Lech L’cha (Genesis 12:1 – 17:27)

Yes, we’re back.  Yes, we had a great time.  Yes, pictures of Venice, Montenegro, and Greece will be posted.  Also, though it’s been several days, my mind is still kind of foggy.

(2015 Comments) In grad school, I remember once, while I was walking somewhere but my mind was elsewhere, a person came up to me and kindly asked if I knew where I was going.  This has happened to me several times when I know my destination; I guess my face just looks lost if I am thinking and walking at the same time.  On this occasion, I was startled, because it sounded like an existential question: did I know where I was going in terms of my life, career, and so on?  I didn’t.  But I did know where I was walking.

Abram faces the opposite situation in this week’s Torah reading, Lech L’cha.  [2013: My friend Stanley says this command, “Lech l’cha” is best translated “Get going!”]  He does not know where he is going, physically.  But he knows he will be the source of a great nation through which all families of the earth will be blessed (12:1-4).  He is told by the Lord to uproot himself, at age 75, from Haran and go somewhere he’ll be shown.  We are not told why Abram is chosen, nor if this was the first time he communed with the Lord (rabbinic stories fill in the background).  Abram totally trusts the Lord, packs up his household, and he, Sarai, and nephew Lot take off.

But when they reach Canaan, famine forces them to move to Egypt temporarily.  Because Sarai is so beautiful, Abram is afraid he’ll be killed so she can be taken into Pharaoh’s household as a wife.  He thus asks Sarai to masquerade as his sister.  She does and is taken into Pharaoh’s household as a wife and Abram was treated well as her “brother.”  (By the way, the rabbis call this incident one of the 10 trials of Abra(ha)m!  It’s actually the first example of his problems with women.)  A plague of skin disease alerts Pharaoh something is amiss, the trickery is revealed, and Pharaoh throws out Abram et al.  

Abram’s family issues are just beginning.  He and Lot part company after they return to Canaan.  Lot, living in Sodom, is caught in the middle of a war involving 9 kings and has to be rescued by Abram.  Abram hears again from the Lord about his anticipated reward but is still childless.  Sarai gives him her Egyptian servant, Hagar, as a concubine, but Hagar’s pregnancy makes her act uppity, so Sarai drives her away. (Really, can’t you see Genesis, as least starting with Abram, as a TV soap opera?)  Hagar is advised to return by an angel she met at a well (where else…) because she will bear a son, Ishmael.  And so Ishmael is born when Abram is 86.

Thirteen years pass.  The Lord now makes a covenant with Abram.  His descendants are to accept the Lord as God and they will inherit Canaan.  As a sign of acceptance, the males are to be circumcised.  Also, Abram and Sarai are now Abraham (father of multitudes) and Sarah (princess) and they will have a son, Isaac.  Since they would be 100 and 90 respectively, Abraham’s reaction is laughter [2018 Yes, Abraham laughs. Verse 17:17]  There will be more laughter next week.

(2018) We’re going to see several name changes in Genesis, accompanied by a change or anticipated change in status.  I recall, when I was in my 20’s, that whether, or how, to change your name upon marriage was a particularly sensitive issue.  Then there are the changes others bestow, usually out of carelessness or ignorance. “Greenwald” sometimes became Greenwalt, Greenwall, or Greenwalk.  And after only a few years of marriage, I’d collected 22 misspellings of “Plotzker.”  My favorite was “Blutsger,” denoting our reservation at Cave à l’Atlantique, a Montreal restaurant.  Say that with a French accent.

Name variations are a big issue in Jewish genealogy research, one of my hobbies.  You might have a name in Yiddish approximated in Cyrillic characters and later written down in English as a government clerk heard it.  Also, Eastern European Jews weren’t required to take surnames until only about two centuries ago.  Then names were sometimes picked almost randomly, even within a nuclear family.  Greenwald was originally Grundwag, which I think had something to do with bricklaying, totally unrelated to family occupations.  Plotzker was at least a logical choice, my husband’s father’s family having come from Płock (pronounced “plotzk”) in Poland. 

Sometimes there are surprises.  We had always been told that Cousin Mendel had changed his name from Weill to Rosenberg to sound more American.  I recently learned that his family’s name in Białystok was actually, genuinely, already Rosenberg.  And another cute family story bites the dust.

Shabbat shalom, 

Most Outrageous Name Changes

by Stephanie Morrow, March 2009

  1. Changing a Name in the Other Direction

Although everyone on this list has changed their name to something a bit out of the ordinary, a Vietnam teen received the right to legally change his name from Mai Phat Sau Nghin Ruoi, which translates to “Fined Six Thousand and Five Hundred.” Named after the fine his father had to pay for having a fifth child, Fined Six Thousand and Five Hundred’s dad finally agreed to help him change his name to something more traditional after his son continued to be teased in school. Fined Six Thousand and Five Hundred’s new name is Mai Hoang Long, which translates to Golden Dragon.



tph home is where the heart is



Things I Have Learned from Watching Soap Operas [selected]

1. Everybody has a child that they gave up for adoption, or don’t know they have, who appears one day out of the blue as an adult.
4. “I want to be with you the rest of our lives,” means only for the next year.
6. Don’t get into cars. If you do, whatever you do, don’t take that seat belt off even for a second, since that is when the car crashes.
7. If you do, don’t get into arguments. The car crashes.
8. If you do, don’t drive during storms. The car crashes.
9. If you do, don’t be pregnant. The car crashes.
10. If you do, don’t go near cliffs. The car falls off.
12. Don’t ever believe that anybody is dead, even if you saw the body.
16. Serious conversations are always conducted in public where they can be interrupted, overheard and above all, misconstrued.


I’ve sent this out a couple times but couldn’t resist doing so again. IGP

She spent the first day packing her belongings into boxes, crates and suitcases.

On the second day, she had the movers come and collect her things.

On the third day, she sat down for the last time at their beautiful dining room table by candlelight, put on some soft background music and feasted on a pound of shrimp, a jar of caviar and a bottle of Chardonnay.

When she had finished, she went into each and every room and deposited a few half-eaten shrimp dipped in caviar, into the hollow of the curtain rods.

She then cleaned up the kitchen and left.

When the husband returned with his new girlfriend, all was bliss for the first few days.

Then slowly, the house began to smell. They tried everything…. cleaning, mopping and airing the place out.

Vents were checked for dead rodents and carpets were steamed.

Air Fresheners were hung everywhere.

Exterminators were brought in to set off gas canisters, during which they had to move out for a few days, and in the end even paid to replace the expensive wool carpeting.

Nothing worked.

People stopped coming over to visit.

Repairmen refused to work in the house.

The maid quit.

Finally, they could not take the stench any longer and decided to move.

A month later, even though they had cut their price in half, they could not find a buyer for their stinky house.

Word got out and eventually even the local realtors refused to return their calls.

Finally, they had to borrow a huge sum of money from the bank to purchase a new place.

The ex-wife called the man and asked how things were going.

He told her the saga of the rotting house. She listened politely and said that she missed her old home terribly, and would be willing to reduce her divorce settlement in exchange for getting the house back.

Knowing his ex-wife had no idea how bad the smell was, he agreed on a Price that was about 1/10th of what the house had been worth, but only if she were to sign the papers that very day.

She agreed and within the hour his lawyers delivered the paperwork.

A week later the man and his girlfriend stood smiling as they watched the moving company pack everything to take to their new home . .

Including the curtain rods.



Can Mohels Still Cut Up?

By TED MERWIN December 23, 2014, 12:00 am   [excerpts]

What’s a bris without comedy? Time was, the mohel did a stand-up routine throughout the ritual, slicing not just the foreskin but also the nerve-wracking tension that arises from an unusually public, but highly sensitive, procedure on such an essential part of the male anatomy.  Mohels kept everyone (metaphorically) in stitches.

Given the preponderance of Jews in entertainment, mohels have also been routinely featured in popular culture. A 1990 episode of “L.A. Law,” called “The Pay’s Lousy, But the Tips are Great,” included a lawsuit against an elderly mohel for “nicking” a child’s penis during the operation. [I remember that one. The mohel kept saying, “It was just a nick.” IGP]

And don’t get me started on mohel jokes.

So how come brises are so solemn nowadays?

Cantor Mark Kushner, a well-known Philadelphia mohel, told me that because so many brises are now performed by doctors, the ritual tends to be conducted in a more formal fashion. “The key to being a successful mohel,” according to Kushner, “is not to be a comedian but to touch people’s hearts and souls.”

Dr. Sanford Wohlstadter, an obstetrician and mohel in New Jersey, agrees. But his best efforts at making the ceremony more sober can be thwarted; the gags are so well known, he said, that instead of his telling them at the ceremony, the guests inevitably tell them to him!

But it’s never too late for comedy about circumcision. Even some Christian comedians have started to crack wise about the subject. Jim Gaffigan, who grew up Catholic, jokes in his stand-up routine about how Abraham explained his self-circumcision to his wife. “God told me to do it,” he tells her. “If God told you to sacrifice your first born son?” Sarah asks indignantly, “would you do that too?”

Ted Merwin teaches religion and Judaic studies at Dickinson College (Carlisle, Pa), where he also serves as Hillel director. He writes about theater for the paper. tedmerwin.com

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Noah (Genesis 6:9-11:32)

2016 comments, with some 2015 included:

[Noah is pronounced with a guttural h in Hebrew]

Last year, I wrote:

“This is another of those Bible portions that get whitewashed to be made suitable for children.  Think about it.  All humans, including babies and children, and all animals are condemned to death by drowning.  And what about the rotting horrors left when the waters recede?  And after the flood, humanity doesn’t seem to have progressed a whole lot.  Noah plants a vineyard, discovers wine, gets drunk, passes out, and is humiliated (rabbinic interpretations range from voyeurism to incestuous sodomy to castration) by his son Ham.”

Why did Noah plant a vineyard, make wine, and get drunk?  I don’t know about you, but if I’d had to spend about a year confined to an ark with my family and Lord knows how many animals, knowing that all other humans and animals had been drowned, I’d want a good stiff drink afterwards.  And I don’t think I’d be willing to wait for grapes to grow and be fermented.  A desire for a “pick me up” is one of the reasons cited by Rabbi Zalmy Labkowsky in Why Noah Planted a Vineyard and Got Drunk.  Rabbi Labkowsky also presents a Chassidic teaching that Noah, by getting drunk and disrobing, was trying to recreate the innocent oblivion and oneness with the Lord experienced by Adam and Eve before sin. After sinning, the “transcendence was gone. What was left was a multitude of independent creatures lacking the guiding and uniting force they once took for granted.” I hadn’t heard this one before, but it’s in keeping with the view of the world experiencing another Creation after the Flood.  But alcohol-induced oblivion is not primevally innocent, Noah learns to his chagrin.

In the story of the Tower (Ziggurat) of Babel, humanity is indeed united into one entity. It’s apparently not an entity seeking oneness with the Lord, but equal power.  For an interesting take on this story as satire, see Satire in the Bible – The Ziggurat of Babel.]

I wrote last year (2015):

“Eventually, the “new” humanity decides to climb up to heaven by building a huge ziggurat.  How is this thwarted?  The Lord makes them speak different languages; no longer able to understand each other, they can no longer cooperate enough to complete such a mammoth enterprise.  This will be worth delving into more next year (i.e., 2016), prior to Election Day.”

Well, we certainly have been speaking different tongues in American English throughout this wretched campaign, not only not understanding each other but not really wanting to either. 

To a far greater degree than before, I shy away from political discussions with those who do not share my point of view.  That is not good.  But I believe that the vast majority of us are so entrenched and discourse is so uncivil that such “discussions” quickly degenerate into rude, angry name calling and ad hominem attacks, mirroring the ads and debates we’ve been bombarded with.  And so I’ve decided to keep my blood pressure down instead.  OTOH, I was almost in a state of shock as I listened to a recent debate between the candidates for U. S. Representative (Delaware gets just one).  The candidates were polite and respectful to each other.  The questions were appropriate and the candidates actually answered what they were asked.   A ray of hope for future discourse? 
Shabbat shalom,


Noah’s Ark

jpb@umbio.med.miami.edu (jpb)(smirk)     

And the Lord said unto Noah: “Where is the ark which I have commanded thee to build?”    

And Noah said unto the Lord: “Verily, I have had three carpenters off ill. The gopher wood supplier hath let me down — yea, even though the wood hath been on order for nigh upon twelve months.  What can I do, Lord?”    

And the Lord said unto Noah: “I want that ark finished after seven days and seven nights.”    

And Noah said: “It will be so.”    And it was not so. 

And the Lord said unto Noah: “What seemeth to be the trouble this time?”    

And Noah said unto the Lord: “Mine subcontractors hath gone bankrupt.  The pitch which thou commandest me to put on the outside of the ark hath not arrived.  Shem, my son who helpeth me, hath formed a rock group with his brothers Ham and Japeth.  Lord, I am undone.  Bring on the rains.”    

And the Lord grew very angry and said: “And what about the animals, the male and female of every sort that I ordered to come unto thee to keep their seed alive upon the face of the earth?”    

And Noah said: “They hath been delivered unto the wrong address but should arrive on Friday.”    

And the Lord said: “How about the unicorns and the fowls of the air by sevens?”

And Noah wrung his hands, saying: “Lord, unicorns are a discontinued line; thou canst not get them for love nor money.  And fowls of the air are sold only in half-dozen lots.  Lord, thou knowest how it is.”    

And the Lord in his wisdom spoke: “Noah, my son, what about the insurance, in case thou should run this ark aground atop Mt. Ararat?”     

And Noah was downcast, saying: “My independent insurance agent telleth me there doth exist a market crunch.  Companies liketh not writing insurance for an ark.  They fear it will be used for water skiing.  They doubt my wisdom as captain.  Only one company hath said it would insure this vessel and it would charge seventy times seven pieces of silver, with a 250-pound sacrificial lamb deductible.    

“Verily, the tribute is higher than heaven and yet we cannot get delivery of the policy for nigh upon three months, for the company hath changed to an abacus and the beads are stuck fast.”    

Having spoken thus, Noah wept.    

And the Lord went forth and did likewise.



tph noah cubit



tph babel



Wine humor

This woman was driving home in Northern Arizona, when she saw an elderly Navajo woman walking on the side of the road.

She stopped the car and asked the woman if she’d like a ride. The woman thanked her and got in the car.

After a few minutes, the Navajo woman noticed a brown bag on the back seat and asked the driver what was in the bag.

The driver said, “It’s a bottle of wine. I got it for my husband.”

The Navajo woman thought for a moment, then said, “Good trade.”


I drank so much wine last night that when I walked across the dance floor to get another glass, I won the dance competition.


The secret of enjoying a good bottle of wine:

  1. Open the bottle to allow it to breathe.
  2. If it doesn’t look like it’s breathing, give it mouth-to-mouth.


Every box of raisins is a tragic tale of grapes that could have been wine.


I can’t wait for the day when I can drink wine with my kids instead of because of them.



Foreign Language Quotes

I have a one-question language test that people who have lived abroad do better on than those who studied in a classroom. Try my test yourself: In a foreign language you’ve studied, how do you say ‘doorknob’? Nicholas Kristof

Parents should conduct their arguments in quiet, respectful tones, but in a foreign language. You’d be surprised what an inducement that is to the education of children. Judith Martin

I’ve had Republicans come to me and say, ‘Tell me how I should talk to young people!’ as if it’s some foreign language or something. Aaron Schock

I really like acting in French. It’s actually quite different for me, from acting in English. It’s fun acting in a foreign language. You’re liberated or freed from preconceptions. Kristin Scott Thomas

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Bereishit (Genesis 1:1 – 6:8)

This week’s Torah portion, Bereishit, consists of 146 verses and 1500 years’ worth of foundational stories: The Creation stories; the Garden of Eden; Cain, Abel, and fratricide; and the descendants of Adam down to Noah, who lived from 350 (Enoch, mysteriously taken by the Lord) to 969 years (Methuselah).  The portion ends with the world’s having become so corrupt that the Lord decides to kill almost all of the earth’s inhabitants and start over.  Lots of primal stories, tersely written and eternally resonant.  Paradise.  The role of humans vis à vis the other animals.  The status of women. The idea of being made “in the image of God.”

I’ve always regretted that the Torah reading schedule rushes through the first 11 chapters of Genesis, the pre-Abraham stuff, in only two portions, Bereishit and Noah (with a guttural h).  I was thus delighted to see that the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, which I have patronized since retirement (ah, retirement!) was offering a course on those very 11 chapters, taught by Rabbi Michael Kramer. I signed up, so these comments will address what I’ve learned so far.  We’re still on Chapter 1.

So:  The very first word, bereishit, is controversial.  We usually are told it means “In the beginning, (God) created (bara),” but the Hebrew form of bereishit indicates it’s really “in the beginning of (something),” here, “in the beginning of God’s creating.”  More fluently, “In the beginning, God created heaven and earth…” is really more like “When God began to create heaven and earth —the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water —God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.”  Why does this matter?  The two translations represent two quite different approaches to Creation. In one, God exists and then creates heaven and a chaotic earth out of nothing.  In the other, we come in after the start of the story. Chaos and water and darkness already exist. We catch God at the start of the creation of order from the pre-existing formless…stuff.

Of course, most societies have a creation story to provide context for their existence.  The Babylonian creation story, Enuma Elish, was probably written around 1120 BCE and not discovered until 1875 CE.  The sweet water sea Apsu mingles with the salt water sea Tiamat, and their mingling gives rise to generations of gods.  Apsu is killed and eventually, there is a great war between Tiamat and the god Marduk.  Marduk kills Tiamat and uses half her body to form the sky and half to form the earth.  Then he creates the calendar, the planets, stars, etc. and becomes the sun, master of all the other gods. Finally, he creates a being to serve the gods and look after the earth.  Even though I left a lot out, you can see how much wilder this story is than Genesis, even though the early Hebrews were also Mesopotamian.  There are some similarities.  Both start with earth as a desolate waste, followed by the creation of light, then sky separating earth and heaven, then dry land, next the sun, moon, and stars, and finally men and women.  Afterwards, God rests on the Sabbath in Genesis.  The Babylonian gods rest and celebrate.

But the differences are theologically more important.  There is one God in Genesis, and many in the Emuna Elish.  Creation occurs in the Emuna Elish through a war among gods and in Genesis by God’s spoken word.  Humanity is only created as a subordinate being to serve the gods and take care of the earth in the Emuna Elish.  In Genesis, humans also serve God and take care of the earth, but humanity is seen as the crowning achievement of Creation, with humans created in the image of God.

A very early Shabbat shalom,



tph rib



Through the eyes of a child:
The Children’s Bible in a Nutshell (excerpt)

In the beginning, which occurred near the start, there was nothing but
God, darkness, and some gas. The Bible says, ‘The Lord thy God is one,
but I think He must be a lot older than that. 

Anyway, God said, ‘Give me a light!’ and someone did. 

Then God made the world.

He split the Adam and made Eve. Adam and Eve were naked, but they
weren’t embarrassed because mirrors hadn’t been invented yet. 

Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating one bad apple, so they were driven
from the Garden of Eden. Not sure what they were driven in though, because they didn’t have cars.

Adam and Eve had a son, Cain, who hated his brother as long as he was

Pretty soon all of the early people died off, except for Methuselah, who
lived to be like a million or something.

One of the next important people was Noah, who was a good guy, but one
of his kids was kind of a Ham. Noah built a large boat and put his
family and some animals on it. He asked some other people to join him,
but they said they would have to take a rain check.



tph cain and vegetables



tph methuselah last laugh



Quotes about the Creation of the Universe

Look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see, and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. Stephen Hawking

The Universe is under no obligation to make sense to you. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I’m not sure about the former. Albert Einstein


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Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, Hoshana Rabbah, Shemini Atzeret, and Simchat Torah

Did you know there’s a place on earth where it hasn’t rained for nearly 2 million years? It’s the Dry Valleys in Antarctica.  I’m really tired of rain, and I’m not even talking about Hurricane Florence, just this rainrainrain-teasingbitofsun-rainrain.  The sukkah is still standing, though:


I am also getting ready to go on a big vacation. The comments below are mainly from 2015, but the days of the week on which the holidays fell then do match 2018.

We’re heading down the home stretch, both of the holiday season and of the annual Torah reading.  We have four, count ‘em, four, (except three for Reform) consecutive special days.  On Shabbat Chol HaMoed Sukkot, the first Torah reading is Exodus 33:12 – 34:26, after the golden calf episode.  Moses gets to see the back of the Lord (contrast the growing intimacy between the Lord and Moses with the too often strained relationship between the Lord and the Israelites), after which he goes back up Sinai and carves two new tablets.  The Lord reaffirms the covenant and there’s a quick review of the observance the Shabbat and the festival holidays (34:18-26).  Because there are distinct readings for the various days of Chol HaMoed, the second scroll reading depends on what day [of Chol HaMoed] Shabbat Chol HaMoed is.  This year, it’s the 4th day [of Chol HaMoed, i.e., the 6th day of Sukkot] so we read Numbers 29:26 – 31 which includes the sacrifices for the 5th and 6th days of Sukkot.   The haftarah is Ezekiel 38:18 – 39:16, an apocalyptic vision of the coming war of Gog and Magog. There is also a custom to chant the book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet), attributed to Solomon in his old age, muttering that there is nothing new under the sun.  But it’s really too long for services.

From the start of the holiday, we’ve been chanting prayers called Hoshanot while processing with lulav and etrog (just prayers on Shabbat) around the synagogue.  The seventh day of Sukkot is called Hoshana Rabbah, the great Hoshana [“Save us!”] Hoshana Rabbah is your last chance for atoning before your fate is really, really [really] sealed for the year – the end of your grace period after Yom Kippur.  There’s a Torah reading, Numbers 29:26-34 [more sacrifices].There are seven processions, each with its own set of chanted verses, so it takes a while (I’ve done this just a couple of times).  Then willow branches are beaten against the floor five times (see also http://thetorah.com/the-ritual-of-hoshana-rabbah/). Afterwards, my synagogue has an odd custom of throwing the branches up on top of the ark; no one seems to know where this custom came from.

The next day is Shemini Atzeret, the Eighth Day of Assembly.  Torah readings, both including [but not limited to] holiday observances, are Deuteronomy 14:22-16:17 and Numbers 29:35-30:1.  In the Midrash, it is written that Shemini Atzeret represents the intimacy between God and Israel, while Sukkot represents the relationship between God and humanity. Geshem, the prayer for rain (in Israel! Not North Carolina!) is chanted.  Note that we pray for rain at the start of Israel’s rainy season; that is, we want normal rain at the normal time.

Finally, it’s time for the post-Biblical holiday of Simchat Torah.  In Israel and Reform practice, it’s combined with Shemini Atzeret.  We celebrate the ending and beginning again of the annual Torah reading.  Lots of Torah reading, aliyot for everybody who wants one, hakafot (parading around the synagogue with the Torah scrolls), dancing, paper flags to wave, candy apples, drinking… It’s fun and kid-friendly.  Monday night, after the festivities, a short Torah portion will be read, usually three short aliyot from Deuteronomy 33.   Tuesday morning, we will read from three scrolls (no waiting).  We begin with the end of Deuteronomy, V’zot HaBracha (“And this is the blessing”), Deut. 33:1-34:12, in which Moses blesses the Israelites by tribe, sees  the Promised Land from Mount Nebo, and dies there.  Then, in a second scroll, we go back to the beginning, the story of creation, Genesis 1:1-2:3.  From the third scroll, we read about (what else) sacrifices; but since were no Simchat Torah sacrifices, we read about the Shemini Atzeret ones again, Num. 29:35-30:1.  The haftarah, Joshua 1:1-18, recounts the beginning of post-Moses Israel, picking up the story immediately after the end of the Torah.  So we end one Torah reading cycle, start over, and also continue the story.  Likewise, as we finish the fall holiday season, we are starting the year afresh and getting back to continue whatever we were doing before.

Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach,



What Sukkot and the Day of the Dead Have in Common (excerpts)

Bringing together my Mexican and Jewish heritages.


The common thread between the two celebrations is that we recognize and remember ancestors and loved ones, welcoming them back into our lives. As we celebrate Sukkot, we invite ushpizin into our sukkah, spirits that represent values and qualities of Judaism’s greatest contributors like Abraham and Sarah or Moses and Miriam, but can also be the spirits of our own family and friends. As it is a joyful harvest holiday, it is common practice to decorate the sukkah with harvest foods and artwork. Similarly, for Day of the Dead, we invite our ancestors to visit our family.

For Day of the Dead, families construct and decorate altars, known as ofrendas, with specific foods, gifts, flowers and photos of loved ones who they are honoring. Each item on the altar symbolizes something different, and each family and community decorates their altars in a different way.

For both Sukkot and Day of the Dead, we set aside time to construct temporary beautiful spaces and ritualistically contemplate our connection to the past. Not only will I invite my family and friends who have died to the sukkah this year, but I will also invite meaningful and inspiring figures in Jewish and Latinx history. I would love to share my sukkah with Miriam and Deborah, who have inspired me since I was a young girl. I would also like to invite Anita Brenner, the Mexican-born, Jewish-American woman who introduced the world to artists like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. It would be meaningful to invite these moving Jewish women who evoke a sense of faith and power within me.



Nothing is new under the sun…

tph selfie



Origin of comedy – Holiday processions


Comedy, like tragedy, arose from the worship of Dionysus, and was developed into a branch of literature at Athens in the fifth century. Its development was somewhat later than that of tragedy and its vigorous life continued longer. Tragedy arose from the dithyramb, which was a regular and, in part at least, a serious form of worship. Comedy, on the other hand, had its origin in the unrestrained, boisterous, and sometimes licentious fun of the processions connected with the festivals of the god of wine. Whether the word comedy is derived from komos, festive procession, or from kome, village, is uncertain. In any case, comedy arose from the festive processions connected with the rustic worship of Dionysus. Among the Dorians such processions were popular, and those who took part in them improvised jokes and rude verses, probably at times impersonating their neighbors or others against whom the shafts of their wit were aimed. In the villages of the Megarid bacchic processions with impersonations, mimic dances, and jokes, probably of a political and satiric nature, were popular.



Rain Humor
Nothing personal against Seattlites – change it to any other place getting a lot of rain (like Buffalo. IGP).
A newcomer to Seattle arrives on a rainy day. She gets up the next day and it’s raining. It also rains the day after that, and the day after that. She goes out to lunch and sees a young kid and out of despair asks, “Hey, kid, does it ever stop raining around here?”
The kid says, “How should I know?
I’m only 6.”

“I can’t believe it, ” said the tourist. “I’ve been here an entire week and it’s done nothing but rain. When do you have summer here?”
“Well, that’s hard to say, ” replied the local. “Last year, it was on a Wednesday.”


What does daylight savings time mean in Seattle?
An extra hour of rain.
It rains only twice a year in Seattle.
August to April and May to July.


Quotes on Starting Over

Each project, I suffer like I’m starting over again in life. There’s a lot of healthy insecurity that fuels this stuff. Frank Gehry

As actors, you become an expert at starting over. Lupita Nyong’o

What’s so fascinating and frustrating and great about life is that you’re constantly starting over, all the time, and I love that. Billy Crystal

I can’t tell you how many times I get into a taxicab in New York or Los Angeles, and I’m talking to somebody who is a recent immigrant who was a doctor or lawyer or engineer or professor in the country they just came from. They’re starting over again in life, and I think the majority of people out there can relate to that. Andrew Zimmern


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Ha’azinu (Deut. 32:1-52), Sukkot (Lev. 22:26 – 23:44; Numbers 29:12-16)

At this time of year, I find it difficult to remember what’s what and what I have to do.  This year is even more complicated because we are going on vacation right after the holidays.  To help people keep track of the holidays, Moment Magazine has kindly provided the following link: isitajewishholidaytoday.com   

So, expect more reruns than usual. Comments below are from 2012, except for those in italics and parentheses.

(2012) This is not good.  Only half way through the holidays, I am both totally zonked and wired. I am more and more enamored of the suggestion I made last year: “There was in ancient times a ‘Pesach Sheni,’ (second Passover) a month after the first, for those who couldn’t share in the Pesach sacrifice because of ritual impurity.  Maybe we could have a Sukkot Sheni a month later, for those who suffer from ritual exhaustion at the ordained time?” (Actually, it seems Chanukah’s 8 days were actually a belated Sukkot.  But I guess it might be a bit too chilly in December.)

But before Sukkot starts Sunday night, we read the portion of the Shabbat weekly cycle, Ha’azinu.  This is a short Torah portion (52 verses), 43 of which make up a long poem that is a distillation of the relationship between Israel and the Lord.  There’s more violence than one would expect in a valedictory (venom, disaster, swords devouring flesh, arrows drunk with blood), directed both at Israel when the people stray and at Israel’s enemies as vengeance.  The key point (32:39): “See, then, that I, I am He; There is no god beside Me. I deal death and give life; I wounded and I will heal: None can deliver from My hand.” When Moses finishes, he told that it is now time for him to look at the Promised Land from afar, since he cannot enter it, and then “be gathered to his people.”

We haven’t read the haftarah assigned to Ha’azinu in four years (i.e., in 2008), because Ha’azinu was read between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, so the haftarah for Shabbat Shuvah was read instead (i.e., in 2009, 2010, 2011).  This year, Ha’azinu is read after Yom Kippur, so we get to read II Samuel 22:1-51.  This also contains a long poem, found (more-or less) in Psalm 18 and also read on the 7th day of Pesach.  This is a psalm of thanksgiving and praise by David, addressed to the Lord “after the Lord had saved him from the hands of all his enemies and from the hands of Saul” (22:1), but I don’t recall the specific incident offhand, so you should look it up.  Actually, this might go over better read in English by a good actor, with its dramatic and vivid imagery. I found chanting it in Hebrew to be a chore because (1) it’s long, (2) the language is difficult, and (3) it’s musically boring.

Ah yes, Sukkot, when we are commanded to be altogether happy (actually, that phrase will be read in the Shemini Atzeret Torah reading, but it’s about Sukkot. Deut. 16:13-15).  I’ll try.  Seriously, it’s a fun holiday, especially when kids get involved decorating the sukkah. One of mine pointed out the similarity to decorating a Christmas tree, which I enjoyed as a child. For neighbors’ trees. It’s also fun to parade around the synagogue with a bunch of people, each with a lulav and etrog.  And there’s a lot of socializing.  I have a slight phobia related to having people over (OK, I need to make the house presentable), but I hope to get over that by next Sukkot (yes, it will take that long to get things in order). For those long-time readers who are awaiting this year’s chapter in our Sukkah saga, last year’s (2011’s) pre-fab, metal tubular Tinkertoy version

tph tinkertoy sukkah

 http://thesukkahproject.com/thetubularsukkah.aspx   worked out OK, so we plan to put that up again on Sunday, but this time using a level. (This year, it goes up today, I hope.) For high-concept New York sukkot, see http://www.jewishhumorcentral.com/2010/09/new-york-mayor-bloomberg-announces.html. And yes, there are Torah readings, the same for the first and second days, also read on the second day of Pesach (so my son got a decent amount of mileage out of his Bar Mitzvah reading, first day Sukkot, 13(!!) (now 19) years ago):  Lev. 22:26 – 23:44 (holidays) and Numbers 29:12-16 (sacrifices).  There are different haftarot, though, Zechariah 14:1-21 on day 1 and I Kings 8:2-21 second day, which each refer to Sukkot. 

Wishing you Shabbat Shalom and (a bit early) Hag Sameach (happy holiday),



For your information and amusement:

The LEGO Sukkot Movie

What is Sukkot?

13 Facts about Sukkot Every Jew Should Know



A Moveable Feast — Sukkah Pedicab in NYC  (sent out in 2012)

tph sukkah pedicab

(Photo by Simmy Kay)
An innovative teenage yeshiva student in Brooklyn, whose father directs a Chabad social services organization, has been pedaling a rickshaw carrying a portable sukkah around the streets of Manhattan and Brooklyn this week. Levi Duchman, 16, makes the rounds, inviting Jewish men, women, and children to make the blessing over the citron (etrog), palm branch, myrtle branches, and willow twigs that are held together (the lulav) and shaken as part of the observance of the Sukkot holiday, and eat a snack inside the structure.

Chabad has been driving around town with larger portable sukkot on pickup trucks for some years now, but this mini-sukkah on a pedicab is unique. Levi says that the hardest part is the pedaling.  [I have fond memories of the Sukkahmobile on my college campus. They’d ask anyone who looked Jewish – like my then-boyfriend-now-husband – if they wanted to say the blessing on taking the lulav and etrog.]



From Poetic Justice – Legal Humor in Verse

Cease and Desist: A Haiku

50 paragraphs,
300 commas, therefores,
Just to say: Stop it.



Jerusalem’s Etrog Medicine Man Finds Unexpected Uses for the Sukkot Citron 

Sunday, September 27, 2015 (There’s also a video at the site.)

Tonight is the start of the joyous Jewish holiday of Sukkot. In synagogues and homes all over the world, Jews will raise their voices in prayer while holding and waving the four species — the lulav (date palm branch), hadasim (myrtle branches), aravot (willow branches) and the etrog — the citron that looks like a large lemon.

If you think the only use of the etrog is to hold it and wave it on Sukkot, think again. 

Tucked away in a corner of Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, Uzi-Eli Hezi, a Yemenite etrog farmer, entertains and informs visitors to his booth about the healing power of his juices and lotions made from the etrogim that he grows on his farm. 

Born in Yemen in 1942, Hezi came to Israel in the Operation Magic Carpet airlift in 1950.

As Melanie Hidman wrote in a Jerusalem Post article a few years ago,

Etrog juice hasn’t been clinically tested, but is used as a home remedy for centuries. Etrogim – citrons in English – can also cure morning sickness, work as an antidote to snake or scorpion bites, lower blood pressure, cure infertility, help heal burns, and reduce blood pressure, among other medical miracles – all according to Hezi.

“The etrogim keep me healthy and happy,” said Hezi. “I haven’t seen a doctor in 15 years. I pay for health insurance for nothing!” Indeed, he’s got a loyal following of people who feel the same way. Hezi sees more than 250 customers a day at his stall, though he sometimes refers to them as patients. He has hundreds of stories of helping infertile women give birth, lifting chronic depression, and healing ailments large and small through his line of etrog products.

“I can see what’s inside a man and give him a medicine that’s just what he needs,” Hezi explained.

Hezi juggles running the stall and blending the juices, while simultaneously listening attentively to the requests and questions of his customers.

He’s part therapist, part healer, part spiritual adviser, and part etrog connoisseur.



Poetry Quotes

Pure mathematics is, in its way, the poetry of logical ideas. Albert Einstein

Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words. Robert Frost

Painting is silent poetry, and poetry is painting that speaks. Plutarch

Poetry is an echo, asking a shadow to dance. Carl Sandburg

All religion, my friend, is simply evolved out of fraud, fear, greed, imagination, and poetry. Edgar Allan Poe







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Yom Kippur

In biblical Hebrew there are about 20 different words which denote “sin.”

That’s from an article in the Jewish Virtual Library, with lots of sources.  Yes, it’s almost Yom Kippur.  This is the culmination of the Ten Days of Penitence, at the end of which our fates are metaphorically sealed for the coming year (with a grace period until the 7th day of Sukkot).  Yom Kippur is clearly described in the Torah:

“And this shall be to you a law for all time: In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall practice self-denial; and you shall do no manner of work, neither the citizen nor the alien who resides among you.

“For on this day atonement shall be made for you to cleanse you of all your sins; you shall be clean before the LORD. It shall be a sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall practice self-denial; it is a law for all time.” (Lev. 16:29-31)

Since self-denial is not defined explicitly, practices have developed over the millennia, such as not wearing leather shoes, not bathing, and abstaining from sex.  The most widely observed self-denial practice is (no, not attending 10-12 hours of services) fasting.  This is a total fast, no food or water, traditionally for 25 hours.  Fasting is forbidden if you have a medical reason why it would be dangerous.

There are five services: Ma’ariv (evening), Shacharit (morning), Musaf (additional), Minchah (afternoon), and Ne’ilah (closing), which ends with a shofar blast.  Each contains usual prayers for that time of day (I get really tired of the Amidah by late afternoon) plus communal confession and prayers for forgiveness. The Musaf service includes a section on the High Priest’s rites (Avodah) and a section about the martyrdom of 10 sages in Roman times (Martyrology).  Some congregations include texts on more recent calamities in addition to or in place of the Martyrology.

The most well-known Yom Kippur text is Kol Nidre, which is not a prayer but a legal formula. It is chanted three times right before the Ma’ariv service.  Kol Nidre nullifies vows between people and God (not between people).  The origins of the text and the well-known traditional are uncertain; it first appears in a legal context 8th c, Babylonia. It has a checkered history and was used by non-Jews to “prove” that the vows of Jews were worthless. Yet somehow, people transformed “a dry legal formula, written in a confusion of tongues and tenses, and plagued by both legal and ethical problems, into the most prominent ritual of the High Holy Days” (Herman Kieval, “The Curious Case of Kol Nidre,” Commentary, October 1, 1968).

The communal confessional prayers (Vidui) repeated throughout the day are far more important.  There are two texts:  Ashamnu (“We have trespassed”) is an alphabetic acrostic of 24 misdeeds, often only one word apiece. Al Chet includes 44 specific misdeeds.

I cited above a reference claiming about 20 different words for “sin” in the Hebrew Bible.  The most common are chet (459 times), pesha (136), and avon (long “o”) (17).  Chet has the connotation of missing the mark (like an archer’s error) or a dereliction of duty. Pesha basically means a breach, an action “which dissolves the community or breaks the peaceful relation between two parties,” between people or between a person and God. “This is also the meaning of pshʿ when used to express the sinful behavior of man toward God.”  Avon basically expresses the idea of crookedness, and thus the verb form means “to wrong” (Lam. 3:9) or “to become bent.”

According to Rabbi Shraga Simmons in “Exploring the Al-Chet Prayer,” “these 44 statements are not a list of mistakes, but rather identify the roots of mistakes.”  They are written broadly enough to encompass many specific actions. For instance, “For the mistakes we committed before You through baseless hatred,” includes actions like being disrespectful toward fellow Jews who differ from you in religious practice or philosophy, disliking someone because we disagree on an issue, being eager to take revenge when you’re wronged, or bearing a grudge. When someone wronged me, did I bear a grudge?

Not surprisingly, many of the 44 involve speech, explicitly or implicitly.

Yes, there are Torah and haftarah readings. Here’s last year’s summary:

Morning:  Leviticus 16:1-34, the Yom Kippur rites of the High Priest; and Numbers 29:7-11, the holiday sacrifices.  The morning haftarah is Isaiah 57:14 – 58:14, which condemns mechanical ritual that does not lead to good deeds and ethical behavior.

Afternoon: Leviticus 18:1-30, about forbidden sexual relationships (mainly incest). This seems to be an odd choice.  However, in ancient times, people rejoiced on Yom Kippur afternoon and looked for potential spouses (as on Tu B’Av, according to Mishnah Taanit 4:8), so it may be that this text was meant to remind them of what they shouldn’t do.  The haftarah is the Book of Jonah plus Micah 7:18-20 about casting away sins.  Jonah has its comical, even slapstick, aspects (see Humor in the Bible by Steven C. Walker), but it’s read on Yom Kippur afternoon because  it is a parable on taking responsibility and the efficacy of atonement.  It emphasizes the compassion and universality of the Lord.  The whale story is just a hook to reel you in (Sorry…).

G’mar chatimah tovah* and an easy fast,


tph g'mar   Literally: A good final sealing.   Idiomatically: May you be inscribed (in the Book of Life) for Good. 



Ten Inspiring Quotes for Ten Days of Repentance (selected)

Oct 4, 2016  |  by Sara Debbie Gutfreund

The days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are imbued with a special light that gives us the chance to make changes in our lives that seemed out of our reach during the rest of the year. Here are (four of) ten quotes to inspire us to begin the process of change.

“Open for me an opening the size of a needle and I will it expand it into a door through which wagons can go through” (Midrash on Song of Songs 5:2).

“I stopped looking for the light and decided to become it instead” (Anonymous).

“If you believe breaking is possible, believe fixing is possible” (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov).

“No matter how many mistakes you make or how slowly you progress, you are still way ahead of everyone who isn’t trying” (Unknown).



tph Jonah-And-The-Whale



Humor for Yom Kippur

with thanks to George Relles

In anticipation of Yom Kippur, first we have a few thoughts on sinning and atonement:

Sign on a synagogue just before Yom Kippur: “Your sins are not so many that you should stay out…Or so few that you shouldn’t come in.”

“Few sinners are saved after the first twenty minutes of a sermon.”
– Mark Twain

Said one man to the other after the Rabbi’s Yom Kippur sermon on the congregation’s myriad of sins: “Well, at least I haven’t made any graven images.”



Repentance and the Joke

By Avi Lazerson

As the rabbi began his lecture on repentance, he asked the class, “What must we do before we can expect forgiveness from sin?”

After a long silence, one of the men in attendance raised his hand and said:




A Forgiving Wife

July 24, 2014

A married man, Jack wakes up with a huge hangover after a night out drinking with the boys. He didn’t even remember how he got home from the party. As bad as he was feeling, he wondered if he did something wrong. Jack had to force himself to open his eyes, and the first thing he sees is a couple of aspirins next to a glass of water on the side table. Jack sits up and sees his clothing in front of him, all clean and pressed. He takes the aspirins, cringes when he sees a huge black eye staring back at him in the bathroom mirror.

Then he notices a note hanging on the corner of the mirror written in red with little hearts on it and a kiss mark from his wife in lipstick: “Honey, breakfast is on the stove, I left early to get groceries to make your favorite dinner tonight. I love you, darling! Love, Jillian” He stumbles into the kitchen and sure enough, there is a hot breakfast, steaming hot coffee, and the morning newspaper all waiting for him.

His son is also at the table, eating. Jack asks, “Son… what happened last night?”

“Well, you came home after three in the morning, drunk and out of your mind. You fell over the coffee table and broke it, and then you threw-up in the hallway, and got that black eye when you ran into the door.”

Confused, he asked his son, ” So, why is your mother in such a good mood, and breakfast is on the table waiting for me?”

His son replies, “Oh THAT! Well, when Mom dragged you to the bedroom, and tried to take your pants off, you screamed, ‘Leave me alone, I’m married! I’m married!'”


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Vayeilekh (Deuteronomy 31:1-30), Shabbat Shuvah

 (From 2016) This Shabbat: Very short weekly Torah portion (30 verses), longish special haftarah (29 verses at my shul). 

We are in the midst of the Ten Days of Penitence leading to Yom Kippur. [Before I forget, there are some fasting tips at http://www.jewfaq.org/fasttips.htm .  For me at least, the key ones are weaning off caffeine over several days, not overeating at dinner before the fast, and not eating greasy or spicy foods at that dinner.]  Although it’s not really intended to, the Torah portion dovetails nicely with the season’s themes of repentance and atonement. 

Moses describes himself as 120 years old that day, thus physically not strong enough to continue to lead the people.  [This sounds like a retirement announcement, though in this case “retirement” rapidly becomes death.]  But then he adds that this is because the Lord won’t let him cross the Jordan.  [Now it sounds like forced retirement.]  Concerned for the future of his flock, Moses tries to provide a smooth transition, assisted by the Lord’s direction. [I tried to do this in advance of my totally, totally, totally unforced retirement, with 3 months’ notice, but my replacement only came the day before I left.]  He brings Joshua before the people and publicly confirms that he is the leader who, with the Lord, will bring them into the Promised Land.  And what is the last instruction Moses gives the people?  Every sabbatical year, on the festival of Succot, all the people – men, women, children, resident foreigners – are to gather to hear the Law read to them so they can learn it. 

But what does the Lord say next?  After Moses dies, the people will screw up and worship idols.  Lest he thinks it’s all been for naught, he is reassured that they can atone and be forgiven if their atonement is genuine.  Moses is to write down a poem as a reminder of their past, punishments, and possibilities.  We’ll read that next week.

This Shabbat, the Sabbath between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, is Shabbat Shuvah, Sabbath of Return.  It is one of only two Sabbaths during the year on which, in olden times, the rabbi was expected to give a substantive sermon.  The haftarah begins with the word shuvah, which has the same root as teshuvah, repentance. There are various customs as to what is read; what is chanted in my synagogue is Hosea 14:2-10, Joel 2:11-27, Micah 7:18-20.  The theme is repentance, followed by forgiveness and redemption, readying us for Yom  Kippur.

We are taught that our atonement on Yom Kippur is really for sins between us and God.  Therefore, sins against people need to be addressed separately.  We’re not supposed to lean on blanket apologies but rather to deal with specific actions and specific people.  I’m afraid I have to make due with generalities here, since I don’t even know who some of you are.  So, for you who read this, if I have offended or hurt you in any way, through these missives or otherwise, I am truly sorry and will try to be more considerate. 

Shabbat shalom,



tph repentance app



Forgive and Forget?

Once upon a time in their marriage, Saul Rosenberg did something really stupid. Ethel Rosenberg chewed him out for it. He apologized, they made up.

However, from time to time, Ethel would mention what he had done.

“Honey,” Saul finally said one day, “why do you keep bringing that up? I thought your policy was ‘forgive and forget.'”

“It is,” Ethel said. “I just don’t want you to forget that I’ve forgiven and forgotten.”



Top Ten Signs You Are In For A Long Sermon (lightly edited for synagogues) by Pastor Tim

10. There’s a case of bottled water beside the pulpit in a cooler.

9. The pews have camper hookups.

8. You overhear the rabbi telling the sound man to have a few (dozen!) extra tapes on hand to record today’s sermon.

7. The rabbi has brought a snack to the pulpit.

6. The rabbi breaks for an intermission.

5. The bulletins have pizza delivery menus.

4. When the rabbi asks his assistant to bring in his notes, he rolls in a filing cabinet.

3. The choir loft is furnished with La-Z-Boys.

2. Instead of taking off his watch and laying it on the pulpit, the rabbi turns up a four-foot hour-glass.

And The Number One Sign You Are In For A Long Sermon

1. The rabbi says, “You’ll be out in time to watch the Super Bowl” but it’s only September!


tph fired


Succession Planning

A new manager spends a week at his new office with the manager he is replacing. On the last day, the departing manager tells him, “I have left three numbered envelopes in the desk drawer. Open an envelope if you encounter a crisis you can’t solve.”

Three months down the road there is major drama in the office and the manager feels very threatened by it all. He remembers the parting words of his predecessor and opens the first envelope. The message inside says, “Blame your predecessor!” He does this and gets off the hook.

About half a year later, the company is experiencing a dip in sales, combined with serious product problems. The manager quickly opens the second envelope. The message read, “Reorganize!” He starts to reorganize and the company quickly rebounds.

Three months later, at his next crisis, he opens the third envelope. The message inside says, “Prepare three envelopes.”



tph retire at 80


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