Lessons from My Saba

April 30, 2021

I never had the opportunity to meet my paternal grandfather, but I was blessed with being named in his memory.  My maternal grandfather, on the other hand, was my childhood hero, role model, and embodiment of the Israeli pioneer.

Whereas Nehemia z”l, after whom I was named, was brought to life through stories, photos, and shared memories, Fischel z”l was the one who literally raised me on his shoulders when I was too tired to walk home from the beach, park, or marketplace during my visits to Israel as a child. It was during these long walks where he would introduce me to the worldly wisdom of his heroes, whether they were great scholars, national politicians, or lifetime friends and neighbors. Oh, how I wish my childhood distractibility would have maintained more focus, and my memory would not be failing me so today.

However, every year, during this week’s Torah portion, Emor, I am reminded of one of those great lessons that somehow stuck in my early childhood brain and which I have shared so many times with others over the years, “You shall keep My commandments and perform them.” (Leviticus 22:31)

At first glance, this verse could be understood to simply reiterate and reinforce the obligation to fulfill the commandments and live a life of justice and sacred obligation. Others have interpreted this verse to demonstrate the importance of fulfilling Gd’s commandments with the built-in redundancy and emphasis of “keeping” and “performing” the obligations. However, my grandfather saw this verse a little differently. My saba (grandfather) Fischel echoed the interpretation from one of our great sages, Rashi, who said that “keeping” expressed understanding while “performing” demonstrated action.

My saba taught me the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge is knowing the information; wisdom is knowing what to do with the knowledge.

How many of us have participated in trainings, instructed others, have sat in classrooms, or have watched our children be taught information? And to what end? To be assessed on a test, for a professional exam or license? My saba Fischel was one of the most learned people I have ever met, yet he did not graduate high school. As a young teen, he made Aliyah to Israel and worked the land. But it was during his free time that he read, listened, and became a student of life. My saba Fischel converted his knowledge to wisdom with every lesson he learned, every experience he faced, and every book he read.

This past year, I have had the incredible opportunity to listen and get to know our community members, professionals, leaders, and stakeholders. I have gained much knowledge of the San Antonio Jewish community, and it is true that I still have plenty to learn. But the time has come for me to begin to turn that knowledge into wisdom through action.

This summer the board of the Jewish Federation of San Antonio will be engaging in a strategic initiative process to provide our agency with a post-COVID direction. It is exciting to consider the possibilities and to know that, with the goal of convening and gathering our community, we are planning and building for our sustainable future and securing the resources to realize these goals. We will be, as Leviticus 22:31 so eloquently says, “keeping” our obligations and “performing” them for the betterment of our community.

I encourage you to please email me at CEO@jfsatx.org to share your thoughts, ideas, suggestions, and/or any other feedback that will help us turn our knowledge into wisdom. I know my saba Fischel would challenge you all to do the same because the Jewish Federation is…


HERE for you.

HERE for our community.

HERE for our Future.


Shabbat shalom,

Shalom Y'all Archives

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