Why I Did Havdalah Alone


Above: The symbols of the Havdalah service: wine, spice box, twisted candle. Havdalah means, separation. The Havdalah service is a brief ritual to bid good-bye to Shabbat and enter the new week.

(This essay originally appeared on the blog site of http://www.ReformJudaism.org)


Havdalah is not much fun when I am by myself, but I do it anyway.

Vickie was in San Francisco for Thanksgiving Weekend visiting her 97-year old mother, our children and four grandchildren who live there.

My duties as Rabbi of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands kept me in Sanibel. We don’t like to be apart on holidays, but given the realistic possibilities, we made the best choice. It is vital for Vickie to spend as much time with her mother as possible. And every time either of us sees our children and grandchildren it is a great joy.

I often say, “We have all been expelled from The Garden of Eden. None of us has it perfect in life. There is no perfect, marriage, position or friendship. But our tradition urges us to make the best choices of those available to us that we can.

God in the Torah is an example. As Rabbi Samuel Karff taught, God had to choose between Esau on the one hand who cared so little for his birthright that he sold it for a bowl of stew, and Jacob on the other who wanted it so badly that he would cheat and lie to get it. Some choice! But if even God had to choose between imperfect alternatives, it should not surprise us that so must we.

I am frequently asked why do we study Genesis’ stories year after year because they are all about highly dysfunctional families.

No argument! But their very flaws make them valuable object lessons for us. We are all flawed too. Jacob and Joseph were obnoxious punks in their youth. Neither becomes perfect, but each grows into a responsible adult to fulfill vital roles in keeping our people’s Covenant with God- a Covenant made for the purpose of creating a just, caring and compassionate society— vibrant and alive.

That brings me back to Havdalah.

In the flames’ reflection I see the days when our three children were young, and we all said goodbye to Shabbat together. Now they are busy adults, scattered from Jerusalem to San Francisco to Connecticut, each pursuing worthy careers that help further the Covenant’s original goal.

If we can’t all be together, at least let there be Vickie and I. but this week she too is in pursuit of important Covenantal ideals by visiting her aging mother.

So I am alone, and frankly it would be easier to skip the ritual. But I don’t because even an imperfect Shabbat ritual holds meaning for me.

I laugh as I light the Havdalah candle because Vickie rarely lets me do it when we are together. Our Havdalah candle throws off a big, almost scary flame, and Vickie fears I will burn the house down. I thought of her and was extra careful

The bottom line reason I chose to do Havdalah this evening is because I still got to celebrate Shabbat.

I had the privilege of co-leading worship with our wonderful Cantor, Murray Simon. I was blessed to read and teach Torah to a smaller than usual, but still interested and attentive day after Thanksgiving congregation. So imperfect as it was, Shabbat was still different from the rest of my week in a sacred way.

And so I marked its end and the beginning of a new week. The new week, I pray will lead to a Shabbat that is better for me, better for my family, better for our nation and better for the world than the last.

And as I extinguished (without burning the house down) our Havdalah candle I contemplated the small steps I might take to draw closer the ever-living hope of our people that like our flawed biblical forbears I too can become a better person, who can help in some small way to make the world a better place.



For Love of the Game


John Collins dances off first base after rapping a sharp single to right center field for the Cardinals.


It has been a quarter of a century since I saw my friend John Collins at our 25thHamilton College reunion. John and I were Fraternity brothers at Delta Upsilon and talked often on the Hill. He was one of the classmates I respected most of all in those days, so when he wrote me in the spring that he would be in southwest Florida in November, I cleared ample time on my schedule so we could get together.

John played varsity baseball at Hamilton and was an under-utilized and sometimes frustrated infielder on the Continental Nine.

Today he gets plenty of playing time as a member of the 70 and older New Jersey Wonder Boys.  He came to this area for the annual Roy Hobbs baseball classic.

According to the rules the 75 and older squads can have two players under 75 so John was recruited to play on a second team during the tournament, the Cardinals.

For two glorious fall weeks these superannuated superstars of the diamond get to extend their summer leagues season in the Roy Hobbs Baseball classic.  They play some of their games at the Red Sox and Minnesota Twins spring training facilities in the area.

As one player put it, at 73, I get to play games that count in beautiful weather in Major League stadiums. How can life get better than that?”

Indeed I asked some of the players why at our advanced age do they drag their weary and often banged up bodies out into the hot Florida sun to play nine (or seven in the case of the 75 and older teams) innings of baseball every day for two weeks.

Clearly, baseball is in their blood, and while their skills have certainly and understandably diminished as John wrote me when he let me know he was coming down, “These guys can still play.”

Indeed you see flashes of what was in the way they track fly balls and the way they swing the bats. Most of their arms have lost their zip, and their legs are not what they were, but the desire to compete is keen and the games are fun to watch.

As I watched the Cardinals in action one week and then the Wonder Boys take the field the next, I almost wanted to be out there myself. I was certainly worried when I saw the catcher of the Cardinals feeling woozy after five innings of getting up and down on each pitch as his position requires in 90-degree heat. Fortunately he took himself out of the game in time, and by the time I had lunch with him and some of his teammates later, he was feeling fine and eager to do it again.

What motivates them is what motivates me to persevere with my three times a week of physical therapy and hit the gym on the in between days in hopes of getting back out on the tennis court after my massive rotator cuff surgery.

What motivates these guys in their 70’s to spend the time energy and money continuing to play competitive baseball in their seventies? When you get down to it, it is no mystery. The answer was the same from each player I asked: “Love of the game.”


Here I am with John after the Wonder Boys game. I am wearing an official New Jersey Wonder Boys cap that I cherish as a wonderful memento of John’s visit

Bridging the Gap


(Above) Rabbi Fuchs delivering:

                                  Bridging the Gap

                              Between Deuteronomy 15:4 and 15:11

A Prayer offered at Sanibel – Captiva Community Thanksgiving Celebration

November 18, 2018


Thanksgiving soon will be here,

A grand and special day,

So I opened up the Good Book

To see what it has to say.


I find in Deuteronomy

A glorious proclamation:

“There shall be no needy among you

In any land or nation!” (15:4)


What a wonderful vision that is!

If only it were true,

But I note a few lines further

That we have much work to do


“The poor will never cease to be,” (15:11)

The very next paragraph reads.

How can two such opposite views

Be almost rubbing knees?


The answer lies between

The conflicting thoughts we heard,

But we must follow closely

And take to heart God’s words!


There will be no poor about!

That will only happen when,

All of us work together

To make that time “Now,” not “Then!”


But we all know the time’s not near

When all will heed God’s wish

So those of us who really care 

Must step up to the dish.


Those of us who’re here today

Are comfortable no doubt.

But all too many on God’s earth 

Surely do




a home to keep them dry


clothes to keep them warm,

From snow and sleet and wind and rain,

And every passing storm.


Others strive just to exist


enough to eat.

Try feeding five on minimum wage;

That’s surely no mean feat.


And don’t forget those in our midst

Who have much that they own,

But suffer sadness deep inside

And feel so all alone.


Can our hearts make room for them?

Our bounty share at least?

And perhaps invite one to our home

To share Thanksgiving’s feast!


Scripture’s charge to us is clear:

There is much still to be done,

Before our world and God’s will

Truly become one!


May we give thanks for all our blessings

With hearts and hands unfurled

To embrace God’s challenge to us

To repair our broken world!






Sanibel Veterans Day Commemoration 2018

Eternal God,

Today, one hundred years to the day after the end of the War to end all wars—

We still send the bravest of our youth

To fight and die on fields of battle.

And, 80 years after the Nazis perpetrated the horrible Kristallnacht pogrom

That saw 250 synagogues set aflame

7000 Jewish shop windows smashed

And 30,00 Jewish men in Germany placed in concentration camps

Anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of hatred continue to run rampant in our world.

Indeed they are on the rise!


2800 years after the prophets dreamed of day

When we,  “shall beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks,” (Isaiah 2:4) —

2800 years after they dreamed that one day, “No one will ever again train for war.” (Ibid.)

We still must fight the forces of evil in our world.

And we ask as the sweet singer of Psalms asked:

“How long, O Eternal One?” (Psalm 74:10)

How long will we pursue the folly of violence, greed, corruption and war?

Instead of kindness, caring gentleness and compassion

How long?

Help us O God to realize that the best way to honor the valor and the courage with which soldiers have fought for the values America holds dear

Is to find a way that our children and grandchildren will never have to fight!

Help us, Eternal One, to find a way to end bloodshed and violence

And, help us, please, to find away to finally create the world in which

As the prophet Micah dreamed:

Where all shall sit under their vines and under their fig trees

With none to make them afraid! (Micah 4:4)