How I Screwed Up Halloween

I have screwed up royally with Halloween in our home. 

As a rabbi I am very clear that Halloween is a pagan holiday that was adopted by the Christians. As Jews we are not supposed to celebrate non-Jewish holidays.  Yet I am embarrassed to say that all four of my children have loved to dress up, trick or treat and organize their candy at the end of the night.

I can give you all the rationalizations.  As a child Halloween was the one of the only holidays that my parents did not argue.  Our nanny sews their costumes by hand, (yes by hand!).  It is a “national” holiday, not a religious one. Who really wants to take candy away from their babies?


And all of them are true, but they are just excuses. Before I had children I imagined a Jewish home so filled with the spirit and practice of the Jewish holidays that they would not even think about all the other ones. And my husband and I built that Jewish home.  We celebrate Shabbat every week. We rent a 14 foot screen to watch movies all night in our sukkah. We light over 40 menorahs to publicize that miracle. We go all out on Purim. And my kids love every minute of it. Even so they still asked about all the other ones. And while none of the others were even on the table, Halloween slowly slipped into our lives.

As a parent I regret this.

Don’t get me wrong this error alone will not put them in therapy for the next 20 years; other mistakes along with this one will do that. But as they are getting older, they too are […]

God has a secret. Do you want in?


The other day driving my daughter home from school, I see a new anonymous face holding a sign on the street asking for money. After wondering for a moment about what happened to the previous man, I began to judge him.

Is he really deserving of my $1.00?

Then I stop myself. Who I do think I am? Peering through a car window for 15 seconds evaluating the story of his life without knowing one single detail about him. I am certainly not the decent kind Jew that I purported to be last week walking into synagogue greeting everyone in my comfort zone with a hearty “Shabbat Shalom!”

I cringe at the thought of God seeing me in this moment. The light will be changing soon and I don’t have time to grab my purse, reach into my wallet and give him a dollar.

What can I give him instead?

In that split second, I wave and smile.  In return the face in front of me lights up. The wrinkles crinkle and a mouthful of teeth appear. He responds with a wave and a smile back.

Suddenly instead of looking at him, I am seeing him and he in return is seeing me. We are two of God’s creations intersecting at the corner of Wilshire and San Vicente.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, the leader of religious Jewry following the destruction of the Second Temple, was known to always greet whomever he came across on the street regardless of their station in life. I have often wondered why? Clearly he was unbelievably busy. He did not need to garner votes for his next election; his position was appointed. Plus, he […]

Enough Talk of Willpower! I’m over it!


What do you really want one year from now? A relationship? Weight loss? More time with your family? A raise?

Don’t worry I am not about to lecture you on the value of willpower. My willpower lasts about 10 minutes when there is a plate of chocolate chip cookies in front of me.

Fortunately according to the latest science, if you want to reach a longer term goal such as being thinner, richer, and/or married… become more grateful, more compassionate and more appreciative.

In A Feeling of Control: How America Can Finally Learn to Deal with its Impulses by David Desteno, we learn that  scientists have found that cultivating “emotion based strategies” like gratitude, compassion and trustworthiness, are more effective at overriding our impulses than lecturing and berating ourselves.

This means if you want to lose weight, appreciate the meal in front of you rather than thinking about the meal that you are not having. This means if you want to be in a relationship, appreciate that you are on a date (not at home eating Ben and Jerry’s on your couch) even if he is not Mr. Right.

This does not mean that you suddenly are a Pollyanna and everything just makes you happy, happy, happy. Rather in Jewish parlance, you are using your yetzer hatov (your kind inclinations) to override your yetzer hara (your impulsive inclinations).

Our minds tell us that the stricter we are on ourselves, the more we will fall in line. But the opposite is true, the kinder we are to ourselves, the easier it is to fall in line.

This week we restart the Torah from the […]

If you could invite Jesus, George Clooney, or Obama to dinner, would any of them really measure up?


We all know that famous conversation starter:  Who would you invite to dinner dead or alive? And of course we all know how it is answered. The religious invite Jesus, the Dalai Lama and the Pope. The star struck invite George Clooney and the Jolie-Pitts. The philosophical invite Socrates and Plato; and the sentimental invite their deceased grandparents.

We all want ten minutes with one of them to impart their great wisdom in the hopes that they will answer the unanswerable questions. We want them to make sense of all the complexities of our lives.

But what if the person with all the answers is right in front of you and you just don’t know it yet?

This week, Jews around the world including my family will build a sukkah, a fragile hut in their backyards. Then for 8 days we will do everything in the sukkah besides poop. And of course if the ritual is not bizarre enough, we will shake a lulav (palmy branch type thingy) and an etrog (a cousin of a lemon) in six directions while reciting a blessing to acknowledge the Divine Presence, and then we will invite seven strangers to join us in the ritual for the week.

So who am I inviting to dinner this year?

Colonel Smith*, who I met through Operation Mend, the organization which helps wounded veterans and their families to get much needed medical treatment at UCLA. He served multiple tours in Iraq and came home to his wife and three daughters after two years so badly injured that he will never be able to return to work again.

Frank and Jolie*, a Parisian couple and their daughter, whom I met randomly in a French bakery. They left their thriving careers, […]

Yom Kippur: To Fast or Not to Fast?


All week leading up to Yom Kippur I hear people asking one another, “Are you fasting?” This one ritual of abstaining from food and water for 25 hours has become the central focus of the most sacred day of the Jewish calendar. Historically this was not the case, the purpose of Yom Kippur was “to afflict our souls”.  And one of the ways the rabbis understood how to do that was by abstaining from food and water. But the list did not end there.

The rabbis said on Yom Kippur that we were to abstain from cleaning and washing ourselves, (that’s right no brushing teeth or taking showers.) And we were to abstain from anointing ourselves (think no deodorant or perfume) and even from sexual relations (I think that one is self-explanatory).

In fact we were supposed to abstain from any behavior that was corrupting our soul.  Fasting from food may do it for you, but if the entire time you are obsessing about when you can eat the lox and bagels then maybe it is time to reassess what you should be fasting from.

This year on Yom Kippur Fast from Judgment.  Stop looking to see what others are wearing in synagogue. Stop assessing who looks thinner, happier and more together than you this year. That conversation in your head is just one big distraction preventing you from being the compassionate understanding person you really are.

This year on Yom Kippur Fast from Complaining.  In our society complaining has become the way to be heard. We all know the adage, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.” We believe that in order to be acknowledged or seen, we have to complain. But that complaining is corroding our souls. Have you ever complained to a […]