Rabbi Rabbs Turns 50 Today

The rabbi calculates his birthday by the Hebrew calendar. On the Western calendar, he turned 50 weeks ago.

Rabbi Rabbs posts to FB:

The Mishnah (Avos 5:24) tells us that when we turn 50 we become a source for counsel. The commentators explain that Mishnah is based on a verse in the Written Torah (Bamidbar 4:35) that prescribes a mandatory retirement age. Specifically, the verse says that at 50, men that had previously carried the Mishkan’s components will no longer do so, but instead, as the Oral Torah explains, they will advise the younger workers, much like how professional athletes retire and become coaches.

From there we learn that there is something special about living 50 years that enables us to direct others. That has significant relevance to me, because I celebrate Jewish birthdays, and in accordance with the Jewish calendar in which days start at sundown, tonight I turned 50.

Many people celebrate 50th birthdays by throwing big parties, and inviting a ton of friends and family. They make a huge deal about it. I’ve been asked by several people over the past few months how I would celebrate mine. I kind of felt bad for a long time that my life didn’t work out the way I had hoped, and that the sad reality would be that there would be no party for me, there would be no wild celebration. I remember when my mother turned 50, and my father rented out a fancy restaurant, and all of our extended relatives, and their friends were there, along with my sister and I. I knew I would not enjoy anything close to that, because I don’t have many friends and family members that live anywhere near me. I am not a big socializer, and I have very few acquaintances in person. At my engagement party back in 2007, it was just a small crowd, one dinner table with a few close friends, and that was it.

Rabbs is a loner that spends most of his time home by himself. So, it became obvious as tonight approached that I would be spending my 50th birthday alone, and without a party. I feared as a result I would become terribly depressed tonight, and I even envisioned at one point a while back ago committing suicide by nightfall tomorrow. I know that I am living a very sad life, and I remember thinking last year that maybe turning 50 alone would be a good time for it to end.

However, something great happened yesterday that turned everything around. My wonderful girlfriend told me that I do have friends to spend my birthday with, and that I should go have a good time with them. She pointed out that my best friends are the surfers at my beach, and I should go hang with them. So, I went to my beach yesterday, and I had the most amazing time. The weather was hot, the sky was gorgeous, the water was warm, the waves were small and perfect for me, and best of all, the place was not crowded. The more surfers in the water, the more my social anxiety kicks in, and the less chance there is that Rabbs will even enter the water.

G-d provided me with the best situation, almost better than I could ask for. I entered the water at 4:30 pm, and by 5 or so, there was only one other surfer with me. That was incredible, because it has been more than a decade since the last time I saw that beach emptied out that much during a July afternoon. Back in the old days, the beach was like that almost daily. I loved that. I love being the only surfer in the water, and having the whole place to myself. That’s an amazing feeling, and for a loner, that is the ultimate party. Just to be alone but in a special setting such as in the water at my beach.

My favorite time of my life was probably the summer of 1996. I had quit my job as a rabbi, I was going to computer school part-time, and I had afternoons off, and I went surfing every week. Often the only two surfers back then were myself and this one other dude, somewhere close to me in age, who was a very cool guy. He was a terrific surfer, almost professional, but he was real modest about it, and he and I would shmooze and take turns taking waves. I was a lot better surfer back then, and I would easily catch 15 long face rides per session, and he would have maybe 30 during that time, and we would both leave satisfied and impressed with the other guy.

I surfed along side him a number of times in 1997 as well. Then, I got into a terrible auto crash that kept me out of the water for the next five years. During that hiatus, I often thought about that surfer dude, and I wondered what he might’ve thought happened to me and why I stopped surfing there. Many times I felt like driving up the coast just to look for him and let him know that I had been in an accident. I never made the shlep, though.

When I did start surfing again, I kept an eye open for him, but I never saw him. Over the past few years, I realized that he no longer surfs at my beach, and that I would probably never see him again.

Fast forward to yesterday. I mentioned that I was in the water with one other guy. That guy, although I didn’t recognize him at first because faces change a lot in 15 years, was the same dude I used to surf with. I couldn’t believe it. Here we were again. It felt like old times, like 1996, on a perfect day and it was just the two of us again. It was so special to have that experience yesterday — the reunion of me with the surfer I was probably most closest with. That was a fantastic birthday gift from G-d. He saved the present until my 50th, and then He sent us together. I finally told the other surfer that I had gotten into a car crash, and he told me that he stopped surfing there because it got too crowded. When I mentioned that the car crash killed my surfing abilities, he confessed that he had noticed that my skills had badly diminished in the past 15 years, and was perplexed as to how that had happened, but that he wasn’t going to mention it, because his own skills had dropped a notch as well. We had both gotten a lot older. He had lost a lot of hair, and both of us had gained a lot of weight.

But wait, there’s more. A third surfer joined us, and this other dude was also very cool. I made friends with him, too, and we schmoozed a bit. He said he comes to my beach a couple of times each week, and I am sure I will bump into him again. Both of us went to UCLA, and both of us have ambitions to move to that beach. We may very well end up becoming neighbors.

So, it wasn’t exactly a birthday party, but I was amongst special friends in my favorite place on earth. I was having such a great time that I stayed in the water until 7 pm, knowing that I would not be able to reach the kosher restaurant in Malibu before its 8 pm closing. I chose to keep surfing instead. I was in the water for 2.5 hours, the longest I’ve surfed in a long time, and I caught three waves that were so amazing that if I don’t catch another one all summer, I’m ok with that, because those three make up for it. The tide was very high and so the rides on those three were very long. Also, it’s about quality, not quantity. So, if I miss a few surfing opportunities this summer, that’s ok, too, because in a way, I feel that the high I experienced this week won’t be matched for a while, and everything else will become a kind of letdown.

OH, just so no one thinks I lost out on dinner completely, I will just say that I drove immediately over the mountains to Agoura Hills where I discovered a new kosher sushi restaurant that stays open until 9 pm. That place was amazing, and when my girlfriend arrives in LA later this year, G-d willing, I’m definitely taking her there. Although, she deserves much more than that. She called it. My birthday needs to be spent with my friends in the LA area, and I do have friends in the LA area. They are in the water. That’s where I’m happiest.

Then, she told me I should not be alone tonight, and that I should do dinner with my Torah Talks partner Levi Ford. So I invited him to join me at Pico Café, and he was nice enough to hang out with me there for a couple of hours. It was the first time we ever socialized since we’ve started the show, and we should’ve done it much sooner, because I had a great time.

So, please don’t feel sorry for me not having a big party. I’m fine. In fact, you might say I’m having a blast.

Speaking of Torah Talks, I’m thinking that show gives me the opportunity to share my counsel, my advice, and my unique experiences and views, something I should be doing now that I’m 50. I’m done with the heavy lifting. Leave that for the younger guys. I’m retired. I’m a coach now, and it’s time for me to make a living sharing my knowledge with others.

As I start my 50s, my goals are to G-d willing make a living from Torah Talks, move to my beach where I continue the show from my new home where there will hopefully be more room to host my family members, hopefully surf many more times with my cool surf partner from 1996, and hopefully where I will celebrate my 51st birthday with my girlfriend. Amen.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). 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 (Alexander90210.com).
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