It is 27 years ago to this day that I served on the board of the Rancho Mirage California Rotary club as its Club Secretary. It was customary for the executive board to select a nominating committee for the coming year which ran from January to December. It was just a few days before Thanksgiving, and it was a busy time. There was no computer to check in the members. And so, I left the meeting early, telling the President, Treasurer, and others, “Got to run, whomever you nominate for next year’s board is fine with me.” After the luncheon I said to the President in the spirit of the ensuing holiday of Thanksgiving, “So, which Turkey did you get to be the President next year?” to which he deadpanned this response, “Which Turkey? Yossi Liebowitz!” Astonished I humbly asserted that this was a fowl move!” Turns out, I was most fortunate to be the President for the international meeting that year was to be held in Sydney Australia. The poor fellow that followed me had to go to Cleveland Ohio. As I am retiring from serving Congregation B’nai Israel after two decades this spring, I tend to review my being a rabbi for forty four years, many of whom were enhanced by the same number of years as a Rotarian, for which I am most grateful.
Humble am I to follow many other Rotary speakers finer than I am as a Thanksgiving presenter! To give you a sense of my limits as an orator recently one member of my congregation said to me, “That sermon should have been published posthumously,” or another who said “each one of your sermons are better than the next!” If all that sounds self-effacing, please know that when it comes to being humble no one does it better than I. It was such humility that motivated Golda Meir the one-time Prime Minister of Israel to say to a Congressman who acted modestly in her presence, “You’re not great enough to be modest!” Nor am I!
Like many of you who gather with family at holiday time, I tend to remember those who can no longer be present in my home. To quote the musical Les Miserable “Empty chairs, empty tables!” Fathers, mothers – grandparents, and tragically daughters and sons along with some friends taken away too soon. With true humility, I note how my late father, the New York cab driver would not have imagined that his son, the grandson of immigrants who fled the Ukrainian border town of Peschanitza in the middle of the night would someday shake the hand of the current president, not once but twice, as well as two prime ministers of the state of Israel Yitzchak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, a few Senators and Congressmen, each of whom have achieved greatness in their lives. Knowing such men and women of stature has not made me great but has made me grateful.
My father would not exactly win any awards for modesty but he would have been granted a prize for being the greatest of teasers. He could artfully diminish the self-importance of anyone, especially his sons. When I became of draft age, he remarked “When they induct you into the army, I will buy Russian war
bonds!” Each night after a sweltering N.Y. day in his cab, a cab without air conditioning my father would regale us with the day’s excitement, muggings and more. Vincent Price, a star of several horror films entered his cab one day