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Rabbi's Sermons and Teachings

Ulay Yesh Tikvah: Taking a Leap of Hope – Rosh HaShanah 2023/5784

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann Last year at this time, I stood in front of this congregation and shared about the shame and stigma of mental illness. I spoke as a parent whose child had struggled with active thoughts of suicide, along with depression and anxiety. When I shared this, Mint was in recovery after a year in intensive residential treatment settings. As I said last year, with a combination of access to the right care…

Olam Hesed Yibane: From Kindness to Connection, Empathy and Mutual Responsibility – Kol Nidre 2023/5784

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann In the spirit of Yom Kippur, which we usher in tonight, where we take responsibility for the wrongs we have done in the past year, I begin by asking us some questions as a way to reflect on misdeeds or missed opportunities ben adam l’re’ato, between ourselves and our neighbors, in this past year. You are invited to answer in your own minds, no need to raise your hands or nod in…

Transforming our Stories, Transforming Ourselves – Erev Rosh HaShanah 2023/5784

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann This summer, I re-read This I believe, a book of excerpts from NPR’s series of the same name, in which people from all backgrounds share their personal philosophies. One in particular has stayed with me since. Greg Chapman, an ordinary man from Houston, TX, who is a tax accountant and a writer, starts by saying, “What do I believe? That the stories I tell myself shape my truth, my soul, and my…

Stigma and Shame: Breaking the Silence on Mental Illness – Rosh HaShanah 2022/5783

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann In the Unetaneh Tokef Prayer, the liturgist writes: “On Rosh HaShanah, all people pass before (you) God like sheep to a shepherd.” This image has always resonated with me. Though some people take this metaphor as a sign of judgment, I understand it to mean that Rosh HaShanah is a time for being fully seen by a Force greater than myself, and it is a reminder that I am held in…

Seeing and Lifting the Sparks in Ourselves and Others – Yom Kippur 2022/5783

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann I begin with a story (of an unknown source:) When God was ready to create human beings on the 6th day of Creation, God decided to give the human beings a special gift. God would give each one of them nitzotzot — holy sparks of God’s goodness. The angels heard about this and they became very jealous and angry. They didn’t want human beings to have a special gift from God that they…

The Power of Pause on Yom Kippur and in every moment – Kol Nidre 2021/5782

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann I would like to invite you to stop whatever you are doing, stop fiddling with your computer or papers in front of you for a moment and just rest for a moment. Find a comfortable seat, feel your feet on the ground. If you feel comfortable, close your eyes. Invite you to take a deep breath in, a deep breath out. After an extraordinarily hard year, filled with loss and illness,…

Creating the World We Wish by Building our Mishkan – Rosh HaShanah 2021/5782

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann Dedicated to Rabbi Mordecai Kaplan z”l and all those who started the Society for the Advancement of Judaism in 1922 Imagine, for a moment if you will, that you are an Israelite, wandering in the rough and unforgiving desert. You are scared and exhausted when you are invited to participate in a building project — to build the mishkan, the Tabernacle, where the community can gather and worship. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijn-7i-UhMw Using all…

From Ayeka to Hineni: Showing Up and Taking Responsibility in a Broken World – Yom Kippur 2020/5781

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann On Yom Kippur, we confess sins in the plural and aim to take responsibility for the sins of omission and commission, of our community and larger society. This spiritual work is challenging under the best of times, let alone in this extremely terrifying and upsetting moment in our country and our world. A time in which we go to sleep thinking things cannot get worse and we wake up the next…

Talking to Grief: Naming, Grieving, and Mourning our Pandemic Losses – Kol Nidre 2020/5781

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann Kol Nidre 2020 I begin with a poem that I have found myself going back to again and again these past seven months: “Talking to Grief” by Denise Levertov Ah, grief, I should not treat you like a homeless dog who comes to the back door for a crust, for a meatless bone. I should trust you. I should coax you into the house and give you your own corner, a…

The Palace is on Fire: Environmental Teshuvah (Turning) for 5780

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann There is a well-known midrash that speaks of the time before Abraham’s call to start a new nation. The midrash imagines that when Abraham (Abram) was journeying from place to place, he came upon a palace which was burning. He stopped and asked, “Is it possible that this palace has no master?” Whereupon God said, “I am the master of this palace.” Because of this, God called Abraham and says “Lech…

Failing a little Less, Growing a Little More: Tikkun Middot as a Jewish Spiritual Path – Yom Kippur 2019/5780

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann Today, we confess our wrongdoings. We acknowledge the ways we have mistreated others and shunned our responsibilities. Today, we stand in the possibility of who we want to be in the world. We set goals like: “I want to be a more loving and less reactive parent/child/friend/sibling.” “I hope to be more confident and assertive in my workplace.” “I want to have better work-life balance” or “engage in more self care.”…

Bringing our Timbrels, Singing as One: A Response to THIS moment – Rosh HaShanah 2019/5780

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann Rosh HaShanah is a liminal moment. It is the meeting point between 5779 and 5780, the year that has passed and a brand new year. On Rosh HaShanah, we stand on the cusp of newness, and are invited to let go of the past year and to gaze into a future of endless possibilities. We are to imagine the world not as is, but as it should be. And, if I am…

Why I was arrested on Tisha B’av – August 2019

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann On Tisha B’av, I chose to put my body on the line and engage in civil disobedience to protest the cruelty and violence that is happening in our country and at the border at the hands of ICE and the administration. In particular, I took part in a protest that targeted Amazon for its role in supporting ICE’s deportation machine (more on that below). This action was one of 57 Tisha…

Prayer for our Country: Let America be America Again – Yom Kippur 2018/5779

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann This prayer was delivered at Yom Kippur services at SAJ-Judaism that Stands for All on Wednesday, September 19, 2018. The Langston Hughes poem was offered by Reverend Nigel Pearce, Pastor of Grace Congregational Church in Harlem. SAJ and Grace have a monthly partnership called “Sacred Conversations,” where we gather to build relationships and talk about race and racism. Rabbi Lauren: As we offer a Prayer for America on the Holiest Day…

Kavannah on Teshuvah, 2018/5779

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann There is a well-known and beloved story about Rabbi Zusya of Hanipol: As he was approaching his death, Zusya came to his followers with tears in his eyes. They asked him, “Zusya, what’s the matter? You are pious, scholarly and humble. What do you have to cry about?” Zusya replied: I have learned that when I reach death, the angels will not ask me, “Why weren’t you more like Moses? Why…

Introduction to Kol Nidre 2018/5779

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann September 18, 2018 It seems to me that never before has the world needed Yom Kippur so intensely. We have never needed such a reckoning: a day of uncovering what is covered up. A day where we — not just those sitting here today — but all are held to high moral standards. We have never needed such a day of truth telling: a day of ensuring that the words spoken out of our…

Humility and Hutzpah: Rosh Hashanah on 9/11/2018

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann The Psalmist says “Bless, Oh my soul, the One, and may all my inner strength facilitate my blessing God’s holy name” (Psalm 103:1, Morning Liturgy). How do we bless God with our whole selves today? Today is the 17th anniversary of 9/11. 17 years since our world changed forever. 17 years since this horrible loss not just for America and not just for NYC but for our congregation, SAJ. Today is also…

Hear the Cry of the Immigrant: Shofar Kavannah (Intention) 2018/5779

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann The New Colossus, Emma Lazarus Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, With conquering limbs astride from land to land; Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries…

Listening as a Spiritual Practice: Kol Nidre 2018/5779

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann A short questionnaire. Have you ever been in a meeting at work where you were so focused on what you wanted to say that you realize you are no longer listening and have no idea where the conversation is? Have you interrupted someone in the middle of their speaking? How about in the last 48 hours? Have you ever been in a situation in which a friend reaches out for comfort…

Becoming a Judaism that Stands for All: Rosh HaShanah 2018/5779

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann “SAJ is a joyous community of New Yorkers, a Jewish home where everyone’s voice is valued and heard. Imagine a school kids run towards and a synagogue where all can come together for study, social justice, and Shabbat. Ever since SAJ introduced America’s first bat mitzvah in 1922, it has been reconstructing Judaism, questioning tradition and expanding its boundaries to ensure that Torah remains relevant, engaging, and welcoming to all.” These…

Judaism that Stands for All: Standing For Justice

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, Yom Kippur 5779/2018 The very first commandment given to the Israelites is the commandment of Rosh Hodesh (and thus the instruction to keep a calendar), received just as they are about to leave Egypt and become a people. On this verse, Rashi, the prolific French medieval torah commentator, famously inquires: Why did the torah not begin with this verse? Why start with the Creation of the world and all that follows…

Help.Thanks.Wow: Entering the Gates of Tefillah (Prayer): Erev Rosh HaShanah 2017

Rabbi Mike Commins teaches, “Prayer expresses desire.  Holy desire: an end to an illness or for a peaceful world, to live in joy and to behave well, to find connection with God.”   Tonight, we usher in The Yamim Nora’im, these days of Awe, which are a time for reflection and transformation.  Unlike many other Jewish holidays, the main address of celebration and commemoration is the synagogue and the primary activity of the community is…

From Brokenness to Wholeness on Yom Kippur: Kol Nidre 2017

Lately, it feels like I am having the same conversation in varying forms and guises. A conversation with a friend about marital struggles: Could he stick through it despite the pain and hurt? A conversation with a congregant about a personal struggle that is leaving them despairing. A conversation with my mother, who often feels at the end of her rope as she takes care of three sick relatives, while dealing with her own health…

Listening as a Spiritual Practice

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, Kol Nidre 2018/5779 A short questionnaire. Have you ever been in a meeting at work where you were so focused on what you wanted to say that you realize you are no longer listening and have no idea where the conversation is?Have you interrupted someone in the middle of their speaking? How about in the last 48 hours?Have you ever been in a situation in which a friend reaches out for…

What Social Justice Activists in the Dominican Republic Can Teach Us about Moving Forward in Difficult Times: January 2017

In April, I sat at my desk in the very late hours of the evening. I was feverishly completing essay questions before the deadline for the AJWS Global Justice Fellowship, a program for clergy to learn about and advocate on issues in the developing world. I applied to this program for a few reasons. First, because as many in this room know, it’s hard to say no to the inimitable Ruth Messinger. Beyond that, I…

Being Our Best Selves: A Vision for SAJ for 5777 and Beyond: Rosh HaShanah 2016

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, Rosh HaShanah 2016 Shana Tova. Last year, I stood here for my first High Holidays as the rabbi of the SAJ, aware that we - the community of SAJ and I - were beginning a new relationship. I wanted you to have a window into who I am as a person, Jew, and a rabbi. You may remember that I told the story of a young woman who had come to…

Addressing Race as a Jewish Community: Kol Nidre 2016

Kol Nidre 5777 Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, SAJ, NY, NY Yom Kippur invites us to acknowledge the places we, as individuals and as a society, have gone astray and to begin to redress those wrongs.  The confessional prayers -- the Al Heyt and the Ashamnu that we will soon sing -- are written in the plural.  As we recite these prayers multiple times, we are reminded over that we share in the collective responsibility for…

Sources of Hope and Possibility for the New Year 5777

Erev Rosh HaShanah 2016, Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann Every year, I look forward to the Erev Rosh HaShanah service. As the sun is setting, we have the opportunity to physically and spiritually usher out one year and welcome in a new one. Finding myself again in the unique holiday melodies, I contemplate newness and the gift of starting over. If I am lucky, I am able not just offer greetings of Shana Tova to a…

Ma Norah HaMakom HaZeh: On Becoming the Rabbi of SAJ

Installation of Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann - November 21, 2015 I am not sure how many of you here know this, but I came into SAJ for services one time before my interview Shabbat last April. It was early October of last year. It has been announced that Rabbi Strassfeld was retiring and the position would become open. I happened to coming up for the weekend for the naming of a dear friend's baby. I…

Judaism, Torah and Meaning while Standing on One Foot: Rosh HaShanah 2015

Rosh HaShanah Day 1, 5776, Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann Early in my career, a woman – in her mid 20s asked for a meeting.  This was highly typical – I encountered a lot of young Jewish people through my former synagogue that were seeking to find a way back into Judaism on their own terms.  I gladly set up a meeting for the following week, anticipating that we might talk about any number of topics, like…

7 Things I Learned about Teshuvah from Moving to New York City: Erev Rosh HaShanah 2015

SAJ, Erev Rosh HaShanah 5776, Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann Every year, as we move toward a New Year and into a new High Holiday season, I am awed by the majesty and power of these sacred days.  Our tradition asks us to dig deep inside our souls so that we can return to being the best and most authentic versions of ourselves.  We are asked to forgive and to be forgiven, to challenge ourselves to grow…

Turning to the World on Yom Kippur

Rabbi Lauren Grabelle Herrmann, SAJ 2015/5776 Shana Tova. G’mar Hatima Tova. Pope Francis, writes in his recent Encyclical Laudato Si about responsibility towards address climate change: "Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it." Perhaps it is not so…

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