A Hannukah house party from the not so distant past

In this short video there is a pan to the crowd and a glimpse of the late Ruth Bregman (z'l) enjoying a festive night in Montclair. She passed away this past year. Thinking of her as I play this song.


Lunar Tunes album release!!!

That's right folks, now that the Thanksgivukah song is out in the stratosphere (thank you to the good folks of Heeb Magazine!) it is time to release the LUNAR TUNES album. No plastic discs involved - it is a totally digital release that can be accessed RIGHT HERE. Enjoy!


The Anti - Thanksgivukah Thanksgivukkah Thanksgivikah Song

I'm not even sure how to spell the conflation but I can say that mashing up the holidays is ah- -making -me -crazee. Pumpkin spice kugel? Puhl-eeze. Thanks to the good folks over at Heeb Magazine for sharing our friendly anti-mashup vision with the world.


Poetry for the Rosh Hashanah Meal

Eating the New Year

The ram’s head,
My great times great grandfather would eat,
To welcome the new year with words
“May we be the head and not the tail!”

But you, my son,
Dip apples into honey,
And did you remember to say
“To make for us a good and sweet year?”

At first we wished for abundance.
Your great times great-great grandfathers
tillers of soil,
(that was our side of the curse)
greeted the new year with
pumpkins and beans
and made poetic blessings from the names of each vegetable
and they added figs and pomegranate,
Meditating on the seeds, saying,
“Prosper! Prosper!”

Your great times great times great great grandfather,
When he was a boy,
Would climb the date palm, crush the sweet dates into a paste.
Feed them to your great times great times great times great grandfather with a spoon made of olive wood.
Old man saying:
May it be a sweet one.
Last year of his life.

Apples we discovered. And we slathered our date honey on them and said:
“Could there ever be anything sweeter together?”

And when we didn’t have date honey, we dipped them in sugar, and when not in sugar, into bee honey. “For a sweet new year.”

These waxed apples, this honey
so processed it looks like apple juice
those fingers which have hardly touched the earth
you, my son, are inheriting a world that is but a shadow of what once was…

But still you make a blessing,
Still you do with eyes closed,
and think of great times great grandfathers,
their eyes closed too, their eyes closed too.  

- Daniel S. Brenner


High Holiday Poetry? Alternative readings? Look no further!

To my friends in the rabbinic world and those amazing souls who are not rabbis but are preparing for the high holidays, I'm going to be posting the many poems I've penned for those alternative readings at a new blog...


Enjoy! And drop me a line if you use one in your service!


Gratitude to Dan Epstein of Dan Epstein Photography for sharing with me this photo of the Simchas Torah party at B'nai Keshet back in 2010. I'm digging the heavy shtetl vibe.


A Parable for Rosh Hashanah

This is an adaptation of a parable from the Maggid of Dubno (Rabbi Jacob Kranz)

“Once there was a wealthy man who wanted to protect his fortune so he hid his wealth in different places in his house. He died before telling his young son where he had hidden the money. After the father's death, the son lived in the home but he had no work and he had little to eat. He grew increasingly desperate and one day was counting out his last few silver coins when one of the coins dropped, and he crawled on the dirty floor to find it. He searched all over but he couldn't find his coin. In desperation he pulled up the floorboards and found one of the sacks of golden coins his father had hidden. He opened the sack and was amazed at his fortune. He searched all through the house and found more and more sacks of gold but he never found his original, lost silver coin.”

I'm not sure what the Maggid of Dubno intended to convey with this story, but I love the juxtaposition of the two ideas: the house (the world) is filled with hidden treasure but the silver coin (youth? innocence? simplicity? the father?) is never found again. The parable also speaks to the idea of "looking for one thing but finding another" - a theme that runs back to Yacov's "G-d is in this place and I, I did not know" moment. It is also a story about searching - what causes us to search, what we find and what we do not find. 

The parable also has a message for us for the coming year: Keep looking, don't give up hope - the next floorboard you pull up will reveal great treasures.



Exclusive: New Rosh Hashanah song for 2013 5744

Judgment Day
Words and Music by Daniel S. Brenner

With wishes to all for a sweet and healthy new year.


The Tisha B'Av Song

Also -- I have a new website up for Tisha B'Av: Check out Tisha B'Av ideas for summer camp over at



Florence Funt (1912-2013) Z'L

I've heard conflicting ideas regarding the spirit world that we refer to as heaven. But if I was to make a prediction about what is currently underway in that upward eternal everlasting time zone out there, I'd have to say that those spirits are about to experience a period of unexpected fun. Scrabble games and Hungry, Hungry Hippos, croquet contests, wacky wind-up toys, a wooden puppet who dances on a plank - did I mention boxes full of chocolate, and dogs who go gaga for ice cream, and plastic alligator heads on sticks that pick up scrap paper or a mechanical frog who eats bean bag flies? And what about the vast library of New Yorker cartoons, comics and joke books? Yes, other-world, you now get to experience the woman known as Granny - the force that made earth such a delightful realm for so many children and adults alike. So, Heavens - consider yourself lucky!

love you Granny. miss you. hope to grow your spirit more and more.


Jews in Guatemala

My beloved and I just returned from an amazing five-day trek in Guatemala. Visiting our friends in Antigua, traveling to Lake Atitlan to visit Santiago - it was an amazing journey.

Here are the top 100 of the 1,000 photos I took. 

As part of the trip, we spent time with a Mayan woman (actually a Tz'utujil Mayan) named Dolores Ratzun. You can read about her life here. If you go to Atitlan, hire her for a tour - she is a superb guide.

She took us to two Mayan shrines and to Mass at the Catholic Church in Atitlan (built with the steps of the old Mayan shrine) and then to her parents' home. As her mother showed us her two looms for weaving ritual cloth, Dolores asked me about cloth in Jewish life.

I told her about the Tallit, tzitzit, and techelet and she shared the symbolism of the cloth that her mother had woven. Dolores - who is a healer and shaman -wanted to learn more about the tallit so I am sending her some youtube clips.

Meeting her reminded me of one of the most powerful experiences that I had as a child in Jewish Day School. We made our own tallesim, choosing the cloth and then learning to tie the tzitzit. My tallis, made of a light denim fabric with a rainbow trim, is now one of the objects I consider most sacred in my life.

It took traveling to Guatemala for me to realize how important it is to retain the connection to sacred fabric and to the quiet power of interwoven strings. I'll think of her mother's loom as I make the "al tzitzit" blessing.


The Terrorist's Terrible Toothache

I will be reading my latest short story, The Terrorist's Terrible Toothache, on Saturday, May 18th at B'nai Keshet 99 South Fullerton, Montclair NJ @ 8PM. The reading will be part of a literary salon that will include playwrights, songwriters, a dancer, poets, and apparently my beloved. Anyways - If you are interested in The Terrorist's Terrible Toothache then come on down to Montclair!


Top Five Shavuot Songs

I've made a list of the top five songs for shavuot over on a new blog entitled Shavuot Songs. What made the list this year? Check it out. 


Alternative Ketubah

File this one as an "only in New York" moment...

About a month ago I was in Williamsburg (the Brooklyn one) officiating a wedding for a wonderful couple who had the highly unusual ketubah pictured above. On their honeymoon in Argentina, they visited the artist. Then the artist wrote up a little story about it: 

I skimmed through the other Ketubahs on the site and all I can say is that I want to hang out with the couple who uses that Dr. Seuss themed ketubah. 

I'm going to add this Ketubah outfit to my list of best of: 

Best Wedding DJ? 

Adam Oded 

Best Wedding Photographer? 

Melanie Einzig 


How to Chop Walnuts

Haroset? Charoset? Charoses? Haroses? Whatever you call it, I love it so much that I wrote a song about it. Anyways, enough blogging, click play and enjoy "Chopped Up Walnuts"


Did God Kill Egyptians?

My latest piece about the Passover story is up on the Huffington Post (click here to check it out!) and it is yet another example of how many people read that site. 106 comments within the first 24 hours...and I imagine that there are more to come. I love reading the comments for both the crazies and for my own learning. Anyways - enjoy!


I penned this piece ten years ago, back when I was on the faculty of CLAL. Reading it again, I am struck by the line: 

"We are living in a time of war, shifting alliances, new dangers, increasing uncertainty and growing poverty." 

Even more true today than a decade ago, methinks. Anyways - Andre Neher's words are still a powerful call: 

Passover - The Unfinished Manuscript 

By Daniel S. Brenner

In the last sixty years, the words of the Passover Haggadah have marked the flow of history.  At a makeshift seder in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1944 the leader recited, "This is the bread of our affliction!"  At a seder on the beaches of Tel Aviv in 1948, new immigrants sang, "Blessed be the Guardian who kept his promise to Israel!"  At a seder in a Black church in Washington, D.C. in 1969, young civil rights activists called out, "In every generation, every Jew must regard himself as though he, personally, had been brought out of Egypt." At the seder of Ethiopian Jews in a resettlement camp in 1992 families recited, "God brought us out from there, so that we are led to the land promised our ancestors!" And at seders last year, in the hours after the suicide bomber struck down 29 in Netanya, we said,  "In every generation they have stood against us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be, has delivered us from their hand."  
Each year brings a new context to the seder, and the events on the front pages and on the front-lines cause ancient words to find new meanings. Yet the overall story does not change. No turn of events causes us to waver from our ultimate dream -- that all who are oppressed know freedom, that all who serve under Pharaohs know true justice, and that all who are exiled or abandoned can find a place to call home.
Andre Neher, the prolific Jewish scholar who was born in Alsace at the beginning of World War I, lived through cataclysmic changes. After surviving the destruction of much of European Jewry and then helping to rebuild it, he wrote the following words on the experience of Passover:  
No Jew can pass the Haggadah untouched, for its style is not narrative, but interrogative.      Its story is not told like a legend, but like a problem. One initial question is asked, and all the others follow from it: "What is the difference between this night and all other nights?" It is for the Jew to answer if he can, and if cannot, to feel that the question contains a challenge. Like an unfinished play, the night of the Exodus continues through the centuries, seeking actors to relive it perpetually, and to grasp its essential meaning.
(Moses and the Vocation of The Jewish People, 1959)

To take Neher's insight further, the Haggadah not only acts as a partially written script, but as a script whose lines take on new meaning every year. In that light, each year we must ask: What words will ring true this Passover?  What new connections will resonate? 
This year, it is uncertain what line will leap from the text of the Haggadah and grasp our attention. We are living in a time of war, shifting alliances, new dangers, increasing uncertainty and growing poverty. But we retain the hope that we will one day be able to truly say:  Let all who are hungry come and eat; let all who are in need celebrate Passover with us. 
On this night of questions, as you join your friends or family around the seder table, you might begin by asking each person to recall one news event from the past few months. As a group, pick one of these events and ask: How is the Exodus story being played out in the headlines?  How can telling the story of the Exodus deepen our understanding of these events? How are we reminded that we "were once strangers in a strange land?” 
As you read through the Haggadah, keep in mind Andre Neher's teaching that "the Exodus continues through the centuries, seeking actors to relive it perpetually, and to grasp its essential meaning." The more connections we draw, the closer we get to the essential meaning of Passover. May you be blessed with a festival of hope. 


Free Passover Play

If you're looking for an easy way to add some good drama to your Passover Seder, then you are in the right place. I've got twenty people coming to the first seder and probably as many to the second. Rather than read through the Haggadah's maggid section, we'll have fun with this short skit that tells the story. I offer it free to all those who would like to spice up their seders. Enjoy - and Zissen Pesach!


Free Passover Play 

What are rabbis for?

Here is an excerpt from a recent speech that I gave "installing" a rabbi: 

When I was young, my favorite book that my parents read to me was Leo Leonni’s Frederick.

Lionni was born in Amsterdam, the son of an Italian Jew, and he came to Philadelphia in 1939. He wrote Frederick in 1967. Here is the story: there is a group of field mice and they are all gathering grains and other foodstuffs for the coming winter months. All except for one – Frederick. What is Frederick doing? He is sitting watching the sunset, he is chasing butterflies, he’s watching the wheat blow in the wind. What are you doing? The other field mice say. “I am gathering colors” he says. Some of the mice mock him. But then, as they huddle together in darkness, for months on end, the field mice get depressed. Frederick begins to tell stories of the colors. He paints a picture for them in such a way that their winter depression is lifted and they all come to see the importance of his sacred task.

What, as we enter 2013, is the role of a communal spiritual leader? What is a rabbi for?

I want to suggest that there are two forces that are shaping our world as we enter into 2013.

The first is what I’ll call the global digital revolution. Future generations will look back on Steve Jobs as we look back on Thomas Edison, and Galielo Galeli. The instant interconnection of the globe through shared information is, indeed, a monumental shift in human culture. Within seconds, we can see what is going on all over the globe. A few weeks ago, I simultaneously watched a live feed from Gaza City and from Sderot from the comfort of my home in Montclair. At the same time, I was Gchatting with my Israeli cousins, reading Facebook rants from my friends on the left and the right, and shopping for Hannukah gifts.   

In some ways, the inter-connectivity is amazing. We can now access libraries and news and order flaxseed, shoe polish, hair gel, and garden gnomes.

But the inter-connectivity also has a downside, evidenced in the network of thieves, human traffickers, and nefarious predators who are harnessing the digital world for destructive purposes. The world has become a more dangerous place.

But what I want to focus attention not on the benefits or drawbacks of the digital era, but the way in which the digital era has produced a spiritual crisis. In our day, we want everything immediately, we can’t focus on one task, we are frustrated by anything that is not lightning fast, and we have an information overload.

Many students in our schools have little idea where to begin in navigating a flood of information and in dealing with the peer pressure that exists in digital environments. Thinking critically is not valued in our educational testing system and our children need strong mentors and teachers and parents who can help them to be discerning.  

We know more than we have ever known about the human body, about the bio-chemical make-up of our brains, about our digestive system, respiratory system, and immune system. And yet, when we or someone we love is faced with illness, we are lost in a sea of information. A flood of possibilities surround us and information contradicts other information and there are no simple answers to the ongoing mysteries of the human body.

The spiritual crisis of the digital era leads us to want fast answers to questions that may not be answerable.

The second force that is surging today is also global. It is a global resurgence of religious tribalism – a worldview that offers fast answers.  Religious leaders, who often use the tools of the digital era, paint modernity and science as a weapon of the good. They call for a return to patriarchy and an end to all judicial systems that exist outside of the religious authorities. We see this resurgence particularly in nations whose people have seen years of government corruption and have lose their faith in pluralist, secular systems of governance.

This rise in religious extremism presents a spiritual crisis for us as well. All those who do not pledge allegiance to the leaders of these sects are labeled as illegitimate. In Muslim, Chrisitan, and Jewish circles the level of hatred between these resurgent traditionalists and all other adherents has grown. Many young Jewish people grow up today thinking that unless you are in the most anti-modern yeshivah, then you are not really practicing Judaism.

These two forces are very real and our world needs leaders who can help us to navigate them.

What is needed to navigate a global digital world?

A rabbi who understand how the digital revolution is changing the way that people are learning and socializing, but who champions the wisdom of our ancient technologies – reading, conversation, ritual, poetry and silence. 

What is needed in a world of narrow religious tribalism?

A rabbi who has great love and respect for tradition, but who is willing to balance that respect with a respect for modernity and the new ways in which we are coming to understand what it means to be human and to be in community. A rabbi who is not afraid to think critically about tradition and not afraid to be a public spokesperson who defends the Jewish people.  


Free Purim Shpiel Script

Every once and a while people contact me to get a copy of the all ages purim shpiels I've written. These have been produced in a number of congregations in New York, New Jersey, and Vermont....and can be done with a small cast. (Five will do the trick.)  This year, I started a blog 


which contains a free Purim Shpiel script based on the story of the Book of Esther. It is titled The Whole Megillah. Feel free to cut and paste from it as you like! 


Kadosh Baruch Hu

Rabbi Kerry Olitzky was kind enough to ask me to contribute a poem to his new collection titled "Jewish Men Pray." The catch was that I had to direct my poem to the Holy One - or as we say in Hebrew "kadosh baruch hu."

For the interwebs I decided to go with a spoken word/image montage. I hope that you enjoy my attempt and will consider the book for your collection.