By Saeed Villanueva |Staff Writer|
Rabbi Shmuel Fuss of the Riverside’s Habbad Jewish Center was interviewed live in Coyote Radio before the Passover Holiday.
For his work with the community, Rabbi Fuss received the Champion of Justice award from Riverside County.
Q: Rabbi, can you tell us about your recent award?
It was a very special moment. I was very humbled to accept this champion of justice award, justice in the Jewish tradition is huge. It’s really important to give back to society. We often hear the word charity. In Judaism, the word for charity is called tzedakah. It means justice and righteousness. If we have an opportunity to give, we should give. Getting this award as a champion of justice was really important to me since the word tzedakah means justice. I accepted this award not just for myself, but for the Jewish community because we cater to the community.
Q: With the timeliness of Passover, could you tell us about the history of Passover and explain it for us?
The Jewish people were in Egypt. We were there for quite some time and our families started growing from 70 people originally to millions. Joseph passes away and the (Egyptian) Pharaoh felt a little threatened that the people who looked different and sound different would be a threat to their kingdom. They were afraid that the Jews would start to be a problem so they started killing the kids and drowning them in the Nile River, eventually enslaving all of the Jewish people. So, now were enslaved and it’s a pretty brutal time for us, all our traditions are gone. Eventually, God sends Moses, and Moses comes to Egypt and tells Pharaoh, “let my people go!” The first cries for freedom. Pharaoh said you’re nuts there is no such thing as free what are you talking about, and Moses says people are supposed to be free to serve God and do what they want to do. So, Moses says if you do not let them go then they’re going to be some plagues. Plagues made the sea turn red, animals dying, hail coming down, and all sorts of problems happening for the Egyptians. The one that really tipped the scale was the last plague, the killing of the first born. Everyone’s first born child died in this plague. Eventually, Pharaoh said, okay, you can go. The Jewish people were finally allowed to leave Egypt.
Q: Rabbi, you said you came from New York the same neighborhood as our own President Morales. He himself said it’s a tough neighborhood to make it out of. In your opinion how does a kid stay on track to follow their dreams?
Brooklyn is a pretty rough place. I was telling my kids I was probably like 8 or 9 and I was mugged for these really cool gloves I had that glowed in the dark. It was really bizarre but that’s what it was like growing up there. But at the same time as crazy as it was there it was also a very rich experience. For Jews especially it was like a little Jerusalem. Everything was there for the Jewish community. Everyone was there for each other and that kind of environment was really nice. With all the chaos that was going on in New York, it was still great. But what we learned was to respect all types of people.
Q: what do you think are some of the biggest challenges you face in your riverside community?
There’s a lot of homeless and a lot of drugs. My kids renamed the park by our house homeless park because every time we go there there’s people doing the craziest things like fighting each other. I usually focus on issues that are among families, counseling, a lot of inter-dynamics between people that I’m dealing with all the time. I try to bring something unique that Riverside doesn’t have. As a Rabbi, I want to focus on what I can contribute that others cannot.
Q: You mention you take education very seriously, tell us about the kind of studying your talking about?
Starting from high school we started from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm with three breaks a day. I studied practically nine hours a day and this is still standard to this day. In my house, we have a huge bookcase and every day we take books and read and study together. It’s not just going to school or doing homework because that’s what we have to do, we created the culture of learning. My kids see that we love learning so they love it too. Love for learning is a lost art because unfortunatly, it’s hard to find. You go to school for 15 to 20 years and you walk away hating school. You can’t stand it but you just do it, it a burden. To me, the most important goal of the school is to love learning because when you leave school you’re not going to be learning again. The idea is you go to school to learn how to love learning. When you love learning you’re going to want to learn forever. At our Saturday table we don’t take about the latest TV show or movie that’s out, we talk about things in life that have real value. If you’re not liking what your studying then leave it. Do something else because if you keep beating that drum and u don’t like it you’re never going to want to learn again. We never push our kids to learn something we let them lead it because if they don’t like what they’re learning right now they’re going to come to hate it. If you hate coming to school don’t come because you’re going to keep beating yourself up, you’re not going to like it, and you’re never going to want to learn again. Focus on something you like, don’t keep on doing the same foolish thing because you’re going to end up with bad results.
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