High Holy Days 5775: Jewish community shares life advice

As we look inward over the course of the High Holy Days, we also seek wisdom that might guide us forward in our lives. The Journal sought life advice from thoughtful people in our community and elsewhere, including a few no longer with us, all of whose words are worth remembering.
September 24, 2014

As we look inward over the course of the High Holy Days, we also seek wisdom that might guide us forward in our lives. The Journal sought life advice from thoughtful people in our community and elsewhere, including a few no longer with us, all of whose words are worth remembering.

When I was 8 years old, I started reading Chasidic stories. From them I learned that (1) There is a God, and He is Good;  (2) HaShem is intimately involved in every aspect of your life; and (3) Everything that happens is for the best, even if we can’t understand it in the moment. The more I experience, the more I see that these foundations are not only true, but essential keys to living a beautiful life.

— David Sacks, TV writer


If you’re afraid of going too far, you are never going to go far enough. If you are timid,  you are not going to have as much success as you should be having.

If you work at something you truly love, working hard is not a burden — it’s kind of a joy. So, thorny problems are their own reward because the solutions are even more gratifying.

You should keep your eye on what it is you ultimately want to do and prepare yourself for it, because you don’t know when the opportunity is going to be there.

— Stan Kasten, president and part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers 


As a young woman I wanted nothing more than to see my name in lights. I couldn’t have guessed how much more satisfying it would be to see my name in stainless steel on the building at Cedars-Sinai hospital that says The Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center.

— Barbra Streisand, interviewed in Glamour magazine as 2013 Woman of the Year


Here lies the very essence of our way of life: Every person must share in the life of others, and not leave them to themselves, either in sorrow or in joy.

— Elie Wiesel, author, professor and Holocaust survivor, quoted in “Standing at Sinai: Sermons and Writings” by Fred N. Reiner


Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself.

— Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, author and theologian, from“The Insecurity of Freedom” (1955)


Trust the process.  This is particularly useful when things feel dark or lost or confusing or bleak.  And this can [mean] trusting the creative process, as in writing, or trusting a more general creative process, as in life. As long as you are working on something in some way, trying to grow in some way, trying to learn about what’s going on in some way, even if things are dark they will change.  How they will change is unknown. But there is a process at work, an unknown one.

— Aimee Bender, author 


You have to have concern for the other. And the result of it is self-realization. And, I must say, a great deal of happiness.

— Rabbi Harold M. Schulweis, Valley Beth Shalom, interviewed in the Jewish Journal, 2014 


I feel that life is divided into the horrible and the miserable. That’s the two categories. The horrible are, like, I don’t know, terminal cases, you know, and blind people, crippled. I don’t know how they get through life. It’s amazing to me. And the miserable is everyone else. So you should be thankful that you’re miserable, because that’s very lucky, to be miserable.

 — Woody Allen, “Annie Hall”


Winston Churchill once said, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” I live it all the time. You cannot get it right without first getting it wrong. I take failures and mistakes very lightly. For me they are all learning experiences.

You never have a problem when you are pushed to the limit. It is when you are not pushed to your limit that you have a problem. The best way of going through life and having peak experiences is to set for yourself challenges high, but not so high that they cause you to be in a state of constant anxiety. It’s a matter of pacing yourself. I always discover that the higher you set the challenge, the more energy HaShem gives you.

Make sure that by the time you look back on your life, you have been the author of a life you were proud to sign and let it stand the test of your contemporaries. Life is a work of art. Make it the best you can.

— Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, author and former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth


Lung cancer taught me that what we do today is fun. Tomorrow the bill comes due.

Develop taste. Don’t be a snob. Don’t live in regret. Don’t worry about where your cancer is going to come from. When you have to know, you will.

—  Marlene Adler Marks (1948-2002), former managing editor of the Jewish Journal, from her last column, “Oh So Sorry,” Aug. 8, 2002


Don’t freak out. Everything fades.

— Marc Maron, comedian


A coach once told me, “Control what you can control, and don’t get mad at the stuff you can’t control.”

Never be satisfied, because there is always someone out there working to take your job. You can always get better.

Don’t let anyone tell you what you can’t do.  Live your dream and do what makes you happy.

— Joc Pederson, Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder


There is no gate that has been sealed in front of us in the area of learning and trying and growing. Also, in the realm of goodness, there is no gate that has been sealed. Very often we say that we intend to give to this cause or get involved in that cause; to call this person or that one; to write this one or that one a note; or to volunteer x number of hours per week or month. We intend to do things, but we don’t execute them. This isn’t out of malice. It’s easy to want something, but much harder to live it out.

Part of what Judaism is always trying to teach us is how to unite our highest intentions with our best actions. If we can learn to do that, if we can learn to bring our inner life in harmony with our outer life, there would be a lot of joy around us and inside of us.

Rabbi Naomi Levy, Nashuva, in Jewish Woman magazine


You cannot be true to the future unless you understand the past and treat both with the same kind of loving kindness. I can’t think of anything more un-Jewish, that we live only for the new and that we are starting from scratch to rebuild a society.

— Howard L. Friedman, in the Jewish Journal, upon stepping down from his role as founding chairman of the Skirball Cultural Center, 2014


When I was young and a tomboy (before the days of unisex/no gender fashion), my mother’s friends would sometimes ask her why she let her daughter dress like a boy.  “She doesn’t dress like a boy,” my mother would reliably say, “she dresses like Lisa.” The message I received from her has served me well, and I often share it with others:

Be yourself, and don’t try to look like or be or become someone you are not.

— Rabbi Lisa Edwards, Beth Chayim Chadashim


As I see it, if you’re quiet, you’re not living. I mean you’re just slowly drifting into death. So you’ve got to be noisy, or at least your thoughts should be noisy and colorful and lively. My liveliness is based on an incredible fear of death. In order to keep death at bay, I do a lot of “Yah! Yah! Yah!” And death says, “All right. He’s too noisy and busy. I’ll wait for someone who’s sitting quietly, half asleep. I’ll nail him. Why should I bother with this guy? I’ll have a lot of trouble getting him out the door.” There’s a little door they gotta get you through. “This will be a fight,” death says. “I ain’t got time.”

— Mel Brooks, Playboy interview, 1975


A pearl of wisdom from my mom, Pearl: “There’s good and bad in everyone; try to bring out the good in yourself and others.”

— Stephen Sass, vice president of legal affairs at HBO, president of the Jewish Historical Society of Los Angeles


I enjoy life when things are happening. I don’t care if it’s good things or bad things. That means you’re alive. … My husband used to say, “It is never dull around here.” And that is good. We never looked at each other and went, “I am so bored.”

Joan Rivers, interviewed by Terry Gross on NPR, 2010


The opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. It is my view of my life that people should live with passion and one person can make a difference. I believe that, it’s in the Torah and it’s in my view of life, and I do believe that if you believe you can’t make a difference, you won’t make a difference. If you believe you can make a difference you will. You need to be passionate. Get involved; there are so many things to do. 

— Patricia Glaser, partner and chair of the litigation department at Glaser Weil


After one of the first sermons I gave as a rabbinic fellow at B’nai Jeshurun in New York, my rabbi, Marcelo Bronstein, walked over to me. He put his hands on my cheeks, looked at me and said, with a deep, Argentine accent, “Sharon, dear: People will love you deeply, and people will hate you deeply. You must remember, you don’t deserve none of it.”

I think of that all the time. As a rabbi, I am nothing more than a vessel, working to create holy space that can hold grief and joy and love and loss. People project a lot of love and a lot of hatred onto their rabbis, but we’re really just here to share a Torah that can help hold what life brings all of us, that can offer a context for deeper understanding. We’re here to help people connect with our tradition and with themselves and their purpose, to help make sense of the struggles and triumphs of life. It’s not about us.

— Rabbi Sharon Brous, IKAR


Live an authentic life. Life is not a dress rehearsal.

— Nancy Mishkin, chairman of the board at the Tower Cancer Research Foundation, child of Holocaust survivors, former chairman of the board at Beit T’Shuvah


Be mindful of the fact that you have an obligation to use all your skills and effort to make this a better world.

No matter how important you may think you are, or people tell you you are, you recognize the world can get along without you quite well at least one day a week — on Shabbat.

You can’t be defeated by disappointments. You have to recognize that it’s likely to be only temporary and you have to pick yourself up and keep going. If it’s important to do, you can’t give up. You can’t always control events but you can make a choice as to how you react to those events.

— Congressman Henry Waxman 


It’s my past actually that has guided me. I think I was meant to survive to have children, grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. And that’s the most important thing. But life is not easy. You have to take it the way it comes and make the best of it.

— Engelina Billauer, Holocaust survivor


Trust your instinct. We really do know in our heart and soul what the answer is we seek.

It all turns out for the best. The twists and turns of life often bring us to something better. Trust, let go and believe. Live with an open heart and be open to the possibilities. Although some days are really, really hard, it will and does get better. Surround yourself with people who love you. The energy of love makes all the difference.

— Lili Bosse, mayor, Beverly Hills


Deuteronomy 4:9 — “only take care, and guard your soul.” [Ralph Waldo] Emerson taught me that our moods do not believe one another, and we must have the patience to see if the whim of a moment will disappear or become the passion of a lifetime.

When I was a child, my father said the most important quality to succeed was stamina. Keep at noble tasks, even when your energy flags or the world ignores your efforts. Learn, always learn, both for the joy of discovery and to deepen yourself.  Never forget that your soul is God’s one truly irreplaceable and unique gift. You need not be solemn to be serious:  With laughter, courage and soul strength, your loves will be true, your friendships enduring and your life blessed. 

— Rabbi David Wolpe, Sinai Temple


Wherever you are, there is blessing. Wherever you go, be the blessing.

—  Craig Taubman, musician, producer, founder of the Pico Union Project 


When you are given marching orders, you just keep marching. While, bang, there is a bomb flying to the right, your tank is hit by a shell — bing, a chemical bomb, you quickly put on your gas mask. You just keep marching. … I learned something else in this world: There are two types of people, those who believe and those who don’t believe. Those who believe, there are no questions. Those who don’t believe, there are no answers.

Rabbi Boruch Shlomo Cunin, director, Chabad West Coast


In the words of the great Dr. Albert Einstein, “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” Allowing for the possibility of an outcome outside of our control or expectation is the fuel that generates hope, and it is hope that creates the opening for the entry of a miracle.

Humor is healing and liberating. It brings relief. The unbearable can become bearable for all concerned.  It is also inspiring and an ultimate act of bravery. Humor, in fact, has scientifically substantiated benefits on our immune function, life expectancy and overall quality of life.

Deep down, all anyone really wants is to feel loved, heard, respected … and often simply supported and not alone.  If I’m with an angry individual, I’ve learned to temper my immediate emotional reaction, hold my tongue and ask myself what is actually going on for that person.  Why is this situation so upsetting for them?  Is it the circumstance or is it how the circumstance is making them feel? Do they feel disregarded, wronged, powerless? Handling anger with anger never brings a situation to resolution.

— Dr. Susan Mandel, doctor of internal medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; associate clinical professor, David Geffen School of Medicine


Strive to fulfill your dreams. As my husband’s mother would say, “take a chance, Columbus did.”

— Molly Forrest, CEO-president, Los Angeles Jewish Home


I think the greatest piece of wisdom is something my father [former Los Angeles District Attorney Gil Garcetti] taught me, that you need to know who you are before you assume any position [in life]. Too many people define themselves by the [professional] title that they get and think that’s who they are, but those things leave. So if you don’t know who you are at the beginning of something, then you are not going to know who you are at the end.

— Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti


Smile at everybody and say hello.  Call your friends as much as you can.  Send written thank-you notes.

If you have a good partner, treat him or her like they’re made of glass.  Gratitude and kindness go a long way, even to your mate.

Kiss and hug everybody. If you’re worried about germs, just hug.  Write down your feelings every day.  Don’t worry about the form — just write like you talk.  Ask people to tell you their health history; listen well, and ask questions.  Ask them about their illnesses and let them be free to talk about them.  Look at them straight in the eye while you’re hearing them so they know you’re listening.

— Judi Kaufman, brain cancer survivor, poet, founder of Art of the Brain nonprofit at UCLA Medical Center


Work hard. There’s a reason you’re here. It’s not all about you. Believe in yourself. And be kind, be grateful, know that there is something important that you are supposed to do and it’s your responsibility to find it and do it the best you can.

It doesn’t always come easy, and there are a lot of bumps along the road, but eventually you get there, and you only get there with the help of a wonderful family and a lot of friends — you never get there alone. It really, honestly, does take a community.

— Laurie L. Levenson, professor of law at Loyola Law School Los Angeles


You have no idea what will happen in the coming decades of your life, so feel free to plan, but don’t believe you are in control of it all.

—  Ruth Messinger, president, American Jewish World Service


Love. It’s the most important word in the English language. And the second-most important word is “balance.”

— Elliott Gould, actor


When you are in the depths of something and it feels hopeless, seriously hopeless, then it’s next to impossible to see that, in fact, you will be OK, that you’re going to find the strength, whether it’s in yourself, your family or your friends, or your tradition, to get through those times and find joy again.

— Rabbi Eli Herscher, senior rabbi, Stephen S. Wise Temple

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