“Zoom” and My Modern Family



I spend a lot of time in my car between San Ramon and Los Angeles.  Lately I’ve been listening to the podcast Judaism UnboundJudaism Unbound explores out-of-the-box thinking about what is working and what is not and where the Jewish community is headed.  Their first guest was Rabbi Benay Lappe who spoke about the way people react when the structure around them (in this case institutional Jewish life) no longer works for them.  According to Rabbi Lappe, people have 3 options – they can stay, they can leave, or adapt or innovate to create something that does work.   I fit into the third category.

For years, since my kids went off to college, most Friday nights you will find our family gathered to light Shabbat candles and to share our week.   This might not be so unusual in some circles but for the fact that one son lives in Irvine, one in Vermont, my father and step-mom are in Idaho and we live in Northern California.  Come sundown and 7:30 PST we all gather via Zoom technology, on our computers, as a family.  We sing, we bless, we eat, we laugh.  Our pets meow and bark and we create special, sacred time.  We could let the distance get the better of us and we could drift apart but using the structure of Shabbat, we are strengthening our connection as a family and experiencing a time-honored Jewish ritual.

Judaism Unbound asserts that in today’s Jewish world our focus should be on the quality of our interactions; rather than how big our congregations are.  They observe that it seems to many that to lead an authentic Jewish life you must buy into the “whole package” – to do every ritual and every prayer.  But their point is that we can be “unbounded’ from this notion and “unbundle” the different elements of the package.  We can do the things that are relevant and meaningful in our lives, and not focus on what is not.

There are some who say that we shouldn’t be using computers on Shabbat, and others who might take umbrage with the cats and dogs in the background, and others who for whatever reason say that our Shabbat gathering doesn’t work, but this works for us.  It infuses our lives with connection to each other, with connection to our family’s history and our family’s future, as well as with ideas of creating sacred Jewish space.   And it is no small thing that on a Friday night, my 27-year old son chooses to light Shabbat candles, to mark Jewish time, before he does whatever a single 27-year old does on a Friday night.

With age and experience comes understanding.   It used to sound cliché but now I really understand the expression “The Jews don’t keep the Shabbat; the Shabbat keeps the Jews” because it is my reality.

Wishing you all a Happy Passover filled with food, friends and family,

Jamie/Reb Jamie


Inspiration, Food and Maimonides?~!

MaimonidesHow do we bring Jewish ideas and ethics off our bookshelves and make them come alive to inspire our lives today?  Sometimes inspiration comes from left field when you least expect it.  Inspiration takes you out of your normal status quo and beckons you to try something new.  And, if you combine your inspiration with a bit of whimsy, you get something really special.

As you may have gathered from the repeating food references in my writing, I love to cook, and I love to bring my friends and community together under the umbrella of Jewish life and values.  I have been traveling a lot and so with an open Friday night at home, we decided to invite over a couple, of which the wife is a ceramicist.  She commented to me that she is finishing up a piece based on the Sephardic Jewish philosopher Maimonides, that she created for a mutual friend who really is taken by him. As it happens, a third friend and I have both been reading the same biography of Maimonides.   What are the odds that besides me, three of my friends would be aware of and interested in Maimonides at the same time?  Very, very, very small.

Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as the Rambam) was born in Spain around 1135.  Maimonides was a renaissance man, extremely learned and well-read, he was “one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages (Wikipedia).”  He wrote a magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, which distilled the oral tradition into the essence of the ideas presented and provided a comprehensive “how to” manual for Jewish life.  The Mishneh Torah continues to be studied today, almost 1000 years later.

With this weird convergence of interest in this great scholar, our small Shabbat dinner morphed into an ode to him with the meal inspired by the physical journey of his life.  Forced to flee from Spain, Maimonides made his way to Fez, Morocco; Jerusalem; and to Egypt, first to Alexandria, and finally to Fustat which is now modern-day Cairo.  In his honor, we are having appetizers from Spain, a starter course from Morocco, the main dish from Jerusalem, and dessert from Egypt.   And while I am sure the food will be delicious, I am most excited about the conversation that will flow.  In addition to talking about our children and how the Warriors are doing, Maimonides will come alive at our Shabbat table.   I imagine that it would please him to know that he is the honored guest after 1000 years.

So next time you are inspired to have friends over, throw in some whimsy and invite a Jewish scholar who has been dead for almost a 1000 years.  The past will come alive and your present will be richer for it.

Reb Jamie