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Celebrating Hanukkah

December 2017


Note from Rabbi Weber: as I thought about our upcoming celebration of Hanukkah, I remembered something I wrote in 1990. Its message is still important, and I hope it adds meaning to your holiday… and your Jewish journey.


It is Friday evening, and the mother of tomorrow's Bat Mitzvah walks proudly to the bima to light the candles. She reads the words beautifully, with grace and dignity. She strikes the match and touches its flame to the end of each candle's wick. As she closes her eyes to recite the prayer, the congregation watches as the flames burn along the length of the two wicks. She opens her eyes just in time to see the flames reach the base of the wicks, sputter briefly, and disappear in a wisp of dark smoke. Having said the beracha, and facing her family, friends and two wickless, unlit candles, she wonders why she ever had children.

Since this is the Season of Lights, I thought it would be the right time to present a short lesson on candle lighting – to avoid such traumatic experiences either in temple or at home. It is really very simple to light the candles and keep them lit, but only if you know the secret.

The secret is this: When you light the candles, do not just touch the match to the end of the wick; all that does is light the little string, which will burn out when it reaches the wax. Instead, place the match next to the wick, near the top of the candle itself. Hold it there for a while, until the candle wax begins to melt and feed the flame. This way, you start the candle burning – which is the purpose of the whole endeavor. It takes a few moments longer, but it saves trying to dig more wick out of the candle with your fingernail!

I never thought much of this little secret until a friend, Rabbi Jeff Miller of Congregation Sons of Israel, taught me about the special connection between candles and Jews. He, too, noticed the tendency of people to shove the match toward the wick and then move on as soon as it begins to burn. He, too, realized that the only way to keep the candle burning was to bring the flame closer and hold it there for a while. And, he said, it is the same for Jews: if we want the fire of Judaism to burn brightly inside us, we need to get close to its source for more than one brief moment at a time.

What kind of "Jewish fire" would we want to have burning inside us? For some, it is pride – pride in our accomplishments, pride in Israel, pride in the heritage of the Maccabees. For others it is ruach, spirit – the warmth we feel when we share in ages-old songs, traditions, and prayers. And for others it is neshama, the glow of a Jewish soul, which affects the way we live and see the world. For most of us it is the fire we hope to pass on to our children and grandchildren, as Olympic runners transfer the flame from one to another, so it may travel farther and longer than any one person can carry it. However we imagine the fire, we can only make use of it when we get it burning properly.

To insure that our flame is lit properly, and will not just flare up for a moment before dying out, we must remember the secret of the candles: get close to the flame, and stay there for a while. Is it sufficient to brush by the flame once or twice a year, hoping that the “match” of a Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur service will be enough? Can we start a strong, roaring fire by simply carpooling our kids to religious school? Is it enough to light the Hanukkah candles and give presents, without telling the story – and all the stories the Maccabees fought to preserve? Think of the candles....

Each candle on the Hanukkah menorah is important and different. Each must be lit in its own special way; each burns at its own speed; each has its own style and beauty. So is each one of us different – and important. The same “fire” will not kindle the same glow within each of us, but each Jewish soul adds light and life to our people and our world. We need only make sure that our fires, like the Shabbat candles, have the chance to take hold and burn.

May the warmth and sweetness of this Hanukkah season inspire each of us to come a little closer, stay a little longer, and feel a little more deeply, the fire and passion which is our heritage. This, truly, is our Eternal Light.

                                                                                                            Happy Hanukkah!

                                                                                                            Rabbi Don Weber


November 2017

By Rabbi Donald Weber

I’ve always been puzzled by Halloween. For a society which is so terrified of anything having to do with death, it’s weird to see so many people planting fake gravestones and hanging human skeletons in their yards. But in the spirit of the holiday I want to share three ghost stories with you. And they are all true.                                                      

A friend of mine told me about a night, many years ago, when her parents were out late. She was allowed to invite a friend of hers to stay over to keep her company – they were both in high school. In the middle of the night my friend woke up suddenly, and felt drawn to her bedroom window. Outside this second-story window she saw her beloved grandmother – floating in the air, waving at her and smiling. She was freaked out enough to run into her friend’s room and wake her, but by the time the two of them returned to the window her “grandmother” was gone.

When her parents returned, the two now-wide-awake girls told them what had happened. And as they were telling the story, the phone rang. It was grandpa, sharing the news that grandma had just died peacefully in her sleep. While grandma was elderly, she was in basically good health; there was no reason to expect her to die then, or even soon. But what my friend remembered most was the smile on grandma’s face; a loving, peaceful smile which said she was sorry to go, but it was time to say goodbye.

The second story happened about 10 years ago. I was asked to officiate at the funeral for the beloved mother of a member of TRT. She was a wonderful wife, mother and grandmother and her death, while not tragic, was truly sad for her children. As we talked about her before the funeral, her children showed me a small portion of her collection of things related to butterflies – paintings, needlepoint, photographs.

The funeral was on a clear, cold January day. At the cemetery, as I recited the prayers, people began to murmur. I tried to ignore them and continue, but they grew louder and louder until I simply stopped and asked what was going on. “Look!” the son said, pointing to the gravestone which marked his father’s resting place beside the open grave. There, on the top of the stone, was a black butterfly, slowly opening and closing its wings. We all stared for a while – it was January, after all – and then I went back to the service. The butterfly stayed until the middle of Kaddish, at which time it flew away. No one present will ever forget that butterfly, and no one doubts that it was a message of love and peace from another place.

The last story is personal. In 1982 I was doing my best to heal from a very difficult relationship. I was dating an extraordinary woman (Shira Stern), and I really liked her. I actually loved her, but I had been badly burned and was not ready to admit my love to her or to myself.

One Shabbat morning we were sitting together on a log, beside a flowing stream. We shared one prayerbook and one tallit as we celebrated Shabbat. It was a storybook moment. When we came to the Silent Prayer, I felt something – someone – next to me: Shira was to my right, but on my left were… Louis and Dora, my grandparents who had died years earlier. Sitting right there, so real it takes my breath away to remember them now. Grandpa smiled at me and said, “Donny, you have found a good Yiddishe maydele. Marry her.” You don’t ignore advice like that, so I proposed that evening. No ring, no prepared speech, and I don’t know who was more surprised – Shira or me. I explained about my grandparents. She still said yes.

Yes, I believe in ghosts. But if you look at these three stories, they all have something in common. In each of them, the ghosts came back to share love. They didn’t come to scare people, or to exact revenge; they came to bring messages of peace, of comfort and of love. My friend from the first story never forgot how her grandmother came to say goodbye. The family that witnessed the butterfly left the cemetery with smiles as well as tears. And as for my grandfather’s advice… it was pretty good.

So while my neighbors delight in putting out plastic coffins with realistic-looking body parts climbing out of them, I choose to spend Halloween remembering the stories of ghosts whose love for others was so great that even death did not scare them away.

Happy Halloween!

                                                                                                Rabbi Don Weber

© 2017, Temple Rodeph Torah


August 2017

By Rabbi Weber


Once in a while something special – something holy – happens when you’re least expecting it. When we began “Sacred Texting,” an alternative experience for Yom Kippur afternoon, we never imagined how powerful it would become.

Each year, with a guarantee of anonymity, we ask those present to share honest self-evaluation: Heshbon Nefesh in the words of our tradition. The results have humbled me, both because we succeed in creating a place where people feel safe to share their hopes and even their weaknesses, and because it helped me realize that we, together, are imperfect human beings striving to do better.

As we begin anew this season of Heshbon Nefesh, I invite you to read some of the answers to last year’s questions. Then I encourage you to be as honest with yourself about your answers as these people were with theirs.


QUESTION: If you could place ONE sin/transgression/weakness/shortcoming on the “scape-goat” to be carried away forever, what would it be?




Being a bad listener

Lack of patience at times


Something I did in 1992-1993



Abuse of children

Engaging less than 100%


Doing things that hurt my friends without considering the consequences


Immobilizing insecurity



QUESTION: What keeps us from letting go of the sin/transgression/weakness/shortcoming (the one you want to give to the scape-goat)? Why does it keep coming back?

It’s satisfying in the short term

“Human nature”?

Don't appreciate what I / we have

Because I am afraid I can do it again and I don't want to

Unwillingness to let go

Trying to have it all

It's part of my identity

Not prioritizing myself

My own selfishness and lack of self-control or self-respect

Inability to focus and having too much on my plate

It's easier to keep the negative then to strive to work and work and work to keep the positives

I still don't have the strength to push it away

Taking on too many responsibilities at once

Desire for control

It is hard to break old habits

Afraid to / of the change


QUESTION: How could God help you to let go of the sin/transgression/weakness/shortcoming you are thinking about? (Please answer whether or not you believe God exists.)

Give me something to love, to have a passion for

Remind me in some way every day...

Give me strength to believe I can do it

I do not think God has the ability to provide me with more patience. I believe it can only come from within me

Gaining clarity and conviction on my true priorities

To help me find myself through Judaism and give me something to care about other than myself

Believing that I was given potential by something bigger than just me

Make me keep on trying and not to give up

By giving some sign that he/she is listening

Give me the strength to accept the things I cannot change…

By helping me see the positive aspects of my life instead of me constantly focusing on my shortcomings

By teaching me not to care so much about possessions, especially what others might classify as "junk"

Give me peace of mind

Perhaps by giving me a focus on something other than my fear of change

Make me more patient

This August and September we will introduce the newest prayerbook created by the Reform Movement: Mishkan HaLev, Prayers for Selichot and Elul. It follows the style of our new High Holiday prayerbook, combining traditional prayers with modern ones. But no prayerbook, traditional or modern, can possibly reflect the needs and desires of the heart of every person using it. Our ancestors recognized this, and created space in every service for silent, personal prayer. We take this idea even further by offering opportunities for you to weave your thoughts into the printed word.

Heshbon Nefesh, taking an account of our lives, is personal, painful and productive. Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” but we Jews knew that long before Socrates was born. I invite you to join us from the first Shabbat in Elul (August 25) through the end of Simchat Torah as our sacred community asks the difficult questions together and attempts to answer them – every man, woman and child – individually.

I wish you a sweet, healthy and peaceful New Year. A better year.



                                                                                                Rabbi Don Weber


6 Days That Changed Your Life

May 2017

by Rabbi Don Weber



If you are Jewish or are related to someone Jewish, your life changed 50 years ago this month. Even if you hadn’t been born yet, the events of June 1967 impacted your life. That was when the whole world started to look at Jews in a different light. Some people were inspired by the change; others were (and still are) angered by it. But for the first time in over two thousand years, the word “powerful” started to be used to describe Jews.

Israel became a nation in 1948, but the war of independence was won by the narrowest of margins. It was miraculous that it won at all – 800,000 Jews fought against 25 million Arabs and survived. But the 1948 war and the two decades which followed were a story of marginal survival, of eking out a living, of dreading the next attack.

In May 1967, Egypt ejected the UN troops charged with keeping the peace between Egypt and Israel. On May 25th, Egyptian President Nasser said, “The problem now before the Arab countries is not whether the port of Elat should be blockaded – but how to totally exterminate the State of Israel for all time.” Palestinian leader Ahmed Shukeiry, asked about the fate of the Jews in Israel after the war, replied, “I estimate none of them will survive.”

Israelis started stockpiling coffins (yes, you read that right) and designated parks around the country which would become cemeteries when the Arabs attacked.

But that is not what happened. On June 5, 1967, Israeli warplanes destroyed the Egyptian air force; the total attack lasted less than three hours. In the following days Israel rewrote the geography – and the history – of the Middle East. It was a time of immense celebration for Jews in Israel and around the world. The Temple Mount and the Western Wall were now in Jewish hands for the first time since the year 70. Israel tripled in size, but most important, its enemies were no longer within a stone’s throw of Israeli cities. (Before 1967, Israel was 12 miles wide at its narrowest point – less than the distance from TRT to Long Branch.)

The victory also brought domination of a million Palestinians; people who had been displaced by the War of Independence, and who were cynically used by their Arab “brethren” as pawns against Israel. The years that followed provided plenty of opportunities for both sides to behave badly, and both sides did, indeed, behave badly. But, as I said in a Yom Kippur sermon a few years ago, it would be naïve to believe that the occupied land is the cause of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, because the conflict existed long before Israel took control of those territories.

The real problem – for Israel’s Arab neighbors and, to be honest, for much of the world – is this: Jews are supposed to be weak, and Israel didn’t get the memo. For the last 2,000 years Jews have been the world’s scapegoats, refugees, the “driven leaf” blown around by the winds of powerful nations and powerful people. Jews, even up to my parent’s generation, were taught not to make waves; keep your head down and wait for the storm to subside, no matter what damage it causes along the way. But in 1967 Israel said, “No thank you. We are going to write our own history and control our own destiny.” And Jews around the world started to think differently – not only about Israel, but about ourselves.

Prior to 1967, almost no Jew wore a Jewish star around their neck. Some of us wore a mezuzzah, but we always tucked it inside our shirt. Even the mezuzzot we put on our doors were usually placed way up high, out of the normal line of sight; often we actually painted them the same color as the doorframe so they wouldn’t stick out. But June 1967 changed everything.

Jewish stars and mezuzzot worn proudly in public. Home mezuzzot made by famous artists, placed directly at eye level. T-shirts with the college name spelled out in Hebrew. Jewish lobbies in Washington. Jewish summer camps. Israel Day parades. And teaching our children that if someone calls you a “kike,” you march into the principal’s office and file a discrimination complaint against them. All the products of 1967!

At times we have abused our new-found power. That is one of the dangers of power, for everyone. But even when we use our power wisely, it still annoys some people because… well, because Jews aren’t supposed to act that way. Jews are supposed to be weak, submissive, whimpering… you know, “Good Jews.” Much of the world was not prepared to have us go from “Oh, please don’t hurt us” to “Don’t mess with us, because you won’t like the results” in such a short time. But we have, and since I’ve lived most of my life in the years since 1967, my response is simple: Get used to it, because we’re not going back.

I assume there will be demonstrations and protests as the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War approaches. Yes, we need to listen to the cries of those who have been trampled under foot by Israeli power; we Jews are called upon to be a Holy People, and we dare not let our power go to our heads. But at the same time we should feel free to ignore those whose issue with us is not what we do, but that we dare to step powerfully onto the world stage instead of hiding and hoping no one will notice us.

The People of Israel and the Nation of Israel live, proudly and powerfully, whether anyone else likes it or not. Am Yisrael Chai!

                                                                                                Rabbi Don Weber

P.S. If you want to see for yourself what a proud, powerful Jewish country looks like, Shira and I invite you to join us this December as we partner with the Jewish Federation on a 10-day trip to Israel. Information is in this newsletter, or speak with either of us.

© 2017, Temple Rodeph Torah

Spiritual Work

September 2016

by Rabbi Weber


“Spiritual work” is a strange phrase. What kind of “work” is it that doesn’t result in a finished product, or even a paycheck? Work which no one can see you doing? Work which doesn’t even have a concrete goal?

“Spiritual work” is the purpose of the High Holidays, of which communal prayer is only one, small part. And because the results are so amorphous, so intangible, it is also the most easily overlooked part of the holiday experience. We can hear and say prayers; we can sing songs; we can see the Torah, the Ark, the shofar, even the bread we cast away during Tashlich. But if the holidays have ever seemed meaningless to you, it may be because you did not engage in the spiritual work which they call us to do.

From Selichot through Simchat Torah, our tradition challenges us to do the difficult, elusive work of the spirit… the soul. Each prayer, each song, each ritual is designed to present another possibility to us: another possibility of how we could see the world, the people around us, our Jewish tradition and, most important, ourselves.

You don’t have to be a rabbi to do this. (Sometimes I think it’s hardest for rabbis – and cantors – because we have to concentrate so hard on all the choreography of the rituals.) All it takes is the willingness to try something new, to learn something new.

How would you begin, if you chose to give a shot at your own spiritual work? Below are two readings which we will encounter in our services this year. Each speaks in its own language; the first modern, the second hundreds of years old. Yet both speak to us about imperfection – the imperfection of others, and the imperfections (plural) we find in ourselves. Because it is in our imperfections that we find our humanity – and our spiritual work.

The first challenges us not simply to tolerate imperfections, but to accept them as an absolutely essential part of life.


What an extraordinary gift it is – what a blessing, what a miracle

to have been raised by imperfect parents who did their very best:

to share our life with a partner no more flawed than we are;

to count as a friend one who understands and accepts us most of the time.

How brave, how hard it is to be “good enough” in our ties to one another:

to give, even when we’re exhausted; to love faithfully;

to receive with grace the love imperfectly offered to us.


Can this night set us free from the tyranny of expectations?

Can this night release us from fantasies impossible to fulfill?


We resolve this night to embrace the practice of forgiveness:

to forgive others who fail to be all we hoped they would be;

to forgive ourselves when we fall short of what others hoped we would be.

We declare this night that we will cherish goodness wherever it is found,

and open ourselves to the gifts that are before us.

The second, from long ago, presents even more of a challenge. It calls us to listen carefully to what we say about others – not simply because we should be kind to them, but because our words tell us more about ourselves than we are usually willing to acknowledge.


A Teaching of the Baal Shem Tov:

Your fellow human being is a mirror for you.

If there is love and compassion in your soul,

you will see the goodness in others.

If you see a blemish in another,

it is your own imperfection you encounter.

Take careful note of the flaws you see in others.

This is a lesson for you:

they are your own flaws set before you,

a reminder of your spiritual work.


As we prepare to begin a New Year, I hope each of us will accept Judaism’s challenge to ask ourselves this question: “What is my ‘spiritual work’ this year?”


I wish you a sweet, healthy and good New Year. Let’s get to work!


                                                                                                Rabbi Don Weber

(Readings above from Mishkan HaNefesh © 2015, Central Conference of American Rabbis)

© 2016, Temple Rodeph Torah

Time Well Spent

August 2016

Rabbi Weber


In June’s Newsletter, I suggested we all use this summer to “get lost” – to find our way to parts of New Jersey that aren’t on the way to anywhere, and to enjoy the adventure. This month I want to suggest that we reconnect to parts of our past that we may have lost.

As you’ve probably heard by now, the holidays are late this year. Really, really late. We won’t celebrate Rosh Hashanah until the beginning of October, and Hanukkah will begin on December 24th (yes, Christmas Eve!). As a result, we have the entire month of September to prepare for the New Year, which is a little easier than trying to wrap our heads around it when the preparation month finds us at the beach in August.

What will we do this year, to take advantage of the extra time we have to get ourselves ready to celebrate the start of a new Jewish year? My suggestion is, visit a cemetery. But not just any cemetery; we should visit the cemetery – or cemeteries – where our family members rest.

For most of us, myself included, we don’t come from here. We are transplants from New York, or from Northern Jersey, or from farther away. While moving to New Jersey was one of the best things I ever did, it means that my family’s cemetery plots are way, way out on Long Island. It’s 83 miles from my house to the place where my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles are buried, and those miles are on the Staten Island Expressway and the Belt Parkway, celebrated in art and literature as two of the Gates of Hell. Getting there and back, plus leaving time to visit and care for each of the graves, is a full day trip – one which I seldom have the opportunity to make. But this September I am going to make that trip, and do it when I have nothing else planned; the cemetery will be my destination, not a stop on the way to something else.

What will I do when I am there? Of course, I’ll say kaddish; that’s what we Jews do when we visit the graves of loved ones. But I’m going to bring a folding chair, plus a chair for any family members who are able to join me, and I’m going to sit down and think about each person buried there. Not all of them together as a group, but each one, one at a time. I’m going to remember what we did together, what they did for me and what I did for them, and I’m going to try to focus on the things that make me smile, or laugh, or feel close to them. And I’m going to bring a few small gardening tools to trim the bushes that grow on their graves and the grass that grows beside each one. I know we pay people to do that for us, but since I’m there I am going to do it myself. After all, they took care of me for many years; it seems a very important thing for me to repay a little bit of that while I’m there.

Of course, I don’t need to go to the cemetery to remember my loved ones. They are with me all the time, and my memories can be recalled any time I want to hold them close. But going to the cemetery feels like finding my way back to them: back to my childhood, back to the people who worked so hard and gave so much to create the man who will stand before them when I go. They are part of me now, so it seems right for me to take the opportunity, when it’s not summer traffic or winter cold, to go there and reconnect with them.

Traditionally, Jews wear white on Yom Kippur. Not just white, but the kind of white in which we wrap the bodies of our loved ones when they die. The message is clear, and not at all subtle: Use your time well, because one day you, too, will be wrapped in a shroud. In our antiseptic, institutional world where most people die in hospitals or nursing homes, death may seem very distant, but Yom Kippur reminds us that time is short and each of us has an end. But rather than depressing us, this knowledge serves to inspire us – to do what we want to do, to say what we want to say and to repair what we want to repair now, not later. Because now is a gift, which is why it’s called the “present.”

This fall, we have an additional gift of time. A few extra days before the holidays to reflect on who we want to be in the New Year. I encourage you to use some of that time to visit your loved ones in their final resting place, because they still have more to share with us and to teach us. I truly believe it will be worth the trip.


                                                                                                Rabbi Don Weber

Get Lost

June 2016

From Rabbi Weber

Get lost.

I mean it. This summer, get lost.

Remember driving somewhere before the invention of GPS navigation? Before MapQuest? People would give directions over the phone, we’d dutifully copy them down (usually omitting just one key item), and we’d set off on our journey.

Somewhere around Cape May, we’d pull over at a pay phone (!) and call to find out where we went wrong. When they asked whether we made the left turn at Joe’s Diner, they suddenly remember that Joe’s Diner was torn down two years ago.

It wasn’t the most efficient way to travel, but it did have one redeeming quality: as we wandered the highways of whatever wrong turn we had made, we discovered amazing things. We discovered incredible, never-mentioned little restaurants. We discovered forests, lakes, parks, even whole towns which we never knew existed.

Think back: do you have memories like these?

Would you like to have more of them?

If you would, here’s my recipe for serendipity: On a nice, summer day, fill your gas tank and set out on one of the routes below. When you reach the turn-off point, turn off your cell phone’s navigation. Yes, I said it – turn the thing off. You can leave it on for phone calls, but don’t use it for anything related to telling you where you are. Then just drive.

Don’t drive fast; you’re not in a hurry to get anywhere. Make turns, follow small roads, and most of all, follow hand-made signs for “homemade jams” and such. Take time to get out of your car when the feeling strikes you; walk around a small town, say hello to the people you see on the street, take in the sights and eat somewhere that is not a national chain. It’s possible the food will be simply awful, but there’s also the chance that you will stumble across a “find” that you’ll be talking about for a year. (And think how much fun it will be to bring it up at a party: “Yes, we were driving through the Pine Barrens and we found this tiny restaurant…”)

The advantage of GPS is that whenever you’re done wandering, you can just fire it up and say, “Take me home.” So we have the possibility of getting-lost-but-not-really-being-lost, which is the best kind of being lost!

Here are my recommended starting points for getting lost in New Jersey. If you discover others, please let me know. I love finding new places to get lost in.

  1. Southern Jersey / The Pine Barrens

Take the Garden State Parkway south. Any time between Exit 80 and Exit 60, get off and head West. The Pine Barrens are the largest National Forest east of the Mississippi River – over a million acres of trees with small communities that have been there, undisturbed, for centuries.

  1. Western Jersey / Farms, Towns and Water

Take Route 287 to Route 78 West. As soon as you get on 78, pick your exit and head either North or South. Once you get a few miles away from 78, life takes on a different feel. There are charming little towns like Alexandria, Bethlehem, Lebanon – the whole ancient Middle East without leaving New Jersey!

  1. Northwest Jersey / The “Mountains”

I once gave a sermon about how a trip to the Rockies altered my understanding of the word “mountain,” but for the East Coast we have some really pretty “hills” here in the Garden State. To find them, take the GSP North to Route 280 West, then follow that until it merges with Route 80. From there you can pretty much take any turnoff that leads North, but one of the best is Route 15. Once you find yourself getting into the hills, turn off anywhere and explore.

And what do you do when you encounter unexpected beauty, or unexpected kindness from those you meet? The Jewish answer is, of course, to say a blessing. When we see the beauty of nature we say, “Baruch Ata, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha-olam, sheh-kacha lo be-olamo” – “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, whose world is filled with beauty.” And when we experience the beauty of human beings we say, ““Baruch Ata, Adonai Eloheinu, Melech ha-olam, sheh-asa li nes bamakom hazeh” – “Blessed are You, Adonai our God, for the wonder I have experienced here.” With either blessing, or with words of blessing you create yourself at that moment, you re-enact what our ancestors did on each of their wanderings: create a new, never-before-discovered, holy place.

To be clear: I’m not giving up Waze. My Type A personality likes knowing where I’m going, how I’m getting there and when I will arrive. But I have a beautiful greeting card hanging on the wall in front of me in my home office which says, “Life is not a destination, but a journey.” It’s a good thing to remember.

As I begin my 33rd year at TRT, I thank each of you for sharing this journey with me, and for inviting me to share your journeys with you. We have traveled in directions we never expected, but over and over again our journeys have led us to holy places. In that spirit, and wishing you each a wonderful summer, I repeat:

Get lost!


                                                                                                Rabbi Don Weber

© 2016, Temple Rodeph Torah

You Can Do This

April 2016


You. Can. Do. This.

When we hear that there are 613 mitzvot in the Torah, there is a temptation to give up and say, “Well, I’ll just try to be a good person. That’s all Judaism really wants.” But it’s not.

Yes, we need more good people in the world. We desperately need more good people! But we also need good Jews, and being a good Jew is about much more than being kind to others. It’s about being commanded – hearing God’s call to be different, to be special, to be… holy. That can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be.

Pesach presents us – all of us, not just “religious” people – with the opportunity to fulfill one of the major mitzvot of Jewish life: to celebrate the Exodus from Egypt, to celebrate the gift of freedom, by eating matzah rather than bread for seven days. And as it says above, you can do this.

Let’s be honest: we will not die from skipping bread and cake for a week. It won’t affect our health, and it’s not even that difficult to do. Yes, it’s inconvenient – especially this year when the kids will have school, most of us will have work, and when no one other than Jews is focused on the holiday. It may take packing a lunch from home, or sticking with salad (no croutons) and fruit for a few days, but it won’t kill us. What it will do is reconnect us with our People – with the whole, worldwide Jewish People – in one of the oldest celebrations on earth. That’s good for the Jews, and it’s good for us, too.

Something happens to us when we do something just because we’re Jewish. There is a satisfaction that we accomplished something which is uniquely our challenge, and we rose to meet it. More important, doing this starts to break down the wall which we created, between us and “religious” people. Because as long as we think that only “they” do Jewish things, we surrender our full membership in the Jewish People and in Jewish life; we surrender our heritage. All because we are unsure that we can commit to doing what Jews are commanded to do.

It’s just not true. If you think there are Jews who follow all 613 mitzvot, you’re wrong; no one does. And if you think that only people who dress in black hats and coats can be “religious,” you’re wrong about that, too. Years ago, I first heard the idea that Jews are not the chosen people; we are the choosing people: When we choose to do Jewishly, we affirm our place in a long line of people who, themselves, chose to do Jewishly.

We can start choosing anywhere, but Pesach offers a ready-made, easy-to-follow path to making a Jewish choice. Even if you don’t sterilize your home or bring out a completely new set of dishes, it is possible – this year – to observe the central mitzvah of Pesach: “Shivat yamim matzot tochelu” – You shall eat matzah (and not bread) for seven days.” (Note to my Orthodox friends: you’re welcome to observe the eighth day of this, but if seven days are good enough for the Torah, they’re good enough for me.)

Yes, it’s inconvenient. And that’s the real challenge for us – for all Jews, now and forever: understanding that mitzvot are, by definition, inconvenient. Arranging a brit milah for a newborn is inconvenient. Shlepping children to religious school week after week and year after year is inconvenient. Taking time off from work for a Jewish holiday is inconvenient. Finding the Hillel on a college campus is inconvenient. Keeping kosher, keeping Shabbat, working in a soup kitchen… the list of inconvenient Jewish activities is really, really long. But what would Judaism be without them?

What would Judaism be without you? Yes, it will survive even if you don’t do anything Jewish at all. But it won’t be as strong, or as good, or as likely to be part of the lives of those you love if it’s not part of your life, whether it’s convenient or not. 

Our family’s seder changes every year. We have different people at the table, different discussions, different readings that enhance the words of the haggadah. But two things are constant for us: we have lots of people, and we don’t have bread. Not on the first night, or the second. Or the third, fourth, fifth, sixth or seventh. And on the eighth night, you’ll find us at the pizza parlor because pizza is the doughiest food we can think of!

The pizza always tastes especially good at the end of Pesach, both because it’s good to eat hametz again and because we know that we, together with Jews around the world, have been given a special legacy to preserve and pass on. There is a deep, fulfilling satisfaction in fulfilling a mitzvah completely, from beginning to end.

You. Can. Do. This!

Shira and I wish you and your loved ones a Pesach filled with joy, health, family, friends, good food and everything else your heart desires… except hametz!

                                                                                               Rabbi Don Weber

© 2016, Temple Rodeph Torah

Happy Purim!!???

February 2016


This is my Purim article. I’m stating this at the outset because it is about the Veterans’ Administration, and it would be funny – hilarious, actually – if it weren’t true. But as a writer once said, “Truth is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense.”


The following story makes no sense, but it is true. It is about trying to obtain VA Survivor Benefits for my mom, who qualified due to the many years of my father’s service in the Army.


Best Hanukkah Gift - EVER

December 2015

From The Desk of Rabbi Weber


“Shopping” is not one of the skills listed on my resume. But I would like to give you a Hanukkah gift idea which will not only be one of the best presents you ever give to someone you love, but will be one which is remembered long, long after every other gift is forgotten.

Our Mothers' Names

October 2015

From the Desk of Rabbi Weber

No, the grave marker pictured is not in honor of Halloween. But it is about honor. ...




Rabbi, Do You Support the Iran Agreement?

September 2015

From the Desk of Rabbi Weber

Over recent weeks, the Iran agreement has been the number one topic of conversation in Jewish circles. Many people have asked me if I am going to speak about it on the High Holidays, and I told them no, I am not. Here is why.

Is the Battle for Gay Marriage Over? Maybe Not…

July 2015

From The Desk of Rabbi Weber

Like many of you, I celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling that same-gender couples are entitled to the benefits of marriage. As a straight man in a heterosexual marriage I don’t feel my relationship has been put at risk by others marrying the person they love, and I’m happy to bid a not-so-fond farewell to DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act which supposedly “protected” my marriage up to this point.

Mishkan HaNefesh, “The Sanctuary of the Soul"

July 2015

From the Desk of Rabbi Weber

“You changed the prayerbook… again?”

Well, no. And yes. Mishkan Tefilah, our weekday and Shabbat prayerbook, is not changing. But we are replacing On Wings of Awe, our High Holiday prayerbook for the past quarter-century, with Mishkan HaNefesh, “the Sanctuary of the Soul.” The new books have arrived and we are busy affixing bookplates to honor the many people who contributed to bringing this important change to our congregation.

Yerusha – the Inheritance

June 2015

From the Desk of Rabbi Weber

I want to tell you about the yerusha – the inheritance - I received from my parents. It is precious beyond words, valuable beyond measure… and it didn’t cost a penny. My hope is that I will describe it well enough for you to create the same yerusha for your family, and do it now.

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