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‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’

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When David Segal thought about the best way to pay tribute to his late mother, Pearl E. Segal, who died last Rosh Hashanah, he immediately thought of studying Torah.

“To commemorate the first yahrzeit, I thought I would bring in a rabbi to teach some Torah to the entire community,” he says. “That’s how (my family and I) wanted to remember this occasion.”

With that idea in mind, Segal, who has been a member of Beth Joseph Congregation since he was 5 years old, contacted Rabbi Elazar Muskin of Young Israel of Century City in California, where Segal’s son, daughter-in-law and young grandson are members.

Because the Segals frequently travel to see their children and grandson, and Segal is a daily davener, they also became members of Young Israel of Century City.

As it turns out, the Segals and the Muskins are distant relatives, and have other family connections that go back many years.

With Rabbi David Rebibo’s blessing, Segal invited Muskin to speak at Beth Joseph Congregation Monday, Sept. 7 (see details box). The title of his talk is “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way,” which will include a discussion about ethical wills, with text study and a dessert reception.

Muskin has served as the senior rabbi of Young Israel of Century City since 1986, where he has increased membership from under 50 families to about 500 families, making it one of the fastest growing Orthodox synagogues on the West Coast, according to the biography on the synagogue’s website. He is also serving his fifth term as a national vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America and was president of the Rabbinical Council of California from 1992 to 1997. Throughout his rabbinic career, Muskin has been a pro-Israel activist and helped create the synagogue outreach program for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).

Muskin’s interest in ethical wills started many years ago when a contingent of Jewish community leaders from his synagogue attended the first Wexner Heritage Program, a leadership development program of the Wexner Foundation. When he asked them what the most memorable moment of the program was, he was surprised by the answers he heard. He was expecting to hear about a great speaker or a wonderful program that they had attended.

“The Wexner program wanted them to write a moral and ethical legacy to their children and to their grandchildren, offering them guidance in their lives,” he says. “They said it was a transformative experience.”

When most people think of writing a will, they think about who is getting the house and how much money the children will receive, Muskin says. But an ethical will has nothing to do with possessions or wealth; it’s a vehicle to convey your “ethical bottom line,” Muskin says. “What is your legacy on a moral and ethical level? What do you want your children to know?”

Getting people to think about their own mortality fits perfectly with the themes of the High Holidays, Muskin says. “I think Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are a gift for man to stop in his tracks and say, ‘Hey, what’s my life all about?’ It’s a time out. What are the messages to my children and grandchildren? Am I going to leave an imprint upon the earth that I’ve been blessed to live on or will I just fade away?”

And for those who might not be happy with their moral legacy, “that’s the beauty of the Jewish calendar,” he says. “You always have a chance to change.”


Who: Rabbi Elazar Muskin
What: Pearl E. Segal memorial lecture, ‘Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way’ and dessert reception
When: 7:15 p.m. Monday, Sept. 7
Where: Beth Joseph Congregation, 515 E. Bethany Home Road, Phoenix
Register: David Segal, or 602-418-0614

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