Blessing for a Poppy

Image: A California poppy, eschscholzia californica. Photo: (Hans/Pixabay)

Today the first California poppy in my garden bloomed.

They are like little cups of sunshine; they glow in the greenery. In a few weeks they’ll carpet my garden, because they volunteer everywhere. If they weren’t so pretty, they’d be weeds. They are one of the wonders of California.

For me, this is the promise of spring.

So to greet the first one, I always say the blessing for fragrant flowers and herbs. California poppies are not hugely fragrant flowers, but there is an earthy green freshness that is unique to them.

Baruch Atah, Adonai Eloheinu, 

Melech ha-olam,

borei isvei v’samim.

In English:

Blessed are You, Adonai our God,

Ruler of the Universe,

Creator of fragrant flowers and herbs.

Spring is still a long way off, but with this little golden promise in my garden, I will keep up hope.

In case you are wondering, it is fine to pray in English if Hebrew is a barrier. It is also fine to bless in your own words if something wonderful comes along and you don’t have a book with you. If you have a smartphone, check out this article: There’s an App for Blessings!



Blessing for Natural Wonders

Image: The moon just before totality in the early hours of 1/31/18.

Baruch atah, Adonai Eloheinu,
Melech haolam,
oseh maaseih v’reishit.</i>

Praise to You, Adonai our God,
Sovereign of the universe,
Source of creation and its wonders.


There is debate among rabbis as to which blessing among several possibilities is the correct blessing. This one is my choice for the occasion, a blessing upon seeing a wonder of creation.

Did you see the eclipse?

…The eclipse ended, the sun sinks in the west glowing pink in the dawn light.

The Snake Mishnah

Image: A non-poisonous California King Snake, black with yellow stripes. They eat small rodents. (pixabay)

[One] should not stand up to pray unless he is in a serious frame of mind. The early pious ones used to meditate for one hour and only then pray, in order to properly direct their hearts towards the God. [While one is reciting Shemoneh Esrei*,] even if the king greets him, he should not respond to him. And even if a snake wraps around his heel, he should not interrupt. – Mishnah Berakhot 5:1

I remember reading this mishnah for the first time. The line about the snake made quite an impression, so much so that I tend to remember it as “the snake mishnah.”

What sorts of things distract you most during prayer?

What do you do when you feel distracted?

Are some distractions holy distractions?

*Shemoneh Esrei is the Amidah, the serious part of the service we recite with most of the congregation standing.


L’Shanah Tovah – My Hope for 5778

Image: A ripening pomegranate still on the bush. (Photo: niritman/pixabay)

The new Jewish year of 5778 begins at sundown tonight.

It is customary to begin a new year – any new year – with hope and celebration.

I always think, on the new year, of something I once heard Rabbi Arthur Green teach: “For contemporary Jews, Rosh Hashanah is a lifecycle celebration. We arrive at that day and say, ‘I’m still alive.'”

But for many of the living this Rosh Hashanah, it’s a grim new year.

For people in the Caribbean, for people in Florida, for people in Texas and Louisiana, for people in Mexico, the new year begins with sorrows and difficulties. For some it begins with unimaginable grief.

For people with pre-existing illness, for people with disabilities, for people who may lose their healthcare or their children’s healthcare, this new year begins with a sword hanging over them. An evil bill is up for a vote in the Senate and it has a chance of passing.

For the Rohingya people of Myanmar and the Yazidi of Iraq, this year opens with genocide staring them in the face.

For immigrants already in the United States, and refugees everywhere, 5778 dawns with painful uncertainty.

For the people of the island nation of Kiribati, there is painful certainty: today climate change is drowning their entire country.

So what can we do?

A line in the High Holy Day prayers teaches us:

Teshuvah, tefillah, and tzedakah avert the severe decree.”

This is not a magic formula for manipulating God or fate. This is a blueprint for alleviating suffering and making the world better.

TESHUVAHTeshuvah means “turning.” It’s the Jewish word for repentance. Good people sin not because they are evil monsters but because they fail to understand how their actions or words impact others. We must put down our defensiveness and self-interest for a few moments and study the wrongs of our world. We need to study what Torah teaches us about each of them. Then teshuvah requires that we seek a plan of action to right those wrongs.

TEFILLAH – We usually translate tefillah as prayer. Clever Hebrew scholars will tell you that it is a reflexive form that actually means something like “self-reproach.” But let’s not complicate things: tefillah is speech. If we wish to “avert the severe decree” we must become strategic in our speech. We must use our voices for good: we must appeal to our lawmakers and we must tell the truth. What we must NOT do is use our speech to puff ourselves up, to be “clever” to make points, to stir up hatred for hatred’s sake. Sometimes this is a fine line to walk, but if we want to make the world better, we must control our own speech.

TZEDAKAH – The common translation is “charity.” But it is actually a very precise word that has its roots in “justice.” Tzedakah is money given for the relief of suffering or need. It is not “goods in kind” and it is not “volunteering.” The tzedakah that changes the world is an attitude about money that admits that whatever is in my bank account is there because I have been fortunate as well as hard-working. (Face it, there are plenty of hardworking people who have little or nothing.) The spirit of tzedakah is a willingness to share whatever good fortune I have with those who have less. For the very poor, that may be a penny. For the very rich, it may be a fortune. And it may take many forms, all of them money: it may be in charitable giving, or the portion of taxes that goes to provide services to the poor, or in the support of relatives in difficulty. It may be the willingness to forego unfair profit that would burden the poor. No Jew is exempt from the commandment of tzedakah. No one, Jewish or not, is “undeserving” of tzedakah if they are suffering or in need.

Teshuvah, tefillah, tzedakah: if we want to heal this world, we must become aware of wrongs and resolve to right them. We must speak the truth, and only the truth in whatever way we think will actually make things better. We must be willing to share what we have with others.

This is how we will avert a future of suffering.

And this is my hope for 5778: that enough people will be willing to do these things that some suffering will be averted and the world will be better.

May this new year be a shanah tovah, a good year. Amen.

High Holy Day Services Online!

ClickImage: A video screen. A man touches the red arrow to start the video. (panuwat phimpa/shutterstock)

A number of synagogues now stream their services live online.  Schedules and links are listed below for eight different congregations.

Some caveats:

  1. This is not intended to be an exhaustive list. If you know of a congregation offering services, you can add that information with links and schedule in the comments.
  2. While I’ve done my best to verify all the information here, I don’t have all the information I’d like. Please forgive me if something doesn’t work out.
  3. I got the information from the synagogue websites. If you are confused about anything, the first place to look is at the synagogue website.
  4. I can’t help with tech questions.
  5. I recommend attending in person if at all possible. That said, not everyone can get to services or sit through them. I offer this list as a substitute for anyone who needs it.
  6. I understand some of the links did not work last night.  For more listings, take a look at the article in

Congregation Beth Shalom Rodfe Zedek, Chester, CT (Eastern Time Zone)

Streaming at:…/UCSqzEsniCplf6GucRcFADVA/live

9/20 Erev RH 7:30pm
9/21 RH Morning 9:30am

9/29 Kol Nidre 7:30pm
9/30 Yom Kippur Morning 9:30am
9/30 Yom Kippur Afternoon/Yizkor/Neilah 3:30pm

Congregation Beth El, Sudbury, MA (Eastern Time Zone)…/services-live-streaming/

9/20 Erev Rosh HaShanah 8:30 pm
9/21 Rosh HaShanah – early 8:30 am
9/21 Rosh HaShanah – late 11:30 am
9/22 Rosh HaShanah (2nd day) 10:00 am

9/29 Kol Nidre – early 6:30 pm
9/29 Kol Nidre – late 8:30 pm
9/30 Yom Kippur – early 8:30 am
Yom Kippur – late 11:30 am
Minchah – afternoon service 3:30 pm
Yizkor – remembrance 5:15 pm
Neilah – closing service 5:45 pm
Shofar 6:40 pm

Congregation Beth Emeth, Wilmington DE (Eastern Time Zone)

Services stream at

Erev Rosh Hashanah 9/20 8pm
Rosh Hashanah 9:30am Traditional Service
1:30pm Contemporary Service

Kol Nidre 9/29 7pm and 9:15pm
Yom Kippur 9/30 9:30am Traditional Service
1:30pm Contemporary Service
3:30pm Afternoon/Yizkor/Neilah Service
Temple Shaarey Zedek, East Lansing, MI (Eastern Time Zone)
Schedule and Steaming link at
Both Reform and Conservative services.


Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, Baltimore, MD (Eastern Time Zone)

Rosh Hashanah Sept 20, 8pm
Sept 21, 10am

Yom Kippur, Sept 29, 7:30pm
Sept 30 10am
Music and Meditation 12:30pm
Afternoon Service 2:45pm
Yizkor, 4:30 pm
Neilah, 5:30pm

Congregation Emanu-El, Houston, TX (Central Time Zone)

Streaming video:
Erev Rosh Hashanah Sept 20 6pm
Rosh Hashanah Sept 21 10:30am
Shabbat Shuvah Friday Sept 22, 6pm
Kol Nidre Sept 29 7:15pm
Yom Kippur Sept 30 11am
YK Afternoon 1:30pm
Healing Service 3pm
Yizkor/Neilah 4:30pm

Temple Beth El, San Antonio, TX (Central Time Zone)

Rosh Hashanah
Wednesday, September 20
6:30 p.m.–Erev Rosh Hashanah Service (early service)
8:45 p.m.–Erev Rosh Hashanah Service (late service)
Thursday, September 21
9:00 a.m.–Children’s Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
10:30 a.m.–Rosh Hashanah Morning Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
10:30 a.m.–Rosh Hashanah Morning Service (Barshop Auditorium)
12:30 p.m.–Tashlich Service with Apples and Honey at San Pedro Springs Park

Yom Kippur
Friday, September 29
6:30 p.m.–Kol Nidre Service (early service)
8:45 p.m.–Kol Nidre Service (late service)
Saturday, September 30
9:00 a.m.–Children’s Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.–Meditation and self-study with music for adults
10:30 a.m.–Yom Kippur Morning Service (Wulfe Sanctuary)
10:30 a.m.–Yom Kippur Morning Service (Barshop Auditorium)
1:00 p.m.–Yom Kippur Symposium
2:30 p.m.–Yom Kippur Afternoon Service
4:30 p.m.–Yizkor-Memorial Service
4:30 p.m.–Program for school-aged children
5:30 p.m.–Neilah-Concluding Service

Mountain Time Zone

Currently none listed – if you know of streaming services in the MT, please add that information with links and schedule in the Comments.


Congregation Shir Hadash, Los Gatos, CA (Pacific Time Zone)

Streaming at:

9/20 8pm Erev Rosh Hashanah
9/21 10am RH Morning Service
3:30pm Family Service

Erev Shabbat Shuvah 9/22 7:30pm
Shabbat Shuvah 9/23 10:30am

Kol Nidre 9/29 8pm
Yom Kippur 9/30
10am Morning Service
3pm Afternoon Service
4:45pm Yizkor
5:45pm Concluding Service
6:52pm Havdalah

Temple Sinai, Oakland, CA (Pacific Time Zone)

Services streamed on the Facebook page. Click “Videos” on the left of the screen.


May I Say Kaddish for my Pet?

Image: Rabbi Adar and Gabi. Photo by Linda Burnett.

Thousands of years ago, human beings and dogs formed a partnership that lasts to this day. We know that ancient Egyptians held cats in such reverence that one of their gods, Bastet, was often pictured as a cat. Other animals have sometimes been the companions of human beings, and those bonds can be deep and powerful.

This is one issue upon which the Torah is largely silent. The closest we have in rabbinic literature to a mention of dogs as companions is in a midrash, a rabbinic comment upon a story in Torah, which says:

To protect Cain from being killed, a dog was given him, who accompanied him and protected him against all comers. – Bereshit Rabbah 22:12

Given this long history of connection, and given the strong affection between some animals and humans, a person might ask, “May I say Kaddish for my beloved pet?”

Modern rabbinic responsa (official opinions written by learned rabbis) are firm on the subject: mourning for animals must be kept separate from mourning for humans. So the answer is no, we do not say kaddish for animals, even the most beloved ones.

Some pet lovers find this ruling hurtful: “I am grieving, so why should I not mention my beloved pet at the Kaddish?”

The answer here is straightforward: animals are not people. Our mourning rituals address the end of a human relationship: the loss of a mother, father, child, spouse, or sibling. Our relationships with animals are qualitatively different than our relationships with human beings. We mourn them differently.

By “differently” I am not specifying a quantity. There are people who have had more satisfying relationships with animals than with other human beings. Where the “fault” lies for that is not the issue: it is simply a fact. Animals are different from people. For some animal lovers, the loss of a pet can be genuinely devastating.

The fact is, Jewish tradition does not have forms for mourning animal companions. However, conversations about mourning for animals are emerging. The site has several interesting articles on the subject, including:

Grieving the Loss of a Pet by Rabbi Rona Shapiro

Burial Service for an Animal Companion by Rabbi Susan Schein

Creating a Ritual for Loss of a Companion Animal by Rabbi Joshua Snyder

Animals are part of God’s creation. As such they are sacred, just as the earth itself is sacred, as human beings are sacred. Losing an animal companion can be wrenchingly difficult. If you are suffering through such a loss, you have my sympathy.

Readers who would like to do so are welcome to leave stories and memorials to beloved pets in the comments.

Have We Learned Anything?

I cannot sleep.

I was a little girl when the Cuban Missile Crisis scared the wits out of us. I was in second grade, and I still remember kneeling in the hallway of Overbook School as Sister Mary Martin led us in the rosary. I remember my knees grinding into the floor as I recited the responses. I remember my relief — our national relief — when Mr Krushchev turned his ships around and the threat of nuclear war receded.

When I heard the President threatening North Korea today, snarling like a teenage boy intent on winning a game of chicken, I had to wonder where he was in 1962.

Tonight as I said my bedtime Shema I asked the Holy One to spare us. Not only us, but all the people living in range of a nightmare: the children of South Korea, of Japan, of Guam, of anywhere the North Korean missiles (and any other missiles!) can reach.

A few years ago I had the honor of getting to know a woman who grew up in Fukuoka, Japan during World War II. Fukuoka is 280 km from Hiroshima, and 153 km from Nagasaki. Her home was between the two bombs we dropped on Japan. Later, during the occupation of Japan, she married a G.I. and moved to Georgia.

I did not plan to ask Mairi about her experience in the war. She was very elderly and did not need curious questions. I was only a friend helping out for a few weeks while her son had to be away. But one day something came on TV that reminded her of the bombs and she began to talk about it. I will never forget the pain in her voice, talking about the things she had seen.

And yes, I know that the Japanese had done terrible things in the war. I know Mr Truman felt it was better to drop those bombs. I suspect he had no idea of the horror it would set loose on civilians, things that would haunt survivors to the end of their days.

Now that we know, and we know that the weapons in our arsenals are much, much worse, how can we think of using them? And how could our President think that taunting the North Korean dictator, a man who seems to care little for the welfare of his own people, is a good idea?

I have to wonder: have we learned nothing?

Hashkiveinu, Adonai, Eloheinu l’shalom, v’ha’amideinu malkeinu l’chaim. Ufros aleinu sukkat sh’lomecha, v’tak’neinu b’eitza tova mil’fanecha. 

Let us lie down, O Holy One, our Ruler, in peace, and raise us up, our Sovereign, to life. Spread over us the shelter of Your peace, and guide us with Your good counsel. — from Hashkiveinu, the prayer for peaceful rest.

“Guide us with your good counsel” — Yes, guide the leaders of our world, help them to see the paths of peace. Give them wisdom, and give them the courage it takes to step back from the brink.

We ask this of You, who knows the hearts of each of us, and we ask it for the sale of your Name. Amen.