Monthly Archives: October 2017

Trick or Treat? Absolutely!

 Some of my earliest memories of freedom and delight are from Halloween. In the old days, the rule of thumb was that kids were allowed to go out with a gang of friends at age seven or eight, sans parent or bodyguard. It was so exhilarating! I loved to dress up in great costumes. I was Batman! I was the Phantom! I was a pirate! I was walking around in the dark, with my friends and without grownups. All that and candy, too? Come on! What could be better?

As I got older, I graduated from a small orange paper bag to a bigger paper Halloween bag with those rope-like handles. “Trick or treat!”, We would howl and open our bags wide for fabulously decadent candy treats. By age ten, my band of trick or treaters achieved the ultimate candy storage method: a pillowcase. Of course, we believed it to be our duty to fill the case, which none of us ever accomplished, though not for lack of trying.

Despite the occasional viral stories that make parents and kids anxious: loose candy laced with LSD, razors in apples, etc., there has never been a reported case of poisoned or laced candy. There has never been a report of injury due to bobby trapped fruit. Why wouldn’t every kid in America be on the streets?

There is absolutely nothing that prohibits nice Jewish boys and girls from hitting the streets on Halloween. Halloween does not celebrate any religious ideology. None of the symbols or practices are remotely religious. It’s all good, clean American fun. It is devoid of any religious connotations. Why would we eschew this utterly secular American custom?

I know; there are those who suggest that Jews must not go out trick or treating because Halloween’s roots are pagan. In response, I would advise thoughtful Jews to look at the lulav and etrog we use on Sukkot and the rituals for which we use them. The roots of homo sapiens are planted in pagan soil. As we evolved, some of them were incorporated into religious practice and some withered. Halloween does not celebrate pagan practice nor does it even vaguely threaten Jews and the Jewish tradition.

I wonder if the aversion some Jews have to Halloween isn’t like the dour Ashkenazic prohibition against things that in and of themselves are kosher but are forbidden because they remind us of things that are not kosher… We need to unclench on this one. There’s no conversion conspiracy hiding behind the jack o’lantern. There’s no satanic worship in the Snickers bar. It’s nothing but fun.

Halloween is a lot like Thanksgiving. It is a civic celebration, uniting and unifying Americans across virtually all socio-economic, religious, and racial barriers. In the costumes and masks, there are no divisions, no us and them.

On Halloween, all of our children are what they should always be when interacting: the same. We live in a partisan time. With all of the things that divide us, how nice that there is still a tradition that transcends barriers of culture and religion and politics, that brings us all together in a non-threatening joyful celebration. Trick or treat? Yes!

Shabbat Shalom


“This post originally appeared on the blog of








I am so sickened by Harvey Weinstein and his plethora of stories. These sleazy, repugnant renditions of foul behavior continue to flow unabated, like a broken sewer main. Story after story recounts how this man used and abused women without regard for their feelings, their dignity, or their very personhood.

Every time I see Weinstein’s name or hear it pronounced, I feel a particular ache of anger and disgust. I want to yell, “Jewish men do not behave like this! How could you?” I know his Jewishness is not germane to the crime, but his transgressions tar us all. He’s a guy from our tribe. He should have known better. Weinstein’s transgressions are an assault on the primary values of our tradition.

I am not naïve. I know that there are most definitely Jewish men who behaved and behave like this. Being Jewish does not automatically inoculate anyone with a conscience and a sense of boundaries. Menschlichkeit: behaving with respect for all others who like us are created in God’s image, takes time and empathy to learn. It’s something Weinstein never learned. In public, he sought to project an image of decency and philanthropic excellence. In private he was a pig, a selfish boor whose only modus operandi was to use and abuse women.

As a part of the males of the world team, I get sick as I read the accounts of women who were treated so contemptuously by Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, etc. Powerful men, studies show, overestimate the sexual interest of others and erroneously believe that the women around them are more attracted to them than is actually the case. Powerful men also sexualize their work, looking for opportunities for sexual trysts and affairs, and along the way leer inappropriately, stand too close, and touch for too long on a daily basis, thus crossing the lines of decorum — and worse.

How is that for thousands of years, men have behaved like this? Why have men gotten away with such contemptible behavior for so long? Perhaps because other men have not called them out.

Contexts of unchecked power make many of us vulnerable to, and complicit in, the abuse of power. We may not like what’s going on, but many of us wouldn’t do anything to stop it. This doesn’t excuse the rest of us any more than it excuses the powerful for their crimes, but it should prevent us from telling ourselves the comforting lie that we’d behave better than the people in The Weinstein Company who reportedly knew what Weinstein was doing and failed to put a stop to it.

Yesterday, the director Quentin Tarantino acknowledged in an interview with the Times, that, “I knew enough to do more than I did. There was more to it than just the normal rumors, the normal gossip. It wasn’t secondhand. I knew he did a couple of these things. I wish I had taken responsibility for what I heard. “If I had done the work I should have done then, I would have had to not work with him.”

Men have too often looked the other way at the demeaning behavior of men with women. The uses of sexual intimidation and violence can no longer be tolerated. We know too much. Brave women have dared to step up and accuse their attackers. Brave women and girls have written #metoo on Facebook in response to the recent stories by many victims of Weinstein et al. They are true heroes and champions, speaking truth to power in the strongest way possible.

Roxane Gay wrote an op-ed piece today in the Times. She said, “Men can start putting in some of the work women have long done in offering testimony. They can come forward and say “me too” while sharing how they have hurt women in ways great and small. They can testify about how they have cornered women in narrow office hallways or made lewd comments to co-workers or refused to take no for an answer or worn a woman down by guilting her into sex and on and on and on. It would equally be a balm if men spoke up about the times when they witnessed violence or harassment and looked the other way or laughed it off or secretly thought a woman was asking for it. It’s time for men to start answering for themselves because women cannot possibly solve this problem they had no hand in creating.”

I’ve never behaved like Harvey Weinstein. I’ve never engaged in sexual harassment, and I don’t have any friends who have done it. As a parent and a rabbi and, yes, a man, I must continue to explicitly speak up about having zero tolerance for sexual harassment of any sort. I must continue to speak out against the corrupt uses of power to hurt and abuse others.

I am not responsible for Harvey Weinstein or others of his ilk. But I am most definitely obligated, as a rabbi and as a man, for speaking up and out, for teaching boys and reminding men that there is never an excuse for objectifying girls and women. It’s time for some serious evolution.


Is No News Good News?

I’m a news junkie. I admit it. I am an inveterate, multiple times a day clicker on,,,, and Among others…

I grew up in a home where watching the news was considered mandatory. After dinner, we waited for Walter Cronkite, a man we revered with pious intensity. When he spoke, no one could utter a sound.

In those days, news sources were few. There was local news, network news, news radio, and the print media. People would pick and choose from them. And while there were some nuances between a more conservative source versus a more liberal source, no one ever suggested that any particular source was fake news.

Now we have essentially unlimited news sources. We can go to a number of cable channels for 24/7/365 coverage. For some of them, there is a clear ideological slant. Then there are the partisan sites, where one’s political opinion is nurtured by others who believe in the same things.

The fact that what I read and watch defines me politically is very troubling. I don’t want to be seen through any particular filter. I want to be seen as a Jewish American male interested in my world. Period. The fact that people around me may have different opinions is bracing and positive. I don’t want to only speak to like-minded people. It’s healthy to have a variety of viewpoints available from which to learn. It’s good to have thoughtful challenges to the status quo. It helps to keep one awake and watchful.

The hard truth for me, as a news junkie, is that there is so much toxic news. I can barely stand to read the ongoing drama of American domestic and foreign policy. I wonder if the vague anxiety I feel about nuclear war is ridiculous, or if it’s ridiculous that I’m not more frightened? And what about the guns and random violence and mass shootings and utterly inadequate gun laws? And what’s up with Israel, anyway? What will Iran do now? And Harvey Weinstein, this rapacious bully? Help! The list could go on and on and on and on…

When I wake up in the morning, it’s to my NPR station. Often the news is bleak. And I’ve started to wonder: am I too addicted? Do I need to ease up on mainlining news?

Niall Doherty, a very interesting Irish fellow, wrote four years ago that a steady diet of news is bad for us. He gives six reasons to back his contention up:

1. The news is depressing

2. The news is a poor representation of reality

3. Everything in the news is beyond your circle of influence

4. You don’t need to stay informed

5. You’ll never know it all anyway

6. You can catch up quickly if you need to

It all sounds rather heretical to me. But maybe Doherty is right. As  Dr. Andrew Weil wrote some time ago, “Some studies have shown that images and reports of violence, death, and disaster can promote undesirable changes in mood and aggravate anxiety, sadness, and depression, which in turn can have deleterious effects on physical health. Even frequent worrying can reduce immunity, making you more vulnerable to infection.”

Do you ever take what Weil calls a “news fast”? Do you think it wise? Do you think it’s irresponsible? I’m debating what to do here. Can I afford less time involved with current events? Can I afford not to know as much as possible? Tell me what you think.

Shabbat Shalom,















Watching for the Arc

I didn’t rush to write a response to the Las Vegas mass shooting. I thought long and hard about it, but in the end, I begged off. I know you were watching the same grotesque scenes of terrorized people running in an utter panic, unable to find safety. I know you were watching witness testimonies, injured folks in hospital beds trying to describe something so utterly irrational. And, like me, you were listening to the eternal tennis match between gun enthusiasts and gun control advocates.
I thought that it’s best to let the initial flurry of news coverage and opinions ebb before weighing in with you. Even after days have passed, words do not feel adequate. It’s not like there’s anything positive or uplifting emerging from the Route 91 Harvest Festival. The fact that the shooter, as of this moment, had no stated motive for slaughtering 58 innocent people, and wounding hundreds of others, is a frightening, unsettling fact. It gives this whole awful story a surreal pall, like looking down a well and seeing only darkness.
There are plenty of heroic people who have appeared on tv and in other media. I admire their altruistic spirit. But I also imagine that there were hundreds of folks who did not come forward with their stories because they believed that all they were doing was what they were supposed to do.
The mass shooting in Newtown, CT, five years ago, broke my heart. My heart was broken again by Congress’ absolute lack of action to curb gun violence in the shadow of so many children murdered. It was an appalling display of cowardice and kowtowing to the NRA.
Five years ago I gave up hope of ever seeing a real and lasting Federal response to gun violence. As long as Congress remains configured as it is, the gun industry has nothing to fear. There are more than enough votes to stall, sidetrack, and eventually, squelch any legislation.
Was the NRA expecting the Nobel peace prize because they just suggested that bump stocks “should be subject to additional regulations.”? Of course not. They knew they had to say something, and this is about as innocuously ‘something’ as they could create.
We care about our children and our loved ones, so of course, we have smoke detectors. We have radon detectors. We inoculate our kids against diseases. Many of us get flu shots. Yet when it comes to gun violence, we don’t treat it as a public health crisis. But it is. “In Chicago, 58 people were killed by guns in 28 days, counting back from Sept. 29, two days before the Las Vegas attack. Many shootings were of one person, not mass attacks. In Baltimore, there were 58 gun deaths in 68 days. In Houston, it was 118 days.” Doesn’t this NY Times stat say enough? Is there a clearer statistic to underscore this as a public health concern?
I’m not holding my breath for anything to change. I fully expect nothing. It just makes me so sad that at this stage in American history, there seems to be no evidence that I am a pessimist. I am a realist.
And yet…  In 1853, the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker gave a sermon. It included this part, made famous one hundred years later by Martin Luther King. “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
The Bratslaver rebbe once said to his disciples: “For the sake of Heaven, Jews: don’t despair!” The Bratslaver rebbe lived 100 before Reverend Parker, but they both seem to be imploring us not to give up. They are suggesting that with patience and fortitude and faith, we might make the world a better place. They are both suggesting that repairing a broken world should not be rejected out of hand. And they both spoke from very dark times in history.
What’s a Jew to do? Not give up in despair. Not give in to the voices of discord and division. Not give over our profound belief in God’s presence and the sacredness of life. Give our time. Give our tzedakah. Give a damn.