2017-02-16 / Faith
Loss of beloved rabbi reverberates throughout Jewish world
Opened first U.S. Chabad House at UCLA in 1970s
The world lost one of the brightest lights of our generation to heaven Feb. 8 with the passing of Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, better known as “Schwartzie.”
Schwartzie wasn’t just a rabbi; he was one of the greatest teachers, mystics and human beings that have been blessed to walk this world in the last century.
Recognized around the globe by tens of thousands of people whom he had directly influenced, he is known by Jews everywhere. His joy, wisdom and love affected more people than can be imagined.
As David Suissa, president of The Jewish Journal, so eloquently said, “We can only thank God that everybody has a Schwartzie story.”
Through his teachings, classes and the amazing events he led around the world, his presence seemed to be everywhere. His Chai Center reached out to Jews in creative and inspiring ways: At Shabbats; at the Cannes and Sundance film festivals; at dinners for 60 strangers at his home, where he would introduce young singles to each other; at his Purim celebrations at The Laugh Factory, or on Venice Beach, where he would sit inviting Jews to learn “Jewish astrology.” There was always a story that each person would have after spending time with him.
I first met Schwartzie in the mid-1970s a few years after he came to Los Angeles to join Rabbi Shlomo Cunin in founding the first Chabad House in the nation at UCLA. I was at Camp Hess Kramer, and this red-bearded Orthodox rabbi came and spoke to us about Hasidic Judaism. I still remember him singing, “Puff, the kosher dragon, lives at Chabad House.” His joy was infectious, and it was clear he truly cared deeply about every one of us there.
My life was blessed as I grew older and was privileged to study with him in rabbinic school and beyond. It seemed that whenever I was going through a difficult time in my life, I would suddenly receive a message from him with inspiring words.
Without even calling or letting him know of the challenges, his calls or texts (and he loved to text!) included the exact words I needed to hear to inspire me and help me rededicate myself to reaching out to Jews and being the best person and rabbi that I could be. He always saw the best in people and was like a great gardener who knew exactly when a soul needed a bit more encouragement to grow into beauty.
He constantly took chances in order to reach people. A few years ago, I brought him to the Conejo Valley for a dialogue event on “The Jewish Responses to Gay Marriage.” His respect for opinions that differed from his own was awesome, and a reflection of the love he felt for all other people.
Our sages enjoin us to have three great loves: a love for God, a love for Torah, and “Ahavat Yisrael,” a love for Jews. In my entire life, I have never spent time with anyone who so deeply and fully loved the Jewish people.
He didn’t demand Jewish knowledge or anything else from us; he simply inspired everyone with his true love for all Jews. He would meet the unaffiliated Jew any place at any time in his effort to bring them back to their faith. Schwartzie’s love for his fellow humans was truly unrivaled.
At Schwartzie’s 70th birthday party last year, Rabbi David Wolpe said there are a few people in the world who are so iconic, who have affected so many people that they need only one name to be recognized: Einstein, Elvis, Prince and, of course, Schwartzie.
My personal prayer is to someday live up to the vision he had for me. My prayer for all of us is that we live the teachings he embodied in every moment of his inspiring life and strive to be as true to our soul’s purpose as he exemplified.
Schwartzie, you will be missed, and may we all continue to share our stories of time with you and in so doing make the world a more beautiful place.
Chaver u’Moreh my friend and teacher, may your memory always be a blessing.
Rabbi Michael Barclay is the spiritual leader of Temple Ner Simcha in Westlake Village and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together.” He can be reached at RabbiBarclay@aol.com.