Flat Tires - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Opening Erev Rosh Hashanah 5777

October 2, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

There was a woman’s post on Facebook that struck home recently.  It read, “I saw my ex broken down with two flat tires this morning which made me late for work.   Nine times I drove past before he noticed me laughing at him.”

Well, this past year I have taken up cycling in earnest.   I’m not sure this is something that should interest anyone besides me, but after struggling for a couple of years to come up with an exercise regimen to replace running, it turns out that road biking works.  I ran for 35 years or so, and then I needed a new hip, and now after a couple of other tries it turns out pedaling a road bike for a couple of hours very early in the morning is just the ticket. 

There are fabulous bike paths that run next to our dry Tucson riverbeds.  Unlike our potholed streets, these bike paths are also very well maintained.  You can ride as far as you like—my longest rides are 50 or 60 miles—without competing with cars or trucks.  You get to enjoy our magnificent Southern Arizona scenery early in the day before it gets too hot, there are lots of interesting and dangerous forms of wildlife you zip past in safety—oh, look that was a rattlesnake!  and five or six hungry coyotes—and in my experience bicycle people are incredibly helpful and polite when something goes wrong.

Like a flat tire.

Read more: Flat Tires - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Opening Erev Rosh Hashanah 5777

Finding Our Way Home - Rabbi Batsheva Appel's Sermon Erev 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.

Read more: Finding Our Way Home - Rabbi Batsheva Appel's Sermon Erev Rosh Hashanah 5777

Being There - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Sermon Nitzavim 5776

September 30, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

Do any of you remember a film from about 35 years ago called "Being There"?  It starred Peter Sellers and Melvyn Douglas—who were both Jewish, by the way—and was based on a novel by controversial Holocaust survivor Jerzy Kosinski.  It was about a mentally challenged middle aged man trained as a gardener who finds himself, accidentally, suddenly enshrined as the economic and social guru of the president of the United States and a media icon.  It's about, well, being there, being in the right place at a particular time.  You could say that two other films, Woody Allen's Zelig and the classic Forrest Gump were more or less modeled on Being There, fine examples of how sometimes just showing up is all that matters.

We can see many examples of this phenomenon in our own lives: people who seem to succeed just by being in the right place at the right time.  It's certainly not true that most of us are just taking up space in this world, for everyone is created in the image of God… but there are times when you do wonder a little bit about whether some folks have achieved great heights simply by showing up.

But perhaps this isn't the right approach to the question of what it means to simply be there.  Without venturing too far into Zen Buddhism—or, as we say on the Too Jewish Radio Show, Zen Judaism—perhaps we should explore what simply being present, truly present, can mean in our world.

Read more: Being There - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Sermon Nitzavim 5776

It is All Us: 9/11 Fifteen Years Later - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Sermon Shoftim 5776

September 9, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

It’s the 15th anniversary of 9/11 this coming Sunday, a decade and a half since the horrific events that traumatically changed our world in so many ways.  For over a decade I chaired the 9/11 commemorations here in Tucson, and usually our own Temple Emanu-El hosted the annual multi-faith service held in memory of those who died, and recognizing the first-responders and others who assisted the victims and their families.  It was an honor to do so, but to be honest we began that interfaith effort because we realized in that crisis that we had a true poverty of religious community from which to respond.  I have made many good friends and met outstanding colleagues because of those 9/11 services, but as all things seem to do, those efforts have diminished over time.  The last of those annual events here was two years ago.  It was moving and beautiful, but no longer well-attended.  People move on… 

A few observations from the perspective of 15 years.

Read more: It is All Us: 9/11 Fifteen Years Later - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Sermon Shoftim 5776

Opening the Door - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Sermon Re’ei 5776

September 2, 2016

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon
Temple Emanu-El
Tucson, Arizona

Should we choose safety or opportunity?  That’s a question we often ask, in our lives, our professions, our investments, our relationships.  It’s not a new question in this generation, however. 

This week’s Torah portion of Re’ei begins with a powerful statement of choice: I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing if you follow God’s commandments, the mitzvot; the curse if you turn aside and choose to do evil.  It is a stark, even harsh statement—but it is also a remarkable and powerful one.


Judaism believes that we each have complete free will to make our own decisions about how we will live our lives.  There is no notion of predestination, no sense that we are living according to someone else’s script.  Every woman and man has the chance, and the responsibility, to choose the kind of life he or she will live.

That’s not to say we are able to choose how wealthy or happy we will be.  It’s simply that we each have the opportunity and the ability to act in ways consistent with what we believe, to live open lives of character and commitment, of mitzvot.  If we do, the rewards will be there for us: connection to God, our people and our tradition, respect and love and honor. 

But knowing the limitations of our actual ability to influence events, what
precisely does it mean to say that we have true free will, that we can actually choose the course of our own lives?

Read more: Opening the Door - Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon’s Sermon Re’ei 5776