I am a sucker for baked goods. My taste in pastries has been refined over the years, from Chips Ahoy to bakery made black and whites, to baking my own meringue cookies.  No packaged cookie is as satisfying as sharing your home-made treats with family and friends. Sharing what we craft is a core element of happiness.

“Happiness is not ready-made. It comes from your own actions.” This is a teaching of the Dalai Lama. The Jewish approach would be to say, “what recipe do I have to follow to create happiness?” And of course, we have more than one answer!

Torah teaches that before we enjoy our produce, we bring the first fruits as an offering. Imagine how tempting it must be for the farmer to taste the bounty of his fields and trees. Our tradition says, wait. First, make it clear to God that you recognize that a gracious and divine source made all that you have possible. It was not your own actions alone.

Acknowledging the Source is the first element of enjoyment. The second is to be in relationship. Enjoyment comes when we share our meals with family, friends, priests, and strangers.

 “And you shall enjoy, all the goodness that the LORD your God has given you and your household, you together with the Levite and the stranger in your midst,” Deut. 26:11.

וְשָׂמַחְתָּ֣ בְכׇל־הַטּ֗וֹב אֲשֶׁ֧ר נָֽתַן־לְךָ֛ יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ וּלְבֵיתֶ֑ךָ אַתָּה֙ וְהַלֵּוִ֔י וְהַגֵּ֖ר אֲשֶׁ֥ר בְּקִרְבֶּֽךָ׃

From the Harvard psychiatrist to the eastern mystic, every expert on positive psychology will tell you that an attitude of gratitude is the key to happiness. The Jewish tradition teaches that happiness is a function of feeling thankful. But our tradition says gratitude alone is insufficient.

To increase happiness we pair our appreciation with personal relationships. While we may make family the primary focus of our lives, happiness grows when we welcome friends and strangers into our homes. Torah teaches that real happiness comes when we share with a wider circle. Our tradition says that as the creator of happiness, you craft the greatest happiness by welcoming others to your home, even those who are strangers.

As we approach a new year, we might again be reminiscing about the large family meals of pre-Covid times. For those who are distanced from family or close friends by the pandemic, the nostalgia may be difficult to bear and disheartening. If you are blessed with abundance to share, here is your opportunity to share in your enjoyment.

We all must navigate this time of social distancing, figuring out how to increase joy by including friends or acquaintances who might not have the same bounty as you. Here’s my suggestion and it comes right from Torah. Be more inclusive with the meals at your patio table or in your zoom dining hall. Sharing a meal brings more joy because happiness is not ready-made but hand-crafted by you and is more vibrant when shared.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

A person I love called to ask if their adult son could attend Rosh Hashanah services and how much that single ticket would cost. I began wondering about the first time a synagogue decided to sell tickets to High Holiday services. That decision transformed the spiritual relationship into in a business transaction. Joni Mitchell understood the difficulty of this situation – it is as if they took all the trees, put them in a tree museum and charged a dollar and a half just to see ‘em!

The rabbis and cantors, and musicians and singers and Torah readers preparing for Rosh Hashanah offer their communities a chance to reboot their lives through prayer and song. Those attending might have a different perspective. Some “congregants” are inspired by the music, the meaning, and the majesty of a prayer service. Others think that Bruce Springsteen can inspire them just as well.

The August blues descend upon those service leaders. The 2021 version of the August blues combines the anxiety of selling spirituality, with the need to offer “hybrid” services, in person and online. In addition, there is the “competition.” Whether on basic cable or a live streaming service, anyone can watch services. You can enjoy sermons by gifted orators and hear melodies from incomparable singers. Perhaps you have thought: “Why should I pay for tickets when I already have the internet?”

If the High Holiday experience is to be sustained then the price of your ticket has to offer an experience that is appealing and meaningful. Gathering, whether virtual or in person, should be as compelling as attending a sporting event with your favorite team. You could watch the reruns on the late news but there is nothing as thrilling as sitting in the stands and watching your team score. (Rarely do fans complain as much about the many boring pauses in the game as they rave about the scoring).

I’ve rarely met a person as enthusiastic about attending High Holidays at a synagogue as arriving at a Springsteen concert or a playoff game. Yet, the single sales tickets for High Holidays are often more expensive!

I am not asking if your High Holiday experience is worth the price of the ticket. That would be falling into the failed business paradigm of Jewish communal life. The question I’d prefer to ask, is this: Will you give me the opportunity to connect your yearnings, hopes, and fears with a Jewish tradition that offers a beautiful, meaningful, and inspirational approach to life?

I don’t want to pave paradise and sell tickets to see the remaining trees. I want to offer inspiration to the community. I want to encourage people to engage in a process of self-improvement as a quest for Godliness. I want you to appreciate the forest and enjoy the trees.

The challenge of High Holiday Services is to deliver spiritual connections to satisfy your soul. The way Jews participate in the High Holiday experience of repentance and renewal is evolving. We will speak new words. We will select inspiring melodies. We will procure new conversations.

If we change too quickly, then we will lose the aspect of the High Holiday experience that feels authentic. If we change too slowly, eventually most everyone will stay home to watch what’s on cable.

If clergy provides truly stimulating and fulfilling experiences, then the task of Judaism is more likely to be fulfilled. We know that the paradigm must change, at least so that the ticket sales become gifts of the heart.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

The Jewish religion of today reminds me of a New York subway station with trains departing the station in opposite directions. Orthodoxy is focused on adherence to rigorous interpretations of Jewish law challenged by modernity. On the other track are progressive Jews who value the search for meaning over the hold of Jewish law and tradition. To some, the traditional ways are authentic. For others, the progressive ways are the better approach to modern challenges. Many are left on the platform not knowing which train to board.

The choice of how we proceed as our Jewish selves seems especially important as we approach the High Holidays. Is this new year more dire than others? I am disoriented by covid, unnerved by political discord, and fearful of environmental devastation. My hope for the New Year is to feel supported by our Jewish religion and community.

Which best maintains your equilibrium –a religion focused on dutiful practice or on providing moral inspiration? Each can be a track to provide comfort and support. Or are you feeling alienated from these choices?

The High Holiday experience should support being wholehearted with God. If prayer is boring, you might pray half-heartedly. If the ritual is inaccessible, you might lose heart entirely. If the offerings are too secular, then the prayer experience is banal.

To start 5782, let’s explore how “doing Jewish” brings you comfort, strength and satisfaction. Which train to wholeheartedness will you board? Can we alternate, embarking on the traditional train at times and then stepping off onto the platform to transfer to a more progressive journey? All the while, how do the conductors avoid jerky stops and starts to offer you a smooth prayer ride? And how do we avoid distractions which derail us from our purpose in gathering?

Service leaders for the coming High Holidays are grappling with these questions. Whether in person or on Zoom, we want to create an experience full of heart. At the Jewish Studio, we will offer the anchoring of tradition with the inspiration of expanding awareness. And with our voices, words, and instruments, we hope to conduct you on an inspiring ride through to Yom Kippur.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

You might think that difficult times make us likely to ask God for help. If so, religion would be a thriving business today. Perhaps Judaism offers an alternative response to crisis. Instead of reaching toward God, we might have to start within ourselves when we are frightened or challenged.

In my lifetime, I’ve ducked and covered in response to the Cold War, become vigilant looking for terrorists and hijackers, and masked up to prevent infection. Yet, I feel ineffectual thinking I can’t do much to have a real impact on any of these many existential crises.

As a rabbi I could say that prayer is always available to us. For centuries, religions taught us to seek God in times of despair. After decades of existential threats, I am uncertain if seeking God is sufficient in challenging times.

Torah, at Parshat Eikev, teaches that there is something else we can do. The work to repair world starts in us. At the end of a 40 year wilderness journey, Moses gives this advice to the Hebrews: circumcise your hearts! This may seem an odd use of circumcision as metaphor but one that ultimately makes sense. I can’t change the world, but I can change me. I can peel away the emotional scar layers that obstruct my better nature. Let’s call it a spiritual open heart surgery.

What is the emotional peel we need? Here are a few suggestions.

Set aside being judgmental. Put away jealousies. Undo your sense of superiority. Peel away these layers that separate you from others. With a circumcised heart, you are better equipped to improve the world. No, you won’t influence Vladimir Putin or end the coronavirus. You will help to create a progressive society and contribute to the faith we need to overcome challenges.

When I’m feeling fear or dread, the repair is to circumcise my heart. In removing the layers of emotional plaque on my heart, I can be open to possibilities. I won’t end the arms race or cure Covid. I can cut away the callousness and ego that poisons the world. My circumcised heart is prepared to improve the world one relationship at a time.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

I hesitate before sharing my opinions these days. The problem is that I am optimistic in a time of great stress. My optimism might seem uncaring to those who are suffering. Here is what I want to say. The promised land lies just ahead.

For nearly two years we’ve suffered the pain of sequestration, isolation, and dislocation. We have been fearful, frustrated, and heartbroken. Yet, I remain hopeful. Not longing for how it was before, but looking forward to a promised land.

Consider how we endured the Covid Pandemic. We benefitted from the greatest innovations and accomplishments of our time. The scientific and technological advances of modern times kept most of us safe from severe illness or financial distress. Vaccinations were created in months and hundreds of millions are now protected. The internet permitted commerce to continue and work at home to be productive. Entertainment choices expanded with new streaming services.  Even the government was successful in assisting millions of Americans with financial relief checks, small business loans, rent moratoriums, and student loan payment abatements. The world was challenged by Covid-19 and its variants, yet people in developed countries had much to celebrate.

In Moses’ final speech in Torah, he recounts the fear, frustration, and heartbreak of the 40-year journey through Sinai. Even as he chastises the people for their foibles and infidelities, he sets before them the miracles of their times. In the presence of enemies, the Jewish approach is to notice the banquet of life.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein taught this lesson in the context of the fast day, the ninth of Av (Tisha B’av, July 17 -18, 2021). Just as Jews observed a day of sadness for the destruction of the Temples, both first and second, the more important day might be the tenth of Av.  The day after destruction we get up from the ashes and reimagine our world.  On the tenth of Av we begin a process of renewal demonstrating resilience, ingenuity, and faith.

Let’s not merely hit the restart button as we emerge from our covid cocoons. With your hopefulness for kindness, safety, and justice, let’s work to build a reimagined world.

Natalie Merchant sang the anthem for this moment:

“These are the days you might fill with laughter until you break
These days you might feel a shaft of light
Make its way across your face
And when you do you’ll know how it was meant to be”

Rabbi Evan Krame

A very smart woman I know chose not to get vaccinated. She had already been infected with Covid and reasoned that she now had the necessary antibodies. Now she complains that without a vaccination card, businesses may bar her from entry, punishing her because of her choice not to vaccinate. She could have chosen the rewards of vaccination to avoid denunciation, exclusion, and isolation. Yet, human beings don’t always apply simple, studied logic to real-life choices, even to avoid the penalties.

Choices are set out before us for good and for bad. These choices are particularly vexing when it comes to our health. Eat the celery or eat the cake? Get the vaccine or go without? It all seems simple until we hesitate just long enough to incorporate personal predilections into the process.

Parshat Reeh begins with a simple choice and admonition. “See, this day I set before you blessing and curse; blessings if you obey the commandments . . . curse if you do not obey.” I hope that people will choose the path of blessings. All they have to do is obey the commandments. Yet, people make the wrong choices. Were it otherwise, Moses would not even present the curses to us!

Why do we make the wrong choices? Why eat the cake? Why not take the vaccine? There are two answers to explore – personal choice and heuristic thinking.

In a news report, I watched a gaggle of medical professionals declared that they were not convinced that the vaccine was safe. Rather than choose caution they asserted personal privilege. One person adapted the pro-choice slogan: “my body, my choice.” Americans believe so strongly in personal freedom, many are willing to wager or sacrifice their lives for that conviction.

The other impediment to choosing blessings is heuristic thinking. Our desires, biases, and fears override our ability to make propitious choices. We fail to make the best decisions because the process gets muddied with our own emotional, irrational muck.

Famed Israeli psychologists Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky researched biases in decision-making. Their research focused on heuristic technique, an approach to problem-solving that is not optimal, perfect, or rational, but is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an immediate, short-term goal or approximation. Their Nobel Prize-winning contribution, prospect theory, poured real, irrational, only human behavior into the process of decision making, enabling a much more powerful prediction of how individuals really choose between risky options.

When making choices involving risk to health, most will pick the blessing of health, the responsible choice. As President Biden reminded us, “with freedom comes responsibility.” Moreover, the healthy decision-maker will take time to dismiss desires, biases, and fears that cloud decision-making. The curse of a bad choice may harm you and others around you.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

“Every age has its signature afflictions,” wrote the Korean-born philosopher Byung-Chul Han in his book The Burnout Society.  Burnout is that feeling of exhaustion and even depression that follows an ordeal. The “signature affliction” of our time has been the Corona Virus.  As we emerge, what words or wisdom do we need to propel us forward? Torah may have some answers.

At the start of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of Torah, we behold an exhausted and cantankerous Moses speaking to the worn-out and hesitant Hebrews. Forty years of torturous Sinai journeying is at an end as is Moses’ time as leader. Moses himself is suffering from burnout. Sinai living was not lifestyle magazine-worthy. The sequestration, the lack of water, and the hostility among the tribes made life arduous for all.

Moses is at the end of a difficult leadership tenure. He will not be continuing into that promising future. The people gather around him to pay attention.  They quit their complaining to listen. They review the challenges overcome and anticipate the promised land.

As a leader, Moses delivers a speech to compel the people forward.  What words did Moses offer to encourage the people? Go up! Take possession of your future. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be disheartened.

During 17 months of coronavirus, much of it spent sequestered, we had our own smaller scale Sinaitic experience.  We have been isolated from the world, terrified of an unseen pathogen. Many are burned out by the anxiety.

For a healthy transition, we can again hear Moses. Be strengthened by appreciating how we endured the challenges of the past two years. Look forward to the possibilities before us. Pay attention to moral and ethical leadership.

The Hebrews were accustomed to living a nomadic life in an arid and rocky peninsula. The transition to a promised land required a mental realignment. Some were resistant and stiff-necked while others were eager to press forward.

Today, many long for the halcyon days when we fearlessly boarded public transportation, packed Broadway theaters, and jammed into elevators. But the promised times ahead will offer a new reality. Perhaps face masks will be de rigueur.  We might redesign public spaces. Priority will be given to virus research.  Those are elements of the promised land we hope to enter. Constructing a safer future is one counterbalance to the burnout we feel.

We might not have a Moses who can gather and motivate the people. But the words and wisdom to combat our own burnout are already with us. They were given over three thousand years ago and remain as potent today; take possession of your future and set aside your fear.

Rabbi Evan Krame


A local rabbi condemned Israel in a recent social media post. I was frustrated and agitated as I read the harsh rebuke. I held onto that angst for weeks. And then I read the Torah of parshat Mattot-Masei for this week and I gained a new understanding.

As the Hebrews meandered through the wilderness the Midianites confronted them.  God ordered revenge.  “Moses spoke to the people, saying, “Let men be picked out from among you for a campaign, and let them fall upon Midian to wreak the LORD’s vengeance on Midian.” Numbers 31.

The text continues to provide particulars of the campaign. The slaughter of men. The slaughter of women.  The slaughter of male children. No gruesome detail was spared. In the past, I might have dismissed this “book of war” as a myth. If I am honest about my response to any conflagration, I must read this Torah as a history of the nature of people-kind.

The paradigm of revenge drives people to do violence. Incendiary balloons are heinous random attacks on Israel.  The targeted bombing of terrorist cells is needed but still odious. I am not decrying the need for a strong defense which sometimes requires preemptive strikes. I am merely learning from Torah, that we must also confront our own propensity toward violence. Even if our cause is in the service of the Lord’s vengeance, are we nonetheless dissolute, if not sinful 

I believe that Torah is asking us to be strong and resolute, even using violence against our enemies. At the same time, I understand Torah to be a blueprint for constructing a better world. With that in mind, I understand the detailed recounting of the campaign against the Midianites as an example of what we hope to avoid as a righteous nation and treasured people.

Knowing my own love of Israel and proud Zionist proclivities, I will always be perturbed by attacks on Israel when in conflict with its enemies.  Now, I hope to add another layer to my response. We must abhor both the aggression that precipitates a violent response even as we regret our own need to respond with force. Even as I laud the Israeli military’s might I understand the need for a strong dose of remorse. Jews must always strive to fulfill the prophetic vision of Isaiah, turning our swords into ploughshares. Otherwise, Torah is merely a book of war.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame


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

family photos.jpg

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.