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One year

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As the Jewish year of mourning for the passing of my mother officially ends, it is time for me to turn a page.  I will always love my mother, miss her, and remember her who she was and what she gave me.  However, it is now time for me to no longer continuously share those feelings openly. During the past year, whether it was my profile picture on Facebook or the majority of my articles and posts, much of what I put out there was about my mother.  Not only do I not apologize for that, I am glad that I did.  For me, and I emphasize the words “for me”, it was the right way to give her the honor she so rightly deserved.  But now it is time to move on.   Time to make those feelings more personal and to honor and remember her with less display and discussion.  So I finish this year of what in Hebrew is called Avelut, by asking you to indulge me one last time, and read this letter to my mother, that, whether she is able to see it or not, best conveys my feelings.

DISCLAIMER: If I write a book there will be more

Dear Mom,

This  will not be a long letter.  I have said most of what any grateful son would ever say to his mother and have done so on numerous occasions.  What I wish to do in this letter is to end this year of mourning by telling you what I now know to be the greatest gift you’ve given me.

There are things many people have heard me say many times to describe how wonderful you were as a mother and a person.  Your strength in dealing with the toughest circumstances imaginable, your devotion to your family, your love of life, and your positive approach are all accolades many people who knew you speak of.  And rightly so.  But the other day I was speaking with a friend and something they said to me made me realize what was truly the best gift you were able to give to me.  That gift was faith in humanity.

Compared to many my life has been easy.  I have known very little pain and suffering and my personal losses came much later in life than they have for so many people I personally know or am close to.  However, as a thinker who observes the world, it is still relatively easy to be disillusioned by where the world is and where it is going.  You often saw the future of the world through concerned eyes and feared the rise of evil such as the evil you saw in your early years. And yet, on a daily basis, whether it was in your bank, the supermarket, your synagogue, or dealing with friends or family, you found the good, not so much to satisfy yourself philosophically, but merely to bring joy to your life.  You often saw the good in people most people had given up on, and you found a different way to appreciate and enjoy everyone who was at least somewhat open to it.  Most of all you believed in love.  You believed in it so strongly that your belief transferred over to anyone whose heart was open to it.

So as I complete not just the official year of mourning, but the sharing of my feelings regarding you and your passing, I say thank you for showing me the value of patience and love, and in teaching me how to have faith in humanity, even when it is most difficult.  That faith and belief in people and in love was such a large part of what drove you till the end of your life, and I thank you for showing me how that was possible, and hope to use that knowledge to share love and happiness with others for as long as I live.

With love always,

David

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FOX News. Donald Trump’s media bodyguard

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I do not spend as much time bashing Trump as I used to because as a Jew and a Zionist I recognize some of the positive things that have happened makes it a little more complicated, but I have said for quite some time anyway that the bigger problem than Trump himself is his followers. It gets no worse and more treacherous than FOX News. Or should I say FOX Editorial. Whenever there is big news I go to the websites of both CNN and FOX News. FOX consistently makes sure that bad news towards Trump is overshadowed by another story. But rather than asserting my opinion on you, I ask the following question. What is bigger news? Rex Tillerson getting fired or what FOX headlined, and I mean this is the first story you see when you go to the site, (Hillary) “Clinton goes all the way to India to blame deplorables, husbands, sons and bosses for loss”? Clearly what the loser of the the last presidential election is saying is bigger news to American Pravda, aka FOX News, than the Secretary of State getting fired. Because that news doesn’t make their guy look bad at all. That’s not news, that’s propaganda, and it honestly scares me more than anything Donald Trump has said or done.

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The Year of the Bird: Fly Eagles Fly

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So this is it. This is the article I wrote before the Super Bowl but dared not publish at risk of being accused of jinxing the Philadelphia Eagles in their quest to win the big game. The truth is that with my personal track record I do no believe that anything I do, nothing I say or ceremonious action I take will impact the outcome of this game.  Why do I say this? Because of all the teams I support in all major sports and all leagues or tournaments worldwide, the last team to win a championship was the 1986 Mets. Until, and remember I am writing this a little over 3 hours before kickoff, the Philadelphia Eagles change that and end my personal sports drought tonight at the conclusion of this year’s Super Bowl.
So how is it that I sit here with such certainty and confidence that today is the day my team wins the big one?  Well it does have something to do with the fact that this Eagles teams is definitely good enough.  As far as players on the field go, the only area where no one questions the Patriots advantage is at Quarterback.  Nick Foles has played great for the Eagles and it is not an impossibility that he winds up being the best player on the field today, but the reality is that Tom Brady is arguably the best to ever play the game and has the advantage going in. The rest of the team is at worst equal and in some areas a good case can be made that Philly has the edge.  But none of this is the reason the Eagles win today.  It’s more about destiny and something far more mystical than the skill of the players.  It’s about the year of the bird.
On April 19th of this past year my mother passed away.  For the record, she not only was not a fan of football, she hated football.  And I mean hated, Almost with a passion.  She would constantly criticize its violence and loved to make the point that it was not really football,  Soccer she would say is the only real football.  This other sport was just a bunch of grown men hitting each other and falling on the ground like a bunch of idiots. So yes, she hated football.  But she loved her children. And to some of her children this win would be special,  and when someone saw me with my Eagles cap this past week  and said “Go Birds”, I thought of my mother, whose name was Sipora, the Hebrew word for bird, I knew the Eagles would win the Super Bowl.
Naturally there will be those among you who see this as a ridiculous basis for believing your team will be victorious and that’s OK. You don’t have to believe.  All I know is this. Since 1986 a lot has happened in the world and in my life.  Too much to mention.  What has not happened is that a team I put my support behind can call itself the champion. Until today, when the Philadelphia Eagles, the birds win the Super Bowl. In a year filled with incidents of divine intervention, is so hard to believe this is one more example?  Maybe to you, but not to me.
To whoever is responsible for today’s win I end with these 2 words.  Thank you!
Fly Eagles Fly!

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On Mom’s Birthday

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As I wish everyone a Happy New Year, I also must acknowledge that today January 1 would have been my mother’s 96th birthday.  A little over a year ago when we discussed with her how to celebrate her 95th birthday she made it very clear that what she wanted was a party at home and a party that she would organize and plan.  Details of the party aside, it should be deemed a success because she was very happy with the outcome and had a wonderful time.  This is important, together with the picture I chose for this piece, because it magnifies the true way to remember her on her first birthday not together with us on this earth.

Being happy isn’t always easy.  Being happy takes work.  You can throw caution to the wind, make very little effort to make your life more fulfilling and pleasing, but the only way you truly stand a chance at being happy is to want it passionately and make the efforts needed to increase the likelihood.  This was a lesson I learned from my mother, a woman who experienced hardships that would have broken most of us.  I learned this not as much from the words she spoke as much as the actions she took.  This, maybe more than anything would be how she would want to be remembered today.

I know from conversations I have had, that my mother’s spiritual impact since she has passed has not only been significant for me but it has been significant for many.  Her death was relevant to us all, but her existence for us now is not about death, it’s about a living soul, a soul that has outlived the body and is still very much with us.  Is this a reflection of her true pursuit of happiness and fulfillment, or is it the other way around.  Was my mother’s powerful spirit, at its roots, what drove her to work to a better and happier life?

I am not sure that question can ever be answered, but I do know this.  On this January 1st, even as we miss her tremendously, if we haven’t done so already we should all lift up our glasses and celebrate and smile when thinking about her, not cry or mourn.  She gave us a lot of reason to do so and would have wanted nothing less.

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Open Letter to Larry David

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Dear Larry,

I am sad to say that you have the exceptional distinction of being the first Jewish individual I have written to regarding actions or remarks damaging to the Jewish people.  Before I start allow me to make a critical point so you know who you have offended.  I am a Liberal with a sense of humor.  I am very tolerant, very accepting and I like a good laugh.  Even at my own expense.  Sometimes especially at my own expense.  If you offend a Trump supporting angry Conservative it would be hard to make a case for that to mean anything, but to offend me? Well I guess you can say to do that you really had to have made an effort.

You see Larry, there is funny, and then there is disgusting.  Your remarks this past Saturday night on SNL were disgusting.  They reflect what can only be a personal disdain for who you are where you come from.  The comments were so bad that I do not need to do any additional research on you to attack you for them.  I don’t care how much charity you may or may not have given, or kindnesses you may or may not have shown till now, the comments you made both about Jewish sexual deviants and the Holocaust were so damaging, insulting and hurtful to the Jewish people as a whole, there is nothing you can say or do to justify them.  Not to mention the fact that there was absolutely nothing funny about them.

You chose your monologue on Saturday Night Live to declare how many of the perpetrators of sexual harassment are Jewish.  Did you do it to help the victims?  Did you do it because it upsets you? No.  You did it because you felt it would get a laugh.  You decided to appeal to the lowest of the low at the expense of your own people.  Are you proud of yourself today?  I’m not blind. I see how far too many of the guilty are Jews.  But did you do this on an interview where you expressed concern in order to possibly help change things as they are? Again no.  You did it on SNL because  somehow you felt it appropriate to joke about the sexual deviants within the Jewish community.  If you had taken a moment to think about this you might have realized the last thing the Jewish world needs today is a famous Jewish comedian singling out his own people.

Your follow up to these comments just went on to prove how much of your motivation may be in self-hatred.  For anyone to make light of the death of 6 million people of his own religion indicates a dangerously sick disconnect.  I want you to take a moment, close your eyes and imagine every one you care about, all your family and closest friends suddenly murdered.  Now take it one step further and imagine how some, if not all of them were raped or tortured before they were murdered.  Stop and realize how many people could close their eyes and open them up to the same devastation. When you finish doing this I would like you to please tell me what part of this you find funny?  What part of this belongs in a comedy routine?  If you think any of it is or does, I would say you are not merely a self-hating Jew, you are a sick man as well.

I used to like you Larry. I found much of what you said to be funny.  However, after what I heard come out of your mouth I not only find you to be anything but funny, I find you to be detrimental to the Jewish people and even a little dangerous.  I can turn off the TV and never have to listen to or watch you again.  But you have to live with your self-loathing.  If I was not so angry with you I’d feel sorry for you.

Sincerely,

David Groen

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For those with No Words today, I offer you mine

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A number of times today, in light of the mass shooting in Las Vegas, I heard the phrase, “I have no words”. For those who share that sentiment and to all the rest who are stunned by the turn of events, please allow me to offer you my words.

Although an act such as this one, an act so horrifying, so violent and bloody is meant to  terrorize society, whether it falls under the government’s definition of terrorism or not, it seems that the prevailing feelings today are more along the lines of sadness and anger.  I can not even begin to imagine the horror felt by the people that witnessed this pure act of evil and can only hope and pray that those injured and scarred by these events somehow find strength and that the loved ones of those lost find a way to make it through their days.  But it is important to note that a large segment of society is not cowering in fear.  As I write this there are still many unanswered questions regarding the shooter, but one thing that strikes me is that the worst of the feelings felt by Americans today is not fear.  I would categorize it more as fatigue.

We are all tired.  Sick and tired of the abyss our world is sinking into.  Sick and tired of bad news.  Jews and Zionists such as myself recognize this feeling.  That feeling that this will never end.  That the world will never get better and that whatever we do we can’t stop the downward spiral.   The feeling that people just like us can be struck down dead at any time by those with no value for human life.  As people we do not want to get so caught up in a tragedy that it debilitates us, but at the same time we can not help but feel pain for what has happened.  How do we deal with this, process this and move on with our lives without getting desensitized?

I learned a sad truth about myself this morning.  Earlier in the morning I had woken up and peeked at the news story on my phone.  I briefly saw a statement saying that 2 people had died in a shooting in Las Vegas.  I remember briefly thinking it was sad, rolled over and went back to sleep.  When I awoke at 6:30 and turned on the news I saw a different report.  This report indicated that 50 people had been killed and hundreds injured.  All of a sudden this story became a lot more serious in my mind.  But why did it take 50 deaths? Why wasn’t I feeling the same when it was 2 dead?  Do I not value the lives of the 2?  Have I become so desensitized that 2 would have made is acceptable while 50 did not?  The answer is partially yes.

By no means is it acceptable, but we have no choice but to acknowledge the new normal.  The new normal is that whether it’s at a Congressional softball practice or a march against hate or a concert in Manchester, we live in a world where there are people who think it is either justifiable or even worse, righteous to murder people.  And most of us, as normal people who respect human life, although we never come to terms with the logic behind it, have found a way to come to terms with the action itself.  As long as the number is relatively low.  But the sheer number as it stands at this hour, 59 dead and over 500 injured is part of what shakes us to our collective cores. The larger the number the more we relate to it.  The larger the number the easier it is to imagine it could happen to us.  Whether it was downtown Manhattan around 9AM on a Tuesday morning, a concert in Manchester, a train in London, a Pizza place in Jerusalem. a promenade in Nice or a country music concert in Las Vegas, it is a lot harder to accept when it is easy to picture yourself there.

By no mean do I imply we only feel bad when we can imagine being a victim, but part of what we think after an event like this is how it has changed our world.  How many people even remember what it was like to check into an American airport before 9/11?  How many people will no longer go to an open concert, or a fireworks display or maybe even a sporting event because of the possibility they might die there.  We feel increasingly frustrated, tremendously saddened, bitter and anger to the point of fury.

What’s important here is to not lose sight of who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.  Simply put, if you are reading this and you never want to see anything like what happened in Las Vegas happen again, you are one of the good guys.  It doesn’t matter if you are Conservative or Liberal, pro or anti-Trump, pro or anti Gun control.  None of that matters in the determination of whether or not any man or woman is good or bad.  What matters is value for human life and the willingness to work together to try at least to solve our problems.  I successfully resisted the urge to react to those who made it political today, not because I disagree with all of what I read, but because most of it pivoted into blaming the other side for what happened.

Someone sharing my political views is not more saddened by this then someone who does not.  This hurts every decent human being out there.

Death is bi-partisan.  Our survival may depend on everyone realizing that.

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A Rabbi and friend’s tribute to my mother

Please read this beautiful sermon, given by Rabbi Michael Simon, family friend and not only my mother’s Rabbi for the last 10 years of her life but also who she referred to as her “5th son”. This sermon gives a wonderful and moving tribute to my Mom.  Thank you Michael.

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Sermon for Rosh Hashanah Day 1 – Kaveh El Adonai
          Over a breakfast with other rabbis last month the subject of our High Holiday sermons came up.  Well in the course of that conversation, one of the rabbis, whose wife is going through a serious illness herself, asked the following question.
 
            What can you say to your congregants who have either gone through, or are going through, some pain or hardship in their lives this year?  What can you say that can help them deal with their troubles? 
 
            Although there are no easy answers to these questions, at least I had a thought.  Because it is the exact same subject I had already planned on speaking to you about this morning, on Rosh Hashanah.
 
            You see, in thinking about Judaism’s response to these questions and to life in general, I am reminded of the story of a young American who moved to Israel shortly after the State’s establishment.  He applied to have a telephone installed in his home.  Three weeks later, he still had not heard from the phone company, so he took a trip to its office. 
 
            “When did you apply for the phone?” an official asked. 
 
            The American gave the precise date. 
 
            “But that’s only a few weeks ago.”  The official picked up a stack of much older applications, which had still not been filled.
 
            “There are so many people ahead of you,” he said.
 
            “Does that mean I have no hope?” 
 
            The Israeli looked up sternly.  “It is forbidden for a Jew to ever say, ‘I have no hope.’  No chance, maybe. But no hope, Never!”
 
            Now you know why the national anthem of the State of Israel is Hatikvah – the Hope!!
 
            But hope, Tikvah, is only part of our response to life’s difficulties.  We know that man cannot live by hope alone. 
           
            That is why, beginning with the month of Elul, twice each day, in the morning and evening, we add Psalm 27 to our liturgy.  Why Psalm 27? 
 
            Because that is King David’s story of his own struggles against adversity and hardships.  Look at the words David chooses.  “Adonai Ori V’yishee,” “The Lord is my light and my help, Whom shall I fear?  The Lord is the strength of my life, Whom shall I dread?”
 
            And then he concludes with the words, “Lulei Heemanti L’rot b’tuv Adonai;” If I have faith to see God’s goodness.  “Kaveh el Adonai chazak v’yametz libecha v’kaveh el Adonai.”  “Look to the Lord; be strong and of good courage! And look to the Lord!”  
 
            Faith, Hope, Strength and Courage!  Aren’t these the very qualities we all need to get through life’s ups and downs?  Of course they are!
 
            Before FDR famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” King David, as well as other figures from our literature, our history, and our liturgy, remind us that if we place our trust in God, if we have hope and faith, if we have strength and courage, we can face our greatest trials and obstacles, and we can overcome life’s challenges, without giving in to fear or despair. 
 
            Think about it.  Wasn’t it just last week, wasn’t it this very same message, that helped us get through the potential devastation of Hurricane Irma as it has also done for other disasters we have faced and will unfortunately continue to face?
 
            And you know what else?  If you were to take a moment and really think about it, aren’t some of the most inspiring people throughout history, not just King David, looked up to precisely because they exhibited these very same traits; often under the most trying of circumstances?
 
            Can you perhaps think of some of them as you sit here today?  People who you have admired over the years, not just for their status or their talents, but because of what they faced and overcame to achieve that status?  Helen Keller, Martin Luther King, Jr., Jackie Robinson, Elie Wiesel, to name a few?  They all had hope and faith.  They all exhibited strength and courage to overcome obstacles and succeed.  
 
            Here’s one example.  In 1986, when the famous Soviet refusenik Natan Sharansky, now the head of the Jewish Agency, was finally set free by the Soviet Union, he explained that during his many years of imprisonment in the gulag he had turned to the Book of Psalms, specifically to that final verse of Psalm 27, to help him cope and give him the hope and courage to endure.
 
            Why did Sharansky rely on that line to help him get through?  Because it inspired him to not be meek, timid, or subservient.  “No matter our circumstances,” Sharansky said, “we are reminded that we can look to God for light and for the courage to face whatever comes our way and resolve to overcome those difficulties.”
 
            When Sharansky was finally freed and arrival in Israel, his friends and admirers carried him to the Kotel in Jerusalem to pray and to celebrate his freedom.  Even at that moment, onlookers observed that he was still holding tight to his beloved Book of Psalms.
 
            While we might never be able to eliminate life’s difficulties, while we never know when hardship or sorrow or illness comes upon us, we do have the ability to react to it in a more positive way; by relying on our faith in God, our hope for the future, and our own internal courage and strength. 
 
            And it is precisely this message, that needs to resonate and remain with us as we begin this New Year.  Because this message is a quintessentially Jewish one.  Certainly on an individual level, but yes, even on a societal level as well, we must always believe that things can get better and then do our part to make that so.
           
            And we act with that way because Judaism requires us, asks of us, even demands of us, that if we face life’s problems and overcome them, we then repay God by helping others, and by inspiring others through our own actions, to do so as well. 
 
            That is a Jewish life.  That is what Psalm 27 teaches us to do.
 
            You know what else?  You don’t only have to look for a famous person to draw this inspiration from.  That’s because I am sure that each of you sitting here can think of an example from your own lives, someone you know or have known, who inspired you, and who has helped you get through difficult times because of their own faith and hope and courage and strength.
 
            I’ll share one.  This past February, Rabbi Amnon Haramati, a High School teacher of mine, passed away.  Just so you know, the only difference between Rabbi Haramati and God was that God didn’t think that He was Rabbi Haramati.
 
            But if you looked at him during class, every so often you would see him wince.  His eyes would squint ever so slightly.  A sour crease would envelope his lips.  Sometimes he would rub the side of his head with his fingertips.  On the right side, if I remember correctly, was about a one inch square indentation, as if a chisel had been taken to his skull.  There were rumors his skull harbored a metal plate, a souvenir of Israel’s War of Independence.  But he never spoke about it.  We never knew what had happened.
 
            In his short but moving acceptance speech upon receiving the Covenant Award as an outstanding Jewish educator in 1994, he finally told his story. 
 
            One day, in the summer of 1948, as a member of the Israel Defense Forces, he was critically wounded near the walls of the Old City.  He was brought to the monastery which served as the temporary residence of Hadassah Hospital where he was declared dead on arrival and left in the corridor. 
 
            That night a nurse passed by and heard a groan from his bed.  She alerted the doctors who rushed him into the operating room.  They treated his injuries and successfully revived him.  Although he left the operating room breathing on his own he remained in a deep coma.  The diagnosis was that if he even emerged from the coma he would be blind the rest of his life. 
 
            The following night a nurse wanted to read.  So she took a flashlight and chose his bed to sit at because she was sure that she wouldn’t disturb the blind, comatose patient.  However, while she was reading, he uttered the Hebrew word “aish,” meaning fire.  The nurse thought that maybe this meant that there was some vision and so she called the chief of the eye department, who came, examined him, and determined that there was indeed hope for his eyes.  In time, he responded to treatment, came out of the coma, was able to see and eventually left the hospital.
 
            About a year later he was facing a medical board who told him that he was about to be discharged from the Israeli army as a disabled war veteran due to his head wounds.  He was asked by the board what were his plans.  He answered that he would like to continue his academic studies.  The medical team told him don’t even try, you will never succeed.
 
            However he remembered his Talmud teacher who told him a Jew may not despair.   Never say there is no hope.  And he remembered King David who said, hope, look to God.  However just having hope is not easy.  There are always difficulties on the way.  Therefore King David said, be strong, and be courageous.
 
            By having hope and faith and courage and strength himself, Rabbi Haramati continued his studies, became a revered teacher, and gave hope and inspired others.
 
            As I asked, do you know of people in your own lives, including yourselves maybe, that might have a similar story that has inspired you?  I know for certain that many of you do.  Rabbi Haramati is certainly one I knew.  But let me share with you another story of hope and faith and strength and courage. 
 
            It’s the story of a young girl who was born in Amsterdam, Holland.  And no, I’m not talking about Anne Frank.  Her mother died when she was thirteen, leaving her with her father and brother.  But she never despaired.  When the Nazis came to power her father, brother and then fiancé were all taken away; to eventually perish.  She still did not despair nor give up hope or faith. 
 
            She studied to become a nurse.  She stood up to the Nazis when they confronted her in the Jewish hospital.  And she survived the Holocaust thanks to her faith and the heroic efforts of her future husband and a Christian family who hid her. 
 
            When the war was over she found herself pregnant and alone, giving birth and developing a severe illness.  But again, she did not despair.  Through her faith, hope, strength and courage, Sipora Groen rebuilt her life which included five children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren before passing away this past April at the age of 95.
 
            I want to share with you something that Rabbi David Glanzberg-Kranin said at her funeral because it was the perfect description of what I already knew that I would be speaking about today.  How to live your life without despair, and with the faith, hope, strength and courage to live that life no matter the circumstances. 
 
            He said,
 
            “Here’s the important lesson for all of us.  There are external forces in our lives that are completely out of our control.  You’ve all heard the ancient Jewish teaching: “Stuff happens.” For all of us, stuff will happen that we were not responsible for; there will be circumstances that we did not create.  But in case you had any doubt, here is what Sipora’s life reminds us:
 
            We do have control over how we respond to the circumstances of our lives.  We can choose love instead of hatred; we can choose laughter instead of bitterness; we can choose strength and resilience rather than giving in to despair; we can choose to continue to learn—even in our 90’s—which is the decade that Sipora read Torah and Haftarah for the first time.
 
            We can choose to speak our minds like Sipora would always do telling Americans how prudish we are–and advocating that both marijuana and prostitution ought to be legalized in this country—as it is in Holland.  We can choose to love for every moment we are blessed to live as Sipora’s family will tell you how blessed they were to receive so much of that love.
 
            And we can learn that it is never too late to develop a crush!  Sipora really did have a crush on Bill Clinton and she thinks that secretly, he, too, may have had a crush on her.
 
            And we can learn from Sipora to put your actions into deeds.  Sipora frequently went around telling her story about surviving the War to both children and to adults—in her heavily Dutch-accented English—often for 45 minutes without a pause—and with nary a peep to be heard in the room as she spoke.
 
            And there is one thing that Sipora would do after every such talk: She would give each person present a hug.  In that hug, Sipora would convey something unbelievably profound to people who had often been very wounded by life.
 
            “So have I been wounded,” that hug would convey.  And yet life is worth living—and each of us is worthy of love.  Sipora Groen gave out literally thousands of these holy hugs over the course of her life.
 
            Talk about faith, hope, strength and courage. Sipora delivered it.”
 
            As if those words from Psalm 27, which we recite during these days of introspection and repentance, didn’t inspire us enough, then let Sipora and others like her, be our role models to always inspire us to remain hopeful, to remain strong, to remain faithful, and to remain courageous no matter what comes our way. 
 
            Let us always have faith in both God and our fellow man despite how difficult that faith might be at times.  And let us use Rosh Hashanah to rekindle the hope and faith in those in whom we might have lost faith with this past year.  And yes, that can include either God or our government and other institutions. 
 
            I’m not naïve enough to believe that if you just have hope and faith, all your problems will disappear like magic.  And I’m certainly not naïve enough to believe that if you just have hope and faith, you will suddenly be cured of whatever illness afflicts you.  We know that life doesn’t work that way.
 
            But I will tell you what I do know, what I do believe, and what I am sure about.  That without faith, without hope, without strength, and without courage, we can never, ever, overcome whatever difficulties life throws at us.   
 
            And I also know this, and I can say this, because unfortunately there are a number of you sitting in this room who have dealt with unbearable pain in your lives including the loss of children.  You are indeed here because you have had the faith, hope, strength and courage to see you through your pain and are an inspiration to all of us. 
 
            To ignore or deny the realities of life would be foolish.  But to give up and deny yourselves the tremendous goodness and beauty in this world, in our families, in our communities, and in our houses of worship, and the hope, faith, strength and courage we derive from them, would be equally, if not more, foolish.
 
            My answer to the question asked by those rabbis at breakfast a month ago?  Kaveh el Adonai Chazak V’yametz Libecha V’Kaveh El Adonai.  Even at your lowest moments, never lose faith, never lose hope.  Have the strength and courage to carry on.      
 
             I’ll conclude with perhaps a modern translation of Psalm 27, from the late, great Jerry Lewis,
 
            When you walk through a storm, hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm, there’s a golden sky
And the sweet, silver song of a lark
            Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown
            Walk on, walk on
With hope in your hearts
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone
 
            May we all be blessed with a year full of health, happiness, prosperity and peace.  May we all be written into the Book of Life. 
 
            And may we all live our lives with strength and courage, and with hope and faith in God.   Kaveh el Adonai chazak v’yametz libecha v’kaveh el adonai.
 
            Amen