Tuesday, January 28, 2014

This week Good Shabbos Nebraska is for the birds!

This week on Good Shabbos Nebraska - America's favorite Shabbos morning Talk show -  we will feature very special guest, Rabbi Chaim Loike!

Rabbi Loike is the world's leading expert on the study of kosher birds!!!

He speaks to audiences all over the world about birds and other exotic animals mentioned in the Torah and other ancient Jewish texts.  His presentations demonstrate the intersection between Torah, history, biology, zoology, archaeology, and sociology.  

Rabbi Loike has authored dozens of articles on the traditions relating to kosher birds.  He also was instrumental in saving the Philby Partridge from extinction.  I blogged about it here and here, and the Philby logo, designed by my request by a graphic artist at the Omaha JCC, is the banner photo on my facebook page.

On Friday at 2:30 pm he is going to do a special presentation at the Friedel Jewish Academy.  He will be joined by Roberta Barr of the Nebraska Parrot Rescue.  Roberta will bring some of her feathered friends and Rabbi Loike will give an interactive class to the kids.

On Shabbos Rabbi Loike will be our featured guest and he will be joined by a surprise return guest!  

It is going to be an unforgettable Shabbos.  

And it all takes place at 10 am, this and EVERY Shabbos, ONLY at Beth Israel Synagogue - Where every Shabbos is a shabbaton!

Monday, January 27, 2014

The First Ever Good Shabbos Nebraska Bat Mitzvah!

Yesterday was an historic Shabbos!  It was the first ever Good Shabbos Nebraska Bat Mitzvah!

Yesterday Eleanor Dunning became a Bat Mitzvah.  The two of us have been studying parshat Mishpatim together for almost a year.  We met once a week in the Kripke Library at the JCC and studied the parshah with commentary.  

The culmination was a special episode of Good Shabbos Nebraska with Eleanor as the SPECIAL GUEST HOST!

She was truly amazing.  

She began the show with her opening monologue that we wrote together.  She gave a short summary of parshat Mishpatim, which is basically a list of 53 seemingly unrelated mitzvot.  She asked the global question, "is there a method to this mitzvah madness?"  Eleanor and I found an answer we like in the commentary of the Abravanel.  She gave a brief bio of the Abravanel and then explained his answer.  Last week was the ten commandments.  The Abravanel explains that the mitzvot of mishpatim are Moshe's commentary to how to observe the ten commandments in detail.  

After the monologue she did a segment about the ten commandments.  When we studied together we developed a mnemonic to remember the ten commandments.  With the help of her little brother, her cousin, and her father they taught the mnemonic so that every one of the hundreds of people there yesterday will easily be able to recite the Big Ten in order forever.

Eleanor has a very close special family friend Wendy, who came in from New York.  Wendy has Usher Syndrome - a genetic illness that causes loss of sight and hearing.  Eleanor interviewed her for the show.  Wendy is an impressive lady.  She is a divorce attorney in New York city, and one of the most inspiring people I have ever met.  She spoke about some of the challenges that she faces being blind and deaf. Eleanor taught us a Rashi form this week's parshah that relates to the extra sensitivity that we are supposed to have towards deaf people.  

Wendy explained that she has a cochlear implant that allows her to hear.  It changed her life.  She was scared to get it at first, but Dr. Edward Cohn, a leading scientist at BoysTown Research hospital in Omaha, convinced her to go through with it.  Eleanor surprised Wendy by inviting Dr. Cohn to join them on the show.

Wendy got to thank Dr. Cohn for changing her life and he told us a bit about the remarkable advances that they are making at BoysTown and at UNMC to reverse sight and hearing loss caused by Usher's syndrome.

As we always do on Good Shabbos Nebraska, Eleanor invited the guests to learn some Torah with her. She chose to focus on a mitzvah from this week's parshah that was particularly meaningful to her.  One of the mitzvot in Mishpatim is the commandment to prevent animals from suffering.  Eleanor loves animals, but she also saw on a tour of a research lab that animals are experimented on.  She and Dr. Cohn had a fascinating discussion on the show about the tension between kindness to animals and the use of animals for research.  

For a few months leading up to her bat mitzvah Eleanor and I had learned some Torah perspectives on the ethics of animal research and we compared them with the works of Peter Singer who is opposed to many types of animal experimentation that are used in research of diseases like Usher Syndrome.  

Eleanor briefly explained the Torah positions on our relationship to animals and how it differs from Dr. Singer's.

Dr. Cohn said that he subscribes to the Torah's view, and we owe many of the most important developments in science to animal research.

In addition to the Torah segments, Eleanor also introduced musical guests AKA Pella - the greatest Jewish a cappella group in the world.  They performed two songs, including a special song that they wrote just for Eleanor.

It may have been the best bat mitzvah in the history of the world!  The show was all about Torah.  Not only did Eleanor learn, everyone who came walked away from that bat mitzvah knowing more Torah then they did before.

At lunch after davening Eleanor's father came over to me and gave me the biggest compliment a Rabbi can receive.  He said, "Thank you Rabbi.  Our whole family learned from this bat mitzvah.  But most of all, Eleanor sees that Judaism is not something outside of her life.  She knows that the Torah can be applied to everything that she does.  That is exactly what we wanted her to take with her.  Thank you."

Good Shabbos Nebraska has created a cultural change in Omaha.  TO many Omaha Jews, it has brought Shabbos into their lives.  GSN makes Torah relevant and exciting and makes people love learning.

But if it did nothing else, the format that it gives kids for their bar and bat mitzvahs would have made the whole program worth it.

So be a part of the Shabbos morning program that is taking Omaha by storm!  Catch Good Shabbos Nebraska every Shabbos at 10 am ONLY at Beth Israel Synagogue - Where Every Shabbos is a Shabbaton!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Happy Birthday Rabbi Kripke!

Last night my wife and I had the honor of being at a celebration for Rabbi Myer S. Kripke's 100th birthday.

Over the last 10 years it has been one of the most distinct privileges to have a relationship with this sage of Israel.  Although I joke and call myself the chief Rabbi of the State of Nebraska, the truth is that Rabbi Kripke is the man who really deserves that title.

Rabbi Kripke is famous for a number of reasons.

He is the father of the world famous philosopher Saul Kripke.  According to many, Saul Kripke is among the most important philosophers of the last 100 years.

Also, Rabbi Kripke's late wife, Dorothy Kripke, was the author of the children's book Let's Talk About God.   Dorothy Kripke's book has been translated into over a dozen languages and is still considered a classic book and one of the best books to begin a conversation with children on this very important subject.
In his own right, Rabbi Kripke was a pulpit Rabbi at Beth El Synagogue here in Omaha for 30 years. He was ordained in 1937 at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and is probable one of the last living students of Mordechai Kaplan when he was there.  Rabbi Kripke was a scholar who has authored (and continues to author) countless articles on Torah and a book called Insights and Interpretations.  

What most people know about Rabbi Kripke is that he was the Rabbi who had a relationship with Warren Buffett in the 60s.  Rabbi Kripke invested everything he had with Warren Buffett and became a millionaire many times over.  The New York Times did a write up on Rabbi Kripke a number of years ago.

Purchasing a share of Berkshire Hathaway is like purchasing a diamond.  The shares pay no dividend so as they rise in value the owner does not earn any money unless the shares are sold.

Over the years, as his net worth soared, Rabbi Kripke never boasted about his wise investment.  In fact, I wonder if he told anyone other than his wife.

After 30 years as the Rabbi of Beth El he retired and continued to live with his wife in Omaha.  His life style never changed.

In the mid 90s Rabbi Kripke made his first multi million dollar charitable donation.  It was to the Jewish Theological seminary, where he earned his rabbinic ordination and met his wife.  When he and his wife got married they did not have much money between them.  The seminary hosted their wedding in the courtyard and Rabbi Kripke had said that the gift was to repay them for their kindness.

Since then Rabbi Kripke has given away millions of dollars to dozens of institutions.

After his beloved wife Dorothy passed away he moved into the Rose Blumkin Jewish Home here in Omaha where he lives until this day.

The Talmud teaches that when a person passes through a new place it is proper to seek out and visit the Torah scholars and the righteous people who reside in that town.  Whenever I have guests come to visit Omaha, the very first place I take them is to meet Rabbi Kripke.  He qualifies as both.

Like Avraham's wife Sarah, Rabbi Kripke is 127 years old when it comes to learning.  He is 100 in his vast breadth of knowledge from a century of experience and ceaseless study.  He is like a young 20 year old Yeshiva student with regard to his keen and acute analytical mind, and he is like a boy of seven years old in his excitement and enthusiasm to learn new things.

But Rabbi Kripke is more than an exceptional scholar.  Rabbi Kripke is a true Zaddik.

In life we are all tested.  In Hebrew these kinds of life tests are called nisyonot.  Among whatever other tests God put before Rabbi Kripke, one of them was the nisayon of wealth.

Everyone wants money, but those who have achieved great wealth have learned that it comes with a heavy burden.  And while we all laugh and say, "that is a burden that I would love to have!" - there are certainly worse things to be burdened with - wealth is a burden none the less.

Money, like any great blessing, has the potential to change people.

I think that all who know Rabbi Kripke would attest to the fact that Rabbi Kripke confronted and conquered the nisayon of wealth.  He acted as if he was simply the custodian of money given to him by God with the express purpose of helping others.

A meeting with Rabbi Kripke is a lesson in true humility.  He is a paragon of this most important character trait and his example is one that we can only hope to emulate.

I feel so fortunate that I have the privilege of knowing Rabbi kripke and living near him.  I have the privilege to learn from his wisdom, my children have received blessings from him, and he was the kiseh shel Eliyahu at my son's bris.  

Happy Birthday Rabbi Kripke.  May Hashem continue to grant you health and happiness.  May your family continue to join together for happy occasions.  And may our Omaha Jewish community and the entire Jewish people be blessed to have you as our Rabbi for many years to come!.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Is Good Shabbos Nebraska Kosher?

This past Shabbos on Good Shabbos Nebraska - America's favorite Shabbos morning talk show, we had the legendary musician Lenny Solomon.  It was a fantastic Shabbos and a great way to take us into the mid winter Hiatus.

For the next two weeks Good Shabbos Nebraska is going to be on break.  We are taking down the stage and davening will just feature a short parshah monologue (I don't think I can ever go back to calling it a sermon).

We will return on January 25th with guest host Elinor Dunning - our first ever Good Shabbos Nebraska Bat Mitzvah.  It will be a historic episode.  In 20 years when the Good Shabbos Nebraska model is the norm in synagogues around the world people will remember that Elinor Dunning was the first ever guest host bat mitzvah!

Good Shabbos Nebraska has been very well received in Omaha, but outside of Omaha the show has met some controversy.  

The latest from the blogger Rabbi Reuvein Spolter.  He writes on the "Chopping Wood" blog about "divrei Torah and community issues."  

On Sunday morning Lenny Solomon was interviewed for the Jewish radio show JM in the AM.  He generously gave a shout out to Good Shabbos Nebraska (100 min)  and told people how much he loved the idea and the program.  

A few minutes later, Rabbi Spolter, in Israel, wrote the following. 
Listening to an interview with Lenny Solomon of Shlock Rock, who mentioned that he was just in Omaha Nebraska, where the rabbi, instead of giving a sermon, turns the entire shul into basically a talk-show set. (You kind of have to see it to get a sense of what he's doing: http://www.goodshabbosnebraska.com/#!about/c10fk. This raises so many questions: (1) What do the regular members think? (2) Is it working to boost the shul's popularity? (3) Finally, and perhaps most importantly, does turning shul into a makeshift TV studio (albeit a Shomer Shabbat one) cheapen the notion of mikdash me'at, and turn what should be a sacred space into yet another symbol of our popular culture? What say you Rabbi Jon Gross?
Lenny Solomon kindly responded with the following
HI Reuven - Just think Avraham Avinu. You are in Israel where people are on board with Judaism or not. Here in Omaha you need to be creative - out of the box. It frankly was the most exciting program I have ever seen. The sermon was given as a monologue a ala Johnny Carson. The Kids were involved. Torah is alive and well in Omaha. Kudos to Rabbi Gross! 
Thanks Lenny!

To answer Rabbi Spolter's questions directly - Thank God, my membership is overall very supportive.  It takes a lot of guts to support a Rabbi in doing something out of the box.  Good Shabbos Nebraska would not exist if it were not for the support of the Beth Israel congregation, and I grateful for their support.

After 13 straight episodes I think everyone would agree that it has been a success.  Regular attendance is up. Our regulars are coming more regularly, and we have seen lots of people who have never come in the past.

20 and 30 years ago most Jews had a bubby and zeidi that were religious.  Davening did not speak to the unaffiliated Jew, but the traditional synagogue still had a nostalgia that spoke to them.

Today, American Jews are 4th and 5th generation assimilated.  Their grandparents were already estranged from the synagogue.  The traditional format is alienating and intimidating to them.  Over the years I have stretched the bounds of my own creativity to make davening more meaningful, but there is only so much that can be done with the traditional format.

And I am not the only Rabbi who struggled with this.  This is a national problem.

Good Shabbos Nebraska maintains the traditional service and does not compromise davening at all.  It simply substitutes the sermon with something that speaks to everyone.

Although I have not yet had a respected halachic authority as a guest on GSN as of yet (stay tuned for season 2!) when I developed the concept of GSN I was in consultation with a number of Rabbinic authorities who all encouraged me to proceed with the program.

Etan G - the Jewish Rapper - really enjoyed the format.  In his words,
usually when a Rabbi gives a sermon, after five minutes you want to blow your head off.  On Good Shabbos Nebraska he had the crowd engaged for almost an entire hour - and 75% of it was Torah.
While I am not in complete agreement with everything he said - the show is usually much less than an hour, and I would say that more than 75% is Torah - but his point is that people are tired of sermons.  The format just doesn't work - even for the best orators.  That is why television features talk shows and not sermon shows.

At one point the sermon was considered a controversial innovation that was meant to engage people in the same way fashion as the non-Jewish culture.  Today it has become the norm in even the most traditional synagogues.  Today the talk show format is an anomaly, but who knows, perhaps one day this will be the new normal for synagogue format.

Just as Lenny Solomon elevates the songs of classic groups the like Beatles by putting words  of Torah to their songs, my goal is to elevate the format of Johnny Carson, Dave Letterman, and Jon Stewart but inserting words of Torah into their format.

While it may be controversial, in my view Good Shabbos Nebraska not only brings sanctity to the synagogue, more importantly it brings people to the synagogue, and it fulfills our primary goal which is to spread words of Torah and to get Jews to love being Jewish.

That is exactly what we do every Shabbos at 10 am ONLY at Beth Israel Synagogue - where every shabbos is a shabbaton!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lenny Solomon - Best Episode Ever!


Lenny Solomon and Etan G rocked Omaha this past Shabbos!!!

Omaha, Nebraska was the first stop on the Shlock Rock Winter Wonderland Tour of 2014. 

We kicked off the Shabbos with a community wide Friday night dinner at the shul.  Lenny did some hits off of his Album Shabbos in Liverpool - Lenny's album where he put all of Shabbos davening to Beatles Tunes. 

On Shabbos we had a very special episode of Good Shabbos Nebraska - America's favorite Shabbos morning talk show. 

Omaha Singer Song writer Karen Javitch came on the show and 11 year old Danny Denninberg sang two hits off of her children's album - Who Knows One.  The songs were great, and the crowd was blown away with Danny's talent.  That kid is going places!

Then we had Dr. Eyal Margalit and Aryeh Epstein come on the show.  With the help of Dr. Howard Gendelman they have organized a med center chaburah that meets every Thursday at the Nebraska Medical Center.  For the last year they have been learning messechet Megillah and they recently finished.  They came on the show and taught us a bit about what thy learned, and they sponsored the Kiddush after the show where we enjoyed their special cholent that they personally prepared before Shabbos and they made a formal siyum for us all to celebrate. 

Next, I welcomed on Dan Gilbert.  Dan was one of the winners of last year's TOYO award and he was the one who nominated me for this year.  He told us a bit about the award and how he was proud to be the Jewish recipient last year and how it demonstrates to the greater Omaha community the important impact of the Jewish community and how it contributes to the diverse tapestry of our city.

After Dan we brought out Imac and the Zoester (Imac is actually on vacation so Elinor filled in again for her this week).  After their segment they started laying down a beat doing that hip cup banging thing that the Macabeats made popular in their dror yikrah video.  As they laid down the beat the crowd started clapping and then Etan G - the Jewish rapper made his dramatic entrance and started rapping his hit song "Time."  It was amazing!

Etan got in the seat and told us a bit about how he got into Jewish rapping and the impact that it has had on Jewish kids.  Then we introduced the one and only LENNY SOLOMON!!!!

What an incredible honor for me to welcome Lenny Solomon to Good Shabbos Nebraska!  To date the most famous person that I had on the show was Boris Gulko, which was a thrilling and unforgettable experience, but Lenny was different.  Besides the fact that Lenny and Shlock Rock are known throughout the world, I am from the generation of Jewish kids that Lenny had a profound influence upon.  For me personally this episode was something that I will never forget!

Lenny spoke about the origins of Shlock Rock and then - as we always do on Good Shabbos Nebraska - we went straight to the parshah.  We talked about how the Torah says that the purpose of the ten plagues was so that Pharoah, the Egyptians, the Jews, and the whole world for all of history should know that there is only one God. 

Lenny pointed out that is the major theme of the entire Tanach, and it is the central message that the Jewish people have been charged with sharing with the world. 

Lenny's latest project is a rock opera that he composed called "Daniel of Babylon."  Daniel of Babylon tells the story of the Biblical Daniel, his trials and tribulations as the first recorded diaspora Jew.  It also tells how throughout the story we see again and again how the world leaders came to recognize that Hashem is the one true God. 

Lenny has already finished Daniel of Babylon and he is looking for a few more investors to get the project playing on Broadway.  I think that this could be the next Joseph and the Technicolored Dream Coat.  If you are interested in investing please reach out to Lenny on his website. 

At Kiddush we had the siyum and after Kiddush Lenny answered some questions and sang some songs off of his Shabbos in Liverpool album.

After Shabbos Lenny and Etan G rocked the house with a Shlock Rock concert!  They packed the shul and they sold 100 CDs after the show! 

They pulled out all the hits!  We started the concert with his classic "Eliyahu" to lead into Havdalah. 

After Havdallah he pulled out "Havdallah! (Have a sniff see the light have a sip)
They sang classic hits like "Everyone knows its Rashi" "we got a strong desire" and of course "Minyan man"
Etan G pounded out Motzi and Yo Yo Yarmulka!
They did a Hebrew set with Lenny's classic Hinei Matov, Am Yisrael Chai, and some modern Israeli hits where he brought on our Israeli Shaliach Eliad Eliyahu to sing.
He did a holiday set where they played "Tu Bishvat" "Achashveirosh" I can't get no Humintashen" and "let's get this seder started!"
He did some Beatles hits, and closed with "To Unite All Jews."

Over the last ten years I saw bunch of concerts from some veteran bands including U2, Bon Jovi, and of course They Might Be Giants.  And yet last night's concert was by far and away the best concert I have seen since probably the last time that I saw Shlock Rock!

Lenny Solomon is like a fine wine.  he gets better with age.  He is to my generation what Shlomo Carlebach was to the generation before and what Yoseele Rosenblatt was to his generation. The best part of last night was to see all of the kids, including mine, who are now second generation Shlockers. 

Judaism has a hard time competing with the secular culture, but thanks to Lenny we have tools to bring Torah and mitzvoth front and center to our children.   He elevates the secular culture and uses it as an ally to teach Torah rather than view it as an adversary.  He makes Judaism fun and exciting, and hje makes being Jewish cool! 

My father bought Shlock Rock cassettes that we played non-stop in the car when I was a kid and they had a profound influence on me. 

Last night I had the privilege to buy them for my children on CD and to purchase some downloads so that I can provide the same inspiring Jewish experience to my kids that my parents gave to me.

Thank you Lenny for everything you do!  You are a Jewish hero. 

Keep on Shlocking and we will see you again next year in Omaha on Good Shabbos Nebraska - Where every Shabbos is a shabbaton!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Lenny Solomon on Good Shabbos Nebraska!

This Shabbos on Good Shabbos Nebraska - America's favorite shabbos morning talk show - we have the one and only Lenny Solomon!!!

Lenny Solomon rivals Shlomo Carlebach as the most influential Jewish musician in American Jewish history.  Lenny has performed in more communities in the United States than anyone other than perhaps Shlomo Carlebach and Yosselle Rosenblatt.

Lenny brought Torah, Jewish pride, and Jewish values to countless kids throughout American by rockin it out to songs that they already knew.  Lenny went to places where Jewish kids didn't know anything at all about Judaism and he inspired them to go and learn about their Jewish heritage.

Lenny's only agenda was inspiring young Jews.  He didn't push any particular brand of Judaism.  He got kids excited and inspired them to go learn.

Lenny was an inspiration to me when I was a kid.   For me, his most powerful song was the song Minayn Man.  To this day, I get choked up when I hear the song.

Minyan Man was very influential in my decision to dedicate my life to helping small Jewish communities like Omaha.

Here are the lyrics.  I expect everyone in Omaha to know them by 10 am tomorrow when we sing it with Lenny on Good Shabbos Nerbraska!

Minyan Man

stepped off the bus in Mobile, Alabama
The sun was slowly setting by the bay
It was six o' clock on a summer Friday's afternoon
Shabbos was an hour away

I walked around the town
Wondering what to do
'Cause Shabbos is no time to be Feeling blue
And then I saw a man
Who looked the same way, too
I was quite relieved to find a fellow Jew

I asked the man I saw how many Jews in this town
He said to me
"There used to be a minyan around
But one of us passed away
And we've been feeling down
Yet now it seems as though another Jew has been found
Won't you stay with us for Shabbos, Minyan Man?"

We walked down Winston Avenue
A block then two more
And went into a shop that read "Closed" on the door
There was a Minyan in the back of the hardware store
Nine men, waiting for one more

We ushered in the Shabbos
With a beautiful song
The Chazzan had a voice that was clear and strong
We sang out as one
All Shabbos long
Then Maariv came again
I had to be moving on

I asked the man I saw…

Now, that was twenty years ago
But the vision is clear
And I think about it now and then
'Cause the place is still dear
And when I make that trip to Mobile
Once every year
I remember the man who prayed here

Now, the Minyan is gone
A few died
Some moved on
But the back of the store still remembers this song
The nine men who waited
Then one came along
And Shabbos was carried on a song

I asked the man I saw…

Thursday, January 2, 2014

I am now an Omaha Jaycee!

I have been honored to have been nominated for the Ten Outstanding Young Omahans (TOYO) award by the Omaha Jaycees!

This is a great honor, especially when I see the people who have received it in the past and who are receiving it this year.

I was nominated by a good friend of mine here in Omaha who was a recipient of the award last year.

His name is Dan Gilbert.  He will be appearing this week on a special episode of Good Shabbos Nebraska to tell us why this is such a special award.

This is going to be an unbelievable episode!

We have singer songwriter Karen Sokoloff Javitch who is going to talk about some of her children's hits.  Then we have Etan G, the Jewish Rapper, and our headliner - the living legend - the one and only - Lenny Solomon!!!!

This is going to be an incredible shabbos.  It all begins Friday Night with a musical kabbalat shabbat and then a special shabbos dinner featuring hits from Lenny's latest album - Shabbos in Liverpool.

After Shabbos Lenny is going to do a special unplugged Havdallah concert.  Opened to the community.

And of course, Shabbos at 10am GOOD SHABBOS NEBRASKA!

It all happens right here at Beth Israel Synagogue - Where every Shabbos is a shabbaton!