5778

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I like the number eight. As long as I can remember, eight has been my favorite number. Seven might be the lucky number, but 8 is my favorite. I say this because today, the Jewish world turns 5778.  I don’t usually write something like this on Rosh Hashanah. Something that resembles the Christian new year. However, this year has been rough and perhaps, I should have before, and so I will now.

This year has been rough, it will be a year in two months that  Trump was elected; our naive hope that he would not last has become a depressing reality. I have applied and been accepted to Tel Aviv University and will study two things I am passionate about: environment and business. This year I became a married man, through semi-Jewish tradition. I ready many books, conquered many habits. Some of my photographs made it into a museum, I gave a few talks about my book. I went to Israel with Stephanie However, in some ways, this year has felt like a loss.

This year I feel there was little done with Our Jewish Story. Little progress was achieved with Phittle and very little headway on ending BDS. After a less than great year, we hope that next year will be better. After all, next year,  I will move to Israel and start on my masters. I will be living as a married man. I should have hope! Hope after all, is born within us out of the fact that we can do something. As long as we breath and can speak and write and think, we have influence and therefore we can do something. Now of course, we should also have realism about our abilities and our influence. We should know that we can only have hope if we have the will to act.

Sometimes we act kindly, sometimes passionately and sometimes, not enough. For instance, some people get angry and shout at their friends over things they disagree, but we should only get passionate to the degree we have influence. Thus we should be passionate with our wives and husbands, our kids and parents. We should be passionate because we have a say in their life. We have ability to influence them. We should also be passionate with our friends and do our best to keep them from making poor decisions, because we do have influence. Now we know that we should try to speak to our representatives and congress people, but we should not get too passionate about those things because individually, we have very little influence there.

This year, I have lived through a few life changing events. Events which gave me experiences generating feelings unlike any other in my 35 years on earth. To build my chuppah, to plan a wedding, to ask for a woman’s hand in marriage, to see her walk down the aisle, all feelings concerning those events are impossible to describe, which is why I did not anticipate them. Similarly to loose my wedding ring has also felt unreal. Perhaps less unreal only compared to seeing a monster become elected to the most influential post in the world and begin dismantling our safety and security like a child locked in a candy store has also been a feeling on the opposite spectrum (sorry my Republican readers, I know how you felt about Obama, let me have my feelings if you have yours).

On the other hand, I have also seen my child grow from a toddler to a person. I have come to understand my teachers and parents more than I ever thought possible. I have learned to have compassion for my co-workers, my elders and so many flawed people.

These are the experiences I gained this year. I have come to realize, that there is so much to gain every year that I cannot imagine the year to come. This experience we call life is so rich that no book can describe it, no 3-D experience can make it real. All I can say is I wish others what I wish myself: the audacity to live. I wish myself and others to have courage and have the ability to hope and dream, and to trust in self. We need to trust ourselves that we will find a way to get to the other side even if we can’t see the other side. We must trust ourselves because the alternative does us nothing. We need to trust ourselves because we’ve made it thus far, we might as well believe that can make it a bit further.

Thus this book is sealed. A new book is opened, but with the advantage of having read the ones before, we can walk stronger, faster, bolder.

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Bar Mitzvah at Temple Emanu-El

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I went to Temple Emanu-El today. A temple that has produced a lot of leaders in San Diego. I expected something special because of the many stories I have heard of this synagogue on a hill in historically Jewish San Carlos, across the canyon from San Diego State University.

The outside is made of white stone like the buildings in Jerusalem. The entrance was bright and full of light. The wooden doors lead me to the simple temple inside. Wood paneled walls with a beautiful clerestory. The ark was two large glass doors on a stage like many reform temples. No fancy artwork was there. Simple decor such that the eyes would stay with the rabbi. The one beautiful accent was a Sanctuary lamp that looked like something that Chihuly would make.

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On Zionism

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Last month I was accepted to the prestigious joint executive MBA at Nortwestern University-Tel Aviv University. As soon as I was accepted to the program, which would give me a chance to live and learn in Israel I was tasked with finding a way to pay for the education. This means applying to scholarships. Some scholarships have interesting prompts like this one for American Zionist Movement.


Sam Litvin On Zionism

I was seven years old playing with my best friend when he said “I’m, Russian.” I replied “me too!”  My mother corrected me: “You’re not Russian, you’re Jewish.” It was traumatic, it was a three-letter word that made me “other”.  This was the first time I heard the word “Jewish” and I did not understand what it meant. I’ve never heard of a country called Judea or of the people who are Jewish. I looked like all the kids around me and we all had the same customs. I did not understand what it was about me that was Jewish. It took nearly 23 years from that moment to learn what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be a Zionist.

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Rabbi Chalom of SDSU

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When my friend Eric came to San Diego, I took him to the SDSU Chabad. The large house across the street from University on Fraternity row was packed with over 100 college students. Long tables line the room with a a Torah ark at the front. The strange sight overwhelmed Eric as he saw students chanting and singing songs in Hebrew standing up on chairs with their arms. Not all students were Jewish as all are welcome, but everyone could feel the pride and love for the history and traditions.

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What’s Up With Yiddish?

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Yiddish culture is at the root of Judaism and American culture, and YAAANA in San Diego is going to make sure we know it.

The invitation to a Yiddish Cafe sat in my email inbox unopened for over a week. Each week a new reminder arrived about ’s YAAANA (Yiddish Arts and Academics Association of North America) Yiddish Cafe arrived taunting me. As a friend of Joana the organizer I couldn’t say no. As a Jew from Ukraine I shouldn’t say no. But as Sam, I really wanted to say no.

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Interview With Eric Fingerhut (Full Text)

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He sat with a phone against his ear in the dim hallway of the Fairmont of Grand Del Mar. We nearly passed him but I recognized the silver haired man with a grey kippa from the pictures of my research. Minutes later, the ex-congressman, Stanford Law graduate and the current CEO of Hillel entered the large oak-paneled dining room where I set up my recorder. The room had a long bar, floor to ceiling windows, stone carved fireplace, paintings worthy of museum walls, and cloth covered chairs transporting me far from San Diego. “Hi, how are you,” said Fingerhut full of energy as he shook my hand with a smile. He excused our surroundings, explaining that he heard that this is the “Versailles of San Diego and so I had to stay here.” I looked out the window onto the lawn below where fountains crisscrossed and bushes artfully manicured into intersecting diamonds. It was no Versailles, but it certainly tried and was in stark contrast to my usual perception of Hillel.

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Muslims of Our Jewish Story

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I’m going to do something to educate people on fear and hatred. I’m going to highlight someone Muslim who helped me along in my Jewish Story. I know that it won’t matter to those who hate blindly. To those people exceptions prove the rule but to me, I’ve yet to see the rule. Quiet the opposite, given my experience with the Muslim faith and no negative experiences in real life, I want to show why I feel that it is the rule that people are good and while yes there is bad, there is bad in our culture and all cultures. That was the goal of the project and is as important as ever.

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Photography Show and JED Talk

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January 2017 is starting out with a bang! I am giving two talks to the San Diego Historical Society followed by JED talk at Beth El Synagogue on January 24th and then with a Photography show in North Park San Diego! Please join me for some stories, some music, some drinks and photography. Proceeds to benefit Women of Coffee and Dharma Bum Temple.

 

Peace Through Understanding photography show

Peace Through Understanding photography show

 
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Buddist Rabbi- Jeff Zlotnik of Dharma Bums

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Originally printed in L’Chaim Magazine

In a small strip mall near SDSU is a little shop with buddha statues, incense and meditation books. The shop was once owned by a funny old Jewish man with a beard, Alfred Baron and his Thai wife. Being a octogenarian, he needed someone to take over as the business plunged further and further into debt while as he was desperate to retire. In 2009, after two long years, he thought he found the man to take it over. Jeff Zlotnik was a young man who grew up in San Diego going to temple Emanu-El every Saturday. A few years earlier Jeff came back from eleven months in Taiwan living as a Buddhist Monk. After struggling to expand with the San Diego Buddhist establishment, he decided to strike out on his own. Jeff’s community was small, they were barely paying the bills and so in no position to take on debt and run a shop full time. However, after weeks of persistence, he acquiesced to the old man and took on the shop with the idea that the shop would help bring in revenue to pay for the temple. The added revenue never came in, but the shop ended up serving as a way to get westerners to discover Buddhism as they shopped for charms, books and statues.

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Hate To Kill

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Forests burn all over Israel. They were set by terrorist arsonists who do not care if the forests burn down the environment, the trees, the people Muslim or Jews. They hate and people online rejoice.

It pains me deep in my heart to hear that hate, to know that there are people that they want to kill and see killed over land, religion, some grievance. That somehow they identified that killing me or those whom I love, people who wake up everyday, go to work, put their kids into school and do nothing different from what these people do.

I’ve thought to rationalize it but I know that no amount of good that Jews do will stop them from wanting me dead. I know that perhaps it is good lot to be hated, because we accomplished enough to be known to be hated. But why death? Why do they want us dead? Why are some people blood thirsty for the death of people they have never met? Why are we as human beings able to dehumanize other people to feel that is ok?

I fight for optimism everyday. I think of how far we come and what we achieved and what we were able to overcome. And yet, I also think of the 6 million killed by people from dozens of nations, of the glee they had killing women, men and children. And I think of the glee that people have today imagining another Holocaust.

It’s too much sometimes, just too much.

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