Showing posts from 2012

Parashat Vayishlach

Parashat Vayishlach Sinai Synagogue Esther Hugenholtz 
Each of Us Has a Name 
"Each of us has a name, given by God and given by our parents... Each of us has a name given by our enemies and given by our love."  These words by the famous Israeli poetess Zelda appear to be custom-made for this week's parashah, parashat Vayishlach. This touches on the deepest core of who we are and what we think we are. And those two things are not always the same.  This week, Jacob, the perennial trickster, can no longer run away from his own destiny. He has to face the proverbial music and dance, or rather, wrestle.  He has left Laban's house as a rich man, in possession of two wives, two concubines, eleven sons, one daughter, servants and herds of cattle, sheep and donkeys. His, shall we say, "entrepreneurial endeavours" have not been fruitless. But Jacob's creativity is not enough. It won't save him this time. Jacob's creativity has allowed him to sail the c…

La alegría y la vulnerabilidad

Kehillat Beth Shalom, Barcelona 
La alegría y la vulnerabilidad 
¿Alguna vez has estado en un viaje por carretera o quería ir a uno? Deje la oficina, haz las maletas y marcharse hacia el atardecer, sin saber a dónde vas? Mi marido y yo hicimos algo como este para nuestras vacaciones el año pasado. Alquilamos un coche, hicimos nuestras maletas y nos cerró la puerta detrás de nosotros. Recuerdo que me sentí emoción - un zumbido real! - Cuando nos fuimos. ¿Dónde vamos a ir? He viajado mucho - así como yo he viajado a venir aquí - pero los mejores viajes son los viajes inesperados. Los recorridos que conducen a explorar y encontrar a su inseguridad. ¿En qué hotel vamos a dormir este noche? ¿Todavía hay un restaurante abierto a las 9 pm? (Ahora sé que en España esto no es un problema, pero en Holanda? Oy va voy!) ¿Y si nos perdemos en el camino? Pero es precisamente esta mezcla de felicidad y vulnerabilidad que hace que el viaje hermoso. No sé de dónde será el próximo y es todo una gran ave…

Words are Wind?

Southport Reform Community  Kol Nidré Sermon 
Words are Wind? 
“I’ll begin from the moment I got you, the moment I saw you lying on the table among my other birthday presents... on Friday, June 12, I was awake at six o ‘clock, which isn’t surprising, since it was my birthday. But I’m, not allowed to get up at that hour, so I had to control my curiosity, until quarter to seven... A little after seven I went to Daddy and Mama and then to the living room to open my presents, and you were the first thing I saw, maybe one of my nicest presents...’ 
When she started scribbling her thoughts in her checkered blue-and-red diary, on that fateful 12th of June, 1942, did she know her words were eternal? That they would change the world – both hers and ours? 
Words bind our fate and shape worlds, as my fellow Dutchwoman and co-religionist Anne Frank would intuit. Words, words, words. Yom Kippur is heavy with them. Prayers that are given wings through our sacred intentions. Words that indict us and…

Heroes and Villains

Yom Kippur Sermon  Southport Reform Synagogue 
The Heroes and Villains Among Us: Abraham and Jonah 
One of the great unexpected delights of rabbinical school was discovering that so many of my fellow students are science fiction and fantasy nerds. Star Trek, Star Wars (but never both at once!), Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings – all these modern-day sagas were loved, cherished and dissected by us students. I guess it makes sense: these narratives are so archetypical and we rabbis love a good story and a good book. 
One fantasy, however, that many of us have been particularly engrossed with is the ‘Game of Thrones’ book series by George R.R. Martin, also a successful television series by the American network HBO. In most fantasy and sci-fi, there is not so much space for moral ambiguity or psychological depth. Not so in ‘Game of Thrones’ – set in a brutal Medieval world, even the most noble of characters know their darker sphere and even the greatest of villains have some redeeming qualiti…

The Numbers Game

Southport Reform Synagogue Esther Hugenholtz 
The Numbers Game 
This is a sermon that shouldn’t be delivered again. This won’t be original nor will it be my best. It won’t be clever, complex or sophisticated. It won’t include intelligent commentary on the Torah or bring insightful citations from the Talmud. But it will be real. 
I wrote a sermon on a similar theme last year. the economy. Almost five years ago, in 2008, I started my rabbinical studies in the United States. My husband and I had plans to emigrate to America from the Netherlands. I moved to Los Angeles and hoped that he’d catch up soon and find a job in his field.  ‘Man plans and God laughs’, the Yiddish saying goes. The economy collapsed, my husband lost his job back home and couldn’t find one in the USA. We were forced to maintain a long-distance marriage for the two years that we struggled to keep me in school despite dwindling funds and stalling opportunities. Eventually, we had to face the music and pull out of rabbin…

De verplichting van bevrijding

'Pink Shabbat', Gay Outreach Dienst 3 augustus 2012 – Beit ha’Chidush  Rabbijn i.o. Esther Hugenholtz 
Parasjat V'etchanan - De verplichting van bevrijding
Kort nadat ik in 2008 in Los Angeles aan de rabbijnenopleiding begon brak de strijd rond ‘Prop Eight’ (Proposition Eight) los: het betrof een referendum voor het verbieden van het huwelijk voor mensen van gelijk geslacht. Op mijn opleiding was de stemming eensgezind: iedereen was tegen Prop Eight. We hingen campagneposters op in de ramen van onze appartementen en keken vol vertrouwen naar de datum van het referendum. In het progressieve Californië zou de meerderheid van de bevolking tegen het homo-onvriendelijke voorstel stemmen, toch? 
Toch uitte één studiegenoot, een goede vriend van mij, bezwaren. Hoewel hij absoluut het recht erkende van homo’s om relaties met elkaar aan te gaan, vond hij als rechtgeaarde en tikkeltje conservatieve ‘Midwesterner’ toch dat het huwelijk iets was tussen man en vrouw. Ik besloot meteen mij…

Covenant, Community, Caring

Shavuot Sermon Sinai Synagogue 
Covenant, Community and Caring 
Communities are interesting places. Communities can be nurturing or toxic, they can include and exclude, uplift and break down. In this sense, communities are just the sum of the parts of humanity that cement them together. Of course as a community, we hope and want to see the very best of ourselves. Yet there is a darker side to community as well. Who is in and who is out? Who participates and who is jettisoned? Who leads and who follows? This is part of the central question of what kind of a community we want to be. 
Shavuot, like any good Jewish holiday, is about many things. (We never make things simple in Judaism!) There is an agricultural component as we celebrate the harvest and offering of the firstlings. It is also, of course, about Revelation at Sinai and the giving of the Torah. Shavuot is a spiritual wedding, if you will, where Israel as the Bride enters into a sanctified and loving state with God as the groom…

Stairway to Heaven

This article has been published in the Sinai Chronicle, Sinai Reform Synagogue, Leeds
Stairway to Heaven
Are you ready to count your way to personal transformation?
The Omer Counting can be seen as the world’s oldest ’12 Step Program’, an antique method of self-improvement. According to the Chassidic tradition this is certainly the case where each ‘sefirah’ (‘counting’) is aligned with a Kabbalistic description of the Divine, like ‘Gevurah’ (power) or ‘Chesed’ (loving-kindness) for us to emulate. Be what may, the message is clear – the Omer is not only a Biblical commandment (Lev. 23:15) in which we count our way from freedom (Pesach) to Revelation (Shavuot) – but also a stairway to Heaven into our deepest personal experiences.
A lot happens en route. From the first counting (on the 15th of Nisan, second Seider night, for those who celebrate) to the 50th on erev Shavuot itself (6thof Sivan), the tragedies and joys of the Jewish people pass us by. On our relentless march to receive Torah i…

Exodus - Movement of Jah People!

This article appeared earlier in the Sinai Chronicle.
Exodus – Movement of Jah People
When I was a teen, I listened to a lot of Bob Marley. I was an avid Reggae fan and even paid homage to his grave when I visited Jamaica on a family vacation. What I loved about Bob’s music, apart from the irresistible rhythms and melodies were his spiritual, Biblically-inspired lyrics. For people the world over, black and white, rich and poor, young and old, Bob Marley’s rousing words rang like a Prophetic call to social justice and transformative faith.
In one of his most popular songs, ‘Exodus’, Bob sings the following in his Jamaican Patois:
“Open your eyes and look within: are you satisfied with the life you’re living?”
Although Bob Marley was not Jewish, he echoes the sentiments of the Haggadah which tells us to every generation is to regard themselves as if they personally had exited Egypt: ‘chayav adam lirot et atzmo ke’ilu hu yatza mimitzrayim’.
What is remarkable about this commandment, rooted…


Sermon Leo Baeck College / Sinai Synagogue Leeds Parashat Mishpatim
The Shadow Side of Torah
If last week’s parashah (Yitro) was the wedding ceremony, this week’s reading should be the honeymoon. Last week’s parashah was so easy to fall in love with. There was the wisdom of Yitro, the romance of Revelation and the drama of the Ten Utterances to woo the reader. We collectively experienced the marriage between God and the people of Israel as we became His bride and as He presented us with His ketubah. So, a romantic honeymoon seems to be in the making!
There is much to love in Parashat Mishpatim. God and Israel are starting to build their relationship and working out the details of living a covenanted life together. Up to this point, there is much to be happy about. Mishpatim is the parashah that gives us such moral classics as ‘do not oppress the stranger for you were strangers in Egypt’ (Ex. 22:20) and ‘you shall neither side with the mighty to do wrong—you shall not give perverse test…

Parashat Yitro

Sermon Birmingham Progressive Community Esther Hugenholtz
Parashat Yitro – We Are All Jews-by-Choice
What does it mean to be Jewish?
I am sure there are as many answers as there are Jews and – you’ll find this very Jewish of me! – there’s not one ‘right’ answer. Some of us may say that Judaism is about a profound sense of history. Others will say that being Jewish is about being a mensch. I am sure some of you might say that being Jewish is to feel an inextricable connection to the land (and people) of Israel. And yet for others, being Jewish is about tapping into a deep spirituality.
And the list goes on. We have so many ways of ‘being Jewish’. Flavourful matzoh ball soup on Friday night, the white-and-blue JNF tin for loose change. Faded sepia photographs of trade unionist grandparents in the garment industry. But also the habit of perking up with pride when a famous Jew is mentioned in the newspaper. For Jews of the Near East, being Jewish may mean kibbeh and choumous and Torah rea…