This post will be the 100th posting on  Somehow, that feels like a milestone.

But this blog has also reached a more significant milestone — it is moving to a new site,  hosted within the website of the new Deborah’s Palm Center for Jewish Learning and Experiences

I value all of you, my subscribers, and appreciate the conversation.

So please, check out the new Raviva home, and join me under Deborah’s Palm Tree.

I hope you will subscribe there.

For now, from this, Raviva’s first home, Shalom Uv’racha — Farewell and many blessings.

New posts will now be on Raviva’s new home site. I look forward to seeing you there!

Deborah's Palm Tree

Deborah’s Palm Tree


It’s Official!

Weekly classes in South Orange, NJ

Weekly classes in South Orange, NJ

is now offering Jewish wisdom in learning groups and programs in Northern New Jersey.

As I migrate the Raviva blog to my new site, here is one of the programs that Deborah’s Palm is offering — a weekly Sunday morning class “Your Jewish GPS” —  in South Orange, NJ.

Please visit:

The new site includes a page “Ask the Rabbi” — I’d love to hear from you!

This post was originally published on my page of the blog for Rabbis Without Borders on


This week’s stunning headline read “Affluenza Defense Lands Wealthy Teen in Rehab After He Kills 4 People in Drunk Driving Accident.”

The term “affluenza,” popularized in a 2001 a book,Affluenza, the All Consuming Epidemic (de Graff, Wann, and Naylor) is described as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.”

The headline for the “Affluenza defense” told a horrific story. It was the defense strategy for 16 year-old Ethan Couch, who killed four people and severely injured two more while driving his father’s pickup truck with more than three times the legal limit for alcohol in his blood, along with valium. Driving 70 miles an hour in a 40 MPH zone, the teen was behind the wheel after stealing beer from a store, then taking 7 passengers with him on a drunken ride. Despite the stolen beer, the speeding, the underage drinking, etc.—a long list of offenses—the teen was sentenced to just 10 years of probation and mandatory rehabilitation. The rehab ordered by the judge will cost $450,000 a year, in what seems more a punishment of his parents than a consequence for their killer child.

News outlets reported that a “psychologist hired as an expert by the defense testified in court that the teen was a product of affluenza and was unable to link his bad behavior with consequences due to his parents teaching him that wealth buys privilege.” An anguished man who lost his wife and daughter in the crash observed that Couch’s family’s money was able to pay for the expensive legal defense, and cover the rehab costs—and had this not been the case, the outcome surely would have been different.

They should be ashamed of themselves, all of them—everyone who defended this remorseless teenager—for defending his actions. This defense was a way of saying that he bears no blame. In fact, his facial expressions and body language all bore out an arrogant “you can’t touch me” detachment.

Should the parents be punished for raising a child with such a sense of entitlement, lacking boundaries and lessons about consequences – essentially without morals?  Maybe. If only the psychologist had tried to determine the causes for this kid’s malevolent self-absorption, perhaps the parents would bear some guilt. We know that parents can’t control the outcomes of their parenting, and some who try to do their best end up disappointed. Yet, this case does cry out for examination of the parents’ role in producing this outcome.

Shouldn’t this be an opportunity to raise a cultural conversation about parenting with boundaries and consequences—teaching our kids to have a moral compass?

Even more so, the consequences for the teen should have made a different point. If this is a child who was not taught to live with boundaries and consequences, then the court did the worst possible thing by repeating that very same pattern. Ideally, he should be taught that there are painful—and sometimes disastrous—consequences of bad judgment. Perhaps he won’t learn morality at this point, but we have a responsibility to try. And if nothing more, society should make sure he can’t hurt anyone else again.

How about a lifetime ban on his obtaining a driver’s license or purchasing or leasing any motor vehicle?

We owe it to the victims and to all of our children, to do better than this.

A recent report from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) found that one third of American rabbis are reluctant to express their views on Israel because of intimidation and out of fear of losing their positions.

That needs to change, and so the Rabbinic Cabinet of J Street, Americans for Peace Now, and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights co-wrote a petition calling upon all American rabbis and cantors to speak up now in support of Secretary Kerry’s mission to assist Israel and the Palestinians in resolving their conflict in a two-states for two peoples agreement that ends Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and justly resolves all issues and claims, including security, borders, settlements, Jerusalem, refugees, and water between Israelis and the Palestinians.

The petition says:

We are American Rabbis and Cantors, united in service of the Jewish people and committed to the people and the land of Israel. We have studied in Israel, and taught about Israel, visited countless times and brought members of our communities with us. We have lived in Israel and immersed ourselves in her history and culture. Many of us have family, friends, and colleagues who live there. Some of us hold Israeli citizenship. We, as a community, have dedicated ourselves to support for Israel, to her long-term security and to her future as a Jewish homeland and a democracy.

All of us believe that for Israel to have a future as a Jewish and a democratic state, living within secure, defined and recognized borders, there must be a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

At this moment, Secretary of State John Kerry – backed by President Obama – has made heroic efforts to bring all the parties to the negotiating table. Months of negotiations are beginning to bear fruit. Secretary Kerry has taken up the challenge of the Psalmist to “seek peace and pursue it,” but he cannot bring peace on his own. “We really are at a critical point,” said Secretary Kerry “as Palestinians and Israeli leaders grapple with difficult and challenging decisions that lie ahead.”

We must now heed the call of our tradition, and loudly and clearly proclaim that it is because of our commitment to Israel that we stand up and act for the two-state solution. “For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest.”(Isaiah 62:1). And so we commit to be active supporters of those who work day in and day out to bring about a peace agreement.

The voices of those who support peace and justice must rise up above the din of doubt and denial. We pledge that we will speak from our pulpits, in our classrooms, at our camps and in our newspapers, to deliver a message of hope and faith.

We will speak of the urgency of this moment and of the necessity of communal action. We will speak up for Israel, against the occupation and for peace.

Our voices will not be silenced. Our loyalties cannot be called into question. The time now is too critical, the stakes too high. We will speak up in support of peace, heeding the words of Theodor Herzl: “If you will it, it is no dream; and if you do not will it, a dream it is and a dream it will stay.”

Of course, absolutely, there must be mutual agreement between Israel and the Palestinians in whatever is worked out between them, and this includes security guarantees an “end of claims” and “end of conflict” clauses in any deal.  

Now is the time. Months of negotiations are beginning to bear fruit. Secretary Kerry has taken up the challenge of the Psalmist to “seek peace and pursue it,” but he cannot bring peace on his own.

We ask our colleagues to Join us in declaring that you will speak up for Israel, against the occupation and for peace. “For Zion’s sake, I will not be silent, and for the sake of Jerusalem I will not rest.” (Isaiah 62:1)


Rabbi Jonah Geffen, Rabbinic Director, J Street
Rabbi John Friedman, National Co-Chair, J Street Rabbinic Cabinet
Rabbi John Rosove, National Co-Chair, J Street Rabbinic Cabinet
Rabbi Amy Small, National Co-Chair, J Street Rabbinic Cabinet

This post originally appeared on the blog of Rabbis Without Borders,

ImageWhere is home?  Is it where you live, even if it is temporary?  Is it where you grew up?  Is it the place where your parents or grandparents and their families originated?

Home might also be a special place where the heart resides even if it isn’t our place of residence. The Jewish people have held Israel in their hearts for over three millennia.

Home could also be the place where we have grown up or come of age. At a recent event I met someone with whom I had an immediate connection — we shared the history of the same childhood home synagogue in Philadelphia. Neither of us have been there in decades, but the connection to this home bonded us.

And of course, home is where we live, if we are fortunate enough to have stable housing — something we cannot take for granted.

I’ve been ruminating on this for the last couple of weeks as various manifestations of “home” have been in my face.

I spent a week with my husband and two of our kids in the Bay area of California. We stayed in an Airbnb rental in Berkeley and experienced being paying guests in a stranger’s home — it was much more comfortable than a hotel. I wondered how it would feel to have people staying in my home who were paying consumers. We spent a day talking about whether and how we would consider being hosts, renting all or part of our house for SuperBowl weekend (since we live in NJ, not far from the stadium, where hotel rooms are scarce.)

We walked around downtown Berkeley for six days, confronted with a very present and aggressively begging homeless population. The streets are their home. We talked about how homeless people can feel invisible as the streets fill with people who avert their eyes as they pass them by.

Even with unusually frigid weather in New Jersey, it was so nice to come home.  But soon the political scandal engulfing my state caught my attention. Maybe it was the sleazy drama of it all, but something drew me into listening to a long press conference and reading endless columns of reactions and analysis.  My home, New Jersey, was being maligned. I felt protective of my home state — I wanted to tell the world about the great hiking and biking, lush farmland and gardens in my home state. Please don’t think of New Jersey as traffic and the turnpike and slimy politicians. It’s my home.

This week the Modern Language Association debated one-sided resolutions criticizing Israel, way out of proportion to rebukes to the other nations of the world, and I felt protective of my other “home.”  I am fortunate to have spent enough time in Israel to relate to the land personally; it’s not an abstract feeling of attachment.

We who are fortunate to have comfortable places to call home, with perhaps the means to share with guests, or the opportunity for multiple special places of “home,” are truly living with the blessing of holiness. Jewish tradition has many names for God, including the oft-used “hamakom“– meaning, “the place.”

The homeless people who claim their spot on the street, staying day-after-day in “their” place, are striving for the same shelter under “Divine wings.” They deserve to not be invisible; they too are created in the Divine image.

In this week’s Torah reading (Yitro),the Israelites, newly freed from slavery, had to figure out how to make a home in the wilderness. It was not easy. But thanks to Yitro, Moses’s father-in-law, they organized themselves into a representational polity that took the needs of all the people into account.

When we care for each other, as if we are guests in each others homes, we find “hamakom.” Home is where we are respected, seen, nurtured and fully alive as ourselves. It takes eyes that see and hearts that care for “home” to realized. That is the blessing we can make real in our world.

A Teaching for This Week’s Torah Reading: Beshalach Devar Torah

If I asked you to imagine being inside the story of this week’s Torah reading, when the Hebrew slaves were liberated, then chased by Pharoah’s army with chariots, most likely you wouldn’t have a clue what it would been like. Of course, some among us are Holocaust survivors or have experienced other life-threatening ordeals – and these images may seem personally relevant. But most of us have avoided the terror of enslavement and flight-under pursuit.

Yet, many of us have come through difficult ordeals – relationship crises, break-ups, job loss, financial crisis, or illness – and we have stood in that moment of terror between the narrow place of suffering and the unknown future. 

Moses faced his people’s frightened faces as they stood at the water, with Pharoah in pursuit. He tried to silence their cries by insisting they summon faith from within their hearts:

Exodus 14:13 But Moses said to the people, “Have no fear! Stand by, and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again. 14 The Lord will battle for you; you hold your peace!”

 I don’t know about you, but I know this wouldn’t have calmed my fears. In fact, Moses’ rebuke would have made me more afraid.  Stand and wait for deliverance? Really?!   I might be wondering which would be worse: drowning in the sea or succumbing to Pharoah’s violent fury?

The Torah text goes on to imagine the Divine reaction to Moses’ plea for faith:

 15 Then the Holy One said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to Me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. 16 And you lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it, so that the Israelites may march into the sea on dry ground.

Clearly, the people needed action.  They needed to be empowered to move forward, feeling Divine support within themselves. The rabbis of the Talmud understood that we must act – sometimes taking a leap of faith.  They perceived a break in the text, filled-in with the legend of Nachshon ben Aminadav, reputed to be have been the leader of the tribe of Judah. Nachshon was the quintessential “first adopter” – he watched Moses awaiting God’s redemption and realized that the people needed to act. So he jumped into the water. Only then did Moses understand that his role was to raise his staff, leading the people across the receded basin of the sea.

At that moment, the wilderness ahead was not frightening. Even though the dry, barren desert would soon be another terrifying frontier – what would they eat or drink? — the chapters of wilderness were yet to unfold. At the sea, all they could do was move forward to the safety of dry land.  There was no turning back.

When survival — whether physical, spiritual, emotional – is at stake, only a leap of faith can propel us forward. No matter what challenges may await us, redemption from danger or despair is a process that begins with the heart of Nachshon. When we realize that we cannot afford to wait as Moses did, we open a world of possibilities for ourselves.

 We all know that change is hard. Stepping forward, diving into the waters of uncertainty, we cross the threshold of the most difficult moment of all. Once on the other side, we will be strengthened by the faith we learn in that dive. We learn that there is no turning back — and we don’t need to try. Fortunately, we discover that we have boundless capacity for changing our fortunes for ourselves. This is the foundation of faith.

Our world is changing rapidly around us. No doubt some of us have endured ordeals, and others of us may yet face imposing waters.  Nachshon should be echoing in our heads. If we stand still, we face greater danger than if we take the leap forward.  We can, in fact we must dive into the future.

A Talmudic discussion of this text imagines that the tribes were bickering as the terrified people faced the sea – who would go first? If it had not been for Nachshon, the bickering would have brought on the people’s destruction.  The dangers to us as individuals and as a people are not only external. We must pull together with respect and resolve.  Nachshon came to teach that there is no future unless we face it together.  The future is in our hands; we are “atidim” – those who are seizing the moment and shaping the path forward.

This is a lesson for families, communities, our nation, our people and all of humanity.  Thanks to Nachshon, we can overcome our obstacles and our fears to create a redemptive future together.

Image {This teaching was presented at the opening event honoring the Atidim, those who have invested in the future of the Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life of Greater Metrowest, New Jersey, 1/8/14.}





This was originally published on the Rabbis Without Borders Blog of

800px-Sandy_Hook_Memorial_12-26.jpg-largeOn Friday, December 14, 2012, I heard the news in the car. Shots were being fired in an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Little information was yet known.

I was seized by a sick feeling of sadness, worry, and a familiar anger that has unfortunately been all too frequent – anger that our country remains gripped by a culture of violence and politics that glorifies guns.

Amidst deep worry for the people of Sandy Hook, another fear took hold. A dear cousin of mine who is a lower-grade elementary school teacher lives in that community. We had just visited over the Thanksgiving weekend. I didn’t recall the name of the school where my cousin teaches, so I went into a panic. I couldn’t reach my cousin by phone and tried to find the faculty list on the Sandy Hook school’s website, but it was down in the midst of the crisis. My sister called me in panic – we felt so helpless without any information.

Hours later my cousin called. Its turns out he teaches in a nearby town. His cell phone held dozens of voicemails and text messages from worried friends and family — he had been teaching, not using his phone. We breathed in a deep and grateful sense of relief.

Then I felt guilty for our feelings of relief. In deep sadness, I watched the scenes on TV, grieving for the 20 children and six adults; such unspeakable losses. These families would not ever experience the sense of relief that my family enjoyed. I viscerally recall the terror generated by this horrible violence. It could have been any of us, or our children. For some, it was their children; we feel such deep sympathy for them.

Where is the rage? What has happened to our country and our world?  Why do mentally ill people not get the treatment they need? Why do people feel they need these instruments of death?

So much needs to fixed: mental health awareness and treatment; violence in our culture: movies, video games and TV; a 24/7 media culture that sensationalizes, to the point of (unintentionally) glorifying perpetrators – especially to “would-be” committers of the next shooting; and a political culture that is bought and sold by the gun lobby.

We are out of control. A late 19th-century prophetic European social critic, Max Nordau, wrote of his fears for society’s fall into “public drug peddling, random shootings, graphically violent popular entertainment, and a massive reduction of the human attention span” (Degeneration, 1895). We have been warned; we know the problems. It is time to fix them.

The people of Newtown have asked for privacy and quiet at this sad first anniversary.  Still, The New York Times, reporting on the anniversary, offered insight into the ongoing process of grief and healing in Newtown:

“Ms. Lewis, Jesse’s mother, begins every day by pulling on three or four or five of her Jesse bracelets before heading out. The bracelets read, ‘Nurturing, Healing, Love’ — three words her son had written on their kitchen chalkboard shortly before 12/14. The phrase became the title of her book about her son and the aftermath of the shooting, published in October. ‘Anyone who needs a pick-me-up or seems nice, I always offer a bracelet,’ she said.”

The Torah teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. The commandment is not to feel love; it is a commandment to action. We have the courage – this is America! We must use it – to infuse our world with nurturing, healing and love.