I am easily entertained for hours doing family history research on the internet. And I love watching the PBS show Finding Your Roots. Some describe the recent uptick in genealogical interest as a modern phenomenon.  I don’t understand genealogy to be a fad but rather an ongoing search for meaning.

Many times, Torah recites the Jewish family tree.  In fact, the book commonly called Exodus is known in Hebrew as “shemot” which means names, because it opens with the lineage of the Hebrews who decamped for Egypt. Trudging through the fourth book, Numbers, there is yet another census and listing of notable family members. By repeatedly listing family names, Torah demonstrates a basic truth about our need to connect with people of a common background.

Like Torah, I often return to recounting the people in my family history. I delighted in the stories my grandmother told about her home in Ukraine and the fear of Cossacks. I questioned my parents about the bootleggers and bar owners in our family. As I continue expanding my family tree, I am drafting a personal book of Shemot.

To date, I have identified 122 relatives. I spent long hours reading public records. I sent emails to possible relatives, often with no reply.  And yet, I continue my searching.  Given the tediousness of the task, I am sure that my motivation is more than a need for more screen time.

Here is what I have concluded.  While I have many relatives I can name, I have few with whom I have a caring relationship. I don’t believe that my situation is at all rare. With increasing mobility, both upward mobility in terms of economic resources and geographic mobility in terms of opportunities to live and work almost anywhere, the modern family unit has splintered. With that splintering of the family, emotional and spiritual needs went unmet.

I have scores of cousins across this country I have never met. The family that first lived in Manhattan migrated to Brooklyn or the Bronx. The next generation went to Connecticut or Florida or California or Maryland. Before the break-up of AT&T (when long-distance calls were costly), and before the internet (when we used the Whitepages), and before FaceTime (when we bought train tickets to see family), maintaining communication among family members was arduous. Meaningful and grounding familial relationships were waning.

Family fights account for further ruptures. Remember that time that one uncle switched to a different table at the bar mitzvah upsetting the seating plan? Or was it the fight over an inheritance? Am I missing out on relationships with wonderful family because of a perceived slight or ill-timed comment?

Tracking the displacement of my extended family revealed to me the basic desire to connect with people in a shared history. My genealogical search is my hope of reconnecting the dissociated family. 

I anticipate enhancing my life with the conviviality and collegiality of extended family. I yearn to be part of an extended family hoping that life lived in the context of a large family will add meaning and comfort. Perhaps my searching will identify new stories to tell and create new friendships. Rather than pursuing a fad, genealogical research is my quest for fulfillment.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame


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Singing on Shabbat is what transforms the day into a spiritual delight. Even as the pandemic ebbs, many are not yet ready to sing with a group. How I miss singing with my friends in services and at dining room tables! Don’t give up on singing because it may be the starting point to transforming the world.

In Parshat Chukat, Numbers 19:1 – 22:1, Miriam dies. The well that followed her through the dessert dried up. The wandering Hebrews needed water. They complained bitterly to Moses in despair. God instructed Moses to speak to the rock at Meribah to produce water. Rather, Moses, who was likely exasperated, tired and disheartened, hit the rock.  This instance of faithlessness was the basis for God refusing Moses’ entry into the Promised Land.

With further wandering and water again lacking, God gave Moses an instruction to assemble the people at Be’er “so that I might give them water.”  Be’er in Hebrew means well! There the people sang a song – “spring up O well”. Then the nobles loosened the earth and the chieftains dug out a well. Perhaps this time the people had faith in their leadership and God. Water sprang up from the earth.

The song of the people, as a demonstration of their faith, inspired the leadership to dig the well. The precursor to success was the encouragement of prayerful singing. Then, in a combined effort, the tribal heads provided the needed relief through collaborative efforts. While the water was already there, access came only when the leadership pulled together to complete the task. What a model for our time! With song and collaboration, an urgent task was quickly completed.

The next steps in the story inform us how ordinary can be lifted to become extraordinary. The people continued their travels toward Canaan in the Midbar (wilderness) to three new stops in rapid succession. The first stop was Matanah (a gift). The second stop was Nahaliel (an inheritance from God). The third stop in this progression was Bamoth (high places). Note that the word Bimah which is the elevate platform in synagogue comes from the same root letters as Bamoth.

We have no indication that any of these three places were particularly meaningful or pleasant.  In fact, one could read Torah such that these were not physical but rather spiritual places. Once a people come together with song, cooperation, and faith they moved from being in the wilderness to residing in a holy place, even if they haven’t travelled at all.

Torah reminds us that God, like water, is the source of life. With faith, we transform what might have appeared to be a mere gift into an inheritance from God. Holiness is recognizing that we can reside in the high places, elevating our lives with the realization that these are inheritances from God.

One way we bring down holiness is by lifting our voices. The transformation of ordinary to extraordinary continues with collaboration.  The process reaches holiness with awareness that the source of our lives is Divine. Then we return to songs of praise, hallelujah!

The prayer songs we need today are songs of hope. We start the demand for justice with voices raised in song, (“We shall overcome”). We bring healing to those who are sick with soothing song (“misheberach”).  We are called to protect our planet when we hear the song of the animals, the birds, the whales, and even the cicadas.

After the singing comes cooperation which is the way to quench thirst in the droughts of our time – Covid 19 and other diseases, the subjugation of and hatred toward minorities, and the burning up of our planet. We need more cooperation to overcome the plagues of our day, to quench the burning issues of disease, racism, anti-Semitism, ecological disaster and more.

Most poignantly, we need faith. Despair anticipates destruction. Cooperation and hope make manifest progress. After all, the water the people needed was there all along, just waiting to be found! All that was required to find the water was a song, collaboration, and faith.

Whether your role is to sing out in prayer, cooperate in leadership, or inspire others with faith, each of us has a role to play. If we will only act in recognition that our lives are gifts from God, every place will be like a bimah, elevated in holiness.

In this way Torah teaches us that our wanderings can become discoveries, and our wilderness converted to altars. The first step might be to lift your voices in song. So, keep singing and believing friends.  Shabbat shalom.

Bayard Rustin was one of Dr. Martin Luther King’s early advisers. He organized the freedom riders of the 1940s and 50s and the historic 1963 “March on Washington.” In the late 1960s, however, he came under savage attack from a new generation of young black leaders who felt that he was a “sell-out” because he urged blacks to support the labor movement and the Democratic Party. I was reminded of Bayard Rustin by this week’s Torah reading, Korach.

Korach was a Levite of the priestly clan. He and 250 of his followers verbally assault Moses and Aaron, then the old guard leadership.  Moses had long led the people out of slavery to Sinai. But his successes and humility seemed to have been forgotten.  Korach challenged Moses as if Moses were a demagogue asking, “why do you raise yourself up above others?”

Bayard Rustin also led Americans up from oppression toward promised freedoms. Bayard Rustin was old enough to have heard firsthand reports of how Blacks in the South lost their rights in the late 19th century by the actions of white supremacist legislatures. In response to the Jim Crow South, Rustin became a champion for civil rights.

Bayard Rustin’s efforts through non-violent action began in the 1940s. By the mid-1960s and the Civil Rights Act, Black Americans had made substantial advances. But Rustin feared a similar backlash against those civil rights gains.  Rustin astutely recalled that history tends to repeat itself, just as Blacks had lost rights first gained after the Civil War.

Mr. Rustin saw the Democratic Party and the labor movement as bulwarks against any effort to repeat such a roll back of civil rights. He urged Black Americans to be active participants in these organizations. However, newer and more aggressive leadership rejected mainstream approaches as too much of a compromise. They attacked Rustin much the way Korach upbraided Moses.

Rustin’s faith in democratic systems was strong. It formed the basis of his support for Israel.  He was perhaps the strongest African American friend of Israel ever to take a leadership role in progressive political circles. Just like Moses, he understood the promise of that land.

Moses soon prevailed over Korach and his followers. Bayard Rustin’s legacy is also a triumph over the radicalized approach toward advancing civil rights.  We enjoy a much-improved America due to his devotion to democratic principles and legal processes.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Falling into a Facebook trap, I recently got ensnared engaging, if not fighting, in a cascade of political posts. The problem is not Facebook. The problem is thinking that there is value to a heated public debate to successfully pursue how we improve this world.  Upon reflection, I found that Jewish wisdom teaches us better ways to engage.

If you are even a casual Facebook participant, you will have likely become dyspeptic over the political vitriol being expressed.  One “Facebook Friend” posted if you don’t agree with my views, you can unfriend me!”  I obliged him. Farewell Facebook Fanatic! That is when I realized that Facebook presents a case for why we need Jewish wisdom.

Here’s my take on how to engage on Facebook, and keep it become Fa(r)cebook. The first step is to begin any exchange by asking questions. That insight comes from Parshat Sh’lach, Chapter 13 of the Book of Numbers. God instructs: “Send men to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people;” The first step to a meaningful online conversation is to be a seeker of information. Don’t be satisfied with first impressions. Act as if you are taking notes for other people.

The second step is a collaborative approach to resolve issues. The Torah continues: “send one (wo)man from each of their ancestral tribes, . . .” In this simple directive, there is a better approach. If there is a challenge to be investigated, view your conversation as a collaborative effort, even as representatives of various interests.

The third step is to ask good questions.  You have probably heard the story of Isidor I. Rabi, the Nobel laureate in physics who died Jan. 11, who when asked by Arthur Sackler, ”Why did you become a scientist?” answered ”My mother made me a scientist without ever intending it. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ But not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’”

What we see on Facebook are oft-repeated violations of these simple rules.  Either we post conclusory statements, or we respond with demonstrative language. While Facebook may have taken on a more common place for debate during the pandemic, these insights are not just for Facebook. Our face-to-face interactions are rebooting. So let’s prioritize the exploration of facts and the pursuit of truths that matter with genuine inquisitiveness. Let’s practice by having conversations where we ask questions that lead to collaborative reasoning.

I am learning how to make asking good questions my default response. It will take some effort. And I’m not giving up Facebook. I’m just trying to stop engaging in Fa(r)cebook!

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

This year, count the plagues of Covid-19:

the red runny nose,

the frog in the throat,

the scratchiness,

stinging irritations,

loss of taste and smell,

the choking sensation,

body swarmed by fever,

a hailstorm of disease,

the confusion of darkness, and

the loss of life.

Recalling the plagues reminds us that a better future is often accompanied by pain and loss. In every generation we are required to feel as if we too were Hebrews in Egypt, being enslaved and witnessing plagues. Perhaps that task was made easier this year by the pandemic. Many of us felt trapped by Covid-19. The seder of 5780 last year was about enduring challenging times.  While stuck in our homes, as the angel of death circled like a vulture. We longed for escape from the confinement.

Four seasons have passed. The pandemic still binds us. But these plagues must be a memory that compel us to expand health care and bring healing. We will tell our children’s children to see themselves as if they lived through a pandemic, so that this lesson will never be lost.

This Passover, emerging from the narrowness of our quarantines, we are not quite liberated. The joy of getting vaccinated is tempered by the confusion of how we regain our pre-covid freedoms. Can I get together with friends? Can I walk slowly through a mall? Will we sing and dance again? Can we sit shoulder to shoulder in prayer?

The Jewish answer is to have hope. Our religious traditions are born of optimism that even from the darkest yesterdays come the brightest tomorrow. The essence of Passover is about courage and faith to move forward from the greatest of challenges.

In the spirit of hope, let’s try something special this Passover. The first seder is our seder of the past. We will remember and we will celebrate. Then, on the seventh night, we will gather again to plan our re-emergence. This will be our seder of the future, a seventh-night seder.

The idea is not original. There is already a tradition of a seder at the start of Passover and another at the finish. The first one is called Pesach Lishovar, the Passover of the past, and the other is called Pesach Latid, the Passover of the future. This seder of the future has been called the Moshiach’s seder, a seder anticipating a messianic time.

The messiah concept is difficult for many because the messiah is associated with an after-life. That is not the only understanding. For the prophet Isaiah, the messiah comes to liberate and re-soul the living, not raise the dead.

Our hope for a messiah is engrained in Passover celebrations. Toward the end of the Seder we open the door for Elijah, the prophet who was thought to herald the messianic time. We close the seder with a foreshadowing of the future.  And now we add the national anthem of Israel, HaTikvah, which means “the hope.”

The seventh-night seder is about preparing ourselves to welcome a better world. On that night, we see ourselves as if we are at the edge of the sea, ready to leap into the future.  We can anticipate a better world with our whole selves and our holy selves. We will sing out our hopes. We will celebrate our love.  We will rejoice in our freedom.  And we will plan for tomorrow.

Please join us on April 2 at 6:30 p.m. as we welcome Shabbat and a better future. ZOOM HERE!

May we find inspiration in a seder of liberation and potentiality.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

On Thursday we emailed a survey to hundreds of our supporters. We received over 100 responses in a mere 24 hours. You helped us to shape the future.

We envision most adults having received a covid-19 vaccination by the end of summer. So what activities should we plan? You told us to focus on the outdoors.  As a group, we just aren’t ready to crowd into indoor spaces just yet. 80% said no or not sure to indoor High Holiday services.  Remember when your mother told you to go play outside? It was good advice.

Outdoor High Holidays? Check! We’ve reserved the tent at the Bender JCC in Rockville.  Shabbat services? Outdoors weather permitting! Jewish Studio activities? Let’s go for a hike or a picnic. Nearly 50% of you were positive about joining us as soon as you’ve had your shots.

Are you done with Zooming? Not quite yet. As we can offer high quality online events, Zoom will remain a part of our activities. Look forward to a series of discussions with Women in the Literary arts – authors, playwrights, and poets.

There was a very mixed response to a Zoom Seder. If you are eager to join Cantor David and Rabbi Evan for a second seder, please let us know.  Your encouragement will be the key to making sure it happens.

We had hoped to plan a retreat for the fall. You aren’t quite ready for that. Retreating is a great way to renew relationships and make new friends. Let’s look forward to gathering again, just not quite yet.

We still want to hear from you.  Please share any ideas about programs to offer, topics to discuss, texts to learn or people to invite – info@thejewishstudio.org.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

There is a way to prevent future plagues. Just read the Torah. In the opening of parshat Ki Tiso we are told that the prescription to ward off plague is to support government.

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Having encamped at Sinai, the Israelites are commanded to participate in a census and pay a tax. The purpose is clearly stated: “so that no plague will come upon them through their being enrolled.” Exodus 30:12. How prescient!

On its face, the formula works. We tally the citizens and tax them appropriately. In this way the government has sufficient funds to make repairs after natural disasters or fund vaccination programs.

For me, this passage begs a deeper question. What would our nation be like if we understood that the proper function of a government is a spiritual question as much as a political question. The coinage of our nation already states, “in God we trust.” That’s only a start.

Torah challenges us to infuse government with holy intention. Of course, that concept is fraught with danger in a world of manifold theological traditions. In a theocracy like ancient Israel, one religion controlled the political system. For them, the merging of spirit and governance was a simpler process.

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Here in the United States, as a nation of immigrants, we have representation of all of the world’s major faiths. How could we ever achieve an acceptable definition of holiness to apply to the operation of our government? I imagine holding a conference of religions to debate the qualities of holiness. I wonder what tenets of each religion would align with all other religions. What are the universal truths that engender holiness? Is it preservation of life? Love of the stranger? What are the essential elements of holiness that every person would hold inviolable no matter what their religion? And could we apply those to the functioning of a government?

Perhaps my imagining is of a messianic time, when all endeavors will be permeated with sanctity for all people and all religions. Until then, there’s no harm in bringing sacred musings into the political discourse.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Some of us have spent the last 12 months at home, wearing black yoga pants. I go to my office each day and seeing nearly no one, I dress in business casual. I wore a suit once last year to attend a funeral. So I’ve been wondering, in a post-covid world, will we dress “well” again?

Our clothing choices reflect a variety of practical considerations. How will we spend our time? What’s the weather like? I would suggest that our clothing choices are also a statement about our values; among them respect for the dignity of each person.

In Torah, Parshat Tetzaveh, we read a detailed explanation of the priestly wardrobe. God instructs Moses,

וְעָשִׂ֥יתָ בִגְדֵי־קֹ֖דֶשׁ לְאַהֲרֹ֣ן אָחִ֑יךָ לְכָב֖וֹד וּלְתִפְאָֽרֶת׃

“make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron, for dignity and adornment.”  The adornment may be a bit baroque, but the intention is important. How should we dress given our roles? Aaron is a representative of the people. Aaron is a religious leader. Aaron is the High Priest offering sacrifice. His garments reflect his vocation and his spiritual aspirations.

What will we wear when returning to work in the office or attending services in our places of worship? Many will hesitate to set aside their stretch fabrics. But Torah asks us to consider dressing for dignity, not just for comfort.

It is natural that those generally staying at home want 24/7 personal comfort. Sweatsuits are certainly more comfortable than wool business suits. Athletic wear in community settings is a statement that my personal preference is of paramount importance. I would suggest that there is a reason to shift back to button-down shirts and tailored pants.

Can a society or a religious group agree that certain clothes express healthy pride, decorum, propriety, and even a pursuit of excellence?  Such a suggestion will fall upon deaf ears of those who prioritize their desire for comfort. They will reject the need to conform to “outdated” societal norms for attire. They will argue we should not judge a gift by the wrapping.

We should make room for the fact that clothing norms will change over time. One need not wear a necktie or oxfords to perform well at their workplace. And some can get stuck in a false clothing narrative. For example, the Hasidic garb of fur hats and long black coats was the dress of nobility in the Austro-Hungarian Empire of the 18th century.

My concern is how clothing choices reflect how we understand our role in society and how we value humanity. People are created in the image of God and our clothing can reflect that essential truth. While comfort may be important, is that how do we dignify one of God’s creations? Especially after a year of mounting covid deaths, our clothing should reflect a reverence for life.

I think God and Aaron had it right. I’ll advocate for wearing dignified clothing in a post-covid world.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The most beautiful city in the world is Washington, DC. 40 years after arriving here, I still thrill to see the monuments and, most especially, the dome of the Capitol building. It isn’t just the edifices that make this city beautiful. What happens inside those structures heightens the splendor.

Torah reminds us that no matter a structure’s facade, what occurs within is even more important. The Israelites in the desert were instructed to build a portable structure called the Mishkan. The Mishkan was the precursor to the Holy Temple.  God said, “let them make for me a structure so that I can dwell among them.” The Hebrew is wonderfully vague so that it isn’t clear whether the mishkan is where God dwells or is the structure serving to remind us to make room for God in our lives.

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As a temple of democracy, the United States Capitol is also a holy structure. While it is a most beautiful building, what happens within is what makes it extraordinary. Up those steps and down those halls, representative democracy advances. Recently, those steps and halls were the scenes of an insurrection. Because most of us cherish our republic, the January 6 attack on the Capitol is all the more disturbing.

The ultimate objective of democracy is to secure individual rights as a counterbalance to the authority of a ruling government. Our democratic government balances the individual pursuit of happiness with the needs of the people as a collective. The goal of democracy is not to reelect our representatives.

The Jewish religion functions by similar principles. Torah teaches us to cherish both the dignity of the individual and the needs of the community. While democracy per se is not the goal of Judaism, the parallels are striking. The aspirations of any individual are to be balanced against the needs of the entire people. Both Democracy and Judaism sanction any person or group that seeks to imperil that stability.

With a Jewish appreciation for buildings that espouse godliness and processes that expand holiness, I am distressed by the events of January 6. The Capitol must be scrubbed clean of its defilement by the invaders. The physical cleaning is done but that only takes care of the building. The governmental cleansing process will take years. The courts and the electorate will be the final judges of what must be rejected and removed.

The alabaster Capitol dome is a beacon reminding us to be faithful to the goals of democracy. What happens beneath that hallowed dome, must live up to the promise of the building itself.  And our vigilance for sustaining democracy must last as long as the headstones of the capital.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame