Erev Yom Kippur 5776 - Oops, I Just Fell and Destroyed a Masterpiece

September 22, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona

Tonight marks the 50th anniversary of Sandy Koufax sitting out the first game of the World Series.  Some of you may remember what that meant to Jews in America, when the best pitcher in the most popular sport, America’s pastime, chose not to play in the most important game of the year.  It was considered a courageous act, and a symbol of American Jewish acceptance and pride in our heritage.

The best part of the story was that the Dodgers’ other ace, Don Drysdale, pitched in Koufax’ place.  Unfortunately, Drysdale was pretty bad that particular day against the Minnesota Twins, giving up 7 runs in less than 3 innings including two homers.  When his manager, Walter Alston came out to pull Drysdale and bring in a relief pitcher, Drysdale said to Alston, “I bet right now you wish I was Jewish too, Skip.”

But before I even start I digress…

Perhaps you saw this story, or the Youtube video

About a month ago a 12 year-old boy in Taiwan was looking at a painting in an art museum.  It was part of an exhibit called the “Face of Leonardo: Images of a Genius” in Taipei. The video shows the boy – in shorts, tennis shoes and a blue Puma T-shirt, holding a soft drink in one hand – walking past a still life.  A bit clumsy, as adolescents can be, still growing into his body, he suddenly trips on the platform supporting the 6-foot high painting, and stumbles.  He reaches out instinctively with his hand, which goes right through the painting…  Which was a 350-year old work in oil called “Flowers” by Italian baroque artist Paolo Porpora. The 17th century painting was valued at $1.5 million dollars.

At the end of this disaster the boy looks up at the canvas, freezes, then looks wildly around at the other people in the room…

“The painting’s bottom right is damaged,” the curator said.  “The boy’s hand hit the artwork and left a hole the size of a fist.”

Read more: Erev Yom Kippur 5776 - Oops, I Just Fell and Destroyed a Masterpiece

Rosh Hashanah 5776 - The Necessary Chutzpah of Saving Refugees

September 14, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona

An old bubbie limps onto a crowded bus. Standing right in front of a seated young man she clutches her chest and says, "Oy! If you only knew what I had, you'd get up and give me your seat."

The man looks at the old woman, and reluctantly, gives up his seat. The lady sitting beside the bubbie takes out a fan and starts to fan herself. Grasping her chest, the bubbie turns and says, "If you knew what I have, you would give me that fan." So the woman gives her the fan.

Fifteen minutes later the bubbie gets up and says to the bus driver, "Stop, I want to get off here."

The driver says, "Sorry, lady, but the bus stop is at the next corner. I can't stop in the middle of the block." Again, the old woman clutches her chest and says, "If you knew what I have, you would let me out right here." Worried, the bus driver pulls over and lets her out. As she's climbing down the stairs, he finally asks, "Ma'am, what is it, exactly, that you have? "

She smiles sweetly at him, and she says, "Chutzpah."

Read more: Rosh Hashanah 5776 - The Necessary Chutzpah of Saving Refugees

Erev Rosh Hashanah 5776 - Praise God & God Prays

September 13, 2015

Rabbi Batsheva Appel

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson Arizona

It was Erev Rosh Hashanah, in a small synagogue, in a small town, according to the Hasidic story. As the services proceeded, an illiterate shepherd entered the synagogue.  He was moved by the words and the music, but was unable to join with the congregation because he could not read and he had never learned the prayers. Out of desperation, out of a desire to become part of the congregation and connect with God, he took out the flute that was in his pocket, and began to play the music that he always played when he was tending the sheep. Immediately there was an uproar as many of the worshippers were outraged. Who was this? How dare he desecrate services on one of the holiest days of the year? People yelled at the shepherd to stop and there were calls for him to be thrown out immediately.  The rabbi ended the geschrei. He thanked the shepherd and explained why to the congregation, “As we were praying, I could feel our prayers being blocked from ascending to heaven. The shepherd’s prayer came from his heart and it was so pure that it helped our prayers ascend with his, straight to the Holy One.”

Read more: Erev Rosh Hashanah 5776 - Praise God & God Prays

Rosh Hashanah 5776 - It’s a Small, Small Jewish World

Introduction to the High Holy Days

September 13, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon

Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona

A mother comes into her son’s bedroom to wake him up to come to temple.

“Oh, ma,” he says, “I don’t want to go to shul today.  It’s boring and no one likes me there.  Give me two good reasons to get up and go.”

“I’ll give you two good reasons,” his mother answers.  “You’re 54 years old, and you are the rabbi!”

Read more: Rosh Hashanah 5776 - It’s a Small, Small Jewish World

Ki Tavo 5775: Hard Work Serves God? A Jewish Understanding of Labor, and Labor Day

September 4, 2015

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, Arizona are celebrating Labor Day this weekend, which in many parts of the country means the last hurrah of the summer, barbecues and beach time and a final celebration of the season of relaxation and indolence.  For us here in the Sonoran desert, Labor Day is just a brief interruption in a fully busy schedule.  We started public school a month ago, after all, and Religious and Hebrew school are going full bore.  Selichot is tomorrow night, and Rosh HaShanah is now just nine days away.  Aside from Labor Day sales, there isn’t really much to recommend this as a relaxing three-day weekend.  In fact, in Tucson, Labor Day is more like a quick breath before plunging into the deeper end of the swimming pool of hectic fall activity...

But long before this holiday became another American excuse for a three-day weekend, a last flutter of vacation before putting our noses to the post-summer grindstone, Labor Day was a significant statement about the value of a human being’s hard work.  When it started, the very concept that labor had value, morally and economically, was controversial—as it remains in some quarters today.

Originally, Labor Day was created in the 1880’s as a way to celebrate and support the workingman and woman, and as an expression of the increasing importance of organized labor as a political force in America.  It was a way of saying that labor mattered, that capital wasn’t the only positive value in the economy and society.

We Jews have always believed labor has moral quality.  One of the great sentences in Pirkei Avot, completed in the year 225, the Ethics of our Ancestors, says “Al shlosha devarim ha’olam omeid: al hatorah, v’al ha’avodah, v’al gemilut chasadim: the world is based on three things: on Torah, on work, and on acts of selfless kindness.  Some people take the Hebrew word Avodah, labor, to mean religious service—but it is just as appropriate when applied to more practical and prosaic work, and it is likely that the connection of labor to Divine service is intentional.  In other words, honest work is a form of prayer.  This exaltation of basic labor as a foundation of society—and a way to serve God—is consistent throughout Jewish tradition. 

Read more: Ki Tavo 5775: Hard Work Serves God? A Jewish Understanding of Labor, and Labor Day