The Rabbi's Blog

Holocaust Hunger

April 12th, 2018 by Rav Shoshana

Yom Hashoah Nisan 27, 5778~April 12, 2018

I’m hungry. My colonoscopy  takes place tomorrow and I’m following the clear liquid  protocol  diet to clean out the system. Feeling hungry I go to the kitchen to scavenge for the requisite Jello, broth or fruit pops and that’s when I see them. There they are- 6 candles burning from last night when we lite them in memory of the 6 million who died in the Holocaust. I think… you are hungry… who are you kidding…you had a good breakfast this morning and a good dinner last night with plenty of food yesterday and you’ll eat again tomorrow…You’re hungry…girlfriend, you have no idea what hunger is… “Try having a tin plate and spoon that could never hold enough to satisfy the incessant gnawing hunger.”*

I am embarrassed in front of myself. I light candles for those who are no longer here, but I have no insight, conception or possible understanding of what any of them went through as they tried to survive, let alone for those who were gassed or killed.

 

I go back to my broth and Jello with a new perspective. Not just yearning for food for my body, but yearning for understanding, depth and connection to 6 million of my brethren… people I will never know, but human beings whose stories I need to know and understand. Yes because they were and still are part of my tribe, and also because their collective story speaks to the responsibilities of future generations to uphold the values of justice and respect and safety for all those who draw the breath of life.

 

God grant me the wisdom and guidance to know how to do this and the gratitude for this privileged journey… a journey that’s not taking place in a concentration camp- with fear, terror and sorrow as my constant diet.

 

 

 

 

March for Our Lives: Enough is Enough

March 25th, 2018 by Rav Shoshana

March for our Lives: Enough is Enough March 25, 2018

There are times in life when one can pierce through the veil of separation and catch a glimpse into the Oneness of all life…

Yesterday was one such day…. People all over the country and all over the world poured out into the streets to remind the world and one another that “this is what democracy looks like.”

We have seen this before with the women’s march and the People’s climate march, but the March for our Lives march had a unique flavor never before tasted in our country… the children led us. When the purity of children’s souls speak truth, their words also pierce the veil of complacency and despair, and ignite the passion, fire and hope in all of our hearts and souls.

There were babies in strollers reminding us that we do this for future generations, retired teachers who were marching for their students, and the rest of us taking back our rights to show those who are supposed to represent us, that the NRA’s special interests have hijacked our most precious values: the safety and protection of all citizens. Golda Meir is famously quoted in the purse of (Middle East) peace that “peace will come when the Arabs start to love their children more than they hate us.” The same can be said about politicians and the NRA, “when they value life more than money, there will be gun control laws that make sense even for hunters and gun lovers.”

Like all things in life, this cannot be a stand-alone event, a one time, feel good, look what we did Instagram and Facebook post.

Each of us in our own way has to take a piece of this inspired story and move it one step further- to join already established organizations with like-minded people who can continue the agenda in state capitols, DC and additional marches.

So order your orange T-shirt now, because June 2nd is National Gun Violence Awareness Day and the march for our lives, our democracy and the values of our country continue.

Let this issue live inside us as a fiery passion as if our lives depended upon it, because they do.

Rav Shoshana Mitrani Knapp has created a rabbinate based on the whispers, guidance and healing of the soul….through one one sessions, small groups and a monthly chant circle at the JCC in Manhattan she serves
those who want to hear their souls speak.

Also check out notesfromanoptimist.wordpress.com for more pictures and thought-provoking actions on topics of interest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moral Imperative for Climate Change

December 16th, 2015 by Rav Shoshana


 It’s up to us!

climate-change

It’s December 16, 2015, I have yet to take out my heavy boots, coats, and gloves, the thermostat is turned down because the house is warm by itself,  and it was close to 60 degrees yesterday. Weather patterns are upside down and a game on the Today Show this morning proved the point… Where is it colder? says Al Roker: LA or NYC: Answer LA @ 43; NY @48; Boston or Las Vegas: Answer Las Vegas @35 and Boston@38; Phoenix or DC? Answer: Phoenix @33 and DC @43.

The signing of the Paris Climate Agreement is a miracle, like the miracles we Jews celebrate in our stories of Passover and Hanukkah… splitting the sea and the oil lasting for 8 days. But miracles alone will not suffice, we need to do our part as well. In the  Book of Genesis after the world is created, God assigns Adam to be the steward of the earth. This is part of our covenant with God; we are to be the stewards of God’s garden, and we could be doing better.

These on-going warm days in December hit me on a personal, real level. I have tried to do my part in driving a hybrid car, recycling fiercely, reusing bags or no bag at all, anything I can do. But I was so frustrated/fearful this past Monday morning, that I had the chutzpah to email a professor at Princeton, a climate expert, and to ask him what it is I – one little person- can do, to take responsibility and feel empowered.

Dr.Michael Oppenheimer  graciously emailed me back within 15 minutes with the following list of what we can each do to help control climate change:

  1. Replace all lights with LEDs
  2. When you buy an AC, refrigerator, or other appliance, look at the yellow sticker and buy the one with highest efficiency that also has the attributes you need.
  3. For cars, look at the fuel economy sticker and do the same
  4. Walk or bike
  5. Plant trees
  6. Make sure your home is weatherized to the max
  7. Talk, talk, talk about climate change and the increasing risk but also our ability to fix it
  8. Become active politically, organize your community, and make a good position on climate change a top criteria for supporting candidates
  9. Since a generational change will make this stuff happen, focus on messaging the next generation

May each of us be stewards of our own part of the worldly garden and accept the moral imperative incumbent upon us all…

and may our consciousness not fall as the temperature drops…..

 

Embodying Ruth and Torah from Sinai

May 29th, 2012 by Rav Shoshana

My husband and I have just embarked on our 30th year of marriage. For those of you in long term relationships you know that when you take your vows for better or worse, it often includes the “better or worse” of your partner’s family as well.

The challenges of “in laws.”  The term “in law” refers to the fact that one is related to them by the “law” of marriage. In Judaism, the word “law” is translated as “halacha.” It refers to the system of Jewish law of the commandments or mitzvot. It is derived from the verb “to walk,” meaning that when one engages in the mitzvot of Jewish law, one is in fact desiring to “walk with God” in one’s life.

 

The holiday of Shavuot commemorates God’s giving these laws- the Torah -atop Mt. Sinai and we Jews receiving it- kabbalat Torah. But how do we actualize this to “receive Torah” in our modern day lives?

 

For a start we can be inspired by the Book of Ruth read at this season of the year. Ruth, the daughter in law of Naomi clings to her mother in law after both their husbands die. Her sense of love, loyalty and faith are upheld by Jewish tradition as an example of a non-Jew- Ruth who “receives Torah.” She tells her mother in law (Ruth 1:14-16) she will go where ever she goes,  she will stay with her wherever she stays, her people will be her people ad her God will be her God.

 

This year celebrating Shavuot was a challenge for me. As it coincided with Memorial Day weekend we were away and tried to search out spiritually rich services; there were few to be found. On Monday as the chag (holiday) was winding down I found myself following behind an ambulance which was taking my mother in law to the emergency room. We had come back to find that she was languishing in her bed and needed immediate attention. It turned out she had a blood clot in her lung, an infection and a blockage.

 

Before the ambulance had come, I had layed next to my mother in law, and she was scared. She was insisting on coming back home to sleep in her own bed. I said, “Mom, I can’t promise that, but what I can promise is that if you have to stay I will not leave your side. I will treat you and care for you as I would my own mother.”

 

It brings tears to my eyes even saying the words now.  I love my own mother so very much and know that whenever she has needed me, I care and advocate for her with the fierceness of a lioness protecting her cub. After 30 years of marriage I felt my mother in law not only deserved the same, but that I wanted to offer that to her. While her sons are wonderfully devoted to her, they don’t have the same touch as a daughter, especially one who has worked as a hospice chaplain. It was also expressing and fulfilling the words she has said to me often in the last number of years, “you are my daughter.” As her daughter/daughter in law I was saying  to her “wherever you will go I will go, wherever you stay I will stay and whatever your needs I will make my needs and advocate for you.

 

It was cold during the night in the hospital despite the record heat outside. I used  a white cotton blanket to keep warm. As I wrapped it upon my shoulders I found myself placing its folds upon me like a tallit. Throughout the night I held her hand, covered her with a blanket, found the ice machine to insure a cold cup of seltzer, and sang the Flemish song she used to sing to our children.

 

On the way home the next morning I realized the poignancy of this experience. I had been disappointed with the lack of a traditional Shavuot observance, yet when I reflected upon the night before I realized she and I had embodied the story of Ruth together.  As mother in law and daughter in law we had forged a bond of love, connection, devotion and loyalty deeper than either one of us could have ever imagined.

 

As I crept into bed to recover the lost sleep, I did so with deep gratitude. Gratitude that my mother in law’s health would be restored and for her role as my teacher in  helping me to have  “received Torah.” Drifting off to sleep I knew the received Torah that night in the hospital was my Sinai. It was Torah that was given, received, planted and a Torah of love that will forever live in my being.

A Personal Pathway to Yom Hashoah

April 19th, 2012 by Rav Shoshana

27 Nissan 5772

 

How does one wrap one’s mind, heart and soul around a loss so enormous- the loss of 6 million minds, hearts and souls. Since the end of the horrors of the Holocaust and the establishment of Yom Hoshoah- Holocaust Remembrance Day in 1951, various attempts have been made to observe, remember, honor and mourn the loss of literally millions of lives.

 

This year before we sat down to dinner I said to my husband, “Where’s the yellow Yom Hashoah candle we get every year from  the Federation of Jewish Men’s Club?  For reasons of politics and dues which I don’t want to address here, we didn’t receive one this year, and I missed having it. I thought to myself that perhaps this newly established ritual had become a more ingrained ritual than I realized. So we searched the house for a plain white yarzheit candle but fresh out of them after Passover we settled on a memorial 7 day shiva candle. I read an interesting article from the internet about Karem Abdul-Jaabar, the well-known basketball player who became a Muslim and his fulfillment of his father’s dying wish to find the little boy whom he liberated from Buchenwald. Turns out the little 8 year old is the Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and this July the unlikely pair of Karem and Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau will meet in Israel to bless a film Karem is making about this story.

 

Stories like this give us hope but the bigger question looms. As there are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors left to tell their story at synagogue and community Yom Hashoah events, how do we institutionalize commemoration? The rabbis developed a new system of prayer after the destruction of the Temple, we now need to come together to establish a series of rituals that 100 years from now honor 6 million lost lives.

 

This morning as I began my prayers I needed to do something different on this day of remembering and honoring. I began to chant the well-worn words of Psalm 23 verse 4 “Gam kee elech, b’gei tzlmazet, lo ira ra, kee atah emadi- thought I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I am not afraid for you (God) are with me.” 

 

I do not have personal connection to the Holocaust, no family members died and my mother in law escaped from Belgium with stop overs in Marseilles and Cuba before coming to the states… But as I chanted these words this morning I realized that any one of us that identifies as a Jew has a connection. For this loss of 6 million is our loss. It is a loss of our people, a part of our nation and the loss of the potentiality of what they would have created in their lives…. art, music,poetry, scholarship, scientific discoveries, and children and grandchildren and generations beyond who would have added to the richness, diversity and beauty of our heritage, not to mention their potential larger contribution to society.

 

And so as I sit here this morning in my sunny room chanting these words about death a doorway of connection opens. I feel my soul feeling this loss and I ask how do I heal the loss in my soul and honor the loss of my people. And then the answer comes. Similar but  not quite like  the passports  one receives upon a visit to the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC I imagined that there must have been among the 6 million a woman like me….a 55 year old woman with a husband and two children  all of whom perished… and how do I honor her and them… I take the loss of her life and  the pain I feel as a Jew,  and transform the loss by honoring the the gift of my life..the transformation comes  by dedicating my life to Jewish values, beauty, kindness. Jewish values that include protecting the rights of all people to exist, treating the stranger with fairness, extending kindness to all living things that breath the breath of life, and to appreciate and add beauty to the world in speech, action and thought. May the memory of the 6 million always inspire us to be better on their behalf. May it be so…

 

Rav Shoshana Mitrani Knapp


When I was a kid I remember my parents telling me I couldn’t have popcorn, ice cream, or soda on Passover. “I thought we just couldn’t have bread” my naive 10 year old  voice questioned. I didn’t understand: corn syrup? what does that have to do with Passover?

During the eight days of Passover in addition to prohibiting chametz, corn, rice, peanuts and legumes, known as kitniyot, are also prohibited at least for  Askenazi Jews (of Eastern European descent).  Sephardic Jews however did not abide by the same customs since rice and beans among others were the staple of their diets.  Why the difference?

It turns out much of it has to do with sociology of the respective geographic areas. Read the rest of this entry »