Rabbi Wirtschafter’s Columns

June 7, 2024

Sisterhood Shabbat

This evening is an opportunity to celebrate Shabbat with the remarkable women of Temple Adath Israel Sisterhood. Sisterhood continues to lead by example by supporting every aspect of temple life. Whether it is Religious School; the Adult Education, Social Action, Music and Worship, Budget, Endowment and Building Committees; Shir Adat or the Mitzvah Garden, you’ll find Sisterhood members donating their time and effort. Our congregation would not be the loving, caring and dynamic place it is without the contributions of Sisterhood. Particularly at this time of year, when we send our youngsters to summer day and overnight camps, we are indebted to Sisterhood scholarship efforts that make this important enrichment in Jewish development accessible to everyone regardless of their financial circumstances.

At a time when women’s right to determine what happens to their bodies has been jeopardized, it even more important to honor women’s intellect, insist on their independence, and recognize their work that all too often is underacknowledged and undervalued.

The Book of Numbers, which we begin again this week, teaches us far more than counting. It is ultimately about the importance of treating one another like we count. May Sisterhood continue to be blessed with outstanding members and leaders who make everyone here feel welcome, respected and loved.

Shabbat Shalom ,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


May 31, 2024

Congratulations, graduates!

It is poetically fitting that graduation season takes place at a time when we are finishing one book of Torah and starting another. Just as we are completing Leviticus and starting Numbers, so, too, our graduates are completing one chapter of life and embarking on a new one. We are always proud of our graduates, but we should be particularly impressed how this year’s students have weathered the social and emotional challenges of maintaining a positive Jewish identity and connection to community amid intense protest over the war between Israel and Hamas.


Whether you are completing high school, college or graduate school, we want you to know that TAI, Hillel and our Reform movement will be there for you as you navigate the next steps of your journey no matter what they may be. Here at TAI, we share in the naches (pride and joy) of your family and friends. No matter where you go or what you do, we hope to remain an important component of your life and are committed to being there for whatever you need.

Please make sure we have updated email, snail mail and cell phone numbers for you so we can invite you to services, programs and events in person or online. Mazel tov, and please keep in touch. As we say when we finish one book of Torah and start another: Chazak, Chazak, V’nitchazeik. “May you go from strength to strength.”

Shabbat Shalom ,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


May 24, 2024

Ring any bells?

Does the name John Pleasants ring any bells for you? You might have heard me mention John when we play his melody to V’Shamru at Friday evening services. It is even possible if you read your Temple bulletin that you recall his face from when he sang a number of prayers at my installation service about nine years ago. Whatever the case, you will have an opportunity to refresh your memory when he leads us in song tonight.

Like folks at TAI, John wears many hats. He has done several tours as Ames Jewish Congregation’s president. He is its choir director, guitar player, cantorial soloist and in-house composer. He sets up the television for movie night and stays to help clean up after oneg. Ames was a wonderful preparation for me in coming to Lexington. It’s also a town centered on its university and a congregation that lives by Laura Creamer’s motto: “We are small but mighty.”

Its poetically fitting that John joins us during the week in which read the Leviticus verse inscribed on the Liberty Bell: “proclaim release throughout the land.” In keeping with this commandment, our closing song will be Pete Seger’s “If I Had a Hammer,” which includes the lyric reference “the bell of freedom.” Please join me in welcoming this good friend back to our congregation and join us in song.

Shabbat Shalom ,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


May 17, 2024

A Sabbath of Elevation

“When you enter the land that I am giving to you and you reap its harvest, you shall bring the first sheaf of your harvest to the priest. He shall elevate the sheaf before God for acceptance in your behalf; the priest shall elevate it on the day after the sabbath.”

Leviticus 23:10-11

God of our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers,

In ancient times, priests elevated sheafs, representing the work and sacrifice of the people, before You.

Tonight we elevate the work, the sacrifices and the voices of women who lead our community through study, worship and charity.

Throughout the year Hadassah lifts up others by working to heal the horrors of war, poverty, disease.

Tonight we ask You to lift them up so we might hear them more keenly and heed their message more closely.

May the words of their mouths and the meditations of their hearts be pleasing in Your sight, Our Rock and Our Redeemer.

May You who elevates humanity from devastation, disappointment and despair elevate us once more as we listen intently to tonight’s leaders and endeavor to honor their prayers by putting their vision into action.

At a time when the spirits of so many have been brought down, may the women of Hadaddash help us to lift each other up that strength may be renewed and hope may be rebuilt.

May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.

Shabbat Shalom ,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


May 10, 2024

A Mother’s Day Prayer for Peace

God of Sarah and Hagar, love and loss, birth and bereavement, joy and sorrow.

On this Sabbath before Mother’s Day, we pause not only to thank our mothers or pay tribute to their memory, but also to acknowledge the pain and heartache of mothers around the world who have lost children to war, poverty and disease.

Too many mothers had children missing from this year’s Passover seder.

Too many mothers had children missing from this year’s celebration of Eid.

Too many mothers are wondering when their children will be released from captivity.

Too many mothers are worrying about their families being driven from their homes.

Too many mothers are struggling to keep their children from starving.

Too many mothers are struggling to keep their children healthy.

Too many mothers have been injured and killed.

Too many mothers won’t watch their children, grandchildren and great grandchildren reach adulthood.

May we honor the pain and sacrifice our mothers endure to bring us into the world by making it a more peaceful, merciful and loving place for all God’s children.

Shabbat Shalom and Best Wishes for a Happy Mother’s Day,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


May 3, 2024

Scapegoating: Modern Misapplication of an Ancient Practice

Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.

—  Leviticus 16:21–22

This week’s Torah portion provides us with the fate of two goats. One is to be sacrificed as a purgation offering and the other is to be sent into the wilderness carrying the sins of the people with it. Today we use the terms “scapegoat” and “scapegoating” in a negative context, meaning to burden undeserving or easy targets with disproportionate blame for a country or community’s problems.

God of past and present, pardon and punishment,

As a people who have been scapegoated throughout history, help us to refrain from visiting such wrongs upon others.

Teach us reject scapegoating of LGBTQ+ people for rejecting categories that fit neither their bodies nor their minds.

Help us refrain from scapegoating immigrants and refugees for pain and suffering that has nothing to do with their legal status.

Remind us to stop scapegoating people whose beliefs are different from ours by blaming their ideology for everything we dislike.

Make us understand that we cannot lay blame literally or figuratively on others in a misguided attempt to rid ourselves of the consequences of our own failures.

Show us that there is no righteousness without responsibility, that scapegoating is a form of avoidance and evasion leading to greater suffering by shifting blame rather than accepting it.

May we find better ways to cleanse ourselves of disappointing You than passing our sins onto others.

Shabbat Shalom ,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


April 26, 2024

Sacred Stories: Commemorating Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday


This year’s commemoration of Yom HaShoah will be at 10:30 a.m. Sunday at Ohavay Zion Synagogue. In keeping with the constructs of the Passover and the seders, our service will emphasize the importance of storytelling, known as maggid. Beth Ellen Rosenbaum, Lynne Zimmerman and Sheila Jelen will share their respective family narratives pertaining to the Holocaust. Judaism views storytelling as something far more than entertainment. As the Haggadah and the history of our people remind us, storytelling is a sacred task, one that preserves memory and spurs us to action.

Yom HaShoah and the field of Holocaust studies convey that when we say “never again” we mean not anyone, not anywhere, not anytime. Just as the Exodus story is ultimately about all of humanity deserving to be free, so, too, Holocaust Remembrance Day mourns the 6 million and challenges us to speak out against genocide and ethnic cleansing no matter who is being targeted. The message of this year’s storytellers, this year’s maggid, is a sanctification of a particularly Jewish trauma and a call to lift our voices to alleviate suffering no matter where it is taking place.

Music for the service will be provided by the community choir and instrumentalists. In addition to the traditional Yom HaShoah pieces, this year’s program will include Shir L’Shalom conveying our hopes for an end to suffering and a more peaceful future for Israel and the Middle East. Compositions by Ukrainian and Russian Jewish composers will be played to convey our prayers that the ongoing war in Ukraine will cease and that the essential work of rebuilding can begin. As tonight’s service is being led by Shir Adat, many of whom are in the community choir, I would like to especially acknowledge ensemble members Lauren Hill and Karen Petrone for their tireless efforts on Holocaust education.

Please make it a priority to attend Sunday’s service and encourage family and friends to do likewise. May the lessons of the Shoah deepen our appreciation of Passover and may the message of Pesach deepen our understanding of Holocaust Remembrance Day. May the words of this year’s Yom HaShoah maggid renew our commitment to heeding the lessons of history and strengthen our resolve to honor our sacred stories by rededicating ourselves to the work of justice, compassion and peace.

Shabbat Shalom ,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


April 19, 2024

Mazel Tov, Addison Masters

Tonight and again tomorrow our congregation will rejoice in the Bat Mitzvah of Addison Masters, daughter of Dennis Masters and Amanda Franklin and granddaughter of Debbie Masters and Nick Fain. It is remarkable to think back on how quickly this year has gone. On Simchat Torah we celebrated the Bat Mitzvah of Arly Weinstein, and now, just a few days before Pesach, we celebrate that of Addison. She is proof that there is always something new. In 27 years of rabbinic work, I have never officiated at the bat mitzvah of an executive director’s granddaughter.

I like to tease Nick (who is roughly 10 years my junior) that I can give him advice about teenagers and, in a few years, he can give me advice about grandparenting. I can attest from personal experience that going through the b’nai mitzvah process as a staff member and family member at the same time is not easy. Doing this in one’s first year on the job ─ even though Nick has been here for a long time as a board member, Brotherhood president, Security Committee chair and master chef ─ is no mean feat.

For Debbie, who has worn many volunteer and educational hats at TAI, I would imagine it must be particularly significant to bring two generations to our pulpit to read from the Torah. Many of our children move away, and it is not often enough that we get to celebrate moments like this. Mazel tov to Addison and her entire family for all the hard work that has gone into preparing for this wonderful Sabbath. We are so grateful to be sharing this moment with your multigenerational TAI family. Please join me in congratulating our newest bat mitzvah and wishing her extraordinarily dedicated grandparents all the best.

Shabbat Shalom ,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


April 12, 2024

Keilim Listening Session: The Sacred Work of Maintaining a Safe Community

On Sunday at 10 a.m., our Keilim Workgroup is hosting a listening session to talk about ways to ensure that Temple Adath Israel is a safe and healing community. This week and next week’s Torah portions, Tazria and M’tzora, are centered on the question of how to keep the people safe from disease. Protecting the community from contagion and providing the afflicted with a time and place to heal are the central themes of this section of Leviticus. It is a poetically fitting time for us as a temple community to address the work of maintaining a safe campus where everyone feels respected and secure.

Keilim, meaning sacred vessels, is an apt term for the tasks this group has undertaken since the release of the Union for Reform Judaism report of 2022 documenting how institutions throughout our movement needed to address past failures to prevent sexual harassment and begin the work of building a future with better oversight and accountability. This is a sacred task that requires input and support throughout the congregation. You might recall that members of the Keilim Workgroup led us last year in a modern addition to the Al Cheyt, part of the High Holy Days confessional. Since the group was formed not long after the release of the report, it has worked diligently in partnership with TAI’s Board of Directors and staff to update our policies and procedures to ensure we have the training, oversight and accountability we need to be a community free from abuse, discrimination and harassment.

The listening session, in the Educational Suite, is open to all members. Come listen, observe and share to the extent you feel comfortable. Please join us in the sacred work of maintaining this place we love as a congregation blessed with health, happiness and holiness.

Shabbat Shalom ,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


April 5, 2024

A Prayer Upon Devastating Losses: Mourning World Central Kitchen workers and the sons of Aaron

God of the hungry and heartbroken,

On this Shabbat following the deaths of seven World Central Kitchen workers in Gaza, we think of this week’s Torah portion, in which Nadav and Abibu, sons of Aaron, perish while trying to do their work as priests.

Just as Moses tried to console his brother, we pray that the families of these brave relief workers can take some measure of comfort in knowing that their loved ones died doing what they believed in, that their loss is not for nothing, that their memories will not be buried with their bodies.

As a people who have known hunger, let us show compassion to the hungry. May lack of food no longer be a consequence of war. May we never relinquish the dream of breaking bread in celebration of the end of hostilities and the beginning of peace. May we make the opening words of seder come true: “Let all who are hungry come and eat.” And let us fulfill the teaching of Pirke Avot: Be like the disciples of Aaron. Seek peace and pursue it.”

Please consider a donation to World Central Kitchen to honor the memories of the workers who died this week.

Shabbat Shalom ,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


March 29, 2024

“Most Holy”: Reflections on the Transformative Power
of Guilt Offerings

This week’s Torah portion, Tzav, includes instructions for the guilt offering: “This is the ritual for the guilt offering: it is most holy” (Leviticus 7:1). We moderns tend to think of guilt as something dragging us down, holding us back, something depriving us of fun and freedom, something shackling us to discipline and discretion. Torah views guilt as something that holds us accountable and inspires us to live with a stronger sense of obligation. Psychology concurs with Torah’s assertion that guilt needs to be alleviated, but today’s mental health care professionals do not prescribe sacrifices at the Temple.

We should be clear about what Torah is designating as holy here. Guilt is not holy. But the offerings, the work we do to address it, are not only described as holy but “most holy.” Why? Guilt, like any other emotion or instinct, is neither better nor worse than the use to which we put it. Feeling badly about what we did can be a positive step if it leads us to acknowledge what we did and make amends. We cannot bring livestock or crops to the temple, but we can atone for our mistakes by repairing the hurt we have caused to others. T’shuvah, repentance and reparation for wrongdoing, are today’s guilt offerings. It is serious and sacred work. When we practice these actions with sincerity, humility, and resolve, they are indeed most holy.

Shabbat Shalom ,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


March 22, 2024

Meaning of a Flawed Monarch: A Prayer for Purim

God of hamantaschen and happiness, of festive songs and fun-filled games, may our celebration of Purim this year fill us with hope for a better world and determination to make it so. May we come to see more than a seemingly simple scroll of valor and villainy, courage and corruption as more complex than it appears on the surface. Rather than a tale of opposites, let us come to see it as an allegory of competing inclinations present in every soul. Let us not only applaud the bravery of Vashti and Esther. Let us not only honor the wisdom of Mordechai. Let us also look to the example of a king who had the open-mindedness to change course before it was too late. Without the support of Ahashverosh, the courage of the queen and loyalty of her uncle might have been for naught. May we recognize the self-reflection and risk-taking required to change course. Let the example of the megillah’s flawed monarch never be taken for granted. Yes, we can be foolish, selfish, stubborn and gullible. But we also are blessed with the capacity for listening to advice, looking into our hearts and thinking for ourselves. It is these capacities that save the monarch from the villain, from disaster and from himself. May the melodies we sing tonight inspire us to make our entire weekend a Purim to remember. 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Purim Sameach,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


March 15, 2024

An Endnote to Exodus

This Shabbat we bid farewell to Exodus, at least until Pesach, and turn to Leviticus. The Eytz Chayim Commentary offers a short but sweet thought on reaching this juncture: “The Book of Exodus, which opened with a narrative of misery and oppression, closes on a note of confidence of hope.” As we look around the world, we see horrific misery and oppression. Yet Exodus reminds us of the possibility of transformation and change. What seems to be interminable suffering does not have to be that way. What people have come to accept as brutal facts of life can be overcome. A book that began with the ugliness of slaughter and enslavement ends with commandments of how to beautify the Tabernacle. May we maintain confidence and hope even in these harrowing times. May the heartbreaking realities of poverty and war never lead us to relinquish dreams of justice and peace.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


March 8, 2024

Shabbat of International Women’s Day

God of Sarah, Hagar, Rebecca, Leah, Rachel, Yochevet, Miriam, Shifra, Puah, Dinah, Deborah, Vashti and Esther.

On this Shabbat that coincides with International Women’s Day, we give thanks for the contributions of women who enrich our congregation, community, country and world with their intellect, creativity, devotion and determination.

We pray that one day women throughout the world will be able to access health care, education, freedom of movement and freedom from violence no matter how old they are, where they live, the religion they practice or their financial circumstances.

God of our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers. God of heroines past, present and future. May this day and this sabbath increase our commitment to making the world a place where gender no longer is a barrier to fulfilling one’s potential or reaching one’s dreams. Let us heed women’s voices so all women are valued. May this be our blessing, and let us say: Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


March 1, 2024

A Sabbath of Harmony and Happiness

Please join us at services tonight to enjoy beautiful music and to extend our best wishes to Abby Miller and Gabriel Robitaille on the sabbath before their wedding. Tonight’s vocalists are the dynamic mother-daughter duo of Lauren and Sophie Hill, with Harold Sherman providing accompaniment on the keyboard. Many of you are familiar with Lauren as a member of Shir Adat, Zoom director, Religious School teacher, and Holocaust educator. Sophie became a bat mitzvah and was confirmed at TAI, and now sings in the choir in college. The harmonies are going to be heavenly.

Abby also grew up at TAI and has returned as an art teacher at Religious School. Gabe conducts the Junior Choir (Tsipurei Shir) and has led services by themself and with future father-in-law Jonathan Miller. Just as she marked her consecration, bat mitzvah and confirmation at Temple, Abby’s wedding on Sunday will take place on our pulpit. Abby, Gabe and their families are celebrating the sabbath of their wedding by reading from the Torah and chanting the blessings before and after. In Yiddish, this custom is known as an aufruf, meaning “calling up,” and we are delighted that Abby and Gabe are helping us to promote it. For those of you who love Torah reading at Friday services, we hope you will attend.

This week, when we read the Torah portion that details the artistry of Bezalel and his colleagues, we are reminded of how grateful we are to all those who contribute to our Religious School and congregation through visual, culinary and musical arts. Thank you for enriching us and our children with your creativity, dedication, and enthusiasm.

Let us wish the delightful young couple every happiness and listen to the music of a talented tandem with attentive ears and grateful hearts.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


February 23, 2024

Three Poems About Light

Light has long been a word and an image loved by poets and storytellers throughout the world. This week’s Torah portion, T’tzaveh, begins with a commandment to keep the lamps of the tabernacle burning at all times. It comes as no surprise that most of the poems in the “Voices” section of the Women’s Torah Commentary for this portion seize on this poignant moment. At tonight’s service we will be incorporating three of poems into our prayers.

The first selection, taken from “A Prayer Before Kiddush” by Beyle Hurvits, sets a tone of calm and gratitude. The author playfully points out the irony of lighting candles to honor the Source of Light, while conveying awe and wonder for creation and the Creator. The second reading, “River of Light,” comes from the poet Zelda, whose masterpiece “Everyone Has a Name” might be familiar to many of you. This short but powerful work brings natural and spiritual imagery together into a deeply moving poem that elevates candle lighting, something we do each week, into a moment of astonishing heights. Our third and final poem, “Offering” by Grace Shuman, will be shared as a meditation before Mourners Kaddish. Written in part as a farewell homage to her mother, Shuman’s poem sees light as a source of comfort and continuity in a world of chaos and change.

Whether it appears in our ancient scrolls or more contemporary works, the role and meaning of light challenge us to reconsider how we regard something we rely on but rarely think about. May the works of these poets enhance our appreciation of Shabbat, and may our love of Shabbat enrich our understanding of these poems.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


February 16, 2024

Our Greatest Gifts: A Blessing for Hearts So Moved

“God spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring Me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from everyone whose heart is so moved.” (Exodus 25:1)

On this week when we read parashat T’rumah, meaning gift, we are reminded, especially at family services, that children are just that. Tonight, as our fourth-grade class and their teachers lead us in prayer, let us be particularly focused on the gift of learning and instruction. Let us be thankful for the gift of time and effort that teachers and students, parents and volunteers invest in this essential dimension of congregational work. Let us appreciate the gifts of drawings and paintings that begin in the classroom and wind up on our walls and refrigerators, and in our scrapbooks. Let us be grateful for the gifts of songs and dances, challahs, and hamantaschen, Hebrew words and Bible stories that these adorable young people and dedicated faculty busy themselves with on Sundays from late summer until mid-spring.

Just as our teachers and students have moved each other’s hearts, so, too, may our hearts be moved by tonight’s prayers, songs and stories. May God who granted us our greatest gifts accept these gifts from the heart with kindness, happiness and love. Baruch Atah Adonai HaTov v’HaMeitiv. Blessed in the Source of Goodness who calls on us to do good.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


February 9, 2024

Sending an Angel: A Prayer for Parashat Mishpatim

In the midst of parashat Mishpatim, meaning laws, things that humans have to teach, observ and enforce, comes a verse about a messenger of The Divine.

“I am sending an angel before you to guard you on your way and to bring you to the place that I have made ready.” (Exodus 23:20)

God who guarded our ancestors on their way, guard us now as we go on ours.

On this Shabbat, when we gather to sign “Shalom Aleichem Malachay Ha’Shalom, peace onto you, you angels of peace,” bless us and our troubled world, O God, with advocates, champions and prophets of peace.

Bo-achem l’shalom — Enter in peace.

Barcheinu l’shalom — Bless us with peace.

Tzeit’chem l’shalom — Depart in peace.

May the angel of our Torah portion and the Divine messengers who visit us each shabbat remind us to look beyond the letter of the law that we might grasp its spirit.

May these guardian angels guide us lovingly, tenderly and patiently through journeys fraught with human mishaps and mistakes.

May angels of peace guide us in the pursuit of peace.

Make ready for us, O God of angels and humans, a place where peace is enjoyed by all creation.

Peace be to You, O ministering angels. And peace be unto us. Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


February 2, 2024

Not Alone: Lessons From Parashat Yitro

Moses’ father-in-law said to him,

“The thing you are doing is not right; you will surely wear yourself out, and these people as well. For the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone. Now listen to me. I will give you counsel. You shall seek out, from among all the people, capable individuals who fear God — trustworthy ones who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, and let them judge the people at all times. Have them bring every major dispute to you, but let them decide every minor dispute themselves. Make it easier for yourself by letting them share the burden with you.

If you do this — you will be able to bear up; and all these people too will go home unwearied.”

Moses heeded his father-in-law and did just as he had said. (Exodus 18:17-19, 21-24)

All too often we make a similar mistake to that of Moses. Thinking, and worse yet acting, as if we have to do everything ourselves. Even someone as righteous, dedicated and intelligent as Moses needed help. When Jethro, Moses’s father-in-law, observes the inefficient way Moses is running the court system, he immediately offers a comprehensive plan to improve things. Rather than getting defensive, as anyone might be tempted to do, Moses accepts the advice without argument. It is not easy to ask for help. Strictly speaking Moses does not ask for Jethro’s opinion. Then again, it’s not everyone who would invite their father-in-law to help with a job they were struggling with. Inviting or allowing Jethro to go to court with Moses can be read as soliciting Jethro’s input.

God of Jethro and Moses; give us the generosity to lend help where it is needed, the readiness to accept help when it is offered, and the courage to ask for help, especially when we think we have to solve everything alone.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


January 26, 2024

A Prayer for the Parting of the Waters: The Moral Impetus of Parashat B’shalach

Source of salvation and deliverance, miracles and marvels, redemption and rejoicing:

On this week when we study how You parted the sea, purified desert waters and provided manna, we are reminded that you are a God who knows, a God who cares and a God who provides.

We pray for the capacity to follow your example. Help us to free those who live under the yolk of oppression. Inspire us to quench the thirst of those who long for potable water. Remind us to provide sustenance for those who are on the verge of starving.

As you noticed and nurtured our people in times of crisis, so may we be attentive to those who need our help.

Blessed are You, parter of the sea, purifier of water and provider of sustenance, who calls on all who live to care for one another.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


January 19, 2024

All or Nothing: Reflections on Parashat Bo

The following narrative in this week’s Torah portion takes place in the prelude to the plague of locusts. After seven plagues, cracks are starting to form in the court of Egypt. An unrelenting tyrant has found willingness to compromise — within limits.

Pharaoh’s courtiers said to him, “How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let a delegation go to worship their God! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?”

So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh and he said to them, “Go, worship your God. Who are the ones to go?” Moses replied, “We will all go — regardless of social station — we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe God’s festival.”

But he said to them, “God be with you — the same as I mean to let your dependents go with you! Clearly, you are bent on mischief. No! You gentlemen go and worship God, since that is what you want.” And they were expelled from Pharaoh’s presence. (Exodus 10:7-11)

The passage is a powerful reminder of how different parties approach the same situation. Pharaoh is sufficiently worn down that he is willing to relent a little on his refusal to let the people go. He approaches the conflict as a negotiation. Moses and Aaron, on the other hand, insist that the people’s freedom is not about give and take but rather a divine demand requiring full cooperation. The interchange teaches us that freedom, and by extension all forms of a better life, are not merely something for a select few. Progress, the expansion of rights and liberties, is for everyone. Their willingness to continue the fight into the plague of darkness and tragically the death of the firstborn conveys how serious they are about this all-or-nothing approach. Rather than acquiesce to the exclusion of their wives and children, they walk away from the conversation until Pharaoh is ready to listen. 

Practicality typically cautions against all-or-nothing approaches as too idealistic or extreme to achieve success. These verses are an important exception. In some circumstances, compromise is a luxury we cannot afford. The cost of a compromise that leaves undervalued people no better off than they were before while others are afforded the chance at a better life is a price too high to pay. May the example of Moses and Aaron inspire us to stand firm during difficult circumstances and remind us that we cannot negotiate away the future of those who need us.

As the great Jewish-American poet Emma Lazarus wrote: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


December 22, 2023

A Sabbath of Appreciation: Honoring Laura Creamer, TAI’s outgoing administrator


At this evening’s service, we honor the outstanding contributions of Temple Administrator Laura Creamer.

Laura has worn many hats here at TAI: preschool director, Religious School teacher, Sisterhood president, administrative assistant and administrator. I have come to rely on Laura’s extensive knowledge of the congregation, true caring for our members and profound dedication to her work. If you have worked with Laura in any of her capacities at TAI, you know how fortunate we have been to have her with us all these years.

While we are sad that Laura no longer will be in the building on a daily basis, we are comforted by the fact that she lives right up the block and that we can continue to rely on her for guidance and help when we need it.

Please join me in wishing Laura the best in whatever she decides to do next and thanking her for all she has contributed to our congregation.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


December 15, 2023


“When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger to them. Joseph recognized his brothers but they did not recognize him.” (Genesis 41:7-8)

When Joseph’s brothers stumble hungrily into his wheelhouse years after selling him into slavery, they have no idea who he is. Is it fair to say that Joseph is disguised? Technically, it would seem the answer is no. He is not impersonating the viceroy to Pharoah. He is the duly appointed viceroy to Pharoah. His royal garb is part of his office, not a costume he puts on to fool people. He never lies to them about who he is, but he does withhold it. It is in this withholding that a figurative argument for disguise can be made. The discrepancy in knowledge reinforces the differential in power. Years ago, his brothers forcibly disrobed him and sold him as a slave. Now he wears robes of authority and has the power to strip them of everything.

Joseph’s behavior suggests there are times when disguising ourselves allows us to uncover the true motivations and character of others. It is while wearing the mask that he discovers his brothers possess redeeming qualities such as not wanting to cause their father any more pain. Revealing our true selves to others has a noble ring to it, but it can be fraught with risk. Joseph makes the brothers demonstrate they deserve a second chance rather than granting it with no questions asked.

May Joseph’s use of disguise and disclosure remind us to reflect on the difficult questions of how emotionally vulnerable we can be, under what circumstances and with whom. May his decision to pardon his brothers remind us to have faith in people’s capacity to change. And may his ultimate rejection of retaliation and revenge, when he had the power to act with impunity, inspire us to be cautious and compassionate in our use of power.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


December 8, 2023

A Hanukkah Prayer for Peace

Rock of Ages, we gather tonight amidst a raging war beseeching You for peace.

May the lights of Hanukkah diminish our darkness.

May the miracles of Hanukkah strengthen our hope.

May the joy of Hanukkah alleviate our sorrow.

May the songs of Hanukkah lift our spirits.

May the story of Hanukkah remind us to honor our past.

May the message of Hanukkah inspire us to make a brighter future.

May the spinning of dreidels restore our love of play.

May the devouring of latkes move us to feed the hungry.

May each candle bring more light, more joy, more courage and more compassion.

And may You, Rock of Ages, bless our troubled world with miraculous peace.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


December 1, 2023

Wrestling: A Prayer for Parshat Yayishlach

“Now Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until the break of dawn.”  — Genesis 32:25

God of Jacob and Esau, Isaac and Ishmael, Cain and Abel,

This week’s Torah portion, with its famous wrestling match, compels us to consider what and whom we wrestle with.

Some of us are wrestling with turmoil of the past.

Others are wrestling with crises of the present.

Some of us are wrestling with the pain we have caused others.

Some of us are wrestling with the pain others have caused us.

Some of us are wrestling with worry over saying no.

Others are wrestling with worry of over saying yes.

Some of us are wrestling with how best to tell the truth.

Others are wrestling with how to break with telling lies.

Some of us, like Jacob, are wrestling with how to face our families.

Others of us are wrestling with how to face our friends.

God of calm and confrontation, tranquility and turmoil, silence and speech,

Be with us when we are alone as you were with Jacob.

Help us feel your presence when it seems as if we are wrestling giants by ourselves.

Strengthen our resolve to wrestle with crises rather than run from them.

Remind us that some things are worth wrestling over,

And some things are better served by letting go.

Teach us when to hold tight to that which might otherwise slip away

And when to loosen our grip before we crush that which cannot be repaired.

God who protected Jacob while he wrestled with the man, or angel or whatever he faced that night,

Be with us as we wrestle with adversity, too.

Blessed Are You, O God, who calls on us to confront the uncomfortable and wrestle with what worries us.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


November 24, 2023

A Blessing for Lorne Dechtenberg

God of melody and harmony, sharps and flats, crescendos and decrescendos, preludes and finales: Tonight marks our farewell service for our musician-in-residence, Dr. Lorne Dechtenberg, an instrumentalist, a vocalist, a conductor, an arranger, a composer, a son, a brother, a colleague, a fiancé and a friend. On this Shabbat after Thanksgiving, we express our gratitude for all he has given us and appreciation for the lasting contributions he has made. We honor Lorne tonight by weaving in his compositions and talents throughout the service, by asking him to conduct, play and sing. Perhaps his extensive knowledge of opera and musicals is what has influenced Lorne’s keen understanding of how music can convey emotion. This is an especially timely gift because it is likely to be an emotional night. A night of mixed emotions. Sadness that Lorne is leaving yet happiness that he has found such a wonderful opportunity in California and announced his engagement to Rachel Rogers. 

May the One Who blessed us with the fruit of Lorne’s remarkable talents bless our friend, teacher and master musician as he embarks on the next chapter of his life. May his artistry continue to flourish. May his enthusiasm remain contagious. May his dedication motivate those around him. May his willingness to embrace a challenge strengthen him in difficult times. May his spirit of cooperation lead to great partnerships. May his confidence inspire fellow artists to trust in him and in themselves. May he never quit composing, never quit playing, never quit singing, never stop leading, never stop creating, never stop exploring, never stop trying new things. May his love of learning bring him ever more knowledge and his passion for his craft bring him ever more joy. May he and Rachel grow together as they continue on life’s journey and may their journey through life be blessed with happiness, holiness and peace.

Best of luck Lorne, and mazel tov to the Dechtenberg and Rogers Family.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


November 17, 2023

The Musical Reasons for Thanksgiving: Appreciation for Dr. Lorne Dechtenberg

The ongoing war between Isarel and Hamas rightfully consumes a great deal of our attention. Shabbat, particularly family services, reminds us of the need to practice gratitude even when life is filled with difficult circumstances and distressing news. It is poetically fitting that the second-to-last service led by our musician-in-residence, Dr. Lorne Dechtenberg, should be the Shabbat before Thanksgiving and his final service will be the day after Thanksgiving. Lorne has given us so much to be thankful for: Shabbat evenings with Shir Adat, The Trio (Lorne, Lauren Hill and Jerry Suhl), services when he was the lone musician, Saturday morning services where he provided music for dozens of b’nai mitzvah students, funeral services where his rendition of El Malei Rachamim moved us to tears, and High Holy Day Services where his recitation of Kol Nidre enhanced our sense of awe. But the greatest gift Lorne has given our congregation is the friendships formed through Shir Adat, both the individual friendships created through the years and the sense of community, of ensemble the group shares as a whole. While there won’t be another Lorne, our appreciation of Shir Adat will not waiver with his departure. We are grateful for those choir members, just as we are grateful for Lorne.

Please join us Sunday at 3 p.m. for a farewell sendoff with cake, gifts and music. Then join us again next Friday for Lorne’s final service, which, fittingly, is with Shir Adat. On behalf of our Temple staff and my predecessors, Rabbis Kline and Roberts, who also worked with Lorne, we hope you will make it a priority to attend these farewell gatherings and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Thanksgiving,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


November 10, 2023

Gathering of Grief: The Mitzvah of Mourning and the Pursuit of Peace

This week’s Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, speaks directly to this moment of profound grief and pain in the ongoing war in Israel and Gaza. While the title of the portion means “the life of Sarah,” the opening verse tells us she has died. Sarah, like all biblical personas, is a complicated figure. She was loving to husband Abraham and their son, Isaac, but cruel to her stepson, Ishmael, and his mother, Hagar. Abraham buries her in the cave of Machpelah, thus inaugurating a tomb of the ancestors where Sarah eventually will be joined by other matriarchs and patriarchs.

Torah tells us nothing about Sarah’s funeral, but we can try to imagine the gathering of grief. What if Ishmael came home to comfort his father over the death of his wife and console his half-brother over the death of his mother? What if he felt that his resentment of Sarah for mistreating Hagar and sending them away should not keep him from fulfilling the mitzvah of nichum aveilim, comforting the bereaved? What if he believed that, despite her failings, people he loved were mourning Sarah’s death and he needed to be with them?

Once again, the Promised Land is being ravaged by war. With each passing day, the death count gets higher. This latest war, along with our Torah portion, urges us to ponder the same question Ishamel had to face. Despite all the anger, mistrust and resentment we accumulate in familial or political conflict, can we retain the capacity to see one another as deserving compassion? Can we respond to someone’s suffering, anguish and pain with empathy and consolation even when we are outraged by the cruel decisions and brutal actions of their leaders? During the past month people on both sides of this war have buried people they loved. Mourning our dead is something all humans share. We don’t have to agree on anything to acknowledge each other’s agony.

Torah does not tell us whether Ishmael was present for the burial of his stepmother, but it does tell us about his father’s burial two chapters later. “Abraham breathed his last, dying at a good ripe age, old and contented; and he was gathered to his kin. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah.” Two brothers divided by jealousy and injustice join together to bury their father with dignity and honor. Ishmael does not argue that the site is also the tomb of Sarah, who sent him away, as an excuse to skip out on burying his father and comforting his younger brother. May the biblical claim that that two different people share a common father be a humbling reminder that God expects humanity from all human beings. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so eloquently put it: “In a real sense all life is interrelated. All people are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

On this first Shabbat following the sheloshim, 30 days since the Hamas terrorist attacks of Oct. 7, let us try to envision a gathering of grief where the descendants of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar, of Isaac and Ishmael, can console one another for the loved ones lost in this latest war and pray to the Parent of all humankind for a just and lasting peace. May the Source of Peace renew our commitment to peace. Let us “seek peace and pursue it” for the sake of all those who so desperately need it, in Israel, Gaza and throughout the world.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


October 27, 2023

Rescue for the Captive: Abram, Lot and a Prayer for the Safe Return of Prisoners in Gaza

“Invaders seized all the wealth of Sodom and Gomorrah and all their provisions, and went their way. They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, and his possessions, and departed; for he had settled in Sodom. An escapee brought the news to Abram the Hebrew, who was dwelling at the terebinths of Mamre the Amorite, kinsman of Eshkol and Aner, these being Abram’s allies.

“When Abram heard that his kinsman’s [household] had been taken captive, he mustered his retainers, born into his household, numbering three hundred and eighteen, and went in pursuit as far as Dan. At night, he and his servants deployed against them and defeated them; and he pursued them as far as Hobah, which is north of Damascus. He brought back all the possessions; he also brought back his kinsman Lot and his possessions, and the women and the rest of the people.” (Genesis 14:11-16)

God of worry and anxiety, thought and action, word and deed. As we pray for at least 200 fellow Jews taken captive, may we draw hope and inspiration from this week’s Torah portion. The curse of hostage-taking has been with us throughout history, but so, too, has been the determination to set them free. Just as You granted success and good fortune to Abram’s rescue of Lot, we ask Your blessing on efforts to release innocent captives held in Gaza or wherever they might be. Like that of Abram, far too many families are living with fear of what might be happening to their captive loved ones. Hear them, O God, be with them. May those held in wrongful captivity find the strength to endure. May their families and friends find faith to carry on. May those endeavoring to bring them home achieve their goal. Sanctify their efforts and sacrifices with the blessing of success. Just as You reunited Lot and Abram, we ask that You reunite the family’s suffering this cruel and unjust separation. Baruch Ata Adonai Matir Asurim. Blessed Are You, O God, who redeems the captive.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


October 20, 2023

Continuing On in the Face of Crisis:
Danit Schachman Speaks on Shabbat Noah

This week’s Torah portion, Noah, poses the question of how people respond to crisis and loss. Noah and his family survive the deluge and assume the tremendous task of creating a new existence. Like the members of Noah’s family, tonight’s speaker, Danit Schachman has just endured a traumatic event.

Danit came to Lexington with her family several years ago and celebrated her Bat Mitzvah and confirmation with us. Her father, Mark, serves on our Executive Committee as temple vice president, chairs our Music and Worship Committee, and teaches 7/8th grade in Religious School. Her mother, Laura, teaches cooking and cultural enrichment in our Religious School and led children’s programming for the High Holy Days. Danit was participating in the Reform movement’s Heller High program in Israel when the terrorist attacks and ensuing war put an end to the program for this semester. She and her classmates were safely evacuated just over a week ago. During last Friday’s Shabbat service, Danit lit the candles in our sanctuary. Tonight, she will be sharing her reflections on what she and her classmates have been through and how she intends to move forward.

In keeping with the theme of continuing on in the face of destruction and despair, our service will include several poems about Noah and the flood interspersed through our regular prayers. We will continue to pray for the return of the hostages, healing for the wounded and comfort for the families of the bereaved in this latest round of heartbreaking violence. Even in this hour of war, may the Source of Peace strengthen our resolve to call for peace. May the strength and resilience of Noah’s family and the Schachman family inspire us to persevere in the trying days ahead.

Please show your support for Danit and her parents by making every effort to attend this evening’s service in person or via Live Stream.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


October 13, 2023

Shabbat After the Slaughter: Looking to Adam and Eve as Survivors of Trauma

Bereshit, the opening portion of Genesis that we restart this week, contains the beautiful story of creation and the brutal tale of the Bible’s first murder. Like Adam and Eve, the people of Israel are reeling with grief over the deaths of family members. Like Cain, the perpetrators of last week’s violence showed no pity and expressed no remorse. Like that of Abel, the blood of Israel’s innocent victims cries out from the ground. What should have been a time of festive rejoicing was cruelly transformed into a rampage of murder, rape and kidnaping. What could have been a Shabbat to focus on the opening story about the mystery, grandeur and wonder of Creation has become a time more closely aligned with our portion’s tragedy of murder, misery and mayhem. The graphic photos of this week lend themselves to imagining the expression of Adam and Eve looking at the horrific sight of Abel’s body, their beautiful boy lying bloodied on the ground. 

On this first Shabbat since the slaughter Israel endured a week ago, let us try to comfort one another — and our friends and family living there — just as Adam and Eve must have comforted each other after the murder of their precious son. Let us pray for the release of the captives, recovery for the wounded, and consolation for the bereft. Life for Adam and Eve must never have been the same after the dreadful day their son was murdered. Yet they summoned the determination to carry on, raise another child and find strength in the hope that the future could be better than the past. Life for Israelis and Jews throughout the world will never be the same after the horrific events of last week. Still, we cling to the example of Adam and Eve that all is not lost, that humanity is not doomed, that existence still holds the potential for lives of purpose, progress and peace. May their ability to overcome trauma inspire us and all who are hurting in Israel to rededicate ourselves to bringing healing to this brutal and beautiful world of ours.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

NOTE: Tonight’s service will include special songs, poems and prayers pertaining to last week’s terror attacks and ongoing war in Gaza. In lieu of the usual Torah commentary or sermon, we will take the time to reflect, process and share about the massacre and ensuing war. We realize that live stream in not an interactive medium, so we are providing the prompts/questions below for this conversation in advance and encouraging viewers to please phone/FaceTime/text one another as a means of participating in real time with other congregants. If you need assistance in finding a live-stream participant to partner with or are a regular live-stream participant who would like to partner with someone, please contact the office and we will pair you with someone. 

■ In this moment my heart is breaking for …
■ In this moment I am thinking of …
■ In this moment I am feeling …
■ In this moment I am praying for …


October 9, 2023

A Message From Rabbi Wirtschafter

Dear TAI Community,

I was getting ready to lead services Saturday for Simchat Torah and the Bat Mitzvah of Arly Weinstein here at Temple when I noticed reports about Hamas attacks in Southern Israel. The massacre and ongoing hostage crisis are horrifying.

Like you, I am heartbroken by the images and videos being shared, and deeply worried for family and friends. In my Kol Nidre sermon about the current situation in Israel I quoted T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights. Please read T’ruah’s statement about the current conflict below and follow TAI emails closely for updates. (Note: Since the statement below was released, the number of Israeli deaths has risen to about 800 with nearly 2,400 wounded, while the number of captives is at least 150, according to The New York Times. It reported deaths of Palestinians at nearly 700.)

North American Rabbis Mourn Deaths of Israelis In Terror Attack 

 NEW YORK — T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights organization representing over 2,300 rabbis and cantors in North America, condemned the horrific murders of over 700 Israeli citizens. They shared prayers for the thousands of wounded and called for the immediate, safe release of the over 100 hostages — including elderly people, children, and entire families — who have been kidnapped by Hamas and taken to Gaza. They expressed fear for the ongoing impact this will have on innocent Israelis and Palestinians in the coming days and weeks ahead. 

In a statement, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, CEO of T’ruah, said: “Our hearts are broken for those killed, and for those who lost family, friends, and neighbors in Hamas’ horrific and indefensible terror attacks in Southern Israel this Saturday. There is no possible justification for cruelly and indiscriminately murdering civilians and taking innocent people as hostages, both of which are war crimes. 

“As these attacks happened, many of us were celebrating the twin holidays of Shemini Atzeret and Simchat Torah. Zman simchateinu (literally, ‘the season of our rejoicing’) became a time of horror, of mourning, and of pain.

“We pray for the safety of our families, friends, rabbinic and other colleagues, T’ruah staff members, and everyone in our broader community in Israel. We know that the shock and pain will not pass quickly; we feel the reverberations of this massacre throughout the Jewish diaspora. 

“As in other times of intense grief and fear, we turn to the wisdom of Jewish tradition — a tradition born of centuries of dispossession and communal grief. This wisdom reminds us that mourning cannot be rushed or denied. We cry out in the words of the Psalms: ‘Out of the depths I call you, oh God. Oh God, listen to my cry; let your ears be attentive to my plea for mercy’ (Psalm 130). We pray for the swift return of those held captive: ‘May the Holy Blessed One have compassion on them and bring them out from darkness and the shadow of death, may God break their bonds, deliver them from their distress, and bring them swiftly back to their families’ embrace’

“We know that more terrifying times lay ahead. We mourn and we pray for the safety of everyone in harm’s way, as the violence threatens to claim the lives of even more Israelis, as well as Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Most Israelis and Palestinians want to live in peace, security, and dignity. The road may be long, but we will not allow the enemies of peace to hijack our dreams of a better future for Israelis and Palestinians. We know that a true and lasting peace will not be achieved until there is a just, negotiated political solution that protects the human rights of everyone.”

Upcoming events and ways to help right now

Our Hearts are in the East: A Musical Event in Solidarity with Israel

8 p.m. Tonight
Join us for a gathering of solidarity featuring music, poetry, and prayer from musicians, clergy, and friends.
Register for the event

Donate to the JNFA Campaign

Jewish Federations are responding, working with our core partners to support victims of terror, help rebuild damaged infrastructure, and address the unprecedent levels of trauma caused by this horrific attack. 
The URJ is participating in the campaign.
Donate Now

Israel at War: Call for Medical & Nursing Volunteers

Israel is at war. Many hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed and many medical personnel are being called up to serve in the army. Hospitals throughout Israel are desperate for volunteers to fill in the ranks. Anyone with a valid license in ISRAEL or a Western Country (US, Canada, EU) in medicine, nursing, nurse practitioner, and other critical credentials:  if you have time to volunteer please provide your contact info here so we can disperse to the relevant hospitals who may need you. 
Fill out form

October 6, 2023

From Sadness to Joy: The Final Day of Sukkot plus Simchat Torah and a Bat Mitzvah

Jewish time is a far more complicated concept than running 15 or more minutes late. It is about accommodating multiple emotions and different needs within a common time frame. The next 24 hours are a case in point. Tonight’s service for Shabbat and the final day of Sukkot will include Yizkor, memorial prayers that are recited on Yom Kippur and the three Pilgrimage Festivals: Sukkot, Passover and Shavuot. As is the case on a yahrzeit, (the anniversary of a death), it is customary to light a candle or candles for those no longer with us. The El Malay Rachamim, a prayer for God’s compassion, will be chanted, and the names of congregants we have lost over the past year will be read. Because it is a holiday, our Bat Mitzvah student, Arly Weinstein, will recite an especially challenging Kiddush (sanctification of the wine) for Shabbat and the Festival. Shir Adat and Dr. Lorne Dechtenberg, our musician in residence, will be singing additional songs as well, including “Turn, Turn, Turn,” Pete Seger’s take on Ecclesiastes, the Wisdom reading for Sukkot.

Tomorrow morning takes on a very different tone. In addition to the Bat Mitzvah, it is also Simchat Torah, the holiday that closes out Sukkot and the High Holy Days season, and celebrates the completion and starting of new cycle of Torah reading. As part of this service, our processional through the sanctuary will be even more festive and joyful than usual. Everyone will be invited to sing and dance as we parade around the sanctuary with our Torah scrolls while doing a hora or two. Arly will be chanting from two scrolls, one for the end of Deuteronomy and another for the start of Genesis. The occasion also calls for the student to learn a different blessing than we normally use after the Haftorah. The service will be about half an hour longer than a typical Saturday morning b’nai mitzvah, so please eat a hearty breakfast as lunch will be later than usual.

The liturgical additions to the Friday and Saturday services require time and effort from the Bat Mitzvah family and the congregation. We are grateful to Arly and the entire Weinstein family for the flexibility and generosity of spirit required to make all the elements fit together. Liturgy, like life itself, is often about tradeoffs. While Friday’s service will be more solemn than usual, Saturday morning will be even more festive than usual. If and when life requires us to accommodate both emotions within a tight time frame, may we always be blessed to go from sadness to joy. Mazel tov to Arly and the entire family. Please make a special effort to attend services tonight and tomorrow morning.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 29, 2023

Grace Period: Making the Most of Sukkot
and Simchat Torah

The rabbis teach that the High Holy Days and Season of Repentance do not end with break the fast on Yom Kippur. Like a generous teacher or flexible administrator, we are supposed to grant one another a repentance extension through Sukkot and Simchat Torah. Due dates have their purpose. They convey an expectation and give us a sense of structure. Just as important, if not more so, is due diligence. What really defines good work goes beyond meeting deadlines. It is the time and effort, the thought and care we invest in an undertaking that says the most about our work ethic. Sukkot and Simchat Torah might not garner the interest of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but they are no less important. The individual fall holidays, from Selichot to Simchat Torah, are individual components of a thematic whole emphasizing humility, integrity, humanity and community.

Grace periods come with a significant condition. We have to fulfill the expectation. The work has to be done. Grace periods extend the time frame for a task. They do not excuse us from doing it. They are only as productive and meaningful as we make them. The opportunity being given is dependent on us seizing the opportunity. We still have work to do this High Holy Days season. On the interpersonal level, there are things we need to let go of and apologies that are long overdue. On the religious practice level, our fall holiday obligations are not complete without observing Sukkot, which begins tonight, and Simchat Torah, which will be celebrated next week on Saturday and Sunday. Whether its participating at services here or at OZS, attending a Sukkot gathering or program in our community or spending time in a sukkah you built yourself, there a number of ways to experience the joy and meaning this festival has to offer. Please review the holiday schedule in our weekly emails and look over all the Sukkot and Simchat Torah offerings listed in this pamphlet, and on our website and Facebook page.

Grace periods are too precious to be taken for granted. The time to relinquish High Holy Days intensity has not arrived yet. The holidays are not over. Let’s make this Sukkot and Simchat Torah ones to remember by taking
full advantage of the grace period and making an effort we can be proud of.   

Shana Tova and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 22, 2023

Shabbat Shuvah: Honoring Couples in Club 50+

Tonight we celebrate our TAI couples married 50 years and longer. A special mazel tov to the current recordholders, David and Janis Doctrow, who wed in 1956. It is especially nice to welcome our 1973 inductees into this group: Leonard and Judy Boral, and Aviva and Lew Bowling. When Aviva, longtime music and movement instructor in our Religious School and a regular part of our Shabbat music rotation, asked if she could lead music tonight, of course I said yes.

On this Sabbath of Repentance, it is worth noting that our new High Holy Days prayer book places particular emphasis on Ha’karat Ha’Tov, recognizing the good. Life will inevitably supply us with an abundance of critics. The role of a spouse is to be your partner’s greatest fan, to see the good even when things are not going well. May the ability of the people we celebrate tonight, whether here in the sanctuary or watching from home, to recognize the goodness of their partners inspire us to appreciate the goodness of those we love.

 Please join me in wishing all these couples a hearty congratulations along with a Happy and Healthy New Year.


Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 15, 2023

Day of Remembrance, Day of Rest: A Prayer for Rosh Hashanah and Shabbat

As the Sabbath and New Year begin at sundown, let us reflect on the two sacred times sharing one day.

Shabbat celebrates the completion of creation.

Rosh Hashanah celebrates the birthday of the world.

Shabbat is known as a day of rest.

Rosh Hashanah is known as a day of remembrance.

Shabbat invites us to cherish liberty through cessation of work.

Rosh Hashanah urges us to accept responsibility through the work of repentance.

May the light of both days illuminate our journey.

May the wine of both days sweeten our lives.

May the challah of both days nourish our souls.

May the song of both days fill our ears.

May the prayer of both days be answered.

And may both days bless us with peace.

Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 8, 2023

Selichot: Something Different for 5784

Please join us tomorrow evening for Selichot. This brief service is the official opening to the High Holy Days, with familiar rubrics from the confessional liturgy, poetry and the sounding of the shofar. In previous years the program has included a Readers’ Theater, an episode from “The Crown”, a guest lecturer and a panel discussion. All of them have approached the theme of forgiveness and repentance from a presentational vantage point. 

This year our approach will be more participatory and particularly appealing to music lovers and those who like to sing. Rabbi Shani Abramowitz of OZS will be teaching us a song that hopefully will become part of our repertoire (watch a video performance of the song by clicking here). Like Torah study, lecture, and discussion, singing is an intellectual and spiritual activity with an artistic dimension, one that can move us in profound ways. If you have not had the opportunity to meet Rabbi Abramowitz and hear her teach, you are in for a treat. If you have encountered her wonderful spirit and remarkable intellect, then you can vouch for her talents, too. 

Please join us in hosting our community partners from OZS, JFB and Lexington Havurah in what promises to be a beautiful opening to our High Holy Days season.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 1, 2023

Poetry and Prayer

One of the wonderful things about “The Torah: A Women’s Commentary,” published by Women of Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis are the poems in the back of each portion. It’s not unusual for us to incorporate one or two of them in a Friday evening service. Tonight, both because of the abundance of riches in this particular collection and to provide more variety from our regular prayerbook, we will be reading seven of them. Ki Tavo begins with the offering we are familiar with from the Passover story – “My father was a wandering Aramean…” – but is better known for the blessings and curses it promises for compliance or non-compliance with an array of commandments. A case can be made that the poets we will read were inspired by any number of ideas and images in this powerful portion.

“Prayers I” by Kadya Molodowsky actually is in Mishkan T’filah, but because it’s positioned in the Saturday morning service (as an alternative blessing for our bodies), we do not see it very often. With its allusions to nature and agriculture and humility before the Creator, Molodowsky’s poem is a fitting alternative to what we normally encounter in the Psalms we read and sing in the early portion of the service.

The Wild Heart” by Robin Becker will be read just before we sing Lecha Dodi. If one looks at Lecha Dodi as a Shabbat love song between God and the Jewish people, the connection is readily made. Becker toys with why we hush anything that could be construed as bragging for fear of bringing bad luck. Like Lecha Dodi, the speaker of her poem would rather offer passionate praise than hold back and lose the opportunity to profess their love.

Prayer for My Son” by Elaine Feinstein presents us with the emotions of a mother whose child has survived a near-death experience. Maintaining a state of gratitude, it turns out, is not so simple. The stresses of everyday life sometime diminish the miraculous delivery from death. Placed right before the Chatzi-Kaddish, an anthem of pure praise, Feinstein’s poem reminds us that awe does not enter our lives only at intense moments and then depart until the next big thing happens. Even awe includes highs and lows. Amazement and agitation can co-exist just as relief and resentment can overlap.

Thankful” by Ruth Fainlight serves as a brief meditation before the call to worship. In just a few brief lines she calls us to take nothing for granted or treat anything as redundant. By reminding us not to act like a know-it-all, “Thankful” sets just the right tone for the official beginning of the service.

Land of the Patriarchs” by Rabbi Hara Person, my friend and classmate and now the chief executive of the CCAR, is placed as an alternative to Maariv Aravim, the evening prayer. A mother curling up for the night with her young children reflects on how her own family mirrors the geographical and historical journeys of the Jewish people.

Still Dreaming of Home” by Merle Feld calls on the imagery of pregnancy and childbirth, laden with agony and anticipation, to rekindle the sense of aspiration and optimism we need to keep trying despite our disappointments and doubts. Placed right before the prayer honoring our ancestors, patriarchs and matriarchs, Feld’s poem is a reminder that labor is part of life, and no one promised that life would be easy.

Requests” by Esther Rabb will be offered as an alternative birkat shalom/prayer for peace. By evoking images of conflict and contentment, Raab creates a tension between the strains of real life and the dreamlike world of peace. The same strong and pragmatic mother who sends her children to the army dares to imagine an existence where this no longer will be the case. A world where baby clothes, not uniforms, will hang on the world’s clotheslines.

Please join us for a service that will revolve around poetry that is grounded in prayer. Feel free to read the poems in advance (click here to read them) or wait to enjoy them with us at Temple. May prayer deepen our love of poetry and may poetry strengthen our love of prayer.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

August 25, 2023

Let No One Be Unloved

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Teitzei, presents us with a commandment that is well-intentioned but hard to comprehend. In an attempt to protect some, it ignores others. While seeking to prohibit playing favorites, it enables unfairness. 

  “If a husband has two wives, one loved and the other unloved, and both the loved and the unloved have borne him sons but the first-born is the son of the unloved one — when he wills his property to his sons, he may not treat as first-born the son of the loved one in disregard of the son of the unloved one who is older. Instead, he must accept the first-born, the son of the unloved one, and allot to him a double portion of all he possesses.” (Deuteronomy 21:15-17).

God of husbands and wives, sons and daughters, first-borns and those who follow:
Teach us to treat one another with kindness and compassion, empathy and equality. Help us not to confuse affection with finances, to measure out love or money on an arbitrary basis. Let us refrain from playing favorites. Let no one be disregarded. May we stop giving less to some than others because of a category they never chose, a status they never sought, a position they never picked. May we treat love as a matter of the heart rather than a mechanism of hierarchy. May sons and daughters be treated equally. May we support our offspring regardless of their birth order. May children and stepchildren, current partners and divorcees, be treated like valued members of a common family. Let no one be left out. Let no one be lessened in value. Let no one be unloved. 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

August 18, 2023

A Prayer for Parshat Shof’tim

“You shall appoint judges and officials for your tribes, in all the dwellings that God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive in the land that God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:18-20)

God of leadership, legacy and love. God of those who sustained this congregation before us, and those who will guide it after us. God of those who serve it and rely upon it now.

In all of work help us to decide justly. May we never judge unfairly or show partiality.

Justice, justice shall we pursue, that we may help our congregation and our community thrive in all that we do. May this be our blessing, and let us say: Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

August 11, 2023

A Treasured People: Putting ‘Chosen-ness’ in a Little Perspective

“For you are a people consecrated to the Eternal Your God: The Eternal your God chose you from among all other peoples on earth to be a treasured people.”

This week’s Torah portion contains a paradox. Dr. Eugene Borowitz of blessed memory taught that Judaism, like many religions, contains a tension between universalism and particularism. Torah insists that all humans deserve dignity and respect, yet it also conveys that there is a distinct and special role for the Jewish people.

Universalistic or humanistic training tells us we are equal and prompts us to question anything that smacks of a superiority claim. The theology of the Torah says there are things that set the people of Israel apart. There is no easy way to reconcile these claims. There are many ways, however, to put them in perspective.

As the Jewish Publication Society translation we use in our Reform Movement Torah commentary conveys, we are called upon to be “a treasured people.” This word “a” makes a world of difference. Not “the” chosen people or the treasured people but “a chosen people.” This rendering champions the notion that all creation is treasured by the Creator, that every people is chosen for some particular purpose. Torah is the particular assignment and task of Jews. All people have something about them, a contribution God has given them that makes them distinct.

Instructors of English Literature like to point out the wording of James Joyce’s classic “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” The “a” suggests it is one of many possible portraits. The author has given the reader a particular perspective, not necessarily the best one and definitely not the only one. When we regard ourselves as “a” treasured people among many, as “a” chosen people in a world where all peoples are chosen for something, then what initially seems an irredeemable superiority claim becomes considerably less problematic.   

Let us be grateful for the gift of Torah, the work, that God has given us as Jews. And may we bear this gift humbly, with appreciation for its greatness and awareness of its flaws. Let us be proud of the designation of “treasured” while committing ourselves to treasuring the value of all humankind. May we embrace the term “chosen” as long as we do so in a way that conveys the conviction that all people have been chosen in love by a common Creator who has high expectations for all creation.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

July 14, 2023


“Moses spoke to the heads of the Israelite tribes, saying: ‘This is what God has commanded: If someone makes a vow to God or takes an oath imposing an obligation on themselves, they shall not break their pledge; they must carry out all that has crossed their lips.’” (Numbers 30:3)

This week’s Torah portion, Matot-Masei, begins with a series of commandments pertaining to promises. Promises are a noble construct in principle. The problem is that they are made by human beings. This is why Kol Nidre bends over backward to convey the sincerity of our vows while simultaneously confessing our propensity for failing to live up to them. Promises are akin to a double-edged sword. Without promises, vows and oaths, we would have fewer ways to express what we are striving for or committing to. Yet, once we speak these words, once we have made a commitment, we make ourselves vulnerable to disappointment, failure and frustration.

God of word and deed, Source of great expectations and gracious mercy. Help us to honor our word as best we can. Teach us to promise carefully and commit cautiously. Remind us to think before speaking, look before leaping, and reflect before responding. And if we are fortunate enough to carry out all that has crossed our lips, may we be grateful for the privilege, opportunity, and blessing to do so.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



July 7, 2023

From Sadness to Joy

Among the blessings of being a rabbi is that you serve families at times of deep sadness and profound joy. Yesterday, marked by the funeral for Jack Miller, was a sad one. Jack was president of Temple Adath Israel from 1975-77. My parents worked with him as a community and congregational leader. When I returned here decades after my family left, I became the beneficiary of his command of history and knowledge of the community. His track record of service to Temple Adath Israel and to any number of organizations was remarkable. Whether as a youth group advisor, board member or attorney, Jack brought tremendous dedication to everything he did and will be greatly missed.

With the arrival of Shabbat this evening and the celebration of Sydney Yelowitz’s bat mitzvah tomorrow, our thoughts turn from sadness to joy. Having served our temple for eight years, I have been blessed to officiate at the bar/bat mitzvahs of all the children in the Yelowitz family and a growing number of others. Every bar/bat mitzvah is special, but there is something especially meaningful about watching siblings grow up together and rejoicing in each of them being called to the Torah for the first time. Wexler, the oldest of the Yelowitz children, will be attending UK in the fall; Corrine is in high school, and Sydney is in middle school. It will be interesting to watch them continue to grow together here in Lexington. The same can be said of the Doctrow family; brothers Jacob and Daniel are about to start at UK while their sister, Kayla, begins high school. I officiated at both of those ceremonies, too. I say “both” because the first was a “two-fer,” as Daniel and Jacob are twins. It was one of two “two-fers” I’ve done here, the second being for the Hoffman twins, Eli and Sophie, whose younger sister, Maren, will begin studying soon for her bat mitzvah.

Yesterday our sanctuary was filled with friends and family members mourning the loss of a loved one. Tonight and tomorrow, let’s fill our sanctuary with people here to celebrate a simcha, the joyous occasion of a young person leading the congregation in prayer. No personal invitation is necessary to go to a bat mitzvah service or any other, for that matter. You do not need to be a close friend or family member to attend. The fact that our community is celebrating, our TAI family is rejoicing, and it is Shabbat is all the invitation we need.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


June 30, 2023

Calling All Animal Lovers: A Poetic Take on Balaam and His Donkey

 If you are a pet-owner or animal lover, tonight’s service is for you. Instead of a sermon or commentary, this evening’s worship will include an interactive reading and discussion of Rick Lupert’s playful and thought-provoking poem “What the Donkey Saw” (below), inspired by this week’s Torah portion about Balaam and his talking beast of burden. As always, everyone is encouraged to attend, but I’m extending a special invitation to pet owners and animal lovers to participate in what should be a lively conversation about how animal perspective can enrich and influence ours.

Due to allergies and asthma, I’ve never had a pet. Perhaps this is why I’m so impressed by the way Lupert brings his experience as a cat owner to bear on the interaction between Balaam and his donkey. By way of background, Balaam is hired by King Balak of Moab to curse the wandering Israelites. God allows Balaam to accept the job on the condition that he does exactly what God tells him to do. Yet no sooner does the ride to curse the people begin than the hapless Balaam starts to experience transportation problems. His donkey sees things Balaam does not, namely, a sword-wielding angel blocking the road. Mistaking the creature’s refusal to move forward as stubbornness and disobedience, Balaam beats the poor animal with a stick. After the third iteration of this pattern, a dialogue between Balaam and the donkey reveals which of them is behaving intelligently and which has been acting like an ass. (Please see Numbers 22:2-35).

With imagery that connects modern technology with biblical-era conflict, Lupert’s poem challenges the reader to rethink the way we look at life. Whether our frustration is with someone we encounter on the road, at work, or some other obstructionist individual, the writer invites the reader to image how we might be missing something important about them, just as Balaam misunderstands his long-suffering donkey. Whether you ride a horse, walk your dog, play with your cat or get no closer to animals than a visit to the zoo, Lupert’s poem, and the Torah portion that inspired it, has lessons in humility, humanity, and sense of humor for us all.

“What the Donkey Saw” by Rick Lupert

Animals sometimes see things we don’t
or don’t yet. They’re the best earthquake predictors.
My cat alone sees things in dimensions
I still don’t believe exist.

The evil in twist ties
the potential of anything to move
and the claws-out imperative to stop it
at all costs.

So it’s no surprise to me that Balaam’s she-donkey
(that is her preferred pronoun) saw an
Angel of the Holy One on the road
on his way to say words put into his mouth.

He beat his donkey (which is not a metaphor)
three times as she cowered before what
she knew was there. I can’t imagine
beating an animal, even one time, for any reason.

And that’s not because of the potential of the
hidden camera. Today our wisdom tells us we shouldn’t
do or say anything we wouldn’t want recorded forever
and scrutinized by all of the internet’s humanity.

Someone I once knew, who, actually, many people
once knew, whose voice we will never stop hearing,
even though we can no longer see her, once said
the person in front of you is a goldmine of potential.

You should assume it’s there, that gold,
in all your interactions, even when your cat
spits up a hairball on the carpet, instead of
the easier to clean nearby tile floor.

Even when they’ve cut you off on the freeway
Even when they haven’t paid your invoice
Even when they’ve stopped on the road in front of you
for reasons you don’t understand.

Pay attention to what the donkey does and says.
It’s a miracle it’s talking at all. And may you always
say the words that were put in your mouth
by your conscience. From them, we will all grow rich.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

June 23, 2023

All Are Holy

The observation often has been made that even a broken watch is right twice a day. This week’s Torah portion, Korach, named for its belligerent antagonist, is a case in point. The aggressive and reckless nature of Korach’s accusations against Moses cross the line between constructive criticism and personal attack. Yet, in the midst of his hyperbolic diatribe, Korach has a valid point: “You have gone too far [Moses]! For all the community are holy, all of them, and God is in their midst. Why then do you rise yourselves above God’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:1-3)

Korach’s critique comes neither at the right time (the people have just been sentenced to 40 years of wandering for lack of faith) nor or the right place (the harsh conditions of the wilderness are not an ideal setting for philosophical conversations about governance). Or, as the captain in the nuclear submarine drama Crimson Tide so aptly put it, “We’re here to preserve democracy, not practice it.” Nevertheless, the words of Korach and revolutionaries like him contain an important truth. Holiness is something we all possess, and there are serious consequences for being holier than thou. 

Structure, leadership and respect are essential to being a functional society, but the need for those things should not be allowed to deprive people of their voice or make them feel inferior to others. It would be disingenuous to say we want an entire community of Koraches, but each of us contains an inner Korach, a voice that challenges long-held assumptions and dares to dream about how things could be different. Difficult as the Koraches of the world can be, we need to listen to their concerns rather than engaging them in power struggles. Only when holiness is shared can all of us become fully holy. Let us nurture the holiness in one another and practice respectful disagreement as a defining element of our holy tasks.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



June 16, 2023

Don’t Kill the Messenger

Being in the majority does not guarantee we are right, and being in the minority does not prove we are wrong. Yet bedlam ensues when Joshua and Caleb, the two optimistic scouts in this week’s Torah portion, insist that the Promised Land can be taken, as opposed to their 10 pessimistic counterparts who attest that continuing onward would be catastrophic. Far from listening to the upbeat assessment with an open mind, the response of the people is to threaten to stone to death those with an unwelcome opinion. The people would rather return to slavery in Egypt than fight for a better future (Numbers 14).

We moderns engage in a contemporary form of killing the messenger by assailing their integrity and intelligence. We don’t like hearing about global warming. It would be far easier to keep using water and burning fuels as if a crisis does not exist. “These tree-hugging hippies, the EPA and the Sierra Club seem more intent on protecting spotted owls than they do people’s jobs, our comfort, and our way of life. Why don’t they just shut up?!”

Some extremists did not much care for the messages of Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Steven Biko or Yitzhak Rabin. They figured that killing the messenger would silence the message. As it turns out, they were wrong. The ideals and ideas for which these brave individuals perished proved to be more persistent than their murderers believed.

Attempts to silence one another with violence, intimidation and derision are always dangerous and often do not work. No amount of repudiating Joshua and Caleb changed God’s expectations of the people. Threatening the messengers did not deter them from sticking to their message.

Attacks on journalists, human rights activists and anyone who dares hold the powerful accountable do not bode well for people anywhere. The instinct to silence those whose views differ from ours is a tendency to which we give in far too easily. Forty years in the desert for refusing to listen to a minority report is a powerful reminder of what happens to those who succumb to a mob mentality. This week, when we read about the reactionary response of our ancestors to a message they did not like, let us be mindful not to repeat their mistakes. Let us protect freedom of speech regardless of how we feel about certain speakers. Let us assess the validity of a message based on its merits and condemn any effort to silence or kill its messenger.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



June 9, 2023


“God spoke to Moses saying: Have two silver trumpets made; make them of hammered work. They shall serve you to summon the community.” (Numbers 10:1—2)

God of trumpets and trumpeters; on this sabbath when we read the commandments about these instruments, help us consider what it means to trumpet the causes we care about.

As communities around the continent are impacted by the smoke from wildfires, teach us to trumpet the cause of taking better care of our planet.

When we are confronted with hunger and homelessness, help us to trumpet the cause of the poor and impoverished.

When we see fellow citizens losing access to the treatment they need, help us to trumpet the cause of health care as a human right.

When we encounter people being bullied because of their sexuality, or the gender with which they identify, teach us to trumpet the cause of dignity and respect.

When we witness book banning and the suppression of history, urge us to trumpet the cause of inquiry and truth.

When we regard discrimination, harassment, and neglect, lead us to trumpet the urgency of justice, equality, and compassion.

Source of sight and sound, summon us to your service.

And may we summon our communities to action by trumpeting the vital importance of repairing this beautiful world.

May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



June 2, 2023


May God bless you and protect you.
May God deal kindly and graciously with you
May God bestow favor upon you and grant you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26)

On this Shabbat when we read the Priestly Benediction, let us reflect on how we are blessed.

For the blessing of family, let us give thanks.

For the blessing of friendship, let us be grateful.

For the blessing of nature, let us give praise.

For the blessing of food, water and shelter, let us be appreciative.

For the blessing of work, let us continue to strive for excellence.

For the blessing of learning, let us promise to remain inquisitive.

For the blessing of freedom, let us work to protect liberty.

For the blessing of health, let us take good care of our bodies.

For the blessing of love, let us work at being loving.

For the blessing of holiness, let us endeavor to be holy.

And in the words that the poet Marcia Falk
“Be who you are, and may you be blessed in all that you are.”


Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



May 26, 2023

Shabbat and Shavuot

God of generations past, present and future.

We gather on this Sabbath and Festival of Shavuot grateful for revelation and the Day of Rest.

May we rejoice in the gift of Torah, its legacy, its laws and its abiding love.

And may we celebrate the delights of Shabbat, its cessation from work, its reminder that we are more than what we earn, accomplish and complete.

May Shavuot’s focus on sacred words enrich Shabbat’s emphasis on sacred time.

And may Shabbat’s emphasis on sacred time enrich Shavuot’s focus on sacred words.

Let us never grow tired of hearing the story of how Torah was imparted to the people.

And may we never lose sight of Shabbat’s power to take us from the transactional to the transcendent. Baruch Atah Adonai Mekadesh Ha’Shabbat V’Yom Tom.

Blessed Are You, O God, who calls on us to sanctify Shabbat and Shavuot. 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



May 19, 2023

Holy Head Count

This week we return to reading Bamidbar, the Book of Numbers. The book begins with a commandment to take a census of all men capable of bearing arms. The numbers that each tribe tallies are duly reported so Moses and others in positions of authority can have an accurate sense of the people’s fighting strength. Counting people is a serious task. Neither an entity as big as a nation nor as small as a synagogue can budget, plan or allocate resources responsibly without knowing how many people they have. Counting people takes organization, communication and diligence. It is an undertaking deserving of proper attention and respect. But counting people is only part of what a responsive organization needs to do. With computers and calculators, we can readily assess the accuracy of how well we are counting people. A far more difficult task is making people feel like they count. It is one thing to preach to people about values and another to value people.

Numbers provides us with an important degree of precision, but even precision needs perspective. This pivotal book of the Torah reminds us not only to take care of business but to busy ourselves with caretaking. If others are to feel like their participation makes a difference, then our interactions with them must demonstrate that their thoughts and feelings, insight and input actually count. If people are to walk back to their cars after every service, Religious School session, program or event feeling valued, then we have to engage with one another in ways that go beyond numbers.

There is no lack of commandments deserving of emphasis, but few mitzvot are more pressing than making people feel like they matter. Torah commands the military census, and other head counts like it, not only to document how many people we have on hand but to demand greater attention to people themselves. May the opening mitzvah of Bamidar remind us that every number is attached to a human being, a human story and a human soul. And may we enrich every head count we take with the holiness that comes from letting people know they honor us with their presence.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



May 5, 2023

What We Leave: A Prayer for Parshat Emor

“And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I am Adonai your God.”

God of harvest and hunger, feast and famine, surplus and scarcity,

Help us to leave something for the poor and the stranger.

We who are not farmers.

We who garden when we can and do not count on what we grow.

Bless those who tend our Mitzvah Garden.

And bless those who receive its produce.

Bless those who water the world’s fields, sow the seeds, till the soil, pull the weeds and thorns, and reap its crops.

And bless those of us who count on them to do this work.

We would not eat without the work of these laborers we do not know.

Help us to show gratitude and devotion by what we leave for others.

May we leave the homeless and hungry with something more than thoughts and prayers.

May we leave donations that demonstrate commitment, and contribute time is ways that show we care.

May we leave the poor feeling a little less helpless,

And leave the stranger feeling less hopeless.

May we leave something more than what we no longer want, need or have use for.

Let us leave the needy with what they need.

Let us leave the stranger with the promise of welcome.

Let us leave this place better than we found it.

May this be our blessing and let us say:


Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



April 28, 2023

A Prayer for Sisterhood Shaabbat

God of our mothers and grandmothers, as we gather for this year’s celebration of Sisterhood Shabbat, we pause to reflect on all the women who have given so much to our families, our congregation, our community and our world. Our biblical matriarchs and more recent role models remind us that we don’t have to be perfect to make a difference. 

Sarah could be fearful and cruel. 

Yet she courageously raised questions no one else dared to ask and laughed at things she found absurd.

Rebecca could play favorites and resort to deceit.

Yet she boldly fought for what she believed in and protected those she loved.

Leah and Rachel competed as much as they cooperated. 

Yet they bravely gave up safety and comfort to secure the future of our people.

Help us, O God, to avoid the pitfalls of perfectionism, the pursuit of expectations that no one can fulfill.

Remind us, O Source of Love, that our task is not to be flawless but rather to be faithful to the best qualities within our truest selves.

Bless us, our families, our friends and this imperfect world of ours with happiness, holiness and peace. May this be our blessing, and let us say:


Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



April 21, 2023

Familiar Faces, Different Context: Yom HaShoah Service on Sunday

By now, one would hope that most of you are familiar with Dr. Karen Petrone and Lauren Hill. Both sing in Shir Adat, and both have stepped up to direct Zoom services throughout the pandemic. Karen, a history professor at UK, has spoken several times on Friday evenings, most recently regarding the war in Ukraine. Lauren, a language Arts teacher at Leestown Middle School, has taught 7-10th grades at TAI’s Religious School.

The context you might not know is that these outstanding educators are part of the University of Kentucky and Jewish Heritage Fund Holocaust Education Initiative, supporting teachers to do Holocaust education throughout the state. State law requires that all students must experience Holocaust education during middle and high school. Also taking part in the endeavor are TAI member Dr. Trey Conatser, director of UK’s Center for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning, and Leslie Davis, who grew up here at TAI and now teaches language arts at Lafayette High School.

Please join us Sunday at 2 p.m. at our annual communitywide commemoration of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), when we will have the opportunity to learn more about this remarkable project and express our appreciation to participants connected to our congregation and broader Jewish community for their leadership, dedication and effort. Their example serves as a reminder that Holocaust education is a mitzvah. Like any mitzvah, it is not going to happen by itself or remain sustainable without substantial effort and constant care. At a time when antisemitism is on the rise and knowledge of the Holocaust on the decline, it is particularly important to ensure that our young people are learning about this brutal chapter in world history. Let this Sabbath before our observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day inspire us to defy fascism, brutality and hate with wisdom, compassion and love.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


April 14, 2023

Cautious With Our Criticism

The frustrated observation that “everyone’s a critic” has been with us for as long as people have been in the criticism business, which is to say since time immemorial. This week’s haftorah (a selection from the Prophets) is a case in point. Michal, daughter of the late King Saul and wife of King David, thinks her husband has gotten way out of hand with his overexuberant dancing as he accompanies the Ark of the Tabernacle to Jerusalem. He has made a spectacle of himself in front of commoners, embarrassed the monarchy, and acted like a buffoon (II Samuel 6:14-16, 20). Did he touch anyone inappropriately? Not in this story. Did he offend anyone other than Michal? There is no mention of it. Did his exuberance endanger the safe transferal of the Ark? The text does not say so. 

As we celebrate the last family Shabbat service of the school year, as we approach graduation season and wedding season, we are reminded how quickly time flies. When we criticize our family and friends for being too silly, too exuberant or just too much, we run the risk of making the same mistake as Michal. Looking back at more than two decades as a parent, rabbi and teacher, and many more years as a family member and friend, there is a lot of criticism I wish I had withheld. I don’t regret trying to maintain boundaries, safety and focus. But were there times when comments had more to do with a misguided notion of appearances and desire for greater control than preserving these things? I’m embarrassed to admit the answer to that one is yes. All of us feel compelled to criticize at one time or another in one way or another. Turning Michal into the archetype of negative comments runs the risk of misogyny and misguided assertions. There are instances when we need to restrain our instinct to urge greater restraint. Times when we need to lighten up, take a step back and ask ourselves what it is about the behavior we don’t approve of that creates a serious problem for others. 

May the misfortunate argument between David and Michal remind us to approach criticism with caution and keep negativity in context. Life is too short and moments of joy too few to spend them trying to control one another’s every move and censure each other’s every word. Better to dance a bit too enthusiastically than to be cowed into not dancing at all for fear of what others might say. Better to a bit too loud and slightly offkey than to treat services as if only those on the pulpit should be allowed to open their mouths. Better to appreciate each other’s different levels of enthusiasm than to act as if the only appropriate level of it is that which we designate as such. May we learn to be less critical and judgmental that we may come to be more grateful and joyful. 

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


April 7, 2023

From Holy to Holy: Shabbat After Seders

My daughter, Emanuelle, recently wrote a poem, Separation Rituals, that draws on the Havdalah service as a way to come to terms with the death of her maternal grandmother, Roni Sippy. She points out that when we go from Shabbat into a festival, the wording is different than going from Shabbat to the work week. Rather than blessing God for distinguishing between the holy and the mundane, as we normally do, the transition between Shabbat and festival blesses God for distinguishing between the holy and the holy. Emanuelle sees a similar transition between life and death. Rather than thinking about them as opposites, like sacred and mundane, we should consider these two things to be like the havdalah between Shabbat and a festival, going from holy to holy. Our departed can influence us, enrich our existence, inspire us to live lives of righteousness long after they are gone.

In a similar vein, this year’s seders are followed by Shabbat. We go from the holy to the holy. Passover does not end when we pack up the haggadahs and put away the leftovers. Pesach is not a sprint, it’s a marathon. This year. our running of the marathon is enriched by Shabbat coming on day three. The placement poetically reinforces a truth that applies to every year. Among other things, Shabbat is a weekly celebration of the Exodus. Shabbat and Passover are inherently linked. Our Shabbat Kiddush (blessing over the wine) includes the words “this is a remembrance for being brought out of Egypt.” The medieval seder song Dayenu, “It would have been enough,” includes Shabbat in its litany of what God has done for us. The relationship between this yearly festival and the weekly day of rest runs deep. Just as those who have died continue to impact the living, Shabbat and Passover influence each other whether we are in the midst of observing them or not.

By making an extra effort to attend tonight’s service, either virtually or in person, we demonstrate that Passover is more than the seders and that Shabbat is about more than taking a break. The ideal of freedom never takes a day off. The sabbath is the perfect carryover into the rest of the festival, connecting the feast of matzah, the fun of the first two days, with the fast of matza, the discipline that it takes to keep Passover going for the duration. Tonight’s Torah commentary will be given by Sarah Lowe, who always challenges her listeners by bringing sharp questions and new insights. On this Sabbath of Pesach, may her words help us to go from the holy to the holy.

Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


March 31, 2023

Yachatz: A Blessing for Brokenness

It has been a difficult week. Demonstrations over proposed legislation detrimental to democracy reached historical heights in Israel. Another mass shooting at a school has left families reeling in Nashville. Fires took the lives of detainees in Mexico and ferry passengers in the Philippines. A landslide in Ecuador left death and destruction in its wake. Here in Kentucky, the collision of two helicopters from Fort Campbell resulted in the deaths of nine people who bravely serve in our military. Many of us are feeling broken now.

As we approach Passover on this Shabbat Ha’Gadol, we are reminded how the seder begins with brokenness. Among the early rituals of the evening is yachatz, the breaking of the middle matzo. Part is hidden as afikomen, and part remains on our seder plate. Notice that this action takes place before blessing the matzo, eating the matzo, and dipping matzo in maror and charoset. We remind ourselves of matzo’s fragility before we take advantage of its functionality. The yachatz ritual comes in the form of an announcement, “I now break the middle matzo,” rather than that of a blessing. So, too, there no bracha for shattering a plate at an engagement party or smashing a glass at weddings. Our tradition teaches us that brokenness is something to be lived with rather than loathed. Finding the sacred, even in brokenness, is part of what we do, yet the rabbis did not go so far as to assign a blessing to the rituals requiring us to shatter something. But perhaps it’s time we tried.

  God of broken dreams, broken promises, broken homes, and broken hearts.

  We come before you on this great sabbath fully aware that we live in a mess of our own making.

  Despite the destruction we have wrought, we implore you to turn our cynicism to hope, sadness to joy, and brokenness to recovery.

  Help us find that which we have hidden from ourselves.

  Prompt us to pick up broken pieces, mend broken hearts and restore broken spirits.

  Just as our ancestors carried the shattered tablets along with the unbroken ones, help us walk humbly with the record of our failures and proudly with the ideals we hope to achieve.

 This Passover we gather in brokenness and pain; next year may we gather in wholeness and peace.

  Blessed Are You, O God, Who redeems the lost and repairs the broken.

 Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



March 24, 2023

What We Have to Offer: Climate Change and the Levitical Call to Action

The first portion of the Book of Leviticus, which we begin this week, begins by detailing the particulars of three offerings, the burnt offering, the offering of well-being and the sin offering. Reading through the portion reminds one of a line from a famous Winston Churchill speech during the perilous days of World War II when he declared, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Both our Torah portion and the prime minister’s phrase raise common questions. What do we have to offer? What are we willing to give? What are we prepared to part with to preserve what we cherish or reach the objectives we proclaim?

This week, for instance, has brought with it a renewed focus on the environment. On the international level, the U.N. released its report on climate change. In a column for The Washington Post, Sarah Kaplan summed up the report, saying: “The world is likely to pass a dangerous temperature threshold within the next 10 years, pushing the planet past the point of catastrophic warming — unless nations drastically transform their economies and immediately transition away from fossil fuels.” On the local level, our community hosted this year’s Moosnick Lectureship’s scholar in residence Mara Benjamin, Ph.D., an environmental theologian whose brilliant talks at Transylvania University and here at Temple Adath Israel called for religious communities to take serious and sustained action to confront the crisis. So, what we prepared to offer? What are we willing to give? And what are we prepared to part with so we can make the kind of progress the situation requires of us?

Churchill understood that defeating the international menace of genocidal fascism would require more than stirring speeches and good intentions. History is unlikely to give us an “A” for sincerely caring about a crisis. Offering blood, sweat and tears demonstrates doing well, not just meaning well. The sustainability of this planet as a viable home for our children and grandchildren is at stake. The progressive Jewish community must lead by example. What we have to offer is religious principle, moral will, political pressure, the power of influence and the resources to enable real change. Dire warnings, whether from the past prophets of Torah or the principled leaders of today, are only as useful as our willingness to listen to them. May the emphasis Leviticus places on offerings remind us of what we truly have to offer and how essential such offerings are to any chance of real change.

Please consider a donation to the Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life in honor of Professor Benjamin’s presentations and the U.N. Climate Change Report.

 Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


March 17, 2023

NOTE: This week’s message is a joint statement from our Rabbi and TAI’s Executive Committee.

Statement Decrying State Legislature’s Hostility to LGBTQ+ Kentuckians

Temple Adath Israel of Lexington, in concert with the policies and values of the Union for Reform Judaism, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, and Central Conference of American Rabbis, decries the impact of dehumanizing and dangerous bills introduced in the Kentucky House of Representatives and Senate within the past two months. The legislation approved Thursday (Senate Bill 150) is actively harmful to our LGBTQ+ students, their families and community members, and threatens transgender, non-binary and queer lives and livelihoods. We stand in opposition to this legislation, recognize trans rights are human rights, and express our support for all LGBTQ+ people throughout our state, nation and the world.

It should be pointed out that some of the same legislators who have joked about “Jewing people down,” who made bizarre remarks about the sex lives of Jewish women and who have compared abortion to the Holocaust, slavery and decimation of Indigenous people are among those who voted for this bill. We also note that this legislation is particularly insensitive in light of the tragic death of LGBTQ+ activist, Henry Berg-Brosseau, son of state Sen. Karen Berg of Louisville, the only Jewish member of the Kentucky Senate. Connections between Kentucky Jews run deep. Our young people at TAI attend the same summer camp and belong to the same regional youth group that Henry Berg-Brosseau did. Henry’s grandfather created the mosaic that hangs in our social hall. 

Please join us in continuing to stop such destructive measures by letting our legislature know the harm they will do. You can send an email to state senators by clicking here and to state representatives by clicking here. You also can leave messages for them at 1-800-372-7181. It is widely expected that Gov. Andy Beshear will veto SB 150. So please keep up the pressure no matter what. Unfortunately, supportors of this measure have the votes to override such a veto, but we owe it to history and to our LGBTQ+ families, friends and community members to keep up the fight. Let it not be said that this extreme and intolerant legislation met with no resistance.

We join with the entire Berg-Brosseau family, including Henry’s sister, Rabbi Rachel Pass, and LGBTQ+ people everywhere in declaring our unwavering commitment to a world in which all God’s children are valued for being created in the Divine image, and no one feels demeaned or degraded for identifying as they do.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
and the Executive Committee of Temple Adath Israel


March 10, 2023

Purim and the Joy of Coming Home

Tonight celebrates our kindergarten/first grade Family Shabbat service and also marks my return to the pulpit after being on sabbatical since mid-November. It’s great to be back with all of you, and a family service is the perfect time to get back on the bimah. This Sunday we will be having our Purim assembly, including a mini-megillah reading, and Purim carnival. Returning to work during the week of Purim has been a reminder of the things I love to do and missed the most. Its was wonderful to partner with our friends at OZS for a communitywide Purim celebration on Monday night that included JFB and PJ Library. Getting back into the classroom with our eighth/ninth-grade students reminded me of what I love about being with young people. Their curiosity, their questions, their responses to the material felt magical after missing them for so long. Even last Sunday’s brief assembly was a delightful reminder of the sweetness of our students and dedication of our faculty.

Thank you for affording me this time away. It allowed me to begin a writing project I’ve wanted to work on for a long time, and I look forward to sharing it with you. It enabled me to think about what I’ve done during 25 five years of rabbinic service and what I’d like to do differently. And it encouraged me to reflect on the things we have accomplished together since I arrived in Lexington eight years ago and start to identify key aspects of the work that lies before us.

The death of Shana’s mother, Roni Sippy, made the end of sabbatical a sad one. Returning to our community in time for Purim has alleviated that sadness with the comfort that only being with one’s own family, with your own community can bring. It’s an honor to be your rabbi, and it’s good to be home.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


November 11, 2022

A Prayer for Shabbat After Election Day

God of victory and defeat, elation and dejection, joy and sorrow.

For many months we have followed races for public office and campaigns on amendments.

Shabbat provides us with an ideal moment to turn from competing to cooperating.

A chance to go from debate to dialogue, to go from magnifying our differences to appreciating what we share.

Our differences do not end when an election is over, but we can choose to move past the past election.

Though we vote for different parties, we share the same roads, the same schools, the same neighborhoods.

Democracy extends well beyond Election Day. It compels us to do things other than vote.

It asks us to do justice, love mercy, walk humbly and love our neighbors as ourselves.

Just as Abraham, Isaac and Sarah did not allow the worst of their trials to determine their lives, we cannot allow anger and resentment toward those with whom we disagree to define us.

Let us celebrate victories graciously and accept defeats responsibly.

Let us practice civility, promote charity and pursue peace.

May this be our blessing, and let us say: Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


November 4, 2022

Be Blameless: Promise Keeping in the Promised Land

When Abram was 99 years old, God appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am El Shaddai. Walk in My ways and be blameless. I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous. This is My covenant with you: You shall be the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fertile. I will maintain My covenant between Me and you, and your offspring to come, as an everlasting covenant throughout the ages, to be God to you and to your offspring to come. I assign the land you sojourn in to you and your offspring to come. I will be their God. You and your offspring to come throughout the ages shall keep My covenant. (Genesis 17:1-2, 4, 6-10.)

This week’s Torah portion provides timely perspective on this week’s election in Israel. The promise of the promised land is not given unconditionally. To be eligible for the blessings of fertility, prosperity, longevity and security, Abraham must “walk in God’s ways and be blameless.” The Torah presents the Promised Land the way states present driver’s licenses: not as a right but as a privilege. Abraham’s nation must merit blessings by being blameless. No nation has ever or will ever be perfect. No person or party has ever or will ever be blameless. Blamelessness, however, is something people and nations can strive for in everything that they do.

I am a Zionist. I believe that painful lessons of world history provide a compelling case for a Jewish state. I believe, as did the signers of Israel’s Declaration of Independence, that with the blessing of statehood comes the responsibility of striving for justice and equality for all.

People who display a picture of Baruch Goldstein, a mass murderer of Muslims, in their homes are not striving to be blameless. People who chant “death to Arabs” are not striving to be blameless. People who advocate mass deportation and seek to silence human rights activists are not striving to be blameless. We can accept a result in which political parties whose vision we support did not win. What neither we nor anyone should accept is political leaders and a growing segment of the electorate that embraces words and deeds antithetical to Jewish values. Politics are an inherently messy business, and the Middle East has long been a troubled place, but neither of these realities can be exploited to justify extremism. Extemism has been the historic enemy of our people. The fact that we have been its victim far more often than its practitioner is no defense for its alarming acceptance in the Jewish state.

This month, which marks the anniversary of the assassination of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the hands of a nationalist extremist, should be a reminder to resist extremism. After Baruch Goldstien committed his murderous rampage, Rabin conveyed his repudiation in no uncertain terms, saying of the terrorist and his sympathizers, “Zionism chews you up and spits you out.” Today, we confront the fact that a man who diplayed a portrait of Goldstein in his home and who once attacked Rabin’s motorcade will be a member of the Israeli parliament. Such a person attaining a position of power and influence does not bode well for the Jewish state, for Judaism or for Jews.

I urge you to support the efforts of the Union for Reform JudaismCentral Conference of American Rabbis, and the Association of Reform Zionists of America in insisting that Israel’s new government honor a sacred aspect of the covenant and keep a promise essential to maintaining the Promised Land: a commitment to strive for blamelessness rather than recklessly pursuing someone to blame.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

October 28, 2022

Building Projects

God of construction and destruction;
As we go from the story of Creation to the Great Flood and the Tower of Babel,
we are reminded of the potential for making and demolishing things.
May we build not to “make a name for ourselves”* but to fulfill the needs of fellow human beings.
Let us build housing for those who have lost their homes.
And let us build homes who for those who have no one to house them.
Let us build schools for those who need a place to learn,
And build a love of learning within our schools.
Let us build hospitals for those in need of healing,
And build dedication to healing within our hospitals.
Let us build awe inspiring spaces where people can pray,
And pray to be moved to action by awe inspiring spaces.
May we build beautiful communities where all people can flourish,
And if we are communities that are blessed to flourish, help us build a better world.
Let us undertake projects worthy of building and carefully consider what our buildings project.
May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

*Reason given by the people of Babel for undertaking the tower.

October 21, 2022

A Moment of Beginnings

It is poetically fitting that the return of Family Shabbat with dinner coincides with returning to the beginning of the Torah. Public school and Religious School have been back in session for awhile now but our first grade-level family service of academic 2022-23 takes place tonight with our eighth- and ninth-graders leading worship from our illustrated prayerbook accessible for all ages. Everyone is welcome to attend. The more the merrier.

Restarting the cycle of Torah reading is a meaningful moment every year. It reminds our young people and ourselves that there is always something new to be found in Torah. That repetition is not necessarily redundant. The more we practice and study something, the more our understanding and appreciation of it grow.

Speaking of new beginnings, autumn also is a perfect time to consider joining or rejoining Shir Adat or Junior Choir (contact information below). Both ensembles are looking for people who love to sing. No knowledge of Hebrew or musical training is required. Our Saturday morning study sessions also would welcome new participants. The 9 a.m. session is a miscellany of topics from history, current events, philosophy, theology, etc. The 11 a.m. session is focused on the Torah portion of the week. Again, no knowledge of Hebrew or background in Jewish texts is required. All you need is an open mind and a love of active conversation.  

May this moment of beginning Torah anew inspire us to try something new.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

October 14, 2022

Ushpizin: Valued Guests for Sukkot

In many Jewish circles, the holiday of Sukkot includes the ritual of Ushpizin, welcoming biblical ancestors into our booths to celebrate the fall festival with us. For some communities, this begins with the matriarchs and patriarchs we recognize in many of our prayers and continues through kings and queens of ancient Israel. Sometimes the custom is extended to family members who have died but remain with us in spirit. 

As we draw closer to the election on Nov. 8, I want to encourage you to add to your honorary guest. Tonight, as we focus on the theme of courage, invite someone who is part of your family lineage or a historical figure you admire to be your guest at Shabbat dinner, at your sukkah or both. If you are joining Shana and me at our home tonight, please have the names of these people ready to share when we observe Ushpizin this evening. 

Saturday evening’s theme is resilience. Pick someone in your family’s past or a historical figure you admire who demonstrated the ability to overcome defeat and disappointment. For Sunday, focus on the value of empathy. Pick people from your personal life or those you have studied who had a special capacity for caring. For Monday, the last day of Sukkot and night of Simchat Torah, select those who emphasized the importance of inclusion, a trait attributed by tradition to the first couple of Ushpizin, Abraham and Sarah, who kept their tent open to all who needed food and water on their journey. 

May the values of courage, resilience, empathy and inclusion inspire us to emulate our ancestors and all those we revere. May we celebrate these values throughout these final four days of Sukkot and remember them when we go to cast our votes in a few weeks. May the example set by our Ushpizin move us to make the most of our blessings and remember what matters most. 

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,

Rabbi Wirtschafter

NOTE: To learn more about the custom and background of Ushpizin go to Jewish Virtual Library or My Jewish Learning. An Israeli film by the same name is available online on several streaming platforms.


September 30, 2022

Shabbat Shuva: A Sabbath of Renewal

Please join us for services this evening as we celebrate couples who have been married for 50 years or longer. Two years of pandemic-related cancellations and postponements have left me awaiting this annual delight even more than usual. Whether tonight’s participants are attending in person or virtually, our entire congregation wishes them a hearty mazel tov and many more years together.

At this time of year when we renew our commitment to being the best possible version of ourselves, these couples who have been together for half a century or more have much to teach us about forgiveness, devotion and affection. May we be moved by their example and blessed to share in their good fortune. May this Sabbath of Repentance also be a Sabbath of Renewal. May the accomplishments of these couples inspire us to renew our love of those we love with all our hearts, with all our souls and with all our might.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 23, 2022

Concealment Closed Down: The Hard Reality 
of Hiding the Truth

“Concealed acts concern the Eternal our God,” but with overt acts, it is for us and our children to apply all provisions of this teaching.” (Deuteronomy 29:28)

No matter how early you get up in the morning, you cannot pull one over on The One Who Never Sleeps. Having an omniscient God has its advantages. There is nothing God does not know. Then again, it has its disadvantages. There is nothing God does not know — including that which we conceal from others. Overt acts, the misdeeds people see us do, can be dealt with by them. If we are caught in the act, we can expect consequences. But what about misdeeds seen only by the offender?

We teach our preschoolers that God is omnipresent and omniscient, yet biblical personas of far more advanced years keep acting as if this was never conveyed to them. Asked where they are after eating the fruit of the forbidden tree, the first couple replies, “We were hiding.” If being driven from Eden were not so sad, their answer might be funny. In the Haftorah portion for the afternoon of Yom Kippur, the Prophet Jonah, who really ought to know better, futilely attempts to conceal himself from God by boarding a boat to Tarshish instead of going to Nineveh, going directly to Nineveh, not passing Go, and not collecting $200. It takes a life-threatening storm to convince the prophet that hoping God might not notice his disobedience was not a good plan. In both tales of evasion, the lesson is presented in plain sight. Hiding or sneaking away from God is a fantasy destined to be defeated by the reality that it cannot be done.

There are two entities that know all things about us: whether we are telling the truth when we say: “I tried my best,” whether we knowingly shirked a responsibility or just forgot, and whether we hurt someone accidentally or purposefully. One is God and the other is us. We can try concealing the truth from ourselves if we want to. Ultimately, however, the effort is bound to fail. Moreover, the attempt to conceal things from God falls somewhere between arrogance and absurdity.

Our Deuteronomic verse about concealment, taken from this week’s Torah portion, helps to set an appropriate tone as we approach the High Holy Days. Avenues of concealment are closing down. Accountability season has arrived. The bill is due, the deadline is now; there is no farther we may kick the can down the road. Wonder Woman’s lasso of truth is tightening around our torsos. All attempts to dissemble, deny or delay are destined to be detected. The moment of truth is upon us. The time to be fully honest with ourselves is now.

May efforts at concealment turn to a reawakening of conscience. Let us ask forgiveness of people from whom we have hidden the truth and beg pardon of God from whom nothing can be hidden.

Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



September 16, 2022

Selichot: Repentance, Remembrance and Renewal  

After two years of virtual attendance, tomorrow night’s observance of Selichot ushers in the return to in-person High Holy Days worship. Selichot, a service of beseeching forgiveness, includes familiar elements of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, such as Avinu Malkaynu, Ashamnu and blowing the shofar. As has become our custom, this service is a communitywide effort with multiple sponsors, hosted by OZS. In prior years, we have read a short story, viewed an episode of “The Crown,” and partaken in an interfaith dialogue, all with the common theme of forgiveness and reconciliation. This year, with the leadership of Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass, the program before the service will center on reflections of this summer’s Hope, History and Healing trip to civil rights sites in Alabama. Participants from the tour will focus on pivotal moments, such as the Rosa Parks Museum, 16th Street Baptist Church and the Equal Justice Initiative Center.

Confronting our painful history as a nation requires the same spiritual resources needed to address our failings as individuals: repentance, remembrance and renewal. Forgiveness is not free. Among the teachings for Yom Kippur is: “Do not say ‘I will sin and repent. Sin and repent.’” Repentance is not a revolving door akin to the silly stars on/stars off machine in “Sneetches on the Beaches” by Dr. Seuss. Forgiveness requires not just confession but repentance. We cannot merely say we are sorry; we must show it. We cannot have personal or societal reconciliation without the arduous work of repentance. It isn’t easy. Nothing worth doing is. Repenting means remembering what we have done wrong as individuals and as a nation, and working to redress these wrongs in a way that addresses the needs of those we have hurt. Recent efforts in our country to discourage the teaching of past abuses run counter to the ethic of remembrance and repentance. We cannot honestly say we regret slavery and systemic racism in the same breath as removing those topics from history curriculums. We humans are filled with contradictions, but such a contradiction undermines our credibility as penitents and people of good will.

We like to speak of the High Holy Days as “a season of renewal.” For God to “renew our days,” for us to renew our relationships and obligations, we must recognize our failings and recommit ourselves to being better people. We cannot sincerely ask for renewal while reverting to the same practices that injured others. The goal of renewal in unattainable without the work of repentance and remembrance.

Please make a special effort to join us for Selichot in person or virtually via OZS’s livestream. I look forward to seeing you there.

  Shabbat Shalom,
 Rabbi David Wirtschafter



September 9, 2022

An Injunction Against Indifference 

   “If you see someone’s ox or sheep is lost, do not ignore it; you must return it to them. … You shall do the same with that person’s donkey; you shall do the same with that person’s garment; and so, too, shall you do with anything that someone loses and you find: you must not remain indifferent.” Deuteronomy (22:1,3)

God of people, places, and things: Help us to extend the message of this week’s Torah portion to every aspect of life.
If we are forbidden to ignore lost livestock how can we ignore lost homes, lost limbs, and lost lives?
If we are required to return lost items, ] are we not required to return safe roads, clean water, peaceful streets and good schools to communities who have lost them?
If we are commanded not to be indifferent toward anything, are we likewise commanded not to be indifferent toward anyone?
Before we can think wisely or act righteously, we have to care deeply.
Teach us to resist the temptation of taking the easy way out. To pay attention rather than turn away. To be invested rather than indifferent. To involve ourselves in the lives and losses of others rather than ignoring them.
May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.

  Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


September 2, 2022

From Deuteronomy to Donbass: Maintaining Environmental Ethics Amidst Military Conflict

“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed; you may cut them down for constructing siegeworks against the city that is waging war on you, until it has been reduced.” (Deuteronomy 20:19-20) 

As the war in Ukraine drags on, this ancient commandment from our weekly Torah portion feels as if it could have been written yesterday. Armed conflict presents us with any number of contradictions. Among them is the question of how to destroy the enemy’s position in the least destructive way possible. Some have asked if the effort is attainable. Union Gen. Tecumseh Sherman’s famous words, “war is hell,” seem to suggest that the attempt to set limits on armed conflict is doomed to fail. Deuteronomy would have us think differently. Even during war, it tells us, it is essential to maintain a moral compass. The rhetorical question in Deuteronomy 20:19 reminds us that trees are innocent bystanders. Unarmed civilians can run. Trees cannot.

The dangers of a resource being misused in wartime are heightened alarmingly in our nuclear age. Like the trees of the field, a nuclear reactor is neither better nor worse than the people who determine its use. Like the trees of the field, it cannot pick up and retreat from the battle zone. The risks of a nuclear meltdown or explosion resulting from this war should compel opposing forces to think more carefully about their shared concerns in this conflict.

The political status of “enemy” does not negate the moral status of “human.” Whether the thing in question is a tree or a nuclear power plant, these resources are vital reminders that we have connections and obligations as human beings that run deeper and stretch wider than war. May we live to fulfill the vision of the prophets: “Everyone shall sit beneath their vine and fig tree, and none shall make them afraid.” (Micah 4:4)

  Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


August 26, 2022


“Every seventh year you shall practice remission from all debts … for the remission proclaimed is God’s.” (Deuteronomy 15:1-2)

This week’s Torah portion provides a visionary approach to economic stability. Sabbatical laws are not limited to the land or to money; they include our most valuable resource: people. Indebtedness is not supposed to be limited to the literal payments that poorer parties pay to richer ones. At its best, indebtedness is an outlook on all of life.

When we talk about being indebted to others, we typically mean it in the metaphorical sense of debts that can never be repaid. On the financial level, Torah is trying to prevent extreme discrepancies between a debtor and creditor class, but the wisdom of the mitzvah goes beyond that. There is an arrogance, a dangerous sense of overentitlement, that takes place when we treat people from the vantage point that they owe us something. Deuteronomy admonishes us to avoid this approach. Sweet talking creditors and hounding debtors might help pay the bills, but it comes with a cost to truth, compassion and trust.

All of us stand as creditors before the Creator. We are indebted to God and to one another is ways we cannot begin to measure. When we stop treating people from the perspective that they owe us something, we free them and ourselves from assumptions of power that distort relationships and resist change. By embracing indebtedness over entitlement, we can enrich our lives and liberate our souls.

  Shabbat Shalom,
  Rabbi David Wirtschafter


August 19, 2022

Bread Alone
“A human being does not live by bread alone.” (Deuteronomy 8:3) 
We hunger for nourishment beyond food. Thirst for sustenance beyond drink.
Our cravings extend to compassion and care. Learning and love are among our appetites. Freedom and justice are among our desires.
So long as we have bread we will not starve to death. But living requires more than not dying. Existence involves more than eating. Let us be grateful for the bread that brings us strength, thankful for the water that keeps us alive. May we use these gifts to help one another.
Praise the Creator by loving creation. 
  Shabbat Shalom,

  Rabbi David Wirtschafter


August 12, 2022

V’Ahavta for Charlottesville: Lessons of Love on an Anniversary of Hate
The fifth anniversary of the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville, Va., coincides with this week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, containing the Shema, Ten Commandments and V’Ahavta enjoining us “to love Adonai Your God with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.” With all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might let us honor the memory of Heather Heyer, a young protester who lost her life in the struggle to remove statues revering defenders of slavery. With all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might, let us demand that our elected officials denounce hatred and disrupt the efforts of hate groups. With all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might, let us remember the scars of the 19 anti-hate protesters injured by the same deranged supremacist who murdered Heather Heyer. May the hurt they suffered prompt us to work for sweeping and lasting change in every aspect of public life.
We cannot assume that sufficient time has passed for the wounds of Charlottesville to simply fade away. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. taught us, “Time is neutral,” something that is neither better nor worse than the use to which we put it. Let us therefore reject the assertion that time heals all wounds. Rather let us resolve to heal the wounds that have been caused over time. With all our heart, with all our soul and with all our might, may we reflect on the lessons of Charlottesville and endeavor to build a nation guided by justice, equality, and love.
  Shabbat Shalom,
  Rabbi David Wirtschafter
Please urge congress to fund the Fight Against Hate. Click here to find out more and sign the Anti-Defamation League’s petition. You also can commemorate the anniversary of the violence in Charlottesville by participating in the Reform Movement’s Voter Registration Drive and our community’s soil collection project in cooperation with the Equal Justice Initiative/The National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

August 5, 2022
Tisha B’Av Amid the Floodwaters
Tomorrow evening at sundown is the solemn fast of Tisha B’Av (the ninth day of the month of Av), which, according to tradition, is the tragic date on which the first Temple (586 BCE) and the second (77 CE) were destroyed. While we recall this ancient agony, our fellow Kentuckians to the southeast are facing a catastrophe in the counties they call home. For them, destruction and devastation are not something that happened long ago and far away. They are inescapable realities of here and now.
With this year’s reading of the Book of Lamentations, we need look no further than the local news to resonate with the image of a community torn apart. The second verse of the book, “Bitterly she weeps in the night, her cheek is wet with tears,” is as fitting a description of the flood-stricken towns of Kentucky as it is the war-torn city of Jerusalem. The stories and images of destruction are heart-rending. Homes, schools and businesses washed away. The death toll keeps rising while we pray for the water to recede.
We offer thanks to rescue professionals and volunteers who have worked tirelessly to bring safety and shelter to those who might have perished otherwise. We offer prayers to God that the distressed, displaced and disheartened will get the help they need and the comfort they seek. Yet words of thanks and prayers for help are not enough. It is insufficient to praise relief efforts when we are called on to support them. Prayer alone is inadequate when what is required is action. Dirges and laments are appropriate at times such as these, but let us follow these sorrowful songs with serious deeds. If you have not had the chance to contribute to relief efforts, please contribute as soon as Shabbat is over. If you are in a position to donate more than once, please do so. (Here are donation links to give through JFB and to the state relief program.)
Our prayerbook for a house of mourning contains this thought as part of a prelude before Mourner’s Kaddish: “Out of affliction the Psalmist learned the law of God. And in truth, grief is a great teacher, when it sends us back to serve and bless the living.” May we commemorate the ancient anguish of Tisha B’Av and the current catastrophe of these floods not merely by mourning who and what we have lost but by serving and blessing the living.
  Shabbat Shalom and, To Those Who Observe It, a Meaningful Fast,
  Rabbi David Wirtschafter
NOTE: We are partnering with OZS again this year to observe Tisha B’Av.The program, with a light meal and text study, begins at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. The reading of the Book of Lamentations starts at 9:30. Hope to see you at OZS.

July 29, 2022

A Prayer for the Flood-Stricken
God of rainfall and ruin, of fortune and misfortune, of flooding and drought, of prosperity and peril.
We ask your blessing on our brothers and sisters in Eastern Kentucky, who are trying to hang on after another harrowing night.
Grant comfort and consolation to the families who have lost loved ones;
Faith and fortitude to the first responders seeking to rescue others from destruction;
Hope and healing to the injured and disheartened;
Patience and perseverance to those eagerly waiting to learn what has happened or to lend a hand.
Help us to hear the cry of those who need us, to keep thinking of them well beyond when the news cycle moves on.
May we heed the call to show generosity of substance and of spirit.
Like the survivors of the Great Flood in Genesis, may our brothers and sisters in Eastern Kentucky be blessed to watch the waters of destruction recede, to witness homes and towns restored.
May the turmoil of this flooding come to an end, and may all who are troubled know peace.
 Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
NOTE: Please consider contributing to the Team Eastern Kentucky Relief Fund or making a donation through Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass.

July 22, 2022

The Quality Required to See us Through
“Moses spoke to יהוה, saying, ‘Let יהוה, Source of the breath of all flesh, appoint someone over the community who shall go out before them and come in before them, and who shall take them out and bring them in. So that יהוה’s community may not be like sheep that have no shepherd.’    And יהוה answered Moses, ‘Single out Joshua son of Nun, an inspired man, and lay your hand upon him.’” (Numbers 27:15-18)
When God reminds Moses that he will not be allowed to enter the Promised Land, his immediate thought is not of his own future but that of his people. True leaders concern themselves with continuity of leadership. God and Torah can have conveyed any number of leadership qualifications. The passage could have said hardworking, honest, driven, wise, kind, modest, courageous, loyal, just, or any number of worthy attributes. Yet in this particular instance, this week’s Torah passage, Pinchas, provides only one. What singles Joshua out is that he is “inspired.”
It is a Biblical text of course, but one cannot help but think of how The Iliad and The Odyssey that begin with the supplication “Speak to me, O Muse!” The poet beseeches divine spirits saying: Help me, guide me, inspire me, that this tale will be one worth telling. Returning to Jewish sources, we have the preacher’s and worshiper’s prayer taken from Psalms. “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to You, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Grant me inspiration, O God, that my insufficient words will prove worthy of Your infinite love.
The last few weeks have been difficult ones, full of disappointment and defeat. What God sees in Joshua is the capacity to look difficulty straight in the eye and remain determined. He does not deny that the Promised Land is populated and fortified. He openly acknowledges it. What he does not do is to allow discouraging realities to deter the people from realizing their dream. Inspiration does not demand blindness to obstacles, but the vision to see beyond them.
The unvarnished truth is that we have lost ground on the environment, voting rights, reproductive health, and separation of church and state. Like Joshua, we need not sugar coat the challenges that lie ahead. Moreover, if we are to follow his example, we cannot allow them to defeat us. The Promised Land cannot be reached by turning back to Egypt. Progress will never be made by relinquishing our goals to the realm of lost causes. May we never lose inspiration no matter the losses we incur. And may our deeds merit that we be counted among those deemed to be inspired.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

July 15, 2022

Welcome Back, Camp Shalom
After the difficult events of recent days, it has been particularly delightful to welcome Camp Shalom back to our TAI campus this week. The pandemic forced the summer camp to go virtual in 2020 and take a full hiatus in 2021. Seeing the gaga pit on our new patio is a moment worthy of a shechecheeyanu. The sight of campers and counselors playing games, singing songs and drawing with sidewalk chalk brought smiles to faces that have been battling a bout of the summertime blues.
It is all the more important to appreciate the good things when it feels as if bad things abound. Thank you to Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass and Camp Director Susan Voglesong and the entire staff for bringing back this community tradition that means so much to many of us. We wish our campers a wonderful three weeks of learning, adventure and fun. It is an honor to host such happy faces.
Baruch Ata Adonai Ha’Tov Veh Ha’Mayteev. Blessed are You, O God, the Source of Goodness Who brings that which is good.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

July 8, 2022

A Week of Wailing
What should have been a week of celebration has turned into one of wailing. From the burial of three Kentucky law enforcement officers shot and killed in the line of duty, to seven fatalities and dozens of injuries in a mass shooting at a Fourth of July parade in Illinois, to this morning’s reports of the assassination of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, we have been bombarded with bad news. Our state, our nation and our world are besieged by violence and chaos.
It is poetically fitting that this week’s Torah portion paints a portrait of a family and a people struggling with multiple loses. Right before the famous story of cursing the people as he draws water from the rock, Moses loses his sister, Miriam. Less than 10 verses after the incident that disqualifies him from entering the Promised Land, he loses his brother, Aaron. The final words of parshat Chukat are, “All the house of Israel bewailed Aaron for thirty days.” A people traumatized by generations of slavery and exhausted by a grueling desert journey now observes a month of mourning. 
As we think about our brothers and sisters gunned down in recent days, at home and around the world, Torah reminds us we are not helpless, and we are not alone. The people do not stop moving. They march on. Moses does not resign his post; he resumes his duties. There are many constructive responses to loss, failure and tragedy. Quitting is not one of them. 
Among the purposes of our vigil for Highland Park and other acts of senseless shooings at the beginning of tonight’s service is to demonstrate our determination to resume our efforts to prevent gun violence and to march on despite the depths of our loss. We are blessed to be joined by Bishop John Stowe of the Lexington Catholic Diocese and have extended an invitation for people of all faiths to join. Please join us in person or online, and encourage friends and family, no matter their religious or political persuasion, to do the same. 
May the One Who brought comfort to Moses and the people of Israel after the deaths and Miriam and Aaron bring us the strength to honor the brothers and sisters we have lost to the epidemic of gun violence by renewing our efforts to forge a new future of justice, compassion and peace.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

June 17, 2022

Sound the Trumpets
  “And on your joyous occasions — your fixed festivals and new moon days — you shall sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and your sacrifices of well-being. They shall be a reminder of you before your God: I, יהוה, am your God.” (Numbers 10:10)
This week’s Torah portion, Beha’ alotkha, provides us with a timely reminder of the importance of appreciating the good things during difficult times. While most of the portion is devoted to narrative about Moses fighting with the people and with his family, the verse above is a notable exception. Trumpets are not reserved for Rosh Hashana or times of emergency. They also are meant to celebrate moments of gratitude and joy. 
This month’s bulletin, hot off the presses, brings the point closer to home. Though the last school year was not as difficult as the one before, the graduating class of 2022, be it high school, college or graduate school, is to be commended for overcoming tremendous obstacles inside and outside the classroom. They probably are too modest to toot their own horns, but that need not keep us from doing so. Please join me in acknowledging this year’s graduates from our congregation for their persistence, resilience and dedication. 

As we continue to see peaks and valleys in COVID, trials and tribulations in our city, state, nation and world, let us be mindful of the commandment in this week’s portion to sound off about the good things in life. Mazel tov to this year’s graduates and their families, and best of luck on your future studies and endeavors. Please remember that no matter where you go or what field you pursue, we will always be your congregation and look forward to trumpeting the great things you accomplish on life’s journey.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter



June 3, 2022

Pride and Joy

This past Sunday we celebrated the confirmation of five wonderful young people. Danit Schachman’s speech compared and contrasted the American and Israeli Declarations of Independence. Tess Nelson posed the question of whether one has to believe in God to be a good Jew. Jonah Creamer asked us to think about the advantages and disadvantages of technology in religious life. Cerise Cohen-Archer probed the Torah portion of the week to explore the tension between taking initiative or being pushed into difficult tasks. But I particularly want to recognize Amanda Palley, daughter of Clair and Kevin Palley, for her speech about identifying as both Jewish and a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
By way of context, it is my practice to give students the freedom to choose any topic they like for their confirmation speech as long as they can explain how it speaks to Jewish history, identity or values. This is the first time in my career that a student has chosen to address sexuality and inclusion in their talk. Even with supportive parents, friends and teachers behind her, this was an act of courage on Amanda’s part. As the story of Queen Esther reminds us, coming out means taking risks. Listening to Amanda reflect on where Judaism stands and has stood throughout our history was a moment none of us in the sanctuary are likely to forget.
And to top it all off, the timing could not have been better. June is Pride month. Tickets for the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass Pride celebration on Saturday, June 11, at the Lyric Theatre are still available. The Lexington Pride Festival will take place all day Saturday, June 25, at Courthouse Plaza; you encouraged to attend as soon as Shabbat morning study sessions are over. For more information about the events, go to Jewishlexington.org/pride and Lexingtonpridefest.org. May the month of June truly be one of Pride and joy.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

May 27, 2022

Moms Demand Action: Welcoming Speakers on Preventing Gun Violence in the Wake of Horrific Week
This week’s Torah portion, Bechukotai, puts things into very simple terms. Follow the commandments and be rewarded, or violate them and be punished. As if we needed proof that life does not work that way, we have the brutal reality of the past few days to remind us. Whether it is in Texas or here in Lexington, it has been another horrendous week of gun violence. With the politics of the issue being as entrenched as they are, it is tempting to give in to despair. But that is a temptation to be resisted with every fiber of our being. Torah cannot deliver on the unwise promise that goodness and wickedness will always be repaid in kind. There is wisdom, however, to be found in Torah’s assertion that every act is significant. The first step to countenancing evil is to succumb to the notion that nothing matters. Whether we succeed in getting our leaders to take appropriate action to stem gun violence is distinct from refusing to try.
It is in this spirit that we have invited members of Moms Demand Action, a gun-violence prevention organization, to speak at services tonight. We will be hearing from those who have lost a family member to gun violence and those who focus on what we can do to diminish it. Please make every effort to attend and encourage friends and family members of all faiths to do the same. We also hope you will join us at a downtown rally next week at the courthouse plaza where Mayor Linda Gorton and others will address the epidemic of gun violence.
We often say the words “shabbat shalom” out of habit or instinct. Tonight, let us speak them with a sense of kavanah, intentionality and purpose. Let us offer them in the spirit of something to aspire to. May the sabbath bring all of us, especially families reeling with grief caused by gun violence, a measure of consolation, comfort and peace.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

May 25, 2022

19 More Murdered Children

19 more murdered children will not celebrate the last day of class.
19 more murdered children will get no summer vacation.
19 more murdered children will never reach middle school.
19 more murdered children will never learn to drive to a car.
19 more murdered children will never again splash in the pool, the ocean, the lake, the river, or the creek.
19 more murdered children will never again be scolded for talking back, messing up or chewing with their mouths full.
19 more murdered children will never again skin their knees, lose a tooth, slam their doors, or break a glass.
19 more murdered children will never again eat dinner with their families or lunch with their friends.
19 more murdered children will never again watch t.v., listen to the radio, or read a book.
19 more murdered children will never again dash around the playground, jump rope, or throw a ball.
19 more murdered children will never again daydream in class, goof around all day or stay up too late at night.
19 more murdered children’s drawings are on the fridge.
19 more murdered children’s pictures are on the wall.
19 more murdered children’s names have been added to the list.
19 more murdered children’s beds are empty.
19 more murdered children’s hands are cold.
19 more murdered children’s eyes are shut.
19 more murdered children do not say their bedtime prayers.
19 more murdered children do not dream sweet dreams.
19 more murdered children do not rest in peace. They have no peace, and they get no rest.

-Rabbi David Wirtschafter


May 20, 2022

Change of Plans, Not of Purpose   
As has been previously announced, Rabbi Melinda Mersack will be unable to speak tonight at Sisterhood Shabbat due to a recurrence of breast cancer. We will keep Rabbi Mersack and her entire family in our prayers and arrange a date for her to speak when her health allows. Sisterhood Shabbat tonight will proceed as scheduled. Filling in for Rabbi Mersack will be Rabbi Elena Stein, chaplain at The Jewish Hospital – Mercy Health in Cincinnati.
We recognize that this news is deeply upsetting. It is always distressing when plans must be changed for reasons such as this, particularly when we know the people involved and regard them not only as speakers and guests but as family and friends. Yet, as always, it is important to keep these circumstances in perspective. Our speaker for tonight has changed, but our purpose for gathering has not. Sisterhood President and Mersack/Young family friend Elissa Weinstein has compiled a lovely service bringing together material from our regular prayerbook with resources such as “Covenant of the Heart” and “Women’s Torah Commentary.” Aviva Bowling has prepared beautiful music including melodies of Debbie Friedman of blessed memory. Rabbi Stein is especially qualified to speak to this historic moment for several reasons, including having been raised at Wise Temple in Cincinnati, where Sally J. Priesand, the first woman to be ordained in by our movement in America, served as student rabbi during her years at HUC-JIR.
We rabbis regularly remind people that leading services is not performing; the congregation is not an audience and worship is not a show. Yet there are circumstances when the expression “the show must go on” applies. The Mersack/Young family is not only intelligent and caring, they also are determined and resilient. A family with a rabbi and two Sisterhood presidents understands we do not always have the option of putting things on hold. The three years since the last Sisterhood Shabbat is already three years too long. Our speaker has changed, but our purpose has not. Tonight’s service will be a celebration of women’s leadership, women’s ideas and women’s voices. Join us.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

May 13, 2022

An Imperiled Distinction: Reclaiming the Difference   
This week’s Torah portion, Emor, provides us with a timely reminder of the dangers of extremes. A fight breaks out between two people. During the altercation, one of them utters the divine name in blasphemy. The offender is promptly placed in custody and subsequently stoned to death (Leviticus 24:10-14).
It is easy to look at such stories and be repulsed at the extreme consequences of the misdeed. Events of recent weeks compel us to ask if our society has distanced itself from those of the past to the extent we would like to believe. Professor Wai Chee Dimock has astutely observed the dangers of a society that cannot differentiate between sin and crime. Whether it is the laws of ancient Israel, the Puritan codes of the early colonies or the theocracies of our own century, extremists have no qualms about bringing the power of the state to bear in punishing violations of religious strictures. Modernity and democracy uphold that we can maintain adultery, sabbath-breaking and blasphemy are destructive and offensive without demanding that they be punishable by law. You disapprove of my language. I disapprove of the hours you operate your store. Both of us disapprove of infidelity. Yet democracy means we have to tolerate choices we don’t like so we can live civilly with one another.
The leak of the Supreme Court’s majority opinion draft rejecting a woman’s right to abortion represents a regressive return to frightening times. Progressive Judaism does not deem abortion to be sinful. Indeed, there are centuries-old rabbinic sources that there are circumstances when terminating a pregnancy must be done to preserve the life of the mother. The fact that not everyone agrees with us is not the problem. The problem is that we seem to be losing the capacity to live with dichotomies. This is why opponents are not troubled by appropriating the power of the state to enforce their religious beliefs so they apply to others’ lives and bodies.
One can maintain that one’s faith deems abortion to be sinful while also maintaining it should be legal. If we are living in a democracy, such an assertion is not a hypocritical contradiction but an essential distinction. If we are living in a democracy, then those who oppose abortion on religious grounds can say: “I believe in the right of others to choose, but this is not a choice for me.”
It appears that our country has lost – or is in danger of losing – sight of the ability to live with the difficult distinctions required to maintain a democracy. Religious belief and political persuasion should inform, not rule, one another. What my neighbor does with her womb can offend religious beliefs without infringing on personal rights. She is regulating her womb not others’ wombs. We can readily empathize with the anger and outrage at the language of the blasphemer. Who among us has not been deeply hurt by the words of others? Who among us has not had their beliefs mocked, sensitivities ignored, ideals derided? Yet the decision to stone the blasphemer leaves us horrified and confused.
How can we reconcile such an extreme response with a religious outlook that teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves? Can’t we hate our neighbor’s words without hating our neighbor? Can’t our political opponents condemn abortion as a sin without working to make it a crime. The discipline of democratic distinctions has become politically imperiled.
Our Reform Movement (URJ), rabbinic association (CCAR) and public policy organization (The Religious Action Center) will continue to insist on and advocate for reproductive freedom. Our congregation will continue to work with the Kentucky Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Planned Parenthood and the National Council of Jewish Women to make abortion safe, legal and funded. It appears we are in for a long hard fight. It is discouraging and disheartening to find ourselves in this position, but we must find courage and take heart in the knowledge that progress is possible.
May the determination and sacrifices of the past inspire us to never relinquish the rights our mothers and grandmothers fought so hard for.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
NOTES: The Central Conference of American Rabbis released a statement about the leaked draft of the Supreme Court’s decision that would strike down Roe v. Wade. To read the statement, click here.
The Jewish Rally for Abortion Justice, presented by the National Council of Jewish Women, will be at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Washington, D.C. For more details, click here.

April 29, 2022

Yom HaShoah and Our Youth: Jewish Teens Take a Central Role in Holocaust Remembrance Day
For the first since 2019, we will have the opportunity to gather in person for our communitywide commemoration of Yom HaShoah at 2 p.m. Sunday at Ohavay Zion Synagogue. After over two years of pandemic, we are painfully aware that even the chance to physically attend a Holocaust Remembrance Day service, solemn though it is, should not be taken for granted. This year’s service promises to be different from all others. There has a long been a youth participation in this event: the candle lighting and Szekely essay contest, for instance. This year, however, our youth will take an even greater role. Student presenters Amanda Palley, Laine Fine, Emilie Tackett and Ben Berlin will talk about their recent project, “Learning While Jewish: Results From the Jewish Identity and School Climate Survey.” What makes Sunday different is that while we often talk about the issues pertaining to this study, we rarely get to hear directly from our youth.
Initially it might seem that the Sabbath we celebrate tonight and the Yom HaShoah commemoration have little in common. The first is joyful; the second is sad. The first is held every week; the second is held once a year. The first is about creation; the second deals in destruction. And yet there are core values they share. Torah gives us two basic commandments about Shabbat: guard/keep and remember, shamor and zachor.So too, Yom HaShoah asks us to guard the legacy of a devastating loss and to preserve its memory that humanity might be more willing to resist genocide and ethnic cleansing wherever it rears its ugly head. May the holiness of Shabbat help us to hallow Yom HaShoah.And mayhallowing Yom HaShoah lead us to proclaim Shabbat’s message of justice and peace.
Please make a special effort to hear these remarkable youth, tomorrow’s leaders, at Sunday’s service and encourage others to do the same.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

April 22, 2022

A Prophet’s Promise of Peace: Isaiah’s Animal Allegory and the Human Potential for Change

During a week that has witnessed the continuing horrors of war in the Ukraine and the 23rd anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., we gather this Sabbath on the final days of Passover to pray for peace. The Haftorah (reading from the Prophets) our sages selected for the last day of the festival is taken from the Book of Isaiah. The prophet’s dream of a world physically and spiritually transformed can be a source of hope, encouraging us to hold on to a beautiful vision of peace amid the ugly sights of war.

The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard lie down with the kid;
The calf, the beast of prey and the fatling together,
With a little child to herd them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
Their young shall lie down together;
And the lion, like the ox, shall eat straw.
A babe shall play
Over a viper’s hole,
And the hand of an infant pass
Over an adder’s den.
In all of My sacred mount
Nothing evil or vile shall be done;
For the land shall be filled with devotion to God
As water covers the sea. (Isaiah 11:6-9)

Isaiah’s verse dares to envision a world that no longer is divided between predator and prey, strong and weak, victim and victimizer. The instinct that leads to aggression and attack will no longer exist. Nothing and no one need know it or fear it. Behavior will change because minds have changed. Four-legged beasts won’t fight, and serpents will not sting. Far from being hardwired, the urge will be utterly foreign to them.

Of course, Isaiah is not really speaking about animals but of humans. Yet his use of allegory poses a question. If animals could learn to banish aggressive impulses, why can’t we? What is really holding us back from the pursuit of peace? A deep-seated desire to do violence or the lack of moral courage and political will to create safer and more sustainable ways of life? Scientifically speaking, we have more intellectual capacity than animals. From the pain and destruction we bring one another, however, we don’t act like it. The prophet is reminding us that among our greatest gifts is our potential for change. Our capacity to reconsider, reimagine and reorient can be transformative if we dare to draw upon it.

May the feast and fast of Passover remind us that things will get harder before they get easier, that nothing good comes from giving up and that a better life is possible if we are prepared to confront the powers that be.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Pesach,

Rabbi David Wirtschafter


April 15, 2022

Next Year’s Freedoms
The Passover Haggadah ends with the words: “Next year in Jerusalem! Next year, may we all be free.” Philosophers, theologians and legal scholars debate the nuances of “freedom from and freedom to.” In keeping with the overarching number of the seder, President Franklin D. Roosevelt spoke of “four freedoms”: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom of fear.”
Our God and God of ancestors, this year we attach an addition to our seder’s conclusion.
Next year may Ukraine be free from war.
Next year may displaced people be free from refugee camps.
Next year may Uyghur Muslims, Coptic Christians and other persecuted faith groups be free to practice their religion.
Next year may women be free from pay inequality, sexual harassment and assault.
Next year may we be free from incursions on a woman’s right to choose.
Next year may the unnourished be free from hunger.
Next year may the impoverished be free from homelessness.
Next year may the uninsured/underinsured be free from medical debt, free from choosing to treat their conditions or feed their families.
Next year may our streets and schools, subway stations and workplaces be free from shootings.
Next year may the air we breathe and the water we drink be free from pollution
Next year may we be free from draught, famine, wildfire and global warming.
Next year may we be free from the pandemic.
Next year may we be free from hatred.
Next year may we be free from homophobia, transphobia and xenophobia.
Next year may we be free from book banning and disinformation.
Next year in Jerusalem!
Next year, may we all be free.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

March 18, 2022

I’m not sure what Ecclesiastes means when it tells us, “There is no new thing under the sun.” Twenty-five years into the rabbinate, I’m still finding new things, milestones that represent significant firsts, moments worth saying shehecheyanu for.This shabbat is a perfect example. Until the Doctrow boys, Jacob and Daniel, in 2018, I had never officiated at the b’nai mitzvah of twins. Tomorrow morning will be the first time I officiate at the b’nai mitzvah service for twins of the opposite sex, Sophie and Eli Hoffman.
Twins are a fascinating construct. They are a reminder that each of us is connected to others, yet each of us is unique. Twins remind us that we all have collective and individual personalities. And twins remind us that we underestimate both how much we share and how different we are.
It has been rewarding to watch Sophie and Eli grow as twins and as individuals throughout this process. The two of them have taught me things together, and each has taught me lessons on their own. Tonight and tomorrow, we celebrate these two wonderful young people taking the next step in the journey of their Jewish lives as twins and as individuals. How blessed we are here in our community to share in the journey with them and to be here for many more significant steps to come.
As far as human history is concerned there might be nothing new about being a twin, but celebrating with these two is new and exciting for us. Blessed are you, Eternal Our God, for giving us life, sustaining us and bringing us to this twofold first.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

March 11, 2022

Remembering Women’s Sacrifices on the Sabbath of Remembrance
This week, as we turn from Exodus to Leviticus, our focus goes from a dramatic narrative of liberation to the difficult work of offering sacrifices. On this week that celebrates International Women’s Day, it behooves us to acknowledge women’s sacrifices that are too often unacknowledged. Sacrificing career, sacrificing savings, sacrificing sleep so those who depend on them can get the support they need. Let us promise to recognize the accomplishments that go unrecognized, to value the work that goes undervalued and to take better notice of efforts that go unseen. 
As we gather for Shabbat, we are painfully aware of incursions on the most basic of human rights, the freedom to decide what happens to one’s own body. This disrespect for women’s autonomy goes against the ideal of self-determination at the heart of democracy. It dishonors women’s intellect, women’s dignity and women’s sacrifices.
The Shabbat before Purim is known as Shabbat Zachor, the Sabbath of Remembrance. So let us remember the courage and sacrifice of both heroines of the Megillah: The courage of Esther to reveal who she is to save her people even if it means sacrificing her life; the courage of Vashti to refuse degradation even though it means sacrificing her crown. 
Tonight we welcome Tamarra Wieder, above, state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates of Kentucky to tell us about the status of reproductive rights in our state and educate us about how we can help. Too many have sacrificed too much to see reproductive freedoms eroded any further. Ms. Wieder will be introduced by lifelong TAI member Ann Rosenstein-Giles, daughter of Irma Rosenstein, a founding member of Planned Parenthood of Kentucky. On this Sabbath of Remembrance let us recommit ourselves to the work of ensuring that these sacrifices were not in vain. 
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

March 4, 2022

Prayer for Ukraine
God of hope and heartbreak, fear and faith, life and death. As we gather for Sabbath services led by our second-graders, we think of imperiled families in Ukraine for whom Shabbat will bring no rest and no peace.
As we take pride and joy in our children’s prayers tonight, we also pray for a swift and complete withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine.
We pray for its people whether they are fleeing for their safety or fighting for their lives.
We pray for those taking shelter in subways, sleeping in the cold and searching for cover.
We pray for parents and children, soldiers and civilians, teachers and students, the able-bodied and the injured, the determined and the distressed.
We pray for the hungry and homeless, the terrified and traumatized, clinging with all their might to make it to another day. Hear them, O God, and be with them.
We lift our voices in prayer to You and we join with concerned people throughout the world in saying to our brothers and sisters in Ukraine that you not alone, you are not forgotten, you are not lost.
So, too, we lift our voices in protest. We protest the aggression of President Putin, his lies, his greed, his demagoguery and his cruelty. This maniac who compares victims of aggression to Nazis and then bombs the memorial at Babyn Yar.
We pray for those in Russia who have defied beatings and arrest, intimidation and retaliation from a tyrannical regime.
May all who resist this dictator be blessed with strength and resilience. May their defiance of tyranny inspire us to add our resistance to theirs.
On this Shabbat Pekudei, when we read about the records and accounts of the tabernacle, let us pledge to preserve a record of this conflict and to hold aggressors to account.
May the promise of the prophet Zachariah be fulfilled. “Not by might and not by power,” but by a united spirit in the fight for freedom will tyranny be defeated, evil be punished, and peace be restored. May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

February 25, 2022

Budget Season and Biblical Taxes: Welcoming Guest Speaker Natalie Cunningham of the Kentucky Center
for Economic Policy
“Everyone who is entered in the records, from the age of twenty years up, shall give God’s offering: the rich shall not pay more, and the poor shall not pay less than half a shekel when giving God’s offering as expiation for your persons. You shall take the expiation money from the Israelites and assign it to the service of the Tent of Meeting; it shall serve the Israelites as a reminder before God, as expiation for your persons.” (Exodus 30:14-16)
It is poetically fitting that as we study the flat tax of the half-shekel in this week’s Torah reading and begin to organize our taxes, our state legislature is busy preparing its two-year budget. Biblical offerings run a gamut of categories we might use today. Some are a flat tax like we see in the verses above. Other times Torah’s approach seems to resemble progressive taxation by articulating lower contribution requirements for those whose “means do not suffice” in instances like the peace offering, goodwill offering or sin offering.
Commentators past and present have wrestled with the moral implications of these tax structures. Some see the flat tax as an equalizing instrument preventing the poor from feeling like they have less standing and ownership in society. Others argue that there is no difference between a flat tax and a regressive one because the impact of the same amount or even the same percentage will be greater on the poor than the rich. In her bat mitzvah speech several years ago, Sadie Bograd humorously pondered the discrepancy of a 10% cattle tax on a home with one cow as opposed to a thousand of them. What looks like fairness and consistency in principle does not necessarily operate that way in practice.
Tonight’s guest speaker, Natalie Cunningham, outreach director at the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, will present a critical assessment of the two-year proposed budget and other items of pending legislation. A budget is a moral document that reflects the priorities and values of legislators and voters. Let us work to ensure that the burden of paying for the services we need is distributed in a manner in keeping with the ideals we cherish as a community and congregation.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

February 18, 2022

The Wrong Response to Being Right: Moses, Elijah and Lessons for COVID-19
Our sages knew what they were doing when they paired the story of Moses’ outrage over the Golden Calf with that of Elijah’s showdown with 450 false prophets of Ahab. The Torah and Haftorah passages of the week’s portion, Ki Tisa, bear striking similarities. Both involve going up and down mountains: Horeb and Carmel. Both deal with idolatry: making the Golden Calf and worshipping the forbidden deity of Baal. Both give us a prophet at odds with his people: Moses and Elijah. And both include the slaughter of those who have been deemed traitorous.  
Elijah’s behavior at Mount Carmel is not that of the benevolent prophet we think of as an honored guest at every seder and brit milah (circumcision ceremony). Knowing that God will take his side, Elijah mocks his opponents: “Shout louder; maybe your god is sleeping!” and castigates the people: “How long are you going to hop back and forth between two opposite paths?” No sooner has God accepted Elijah’s offering than he orders the people to slaughter the false prophets, just as Moses sentenced to death thousands who revered the Golden Calf. Neither prophet succeeds in ridding Israel of the behavior they deplore. Killing idolators does little to stop idolatry. The people return to it again and again.  
The corresponding portions are a cautionary tale for our pandemic times. Vindication is one thing, vindictiveness is another. When the history of COVID-19 is written, it will demonstrate that those who insisted on science and vaccination were right all along. It is a sad irony of the human condition that having proven to be right we feel entitled to do what is wrong.  Being correct, however, does not constitute a license to be vengeful, degrading and cruel. Consequences are one thing, vengeance is another. Do we want to squander being right on demeaning those who arrived at false conclusions, or will we seize the opportunity to educate them, gain their trust and help them make better choices? The death sentences imposed by impassioned prophets punished not only perpetrators but their loved ones. Where are the logic, rationality and wisdom in that? 
Once again it seems that the positivity rate is on the decline and the possibility of unmasking long enough to break bread together is within reach. On this Sabbath after the Super Bowl, let us be mindful that there is a world of difference between doing a touchdown dance and taunting one’s opponent. We have not come this far, endured this much and lost so many only to leave ourselves even more susceptible to irrationality and fearmongering than we were before. Sometimes our prophets teach by showing us what to do. Other times they teach by showing us what not to do. For the sake of our future, let’s promise ourselves to embrace the blessing of survival as an opportunity for redemption rather than revenge.  
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

February 11, 2022

Ner Tamid: Eternal Light Amid Prolonged Pandemic
“You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly. Aaron and his sons shall set them up in the Tent of Meeting, outside the curtain which is over [the Ark of] the Pact, [to burn] from evening to morning before God. It shall be a due from the Israelites for all time, throughout the ages.” (Exodus 27:20-21)
On this Sabbath when we read the verses that inspired the practice of establishing the Eternal Light, let us take pause to think about our legacy as a people and the gift of light itself.
Our ancestors in many lands in many ages kept the light of our people burning even at risk of their lives.
As we continue along the long and winding path of this pandemic, may we never lose sight of the light that has guided us through times far darker than this.
Let us continue to beat the olives, bring the oil and kindle the lamps that convey commitment to God and one another.
May temporary absence from our sanctuaries never dim the constant dedication that has served us so well for so long.
Let us preserve the ner tamid on our watch, just as our forebears did during theirs, and may we one day pass the torch of leadership, learning and loyalty to the next generation.
Blessed are You, O God, fashioner and sustainer of light.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

February 4, 2022

 “The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart is so moved.” (Exodus 25:1–2)
God of giving and receiving, of abounding generosity and high demands.
Help us on this Shabbat Terumah, this Sabbath of Gifts, to think about what we willingly bring to You and what we hold back, what we gladly hand over and what we are loath to part with, what we happily contribute and what we tightly hold on to.
When we consider what our ancestors, scarcely freed from slavery, brought for the construction of the Tabernacle, we are humbled by their generosity and inspired by their sacrifice.
Your Torah neither denigrates nor celebrates possessions. We pray for prosperity, but we do not worship wealth.
When invited to wish for anything, Solomon’s imagination went not to infinite wealth but abounding wisdom. Bless us, too, O God, with the discernment to wish wisely.
As a great poet once wrote: “What we imagine we shall become, and if we cannot imagine then we will become that too.”
Move our hearts, that our hands may bear gifts worthy of Your caring, compassion and affection. Teach us to imagine the unimaginable and to make dreams of justice come true. May our gifts prove to be more than acceptable. May they be tokens of gratitude, sings of devotion and demonstrations of love.
May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

January 28, 2022

Whoever Started the Fire”: Obligatory Restitution for Incendiary Remarks
  “When a fire is started and spreads to thorns, so that stacked, standing or growing grain is consumed, whoever started the fire must make restitution.” (Exodus 22:5)
 Seen strictly on a literal level, this verse from our weekly Torah portion, Mishpatim, codifies responsibility for a failure to sufficiently contain fire. Read figuratively, the implications for insufficient caution in other areas of life begin to assert themselves. Anti-vaccination activists like U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. have made a habit of incendiary remarks, accusing Jews of controlling the world with space lasers and that Anne Frank and her family were treated with greater dignity than those opposing vaccination. Both have apologized.
Judaism recognizes the importance of saying “I’m sorry.” Apologizing can be a positive first step toward reconciliation. Literal usage is called for here because it is nothing more or less than a single step with many far more difficult ones ahead. None of us is perfect. All of us have said and done things we regret. Regret, however, no matter how sincere, can become repentance only when we make restitution.
The flames of hatred and misinformation ignited by Green and Kennedy have been consumed eagerly by their followers, supporters, listeners and donors. Like fire, the power of influence is not to be played with. To be trusted and believed is to hold a flint in the palm of our hands. To misuse so precious a gift is to betray a precious trust. For Green’s and Kennedy’s apologies to do something other than glow for an instant and then fizzle, they must feed the fire of real atonement with at least twice as much effort as they put into their reckless attacks. Fear and hate can be unlearned. Renunciations can have authentic meaning if we follow up on them. The rabbinic commentary included in the High Holy Days liturgy makes the message clear: “One must not say ‘I will sin and repent, sin and repent.’” Granting forgiveness to the sincere and dutiful penitent is a religious obligation. The granting of forgiveness, however, is not for free. Just as one who has allowed fire to get out of control must make restitution for material damages, those who have fanned the flames of hatred must make restitution for the harm they have done. We will be watching closely to see if Green and Kennedy will work to defuse the many minds and hearts they have set to explode. Remorse alone cannot restore devastated crops, and apologies themselves cannot provide restitution for repeated wrongs.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

January 21, 2022

Implied Imperative: The Power of a Convenantal Claim
 “I am the Eternal your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.” 
Sticklers for language, legal scholars and students of Judaism are all presented with a problem from the very first of the 10 Commandments we study once again in this week’s Torah portion. Literally speaking, there is no “commandment” in this verse. The imperative form is not used. No specific action is demanded. Even a duty to believe or affirm these words is not state directly. So, if our working definition of commandment is something that uses the language of requirement to convey mandated actions or beliefs, how can it be said that Exodus 20:2 meets such a standard? 
The answer is that the imperative is implied. The first commandment is conveyed in the form of a preamble, prelude or forward to that which follows. If one was wondering “What have You done for me” or “What gives You the power to impose all this on us?”, the response is “I freed you from slavery. I took you away from your place and position as a persecuted people. The fact that you have a future without Pharoah is because of Me.” 
The opening commandment contains an overarching claim, a claim that says God commands these things of you because He liberated you from slavery, slaveholders and the land in which you were enslaved. God keeps the covenant with Abraham that slavery will not be eternal and in return requires full compliance with all future commands. We are not asked to revere God for nothing. We revere God out of eternal gratitude for freedom. Slavery in Egypt does not end because of a military uprising or protest campaign fought by the people. God does the fighting while Moses and Aaron handle the communicating. The former slaves do not become a fighting force until well after they have left Egypt. 
Notice the sequence in which things happened. God does not give us the 10 Commandments and then take us out of Egypt. It is the other way around intentionally. The only commandment for slaves is the will of their masters. Torah tells us we are subject to the law because liberty has been granted to us. We were not granted liberty because we successfully adhered to God’s laws. The gift of freedom is what calls us to comply with the commandments. We did not win or earn freedom from Pharoah. God lovingly and loyally bestowed it on us. Love of God and loyalty to God’s laws are what we give in return. 
It is this implied imperative, this covenantal claim, that forms the basis of everything else God asks us to do. The first commandment does not necessarily contain an action item, but it provides the foundation on which all others are based. God practices what God preaches. God demonstrated love for us by freeing us from the degradation of slavery. Therefore, God calls on us us to love one another by refraining to do that which degrades any human being. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

January 14, 2022

MLK Shabbat 2022: “Where Do We Go From Here?
The parting of the sea and the drowning of Egypt’s army in this week’s Torah portion, Beshellach, are a timely reminder of Dr. King’s legacy that we celebrate each year on the anniversary of his birthday. Why in heaven’s name would the Pharoah pursue the very people he blames for the death of Egypt’s first-borns, including his own? King warned us in “Letter From a Birmingham Jail” that racism distorts the souls of the oppressed and oppressor alike. That false superiority and false inferiority are toxic to the body of democratic ideals. Pharoah and Egypt ultimately become slaves to slavery, addicted to it and incapable of relinquishing their grasp of it. At what cost will white America clutch systemic racism? To the point where we go backward on voting rights? To the point that we refuse to teach the brutality of slavery and Jim Crow to our young people? To the point where we punish anyone who uses the word racist or racism to describe policies and practices that prevent us righting historic wrongs? Haven’t we’ve lost too much time and too many lives perpetuating injustice to revert to the destructive pursuits of the past? More than half a century ago, in 1967, Dr. King published Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? The time is long overdue for us to ask ourselves the same question.
Tonight’s speaker, Professor Blanche Bong Cook of the University of Kentucky Law School, will challenge us to consider the road we are on, the choices that lie before us and the consequences of choosing the wrong direction. An activist and scholar, Cook is a proponent and architect of “Breonna’s Law,” which would prevent the taking of innocent lives and hold law enforcement more accountable. As the U.S. Senate debates the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, Cook and leaders like her ask us to consider whether we are walking the walk on racial progress rather than paying lip service to the memory of those who sacrificed so much.
In addition to her remarks, Cook will take questions from Rabbi Abramowitz of OZS and Jane Grise, a fellow UK Law School professor and past temple president. We hope you will encourage family and friends of all faiths to participate. (Please see the Announcements below for a link to action items from the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism on ways to help with efforts and initiatives to protect voting rights and diminish systemic racism.)
Thank you to our partners, Ohavay Zion Synagogue, Hadassah and Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass, for helping us bring Cook’s message to our community. May we prove wiser than Pharaoh. Let us demonstrate the willingness to learn from our mistakes and atone for our transgressions. Let us reject a path that leads to destruction and build one that leads to reconciliation, justice and peace.
           Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
NOTE: Next week is scheduled to be a family service featuring the Religious School’s fifth-graders.

January 7, 2022

The Death of the First-born: The Injustice of the 10th Plague and a Path to a Better Future
This week’s Torah portion, Bo, includes the final and most fatal of the 10 Plagues, the death of the first-born. Having been brought up in a family that lost a child, I have always found this plague particularly hard to take. It makes no distinction between the innocent and the guilty, the complicit citizen who gladly complies with slavery, the conscientious subject who is troubled by it but sees no point in fighting back, or righteous people like the midwives Shifra and Puah who courageously defied Pharoah’s decree to cast all Hebrew baby boys into the Nile. Are we to believe their descendants were somehow spared a visit from the Angel of Death? Exodus never comments on the question. 
Perhaps our American legal system’s objection to guilt by association and our experience with state-sponsored persecution inclines us toward skepticism of collective punishment, fear of its abuse and outrage at its cruelty. I think of the first-borns I have known and loved, men and women, living and dead: my father, Jonathan, brother Jacob, son Zachariah, Uncle Victor, mother-in-law Roni and wife Shana. If God were to punish our country for its failures as God punished Egypt, then all of these people and millions more would be unjustly condemned to death. 
Despite such objections, God’s decision to punish Pharaoh and Egypt this way teaches at least two things. The first is that tyrants are incapable of caring about their people, slave and citizen alike. It is not until Pharaoh has personally felt the consequences of his refusal to emancipate the Hebrews that he relents to let them leave without conditions. The poverty and illness, financial and emotional distress on Egypt mean nothing to him. It is the death of his own child that compels him to change direction, and even after that he fatally goes back on his word. The second is that collective punishment is a reality whether we find it just or not. Indeed, poorer countries that pollute less than richer ones are bearing the brunt of global warming. People too young to vote, people who have yet to be born, people with no power or voice will suffer the consequences of our failure to hold world leaders responsible for their failures to protect our planet. “If you don’t like collective punishment,” argues the Torah, “then don’t participate in behavior doomed to result in collective consequences.” It is not the response I would like, but it does contain a degree of internal logic and consistency. 
If we dream of a future radically different from the disaster that befell Egypt, we need to take a different path than the one we are on by demonstrating more resistance to evil than the Egyptians did. One or two Shifras and Puahs were not enough. Just as one or two Wallenbergs and Schindlers weren’t enough. It takes a collective effort to secure a collective future of prosperity, justice and peace. Our first-borns, and all our children, are counting on us to persistently address the plagues that corruption, hatred and violence have brought upon this world before it is too late. May the heartbreak of the Egyptian families who lost their beloved first-borns, and our history of suffering as a people, move us to make a collective effort with all our heart, all our soul and all our might. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

December 17, 2021

Out of the Whirlwind: Responding to Last Week’s Tornadoes
Thirty years ago, I took a course, “Job and Wisdom Literature,” with Dr. Marc Brettler at Brandeis University (named for a Kentuckian and the first Jew to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court). As reports of the tornadoes that pounded the western portion of our state poured in throughout the week, I have been thinking of the climactic chapter of Job in which God replies to the protagonist’s plea for justice “out of the whirlwind,” saying: “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations? Speak if you have understanding. Do you know the laws of heaven or impose its authority on earth? Can you send up an order to the clouds for an abundance of water to cover you? Can you dispatch the lightning on a mission and have it answer you, ‘I am ready?’” (Job 38:4, 33-35). 
My clinical pastoral education supervisor, the Rev. Charles Kessler, teaches interns that “Job does not receive an answer. He receives a response.” What Reverend Kessler imparted about responding to illness and hospitalization applies also to responding to natural disasters. For those who are suffering, there are no answers. There are no answers to the questions of why my family, why my friend, why my town, why my home, why my workplace or why my house of worship. What we can offer, however, is a response, preferably not one as authoritarian as that of The Almighty in Job 38, but a response nonetheless. We have no more answers for our fellow Kentuckians and fellow Americans living in a state of shock, trauma and grief than there are answers for why Job has lost nearly everything a person can lose. What we can offer is a response. 
Please join me in thanking David Silver, a longtime member of our congregation and dedicated Red Cross disaster relief volunteer, for the way he has responded to last week’s crisis via the work he has been doing this week in Bowling Green. If you have not done so, please take a look at the links to various organizations we have posted that provide information about how you can help. These include but are not limited to Community Foundation of West Kentucky, Team Western Kentucky Tornado Relief Fund, American Red Cross and Nechama: A Jewish Response to Disaster. In the coming days we hope to have more information about how our sister congregations in Paducah and Bowling Green might need our assistance in helping their communities.
Words and sentiments, thoughts and prayers are not enough. What Job gets out of the whirlwind is not an explanation. What he gets is the knowledge that his suffering has been seen and his pain has been heard. May our response to those suffering in the aftermath of the whirlwind demonstrate no less. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

December 10, 2021

Our Brother Behind the Mask:
What Joseph Can Teach Our Pandemic Times
Masks, in this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash, are things that refuse to decide between figurative or literal usage. Rather, as the seemingly impenetrable Joseph breaks down in tears before his brothers, the removal of masks contains a lot of both. Heliterally stops hiding his identity from his brothers while figuratively removing the barrier of position and power he has leveled on them for so long.
Joseph never relinquishes the title of Pharaoh’s second-in-command, but in this reconciliation scene he abruptly stops using it as shield from being discovered and a sword with which to wield his will. The garb of Egyptian royalty has proved an effective cover for the course of several chapters. But when the brothers say it would be better to be his slaves than to return to their father Jacob without Benjamin, Joseph is finally reassured that they care about something other than themselves. It is at this point he stops treating them like strangers and starts treating them as brothers. He takes offthe mask of anonymity without untying a single string. 
One day we, too, will be able to remove our masks. It will take longer than we hoped, but it will happen. The journey from here to there will be hard, laden with loss and sorrow, but we will make it. The road to healing and catharsis will not be a clear and steady progression, but like that of Joseph and his brothers, it will be filled with moments when it seems as if for every step forward there are two steps back. When we finally get to put our pandemic masks away, when we say a blessing for taking them off, let us consider what to do with the other masks we have been wearing, masks that allow us to perpetuate the misguided illusion that the person over the border, across the sea, professing different ideas, possessing fewer resources, practicing a different faith or inhabiting a body with a different color of skin is anything other than our brother or sister. 
No amount of anonymity could change that the people Joseph was tormenting were his own family. The long-lost brother ultimately realizes that whether they know who he is and whether he can get away with as much vengeance as he wants, that’s not really the point. Joseph knows who he is and what the blessing of surviving his ordeals requires of him, just as we know who we are and what the blessing of surviving our ordeals requires of us. 
COVID-19 has taught us there are times when wearing masks is the responsible thing to do. The story of Joseph is a reminder that there are times when removing them is the righteous thing to do. May we carefully consider why it is we use the masks we wear. And may we ask ourselves conscientiously if circumstances call on us to take them off. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

December 3, 2021

Triumphal Return
It is poetically fitting that the Shabbat of Hanukkah celebrates the triumphal return of Shir Adat. Our choir has served us through two years of pandemic High Holy Days services. Its director, musician-in-residence Dr. Lorne Dechtenberg, has gone above and beyond, leading us in song at the vast majority of services since COVID-19 began. Yet this sabbath is different from all other pandemic sabbaths in that we will be hearing from Shir Adat after far too many months of a medically forced hiatus. It’s not only their music that we have missed but the joy they exude in singing it.
Centuries ago, our Maccabean ancestors returned to the Temple in Jerusalem, their central house of worship, after a terrible war that shook their society to its roots. We, too, have been shaken during these long and difficult months. Their miracle was a military victory. Ours is finding a vaccine in record time. Breakthrough cases and the latest variant should be taken seriously, but we cannot allow them to diminish our gratitude for reaching this moment as a community. Like the Maccabees, Lorne and Shir Adat have dedicated themselves to a cause and refused to allow tremendous challenges keep them from doing what they love.
We hope you will join us tonight, in person or via Zoom/Facebook, as Lorne and Shir Adat lead us in Shabbat and Hanukkah prayers and songs. Our Women’s First Torah commentary will be given by Shir Adat member Sarah Lowe, and Lorne will offer a special tribute to one of his great influences, American Jewish composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim. Please make a special effort to honor the work of this wonderful artist and the dedication of our fellow congregants by attending what promises to be a beautiful service and a triumphal return. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
NOTE: Next week’s service will be a Family Shabbat with participation by members of the Religious School’s sixth grade class.

November 26, 2021


Meriting a Modern Miracle: Holding Onto Hope as Another Hanukkah Amidst Pandemic Approaches

The Hanukkah prayer Al Hanissim (“For the Miracles”) gives thanks to God for wonderous things the Eternal did “for our ancestors in those days at this time.” On the surface, there appears to be a contradiction. It cannot actually be at this time because there is no time exactly the same as any other. There is only one Nov. 19, 2021, only one 22nd of Kislev 5782. Yet holidays, like the anniversaries of death, births, weddings and b’nai mitzvah, connect a past event to the present moment by sanctifying a common day on different years. 

We do not live in the era of the Maccabees, but we remember the stories about them that took place in this same month all those Kislevs ago. Hypothetically, we could study the legends of Hanukkah at any point, but when we remember them now, at this particular moment, we build a bridge across time itself, connecting our ancestors’ days with our own. Our circumstances are different, our knowledge and skill sets are different, but the deep desire for miracles remains the same. We are not living under the cruel oppression of the Seleucid (Greek Assyrian) dynasty, but this pandemic proves that we do know something about the curtailing of freedoms, the pain of division and what it’s like to wonder when things will return to how they were before. We moderns might not believe in miracles, but that doesn’t mean we don’t wish for them. 

Science already has provided us a miracle in the form of vaccines. Yet science alone cannot cure social ills. Only societies, working as a whole, can do that. Science has done its job, faster than ever before, at a truly miraculous speed. The next miracle, that of healing broken societies, is up to us. The pain caused by disinformation, hatred, violence and selfishness can be overcome only by reason, love, compassion and generosity. May we merit the modern miracle of this pandemic finally coming to an end. May our dedication, like that our ancestors long ago, inspire us at this time of year to never lose hope, never give up and never accept the notion that nothing is ever going to change. May the lights of Hanukkah renew our strength, rekindle our hopes, and reignite our courage.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Hanukkah Sameach,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


November 19, 2021

Confronting Homelessness
and Returning Home: Jacob’s Wrestling Match and Ours
With the federal suspension of evictions having ended and winter on its way, we are facing a serious need for housing and food assistance in Lexington. Our homeless and hungry population needs our help. The winter holidays ought to be a season of light and warmth, but our brothers and sisters at risk will be left in the dark and the cold if there is nowhere for them to go.  
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayishlach, Jacob finally decides after many years that it is time to return home to his father, face his fears, look his brother Esau in the eye and take responsibility for his mistakes. Like Jacob, we have arrived at a point where denial and distancing ourselves from the problem is no longer an acceptable way to live with our fellow human beings. Our imperfect patriarch wrestled with an angel to receive a new blessing and a new name. So, too, wrestling with our conscience compels us to acknowledge that the only way to account for societal shortcomings is through taking newfound responsibility and demonstrating newfound resolve in making things better for those burdened with poverty, oppression and despair. 
In recognition of national Hunger & Homelessness Awareness Week, tonight’s guest speaker, Ginny Ramsey, above, of the Catholic Action Center will be talking to us about what her organization is doing to alleviate these crises and what we can do to support them. We have been working closely with the CAC throughout the pandemic, but we know there is more we need to learn and more we need to do to meet our obligation as partners in this vitally important effort. Please make every effort to attend, whether in person, via Zoom or via Facebook Livestream, and encourage your friends and family to do likewise. Our speaker has asked that we please take the Homelessness Awareness IQ quiz in preparation for her remarks, which will include a few minutes for Q&A at the end.
One of the profound lessons we learn from Jacob is that perhaps the most important and most difficult journey we can take is the journey home. It is a journey that calls for courage, conviction and commitment of all kinds. When we help others find a safe and sustainable place to call home, we bring peace and wholeness not only to their households but to ours.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
For ways to support the hunger and homelessness alleviation efforts of the Catholic Action Center, click here.

November 12, 2021

Jacob’s Ladder: Gathering in a Place of Sacred Joy
As Jacob awakes from the famous ladder (or staircase) dream in this week’s Torah portion, he exclaims, “How awesome is this place and I did not know it.” Tonight we gather in our sanctuary for the first “grade-level” family service since the pandemic began. How wonderful it is that our seventh- and eighth-grade students, with the guidance of Dr. Mark Schachman, will be leading us in prayer from the pulpit! 
During the course of this dreadful disease, we have hopefully come to a better appreciation of how fortunate we are to have a house of worship and how beautiful our sanctuary is. It is a holy place no matter how many of us are there, but it is a happier place when there are more people in it. For many if not most of these students, it will be their first time in the sanctuary for a Sabbath service in more than 18 months. May we never take the beauty and sanctity of this place for granted. 
As our students continue to get vaccinated, may we be able to safely offer them, their parents, grandparents and all of us a greater variety of activities. We still have a way to go before returning to “normal,” but tonight we can be grateful for reaching one rung higher on the long ladder leading to the future of our dreams. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

NOTE: Ginny Ramsey, director and co-founder of the Catholic Action Center, will speak at next week’s Shabbat service.
Take the Challenge: What is your Homelessness Awareness IQ???
The Catholic Action Center and CKHHI invite you to take the Homelessness Awareness IQ Quiz: 15 questions with multiple choice answers designed to enlighten about the reality of unsheltered homelessness in Lexington.  It does not address the situations that have caused these folks to be unsheltered. It does not offer solutions to homelessness. It is simply 15 actual scenarios with often surprising answers. Only you will know your score. Please share the quiz with organizations, colleagues, family and friends.


November 5, 2021

On the Blessing of Human Emotion: Cognitive Therapy Meets Parshat Toledot
At the ripe old age of 100 and after brilliant career of remarkable contributions, Dr. Aaron Beck, the father of cognitive behavioral therapy, died Monday. Had I ever had the chance to meet him, I would love to have asked, “If you could have any patient from Torah history, who would you counsel?” Job jumps out right off the bat as having been through such overwhelming grief. Saul would make an intriguing (if somewhat Tony Soprano-like) client given his tendencies toward depression and psychosis. An argument could be made for Hannah, who is so tormented by infertility that she refuses to eat or drink. But on this week when we read the story of Jacob tricking his older brother Esau out of his birthright and blessing, I’m tempted to think that the world-renowned mental health expert would have gone with these twins and their parents because he would have loved the challenge of helping each of them come to terms with the past and become the best possible version of themselves.
Cognitive therapy challenges us to put our thoughts “on trial.” Will my future really fall apart if I fail this exam? Is it all that likely that I’m going to fail? What concrete actions would give me more confidence and diminish my anxiety? Cognitive therapy does not delve as deeply as Freudian psychoanalysis or raise the same literary and philosophical implications, but it is remarkably effective at helping us manage our emotions and overcome our anxieties. Imagine if Dr. Beck had asked Rebecca if she actually could protect her younger son from the fallout of the theft? What if he had challenged Jacob to consider consequences other than getting caught; for instance, how others might feel? Think of the possibilities of an expert like Beck helping Isaac come to terms with having been taken advantage of by people he thought he could trust. What would the doctor have told Esau about the challenge of achieving joy and fulfillment in life even though the future he had counted on had been stolen from him?
Dr. Beck represents more than another Jewish physician we can be proud of. His approach to solving problems is a legacy of unlimited potential. We are not doomed to keep repeating our mistakes, and even the worst circumstances do not excuse hurtful behavior. Our emotions cannot be packaged neatly into boxes of rational and irrational. Our task in any given situation is to put our feelings in context, to ask ourselves where they fit within the greater scheme of things. It’s easier said than done, of course. Nobody said that emotional work is simple. It is the task of a lifetime. Among the things Beck helped us to better understand is our capacity to decipher emotion rather than be driven by it. Approached with balanced doses of affirmation and inquiry, our feelings can be a source of remarkable blessings, enriching our lives and helping us to connect with others. Rather than trying to outmaneuver one another for the things we desire, Beck’s approach to life challenges us to create emotional environments where blessings can be shared.
May we honor Dr. Beck’s accomplishments by expressing our gratitude to all the mental/emotional/behavioral health experts who have sustained us through this pandemic and many crises before. Moreover, may we work to build a society where mental health is a guaranteed element of health care and where health care is a human right.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
NOTES: Tonight’s Women First speaker is Elizabeth Hurst. Next Friday will be our monthly Family Shabbat service.

October 29, 2021

Two Rebeccas: The Timeless Imperative of Kindness
On a journey to find the right young woman to marry Isaac, Abraham’s servant, Eliezar, offers up a prayer. He asks God to grant him success and show Eliezar that he has found the proper person by her offer to give him water and to water his camels. Sure enough, Rebecca arrives on the scene and does exactly what Eliezar hoped she would do. The sign of goodness, worthiness and fitness could have been anything, but the test Torah provides us with is Rebecca’s willingness to give water to someone she has never met and to tend to his camels as well.
Sarah proves herself by uprooting her entire life to fulfill the command of a God she has never worshipped before. Ruth passes muster by the way she refuses to abandon her mother-in-law, working in the fields of a foreign land when she simply could have returned to her father’s house. Esther is called on to risk her life to save her people. Rebecca’s test, by contrast, is far less dramatic, but therein lies the lesson. Her action is a reminder that in everyday circumstances we are called on to be helpful, not heroic. It does not take tremendous resources or enormous amounts of time to make a big difference in someone’s day. And the impact of such an effort can have implications larger than we might imagine.
It is poetically fitting that tonight’s speaker, Rebecca Self of FoodChain, above right, bears the same name as the biblical matriarch who gave water to a thirsty stranger in this week’s Torah portion. She and the organization she represents work to ensure that those we know and those we do not have enough to eat. Supporting the efforts of FoodChain does not require heroic levels of risk or dramatic sacrifice; it simply asks that we give of ourselves in the same helpful and kind spirit that Rebeccas, past and present, have modeled for us.
To learn more about how you can support FoodChain, go to Foodchainlex.org
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
NOTE: At next week’s Shabbat service, our Women First speaker will be Elizabeth Hurst.

October 22, 2021

The Riddle of Hunger
What theologian Soren Kierkegaard observed about the crisis of faith in Vayera, this week’s Torah portion, can readily be applied to the crisis of hunger: “What ordinarily tempts someone is that which keeps us from doing our duty. Yet in Abraham’s case the temptation is the ethical impulse that would keep him from doing God’s will. Therefore, though Abraham arouses my admiration, he at the same time appalls me. Whoever explains this riddle has explained my life.”
Nothing about God’s order to sacrifice Isaac makes any sense. It threatens to turn the miraculous story of Isaac’s birth into a murderous nightmare, leaving us without a God we can love or a patriarch to look up to. Yet, as Kierkegaard correctly points out, it is precisely because of his readiness to sacrifice that which was dearest to him that Abraham passes the test and secures the covenant for all time.
Worldwide hunger presents us with a similar riddle of perilous contradictions. The world produces so much food that tons of it is thrown away, yet millions of people are starving to death. How can both of these be true? We can stand back and admire our ability to produce an abundance of food yet remain appalled at our inability to feed the hungry.
The answer to Kierkegaard’s riddle lies in Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice. He is prepared to give up everything: his son’s life, his wife’s love and his self-respect. What are we prepared to sacrifice so others can be fed? A few more dollars from our bank account? A few more hours of our time? Without the willingness to sacrifice, no solution –– not to hunger or to any problem –– can ever be found.
We do not have to like what or how much Abraham was prepared to sacrifice to respect his readiness to sacrifice. If we claim to care about hunger, then it follows that we should be prepared to put our money and our sweat where our mouth is. Tonight’s guest speaker, Christine Smith, top right, executive director of Seedleaf, will be educating us about hunger and offering us the opportunity to do something about it. To make a contribution of time or money, please go to Seedleaf.org.
We might never resolve the riddle of hunger, but we are blessed to be in a position to alleviate it and are Jewishly obligated to do so.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

October 15, 2021

Family Shabbat: A Significant Step
on a Challenging Journey
Tonight, we will be holding an in-person family Shabbat for the first time since February 2020. Our students already have returned to the sanctuary for Religious School assemblies, but for most of them this will be the initial return to being seated as families with their parents, grandparents and siblings. I have missed seeing all of you here, but I’ve particularly missed seeing families. Baruchim Ha’Baim! Blessed is your arrival. Welcome, and welcome back. In the coming months we will return to grade level/grade-led family services. Tonight is an all-school service with no particular grade assigned to lead. Rather, we hope to have participation from families throughout the classes we teach. 
In this week’s Torah portion, Lekh Lekha, God asks Abraham to leave everything that is familiar and to embark on a journey abounding in uncertainty: “Go forth from your land, your birthplace, your father’s house, to the land that I will show you.” From March 2020 through May 2021, our students were participating in Religious School, including family services, via Zoom. It has been a journey from the known to the unknown, of leaving behind what was comfortable and familiar for the uncertainty and uneasiness of something new. Like Abraham and Sarah, our students and their teachers rose to the challenge. We are proud of them and grateful to them.
Last month celebrated their return to the classroom. Tonight celebrates returning to the sanctuary for a Shabbat service with family and friends. May this night be among many significant firsts in our return to normal. May our journey to reopening be blessed with caution and courage, sensitivity and strength, patience and peace. Baruch Ata Adonai Elohaynu Melech Ha’Olam Shececheyanu V’Keeyemanu V’Higeeyanu L’zam Ha’zeh. Blessed are You, Adonai, Creator of the Universe, for giving us life, sustaining us and brining us to this wonderful moment. Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

October 8, 2021

Beyond Noah: Moral Imperatives of the Refugee Crisis
The Torah tells us that Noah, the protagonist of this week’s Torah portion, was a righteous person. The rabbis, however, were not so sure. Why doesn’t he speak up for humankind as Abraham did on behalf of the people of Sodom and Gomorrah? How can it be that Noah’s survival and that of his family is enough to secure his unquestioning obedience? 
The worldwide refugee crisis places all of us who live in stable nations in a similar predicament. Will we be quietly content with our own safety, or will we leverage our security to speak out for those at risk and do what we can to rescue them? The question is particularly vexing in Afghanistan, where 20 years of war and the commitments we made to Afghans who supported our military add another level of obligation to our duty as human beings. 
Tonight’s guest speaker, Derek Feldman of Kentucky Refugee Ministries, top right, will address the scope of the worldwide refugee crisis with special attention to the circumstances in Afghanistan. Working in partnership with Ohavay Zion Synagogue and the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass, we are sponsoring a family from this war-torn country to relocate to Lexington. Efforts also are underway to coordinate a similar undertaking with our interfaith partners at United Encounter. For weeks we have seen stories and images about Afghanistan. Tonight, Mr. Feldman will help us gain a fuller understanding of the crisis and the needs arising from it. 
Gratitude for the gift of life in not good enough. Survival in and of itself is not sufficient. Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Auschwitz prisoner Ellie Weisel taught us that we are obligated to take action, “to bear witness” and to reject neutrality in the face of imminent destruction. Fellow Holocaust survivor and author Primo Levi wrote that existence in Auschwitz fell into two categories: “the drowned and the saved.” May tonight’s speaker move us to go beyond the example of Noah and ascend to that of Abraham. May we never stand idly by while our fellow human beings are drowned by disasters beyond their control. Let us save as many as we possibly can.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

October 1, 2021

Real Action or Blah, Blah, Blah? Tonight’s Speaker Considers Creation and the Climate Crisis
This week we begin, once again, at the beginning. The story of Creation serves both as an inspiring and humbling reminder that this planet is not simply a possession that can be put to any purpose we choose, but a living trust requiring our loving care. As Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax and Shel Silverstein’s The Giving Tree remind us, there are catastrophic consequences for treating nature like something from which we constantly take but never give. 
In keeping with these classic stories and the Creation narrative, environmental youth activist Greta Thunberg rightfully called out a childish club of adult leaders this week for going through the dog and pony show of saying the right things while refusing to follow up on their promises. Ashamnu. We deserve every word of her “blah, blah, blah” summation of our failures. She warned us two years ago that she and her fellow youth activists wanted systemic change, not personal praise. Rather than honoring her request, we barely addressed the former, while serving up bounteous portions of the latter.
Tonight, one of TAI’s environmental youth activists will be speaking about the Creation story from a climate justice perspective. Lily Gardner, daughter of Miriam Silman and David Gardner, graduated from Henry Clay High School last spring and is taking a “gap year” to work for the Sunrise Movement, an environmental action organization, before attending Brown University next fall. The message Sunrise conveys is as straightforward as Thunberg’s rebuke. We owe our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren a healthier, more sustainable planet than the one our behavior has brought about. If betraying our human family is too great a moral abstraction for people to comprehend, then perhaps the reality that we have poisoned the air and water for our own flesh and blood will resonate. 
Please attend tonight’s service in person or online to find out what we can do to live up to Torah’s first mitzvah, the obligation to maintain this beautiful home God has entrusted to our care. To learn more about the work of Sunrise or make a contribution in honor of Lily’s leadership, please go to Sunrisemovement.org.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 24, 2021

A Prayer for the Shabbat Before Simchat Torah
Just a few nights from now, on Simchat Torah, we will reach the end of Deuteronomy and restart our study of Genesis.
We conclude with a tearful farewell to Moses and resume with joyfully welcoming the world into being.
We finish the scroll with promises unfulfilled and begin anew with boundless possibilities.
The final words of Deuteronomy are focused on our people.
The first words of Genesis are addressed to all people.
Deuteronomy prepares the People to reenter the Promised Land.
Genesis prepares us to reimagine the universe.
May devotion to our story and our people enrich our love for all stories and all people.
May this be our blessing, and let us say:
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
NOTE:Lily Gardner of the Sunrise Movement for Environmental Justice will be our Women’s First speaker at next Friday’s Shabbat service.

September 17, 2021

A Prayer Before Sukkot
Yesterday we observed the Fast of Yom Kippur. Tonight we celebrate Shabbat and turn our thoughts to the Festival of Sukkot.
Just as one wall of our sukkah must remain open,
May we never close off ourselves from a world that needs our care.
Just as its roof cannot be so thick as to keep us from seeing the stars,
May we never become so dense as to never look beyond our homes, our families and ourselves.
Just as there are limits about how much of it can be permanent,
May we never confuse longevity with legitimacy, become intractable in our behavior or immovable in our outlook.
Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shalomecha—Spread over us Your Shelter of Peace Your Sukkah of Shalom and let us say:
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 10, 2021

Faith Amid the Flames: A Prayer for 9/11 

God of Hope and Healing, on this Shabbat on the eve of the 20th anniversary of 9/11, we come to You with painful memories and prayers for peace.

We mourn the deaths of those who perished. 

We grieve with those who lost family and friends.

We weep when we recall the images that day brings to mind.

We remember what it felt like to see our nation attacked.

We feel outrage at the disregard for human life, the evil and cruelty of the attackers.

We honor the courage of the firefighters and police officers who risked their lives to save others, and commemorate the bravery of those who laid down their lives so others might live.

We give thanks for the doctors and nurses, ambulance drivers and paramedics who tended to the wounded, the maimed and the traumatized. 

We take pride in the millions of people who remembered the teaching not to follow a mob to do evil.1

And we are pained by the bitter fact that a handful of brutes committed acts of violence and vengeance against those who professed no love for the attackers and took no part in the attacks.

Let us rededicate ourselves to practicing the noble ideals we preach.

Let us remind one another what we have always stood for and that which can never be allowed to stand. 

May we be ever mindful that 9/11 means no more and no less than what we make of it, 

That it must not be misused to justify injustice or rationalize the irrational. 

May the memory of this dreadful day move us to build a better tomorrow.

For our sake and for the sake of our children may we maintain “faith without fanaticism.”2

May we profess patriotism that brooks no hatred of fellow human beings.3 

Let us defeat extremism without resorting to extremes.

May we triumph over terrorists and vanquish terrorism. Let us seek peace and pursue it.4

Let us all lay down sword and shield soon, and work for a world that studies war no more.5 

God of Hope and Healing, strengthen our capacity to heal and renew our capacity for hope.

May our talent for love overcome the temptation to hate. Let us rescue faith from amidst the flames. 

May this be our blessing, and let us say:


Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


1Exodus 23:2
2Mishkan Tfilah: A Reform Prayer Book, p.257, adapted by Eugene Picket.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, “You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right”: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism.
3Letter from President George Washington to the Touro Synagogue, Newport, RI.
4Psalm 34:14
5Isaiah 2:4


September 3, 2021

Hurricane Ida 
Going back at least as far as Katrina, it seems as if the High Holy Days often coincide with a major hurricane. We pray for those who have been affected by Hurricane Ida and for those who are likely to be. We pray for those whose High Holy Days will have the disruption of flooding and power outages on top of dealing with the Delta variant. We pray for communities where homes have been washed away and families have been forced to flee. We pray for emergency aid workers who go above and beyond the call of duty, especially at this time of year. We pledge not only to offer prayer but material support to those in need.  
This latest hurricane should serve as a reminder of the seriousness of climate change and the urgent need to transform the way we relate to our environment. While we continue to pray, we recognize that prayer is not enough. Please go to Nechama.org (Jewish Response to Disaster) or Redcross.org to learn more about how to help those whose lives have been affected by hurricanes and other natural disasters. 
May the Sabbath bring a measure of rest to the weary and peace to the troubled. May the New Year inspire us to revise our thinking and rededicate ourselves to the sustainability of this precious planet we call home.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

August 27, 2021

Walls of Deliverance, Gates of Praise:
A Prayer for the Crisis in Afghanistan
God of peace and war, victory and defeat, life and death:
In the wake of this week’s horrific attack, we pray for a more peaceful withdrawal from Afghanistan.
We grieve with the families of service members and Afghan civilians who were murdered.
We pray that the injured recover from their wounds.
May those who need to flee speedily reach their destinations.
May those who remain lead an existence of justice, prosperity and peace.
May the time of brutality and bloodshed come to an end.
May the women and men of Afghanistan be granted the freedom to pursue a future in which their rights to be educated, run for office and express dissent cannot be denied.
May we never forget them, or our military personnel, our veterans or those who perished, no matter how many demands we face.
During a week where our Torah portion is filled with blessings and curses, we beseech You, O God, to end the curse of calamity and chaos, and to bless our troubled world with stability and security.
May the words of this week’s Haftorah be fulfilled, not only in Afghanistan but everywhere that people live in fear of cruelty and oppression:
I will make Peace your government, and Righteousness your rulers.
No more shall violence be heard in your land, desolation and destruction within your borders.
You shall name your walls Deliverance and your gates Praise. (Isaiah 60:17-18)
May the Afghani people break through the walls preventing them from safe haven.
May they never be trapped behind gates of persecution.
May we prove worthy of blessings not curses, and let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
NOTE: Please consider a contribution to our TAI Tikkun Olam fund and write “Attention Afghanistan” in the memo.

August 6, 2021

Blessing and Curse: Rethinking a Problematic Paradigm
“See, this day I set before you a blessing and a curse: blessing if you obey the commandments of the Eternal your God that I enjoin upon you this day, and curse if you do not obey the commandments of the Eternal your God.” (Deuteronomy 11:26-28)
Any careful observation of human existence refutes this premise. Life does not come with a guarantee of good outcomes for good behavior. Goodness is not always rewarded, and sinfulness is not always punished. Even Torah departs from this paradigm. Despite perfect obedience, Job incurs tremendous suffering with God’s express permission. Not a single infraction by the people of Israel is ever mentioned in how they became slaves for more than four centuries. David literally kills the messenger who reports that he slew Saul on the king’s direct order so that he would not be captured and tortured by the enemy. Torah does not put a magic force field around the righteous protecting them from all harm. Neither does life.
So, we are left a troubling question. If Torah knows this proposition is unsupportable, why say otherwise? Perhaps Deuteronomy is trying to teach a lesson not of reciprocity but of accountability. Before we signed everything, recorded everything and filmed everything, the only account of people’s behavior was the word of people themselves. When the only surveillance is the human eye, one might be more tempted than we are to fall prey to the illusion that one cannot be punished for what is not witnessed.
The title word of the portion provides us with the clue to reconciling the problem. Re’eh, “See, look, regard, watch, observe!” We have to see ourselves, watch ourselves, look at ourselves. The question is not whether God is watching but whether we are. We must not just an eye out so we don’t get caught; we must look at ourselves so we think about what we are doing. We might allude to personal consequences for our misdeeds, but the harm we cause will have repercussions for someone somewhere at some time or other. Is that a curse we are prepared to live with? It is a painful truth that the righteous are not always rewarded, but righteousness itself is never wasted, squandered or lost.
When we hold ourselves accountable; when we consider ourselves responsible for one another; we can overcome the cursed consequences of selfishness and bring about the blessed benefits of justice, compassion and peace.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

July 30, 2021

Your Safety: The Promise of Isaiah Amidst the Surging Pandemic
This week’s haftorah (selection from The Prophets) is taken from Isaiah 49:14-51:3. It is the second of seven weekly readings known as the “haftarot of consolation” between Tisha B’Av, commemorating the destruction of the temples in Jerusalem, and Rosh Hashanah. With the bad news about the Delta variant, its opening verses could not have come at a better time. 
Zion says,
“The Eternal has forsaken me;
my Sovereign has forgotten me.”
Can a mother forget her babe,
or stop loving the child in her womb?
Even these could forget,
but I could not forget you!
Indeed, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands;
Your safety is continually in My thoughts. (Isaiah 49:14-16)
At times like this do we not feel forsaken?
At moments like this do we not feel forgotten?
The prophet preached that a people dispersed from its home is not devoid of Divine love.
Therefore, we know that this dreadful disease is not a sign of God’s disdain.
We have never left God’s sight,
Never departed God’s mind.
Feeling forgotten is one thing;
Being forgotten is another.
Let us never forget to be grateful for our survival.
Let us never forsake the memory of those we have lost.
May the thought of each other’s safety remind us to act with caution.
And may the safety of one another be in our thoughts continually.
May this be our blessing, and let us say:
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
July 23, 2021

All: Another V’ahavta for COVID-19

This week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, includes the V’ahavta, the powerful passage telling us to love God “with all your heart, with all our soul and with all your might.”1 How are we to understand and fulfill these words after another week of infection rates going up when they ought to be going down? The words below are my most recent attempt at articulating a V’Ahavta that reconciles the lofty ideals of Torah with the painful realities of the pandemic. Please consider writing a V’ahavata for COVID-19 of your own and sharing it with others.


Help us to love You with all our hearts, O God,

Even when our hearts are divided between the duty to remain compassionate and the desire to lash out.

Teach us to love You with all our soul,

even when our souls are torn between the responsibility to do what is required and the temptation to revert to what is easy.

Show us how to love You with all our might,

even when we are mightily pulled in multiple directions.

All has never felt like so much.

Not all who should are vaccinated. Less than all we could has been invested. Far fewer than all are as patient as we ought to be.

Forgive Your divided creatures for doing less than our all. Give us all the strength You can.

No matter the circumstances, we will take to heart the commandments You have given us.

We will keep on teaching them to our children.

We will continue to speak of them in our homes and on our way.

Come what may, we will keep them near at hand,

From the moment we put on our masks to the minute we take them off.

Forever may they remain inscribed on the doorpost of our house.

We will not forget them when we walk through our gates.

Thus, we will remember to cherish Your commandments and remain holy unto You.

Now and always, You are the Eternal our God.

You brought us through times of suffering in the past;

Grant us the strength to overcome the suffering surrounding us now.

You are the Eternal Our God.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


1 Deuteronomy 6:5



July 16, 2021

Happiness on Tisha B’Ave?

It is in keeping with the ironies of the COVID-19 era that the first opportunity to return to our sanctuary for services other than Shabbat will be Tisha B’Av. This solemn service commemorates the destruction of the first and second temples in Jerusalem in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively, both according to tradition on the 9th day of the month of Av. Until last month, our only in-person services since the Hadassah Shabbat in March 2020 were b’nai mitzvah and confirmation for families only. Now, after a month of joyful “in-person” Shabbat worship, we are opening our doors for one of the most solemn of days. A year ago, we had to hold this service about being driven from our sacred spaces entirely via Zoom. Instead of being forcibly exiled by Babylonia or Rome, we were forced out by a pandemic. Now it is on Tisha B’Av, beginning here at TAI at 10 tomorrow night, that we gathering with our friends from Ohavay Zion Synagogue in one of our sanctuaries for the first time since the pandemic began.

One is not supposed to be joyous on Tisha B’Av. It is a fast day with essentially the same restrictions as Yom Kippur. We will chant the Book of Lamentations, recite dirges and dim the lights as we rely on candles and flashlights while we sit on the floor and listen to the reading. According to some authorities, we are not even supposed to offer one another a cheerful greeting or engage in casual conversation once the service is over.

Yet, to tell the truth, there is reason to be happy this Tisha B’Av, or at least happier than we were a year ago. Thanks to vaccinations we can be together. People who have been relegated to our screens will be physically present. Moreover, we can be joyful for the opportunity to meet OZS’s new rabbi, Shani Abramowitz. So while it is sad that the first service we will be holding together since the pandemic is for Tisha B’Av, we can be happy about sharing our sanctuary with OZS again and welcoming Rabbi Abramowitz to our community. An essential part of progressive Judaism is our capacity to make exceptions. In this exceptional year it seems appropriate to allow for a bit of happiness on a day normally reserved for sorrow. Please join us for services in person or by Zoom. NOTE: Registration is required. To reserve a seat in the sanctuary (seating is limited), click here; to register for the Zoom link, click here.

                                                                                         Shabbat Shalom,
                                                                                         Rabbi David Wirtschafter


July 9, 2021
The Promise of Refuge
Over the Fourth of July weekend, 150 people were killed and approximately 400 injured in shootings across the country. This week’s Torah portion, Matot-Masei, teaches us about cities of refuge, places where someone who meant no harm could run to escape lawful vengeance at the hands of a pursuer (Numbers 35:6-28). So why were more than 500 people afforded less refuge from gun violence last weekend than our biblical ancestors were from an aggrieved pursuer?
Times have changed. Technology has changed. Laws have changed. But the importance of refuge has remained constant. The question before us is, do we value it to the degree that we should? A society far harsher than ours in any number of ways saw sufficient value in human life that it created laws and designated cities to protect those who had harmed others. Where are those at greatest risk of gun violence, many of whom have harmed no one, supposed to run? Where are their cities of refuge? What are the limitations on their pursuers?
Refuge is more than a place or an ideal. It is a promise, a commitment that society owes to those whose lives are in danger. If providing refuge is a mitzvah, then the failure to do so is sinful. The Declaration of Independence speaks of the “inalienable rights” of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” For 150 of our neighbors and/or fellow citizens, gun violence deprived them of all three. No one deserves to live or die like this. Our nation needs refuge from the fury of firearms. Last weekend alone, 550 people were left with nowhere to run and nowhere to hide. The ever-mounting death and injury count is detrimental to democracy. Freedom cannot flourish where people are forced to live in fear. We have to do better. If Torah, despite all its troubling passages, can proclaim the importance of refuge, so, too, despite all our failings, can we.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


July 2, 2021
Shabbat Before the Fourth of July
Two days from now, our nation’s flag will be on full view from front porches and city streets, on TV and computer screens.
Tonight, we recommit ourselves to the values the flag stands for.
Two nights from now we will ooh and ahh over fireworks.
Tonight, we take leave of our work, and the fire we light is the Sabbath candles.
Two days from now we will feast on summer favorites.
Tonight, we observe our weekly feast of freedom.
Two days from now we celebrate Independence Day.
Tonight, we celebrate the day of rest.
May God who delights in mercy rekindle our pursuit of justice.
May God who proclaims liberty reignite our pursuit of mercy.
May love of country deepen our commitment to conscience,
And may commitment to conscience deepen our love of country.
This year we gratefully celebrate an Independence Day with far fewer restrictions than the last one.
Next year may we experience one that finds us fully free from the pandemic.
May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


June 18, 2021
Triumphal Return
Twenty-five years ago this weekend, a weeping Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls reclaimed their title as NBA champions in an emotional Father’s Day victory that Jordan dedicated to the memory of his father, James, who was murdered three years earlier. Tonight, on the Shabbat of Father’s Day, we and any number of congregations throughout the country and around the world reclaim public access to our sanctuariesand dedicate this sacred moment to the memory of all those who have been taken from us by COVID-19. This does not mark a full return to how things were, but it is a huge step in a positive direction. We have not defeated COVID-19, but the discovery and efficacy of vaccines, and the dedication of doctors, nurses and health care workers are triumphs deserving of celebration. 
This service has been a long time coming. Since we closed our doors in March 2020, the pandemic has claimed the lives of more than 300 people in Fayette County, 7,200 in Kentucky, and estimated 600,000 in the United States and 3.8 million worldwide. If we assume that half of the American dead were males and at least half of those men were fathers – though it is probably more than that – we can estimate that COVID-19 has killed 150,000 fathers in the United States alone during the past 16 months. A lot of hammocks and sofa chairs that ought to be filled with catnapping patriarchs will be empty this Sunday. Houses of worship also will feel their absence.
As the son of a physician, I think it’s particularly meaningful to reopen on this Shabbat after all these months of health care workers going above and beyond the call of duty, in some cases sacrificing their lives for their patients. For many of us it has been decades since we actually stood on our fathers’ shoulders, but as we gradually return to life before COVID, we are standing on the shoulders of men and women who developed vaccines, treated the sick and tended the dying. Without them we would not be able to reenter our houses of worship in safety. So, we are at once joyful to be reclaiming the use of our sanctuaries yet saddened by the loss of those who are gone. Their presence would have made this moment even sweeter. Our hearts break at the thought of what far too many families have lost. Like so many occasions in the past, these days are steeped in grief and gratitude. It is a common yet confusing combination of emotions that we are called upon to reconcile.
May we honor the memory of the fathers we have lost and follow the example of those who remain by making the most of this moment and of all the blessings life has afforded us. Let us dedicate our return to our sanctuary to those who taught us to value faith and family, fun and fortitude. As we reclaim our seats and resume the practice of public prayer, let us rededicate ourselves to making the world a better place, a place where everyone is valued and loved; where every father and mother can provide food, shelter, and education for their children; and where health care is a human right. May this be our blessing, and let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


June 11, 2021
More Than a Metaphor: Minding Our Mouths
When It Comes to Eyes
“Not to a land flowing with milk and honey have you brought us, (nor) have you given us an inheritance of field and vineyard. The eyes of these men, would you gouge out?”
           (Numbers 16:14, Everett Fox translation)
It is personally and poetically significant to me that this verse appears in our Torah portion that the week the University of Kentucky Ophthalmology Department bestows the Wirtschafter Award, given to the resident voted best teacher by their peers. I have seen the verse many times, but I had not given its meaning much thought. As Everett Fox points out in his translation – and editors of the Revised Plaut Commentary note in the volume we use most often in the Reform movement – the meaning is similar to that of “pulling the wool over their eyes,” “throw dust in their eyes,” “blind them to the true facts,” “hoodwink” or “fool us.”
In refusing to appear at a meeting with Moses, Dathan and Abiram argue that not only has their leader failed to deliver on his promises, but he has been deceiving the people deliberately. Someday I hope to honor my father’s memory by undertaking a thorough study of how Torah appropriates the word eyes to convey a range of thoughts and feelings. For now, I will focus on this particular verse and the associations it brings to mind.
When we accuse someone of “robbing people blind,” we are impugning at least two parties. First, we are attacking the integrity of whoever is trying to convince people of something; second, we are insulting the intelligence of whomever they are speaking to. It’s not just the chutzpah to discredit Moses that is at issue here, rather it is the condescension to proclaim that those who have survived slavery and any amount of time on the wilderness journey are too ignorant to know when they are bring lied to. If, indeed, they are being lied to, it is up to the people to hold Moses to account, something they have little reservation about doing.
Just as we have learned to avoid phrases like “lame excuse” or “cripple the opposition,” perhaps it is time we did some rethinking about the appropriate use of language pertaining to the eye. Blind people are more than capable of scrutinizing facts, and sighted people are as prone as anyone to ignore them. This week, with the presentation of the award named for my father, that sight is a gift. It is a gift to be appreciated, protected and preserved. Before using the language of sight, we ought to carefully consider how the words we chose might affect others. May the field of ophthalmology inspire us to be grateful for the capacity of vision and support all efforts to extend it to those who have lost it or never had it. May Dr. Jeffrey Farmer, recipient of this year’s award, and all of his colleagues be blessed in their efforts to prevent blindness, sustain vision and make sight something all of us can enjoy for as long as we live.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


June 4, 2021
Challah Offering: The Holiness of Alleviating Hunger
  “And the Eternal spoke unto Moses, saying: Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them: When you come into the land to which I am bring you, and when you eat of the bread of the land, you shall set apart a portion for a gift unto the Eternal. Of the first of your dough, you shall set apart a loaf for a gift; as that which is set apart of the threshing floor, so shall you set it apart. Of the first of your dough, you shall give unto the Eternal a portion for a gift throughout your generations.” (Numbers 15:17-21)
On this week when we read Torah’s instructions about the loaf offering, I am thinking of my three bakers, Shana, Zachariah and Emanuelle, who delight in preparing homemade challah for Shabbat. It’s wonderful to come home from services to be greeted by them and by the sweet smell of the challah they have made. Through the three of them I have come to better appreciate how labor-intensive baking is and how beautiful it can be. It is in that context that I try to imagine what it feels like to part with something one has made with one’s own hands. In one of the few remaining vestiges of biblical sacrifices, there are those who intentionally burn a small loaf of challah in keeping with this commandment. Think about what that was like in a world where everything was done by hand and basic ingredients could not simply be purchased at the store.
While there might well be meaning in intentionally destroying a loaf, might there also be purpose in donating one? If we are financially able to put food on the table, can we put something aside regularly for those who are not? In the coming year, our Social Action Committee will be offering a number of opportunities to donate time and sustenance to those who do not have enough to eat. We will have more information about these efforts soon. For now, let me suggest that starting with our reopening Shabbat service on June 18, we try to bring at least one non-perishable food item with us every time we come to Temple. Let us be sure to set apart some of our resources for those battling hunger, malnutrition and food insecurity. May the portion we sacrifice make a substantive difference in the lives of those who are hungry. May we find holiness in the work of alleviating hunger and may sharing our bread with others be among the gifts we give to God.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


May 28, 2021
Trumpets of Remembrance:
A Prayer for the Sabbath of Memorial Day Weekend
“When you are at war in your land against an aggressor who attacks you, you shall sound short blasts on the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the Eternal your God and be delivered from your enemies.” (Numbers 10:9)
It is poetically fitting that on the Sabbath before Memorial Day, our Torah portion not only makes mention of war but of remembrance. Not only does God need to remember, so do we.
May we remember the sacrifices that war demands. The terrible price far too many have paid.
When we think of the servicemen and women who have lost their lives, we think of everyone whose life is changed by that loss.
May we recall the family members who lost a child, a spouse or a sibling.
May we reflect on those who lost friends, co-workers, community members and neighbors.
May we honor the sacrifices of our fallen and those who loved them by putting the words of Isaiah into action” “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Nor shall they learn war anymore.”
May our Creator deliver us from destruction and renew our capacity to rebuild. May trumpets be reserved for festivals, orchestras, jazz ensembles and marching bands. May the blasts of gunfire, mortar shells and rocket missiles come to an end. May we silence the sounds of war, and may the world resound with peace.
May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


May 21, 2021

Sisterhood Shabbat, the Sotah and a Time of Reckoning

One year from now we will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of Rabbi Sally J. Priesand becoming the first woman to be publicly ordained by the Reform movement in the United States. So much change has occurred since then, yet things have not changed anywhere near enough. The fact remains that far too many female colleagues have been subjected to physical and verbal harassment in rabbinical school and in the settings in which they serve. At this time, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and Central Synagogue in New York have retained professional investigators to explore how a male colleague with a record of serious misbehavior toward women could become president of our rabbinical school. Rabbi Mary Zamore, executive director of The Women’s Network, has put it powerfully: “No one should be expected to view harassment, abuse and assault as the price they need to pay to be ordained, to serve in congregations or Jewish organizations, and to be members of the Jewish community.”

As we gather tonight for Sisterhood Shabbat, we face a double irony and injustice. One is the abuses of the past; the other is the failures of the present. This week’s Torah portion is a sad example of how our sacred texts contain abusive acts. Numbers 5:11-31 details the process by which a jealous husband can make his wife undergo a trial by ordeal based on suspicion alone. Neither he nor anyone else needs claim to have witnessed something. The accused wife must drink a potion, which will make her sick if she is guilty but have no effect if she is innocent. She must listen to the prayer of the priest, who asks God to make the potion work, and say “Amen.” Neither this Torah portion nor any other contains a parallel or commensurate ritual for the suspect husband.

For too long we have allowed the indignities and injustice of the past to persist. We have failed to protect women – rabbis and congregants alike – from brutish and boundaryless behavior. Like the suspect wife, the Sotah, of Numbers, we have compelled women to drink the foul waters of sexism and sexual harassment under the false pretense of holiness. We have waited for too long to say “Time is up” on these abuses. Many have called this a moment of reckoning for our movement. Let us of our own free will, unlike the Sotah who was forced to convey “agreement,” say “Amen.” In the coming year we will be marking the historic 50th anniversary with lectures, sermons, prayers and actions focusing on justice and equality for women not only in Reform Judaism but throughout our nation and world. It is with tremendous gratitude that we welcome tonight’s speaker, Mindy Haas, executive director of Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass. Let me take this opportunity to encourage the remarkable women of this congregation to maintain our practice of women giving the Torah commentary/remarks on the first Friday of the month and to thank the women of this congregation, particularly Sisterhood, for all you do to make our congregation a place where everyone is treated with dignity and no one is degraded.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

May 14, 2021
Waging Peace
God of lost lives, lost limbs and lost home,
As we prepare for Shabbat and Shavuot, days of rest and revelation,
we recognize that Israelis and Palestinians are enduring restless nights and that few signs of progress have been revealed.
Arabs and Jews are suffering in yet another battle in a seemingly endless war. Neither the firing of missiles nor fighting in the streets can resolve the deep disputes that have perpetuated this conflict for decades. Bloodshed has led to more bloodshed. Retaliation and revenge rage on in a brutal cycle.
The leaders of both peoples need to put an end to hostilities, and world leaders must do more to encourage them to take a new course of action.
Neither side can achieve real change through force. The status quo is unsustainable. Repeating this scenario every few years has brought nothing but destruction and death.
Torah teaches us to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14). A book replete with war thoroughly acknowledges the immense effort required to achieve its opposite.
Peace cannot be dreamed of or prayed for. It must be sought after and pursued. There is nothing passive about the pursuit of peace.
The irony of keeping Shabbat is that practicing a day of rest takes tremendous work, even more so with peace. If we waged peace with a fraction of the passion, commitment, resources, discipline and sacrifice with which we wage war, the world would be a very different place.
The glory of Shavuot lies not in an astounding moment of revelation but in living the mission of its meaning, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. It is long, hard and tiring work, just like the work of peace.
To those who ask, “What can possibly be gained by peace talks?”
We respond, “What can possibly be gained by continuing this war?”
God of love and loss, holiness and heartbreak, renew in us the hope of peace.
Strengthen our readiness to seek it. Steady our resolve to pursue it.
May this be our blessing, and let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
May 7, 2021
Maternal Wisdom for Pandemic Times:
Thoughts for the Sabbath Before Mother’s Day
As we approach the Sabbath before Mother’s Day, there is much to celebrate. My niece has just become a mother, my sister-in-law has become a grandmother, and my mother has become a great-grandmother. The multigenerational wording of the Avot V’Imahot (prayer for our patriarchs and matriarchs) takes on even greater meaning now that the next generation of our family is embarking on parenthood. Being a grandfather always sounded sweet, but watching one of my brothers become one has made this stage of life seem far less distant than before. Having lost our father 17 years ago, my siblings and I never took this moment for granted. None of my grandparents became great-grandparents. Two were gone before I was born. The remaining two died before I turned 16. There are no guarantees of becoming a parent, grandparent or great-grandparent. When families are fortunate enough to know such blessings, we should be joyous and grateful — not just for births but for graduations, weddings, anniversaries, confirmation, b’nai mitzvah, new jobs, new homes and all kinds of new beginnings.
And so we are. But like the salt water and bitter herbs at Passover, our joy is mitigated by the suffering of families throughout our nation and our world who are missing their mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, aunts, nieces, sisters and wives this year. We weep when we consider those who are not making breakfast in bed, planting a garden, taking a walk or sitting down to dinner with their moms because these matriarchs have gone because of COVID-19. As was the case last year, this Mother Day promises to be a difficult one for far too many experiencing far too much pain. Our hearts go out to bereft families everywhere.
Among the invaluable life lessons that mothers teach us is cautious optimism: “Be hopeful but not naive. Make plans but be prepared to change them. Trust your instincts but consider the facts. Have fun but be careful.” The arrival of vaccinations calls for the same maternal wisdom. The vaccines are a blessing, but they do not constitute an end to vigilance and involvement. Our task now is to do what our mothers taught us: to share our good fortune with others; to consider the needs and feelings of those with fewer advantages, fewer friends and fewer resources; to speak up for those we tend to ignore and to love those who we all too often overlook.
On this Shabbat before Mother’s Day, may the love and strength, courage, wisdom, commitment and compassion of our matriarchs motivate us to be the kind of people who make their mothers proud.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
Please visit the online COVID-19 memorial WhoWeLostKY.org to read stories and tributes about those who have died during the pandemic. A Mother’s Day video has been added to the website.
April 30, 2021
Defective: Levitical Exclusions From Service
and the Ongoing Sexual Harassment Crisis
This week’s Torah portion, Emor, lists 10 “defects” that disqualify a Levite from priestly service (Leviticus 21:16-21). Today we would consider these items to reflect a terrible degree of ableism (an outlook that privileges and promotes healthy and capable bodies over limited ones). For Torah to define these physical criteria, which are beyond a person’s control, as grounds for exclusion from priestly service is hurtful and offensive. Yet the notion that there are things that should disqualify someone from service, that certain things are too defective to be continued, is socially constructive. 
The questions then become, What are these disqualifying actions, and what do we do to stop them? This week’s distressing article in The Forward about a prominent Reform rabbi whose sexual impropriety led to consequences that were too little and too late are a painful reminder that some things should disbar someone from continued service. When our institutions and organizations decline to take sufficient action, we deprive victims of justice and subject others to known danger.
The follow-up statements from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Reform seminary), the Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform rabbinic association) and at least one congregation that has been affected are a step in the right direction. Admitting wrongdoing and promising to do better are essential components of tseuvah, repentance. If we are to make substantial and comprehensive progress, however, we must be prepared to go many steps further. Among these steps is to admit our current systems of safety and accountability are defective. Our institutions cannot allow someone to resign under pressure from one prestigious position only to be installed in another one. And when investigations are called for, they need to be thorough, comprehensive and free of political pressure.
 Ashamnu, we have sinned. We have failed individuals and families who rely on us. Our processes have been defective, and the time is long overdue to work together throughout the small and deeply interconnected world of Jewish organizations to put coordinated systems in place that provide better protection and prevent recurrence of unacceptable behavior. A defective process cannot achieve effective results. We owe everyone who participates in our organizations the right to be treated with dignity. Anything less is an abdication of a sacred trust.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
April 2, 2021
Reflecting on Resilience
Whether you get your news via the paper, television, radio, Internet or all of the above, you most likely have been encountering the term “resilience” rather frequently of late. Tonight’s speaker, Miriam Silman, MSW, administrator of the Trauma Informed Care Program at the Kentucky Department for Behavioral Health, Developmental and Intellectual Disabilities, will speak to us about putting resilience in a proper context. Even before the pandemic, educators, mental health experts and parents were asking if we were sufficiently modeling and instilling resilience in our children. Bouncing back is undoubtedly an essential life skill, but even an essential skill can be misunderstood. Even something as well intentioned as complimenting someone their resilience can carry the unintended consequence of making them reluctant to share their pain.
The holiday of Passover is, among other things, a celebration of resilience. It took strength, persistence and endurance to survive slavery and begin the journey to the Promised Land. Yet none of this should be mistaken for silence or stoicism. The Haggadah echoes the words of Exodus: “And God said: ‘I have marked well the plight of my people in Egypt and have heeded their outcry because of their taskmasters; yes, I am mindful of their sufferings.”
Our sages teach us to pay close attention to language, especially when repetition is involved. Notice that in a single verse there are three actions addressed to the same idea of empathy. As this pandemic continues, may we, like the Holy One, mark well the plight of those who need us, heed the outcry of those who are hurting, and be mindful of the suffering being endured on multiple levels.
The pain of this pandemic will persist long after everyone who wishes to be is vaccinated. It therefore behooves us to reflect on resiliency in a manner that encourages one another to cry out rather than keep quiet.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
March 26, 2021

A Second Time Around: Considering the ‘Twos’ of Passover and the Pandemic

We tend to associate Passover with the number 4. There are four opening questions, four personality types assigned to the four children, four cups of wine each and four blessings to be recited over the food we are required to eat. But this year is different from all other years. This year the number on our minds is 2.

It is not as though we Jews haven’t had our share of 2’s. There are two tablets for the Ten Commandments. In the ultimate example of doubling down they are bestowed not just once but twice. There are two Talmuds, the Babylonian and Palestinian, the second of which has a second name, the Yerushalmi (the Talmud of Jerusalem). We light two candles on Shabbat, the Festivals and the High Holy Days. And, as the Noah’s Ark song reminds us, “The animals, they came on by two-sies, two-sies.” But, as we prepare for this year’s seders, the “two” we cannot stop thinking about is that we are doing this for the second time.

The Haggadah has long held a place of holiness for 2’s. There are two sets of questions. It contains a first and second hand-washing ritual. We dip our parsley twice in salt water and provide a symbolic cup for Elijah and for Miriam. The most poetic pairing for our moment, however, might be that of putting two things, maror and charoset, on our matzo. The Haggadah not only requires us to eat the “Hillel sandwich,” it also tells us why. Though today we are free, we recall the suffering of our past and the pain of oppression that still plagues others. So, too, even in times of suffering, we take hope in the promise of redemption. The two ideas are not oppositional but complementary.

Passover 2021/5781 marks the first festival we are holding for second go-round during this pandemic. We have two intertwined responses to this reality. On the one hand there is exhaustion. We are sick and tired of living this way. On the second hand there is gratitude. In a year defined by a devastating amount of death, we know we should be appreciative to be alive. The one impulse need not negate the other. There is room enough in our minds, hearts and at our seder tables for the two of them. Our initial response is that that we really don’t want to be doing this a second time yet, on second thought, we know it beats the matzo farfel out of the alternative.

We do not have to act as if we are happy about a second Passover during pandemic. But we are not free to pretend this crisis is over or refuse to make the best of our options until it is. Last year I simply was not ready to hold a Temple seder via Zoom. A year later I have come to appreciate the difference between seeing one another digitally and not seeing one another at all. If you do not already have plans for second-night seder, please register for Sunday evening’s program. You can stop by the office by 4 p.m. Friday to pick up a hard copy of the Haggadah we will be using, request a pdf when you register or download it on our website. Last year’s Seder video playlist with Lorne Dechtenberg and I using the Hagaddah developed by Rabbi Kline is on YouTube and is highly recommended to everyone who does not have a Seder plan for Saturday night. The text for this service is also available at Temple, and you can find the pdf here.

For those who might welcome a respite from the usual seriousness of rabbinic remarks, tonight’s message will be in the form a somewhat sillier rhyming story about The Ten Plagues. In the spirit of trying to keep things as interactive as possible, the congregation will be invited to chime in on the final word of each couplet or type it in the chat. Please remember that we are co-hosting Passover services with OZS and Havurah on the Sunday mornings of March 28 and April 4 at 10 a.m. You’ll find the Zoom link here. Dianne Bazell will be chanting Torah and I will be giving the commentary on the 28th.  Diane Arnson Svarlien and Emanuelle Wirtschafter Sippy will be chanting Torah on the 4th.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Passover,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

March 19, 2021
A Sin Offering for the Transgression
of Anti-Asian Hatred and Violence
Dan Wu to Speak at Tonight’s Service
The Book of Leviticus, which we begin again this week, is centered on the theme of holiness. To reach a state of holiness, our people contributed sacrifices on a regular basis. Among the sacrifices we read about in the opening chapters of the book is the sin offering. In the wake of this week’s murders in Atlanta and the ongoing crisis of anti-Asian hate and violence, restaurant owner and community activist Dan Wu has graciously agreed to speak during services this evening so we can do what our ancestors in Leviticus did: collectively confront a sin. 
Mr. Wu’s op-ed in the Herald-Leader, which was published online Thursday and will be in print Sunday, did not hold anything back. It rightfully confronted us with disturbing facts, harsh realities and ugly truths. For far too long we have enjoyed the fruits of Asian labor and talent while exploiting Asians themselves. From the inhumane conditions of railroad construction to racist immigration policies, internment camps and slurs about “the China virus,” the abuses go on and on. As people of faith, no matter what religion we practice or house of worship we attend, the time has come to recognize that the way we have treated our Asian brothers and sisters is sinful. 
Leviticus conveys an approach to sin that is easy to comprehend but difficult to practice. It asks us to go beyond acknowledging wrongdoing to doing something about it. It is the work of an ancient society that believed apologies were not enough. If we truly want to take responsibility for wrongdoing, we have to take action to rectify it. We have to ask ourselves what we are prepared to sacrifice, what we are prepared to give up or to contribute to make things better. Feeling badly about what happened in Atlanta — and far too many instances along the same lines — does not accomplish anything. If we want to be forgiven for our sins, we make amends for them. We cannot expect the gift of human or divine pardon without paying anything for it. As the Religious Action Center stated, one thing we can do is to call on Congress to pass the Jabara-Heyer No Hate Act to strengthen the reporting of and response to hate crimes. So, too, we must “come to better understand our own biases and false belief systems, and put an end to the xenophobia that fosters hateful actions. Please click here for the link, which was included in yesterday’s letter from the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass, to contact Congress. 
As has been the case since August, congregants and those on our listserv can participate in tonight’s service via Zoom. Community members and others who are interested are welcome to watch on Facebook. We look forward to hearing from Mr. Wu about how we can be more supportive of the Asian community and counter white supremacy. Please make every effort to attend and encourage your friends and colleagues of all religious backgrounds (including no religion at all) to do likewise.
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Wirtschafter

March 12, 2021
Let the Record Show
The title word in this week’s Torah portion is fitting for this moment. Pekudei means records or inventory. In the context of the closing chapters of Exodus, it means keeping records of all the gifts given to the Tabernacle that our ancestors carried with them on their long journey. As our second- and third-graders and their families gather around their screens tonight, we recognize that they — indeed all of us — have been through something of a journey ourselves since COVID-19 changed our lives a year ago.
Inspired by the title of our Torah portion, I have a challenge for all of us, especially our young people. If you have not done so already, you should be keeping a record, maintaining an inventory, of your experiences during this pandemic. One day your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will interview you about what going through this was like, and that record of your experiences will make you better prepared to give them the fullest account possible.
I am not going to deceive you. Recordkeeping is not the most exciting thing we could do, but it is wonderfully rewarding. Diaries, journals and records might seem tedious in the present, but they are a gift to our future selves and to generations to come. Write down your recollections, the highs and lows, the good and the bad of every day (if not every day then every week). If you have not yet kept a record, take a look at your calendar, cell phone, emails, texts and photos, and start to assemble one. While future generations will be able to look up what was said on television, in newspapers and online with incredible ease, it won’t be so easy to find out what you said, what you thought, what you experienced, what you went through.
Years from now, scholars, journalists and family members will ask, “What was it like for you during the pandemic of 2020-21?” Let’s be sure we have something to show them that can’t be found in a library or on the Internet. If you don’t want to write it down, make a daily or weekly video. If you don’t want to make a video, then do an audio recording. What we shouldn’t do is to let this historic ordeal go by without keeping a record of it. Let that record show we cared enough about the future to take the time to document our present.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
March 5, 2021
Rabbi’s Commentary on KY Death Penalty

God of the hurting and heartbroken.

God of the powerful and the impoverished.

God of those blessed with abundance and those abandoned to abuse.

On this week where we read about the severe consequences for the Sin of the Golden Calf, we are reminded of how prone to error we truly are.

The same people who burst into professions of faith at the parting of the waters, succumb to panic when they cannot find Moses, and thank something they took from the furnace a minute ago for freeing them Egypt.

Moses cannot explain their actions, but he still pleads their cause. To expect consistency and rationality from those who have endured centuries of trauma, whose only priority has been survival is to expect too much.

On this week when our State Senate has received a bill that would ban the death penalty for those with severe mentally illness, we ask our legislators to remember that there are those among us who do not have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, whose culpability should be mitigated by their limited capacity, and whose lack of understanding should protect them from ultimate punishment. We cannot explain the fatal actions of those with severe mental illness, but we can still plead their cause.

Moses does not argue that the people who worship the Golden Calf are innocent. Rather, he convinces God that to destroy them is to break a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to compromise God’s own commitment to the covenant. So too we mourn the pain that those with severe mental illness have caused. We do not profess their innocence nor argue that they should go unpunished. What we do maintain is that to take their lives is to take compromise our love of mercy, our commitment to compassion, and our covenant with conscience.

It is true that Reform Judaism opposes the death penalty under all circumstances, but abolishing capital punishment is not in this bill or even remotely on the table in our state right now. The question is if people who cannot fully comprehend the consequences of their actions can be held to full account. Science and reason, compassion and mercy compel us to reply that the answer to that question is no. Just as God and Moses withheld death from some participants in the Sin of the Golden Calf, we ask that our State Senators withhold the death penalty from those with severe mental illness. Like the destructive deeds of the former slaves who went forth out of Egypt, we cannot explain the fatal crimes committed by those with severe mental illness. We are not called upon to comprehend them. What we are called on to do is to demand justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God.

May this be out blessing and let us say: Amen.

Please reach out to our State Senators by phone, mail and social media encouraging them to support this legislation.

March 5, 2021
When Aaron Panicked
Aaron was no stranger to stressful circumstances.
As a slave he stood before cruel taskmasters.
As spokesman he stood with Moses before Pharaoh.
As High Priest he stood before God on behalf of the people.
A son, brother, husband and father, he experienced many trying moments.
And yet there is no denying he fails the test of containing the greatest crisis he is ever asked to face on his own.
When the people panic over Moses’ absence, so does Aaron. When they ask him to make a god, he agrees to do it.
Having just received the 10 Commandments, the High Priest organizes efforts to make an idol.
Under terrible pressure, he betrays his principles,
his sacred office, his family and his people, even though he is frightened by them.
It is tempting to criticize Aaron,
but our task is to comprehend him.
Who among us has not bowed to pressure?
Who among us has not chosen comfort and convenience over conscience and courage.
Our rabbis tell us that the people stood before Aaron with the corpse of someone they had just killed for refusing their demands.
Would we be any more eager to martyr ourselves rather than placate a mob?
Aaron’s mistake is to forget that there will be an accounting no matter what happens,
whether Moses returns from the mountain or not.
This is the same message that Mordechai delivers to Esther.
The crisis is never simply a question of if you and your family will survive.
We can rationalize turning away from all kinds of responsibility,
but there is no escaping the inevitable truth of facing ourselves.
Source of Justice and Mercy,
may we never know circumstances as dire as Aaron’s.
But if we must face them, give us the courage to rule our panic instead of it ruling us.
May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

February 26, 2021

Shabbat After Purim
God of Vashti, Esther and Mordechai, Moses, Miriam and Aaron.
God of silliness and solemnity, raucousness and reflection.
Bless us tonight as we go from the party atmosphere of Purim to the calmer setting of Shabbat.
The disorderly pleasure of Purim occurs but once a year.
The discipline of Shabbat arrives each week.
Purim encourages us to be loud.
Shabbat calls us to quietude.
Purim invites us to test boundaries.
Shabbat instructs us to honor them.
Purim celebrates deliverance from violence.
Shabbat sanctifies the promise of peace.
God of all times and seasons, help us to cherish the happiness and holiness found in both these days.
May Shabbat rest enhance our joyful memories of Purim,
And may the joy of Purim enhance our love of Sabbath rest.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

February 19, 2021

Sanctuary Without Walls:
Welcoming Hadassah Shabbat 5891/2021
According to the Jewish calendar, this Shabbat marks the one-year anniversary of the last in-person services we held together. That weekend, we had the Friday evening Hadassah service at TAI and Saturday morning worship at OZS. Monday evening was Purim. Wednesday morning, we had to cancel the spiel (Purim play) scheduled for that evening. We haven’t been back since.
This year’s Hadassah Shabbat, Purim carnivals and Purim service are the final things we are doing for the first time during the pandemic. After that, it will be the second time around for everything. Each Shabbat and holiday that cannot be held in person is a loss. On Hadassah Shabbat and Purim, occasions with a proud history of bringing all of Jewish Lexington together under one roof, the sense of loss is particularly profound. Yet even in times of grief there are reasons for gratitude. Though we cannot be together in person, technology has blessed us with the ability to offer services virtually. It is nowhere near the same experience, but it is far better than being unable to connect at all.
It is poetically fitting that, like our pandemic circumstances, this week’s Torah portion, Terumah, (Gifts) raises questions about the meaning of sacred space. Exodus 25:8 states: “Let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.” Naturally, this leads to rabbinic discussion and debate. If God is everywhere, then why does the Holy One require a sanctuary? The answer is that the sanctuary is not for God’s benefit but for ours. Having a designated place to prioritize holiness satisfies human needs, not divine ones.
Our current situation compels us to consider the familiar verse from Exodus and its commentaries in a new context. How can we experience holiness and connectedness when we cannot be together in our own sanctuaries? Perhaps an answer can be found in our daily prayer services. The V’Ahavta reminds us that Torah is for all times and all places: “Take to heart these instructions with which I charge you this day. Impress them upon your children. Recite them when you stay at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them serve as a symbol on your forehead; inscribe them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). Jewish living is not meant to be compartmentalized. It requires effort at all times and places.
The Hebrew word avodah means both work and worship. The accomplishments and aspirations of Hadassah provide us with a sanctuary that transcends the disappointment that flows from the continued requirement of distancing ourselves. It is a sanctuary that spans generations of Jews and the locations we call home. At a time when humanity is suffering from a terrifying pandemic crisis, we can draw strength and wisdom from an organization “committed to building a better world through medicine and health care.” When health care is no longer a political issue but a universally recognized human right, we will have built a sanctuary without walls, a place where the divine presence dwells in the desire of all God’s creatures who have dedicated ourselves to creating a better world for one another. Please join us tonight and tomorrow morning for what promises to be wonderful services led by the dynamic women of this remarkable organization.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

February 12, 2021

“Ordinary Speech”: False Rumors and Real Ramifications
Were it not for last month’s assault on the U.S. Capitol — fueled by the growing popularity of dangerous conspiracy theories, including among those in elected office — it would be easy to miss the prohibition against false rumors among the dozens of rules in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (Laws). The ordinance appears in a long list of commandments covering all aspects of life from judicial, familial, fiscal and religious realms. In ordinary times, “You shall not bear a false rumor” might not stand out much amid laws about murder, slavery and witchcraft. But these are not ordinary times.
Professor Robert Alter’s translation and commentary provides helpful context and insight on Exodus 23:1. “The prohibition on bearing a false rumor is reminiscent in formulation to the third of the Ten Commandments [“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”], but instead of pertaining to solemn oaths, it addresses the capacity of ordinary speech to do harm.” Alter’s point is well taken. The echo is intentional. Most of us will never testify before Congress or in court. This does not mean that our words do not have consequences. Falsehood need not occur in an official setting to be destructive. We might like to comfort ourselves with the argument that our distortions, embellishments and exaggerations were not said under oath, that we did not actually sign a document attesting to the complete accuracy of what we wrote, but we know better ­— or at least we ought to. It is tempting to dismiss false rumors as being nothing out of the ordinary. Alter’s observation and the events of recent months serve as a critical reminder that falsehood, even if uttered only in the context of “ordinary speech,” can bring about extraordinary harm.
The duty to speak ethically is with us always, whether we are under oath or not. The Talmud warns us that false rumors and reckless speech harm at least three parties: the speaker, their listeners and the person being spoken of. In the digital age, when words can “go viral” regardless of their validity, the need for speaking cautiously is more important than ever. As a people who have borne the brutal ramifications of hate speech and lies, we have a special responsibility to resist false rumors with all of our might.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

February 5, 2021

Family Reunion: The Relevance of Parshat Yitro
During a Raging Pandemic
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought Moses’ sons and wife to Moses in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of God. He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed low and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. Moses then recounted to his father-in-law everything that God had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardships that had befallen them on the way, and how God had delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced over all the kindness that God had shown Israel when God delivered them from the Egyptians. (Exodus 18:1-9)
There is no shortage of great content in this week’s Torah portion. Moses reorganizes the court system, God reveals the Ten Commandments, Mount Sinai erupts in smoke while trumpets blare. But reading this Torah portion during COVID-19 prompts one to reflect more intently on its opening verses, in which a family that has been separated due to difficult circumstances is reunited dramatically.
The analogy to our current situation should not be pushed too far. Our biblical ancestors could not check in via phone or text messages, post pictures on social media or find respite by bingeing on Netflix. We have not spent the past four centuries in slavery and are not relying on God to give us manna. Still, there is validity to the core component of the story we have in common with the family of Moses. Due to circumstances beyond our control, many of us have gone a year or more without seeing one another. In light of the pandemic, the family reunification story feels more like a moment we can relate to on a personal level and less like a quick prelude to the main event. The reunion scene should not be glossed over. We have learned from painful experience that these occasions should not be taken for granted. The recounting of hardships, the hugs and kisses, the tears of rejoicing, the promise of deliverance are things we can more readily imagine after what we’ve been through.
Torah included this story for a reason. It did not want the sacrifice of family separation to be left out or treated as an insignificant detail. It has not been easy for us, and it could not have been easy for the family of Moses, either. Let us take solace in the knowledge that generations before us endured it and lived to tell the tale. Let us be reminded of our moral obligation to reunite families who have been separated because of poverty and political failure. And let us draw inspiration to remain hopeful and patient, strengthened by the faith of our forebearers that a better day is coming, that we will live to see our family and friends in person, and that we will rejoice in the deliverance we dream of. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

February 5, 2021

Family Reunion: The Relevance of Parshat Yitro
During a Raging Pandemic
Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, brought Moses’ sons and wife to Moses in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of God. He sent word to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you, with your wife and her two sons.” Moses went out to meet his father-in-law; he bowed low and kissed him; each asked after the other’s welfare, and they went into the tent. Moses then recounted to his father-in-law everything that God had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardships that had befallen them on the way, and how God had delivered them. And Jethro rejoiced over all the kindness that God had shown Israel when God delivered them from the Egyptians. (Exodus 18:1-9)
There is no shortage of great content in this week’s Torah portion. Moses reorganizes the court system, God reveals the Ten Commandments, Mount Sinai erupts in smoke while trumpets blare. But reading this Torah portion during COVID-19 prompts one to reflect more intently on its opening verses, in which a family that has been separated due to difficult circumstances is reunited dramatically.
The analogy to our current situation should not be pushed too far. Our biblical ancestors could not check in via phone or text messages, post pictures on social media or find respite by bingeing on Netflix. We have not spent the past four centuries in slavery and are not relying on God to give us manna. Still, there is validity to the core component of the story we have in common with the family of Moses. Due to circumstances beyond our control, many of us have gone a year or more without seeing one another. In light of the pandemic, the family reunification story feels more like a moment we can relate to on a personal level and less like a quick prelude to the main event. The reunion scene should not be glossed over. We have learned from painful experience that these occasions should not be taken for granted. The recounting of hardships, the hugs and kisses, the tears of rejoicing, the promise of deliverance are things we can more readily imagine after what we’ve been through.
Torah included this story for a reason. It did not want the sacrifice of family separation to be left out or treated as an insignificant detail. It has not been easy for us, and it could not have been easy for the family of Moses, either. Let us take solace in the knowledge that generations before us endured it and lived to tell the tale. Let us be reminded of our moral obligation to reunite families who have been separated because of poverty and political failure. And let us draw inspiration to remain hopeful and patient, strengthened by the faith of our forebearers that a better day is coming, that we will live to see our family and friends in person, and that we will rejoice in the deliverance we dream of. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

January 29, 2021


God of Marvels and Miracles,

On this Shabbat when we hear the story of how You delivered our people at the Sea of Reeds, we pray to be delivered from this pandemic.

Our ancestors fled from Pharaoh. Now we are racing from a virus, hoping that enough of us can be vaccinated before it closes in on us.

We thank You, God, for our frontline workers, who waded into dangerous waters with no guarantee of safety, who put the survival of others before their own.

Like Nachshon1, 2, they refused to allow fear to keep them from moving forward.

We remember Moses’ and Miriam’s words resounding over the waters.

We, too, wish to sing songs of rescue and rejoicing, deliverance and delight.

Our ancestors feared they would die in the desert.

We fear for the lives of family and friends.

Help us, O God, to cross safely to the other side of this crisis.

Bless us with patience and persistence, resilience and resolve.

As you rescued those who came before us, rescue us.

Then the words of Miriam and Moses will be ours, too.

Ozi V’Zimrat Yah, v’ay’hi li lishua.

“God is my strength and my might and has become my deliverer.”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


1According to Midrash (Rabbinic folklore), Nachshon Ben Amindab waded into the sea even before Moses stretched his staff over the waters.

2 Exodus 15:2

January 22, 2021

Cherished Duties: Liberation, Inauguration and the Holiness of Long Hard Work

The rabbis of the midrash were puzzled by a detail of the liberation story we read this week. Devastated by the death of the firstborn and the nine preceding plagues, Pharaoh finally allows the Israelites to depart. Indeed, having held them in slavery for more than 400 years, Pharaoh wants the Hebrews gone so desperately that he refuses to grant them time to pack. Many are familiar with the verse about the bread dough rising on the former slaves’ backs, but our sages draw our attention to a related element of the story. “Why did the Israelites, though they had cattle, carry their kneading bowls on their shoulders (Ex. 12:34)? Because they cherished their duties.”1

As President Biden and Vice President Harris shoulder the burden of leadership this week, this commentary reminds us that there are duties we should cherish. A kneading bowl might not seem to be a precious object that needs to be positioned on one’s person, but the behavior of our ancestors shows us otherwise. Sustaining one another, providing for one another, breaking bread with one another is a holy act rendering the kneading bowl a holy vessel to be carried by oneself. Leading us out of a pandemic is an urgent necessity and a holy task. It will not be pretty, romantic or glamorous. Like making bread, it will take hard work, mindfulness, patience and attention to detail.

If the last few months have reminded us of nothing else, it is that democracy is demanding work. We often talk about the rights, freedoms and liberties we cherish. We are not quite so quick to pair the word “cherish” with “duty.” Yet the perpetuation of liberty rests on duty’s shoulders. We can no more enjoy the fruits of democracy without the effort of elections than we can feast on fresh bread without someone kneading the dough first. Even with all the anxiety, turmoil and ugliness this election and its aftermath have produced, we must be mindful that the work of democracy is a duty to cherished.

Wearing an “I voted” sticker is not about bragging. It is about saying, “Democracy is important to me.” We thank poll workers and volunteers because without their dedication to duty there would be no democracy to wax philosophical about. The work of voting; counting; recounting; and texting, calling and knocking on doors to get out the vote is over for a while. Just as a dazzling autumn must cede the stage to a long hard winter, the dramatic season of competition must give way to one of disciplined cooperation. It is time to stop running for office and start (or restart) fulfilling its duties. We ask our elected and appointed leaders to approach their tasks like the cherished duties they are. And may we, the citizens whom they are sworn to serve, commit ourselves to doing our work in the same spirit.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


1Plaut Commentary First Edition, 1981 pages 367, 1714


January 15, 2021

Hold Fast to Hope: Proclaiming King’s Message
Amidst a Pandemic  

We gather this evening still shaken by the events in Washington last week and increasingly concerned about the prospects of a safe inauguration and peaceful transition of power. Every Shabbat when we cannot gather together in our sanctuary is a loss, but being unable to gather these past two Friday evenings feels particularly so. Moreover, given that the heart of his message was unity, there is something painfully ironic about being apart from each other on Martin Luther King Shabbat. We pray that this is the only time a pandemic will relegate this service, which we look forward to each year, to a virtual gathering.

We already have dealt with virtual Purim, Passover, High Holy Days, Sukkot and Hanukkah. As we approach the one-year anniversary of the pandemic we have run out of things we are missing out on for the first time, yet we refuse to give in to defeatism and despair. The scholar James Washington aptly titled his anthology of the essential writings and speeches of Martin Luther King “A Testament to Hope.” Dr. King’s life and leadership were just that. In spite of every reason to give up, he persevered. If we want to live up to his legacy, we too must “hold fast to dreams”1 even in the face of dispiriting realties. 

As we study the 10 plagues in this week’s and next week’s Torah portions, we can see ourselves in the nightmarish society that tragically chooses to continue to suffer the consequences of injustice rather than discontinue its cruel practices of oppression. Tonight’s speaker, the Rev. Nathl Moore, pastor of Lexington’s First African Baptist Church, will address at least two painful issues plaguing our society in this difficult moment. First, why is it that Black people have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic of COVID-19? Why have more of them been infected, become seriously ill and died at higher rates than their white neighbors, and what are the lessons of health care inequality that must be learned from this devastating failure? Second, in light of last week’s assault on the Capitol fueled by white supremacists and snti-Semites, how can we, as Black and Jewish communities, demand accountability for those who encouraged, enabled and participated in an attempt to violently overturn the certification of a presidential election? How can we work collaboratively to address the hate, misinformation and violence that have stifled our nation’s efforts to realize King’s vision of “the beloved community.”

Please make a special effort to attend tonight’s service and think about what you can do to mitigate the plagues of systemic racism by alleviating hunger, homelessness and health care inequality in Lexington and throughout the country. We hope you will consider a contribution to the Lexington Chapter of the NAACP in honor of MLK Day and Reverend Moore’s message. Click here to donate or send contributions to Lexington-Fayette NAACP, P.O. Box 13655. Lexington, KY 40583.

You also are encouraged to check out the website of the Religious Action Center for ways in which we can address chronic disparities inconsistent with Jewish and democratic values by urging Congress to support an equitable public health and economic response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

P.S.: Thank you to Rev. Moore for filling in on short notice for our scheduled speaker, the Rev. James Thurman, who was forced to cancel his appearance because of health issues. We wish him a refuah shelaymah, a full and speedy recovery, and look forward to having him address our congregation when he is able to do so.

1 “Dreams” by Langston Hughes, 1922


January 8, 2021

Shoeless Shabbat: Sacred Space in Destabilizing Times  
  “God called out to Moses from the (burning) bush: ‘Remove the shoes from your feet, for the place on which you stand in holy ground.’”
When we read Shemot last year, we initiated something I hope will become an annual tradition. In this portion, Moses is told to take off his shoes. I asked all the attendees at our Shabbat service, one of the last ones before the pandemic shutdown, to do the same.
Those who have been attending services via Zoom these past many months know I have been encouraging you to make whatever room you are in at the time a medash me’at, a sanctuary of your own, by taking out candle sticks, a kiddush cup and a challah. Tonight, there is something I am asking you to leave outside the room from which you participate: your shoes.
The miracle of the Burning Bush is a reminder that even a grazing pasture for sheep can be a holy place if we take the time and effort to hallow it as one. Kitchens and dining rooms are holy. Attics and basements are holy. Living rooms and bedrooms are holy. Laundry rooms and storage rooms are holy.
COVID has closed our buildings, but the call to recognize holy ground, to carry on our sacred work, still cries out to us. Worship, religious school, adult education, community service and caring for one another have continued. Our fifth-grade class will lead tonight’s service not from the pulpit of our temple, but they will be in a sanctuary, that of their own homes.
So, on this Shabbat when we study the story of the Burning Bush and the commandment that Moses remove his shoes, let us take our shoes off as well. It might feel a bit strange, even somewhat indecorous, but at a time when it often feels like each day is no different from the next, going shoeless can help us make this Shabbat, this particular service, distinct from all others. We will not allow this pandemic to compromise our reverence for holy ground or our commitment to deeds of loving kindness.
 Last year we also invited you to bring unneeded shoes in good condition to that evening’s service. This year we are asking you to place them in the large plastic bin outside the temple’s front door throughout the rest of January. We collected 50 pairs last year and donated them to Goodwill; let’s see if we can exceed that number this year.
Holiness need not and cannot be a casualty of this dreadful disease. One way we can preserve it is to take full advantage of things we can do together virtually. Another way is to deliberately make each day, and each Shabbat, a little different from the one before. By setting aside our shoes for the duration of this week’s services, Saturday morning study sessions and Religious School classes, we will create lasting memories and a ritual we can look forward to each year.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

January 1, 2021

Farewell for Two Fathers: Disparities Between a Biblical Patriarch and His Pandemic Counterpart  
During this week when we in the Jewish world read the passage about Jacob’s deathbed blessing to his sons, an excerpt of an obituary written by Courtney Farr for his father, Marvin, aired on the radio. Jacob blesses each of his 12 sons before drawing his last breath (“Joseph threw himself upon his father; he wept over him and kissed him”), but the Farr family ­—  and thousands like them — were not permitted these rites of goodbye.
“Dr. Marvin James Farr, 81, of Scott City, Kansas, passed away Dec. 1, 2020, in isolation at Park Lane Nursing Home. He was preceded in death by more than 260,000 Americans infected with COVID-19. He died in a room not his own, being cared for by people dressed in confusing and frightening ways. He died with COVID-19, and his final days were harder, scarier and lonelier than necessary. He was not surrounded by friends and family.”
You can see how Courtney Farr powerfully turns the expected verbiage of an obituary upside down. Rather than a calm and comforting deathbed scene, these sentences depict the agony and anxiety that far too many Americans — and people throughout the worl — have experienced during the last several months. Circumstances did not allow Dr. Farr any of the human touch and intimacy that were afforded to Jacob and his survivors. We should be grateful to Courtney Farr for the stark realism with which he described his father’s death. How much easier it would have been to succumb to convention.
As we bid farewell to the book of Genesis, to Jacob and his children, until next year, let us think of those who have been deprived of a proper goodbye — not just the departed themselves but all those they left behind. Funerals in the pandemic era, whether the deceased died of COVID-19 or something else, are in a category of their own. Graveside gatherings without hugs or handshakes; shiva minyans via Zoom instead of in people’s homes. Precisely when people most need a hug, we are unable to give them one. The fact that the pandemic is literally “a time to refrain from embracing” does not make the obligation to refrain any easier.
When she suddenly lost her husband, Joe, to a heart attack a few weeks ago, Connie Grobstein made a simple request. She asked if, once it is safe to do so, we could have a memorial for everyone in our congregation who has died since the pandemic began. I promised her that we would. On that day we no longer will have to refrain from embracing. To tell the truth, I have given more thought to the rituals of rejoicing we will resume once it is safe to reopen: the singing, the dancing, the celebration. Connie’s request and Courtney Farr’s obituary for his father are reminders that there also will be unfinished and unfulfilled needs of mourning to attend to.
Life is not fair, and neither is death. We cannot undo what has been done or resolve serious hurts with a few simple rituals. But we can create a setting in which the things mourners have been deprived of, things that Torah and Jewish tradition have taught us to expect, can be offered to them. Better late than never.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

December 25, 2020

A Jewish Blessing for a Better Christmas
Our hearts go out today to our Christian brothers and sisters, here in Lexington and around the world, clergy and laity alike. Let’s be honest: This is no way to celebrate Christmas. Even the Jews know that.
Our Purim celebrations in March marked the beginning of closing our buildings. We barely got through what should have been a raucous reading of the Book of Esther. Our Purim spiel was canceled the day we were scheduled to perform it. Churches had precious little time to prepare for the major challenge of a virtual Easter, while we figured out what to do for Passover seders. It was not until we started planning for the High Holy Days that I began to fully understand what those Easter preparations must have been like. One imagines that planning for Christmas and family customs must have been even more challenging.
We Jews like to joke that our Christmas ritual is movies and Chinese food. But the pandemic is so severe that it isn’t advisable even for us Jews to do what we normally do on Dec. 25. It does not take being a devout Christian to be sad about the fact that it is not safe to go to church or have a Christmas gathering with family and friends. Our interfaith families, and our Christian and secular neighbors and friends deserve a better holiday than this.
There is so much anxiety and pain in the world right now. From truckers stranded at ferry crossings in England due to the new variant of the virus, to people battling hunger and homelessness, to families marking their first Christmas without loved ones who have died during this pandemic, circumstances surrounding the holiday are heartbreaking.
Our situation reminds me of the moment in “Fiddler on the Roof” when the people of Anatevka ask their rabbi that if there is a blessing for everything, is there a blessing for the Tsar? He replies, “May God Bless the Tsar and keep him far away from us.” In that spirit, I offer a Jewish blessing for our friends, neighbors and interfaith families for Christmas during COVID-19: May there never be another Christmas like this one. This year it is dimmed by sadness and suffering.  Next year may Christmas be brightened with tidings of comfort and joy. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


December 18, 2020

Your Big Break: Questions From Joseph’s Audience
With Pharaoh  
A standard question on late-night entertainment shows posed to actors, singers, artists and celebrities is, “When do you get your first big break?” The answer allows us to hear how the aspiring star rose from dishwasher, waitress or school bus driver to where they are now. But the big break has been with us long before the modern era. This week’s portion, Miketz, is where Joseph finally gets his big break. From the hated little brother to Hebrew slave to wrongfully imprisoned inmate, nothing goes well for Joseph for very long until he appears before Pharaoh to interpret his dreams.
Before you get the big break, you have to be “discovered.” Your problem is not lack of talent. The problem is that nobody influential knows you have it. We know Joseph can interpret dreams with uncanny precision, but until he meets the Pharaoh’s butler, no one else does. The big break happens when the person in a position to promote the talented hero actually choses to do so. One has to approach these things carefully. If your would-be star should flop, your goose might well be cooked. Thank goodness the butler seizes the opportunity. He speaks up unbidden and tells Pharaoh about Joseph. Why he takes a risk for a Hebrew inmate is anybody’s guess. There is nothing Joseph can do to him from jail. Torah never lets us know the butler’s thought process. What we do know is that the big break leads to some even bigger questions.
Who is your Joseph? Who does your conscience call upon you to remember? What did this person(s) give you, and why do you feel obligated to them.
Who is your Butler? Who did you comfort, advise or support when they were in need? What do you hope they will remember?
Who is your Pharaoh? Who is in a position of authority that you have the opportunity to persuade or influence? What are you going to tell this person? What cause will you champion? What disturbing facts are you willing to bring to their attention? Will you take full advantage of your big break or will you play it safe, do what is necessary and say nothing more than is asked for?
If you Zoom into Friday evening worship, these are the questions we will be discussing tonight during the Torah commentary part of our service. If you cannot join us, perhaps you can raise these questions for discussion at your Shabbat table. If there is no one at your Shabbat table, then share these questions with a family member or friend via email or over the phone.
Big breaks are too important to be forgotten. Thank those who helped you get where you are. Honor their memory by working for the causes that mattered to them. Remember what it felt like before no one with any clout knew or cared about what you can do. Reach out to someone who has yet to be “discovered” and help them get the notice they deserve.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

December 11, 2020

A Modern Miracle: Hanukkah and the Promise of a Vaccine
Outside the land of Israel, dreidels (the four-sided Hanukkah top) read, “A great miracle happened there.” Israeli dreidels (or sevivon in Hebrew) read, “A great miracle happened here.” This Hanukkah, we are praying for a miracle here, there and everywhere. As vaccines are making their way from testing to distribution, we pray that they prove miraculously effective, safe and accessible.
Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, liked to say, “Anyone who doesn’t believe in miracles is not a realist.” Pragmatism is an essential part of a healthy mindset. So, too, is cautious optimism. Ben-Gurion’s adage, however, asks us to go a step further. Wonderful things really do happen. The expression “exceeded our wildest dreams and expectations” exists for a reason. Success stories and happy endings do not happen all the time. They do not happen anywhere near often enough. But they do happen. They are possible. They might not play a large enough part of reality, but they are real. Let us be grateful for the miracle that things are not worse. Let us be grateful for the miracle of frontline workers who put the needs of others above their own. Let us be grateful for the miracle that vaccines will turn the tide of this pandemic.
The military miracle at the heart of the Hanukkah story is not on the same plane as Moses parting the waters or Daniel surviving the lion’s den. It asks us to celebrate a fortuitous outcome, not a supernatural one. The moral of the Hanukkah story is not that faith alone will deliver us from disaster. The moral of Hanukkah is that the beginning of survival is holding on to hope and that rising above defeat demands the refusal to succumb to despair.
A great miracle is about to take place here, there, everywhere. Until it does, we have work to do: waiting patiently, acting carefully and thinking hopefully. As Ben-Gurion’s words remind us, an outlook that does not lend sufficient credit to miracles is simply unrealistic.
This year we hold the holiday of Hanukkah hemmed in by a pandemic. Next year may we celebrate it free of sorrow, free of fear and free of illness. May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

December 4, 2020

The Blessings We Desire:
Wrestling the Truth From a Past of Deceit
Like many great passages in Torah, Jacob’s nighttime wrestling match with an unspecified foe raises more questions than it answers. Who did Jacob wrestle with? What did his opponent want? Why won’t the foe disclose his identity even in the face of defeat?
What the story does tell us is this: Jacob is not the same after this encounter. The dirty-fighting adversary wrenches Jacob’s hip so that he walks with a limp. So, too, this bizarre creature, who will not even state his name for the record, changes Jacob’s name to Israel, meaning to struggle with God and endure.
Even with the promise of a vaccine, the long night of the pandemic stretches on. Our struggle against an unseen opponent that cares nothing about rules and attacks for no reason continues. Like Jacob, humanity will endure, but, like Jacob, survival will not come without loss and change. COVID-19 will leave injuries that cannot be fully healed or easily concealed. Like Jacob, we have no choice but to move forward. Like his terrifying altercation, what we are going though now will affect how we move forward from here on out.
So, too, the change of name has meaning for us. The fight scene grants Jacob no quarter to resort to his old tricks. The last time Jacob was asked to identify himself, he lied to his father and said he was Esau. This time he tells the truth. “I’m Jacob, I trip people up by the heel to help myself to whatever I want.” To which his adversary replies: “Not anymore you’re not.”
Jacob has to confront himself before he can confront Esau. The wrestling match could have been written as something that happens after the encounter with Esau instead of the moment that immediately proceeds it. If we want to move forward, which we must, we have to tell the truth about how we got here. Admitting who we are, what we have done and what we have been are prerequisites of change. We will be woefully unprepared for reconciliation with those we have wronged if we cannot tell the truth to ourselves. We cannot overcome COVID, systemic racism, economic injustice and environmental devastation by denying our history and distorting facts.
 A post-COVID future demands a post-COVID identity, and a new identity can be earned only by admitting and confronting the truth. Of course, we would prefer to be called and thought of as Israel. But are we prepared to do the self-searching, self-scrutinizing work of confronting how we have acted like Jacob? Even something as common as renewing identification documents such as licenses and passports comes with a fee. Can we truly be shocked by the notion that earning a new identity comes with a price?
Jacob did not demand a new name from his adversary. What he asked for was a blessing. Twenty long years after stealing the blessing from his brother and father, it is still this same moment that he wants to revisit and rewrite. Who among us does not have such moments? Jacob’s strange opponent teaches a powerful lesson. There are times when the desire for a blessing is not enough. Sometimes the only way to gain the blessing we want is to demonstrate that we deserve it.
May we act in such a way that we truly deserve the blessings we desire. And may the blessings we desire inspire us to deserve them.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
With gratitude to Rabbi Norman J. Cohen, whose masterpiece, Self, Struggle & Change: Family Conflict Stories in Genesis and Their Healing Insights for Our Lives, continues to inform and inspire.

November 27, 2020

Jacob’s Vow and Pandemic Promises
Until the moment Jacob awakens from the vivid dream with angels ascending and descending a ladder or stairwell, his words and actions have centered entirely around himself regardless of the pain he might bring upon others. The promise to God he makes after the dream still conveys the mindset of someone focused on his own needs, but there is a newfound capacity to give, not just take, and to think about someone other than himself.
“Jacob made this vow, saying, ‘If God remains with me, if God protects me on this journey that I am making, and gives me bread to eat and clothing to wear, and if I return safe to my father’s house — then Adonai shall be my God. And this stone which I have set up as a pillar, shall be God’s abode; and of all You give me, I will set aside a tithe for You.”
It is worth remembering that Jacob has nothing with him other than the blessing and birthright he has stolen. He is bargaining with things he does not have. Making promises to a God he has never personally encountered before. The Torah tells us more about the people and property Abraham brings along on a three-day journey to Mount Moriah than it does about Jacob’s solo trek to his uncle’s home that must have taken much longer. Jacob’s vow is inspired not only by a heavenly dream but by real-life circumstances. Psychology teaches that all of us employ a degree of bargaining during times of crisis. “If I/we get through X, then I/we will do Y.” With Thanksgiving scarcely a day behind us and valid hopes for a vaccine before of us, what vows will we make during this pandemic-driven time of duress? How will the things we have seen, the events we have experienced and the dreams we have had during this crisis change our outlook and our willingness to give?
We are at a strange moment in the arc of this pandemic. The numbers keep going up, the suffering remains immense, yet valid prospects for relief are on the rise. If bargain and vow we must, then let us do so wisely. Let us say our vows carefully and keep them conscientiously. May this crisis move us to increase our generosity and compassion. May the enthusiasm and sincerity of Jacob’s vow and the pressing needs of this moment move us to make serious and substantive promises of our own.   
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

November 20, 2020

Appreciation Amidst Pandemic: A Thanksgiving Prayer During COVID-19
As we prepare to gather around our Thanksgiving tables, we are all too aware that this year is not like previous years. Too many of our sick and elderly will be eating alone. Too many households will be putting out fewer chairs. Too many have died from the pandemic, and too many are unable to join with others because of it. Appreciation is mixed with anxiety. Hospitals are filled to overflowing with patients. Medical personnel infected with the virus are going to work because there isn’t enough staff to relieve them. No one ever said that being grateful would be easy. It is difficult to be thankful when we have lost so much. In truth, we should be more appreciative than ever for having not lost so much more. Modim anchunu lach, grateful are we to all thosewho have helped us persevere through this crisis.
For doctors and nurses continuing to treat their patients,
Modim anachnu lach.
For mental and behavioral health professionals continuing to offer comfort and encouragement,
Modim anachnu lach.
For teachers and professors continuing to offer instruction,
Modim anachnu lach.
For first responders continuing to rush to our aid,
Modim anachnu lach.
For essential workers continuing to put food on our tables,
Modim anachnu lach.
For nursing home employees and caregivers continuing to tend to the elderly and infirm,
Modim anachnu lach.
For the unemployed and underemployed continuing to help their families and communities,
Modim anachnu lach.
For family and friends continuing to inquire about us,
Modim anachnu lach.
For continuing to see and hear one another remotely until we can gather in person,
Modim anachnu lach.
Baruch ata, Adonai, hatov shimcha ul’cha na-eh l’hodot.
Blessed are You, Adonai, Your name inspires goodness and Your caring deserves our thanks.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
This rendering of Hodaah, the daily prayer of thanksgiving, is greatly informed by an alternative version in Miskan T’filah adapted from the work of the late Unitarian Universalist minister O. Eugene Pickett.

November 13, 2020

A Welcome Return to Family Services
“The very world rests on the breath of a child in the schoolhouse” (Babylonian Talmud: Shabbat 199b).
Even before COVID-19, it was common to see this adage translated as, “The very world rests on the breath of schoolchildren.” Long before the pandemic, we had the expression schoolboy or schoolgirl, terms that applied whether one actually was at school or not. Our current circumstances have changed what it means to “go to school.” Going to school for students in grades K-12 in Fayette County is defined by attending class via Zoom and submitting work electronically.

Tonight, thank goodness, represents a breath of fresh air, something of a return to normal at a time that has been anything but. For the first time since the pandemic, we will have a family service led in part by the students themselves. Not seeing kids in the building is one of the saddest things of this entire crisis. The hallways and classrooms are eerily quiet without children. Yet, just as we tell adults that “our building is closed but our congregation remains open,” so, too, we tell our students that “school is in session even if our classrooms are closed.”

The Talmud’s emphasis on Jewish learning is as true today as it was centuries ago. Jewish continuity and sustainability rely on the education of tomorrow’s Jewish adults. Please join me in thanking Religious Director Elissa Weinstein, former director Kristen Hoffman, our devoted faculty and our dedicated Youth Education Committee for not only keeping Religious School going but for making it shine. It is because of their flexibility, adaptability and boundless commitment that Religious School has persevered when our house of learning is everybody’s home. Todah Rabah to Mark Schachman for teaching our seventh- and eighth-grade class, and preparing them to take part in tonight’s service. Special thanks in advance to Gabby Tropp of the Institute for Southern Jewish Life for her remarks this evening as well.

May this week’s reports of a promising vaccine renew our faith and optimism. Let us practice the virtue of being hopeful, both for the sake of our children and ourselves. We are nowhere near “breathing easy,” yet but we can breathe a little easier when we stop to appreciate that the education of tomorrow’s Jewish leaders is in good hands.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

November 6, 2020


Wondering when we will have definitive results in this election has brought back memories of other waiting stories. Perhaps you have experienced similar thoughts, associations and reflections during this difficult week. More than 20 years ago, my rabbinical school classmates and I anxiously awaited the placement process phone calls informing us of which prospective congregations would invite us to on-site interviews and eventually job offers. One of our professors, Dr. Stanley Nash, gave us the following piece of wisdom: “Waiting is part of life.” He did not expand on the point. Like the loving rabbi and professor he is, he left the interpretation up to us. With gratitude for his teaching, I offer this prayer:

Waiting is part of life.
Let us consider what the way we wait says about us.
Waiting is part of life.
Let us use our wait time wisely.
Waiting is part of life.
Let us make certain not to keep our state of waiting from paying attention to everything else.
Waiting is part of life.
Let us ask ourselves what is it that we are waiting for.
Waiting is part of life.
Let us discipline ourselves to wait cautiously.
Waiting is part of life.
May we practice the virtue of waiting peacefully.
Waiting is a part of life.
May we take heart by waiting hopefully.
Waiting is part of life.
May we cherish the value of waiting patiently.
As the Psalm for Elul, the gateway to the High Holy Days tells us:
Strengthen your heart with courage, and have hope in The Eternal.1
As Abraham and Sarah waited for the gift of children.
As Jonah waited in the belly of the whale.
As Elijah waited in a cave.
As Moses and the People waited for Miriam to recover.
As our ancestors in Egypt waited for freedom.
As the inmates of death and concentration camps waited for release.
So, too, may we proffer the prayer of those who came before us:
“We wait the morrow with hope made stronger by the vision of Your dominion, a world where poverty and war are banished, where injustice and hate are gone.
Teach us more and more to respond to share the pain of others, to heed Your call to justice, to pursue the blessing of peace.
Help us, O God, to gain victory over evil, to bring nearer the day when all the world shall be one.”2
May this be our blessing, and let us say: Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

1 Psalm 27
2 Aleinu, Version IV from Gates of Prayer 1975.

October 30, 2020

A Prayer Before the Election
God of long days and restless nights, of hard fought contests, fraught silences and frayed nerves.  
Exhausted from a campaign rife with ugliness, we urge you to help us see the beauty in one another.  
Depleted from debates devoid of decorum, we implore you for the strength to restore common decency.  
Weary from distortions and character assassination, we beg you to rescue our faith in our fellow citizens. 
Shaken by threats of violence and intimidation, we ask your aid in remaining rational and resolute. 
Troubled by vows to reject unfavorable results, we turn to you for guidance for responding to victory or defeat with dignity and grace. 
Just as Abraham and Sarah ventured forth with courage, fortitude and faith, so, too, may we go forth undaunted by uncertainty and untroubled by the unknown.  
May the wit and wisdom that carried us through tribulations past be with us now in the days and weeks ahead.  
May this be our blessing, and let us say: Amen.  
 Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

October 27, 2020

On this the second Gregorian calendar anniversary of their murders, we remember those who were shot and killed at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by a deranged gunmen who never should have had a gun. At some point in your day please take a moment to recite their names, light a candle and observe a moment of silence in their honor. Donations to Future Coalition, Moms Demand Action and the Brady Campaign to End Gun Violence would also be appreciated. We also honor the memories of Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones, two African Americans shot and killed at a Louisville grocery store three days before the Tree of Life massacre. May their memory be a blessing and may we may we make our mourning matter.

October 23, 2020

Nameless No More: The Legacy of Naamah on the Eve of an Important Election           

I once read a biography of Eleanor Roosevelt containing an adage from her mother that the longest-serving first lady and human rights advocate wisely refused to follow: “A lady’s name should appear in the newspaper three times. When she is born, when she is married, and when she dies.” This week’s Torah portion, Noah, presents us with a similar problem. The Bible itself does not provide the namea of Noah’s wife or the wives of his sons. It is worth noting that we are not the first generation to be concerned about the omission. Rabbinic folklore and commentary from Genesis Rabba (circa 300-500 CE) and Rashi (1040-1105) tells us that the name of Noah’s wife was Naamah

Just as Noah is acknowledged for saving pairs of each animal, a modern midrash by Sandy Eisenberg Sasso credits Naamah with “collecting every seed and bulb so that the plants of the earth will also be saved from the flood.” Rabbi Jill Hammer celebrates Naamah as a woman who “endures while the world is destroyed and rebuilt around her. She preserves life and enters a new world to raise future generations. She holds the tools of life. She is the netzach in netzach, the deepest urge to endure. We are most like Naamah when we endure through the storm, prepared to create the future.”1

As we approach the centenary of women taking part in presidential elections, Rabbi Hammer’s words take on renewed importance. This coming week is a celebration of women who carry on Naamah and Roosevelt’s refusal to remain unnamed, unheard, unseen and unacknowledged. Our lineup of female Jewish scholars includes local and out-of-state talent focusing on the legal, historical and social implications of this pivotal moment for our nation. On Tuesday and Wednesday, Oct. 27 and 28, we will hear from this year’s Moosnick scholar-in-residence, Dr. Melissa R. Klapper. Her topic will be “Ballots, Babies, and Banners of Peace: American Jewish Women and First-Wave Feminism.” While we wish we could bring her to Lexington to speak, we are fortunate she will be engaging with us via Zoom. (For the link, click here.)  At services next Friday, Oct. 30, we will have the privilege of listening to Dr. Karen Petrone, a TAI congregant and history professor at UK. She will share her perspective on women’s suffrage and what the struggle to gain the ballot can teach us today as progressive Jews seeking to meet the challenges posed by the #MeToo movement and the disproportionate socioeconomic impact of COVID-19 on women and minorities. Our study sessions on Saturday, Oct. 31, will feature two more female scholars from our community. UK law professor and former TAI president and Religious School director Jane Grise will lead the 9 a.m. session. She will discuss how our courageous ancestors used lawsuits, protests and other avenues to achieve social change, and what we can learn from them. The 11 a.m. session will be led by Dianne Bazell, Ph.D., a former TAI treasurer, past president of Lexington Hadassah and, like Karen, a member of Shir Adat.     

At a time when we are deluged by the destructive power of this pandemic and the divisiveness of political discourse, may the endurance of Naamah and Jewish women who played vital roles in the battle for suffrage inspire us to continue working for the day when no one will be deprived of equal rights and opportunities based on gender or treated like a second-class citizen because of their sex. May we put to good use the tools that Naamah and the suffragettes who followed in her footsteps gave us. Let us honor their legacy by enduring the storms surrounding us and preparing to create a more peaceful and progressive future. May the women of this world who bless our lives in countless ways be nameless no more.

 Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Wirtschafter


1 Ritualwell.org “Omer Calendar of Biblical Women,” Rabbi Jill Hammer.

October 16, 2020

Creation in the Era of COVID:
Difficult Beginnings in Challenging Times

As we start the process of rereading the Torah this week with Bereshit, the first portion of Genesis, we are reminded of how beautiful and baffling beginnings can be. The Talmud endeavors to help us manage our expectations when starting new things. Kol chacholot kashot it tells us: “All beginnings are difficult.”1 We have read and reread the opening chapters of Genesis any number of times. What makes this year’s reading different is that, in our lifetimes, we have never begun a Torah cycle during a pandemic. What does creation and being creative mean during a time of such mass devastation? How do we maintain a difference between light and darkness as the days get shorter, the nights get longer, and the virus refuses to call it quits?

Our scope of creative freedom has been curtailed by COVID-19; not so the creative instinct. The impulse to create is still within us. The new Hebrew year is an invitation to try new things. Why not challenge ourselves to learn something new, to try a creative undertaking we have resisted? We do not have to become experts at it. We call them “creative pursuits” for a reason. It is the pursuit, not the proficiency, that counts. According to the Midrash (rabbinic legend), the opening words of the opening portion are meant to teach us that not even God is happy with the outcome of all creative endeavors. Why does Torah say: When God began creating heaven and earth? In answer to their own question, the sages reply that there were numerous attempts, discarded drafts, underwhelming outtakes of Creation with which God simply was not satisfied.2 Fortunately for us, God didn’t quit — and neither should we.

Frustration, aggravation and disappointment are part of the creative process. We cannot have creation without the creative process. If creation is holy, then the creative process is holy. It doesn’t matter how many pictures we delete, cookie batches we burn or drafts we throw in the recycle bin. What matters is that we honor our Creator by being creative. We bring holiness to this chaotic world when we counter the destructive impulse with the creative one. We have to begin somewhere, so why not here? We have to begin sometime, so why not now? May we find delight in new beginnings, no matter how difficult they might be.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


1 Babylonian Talmud, Taanit 10b
2 Genesis Rabbah 3:8

October 9, 2020

The Mitzvah To Be Joyful
Tonight we confront the irony of Simchat Torah (Rejoicing in the Torah) during a pandemic, something that is not unique in the history of our people but is a first for nearly all of us today. This holiday normally would include dancing in the sanctuary, children waving little flags and conversing after services in the social hall. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of what we do not have. Nobody said rejoicing would be easy. Most commandments are not.
Even with limited ways to celebrate, there are reasons for which to be joyful. We still have one another. We still have a congregation. We still have a Religious School. We still have Torah, and we still have people committed to studying it, teaching it and practicing it.
Tonight’s service will include reading from the opening words of Genesis for the first time since our Turnov scroll was restored. Thanks to Lorne Dechtenberg, we will be able to see the scroll while we hear it being read, something we do not normally get to do at in-person services unless we are fortunate enough to be on the pulpit for an aliyah.
Despite the temptation to despair, there are reasons to be grateful. We are grateful to our teachers who have adapted to online teaching, grateful to our students who are persevering with online instruction, and grateful to parents who continue to get sleepy children out of bed and remind them that Jewish learning remains a priority even when our houses of learning are closed.
May this be the only Simchat Torah we ever celebrate during a pandemic, and may we find a way to make it a joyful one.
Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

October 2, 2020

A Prayer for Shabbat and Sukkot
Shabbat and Sukkot both have two major themes. The Sabbath sanctifies the end of creation witnessed in Genesis and the miracle of liberation made manifest in Exodus. Sukkot commemorates the long desert journey that begins with liberation from Egypt and expresses gratitude for repatriation, a return home after more than 400 years, that starts to be realized in Numbers and Deuteronomy, as the 40-year journey reaches its end. At this point of the year, when we end our cycle of reading and begin it once again, the Sabbath and Sukkot help us to appreciate the importance of insightful introductions and compelling conclusions.     
Elohaynu V’Elochay Avoteinu V’Emotaynu—God of our Fathers and Mothers. May we never tire of the Day of Rest, our ritual of gratitude for creation, this beautiful home we share, nor neglect its focus on freedom, a blessing from which all others flow.
God of exiles, refugees, immigrants, wanderers, worriers, the forsaken and forlorn, the “huddled masses yearning to breathe
free.”[1] May the Festival of Sukkot help us to remember hospitality, and honor humanity. May it inspire us to advocate for those who seek a welcome harbor, safe haven and a place to call home.
The rabbis teach us that the four species of Sukkot represent four parts of the body. The palm branch (lulav) resembles the spine. The myrtle resembles the eyes. The willow resembles the lips. And the etrog, or citron, resembles the heart.
In keeping with this teaching, we pray to summon the spine to stand straight and tall in the face of cruelty and corruption; for eyes to see the good in one another and not to look away from painful realities; for lips that speak words of truth and kindness, denounce injustice, and refuse to repeat distortions and lies; and for hearts that are open to the thoughts, feelings, concerns and needs of others.
May this be our blessing, and let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 25, 2020

Listen Up! Honoring Couples Married 50 Years or Longer
As is our custom at Temple Adath Israel, Shabbat Shuvah is when we honor couples who have been married for 50 years or longer. Mazel tov to this year’s new arrivals from the Class of 1970: Susan and Austin Cantor, Michele and Richard Erdmann, Betty and Lowell Nigoff, and Yvonne and Mark Wides. It is particularly meaningful to celebrate this milestone with such a distinguished group of couples who have supported our community and congregation in so many ways for so many years.
The opening and title word of this week’s Torah portion is a perfect fit for such an occasion. Ha’azinu, “Give ear! Hear ye! Pay yttention!” Among the lessons that couples married this long can teach us is the importance of listening. We do not have to agree with one another to respect each other’s feelings and opinions. We do not have to like the same things to appreciate that they are worthwhile for our partner. We do not have to share the same taste to be attentive to the preferences of those with whom we share our lives. But we cannot have love without listening. Hearing each other out is not a question of who gets their way. It is a question of both parties valuing the other. Just as the people gather around to listen to Moses in tonight’s Torah portion, we gather to listen to you lead us in the blessings over the candles, wine and challah, to celebrate Shabbat with people who know a thing or two about being attentive, affirming and appreciative.
Congratulations to the Class of 1970 and all our couples (see their names below) who have been together for half a century or more. May you be blessed with health, happiness and holiness. In the words of Noah ben Shea may you continue to inspire us to “love our work and work at love.”
Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tova,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 18, 2020

Four Things to Look for During Zoom High Holy Days of 5781/2020
This year’s High Holy Days will be different from all others. Here are a quartet of things to be aware of:
  Timing: To keep Zoom fatigue to a minimum, we made substantial cuts to our regular High Holy Days services. There will be no Haftorah (reading from the Prophets) at any service. As opposed to having three readers per Torah service, there will be one. A considerable number of prayers, read and sung, have been omitted. The shofar service has been reduced from three themes to two. And yes, even the sermons are going to be shorter.
  Breakout sessions: This is the single biggest addition to this year’s services. We think it is essential to have an interactive experience with congregants, for people to see, hear and talk with one another. Discussion questions for these sessions can be found by clicking here; they also were included in Wednesday’s email and the High Holy Day kits that many of you ordered. We will post them on our website and Facebook page, too. Please have the discussion questions accessible when we get to this point in the service. Facilitators will lead these conversations at all four main services, and they are looking forward to greeting you.
  Turnov Torah: When we secured the services of our sofer (scribe), Neil Yerman, it was important to us that all three readings we recite at the High Holy Days be restored. During the Torah readings, which were recorded in advance, you will be able to see the Turnov scroll as it is being read.
  Kaddish on Shabbat evening/Erev Rosh Hashanah: Because this service falls on Friday evening, it deserves the same respect as any other Sabbath service. This includes reading the names of those who have died in recent weeks and commemorating the yahrzeits (anniversaries of passing). Since we transitioned to Zoom, we have invited those observing yahrzeits to share a picture of their loved ones. For many of you, this will be the first time seeing this new custom, which we will continue to do until the pandemic is over and we can gather for services in person. If you have a yahrzeit coming up, please look for an email from us two weeks in advance of the observance encouraging you to participate. On Erev Rosh Hashanah, just like any other Friday evening, we will invite those observing yahrzeit to say a few words about their loved ones.
Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to get us ready for the High Holy Days: Musician-in-residence Lorne Dechtenberg and members of Shir Adat; Lisa Miller for advising and coordinating our breakout sessions, and all the facilitators, readers and volunteers who supported the effort to make these services a meaningful experience despite the challenges; Zoom operator and technical advisor Lauren Hill; Temple Administrator Laura Creamer; Temple President Pat Shraberg; Religious School Director Elissa Weinstein and her staff for children’s enrichment programming; Music and Worship Committee Chair Austin Cantor; Mary Engel and Pat for Music & Worship’s High Holy Days kits, with Caring Connections additions from Jo Stone and Susan Sloss; Kristen Hoffman for overseeing the Social Action Committee’s online fundraiser for God’s Pantry; Kristen and Mary for their work on the Religious School’s Rosh Hashanah honey sale; and Mark Hoffman for coordinating Tashlich on the Creek. Todah Rabah and Shana Tov! Thank you, and may all of us have a Good and Sweet New Year.
Shabbat Shalom and Gut Yontif,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

September 11, 2020

Faith Amid Flames: A Prayer for 9/11
God of Hope and Healing, on this 19th anniversary of 9/11, we come to You with painful memories and prayers for peace.
We mourn the deaths of those who perished.
We grieve with those who lost family and friends.
We weep when we recall the images that day brings to mind.
We remember what it felt like to see our nation attacked.
We feel outrage at the disregard for human life, and the evil and cruelty of the attackers.
We honor the courage of the firefighters and police officers who risked their lives to save others, and we commemorate the bravery of those who laid down their lives so others might live.
We give thanks for the doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and paramedics who tended to the wounded, the maimed and the traumatized.
We take pride in the millions of people who remembered the teaching not to follow a mob to do evil.[1]
And we are pained by the bitter fact that a handful of brutes committed acts of violence and vengeance against Muslims and Sikhs who professed no love for the attackers and took no part in the attacks.
Let us rededicate ourselves to practicing the noble ideals we preach. 
Let us remind each other of what we have always stood for and that which can never be allowed to stand.
May we be ever mindful that 9/11 means no more and no less than what we make of it.
That it must not be misused to justify injustice or rationalize the irrational.
May the memory of this dreadful day move us to build a better tomorrow.
For our sake and for the sake of our children, may we maintain “faith without fanaticism”. [2]
May we profess patriotism that brooks no hatred of fellow human beings.
Let us to defeat extremism without resorting to extremes.
May we triumph over terrorists and vanquish terrorism. Let us seek peace and pursue it. [3]
Let us all lay down sword and shield soon, and work for a world that studies war no more. [3]
God of Hope and Healing, strengthen our capacity to heal and renew our capacity for hope.
May our talent for love overcome the temptation to hate. Let us rescue faith from amid the flames.
May this be our blessing, and let us say:
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
[1] Exodus 23:2
[2] Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Prayer Book, p.257, adapted by Eugene Pickett. Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, “You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism”
[3] Psalm 34:14
[4] Isaiah 2:4

September 4, 2020

Not ‘If’ But ‘When’: A Prayer
for Parshat Ki Tavo
When you enter the land that God is giving you as a heritage, and you possess it and settle in it, you shall take some of every first fruit of the soil, which you harvest from the land that God is giving you, put it in a basket and go to the place where God’s name will be established. Deuteronomy 26:1-2
Notice that the opening word of this parsha is not “if” but “when.” God and Moses are reminding the people who already been through so much, already ventured so far, already waited so long, that it is not a question of if they will enter the Promised Land but when they will enter it.
Keyn Teheye Lanu — So  may it be for us. Though people keep getting sick, though no vaccine has been officially approved, though millions are hungry and at risk of losing their homes, let us find strength and comfort in this one little word with a world full of promise.
When we find a vaccine for COVID, we will bring a gift of gratitude to our house of worship.
Not if but when, O God.
When we find better treatments for the infected, we will offer prayers of thanksgiving.
Not if but when, O God.
When we deliver food to the hungry and house the homeless, we will bless the Source of Hope who calls on us to help.
Not if but when, O God.
When we can visit family and friends without fear of infection, we will weep tears of joy and sorrow alike.
Not if but when, O God.
When we can gather in places we could not enter for months, we will cherish the freedom we used to take for granted.
Not if but when, O God.
Baruch Ata Adoni Hat’Tov V’aHa Mayteev. Blessed is the Source of Goodness who brings forth what is good. Not if we feel like it but when we are called.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

August 28, 2020

Hope Amidst a Hurricane
God of our mothers and fathers. God of creation and destruction, life and death, faith and fortitude.
We pray tonight for all those who have been, are being and will be affected by hurricane Laura.
May those seeking shelter find refuge. May those fleeing the storm have safe travels. May those who have chosen to remain where they are be unharmed.
May the One who has blessed courageous rescuers in the past be with the first respond in the Gulf Coast states and others in their time of need.
May we show generosity and compassion to all who lives will be affected by this hurricane.
May our elected officials demonstrate the leadership, loyalty and love that is so desperately needed at this difficult time.
And when the storm is over and the opportunity to rebuild arrives, help us, O God, to do so in a way that values the needs of all people, no matter who they are, where they live or what work they do.
God of hope and healing, bless all those in the eye of the storm with patience, perseverance and peace.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

August 21, 2020

Embracing the Challenge: Breakout Sessions at Shabbat Services
The rousing speech that Moses gives the people of Israel in this week’s Torah portion speaks not only to summoning up the bravery to do battle but to our current moment, too: “Let not your courage falter. Do not be in fear or panic or dread.” (Deuteronomy 20:3)
The reality of continuing to lead worship virtually rather than in person can be discouraging sometimes. This is not the way we wanted to pray on Shabbat, the High Holy Days or the festivals. Yet this is the situation in which we find ourselves. If our ancestors could face the challenge of entering the Promised Land, we can embrace the challenge before us.
Since transitioning to Zoom, we have tried a number of new things. Congregants have led the blessings over the candles, wine and challah from their homes. Torah reading has been offered recorded and live. We have resumed the practice of having those observing yahrzeits sharing stories about their loved ones and added the option of submitting pictures. One participant even gave a beautiful Torah commentary with a cat cuddling on her lap.
Tonight offers another significant first. In lieu of formal remarks from me, a congregant or a guest, we are going to have small group conversations about the text. I will introduce tonight’s passage and our study questions, then we will “break out” into small groups of no more than four or five to delve more deeply into the text. Normally, this would be difficult to do at services. It’s hard to hear your conversation partners when there are 20 or 30 others talking at the same time. Even facing one another directly and comfortably is difficult when you are sitting side by side in the pew. Among the advantages of Zoom is that it makes splitting into small groups and returning to the “main room” an effective and efficient use of time. We will be utilizing breakout sessions throughout the High Holy Days, and I’m excited to begin trying it with you tonight.
Courage comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is the physical courage to do battle or jump out of an airplane. But there is also a degree of courage required to try nothing new, especially when you wish you did not have to do so. Technology does not have to be our favorite thing, yet we can embrace this technological challenge together. 
Still, it is strange and lonely leading a service without you in the same space. Nothing can replace your physical presence in the sanctuary; no app or program function can compensate for that. But transitioning to Zoom has narrowed the distance and restored a degree of the give-and-take we had before.
We do know how long this pandemic will last. What is becoming increasingly clearer, however, is that we must adapt everything we do, including prayer, if we want to remain relevant and accessible. Please join us tonight, and bring an open mind and adventurous spirit with you.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

August 14, 2020

Look! Torah and Technology
in a Time of Rapid Change
The opening verse of this week’s Torah portion is a profound reminder of the importance of perspective. The word that gives the portion its title sets the tone. “Re’eh, Look! I set before this day the blessing and the curse” (Deuteronomy 11:26). We cannot see, notice, appreciate or comprehend anything if we do not look for it. The act of looking, the decision to deliberately pay attention, opens the door to countless possibilities. Conversely, the act of refusing to look closes them off.
It is tempting to be discouraged by what virtual services cannot offer. Last week’s service led me to a better appreciation of this week’s Torah portion. Our challenge is to look for the special things that virtual worship can offer. One of those things is the ability to see each other. Moving to Zoom last week allowed me to see the participants. The difference it made in terms of feeling connected cannot be understated.
Another change was the joy of sharing in rituals together. Please arrange your candles, kiddush cup, challah (or any kind of bread) near your screen so we can do these elements of the service together.
A third thing that Zoom can do is allow visual enrichment in ways that livestreaming alone could not. The split-screen function allows us to see the page we are on and the person leading it at the same time.
Another big improvement did not even occur to me until a few hours before the service last week. By switching to Zoom, those of us observing yahrzeit can return to sharing memories of our loved ones right before kaddish. The inability to do this via livestream was among the frustrating downsides of that approach. What is more, we now can show a picture of those we are commemorating as their names are being read. Those of you observing yahrzeit will receive an email one or two weeks in advance, inviting you to send in a picture of your loved one. When people look at their screens, they will be able to connect the names they hear with the pictures they see.
The upsides to the changes we must make are there, if only we look for them.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

August 7, 2020

Toughness and Tenderness: A Delicate Balance in Difficult Times
“Cut away, therefore thickening about your hearts and stiffen your neck no more.” (Deuteronomy 10:16)
Our capacity for toughness is a mixed blessing. We need a healthy measure of it to get through life. There are occasions when we must put our feelings aside and focus on the task at hand, situations in which we must take control of our emotions so they do not take hold of us. It does not take long for us to learn that we cannot always afford to let our sensitivities show.
But toughness can take a toll. There is a price to swallowing our tears, biting our lip and keeping our chin up. If we are not careful, toughness can become overly habitual, a default mode instead of a mindset for specific times. It tempts us to look away from sights that disturb us, tune out sounds that upset us, distance ourselves from settings that trouble us. The voice of toughness warns us not to allow our fragility to be exposed.
It took toughness for our ancestors to survive slavery and the desert journey, toughness to accept demands and higher expectations. There were countless times when being tough was a necessity, not a choice. Now, in this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, as the people draw closer to the Promised Land, Moses recalls the long journey and cautions them to be more open-hearted with God and one another. How do we know that? By reading the very next verses. “For the Eternal your God shows no favor and accepts no bribe but upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing them with food and clothing. You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
Surviving a traumatic ordeal can leave any number of legacies. It might make us more responsive to the pain of others, but it just as easily could leave us indifferent to them. God – in this instance at least – calls on the people to not revisit the abuses of Egypt upon others. Their indebtedness for divine salvation from endless suffering requires that they behave kindly and justly with those who are suffering now.
Keyn Teheye Lanu, so may it be for us. May we guard against the toughness necessary to get through COVID-19 so we don’t turn a blind eye to the suffering in Beirut. May we remember not to misuse the history of suffering as a people as an excuse to dismiss that of others, whomever and wherever they might be. May we temper toughness with tenderness. May we cut away the thickening of our hearts and stiffen our necks no more.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
July 31, 2020
V’ahavta for COVID-19
This week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, includes the V’ahavta, the powerful passage telling us to love God “with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might.”[1] It is difficult enough to fulfill this commandment in the best of times. How are we supposed to fulfil it in the worst? The words below are an initial attempt to articulate a V’ahavta addressing the difficulties of COVID-19.
   Help us to Love You with all our hearts, O God, even when we are heartbroken, angry and anxious.
   Teach us to love You will all our soul, even when our souls are embittered, weary and confused.
   Show us how to love You with all our might, even when the mighty are misusing their power, and decent people are wondering if they are losing their minds.
   No matter the circumstances, we will take to heart the commandments You have given us.
   We will keep on teaching them to our children.
   We will continue to speak of them at home and on our way.
   Come what may, we will keep them near at hand, from the moment we put on our masks to the moment we take them off.
   Long may they remain inscribed on the doorposts of our homes.
   We will not forget them when we walk through our gates.
   Thus we will remember to cherish your commandments and remain holy unto You. Now and always You are the Eternal our God.
   You brought us through times of suffering before. Grant us the strength to overcome the suffering surrounding us now.
  You are the Eternal Our God.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
(Please consider writing a V’ahavata for COVID-19 of your own and sharing it with others.)
[1] Deuteronomy 6:5
July 24, 2020
The Path of Perseverance: A Prayer for Not Being Out of the Woods Yet
Last week we finished Bamidbar, typically translated as “The Book of Numbers” but more accurately rendered as “In the Wilderness.” Things would be easier if we could end the difficult chapters of our existence with the same reliability of schedule that we do a book of the Bible, but life does not work that way. We are not out of the woods, wilderness and uncertainty of COVID-19. But we are starting a new chapter and a new book in our Torah reading cycle. Fittingly enough, Deuteronomy, a Greek word meaning “second law,” is filled with repetition of what the people of Israel already have been through. So, too, much of our pandemic existence has become repetitious. Yet even under the unchanging circumstances, there are new challenges to be met. We are starting a new book in the same continuing saga. The chapter before us is that of preparing for the High Holy Days and the new Jewish/academic year with the understanding that the painful realities of COVID-19 have no definitive date of departure. It is a tremendous reality to absorb. Each day can feel like a battle between denial and acceptance.
As we continue this difficult journey together, let us draw strength from the words in this week’s Torah portion with which Moses charged our tired and worn-out ancestors, anxiously awaiting the unknown day they could enter the Promised Land: “Fear not and be not dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 1:21) Though fear is part of our nature, may we never allow it to get the better of us. Though we experience dismay at times, let us resolve never to give in to it entirely. Our path is that of perseverance. We are not out of the woods, but we have the resources: emotionally, spiritually and materially, to persevere through this pandemic, and to reach the day when we will speak of it not in the present tense but in the past.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter


July 17, 2020
Sabbath Refuge
This week’s Torah portion, Matot-Masei, teaches us about cities of refuge, places where someone who meant no harm could run to escape lawful vengeance at the hands of a pursuer (Numbers 35:6-28). We, too, are seeking refuge now. Refuge in the form of respite from this terrible pandemic that relentlessly pursues more and more of us. We know that we cannot wish it away. No amount of denial will diminish the power of its presence. Nor do we seek to ignore it and the infinite pain it continues to cause. The existence of the city of refuge does not change the fact that there is danger, heartbreak and crisis. Rather, its purpose is to provide a place where a victim of circumstance can experience safety and security in an otherwise threatening world.
Our houses of worship are not smart places in which to claim sanctuary right now. Our sanctuaries cannot offer sanctuary in this moment, but the Sabbath can. Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel called the Sabbath “a sanctuary in time,” an expression of the sacred independent of space. It would be nice to be back in our space, to take refuge together in our sanctuary. Yet Judaism has given us a “sanctuary of time,” and technology has provided us with ways to transcend space. Therefore, until this pandemic ends, may every shabbat observed in our homes be our sanctuary. May remembrance of the Sabbath renew our capacity for hope, gratitude and joy. And may our devotion to it, and to one another, provide us with the refuge we need to face this crisis with caring, commitment and courage.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
July 10, 2020
Coping With the Reality
of What We Cannot Do
In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, God tells Moses that Moses will not be allowed to cross into the Promised Land. The reaction of the man who can reasonably lay claim to holding the world’s longest, and most thankless and demanding non-salaried job says a lot about who Moses is. Rather than protesting, pouting or resigning on the spot, he simply asks God to appoint a successor “so that the Eternal’s community will not be like sheep with no shepherd.” (Numbers 27:17).
During this COVID-19 era, Moses has more to offer us than ever when it comes to coping with the reality of what we cannot do. Getting the people from Egypt to Israel is his life’s work, so much so that it is virtually impossible to distinguish between the man and his mission. Yet when God tells Moses that he will not get to cross the threshold, even for a moment, Moses’ thoughts are not for himself but for his people. Accepting limitations — human or divine, fair or unfair, reasonable or arbitrary — has always been an unfortunate part of life. As this pandemic continues, let us endeavor to face the greater intensity of this reality with the patience, persistence and selflessness of Moshe Rabeinu, Moses our Teacher.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
June 26, 2020
A Trio of Doctorates: Three Distinct Voices United for a Delightful Service
Those of you who enjoy Torah readings and commentary from guest speakers are in for a treat this evening. Diane Arnson Svarlien, a Ph.D. in Classics, expert translator, member of Shir Adat and TAI Religious School faculty member, will be chanting from our newly restored Turnov scroll. The famous passage of Korah’s rebellion was not one of sections we chose to repair, but, although faded, it is still legible. Normally I would not bore you with the details of a Torah reading, but these are not normal times. To maintain social distancing and keep the service from running too long, things will be handled somewhat differently. Rather than taking the Torah out of the Ark right before we read from it, the scroll will be placed on the lecturn/table in advance. Diane will recite the blessings and read from the text, but be no one will be standing near her as she does so. Once she has chanted the dramatic section and recited the blessing after the reading, she will cover the Torah and leave it on the table. The scroll will be dressed and brought back to the Ark after the service.
Once the reading and translation of the passage have concluded, Diane will read a Torah commentary from Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit-Halachmi, Ph.D. You might have heard Rabbi Sabath at my installation or when she returned to our community as the Moosnick Scholar-in-Residence. I’m happy to say that Rabbi Sabath recently agreed to serve as visiting rabbi at Ohavay Zion Synagogue during the coming year, and has graciously agreed to have Diane read the Torah commentary the rabbi will deliver at Saturday morning’s Zoom service at OZS. In addition to being ordained by the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Reform), Rabbi Sabath earned a Ph.D. in Jewish philosophy from the Jewish Theological Seminary (Conservative). She and I grew up together at Temple Israel Minneapolis and have remained friends. I encourage you to “friend” her on Facebook and avail yourself of the opportunity to listen to her speak via Zoom at Saturday morning services at OZS — unless you’re attending a session of Jewish Texts, Kollel or Torah study via Zoom at TAI, that is. Even with the limitations of COVID-19, I am delighted to welcome Rabbi Sabath back to Lexington as a Bluegrass colleague, and both of us are looking forward to partnering on services for Tisha B’Av, Selichot, and the Festivals.
As he has for several weeks during this pandemic, TAI’s musician-in-residence Lorne Dechtenberg, who has a doctorate in musical arts, will be leading us in song. Please join me in thanking Lorne not only for the gift of his musicianship but for the time and energy he has put into installing and maintaining our livestream technology. If you can assist us with tech support during services, please let us know. We should not be asking Lorne to play keyboard, guitar, sing and troubleshoot live stream issues all at the same time.
I’m taking a break from the bimah tonight, but as I conclude my fifth year with Temple Adath Israel, let me say what an honor it is to be your rabbi and how dedicated the leadership of our congregation remains to providing comfort, community and continuity during this pandemic. Remember, our campus is closed, not our congregation. We remain open and are here for you every bit as much as before.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
June 19, 2020
Interrupted: Renewing ‘Women First’ Sabbaths
There is a debate among those who study speech and conversation about the nature of interruption. Some argue it is an example of power dynamics. The more empowered we are by race, gender, education and income, the more likely we are to interrupt. Other experts assert there is an important distinction between cutting someone off because we vehemently disagree with what they are saying and finishing people’s sentences because we enthusiastically desire to affirm their point of view. According to this school of thought, we should carefully consider the intent of the interruption before decrying its impact.
In this week’s Torah portion, Shelach Lek­ha, Caleb waits quietly as his counterparts, the pessimistic scouts, declare that continuing on to the Promised Land is a recipe for disaster. Once it is his turn to talk, however, Caleb is scarcely allowed one sentence in favor of moving forward before he is shouted down by those who insist the land is filled with giants who make the Israelites look like grasshoppers. Even when Caleb and Joshua get to speak for more than one verse, their fellow journeyers threaten to pelt them with stones. Not exactly a case study in polite discourse or how to have a respectful disagreement.
“Women First,” the initiative we started a year ago of inviting the women of our congregation and community to give a Torah commentary, sermon or other form of remarks on the first Friday of the month was also subject to being interrupted, albeit by COVID-19 rather than an angry mob. The fact that the interruption was unintentional does not make it any less impactful. Whether grounded in power play or pandemic, the result is the same: Women who had waited their turn, women who had been promised their chance to speak, did not get to do so. We cannot scold COVID-19 for being rude, but we do not have stand for it interrupting our stated goal of increasing the number of women we hear from at services.
Our commitment to another year of “Women First” starts now. Please call me at 269-2979 or email me about the service at which you would like to speak. This invitation includes those who participated before the disruption of COVID-19. If you are not comfortable being in the sanctuary, we will work with you to record your remarks and show them during the service or have you “Zoom in” from home. What we will not do is to allow further interruption of an initiative that has been so well-received.  I am happy to guide anyone who would like help drafting her remarks or recommend someone to work with you. Please check our livestream archive for examples of what previous speakers have said. The commentary/remarks typically begin about 30 to 40 minutes into the services on Aug. 2, Sept. 6, Oct. 4, Nov. 1, Jan. 3 and Feb. 7.
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Father’s Day!
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
June 12, 2020
Shouldering the Burden
On the surface, Numbers 7:9 seems inconsistent and unfair. The prior two verses tell us how Moses allocated carts and oxen to the Gershonites and Merarites for moving the Tabernacle. Now watch what happens to the next group. “But to the Kohathites he did not give any; since theirs was the service of the [most] sacred objects, their porterage was by shoulder.” Rabbi Morris Adler sees tremendous symbolic significance arising from the order that these holiest of items have to be carried.
We are being told not only about a detail of transportation but that we are being instructed in a very important matter. When it comes to the very heart of religion, we must not try to find – and cannot really find – a substitute for our own shoulders. We cannot transfer to anybody else, or to anything else, the obligations that rest upon ourselves. There are things that others cannot do for us.
The Bene Kehat – “the family that carried the ark” – had a challenging      responsibility. They had to carry it on their bodies; they had to feel its weight; they could not seek means to make their burden easier. Religion, too, is a burden, and it is also a discipline. Anyone who seeks to carry a faith easily, shouldering no special tasks, making no distinctive sacrifices, will have a religion that is neither true nor helpful. (Plaut Commentary, p. 1079)
The weight of COVID-19 and systemic racism imposes a serious burden on those who believe it is our duty to alleviate suffering, no matter our religion. As Adler points out, some things are not supposed to be easy, and we cannot simply delegate them to others. We have been, and will continue to be, engaged in long, hard work on these matters. There is nothing comfortable or convenient about it. The burden is demanding and draining on any number of levels.
Helping one another through COVID-19 and confronting racial injustice is a weight that must be felt. If we are to make any substantial progress, we must continue to shoulder special tasks and make distinctive sacrifices. There are no substitutes for the work we have to do ourselves.  
May we carry these burdens with a sense of purpose. May we be persistent in our resolve to achieve real and lasting change. And though the burden should never be easy for anyone, may we work together so that no one group, profession or race has to carry these burdens alone.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
June 5, 2020
A Blessing Despite Ourselves: A Prayer
for Parshat Naso
In a few short hours, Shabbat will be with us, offering an opportunity for peace and reflection on the heels of a week that has witnessed tremendous pain and turmoil. This week’s Torah portion, Naso, from the Book of Numbers, includes the well-known birkat kohanim, or “priestly benediction,” that parents recite over their children every Friday evening at candle lighting, and that also appears in the High Holy Days and festival liturgy.
“May God Bless you and keep you.
“May the light of God’s presence shine upon you and be gracious to you.
“May God bestow favor upon you and give you peace.”
After reminding everyone at the dinner before family Shabbat services that it is not nice to play favorites, I like to introduce this blessing as my favorite. Watching parents and grandparents bless their children in this setting is always a highlight of the month. A friend and colleague tells the story of getting into an argument with his teenage son just moments before Shabbat dinner. His son left the house only to call a short while later and ask, “Can I have my blessing please?” My forgiving rabbinical school buddy blessed his difficult child right then and there over the phone.
Dear God, we come before you this Shabbat, when we read your holiest of blessings, having disappointed, failed and frustrated You in any number of ways. We have been horrid to You and one another. We are hard-pressed to make a logical, merit-based argument for why we deserve your blessing, yet we desire it nonetheless. Bless us, we pray, despite ourselves. We teach that You are all-knowing, but I wonder if we desire your blessing even more than You know. We do not deserve it. We have not earned it. We have not even acted as if we want it, but great and all-knowing God, do not let us fool You. We do want it. We want it so much. We need it so badly. So many of us are angry, hurt and scared right now. No matter how foolishly we squander it, our appetite for your blessing is insatiable. It is rather difficult to believe that we are your favorite creatures at the moment, but we beseech your favor nonetheless.
Bless us and keep us, your challenging children.
Light the way back to You, and though we are sinful, smile upon us.
Favor us, your flawed creatures, despite our destructiveness,
with the blessings of wholeness and peace.
Undeserving though we are, O God, may we have our blessing please?
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
May 29. 2020
An Answer Is Revealed: Reflections
on Shavuot at a Time of Pandemic
In keeping with the kind of spring we have had, this year’s celebration of Shavuot falls dramatically enough on Shabbat. Known in English as Pentecost, for the 50 days between Passover and itself, Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah.
There are three overlapping theological constructs in Judaism: creation, liberation and revelation. Shabbat is a weekly celebration of the first two. The prayers throughout the service quote Genesis and cite Exodus. As Abraham Joshua Heschel points out, the reason for the Sabbath in Genesis is grounded in God’s universal gift of creation. The reason for the Sabbath in Exodus and Deuteronomy is Israel’s liberation. Shavuot calls on us to consider the third major theme, that of revelation. Note the order in which things happen: God frees our ancestors from slavery, then gives them a new set of laws to follow. The only law for slaves is the will of their masters. Only a free people may enter a covenant. Our newly liberated ancestors freely accepted the gift of Torah. What was revealed at Sinai is the mission of the Jewish people. What we bring to the table of human history and ideas is Torah itself. It does not make us holier, smarter or better than anyone else. Torah is rooted not in superiority but identity. Everyone has a job to do, a purpose to fulfill. Torah tells us ours. Creation tells us how fortunate we are to exist, to have a planet, to be in awe of the Creator. Exodus tells us how fortunate we are to be free, how God’s intervention, not some real or imagined greatness we possess, released us from slavery. Revelation answers the missing question. Why did God take us out of Egypt? What does God expect in return, and how do we fulfill these expectations.
The counting of the Omer is over for this year. Two of our three festivals have taken place under the social distancing disciplines required to curtail the spread of COVID-19. We are not free from this thing yet, and though it is Shavuot, no end date has been revealed. Yet revelation is alive and well. Our sense of purpose, what God expects of us and what we expect of one another have not fundamentally changed. The specifics of our current challenges and difficulties are unique. The existence and persistence of them are not.
For those of us who wondered if our generation could withstand a test on the magnitude of the Great Depression or the Second World War, the answer has been revealed. Yes, we can. Yes, we are. Yes, we will. This is neither the first nor the last year when Shabbat and Shavuot have overlapped, but it is particularly powerful to see them share the stage now. As the words from the Festival Hallel (Psalm 118:24) tell us: This is the day that God has made. “Let us be glad and rejoice in it.”
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
May 22. 2020
A Prayer for Jerusalem Day
According to rabbinic teaching, there are two Jerusalems: Yerushalayim shel l’matah, the lower Jerusalem of this world, and Yershulayim shel l’matah, the heavenly Jerusalem of the world to come.
God who calls on us to make “the earthly Jerusalem” a slice of heaven
And to keep our desires for a “heavenly Jerusalem” down to earth,
May we remember that co-existence requires compromise;
That maintaining a single city, shared by many peoples, demands mutual respect for sacred time and sacred space.
May we be mindful that conflict has consequences
And that pettiness carries a price.
May those entrusted with leading the Holy City of Jerusalem remain steadfast in their commitment to protecting its holy sites from acts of hate,
And may all its inhabitants affirm the holiness that resides in one another.
Let this be the last Jerusalem Day when celebration is diminished by pandemic.
Let us live to see the words of Jeremiah and the Jewish wedding service speedily fulfilled:
“Again there shall be heard in the towns of Judah and streets of Jerusalem that are desolate, with no one, without inhabitants – the sound of the joy and gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sounds of young people celebrating and the sounds of children at play. The voice those who exclaim, ‘Give thanks to God for God is good, for God’s kindness is everlasting!’ as they bring Thanksgiving offerings to the House of God, For I will restore to the fortunes of the land as of old.” (Jer. 33:10-11, final blessing of the Sheva Berachot)
May the pain of divisiveness and disease, the limitations and sacrifice of social distancing give way to a time of joy, a sense of wholeness and a city of peace.
Let us say together: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
May 15. 2020
Certainty in Uncertain Times
Unlike the counting of the Omer, the 49 days between Passover and Shavuot, we don’t know when this pandemic will end. We can say definitively what day of the week it is, what month it is, what year it is, how far into the Omer we are, but we have no idea where we are in the duration of this disease. Like our biblical ancestors, we are on a journey with no mile markers, no predetermined timeline and no map. Nobody can promise there will be a vaccine, but the possibility of a vaccine has promise. Until you reach the Promised Land, the vow of getting there remains no more and no less than a promise
It’s the uncertainty, the not knowing where we are in time, that makes situations like these particularly unnerving. Our smartphones have protected us from responses like “I don’t know.” Living in the Information Age has led us to believe we deserve instant access to knowledge, our desires to be met on demand. We don’t know what causes this disease. We don’t know how long it will take to find answers. We have grown unaccustomed to uncertainty, and we find it unsettling.
Yet there are things we do know. We know there are brilliant and dedicated scientists searching for a vaccine. We know there are doctors, nurses, EMTs and lab techs working around the clock to treat the infected. We know we have the material, emotional and spiritual resources to help one another and eventually find a cure. We do not know how long this will last, but we do know it can be outlasted.
We need not be undone by uncertainty. We can remain certain of our goal, our destination, our core values in these uncertain times. During this counting of the Omer let us “not merely count our days but make our days count.” Take another look at the “Ways to Help” email we sent on March….. and choose action items that are appropriate for you.
May grief not lead us to lose our grasp on gratitude. May we practice perseverance despite our pain. May we hold fast to faith amidst our frustration. May we meet the challenges of these trying times with courage, reason, generosity and kindness. Amidst all this mourning, may we make room for joy.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
May 8, 2020
Gratitude and Honesty: An Update
for the Shabbat of Mother’s Day
One of the life lessons our mothers teach us is that of gratitude: reminding us to say “thank you,” to write “thank you notes” and to be thankful for what we have. Another value they impart is honesty. Honesty goes beyond whether something is factually accurate and truthful. Honesty demands a conscientious assessment of facts and truths that help us reach responsible choices. We have often heard the expression “moment of truth.” Mother’s Day 2020 is a moment for both gratitude and honesty.
We are grateful that the Governor has given us the choice to gradually begin the process of reopening houses of worship by Wednesday, May 20. Knowing that we can do that means a lot. So, too, we are grateful for the way he has articulated that there is a considerable difference between “can” and “should,” just as our mothers teach/taught us that simply because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
Our current circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic are among those in which gratitude must make room for honesty. We are thankful for the freedom to reopen May 22, but, in all honesty, there is no way to do so responsibly. We need far more guidance, information and resources before we can do that safely. Services via livestream cannot replace the feeling of being in the sanctuary together, but we cannot welcome one another into the building without a comprehensive plan that sufficiently addresses the complicated needs involved. We do not have even a tentative date for reopening TAI at this point. There are too many unanswered questions to propose one.
Would that there was better news to share on Mother’s Day weekend. Even those of us fortunate enough to live within driving distance of our mothers cannot necessarily visit them safely right now. Commencement ceremonies and graduation parties that also share this weekend are relegated to Zoom. It’s not the Mother’s Day we imagined, wanted or planned. But our mothers taught us to be strong, to be grateful for what we have, and to be honest about what we should and should not do. May we make this a meaningful Mother’s Day by practicing the values they imparted to us.
(Rabbi Wirtschafter’s remarks tonight are a reflection and interpretation of a poem by Ruth Brin about this week’s Torah portion. You can print the poem or read the pdf your phone or other device if you are watching via live. Click here for the link.) 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
May 1, 2020
Closures Continue: Confronting
a Summer of Limited Options
The Reform Movement made official on Thursday what we knew was coming for weeks: all Reform Movement camps will be closed this summer. At least two Ramah camps (Conservative movement) have said the same. Like our schools going online for the rest of the academic year, this comes as no surprise, yet the finality of it still stings. Kids and adults alike look forward to camp all year. For campers, counselors, unit heads, directors, rabbis, doctors, nurses, specialists in arts and crafts, sports, waterfront, kitchen and maintenance staff, and more, the public statement has personal repercussions.
Anyone who has consoled anyone about anything knows how hollow words like “there’s always next year” or “there’s more fish in the sea” can be. The point is this summer, this breakup, this rejection letter, this situation here and now. So let’s acknowledge the situation for what it is. This stinks! The continuation of social distancing and the time it will take to return to how things used to be are frustrating, aggravating and disappointing. But maintaining these practices at the appropriate level, however, is the wise, responsible and ethical thing to do. There are times when doing the right thing does not feel good, and the era of COVID-19 is just such a time.
For so many of you at this congregation, going to GUCI, Young Judaea, Tel Yehudah and a host of other camps is something you have done for multiple summers for generations. It’s not only an element of summer but essential to summer. This is a loss, and you are entitled to mourn it as one. As someone who loves camp and values the memories it holds for those who have experienced it, I want you to know how sorry I am that this decision had to be made, and let you know I’m here to listen to anything you need to say about it. Working in concert with Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass and other partners in our community, we are ready to talk with families about exploring alternatives o what looks to be a summer of far fewer options than we are used to.
As Torah teaches: “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” Thursday was another difficult day. We are living in tough times, but the things we learn about adaptability, flexibility and resiliency will serve us well. This does not mean that all of this is ultimately all for the best. It does mean that we have what it takes to get through it, and we can grow from it.
Please see the link to the URJ article about talking to kids about camp and look for ideas about alternative ideas for the summer. An announcement about our local Jewish day camp, Camp Shalom, will be coming soon.
For tips from ReformJudaism.org on how to talk to your children about canceled summer plans, click here.
Shabbat Shalom,
 Rabbi David Wirtschafter
April 24, 2020
A Message for the Shabbat 
Before Israel Independence Day
Wednesday marks what hopefully will be the only Israel Independence Day of the COVID-19 era. Fresh off observing Passover, Holocaust Remembrance and Earth Day via Zoom, livestream or FaceTime, the process is becoming increasingly familiar, yet each “first” seems strange.  
It would be nice if intense social distancing were over by the Fourth of July, but we don’t know whether that will be the case. What we do know is that Israel is going to experience its “Fourth of July” without fireworks, flyovers or any of the usual fanfare. COVID-19 is having a severe impact on all parts of society in Israel, just as it is here. We pray for our fellow Jews and people of all religions there. May the determination, reliance, persistence and strength that has seen them through so many crises be with them now. May this pandemic prove an opportunity to solve problems together rather than different groups tearing one another apart.
In honor of Yom HaAtzmaut, tonight’s service will feature Israeli poetry, folk music and sharing the Jewish state’s Declaration of Independence. At our 9 a.m. Kollel study tomorrow, we will discuss articles pertaining to the choices and challenges facing Israel today. Look for online Israel Independence Day programs and activities sponsored by Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass, Union of Reform Judaism, Hadassah and the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA). Finally, please consider a donation to Magen David Adom, (the Israeli equivalent of the Red Cross) to celebrate the 72nd anniversary of Israel’s founding and to assist with its COVID-19 relief efforts.
Shabbat Shalom,
 Rabbi David Wirtschafter
To allow members of our communities to follow along with the livestream of our services, URJ has created: 
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Shabbat (click here)  
* A discounted Kindle ebook version (click here
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Youth (click here
* A discounted version of the Kindle ebook (click here
April 17, 2020
Holocaust Remembrance Day in the Spring of COVID-19
A year ago yesterday, according to the Hebrew calendar, Lori Gilbert-Kaye was murdered and three others were wounded at a synagogue shooting at Chabad of Poway, Calif., during services for Shabbat and the final day of Passover. The very next day, our community and those around the country gathered for Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, even with the pandemic of Covid-19, let us not forget Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, or the persistence of violent anti-Semitism. Here in Lexington, our annual communitywide program will be held online at 11 a.m. Sunday. If you did not receive an email from TAI, OZS, JFB or another Jewish organization about how to participate, please click here for registration information. 
Our program, “Jewish Resistance During the Shoah,” will be a Zoom discussion led by history professors Ken Slepyan and Jeremy Popkin. A prerecorded ceremony with our traditional candle lighting, songs and prayers also will be made available. The video will include musical contributions by TAI musician-in-residence Lorne Dechtenberg, singing “Ani Ma’Amin,” and cellist Eli Flomenhoft playing “Eli Eli.” “Eli Eli” is a poem by resistance fighter Hannah Senesch that was set to music by David Zehavi; last year we were fortunate to hear it rendered at TAI by Israeli cello virtuoso Amit Peled. Additionally, winners of the Emilie Szekely Holocaust Awareness Writing Project will be announced. 
We are living in challenging times. Seders via Zoom and services via livestream were not supposed to be the only way to safely meet our religious obligations, but this is the moment in which we find ourselves. It is just as important to participate this year via the Internet as it was last year in person. The means of participation has changed, but our motivation remains the same. It’s a mitzvah.
Shabbat Shalom,
 Rabbi David Wirtschafter

To allow members of our communities to follow along with the livestream of our services, URJ has created: 

* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Shabbat (click here)  
* A discounted Kindle ebook version (click here
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Youth (click here
* A discounted version of the Kindle ebook (click here
April 10, 2020

Never and Always: A Prayer for the Night
After the Seders During COVID-19
God of times and seasons, changes and challenges, grief and gratitude.
May we never again have to cancel our temple seder due to a pandemic,
    but may the things we are learning about creativity remain with us always.

May we never again have to limit the number of our guests at our family seders due to pandemic,
   but may the things we are learning about resourcefulness remain with us always.

May we never again be limited to attending services exclusively via livestream due to pandemic,
   but may the things we are learning about inclusion remain with us always.

May we never again have to reconfigure baby namings, b’nai mitzvah, confirmations, weddings, graduations, ordinations, funerals and shiva minyans due to pandemic,
   but may the things we are learning about the blessings of family and time itself remain with us always.
Baruch Ata Adonai Eloihainu Melech ha’olam schecheheyanu, v’keyamanu v’higeyanu l’zman hazeh.
Blessed are You, O God, Source of Existence, for giving us life, sustaining us and bringing us through these challenging times. And let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
To allow members of our communities to follow along with the livestream of our services, URJ has created: 
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Shabbat (click here)  
* A discounted Kindle ebook version (click here
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Youth (click here
* A discounted version of the Kindle ebook (click here
April 3, 2020

Considering King’s Parting Words in Our Moment of Pandemic
Fifty-two years ago today, on the night before he was murdered, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  preached his stirring “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” sermon. On this Shabbat HaGadol, the Sabbath before Passover, King’s references to the cruelty of Pharaoh and the challenge of unity couldn’t be timelier. At tonight’s service we will explore the question of how this heartbreaking farewell address, given more than half a century ago, speaks to our current crises of COVID 19, poverty, violence and injustice.
Before reaching the resounding crescendo, evoking Moses looking out onto the Promised Land, King leveled an impassioned critique of the status quo: “The world is all messed up. The nation is sick, trouble is in the land, confusion all around.”
Tonight, just days away from Passover seders that must be restricted by the need for social distancing, let us consider how this applies to us. To what extent do terms such as “sick,” “troubled” and “confused” speak to our current situation? What does it mean to recite the seder’s opening greeting, “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” when public safety requires that we cannot have even our entire family or a few friends on hand? I encourage you to review the Haggadah and to read and/or listen to King’s final address in advance; just click here.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
To allow members of our communities to follow along with the livestream of our services, URJ has created:
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Shabbat (click here)  
* A discounted Kindle ebook version (click here
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Youth (click here
* A discounted version of the Kindle ebook (click here
March 27, 2020
Cheated: Consoling and Congratulating the Class of 2020
During the course of the past few weeks, it has become increasingly clear that Class of 2020 has been cheated out of the celebration it deserves. From the prom night rituals of dresses and tuxedoes, to the graduation rites of caps and gowns and marching down the aisle to “Pomp and Circumstance,” this year’s crop of high school, college and graduate students has been robbed of the robes that are rightfully theirs. Indeed, in some families both a high school and college senior are losing out on graduation ceremonies via some form of postponement or another. Yes, it is nowhere near as bad as death, hospitalization or being laid off, but it is a loss, and we should recognize it as one. The observation that millions of people have worse problems conveys condescension when what is needed is consolation.
In Martin Buber’s “Tales of the Hasidim,” there is a powerful anecdote about two friends playing hide-and-seek. The one who has faithfully played the seeker finally gets a turn to hide, only to be ditched by a thoughtless friend. When the confused child realizes what has happened and runs home crying, the parent, rather than dismissing the tears as trivial, bursts out crying as well. “Why are you crying?” asks the child. “Because,” replies the parent, “it is the same way with us and the Holy One. All too soon we give up the search for the Eternal, leaving God wondering, ‘Why have my beloved abandoned me?'”
May we be like the loving parent in the tale who takes the pain of others seriously. Who, rather than dismissing it as silly, sees the disappointment of a children’s game as something of cosmic significance. Our graduates of any program of any age don’t need to be told there are worse things happening in the world. The cancellation and postponement of graduation activities is a big deal in their world. That should be reason enough to join them in sadness for what they are losing.
To the Class of 2020, we offer you consolation. You deserve a bigger and better celebration then this spring has to offer. We congratulate you on what you’ve achieved and wish you nothing but success at the next stage of life. COVID-19 has changed your lives, but it need not define them. One day your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren will ask you about these difficult times, just as we asked our elders about the Great Depression and World War II. You have the resilience, strength and persistence to overcome the pain and turmoil of this pandemic.
May the story your generation tells be one that inspires generations to come. As we say when we go from one book of Torah to another and from one phase of life to another, Chazak, chazak v’nitchazeik. May all of you always go from strength to strength.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
To allow members of our communities to follow along in remote services, URJ has created: 

* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Shabbat (click here)  
* A discounted Kindle ebook version (click here
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Youth (click here
* A discounted version of the Kindle ebook (click here
March 20, 2020
“Moses convoked the whole Israelite community and said to them … ‘On six days may work be done, but on the seventh day you shall have sabbath of complete rest, holy to the Eternal,'” (Exodus 35:1-2).
It is both ironic and poetically fitting that this week’s Torah portion is titled for its opening Hebrew word: v’yakel, typically translated as convoke, to call together or summon an assembly or meeting.
So many things feel strange right now. It seems as if the precautions surrounding COVID-19 have disrupted everything we think of us normal. Schools are closed, workplaces are closed, hugs and handshakes are discouraged. The authorities, for good reason, keep telling us to keep apart.
Yet, Vayakhel is about being called together, summoned into one another’s presence. Coronavirus has not changed the fact that it’s Shabbat. It need not diminish its importance or holiness. Shabbat can be our lighthouse and our refuge amid the anxiety and unease we have experienced all week. It can be a grounding and centering source of comfort during all the disruption if we honor it with constancy.
Our ancestors must have felt disorientation and distress throughout their desert wanderings. No map, no compass, no familiarity with the surroundings, no personal memory of the Promised Land or how to get there. Yet they persevered. They found their way. So, too, can we. Like them, we are convoked, called together into assembly and meeting. True, we are temporarily required not to encounter one another in the realm of space, but there is nothing stopping us from sharing sacred time. There is a world of difference between being in attendance and being attentive. Being physically present is no guarantee of focused participation, and being absent doesn’t prove we don’t care. Shabbat is a sacred convocation calling us to be attentive to the potential for holiness even in hazardous times.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
To allow members of our communities to follow along in remote services, URJ has created: 

* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Shabbat (click here)  
* A discounted Kindle ebook version (click here
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Youth (click here
* A discounted version of the Kindle ebook (click here
March 13, 2020


Let Us Be Strong and Resolute
Dear Temple Family,
 I hope that you and your loved ones are remaining healthy and calm during these challenging times. Among the difficult decisions we have had to make is to hold services by livestream only. (Click here to watch.) No one will be in attendance at tonight’s service. Yet there still are a number of things you can do to follow our prayers attentively. You can pick up a copy of Mishkan Tefilah, our Reform prayer book, until 5 p.m. today in the temple office. We will take down your name and the number of books you borrow so we can collect them once it’s safe to pray together at Temple again. Another option is to avail yourself of the free “flip book” version of the prayer book or to purchase a digital version of the text. The links and instructions for how to do this are below.
The awkwardness of our situation is reminiscent of a scene from the film “Hoosiers,” about a small town high school basketball team about to play in the state tournament. They aren’t familiar with a big stadium, electronic scoreboards or glass backboards. Even before the opposition arrives, the teenage boys are intimidated by their surroundings. Seizing the moment, their coach reminds them of what they are to do. Grabbing a tape measure and asking the tallest player to lift up the shortest, they examine the distance from the floor to the rim, confirming it’s the same regulation height of 10 feet as the home court at school. The elements of the game itself and what it takes to be successful as a team haven’t changed. Their surroundings are strange, but their task is still to play basketball.
Our challenge is no different. We want worship to be meaningful, relevant and accessible. It’s still our sanctuary, whether we are physically in it or not. It’s still our prayer book, whether there’s another person holding one next to you or not. It’s still our candles and Kiddush cup, whether we are seeing them directly with our own eyes or through the camera. The Hebrew word avodah means both work and prayer. Our ancestors did the work required to maintain faith and peoplehood even after the destruction of the first and second temples. So, too, we will work to maintain a sense of congregational worship even if we aren’t in the building. It isn’t a building that makes us a congregation. It’s you, the congregants. We will be no more and no less connected than we allow ourselves to be. Prayer is work. Sometimes the work is harder, but it’s always work. We have what it takes to do it successfully if we work at it together. As Moses said to Joshua: Hazaq V’Amatz. Let us be strong and resolute.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
To allow members of our communities to follow along in remote services, URJ has created:
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Shabbat (click here
* A discounted Kindle ebook version (click here
* A free online flip book for Mishkan T’filah for Youth (click here
* A discounted version of the Kindle ebook (click here
March 6, 2020
God, Goodness and Godliness:
Thoughts for Hadassah Shabbat

Reflecting on this week’s Torah portion,Teztaveh, scholar Lisa D. Grant reminds us of a powerful contrast of absences.” Tetzaveh is the only portion from the beginning of the book of Exodus until the end of Deuteronomy where the name of Moses does not appear. And Esther is one of only two books in the Bible where God’s name does not appear.” (1)  The absence of a name, however, is not tantamount to the value it stands for. It’s true that no one utters the name of God in the Megillah, but that does not mean everyone in it has abandoned godliness.
Esther and Vashti are prime examples. Vashti refuses to be treated like a plaything. She chooses departing with dignity over being reduced to an object for the amusement of the king and his drinking buddies. She accepts banishment over debasement. Fear of the unknown over a gilded cage. So, too, Esther ultimately refuses to compromise identity and integrity for the safety of the palace. Could she have survived a closeted existence? As the queen, perhaps she might have been saved from persecution as a Jew. We will never know, though, because she puts her privilege to use to save innocent people from peril.
The essence of Hadassah, the organization that bears Esther’s Hebrew name, is the underlying expectation that we do no less. Like Esther, we have been fortunate enough to attain access and influence in our diaspora existence. The question is, to what uses will we put it. Hadassah calls on us to remember that with the blessing of safety and comfort comes the responsibility to make sure that human rights are for all humans. Health care, education, clean air, edible food, drinkable water, a safe place to live and a voice in one’s future are not meant to be restricted entitlements reserved for a few. All humans are entitled to them. Hadassah asks us to give generously, listen compassionately and act righteously because only when we respect the tzelem Elohim, the spark of the Divine in everyone, can we truly honor it in anyone. It doesn’t matter how many times we utter God’s name if we ignore the imperatives of godliness. When we remember to act with godliness, when we defend what God stands for from those who would weaponize God’s name to worship nothing but themselves, then we truly qill be living up to the lessons of Vashti and Esther. May godliness lead us to goodness, and may goodness lead us to love of God.
February 28, 2020
Generosity and Acceptance: A Prayer for Parshat Terumah:
“The Eternal spoke to Moses, saying: Tell the Israelite people
to bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for me from every person
whose heart is so moved.” (Exodus 25:1)
God of Our Ancestors, You who call upon the People of Israel to practice generosity and acceptance,
Especially at dangerous times, may our hearts move us to speak carefully.  
May we accept one another’s sincerity instead of questioning each other’s integrity.
Especially at frustrating times may our hearts move us to act compassionately.
May we accept the legitimacy of each other’s concerns despite disputing each other’s facts.
Especially at painful times may our hearts move us to respond to troubles patiently.
May we accept the complexity of our crises rather than construing them conveniently.
Just as we want the things we bring and words we say to be accepted, appreciated and acknowledged, so, too, we should be willing to accept the contributions of others as extensions of what their hearts have moved them to do. We can disagree with their conclusions without challenging their decency.
On parshat Terumah, this Shabbat of gifts, O God, grant us the openness of mind and generosity of heart to hear each other, value each other and love each other.
May this be our blessing and let us say: Amen.
February 21, 2020
Cover: The Outcry of Desperate Syrians
As we gather in the comfort of our sanctuary and the warmth of our homes, we are confronted with the painful reality that thousands of internally displaced people in Syria have nearly nothing to cover them from the wind and cold. They have been rendered homeless by a civil war now approaching its ninth year. They will die if they return to their homes, and they will perish if they remain where they are. There is no roof over their heads. Their improvised tents are made from blankets.
This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim (Laws), offers an ominous admonishment against leaving people out in the cold: “If you take someone’s garment in pledge, you must return it before the sun sets; it is their only available clothing – it is what covers their skin. In what shall they sleep? Therefore, if they cry out to Me, I will pay heed, for I am compassionate.” (Exodus 22:25-26)

Right now, our fellow humans, with little cover between the elements and their skin, are crying out while world leaders leave them exposed to starvation, exhaustion and bitter cold. Perhaps we moderns don’t fear personal retribution from the Divine. Maybe God won’t judge us harshly. But make no mistake: If our leaders refuse to act, history will judge us harshly, and deservedly so. Here at Temple Adath Israel, our Shabbat evening announcements always end with these words. “As we leave, may we take the joy of each other’s company.” Instead of taking the warmth and joy of this place and of our homes for granted, we should share it with others. There are people in our country and around the world who need. No one should be left with nothing to cover them from the cold.
Please consider a donation to the Union of Reform Judaism Disaster Relief Fund, Jewish World Watch, Mercy Corps, Doctors Without Borders or The Red Cross, and call members of our Kentucky congressional delegation to encourage them to take urgent action to prevent further loss of life in Syria.
February 14, 2020
Yesterday: Love and Loss
on a Beatles-Themed Shabbat

I begin by way of apology, in both the modern and classical sense of the word. I’m sorry to insert a degree of sadness into a night dedicated to Beatles songs. It would be nice to “have nothing but joy,”(1) but we would be remiss not to acknowledge the heartbreak of handguns and firearms on the second anniversary of the mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School, a 21st-century Valentine’s Day massacre. 
The rock band U2, which draws greatly on the work of The Beatles, called its ode to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Pride (In the Name of Love),” and it is in the name of love that we accommodate the painful reality of loss on this joyful Shabbat. The Jewish wedding, a sanctification of love, requires that we shatter a glass to remind us that even in times of joy we remember there is sorrow that must be addressed lovingly. John Lennon, who lent his voice to the anti-war movement and whose lyrics championed the ideal of love, lost his life to the plague of gun violence. Lennon, who embraced King’s emphasis on love, soon will join the slain civil rights leader in a tragic club: people 40 or younger who have been dead longer than they were alive. Who can forget the ironic political cartoon, with its smoking gun and the word “yesterday,” that was published the morning after Lennon was killed? When Paul McCartney was asked why he attended the March for Our Lives rally in New York in 2018, he simply replied, “One of my friends was killed in gun violence right around here.” Much has been made of the 
fact that The Beatles didn’t always like one another. Perhaps we should pay a bit more attention to how much they loved one another.
Here in Lexington, we are trying to hold on to love amidst an onslaught of loss. Last year we set a record for homicides. Just a few days ago, Antwan Roberts, a 15-year-old student at Lafayette High School, was gunned down in his own home. The greatest need we have is for love. Lennon and his bandmates were right about that. Indeed, what we need is what jazz legend John Coltrane called “A Love Supreme.” A love that compels us to take action, listen up, reach out and heal the pain of “the brokenhearted people living in the world.”More guns and more metal detectors will breed more guns and metal detectors. Only when we love the rights of free speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion more than we love the right to bear arms will things ever be made right. Please go to the websites for March for Our Lives, the Religious Action Center, Brady: United Against Gun Violence, and Moms Demand Action to learn more about what we can do. The surest way to fulfill the commandment to “love Adonai your God with your heart, with all your soul and with all your might”(2) is to demonstrate love to one another.
Thank you to Jonathan Miller, Lisa Miller, Lorne Dechtenberg and Shir Adat for everything you have done to make tonight’s service so special.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
(1) Deuteronomy 16:15 
(2) Deuteronomy 6:5
February 7, 2020
Voting for World Zionist Congress

 As this presidential election year begins in earnest, it’s important that American Jews be aware of another election, for the World Zionist Congress, taking place through March 11, because it is essential that our Reform movement and our partners for progressive Judaism have a larger say over the activities of the World Zionist Organization (WZO) and The Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI). The WZO has a considerable budget and exerts a significant role within JAFI, a multimillion-dollar agency that principally supports immigrant absorption and related activities in Israel.
The number of votes we get in the WZO elections, held every five years, determines the degree of our influence. It affects how many seats the Reform slate gets at the table, what role it can play in the WZO leadership, and which WZO departments it will be able to head. Without a sizable progressive vote, intolerant, sexist and xenophobic groups will have a disproportionate influence within the WZO, which we have sadly seen in other Israeli institutions. The progressive wing is a check against misusing funds of the Jewish people to perpetuate discrimination and injustice within Israel.
If you are an adult Jew (at least 18 years old by June 30, 2020) living in the United States, did not vote in the last Israeli election and will not vote in the next, then you are eligible to vote. Our vote in the World Zionist Congress election is a critical opportunity to advance democracy and equality in Israeli society. Vote Reform!

To cast your vote, visit Azm.org/elections, then follow these instructions:
1. Click the “Vote Now” button, then, on the new page, “Register & Vote Now.”
2. Fill in your information and submit the form.
3. Check your email or text messages for your verification number, and enter the number you received.
4. Proceed to payment and hit submit. The fee to register and vote is $7.50, which covers the administrative costs of running the election. (Voters 25 and younger pay $5.)
5. You are now registered to vote. In a few moments, you will receive a PIN by email or text.
6. To begin the voting process, enter the PIN found in your registration email.
7. Select the Reform slate (listed second); it will say “Vote Reform: ARZA Representing the Reform Movement and Reconstructing Judaism.”
8. Submit your vote.
What makes Fridays in February different from all other nights? Normally, we begin services by asking everyone to turn off or silence their cell phones. This election is so important that at all Friday evening services this month we will allocate five minutes before our opening song and prayers for everyone to take out their phones and vote. Please forward the email confirming that you voted to rabbiw@lextai.org. A donation to ARZA (Association of Reform Zionists of America) will be made for every such email received. Voting instructions will be posted throughout the building, and reminders will be sent via email.
January 31, 2019 
Yet Another Prayer for Peace
Creator of all humankind, at this fearful moment we beseech You to bless Israeli and Palestinian leaders with wisdom, caution, compassion and restraint.
As tensions run high and pressures increase, we implore You to help our brothers and sisters throughout the region to choose reason over retaliation, reconciliation over revenge.
Neither rockets nor airstrikes can alleviate the resentment and mistrust that once again has brought on a new iteration of the same conflict.
Cain’s failure to resist the inclination to wrath, the temptation to lash out at Abel, resulted in their parents losing both of their sons.
May the leaders of the Middle East consider the prospect of more parents burying their children before succumbing to the siren song of provocation.
Confronted with the sight of more bloodshed, what comfort will there be in telling ourselves, “But we were provoked”?
Peace negotiations are long, hard and arduous, but continuing asymmetrical warfare has done nothing but perpetuate war.
God of Eve and Adam, of Abel and Cain, grant our leaders the resolve to fulfill Your commandment to “Seek peace and pursue it.”
May we realize the vision that has eluded us for far too long. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Nor shall they learn war anymore.” May this be our blessing and let us say:
January 24, 2019 
No Excuses: God’s Loving Refusal to Alter Expectations
Sometimes the most empowering thing we can do for someone is to refuse to accept excuses. The way God deals with Moses is a textbook example. Despite repeated appeals that God please choose someone to lead the enslaved Israelites to freedom, the Holy One is not having it. Moses reasonably asks, “Why would Pharaoh listen to me, a man with impeded speech?” It’s not difficult to imagine the scene Moses fears. There he is in Pharaoh’s court, trying to make radical demands, only to be stymied by a speech problem. Everyone is laughing at him. Neither the message nor the messenger will be taken seriously.
As the narrative progresses, we come to learn that this scene is the first of a three-part series in the relationship between God and Moses. When Moses askes to be excused from leading the people, the answer is no. After the catastrophe of the golden calf, when Moses asks to see God face to face, the answer is no. When Moses asks to cross into the Promised Land, the answer is no. In the first instance, God insists that Moses is capable of leadership. No excuses. In the second, God reminds Moses that, for all his uniqueness, Moses is a mortal who cannot look upon God’s face and live. No exceptions. In the third, God reinforces the timeless teaching that no one is above the law. Moses must accept the consequences for mocking the people instead of singing God’s praises back in Numbers when the rock gushed with water at the Almighty’s command.
   It is the first of these three interactions that sets the tone from the beginning, and it never changes throughout the next three books of the Torah. God fully understands we are not perfect. The Creator created us with talents and challenges.
We hope the young people at Friday night’s family service know that we will take your difficulties and limitations seriously. We will not ask the impossible of you. But we also owe it to you not to allow these things to be a hallow excuse for doing less than you’re capable of. And yes, we will keep on saying that you cannot quit, cannot get out of it, cannot be excused from making the effort before you have really given it a try. All of us are tempted by the desire to get out of doing difficult tasks, even someone as brave, wise and unselfish as Moses. Refusing to excuse people from doing what we know they are capable of might come across as harsh, unfair and frightening. But when we reflect more carefully, when we remember the confidence God had in Moses, we are reminded that refusing to accept excuses is actually a transformative act of love.
January 17, 2019 

Attica Scott and the Women of Exodus

On this Shabbat before Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we are honored to welcome state Representative Attica Scott of Louisville as our guest speaker. As we reopen The Book of Exodus this week, the narrative abruptly introduces the emergence of a cruel regime and the implementation of racist oppression. As things continue to deteriorate, it is the women, not the men, who offer acts of resistance. The midwives Shiphrah and Puah defy Pharaoh’s edict to drown the Hebrews’ newborn sons. Yocheved, Moses’ mother, refuses to hand over her child for slaughter. Miriam, his sister, refuses to stand by and do nothing as the basket containing little Moses flows down the river. Pharaoh’s daughter, who seems to have daddy wrapped around her little finger, refuses to allow an obviously Hebrew child to drown and brings him into the palace instead.
Like the heroines of Exodus, Attica Scott righteously refuses to be intimated, co-opted or silenced. Be it health care, education, the environment, gun violence or poverty, she forcefully advocates for positions consistent with that of the Religious Action Center of our Reform movement. No matter the chance for success, she refuses to give up, give in or turn her head and walk away from things that seem unbearable to watch.
After a year that marked the 400th anniversary of kidnapping fellow humans from Africa to serve as slaves, a year that witnessed the continuation of the #MeToo movement, a year that set a record for homicides in Lexington, we are blessed to listen to the words of a woman who refuses to be bullied into abandoning what she believes in. She is living proof that it is possible to fulfill the challenge posed by Ruth Messinger, Mahatma Gandhi, and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “to be the kind of leader we have been waiting for.” It is with gratitude and admiration that we welcome her tonight.
January 10, 2019 
Sex and Slavery, Then and Now
Slavery manifests itself in many forms. This week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, provides us with a bittersweet ending to the Bible’s opening book. At the climax of last week’s portion, Joseph and his brothers are reconciled. Jacob gets to spend his final years with the son he thought had been lost forever. The family is saved from terrible famine and internal feuding that could have destroyed them. But as this week’s reading begins, the text takes a more somber turn. Jacob’s parting words to his sons are filled with painful truths and serious worries. And for good reason. Going to Egypt does indeed save Jacob’s descendants from starvation, but it also sets in the motion a transition that will take them into slavery. So, when we gather to hear tonight’s speaker, Eileen Levy, from the anti-human trafficking organization The Well, it is with slavery, including sexual slavery, in mind.

We readers have known for a while that Joseph is safely in the palace. But according to a particular midrash (rabbinic folklore), Joseph’s brothers fear that he ended up selling himself on the streets of Egypt.[1] Sex slavery also asserts itself earlier in the biblical narrative, when Judah, one of Joseph’s older brothers, takes responsibility for his widowed daughter-in-law only after she “plays the harlot” for him.[2] Disguising herself as a prostitute was not something Tamar wanted to do; it was the only ploy she could think of to prevent actually becoming one. Clearly, “human trafficking,” though a relatively new term, is anything but a novel concept, as we as a people are well aware, having experienced poverty and persecution from slavery in Egypt, and Nazi concentration/extermination camps. 

Turning fellow humans into slaves, including sex slaves, has been with us throughout our history. Forcing anyone into prostitution is cruel and abusive. To target refugees, the undocumented, and those fleeing poverty and violence is even more disturbing. Over and over, Torah teaches us not to oppress strangers, foreigners, widows and orphans because we ourselves were oppressed in Egypt.

Tonight’s Shabbat speaker is here to help us better understand the extent to which human trafficking has become a crisis not only in our community and our country, but throughout the world. More importantly, she is here to tell us what we can do about it. Jacob and his children were far from perfect. So, too, are we. But we don’t have to be perfect to demand an end to human trafficking. Slavery, including sexual slavery, an act of gross inhumanity, can be alleviated only if we have the humanity to combat it. In this year that marks the 400th anniversary of bringing enslaved Africans to this continent, let us confront slavery in all its forms, no matter the victim, no matter the victimizer, no matter the type of force or coercion involved. As we turn from the grand aspirations of Genesis to the brutal suffering of Exodus, the time for The Well’s message is now.

[1] Beresheet Rabbah compiled in Israel between 300-500 CE, attributed to Rabbi Osha’yah. See Me’Am Lo’ez The Torah Anthology, Vol. 3B, page 388. Written by Rabbi Yaakov Culi (1689-1732). Translation by Rabbi Areyeh Kaplan (1934-1983) Moznaim Publishing, 1991.
[2] Genesis 38:24
January 3, 2019 
“I Am Joseph, Your Brother: 
A Test of Compassion at a Time of Crisis
The moving scene of reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers we read about in Vayigash, this week’s Torah portion, could not have come at a better time. Like the sons of Jacob, we American Jews have had no lack of infighting, resentment and distancing ourselves from one another. When Joseph chooses to put his family first and stops hiding behind the mask of being Pharaoh’s second in command, the dynamics between parties change dramatically. The injuries of the past seem less important than the potential for a better future.
The fact that our ultra-orthodox brothers and sisters are being targeted and terrorized does not negate our differences, but it should motivate us to put them in perspective. Wearing modern clothes and attaining greater access to power no more changes who we progressive Jews are on the inside than dressing and acting like Egyptian royalty did for Joseph. Like him, we know who we are and who are brothers are. The time has come to reach out to them in a strong and clear voice that says, “An attack on your community is an attack on ours.” It’s the moment to say, “Our shared history and common values are more important than our ritual and social disagreements.” 
If Joseph could overlook the rejection and pain inflicted by his brothers and help them in their hour of need, so can we. It’s harder to show camaraderie and compassion to those who have hurt us. If Torah teaches nothing else, it is that we are not the first generation to have family fights. Saving Egypt from starvation comes naturally to Joseph. Rescuing his father and brothers from the same fate takes far greater effort. It’s easier in some ways to feel compassion for our fellow humans seeking refuge at our border than for our fellow American Jews who drive us crazy sometimes. May we resolve to meet the test of compassion presented by this moment with same the generosity and humanity with which Joseph met his.
December 6, 2019 

Jacob’s Admission and the Journey of Humility

It takes integrity and courage to admit we don’t know something. Particularly in the information age, it’s easy to succumb to the expectation that we should be knowledgeable about everything. It’s true that people resent a know-it-all, but we can be equally impatient with those who prefer to say, “I don’t know.” One sometimes fears that uttering those words will make us look inept, unqualified or ill-prepared. It takes humility and confidence to trust that people will respect us for admitting we don’t have an answer to everything.
In this week’s Torah portion, Vayetze, Jacob awakens from his powerful dream of the heavenly ladder and says, “God is in this place, and I did not know.”The same Jacob whose only concern has been advancing his own interests regardless of their effect on others suddenly realizes that while you can run from your furious brother and heartbroken father, you cannot escape God’s presence. Or, to put the same idea in more humanistic terms, no matter where you’ve left, where you’re going and why you’re on the go, you cannot run from who you are, what you’ve done, and your responsibilities. Jacob has only just begun his journey, but his words after the dream are a significant step. 
Moved by Jacob’s admission, Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz (1730-1805) taught, “When can we experience God’s nearness? Only when we are suffused by ‘I don’t know,’ when we ourselves know that we do not know and do not pretend to have wisdom and insight.”2 May this teaching inspire us to disabuse ourselves of the misguided notion that we should have all the answers. May we find liberation from unreasonable expectations though our readiness to profess that we don’t know everything. And may we honor the courage of others to do the same by thanking them for their honesty rather than belittling them for it. 
Genesis 28:16
The Torah: A Modern Commentary; Rabbi Gunther Plaut, URJ Press, 1981 page 197.
December  2019 Bulletin Article

What Hanukkah teaches about making
things happen


According to the Talmud, when the Maccabees reclaimed the Temple in Jerusalem, they found a cruse of oil thought to contain only enough fluid to burn for one day, but miraculously it lasted for eight. The tale is intriguing on so many levels. What does it teach about sacred space, use of resources and what we leave behind? To some degree the story is reminiscent of how the Prophet Elisha feeds the masses with loaves and fishes that could only serve a few. The lesson seems to be that the question before us is not one of resources but of faith. If God sees that our needs are legitimate and our intentions are good, then what seems insufficient will suffice. The issue is not scarcity of material but our readiness to believe in miracles.

If only it were so. Rather, it seems that people prefer to rely on miracles than to formulate plans. For better or worse, real life is not like the Torah or Talmud. Coaches, instructors, teachers, mentors and friends impart different articulations of the following lesson: The best we can expect at game time, performance time or test time is that what we do then will be as good as our best practice, rehearsal or preparation exercise. Expecting that we will somehow be better, perform better or do better is wishful thinking. There is nothing wrong in wishing or praying for a miracle. What is wrong is to mistake hoping for a miracle with making a plan. Moreover, it is irresponsible to rely on a miracle when people are counting on us to meet our obligations.

The miracle of the cruse of oil teaches us that people are relying on what we leave behind. What story would there be if those who fled the Temple had not secreted away any oil at all? Someone had the composure and foresight to think about what the redeemers of the Temple might need one day. Someone had to have faith that despite the military unlikelihood of it, the Temple would be ours again, and oil would be needed. Faith is not a license to forgo responsibility to the future. Faith requires the commitment to a better future even in the face of present circumstances and demands.

We cannot relegate the responsibility of leaving a sustainable congregation, community, nation or planet to hopes and prayers. Leaving behind insufficient resources and utter messes for future generations is to break faith with those who provided for us and rightfully expected us to do the same for those to come. We cannot justify leaving only enough breathable air and drinkable water to last a few years because we are counting on science and technology to make it last for centuries. “Maybe they will find solutions we cannot even imagine” is not a plan; it’s a cop-out.

The story about the cruse of oil still has the power to inspire. Finding something useful amidst disaster is a theme worth employing to rekindle our efforts when morale is low. But the only practical way to leave enough oil for eight days is to provide enough oil for eight days. Future generations, faced with the challenges of managing congregations, communities and indeed the world itself, will receive little comfort from the knowledge that we fervently prayed for a miracle. What is required of us is to take the difficult measures and make the necessary sacrifices for our descendants to have an existence as good as, if not better than, ours. The Maccabees did not rely on a miracle to save them. Through remarkable efforts they achieved a result we call miraculous.

Happy Hanukkah!
Rabbi David 






November 22, 2019

 “The Slave’s Prayer”
Sometimes a single word can make a world of difference. In his 1981 masterpiece, “The Torah: A Modern Commentary,” Rabbi Gunther Plaut refers to the supplication by the man Abraham has sent to find a wife for Isaac as “The Servant’s Prayer.” Fast forward to the revised edition in 2005, and Plaut’s three-paragraph reflection on the same passage is titled “The Slave’s Prayer.” As has been pointed out repeatedly, this year marks the 400th anniversary of African slavery on this continent. Whether during colonial times or after independence from Great Britain, slaver — and the forms of racial oppression that continued after its abolition — remains a moral failure for which we have yet to atone.
Noting Plaut’s change in nomenclature has motivated me to prepare a sermon and/or Torah study comparing and contrasting the prayer of Abraham’s slave with those of African-Americans subject to the same cruel and unjust institution. That project will take some time. For now, I’ll offer the following thought: One of the many painful steps in addressing the injustices of slavery, lynching, segregation and mass incarceration is to use language and terminology free of euphemisms and apologetics for that which can never be undone or conveniently compartmentalized as a problem of the past. 
Rabbi Plaut, whose family fled Nazi Germany and who served in the U.S. Army as a frontline chaplain in his native country during World War II, knew all to well the cost of hatred, oppression and war. Let us honor his legacy and those like him by making a deliberate effort to stop using gentle terms for grotesque practices.
It was wrong for our biblical ancestors to engage in slavery, and it was woefully wrong of Americans before us to practice its grave brutality in what was supposed to be a place of greater liberty. A basic step in addressing the failings of our past is to address all forms of pain we have caused by their proper names.
November 15, 2019
Mourning and Grieving: The First Yahrzeit for the Victims
of Terrorist Attacks in Louisville and Pittsburgh
This Shabbat marks the first Hebrew calendar anniversary of the mass shooting at Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh. At tonight’s service we will read the names of the victims; light the same memorial candles we used at last year’s vigil; and share a special version of the El Malay Rachamim (the funerary prayer for God’s compassion) written by Rabbi Jonathan Perlman, who narrowly escaped being killed. Shir Adat will lead us in song, and Jerry Suhl and Lauren Hill will sing “He Was My Brother,” a haunting ballad from the Civil Rights era, just as they did when we gathered together with the support of our neighbors a year ago.
We can’t speak for the rest of American Jewry, but for those of us in our state, we will never forget that the murders of our fellow Jews at a Pittsburgh synagogue happened just days after a racist terrorist gunned two African-American Kentuckians at a grocery store in Louisville after his attempt to shoot up a church proved unsuccessful. We lit 13 memorial candles, not just 11, a year ago. Tonight will be no different. The tallit (prayer shawl) from which we cut off many knots and dabbed with many drops of wine at last year’s vigil will be on hand, too.
According to Jewish custom, there are at least two major changes at the end of the first year of grieving someone. We stop saying Mourner’s Kaddish on a daily or weekly basis, and we return to attending celebrations and discretionary activities that are discouraged or prohibited to those in mourning. 
The relationship between the two is intriguing. We are simultaneously relieved of the requirement to recite the most solemn of prayers and released from restrictions that curtail opportunities to experience joy. For a solid year we are challenged not to diminish sadness by distracting ourselves with celebration. At the end of that year we are asked to desist from the duties of mourning even if we are not feeling up to expectations of trying to be happy. 
While the observances of mourning are limited to a year, the work of grieving remains with us for as long as we live. We can let go of the rituals that designate us for one year as mourners. What we cannot relinquish are the sadness and pain these rituals help us address. Saying Mourner’s Kaddish and lighting a candle for yahrzeit (the anniversary of death) and yizkor (the memorial service of Yom Kippur and the three festivals) allows those still grieving to join those in mourning, and reminds those in mourning that they never have to stop grieving. In the technical or pietistic sense of the term, those who lost spouses, parents, children or siblings a year ago can stop mourning now. But not only will we never ask them to stop grieving, we promise to remain with them in their grief. 
It’s hard to believe that we have reached this solemn milestone. To acknowledge death, especially violent death, is to acknowledge a difficult truth. This is why our blessing before kriah (cutting the black ribbon worn for seven days) contains the words “Blessed are you, Adonai, the true judge.” The racist and anti-Semitic killings of last year have forced us to adjust to ugly truths about the real threat white-supremacy poses. It was also a brutal reminder that we are not immune to the epidemic of gun violence that takes more innocent lives every day.
Please consider commemorating the lives that were brutally taken last year by giving blood, making a financial contribution to worthy causes, and donating time to organizations that promote the values of peace, compassion and justice. 
May the memory of the victims be a blessing and may those who mourn them find peace. 
Shabbat Shalom
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
Click here to read the URJ statement on the current conflict in Israel.  
November 8, 2019
Surmounting the Wall:
Abraham, Sarah and The End of the Soviet Era
The moment we celebrate today in world history and the Torah portion we study this week contain a common lesson. Things are not always as they seem. That which we deem impossible, problems we label intractable, hopes we fear are lost, may not be as out of reach as circumstances have led us to believe. As the adventures of Abraham and Sarah unfold in parshat Lech-Lecha, (meaning “Go forth”) we readers often wonder why God would ask a man of 75 and a woman of 65, married for decades without having a child, to start a new people. True you have to start sometime, but is this a logical place to start? Indeed, the couple does not conceive a child when either of them are in their seventies or eighties. Rather, it occurs when Sarah is ninety and Abraham is a hundred. Despite legitimate reasons for doubt and cynicism it is not too late for them after all.
It’s not too late for us either. This week commemorates the thirtieth anniversary of the Berlin wall coming down. In high school and college our teachers told us that we should anticipate the reality of two diametrically opposed nuclear superpowers to remain with us for the rest of our lives. Nothing on the immediate horizon, they said, suggested otherwise. Thirty years later there are plenty of experts who claim they told us it was coming all along. Almost no one was saying it would come so quickly at the time. The end of Soviet domination of Eastern Europe brought sweeping change to millions of people. Authoritarian rule has sadly returned to far too many places in the Former Soviet Union, but that should not diminish the significance of what happened thirty years ago or allow us to lose sight of the lesson that progress is possible.
So many of our challenges today often seem insurmountable. The persistence of gun violence, the worldwide refugee crisis, air and water pollution, corruption, cruelty, bigotry and extremism. It behooves us to remember that the Cold War, apartheid and violence in Northern Ireland, situations that seemed resistant to intervention, protest and pressure of all kinds, did indeed change radically for the better. Historians have the benefit of hindsight to help them identify which actions proved most effective, when public opinion shifted, and leaders realized that the status quo was no longer sustainable. Like Abraham and Sarah, the rest of us have to live moment to moment, wondering if and when change will come and whether anything we do is making a difference. The miracle of their having a child late in life, and the dismantling of the Berlin wall are reminders that not knowing when our dreams will be realized cannot be used as an excuse for abandoning them. Abraham and Sarah surmounted a wall of anxiety and doubt by persisting against all odds in the hopes of having a child together. The people of East Berlin literally tore down a wall built to curtail freedom of movement, thought and expression. May we honor the conviction of our biblical ancestors, and the courage of those throughout history who sacrificed to make a better world, by surmounting the walls of injustice, poverty, and inequality through maintaining our efforts for the causes we believe in and holding on to hope no matter how hopeless things appear to be.
November 1, 2019
The Great Flood and Our Great Challenge

The offenses compelling God to wipe out the entire earth in this week’s Torah portion, Noach, are rather short on details. The Creator’s blanket indictment that the world is full of “corruption and violence” is lacking in who, what, when, where, and why. God wipes out everyone and everything except Noah’s family and one male and one female of every species, hence the “twosies twosies” lyric in the Sunday School classic “Rise and Shine.” All joking aside this is the ultimate reminder that it’s not our earth, it’s God earth. Or if you prefer a secular articulation of the same assertion; It’s not for any one of us to treat the earth as if it were ours alone or to be inhumane to fellow human beings.  This planet belongs to all humankind and all humankind should relate to it and one another accordingly.

We are alarmed at the way God expresses displeasure in this story, yet the narrative seems more and more relatable to our present-day reality. How many times can we have two five hundred-year floods within five years of each other and continue to act as if we should just keep on declaring state of emergencies without doing anything to prevent them? Isn’t “corrupt” a fitting term to describe a society that would
rather appease wealthy polluters than protect vulnerable people? This does not mean that the frequency and intensity of floods are God’s way of punishing us for our sins. What is does mean is that we need to take these things more seriously and act with a greater sense of urgency. To think about and relate to the environment as our responsibility and not someone else’s. That there is a social and moraldimension to how we treat the earth. That there are lessons to be learned from what is happening, particularly when the same things keep happening.

Whether you are a member of TAI or visiting us from another house of worship, please consider attending the “Single Use Plastics Summit for Faith Communities” Tuesday, November 19, 6-7:30 p.m. at Second Presbyterian Church, donating to your favorite environmental charity, and improving your current recycling and composting efforts. The least we can do to cherish the beautiful world God has given us is not to take it or one
another for granted.


October 31, 2019

Thoughts on the first anniversary of our Pittsburg vigil

A year ago tonight religious leaders, elected officials, public safety workers, and neighbors of all faiths filled Nordsworthy auditorium to show their support after the fatal terrorist hate crimes in Louisville and Pittsburgh left us grief stricken. We will never forget this act of kindness and solidarity. Thank you especially to the FCPS main office for providing a space that could accommodate the overwhelming turnout. Our congregation will commemorate the anniversary of the violence on the Hebrew date, but it seems only fitting to thank our neighbors according to the calendar we share with you.

May love and reason yet triumph over fear and hate. May our country become a place where civility and decency are practiced by all of us, no matter our religion, race, class, gender, sexual orientation or nation of origin. May the words we heard and things we witnessed a year ago tonight inspire us to lead lives of goodness everyday of our lives.

To our fellow Lexingtonians we say Todah Rabah. Thank you for the message your presence sent to us a year ago. To watch that auditorium fill up with friends was an act of love we will never forget. As the psalm teaches: “Those who sow in tears will reap in joy.” In the Jewish world when we depart from a house of mourning we say “Next time on a simcha, (a happy occasion). May we soon gather together in the hundreds to celebrate the defeat of racism, sexism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, xenophobia, bigotry, bullying, violence, selfishness, greed and deceit.

As Rev Mark Johnson of Central Baptist teaches: “It’s not OK but it’s going to be OK.”
A day of truth is coming. A day of justice is coming. A day of freedom is coming. A day of love is coming. A day of healing is coming. A day of joy is coming. And although it can’t come soon enough the time is coming soon. May all of us live to dance and sing on that great day. And let us work to make it so.


October 25, 2019

Timely Reminders and Torah Related Arts
Watching Sofer (scribe) Neil Yerman diligently working here at Temple the last couple of days have helped me to recognize something I hadn’t sufficiently considered before. The craft of writing or rewriting the scroll itself is only one of the arts we rely on every time we take a Torah out of the ark. As he assessed the eitz chayim the wooden rollers, and as we removed the mantles, breastplates, pointers finials, and binders, I arrived at a better appreciation of the metalwork, needlepoint, weaving, dyeing, and carpentry it takes to provide us with the things we need to protect and decorate the scroll itself. Everything we use in a Torah service is a work of art. These beautiful objects and the artists who made them have lessons to teach and stories to tell.
This Shabbat and weekend we are celebrating the Torah scrolls themselves. Tonight, Professor Randall Roorda will be telling us the story of Turnov, the original home of our Holocaust Torah scroll. Though the Jews of Turnov were slaughtered, their Torah scroll survives and we here at Temple Adath Israel are honored to preserve and protect it. Now, thanks to the work of Sofer Yerman and all of those who have donated time and money to this project, we can actually read from it more often and with greater assurance of its health than has been possible for a long time. Tonight is different from all other nights in that instead of a sermon in the sanctuary we will be treated to Randall’s remarks in the library. After Mourner’s Kaddish and closing song we will go from the former space to the latter and after the conclusion of Randall’s presentation, adjourn to the social hall for oneg.
Sunday at 1:30 PM we will be celebrating the restoration and rededication of all three of our scrolls, taking the time to read a little bit from each. Dr. Lorne Dechtenberg, our Musician-in-Residence, will lead us in song and Sofer Yerman will share some brief thoughts about how the Turnov scroll speaks to us today. Once again, I’d like to thank co-chairs Deborah Flomenhoft and Amy Gewirtz, along with Temple President, Deborah Nelson for all the hard work and coordination required to make this project something the whole congregation can participate in.
Postscript Regarding Pittsburgh:
As Ecclesiastes teaches, there is a season for everything and a time for every purpose. This Sabbath and weekend our focus is on celebrating the work on our Torah scrolls, but we have not forgotten Pittsburgh. Rather, we will honor the memory of those who were killed at Tree of Life according to the date on the Hebrew Calendar, the third Sabbath of the month of Heshavan, corresponding to the Sabbath of November 15-16 in the Gregorian calendar this year. Please join us that Friday evening when the focus of our service will be commemorating the first anniversary of the unconscionable violence on that terrible day.

October 11, 2019

   Mazel tov to tonight’s consecrants and your families. A week ago we gathered with those celebrating 50-plus years of marriage; tonight, we are here to celebrate 4-, 5-, and 6-year olds as they begin a lifelong journey of Jewish learning. L’dor v’dor (from generation to generation), these are sacred occasions bound together by the values of commitment, dedication and devotion. 
   Marriage is a form of consecration. The Jewish wedding vow says: “Behold you are consecrated unto me by this ring in keeping with the laws of Moses and Israel.” Like a wedding, consecration take places under a chuppah (canopy) and/or a tallit (prayer shawl). Just as beloveds are entering into a sacred relationship with one another, consecrants are sanctifying the beginning of their relationship with formal religious education. 
   In keeping with the parallels between the two, here are seven blessings for tonight’s consecrants and their families.
   May learning be sweet as honey.
   May Torah always be meaningful even when its lessons are difficult.
   May you build lifelong friendships as you continuously explore your faith.
   May the knowledge of Torah deepen self-knowledge.
   May self-knowledge deepen appreciation of Torah.
   May you take the lessons you learn here into the world around you.
   And may you share the things you love and lessons you learn beyond these walls with the loving people inside them.
   Congratulations to you and your families, and thank you to the teachers who have taken on the sacred task of raising up the next generation of active, engaged and caring Jews.

October 4, 2019

   As of this writing, there are seven couples who plan to participate in tonight’s service honoring those who have been married 50 years or more. Seven is considered an auspicious number in many cultures and religions, including ours. There are seven days in the week with the Day of Rest assigned to the seventh. Torah prescribes seven days of celebration for Sukkot and Passover. The Sabbatical laws include the commandment that every seven years farmers are to let their fields lie fallow. But of greatest relevance for tonight’s celebration is that the second half of the Jewish wedding service contains the unit known as the seven blessings. In fact, some people use the words sheva brachot (seven blessings) as another term for a wedding ceremony. So, in honor of the seven couples gracing us with their presence, here are seven blessings for reaching the 50-plus milestone:
   Just as you have blessed and inspired us with your love
for one another, tonight we share this blessing with you.
May the Source of Love bless you with abounding affection.
   May the Source of Strength bless you with patience,
persistence and perseverance.
   May the Source of Compassion bless you with kindness
and gentleness.
   May the Source of Wisdom bless you with discernment, judgment and insight.
   May the Source of Courage nurture your resolve to face challenges with hope and optimism.
   May the Source of Joy bless you with happiness and
holiness, lots of laughter and long life.
May the Source of Peace bless you, your families, and all who love you with the wholeness and oneness that only peace can provide. And let us say together: Amen.

September 27, 2019

A Pre-High Holiday Update on the Torah Project
   Thursday afternoon I had the opportunity to enjoy a few one-on-one “office hours” with our scribe (sofer) Neil Yerman. I worked with Neil once before in my Bay Area days, so it’s all the more meaningful to be partnering again after almost 15 years. Neil’s love of Torah, dedication to his craft and enthusiasm for teaching know no bounds.
   Like any serious endeavor, the restoration efforts on all three of our scrolls have involved changes and challenges. We understood from the beginning that the parchment on the Turnov (Holocaust) scroll was so delicate that it would be unwise to restore some sections. Balaam’s unexpected blessing of the wandering Israelites was among the passages on our wish list, but upon closer examination Thursday, we determined that the risks of restoring these verses were too high to make the attempt. The Priestly Benediction, a blessing we say on Shabbat and festivals, and the story of Moses striking the rock can be restored safely, so the Book of Numbers still will be well represented. Neil felt badly about “the patient (the Balaam story) not being strong enough for the surgery,” so he generously offered to restore a passage of Deuteronomy, Etem Nitzavim, that we read each year on Yom Kippur. This means the Turnov scroll will be viable to read from for all High Holiday passages: The Binding of Isaac (Genesis), Moses’ Charge to the People (Deuteronomy), and the Holiness Code (Leviticus).
   Like most worthwhile “progress reports,” there is a degree of good news and bad. The bad news is that due to the demanding nature of the restoration process, we won’t have the Turnov scroll with us for the High Holy Days this year. The good news is we will have it in time for our celebration on Sunday, Oct. 27, when Sofer Yerman will be spending the weekend with us. Also in the good news column is we can celebrate our restored Turnov scroll at this time next year by using it for all three High Holy Days readings.
   I hope you’ll join me in taking this opportunity to make a donation online or by check to our Torah Project and to thank the co-chairs of this extensive undertaking, Amy Gewirtz and Deborah Flomenhoft, for all their hard work.
   May our final Shabbat of 5779 be peaceful and may 5780 be a good and sweet year.
September 20, 2019
Good Things Come in Threes:
This Shabbat’s Scholar-in-Residence
and 2 More Communitywide Opportunities
   During the next 24 hours, you have three opportunities to hear a world-class scholar here in Lexington. Tonight at Temple, tomorrow morning at Ohavay Zion Synagogue and tomorrow evening back at our congregation, Professor Louis Newman of Stanford University will be speaking on the timely topic of repentance. In collaboration with OZS, the Jewish Federation of the Bluegrass and The Lexington Havurah, all three of these opportunities are open to anyone who wants to participate. We even have taken the unusual step of cancelling Saturday morning Kollel and Torah study at TAI to encourage our members to attend services, including Professor Newman’s remarks, at OZS.
   During these times of shifting demographics and limited resources, it’s more important than ever that we in the Jewish community strengthen our capacity to coordinate rather than duplicate these kinds of enrichment opportunities. I want to thank our community partners for lending their name and financial support for this undertaking. Securing this many speaking engagements by someone of Professor Newman’s stature would have been far more difficult without their help. We should regard this as a reminder of what we can do when we put our heads and resources together. Services tonight are 7, the regular time. Worship at OZS begins tomorrow at 9:30 a.m. (Professor Newman will speak after the Torah service, so please arrive no later than 10:30 if you can’t be there at the beginning.) Things begin here tomorrow evening with Havdalah at 8, followed by a study program led by our visiting scholar, a brief social period with refreshments, and Selichot services at 9:30.
   This Shabbat represents the first of three fall events we are doing in this collaborative manner. On Sunday, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m., “Top Chef” finalist and Jewish Kentuckian Sara Bradley will be here with her mother for “Top Nosh,” a culinary and cultural event for all of us to share. Later that same week are our annual Moosnick scholar-in-residence offerings with Rabbi Mira Wasserman, Ph.D.; her topic will be #MeToo from a Jewish perspective. At 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 6, at Transylvania University, Rabbi Wasserman will be part of a panel, moderated by our own Professor Shana Sippy, with Christian and Muslim leaders and scholars discussing religious responses to sexism and sexual harassment. At 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 7, at TAI, Rabbi Wasserman will focus with greater intensity on what the religious, ethical and social implications of this crisis are for us as modern Jews.

September 13, 2019

The 50+ Service Is for You
   Today, Sept. 13, 2019, would have been the 60th anniversary of my parents’ marriage. A black-and-white picture from their wedding day sits in my office.  Standing in front of the red brick house in Petersburg, Va., where my mother was raised, my father’s left hand rests gently on my mother’s right as she cuts the cake. They look so happy, so young, so in love. Some people even say the handsome couple looked like Elliott Gould and Ali MacGraw.
    But life isn’t lived in the realm of “would have beens.” We have what was, what is and what might be. My father died just short of what would have been the happy couple’s 45th anniversary. 
In just a few weeks, on Friday, Oct. 4, we will be celebrating our annual Sabbath honoring couples who have been married 50 years or more. It’s a beautiful service, and I look forward to it every year. A few new couples join the group each year. This leads to a lot of cute teasing, because couples who have been married for 60 and even 70-plus years sometimes look at the newcomers the way college seniors look at incoming freshman.  And, of course, there comes a time when a couple’s names no longer appear on the list. That can feel so unfair, so arbitrary, so unkind. It takes a lot of effort to join this group. You join it as a couple, and then one day one of you departs. You leave the group as a couple, though one of you is still here.
    There’s no way to really mitigate the unfairness of it. We can’t live in the realm of what would have been. But there are some things we can do to make the service more inclusive for those who desperately wish they had made it into “the club” or still were part of it. Anyone who wishes to share the date of their anniversary, whether you “made it” to 50 years or not, or if your spouse’s death took your names off the list, is lovingly invited to do so. No one gets married planning on not reaching this milestone or leaves the group because they want to. Love isn’t the only force that determines the duration of a marriage. Luck plays a part, too. The second thing we can do is have a special memorial ritual akin to a second yahrzeit or Yizkor service. If you wish, we will list the name of your deceased spouse as part of the evening’s commemoration. You also can choose to have your spouse’s name read right before kaddish. Thirdly, and perhaps more importantly, we can clarify who this service is for. It celebrates the good luck of “50-plus” couples, but it also celebrates the love of all couples. Widows and widowers are more than welcome to attend. It won’t be easy. Believe me, I understand that. But our sadness over what would have been need not keep us from sharing in the happiness of what is. Everyone is encouraged to attend. Everyone has something to celebrate. 
   One of the many interpretations for breaking a glass at the end of the Jewish wedding ceremony is to remind us that even at the happiest moments we can’t ignore that there is sadness and brokenness in our world. You don’t have to exclude yourself from this service for fear it will make you sad or that your sadness will diminish the joy of others. Weddings and anniversaries are always emotionally inclusive and diverse. There are a lot of different feelings making their presence felt at the same time. Celebrating doesn’t demand that the only thing we’re feeling is happiness. Celebrating means appreciating that life —  unfair, arbitrary and unkind as it can be -also provides us with moments of joy, kindness and love. Please call the office to RSVP for a complimentary dinner that evening, sponsored by a couple from the congregation, then attend the service whether you’ve been married a few months, a few years or a few decades, or never married. It’s a night to celebrate love no matter how long we’re lucky enough for it to last.

September 6, 2019


   This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, (meaning judges) begins with three interrelated commandments. First the community must appoint judges and magistrates. Second these individuals must be impartial and free from corruption. Thirdly the people must pursue justice if they hope to thrive in the promised land (Deuteronomy 16:18-20). Peace and progress are not unconditional guarantees. They are contingent on a society dedicated to justice. Judges can not maintain justice in a vacuum.   
   Ironically, it was just yesterday that we rabbis who have had the good fortune to travel to Guatemala with American Jewish World Service received word that any number of judges in that nation are now afraid for their lives. Judges who maintained the rule of law, sent corrupt officials and war criminals to jail, and refused to be intimidated by government threats are now terrified about the potential fall out of anti-corruption laws being overturned and those who violated them released. Human rights advocates lauded these judges as Guatemala’s fire wall against things becoming even worse. That fire wall has now become imperiled by approaching flame.      We sometimes forgot how dangerous being a judge can be, especially in dictatorships, failed states and countries coping with extreme poverty and violence.  I can’t hear about foreign journalists being imprisoned, kidnapped or killed without thinking about my brother Jacob. Nor can I learn about judges anywhere being threatened without thinking about my brother Benjamin, a Superior Court Judge in California. No righteous judge anywhere in the world should be faced with threats of retaliation for fulfilling their obligations to justice. There can be no just society when judges are coerced or corrupted by injustice.
   On this Sabbath named for judges may we be mindful of the role they play, grateful for the integrity it requires, and watchful so that no nation can intimidate its judges with impunity.



August 30, 2019

Timely Words of Torah for This Weekend’s Hurricane Crisis:
A Prayer for the People of Florida
“Do not harden your heart and shut your hand against the needy. Rather you must open your hand and lend whatever is sufficient to meet the need. (Deuteronomy 15:7-8)”
These words from R’eih, this week’s Torah portion, couldn’t be more timely. As Hurricane Dorian bears down on Florida, may we demonstrate the generosity of open hands and the concern of open hearts.
God of Caring and Compassion. We pray that the people of Florida, bracing once again for damage and disruption, find the strength and persistence they need to cope for yet another crisis.
We pray that lives, and homes and neighborhoods will be spared.
We pray the response from state and federal agencies will be swift, generous and comprehensive.
We pray that assistance will be offered to everyone who may be impacted by this impending crisis, regardless of race, religion or class.
May the faith and fortitude with which Florida has rallied itself so many times before be summoned upon again in this latest hour of need.
May the Source of Hope help Floridians to hold on to hope no matter what happens.
May the Source of Love inspire us to offer open hands as we pray for those in harm’s way.
May this be our promise. And let us say: Amen.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
For ways we can help please see the links to disaster relief agencies below:

August 23, 2019

Food for Thought on Parshat Ekev
   Every now and then life provides moments when the words and events of Torah and the present come together. This week we study parshat Ekev, wherein we find the famous words, “Man (or human beings) cannot live on bread alone.” The culinary effort of the week here at Temple has been baking challah for our upcoming Jewish Food Festival. I cannot resist the factual pun that the Bakers were among the bakers this week. Nor will I keep from kvelling (Yiddish for beaming or crowing) that my teenage daughter and her friends were also among the busy volunteers kneading and braiding in the kitchen. To watch someone braid the challah and then shape it into the round loaves we enjoy at the High Holy Days is to observe artwork being made. Yet beautiful as it might be, we cannot live by bread alone. Neither could our biblical ancestors on their long wilderness journey. As Deuteronomy, and centuries later Maslow, points out, we have needs that go far beyond those met by kneading.
   Other passages attribute the 40 years of wandering as a punishment for lack of faith and obedience. Ekev conveys that God’s purpose was “to test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts: whether you would keep the divine commandments or not.” Consequences and character building are two different things, even if they often feel very much the same. God understands that the Israelites need more than manna (food from Heaven), even if they don’t. What the people need is to gain confidence and accountability in God and in one another. Neither of these things mattered as slaves. The only party to whom they were accountable in Egypt were Pharaoh’s taskmasters. The only laws were Pharaoh’s laws, and Pharaoh’s laws kept them enslaved.
    After hundreds of years of slavery, once they no longer were his, Pharoah won’t even allow them a few peaceful minutes for their bread to rise. Their survival had some value when they were his property; it means nothing to him now. He has promised God to free them not feed them. God, by contrast, insists that the one is useless without the other. Freedom without sufficient resources is a brutal farce. One cannot know liberty while starving to death. Nor does the absence of hunger prove the presence of freedom any more than the absence of violence proves the presence of peace. We cannot live by bread or freedom alone. As Pirke Avot “Sayings of Our Ancestors,” teaches: “Without flour there is no Torah and without Torah there is no flour.” May the blessing of sustenance provide food for thought. And may freedom of thought feed our appetite to act.

August 16, 2019

The following is a modified version of a letter I am sending.

Dear Friends at Hispanic Ministries of Catholic Diocese of Lexington,
   With heavy hearts we write to express sadness and dismay at the mass shooting in El Paso, Texas. As a people with a long history as exiles, deportees, immigrants, refugees and asylees, we know what it is, from Pharaoh to the Third Reich to this very day, to be falsely targeted as strangers with ill intent. The xenophobic rantings that the assailant parroted from mass media bigots is yet another painful reminder of how quickly defamatory words can lead to deadly acts. This week we Jews throughout the world study the portion from Deuteronomy containing the Ten Commandments. Once again, we have seen how the sixth and ninth commandments are inextricably linked. When the flawed sense of entitlement to bear false witness against our neighbors goes unchecked, perpetrators feel encouraged to continue on a path that all too often leads to murder. The rationalization that it is acceptable to do the first enables the ideation to commit the second.
   We weep for those who lost their lives and for the devastated loved ones they left behind. The fear and intimidation that this terrorist has wrought are utterly antithetical to our religious and democratic values. We condemn hate speech and violence as Americans and people of faith no matter who the victims and victimizers might be. We cannot deny that extremists such as the deranged shooter in El Paso exist. Nor, however, should we lose sight of the fact that the vast majority of Americans reject his ideology and maintain the belief that our nation should be a place where everyone is entitled to dignity, freedom and the opportunity to succeed.
   Together with you we will work and pray for the day when the spirit of brotherhood will dispel the virus of bigotry from our land; a day when we will fulfill the sacred commandment that our Creator has charged us to do, that we love and care for one another as fellow human beings bound together in the humanity and holiness we are blessed to share. Together may we realize the words of Scripture: “Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.”
   Wishing you strength and comfort in this time of sorrow and pain,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter

July 19, 2019

A Blessing for Bravery Before Bullies:
An Appreciation to Those for Whom “Go Back Where You Came From” Goes Too Far
   Let us be grateful for the elected officials and influential leaders in the president’s party for standing up to him by criticizing his latest hateful outbursts. The moral courage required to do so should not go unnoticed or unappreciated. Like any act of courage, it comes with personal, political and professional risks. Just as the prophet Nathan stood up to King David and Solomon, and the prophet Elijah to King Ahab, so, too, these members of the president’s party have shown the integrity, humanity and fortitude to denounce someone with the power to hurt them in any number of ways. We don’t have to agree with them on a single issue to acknowledge the risks they are taking for the sake of the common good.
   Be it bullies on the block or the playground, in the classroom or boardroom or the breakroom, there’s no one who hasn’t felt the bitterness of their barbs or the force of their fists. They prey on those with less power, privilege and prestige. They never pick on someone their own size. It’s crass and dishonest to say that the president’s critics within his own party spoke out because they had nothing to lose. There’s always something to lose when we stand up to bullies. They can and they will make their displeasure felt.
   Whether it’s “you can’t play here, you can’t join here, you can’t work here, you can’t be here”;   whether we’re young or old; gay or straight; black or white; male or female; Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Daoist or atheist; rich or poor, native-born or newcomer, there’s nothing like the meanness conveyed in the message that we don’t belong. That we’re not welcome somewhere. Until and unless someone shows bravery before bullies, we have little or no reason not to believe that everyone, or most everyone, hates us as much as they do. The president’s critics within his own party provided that much-needed confrontation. Far better than a teacher putting a stop to the bullying is when other students do. Constructive peer pressure is a powerful thing. The peer pressure within his own party might not change the president’s ways, but it certainly has gotten his attention. There is a tendency for bullying in all of us. The reality that restrains it is rooted in the fear of losing our friends, not that of offending our opponents. These conscientious men and women within the president’s party definitely have something to lose, but their willingness to stand up to him serves notice that so does he.
   So, to all those in the president’s party who have said to him that these latest attacks go too far, this blessing, adapted from our liturgy, is for you. May the words of your mouths and the mediations of your hearts be commendable in the sight of The Rock and Redeemer of all humanity. May it be that if a president in other parties proves to be as bad or worse a bully than this one, that the leaders of that party show the same courage as you. And may it be that when the history of these horrid statements is studied years from now, you are remembered for goodness, blessing, life and peace.

July 12, 2019

Shabbat Message I
   Honoring Shabbat and Participating in Protest
  As a rule, neither our congregation nor I officially sponsors or encourages events that conflict with Shabbat services or Saturday morning study sessions. There is a rabbinic principle, however, that under severe circumstances we can compromise a ritual commandment to honor a moral one. Even the strictest Jewish authorities say you can break the laws of Shabbat or festivals to save a life, rush someone to the hospital or call an ambulance.
  Reform Judaism asks us to consider exceptions to religious practice in an informed and sensitive manner. Our movement and its affiliates, the Central Conference of American Rabbis and the Religious Action Center, have made our concerns about the crisis at the southern border and circumstances in detention centers abundantly clear. One could make an argument that protesting the life-threatening situation on our border and the unacceptable conditions in detention facilities meets a definition of pikuach nefesh (saving a life). Under current circumstances, lives are being endangered, compromised and even lost because of the desperate measures people are prepared to take to enter our country and the appalling living conditions in which people are being detained. Attending a protest on this issue is not quite the same as rescuing someone from a burning building, but it is aimed at preserving lives by responding to a life-threatening situation. If we regard pikuach nefesh as being on a continuum, then all forms of intervention have their place.
  Tonight’s “Lights of Liberty” rally at the courthouse at 8 p.m. will protest conditions in the detention centers and call for new approaches to the crisis. Neither TAI nor or I are officially encouraging you to attend, nor are we encouraging you not to. The question isn’t ultimately how your rabbi or congregation or Jewish school of thought defines what constitutes a reasonable standard of sufficiently life-threatening circumstances to compromise observance of the Sabbath. The question is how you determine what meets that definition. I’m going to lead Friday evening services at 7 as I always do. I’ll be leaving the oneg earlier than usual to join the rally in progress and perhaps share a few words if the timing works out. However, the fact that I’m approaching it this way doesn’t necessarily mean you should. I ask you to do nothing more and nothing less than to consult your conscience and arrive at an informed and sensitive conclusion. My way of handling this isn’t an ideal compromise. (There is no such thing as ideal compromise. If you compromise your values to get something you want, then the agreement you reach isn’t ideal.) It’s an acceptable compromise at best. Like all of us, I’m trying to meet conflicting obligations, both of which deserve serious consideration, as well as I can, and I encourage you to do the same.
Shabbat Message II
  By sheer coincidence Monday, during a late evening run through the neighborhood, I spotted Congressman Andy Barr wheeling his bins to the curb. He was generous enough to spend at least 15 minutes talking to this sweaty constituent when he had grilling duties to attend to. We shared our concerns and frustrations about the border crisis, and he graciously offered to come to TAI soon to discuss it with us. Please look for updates about this in upcoming emails and other TAI announcements.
July 5, 2019
Matir Asurim: Liberator of the Captive
   Our morning prayer services include the Nisim B’chol Yom (acknowledgements of daily miracles), things we all too often rely on without thinking but should never take for granted. Things like waking up in the morning, the body functioning properly and having clothes to wear. But in addition to these physical needs, this long litany of one-line blessings incorporates essential liberties that not only shouldn’t be taken for granted but might not necessarily be an accurate reflection of reality. The third blessing of the entire grouping says, “Praise to You, Adonai Our God, Sovereign of the universe, who frees the captive (matir asurim).”
   “Captive” is a profound choice by the translator. Asur (singular) or asurim (plural) is legally distinct from prisoner or inmate. “Captive” conveys that a person or persons have been or are being wrongfully held and need to be liberated. With more and more disturbing reports about conditions at children’s detention centers along our southern border, this daily prayer has taken on special significance. These children fled dire poverty and violence in their home countries at the behest of their parents. We can have a debate as to whether their parents had a choice or committed an offense. These children had no choice; they have committed no offense.
We cannot continue to hold them captive, certainly not under the conditions that have been verified by multiple agencies.
   The voice of realism asserts that God has not, does not
and will not free all captives under any and all circumstances. The voice of idealism maintains that if we cannot even wish or pray for the freedom of children in captivity, if we do not acknowledge to God and to one another that the current situation is unacceptable, then how can we even begin the work of demanding their release? On this day after Independence Day, a day celebrating our freedom from being governed in a way our founding fathers deemed unjust, let us demand immediate changes to conditions in detention centers that we know to be unjust. If we cannot safely and speedily set these children free, we must at the very least
implement radical reform of the places in which they are being held captive. Baruch Atah Adonai matir asurim. Blessed are You, O God, who frees the captive. 

June 28, 2019

An Early Tashlich at The Rivers of Repentance:
Lamenting the Deaths of Oscar and Valeria Ramirez

  Just as the River Jordan parted for Joshua and the people on their way to the Promised Land,* would that the waters of the Rio Grande have parted this week for Oscar Ramirez and his young daughter, Valeria, fleeing poverty in Central America. 

   What song could be sung to honor their lives and protest their deaths? “Down to the River to Pray” might seem like a strange choice for a song of lamentation from a rabbi, even one from Kentucky. Yet the notion of mayim chayim (living waters), representing second chances, fresh starts and rescue from destruction, is something we Jews share with our Christian brothers and sisters. 
   This week the Rio Grande, the waterway between starvation and salvation, became deadly for a dad and his daughter. Wouldn’t we risk rushing water and crossing borders illegally to save our children from starving? No river will ever be the same now. Not the Jordan, the Ohio, the Kentucky, the Mississippi or the Rio Grande.
   May the drowning of Oscar and Valeria Ramirez move us to action as well as tears. May their deaths help us to see that no democracy can continue to drive imperiled people to such desperate acts. Let’s go down to the river to pray and to repent. Because teshuvah (repentance) is called for now. Repentance for enabling circumstances contributing to such fatal outcomes. From now until the crisis stops, let us approach all rivers in the spirit of repentance. 
   On Rosh Hashanah we observe the ritual of tashlich. We go down to the river, the lake, the ocean or the creek to cast bread crumbs representing our sins into the water. We cannot wait until Rosh Hashanah for this year’s tachlich. After tonight’s oneg, around 9 o’clock, let’s go down to Jacobson Park and cast crumbs into the water to convey contrition for the loss of innocent lives and declare our commitment to alleviating the status quo that leads to death. And when the weekend is over, let’s call our elected officials and go down to their offices to tell them that when people drown in an effort to reach our shores, it is a betrayal of conscience that Americans cannot accept. 
   Tonight let us sing Mi Chamocha, the song Israel sang when God rescued us at the Red Sea, to the melody of “We Shall Overcome.” May the memory of Oscar and Valeria Ramirez be a blessing, and may we make the heartbreak of this horror into something holy. 
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
* From the Book of Joshua, the text for this week’s Haftorah portion

June 21, 2019

For the Sake of Argument
   El N’ah Refah Nah Lach. “Dear God, please heal her!” 
   This famous prayer, exclaimed by Moses to argue for mercy on behalf of a sister who has just wounded him deeply, is taken from this week’s Torah portion, Beha’alotkha (Numbers 8-12). Moses’ plea is a reminder that argument, at its best, is a sacred act, an act that goes beyond success or failure, winning and losing, acceptance or rejection. To argue someone’s cause is to declare they are deserving of care, consideration and compassion. Inspired by these ancient words, I offer this new prayer that struggles with the intense challenge of arguing for three distinct yet deeply intertwined people: ourselves, our families and all others:
 God of decision and deliberation, thought and feeling, word and act,
  Give us, we pray, the compassion to argue for those who disparage us, those who betray us, those who disappoint us and those who hurt us.
   Give us the courage to argue for our families, even if we are called selfish, ungrateful or disloyal for doing so.
   Whether we win or lose, when we fight for our families, we demonstrate to those we love that they are worth fighting for.
   And grant us please, O God, the conviction to argue on behalf of ourselves.
   For if we cannot look upon ourselves as deserving of recognition, respect and regard, then who will?
   For our own sake and that of our families, for the sake of all others and for the sake of argument itself, may this be our blessing and let us say, 

June 14, 2019

A Blessing for Father’s Day
   Father’s Day weekend is here again. This year, on Aug. 9, will be the 15th anniversary of my father’s death. One week from today, I’ll be continuing a tradition established after I came back to Lexington of representing my family and bestowing an award in my father’s name to a University of Kentucky ophthalmology resident recognized by his/her peers as an outstanding teacher. I love seeing my dad’s former colleagues, meeting the residents and trying to read an ophthalmology program without glasses. 
   Father’s Day is particularly special this year because I recently learned that my nephew Leo Golub (my sister’s eldest of three) will be attending Reed College in Portland, Ore., dad’s alma mater. My brother Ben also graduated from Reed, so Leo’s enrollment marks the third generation in our family to attend this remarkable school. I’m a proud alum of Brandeis (named for a Jewish Kentuckian), but there is tremendous joy and comfort in seeing a tradition like this continue. 
   So, while each year brings more reasons for missing those we have lost, each year also brings more opportunities to see people participating in institutions and carrying on the values they cared about. L’dor v’dor, “from generation to generation,” presents itself in countless ways, from the foods we like, talents we have and things we love to do (or don’t love to do) to places we live in, schools we attend, professions we choose and the people we love.
   As this week’s Torah portion, Naso, includes “The Priestly Benediction” parents recite over their children at the beginning of each Sabbath, it seems fitting to end with words of blessing: Blessed are You Adonai Our God, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God of Adolf, Zoltan and Jonathan: Help us please, O Father of Life, to cherish the good things our fathers teach/taught us and consider how we can share them “from generation to generation, Hallelujah.” 


June 7, 2019

Between D-Day and Shavuot: A Prayer for Liberty and Law 
God of Our Mothers and Fathers. Soldiers and Civilians. The Living and the Dead.                          
Yesterday, on the 75th anniversary of D-Day, we commemorated the sacrifice of the greatest generation and rededicated ourselves to the pursuit of a more just and peaceful world. 
Tomorrow on Shavout we remember the gift of revelation and the responsibilities that come with it.  
Yesterday we reaffirmed the ideals for which far too many people died. 
Tomorrow we celebrate the giving of Torah, that teaches us how to live.  
Yesterday’s sounds were that of Taps and the singing of anthems.  
Tomorrow’s sounds will be that of sacred texts and festive prayers. 
Yesterday was one of reflection and sorrow. 
Tomorrow will be one of rejoicing and rest. 
On this Shabbat between D-Day and Shavuot help us, O God of Peace, to consider the price of war.
Teach us to practice your Torah, to protect it, pursue it, and prize its timeless teachings. Help us to understand that liberation and revelation go hand in hand. That terrorized people have no true law and that no true law can promote terror and evil. May yesterday’s commemoration renew our zeal for tomorrow’s celebration. 
And may tomorrow’s celebration deepen our gratitude to those whose lives we commemorate.  
May this be our blessing and let us say: 

May 31, 2019

Your Personal Invitation to Tomorrow Morning’s Service
You are cordially invited to tomorrow morning’s Confirmation service. Yes, confirmation is a service for you, the congregation. To borrow a line from the old orange juice commercial, confirmation isn’t just for confirmands anymore.  
Confirmation, like each and every holiday, and Sabbath is for all of us. And by all I mean “all y’all.” Confirmation doesn’t simply mark a milestone in the life of this year’s students and their families. Each confirmation service is a milestone for our congregational family. Take a walk up and down the Religious School hallway and see for yourself. Confirmation class pictures are part of our on-display Temple Adath Israel photo album. From black and white to color, from 20th to 21st century, rabbi to rabbi, year to year, class to class.
Confirmation is an annual life-cycle event in the life of our temple family. Yes, it is a celebration of what our students have learned but it is also a celebration of us, the congregation in which they have been raised. Albeit to different degrees all of us are invested in them. If you were confirmed here, then our students are joining you as fellow confirmands of our congregation. If your children were confirmed here, then this year’s students are joining them as confirmands. If you teach or taught religious school here, then our students are joining your students as confirmands. If you support our congregation through membership dues and other donations, then think of tomorrow as the beneficiaries of your generosity, the yield of your investment, being confirmed here. You don’t have to be a family member or a family friend of a confirmand to be invited to tomorrow’s service. You’re invited because you’re a member of our Temple family. A family that loves and cares about every confirmation class.
It’s true that I’m invested in this year’s class as the spouse of my co-instructor, father to one student, and rabbi to all students and their families. But each of you is invested in them too. And it is because of that investment that you are encouraged, welcomed and warmly invited to attend. Our wonderful students will be reading Torah and Haftorah, sharing their personal reflections on Judaism, and leading us in prayer. The service starts at 10:30 AM. I hope to see you there.
Mazal Tov to our confirmands, their families, and the congregational family to which all of us belong.

May 24, 2019

Our Debt to Our Dead: 
Thoughts for the Shabbat of Memorial Day Weekend 
Thanks to the efforts of people like Jerry Cerel and Tim Grossman, our local Jewish veterans officially received confirmation that they now constitute a new chapter of the Jewish Veterans of Foreign Wars. We congratulate them on the acceptance of their application and wish them success in all their endeavors. How fitting it is that this official starting point should occur in the same month in which we observe Memorial Day.  
This year’s Memorial Day is one of particularly historic significance. Two weeks from now is the 75th anniversary of D-Day, when allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy. A community wide interfaith service commemorating this essential turning point of World War II, and the sacrifices that came with it, will be held at Central Church of Christ on Thursday, June at 6:00 PM. Please encourage friends and family members to attend.  
So too, this coming February of 2020 will be the 75th anniversary of the battle of Iwo Jima. At a service dedicating the cemetery for the American fallen in April of 1945, Rabbi Roland Gittelson, a chaplain in the U.S. Military, offered these words:
[These men], “have paid the ghastly price of freedom. If that freedom be once again lost…the unforgivable blame will be ours, not theirs. So it is we, the living, who are here to be dedicated and consecrated.”We dedicate ourselvesto live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in this war. Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors generations ago helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men…, rich… and poor-together. Here are Protestants, Catholics and Jews-together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color…Among these men there is no discrimination, no prejudice, no hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.Any man among us, the living, who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead. Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates an empty, hollow, mockery…” 
It isn’t enough to talk about the risks and the sacrifice of the greatest generation “making the world safe for democracy.” We have to defend the democratic ideals they fought and died for by living up to the legacy they left for us. Rabbi Gittelson’s words are as timely now as they were nearly 75 years ago. We owe a tremendous debt to our dead. A debt to the past that can only be paid by safeguarding the future. May the capacity our veterans displayed during their military service to work together across racial, religious and socio-economic linesserve as a constant reminder of how essential it is that we do the same. If they could practice it under the stresses of military service, surely, we, blessed with the privileges of civilian life, can do no less. The greatest measure of our devotion to them lies not only in the readiness to fight our nation’s enemies, but our willingness to treat our fellow countrymen, and all who dwell among us, with fairness, dignity, and compassion.   
Wishing You a Shabbat Shalom and Meaningful Memorial Day Weekend, 
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
Special thanks to Rabbi Laurence Milder PhD for drawing attention to Rabbi Gittleson’s patriotic service and powerful words. Selections from Rabbi Milder’s work can be found at ReformJudaism.org.

May 17, 2019

Disqualified for Dwarfism:
Reich or Weinstein? Whom to Decline for Priesthood?
This week’s Torah portion, Emor, provides a list of things that disqualify a Levite from making the offerings associated with priestly service. Persons failing to meet the requirements
remain Levites, conveying Levite status to their children, but for all intents and purposes they cannot be priests. Among the grounds for disqualification is dwarfism. Consider,
therefore, the following wildly hypothetical scenario. If, for the sake of argument, the Temple were rebuilt and the priesthood restored, and that economist Robert Reich and producer Harvey Weinstein were both Levites, then Reich would be ruled out while Weinstein would be welcome. How is that possible? Because Reich has a form of dwarfism and Weinstein doesn’t. None of the disqualifying criteria are anti-social, boorish or bullying behaviors. All of them are physical
abnormalities (a better word than “deformity” or “imperfection” but still a disturbing term). Reflecting on this troubling text, Professor Shulamit Reinharz offers three profound questions that we will discuss when we study her
commentary at services tonight:
1. What should be grounds for disqualification to serve as a religious leader?
2. What constitutes an impairment or threat to holiness?
3. What is the difference between beauty and goodness?1
I invite you to ponder these questions on your own and bring your responses with you to services tonight and/or send them to me via email.
Before we turn someone away from a job, acceptance to an educational program, membership to an organization or
refuge from dangerous environments, let us be mindful of our reasons for declining their request. Are we saying no because of things for which they are responsible or because of
circumstances beyond their control? Are our criteria logical, ethical and just, or arbitrary, irrational and mean-spirited? May we consider carefully what our standards for acceptance say about our values and how our values can better inform our admissions standards.
1 Please see Reinharz’s “Contemporary Reflection” in The Torah: A Women’s Commentary edited by Rabbis Eshkenazi and Weiss, Ph.D. CCAR Press 2008 pages 743-744.

May 10, 2019

Timeless Wisdom for Troubling Times:
An Appreciation for Shabbat of Mother’s Day Weekend
   It’s wonderfully fitting that the Torah portion we read on the Sabbath of Mother’s Day weekend is Kedoshim, meaning holiness. Holiness can be taught by many people in our lives, but nobody teaches it quite like our moms. “The Holiness Code” of Leviticus 19 touches on just about every aspect of life, but no verse from it is better known than the commandment to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
   Watching the recent documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” about the life and work of Fred Rogers has moved countless people to tears. What Mr. Rogers modeled on television was what my mom practiced in real life. Concern for the feelings of others, the gift of imagination, genuine curiosity and, above all, kindness. Kindness, for my mom and Mr. Rogers, was something beyond politeness, respect or courtesy. Kindness, they taught, is an attitude, an approach to life and to all those with which we live.
   None of us grows up in a perfect world in which kindness is assumed to be the prevailing way we treat one another. Rogers grew up in Pennsylvania being called “Fat Freddy,” and my mom grew up in Virginia, where the cruelty of segregation was ordained as civic virtue. My mom didn’t really get a chance to play and learn with African-American children as social equals until she went away one summer for Girl Scout camp. It was an experience that changed her life. When she went to college, she joined the diversity committee. As she continued along the journey of adult life, she became a teacher, a camp director, a Holocaust educator, a program director and executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council and Anti-Defamation League. Whether the issue was homelessness, housing, education or harassment of any minority, my siblings and I knew where Mom stood and what she wouldn’t stand for.
   Rabbi Joachim Prinz, who fled Nazi Germany and joined the Civil Rights Movement in America, declared: “Neighbor is not a geographical term. It is a moral concept.” So, too, wise mothers teach us that neighborliness is an ethic to be applied to everyone, not an affect we perform for the select few. At age 82, my mom still is making new friends and remains actively engaged with her neighbors. At a time when people are hurting one another emotionally and physically based on dangerous claims of superiority, it is more important than ever to honor our mothers by living the lessons they taught us. And perhaps none of those lessons is more essential than that of regarding every human being as a neighbor and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

May 3, 2019

Dear TAI Sisterhood,
So sorry I can’t be with you tonight for Sisterhood Shabbat. At least the reason for my absence is a happy one. One of my nieces is getting married in California. I truly look forward to this service every year. While it is disappointing to miss it under any circumstances, it is particularly so given the things Jewish Women both here and in Israel have endured since last we gathered for Sisterhood Shabbat. To expect women to assume the financial obligations, time commitment, and existential risks of Jewish life while affording anything less than full equality in all aspects of participation is unacceptable and unsustainable.
*Ashamnu. We might like to think that our congregations and central institutions in the Reform movement are safe havens from the sins of sexual harassment, pay inequity, and unfair hiring/firing practices, but they aren’t. Salary studies, institutional reviews, formal complaints and grievances women are too frightened to take public, paint a troubling portrait of the current landscape. That Hebrew Union College Jewish Institute of Religion, our Reform Movement’s Rabbinical, Cantorial, Education, Jewish Studies, Social Work and Non-Profit Management School, could hire as its new president a man with degrees in none of these fields, while passing over several women with at least two of the above credentials and many years of service at the institution, is baffling to say the least. Concerned colleagues bear no resentment with the person who landed the position. The process is not his fault. Everyone wants him to succeed so it behooves everyone to improve the process.
So rather than reiterating well deserved expressions of appreciation for all that you do, I’d like to offer something else. Changes in practice and in process. For academic 2019-2020 let’s strive to have women delivering a Torah commentary, sermon or other remarks from the pulpit, on an average of at least one Friday evening per month. (I love the sound of my own voice as much as the next guy but enough is enough.) As of tonight, we will try to transition out of a mindset that assumes that candle lighting is for women and kiddush for men. Please be patient with me on this one. Old habits are hard to break. Additionally, I want to respectfully and lovingly challenge my brothers, fellow Jewish men, to ask yourselves who is doing most of the work to have a Jewish home, raise a Jewish family, and live a Jewish life. If your reflection leads you to conclude that you could be doing more, then please do it. Finally, I want to take this opportunity to provide a “save the date” for next fall’s Moosnick Scholar-in-Residence program with Rabbi Mira Wasserman, PhD, who will be speaking on the evenings of November 6 and 7 about religious and ethical responses to #MeToo.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter
*Ashamnu is Hebrew for “we have sinned” and is also the name for one of the confessional prayers in our High Holy Day liturgy.

April 26, 2019

Applied Prophesy
  The focus of our fourth-graders leading tonight’s service is on prophets. We will hear from several of them about who their favorite prophet is and why. In his introduction to The Prophets, Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote: “The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world. There is no society in which Amos’ words would not apply.”
    As a rabbinical student many years ago, I complained to my brother Josh about having to write a paper for a prophesy class. He wryly remarked, “How are they going to grade you on that? Hold onto the paper for seven years to measure your accuracy?” Prophets do not predict the future. They promise future calamities as the heavy price for failing to address present failures. Much like fourth-graders, they pounce on any whiff of hypocrisy. They have little tolerance for the gap between what we practice and what we preach. The point of prophesy isn’t to say, “I told you so”; the task of the prophet is to decry abuse of power and societal failure that we might narrow the alarming discrepancy between who we are and who we ought to be.
    Prophesy is neither a lost art of the past nor a personal agenda cloaked in shouting out dire consequences for the future. Prophesy, as Heschel taught, is about now. There has never been a time or place where the message of the prophets does not apply. May we apply the thoughts about prophets our students speak of tonight to a world that urgently needs our care tomorrow. May tonight inspire us to engage in applied prophesy, wherein we go beyond an insightful critique of what’s wrong and take meaningful steps to make things better.

April 19,2019

On This Night We Dip 20 Times:
A Blessing of Tears on the 20th Anniversary of the Mass Shooting at Columbine High
   Tomorrow marks not only the second seder but the 20th anniversary of the mass shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. It’s frightening to think about how fast the time has passed. Fifteen students lost their lives that day. Had the tragedy not occurred, they would be in their mid- to late 30s. They would have children, teenagers themselves, perhaps.
   There are so many reasons to mourn what might have been. The graduations, weddings, anniversaries, baby-namings, the personal and professional achievements that ought be part of their stories. We will never know what they would have done with their lives. Yet compounding the pain of what we can never know is the anguish of what we do, the heartbreak of what has and hasn’t happened since.
   The Ten Plagues cast upon Egypt take up about six chapters of Exodus. The death of Egypt’s firstborn transpires over a single night. How long has the plague of gun violence gone on, and when will it end? How many more people have to die before our leaders realize that something has to change? We know what it took for Pharaoh to change his mind. What price will be required for the obdurate leaders of today to change theirs? It isn’t just the names of the killed and the wounded, the towns and the schools; it isn’t just the numbers that keep stacking higher and higher; it isn’t just the things the victims and their families would have done together. It is the unwillingness to change, the hardness of heart, the lack of leadership and the refusal to face facts despite the overwhelming realities of the epidemic that leave us wondering how it is possible that so few lessons have been learned in the past 20 years. The insult of how little progress has been made is added to the injury we feel at every untimely death. This plague will not stop by itself. Like those we study in Exodus, it must be stopped by deliberate and decisive action. The blood of the innocent cries out to us from the ground to urge our legislators to pass comprehensive gun-safety laws. It is political will not moral imperative that is lacking from the status quo.
   Even the tasting of tears requires a blessing. According to the Passover haggadah, we dip our parsley twice into salt water to remind us of slavery, to swallow its tears, to make them our own. But tonight is different from all other nights. This year is different from all other years, albeit nowhere near different enough. The grief of mass shootings is with us every day. Grieving on the 20th anniversary of the Columbine high school massacre happens only once. So tonight, we do not dip karpas, our parsley, twice. Tonight, we dip our parsley in salt water 20 times, once for each year that has passed since the nightmare of two decades ago. We don’t just send thoughts and prayers to the those who survived their wounds, to the families of those who succumbed to them, to all those who were and remain affected. We send you our tears. We weep with you, whoever you are wherever you are, however you’ve been affected and whenever you weep. And when our seder is concluded, we will rise up with you to demand the change we need to live in a nation that doesn’t allow whoever wants one to get their hands on a gun.
Baruch Ata Adonai Ha’tov Ve’Hamayteev. Blessed be the Source of Goodness who calls us to do what is good.

April 12, 2019

Congratulations and Concerns

   The day after the Israeli elections, Rabbi Richard Jacobs, president of our Reform movement, released a statement. It’s a letter that did what it had to do. Protocol and civility require Rabbi Jacobs to congratulate Prime Minister Netanyahu. Refusing to do so would be deemed by many as unprofessional and undeserved. Integrity and honesty require Rabbi Jacobs to convey “concern about discrimination against non-Orthodox streams of Judaism,” policies that “discriminate against Arab citizens of Israel,” and the prime minister’s “calling for the annexation of the West Bank Jewish settlements.” Refusing to do so would be deemed by many as a failure to stand up for core values of our movement, including the pursuit of justice and commitment to democracy. 
   It’s telling that the reposting of Rabbi Jacobs’ statement on social media has drawn the ire of people who wanted a stronger refutation of the prime minister’s policies and those who defend them. Some found the word “concern” to be lacking in intensity and urgency. Others denounced the statement as placing disproportionate responsibility on Israel’s government while ignoring that of Palestinian leadership. What does this say about our ability to have a constructive conversation about Israel and the challenges of trying to remain engaged during such discouraging times? Had Rabbi Jacobs said “alarmed,” he would have been accused of being alarmist. Had he failed to point out the lack of progress that has been made in matters of critical importance, he would have been accused of being an apologist.
   Tonight, the Sabbath before Passover is known as Shabbat Ha’Gadol, the Great Sabbath. According to tradition, rabbis are supposed to urge people to rid their home of chametz (leavened products) and devote themselves to strict observance of the Fast of Matzo. I accept the obligation to take Shabbat Ha’Gadol seriously, but my message is not about matzo. Rather, with the coming of Passover and the attendant responsibility to reflect on freedom, I offer you this commitment: For too long I have put off organizing a robust conversation about Israel in the name of not upsetting people. Not upsetting people isn’t the worst mistake rabbis can make, but mastering the art of it isn’t necessarily something to be proud of. As Ron Segal, the newly installed president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, preached this month at our annual conference: “When has avoiding challenges ever availed us?”
   Therefore, over the coming months, in partnership with lay leadership, we will endeavor to create Israel engagement and education opportunities that increase our knowledge and strengthen our capacity to maintain a healthy dialogue on a complex subject.
   In keeping with the complicated nature of his position, the results of this week’s election called upon the president of our movement to both extend congratulations and express concerns. By congratulating a prime minister whose policies he often disapproves of, Rabbi Jacobs is modeling the importance of derech eretz, the common decency needed to move forward after a trying election. By respectfully stating his concerns, he is demonstrating the critical distinction between constructive criticism and reckless attack. The question isn’t whether we’re happy or upset with his statement, the question is whether he is providing leadership consistent with our values and working to achieve a vision that provides a better life for Israel and its neighbors.
   May the arrival of Passover reinvigorate our commitment to reach the day when all of Israel’s inhabitants and all the world can truly be free.

April 5, 2019

“I Am Not a Leper!”

Rescuing Humanity from Humiliating Afflictions

It is customary in the academic and medical community to organize a festschrift, a collection of articles in a scholar’s field on their seventieth birthday. In my father’s case the date was moved up a bit because he had been diagnosed with ALS, a fatal form of neuropathy that deprives patients of everything we rely on our bodies to do. In his remarks at the dinner honoring him at this bittersweet occasion he noted something unusual about the better-known name of his condition. Most diseases are named for the physicians who discover or find cures for them. Yet amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is known in popular culture as “Lou Gehrig’s disease”. My father the physician fully embraced the poetic irony of having a fatal condition named for its best-known patient.
Unlike the term ALS/Lou Gehrig’s, the nomenclature in this coming week’s Torah portion, Metzora, meaning “leper”, shows little consideration of those who suffer from it. One is hard pressed to come up with another disease that labels the afflicted as harshly as leper does with leprosy. We don’t call someone a “cancerite“, a “fluer,” or a “measlesist.” True we have “arthritic,” “alcoholic,” “diabetic,” and “hypochondriac,” but none of these terms instill fear of contagion nor arouse repulsion on par with leper.
Once labeled, the primary thing one pays attention to about lepers is their leprosy. Those who suffer with other conditions are neither driven from our midst nor regarded with the disdain reserved for lepers. The idiom “treated like a leper” has survived long past leprosy for a reason. Regarding the leper, Leviticus 13:45-46 teaches “his clothes shall be torn, his hair shall be left bare, and he shall cover his upper lip; and he shall call out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ He shall be unclean as long as the disease is on him. Being unclean, he shall dwell apart; his dwelling shall be outside the camp.”
Why isn’t there a verse requiring us to “Love those with leprosy as yourself”? Why must those already forced to dwell outside the camp in an area presumably designated for lepers be required to shout out referring to themselves “Unclean! Unclean!”? After hours, days, weeks, months of doing this who wouldn’t want to cry out “I am not a leper! I am a person with leprosy!” No one wants to be thought of primarily by the medical condition from which they suffer. Sometimes, as is the case this week, Torah challenges us to derive priceless lessons from poor examples. Let us therefore avoid making the same mistakes as Levitical priests and the communities they served. Quarantining people is one thing. Shaming them is another. Rather let us remember, as is the case with Lou Gehrig’s disease, that the patient is first and foremost a person. If we cannot see the afflicted as a human being with a medical problem, then we empower the medical problem to compromise their humanity.
May The Source of Vision teach us to look upon others as we would have them look upon us. May The Source of Wisdom inspire us to comport ourselves wisely. And May The Source of Healing help us to alleviate suffering so that those who suffer can know wholeness once again.

January 19, 2024

All or Nothing: Reflections on Parashat Bo

The following narrative in this week’s Torah portion takes place in the prelude to the plague of locusts. After seven plagues, cracks are starting to form in the court of Egypt. An unrelenting tyrant has found willingness to compromise — within limits.

Pharaoh’s courtiers said to him, “How long shall this one be a snare to us? Let a delegation go to worship their God! Are you not yet aware that Egypt is lost?”

So Moses and Aaron were brought back to Pharaoh and he said to them, “Go, worship your God. Who are the ones to go?” Moses replied, “We will all go — regardless of social station — we will go with our sons and daughters, our flocks and herds; for we must observe God’s festival.”

But he said to them, “God be with you — the same as I mean to let your dependents go with you! Clearly, you are bent on mischief. No! You gentlemen go and worship God, since that is what you want.” And they were expelled from Pharaoh’s presence. (Exodus 10:7-11)

The passage is a powerful reminder of how different parties approach the same situation. Pharaoh is sufficiently worn down that he is willing to relent a little on his refusal to let the people go. He approaches the conflict as a negotiation. Moses and Aaron, on the other hand, insist that the people’s freedom is not about give and take but rather a divine demand requiring full cooperation. The interchange teaches us that freedom, and by extension all forms of a better life, are not merely something for a select few. Progress, the expansion of rights and liberties, is for everyone. Their willingness to continue the fight into the plague of darkness and tragically the death of the firstborn conveys how serious they are about this all-or-nothing approach. Rather than acquiesce to the exclusion of their wives and children, they walk away from the conversation until Pharaoh is ready to listen. 

Practicality typically cautions against all-or-nothing approaches as too idealistic or extreme to achieve success. These verses are an important exception. In some circumstances, compromise is a luxury we cannot afford. The cost of a compromise that leaves undervalued people no better off than they were before while others are afforded the chance at a better life is a price too high to pay. May the example of Moses and Aaron inspire us to stand firm during difficult circumstances and remind us that we cannot negotiate away the future of those who need us.

As the great Jewish-American poet Emma Lazarus wrote: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wirtschafter