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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Yom Kippur 2016 Sermon by Rabbi Jamie Korngold

Enjoy this video of Rabbi Jamie Korngold's sermon from Kol Nidre - Yom Kippur 2016:



Transcript of the video:
Kol Nidre Sermon 2016
Rabbi Jamie Korngold



My daughter Ori listens to Harry Potter on an incessant loop. I read the entire series to her and when we turned the last page, she said, “Again! Let’s read it again!”

I downloaded all the books on Audible for her.

Now Ori can visit the world of Harry Potter whenever she likes.

When we are in the car, Ori disapparates out of the way-back and apparates into Hogsmead to drink Butterbeer with her pals Hermione, Ron and Harry.

Sometimes late at night I hear her listening. She has trouble sleeping and so she turns on her ipod and jumps into the Floo Network and travels to Hogwarts where she practices her

 Patronus Charm in the Room of Requirement with her friends until she is tired and comes back home to sleep.

Ori doesn’t visit all the books. I’ve noticed she turns away from the later, darker books. She knows what has been written cannot be unwritten, but that does not mean she needs to hang out in that section of the book. So she doesn’t.

My mother also lives in the world of imagination. I wish I could listen in on her sound track as easily I can Ori’s.

But I cannot. My mother has Alzheimer’s and although physically she lives a mile from my house, I’m not sure where she dwells. If she too is caught up in an unending loop, I hope it is one of our many trips to Jones Beach.


My sister and I jumping over waves, squealing as the saltwater catches us, splashing each other with delight. Mom is reading a book, relaxing in the sun, the smell of coconut sun-oil, the taste of sand-crusted peanut butter sandwiches and the cold fizz of Tab.


Some Alzheimer’s patients are belligerent, angry, scared. Others are happy seemingly content. I am fortunate that my mother is happy. I don’t imagine this is a choice. More likely it’s just what loop your brain is stuck in.

Sadie, my older daughter and I, take Bubbe out for dinner every Thursday night. We went to Smash Burger last week and my mother pronounced her spinach-goat–cheese-cucumber topped burger the best burger she had eaten in her entire life.

My mother doesn’t know what she had for breakfast this morning let alone recall the long line of burgers she has eaten. This is the upside of Alzheimer’s and she goes with it. To her, everything is the best ever.

I’ve taken to asking my mother questions like, “Mom, tell me something.”
“What kind of thing?”  She asks.

“Anything I say. I just want to hear your voice.”

 “Aren’t the leaves beautiful?” she says pointing out the window. And Sadie and I launch into a long conversation about Colorado leaves and New England leaves and how I really must take her East some day to see them. Mom drops out of the conversation – conversations are hard for her to follow --  but she listens.

Last week I asked my mother, “Mom, what words of wisdom do you have for us?” And she said, ”Wisdom?” and I said,  “Yes. What do we need to know?”

And she said, “Just enjoy each other. That’s all. Just enjoy each other.”

There was time when I would have thought her answer trite and gone off in search of a more esoteric teaching. But now I know, my mother is right. That is the most important thing, each other.

When Alzheimer’s comes for you it demands that you downsize. It starts small – a forgotten sweater, misplaced keys,

but eventually you forget a meeting, a vital phone call goes unmade, and soon Alzheimer’s takes your job, then your drivers license, your house with the table at which you fed your children, your favorite books with the notes scrawled in the margins (too complicated now), then your activities go one by one as you forget the rules, and then names of people drop out until only a very small circle of recognition remains. My mother has downsized to this truth: the most important thing is each other.  Soon that too will be gone.

Ori disappears into the world of Harry Potter. But she always comes back. My mother on the other hand, is slowly, truly disappearing.

It occurred to me the other day, that what my mother is teaching me with her illness is also the central lesson of Yom Kippur.

We cannot always control what life hands us; all we can control is what we do with it. 

The raw, painful truth.

Yom Kippur – is the holy day of raw, painful truth.

We are asked to come to this day unmasked.  In white. 

This is why on Yom Kippur make-up is prohibited. So too is fancy clothing, jewelry, perfumes, food, water, electronics. 

We are meant to come here vulnerable, unmasked, unadorned.

Without illusion or distraction.

The rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, the successful and the broken, we all stand as equals.

Tonight we are meant to face a frightening truth.

Our central prayer for the evening Unetantokef, asks the question:

Who will live and who will die?

This can be heard as an inventory – this year we lost Steve Meyer’s mother and Larry Rosen’s sister among others, which is startling enough. But I don’t actually think that is what is intended.

I think the question:

Who will live and who will die?
Is meant to be answered - All of us.

Some of us will die too young, with much left undone
and others will die too late, with our minds or bodies riddled with disease.

How I wish I could give some of my mother’s days to someone else. But that is not how it works.

But the real question is faced with this naked truth of our mortality, what should we do?

How do we bring meaning to our existence?

The prayer, Unetantokef does not leave us hanging.

Rather, it answers it’s own question:

Meaning is found in teshuvah, teffilah, and tzedakah.

Let me explain.

Teshuvah – turning.

On Rosh Hashanah we discussed teshuvah as turning back to our best selves. Repenting, changing and forgiving.

On Yom Kippur we broaden this understanding of teshuvah, turning -  and think of teshuva as our ability to react, the ability to effect change in our own lives.


On our Rosh Hashanah hike we were discussing the power of teshuva, turning, and one of our participants asked us to imagine a field of sunflowers, any entire mountain side of flowers, moving their yellow heads in response to the moving sun.

So too, she continued, we have the power to alter our reactions.  We are not stagnant. We can move, react, change.

Victor Frankel, a survivor of Auschwitz, wrote a book, Man’s Search for Meaning.

In it, he explores the question of how are we to cope with debilitating suffering? What are we to do when life does hands us more than we can cope with? 

During the Holocaust, when every aspect of humanity was stripped from the prisoners, the only thing that remained within their control was how they reacted to the situation. Frankel writes, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing…to chose one’s attitude…to choose one’s way.” And he explains further, “Human freedom is not freedom from conditions, but freedom to take a stand toward the conditions.”

We do not choose our suffering or the diseases that afflict our loved ones, but we do choose our attitude, we do choose our way.

The principal of Ori’s school, Kent Kruger, recently sent out an email with parenting tips. He reminded us that as a survival technique, our brains are wired to pay 3-5 times more attention to the negative then the positive.  As I am sure you all know, our tendency to only hear the negative is why when giving feedback we are supposed to first offer praise.

Mr. Kruger emphasized that turning toward the positive is a learned skill that we need to teach our children and ourselves. “They come home complaining about the friend who wouldn’t play with them at recess,” he cautions,  “but really the rest of their day was amazing. You must direct them, teach them that they have a choice on what to focus.”  

Michael J. Thompson called this, “Don’t interview for Pain.” Meaning, don’t ask questions that corner people into dwelling on the negative aspects of their lives.  Perhaps they have moved on. Rather, ask open questions and see where it goes.  I’m not saying we should ignore our pain, we do need to speak it – but when we are done, l want us to encourage each other toward the light rather than to abide by our human tendency to dwell in the darkness.

Back to Ori’s modeling for us -  she knows well, that we cannot unwrite the fictional tragedies that occur during the Battle of Hogwarts, but neither does she need to read that part of the story again and again and again.  Rather, we like she, can point our attention to the magical discoveries of book one, a flying motorcycle and a delicious albeit squashed birthday cake. We can choose to dwell on the memory of a friend appearing at the moment he was needed and from that experience, draw inspiration and motivation to be good, responsive friends. We have some choice in the recitation and recollection of our own books of life.

And we can be like my mother, who faces each morning with blankness where there should be a plethora of vibrant details and soothing memories, yet in response, declares each smell, taste and touch, the best ever.

Teshuvah – turning, We cannot control all the parts of our lives, but we can control our response. 

Now let us turn to the second of the three answers we are given. 

Teffilah – prayer.

Prayer, in the Jewish tradition, is an opportunity to rant, to rail, to beg, to argue, to plead, to grieve, to thank, to request, to notice.

But in Judaism prayer is expression without the expectation of answer. There is no magical hand, which will deliver or change or intercede based on your prayer or your deeds.

Yes, prayer is a powerful outlet for expression, but more than that, it is an opportunity for connection.

When you know our prayers, you are able to experience the power of your voice joining with mine, joining with everyone else in this room, joining with Jews around the world and throughout history. When you join your voice with mine, with our People, you are connecting into a community so much larger than yourself.

What is prayer? Prayer is s a pathway to community. It is a tangible reminder that you are not alone. We stand here with you. We don’t have answers. We cannot change your suffering but we will hold you. The meaning of the prayers is not in the translation, the meaning is not found in the words, but rather in the act of togetherness of saying the words.

The most important part of Yom Kippur is its subtle message found in the act of Jews coming together to pray. It is this: You are not alone. We, your family are with you. We stand as your equals beside you.  Around you. We hold you. We love you.


Teshuvah –turning,
Teffilah – prayer
 and finally: tzedakah.

Tzedakah is the act of turning outward to find meaning. Tzedakah is noticing that there are other people in need, other people’s hurt, which could be ameliorated by your action, your kindness.

Tzedakah is giving back, engaging in.

It is how we turn inward pain into outward action and through that action perhaps, perhaps, the pain slowly dissipates.

I was startled the other day when I realized how many people I know personally who have started foundations in the memory of their child.

Giving back to our community when we ourselves are in pain leads us back toward life. It reminds us that we still have a purpose here, despite our own palpable suffering, we remain effective and affective.

Why do people give donations to our congregation or to any non-profit?
Yes, they give because they believe in what we do and want to perpetuate it.
Yes, they give because they want other people, who cannot afford it, to have access.

But really, they give, we give because it feels good to give.  Giving makes us feel part of something, it makes us feel needed, it makes us feel alive.

The rabbis teach that even the poorest among us, even the one subsisting on gifts from the charity plate, should perform acts of tzedakah. Why? Because we all have something the community needs.

One of congregants, goes to Morning Star Assisted Living once a month and leads a Shabbat celebration for the residents.  Another goes into schools and reads to underprivileged children. Another leads the “I have a Dream Foundation.”  One of our members recently donated a kidney anonymously. I could go on and on but I won’t.

The point is, tzedakah – allows us to engage and through that engagement, through that giving back, we find meaning in the world and we create meaning in our lives.

Tzedakah. Giving. We are needed.

Teffilah – Prayer. We have a community who will hold us.

Teshuvah –Turning. We have a choice of how we respond to life.


People often ask me how my mother is doing. My mother is aware that she is slowing losing her mind. How does she cope? What does she choose?

Last week my mother, Sadie and I were rocking in chairs in front of her house.
My dad was seated facing us. We were talking about our days, as we do. Mom likes to hear about Sadie’s friends and her teachers and what she is learning in class even thought she can’t really follow the answers.

At a pause in the conversation, Mom leaned in and whispered to me, (with a very slight smile on her face) "I have to ask you, who is that strange man sitting there?" I looked at my father and then I looked at my mother. I took a very deep breath before I asked, "Are you joking with me?" And she laughed saying, "Yes, but I had you didn't I?"

We all laughed and you could see how proud she was that she pulled off her spoof. I reminded her that she would probably remember dad

the longest as well as Sadie and me, so she was kind of stuck with us, and she said, "Well that's ok with me. I love you," as she kissed Sadie's head and squeezed my hand.

That is the most important thing.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Blog post about Passover in Moab

Here's a nice blog post by Scott Bratt, who attended Passover in Moab.  Bratt runs OneTable.org:
  https://onetable.org/2017/04/21/whatileftbehind/

Monday, March 6, 2017

Toba Levinson: What I learned about God and Doughnuts

We buried Toba Levinson on a sunny day in late-January, just days after I realized that she had changed my understanding of God.

Those of you who shop at the King Soopers on Table Mesa in Boulder might have known Toba. Or at least seen her. She bagged groceries in the store about 12 years ago.

Toba and her husband Joel moved to Colorado when she was 66. She had owned a  book store back east. It was a cozy nook of a store. Regulars would stop by to get a cup a coffee, catch up on the local gossip and visit with Toba.  I think books may have been beside the point. The point was Toba – always there with a keen observation, a listening ear, a wide-open heart and an even open wider open mind.  

When Toba moved to Boulder to be closer to her children and grandchildren, she found it difficult to meet people. One day the manager at King Soopers offered her a job, “Not everyone knows to put the eggs on top, and I see you do,” he said watching her bag her own groceries.

So she went to work there, not for the money - she had plenty of money - but to meet people.

That is how I came to know Toba. It was a Friday afternoon and I was running through the store with a challah and a toddler and rotisserie chicken and apples. Toba, a petite, sparky lady, bagged my groceries, and tossed in a comment or two about being Jewish and the joy she remembered of sharing Shabbat with her toddlers.

That day forward I always picked Toba’s check-out line. Our conversations were short, sweet, engaging. Occasionally she would call me, perhaps summon me, to go out for coffee at Vic's (later Qs,) which I always did. I’m not claiming her as a close friend –  and that is important to know - but we had tender moments through the years.

Three weeks ago, her son Jeff called me, “Toba is dying and she is asking for you.”

I have spent much of the last month by her bedside. I told her stories  – she loved my stories – and she would share bits of Toba wisdom. Were I to distill them to their essence they would read something like, “Never judge someone by their title,” and “Collect people, not experiences,” and  “Always have something baking in the oven and the front door open to whomever needs an open door,” and "Never under estimate the deliciousness of the simple doughnut," and “Eat dessert first.”

I have walked many people toward their death, but never before have I been with someone who was so clear-headed as she approached her final days.

One day she said, “I’m getting tired now so you hold my hand and I’ll go to sleep.”  She fell asleep quickly and we sat that way for long time, me holding her hand listening to her breathe. The thing -- as you know -- about holding someone’s hand is that if you are holding theirs it means they are also holding yours. Until they are not.

One day about a week before she died, her four (adult) children and I were sitting in her bedroom  and I said, “Toba, I need you to know that you changed what I believe about  God.”  She looked surprised, pleased, curious.

I continued, “I used to believe what Martin Buber taught, that God is found in what he called I-Thou relationships, relationships in which you connect with the essence of someone, when you know them deeply and encounter them at the deepest level.  But now I realize, that is simply humanity.  Those are the relationships we as humans seek out naturally.”

I continued, “But God, God I believe is experienced in the opposite – in interactions in which we don’t really know the other person, what Buber wrote off as I-It relationships. When we engage with kindness in the more superficial, even transactional relationships with the person who bags your groceries, or pours your coffee or does your taxes and come out feeling tapped into the connection of all being. That  feeling of connection is God. Buber had it reversed.”

Toba smiled, “That’s why you’re my Rabbi,”  she said, and squeezed my hand.

Toba’s funeral was immense. The number of people who knew Toba and came out to celebrate her and say good-bye, stunned me. She knew people from all walks of life.
It was a windy day out in the graveyard in North Boulder and we huddled together both to stay warm and to seek comfort.  I cried my way through the eulogy, but no one minded.

Toba’s been gone a few weeks now and I think of her, and her smile, and the feeling of her hand in mine. Her son has gone back east and we text now and then. I try to focus, as Toba instructed me to, on finding meaning in the little things and of course on some days now, I eat dessert first.


Rabbi Jamie Korngold, Adventure Rabbi

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Photos from Passover in Moab

Enjoy these photos from Passover in Moab!
Here's a few, but more are posted here: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10154172639291457.1073742064.681116456&type=1&l=6227bbb851










































Sunday, October 25, 2015

This week I attended the Conversation

This week I attended the Conversation, a conference in Baltimore Maryland hosted by the Jewish Week.

Each year 54 Jewish thought leaders from a variety of fields including high tech, media, law, entertainment, politics and education are invited to gather for three days of conversation to talk about the future of Jewish life in this country and explore what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century.

This was an opportunity for me to hang out with people I would never run into on the trails behind Boulder.
http://the-conversation.org

So what did I learn? These were my take-aways:


  1. The older generation remains concerned about questions such as intermarriage, the decline of synagogue membership and the decline in belief in God. 
  2. The younger generation has long since moved passed those questions and considers them to be irrelevant.
  3. The younger generation creates innovative expressions of Judaism, many of which the older generations considers inauthentic.
  4. The older generation’s opinion on these expressions may not matter because many in the younger generation have already been wildly successful financially so if they put their money towards Jewish programming, we may not need traditional funders.
  5. The people with their hands on the levers of power make their decisions of whom to fund and promote whimsically. The Jewish world is not a meritocracy. The organizations and rabbis who are funded and promoted may not be the best ones, but they are the one’s with connections to the power towers. 
  6. The best route for those on the outside is to work hard and strive but to be content and appreciative of what we have and who we are. 
  7. There are so many rational reasons to be pessimistic about the future of Judaism in America that we may be better off not dwelling on them and focusing on what is good and fun and working.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Adventure Rabbi - Aug 28 Sermon - Honor Thy Father and Mother

Watch Rabbi Jamie Korngold discuss the commandment, "Honor thy father and mother," during the Adventure Rabbi Shabbat service on top of Flagstaff mountain, above Boulder, Colorado.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Slow Down Summer - Tips from Rabbi Jamie Korngold

Do you ever feel that summer is going to quickly?
Do you ever worry that September will arrive before you have really truly felt like you had time for summer?

If so, here are some tips to make the most of summer, even if you have limited time:
1. Brainstorm.
First make a list of your favorite quintessential summer activities. Add some highlight activities, for example things you might only do once a summer, such as taking a backpack trip, climbing a 14er or going to an outdoor concert. Write others on your list that are foundational activities, things that sing the essence of summer to you and that you can do easily like eat corn on the cob, soak your feet in an icy stream or read a novel.
(See more ideas below. )

2. Schedule.
Now, schedule time on your calendar for some of the activities you listed. Perhaps you only have time for one this summer. One is better than none! But maybe this is the summer when each Shabbat you make time for one favorite summer activity. Imagine how special Shabbat might become to you if it was linked to your favorite summer activities. Be realistic but get those activities scheduled!

3. Get up early or stay out late.
The long days of summer are a here. There is a unique world on the trails and neighborhoods early in the morning and late at night. Don’t miss out on the outlier times of day, when the sky boasts dramatic colors and the roads and trails are quiet. Make sure, at least once this summer, to go for an early morning or evening bike ride, hike, dog-walk, run, paddle, walk through your neighborhood etc.

4. Summer Foods.
Even if your life is too busy for vacation this summer or you have an injury preventing you from hiking, everyone eats. It’s easy to fall into a rut and eat the same food year-round. Make sure you are infusing your diet with the delectable summer treats like peaches, watermelon, tomatoes and fresh greens.  Here is a link to my favorite peach and blueberry dessert recipe>> 
5. Attitude.
When someone asks how your summer is going, avoid comments such as, “Busy!" or, "Too fast!” Remember, life is not a contest in which the busiest person wins, especially in the summer. 

Comments like these reinforce negative feelings of summer being fleeting. Rather, try out answers that focus on the positive parts of your summer, even if you are not doing anything big and exciting. When someone asks how your summer is going try, “Great! I love eating my breakfast on the deck; its such a calm way to start my day.” Or “Great, I stopped at a kid’s lemonade stand yesterday.” Or, "The clouds this summer have been so incredible. I`m really enjoying watching them when I drive home from work."
You may also want to focus on one thing you have done or will do such as, “What a great summer. I’m looking forward to some hikes I have planned.”

6. Wildflowers.
The wildflowers in Colorado are extraordinary this year because of all the rain. Down in Crested Butte the locals report seeing flowers that have not blossomed in years. But even here in Boulder, the flowers are extraordinary. Walk along the Mesa Trail right now and you will be treated to expansive fields filled with purple Wild Bergamot.
7. Find some water.
The water has done wonders for the wildflowers; imagine what it will do for you! Get in the water, or on the water, or next to the water. Hike by waterfalls, swim in a lake, wade in a river, boat on a reservoir, boogie board in the ocean. Ah water.

8. Eat outside.
Grill. Have friends over for a beer. Sit on your stoop and eat ice cream. Sometimes just a small shift in your routine such as where you cook or eat meals can make a lasting impact on how you feel about your summer experience.

9. Learn for next year.
Consider booking next year’s vacation now, so you have more choice about when to take off.  Some people find that if they vacation early in the summer, the relaxation effects their entire summer.
10. Celebrate Shabbat with the Adventure Rabbi community.
We will be on Flagstaff this Friday July 20, 2015 for a relaxing and joyous Shabbat service 6-7 pm followed by a picnic. More>>
Our summer Shabbat hikes have also been delightful this summer and there is one Sat Aug 8  Shabbat Hike for families w/ kids More>>

Nothing says summer like Shabbat outdoors, surrounded by old friends and potential new ones, while looking out at the great views over Boulder, Colorado.
Here is a checklist of great summer activities to get you started:
  • Go on a longer than usual hike/ bike/ run/ swim
  • Attend an outdoor concert
  • Have a picnic
  • Draw on the sidewalk with chalk
  • Bake something with peaches
  • Have friends over for dinner
  • Spit watermelon seeds
  • Run through a sprinkler
  • Camp
  • Backpack
  • Eat an ice cream cone
  • Pick (i.e. harvest) something from a garden or farm
  • Read a novel
  • Sit under a tree and read a book
  • Do nothing
  • Attend an Adventure Rabbi Shabbat service or hike
I hope these tips help you soak in summer! Let me know how it goes or what ideas you have. You can reach me here >>

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What my Kids Know about Passover

Jodie Books just did a quick blog post about the Seder in the Desert book, by Jamie Korngold, photos by Jeff Finkelstein:
http://jodiebooks.com/jewish-childrens-picture-books/

One day  my husband Jeff and I were playing the word association game with our children. You know the one: I say “birthday,” then you say “party,” then the next person says “cake,”the next person says “presents” until we run out of things to say and move to the next subject.

“Passover,” started my husband Jeff.

“Seder plate,” said Sadie.

“Frogs,” said Ori.

“Camping,’ said Sadie

“Hiking to the arch,”,said Ori.

Jeff and I looked at each other and laughed. What a wonderful, unique understanding of Passover we have created for our children.
Read more: http://jodiebooks.com/jewish-childrens-picture-books/