Friday, June 17, 2022

Not a Zero Sum Game

“Some men see things as they are and ask why. Others dream things that never were and ask why not.” These words are attributed to George Bernard Shaw. Still, as I reflect on a significant milestone our community achieved this week with the Kollel record-breaking fundraiser, I cannot help but feel immense pride and gratitude. About six years ago, I initiated a serious conversation with the community members about bringing a Kollel to Jacksonville. There was understandably a healthy skepticism among many individuals. The two main concerns communicated to me were, is it really necessary to have a Kollel in Jacksonville? There was also a concern if our community could financially support a new institution considering the scarce financial resources available. Would this not jeopardize the economic future of our local shul and school? I articulated the mission of the Kollel from the outset would be twofold. First, it would be to establish a Makom Torah in our town. Any established city needs to have a buzzing beehive of a Beit Midrash. This platform is fueled by the Kollel Rabbis and scholars who study in the Beit Midrash during the day and night but is open to anyone in the community to drop in with or without a study partner and sink their teeth into the sweet study of Torah. The second element of the Kollel is for it to be a vehicle of outreach to the Greater Jewish Jacksonville Community through the medium of Torah Education. The amazing and professional Kollel staff have achieved this through offering Shabbat Experiences, Women’s Programming, CLE Classes, and much more. Unlike a shul or school with membership or tuition as revenue to depend on, the Kollel exclusively relies on the generosity of donors to sustain its operations. The Jacksonville Kollel has been extremely fortunate to have a dedicated group of partners who have stepped up to support it financially and morally. While the Kollel is grateful to have some out-of-town support, most of the funding comes from local sources. In 2021, the Kollel conducted its first-ever matching fundraiser campaign and raised $72,000. This year, they raised the bar, exceeded the goal of $100,000, and brought in over $108,000 in just over 36 hours. Perhaps even more remarkable is that 362 donors participated in the campaign over 36 hours! The success of this campaign bodes well not only for the Kollel but also for Etz Chaim Synagogue, Torah Academy, and the rest of the Jewish Community. It is a mistake to think of community building as a zero-sum game. A more apt description regarding community building we need to continue to internalize is -- The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, June 10, 2022

My commencement address to Graduates

It is an exciting time of year as the Class of 2022 dons their caps and gowns, graduates from this stage in life, and prepares for the next stage. Students who worked hard and invested so much into reaching this stage have much to be proud of all their efforts. Let's not forget the parents who invested much of their blood, sweat, and tuition dollars so that their children can reach this milestone. It has become a tradition for a notable figure to deliver the commencement as politicians, athletes, and celebrities flock to universities to dispense some with some of their wisdom. I have mused to myself if I had been invited to deliver a commencement address, would I have anything meaningful to share with a group of students ready to transition to the next step in their journey? Here are some of my thoughts: Life of Gratitude: This approach to life cannot be overstated, especially in the post-Covid era. Our society is wholly enmeshed in the throes of entitlement, and unfortunately, Observant Jews are not immune from this malady. From a young age, we are fed a concoction of rights that feed this perception among ourselves that we are entitled to whatever, however, whenever we desire something. If this outcome is not met to its specification, one is usually disappointed and sad. The opposite approach is to live a life of appreciation and gratitude. The latter individual expects nothing and appreciates everything. Judaism teaches us that the first prayer to recite daily is the Modeh Ani. This is a declaration of gratitude that we have been afforded another day in this world to make a difference in the world. The more we express our gratitude to G-d and others, the more we appreciate every day for what it offers, no matter the challenges it brings. Live with Holiness: As one advances with a career, life can quickly turn meaningless by one jumping from earning a paycheck to paying the bills to work to make a paycheck to earn, etc. The weeks at work turn into months, then years, and then one wonders where all the time went. Therefore, making every day count is important by infusing some G-dliness in the day. For example, one can study Torah for a few minutes, pray fervently or commit to engaging in chesed. All these have the marking of inculcating holiness into your day. So my dear graduates, as the saying goes, you only live once! So make the most of each day, and the entire world will benefit from that single choice. Have a Peaceful Shabbos, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Friday, June 3, 2022

A Holy Experience

As we celebrate the holiday of Shavuos, it is worth reflecting on the significance of this date and its impact on the Jewish People in particular and the world in general. Shavuos is the anniversary that G-d revealed the blueprint for humanity to live a life with the utmost holiness and Godliness on this mundane earth. G-d revealed this blueprint to us in what is known as the Torah. It is hard to overstate how transformative this transmission was to the Jewish People. The Torah unlocks the ability of a mortal being and allows him to live a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment. The Torah enables the Jew to infuse spirituality and purpose into the most mundane and physical activities. The Torah has empowered the Jew to connect with the Divine even in the world's darkest moments and find that light in an increasingly dark world. In his book Derech Hashem, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (1707-1746) writes, G-d created many spiritual manifestations in this world with His presence. However, one embodiment is more compelling and more intense than any other in this world. This manifestation of Godliness and holiness that one connect is more profound and superior than any other experience. Rabbi Luzatto writes that this manifestation can only be found through Torah Study. That is another explanation of the famous words of the sages, ותלמוד תורה כנגד כולם or the Study of Torah is equivalent to them all. I found this interpretation mindblowing and refreshing at the same time. It provides an entirely new and refreshing perspective on the power of Torah study. The conventional understanding of the purpose of Torah Study is to accumulate knowledge. For example, for one to know how to put Tefilin on his arm, he must study and be knowledgeable in the laws of Tefilin. However, there is an entire another dimension that is entirely different and transcendent about Torah Study. It is the ability of a mortal being in this mundane world to have a connection with Godliness and holiness that will touch his soul to the core. For this reason, it is meaningful for our souls to study sections of the Torah that we have studied before, i.e., the weekly Parsha, or to explore areas of the Torah that may have little practical relevance. The truth is the connection to Godliness and holiness our souls connect with during this experience is so profound that it matters little what the topic is or how relevant the Talmudic discourse may be for the participants in the class. אשרינו מה טוב חלקינו Fortunate is our lot in life that we have the gift of Torah! As we celebrate the Yom Tov of Shavuos, let us reflect on this unparalleled opportunity of spiritual experiences that the Torah offers us in the jungle of this mundane world. Have a Peaceful Shabbos and Yom Tov, Rabbi Yaakov Fisch

Most Destructive Word in the English Language

I have always been intrigued by the “word of the year.” This last year of 2023, Merriam Webster designated “authentic” as the WOTY (word of ...