Crossing: A Poem by Rabbi Mike Rothbaum

The word/in Hebrew
for/Hebrew is Ivri

Border crossers/cross borders
That’s what/they do
That’s/their job

Crossers gonna/cross

Hebrew/Jews have been crossing
borders ever/since there have

From Abraham and/Sarah
He and her/up from Ur to
Haran to/Canaan to/Egypt
Back/to Canaan.

And ever/since
Ever since/Babylon
Cross/ing borders
The Rhine/The Seine/Sana/Seville/
Ellis Island/Long Island/
Long Beach/Miami Beach


And as it is/the time
as it has/been time
to cross/borders

Before we/cross
the/border from
freedom/to Pharaoh

refuse/the fear
refuse to/obey
order out the/nightmares
the knocks in/the night
that wake the/babies
sew your/soul into
the lining of your/coat
smuggle the children/out
under a heavy/wool blanket
of passion and/principle

know your/limits
and the/borders you
won’t cross/for

If you’re a Hebrew/Jew
you already know/what this hour means.
Your ancestors saw/it and
they buried it in/your body
for a time/such as now.

They call/to/you.

Cross the/border
cross/the aisle
break/the bonds
a manic/run for it
don’t turn/around
or see who’s/behind you
the hour/is late
and the Master/of the
House/is pressing.

You carry in your/hand
an Executive/Order
Written by the/Eternal
and stamped by/your ancestors

The word/in Hebrew
for/Hebrew is Ivri
Cross the/border
Show them the/order
Carry/it out


Rabbi Mike Rothbaum serves as rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim in Acton MA. He was previously Bay Area Co-Chair for Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice and lives with his husband, Anthony Russell, in Oakland. His writing and speaking has been featured in Tikkun, the Huffington Post, The Forward, KQED radio, CNN, and Zeek.


Havdalah 2/4

Shalom Friends,


With everything happening in our country right now, it is more important than ever for us to gather together in spiritual community to nourish our hearts, minds and souls to fuel our bodies for all of the action to which we are being called. Join us at Shtiebel this Saturday. Invite your friends.


Rabbi Ben Newman 



Havdalah @Shtiebel


2/4 (This Saturday) . 4:30pm-6:30pm

Zion Church, 55 Cedar St., Dobbs Ferry, NY


How can we move forward when all the paths are blocked? 

At this month's Shtiebel Havdalah, we will say farewell to Shabbat with music, Torah, food, and movement. We will discuss and glean wisdom from this week's Torah portion which poses the question of how to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Ali Schechter of Full Circle Dance will lead us in movement, and Rabbi Shoshana Leis will provide a teaching. The theme for this session will be "overcoming obstacles". If you would like to share a story, song, teaching or poem on this theme, or on something you are passionate about please contact me. The event will take place at Zion Church in Dobbs Ferry, 55 Cedar St. If you would like to be part of the musicians' circle, contact me and I will send you an invite to the rehearsal.

Please feel free to invite anyone you think might be interested!

Can't wait to see you there,

Rabbi Ben Newman

Another Story Another Metaphor

Once there was a king who had a wise man. The king said to the wise man:

"There is a certain king who designates himself 'a mighty hero,' 'a man of truth,' and 'a humble person.' As to his might, I know that he is mighty, since the sea surrounds his country, and on the sea stands a fleet of ships with cannon, and they do not let anyone approach. And inland there is a big swamp surrounding the country. Through the swamp there is only one narrow path and on the path only one man can walk at a time, and there, too, there are cannon. When someone comes to fight them, they shoot the cannon, and it is impossible to approach. But why he designates himself 'a man of truth' and 'a humble person,' this I do not know. And I want you to fetch me the portrait of that king."

That king (who spoke to his wise man) had all the portraits of all the kings, but no portrait of the king who had designated himself (with these titles) was available because he is hidden from men, since he sits under a canopy and is far from his subjects.

The wise man went to that country. The wise man made up his mind that he had to know the essence of the country. And how could he know the essence of the country? By the country's jokes. Because when one has to know something, one should know the jokes related to it. There are several kinds of jokes. Sometimes one really intends to harm his friend with his words, and when the friend becomes angry, he says to him: "I am joking as is written: 'As a madman casts firebrands, arrows, and death.' " (It is like one shoots arrows into his friend's heart and says, "I am joking.") And sometimes one does not intend it as a joke, even so his friend is harmed by his words. Thus there a kinds of jokes.

Among all countries there is one country which includes all countries (in that it serves as the rule for all countries), and in that country there is one city which includes all cities of the whole country which includes all countries. In that city is a house which includes all the houses of the city which includes all the cities of the country which includes all countries. And there is a man who includes everybody from the house, etc. And there is someone there who performs all the jests and jokes of the country.

The wise man took with him much money and went there. He saw that they were performing all kinds of jests and jokes, and he understood through the jokes that the country was full of lies from beginning to end because he saw how they were making fun, how they deceived and misled people in commerce, and how, when he turned for justice to the magistrate, everyone there lied and accepted bribery. He went to the higher court, and there, too, everything was a lie and in jest they faked all those things.

The wise man understood through that laughter that the whole country was full of lies and deceit, and there was no truth in it. He went and traded in the country and he let himself be cheated in commerce. He went to trial in court and he saw that they were all full of lies and bribery. On this day he bribed them, and on the next they did not recognize him. He went to the higher court, and there, too, everything was a lie, until he reached the senate and they, too, were full of lies and bribery. Finally he came to the king himself.

When he came to the king he stated: "Over whom are you king? For the country is full of lies, all of it, from beginning to end, and there is no truth in it!"

He started telling all the lies of the country. The king bent his ears toward the curtain to hear his words, because he was amazed that there was a man who knew all the lies of the country. The ministers of the kingdom who heard his words were very angry with him but he continued to tell about all the lies of the country.

That wise man concluded: "And one could say that the king, too, is like them, that he loves deceit like the country. But from this I see how you are 'a man of truth.' You are far from them, since you cannot stand the lies of the country."

He started praising the king very much. The king was very humble, and his greatness lay in his humility. And this is the way of the humble person: The more one praises and exalts him, the smaller and humbler he becomes. Because of the greatness of the praise with which the wise man praised and exalted the king, the king became very humble and small, till he became nothing at all. And the king could not restrain himself, but cast away the curtain, to see the wise man: "Who is it who knows and understands all this?" And his face was revealed. The wise man saw him and painted his portrait and he brought it to the king.


A Story/ A Metaphor

There was once a king who ruled his kingdom with wisdom and compassion. As he approached the end of his days, everyone in the kingdom wondered who would be the next ruler. Would it be one of his children? An adviser? A general?

To keep the contenders from fighting over the throne, the king put his instructions in a letter, which was to be opened only on the day of his death. It named the person who would succeed him on the throne.

When that day arrived, the kingdom mourned its wise and caring leader. And then all eyes turned to the king's letter to see who would rule in his place. With great ceremony the prime minister opened the letter and read the instruction. Whom had the king chosen? Not one of his children, nor an adviser, nor a general. The king had chosen the jester. The jester would be crowned king!

The Jester? Everyone in the kingdom thought this must be a joke. How could a fool be king? But such were the king's instructions. And so the jester was brought before the royal court. Royal retainers removed his jester costume and cloaked him in the robes of the king. They removed his jester hat and crowned him king. And they sat him on the royal throne.

At first the situation was awkward – for the new king as well as his kingdom. But over time it turned out to have been a brilliant choice. The jester was every bit as wise, as compassionate, and as insightful as the old king had been. He listened to everyone with care – advisers, generals, even the commoners of the realm. He treated everyone who came before him with respect and with kindness. He used his powers to bring peace and prosperity to his kingdom. To the amazement of all in the royal court, the jester came to be a superb ruler. And everyone in the royal court – indeed, everyone in the kingdom – came to love him.

There was a mystery surrounding the jester-king, however. Every so often he would retreat to a distant room in the palace, a room to which only he had the key. For a few hours he would lock himself in that room. And then he would return to the throne and resume his duties. Most members of the royal court assumed he went to the room to think, to meditate, or perhaps to pray. They accepted the mystery as part of their beloved king's life.

Once an ambassador came from a far-off land. The ambassador spent many hours with the king. He grew to appreciate the king's wisdom and his kindness. It was rare, he thought, for a king to listen as carefully as this king listened. It was unusual for a king to seek advice from everyone who appeared before him. It was remarkable for a king to care as deeply and to work as hard for the good of his subjects as this king did.

When the ambassador noticed that the king occasionally disappeared into his distant room, he wondered, "What does the king do in that locked room? Why does he go there? What is it in that room that helps him rule with such wisdom and kindness?" The ambassador just couldn't let go of the mystery. So one day when the king retreated to his room, the ambassador secretly followed behind. When the king closed the door, the ambassador crouched down and peered through the keyhole. There he took in the king's great secret.

In the privacy of the room, the king took off his crown and his royal robes and put on the costume of a jester. Around and around the room he danced the jester's dance, making funny faces and singing the silly songs of a jester. Then he stood before a great mirror and recited to himself: "Never forget who you are. You may look and sound and act like the king, but you are only the jester. You are only the jester pretending to be the king. Never forget who you are."

Now the ambassador understood it all. He understood the source of the king's deep wisdom. He understood that the king's kindness and greatness emanated from his humility. And now he knew the secret of the king's humility. This knowledge made the ambassador love the king even more deeply. He vowed his everlasting loyalty to the king. And he vowed to keep the king's secret.

Over the years the king and the ambassador grew close. One day when they were alone, the ambassador confessed what he had done and what he had seen. "I promise you on my life that I will never reveal your secret," he declared. "But there is one thing I have never been able to figure out: Of all the people in the royal court whom the old king could have chosen to succeed him, why did he choose you? Why did he choose the jester?"

The king smiled at his friend and replied, "And who do you think he was before he became king?"

An Unetaneh Tokef for Black Lives: By Rabbi Mike Rothbaum

In our hearts it is written, and on the streets it is sealed:
Who shall live, and who shall die
Who with hands up, who holding his ID;
Who while selling ciggies, who peddling CDs;
Who in cold blood, who by chokehold.

In the law books it is written, and in the courthouse it is sealed:
Who with a wallet, who with a BB gun;
Who in a project stairs, who in a police van;
Who in a parked car, who at the local bar;
Who with broken brake light, who on his wedding night.

Who while running away, who in an alleyway.

On the day of birth it is written, and on the day of death it is sealed:
Who a born suspect, who called derelict;
Who labeled predator, who forever debtor;
Who in a classroom of despair, who denied healthcare;
Who in cellblock clatter, whose black life still doesn’t matter.

In truth You are the Judge,
The Exhorter, the All knowing, the Witness,
Who Inscribes and Seals.

So why can’t tefilah and teshuvah and tzedakah
Make a damn difference


Rabbi Shoshana Leis on Shtiebel's First Event

Ben Newman Make way for Shtiebel!

Tonight - on the cusp of the last Shabbat and the New Jewish year- we launched Shtiebel, Ben's dream now shared. Shtiebel means "little room" and is the coming together of local like-minded folks who want to experience Judaism for the heart-mind-soul-body and who are passionate about tikkun Olam, repairing the world. 
There were widespread offerings -from poetry to politics to embodied visioning - great food, and the music was uplifting and intense (Thank you Ben and Caleb Flood Goldstick!)
We had a surprise visit and prophetic poem from our dear friend R Mike Rothbaum who reminded us that 'Aleinu- it's on us, it's always been on us' It's time for a new and changed world and it's up to each of us to make it so. I had no idea Mike was even in town!
I am reminded again after a lovely morning at Romemu and an evening with our nascent local community, that there is great power and deep joy in the building of community.

The sprouts of our new beginnings are breaking ground and I am deeply thankful for this affirming moment!
if you are a dreamer, come in....

Cari Gardner Patty Goldstick Diane Flood Taylor Ali Schechter Jennifer Newman Shotton Adam Wiesen Lee Gross Tamara Fish Illana AbramsonMarcia Salter

A few things on this Saturday's event...

Shalom Friends,

A few things about this Saturday's event.

This event is intended to be an intimate gathering to kick off Shtiebel--friends, family and friends of friends and family. I am so excited to get together with you all.

1) It looks like a 70% chance of rain-- so the rain location will be  7 Hudson Dr., Dobbs Ferry, NY, 10522. I will let everyone know on Friday whether it will be at the Hastings waterfront or in Dobbs. If you please let them know the rain location

2) The evening will include the following:

a) Music with me, Caleb Flood-Goldstick, and Lee Gross-- including a havdalah ceremony.

b) Food.

c) Salon type discussion- I will start with a five minute text study/discussion, then I will open the floor to others to share a story/teaching/question/etc. Priority will be given to those who were the first to RSVP.

3) Food will be pot-luck style. We already have one main dish, grape juice, and a salad. If you are coming, please let us know what you can bring so we can plan to supplement accordingly.

We can't wait to see you all!