• October 15, 2021

    I find myself still catching my breath post Haggim. Taking the process of engaging in Heshbon HaNefesh – an accounting of our behavior – and transforming it into self-improvement in the new year – 5782. For me a question exists of whether it is helpful and productive to establish a high bar of behavior for ourselves; one that we ultimately cannot maintain. In this week’s Parashah, Sarah (still referred to as Sarai at this point), due to her inability to bear children, requests that Avraham (a.k.a Avram) take Hagar as his wife; literally that she gave Hagar to Avraham her husband to be his wife. (Genesis 16:2-3) Notwithstanding the many ways in which this story understandably violates our sensibilities, e.g., the bigamy and misogyny, there is a lesson to be gleaned in how Sarah performs this selfless act. Nehama Leibowitz describes it as an act of supreme sacrifice. (Nehama Leibowitz, New Studies in Bereishit-Genesis, at p. 154) After all, Sarah could have asked Avraham to take Hagar as a concubine and not given her the status of wife. (I know, oy!)

  • August 20, 2021

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Ki Teitzei
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert (’12)

    Entering the month of Elul – a time for great introspection and personal reflection leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, I, and at the risk of being presumptuous, we, are experiencing a time of unprecedented turmoil. In my own congregation the resurgence of the COVID 19 pandemic via the Delta variant has been an emotional setback as we have been so looking forward to being back in physical space together. Wearing masks and putting hugging on the back burner leaves us detached from our need for connecting in community.

    Polarization and animosity are pervasive surrounding the proper response to the pandemic. This notwithstanding that in our Jewish world Pikuah Nefesh – sanctity of human life – should dictate the seemingly obvious response that we take every measure possible to Read More >

  • June 24, 2021

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Balak
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert (’12)

    Responding to a request from a congregant at my Shul, for quite some time now we have been studying the role of angels in Judaism. I was grateful for the suggestion as I immediately knew the source for our studies, the book, A Gathering of Angels by Morris B. Margolies z”l. I grew up with Rabbi Margolies as my spiritual leader. As I am continually looking for opportunities to cite and honor all of my teachers to have the opportunity to do a deep dive into Rabbi Margolies’ most widely read work has been a source of great joy to me. Rabbi Margolies has had an enormous influence on my work as rabbi; particularly his passion and courage in confronting controversial issues of social injustice.

    A Gathering of Angels has served as Read More >

  • April 30, 2021

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Emor
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert (’12)I cannot recall a time when we have been more preoccupied with time than during this COVID 19 pandemic.  How much longer until we… can get our vaccines? Travel safely again? See family beyond our bubble? No longer need to mask up? Be back in person together in Shul? We grope to find some certainty amidst a time of great uncertainty.

    Yet, our preoccupation with time is not a new phenomenon. We as Jews have always been keenly aware of time. Rabbi Jill Hammer describes the Issacharites as “knowers of the wisdom of time” and that they had knew about “the shifting of light across time.” (The Jewish Book of Days at p. 265).

    This week’s Torah portion, Parashat Emor, delves into the importance of time. “Speak to B’nai Yisrael and say to them; the appointed times of HaShem Read More >

  • March 4, 2021

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Ki Tissa
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert (’12)

    Whether it be in a D’var Torah or in a Derash, two obvious sources of material I have assiduously avoided have been politics and what I have viewed as the thematically obvious. I have avoided the former not because I ignore or do not possess opinions about issues most would see as political. I am on the boards of many organizations who work in highly political spaces. My work has involved civil disobedience; including a night in jail and I have asserted my views in very public spaces. My congregants all know of my activism and progressive leanings without me having to say anything to them.

    However, what I discovered pretty early on is that I am rarely in a position to change anyone’s mind based on what I say from the Read More >

  • January 8, 2021

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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Shemot
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert (’12)

    “These are the names of the sons of Israel who came into Egypt with Jacob…. [t]he total number of persons that were of Jacob’s issue came to seventy, Joseph being already in Egypt.” (Exodus 1:1, 5)  This beginning to the Book of Shemot – of Names  – reflects strongly on how we see K’lal Yisrael, our sense of how we form community.  Rashi and Ramban both say that by enumerating their names it illustrates how dear they each are to G-d as they are compared to the stars. G-d brings out and brings in by name and by number. “Lift high your eyes and see: Who created these? [W]ho sends out their host by count, who calls them each by name…” (Isaiah 40:26)

    I have always found great resonance Read More >

  • November 13, 2020
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    A D’var Torah for Parashat Hayei Sarah
    By Rabbi Doug Alpert (’12)For years I have worked with a number of organizations whose mission is centered around fighting racism. The Missouri branch of the NAACP, the Missouri coordinating committee for the Poor Peoples Campaign, the Metro Organization for Racial and Economic Equity in my hometown of Kansas City. So it is with much anticipation that I will participate in this year’s AJR Fall Retreat (albeit virtually) focusing on race and racism.

    Much of the work in fighting racism is to wrestle with a sense of our own identity and community. Who is in and who is out, or, to coin a cultural moniker of Jewish identity that came up on day one of the retreat; who is a “member of the tribe.” (This reference had always struck me as a Read More >

  • June 21, 2012

    My synagogue is presently undergoing seismic change. We will be leaving the building we have owned and occupied for about the last four years. We will be seeking to move to a more urban location, a move that bucks the persistent trend of local congregations in my hometown to move further out into the suburbs; a trend that either is driven by the desire for shuls to go where the Jews are, or, a somewhat self-fulfilling prophecy of Jews going where the shuls are built… or not. Add to the mix my own entry into the kehilah (community) about one year ago with my pluralistic (read, AJR) sensibilities.

    This change has precipitated some modicum of turmoil, and fairly strong push-back. Some have resorted to personal attack. In moving the shul forward I continue to ponder what it is those who are fighting these changes are fighting against. Likewise with this week’s Read More >

  • October 1, 2009

    By Doug Alpert

    We tend to apprehend the present Hag HaSukkot by placing it within the context of the annual agricultural cycle. The notion of “dwelling in booths” (Vayikra 23:42-43) was compelled at least in part by the need to not stray to far from the fields during harvest. We also tend to understand Sukkot within its role as one of the Shalosh
    , the three pilgrimage festivals. While these two approaches to garnering greater understanding of the Hag still resonate in an appropriate way, I would suggest another means by which we can place Hag HaSukkot within our annual cycle of Jewish life.

    As with much of life, we understand how we arrive at Sukkot by understanding from whence we came. Specifically, Sukkot serves as a vital jumping off point from Read More >

  • February 25, 2009

    Doug Alpert

    This week’s parashah, Terumah,is arguably one of the less enthralling parashot in the Torah. God instructs Moshe Rabeinu, Moses Our Teacher, regarding the building of the Mishkan-the Holy Tabernacle. The ensuing instructions are provided in exhaustive detail challenging the reader, as well as many of our great Biblical exegetes to derive meaning and purpose from the mere form of the text-i.e., that it is so detailed, much less as to the content of the instructions. For me form does matter, and it says much about who we are as a people. (And besides, as this is the parashah of my Bar Mitzvah I do confess to a special affinity for Terumah. Probably a good early lesson for me on why there is no parcel of Torah that is devoid of great meaning, purpose and wealth.)

    One of many areas in which this level of detailed instruction plays out is Read More >

  • November 27, 2008

    By Doug Alpert

    How do we define greatness? And moreover, by what criteria do we establish those who we believe possess qualities of greatness as our leaders? I pose these questions as a means to understanding our patriarch-Yitzhak Avinu/Isaac. If one can suggest with a straight face that any one of our patriarchs is a forgotten patriarch, it would be Isaac.

    From the beginning of this week’s parashah, Toldot, the Torah defines Isaac within the context of his father, Avraham. “Avraham was the father of Yitzhak.” (Bereshit 25:19) Rashi’s exegesis on this verse suggests that its inclusion in our Torah was to establish, in contravention to anyone who might be dubious in regard to Isaac’s lineage, that Isaac was really the progeny of Avraham and Sarah. And, to drive home the point, Rashi states that G-d shaped Isaac’s facial features to be similar to those of Avraham. Thus, lest there Read More >

  • August 15, 2008

    By Doug Alpert

    This week we commence reading the Book of Devarim (Deuteronomy). In our quest to understand Torah and apply it to our own existence we are naturally prone to see it through the lens of our own experience. Having admitted to this bias in my own interpretation as I study the text, I immediately go to a specific place in my experience, i.e., my place as a parent. At the risk of overstatement, there may not be a greater pedagogical tool than the Book of Devarim. This is particularly true for parents. If you, like me, are prone to skip to the end to see what happens, one of the great lessons for parents is embodied within the idea that arguably our greatest leader, Moshe Rabeinu, is prohibited by G-d from following his children, B’nai Yisrael into the Land of Israel. So, how much more true is it Read More >

  • April 25, 2007

    Parashat Emor
    By Doug Alpert

    Chapter 23 of Vayikra commences with God directing Moshe Rabeinu to ‘Speak to the Children of Israel – b’nai Yisrael – and say to them: These are the appointed [fixed] times of HaShem which you shall designate as callings of holiness – these are My appointed festivals.’ The parashah goes on to elucidate the calendar of festivals that were celebrated during biblical times. For these festivals (unlike Shabbat, which is set in terms of the days of the week, and which was put into effect by G-d at creation) the court is imbued with the responsibility for fixing the calendar in accordance with its declaration of a new moon. This is to say that it is the human who sanctifies these appointed times as holy.

    While it is the court alone that has this responsibility, God has instructed Moshe to speak to the entirety of b’nai Yisrael. Read More >

Doug Alpert

Rabbi Doug Alpert (AJR '12) is the rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami-Kansas City’s urban, progressive synagogue. He is the immediate past president of the Rabbinical Association of Greater Kansas City as well as Missouri Healthcare for All.