Jeweled Rice

What could be more beautiful and enticing than delicately spiced rice adorned with little jewels of dried fruit and sparkling pomegranate seeds? It is little wonder that Persian Jews traditionally serve large platters of jeweled rice, called morasa polo, at weddings and other joyous occasions

Advance prep. Please come to class with the following steps completed:

– Finely chopped onion (onion can be cut up to 1 day in advance and stored in a Tupperware in the fridge)

– Toast the almonds and pistachios following step 1. Cool and store in a Tupperware until class.


Serves 8

¼ cup (30 g) sliced or slivered almonds

¼ cup (30 g) unsalted pistachios, roughly chopped

½ teaspoon saffron, crumbled

¼ cup (60 ml) boiling water

2 cups (400 g) basmati rice, soaked in water for 15 minutes and then drained

¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground cumin

¼ teaspoon ground allspice

¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ cup (90 g) dried apricots, very thinly sliced

½ cup (70 g) dried cherries or cranberries, roughly chopped

½ cup (70 g) golden or black raisins

½ teaspoon finely grated orange zest

½ cup (85 g) fresh pomegranate seeds, for serving (optional)

  1. In a small dry frying pan, toast the almonds and pistachios over medium-low heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Set aside.

  1. In a small heatproof bowl, stir together the saffron and boiling water, set aside.

  1. Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until halfway tender, 5-7 minutes. Drain and set aside.

  1. In a medium frying pan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, 6-8 minutes. Add the salt, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, cardamom, and pepper and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the apricots, cherries, golden raisins, and orange zest. Remove from heat and set aside.

  1. In a medium saucepan, heat the remaining ¼ cup oil over medium heat. Spread half of the parboiled rice on the bottom and cover with the onion and fruit mixture, then the remaining rice. Let cook, undisturbed, until fragrant, about 10 minutes. Use the back of a wooden spoon or a chopstick to poke several deep holes in the rice to help steam escape as the rice cooks. Drizzle the saffron-water mixture over the rice. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook 25 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes.

  1. Transfer the rice and onion/dried fruit mixture to a wide serving bowl and gently mix to combine. Use a spatula to carefully remove the bottom crust of rice from the pot and place on top. Serve hot, sprinkled with the toasted nuts and pomegranate seeds, if using.

Chocolate Dipped Figs

Serves 4

This is a magical dish is ridiculously simple one to prepare. The sprinkle of sea salt brings everything together. If you can’t find dried Calimyrna figs, substitute lack Mission figs — or your favorite variety.

2 ounces bittersweet baking chocolate, roughly chopped

12 dried Calimyrna figs

Flaky sea salt for dusting

1. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler set over simmering water or in the microwave, in a microwave-safe bowl, at 30-second intervals, stirring between each interval.

2. Use your fingers to reshape any figs that were flattened in their package. Dip the rounded bottom half of each fig in the melted chocolate and lay on the figs on their sides on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each fig bottom with a little sea salt. Refrigerate figs until chocolate sets, about 15 minutes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Responding to a Culture of Mendacity

1.     Bereisheit 29:20-25


כ  וַיַּעֲבֹד יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל, שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים; וַיִּהְיוּ בְעֵינָיו כְּיָמִים אֲחָדִים, בְּאַהֲבָתוֹ אֹתָהּ כא  וַיֹּאמֶר יַעֲקֹב אֶל-לָבָן הָבָה אֶת-אִשְׁתִּי, כִּי מָלְאוּ יָמָי; וְאָבוֹאָה, אֵלֶיהָ.’ כב  וַיֶּאֱסֹף לָבָן אֶת-כָּל-אַנְשֵׁי הַמָּקוֹם, וַיַּעַשׂ מִשְׁתֶּה כג  וַיְהִי בָעֶרֶב–וַיִּקַּח אֶת-לֵאָה בִתּוֹ, וַיָּבֵא אֹתָהּ אֵלָיו; וַיָּבֹא, אֵלֶיהָ כד  וַיִּתֵּן לָבָן לָהּ, אֶת-זִלְפָּה שִׁפְחָתוֹ–לְלֵאָה בִתּוֹ, שִׁפְחָה כה  וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר, וְהִנֵּה-הִוא לֵאָה; וַיֹּאמֶר אֶל-לָבָן, מַה-זֹּאת עָשִׂיתָ לִּי–הֲלֹא בְרָחֵל עָבַדְתִּי עִמָּךְ, וְלָמָּה רִמִּיתָנִי. כו  וַיֹּאמֶר לָבָן, לֹא-יֵעָשֶׂה כֵן בִּמְקוֹמֵנוּ–לָתֵת הַצְּעִירָה, לִפְנֵי הַבְּכִירָה

And Yaakov worked for Rachel for seven years and they were in his eyes but a few days because of his love for her. And Yaakov said to Lavan, give me my wife because my days have been filled and I will come to her. And Lavan gathered all the people of the place and made a feast. And in the evening, [Lavan] took his daughter Leah and brought her to [Yaakov] and he came to her. And Lavan gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. In the morning, behold she was Leah! And he said to Lavan, “What have you done to me? Did I not work for you for Rachel? Why did you trick me?” And Lavan said, “It is not done in our place, to give the younger before the elder.”



2.     Talmud Bavli Megillah 13b


בשכר צניעות שהיתה בה ברחל – זכתה ויצא ממנה שאול, ובשכר צניעות שהיה בו בשאול – זכה ויצאת ממנו אסתר. ומאי צניעות היתה בה ברחל   . . .?אמר לה: מינסבא לי? אמרה ליה: אין. מיהו, אבא רמאה הוא, ולא יכלת ליה. – אמר לה: אחיו אנא ברמאות. – אמרה ליה: ומי שרי לצדיקי לסגויי ברמיותא? – אמר לה: אין  עִם-נָבָר, תִּתָּבָר וְעִם-עִקֵּשׁ, תִּתַּפָּל(שמואל ב כב:כז). אמר לה: ומאי רמיותא? – אמרה ליה: אית לי אחתא דקשישא מינאי, ולא מנסיב לי מקמה. מסר לה סימנים. כי מטא ליליא, אמרה: השתא מיכספא אחתאי, מסרתינהו ניהלה. והיינו דכתיב  וַיְהִי בַבֹּקֶר, וְהִנֵּה-הִוא לֵאָה (בראשית כט:כה) , מכלל דעד השתא לאו לאה היא? אלא: מתוך סימנין שמסרה רחל ללאה לא הוה ידע עד השתא. לפיכך זכתה ויצא ממנה שאול. ומה צניעות היתה בשאול – דכתיב  וְאֶת-דְּבַר הַמְּלוּכָה לֹא-הִגִּיד לוֹ, אֲשֶׁר אָמַר שְׁמוּאֵל (שמואל א י:טז). – זכה ויצאת ממנו אסתר.

As a reward for Rachel’s modesty, she merited to have Saul as a descendent. As a reward for Saul’s modesty, he merited to have Esther as a descendent. What was Rachel’s modesty?  . . . [Yaakov] said to her, “Marry me?” She said, “Yes, but my father is a trickster and you are no match for him.” He said, “I am his brother in trickery.” She said, “Is it permitted for the righteous to walk in the way of trickery? He said, “Yes – With the pure, act in purity and with the crooked, be  wily.” He said to her, “What is the trickery?” She said, “I have an older sister and he will not marry me off before her.”  [Yaakov] gave her signs. When night came [Rachel] said, “Now my sister will be humiliated”. She gave [the signs] to her. As it is written, In the morning, behold she was Leah! This implies that until then she was not Leah? Rather, because of the signs that Rachel gave Leah he did not know until [morning]. Therefore she merited to have Saul as a descendent. And what was Saul’s modesty? As it is written, And the matter of the kingship he did not tell him, what Samuel said – he merited having Esther as a descendent.

3.     Eichah Rabbah Petichta 24

באותה שעה קפצה רחל אמנו לפני הקב”ה ואמרה רבש”ע גלוי לפניך שיעקב עבדך אהבני אהבה יתירה, ועבד בשבילי לאבא שבע שנים, וכשהשלימו אותן שבע שנים, והגיע זמן נשואי לבעלי, יעץ אבי להחליפני לבעלי בשביל אחותי, והוקשה עלי הדבר עד מאד, כי נודעה לי העצה, והודעתי לבעלי ומסרתי לו סימן שיכיר ביני ובין אחותי, כדי שלא יוכל אבי להחליפני, ולאחר כן נחמתי בעצמי וסבלתי את תאותי, ורחמתי על אחותי שלא תצא לחרפה, ולערב חלפו אחותי לבעלי בשבילי, ומסרתי לאחותי כל הסימנין שמסרתי לבעלי, כדי שיהא סבור שהיא רחל, ולא עוד אלא שנכנסתי תחת המטה שהיה שוכב עם אחותי והיה מדבר עמה והיא שותקת, ואני משיבתו על כל דבר ודבר, כדי שלא יכיר לקול אחותי, וגמלתי חסד עמה, ולא קנאתי בה, ולא הוצאתיה לחרפה, ומה אני שאני בשר ודם עפר ואפר לא קנאתי לצרה שלי ולא הוצאתיה לבושה ולחרפה, ואתה מלך חי וקיים רחמן, מפני מה קנאת לע”ז שאין בה ממש והגלית בני, ונהרגו בחרב, ועשו אויבים בם כרצונם, מיד נתגללו רחמיו של הקב”ה ואמר בשבילך רחל אני מחזיר את ישראל למקומן, הה”ד כה אמר ה’ קול ברמה נשמע נהי בכי תמרורים רחל מבכה על בניה מאנה להנחם על בניה כי איננו ירמי’ לא יד, וכתיב כה אמר ה’ מנעי קולך מבכי ועיניך מדמעה כי יש שכר לפעולתך וגו’ שם שם /ירמיהו ל”א/ טו, וכתיב ויש תקוה לאחריתך נאם ה’ ושבו בנים לגבולם שם שם /ירמיהו ל”א/ טז.


At that time Rachel our mother jumped up before God and said, “Master of the World, it is clearly known before you that Jacob your servant loved me with an extra love, and he worked for me for my father for seven years. And when those seven years were over and it was time for me to marry my husband, my father decided to switch my sister for me. And this matter was very difficult for me because I found out about the plan. And I informed my husband and I gave him a sign so that he would know the difference between me and my sister so that my father could not switch me. But afterward, I regretted this and I suffered my desires and I had mercy on my sister that she not be humiliated. And in the evening, they switched my sister for me and I gave my sister all of the signs that I had given my husband so that he would think that she was Rachel. And not only that, but I went under the bed on which he was lying with my sister and he would speak with her and she would be silent and I would answer him about each thing so that he would not recognize my sister’s voice. And I dealt kindly with her and was not jealous of her and I did not allow her to be disgraced. And I am but flesh and blood, dust and ashes, I was not jealous of my rival and I did not allow her to be disgraced and humiliated! And You are a living, eternal merciful King, why are you jealous of idols that have nothing to them? And you have exiled my children and they were killed by the sword and their enemies did to them as they pleased! Immediately God’s mercy was aroused and he said, “For your sake Rachel, I will return Israel to their place”  . . .

Perhaps the funniest episode of any program in the past year was episode 5 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, features Isla Fisher, who is a professional crier, and manipulates Larry David into giving her his late mother’s mink stole.  Yes, she is paid to cry at funerals and television shows and in theaters.  The services are valuable as crying prompts others to pay attention. Tears are a powerful form of persuasion. Tears can produce strong reactions such as empathy. But tears can be suspect if the tearful individual’s motives are questioned. This is especially true of people who have the capacity to control weeping.  This is the heart of the episode.

What makes this episode so funny are the sad truths it reveals. Real crying may be a lost art.

Ours is an age which has forgotten how to cry. Whether at Yom Kippur services, a funeral or a theater, tears are conspicuous by their absence.

There is much to cry about. 200,000 dead of corona virus.  Governments around the globe grabbing power and moving toward fascism.  Our planet on fire.  Our planet drowning. The airwaves and news reports should be filled with pictures of people crying.

We have prided ourselves on opening doors to innovation, but we don’t open the doors to our heart. We have reached the heavens with space travel, but we can’t seem to reach into our souls.

Crying is a uniquely human event. Crying has been linked to stress reduction and mood enhancement with the release that follows crying, making tears a method of self-soothing. Crying triggers Parasympathetic nervous system activity.  I threw that in to prove that I wasn’t just making up the science of crying.The effect of crying goes beyond self-soothing.  We can pierce a psychological barrier which promotes new perspectives or resolutions.

 The other primary aspect of crying is its interpersonal function: the effect that crying has on other people.  When somebody cries the common reaction is to make the crying stop. Unknowingly, when someone responds to tears with “Ssssh don’t cry” they’re actually saying, “Stop expressing your emotion through crying, it’s making me uncomfortable,” which really says “Your emotions make people uncomfortable,” which eventually translates to, “feelings are bad”.  When a child cries, we may think they are overreacting, and we may urge them to stop crying.  Perhaps it is us who wants their crying to stop, not them.  But we are teaching them that tears are an unwanted intrusion.

Alternatively, crying may elicit empathy in the observer, leading to comforting and support. Once learned, the notion of crying to gain consolation may remain.

Many people have a remarkable ability to control their weeping. Others cannot control their crying. Uncontrolled crying is deemed an example of mental health issues. We may mistakenly presume someone is depressed because they cry a lot.

In fact, there are many negative connotations to crying.  For men, we are chided not to be like little boys or like women. Men avoid crying because they are told crying is associated with weakness. Tears violate social norms for men. Appropriate social expression for men is typified by our movie heroes – Bogart and Gable in the 30s and 40s, Russell Crowe and Dwayne Johnson more recently. This is the anticipated version of the white, heterosexual male:  a powerful man who is rational and controlled.

Women’s tears are seen as more normal than a man’s. Women are more prone to cry then men. Women are more likely to cry when angry. Women are less concerned with demonstrating power and are more likely to show vulnerability such as crying. Yet, a woman’s tears may be negatively viewed for her lack of emotional discipline. Neither sex is given a free pass on crying.

How we evaluate crying is often situational – appropriate at funerals, not so much when your computer crashes.

Being mentally strong means being able to be sad or cry sometimes.  Our tears are powerful expressions of concern and pain and sympathy.  Tears are generally a genuine way to express emotion. And tears are an important part of social communication. Crying transcends speech. Crying is the emotional equivalent of ALL CAPS, BOLD, EXCLAMATION POINT and sad face emoji.

And yet, we live in a society that does not value crying. This is not true of all people. Japanese are strong believers of spirituality and enlightenment. They attend crying classes to release over-thinking and perturbed emotions. Some cities in Japan now have “crying clubs” which provide a supportive, safe space to cry for people who struggle to express emotion due to cultural or personal reasons.

Here in the west, we bottle up these expressions of emotion with a negative association. Yet, the spiritual giants of Jewish thought know better.  A Chasidic master, the Kotzker Rebbe, said that when one needs to cry, and wants to cry, but cannot cry—that is the most heart-rending cry of all.

In writing Learning to Cry, Dr. Erica Brown offered this: In Rabbi Israel Meir Lau’s remarkable autobiography, Out of the Depths, Lau mentions a young survivor after liberation who had lost his parents and who heard an older survivor address several hundred orphans in France. The young listener thanked the speaker for a gift: the ability to cry again. “When they took my father and mother, my eyes were dry. When they beat me mercilessly with their clubs, I bit my lips, but I didn’t cry. I haven’t cried for years, nor have I laughed. We starved, froze, and bled, but we didn’t cry.” This young man thought he had a stone for a heart. “Just now, he said, I cried freely. And I say to you, that whoever can cry today, can laugh tomorrow….

From crying there begins a process of healing, transformation, and redemption. Your tears may be a gift of the spirit. Tears can be shed for purpose of the restoration of the psyche.  Crying can directly connect you with the subliminal messages of your mind or the depths of your soul.

The power of tears is our ability to approach the healing, the Oneness, the closure, the redemption, the most profound level of prayer.

If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we’re not perfect, we don’t always get it right, not as individuals and not as a people. Having reached the truth of our being, wiping away the ego and the pride, perhaps all that is left is for us to cry out. Perhaps what is best for us is to cry out.

That’s what the shofar is. The sound of our tears. Shevarim, three sighs. Teruah, a series of sobs. And surrounding them the tekiah, the call without words. The sound of a heart breaking. No more excuses. No more rationalizations and justifications. Ribbono shel olam, forgive us.

There has to be a time when we allow ourselves simply to weep for what we know we could have handled better. How we could have been better.

Crying starts where words end.  And I’ve run out of words to describe the depths of my frustration and sadness about the state of our Nation and the world.  I should be crying right now.

As Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has taught, “in our tradition, we are heard when we cry.  God hears our cries and sheds tears along with us.”  The psalmist wrote that God collects our tears in a flask and records them in a book. (psalm 56:9)

There’s nothing closer to God than a broken heart and nothing stronger than a heart that’s been healed by God’s forgiveness.

The ability to cry may be an indication of character. The failure to cry may be the true indicator of spiritual illness.

Prayer should be a stimulus for tears. Rabbi David Ingber tells that he has boxes of tissues placed around the sanctuary.  If people aren’t crying at some point during a service, then he has failed.

The prophet Jeremiah understood the value of crying.  He wished that his head were water and his eyes a fountain so that he could weekday and night for the people who had died.

The act of crying is the beginning of transformation if the tears are with purpose.

Your tears are not an affliction.  Your crying is not the sin.  Bottling up your emotions is distancing you from yourself, from your community and from God.

I will add to the Al Chet prayer this year, the prayer that lists sin after sin.

For the sin of not hearing the crying of others in distress

For the sin of not offering tears for what grieves my soul.

For this dear God, forgive us, pardon us, and grant us atonement.

Is crying a self-soothing behavior? Frontiers in Psychology, 2014, Asmir Gracanin, et al.

The perception of crying in women and men: Angry tears, sad tears and the “right way” to cry. L. R. Warner, Stephanie Shields, January 2007.

The Cry, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks,

Protestors have filled the streets of Louisville this week where Brianna Taylor, an African American was shot dead in the home of her boyfriend. Blacks don’t feel safe in their American homes. Near Brunswick, Georgia, Ahmaud Arbery was out jogging when he was chased down by two white men with guns and shot to death. And George Floyd died when a Minneapolis Policeman pinned his neck to the ground for over 8 minutes.

In case you think this is not our issue, I am here to say it is. Jews stand for Justice, – Justice, Justice shall you pursue, not just for yourselves – there is no limitation on the pursuit of justice. We don’t stand idly by when our neighbors are denied Justice no less loose their lives.

36 times in Torah we are told to love the stranger.  For most of us, members of the African American community are strangers.  Generally, our connections are limited.

America once grouped blacks and Jews together.  As excluded groups, blacks, Jews and dogs were denied entry into hotels and restaurants and country clubs. America has progressed to accommodating Jews and becoming pet friendly.

But African Americans are still afraid for their lives at a traffic stop.  Not to mention that they have a more difficult time getting the best mortgage rates, or the best health care, or the best grocery stores in their neighborhoods – all things we as Jews insist upon for ourselves.

Jews have long benefitted from passing as white people in America.

And we compliment ourselves on our progressive views.  This is part of virtue signaling – “the sharing of one’s point of view on a social or political issue…in order to garner praise or acknowledgment of one’s righteousness from others who share that point of view, or to passively rebuke those who do not.” In a Washington Post op ed by Tre Johnson, he noted how whenever the racial conflict got “real” white liberals form book clubs and do a lot of listening. Not a lot of action.  That is many of us.

And we Jews have a measure of culpability.  No, we didn’t start the fire, but the fire continued burning and we didn’t do enough to stop it.  In fact, we benefitted at times.

I did not fully appreciate how we Jews in the USA are culpable for inequality in our communities. After all, my grandparents came from Poland and the Ukraine in the 20th Century.  They struggled to make a living as tailors and liquor salesmen. They voted for Democrats.

And then I began our campaign to help the Scotland AME Zion church on Seven Locks Road in Potomac.  I saw that the Church needed help to rebuild. In the wake of George Floyd’s death, I wanted to take action.  I quickly organized a fundraising campaign. As Jews we learn, first we do and then we ask questions, just the way we received Torah at Sinai.

I learned that the Scotland community was founded by the children of slaves.  The Scotland Community built a church with their own hands, completing the work in 1924.  By the 1960s, the residents of Scotland were still living in shacks–no running water.

One woman, Joyce Siegel, had recently moved to Bethesda in 1964. She learned from her children attending Churchill High School of their classmates who lived in poverty.  She launched into action.  She helped secure federal funding under Section 8 to rebuild decent housing.  And the church was the central meeting place for her advocacy.

While Scotland got the support of Joyce Siegel, the Scotland community was also shrinking.  Original landowners were under pressure to sell to local developers.  The County supported the developers, hoping to secure some of the land to add to Cabin John park.  One developer, Carl Freeman, built hundreds of homes and townhouses on land that was part of or adjacent to Scotland. The area is now called Inverness. Hundreds and hundreds of homes all built by one Jewish developer. And the Cabin John shopping center paved over a large area topographically higher than the townhouses and abutting an African American cemetery.

Jodi and I lived in Inverness Townhouses.  We had no idea that we were living on land that was originally part of an African American community.  And now we know the impact of development on the Scotland Community.  When you pave over large areas for streets and driveways and shopping centers, you change the way water moves over the land. And the cabin john creek that used to channel water downhill through this area of Potomac, now directs water toward the Scotland AME Zion Church.

These are our neighbors.  And the Church is their spiritual home. And that home was flooded and needs to be rebuilt.  And we are not merely being charitable in our support. We are correcting wrongs from which we benefitted.

And now the Glenstone Museum Foundation has gotten involved and is guiding the church leaders on the rebuilding effort.

And let me tell you about my new friend Rev. Dr Evalina Huggins, the regional director of the Scotland AME Zion churches in the mid-Atlantic region.  Until this unfortunate episode, she had not met a rabbi and had no significant Jewish contacts.  Now she says Rabbis seem to be coming out of the word work to support her work.

A day of repentance is the right day to discuss our teshuvah for abiding the systemic racism in this country. Yom Kippur is the opportunity to scrape away the virtue signaling and accept responsibility for not doing more to help the stranger and the widowed African American women and children whose husbands and fathers have been killed.

We have to recognize our racism, admit that it exists, and do our best to change our character.  And let’s help change America, let’s put out the fire of systemic racism.

R’ Evan J. Krame

We begin Yom Kippur with Kol Nidre.  Kol Nidre is not a prayer.  God is not mentioned. We praise nothing. We ask for nothing.

Kol Nidre is a legal formula. Kol Nidre is an invitation to pray in a community of people with all of their flaws and sins.  And you are one of those flawed people. You are one of those sinners.

Kol Nidre is a radical call to become a community. Kol Nidre tells us to come together not because of our goodness but because of our weaknesses.  When we recognize our humanity, we can join together as a unity.

Many of us wince at the word “sin.” It doesn’t feel like us. We Jews pride ourselves on our virtues, we are smart, we are charitable, we are motivated.  We are Nobel prize winners and we are Supreme Court Justices, we are Civil Rights advocates, and we are Stars.

At Tashlich this year, I threw bread into the water for the sin of thinking I don’t have so many sins.

Rarely do we focus on the dark side of our personhood. And when life is challenging, too often we ask why did this happen to me, rather than as Elijah Cummings said, why is this happening for me?  Our egos and our pride get in the way of the work of improving ourselves.

Kol Nidre asks us to come together precisely because we are imperfect beings. Kol Nidre asks us to examine those failings and imperfections.

Later in the service, we progress to the Ashamnu prayer, the Vidui, and Al Chet, those prayers that list dozens of sins. If we haven’t heard the call to be present with our failings we won’t know how to pray a list of sins. We might scan the list and say – but that’s not me. We might recite the words but not appreciate their meaning.

Kol Nidre’s piercing notes are designed to scrape away the ego and pride that keeps us from our better selves. These barriers of refined self-image and damning conceit are damaging for us, damaging for our families, damaging for our country and damaging for our future.

When you read Ashamnu and Al Chet, offer each line accepting your responsibility for that wrongful behavior. Whether the sin is yours or your neighbor’s, we have formed a community that shares the burdens of our failings.

Prayer is not a pick and choose approach, shopping for what resonates most with us.  Prayer is a challenge to scream into one’s own ears, are you paying attention? Are you hiding from your best self? Are you encouraging others to be their best selves?

When you deny your own failings and shortcomings you give license to others to do the same. Demonstrate to your friends and family, to your parents and your children and your siblings, that self-examination is necessary. Demonstrate to everyone that admitting our failings is the first step toward improving our world.

Kol Nidre demands that we admit we are flawed.  Kol Nidre demands that we invite others to pray with us. Kol Nidre teaches this. If you are real with yourself, you will be real with God. If you are open to admitting your mistakes to God, you will be open to acknowledging the need to change.  If you are accepting of the need to change, you will be open for improvement.  If you can improve yourself, you can help improve this world.

Rabbi Evan J. Krame

Our hearts mourn the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, may her memory be blessed.” She was a woman of great courage, deep knowledge and profound thought. Ruth Bader Ginsburg represented the highest ideals of the Jewish people. She believed that a person’s dignity was paramount. She advocated for women and minorities, those who were disadvantaged within this American democratic system. She succeeded in spearheading significant changes in American jurisprudence from civil rights to environmental protection.

In Judaism, among the greatest mitzvot is comforting the mourner. Today we are all mourning. How shall we comfort each other? How are we to mourn?

In a sense we feel punished.  As the prophet Amos wrote, due to our behavior, he said God will change our holidays into mourning. Here we are on Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world mourning the death of one of the greatest women in American history.

This passage from Amos is also understood to teach that just as biblical holidays are seven days long, similarly the mourning period is seven days long. And so, the next seven days will be a day of mourning for the Jewish people and Americans of good conscience.

During the time of the Talmud, people would show signs of mourning over the passing of others aside from immediate relatives, like members of the leadership of the Jewish people – the Nasi, the Chacham and the Av Bet Din. When any of these leaders passed away, chalitzat katef was required.

Chalitzat katef is actually a symbolic tearing of the clothes, an indication that the person has removed his clothing due to aveilut (mourning).

The Gemara at Moed Katan tells of Yosef ha-Kohen whose wife passed away, leaving him to raise small children. Immediately following the burial – while still in the cemetery – he turned to his late wife’s sister and asked her to care for the orphans. Nevertheless, the Gemara records that he did not consummate the marriage until a significant period of time had passed. The Sages tell this story to show that it is inappropriate to forget one’s wife so quickly. How much more so it will be inappropriate to forget Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Even for those who disagreed with Ginsburg’s political leanings, Jewish texts demonstrate that she deserves the honor, the kavod of our collective mourning and not to take another wife too quickly.

We recall that King David was in conflict with King Saul. II Shmuel (1:11-12) describes King David‘s reaction to the news that King Saul and his son Yehonatan had been killed and that the army of the Jewish people had been defeated. From the fact that David and his men tore their clothes, mourned and fasted, the Sages deduce that one is obligated in keriyah (tearing one’s clothes) over the Nasi (King Saul), the Av Bet Din (Yehonatan), and news of tragedy (the Jewish people who lost the war). Even for those with whom we have struggled, the Jewish way is to honor our leaders when they fall.

Do not mourn in silence. Do not mourn in seclusion. Do not mourn in vain. Whatever you are feeling channel that into ways of honoring her legacy. If one woman could have such a great impact, think what all of us can do together. Write, Call, March, Vote, Give.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s legacy cannot go gentle into that good night. Keep her legacy alive. Turn your mourning into advocacy and your grief into triumph.

May it be Your will that all who are ill

lie down in peace and rise up in peace.

May their dreams be pleasant and daydreams be sweet.

Watch over them and their families, O Guardian of Israel,

who neither slumbers nor sleeps.

We do not stand in expectation of miracles.

We protect our bodies and minds as we are able.

And still we put ourselves into Your safekeeping.

Because we entrust our souls to You.

May we all awaken in the morning,

in appreciation of yesterday

and eager to face a new tomorrow.

We praise You, Adonai our G-d, Ruler of the Universe, the source of strength, Who helps us find the courage to appreciate each day as a blessing.


new questions.png

On Kol Nidre we begin a 25-hour pursuit of a common goal: improvement. We want to be better, we want to do better, and we want a better world.

My problem is that I have trouble distinguishing the lofty and sacred goal of just being better from my need to work toward perfection.

You might ask: “What’s wrong with trying to be perfect?” Being ambitious, competitive and striving for ever-higher goals is seen as positive attributes. Striving for perfection may help us to accomplish more. Yet, so much is lost when perfectionism governs our lives.

You might not be a perfectionist. If not, bravo or brava – that is a character trait you have surpassed. Even if you are not so defined, I’m fairly certain you know someone who is. The perfectionism of a friend or relative or co-worker can make your life more difficult as well. The perfectionist has little sympathy for anything that is merely good and disdains the adequate.

Film director Stanley Kubrick is a perfectionist. He holds the worlds record for 148 takes in filming the same scene of the movie The Shining; 148 times! Steve Jobs was a well-known perfectionist who was not only miserable himself but made the lives of all around him miserable.

Their perfectionism discarded the passion to live well in favor of striving to be flawless. Imperfection was not their problem. Hatred of imperfection was the problem.

John Cleese of Monty Python fame wrote: “The problem was that I carried around with me a tendency to feel that other people’s respect for me would vanish if what I did was second rate. And while I accept that this “perfectionism” is likely to stimulate the production of better work, it doesn’t, unfortunately, go hand in hand with a relaxed and happy attitude to life.”

The pursuit of perfection expunges joy and strips us of understanding. Why? Because the perfectionist thinks that only when I achieve perfection, will I feel good about myself. Striving for perfection inhibits one from experiencing joy. Rather they pursue the avoidance of the feeling of guilt and shame that we might experience if we were merely adequate or sufficient. The perfectionist is not capable of actually enjoying an activity or achievement for its own sake, since they will always be convinced that they are not doing it as well as they should.

Neither are our bodies perfect. Nor will they be. Imperfection lies in every cell, in every breath.

Our bodies reflect the truth of life, that in any moment we are a mixture of the miraculous creation and the imperfect conception.

In Jewish thought, perfection is found in only one place, the nefesh, the soul. The soul resides in that imperfect body of yours. It means that we play the game of life with the cards we are given. That is difficult for the perfectionist to accept.

Psychologists have documented this state of mind, which may cause depression, obsessive-compulsive disorders and even suicidal thoughts.

The striving for perfection is learned at a relatively young age in educational institutions and religious settings and in social media. It is a vicious cycle. We learn to strive for perfection. Because we are merely human, we react to unmet expectations with feelings of failure, rejection and disappointment. As a result the perfectionist might try even harder to be perfect. One person can be satisfied, and even proud of a superior, albeit non-perfect, performance, while the perfectionist experiences it as a humiliating defeat.

And my experience tells me that many live on this razor’s edge of psychological trauma related to the perfection complex to which they subscribe. Impressionist landscape painter Claude Monet once declared, “My life has been nothing but a failure, and all that’s left for me to do is to destroy my paintings before I disappear.” Monet was a perfectionist.

The pursuit of the perfect may become a desperate attempt to gain the recognition and acceptance or love that we crave. It may be the love of parents, the love of our peers, the approval of teachers or the love of God.

I believe that the skill of being merely human is becoming a lost art. Our attention is perpetually drawn to the best. Television is inundated with competitions to be the best. We go to concerts of performers who are the greatest. Our personal interactions are to be irreproachable. In our professions, our work product must be impeccable. I won’t ask how many doctors or lawyers or other professionals in this room live in fear of being sued or have been sued because mistakes are always possible when we are not perfect.

Making mistakes, our doubts and regrets are not a pathology but part of the ebb and flow of human experience.

And when we are disappointed, when we exhibit our weaknesses, when we are in pain – what do we do? Let’s say you just made a mistake at work, you feel awful and on the way home you run into a friend. “Hey, Evan, nice to see you. How are you doing?” “I’M OK! I’M GREAT!” (actually I am not okay). Sometimes we just don’t know what to do with our pain, how to express our disappointment, so we pretend. We pretend that all is well. We don’t mention how distressed we are because we think that we need to have all of the answers to demonstrate that we are intellectually and emotionally equipped to master the world.

There are further ramifications to this perfection complex.

If we can’t accept our own weaknesses, we are less likely to accept the weakness of others. When we are unable to adapt to our own limitations, we are more prone to being impatient with the limitations of others.

When we can’t fully accept our own frailties, we also have trouble appreciating our talents and contributions. Parker Palmer is well known as a keen observer and a brilliant interpreter of spiritual communities. He holds 11 PhDs! Palmer is a practicing Quaker. In conversation with Krista Tippett he described his own perfectionism in deeply personal and unpolished terms. Palmer reported that when someone says to him “You are so successful. You have written so well! That would leave Palmer feeling even more depressed (more depressed) because he would feel that he has just defrauded another person who, “if they really knew me,” said Palmer, “they’d know what a schmuck I am.” Palmer explained that the experience of being complimented would cast Palmer further into the darkness where he already resides.

Perfectionism is not the Jewish way. In the Talmud, we learn who is rich? The one who is happy with his lot. Pirke Avot 4:1.

There is the story of the yeshiva bucher in Israel, the Talmud student, who desires so much to have the knowledge of the Rosh Yeshiva, the head of his school. He reads in our tradition of great leaders and scholars who stay up all night studying. Psalm 119 even teaches that King David rose at midnight to study! So this yeshiva bucher turned day into night in his pursuit of perfect knowledge. The Rosh Yeshiva heard of his unusual habits and called the student to his office. The Rosh Yeshiva acknowledged the history of great leaders and scholars who studied at night and the student was thrilled to have what seemed to be the Rosh Yeshiva’s approval. But then the Rosh Yeshiva said: All this is true, but… – But there is a factor that needs to be the main consideration and overrides all other considerations – to be a normal person! In past centuries, explained the Rosh, this was normal behavior for serious learners, but today this is no longer normal, and therefore all your arguments and justifications are irrelevant and if you persist the end will be dreadful!

For the obsessive yeshiva bucher, for the perfectionist at work, there are corrective measures.

First, accept mistakes as present moment learning experiences. It is what it is. The moment will pass. Gam zeh ya’avor – is a Jewish adage meaning “this too shall pass.” Nothing really endures.

In Hebrew, the word we might use for perfection is shleimut, but it really means wholeness. Perfection in the Jewish sense is the pursuit of wholeness. And wholeness is acceptance of who we are and to commit oneself to work on our tikkun, or individual refinement. Shleimut can also be understood as requiring that one take a balanced and harmonious approach to life and not focusing on perfectionism in any one character or activity.

Mistakes are just another flavor of reality. We can’t avoid them. We don’t have to define our selves by them. Rabbi Jay Michaelson teaches that real joy comes from relaxing the bonds of ought and allowing the bliss of is.

Our imperfections need not have a strangle hold on us. Not all of the consequences of our mistakes will get better – there will be ongoing effects of injury or hardship. But with acceptance, our lives will seem simpler. Calmness and clarity bring their own rewards. When we fail, when we lose, we can also use the opportunity to feel more authentic, more connected. When we are merely on a path of striving to do better, we open ourselves to more possibilities. Surrender is not defeat. When we relinquish the ego, surrender the need to control, know, understand and dominate, we are better equipped to experiment, explore, connect and better engage with the world.

Second, the perfectionist can learn to be okay with sharing their fullest selves. The key to sharing is to create safe relationships. A safe relationship is one where we listen attentively and without judgment. We can trust in relationships when we ourselves allow others to express their pain; all we have to do is to listen well and to be present with them in their suffering. Then we too will be better able to share our beautiful imperfections. We should all be working on creating safe relationships to promote sharing and caring.

The goal of life is not to achieve excellence in all we do. Religion, and Judaism in particular, is a way of speaking about how we address our faults in an endless cycle of humans being human.

There is no character in all of Torah and Tanakh who is perfect. Not Abraham, not Moses, and certainly not King David. Yet, as the humanity of each is fully on display in their stories, their errors become instructive moments in history. Our tradition unpacks these episodes as insights into repentance and improvement. Moses is taught to say the thirteen virtues of God: Adonai Adonai El Rachum, v’chanun. King David learns to acknowledge his failings, repent and then move on. In each biblical lesson our relationship with God can shape a healthier relationship with ourselves.

In our tradition there is the story that each of us is connected to the Divine by a thin imperceptible rope. When we act poorly, the rope starts to fray. When we repent the rope doubles up on itself creating a knot that more securely attaches us to God. And the more the rope is knotted the shorter it becomes. The shorter the rope, the shorter the distance between us and God. It is the imperfect person who is drawn closest to God.

These High Holidays, and this day, Yom Kippur, are certainly about repentance, teshuvah. And the implications are so much more than being sorry for our sins. The real impact of this experience is not to make perfection our goal but to work on the conditions and disorders that inhibit us from being fully human.

In my moral and spiritual imagination, we are all working tirelessly to be kinder to each other, to be guardians of our planet, and protectors of truth. But these are daydreams not realities. We often hide from our potential by focusing on our need to be perfect in all we attempt to do. If I can’t achieve something flawlessly, I might not attempt to do anything at all. The world can’t wait.

We’re never ready, and we are never perfect, despite this, we go forward.

The pursuit of perfection is deceptive. We withdraw from the world when we focus on perfection. We stand alone even when we are together.

The acceptance of imperfection is not an excuse to desist from the tasks at hand. We who are imperfect will forever be challenged by moral dilemmas and existential threats. Human interactions with each other and with this planet will always cause tension and damage. As individuals we will falter. When there is repair to do, we need to work together, with all of our individual strengths and imperfections.

We will all suffer through dark nights of the soul, those times when heartache challenges our faith in a loving and redeeming God. We suffer more when we stand alone. We find healing and comfort when we come together.

To overcome this isolating perfectionist pursuit, we have to learn to be okay with feeling badly. Here’s an example: One of the least observed days on the Hebrew calendar is Tisha B’av, the day we recall the destruction of the first and second temples. We read the book of Lamentations, written by Jeremiah. It begins: “How lonely sits the city.” Yet, Tisha B’av is when the tears of a generation pool together and flood the collective soul with sadness. While I don’t hope for the rebuilding of the Temple, I find the Tisha B’av experience to be an essential exercise for the Jewish soul. The memory of destruction, the rush of sadness, can be motivators to create a better world.

But much of our modern society rejects lamenting. Ours is the pursuit of the perfect life, the happiest existence, the richest purse, and the textbook smile. Lamenting has little place in the super human world.

As we try to control this messy world in which we live, we are tugged and torn by desires and needs and holes we fill with excess. Yom Kippur is the day when we withdraw from all of the pursuits and struggles. We stop trying to control the chaos and idiosyncrasy of the world and focus on the crevices in our own souls.

Life is not perfect. Life is unsettled, transitory, ever changing, Life is by definition messy, always on the verge of chaos and amazement. The only constant about life is that existence happens on the razor edge of catastrophe. The cancer, the car accident, the economic crash – these create the wounds that provide the opportunity to become more whole. Only when we emerge through the most extreme experiences of life’s imperfection are we able to more profoundly live our lives in our imperfect bodies, with all of life’s flaws and grace. When we are forced to confront imperfection, we can also live lives that are more deeply rooted, contented, and dynamic.

If we want to live better, wiser and not just smarter, we have to end the perfection obsession. What if we wake up to the reality that we don’t have to look and act perfect? Rather, it would be so wonderful if we accepted and embraced the messy human way our lives unfold. We should be called to our best selves, not some perfect version of the person we have created in our minds. Vulnerability and even suffering may be the elements of spiritual growth and personal wisdom. We need to know our flaws as much as our strengths. That is what makes hope reasonable and lived virtue possible.

We would open ourselves to more love; love for ourselves, accepting the love of others, and loving others unconditionally. And we need each other to figure this out. We will not merely live but thrive if we are able to engage in fully honest, caring relationships.

What if we could find greater contentment in our lives? I believe that it would be hard to contain ourselves, when we strip back the limitations of doubt, shame and fear. When we no longer hold ourselves back because we are okay with being imperfect, it is possible that we will love more, soar more, create more, repair more, and support others more.

Father Killian McDonnell, a Benedictine monk wrote a poem that captures how I am feeling now. Its title: Perfection, Perfection.

I have had it with perfection.

I have packed my bags.

I am out of here.


As certain as rain

Will make you wet

Perfection will do you


. . .

I’ve handed in my notice

Given back my keys,

Signed my severance check, I


Hints I could have taken:

Even the perfect chiseled form of

Michelangelo’s radiant David,


The Venus de Milo

Has no arms,

The Liberty Bell is


In this New Year, may you engage each other more fully, find the wholeness of your being a perfectly imperfect person, and never desist from the tasks at hand to repair the brokenness in this world.


(with recognition of Krista Tippett whose exploration of spiritual life gave me the framing for this talk.)

Each year before Rosh Hashanah I visit the relatives in cemeteries in New York. I go with a sense of obligation. I arrive with anticipation that memory will bring a joyful connection. I visit with the hope that they are guiding me and supporting me. For the past fifteen years the experience was much the same. Placing stones, speaking their names, a quiet prayer, standing silent, noticing the weather, and checking it off the list.

I was in New York in early September. Having taken the train to New York, I hadn’t considered how I would make the trip out to Queens. A friend, who is also a Rabbi, came to my assistance and offered to be my driver.

The first cemetery visit is always to my father. He is interred at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery in Queens. Leaving Manhattan at 9 in the morning and heading toward Long Island is a treat – there is nearly no traffic. We turn off Myrtle Avenue into the cemetery, passing the chapel building and maintenance garage on the left. Before us is a long rose granite wall. That’s where dad is, in the wall. In front of the wall are small cement benches. Scattered below the wall are a few pebbles and rocks left in memorial.

Perhaps you didn’t think Jews are interred above ground. Let me explain.

The day of the funeral; it was Sunday, December 14, 2003 and the weather was cold and it was snowing. The forecast was for the snow to intensify with blizzard conditions. The cemetery advised that they would not be able to open a gravesite in the cold, snowy weather. Our alternative was to purchase a vault – a hole in a wall. A granite panel is pried away, the coffin slides in and the panel is reset.

There is a ramp leading from the parking area to the wall. Each time I visit and ascend the ramp I remember that day. When the hearse pulled up the snow was already deep enough to make driving hazardous. The hearse had trouble approaching the ramp and several family friends grabbed shovels and cleared the way.

In the middle of this stressful, sad situation, there was a moment of laughter. You see, my father’s career was spent in the plastics packaging industry. When the rear door to the hearse opened we saw that the coffin was in a huge plastic bag. It seemed that even in death, Dad would be in plastic packaging.

I bring those memories to my annual cemetery visits. Place the stone, say the name, offer a prayer, stand in silence, and notice the weather, . . .

This year was different.

We parked next to the maintenance shed and headed up the ramp. On the cement bench sat an older man, legs crossed, hunched over, arms crossed on his lap. He was folded up onto himself. He wasn’t moving. He wasn’t speaking. He was sitting in vigil.

I thought of how when visiting an art museum, you notice the people standing still, fixed and contemplating each painting. As you move through you might try to get close to the art but not block the view of the people already standing there. You keep your gaze on the art as well and you don’t make eye contact.

We didn’t want to cross between this solitary figure and the grave of whomever he was there to visit. We hesitated. We waited. And then we walked slowly past to the far end of the wall, to the spot that is my father’s resting place.

I placed a stone on the ground. I said his name. We offered the el maleh prayer, singing softly but just loud enough for the other gentleman to hear as well. I noticed the fine weather that day. I was ready to leave. And so we walked toward the car, back down the ramp.

But we didn’t leave. We looked back at this sad figure sitting on the bench. He glanced toward us and then shifting his gaze, he looked to the wall again. We had to return.

William Blake wrote: Can I see another’s woe and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another’s grief, and not seek for kind relief?

Back up the ramp, I slowly approached him. “Sir, I was wondering if we could offer a prayer on your behalf? We are both rabbis.”

“Yes” he replied.

I kneeled down toward the ground. My friend sat on the ground.

“May I ask your name?”


“Marty, Who are you here to visit?”

“My wife”

“Which one is she?”

“Right there – Jill Stone”

I look to the engraved name on the wall and read the dates of birth and death. She had died about two years prior. Marty was sobbing. This man’s grief was unrelenting, unremitting.

“Can you tell us a bit about her?”

“She was wonderful. We were married for 38 years. She was a schoolteacher. We didn’t have children of our own but her students, she loved them like they were her children, they were her children. We were both teachers. She had just retired before she died.”

“Was she ill?”

“No. Or we didn’t know she was ill. She told me she wasn’t feeling well. We didn’t think much of it. And she died, she died in my arms.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Is there anyone else to whom you are close?”

“I have a younger brother. He calls me every weekend, to make sure that I am alive.”

“You’ve suffered a terrible loss. And you are here for Jill today.”

And then came the response that shook me.

“I’m here every day. I promised her I would come. I’ve been here everyday since she died except for Saturday when the cemetery is closed. I arrive at 7:30 when the gates open and I leave at 4:30 when the gates close.”

So many thoughts came to mind. Judgmental ones – don’t waste your life sitting here. Sympathetic ones – I’ve never before witnessed such grief. Curious ones – I wonder what it is like to love someone so much that I would visit their grave every day, six days a week, all day long.

Now I begin to notice that he is wearing a Ralph Lauren jacket and shirt but they are worn and dirty. His hair hasn’t been cut in a long time. He has neither a water bottle with him, or bag of food.

My rabbi friend and I take the rabbinic approach – “Do you feel that Jill is with you?”

“Oh yes, we talk to each other. Sometimes we argue.”

“Do you feel Jill’s presence when you are not here at the cemetery?”

“Yes, sometimes I do.”

“Jill is with you everywhere, not just here at the cemetery.”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Perhaps you could honor Jill by doing something in her memory. Perhaps volunteering, teaching.”

“Yes, I have thought to do that, and I have done a bit of that. Maybe I could do more.”

We offered a prayer of comfort and we sat a while longer.

Finally, with regrets for leaving, we departed. Our friend crossed his legs the opposite way, folded his hands over each other and bowed his head toward his lap.

When we experience the death of a family member or someone we loved, we may be plunged into grief. The experience may be unimaginable and inexpressible. And yet, grieving is a part of the human experience.

Grief should be the way that bereaved people heal. We anticipate that there is always the potential for healing. We believe that we must come to terms with the loss, fashion a new relationship with the person that has died, and learn to live in the world again. Pain dulls with time we are told or at least we form a protective layer around the pain so that we can function again. A new normal emerges. Sometimes, there is personal growth, as the lesson of mourning teaches us how to be more compassionate human beings.

The Jewish tradition offers brilliant wisdom about the process of grieving and remembering. A fast burial, seven days of shiva, a month of Kaddish, a year of mourning. The cycle continues throughout the life of the mourner in Yikor Services and Yahrzeit observances. And our tradition offers limits: The Jewish mourning cycle allows for a phased recovery from loss.

Judaism is a religion focused on the living, not the deceased. We caution the mourner against excessive grief. “Weep not in excess for the dead, neither bemoan her too much,” said Jeremiah (22:10).

Talmud teaches that when a wedding procession and a funeral cortege meet at an intersection the wedding goes before the funeral. A person shouldn’t grieve too much. Living is paramount.

In our Jewish tradition we take a task-oriented approach to grief. The community performs mitzvoth – comforting the mourner. The mourners engage in rituals and prayers to give regularity to their days.

Judaism also places protective fences around grief. We shield the mourner so that they may grieve, weep, rant and rest. But the fences are also designed to protect against excess grief, to keep sadness from drowning us, removing us for engaging in this world. The boundaries around mourning rituals become less and less restrictive over time so mourners can return to their responsibilities, caring for themselves, engaging with others, even repairing the world – all of these are life-affirming.

Jewish law discourages us from visiting cemeteries too often. Mourning more than is required is characterized as a transgression against life! (Isaac Klein).

We come to Yom Kippur anticipating the Yizkor service. For some it is a difficult time of year. Holidays are celebrations, sometimes diminished when those loved ones with whom we have celebrated have died. Even worse may be the memory of those who died around this time of year. And every other family celebration to come, the bar or bat mitzvah, the weddings, the life cycle events – they aren’t there, the people who helped make these times special – not there to celebrate with us. Perhaps no one even mentions his or her name any more. In our tradition there are two deaths – the first is when the body is laid to rest. The second is when no one mentions that persons name any more.

Marty would likely utter Jill’s name with his last breath.

Marty was sitting vigil on a cement bench grieving for his wife Jill Stone. His grief was as tangible as the granite wall in front of him. His grief was so heavy his body was collapsed under the weight.

The psychologist might say that Marty was depressed. The philosopher might say that Marty had given up on life. The theologian might say that Marty had entered the dark night of the soul and had not emerged.

Time had not healed his wounds. Marty would not allow time to heal. He himself was drowning in a river of tears.

In Sefer Moed Katan, a medieval volume, we are advised “when a man indulges in excess grief for his dead, he will soon find himself weeping for another dead.” I suspect that Marty was weeping not just for his beloved Jill but also for himself, for a person that withdraws from the world sitting in the cemetery six days a week is one who is himself acting as if dead.

My experience at the cemetery that day has prompted many questions in my mind. What is our role as members of a wider community? In response to illness and loss, have we met our obligations when we attend a funeral, bring a cake to a shiva house, or say amen to the mourner’s Kaddish? Not just as Jews, but also as fellow human beings, how do we best affirm life in relationship to loss?

Honoring the dead is an expression of community beyond the bonds of personal relationship. You may have heard about what seems to be a new trend, attending the funeral of veterans who have no surviving family.

Joseph Walker, an airman who served from 1964 to 1968, passed away November 19, 2018. No family members to attend his burial could be found. So the cemetery hoped the community might make sure Walker, who was 72 when he died was not buried alone. “If you have the opportunity, please come out and attend,” the cemetery said on its Facebook page. News outlets estimated 5,000 people attended.

This year, the friends of Wayne Wilson of Niles, Michigan put a call out for community members to attend his funeral. They were expecting an additional 10 to 15 people to show up. Instead, about 3,000 people turned out to pay their respects to the Vietnam War veteran, who did not have any surviving family members.

Last week a funeral home in Sarasota Florida invited the public to a veteran’s service because he had no family. Nearly 2,000 people showed up to mourn Edward Pearson.

I spoke with a Rabbi in Sarasota, who was amazed by the turn out and bemused too. Where were all these people when Pearson was ill or dying? Isn’t it more important to attend to the living than to the dead?

I understood that lesson. It was more important to sit and talk to Marty Stone than to stand silently at my father’s crypt and comment on the weather.

We have only so much time and energy. So I would suggest that the most important mitzvah is attending to the living; to bring comfort, relief, and support. And not just to members of your family or even your close circle of friends. We should extend our capacity to help as widely as we can.

I am not here to criticize anyone in this room. In fact, many of you are part of a most extraordinary community of caring. One mention of an illness or a tragedy, and the outpouring of love and support can be astonishing. I tell rabbinic colleagues around the country about this community and they are amazed. We are selfless, devoted, and generous.

So I just want to add one more act of kindness to your list. I suggest one more undertaking. Some of you already do this. Extend yourself to people you don’t even know.

Truth is I nearly left that cemetery without so much as looking at Marty Stone. I was there for my own grieving process. I was imposing on another person to be my driver. I had another cemetery to visit and then it was time to prepare for Shabbat. I was all in my own head with virtuous thoughts, meeting obligations, and checking them off the list. And later I realized that nothing this year might affect me as profoundly as stopping to comfort a stranger in a cemetery.

There were new lessons to learn and old lessons to learn again. The new lesson was to value the people in my life more than ever before – not waiting a minute too long to express my love and demonstrate my caring. I am still struck by how much love Marty felt for his Jill. Sitting on a bench before a granite wall would be too late for me to express love.

The old lesson I needed to learn again is that I must value every person – the strangers, the ones that I have never met could be teachers, or even angels. Perhaps that is why the Torah reminds us 36 times to take care of the stranger. We tend to forget to help those who we don’t yet know. People are not abstractions. They are emotions and intellect, bodies and minds, all deserving of caring and respect.

The Jewish way in death and mourning is to remind us that we must value life – not just our life, not just the lives of those with whom we have a relationship, but also all life. I myself may have trouble living up to this standard I am setting out before you this day. But I see the blessings of caring and compassion. I see the curse of being scorned or alone. And I will forever remember this visit to the cemetery, before these High Holidays.

As we pray this day to God Adonai, El Rachum v’chanun – the God of comfort and grace, may these prayers remind us to bring healing and caring to all those whom we know and those we are yet to meet.

– Evan J. Krame, Rabbi