Welcome to Remarkable People. We’re on a mission to make you remarkable. Helping me in this episode is Rabbi Sharon Brous.

Rabbi Brous is no ordinary faith leader; she is a pioneering voice for love, justice and interfaith cooperation. Named the most influential rabbi in the U.S. by Newsweek, she founded the groundbreaking IKAR Jewish community in Los Angeles and has offered invocations for Presidents Obama and Biden.

In this episode, we dive into the profound wisdom of Rabbi Brous’s new book, The Amen Effect. She shares practices to help us stay connected with each other, find purpose through service, and envision a future of peace – even in polarizing times. We explore how to counter the voices of extremism by amplifying love and honoring each other’s fundamental humanity.

Please enjoy this remarkable episode, Rabbi Sharon Brous: Building Bridges in a Divided World.

If you enjoyed this episode of the Remarkable People podcast, please leave a rating, write a review, and subscribe. Thank you!

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Transcript of Guy Kawasaki’s Remarkable People podcast with Rabbi Sharon Brous: Building Bridges in a Divided World.

Guy Kawasaki:
I'm Guy Kawasaki, and this is Remarkable People. We're on a mission to make you remarkable. Helping me in this episode is a remarkable Rabbi Sharon Brous. She is the founding and senior rabbi of IKAR, a trailblazing Jewish community in Los Angeles.
She was named the most influential rabbi in the United States by Newsweek in 2013. She delivered blessings at the inaugural prayer services for Presidents, Obama and Biden. Her TED talk, Reclaiming Religion has over 1.5 million views.
Sharon holds a master's in human rights from Columbia University and was ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary. She serves on the faculty of Reboot and the New Israel Fund's International Council. She has recently been in the media providing comfort and clarity to the people affected by the Hamas terrorist attack.
Her new book, The Amen Effect: Ancient Wisdom to Mend our Broken Hearts and World, explores the power of community to heal and rebuild society. I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People. And now here is the remarkable Rabbi Sharon Brous. Please explain, what does a rabbi do?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Oh, that's a great question.
Guy Kawasaki:
It is?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
No, it is a great question. In fact, one of the stories in my book is when I was struggling with some grief that had settled into my body and there was a healer who was working on it who asked if she could help me, and she said to me, "What do you do for a living?" And I said, "I'm a rabbi," and we were in Costa Rica. She said, "I have no idea what that is," and I said, "It's like a pastor or a priest, but Jewish."
And she said, "Oh, you bury people. I understand." It helped explain why I was holding grief in my body tissue. So we could start there, but really a rabbi is a teacher, a pastor, a guide through some of life's most beautiful and challenging and painful moments. My job is to help people reconnect with our sacred past so that we can live more meaningfully and more purposefully in the present and build a more just and loving future.
So it's all the stuff of life, including most poignantly I think, being with people through some of the most painful moments of their lives, and also helping usher people through the most beautiful moments, standing under the chuppah, under the wedding canopy, naming babies, visiting people when they're sick in the hospital and walking people through burial and their time of grief.
All of this, it's being part of the stuff of life, but all the while being a translator of ancient ideas into the present so that we can live differently than we do.
Guy Kawasaki:
Great. So now the title of your book is The Amen Effect, but there are many connotations to the word Amen. Somebody could say something and you want to signify agreement, so you say, "Amen." And then there's at the end of a prayer or end of a thought. So how do you use the word amen in your title?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
In all of those ways. One of the things I love about this word and why I wanted to call the book The Amen Effect is because it has resonance in so many different traditions and it's used in so many different ways, both in sacred community and also it has a secular resonance too, as you just said.
People say, "Amen," to each other, but the idea of it actually comes from the Hebrew word emunah, which means faith. And so I think a lot about who we're expressing faith in and what we're expressing faith in. And for some people, amen and amen is about faith in God, faith in the holy one, faith in some force in the universe. But the real resonance that I'm drawing upon for the book is that it actually is something we say to each other.
We say, "Amen," to each other's experience in the world, whether that's an experience of sorrow or celebration. When it's someone else's prayer that we say amen to, then we're saying, I see you. I hear your prayer. I hear the yearning of your heart and I'm able to connect with you on a spiritual level. I'm able to see you and hopefully also to be seen by you."
And that is one of the most powerful gifts that human beings can give each other. The title actually draws from or grew out of my understanding of one of the most important foundational and oldest Jewish prayers, which is the mourners' prayer that we say after the death of a loved one.
And I realized it's a very complex theology, the poetry is ancient and profound. It's written in Aramaic, which was the language that Jews would've understood 2,000 years ago, but now mostly don't understand and so it feels very impenetrable. But I realized that what's actually going on in this prayer is that someone with a broken heart stands in front of a community of strangers and friends and says, "My heart is broken."
And the community responds saying, "Amen, I see you." And then they go on to say, "I am so scared because I don't even know how to grieve." And the community says, "Amen, we're right here." "I'm so worried. I don't know how to live without him." "Amen. We're right by your side."
This idea of bearing witness is actually made manifest in the prayer itself, which is creating a muscle memory for repeated relentless presence. "I'm here with you. I see you. Amen, amen, amen, amen. And even if your pain scares me, even if your loss destabilizes me, I'm not going to abandon you because I'm going to be right by your side.
That is my commitment to you, one human being to another." And so I just love the idea that we can give each other this amen to one another's scariest moments in life, just the ability to say, "I'm right here by your side through the dark night of the soul and I'm not going to abandon you." What a gift.
Guy Kawasaki:
It's a powerful four-letter word, clearly.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Guy Kawasaki:
As I was reading this book, not that I'm a theological scholar or anything, the thought keeps coming back, are the world's religions so different?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
I'll tell you, I had a revelation once when I was sitting in church on Christmas Eve. I'm a Jew and I'm a rabbi and I had never before been to Christmas mass. There is a reluctance for Jews to even enter churches, legal parameters around us going in. And there's an echo of, "This is not a safe place for Jews to be," throughout history. The calls for the pogroms often were issued from the pulpit, so to speak.
And so I had always avoided going into a church on a sacred moment. I'd been in as a tourist, but never in a sacred moment. When I moved to Los Angeles, a wonderful pastor, the rector of All Saint's church in Pasadena, a beloved Reverend named Ed Bacon, heard that I moved to town, a young rabbi, called me up and said, "Hey sister, you've got to come to church. I want you with me on Christmas Eve."
And so I went and I sat in the front row with all of his Jewish and Muslim friends, and I listened to him preach on Christmas Eve. And he told this incredible story of the birth of Jesus, which he described Jesus's parents, Mary and Joseph, who were so poor and cast out from society that she went into labor and not one person in the inn would make room to bring her in so that she could give birth in dignity, and instead she had to give birth on the lawn outside.
And he said, "All of the history of Christianity from that point forward was an attempt to rectify that terrible moment when the society had rendered a poor couple invisible." And I was sitting in the front row, a young rabbi, and I literally had this revelatory experience where I realized, "My God, that's a beautiful story. And that's not my story, that's Ed Bacon's story, but I have my own story, which is the story of the Exodus from Egypt."
It's the story of my people being enslaved for hundreds of years under Pharaoh, this oppressive tyrant, and then partnering with God to walk toward liberation and being called to build a society that's a counter testimony to the cruelty and oppression and humiliation and degradation that our people experienced. But you know what? Ed Bacon believes that his work in the world is to build a society that counters the cruelty of the society that left Mary to give birth outside.
And I believe that my work in the world for thousands of years as a Jew is to build a society that counters the cruelty that my people experienced in Egypt so many years ago. We have different stories, we're guided by different core narratives, but we're on the same track and we both share the same dream of what that world redeemed could look like.
I literally thought all of this sitting in the front row on Christmas Eve with the incense and the flags, and I thought, "This guy's my partner in working to build a just and loving world. He has to be because we dream the same dream, it's just motivated by different core stories." And he speaks of God in one name and I speak of God in another name. Our prayers are different, but our dream are the same, and so we should be partners in building that world together.
Guy Kawasaki:
Would you say that extends to the dream of Muslims?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Absolutely, it does. And in fact, one of the things I love about the word amen is that word is also heard in the mosque. It's Amin. Jews say, "Amen." Christians say, "Amen." Muslims say, "Amin." I love the idea that so many people of faith are able to find themselves on a path toward deeper spiritual connection by acknowledging the humanity of one another and lifting one another up in the hopes that we can build a different world. And so I really see that faith should be a unifier and not a divider.
And it's one of the reasons that we built our community twenty years ago in Los Angeles because Guy, I really looked at what religion looked like in the public space and in all of our religious traditions, the dominant religious voice was often one of extremism, of exclusion, of intolerance, of cruelty, even of violence.
And I realize that so many of our faith traditions have at their core messages of peace, that the path to God is honoring the image of God in every human being. I know that those messages exist in all of our sacred texts, and I think that every religious practitioner today is an interpreter of text. And so we don't have to choose the most regressive, extremist and violent interpretations.
We can, and we must choose interpretations that lead us not to hate each other, but to love other. And some of my best partners in the work are people who are religious, Muslims, Christians, people who are Sikh, people who are Buddhist, people who take very seriously their own tradition as a call toward manifesting the dignity of all human beings.
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay, this is something I struggle with, is help me wrap my head around the fact that all of these, what I consider good and solid and loving values are professed by people and yet leaders in these churches supporting things that just is not according to scripture, it's complete utter contradiction.
So how do I wrap my head around the fact, whether it's an evangelical or a far-right, conservative Jewish person, how do I wrap my head around this conflict between what they profess in this loving God and their actions in the real world?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
I really feel that there's a mandate for me and for you and for anyone who sees a different call in the sacred traditions, to use our voices as a counter testimony to those extremist voices. Every time I hear a rabbi issue a proclamation that counters my understanding of who we're called to be as Jews in the world, I feel I have to speak even louder. I have to offer even more moral clarity about what I read from our sacred tradition.
The first thing we learn about human beings in the Hebrew Bible, which is held sacred by Jews and Christians and Muslims, the first thing we learned about human beings is that every human being is created in God's own image, that every single human life is sacred. And our rabbis read that in Mishnah, the ancient compendium of Jewish law that's codified 1,800 years ago, and they read that to mean that every person has innate dignity.
That if you destroy a single life, it's as if you've destroyed an entire world because we have no idea the reverberative power of any human life. And if you save a human life, it's as if you saved an entire world. And that teaching is then echoed in the Quran.
This is something that Jews and Muslims share, this idea our rabbis read that the first person was created alone and created in the image of God means that all people are fundamentally equal, which is the fundamental incompatibility of religion and racism.
You can't take religion seriously and be a racist because if you take religion seriously, it means that you believe that we all come from the same one. So how can anyone be fundamentally better than another? And it means that every single person is unique, that every person has something to offer in this world that is absolutely unique.
And if that person were to no longer exist or not to grow up in conditions where that person can flourish, then the world is bereft. And so what my response is, obviously when I hear a rabbi issue a proclamation that defies my understanding of who we're called to be as Jews and as human beings in the world, obviously it fills me with pain. I'm in anguish over it, but I try to channel my pain into a different kind of discourse.
I will use every platform I can to preach a different kind of truth, the kind of truth that I believe comes straight from the same religious text that he's reading in one way, I'm going to read in another way, and I'm going to read it as a call for greater love and understanding, even if that rabbi is going to use it as a justification or an excuse for violence and for human cruelty.
And I think that needs to happen in all of our religious traditions. The religious extremists will take up all the space in the room if we let them. And so what we have to do is offer voices that counter those voices that are fundamentalist and extremist, and we have to amplify those voices. We have to make sure when we hear people speaking in voices of love, that we lift those up because those voices too are directly from the tradition.
And again, all interpreters are making a choice about what we lift up and what we hold sacred. My choice is love. And I often think, Guy, about what if I'm wrong, and what if the sacred texts actually are calling for exactly what these extremist voices believe, and I'm wrong, they're not about love, they're not about justice? And I think one day I'll have to contend with that.
One day I will meet the holy one and God will say, "How dare you use my hateful text to preach love." And I'll say, "You know what? I chose to see a better side of you." If it comes to that, I will take that. I will take that leap at that time. But I really believe that we are called not to destroy each other, but to help each other thrive and to create societies in which human thriving is possible. And I will continue to believe that, I really do, and I'll continue to fight for that reality in this world.
Guy Kawasaki:
I don't think you should be too worried about that moment. I think there are a lot of people who they better be ready to explain why they did such heinous things in His or Her name because I just cannot wrap my mind around we're evangelical Christians, but we want to put LGBTQ+ people on the fringe and we want to put the Mexicans in the concentration camps and all this just unbelievable stuff, but they call themselves Christians. I don't understand that at all.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
My response, rather than screaming at the screen when I read and hear about this, is to work to build a community that is truly loving and embracing of LGBTQ folks, that really centers the voices of people who are marginalized in other religious spaces.
Part of that is publicly acknowledging the violence that so many of our religious traditions have done toward marginalized people over the course of history, acknowledging it, naming it out loud, and then working as hard as we can to create spaces again that are a counter testimony to that exclusion and cruelty and violence.
Guy Kawasaki:
And it seems to me that there is such a schism between the word of God and the actions of the church, the formal church, in so many ways. And then you hear about how the attendance and support of churches are declining, and it makes perfect marketing sense to me that there is such hypocrisy. How can you support the church? You can love God and hate the church at this point, right?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
I gave a TED talk about this some years ago now in 2016, and I said that part of the reason that we built our community is because on one hand we had this corruption, in my view, of faith and religion, the manifestation in the public space of religious life as an excuse for cruelty toward other human beings and for supremacy.
And on the other hand, exactly when our religious institutions needed to be a powerful counter voice, they were becoming quieter and more muted and less courageous and less creative. And I really felt like we needed to reintroduce the language of the prophets, the prophetic voice, into the public space.
These guys, Isaiah, got naked and ran through the streets screaming for years to get people's attention and say, "What's going on? Our society is broken. Wake up, people." Where is that voice today? And the way that I phrased it was the young people are speaking with their feet fleeing religious institutions, and it's across the board, or at least it was twenty years ago when we started our community, that Jews, Christians, Muslims, all of us were reporting a decline in affiliation, decline in church attendance.
The church was graying. There were all kinds of studies about the discontinuity crisis in Judaism. People in church averaged seventy and up in Christianity. And what I said was that young people have decided that they're simply uninterested in engaging a religion that's deadly or a religion that's already dead. So what we have to do is revitalize, reanimate, create a new religious practice.
And here I'm very influenced by the teachings of a Benedictine monk named David Steindl-Rast, who you might know. David Steindl-Rast wrote that all religions start with some kind of powerful, mystical revelation. It's the equivalent of a volcanic eruption. It's fiery, it's powerful, it's moving.
That revelation either happens to one person or to many, but it is unquestionably a powerful mystical moment. And then like a volcanic eruption, the lava flows down the side of the mountain and lands at the base of the mountain, and then some years pass, maybe a couple of hundred years pass.
And at some point people walk by the base of that mountain and all they see is cold dead rock, and they have no idea that there used to be a fire underneath that stone. And he says, "Our work as practitioners is to take out a chisel and start chipping away at the cold dead rock and reclaim the fire that is at the heart of it." And what that means is can you create a fire? Can you create a fire that gives warmth and that gives light but doesn't burn the house down?
That's the danger of religious practice, because the people who have the most fiery experience of faith are often the arsonists. They're the people who are burning the house down right now, they're literally threatening to burn the whole world down right now. Can we create an experience of faith and community that is passionate and fiery, but fiery for love and not for supremacy? Is such a thing possible?
And I believe it is possible, and it is actually the mandate of those who live in this world today and want to see a different world, to try to reclaim the very essence of what stood at the heart of our traditions. And in fact, the name of my community is IKAR, which means in Hebrew the essence or the core or the heart of the matter. Can we get back to that sacred fire at the heart of our traditions?
Guy Kawasaki:
Okay, so let me ask you the most facetious question you may have faced for a while, which is let's say that Netanyahu listens to this podcast. That ain't going to happen, but let's just say he listens to this podcast and he's inspired and calls you up and says, "Rabbi, give me your thoughts. Give me your advice. What do you think I should do?" What do you say to him?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Resign. That's what I say.
Guy Kawasaki:
Oh my God.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
I agree with you that I don't think he'll hear this podcast, but I think that he needs to resign. I think that there needs to be new leadership. There needs to be new leadership with a new vision of what's possible. Eternal war is not an option. Israelis and Palestinians deserve to thrive. They deserve to have a thriving future.
And we need leaders who can help people imagine a different future, a future in which every person who lives in that region, whether they are Israeli, Jews or Palestinians, can understand that there's a life for their children, a life without war, a life without fear, an opportunity to live in dignity, to have their collective and their individual rights honored.
It's possible. Terrible intractable conflicts have ended before. Nobody ever could have imagined that someone could cross the border from Germany to France, hop on a train, get over to London, go to Belgium.
Europe was a continent of bloody wars where millions of people died. They were at war with each other, and now they're essentially open borders there. That only happened because at some point somebody envisioned a different future. We need leaders there who can actually articulate a different future.
And I'll tell you Guy, that I as an American rabbi believe that part of my responsibility is to help the diaspora communities envision a different future and then to amplify, to platform, to amplify and to help resource Israelis and Palestinians who are on the ground today, who are some of the most courageous people I know who themselves, even in the midst of war and with hearts full of grief, are able to imagine a different future.
Their voices are muted on the public stage because what's much more interesting, the media is drawn to voices calling for violence, calling for death, calling for eternal war.
But what we actually need is to amplify the voices of the people who instead believe that peace is possible, believe that there can be a lasting peace that can actually leave all parties to this terrible conflict feeling seen and heard and dignified, and where they can build a future.
That future's not coming under the regime of Benjamin Netanyahu. That person cannot be the leader that takes us there, but there are leaders who can. And so I would say to him, "With all respect, sir, your time is done, you’ve done enough damage. It's time to step aside and let a new generation of leaders emerge."
Guy Kawasaki:
Wow, let me put my brain back in my head. Wow, that is quite the answer. So I am going to tell you, this is a real life situation that I face right now. I have a friend part of the LGBTQ community, and every once in a while he tells me, he says, "Oh, the people in Michigan have declared that they're non-committed, and we're threatening Biden because Biden we believe is supporting a genocide, and we are so anti-genocide that we're going to be non-committal and that could affect his reelection."
And I tell him, "So you need to think more than one step ahead. So let's say that works and Joe Biden loses and Donald Trump wins. You're going to be celebrating for about five seconds before you figure out what Donald Trump will do to your community and to this world." They so believe that Joe Biden is trying to create a genocide of the Palestinian people. What do I even say to that person?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
I happen to agree with you. I will say this, people's hearts are breaking right now. They're breaking. And I do understand where that pain is coming from that made people write, "Uncommitted," on the ballot. I think that they're trying to use the voice that they have and the power that they have to signal how heartbroken they are. My deepest prayer, Guy, is that that does not translate into votes for a third party candidate or a failure to vote in November.
And the lives of so many people will be so much worse, including the Palestinian people if Joe Biden loses the election in November and Donald Trump is reelected. And I'll tell you my deepest fear right now because you're asking what can you say, and I think in some ways the most important thing that you and I can do is speak honestly about it.
But my greatest concern is that in Trump's first term, he was not able to manifest his greatest aspirations for the authoritarian regime he wanted to build because the resistance against him was united. There was a very broad-based united resistance to that authoritarianism.
And now that very same coalition that stood together when millions of people came out to the women's march, there were five million people across the United States that came out on his inauguration day in 2017, that coalition doesn't exist anymore. It has completely been decimated.
And so my greatest fear is not just that he'll be elected for a second term now, but that he'll be able to do in his second term what he was not able to do in his first term because the resistance against that regime can't talk to each other right now.
And so it is of the utmost importance that people vote and that they don't deny themselves the right that so many people in this country have fought and died for, the right to vote, and that they can protest all they want in the days leading up to the election but they have to understand what is at stake for all of the people of this country and the world and for our planet itself if there comes to pass a second Trump administration in this country.
Guy Kawasaki:
I think we are standing on the precipice of utter failure of the United States, utter failure. Listen, in 2016, I was in Germany and I was having dinner with two friends and they said, "Guy, this is your 1930." And to this day, we ask our grandparents or our parents, "How did Germany get behind Hitler? How could that have possibly happened?"
And they said to me, "Guy, this is the choice that your country faces now. And do you want your grandchildren to ask, 'Did grandpa fight against Trump and fascism or did he go along?'" And ever since that dinner, I felt convicted and I'm the most political person you can find, and I don't give a shit. You don't want to follow me, you don't want to read my book, you don't want to listen to my podcast, I don't care. This is what I'm telling you, and it's a source of utter despair and great concern to me, I tell you.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
I share your concern. And listen, I want to say that my book was initially slated to come out end of September 2024, and my editor at Penguin Random House very wisely realized that this would not be a great time for the book to come out, because she said to me, and this was two years ago, "This is going to be an extremely contentious election."
And she said, "Nobody's going to be able to hear the message of this book at that time. Can you get the manuscript to me ten months earlier than we had planned? We want to get it out in January 2024, a nice quiet time where people can still like each other and they can hear the message and we can strengthen our muscles to work together." And so I did. I got the manuscript in ten months early, which was about a year and a half ago that we closed the manuscript.
Anyway, it turns out January 2024 was not as quiet as we had imagined it might be, and already there are incredible rifts in the society. But I really believe now that the book came out at exactly the moment that it needed to come into the world, because at the very heart of The Amen Effect is the idea that it is precisely at the moment that we are most inclined to pull away from each other, that we have to instead train our hearts to find our way to one another.
It's exactly when it's most counter instinctual because somebody else's pain, it makes us feel vulnerable, because somebody else's heartache feels to me like it's a pain I don't want to get close to or because someone else's views or actions have caused me harm and the last thing in the world I want to do is get proximate to a person who has caused me harm, that we are called into relationship with one another.
We're called into proximity. And I do believe that is the only way that we survive this era that we're living in right now. And so in some way, the book coming out during this terrible time has actually given me the opportunity to talk about what would it take for us to turn to one another with compassion and with curiosity precisely at the moment that we all want to jet out of the room and nobody wants to have anything to do with each other? And I think that is the most critical message of our time.
Guy Kawasaki:
And in tactical and practical ways, someone listening to this, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, whatever he or she is, I understand what you said at a high level, but what are you saying? Should I go and ask somebody from QAnon out for a few beers? What are you saying tactically?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Okay, so can I take a step back and just give you the central image of the book because I think it'll help us answer that question?
Guy Kawasaki:
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
So the central paradigm actually comes from a very ancient practice, which was a pilgrimage practice. The Jews used to come from all across the land and even the diaspora, and they would come up to Jerusalem for pilgrimage in the ancient world. And so we're talking 2,000 years ago, they would ascend to Jerusalem, they would ascend the steps of the Temple Mount, the most sacred place and the most sacred city.
They would enter through this beautiful arched entryway, and they would turn to the right and circle around the perimeter of the courtyard of this ancient space, hundreds of thousands of people at once.
And when I was researching this book, I read firsthand testimony and accounts from pilgrims who had gone on the Hajj in Mecca, people who had gone to engage in this sacred practice, and they talked about how transformative it is to engage in this holy work of just being in movement, in mass movement with millions of people.
In the case of Jewish history, it was hundreds of thousands of people who had been moving all at once, except the text says, "For someone with a broken heart." And that person goes up to Jerusalem, goes up the steps of the Temple Mount, enters through the same entryway, but instead of turning to the right like everybody else, turns to the left.
And so there's a sacred encounter that happens between the broken-hearted and the people who are just there for the work of pilgrimage. And when they pass somebody who's not okay, they stop. They see her in her humanity and in her brokenness, they ask her one simple question, in Hebrew, the words are malakh, which means, "What happened to you? Tell me about your broken heart."
And that person answers saying, "I'm a mourner. My loved one just died. Or I'm just worried sick about my kid and I need someone to tell me she's going to be okay, or my partner just left and I feel totally blindsided, or I just feel so alone in the world."
And then the people going in the direction of the pilgrims, they give them a blessing and they say, "May you be held with love in this sacred place. May as you navigate through this, your treatment for your cancer, that you are surrounded by love. May you feel that you are accompanied on this journey."
And what I realized that's so powerful about this ancient pilgrimage ritual is that literally none of the parties want to be in this encounter. The people who are broken-hearted do not want to even get out of bed, let alone get dressed and show up and walk in the opposite direction even when the whole world is going this way, and yet they do have to go.
They're not allowed to opt out, and they're not allowed to walk in the direction of everyone else because they're not okay, and we're told you can't pretend you're okay when you're not okay.
And the people who are okay that day, the last thing in the world they want to do in this peak moment of their spiritual lives is pull away from their friends and their community and their families and say, "Hey, bleary-eyed stranger who's walking toward me, let me go check in on them and see what happened to their broken heart."
And yet, that's exactly what they're called to do. And I realized that what this ancient ritual is doing is giving us a formula for how to engage each other when we are broken, when there's brokenness all around us, and the formula is compassion and curiosity. Compassion and curiosity. First to actually see each other, to look in the eyes of the other, to see one another even in our brokenness and to ask, "Tell me.
What does it look like from your vantage point?" And we learn at the end, chapter eight, I describe that actually it's not only the brokenhearted who walk to the left when everybody else is going to the right, but it's also the ostracized, which is a very rare, specific severe punishment that in the ancient world, that was visited upon people who had caused grave harm in the community.
They're not yet excommunicated. They're not the people who, if they enter the Temple Mount, they're going to blow up the Temple Mount. Those people are not welcome in there because they would render the place on unsafe.
But pretty much everybody else, even the people who've caused real harm, they enter that space, they walk in the direction of the brokenhearted, and the people who are okay come from the other direction and they see them too, and they ask them, "Tell me, what do you see from your vantage point? Why is there so much pain in your heart? You who wrote uncommitted on your ballot. Because I'm hurt by that because I'm worried about our future. I'm worried about our democracy, but I'm not going to speak from my hurt. I'm going to find a place to curiosity where I can ask you why did you do that?"
And then they're going to answer saying, "This is what I see from my vantage point." And suddenly we see each other as human beings. Our sorrow meets sorrow, our humanity meets humanity, and suddenly we're able to see one another in a different way. And we're in a conversation with each other.
We're not going to convince each other; we're not going to agree with each other. But suddenly we can see that we might be on the same side of history and that we're all moved by the terrible loss of human life. And we all want to dream of a future in which no people, not Israelis in the Kibbutzim on the Gaza border and not Palestinian children just over the border on the other side, none of them deserve to suffer. Can we see one another in our fullest humanity? And so the book actually gives us this formula.
It's about compassion, it's about curiosity. The way that we get there is by showing up. When our instinct is to pull away from each other instead, we show up for the difficult conversations, for the grief, for the love, for the loss and we find our way back into conversation again and again. And at the end of the book, I have eight practices, eight spiritual practices, each one correlating to each of the chapters.
And the idea is this isn't just some big vague idea. There are things that each one of us can do in our lives today that can actually change the neural patterns in our brains, that can actually rewire us so that we engage differently. And they're very simple, so simple that some of them may even seem obvious, but there are things that we can actually do right now that can lead us into greater encounter when our instinct is to disincline from one another to retreat.
Guy Kawasaki:
So tell us the eight. Tell us the eight so that people will get a glimpse into the book.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
I'm going to start actually with the last one because it's so much of what we've been discussing today, Guy, is really our shared concern about the future of this country and the future of the world. Hannah Arendt, the great twentieth century Jewish philosopher, warned that loneliness, isolation, and alienation are preconditions for totalitarianism.
That when people are in relationship with each other, tyrannical regimes cannot take root in a society. Conspiracy theories cannot take root in a society because if somebody tells you that Jews control the weather with space lasers, Jewish space lasers, you might believe it unless you know a Jew and you know that it rained at that Jews wedding.
And then you think, "If Jews controlled the weather, why wouldn't they have stopped the rain on the wedding day?" And so you realize that this is not real, and so we have to know each other.
And the reason that this is such a crisis and an urgent crisis is because we don't know each other in America. We are isolated and alienated from each other. A study done before COVID showed that 30 percent of Americans do not know the names of their next door neighbors. We don't know each other. I put this as the practice for chapter two is to actually get to know your neighbors.
So what I have done is I started to go on a run every morning, but the practice is go for a walk once a week around the block and literally greet every person you pass and introduce yourself to the people you don't know. I started to go on a run every single morning during COVID, and I just said hello to every neighbor that I passed on the street, and I introduced myself to the ones I don't know, and it has changed my experience of my neighborhood.
I know my neighbors now. I didn't know them before, honestly. I'm very busy. I work all the time. I didn't know my neighbors, and now I do. So this is something that we can do that will actively change our relationship with our neighbors that can, I think, is one of our best shots at saving our democracy.
Moving away from democracy and toward community, the sacred practice for chapter one, a chapter that I call “Show Up”, is go to the funeral. Just go to the funeral. Your colleague, your friend, your extended has had a loss. It takes a lot of effort. You have to reschedule a lot of meetings in order to get to the funeral.
You never regret going to the funeral and giving comfort to the bereaved and giving them the opportunity to talk about their loved one, whether they had a complicated pained relationship with them or a beautiful relationship with them and blessed relationship.
Give them the opportunity to grieve and to know that they are not alone, that you are bearing witness, that you are with them through this period of challenge. The second practice is meet your neighbors, which I've already said.
The third practice is a chapter called “See No Stranger”, which I named after the book of a dear friend of mine named Valarie Kaur, who's a Sikh American author, who wrote a memoir and manifesto called See No Stranger. And the practice here is honor the divine image. And this is an opportunity to actually pause.
And when we have an encounter with someone, for example, someone on the street outside of the Starbucks, and just imagine for a moment that this too is an image of the divine. How does that change the way that we encounter that human being who's living on the streets? I happen to live in a city where there are, I think 76,000 people living on the street.
How does that change our encounter with every single human being, if we just pause for a moment and think, "I need to honor the image of the divine in this person." Chapter four, which is about finding our mission, our purpose in this world. Each one of us, I believe, is called into this world with a very specific purpose. That chapter is called “Come Alive”.
And the practice is start by serving, engage every day in an act of service for another person, because so often we're searching for the meaning of life by looking internally and by looking out at nature. And it's important for us to have that internal reflection and encounter with nature, but I believe that we find our purpose by contemplating, "How can I be of service today? What is one thing I can do to be of service to another person?" And that could mean calling a bereaved friend.
It could mean serving a meal to someone who is homeless. It could mean bringing a cup of coffee to someone who is cold. There are little acts that help us change our experience of one another and change our experience of the world. Number five, chapter five is called “Grieve and Live” and it's about how we hold joy and pain at the same time with the same heart.
And in chapter five, the practice calls us even in times of great sorrow, like what we're experiencing right now, to give ourselves a joy break, to allow ourselves to have moments of just pure, unencumbered joy, not as an escape from reality, but as a way of honoring the fact that we are present to a broken reality and we cannot sustain that presence if we don't also allow our souls to be nurtured and to be nourished by joy, by laughter, by dance, by music.
Give yourself a joy break. My friend, Shifra, who was in mourning after her beloved partner died, set the clock for eighteen minutes every single day during her year of mourning in which she forced herself to experience joy, whether that's eating the whole chocolate cake or dancing in her apartment with the music blasting, something to allow herself to experience joy, not to escape the grief, but as an expression of her vitality even from the midst of her grief.
Chapter six is a chapter on the healers. What happens to the people who by nature or by profession, are always looking out for others, always caring for others, always going to the funeral, always at the burial, at the house of mourning, bringing the lasagna for the friend who's just went through surgery? And my practice there is called “Don't Grin and Bear It”. Don't pretend that you are okay when you're not okay, because this grief that we take in from one another can fill our bodies until we can't move anymore.
And there's a whole movement now, a whole literature around vicarious trauma, secondary trauma. What happens to the healers when we just take all of that pain into our bodies? And as my sister Dev says, “If you don't metabolize that pain, it will metastasize inside your body.” So don't pretend you are okay when you're not okay. It's okay to take a day off. It's okay to be held by others even when you're the one who usually does the holding.
There are two more here. Chapter seven, which is the “Bear Witness” chapter that we were talking about earlier. This practice is simply to be present. And I will tell you a very brief story about this, which is the story of a mother who had a teenager in the house who had become toxic the way sometimes teenagers do. The house was a landmine. Anything she said, anything the mother did could lead to an explosion in the house.
And finally one day, the mother goes, "I can't reach my kid, I don't know how to get to her." Finally, she did the following. She said to her daughter, "Listen, I bought a chocolate babka and I am going to be sitting in the kitchen at midnight. If you're hungry for babka, you can find me in the kitchen." And she sat there with her slippers and robe on at midnight, and the kid did not show up.
And so she showed up the next night with chocolate babka in the kitchen, and the kid didn't show up. Day after day, night after night, for weeks until finally once in the middle of the night, this kid showed up in the kitchen at midnight and said, "Mom, is there any babka left?" And the mom said, "Have a seat," and they started to connect. The idea of chapter seven is just stay present.
Just try to stay present. Where there's pain. It will often take a lot of effort in order to be present with one another. Just let them know that you're there and you're not going to disappear. And finally, chapter eight, which is in some ways the hardest chapter of this book at this moment. This chapter is called “Wonder”. It's a chapter on curiosity and how we hold curiosity for the people, not who are coming toward us in that sacred circle, but who might be coming at us, people who've caused us pain.
And the practice is breathe and stay at the table. Try not to leave when the conversation gets hard. We all have this fight-or-flight instinct. Try to just stay and try to hold curiosity. Sometimes it's not going to work at all, and you'll feel like, "I just couldn't break through." And sometimes just staying at the table ends up planting a seed of possibility in the heart of the person who's opposite you that might lead to some growth and might lead to some transformation for both of you.
Guy Kawasaki:
I have about five more questions for you, but I'm not going to ask you them because this is the way to end this podcast, with these eight recommendations. I would like that to be the thing that people focus on and hear last, and I believe in recency.
So I want to end the podcast with that just remarkable explanation of eight things people can do. There have been about 225 episodes of this podcast, and it required reading about 200 books. Basically, I read a book a week for these podcasts. I think your book is the most powerful book I've read in the past five years. I really, truly do believe that. In my dream, you like my book as much as I like yours.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Thank you for this conversation. I think because by nature of my profession, people often turn to me for hope, and they ask me what gives you hope? And I want to tell you that this conversation and your voice and your presence in the world, and the fact that we did not know each other until this conversation and we're so in sync with each other in so many powerful ways, that gives me hope.
There are so many more good people in the world that we don't yet know. And if we can find our way to amass our spirits, I know that we can transform this broken world into a world of healing, a world of love, and a world of justice. So thank you so much for giving me hope today.
Guy Kawasaki:
I only have a one word response to that, which is amen.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Guy Kawasaki:
Thank you so much, and we'll get this out and we'll cover the earth with it. All right. And here's to world peace.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Guy Kawasaki:
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
I'm happy to share this conversation. I mean, actually, we broke some new ground here. I said some things I've never said anywhere else, and I've been doing a lot of these, so you pulled something out of me. I'm really grateful.
Guy Kawasaki:
I'm sure Netanyahu will love it.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Oh my God. I was asked by Christiane Amanpour in December, she said something like, "Wow, I'm hearing what you're saying and then I'm hearing what Bibi Netanyahu says, and what do you have to say about that?" And I said, "He's wrong. The Prime Minister's just wrong." And I thought, "Okay, I just said that on CNN. So now nine million people have heard that," but he is wrong.
Guy Kawasaki:
When I was much younger, my first job was working for a jewelry manufacturer in downtown LA, and this was a Jewish family. And this Jewish family truly embraced me. I learnt so much from them. When I say this, some Jews, they get offended. And I'll tell you, I learn so much about selling from them, which I view as a crucial life skill.
But sometimes when I tell people this, they say, "Oh, you're just continuing this stereotype of Jews being hustlers and great salespeople, and you're being racist." And they don't understand, I mean that in the highest form that what I learned from that family about selling and about trust, because the jewelry business is based on trust.
You can walk out every day with millions of dollars in your pocket, and you can cheat on the content of the gold. You can tell people, "This is such and such quality of diamond," and you could lie. It's very easy to cheat in the jewelry business. And the jewelry business treated me very well for years. I'm telling you this whole story, because I was one of the few Japanese Americans on the Jewish Defense League donation list.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Guy Kawasaki:
And you mentioned in this interview, the number eighteen. So I just want to verify something. So what I learned was that eighteen, the symbol is very close to chai, which stands for life. So eighteen is a lucky number, right?
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Yeah, that's right. No, there's a numeric equivalent to each letter. And so the eighteen is yod-ret, which is the inverse of chai, and so we make donations often in eighteen or 180 or 1800, or 1.8 million.
Guy Kawasaki:
I was just going to say that because when they used to give me bonuses and stuff, everything was in a multiple of eighteen.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
Well, it's a blessing. It's like you're getting a bonus, but you're also getting a blessing that you should live a long life.
Guy Kawasaki:
Yeah. So I do things in multiple of eighteen to this day. Very few people know why I do things in multiples of eighteen.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
I love that. I do too. So I always put my donations in multiples of eighteen. Guy, it's wonderful to meet you and connect. I hope our paths will cross again. And Madisun, thank you for navigating this from behind the scenes.
Guy Kawasaki:
All right. And as I have come to embrace your language, I would just say, don't mention it, and M-A-N-S-C-H. Okay? And as the Japanese say, zei gezunt.
Rabbi Sharon Brous:
All right. Take care. Thank you.
Guy Kawasaki:
So that was the most influential rabbi in the United States, Rabbi Sharon Brous. What an interesting conversation. I hope you'll take her wisdom and spirit and love for society to heart and try to make this a better world, a better place for all of us. I'm Guy Kawasaki. This is Remarkable People.
And now I want to thank the rest of the Remarkable People team. That would be Shannon Hernandez and Jeff Sieh, sound designers. Madisun Nuismer, producer and co-author of the book Think Remarkable: 9 Ways to Transform Your Life and Make a Difference. And let's not forget Tessa Nuismer, researcher, Fallon Yates, Luis Magaña, and Alexis Nishimura. Until next time, Mahalo, Aloha and zei gezunt.