Mitch (round 2)
In what part of town do you live?
We live in Coconut Grove.
How long have you lived in that area?
We’ve lived in the Grove for about five years. We’ve been in Miami since 1975.
Why did you choose to move to the Grove?
It was time to downsize. We were in a large house in Pinecrest, it was just too large for the two of us. We wanted a place that was in the center of activity where we could walk to things. We have a library, a movie theater, and 20 restaurants. We can walk down by the water or up into the neighborhoods. It’s just a wonderful place.
What have you been working on?
Primarily writing and teaching. The two go together. I have a novel, recently published, and I’m working on a volume of Bible commentary.
Could you tell us a little bit about yourself so that readers can understand your background?
I wear many different hats. Many people in Miami know me as a rabbi. I have worked at Temple Beth Am and Temple Israel of Greater Miami. Now, I teach at Beth David Congregation, but not as a Rabbi – just as Mitch. People know me as an author. I’ve had three novels published, one a bestseller for a short time. My background before becoming a rabbi goes back to MIT and the University of California at Berkeley, and then four years as a line officer in the US Navy. I am a veteran of the Vietnam War.
How did serving in the Navy lead you to the rabbinate?
It never occurred to me to study for the rabbinate. My experience in the Navy as a combat intelligence officer made me intimately aware of the War in Vietnam, and then later in the Mediterranean, the Six Day War. After four years of active duty, I came out thoroughly confused. After a year of wandering around, I went to Israel to explore and study and see if I could make sense out of my experiences. I became so involved in study, I decided to make it my profession.
You’ve been really productive this year. Have you used COVID as a motivator to stay busy?
It is surely because of COVID. As a fiction writer, it allows me to go anywhere that my imagination can reach. My days are ordered pretty well. The morning is spent writing and studying. Afternoons, I get to watch soccer games. I follow the English Premier League. Thursday nights I have a Zoom class that I teach. I present some materials, get some feedback, and write up summaries that will become chapters in my next book.
Has Zoom changed how you teach?
Before COVID, I used to gather with a small group of people at Beth David Congregation in Miami. People had to travel to get there. Now, people sit in the comfort of their own home and they can Zoom in from anywhere. It’s spread into Broward County, Palm Beach, St Louis, Chicago, and even people from Canada are Zooming in.
Have you learned anything from the transition to online classes?
Yes. This teaching requires a degree of scholarship that I haven’t ventured into in quite some time. It requires a different degree of preparation. It’s sharpened me. I appreciate that. I also appreciate what I’m missing – the immediacy of human contact. Relating to people through a two dimensional screen has it’s limits.
What types of things are you teaching on your Thursday night courses?
I choose one word from the five books of the Torah. One word from the portion that is being read the following Saturday at synagogue. We dive into that word. I take it through it’s various levels. It’s really a Kabbalistic technique. It’s more of a spiritual journey then imparting information.
In addition to your class, you wrote a released a book this year. What is the story behind that novel?
It is called the RX of Dr. Z. It’s unlike my other writing. I had a friend a few years ago who was going for STEM cell transplant and had to be 40 days in isolation. His wife asked us to keep him entertained during his isolation. I invented a fictional person who was worse off than he was. This fictional person was keeping a 40 day journal at the suggestion of his psychiatrist. Each day I would write about a thousand words and send it to my friend. It was a wonderful experience because we had this fictional person between us, to talk about. At the end of 40 days, he recovered and I had 40,000 words.
What are people looking for when they pick up one of your books?
All of my books emanate from the framework of the Kabbalah, not the magical Kabbalah, the philosophical Kabbalah. It’s a framework for looking at the world. A person looking for a spiritual journey would pick up one of my books.
You’ve spoken of various ‘levels’ and often speak of experiences through the ‘four-worlds’ Kabbalah framework. You got the first vaccine this week – In what world did you receive it?
Hahaha – In All four. It’s not possible to experience something only in one world. I got the physical shot. I assure you my arm was sore afterwards. I got the emotional shot. I felt the relief of knowing that I was on a 40 day path to immunity. Now, I am part of the larger community of Operation Warp Speed, an intellectual shot. And, if I can be restored to health and continue, it’s only for the purpose of continued creativity. A spiritual shot. You can take any event and move it through the four worlds of experience.
You’ve been coming to experience the drive through. What’s that been like?
I come to get my Sapodelicious Smoothie, but also to see my son and daughter-in-law. It’s also a sadness. I used to work at the market and that was a great joy. It’s a wonderful community that comes through the farmer’s market and I really miss that.
What’s Miami’s best kept secret?
That’s interesting. I’ve read all of these interviews, I should be prepared for these questions. The coral reefs off shore. You can go anywhere from Broward County through the Keys, and there’ll be a reef. You can dive off of Miami Beach, right off 5th Street beach. Put on a scuba tank and go out a couple hundred yards and you’re in a wonder world.
What is a worthy splurge?
Watching a movie with Walli. If we can find a movie that we enjoy together, that’s as good a splurge as we can find right now.
What community groups are important to you that you might like to share?
I’m really appreciative of the work of the The Miami Foundation. They provide a way to be involved in a great many groups. Their annual giving day is quite a wonder. There’s also the Woody Foundation. I participate in a chair yoga that they underwrite.
Would you like to share a pitch about one of your projects?
I have a new novel out there called the RX of Dr. Z. It is written for a broad audience. If you liked Tuesdays with Morrie, this would be ‘Wednesdays with Mitch’. It’s a good read for this period of COVID-19.
What question would you like to ask us?
(MC) When can we get back to the market?
(A+W) No word yet. Other farmer’s markets have opened and closed again. We are waiting to hear from Pinecrest.
Is there a question, a challenge, or words of advice that you might like to pose to the community?
The world inside is as great as the world outside, You can find as many wonders in a small environment as you can by going to the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. All one has to do is learn how to look.