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World-renowned rabbi to honor the late Maria Devinki

Rabbi Simon Jacobson

The Devinki, Pack and Kolkin families have invited one of the most sought after Chabad rabbi speakers in the Jewish world to speak at Kehilath Israel Synagogue in honor of Maria Devinki, of blessed memory. This year marks the fifth anniversary of their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother’s death.


Rabbi Simon Jacobson will be speaking at 7 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5, at the synagogue on the topic “Light: Physics of the Soul.” He said the subject is connected to Devinki’s yahrzeit, her soul and the month of light, Hanukkah.

“I’m honored to be there because the title of the talk will be that we are agents of light and light is compared to the soul,” the rabbi said. “The soul inside each of us is a bright light. So when you honor someone who has passed with both kindness and goodness to a city, I think it’s a reminder to each of us to be those agents of light in our own way.”

David Pack, one of Maria Devinki’s grandsons, lives in New York where he regularly attends Rabbi Jacobson’s weekly lectures. He specifically wanted Rabbi Jacobson to commemorate her yahrzeit. She passed away on Dec. 12, 2011.

“My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor,” Pack said. “Despite everything she saw, she was always an optimist at her core. She instilled that attitude into everything she did and everyone she met. That spirit helped her survive and she made sure to always impress it upon me.”

He said his grandmother, “Bubee,” always believed in the importance of learning, especially Jewish learning, and that the power of Jewish traditions and education were central to his family’s life.

“Equally as important was finding the relevance of these traditions in the modern world,” said Pack. “Rabbi Jacobson so beautifully weaves deep Jewish teaching with modern day relevance in a way that is totally uplifting. I know these were central values my grandmother lived with and taught to all who came into her life.

“I was always amazed how open she was to learning — even into her 90s she was a progressive, and wise as anyone I have ever known. Her passion for learning never ceased. Bringing a true scholar to honor her is something I feel in my heart she would have enjoyed in sharing.”

For 15 years, beginning in 1979, Rabbi Jacobson headed a team of scholars who worked with the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of blessed memory, transcribing and publishing entire talks the Rebbe gave on the Sabbath and holidays. The transcripts could sometimes be 80 or 90 pages long.

He said it changed his life.

“I’m going to talk about it a bit in Kansas City,” he said. “It’s really the art of listening; knowing how to listen without processing; listening and absorbing without interpreting. When you’re so immersed in something it affects you deeply. I am who I am today, a writer and a speaker, as a result of all that work.”

Rabbi Jacobson is the author of the bestselling book “Toward a Meaningful Life.” He is also founder of the Meaningful Life Center and publisher of the leading Jewish newspaper, The Algemeiner, which was founded by his father, Gershon Jacobson, in 1972. Following the death of his father in 2005, Rabbi Jacobson assumed publishing duties.

He said he is not involved in the actual running of the newspaper — he has delegated that to Dovid Efune, director and editor-in-chief. The rabbi’s role is to make sure it survives financially.

“What’s gratifying is I’m perpetuating my father’s legacy,” he said.

The Meaningful Life Center grew out of Rabbi Jacobson’s book, published in 1995. He traveled a lot for speaking engagements and the response was so overwhelming that he needed to respond to people and provide more material. The website meaningfullife.com presents content that the rabbi categorizes as psychological and spiritual.

“It essentially helps people exercise their spiritual muscles and psychologically try to grow and get rid of impediments, how to deal with fear and the negative stuff and how to actualize your potential and find your mission and calling in life,” he said.

We all have the tools within us to live a more meaningful life but most of us are overwhelmed by life — with responsibilities, expectations, balancing and juggling family and work and being inundated by technology, Rabbi Jacobson said. So we first need to step away from our patterns and routines and just create empty space to rethink our lives — regain focus and priorities.

“That’s why you see trends today in mindfulness and meditation to create spaces, a very rare commodity,” he said. “Most of us are so involved with the minutiae of life that really drain us and we forget sometimes the priorities. So the bottom line is you have to be able to step back and slow down and just say let me look at it all from scratch.”

The next step toward a meaningful life, the rabbi said, is having the courage to take on fears, inhibitions and other forces that often intimidate us — voices from the past, childhood trauma or negative experiences we’ve had at home or school — and be able to get beyond these impediments.

Then, Rabbi Jacobson said, each of has a unique calling that we need to figure out. Find your voice and be confident in allowing it to speak.

“At the Meaningful Life Center my work is about helping you discover the calling inside you and embracing it,” he said. “When they asked Michelangelo how do you sculpt a beautiful angel in marble, he said I see the angel trapped in the marble and I carve and carve and set her free.

“So we all have an angel within; we all have that power but life often blocks it out.”

And the good news is it’s never too late to find our calling and learn to use the tools we have. The earlier we learn the better, he said, because it’s easier to do things when we’re young. But he knows people in their 80s who have discovered things they didn’t know when they were younger.

“It’s never too late because the soul does not age,” he said. “The soul is very vibrant and if you allow your soul to speak to you, it’s very musical and you can have a sparkle in the eyes even at 90 years old.”

Just as Maria Devinki had. Rabbi Jacobson said he has heard great things about Devinki, her influence on people here and her kindness and philanthropy.

“With a little light you dispel darkness,” he said. “I think it’s also a good lesson in our times. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of negativity, and we need to know that. There’s a lot of light inside of us and light is the best way to defeat darkness; you don’t fight darkness with darkness.”

While reservations for Rabbi Jacobson are not necessary, they would be appreciated. You can RSVP by calling 913-642-1880 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. The public is welcome.