Showing posts from October, 2016

Back to the Future

Parashat Bereishit Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
Back to the Future
Remember way-back-when, before the new Millennium? Decades ago, what were your associations with the year 2000? As someone who straddles the line between Gen X’er and Millennial, I distinctly remember binge-watching mediocre science-fiction flicks as a teen: RoboCop, Back to the Future (granted, that’s a classic), Total Recall (directed by my ‘landsman’ Paul Verhoeven), Alien (and its numerous sequels), Jurassic Park, Waterworld and Independence Day. My 1990’s scifi movie-watching habits ingrained a love for the genre till this day.
Despite my love for the genre, I have to acknowledge that science-fiction narratives are almost always dystopian. Very few have a hopeful, redemptive message (the ‘Star Trek’ franchise being a noted exception) and most dwell on a grim and gritty future, currently, Charlie Brooker’s ‘Black Mirror’ series being a prime example. As a social scientist, I’ve often wondered about why that is the case. Wh…

Chol haMoed Sukkot: the Joy of Vulnerability

Sermon Shabbat Chol haMoed Sukkot 2016 Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
The Joy of Vulnerability
I took a train to London this past week and went to buy a cup of tea from the bar. As I placed my order with the barista, I heard her European-accented English, so I said cheerfully, ‘I’m from Holland, where are you from?’ and I noticed her reflex: she didn’t want to answer my potentially invasive question, even though I pre-empted it by sharing in our joint Continental background. ‘I’m from everywhere and nowhere’, she answered awkwardly though not unkindly. A few moments later, however, she softened and offered a compromise. ‘Oh, I speak four languages and am learning my fifth now!’ She lowered her gaze a little and said in a soft voice but not without pride: ‘Hebrew’.
Well, I didn’t see that one coming but a rabbi is always ready to pounce on a fellow Jew, so I said, ‘b’emet?’ – ‘really?’ – ‘kol hakavod!’ and she started laughing. ‘You’re Jewish?’ she asked me and I answered in the affirmative. ‘Me …

Taking Emotional Risks: Yom Kippur Sermon 2016

Yom Kippur Sermon 2016 Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
Taking Emotional Risks
Let’s start off tonight with our first confession.
The High Holy Days can feel make us feel a little word weary, between all the Avinu Malkeinu’s, the Al Chet’s and the Ashamnu’s. Repetition can be instructive, even cathartic but it can be dulling as well. Frankly, some of us may already feel a little bored or tuned out this ‘early in the game’ and are bracing ourselves for the next 24 hours.
Just like we delved into our ‘Deep Stories’ during Rosh haShanah to uncover what drives us and what can make us more empathic towards the experiences of others, we have the opportunity to embrace the ideas behind the words of our liturgy. If there’s one key idea – of many - that we can distill from the High Holy Days is the call to take emotional risks.
The confessions, the repentance, the high drama of prayer, the intensity of the God-language, the liturgical repetition, the self-examination, the promises, decisions and commitmen…

Rosh haShanah Sermon: The Deep Story

Rosh haShanah Sermon 2016 Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
The Deep Story
Let me ask you an honest question: how has your year been? How has it really been?
Are you angry? Are you scared? Are you hopeful? Are you determined?
Any, all or none of the above ring true; it’s been quite the year, hasn’t it? Tumultuous, volatile, unpredictable. Many of us may feel disconnected and worried, disempowered and cynical. Like the prophet Jonah, we’re cast upon the waves, facing an uncertain destiny. This year has been quite the year of headlines; here’s to name just a few: The Paris, Brussels and Nice terrorist attacks, the continued devastation of Syria and Iraq, the refugee crisis, the Zika virus, the failed military coup in Turkey and of course, the impactful events on both sides of the Atlantic: the Brexit vote and one of the most contested American presidential elections. No wonder, then, that we find ourselves in a liminal space, waiting to exhale. (Even one of the great, visionary and wise stalwarts of the St…