Soul Strong

Temple Beth El Healing Service, Yom Kippur 5784/2023

Thank you Rabbi Knight, Rabbi Erdheim, Rabbi Nichols, Cantor Roskin, and Cantor Thomas for these beautiful services.  Thank you for your stellar leadership and thank you for making me feel at home here. I love this place.

I have stood on this bima in joy and I have stood on this bima in pain – physical pain and emotional pain facing the ark for the aveinu malkeinu with tears of grief in my eyes. So many of us have sat in these pews in pain. We all have scars.

Today I ask you to take a moment to think about your scars – how you got them… the long journey to healing you took… and the lessons you learned from them.

At your break fast or in the days ahead, I encourage you to share with someone you value the stories behind your scars and how they are healing or have healed.

For some of you the wounds are still raw, the pain is severe, the path to healing seems unclear, and the lessons learned are not yet evident.

Here’s the harsh reality. None of us will pass through life without scars. The longer we live, the more scars we get.

I have six major physical scars.

My first two scars are from c-sections that render me unable to wear a bikini (not that I ever would). The pain was intense. The rashes I got due to my latex allergy that was misdiagnosed the first time around, added to my discomfort, but the reward of Max and Alec overshadowed it all. To be honest, I don’t like to look at those scars in the mirror. And the lessons I learned… is that birth comes with pain – physical birth and the birth of new paths and new roles our lives will take.

My next two scars are from bunion surgeries – to remove the painful and unattractive bumps at the base of my big toes.  I like to say they were a good investment in growing old. My feet look fabulous.  But as the healing from the second surgery lasted far longer than I expected, I thought I’d made a huge mistake. My bunion surgeries slowed me down. I had to think about every step I took. They taught me patience in the healing process. It would take almost a year for the pain to fully pass.

The final scars (for now) are from my cancer surgery – “my small encounter with breast cancer,” I like to say.  These two cuts added to my physical imperfections.  Those first weeks were overwhelmingly fearful and the later months were uncomfortable. I learned that I can make that journey from sleepless fear to grounded faith. I learned that I indeed have an internal strength that I never knew was there. I completed treatments right before Kol Nidre 2020 so today celebrates my three years of cancer survival. I just learned that some call it a Cancerversary.

Having scars means we survived.

And then there are the scars that we caused to others.

I remember taking Alec to the Jewish Community Center when he was about three years old and putting him up on the counter while I registered for a class. He wiggled off and hit the back of his head and off we went to the emergency room for stitches.

As I was writing this healing drash, I called him to ask about his stitches and he said it was his fault he wiggled off the counter and I explained that no it was my fault for putting him up there in the first place. We agreed. I apologized. He forgave me and hopefully in the process forgave himself.

Having scars means that we survived through and beyond our wounds.

And then there are the emotional scars and the psychological scars. The deaths that leave an excruciating void in our lives. The divorces that leave one’s hopes and dreams shattered. The mental health crises that unhinge us. The broken relationships that hurt us. The professional setbacks that devastate us.

Outsiders can’t see our emotional scars but they are there. When it comes to both physical and emotional wounds, most heal and we are stronger. Others permanently alter the direction of our lives. They drastically change everything – but still, we can find a new path that has beauty and joy – even if the loss is pervasively  felt.

There are the collective scars… the tragedies that touch us all. And there are historic scars… the tragedies that have confronted the Jewish people. The Holocaust first and foremost.

We can learn about healing from others.

Case 1 – Boston Strong

It was the April 2013 Boston Marathon when at the end of that 26.2 mile run, two domestic terrorists detonated homemade bombs near the finish line that took five lives and injured some 300 more.

This past April was the tenth anniversary.  One mother, Tracey Palmer, reflected. She was with their two young daughters at the finish line to watch their father complete the run for his 19th time. For months and years afterwards the girls were traumatized with fears of crowds, with intense responses to loud noises, with PTSD, and anxiety. Palmer wrote, “The real legacy of that day for me is the vow I made to myself that night after the bombing, the first night the girls slept between us. I promised myself I would be more grateful for them, for all three of them. I wouldn’t get angry over stupid things. I would forgive more easily. I would let go of the little things. I would love them harder, and let them know more often how much they meant to me. Nothing is guaranteed in life.”

In spite of their trauma, the girls returned to the marathon sidelines the year following the bombing to cheer for their father as he completed the Boston race for one last time. He viewed that run as an act of pride and of defiance.

Boston strong means returning to run or to watch the marathon as an act of strength and resilience.

Case 2 – Pittsburgh Strong

In 2018, 13 worshippers began their Shabbat service when a shooter stole 7 of their lives and the lives of four others in the building – making it the deadliest antisemitic act on American soil in history.

The shooter pointed his gun at one worshiper, Joe Charny, age 93, but then turned and chose to shoot others at the back of the sanctuary. Charny saw his friends murdered.

Every weekday for the year following, Charny would go to different Pittsburgh synagogues, “and sit in the same place as he did at the Tree of Life on the day of the massacre and for decades before.”’ to stand with a minyan and to remember those who have died. 

Pittsburgh strong means returning to Jewish public prayer in a minyan, in memory, in protest and in pride.

Case 3 – 9/11 strong

343 firefighters died saving lives on 9/11. Imagine how devastated each family was. But today, the Fire Department of New York, currently has 65 “legacy” employees – the sons and daughters of those first responders killed in terror attacks.

9/11 strong means following in the footsteps of our parents, even when their paths required unfathomable sacrifice.

Case 4 – Soul Strong

Each one of us.  

The years have wounded us, life has scarred us, we have endured struggles and losses and pain. It physically hurts to think about them now.  But here we are – with ancient prayers on our lips together with Jewish community – as Jews have done for thousands of years. With pride and defiance, with strength and resilience, in protest and in pride, with perseverance.

To be a Jew means to be soul strong – even if we are not religiously observant. To sing the songs of our people. To mark the holy time of our people each in our own unique way. To labor to heal the world even when all odds seem against us. And to commit to healing ourselves and healing our people – to living with hope and sharing light, even in the face of despair.

We each have endured scars. We each have caused scars. May we ask for forgiveness and forgive. May we persevere so that our souls can continue to shine brightly and bring light to our world. For we are part of an ancient and enduring chain of healing, inspired by those who made the journey before us and inspiring those who will follow.

To be a Jew means to be soul strong – even if we are not religiously observant.

To sing the songs of our people.

To mark the holy time of our people each in our own unique way.

To labor to heal the world even when all odds seem against us.

And to commit to healing ourselves and healing our people –

To living with hope and sharing light, even in the face of despair.

8 Comments Write a comment


  • Steve Shoemaker September 26, 2023

    Beautiful and healing words !

    • Rabbi Judith Schindler September 28, 2023


      • Laura&Fred Hirsch October 1, 2023

        Beautifully written and explained in very understandable language! It makes me proud and strong to be a Jew. My scars remind me I’m a survivor

        • Rabbi Judith Schindler October 8, 2023

          Thanks for your kind words.

  • Rahlene Linder September 28, 2023

    WOW this was the best . I have goose bumps. Thank you for the opportunity to think about the way we can change our life and those around let unimportant things not bother us . Your sermon meat a lot to me. I appreciate you for the courage and hope you have.
    With love and respect .

    • Rabbi Judith Schindler September 28, 2023

      Thanks for your kind words.

  • Ernest “Duck” Spence September 29, 2023

    Rabbi Judy, I am not a Jew, but two of my best friends are: Stanley Greenspon, and Jesus.
    Thank you so much for your comments on scars.
    They are inspiring. Always, “Duck” Spence

    • Rabbi Judith Schindler October 8, 2023

      Your choose your friends well!

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