February 27, 2020

David Sacks: A Street Rabbi for the People

David Sacks is not an ordained rabbi but says he learned from his greatest teacher, Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach, that one does not need the official designation to be a source of inspiration for others.

“I heard Shlomo say one time, ‘The world needs street rabbis, too,’ ” Sacks said. “The greatest Kiddush haShem, the greatest sanctification of God’s name a person can make, is showing people how close God is to them. I would say that I learned hundreds of teachings from [Carlebach] that informed my mission in terms of what I try to communicate on a daily basis.”

That mission is manifest in Sacks’ role as the co-founder and senior lecturer of the Happy Minyan in Pico-Robertson. He’s also a professional TV writer. He devotes his time to writing Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning comedies during the week and leading discussions and classes for the local Orthodox community’s spiritual seekers at the Happy Minyan on Shabbat and on Sunday mornings. He records and uploads his Sunday talks on the website torahonitunes.com, where they can be downloaded for free.

“There is a phenomenal amount of Torah audio from the Jewish people,” Sacks said. Regarding the value of his own contributions, “The Simpsons,” “3rd Rock From the Sun” and “Malcolm in the Middle” writer said, “Just try as hard as you can and be real.” 

“I tend to talk about pretty mystical concepts but always with the idea of how to apply them in a real way with our lives, to achieve balance and happiness.” 

Born and raised in New York City, Sacks attended Harvard University, where he wrote for the college’s humor magazine, the Harvard Lampoon, alongside future TV icon Conan O’Brien. He moved to Los Angeles after graduation at the age of 21. He currently is the executive producer of the animated sci-fi show “Final Space,” which airs on Adult Swim.

Over at the Happy Minyan, he infuses his talks, as well as the guidance he offers to those with whom he meets over coffee for more personal instruction, with the positive psychology he learned from studying Rabbi Nachman of Breslov, whose words — that it is a mitzvah to be happy — underpin the Happy Minyan’s mission. 

“In my talks, I tend to talk about pretty mystical concepts but always with the idea of how to apply them in a real way with our lives, to achieve balance and happiness, and spiritual and mental health, and all sorts of good things,” Sacks said. “Like it’s hard to be a success if you’re miserable, so achieving happiness is a pretty fundamental barometer of success, and certainly of spiritual and Torah success.”

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