Prayers for the Survivors of Suicide

Prayers from the heart of someone who knows.

Reflecting Out Loud

The following prayers are written in memory of my father, Lowell Jay Herman. He took his life on April 20, 2015. They are a reflection of the pain that my family & I have grappled with.

A Prayer for My Father

Adonai, darkness descended upon him;
cloaking and immersing him in a shroud of shame and sadness.
Mental illness took hold and metastasized into his soul
until he could bear the pain no more.

Adonai, we who loved him are left to navigate the murky waters, the tsunami of grief and the inexplicable pain of his suicide.
Help us not to lose ourselves in the unanswerable question of why, though it is a question we must ask; over and over and over again.
Strengthen us in the face of despair, guilt, shock, anger and overwhelming sadness.
Adonai, help us find the courage to speak the truth, his truth, our truth.

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“A Wasted Yom Kippur”

Yasher koach, Adam!

Wrestling With God

The High Holy Days are just over a month away. The time of the New Year and, ten days later, the time of repentance at Yom Kippur are almost upon us.

As a Jew by choice who will be officially a member of the Tribe only sixteen days before Rosh Hashanah (if I’ve counted correctly), and who had a powerful, meaningful experience at last year’s Yom Kippur, the High Holy Days will probably hit me hard every single year.  Last year, part of what hit me so hard was that we aren’t getting singled out for our sin. We are all confessing, communally, as a community, to grave sins.

This is on my mind today partly because of an article in this morning’s New York Times.  This article is talking about the recent murders of Shira Banki and Ali Saad Dawabsheh by Jewish extremist fanatics. I could quote from…

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How Should Reform Jews Observe Tishah B’Av? (published on URJ.ORG)

One Reform rabbi writes about his practice for Tisha B’Av.

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

BY RABBI STEPHEN LEWIS FUCHS , 7/20/2015

I had never even heard of Tishah B’Av until I was 12 years old and participating in the inaugural season of the Camp Institute for Living Judaism (later to renamed URJ Eisner Camp) in Great Barrington, MA. Since then, I have struggled with the significance of this day for me as a Reform Jew.

On Tishah B’Av, traditionally observant Jews fast in memory of the two magnificent Temples of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Romans in 70 CE. The day also commemorates other historical tragedies. For example, it is said that the beginning of the first Crusade in 1095, a time of persecution and slaughter of the Jews of Europe and in 1290 the expulsion of Jews from England both took place on that date. Tishah B’Av also coincides with the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492…

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The High Holidays are Two Months Away. Thanks, Pinchas.

Rabbi 360 and Parashat Pinchas offer us a preview of coming attractions.

Rabbi 360

It’s summertime, and my senses are alive. Feeling the heat on my skin, seeing the lush growth all around, tasting the fresh fruits and vegetables from farm and garden, hearing birds and other animals and smelling fresh flowers.

Yet while I enjoy the summer and the change in routines and the increased time outdoors, I open up this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, and read this:

In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall observe a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations. You shall observe it as a day when the horn is sounded. You shall present a burnt offering of pleasing odor to God: one bull of the herd, one ram, and seven yearling lambs, without blemish. The meal offering with them—choice flour with oil mixed in—shall be: three-tenths of a measure for a bull, two-tenths for a ram, and one-tenth for…

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Before You Sing Mah Tovu Again, Please Read This! // Parashat Balak (Numbers 22:2-25:9)

This is a wonderful post on a famous and much misunderstood Torah portion.

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

Torah from Around the World

Published by The World Union for Progressive Judaism

July 2, 2015 / 15 Tammuz 5775

By: Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs, Former World Union president, author of What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives, and Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel, West Hartford, CT, USA. He can be reached at sl.fuchs@comcast.net, and his website.

So many times, I have heard rabbis or Cantors announce, “We begin our service with Mah Tovu!” And then the rabbi, Cantor, choir and congregation or some combination of those resources begin to sing: “How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your dwelling places, O Israel!“ (Numbers 24:5)

As thinking Jews, and especially as Progressive Jews, we should not be content to simply intone our prayers mindlessly.

We will enrich ourselves and our worship if we make the effort to understand what they mean, what their literary-historical context is…

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Want To Raise Jewish Children?

Twenty five years ago, when I was the single mother of two little boys, we had one of those moments that turns into family legend. I was using a power drill to fix something, and the six-year-old (who loved tools) was trying to keep the four-year-old (who loved touching things) back behind the tape line I had set as a “sit here and watch” boundary. Aaron knew that if Jamie didn’t stay behind that line, I was going to put the tools away, and wait to do the work when they weren’t at home.

Finally, in desperation, he hauled his little brother back from the line one last time and said, “Jamie! You don’t want that stuff! It’s GIRL STUFF!” Jamie wasn’t fooled, though: that was Adult Stuff, and he wanted it.

To this day, we refer to power tools as “Girl Stuff” in our family.

Kids want to do the things they see their parents doing. They see those things as far more desirable than “kid stuff.” They’re smart; they see what we think is important, and those things are irresistible to them.

So when we are talking about raising Jewish children, the question I always want to ask parents is, what is important about Judaism to you? And what do you do about that? Because that is what your child sees (or will see.) That is a more powerful message than anything likely to happen in Hebrew school.

If you want your children to love Jewish learning, let them see you engaging in it. Find a group doing some kind of Jewish learning that interests you, and make it a priority. Read Jewish books in their presence. Read Jewish books to them. Cook Jewish food (if you don’t know how, that’s fine – let them see you learning how to cook Jewish food.) Watch Jewish films, listen to Jewish music, sing Jewish songs, go to synagogue or the JCC or wherever it is you want to be your child’s second Jewish home.

You don’t need to know Hebrew, but if they see you trying to learn Hebrew, they’ll be fascinated (especially if it threatens to become the language for adult discussion at home.) They will be thrilled when they find out that their sponge-like child brains will outstrip you in language learning. You may still be on “Alef-Bet” when they are chattering away with other kids at Hebrew school. That’s OK: every scrap of Hebrew you learn will serve you well.

Jewish culture is not magic. Unless you are living in Israel or certain Jewish neighborhoods in the US, your children will not catch it by osmosis. The dominant culture will simply wipe out Jewishness that isn’t heavily modeled and given precedence at home.  The dominant culture is a secularized Christianity, with holidays at Christmas and Easter and parking meters that are free on Sunday. The culture will teach them about pop stars and TV and sports and Christmas shopping, but if you want them to be Jewish, they will need to get that at home.

The good news is that if your children are still little, there’s plenty you can do. First, think what it is about being Jewish that is important to you. Then prioritize it and act. If you feel that you don’t know enough to identify what is meaningful to you, take a Basic Judaism class. See what interests you, and pursue that interest. If your Hebrew is rusty, or you’ve never learned it, take a class. Indulge your interests, and everything else will follow.

I don’t know what liberal Judaism will look like in 50 years, because we are in a time of change. What I do know is that little children are interested in the things that they see their parents doing. They want to do those things too (preferably with you.) And from there, everything else can follow.