Lifting up the Voices of Jews Who are on the Margins

Aaron Hodge Greenberg: “anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world."

Aaron Hodge Greenberg: “anyone who destroys a life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed an entire world; and anyone who saves a life is as if he saved an entire world."

On the holiday of Shavuot, we receive not only the 10 Commandments but the entire Torah. We read from the Book of Ruth about a poor marginalized woman who had nothing, and very few options to improve her life. Ruth pretty much existed on the welfare of the time by gleaning the fields so that she and her mother-in-law Naomi could eat. Ruth, the outsider, the convert, the poor woman who would become the great-grandmother to King David.

We also read from the Torah portion of Yitro, named after Moses’ non-Jewish father-in-law. Yitro who would go on to tell Moses to recruit suitable people, and appoint them as judges. Yitro proposes a system of Judges similar to our modern day Judicial system. Yitro understood that what is needed in order to make the Torah work for the people is a judicial system made up of many people who will, speak with more than one voice, and look at the Torah with more than one worldview. Yitro understood that the Torah of one person even a Moses is not the Torah of a nation.

We have always been a community of many. A community made up of many diverse voices. Many of us sit on the margins of our society and many of us sit on the margins of Jewish life.

On this holiday let’s continue to lift up the voices of Jews who are on the margins of Jewish life. Diversity enriches our communities and makes us stronger. Lift up the voices of those who are marginalized in our communities so that we can continue to be a Torah of many.
Hag Sameach

Counting the Omer. Why do we Count?

Photo by  Melissa Askew  on  Unsplash

We are in the season of counting the Omer. Every Spring we begin counting the Omer on the second night of Passover. What is an Omer? The Omer is a sheaf or a measure of barley or wheat. The Omer is also the name for the 7 week period of time between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. On Passover, we celebrate our freedom from slavery and bondage and on Shavuot, we celebrate receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai as free people. In ancient times, the Omer period was significant agriculturally as it marked the period of time between planting and the spring and summer harvests. Over time, Jewish mystical tradition connected the Omer period with spiritual practices, about refining the soul, so we are ready to receive the Torah at Sinai

So, why do we count?
In order to move from a place of liberation to revelation, we are invited to use the act of counting to check in with ourselves. Our counting reminds us to take notice of each day and that no two days are the same. One of my teachers Rabbi Yael Janice Levy says that for 49 days we are mindful of the passage of time. We are encouraged to make each day count. In addition, our counting of the Omer encourages us to see this seven-week period as a pilgrimage. A pilgrimage that starts at Passover where we celebrate leaving Mitzriam, Egypt. The word Mitzriam also means a narrow place, a place of constriction and limitation of choice. Then we journey out into the open space, which is liberating and scary at the same time because it is also uncharted territory. In this open space of freedom, we may encounter doubt, uncertainty, and fear. And we journey on.

Waking Up with Gratitude

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In the Jewish tradition, one should pray three times a day and recite 100 Berachot (blessings) a day; that’s a lot of praying. Actually, it’s not hard if you do all of the prescribed prayers, plus do all of the blessings for just everyday occurrences such as food, washing hands, hearing good news, hearing bad news, seeing something for the first time…etc etc.

For many of us, this presents a challenge; can you imagine going from a zero prayer practice, except for maybe in shul to praying 100 times a day? Impossible. So, I believe starting off small and focusing on one prayer at a time might be easier for many. Many of us may never reach the level of offering 100 blessings a day but I do hope that by adding a prayer practice into our lives we will feel more connected to the larger world around us, be thankful for life’s blessings and hopefully feel more connected to God.

Photo by  Tim Foster  on  Unsplash

Photo by Tim Foster on Unsplash

“But Rabbi which blessing should I start with?” Great question. I believe that starting ones day off with gratitude is the best way to start the day. Judaism is full of blessings of gratitude here’s one:

Modeh/Modah Ani:

מודה אני לפניך מלך חי וקים שהחזרת בי נשמתי בחמלה, רבה אמונתך.

Modeh/Modah ani lifanecha melech (ruach) chai v’kayam shehechezarta bi nishmahti b’chemlah, rabah emunatecha.

I offer thanks to You, living and eternal spirit, for You have restored my soul within me; And You God are awesome.

Modeh is said immediately upon rising before we get out of bed and should be the first words we utter every morning. When we recite Modah Ani we are essentially thanking God for giving us another day. We wake up grateful instead of thinking about what may have happened the previous day and our first conscious thoughts are spent expressing, “thank you.” Life may be difficult and challenging and many of us may struggle sometimes, the Blessing of Modeh Ani is a nice way to wake up and remind ourselves to be thankful instead of thinking about the stuff that weighs us down. Basically, if we wake up with a sentiment of gratitude, we feel grateful, and we can continue with a more positive day; if we don’t then we won’t.

Shabbat Shalom

Asher Yatzar — Thank You for Creating Me

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In Judaism we have a prayer called Asher Yatzar. The prayer begins with

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה יְהוָֹה אֱלֹהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעוֹלָם, אֲשֶׁר יָצַר אֶת הָאָדָם בְּחָכְמָה, וּבָרָא בוֹ נְקָבִים נְקָבִים, חֲלוּלִים חֲלוּלִים.

“Blessed are You, God, Who formed me with wisdom and fashioned the human body.”

It’s typically called the “bathroom blessing,” and Jews traditionally say it every morning after one does their business in the bathroom.

I’m a Reconstructionist rabbi and part of my role in Jewish is life is to find ways “Reconstruct” our tradition, and our text to make them more relevant today.

The entire prayer in english is:

Blessed are You, God, Who formed me with wisdom and fashioned the human body. Creating many openings arteries, glands and organs marvelous in structure… It is revealed and known before You that if any one of these passageways be open when it should be closed, or blocked up when it should be free I could not to stay alive or exist for even just an hour.Blessed are You, God, the healer of all flesh who sustains our bodies in wondrous ways.

While I was studying to become a rabbi this prayer meant everything to me and it became my favorite prayer.

I did not see this prayer as just a bathroom blessing thanking God for allowing me to relieve myself in the morning. I saw it as a prayer thanking God for creating me exactly who I am. A black, queer, Jewish woman and a rabbi. I’ve been reflecting on the rise of anti-semitism, racism, and violence in our country. I am someone who is targeted my racism, sexism, anti-semitism and homophobia. I am well aware that I live in a world that sees my blackness before they see me or get to know me, and my Jewishness often represents a threat.

I am well aware that I live in a world that sees my blackness before they see me or get to know me. I also live in a Jewish world that sees my blackness and often refuses to recognize my Jewishness.

I am black, I am queer and I am a rabbi, for many, especially the people who follow me that spells excitement and for others my mere presence not only as a Jew but as a rabbi makes them uncomfortable and sadly makes some angry. For those who find it uncomfortable I invite you to stay in that place of uncomfortableness for a little while. I assure you it will get better. For those who are angry, I feel sad for you because people like me represent the future of Judaism. And if you stay angry you are missing out on how awesome it is to be Jewish in America today.

Trust That Inner Voice Even When You Think “This is a Crazy Idea!”


In my Podcast last week I talked about Faith. And I want to continue that conversation. In Last week’s Torah portion God instructs Noah to build an enormous Ark. On faith and faith alone Noah does as God has instructed and he builds an enormous Ark, out of Gopher wood, keep in mind that no one knows what kind of wood that is.

Noah built this Ark even though he probably thought “This is a Crazy Idea!”This week we have another story about going out on faith. This week we have another story about going out on faith. This week we read Torah portion Lech Lecha which means to Go forth or let’s Go.

This is the story where God instructs Avram to leave the comfort of his home, everything he trusts, everything he knows and God says “Lech Lecha, Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you and I will make you a great Nation.” Think about it Avram with his wife Sarah in tow, leave everything and strike out into the unknown. Since Avram is willing to strike out into the unknown and embrace it fully he will become a source of blessing for all. Like Noah Avram probably thought “This is a Crazy Idea!” I sure he was scared, I’m sure Sarah was scared, and all of this reminds us that out of our own fears insecurities and uncertainty for the future, faith can guide us. I know many of us are uncomfortable with the word faith, so I will just say to trust that inner voice, trust that inner voice even when we think “This is a Crazy Idea!”

Later in the text God tells I Avram I will establish My covenant between Me and you, and I will make you exceedingly numerous.” God changes Avram’s name to Avraham and says I will make you the father of a multitude of nations. Now at this time Avraham is 99 years old he as no children with his wife Sarah. He does have one child from his slave Hagar and God is telling him that he will have lots of offspring. Then God tells this 99 year old man that he will circumcise his foreskin as a sign of the covenant between Avraham and God. Avraham probably thought This is Nuts! “This is a Crazy Idea!” But Avraham put his trust in God he had faith and because of his faith he became the father of a great nation.

I think it’s hard sometimes for people to do things on faith or they find it hard to listen to that inner voice. And one of the challenges is building the confidence to trust your faith. As said last week faith is about the courage. The courage to live with the uncertainty and the courage to trust in your gut, in your heart and in God that you are on the right path.

Noah and Faith

I love it when my Jewish Anniversary falls on the Torah portion Noach. On October 13, 2004, I converted to Judaism and the Torah portion for that week was Noach. So, there is a special place in my heart for this week’s Torah portion.

In this week’s Torah portion God tells Noah to build an enormous Ark. God instructs Noah to build this Ark because God is going to destroy the world with a massive flood. Now keep in mind that Noah probably lives nowhere near water and I’m sure he thought “This is a Crazy idea!” but on faith and faith alone Noah builds the Ark as God has instructed him to do so.

That’s what I want to discuss about today. The idea of Faith. The idea that when you know in your heart that you must do something, or you must go somewhere or even if it seems as crazy as building an enormous Ark.

Faith is to have the courage to pioneer to do something new, to venture out into the unknown, and to maybe be the first from your group to take the road few have traveled on. Faith is the courage to take a risk, to begin a journey to a distant destination knowing that there will be hazards and road blocks along the way, and knowing also that God is with you along the way and giving us strength. Strength to forge ahead.

I think it is hard sometimes for people to listen to their inner voice or to do things on faith because faith is not about certainty but the courage to live with uncertainty.

Noah had faith, enough faith to build a large ark even though he knew, “This is a crazy idea!” I converted to Judaism I

Think about it, I’m queer, black, a convert to Judaism and wanted to become a rabbi. Yes a queer, black, female, convert to Judaism rabbi and like Noah I went on faith and faith alone that I would be shown the way and I have been.

Shabbat Shalom

Family Forgiveness and Vayechi

This week we are in the last Torah portion of the book of Genesis and the last story of Joseph.  And in this weeks Torah portion the patriarch Jacob dies. And Joseph's brothers are worried that Joseph may still hold a grudge for all the pain they caused him. So the brothers go to him and they fling themselves before him and they say and say, "we are prepared to be your slaves," but Joseph says to them "have no fear, although you intended me harm, God intended it for good, so as to bring out the present result which is the survival of many people. 

Torah portion gives a very clear message on the importance of family forgiveness. I’m sure we have all had times in our lives where someone in our family has angered us. Family is forever, and there are not too many people in our lives who love us unconditionally. Forgiveness is important and by taking ourselves less seriously, it becomes easier to forgive another.

When it comes to family, the ability to forgive is crucial. Family is permanent, and having the strength to forgive is rewarding for all.

In this weeks portion we are reminded that, years earlier, Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and told their father that Joseph had been killed. Jacob, Joseph’s father, was devastated, and Joseph became a slave in Egypt before ultimately rising to extreme power.  Joseph forgives his brothers for their cruel act. Jacob also forgives all his sons for their cruel deception. This is a powerful Torah story with a very relevant message for life today.

Vayeishev: Dare to Be Different


Last year during this week’s torah Portion I got a very random text message from my father. In this text message he told me a story about my great grandfather. My dad said that my great grandfathers motto equated to dare to be different. My dad told me that I reminded him a lot of his grandfather. So that’s what I want to talk about today “dare to be different”

Joseph is described by our great sage Rashi as someone who dressed his hair, he touched up his eyes so that he should appear good-looking. So Even Rashi thought Joseph was different and Joseph was someone who dared to be different. Not only that this bad boy Joseph dared to dream but his dreams got him into trouble

In this Torah portion, it is clear that Jacob favors Joseph, and this angers Joseph’s brothers. Joseph has a dream where he predicts reigning over his brothers. This pisses them off and  The brothers decide to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Because Joseph dared to be different he finds himself imprisoned not once but twice.

Can you imagine sitting in prison for daring to be different and for daring to dream big. But  Joseph never lost sight of his dreams and he never lost faith in God’s plan for him. And he eventually he becomes the most powerful man in Egypt second only to the pharoh and I would argue more powerful than pharaoh.  He saves his family and the jewish people from starvation and famine. My point here, simple dare to be different and Dream big because you never know it may be part of God’s plan.

Sometimes it is really hard to see the plan that God has in store for us.  Before I close I want to ask you In what ways are you like Joseph and how do you dare to be different?

Vayetze: God is in this Place

Jerusalem 2015

Jerusalem 2015

At the beginning of this week's Torah portion, Vayetze, Jacob camps for the night and he rests his head on a stone. He dreams of a ladder planted in the earth stretching up to heaven, with angels ascending and descending constantly. I see the angels as a metaphor for how we pray. Our prayers start here on earth and then flow upward to God, and God's attention and love and blessing flow back to us. 

Listen here or continue reading

In this dream, God is standing next to Jacob. God tells Jacob Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go...I will not leave you …

When Jacob awakes from his dream he cries out "Surely, God is in this place, and I -- I did not know it!"

We are often reminded of the awesomeness of God in the spectacular moments in our lives and those are moments when we may find ourselves especially open to a connection with God

But it's also possible to experience God's presence in the mundane everyday moments our lives. And we can exclaim  God is in this place,

Wherever we go in life God is with us but sometimes life gets in the way and we do not realize that God is very much a part of our lives. This torah portion says that God is with us all the time and all we have to do is be in the moment and be aware and when we do that, we open our hearts and our minds to the presents of God


Never Seek Your Siblings Blessing


A Monday Morning reflection on this week's Torah Portion. This week’s Torah portion Toldot is challenging one. There are a lot of things that happened in this week’s Torah portion. First off, Isaac and Rebecca have difficulty conceiving a child. Miraculously Rebecca’s prayers are answered when she finds out she’s pregnant. Then she has a very difficult pregnancy

As she struggles with her pregnancy God tells her that “there are two nations in your womb,” and that the younger will prevail over the elder.”

The two children in her womb struggle up until Rebecca gives birth. Esau emerges first with Jacob clutching at his heel. The two boys could not grow up any differently Esau grows up to be “a hunter, a man of the outdoors,” he I think he smells bad and he’s Isaacs’ favorite. Jacob is described as the wholesome, mild man who stayed home and loved to learn and he’s Rebecca's favorite.

One day, I because Jacob stayed home and learned how to cook, he’s making some soup. Esau walks in and is like, "give me that food, I’m hungry, I’m so hungry I’m gonna die and I don’t know how to cook!" Jacob turns to him and says, "yes I’ll give you the soup but first you must sell me your birthright. Esau is like, "whatever. What good is it going to do me, I’m going to die if you don’t feed me." Esau sells his birthright (his rights as the firstborn) to Jacob for a pot of red lentil stew. The end of this story is this: Rebecca and Jacob deceive Isaac and Jacob gets the birthright.

This is a really hard text and it’s hard for me. I understand sibling rivalry and like Jacob and Esau I think my brother is my mother’s favorite and I am my dad’s favorite and that’s ok, it wasn’t ok when I was younger but it’s ok now.

I close this reflection with a quote from Jonathan Sacks “Never seek your brother’s blessing. Be content with your own.

Vayeira and Hospitality


Let's talk about hospitality and what it means to be a good host. In this week's Torah portion Vayeira we have two iconic examples of hospitality; one is a good example of how to be a good host and the other not so good.

In Genesis chapter 18 our hero Abraham is sitting at the entrance of his tent in the hot, hot sun. Squinting into the bright sun, as he sees the hazy shadows of three people approaching. He doesn’t wait until he knows who they are, or which tribe they belong to, or if they are Jewish, but at ninety-nine years old, and remember just 3 days after his own circumcision surgery, he jumps up to welcome them into his and Sarah’s tent. We soon find out that these people are angels and it is from this story that rabbis of the Talmud (Shabbat 127a) state that “hospitality to strangers is greater than an encounter with the Shechinah (the Divine presence).”

In our world, we are often suspicious of others rather than being welcoming to the stranger. We too often define “the other” as a threat than as a potential new friend. The irony is that our tradition has a deep connection to hospitality at its core. 

The second example of hospitality is in Chapter 19. Abraham's nephew Lot who learned the importance of hospitality from Avraham offers hospitality to three visitors. Lot lived in the city of Sodom and the idea of hospitality was contrary to the selfish values of Sodom. Lot tries to protect these three visitors from a local mob. He offers his own two daughters to the mob instead (this is nuts and a story for another day). This is an example of hospitality gone mad. Lot is not using good judgment and somehow thinks that being hospitable to strangers means he has to give up his own daughters. Crazy!! My guess is that he has allowed a rigid interpretation of a religious demand to cloud his sense of humanity.

I believe that many of us need a spiritual base to ground ourselves because without a spiritual base we might be inclined to make selfish decisions and to have a selfish outlook. In the end being a good human to other humans is what God really wants of us.

Like Avram, It's Time to Go

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This week’s Torah Portion Lech Lecha (go, or leave), opens with God’s command to Avram to leave everything he has known—his birthplace, family and the culture he grew up with—and move to a land “that I will show you.” He is asked to leave behind his family and embrace an unknown future in order to create a new world. He has complete trust in God and that God will show him the way. 

This weeks portion reminds me of my own journey to becoming a rabbi. I had complete faith that I would be shown the way and I have been. And now as my studies are coming to an end I hear outside voices constantly worrying about the state of the Jewish community.

As I have stated before, I believe this is an exciting time to be Jewish and to be a rabbi. As someone who converted to Judaism, I have not inherited Jewish trauma from the past or anxiety about our future. In fact, I feel that Judaism has liberated me, and made me free. Since converting I have become a better activist, a better ally and have been able to live up to my potential. Please don’t misunderstand, I am well aware that antisemitism still exists in the United States.

I also fill fortunate that my rabbinic training at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College has made me a very forward thinking rabbi. My training has taught me to bring in the past, use our traditions but not to be stuck in the old ways of doing things just because we have always done them that way.

So As God tells Avram in this week’s Torah portion Lech Lecha and Avram trust God to go. I too believe that it’s time for me to go, to leave rabbinical school, and head out on my own adventure and I too have trust that God will show me the way.

Was Noah a Righteous Dude?


This week we enter into the story of Noah. The story of Noah comes right after the story of creation. We learned in last weeks Torah portion that God created the world and declared it was very good. Then by the end of the portion, it seems as if God has what a friend of mine called a bit of buyers remorse. God says that people are evil and God wants to wipe out not only people but all living things on the planet. But... the Torah says "Noah found favor in the eyes of God" Then the portion ends with a bit of a cliffhanger.

This week we learn “Noah was in his generations a righteous and a wholehearted dude and Noah walked with God.” But what does it mean to be a righteous dude in Noah’s time? Noah was around during a time when the world was crap and people were just not nice and treated each other like ...well... you can insert the rest.

Noah was righteous for his generation but how would he stand up next to people from other generations?

I would argue that Noah is righteous but not a leader. Noah doesn’t even speak in this weeks Torah portion. In an age, when all is corrupt when the world is filled with violence when even God has “regretted that God made people on earth, and it pained God at God's heart.” Noah, in God’s eyes, justifies God’s faith in humanity, the faith that led God to create people. Noah is, after all, the man through whom God makes a covenant with all humanity, and as a queer person, I can thank Noah for the rainbow.

Noah is to humanity what Abraham is to the Jewish people. Noah was a good man in a bad time. Some would argue there are two types of righteous people. Some who do what they are supposed to do and nothing else and those who look around and try to do more. Noah was the type of guy who did what God told him to do, he built an ark and did not tell anyone or try and save anyone.

But I don't want to sound like I'm putting most of the fault on Noah. Our great sage Rashi explains that the men of Noah's generation would see Noah building this Ark, which by the way took 120 years. If those men saw Noah working on this Ark, at some point they might ask, "Dude what are you doing?" And Noah could answer the question and tell them that "God has instructed me to build this Ark because God is bringing a huge flood that will destroy the world" According to Rashi this might give the people of Noah's generation time to repent. But as we know they never asked.

Finding God


Every year after Sukkot and Simchat Torah I get so excited about starting the Torah over with this week’s Torah portion Breishit.  The Torah begins with,“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

There is something about the story of creation, about moving back to the beginning of it all that I find exciting.

As a student, I have been challenged by my own concepts of God. What does it mean for me as someone who believes totally in science and not a being up there in the heavens creating everything down here on earth? As a rabbinical student, I have wanted to understand not only what God means in our modern Jewish world, but what God means to me. 

As my graduation date gets closer and I move from student to rabbi. I see God in much the same way as Mordecai Kaplan (the founder of Reconstructionist Judaism) did when he wrote, "Those who possess enthusiasm for living and strive for a better world are believers in God." And to quote a modern rabbi Toba Spitzer she says “God offers us an ideal toward which we strive and God is the Power that urges us to respond to suffering, to seek our own fulfillment and to help others toward their fulfillment.”

I am becoming a rabbi to do my part to make the world a better place. The God I believe in encourages us to do Good in the world, “God is the power that makes for salvation”

This brings me back to this coming Shabbat’s Torah portion of Breishit. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Every year we get the opportunity to start again. From the beginning and continue God’s work of creation. And to be in partnership with God, to create a better world. 

I'll close with one more quote from Kaplan:

"When we break through our narrow and prejudiced conception of religion and begin to realize that it is inevitable for the conception of God to reflect one's mental and ethical development, we will learn to identify as divine that Power in the world to make it what it should be. The name of God will stand for truth about reality, not in terms of a division between natural and supernatural but in terms of normal human experience"

Shabbat Shalom



Another Introduction and My Thoughts this Morning

I love connecting with people

I love connecting with people

I'm a writer, a public speaker, future rabbi, fitness and nutrition coach and a Social Media Consultant and host a Podcast on Torah, Prayer and Jewish music I am also a proud U.S. Army Veteran and of course, like most of us there is more to my identity so let's just say I want to move through the world in a way that makes the world a better place for all. 

In June 2018 I will be ordained as a rabbi. The role of the rabbi is rooted in Torah (teaching and learning), service of the heart, and acts of love and kindness, and it is our job to adapt as the times change. And the times have changed.

Today, many Jews do not belong to synagogues, many live outside the reach of a synagogue, still others have been turned off by synagogues for a variety of reasons, ranging from dues structure, to not feeling welcomed or simply not wanting to go.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my time as a rabbinical student thinking about these kinds of issues and how my role as a rabbi can help foster Jewish community in the 21st century. The ever-evolving Jewish community challenges rabbis to meet people where they are in their lives, help people make discoveries about themselves and their place in society, and maybe even find their connection to God. What we also need to do, however, is think more creatively about how to reach out to and connect with Jews.

As an emerging rabbi, I’ve learned that people still need access to clergy, even when they don’t belong to a religious community

Here’s the Question I Ask Myself? If we create sacred spaces outside the walls of our synagogues, will Jews Participate?

I believe that Jews want to engage in Jewish life and want to be part of a Jewish community. For many, the current model of the synagogue does not work and it is time to create innovative ways to connect with those people. And to create different models of what it means to be a rabbi in the 21st century.

Since the day I entered the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College my vision has always been to find ways to connect with Jews who do not feel welcomed in Jewish institutions, find ways to connect with those who do not want to belong to a synagogue, and to build an inclusive Jewish community, one that is welcoming to all who want to come. BTW it is not enough to just say “We are welcoming.”

I want to meet Jews where they are in their lives and create sacred spaces outside the boundaries of synagogues. I want to talk and listen to Jews about Jewish life and to help them be with the God of their understanding. I think this is important because, as many of you already know, just because we built a synagogue does not mean Jews are going to come. I’ve been to some amazing synagogues and one of the reasons I’m studying to be a rabbi today is because I am a product of an amazing synagogue, and I had an amazing rabbi who mentored me and provided the best example of how I want to be in the world.