Friday, April 30, 2010

What Torah Means... to Susan Levy

Counting the Omer Day 32

Torah to me means our history. It encourages us to become committed Jews for its own reward. Torah connects me to a community filled with pride and one filled with a sense of unity. It reminds me of a future filled with wonderful memories of our past and positive outlooks for the days ahead. The study of Torah can bring us riches beyond money…riches borne out of strength and determination, knowing that our Judaism will continue throughout the ages. L’Dor Va’Dor…from generation to the next great generation…our children as guarantors.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

What Torah Means... to Ruth Gruenberg

Counting the Omer Day 31

Every Shabbos evening I have heard the weekly Torah portion read at our Temple...for many years, for 59 years exactly - and still I take something new from hearing the words each week. I think of it as a kind of invisible string betweem the Torah and me.

On Kol Nidre, when the Torahs are gently carried among the people, I feel that string drawing me close.

I remember especially when my husband, Noah, and I went to JFK airport to welcome the beloved Holocaust Torah that now stands proudly in our holy Ark. It was such a powerful moment when the string that was tied around that Torah by the hands of martyrs who were lost in the Holocaust was cut by the hands of one who survived the Holocaust. Noah symbolically set this Torah free again, as we are free to follow that invisible string between the Torah and every Jew.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What Torah Means... to Alan Seidman

Counting the Omer Day 30

In very simple terms, the Torah is everything my father ever taught to me:

Honor God

The Golden Rule-Treat others as you wish to be treated;

Leave the world a better place than you found it;

Give to those less fortunate!

Love and honor your family and friends!

Very short and simple, but sums it up in very meaningful thoughts.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

what Torah Means... to Paul Pomerantz

Counting the Omer Day 29

I don't know what has preserved our little tribe for all these millennia but I often think about it. We each come to our conclusions based on our own exposure and life experiences. Mine were formed early at a cheder in Canarsie where I was taught by an orthodox young man (although at the time I thought he was old, beard and kippah). He had a certain energy and a way of relating to the to the young street wise Brooklyn youth (all male of course) that now would be called "cool."

He taught us Gemara and made it seem interesting but he also let us flip and trade our "holy" baseball cards before class, even starting late if we were at a crucial point in the negotiations. On occasion he would participate in the card flipping as well. That started me on a path of involvement in my Judaism that then waxed and waned over the ensuing decades (coming of age, rebellion, agnostic) and finally arriving at this place (spiritually). This is a long prologue to answer the query but I think you get my drift. First, I think about the survival of the Jewish people and then I wonder about the purpose, assuming there is meaning. I've come to believe that we do represent something more than just a random collection of genetic material and that while I'm uncertain about the "grand plan" I think there is meaning. As such there is a requirement for some coherence, a blueprint if you will, thus the Torah. Many have already stated the qualities of our Torah as an historical recounting of our peoples beginnings. The ethical and moral underpinnings of a civilized and just society are paramount in its importance. The fact that it is a scroll, labored over and revered as a seminal document but not worshipped -though respected- adds to the wonder. As the scribe was careful to instruct it's not a book. I think the message is that it transcends the physical and serves as a spiritual representation of the Jewish people. The "book" that's not a book contains the code by which we all should live and thus validates the existence of our "little tribe."

Monday, April 26, 2010

What Torah Means... to Rissa Cutler

Counting the Omer Day 28

What does Torah mean to me? Torah is like the thread that holds things together. It holds my family together despite our crazy schedule. Coming to Temple together or sharing a tradition at home helps us stay connected. Torah holds my community together. Through it, we share our lives, offer support to each other and celebrate. Torah holds the worldwide Jewish community together. As a child, I remember one Shabbat visitng a synagogue in Amsterdam with my grandparents. Though I couldn't understand any of the service in Dutch, the Hebrew was all the same and, as a kid, that was very cool! Torah is the thread that holds things together.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Counting the Omer Day 27

I'm almost out of writers. Almost. Not to put the pressure on but 5 of Stefanie's Religious School students wrote something. Alas, they are at work but you'll see them soon. To everyone else out there, send me something, anything about what Torah means to you.

What Torah Means... to Stephen Gross

Counting the Omer Day 26

Stephen Gross

Many might agree that I am a strong advocate for the Jews as a nation and Israel. I spent many years with Young Judea and experienced the Summer Course program and the Year Course program in Israel. I also spent summers both in Tel Yehuda, New York and Camp Judea in North Carolina. I worked in Kibbutz Ketura in the Arava -irrigating the sand dunes and altering forever our border with Jordan. As well as at Kibbutz Palmachim along the Mediterranean coast. I remember spear fishing at night with Carmel . His father fought the Germans in the Desert Rats Brigade. I was a Zionist. I was in love with the pioneer spirit of the Jews in Israel and wanted to partake in the defense of Israel in my lifetime.

I went through a Gadna military program in the Galilee and discovered the love of the Golan Heights and the no retreat creed of the Golani 12th Brigade during the Tel Faher battle in 1967. I then made Aliya and received orders to go to the Bakum military base. I was a Chayal Boded or Island soldier. No family in the country. I was entitled to triple the pay though, which did not amount to much. A couple of cold beers with my friends and one phone call a year to my parents. I had to undergo a Gibush or demonstration program for my abilities , and after this- as well as threatening them with throwing me in jail- I was selected for my coveted Golani-12th Brigade. I then was sent to the West Bank base of Bezek near Jenin and went through living hell. I was a Magist, a heavy attack infantry gunner laden with a 7.62 belt fed machine gun. I had to make my own stuff and we often had to steal for supplies as well. The commanders would try to sneak up and put a knife to the throat if we fell asleep during guard duty. We slept with our guns tucked in our sleeping bags, lest they try to take that as well. I was chosen Chayal Plugati- best soldier in the company. I was warned not to be friar. It was so hot that we often had to take off our shirts to put out the fires from our bullets. I was assigned to be the platoon leader of misfits and criminals- evolving into a 12 man bunch worth dying for. We almost lost one guy-my good friend Bini, the Bedoin, shot in the stomach. I visited him in Afula Hospital, whispering in his ear and he squeezed my hand. I knew he would live. We were respected in Israel and Lebanon and we ruled over the Paratroopers and the Givati as well. My officers were Avi and Rafi Ben David and if I was alongside them, I knew I couldn't be killed. We went into Lebanon for a year and we looked for terrorists. I did all of my patrols with a Met hat on-believe it or not-even being confronted by a general near Marjayoun. I waved him by with my Mag and he felt secure that the state of Israel behind me was safe for now. I saw southern Lebanon and I experienced the SLA, the Amal, the Phalangists, and we needed to get out of there. My officer made the women sit down when we marched by, lest one of them threw a grenade hidden in their baskets. It made me feel horrible. The terrorists were quiet-as they should be while the Golani was on the Kav. My good buddy Gimbel in the Nachal personally wiped out a contingent in 1987. I was asked to go to course Kizinim, officer training, but I took a different path.

Well I did my part and now its someone else turn to do the Kav. You might now know why I am passionate about defending the Jewish nation. You also might now know why I am a bit antisocial. But I will tell you one thing for sure. The Torah- our Torah- is one of the symbols of the Jewish nation and I would die defending it.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Counting the Omer Day 25

As we march towards Sinai, don't forget to march on Fifth Avenue, May 23. The exact time we depart will be announced soon. Come join the Salute to Israel parade. Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

What Torah Means... to Ethan Freedman

Counting the Omer Day 24

What does Torah mean to me? Well, let me first say that I am not one to judge others opinions or criticize but I do decide on my own ideas which is why I can tell you first what ideas about Torah never really worked for me. I never liked the idea that Torah is an exact record of the Jewish history or that it is a set of rules to follow or that it tells us everything we will ever know and I especially don’t like the idea that it can predict the future.

To me, Torah is more like a collection of fables, stories that teach lessons, answer questions. Example: the story of Passover. Do I believe that everything happened just as they tell it and Pesach is a holiday to celebrate God taking us out of Egypt? Truthfully, no. I believe that it was somewhere along the lines of what happened but it was exaggerated and added to tell a point. What point? Well, like a fable, it teaches a moral lesson. To see the oppression the Jews went through, we can see that oppression, slavery, denial of rights is bad. It was written to make us look at other peoples who are currently oppressed and see that they should be helped, released.

Torah also serves as a moral compass. Do I see each rule listed and follow it exactly? No I look at why the rabbis put that rule down. What caused them to say that eating pork was forbidden? Is it that it was just bad, God told us not to? Not to me. If we look back on it, pork was very commonly found with a worm like disease that caused sickness and occasionally death. Seeing as much medical science was available, instead of saying “Don’t eat the pork with the disease” the rabbis just said, “no pork,” which at the time made sense. But now? Should we be eating meat from a cow who has been killed correctly by a shochet but was raised in a feed lot and food genetically engineered corn that causes E. coli?

Well, I say no because that was the reason for the rules in the first place. Why not eat meat that is healthy, raised free-range, fed organic feed from grass? I think if the Torah were written today, the rabbis might have said, “pork okay but from feed lots, no.” All livestock was organic and free-range then! They did what was best for the time and they leave it for us to interpret it to fit the times.

So what does this all say?

It says that to me, Torah is not a way of living by certain rules, it is a way of living by certain standards, ethics, and values. This is what Torah means to me.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What Torah Means... to Nancy Gross

Counting the Omer Day 23

My Torah "aha moment" came two me recently on two different occassions. Though I always felt a very strong connection to the Torah and my was during a workshop for Gabriel's upcoming Bar Mitzvah and my recent trip to Israel that really connected me, and reminded why I am so proud to be a Jew. I believe that Torah connects us all as Jews and I also believe it is the outline for who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to act.

During a workshop that Rabbi Freedman did with the B'nai Mitzvah class, he asked the students why they were planning to have a Bar/Bat Mitzvah. He also asked them to talk about the things that they plan to do, or are doing to feel or be more Jewish. After many things were listed on the board...Gabriel whispered in my ear, "Mom, we do all those things...all the time...that is our everyday life." It was a moment when I felt very proud of who we are, our heritage, and our Jewishness. It was true, the many things listed on that list, going to temple, helping the needy and the sick, giving Tzedakah, observing Shabbat, learning Jewish history, are all part of our everyday lives. It is one of the many things that Stephen and I have worked so hard at teaching our kids.....and many times we have heard ourselves saying, "because it is what we do." Many of our family dinners, or long trips in the car are centered on our Jewish traditions, values, and heritage. Our journey to Hannah's Bat Mitzvah began much of this type of continued with our aliyah to Israel...and now continues as we begin our journey to Gabriel's Bar Mitzvah.

While in Israel, there were many times when we felt a strong Jewish connection....visiting the Western Wall, visiting all the National Parks, Yad Vashem, walking the streets of the Old City.....and celebrating Shabbat in a city that completely rests, were among the many, many things that we did. But the moment that I felt the strongest connection to my Judaism and to Torah was the first day that were there. Exhausted from the flight but eager to begin our trip, we took a taxi ride to begin the Jerusalem trail. Our guide, Benta, tried to focus her discussion so that the kids could understand, and suddenly as the 7 of us looked out toward Jerusalem, a tear came to my eye. Here I was, in Israel, standing with my family, still elated from the beautiful joy of our daughter Bat Mitzvah, and it was clear...we were were we were supposed to be. It is probably the most memorable moments of my life....and the most special. I had never felt more connected then I did at that moment...and never more proud.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What Torah Means... to Deborah Freedman

Counting the Omer Day 22

It’s no secret that I love to read. As a child, and still today, there is a usually a book (or newspaper or magazine) within reach and I’ve always loved to read and reread many of my favorites. So too, the Torah is a book which I read and reread. Each rereading gives me new insights and personal connections, new characters to focus on, and always brings up new questions to ask.

Knowing that Jews all over the world are reading the same section of Torah each week is, to me, a comfort. It means that we all belong to an enormous collective book group! It means that wherever in the world we may find ourselves, we can access other Jews through our common book.

We traveled to Italy on our honeymoon. On Shabbat, we sought out a synagogue in the small, ancient city where we happened to be. Besides the aged caretaker and his wife, we were the only people there for morning services. Their siddur was in Italian, of course, and Hebrew, and we followed along as best we could. But when they took out their Torah and the man read from it, chanting the same familiar trope and melodies that we knew, we could have been in our home synagogue, following along with the week’s portion. But we were not. We were in a tiny, Italian synagogue, built in 1756, feeling a kinship with Jews of today and yesterday, near and far, linked by our Torah.

Our Reform movement’s new siddur puts it this way: “Those who study Torah are the true guardians of civilization.” That is us. We read and reread and study Torah. We take care of each other, fellow Jews, no matter where we are, across time and place.

Monday, April 19, 2010

What Torah Means... to Sharon Levenstein

Counting the Omer Day 21

Twenty years ago, I chose to convert to Judaism from Protestant. I chose to change everything I grew up believing. Every holiday and many traditions. Needless to say this was not an easy decision to make, but I knew Judaism felt right to me. My first attempt to convert left me confused and in tears. I was told a firm no, and that it will never happen. At that time I did not live in Newburgh and after speaking with many people I was told to go to Temple Beth Jacob. That's what I did and from the first moment, I was welcomed with open arms. I new I was in the right place. I attended classes and then in front of friends and family I became a Jew. Years later and very pregnant, just a few weeks before my due date, I became a Bat Mitzvah. Over the coming years Temple Beth Jacob has been their for my wedding , births of my children and so far two Bat Mitzvahs, with two more to go. So the question is, what does Torah mean to me. It means commitment, family, true friends and my love of Judaism.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

What Torah Means... to Marsha Sobel

Counting the Omer Day 19

The Torah is the symbol of the Jewish people. Contained inside the scroll is the entire body of Jewish law and tradition. When I stand before the Ark and see the scrolls inside, a lot goes through my mind….but mostly I am in awe. As a young woman in a Conservative synagogue, I could not be called to the Torah, nor did I count in a minyan. It means so much to me now to be able to be called to the Torah for an aliyah and to be counted in a minyan. The Torah symbolizes the very core of Judaism to me.

Still counting...

Well, we had a wonderful evening with Ethan's musical number and I went to bed too late to post. But we're still counting. Today is day 19.

Many people have been so impressed by the words of our congregants that they are intimidated to write their own sense of what Torah means to them. Don't let the fine words of others keep you from adding your own words. Just make it personal. Short, long, it doesn't matter. So send in your sense of Torah as we count towards Shavuot.

Friday, April 16, 2010

What Torah Means... to Linda Nakagawa

Counting the Omer Day 18

I'm sixteen years old, just a child in the eyes of today's society but in the Jewish religion, I'm an adult! Now trust me, I don't study Torah that often. But during NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) events, we partake in Torah study on Saturday mornings and we dissect that week's portion. Although the Torah was written in ancient times and some of the things are out of date, many of the teachings can be related to things that are happening NOW. After Torah study discussions at NFTY, and even confirmation classes last year with the Rabbi, I'm beginning to understand more about the Torah's teachings and the invaluable lessons that are taught from.

Merriam-Webster defines the Torah as, "the body of wisdom and law contained in Jewish Scripture and other sacred literature and oral tradition". To a seventh grader, the Torah is this ancient scroll filled with complicated Hebrew words, a portion of which they must learn to read and chant. The Social Studies curriculum of a sixth grade student simply states that the Torah is a scroll containing the five books of Moses. Every person has their own interpretation of what the Torah really is. To me right now at this very moment, the Torah is this ancient, beautiful scroll that tells the story of the Jews. But the Torah is also what brings millions of Jews together. To me, the Torah defines part of who I am, a Jew. I take great pride in my religion and I show it daily with my Star of David, my hamsas, and my NFTY beads.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What Torah Means... to Gene Grobstein

Counting the Omer Day 17

The Torah is the blueprint for life. We have all descended from primitive human beings, some from barbarians. The Torah gives us all the proper way to live life and do the right thing. The challenge continues to be figuring what the right thing is and doing it.

Tomorrow: Linda Nakagawa. Want to share your ideas? Please send your words to

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What Torah Means... to Dave Cohen

Counting the Omer Day 16

Like most Jews, my first exposure to the Torah was in preparation for my Bar Mitzvah. Luckier than most, as a twin, I only needed to learn half a haftorah, or, as I liked to think of it, one full quartertorah. Even though it was less than most people had to learn, I still struggled with it as I see my children struggle with it. As the day of our Bnai Mitzvah got closer, the sense of panic I had changed to a sense of calm confidence. When the actual day arrived, I pulled it off flawlessly. I aced it!

That "panic to confidence" is the one thing that I took away from my Bar Mitzvah experience. It was the first time that I was actually in control of the outcome of something. It's a sense of accomplishment that happened many more times since. But that was the first. Being called to the Torah was a turning point for me as it is for anyone that has the honor.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What Torah Means... to Jeffrey Harmer

Counting the Omer Day 15

I was born in the little village of Plum City, Wisconsin. My family was of the Methodist faith and I was taught those protestant beliefs. As early as my teens, I was questioning whether I really believed in Jesus Christ, but then that is normal for a teenager to question a lot of things. It was not until my college days that I really thought hard and long about what "I" believed.
I was already questioning my religion before I met my future wife. All I knew about the Jews was that they were given a desert wasteland in the Middle East to make into a country after the second World War.
In 1968 I was living in Eau Claire, WI and the nearest reform temple was 75 miles away in St. Paul, MN. Classes were held every two weeks. The class alternated as a group meeting and as an individual meeting with the Rabbi. There were thirteen different books I had to buy and read as part of the conversion course. They covered the history of Judaism, the belief's of other religions and the study of the Torah.
From October, 1968 - April, 1969 I drove the 150 miles round trip for the class. I knew that reading the books alone was not enough and I needed to meet and discuss with the other students and the Rabbi to understand whether I really wanted to be a Jew.
I completed my conversion in April, 1969 with a ceremony in front of the open Ark, where I recited the Conversion Service Pledge....I hereby declare my desire to accept the principles of the Jewish religion, to follow its practices and ceremonies and to become a member of the Jewish people....I declare my determination to maintain a Jewish home and to accept the commandments incumbent upon all Jews: a commitment to the G'd of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the people of Israel...
Just becoming a Jew is not an end in itself. It was only the beginning of a learning process where by I could study good and bad and what I should and could do with my life.
To this day, my son and daughter will remind me that they had to miss their sporting events on Saturday mornings because religious school was more important! I continued my learning right along side my children, as we attended every, and I mean every Shabbat service during the years of their B'nai mitzvahs. It was not until many years later, that I finally was Bar Mitzvahed at Temple Beth Jacob.
I was not born a Jew....I became a Jew because I believed in the teachings of Judaism and Torah. I am proud of my chosen religion....

Monday, April 12, 2010

What Torah Means... to George Levy

Counting the Omer Day 14

I know some people think it hokey. The Rabbi holds the Torah, still wrapped in its cover and during what often looks like an uncomfortable ceremony for the participants, hands the Torah from the oldest generation down to the Bar or Bat Mitzvah child. To me, there is a commandment in the Torah which I have taken most seriously. It is in the V’ahavta. “ …Thou shalt teach it to thy children and speak of it….”

As I look around at our world and see how even our own country is acting towards Israel, I realize the importance of unifying our people to assure that generations from now, the Jewish people will remain a light to the nations. One way to hopefully accomplish that goal is to follow the commandment and teach our children the essence of Torah. Although I love attending our Torah Study sessions on Shabbat morning (and you would love it too if you just joined us once…) I am certainly no Torah scholar. Despite that, I try to bring up something in the Torah portion while speaking with my adult children. It is simply my way of reminding them that this scroll holds wisdom they may never understand completely, but wisdom worth pursuing. I pray they will follow the commandment with their children.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

What Torah Means... to Sherrill Lazarus

Counting the Omer Day 13

I see the Torah as the ultimate question and the absolute answer for every Jew, if only we are ready, willing, and able to accept it as such. The Torah in its simplicity and complexity presents us with a lifelong journey filled with questions, great and small. At the same time, the Torah offers us answers that can be clear and concise or subtle and sophisticated; equally obvious and maddeningly vague, often mundane and occasionally miraculous – and all in the same inspired and inspiring words and phrases. Nobody ever said Torah is easy; all we said is that it is important. In fact, nothing is more important.

In the new siddur, Mishkan T’filah, the Shabbat evening service contains a prayer just before the Shema, an excerpt of which resonates particularly for me. (p. 151)

“You meant the Torah for me: did You mean the struggle for me, too?

Don’t let me struggle alone; help me to understand, to be wise, to listen, to know…

Lead me into the mystery.”

The challenge for us is to keep struggling, to keep studying, to keep learning, to keep reaching out toward the Torah and its truth. In taking on that awesome responsibility, we connect through time with our brothers and sisters standing at the foot of Mt. Sinai clear across the generations to our own moment in time. Through Torah, we become part of the eternal chain forged by the Almighty, linking us to our ancestors, to our families, to one another and to our children and their children…forever. That infinite connection is what Torah means to me.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

What Torah Means... to Cindy Rozenberg

Counting the Omer Day 12

My first adult encounter with Torah was at college. I took a course called "Mythopaeic Thought" in which we read and compared the stories in Genesis to the stories of other contemporaneous cultures. It was my first window into the wisdom of Judaism showing me that our ancestors elevated the common mythologies of the time to posit a moral code, a compassionate theology, and an ordered universe.

Torah tells the stories of real people, even the archetypes are described with their strengths and their weaknesses. Torah tells our ancestors' stories in a historical narrative encountering God who expects moral behavior. Other mythologies illustrate the randomness of human fate and the capricious behavior of the gods. Their legal codes value property over human dignity. I took other courses in the Judaic Studies department as a result of that first course and had the privilege of exploring Job with Nachum Glatzer and Genesis with Nechama Liebowitz, whom I thought were just professors but later learned they were famous in their fields. They taught me the value of studying interpretations of Torah from different time periods as both a mechanism of understanding our people's history and sociology as well as a way to grapple with the text myself. I found depth of spirituality, wisdom, and life lessons in this study as these professors shared ancient, modern and their own commentaries on the text and encouraged us, their students, to engage the text ourselves. I learned that Torah has both universal lessons as well as offering us Jews our particular history.

I enjoyed Shabbat morning Torah Study whenever I was able to participate. I found the group discussion approach to Torah refreshing and inspirational. For me, reading the text and participating in the discussion as it might move onto tangents and then come back again to the text, became the process of Torah. Torah was the starting point for our exploration of our relationship to God, to our people, to our history, to our everyday lives, and to our present practice of Judaism. I was enriched by the comments made by others in the group, whether I agreed with them or not, and I felt I was participating in an ancient Jewish practice of encountering the text. Torah tells the story of our people and its relationship to God through our ancient history and as such it can be the starting point of our encounter with God as well. Torah grounds me in Jewish history and make me feel that I am a part of the continuing story of Judaism.

Friday, April 9, 2010

What Torah Means... to Stefanie Pearl

Counting the Omer Day 11

It was 60 years ago, not that long and far away that the oldest known piece of Jewish history was recovered (Rumors of Noah's Ark in literal remnants not withstanding). The Dead Sea Scrolls which are named for the geographical location of the eleven caves they were found in back in 1947 provide a modern day piece of an ancient puzzle. Historical proof of practicing Jews in Israel.

The scrolls now reside at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem in a cave-inspired exhibit for all to see. A life-changing experience! This modern day miracle helps to substantiate unwavering Jewish TRUTH - emet - to the entire World, 2,000 years after it was recorded. This comes in handy because there are a lot of skeptics out there who would discredit our beliefs if they could.

Torah, as an ancient manuscript provides the groundwork for surviving the World we've been given. G-d's plan! This idea was first whispered, later shouted from a Mountaintop, then carried across the very Earth it was born unto. All of this, further establishing the contents of our Jewish history as TRUTH - emet in practice and in theory.

Lessons of Torah are recurrent throughout a lifetime and designed to intrigue minds of all ages. First, exploring the fundamental differences between right and wrong - moral obligation as it relates to us as children. Then, A piece of magnificent artwork set before us on the day we become adults - each letter handwritten - each word studied obsessively by scholars and students alike. Later, A writing which transcends generations, continents, cultures - TRUTH well practiced and worthwhile. A historical perspective born time and time again into a modern movement, yet withstanding all worldly change. EMET.

Torah is documentation that stands a thousand years at a time upon the unwavering TRUTH - emet - that this is the word of G-d. When we choose to celebrate this idea we become a part of it as important as the recovering of ancient 2,000 year old documents. We carry these messages into our homes, relive the stories in our classrooms and continue that belief weekly on Shabbat. Finding scrolls dating back 2,000 years is a bonus, but we as Jews don't need proof when the TRUTH resounds loudest yet, 4,000 years later.

Do you want to share your voice? Send Rabbi Freedman your sense of what Torah means to you via

Thursday, April 8, 2010

What Torah Means... to Mona Rieger

Counting the Omer Day 10

To me, our Torah is the basis for all civilized behavior in the world. When I used to teach ninth graders, they would giggle when we came to certain commandments prohibiting behaviors that we know today to be unacceptable. It gave me great pleasure to explain to them that--at the time that the Torah was written--these behaviors were common and that it was our people who realized that they led to the breakdown of society and therefore forbid them. Everything we need to know to live a good and moral life is found in the Torah-- even our modern justice system has its foundation in Torah! I take great pride in knowing that I can approach pretty much any situation knowing that what I have learned from my Jewish heritage will help me to find a just and compassionate response.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

What Torah Means... to Ken Packer

Counting the Omer. Day 9

As a photographer, I often think visually as well as in words. These images* depict some of what Torah means to me.

The word of the Lord is true, enduring forever.

Our history written by Scribes for thousands of years.

Cared for with respect and tradition.

Fulfilling the 613th Mitzvah!

A tree of life for those that behold it.

A set of values for all people.

Bringing comfort in times of sorrow and remembrance.

Carrying Jewish values, culture and law.

Shema Yisrael...

Leading Hakafot with pride.

A touch and loving kiss.

Passing the Torah from generation to generation.

Remembering that first Aliyah

The glow of a family Torah blessing.

Barchu et Adonai Ha-mevorach!

Out of Zion shall go forth the Torah.

Reading, learning, and living Jewish history.

An Adult Bat Mitzvah. It is never too late to learn.

Dressing the Torah with love.

Keeping it safe in its home in the Holy Ark.

Dancing with the Torah.

Admiring the beauty of Torah.

*Photos © Ken Packer

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

What Torah Means... to Jessica Lustbader

Counting the Omer Day 8

Torah. What does it mean to me? Right this second, it represents a giant roll of paper that we read in Temple. But thinking about what it has meant over my lifetime and to the Jewish people in general, I realize its not just a mere roll of paper, but a story; THE story of the Jewish faith.

Ask anyone today and they will say 50 years is a long time. But this “roll of paper” contains the events that happened THOUSANDS of years ago. Putting it that way, the Torah is something of great significance. I couldn’t explain half of the stories and teachings that are contained within the Torah. I know the ones that were taught in religious school, which of course teach valuable life lessons. Could I explain them to someone else, or know the significance of them all- no (but other people can and I think that is an amazing feat!); but I think that knowing some of them is better than none.

The Torah represents all the laws and teachings of Judaism. Does it make me a bad Jew that I can’t explain every detail? I don’t think so. It’s not if we can or can’t recite the words verbatim, it’s the ideas and concepts that are the most important. For most people my age (twenty-somethings), the words of the Torah are not reflected in our daily life, nor do we follow every dietary law and commandment. But the Torah holds all of the ideals that we as Jews can follow if that is our desire. If any Jew (or even non-Jew) wanted to do so, they could study the Torah portions, and learn the ways and teachings of it. Every faith has its holy book- the Bible, the Quran. The Jews have the Torah, and if for nothing else than it being our “holy scripture”, that’s what makes it important to me.

I am proud to be a Jew, and we should all take these days of Omer to think about ways in which we can incorporate the essence of the Torah into our lives. I know that I will, and after doing a little bit of research (I didn’t even know what Omer was) I can now say that I feel slightly closer to the great book that we call the Torah.

Monday, April 5, 2010

What Torah Means... to Ron Sacks

Counting the Omer Day 7

Torah symbolizes what Judaism is all about, and how G-d looks upon His people, watches over them, guides them to follow the covenant, instilling the behavior for us to adhere. It represents all that I am, where I came from, and how to conduct my life, raise my family, be charitable, forgiving, and forthright. Without Torah, there would be a void, a lack of compassion, lack of belonging, and no direction to my religion. Torah reminds me to do the right thing, the Jewish thing if you will- not to have malice towards others, revenge, jealousy, greed, etc., etc. Torah sets me apart from others, distinguishes me, reminds me of who I am, because these are my roots, and I realize that my thinking and upbringing is different than others. Without belief in Torah, there is no tradition to follow and carry on.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

What Torah Means... to Barbara Rubin

Counting the Omer Day 6

Barbara Rubin

THIS IS PERSONAL! Eighteen or so years ago, I was asked to the bimah with my father at the synagogue to recite the introduction and ending blessings to the Torah. It was the occasion of my stepdaughter’s Bat Mitzvah.

Since I am not her “natural” parent, I took quite a bit of offense at not being able to have the Torah passed to me. That said, the Torah and I have had a strained relationship these past years. When I come to the synagogue, I am asked to honor Rachel and Sarah which I do proudly, but doesn’t the Torah honor ALL MOTHERS, in whatever form?

The trip to Israel this past December has softened me somewhat. The “new” background and history that I learned about has made me wiser to the Torah’s teachings about mothers and women in general.

Judaism and the Torah do not “pick and choose,” even though some clergy might. I now know a mother is a mother, natural or otherwise. The Torah has made me stand up and appreciate who I AM, and at every Shabbat that I attend at synagogue, I praise the mothers who came before me and are still my inspiration.

Want to share your thoughts? Mail your thoughts to me directly at the synagogue. All are welcome to share.

Friday, April 2, 2010

What Torah Means... to Paul Mayer

Counting the Omer Day 5

Torah means to me...A separate study of the history of my people as well as demonstrating the groundwork for modern ethics, law and morality that allows me to evaluate the world in a manner which asks the question...How should I live among my fellow men and women.

What Torah Means... to Alan Siegel

Counting the Omer Day 4

I incorporate the Torah into much of my artwork. Actually, it's more like the Torah incorporates itself into my work. For me, it symbolizes Judaism itself and is the common bond of the Jewish People everywhere in the world for thousands of years. I also view it as a great historical document which changed the world, and brought ethical law to mankind. Though I regard much of it as outdated, such as animal sacrifice, and Genesis as historical allegory, it is still the root from which Judaism has grown, and we must continue to study it, interpret it, and carry it forward to the next generation. Since it contains 613 commandments and we can barely get 10 of them right, I think the Torah will be of value for a very long time to come. Keep on rolling.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What Torah Means... to Nava Herzog

Counting the Omer Day 3

Nava Herzog

I was born in Israel when the country was barely 4 years old. Everything was new and exciting then. Throughout my childhood each holiday was celebrated as if it were the first. I knew pride and a strong sense of belonging. That’s what Torah taught me. My late mother used to tell about the days I rushed home from school to tell her about the Torah lesson I learned. Torah was taught in second grade as history lessons, and I embraced every story. In the afternoons I used to explore the fields near my home in Haifa, looking for my beloved wildflowers. I especially enjoyed walking barefoot, feeling the cool earth beneath my feet. Somehow, my young heart understood the connection between the ancient stories I heard in class and the very earth my feet touched. Torah still provides that connection for me. It allows me to understand the correlation between my history and my future. And it is my present, as fresh and invigorating as the rain nourished soil between my toes.