What makes a Rabbi happy?

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Whenever I perform for an audience of Yiddish speakers I like to sing and play the song Yoshke on my guitar.  The song’s refrain describes how to make a rabbi happy: der rebbe haut gehasen freilach zein, trinken bronfen nit kein vine which roughly translates as “the rabbi will be happy if you never mix his brandy with wine.”  I never mix brandy  with my wine, so I do not know whether that will make me happier than I already am, or not.

On the other hand, many things have given me enormous pleasure and satisfaction over the past 40 years of my rabbinic career — an uplifting prayer service, a Bar/Bat mitzvah student who exceled, family programs, our community joining in the celebration of the bris of our son on Rosh Hashanah, the publication of my first book, the accolades that came with winning numerous Solomon Schechter awards, and so many more.

One of the things that has given me the most satisfaction over the years has been building our congregation’s highly successful Hebrew High program.    Over the past few weeks I got some news that REALLY put a smile on my face.  Four alumni of our own Hebrew High program will now be “paying it forward” and taking over the reins to (in their words) “re-Jew-venate” the program – two as co-directors and two as faculty members.  This is not the first time that Hebrew High alumni have returned to teach in the program – which I count as a true measure of success!

Years ago when a young child entered the classroom on the first day of school, he or she received a clean slate upon which letters of the Hebrew alphabet or a simple biblical verse had been written in honey. The child licked off the slate while reciting the name of each Hebrew letter and afterward snacked on treats of honey cake and apples. I still remember how when these four students were each in the third grade, they attended a breakfast with their parents. I spoke briefly to the class and invited each student to dip an animal cracker in honey and eat it.  It was my way of symbolically wishing them a Jewish educational experience that would turn out to be tasty and sweet.

In Judaism, the teacher-student relationship is sacred.  I have always tried to instill the joy of Judaism in my students.  I have encouraged them to see the world through Jewish eyes and to use their knowledge of Jewish texts and values to inform their decision making and their lives. To symbolize this, each year I presented our tenth grade confirmation students with special glasses that enabled them to see any light as a Jewish star (along with the congregation’s  more traditional gift  of a Tanakh so that the beauty and light of Judaism would guide their every step).

The Talmud (Sanhedrin 19b) says that when a person teaches a child it is as if that person had created him/her.   I am so proud to congratulate our congregation on their brilliant choice of our new Hebrew High co-directors and teachers.  Our Hebrew High motto has always been “Get a Hebrew High.”  Both Leora and I are on a high and take pride in letting everyone know how proud and happy we are that our students have now become teachers and educational leaders — in the very school in which they participated. We wish everyone a wonderful year of learning!


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