Dan Ornstein

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Apple Trees

Aug 28, 2015

One afternoon, as my wife and I watched a summer lightning storm from our front steps, she noticed some perfectly round green apples hanging from the thin tree branches outside our front window. All summer long, I had been gazing at the beautiful apples hanging from the tree across the street from us, their red skins dazzling like rubies in the sun, set against the deep green of the tree’s thick leaves. Now, I was smitten with child like wonder at the gentle intrusion of these green apples on our property. We had never planted any apple trees in our front yard, and I could not even identify for you any of the flora that guard the front of our house. Where did these fruits come from? How could we not know that an apple tree was alive and well in the tangled growth that we thoughtlessly passed by every day? Though two of our three children actively farm, my wife and I limit our agricultural consciousness to buying the best local produce that the supermarket has to offer. Our serendipitous apples became for me a source of fascination, and they are currently competing for my attention with their juicy red cousins in our neighbor’s front yard.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Losing the iPhone, Finding The I

Jul 23, 2015

The Vacation by Wendell Berry

Like any good poem, this one by the poet, Wendell Berry, employs a concrete  metaphor – a man who misses every moment of his vacation because he is too busy recording it – to examine a universal theme: how we absent ourselves from our own lives when we rush through them, disengaged, contracting them out to someone or something else.  Berry uses the word, “move”, with great rhythmic and symbolic effect.  We feel like we are on that speed boat with our vacationer, peering through his video lens at all the beauty which the film captures more accurately than our own minds.  However, for all the movement, there is nothing really moving about the experience:  the man’s camera is a pathetic emotional replacement for the man himself.  Berry also repeats deceptively simple phrases like “have it”, “having it”, “be there”, “would be” and “would not be”.  This turns the poem into a mournful tune about how technological devices are becoming our stand-ins for authentic living.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Summer Camp Retrospective

Jun 16, 2015

When my children were younger, one of their most precious refuges from me and my wife was the Jewish summer camp that they attended.  It is one of several summer programs in our religious denomination that, for over half a century, have built lasting friendships, produced marriages, perpetuated the values of Judaism, and left kids with cherished memories well after they have grown up. 

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Kayaking

May 19, 2015

As the summer approaches, I am beginning to think about one of my favorite activities:  kayaking.  I love kayaking so much, I would kayak every day, if not for one small impediment:  I am a lousy kayaker.

One day in the first century, BCE, a young Jewish man left his home in Babylonia, present day Iraq, and made the perilous five hundred mile journey to the holy city of Jerusalem in the land of Israel.  Each day, he would pay the entrance fee to the guard posted at the door of the great academy of Bible study, so he could sit at the feet of the great teachers. One time, being a poor laborer, he had no money, and when he sought entrance to the school, the guard refused to let him in because he could not pay him.   Undeterred as a devoted student of God’s word, he climbed onto the roof and lay down, pressing his ear against the skylight, in order to listen in on the spirited conversations taking place below.  He became so engrossed in the discussions about sacred matters taking place that he took no notice of the snow falling on him.  Soon, the young man fell asleep, and he began to freeze.  As morning approached down below, two of the great sages interrupted their argument when they realized that the room they were in was not becoming light enough as the sun rose.  Looking up, they caught the young man’s silhouette pressed against the skylight.  Rushing to the roof, they brushed him off, dragged him inside the school, helped him to thaw by the fire, and then listened to him tell his story.  The young man became the legendary Rabbi Hillel, one of the greatest sages of Jewish tradition, who was known for his patience, compassion, love and willingness to teach all people, rich and poor.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Frozen Poetry

Feb 28, 2015

Throughout my neighborhood, the icicles hang down from the eaves of the roofs like colonies of bats clustered along the walls of caves.  Emerging from the heavy cover of melting and re-freezing snow, each icicle begins as gently dripping water which never quite makes it to its destined place on the earth, even under the spell of gravity. The drops congeal and are frozen in the grip of arctic temperatures which transform them into mute winter sculptures. 

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: The Art Of Two Grandmas

Jan 29, 2015

At 78 years old, Grandma Moses became an accomplished primitivist folk painter.  From that advanced age until her death at 101, she famously chronicled the American rural experience with an unparalleled eye for color and simplicity, derived from her memories of her life as a farmer, wife and mother.  She was neither a trained artist nor a scholar of art, but that did not impede her from sharing her extraordinary talent with the world.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: The Mosquito

Oct 28, 2014

I hate mosquitoes, having endured my share of sleepless nights itching from their bites and being startled by the maddening drone of their speeding wings.  I reserve my greatest antipathy for those giant mosquitoes that sport long, ugly legs and tubular bodies.  I am not fooled by the seeming frailty of their translucent wings, which move three hundred to six hundred times per second.  They lift and land their owners with the impunity of a rogue pilot, treating every surface of the world like an open runway and the surface of skin like the unlocked door of an unguarded blood bank.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Chickens

Aug 21, 2014

From my late adolescence until recently, I was an ambivalent vegetarian.  My gastronomic relationship with the succulent flesh of cows, sheep and chickens was mostly one of respectful abstinence, except for once every ten years, when like a monk gone wild, I would shed my righteous reputation for no-meat celibacy, and I would go underground to eat from the shadowy flesh pots.  I returned to the kosher cold cuts, hot dogs, and chicken wings, glancing nervously over my shoulder for fear of “getting caught”, as if anyone would really care. I would eat with primitive, furtive satisfaction, yet ultimately with not a whole lot of pleasure, before returning to my life of no-meat discipline.  Like a school of fish swimming in and out of coral reefs, I also moved back and forth between eating and not eating those dwellers of the deep. I finally settled several years ago on remaining a confirmed pescavore, using a friend’s argument about the inherent stupidity of fish as my excuse.

Rabbi Dan Ornstein: Wise Blood

Jul 17, 2014

Several weeks ago, as I planned my overly ambitious summer reading list, I came across my son’s copy of Flannery O’Connor’s famous first novel, Wise Blood.  Contemplating whether or not to read the book, and always looking for an excuse to talk to my adult child, I called him to inquire about what he thought of it. “You know, dad,” he began, “It is an intensely religious novel, all about a man who is trying to  rid himself of faith in Jesus and God, yet who fails to do so.  As a rabbi and religious person, you’ll like it.”

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