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April 23, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

3 weeks and now its Max’s turn

shave for the brave

Its been three weeks since my participation in #36rabbis Shave for the Brave with the St. Baldricks Foundation.  My hair is growing back quickly – more quickly than I thought it would. Rick even says there are curls beginning to appear.

I am so grateful for all the support you have shown me and our campaign. I have raised close to $12,000, and the whole campaign has raised over $620,000!

Max, partly to join in the fun, and partly in response to some loving parental pressure has promised that if I reach $20,000 he will shave his head too!  So, if you are a good friend, a relative, a follower – or if you just think that Max needs a hair cut…

Week 3please consider giving a bit more to help us reach this next hurdle in our fundraising.

Thank you everyone!


April 1, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

It’s my parents’ fault I’m shaving my head

As I awoke this morning and ran my fingers through my hair, I tried to recall my earliest memories of doing g’milut chasadim (acts of loving kindness) and taking action for social justice.  I was flooded with memories that go back many years.

Probably my earliest memory is of my father Mark Novak running for United States Congress.


I recall hanging out in his campaign office, my first ride in a convertible as we participated in a Fourth of July parade.  As a 5-year-old I’m sure I didn’t quite understand what it was he was doing, but now I know that it was one of his many efforts to put values into action.

One of my favorite family stories to tell is of my grandfather, Elmer Novak, who singlehandedly integrated the elementary schools in his small southern town of Salem, IL.  When some of the farmers came to him and said, “Mr. Novak, what are we going to do?  So-and-so’s daughter is now old enough to go to school!”  My “friend” Elmer said, “She’s going to go to school!”  And she did.

I remember collecting quarters for JNF to plant trees in Israel, and visiting the elderly at the Jewish Home.

I remember my mom not buying grapes and teaching us about the grape boycott.

I remember teacher strikes and my parents commitment to not crossing the picket lines.

I remember that dinner at Bob’s Big Boy on evening after Hebrew school when mom and dad suggested to Debbie and me that perhaps instead of getting bat mitzvah presents we should ask our family and friends to make donations to tzedakah. Debbie and I chose two temple funds that our family had been active in supporting: relief for Soviet and Iranian Jewry and relief for Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees. I still have the list of all the people who made donations, with our 13-year old scribbles of who wrote which thank you note.

Just months earlier our family had participated in sponsoring a Vietnamese refugee family so that they could find safety in the United States.  Debbie and I cleaned out our closest of clothes and toys in hopes of helping a frightened 5-year-old girl and her family (mom, dad, older brother). We helped mom pull together housewares and essentials for this family who became a part of our own.  Mom is still close today with that little girl who is now a grown woman and mother.

And this is all before high school!

So, when I reflect this morning on why I am shaving my head I have come to two conclusions.

1. It’s my parent’s fault.  We can blame our parents for lots of things.  They get lots of positive credit for this one.  My parents taught me the importance of helping others, for fighting against injustice.  They taught me to take responsibility in our world and help make change. They taught all of us – my sister and brother and me – to live out the Jewish values with which they raised us.

2.  It’s who I am.  My dear friends and colleagues know that I live by the teachings of Rabbi Tarfon.  My parents, my Jewish community, my teachers and mentors have all taught me that I can make a difference in the world.  So, when my friends Rebecca and Liz and Phyllis invited me to participate in #36rabbis Shave for the Brave, I could not sit idly by.

shave for the brave

Today is for the Sommers and all the families who have experienced the loss of a child.

Today is for those in my life who are currently fighting their own battles with cancer.

Today is for all those who have helped me reach – and surpass – my fundraising goal.  (Let’s keep it going!)

My daily meditation these past couple months has been from the lyrics of a traditional gospel song, recently adapted into Hebrew with the verses of Psalm 118:19.  It is with these words on my heart, that I shave my head tonight.

Lord prepare me to be sanctuary Pure and holy, tried and true
And with thanksgiving, I’ll be a living Sanctuary for you.

Pitchu li sha’arei tzedek avo-vam ode Yah

Open the gates of righteousness for me that I may enter them and praise God.

March 19, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

Laura, are you nervous?

People keep asking me if I am nervous about shaving my head.

Well, I have to make a confession.  I’ve secretly wanted to try on the bald look.  My earliest memories of a bald woman were of

sinead o'conner

Sinead O’Conner. I found her to be so beautiful. I admired her chutzpah and her rebelliousness.  As a goody-two-shoes in the 80’s, I just so wanted break out of the what’s-expected-of-me mold and be like her. Except I can’t sing, and I don’t really want to piss off any world leaders…

And then there’s a fellow MOT, Natalie Portman.  She can truly rock the bald head.

natalie portman

But lately, as I’ve seen more and more women and children who are bald-not-by-choice, because they are each fighting a very hard fight, it is from them that I am finding even more inspiration.  Their strength of being.  Their determination.  Their honesty and fear.  Their groundedness.

Here’s my friend Gail, who had cancer a couple of years ago and is thankfully cured. She proudly shared this picture with me.

Gail Newel

And there are two women in my life right now who are each undergoing chemo treatments for breast cancer. One is very nervous about loosing her hair. And that is fine.  As women, our hair says so much about who we are.  And the other one, well she has jumped in “head first” and is now sporting this amazing mohawk with a “chai” (the Hebrew equivalent of the number 18, which spells the word “life”) on one side of her head and a SF Giants logo on the other.


And of course, I think of Sam.


So, am I nervous?  Not really. I have been preparing myself for this since November.

Will I cry as my hair falls to the ground? Of course I will.  I’ll cry because I am Laura, and I always cry.  I’ll cry for Phyllis and Michael and all the other parents who have lost their children to cancer.  I’ll cry because I am so proud of what the #36rabbis campaign has done. I’ll cry in appreciation of all of you who have given – or will give – to our St Baldrick’s Shave for the Brave campaign to find cures to childhood cancers, and of my community who will come out to support me.

My only fear.  I just don’t want to look like her:

cone head

February 14, 2014 / Rabbi Laura



For several days now my St Baldrick’s campaign has been at $5858.00.

Seems like such a nice round number.  And, as Jews are want to do, I thought what does the number 58 signify?  Using gematria one can find meaning in numbers.  Each Hebrew letter holds a numerical value and when you put those together, sometimes you get interesting words.

50 = nun

8 = chet

58 = nach, or the root for the word comfort.

5858, really comfortable.

What does it mean to be comfortable?  To be confident in one’s place and position.  To know what to expect and to feel a sense that all is right in the world.

Each night, at almost exactly at 8 PM Cookie comes barking for her rawhide snack.  She is so predictable we can tell time by her attention-getting behavior.

Every Thursday at 6 PM our neighbor begins working in his yard. The leaf blower revs up and our dinner – should we be lucky enough to have an opportunity to sit together – is disrupted by the noise.

There is some comfort in the predictability of these occurrences each day and each week.

As I prepare to shave my head in 46 days (that number doesn’t really bring up something interesting), friends have made me really soft, comfortable hats.  Rick has helped me select a few for purchase, making sure they won’t be itchy or rough on my bald head. Comfort is something that I have been thinking about.

But, really, this is not about comfort.  My friends Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer are surely “being comforted” by friends and family and community on a daily basis.  But really, does raising $312,000+ in memory of their son Sam make everything right in the world.  No, of course not.

This is not about comfort.  Because sometimes comfort leads to complacency.


My commitment to shaving my head is about discomfort – about seeing something that is NOT right in the world and trying to change it.

January 21, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

Corporal Farrell Gilliam, z”l

Honor guard and Blue Star Mom's

Honor guard and Blue Star Moms show their respect

Today was a day I will not forget.  Today we buried Corporal Farrell Gilliam, 25 years too young, a hero amongst his family and his friends. A hero for our country.  A fighter.  A poet. A son and brother and friend. A survivor. A man who lived up to his name, for Farrell is Celtic for valor.

Corporal Farrell Gilliam

Corporal Farrell Gilliam

I still hear the whimpers and unsuccessfully held-back tears of strong Marines in their dress uniforms as they eulogized Farrell.

The echoes of the 21 gun salute still ring in my ears.

The honor guard playing Taps, all the active duty men and women standing at attention, saluting.

…and joining them, the 6 or so men who are devoted members of Temple Beth Israel who too served for our country, also standing at attention, saluting, like they were 25 years old and in uniform once again.  These men who served for our country – in Vietnam and in Korea and in WWII.  

Surrounding us, the grave stones of other Jewish veterans.

It is so hard for me to understand that there was a time when our veterans were dishonored, spit upon and hated for their service. I am grateful that those times are behind us.  I am grateful for the service these men – and women – have given and continue to give to our country.  Their sacrifices leave us indebted.  Their sacrifices leave mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers grieving.

Daniel, Farrell's big brother

Daniel, Farrell’s big brother

As one wise friend of Farrell’s said today, “Freedom is not free.”

Note:  z”l is an abbreviation of the Hebrew “zichrono livracha” – may his memory be a blessing

January 20, 2014 / Rabbi Laura

Today…and every day



Today, as we honor the life and work and legacy of Rev Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. we are asked to make it a day of service.

Today we are out in our communities marching and rallying and riding freedom trains and, as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel taught us, praying with our feet.

Today we are working in community gardens and food pantries and carrying bags of groceries to donate for those who are hungry.

Today we are writing our elected officials and signing petitions and speaking up and speaking out with calls for justice.

We are praying at the bedsides of those who are ill and without treatments or cures.

We are mourning at the graves of those who have died because they stood up for what they believe in.

Today cannot be the only day.

Dr. King did not envision a country in which we fought for justice on 1 out of every 365 days.

Justice must be part of our daily routine. It must be as natural to us as breathing and blinking.

So the question we must ask ourselves is not what are we going to do today. But what are we going to do tomorrow and the day after tomorrow and the day after that?

We cannot do it all. But we can do our part. We can make a difference. We just have to do the work.

My work…today, and for at least the next 70 days, to help find a cure.

My work …as inspired by not only Dr. King but also by Rabbi Tarfon.




December 31, 2013 / Rabbi Laura

2013 in review

I am pretty proud of my blog stats for this year.  Thank you everyone for joining me on this journey.  I look forward to blogging with you more in 2014.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,700 times in 2013. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


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