Recently, I learned of the death of my Rabbi.
I’m not really religious. I don’t respond well to organized religion or judgmental rules to which many faiths subscribe.
But this man, this religious, inclusive man, spoke to me on a different level.
I met him in Los Angeles around 2005. I was introduced to him and invited to his “Dinner for 60 Strangers.” What? I like dinner. I like meeting people. I was happy to attend. At the dinner, I noticed just how engaging and charismatic he was. I appreciated his wife, who is an excellent cook and baker and spoke honestly and sincerely. And, he had a LOT of kids of all ages and they each seemed very cool.
This man was deeply spiritual, knowledgable and religious. He made an enormous impact on me. We had meandering conversations about my family and history of how we ended up in the little community in Northern New Mexico. He was open-minded and inclusive.
I had previously thought that religious and spiritual folks were judgmental and lived by a stringent set of rules. And if I didn’t play by the same rules, they’d lecture or drop me.
He listened to me and got to know me.
He accepted me.
It’s confusing to write this piece, as my inclination is to write in the present tense and say he’s someone who likes telling jokes, loves wearing tie-dye and funny spoof shirts, and knows everyone. Yet, given that he’s recently died, I’m supposed to write in the past tense.
It’s odd to think that I won’t see him again. I heard him lecture on the topic of love in early December. He was thinner than prior visits, but still engaging. His eyesight seemed to be giving him trouble, and my noticing made me look away. I didn’t want to see him suffering. I had read his son’s calls for prayers to wish him well. I believed he was invincible and I didn’t know the extent of his ailments.
Schwartzie, as he was fondly called by everyone, was known and loved. He was fair, just, reasonable and so, so wise. He helped me become proud of myself and of being Jewish. Through some of his teachings, I realized that Judaism doesn’t have to be an expensive fashion show in which people pay to pray. It doesn’t need to be done in a fancy, gilded building. It just needs to be felt from the heart. I imagine he would encourage people to believe in G-d, but I’m not sure it would have to be a damning requirement. In my estimation and knowledge of Schwartzie, he wanted people to try a little more than yesterday. Of course, he’d strongly encourage and prefer Jews to keep kosher or light Shabbat (sabbath) candles at the proper times on Friday nights. But, I also know that he was all about asking questions and learning.
His death will leave a remarkable loss in my heart. I will continue to be friends with his son (also a wonderful Rabbi in Los Angeles) and daughter-in-law, and now I deeply want to connect and talk to them about how they feel (sad and so much more, I’m sure). May he always live in our hearts. I’m also interested in continuing my learning and questioning while I keep living my true purpose.
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I’m a Life Coach in Private Practice. I work with clients in various states of transition from professional strife to personal and relationship issues. Please contact me to learn more about my work. Other blog posts you may like: How Long Does It Take to Fall In Love? and What It’s Like To Be The Only One.