The Last Jedi (without spoilers)


photo of trading card

I’ve written before about how much I enjoy Star Wars saga because it is a timeless story of the few & weak against the numerous & mighty, and about how I have encouraged my sons to appreciate the struggle of the Rebels because it can show them values that I want them to have.

Values like faith, honor, dedication to a cause bigger than themselves, and courage to fight for justice and against oppression . . . . The same values that we Jews celebrate and teach at Chanukah.

So to celebrate Hanukkah last night, we went to see the new movie, Star Wars: The Last Jedi. My eight-year-old says it’s the best Star Wars yet. I’m not ready to go that far, but I will say it didn’t disappoint! In interviews, the actors have been saying there were plot twists that they didn’t expect, and I would agree there are surprises. And yet the story that unfolds is . . . amazingly beautiful in ways that I won’t yet discuss so as to not reveal spoilers!!!!

But I can tell you that –just as I had hoped– when the theater lights came up after the show, I found myself feeling more Jewish than ever . . . more dedicated to fighting for a future in which all people are free of oppression. Chanukah Sameach, indeed!

May the Force be with you!

Shabbat shalom, jen

Chanukah’s 1st night


Our synagogue was selected by the JCC to light the community menorah on the first night of Hanukkah. I left work early to get us there by 5 PM, and we stood in 25°F weather as the program started. My little guy was huddled next to me amongst the crowd, trying to stay warm and singing from the song sheet I held. My teenager, being a teenager, was standing a little behind the crowd, listening, but in his own space.

After a quick story and a few songs, it was time to light the first night candle and sing the blessings, and much to my surprise, who climbed the ladder to light the candle?

My 13-year-old son.

I wonder sometimes if my sons could possibly fathom how much I love them and how proud I am of the young Jewish men they’re becoming . . .

Chag Sameach!!!! jen

Dear LEGO…

Dear LEGO,

I’m a member of your VIP club, and I’ve spent more money in the last decade on LEGOs for myself and my sons than I’d care to admit in public, so I’m wondering if you might do me a little favor.

Next fall, could you repackage a few of the Star Wars Advent Calendars in boxes marked “Chanukah Gift Pack”?

Maybe put a blue bow instead of the red one?

And label three of the twenty-four doors for each of the nights one through eight?

You don’t have to change what’s inside the package… it just needs a new box!

And you don’t even have to distribute them to stores. I’m happy to order online, as I know you provide free shipping around the holidays!!

Don’t misunderstand, LEGO, my kids and I are devoted fans of your Star Wars products, so my sons will be opening three windows on their own Star Wars Advent Calendars each of the next eight nights.

But other Jews might not feel as comfortable buying an Advent Calendar, so imagine how a new box might increase sales . . .

Happy Chanukah, jen 😊

Elevating our hands


A few years ago, as I stood in a Sukkah listening to a Rabbi teach children how to say the blessing and shake the lulav, I was struck by the similarity in pronunciation of the Hebrew verb for “taking” the lulav and the Hebrew verb that I knew in the blessing for “washing” the hands.  But life as the mother of two young boys was busy, and the question about the spellings of those two verbs slipped out of my mind.

This year, as I prepared to teach religious school children about Sukkot, I pulled out the blessings specific to the holiday and reviewed:

Olitzky & Isaacs (1993). How-To Handbook for Jewish Living.

When I read that blessing in Hebrew, the old question came back to me, so I turned to the blessing for washing hands:

Olitzky & Isaacs (1993) How-To Handbook for Jewish Living.

Much to my surprise, there is no difference in the spelling of the Hebrew verb for “taking the lulav” and “washing the hands”!!  Both are spelled:


And one need not be fluent in Hebrew to discern that a single spelling of a word is unlikely to mean both “take” and “wash”!!

So, what does “netilat” actually mean???

According to that new dictionary I got at Rosh Hashanah 🤗 the Hebrew is actually an Aramaic conjugation, and it means “elevate.”

We elevate the lulav.

We elevate our hands.

When we elevate the lulav, we take it so that we may shake it in six directions.  
To remind us that Gd is everywhere.

When we elevate our hands, we wash them.  
To remind us that our hands can have a Holy purpose, can repair this world that we all share.

What if — each time we washed our hands, or when we wash before meals, or even just once each morning — we acknowledged that Gd commanded us to elevate our hands and repair this world?

How might it change how we see:
– our hands?
– ourselves?
– life’s meaning?

I invite you all to try saying a blessing —in any language and at any time that feels comfortable to you— as you wash your hands.   Let’s find out whether this simple act might prompt us to engage in more tikkun olam and bring more meaning into our lives!! 

shavua tov, a good week to all, jen

Yom Kippur children’s service 5778


Good morning, friends! How many of you remembered to bring back your kippot today?

Great! And does anyone remember why I wanted you to bring the kippot back today???

Yes! Because they are bright white in the middle.

Your new kippot are bright white to remind you that the soul you received from Gd is pure. It is, as the Great Chasidic Masters said, like this clear pane of glass … it can allow Gd’s Love and Light, Joy and Happiness to shine through you to all the other people around you.
(shine flashlight through window)

Now, a few minutes ago, all together, we read a list of mistakes that each of us may have made this past year. What do you think happens to our clean souls when we make a mistake? Any guesses?

Well… mistakes put a smudge on our clean souls… So who can think of a mistake that someone might have made this year? Can you name any of the ones we said earlier?
(add smudge for each mistake named)

Oh my goodness, friends, look at what has happened to our pure soul with all those mistakes!! Are we able to share Gd’s Light with others when we are covered with all those mistakes?
(attempt to shine light)

And sometimes, after we make mistakes, we say mean things about ourselves, and you know what that does? It just adds more dirt! That’s not helpful!!
(smudge again)

It’s got to be really hard to get around and be happy with all that dirt on our souls!
(try to look thru window to walk)

So what should we do????

What would you do with the window?

Yes! We would clean the window! And just like the window, we can clean our souls. In fact, that is the process we are here to complete today on Yom Kippur. Our Tradition tells us there are three Jewish activities we can use to clean our souls — Teshuva, Tefillah, and Tzedakah.
(show them 3 bottles)

Can anyone tell me what Teshuva, or Tefillah, or Tzedakah is?

Teshuvah is a Hebrew word that means “turn” … it is about looking inside ourselves, regretting our mistakes, and deciding that we don’t want to make those mistakes again.

Tefillah, as we said earlier in the service, is prayer. It is a chance to tell Gd we are sorry for our past mistakes and to ask Gd to help us not make mistakes in the future.

Tzedakah is giving to others, right? It’s what we do when we put coins in our Tzedakah Box and donate it to charity.

Now, who wants to help me show what happens when we engage in Tesuvah, Tefillah, and Tzedakah? To help, you have to choose which activity you would do.
(kids spray window with one of three bottles, I wipe)

Wow! Look at that, friends!! Our window is clean… and the same thing happens with our souls. We can clean them off from our previous mistakes and once again be able to share more Love and happiness with others.  And without all that dirt, we are less likely to make mistakes.

So, if you can think of any mistakes that you’ve made in the last year, and if you haven’t said you’re sorry, then today is your chance to apologize and ask Gd to help you do better in the next year, so that you can share more Love with your friends and family.


hopefully it’ll go as well as Rosh Hashanah!!
g’mar chatimah tovah, jen

Or Hatzadik 


Or Hatzadik means “The Light of the Righteous” and . . . it feels like an appropriate day to share a song that I’ve appreciated for a number of years — Or Hatzadik by Yosef Karduner.   

Praying righteous people of every race, nation, and religion shine Light that will help us all find our way to lasting peace and prosperity that can be shared by all people, jen 

And, after we dance with tambourines???



Jewish Tradition commands us each year to celebrate Passover as people who were actually freed from Egypt. It prompts us to look at the world around us and ask such questions as: 

What is my Mitzrayim?
To what am I enslaved?
What things, people, activities, habits, thoughts, emotions or biases prevent me from accessing my holiest self and offering Gd’s compassion and mercy to myself and to others?


And I’ve been thinking . . . if we are to see ourselves as people who actually fled Egypt and crossed the Sea to dance with Miriam and the other women as they played tambourines . . . ought we not take the rest of that Journey from slavery to freedom with the Israelites?  

Why not “walk” the 49 days to stand at that holy mountain, to feel the earth rumble, to see the lightening flash, to hear the Aleph spoken from within the silence, and to experience the awe and wonder of Torah’s revelation??

Of course, we can’t actually put ourselves in the desert thousands of years ago to spend 49 days wandering with the ancient Israelites and learning to have faith in the Holy One.  So, how can we get to that mountain?

Jewish Tradition teaches that we have to prepare ourselves spiritually. We need to spend some time after Passover trying to move ourselves away from the things that enslave us and toward the Holy One of Unity.

Maybe that spiritual preparation happens with a therapist. Maybe it happens in daily meditation or the chanting of prayers. Maybe yoga or exercise is our time to find clarity and reconnect. Maybe we count the Omer each night and engage in a 49-step journey of personal refinement through the emotional attributes of the Sefirot. Maybe we study Moses Cordovero’s ethical treatise on living as a likeness of our Creator, Tomer Devorah (available free from a link here).

The specifics of the process can be particular to each individual, but some process needs to happen if we want to encounter Gd’s presence at Sinai on Shavuot. … Just as Gd didn’t part the Sea until Nachshon, who couldn’t swim and was afraid of the water, was nearly submerged, we can’t expect Gd to give us the gift of revelation if we don’t prepare ourselves by making the journey…

praying our paths reveal blessings and our journeys lead us Home, jen