Friday, September 12, 2014

In Silent Company

In the company of my own silence, I choose only soothing sounds.

I keep these sounds free of falsehoods and gossip.

In the company of my own silence, I listen to my intrepid self.

I row towards the water of my natural river and reflect.

In the company of my own silence, clarity comes complete.

Friday, July 25, 2014

My Actions and My Belongings

My actions are my only true belongings. -Thich Nhat Hanh

What does it mean to have belongings?

Material belongings.

These are the belongings that we house inside our numerous residences -- that we keep in our purses and briefcases -- that we carry around in suitcases on vacations and on business trips.

With each passing day our belongings increase.

And then one day, as if on spiritual cue, our belongings become cumbersome details in a life that matters.

We begin the process of divestiture. We prepare for the day when we will no longer need anything we have been storing for all these many decades.

So what if our only true belongings were our actions?

How would we live differently?

What would we want to accumulate?

How would we feel about our acquisitions?

Where would we place our energies?

My actions belong to me and define my true wealth.

Friday, July 18, 2014

My Friend and Suitcase in Berlin

Ich hab noch einen Koffer in Berlin,
deswegen muss ich nächstens wieder hin;
die Seligkeiten vergangener Zeiten,
sind alle noch in meinem kleinen Koffer drin . . .

I still have a suitcase in Berlin,
so I must go there again soon;
happy memories of times gone by
are all still there in my little suitcase . . .

(Hear Marlene Dietrich sing it here.)


I went to Berlin to see a friend that I had met two summers before at an Ulpan class in Jerusalem.

He, a German Benedictine monk, and I, an American rabbi from Washington, D.C.

We studied and spoke Hebrew together.

When the time came to say goodbye, he sweetly asked, "Why don’t you come to Berlin?"

I laughed and smiled and thought to myself, "A German monk is asking me to come to Berlin? This invitation intrigues me."

Two years later at the Berlin Hauptbahnhof central train station, we found each other on the platform among the throng of people swishing past us.

Through his eyes, I saw Berlin.

I traveled through time and history with my guide and friend. Nazism, Communism, the fall of the Berlin Wall, democracy, the Brandenberg gate, apologies, memorials, rebirth, revival, restorations of buildings and churches and synagogues, remembrances and noveau everything.

I left my suitcase and my friend in Berlin.

Friday, July 11, 2014

The Hidden Synagogue of Theresienstadt

Our knowledgeable guide Martina -- film maker, tour guide and Czech historian -- informed us that from 1940 to 1945 there were eight synagogues inTheresienstadt (also known as Terezin).

Today, one hidden synagogue remained for us to bear witness.

When I think "synagogue," I think Holy Ark, Sefer Torah, Eternal Light, pulpit, pews, and a menorah.

When the sign outside the "synagogue" read "Eight people only can enter at one time," my reality shifted to adjust to this Nazi model concentration camp.

This "synagogue" was a former horse stable under the house upstairs. The grooves that separated the horses from each other were evident when you walked in.

This stable/synagogue with a wigwam-like ceiling was hand-painted by the Rabbi of this ill-fated community. Hebrew verses from the Psalms decorated this unusual place of worship in blues and reds and yellows. The Rabbi’s calligraphic hand graced the short curved walls.

Instead of a menorah, two Shabbat candlesticks were painted onto the walls and the color blue was still visible.

Yes, we could stand and, if necessary, we could pray.

But what did the Jews of Thereisenstadt pray for?

Could they foresee that towards the end of the war they would be transported to Auschwitz and perish there?


And, if they did not know their future fate, were their prayers also hidden under houses where stables used to be?

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Passing of my Rebbe, Zalman Schacter-Shalomi

.נצחו אראלים את המצוקים ונשבה ארון הקדש


The angels have overpowered the mortals and the Holy Ark has been captured. - Ketubot 104a

Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi z"l passed into another realm the morning of July 3 in Boulder, Colorado.

Who was Reb Zalman?

To me, he was my "Rebbe."

What is a "Rebbe"?

A "rebbe" is a guide to your true self. It is written that you can understand what is a rebbe and who is a rebbe only after you recognize your own true value and journey.

Reb Zalman brought me to my truest self and connected me to the greater light within me, within the world.

He was my teacher, my guide, my spiritual mentor, the unconditional father of all.

I will miss him. He will be missed. His spirit remains glued to our memories.

Reb Zalman, rest in holy peace.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Stumbling Blocks in Prague

While balancing on the cobblestones along Dhoula street in Prague, I looked down to check my step. Four four-inch brass squares glittered among the grey and white ones.

"Here lived Robert Katz, born 1901 -- deported 1942 to Terezin -- murdered at Auschwitz April 1944."

Nothing more. Nothing less. A life expressed. A tale of woe. History beneath my feet.

In German, they are called Stolpersteine or "stumbling blocks," and more than 27,000 have been laid in some 500 locations by volunteers in the 10 years since a non-Jewish artist (Gunter Demnig) first came up with a way for ordinary Germans to honor the memory of the Jews who once lived in their midst.

There are 500 Stolpersteine in the Czech Republic -- and 300 are in Prague. I took a picture of four brass squares in memory of four victims of the Nazi regime. They were lovingly lined up in a row like flowers in a garden.

I looked up to see where they might have lived and laughed. Today, the residence held fancy shops and businesses. Other people live here now, enjoying the democratic republic of the Czech people.

Monuments need not be massive. In Europe, a small cobblestone creates history every time you put down your foot.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Ringing in the Sounds of Oxford

I awoke to the bells.

Five bells ringing one right after the other.

I am in Oxford, England, where every hour on the hour the bells are ringing from this 38-college-bound town.

I heard bells 1, 2, 3 and 5.

My jet-lagged body slept through the ringing of bell 4.

What did I miss?

Will I stay awake tomorrow to identify each consecutive sound as they gently sift through the new space of my timed reality?