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In Our Family, We Say “I Love You”

I invite you to join our family in our somewhat unusual, endearing or even humorous ritual of engaging in the daily, full-contact, no-holds-barred, hugging-a-little-too-tight “I love you” with all those you care about.
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July 6, 2021
The Tombosky family (Photo courtesy Rabbi Robbie Tombosky)

In our family, we say “I love you” a lot. And I’m not referring to those perfunctory, knee-jerk, fist-bump kinds of “Luvyah bruhs” we’ve become so accustomed to sharing in our Hollywood culture. I’m talking about the full-contact, no-holds-barred, hugging-a-little-too-tight “I love you” that most people reserve for when a family member is being deployed to active duty, leaving the country indefinitely, or heading into serious surgery—except our family engages in it daily, without reservation, even when someone is just headed out to work for the day.

I imagine that you, like many of our close friends, might find our family’s parting ritual somewhat unusual, endearing or even humorous. And that’s OK. Over the years, my wife and I have become comfortable leaning into our own unique journey, and our effusive hugs and affection stem from the life lessons garnered on that journey. You see, our family has experienced its fair share of sudden loss along the way: like the loss of both of our fathers at a young age. We have also shared in the grief of many in our congregation who also experienced such life-altering losses. And we have come to know that while the pain of loss becomes more manageable over time, there is one aspect of loss that persists long after all the other aspects of grieving have begun to abate: that nagging, unanswerable, and inconsolable question of, “Did I say ‘I love you’ that last time we spoke, even just that one last time?”

These were the questions that flooded my already foggy thoughts as I was rushed to the hospital in critical condition just a couple of weeks ago.

I had traveled to Las Vegas to officiate at my niece’s wedding in what I believed was good health and spirits together with my wife and our kids. My eighty-year-old mom and sister were flying in from Pittsburgh to meet us, and our entire family would be together for the first time since before COVID. The wedding was beautiful and everyone attended, except for Rebbetzin Chava and myself.

Unbeknownst to me, as I drove to Vegas happily singing classic road trip songs like “Life Is A Highway” loudly and off-key with my kids, just like I do during services, an infection had already taken root in my heart and was quickly spreading to the rest of my body. Several hours after arriving in Vegas I became ill and too weak to walk, regulate my temperature, or make coherent decisions. When my temperature reached 105 degrees, Rebbetzin Chava rushed me to the emergency room. In doing so, my wife saved my life.

By the time we arrived at the ER, the infection had traveled throughout my bloodstream and I had developed sepsis. My other organ systems were already under attack and would soon begin to shut down. Without the immediate and immense amount of medical treatment and IV antibiotics I was blessed to receive, that poorly performed rendition of “Life is A Highway” would have been my last.

After a two-week stay at Sunrise Hospital in Vegas, and too many tests, treatments and procedures to count, I was out of critical condition, stable, and on the journey forward to health. I’ve still got a bit of a journey ahead but intend to have a full recovery. Those who know me best will tell you that while it’s not too difficult to knock me off balance, it’s almost impossible to keep me down.

During this ordeal I have come to realize that life has already far exceeded my wildest expectations. And now I’ve been given some bonus time to double down, live larger, and love even bigger.

And as to those questions that flooded my foggy thoughts during the moments I feared would be my last?

“Did I say ‘I love you’ the last time I spoke to the people who matter most to me?”

“Do they know how much I cherish them and how much their love has enhanced my life?”

“Do they know that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt exactly how much they love me? That regardless of when our last conversation was or whether they remembered to say “I love you” the last time we spoke that I know they loved me then, and I know it now?”

To my relief, with a very full but somewhat ailing heart, I exhaled deeply, knowing that without exception my last interactions with those I care about most deeply—my wife, my children, and my family—had each ended with a heartfelt, effusive, unconditional and unequivocal “I love you.

So here’s what I can share with you today.

I am feeling beyond blessed and surrounded by your heartfelt messages, prayers, care, and love. I also feel grateful, loved, strong. Well, “strong” may be a bit of an overreach, so let’s just say I’m feeling enthusiastic about feeling strong once again.

And if my story has resonated with you, I invite you to join our family in our somewhat unusual, endearing or even humorous ritual of engaging in the daily, full-contact, no-holds-barred, hugging-a-little-too-tight “I love you” with all those you care about. Trust me, one day you will be as grateful as I am for having done so.

During this ordeal I have come to realize that because of my relationships with those whom I hold near and dear, life has already far exceeded my wildest expectations. And now I’ve been given some bonus time to double down, live larger, and love even bigger.

With a big hug and an even bigger “I love you,”


Rabbi Robbie Tombosky serves as the Rabbi and spiritual leader of Beth Jacob Young Professionals in Beverly Hills, California and is the founder and managing partner of Sage Philanthropy Advisors. Rabbi Robbie is a sought after teacher and speaker and is passionate about helping families and individuals express their deepest values through meaningful self-exploration and purposeful living.

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