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Rabbi Dan Ornstein

  • For a recent family trip to Chicago, I ordered tickets to see the White Sox play the Minnesota Twins in a twilight game at the storied Comiskey Park on the city’s south side. Comiskey was infelicitously renamed Guaranteed Rate Field in 2016, after a thirteen-year stint as US Cellular Field. Their dismal success rate is guaranteeing very little for the hapless White Sox this season. Their record as of this writing stood at an abysmal 13-26, placing them in the proverbial doghouse, next to last in the AL central division, though they did beat the current first place Twins that night in a ten-inning game.
  • In synagogues around the globe, an equally important part of Sabbath morning worship, besides the worship itself, is the reception that comes afterwards. In my congregation, the cookies, kugels, cakes and candies that await our hungry attendees after a long morning of prayer would be no different from similar foods eaten on a weekday, except for the special “Sabbath spice” enhancing their flavor. According to Jewish legend, this “spice,” a symbol for the peaceful and spiritual nature of the Sabbath, is miraculously added to them during that weekly day of rest. Consumed in the setting of communal religious life, Sabbath food, like Sabbath socializing, takes on an almost mystical, intangible quality that adds to the holiness and restfulness of the day. Members of our congregation sit at ease, in no rush, nursing cups of coffee and nibbling on tasty foods. We allow ourselves the soul-healing necessity of catching up on each other’s lives, telling jokes and stories, and deepening our relationships with one another as a sacred community.
  • My friend, Jacob, reaches out to me in Albany, New York, 7,677 miles and many worlds away, from his home in Mbale, Uganda. He is seeking matzah bread for Passover and prayers for his community, known as the Abayudaya, whose pregnant mothers are being devastated by a disease that is killing their babies in the womb. Our friendship has evolved for more than a year, entangled in a mind-bending paradox: in a fraction of a second, we can write or speak to each other with the miraculous technology of WhatsApp, but his isolated Jewish community can’t afford matzah for the Passover seder or access quality medical care to prevent their pregnant women from losing their children. The crystal-clear photos and videos that he sends to me reveal starkly and brightly the turbulent mix of steadfast Jewish faith and devastating poverty that are woven into the fabric of his life in Africa.
  • The remains of the civil war era Manchester Mill stand, ruined and partly incinerated, on the banks of the Sweetwater Creek, a tributary of the Chattahoochee River outside of Atlanta, Georgia. A silent sentinel overlooking the noisy rapids of the creek, the mill is a dilapidated paean to slavery era industriousness. You can easily saunter along its mill race, the trench that diverted water from the creek to power its massive water wheel. The wheel helped produce cotton yarns and osnaburg cloth, some of which was used to make confederate army uniforms.
  • In The Lorax, Dr. Suess’s parable about ecological disaster, our hero harshly informs the narrator:"I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees, for the trees have no tongues.”
  • Some people recharge by sitting in their hot tubs, near their fire pits, by participating in extreme sports or by traveling to exotic places. This rabbi regains his sense of personal balance and composure by hanging out with nuns.
  • “Rabbi, I don’t know what to say…
  • When you take I-90’s Exit 5 to Everett Road in Albany, in either direction you will, almost every day, encounter hungry, marginalized people seeking help. The exit ramps are real-time stages for these indigent and unhoused Americans – mostly but not exclusively men - who stand along the ramps, hoping for the attention of a motorist stopped at the light who might hand them a charitable dollar or two. This troupe of rootless human beings, reduced to the humiliation of begging, shifts in number and visibility as the weather changes and the hours of sunlight wax and wane. These are people who have been forced into the very real and shameful drama of American poverty.
  • My uncle was dying, and I didn’t know where to go.
  • I have hiked many streams and creeks in the capital district. Because I love trees, I make a point of stopping to examine them in the forests and preserves that I frequent.