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The Light Files - Rabbi Scott

Rabbi Scott

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Making tough choices: film school or rabbi? Laura Max visits with Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss, spiritual leader of Congregation Shma Koleinu.

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Laura: Hi everyone, I'm Laura Max, your host of the Light Files on, brought to you by Audi Central Houston. I am here sipping coffee with a Rabbi, Rabbi Scott Hausman-weiss of Congregation Shma Koleinu. Welcome to the show, Rabbi.

Rabbi Scott: Thank you so much, Laura.

Laura: You know I've never had a Rabbi on my show and I'm so excited to have you on today because on Light Files we cover people who are following their unconventional dreams in unconventional ways and you are certainly one of those people. You have wanted to be a Rabbi, I think, since you were very young. Is that correct?

Rabbi Scott: Well, not quite. I wanted to be a filmmaker initially. Then I decided I wanted to be a Rabbi because I was sure that I would be able to produce and write, and create so much more as a Rabbi and as a director. Hollywood's tough [laughter.]

Laura: You know not many people make the tie between being a film producer and being a Rabbi.

Rabbi Scott: You know what, there's so many pieces that have a lot - they really have. They have a lot in common. You're coming up with a vision, an idea, a concept, and then the question is, "How do you bring it across to people?"

You can't just - I could just stay in my study and write some letter and maybe a few people are going to get it but our goal is to get it out there, right, and so how do you bring the right people together and how do you create the opportunities so that people can feel it and embrace the concept.

Laura: You know there are so many ways to quote, "follow our dreams," even if it's not exactly what we thought we were gonna be doing when we were really little. So when I said you were younger I think you were in your 20s which was early to me.

Rabbi Scott: [Laughter.] Yeah, that's true.

Laura: That's still young.

Rabbi Scott: That's true.

Laura: I was in my 20's.

Rabbi Scott: That's true, absolutely.

Laura: So I think I was young but you were about 22 or 23 I think when you had an epiphany that you wanted to be a Rabbi?

Rabbi Scott: Yeah, yeah. I was working at a Jewish summer camp and an old friend of mine said to me, because I was debating, "Do I want to go to film school or do I want to be a rabbi?" And she said, "Would you rather spend the rest of your life working with the kinds of people you're working with here or in the film industry?" And no offense to those who work in the film industry but it was clear to me I really wanted to dedicate my life to serving the Jewish people.

Laura: So how long did it take you from beginning your studies to actually being able to serve as a rabbi?

Rabbi Scott: Six years.

Laura: Six years?

Rabbi Scott: Mmm-hmm.

Laura: Wow, what a long time.

Rabbi Scott: Six years of graduate school.

Laura: So when you first got started, I mean what was it like for you? Did you feel like you were - did you feel like you were really doing what you were meant to do?

Rabbi Scott: You know I really did. I had the amazing opportunity to work at a position, a brand new kind of position starting in 1999 called the Director of Adult Jewish Outreach which was when I was first ordained, and it was a position funded by some very visionary folks in Birmingham, Alabama who said, "You know what, we really need to do things that are outside the box, and literally outside the box of the temple."

And so my wife and I, my wife, Natalie, we did a tremendous amount to serve young Jews in our home: lunches, holidays, retreats, events, things like that to help people get a sense of, "You know what? Judaism matters because it matters outside the temple." And if it doesn't matter outside the temple it really doesn't matter.

Laura: Right, so you continue to stand outside the box. You now still cater a lot of your messages to young people which I certainly appreciate and you've just recently started Congregation Shma Koleinu. And I'd love to hear more about the mission of your new congregation.

Rabbi Scott: Well the mission of Congregation Shma Koleinu is to be a congregation of relevance first and foremost that we - we believe that in order for Judaism to grow and to matter it's got to be, as I said, relevant to our modern day issues.

Laura: It has to fit into our lives of iPhones and iPads, and all the modern, modern things we run into, I guess.

Rabbi Scott: Well I would say that even those, those are just technologies.

Laura: Mmm-hmm.

Rabbi Scott: Right, the question at the end of the day is why do people watch certain things? Okay, it's true, they might watch a kitten who is, I don't know, driving a car in some crazy You Tube video.

Laura: Right [laughter.]

Rabbi Scott: But that's not - it's content but it's not contentful. But I think people also want contentful things that they can watch via the iPhone, iPad, et cetera.

Laura: Things that move them?

Rabbi Scott: Yeah, and I would say that Judaism is - what makes Judaism so powerful is that it's - it was, at its outset a portable tradition. The tabernacle, the Holy Space the Israelites carried, they carried it with them.

They built it in a certain space and then they picked it up and they built it again in a new space, and the space that wasn't where it was originally is now holy. Right, and so the idea that everything at all times has the potential to be holy is a powerful concept that I think - you know - the idea of iPhones and the idea of iPads and all the technology, they make that opportunity a realization even more apparent.

Laura: Yeah, so I love that. So what you're saying is that all these things that we usually see as roadblocks to more ancient traditions being necessary in the modern era are actually things that can really enable us to spread a message. We can see them differently. I went to journalism school.

Rabbi Scott: Absolutely, absolutely.

Laura: And my professors thought that Twitter was the end of journalism. It's actually the beginning.

Rabbi Scott: Yeah, absolutely.

Laura: And so it's really how you look at it and I think it's that.

Rabbi Scott: Absolutely. Well, Judaism has - Jewish tradition, they're all technologies, right. When you look at a Mezuzah it can be an identifier of who's - that it's a Jewish home or it can be a reminder when you walk in to treat the people who live there with even greater kindness.

Right, Shabbat can be a - just a limit on all the things you do, right, or Shabbat, the Sabbath, can be this opportunity for revelation and waking up to what's really most important. They're all technologies.

Laura: Something that I've noticed particularly about you as a Rabbi is that you take these messages or these traditions that probably at one point had very strict boundaries or outlines and you open them up to the larger population. Why is that so important, particularly with Judaism?

Rabbi Scott: You know there are certain kinds of organisms that when they - when they're taken outside of a very secure space and you put them out in the sun, they disappear. Right, and you realize, you know what, they didn't actually have so much weight to begin with. If the traditions of our - of Judaism or any tradition, if they can't stand on their own in the light of day then I'm not - then I think that there is something artificial potentially about them.

Right, so the - the practices of Judaism, they have to be about helping us become the best human beings we can become, not just the best Jews, and I'm not sure what it means to be a good Jew, a bad Jew. That doesn't matter to me. But does the practice make me a better human being? Does it make me kinder? Does it make me more sensitive? Does it make me more patient? Right, that's the measure, right, and that's - and if it stands out in the sun, then it does.

Laura: Well I think that's what's so special about you as a Rabbi is that you really give that message to anyone, not someone who has necessarily followed a specific set of rules and my hope is that Congregation Shma Koleinu flourishes. Because of that people want to find out more about your congregation they can go on-line?

Rabbi Scott: They sure can. It's and they can also just email me directly at

Laura: All right, well thank you so much for being on the show, Rabbi Scott. It was great having you.

Rabbi Scott: Pleasure.

Laura: And I am your host, Laura Max of the Light Files brought to you by Audi Central Houston. You're watching us on or you're listening every Sunday at noon on News 92 FM and we'll see you again next week. Bye, everyone.

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