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Temple Emanu-El: a wonderful encounter with a homeless man

See what happens when you’re a sarcastic jackass with God?

Devorah Marcus
Devorah Marcus

Temple Emanu-El

  • Contact: 6299 Capri Drive, San Diego 619-286-2555 www.teesd.org
  • Membership: 475
  • Rabbi: Devorah Marcus
  • Age: 44
  • Born: Los Angeles
  • Formation: Bradley University, Peoria, IL; Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles.
  • Years Ordained: 13

San Diego Reader: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?

Rabbi Devorah Marcus: One of the rabbis we were trained under looked at the room full of rabbinic students one day and said, “Every rabbi gives one sermon over and over again. The great rabbis have two sermons. The exceptional rabbis have three.” Then he looked at us again and said, “None of you are exceptional and none of you are great.” So the sermon I give over and over again is for people to be kind and loving to one another. That is at the heart of justice and healing the world — loving and caring for one another as human beings.

SDR: What is the mission of your synagogue?

RM: Our mission is to create a vibrant, thriving Jewish community here in our corner of San Diego, and to create space that is loving, embracing and accepting to everyone who walks through our doors.

SDR: Where is the strangest place you found God?

RM: I had a wonderful encounter with a homeless man while I was in rabbinical school. I was driving on Shabbat early Saturday morning, trying to get down to Orange County to see my parents for Shabbat. I was hungry and pulled off to get a burrito to eat on the way down. I said sarcastically in my head, “God, I know I’m driving on Shabbat and spending money and cash on Shabbat. If there’s some way I can make it up to you, let me know.” Right then, I heard noise to my left — it was a homeless person digging through the trash at the restaurant. See what happens when you’re a sarcastic jackass with God? I felt called at that moment — I saw him and recognized him as a human being…. So I bought two breakfast burritos that morning, and gave some extra cash to this lovely man, who I called “Friend.” I addressed him as Friend every time I saw him after that. I regularly went to the taco stand every week and left money so they’d give him food… I was happy that, on that random Saturday morning at that taco shop, God was right there, waiting to answer my sarcasm.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

RM: In the laws of physics, nothing ever ends; it just changes form and expression. We are in a constant cosmic cycle of rebirth and re-death; the only constancy in the universe is change. So death is just an exchange. I don’t know what it looks like after we die, and nor would I presume to guess because no one alive has ever been dead. I do believe there is existence beyond this existence, but I don’t know if it’s sentient. But then you meet people in this world, and know your souls have known each other a million lifetimes over — and you become best friends! I’m open to all the possibilities. But I don’t believe in the concept of heaven and hell, someplace of eternal damnation. I don’t see any evidence of that kind of cruelty of thought in anything that’s been designed in the universe we inhabit. The very notion that people would be punished for all eternity for the frailty, stupidity and worst potential of humanity — I don’t accept that premise. So I can tell you what I don’t believe.

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Devorah Marcus
Devorah Marcus

Temple Emanu-El

  • Contact: 6299 Capri Drive, San Diego 619-286-2555 www.teesd.org
  • Membership: 475
  • Rabbi: Devorah Marcus
  • Age: 44
  • Born: Los Angeles
  • Formation: Bradley University, Peoria, IL; Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles.
  • Years Ordained: 13

San Diego Reader: What is your favorite subject on which to preach?

Rabbi Devorah Marcus: One of the rabbis we were trained under looked at the room full of rabbinic students one day and said, “Every rabbi gives one sermon over and over again. The great rabbis have two sermons. The exceptional rabbis have three.” Then he looked at us again and said, “None of you are exceptional and none of you are great.” So the sermon I give over and over again is for people to be kind and loving to one another. That is at the heart of justice and healing the world — loving and caring for one another as human beings.

SDR: What is the mission of your synagogue?

RM: Our mission is to create a vibrant, thriving Jewish community here in our corner of San Diego, and to create space that is loving, embracing and accepting to everyone who walks through our doors.

SDR: Where is the strangest place you found God?

RM: I had a wonderful encounter with a homeless man while I was in rabbinical school. I was driving on Shabbat early Saturday morning, trying to get down to Orange County to see my parents for Shabbat. I was hungry and pulled off to get a burrito to eat on the way down. I said sarcastically in my head, “God, I know I’m driving on Shabbat and spending money and cash on Shabbat. If there’s some way I can make it up to you, let me know.” Right then, I heard noise to my left — it was a homeless person digging through the trash at the restaurant. See what happens when you’re a sarcastic jackass with God? I felt called at that moment — I saw him and recognized him as a human being…. So I bought two breakfast burritos that morning, and gave some extra cash to this lovely man, who I called “Friend.” I addressed him as Friend every time I saw him after that. I regularly went to the taco stand every week and left money so they’d give him food… I was happy that, on that random Saturday morning at that taco shop, God was right there, waiting to answer my sarcasm.

SDR: Where do you go when you die?

RM: In the laws of physics, nothing ever ends; it just changes form and expression. We are in a constant cosmic cycle of rebirth and re-death; the only constancy in the universe is change. So death is just an exchange. I don’t know what it looks like after we die, and nor would I presume to guess because no one alive has ever been dead. I do believe there is existence beyond this existence, but I don’t know if it’s sentient. But then you meet people in this world, and know your souls have known each other a million lifetimes over — and you become best friends! I’m open to all the possibilities. But I don’t believe in the concept of heaven and hell, someplace of eternal damnation. I don’t see any evidence of that kind of cruelty of thought in anything that’s been designed in the universe we inhabit. The very notion that people would be punished for all eternity for the frailty, stupidity and worst potential of humanity — I don’t accept that premise. So I can tell you what I don’t believe.

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Comments
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I'm not Jewish, or even religious. But after reading this, I sure love and appreciate Rabbi Marcus and others like her.

July 26, 2021

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