Filtering by Author: Amy Gerber

What to do after the election

Shock. Disbelief. Fear. Anxiety.

We woke up this morning in what at best is an alternate reality and at worst is our greatest nightmare.

This presidential campaign came to a different end than most of us expected, and that many reading this desired.

To those who voted for President-elect Trump, I pray that our country does live up to your best hopes. I also ask that you pay attention to the grief and mourning that others feel today.

Had Hillary Clinton won, I would hope that her supporters would also respect the sense of loss on the other side.

This is a day for grieving. We grieve the loss of a dream. We grieve because we fear that the world will never be the same.

Posted on November 14, 2016 .

Rabbi Penzner's Kol Nidre 5777 Sermon


Walls are going up everywhere. Great Britain wants to create a virtual wall from Europe, and European nations want to erect walls to keep out immigrants. Not to mention the wall that Mexico is going to fund to keep immigrants out of the US.

There are other walls inside our country. We are walled off from people who are different from us. In detention centers, walls separate families. Those in prison are surrounded by walls. These walls divide prisoners and their loved ones. In solitary, walls divide one human being from the entire world of experience, human connection, human touch, life. These are walls that sap the strength and deaden the lives of human beings. Human beings who need to be tended and mended are buried alive behind walls.

We could take hammers to smash the walls that divide us. That might feel good in the moment. But violence doesn’t bring walls down. Violence only helps erect new ones. How we take down the walls is related to how we make peace.

Posted on October 14, 2016 .

Rabbi Penzner's Rosh Hashanah 5777 Sermon: A Moral Revolution for Change: Ten Things we can learn about teshuva from the election, and vice versa

A story from an earlier time. Imagine a Norman Rockwell painting:

A young boy walks into a drugstore to use the pay phone. He dials a number and asks to speak to Dr. Bergson.

“Hello, Dr. Bergson, would you like to hire someone to cut the grass and run errands for you? Oh you already have someone? Are you satisfied with him? You are? Ok. Thank you. Good bye.”

As he is about to leave, the proprietor of the drug store stops him and says, “Listen, if you’re looking for a job, you can work for me.”
“Thank you,” the boy replies, “but I already have a job.”
The proprietor, confused, asks, “but didn’t I hear you ask Dr. Bergson if he needed someone to work for him?”
“Well, not exactly,” answersthe boy, “you see, I’m the one who works for Dr. Bergson and I was just checking up on myself.”

Posted on October 4, 2016 .

Rabbi's Eulogy for Harvey Towers, Chayim ben Moshe v'Chaya Sheinah


Chayim ben Moshe v’Chaya Sheinah

Died December 11, 2015                   29 Kislev 5776

Funeral December 14, 2015    2 Tevet 5776

Marine Corps tribute, “Taps” and presentation of the flag

Dylan Thomas poem, “Do not Go Gentle into that Good Night”

There are many reasons that we can feel angry about Harvey’s passing. He died at 65, too young. No one wanted to see him go the way he did. But Harvey was unable to live the life he desired, confined to his bed and dependent on dialysis three times a week a condition that he endured for three years as his health worsened In addition, Harvey’s death brings up buried anger over the Vietnam War, anger over our country’s dismissive treatment of veterans, and anger over our society’s inadequate care for the mentally ill. We can all be angry today for Harvey’s sake.

But Harvey was not angry—at least most of the time. He lived with his disabilities. He found ways to make life meaningful despite so many setbacks. If he were here now, he would be laughing, telling us not to take things so seriously, doing his best to lift our spirits.

Posted on December 17, 2015 .

Rabbi's Message October 15, 2015 Responding with Hope: Resources for Repairing the World and Supporting the Needy Among Us (that may mean YOU)

I would be remiss if I did not begin by acknowledging that many of us have our hearts turned to events in Israel and Palestine today. The violence grows closer to us as we hear from family members and friends who are living with the terror. Though members of our community many have different responses to the violence, its causes and solutions, we all share a heartfelt prayer for an end to the bloodshed and fear.

I pray for those who are working toward a resolution of this conflict, toward reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, and toward peace and security for all who dwell there, Jews, Muslims and Christians, Israelis and Palestinians alike.

While events in Israel tear us apart with anguish for all the victims, it is essential that we not lose hope. As Rebbe Nachman of Bratzlav implored, upon hearing of destruction of Jewish communities during the Russian pogroms, “Gevalt, Yidden! Jews, for heaven’s sake, do not despair. Gevalt, Yidden, do not despair.”

We still have hope as long as we don’t feel helpless. Each of us can do something. Each of us has a strength, resources, mind and heart that we bring to whatever cause moves us. Rather than focus on what we cannot do—and that is a list that we can add to without end—there are ways that each one of us can make a difference. And we should not give up trying.

This coming Sunday, October 18 from 4 to 5:30, members and friends are invited to take part in the HBT Tikkun Olam Networking Event. Come and learn how HBT invests our volunteer time and energy to make a difference in our neighborhoods, our city, our Commonwealth and our world. You will learn about meaningful opportunities for you to bring your unique energy and passion to the holy work of repairing the world.

I also want to share an important new anti-poverty initiative from Combined Jewish Philanthropies (CJP), the Jewish federation that raises money from the Jewish community and allocates funds for community needs. Despite the recovery from the 2008 recession many Jews remain in dire economic straits. In the past three years, 3879 individuals desperately turned to CJP and its agencies for help, without any community outreach. Of those who asked for help 75% had Bachelor’s degrees, and 37% had graduate degrees. They were all ages and family configurations. While we might think of Jews as affluent and comfortable, the truth is that regardless of outward appearances, many Jewish individuals and families in greater Boston are struggling.

We know this in our own synagogue community. For many years, we have tried to send a message that no one should be left out of our congregation because of financial difficulty. This past year, our leadership has worked to craft a message of openness and welcome and is considering the meaning of “dues” and the expectations that come with dues. Sustaining our community is our primary goal. We are not interested in reviewing people’s financial statements or asking for justification for people’s support. We want to be a spiritual home, not a private club.

And yet, for some individuals and families this is not enough. CJP’s new initiative increases support for families who are struggling financially. These resources are available to help YOU, whether you are living in dire straits or seeking to avoid a looming financial crisis.

CJP has devoted significant resources, both to invest in caseworkers and to increase available funding. With a combined action plan and integrated approach, those in need only have to fill out one “common application” for all the agencies. Among them, Jewish Family & Children’s Services assigns a caring caseworker and can help with food assistance, housing issues and accessing public benefits, Jewish Vocational Service offers career counseling and training, and Yad Chessed provides emergency funds.

To bring your need to a compassionate provider, contact or call the warmline at 1-800-CJP-9500.

In addition, I want you to know that I am available to offer confidential support and a modest amount of emergency funds from the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund. We are blessed to have members and friends who contribute to this fund to ensure that people can access funds in a confidential and compassionate manner.

Our work to repair the world, Tikkun Olam, starts with healing ourselves. If you are in need, step up. If you can lend a hand, step up. If you can donate funds, step up. This is what makes a holy community, joining together through the give and take of life, keeping the flame of hope burning in our hearts.


Posted on October 15, 2015 .

Rabbi Penzner's Kol Nidre Sermont 5776: Do It Anyway: A Jewish Approach to Race and Racism Today

We began tonight’s service, even before the chanting of the Kol Nidre, with a disclaimer.

By the authority of the heavenly court

and by the authority of this earthly court

with the consent of the Everpresent

and with the consent of this congregation

we hereby declare it permissible

to pray with those who have transgressed.

This disclaimer speaks of our collective guilt in a spirit of all-encompassing love. Over and over, our liturgy proclaims

The Eternal, the Everpresent

Is a compassionate and gracious God,

Patient, abounding in devotion and truth,

Assuring steadfast chesed for a thousand generations

Forgiving transgression, iniquity and sin,

And granting pardon.

Posted on September 25, 2015 .

Rabbi Penzner's Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5776: Making Micah's Message Your Mantra

This past summer your rabbi entered a monastery.

I assure you that I have not decided to live the cloistered life or considered a new religious tradition. I chose to spend three days for personal reflection and writing as a guest of the Benedictine monks of Weston Priory in Vermont.  In return for living in the guest house for a few days, guests are asked to eat all meals with the brothers and to join them for daily prayer. For me, it was like having my own High Holy Days with the monastery as my synagogue, the monks as my rabbis, and the other visitors, priests and nuns and spiritual seekers, as my congregation.

Posted on September 21, 2015 .

Rabbi's Message -- July 24, 2015 Tisha B'Av

How the city sits alone, once full of people, now solitary as a widow. The city that was so esteemed among the nations is now like a laborer enslaved.

Driving through parts of central Massachusetts recently, I saw a contemporary version of the fall of a once-proud city. In once bustling industrial towns like Fitchburg or Lowell or North Adams, the shells of factories leave shadows of the past, amplifying the desolation of economic downfall.

Posted on July 24, 2015 .

Invocation at the Kennedy Institute 3/29/2015

It is a great honor to be with you today, not only because of presence of so many who are dedicated to serving our country, but the legacy of Senator Kennedy is so vast, including his life of service, his life as a father and as a mentor to many and  because his legacy encompasses the major legislation that has bettered the lives of all Americans over the past fifty years. Long after we are gone, this building will remain as a lasting tribute to his great vision, a vision of a world redeemed through the grandest ideals of democracy and the personal relationships that undergird a healthy democracy.

Posted on March 30, 2015 .

What Spring Brings

Though there is still plenty of snow on the ground, and perhaps a few more inches to come, we have survived the brunt of a brutal winter. For many, this was the most disheartening winter on record. While we might revel in breaking our own snow record, the breakdowns of transportation, loss of income to individuals and businesses and the multiple snow days still to be made up have been demoralizing. With crews working to repair roads and tracks, and freezing temps keeping snow piles in view, we will be recovering from this winter for some time to come.

With the first day of spring upon us, this is a good time to take stock. Milestones like the spring equinox do not necessarily promise a clear ending or beginning.

Posted on March 19, 2015 .

What Selma, Occupy and Moses Have to Teach about #BlackLivesMatter (MLK Shabbat Message)

As a white person, I acknowledge that my lived experience is different from the experience of people of color. I do not consider myself a racist, yet I know that because my understanding is limited and my personal concerns often lie elsewhere, I may well display racist tendencies. For this, I ask forgiveness.

I also acknowledge that I have the capacity to be an ally or a bystander. As a Jew, I know that I carry both a historic alliance with oppressed people, people on the margins. And I also know that as a Jew in America today, my life is far more privileged than that of my immigrant grandparents and my ancestors in other historic communities.  So I approach this topic both as an onlooker and ally and as a person of conscience born of my people’s story.

While some might approach the issue of racism in America by drawing on the story of the Jew as immigrant to America, striving to fit in, we must root our story not in history, but in Torah. Specifically, in Moses and the Exodus from Egypt.

Posted on January 19, 2015 .

Rabbi's message about the murders in the Jerusalem synagogue

The horror of the killing in a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday continues to occupy my heart and mind, as I’m sure you may be feeling it as well. As I mull over the brutal attack I keep coming back to the message I shared on Rosh Hashanah:  it is important for us to hold the complexity of this situation in Israel and Palestine, and to feel compassion for its victims.

Many in Boston are in mourning for the loss of their teacher, colleague and friend, Rabbi Mordecai Twersky. I am in mourning for another of the victims, Rabbi Kalman Levine, who I knew as Cary Levine. He grew up in the same synagogue in Kansas City that I did, and I knew his sister and parents as well. It feels like a personal loss to me and my hometown community. But we do not need to know any of the victims personally to be mourners.

Posted on November 20, 2014 .

Building a Holy Community--Kol Nidre Sermon 5775

This will be my last sermon about Limestone. For the past nine years, I have found a way to weave stories into Yom Kippur about the Tikkun Olam Family Work Project and our annual week of repairing homes in Northern Maine. We have also been known as JWH “Jews with Hammers,” and by the slogan, “repairing the world one house at a time.” But no more. In August, a group of 18 (chai) made our final trip to Limestone, Maine. While we hope to attract new families who will help decide on a different location for our summer trip next year, we won’t be returning to Limestone.

For the past year we have known that this day was coming. Pastor Ellen called a few of us aside a year ago to tell us of her plans to retire in 2015. She explained that, for a variety of reasons, we would not be able to continue our mission work there after her retirement

Posted on October 5, 2014 .

What's the Connection between Yom Kippur, the Ba'al Shem Tov and the Hyatt Workers?

At the close of every Shabbat, we invite Elijah the Prophet to join us in the passage from holy day to weekday. This will also be true this coming Shabbat as we end our Yom Kippur observance—the Sabbath of all Sabbaths—and prepare to go back into the world. Ideally, we will leave that experience--ending our fast, walking out of the synagogue, going to our individuals home and lives—somewhat changed.

These past weeks many of us have been focusing on teshuva, on the work of repentance and return. This requires inner work: figuring out just when did I harm someone, what can I do to repair it and how can I learn from this so that I don’t repeat the offense?

Posted on September 30, 2014 .

If I Am Not For Myself/If I Am Only For Myself: Rosh Hashanah Sermon

We are coming to the end of what has been a rough and tumble year, especially this past summer. Often it’s the hardships and the challenges that linger in our memories, overshadowing what was good. So I’d like to start this reflection by reminding us of the remarkable success of the courageous Market Basket workers. Their 40 day protest created hardships for grocery shoppers who could not afford the higher-end supermarkets. And it also created hardships for the workers themselves and their families. In the end, they succeeded in having their beloved Arthur T Demoulas reinstated as CEO. The stores are open again. We hope for their continued success in months to come.

Posted on September 28, 2014 .

July 17 Message from the Rabbi

Oseh shalom bimromav, hu ya’ase shalom aleinu v’al kol Yisrael, v’al kol yoshvei teiveil, v’imru amein.

May the One who makes peace in the High Place, bring peace to us, to the Jewish people, and to all who dwell on earth. And we say together, Amen.

As a Reconstructionist community, we distinguish ourselves, among other changes, in including all of humanity in our prayers for peace. We strive to balance love for and loyalty to our own People with compassion for all of humanity.

Posted on July 17, 2014 .

July 10 Message from the Rabbi

A still small voice.

A soft murmuring sound.

A thin voice of silence.

Whatever the translation of kol d'mama daka (I Kings 19:12), this is a sound that in our raucous, fast-paced, overstimulated society, we rarely get to hear. Yet this sound is one of the most powerful weapons against zealotry and violence.

Posted on July 16, 2014 .

I am Jewish and a Feminist!

I am Jewish and a feminist; our tradition’s text often feels at odds with my thinking. How can I read the Torah as supporting feminism?

I am also a Jewish feminist and I have, at times, found the text at odds with my thinking. I have also found the text to be a sacred story that inspires me, a source of moral guidance, and a description of life as I live it.

Over many years I have read Torah in a variety of settings using multiple commentaries and perspectives. Rarely do I, or most of the liberal Jews I know, read Torah as a literal text. From its earliest time, Torah has demanded interpretation. In fact, the word drash, the Hebrew word for interpretation, means to demand, to ask, to search.

Posted on May 25, 2014 .

Yom Kippur 5774: We’re Number 2!

On the airplane home from trip to Israel and Paris, I was looking for a movie I hadn’t yet seen. One choice was “Quartet,” a movie I had heard had good reviews. But instead, I found myself watching “Late Quartet, a different movie. Not the best way to choose a film, but as serendipity, or perhaps God’s gentle hand would have it, it turned out to be a good choice for the flight and gave me food for thought. 

In “Late Quartet,” the story of members of a long-standing professional string quartet, Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays the second violinist, and is considered the best second violinist around. Early in the film, his girlfriend asks him, “Don’t you ever want to play the melody?” He insists that he is proud of his work, adding that the second violinist holds the group together. He is considered the best second violinist around. Yet she convinces him to ask to take the lead every once in a while. Should he be content with his role or risk disrupting the quartet by demanding the opportunity to be first violin?

Posted on May 25, 2014 .