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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Israel on our minds

Fact_Finders_Israel_Photo.jpgIt is Week One of the Spring Quarter and we’re already awash with optimism:

22 participants in our Fact-Finding Journey to Israel and the Palestinian Authority have returned to campus. These highly influential, non-Jewish student leaders spent nine days over spring break interfacing with the full spectrum of identities and perspectives in the region. They cried, they laughed, and most importantly, they learned. As they join us for Shabbat dinner tonight, they bring to campus on-the-ground experience of one of the most complex conflicts today. They also bring home hope and nuance, and serve as an inspiration to us all.

At the same time, we congratulate the UC Regents for passing a strong statement of principles defending Jewish students and correctly linking anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.

We welcome back the largest delegation from any school to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington DC.

And nearly 250 undergraduate and graduate students will be joining us for a camp-themed Shabbat tonight.

It’s a great start to our final quarter.

I have two requests:

1) Get the word out that UCLA is a great place for Jewish students! If  you know seniors who have been admitted to UCLA, please tell them about our incredible Jewish community. There is a lot of misinformation out there. The simple fact is that we have the strongest Jewish community anywhere west of the Mississippi, replete with a daily minyan and kosher food in the dorms. UCLA students proudly wear their kippot, Jewish star necklaces and Hillel-branded shirts. 

2) Ensure our ability to continue this essential work! Our student life, our trips, our advocacy - are only made possible through charitable donations from people like you. We receive no funding from UCLA. Private foundations and the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles combine to constitute less than 15% of our budget. For the remaining 85%, we are completely reliant on you. Please take this opportunity to celebrate with us by donating here.

Thank you!  Please reach out to continue the conversation!

Rabbi Aaron Lerner
Executive Director, Hillel at UCLA

A Day of Learning / A Night for Chaim Wrap Up

What an experience! A Day of Learning / A Night for Chaim was a day like no other! 

These two events were created in honor of Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller on the occasion of his retirement after 40 years as Executive Director of Hillel at UCLA. 


The symposium during the day, held at our building on Hilgard, featured noted speakers including:

    • Professor David N. Myers
    • Rabbi Elliot Dorff
    • Rabbi Art Green
    • Vice Chancellor Carole Goldberg
    • Professor Moshe Halbertal
    • Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller
    • Rabbi Aaron Lerner
    • Professor Todd Presner
    • Rabbi Laura Geller
    • Professor Suzanne Last Stone
    • Rabbi Asher Lopatin
    • As well as a touching tribute by Chaim's son, Shaul Seidler-Feller.


Later that evening at the Skirball Cultural Center, we honored Chaim at a once-in-a-lifetime gala in Herscher Hall. 

The evening was an immense success with 475 guests in attendance, and featured emcee Mayim Bialik, special video tributes, and surprise guests. The event far surpassed its $500,000 fundraising goal - including $50,000 raised that night - which will help support programs in leadership development, Israel advocacy, tikkun olam, and more, as well as establish the new Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller Institute of Jewish Learning at UCLA.

Please visit our website HERE to see photos, videos, and read articles about the day of events.

Thank you to everyone who helped make this incredible day so wonderful!

Video Tributes for "A Night for Chaim"



A Night for Chaim was a night like no other!  Filled with touching tributes and funny stories, hundreds of people shared their love and appreciation for Rabbi Chaim Seidler-Feller on Sunday, January 31st, on the occasion of his retirement after 40 years at Hillel at UCLA.  

We will share photos of the event soon, but in the meantime, please enjoy three special tribute videos presented at the event: TEACHER (with a special message from Barbra Streisand!), MENTOR, and LEADER.





BONUS!  Chaims' friend, Jeannine Frank, wrote special lyrics for "To Life!" from Fiddler on the Roof in Chaim's honor. See the fun video HERE.