A Plea to Israel to Heed the Sukkah’s Message

When we sit in the sukkah, we have no protection from the sun, the wind, the heat or the cold. Our Sages encourage us to leave the sukkah to escape a driving rain, and we are wise to do so. But far too many people in our world do not have dry warm-in-winter, cool-in-summer homes to which they can retreat.

The sukkah teaches us to feel the pain of these people and care for them.

Today, untold thousands are fleeing Syria in fear of their lives. Germany is opening its doors.  Israel is not.

Yes, I know the dangers and the problems, but Israel should be up to the challenge especially when the reward is the saving of many lives.

What  a powerful message to the world Israel could send  about its values an ideals by taking in—after appropriate vetting—a number of those fleeing for their lives from an enemy country.

More than any other commandment, the Torah emphasises our obligation to care for and protect the stranger. I am sad that Israel seems to be forgetting this cardinal principle of its heritage.

ופרוס עלינו סוכת שלומיך — Spread over us the sukkah of Your Peace!

GIRL TALK: The Lessons of the Sukkah (A Short Story)

Julie Goldstein looked forward each year to the time she and her family built the sukkah.

“Can I invite Sharon to help us,” she asked her mother. “Her family never builds a sukkah, and I know she would love it.”

“Of course,” her mother said.

Sharon and Julie worked hard to build the sukkah with Mr. And Mrs. Goldstein. They carried the boards from the garage, helped hammer the nails. They drove into the country where Julie’s mother had arranged with Mr. and Mrs. O‘Brien to pick some of their corn left standing. They cut down sheaves of corn and loaded them into the trunk of the family car. They drove back and used the stalks for the roof of the sukkah and to help decorate the sides. Then they decorated the sukkah with pumpkins, gourds and all sort of other vegetables. They set up a table in the sukkah, and they sat down.

Mr. Goldstein brought out a plate of cookies and juice. “You girls worked so hard to build the sukkah,” he said. “You deserve some refreshments.” He left he cookies and juice on the table and went inside.

The two girls sat in the newly built sukkah and enjoyed the warm breeze that flowed through it.

“That was fun,” Sharon said, “but why do you build the sukkah in the first place?”

”Well,” said Julie, “lots of reasons. First of all it says in the Torah that God wants us to build it to remind us of the temporary huts our people lived in when we left slavery in Egypt and wandered in the Promised Land.”

“But don’t we celebrate that at Passover,” Sharon asked?

“Yes, but then we think about what it is like to be slaves. On Sukkot we think about how hard it is to move from place to place and have very little. There are lots of people who live like that, and Sukkot reminds us how we can help them.”

“Last week,” Sharon said, “my family and I helped build a house for people who don’t have one. That sounds like one of the reasons we build the sukkah.”

“It sure does,” Julie agreed. “You must have felt great when you finished.”

“It was wonderful,” Sharon answered. “The family was so happy when they moved in. I can still see the expression on the children’s faces. Are there any other reasons to build the sukkah?”

“Many,” said Julie. “Sukkot celebrates the harvest. It reminds us that there are so many people who do not have a harvest—who do not have enough to eat.”

“Didn’t we think of them at our food drive at Yom Kippur?”

“Sure,” answered Julie, “but we could have a food drive everyday, and people would still be hungry. Sukkot reminds us how lucky we are.”

As the day gave way to night Julie and Sharon noticed how beautiful the almost full moon looked. “The moon will be completely full on the first night of Sukkot tomorrow,” Julie said.

“When I sit in the sukkah,” she continued, “and look up at the stars I feel closer to God. It makes me feel like a partner with God in trying to make the world a better place. At Temple the rabbi taught us that God wants us all to use our talents to make a better world. Sukkot makes me think about that.”

“Maybe,” Sharon answered, “that’s the best reason of all to build the sukkah,” as the two girls looked at the stars together.

The Parsonage Has A Sukkah!

The Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot begins tonight, five days after Yom Kippur. We celebrate by building a sukkah, a small hut outside our homes to symbolize the temporary homes of our ancestors while they traveled through the desert after being freed from slavery in Egypt.

“A child who has the experience of building a sukkah,” my Theology/Liturgy Professor, Jakob J. Petuchowski, of blessed memory, used to tell us, “has a Jewish experience worth six months of Sunday school.”

The outstanding American writer, Noah Gordon, in his 1964 best-selling novel The Rabbi, captured the essence of just how important a sukkah can be for a child: “The bond between Michael and his zaydeh (grandfathergrew stronger during the early fall, when the days began to shorten and the autumn feast of Sukkot drew near. Each autumn during his four-year stay with the Rivkins Zaydeh built in their postage-stamp back yard a sukkah, or ceremonial hut. The sukkah was a small house of wooden planks covered with boughs and sheaves. It was hard work for an old man to build it, especially since hayfields, corn shocks and trees were not plentiful in Brooklyn. Sometimes he had to go deep into Jersey for raw materials, and he badgered Abe for weeks until he was driven to the country in the family Chevrolet.

‘Why do you bother?’ Dorothy asked him once when she brought a glass of tea to where he strained and perspired to raise the hut. ‘Why do you work so hard?’

‘To celebrate the harvest.’

‘What harvest, for God’s sake? We’re not farmers. You sell canned goods. Your son makes corsets for ladies with big behinds. Who has a harvest?’

He looked pityingly at this female his son had made his daughter. ‘For thousands of years, since the Jews emerged from the Wilderness, in ghettos and in palaces they have observed Sukkot. You don’t have to raise cabbages to have a harvest.’ His big hand grasped Michael behind the neck and pushed him toward his mother. ‘Here is your harvest.’ She didn’t understand, and by then Zaydeh had been living with them long enough not to expect understanding from her.”

Our family sukkah to which we invited congregants every year was a very precious part of our family’s Jewish identity over the years. Our children were fascinated by it as babies, loved decorating it as children, and helped set it up when they were older. They loved inviting their non-Jewish friends over to help decorate. Now they have children of their own, and celebrate Sukkot with them.

Each year we looked forward to having our congregants join us for a reception in the sukkah. As much as our sukkah meant to our children, it meant at least as much to us.

In addition to the huts our ancestors lived in when they wandered through the desert for 40 years, the sukkah today symbolizes that too many have homes to live in all year around that offer no more protection against the elements than these fragile huts. The Sukkah teaches us that the less fortunate are our responsibility. We cannot in good conscience turn away.

Yes, Rabbi Petuchowski was right about the sukkah and six months of Sunday school. In fact I think he might have  understated the case.

In Bad Segeberg, Germany, our hosts Pastorin Ursula Sieg and Pastor Martin Pommerening got wind of how important the custom was to us back home and took it on themselves to erect a sukkah in their backyard.

This gesture means so much to us. This sukkah more than any other we have ever enjoyed symbolizes our hope for inter religious cooperation and reconciliation that inspired us to spend these ten weeks in Germany.

Eternal God, spread סוכת שלום “the Sukkah of Peace” over us, over all Israel and over all humanity! May we may dwell in it together in harmony!


Sukkah photo

Pastorin Ursula Sieg (l) Pastor Martin Pommerening and my wife Vickie sitting in the magnificent sukkah Martin and Ursula erected for us to honor the festival of sukkot in their backyard.

Rose Garden: A Tribute to Lynn Anderson

September 25, 2015 –Today would have been Lynn Anderson’s sixty-eighth birthday.

She died (ironically on my son Leo’s thirty-ninth birthday) on July 30 of this year.

I first heard Rose Garden in Amsterdam!

 Although it was released in December 1970 I first heard I Never Promised You a Rose Garden as I was walking along a canal in Amsterdam where I vacationed for a few days on my way home from studying in Israel in June 1971. Ms. Anderson was performing it on a TV screen that I saw by accident though the window of a bar that I passed. The song has never let me go, and when I learned of Ms Anderson’s death at such a relatively young age I wanted to learn more about her.

Like many casual music fans, I thought of Ms Anderson as a “one hit wonder.” WRONG! She had eleven number one country hits and many other songs that charted.

 I thought she was strikingly pretty, but (as Michael Learned playing Olivia Walton once described her TV daughter Mary Ellen) “just this side of beautiful.” Her slightly less than perfect features made her all the more appealing to me.

I Googled her and learned that in addition to her singing, Ms Anderson was an expert horsewoman with several national championships to her credit.

I also watched as many YouTube Lynn Anderson performance videos as I could find dating from her days  as the ingénue featured singer in the late 60’s on the Lawrence Welk show.

She had an amazing voice, clearly loved performing and really knew how to work a crowd. Her humanity shines though the tapes.

 How she (or anyone else) could memorize the incredibly complex lyrics of “I’ve Been Everywhere Man” boggles my mind. My favorite performance though, was a relatively recent live rendition of the Johnny Ray classic, “Cry!”

Now I am old enough to remember and revere Johnny Ray’s voice, and I was skeptical about anyone else singing his great song. But Anderson’s version is worthy of the original, and I love the fact that she acknowledged it is Johnny Ray’s song in an interview and pays tribute to him.

In the video Ms Anderson crosses her fingers as she is about to come to the vocally challenging dramatic climax of the song. Then, after she absolutely nails it, she sort of wipes her brow in relief. What an endearing human touch!

 Physically, the willowy blond beauty that I first saw in Amsterdam thickened over the years. Still, it shocked me to see the puffed up, face of an old lady in the mug shot published after her third DUI arrest in Nashville on a street not two minutes from the house where our family lived for eleven years.

Now, Lynn Anderson is not the first celebrity to have issues with alcohol, and I admire the way she took responsibility for her actions, apologized and pledged to do whatever is necessary to atone and recover.

I am sorry that her fatal heart attack on July 30 robbed her of that chance.

For all her hits and enduring popularity as a performer, Rose Garden will always be Lynn Anderson’s enduring legacy. Yes, some called it kitschy, but I find the lyrics brilliant, and I–like so many others—continue to love the song. Ms Anderson was ever grateful for what it did for her career.

Speaking about it in a 1987 interview she said: “It was popular because it touched on emotions. I believe that Rose Garden was released at just the right time. People were trying to recover from the Vietnam years. The message in the song—that if you just take hold of life and go ahead, you can make something out of nothing—people just took to that.”

Admittedly, I have thought much more about Lynn Anderson since learning of her death than I ever did while she was alive. I will play her videos often, and she will continue to inspire me.


She took hold of life, went ahead and made something out of nothing. I take to that.

Eine ernstezunehmende Erinnerung Kurzkommentar zum Wochenabschnitt Ha’azinu (Deuteronomium 32, 1-52)

Welch kraftvolle Worte eröffnen das Gedicht aus dem dem der Tora-Abschnitt dieser Woche besteht: “Leih dein Ohr, O Himmel… hör gut zu, O Erde! Lass Gottes Wort wie Tau fallen und wie Regen, der das Gras nährt.”

Wir zitieren Verse dieses Gedichtes, wenn wir einen Verstorbenen zu seiner letzten Ruhestätte begleiten: Gott ist ein Fels. Seine Werke sind vollkommen und seine Wege sind gerecht und richtig.(32,4)

Leider ist die Bedeutung dieses Verses in solch einem emotionalen Moment komplett verloren gegangen. Die Worte darin – תמים, משפט und צדיק – bringen uns zurück zu den Grundlagen des Bündnis, das Gott zuerst mit Abraham schloss.

Gott beauftragt Abraham mit diesen drei Worten, mit denen unser Glaube beginnt und die ihm bis heute zugrunde liegen: תמים (würdig) zu sein, ein Leben zu führen – und die Kinder zu lehren ein Leben zu führen – gekennzeichnet durch צדקה (die gleiche Wurzel wie צדיק Rechtschaffenheit) und משפט (Gerechtigkeit).

Wenn wir den Toten oder die Tote zum Grab begleiten, dann sollten diese Worte uns fordern:

Genau wie die Person, deren Leben zu Ende ist, die Bündnispflichten erfüllte (und hier sind wir glücklich, dass wir das bei dieser Person nicht anzweifeln müssen), so müssen wir es.

Auch auf den anderen Auftrag Gottes an Abraham: “Sei ein Segen!” (Genesis 12,2), bezieht sich unser Gedicht, indem es den Segen des gottgegebenen Taus und Regens erwähnt. Wir verdienen dieses Notwendige nur, wenn wir einen besseren Job machen, als bislang, es zu pflegen.

Anders ausgedrückt: Wir verdienen Gottes Segen des Lebens und des Lebensunterhaltes (Leviticus 26:3 ff) nur, wenn wir durch Taten der Gerechtigkeit, Fürsorge und des Mitgefühls unser Leben zu einem Segen für das Leben anderer machen.

Translation: with thanks to Pastor Ursula Sieg

A Stark Covenantal Reminder! Quick comment: Parashat Ha’azinu (Deuteronomy 32: 1-52)

What powerful words begin the poem that comprises this week’s Torah portion: “Give ear O heavens … listen well, O earth. Let God’s words fall like the dew and rain that nourish the grass.”

We quote part of this poem when we accompany one who has died to his or her final place of rest:

“God is the rock whose works are worthy, and all God’s paths are just … and right”

Sadly the significance of that line at such an emotional moment has been all but lost. The words it contains, תמים, משפט and צדיק take us back to the foundational Covenant that God first made with Abraham.

God charged Abraham with these three trigger words, and they underlie our faith to this day: To be תמים (worthy) and to live a life–and teach his offspring to live lives–marked by צדקה (same root as צדיק) and משפט (justice and righteousness).

When we accompany the dead to his or her grave these words should challenge us:

Just as the person whose life has ended lived up (and here we are happy to give the individual the benefit of any doubt) to his or her Covenantal obligations, so must we.

As far as God’s other charge to Abraham, “Be a Blessing” (Genesis 12:2), our poem references it by mentioning the blessing of God’s rain and dew. We shall only merit these necessities to sustain life on earth if we do a better job than we are now of taking care of it.

Put differently: we only deserve God’s blessing of life and sustenance (See Leviticus 26:3 ff) if we through our acts of justice, caring and compassion make our lives blessings to the lives others.

Michael Holzman

Yom Kippur bids us to imagine how we would like people to remember us after we die. As I face that stark question this year, I can think of no more meaningful way to be remembered than the way so many of us remember Michael Holzman who died this past summer at the age of 52.


When he knew that he was dying, Michael’s last major goal was to make it to his daughter Emily’s graduation from Colgate. He not only made it, he was able to enjoy it thoroughly and record the events surrounding this great milestone with one of his signature photograph albums. What a wonderful achievement! What a wonderful gift to his family!

Carmen and Emily were the foci of Michael’s universe. You could see the love he had for them in his eyes. You could feel it in the spirit that emanated from his soul.

I can still see the glow he radiated at Emily’s Bat Mitzvah and Confirmation. I can easily imagine how proud he was at Colgate this past May.

When we travelled to Israel, ten years ago except for the gazelle-like Gail Mangs, Michael was the first one to reach the peak of Masada with Emily close behind. The climb that left the rest of us huffing was not even a challenge for someone as fit and strong as he.

With his keen eye and wonderful skill he took amazing pictures throughout the trip, and I still treasure the framed photograph he gave me that I displayed in my office. I have had the joy of seeing several albums Michael has created. It is as though he painted with his camera.

For years at the synagogue, we had a portable ark for use during our services in Haas or Feldman Hall. Opening the doors during a service was a major challenge. I had to push with all my strength to get them open hoping all the time that the whole thing would not topple over.

It is a challenge we have to face no longer because of the beautiful new portable ark that Michael crafted for the congregation.

As a rabbi I have never had a theological problem with the Holocaust. I believe God gives us free will, and that society, not God, is to blame for the horrors that humans perpetrate against one another.

But as a rabbi I have a great theological problem—and no good responses–for why someone like Michael Holzman has the body that he kept so incredibly fit and strong ravaged and destroyed by cancer at such a young age.

Michael and I discussed these matters candidly together. I wish I could have given him—just as I wish I could give you and myself—more comforting answers.

As I told Michael, there is a reason we come to worship God and do not expect God to worship us. Though we continue to unravel many mysteries of life, there are some things we just cannot understand.

I consider it a miracle that despite everything he endured, Michael still believed in God.

He believed strongly—and he lived that belief—in the imperative of our tradition to make this world a more just, caring and compassionate place.

He also believed in the possibility of an existence beyond the grave. During one of our visits he told me with his scientist’s curiosity, “I am interested to see what it is.”

Michael, if it is what you deserve for the way you lived on earth, it is a paradise beyond description.

As for those of us you leave behind,

—Your parents, who endure today what no parents should ever have to endure,

— Your brothers and their families,

—All of us who admire you so,

—And particularly, Carmen and Emily,

You will live on each time we make a conscious effort to live the way you lived.

You were kind, generous and loving! You diligently developed your vast talents and abilities and gave freely of them to help others. You have made the world a better place, and your memory will always be a blessing!

A Yom Kippur Carol—Charles Dickens’ High Holy Day Sermon

Whether you prefer the 1951 version starring Alastair Sim or the 1938 version starring Reginald Owen—or whether you are a fan of any of the many more modern incarnations and adaptations–or even perhaps if you like the book first published in 1843 best of all, there is no question that Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is a classic.

Now, A Christmas Carol is a Yom Kippur story if there ever was one. And it matters not that when Dickens wrote it, he had in mind another season and another holiday. It is a Yom Kippur story.

As a small child, I couldn’t resist it. That is to say, I couldn’t resist the first act. I lived to hear Scrooge say, “Bah! Humbug!” It wasn’t until I was older that I began to appreciate the drama that unfolds after the first commercial.

Scrooge spends a restless night marked by four fateful encounters. The first is with the ghost of his dead partner Jacob Marley. In life, Marley was Scrooge’s tight-fisted clone. In death, he walks about chained to his account books, wailing in misery.

The frightened Scrooge cries out to his partner: “But you were always a good man of business, Jacob!”

“Business!” answers Marley. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, benevolence, forbearance. These were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

The Hassidic Rabbi Levi Yitzhak of Berditchev, who died in 1810, two years before Charles Dickens was born, expressed Marley’s admonition to Scrooge in another way. Once, he saw a man hurrying down the street looking neither to the right or the left.

“Why are you hurrying so,” the Rabbi inquired?

“I am pursuing my livelihood,” the man answered.

“And how do you know,” the Rabbi continued, “that your livelihood is in front of you? Perhaps it is behind you, and you are running away from it.”

Such was Marley’s message to Scrooge:

You are running away from your livelihood, but “I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate.” As Marley leaves, he promises Scrooge that the spirits of his past, present and future will visit him.

The ghost of his past allows Scrooge to see the hurt people inflicted on him that turned his life in its miserable direction. He sees himself as a boy in school, sitting alone during the winter recess, in his words, “a solitary child … neglected by his friends.”

But then Scrooge sees another side of humanity: He sees himself as a young apprentice to kindly Mr. Fezziwig. And Scrooge apprehends a truth, which escaped him for many years: “He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil.”

Moving from his past to his present, Scrooge encounters his nephew, Fred, and his clerk, Bob Cratchitt. They teach him that vast riches do not provide happiness, nor does their absence preclude it. In Bob Cratchitt’s ailing son, tiny Tim, Scrooge sees opportunities to act righteously that he has spurned for so long.

Scrooge’s final lesson allows him to look into the future, to see how people scorn him after he is gone. With terror he sees his chambermaid stealing the very sheets from his deathbed and the curtains from his bedroom and chortling over his death.

Yom Kippur asks us to experience what Scrooge experienced: to imagine we are dead and ask, what is the impact of our actions on those around us?

Yes, once a year we need to spend a night like Scrooge.

We need to hear and heed the lesson: Mankind is my business…charity, forbearance, mercy, and benevolence. These are all my business. We need to remember those who treat us kindly. We also need to ponder: Will our death cause sadness or occasion relief?

“Spirit,” cried Scrooge, clutching the robe of Christmas Future, “Why show me this if I am past all hope?”

Scrooge, of course, was not past all hope. And neither are we.

A famous Polish preacher, Jacob Krantz, who was known as “the Dubner Maggid,” wrote many wonderful stories and parables. My favorite is about a king who had a precious diamond that he guarded carefully.

Despite all his efforts, he awoke one morning to see a scratch on one of the facets of the gem.

Overwrought, the king sent word around the world offering a great reward to any jeweler who could remove the scratch from the gem, but none of them could remove the unsightly blemish.

At last a local lapidary sent word that he would like to try. The king’s courtiers scoffed: “You! What can you do when the world’s greatest jewelers have been unsuccessful?”

“Certainly,” he replied, “I cannot do any worse than they.”

So they gave him a chance. Instead of trying to remove the scratch from the diamond, the jeweller used it as a stem around which he etched a most beautiful flower. When he had finished, the king and all of his courtiers agreed that the gem was more beautiful than it was before.

Like Ebenezer Scrooge we are flawed diamonds with the opportunity to etch lives of beauty and meaning around our shortcomings.

Every year, the Yom Kippur Carol urges us to build lives of “charity, mercy, benevolence, and forbearance” around our flaws.

It is not an easy thing to do, but if our efforts are sincere, infinite rewards await us at the end of the day.

Elijah’s Role on Yom Kippur

It is for good reason that Jews close Yom Kippur — just before the blowing of the shofar with the triumphant cry from the wonderful passage (First Kings,chapter 19) in which Elijah vanquishes the prophets of Ba’al on Mt. Carmel:  “Adonai Hoo Ha Elohim!  The Eternal One (alone) is God!”  We chant it seven times before we hear the shofar (the ONLY time all day we hear the shofar on Yom Kippur) to signify the end of the most solemn holy day in our calendar.

Sadly, most Jews have no idea of this connection, but it is crucial!   King Ahab and (even more so) Queen Jezebel (a name known as a synonym for wickedness even for people who never read the Bible) had corrupted Israelite worship by setting up Ba’al and its prophets as their favored cultic practice.  They vowed to kill Elijah who was the champion of the one true God.

So Elijah challenges the prophets of Ba’al on Mt Carmel. He says we will each prepare our offering, and the god who consumes the offering without a fire being kindled is the real deity. The prophets of Ba’al go first, and though they cry out and gash themselves, nothing happens. Then Elijah pours water all over his offering, so much water that it fills the trench around the makeshift altar erected for the showdown. Then Elijah cries, “Answer me, O Eternal One, Answer me, and POOF! The offering, the altar beneath it and even the trench filled with water go up in smoke.

Who is God? Elijah essentially asks?  Is it your idol that you worship by gashing yourselves and with other abominations that make a mockery of human dignity? Is it Ba’al who—you hope—will greedily eat your offering?  Or is it the one true God who wants us to create a world of justice, kindness, caring and compassion?

And then in most dramatic fashion God vanquishes Ba’al on Mt Carmel and everyone must acknowledge God’s sovereignty.  It is a replay in miniature of the ten plagues and the Exodus from Egypt where God defeats Pharaoh, the pagan god in human form.

So what should Jews take away when the liturgy references this amazing scene at what is arguably the holiest moment of the year?  What should we all learn from this passage that can help us to live better lives?

Even though many in power debase the ideals and values that the Eternal One wants us to uphold—and even though God does not assert the reality of the Divine presence as dramatically to us as we see on Mt. Carmel (or in the parting of the sea)–it is our job to hold fast to God’s desires for us.  True worship is not found in mouthing empty words, but in making our faith the driving force in our lives.  We glorify God and demonstrate our faith when we use the talents that God has given us—whatever they may be—to help repair this broken world.


My Three Covers

Fuchs-Cover photoPastor Ursual Sieg holding newly published German edition of What's in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives

It is hard for me to believe —but exciting to contemplate—that What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives is now available in three editions. There is the original book in English published last year, a just released German edition, and an even more recently released audio book edition (www.audible.com).

Due to production issues the three books have three different covers, and as I look at each one, I am glad that they do.

The original has a nice photo of a number of individuals from different ethnic and religious backgrounds all leaning in to grasp a copy of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. The message is that people of all backgrounds and religious beliefs (or no religious beliefs) can gain valuable insight and understanding from biblical stories. I am grateful for the many who have told me—including the 28 five-star AMAZON reviewers (http://www.amazon.com/Whats-Finding-Ourselves-Biblical-Narratives/dp/1427655014/ref=tmm_pap_title_0) that they have.

The audio edition has an artistic depiction of Abraham, selected from the net by Skip Conover, who encouraged me to record the book and helped me jump through all the technical hoops (and at times they were daunting) that stood between the recording and the release of the finished product.

Abraham was the perfect choice for the cover photo because Christians, Muslims as well as Jews consider him our spiritual patriarch, and my goal is that the book appeal to all people.

The cover of the German edition also depicts Abraham, but (I know you will understand) this cover holds the most personal meaning for me of the three.


First, it depicts Abraham and his wife Sarah beginning together their journey to the Promised Land. Together they answered God’s call to start a new way of life with the aim of teaching humanity to build a just, caring and compassionate society. Sarah is such an integral part of the story and so beloved to Abraham that the midrash points out: Abraham endured ten difficult trials, but the only time the Torah tells us that Abraham wept is when his beloved Sarah dies.(Bereshit Rabbah 58:1).

Second the cover photo was painstakingly shot by photographer Lena Stein and carefully selected from dozens of snaps by Pastor Ursula Sieg (holding the German edition in the photo above). The photo is from one of the magnificent stained glass windows of Congregation Beth Israel, West Hartford Connecticut, where I served as Spiritual Leader of for fourteen years.

Pastor Sieg not only translated the book into German, but, aided By Dr. Serafine C. Kratzke, oversaw every aspect of its production through the publishing house she established, Mutual Blessing Edition.

Pastor Sieg undertook this project and saw it through to successful completion because of her passion to foster greater understanding and affirmation among all religious groups.

Seen together, my three covers form a mosaic (pun intended) that pays tribute to our roots in the stories of the patriarchs and matriarchs and looks with hope to a future of greater harmony among all of God’s children.

Whether you choose the original—in either eBook or hard copy format— the audio book, or the German translation, may you find meaning in the ideas you encounter. Indeed, I hope that as the President of Hartford Seminary, Dr. Heidi Hadsell, wrote in her Foreword, ” …you will be informed, comforted, challenged and encouraged … you may also find in the process you have changed in important ways.