Thursday, May 24, 2018

Rusted Root's Michael Glabicki Comes to Detroit

When the Detroit Jewish News asked me if I'd be interested in interviewing Rusted Root's Michael Glabicki for an article to promote his appearance at a music festival hosted at the Jewish Community Center, I immediately agreed. Rusted Root has been one of my favorite musical groups for decades so I wasn't going to turn down this opportunity. What was confusing to me was why Glabicki, who is not Jewish, was invited to perform at this Jewish festival. I knew there was a connection to Judaism with Rusted Root because I had previously written that former band member Liz Berlin's father is a cantor who studied at the Jewish Theological Seminary, while I was studying there in the rabbinical school. However, I couldn't figure out the connection to Judaism for Glabicki.

Turns out that the festival organizers either thought Glabicki was Jewish or they just thought his music had a Jewish feel to it. Whatever the case, it was a lot of fun talking with him about Rusted Root's music, his ongoing tour with Uprooted, his musical influences, spirituality, depression and what to expect when Uprooted comes to the JCC Ethan & Gretchen Davidson Music Festival at the Berman Theater for Performing Arts (located at the Metro Detroit JCC) this Sunday evening.

I first met Glabicki and the other members of Rusted Root following a small show in Las Vegas almost 13 years ago and was impressed with how generous they were with their time to their fans. He was even more generous with his time for this interview and I'm grateful. You'll be able to listen to my interview with Michael Glabicki on the Pop Jewish Podcast soon, but in the meantime, here's my interview that was published in the Detroit Jewish News.


Rusted Root Front Man Comes to The Berman 
By Rabbi Jason Miller

The JCC Ethan & Gretchen Davidson Music Festival returns for its second year at The Berman and this year’s lineup is better than last year’s. This festival is an innovative approach to arts and music festivals showcasing three artists for three nights of extraordinary music. Project Trio will perform on May 24 and Marc Cohn, well-known for his hit “Walking in Memphis” will perform on May 26. Rusted Root’s Michael Glabicki will bring his solo project, Uprooted, to the festival on May 27. 

Glabicki is the founder and lead singer of the multi-platinum band Rusted Root, who formed almost thirty years ago, and has collaborated with the likes of Santana, the Allman Brothers Band and Led Zeppelin. He promises to carry on playing Rusted Root’s entire catalog of music on tour with re-inspired versions, as well as continuing to bring new and exciting music under the new name of Uprooted, his new touring band.



Rabbi Jason Miller: Tell me a little bit about Uprooted and the inspiration behind it.

Michael Glabicki: Uprooted came about because I was doing a lot of writing and getting into different writing techniques. I’ve really come up with a lot of different sounds, grooves and ways of laying out the different lyrics and vocals of the songs. It’s a really explosive and prolific time for me to be putting this all together. I just kind of felt like it was taking a trajectory that was off the Rusted Root path. So, I decided to get this new band, Uprooted, to put the mechanics behind what I need for the music.

Rusted Root's Michael Glabicki with Rabbi Jason Miller in 2005


RJM: What can we expect when you bring Uprooted to the Davidson Musical Festival?

MG: Some of the artists were in the Rusted Root touring band so I’ve worked with them in different ways. We’re a very intuitive band. There’s a lot of chemistry when I’m in the room with them so it just very easily flows. What I’m trying to do is create a safe environment where whatever happens happens, meaning that we can come in one day and play something completely different than what we did the previous day. It really comes down to just living in the moment where whatever we feel like that day is what is going to inspire the arrangement of the songs. So, when we get on stage we’re just going to really be who we are and it’s going to be a big surprise to us.



RJM: I know that Liz Berlin (member of Rusted Root) is Jewish and her father, Cantor Rick Berlin, was at the Jewish Theological Seminary’s cantorial school while I was studying there in the rabbinical school. Do you personally have any connection to Judaism?

MG: My sister converted to Judaism about five years ago. She married a Jewish guy, so I’ve been to some of the ceremonies. I love it and I think it’s a great community kind of feel. I was at their daughter’s bat mitzvah and it was beautiful.

Michael Glabicki and Dirk Miller of Uprooted


RJM: Your music incorporates so many diverse styles. Who are your influences?

MG: Probably the earliest one would be Cat Stevens. When I was six years old, I’d listen to the 8-track of The Greatest Hits of Cat Stevens that my parents had. I’d just sit down under the dining room table and just experience his songwriting. I think the acoustic aspect of what he was doing probably touched me at an early age. That’s what drove me to play Rusted Root music on an acoustic guitar at first. In my first year of college I dropped out because I had depression, but songwriting helped me to feel a whole lot better. That’s when I decided to become a songwriter.



RJM: Talk to me about your love of instruments. I know you play the penny whistle and some other unusual instruments.

MG: When I was figuring out the vision for the band when I dropped out of college, I spent a good two years figuring out what I wanted the landscape of the music to be. I was on electric guitar at the time and that was my world. During that time period, I was thinking, “what am I missing here… what would fill out the music?” How could I bring the colors in that were needed? When I heard John Buynak, who had a lot of really cute instruments that were really spontaneous and full of laughter, I think that’s when it clicked. When I heard him play the penny whistles and the flutes, I was like, “okay, that’s it.”


RJM: Through Rusted Root, you’ve collaborated with some amazing musicians over the years. Who do you dream of collaborating with in the future?

MG: It’s not really something I think about. Playing with Santana was something magical, but I just pray that somebody’s going to come soon because I feel like I want to but I don’t ever want to force it.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Learning to Teach Torah in the Digital Age

I hear it all the time. Hebrew School has changed so drastically over the past several decades. This is true. It seems most Jewish kids don't go to Hebrew School to learn anything... they go so they can simply have their bar or bat mitzvah. It's a means to an end.

From the educator's point of view, this means that teaching Jewish youth isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. With social norms changing at light speed, it can be difficult to make any heritage relevant to young people today, and Judaism is no different. The Torah -- the Hebrew Bible -- has been the cornerstone of Jewish thought for thousands of years, yet even this most essential of Jewish texts poses challenges for the Hebrew school teacher. Educators must offer articulate and convincing answers as to the questions raised by the Torah.

Jewish studies, even in informal education, all revolve around Jewish values, which have their roots in philosophy and ethical codes that are ancient in origin. Jewish thought stretches back thousands of years, connecting past and present. Educators helping young people develop their Jewish identity are effectively asked to bridge the gap between antiquity and modern society and to instill in them an appreciation of that heritage not only in some abstract, historical sense but as an important part of their lives.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Bar Mitzvah Montage: A DIY Option

Montage is a French word meaning “the technique of producing a new composite whole from fragments of photographs, text, or music.” However, if you ask anyone who has been to a bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah in the past two decades, they will immediately describe it as the approximately ten-minute video of family photos highlighting the development of the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl.

It’s possible that my bar mitzvah party back in October 1989 had the first do-it-yourself (DIY) video montage. My father created a montage using printed photographs he digitized with a camcorder and then assembled using the family’s Commodore Amiga computer. He recorded the montage (we called it a “slideshow”) onto a VHS tape and had it displayed on a large movie screen following the candle lighting ceremony. My father controlled the production with the large VCR remote control from his seat in the hotel ballroom. No one had ever seen such a production before, but it certainly caught on.
Today, no mitzvah celebration is complete without the montage. Knowing a few tricks will help you assemble your own montage without much hassle. With the right software, there’s really no reason to hire a company to produce the montage (although my tech company does this service if you don’t want to bother with it).

The most important thing to remember when creating the montage is that you don’t want to bore your guests. After all, they came to celebrate; they don’t want to sit and watch hundreds of photos of your family’s cruise to Alaska. Keeping the entire montage to approximately 100-150 photos (about 4-5 songs) is an ideal goal to set. You want to feature the bar mitzvah boy or bat mitzvah girl, but there shouldn’t be too many photos of them alone.

Teens and adults watching a Mitzvah Montage at a bat mitzvah party



Thursday, March 01, 2018

The Uber Jewy-ness of HQ Trivia's Scott Rogowsky

There's a collective excitement in the Jewish community when pop culture gets all Jewy (to borrow a term that very well might have been coined by Sarah Silverman). In the case of the trending trivia game du jour, HQ Trivia (created by Jewish entrepreneurs Rus Yusupov and Colin Kroll), that Jewy-ness has been exhibited by Scott Rogowsky.

Rogowsky, who is quickly carving out his niche as the Alex Trebek of the Digital Age, is none too afraid to let his Judaism come through while hosting the twice-daily mobile trivia game. The people's favorite host missed last night's HQ Trivia because, well of course, it was the Jewish holiday of Purim. In what might have been the first time EVER in the history of anything pop culture, we were told someone wasn't coming into work because of Purim (a rather minor holiday on the Jewish holiday barometer of holiness).

While Rogowsky might have been out partying for Purim last night, he showed up for the afternoon session of HQ Trivia and didn't disappoint by throwing in several Purim references, including "hamantaschen," "Queen Vashti" and even a more esoteric "Mishloach Manot." My wife and fellow HQ Trivia fanatic called me right after the game to exclaim, "Did you hear how many Purim references Scott made? Does he realize most people who were playing had absolutely no clue what he was talking about?"



Rogowsky's comedy has always focused on his Jewishness, including a YouTube video with almost 1 million views that has Rogowsky walking the streets of New York with Hasidic men asking him if he's Jewish. JTA, in late December, ran a feature on Rogowsky in which he talked about his bar mitzvah, anti-Semitism and Hanukkah presents. "Notably, Rogowsky is very vocal about his Jewish identity; live on HQ he’s referred to himself as the 'Semitic Sajak' (that’s in reference to 'Wheel of Fortune' host Pat Sajak) and the 'Meshuggeneh Martindale” (as in Wink, the host of 'Tic-Tac-Dough'). He has wished winners 'mazal tov' and, on the first night of Hanukkah, he wore a vibrant blue-and-white suit emblazoned with Stars of David.'

Knowing how Rogowsky is so vocal about being Jewish, before Purim, one HQ Trivia fan even tweeted to him trying to get a Purim shoutout. That was probably unnecessary since it was a sure bet it would get mentioned.




While I don't get quite as excited about Jewish references in pop culture as others, I do recognize that it is a way to introduce more people out there to Jewish terminology. As a member of Rabbis Without Borders, I learned several years ago that there's some value in reaching beyond the traditional borders of the Jewish community to share some of our Judaism with the broader world. In a non-traditional (okay, very non-traditional) way, Scott Rogowsky is bringing Jewish terminology to the masses. His role as host of a quick (less than 15 minutes) game show that reaches over a million people a couple times a day gives him quite the forum to teach a few Jewish words or concepts. That's quite a large Hebrew School classroom Rogowsky has. Happy Purim Scott Rogowsky and thanks for being so punny on HQ Trivia!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Reflecting on CES 2018

In early January, I made my annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). A couple days before the official opening of the largest tech expo in the world, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) puts on an event called CES Unveiled to provide a small taste of what attendees can expect to see at CES. As I walked into the hotel ballroom for CES Unveiled this year I saw a photographer taking a photo of the CEO and president of CTA, Gary Shapiro, who commutes from his home in Franklin, Michigan to the CTA offices in D.C. Shapiro jumped off the ground as high as he could as the photographer managed to catch him many feet off the ground in mid-air.

That photo was appropriate because it summed up Shapiro’s excitement for the 51st CES – the largest show in CTA’s history. Trying to put into words everything I saw and experienced at this year’s CES is an impossible task. The most common question I receive after I return each year from CES is: What was the most impressive new technology there. That is no simple question because wherever you turn, there are impressive tech innovations that will revolutionize our world.



The show has grown over the years and now seems to take over the entire Vegas strip. More than 3,900 exhibitors showcased world-changing technologies that spanned more than 2.75 million net square feet of exhibit space across Las Vegas. Shapiro’s excitement for CES was shared around the world as there were close to a million tweets about CES 2018 on Twitter. This year’s CES will be remembered as the year when a blackout shut down large parts of CES for over an hour, but overall this was a minor interruption in an extraordinary event. As news reports correctly pointed out, the Amazon Alexa and Google Home technology is becoming commonplace in most home appliances and tech products. Kohler even unveiled an Amazon-Alexa controlled toilet. Yes, a toilet! Intel even got itself into the Guinness Book of World Records when its advanced software fleet of 100 drones that were controlled without GPS by only one pilot put on a spectacular light show over the water at the Bellagio Hotel.

While the big news coming out of CES was about the billion-dollar brands, like LG, Samsung, Google, Amazon and Panasonic, that showcased their latest consumer products, what I always enjoy the most is visiting Eureka Park at CES, which has 900 startups reflecting the vibrant future of the global tech industry.

I loved learning more about tech innovations like virtual/augmented reality, 5G, smart cities, digital health, and artificial intelligence. What I was very excited to understand further were autonomous vehicles. Before CES officially opened on the first day, I headed to the area in the parking lot where the ride service company Lyft was offering complimentary rides around the Vegas strip in autonomously driven BMWs. I inquired as to how I could get a ride and was told to use my phone at exactly 10:00 AM to order an autonomous Lyft ride.

I then headed to a conference session on the state of artificial intelligence featuring Deepu Talla, the vice president and general manager of Autonomous Machines at NVIDIA. Talla discussed the future of autonomous cars and the artificial intelligence breakthroughs from various industries. He documented the rise of artificial intelligence from early tech periods beginning with the advent of the personal computer to mobile technology and then cloud technology until the current era of AI, which will include autonomous vehicles.

At the end of the session it was 10:00 AM so I took out my phone and ordered my autonomous Lyft ride. The modified BMW 5-series was outfitted with Aptiv’s autonomous driving technology. A human driver sat in the driver’s seat and a representative from Aptiv (formerly Delphi Automotive) sat in the passenger seat. Nandita Mangal from Aptiv explained that according to Nevada law the man in the driver’s seat would actually drive the car while we were on private property (the parking lot of the convention center and any hotel parking lots), but when we were on the street the car would go into autonomous mode. Mangal is in charge of the user experience when it comes to Aptiv’s autonomous driving technology. We had a fascinating discussion about the pros and cons to the consumer when autonomous vehicles become mainstream.




Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Matisyahu Opens Up About Pushing Jewish Teens Off Stage at Maccabi Games

Matisyahu wasn't always Matisyahu.

Born Matthew Paul Miller, the singer/songwriter's career took off in the early 2000's during a phase of his life when he was affiliated with the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. Six years ago, the reggae vocalist and alternative rock musician famously shaved his beard and stopped wearing a yarmulke in public. His religious transformation, divorce and struggle with addiction led to his well-received "Akeda" album. Matisyahu’s latest work, "Undercurrents," is the first album he’s produced by himself.

Matisyahu - Interview with Rabbi Jason Miller 2017


The artist, who brings his tour to St. Andrew’s Hall in Detroit on December 12, took the time to talk to me for an interview in the Detroit Jewish News. In this candid interview, Matisyahu opens up about his religious journey and shaving his iconic beard. He also, for the first time, addresses the controversial concert at the Maccabi Games this past summer, in which he pushed Jewish teens off the stage during the show.

Here's the audio of the interview with the published interview in the Detroit Jewish News below that:





Rabbi Jason Miller: What are the high points of your career?

Matisyahu: There’s been some great moments. The time I got to go on stage at Bonnaroo [Music and Arts Festival] 2005 with Trey [Anastasio of Phish] singing “No Woman No Cry.” That was a definite high point. I also got to sing “Roxanne” with Sting at Ramat Gan Stadium in Tel Aviv. That was incredible. Those are probably the two biggest artists that I got to sit in with in big stadiums. One of the memories just popping into my head was after the whole BDS thing in Spain, coming to Israel a month later and the warm feeling I got from everyone in Israel was very special for me.


What do you love about coming to Detroit, a city that like Matisyahu, has been on a transformative journey lately?

I have a song on the new album called “Back to the Old” and I think Detroit is one of those cities where young people who left the city have a real pride in the city and return when they’re older. And my first paid gig ever was in Detroit – at the Detroit Auto Show for Volkswagen. Every hour on the hour, I would play music at the Volkswagen display.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Rabbi Refuses to Give Menorah to Trump White House for Hanukkah Party

It was big news when NBA superstar Steph Curry chose to not go to the White House with his Golden State Warriors team to meet President Donald Trump after winning the 2017 NBA Championship. But he's just one player. After voicing his decision, President Trump uninvited the entire Warriors team. Next to opt out of a White House visit was the entire Women's Basketball team from South Carolina. The team, which won its first NCAA championship in April, was invited to attend a reception at the White House, but declined the invitation.

It's not only athletes who are refusing invitations to the White House. It will be very interesting to see how many Jewish leaders opt out of attending the annual Hanukkah reception at the White House next month. Invitations have already gone out and presumably only rabbis and other Jewish leaders the Trump Administration thinks would accept have been extended an invitation. However, there are likely to be many invitees, even ardent Trump supporters, who will cave to pressure and choose to not attend the Hanukkah party at the White House this year based on actions and public statements by the President himself.

What's interesting to note is that, while there hasn't been any news yet about people refusing to attend the Hanukkah party, there has already been talk of a Reform rabbi who has turned down the White House's request to borrow a menorah from the synagogue to be kindled at the reception.

President Obama lights a menorah in the White House. President Trump is having trouble getting a menorah loaned to the White House.
President Obama lights a menorah in the White House. President Trump is having trouble getting a menorah loaned to the White House as one rabbi has already refused on ethical grounds. (Obama White House Archives)


The rabbi, who is at a Reform congregation and wished to remain anonymous, shared the account after nixing the White House representative's appeal to borrow a menorah to be used at the Hanukkah party. I learned about it from another rabbinic colleague, who posted the story on Facebook:

"I received this from a rabbinic colleague I deeply respect, and was deeply moved by their integrity and bold resistance:
Just got off the phone with someone in Washington, D.C., who is helping to plan the White House’s Hanukkah Banquet this year. It seems the White House was interested in borrowing a special hanukkiah to use in this year’s celebration.
I told her we are honored to be asked.
I told her I wish I could say yes.
I told her that Hanukkah’s celebration of religious freedom, spreading light in the face of darkness, cultivating hope instead of fear, is antithetical to everything this White House has embraced.
I told her we would have to say no.
Then I received a second phone call, that this conversation should be kept confidential. I asked why. Because it wouldn’t be appropriate, I was told. Because this is how things are done in Washington, D.C., I was told.
I told her I would take that into consideration.
I did.
And then I wrote this post."

I'm sure this wasn't an easy decision for the rabbi to make because there's a certain amount of clout in having your menorah be the one used in the White House. After all, most menorahs that are borrowed by the White House to light at the annual White House Hanukkah party are already famous or have some meaning as to why they were used.

So, already an NBA star, a women's college basketball team and a menorah have opted to dis the President and stay away from Trump's White House. It will be interesting to see who else does.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

When You’re Unfriended in Real Life

The schools of the great sages of the Jewish people, Hillel and Shammai, were known to debate each other on just about every topic. The students of these two schools rarely agreed on anything; each strongly and passionately arguing the opposite position of the other, albeit always with respect for the other’s opinion.

In Judaism, we believe that each human is created in the divine image and, thus, we have the responsibility to treat one another with respect. However, many of us humans don’t act with godliness when participating in Facebook discussions involving political viewpoints.

The 2012 election was bad when it came to a lack of civility on Facebook, but the 2016 election a year ago was many times worse. I’m scared to think of what 2020 will bring us. Many close friends unfriended each other on the social network, relatives blocked relatives and, even worse, long-term relationships in real life were severed because of hurt feelings during political arguments. While the election might have been over on November 8, 2016, the heated arguments on Facebook have continued. In the past year, with a President known to send out many divisive tweets before most people have had their first cup of coffee, the Facebook battlefield has only intensified.

Many friendships have been damaged permanently because of politics on Facebook


If you have a Facebook account, you likely witnessed at least one unfortunate interaction in the past couple of years. It has been impossible to post anything about either presidential candidate without a couple of trolls coming in to paste the latest talking points from the most extremist online blogs they could find to bolster their position or refute everyone else’s opinion.

This has been true on both sides, from the extreme left and the extreme right. On social networks, especially Facebook, people have learned to hide behind their screens when they say these hateful things, but it affects all their relationships and not only their virtual relationships. In the run-up to the 2016 election, most political opinions on either candidate would be met with attacks in the comment section of that post. Many of the comments were not fact checked and some were outright myths that had already been debunked by Snopes.com, the fact-checking web site. In the past year, tempers have flared even more with friends attacking friends on Facebook over everything from the NFL's national anthem controversy and the Second Amendment to the Russian interference in the election and Trump's policies. No topic is off limits when it comes to firing shots in the comment section of Facebook and real friendships become the collateral damage.

I was recently tutoring a young woman for her bat mitzvah and we were studying the Tower of Babel story within her Torah portion. I explained that God was so angered that humans would try to build a tower to the sky that God punished them by confounding their languages so they couldn’t communicate with one another. Immediately, this wise 13-year-old girl said, “In my bat mitzvah speech, I want to talk about how we communicate with each other.” And she immediately hit the nail on the head by explaining the negative effects that occur from the way teens talk to each other in the 21st century. Rather than speaking face-to-face, today’s teens send coded text messages, Snapchat messages that disappear after several seconds, and comments under the photos they post on Instagram. The language they use is different from what any prior generation would recognize as English. One misinterpreted emoji or abbreviation can mean the end of a friendship.

On Facebook, it’s not only the teens who resort to insults and abusive language when someone offends them with their strongly held opinion. Earlier generations wouldn’t understand how your crazy liberal uncle can get into a heated debate with some girl you went to summer camp with a few decades ago.

When adults begin threatening to “unfollow” or “unfriend,” we quickly find ourselves feeling trapped and annoyed in a fourth-grade-esque insult circus. Cutting off contact with someone with opposing ideology will never further discussion, debate and democracy. Sadly, a lot of people on Facebook are close-minded, unwilling to listen to opposing opinions.


Thursday, November 02, 2017

What a Year for Jews in Baseball!

For any baseball fan who pays special attention to the few (very few) good Jewish baseball players in Major League Baseball, 2017 was a very exciting year. And the excitement started even before the MLB season kicked off. In a Times of Israel article, I wrote about the memorable seven days of March that were magical for the ragtag Team Israel in the World Baseball Classic. Nate Freiman of Team Israel referred to his squad as "The Mensches of March" and they were known for their iconic "Mensch on the Bench" doll and for donning yarmulkes during the playing of Hatikvah (Israel's national anthem) before games. Team Israel became the pride of every Jewish kid around the world who had been waiting for their big Sandy Koufax or Hank Greenberg-esque excitement.


With the bar mitzvah boy before the Phillies game at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia

The next big moment in Jewish baseball (at least for me) came in late July. I flew to Philadelphia to officiate the bar mitzvah of a special needs boy before the Philadelphia Phillies game. About 100 of us gathered in a party room at the ballpark to watch this young man be called to the Torah (yes, I brought a small Torah into Citizens Bank Park!) along with his therapy dog (it was a bark mitzvah too!). Officiating a bar mitzvah before a Major League Baseball game inside the stadium was pretty cool and I couldn't imagine what could top it on that special night. And then the game went into extra innings. In the bottom of the 11th inning, pinch hitter Ty Kelly, a nice Jewish kid from Dallas, hit the walk off RBI to win the game for the Phillies. The bar mitzvah boy was ecstatic (along with the other Philly fans in the packed ballpark). The 29-year-old Kelly, who proudly wears a Jewish star necklace, has a Jewish mother and played for Team Israel this past year.

The excitement of the 2017 MLB season for fans of Jewish baseball players continued right up to the very end with two elite Jewish sluggers squaring off against each other in the World Series. Both Joc Pederson of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Alex Bregman of the Houston Astros had memorable postseason performances. Pederson had 3 homers in the postseason and Bregman had 4 homers and 10 RBI in the postseason. Had the Dodgers emerged victorious, Pederson was surely a candidate for World Series MVP.

Alex Bregman, of the 2017 World Champion Houston Astros, is one of the top Jewish MLB players today


The 2017 World Series had a couple notable moments for Jewish baseball fans. Pederson had all 3 of his postseason home runs in the World Series, giving him the record for most home runs by a Jewish player in one World Series, moving him past Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. Bregman also makes the Jewish baseball record books becoming the first Jewish player to win a World Series game with a walk-off hit (in game 5 of the World Series). Both Bregman and Pederson homered in Saturday night's game 4, making them the first Jewish baseball players on opposing teams to homer in the World Series in the same game. Wow, that's a lot of records for one World Series.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Do You Know this Wealthy Jew?

A quick Web search of the Detroit Jewish News Archives from the past two decades will yield a handful of covers featuring head shots of some of our Jewish community’s most successful businessmen who are remembered for their generous charitable contributions. These individuals were mega-wealthy, but they were glorified for their mega-philanthropy. What many may not realize is that the founder of our faith was a wealthy businessman too and the Torah’s first Hebrew might serve as a paragon of virtue for today’s mega-wealthy.

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Lech Lecha, Abraham is commanded by God to "lech lecha," that he should leave his ancestral land and travel to a new place that God will show him. Right after this divine order, we are informed about Abraham’s financial status. V’Avram Kaved Meod (Abram was very rich.” Our patriarch was rich in cattle, silver and gold. There is much to be learned from this word kaved, or rich. The word most often used for rich or wealthy in the Torah is ashir. So we must be curious about the choice to use kaved here.

In modern Hebrew, we use the word kaved to mean heavy, as in a physical weight, but it can also mean a burden. Rashi mentions this meaning in his commentary on the verse, and adds another meaning of kaved that we are familiar with from the fifth commandment of the Ten Commandments -- kabed et avicha v’et imecha (you must honor your parents). Similarly, from the same root is the word for an honor that is given out in synagogue, a kibood. Finally, the word kaved also means liver, which is the heaviest part of our body. So, in the Torah portion, we learn that Abraham is very wealthy and that the term used to demonstrate his wealth is an unusual choice.




"Kaved" is used to tell us that Abraham was weighted down with many possessions because of his wealth showing that it can be a challenge to have a financial fortune. In the very next verse, we learn that Abraham traveled from the Negev desert to Beit El “in stages,” which Rashi explains as meaning that Abraham took the same route on his return staying in the same places he had lodged on his way down to Egypt before he had wealth. This means that while Abraham is wealthier now, he has retained his humility and doesn’t choose to stay in nicer places. Abraham, our patriarch, was not altered by his accumulation of wealth. Recognizing the tendency to be burdened by money and possessions, Abraham maintain his kavod (honor) when he became kaved (wealthy). This is not always the case.

We tend to only see the positive side of enormous financial wealth. But, having power and wealth can be burdensome, it can be a challenge. In our society, such a vast possession of wealth requires much responsibility and integrity. It catapults people into the public eye, living life in a fishbowl, having every business decision scrutinized, every investment maneuver questioned. There are many advantages to a life of wealth, but it must be done while maintaining kavod.

There is much to learn from our patriarch Abraham. He was wealthy, but he was also well respected and humble. A model for us in modern times, Abraham possessed the dignity to keep him from a life of over-indulgence in material wealth. Many of the mega-rich tycoons in the corporate world of the 20th and 21st centuries were not paragons of virtue. Their wealth became burdensome, they became greedy and many ultimately got into legal trouble before their ultimate downfall. Such has not been the case with the Detroit Jewish community’s leaders over the past century. By and large, our community has been blessed with a disproportionate number of mega-philanthropists who have used their fortunes for the common good, bolstering noble causes in our community. Like our patriarch Abraham, the pillars of our dynamic community have maintained their kavod while being kaved.

For further discussion:

1. Have you noticed behavioral differences in friends or relatives who have become wealthy suddenly?

2. What are ways we can teach our children to make philanthropy a priority in their lives?

Originally published in The Detroit Jewish News