Saturday, May 30, 2009

An Open Letter to my Friend, Teacher and Rav

I write this open letter with a heavy heart, but also with hearty congratulations to my good friend Elon Sunshine, who has, in the past three years become my teacher, mentor, Rav and friend. Without him having asked if I wanted to live on September 10, 2007, and allowing G-d to hear my answer, I would not be here today to give daily thanks for my second chance at life on Olam haZeh, nor would I be here today to try and bring Torah to others as he has to me.

Dearest Rabbi Sunshine:

When we first met three years ago at a Break the Fast dinner in Scottsdale and shared a table over eggs and OJ, I had a feeling that we would become good friends. Never in my wildest imagination, would I have believed that we would share a journey as we have, and never would I have ever dreamt that we would move separately to similar places, both in life and in career.

I will always cherish our study sessions in your office at HZ, wherein I would come up with what I believed was an important lesson in Torah and your reply was something like "So What? You never thought of that before?" Your level and simple understanding and pure acceptance of Torah and Talmud made me want to work harder, think harder and learn more and more. Especially with you.

I remember one afternoon that you visited me in the hospital during my recuperation from Multi-System Failure and we discussed that past two months that I had missed. You then took out a paper from your pocket and we studied Talmud together. You knew exactly what part of Mishna to bring me; Not too easy, but not too challenging for my half-baked brain.

We have shared many a meal at Scottsdale Kosher and a few more while rushing off to teach at Hebrew High. You have trusted me with your students and I have enjoyed teaching them almost as much as I have enjoyed learning from you.

My fondest memories, though, are your officiating at Tyler's Bar Mitzvah last March, and this past year during the High Holidays. It was not only my distinct pleasure, but an honour to have shared your Pulpit.

I am so very sorry to see you leave Phoenix. It pains me to know that it may be a long time before we share another meal; another joke or another class. And as hard as it was to say goodbye this afternoon, it is even harder to write goodbye tonight. It is indeed difficult when the writer has few words. In truth, there are no words that even begin to thank you for all that you have done these past three years.

It is said that as one closes, others open; For you, a very deserving Congregation awaits in the *San Francisco Bay Area, and for me, my teaching of Torah will continue in Los Angeles. I suppose that an hour flight isn't really that far away.

I know not how to close, other than with words from another writer. One from whom we have all learned a great deal, Bob Dylan:

May God bless and keep you always; May your wishes all come true; May you always do for others, And let others do for you; May you build a ladder to the stars, And climb on every rung; May you stay forever young.

Elon, I thank you from the very bottom of my heart. I will miss seeing you in Shul and will love you always.

Ahavah u'Vrachot


*Rabbi Elon Sunshine has been blessed with the task of serving Congregation B'nai Shalom in Walnut Creek, California. If you are ever in the area, be sure to look him up.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Winners, Losers and Other Strangers

As it has been a while since my last posting, I feel the need, some need anyway, to explain my brief absence before moving to today's banter, which I am calling: WINNERS, LOSERS and OTHER STRANGERS.

You see, since my return from death sixteen months ago, and my return from Israel in March, where I learned what "living" is really all about, as opposed to simply "existing", I have tried my best to keep to myself about certain issues and instances that annoy me, or make me happier, for reasons of following the most desirous of all Jewish Mitzvot, or Commandments, those having to do with what we call, "Lashon HaRa", or Evil Tongue. All the while, in doing so, I have been pretty much forced to look out of State for work, and have been commuting between Arizona and California almost bi-weekly since Pesach (Passover) time.

As hard as it is to not, we all do it, speak with an evil tongue, that is, even when we don't mean to, and even when we try so hard to hold our emotions, eventually, we will fall back and speak out of school about someone. Halakha, Jewish Law does, however, permit us to vent, once, and part of my writing today might just seem like I am venting. Anything said in a negative manner, albeit the absolute truth, will be said without naming names - For you to whom these ventilation's are directed, know exactly who you are, and more precisely, exactly why I am venting.

Initially, though, I'd like to start with a few of the positives and address some winners.

WINNER: JONATHAN COOGAN - Jonathan is an old High School buddy who has worked his tail off in the entertainment business for years and years, and has finally gotten a huge, gigantic push with his brilliant one man show,
I'll Give You Something To Cry About". Billed as "An Addictive Comedy", his show is currently playing at The Beverly Hills Playhouse in the Los Angeles area. Check for details. Do NOT miss this show.

WINNERS: RABBI RICHARD CAMRAS and CANTOR RON SNOW - Rabbi Camras and I actually began Hebrew School together at Sinai Temple in Los Angeles when we were maybe 5 or six years old. Now the Senior Rabbi at Shomrei Torah Synagogue (, he along with the Valley's "Coolest Cantor", Ron Snow have brought something amazingly special to the San Fernando Valley. With programming for anyone and everyone, it is simply a wonderful place to be on any Shabbat or Holiday.

WINNER - EXTRA SPECIAL WINNER: KELLEY ALEXANDER, SUPERMOM - You may remember a piece that I wrote back in January about a very talented television writer by the name of Del Shores. He is also a winner this week, but before we get to Del, I need to tell you about Kelley. If you have an encyclopedia handy, please look up FANTASTIC SINGLE MOMS and you will see her picture and caption right on top. Actually, you won't because Kelley is the sort of person who would never seek attention for doing what she does best, being a mom to two delightful teenage daughters, who through much adversity have managed to not only keep a sense of humour about them, but bring home good grades and are star softball players.

The main reason that I bring up Kelley (because she would never allow me to boast about her) is that I learned recently that she is in a competition to begin airing on HGTV this weekend. The show, "The $250,000 Challenge" to air this Sunday at 10/9c! HGTV is giving 5 families in one neighborhood a shot at what everyone wants right now…a quarter of a million dollars! But they’ll have to cut through the competition, in the ultimate home renovation contest, to claim it!If you’ve ever dreamed about paying down your mortgage, peace of mind, or being king of the neighborhood…then you know dreams go along way, but don’t come easy! You can also text keyword HGTV250 to 44881 to be reminded to tune in on Sundays 10/9c. GO KELLEY!!!
If anyone deserves to be a fan favorite, Kelley does. In and of themselves, single moms are tough cookies. They have the hardest job in the world and usually get very little support. This is our chance to support one of the best around.

WINNER: CHANA LURIA - Another super Single Mom with much on her plate, including caring for two wonderful teenagers, fighting an unjust JDS (Jewish Day School) administration (see below under LOSERS), and trying to stay cancer free. (If you see Chana on Facebook, say hello and let her know that you support her 100%). Our prayers are with you, Chanaleh. May you go from Strength to Strength.

COLLECTIVE WINNERS: SINGLE MOMS EVERYWHERE - Please do not feel slighted. You also make this cut, but if I tried to name all of you (that I know, even), we would run out of web space!

WINNERS: KENNETH VonHOPF, GELIE AKHENBLIT and AUSTIN FELDMAN - Network marketers who seem to have a knack for bringing people together. In these difficult times, your groups and vision of business future helps us all.

LOSERS: MAJOR PHOENIX AREA BANKS - who would rather alienate potential customers by charging a person $6 to cash a $20 dollar check. What happened to CUSTOMER SERVICE? It appears gone forever.

WINNER: FAIRFAX HIGH SCHOOL - in Los Angeles by electing, get this, a MALE PROM QUEEN! Only in LA. Only at Fairfax! That building at the corner of Melrose and Fairfax is still an interesting place. Amazing.

WINNER: DEL SHORES - the brilliantly award winning writer and creator of SORDID LIVES, who was able to pick himself up after getting an axe from a backstabbing Cable Network by taking his show on the road to sell out audiences all over the Country. For more info, check out

LOSERS: THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF PHOENIX, ARIZONA - whom, according to statistics reported recently, place the Jewish population of the Valley of the Sun at over 100,000, yet far less than TEN PERCENT is affiliated with a Synagogue. If we are really 100,000 strong, where are we?

WINNERS: THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF GREATER LOS ANGELES - whom in the last ten years have grown significantly in both the City and the Valley and caused Los Angeles to become the largest observant Jewish Community in the World. I am amazed and proud.

LOSER: THE LARGEST JEWISH COMMUNITY DAY SCHOOL IN SAN DIEGO - who for no known reason whatsoever believes that they can bully a family into leaving the school after many years of family support. Here's the worst part, they can get away with it, and they ARE getting away with it. This school believes in Torah Judaism? Right..........

WINNERS: MY FAMILY - for putting up with me these past (almost) two years as I work toward Ordination, and for understanding why I must move to be of service to a Jewish Community elsewhere while there is no Judaic work here. Thank you, and I love you.

OTHER STRANGERS: ARE JUST - friends whom we have yet to meet.

As I write this afternoon, we are on the bridge of Shavuot, when each of us readies ourselves to once again meet at Sinai to accept G-d's Torah. May we all remember that without it, our lives lack direction. May we remember that the richest people are those who are happy with what they possess and may we each remember that we are lucky to have each other.

Chag Shavuot Sameach.

Ahava u'Vrachot, with love and blessings...


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Building Walls and Hiding behind them

Earlier on Friday, just before Shabbat, a friend of mine, who happens to be an absolutely terrifically talented writer, asked me why it seems that she writes her best pieces when she feels Divine Inspiration, (understandable), and why it seems (to her) that she can only be truly inspired when she completely lets go of emotion and physical being.

We discussed the inner אור התורה , the Light of Torah that we all possess, and we discussed the possibilities that the walls of self defense that we all seem to build around ourselves may be getting in the way of our allowing ourselves to feel G-d's light. And then we discussed how it may have been for our Forefathers - Our ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and so forth.

What did they have to do see G-d's light? Did they have walls to tear down? They clearly had episodes of non-belief; Times in which they acted in not the most "Holy" of ways, and for one reason, and one reason alone, they were able to repent and again find favor in the eyes of G-d: They were human. Humans make mistakes. Jacob deceived his brother to gain a Birthright; Moses lost his temper (on more than one occasion); Aaron helped in the construction of the golden calf.

When these scenarios were brought up to my friend the writer, who happens to be a very serious Baalat Teshuvah, she literally flipped! I had not been called so many names since I stood in nets at Joe Louis Arena and tried to stop 100MPH spheres of galvanized rubber with my body! All because I had the audacity to refer to our Torah Heroes as "HUMAN".

Just about thirty-eight or so days ago, as we all sat at our respective Seder tables and read from our Hagadot, we recalled how Rabbi Hillel in a discussion with a potential Conversion student told the young man that the basic idea of Torah is to treat others as you would wish to be treated, and to not cause a happening which you hate to be bestowed on another. This, of course has been called by many names, the most popular of which is "The Golden Rule".

Let's take a look at this "Golden Rule", shall we? Do unto others, as you would..., right?

How do the following play into the "Golden Rule"?

1. Lashon HaRa - According to Wikipedia, Lashon HaRa is is the prohibition in Jewish Law of telling gossip. We all do it, right? Gossip? We try not to, but let's be serious. We all need to work on this one in order to follow the "GR".

2. Road Rage - Do you have "Road Rage"? Do you get upset at other drivers who might not be as agile behind the wheel as you are? When was the last time you showed that middle finger to the Jerk in the 2.5 ton Ford Pick-'Em-Up with the souped up wheels? You and I would need a ladder just to get into the cab, right? Let's cut the guy some slack. He is the knucklehead having to fill up every other day at $75 bucks a pop! I think that he's secretly jealous of our Priuses.

3. The Non-Member Know-It-All-Snowbird Minyanaire who complains about everything - We all have one of these guys, right? He shows up around Thanksgiving and leaves after Mothers' Day. He means well, but does he ever put a Dollar or even a Quarter into the Pushke? He doesn't really rate in this quiz, but he's annoying, and at 2am on a Sunday, annoying works for me. I think the way to help this guy understand the "GR" is to kill him with kindness. Then, the next time we see him, and for the balance of his stay, have our kids put membership packets on his windshield!

4. The Phone Message, Text Message, E-Mail Message receiver, who will NOT reply to us, unless he or she wants something FROM us - This one is tricky, as it always brings us into the "GR" Zone. I actually find these folks the rudest of them all. Believe you , me--- When they want from US, they call, SMS, Page, E-Mail and call again. They find us on FaceBook, MySpace, Twitter, Spitter... They find us in the bath tub, at the Yankees game, at a movie while we are buying popcorn--- They even find us in Shul! Of course, since we are all steadfast believers of the "GR", we actually ANSWER our phones and e-mails! Do they? NEVER! How do we fix this? Well... Unfortunately, I believe the only way to deal with the "Non-Caller-Backer", is to play his game right back at him. Of course, it probably won't work, because we are more courteous in that regard.

5. And finally, last, but certainly not least, our friends who are so into this new thing (to them) called "Yiddishkeit", that all of their Halakhic Rules come straight from Reb Yussel (if your name is Reb Yussel, apologies in advance, you are supposed to be fictional) who engrains into their head facts like how many times one is supposed to pray for this or that on a day when the sun comes up 1.4 minutes later than expected. Heaven forbid that WE tell them otherwise... We will become instant heretics and forever be branded Anti-Semetic. In these cases, how may we hold onto the "GR"? We don't. We leave well enough alone, and when they find their own way back and into our Shuls and Communities, we can teach them what our vision of Love for Ohr HaTorah in our hearts and minds.

Which brings us back to the topic of walls. Defensive walls; Offensive walls; Why do we build them? Why do we hide behind them? Maybe, just maybe we do, because we are afraid of facing others who may not practice the "GR" as we would like, and if we build a wall to keep their thoughts from connecting with our emotions, we feel ourselves safe.

What we must, however, remember, is that as long as our walls are up, we will have a harder time connecting with G-d and with the Ohr HaTorah that resides in each of us.

As we mature, our light at times brightens; and on occasion it fades, but never does it leave us. It rests within us, and calls upon us to ask for guidance, which it is more than happy to provide.

From the Midbar that we call Arizona, I wish you all Shavuah Tov.

Ahavah u'Vrachot...