I was saddened to hear of the passing of Edgar Bronfman. While I always knew that he had a huge impact on the Jewish world, on reflection I realize how he had a huge impact on me personally. There is no doubt that my drive to make Judaism relevant to Jews on campus and at camp is rooted in the experiences that Edgar made possible for me. Around a decade ago I wrote a short piece for the BYFI which was put together in a volume to celebrate Edgar’s 75th birthday. At the time I wrote the letter to my then unborn first child. On the occasion of Edgar’s death it made sense to pay tribute to his life by reprinting this letter. I have updated the letter to include all of our children. Beyond Edgar’s largess he has and will always be my role model for being a mentsch and a life-long-learner. Judaism is not just for the kids; it is compelling at every age. His commitment to the world and simultaneously to the Jewish community were unique and continue to be inspirational. I am confident that Edgar’s memory will be a for a blessing. It already is for me. To all of his family and the entire BYFI community:HaMakom yenachem et’chem b’toch shar avay’lay Tzion vee’Yerushalayim. -May the Omnipresent comfort you among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.
Letter from a Rabbi to his childrenYou may give them [your children] your love but not your thoughts, For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow -“The Prophet” by Kahlil Gibran
Dear Yadid, Yishama, and Emunah,
I hope by the time you all are able to read this letter I have communicated its content in words and better yet in actions. None the less, I figured that it would be good to commit some of my thoughts to writing. This is not to tell you who to be, rather, I share this with you to set a benchmark as to my thoughts at the time of writing this letter.
Mami and I wish for each of you lives filled with love. Love of our family, love of the Jewish community, love of the larger world, and love of God. I hope that you grow to see the wisdom of living a life within the system of Halakha, to breathe every breath with awe of the Creator, and to strive to make the world a better place. But I must admit that I am afraid that you will have to choose the path of particularism to the exclusion of universalism or visa versa. I passionately believe that there is a path that is informed by universal experience, while maintaining a steadfast commitment to God’s Torah.
You might try to trace this passion of mine to the psychological need of the youngest sibling to please everyone. Or maybe it was my educational experiences at Akiba Hebrew Academy , the summer on the Bronfman Youth Fellowships, my study of religion at Columbia, or the time I was on shlichut in Minsk? Or maybe even my falling in love with Mami, an invested Reform cantor, while studying to be an Orthodox Rabbi? I feel fortunate to have had worlds that seem to be in opposition opened to me and I only hope that I can do the same for you.
The only wisdom I can hope to share with you is from Rav Nachman. He taught, “The whole world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is to not fear at all”. I am curious to see how each of you will navigate your identities. The most important thing is not to fear becoming an excellent version of your self. Live your lives without distinguishing between being a Mentsch and living as a Jew. There you will find an open mind keen to nuance.
Thoughtfully and of course with unlimited love,