Rabbi’s Blog

You are here now : University Synagogue > Rabbi's Blog

When Will They/We Ever Learn…And Act!

2018 February 16 by

Bullying? – Yes.  Mental illness? – Yes.  Easy availability of guns? – Yes.  Teens and adults who “see something” and “say nothing?” – Yes.

Over and over, the same story, the same tears and shock, the same weapons, but nothing ever changes.  Nothing is ever learned that leads to action.

Politicians: Stop saying “let’s pray” for the victims.  Start standing up to the NRA and find reasonable compromises.  If you think that the term “Gun Control” polarizes, start saying “licensing” and “regulating.” Find the language that enables reason and human decency to win support from both sides of the aisle.  Find the courage to be leaders. Continue reading »

Come To The Most Memorable “Shabbat Alive” Musical Service Of The Year And Do A Mitzvah, Too

2018 February 6 by

From time to time, our Cantor presents a special “Shabbat Alive” service that features delightful music not usually experienced in Jewish worship. This Friday night at 7:00 p.m., her band of Latino and Jewish musicians will play Sephardic and Latin music from around the world, as we sing our traditional prayers to Samba, Salsa, Tango and Ladino Spanish rhythms.

There will be a conga dance line for Lecha Dodi and so much more! You will certainly want to be there for this incredible Jewish music celebration.

In addition, we have invited 100 children and adults from El Sol Academy in Santa Ana to share Shabbat dinner with us.
Continue reading »

What’s The Most Fun That You Can Have In A Synagogue Legally? It’s The Biblical Trial On Sunday, February 25!

2018 January 31 by

What comes four days before Purim and a week before the Oscars, has an incredible cast and is filled with joy? It’s our annual Biblical Trial and it combines elements of both the Oscars and Purim. Our cast is superb – UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky, Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson and Justice Richard Fybel. Their timing, sense of humor, legal knowledge and commitment to Jewish learning are apparent in each dramatic word that they speak and in every argument that they offer.

Their “battle of wits” elucidates the text of the Biblical story of the “Golden Calf” and also raises profound ethical issues. Their “Trial By Humor” is much more than the story of “Jews Gone Wild.”

Continue reading »

Jewish Magic, Homeland Security And Shabbat Alive Services

2018 January 16 by

Where can you get so much interesting diversity in one Shabbat service!  First of all, there’s a delicious Shabbat dinner with the Merage Israeli Executive Fellows, whose specialty is “Homeland Security” – an always relevant topic in both Israel and the United States.  Each table will have one or more fascinating Fellows to meet, learn from and perhaps connect to your business and personal networks.

Then, we’ll share in our Shabbat Alive jazz and pop service with a band, our Young Cantors and Cantor Braier!  The music is always exhilarating and our liturgy truly comes alive when sung to new melodies.  Also, it’s always fascinating to match our Merage Israeli Executive Fellows (who will be singing on the bima) experience this very novel Shabbat service – egalitarian, musical, joyous and Reconstructionist – for the first time, something they have never seen before in Israel.  Each group of Israeli guests tells the Merage Family and others that our Shabbat Alive service was one of the highlights of their two-week program of intensive learning.

Moreover, how much do we really know about the “folk religion” of Judaism – beliefs about magic and superstition, bubbe meises and incantations, amulets and secret mantras?  These are the topics that will be explored by our speaker, Haifa University Professor Yossi Chajes, in a talk that will be fun, fascinating, humorous and psychologically and spiritually insightful.

So, sign up for Shabbat Dinner today and “eat, pray and learn” on Friday night.

Don’t miss this memorable Shabbat.



Rabbi Arnold Rachlis


Rabbi Rachlis’ Eulogy Delivered At Blaze Bernstein’s Funeral

2018 January 16 by

Many people have asked for the eulogy that Rabbi Rachlis delivered at Blaze Bernstein’s funeral yesterday.  Here it is below:


Eulogy for Blaze Nathan Bernstein

Delivered by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis

University Synagogue, Irvine CA

January 15, 2018



All of us have shared and are sharing an incredibly painful experience with Blaze’s family.  And this pain will be with us for a long time.

We are angry and numb and emotionally depleted and sleep deprived.  Yet, our focus needs to be on one family only – Gideon, Jeanne, Jay and Beaue, Blaze’s grandparents, Richard and Leah and Regina and Gary, and the rest of his loving and grieving family.

It’s about a death we never expected and still find hard to believe, and the preceding week of psychological torture – during Blaze’s disappearance – before we had to face the worst outcome.

I have known this family since before Blaze’s birth.  I have celebrated simchas with them and kvelled as I watched their children grow up.  I have always had such respect for Gideon and Jeanne’s commitment to their children, to the Jewish community and to University Synagogue.  Because of Jeanne, we created the “Mom’s Club,” precursor to our wonderful Pre-School.  Because of Gideon, we are part of the Legacy Society of the Jewish Community Foundation.

Continue reading »

May Blaze Bernstein’s Memory Be For A Blessing

2018 January 10 by

It is with the most profound sadness that I share with you the news that Blaze Bernstein’s body has been found in the park where he disappeared.  An autopsy is being performed.  The Orange County Sheriff’s office considers the death a homicide.

I know that everyone has been talking with me, and each other, day and night, for the last week, asking about Blaze, offering comfort to his family and wanting to know if there’s anything that they can do.

This is a devastating time for the Bernstein/Pepper family and for all of us, who have known Blaze for all of his life.  Grief counselors from the Jewish Federation will be on hand at University Synagogue today from 1:00  to 4:00 p.m. and also again on Sunday, January 28 from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. during our Religious School/Living Judaism Program for those who may need help in dealing with all that has happened.

Thank you to all those who passed out flyers and emailed friends and family to spread the word and to those who let Gideon and Jeanne and Jay and Beaue know – directly or indirectly – how much you care for them.  We will keep updating you on information as it becomes known.

At our 7:00 p.m. Shabbat services this Friday night (when conservative broadcast journalist Hugh Hewitt speaks), I’ll talk about Blaze, as well and how we can comfort his family, and ourselves, going forward.

May Blaze’s memory be for a blessing.



Rabbi Arnie Rachlis

I Can’t Think About Anything Other Than Blaze Bernstein

2018 January 8 by

Since last Wednesday evening, when I first heard that 19-year old University Synagogue member Blaze Bernstein was missing, I haven’t been able to seriously focus on anything else.  Like so many of you who know his parents, Gideon and Jeanne, and his siblings, Jay and Beaue, this horrible situation is so painful and confusing and it becomes more so each day.

You’ve heard the story on TV and read it in the papers each day.  A University of Pennsylvania sophomore, home for winter break, Blaze met a friend at a park and soon disappeared.  Helicopters, drones, law enforcement professionals, friends and strangers have searched for him, and sent emails and flyers to everyone they know.

Blaze’s family has been surrounded by love and support from University Synagogue members and so many others.  Their agony is great and so, too, is ours.

Someone knows something.  Someone has seen something.  Many tips have come forward.  More are needed.

Gideon and Jeanne are obviously emotionally crushed and focused on the details of the investigation.  I have shared with them the love and support for them that our congregation feels and that was profoundly expressed to me, for them, at Shabbat services a few days ago.

Please read and listen to the news stories.  Contact everyone whom you know that lives in the area of the disappearance or that knows Blaze and his peers.  Google the latest and stay current on any details that emerge.

Again, someone knows something.  Someone has seen something.  Let’s do everything that we can.


Rabbi Arnie Rachlis

Don’t Miss Hanukkah For Kids (And Their Parents And Adults Of All Ages) On Friday, December 8 and Hanukkah For Adults (And Older Children) On Sunday, December 10 With Singer/Songwriter Craig Taubman

2017 December 1 by

On Friday, December 8, we’ll have our annual Pre-Hanukkah Shabbat dinner (6:15 p.m.) and service (7:00 p.m.) with latkes and dreidels, chocolate gelt and plenty of singing and joy. It will, as always, be fun for all ages, but especially geared to families. Click here to RSVP or call the office for Shabbat dinner.

A more adult Hanukkah event will take place on Sunday, December 10, at 5:00 p.m., when we’ll hold our final “big event” of 2017.  This will be a “Hanukkahpalooza” with joyous melodies and celebration. Orange County needs a big concert at Hanukkah time, like we used to have, and this is it! Craig Taubman, one of America’s most famous singer/songwriters in Jewish life, will perform a rare concert with his band.  There will be a few Continue reading »

Israeli journalist, Chemi Shalev, will speak on “Israel: Democracy, Religious Liberalism And Listening To The Concerns Of The American Jewish Community.”

2017 November 27 by

I have some wonderful news. Although our December 1 speaker had to cancel his visit, we immediately found an exciting Israeli journalist, Chemi Shalev, to be with us that evening. The title of this letter is the title of his talk and he’s going to speak about democratic tensions in Israeli society over religion and minorities and with the American Jewish community. What should our role be, as American Jews who feel so connected to Israel? How much of a say should we, who support Israel through philanthropy and political advocacy, have in Israeli societal and political decisions, since we don’t live there? How much should Israel pay attention to us and our vision of Israel? How has the Orthodox denial of liberal Judaism in Israel affected our feelings about Israel as well as our opinions about Israeli-Palestinian peace?

Continue reading »

From Trumpism To Taubman-mania: The Next Three Incredible Weeks At University Synagogue

2017 November 16 by

There’s always a lot going on at University Synagogue, but the next three weeks are incredibly jam-packed! I can’t include everything today but here are some highlights:


This Friday night, November 17, at 7:00 p.m., I’ll give my annual “White House Report” at services. I cannot begin to describe the despair in Washington, DC by long-serving Republicans and Democrats within and outside the Administration, on Capitol Hill and in governmental agencies, and the chaos and confusion over Administration policies and Presidential tweets, the understaffing of Cabinet agencies and the demoralization of serious men and women, of both political parties, who feel demeaned and dejected. In all of my years of attending my annual three-day White House briefings for White House Fellows, I have never seen such dispirited leaders. It’s not the polarization of Republicans vs. Democrats that stands out – it’s the establishment vs. those who are inexperienced and radical.

Continue reading »

From The Balfour Declaration To Today – Meet Our Jewish And Arab Israeli Speakers This Friday Night!

2017 November 8 by

A hundred years ago on November 2, 1917, the British government issued the Balfour Declaration, declaring its support for “a national home for the Jewish people.”  Thirty years earlier, the First Zionist Congress had met in Basel, Switzerland in 1897, as Jews were split over Zionism, and six months from now, during this Jewish year 5778, Israel will celebrate its 70th birthday with virtually all Jews (and many others) fully rejoicing in the moment.

The State of Israel has been a great achievement in Jewish and world history.  But Zionism’s work isn’t yet done, because our Jewish home has not yet given its non-Jewish, primarily Arab citizens, full equality. Continue reading »

Meet My Friend, Danny Rubin, Writer Of The Film (And Broadway Musical) “Groundhog Day” – This Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.

2017 November 6 by

“Groundhog Day” is an iconic movie.  Even its title has become a colloquial expression for “becoming stuck” and repeating the same thing again and again.

We’re showing the film this Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at the Regal Westpark 8 Cinemas, 3735 Alton Parkway, Irvine as part of our Film Festival.  It’s a very funny comedy with profound moral lessons about rejecting narcissism and embracing altruism, finding meaning in the everyday, living “in the moment” and opening yourself up to caring and love. 

The 25th anniversary of “Groundhog Day” is coming up and my friend, Danny Rubin, the film’s writer, is traveling from his home in Santa Continue reading »

We Were At The Terrorist Attack In New York

2017 November 1 by

Ruti and I feel profoundly fortunate to be safe and deeply saddened by the tragic loss of life in New York City yesterday.  We were/are in New York yesterday and we were waiting to hear back from our son Adam as to when we would meet him for coffee.  Adam, a mergers and acquisitions attorney, is an investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a block from the World Trade Center.  Ruti and I decided to stroll along the water on the bike/pedestrian path when we received texts and then a call from Adam telling us that his building was on “lock down” and that, from his office on the 32nd floor, he was watching the atrocious attack unfold.  We were only a half-block away from the final moments of the attack site when we got Adam’s messages.  We immediately turned around and warned others walking and riding bikes near us and, moments later, saw the police and ambulances arrive as helicopters flew overhead and the sound of sirens filled the air.

An hour before, we had visited the 9-11 Memorial Fountain and talked about how the rebuilt area of Ground Zero truly made a powerful statement about American resiliency in the face of terror.  It was our third visit to that site since 9-11 and, each time, we have experienced the sanctity of that sacred space.

Writing this letter a day after the attack, Ruti and I feel grateful, mournful, angry and anxious – all of these emotions repeating themselves within us in random order.

We look forward to seeing everyone next week when we return to Irvine.  It will be comforting to be home with all of you.

Life is fragile and precious.  Never waste it or take it for granted.  Make every moment count.  Resolve to meet evil with courage and, in a world of so much hate, bring more love.



Rabbi Arnie Rachlis

Wall Street Journal White House Reporter And MSNBC Political Analyst Eli Stokols

2017 October 19 by

The young people, whose families have belonged to our congregation over the years, have grown up and spread their talents and achievements around the world.  Some have gone into journalism, like Ezra Klein at MSNBC and now Vox, David Molko, formerly at CNN, Benjy Sarlin at MSNBC, and Eli Stokols, Wall Street Journal White House Reporter and MSNBC political analyst, who will be speaking at services tonight about the challenges of reporting on the White House.  We’re proud of all of our young people and we admire those whose work improves the lives of others and furthers the Jewish vision of Tikkun Olam/repairing the world.

Eli is well-respected by so many in D.C. and around the country for his articulate, fearless and cogent perspectives on contemporary politics.  He has a keen mind that passionately searches for the truth and an unwavering dedication to his craft.  Still in his thirties, Eli has an even brighter future.  (Click here for his bio.)


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Arnie Rachlis

Eight Great Days! Hollywood, Music And Food

2017 October 16 by

Eight great days!  Are we talking about the fun-filled Sukkot that has just passed?  No!  How about the joyous Hanukkah that will arrive in just 8 weeks?  No, again.

The “Eight Great Days” that you shouldn’t miss begin this Friday night, October 20, when one of Hollywood’s most interesting and successful writers and producers, Howard Gordon, speaks at University Synagogue on “Terrorism, Anxiety, Politics And Popular Culture.”  Many of us have been riveted, season after season, by his Showtime breakout series “Homeland,” based on the Israeli hit “Hatufim/Prisoners of War.”  (I remember when Howard told me years ago that he was flying to Israel to negotiate for the rights to “Americanize” the series.  Little did we know then how “Homeland” would become one of the most suspenseful and politically insightful shows of the 21st century.)

Continue reading »

“America The Beautiful Or America The Violent?”

2017 October 3 by

“Yitgadal veyitkadash shmey raba…” So begins the Mourner’s Kaddish, which, when we recite it this coming Friday night at services, will also be recited for the 59 murdered victims in Las Vegas.

Once again, in America, mental illness and the easy accessibility of weapons have created a mass tragedy. Slowly, the story will be pieced together: Why did it happen? Who saw something and said nothing? Who said something but it was ignored? And, could this tragedy have been averted?

Our country is constantly and appropriately concerned about terrorism and spends incredible resources to protect us. Homeland Security measures are everywhere – at airports, cameras on streets, monitoring communications and so much more. But when it comes to even the most modest and sensible gun
control measures, too many members of Congress are so afraid of the NRA, that they are willing to leave us completely unprotected and vulnerable. Continue reading »

Ages 40 And Under Coffee With The Rabbi

2017 September 18 by

Dear University Synagogue Members 40 & Under,

Please join me for a “Coffee With The Rabbi” on Friday, October 13 from 5:45 – 6:45 p.m. at University Synagogue. I would like to get to know you better and find out what University Synagogue can do for you. Almost 50 new members – singles, couples and families – have joined University Synagogue in the last two months through our “40 and Under” offer! Free childcare will be available for those who sign up by October 2.more–>

There will neither be fundraising nor will anyone be made to feel uncomfortable if his/her level of synagogue involvement is minimal. The only reason for this Coffee is to learn more about you and your needs so that our synagogue can truly reflect the diversity of our membership. I’d love to have you be with us.

The coffee will start promptly at 5:45 p.m. and will conclude no later than 6:45 p.m. If you would like to stay for services, they’ll be at 7:00 p.m., but it’s up to you. Here’s the service announcement for Oct 13:

Shabbat Services led by Rabbi Rachlis and Cantor Braier. White House Reporter for The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC political analyst Eli Stokols will speak on “Covering An Administration In Which Truth and Reality Are Increasingly Subjective”.

Please click here to RSVP no later than September 8 to Heidi Altman or call the synagogue office at (949) 553-3535.


Rabbi Arnold Rachlis

Give the Gift of A Jewish Future

2017 August 28 by

Imagine that you’ve been given dozens of vouchers, worth thousands of dollars each, to give as gifts to friends and family.  There are no strings attached.  Overnight you have been granted the ability to become a philanthropist.

You don’t have to imagine it.  It’s true.  It has happened.  Everyone in our congregation and beyond now has the opportunity to help ensure the Jewish future by telling everyone whom they know – 40 years old and younger – that they can get a FREE MEMBERSHIP in University Synagogue simply by calling our congregation.


Tell your children and grandchildren and those of your friends; tell your colleagues and neighbors and everyone you know. Continue reading »

Crazy Speech

2017 August 24 by

University Synagogue has always proudly engaged in interfaith and intercultural dialogues over the years. Our closest relationship is with Irvine United Congregational Church with whom we have shared a Thanksgiving service and adult education for almost three decades. We know each other and trust each other, and even more, we are both religiously liberal, inclusive and humanistic.

It’s harder, quite frankly, to dialogue with Christian evangelicals or Muslims who have a more fundamentalist and exclusivist theology, meaning they think that their beliefs are true, superior and even perfect. Continue reading »

Free Speech, Fun At The Beach, Free Membership

2017 August 21 by

This Friday night, please be with us for Shabbat dinner at 6:00 p.m. with UC Berkeley Law School Dean Erwin Chemerinsky and UCI Chancellor Howard Gillman, followed by 7:00 p.m. Shabbat Alive services (at which we will dedicate a plaque in memory of our beloved pianist Brian Sepel) and, then, at 8:15 p.m., continuing with an extremely timely discussion on “Free Speech” by Dean Chemerinsky and Chancellor Gillman.

To have a distinguished constitutional lawyer and an equally renowned political scientist – co-authors of a recent book on the subject (that will be available at the Oneg Shabbat) – is an incredibly rich opportunity to focus on one of the most crucial issues that our divided country faces today.

Many people – generally advocates of free speech – are having second thoughts about its limits in light of hateful anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism on college campuses and white supremacist/Neo-Nazi rallies as in Charlottesville. Continue reading »