Palabras del Torá / a “vort” of Torah from R’ Sunny Schnitzer

Each month Bayit offers regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This month’s offering features a teaching from Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer. The text follows the video link, in Spanish and then in English. Deepest thanks to Rabbi Juan Mejia for translation help.

Find this month’s video here. 

A menudo  durante nuestra amistad, diecisiete años después de conocernos en mi primera visita a Cuba, hemos comentado cómo nuestro judaísmo nos une. No importa cuán lejos vivamos los unos de los otros, no importa las diferencias en nuestras culturas nacionales, hay mucho más cosas que nos unen que aquellas que nos separan. Compartimos una historia, una cultura, una forma de ver el mundo a través de los lentes de la Torá.

Ahora mismo, en medio de esta pandemia mundial, compartimos las máscaras, los dos metros de distancia al hacer cola, la escasez de papel higiénico (una novedad en Estados Unidos).

No comparo nuestras situaciones. En verdad, no hay comparación. Pero se necesitará la misma acción por parte de todos para sacarnos de esta oscuridad. Debemos trabajar más duro para compartir nuestra luz.

Es un principio espiritual que cuando compartimos nuestra luz espiritual con otros, nuestra luz no disminuye sino que aumenta. Cuanta más luz compartimos con los demás, más luz fluye a través de nosotros.

Janucá es algo realmente simple. A diferencia de Pesaj o Sucot, que requieren mucha preparación: limpiar la casa, hornear o ubicar la matzá, construir la sucá, Janucá requiere poca preparación. A diferencia de las festividades que también tienen restricciones, Janucá no tiene restricciones.

Uno simplemente enciende la Janukia durante ocho noches y uno se apega a la luz y bendición divinas. Es simple, pero profundo. En una época del año cuando los días son más cortos y las noches más largas; Janucá irradia esperanza, fe y amor incondicional, recordándonos que debemos soñar de nuevo, que nuestros sueños son hermosos e importantes. La capacidad de aferrarse a los sueños y la esperanza, incluso en medio de una crisis, es lo que ha sostenido a nuestra gente en sus días más oscuros.

Los macabeos lucharon por la supervivencia del espíritu en medio de una presión inimaginable para cambiar su forma de vida.

La suya fue una afirmación clara que suena a lo largo de la historia y llega a nuestra época.

No importa cuán atractiva sea la cultura del mundo en general, no importa cuán seductora sea, de alguna manera los judíos deben seguir siendo judíos. El milagro del aceite que usaron los Macabeos para encender la Menorah en el Templo es la declaración definitiva

La idea de un mundo sin judíos e ideales judíos fue rechazada. Y el rechazo de la oscuridad fue recompensado con una revelación de luz que ha mantenido vivo a nuestro pueblo durante más de dos mil años.

No importa lo que esté sucediendo en el mundo externo, Janucá nos enseña que podemos ser libres y que no debemos estar limitados por nuestros miedos. Podemos vivir nuestras vidas con mayor integridad, gratitud, amor y belleza, incluso en medio de nuestros desafíos.

Es un principio espiritual que cuando compartimos nuestra luz espiritual con otros, nuestra luz no disminuye sino que aumenta. Cuanta más luz compartimos con los demás, más luz fluye a través de nosotros “.

Que te inspire la luz en la oscuridad.

¡Feliz Janucá!

During our friendship, now going on 17 years since we met on my first visit to Cuba, we have remarked often on how our Judaism brings us together. No matter how far away we live from each other, no matter the differences in our national cultures, there is much more that keeps us together than apart. We share a history, a culture, a way of looking at the world through the lens of Torah.

Right now, in the midst of this worldwide pandemic we share the masks, the standing 6 meters apart in lines, a shortage of toilet paper (a first in the United States).

I do not compare our situations. In truth, there is no comparison. But it will take the same action by everyone to bring us through this darkness. We must work harder to share our light.

It is a spiritual principle that when we share our spiritual light with others, our light is not diminished but increased. The more light we share with others, the more light flows through us.

Hanukah is a simple thing really. Unlike Pesach or Sukkot which require much preparation – clean the house, bake or locate the matzah, build the sukkah, Chanukah requires little preparation. Unlike those holidays which also have restrictions, Chanukah as no restrictions.

One simply lights the Chanukiah for eight nights and one is attached to Divine light and blessing. It is simple, but profound. At a time of the year when the days are shortest and nights are the longest; Chanukah radiates hope, faith, and unconditional love, reminding us to dream again, that our dreams are beautiful and important. The ability to hold onto dreams and hope, even in the midst of crisis, is what has sustained our people in their darkest days.

The Maccabees fought for the survival of the spirit in the midst of unimaginable pressure to change their way of life.

Theirs was a clear statement that sounds throughout history and reaches us in our era.

No matter how attractive the culture of the larger world, no matter how seductive, somehow Jews must continue to be Jews. The miracle of the oil that the Maccabees used to light the Menorah in the Temple is the ultimate statement

The idea of a world without Jews and Jewish ideals was rejected. And the rejection of the darkness was rewarded with a revelation of light that has kept our people alive for over two thousand years.

No matter what is happening in the external world, Chanukah teaches us that we can be free and we need not be limited by our fears. We can live our lives with greater integrity, gratitude, love and beauty, even in the midst of our challenges.

It is a spiritual principle that when we share our spiritual light with others, our light is not diminished but increased. The more light we share with others, the more light flows through us”.

May you be inspired by the light in the darkness.

Happy Chanukah!



Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer

By Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer. Translation help from Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah

Illustration by Steve Silbert

This new collaborative offering from Bayit’s liturgical arts working group comes to bring light in dark times. Here you’ll find new liturgy (including an “Al HaNisim” looking back on the miracles we haven’t yet lived into being, and a “Hanerot Hallalu” for this pandemic year), evocative poetry (on finding light without a chanukiyah, on kindling lights alone, on the windows where we light our lights and the Zoom windows where the pandemic allows us to gather, and much more), and meditations on Chanukah through all five senses, all accompanied by heart-opening artwork. This collection was co-created by Trisha Arlin, R. Rachel Barenblat, R. Dara Lithwick, R. David Evan Markus, R. Sonja Keren Pilz, R. Jennifer Singer, Steve Silbert, and Devon Spier, and is intended for use by individuals and communities across and beyond the denominational spectrum.

Download the whole collection:

Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah [pdf]


Above you can see a glimpse of one of the illustrations. Here are tastes of a few of the poems, prayers, and meditations contained in this collection:

From “Hanukkah Poem #1,” Devon Spier:

i figure the day before Hanukkah
is the right time to begin
a new time
in inhuman history…

From “Hanerot Hallalu for 2020,” by Rabbi Dara Lithwick:

This Chanukah we honour those whose light has shone throughout the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, the helpers who despite the tohu and bohu, the chaos and confusion, trauma, fear and disinformation have served and continue to serve, illuminating our communities by their commitment and caring…

From “Al Hanisim: Future Miracles Unfolding Now, ” by Rabbi David Evan Markus:

In the days of Stacey Abrams, Jacinda Ardern, William Barber, Anthony Fauci, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Lewis, Greta Thunberg and Malala Yousafzai, peoples of the Earth had forgotten Your teachings and transgressed Your ways of justice. Greed corroded truth. Ignorance mocked science. Fossil fuels burned without end, defiling Your temple of nature. Zealotry and corruption flourished, defiling Your temple of democracy…

From “Rededication,” Rabbi Rachel Barenblat:

It’s not like the Temple, sullied
by improper use and then washed clean
and restored to former glory.
This house is tarnished by familiarity…

From “My Maccabees,” by Trisha Arlin:

…This year
My Maccabees
Wore masks
Washed their hands
Kept their distance
Stayed home…

From “Chanukah of Stars,” Rabbi Jennifer Singer:

The year I had no hanukiah
No candles
Not even a match
Because I had let the last cigarettes crumble in a drawer…

From “Second Calendar,” Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz:

There is a Jewish calendar for those who came late.

Until Tuesday afternoon,
One might prolong the shabbes
For all those still in need
Of a second soul…


Download the whole collection:

Great Miracles Happen Here: Liturgy, Poetry, and Art for Chanukah [pdf]

And find all of our liturgical collaborations here: Liturgical Arts for Our Time.



Liturgy and poetry by Trisha Arlin, Rabbi Rachel Barenblat, Rabbi Dara Lithwick, Rabbi David Evan Markus, Rabbi Sonja Keren Pilz, Rabbi Jennifer Singer, and Devon Spier. Sketchnotes by Steve Silbert.

Deciembre 2019: Palabras del Torá

Earlier this fall, three of Bayit’s co-founders traveled in Cuba with Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer of Cuba America Jewish Mission. We asked communities there what we could offer them after returning home, and they asked for video teachings. That’s the origin of this project: regular video “vorts” (words of Torah / teachings from Jewish tradition) offered in or translated into Spanish, designed for Cuban Jewish communities and available to Spanish-speaking Jews everywhere. This first video offering features a Chanukah teaching from Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer. We’re grateful to R’ Sunny, to the Cuban Jewish communities that welcomed us into their midst, and to Rabbi Juan Mejia for helping us bring this project to life. — The Builders at Bayit 


Palabras del Torá / A “vort” of Torah – December 2019 – R’ Sunny Schnitzer from Bayit: Building Jewish on Vimeo.

Sigue leyendo para ver el texto del video en español e inglés. / Read on for the text of the video in Spanish and in English.


El famoso rabino Shlomo Carlebach cuenta una historia sobre un hombre que conoció en Moscú en la década de 1970, cuando las cosas todavía eran realmente malas para los judíos en la Unión Soviética.

Una noche, Shlomo estaba cantando en un salón de Moscú en Simjat Torá. Luego, este chico le cuenta a Shlomo su historia.

“Fui encarcelado porque soy judío. Sabía que los cargos eran falsos, pero no tenía defensa. Pasé casi diez años en un campo de trabajo siberiano. Durante la mayoría de esos años largos, fríos y amargos, no tuve contacto con ningún otro judío. Entonces, un día, escuché que otro judío había sido encarcelado en una celda al otro lado del campo. Decidí buscarlo, a pesar del peligro personal. Quería desesperadamente ver a otro judío, hablar con otro judío, decir “Shalom Aleijem” a otro judío antes de morir en ese desierto abandonado.”

Cuando lo encontré, susurré: “Shalom aleijem, landsman (paisano)”.

Volvió la cabeza ligeramente y susurró: “¡Ahora no! No se nos permite hablar. Saben que somos judíos. ¡No dudarán en disparar si rompemos las reglas!”

Ignoré su súplica y seguí susurrando; “¿Sabes que esta noche es la primera noche de januká?”

“¡¿Y qué?!”, exclamó, su susurro cada vez más fuerte y más agitado. “¿De qué nos sirve ser judíos? ¿A dónde nos ha llevado?”

Yo persistí. “Escucha, he estado en este campo de prisioneros por casi diez años. Todo este tiempo, he buscado otro judío. Cantemos juntos Maoz Tsur. ¿Recuerdas cómo va?”

Las lágrimas llenaron los ojos de mi amigo. Susurró: Yo solía cantar Maoz Tsur con mi padre cuando era un niño pequeño. No lo he escuchado desde entonces “.

Le rogué que se uniera a mí. Comenzó a tararear la melodía suavemente. Vaciló con las palabras.

Mientras cantaba, su voz se hizo más fuerte. No notamos la conmoción en la torre de vigilancia.

Parecía que los guardias tenían como objetivo dispararnos por perturbar la paz. Entonces oímos gritos. El capitán ordenaba a los guardias que se detuvieran.

Bajó de la torre de vigilancia y se acercó a nosotros.

Apuntó su arma hacia nosotros y preguntó: “¿Qué están haciendo ustedes dos judíos?”

Respondí tan educadamente como pude: “Estamos cantando una canción”.

“¡Entonces canta más!” ordenó el capitán.

“No nos deshonre haciéndonos cantar más. Sabemos que nos disparará. Hágalo ahora. ¡Termine con esto! “, supliqué.

La voz del capitán de repente se volvió más amigable.

“No voy a dispararte. Continúa cantando esa melodía. Quiero escucharla.”

Reanudamos el canto.

Mientras cantamos, vimos lágrimas llenar los ojos del capitán y rodar por sus mejillas.

Cuando terminamos, el capitán habló.

“Cuando comenzaste a cantar, tuve un vago recuerdo de escuchar esa melodía antes. De repente, los recuerdos de ir a la sinagoga con mi padre me invadieron. Cuando tenía doce años, fui reclutado por la fuerza en el ejército. Llegué al rango de capitán. No tuve conexión con mi familia durante años. Ahora me doy cuenta de que todavía soy judío, aunque han pasado al menos cuarenta y cinco años desde que tuve algo que ver con mi gente. Esta noche entiendo que todavía soy parte del pueblo judío.”

Espontáneamente, los tres comenzamos a cantar Maoz Tsur nuevamente. Nuestros ojos se llenaron de lágrimas. No sé si alguna vez volveré a experimentar un momento tan santo.

Después de que terminamos, el capitán prometió que haría todo lo que estuviera en su poder para acelerar nuestra liberación. Esperamos la mayor parte del año hasta que estuvimos libres. Vine a Moscú para celebrar Simjat Torah con mi gente. Bendíceme que el próximo año seré libre como tú. Bendíceme que el año que viene podré bailar en las calles de Jerusalén en Simjat Torá.”

Mis amigos, nuestra gente sabe lo que es ser cautivo.

Todos recordamos a Alan Gross. Fue un momento difícil para las comunidades judías cubana y estadounidense. Durante su cautiverio, los líderes de la comunidad judía cubana visitaron a Alan en cada festividad judía. Nunca se olvidaron de él. Cuando Alan habló con los medios, pocas horas después de su liberación en 2014, las primeras palabras que salieron de su boca fueron “Jag Sameaj”.

Alan Gross no fue encarcelado porque era judío. Sobrevivió porque era judío. La lección aquí para nosotros es que siempre debemos recordar el poder de nuestra gente y nuestra fe.

Januká Sameaj, mis amigos.

Reb Shlomo Carlebach tells a story about a man he met in Moscow in the 1970’s when things were still really bad for the Jews in the Soviet Union.

One night Shlomo was singing in a hall in Moscow on Simchat Torah. This guy comes up to him to tell Shlomo his story.

“I was incarcerated because I am a Jew. I knew the charges were false, but I had no defense. I spent almost ten years in a Siberian labor camp. For most of those long, cold bitter years, I had no contact with any other Jews. Then, one day, I heard that another Jew had been incarcerated in a cell on the other side of the same prison camp. I decided to seek him out, despite personal danger. I desperately wanted to see another Jew, to talk to another Jew, to say “Shalom Aleichem” to another Jew before I died in that forsaken wasteland.

When I found him, I tiptoed over to him.

I whispered: ‘Shalom Aleichem, landsman (my friend and neighbor).’

He turned his head slightly and whispered: ‘Not now! We are not permitted to talk. The soldiers on the ramparts can shoot us at any minute. They know we are Jews. They will not hesitate to shoot if we break the rules!’

I ignored my fellow Jew’s plea and continued to whisper to him. ‘Do you know what tonight is?’

‘How am I supposed to know what tonight is?’ he demanded.

‘Tonight is the First Night of Chanukah.’

‘So what!’ he exclaimed, his whisper growing louder and more agitated. ‘What good does being Jewish do for us? Where has it gotten us?

I persisted. ‘Listen, I’ve been in this prison camp for almost ten years. All this time, I’ve searched for another Jew. Let’s Maoz Tsur together. Do you remember how it goes?’

Tears filled my friend’s eyes. He whispered, ‘I used to sing Maoz Tsur with my father when I was a little boy. I haven’t heard it since then.’

I begged him to join me in singing. He began to hum the melody softly. He hesitated with the words. Finally, he recalled them.

As he sang, his voice grew louder and more distinct. We did not notice the commotion in the watchtower, for we were so absorbed in what we were doing.

It seemed that the guards were aiming to shoot us for disturbing the peace. Then we heard shouting. The captain was ordering the guards to halt.

He descended from the watchtower and walked over to us.

We trembled when we saw him standing beside us. He aimed his gun but held it steady. Then he demanded gruffly: ‘What are you two Jews doing?’

I answered as politely as I could. ‘We are singing a song.’

‘Then sing more,’ the captain commanded.

‘Please don’t disgrace us by making us sing more. We know you will shoot us. Do it now. Get it over with!’ I pleaded.

The captain’s voice suddenly became more amicable.

‘I am not going to shoot you,’ he said. ‘Please continue to sing that melody. I want to hear it.’

We resumed singing.

As we sang, we saw tears fill the captain’s eyes and roll down his cheeks.

When we finished, the captain spoke.

‘As you began to sing,’ he said, ‘I had a vague recollection of hearing that melody before. Suddenly, memories of going to the synagogue with my father swept over me. When I was twelve years old, I was forcibly conscripted into the army. I rose to the rank of captain. I had no connection with my family for years. Now I realize that I am still a Jew, although it has been at least forty five years since I had anything to do with my people. Tonight I understand that I am still part of the Jewish people.’

Spontaneously, the three of us began singing Maoz Tsur again. Our eyes overflowed with tears. I do not know if I will ever experience such a holy moment again.

After we finished, the captain promised that he would do everything in his power to hasten our release. We waited the better part of a year. Then, a few weeks ago, orders for our release were received. I came here to Moscow to celebrate Simchat Torah with my people. Bless me that next year I will be free like you. Bless me that next year I will be able to dance in the streets of Jerusalem on Simchat Torah.”

My friends, our people know what it is to be captive.

We all remember Alan Gross. It was a difficult time for the Cuban and American Jewish communities. During their captivity, the leaders of the Cuban Jewish community visited Alan at each Jewish holiday. They never forgot him. When Alan spoke with the media, a few hours after his release in 2014, the first words that came out of his mouth were Chag Sameach.

Alan Gross was not jailed because he was Jewish. He survived because he was Jewish. The lesson here for us is that we must always remember the power of our people and our faith.

Chanukah Sameach my friends.



Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer

By Rabbi Sunny Schnitzer. Translated by Rabbi Juan Mejia.

Power Tools for Spiritual Building


Part of a yearlong series on Torah wisdom about building and builders.

The first weeks of Bayit’s Builder’s Blog harvested keystone principles about building the Jewish future – from primordial foundations of building, to where and with whom spiritual neighborhoods create community.

Now it’s time to build – but what and how?  Parshat Mikeitz offers answers: first build a granary to store food for the future, and powerfully organize community to make it work.


Torah’s plot is familiar.  Pharaoh lifts Joseph from prison to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams.  Joseph foretells of famine. Pharaoh empowers Joseph to save Egypt.  For seven years, Joseph stores grain as a pikadon (reserve) (Gen. 41:36).  As the 19th century Malbim recognizes, this reserve was as much for the land as for the people: otherwise both would starve (Malbim Gen. 41:36).  

Because Pharaoh and Joseph acted with powerful resolve, Egypt had a future and therefore so did the Children of Israel, who came to Egypt in desperate search for food when famine hit.  Had Pharaoh and Joseph not acted, there might be no Jewish future.

Had Pharaoh not empowered Joseph to build Egypt’s reserves, there might be no future.  We learn that effective leaders must delegate, empower, trust and back away. This same pattern will repeat to build the Mishkan: God tells Moses and also empowers Betzalel (Tribe of Judah) and Oholiav (Tribe of Dan) (Ex. 31:1-6).  Building requires diversity and teamwork.


Had Pharaoh not lifted Joseph from jail, there might be no future.  Pharaoh instead might have turned to his royal court, well-known people of seemingly high stature.  Sometimes needed skills, tools and powers come from outside our native circles and comfort zones.

Had Pharaoh acted mainly for himself, there might be no future.  Pharaoh easily could have sought to protect his own hide, but instead he and Joseph acted to save others.  (Granted, they later centralized power and dispossessed land owners: we’ll get to that.) Effective builders cannot legitimately use power to build only for themselves.

Had Pharaoh sunk in despair or blindly clutched optimism, there might be no future.  Both despair and excess optimism inhibit needed action. Effective builders must harness the power to see needs clearly and act decisively.


Had Pharaoh and Joseph not enforced structure, there might be no future.  Had each Egyptian been left to decide how much grain to keep for oneself, there might be too little: the result would be starvation, violence and national decline.  Rules matter and must be enforced for the public good. Without wise use of power to enforce rules, people needlessly suffer.

Spiritual building requires both the power of vision – without vision, we perish (Proverbs 29:18) – and the power to translate vision into reality.  Spiritual building balances powerful physical and societal forces always at play: only in careful balance can structures and systems stay stable and nimble, sturdy and with just enough give in the joints to move when they must move.  To balance these forces, spiritual building needs the power to uplift and deploy expertise, teamwork and discipline. Thus, wise spiritual building requires capacity to design and enforce structure lest powers become unwieldy or abusive, or appetites exhaust finite resources, or inertia drive structures off shifting foundations.


Builders with these power tools can build and thrive for the future.  Builders without these power tools will starve and die out: they will have no future.

I confess discomfort with these words.  With 25 years of experience in public life, I know that power risks danger: left to its own devices, human power tends to aggrandize itself and grow rife with abuse.  Even Pharaoh and Joseph, whose decisive action saved life, also used the crisis to dispossess Egyptians and seize their land (Gen. 47:13-20) – which has fueled much debate about the Biblical economics of coercion and opportunism.


Especially today, when abuses of power seem like daily news items, cynicism about power and “powerful” people has become a fixture in modern life.  Our challenge and opportunity – and the urgent call of this time of Jewish, societal and planetary change – is to rectify our collective relationship with power.  Too little power to effect change and we’ll starve both spiritually and literally. Too much power wielded wrongly, without balance from outside itself, also can destroy.

It will take tremendous power to reorient political life and spiritual life to build better for the future.  Thus, if we’re to build a better world, first we must shed fear of power.


Power is a tool, and we must not fear to use the right tool for the right job.  Like most tools, the practical and moral value of power depends on how we use it.  Power tools comes in two forms – control (power over) and capacity (power to).  Builders must use both kinds of power tools in balanced and careful measure: one without the other builds nothing

That’s the deep meaning I find in the Chanukkah haftarah about Zerubavel, Persian governor of Judea who laid the Second Temple’s cornerstone after return from exile in the early 500s BCE.  Zerubavel received an angelic message: “Not by might and not by power but by My spirit, says God” (Zecharia 4:6).  He learned that power flows from the Source: as the angel continued, only by that power flow can ground become “level” on which to build the future (Zecharia 4:7).

Power tools – both the power of control and the power of capacity – are holy.  They don’t belong any of us: they come on loan from their Source, and we must use them in that spirit.  

IMG_3637Only by skillfully using these power tools could Pharaoh and Joseph build and fill granaries for the future of Egypt and the Children of Israel.  Only by responsibly using power tools on loan from their Source could Zerubavel “level” the ground and begin building the Second Temple. Only by using our own power tools likewise can we build wisely for the future of Judaism, and for a planet that urgently needs wise use of power.

So power up, everyone.  Use your power tools wisely: it’s the only way to build.


DEM2 Silbert-small

By Rabbi David Markus. Sketchnotes by Steve Silbert.