Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Signing Off

Dear Friends,

It has been a while since I wrote in this column and it has not been easy to be away, but for sheer necessity and lack of time.  I am saddened to now write this column for the last time.

I have enjoyed sharing my life and thoughts with you these past four or so years and in doing so, “Normal is Overrated” has become a part of my life, as you have become my friends, even though, many of you I have not yet met.

This column began as a mailer to around fifty people and has grown to a (usual) weekly audience of some 11,000 in almost every corner of the globe.

I have learned from you as I hope that you have learned from me.  I have also learned from myself; the hardest lesson of all.  At age fifty, I found that I and I alone own the responsibility for my lack of loving relationships with my children; that what they needed more than my presents, was my presence, and in my lifelong quest to give them “presents”, I forgot about the “presence”; my presence.

Even fulfilling my lifelong dream of serving G-d and the Community as a Rabbi took me away from them, if not physically (which it did), but certainly spiritually and emotionally.
I put my vocation (JOB) ahead of my own son’s achievements by refusing to attend a concert that he conducted (on a Friday night); his last as a High School student.  I argued with them about the necessity of keeping Kosher, and tried to dictate their lives from a (more observant) Jewish perspective, not even recognizing what wonderful people they had become just the way that they were raised.  “Living Jewishly”, it turns out, requires one to simply be a good person and to love G-d.  And, by being a good person; a loving and caring person; a person who treats others with respect and dignity, is in and of itself, living “Jewishly”.  I was so removed, that I never really saw what everyone else continues to see:  My kids are great; just the way that they are.  Of course, I have always loved them, but never gave them the proper due respect.  And, in doing so, or as the case is, NOT doing so, I was not living so “Jewishly”.

When my wonderful daughter, now 33, graduated from High School, I stood on our driveway and cried.  Where did the time go, I asked myself.  I had missed her growing up.  I promised myself that would not happen with my boys, but again, it did; because I allowed it to happen again.  Now, I find myself giving all of my time to work, and none where truly important; to family.  I have learned my lesson.

Now comes the hard part.  These past few months, and certainly the past few weeks have shown me something that I never wanted to admit, nor did I wish to even address; I cannot be everything to everybody.  I cannot give my full attention to both my family and the patient who I am called to see at 3am;   I cannot give my “presence” to others and hope that my family will, in its stead, accept my “presents”.  Nor can I be any good to anyone, if I am not good to myself.  It simply doesn’t work.

My friends, I need to live “Jewishly”.

A cherished friend recently reminded me that in order for us as a people to arrive at the Promised Land, we had to wander the desert for forty years.  My youngest son two Passovers ago reminded us at the Seder Table that each of us lives in our own personal “Egypt”.  I agreed then, and I agree now.  The time for me to wander in my own desert and to try to exit from my own personal Egypt, is now.  Therefore, I have made a decision to take leave from the Rabbinate for an unspecified time.

I leave you with three last thoughts:

1.       Never say anything to anyone that you will not own.  In other words, saying something about someone else, and swearing that person to secrecy is simply cowardly and wrong.  If you have something to say to someone, say it to their face.  Lashon haRa, is NEVER a good thing, and someone will ALWAYS get hurt; even by listening.

2.       Do not EVER leave someone you love without telling them; even from a phone conversation.  One never knows if the opportunity will arise again.  Likewise, always say thank you.  They are, but two little words, but they play large; and lastly,

3.       Love each other.  If you don’t now, learn to.  For there is G-d in all of us, and it feels good.

From the Left Coast, and for the last time, I wish you Ahavah u’Vrachot, Love and Blessings…

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Is George Clooney Gay?

Reading this morning's headlines made me think; maybe more than usual. The headline on MSN-NOW read: GEORGE CLOONEY DOESN'T CARE IF YOU THINK HE'S GAY. And guess what... Neither do I.

On Monday, the headlines wrote about an actresses boob being shown during the Oscars; on Tuesday, our crazy world was concerned with, not the anti-Semitic goings on around our University campuses, rather, the talk of the day was speculation regarding a Jewish ballplayer's steroid test results (deemed to have been mishandled); and, which Hollywood star filed for divorce on Monday.

If we as a society are so concerned with the private lives of actors, ballplayers, politicians and others who have lives just like we do, then why do we not see headlines that tell us what good these people do to help repair the world?

Why do we not see the headline: GEORGE CLOONEY HAS FOUNDED "NOT ON OUR WATCH, a charity that helps wipe out hunger? Why do we seemingly not care that he supports numerous worthy causes?? Is this of no interest to us???

Please understand that I am not picking on Mr. Clooney. In fact, I applaud him when his reply to the speculative question of his sexual orientation is "I don't give a sh*t"; and neither should we.

If an actress has an addiction problem, why are we critical of her, instead of offering her support; and if a basketball player who is little known is given a chance and shines on the court, why are we so quick to need to know whom he is dating?

The truth is, that all of this talk; all of our ridiculous speculation and discussion and "caring", falls under the label of "Lashon haRa"; Bad Tongue; Gossip. In the Torah, we are commanded
"Lo telech rachil b'ameicha," - Do not go about as a talebearer among your people (Leviticus 19:15). This is the basic prohibition against speaking Lashon Hara. If that isn't enough of a prohibition, how about a few sentences later, in Leviticus 19:18, "V'ahavta l'rei'echa kamocha" - Love your neighbor as yourself. This is the source of the "do unto others" rule, that we should treat others the way we would want to be treated.

What if headlines told the world about your financial troubles; or addictions; or love life or sexual orientation? Is it really any of anyone's business, but yours??

I am often reminded of a man with whom I had worked while he was a patient in a Nursing Facility. A sweet, gentle man of only 57 years of age, who had a small, but relatively successful retail business that fell victim to the economy. When the money stopped coming in, his long time girlfriend left him. When the credit card people started calling him (he had around $15,000 in debts), he tried to reason with them, to no avail; and when he was evicted from his apartment, and his neighbors saw his belongings on the sidewalk, and the Sheriff escort him from the building, they looked away and walked past him.

A heart condition sent him to the hospital, and then to the Nursing Facility where we met.

I spoke with him about his faith. I brought him Tefillin, the Phylacteries worn by Observant Jews while praying, so that he would have a pair, as his pair had been discarded onto the sidewalk with the rest of his belongings in such a way that he could not even identify where they were in the huge pile of "stuff"; I spoke with him about his life and time and again, he referred to the passage above, "V'ahavta l'rei'echa kamocha" - Love your neighbor as yourself. And when no neighbor did, he stopped caring; and when he stopped caring, he stopped eating. And when he stopped eating, he started dying, and when he was so weak that his organs failed, he died. Alone. When he was buried, there was nobody there for me to deliver a eulogy; there were no Mourners to say Kaddish; there was no Shiva. I doubt that anyone even knew that he had passed; or maybe, they were all too busy reading headlines about actors who are or who are not gay.

I wish that I could tell you that this is an isolated incident, but sadly, it is not. I wish that I could write that I will never again see such a patient, but sadly, I cannot.

Today, hundreds, if not thousands of people are in Nursing Facilities, Assisted Living Facilities, Hospice Facilities and hospitals. Alone. With no connection to the faith that they so cherished while growing up; with no Clergy to consult or comfort them; with no neighbor loving them as they do themselves. Where are we?

The George Clooneys of the world are doing their part. They are supporting organizations that provide assistance to these people, and others afflicted by the wrongs of the world.

If we are so concerned with the lives of these stars, then maybe we should take a hint and follow Mr. Clooney's example: He works hard at his job and is very good at it; he gives to others and could care less what people think of his personal life. It IS his life, after all.

The poet Linda Ellis wrote it best in her poem "The Dash", which represents the dash on one's grave marker between the dates of the decedent's birth and death. Linda so beautifully wrote:

For it matters not how much we own;
The cars the house the cash
What matters is how we live and love
And how we spend our dash.

New Years Resolutions can be made all year long, of course. Let us resolve to ourselves to remember these words; to love our neighbor as we do ourselves; and if we continue to feel the need to be in such awe of celebrities, let us walk behind their lead and give more and take less.

From the left coast, in sunny, but chilly Southern California, I wish you Ahavah u'Vrachot, Love and Blessings and of course, Shabbat Shalom.

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

Rabbi Abrams is the founder of Mobile Rabbinical Chaplaincy Services which provides visitation to elderly and infirm Jewish patients and residents in the Greater Los Angeles area. MRCS is a recognized 501(c)3 organization and is supported solely by the generosity of others. Please visit for information.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Is it time to finally listen to the Sages of Old?

In the time of the beginning of the Modern Era, The Great Sage, Rabbi Hillel said “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am not for others, what am I? And if not now, when? Rabbi Akiva said "Love your neighbor as you love yourself"; and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in the 20th Century said " "All it takes is one person… and another… and another… and another… to start a movement".

We ask, what is this movement? Could it be that the movement should be to care for others as we do ourselves?

In Deuteronomy 6:5-9 and again in Deuteronomy 11:13-21, we are commanded by G-d to love Him with all of our heart, might and soul. This was commanded on all of mankind.

Do these rules not still apply? Do the words of Hillel and Akiva from 2100 years ago not still apply?? How about the words of Heschel, spoken just a few decades ago??? How about if I throw in, just for good measure, the words of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King who was quoted as saying "Life's most persistent and urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others'?"

According to the Sages above, should we not Love G-d with all our hearts, souls and might? Should we not love each other as we do ourselves? Should we not take it upon ourselves do protect our own (human race)? And finally, should we not do for others???

One thing I can say with veritable certainty is that if WE were the "Others", we would absolutely hope and pray that mankind would help US.

The problem today, friends, is that we don't. We are too concerned with our own luxury car payments and huge mortgages; with paying our credit card bills that we ran up buying things that we could not afford; and most of all, we are too concerned with "others". Not with helping them, but with "equalling them". Keeping up with the Jones's, or the Berkowitz's, or the Al-Masri's.

In about two months, we will remember the Passover; the Exodus from Egypt when we were liberated from Pharaoh's slavery. We sit around our Seder tables and sing "Dayyenu", it was enough to be liberated; it was enough to receive Torah; Dayyenu, it was enough. But was it?

Are we not still slaves? Are we not slaves to our jobs; our large mortgages, our BMW payments?

What if we were to do an experiment, just for this weekend: From the beginning of Shabbat, at sundown this evening, let us think not about ourselves, but about others. Whether we are on our way to Synagogue, or the golf course; the mall or ball field; the Superbowl party or Bat Mitzvah, let's take a split second to smile at an entirely random fellow person. Let's take a brief moment to think about what THEIR life might be about; what problems might THEY have; and just maybe, we will be able to see the meaning in the words of our Sages from long and not do long ago.

From the sunny Left Coast, I wish you Ahava u'Vrachot, Love and Blessings.

Shabbat Shalom.

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The First Fifty - A chronicle of hope and gratitude

It is said that the first of anything is the hardest to attain. The first million; the first big league home run; first NHL goal, and so forth...

What about the first fifty? As in fifty years??

Four thousand years ago, some of our ancestors lived to be 900 years old. Moses, as we know lived to see 120; others even longer. 200 years ago, attaining the age of fifty was at times difficult, and even today, in some cultures, ravaged by poverty and famine, even the age of twenty seems to prove at best, a dream.

For us, though, living in our technologically incredible world, fifty is considered young. Most of the people with whom I work are well into their eighties or nineties, and some have even surpassed the Century mark of 100 years of age. Medical technology has made it so.

For me, attaining the age of fifty this coming Sunday wasn't so easy, and it was my fault. Years of abusing my body caused a sudden interruption in the life continuum four years ago, and to all concerned, reaching 50 for me was, but a dream. In fact, reaching forty-six was in short, a miracle. Nevertheless, I did make it this far, and for being here, I say Shecheyanu, the Hebrew prayer of gratitude for arriving at this place, at this time.

Often, I ask the elderly with whom I work to tell me what they feel to be the greatest change that they have witnessed in their ninety or so years of life. Their reply, almost to a person has nothing to do with technology, transportation or media, as we would expect. Their answer is stated simply and quietly with one word: Respect. "People no longer have respect", they tell me and continue to relate that this lack of respect appears to them as a general concept. People no longer respect people; we no longer respect the rules of society; we no longer respect our cities or communities; we no longer respect our own accomplishments, such as our jobs; and we no longer respect ourselves.

Teenage boys wear pants that are three sizes too big and have no desire to cover their backsides; twelve and thirteen year old girls dress as if they are headed to a nightclub for under-dressed adults, and this dress is not the exception, but the norm, and not just when they dress for school, or to hang out with their friends, but to Synagogue as well. Let's forget for a moment that this is G-d's house (because isn't G-d really everywhere?), but what about having enough self respect to cover one's self?

This doesn't necessarily rest solely with kids today, rather, with parents as well. I have actually seen one father bring his daughters to Synagogue wearing a lumberjack shirt, jeans, tennis shoes and suspenders; his girls are usually wearing some version of pajamas, and they don't even arrive in time to respect the sanctity of the Sabbath, or the tradition of Shabbat Prayer, rather, they seem to show up every week solely for the Shabbat lunch provided to Congregants, usually sponsored by the family of the Bar or Bat Mitzvah. I am not here to judge, really I am not, rather, I am demonstrating yet another example of how lack of respect has taken over society. Our society.

Do you remember hearing... "When I was your age, I walked a mile and a half to school uphill in the snow with an old pair of beaten up shoes, and..."? It sounds a little funny now, but I have found myself telling my kids that when I was their age, men wore ties and hats to ballgames, and our mothers would never even consider going to the grocery store without a full face of make-up, and newly pressed dress!

"Those were the days, my friend, (credit to Gene Raskin ca~1958), we thought they'd never end..." But, they did end. The question; my question, is, how do we get them back? How do we return, nit to the days of wearing Fedoras to ballgames, necessarily, but how do we regain the self respect that we once had, and in turn, have respect for others?

In a word, we need to look back, forward and sideways, and be more like my friend Jeff from Jeff's Gourmet and be "Smeichim b'Chelkeinu" (happy with our lots). We need to be grateful for every one of G-d's blessings, however small. We need to fill ourselves with gratitude that we awoke this morning,and with the hope that we will awake tomorrow to enjoy yet another wonderful day is this incredible place that G-d created for us.

We need to be head over heels in love. With life.

As the unknown poet during the Revolutionary War wrote: Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself. You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars, you have a right to be here; and whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt, the universe is unfolding exactly as it should. Therefore, be at peace with G-d, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul. With all its shams, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

My first fifty has taught me two things that I will now share with you.

As soon as you think these words, say them:

I love you and Thank you. For you will never know if you will have another opportunity.

With gratitude for my first fifty, and hope for my next fifty, I wish you Ahavah u'Vrachot; Love and Blessings from the Left Coast...

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Holding a grudge is like letting someone live Rent-Free in your head!"

I wish I could take credit for the above quote, but it appeared on my Facebook and as we are at the end of the Jewish month of Elul, the month when we forgive and beg forgiveness before the end of our year, I knew that I just had to use the quote.

It is true, you know, holding a grudge IS like letting someone live in your head rent-free. The more we hold onto the negatives in life, the more we worry about them, and the more we worry, the more we are pre-occupied. With the negative.

Last week, I mentioned to a friend of mine who happens to own the absolutely best Kosher burger and hot dog place on earth (Jeff's Gourmet Sausage Factory) that I thought that he should open a second location; one closer to where I live. That discussion lasted about three seconds, when the manager of the store said to me, "you know, that is one man (Jeff) who really is "Sameach b'Chelko" (happy with his lot). Not only is he a great guy, but he is one lucky man.

Would it not be wonderful if we were all Smeichim b'Chelkeinu, happy with our lots? Would it not be truly wonderful to wake up every day and thank G-d for what we have, and never ask for more? I try, but it isn't always easy. We are trained in this Country to "keep up with the Jones's"; to strive for wealth and possessions; to work as little as we have to for the greatest reward. What we seem to forget, though, is that the greatest reward is just being here, enjoying this wonderful world that G-d has given us.

During the Yom Kippur service, ten times we recite a prayer that is the confessional. Al chet sheh chatanu, for these sins we have sinned. Even for those sins which we have committed unknowingly.

As all of us, often I find myself hurting those for whom I care. For this, I ask each of you whom I have hurt during this past year or in years past to forgive me; I ask you to pardon me and I ask you to atone for me.

I received today a greeting from my good friend Juan Bravo in Huanaco, Peru. It is with great pleasure that I share his thoughts, as they mirror mine. Juan writes: I wish you a Happy New Year; that G-d always grants you wisdom and many successes.

This year, the Jewish people begin the year 5772.

We have survived despite having been slaves for 400 years in Egypt and forty more wandering the wilderness of Sinai; despite the cruelty of the Roman armies who destroyed our Temple; despite the efforts of the soldiers of the Crusades and Inquisitions, Spanish and Portuguese; despite the efforts of Hitler and Stalin and Arafat; despite wars of Arab aggression that continue to seek our extermination and UN Resolutions that are full of hatred. Despite Abbas and Ahmadinijad's missiles that land daily in the playgrounds of Sderot that target our children, we have survived and will continue to survive and thrive.

This week when we go into our Synagogues to welcome the New Year, we pray that we all may enjoy peace and good. We pray that the year 5772 is a good and sweet year.

My family and I wish you a year full of good health, joy, laughter, personal success; sympathy and kindness; a year which is a year of peace for all of us; and for each of us, the opportunity to live and to thrive.

From Sunny Southern California, on the Left Coast, we wish you a Shana Tovah u'Metukah; Ahavah u'Vrachot, Love and Blessings.

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

How do we love G-d with all our heart, soul and might?

Have you ever noticed that it seems that situations close together in chronology appear to compliment each other, even though they do not seem at all related?

A few weeks ago, I was talking baseball with my son, (which often we do), and I was trying to recall the name of a certain pitcher from the eighty's, and simply could not remember his name. Immediately, I remembered a patient whom I had visited in the hospital a few months ago and thought of his incredible knowledge of baseball history, and how he enjoyed talking baseball during our many visits. Right then, I wanted to call him, but got busy and after a few hours, the name of this pitcher became trivial and inconsequential; and its importance forgotten.

This past week, while leaving the hospital, I was approached by this wonderful man's wife in the parking lot, and she told me that his disease had progressed and that he was back in the hospital. On Monday night, he passed into Olam haBa, ending his pain and his suffering before we ever had the chance to talk baseball again. This saddens me.

These past two Shabbatot, we read from the Book of Deuteronomy, and the Parashot of V'Ethchanan and Ekev. In these weekly portions of Torah, we are told that it is our duty and obligation to love G-d with all our hearts, all of our souls and all of our might.

My dear friend and colleague, Rabbi Stewart Vogel led a tremendous discussion about love. The love of a parent; the love of a spouse; the love of G-d. Rabbi Vogel taught us to not just define love, but to look into ourselves to find our own definition.

In this way, I came about realizing that to love G-d, is to love ourselves, as we do our neighbors; as we love strangers. As we are all made in G-d's image, how could we not?

Without even being conscious of it, our work with seniors and the infirmed defines exactly how we can love G-d with all our hearts, souls and might. By merely visiting and providing them with the Judaic connection that many of them have lost so many years ago, we are able to allow our Neshamot, our souls connect with theirs and in doing so, we are loving G-d in a way that many of us have long forgotten.

With this in mind, I would like to tell you about Mobile Rabbinical Chaplaincy Services.

Providing Rabbinic visits to Jewish patients and residents of Skilled Nursing, Assisted Living, Board and Care and Hospice Facilities, our goal is to help bring Judaica to Seniors who, otherwise would not have a connection. In addition, we provide On-Call Chaplaincy services for emergency situations such as hospitalizations and End-of-Life events. We specialize in End-of-Life Chaplaincy and Palliative Care for patients with terminal illness, as well as providing grief counseling services for families in need.

As we never charge the patients or residents, our services are supported solely by the generosity of others and as a Religious Organization, our supporters are able to enjoy tax deductions as with any 501(c)3 recognized group.

Our goal is to recognize and serve as many seniors as we are able, and eventually to bring other Rabbis in many locations into the fold to help more people. In so doing, hopefully, we will all be able to love G-d in one more caring way.

Our Facebook page may be found at, and our website is currently under construction, but will soon be available at

Would it not be wonderful if we knew that our parents and grandparents had a Rabbi visiting them a few times a week, and available to them twenty-four hours a day in emergent situations?

When next we read the Shema and ve'Ahavta/ve'Haya im (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 and 11:13-21) let us all think of our seniors and what we all can do to show our love for G-d; with all our hearts; with all our souls and with all our might.

From Sunny Southern California, I wish you Ahavah u'Vrachot. Love and Blessings.

--Rabbi Alan Abrams

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Isn't Every Day Father's Day?

Last night, after a crazy evening of Karaoke, I sat with my son, visiting from College and watched a wonderful movie called "Jews and Baseball: A Love Story". It is a chronicle of baseball from a Jewish prospective, and a history of many Jewish ballplayers that played in the Major Leagues, and how they changed the game.

I found this to be the perfect movie to watch with Zac as the hour passed into Sunday, which, of course, is "Father's Day", as dubbed by Hallmark.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Credit for originating the holiday is generally given to Sonora Smart Dodd of Spokane, Washington, whose father, a Civil War veteran, raised her and her five siblings after their mother died in childbirth. She is said to have had the idea in 1909 while listening to a sermon on Mother's Day, which at the time was becoming established as a holiday. Local religious leaders supported the idea, and the first Father's Day was celebrated on June 19, 1910, the month of the birthday of Dodd's father.

For many of us, it is a time to spend with our families. Bringing dad breakfast in bed, playing a round of golf, davening together, or in my case, remembering my father and the times that we spent together, every day, not just on Father's Day.

As many of you may remember, my father and I had a bond unmatched and unbreakable. Of course, it included many days and nights at the ballpark, where, together, we had our own love story with Baseball.

Just as my father and I did, my son and I will spend the day today with what else? Baseball.

As with everyday, though, the day will be bittersweet. Today is the 1,257th father's day without my dad, and the fourth "official" one. It is also my first commercial father's day without Papi. Without the love of both of these great men, my life would have been not close to as rich.

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone of you who today remember your fathers. To my friend Karla who said goodbye to her dad just a few weeks ago, I send love and support; to David I send open arms and a shoulder, and of course to Tom, my brother in life, I send both laughter and tears for past days and future years to raise our sons the way that our dads raised us.

To the mother of my wonderful children, I thank you for making me a father; it truly is the greatest job on earth.

And lastly, to Ben, whom I never had the chance to meet in life, I thank you for sending me the most precious of all gifts, your daughter. I promise to cherish her as did you.

See you at the Ballpark!

Ahavah u'Vrachot... Love and Blessings...

--Rabbi Alan Abrams