One of the gifts I receive as a rabbi is to live and work with the full spectrum of humanity. In the morning, I play with toddlers on the floor and by noon I’m teaching a class to retirees. In the afternoon, I’m with adolescents teaching prayers or ethics, and in the evening I’m having a drink with young professionals. That’s just my Tuesday. There’s a real privilege I feel in experiencing the entire range of human experience on an almost daily basis. I see joy and pain. I see triumph and failure. I see spring awakenings and autumnal enervation. We live all at once, simultaneously careening into and out of life. Even in maturity life is inchoate. Emerging. Evolving. Becoming. It is a gift to see and feel the emotional and spiritual tapestry that make up the whole of life.
This past weekend I performed a wedding at the most amazing mansion I’ve ever seen. From the very top of Malibu I saw the mountains and rolling hills and the mists upon the sea. The wedding ceremony itself was on the house’s helipad - because Malibu. This being Los Angeles, I heard that movies had been filmed there. I’m not going to lie, it was stunning.
The wedding couple was so much fun to be with, and their family and friends were just lovely. But this wasn’t their house. They were renting the place for the wedding and the owners were nowhere to be seen...
Hate is like a drug. It makes those who hate feel good because it gives them an escape from their own problems for a little while. You can get high on hate. Hating another person gives you power. You can take back what you thought you’ve lost.
You can own someone because you feel owned.
You can troll so you don’t feel out of control.
It is a drug. You can get high on hate...
Life blooms in an unending eruption of breath and color. At the deepest part of the ocean, the Mariana Trench, there are little bacteria that cling to the vents in the earth’s crust. Scraping the edge of space in the stratopause there are tiny little fungi that float around. There is a pulse for life in every place where it can exist - it emerges into existence. Life is eruption. Life erupts...
As a rabbi, I have the honor to work closely with people experiencing homelessness. One of the advocates that I know, let’s call her Tanya, tells me that the worst part of her time being homeless was her alienation and loneliness. She was ashamed of her situation and felt she let down others in her life. When she sat day-after-day on the streets, she felt she lived with an invisible wall between her and the rest of the world. It was like she was in solitary confinement right there on the street corner. No one would look at her or speak to her. said she would go weeks without ever hearing someone call her name.
The other night I was speaking at a Teach-in for a progressive Zionist organization called Zioness. (Full disclosure, I am a founding board member). I had the honor to sit next to Emiliana Guereca, Founder and Executive Director of Women’s March Los Angeles and a dynamic speaker. Towards the end of the evening, a young participant asked us, “What is the use of protesting? I mean, it’s a lot of work to get downtown with all those people. What does it get us anyway, how much has really changed?”
What will be our legacy? Every generation asks itself these questions. It’s part of aging through life where we look to bridge past and future. Legacy gives us a sense that our life is worthwhile. It gives us the basis to believe that all our struggles and decisions in life can be framed in a way that can live on after us.
These past several weeks we have seen so much tragedy in my community. From the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, to another shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill, to the raging fires across California. In my community alone, some 250,000 people have been displaced and hundreds of homes have been destroyed. Notably centers of our Jewish community like JCA Shalom, the Wilshire Blvd Camps, and Ilan Ramon Day School all suffered critical damage.
Last Sunday we launched our mental health initiative called “So Healthy Together.” Over two hundred people came from all over the city to share their stories and learn from experts. What I learned from our launch was that community is the most important aspect to helping prevent tragic loss like suicide to mental illness and to help survivors heal. The world is a lonely place and is only getting lonelier.
For the past ten years I have lead a physician's talmud study group called Dinner for Docs. We meet about once a quarter, have some wine and eat a nice dinner. Then we engage in Talmud study. It was there that I really got to know Dr. Joe Beezy. He’s sitting right over there. Joe and I became friends over a page of Talmud, so much so that he asked me to perform the marriage of his daughter, Talya, to wonderful man named Leonard. Talya, it was such a beautiful day, warm and verdant, your dad played the recorder, remember? It was on that day I met your brother this dashing young man with a huge smile, named Ben.