Rabbi Sandy Sasso

Rabbi Sandy SassoRabbi Sandy Sasso

Senior Rabbi ofCongregation Beth-El Zedeck, Indianapolis, IN

  1. What is the most exciting book you have read in the last year? What did you find so interesting or compelling?

    This past year I read In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Lawson.  It is a powerful narrative of the American ambassador to Germany at the rise of Hitler. Aside from the compelling and powerful writing, the story haunted me. Even with continued direct reports from the ambassador, the State Department chose to downplay the situation in Germany, with tragic consequences.  There is always the question about how to confront evil- to downplay it, appease it or confront it.  And then the question arises – how best to confront it so as not to escalate the problem?  You only asked for one book, but I must add another book of poetry.  Browsing through a bookstore in Asheville, North Carolina, I came across a number of collections of the poetry of Mary Oliver.  Her poetry captured me in powerful ways.  On my bookshelf in my office is New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver. Sometimes when I need a moment of reflection I turn to her poetry and I feel renewed.  The last verses of her poem, When Death Comes, remain my favorite.  

    When it’s over, I want to say; all my life
    I was a bride married to amazement.
    I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.  

    When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
    if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
    I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
    or full of argument.  

    I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

  2. What in your view is the greatest challenge facing people of faith today?

    Far too often, faith terms are being defined by the extremes; so, many people choose to reject religion. I often hear from others that they can’t believe in a God who causes bad things to happen to good people, who reject others because they believe differently, have a different lifestyle.  My response is, “The God you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in either.”  A teacher once asked a group of disciples, “Where is God?”  The disciples answered, “The whole world is full of God’s glory.”  The teacher responded, “God is wherever we let God in.”  Our greatest challenge is to figure out what it means to let God in. What would that obligate us to do?    

  3. You and your husband, Rabbi Dennis Sasso, are the first married couple to serve the same congregation. What is the greatest joy and challenge of serving as co-pastors?

    For 36 years my husband, Dennis and I have been living together and working together in a congregation in Indianapolis.  We have had a love affair in life and in the rabbinate. We have been each other’s companion. He is my Oxford English Dictionary, and I, the editor of his worst jokes. We have different styles that complement each other. We have kept each other calm and inspired; and we have encouraged each other. It is not that we don’t disagree. We do, but not on what really matters.  Our biggest challenge is time, finding enough of it outside our work.  It has been an incredible journey.    

  4. You have been writing children’s books for over 20 years. How do you go about translating complex theological concepts into stories children understand? Do you have a personal favorite?

    I recall how I began writing my first book, God’s Paintbrush.  My daughter had just returned from day camp.  She was five years old at the time.  She showed me a picture of a grandfather. “Tell me more about it,” I said.  She responded, “They asked me to draw a picture of God.  At first I handed them a blank page, but they said I had to draw something.  This was all I could think of.”  My daughter’s world was filled with many creative images. When it came to God, the sacred, all she could think of was a grandfather. I wondered where were the rich images to fill that blank page beyond the graying grandfather. How could she find the holy in her life? In response, I wrote God’s Paintbrush. What was most important for me was to encourage a conversation between parents, teachers and children. What mattered most were the questions at the end of every vignette in the book. One young boy said to me, “I really like this book.  The questions make me feel I am a part of the story.” In writing for children, that is what I strive to accomplish - to help children see how they are part of a holy story.   

  5. You have said that one way to think of the Christian New Testament is midrash on the Old Testament. Please explain how you view the relationship between the two.

    As the ancient rabbis interpret Hebrew Scripture in light of their understanding of Torah’s salvific role, so Christian Scripture understands the Hebrew Bible in the light of the salvific role of Jesus. Both are midrash, a way of filling in the blank spaces in the text and interpreting the text from the perspective of the authors social, historical experiences and their spiritual/theological ways of looking at the world.