A Chaplain’s calling: ‘It drew me in’

For Rabbi Jason Weiner, his one-year chaplaincy internship at Beth Israel Medical Center New York’s Lower East Side was a not-so-pleasant requirement while he was a rabbinic student at Yeshivat Chovevei Torah.

“I didn’t feel like I had any impact. I didn’t feel like I could really help people,” said Weiner, who is now senior rabbi and manager of spiritual care at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

The feeling changed in 2007, when Weiner, who was serving as assistant rabbi at Young Israel of Century City, was asked to fill in part time at Cedars-Sinai because the hospital’s longtime chaplain, Rabbi Levi Meier, had fallen ill. 

“I quickly began to build confidence in the impact a chaplain could have in people’s lives. I began to realize how appreciative people were, and how fulfilling it was, and how much I was learning and growing. I felt like I was on the front lines of life and death. The intensity of that really drew me in,” he said.


Cedars-Sinai’s chaplaincy program puts spirituality on the medical charts

Usually, the frantic words, “Someone get the rabbi!” uttered in a hospital room mean only one thing. So Debbie Marcus burst into tears when Rabbi Jason Weiner was summoned to her grandfather’s room at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in July 2008. 

Weiner, then interim Jewish chaplain at Cedars-Sinai, quickly assessed the situation: Albert Rubens, 97, had been brought in with a massive heart attack. Although he was still lucid, it was clear he was not going to make it. 

But even with that devastating news, the rabbi detected that Debbie’s tears were about something more. And he was right. Albert, known to his family as Pop-Pop, had been eager to see Debbie, then 39, get married, but she and her then-fiancé, Marty Marcus, had not set a date for the wedding.

So someone floated an idea: Get married. Right now. 


Gillibrand presses Army on beard policy

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand urged the Army to modify a regulation banning facial hair in order to allow rabbis to serve as chaplains.

“It is my understanding that a review of this policy is currently under way at the Department of Defense,” Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) wrote recently to Army Secretary John McHugh. “I write to strongly urge that while this review is ongoing, the Army grant waivers of this policy to prospective chaplains who are otherwise fully qualified to serve.”

In December, Rabbi Menachem Stern sued the U.S. Army, saying it refused his services as a chaplain because he would not shave his beard. Gillibrand and other senators had taken up Stern’s case last August.

“Since writing to you last August about the case of Rabbi Menachem M. Stern, I have become aware of other instances where qualified chaplains have been told by their superiors that they cannot display facial hair while serving in the Army,” Gillibrand said in her letter. “This discriminatory practice forces rabbis and other members of the clergy to choose between their deeply held religious beliefs and their desire to serve their country in the Armed Forces.”

Top Gun Rabbi

While you won’t find Sarah Schecter soaring through the skies like Tom Cruise in "Top Gun," the Los Angeles resident has the honor of becoming the Air Force’s first female rabbi.

Schecter, who was ordained in May at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Los Angeles, is currently a chaplain candidate.

Rather than flying F-16s, Schecter will serve as a spiritual leader and counselor for Jews in the Air Force. To prepare for her new career, she will go to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia later this summer to train with the rabbi there.

"It’s an unexpected and wonderful surprise to be making history," said the 35-year-old second lieutenant. "On the other hand, I feel really sad, because of the lack of female rabbis that have pursued serving this community."

While Schecter’s father was also an Air Force rabbi, she never had the intention of following in his footsteps. After spending time in Israel and serving the Jewish community in Japan during her college years, Schecter knew she wanted Judaism to be a central part of her life. Even so, she remembers her hesitancy when her mother suggested she explore the rabbinate.

"I said, ‘You mean be a rabbi?’" Schecter recalled with a laugh.

Soon afterward, she decided that becoming a rabbi was indeed the right path. Her interest in the Air Force developed after Sept. 11.

"When I listened to the horrific stories of the World Trade Center coming down," she recalled, "I said to my husband, ‘I’m going to join the military. I want to serve this community now.’"

At the end of the summer, Schecter expects to be promoted to first lieutenant. At that time, she will become a reservist awaiting active duty.

In the meantime, Schecter, who wears her "Tablets and Star" rabbinical pin on her fatigues and Air Force blues uniform, said she is thrilled to help boost morale among Jewish officers.

"It’s an important part of social action," she said. "Here are Jews doing difficult work, and like anyone else, they need someone there for them so they don’t have to be there alone."

The Circuit

Keepin’ it Real Estate

Becker General Contractors’ Sandy Becker was happy to be at what is known in the real estate and construction business as a “sunriser” — an early morning get-together. With a 4-month-old baby at home, Becker has, in recent weeks, been out of the loop regarding the regularly held sunrisers staged by The Jewish Federation’s Real Estate and Construction Division.

But Becker was one of many real estate-related entrepreneurs packing the 6505 Wilshire Blvd. boardroom for a special dor v’dor panel focused on relatives working together in real estate, which Victor Coleman, president/COO of Arden Realty, moderated.

Robert Gluckstein, owner of Robert I. Gluckstein Investments, shared with the in-the-know industry intelligentsia his highs and lows in the business, as well as some insights into the cyclical nature of Los Angeles’ real estate world. He also traced the career trajectory of his son, Brad Gluckstein, who went from Frisbee-flinging frat boy at Berkeley to becoming the self-made owner of Apex Realty and, more recently, CEO/managing partner of the Conga Room nightclub.

“I’m very proud of my son, because most of what he has accomplished, he’s done on his own,” Robert Gluckstein said.

Brad Gluckstein confirmed that autonomy in a parent-sibling relationship is critical to their healthy working relationship, and that keeping offices and dealings separate has helped achieve those ends.

Melissa Bordy talked about coming aboard as CFO of Held Properties Inc., founded in 1952 by her father, Harold Held, only after working her way up the field of finance at other companies. Unlike the Glucksteins, the Held family works together in the same office.

“Give them the authority to accomplish that responsibility and don’t stand in their way” was Held’s sage advice on how to foster a successful second-generation real estate kin.

Mark Lainer of Lainer Investments spoke of working with son-in-law Brian Fagan. Like the Glucksteins, whose real estate roots go back to 1918, the Lainers are third-generation real estate businessmen who still turn to to 99-year-old patriarch Louis Lainer for Solomonesque advice. Fagan spoke of the savvy and experience he has gleaned working alongside Mark, who in turn spoke about the hands-on nature of their business, which includes investing in properties and managing them.

“As my father liked to say,” Mark Lainer said, “‘I’m the president and I’m the janitor.'”

Raising Bar on Closets

While some Hollywood Jews are coming out of the closet to support Israel, others are going into the closet — but with good reason.

Doorset Closet Mobel prides itself on premium closet spaces manufactured in Israel, where the company has been based since 1986.

LA Architect magazine recently spotlighted Doorset with a special reception at Doorset’s Beverly Hills showroom. Playing hostess that evening was Netaly Bar, the showroom’s sales and marketing manager and the daughter of Doorset founder Amos Ayzenberg, who, with wife Lily Ayzenberg, attended the Beverly Hills reception.

Also in attendance, noshing on hors d’oeuvres courtesy of The Grill: Michael Kienzl and Aaron Alfi, partners in Bradco Kitchens and Baths, another L.A.-based importer of Israeli home design products; Yariv Ben-Yehuda, an Israel Defense Forces Radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles; Ashley Lowengrub, representing products designed by his mother, Israeli sculptor Ilana Goor, and clothing designer James Perse, creator of the Los Angeles-based IAMGE T’s casual clothing line, which LA Architect invited to take part in the evening.

Saluting Kraus

Some 150 members and friends of the Shomrim Society of Southern California, the fraternal society for Jewish law enforcement personnel, gathered at Sinai Temple on April 29 to honor Rabbi Henry E. Kraus for his long service as chaplain to the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Among those on hand to honor the rabbi were Police Chief William Bratton; Sheriff Lee Baca; Rabbi David Wolpe; Shomrim President Marvin Goldsmith; Sinai President Abner Goldstine; Dr. Alfred Pasternak, Kraus’s brother-in-law; and his grandsons, Jerry and Dr. Daniel Janoff. Kraus, 88, a survivor of Auschwitz, once served as chief rabbi of the western region of Hungary. — Staff Report