Kvell and Tell

Kvell and Tell

  • A Grandfather and a Grandson: Passing Passionate Advocacy from One Generation to Another

    By Rabbi Paul Kipnes

    In 1994, Rabbi Robert Klensin urged the congregants of his Arnold, MD reform Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth Shalom, to take a stand on gun violence prevention, setting the stage for a legacy of advocacy that would resonate through the generations. Now, 30 years later, his grandson, 17-year-old Elijah Paul, carried the torch l’dor vador (from generation to generation).

    Elijah’s journey began when he traveled with other teens and his rabbis from Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California for a transformative experience in Washington DC. There, he participated in the L’taken Social Justice Seminar of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism. Alongside 384 other teens from around the United States, Elijah delved into the complexities of various public policy issues, studying Jewish values and texts to form a foundation for meaningful advocacy.

    Among the myriad issues presented during the seminar, Elijah felt called to address the pressing matter of gun violence prevention. Drawing on the same sources of courage yet without prior knowledge of his grandfather’s public penchant for advocating for change, Elijah embarked on a mission to make a difference. His advocacy journey mirrored that of his grandfather, standing up to speak truth to power.

    Guided by the teachings of Talmud and Torah, Elijah and his youth group partner Shoshana Lindon meticulously crafted an advocacy speech that merged their experience with multiple school lockdowns, their memory of the nearby 2018 mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, CA, just twelve minutes from their synagogue, and their passion for gun violence prevention. Drawing on the rich tapestry of Jewish values, the team articulated a compelling argument that resonated with the essence of Tikkun Olam – the responsibility to repair the world for future generations.

    Once prepared, Elijah, along with his delegation of amazing teens from Congregation Or Ami, took to Capitol Hill to engage with the legislative staff of Congressperson Julia Brownley. Armed not with weapons but with words and conviction, Elijah and Shoshana delivered a powerful message rooted in the enduring tradition of their reform synagogue and his familial commitment to social justice.

    Upon hearing about Elijah’s chosen topic, Rachel Paul, Elijah’s mother, sent Or Ami’s me a copy of a Baltimore Sun article describing her father’s 1994 stance. The article quoted Rabbi Klensin’s poignant teachings, “The shofar is a reminder not only of Abraham’s faith in God, but that God does not want us to sacrifice the next generation [to gun violence].” As Elijah passionately advocated for gun violence prevention, I heard echoes of the past. The passion of Rabbi Robert Klensin, the grandfather, whose powerful voice once reverberated through his East coast synagogue, continues through his torchbearer, Elijah, just a teenager, who now speaks not just for himself but as a representative of a community and a family that had long embraced the principles of Tikkun Olam – repairing the world.

    You see, this story of Elijah Paul and Rabbi Robert Klensin reveals more than a chronological passage of time.  It represents a spiritual and ideological continuum: For which the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Union for Reform Judaism, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis annually bring together 2,000 young people annually for the Religious Action Center’s L’Taken Social Justice seminar. For which Congregation Or Ami annually sends a plethora of staff – this year, Rabbi Kipnes and Rabbi Lana Zilberman Soloway, Youth Engagement Coordinator Andrew Fromer, and Rabbinic Intern Sam Thal – to guide our delegation of youth. 

    Yes, we discover in this journey from grandfather to grandson year after year, a concerted effort by Reform Judaism to ensure that in each and every generation, the intentionally interwoven mantle of Torah and Tikkun Olam is upheld, so that our most cherished Jewish values meet the each moment and help repair our broken world.  

  • Celebrating MLK’s Legacy: Embracing Diversity and Belonging at Or Ami


    As we honor the remarkable legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday, I think about how his wisdom and kindness still stand out and are desperately needed to guide us through today’s challenging moment. I cannot imagine the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. approving of the way Jews are being treated today. The preacher who wrote “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” (from Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” 1963)  would speak out about the October 7th Massacre, shouting from the treetops about the hostages, “Bring them home!”

    Dr. King did not march alone back then. Jewish leaders Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel and Rabbi Joachim Prinz were great friends and supporters. Dr. King said, “Peace for Israel means security, and we must stand with all our might to protect its right to exist, its territorial integrity. I see Israel as one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. Peace for Israel means security and that security must be a reality.” He understood that antisemitism was a heinous form of hatred and believed that Israel deserved peace and security. He spoke at many synagogues back then. Were Dr. King alive today and learned about the diversity and inclusion work Or Ami is doing now, he might have joined Rabbi Paul, Rabbi Lana, and Cantor Kyle to speak from Or Ami’s bimah.

    Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is an opportune moment to reflect on the progress the Jewish community has made in embracing diversity within our communities. Synagogues, as centers of spiritual connection and community, play a pivotal role in fostering inclusivity. Congregation Or Ami stands as a shining example of this commitment, particularly in welcoming Jews of color (JOC) and their families into our community.

    In the spirit of Dr. King’s dream, Or Ami has dedicated itself – from our earliest years – to creating an environment where diversity is not just acknowledged but celebrated. This commitment is rooted in the understanding that our strength as a community lies in the rich tapestry of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences that our members bring. In fact, what we used to call our “Inclusion committee” is now known as our “Mosaic committee” because we see ourselves as a mosaic of Moses’ people. 

    While it is essential to celebrate the progress made, it is equally important to acknowledge the work that lies ahead. According to recent demographic studies, the American Jewish community is becoming increasingly diverse, with a growing number of Jews identifying as people of color. It is estimated that Jews of color make up a significant and vibrant segment of the Jewish population, contributing to the cultural richness and dynamism of our community. In a study conducted by PEW Research Center in 2019-2020, 13% of US Jews live in multiracial households and 17% live in households where at least one person is Hispanic, Black, Asian, other races or multiracial. In that same study they found, young Jewish adults are more racially and ethnically diverse: 28% of Jews ages 18-29 identify as a Jew of color. Clearly we have work to do to ensure that synagogues fully embrace all Jews. 

    Congregation Or Ami’s commitment to embracing diversity, in partnership with the Jewish Federation, aligns with this changing landscape, recognizing the importance of ensuring that all Jews, regardless of their background, find a welcoming space within the congregation. By actively fostering an environment where everyone’s unique identity is acknowledged and respected, Or Ami is taking concrete steps to fulfill the vision of an inclusive Jewish community.

    As we celebrate Dr. King’s birthday, let us use this occasion to reflect on the values that define us as a community and renew our commitment to creating a world where everyone, regardless of their background, is welcomed, respected, and celebrated. In doing so, we honor Dr. King’s legacy and contribution to the ongoing work of building a society that reflects the ideals of justice, compassion, and unity for which he so passionately advocated.


  • Ordination Drasha (teaching) 

    By Lana Zilberman Soloway
    In loving memory of Vivian Silver z”l

    What are the right words that need to be spoken at this challenging time?

    Etty Hillesum, was a 29-year-old Jewish woman from Holland, who perished in the Shoah, 80 years ago today, on the third of Kislev. During her darkest hour, when she was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp, she wrote these words: “Give your sorrow all the space and shelter in yourself that is its due, for if everyone bears their grief honestly and courageously, the sorrow that now fills the world will abate. One day we shall build a whole new world. Against every new outrage and every fresh horror, we shall put out one more piece of love and goodness, drawing strength from within ourselves”.

    Although Etty did not live to see a better world, she never stopped believing in one.

    Rabbi Regina Jonas was the first female Rabbi to be ordained in Germany in 1935. She served as the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin until she was deported first to Terezin and then to Auschwitz-Birkenau. 

    Before her death, she wrote the following words: “I chose this profession because I religiously believe that God does not oppress any human being. I believe in equal spiritual rights for all humans who are created in the image of God. Our people were planted in history as blessed people. Being “blessed” by God, means to be a blessing, to act with love, kindness, and loyalty everywhere all the time. Being humble and feeling love for all human beings can protect the world. The role of Israel always was and still is to guard these values and implement them in the world”.

    Regina was also murdered in the month of Kislev when she was only 42 years old. Her words and actions became her last testament. 

    This Kislev, as I am the age of 42, their legacy becomes my path. 

    There are no words that can adequately describe the present chaos in our lives. The world however, also came into being from a state of chaos, so there is hope.

    I remind myself that in every generation, there were evil powers that wanted to destroy our People. Jewish memory is filled both with stories of destruction and stories of rebirth. Light always comes after darkness, just as prophecies of consolation follow prophecies of destruction. It is important to allow space for sadness and to grieve what is lost, while finding comfort in all that we have. A possibility for a new dawn does exist, to start afresh, from the beginning.

    I believe that the Holy One does not oppress people, but cries with us. 

    For many years I searched for whom to blame for world disasters. I felt terrible and truly did not understand why bad things happen to good people. I was blaming God.

    The most meaningful impact on me of my Rabbinic journey is my personal theological growth and understanding of God. On this journey, I reframed the question from “Where was/is God?” to “Where were/are the people?”

    I truly believe that we share the responsibility for this world with the Holy One. Our part in this partnership is to seek justice, in order to be able to inherit the land that God promised us, while building a society based on Torah, worship and acts of love and kindness.

    So I stand here today thanks to courageous women and men who protected the Jewish soul and humanistic values for thousands of years. 

    My Saba, Shimon z”l, dreamt about a Jewish State but did not live to see it. My Aba, Daniel z”l and my Ima Marina fulfilled his dream by making Aliyah and bringing me to Israel on November 15, 1990, exactly thirty-three years ago. They could never imagine that I would become a Reform Rabbi but they always taught me that no dream is too big.

    I want to thank the Holy One, my teachers and rabbis, my friends at the Hebrew Union College, my beautiful soul sisters Yael and Miriam, my beloved family who are watching from afar, my new home at Congregation Or Ami, and all my wonderful friends who made an effort to be here with me today, in person and on Zoom.

    I am humbled by this ordination and will do my best to be worthy of it by seeing the good in people, seeking justice for all, building bridges between the State of Israel and world Jewry and between the Jewish People and other nations and religions.

    My Torah is your Torah. 

    Hineni. Here I am. 


  • I Refuse to Excuse the Hatred of Jews

    by Stephanie Blau

    October 7, 2023,
    rocked my world and shattered me.

    I watched in horror on the news,
    the slaughter and kidnapping of innocent Jews.

    Brothers, sisters, husbands, wives,
    children and babies starting their lives.

    Israelis, Americans, others as well,
    forced to endure unimaginable hell.

    Children plucked from their mother’s arms,
    with rifles, knives, and firearms.

    The elderly were pushed and struck,
    while girls were raped in the back of a truck.

    Rockets rained down on their heads,
    taken hostage, injured, dead.

    On Shabbat, the day of rest,
    as terrorists attacks only progressed.

    Hamas started this brutal war,
    a relevant fact you can’t ignore.

    Yet somehow Israel is to blame,
    the reason why is clear to name:

    ANTISEMITISM, the hatred of Jews
    infiltrated our world and news.

    Our country condemns fascism, racism, criticism, chauvinism,
    but idly stands by in the face of antisemitism.

    Universities are breeding grounds,
    where antisemitism is largely found.

    College professors proudly preach,
    their skewed interpretation of Freedom of Speech.

    Supporting violence and terrorism,
    encouraging hatred and antisemitism.

    Enticement for incitement, flagrant defamation,
    harassment, lack of safety, lies, misinformation.

    Dismantled mezuzahs, plucked from front doors,
    elderly Jews, stomped to the floor.

    Holocaust survivors, the few that are left,
    are sickened with shock, bereaved and bereft.

    “Never Again,” is happening NOW.
    In this day and age, I ask myself how.

    Hatred of Jews is day old news,
    a malady I refuse to excuse.

    I’ll proudly wear my Jewish star.
    I’ll repent and atone as I hear the Shofar.

    I’ll light the candles Friday night,
    in these dark times we need some light.

    I’ll send my kids to Hebrew School,
    I’ll pray with others in my Shul.

    I’ll celebrate Hannukah, eat chocolate gelt,
    as Menorah candles melt.

    I’ll do good deeds, Tikun Olam,
    despite the threat of being bombed.

    I won’t be silenced; my voice is loud.
















  • Reflection and Support by Reverend Dr. Ross Porter

    Good evening.  I am Ross Porter, your younger brother in faith.

    I last stood before you almost exactly five years ago, following the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.  And here I am again, at the invitation of my dear brother Rabbi Paul, to grieve with you—and to offer a brief but heartfelt reflection on why I’d rather be here tonight than anywhere else in the world.  As I prayed for the right words to speak in this time of deep sorrow, and anger, and pain, I found myself surprisingly overwhelmed…by a debt of gratitude.

    I want you to know how grateful I am for you, my older brothers and sisters in faith…and for Judaism.  I grew up in Tarzana and Calabasas, and my closest friends were Jewish.  In fact, when I was thirteen my mother had to buy me TWO leisure suits to keep up with my Saturday Bar Mitzvah and Bat Mitzvah schedule!  And all these years later, my fashion choices may have changed, but my friendships have not.  My Jewish siblings still accompany me in my priesthood, Judaism remains foundational to my faith, and Israel remains my spiritual home.  Of course this makes complete sense to me a fellow son of Abraham, as it should to all Christians.

    Through you and through Israel we know a God Who loves up close even if it doesn’t always feel that way.

    Through you and through Israel we know that God’s word speaks to us in the darkest hours when all hope seems lost.

    Through you and through Israel we know that humankind is built for freedom not slavery.

    Through you and through Israel we know that faith is a journey that can sometimes feel like wandering in a dry and barren wilderness.

    So clearly I am not here to instruct you—my precious extended family—on how to handle crisis, and loss, and evil.  Please.  You’ve had 5,000 years of practice.  No, I’m here again because I love you, and I love Israel.  And I’m here again to pledge my support in any and every way that is helpful.

    You have and you will walk through the valley of the shadow of death and emerge stronger than ever.

    You have and you will confront evil and fight for good.

    You have and you will strive for justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.

    You have and you will show the world that love will always overcome hate.

    I have no doubt that you’ve felt alone in this battle.  Far too often you have been.

    But tonight I gently remind you that you are not alone.  I stand with you, my church stands with you, and every true Christian stands with you.

    Tonight we weep, but we do not lose heart.

    I close with the words of the Psalmist:

    Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the LORD our God, I will seek your prosperity. (Psalm 122:6-9)

    You and our beloved Israel remain in my heart, always.  


  • Kvell and Tell – March 31 2023 – Rabbi Paul Kipnes Begins his Long-Delayed Sabbatical
    Paul Square

    On April 1st, Rabbi Paul will begin his long-delayed rabbinical sabbatical. He will return on July 19th. The term “sabbatical,” related to the word Shabbat (time of rest), refers to a leave from normal responsibilities. Its roots are in the Torah when God instructs Moses on Mount Sinai that the Israelites are to work the fields for six years and on the seventh year the land will have a Shabbat, a complete rest. Typically taken by rabbis around the world after each seven years of service to the community, a rabbinical sabbatical allows a rabbi to rest, study and experience new facets of Jewish spirituality and learning. It serves to rejuvenate a rabbi’s internal resources for the dual purposes of providing more knowledge for sermons and synagogue activities and creating an invaluable period of spiritual and professional renewal.

    How will our rabbi renew himself? Rabbi Paul will study: Men in Search of God (the theology of how men might experience God today), Tikkun Middot (cultivating character through mindfulness and Jewish virtures, with the Institute for Jewish Spirituality), and Shekels Seminar (next level fundraising for rabbis). He will write and edit, preparing a collection of his poetry to submit for publication. He will expand his personal spiritual practice by rediscovering the beauty of the Holy One with travels to Israel and around the world.

    Although we will miss Rabbi Paul, we understand that this sabbatical is essential to both his vibrancy and longevity. To ensure that Rabbi Paul can retreat, reflect and renew, we have developed the following sabbatical coverage plans: Our wise and compassionate Rabbi Julia Weisz will take a leading role in responding to the pastoral needs of our congregants ( rabbijulia@orami.org ). As she does now, she will make hospital visits, arrange for funerals, lead services, and take care of our community’s other spiritual needs. She will be supported by Cantor Doug, Rachel, Andrew, and Sam. Our fabulous office staff – Icela ( icela@orami.org ), Kellie ( kellie@orami.org ), and bookkeeper Lisette ( lisette@orami.org ) – look forward to assisting you. President Craig Steinhauer ( csteinhauer@nwfadvisory.com ) is always ready to listen and help.

    Since we want Rabbi Paul to focus on his own renewal and spiritual growth, with his consent we have instructed him that during his sabbatical, he will not be reading his Or Ami email, blog, Facebook, or instagram, nor will he be accepting congregant phone calls. Although you might see him around town, please respectfully do not engage him in synagogue-related issues (of course, do say “Hi Paul” and chat him up). We are proud of how well we take care of our clergy, and we want him refreshed when he returns!

    Rabbi Paul returns to our community at Shabbat services on Friday night, July 21 st when he will co-lead services with our new Cantor Kyle Cotler at Cantor Kyle’s first service. Please mark your calendars to join us to welcome him back and celebrate our new clergy team.

    Baruch B’vo’echa * Baruch B’tzay-techa
    Blessed may our Rabbi be as he goes off to learn * Blessed may he be as he returns to us renewed.

  • Kvell and Tell – February 9 2023 – Thrive Scholars

    The following is a newsletter feature from Thrive Scholars

    During the pandemic, Congregation Or Ami hosted an online information session with Thrive Scholars (then called SCS Noonan), an organization dedicated to providing high-achieving students of color from low-income communities the opportunities they need to thrive at top colleges and in meaningful careers. Congregants Debby and Davidson Pattiz hosted the zoom session for congregants interested in training and becoming mentors. We are kvelling about this article about congregant Franny Baldwin and her mentee Liliana…
    Mentor Spotlight:

    Liliana originally started her college journey considering a degree in journalism, but after participating in UCLA’s Riordan college to career program, she was exposed to the business world and developed an interest for the entertainment industry. That fall she requested a mentor with the goal of learning more about the entertainment industry, securing internships, studying abroad, and expanding her network.

    Liliana was matched with Thrive Mentor and Producer at Abominable Pictures, Franny Baldwin via Thrive’s Mentorship Project-Cycle in late 2020. After the initial project-cycle, the pair spent the remainder of the academic year introducing Liliana to a range of professionals in the entertainment industry including, Directors, Music Supervisors, Producers, and more! The duo even got to meet in person for the first time
    in summer ’21 when Franny recruited Liliana to work as a Production Assistant on the Scooby-Doo Reunion Special with Warner Brothers and the film I Love America for Amazon.

    franny 2

    Liliana was able to enter her junior year with two major studio productions and an internship with Discovery under her belt. But most importantly, Liliana was able to explore countless options through her mentor’s network as she gained clarity and confidence in entering her industry of choice. Liliana has since studied abroad in France and wrapped up another successful internship this past summer with NBCUniversal where she shared, “I feel prepared for a career in the entertainment industry, and am excited to see what the future holds.” Check out their exciting feature in the Brookings Institution report: “Who You Know: Relationships, networks and social capital in boosting educational opportunity for young Americans.”

  • Kvell and Tell – December 14 2022 – Cantor Kyle Cotler Joins Or Ami


    Announcing Or Ami’s New Cantor

    Over the past year, our community set out to explore the state of Jewish music with prominent cantors and Jewish composers, consult with faculty from our Reform Movement’s Debbie Friedman School of Cantorial Arts, and learn about the cantorial hiring process from the American Conference of Cantors placement commission.

    Even after this intentional and emotional year-long process, the Or Ami Cantorial Search Team – chaired by Marla Landis and Kevin Palm – faced a daunting task. This team was asked to find an inspiring, innovative person who could preserve the legacy of our founding cantor, Doug Cotler, while expanding our repertoire of music and meaning. We were asking them to find the person who would transform Or Ami into a center of music and Jewish culture to which people flock.

    Using what we learned, our rabbis, president, Search Team and Listening Teams crafted rigorous interview schedules and listening sessions. This diverse group of congregants met wonderful candidates who helped us imagine what Or Ami’s musical future could be, yet one person distinguished himself by his ability to create meaningful moments in a multitude of gatherings, by his warmth, and by the virtuosity of his voice and vision.

    We are thrilled to announce that after a nationwide search, under the auspices and guidance of the American Conference of Cantors, we have engaged Cantor Rabbi Kyle Cotler to be the next cantor of Congregation Or Ami. We look forward to welcoming him as he begins his work at Or Ami on July 1, 2023.

    Cantor Kyle, as we will call him, was ordained cantor by the Academy of Jewish Religion (AJR) in Los Angeles in 2015, and then continued his education to be ordained rabbi by the AJR in 2016. He is completing his fourth year as cantor at Beth Emet: The Free Synagogue in Evanston, Illinois. He previously served synagogues in La Mirada, CA and North Shore Synagogue in Syosset, New York, and during his seminary years interned at Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles. He has served as Head Songleader at Camp Hess Kramer (Malibu) and Camp Kalsman (Washington State). He loves teaching children, engaging with teens, and exploring Jewish meaning with adults and families.

    Cantor Kyle, a fourth generation cantor and first generation rabbi, is the son of Or Ami’s Cantor Emeritus Doug Cotler (and Gail Pettler). He grew up at Congregation Or Ami, where he became Bar Mitzvah and was Confirmed. We schepp nachas that one of our homegrown graduates returns to lead us and we are delighted that his breadth of experience and wide vision will lead us in wonderfully new directions.

    We are excited to welcome and get to know Cantor Kyle, his partner Rachel and their dog Wishbone, as they get settled into the community in July. In the coming months, Cantor Kyle will meet with our clergy team to begin the process of planning for the High Holy Days, rejuvenating our Or Ami Chorale, and mapping out a vision for our shared future.

    We want to express our heartfelt appreciation to our Cantorial Search Team – Marla Landis, Kevin Palm, Craig Steinhauer, Linda Blumenthal, Erin Mayer, Rachel Paul, Hugh Roberts, Rabbi Julia Weisz, Rabbi Paul Kipnes, and consultant Marcy Balogh – for completing the monumental task of ensuring our musical legacy and future. We also thank the American Conference of Cantors for providing a clear process and pathway, which our Team followed fully, to bring us to this shehecheyanu moment.

    Baruch Ata Adonai Eloheinu Melech haolam, shehecheyanu v’kiyemanu v’higianu lazman hazeh. We thank the Holy One of Blessing, for giving us life, keeping us grounded, and leading us to this holy moment.

    If you have any questions about our process and decision, please do reach out.


    Rabbi Paul Kipnes
    Craig Steinhauer, President

    A Note From Cantor Kyle:

    Dear Congregation Or Ami,

    I am thrilled to rejoin this wonderful community as Or Ami’s next cantor. After seven years away in New York and Chicago, I can’t imagine any place I’d rather be than working at my “home” congregation, the community in which I grew up, studied to become a Bar Mitzvah, and helped form the youth group, LoMPTY.

    The warmth and cordiality I experienced with the Cantorial Search Task Force made the process and the congregation feel so inviting and exciting. I’d like to thank the Cantorial Search chairs, Marla Landis and Kevin Palm, the entire Cantorial Search team, and Or Ami President Craig Steinhauer for creating such a wonderful experience throughout the process. I appreciated meeting and interviewing with all the thoughtful people involved.

    Over the next few months until I make my exodus from Chicago back to Los Angeles, I will be working with the clergy team to onboard. I am thrilled at the prospect of continuing the legacy Cantor Doug Cotler (aka Cantor Cotler 3.0) began over two decades ago. Or Ami has a strong reputation for creating stirring music, deepening Jewish spirituality, and pursuing social justice; central passions of mine.

    But most of all, I am excited to meet YOU! There are so many bonds I have with folks at Or Ami that I look forward to strengthening and so many new connections I am looking forward to making. Words cannot begin to express the joy and anticipation my family and I are feeling. Thank you again for believing in me and my vision.


    Cantor Kyle Cotler

  • Food Forward Update – May 27 2022

    Food Forward, Or Ami’s partner in righting food insecurity, …

    “On an average day, Food Forward supplies over 150,000 people their USDA-recommended 5 daily servings of fruits and vegetables.”

    This is just one of the many wonderful updates in Food Forward’s 2021 Annual Report – Click Here to see the full report!

    To read about Or Ami’s Food Forward Truck…

    Food Forward Truck Update November 24, 2020

    Food Forward Truck Update September 15, 2019

  • Our Protective Shells – January 21, 2022

    A sermon from Rabbi Julia Weisz, Co-Written by Rabbinic Intern Mira Weller 

    Shabbat Shalom. First let me thank Agoura Hills Mayor, Deborah Klein Lopez, Calabasas City Councilor Peter Kraut and Immediate Past President Lesli Kraut, Calabasas Mayor Mary Sue Maurer, Westlake Village Mayor Brad Halpern for being with us this evening and for participating in our Shabbat services.

    This past week I keep thinking about…

    Bananas. Pomegranates. Almonds.

    A list of items that all have one thing in common.

    What is it?

    These are all fruits

    And these fruits all have a tough outer shell or peel.

    And these fruits, like many others, grow on trees.

    This past weekend we celebrated trees for Tu Bshvat, one of the four “new years” in the Jewish calendar. Tu Bshvat is the New Year for the trees, the birthday of the trees and we celebrate by being out in nature and eating fruit from the trees. Like Bananas. Pomegranates and almonds. This past week I have especially resonated with the bananas, the pomegranates and the almonds. Because, each of them have this outer layer protecting the sweetness of what is inside yet hiding the sweetness from view. This protective shield holds the fruit and allows it to grow in its own time amidst harsh weather, insects, and even intruders. When we’re ready to eat the yumminess inside,  we can remove this layer. But until that moment, the fruit’s own peel or skin or shell keeps its sweet interior safe so that the fruit can ripen and flourish despite its difficult environment

    Perhaps another reason we celebrate Tu B’shvat is because people aren’t so different from fruit. We too have skin that keeps our bodies intact. Our communities keep us together just like the pomegranate’s white insides hold its many seeds in place. Torah, prayer, and synagogue life helps to keep our Jewish community together. These in turn give us a safe place in our hearts and in our lives that helps us grow and ripen to our sweetest selves.  

    For some of us, hat happened this past Shabbat in Colleyville, was as if our protective peel, our outer shell, broke open. Watching the news, scrolling social media, hearing no significant updates for hours upon hours left some of us feeling vulnerable and afraid. If this happened in Texas, during Shabbat,  in a synagogue – a sanctuary where we should all feel free enough to pray and gather together – is there any place left where we can live without fear?– I am vulnerable and I am afraid.

    What happened in Colleyville is only one of many instances in the past two years where we as a people felt vulnerable and afraid. This pandemic, the spread of Covid-19, vulnerability and fear were driving forces behind decisions we were and still are making in our daily lives. Our protective shell was exposed. Our bodies were vulnerable to Covid-19, to a disease we knew little about except that it could make us and our loved ones really sick. Should I travel with my family this winter? No, I am worried I will get sick and have to quarantine or worse, go to the hospital. Should I have coffee, tea, lunch or dinner with a friend. No I am afraid. Should I attend that birthday party? NO! And on and on. 

    Fear because of the hostage situation in Colleyville. Fear because of Covid-19. Fear felt by the Israelites who in this week’s Torah portion prepare to receive the 10 commandments from Mount Sinai. Imagine this: The people stood at the foot of a mountain covered in thick smoke that rose high above them like the smoke in a kiln. The whole mountain shook violently. The blare of a a shofar grew louder and louder as lightening and thunder crashed and then suddenly, God spoke.

    Moses could sense the people’s fear. The terrifying scene stripped their protective shell and they were vulnerable. He responded to them: And Moses responds to the people’s fear by saying, “Do not be afraid. God only spoke directly so that the fear of Adonai, God, may forever be with you, so that you do not go astray.” In that very special, rare moment, God peeled away the protective shells from the Israelites, and inspired something amidst their fear. When God asks the Israelites to accept the Torah, they respond, for the first time in the Torah, in one courageous and unified voice: “Na’aseh”. We’ll do it. Together. 

    Why did Torah use the word fear to describe this transformative moment at Mt. Sinai? Dr Zachary Sikora a Northwestern Medicine Clinical Psychologist explains that “Fear is a natural and biological condition that we all experience. It’s important that we experience fear because it keeps us safe.” The Hebrew word for fear, found in our Torah portion, is yirah which can also be translated as awe or respect. So, amidst all this vulnerability and fear around the Colleyville crisis, the pandemic, God’s revelation of the 10 commandments, could we also be experiencing awe and wonder amidst the fear?

    I think Amanda Gorman, National Youth Poet Laureate, helps answer this question in her article found in yesterday’s New York Times. The article is titled: Why I Almost Didn’t Read My Poem at Inauguration. The article begins: It’s told like this: Amanda Gorman performed at the inauguration, and the rest is history.

    The truth is I almost declined to be the inaugural poet. Why?

    I was terrified.

    Then she goes on to explain what were her fears and why her fear almost stopped her from reading her poem last year.

    And this is the part I want to share with all of you-how fear and awe can sometimes be one in the same.

    She writes about the impact of the pandemic and how some of our fears from a year ago are still the same. But, we are not. Amanda writes, If nothing else, this must be known: Even as we’ve grieved, we’ve grown; even fatigued we’ve found that this hill we climb is one we must mount together. We are battered, but bolder; worn, but wiser. I’m not telling you to not be tired or afraid. If anything, the very fact that we’re weary means we are, by definition, changed; we are brave enough to listen to, and learn from, our fear. This time will be different because this time we’ll be different. We’ll be riper, more tender, and richer inside. We already are.

    Just like the Israelites at Mount Sinai who stood before God and received the 10 commandments in fear. They were brave enough to listen, they were changed in that moment in time. In fact, it was not until they received the Torah that they were considered the PEOPLE of Israel. We ripened that day.We became a community.

    Just like we have changed during this pandemic. Our fear has made us reprioritize our social relationships, be conscious and helpful towards others who are sicker and older, be especially grateful for our own health.

    And then there is Colleyville. It is too new and too hard at the moment to see that any awe in this because the hostage situation was so AWFUL but definitely not awe-filled. However, I do believe that our fear on that Shabbat a week ago is moving jewish communities around the country towards change-implementing tighter security systems, feeling gratitude and support for the Jewish people and the communities we build within our synagogues.This Shabbat, we stand, is also Repro Shabbat where communities celebrate the crucial importance of reproductive health access. Like the Israelites, together in solidarity against threats to reproductive rights – the protective shell that helps young people flourish in their own time, just as fruits ripening for Tu B’shvat.

    And together in this community of resilience and support, may the words of Amanda Gorman ring in our ears this Shabbat: 

    “So do not fear your fear. Own it. Free it. This isn’t a liberation that I or anyone can give you — it’s a power you must look for, learn, love, lead and locate for yourself.

    Why? The truth is, hope isn’t a promise we give. It’s a promise we live. Tell it like this, and we, like our words, will not rest.

    And the rest is history.”

    Shabbat Shalom my friends.

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