Sign In Forgot Password

Cantor Kessler's High Holy Day Sermons

2022: Click here.

2021: Click here.

A Yom Kippur 5782/2021 Message from Cantor Kessler

A Yom Kippur message from Cantor Kessler

Erev Yom Kippur
Wednesday, September 15, 2021
9 Tishrei 5782

Dear UJC Families and Friends,

When I was a child, I was afraid of Yom Kippur. I scared that God wouldn't find me good enough to write me in the Book of Life; I took the "who shall die" passages very literally. Yom Kippur services seemed endless and I was terrified by all the sins that I surely had committed knowingly or unknowingly.

Gratefully my perspective has changed. I now view Yom Kippur as a solemn day that I believe will end on a note of hope and the possibility of spiritual and emotional renewal.

I know that many of you want to fast for the full 25 hours. If you cannot fast for any reason - physical, medical, emotional - please know that you are obligated to NOT fast. The pikuach nefesh, saving lives, that we have talked about since last March includes saving our own lives. If fasting is not a possibility, you must eat and drink. Here is a meditation written by Rabbi Simkha Y. Weintraub specifically for those who cannot fast. Click here to read the meditation. 

Another thing: This has been a brutal year and a half that has affected all of us.

Rather than offering the blanket "if I did something wrong, please forgive me" that we often see on social media, I am asking this: If I said or did something that hurt you, please let me know so that I can do teshuvah with you.

My prayer for everyone, whether you join us for Yom Kippur in person, online, or in spirit, is this:

May we have an easy and meaningful fast. May our prayers ascend at evening and received with love in the morning. May we be sealed in the Book of Life for a good year.

Gemar Chatimah Tovah ...

Cantor Penny Kessler

Cantor's Page

Chanukah Candle Blessings! 

Click here to learn or sing along with me!



Erev Rosh Hashanah 5780


While the Jewish New Year normally doesn’t involve making resolutions, it does suggest a time for introspection and leaving behind unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.


In July I was comforted by the wisdom of a physician who offered her thoughts on how to maintain a soulful and physical peace during these very turbulent times. Hers is a four-pronged approach:


  1. Our emotions – Develop a habit that brings peace to the soul. It could be an hour at the gym, a habit of meditation, or seeking the guidance of a professional.
  2. Our movement – Move. Explore what we might like to do – walk, run, bike, dance, whatever – and do it. As we age, we may find that we can’t do what we did as teens, but we can do something. Maybe find others who want to do it with you. Movement clears the mind, and keeps our bodies functioning.
  3. Our bodies – Please don’t let fear keep you from visiting your medical support people. Thinking that what we don’t know about our physical states can’t hurt us is absolutely wrong. You’d be amazed how many people you know have been able to have medical conditions diagnosed and treated long before they become life threatening. Have a physical, schedule a mammogram, and that six-month dental checkup and cleaning.
  4. Our diets – No, I don’t mean Weight Watchers; I mean “diet” as in how we approach food. Balance is the key. Allow yourself to enjoy all the great bounties the food industry has to offer while observing gentle nutrition. Enjoy those fries and cookies guilt-free; learn to enjoy the foods that your bodies need to maintain health. Eat them all. Balance; it’s all about balance and perspective.


I will add one more:


  1. Our spiritual lives – Try to develop a relationship with your spirituality. Why are you on this earth? What can you contribute? Do you look to God (as you understand God) or a higher purpose for guidance on how to enjoy a life well lived? Do you find spirituality with community or on your own? Does Friday evening or Saturday morning give you spiritual nourishment? Whatever spirituality you need, you can find it.


My friends, this has been a very painful few years. There is so much divisiveness in our beloved country. Be good to and try to find the Divine in yourselves and others.


Wishing you a sweet New Year filled with blessings. May we all be inscribed for a good Year.






If you think my work as a cantor is always serious, here's a video of my "debut" singing the National Anthem. It was at the Danbury Westerners  baseball game on Saturday, June 15, 2019.


Cantor Kessler sings the National Anthem at the Danbury Westerners game, June 15, 2019.


July/August 2019


I confess: I obsessed this spring about transitioning from layering winter clothes to exposing myself to the summer wardrobe. Will my last-year’s clothes still fit? What physical changes are really noticeable? Did I re-up gym membership in time? Don’t even get me started on trying on or buying a new swimsuit. You, too?


Our bodies – women and men’s – have been in the commercial (and government, but that’s for another day) cross hairs seemingly forever. As of 2017, the diet and weight-loss industry that wants us to believe that we need constant fixing is worth an estimated $66.3 billion. And we have allowed ourselves to buy into the advertised fear and loathing.


We are too fat/thin, short/tall, dark or light skinned. Our body shapes are pear/apple/mango/banana/pick-your-own-fruit and must be dressed accordingly. We’re too young/old for certain clothes/colors. We starve and exercise, and learn at a young age to hate and fear our bodies for not obeying our ever-changing commands. And our bodies learn to hate and fear us in return because of the abuse we heap upon them by insisting on some never-accessible perfection. We base our and others’ worth on weight, skin color, hair type, gender, sexual orientation.


Let’s stop this cycle of abuse. Our souls, minds, and bodies deserve better. Our bodies aren’t just a miracle of science, genetics, and evolution. Our bodies are a miracle of sacred creation. Our bodies, minds, and souls work as a unified whole; if we harm one part, all three are damaged. Ignore our bodies, and our souls ache; ignore our souls, and our bodies rebel.


We can recover from body loathing. We can undo the damage we (and the universe) have inflicted upon our souls and bodies. And so I offer you a prayer from our siddur, to be recited (or adapted for your own use) each morning:


Blessed are you, THE ARCHITECT, our God, the sovereign of all worlds,
who shaped the human being with wisdom,
making for us all the openings and vessels of the body.
It is revealed and known before your Throne of Glory
that if one of these passageways be open when it should be closed,
or blocked up when it should be free,
one could not stay alive or stand before you.
Blessed are you, MIRACULOUS, the wondrous healer of all flesh.*


If we are made good enough for the Architect, surely we are good enough for ourselves, no matter what others – or we – believe.


Best wishes for a wonderful summer.


Cantor Penny Kessler


The Reconstructionist Press's prayer book Kol Haneshamah, Shabat Vehagim




Sat, July 20 2024 14 Tammuz 5784