The precept of Ahavas Yisrael, love of fellow Jews, has been a hallmark of my rabbinate from the beginning of my career.  I have learned this principle from the Torah, commentaries, and the great scholars of our tradition.  However, I believe that a personal experience has lent a powerful emotional coloring to my practical implementation of this idea.

My Uncle Bob, my mother’s oldest sibling, was a wonderful man, full of energy and personality.  With his young nephews he was fun and entertaining.  I remember when we tried to touch his moustache, he would bark at us like a protective dog.  He was very proud of being Jewish.  He was a past president of his synagogue and raised his children to be proud and knowledgeable, practicing Jews.  In our family, we used to hold the first Passover seder at Uncle Bob’s house, and the second seder was held at our house.  Each seder was attended by twenty to thirty relatives, sometimes more, like many families.  So I have fond memories of Uncle Bob.

After my bar mitzvah, I became more strictly observant, including shomer shabbos.  This change permitted us to hold two seders at our house, but I did not travel to Uncle Bob’s house anymore on yontof.  He said to me, “Remember, Jews who are not as strictly observant are still Jews.”  I was too young to understand that some Jews look down on other Jews for being less observant, so his comment made me feel bad.  Had I demonstrated a “holier-than-thou” attitude?  I sensed that he was also talking about himself.  I felt bad that he cared what a teenage nephew might think about him.  However, I also learned how important it was to me to respect and be sensitive to all Jews independent of their religious observance. 

A short time after, Uncle Bob was diagnosed with lung cancer.  His condition deteriorated rapidly, and he died in just a couple of months.  He had not been up to seeing anyone, and in an era of protective parenting, my mother and father wanted to shield me against difficult feelings.  I did not get to say good-bye.

When I meet a Jew, any Jew, regardless of type, I immediately feel a sense of connection.  I have learned to respect and value the experiences of every Jew.  I LOVE JEWS!

I like to think that my ahavas yisrael is the integration of thought, feeling, and action from my learning and experience.  I realize too that it stems from my love for a beloved uncle.  For me ahavas yisrael is not only the fulfillment of an ideal of Judaism, it is also the way I remember Uncle Bob.  Goodbye Uncle Bob, and thank you for your lesson in Jewish leadership.