Monthly Archives: June 2013

Don’t Spew Hate in God’s Name

Religion, Faith, and Belief in God are amazing things. Our faith traditions allow us to connect to our ancestors, be a link to our descendants, and help us recognize the holiness, in places, interpersonal relationships, and moments in time. Such ritual allows us to appreciate God’s divine presence in our everyday lives. Religion allows us to act as God’s messengers and spread God’s message.

Religion and Belief in God is a beautiful thing… but it is also a scary thing. In the name of religion, in the name of Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and other religions of the Western and Eastern Worlds, we have preached love, peace, and helping those in need. However, in the name of these same faith-based traditions, some have preached hatred towards another, bigotry, and cursed another.

Last Shabbat, we read from the Torah portion Balak, in which the villainous King Balak hires the wizard Balaam to offer a curse to the Israelites, based on the belief that one who is blessed shall be blessed and one who is cursed shall be cursed. Time and time again Balaam tries to curse the people of Israel, but in the end, only words of blessing come out. It is from this narrative that we first read the familiar liturgical verse: Mah Tovu Ohalecha Yaakov, Mishkenotecha Yisrael, How lovely are your dwelling places people of Jacob, your sanctuaries people of Israel.

Balaam explains to Balak that he cannot simply curse a people; he can only say whatever comes out of his mouth. He specifically notes that he cannot say what God does not allow him to say and only says the words that God puts in his mouth. God does not allow Balaam to speak hate in God’s name. Rather, God only allows love to be preached as God’s word.

don't hateThe lesson from this narrative is an important one for all of us. Religion does not teach us to hate each other or hate someone that is different from us. God does not teach us to curse someone because of race, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender, disability, or ethnicity. God does not allow such words to come out of our mouths. Religion teaches us to look at another nation, another people and say “How lovely are your dwelling places.”

If you think religion teaches us to spew hate, then maybe that isn’t God that you are worshipping at all!


-Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky

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A Father’s Prayer

On this Father’s Day, I offer this pray that I wrote – words that I am sure speak for all fathers.

Avinu Shebashamayim, Our Father in Heaven, give me the wisdom, insight, courage, and strength to be a father. You have blessed me with a child, one of Your divine creations, made in Your divine image. You have blessed me with fatherhood, now show me how. You who have provided for me my whole life, You who continues to provide for all my needs, give me the strength to provide for my daughter, strength when I am weary from sleepless nights of teething, sleepless nights of slumber parties, sleepless nights of staying out past curfew. Bless me with the wisdom to discern between tears of joy and tears of sorrow, the ability to heal a sore throat and a broken heart, the humor to make my daughter laugh with me and at me, the self-discipline to discipline her even when it eats me up inside. Lord who walks with me, allow me to walk in your ways, so that she may walk in your ways, to live a life full of the ethics and values that I want her to hold dear, to discern between right and wrong so that I can teach her the difference. Just as I hope and pray that You will bless her and protect her, permit me to bless and protect her. Most of all, My Strength, when I am not there, provide my child with the strength to protect herself, and protect others as well. Permit her to recognize the divine spark within her so that she may cling to You.


– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky


Jewish Men Pray



This prayer has been published by Jewish Lights Publishing as a part of the compilation: Jewish Men Pray and is available on and the Jewish Lights Publishing Website 

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Send Kids to Camp and Bring Camp Home!

The beginning of June brings more than sunshine and warm weather. June brings an end to the school year and the beginning of summer vacation. While some may calendar their summers around laying out on the beach or family vacations, many of our children’s summers (and lives for that matter!) revolve around summer camp.

The Foundation for Jewish Camp, the non-profit organization that “unifies and galvanizes the field of Jewish overnight camp,” explains that “Jewish camp weaves Jewish values, culture, and traditions into the fabric of camp, helping campers to connect to their own identity and the larger Jewish community.” Jewish overnight camp is about more than camp fires, hikes, swimming, and sports, like other sleepaway camps. Jewish camp creates memories that no preschool, religious school, day school, or high school can! Jewish camp even offers experiences that youth group cannot offer! Jewish camp is a utopian, temporary, but perfect community, in which every single bunkmate quickly becomes like a brother or sister, in which time simultaneously stands still and speeds up so that camp memories can last forever and camp friendships of a few days or weeks feel like lifelong relationships.

Furthermore, Jewish camp offers experiential educational opportunities so that children aren’t only learning about Shabbat, prayer, dietary laws, or Jewish ethics and morals; they are living it on a daily basis.  Camp offers a creative and fun learning experience with your peers – an environment that allows you to be both the student and teacher. Finally, Jewish camp is truly a kehillah kedosha, a holy community and a safe space, an environment that celebrates that each camper is made in God’s image.

The Foundation for Jewish Camp’s study, Camp Works, suggests that Jewish summer camp attendance increases the likelihood of adult participation and identification. In the study, those who attended Jewish camp were more likely to donate to a Jewish charity, light Shabbat candles, attend synagogue regularly, and be emotionally attached to Israel. Participation in Jewish camping leads to a greater connection to tradition, ritual, and community.

ramah daromThe challenge of Jewish camp experiences though is that they are limited to the summer. Camp is a temporary holy community, much like the Mishkan, the temporary sanctuary built and rebuilt as the Israelites traveled throughout the desert.  The irony of the unique community that camp offers is that it is limited to the summer. Most suggest that camp wouldn’t work as a year-round experience, that what makes camp so special is that it is limited to only the summer. Campers yearn for a return to camp during the winter. If camp lasted year-round, then campers wouldn’t count down the seconds until camp returns, or stay in touch with bunkmates via phone, email, and Facebook.

The Israelites depended on their temporary sacred space as they traveled through the wilderness until they settled in the Promised Land and found community in the permanent structure of the Beit HaMikdash, the Temple in Jerusalem. Our goal and our task as a Jewish community, is to encourage our children to attend Jewish camp and expose them those life-changing positive Jewish experiences over the summer. Furthermore though, we must ensure that those positive experiences aren’t limited to the summer. The Jacksonville Jewish community serves as that permanent community that our children return to after spending the summer in their temporary utopias. We need to make sure our children bring those experiences of camp home. Havdallah cannot be limited to lakeside in the summer. Singing and dancing and clapping during services can take place year-round! Let us encourage our children (and adults!) to lose their voices because they are singing so loud, with such energy and ruach. Let us send our kids to camp, but make sure they bring a bit of camp home with them. This way, the life-changing summer memories can become life-changing daily memories.


– Rabbi Jesse M. Olitzky


This Blog Post originally appeared in the “Rabbinically Speaking” column of the June 2013 edition of the Jacksonville Jewish News

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