of Greater Youngstown, Ohio

3970 Logan Way,
Youngstown, Ohio 44505
Phone: (330) 759-1429
Email: TempleElemeth@gmail.com
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High Holiday Sermon

Yom Kippur 5778

Why do we need Judaism, Synagogue, and Prayer?

With alarming human divisions in the world and the tragedies caused recently by natural phenomena, many are reflecting about the world. What kind of world do we want? Prominent in everything we are involved in is technology.

Technology today is going beyond amazing to places most people have never dreamed possible. As 21st century heirs to Enlightenment, we know a lot. We know how to edit a gene. We know how to convert millions of simultaneous messages- conversations, texts, memes, movies- into packets of ones and zeros and speed them from tower to tower to another person's hand. We know how to convert the energy of sunlight into a ride in the car. We now have cars that drive themselves, phones that recognize your fingerprint and retinas, and apps that do everything but tie your shoes. Growing knowledge has given us more of everything- except peace and happiness. While we can appreciate that science can help us more every day, the technology intrudes more on life as well. Most people now always have their cell phone active for everything in life. 

Since technology and people have become inseparable it is not surprising that these connections are getting even more intimate with actual computer chip implants surgically placed in about a million people already. Doesn't that sound great?

In celebration of the fact that technology is not only getting smarter but also doing a lot more on its own, including learning quickly, Microsoft tested an artificially created computer youth called TAY. They called this a Chat Bot. Believe it or not, they had to shut it down in less than 24 hours because TAY was getting so negatively influenced by bad people on the internet that it was becoming mean-spirited, immoral, and depraved. What a world this is. Does this tell us something about the potentially powerful negative impact the internet can have on our children and on society?

Human ingenuity and creativity is alive and well, but the world seems to be getting away from the Traditional values like the 10 commandments and Faith that have helped people maintain humanity and civilization. Is it significant that for the first time the majority of Americans are secular atheists who therefore can each create or adopt their own moral code? 

If the Jewish People are still the world's barometer for humanity's moral health, it is revealing that there are more countries today without significant Jewish populations and without legal protections for Jews than in the 1940's. 

In Youngstown and many communities outside the large urban centers of North America, we are also experiencing declined Jewish populations.

So, where do we and humanity go from here? What kind of world and what kind of a community and life style do we want for ourselves and to maintain for future generations? On what foundations and values do we want to shape life and guide our decisions?

These are critical questions about which previous generations whose strong Jewish Faith and Identity made them able to respond with clarity of spirit. The Jewish Spirit and Faith enabled previous generations to maintain a sturdy rudder, with strength of character, and a sense of greater purpose for each of us.

What is the greatest lesson of the Holocaust? The Survivor's Triumphant Spirit. Howard Shultz, the founder of Starbucks, once visited the Dean of the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel together with some other businessmen. The conversation was brief due to Rabbi Finkel's advanced Parkinson's disease. The Rabbi, himself a survivor, asked: "What is the most important lesson of the Holocaust?" He described the terrible, indescribable sufferings thrust upon Jews. He said when they reached the barracks, they were given one blanket for 6 people. They could choose to share it or each one could try to grab it. "The greatest lesson of the Holocaust is the triumph of the Human spirit." He said. "Now each of you return to America and share your blanket with 5 others."

When i look at what my father and other Holocaust survivors suffered, I am inspired by how they lived and were motivated based on their rootedness in Jewish values. We can learn from their triumph in spirit and devotion to come out of the dark abyss and still want to help others, and contribute to shaping a good world.

Abba- My father always told me that every day after the Holocaust was a gift he didn't think he would have. Although everyone he knew perished- relatives, friends and acquaintances- he stood like other Jewish survivors of the past on the foundation of the Jewish spirit- a triumphant spirit defining life with purpose. I believe his survival attests to the strength of Judaism and Jewish thinking. 

No house can stand without a foundation, no human being can maintain good character without being animated by purpose. For us and our ancestors the Foundations of Life are: Faith in G-d, Tradition, and our People. We need this to be physically, mentally, and spiritually strong. Here is a story to help understand the power of faith:

Kisses in a Box

The story goes that a man punished his 3 year old daughter for wasting a roll of gold wrapping paper. Money was tight, and he became infuriated when the child tried to decorate a box. 

Not discouraged, the little girl revealed her intentions in the morning, presenting the box as a gift from her, and saying "This is for you, Daddy"

He was embarrassed by his earlier over reaction, but his anger appeared again when he found the box was empty. He yelled, "don't you know when you give someone a present, there is supposed to be something inside it?"

The little girl looked up at him with tears in her eyes, and said, "Oh Daddy, it's not empty. I blew kisses into the box. All for you Daddy!" The father was crushed. He put his arms around the little girl, and begged for her forgiveness. 

An accident took the life of the child at a young age. The man kept that gold box by his bed for many years and whenever he was discouraged, he would take out an imaginary kiss and remember the love of the child who had put it there.

In a very real sense, each of us has been given a gold container filled with unconditional love and kisses from our children, family, and friends. There is no more precious possession anyone could hold. 

Our family and friends, Traditions and Mitzvot, are angels who lift us to our feet when we have trouble getting up. Like the kisses and hugs that we feel and cannot see, Faith and Tradition lift us up.

The most uplifting and precious commodities in our lives and in our Jewish legacy seem intangible, not material goods. But they are the most precious and fill our lives with meaning. 

     - Author unknown, story published by Pastor Steve Goodier

My friends, our People have been gifted golden boxes that have kept every generation going. Just as the father could not see the love and kisses materially in the box, but could feel them; we don't see the embrace and support of our Divine Parent physically but we can feel them giving our lives meaning, strength, and dignity. We don't see our ancestors here but we are fortified by their legacy to us.

As the Jewish population of our community declines, it is essential for us to consider what matters most in making our lives purposeful and fulfilling. Is it the popular trends of society or our spiritual and historic foundations of Faith?

Am Yisrael- As the people of Israel we are a sacred collective held together not by blood, language, culture, geography, and dependences alone, but also by shared goals, ideals, and teachings. We are mystical, spiritual entities defined by what we've learned in our relationship and partnership with G-d, making our foundations in Torah and Mitzvot, rather than the changing trends, groupings, whims of history, and society. 

Political groups and countries come and go. G-d's values must always exist.


Judaism is a way of life enhancing the quality of our morality, ethics, and compassion. G-d through Torah and Mitzvot took us away from idolatrous beliefs that rendered spaces and objects more important than people. At El Emeth our mission statement is about maintaining and supporting traditional Jewish life with faith in   G-d, and learning, rather than worshiping spaces and objects in any form, no matter how wonderful they may be. 

Our Synagogue is a Golden Box- meant to elevate life with higher purpose. We learn together, worship together, and do Mitzvot together to refine and enhance our lives with faith, knowledge, and mutual support. 

Having experienced 20 years as your Rabbi and experiencing first-hand the capability of our Congregation to apply the values rooter in our faith, I appeal to you to stay strong in supporting the priorities of our Faith and Traditions: Torah & Mitzvot.

We can be proud of the many ways El Emeth, with the help of member and non-member volunteers, provide Youngstown with appreciation for the Beauty and Sanctity of life through Jewish lenses.

The world desperately needs the guidance of our Faith, and Youngstown definitely needs us as an anchor and well-spring of spirit and Tradition. There are too many forces pushing all people into harm's way. 

May we continue in our mission to support and live Jewish lives and the many ways that help everyone in the community to be the best people we can. May we be thankful for the special golden boxes, like this congregation, that are filled with the intangibles that animate and guide our lives best. 

May we all benefit from G-d's blessings

And may our choices and conduct earn and seal our place in G-d's Book of Life.

G'mar Tov for a healthy, prosperous and happy new year with many more


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