Fulfillment and happiness are what everyone from all ages and walks of life seek. Dani Behr and Tara Joseph take Lala Landed to a whole new level by inviting Rabbi Danny on to this episode that focuses on giving back, attaining ultimate happiness, and the truth behind a long-time myth! Rabbi Danny currently runs the Beverly Hills Jewish community center helping kids be better people and adults with their issues. He tackles the main issues that they are seeing in today’s generation, and talks about getting back in touch with yourself and bringing some more meaning to your life. He also explains the biggest misconceived notion about being Jewish, what Chabad is and what has lead to the never ending issue of antisemitism.
Listen to the podcast here:
Spiritual Guidance With Rabbi Danny
Fulfillment Thru Give Back
In this episode from the City of Angels, we are going to talk to someone who we haven’t had on the show before. It’s someone spiritual, special and who is a great honor to welcome to the show, Dani, who’s our fabulous guest.
It is a special episode. It’s the first that we’ve ever done before. We’re taking the show into a whole new level. We’re bringing some meaningfulness to this series. We have the humanitarian cabal emissary and the Rabbi to all the kids of Beverly Hills and the west of LA, the one and only Rabbi Dani. Welcome, Rabbi Dani. Shabbat Shalom.
Welcome, Rabbi Dani. Shabbat Shalom.
Shabbat Shalom to everybody and to all my friends here. Thank you for having me. It’s a pleasure. I’m excited.
We’re honored to have you on. Thank you much for your time. We feel that in the city of LA as Tara and I interview many guests all the time from the world of entertainment, fashion and food. We like to bring the best of LA to all our audiences. We feel that especially living in the city of LA, where a lot of us have transitioned from not only other cities, states, across the country, but also internationally like Tara and myself. We leave behind our communities, families and all friends. Especially being in industries where it’s a precarious, inconsistent with a lot of rejection, we’re always looking for that extra bit of spirituality and a little extra meaningfulness in our life. Having you on the show is a much-needed guest to enlighten our audience. First of all, how did you get to be a Rabbi? Tell us a little bit about you and your and your background and what you’ve been up to?
My father did not grow up religious. He’s from Milan, Italy. His parents were completely not observant Jews at all. When he was thirteen years old, he met Chabad Rabbi in Italy and slowly gotten involved secretly because his parents were against religion and they would punish him for getting involved. Undercover, he slowly learned more and more and became more observant and became the first Chabad Rabbi at the Persian community here in Beverly Hills. In 1979, he took out 3,000 Iranian children when they had the uprising in Iran to America. In Beverly Hills, New York, the wealthiest and affluent people in the Persian community here were the little children that brought out Iran in 1979.
He’s quite a superhero.
Can you explain to our reader what it means to be a Chabad Rabbi?
Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the leader of the Chabad Movement and was responsible for about 5,000 centers worldwide. Anywhere you go, you have a Rabbi that’s there for you all your needs, spiritual needs and more importantly, your physical needs. For example, I was sent to Cuba and for eight years were there for the Jewish community. If somebody’s roof fell on their heads, we’re there for them. If someone needed medication, we’re there for them. If someone is in the Nepalese Mountains for Passover and didn’t have a Passover Seder, we brought them matzah food. We were there for them wherever they are.
The Rebbe, although physically passed away in 1994, but his organization, blessing and teachings are alive more than ever. Two thousand five hundred centers have been opened since his passing, which is tremendous. He taught us to show tremendous love for all human beings for all people. That’s why my father and I are here. We dedicate our lives to be there for anybody whether it’s a teen suffering from drugs, someone who needs humanitarian or spiritual help, whatever it is we’re there for them physically and spiritually.
What is the difference between Chabad and being a regular Rabbi? What’s the difference between regular Judaism and Chabad Judaism?
The Rebbe started this concept of outreach. Until now, for example, I live in Brooklyn, New York and you have many different Hasidic, Jewish or orthodox sectors. Chabad movement, which is also a Hasidic movement that comes from Russia, was the first movement that taught the concept of doing outreach. It’s not only thinking about your family, your children having a Jewish education, your family has Shabbat, their synagogue, their Jewish school and their holiday programs. The Rebbe taught us the importance of reaching out to somebody else and be there for somebody else. That’s what it’s all about. We dedicate our lives to someone else’s needs physical or spiritual.
One of the main issues you’re seeing in this generation, you primarily work with teenagers and kids in the surrounding areas. Many would say that privilege to start with from living in a city like LA, especially in suburbs like Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades and the other affluent suburbs surrounding them. What are the main issues you’re seeing and what will you help with?
Everybody’s busy, running, parents are running. In order to live in this country, you’ve got to make money and living in Beverly Hills. You need to make a lot of money. You have to keep up to the standards of your neighbors. Otherwise, they won’t let you inside. The kids are given some money, go fly a kite, keep yourself busy and hope hopefully everything is fine. These kids feel entitled. I take kids to Palm Springs to trips and wherever we go, they don’t follow any rules because they’re like, “How dare anybody tell me what to do? I feel entitled.” The parents gave this entitlement feeling.
They’re in search of more entitlement more me and me. It becomes a selfish life and they’re not thinking about others. I took ten kids from Beverly Hills High School to Ocean Avenue by Santa Monica Pier. We brought about 50 bags of food. It was a little chilly outside and I told the boys and girls, “Let’s go outside and give out these bags.” They’re like, “Rabbi, it’s cold outside. Let’s stay in the car and we’ll throw the bags out to the people on the street. We do want to get cold.” I’m like, “No. We’ll go outside and we’re going to see what it’s like.”
We’re not talking freezing. They’re not in Eastern Europe.
They’re wearing sweaters and they’re comfortable.
The point of the story is there’s an excuse for anything they want to come up with.
Long story short, I’ll be honest with you, what had a strong impact on me was those two kids, their parents forced them to join my program, came over to me and they’re like, “Rabbi, when’s the next time we’re doing this? We want to join you?” They felt the difference they made in some person’s life that was sleeping in a suitcase and they realized, “Look at what we have, first of all.” They had the enjoyment of helping somebody else. There’s nothing more pleasurable than making a difference in somebody else’s life. God created us in a way that the biggest passion you could have is when you make a difference, not in your own life, but rather helping somebody else.
The ultimate fulfillment is giving back.
Do you know what I think is interesting? All three of us are Jewish in this interview. I certainly am proud to be Jewish. I wouldn’t choose to be any other religion. I’m not necessarily a practicing very religious Jew. Since I’ve moved to LA, I definitely feel I’ve learned more about what being Jewish is because it’s a city that’s welcoming to Jewish people. In the world right now, where there’s ever-growing anti-Semitism, I think we’re lucky to live in the community that we do. As a Rabbi working with children, as you do and adults as well, how do you feel when you look out at the world from the sort of bubble of LA that we’re in where everything feels protected and it’s safe to be a Jew here? How do you feel when you look out into the world and you see that anti-Semitisimist are on the rise and more than it has been in 70 years?
Honestly, anti-Semitism is everywhere, even in Beverly Hills. It’s everywhere. Some places are more revealed and open. Our job is not to focus on anti-Semitism. Our job, as a Rabbi, our Chabad leader taught us, is to focus on bringing more light whenever it is, destruction or terrorism. The biggest answer is not to fight it. The way to fight is to bring up more light, goodness and kindness because light and darkness are completely different. Darkness has no existence of its own. It’s nothing. It’s a lack of light.
That goes with the expression of killing them with kindness, doesn’t it?
Our job in Los Angeles, wherever it may be anywhere in the world, the best answer to anything dark and negative is simply doing actions of goodness and kindness. Kobe Bryant passed away and the first thing I asked the students was, “What can we do to keep him alive? What can we bring in this world? What action of goodness and kindness can we do to make Kobe alive?”
What was their response?
The kids are response was, “Follow one of his ways.” Two things, one was to be a more family person as he was and a great father and more importantly is to be, not rather be a player. A lot of us watch from afar, but we don’t get involved. A lesson from Kobe was he was always on the court giving his maximum. We all got to be a player in life. Don’t watch others, what he or she does or what he accomplishes and stand back and go, “I can’t do that. I’m nobody.” Kobe taught us we’re all players and we’ve got to be a player. That’s the way we make this world a better place.
It’s to get involved and not be an observer and be a doer.
One question that I wanted to ask moving slightly away from anti-Semitism. What do you think is the biggest misconceived idea about being Jewish and Jews at large that lead to this issue of anti-Semitism?
I don’t have a clear answer. Unfortunately, mainly the media and people, cut out Jews to be negative people or they find negative about Jews. Jews throughout history have been targeted. I’m not sure why you. We definitely make a difference in this world and we bring much to this world maybe that’s a reason but I don’t have an answer for that.
People go to their Rabbis, their priests, they see you guys as definitely a source of comfort, guidance and a source of light. What are the most common questions you get asked from the community to help with or solve? Also, on the flip side, what are the most random strangest requests you get? You must have some funny stories about that.
Being a Rabbi, especially a Chabad Rabbi, we’re there wherever we maybe. I had a father who hasn’t spoken to son for three years. His son doesn’t want to see his father. They got into a fight. The parents had a bitter divorce and the father dreamt to be with his son again and but his son didn’t want to see him again. He was upset with his father which he had the right reasons to be upset. For two years being a Rabbi at a Beverly Hill high school, I tried again and again whatever it was to bring them back together and it was almost literally impossible.Focus on bringing more light whenever there's destruction or terrorism. Click To Tweet
After trying many different things, this father and son who haven’t seen each other or spoken to each other in years are best of friends like never before. There’s nothing more enjoyable than making a difference and bring peace to somebody. An example of funny questions being a Rabbi, I wear my tzitzit which are like little spaghetti string sticking out of my pants and people ask what it is or what’s this skullcap on my head? It has great meaning for it. It reminds us that God is watching us and we have to be responsible for our actions. Even though personally, no one is watching me, no one knows what I’m doing over here, it’s a secret. God is watching and remember, do what’s right.
I’ve always noticed that whenever I’ve been to the temple when I was younger, I went obviously a lot more with the family and now it’s unfortunate reserved for the High Holidays and weddings or bat mitzvahs but Rabbis always have incredible singing voices. To segue off the subject completely but do you have to have a good singing voice to be a Rabbi? I know the cantors are especially the ones that are the singers, obviously with the word cantor but can all Rabbi sing? That’s what I want to know.
Can you sing, Rabbi?
I’m ready to sing the song right now. What do you want me to sing?
I knew it. It’s quite astonishing. Most Rabbis can sing and have a beautiful voice with a good pitch. Is that part of the prerequisite to becoming a Rabbi?
Growing up as a religious kid there’s a lot of singing, whether it’s at the temple and more importantly at the Shabbat table singing songs with my father. There’s nothing better memory of sitting around the Shabbat table or holiday table and singing old Jewish songs or other beautiful songs because music is this is the tongue of the soul. It’s powerful. Sometimes you hear a song and it penetrates, affects and wakes you up. There’s nothing more beautiful than singing. It’s not only the voice, but it’s also more the heart behind the voice that makes a difference.
Are you a tenor or a baritone? What’s your voice?
We’ve got to test me out. I’m not sure.
Tara’s a music manager Rabbi so you might be up for a career.
This could be it for you.
This could be a career change.
I was told not to show up in public. We’re going to keep it humble.
You’re not going to give up your day job.
You have to listen to Rabbi and one of his sermons and see him roll, as they say.
Talking about, if someone wanted to come to one of your centers, where would they come to meet you and see you?
It’s something called the Chabad House, which is a Chabad center. Many times it’s the Rabbi’s house that’s opened 24/7. My personal door is opened all the time. Unless I’m in the house of my kids, it’s open to everybody. I have people and other students, husbands or wives that run away from the house. They’ve knocked on my door at 12:00 AM, 1:00 AM and they come to me for help. I even had Lamar Odom, a famous basketball player for the Lakers. He’s been at my house for Shabbat and other events. I was there for him. I’m open to anybody, whoever it is. Basically, our life is dedicated to making a difference in this world and the greatest pleasure is making a difference in somebody else’s life.
It’s lovely to hear someone talk like that because people are wound up in their own lives that we all fall victim to it. To have someone dedicate their entire life to helping others is extraordinary, admirable and amazing.
It’s an honor to have you on. Everybody needs some spiritual guidance in their life. What can you suggest to the readers if you’re not a religious person? What can the average person do as the basics to get back in touch with themselves and have bring some more meaningfulness to their life? Can you talk about that for a minute?
Life is a mirror. I know of a Holocaust survivor. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, where I lived for eight years. The one story he told me which forever is a lesson for my life. He was being transported in cattle cars to Auschwitz. For a couple of days, there’s nonstop traveling. He was freezing cold and while he was in the car an old man asked him, “Please rub me you could warm his body up.” He was exhausted. He was tired. He rubbed the old man and in his mind, “I’m doing a big favor for this guy. I’m nice this guy.” All night, this old man was harassing him to rub him. Came to morning time and the sun was shining inside his cattle car and everybody in that cattle car froze to death beside the two people, the old man and himself who told me the story.
By helping this old man, he was thinking that he’s in the other guy a favor. He kept his body warm and saved his own life. In life, we naturally think about ourselves. We have to see in life how we can help somebody else. If you won’t help yourself, think about somebody else, be there for somebody else. That itself will give you the greatest enjoyment and passion for life. This is a message for every human being to be there to act in goodness and kindness. What this means is not only with money could be saying good morning somebody else or how are you doing sir? Can I help you with the bag? Any basic thing of kindness has its ripple effect and that brings more light and pushes away more darkness.
That’s beautiful. It’s the small things as well that have that ripple effect. You can do the tiniest gesture that affects your mood and somebody else’s day, potential week and ongoing.
Rabbi, have you ever been asked some strange questions or random questions that a surprising to you? I guess you’ve heard it all. Are you able to share with us anything that sort of slightly not the norm?
Sure. We get all kinds of questions. I was once doing Chabad work before I got married in Bali, Indonesia and I met a woman. Her name was Made. She is a Jewish woman. We had a talk and met her. She asked me the question, which is a famous question. She heard that religious couples when they’re having intimate relations that there’s a sheet with a hole inside. She’s asked me if it was true and if it’s fair. It’s completely a mistake. I can tell you where it comes from. We wear a costume called tzitzit, the garment we were with strings hanging out. The middle has a hole where you can stick your head inside. Maybe it was hung to dry and the neighbors thought this as a garment with a little space in the middle.
That’s all not true because I’d heard that as well.
Stresses very much the importance of intimacy and doing it the best way. It’s the way you were born together becoming one without any separations, whether it’s physical material, a sheet or it’s something in the mind or thinking about somebody else. Judaism brings intimacy to the highest level. Some people don’t know but that’s an example.
I love that you crushed that old story. I didn’t know that it was not true either.
I so though, it was like, “This is what happens if you’re orthodox.”
We want to thank you much Rabbi for joining us and guiding the Los Angeles community and beyond with your fantastic spiritual advice and your give back. We appreciate all that you bring not only to the community but the ripple effect of how that will go above and beyond to pass the city of Los Angeles. We appreciate all you do for us. Thank you so much.
Thank you. It’s been a real joy and an honor to meet you. I hope I meet you in person at some point.
I want to thank you both of you, first of all, and remind all our Jewish friends over there, Shabbat Shalom. I’m going to New York. We’re celebrating the 70 years of Rebbe’s Leadership and the Chabad Movement. It’s a big day. There will be about 70,000 Jews who are flying into New York. It’s a powerful time. Do your action of goodness and kindness. Women can light Shabbat candles. We are wishing you an amazing Shabbat. Thank you. Keep up the good work and light up the world.
Thank you, Rabbi Dani. Shabbat Shalom. Thank you to all our audience. We’ll be back with a new episode soon.