Other? or Brother? Yom Kippur Morning, 5781

September 28, 2020

Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, New York

Let me tell you about my brother, Jacob.

Though we share the same last name, we could not be more different:  

I am forty-seven.  He is twenty-nine, eighteen years my junior.

I live in the Northeast and he lives in the Midwest.

I am named Moshe in Hebrew, for my late grandfather, Morris Blake, z’l.  He is named for his late grandfather, the Rev. Jacob Blake Sr., a Civil Rights activist.

I am a Jew. I don’t know anything about my brother Jacob’s religion, what God he prays to, what tribe he affiliates with. We do know that his outspoken father has a dismaying record of making outrageous antisemitic and anti-Christian statements and supporting the notorious antisemite Louis Farrakhan. 

Like I said, my brother and I could not be more different. 

I am White, and my brother is Black.  

And right now, I am standing on my own two feet, while Jacob Blake is  paralyzed from the waist down, having taken seven bullets to the back, in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on August 23rd.  

Blake is, of course, only one in a long list of names of Black men and women brutalized by law enforcement, a list that includes George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery and Daniel Prude, and so many, so many names before theirs.  

I come here today not to acquit or convict, although I would remind us, that in America—as in Judaism—extrajudicial killings violate the law, even when a person is suspected of a crime.

No, today I bring a different message, one for the Day of Reckoning, this day of Yom Kippur.  There will be other days to talk about what’s broken and needs mending in our politics, what’s broken and needs mending in our system of policing, what’s broken and needs mending in our public discourse.  But today is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.  Today, I want to talk about what’s broken in my heart, what needs mending in our humanity.   

Today, I want to talk about brothers.     

Now, brothers are all over the Bible, and it would be an understatement to say that the business between and among Biblical brothers can get complicated.  Cain murders the first brother, Abel, in a frenzy of jealousy and then rages back at God, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Gen. 4:9)—a question that God never directly answers but which echoes throughout the Torah, down to the present day.  

Ishmael and Isaac, common sons of Abraham, live a life estranged.  The bitter rivalry of fraternal twins, Jacob and Esau, occupies ten full chapters of the Book of Genesis.  And what can we say about Joseph and his brothers that hasn’t already been sung in an amazing, technicolor Broadway musical?

And then there’s the troubling fact that the Jewish tradition can’t even agree on what the Torah means when it uses the word “brother.” 

Does it mean only a sibling, one who shares the same family unit?  The Book of Leviticus uses the word “brother” much more broadly: 

וְכִֽי־יָמ֣וּךְ אָחִ֔יךָ וּמָ֥טָה יָד֖וֹ עִמָּ֑ךְ וְהֶֽחֱזַ֣קְתָּ בּ֔וֹ גֵּ֧ר וְתוֹשָׁ֛ב וָחַ֖י עִמָּֽךְ׃

If your brother falls on hard times, and is unable to support himself in your midst, you should support him as if he were a stranger or sojourner, and let him live among you.

אַל־תִּקַּ֤ח מֵֽאִתּוֹ֙ נֶ֣שֶׁךְ וְתַרְבִּ֔ית וְיָרֵ֖אתָ מֵֽאֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ וְחֵ֥י אָחִ֖יךָ עִמָּֽךְ׃

Do not take any profit or interest from him, but rather, act out of reverence for God and let him live by your side as your brother (Lev. 25:35-36).

Clearly, what’s meant here is something more than a literal sibling; we’re talking about a person in need, whom the Torah considers more like a resident alien who has become poor, requires assistance, and we are expected to do the right thing and treat another human being as part of the family.

Along comes the Book of Deuteronomy with a modified take on “brother.”  The context in which the word appears is similar; we’re still talking about the prohibition against lending at interest or financially exploiting the disadvantaged:

לֹא־תַשִּׁ֣יךְ לְאָחִ֔יךָ נֶ֥שֶׁךְ כֶּ֖סֶף נֶ֣שֶׁךְ אֹ֑כֶל נֶ֕שֶׁךְ כָּל־דָּבָ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר יִשָּֽׁךְ׃

You shall not deduct interest from loans to your brother, whether in money or food or anything else that can be deducted as interest;

לַנָּכְרִ֣י תַשִּׁ֔יךְ …:

but you may deduct interest from loans to foreigners (Deut. 23:20-21, emphasis added).

So, by adding one tiny clause, two Hebrew words, l’nochri tashich, “but you may take interest from foreigners,” Deuteronomy implicitly changes the meaning of “brother,” defining it more narrowly.  Your “brother,” it seems to say, means, one of your ownNot a “foreigner.”  Not “other.”  Someone from your tribe.  What we might call in Yiddish, landsman, a fellow Jew, or, even more narrowly, a fellow Jew from the same part of the Old Country, maybe even the same shtetl.  (This same passage, by the way, gives rise to the concept of a “Hebrew Free Loan Society:”  a lending association by Jews, for Jews, specifically developed by already established American Jews to help their landsmen obtain a foothold in the New World.)

This passage also made it possible for Medieval Jews to work as much-reviled moneylenders in Christian Europe, a vocation considered dishonorable for good, God-fearing Christians.  With Deuteronomy’s more narrow read, Jews could lend at interest to Christians, so long as they did not charge interest to their fellow Jews.  (You can imagine how this played out in Christian European society, where antisemitism had already run rampant for centuries, in the worst cases actively sponsored by the Church, and the State, which were often indistinguishable from one another.) 

Still, I am not convinced that what the Torah originally meant by “brother” referred only to one’s own “folk” or “tribe” or “landsman.”  The Book of Leviticus, by not qualifying the term at all—by simply saying, let the needy “live by your side as your brother,” without any special treatment stipulated for fellow Jews, nor exceptions made for non-Jews—suggests to me that, at its most noble and expansive, our Torah tradition sees every human being as our brother, our sister.  

Such a read derives as much from Levitical laws of lending as it does from the Torah’s opening words, which declare that God created humankind B’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine Image.  “Male and female, God created them.”  Every human being, of every color and creed, ethnicity and nationality.  Every human being, of every state and social station, every gender and sexual orientation, every ability and disability.  Every human being, of every size and shape, age and language.  Every human being might be my brother, my sister.  Surely, by beginning with this lofty declaration, the Torah wishes to set out its overarching vision for humanity (cf. Gen. 1:26-27).  

“Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Cain’s question is still alive.  Each of us must answer with our actions.  

So how shall we respond to the manacled and the maimed, the marginalized and the murdered, when we see their faces on TV?  Do we see them, and think “other?”  Or “brother?”  Stranger?  Or Sister?  Which impulse do we follow?  

Before you answer, let me share with you a Yom Kippur story, from the Yerushalmi, the so-called “Jerusalem Talmud,” which was compiled in the Galilee around the same time that its more famous sibling, the Bavli, or Babylonian Talmud, was being written in Babylonia.  It’s a story about a venerated teacher of Torah named Shimon ben Shetach, and it goes like this:  

Shimon ben Shetach was struggling in the cotton business.  His students said:  “Rabbi, … let us buy you a donkey [to ease your travels], so you will not have to work so hard.”  They went and bought a donkey from a Gentile, which had a precious pearl [tucked away in the saddle bag] hanging from its neck.  They returned to [Shimon] gleefully, saying, “With this good luck, you’ll never have to work again!”  When Shimon learned about the pearl, he asked his students whether the Gentile had known of it at the time of sale.  When they said no, he ordered them to return [the jewel] (Talmud Yerushalmi, Bava Metzia, 2:5). 

So far, so good.  Here we have a Master Teacher of Torah living out Torah values.  Shimon assesses a case of potential fraud here—that his students have taken something of value from another person, without the seller’s knowledge—and orders the property returned.  But listen to how his students respond.

Well trained in the intricate study of Jewish texts, Shimon’s disciples know a thing or two about how to argue with their Rabbi.  They quote another teaching right back at him, with an impressive pedigree of Rabbis to back them up.  They retort:

“But did not Rav Huna Bivi bar Gozlon teach, in the name of Rav—and authorized by none other than the great Rabbi Yehuda Ha-Nasi—that even if we agree that outright stealing from a heathen is forbidden, nonetheless, appropriating his lost property is totally permitted?”  

Now, Shimon’s students are no dummies.  They are also no saints.  When they made the purchase of the donkey, and found this precious jewel in its saddlebag, don’t you think it occurred to them that keeping it was, well, not exactly kosher?  So they come up with a way to rationalize their decision.  They think to themselves:  “This Gentile, who sold us his donkey–it’s not as if he’s our brother.  He is ‘other.’  What difference does it make if we profit from his loss, especially if he doesn’t even realize what’s happened?  What’s the harm?  And, not only that, do we not have a teaching from some of the most esteemed rabbis who ever lived that suggests that it’s okay to ‘appropriate lost property’ from another person, so long as it’s not a fellow Jew?  Who is this heathen to us, anyway?”  

So they present this legal argument to their Teacher, who loses his patience and exclaims, 

“What?  Who do you think I am, a barbarian?!  I would rather hear [others say], “Blessed be the God of the Jews” than have all the money in the world! (Ibid)

End of story.  You see, Shimon understood that the issue at hand is ethical, not legal.  Shimon cared not only about what was permitted, but also–and more importantly–what was right.  Shimon wanted Jews and Judaism to be not so much smart, or clever, but righteous.

Now, I have promised you that I would “talk about what’s broken in my heart, what needs mending in our humanity,” and we have arrived at the moment of truth.  Because, as I studied the story of Shimon and his disciples, I realized that, no matter how much I wish that our religious tradition would declare unanimously and consistently that the word brother always and forever means any other member of the human family, I arrive at a different conclusion—a more complicated conclusion, a conclusion that requires each of us to search our hearts—which is that Judaism (which rarely gives anything less than two opinions for any big question) offers two competing outlooks, two perspectives at odds with each other:  on the one hand, the universal, to see ourselves first and foremost as part of all humankind; and, on the other hand, the particular, to see ourselves first and foremost as part of a small and specific group of people, one with a unique history and destiny, different from everyone else.

Come to think of it, we Jews need both of these outlooks:  the universal and the particular, the global and the tribal.  Without a tribal outlook, we miss the beauty and power of our specific religious tradition—our Torah, our ways of expressing ourselves, our language and culture and holidays and foods and music, our calendar and our customs, our mores and our mitzvot.  And without a global outlook, we miss the overarching function of Judaism, what the Rabbis called L’taken Olam b’Malchut Shaddai, “to restore the world under the sovereignty of the Divine,” or Tikkun Olam for short.  

With only a tribal outlook, everyone else becomes OtherOnly my fellow Jews are “brother.”  Or, worse, we subdivide ourselves into smaller and smaller clans with pettier and pettier distinctions and definitions.  Only my landsman.  Only the landsman from my shtetl.  Only the ones who affiliate the way I do, Reform or Conservative or Orthodox.  Only the ones who come to Shabbat services or Torah study or Freebirds events or who have the same teacher as my kids.  Only the ones who support Israel the way I do, or who vote the way I do.  They are my brothers. The others are just that, Other.  

Keep this up and we end up like Cain, wiping our hands of our own sibling’s blood.

But the fact remains that Judaism gives us both the choice, and the textual justification, for how we shall view every human being:  either as brother, or other, either as a member of our family, or as part of the human family.  

It’s easy—easy for me; easy, I think, for most of us—to look at Jacob Blake and see Other.  Somewhere along the way, our paths diverged.  His ancestors came to America under very different circumstances from mine.  Both of our great and great-great grandparents were surely persecuted minorities; but our family’s destinies in America took different roads.  

The fact of our shared surname is, at the end of the day, nothing more than a coincidence.  My ancestors did not come to these shores with the name “Blake,” of course.  In the Old Country, it was Blecher, Yiddish for “tinsmith.  When my paternal great-grandfather, Abraham Blecher, emigrated from Russia at the turn of the 20th century, he arrived through Ellis Island.  Believing that America was a country in which a Jew could openly be a Jew, he determined that he would in fact be a “top Jew”— a Kohen.  

His documentation was altered so that he assumed the surname “Cohen” under which he lived, married, and had children of whom my grandfather, Morris Cohen, was one.  Undeniably bright and ambitious, and having attained a high school diploma, he nonetheless could not find better than menial employment.  He and two brothers, Harold and William, correctly deduced that the name “Cohen” was not an asset in the troubled years of World War II, and had it changed back to the original Blecher with one important modification:  they now shared a surname with a famous non-Jewish English poet.   

Within weeks, Morris Cohen, re-Christened Mo Blake, found employment at the Trenton Pipe & Nipple Company, a vital war industry supplying the Navy, and soon became Plant Superintendent.  

But then again, as Rabbi Reiser taught us in his Rosh Ha-Shanah remarks, American Jews seeking to assimilate into a White, Christian milieu have always had an advantage over our Black brothers and sisters.  Like most American Jews of the post-war Era, my grandparents, parents and I all have benefited from being seen as White.  My family had an opportunity to change their name.  Jacob Blake and his family will never have the opportunity to change the color of their skin.


So, today, I ask us to reckon with the choice before us:  how, in this new year,  in a world riven by division, will we regard our fellow human beings?  As Other?  Or Brother?  Sister?  Or Stranger?      

I don’t know if asking this question will mend the brokenness in our world.  But I do think we could use this Yom Kippur to work on what’s broken in our hearts.  “If the Earth were your body, you would be able to feel the many areas where it is suffering,” says Zen Master Thich Nhat Hahn.  Compassion begins with the awareness of suffering.  Empathy comes from the hurt places in me that recognize the hurt places in you.  

My own broken heart will begin to heal when the world sees the bond between Blakes as deriving from the fundamental fact of our shared humanity, and not the coincidence of our shared surnames.  I began by saying that my brother and I could not be more different.  I conclude by saying that we—brothers and sisters, each of us, all of us—could not be more the same.  Jacob Blake deserves to be standing upright on his own two feet, the same way I stand before you today.  Each one of us deserves to fulfill our human potential as reflections of God, creatures made in the Divine Image.

The essential truth of our existence is this:  that there is only one thing, and we are all it.  

So let us give thanks:  first, to our Jewish tradition, which teaches us the value in perspectives both particular and universal, both local and global.  

Let us give thanks, as well, for having reached another Day of Atonement, still alive, and perhaps a little wiser, a little more humane, and a whole lot more inspired to do God’s work here on earth. 

And let us give thanks, above all, to the Eternal, in whose Unity, every difference becomes part of the grand mosaic of life; in whose totality each one—each individual life, every nerve ending and every ocean, every beating heart and every pulsing star—becomes part of the One.

Blessed be the God of the Jews.

Blessed be the God of the human family.

Blessed be the God of all Creation.


A New Covenant: Rosh Ha-Shanah Morning, 5781

September 19, 2020

Rabbi Jonathan Blake

Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, New York

Suppose someone had come to you this time last year to tell you that something bad was coming:  something earth-shaking, something so cataclysmic that people all over the world, in its wake, would come to understand time itself as riven in two:  Before.  And After.

Suppose, further, that this someone had told you that all hope was not yet lost; that, yes, there was no stopping the disaster—that fate already having been sealed—but that you still had a choice:  to save life—your own and others’—that you had, what’s more, a responsibility:  to warn others, to bring them on board, or, disregarding the warning, to be swept up in the undertow. 

Suppose all this, and you may have an inkling of what it felt like to be Noah.

And yet Noah endured all manner of ridicule.  For 120 years, midrash speculates, he planted and felled trees, over and over, planting and chopping, planting and chopping.  When people asked him what he planned to do with all that gopher wood, Noah told them that he was building an Ark, to escape catastrophe.  But the people ignored him.  They mocked him.  They hurled obscenities at him.  They even resorted to violence.

Noah, undaunted, kept at it.

For fifty-two years, midrash tells us, Noah assembled the Ark, taking his sweet time, the Rabbis reason, so that the people would see him hard at work, repent of their foolishness, and get on board.  But they did not repent, and—needless to say—they did not get on board. (Aggadah, Jewish folklore, records these traditions in various locations.  See Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 108a-b; Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer 22; Genesis Rabbah 30:7; Leviticus Rabbah 27:5; and Sefer Ha-Yashar.)

The day came.  The terror arrived with such blinding force that, before long, the waters had covered the tallest mountains, and “all flesh that stirred upon the earth perished:  birds, cattle, beasts, all the creatures that swarmed over the land, and all humankind.  The breath of life was squeezed out of every nostril….  All existence was blotted out… so that only Noah was left, together with the creatures inside the ark” (Gen. 7:22).

There’s a meme circulating the internet depicting Noah’s tempest-tossed Ark, with the caption, “World’s First Quarantined Family.”

Imagine the scene, as perhaps, only now, you can:  The Bible tells us that, in addition to Noah and Mrs. Noah, their three grown children, and all their spouses, all boarded the ark.  Forget the animals; how did Noah’s family get along?

Further, consider this:  When you examine the timeline of the Noah story, a striking detail emerges.  Noah and his crew stayed cooped up in that ark for a whole lot longer than “forty days and forty nights”; that was just the period of rainfall.  The actual time aboard the Ark would tally a year and ten days, all told, and as weeks turned to months, Noah had no idea when it would be safe to disembark.    

So he devised a testing protocol:  he sent out a bird—

a raven—which flitted about to and fro but still found no place to land.

Seven more days and a second bird, this time, a dove: 

וַיְשַׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־הַיּוֹנָ֖ה מֵאִתּ֑וֹ לִרְאוֹת֙ הֲקַ֣לּוּ הַמַּ֔יִם מֵעַ֖ל פְּנֵ֥י הָֽאֲדָמָֽה׃   

He sent forth a dove from himself, to see if the waters had receded from the face of the earth (Gen. 8:8).

Still no place for the bird to land.  So it flew back, perching on Noah’s outstretched hand.  And then:

וַיָּ֣חֶל ע֔וֹד שִׁבְעַ֥ת יָמִ֖ים אֲחֵרִ֑ים וַיֹּ֛סֶף שַׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־הַיּוֹנָ֖ה מִן־הַתֵּבָֽה׃

He waited another seven days, and once again, sent forth the dove from the ark (Gen. 8:10). 

This time, success!  The dove came back that same evening, an olive branch in its beak, signifying that the water had come down, at least to the treetops.  It had now been nearly ten months since the start of the flood.

And still Noah played it safe.  Once more he sent out the dove; this time it did not return.  Noah looked around and saw the surface of the earth drying.  And finally, finally—one year and ten days from the first raindrops—Noah, his family, and the remaining survivors of life on earth, took their first cautious steps on terra firma.  In the sky above, a rainbow, and the Voice of God:

I have set my bow in the clouds; it shall serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth (Gen. 9:13). 

To this day, whenever a rainbow appears, we say this blessing:  Baruch Ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech Ha-Olam, Zocheir Ha-B’rit.  Blessed are You, Sovereign of Creation, who Remembers the Covenant.

So, here we are, this first day of a new year, we Americans more or less exactly half a year into the Great Pandemic of 2020, or, in Noah-terms, perhaps, about halfway through the ordeal.  Who knows?  Maybe it’s more, maybe less.  Even Noah seemed to have a more reliable testing protocol for knowing when it was safe to leave the Ark.    

Today I want to reflect with you on what wisdom Judaism offers for living in a world forever changed by the deluge, and propose that this moment calls for a New Covenant between ourselves and the world.

Like the howl of the shofar piercing the dawn, the period of massive upheaval through which we are living is a cry of alarm, a wake-up call, a hard reset.  It declares:  We need to do so much better at taking care of each other.  Because we’re all on this little Ark together.  

We learn much by studying the Noah story, and, in particular, from the details surrounding the birds that Noah sent forth to survey the waterlogged world.  The raven went to and fro but found no place to land.  Noah then sent out a dove; it returned empty-beaked.  Noah waited another week and sent out the dove a second time.  Only then did the dove’s mission meet with success.  What made the difference?

The first time, the text says וַיְשַׁלַּ֥ח אֶת־הַיּוֹנָ֖ה מֵאִתּ֑וֹ, that Noah “sent forth the dove me’ito,” literally, “from himself.”  It was Noah’s personal bird, on a personal mission.  Some have even interpreted the dove as Noah’s pet, distinguished from all the other animals.  When Noah sent out the dove me’ito, from himself, the dove came back, and, indeed, came to rest on Noah’s very own, outstretched hand.  

But the second mission is different, by a factor of one Hebrew word:  instead of me’ito, “from himself,” this time Noah sends out the dove min ha-teivah, from the Ark.  The dove now has a greater mission:  not to serve one man, but to serve the entire, fragile, floating ship.  Only when carrying the responsibility for all life, together, does the dove’s mission meet with success, the olive branch in its beak a sign of hope, for all life.

These months we’ve spent cooped up in the Ark have cast in high relief both the greatness of generosity, the nobility of human beings striving for the collective good, and the pettiness of egocentrism, the meanness of human beings striving out of naked self-interest, heedless of the needs of the collective.   

My heart has swelled with appreciation and hope, these months, as heroes in our midst—both lauded and unsung—have exemplified the truest measure of sacrifice, the selflessness that animates true holiness.  

Today we sound a shofar of thanksgiving to all of our healthcare workers, both those on the frontlines of the crisis, who have, day after day, and night after night,  for days and nights on end, donned whatever personal protective equipment available at the time, and ministered to the sick, the dying, the lonely, the scared.  At the end of March, our congregant Darlene LeFrancois, doctor of internal medicine at Montefiore in the Bronx, wrote:  

“The best we can often do is hold a patient’s hand for the minute they pass, as they lie there alone.  Maybe we can ask about a family member we can call before they die.  Acknowledge them by saying their name aloud, and keeping silent for 5 seconds before moving on to the next patient.  When the patient in the next bed dies, you see the terror in the roommate’s eyes.  They know they’re next, and we do too.  Many of these patients have never been sick before, or even ever in a hospital before.”  

Let that shofar sound for all the doctors who continued to practice telemedicine, all the nurses, and aides, and ambulance drivers; the hospital custodians, and clinic workers, and medical technicians swabbing anxious patients’ noses, the phlebotomists and lab techs, and equipment suppliers; all the therapists and social workers who will be tending to broken hearts and despondent thoughts, for a long time to come.  

Let that shofar sound for all the delivery drivers, and the grocery workers, the mail carriers and the childcare providers, the bakers and chefs, the teachers and construction workers and mask-makers and manufacturers of hand sanitizer. 

And, oh!, for all the plumbers and electricians!  (Kelly and I went through two fridge repairs and one dishwasher replacement in the first three months of quarantine and we’re still putting our kitchen through more abuse than ever.)

For all of you who have sent forth a dove of hope and help on behalf of this whole rickety Ark:  thank you.

And yet.

And yet, my heart, which has swelled with admiration at the best of humanity on display, has also—in just a half a year—shrunk in revulsion at some of humanity’s worst, meanest, stupidest, most ignorant, most entitled, most selfish behavior.  

The sound of our shofar has been muted as close to 200,000 American voices have fallen silent in death, an outcome made more horrific, more tragic, because tens–if not hundreds–of thousands of lives could have been saved, potentially millions of deaths across the world, prevented.

And still we fail to buckle down and make the necessary sacrifices to bring the spread of the virus under control:  keep your quarantine and wear a mask in public.  I wear my mask to protect you.  You wear your mask to protect me.  Why is this so hard?  You can blame foreign countries; you can blame our leaders; but when it all comes down to it, the responsibility for getting this disease under control—and the blame for failing to do so—rests squarely with us.

The Talmud includes a best-seller, a small handbook of Rabbinic aphorisms called Pirkei Avot,  which includes this teaching:  “A person who says, ‘what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours’ is an average person, but also a Sodomite” (Mishna, Avot 5:13), referencing the doomed Biblical city known for its avarice and cruelty.  

“What’s mine is mine; what’s yours is yours”:  Mind your own business.  Keep to your own lane.  Or, as Billy Joel put it:  “I don’t care anymore what you say, this is my life; go ahead with your own life, leave me alone.”  It’s a perspective deeply embedded in the American psyche.  

It’s also deeply un-Jewish.  In Judaism we have, “your business is my business,” which, if you’ve ever had Jewish in-laws, you already know.  And yet, if we ever hope to prevail—as a country, as a collective, as a human family—we need to understand what these six months have been telling us all along:  that we are all interconnected.  What I do affects you.  What you do affects me.  

“Globalism” is not a political choice anymore; it’s a fact:  what happens over there affects me over here, and vice versa.  The virus does not heed its hosts’ political preferences or nationality.  It preys with special ferocity on those with underlying health conditions or who have the misfortune to be born poor, or Black, or Brown, or Indigenous, without access to the kind of health care, nutrition, education, and social services that our community takes for granted.  

And if that isn’t our collective problem, and our collective responsibility, then whose is it?  

When Noah sent out the dove me’ito, “from himself,” the world remained underwater.  Self-interest will drown us.  When Noah sent out a dove min ha-teivah, for the benefit of the whole Ark, in the interest of the collective, the mission succeeded.  Remember the Hindu proverb:  “Help your brother’s boat across, and lo!  Your own has reached the shore.”    

The societal model envisioned by the Torah places the welfare of the collective above the success of the individual.  Those who work in agriculture must leave behind the fallen fruit for the poor and the stranger, must leave the corners of fields unharvested and of vineyards, unpicked.  Shepherds must sacrifice of the flock; ranchers of the herd; every laborer must contribute tithes and offerings; no one was exempt from giving.  Again and again the Torah exhorts us to help the poor, the stranger, the orphan, the widow—the unseen, the neglected—to give without hesitation or reservation, recognizing, in language that Noah himself might have understood, that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”  

Most boldly, the Torah provides its own “hard reset” for when accumulated wealth and property and power began to privilege the very few over the very many.  With words now famously engraved on the Liberty Bell, the Torah announces:  “Proclaim liberty throughout the land, to all the inhabitants thereof” (Leviticus 25:10).  Every fifty years, with this very pronouncement, the Torah declares a Yovel, a Jubilee year:  a rebalancing of the scales of economic justice, during which slaves would go free, debts would be forgiven, and so-called “landowners” would be reminded that their relationship with property was nothing more than a lease, and the land would be redistributed to its ancestral tribes.  

The word Jubilee, Yovel in Hebrew, is a Biblical word referring to the blast of the shofar.  The wake up call.  The sound we need to hear today, after our own fifty years and more of unchecked accumulation by the few at the expense of the many.  Throw in a vicious pandemic which has exposed the human face of inequality, and you see what happens to society.  “What’s mine is mine and what’s yours is yours” paves the way to Sodom.  The dove of hope circles overhead with no safe place to land, and returns defeated.  The suffering mounts.  

We need a New Covenant.  One that begins and ends with the recognition that everything is connected.  The great teachers, in every religion and every philosophy, all arrived at this same, fundamental truth:  There is only one thing and we are all it.

Listen to Albert Einstein who understood the nature of existence better than, well, anyone:  

A human being is a part of the whole, called by us, “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest — a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. (Excerpted from a letter that Einstein wrote in 1950 to an ordained rabbi, Norman Salit, who was seeking in vain to comfort his 19-year-old daughter over the death of her 16-year-old sister.)

Einstein was talking about a New Covenant, a covenant with all life, a covenant with the Cosmos.

Of all the things that break my heart these days, the politicization of ethical stewardship for the world, the politicization of environmentalism, perhaps ranks highest of all.  It didn’t have to be this way.  We get one planet, one Ark, on which we all have to live together.  And yet we continue to treat our home like an AirBnB that’s someone else’s problem to clean up after we leave, expending and discarding with little heed to the suffering we are already inflicting, in a way, that, once again, injures with special ferocity the world’s most vulnerable people, creatures, and habitats.  

I echo the Biblical Amos who said, “I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet.”  And yet I find in all the great Israelite Prophets a refreshing disregard for saying the popular thing and instead speaking the truth.  And the truth is this:  whether the “point of no return” for the climate crisis is now, or twelve years from now—as the more alarming models suggest—or as much as seventy years from now, who really cares?  Why would we gamble with the risk so staggeringly high?  Why would we treat even a 70-year window as anything other than a blunt wake-up call, today?  Why waste even a minute, while our own West Coast burns?

And yet, we continue to act me’ito, each person for him and herself, instead of min ha-teivah, each one of us acting for the good of the whole Ark.  

On this first morning of a new year, here is the only “prophecy” worth considering:

Schools will come back.

In-person services at the temple will come back.

Football will come back.

Theatre will come back.

Concerts will come back.

Restaurants will come back.

Travel will come back.

Dating and romance and falling in love and all that jazz will come back.

The economy will come back.

And none of it will matter unless we come back to our senses and stop acting as if “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is yours.”


One evening after a refreshing spring rain, Kelly and I took to one of the new practices we adopted during quarantine, a “daily constitutional,” a long neighborhood walk.  It’s good for the body, the mind, the soul, and the connection between homebound people.  These walks have been just lovely, an opening of all the senses.

Without cars barreling up and down Soundview Avenue, we could hear a cacophony of rival birds—no ravens or doves, alas, but the shriek of a hawk, the song of warblers—and leaves rustling in the breeze, chipmunks scampering and all of it suddenly punctuated by the squeal of a boy being chased across the lawn by his big sister.  

Without exhaust glutting the air, we could distinguish individual scents:  each flower with its own aroma, the smell of freshly-cut grass, from this backyard the smell of a charcoal grill, from that patio, a propane grill; underneath it all, wet moss and rich soil, and bags of slowly decomposing branches and twigs.  The hydrangeas bloomed electric blue and neon magenta, as if finally allowed to attend the debutante’s ball, coming out in all their splendor.  

And everywhere we walked, the dance of living things:  earthworms crawling out of the saturated ground, and squirrels trying their darndest to raid our vegetable garden, rabbits holding court on every lawn.  We came back from our walk, sat on our back deck, and I swear that we heard the throaty grumble of a coyote padding around underneath the floorboards, just days after learning of a family of black bears encroaching on nearby streets.  All around us the world was re-wilding, Nature asserting herself, inevitably, inexorably, reminding us that we are just visitors, lessees, tenants in God’s world.  Reminding us that there’s only one thing and we are all it.  

Up above, I could have sworn I saw a rainbow.      

Baruch Ata Adonai, Zocheir Ha-Brit.  Blessed is the One who remembers the covenant.

On Zionism & Annexation

June 29, 2020 / 7 Tammuz 5780

I write to you today with reflections on time-sensitive developments in Israel and the West Bank, namely, the Netanyahu government’s stipulated intention to annex, unilaterally, parts of the West Bank. My thoughts are rooted in my analysis of Jewish history and Jewish destiny. As always, I welcome dialogue on this subject and would be happy to provide a time in the coming days for discussion.

Zionism is the national liberation movement of the Jewish people. It begins with a moral imperative: that the Jewish people, having suffered centuries of persecution as unwanted or, at best, merely tolerated “guests” of foreign regimes, would at last enjoy freedom, sovereignty, security, and peace, as an independent Jewish nation.

Israel’s Declaration of Independence envisions a thriving Jewish democracy. Balancing the Jewish character and self-determination of the Jewish State alongside its intention to protect the rights and aspirations of its non-Jewish citizens and neighboring peoples has often proved difficult and painful. Yet promoting and achieving such balance remains critical to Israel’s success, both politically and morally.

Today, attacks on the Zionist dream abound. My rabbinate remains committed to defending Israel and, by extension, the Jewish people. Over the last twenty years, I have forcefully and consistently opposed BDS. I presently serve on Aipac’s National Council. I have refused to indulge the lie that support for Israel disqualifies one’s allegiance to other progressive causes and liberation movements.

I’ve also called out attacks from the right, when it weaponizes support for Israel for partisan political gain, and when it proposes that any critique of Israel—a basic right within any thriving democracy, one on which Israelis themselves depend—constitutes a betrayal of Israel.

But nothing breaks my heart more than watching attacks on the character of Zionism come from the Israeli government itself.

Zionism’s morality derives from its promise of national self-determination for the historically oppressed Jewish people. Zionism finds no virtue in interminable Jewish subservience and second-class citizenship. Rather, Zionism presents an alternative to Jewish powerlessness: to embrace national self-determination, and to wield power, ethically and responsibly.

Jewish nationalism can and must exist alongside Palestinian nationalism, no matter how difficult these two national aspirations have been to reconcile.

Zionism must not deny to others what it seeks to provide for Jews. My unwavering advocacy for two states for two peoples derives from my understanding of Zionism. Two states for two peoples remains the only way that a thriving Jewish democracy can hope to be preserved. Unilateral steps to undermine the status quo function only to undermine the essential character and principles of Zionism itself.

This is why I oppose all talk of annexation.

Many challenges inhibit the attainment of an enduring peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. Threats to Israel’s security are real and ongoing. Israelis and Palestinians and, especially, their current leadership, have given ample reason for each group to fear and mistrust the other.

Now more than ever we must double down on the true character of Zionism. We must reject the mercenary politics of division and cynical point-scoring that betrays the Zionist vision of a thriving Jewish state that guarantees the rights of its non-Jewish citizens and co-exists peaceably with its neighbors.

Zionism is a movement of liberation, not subjugation. Annexation would erode not only Israel’s security but also its moral credibility. Indeed, annexation threatens not only to undermine Zionism’s character, but also to erase its gains.

For the Jewish past, the Jewish future, and for the sake of all who seek peace and justice, annexation must be opposed.

Please join me in praying for the peace of Israel, the region, and all of God’s children.


Rabbi Jonathan E. Blake

Juneteenth 2020: Introducing Rev. Dr. Stephen W. Pogue, Pastor, Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church, Mt. Vernon, NY

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Juneteenth.

There’s a song on the new Bob Dylan album—and I mean new, as in released today—called “Crossing the Rubicon,” in which Dylan invokes the old phrase attributed to Caesar, who, in the year 49 BCE, upon crossing the river Rubicon which separated Italy from Gaul, committed to a course of action from which there was no turning back — and which led to a war against rival Pompey and the Roman Senate.

Crossing the Rubicon.  No turning back.  We have reached such a Rubicon moment in American life—indeed, multiple such crossings from which there will be no turning back.  Whatever comes next after this terrible global pandemic will not be the same as what came before.

And whatever must come next in our country’s unfolding saga of justice denied and opportunity withheld, when it comes to our relationship with Black Americans and all American communities of color—whatever must come next cannot be a turning back to the way things were before, the way things have too often been.

And, it so happens, as my colleague and friend Rabbi Noah Farkas, who serves the congregation of Valley Beth Shalom in the LA suburbs, points out, “[i]n this week’s Torah portion Shlach Lecha, the Israelites have reached their point of no return” (emphasis added).  

Moses sends out 12 spies, one for each tribe of Israel, to scout out the land that God has promised them.  Fully ten of twelve return impressed with the lush landscape and natural resources but frightened to death of the so-called “giants” who live in the land, whom, they fear, will eat the Israelites for lunch.  And so these disheartened spies lead a campaign to demoralize the rest of the Israelites.  Their campaign slogan is, “Let’s go back to Egypt.”

But they’ve already reached their Crossing the Rubicon moment.  Once the Israelites taste the fruit of the promised land, there is no going back to Egypt.  No going back to bondage, oppression, the invisibility of the Israelites’ lives under Pharaoh.  No, there is only going forward.  

My friends, for us, now, especially, there is no going back.  No going back to the Egypt of denial and defensiveness when we talk about race in America.  In recognition of the urgency of this Rubicon moment, we have reached out to our community partners in the interest of listening, learning, partnering, and shouldering together both the pain and the responsibility to face our fears and move forward together.

The congregation of Greater Centennial A.M.E. Zion Church in Mount Vernon, and its pastor, our friend, the Rev. Dr. Stephen Pogue, have stood with WRT, and we with them, in times of joy and sorrow.  When, five years ago this week, a white supremacist committed mass murder in the Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, our congregations stood in solidarity.  When, almost two years ago, a white supremacist murdered Jews in prayer at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Dr. Pogue and our Greater Centennial friends were there for us.  

Today, this Juneteenth, must not just be a moment for pledging solidarity, not just a moment to affirm that Black Lives Matter, but also, this must be a time for our WRT community to listen to the voices of our neighbors and heed the demands that our respective faith traditions—and that our common God of justice and mercy—now ask of us. 

It is, as always, a distinct pleasure for me to introduce my friend and yours, Rev. Stephen Pogue.

When the World is Burning

A Sermon in Response to the Murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd

Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, New York

Friday, June 5, 2020

A true story:

Seventeen years ago, just days after beginning my new job as the Associate Rabbi of Westchester Reform Temple, I was invited to participate in a conversion ceremony.  It takes three rabbis to make one Jew.  That is to say, a Beit Din, a rabbinical court, a panel of three duly ordained rabbis is convened to authorize a conversion to Judaism, so I joined my WRT colleagues, Rabbi Rick Jacobs and Rabbi Angela Buchdahl (and our soon-to-be-official Jew) at the local mikveh, the ritual bath, at Temple Israel Center in White Plains.  

I was walking back to my car when I noticed a plume of dark smoke streaming from a nearby house.  Rick and Angela immediately identified the burning building as our neighboring congregation, Bet Am Shalom, which, by the way, is just a few blocks from where Kelly and I presently live.

We rushed to the adjacent parking lot and met the firefighters, police officers, Rabbi Les Bronstein, Cantor Benjie-Ellen Schiller, and Bet Am Shalom congregants managing the evacuation.  Moments after the fire had been extinguished, but before an all-clear had been issued to re-enter the building, some of my colleagues approached an officer and rushed into the smoldering synagogue with hospital stretchers, emerging minutes later with the miraculously undamaged Torah scrolls that they had rescued from the sanctuary.

In that moment, I felt deeply connected not only to our local rabbis and cantors, to our neighboring synagogues, and to these sacred scrolls that had been saved from danger, but also to Abraham, father-figure of our faith.  A midrash, a Rabbinic legend, about Abraham, goes like this:

An ordinary man is going about his business, traveling from one place to another, when he notices a building all in flames.  This man, Abraham by name, exclaims, “Why is no one doing anything?  How can it be that there is no one to look after this place?”  Suddenly, a voice calls out from the highest balcony—itself almost engulfed in the inferno—saying, “I am the owner.”  At that moment, the story goes, God—the “owner of the building,” so to speak, the One whose world is on fire—selects Abraham to be the father to a multitude of nations, and to lead them from the darkness of superstition into the light of faith (Midrash Bereshit Rabbah, 39:1).

Why Abraham?  What special qualities did our ancestor possess that merited his divine election?  In other words, what did God see in him?  

The answer, according to this parable, is twofold:  first, that Abraham walks with eyes open, that he pays attention, that he notices the fire; but also, that Abraham wonders aloud why this is happening, why is no one else paying attention, why is no one doing anything; and then he demands a response.  What makes Abraham special is that he sees things not only for what they are, but for the way they ought to be, and then roars out his objection.  

Abraham’s journey begins, that is to say, in an act of holy protest.

The world is an inferno.  Who shall we be, in this moment?  How shall we respond?

When I was a kid, we learned that the response to a fire is “stop, drop, and roll”—not, “run into the inferno.”  We practiced this maneuver on the floor of the cafeteria of Parkway Manor Elementary School in Allentown, Pennsylvania.  I was pretty good at the “stop” and “drop” parts, less coordinated around the “roll” — I usually ended up careening all 44 pounds of my first-grade body straight into Brian Chu’s kidneys.   

And yet, this is no time to stop, drop, and roll away from the fire.  

I am not talking, by the way, about that small percentage of lawbreakers who have seized upon this historic moment by breaking into stores, vandalizing buildings, or setting cars ablaze.  The actions of this small and misanthropic few diminish, disgrace, and distract from a vital and just cause.  We condemn them.  There is no holiness in havoc.  

But they are not the story, despite what some media choose to portray.

No, the fire of which I speak is a flame of righteous anger over a centuries-old legacy of American racism that continues to treat Black lives as less valuable than White lives, that continues to treat Black bodies as expendable, that continues to confer disadvantage on communities of color, adversely affecting access to quality education, professional mobility, and equal treatment under the law.

An admirably principled and forthright figure you may have encountered in this week’s news, Marianne Budde, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, speaks for so many of us religious leaders who cherish the Bible, who study the Bible every day, and who find in the Bible a wellspring of wisdom acutely suited to this moment. 

“Scripture is clear,” she says:  “Justice, which is the societal expression of love, matters most to God. Justice is also what is most important to those who are exercising their right to peaceful protest. They are expressing what we all know to be true:  It’s past time to fix a law that allows police officers and vigilantes to go unpunished for crimes against people of color. It’s past time to correct the gross disparities in health care that Covid-19 has revealed.  It’s past time to change economic and educational systems that privilege white people (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/04/opinion/trump-st-johns-church-protests.html).

Racism finds expression not only in vile words and violent abuse.  Such overt racism is grossly offensive, deserving of censure.  But that kind of racism is, truth be told, the easier kind to address. 

The hard racism to extirpate is covert: the racism that insidiously burrows into the fine print of policy and the distribution of resources, into how wealth is accumulated and inherited, in the infrastructure of our cities and the all-too-intentional placement of highways and factories.  If you want to confront racism, first you have to see the building burning.  

In early March—it might as well have been a lifetime ago—Rabbi Levy and I traveled with 63 WRT members, eighth graders and their parents, to the American South.  We marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.  We got up close with a history-making bus ride at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery.  We prayed at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was baptized, where he preached, and where he was eulogized.  And, most heartrendingly—at least for me—we visited the Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization that works to end mass incarceration, excessive punishment, and racial inequality.  

Founded in 1989 by Bryan Stevenson, a public interest lawyer and the author of Just Mercy, which last year was turned into a compelling biopic movie of the same name, the Equal Justice Initiative provides legal representation to people who have been illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prisons. 

(The film Just Mercy has been made available for free online, for this month of June. Watch it here: https://www.warnerbros.com/movies/just-mercy)

The Equal Justice Initiative challenges the death penalty, excessive punishment, and helps formerly incarcerated people return to lives of purpose and productivity.  We toured the EJI’s museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which opened to the public just two years ago.  It is America’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, people terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. 

📷 : Jonathan Blake

Set on a six-acre site, the memorial features over 800 steel monuments engraved with the names of racial lynching victims, one massive column for each county where a lynching took place.  There are more than 4,400 names.  Like visiting Yad Va-Shem in Jerusalem, or the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC, you leave such a place transformed—not just aghast at the horror of it all, but awakened, aware that you share in a terrible legacy; you inherit a profound responsibility; you cannot just go back to “business as usual”; you may not control history, but you must exercise what agency you have over future destiny.  

The poet Rilke described such a moment of transformation:  “…[H]ere,” he wrote, “there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life” (“Archaic Torso of Apollo,” 1908, translated by Stephen Mitchell).

“You must change your life.”  

That is the message embedded in this American moment.  

Before today, we could walk along and not even notice the palace going up in flames.  We could glide along, silent among the passers-by.  

Today we must be Abraham.  

These are tremendous times, terrible times, transformational times, times that demand courage, not complacency; sacrifice, not smugness; curiosity, not close-mindedness. 

This is no time to stop, drop, and roll ourselves away from the flames.

Fortunately, it turns out that “Stop, Drop, and Roll” is not what they teach kids nowadays.  Today, the concept we want children to internalize is this:  if there’s a fire in your house, you should get yourself to a designated meeting place and wait for your family there.

And so, here we are, tonight.  We are at our designated meeting place—it’s called Shabbat—and we are among family.  

Tonight, we take comfort and shelter in one another.  But we will not hide from the fire.  Judaism exists in order to model a more perfect world.  It demands that we not hunker down in fear of what is, but rather, challenge ourselves and our world to become what it ought to be.

Today, with our WRT family, our Jewish family.  Our nuclear family, as it were.  Tomorrow, with our extended family—the human family.  

Because we can’t do this work alone.  If this crazy time—mass demonstrations colliding with a mass pandemic—has anything to teach us, let it be how deeply and inextricably interconnected we are, and must remain.

Tonight, this Shabbat, with our WRT family.  Tomorrow, with the family of humankind, each soul an image of God, each life a divine flame.

Shavuot-Confirmation 5780

The Angle of Your Tent, and Why it Matters

Rabbi Jonathan Blake, Westchester Reform Temple, Scarsdale, NY

Confirmation Class of 5780!

Well.  This is weird. 

Let me begin my remarks this morning by acknowledging that I am fully aware that you’ve been texting each other and using the Zoom Private Chat feature this whole time, just outside the view of the camera. 

To which I say, just remember what the Torah says:  Two can play at that game. What, you think your rabbis and cantors haven’t been doing the same exact thing?

Anyway.  Let me share with you an interesting observation about Zoom, derived from from the Babylonian Talmud. 

The Talmud mentions that, when they camped in the wilderness, the Israelites positioned their tents at an angle so that people couldn’t look into their neighbors’ homes.  

I wonder what would’ve happened if they had Zoom. 

Because on Zoom, it doesn’t matter what angle your house sits at.  Everybody is checking out everybody else’s homes.  All of a sudden, our placid, friendly neighborhood has become a bastion of voyeurism, all thanks to Zoom.   

Come on.  Admit it.  You’ve all done it.  You’re probably doing it right now. 

Like, you’re on a Zoom with friends…. And you just can’t help yourself.  You start looking around their bedrooms, like, whoa, what do they have that I haven’t got? 

Or, maybe, you’re putting up a virtual screen, so other people can’t look into your room, because you just know they’re checking out your room, too….  Right? 

So, that’s a thing we’ve all been doing.  

Which takes us to a line in this morning’s Torah portion, which Sam Medvinsky so beautifullychanted:

Exodus 20:14

לֹ֥א תַחְמֹ֖ד בֵּ֣ית רֵעֶ֑ךָ לֹֽא־תַחְמֹ֞ד אֵ֣שֶׁת רֵעֶ֗ךָ וְעַבְדּ֤וֹ וַאֲמָתוֹ֙ וְשׁוֹר֣וֹ וַחֲמֹר֔וֹ וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁ֥ר לְרֵעֶֽךָ׃

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.  You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, nor his servant, whether male or female, nor his ox, his donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

That’s the 10th commandment.  The last commandment.  And also, I think, the weirdest commandment, because it’s the only one that tells you what to feel or not to feel, and not what to do or not to do.  

At the same time, it may also be the most relatable commandment, the one most in touch with the human psyche.  I mean, most people I know don’t ordinarily contend with the temptation to steal or to murder, but they do have to contend with the 10th Commandment, the one that says, “You shall not covet.”

Confirmation Class of 5780, you can all relate to the 10th Commandment. 

Well, the starting part and the ending part of it, anyway.  You guys do have houses, but no servants, wives, or donkeys.  At least not yet.  So, let’s just abbreviate the Tenth Commandment as, “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house,” dot dot dot, “Or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”  That, I think, we can all wrap our heads around.

But what is this commandment really about? 

First, what the 10th commandment is NOT about:

It’s not about craving.  Everyone has cravings, just naturally.  “I want a pizza.”  Just wanting something is not a problem in and of itself. 

Nor is the commandment about wanting what “everybody else” has, or seems to have, something akin to “FOMO,” Fear Of Missing Out:  “Wow, everyone else in this restaurant already seems to have gotten their pizza; I really want my pizza.”  Also, totally fine.  Normal.  Natural.  Understandable. 

No, what the 10th commandment is trying to say, is that David Appel can’t just say, “I want, specifically, Audrey Gendel’s pizza.  Maybe I should take it.”

This is a very specific kind of craving – wanting what does not belong to you, what you have no right to. 

You can want any pizza on the menu, but Audrey also has a right to enjoy her pizza without looking over her shoulder the entire time she’s eating it, worrying about what David is up to. 

Acknowledging all of this, I want to add here my own conclusion that there’s no comprehensive way for us not to want what others may have.  It’s pretty natural, pretty widespread, pretty human nature-ish.  You can’t just stop your heart from wanting what it wants. 

We may never be able to suppress these urges, these desires, at least not entirely, at least not forever.  I think that they may have put this commandment last of Ten because they knew it was the most likely to be broken. 

That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be done, that we are all hopelessly burdened by our own human frailty.  It is true that desire, craving—even that which belongs to our neighbors—exists everywhere, and yes, it exists very much here in our community, or so I am led to believe.   

But there also exists a counteracting force that we can actively bring into our lives. It’s called Gratitude. Contrary to what you may think, Gratitude is not inborn; it is learned.  Gratitude is not a feeling; it’s a practice. 

Back, for a moment, to those Israelite tents, each one pitched at an angle, so that neighbors could not see into each others’ homes:

The passage in the Torah from which this observation derives is one with which you may or may not be familiar.  

In the Book of Numbers, an enemy king summons a sorcerer named Bil’am to curse the Israelites.  Bil’am shows up for the job, stations himself on a hilltop, along with his sinister employer, gets ready to curse the Israelites who are encamped down at the base of the hill, gazes down on their tents, and, unexpectedly, and much to his employer’s chagrin, his curse comes out as a blessing—one of the most famous blessings in Jewish tradition. מַה־טֹּ֥בוּ אֹהָלֶ֖יךָ יַעֲקֹ֑ב מִשְׁכְּנֹתֶ֖יךָ יִשְׂרָאֵֽל, says the seer.  “How good are these tents of Jacob, these dwelling places of Israel!”  

What made these Jewish tents “good,” says the Talmud, is that the sorcerer immediately recognized, from the angle of the tents, that nobody was looking into anyone else’s tent.  

When we don’t care all that much about looking into our neighbor’s tents, when we stop caring, that’s exactly when we are able to say, “Ma Tovu” about our our own tents.  

And, vice-versa:  If we remember to look around our own tents and acknowledge what makes them “good,” we stop caring about what’s in everyone else’s tent—even if just for a few moments.  The two concepts go hand-in-hand:  Gratitude for what I have; not coveting what my neighbor has.      

Confirmation Class of 5780:  none of us denies that this milestone moment comes laden with accumulated losses.  We had hoped to celebrate Confirmation in Westchester Reform Temple’s beautiful sanctuary, with the whole class singing in unison, accompanied by piano and guitar, wearing robes, carrying flowers, standing side-by-side, enjoying a sumptuous luncheon together afterwards.  We had hoped to remove a Torah scroll from our holy Ark and chant the ancient words from its timeworn parchment.  

You had hopes, too:  of in-person classes at temple and at school, of athletic play and competition, of chorus and band and drama club, of happy milestones with family and friends, of big Passover Seders and Memorial Day Cookouts and end-of-year parties.  I do understand how loss upon loss contributes to longing upon longing, longing for what might have been, longing for what we wish we had that we do not have.   

At the same time, our losses require a context in which to understand them.  After all, little more than a few months ago, we never could have fathomed numbers like: 5 million confirmed infections, over 300,000 dead—100,000 of them, Americans—41 million unemployed.  I am sure that all over our country and our world there are people looking at their neighbor’s houses, as it were, coveting a hot meal, a warm bed, a now-absent loved one to care for them, a job to get up for in the morning.  

And so, Gratitude.  Gratitude as a discipline, not a feeling.  Gratitude as a daily practice, not a spontaneous experience.  Gratitude as something you do by yourself, for yourself, not the reflexive saying of “Thank You” when someone does something nice for you.  

May I suggest, Confirmation Class of 5780, bringing into your daily routines, a quiet moment for a prayer of gratitude?  Let me qualify the word “prayer.”  You don’t need to know any Hebrew; you don’t even need words.  You don’t need to believe in God; you don’t really need to “believe in” anything.  You just need to take a moment to get in touch with one thing in your life that you can acknowledge with a heart full of thanks.  

And let me qualify that, too:  not just a thing.  I mean statements like this:  

“Today I helped my little brother with his homework. I have the gift of knowledge that I can share with others.”

“Today I was able to help without being asked.  I live in a home, in a community, where by abilities, opinions, feelings, and contributions are valued.”

“Today I was in my back yard, and I noticed that I am connected to a vast ecosystem of living things.  Amazing!”  

And so on.

We all may just find that such a daily practice will make us so much the more aware of all the good in these, the tents of our People, so that we might proclaim, together:


“How good are these tents of Jacob, these dwelling places of Israel!”

May God bless you, Confirmation Class of 5780:  you, together with all the people who share your tent.  

And May God keep all of our tents safe and well until we can meet again, and embrace.

Mazal Tov and Chag Sameach!

The L.O.G. (Lox, Onions, Greens) Matzo Brei

This morning I conducted my first “Instagram Live” broadcast.  It featured me, alone in my kitchen, demo-ing how to make a savory Matzo Brei on the Sunday of Chol Ha-Mo’ed Pesach.  (Hilariously, my computer just autocorrected “Chol,” which means the intermediary days of a Festival, as opposed to “Chag,” the Festival Days themselves, which bookend the week, to “Cholesterol.”)FgRbZwnCQu6smpgC0QbOXA

A few nice folks who joined me Live have asked for the recipe.  So, here you go.  I didn’t really measure anything, so bear with me.

The L.O.G. (Lox, Onions, Greens) Matzo Brei by Jonathan Blake – Serves Four (4)

Cooking Time (including prep): 30 minutes

[Cooking Time for basic Matzo Brei (including prep):  5 minutes]


4 Sheets of Matzo (any type will do; if you’re using gluten-free, please plan to use less water to moisten the matzo)

Butter (3-4 TBSP) (You can substitute a neutral vegetable oil, like grape seed or safflower oil; I advise against olive oil for Matzo Brei, especially if you’re making a sweet (not savory) variation.  If you want to go super old-school, use schmaltz (chicken fat).

4 Eggs, whisked

2 medium onions, diced or thin-sliced

2 cups of chopped leafy greens (I used Swiss/Rainbow Chard; you can also use kale, spinach, arugula, or a mix)

1/4 lb. smoked salmon, chopped (I had on hand some cracked-black-pepper Nova)

Chopped herbs (e.g., chives, parsley) for garnish/finishing

Salt & Pepper to taste – go easy, throughout, if you’re using salty smoked salmon, which will flavor the dish.


Melt 1 TBSP butter in a nonstick skillet until it’s foaming and just staring to brown (don’t let it burn).

Add your onions and sauté until translucent, with browned edges – nice and caramelized is good.

Maybe a little salt & pepper here.

Add your greens and another 1 TBSP butter and sauté until completely wilted and maybe even a touch crispy, if you like that.

Remove the veggies from the pan, and set aside in a bowl.

Crumble 4 sheets of matzo in a separate bowl, into bite-sized pieces.  Don’t pulverize.  Just break it up.

SPRINKLE (do NOT douse) your matzo pieces with warm tap water, JUST ENOUGH to moisten the matzo.  DO NOT over-soak.  If it’s gluten-free matzo, even less.  You don’t want the matzo to disintegrate.  Use your hands to toss the matzo pieces around so that they’re all equally dampened.  Pour off any excess water.

Add your 4 whisked raw eggs to the matzo and toss/stir gently to incorporate completely.

Add another 1-1.5 TBSP butter to the skillet and set the heat to LOW.

When the butter is melted, add your matzo+egg mixture, gently spread throughout the pan, and let set for a couple of minutes.  When the butter is foaming along the edges of the Matzo Brei, use a spatula to toss the mixture around a bit – but go easy.  It’s like scrambling eggs the French way.  Low heat, slow & easy does it.

Incorporate your veggies and toss through.  Let cook for another minute.

Toss in the chopped lox and distribute evenly.  Cook for one more minute.  Don’t overcook, which will dry everything out.  Matzo Brei should be a bit moist (but not runny).  Maybe another dash of salt & pepper here.

Serve in bowls, or on plates, and finish with your chopped herbs.  Enjoy.

Chag Sameach, Mo’adim L’Simcha – Happy Passover!


To Be a Kohen in Our Time – SHABBAT TZAV 5780 – APRIL 3, 2020

Rabbi Jonathan Blake, Westchester Reform Temple

Pesach—which is just around the corner—is a time of questions.  At this juncture in the viral outbreak that has engulfed the globe, and which rages with particular ferocity right here in New York, we have more questions than answers:  

How long until the number of new infections reaches its peak and begins to subside? Will my loved ones remain safe?  How can I know who is telling us the truth? How badly will the pandemic damage the economy?  Is my job secure?  What will happen to my employees and those who depend on me?  What about my retirement prospects?  How will this crisis affect my children and grandchildren?  How many people will die before we bring the virus under control?   

These questions have no answers, at least no easy ones—just models and predictions, best-case-scenarios and worst-case scenarios.  

Still, what we might learn about ourselves, about the world, about what really matters, in this unforeseen and unwelcome turn of events, will surely provide ample material for reflection for a much time to come, and so I ask your forbearance as I muddle through along with you, doing my level best to make sense of life in this new reality, doing my best to teach Torah in a time unlike any other.  

And, at least for this teacher of Torah, one conclusion is already clear:  that we will never look at the Book of Leviticus the same way again.  

I confess that I, like many students of Torah, am guilty of not having given Leviticus its proper due, until now.  I confess that I, like many students of Torah, have furrowed my brow at its litanies of blood sacrifices; its arcane rituals incumbent on a Biblical Israelite community so far removed from us in space and time; its obsession with cataloguing every living thing and every conceivable experience as pure or impure, kosher or treyf, holy or profane.  I confess that, like many students of Torah, I have chuckled at its bizarre rulings and rituals, from the Yom Kippur tradition of casting the sins of the community upon the head of a hapless goat and then driving the poor animal off to die in the wilderness; or the disparities that Leviticus proposes for gender and sexuality:  without getting into too many details, that the Book basically favors men, and prefers for them to be straight; all of this and more has been met with an uncomfortable mixture of bewilderment and disdain.

Until now.  

Until now, when everything outside looks different and so the Torah looks different, too.  The words have not changed but we have changed.  The world has changed.  

Until now, when the word “plague” could not be spoken without a self-consciously Biblical appreciation for hyperbole—knowing how that word evokes blood and frogs and lice and any of the other nasty things we will mention at next week’s Seder.  

Until now, when the ideas of contagion, and purity, and enforced isolation, seemed abstract to all but epidemiologists who have always known that a microscopic virus could, in the worst of circumstances, decimate a civilization.  

Until now, when the notion of sacrifice no longer calls to mind the blood-soaked rituals of an archaic cult but rather the important, even life-saving measures that we might take now—the assertion that by giving something up, lives might be saved. 

Yet all of these comprise the core vocabulary of the Book of Leviticus.  Purity and impurity, contagion and quarantine, sacrifice and priestly dedication:  these are the building blocks of this Book.  

The fact that the Book of Leviticus seeks to classify the chaos of human existence into neat categories, delineated by clear boundaries—again, pure and impure, kosher and treyf, permitted and forbidden, holy and profane—says a lot about Jews and Judaism.

It certainly portends this moment.  When confronting a person with an ailment, the Kohen, the Levitical priest, would do something that resonates eerily with our time.  In dealing with a novel condition, the holiest, most life-saving work a priest could do would be to quarantine the symptomatic person for a week or more, until a diagnosis could be confirmed—and then have the patient ritually bathed before re-entry to the community.  In the absence of a cure:  isolation, rest and fluids—that’s the prescription.

The priest had no particular skill or training in medicine.  He was no shaman, no miracle-worker.  And yet, in the Book of Leviticus, the priest presides over the public health.  The tools at his disposal are rudimentary:  visual diagnosis, quarantine, scrupulous personal hygiene.  What the Kohen could bring to this often thankless and undoubtedly risky work was a human touch, a compassionate presence, a sacred responsibility to the suffering.

The priest also oversaw the sacrifices of the Israelite community—categorizing and accepting their freewill and mandated offerings, their gifts great and small, from rich and poor alike—that is, overseeing the social welfare system and the basic guarantee that the spiritual life of the Israelite community and especially its core institution, the temple, would remain ever vital.  

If you don’t see where I’m going with this, let me spell it out plainly:  we are now the priests, we the Kohanim.  The Book of Exodus charges us:  “You shall be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  We.  Not just some elite class of religious officials.  All of us.  

We must now embody a sense of priestly responsibility to the public health, and a priestly orientation toward sacrifice—quite likely more, at this moment, than ever before in our lives.  We must each give of ourselves, distancing our physical presence when we most crave to be with the people we cherish.  (Here’s one way of thinking that I’ve found helpful:  we have never been asked to do so little in order to do so much:  by just sitting at home, we literally save lives.)

Let’s sacrifice for the greater good.  Let’s give of our time to call the people in our congregation and offer our support.  Let’s give of our financial resources to support the people in our congregation who need our help; and, let me even say here, let’s keep in mind the needs of our temple as we consider where we can make sacrifices, great or small, in time and in resources and in love, in order to keep our spiritual home vital through and after this crisis has passed.  

Let each of us become a priestly vehicle for the kind of sacrifices that Americans have not been asked to make in more than two generations.

On the front lines of this crisis we find heroes who embody all the noblest qualities of the Levitical priest:  the courage to meet the afflicted with compassion, the generosity to sacrifice of one’s self to serve those in greatest need.  And they are doing so under extraordinarily stressful and strained conditions.  Our healthcare workers are true Kohanim—they who bless and heal through their presence as much as through their wisdom and expertise.  

In anticipation of tonight’s service, WRT reached out to those congregants who serve in the healthcare sector.  Tonight we gather together as one community to say thank you, to bless you, even as you bless others.  Thank you for your service and thank you for your sacrifice.

If you, or someone in your circle of family or friendship, is performing the essential work of attending to the sick and their concerned loved ones, and you feel so moved to stand in your home, we feel honored to share with you this prayer by Rabbi Ayelet Cohen:

Prayer for the Healers

Adapted from Rabbi Ayelet S. Cohen

May the One who blessed our ancestors
Bless all those who put themselves at risk to care for the sick
Physicians and nurses and orderlies
Technicians and home health aides
EMTs and pharmacists
Hospital social workers and respiratory therapists
And all our other frontline healthcare workers who navigate the unfolding dangers of the world each day,
To tend to those they have sworn to help.
Bless them in their coming home and bless them in their going out.
Ease their fear. Sustain them.
Source of all breath, healer of all beings,
Protect them and restore their hope.
Strengthen them, that they may bring strength;
Keep them in health, that they may bring healing.
Help them know again a time when they can breathe without fear.
Bless the sacred work of their hands.
May this plague pass from among us, speedily and in our days.

And let us say:  Amen.

A Plea from a Member of WRT’s Medical Community, on the Front Lines of the Covid-19 Pandemic

“Please, Rabbi, just tell people this is real and it is nothing short of a horrifying war that I and my colleagues are fighting it in every way we possibly can.

But the more fight we put into it, the more risk we each personally take because we don’t have what we need, and the more patients come.  We feel powerless and are practicing medicine we never thought we would have to.

The best we can often do is hold a patient’s hand for the minute they pass, as they lie there alone.  Maybe we can ask about a family member we can call before they die.  Acknowledge them by saying their name aloud, and keeping silent for 5 seconds before moving on to the next patient.

When the patient in the next bed dies you see the terror in the roommate’s eyes.  They know they’re next, and we do too.  Many of these patients have never been sick before, or even ever in a hospital before.

Please tell people to stay home and really socially distance when they must go out.  REALLY.  And get everyone else to do the same.  My children get it, but I think many don’t.  Please help congregants understand, and spread the word.  We don’t have the weapons we need to fight this war now (for ourselves AND our patients’ safety) and the apex is still coming.  I don’t want to practice medicine like this ever again.

I just keep thinking every day that I have died and this is some surreal place I am in.  Or a fleeting nightmare.  But it’s not, and I know that.

Best wishes for your health and safety, and for all at WRT.”



Shabbat Shalom and welcome once again to our WRT Shabbat Live-Stream!  It’s good to be with you, even virtually.  I hope you are safe and healthy and negotiating this challenge with as much hope and equanimity of spirit as you can muster.

Tonight we complete the Book of Exodus.  For the last several weeks, we have been wandering in the wilderness, seeking shelter from the unknown.  That, at least, is what our recent Torah portions have been telling us.

The major project undertaken by the Israelite community over these consecutive Torah portions is the building of a communal Mishkan or sacred dwelling place, sometimes also called an Ohel Mo’ed or Tent of Meeting — that portable sanctuary in the wilderness where God would dwell among the Israelites on their journeys

It is ironic that our portion speaks of a communal, public gathering space at a time when public gatherings are off-limits, when they carry grave risks, when each of us is doing our part, our communal responsibility not to gather, not to worship together, not to come to our beautiful sanctuary to pray and sing and take shelter, and find comfort in the presence of our community.

The Torah recognizes that we need such spaces; that to be deprived of them is to feel isolated, even removed from the very presence of God who dwells among the people when we come together for a holy purpose

But, still, we are doing what we must, and it is heartening that we can utilize some technological innovations to bring us together in virtual space even when we can’t convene in real space.

And, although the Torah emphasizes, in elaborate detail, all the physical elements of the Mishkan — its specific measurements, down to the very last cubit; its fabric curtains and wooden supports; its metal clasps and woven ornamentation; its copper vessels and the golden Ark of the Covenant at the heart of the structure… even, with all of this, if we read carefully, we can learn that the physical structure was not the essence of the Mishkan.

We can all certainly relate.  Here I stand, in our beautiful sanctuary…. But, as lovely and warm and inspiring as our building is—and it is—the building itself is not what makes WRT our spiritual home, our tent of meeting, our place for encountering the community and the Divine.  

If we pay attention to what the Torah tells us about the Tabernacle, we learn that it is, rather, three other noteworthy aspects of the Mishkan that truly define the project as sacred and its purpose, Divine.

First, the Torah makes clear that contributing to, and constructing, and furnishing, and finishing the tent is a project shared among the entire community.  Moses may direct the work, but every person is invited to donate precious resources toward the Mishkan — and “whosoever’s heart was moved,” the Torah says, gave, and supported, and sustained this project.  I know from my years serving WRT that what makes our Mishkan special is so much more than our beautiful campus—it’s the way in which so many of your hearts and souls have given generously in supporting our mission.  We need you, and we need each other, now more than ever.  I want to say thank you to everyone who has asked how to reach out and sustain the community.  I want to say thank you to everyone who has placed a loving phone call, text, or email, checking in on a friend, a relative, a fellow congregant.  It is this shared communal commitment that makes our tent holy.  Starting earlier this week, and continuing for as long as our campus will remain closed for public gatherings, we will continue to share with our congregational community ideas for supporting the members of our extended community, whether that’s through a contribution to Feeding Westchester, our local Food Bank, or the temple’s own Hungry and Homeless Fund, which will provide for people in our community hit hard by the pandemic, or through virtual outreach.  Each of us can give of ourselves in bringing a little bit of hope at this anxious time, a little bit of light in the darkness.

Secondly, I would invite us to note the verse in which God commands Moses to build the Tabernacle.  In this instruction, God describes the blueprint for the Tabernacle as a pattern, the Hebrew word tavnit.  A Midrash imagines that when God showed Moses the pattern for the Tabernacle, an image of the structure appeared before the prophet as a constellation of multicolored fire, almost like a hologram.  Moses balked and said, “Where on earth am I going to get multicolored fire to build this thing?”  To which God responded, “No, Moses!  I have my materials; you’ll use yours.”  

In this lesson, I think, the Rabbis are suggesting that we, human beings, have to do our best, with our earthly materials, to emulate the pattern that God has in mind for the world.  So, we can’t gather in our usual Tabernacle, in all its physical beauty, its wood and glass and fabric; instead, we have to follow the pattern by creating new ways of praying together — like this one.  In virtual space, we create a pattern of the Tabernacle.  We may not be able to replicate the look of WRT in our living rooms.  But we can replicate, to the best of our ability, the feel of WRT, in our shared yearnings, in the pattern of our prayer, in our common hopes and dreams, in our shared will to overcome whatever challenge has been placed before us.

And finally, we should note well that when God invites the Israelites to build a Mishkan, a Tent of Meeting, it does not actually promise that, upon its completion, God will reside there.  We do not, we cannot, build earthly structures that can contain God.  What the Torah does promise is that if we build a Tabernacle after a Godly pattern, then God will dwell among them—among the people.  

So where is God?  Here in this sanctuary with me?  Maybe, but certainly not exclusively.  In fact, I need to tell you, it’s lonely in here, and I miss you.  What I do feel is that God is among us tonight, among the people – with you, with all of us.  God is among the infected in hospital beds, and among the quietly heroic doctors and nurses who are caring for them.  God is among all those public health workers, scientists, and servants of the common good who are promoting a rigorous protocol to mitigate the spread of the disease; who are researching a vaccine and treatments to alleviate the damage; who are communicating honestly and without sensationalism about our responsibility to save and protect life as one human family, all in the same boat together. 

V’asu li mikdash, v’shachanti b’tocham, says God:  “Build me a sanctuary, and I will dwell among them” – among the people, among us.  

Dwell, O God, among us now, as we each seek shelter in our own Tabernacles of home and health and hope.  Dwell with us, with our community, with all who need you most, in our time of shared need.  

Let us say the words that are shared whenever a Book of Torah is completed.  Now, as we finish the Book of Exodus, we say — Chazak, Chazak, v’nitchazeik:  Be strong, be strong, and, together, we will give strength to one another. 



Jewish Humor Video Playlist, 1990-2020

Hi everyone,

Here’s the playlist for the 3rd and final session of my winter Jewish Humor class.  I figured it was worth putting online, especially with many of us looking for a smile or two in these difficult hours.

Please stay safe and well – and keep in touch.




Jerry Seinfeld (1989 – 1998)

Anti-Dentite:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z3S4Rp8t1jA

George Hates the Jews:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f-6UwDP23s4

Jewish Food:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6b7li06J4MQ

Yada Yada Yada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CKyWu87W78

Babka:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i78azsi7M94

Soup Nazi:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1jSTiKHOFEI

Garry Shandling/The Larry Sanders Show (1992 – 1998)

“Hey Now” – with Jeffrey Tambor – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4AdHpQW-pEs

Larry David/Curb Your Enthusiasm – 

Palestinian Chicken Place – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Co_BhTxgWys

Survivor – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pd4b059yNNo

Montage – Curb’s Guide to Being Jewish – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huWsKN1Vtmo

With Richard Lewis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0sikDNoqhE0

Larry David Accepts the Laurel Award: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nz0JzbwXz9Q

As Bernie Sanders: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YwZfEVc6Hj8

See full clip starting at 5:50 – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pfmwGAd1L-o

Adam Sandler

Chanukah Song:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KX5Z-HpHH9g&feature=youtu.be

The Zohan:  Hummus – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qB4o32RRLvQ

On Howard Stern chanting Torah blessings (this is amazing) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rcPRP-8mHi0

(Stern has called himself “King of All Media” since 1992; his biographical film “Private Parts” is from 1997.)

The Simpsons

FYI, … “[H]alf the show’s writers are Jewish as are three of the main voice actors — Julie Kavner (Marge Simpson), Hank Azaria (Moe Szyslak, Apu Nahasapeemapetilon, Duffman) and Harry Shearer (Mr. Burns, Ned Flanders, Principal Skinner).  “The place is sort of like a kibbutz, only more Jewish,” he said, throwing out one-liners that would have made Henny Youngman proud.  Reiss showed clips of a few Jewish moments in the show, including the backstory of Herschel Shmoikel Pinchas Yerucham Krustofsky, better known as Krusty the Clown, the son of Rabbi Hyman Krustofsky. The rabbi was voiced by Jackie Mason; Reiss described him as one of his favorites among the 800 or so guest stars the show has featured.  There also are several recurring characters in the show who are portrayed as Jewish, including Duffman, Superintendent Chalmers, Dolph Starbeam and a nursing home resident simply known as Old Jewish Man” (from https://www.jewishexponent.com/2019/03/20/simpsons-writer-reveals-shows-jewish-bona-fides/)

Krusty the self-hating Jew – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y0bdyVnq0eY


The Coen Brothers

A Serious Man – The Junior Rabbi – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lkq-Fd9TU8k

A Serious Man – The Goy’s Teeth – https://vimeo.com/104193227

A Serious Man – Opening Scene (Yiddish) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aFpn3Cv2CE4

The Rabbi is Busy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aQQsBjOrNMY

(Start film at 9:00)

Andy Samberg – 

With Ben Stiller as Jewish Willy Wonka: https://www.aish.com/j/jt/Jtube-Saturday-Night-Live-Jewish-Willy-Wonka.html

As Moishe Samberg With Cornelius Timberlake: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k9N9kMD7qCk

Sarah Silverman

Being Jewish vs. Being Black – http://www.cc.com/video-clips/m1y05b/the-sarah-silverman-program-being-jewish

On Piers Morgan, The World Hates Jews – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvxOUvMn9QM

On the Holocaust: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j8z5wBwY5Zw

Hitler Goes to Heaven – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7pOjYtx0Yg

Amy Schumer

On Being Jewish: http://www.cc.com/video-clips/ms6jap/comedy-central-presents-amy-jewmer

On Radio Show: https://www.jta.org/jewniverse/2016/how-amy-schumers-bat-mitzvah-disaster-inspired-her-comedy-career

Tiffany Haddish – on Fallon


Detour:  The Canadians

Rick Moranis

Eugene Levy (and now his son Dan Levy, Schitt’s Creek)

Lorne Michael

Seth Rogen on Thanksgiving – https://www.facebook.com/watch/?v=10154715986053851

“The Night Before” Trailer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOBdxkhJvHQ

Joseph Gordon-Levitt & Seth Rogen Rap Battle: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x6io40q

Harold Ramis (SCTV, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day)


Jon Stewart

On Israel:  http://www.cc.com/video-clips/ckzvqn/the-daily-show-with-jon-stewart-hebrew-nationalist

JAP Battlehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TQmo5TvZQY

Jack Black

Jack Black talks about being Jewish – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFvIqXHarjo

Sacha Baron Cohen

On comedy – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvBzoN3tSYU

Throw the Jew Down the Well – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vKphIxuPiEE

The Running of the Jew – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C0ZJY5I-c2c

Borat – Self Defense: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a_GOmXt-DKg

Ali G. On Religion: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBJwg2-wX0w

Bruno Makes Peace in the Middle East – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYZ0OhwpGWU

Behind the Scenes: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZheYqoKtt60

On Jimmy Kimmel, Borat does Election Tampering: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f5xLNypFrV4

Erran Morad – Who is America? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biQtnmiA7T4

Rain Pryor – 

Fried Chicken & Latkes – https://www.biography.com/video/rain-pryor-fried-chicken-and-latkes-15040067649

Marvelous Mrs. Maisel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X6XJeFEZT3U&list=PLX3hf66ICYrU1nIHTXDEHDSI27L4u8BN9&index=67

Yidlife Crisis feat. Rabbi Lisa Grushcowhttps://www.yidlifecrisis.com/whatsnu