Success teaches us very little, other than to keep doing the things that we have already been doing with our lives,” says Rabbi Steve Leder, who Newsweek magazine twice named as one of the 10 most influential rabbis in America. “It is only pain that can disrupt us in a way that leads to real spiritual growth.”
Transformation through suffering will be Leder’s topic at the Rabbi Lee A. Kivel Lecture on Jewish Life, part of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona’s new “Together in Jewish Learning” program on Wednesday, March 6.
“Pain is the great teacher, the great opportunity to change our lives,” Leder continues. “The Talmud says, ‘If you are visited by pain, examine your life.’ That examination can lead us all to lives that are wiser, gentler and more beautiful than before.”
Leder’s book, “More Beautiful Than Before,” “is about recovering from suffering and isolation, healing and growing from that healing,” says Rabbi Thomas Louchheim of Congregation Or Chadash, one of the event’s organizers with the Synagogue-Federation Dialogue. “While this is not what we will all face personally, it parallels what our communities suffer.” Leder has great insights into human nature and has important things to say about the Jewish community, Louchheim says, referencing a new documentary film that features Leder, “Restoring Tomorrow,” about Jewish communities throughout the country dying and scattering.
Leder’s talk, “More Beautiful Than Before: How Suffering Transforms Us,” is one part of the new program, which replaces the JFSA’s long-running Culture Shuk. The program’s second half will feature a selection of 10 breakout sessions offered by local rabbis. “The Culture Shuk model was very successful,” says Louchheim. “But we thought we’d try something different; having a scholar speak on his latest book and all the following breakouts be related to this topic.”
Leder is the senior rabbi of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. Serving more than 2,400 families at three campuses, it is one of the largest congregations in the United States. He is the author of such critically
acclaimed books as “The Extraordinary Nature of Ordinary Things,” an Amazon #1 best-seller, and “More Money Than God: Living a Rich Life Without Losing Your Soul.” His newest book became the #6 best-seller on Amazon in its first week and has received widespread attention.
“Jewish tradition and experience has much to teach us about transforming our pain and suffering into its own, unique blessing, without trying to justify the pain itself,” Leder says. “I do not mean to imply that our suffering is worth what we gain from it, but neither is it worthless. We all at some point have to walk through hell, but the point is not to come out empty handed.”
Leder receives significant feedback from people who attend his lectures and sermons, and read his new book. “The emails and letters, the conversations and meaning that the book has helped to create are among the most gratifying things in my entire life. To know that my words have eased the suffering of another is a blessing and a gift of the most beautiful kind,” he tells the AJP.
Along with Louchheim, rabbis slated to participate in the breakout lectures include Stephanie Aaron, Congregation Chaverim; Batsheva Appel, Temple Emanu-El; Avraham Alpert, Congregation Bet Shalom; Israel Becker, Congregation Chofetz Chayim; Yehuda Ceitlin, Congregation Young Israel; Helen Cohn, Congregation M’kor Hayim; Robert Eisen, Congregation Anshei Israel; Billy Lewkowicz, Tucson Hebrew Academy; and Sandy Seltzer, Institute for Judaic Services and Study.
The lecture is funded by the Rabbi Lee A. Kivel Endowment Fund, held at the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona. The fund was established by Jane Kivel with a gift to the Jewish Federation to support Jewish community learning initiatives in memory of her husband. Advance registration for the 7-9:15 p.m. event at the Tucson Hebrew Academy, 3888 E. River Road, is $5 until March 4, at www.jfsa.org/jewishlearning2019. Registration at the door, for $10, opens at 6:30 p.m. A dessert reception and book signing will follow the program.