Author: Rabbi Steven Rubenstein

A Salute to Heschie, z”l

A Salute To Heschie,

May His Memory Always Be For a Blessing


Whenever Heschie entered the back door of the chapel, he always stopped to offer me a salute as his morning greeting.  The room itself may be small, but it has become much larger when I think about those who filled its pews during the twelve years that I have served as the spiritual leader of this community.  A couple of shabbatot ago we celebrated the role that the minyannaires have played in maintaining the spiritual component in our kehillah, being there for those who needed to recite Kaddish, and developing a camaraderie that is quite unique.  We all knew that we would age over time.  However, we never expected death to rob us of our cohesive character.   Each of us had our role in the daily service.  Even though people have come and gone with the seasons, and with illnesses, we have managed to fill in for one another.  However, today we look around and we feel the loss of an individual who played a multiple of roles in our routine together each Sunday, Monday, and Thursday morning.


No one can collect tzedakah with the same amount of enthusiasm as Heschie.  He was a master of filling the pushke with coins and dollar bills, as well as an occasional IOU when people came to shul short.  With his help, we recently completed a forest in Israel with the collections that he made using the JNF box.  As for the silver can, many a meal was fed to the homeless once a month on a Monday evening.  I can still see the smile on his face when he announced on Sunday morning that we would be serving “fisssshhhhhh sticks” each month, until Mike enabled us to serve “tube steaks” is what Harry called them, every other month.  He loved serving the homeless on Monday evenings, and they constantly asked about him in his leave of absence as a new crew took over the volunteering.


What echoes even louder is the pride in which Heschie sang a haftarah.  He had a unique trope that must be native to Malden…  After he finished, who couldn’t notice the smile on his face, noting his accomplishment, outdoing his job as closer of the daily service following the Torah reading.


I know that Heschie was a man of many talents and interests that went beyond our discussions of the Red Sox.  I had an opportunity of seeing some of his artwork at Lynch Park when the Beverly Art Guild had their exhibitions there.  I even had a chance to see a work in progress while he was at Ledgewood, a watercolor of some flowers that someone had brought him.  Like life in general, the picture was unfinished!


I recently read that the Children of Israel came together as a community on two occasions while traveling in the wilderness towards their goal of reaching the land that God would show to them.  The first time it is mentioned that the entire community came together was at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah.  The second time that the entire community came together was to weep the loss of Aaron, who showed them loving-kindness, unlike his brother Moses who was portrayed as being stern in character.  In Pirkei Avot 3:13 the sages teach us “He who is loved by man is loved by God.”  We are taught that doing chesed, acts of righteousness and loving-kindness, is what brings peace and unity to our world.  Heschie embraced these qualities.  As a sign of our respect for all that he has done for our community, we gather as a community in tribute to a life of many blessings.

As God leads him to that promised place in the world beyond this one, may all those who hold his memory in our hearts and in our souls be comforted and strengthened and consoled in our love for Heschie and how he touched each of us in his own special way.  Heschie, I salute you!


Behaalotekha 5771 — One From Column A and One From Column B

How ungrateful can they be, our ancestors who left Egypt? The Torah makes it a point to tell us that the Children of Israel were constantly whining. Wherever they went, it was always something new, as well as the usual things. “We’re hungry! We’re thirsty! Aren’t we there yet!”

I can hear Moses saying to the council that he set up to take care of the day-to-day business of the Israelite community when they met for their weekly updates:

“Nu, so what are they complaining about now? Isn’t it enough for them that they live in a day and age when they have a direct audience with God whose presence can be felt so palpably? Don’t they know that this can change at any moment if God decides to withdraw back to the Heavens above? What about asking for safe passage once in a while? What ever happened to wishing for peace and goodwill towards all humankind – is that a thing of the past? Maybe future generations will see some gratitude in praying for wholeness and serenity instead of the meat that they ask for? I know, what about a prayer for healing? I could use some medical attention about now. Any of you know a good chiropractor for the pain in my…. shoulder? Carrying everyone on my back has done a number on my backside for the past couple of years.”

Are we any different from our ancestors? There are so many difficulties in the world in which we live — personal tragedies, acts of nature, violence in neighborhoods, global warming, to name just a few worries. One of the things that we have inherited from our ancestors is the ability to kvetch, as they say in Yiddish, or our mother tongue. One would think that we do it so well we have made into a full-time occupation with professional benefits. And if we didn’t whine and complain so much, what else is there to talk about? The Celtics? The Patriots? The Bruins? The Red Sox? Don’t we have something more important to talk about, like the rabbi’s sermon last week? Global warming? Middle East politics? Who are our enemies these days? Read more

Shavuot 5771 Day Two – All for One and None for All

When asked, “How do you look at your rabbinate?” I have always had an answer that satisfies me, and the way in which I perceive my role as spiritual guide. I claim that I treat each situation as an opportunity to see how things can be done so that they are considered more inclusive rather than exclusive in nature.

My future employer has already shared that same philosophy in regard to the work that they do caring for our elders and their needs, rather than our own personal desires. Whenever a situation arises in their kosher kitchen and the mashgiach, the rabbinical supervisor, claims that on Shabbat we can’t do this, the CEO says to him, with much respect and dignity for his expertise in life, “Let us find a solution so that whatever we are asking on behalf of this individual, their physical health and well-being is preserved.” In other words, let us find a way to make it happen so that halakhah is preserved and the person in question receives the proper nutrition. Read more

Shavuot 5771 Day One – G!d Updated: Version 2.18

I can remember vividly the day when I came home with a floppy disk from the computer store with a free version of America Online 1.0, somewhere in the vicinity of January 1993. At the time that I was installing the program, DOS was still the way we navigated through our word processing and dial-up times with that annoying sound of a handshake was the norm. It often took several attempts to retrieve all of the information that one was seeking.

OK, some things don’t change very much. It still takes several attempts to download information, but that is the result of much larger files and congested fiber-optic lines. I was in the middle of setting up my account so that I had a boost in my coursework for rabbinical school when Batya, who was no more than three years old at the time, showed up in the doorway to my former bedroom as a child and announced, “Abba, supper!” I innocently asked her what we were eating for supper, and she responded with a broad smile, “My favorite! Rabbiolis!” This is how I entered my screen-name with AOL – Read more

Parashat Naso 5771 — Movin’ On Up, to Sinai

The last of three quotes has been received. After promising to pare down what is in the boxes in my storage container, and as moving company representatives estimate what I will be taking with me to Colorado, I am still trying to achieve my goal not to exceed 12,000 pounds. The furniture is not the problem. As one estimator said before even looking at my stuff: “Oh, you’re a rabbi. That means you must have a lot of books!”

I didn’t know whether I should feel a sense of pride in that moment, or begin to fear what numbers she was planning to calculate as she added up my load. My books are a part of my livelihood. I use them for reference whenever I need to search for an answer to a question that is posed to me that is not readily available on the Internet. Read more

The Blessings of an Empty Bowl

Shavuot is approaching and along with it an end to another year of Counting the Omer with our annual Boxes on the Bima campaign. The food pantries that we supply with the rewards of our collection are extremely appreciative of our contribution, as their shelves often become empty when they finish another week of providing groceries to those who are in need. This year, I am focusing on something other than the boxes of cereal that are emptied by the families who receive them. I am looking at the empty bowl that sits on our table when the box is not present and what blessings can be associated with it. Read more

Parashat Naso 5771 – All I Really Need To Know…

All I Really Need To Know… I Learned From My Bat Mitzvah

A message to Zoe Stock, on the occasion of her Bat Mitzvah.

Zoe, it has been more than 15 years since Robert Fulghum popularized the phrase “All I really need to know…”  In his case, he learned all of life’s lessons while in kindergarten.  “Bekitzur,” which in Hebrew means, “in short,” here is a list of what he learned, in his own words: Read more