This Yom Kippur, just a few hours before we pause for the Yizkor service and remember our loved ones who are no longer with us — I’m thinking of my father, of course — but also two men who impacted my life profoundly.
Rabbi Israel Gerber passed away on Tuesday at the age of 92. Steve Jobs passed away on Wednesday at the age of 56.
Of course I did not know Steve Jobs.
And while I spent many, many hours with Rabbi Gerber, he sometimes couldn’t remember my name.
Both men caused a reaction. Jobs created “think different” as an message for his company and received the usual amount of criticism and scorn for it. Rabbi Gerber took a lot of heat also. He dared to fight city hall on many occasions on behalf of Jews in the New South — including the right to park on the street on High Holidays without getting a ticket, just as church goers were allowed to do on the same street — Providence Road — each Sunday morning.
In 1982, about a month after I started my career as a teacher, I bought an Apple II Plus computer. It had no shift key. No upper case lettering on the monitor.
At South Rowan High School, where I worked, there was only one other computer in the school, and that was in the computer programming class.
I started bringing my Apple II Plus to and from school with me each day. I taught remedial English, and the kids were fascinated. I had exactly one piece of software for that computer: Apple Writer, a word processor. And I had a little book on BASIC programming, so we could type a few lines and watch a word scroll down the screen really fast.
Word got out that I possessed this special, pioneer knowledge — the ability to flick the power switch on a computer — and I became part of the conversation to create technology facilitators in the school system and became a member of that original group.
When the Mac was introduced, I got one by winning a computer lesson plan writing contest.
I participated in many, many Apple vs. IBM battles, at the school and school system level. Apple prevailed, and for twenty four years, I taught kids to use whatever Steve Jobs invented.
I love Apple products and still am a complete idiot on a PC.
My mother also was one who liked to think different, and while all the other Jewish children were trained for their Bar Mitzvahs by Ben Shapiro, she had the idea that I be trained by a real rabbi. She took me to Charlotte each week for lessons with Rabbi Gerber. I think I was the only one from Salisbury who got this special attention. Most kids from Salisbury continued to work with Ben. My younger brother, who was also special enough to go to Charlotte, was assigned to Cantor Brown (the one who normally did Bar Mitzvah training there).
But for some reason I got Rabbi Gerber himself, and he wanted me to learn the torah portion so that I could read each line, from the torah, and translate it line by line — as he did himself.
The problem was, I never liked anybody telling me what to do, so I stubbornly resisted doing the work and learning the material.
One day, as I sat in the rabbi’s office and demonstrated my profound lack of facility with the torah portion, the rabbi became furious with me for not having made any progress since the week before.
“I couldn’t practice,” I said, “because I was in a tennis tournament.”
He suggested I stop the tennis for awhile, until I mastered the material.
It was summer, and I couldn’t do that — so I started to cry.
He also did not like my speech, so he wrote one for me that he wanted me to consider. I gave that the thumbs down.
Leaving the parking lot that day, my mother was furious with me for embarrassing her, and she gave me a lecture that was oft repeated and never forgotten. It had to do with the value of studying and what happens to people who don’t.
And then, while fussing at me, she had a wreck in the parking lot and totaled the family car.
A few years later, Alicia and I had a visit with Rabbi Gerber at his home. I asked him to marry us. He interviewed Alicia, asking her a series of questions (“If the Nazis took over The United States, would you go to the concentration camps with Sammy or let him go without you?”). Alicia, age 21, gave the wrong answer and Rabbi Gerber told me I was breaking my word that I had given at my Bar Mitzvah.
We found Rabbi Kaplan (also a free thinker), and he married us.
At the time, Alicia worked at my father’s store, and Rabbi Gerber dropped by and gave her books to read about converting to Judaism. She read the books but did not convert.
After he retired from Temple Beth El in Charlotte, Rabbi Gerber was a once-a-month rabbi in Salisbury for many years. He lost his job when a guy in the congregation broke his foot and complained that the rabbi never asked how he was feeling.
Steve Jobs and Rabbi Gerber — two men who profoundly impacted the course of my life by what they stood for.