Mark J. Pelavin

Mark J. Pelavin

Inside Leadership
Rosh HaShanah flatlay with honey and pomegranates and apples

This is the sixth year I have prepared this Rosh HaShanah “sermon round-up.” Typically, at some point in my work on this project, my wife will lean over my shoulder and ask me, in her own style, “So. How are the Jews this year?”

Some years that is a difficult question to answer. This year the answer is clear: The Jews are afraid.

Sermons about anti-Semitism dominated this Rosh HaShanah. And although this survey excerpts dozens of sermons on anti-Semitism, it nevertheless underrepresents the number of rabbis who preached on the topic this year because, where I had a choice...

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Neon colorblocked background with honey dippers and apples and a shofar

In the sermons excerpted below, you will find many examples of uplifting and inspiring teaching. You will find profound explications of our sacred texts and searching examinations of pop culture phenomena from Mr. Rogers to Fortnight (it’s a video game, who knew?) to Siri.

A Few Highlights

Lovely as they are, though, those examples do not really represent the overall impression of this year’s batch of sermons. The overall impact is most like a bucket of cold water to the face. The most memorable, most powerful, most urgent of the sermons this Rosh Hashanah eloquently examine the...

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Rabbi Rick Jacobs at the URJ Biennial in 2017

I don’t claim to be unbiased; I think URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs is an influential and inspiring leader. 

What’s more, he is a thought leader and change agent – an agitator, if you will, – when it comes to Progressive Judaism in Israel, as well as in congregations throughout the United States and Canada, and, increasingly, in locales beyond the walls of synagogues, in places where Jews, especially millennial Jews, congregate and live their lives.

I could go on, but I’d rather you read this newly published profile of Rabbi Rick Jacobs that appears in the current online...

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Biennial crowd during a plenary session

To my mother’s great dismay, I do not remember my first trip to Disneyland. I hear I had a great time, but that may be family lore! My kids’ first trip, however, I remember like it was yesterday – even though it was, gulp, before there was much of an internet! 

I was surprised by the advice offered by my friends and the tour books – the trip would be amazing provided we planned our schedule. I was nonplussed; it was an amusement park vacation. Wasn’t the point to relax and enjoy it?

Like much of life – and most certainly when it comes to Disneyland and the URJ Biennial –...

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Apple shaped bowl of honey with a honey dipper in it and half an apple on a table next to it

As with so many things this year, it was an unusual year for Rosh HaShanah sermons. As Rabbi Jonathan Freirich of Temple Beth Zion in Buffalo, NY, explained:

"Under normal circumstances I would never present something mostly from another source. These are not normal circumstances.

"The Central Conference of American Rabbis crafted a united message for [rabbis] to adapt and offer, to bring to our congregations in one voice, as a Reform Movement and as Reform rabbis. The events of the last year demand that we come together as American patriots for the sake of our American...

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