Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin, Rosh Hashanah 5780
Congregation Beth Israel, Scottsdale, Arizona

I hope that many of you have had the chance to visit the celebrated Israel museum in Jerusalem. Home to famous works of art, like Robert Indiana’s Ahavah sculpture, a scale model of the temple in Jerusalem, as well as important artifacts like the ancient Dead Sea Scrolls: The collection at the museum is priceless. It represents the complicated and intriguing history of the land and people of Israel, and the promise of its future.

A few years ago a toddler visiting the museum with her family pressed her…

In recognition of Shabbat Shuvah, and in memory of Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin, 9.25.2020
Shabbat Shuvah
Congregation Beth Israel, Scottsdale, Arizona

My daughter, my girl, on her fourth birthday.

Dear Sela Penina, my daughter, my girl:

Tonight is Shabbat Shuva, a Shabbat of turning — a time for turning inwards, for reflection on who and how we’d like to be in the year ahead. …

And it opened up my eyes.

Photo by Courtney Nuss on Unsplash

I was officiating a shiva minyan a few years ago for a family whose daughter had died, tragically, of a degenerative illness. The walls of the family home were covered in her artwork. Some was framed, some was taped to the wall or propped up on bookshelves. The home shone with her colorful, bountiful, earnest artwork. It was clear that this young woman had found peace through painting and a way to express herself through the process of creation.

As I looked at the shapes and swirls and circles on the walls her mother…

Did Moses hit the rock in anger, or did our brain deceive us?

Three well known optical illusions.

Tell me what you see:
A rabbit or a duck? A young woman or an old woman? A face or two goblets?

You have all seen most of these pictures — these optical illusions. Essentially, optical illusions are shortcuts for our brains. When we look at something confusing, our brains turn it into an image that we can use more easily. Our miraculous brains compensate for our natural visual processing lag. …

How I met my Grandma again, seven years later.

My grandma’s tiles. Using blanks for missing jokers, at her suggestion. In the glass is water, but my aunt suggests that to truly walk in my Grandma’s shoes, that glass would be filled with vodka.

I was delighted with a recent invitation to participate in a mah jongg game with a group of other women. I’d never played before, but always wanted to learn. I mentioned it to my mother, who has had a standing ‘mahj’ group for years now, and she gave me my grandma’s set to use.

Together, my mother, my daughter and I sorted the tiles. Crack, bam, dot… we grouped them, and then we smiled. My grandma has been gone for nearly seven years now. But between the tiles was a Post-it…

A prayerful intention

Photo by Renee Fisher on Unsplash

What shape does your love take?

Is your love an unbroken ring,
a forever circle on your dear one’s hand?
Is your love the rectangle of a carefully constructed covenant,
signed by a witness, hanging on the wall?
Is your love a bended knee or ball of fist,
that beats for power
that breaks in protest
Is your love a stone
holding steady
and sturdy.
And strong.

Love is a shape shifter
moving, morphing, meaning.

Just love, Compassionate love, Protecting love, Pleading love.

Our love fills the cracks that are waiting. …

A Reflection on our Broken Hearts and our Jewish Home

Photo © Israel Museum, Jerusalem, by Nahum Slapak “These two silver amulets bear the oldest copies of biblical text known to us today. They are some five hundred years older than the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The amulets, inscribed with ancient Hebrew script, were found rolled into tiny scrolls in a burial cave in Jerusalem.”

In 1979, Professor Gabriel Barkai was working on an archeological excavation at the site of the City of David, near Jerusalem. Working on a shoestring budget, teenage volunteers were helping to uncover the remains of a Byzantine church. As the story goes, one of the teens rapped a nook in the floor with a hammer, and accidentally uncovered a treasure trove of ancient artifacts. Among them, a tiny silver scroll, upon which was etched a blessing from this week’s Torah portion, a blessing that transcends time and space:

יְבָרֶכְךָ֥ יְהֹוָ֖ה…

In order to ‘love our neighbor,’ we need to see their pain.

Photo by Kyle Cleveland on Unsplash

“Earmuffs!” I told my daughter — our family’s shorthand way of saying to one child, I need to say something to your sibling that is not for you to hear. My older son was asking an important question.

He is rounding the corner to the end of third grade now. He is nine years old, and he has figured out by now that there is a lot about the world that we haven’t told him. He is old enough now to be ready for some difficult conversations.


Silence is not one-size fits all.

Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

I remember when I was a young teen, there was a tradition at my summer camp to ‘leave one’s mark’ with pithy quotes and song lyrics on the doors, walls and rafters of the cabin. I was as moved by the evidence of camp legacy as the administration was frustrated by the ritual defacement of our cabins. I remember one year there was sage teenage wisdom scrawled in sharpie near the door of our cabin. …

Like stars waiting patiently to emerge.

Stars at Night, Photo by Paige Weber on Unsplash

I’d like to share this poem with you. It is dated 3/11/20.
It has been a full year.

Pandemic — by Lynn Unger

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath —
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
Center down.

And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.

Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin

Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale, AZ.

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