The Night I Learned About Love

Posted by Dinesh Mehta on Jan 10, 2016
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[Aryae opened our circle last Wednesday, at our local Awakin Circle, as he has graciously done on various occasions, and moved us with the retelling of this profound story.]

My first reflection speaking is in here, in the Temple of Kindness, there are so many teachers about strong love. Thank you everyone here, for being teachers for me and for all of us, for each other. For those of you who may be my age or close to it, you'll remember when Dr. King was speaking these words, similar words and how electrifying it was for America and maybe for the world when he was talking about strong, demanding love and putting his life on the line and inspiring so many others to do it.

I was living in San Francisco at the time. I was a college student and I was not quite courageous enough to go down to Alabama or Mississippi but there was a civil rights movement in San Francisco where we were nonviolently demonstrating for African Americans to have the same kind of employment opportunities as whites did. I was arrested, I went to jail a number of times and I felt good about being in the fight for justice.

But you know what? I still hadn't received Dr. King's message about love. I still hadn't internalized that for myself. I think for each of us in our lives, whatever our domain is, whatever we do, whoever we know, whatever culture we're in, we have that challenge and that opportunity.

What is the power of that kind of strong, demanding love that can change hearts and change lives and change the world?

A few years later in 1968, I had the power to witness something like that in my own life, different domain. I started the House of Love and Prayer in San Francisco. It was during the spiritual revolution when spiritual teachers were coming from all over the world to teach and my spiritual teacher was Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach.

The problem he was dealing with was that in our own people, among the Jews, after World War II and after the Holocaust and after the killing of six million, Judaism was pretty depressed and pretty dour. There wasn't much joy and there wasn't much spirituality. I and people like myself were just sort of drifting and saying, what the heck, we'll do other things. What Shlomo was doing was talking about going back to the basics -- love the divine, love God, love your neighbor, love the stranger, serve with joy. It's a different way of doing it, so he wanted to start a House of Love and Prayer. I said, "What's a House of Love and Prayer?" And he said, "When you walk in, someone loves you and when you walk out, someone misses you."

I and my fellow college students, who were starting this house, we did the best we could to love the people who were walking in but I still hadn't absorbed Dr. King's message. I really hadn't.

One night, it was a Friday night, there was a prayer service and Shlomo was leading the service. The way we led the service wasn't like how it was done in the synagogues in those days. We were a bunch of young college students, hippies, dressed up in all sorts of colorful tie dyed things and we were dancing and we were singing and we were all hugging each other and that's how we did a prayer service.

We're in the middle of this prayer service that Shlohmo's leading and there's this guy who walks in the door. A blue suit, little black tie. Very serious looking and we're all dancing around and singing and hugging each other and he yells from a distance: "Rabbi Carlebach."

We all kind of stopped. Rabbi Shlomo responds, "Yes." He angrily says, still across the aisle, "What's the matter with you?" Our celebration, with about 200 of us in this house, our celebration comes to a complete stop. Everybody's looking at this guy and everybody's looking at Shlomo.

Shlohmo looks at him calmly and says, "Yeah, what's the matter?" He says, "Rabbi Carlebach, you're an Orthodox rabbi, you know better than this. Boys and girls dancing together and hugging each other, that's not how you were raised or how I was raised." You know, this guy clearly was from an Orthodox congregation where the men and the women are kept separate in prayer services. They don't go near each other. There's a barrier in between them.

Shlohmo looks at him and asks, "What's your name?" After an awkward pause, he retorts, "My name?" "Yeah, what's your name?" "Well, my name is Irving Solomon and I'm the president of the local Orthodox synagogue."

In a inviting tone, Shlohmo then says, "What are you doing standing so far away? Why don't you come closer?"

Everybody moves back, he comes closer and Shlohmo looks at us and he says, "I want you to meet the sweetest man in the world, my friend Irving Solomon."

Irving Solomon is kind of a little off balance, so we all sort of pull back watching these two guys in the center of the room.

Shlohmo looks at him and says, "You know, you're right. I understand what you're saying, but let me tell you something. Imagine if someone came into the emergency room and they needed heart surgery right away. The surgeon comes in, starts clipping their toenails. What would you say? Crazy, absolutely crazy? The person needs heart surgery, not toenail clipping."

"Well, we're at a time in the world where young people have become disconnected and their hearts are dying. Maybe, at some point, someone may want to take a look at their toenails, but right now we have to connect with their hearts."

All of us watching Irving Solomon -- what's he going to do?

He looks at Shlomo, he looks around at us, he takes off his blue suit jacket, sits down, takes off his tie, walks into the circle, puts his arm around one young woman, one young man -- and joins us.

At that point, I witnessed the power -- with my own eyes -- of love to change hearts, to change lives, to change the world. Irving later joined our board of our nonprofit and became our greatest fund raiser and our greatest supporter.

Each of us, in our own lives, in our own world, in our own domains, have witnessed this power of love, in some way or another.

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Comments (5)

  • Somik Raha wrote ...

    Beautiful share!! Feel privileged to be able to read this.

  • Nandini Iyer wrote ...

    What a touching eyes-moisting story :-)! Thank you for telling it, and then re-telling it!

  • Mia Tagano wrote ...

    I finally had the chance to sit and read this full story and I am so very glad that I did. So very powerful and I am so grateful - smiling through my tears :)

  • Anjali wrote ...

    Such a beautiful story and so much to learn from Shlohmo's effortless loving:-)

  • sheetal sanghvi wrote ...

    What a gift of a story..