Posts Tagged ‘torah’

Dear Yeshiva University of LA High School Graduates…

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

A Commencement Speech by Sam Glaser

It gives me great nachas to stand here with you today. I have watched many of you grow up, either as your music teacher at Hillel or YULA, or as you have befriended my own children, one of whom, Jesse Glaser is wearing a cap and gown today.  Some of you are thinking that this ceremony is not a big deal. Some are here because your parents made you show up. Some of the guys are plotting pranks, some girls can’t wait to get the gown off because they think they look fat.

I chose to speak because I want to tell you that this is, in fact, a big deal.  Graduates of this legendary institution have gone on to remarkable careers in business, science, law and medicine, becoming powerful leaders in their communities.  Some even have gone on to become teachers and rabbis!  Most importantly, they have done so as proud Modern Orthodox Jews, fully aware of the presence of God, cherishing every mitzvah, seizing opportunities for chesed.  Because they are interfacing with society at large, they have touched countless others with whom they interact.  You’ll learn that it doesn’t matter so much what you choose as your career as it does whether you are a Kiddush Hashem, one who is sanctifying God’s name everyday.

At this point in your lives you may not feel that this is priority number one.  This is the peak of a period in your lives where you are doing the normal activity called individuation.  That means you are rebelling in your own unique way, distancing yourself from your parents and teachers, worrying about what everyone thinks about you, wondering what you are going to do with your life, struggling with a toxic combination of angst and shpilkes.  Leaving your parents and siblings isn’t easy but it’s necessary if you’re going to stand on your own.  Believe it or not, your occasional ungrateful or obnoxious behavior is a crucial function of your pituitary gland that serves to make your adoring parents want to throw you out of the house.

What’s next for you is the greatest, most exciting ride ofyour lives that you will ever experience.  How totally amazing to share this moment on the edge with you.  You’ll notice that when you tell anyone how old you are you will see a hint of jealousy.  You are in the prime of your lives, filled with optimism, ready to change the world.  Most of you will be spending a year studying in Israel.  That’s the best place in the world to be young, open minded and adventurous while learning about spirituality, learning about yourself and learning how to survive waiting in line with Israelis.  This is a magical time when you are on your own and yet you still have your folks helping with the bills and offering advice, even if you pay no attention.  People go to Paris to learn about food and romance, to Italy to learn food and art and to Jerusalem to learn about God.  It’s said that the air makes you wise and that access to God is a “local phone call.”   Around a quarter of you are going straight to college.  Mazeltov on getting accepted.  I will be davening for your souls.

You see, one of the problems with individuation is that Hashem can get thrown off the bus.  Separating from your parents is a good thing.  Separating from Hashem is not.  Remember the song from kindergarten?  Hashem is everywhere.  Loving you, giving you breath, keeping your body functioning, arranging all the unique circumstances in your life.  Hashem gave us our awesome Torah that is the deepest source of wisdom, insight and self-help advice in the universe.  Torat Emet…the Torah is truth.  Our Christian and Muslim friends understand that the Torah is indisputable and so, perhaps reluctantly, they must incorporate it in their own traditions.  Torah is the key to our eternity. Every mitzvah is a once in a lifetime chance to make that particular moment holy.  Kedoshim Tihiyu…be holy.  That’s our mission statement.  So don’t run from Hashem.  That just doesn’t make sense.

As you leave YULA, you will be responsible for your own nurturing of this relationship.  A relationship is as strong as the weakest partner.  If I think you are my best friend but you only call me back once a month, we have a once a month relationship.  God loves us so much that we always will be the weakest partner!  You have learned with your rabbis and teachers a profound 3000 year old system to keep this relationship on fire.  Are you sick of the Sh’moneh Esrai?  From now on, no one is going to make you do it.  Find those tefillin annoying?  Well, now you can just leave them in the bag if you so choose.  Or you can choose life.  You can choose to bring Hashem into your every day with a blessing over everything that goes in your mouth.  You can act as Hashem’s partner in creating the world by perceiving the impact you have in your heartfelt tefilah.  You can hear Hashem’s patient voice in every word of Torah that you learn.  You can touch everyone you meet by serving as an example of what it means to be a fully invested Jew.  Hashem is ready to make miracles for you, to make your life amazing, to hear your requests in your prayers and make your dreams come true.

Observant Jews live in a parallel universe.  We are totally engrossed in the material world and yet we are removed, separate, spiritual.  You have learned techniques in school and from your parents to maximize both worlds.  Modern Orthodox Jews have a particularly challenging path: we don’t throw away all connections with secular culture and the internet.  We understand that we have to be “in the world” in order to be a light unto nations.  Whether you realize it or not, you are all Jewish leaders!  People will see how you act and judge all Jews accordingly.  You’ll be explaining your dietary habits, your kippah, why you have to leave early on Fridays.  It’s not easy to walk on this tightrope and maintain your footing.  In college the balance gets even trickier with your academic mentors preaching secularism and even anti-Israel sentiments.  That’s why today is a big deal.  Your parents have spent a small fortune to put you in an environment like YULA, one that has empowered you with our eternal traditions to keep you on track.

Here’s another reason why today is a big deal.  Look around you at your graduating class.  These people are your brothers and sisters.  You have a lifelong connection with one another, a deeper bond than you’ll make with your future college buddies and business peers.  All those tough classes and school trips and demanding teachers and issues with the administration have served as the glue to connect you.  What you have with each other is real achdut (brother/sisterhood.)  And achdut is priceless.  We learn that our Temple was destroyed because of lack of achdut.  And the restoration of achdut brings us closer to our redemption.  Invest in your YULA friends.  Treasure them.  Count on them.  Some of your peers left YULA early to go straight to City College or wherever.  They missed out on this opportunity.  Take a moment to be grateful for the circumstances that allowed you to make it all the way.  You got the real diploma and not a GED.  Most importantly, you got achdut.

Finally, I urge you to keep your Judaism fresh. Judaism is a lot of work.  It can get tiring and repetitive.  It can be expensive!  If you keep a minimum daily requirement in your lives, like morning tefilah, learning parsha shavua and kashrut, you’ll know when you are losing it.  You have spent the past twelve years growing into a superstar YULA graduate.  Don’t lose it!  If you can’t find the motivation inside, do it for the wrong reasons.  Do it for your parents.  Do it for your rabbis and teachers.  Do it for your unborn children. Do it for the 6 million.  Even if you’re not positive that God exists, do it just in case God does exist!  You’ve probably heard the Gemara, “lo lishma ba lishma” (not for it’s own sake become for it’s own sake.)  In other words, Just do it!

So, my friends, thanks for your attention.  Please continue to give your parents and teachers nachas.  Choose life.  Live to the fullest. Be true to yourself.  Learn to balance “you-ish” AND Jewish.  That is the unbeatable combination that will guarantee you success in every part of your life.  The YULA Class of 2015 is a stunning, shining group of remarkable young people that will make the world a better place.  This world needs your help in a big way.  Stand proudly, YULA graduates, and know that you carry with you the hope of your families, the hope of the Nation of Israel and a brighter future for all mankind.

A Love Letter to My College Bound Son

Friday, April 12th, 2013

IMG_8800SMby Sam Glaser

Dear Max,

I just booked our Summer family vacation in Lake Tahoe. It will be an amazing place to spend a week…serious mountain biking, hiking and water skiing. As excited as I am I can’t help but be a bit melancholy. I have had the great gift of being your dad for the past 18 years. You are a superstar kid and have given me nothing but nachas (Jewish joy.) I celebrate the fact that you are entering your college years with so much enthusiasm and readiness to take on the world. I believe in you, Max. There’s nothing you can’t do.

So yes, it’s our last family vacation with all of us together for a while. Too soon we’ll have our last family dinner, our last Shabbat, a rockin’ graduation party and you’ll be off to camp and then the Holy Land. What a gift to have a year in Israel before college kicks off. Dreamy. I think some parents of teens are ready to see their kids hit the road. I’m not one of those parents. I love spending time with you. My greatest memories are the time we’ve spent together. We’ve had amazing adventures, deep musical connections, great conversations. I dig all your friends and love the fact that the gang comes over every Shabbat afternoon. I have great joy being your music teacher and getting to see you grow on the guitar in Jazz Ensemble and rockin’ Pro Tools in our recording technology class. I love watching your mom look at you with unfathomable love in her eyes.

In fact, everyone that I know that has ever met you only has great things to say about you. That’s a pretty rare thing. I’ve never seen leadership ability like yours. You’ve had it all your life. You are totally comfortable in every situation that you find yourself. On my concert tours on which you’ve joined me you are connecting with the synagogue youth whether it’s Reform, Conservative or Orthodox. Your teachers and rabbis rave about you. I get to watch you every year on the Pesach programs that I lead. Mom and I just gasp at how the entourage gravitates to you and how when you move on, they move too!

You are so at ease with yourself and remarkably you wear your confidence without pushing anyone down. Working the crowd without having to be the joker or the troublemaker or the scammer. Clearly you have learned only the good side of the things from your devious dad. Other than driving too fast. You are incredible with kids and are a beloved cousin, counselor and mentor. You are so open and loving with those “specially-abled.” You are so totally there for your four beautiful grandparents. You are a wizard on the guitar, with the computer, with just about anything you do. You have gotten school wired and should have so much pride that you have excelled more and more every year, on every report card and are busting out nearly straight A’s your senior year. Do you see a certain trajectory here?

And now you’re off to the Promised Land. Oooooh you are so lucky. It is such a wild, beautiful, exciting place. A place where holiness is flowing in the very air you breathe. The opportunity for connection is so powerful and present. You will be in an amazing growth environment with rabbis and peers that will support you into your own spiritual flight. Starting your post high school educational and professional life with Jewish fundamentals makes so much sense. After all, whether you become a hedge fund manager, psychologist or rock guitarist, you will have a serious foundation in place. I first got turned on in Israel when I was just a bit older than you. I was totally ready to do great things in my life and my heart was open. It may be hard to believe but you will become even more open as you put teenage angst, LA hype and living with your parents behind you. Yes, you can spend the year partying, but if you can find the discipline you will come out of this year with a passion to maximize every moment of your time, becoming more creative, productive and the master of your destiny.

There are a few things I’ve been thinking about now that you are launching into your official Israel gap year, a tradition, thank God, for most of the young people in our community. I’m so happy that you have my brother Yom Tov and Leah and their amazing eight kids to hang out with on a regular basis. Please bond deeply with all of your cousins. They miss you so much. They have been deprived of having you in their life and deserve to get their fill of you. You will blow them away and I know that they will see what a towering mensch (real human) you are. I’m getting weepy as I write this. I’m so proud of you, Max. I love you so much. You are such a credit to our family, a living testimony that mom and I did pretty good job with you. You are an extension of us to the world. We will be living vicariously through your adventures. Please keep us posted!

You are already a powerful ambassador for the Jewish People. Everyone who sees your kippah feels your good vibe and feels good about the heritage you represent. Do you understand what an intense Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s name) that is? You will likely ramp up your commitment in Israel. It’s true that many “frum out” there but not just on the surface. You just feel God’s presence so powerfully through your learning and holy lifestyle that you would never ever do anything to mess it up. You do mitzvahs not because your parents or rabbis expect something out of you. The motivation comes from an outpouring of intense love for your relationship with God. The relationship becomes palpable. Why would you ever mess up your best friend in the Universe?? You will be driven by sweet longing and unspeakable gratitude for your life and everyone you meet will be deeply attracted by the light that you radiate. Yes, you!

You also know from your hyperactive father that our Judaism doesn’t mean you have to sit on your butt and study all day. Judaism means that you are out in the world, spreading light. Yes, we’re an Orthodox family, but we ski and surf and vacation and travel and drink in everything that life has to offer. Except non-kosher wine, of course. I give you permission to get on a bus to Eilat the moment your neshama (soul) tells you you need a break. Go spend some time underwater… learn to scuba dive (as your chassidic cousin Avrami just did), mountain bike, climb, play beach volleyball (my captain of the YULA Volleyball Team!) When you have a l’chaim please have a round for your old dad back in LA – and have a designated driver.

I hope you can get to the Old City as often as you are able. Catch as many minyanim (services) at the Kotel (Western Wall) as you can. It’s the center of the universe! Try your hand at bargaining in the Arab shuk. You’ll get a kick out of Yom Tov’s 10:00am daily lecture at Aish, in a spectacular room overlooking the Temple Mount. Your zany uncle catches major air on his mountain bike as he flies down the Arab Quarter steps. He gets to his class out of breath and addresses an unusual group of hippies, deadheads, Harvard grads and grandparents with an unscripted flow of whatever is on his mind. Anyone can come to his class and it would give him great nachas to see you there. Remarkably our yeshiva, Aish Hatorah, has become the number one outreach address in the world. It has the biggest Jewish website in the world. It brings over more young people to Israel to learn than any organization in the world. I’m not saying your should ditch your program in Mevaseret but I hope you can wander the Rovah (Jewish Quarter) and get to know my old Aish rabbi friends that will be excited to meet you.

Speaking of Aish, as you know we’ve been members of Aish LA since you were born. There are plenty of other synagogues that we go to and love, but Aish is our home. It’s where you crawled around every Shabbat, where you boys had your Bar Mitzvahs, where you rock the teen minyan. What you’re going to discover is that it’s more than just a shul. It’s a movement. You’re a part of it whether you realize it or not. You have seen me and your mother dedicate much of our time, money and effort towards making sure that every Jew we meet has the chance to get excited about Judaism. It’s why you’ve had strangers at a good percentage of your Shabbat meals. It’s why I leave you to go on the road every other weekend. We love sharing our heritage and it breaks our heart when our fellow Jews throw it away.

In my secular upbringing, I was raised with a devotion to Israel and the Jewish People but had no experience keeping kosher, davening (praying) or respecting Jewish law. It’s sad when you think about it. We had no idea what we were missing. Can you imagine your life without ever sukkah hopping? Partying up and down Pico on Purim? Surrounding yourself in the 24 hour feast that is Shabbat? We didn’t even know how to say the Shmoneh Esrai (central Jewish prayer.) Worse yet, we didn’t have clarity on God’s presence in our lives and the power of Torah to keep our act together. Thank God both your mom and I had great parents who gave us plenty of love and values. But we were in a free form “what the hell is this life all about” mystery and forced to explore the cultures of the world to find answers. Yes, there are lots of interesting answers out there, but not the fundamental truth that we celebrate in our own texts.

After my whirlwind four months in yeshiva the first time around, my mind was completely blown. I had amazing and patient guides to teach me and was mature enough to make my Yiddishkeit (Judaism) my own. I was so taken with Israel and the commitment of the people that I met there that upon returning to LA I started a Jewish library so that I’d have books to keep me connected. I became an advocate for Orthodoxy even though I wasn’t quite living it myself. I took “baby steps.” Shortly after I got back my friends started getting married. Most of my buddies with whom I grew up married non-Jews. Most of them didn’t bother getting them to convert. Our vast, 3500-year odyssey ended with them, the chain of Jewish transmission broken. They have kids who have no connection to their heritage and if they ever do connect, will have to jump through hoops to become Jewish.

I knew at that point I had to be part of the solution. I started writing Jewish songs. I met your mom and started doing Shabbas. After another trip to Israel I started wrapping tefillin and davening three times a day. Along the way I got my brothers to study over there and thank God two of them became Aish rabbis and have changed the lives of literally thousands of people. I know it’s hard for you to imagine your bubbie eating treif (non-kosher food.) She only started keeping kosher because some of her kids wouldn’t eat in her home and her reaction was, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Now she has sixteen Jewish grandkids who love their heritage and wouldn’t trade it for the world. I’m telling you all this so that you understand that it’s nothing short of a miracle that we are on this path and that nothing would get in our way of giving you this rich Jewish life that has so nourished you. Yes, Jewish day school has left us broke. But we feel like we’ve won the lottery.

Not to overdo the accolades for our shul but I think it’s important to point out to you that the outreach revolution began with one man, Rav Noach Weinberg, zit’s, who had a vision and would not be defeated. He tried and failed several times establishing yeshivot. I think Aish is number seven. King Solomon in Proverbs tells us that the righteous fall seven times but always get back up. Thanks to Rav Noach’s tenacity, we have the incredible life that we do. Please learn from his example, Max. The sky is the limit. Dream big. Get back up when you fail. Depression is not an option. Just get back on the horse and try again. Know with perfect clarity that Hashem is with you. The days we have on this planet are too few to waste feeling sorry for yourself. Get up and get moving. Your face and your mood are public property. Don’t pollute the world with a scowl. Rav Noach always had a sweet smile for everyone and fought with grace until the end of his days. Keep the good attitude, keep the faith, keep smiling and the world will smile with you.

I hope that in your study you’ll find that there is no divide between our spiritual life and material life. We can make money in a holy way. We ski at the speed of sound because it nourishes and refreshes us. We eat only after we thank God for the miracle of our food. We are intimate with our wives and as a result deepen our marital bonds and bring holy children into the world. Living in the realm of Torah doesn’t make you a recluse or weird. You have a gift that you can share with Jews of all stripes. You have a gift that you can share with all nations. They don’t need us to try so hard to be like them. They are blessed by blessing us. Those whom you meet throughout your life will be fascinated by your story, by the things that make you different. In this politically correct world no one is allowed to “dis” people because they are different. We can use that to our advantage. We can be the best Jews we can be, living in the world, interacting and influencing and serving as a Kiddush Hashem, perhaps the highest of all mitzvot. Along the way you may meet some people who are not so excited about the Jewish People. You don’t have to be so excited about them either.

I’m telling you all this so that you get some perspective of what you are getting yourself into. This trip you are taking is not just for you or your family. Your learning is for K’lal Yisrael (the Jewish People,) for all the nations, for all those martyrs who perished in the Holocaust and other times of persecution. It’s to empower you to become a shining example of a great Jewish man, a spiritual leader that will help to bring back our disenfranchised brothers and sisters. You are truly learning when you are able to teach that particular subject. I hope you learn in order to teach. I hope you understand that it’s selfish to be complacent, to be self-satisfied while there are so many unaffiliated Jews that have no concept of the diamonds in their hands. I’m not saying you have to join any particular shul or movement. I’m just saying that you have a very unusual family and very serious passion in your veins that you have inevitably inherited. Yes, you are going to Israel to study, travel, party and make lifelong friends. You are also going to get a sense of the importance of your life’s mission, beyond just earning a living and raising a family. It’s your turn now, my beautiful son. I pray that you’ll use your vast abilities to be a hero for the Jewish people, to continue to be the powerful role model that you already are.

So, my dear Max, there’s my shpiel. There are some other things I want to discuss…we’ll save them for the next jacuzzi. Please try to break away from the computer to have a few more jams, oshkibunis (walks) and conversations with me. I treasure every minute we have together. Your friends will come and go over the course of your life…your family is forever. Make these few months meaningful. Hug your mom frequently. Try to imagine a world where she’s not cooking for you, driving you everywhere, feeding your friends, doing your laundry, making you ice chai just the way you like it. Start listing all the things she means to you and see where the resulting burst of gratitude leads you.

Please try to give love to your sister. She needs you. She needs your hugs and your compassion. She is going to miss you so much. She will be crying real tears of grief when she doesn’t have you around. You may think she’ll be fine but I promise that the gravity of the fact that you are gone for so long will profoundly affect her. You have this precious time to leave an impression. Regarding your brother Jesse, you already know that he adores you, looks up to you and so values your companionship. You guys are best friends and that fact alone has me crying again. He may not be able to express the intense bond he shares with you, but trust me, it informs his being. You have created big shoes for him to fill. You have set the bar high. Give him love and honor. Build him up and avoid words that tear him down. May you always take great pleasure in his successes in life and may he always celebrate yours.

I love you Max, Ze’ev Dov ben Shmuel, my pidyon haben, my beautiful, precious son.


The Possible You

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

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.

The Dance of Tears

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

By Sam Glaser

I just returned from my distant cousin Gene Samson’s funeral. I must admit I left my home this morning a bit frustrated that I was going to “lose” half my day and had to wear a black suit on a 90 degree LA scorcher. But as soon as I entered the mortuary I was immediately uplifted by the faces of my extended family and felt the soul-satisfaction of performing the ancient and powerful mitzvah of participating in the burial of a loved one.

Gene died at the ripe age of 83 and was a man beloved by all who knew him. He had a winning personality, a great smile and was functioning on all cylinders until he left this world. Funerals for the elderly are bittersweet affairs that can emphasize the humor, anecdotes and legacy of the deceased. We cried for Gene’s widow, children and grandchildren who had clearly lost their patriarch. But our tears were tempered by the awareness that Gene’s was a life fully lived and his departure, at least to me, was a celebration of life, more like a Bon Voyage than a tragic ending.

Rabbi Mark Hyman eloquently led the service and mentioned that the timing of my cousin’s demise coincided with the month of Elul, a time when we introspect in preparation for the imminent High Holidays. Suddenly I was glad that I took the time to leave my recording studio. I guess I was too busy to have an Elul, too obsessed with my self-imposed deadlines to reflect or to make a spiritual accounting. It’s hard to smell the roses with your nose to the grindstone. Rather than hurry back to my workplace I took the time to wander the cemetery with my parents and pay respect at the various graves of our loved ones. I got to witness my dear mom and dad hand in hand, a loving

couple married for over 50 years, wearing white, exploring the verdant burial ground of our extended family. I got to cry simply because I love my parents so much, because I miss the relatives that have left us, because I’m human and have a God-given need to open my heart and just have a “good cry.”

This experience reminded me of an amazing, multi-day lecture I once enjoyed by Rabbi Marc Gafni. He discussed the power of tears and explained how Rosh Hashana is the “capitol” of tears. In fact, nearly every chapter of Torah and Prophets that we read over the holiday has to do with crying, and the rabbi expertly guided us through an exploration of the different types of tears. Perhaps the best exercise during this final month of the year is to relearn how to cry and to examine the inspiration for our tears. To the best of my memory, this is the chronological outline of his talk.

Our first saga in the Rosh Hashana Dance of Tears is the expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael from the home of Sarah and Avraham. It is in this portion that Avraham is told to “do whatever Sarah tells you,” in other words, we are offered the marital survival tactic of saying “yes, dear” to one’s wife. Reluctantly, Avraham sends them packin’ and when the water runs out, Hagar sets her son a bowshot away so that she doesn’t have to hear his cries. She cries her own tears of despondency and remarkably, God doesn’t respond to her but instead hears “the cry of the boy” and only then does their salvation appear. The lesson here: the tears of giving up are NEVER OK. We can and should cry out when we are in pain. But give up? Never.

Next up we have the haftarah of Hannah praying for God to grant her a child. Eli, the high priest sees her mouthing words of her prayer silently and assumes she’s yet another Jerusalem madwoman. When Eli eventually consoles her, she feels confident her prayer has been heard and a year later gives birth to the infant who would become my namesake, the prophet Shmuel/Samuel. The sages tell us that the gates of heaven are ALWAYS open to the tears of earnest prayer. Our job is to exercise our prayer muscle daily so that we are in good practice come Rosh Hashana, and to be emotionally open so that tears can readily flow and open the gates for the prayers of all humanity.

On the second day of Rosh Hashana the Torah brings us the next player in the celestial dance. This time it is Isaac and the scene is the infamous Akeydah, the near sacrifice of Isaac on top of the sacred Mount Moriah. In the interest of brevity let me say that this is one of the most difficult passages to grasp in our canon. At the age of forty,

Isaac says “Hineni,” (here I am) and seems to be complicit in his own demise. Avraham is asked to destroy everything he has worked for. The midrash tells us that the angels were crying tears of disbelief and awe at the commitment of our patriarchs and that these tears fell into Isaac’s eyes and led to his blindness. These angelic tears are the tears of injury, tears that are real and damaging and stay with us forever. We have all experienced crises, trauma and tragedy. The question is if we let the damage sabotage us or if we rise from the ashes stronger and more deeply connected to our Creator.

The final textual character is in the second day haftorah. Rachel, our mother, is weeping for her exiled children and will not be comforted. She is laid to rest not in the cave of Machpelah with the rest of the family, but on the road so that her grave is a beacon for all those exiles as they return to the Promised Land. Hers are the tears of redemption, the tears spilled over the millennia of wandering and persecution, tears that God carefully collects as we march slowly but surely toward a perfected world.

There’s one more dancer in the Dance of Tears. Can you guess? Did you know that our shofar blasts, the centerpiece of the holiday, are modeled after the tears of Sisera’s mother? “Who is she?” you might ask. Well, Sisera was the Hitler of his day, the tyrannical general with the blood of thousands of Jews on his sword. After one of his conquests, our Jewish heroine Yael waited at her shrewdly erected tent for him to come by. She welcomed him with soothing milk and comfort and then as he slept, drove a tent peg through his temple. The Talmud asks: how did Sisera’s mother cry when her son didn’t return from battle? Long cries, short stuttering rasps or a combination?   Hence we have the tekiah, shevarim and teruah blasts of the shofar, just to make sure we cover all the bases. Is that mind-blowing!? Rabbi Gafni commented that the text never divulges Sisera’s mother’s name. She remains “the mother of Sisera” for eternity, in other words, her identity is entirely wrapped up in the accomplishments of her favorite son.

The tears of the shofar are therefore the tears of loss of identity. My friends, losing one’s identity is the antithesis of our task leading up to Rosh Hashana. This is the season to get in touch with who we are, to connect with our deepest selves and to coronate God king in our lives. Unless we stand on our own two feet we can never be counted, we can never be authentic, we are defying the very reason we were given this gift of life. At the end of his life, Rav Zushe was famous for saying that he wasn’t crying because he wasn’t as great as Moses, he was just trying to be the best Rav Zushe he could be. Yes, we must look out for our families and loved ones, but in the end we must stand

alone. This is the time to make a written accounting of who we are, who we want to be, who we’ve wronged and need to ask for forgiveness. Only when we are at peace with our friends and relatives and in touch with our personal mission can we let the cries of the shofar enter our hearts and tear down the walls of complacency.

At Gene’s graveside I sang my Blessing song. He died during Ki Teitzei, the Torah portion when we are introduced to this eternal priestly blessing of peace. I sang it for his neshama (soul) to have an aliyah, a heavenly escalation. I sang it for his grandchildren after I saw that none of them knew how to say kaddish. I sang it for my children for whom I wrote it in the first place. I sang it for my parents who gave me a blessing at the Friday night dinner table as I grew up and continue to bless my life. Most importantly, I sang it for myself, to connect to my personal destiny and to ingrain within myself that I can’t run from opportunities to share God’s blessing, even when I don’t want to take the time to put on a suit on a sweltering day.

Ode to the 8-Track

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011
by Sam Glaser


8TrackGrowing up in suburban America during the 60’s included a certain rite of passage: as you drove down the freeways, if you wanted to hear your favorite songs, you needed an 8-track tape player in the dash.  In one clunky cassette about the size of six iphones, a CD worth of material would play in gorgeous stereo. There were a few caveats.  You couldn’t rewind.  And when you least expected it, a metallic piece of tape signaled that it was time for the tape head to switch tracks.  That meant a somber moment of silence in the middle of movements, sometimes in the middle of your favorite song.  It wasn’t ideal but it was certainly more graceful than trying to balance your record player when changing lanes.


About three times a year our family would load up into our nine passenger Olds Vista Cruiser, equipped with skylights, a 450cc V8 and a trusty tape deck.On our way to Lake Tahoe, Arizona or Colorado we would sing at the top of our lungs with our favorite thirty-two 8-track tapes. That’s all that would fit in the black vinyl carrying case and that’s about all the music we owned.  We had several Beatles albums, War, Tower of Power, Carole King, Roberta Flack, Joni Mitchell, Temptations,vista cruiserShostakovich and Beethoven’s 5thsymphonies and assorted musicals.  This was also the car that became my college ride at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  A favorite collegiate pastime was stuffing the car with a dozen freshmen from the dorms, cranking the tunes and doing donuts in the Safeway parking lot on snowy nights.


I’d like to share an epiphany I had at an LA Philharmonic concert last week.  It was a perfect, sunny spring Sunday and I was knee deep in over thirty vocal arrangements for the half dozen CDs I am juggling for clients.  I was about to embark on 25 hours of background vocal sessions with some of the finest singing specialists that I know.  These sessions aren’t cheap to run and I wanted to make sure that every piece was ready to go with all the vocal parts, lyrics and recording templates prepared.  Midday I glanced at my calendar and remembered that the LA Phil was presenting a matinee of Beethoven’s 5th at 2pm.  One voice in my head said: “Sam, just buckle down and get these charts done.”  The victorious voice said: “you deserve a break today…” I hadn’t heard this immortal masterpiece in years and I couldn’t pass up the pleasure of hearing it performed by one of the greatest orchestras in the world in Disney Hall, one of the greatest concert halls ever constructed.


No, I didn’t have tickets.  And no, that doesn’t matter. There are always seats.  I have a maxim that is particularly relevant in an entertainment town like LA: you don’t get in the show if you don’t go.  In other words, “if you build it, he will come.”  I found an amazing seat for cheap just beforeDisney Hallthe show started and was treated to a few hours of symphonic bliss. Beethoven’s 5thaffects me in the most visceral way. It’s just not that I share my birthday with the great composer…I have memorized every last passage intimately and during the concert I had to force myself not to conduct.  I was even ready for that measure mid-movement when my family 8-track tape would clunk as it switched to the next section.


Here’s the epiphany.  I grew up getting to know certain pieces of music very deeply.  The power of knowing every crevice of my records or the wow and flutter of every 8-track creates an unmistakable magic when I revisit that music.  Repetition and commitment deepens the experience…and isn’t depth what we want out of life? After the concert I wandered downtown LA uplifted, recharged and filled with a sense of possibilities.  Rather than go right back to work I crossed the street and visited the Museum of Contemporary Art.  What a collection!  I must be a fan since I knew the names of most artists without having to look at the descriptions. The most powerful (and valuable) pieces of art are those where the creator limited him or herself to a certain medium and theme.  Rothko’s rectangles of sultry color. Jackson Pollack’s monochrome splatters.  Jasper John’s maps and flags.


My children on the other hand have grown up with unrefined chaos in the form of millions of YouTube videos, online games and the App Store.  All geared for a five-minute attention span.  They don’t leave home without the iPod/iPad.  Unlimited songs for free forever. And thousands more appearing daily.  It’s impossible to keep up with what’s new and knowing what’s hot is increasingly irrelevant.  There will be something hotter in a few hours.  With the landscape changing so radically everyday, there is no opportunity to make a deep musical connection.  Other than my songs, which my kids are forced to listen to just by living here, their musical diet is as fickle as KISS FM.ipad2


The repercussions are significant.  Are our kids processing relationships in the same way?  Instant satisfaction online does not translate well in “meat-space.”  A great conversation takes hours to nurture before one reaches revelatory territory.   So too with friendships, professional experience and reputations. There is no quick fix for the test of time.  If we didn’t kick the kids out of the house, their play dates would consist of observing each other texting, playing video games or watching The 70’s Show.  My son tries to hide his distraction when his phone vibrates with a new text. Over 2500 a month.  I smile as he fumbles for where he left off in the discussion.


One of my favorite rabbis, Natan Lopes Cardozo from Jerusalem, comments on the essential difference between Beethoven and Bach.  Bach was a dutiful adherent to the “rules” of music in his days.  In spite of his discipline we hear vast creativity within the confines of this Baroque construct.  Beethoven, on the other hand, broke with these accepted rules and liberated music much the way the Beatles rescued rock and roll from the doo-wop of the 50’s.  Not to dis ole Ludwig V. but there is a certain power in Bach’s approach.  Cardozo quotes the philosopher Goethe stating, “In limitation does the master really prove himself and it is only the law which can provide us with freedom.”


Does this sound familiar?  As we march from Pesach to Shavuot, echoing the steps of our forefathers on their way from Egypt to Sinai, we relive the reality that true freedom is within the confines of Torah.  Learning a musical instrument takes tremendous discipline and hours of practice.  Learning to live as a Jew takes a lifetime of study to master the instrument of the soul. Like Bach, within the yoke of our Torah, we compress our creativity; we deepen our context and explode in our human potential.


ShavuotSinai was our wedding day.  Our exclusive covenant with the Creator of the Universe. Marriage is the melding of two hearts together into an altogether new entity.  Thanks to the exclusion of all other potential mates, a couple has the chance to blossom into a symbiotic oneness.  Thanks to our willingness to discard idol worship and focus on the laws of Torah, we explode into the full blossoming of our potential as members of God’s holy nation.  It’s no surprise that Jewish law is called halacha, or path.  It’s a pathway, not a goal in and of itself.  By striving to sensitize ourselves to this path we hear God’s voice, feel God’s love supporting our every step.


Once a week we have the chance to recreate our commitment to our heavenly “spouse.” I have led nearly a thousand Shabbatons over the past twenty years. That seems to be my specialty, and anyone who has attended can testify that I take the celebration of Shabbat very seriously.   I, too, am driven to distraction, overwhelmed by data, news, economics and electronics. My friends, Shabbat is the very antidote to the iPod.  It’s the antidote to shallow connections with people, God, music, life.  Thanks to the restrictions of the day we are forced to deepen our focus on those things we can do, which are praying, eating, and spending quality time with one another.  That’s it.  Deep interactions, deep (and sometimes very long) prayers, great food accompanied by song, stories and laughter.  Shabbat serves as a bookend to a week of superficiality.   It gives context to the chaos, a refuge from the rat race.  Now I can’t imagine life without it.


Sixty years ago the 8-track tape made our favorite music portable.  A product of a simpler time, it allowed us to deepen our experience with the few dozen “desert island” albums we couldn’t live without.   It sowed the seeds for other such miraculous revolutions that allow us to keep our music close at hand.  Now I have a compass, chronograph, 12 feature films, a siddur, bible, hundreds of books, GPS, a word processor, camera, newspaper, web-browser, games and a jukebox in my pocket.  Yes, it’s a phone too.  Funny how with 1500 songs I still listen to the same 32 albums.  I have 4,300 Facebook friends but I still call my parents with big issues.  I love having choices. I don’t want to go back to my 8-track repertoire. But I’ll take my friendships deep, my food cooked with love and my God on God’s own terms.


Love is My Religion

Friday, October 29th, 2010
Love Signby Sam Glaser

My 15-year-old Max woke up on the wrong side of the bed.  Since he’s a busy teen I have to make an appointment to have a conversation.  Today was our day to make up for lost time but he emerged from his bedroom with a chip on his shoulder and heaped insult on each family member.  I had to draw the line when he slammed his brother Jesse’s laptop down on his fingers.  The punishment?  His lifeline to the world, his new cell phone, was promptly snatched away and hidden.  How do you think that affected his mood for our outing?

Jews believe in a loving, caring God Who is committed to every individual’s growth and pleasure.  Our liturgy is filled with constant reminders of God’s love, and our prayers and blessings create constant opportunities for returning the favor with gratitude.  Our texts are also rife with the cause and effect chain of slacking off.  The flip side of real love, and by that I mean tough love, is the importance of consequences.  But it all starts with love.

Historically Jews are associated more with guilt than joy, as if we are inherently more in touch with the “fear” side of the love-fear continuum.  Personally, I prefer the term “awe” to “fear.”  God is AWE-SOME!  Awe infers respect, power, wonder.  I have heard many times that Christians are the people of love and we are the people of the book.  I believe the point that’s lost on the world is that we’re infatuated with textual learning because it allows us to hear God’s “still, small voice.”  In any relationship, the partners must establish the lines that must not be crossed.  Awe implies an awareness of boundaries.  We study so that we know God’s mind, God’s desires and expectations.  With the ground rules set we can then dance in ecstatic joy with our Creator.

love hate babyOur kids go berserk when we reprimand them.  Sometimes it’s fun to video their reactions.  No, I don’t post the tantrums on Facebook.  Thankfully they are usually considerate and know when they are crossing the line.  They have also learned when to steer clear of their mother just by reading the look on her face.  But when we have to lay down the law, we let them freak out for a while and find that afterwards they are usually more sweet and loving than ever.  I think they intuit that structure in their lives is crucial for them to flourish.  They also see their peers that are spoiled rotten usually turn out just that way: rotten.  We emphasize to them that as Jews we connect the holiday of Pesach with Shavuot because we realize that celebrating freedom is great but it’s not just about escaping slavery. Our true goal is the freedom to receive Torah at Sinai and thereby bask within a powerful covenant with God.  Rules + consequences = freedom.

I’m currently reading a new Rabbi Arush bestseller, In Forest Fields, that urges us to feeling gratitude for our pain, for the setbacks and trials we face, because in the long run “tsuris” brings us closer to a God that only does things for our good.  Part of God’s role as our Father in Heaven requires that God dispense love in the form of discipline or rebuke.  Just like I must take away Max’s phone to make my point that his behavior is unacceptable, so too does God give us pause for thought when it’s necessary to re-orient our actions.  The setback is a gift.  By intervening, I show my son my love.  The cruelest response would be to ignore the problem.  Richard Bach put it well in his brilliant book Illusions: “To love someone unconditionally is not to care who they are or what they do. Unconditional love, on the surface, looks the same as indifference.”

My parents are very involved in my life. Love on Sheet Music Their involvement is welcome and cherished.  My father has taken upon himself the job of worrying for me.  It’s quite a relief that I don’t have to worry for myself since my dad does such a good job of it.  Many of our conversations evolve from small talk about our day-to-day to an analysis of all the things that are wrong in my life.  It took me years to understand that my father isn’t trying to wreck my good mood.  He shows his love with his concern that I remain focused on what needs doing for my family’s well being.  His broken record repetition of the state of my finances or the costs of sending my kids to private school is actually pure, unadulterated love, hidden in the “garment” of worry.

How many parents show their love in the “garment” of screaming, paranoia and nagging?  My mom still admonishes that I could break a finger while skiing or skateboarding.  “And then what?” she adds accusingly.  Even at 47 years old she still reminds me to take my jacket because it might get cold.  I love it!  Many friends only see the silver lining of their parent’s love after their parents have left the earth.  I often refer to my song “He is Still My Daddy,” (coming out soon on my new CD!) when I feel like bucking the onslaught of paternal judgment.  I consciously remind myself that my parent’s caveats represent the deepest love.

It’s important to state the difficulty of appreciating a loving Universe when one is in the depths of despair.  Overly helpful friends may remind you that God only tests those whom God loves, and that challenges are proof that God really needs you and is counting on you to grow.  In the thick fog of despondency we are blind to the opportunities that impregnate every setback.  Sometimes it takes an enlightened guide to coach you through the trough, to “lift your eyes” to a vision of healing, consolation and even victory.

Couple in WaterToday I braved the LA drizzle with my family to attend a book signing of a young woman who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was twenty. As soon as she was able to get over the sense of victimhood, cancer gave her the incentive to take life seriously and the awareness that she had special gifts to counsel those in similar straits.  The audience was overjoyed to hear that this year, eight years after her lifesaving surgery, she gave birth to healthy twins.  Her sister donated the eggs and thanks the miracle of in vitro fertilization she and her husband are parents of darling daughters.  At the nadir of her struggle it’s unlikely that she would have uttered the words she said today: “I’m grateful for my cancer.”

A careful reading of our holy Torah shows that our biblical heroes do not have access to prophecy when in states of sadness.   Sadness is compared with idol worship in our Talmud.  After all, a negative spin on life is a slap in the face to our Creator who gives us our tests with love and hope for our eventual triumph.  Yaakov spends twenty-two years without access to prophecy while mourning for his missing Yosef.  And by extension we are shocked to see that Avraham must have been joyful at the chance to do the mitzvah of sacrificing his beloved Yitzchak or he wouldn’t have heard the angel calling to stay his hand.  Our greatest moments are not spent in couch potato mode with the latest Netflix delivery.  When we look back we are proudest of overcoming obstacles, the more profound the adversity the more powerful the feeling of accomplishment.

Still, we don’t ask for tests. We don’t seek out problems. Heart in OceanThey do a perfectly good job finding us.  Two months ago I broke my foot.  I survived the ignominy of being pushed in a wheelchair on the Sabbath, barely mastered crutches, and had my low back go out due to the imbalance of walking around in a Frankenstein boot.  Thank God I’m doing much better now but I have a brand new sense of appreciation for my mobility.  I’m much more sympathetic to those in wheelchairs, to those who suffer with inadequate access, crumbling sidewalks and death star potholes.  Only afterwards did I recognize God’s kindness in that my injury transpired in the only two-month window in my schedule when I didn’t have to get on an airplane and tour.

I never did get to spend the day with Max.  He was reduced to a furious, frustrated adolescent festering in his room.  Not to worry…we’ll get our chance…he’s a great kid with an award-winning smile.  His brother Jesse was more than happy to have me to himself for the day. We took my first hike since my accident and boy did I smell the roses.  We saw ducks, geese, doves, quail, lizards and turtles, ate wild grapes in a forest of eucalyptus and munched on a picnic of Jeff’s kosher chicken cilantro sausages smeared with hearts of romaine and pareve Caesar dressing with a side of seasoned fries.  With every breath of fresh air I thanked God.  With every bite of my gourmet hot dog I sang praises to the Almighty.  My God is a God of love, thank you very much.  Life is so good.