Weekly Chasidic Story #1002 (s5777-20 / 17 Shvat 5777)

Schwartzie at Woodstock

The moment that Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz passed on to his eternal reward last week, the world became a poorer, sadder place.

Connection: Seasonal - Week of Mourning for Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz of Los Angeles



Schwartzie at Woodstock


The moment that Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz z'l passed on to his eternal reward on 12th Shvat 5777 (Feb. 8, 2017), less than two months past his 71st birthday, the world became a poorer, sadder place. He will be sorely missed here at Ascent, and by tens of thousands in California and throughout the world.

I can't think of a better memorial to mail to the multitudes of this list than his own written record of his "performance" at Woodstock, as immortalized in the Rosh Hashanah recruiting flyer his Chai Center sent around a year and a half ago. Although I am a long-time professional editor, I mightily resisted fixing (tampering with!) Schwartzie's highly original, remarkable typography, spelling, vocabulary and syntax (other than reducing the size a bit so as to save reams of paper for those that prefer to read from print-outs).

Bottom line: Myriads of souls have interceded on high for the Creator to send the Annointed One, but surely he never heard it in Schwartzie-ese English! How can He resist! Moshiach now! == Yerachmiel T.


Most of us know that the most important Mitzva (Commandment) of the Jewish New Year (aka Rosh Hashana) is to hear the SHOFAR being blown.
What most Jews do NOT know is that for an entire month before Rosh Hashana the Shofar is sounded in the Synagogue every AM.
I was actually @ the famous WOODSTOCK in 1969, but that's another very long, but very exciting story.
A quarter of a century later in 1994, Woodstock II was gunu happen in the same place. I got a call from a great creative Rabbi in the Bay Area that 5 Chasidic Rabbis were planning to attend Woodstock II, and get on stage with 10,000 sweet apples and a Shofar & explain in a short little sermonette what all of it was abt.
Then we would blow the Shofar & throw the 10,000 sweet apples into the crowd. There were 100's of 1,000s of ppl there but most of them would be able to get a bite.
I told the Bay Area Rabbi that was NEVER gunu happen.
He replied tht they had a Woodstock "Sugar Daddy" that had kicked in all the expenses, so what did I care. If it didn't happen we would still have a great time meeting all those ppl.
So off we went on a modern day Chasidic adventure. We arrived @ the site in the Catskill Mts in 2 cars with the cases of Apples & one Huge Yemenite Shofar.
We had a really great Shabbat. Sunday morning we set out in a caravan of 2 cars with cases & cases of 1,000s of apples & us 5 rabbis. There were police checkpoints in a circular cordon 2 miles square to stop all vehicles. We had big blessings bcz every time we were stopped by the police we just showed them all our apples & chanted the new mantra loudly "These are the APPLES for the stage". After a moment of quizzical stares & facial expressions they waved us thru to the stage.
Not so simple yet.
There were two check points to stop everyone from getting on stage.
So now we 5 Rabbis are at the foot of the stage, with our 10,000 apples. Suddenly a large burly man with a petite girlfriend hanging on his arm (neither looked to be one of the Jewish faith) approaches me & without any hello or even a smile says, "How much you want for the hat?".
I was wearing a baseball cap with large CHAI on it. I didn't understand what a Goy wanted with a CHAI hat, but I didn't wana be that direct or confrontational & just come right out & ask him, "Are you Jewish?", so I said, "What's your Jewish name?".
The Dude looked @ me for a minute as if he was trying to remember his JEWISH name. Meanwhile, his Shiksa pipes up proudly with "My Jewish name is Pesha Dvawsheh!".
OK, so SHE IS A Jew. At that moment I noticed that among the many necklaces around him was an "ALL ACCESS" pass. That means that he is a somebody. Soon I find out that he's the "roadie" for Richie Havens - a real somebody super celeb in the tradition of Woodstock. Then this boovan with tattoos, etc, asks the fateful question, "What are you doing here?". I point to the cases of apples & explain that in two weeks is Rosh Hashana & the custom is to eat sweet apples in order to be blessed with a sweet New Year. He says, "Follow me". I say I have a group of another 4 Rabbis. He motions that we should all follow him onto the stage. We shlep ALL the cases onto back stage.
Ok- so now we are all back stage - Five Chasidic rabbis (but we are dressed like "Them"), & 10,000 apples.
We are having a really great time, looking out from on the stage, about 300,000 enthusiastic rabble rousers are now staring back at us.
However, the main objective hasn't been accomplished yet. We need to get the Mike & communicate our important message to all those Goyim (& a few Jews).

Suddenly, there's a big tumult. A very large black man, naked to the waist, totally muscle bound, high on a very bad trip (Angel Dust?), somehow broke thru Both security checks & got on the stage.
The head of Security (backed up by 2 humongous "Blue Meanies" - heavy, non smiling killer giants) walks right up to the Black intruder & directly confronts him.
At this point I was thinking to maybe jump off the stage, bcz it certainly seemed that violence was about to occur. And I dont like the sight of blood.
But, strange as it may seem, the black man seemed to reflect for a moment, then slowly turned around & walked off the stage.
I wondered why I was supposed to see that & what significance did it have for me (us?).
So I walked up to the head of Security. He looked @ me quizzically, like what do U want?
I said, I saw what you did, in that potentially dangerous situation. You stopped the whole thing before it went anywhere.
Then he smiled @ me. At that instant, I somehow thought that he's an Israeli; so I started rattling off, in speedy Hebrew, "Where have you been all my life; Im looking for you under the benches by candlelight!".
He smiled even Larger & hugged me very strongly & affectionately. Then he said, "Dude, I didn't understand a word you said; I'm an Italian from the Bronx, but you are beautiful & I love you!".
Then he asked me the fateful question - What are you doing here?".
I pointed to the cases of apples & showed him the gargantuan Yemenite Shofar & explained that we are Rabbis & wana give the apples to the crowd & blow the rams horn & bless everyone with a sweet New Year.
He asked, "How long does it all hafta take?" .
I answered, 4 & 1/2 minutes. He said, Ok you'll go on between Arlo Guthrie (that'd be Woody's son, who's actually Jewish) & Richie Havens.
And thtz wht happened.
It was the largest "Congregation" I had Ever spoken for, before or since!
We blew the Shofar, threw out the 10,000 apples into the crowd (they LOVED it !).
Mission Accomplished!

Happy New Year 5776,

Connection: Seven days of mourning for Rabbi Shlomo-Yitzchak ben Moshe Schwartz, one of the most influential rabbis in USA, who brought thousands - yes, thousands! - of Jews closer to Torah life, and was an untiring warrior in the struggle against intermarriage and assimilation. He was also Scholar-in-Residence at Ascent for 20 consecutive summers.


And: from the Jewish Journal, Feb 8, 2017

'Do you know Schwartzie?'

by David Suissa


(The bolded paragraph is about Schwartzie at Ascent.)


Everybody had a Schwartzie story.

I would be someplace halfway around the world and tell someone I'm from Los Angeles, and they would ask, "Do you know Schwartzie?" I would respond, "Are you kidding? Schwartzie's my brother." And then I'd hear back something like, "Well, he married us."

Everybody had a Schwartzie story.

I have a simple theory for that - he was everywhere.

Schwartzie, Rabbi Shlomo Schwartz, who passed away this morning after a long illness, was a Los Angeles Jewish landmark. You'd see his red beard at all kinds of Jewish events, no matter the cause or denomination.

A few years ago, as I was attending a special memorial for Rabbi Harold Shulweis at Valley Beth Shalom, I scoured the huge crowd and wondered why I couldn't see any Orthodox rabbis. Then I saw his greying, reddish beard. He was limping with a cane, walking slowly down the main aisle as people were taking their seats. I caught his eye and said "Schwartzie, I have a seat for you!" He looked at me and said, "Hey, holy brother. Good to see you."

After we sat down, all I remember him saying was, "I really loved that man," referring to Rabbi Shulweis.

Loving Jews was somewhat of a Schwartzie obsession. He was a Chabad-Lubavitcher who internalized his Rebbe's message to find the "pintele yid" in every Jew. He took the unconditional love he had for his own family and found a way to channel it to his collective Jewish family. For him, this was a natural move. I know, it sounds corny, schmaltzy, tribal, but that's who he was- a great, unapologetic lover of Jews.

That didn't mean he was naïve or didn't know the ways of the world. How could he not know? Over the years, he consulted with thousands of Jews who needed help-parents who needed help with their children, children who needed help with their parents, spouses who needed help with each other. You name the problem, he was there. He saw it all. Maybe that just deepened his love for his people- he saw how needed he was.

He was especially needed on Friday nights at his home in Mar Vista, where for decades he hosted, with his beloved wife and spiritual partner, Olivia, "Shabbat for 30 strangers." Or 40, or 50 or 60. These weekly gatherings had one unabashed objective: Get more Jews to meet and marry each other. He was a one-man Jewish continuity machine. Is it any wonder I would meet Jews around the world who would say, "Oh yeah, he married us"?

He spent most of his summers in the holy city of Tsfat in Israel, teaching at the Ascent center. This was his annual lifeblood. He felt rejuvenated when he came back, and it gave him something to look forward to every year. Maybe those weeks in Tsfat were the Shabbat of his year-his annual retreat to replenish and renew his soul. And he did it, of course, by teaching and helping other Jews.

Through his Chai Center, now run by his son Mendy, one of the ways he helped Jews was by teaching Kabbalah classes, and by throwing hundreds of joyful events where Jews of all ages would get to mingle. These events were almost always connected to some Jewish holiday. He was famous for his High Holy Day services, which he would announce by saying: "Come to the Shul that doesn't want your money."

He would always remind me of that line. It came up when I first met him, about 30 years ago, in my little ad agency in Venice. He had reached out to me to help him come up with a High Holiday brochure. He told me he was organizing services for Jews who had nowhere to go. He figured, let's make it easy for them to show up. The headline wrote itself- "Come to the shul that doesn't want your money." He just loved that line. He brought it up to me again a few weeks ago, at some fundraiser in Los Angeles, from his wheelchair.

Last year, at an event in his honor, it was fascinating to see how many Jews he touched. He engaged with Jews in Hebron and Jews in Reform congregations. He engaged with Sephardic Jews and Persian Jews. He met Jews in music festivals and Woodstock revivals. He went wherever Jews were. One of his friends and big fans was Rabbi David Wolpe, who wrote these words to me today: "Schwartzie was an igniter of souls, discovering in people a spirit they did not know they had, and bringing them to God and Judaism."

He brought Jews back to themselves, to their ancestors, to their tradition, to their community. It's hard to imagine our community without him. We can only thank God that everybody has a Schwartzie story.

Those stories will be his legacy.


Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and chief editor of this website (and of KabbalaOnline.org). He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages. He tells them live at Ascent nearly every Saturday night.

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