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"Love Is as strong as death" - kol nidre 5784/2023

09/27/2023 01:06:41 PM


We have every reason to trust science.  Biology teaches us that death is the end of life. When a heart stops beating, the life force is no more. 

However, for many generations, Jewish tradition has reflected the idea that death does not mean the end of life.
Our early Israelite ancestors believed that those who died remained tethered to earth in a shadowy existence.  There is archeological evidence that ancient...Read more...

"windows" - Yom Kippur 5784/2023

09/27/2023 12:57:00 PM


As Friday evening’s shadows darken the roads of Mount Airy, it is time to prepare for Shabbat.  Temple Israel’s security guard checks the perimeter of our building, whose doors must always remain locked. The guard carries a gun, though you cannot tell. After making sure the building is secure, the guard stands by the door to let people in as they arrive for services. 

Some of our Christian neighbors are surprised, even...

Holding On and Letting Go - Rosh Hashanah Evening 5784/2023

09/17/2023 10:09:39 AM



The front hallway was a mess. My elderly mother-in-law, Cis, sat in her wheelchair. Her useless left hand, paralyzed by a stroke, rested limply on her lap.  Cis watched as her son pulled her treasures from the hall closet.  Stacks of neatly folded linen tablecloths landed in a haphazard pile on the floor, next to another pile of small cardboard boxes containing mother-of-pearl cheese knives, crystal finger bowls, stemware...Read more...

Choose Life - Yom Kippur 2022/5783

10/07/2022 04:28:56 PM


Choose life, the Torah declares. I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Choose life, that you… may live.

Choose life that you may live?  Isn’t this a strange commandment?

Even the rabbis of the Talmud took note of this, asking: Why would people even consider choosing death over life?[1]   Another commentator...Read more...

Life On the Ocean - Kol Nidre 5783/2022

10/07/2022 04:22:36 PM


Imagine standing on a windy bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean.  Seagulls glide on the wind, and you can watch fishing vessels sail from Newport’s Yaquina harbor out to the open sea.

Sheltered among the shore pines in this Oregon State Park is a small open-air chapel. A few rows of weathered wooden pews face a black granite altar inscribed with the names of fishermen and...Read more...

hateful people - yom kippur 2022/5782

09/27/2022 03:03:15 PM


I didn’t expect to have a spiritual awakening at a gym, but that’s exactly what happened.  In Oregon, I saw a man lifting weights, his hair dyed an unnatural shade of black. Thick metal piercings sliced through his ears and his nose.  Most alarming were his arms and legs, covered in elaborate symbolic tattoos. One on of his legs he had a large tattoo of Charles Manson, an image of this murderer’s...Read more...

the phone of the wind - kol nidre 2021/5782

09/27/2022 02:53:26 PM


In Japan, the Phone of the Wind sits in a garden on a wind-swept hill overlooking the ocean.  A short path passes underneath a bell and leads to a simple, glass-paned booth. Inside the booth sits an old black rotary dial phone. The people who come to use the phone can look through the glass and see the ocean that violently breached the shoreline and swept away thousands of lives a decade ago in its tsunami....Read more...

sunflowers - Rosh Hashanah 2022/5783

09/27/2022 02:48:03 PM


A few months ago, sunflowers were everywhere.  Sunflowers, the national flower of Ukraine, appeared on social media, in rallies, on t-shirts and even on yarmulkes.  Sunflowers became the symbol of solidarity with Ukrainians as they defended their country against Russia.

I loved sunflowers even before they became a symbol of Ukrainian resistance. Nothing grew easily in...Read more...

uprooted  rosh hashanah 5782  9/7/2021

09/08/2021 03:35:27 PM


When I was eleven years old, my family and I went hiking through an evergreen forest in Washington State.  My grandmother was with us.  But she bolted ahead, rushing past the wonders that captivated our attention.  An insect with shiny metallic blue wings.  A huge rotting tree trunk with young saplings taking root inside.  A small creek with a miniature waterfall spilling into a moss-framed fairy...Read more...

Two Photographs: Yom Kippur 5781 - 9/28/20

09/29/2020 05:52:48 PM


Last year I visited the Equal Justice Initiative’s Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.  In a large black-and-white photograph, a group of white men and boys crowd together.  They wear suspenders and ties reflecting the fashion of a century ago.  Some faces are grim and sober, others with smiles, one with a smirk. 

Above them dangle two slim black legs in...

 the red book: Kol Nidre 5781 - 9/27/20

09/29/2020 05:41:30 PM


Ten days ago, we celebrated the beginning of a New Year.  Beginnings invite us to open our hearts to possibilities of renewal and hope, the possibilities of change and growth.

Tonight, Kol Nidre, has a different purpose.  We are meant to recall our shortcomings, our failures, the ways we have wronged others and ourselves.  On this night, we are meant to feel broken....Read more...

Waves: Rosh Hashanah  5781 - 9/19/20

09/20/2020 04:24:40 PM


I was five years old, holding my mom’s hand and playing with my little brother in the shallow waves. I watched my older brothers and my father walk farther out into the ocean.  Their silhouettes got smaller and smaller as they pushed through the surf.  I heard one brother shout as he pointed to the horizon. They all turned back towards the beach, struggling to move through the waist-deep water, shouting...Read more...

These things happened:  rosh Hashanah 5781 9/18/2020

09/20/2020 04:20:31 PM


Temple Israel feels so different when it is empty.  You can hear the hands move on the clock in the hallway.  The air smells a little stale.  All is still and silent, like after the last breath leaves the body.

One summer afternoon, I stood in the lobby and watched the electronic bulletin board scroll through the announcements left over from the spring.  The...Read more...

The girl in the museum - Yom Kippur 2019/5780

10/10/2019 12:04:01 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

The girl I saw in the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama this summer looked to be about ten years old.  Her mother stood beside her, one hand resting lightly on her daughter’s shoulder.

I noticed the girl because there were no other children in the museum.  The exhibits in this museum are difficult, even for adults.  There are flyers advertising the sale of enslaved people:  men, women and children. There is a...Read more...

The Snake - kol nidre 2019/5780

10/10/2019 12:01:46 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Just across the river from here, at the trailhead into Doodletown, a sign warns hikers: Timber Rattlesnake Habitat Ahead!  The sign says that rattlesnakes are a threatened species. If a hiker encounters one, the snake should be left alone.  But I wasn’t worried. I hiked the trails often and I never saw a rattlesnake.

One very hot day I had the trails to myself.  As I made my way through the quiet forest, I heard...Read more...

intruder - Rosh Hashanah 2019/5780

10/01/2019 12:57:06 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

This summer I spent a few days in the North Cascade mountains of Washington State.  My friend Red lives out there.  She owns the stable where I ride. This year we saddled up and rode out together on the first day of my visit.  It was a perfect morning. Sunlight angled through the thick pine trees, and the air was cool and fragrant.

As our horses walked through the trees, Red filled me in on the news of her stable and...Read more...

President's Congregational Message 2019

10/01/2019 11:16:47 AM


Steve Samuels

I feel blessed to share the High Holy Days with you.  I’m thankful to everyone who makes these services possible and meaningful.  Many people you see and many are behind the scenes.  It’s a group effort with devotion at its core. It's an honor to serve this community which has meant so much to our family and me.  I grew up with Jewish family, culture, education, and service as driving forces- yes, I’m one of those....Read more...

Rosh Hashanah 2018/5779

09/12/2018 09:09:35 AM


Click on this post for Rosh Hashanah 2018/5779 Sermon and President's message


The temple bombing

09/30/2017 03:26:30 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

 It’s a warm Friday night in May, in the year 1958.    In Atlanta, Georgia, Rabbi Jacob Rothschild is preaching at Shabbat services.  Rabbi Rothschild serves the Hebrew Benevolent Congregation, better known as “The Temple,” the oldest Reform synagogue in Atlanta, housed in a beautiful building. 

The title of Rabbi Rothschild’s sermon is: “Can this be America?”   The rabbi preaches:...Read more...

Our Call

09/30/2017 03:24:50 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Delivered Rosh Hashanah Morning

It was a lovely Jerusalem afternoon in 2013. My husband David and I walked around the neighborhood where I lived when I was in rabbinical school.  I pointed out the balcony of my apartment, overlooking a shaded courtyard.  We walked by the makolet, the tiny corner store where I would send ten-year-old Isaac to buy milk and overpriced Cheerios.   We passed by the green-grocer, the...Read more...


09/30/2016 03:19:40 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

At my age, I should have known better.     One stifling morning last May, I decided to go for a run on a wooded trail near my house.  I wanted to run despite the heat, and despite my knee that had been a little swollen. I thought briefly about taking my phone, but I didn’t want it to slip out of my sweaty hand.  Besides, I would be on a trail usually well-populated by dog walkers.

It turns out that...

The Better Angels

09/30/2016 03:18:23 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Delivered Yom Kippur Day

I was twenty-eight years old and facing the biggest crisis of my early professional life.   The President of the United States, George H.W. Bush, had recently told the nation that the United States had launched an intensive bombing campaign against Iraq, marking the start of "Operation Desert Storm.” 

I was near the state capitol building in Olympia, Washington, when my beeper went...Read more...

Seeing the Color 

09/30/2016 03:16:56 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Delivered Rosh Hashanah Evening

This past July I went on a Jewish heritage tour of Eastern Europe along with several members of our congregation.   Before the trip, when I imagined the places we would visit, I pictured them in black and white.

It felt like I had been preparing for this trip for decades.  I first learned about the Holocaust in high school. Ever since that time, the question of how a systematic...Read more...

One of Them

09/30/2016 03:15:18 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Delivered (Kol Nidre)

As I boarded the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt this past summer, the stewardess greeted me in German.  It caught me by surprise, but I pretended to understand and nodded a greeting in reply.  It happened again when it was time for the beverage service.  "Was wollen Sie essen?" the stewardess asked me.  This time I looked at her blankly, so she switched to English, asking "What would you like...Read more...

When the Earth Quakes

09/30/2016 03:10:43 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Rosh Hashanah Morning - 5776

Jewish tradition says that today, Rosh Hashanah, is “the birthday of the world.”   Who doesn’t love birthdays?  Candles burning on a cake, singing “Happy Birthday,” Pin the Tail on the Donkey -- Birthdays are joyous celebrations of the anniversary of a new life. 

These happy customs are great when it comes to celebrating the birthdays of people.  But I'm not sure...Read more...

A shandeh

09/30/2015 03:09:09 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Yom Kippur Morning 5776

I have always loved Yiddish, a language that captures the nuances of the human condition like no other.    For example:   While the Eskimo people have over fifty words to describe different kinds of "snow;”[1]   Yiddish is the only language I know that contains multiple words, all with different shades of meaning, to describe a disagreeable person.[2]   Examples...Read more...

A Lost Brother

08/30/2015 03:12:09 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Almost forty years ago, mid-way through his freshman year at the University of Washington in Seattle, my older brother vanished.  One day he left the campus and did not return.  My brother didn’t take much with him.  He left his clothing and all of his possessions.  His dorm room looked as if he had just stepped out for a moment.  A few days later my father received a post card mailed from a town in Oregon.  On...Read more...


09/30/2014 03:06:36 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Delivered Rosh Hashanah Evening, 5775

Twenty six years ago, I was living in Olympia, Washington, a place with very few Jews.  At the time, I wasn't counted among them.  But I had agreed to raise a Jewish child, and it was time to take my son, Isaac, to the local synagogue for his baby naming ceremony. 

I had no idea what to expect.  In my paranoid imagination, as soon as I walked through the doors, it...Read more...

does prayer work?

09/30/2014 01:36:19 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

Let me tell you about the first time that I questioned my decision to become a rabbi.  It happened sixteen years ago, when I was a rabbinical student studying in Jerusalem.  I was taking a class on liturgy:  the language and order of prayers in a worship service.  During one session, something happened that made me question whether I was suited for the rabbinate. 

Our professor was showing us examples of...

Wildfires  (Yom Kippur Morning)

09/30/2014 01:36:05 PM


Rabbi Jennifer Jaech

It was near midnight as our plane began its descent over the mountains of the Pacific Northwest.   I strained to look out of the windows at an unusual sight.  There were several orange lines glowing on the ridges of the dark mountains:   Wildfires.    

I didn’t give the wildfires much thought – I was in “vacation mode.”  My husband David and I go to the Pacific Northwest every...Read more...

Wed, July 24 2024 18 Tammuz 5784