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Rabbi's Blog

rabbi 05 smallsf badge lgRabbi Joel Landau  (rabbi@adathisraelsf.org) has been the Rabbi of Adath Israel since May 2013. He was ordained by the Chief Rabbinate in Jerusalem and has served previously as a congregational Rabbi in Charleston, South Carolina and Irvine, California. A full biography of Rabbi Landau is available here.


 

Last Thursday in Baltimore, I had one of the most meaningful experiences of my life. I was privileged to officiate at the wedding of my eldest (spiritual) grandson. Let me explain. 

Some years ago, when I was first starting out as a Rabbi in Irvine, a young couple contacted me. He was Jewish and she was of Asian descent. They met each other in chiropractic school and were looking to get married. Though she was not raised with a lot of religion, she was a spiritually oriented person and open to learning about Judaism. I explained to them that converting only for the sake of marriage isn’t an option and that were she to convert for her own sake and become a fully observant Jewish woman, she could only marry a fully observant Jewish man. Therefore, I was willing to work with them only if both were willing to become fully observant Jews. 

After thinking about it for a week or two, they decided to go on a joint spiritual journey, with me as their guide/mentor. As a result, Johni and I have been an important part of their lives ever since. Over the years, we’ve participated in almost all their significant life cycle events. 

However, I never expected that their first-born son (who mainly grew up and had been educated in Baltimore and Israel) would ask me instead of one of his more recent rabbis to officiate at his wedding. He explained to me that he felt it would be the perfect way to recognize the fact that he wouldn’t be who he is today without my involvement in his and his family’s life. Wow! I was blown away and incredibly grateful. 

In a certain way, the above story makes me feel a little luckier than Avraham. This week’s parasha mentions, "Avraham took all the souls that he made in Charan to the Land of Canaan." Rashi explains, Avraham converted the men and Sarah converted the women. All these converts were brought to Eretz Yisrael and became part of Avraham's household.

Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer asks, what happened to the descendants of these converts? Have you ever heard of someone saying that he is a descendent of Avraham's converts? He answers, when Avraham died, they went "off the derech" - back to their old ways.

Why did all of Avraham’s converts revert to their old ways? Possibly, it was because they needed a stronger community to support their counterculture way of life. Though Avraham succeeded in creating monotheistic individuals, he didn’t create a monotheistic community. And without community support, it’s very hard to maintain a Jewish lifestyle. 

So, although I planted the seeds and helped nurture that young couple, without the support of their communities in Irvine and then Baltimore, they too might have disappeared off the map of the Jewish people.

The takeaway is: in order to succeed, a Jew needs both a rabbi/guide/mentor and a community.