2018 April 9 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
Like the Seders that we just celebrated, in which the pain of slavery is intertwined with the pleasure of freedom, the month ahead at University Synagogue mixes the bitterness of maror with the sweetness of haroset.
This Friday night, April 13, we will observe Yom HaShoah/Holocaust Memorial Day with a service in which the melodies will be meditations on the Holocaust. Our speaker, USC Prof. Steven Ross, will discuss his new book, “Hitler in Los Angeles: How Jews Foiled Nazi Plots Against Hollywood and America,” one of the most frightening books about domestic anti-Semitism that I have ever read. Our choir will also sing and we will remember our deceased loved ones with Yizkor.
Remember these words: “We will undermine the morale of the people of America…Once there is confusion and after we have succeeded in undermining the faith of the American people in their own government, a new group will take over…and we will help them assume power.”
Although today the words sound like a Putinesque fantasy, they were Hitler’s, in 1933, when he planned, through propaganda, espionage, murder and sabotage, a German-American anti-Semitic and an Anti-American revolution in America, especially in Los Angeles. Why LA? Because no city was more important in fashioning global opinion through the movies; “For people,” wrote Hitler, “will more readily accept a pictoral representation than read an article of any length.”
On the next night, April 14, “Mitzvah Mingle” will give us a chance to do the work of Tikkun Olam/repairing the world” with projects that benefit those who suffer on the margins of society. Even more important than just “see something, say something,” is “do something.” Do some good deeds, have an evening of fellowship and fun and share delicious food.
By the way, don’t forget two important deadlines coming up soon. This Wednesday is the deadline for signing up to renew your marriage vows on Friday night, May 11 (click here for my earlier letter), and, Monday, April 23, is the deadline for getting tickets for our annual Gala dinner on May 5, honoring four wonderful University Synagogue leaders, Michael and Charlotte Stone and Howard and Cheryl Altman. RSVP now (click here for my earlier email).
Please also circle these upcoming Friday nights: On April 20, we’ll celebrate Israel’s 70th birthday; on April 27, we’ll focus on women’s voices and visions at Women’s Connection Shabbat; and, on May 4, we’ll gain insight and understanding into what causes addiction, and the best ways to help our family and friends who struggle against it. Addiction psychiatrist Dr. Richard Sandor will speak and some members of University Synagogue, who have been/are in recovery, will comment.
One more request. Two weeks ago, I asked you to send me the names and information on people whom you’d like to match up for companionship and love (including you, if you wish). To see my letter again, click here. Please send me those names by next Monday, April 16, so I can plan an event to bring together those looking for love.
There’s so much happening at University Synagogue to broaden our experience and understanding of life, to deal with its pain and to celebrate its joy.
Let’s share our lives together.
Rabbi Arnie Rachlis
2018 April 2 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
Our three previous vow renewal ceremonies at our “Come To A Jewish Wedding Ceremony For An Evening Of Love” services were extraordinary events. Dozens of couples who had been married for only a few years renewed their vows on the bima along with others who were married six decades ago! They brought friends and family from inside and outside the congregation and a large crowd of University Synagogue members – single and married – joined in the celebration, shouting mazel tov from their seats.
On Friday night, May 11, at 7:00 p.m., we’re all going to celebrate love and some couples will renew their vows. There will be poetry, music and songs about love, intertwined with our Shabbat prayers. We’ll also honor all those who are celebrating May anniversaries as well as those for whom any month in 2018 is an anniversary that’s a multiple of 5 – 5th, 10th, 15th…70th! Continue reading »
2018 March 30 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
I want to wish everyone a joyous Pesach. One of the most potentially powerful moments of the Seder is often “underplayed” because it comes late in the Seder, after people have eaten and are tired.
Opening the door for Elijah is a profound expression of pride and hope. Despite all of the problems in our lives and in our world, “tikkun” is possible – repairing ourselves and the world.
So, consider this innovative way of welcoming Elijah. Instead of sending a child to open the door (or the person sitting closest!), everyone should get up, walk outside, join in a circle with arms around each other and sing “Eliyahu HaNavi”/Elijah, The Prophet.
The cool night air will refresh you and give you the “strength” to continue the Seder, so you can sing all of those fun songs at the back of the Continue reading »
“How Fortunate We Are To Have Michael and Charlotte Stone and Howard and Cheryl Altman As Leaders!” RSVP NOW For Our Gala Dinner On Saturday Night, May 5.
2018 March 30 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
In June, University Synagogue will begin its 32nd year! We, who have been here since the beginning, and all who have joined during this delightful and remarkable Jewish journey, feel profoundly grateful for the privilege of being members of University Synagogue. We are also appreciative to those who have led us on this journey.
In Jewish tradition, the number 32 (lamed vet) equals “lev”/heart. For our ancestors, the heart was the focus of both feeling and intelligence and our Gala honorees have given us an abundance of both.
Michael and Charlotte Stone and Howard and Cheryl Altman have only been members for six years and eleven years respectively and, yet, their devotion to our congregation has been astounding.
Michael Stone is a natural leader. Soft spoken and wise, patient with people and experienced in planning, Michael has served with distinction as President over the last two years. After almost four decades as a top UCLA administrator, Michael thought that he was “retiring” when he moved to Orange County. Continue reading »
2018 March 28 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
Last week, I wrote to you saying that, in the near future, on a Friday night, I want to have a number of University Synagogue members speak about the way that they have dealt with various addictions – alcohol, drugs, gambling, smoking, food, sex and more – through 12 Step or other programs, through therapy or in other ways.
A number of people responded, but they all had the same addiction – food. I want to broaden the panel, so please respond to me (email@example.com) by this Friday, March 30, at noon, if you would be interested in being on such a panel with your type of addiction, how long you’ve been in a program, the type of program and if you feel that it has been successful.
I believe that such a Shabbat service with a panel will be helpful to both those who are dealing with addictions and their family and friends and perhaps, also, for those who have not yet faced their addictions. Thank you in advance.
Best wishes for a joyous Pesach,
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
2018 March 26 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
From time to time, men and women in our congregation ask me if I can help them find someone appropriate for them for companionship, love and even marriage. (Lately, very nice women, ages 58-70, have asked me.) Sometimes, I’ve been successful, sometimes not. So, I’m reaching out to YOU – our synagogue community of over 600 households – to help me help them.
Do a mitzvah. Think about your single friends and acquaintances, of any age, and email me, describing them – age, profession, interests, hobbies, marital and family history, and more. Please do it now because, as wonderful as J-Date and other online dating sites are, many people have tried them without success and are looking to meet others “the old fashioned way” – recommended by someone who knows the person well.
Maybe you’ve dated people who weren’t right for you, but would be good for someone else! Maybe they haven’t asked you to introduce them to someone, but, if you proactively ask, they’ll be delighted!
Pesach is arriving soon. It’s when we traditionally read the Biblical book “Song of Songs”/Shir Hashirim – a sensual collection of love poems.
Don’t delay. Bring love to others. Take some time to think of someone who would be a good match for someone. Look around your Seder table, think of friends, relatives, co-workers, even people whom you haven’t seen in a while. It’s Pesach season; love is in the air. Share the gift!
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
“Getting America Back On Track And Building A Better And More Peaceful World” – Governor Michael Dukakis At University Synagogue, This Friday, March 23
2018 March 19 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
Governor Michael Dukakis was one of the most progressive governors in Massachusetts’ history when his colleagues in the National Governors’ Association voted him the most effective governor in the nation. He dug his state out of record deficits and high unemployment and served for three four-year terms.
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Gov. Dukakis has taught political leadership and healthcare policy at a number of universities, including UCLA. His wife, Kitty, who will also join us on Friday night, is a long-time advocate for refugees and immigrants and served on the United States Holocaust Museum Council for many years. As a result of their visit to University Synagogue 13 years ago, Kitty joined a synagogue in Boston! We should all feel great pride in awakening her sense of Jewish identity.
Don’t miss what will be a great night.
Gov. Dukakis will provide us with a much needed perspective on the chaos of American and world politics today and how we can all work together to create a world in which “globalist” is a badge of honor and inclusivity and pluralism are hallmarks of a healthy democratic society.
The sanctuary was full when Mike and Kitty Dukakis visited the last time and everyone was thrilled by their unpretentious, intelligent and mentschlich presentations, calling it one of the best nights ever at University Synagogue. Don’t miss this informative and stimulating evening.
Best wishes for a joyous Pesach,
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
Carpe Diem: If You Weren’t There Last Friday Night, You Missed A Great Evening, So Don’t Miss This Friday Night!”
2018 March 12 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
This letter is not meant to induce “guilt,” but rather to remind all of us about “lost opportunities” for spiritual, intellectual, emotional, Jewish and human growth.
Prof. Amy-Jill Levine was remarkable – informative, charismatic and passionate – in explaining the ties that bind Jews and Christians through scripture, history and values. She showed how Christians have (innocently or maliciously) mistranslated texts and obscured the Jewishness of Jesus to further Christian separateness and triumphalism and how Jews have refused, out of fear and anger at centuries of anti-Semitism, to see first century Christianity as a rich resource for understanding the Judaism of the time. (Even when we study the Talmudic period, we tend to avoid the era of the Jewish-Christian monotheistic rivalry out of anxiety, rather than a healthy curiosity.)
University Synagogue had a huge crowd at our evening of learning with Irvine United Congregational Church and we were all grateful for it. So, why am I telling you about what you missed? Because I don’t want you to miss this Friday night!
University Synagogue presents some of the best spiritual and educational programs in Southern California and throughout the country. Our shul is a creative home for growth and reflection and some of us are missing out. But these precious opportunities, once missed, may not happen so soon again. “Carpe Diem/Seize the Day.” Grab the opportunity. Learn more. Feel more. Grow more.
Israel’s 70th birthday is a great event in the history of Judaism and in each of our personal histories. The number “70” resonates with us. In Judaism, 70 years equals a full life. Each year that we live beyond 70 is considered a blessing. Each year before is valued as a precious gift.
Most of us were born after the State of Israel came into being. We’ve taken it, sometimes too casually, for granted, as a given, as a fact of life, without fully appreciating the struggle, against all odds, that led to its rebirth and thus World Jewry’s heightened sense of comfort and normalcy in the world.
The number 70 also reminds us of the year 70 CE when the Second Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and we lost our land. Not until 1948 did we regain Israel.
This Friday night, March 16, some of Israel’s most interesting and creative future leaders will be with us for Shabbat dinner and services. Not only will they schmooze with us over dinner, sing during services and describe their professions, but they will also constitute a panel when I interview them on “Israel At 70: What I Love And What I Would Like to Change.”
Carpe Diem/Seize The Day. RSVP for dinner now (click here), read the bios of our visiting Merage Israeli Executive Fellows (click here) and meet and learn from our Israeli brothers and sisters about contemporary Israeli politics, current events, culture, food, economics, spirituality and so much more.
See you on Friday night.
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
2018 March 5 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
There’s so much going on this month at University Synagogue. Don’t miss a minute!
This Friday night, March 9 at 7:00 p.m., instead of coming to our building, go to Irvine United Congregational Church to hear one of the best known scholars of Jewish/Christian relations, Dr. Amy-Jill Levine, who calls herself an “Unorthodox Yankee Jewish feminist,” speak about “Jesus And Judaism: The Connection Matters.” (The Interfaith Shabbat dinner at 6:00 p.m. is already fully reserved, but come early at 6:45 p.m. to IUCC’s sanctuary to get a good seat for Dr. Levine’s presentation.) Tickets are free for University Synagogue members, but you must call University Synagogue by noon this Thursday. Jews and Christians need to understand each other’s traditions and this is a wonderful way.
On Tuesday, March 13, from 7:00 to 9:00 a.m., our Leadership Forum continues with former Republican U.S. Representative, Tom Campbell, and former Orange County Register Publisher, Eric Spitz, discussing the danger of the Alt-Right and what we can do to challenge its influence.
On Friday, March 16, the Merage Israeli Executive Fellows join us for a delicious Shabbat dinner at 6:00 p.m. (RSVP by Wednesday, March 14) and Shabbat services at 7:00 p.m. where they will not only introduce themselves and their Food Tech professions (Click here for their bios), but also be interviewed by me on the topic “Israel At 70: What I Love And What I Would Like to Change.” We’ll also celebrate March anniversaries that night.
Speaking of Israel, our always interesting Jewish Film Festival will present two Israeli films this month – “Firebirds” on March 7 and “On The Map” on March 21. It’s a wonderful way to prepare for Israel’s 70th birthday along with so many other events coming up.
On Tuesday evening, March 20 at 5:30 p.m., don’t miss our annual Natalye Black Seder for Women, sponsored by our Women’s Connection and led by Cantor Braier and Director of Congregational Learning, Sue Penn. You’ll get lots of ideas for bringing a feminist consciousness to your family Seders, as well.
On Friday, March 23, former Democratic Presidential candidate and Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis will speak at Shabbat Alive services that begin at 7:00 p.m. on “Getting America Back On Track And Building A Better And More Peaceful World” (preceded by a “Greek” Shabbat dinner at 6:00 p.m.). A lovely addition to this Shabbat Hagadol service will be our K-3rd graders who will sing a few songs.
One more reminder. The deadline to sign up for our Friday night, April 6 Congregational Seder is Thursday, March 29 (click here to RSVP or call the office at (949) 553-3535). It’s always a fun, joyous, informative, and delicious experience for people of all ages. Many people bring their extended family and friends.
What a month – Eat, Pray and Learn!
Kol tuv/All the best,
Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
2018 February 16 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
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 »
2018 February 6 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
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 Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
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.”
2018 January 16 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
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
2018 January 16 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
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.
2018 January 10 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
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
2018 January 8 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
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 Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
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 Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
2017 November 16 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
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.
From The Balfour Declaration To Today – Meet Our Jewish And Arab Israeli Speakers This Friday Night!
2017 November 8 by Rabbi Arnold Rachlis
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 »