15 years ago, Rabbi Louchheim wore a Hawaiian shirt for Friday Night LIVE! — he doesn’t remember why.
On April 5th, 2019, Rabbi challenged all of you to write a modern Midrash accounting for why we wear these shirts.
Thank you to everyone who answered the call!
Everyone is supposed to wear Hawaiian shirts at Friday Night LIVE! because Rabbi did not want to dress fancy so he wore a Hawaiian shirt. It was and is acceptable to wear the Hawaiian shirt because in the Torah, priests had to wear bright, fancy garments when worshipping God, so wearing a Hawaiian shirt is considered nice, too.
Midrash of the Shirt
Moses had finally climbed to the top of the mountain. He was hot and sweating, but he had made it. The sun was high, and he was blinded by the rays. Suddenly, he saw a burning bush. Out of the blaze came a voice — loud and clear — “ALOHA!”
Amazed, Moses said, “Aloha?”
“Yes,” said the voice. “Aloha! It means, ‘Hello’, ‘Goodbye’, and ‘Peace’.”
“But,” Moses protested, “I thought the word is ‘Shalom’!”
“That comes later in the story,” said the Voice. “You are so weary, but your task is not yet complete. You will have to carve ten commandments on stone tablets, and schlep them back down the mountain, where you will find your clueless people dancing around a golden calf. Then, you will smash the tablets to show them that there is only ONE God, and that the ungrateful bunch better wise up. Then you will come back up the mountain, carve out the commandments one more time, and carry them back down to a repentant people. However, by that time, your robe will be all tattered and torn. So, you will need something cooler and more impressive to wear.”
“How about a coat of many colors?” suggested Moses.
“Sorry,” said the Voice, “that’s another story. But,” the voice added, “on the first Shabbat of every month, you can wear a colorful Aloha shirt, and the people can sing and twirl and pray about the joy of Shabbat. By that time, ‘Shalom’ will be the new ‘Aloha’.”
At that, Moses said, “Who shall I say commanded thus?”
And the Voice said, “I am what I am.”
Thomas and the Shirt of Many Colors
The Shirt of Many Colors is a well known story. Rabbi Thomas was loved more than any other Rabbi in Tucson because he captured the hearts of all of his congregants. So one day he was given a special gift — a beautiful, colorful, Hawaiian shirt. In our Rabbi’s day, everyone had a shirt, mostly to keep warm, usually very plain and only functional. In contrast, the shirt that Or Chadash congregants gave their Rabbi was very colorful and very beautiful and made him stand out and admired.
Let’s look at why Rabbi Thomas was loved so much by his congregants. First, he was considered to be a blessing from God. He made those that interacted with him feel very special and important. Secondly, his congregants saw that Rabbi Thomas had been gifted with dreams revealing God’s plans, dreams which would be proven to be 100% accurate. The congregants held Rabbi Thomas to be very unique and knew God had determined him to be a great leader. The colorful shirt was a token of great love and recognition and assured that Rabbi Thomas would be in a position of royalty among his congregants.
Why We Wear Hawai’ian Shirts for Friday Night LIVE!
Shabbat has many meanings. It is a remembrance of the Creator’s work of creation; it is a reminder of our redemption from Egypt; and it is a foretaste of the final redemption in the Messianic Era and the World to Come, where the world will be Eden, again. From the day our first ancestors left the Garden, we have been longing to return.
The descendants of Israel have been scattered to every nook and cranny of the globe. It is said that exiles from the Galilee paused in their migrations in Galicia, then to Gaul. From Gaul, these b’nei b’rit, children of the Covenant, moved to Brittany, thence to Britain. Some say that the Tribe of Dan named the place where they settled Danmark. As the exiled Kohanim migrated through Asia, they became the Khans of their clans. Polynesian priests were called kehunas. In Hebrew, a kohen‘s kehunah is his office of priesthood. “Lost” tribes are never entirely lost. HaShem knows where they are, and will one day reunite Judah and Israel into one people, with one king.
As our congregation observes a special Sabbath on the first Shabbat of the month in the calendar of exile, we look forward to returning to our original homeland, Eden. As we return the Torah to the Ark, for example, we sing, “Chadesh yameinu kekedem, renew our days as at the first.” That is, to our first home, Paradise, where we were designed to live.
The most Edenic place on Earth is Hawai’i. The Island of Kauai is even called “the Garden Isle”. As our exiles migrated from Eretz Yisrael, led by their kohenim/khans/kehunahs, they found themselves in a tropical paradise, which they named Owhyhee in Hawai’ian, or “Homeland” in English, after our original homeland, Gan Eden.
God has many names. One of these is Eloah in Hebrew, or Alohah in Aramaic.
As we anticipate our homecoming to the Garden in the Days of the Messiah, to a world which is entirely Shabbat, we wear Hawai’ian “Aloha” shirts, what one wears in Paradise, when one is not yet prepared to live “naked and unashamed”.
The Rabbi’s Hawaiian Shirt
For years, the Rabbi has worn a Hawaiian shirt on the first Friday night of the month. He is a Beloved and Good Rabbi with so many things that he does as a Beloved and Good Rabbi, that he sometimes forgets that he’s given the same sermon more than once, and, in another example, how it came to pass that he wears a shirt like that every month on the first Shabbat.
This is the exegesis.
Our more modern Sages remind us that it was the women and wives in the Torah who were the brains, and voices, albeit silenced by the patriarchy, behind the men in the Torah. One only has to read the famous midrash on the wisdom of the wife of On, son of Pelet, to know that this was true (Exodus 16:1; BT Sanh. 109b).
And now we have yet another, heretofore hidden, midrash, of the wisdom of the wife.
The Beloved and Good Rabbi had spent all day that first Friday in April holed up in his study, surrounded by holy texts and modern commentary, trying to write a sermon for a particularly vexing parsha. “Something has to be relevant for tonight”, he muttered, yea, verily, ranted, throughout the day. But, as always, because he is such a Good Rabbi, he was eventually satisfied with his message for the night, something not related at all to the text because it was, indeed, the first Shabbat of the month and services were a no-holds-barred affair, wild with singing and good cheer — something about the Jews of China had finally inspired him. And, then, happy and at peace at last, he went out to his patio and settled into his pre-Shabbat meditation, reflecting on the admonition of Nachman of Bratslav to enjoy the outdoors every day.
Suddenly the clock struck five! The Rabbi, startled out of meditation, leapt from his cushion, hair awry, glasses askew, and noticed, to his horror, that he was still wearing the same clothes he’d put on that morning — old basketball shorts and a Mets t-shirt that his youngest son had left behind when he finally moved out.
Frantically racing against time, the Rabbi found a pair of clean khakis in the laundry room and pulled them on over the tattered basketball shorts. As he hopped around pulling on his cowboy boots, the Rabbi noticed that he was still wearing the Mets t-shirt, and, not wanting the shul to devolve into a referendum on the pros and cons of various sports teams, he shouted “Rebbetzin! Rebbetzin! Help me! You must find me suitable garments!”
The Rebbetzin, who lay in a darkened room in the throes of a migraine, groaned, saying, “Rabbi, you are a big boy now. If you can put on your trousers and shoes by yourself, please, I beseech you, find your own shirt! Look in the bag of stuff we just brought back from Maui. And, gey avec! I HAVE A MIGRAINE.”
The Rabbi seized the bag, pulled out a flowered garment that looked like Jacob’s coat of many colors, put it on, and sped to the shul. “At least with this open collar I don’t have to wear a tie!” he exclaimed, dashing to his waiting car.
That Shabbat, he received so many compliments on his Hawaiian shirt! When pressed to reveal how and why he was wearing such a unique garment, the Rabbi shrugged and said, “I don’t really know! The Rebbetzin chooses my clothes.”
So nu? Why the Hawaiian Shirt?
“Honey, will you be able to pick up my shirts at the cleaner today?”
“Of course, dear, I’ll do my best en route to the dog groomer and the supermarket and dropping off stuff at Federation and picking up the boys from school, and getting my hair cut and a manicure. Not to worry, darling.”
Friday late afternoon
“Honey where did you put my shirts from the cleaner? Are they still in the car?”
“Tom, dear — I have a great idea! Since it’s Friday Night LIVE! tonight, toe-tappin’ knee-slappin’ musical nachas and silly stories from the rabbi — why not wear that fabulous Hawaiian shirt we just got you in Kona last week?”
“Honey . . . where are the shirts from the cleaner?”
“All right, Tom, it’s the Hawaiian shirt or a nice white Hanes undershirt. Or, no shirt. You choose it. I never made it to the cleaner.”
“Whatever you say, honey.”
The Midrash of the Surfing Rabbis: How Or Chadash Learned to Love Hawaiian Shirts
One day, many years ago, Rabbi Louchheim was on his way to synagogue before Shabbat services when he saw someone trip and fall into the road.
The Rabbi immediately pulled over, got out of the car, and walked toward the person to check whether they had been injured or required help.
After he was satisfied that the injuries were only minor and did not necessitate medical care, he asked if there was anything the person needed.
“Since you asked,” they replied, “I would love some water.” So, the Rabbi went to his car and returned with one of the gallons of water he kept for emergencies.
After putting the water down, the Rabbi asked if there was anything else he could do to help.
“Well, since you asked,” the Rabbi listened, “I would love something to eat.” So, the Rabbi went to his car and returned with a giant bag of Bamba that he kept for emergencies.
After giving away the Bamba, the Rabbi asked if there was anything else he could do to help.
“Well, since you asked,” they said, “It’s getting cold, and as you see, I have only a thin shirt. Would you be willing to give me something to wear?” So, the Rabbi went to his car, but he couldn’t find a shirt. As Rabbi Louchheim decided what to do, he thought to himself, “the Torah commands us ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19:18), and Judaism is a religion that cherishes treating people well. Therefore, one should prioritize acting with compassion over material objects.” The Rabbi decided that the only thing to do was to give the person the shirt off his own back.
After handing over the shirt, which his wife, Marcia, had given him the previous Chanukah, the person thanked the Rabbi and resumed walking.
The Rabbi returned to his car and drove to synagogue.
When he arrived, Rabbi Louchheim looked for something appropriate to wear, and all he could find was a Hawaiian shirt that the Krasner Family brought back for him after their last vacation. It was to thank him for sharing the Rabbi’s recipe for apple pie with Terri, a recipe that eventually became known within the synagogue as “The apple pie recipe.”
Rabbi Louchheim contemplated his options. He looked down at the shirt in his hands, appreciating the tiny rabbis on surf boards that appeared to sail across the wearer’s chest. How did the Krasners find a garment that so appropriately encapsulated the Rabbi’s sense of style?
But, he thought, how would the congregation react? Their tradition at the time was to wear business casual attire, which is customary for many Reform synagogues. Was it appropriate to lead Shabbat in resort wear? Would the congregation be so captivated by the shirt that they might find it challenging to focus on the teachings of the Torah? After all, God and God’s teachings should be the stars of the show on Shabbat.
Again, the Rabbi consulted the Torah for guidance. As he read about the elaborate and colorful clothing worn by High Priests (Exodus 25:1-7), the Rabbi realized that a wardrobe malfunction was no excuse to disappoint his congregants. Not to mention that it would be an almost impossible to convince Cantor that the situation was so severe that he needed her to lead services, sing, and improvise a sermon. That kind of favor should be reserved for true emergencies and trips to Granada.
So, he put on the shirt with the surfing rabbis, and left his office.
When he walked into the synagogue, several congregants approached him and asked about the unexpected attire. He explained what had happened on the way to synagogue, and as the story unfolded, it inspired in him a powerful sermon about the Torah’s teachings on compassion. And he noted that when our actions are guided by compassion, it reflects not only our love for God, but also our commitment to support our community. As the bonds within and across our communities grow in number and strength, so too does our ability to overcome adversity.
He decided that the Hawaiian shirt was a symbol of his commitment to act with compassion and to inspire in others the desire to do the same. To ensure that neither he nor the congregation ever forgot, the Rabbi announced that the first Shabbat of every month would be dedicated the lesson of the shirt with the surfing rabbis. Each month, congregants are reminded that they are part of a community filled with people who are committed to supporting one another. The intensity of the floral prints worn each month continues to inspire an equally intense commitment to act with compassion.
The night that Congregation Or Chadash learned the lesson of the shirt with the surfing rabbis, they ended services by singing Adon Olam to the tune of Elvis’s Blue Hawaii.
Midrash of the Hawaiian Shirt
Shalohah dear friends,
Our humble rabbi, Tom Louchheim, often stays away from the limelight so of course he’s reticent about sharing the true tale of his Midrash of the Hawaiian Shirt … but he now realizes that it is time to reveal his true purpose in coming to us here at Or Chadash. He believes we are finally ready … after 24 + years of his devoted leadership and his faith in us. How many cities, how many states, how many countries has he literally stood on his head for us? WE ARE READY.
Michael Chabon almost revealed Rabbi’s secret when he published The Yiddish Policeman’s Union, his 2007 novel. Fortunately for Rabbi Louchheim, Chabon did not reveal how this group of Jews ended up in Sitka, Alaska in 1941 and then to Maui, but I am getting ahead of myself. Our Rabbi’s story goes back before that. The Rabbi is now ready to disclose his story to us because he believes that we, his loyal and beloved congregation, are ready for his Midrash of the Hawaiian Shirt. Congruent with his humble spirit, he is pretending that I, an even more humble member and servant of his congregation, actually wrote this particular story. But, my friends, that is not true.
We don’t have time for all the yichus, even though our dear Rebbetzin Marcia Louchheim stood before us at least half a decade ago to remind us how important yichus is to our lives as Jews. Rabbi Louchheim’s story begins two thousand years ago in Jerusalem. Midrash HaGadol in the Mishnah tells us that Rabbi Akiva’s second wife Rachel is the one who built up his courage to go study Torah. We know that he was still illiterate at age 40 so we can all imagine how intimidating it was for him to go to Hebrew School for the first time. Rachel was able to convince Rabbi Akiva that the study of Torah was his divine path, his purpose. He entered Hebrew School, and as we all know, he went on to become one of the most important scholars and teachers of our tradition.
Rabbi Akiva and Rachel had two daughters and one son. The son faded to obscurity. One daughter married the future Tanna, Ben Azzai. Of the second daughter, little is known in mainstream texts, but much was brought to light via PaRDeS, later described to us from our beloved Rambam, our Maimonides, in Guide for the Perplexed. This daughter’s name was Batya, daughter of God. Now Rachel, who recognized that special something in her husband, also recognized this in her youngest daughter, Batya. She made sure that when Rabbi Akiva came home from the Yeshiva, he allowed Batya into his study. This is where she learned Torah. Under her father’s tutelage and her mother’s encouraging guidance, she became the most skilled scribe in the land of Israel.
And during the time of the Prophets, Batya took it upon herself to produce a perfect Torah scroll. She worked on the scroll for many years, and when she was finished, she presented it to the entire community. The people assembled in the courtyard of the Temple. And when Batya opened the scroll, they all stood in wordless tranquility, for they knew that this was the one true version of God’s word. It was the perfect Torah, the flawless manifestation of God’s name, and it radiated a luminescence that could heal the sick, enlighten the perplexed, and allow us to gather the divine light of God.
And then, like so many times before, an army came to slay our people, burn our shuls, destroy our scrolls. Batya was rushed away by a group of learned scholars, and this group traveled over two thousand miles from Jerusalem to the Kamchatkan Peninsula. Little is known of this journey across Syria, Iran, Kazakhstan … and then from the far tip of Russia, in Provideniya, this group traveled by boat to Nome, Alaska. The Jews of Sitka, Alaska, whom Michael Chabon described in his book, arrived there long before 1941. Little is known even today as scholars have attempted to unravel the less well documented journey by sea from the Semidi Islands off the coast of Alaska to the island of Maui, where the Scroll of Batya was last uncovered.
Two thousand years later, our beloved Rabbi Louchheim traveled to Hawaii with his wife, Marcia, and his daughter Katie and sons Jacob, Daniel, and Benjamin. Now, we must remember that our beloved rabbi is humble by nature. So, revealing to anyone that he was whisked away in the middle of the night while his family slept with ocean breezes gently blowing in their rooms, and that he was brought to a chamber deep within a cavern in a secret place, was not something he would blab about. But these scholars, descendants of Batya and the group of tannaim who arrived on the island two thousand years ago, recognized Rabbi Louchheim immediately. They knew that he would be the one to bring the Scroll of Batya to the Jewish people, starting with the congregation at Or Chadash.
Rabbi Louchheim knew that the powerful message of the Scroll of Batya would need to be revealed with great care and patience, peeled like an onion for his people. As he sat on the plane back to Tucson with his loving family by his side, he realized what his first step would be. At a Kabbalat Shabbat service at the Junior League all these years ago, he revealed to us the first secret, the wearing of Hawaiian shirts at the service we call Friday Night LIVE! Not long after this, he revealed the secret of twirling during the chanting of V’shamru at Shabbat services. He let us know that when every congregant stood to twirl at that right moment during V’shamru, the Messiah would come to our people. Finally now he is ready to tell us that the second unrolling of the Scroll of Batya revealed to him in Maui would be revealed to all the Jewish people beginning here at Or Chadash when we all wear Hawaiian shirts AND all twirl during V’shamru.
As Rabbi has taught us, this isn’t a solo act, this is a team sport. Judaism ties spirituality to community action. Our job is to complete the divine work of creation via tikkun olam. Connecting to something greater than yourself to do good, to look to acts of loving kindness in the ongoing process of creation — healing the world, tikkun olam. In the words of Martin Buber, “When two people relate to each other authentically and humanly, God is the electricity that surges between them.”
Tonight is the last Friday Night LIVE! of the season, the 29th day of Nisan, 5779. Rabbi is hoping that perhaps on the 7th of Elul, 5779, we will gather for our first Friday Night LIVE! of the season, all in Hawaiian shirts, all twirling together …