My Rabbi Does Good

The first rabbi I became close to was Rabbi Aaron Rubinger of Congregation Ohev Shalom in Orlando, Florida.

I moved to Orlando in August 1993, shortly after my initial conversion to Judaism earlier that year through a Reform rabbi in Sacramento (most of my Jewish friends from Grass Valley who assisted me on my journey to Judaism were Orthodox or on the way to becoming Orthodox, I was bedridden most of the time because of my illness and I made my initial conversion through the rabbi closest to me in Citrus Heights, Marvin Schwab, who gave me my first pair of tefillin).

Ohev Shalom was my first shul. I eventually moved across the street from it and davened there several times a week. I hung out in the library. I began to get my sea legs as I made a slow and awkward recovery from being bedridden with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome to increasingly leading a normal life.

Rabbi Rubinger and the rabbi emeritus Rudolph J. Adler were enormously kind to me as were many others in the congregation.

Ohev Shalom will always have a warm spot in my heart and I can’t wait to return there one day. I want to wait, however, until I have done something terrific, done something to repay their kindness to me, something that shows I was not a mistake, that my time there was not a burden without a payoff. I want to return in triumph. I want to be a big shot. I want to be a mentch. I want to be married with kids.

Back in 1993 and early 1994, I was a real handful. I wasn’t the gentle Torah giant I am today. I was a bit weird. I was controversial. I was often popping off with shocking and inappropriate statements. I chased women. I cried over women. I lusted after women. I felt confused and scared and I was holding on to Judaism for dear life.

Rabbi Rubinger taught me how to put on tefillin and how to tie a tie and how to be a mentch.


Two weeks ago, Representative Alan Grayson (D-FL) infuriated a wide variety of people with comments about the Republican plan for healthcare. Asserting that the plan encourages the sick to "die quickly," Rep. Grayson called the U.S. healthcare system an "American holocaust." An addition to an uproar from the Republican party, the comment generated a non-partisan protest from the Jewish community, especially in Central Florida where Grayson hails from.

In a poll by the Orlando Sentinel, 62% of the readers agreed that Grayson went "too far" with his comments about the healthcare system. Among that percentage, quite a few leaders in the Jewish community in Orlando shared these sentiments. Rabbi Aaron Rubinger of Congregation Ohev Shalom appeared on the local Fox News to denounce Grayson’s use of the word "holocaust." Additional comments were made by members of the Executive Board of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Maitland, FL calling Grayson’s choice of words "regrettable."

Grayson, who is Jewish, emphasized that he never drew parallels between the healthcare system and the tragedies in Europe during WWII, saying that he used the words "a holocaust" without intending it to have the capitalization given to "The Holocaust" of the 1940s. Supporters and critics alike have questioned whether or not Grayson’s use of the word was specifically to attract media attention and boost fundraising, a motive that would clearly be unacceptable. Although Grayson told the Heritage Florida Jewish News that his only motive is "tikkun olam" or "repairing the world," but Rabbi Rubinger isn’t accepting that excuse. Heritage quoted him as saying:

I really believe that it was a political stunt to garnish massive headlines. To make use of that type of rhetoric—about the Holocaust—for political gain is very, very shocking and offensive…Maybe he thought that he could pull it off because he himself is Jewish. It shows to me, Jewish or non-Jewish, a complete lack of sensitivity to what the Shoah (Holocaust) means, especially to Jews.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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