The Miraculous Legacy of Eric Alterman and Ian Besner


Eric Alterman               Ian Besner

Four-year-old Jordan Drake is a real, live miracle. Two years ago, she had a heart transplant that saved her life. Now she is running around, living a happy childhood. A vital part of the miracle that is Jordan Drake is another child, Lukas Clark, who tragically died at just seven months because of child abuse committed by a babysitter’s boyfriend. Lukas’ mother, Heather, chose to donate her son’s liver, kidneys and heart. As a result, three children received the gift of Lukas’ life. Little Jordan Drake received his heart. Watch below as Lukas’ mom hears, for the first time, his heart beating strongly inside of Jordan, reminding her that her son is still acting in this world. “He did more in 7 months in life than I’ve done in 25 years of life.”

Last week, my heart was heavy as I went to take part in the FDNow 5K Run/Walk in memory of Eric Alterman, a Ramat Shalom teen who passed away last summer. While Eric’s parents, Carol and Steve, did donate his organs and people have been saved by Eric, I arrived at the 5K last Sunday morning, overwhelmed with grief. I had known Eric for several years, officiated at his bar mitzvah, been with him and his incredible family through the ups and downs of his illness. We knew that he was facing many challenges, but Eric was larger than life, loved and extremely strong. His passing was tragic and this past Sunday morning all of the emotions associated with losing him came back to me. However, as I stood at the starting line, surrounded by so many people, something shifted. In the crowd of runners and walkers, all of whom had donated to fund much needed Familial Dysautonomia (FD) research, I felt the heartbeat of Eric. In the sounds of the sneakers hitting the pavement, the rhythmic breathing of the runners and the cheers as people crossed the finish line, I heard Eric’s heartbeat. My grief turned to awe as I appreciated that this group of runners and walkers was part of the miracle that is Eric. He lives on – not the way we wanted him to be here – but in a way that is transforming the world for the better. Like little Lukas, Eric, in his short life, did more than most people who live long lives. His organs have saved lives and his memory is going to transform the lives of those living with FD.

As a community, we have lost too many of our kids. This coming Sunday, we gather together for the annual I Care I Cure 5K Run/Walk at the BB&T Center. I Care I Cure was created by Ramat Shalom members, Beth and Brad Besner, in memory of their son, Ian, an amazing kid who grew up here in our congregation. Tragically, Ian passed away as a result of the treatment he was receiving for pediatric cancer. I was lucky enough to know Ian and was looking forward to celebrating his bar mitzvah, which we were beginning to discuss when he got sick ten years ago. This Sunday, I encourage you to join me at the I Care I Cure 5K and experience the miracle of Ian Besner. While we all wish that Ian, who would have turned 21 earlier this week, was with us, the energy at the starting line of the race, the comradery along the course and the opportunity to learn how I Care I Cure and Ian’s incredible legacy are saving lives – all of these things are miraculous. When you take part in the 5K, if you listen closely, you will be able to hear Ian’s heartbeat. While you might not have known him, when you join me on Sunday morning, you will experience his essence and the good he is bringing into so many lives. Please, register today by clicking HERE (if you do so, please pick up your race materials Sunday morning, not tomorrow).

May each of us do our part to make certain that Ian and Eric’s memories continue to serve as incredible blessings.


On Monday, We Remember That The American Dream Isn’t Dead


My article on The Wisdom Daily

Some are saying that the American dream is dead. About one-half of millennials believe this to be the case. Some of the presidential candidates talk about it a lot as they speak to a nation that is, in general, feeling very pessimistic about the future. But, I refuse to give in to all the negativity. I believe that the American dream, an ideal that is an intrinsic part of our country, is still very much alive. And, I believe that we need to make certain to celebrate the American dream next week, on February 1st, a day that President Truman proclaimed to be National Freedom Day.

National Freedom Day is not an official holiday. It’s simply referred to as an observance. While some cities have a special ceremony to mark the day, it hasn’t become a well-established American tradition. This is unfortunate because National Freedom Day commemorates the essence of the American dream.

It was on February 1, 1865, that President Lincoln signed a joint congressional resolution proposing the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that, once ratified, would abolish slavery throughout the United States.

To read more, please click HERE.

The ISH Weekly

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I am excited to introduce you to a new, online magazine that I have created as part of ISH, our new spiritual venture designed to engage the unaffiliated. The magazine, The ISH Weekly, is a collection of articles and videos pertaining to spirituality that I curate and share each week. Each edition of The ISH Weekly highlights trending spiritual topics and issues. While the magazine is published and promoted weekly on ISH’s Twitter account, you can access it HERE any time and become a subscriber.
In The ISH Weekly, you’ll have the opportunity to learn more about spiritual events that are capturing people’s attention. Inspirational videos and stories that have been shared online are often featured. I make certain to include articles that explore ways in which spirituality intersects with science and technology. And a special Health & Wellness section captures some of the most important ways that spirituality can improve your life.

While The ISH Weekly will often contain material pertaining to Judaism, I make it a point not to limit the weekly collection to Jewish articles and videos. Various different faith traditions are represented, as are spiritual practices that many would not associate with a specific religion. There is a section of The ISH Weekly that includes articles pertaining to specific religious communities, but the spirituality that The ISH Weekly is committed to sharing transcends religion.

I do hope that you will take the time to check out The ISH Weekly. Let me know what you think and, if you find an article that you think might be an interesting addition to the weekly collection, please share it with me!

It’s How You Play The Game


As many of us were coming to terms with the fact that we did not win the $1.5 billion Powerball jackpot, The Jerusalem Post shared a beautiful story yesterday about one of the three Powerball winners – a nurse in California who is the mother of seven kids whose boss bought the ticket for her. Her boss, Shlomo Rechnitz, is an Orthodox Jewish businessman and philanthropist. He owns several nursing homes in California and reportedly purchased 18,000 Powerball tickets – one for each employee. Along with the ticket, Rechnitz attached a note that read: “We will provide the ticket. You provide the dream.” Explaining Mr. Rechnitz’s decision to do this, his spokesperson said: “In the new year, ‘everyone wants a bit of hope’ and he (Mr. Rechnitz) wanted to give everyone that bit of hope.”

This is not the first time Rechnitz has done incredible things for people. Last year he bought 400 U.S. soldiers dinner as they waited for their plane at an airport in Ireland. He has helped many Jewish organizations and donated $1 million to Orthodox communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. Every Saturday night, Rechnitz opens his home to the needy, giving money to those in crisis. He has promised $10,000 to the family of any California police officer killed in the line of duty and he sent $20,000 to a woman who wanted to induce labor to allow her dying husband to meet their baby girl before he passed away. While some have been quick to point out that Mr. Rechnitz’s nursing homes have been sued and investigated for serious deficiencies, his desire to help others and make a real difference in this world has rightfully earned him a great deal of respect.

Late yesterday, it broke that the nurse who received one of Mr. Rechnitz’s Powerball tickets as a gift was not the winner. It appears that her son played a prank on her, leading her to believe that she won. She and her coworkers did celebrate when she thought she had won and the media picked up on it – but the story quickly fell apart and the media began to focus on the “feel good story” that had become a “hoax.” Sure, it is unfortunate that the nurse did not win – but to dismiss this story as a hoax places the emphasis upon the millions of dollars that the nurse would have won. Trust me, I am not saying money is insignificant! However, this story is much bigger than the $1.5 billion jackpot. This story highlights the incredible generosity of Mr. Rechnitz who wanted his employees to feel hopeful as the new year began. Yes, he is tremendously successful – but his generosity reminds us all that it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game. Mr. Rechnitz is playing the game really well. Hopefully we can all learn a little something from him. Maybe next week, instead of spending money on Powerball tickets, we can send some money to someone or to an organization that really needs it. Maybe we can buy a soldier a cup of coffee or find a way to express our appreciation to a police officer. We didn’t win the Powerball jackpot, but we still have the ability to change the world – one person at a time.

By the way, Mr. Rechnitz has promised the nurse and her family an all-expense paid vacation to anywhere she wants to go.

Shabbat Shalom!

For Auld Lang Syne

A special post from my wife, Rabbi Cheryl Jacobs


For auld lang syne, my jo,
for auld lang syne,
we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And surely ye’ll be your pint-stop !
and surely I’ll be mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
And there’s a hand my trusty friend !
And give us a hand o’ thine !
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.

Ah, the traditional sounds of the New Year. Noisemakers, merriment and Auld Lang Syne. Auld Lang Syne is a Scottish poem, thought to be composed by Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns in 1788. It is well known across the English-speaking world and has long been associated with New Year’s celebrations, commonly played after people watch the ball drop. Auld Lang Syne literally translates to “Old Long Since,” and more roughly it means “long, long ago” or “days gone by.”

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that I usually dread New Year’s Eve. I’m filled with all of the things that I must do to have the absolute best time of my life. I look at everyone’s pictures on social media and I think, ‘Yes! I’m going to have the ultimate party, feast, fun this year,’ even though, if truth be told, I’m not the ultimate party, feast, fun type of gal. I also think of all of the resolutions I’m going to make…I’m sure they are the same as yours. Be a better mother, wife, daughter, sibling, friend, etc. etc. I will move more, eat less and spend every waking, non working, non mothering moment lifting weights and running/kickboxing/yoga-ing. Overall, New Year’s Eve makes me stressed and my fixed expectations put a lot of pressure on the new year to come.

This year, things were to be different – TO CONTINUE READING, PLEASE CLICK HERE

Ikigai: What Do You Wake Up For?


As many of you know, I am so fortunate to be part of a unique fellowship program called Rabbis Without Borders (RWB). The purpose of RWB is to build a rabbinic community committed to exploring and implementing real innovation. The RWB faculty pushes us to look beyond the boundaries that we tend to think define contemporary Judaism and discover precious lessons that breathe new life and purpose into our tradition’s wisdom.

Earlier this week, I was in New York City for the launch of Leaders Without Borders, a lay leadership training program sponsored by RWB. It was an honor to bring two of Ramat Shalom’s lay leaders, our President Craig Mayer, and Craig Lamm, with me. We met for two days, exploring ways that rabbis and synagogue leadership can work together to ensure that the Jewish community flourishes. We will share more information about our experiences at Leaders Without Borders in the months ahead.

As we prepare for winter vacation and begin to compile our New Year’s resolutions, I want to share just one of the many lessons I took away from my time in New York earlier this week. Some suggest that this lesson can make you live longer. It certainly can make your life more meaningful. It is called Ikigai, a Japanese word that means “the reason you wake up in the morning.” In Judaism, we are taught that the first thing we should do upon waking up is give thanks for our life. Learning about Ikigai helped me better understand what we should be doing when we give thanks in the morning: we should be expressing our appreciation for having a purpose in life. Without a clear purpose, without knowing why we woke up today, it is too easy to get lost in the stress of daily life. Having a purpose keeps us on task and puts things in perspective. It helps to quiet the distractions out there that can so easily fill us with negativity. Ikigai empowers us to focus on what matters. It makes it possible to wake up in the morning, say “thank you” and really mean it.

Before 2015 comes to an end, do yourself a favor: watch the video below and figure out what your Ikigai is. What is it that you wake up for? Write the answer down. It is your New Year’s resolution. Put it on your night table and every morning, give thanks for another day to live your Ikigai.

Cheryl, Abigail and Jonah join me in wishing each of you a relaxing winter vacation, a Happy New Year and an Ikigai that lets you flourish in 2016!

When It Comes To Holiday Blessings, Assume The Best


I am honored to be a monthly contributor to The Wisdom Daily, a website that provides political, cultural and spiritual commentary and analysis. This month, I wrote about how challenging it has become to give and receive holiday wishes and greetings. I’ve shared the article below.

For all of us who celebrate Chanukah, may the last few nights be filled with lots of light. May we share this light with those who celebrate Christmas or other December holidays by offering our good wishes and blessings. And may we be grateful for the genuine holiday cheer that friends, neighbors and even strangers share with us. Hopefully we’ll all spend some time this holiday season giving thanks for the fact that we live in a country where various religious traditions have so much to celebrate at this time of year.

Happy Chanukah and Shabbat Shalom!

The Wisdom Daily – Andrew Jacobs

Back in 2009, Gap released one of my favorite holiday commercials. It featured a group of happy, sweater-wearing, scarf-clad people dancing while chanting the following:

Two, four, six, eight ’tis the time to liberate!
Go Christmas! Go Chanukah! Go Kwanzaa! Go Solstice! Go classic tree!
Go plastic tree! Go plant a tree! Go without a tree!
You 86 the rules. You do what just feels right.
Happy do whatever you wannukah and to all a cheery night!

To read the rest of my article, please click here.