... and a "dag" is a fish

... and a

For beginning Hebrew students, "Mi" is who, "hu" is he, "hi" is she, and a "dog" is a fish. can help them remember the masculine and feminine singular pronouns, and that the Hebrew word for "fish" is דג. These are some of my thoughts about teaching and learning.

Beyond Tucson: A Time to Break Silence

on Tuesday, 16 January 2018. Posted in Community

Blessing for Celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Hinei Mah Tov U’ma na’im, shevet achim gam yachad.

How good and powerful is it for all of us to come together. Psalm 133:1

This week in the Torah, we continue reading the story of the Exodus. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., characterized that this part of the narrative as follows:

At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The Exodus began, but is far from having been completed.[i]

Sadly, fifty-five years after Rabbi Heschel uttered those words, it still is true. It is time to break silence.

Rabbi Joachim Prinz spoke at the March on Washington that same year, he reminded the assembled of the danger of silence:

When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.[ii]

Rabbi Prinz’s call is still true for us today. It is time to break silence.

Dr. Martin Luther King in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that same year, said:

We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.[iii]

We come together today to remember the work and the ideals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and particularly the call to break silence.

We can break silence about injustice and hatred, racism and sexism. We can lift our voices in song and speech, in dance and in art. And by coming together today, we can break silence.

Adonai Oz L’amo Yitein Adonai Yivareich et Amo VaShalom

“God will give strength to God’s people, God will bless God’s people with peace.” Psalm 29:11


[i] https://is.gd/pRQTAC

[ii] http://www.joachimprinz.com/civilrights.htm

[iii] https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html

Seeing the World Through New Eyes

on Sunday, 23 April 2017. Posted in Community

Rabbi Batsheva Appel's Benediction for Yom HaShoah 5777

A dear friend, finding herself at loose ends this year, took a class in drawing. She never thought of herself as artistic, never took any art classes, and putting pencil to paper to create an image of something is still a type of mysterious alchemy to her. She explained to me that drawing is all about seeing things. Her first class the instructor started the students drawing a still life immediately and the only thing the instructor said to her was, “what is the darkest part of the apple slice?” He was prompting her to see what was in front of her, to pay attention to the details that we do not always notice, and to try to translate that to paper with pencil. Art has changed way that my friend looks at the world.

Gratitude Even as We Discard Things

on Sunday, 16 April 2017. Posted in Mussar Mondays

Gratitude - Hakarat HaTov - Mussar Mondays

Old Boot

Marie Kondo has made her name by helping people tidy up. She has a system for removing clutter from our homes that includes the correct ways to sort things, to fold things, to store things. Kondo’s approach is very different from most de-cluttering experts. She suggests that we hold every single item and ask just one question, “Does it spark joy?” If it does spark joy, then we save that item and she tells us how and where to place it in our soon to be de-cluttered home. If the item does not cause us to feel joy when we hold it in our hands, then it needs to be discarded. If any item is hard to discard, then Kondo suggests that we think about its purpose in our lives and let it go with gratitude, going as far as saying “Thank you” to the item.

Eyes of Blessing

on Thursday, 23 March 2017. Posted in D'var Torah

Rabbi Batsheva Appel's D'var Torah On Vayakhel/Pekudei

Protection against the Evil EyeWe are modern, rational, reasonable people and yet there are Jewish superstitions, the most powerful of which has to do with our fear of the evil eye.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, the evil eye is: "A supposed power of bewitching or harming by spiteful looks. . . ." Certain people are thought to have this power and can damage life and property through a look. The fear of the evil eye is ancient and not confined to Judaism and it isn't hard to see how such a superstition developed. Staring is an aggressive behavior. From my time in the New York City subways when I was at seminary, I know that staring at a stranger can be interpreted as a challenge, even if that isn't the intent. 

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5777: Finding Our Way Home

on Tuesday, 11 October 2016. Posted in Sermon

Rabbi Batsheva Appel's Sermon Rosh Hashanah 5777

October 2, 2016

Rabbi Batsheva Appel
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

Saroo followed his brothers everywhere growing up in a small town in India. He was one of four siblings being raised by a single mother. There wasn’t much food at home, and the boys would hop the trains at the train station in the town center and go to the next towns over to scrounge for food. He was only 4 years old the day that Saroo followed his brothers on the train to the next town. When his older brother told him to stay in the train station, Saroo, 4 years old, took a nap. When he woke up, he didn’t see his brother anywhere and thinking that he must be on the train that was in front of him, he got on. Saroo ended up in Kolkata, a thousand miles away from the town and family that he knew. He knew the names of his mother and his brothers and sister, but he didn’t know his own last name. He didn’t know the name of town he had come from. He didn’t know the language in Kolkata. He was lost in a vast city of millions and no way to go home. He survived for five months on the streets of Kolkata and in an orphanage before being adopted by a family from Tasmania, where he grew up.

Dress for Success

on Tuesday, 23 February 2016. Posted in D'var Torah

D'var Torah - Parashat Tetzaveh

originally posted in the Israel Religious Action Center weekly newletter - The Pluralist

The clothing worn by the High Priest forms an ensemble of the highest quality materials, colors, and embellishment. Hand tailored of the finest organic wool and linen dyed blue, purple, and crimson, with gold and semi-precious stones for the coordinating accessories, including the bells at the hem. Ibn Ezra, the medieval Spanish commentator, notes that it is one of a kind, that no other Israelite wears anything similar.

Form follows function. The clothes are explicitly for the splendor and adornment of the High Priest. J.H. Hertz, in his commentary, offers an alternate translation: “for splendor and distinction.” Nachum Sarna stresses that the outfit “befits the exalted office. Maimonides points out that this attire was worn not for the self-glorification of the High Priest but solely because it was divinely commanded.” Everett Fox suggests that language “enables one to see in the priest’s garb a reflection of the divine splendor.”

When we choose what to wear we take into consideration the planned events of the day and different aspects of our lives. We choose our clothing for comfort, for the weather, to reaffirm or assert our identity, to blend in or to stand out. Our choices make a statement. That statement might not be splendor and adornment, but our selections create an impression.

What happens when we look deeper into the origins of what we wear? Our clothing is not made by automatons, it is sewn by people. When we purchase the clothes we wear, that our children wear, do we consider how it was made?  If the people who are sewing our clothes receive a pittance each day, if they can barely live on the wages that they earn making garments that we see as disposable, does that undermine the statement, the impression we wish to create as we dress each morning? 

The materials that go into our clothing can have different effects on the environment. Growing cotton can require intensive use of water, pesticides, and herbicides. The manufacture of nylon, polyester, and rayon can require the use of harsh chemicals. Wearing a shirt with a statement about saving the world doesn’t ring true when the creation of that shirt does the opposite.

We do not wear the garb of the High Priest, or even what the Levites would have worn when they served in the Mishkan, the Wilderness Tabernacle. But we can choose our clothing to make a statement about preserving the environment and providing a decent living for the workers who clothe us. And then we will be serving God with our adornment.  

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5774: Life is a Knuckleball

on Wednesday, 04 September 2013. Posted in Sermon

I'm sure that by now you have realized that there is a change in the line-up this year. Rabbi Holtz is bringing his rabbinic skills to a congregation in London, England and will be translating his coaching ability from softball to cricket whenever the season starts there.

I am Rabbi Batsheva Appel and have been tapped to join the Temple Emanu-El team and am excited to be part of this community. I am more bookish than athletic, and was very upfront with the lay leadership of this congregation that I am really not very accomplished in any sport that involves hitting something with something else. I have been doing some research however on how we might use the knuckleball in our softball games.

I learned about the knuckleball when I heard about the memoir of R.A. Dickey, currently a knuckleball pitcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. When I began listening to Terry Gross' interview of Dickey on Fresh Air, I thought that the story would be straightforward: pitcher learns new skill through lots of practice and extends his career in Major League Baseball. Dickey's story is actually much more complicated.

He is very candid in his memoir, Wherever I Wind Up: My Quest for Truth, Authenticity and the Perfect Knuckleball, sharing difficult details about his childhood. He does well at baseball and plays at University of Tennessee. Dickey is drafted by the Texas Rangers with a substantial signing bonus that is then lost when the Rangers take back their offer. It turns out he has no ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, which will affect his pitching. They end up making him a much less significant offer, because of his elbow. He continues to work to achieve his dream of being a Major League Baseball pitcher, but at times it seems farther and farther away. He plays in the minor leagues for a long time and is eventually called up to the majors.


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