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great (540-604 CE), and began literally as a blessing. Sneezing was thought to be an early symptom of the bubonic plague. Therefore, the blessing (“God bless you!”) became a common effort to halt the disease.

But of course the Jewish people can claim we did it first…

Continue reading →

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Conversations at the Mall

You may know that I grew up in Argentina. When I was seven years old, my mother of blessed memory, took me to one of the Jewish clubs so I could start playing soccer. In fact not soccer but indoor soccer.

I played indoor soccer for many years but when I was 15 years old I decided to play outdoor soccer, aka futbol, as well.

I discovered a completely different sport, with different rules, different ball size, and a different number of players. The essence of the game was the same, but indoor futbol and outdoor futbol were different. It didn’t feel the same.

A couple of months ago I started to accomplish one of my rabbinical goals. It has been one of my dreams. Be part of an ongoing interfaith conversation. I contacted a Catholic Monsignor, a Buddhist monk and a Muslim Imam and invited them to have lunch together at the Montgomery Mall. Before I tell you details of the day, I want to tell you that it was a great experience.   We agreed to meet on Presidents Day in the busy food court on a holiday for many in the Washington area. I arrived a half hour early to make sure we had a table to sit and talk. And we did talk about ourselves, our life experiences and our traditions. Continue reading →

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