the schmooze
Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York

*The Yiddish word for “season” is “sezon.”

There are five (5) seasons:  Spring (“friling”), Summer (“zumer”), Autumn (“harbst”), Winter (“vinter”) and Pulpit Pressure Season.

As soon as the holiday services are over, we hear, “Can you believe what the rabbi talked about?  I wonder if it’s going to be online?”  According to Debbie Bravo, “The High Holy Days sermon has become the World Series for rabbis.”

Rabbi Marc E. Berkson admits in his Kol Nidre 5769 sermon that he sometimes will go “to movies for the explicit purpose of finding the kernel to a sermon in the theater.”

This year will your rabbi discuss Israel, the rising menace of anti-Semitism in Europe and around the world, the elections, gun violence, gender equality, Caitlyn Jenner, the Zika problem, travel warnings for pregnant women, or driverless cars?  Perhaps mention will be made of Auschwitz survivor, Israel Kristal, who, at the age of 113, had his bar mitzvah.

This year I would like my rabbi to speak about the word “choices.”

Vera Nazarian (“The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration”) wrote, “If you are faced with a mountain, you have several options:

You can climb it and cross to the other side.
You can go around it.
You can dig under it.
You can fly over it.
You can blow it up.
You can ignore it and pretend it’s not there. Or you can stay on the mountain and make it your home.”

Rabbi Robert L. Wolkoff (Cong. B’nai Tikvah, Brunswick, NJ) gave a fascinating Rosh Hashanah sermon.  He spoke about an outstanding young leader named Matt Fieldman.  He spearheaded the establishment of a gourmet restaurant manned entirely by former criminals and one celebrity chef.  The program graduated 100 convicts, and NOT ONE of them has been reincarcerated.  (Note:  the national recidivism rate is 60%.)

Rabbi Wolkoff says, “If we make smart choices, it’s amazing what we can do.”

How did the story begin?  Matt met a guy at a football (“fusbal”) game.  A few weeks later, he met him again at the best restaurant (“restoran”) in Cleveland, where he turned out to be the manager. A few weeks later, Matt met him again, this time in a library.  The guy was trying to figure out where he could get grants to help him open this restaurant for training convicts he had been dreaming about.  Matt, a professional fundraiser, had a choice to make.  He could have just said “Well, good luck, pal,” and gotten on with his business.  But something inside (“ineveynik”) him said, “No.  You can’t walk away from this.”  Call it what you want—luck, conscience, a hunch.  I call it God—something made Matt decide to help.  And because of that CHOICE, the lives of hundreds of people, and their families and their community, improved immensely.

God gave him a CHOICE, and it changed the world.

I read with interest the Rosh Hashanah 2003 - 5764 sermon delivered by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein.    Lookstein is the Rabbi Emeritus of Cong. Kehilath Jeshurun. The title of his sermon:  “The Challenge of Choice.”  He says, “…we all live on two levels - the theoretical and the real.  On the theoretical level we have no choice.  We are the people of the covenant.  We cannot quit.  This is compulsory service.  We are not volunteers.  We were sworn in long ago.  We are in this forever.  The Shema  every morning is not a choice that we make; it is simply descriptive of who God our Kid is…As Jackie Mason would say - “No choice - that’s it!”

“Ah, but in the real world, that’s not it.”

The rabbi discusses “how our standard of living has resulted in people making multiple choices in where they live, how they furnish their homes, where they eat and what they eat.  Just think of the astonishing number of choices on restaurant menus.  Those of us who are over forty can remember when you went into a restaurant and there were two or three choices on the menu…Even at a wedding today one is given a choice of the main course. If you don’t eat steak or baby lamb chops you can have chicken.  If chicken is not to your taste you can have fish. Finally, there is always a vegetarian dish.  This is all reflective of a world which is wide-open for our choices.”

The rabbi talks about the area of marriage and divorce (“der get”).  He says, “Marriage, today, is also a matter of choice.  Not just whether to get married, but whether to stay married.  A recent article in The New York Times Magazine reports what a rabbi might have easily guessed:  in a difficult economy one of the few growth industries is matrimonial law.  Seventy-eight percent of matrimonial lawyers say their case loads are either steady or increasing.”

As they say, in Yiddish, “Vos tut sikh?”  (What’s going on?)

The rabbi says, “It used to be that getting married was a life sentence.  I don’t use that term flippant; I use it positively.  Not every marriage was great, but kiddushin meant a life commitment unless conditions became unbearable.  One got married, with God’s help had children, raised them, married them off and was blessed with grandchildren. 

But today that’s not it.  In a culture of free choice, married spouses are making choices and often the choice is “I quit”; “I’ve had enough”:  “This relationship isn’t serving my needs any more”; “I’m entitled to happiness”; The feeling just isn’t there”  “I want to get on with my life.”… And they are facts which have serious ramifications on the lives of everybody, especially children.”

…What can be done to deal with the frightening reality of choice in opting out of a marriage?…Turn the problem into a challenge.

“So here is one rabbi’s tentative advice to every spouse in this shul:  We have to earn our right to be a spouse every day.  Giving or receiving a ring under a chupah should mean a lifetime commitment, but in an age of CHOICE it doesn’t.  We have to earn that commitment constantly.

We have to try to live every day of our lives as if we were dating and courting; to make ourselves as appealing as we can; not to take the other for granted; to see what is wonderful in your spouse, what makes him/her lovable, to figure out how to make him/her happier and more fulfilled.

…we should all be looking for the good in our spouses and not for the weaknesses…Most of us see all the blemishes except our own.”  And we make too many judgements about our spouses.  Again the Talmud warns us:  “Do not judge your friend until you have stood in his/her shoes.”  This applies to spouses too.  Think of how she/he feels before making judgements…

A group of mediators dealing with divorcing couples were asked if they thought the divorcing partners still loved each other.  They all answered in one way or another “yes.”  Just imagine if the partners had lived their lives as if they were courting.  Would they have needed the mediators?…

One should accept marriage as a lifelong commitment, dwelling in our matrimonial life day-in and day-out.  But we should also understand our obligation to be visitors in our marriage, with a fresh appreciation of our spouse constantly, with a realization that we have to earn our right to be a dweller in our marriage, day-in and day-out.  Then with God’s help, our CHOICE and our spouse’s CHOICE will be the CHOICE of commitment.

The rabbi concludes:  “If we are wise and courageous enough to live up to this challenge of CHOICE, this will truly be a shanah tovah and a happy year for all.”
MARJORIE WOLFE wishes all of her readers a Happy and Healthy New Year.  She thanks Rabbi Lookstein and Rabbi Wolkoff for providing such  “vunderlekh” sermons.


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

NU, what are you waiting for?  Order the book!

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