Los Angeles Jewish Home's Blog

Time set aside for the soul-Letters from a Rabbi

Every Friday afternoon, the rabbis on both campuses visit residents to make Kiddush. The whole ceremony is aimed at giving warmth, joy and a sense of community as we welcome Shabbat. The actual "Kiddush" (the word means "making holy") is the part of the ceremony recited over wine or grape juice; it is about thanking God for giving us this holy day. What is a holy day? I want to suggest it is time set aside for the soul.

The Jewish tradition gives us lots of these holy days — days when, if we allow it, the rhythm of our life changes. The basic model for the Jewish holy day is Shabbat (the Sabbath) which comes every seven days; that's about 52 Sabbaths every year. In addition, there are 13 days on the Jewish Holidays, some solemn, some days of celebration, which Torah tells us are to be days of rest, just like Shabbat. That adds up to 65 holy days a year — more than two months in every twelve!

In a world where so much emphasis is placed on achieving and being productive, it might seem terribly wasteful to have all those days when we are supposed to stop achieving, stop being productive, in effect stop doing, and instead just be. Jewish tradition gives us these days — Shabbat in particular — as days when we should be free of productive work. If we look at the Ten Commandments, it becomes clear that all people, and indeed working animals too, need time (at least one day in every seven) to rest. What a major contribution to society the Sabbath was; and we are still feeling the benefits today!

One resident, talking about the requirement in the Jewish tradition that we should not work on Shabbat, said to me: "But that's all very well, Rabbi! Many people have to work on Saturday, their livelihood depends on it." Yes, I know and respect that. My own father, who kept Shabbat much of the year, would nevertheless go to work on Saturdays in the months of October to December, as he was in the toy trade and that was the vital and busy time for his business.

As important as Shabbat and the other holy days are, what I think is equally important is the lesson they teach us: that stopping and being are absolutely essential to us. But it isn't just that weary bodies need and deserve rest. So do souls. Whether or not we observe the traditional Jewish days of rest, it is so important to spend time away from the tasks and the worries of everyday life, and instead give ourselves the opportunity to feed our souls, so that we are spiritually enriched, renewed, even re-created. Isn't that what the word recreation means?

Whether we make space for ourselves on the days our tradition offers, or at other times, that space is so essential. I talked about this in my resident groups. Outside the world of prayer (I believe that prayer is wonderful nourishment for the soul), I think my own favorite ways of replenishing (or re-creating) myself are walking in nature and listening to classical music. Residents said that activities like these can "calm the spirit"; and "let you know what is important".

We can lose ourselves in so many ways: playing or listening to music; painting or pottery or other arts and crafts; wandering in nature among trees and sky, hills and valleys; reading a good book; song and prayer… What do I mean lose ourselves? I think that (if we are fortunate) we step aside from every-day worries and concerns, and from the busy-ness of our minds; it's as though we are lost in a deeper part of ourselves. But in an important way, we also find ourselves. We know who we are, and sometimes we may feel the closeness of God. What a blessing!

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman is the Skirball Director of Spiritual Life at the Jewish Home and also serves as Rabbi of the Home's Grancell Village campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

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Facing the Future with a Smile - Letter from the Rabbi

I'm looking forward to a good 2014. Are you? Or are you more of a pessimist? Some people look to the future with a positive sense of how life will be; for others, thoughts of the future fill them with fear and anxiety. I had a group discussion with residents the other day about what it meant to be an optimist or a pessimist, and whether our attitude to the future affects how we live our life.

As some residents pointed out, there are situations where a level of fear about the future may be appropriate, and may lead to taking useful precautions. For instance, it would be foolhardy to let a small child play with a pot of boiling water bubbling on the stove. And many people are careful not to spend too much time in the sun without protection. But taking proper precautions in a situation where the danger is real does not make one a pessimist — just a careful person.

However, if we are always fearing that the future will go wrong for us (or for those we love) — for example that every small ache and pain is a certain sign of the most horrendous illness, or that whatever we set out to do, we are sure to fail — that really is a picture of a pessimistic nature.

On the other hand, if one's natural assumption is that things will turn out right, it's as though one is facing the future with a smile. It is perfectly possible to be a careful person, taking note of dangers in our path, and still hold a rosy view of the future. Indeed, isn't our future more likely to be rosy if we take sensible note of real dangers?

One resident pointed out that being an optimist or a pessimist makes a significant difference to how we live our lives. An optimist is much more willing to try things, to take risks. Life is expanded that way, and can feel like an adventure. Pessimists, on the other hand, would be more likely to avoid unnecessary risks, and stay with the activities that are most safe and familiar to them.

So why am I thinking now about attitudes to the future? Is it just that we are about to embark on all the unknowns of 2014? A bigger reason is that I am at an age when it's impossible to ignore the fragility of life. With each further step I take into my seventies, I am ever more aware of all the things that can turn out in unwelcome ways. If being optimistic means believing that those things won't happen to me... well, how can I possibly be confident of that? Working at the Home provides a constant reminder of the hardships that accompany getting older — and of our residents' courage in facing those challenges.

And yet, looking into the unknown future, I do feel optimistic. I have come to think there are two kinds of optimism. The first kind of optimism is a trust that for many years the future will hold lots that is good and little that is bad. We can affect that only in limited ways; for although we may have some influence on how life treats us — like the way we eat or exercise — we know we cannot control life's events.

While I pray for good in the future, I know that in the real world I cannot rely on it. This is where the second kind of optimism comes in; and this one is up to us. While we have little control over what happens to us, we do have quite a lot of control over how we respond to life's happenings. If the first kind of optimism is about our trust that life will treat us well, the second is about our trust in ourselves — that we will not let life's events knock us flat. (A pessimist, on the other hand, might believe he would be absolutely devastated by the events he fears.)

So here I am on my life journey. So far it's gone pretty well, but what of the future? And what do I mean when I say I am optimistic? Well, I do trust that things will go well; more importantly, I also trust in my ability to deal positively with what life sends me. It's not a magical belief in a good future. It's a trust that I have the resilience to live a life that is positive and fulfilling with the circumstances that come my way.

May we all have a 2014 full of good, and the ability to meet the year's challenges with a smile.

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman is the Skirball Director of Spiritual Life at the Jewish Home and also serves as Rabbi of the Home's Grancell Village campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

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Residents Receive an Insider's Perspective on the Middle East

Residents at Eisenberg Village and Fountainview were treated to an insider's perspective on the Middle East from Jerusalem Post chief political correspondent Gil Hoffman during a visit to the Jewish Home. The aptly titled "most optimistic man in Israel" by Israeli television provided insightful, thoughtful, and engaging overviews of the region's current events, from Israel's perspective.

Residents, curious to learn about international events, packed the Eisenberg Village multi-purpose room and Fountainview theater for two back-to-back presentations.

Touching on hot topics like Iran, Syria, Egypt, the Palestinians, and Israeli government affairs, Hoffman presented an optimistic outlook for the Jewish State — that despite the sensationalist stories we read daily, Israel's position in the region is actually extremely strong.

Hoffman described how the world was no longer quite as threatening to Israel as it once was.

From Egypt becoming so pro-Israel some of their newspapers referred to the Jewish State as their "savior" to Syria having only 10% of its military capability, the overarching message was that Israel is much safer than it was only a couple years ago.

On Iran, Hoffman explained that UN sanctions and Netanyahu's "red line" left the potentially nuclear arch-nemesis reeling, and that the world is largely on Israel's side.

As the conversation delved into the conflict with the Palestinians, Hoffman described how Hamas is being quickly marginalized across the region, and how American-led peace talks were progressing well.

The presentations concluded with Hoffman describing how, in Israel, "at the age of 65, we're finally growing up. We can look back on what we've built with pride." Now in a more stable position regionally, the current Knesset was elected mostly on economic issues, is far more moderate than in previous years, and potentially more malleable toward lasting peace terms with Israel's neighbors.

"They loved him!"said Eisenberg Village activities director Caryl Geiger. "They really raved about him."

The benefit to the residents was more than simply entertainment.

"What he did was stimulate the residents intellectually," Geiger explained. "We had such a big response, and the residents had great questions for him."

Residents continued the lively discussion about the topics covered during Hoffman's presentations following the events. "So informative" and "excellent speaker" were repeated over and over.

One new resident at Eisenberg Village thanked the Jewish Home staff for organizing such a marvelous event.

"I've been here only a week — I'm so impressed," she exclaimed. "And they tell me events like this are normal!"

The Fountainview audience was just as enthusiastic. Shelley Smilen, director of resident services, recalls, "One resident shared with me, 'He was funny, humble, and informative — when is he coming back?', and that’s quite a statement coming from this gentleman!"

Special thanks goes to the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles for bringing Gil Hoffman through its Israel Speakers Bureau.

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Based on My Sermon for the First Day of Rosh Hashanah — Letter from the Rabbi

A few weeks ago I heard a wise and learned rabbi say something that really made me think. How odd, he said, that Judaism gives us first Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, and then Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement! First we celebrate the New Year with apples and honey, and then after just a few days, we spoil the celebration by having to repent and ask forgiveness of all we did wrong the previous year.

Wouldn't it be better to do it the other way around? Shouldn't we first seek atonement, and then — cleansed and joyful — enter into the celebration of the beginning of a fresh new year? Certainly that would make good sense; but there is another way of looking at the sequence, which adds extra power to these High Holy Days.

A major aspect of Rosh Hashanah is celebrating the creation of the world. As the prayer book says, Hayom harat olam — today is the birthday of the world. So let us on this day contemplate and celebrate the beauty and wonder of the world God has created:
  • A world where we can look after our environment, so that the atmosphere is free from pollution, the air is clean, and the seas are pure.
  • A world where rain is abundant in its due season; where rivers flow full but safe within their riverbanks, irrigating the land and giving human and animal alike plentiful and pure life-giving water.
  • A world where people and nations pursue justice, so that every person in the world has his or her share to eat, access to drinking water, and safe shelter.
  • A world where rulers and governments are wise and just, assuring a decent and good life for all their citizens.
  • A world where women, and people of all sexual orientations and races and religions, are treated honorably and with equality.
  • A world where immigrants seeking safety and a good life are respected and enabled to play their part in society.
  • A world where war is unknown, as nations know the value of seeking peace and cooperation with their neighbors.
  • A world where people have an overwhelming desire to spread happiness and to be compassionate and protective to others.
Just describing this world makes me feel so good, that I want to praise God and to say to everyone; what a wonderful world we live in! ... Wait a minute though! did that sound anything remotely like the world we know? or was it more a description of an idealized Garden of Eden? We have only to contemplate the actual world we live in, and compare it with the world we all know it should be — the world I have just described — to know what a gulf there is between the two.

I understand the creation story as God's gift of a potentially wonderful world. Just as we human beings, created in God's image, have the potential to be so much more than we often manage to be, so too the world is only a beginning of what it could be. Let us, on this Rosh Hashanah, this birthday of the world, celebrate that potentially wonderful world, with an honest recognition of all the ways it falls short.

At this season, we are not only celebrating, we also are starting the process that culminates on the day of Atonement, a process of looking at what we have achieved, both personally and collectively, and what we have failed to achieve; what we have done for the good of the world, and the negative things we have done that contribute to the world's shortcomings. Every act we do or don't do makes a difference to the health of the world we are passing to our children and grand-children.

As well as enjoying the good and the love in our lives, and wishing each other a new year filled with sweetness and good, we can hold in mind that idealized picture of the world, and know that it is within the power of every one of us to move this imperfect world an inch or two towards that beautiful potential.

Rabbi Anthony Elman Rabbi Anthony Elman is the Skirball Director of Spiritual Life at the Jewish Home and also serves as Rabbi of the Home's Grancell Village campus. His professional background is multifaceted, encompassing the fields of law, social work, and psychotherapy. Rabbi Elman has been with the Home since his ordination and graduation from the Academy for Jewish Religion-California in May 2007

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BCSC in the News!

The Brandman Centers for Senior Care (BCSC), our new Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) facility, received some tremendous news coverage over the last couple weeks. Both of the LA local news teams from NBC and ABC visited us, and their reports are terrific!

Since BCSC is one of the only PACE centers in the Greater Los Angeles Area, and the only one in the San Fernando Valley, the kind of care we offer seniors—allowing them to access nursing home-quality care while living in their own homes—is incredibly unique.

Check out the videos below!

NBC News:

The first ABC News story:

The second ABC News story:

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