4 min read
A heart on legs, that's Mike Stern. Now he needs our help.
At my Shabbos table the first thing I tell my guests are The Mike Stern Rules: "There is a lot of food on the table , please take what is in front of you, pass it to your neighbor and the most important thing of all....make sure it all ends up by me!" I was a guest many times at the Stern's home in Israel when Mike and I were in the Aish HaTorah rabbinical program, and then in Philadelphia where Mike and I were part of a team of young Rabbis who started Aish in Philly.
I learned a lot from my Mike and his tremendous wife Denise about what it means to give without any expectation of return. I always likened Mike to a giant heart on legs – always giving and loving to all who are fortunate enough to meet him. That generous heart stopped over a month ago; Mike suffered a massive heart attack in his Philadelphia home. Thank God his son Moshe was home and responded with CPR that literally saved his life and gave the doctors a fighting chance to stabilize his condition. Although his heart stopped six times that day, he finally made it to the cardiac ICU, where he has been for the last month. He has made miraculous progress, but there is still a long way to go. That heart was too big to be stopped.
The Mike Stern Rules really sum up the man and can teach us much about life. “Please take what's in front of you” – we are here to serve. Tonight it may be chicken soup, tomorrow an impromptu counseling session with Mike or a coffee in the kitchen with Denise. Mike and Denise have the rare ability to make you feel so accepted and respected.
The next rule: "Pass it to your neighbor" – pay it forward, to your neighbor, your friend, your estranged family member and yes even the Fed Ex delivery man. How often did I witness Mike taking the Fed Ex, UPS, Garbage man by the hand, bring him into the house for a coffee, a refreshing cool glass of water or just a smile and a word of encouragement.
And the last rule Mike always says tongue in cheek: "make sure everything ends up by me." Mike once told me they had a code in the Stern household when he was growing up – "FHB" or family hold back – when they had unexpected guests and not enough food to go around. He learned this lesson of always taking care of everyone else's needs before your own from his amazing parents and he follows suit in grand style. Even though his needs always come last, I think in a spiritual sense everything does always end up by Mike and Denise. They have become spiritual giants because of all their selfless giving. And they always make you feel that whatever they give to you is little in comparison to what you give to them. They just make you feel comfortable and create a space where you can be yourself.
A management consultant before getting hooked on Rabbi Noah Weinberg's 48 Ways to Wisdom, Mike had an easy laugh, great sense of humor, mean basketball moves and absolutely no interest in becoming Torah observant. He loved his “secular” life. But Mike also has a thirst for truth and authenticity, and he found his true calling inside the growth-filled walls of Aish Hatorah in Jerusalem.
Mike and Denise have dedicated their lives to reaching out and helping Jews from all backgrounds. From Philly to Milwaukee to Boca Raton to Yardley, Pa. and finally back to his beloved Bala Cynwyd in Philly, he and Denise spread unconditional love, authentic Judaism and respect for all people.
Mike started "Rabbi Without Walls" because he wants it to be about people and what they need, regardless of institutional constraints, without the walls that so often keep us separated from one another.
A heart on legs, that's Mike Stern. As he recuperates in the hospital, perhaps we can consider how our own hearts could add strength to his by committing to love and respect others the way he does. If we endeavor to break down the psychological and emotional walls that divide us, we can help repair our world. May this effort bring much-needed merit to our dear friend Mike – Yosef Elimelech ben Yehudis – for a complete recovery in both body and spirit!
To help his family through this difficult time and the anticipated lengthy recovery ahead, his friends have set up a GoFundMe campaign. Click here to make a contribution. The Stern Family and friends are so grateful for your support during this challenging time.