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 little hands and face against a display case to admire the beautiful colors and intricate design of the 2,000 year old vase inside. Picture her smushy little nose pushed against the glass, and hear her delighted squeals of joy as she takes in the sight. It’s adorable, a small child so taken with the beauty of the ancient world! Until.. the case begin to shake — the case tilts… it topples… it cracks. …

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

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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. …

Summoning the heart strength we need to tell the story.

Where were you on Wednesday?

I know that you remember — and I know that you will always remember. Wednesday became one of those ‘where were you when’ days. Like the day that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. Or when you first heard that Martin Luther King Jr had been assassinated. Or John F Kennedy. Or Yitzchak Rabin. You remember where you were on Wednesday, like you remember where you were when you first heard that a plane hit the Twin Towers.

Wednesday, January 6, 2021, the Assault on the Capitol, is now a part of our national narrative. …

We are the makers of miracles, and our hands will heal the world.

Following every noisy meal at every Jewish summer camp, whether chicken nuggets or grilled cheese, everyone in the Chadar Ochel (the dining hall) participates in an obligatory round of Birkat HaMazon (the blessing after the meal). For those who haven’t heard it, it’s a long prayer — chanted in a leisurely way (or, in some circles, davened silently) with full bellies and happy hearts. …

It all depends on how you lay your head.

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Twenty mattresses & twenty quilts — From The Princess and The Pea by Karen Watson

A story:

Once upon a time, there was a prince. He had all of the riches money could buy. He had beautiful robes and sparkling jewels. He enjoyed delectable foods prepared by the finest chefs, and he traveled on luxurious vacations to far away lands. But there was only one thing he truly wanted. He wanted to find a princess, a perfect, prim, proper princess with whom he could share his life.

But it seemed was though every potential princess he met had a problem. Either she didn’t like to travel, or she didn’t appreciate his favorite foods. She found his beautiful robes to be at best, ostentatious — and at worst, unflattering. He had quite nearly given up hope. …

A little bit of Torah for the days when you’d rather go back to sleep.

I’m sure it comes as no surprise to you that mornings in my house can be a bit chaotic. Sometime around 6 am the house begins to wake. Usually it starts when the baby stirs, while the rest of the family is still quiet in the sleepy dark. If I’m lucky, I can spend a few sweet minutes alone with him. But before too long the alarm goes off, and it’s time to get everyone moving. The baby goes to my husband. I coax the big kids out of bed. There is coffee, and toast, and reminders to get dressed and brush teeth and of course, these days, to grab a mask. …

The American people have chosen the next president. But we haven’t yet begun to heal.

I wrote this a few days ago. But it seems like weeks. Like we have lived through years in the last few months. The amount of information we have consumed, the number of facts that have changed, the continuing adjustments of what we know, what we think we know, and what we once knew… it’s exhausting.

Do I need to begin with a caveat about politics? I don’t know anyone whose eyes haven’t been glued to screens — or, decidedly ignoring them since Tuesday. We are all on edge as we wait for the final election results to come in — the lawsuits, the recounts, holding our breath for a peaceful transition from this presidential term to the next one. …

How do we decide when we are ready to let go of a difficult past?

When my husband and were first moving in together, we helped each other pack up our apartments. I sat on the floor of his bedroom, sorting trash from keepsakes. I picked something up… a movie stub, or a playbill, or perhaps a conference lanyard. “You want me to pitch this?” I asked. “No, put it in my memory box,’ he said, pointing to a tattered, cardboard box in the corner.

I peeked inside.

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Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

Some of the contents were expected — tickets from a show we’d seen, cards from his Bubbe, school acceptance letters. Some was trash, like crumpled newspaper articles and old homework assignments.
And some… was… unexpected?
Did he really still need mementos from past relationships?
I looked at him. He shrugged.
“They’re just memories. It’s just the place I put things I’m not ready to throw away, but I don’t need to see.” …

How to do hard things, face our fears, and get more sleep in the new year.

Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin, 9.18.2020
Erev Rosh Hashanah
Congregation Beth Israel, Scottsdale, Arizona

So, most of you know I had a baby this year. Thank you all for kvelling with us over the endless stream of photos, and updates on every tiny milestone. It has, indeed, been a blessing to have this little bundle of joy bringing us smiles during these unusual circumstances.

The most regular question I’m asked as a mom returning to work, is about sleep. ‘Is the baby sleeping through the night, yet?’ Many have been sweetly concerned, probably noticing me stifling a yawn, or perhaps seeing the growing circles under my eyes that are hard to hide under the glaring light of Zoom. …

An A-Z of Human Imperfection

Selichot marks the shabbat immediately preceding Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year. Over the course of these holy days, tradition invites us to communally confess an alphabet of our wrongdoings.

On Selichot, the process begins. We tap our chests in recognition of our imperfection for the first time this season. But we also acknowledge that our tradition gives us many chances to try, many chances to do better, many chances to start again.

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Always, on Selichot, we Are looking
Back on this year and how we have
Changed. Like the covers of our sacred scroll, we are becoming
Different, now. Like
Every year. Last Yamim Noraim we did not
Fathom just how much we would
Give or much we would Grieve or
How much it would Hurt.
Interspersed with
Kindnesses, and
Memories. We
Notice our New blessings, and hold
Onto Our Old blessings. We
Pray that this year will bring blessings, too.
Quietly, we
Realize that
Tilts us towards tomorrow, and the next day, and the next. Selichot
Understands that we are so
Very human, in our trying.
We are so very human, in our hoping. We are so
EXtremely and EXtraordinarily and perfectly, humanly flawed.


Rabbi Sara Mason-Barkin

Rabbi at Congregation Beth Israel in Scottsdale, AZ.

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