The Spiritual Maverick

The Rebbe, whose 70th anniversary of assuming the mantle of leadership of the Chabad movement is today, was and is by all estimations an out of the box thinker. He revolutionized and revitalized Judaism in a post Holocaust America, and around the world. He was a maverick unafraid to buck the trends and do things his own way, and as time has shown, he was incredible at what he did. Transforming the landscape of Judaism on levels unprecedented. What is fascinating is that while quiet and unassuming prior to leading the movement, the Rebbe had dreams and visions that we couldn’t even have fathomed.

My grandfather, Rabbi Mordechai Schusterman, who was a printer for most of his life here in America, shared the following story.

Shortly after the passing of the previous Rebbe, in fact just after the shiva, during the space of time when it was unclear who’d assume the mantle of leadership to the Chabad Chassidim he, my grandfather, encountered the RaMaSh (Rabbi Menachem Schneerson) who would later formally take on the role of Rebbe.

The Rebbe told my grandfather, that prior to his passing, the previous Rebbe, Rabbi YY Schneerson, his father in law, mentioned to him that “we need to make a new Siddur.” When the Rebbe (RaMaSh) asked his father in law what he meant by this, his father in law did not answer.

My grandfather pressed and asked the RaMaSh – The Rebbe – what he thought the intention of that request was? The RaMaSh answered, “he intended to hint that now begins a new Seder.”

[Explanation: Siddur – prayer book – is almost the same word as Seder – which means order- meaning, the Rebbe was telling my grandfather, that his father in law, the previous Rebbe was indicating that it is time for new world “order” in how the Lubavitch movement was to run.]

It is clear that the Rebbe knew back in 1950, some 70 years ago that the Lubavitch movement, with him at its helm was meant to transform that the world. Indeed it did and continues to do so.

So, what will you do today to transform the world just a bit?

Pictured – The Previous Rebbe, Rabbi YY Schneerson with his son in law, the RaMaSh later to become the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Also pictured is my grandfather and my grandmother, from roughly that period of time

49/52 Photo Gershon Schusterman and Unknown cousin

Motomags Closes For Shabbos

Pictured is Mike’s proud sign announcing his closing his store for Shabbos.

As a Chabad yeshiva student, your Friday “job” is to go out there, do your route, put on Tefillin with people, distribute Shabbos Candles and fan the flames of Judaism in the people that you meet. (Read more about this in my recent piece http://rabbischusterman.com/excuse-me-sir-are-you-jewish/ .)

The effect of your outreach efforts are rarely seen or recognized. This is ok, because it is not about the feel good of a positive result but the mission of fanning the embers of latent soul Judaism in those you are in contact with. You are always having an impact. Sometimes it is strictly hidden and soulful in nature, other times it you can see the tangible results.

Having said the above, we often don’t know that while to us, this is a short interaction where someone did me a favor possibly, or indulged our Chabadnik “mishegas” there is an entire other side of the equation. The person who we interacted with.

Did they like putting on Tefillin? Did it have meaning for them? Did they forget about our interaction the moment the door closed behind us? Did they think about it further? Were they moved? Moved enough to do anything?

Often we will never know the answer.

Recently I got the answer to a two decades old Mivtzoyim interaction.

Some 23 years ago I did a two year stint in South Africa, where I was studying and also acting as an “older brother” or student Shliach to the local community. I was partnered up with a native, Yossi Pels, who fast became a dear friend, to do our Mivtzoyim route in downtown Johannesburg.

Not the safest neighborhood at the time, but the work had to be done. There was a sweet fellow and his wife who had a tire, alignment and hubcaps store there who we will call Mike.

We visited Mike weekly. Our charm was irresistible and within a period of time he’d put on the Tefillin with us weekly. We grew fond of one another, even purchasing a Siddur for him as a gift but alas, my time in the country was coming to an end. With promises to keep up with one another, and in a world before facebook, the relationship petered out for me. Yossi stayed in touch with Mike, but he too eventually married and moved to the United States so while more in touch with Mike than me, he was only able to be in contact to a point.

Now, South African Jews are a funny bunch. Regardless of their level of observance they are very traditional. It is not uncommon to attend Shul regularly even while leading a very secular non-yet-observant lifestyle. That’s just what they do there. Our friend Mike, attended (and still does) the Sydenham Highlands North Shul, where Rabbi Yossi Goldman, a Chabadnik is the rabb.

To be totally candid, I basically forgot about Mike, that is, until very recently.

You see, I was at the wedding of my niece in Allentown, PA, and one of the groom’s uncles is the very same, Rabbi Yossi Goldman of Mike’s Shul. His nephew and my niece were married.

I know Rabbi Goldman, though my senior, and we schmoozed about the good old days in South Africa. He then mentioned Mike and a special letter he received from him. (This letter, while nearly 20 years old, only came to my attention now.)

I obtained a copy of that letter, and to my great joy, a twenty plus year gap of information came full circle, and I was let in, to what Paul Harvey used to call, “the rest of the story.”

It reads as follows (I’ve cut out various parts of the letter).

Dear Rabbi,

I have a story which I, as a member of your congregation, would like to relate to you… I was brought up in a less observant branch of Judaism… I later tried another Temple which felt closer to that of the orthodox service, but I didn’t care much for that Shul either so I eventually took the step of attending services at Sydenham Highlands North.
It took a bit of time but I managed to get the hang of it and even enjoy it…

The aforementioned paragraphs are just to give you a sort of overview of where I come from in the world of Judaism and the story I want to relate to you now begins…

About two years ago, on a Friday (that was over 22 years ago Editors note), some “strange fellows” walked into my business which is situated in the middle of Johannesburg and asked if anyone was Jewish. I answered in the affirmative.
They asked me if I had put on Tefillin that day and I answered that I had not.
At this stage I must tell you, Rabbi, that I had never ever put on Tefillin in my life and that the only time I had seen it was when was in the army when I, together with all the other non-Jewish soldiers watched,, which I considered to be a very strange performance.

To get back to the story, I was embarrassed at the question, not because of the question itself, but because of the fact that I had never put on Tefillin before and would therefore make a fool out of myself by asking any further questions.

The gentlemen then asked me if I would like to put on Tefillin there and then and for reasons that I have already mentioned, I refused and they then left.

But they persisted, and visited me again the next Friday, asked me the same question, whereupon I confided with them of my history. I led them upstairs where they “fitted” the Tefillin on my arm and asked me to read the relevant portion.

I will never forget the feeling that I experienced the first time that the Tefillin was put onto my arm, in fact, that feeling came upon me for the first three times that I put on Tefillin. It was almost as if I was suddenly wrapped up in a special kind of cacoon. I have never ever felt such a special feeling in my life before this. I was also surprised to find out that I actually knew the portion that was related to the Tefillin.

At the time of all of this, my business was going through a rather bad patch. The bank had pulled the carpet and I was in rather deep trouble, not knowing which way to turn or where to get help.

Although I never told the “Shluchim” how bad things were for me at the time, except for the fact that “business was not so good.”

After a few Friday’s of the “Shluchim” visits, I decided to order my very own tefillin from them of which they duly obliged. I have been putting on Tefillin every day that it is allowed and believe that it changed my life completely.

I became calm and seemed to have a more clear head in business. Although my business was running very heavily on overdraft, I felt sure of myself and even managed to scrape a few Rand to invest in the stock market.

A few weeks ago, everything came to fruition! I woke up one morning, and after opening my business for the day, I suddenly called my stock broker and instructed him to sell the complete share portfolio that Ihad built up over the past few years. The broker went crazy and asked me what type of strategy I was pursuing, and that it was not the right thing to do…

But, I had other ideas and told him, much to his dismay, to sell out. I need not tell you what then happened to the stock market.
I then phoned my bank manager, made an appointment to see him, and took my business out of an overdraft that exceeded R$500,000!!

Rabbi, this is not a letter which is intended to boast of the fact that I did so well, and managed to sell at the right time on the stock market. It is a letter in which I wish to inform everyone who wishes to listen, that I firmly believe that it was the the “Shluchim’s” visits, which introduced me to Tefillin, that helped me to get totally out of dept to my bank. (In fact, my bank manager thinks I am a genius and cites me as an example to other clients.)

Oh, and by the way, business is still a little shaky, but I know that I, together with my Tefillin, will work my way to better turnover which, believe it or not, is already starting to happen.

I extend to you and your family my very best regards and a Happy, Healthy New Year!

I’ve since been reconnected with Mike via WhatsApp and via my old South African buddy, Yossi Pels who has maintained connection with Mike and visits when he is visiting South Africa.

I have further found out that Mike now puts on Tefillin daily, and has done so for the past 20 plus years or so. Furthermore, Mike is now the “Shluchim” he fondly recalls in his letter, as he has become the lamplighter himself. As folks pull into his shop to get the new tires, or an alignment, he reminds them that they need a “spiritual alignment” as well. He then offers them the opportunity and gift to put on Tefillin.

BUT THERE IS MORE!!! (As they say in those late night commercials encouraging you to buy double the amount of a product you don’t need!) About 6 months ago, Mike took yet a further step in his ongoing journey of Yiddishkeit! He closed his store for Shabbos, even though that is the busiest day of his work week. His faith is so staunch that he feels confident that Hashem will provide for him in other ways or on other days whatever he’d lose by closing on the holy Shabbos day!

This story, one of millions certainly, is still unfolding, but it is certainly the fulfillment of a vision that the Rebbe had when he launched the Tefillin movement in 1967. To expose another to the raw, naked truth of Judaism, is guaranteed to light, or fuel an existential fire which can only lead to better results not only spiritually, but physically as well, as conveyed in the story above.

Give it a try. Wherever you are on the planet, there is a Chabadnik waiting to wrap the Tefillin on you.

Pictured is a siddur and inscription Yossi and I presented to Mike many years ago.

Pictured is Mike’s proud sign announcing his closing his store for Shabbos.

Blog 48/52 Photo Credit Yossi Pels

Reflections on 20 Years of Marriage

Today is our 20th anniversary. Reflections.

(yes, there have been many celebrations within our family in the last few days and there are more coming up, for which we are so incredibly grateful to Hashem for, but I’m not gonna let another blessed celebration go by without a little focus and attention. And on that note, pardon any typos as that has not been much sleep lately LOL 🙂.)

מָצָא אִשָּׁה מָצָא טוֹב וַיָּפֶק רָצוֹן מֵיְהוָה.

Proverbs 18:22

Loose translation: One who finds a woman finds good and he will produce (good) will from G-d.

But how do you know if you found a good woman? On a certain level it is a Soul connection… that you can feel immediately.

Another good test is to see if it stands the test of time. 20 years is a pretty darn good start. Though I am gunning for another 80 at least….

Loving this roller coaster ride with you…

Here are 20 musings on 20 years…

1. Happiness is a journey, not always a destination. Let’s keep on journeying together.
2. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger is actually a true statement.
3. Personal independent growth, helps a marriage grow stronger.
4. As long as there is respect, you can get through anything.
5. Kids are to a marriage what harmony is to music. Sometimes the music is off key, sometimes the harmony is 🙂.
6. Vacationing together is glue for a marriage.
7. Vacationing not together, with friends, is too.
8. This may be old fashioned but she still hasn’t taken out the garbage in 20 years.
9. “Things” are great, “experiences” can be greater. Both is the best.
10. Pushing each other to be our best selves is working.
11. If you are not growing, you are receding.
12. Laughter, laughter and more laughter, balm for the soul.
13. When you love the person you are with, a pimple looks like a dimple.
14. A happy loving marriage is the best gift you can give your children.
15. Pretty much everything in life is unreliable, your marriage shouldn’t be.
16. Feeling heard is as important as being right.
17. “I am not feeling heard“, is better than why aren’t you listening to me?
18. If you cannot quite muster up the words “I am sorry,“ “Fair enough“ is a pretty decent second best…
19. In the beginning we talked about people. Later about thing, now we are talking about ideas. This is best.
20. i’m leaving this one blank opening space for others to share theirs….

Blog 47/52 Photo Credits (my Shvigger)

A Real Kodak Moment

When my father got remarried my amazing stepmother, my Ema, he often shares – much to Raizel’s chagrin – that in the beginning he would pull out one child at a time from a closet, spaced out by a week, so she wouldn’t be shocked at having married a man with 11 children.

While one can debate the depth of the humor, the point is certain worth exploration. In China they limit the amount of births allowed due to concern of over population and the ability to sustain the masses.

Many wonder about the ability to properly tend to the needs of so many children. In fairness, there are certainly times when the burden of the “squeaky wheel child” may take some of a parents energy for the rest of the brood.

Having said this, I like to tell people, with a fair measure of sincerity, that love is like a flame of a candle, sharing it with others doesn’t take away from the original candle. You can light hundreds of other candles without diminishing the original candle at all.

This is not true quantitatively, as there are a finite number of hours in a day, however, qualitatively, the depth of the love is limitless. Just when you think you have reached your max, your find new reservoirs of love for another child.

This is why, when I attended the wedding of my niece this past week, I was most moved by a short moment after the Chuppa, and before the reception, that while sweet to most of the onlookers, was particularly meaningful to me a Chabadnik in the burbs trying to just keep up with chaos of life and a family with seven children.

The memo went out, “everyone, family picture NOW in the hallway outside the ballroom, get there now!” Of course I dutifully showed up, but was caught off guard at the size and scope and diversity of the massive group of people jockeying for position in the picture. Little kids in front, adults sitting, teenagers in the back. Oh, and short, fat, balding adults (me), stand with the teenagers.

My in-laws, who are relatively young, sitting pridefully like a king and queen, sitting in the center and can say with incredible pride, look at what we have made. If they did nothing else in their lifetime, this would be worthy of a top shelf spot in paradise.

A young man from Brooklyn, and young lady from Kfar Chabad, a small village in Israel, managed to create a veritable army of successful people with potential that is endless in under a generation.

Not even three decades later, hundreds of children and grandchildren following in their footsteps, is a naches that is brag worthy and a real feather in their cap.
What makes this notable is that it is just a short time after the holocaust where much of both of their families were decimated by the Nazi’s, may their names be blotted out forever.

What makes even more notable is that this is happening in the snowflake generation where the me me me movement is at its strongest (in history?) and yet, there is a love, a bond and unity that replaces the I with the we at least most of the time.

Making life is easy, giving life is harder. Giving a life of values, meaning and purpose is harder yet. Yet this is what they did. This is what it means to have a large family. This is why we do it. This is what makes it worth it all!

Sure, we are no different than others in our squabbles and other idiosyncrasies. We have our differences both with one another and in our individual relationships with Gd. We journey uniquely, but we journey purposefully. In that we are all the same.

A large family is a lot . A lot of work, time, exhaustion, expense and the list goes on, and on, and on. But if I ever doubted its worth, that snapshot (or Kodak moment for those who remember) the other night put the value of it all into crystal clear focus.

Mazal Tov Shver and Shvigger. Look at what you did? You can be really proud.

Lechayim! Onto the next Simcha!

Blog 46/52 Photo Credit Mushka Morozow

Excuse me sir, are you Jewish

“Excuse me sir, are you Jewish?”

“No thank you, I already ate lunch.”

***

***

“Excuse me ma’am, are you Jewish?”

“Excuse me ma’am, are you Jewish?”“No, sorry, I am gender neutral.”

***
“Excuse me sir, would you like to put on Tefillin?”

“What is that?”

“Phylacteries”

“Oh” (confused look crossing individuals face)… “um, what are Phylacteries?”

***

It began on the streets of downtown LA, in the fashion district, with the vast majority of people on our “route” being Persian clothing designers. With their accented English they were happy to see us, we were the Yeshiva boys.

Later it continued on the streets of France, Champs Elysees in Paris to be more specific. My partner Berel L, who was a French Yeshiva student did the talking and I did the wrapping. This was my second extended exposure to this concept.

It continued still in New York, though there things had progressed, we were no longer just doing the basics, the whole program had graduated. Here things were seriously organized. The streets of Manhattan, an organized grid, not like the sloppy city planning of my current location of Boston, oh no, New York had a “system.”

Each Street and each Avenue had their set of “bochurim” who were in charge of their couple blocks (or even buildings as the place was so densely Jewishly populated) that was under their care.

Now, we even had colorful paper handouts to give along with out Tefillin laying and Shabbat Candle packets for the women. The concept I am describing was and is one of the signature achievements the Rebbe of Righteous memory, it was called by the loose description- Mivzoyim.

Literally, the word Mivtzoyim refers to the 10 Mitzvah Campaigns that the Rebbe introduced at various times, such as the Tefillin Campaign, a prominent one, started by the 6 day war. The Rebbe posited that his adherents go “out” into the world to do this mitzvah with every Jewish man as the spiritual benefit would not only benefit the person putting on the Tefillin, keeping them safe, but would bring that good energy into the world making the world safer. Other Mitzvah’s like Mezuzah, Shabbat Candles, and having a house full of Jewish books were among the popular Mitzvah Campaigns. For all 10 click here https://www.chabad.org/…/jewi…/10-Point-Mitzvah-Campaign.htm

The colloquial term, Mivtzoyim had a whole other meaning! It wasn’t just a reference to the the many campaigns of the Rebbe but it was a thing you did, and specifically on Fridays.

There were 9 other Mivtzoyim but on our Friday “routes” we focused on three primarily.

Putting on Tefilin with the men, giving a Shabbat Candle Packet to the women, and encourage both men and women to put a coin (at least) in the tzedaka box. Later we would give them some prepared pamphlet for our “customers” to read, usually a short word of Torah wisdom, a story, other little Jewish factoid that made for interesting reading material.

Later in 1988, that pretty little pamphlet got the name LeChaYim. An acronym word, that spelled (in Hebrew) “For the Memory of Chaya Mushka (Schneerson) the Rebbe’s late wife.

A third and less discussed component was the impact it had on the Bochur. The Yeshiva students who went out to do the mivtzoyim. The “me” in this case. While an extrovert at least on the surface (pun intended) I was a pretty shy young man. Oh, sure, within my own circle of friends I was loud and opinionated, but ask me to go over to random stranger and ask for any basic information, and I would have rathered not.

Ask me to go over to a complete random stranger on the street and ask them a) if they are Jewish. If I got a positive reply, ask them if b) they’d like to put on the Tefillin?!! That really was out of my comfort zone. And if and when they did answer to the affirmative to both, their question in return would be “where do you want to put them on? Right here in the street?” To which I’d reply, “Yes! Right here on the street,’ ‘in the subway station,’ ‘on the train’” or wherever we were at that particular moment. (Nervous chuckle from both of us)

It was super awkward to say the least but it really did thicken the social skin. Now, don’t think twice asking that question. Or many other uncomfortable questions for that matter. That school of hard knocks, or strange or downright obnoxious responses actually did me a great service in my personal and social development for life.

Those thousands of micro-experiences helped fashion many a young shy, awkward child into a confident adults who have the courage to ask tough questions, stand up for their convictions, better handle obnoxious people and comments, and in general have thicker skin to handle the many (far larger) disappointments of life.

I don’t think that this was the primary goal of the Mivtzoyim campaign, but I do think this is and was one of the many many excellent unintended consequences of many of the Rebbe’s world changing ideas and innovations.

***

I was recently contacted by the editor of the Lechaim Magazine asking seeking permission to reprint an article they found on my website. In her email she boasted that the magazine now has a weekly printing of nearly 35,000 copies just in the NY Metro Area, Toronto and Montreal. This didn’t include the printings that go on in LA, Paris, Manchester, London, Sydney and many other places across the world where they are doing Mivtzoyim.

Of course I said yes, and was humbled to have this journey of personal fulfillment come full circle. Where now, I was no longer just going on Mivtzoyim, now everyone going on Mivtzoyim would take a piece of me with them, at least for this one week.

Excusez-moi monsieur, voulez-vous mettre le Tefillin? Excuse me sir, would you like to put on the Tefillin?

Photo Credit Yanky Ascher

Blog 45/52

Living Intentionally

When I was 15, I went to an overnight Yeshiva summer program in Italy, where I met a counselor who continues to have an impact on my life today. He is, in a word, a mashpia. A spiritual mentor. He is someone I can call to get guidance when facing spiritual or personal dilemmas. I do call him, and he is there for me. He is honest and wise and discreet, he is my friend.

I bumped into my mentor this past weekend in New York at a large Chabad conference and I had the opportunity to reconnect with him a bit, and was reminded of some of our good times together. I gave him a lift in my car and due to NY traffic a short ride turned into an hour long discussion.

I heard some of what is going on in his life, and shared with him much of what is going on in mine. I told him I am on a journey to live more intentionally. I am too old to be reactive all the time. I share that I am working on having intention in everything that I am doing. I find, I told him, that when I make a decision, good or bad, then I feel better about my life. I don’t look over my shoulder second guessing or thinking that it might have been better elsewhere. I don’t have “FOMO” or fear of missing out, because I am living intentionally. So where I am, I am completely, including in my head, and certainly in my body.This is a modern application of a well known chassidic discipline, Ah Chassid, vu er iz, iz er ingantzen – A Chassid, where he finds himself, he is there in entirety.

Obviously this is not always easy, and often I need to recalibrate to get back to this centering thought tool, it is a truth and perhaps one day, this may become an involuntary muscle that can operate with this intentionality more naturally.

Friday afternoon, on this same weekend conference I found myself walking down the main drag in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn heading to the large Shul where thousands (literally) go to pray, and bumped into my mentor friend again. This friend is saying Kaddish for his late father so he needed to lead the service at the afternoon Mincha Prayer.

This process requires a minyan of ten, so he asked me and the handful of others heading down the street to be part of his minyan when we entered the Shul building. He led the services flawlessly, easily reading the prayers that he must have said many thousands of times.

I watched and was transported to a time when he didn’t read so smoothly.

Some 25 years ago, when I had first met this man in Italy, he would teach us Torah, however then he had a lilt in his voice as he articulated each word very very slowly, and with a soft musical melody as he read the words.

Blog 44/52

Photo Credit Psychology Today

Trade-Offs

Trade-off – Definition – a balance achieved between two desirable but incompatible features; a compromise

Life is full of trade offs. Everyone knows that. What we often don’t realize is the depth to which it guides and can help our lives.

I travelled to New York this week for a quick visit to celebrate the engagement of my niece, the first grandchild of my in-laws to get engaged. In Torah-observant circles this is a major event and a large community party is held to celebrate.

My office assistant, when hearing that I’d be out of town, mentioned something to the effect of “you guys are always going away for many fun simchas.”

She is right, we do get to have many family celebrations but that too comes at a cost I explained to her. A “trade-off” that I’d gladly make again and again. The fact of the matter is, we do have large families, and if you simply do the math, if I have 11 siblings and my wife has 10, that is 21 opportunities for weddings, hundreds of bris(im) or baby naming celebrations, hundreds of bar mitzvah parties, and so on.

There is a price paid for that though, because the families are large, there is usually less personal space, roommates are almost inevitable, there is less money available for some of the luxuries of life. You have to work harder to be heard, or to get what you want.

However, are any of those truly a bad thing? Forced interactions makes you more social and resilient. Learning to work hard to be heard or get those extras that your parents cannot provide teaches work ethic and the value of money. Learning to speak smart and wise rather than loud. And so on.

In fact, I mentioned to my assistant that while many American’s can afford the time, money or simply the strategic ability (someone to watch their kids, or to bring them along) to get away on an annual or twice a year multi-week vacation, for us, given our family dynamic, getting away for a night or a two by ourselves costs us more on the home front, holding down the fort than the vacation itself. Alternatively, bringing the crew along can raise the costs of a getaway by six or seven times depending on how many kids you bring with you.

But this is a trade-off that we gladly make. The price is worth it.

At work we make trade-offs, more hours or overtime for more pay. Or less, in the pocket but more family time and more time in the heart.

There isn’t necessarily a right or a wrong but an awareness that every decision has a consequence. What do we choose?

This trade-off enters the religious observance domain as well. I can choose to lead a more Torah-centric life along with the perceived limitations and restrictions it imposes on my life but celebrate the reward of a life full of meaning and purpose.

There are no rules, that a religious person will have eternal happiness and meaning and wealthy people will have eternal luxury but eternal unhappiness or lack of purpose, and as Tevya might have said, “Isn’t Gd so great that he could provide us with all?” And he’d be right. I pray that we all have the best and most of everything. The reality is that that is a utopian dream that for the most part doesn’t exist. To quote Dennis Prager’s mom, “The only people I know who are completely happy, are people I don’t know too well.”

Until such a point that we can have it all, we have to make choices.

Should I risk that money for a large investment? The payout may be huge or I may lose pants…..

Avraham made a choice. He chose to go against the grain and be a maverick monotheist at a time when absolutely no one else was doing it. Even his father worshipped idols and reported on his “wayward” son for breaking the mold (and his idols). He took a great risk, he made a trade-off.

He chose to live purposefully and mindfully and dedicate his days to spreading that message with the world. In so doing, he lost many friends and family members, and had to live in isolation for much of the time. I am sure if we could ask him, he’d tell us that it was the best choice he ever made.

So, life is full of trade-offs. Make sure to choose wisely. It is OK to trade some of the material things for a deeper existence. Grandpa Avraham did it, and so can we.

Blog 43/52 Photos Courtesy #Starbucks Baristas

Quid Pro Quo

My Thoughts On Quid Pro Quo

Sermons I will never give #2

These days the news if saturated with the term quid pro quo. Was there a pro quo? We all know that there was a quid.  So let’s take a moment to analyze this.

I get it, there are people in all camps with all kinds of opinions. Some feel that He has been at it too long, and it is time to get Him out of here, and if there was only a pro quo, then we could be done with Him once and for all.

Others, feel quite the opposite. They feel that this is their Man! There was no pro quo so leave Him alone. Look at yourself they say, when you are pointing a finger at someone else, you are point three fingers right at yourself.  In fact, you should really be thanking Him for all that He has done for you!

Others, land somewhere in the middle, and they want to take everything on case by case basis. Don’t judge the Man, judge the actions. replicawatches.nu

Now, try this on for size. What if we were in the hot seat, and the question of “was there a pro quo” was for a quid that gave us? Feels very different if we are in that seat. Huh?!

Is it only bad for there to be a quid pro quo if it someone else? Someone in power? Maybe quid pro quo is actually a good thing?  Shouldn’t there be a bit of tit for tat? Shouldn’t I have to give to get, and get to give?

Listen, starting Sunday night, Rosh Hashanah, we are going to be meeting Him, and I hope that there is whole lot more quo than quid. You see, I for one know that I do not deserve nearly as much quo that I want and am praying for given the amount of quid I gave. I really do need to pick up my game and be doing a lot more quid-ing this year.

What about you? Do you think He/Him – Hashem of course – (who did you think I was talking about?)  has given you more in return for what you gave him this year?

Something to think about.

Shana Tova

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Don’t Worry About the Disappearing Jews

Sermons I will never give #1.

Don’t worry about the disappearing Jews.

As a Rabbi, this is the season where you do some serious soul searching. You see the numbers of your Shul’s membership, wax and wane. You see the level of Jewish interest in your community rise and fall and, at times, not reach the level of participation rise to where you think it ought to be.

You discuss with colleagues about sermon ideas, and wonder if you are going too deep, and content rich, where you risk putting the crowd to sleep, or are going too shallow and not having enough faith (pun intended) in your audience that they can handle more.

You ask yourself, am I inspiring the crowds to find their best Jewish self, or am I chasing them away.

Why does it appear that day two or Rosh Hashanah has almost disappeared, a day that was sacred even with the so-called 3 day a year Jews? Why do people send kids to religious school, but then not pull them from school to attend services?

What else can we do to engage today’s Jewish generation? We have already cut so many corners, that its starting to look less and less like the original Judaism?

The Pew Research poll of a few years ago, painted a bleak picture of the outlook of non-orthodox Judaism. Are we to believe the “professional” studies and throw in the towel?

Will our Shuls and schools be shuttered in 25 years, to be turned into condos sold to the highest bidder?

It is easy to feel melancholy and hopeless about the future of Judaism if you look at it via the myopic lenses of today.

Is there hope?

Of course there is. It doesn’t absolve us of doing what we can, to convince, bribe, hoodwink those we know to get to Shul, go to Religious school or Jewish Day School, improve in their overall Jewish practices, but the fact is, it is not the worst its ever been. In fact, it may be better than its ever been.

Case and point.

Rewind a few year, like to the year 539 BCE, in the days of Ezra the leader and Nechemiah the prophet, the two leaders of the Jewish people of their time. They led the return of much of the Jewish people back to Jerusalem to rebuild the destroyed Temple.

You’d think they were operating in an environment of a spiritual revolution like in the spiritually heightened 60’s. In fact, it was a time of such extreme desertion from Judaism, intermarriage was at an all time high, assimilation at a point that the prophets needed to exhort the people to leave (in some cases even leaving their families behind ) and restart their lives in Jerusalem.

(Even more starling, according to Yeshiva University Historian Maurice Lamm, there was a time in history when there may have been as few as 10,000 identifiable Jews!)

Compared to that, today we live in near biblical times. While suburban and even big city Jewry may be struggling, there are still yeshivas and Shuls across the globe that are expanding and growing to numbers never seen before in history.

Despite the extreme desertion from mainstream of Judaism, with the help of of the prophets and Ezra’s inspiration, he instigated a revolution of return, where people left their sinful ways, and ultimately rebuilt the Temple on the basis of the Torah Law, as it was.

From there it flourished and expanded and spawned rebirth to the point that it was transformed into one of the brighter times of our Jewish people.

I always refer to this era when the going of Judaism appears to be rough. It’s been rough before and from there it has gone through good metamorphosis and back from the brink to some of the brightest times.

So, to the naysayers, be they internal or external. This is not a time for despair. It is a time for hope and renewal.

As long as there are Shuls and people in them, it is a good day. There are many Ezra and Nechemia’s out there to lead the genesis of the next rebirth of suburban Judaism. They my be the folks who show up early and sit on the front row, or they can be the people who stand in the back and schmooze.

They are there, and that itself is reason for hope and optimism.

Shana Tova and Happy New Year.

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Nachas Vs Nachos

Nachas vs. Nachos

I like nachas. Of course I like nachas, who doesn’t? But I like more than the experience of Nachas, I also like the word nachas. I write it, say it, bless people that they should have it. In letters I always close with it, “you should have nachas” etc. etc.

The funny thing is that my spell checker doesn’t seem to care for it. As a matter of fact it has its own constant wish that every single time I wish nachas it wishes for its secret desire. It wishes for nachos. Just a difference of one letter but it really makes a world of difference. I want nachas it wants nachos.

What is nachas? If you don’t know then I can help you with a general definition but it won’t do the word true justice. The mainstream dictionaries don’t have a translation. The online Wikipedia research considers it not to be English but rather Yinglish and meaning (נחת) — pride (usage: I have naches from you). So it is Jewish pride. When one gets/gives a sense of joy from/to a relative, usually a parent or grandparent for something they’ve done or accomplished.

It has a lot of similarities to nachos, in the sense that they both make you feel good, they fill you up etc. However, unlike nachos, you can never have too much nachas. It is like “wonder” bread, or even better like the beer, it fills you up and never lets you down.

So, I wonder, why is my computer bent on nachos when I want nachas?

[This column didn’t start out with the intention to be funny or witty or an experiment of the English language, however, let’s see where this leads us.]

As the great Baal Shem Tov taught, everything in life is there to teach us a lesson and ultimately bring us closer to G-d, so I asked myself, what am I to learn from my computers constant peppering me with a choice between nachos and nachas?

We are ending the holy month of Elul, the 30 day preparation period before the high holy days. Where each moment counts and is an opportunity to delve deep within ourselves and find aspects of our character or behavior that needs repair. From the Kabbalistic perspective the last 12 days prior to Rosh Hashanah (that began this past Wednesday) is actually so precious that one can repair a month in a day. I.e. the 18th of Elul corresponds to the Hebrew Month of Tishre and the 19th to Cheshvon etc., so if utilized properly one can genuinely get huge amount accomplished in a very short space of time.

If this is indeed so, perhaps my computer’s friendly reminder is in effect asking me to make a choice; Do you want to give your Father in heaven nachas, true joy, or do you want to give yourself temporal pleasure (nachos), the choice is yours.

The funny thing is that even when I answer the computers question regarding whether I want to use that word, it then asks me do you “really” want to use that word, it’s not in our dictionary, and I have to say yes, yet again, to really affirm how I feel. Perhaps this is G-d’s system of letting us know that giving nachas isn’t easy.

The only way to remove the constant asking of the question “are you sure you meant nachas and not nachos?” is by “adding it to our permanent dictionary.

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