by Sam Glaser
December is a time for new possibilities. Thanks to “holiday spirit” the world becomes a kinder, more colorful place. I just returned from Manhattan where the midtown buildings were transformed into magnificently wrapped presents. Even the cops were friendly. December means that our fiscal year is ending and we ponder what we might do differently when January comes around. Inclement weather demands that we spend less time outdoors, more time with inside activities that make us more internal, intellectual, introspective. The Torah portions of the season deal with dreamers; between Jacob, Joseph, the butcher, baker and Pharaoh we have eight dreams to cross-reference and inspire our own musings. Finally, Chanukah calls on us to fill the darkest, shortest days of the year with light and we are challenged to unveil our own unique light unto the world.
Wintertime is usually high season in my tour schedule. As soon as the High Holidays are over, the synagogues and JCCs that I visit are back in cultural arts mode, peaking with the week of Chanukah when just about every institution has a celebration of some sort. This is the period for me to live my possibilities, to fulfill this sweet life-task of creating programs of uplift and enthusiasm and deepening Jewish connections. I’m often asked how I can get on airplanes every other weekend, leave my family yet again, pack my clothes, shlep my luggage, sleep in funky beds and subsist on bagels and cream cheese. I often respond, “well, I have three kids in Jewish day school.”
What’s really driving me? I’ve been averaging between 40-50 cities a year since 1997. Sixteen years later, that’s a lot of cities, a lot of flights and a lot of bagels. The impetus for all these adventures starts with the songs. I don’t ask for my songs. Most of them are midnight gifts that I awaken to and stumble across the house to record so that I don’t awaken my wife. They accumulate and create an unspoken but palpable psychological pressure with an unmistakable mantra: “record me now!” Nascent songs beget the late hours of intensive concocting in my studio, which beget more albums, which beget more concert tours so that I can get them out to my beloved listeners. My joy of singing, tickling the ivories and cajoling audiences into states of delirious Jewish happiness creates the environment for more songs and the cycle starts yet again.
Milestones tend to make us more reflective. 2012 marks the twentieth year since my first Jewish CD Hineni was released. (actually, it was on cassette…now that really dates me!) This month also marks my fiftieth birthday, on a day I’m lucky enough to share with my musical hero, Beethoven. This is truly a season of introspection for me. What are my possibilities? How can I take this composing-performing cycle to the next level? What is the legacy I want to leave? What can I do to combat the assimilation and indifference that I have personally witnessed over the course of my career? How can I be the best husband, son, father and friend? How can I truly transform the universe using my unique gifts?
I had a revelation this month that I’d like to share. Sometimes when I’m interviewed by Jewish newspapers or DJs I’m asked how a Jewish music performance or workshop can effect lasting change. The fact is that I do my shtick and then hit the road, making no guarantees for the efficacy of my message. I respond that I try to make the deepest impression possible in my concerts and workshops and then I leave a “review course” in the form of my CDs. It is my hope that my chosen art form spins for years in cars and computers, regaling my listeners with what I like to think of as “audio Judaica.” I also keep the channels of communication open via email and Facebook. Still, a little voice inside queries if there another way I can be part of the solution, to better uplift my audiences.
My brother, Rabbi Yom Tov Glaser has another method of inspiring transformation. Like me, he performs and teaches for a living. But I now see that there is a tremendous difference in our approach, thanks to “The Possible You,” a powerful seminar that he has founded. He takes responsibility for every one of the attendees in his Jerusalem-based twenty-hour program. He will work with anyone who is not getting it, and relentlessly pursue those who bail before “graduation.” With an intensely paced delivery of profound insights coupled with music, visual aids and group sharing, a crucial set of life tools are communicated to the full spectrum of learners in all modalities. The results are nothing short of astounding and my brother’s reputation is growing exponentially. He has cobbled The Possible You from the wisdom of Kabbalah, Mussar and Tanach. It’s tailor-made for the Jewish neshama. Now with several thousand graduates, myself included, I see The Possible You changing the world.
I’m one of his first trainees. It’s a bit strange to take orders from my little brother. But my sibling has become a giant and I am honored that I get to learn from him. My heart is swelling with nachas that I had a small hand in nudging him onto his path. We’re best friends. I believe that it is natural that our trajectories on this planet are colliding, for the good of the Jewish People and the world. We’ve spent a lifetime pulling all-nighters deep in conversation regarding the transformation of the world and ourselves. Over the years Yom Tov has sent me to various seminars to learn the language and witness the potential for this work. Finally this last week I got to see him in action firsthand.
I just spent an amazing week with my brother in the Boro Park shtetl of New York and then afterwards we met up in LA. These were his first two Possible You seminars on US soil. His first group was primarily Chassidic and the second was hip LA twenty-somethings. I can’t properly describe the experience of witnessing the growth and clarity gained by such diverse audiences in such a short span of time. Participants work in new realms of trust and commitment, connecting with truth, respect for one another, respect for themselves.
Over twenty hours, strangers become allies and loving friends, taking a stand for each other’s success in life. They open the door to estranged family members and experience real healing for wounds gathered over life’s journey. It sounds too good to be true, right? I wouldn’t have believed it if I didn’t see it with my own eyes.
I’m excited to use my experience connecting with a diverse cross section of US Jewry to tweak The Possible You for North American audiences. I’ll be offering the workshop one weekend a month starting in February 2013, primarily in LA, but also on the road in conjunction with the concerts and Shabbatons that I lead. I’m not sure if this is the “next thing” that will fulfill my midlife urgings, but it seems like an organic extension of what I offer to the world and my unique relationship with my brother. I hope not only to help in the lives of participants but to train others in the delivery of this unique process. Most importantly, I will be working in a new realm where I don’t just sing and split, where I can take the time to connect more deeply and take active responsibility for each participant’s progress.
I’m reminded of a favorite vort (Torah thought) on the fact that when God hears the cry of the Jewish People during our slavery, the word for cry is in the plural. Why? Because God hears our cry before we actually are in such pain that we are crying aloud. This is a great lesson for improving interpersonal relationships. Think of friends that might be crying on the inside. A real mentsch doesn’t wait for his or her friend’s problems to escalate! The vort finishes with an idea that blows my mind: Read the passage in Exodus, “I (God) will redeem you with an outstretched arm” very carefully. Perhaps the intention of this line is that God redeems all those who have their arm outstretched to others. I hope to use this next chapter of my life to keep my arm outstretched, to perceive the silent cries of my brothers and sisters, to be more than a fleeting source of entertainment.
On a practical note, I need some guinea pigs to take the ride with me on my first Possible You in LA. I welcome any of my dear readers to join us for a three-day action-packed weekend of bliss February 9/10/11. Yes, you have to sit for twenty hours. But it could be the best twenty hours of your life! Thanks to a generous benefactor who is a graduate, scholarships are available. Let me know if you are interested…details to follow on my website.
I invite my readers to make this holiday season a powerful time to realize possibilities. For yourself, for your community, for Israel, for the planet. Let us take stock in what is truly important. Let’s strive to live in that important/not urgent quadrant. Let us lay the groundwork for our legacy and ensure that we have no regrets along the way. What do you want your own eulogy to sound like? Where are your priorities? Who could use a phone call from you today? May all of our spirits soar like the sweet, holy flames on our menorah and may we merit redemption speedily in our days.