Torah haiku: Bo

When darkness is felt,
Only then can our light shine
In freedom’s bright dawn.

The ninth and tenth plagues on Egypt – three days of darkness and death of the firstborn – were Israel’s pivot into release from slavery. The dark was no mere twilight but a palpable blackness that was physically “felt” (Ex. 10:21), and the tragic deaths that followed symbolized change. Sometimes we must feel the pitch black of darkness before we can embrace change and walk free into the light.

What darkness must you feel so your brightest light can shine?


Torah haiku: Vaera

Short breath shuts the ears:
The hardened heart cannot hear
The voice of freedom.

Moses relayed G!d’s promise of redemption from Egyptian bondage, but Israelite slaves wouldn’t listen due to spiritual exhaustion and disappointment (Ex. 6:9). The slaves were so short of spirit – literally “short breathed” (קצר רוח) and “hardened” (קשה) in servitude – that they couldn’t hear the very words they most longed for.

What keeps you from hearing freedom’s call?

A Response to Synagogue Vandalism

I published this letter with Rabbi Shohama Harris Wiener after the January 13 vandalism of our Temple Beth-El of City Island (New York).

At a recent gathering of rabbinical, cantorial and rabbinic pastor students, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi reminded that it’s okay to view a synagogue as a business — so long as we know what kind of business we’re in.  Our business always must be to inspire, empower, comfort, heal, teach and serve in holy community — to uplift the world’s shards of brokenness into the light.

We returned from that gathering to shards of broken glass in our synagogue.

Just before Shabbat on January 13, Temple Beth-El of City Island was vandalized.  Intruders broke windows to infiltrate the synagogue and stole the community’s ritual items — including silver crowns adorning Holocaust-era Torah scrolls, kiddush cups and the like.  Instead of preparing to welcome Shabbat with joyful song and dance, community members and clergy arrived to a mess in the sanctuary and police investigators saying, “Don’t touch anything.”

We’re lucky: we weren’t firebombed like the Temple Beth-El of Rutherford, New Jersey; nobody was hurt and our Torahs were unharmed.  But the recent spate of violence against area synagogues is a sobering reminder of our world’s brokenness — and hopefully, too, a chance to lift those shards of brokenness into the light.

We’re a small but spirited congregation, an island outpost of Judaism attracting members from a wide area who seek our vibrant, innovative and joyful approach to Judaism, in a part of the world where there used to be more synagogues.  Our story is not unique.  Like an increasing number of congregations, ours can’t afford denominational labels: we’re unaffiliated, egalitarian and inclusive.

However one views these trends, they offer opportunities.  We view our mission as giving everyone regardless of means or creed somewhere to experience joyful Judaism.  To that end, our High Holiday services our free, our doors are open to all, and our dues are virtually nil.  We pay high prices for these choices, but as Reb Zalman rightly observed, our first business is uplifting souls at all costs.

So when vandals violated our community, it was quite a blow: violence against any house of worship is blow to all who care about holy community.  In time, the shock will wear off, clean-up will proceed, damage to our building will be repaired and lost items will be restored.  The sharp edges of broken trust in our safety, however, may take longer to fade.

Maybe that’s a good thing.  We must reject clutching even justifiable hurt.  If this incident and others like it inspire us to tend the brokenness around us and redouble our commitment to build bridges to those in our communities who feel like isolated islands – unsafe and exposed – then maybe we can redeem the recent spate of violence for the good.

That is our calling and our true business: an invitation to lift the brokenness into the light.



Reb David, reading from Torah.

Welcome to the website of Reb David Markus.

David Markus is Associate Spiritual Leader at Temple Beth-El of City Island (New York City, New York), where he manifests a joyful passion for Jewish expression in many forms — traditional and innovative liturgy, classical and modern music, spiritual poetry, uplifting text study and heart-centered humor.  (Learn more about him at the About page.)

Reb David is studying toward ordination as rabbi and mashpia (spiritual director) in the ALEPH Ordination Program — the trans-denominational seminary run by ALEPH: the Alliance for Jewish Renewal.

In secular life, Reb David is an attorney and judicial magistrate in New York State government.

For information on Reb David’s fees and services, click on the Life Cycle Events link.

To see him in action, click on the glimpses of Reb David at work page.

Thanks for stopping by!

Torah Haiku: Shmot

“I’ll be with your mouth / And teach you what you will say / That all may be free.” (#13: Shmot)

Even Moshe, perhaps the Bible’s greatest leader, was “slow of speech” (Ex. 4:10): G!d promised at the burning bush that G!d would be with Moshe’s mouth and teach him what to say (Ex. 4:12). Recalling that freedom depended on opening to the guidance of spirit, what if today we tried to hear G!d’s voice before we spoke?