Note: This article was first published in the October 2021 issue of The Scroll.
From whom do you get your inspiration? Have you ever thought about it?
I have to admit that I am very fortunate. My parents have been huge inspirations for me and I have written in the past about how they inspire me each and every day. Today, I would like to tell you about someone else who is a constant source of inspiration to me.
Tacked to a cork board near my desk in one of my two offices is a picture. It shows a mature man (I really can’t think of him as old despite his age) standing in front of one of the greatest monuments to hate in the world: the infamous Arbeit Macht Frei sign above the entrance to that great man-made hell known as Auschwitz. You can see him speaking with someone in the shadow of that horrible icon with the camp buildings in the background.
One day, on a Friday before services, he came over to me with pictures of the camp. He showed me one particular picture, pointed to a window and said, “That was my window.” I was honestly dumb-struck. I did not know what to say.
We all know this person. His name is Sam Bradin and he sits right in the second row where I can see him during services. It is a rare thing that I am in Shule and he is not. In fact, truth be told, I am sure he has better attendance than I do.
I often think about people like Sam, and my father, who went through such horrible times and yet made the decision after it was over to continue to worship and believe in Hashem. I am in awe of people like them who have seen the most awful of circumstances and emerged still with a desire to raise families in the bosom of Judaism and with fealty to Torah.
The picture of Sam in front of Auschwitz is on the wall beside my desk as a simple reminder: no matter how bad a day I might having, it is infinitely better than even Sam’s best day in that Nazi made inferno. I look at that picture and I am humbled. I am reminded that my troubles are nothing compared to what real troubles are.
I have told my staff about Sam and how he inspires me. Nowadays, when I am having a bad day and am ready to put my fist through a wall (metaphorically speaking, of course), they just point to Sam and the message is delivered.
On Yom Kippur I spoke about how those who have passed before us are remembered on Yom Kippur to remind us who they were and how they inspired us. They also serve as a kind of challenge: what kind of people do we wish to be remembered as? What will our children and grandchildren think of us? Will we have inspired them to do better? To grow and take a place of leadership in the world? Will we have inspired them to learn to live a life of Judaism and to continue the torch of Yiddishkeit that has been passed from generation to generation for thousands of years?
I like to think that my greatest source of inspiration were my parents. From my father, I learned the art of the Cantor and what it means to be a professional. My mother gave me a love of reading and learning. My experiences with them taught me much but, more importantly, gave me a basis on which to build, to grow, to experience, and to learn. Their guidance is the prism through which I see the world. True, that prism has been adjusted over the years by my own experiences, but the basic shape of the prism is still there.
I wonder how much of an inspiration I have been to my children and what might they have learned from me? It’s not a question I can ask, of course. They may not even yet know the answer to that question, yet. It was only later in life that I truly understood the great gifts that I got from my parents.
At the end of the day, I think those we inspire are our true legacy. Whether they be our children, students, friends, colleagues, congregants, etc., those we inspire and the ones who carry on what we believe beyond our time on this earth. And the truth is, we never truly know what will ultimately inspire someone.
Let me tell you a quick story. One day I received a private message on Facebook from an individual. He asked me, “Are you the Cantor Bazian who used to teach Bar Mitzvah lessons in Queens?” I answered in the affirmative. I remembered him. I taught him for his Bar Mitzvah. He was going through a rough time at home and we spent a fair amount of time talking in addition to the time we spent studying how to read Hebrew and then his Haftorah. He remembers me telling him that he was capable of accomplishing anything he set his mind to. He never forgot that and he parlayed that into a successful career.
Sometimes, it’s what we say. Sometimes, it’s what we do. We never know what will make a difference. A kind word, a friendly smile, anything can be the spark that sets someone on a path that can lead to greatness.
What’s the secret to inspiring people? Well, I think it comes down to one simple thing: caring. Show people that you care about them. Speak to them from the heart and think of their benefit rather than your own. That creates a connection and a connection can lead to inspiration.
I have been truly fortunate in my life to have had so many people that have cared about me enough to try to help me on to the right path. I was fortunate to have two loving parents, caring siblings (even if we did, and sometimes do, fight like cats and dogs), and now a spouse and children who care enough about me to tell me what they think and to stand by me each and every day. I am lucky to have a congregation that I love and whose love I feel back. What more can a person ask for?
If there is one thing I wish for you, let it be this: may your life be filled with inspiration: both the inspiration you receive and the inspiration you give.