Monthly Archives: June 2012

Cantors Mission to Germany Day 2

Since the mission didn’t go into full gear until the evening, this morning began with a 9:30am breakfast, where I was joined by Dan and Cindy Wohl (for context, all of our Jacksonvillians took different flights at different times, and I’m glad everyone got a few extra days in the explore other cities/countries). I had accomplished most of what I wanted to during my long walks/bus and subway trains of yesterday. One item not on our CA mission agenda was the Kaiser-Wilhelm Gedachtnis Kirche, one of the most haunting symbols of Berlin. Following 7 bombing raids in 1943, the ruins of the tower were left as a memorial. This happens to be fairly close to Kurfurstendamm, a trendy area with great architecture and fun shops. One of the more trendy streets in Kurf. is Fasanenstrausse, home of the Jewish community house. Housed where the Charlottesburg synagogue once stood (destroyed on Reichskristalnacht), only the portal remains. I arrived via bus to Breitscheid Platz and could not for the life of me find the church. I finally took out my guidebook where I had a picture of the church and the surrounding buildings. Finally I realized that the modern building in front of me was actually scaffolding! The church is undergoing repairs!! The symbol, the memorial, is being prepared. I’m still digesting how I feel about it. Needless to say, 0-1. I make my way over to the Jewish house looking for Gabriel’s, a great fleisch restaurant…until this past January! 0-2!! Thank heavens for Bleiberg’s, a kosher dairy restaurant a few blocks away!

The mission begins in the late afternoon as we travel far north and east from central Berlin to a gorgeous synagogue (again, pictures to come later). Our beautiful Maariv service was preceded by our Scholar-in-Residence, Professor Stephen Berke, who points out some amazing and important anecdotes to lead us through our mission. A few to ponder:

-From 1819 to 1933, there was NO violence against the Jews in Germany. Anti-semitism yes, violence no. I always think about while people didn’t leave (and actually a large percentage of Berlin Jews did leave).

-Frankfurt 1948- an anthem used by the liberal national party, eventually picked up by the Nazi regime as their anthem (the swastika too is an adapted symbol). The anthem was originally meant as a “we are the world” anthem of the liberal agenda- but liberalism could not deliver, dooming the Jews of Germany.

Germany was home to the Third Reich, but it was also home to Moses Mendelssohn and the Haskalah, Reform Judaism and some of the most important Jewish music that we still use today. I’m looking forward to taking a whirlwind tour of past, present, and future with the Cantors Assembly.








Cantors Mission to Germany Day 1

Our plane arrived from Newark an hour early, 7:30am local time Wednesday. We fly through customs and are at our hotel within the hour. Checking our bags at the hotel gives us a little time to search the local area. Our hotel is situated a block away from the Kulturforum, a museum of 13th-17th century artwork. For those Albrecht Duhrer or Rembrandt fans out there, this is a must see. A 3 day museum pass gives access to many of the main attractions throughout Berlin. Using this newly found treasure, I make my way across the square (where one could find the Berlin Philharmonic) to find a collection of 750 exhibits at the Museum of Musical Instruments (even have pictures of Frederick the Great’s harpsichord!). I’ve fought through the jetlag (watched 3 somewhat decent movies on the plane, including the movie “Footnote”) to make my way on a M200 bus through the heart of Berlin. I make my way to Museum Insel, home to many of the top museums in the country as well as the Lustgarten and Berliner Dom (the largest dome in Europe, just a few centimeters larger than the Basilica at the Vatican). As a side note, I do not find myself in away uncomfortable wearing my kippah here in Germany. When I visited Eastern Europe (primarily in high school), the thought never donned on me to wear a kippah (I was probably too obsessed with my hats anyways). While my kippah is always on wherever I am in Jacksonville, my travels often have me putting on a hat instead. Here, I feel that the kippah is not only a reminder to me of my relationship with God, but in some ways, a reminder to those around me that “yeah, I’m here.” Food for thought

After touring the Pergamon Museum (amongst others), I make the hour plus walk back to the hotel. I travel down Unter de Linden, originally a royal birdle-path linking the Stadtschloss (the king’s residence) and Tiergarten. This leads me to Brandenburg gate. For context, Germany did not become a country until the late 19th century, and Berlin as a city now encompasses smaller municipalities, amongst them Mark Brandenburg. The Brandenburg Tor (gate), built in 1789-91, has been the backdrop of many events in the city’s history. Today, The Tiergarten side was covered with Euro 2012 glitter, a backdrop to a public viewing party (as of this blog post Germany was defeated by Italy in he semifinal). Immediately to the south one finds the Holocaust memorial (more on that on friday). Like many places of the Shoah, Germany struggles to recognize what took place in the past while becoming a new, more tolerant Germany of today. My bus stop at the Philharmonic had a little blurb about 20,000 homosexuals who were sent off to their death from that very place. Germany does not hide these things- if anything it sometimes seems like too much. In viewing pamphlets from our hotel, the top 2 tours of Berlin are the “Third Reich” and “Concentration Camp” tour. To think that Brandenburg Gate may have been a place of celebration tonight right on top of the Holocaust memorial. What a strange site that would have been!

Overall it was jam packed first day in Berlin. Our mission begins officially on Thursday evening at the Synagogue Rykestrausse, restored to its original form when it was built 100 yrs ago.






Un-expectations: Germany Mission Preamble

My journey to Germany begins with a pitstop in Newark, NJ.

The city comes to mind with a recent posting that I read on The opening title, “A rabbi, a Mormon and a black Christian mayor into a room..” assumes either a comedy routine or that this is somehow the most unexpected of partnerships (ironically, my other frequent source for news, posted an article on their website “Punch line: A priest, an architect and a dentist walk into a meeting…and decide the future of college football?”) The moral of both stories is simple- expect the unexpected. As I spoke with many congregants over the past few months about joining me on this mission, many concerns came to mind, and in the end there were those who may have felt uneasy about coming along for the journey. Germany has made significant strides to repair its relationships around the globe- one could argue that Germany is one of Israel’s top allies and one of the more liberal countries in the world (editors note- roughly 500,000 people will have visited Germany in the past week for their LGBT festivities). Who knows what kinds of partnerships we will form over the next week- expect the unexpected.

Having visited Eastern and Central Europe numerous times (and Munich for a day- that’s for a later posting), I’ve often felt moved by what I experienced there. These places hold so much history for Ashkenazi Jewry as well as a deep rooted spirituality as the centers of Ashkenazi Jewry for hundreds of years. What was it about these places, these communities, that made people stick around for so long? In searching for this spiritual moment, I have to be careful to lose any sense of expectations and become a sponge of information and emotion. “Take it all in” and later, have a chance to reflect on what has just taken place. We’ll be performing important work- not just musically but socially, with members of the interfaith community as well as the local, now vibrant German Jewish community.

While we will only be there for week, its important to experience Germany through many lenses: through the lens of the past- Germany Jewish history and its peak, as well as the atrocities of the Shoah; and through the lens of the present and soon to be future- of a Jewish community craving knowledge of its heritage and a German community that does not want to forgot, but learn from its actions.

Flying over Newark, I was privy to a wonderful view: sitting next to the left wing, we flew below the clouds as we descended towards the runway. The clouds appear all in one straight line above us, the cars and buildings become more and more recognizable as we get lower and lower. The words “DO NOT STEP OUT OF THIS” appear on the wing itself. What great advice! This is an opportunity to look at this Germany mission from the middle- at times it’s important to look up at the heavens- the lost souls of the Holocaust, of a rich Germany history; and at times to look below at the important work being done to help a new community grow. What a gift- to not step out of this experience but to step right into it. I look forward to sharing my thoughts upon my arrival tomorrow in Berlin!


Heat Wave: NBA Finals and Parshat Korach

It’s never safe to get your playoff picks from a torah portion.While various parts of our texts have a clear message, others remain ambiguous.  Two weeks ago, before the NBA Finals, we read about the Israelite movement in Parshat B’ha-alot’cha.  When a cloud covered the tent of meeting, the Israelites moved. When covered in a pillar of fire, the Israelites encamped.  It was difficult to discern the message- which is the more powerful metaphor- to move when the weather isn’t so clear (cloudy), when the path is difficult and uncertain, or that God dwells in the place of fire- aka God is fire.  Both are powerful messages, yet neither tells us who will become NBA Champion, even if the cloud sort of reminds me of Thunder (and we did encounter Thunder a few weeks back as a symbol of God) and we have the Heat on the other side (think pillar of fire).  Both finalists mentioned/referenced, but no clear cut winner.

Bringing us to this week’s parsha.  At first glance, one might mistake Korach for Kerach (same route), aka Ice.  Naturally, we think this must not be the Heat’s week.  Korach, however, leads an unsuccessful rebellion.  Ice is not champion, so we look to something that can thwart ice- HEAT (check out this debate on heat vs. ice)! I hate to say it, but this is Miami’s week.  We will see for certain if they can finish the job tonight.  Otherwise, we get into next week’s torah portion- Chukkat (pronounce the “ch” as “l’chaim”), which could be confused for “chucking it”, something the Heat fans often worry about with regard to the Heat’s offense “chucking” the basketball. Heat in 5.

The language of love in Jewish education

In the spirit of last year’s “Song of the Week”, I wanted to share some reflections on an all-time favorite Israeli song and the important educational message it provides.

Abanibi, pig-latin (or treif latin) for Ani ( each syllable of the word is repeated with a bet replacing the consonant) is a song that takes the hebrew phrase Ani Ohev Otach (I love you) and transforms it to Abanibi Obohebev obotabach. Winner of the 1978 Eurovision Contest, the song highlights the way that children relate to love. For our purposes we can listen to the song as a model for how we can understand love as teachers, parents, administrators and supporters.  The words  are as follows:

I love, I love you**
I love, I love you**

When we were children,
we never spoke of love (except secretly)
To whom were we “nice”?
Only to uncles and aunts.

And the poor girls suffered,
the sweet ones only were hit.
And what we truly felt,
we whispered only in “B-language”
[“baby talk”}

Love, it is a beautiful word
A beautiful prayer, a language
Love, it is good to me
It will overcome all
And we will speak the language of love.

I dream, and three words appear
And what is the world? Only three words
And this is how I feel now
Truly just as then –“B-language”

We must recognize that many times, our students are often speaking in another language- they want to express themselves and it’s up to us to support them and to decipher what they are looking for.  There is love and appreciation there – we just have to find it.  On the other hand, as supporters of education, our love must ALWAYS be clear. We cannot imply love and support, we have to show it in everything we do: love of all of our schools, our students, our teachers.  In expressing this greatest form of appreciation, we empower students and teachers alike, letting them clearly know that they have the support to do amazing things.

This d’rash was shared at the opening Galinsky Education Cabinet meeting, June 2012

Theatrical Theology

The bible always seems to make for great theatre- from the sibling

Imagerivalries to the awe-inspiring powers of an Almighty, the torah pulls out all the stops when it comes to pomp and circumstance. This week’s parsha,  B’ha-alot’kha speaks on a variety of topics- the lighting of the m’norah, the consecration of the Levites, Pesach Sheini, clouds and fire, silver trumpets, incessant complaining and blasphemy by both the common citizens and the greatest of leaders.  At first glance, the torah portion is all over the place. However, this grab-bag of topics includes within it one powerful message: symbols that call us to action:

The m’norah reminds us to be a “or lagoyim”, a light to the nations.  The purifying of the Levites symbolizes the reverence we should all have to God.  Pesach Sheini  (for those who were unable to make it the first time around) is a symbol of second chances.  The tabernacle, covered in fire when it rested and a cloud when in transit, uses these physical affirmations of the divine in an unorthodox way.  We might think that the fire is a call to action and a cloud (of uncertainty) is an indication to stop and rethink. But this is an act of faith- when clouds gloom over, THIS is the time to act.  The silver trumpets, the music in the air a la “Torah on Taps”, means that we should all listen more carefully to the signs and symbols around us.  Finally, the riffraff (asafsuf in hebrew, quite possibly the greatest hebrew word ever) as well as Miriam and Aaron’s questioning of Moses reminds us to be humble, happy with our lot, and mindful of the gifts that not all have.


What are the symbols in our own lives that harken us to action? There are so many symbols in our tradition that do more than induce fond memories. These symbols in our every day lives can add purpose by acting as an agent for good deeds throughout the world.