Ziv HaOlam – Radiance of the World

Trombones, Drums and Trumpets dancing up the street towards the cemetery, forming a 2nd line to the formal funeral procession. This custom of the Crescent city is one of the unique and most celebrated customs of New Orleans. 

Not everyone gets a second line. It’s normally reserved for the most celebrated citizens of the city, who’ve brought joy to its residents through music, good works and leadership.

Not such a Jewish custom, except on one day of the year, Lag B’Omer.  Lag B’Omer, whose letters “Lamed” and “Gimel” make the number 33 is the holiest day of the Omer.

On Lag B’Omer there are Bonfires, Parades, Bows and Arrows and Haircuts! ( Halevai)

Wait, what’s the Omer again? The Omer is a 7 week accounting of days from Pesach to Shavuot which marks a wheat harvest. According to tradition, it also follows the path of the Israelites from Egypt to the receiving of the Torah.

According to tradition, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the famous author of the Zohar, book of Jewish mysticism, died on this day. Continue reading →

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A Focus on Mental Health – Shmirat HaGuf

Since 1949, May has been National Mental Health Awareness month. I have never felt the need to focus on mental health as intensely as now.  From children to senior citizens, we are all feeling the difficult emotional, physical, social and spiritual effects of Covid-19.  Focusing on our mental health is critical.

Throughout this year, Beth El’s congregational theme has been Shmirat HaGuf: Caring for Your Body, Mind and Soul.  There have been a wide variety of programs but these past months have brought the topic front and center for most.  The Hazzan’s Zoom meditations sessions are now occurring three times a week because of increased interest.  On-line attendance at services is far higher than normal even as all the b’nai mitzvah during the Spring have been rescheduled.

Even as we are isolated, we are not alone.

Continue reading →

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Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut

This is the fifth week of the month and allows for another outside blog. This week the blog is written by Tal Greenberg.

Tal Greenberg has been Beth El’s shlicha since August 2018. Following the stay-at-home order and closing of schools due to the coronavirus pandemic, she returned to Israel.

I arrived in Israel six weeks ago. For the first two weeks, I was in complete quarantine, not going out at all, not even throwing the trash away. Two weeks later, feeling well and not infected with the coronavirus, I was finally able to go home and hug my family, after eight months of being apart. Shortly thereafter, I spent the first night of Passover with my immediate family, just six of us, in front of the computer screen, with 100 more family members from five different countries, together remotely. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Guest Post, Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 0 comments

How Do We Tell Israel’s Story?

Symbols of Israel’s diverse stories

Today is Rosh Chodesh Iyar, the month in which Israel’s Independence falls – the 5th of Iyar corresponding to April 29, 2020. As this is also the fourth week of the month, for Reflections Off the Bimah, I share this piece from Rabbi Daniel Gordis, Senior Vice President at Shalem College in Jerusalem.  Gordis is a distinguished writer, columnist and speaker.  In this 2016 article, Gordis unpacks his difficulties in writing the story of Israel.  His efforts coalesced in his 2017 book, Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn.  

Before we jump into Gordis’ piece though, I want to make sure people are aware of the new speaker series underway on-line at Beth El.  Continuing with our congregational theme of Shmirat HaGuf – Caring for our Mind, Body and Soul, each Thursday evening (7:30pm) will feature a different speaker addressing aspects of taking care of ourselves and our families in these difficult times of COVID.  For more information and to register, go to the Beth El website or click here. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments


For some mysterious reason, this year, the Yachatz, the fourth step of the Seder, has caught my attention more than in previous years.
My sermon, tomorrow morning, will be focused on one aspect of that step.
I also shared on Facebook that I believe this year we should have partitioned the middle matzah in the Seder as even as possible, symbolizing that we need to be mindful of others and make sure we all have our needs covered on this pandemic time.

Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 1 comment

Total Reset

Total Reset
It’s remarkable. I cannot remember a time when 95% of the world’s news coverage centered on one topic. Sure, it’s hundreds of variations on the ramifications of the virus, but its essentially the same story.
How has Coronavirus effected the economy, health care system, politics, environment (positively), worker psychology, churches, synagogue and restaurants? The list is endless because there is no facet of everyday life that has not been affected by this nightmarish disease.
Since we have enough media covering the virus, I’m going to forgo that topic. Rather, I would like to look at how extreme change begets extreme change.

Continue reading →

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Pesach in the Time of COVID


Matzo Ball








It is paradoxical to discuss Passover during an ‘unprecedented’ time of disease.  Plagues are a center piece of the Passover narrative.  We recognize the plague of frogs (tzfardea) with cute plastic jumping toys; hail (barad) by throwing cotton balls at each other; darkness (choshech) by wearing sun glasses; disease (shechin) by wearing dot stickers.

Whether the plagues are historically accurate or an impactful narrative tool illucidating God’s power and Pharoah’s ultimate weakness is not the key point for this reflection.  For me, living through a moment of global pandemic, I realize I have not given enough thought to the long term human impact and trauma the plagues might have had on the Egyptians and Israelites.

Continue reading →

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Resilience During Extraordinary Times

This is an extraordinary time – COVID-19, economic uncertainty, schools and businesses indefinitely closed, social distancing and isolation.  As this is the fourth week of the month, Reflections Off the Bimah features thought leaders from throughout the Jewish world and beyond. These special posts give you the opportunity to consider important opinions you may not readily encounter.

Next week I will reflect on Passover and how to do / experience sedarim during social distancing.  This week though, I want to share two messages of hope to help us see beyond the stresses and pressures of the immediate.  First is a beautiful musical piece by Andy Grammer who is singing with the Palestinian – Israeli Jerusalem Youth Chorus (JYC), “Don’t Give Up on Me”.  The JYC was founded by Micah Hendler who grew up at Beth El.  (Click here to see more of Micah’s incredible work.) JYC brings together Israelis and Palestinian youth to forge common ground through music. Their music gives voice to seeing the world beyond the immediate.

The second piece is from Rabbi Chanan Morrison who has written extensively on Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865 – 1935), the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of British Mandate Palestine. Rav Kook’s message is to be cautious but not to fear.  Morrison channels Kook’s message as finding “resilience that we need to persevere in challenging times.”  Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Greg Harris in Guest Post, Rabbi Greg Harris, 0 comments

Your last name

Turn on the television, read the newspaper or go to just about any web site. You can’t escape Cononavirus coverage even if you want to. I’m well aware of the virus and its global (not to mention, local) impact. Before getting to my main point, I do want to address that as we face global challenges, individuals in our community are struggling. The anxiety associated with these changes is not easy to manage. Rabbi Harris, Chazzan Fradkin and I stand with you and we are available to help address your needs.

In an attempt to address a different topic that is also front-of-mind, I want to share a message that may help you connect with your families in these unprecedented times.

We all have last names. The use of last names varies according different cultures. Some claim that their culture has been using last names for more than 1200 years. Continue reading →

Posted by Rabbi Fabián Werbin in Rabbi Fabián Werbin, 2 comments

Megillah Madness, COVID 19, and an opportunity for mindfulness.

“Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you got till it’s gone”

—Joni Mitchell ( but you knew that)

I’m so glad Megillah Madness was this past Monday. It was raucous, loud, hilarious and so so so so much fun.

I literally think if Purim had fallen one week later, we may not have had it at all. That would have been such a enormous letdown for the incredible work that all our amazing volunteers put into this year’s Rock of Ages Megillah Madness spectacle.

Beth El is awesome. It’s ridiculously amazingly awesome to be a part of, belong to and I continuously marvel that I ended up working here. Continue reading →

Posted by Hazzan Asa Fradkin in Hazzan Asa Fradkin, 0 comments