I am 72 years old today. 4 X chai. And I am overjoyed.
Seventy-two, you might think. Big Deal. In Sanibel, 72 barely qualifies you to run for president of the Youth Group!
But to me it is a very big deal. You see, neither my father nor either of my two grandfathers lived to this age. With that history and two major open heart operations and a life threatening strep-infection in my medical history, I feared I would not make it to this four-times-Chai milestone!
This is not the first time I have shared a birthday reflection with my community. The first was when I gave a sermon in Columbia, Maryland titled, “From the Top of the Hill Looking Down: Thoughts on Reaching Thirty.”
On my thirtieth birthday, I joined a group of rabbis at the wonderful Tio Pepe restaurant in Baltimore for a tribute dinner marking the retirement of the venerable rabbi Abraham Shaw, of blessed memory.
On that night through the haze of a glass of sangria, I imagined that the gathering was to celebrate my birthday, and I tried to peer into the future to imagine my own retirement dinner. It seemed so far away.
I looked around at the estimable collection of colleagues in the room, and I saw different types.
- There was the scholar-rabbi whose books and lectures were brilliant but unintelligible to the vast majority of people.
- There was the businessman rabbi who was a whiz at administration and fundraising. He really ran a tight ship.
- There was the glad-hander rabbi, who always had a smile and a pat on the back for everyone he encountered.
Yes, on my thirtieth birthday I looked around the room—in which I was the youngest person present — and saw rabbis I did not want to emulate. But I also saw those I admired greatly. I saw those who were learned, sincere, cared about people and cared about the Jewish future. They were my role models.
The years have flown quickly since that day 42 years ago, and now I am the retiree looking back on my career. I hope I have been the type of rabbi I set my sights on so long ago. I hope I am still evolving and will continue to work on it.
In the meantime, I count every day as blessing, and pray with full heart when I wake up: Modeh ani lifanecha, melech chai v’kayam… I thank you, living and eternal Ruler that you have returned my soul to me. Great is your faithfulness,” and may I use this day to make a small difference for good for someone, somewhere.