Rosh HaShanah Remarks

By Alec Harris, President

Good evening. My name is Alec Harris. And, honestly, I'm not used to speaking during this particular moment in the service. Thank you, Rabbi Weinberg, for your beautiful and thoughtful sermon. I assure you, I'm not giving a second sermon!  But as president of Sinai, it is a tremendous honor to welcome you here today—members, friends, and guests—and to wish all of you a happy and healthy New Year. It is so gratifying to be with all of you at the start of these High Holy Days.  In the Covid era, and during a time of rabbinic transition, I'm proud to say, “we're here”. Sinai is here for you, and we are strong. I look forward to being together with all of you as we learn and explore, provide support for each other in challenging times, celebrate together in joyful times, and work together to make the world a better...

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Rosh HaShanah 5783

When I was in eighth grade an unusual event took place. One morning, as we were all settling into our seats and getting our books out of our backpacks, our teacher stepped outside the room. Suddenly a student ran through the room screaming and yelling. Then another student ran after the first. The first student, whose arm was bleeding, grabbed something off the teacher’s desk and ran out the other door of the room. The second student chased after the first. The rest of us were pretty much dumbfounded, not really understanding what had happened. Then our teacher came back into the room and some students started to report to her what had just gone on. She silenced them and instructed all of us to sit down and be quiet. Then she told each of us to write down exactly what had happened.   It will likely come as no...

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Erev Rosh HaShanah 5783

Here we are, once again, together for the High Holidays. Here we are, once again, gathered as a congregation: for worship and for celebration; for inspiring prayers and for beautiful music; for heartfelt meditation and for serious introspection. With the worst of the pandemic hopefully in our rear-view mirror, so many more of us are together in-person than in the past couple of years. And, from our time apart we have learned that we can gather as a congregation, and feel each other’s presence, both physically in the same room and remotely via the internet – and although we cannot all see each other, we can nonetheless feel that we are one community joined by invisible lines of connection. Personally, I am deeply honored to be a part of the Sinai community and to share this holy day with all of you.    For some in our Sinai family, 5782...

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Rage is Not All the Rage

Yom Kippur, 5728/2021

  Remember 18 months ago, at the beginning of the Shelter-in-Place mandate? Remember when working from home in sweatpants, without shoes on was all the rage? Remember when we sat at home binge watching TV and when Tiger King was all the rage? Remember when 1000 piece puzzles were...all the rage? --- Now it’s different.  Now it’s:  Did you hear he didn’t wear a mask at Lollapalooza?  Can you believe it?  Now it’s: She doesn’t care about anyone but herself. She goes out every weekend, travels on airplanes...and she’s not even vaccinated! Then she sends her kids to school?! Now it’s: The government is just awful -- whatever happened to freedom of choice! I’m vaccinated and don’t have children -- why do I have to wear a mask all the time?  Somehow, we’ve now arrived at a moment, where the only thing that seems to be all the rage, is...

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Telling Our Stories

Rosh Hashanah Evening 5782 Sermon

Our first Passover was a rushed and hurried affair.  We had plans, but they were all for naught. Standing on the edge of the wilderness, everything was chaotic.  We made it up as we went along and tried out new practices for the first time.  We observed it as best we could.  Some had the proper food, some were together with other people, some owned the right objects; and yet, many  had to improvise. To share food, to borrow objects, to observe that first Passover alone.  And we did, we observed it, each in our household. As we reached our second Passover, we thought we would be on the other side of this wilderness.  We had hoped we would have reached the promised land by then.  But it was not to be. So we did it again, in the wilderness, a second Passover.  This go-around we had more time to...

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One Bit Better

Yom Kippur Morning 5781 Service

It happens every summer. In the middle of a long meeting about something completely unrelated, Rabbi Limmer pauses, looks at me and says, “So, what are you thinking of speaking about on Yom Kippur?” Some years, I have a quick answer; other years it’s more of a process. This year, I blurted out a rant: I don't need Yom Kippur this year to tell me to be a better person or to tell me to do better. This year has been challenging enough! I have been hard on myself already, and I know many of our congregants have been hard on themselves, too.  This year, what I need is for Yom Kippur to tell me that it's going to be okay, that we’re going to be okay. And that all we need to do is just take each day one at a time. These past six months have been nothing...

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Our Yavneh

Rosh Hashanah Evening 5781 Sermon

There's a very old joke.  It starts with a sudden news report: the greatest scientists in the world have determined that, in two weeks, the earth is going to be destroyed by catastrophic flooding. Not one inch, the scientists say, of dry land will remain. The earth will be totally and completely submerged under water. There is nothing that can be done to prevent this catastrophe.  In this sudden moment of chaos and fear, with this unexpected and disastrous news, people struggle to respond. An international panel of scientists, politicians, religious leaders, thought leaders, and creative thinkers was convened to weigh and debate options. “Send people up into space,” some suggested. Others proposed building massive ships, like a fleet of modern day Noah’s Arks, huge floating cities.  Others objected, “These ideas will only save a tiny fraction of the population of the earth!” The room filled with a cacophony of...

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Mitzvah Weekend: A Weekend On

Winter 2020 Bulletin Article

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or the darkness of destructive selfishness. Life’s most persistent and urgent question is what are you doing for others?” In 1994, President Clinton linked Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to a National Day of Service. He signed into law the King Holiday and Service Act. When he did so, he quoted Dr. King, that amongst the greatest guidance and focus of Dr. King’s life was the idea of service. “Everyone can be great because everyone can serve,” he said. Many of our national holidays including Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July (all three day weekends) are marked by sales, fireworks, and time with family. At times these observances can be meaningful. Unfortunately, other times these observances lose the original purpose of why those days...

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Ner Tamid – Keeping the Flame Lit

Winter 2020 Bulletin Article

I still remember the day when I was in 10th grade confirmation learning my Temple’s best kept secret. For as long as I could remember, a light hung above the ark in the sanctuary. The ner tamid, or eternal light, as I learned it was called in religious school. The truth is, I never bothered to ask how the light stayed lit, and never went out. It sort of felt like magic. But as I grew older, I assumed there was some secret to the light staying lit, and on that first night of Confirmation class, our rabbi took us into the sanctuary, and we learned the secret, we discovered that which made the light eternal. It wasn’t magic after all. As we walked into the sanctuary, we saw a ladder on the bima right beneath the eternal light. Our rabbi turned to the class and said, “As the oldest...

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What Are We Going to Do About It?

Yom Kippur Day 5780

It was a Saturday morning around 8am. I picked up a few dozen donuts and drove to Sinai to deliver breakfast to our 5th and 6th students who spent the night sleeping at the temple. When I arrived, half of the students were barely awake, struggling to pack up their sleeping bags,  and the other half  had a ton of energy, “we’ve been awake since 5, rabbi!”. And by 9, all students had been picked up. I got in my car feeling like the Shabbat sleepover was a success. The 5th and 6th graders had a great time, and everyone made it home safely. Well, not everyone. It was October 27th, 2018. As our students made their way home safely that Shabbat morning,  a gunman entered the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and opened fire. 11 worshipers were murdered. 7 others wounded. All at the hands of a terrorist...

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