Being Rooted

Rosh Hashanah Morning 5781 Sermon

A Rosh HaShanah Story: Upon a time, there was a king. Or a baron, or a lord, or some kind of chief in charge. Maybe it was another kind of chief in charge, a lady, a baroness, or even a queen for that matter. One day, this big chief in charge threw a big party at the palace. Invitations were sent to everyone in the realm: the painter, the potter, the blacksmith, the launderer. The invitation read the same for all: please prepare yourself for a big party at the palace. The whole town, or city, or country, was aflutter with excitement about the party. Everyone was talking about this most important occasion. But then everybody noticed something odd about the invitation: it said to dress formally; it indicated to be at the palace; it was missing the date and the time. What did people do? One painter went home,...

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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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Intro to Elul

High Holy Days 2020/5781

As we enter into the unique season anticipating our High Holy Days of Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur, this famed Hasidic story comes to my mind: Rabbi Shneur Zalman, the 18th Century rabbi of Belarus  was denounced to the government on account of his beliefs and life conduct. He was jailed in Saint Petersburg and awaiting his interrogation when the chief of police came into his cell. Deep in contemplation, Rabbi Zalman was not aware of his visitor. The chief, a thoughtful man, noted the rabbi’s powerful but serene facial expression and intuited the sort of person his prisoner was. He began to converse with the rabbi and soon raised several questions that had occurred to him when reading the scripture. Finally, he asked: “How am I to understand that God, who is omniscient, asks Adam, ‘Where are you?’” Rabbi Zalman replied: “Do you believe that scripture is eternal and...

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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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Seeing the Light

Winter 2020 Bulletin Article

In English, when a new book enters existence, we simply say, “It’s published”. Sometimes we use an idiom, along the lines of “The new Margaret Atwood is finally in print,” or, in more librarian terms, “the updated Dictionary is now in circulation”. Hebrew itself has no single word for “publish”; in fact, the only way to talk about a book’s publication in Hebrew is by idiom. The Hebrew phrase for printing a book is hotzaah la-or, literally meaning a new book “has been brought into the light”. This is a long way of explaining that, by the time you read this bulletin, our newly updated and revised prayerbooks [siddurim] will be published. On Friday night, December 6th, we will worship from our new Chicago Sinai Congregation Union Prayer Book III for the very first time. Especially for those of us involved in its preparations and editing, it seems fitting to...

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Rabbi Limmer’s Encounter Sermon

Erev Shabbat Service

Watch Rabbi Limmer's Erev Shabbat Service Sermon below.

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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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The Massacre Generation

Kol Nidre 5780

I have the honor of speaking on this most sacred of evenings.  Tonight however, I want to share this pulpit with people who don’t share my privilege, but whose wisdom needs, nevertheless, to be heard in our sanctuary. Tonight, I want to share the words of our children.  I begin with the thoughts of a young woman I’ve never met, but whose words cut me to the quick.  Her name is Julia Savoca Gibson: It was last Saturday when it hit me that my entire life has been framed by violence. I don’t remember being born on Jan. 28, 2000, and I don’t remember being a year and a half old when 9/11 happened. I don’t remember the panic of my mother as she stepped outside our house in Washington and smelled the smoke of the burning Pentagon. I don’t remember her knowing I would grow up in a changed world. But I...

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Our Identity, Our Politics

Rosh HaShanah Day 5780

“For from Bari shall go forth the Torah, the word of God from Otranto”. In the Middle Ages, this famous play on the prophet’s vision of Jerusalem was so well-known it made its way into the famed Talmudic commentary of Jacob ben Meir, Rabbeinu Tam. Jews throughout the world knew of the importance of Otranto and Bari—two thriving trading hubs on the heel of Italy’s boot—both as centers of commerce and bastions of Jewish thought. As far as capitals of Jewish life and learning are measured, Bari and Otranto were to the Byzantine Empire what Chicago and New York are in America. It was therefore only appropriate to describe these twin cities as the Jerusalem and Zion of their day. However, until recently, I had never heard of either Bari or Otranto. I knew nothing of the Saletine Peninsula [that Italian “boot heel”], or the modern region called Puglia that...

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