Pause for Parsley: A reflection for your Seder


Of the many Passover rituals, there is one that strikes me as particularly strange - the dipping of parsley in salt water. Many Haggadahs give the midrash that parsley signifies Spring and rebirth, while salt water symbolizes our tears in Egypt. Other Haggadahs give no explanation of the karpas ritual at all.

Motivated to keep the seder on a timeline, many of us eat the parsley and move forward, hoping that the meal will come soon.

This year, though, I’d like to encourage you to pause for parsley, and consider the follow alternative explanation offered by Rashi:

  • Parsley signifies fine wool or linen, specifically Joseph’s coat of many colors. (Rashi, Genesis 37:3)
  • Dipping in salt water reminds us that Joseph’s brothers dipped his coat in blood to convince their father, Jacob, that Joseph had been killed.

If this commentary illuminates the true meaning of the karpas ritual, isn’t this a peculiar start to the seder? On one hand we are prepared to celebrate freedom while on the other hand we symbolically drag out the family’s dirty laundry: the horrific episode wherein our ancestors got jealous, sought to kill their brother, and then sold him into slavery.

On Passover, the questions are always better than the answers.

This year, I offer you this question to consider: What do we gain by recalling the misdeeds done unto Joseph?

Conversational prompts:

  1. Explore our ancestors’ culpability in events which led to our slavery in Egypt? As the Talmud states: “[Joseph’s] brothers became jealous of him, and the matter unfolded, and [as a result] our forefathers descended to Egypt.”?
  2. Provide a moment for introspection about favoritism with our children? Could this be a counterbalance to the four sons found later in the Haggadah, some of whom may be viewed more favorably than others?
  3. Focus our attention towards the perennial problem of the Jewish people – sinat chinam, hatred for our own brethren, and the ways in which that leads to our downfall?
  4. Explore the idea that “pride comes before a fall?” After all, Joseph’s pride in his appearance and insistence on relating his dreams contributed to the hatred his brothers felt for him.
  5. Recognize the cost of a continued cover-up? Had the brothers not deceived their father, perhaps the family would have sent a search party for Joseph, redeeming him before he met Pharaoh, and averting Egyptian exile?
  6. Would our kids ask us different questions if the Haggadah more explicitly told the story of Joseph’s abuse by his brethren?
  7. Should we all adopt the Persian custom of using red wine vinegar instead of salt water at this point in the seder?

This year, if you decide to pause for parsley, consider serving a vegetable course at this point in the seder! The full meal (Shulchan Orech) doesn’t occur for several more sections of the seder, but many families choose to serve crudités with dips or other vegetables as part of karpas. Not only will this encourage you and your guests to dig deeper into the questions above, it may inspire more discussion time during the Maggid section, which is also often rushed for the sake of reaching the meal.

May you have a happy, healthy, and enlightening Passover full of more questions than answers!

Rabbi Aaron
Hillel at UCLA Executive Director

P.S. If you’re interested in a deeper exploration of Joseph, save the date for our 2017 lecture by renowned Torah scholar, Dr. Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg: May 10, 2017 at Hillel. Her lecture, “What if Joseph Hates Us” is sure to spark continued conversation and questions! For more information or to RSVP, please CLICK HERE

We invite you to join Hillel at UCLA for Passover Seders and Meals. For more information or to RSVP, please CLICK HERE.

Israel Update

As you may have heard, it’s Palestine Awareness Week on-campus at UCLA. Though this event happens every year, UCLA experienced national attention on Monday when the campus newspaper, the Daily Bruin, printed an op-ed cartoon featuring Benjamin Netanyahu violating the Ten Commandments.

Right away a coalition of Jewish and pro-Israel students worked with Hillel at UCLA and the Anti-Defamation League to protest the cartoon. Based on our actions, UCLA administrators released a timely response, and the Daily Bruin issued an apology, retracted the cartoon from its website, and requested time to convene with Hillel leadership.

The cartoon prompted Hillel to release a petition suggesting practical steps to improve Campus Climate at UCLA, which you can sign by clicking here.

This week Hillel at UCLA helped mobilize a coalition of Israel-related and Jewish organizations to educate the campus community on Israel. Jewish and non-Jewish students have been counter demonstrating by flyer-ing all week on Bruin Walk with great success. On Wednesday, hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish students made pro-Israel shirts in the center of campus. And on Thursday, hundreds more will come together for a pro-Israel BBQ.

Next week, nearly 200 student leaders will come together to celebrate the importance of Israel to the United States and to advocate for a strong US-Israel relationship. Keynote remarks made by local elected officials will punctuate this impressive event which attracts campus influentials from every corner of UCLA.

Hillel at UCLA continues to be the backbone of UCLA’s vibrant Jewish life and strong Israel advocacy. We are grateful for your support which allows us to do this vital work.

Rabbi Aaron Lerner
Executive Director, Hillel at UCLA


Arielle Mokhtarzadeh, President of Bruins for Israel on campus this week.
Bruins for Israel is currently fundraising for their cause via their
On One Foot Campaign.


Please Join Us For These Exciting Events

These events are free and open to the public. RSVP information and event details below.
Saul Friedlander, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and professor emeritus of history at UCLA In Conversation with David Myers, Sadie and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA
WHEN: Thusday, January 12, 2017 - 7-9pm
WHERE: Hillel at UCLA

Triple Art Opening - Winter Quarter 2017
WHEN: Opens Thursday, January 26, 2017 - Opening Reception 7-9PM

WHERE: Hillel at UCLA

Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture with Bret Stephens, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist
WHEN: Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 5:30PM

WHERE: Korn Convocation Hall, UCLA Anderson School of Management



In Conversation with Saul Friedlander, a Pulitzer Prize winning historian and professor emeritus of history at UCLA
WHEN: Thursday, January 12th, 7pm
WHERE: Hillel at UCLA

Triple Art Opening - Winter Quarter 2017
WHEN: Opens Thursday, January 26, 2017 - Opening Reception 7-9PM

WHERE: Hillel at UCLA

Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture with Bret Stephens, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign-affairs columnist

WHEN: Thursday, February 16, 2017 - 5:30PM
WHERE: Korn Convocation Hall, UCLA Anderson School of Management




BRET STEPHENS is the foreign-affairs columnist and deputy editorial page editor of the Wall Street Journal. Previously he was editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post. He grew up in Mexico city and has reported stories from around the world. He won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 2013. 

The Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture is sponsored by
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Week 7: The Power Of Habit

We have arrived at Week Seven of our seven-week countdown to the New Year 5777! If you would like to catch up with the previous teachings scroll through our BLOG!

This Sunday, Rosh Hashanah arrives with sweet honey with apples! Many of us are deceived by the lure of the sweet foods associated with the holiday. We think that Rosh Hashanah is the most joyous of the Holy Days. However, according to tradition, Rosh Hashanah is Yom Din: the ominous Day of Judgement. As it turns out, Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement, where we are forgiven) is, of the two major holidays, the more festive time.


Framing Rosh Hashanah as the Day of Judgement, how we do prepare? Last week, we explored the impact of a regular spiritual practice. On the inverse, the habit of sinning, or missing the mark, also has a serious effect.

Maimonides makes a confounding statement about Divine judgement of sin, stating:

"When a person's sins are being weighed against his merits, [God] does not count a sin that was committed only once or twice. [A sin] is only [counted] if it was committed three times or more."

In this interpretation, we are basically given two slips before we’re held accountable. There are certainly texts which undermine this concept, however it offers wisdom, especially when considered with Charles Duhigg's The Power of Habit, who explains:

“This [behavioral] process within our brains is a three-step loop. First, there is a cue, a trigger that tells your brain to go into automatic mode and which habit to use. Then there is the routine, which can be physical or mental or emotional. Finally, there is a reward, which helps your brain figure out if this particular loop is worth remembering for the future: THE HABIT LOOP”

Essentially our habits—how we interact with our loved ones, perform at work, engage in healthy behaviors, and the like—lead to significant life outcomes.

These two concepts interact to assert a poignant observation: God can forgive a single negative occurrence. When actions become habit, they take root in a deeper way. The long-term implications of habit most often outweigh the single occurrence events in life, whether good or bad.

So as we approach Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgement, we leave you with a simple question: What is one habit that you must change this year?

If you've tried and failed to change that habit in the past, try following Duhigg's book to seek change more intentionally this year.

Shana Tovah!

Week 6: It Takes Practice

We have arrived at Week Six of our seven-week countdown to the New Year 5777! It's almost Rosh Hashanah! If you would like to catch up with the previous teachings scroll down.

Thus far, we have focused primarily on the first theme of the season, teshuvah - repentance / return / restoration. This week, we move onto the second theme, tefillah – prayer.

Orienting ourselves to the fundamental purpose of praying allows for our prayers to take on greater meaning. Consider the following three possible purposes in prayer:

1. Rav Hirsch bridges introspection and prayer, claiming that they are essentially one in the same:

“[The Hebrew word for prayer] was originally meant to deliver an opinion about oneself, to judge oneself… to step out of active life in order to attempt to gain a true judgement about oneself, that is, about one’s ego, about one’s relationship to God and the world.”

In other words, prayer provides us with a meditative time and space wherein our truer selves and our place in the world becomes revealed to us. Perhaps this was the purpose of the meditation ritual mentioned in the Talmud which suggests that we take time before prayer to intentionally prepare and take time after to transition back to regular activities.

2. Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits offers a complementary perspective:

“In its original form, prayer is not asking God for anything; it is not a request. It is a cry; an elementary outburst of woe, a spontaneous call in need; a hurt, a sorrow, given voice. It is the call of human helplessness directed to God.”

According to these first two perspectives, prayer / meditation offer human beings connection to the Divine. For Hirsch, it’s about connecting to the internal Divine spark and understanding our truest selves. For Berkovits, it’s more externally focused, offering us the comfort that comes through surrender, an acknowledgement of human helplessness amidst a huge and chaotic universe.

3. One final perspective on prayer which resonates with many Jews, especially those who are more agnostic, is the belief that Jewish prayer is actually about instilling human responsibility. Our texts teach imitatio dei – that we are to imitate God. Just as God clothed the naked, healed the sick, fed the hungry – so also must we clothe, heal, and feed.

This third perspective allows for a more detached relationship with prayer. Instead of focusing on connecting with the Divine, one might be able to scan the liturgy to understand how to be most fully human. For instance:

a. If our daily prayers praise God for protecting foreigners, widows and orphans, perhaps that can help us prioritize the social justice causes in which we choose to engage.

b. If God is called a healer or provider of peace, insight, prosperity, justice and much more during the 3x daily Amidah prayer, perhaps that can inform our daily activities as well.

Spiritual practice is literally something we must practice.
Meditation takes its fullest effect after several weeks of sustained practice. Committing to a more contrite prayer ritual builds humility only if it’s practiced over time. And seeking to understand Jewish priorities by examining the Amidah will yield additional benefits only with repetition.

This week, we challenge you to ‘try on’ one of these prayer orientations from now until Rosh Hashanah (which is the evening of Oct 2). Get into the practice. And as you’re feeling the effects of the routine, drop us a line and share what you’re learning!

**This week’s lessons in our Prep Course was inspired by Rabbi Aaron’s recent conversation with his Rebbe and thought partner, Rabbi Avi Weiss, who took the time last week to share his thoughts on the purpose of prayer. Several passages quoted above can be found in his insightful book, Holistic Prayer.

We at Hillel at UCLA would love for you to participate in prayer with us, if you are interested in performing an honor during one of our High Holy Day services please email Rachael Petru,!

Week 5: Reframe the Blame

Welcome back to your High Holy Days Prep Course! We have arrived at Week Five of our seven-week countdown to the New Year 5777! If you would like to catch up with the previous teachings and learn what this prep course is all about, you can find all the previous teachings on the mainpage of this BLOG.

“To err is human; to forgive divine.” - Alexander Pope

Let's start this week on a positive note, with a music video from the Maccabeats in anticipation of Rosh Hashanah! It sums up our work for the High Holy Day season: “to go from where we are, to where we want to be.”

Now let’s embark on a writing exercise. Take out a piece of paper and make a list: who are three people you blame or resent for something negative in your life. Just write their name and a few words about what they did that hurt you.

Next, find the Tony Robbins documentary on Netflix: I’m Not Your Guru. Scroll to 17 minutes and witness his conversation with Sienna, a 19-year old from Newport Beach who struggles with food and her relationship with her father. You can also view it in low-quality here on YouTube. Bear in mind, this video uses strong language.

Is there one person on your list that you’d be willing blame at the “level of your soul?” How would that transform your relationship and free you from the pain you harbor?

If you’re willing, pick up the phone and call that person. Reframe the Blame. Forgiveness is healing: it lightens our load, increases our happiness, and decreases the harm done to others.

Maimonides even claims that we are commanded to forgive, saying:

“It is forbidden for a person to be cruel and refuse to be appeased. Rather, one should be easily pacified, but hard to anger, [forgiving]... with a complete heart and a willing spirit.”


And don’t forget that Hillel is here as your home (or home to anyone seeking a warm and inviting community) for the High Holy Days.  CLICK HERE for more information.

Week 4: The Question On Our Minds

By now you may have heard about Elul - the Hebrew month of introspection preceding Rosh Hashanah. If you’re following and participating in our Prep Course, you already have a head start on the work that many Jews do during Elul. In the previous weeks we provided several resources, all listed below, to assist you with your deep dive into soul-searching and the pursuit of self-reflection. If you haven’t already committed to the practice, it isn’t too late to get started.


Ask yourself this: how do we create meaningful change in the world? Perhaps we start by creating meaningful change within ourselves. Consider: what is the lense through which we look when we see the world? Are we drawn to notice massive structural and societal injustices? Are we in the practice of seeing our blessings and articulating our gratitude? How does our point of view inform the flavor of our relationships, the quality of our joy, the way we spend our time, the approach we take in challenging times?

On a week like the one we just had (which was fraught with painful headlines questioning whether UCLA is a safe place for Jewish and pro-Israel students) Hillel’s staff and students are called to seriously consider what path we want to take in order to create meaningful change on our campus. What do we do when confronted with serious and complex problems? Do we jump up and down with anger and yell from the rooftops? Do we work internally to leverage influence and collaborate?

How about some of both? To learn more about Rabbi Aaron Lerner our Executive Director's approach, read his OpEd in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal.

What’s actually within our control? “Proactive people focus their efforts on their Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about… Reactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Concern--things over which they have little or no control.” - Steven Covey

As we enter Shabbat we leave you with a passage from Everyday Holiness which touches on the very essence of the questions above:
“When asked how he had made such an impact as a great sage and leader in the 20th century Jewish world, the Chofetz Chaim answered, ‘I set out to try to change the world, but I failed. So I decided to scale back my efforts and only try to influence the Jewish community of Poland, but I failed there to. So I targeted the community in my hometown, but achieved no greater success. Then I gave all my effort to changing my own family, and failed with that as well. Finally, I decided to change myself, and that’s how I had such an impact on the Jewish world.’”

Hillel values shared learning - as you begin to uncover deeper realizations through your participation in our High Holy Days Prep Course, share your thoughts with us by email and on our Facebook page!

Discovering Your Soul Signature: Week 3 of our High Holy Day Prep Course

Welcome back to your High Holy Days Prep Course! We have arrived at Week Three of our seven-week countdown to the New Year 5777!


As we approach the start of the Hebrew month of Elul, we officially begin preparing our souls for the High Holy Days. To aid in this preparation, this week we are pointing you toward a daily exercise outlined by a wonderful, non-Jewish author named Panache Desai. In his book, Discovering Your Soul Signature, Desai guides readers through a process designed to help us discover and return to our most essential and authentic selves.

While he writes from an ecumenical perspective, the idea is very Jewish: at our core, we have a divine soul or spark which animates our existence. As we go through life, the light within us sometimes becomes harder to access. It is dimmed - blocked off by emotional baggage or obscured by ego. Engaging in Desai’s 33-day spiritual excavation enables you to shed the anger, fear, guilt, shame, sadness, and despair which diminishes our access to our deepest, most complete selves.

Of course, if you’re looking for an explicitly Jewish manual to doing this work, that also exists, try Aryeh Kaplan’s book, Jewish Meditation. This step-by-step introduction to meditation and the Jewish practice of meditation is a practical guide which covers such topics as mantra meditation, contemplation, and visualization within a Jewish context.

What have you done lately to prepare for the Holy Days? What have you gained, thus far, from the recommendations we’re making in this Prep Course? We’d love to hear your feedback and learn from your experiences. Be sure to visit our Facebook page or even reply to this message to share your insights, challenges and victories!

And don’t forget that Hillel is here as your home (or home to anyone seeking a warm and inviting community) for the High Holy Days. CLICK HERE for more information.

The Personality Myth: Week 2 of High Holy Day Prep Course


Welcome to your High Holy Days Prep Course! We have arrived at Week Two of our seven-week countdown to the New Year 5777!

What is this prep course?
In the spirit of focusing our intentions leading into the High Holy Days, Hillel will be sending you weekly messages until Rosh Hashanah to aid in your process and preparedness.

On Week One, Rabbi Aaron Lerner, our Executive Director, recommended reading Chapter 2 of the Laws of Repentance. Written nearly 1,000 years ago by the Rambam, the principles guide us toward several options for repentance and personal change.

When teaching students this text, it is always exciting to bear witness to the ‘aha’ moments when students realize that human behavior hasn’t changed so significantly over the millennia. Technology, medicine, science and culture have advanced exponentially, but the basic emotions and desires driving us are nearly identical to our ancestors’. Thus making 3,000 years of recorded Jewish wisdom every bit as relevant in the 21st Century as it is historically.

Speaking to the subject of fundamentals in human behavior, we suggest you listen to a podcast from Invisibilia called The Personality Myth in Week Two of the High Holy Days Prep Course. You can download it here.

As you listen, consider two guiding questions:

  1. Which aspects of the Rambam’s teachings can you identify in the poignant stories of personal change shared in the podcast?
  2. What inspiration can you personally take from the Jewish and secular claim that we are all capable of change?

If you’re joining us for the High Holy Days at Hillel, you can anticipate a sermon by Rabbi Aaron on this topic during the First Day of Rosh Hashanah.

Hillel values shared learning - as you begin to uncover deeper realizations through your participation in our High Holy Days Prep Course, share your thoughts with us by email and on our Facebook group!

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Yom Ha'atzmaut at UCLA


Monday was an early celebration for Yom Ha'atzmaut at the UCLA campus! The place was alive with energy of so many students filled with the desire to celebrate Israel and to remember those who have found safety in the state and to remember those who have fallen fighting to keep Israel.

Rabbi Aaron Lerner gave a speech to the passionate crowd, we are grateful to the student who filmed so we might all enjoy. Watch video of his speech below!


"We are brought together today to celebrate our return to the Jewish homeland. It started with Abraham in the Bible, struggling to make a new life where he can worship in freedom. Then famine, slavery and push us out of Israel over the millennia.

And yet, time and again, whether from Egypt, Babylon, North Africa, Iran or Poland or Greece – we return to our roots. In spite of knowing the perils, the long journeys, the loss of our possessions – our DNA compels us to return. For only in Eretz Israel are we fully able to express our Jewish existence. Only in Eretz Israel can we ensure our own protection. Only in Eretz Israel can we realize our true potential.

With modern Zionism, we have found liberation once more. An oppressed and marginalized people, we reclaimed our identity from the ashes of the Holocaust. We revived our ancient language.  We joined the small communities of Jews who had maintained a continuous presence in the cities of Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias and Hebron, and created an autonomous nation.

We found our land decimated by years of war, taxation and neglect. But we revived it. And we thrived. We elected a female Prime Minister in 1969, nearly 48 years before the United States of America even had a potential female nominee for President. We embraced immigrants with different languages, cultures, education, and skin colors. And we never questioned whether gays belong in the military.

Is Israel perfect? No. It never has been and it never will be. Jews are human. Modern Israel has made, and will continue to make, many mistakes. But we can proud of what we’ve accomplished. In less than 100 years, we built an incredible nation on a piece of land smaller than El Salvador or New Jersey. That’s incredible!

Instead of being maligned, Israel should offer hope to other aspiring indigenous peoples. The key to our success was optimism (probably mixed with a few thousand years of desperation for motivation). Optimism allowed Abraham to leave everything. Optimism allowed us to focus on building, never sure if our creation would be stuck by a bomb or taken from us. Optimism compelled teaching our kids to read. And it gave us the courage to stop internal terrorists instead of promoting them.

We invested in hope. We invested in technology. We invested in bettering society. And we thrived.

Israel is not just celebration for Jews. Israel is a celebration for humanity. If Jews can create an optimistic, democratic nation-state which respects and honors the rights of minorities and contributes to the progress of humanity, I know that others can as well.

And so I end with a universal prayer: Dear God – help all nations of this world to live in peace. May those who suffer from today’s dictators and oppressive societies find hope and redemption. As Jews, we take our responsibility to create a more just world seriously. Aid us, as a free people living in the United States and Israel, to offer assistance to the downtrodden and the vulnerable. May we use the power you have granted us responsibility and with humility. In your name, Amen."  - Transcript of Aaron Lerner's speech


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