2020 for Good — or Not?

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

As you read this column, the newest year 2020 has already arrived. It’s the year we will refer to in the phrase “hindsight is 2020.” So, if this newest year does grant us the opportunity to reflect on the past, what do we see?

2019 was a year of amazing pain and conflict in the United States, not just in the streets of our cities, our schools, our houses of worship, but even in the halls of our government. It was 12 months filled with murder, rancor, swearing, bullying, harassment and mis-statements or lies. No matter the side of the aisle where you sit, 2019 presented itself as the opportunity to challenge and argue, besmirch and belittle anyone and everyone who is different. Hardly a day went by without someone using public or social media to verbally spit in the eye of someone else, without apology.

Seldom did we hear or read of people doing good for each other, except the occasional tribute to America’s military or vets. All the rest of us were fair game for targeting. We sent our “thoughts and prayers” to millions around the world who became cannon fodder for monarchs and oligarchs. Many praised ill-informed leaders. Thousands attempted to bury — online, sometimes in person — those who did not uphold their “values.” We felt the derision of those who saw human beings differently, and who made us the objects of their lunacy, the focus of their fury. Compassion and truth evaporated.

2019 was not a good year. True, we had some successes in medicine to heal the hurting; we saw advances in communication to connect us; and we responded with millions of dollars to care for victims of man-made and climate-made disasters. Nevertheless, 2019 now is over. How many hundreds of thousands remain hostages to war and displacement, seeking freedoms no longer offered, because of squandered resources.

Ours now is the responsibility to make 2020 a year where we can proudly say next year at this time — in hindsight — 2020 was better, because we worked together to make it so.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D., is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


Photo by Andrew Zuber; courtesy of Scopio.

A Most Important Season

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

So here we are again. The season of Jewish High Holy Days and Festivals has concluded, with hope and joy. November brings us closer to another set of holidays, another season… Of shopping and parties and good wishes, beginning with Thanksgiving Day modeled after the Jewish (harvest) festival of Sukkot.

Prior to a single day of thanksgiving, we will have a day of voting…and exercising our significant privilege as Americans to participate in the formulation of our government. How many will register, and more importantly how many will actually vote, is now the critical issue for our American democracy.

Americans — and others around the planet — will spend millions of dollars to buy products for themselves and others that have little lasting value beyond “the season.” Granted some gifting is more long-lasting, but much is purchased because we feel it necessary to do so. Much thought goes into that gift. Little time is granted to the value of voting, and its existential impact and potential to change everyone’s life.

When we vote, we become participants in the future of our country, and its future relationships around the world. When we vote, we need to take a little time in evaluating the nature of the candidates, the issues, the initiatives on our ballots. That is time well spent, and critical.

So, it’s a new season. Not the toys and games and perfumes season, but the season of democracy. The season that will impact our world well beyond our time on this planet. What we vote for, for whom we cast ballots, how we view our participation in America’s most sacred requirement will show our friends, families and people of the world whether we care or whether we don’t give a damn.

Let us also make this new season a valuable one. Register and VOTE!


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D., is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.

What Do You Feed Your Mind?

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

I am reading a very informative and convincing book by Dr. Mark Hyman, a nutritional expert. He has reminded me that anyone who wants to be an Olympic athlete would probably not adopt a diet of donuts and Twinkies. If you wanted to create a gourmet meal, would you start with inferior ingredients?

Most of us understand that what we put into our bodies is vital in determining our daily performance as well as our ongoing health. Even though we know this, eating intelligently is a battle.

The same principle applies to the most important part of our lives, our minds. Like our bodies, what we allow into our minds is a constant battle. I have learned these three truths:

  • You are what you think.
  • Your mind will think about what you put in it.
  • Your actions result from your thoughts.

How do we win the battle for our minds? The Apostle Paul wrote these words: And fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable —Philippians 4:8

Long before the age of computers and smart phones, Paul knew the input-output principle of “garbage in-garbage out.”

  • Where are your thoughts these days?
  • What food are you feeding your mind?

Think with me about some healthy alternatives on which our minds could feed.

  1. Respect true heroes — Instead of revering the opinions of overpaid Hollywood actors and sports players and misleading politicians, make it a point to notice authentic heroes who are making a real difference in the world…devoted teachers, principled businessmen and women, diligent people working to feed the hungry, tireless behind the scenes volunteers, self-sacrificing community leaders etc.
  2. Replace screen time — Television and smart phones all reinforce passivity and seduce us to adopt values which are not ours. Don’t just automatically revert to your smart phone during idle time. How about a good book? How about some time to talk with God?
  3. Substitute face to face conversations for social media — Conversation is becoming a lost art. Yet, we have so much to learn from each other.
  4. Spend time with older people — Schedule time with a few older people whose lives, wisdom and attitudes are refreshing and inspiring.
  5. Listen to Jesus — The greatest source of positive input is Jesus. We can get to know Jesus by reading about him in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. We can discover Jesus’ plan for our lives, one that is full of joy and purpose. He wants us to know his plan and to know him personally.

… let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. —Romans 12:2

Join me in asking God to transform you, your family, your workplace and the world, one mind at a time, starting with you.


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Words Hurt and Heal

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

A few years ago, I delivered a sermon expressing the need for civility, integrity and honesty in government. It seemed like a normal appeal to do right, speak appropriately and act within norms established by society.

I was invited not to return to that pulpit.

Ever since, I have been trying to decide whether words really do matter and whether they are more significant than actions.

Children are most often cautioned about the use of ‘naughty’ verbiage. We don’t want them cursing, making nasty comments, or today — bullying online. We tell our kids what is appropriate and what is not. We set standards for our family vocabulary and offer punishment when those standards are violated.

Words mean something, to me. Ethnic slurs, extraordinary hyperbole, swear words have impact. Using inappropriate language is just plain WRONG. Likewise, words of love, kindness and support can heal.

The letters of the English alphabet by themselves are merely symbols for the sounds we want to connect into words. By themselves, letters are totally innocuous, without impact or meaning. Joined with other such symbols, they take on a life, a reality, a meaning — for good or for evil.

When these sounds emanate from our mouths, we become responsible for their impact, or we should be held accountable for their meaning. Letters when combined with other letters yield words, and words when blended into sentences have import and impact well beyond the individual letters.

Teaching children not to use ‘dirty’ words is something parents just do; it’s the proper way to educate the younger generation. When ‘dirty’ words are used by adults, kids often call us to task and rightfully so. (Even if the hammer smashing on my thumb does feel better by my offering an expletive.)

So why did that group feel so challenged by my words? Why were so many offended by my use of the words “integrity, honesty and civility”? Maybe it hit home, putting them on notice that language that violates these standards is a critical error in the public forum. We’ll never know.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D., is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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Envy Will Make You Miserable

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

When I was about 12, my close friend Jeff had a gold colored Schwinn Stingray bicycle with a banana seat and 3-speed stick shift. I wanted one too…very badly. It is called envy and it starts young.

Experience has shown me that envy is a very destructive force. It is a relationship killer. It is impossible to envy someone and love them at the same time. King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 14:30, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones.” James, Jesus’ brother, also wrote, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (James 3:16)

Comparison is at the root of all envy. Nothing good ever comes from comparing. Comparing leads to either pride or envy. If I compare my looks, my accomplishments, my possessions to yours, two things can happen. I might think, “I am doing better than you,” and that will lead to pride. I could also think, “You are doing better than I am,” and that will lead to envy. Neither are helpful. Both are very destructive. Many times, when we compare ourselves with others, we don’t know the whole story behind their success or their hardship. If we knew the whole story, the sacrifices they have made and the hurts they have suffered, then we might not want it.

Envy is resenting God’s goodness to others and ignoring God’s goodness to me. The remedy is to start enjoying God’s gifts to others and his gifts to us. Somehow in our minds we think the world is some big giant raspberry pie and it’s all divided up into slices. If somebody’s slice gets a little bit bigger, then that must mean my slice is going to get smaller. That kind of thinking is wrong. God’s got all the pie filling in the world. God doesn’t run out of blessings. He doesn’t run out of grace. There’s more than enough to go around. When God blesses somebody else, it does not mean there is not enough blessings for you. He blesses all of us in different ways.

Instead of asking, “Why them and not me?” God teaches us to appreciate his undeserved blessings. Instead we ask, “Why me?”


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A Palm Tree, a Ficus and Some Chimes

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

It was one of those unusual Sunday afternoons when not much was going on. The temperature was below average, and a cool breeze woke the hanging chimes prompting them to ring every now and again.

I took a sip of my drink and lay on the chaise on the back patio. Not much happening. Cool breeze, the chimes, an unusual quiet.

Then I looked up and the palm fronds were synchronized in their swaying, side to side. Long narrow stalks expanding into full, broad fronds that looked like horses’ heads nuzzling each other. Like a mother and her foal.

And the birds began a chorus of sounds starting nearby and being answered from a distance. Back and forth in their private language, only interrupted by the sweet chimes in the breeze.

As formidable as were the palm frond horse heads, was the happy face of a Disney dwarf, formed by the years of trimming branches from the ficus tree. Now the knots showed a smiling profile of a seemingly mischievous cartoon figure.

And the silence was broken by yet another bird call, and a breeze blowing through the swaying horse head palms, and the playing chimes.

Not the usual afternoon, because above the swaying horse heads and round face in the trunk of the ficus tree, were light clouds. White, fluffy and continuously moving west to east. Snails and bears and giant eagle wings hovering but for a moment, then moving on, transforming and reshaping as the chimes rang and horse heads swayed.

The little Disney character, looked like one of the seven dwarfs, still smiling as the breeze wafted by.

Just a quiet Sunday afternoon with nothing much happening, but with so much going on. I’m sitting and watching and listening as these forever friends do what comes naturally. A great day for all of us.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D., is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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This is the Day

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

You and I have been given one life. We do not know how many years will be given to us on this earth. That is why I try to live with the mindset that “every day is a gift.” In Psalm 118:24, the psalmist writes, “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” How are you going to live this day? Really, today is the only day that is yours to effect. You cannot change the past and you do not know what will happen the future. CS Lewis said, “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” Today is your day…so make it count.

There is nothing wrong with planning for the future. Most of us work hard to plan our careers, our relationships, our finances and our pursuits in the next chapter of life. God cares about them too. God loves you very much and wants to help you to be prepared for the future. But God is also very concerned about what you are doing with today. Every choice you make today is important…and it’s in the little choices that the bigger ones take shape. Rather than dwelling on trying to know the future, God calls us to focus on what we know to be true today.

  • Live thankfully: I Thessalonians 5:16–18
  • Live to serve: Matthew 20:25-29
  • Do the right thing, not the easy thing: Micah 6:8
  • Stop worrying: Philippians 4:6–7
  • Be yourself: Ephesians 2:8–10

When we remember to focus each day on these basic truths and pursue them, God will reveal his plans for the future, in his time. Everything you have in your life today is a gift from God. The next breath you take, the next meal you eat, the next sunset you enjoy, the next hug you treasure — all of them are gifts. He is very generous with his provision. As we trust him, he will help us to best use each day. Today is your day…it is a gift…so make it count.


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Happiness… and Holocaust

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

Joy-filled times of redemption and rebirth.

Many of us just celebrated the holy days of Pesach (Passover) and Easter. Family time. Good food. Fancy new spring clothing. Travels to enjoy seeing relatives. Days of revelry and joy, happiness and fun.

And now we are into the month of May where many eyes tear, families gather in sadness, and memories are all we have of our ancestors from the Holocaust.

Yom ha-Shoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day is May 2, or the 27th day of Nisan, on the Hebrew calendar. Reflecting on the multiple generations lost to the Nazis, six million murdered, including a million and a half innocent children.

We cry as we remember so many whose death was needless, without reason, absent of compassion.

In everyone’s life there are times of happiness and times of sadness. But grief so deep that it carries through generations around the world is seldom noted. There will surely be commemorations; names of the murdered will be read publicly; solemn memorial services will be conducted.

And still we ask… why? Why such hatred, prejudice, bigotry and horrific acts?

As rabbis, we are taught that the most difficult answer is to the simple one-word question, “Why?”

For some, there is no answer, never will there be an answer. How can we recall all the precious children whose lives could have brought us cures to disease, beautiful music and stunning inventions? How can we look back at the faces of family members eradicated from the planet, surviving only in smoke?

Why do we still have to endure swastikas and anti-Semitism in Arizona, the United States of America and globally? When will hatred, prejudice, bigotry and violent acts be squashed, and its vitriol washed away?

Our world could be celebrating joyous times in harmony. We should be recognizing the faces of so many who do good and not evil, showing love for neighbors, lifting up the righteous.

But day after day we see acts of hatred spilling into our homes and cities, and few stand against bigotry. Kudos to those who do.

Yom ha-Shoah is just one day on the calendar. A day to remember the atrocities that occur even today because of hate. Yom ha-Shoah, a moment in our busy schedules to reflect on what happens when good people stay silent, when those who could make a difference slide under their covers and allow their neighbors to continue to suffer the pain and horror inflicted by demagogues and hate-mongers.

Maybe this year, the world will finally begin to recognize that bigotry, prejudice and hatred — from the top of the mountain to the deepest valley — is wrong. Maybe this year we will be able to join hands in love and compassion: to challenge hatred and bigotry and anti-Semitism wherever it spews its odious and disgusting violence.

Maybe this year, starting with this Yom ha-Shoah, we will retake our world; and by remembering those faces, begin to heal and then celebrate both rebirth and redemption.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D., is known Valley-wide for his more than three decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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Full of Faith or Full of Fluff

Pastor Paul Witkop

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By Paul Witkop –

Author Ken Davis tells this story… A woman happened to be looking out of the window of her home one day. She was horrified to see her German shepherd shaking the life out of the neighbor’s pet rabbit. Her family had been quarreling with these neighbors; this was certainly going to make matters worse. She grabbed a broom and ran outside, pummeling the pooch until he dropped a rabbit now covered with dog spit — and extremely dead.

After a moment’s consideration, the woman lifted the rabbit with the end of the broom and brought it into the house. She dumped its lifeless body into the bathtub and turned on the shower. When the water running off the rabbit was clean, she rolled him over and rinsed the other side.

Now she had a plan. She found her hairdryer and blew the rabbit dry. Using an old comb, she groomed the rabbit until he looked pretty good. Then, when the neighbor wasn’t looking, she hopped over the fence, snuck across the backyard, and propped him up in his cage. There was no way that she was taking the blame for this.

About an hour later, she heard screams coming from the neighbor’s yard. She ran outside, pretending she didn’t know what was going on.

What’s happened? She asked innocently. Her neighbor came running to the fence. All the blood had drained from her face. Our rabbit, our rabbit! She blubbered. He died two weeks ago, we buried him — and now he’s back!

There are so many people in our world who really want to believe that God loves them, but they have had their hope for the future taken away because of a huge disappointment. They are a lot like that rabbit. They fluff themselves up to look okay on the outside, but inside their hope and their confidence that God cares has really died. God wants us to know his guiding hand every day, not just once in a while or not just about the big stuff of life. God wants you to know his presence and power every day. He wants to restore our hope for the rest of our life so that we can be fully alive.

In this Easter month, I invite you to reaffirm God’s love and care for you. Here are two promises from God that make me very optimistic about the future…

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace… Philippians 4:6-7. God instructs us to pray when we feel anxious. We can pray about anything and everything and God will bring us peace.

There is a hope that does not disappoint… Romans 5:5. People, governments and things will disappoint us. But we need something or someone who we can always trust. Who do you trust when all your other hopes don’t pan out? Well, of course, it is risen Jesus Christ! He conquered death, the greatest challenge there is…so we do not have to live in fear of anything.

We don’t have to be like that rabbit — all clean and fluffed up on the outside but dead on the inside. We can live each day full of faith and confidence. May this Easter season remind us that Jesus is the one we can always trust.


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Once Upon a Time There was a Bunny …

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By Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. 

A fluffy little bunny was scampering across a green field. Alone. With nothing special in mind to do this day. Enjoying the green of the field and the comfort of the quietude.

Suddenly he was struck by the appearance of another bunny on the other side of the field. She was going her own way and didn’t even notice him.

Bounding across the field he smiled at her; she at him. Soon they were ambling about enjoying the countryside and each other’s company. It was a special time and each bunny felt comfortable with the other. He went back to his place and she to hers.

But he could not forget the incredible joy and comfort he felt being with her. They shared so much in common; even having lived in the same cities at the same time, but not knowing the other was there.

They agreed to meet again and continued these afternoon amblings for a while, until it was time for a decision to be made.

To be forever together, or friends, or to sever their connection. After all he had a prior obligation at home. Their pain was mutual, and tears and apologies could not break the bond that had been established that afternoon in the field of green.

But bunnies have feelings, and bunnies know right from wrong and good from bad. So, they said their goodbyes and each one went home, sadly recognizing the inevitable grief they each would individually experience later, in private.

What an amazing experience. Affection and joy coming seemingly from nowhere, from a fleeting glance across a pasture. Then pain and discomfort from a needed moment of parting, forever.

Life has its ups and downs. Joy and sadness present themselves to moderate our existence and keep us on track to be human.


Rabbi Robert L. Kravitz, D.D. is known Valley-wide for his decades of support for civil and human rights, and the positive efforts of law enforcement. A volunteer police chaplain, he regularly lectures on related subjects, while working part-time as Hospital Chaplaincy Coordinator for Jewish Family & Children’s Service. Contact him at rrlkdd@hotmail.com.


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