Sitting around a campfire requires a lot of effort. Someone must arrange the logs, poke the logs, and add more logs to keep the fire lit. I find it tiresome and prefer to sit at other people’s campfires. Yet, I enjoy sitting outdoors, watching the flames jump. And I luxuriate in the light and warmth. I’ve looked at campfires from both sides now!

In Leviticus, the priests are instructed to keep the fire of the altar going. Whether or not an offering is burning, the altar fire must be stoked. Faith-stoking religious leaders use this metaphor of fire to urge you to perpetually sustain your burning desire for God.

The blaze under the altar began with a fire sent by God. Flames roasted the sacred offerings. Some slabs of meat roasted all night long. But not every night. The fire continued to burn with the Preists’ help. The duty to continue the fire is a metaphor for faith. We must maintain that flame sent by God. But in what form? Perhaps it is a burning desire for the Divine, which requires a lot of effort to sustain.

Rather our relationship with God might be more like sitting around a campfire. It begins with some effort, like that to create and sustain a good fire. For a while, we relax and delight in the flames. We appreciate the warmth, but only if from a safe distance from the firepit. Looking around us, we see our companions’ faces shining with the fire’s light. However, our appreciation is short-lived. Sometimes we are just working, replenishing the fire with more wood. For a long time after, the coals continue to keep us warm. They dwindle but keep burning as embers even as we head back into the house.

Your personal experience of Judaism might be more like visiting a campfire than a perpetual flame under an altar tended to by the priests. We gather, albeit periodically, to feel warmed and enlightened. Perhaps, to keep the metaphor burning, rabbis and cantors and leaders have the priestly duty to bring the heat.

After a while, we light another campfire to warm us and enlighten us. That is the mission of the Jewish Studio. We offer events that ignite excitement, meaning, and joy. Then we let the fire die down. The embers will last in our hearts until we rekindle the fire again. All we ask of you is to keep the passion burning until the next time we meet.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Of the five senses, Jewish tradition says that the sense of smell is bursting with holiness. Not sight or sound or touch or taste. These senses were corrupted in the Garden of Eden. But the sense of smell remained as it was, with the potential for expanding holiness.

In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve defiled four out of their five senses. They heard the serpent’s alluring words, the fruit was “a delight to the eyes”, they touched it by taking from its fruit, and they tasted it. But the sense of “smell” remained untarnished. Accordingly, this sense denotes inner purity and deep attachment to God. As we know, God blew life into Adam through his nostrils. Smell retraces the holy, unadulterated level of our innermost soul – the neshama – that is free of defilement.

With each of the burnt offerings to God in Leviticus, there is a pleasing odor. Whether the smell of animal or grain or incense, the smoke rises to heaven to remind God of God’s love for us. God gave life through the nostrils (Genesis 2:7). creating an association of smell with our life force. We reenact the giving of life through the nostrils when we smell the incense at the end of Shabbat in our Havdalah ceremony.

Pirke avot, the sayings of the ancestors, offers a list of ten wonders fashioned for our ancestors in the Temple. The first is that no woman miscarried from the odor of the sacred flesh. The verse challenges us to connect an act used to praise God with the protection of new life within the womb.

With the destruction of the Temple, the system of sacrifice was abandoned. If Pirke Avot is to be believed, more women should now suffer the loss of a miscarriage. The sacrificial ritual for preserving life is gone. No new ritual has taken its place.

Early in my rabbinic career, a young couple asked me to visit a hospital’s neonatal care ward. Twins had been born prematurely. The son died shortly after birth. The mother wanted to name the other twin, her daughter, in an attempt to affirm and protect life. I blessed the daughter but had no ritual to offer for the deceased son.

Approximately twenty percent of all pregnancies, about one in five, will end in a miscarriage. In Jewish law, an embryo is not considered life. In fact, Talmud says the embryo is merely water (Yevamot 69b). After a miscarriage, we don’t say kaddish. No burial ceremony occurs. Judaism offers no ritual for a lost pregnancy. Moreover, Judaism offers little comfort to the women and men who suffer the anguish of a miscarriage.

The absence of a public ritual may leave the would-be mother bereft. Friends and family are at a loss as to how to respond. The bereaved should not feel shunned and abandoned in their time of grief.

We can and should create a ritual. I believe that ritual should engage our sense of smell. Something sweet prompts us to notice the goodness in the world. A pleasant fragrance restores our souls. Something savory reminds us that blessings are precious. And perhaps the ritual should take place on Saturday night after Shabbat when we re-ensoul ourselves with incense.

A mother expects to see her child, feel its tender skin, and quell its cries. I suspect that no ritual can supplant those expectations or satiate those senses. Should this notion speak to you, please offer your thoughts on how we can provide balm in the ritual context, to offer comfort and hope to the mother who has suffered a miscarriage.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The Jewish Studio just hosted a weekend of events. In crafting the services and events, we gathered together people of great skill and wisdom. We only gave them an outline. As with a blueprint or a recipe, greatness was achieved and the holiness found was in the execution and not merely in the directions. This is a lesson from Torah.

In Parshat Vayakhel God tells people to gather the people together. God offers further details on the construction of the tent of meeting, the Mishkan. Moses then deployed Bezalel and Oholiab, and every skilled person whom God had endowed with skill, everyone who excelled in ability, to undertake the task and carry it out. He connected the artisans of varying skills with the tasks at hand.

We were blessed to learn Torah with Rabbi Michael Paley who spoke about Bezalel. Rabbi Paley explained that Bezalel’s name literally means “in the shadow of God.” What does it mean to be in the shadow of God? It means that Bezalel’s work came from a Divine aesthetic.

The blueprint for the Mishkan was not sufficiently detailed. Like a shadow cast, Bezalel had to craft the Divine details from an outline. His deployment as an artisan was to complete the structure beginning with a mere projection. Bezalel could not rely solely upon his skill but had to use great wisdom to complete the project.

Moreover, Bezalel had to cast his own shadow. He had to inspire the other artisans to complete the project appropriate to the holiness of the task. The end result was a Mishkan worthy of God’s presence.

The great beauty in the weekend we just shared was how musical artisans crafted an amazing, holy experience from an outline of a weekend. Rabbis and Cantors, singers and musicians, all came together with their skills, but fashioned an extraordinary Shabbat experience with wisdom. They created a Shabbat that was like the Mishkan, a container for the Holy One of Blessings.

My deep gratitude to Rabbi Jessica Kate Meyer, Cantor Basya Schechter, Rabbi Michael Paley, Cantorial Student Lisa Sokolov, Rabbi Noah Diamondstein, Instrumentalist Oren Neiman, Cantor Jessi Roemer, Cantor Stephanie Weishaar, and Rabbi Jessica Shimberg. We heard from William Kristol, who reflected some glimmers of optimism for our future. And my deepest and most heartfelt appreciation for Cantor David Abramowitz, my partner in The Jewish Studio, whose soul shines bright as a spiritual leader, musician, and friend.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

EBay transformed the way people transact business. What was so revolutionary is that unseen buyers and sellers on eBay had faith in the internet and trust in each other. The foundational assumption of eBay users is that most people are good and trustworthy. Perhaps, that lesson came from Torah.

Internet commerce sites like eBay, Air BnB, Uber, and TripAdvisor, are premised on the belief that people are basically good and honest. For example, reviews are posted on these websites by buyers and sellers. Through these interactions,  the honest assessments of users build a marketplace. People want to believe that people are essentially good, and that goodness should be rewarded, sometimes with a positive review.

Internet commerce is also famously susceptible to fraud. From damaging reviews to pernicious scams, the worst elements of society take advantage of our belief that people are essentially decent.

Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay, described the company’s founding principles. He said, “we believe people are basically good. We believe everyone has something to contribute. We encourage you to treat others the way that you want to be treated.” His words recall biblical axioms, some even found in this week’s Torah reading, Ki Tisa.

Parshat Ki Tisa underscores Omidyar’s words. Ki Tisa tells a harrowing story that ultimately confirms a belief that people are basically good. Moses left the people to ascend Sinai and receive the laws. After an extended absence, the people grew fearful. Aaron, the high priest, placated the people with the creation of a god substitute, in the form of a golden calf. Throughout Jewish history, this episode represents the greatest apostasy.

The Hebrews were a holy people and treasured by God. God saved them from slavery through a process of plagues and miracles. Yet, when they were fearful and uncertain, they lost faith in God.

God’s reaction? God said to Moses I will wipe out these stiff-necked people and start again. Moses convinced God not to pursue such harsh justice. People should not be evaluated by their worst moments.

While we might assume that every person is basically good, the possibility of doing evil is ever-present. Torah teaches that bad behavior deserves punishment. When we judge people we should not limit our assessment of others to their failings and worst moments. As Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative has said, “each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done.” Moses taught that lesson to God.

What does this have to do with eBay? Pierre Omidyar created eBay by betting on goodness. Omidyar knew that most people will be honest most of the time. Some will lie and cheat and steal but the eBay enterprise succeeded because we have faith that most people are basically good. Accordingly, eBay flourished to become the third most used e-commerce website for consumer purchases.

Torah demonstrates that even a holy nation can behave badly. Thankfully, Moses was able to recalibrate a desperate situation. Moses navigated past the Hebrew people’s worst moment. From the depths of their depravity, Moses reoriented God and the people toward the promise of their potential.

Sustaining hope and an expansive view of human nature are both essential to the growth of civilization. Goodness remains the dominant character trait for most people. We all will confront people who lie or steal or cause harm. Our challenge is not to judge people by their worst behaviors in those moments. Rather, our world will improve as we nurture each person’s potential to contribute from the goodness within them.

As Anne Frank noted, in the depths of her hiding during World War II, “’I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Scientists recently discovered monster galaxies near the edge of the known universe.  The James Webb space telescope has detected what appear to be six massive ancient galaxies, which astronomers are calling “universe breakers.” Their existence upends current theories of cosmology. As one cosmologist explained: “it’s bananas.”

Early Greeks explained the universe with stories. Helios drove a chariot of winged horses across the sky. The sun rose as Helios ascended in the sky. The day ended as Helios circled the world. Yet the light of the sun never stopped shining.

In Jewish tradition, God has set the sun in motion, the moon and stars in their paths, and the light never stops. Our task is only to notice and appreciate. Each night at services, those attending, tell the Jewish story of the universe. The Creator created day and night, darkness before light, light before darkness. Each day is a reminder of the inexplicable unfathomable force that creates our Universe. It’s bananas.

Religion, like cosmology, is an attempt to explain the inexplicable. Humans abhor uncertainty. Not knowing unnerves us. Alternatively, God comforts us. In the Jewish tradition, God is sometimes referred to as the womb. How so? God is merciful. The Hebrew word for mercy, rachamim, is related to the word rechem, which means womb. God is the source. God birthed all that is.

I can’t fathom a news story about the discovery of rapidly developing galaxies at the edge of the known universe. Rather, I find comfort in God, as creator and mother, who generated light that pulses from one edge of the universe to another. When we perceive that light, we receive new revelations.

Torah teaches that we light an eternal flame. Today we do so in synagogues above the ark holding the Torah. There is an important connection between the eternal flame which represents the primordial and unending light of the universe and Torah which is timeless wisdom. Light persists even when we can’t see it. Knowledge is accessible even when we don’t access it.

The secular scientist learns of six new galaxies and says it’s bananas.  The Jewish theologian’s reaction? “Is anything too wondrous for God? (Gen. 18:14)” For the rest of us, not cosmologists or philosophers, our task is to cherish the energies that create precious life. Our lives are ever-evolving as we emulate God’s mercy that gives quality to our lives. Whether we see it or not, the light never stops shining. How we behave in the light makes all the difference in this world.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame


I am in the thirty days of mourning. My older brother died earlier this month. Each night I try to say kaddish at a synagogue. The quality of my prayer experience depends upon the feeling I get from the space I am in. Yet, it isn’t necessarily the architecture or the décor that creates a sacred space.

Synagogue architects design holy places to foster transcendence, a connection to something incorporeal and ethereal. People often need a physical structure to foster a connection to something greater than themselves. Are we inspired by a physical place to gather with God?

In this week’s Torah reading, God instructed the Hebrew people to construct a mikdash. The structure provided God with a place to dwell among the people. Yet, God didn’t need a physical place. The people needed the mikdash.

To this day, the physical construct remains a powerful inspiration for an encounter with the Divine. Yet, a building alone is not sufficient for me to denote a space as sacred.

Many structures are deemed sacred. For example, the Mormon Temple in Maryland is a majestic and pristine building. The alabaster edifice evokes a sense of holiness. The exceedingly high spires seemingly reach to the heavens. The Angel Gabriel blasts his horn to call us to gather. It is magnificent and, yet, it is not my holy place.

In a medical journal, Dr. Pamela Adelstein wrote that her sacred space is an examination room. Yes, these rooms are cramped and sterile. Yet in these examination rooms, doctors and patients share an intimacy that promotes the holy work of healing body and mind. Dr. Adelstein encourages us to approach health care as a sacred collaboration.

Dr. Adelstein teaches us that it is not the building, room, or structures themselves that create a holy place. It is the people who make a space sacred. In fact, some temples, churches, and synagogues seem sterile to me while doctor’s offices sometimes engender holiness. When I enter a synagogue and no one greets me, even when they know I am a mourner, that place is bleak, no matter how beautiful the building is.

I’ve tried zoom services to say kaddish as well. Being alone while saying kaddish, feels insufficient for me if I am able to join in person. My preference is to be in a space with other people.

After all, the word kaddish means sanctified or holy. Holiness is where God may dwell. I sense God in a genuine greeting, and a warm embrace. Compassionate people are the amen to my prayers.

Generally, it is not the building that makes a space holy. Rather it is the way people are present in the space. There is a Godly presence that can be perceived when caring is foremost among the people assembled in prayer. People gathering to bring God close makes a space sacred.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame


I have long assumed that people who don’t abide by the law are punished. Criminals go to jail and people liable for harm pay for their misdeeds. Yet, people of power and privilege aren’t always held accountable. And disadvantaged people are not always afforded justice. Too often, the law operates independently of people applying ethical and moral standards.

Civilization is constructed of laws. People agree to abide by a set of laws to maintain a civil society. Our justice system is designed to punish criminal behavior and penalize tortious acts. Yet, there are times when the law is applied discriminatorily and unethically.

The Torah reading for this week is Mishpatim, translated as “laws.” What distinguishes Torah law from American law? Torah interposes moral behavior with criminal and civil rules. The laws in Mishpatim are not merely rooted in morality but exist as a mechanism for morality.

Torah gives equal attention to criminal acts, civil wrongs, and immoral behavior. The prohibitions zigzag from kidnapping to the loss of an ox. In between these legal rules, there are admonitions to care for the widow and orphan as well as be kind to the stranger. Within these legal rules is God’s justice. The design of our Creator is to create a moral universe.

Whether we talk about Israel, the United States, or almost any other nation, the secular system of laws is limited by how they are applied. If the government is focused on pursuing decency, then legal systems will provide justice. A great challenge of our time is the moral deficiency of political leaders. They won’t change until the people demand justice and mercy for every member of society including the widow and the orphan and the stranger.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

On the twenty-first new sun of March,
After the men and women had first gone forth,
Walking arm in arm
Ministers, Priests, and Rabbis
Young people and old
Finally marched over the Edmund Pettus Bridge,

From Bloody Sunday until that day
The people were going forth from the city of Selma in the land of Alabama
To the capitol steps in Montgomery
To pray with their feet that Congress pass a Voting Rights Act.
And the nation stood before a new land,
A land of rights restored.
Yet the people saw new plagues
Of evil resistance, rampage, and terror.
And all the people encamped
In the wilderness of not knowing.

Then Martin went up
And at the top of the steps,
As God had called to him,
So he called to them, saying,

“I know you are asking today, ‘How long will it take?’
Somebody’s asking, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men?’…
I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, because truth crushed to earth will rise again.
How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever.
How long? Not long, because you shall reap what you sow.
How long? Not long.
Truth forever on the scaffold,
Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet that scaffold sways the future,
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.
How long? Not long,
Because the arc of the moral universe is long,
but it bends toward justice.
How long? Not long, because
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.

These are the words that you shall speak to the children of America.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Cemeteries are storytellers of history. Tombstones remind the world we were here. Deeply rooted in Jewish Tradition is the preservation of personal legacy and honoring the dead. Yet, cemeteries around the globe and in our neighborhoods are not getting the attention that these holy places deserve.

In Parshat Beshalach of Exodus, we read about preserving the dignity of our ancestors. “Moses took with him the bones of Joseph, who had exacted an oath from the children of Israel, saying, “God will be sure to take notice of you: then you shall carry up my bones from here with you.”  There were many items Moses needed to take for the journey into the wilderness: food, tent material, clothing, animals . . . Yet, Moses retrieved Joseph’s bones and carried them, as important as any other object. Joseph wanted to be buried in the land of his ancestors. Decades later, Joshua laid Joseph’s bones to rest in Shechem.

Moses and Joshua exhibited extraordinary consideration for their ancestor, Joseph. These vignettes in Torah underscore our tradition of giving honor to the deceased. Today we honor the deceased with prompt burial and memorial services. However, the only tangible, lasting tribute to each person is the grave and their tombstone.

Jewish communities in America are preserving their cemeteries. Jewish Federations in various cities like Cleveland and Philadelphia have raised funds to restore Jewish cemeteries. An organization named Avoteynu (“our ancestors”), is repairing Jewish cemeteries throughout Europe, largely destroyed in World War Two or deteriorating due to neglect. The European Jewish Cemeteries Initiative created by the European Union, the Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe, and the Heritage Foundation for Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries are some of the prominent groups working to save these testaments to Jewish life in Europe.

Torah and tradition teach us to care for these holy places. When cemeteries are attacked or destroyed, we are shaken by a phenomenon called “root shock.” Cemeteries are a link to our past and a testament to the history of living communities. The destruction of a tombstone or gravesite is a root shock that deeply disturbs our footing.

Similarly, other communities have experienced the same affronts to holy places. For example, here in Bethesda, the Moses Cemetery is one of the last surviving remnants of a historic Black community that once included a church, a school, and several dozen homes. The Moses cemetery hosts about 500 graves of former slaves and sharecroppers. Many were displaced from homes in the District of Columbia and pushed into adjoining farmlands in Maryland, along River Road. Montgomery county now owns this land. The Housing Opportunities Commission is selling the land to a private developer. The Bethesda African Cemetery coalition sued the County to protect the Moses Cemetery development.

As Jews, we understand the need to honor our dead, preserve our legacy, and maintain the sanctity of grave sites. I hope we extend our tradition to supporting our neighbors who have suffered the loss of their historic cemetery and are coping with the root shock of displacement and disrespect for their ancestors.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

In preparing to visit Alabama on a civil rights mission, I’ve been learning about the lingering effects of slavery. Among the issues for all of us to consider is whether reparations should be paid to African Americans. I found an example of reparations in the Torah that helped shape my thinking.

In the news this week, a committee in San Francisco has formally proposed reparations for eligible black residents. The payment amount would be $5,000,000 for those who could prove extended continuous residency and meet several other factors reflecting on the oppression suffered. The plan was designed to address “the institutional, City sanctioned harm that has been inflicted upon African American communities.”

In Parshat Bo (read this week), the tenth plague is about to start. Each Hebrew man and woman turns to their Egyptian neighbors and asks to “borrow” their fine silver and gold. Apparently, God has predisposed the hearts of the Egyptians to part with their valuables. This sacrifice is particularly noteworthy because the first nine plagues wiped out their livestock and crops.

I now understand this transfer of precious metals as reparations for the suffering of the Hebrew slaves. This first recorded act of reparations is not too dissimilar from the proposed reparations in San Francisco. The Egyptians offering their jewelry in Torah or the citizenry of San Francisco are not the people who were the oppressors. Further, the value of what the Egyptians gave was quite high, just as $5,000,000 per person is sufficiently high to bankrupt the City of San Francisco.

The issue of reparations begins with the collective responsibility of all who participated or are descended from those who participated in the oppression of other humans. In America, given the passage of time, all white people benefited from the oppression. To advocate for reparations is to recognize the white privilege dominant in America.

America is unlikely to achieve a consensus favorable toward reparations. This country’s citizenry has a tenuous commitment to justice for African Americans. When it comes to racial justice, Americans readily offer thoughts and prayers. I wonder if our citizenry has the holy motivation to repair the damage caused by slavery.

Countervailing winds are blowing. Conservatives have attacked affirmative action and circumscribed the voting rights of disadvantaged segments of society. At the same time companies and campuses have pursued diversity, equity, and inclusion as essential tenets. Black Lives Matter has garnered far-reaching support.

The idea of local governments making reparations might be a reaction to the federal government’s failure to promote racial justice in America.

God had to intervene to get the Egyptians to offer their precious goods. In fact, God sent nine plagues and still needed to soften the Egyptians’ hearts. No matter the difficulty in enabling reparations, Torah compels us to be vigilant for justice and loving-kindness. We were slaves in Egypt and received reparations on the way to freedom.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame