Rabbi Wolli Kaelter, ‘A Rabbi’s Rabbi, a Mensch’s Mensch,’ Dies at 93

In a prayer for his ordination from the Hebrew Union College (HUC) in 1940, Wolfgang (Wolli) Kaelter wrote: “Grant us depth that we might understand, vision that we might see, and let us never become self-satisfied.”

Indeed, in his 93 years on this earth, his thirst for understanding and meaning never diminished; his ability to see, to fully encounter his congregants, family and friends never abated and he never rested on the laurels of his accomplishments. Indeed, he remained eager to learn, live and grow — never becoming self-satisfied.

The youngest of four children, Wolli was born in Danzig (now Gdansk) Poland) to Rabbi Robert and Feodora Kaelter. The world of his youth was destroyed yet he never despaired of the past, flourished in the present and was always thinking ahead. He was greatly influenced by his father (who died when Wolli was 11), his experiences in the German Jewish youth movement and his relationship with his teacher, Rabbi Leo Baeck. Baeck’s words, “The message is not the sermon…the man must be the message” are what guided his entire life and work. After studying for one year at the Hochshule fur die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin, he and four other rabbinical students were invited by the president of the HUC, Julian Morgenstern, to study in Cincinnati. This courageous act in 1935 saved all five of their lives.

In 1953 he became the first director of Camp Saratoga, later Camp Swig, in Northern California. He had a deep commitment to the Jewish camping experience and believed that it was the best way to engage and inspire Jewish youth. A few years later, he became rabbi of Temple Israel in Long Beach where he served until his retirement from the active pulpit in 1979.

He was known as an innovator of worship, a creative programmer, a dynamic educator, a leader of interfaith activities, a gifted counselor, and an inspiring cantor. He believed that the rabbi should take the “p” out of preaching. For him, it was all about reaching, engaging and dialogue.

After his so-called retirement, he continued counseling, writing and officiating at life-cycle events. He had boundless energy and seemed to always be available for listening. Hundreds of people could tell their own personal “Wolli stories” about a man who was both so deeply reverent and irreverent at the same time.

For 25 years he taught practical rabbinics at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He inspired hundreds of students with his keen insights, his human understanding, his humor and his high standards. He wanted the students to develop their character, their vision and the principles that would guide them as rabbis.

He shared his thoughts on life, the rabbinate, relationships and death in his autobiography, “From Danzig: An American Rabbi’s Journey” (written with Gordon Cohn). At the core of his life was a continuous desire to find meaning – from the largest event, to the structure of a Hebrew word. Listening to classical music was his anchor, his source of inspiration. He shared more than six decades of his life with his wife, Sarah.

Integrity, intellectual curiosity, innovator, stubbornness, devotion to high standards and fiercely committed to making Jewish life relevant are what marked the life of this man who was both larger than life and also so profoundly human and humane. For me, for so many, he was our rabbi, our teacher, our colleague and our friend. His longevity on earth was not his real blessing; rather it was the quality of his life and his legacy that above all it is the “I-thou” relationship which makes life most meaningful.

He is survived by his children Judy (Ray) Nakelsky and Baruch (Donna) Kaelter; and six grandchildren.

I ended his eulogy by citing the words of the poet Ingersoll: “He added to the sum of human joy; and were everyone for whom he did some loving service to bring a blossom to his grave; he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of flowers.”

— Rabbi Lee Bycel is executive director, Western Region of American Jewish World Service

Bernice “Bunny” Diamant, Docent and L.A. Developer, Dies at 84

Bunny Diamant, cover girl on the Jewish Journal Mothers’ Day issue, May 10, 2002, was a native Jewish girl made good. She died Jan. 4 at 84.

She married her Dorsey High School sweetheart, A.C. Black, raised three daughters and helped in creating a very successful development/construction company responsible for many award-winning apartments, individual homes, marina properties; Deauville and Bar Harbor apartments and boat docks, as well as Wilshire San Vicente Plaza in Beverly Hills.

After her divorce in 1981, she became very active in the Jewish community volunteering, starting as a docent at the Skirball, then located near USC. She contributed in many ways, including the move to present location in 1996, as supervisor pro bono of Docent Development; and planning of the Noah’s Ark Park when it was still just a twinkle in the eyes of Skirball management. She was also president of University Women at what is now known as American Jewish University.

She met and married Dr. Emanuel Diamant in 1990 and they enjoyed each other’s companionship for the 17 years. They worked together and independently at the AJU and Skirball and were members of Temples Ner Tamid in Palos Verdes, where Manny was a founder, and Kehillat Ma-Arav in Santa Monica. She was an inspiration to everyone she met.

She is survived by her daughters Susan (David) Black-Feinstein, Diane (Earl) Quick and Belinda (Michael) Borden; six grandchildren; three great-granddaughters; nieces; nephews; cousins; and extended family.

Louis Bernard died Dec. 23 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Thelma; sons, David (Dorothy) and Jonathan (Marie); daughter, Michelle Mazur; and 21 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Leon Blank died Dec. 23 at 99. He is survived by his daughter, Jeannie (Hal) Murray; son, Jonathan (Rochelle); seven grandchildren; one great-grandchild; and sister, Betty Loterstein. Mount Sinai

Community Briefs

Burbank Police Handcuffed Father, Girfriend ofShooting Victim

Disturbing new details began to emerge surrounding the death of a 25-year-old Israeli man at the hands of Burbank police June 25.

According to friends of the victim, after Burbank police shot Assaf Deri in a North Hollywood alley at 10:30 p.m. that Friday night, police went to Deri’s apartment and handcuffed his girlfriend and his father, rousing them at midnight and telling them that Assaf was dead. Police allegedly held them there overnight without allowing them to make any phone calls. At around 7 a.m. on Saturday, Pinchas Deri, who was visiting his son from Israel and speaks almost no English, was allowed to call his wife in Israel to inform her of their son’s death.

The Burbank Police Department would not confirm this account, saying it could not comment on the subject of an ongoing administrative investigation. The Los Angeles Police Department, in whose jurisdiction the shooting occurred, would likewise not comment, since it is conducting a criminal investigation into the case.

According to police accounts, when two Burbank police officers approached Deri’s car on foot while conducting a narcotics investigation in an alley near Coldwater Canyon Avenue and Oxnard Street, Deri accelerated, hitting and slightly injuring one of the officers. Officers began shooting, and Deri was declared dead at the scene when Los Angeles City Fire Department Paramedics responded.

Lt. David Gabriel of the Burbank Police Department said that there are no written policies about how to approach a suspect’s car, but officers have available to them several supportable scenarios, depending on the particulars of a situation and the officer’s preference.

Details about the shooting will be forthcoming only after the Los Angeles and Burbank police departments submit their reports to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office, which is conducting a parallel investigation. While the district attorney said its investigation may be completed in as soon as six weeks, both police departments declined to offer an estimated timeline.

Deri, who worked in the diamond district downtown, had been in Los Angeles for about nine months and had developed a close circle of friends who were shocked and saddened to learn of his violent death, calling him a warmhearted, giving person who did not seem to be involved in anything illicit. Deri’s parents and his three younger brothers and sister sat shiva for him in Beit Shemesh after burying him last Tuesday.

Nati Goldman, a close family friend, said he is in the process of hiring an attorney on behalf of the family. — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Anti-Semetic Allegations Shock ConejoHead

The Conejo Valley Unified School District superintendent said this week that he was surprised that the family of a Jewish high student filed a lawsuit against the district as it was trying to address their complaints about anti-Semitism.

“We were in the middle of discussions that we felt centered around the parental concerns,” school district superintendent Robert Fraisse told The Journal. “We were surprised at the fact that it went from good discussions to a lawsuit.”

The parents of former Newbury Park High School student Sam Goldstein filed a federal lawsuit on May 26 in Los Angeles against the district, alleging that for the past two years the district was indifferent as Sam’s teammates and coach taunted him with anti-Semitic remarks. Goldstein family attorney Yury Kapgan said the family met with school officials in early April but that alleged harassment continued.

The coach no longer works for the district. Fraisse said school officials and the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department investigated off-campus incidents including one referenced in the lawsuit; a January 2003 birthday party where Sam Goldstein allegedly endured a “concentration camp” game with teammates pressing up him against a fence and telling Holocaust jokes.

“There were clearly anti-Semitic remarks made at that birthday party, which had no affiliation with the school whatsoever other than that students who attended the birthday party also attended the school,” Fraisse said. “What we have proven are things that have happened off campus.”

The district has not responded to the lawsuit. As for anti-Semitism at Newbury Park High, Fraisse said the alleged behavior was not witnessed by students or faculty. Regarding the lawsuit’s charge that school officials were indifferent to Anti-Defamation League (ADL) suggestions, Fraisse said, “We trained our entire staff in areas recommended by the ADL; they cited the things that we couldn’t do because of scheduling.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Camp Scholarships Jump-Start Judaism

It was only the second day of camp, but the youngsters at Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute held hands, clapped, sang and followed the Israeli folk dance steps like old pros. In between a rousing number, eight lucky Camp Alonim campers took a quick break from the festivities to meet the folks responsible for their summertime experience. On Thursday, June 29, the enthusiastic 9 to 12 year old campers, met — board members from the Foundation for Jewish Education, the nonprofit organization that gave them full scholarships to attend the Jewish overnight camp for the first time.

“We are giving children a Jewish education through a Jewish experience,” said Marlene Kreitenberg, president and founder of the Los Angeles-based organization.

The foundation partnered with Camp Alonim in offering 10 scholarships to local needy children who are not affiliated with a synagogue, do not attend Jewish day school and have had limited Jewish experiences. The chosen recipients were awarded full tuition to attend a two-week session at the Camp Alonim. Eight of the 10 campers are attending the first session and the remaining two will attend a later summer session.

“We’ve always tried to connect unaffiliated kids with their identity at Camp Alonim and studies show that camping is the best way to ensure a positive Jewish identity,” said Ed Gelb, the camp’s director, citing a 1995-1997 study by the Jewish Foundation for Camping which found that attending Jewish camp significantly increases Jewish identity, affiliation and practice, and decreases the likelihood of intermarriage.

Both Camp Alonim and the Foundation for Jewish Education plan to continue the scholarship program for summers to come and hope to expand their efforts.

Kreitenberg felt that the campers’ newfound connection to Judaism was already underway.

“They were in a hurry to leave us and get back to their folk-dancing,” said Kreitenberg. “Seeing their faces glow with happiness was so touching.”

For more information on the Foundation for JewishEducation, call (310) 273-8612. To contact the Brandeis-Bardin Institute andCamp Alonim, call (805) 582-4450 or visit . — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

Community Mourns Rabbi

Hundreds of people attended a memorial at Etz Jacob Congregation to remember Rabbi Jacob Levine, the former president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California who helped lay the foundations for today’s Los Angeles Orthodox community. Levine, who died on June 18 at the age of 90, was recognized at the service by many community rabbis, who praised his role in building both synagogues and schools after his arrival in Los Angeles from Chicago in 1941.

Levine’s death marks the end of an era, as he was among the last surviving rabbis from a group of Orthodox leaders who collaborated in the 1940s and ’50s to transform Los Angeles from an Orthodox backwater to a flourishing community as it moved from Boyle Heights and West Adams to the Fairfax and West Los Angeles areas.

Levine was the spiritual leader of Agudat Achim in West Adams, Judea Congregation in the Fairfax district (which merged to become B’nai David-Judea Congregation) and, in his later years was rabbi emeritus of Etz Jacob Congregation near Fairfax.

He served as president of the Orthodox Rabbinical Council of California for 12 years and served several terms as president of the transdenominational Board of Rabbis of Southern California.

Levine co-founded the Westside Jewish Community Hebrew School, now known as Harkham Hillel Hebrew Academy, and the Rambam Torah Institute, an Orthodox high school.

He was instrumental in establishing a Los Angeles campus for Yeshiva University and assisted Rabbi Reuven Hutler in founding the Etz Jacob Hebrew Academy, an elementary school for immigrant children unable to afford the tuition of most private schools.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Rose Lee; sons, Dr. David, Dr. Barton and Joel; eight grandchildren; and six great -grandchildren.

Donations in his memory can be sent to the Perutz Etz Jacob Academy, 7951 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048 or to Amit Women, 5700 Wilshire Blvd, Suite 2505, Los Angeles, CA 90036 — Julie Gruenbaum Fax, Religion Editor

Bush at Auschwitz: Troubling Contradictions

On Sat., May 31, President Bush visited Auschwitz, and spoke about the horrors of that place where some 1.5-million Jews were gassed to death by the Nazis. On Wed., June 4, Bush will have embraced a Palestinian Arab leader who has written that the Nazis didn’t murder millions of Jews; that the Holocaust is a myth. How can one explain the president’s apparently contradictory actions?

The president walked across the railroad tracks leading into the death camp, viewed the gas chambers and paused at a display of shoes taken from children and hair cut off women before they were gassed. Auschwitz and the other Nazi death camps "remind us that evil is real and must be called by name and must be opposed," Bush said.

This week, he flew to the Middle East where he met with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas, who does not believe that the Nazi evil was real at all. Abbas is the author of a book that depicts the gas chambers and the piles of shoes and hair as a Zionist hoax. His book, "The Other Side: The Secret Relations Between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement," is based on his doctoral dissertation at Moscow Oriental College. Published in 1983, it declares: "Following the war, word was spread that 6 million Jews were amongst the victims and that a war of extermination was aimed primarily at the Jews…. The truth is that no one can either confirm or deny this figure."

Abbas denies that the gas chambers were used to murder Jews, quoting a "scientific study" to that effect by French Holocaust denier Robert Faurisson. Abbas has never retracted or apologized for writing the book.

This is not the first time that an American president has expressed seemingly heartfelt sentiments about the Holocaust or taken action to memorialize the victims of the Holocaust, but then, for political reasons, said or done something inappropriate regarding the Holocaust.

For example, the Reagan administration ordered the airlift of starving Ethiopian Jewish refugees in 1985, and then-Vice President Bush, who was deeply involved in the airlift rescue, indicated the decision was influenced by David Wyman’s book, "The Abandonment of the Jews" (New Press, 1998), which documents America’s failure to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.

Yet that same year, President Reagan visited the Bitburg military cemetery in Germany, where a number of Hitler’s SS men are buried. Reagan suggested the SS men were just as much victims of the Nazis as the Jews murdered in the Holocaust. American-German relations were deemed politically more important than offending Holocaust survivors.

In 1988, the senior Bush, then the Republican presidential nominee, dismissed a leader of one of his campaign support committees, Jerome Brentar, after it was discovered that Brentar had been active in a Holocaust denial organization. Yet, neither at that time nor later did Bush publicly criticize Pat Buchanan, despite Buchanan’s articles praising Hitler’s "great courage," claiming the gas chambers at Treblinka could not have been used to kill large numbers of people, and defending suspected Nazi war criminals. Alienating Buchanan and his supporters was deemed politically more risky than offending Holocaust survivors.

It was the Clinton administration which presided over the opening of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993, and President Clinton gave a stirring speech in which he said: "Before the war even started, doors to liberty were shut, and even after the United States and the Allies attacked Germany, rail lines to the camps within miles of militarily significant targets were left undisturbed."

Yet the following year, the Clinton administration sought to orchestrate a visit to the museum by Yasser Arafat, despite the strong objections of many Holocaust survivors and others. Advancing the administration’s diplomatic agenda in the Middle East was deemed more important than whatever offense an Arafat visit would have caused.

President Bush’s praise of Abbas is likewise intended to advance Mideast diplomacy. That goal is regarded by the administration as politically more important than the concerns of those who are offended by Holocaust denial or troubled by the prospect of an unrepentant Holocaust denier serving as the leader of a sovereign state.

George W. Bush is not the first American president to honor the memory of the Holocaust victims and then later say or do something troubling with regard to the Holocaust. But no president has ever done them in such close proximity to one another. To visit the most striking symbol of the Holocaust on Saturday, and then embrace a Holocaust denier on Wednesday — that is a first.

Dr. Rafael Medoff is director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, which focuses on issues related to America’s response to the Holocaust,

Artist’s Works From Death Camp Live On

The final portrait that Friedl Dicker-Brandeis drew was of a child’s face. The portrait is clean and white, and the face has an enigmatic expression of purity, innocence and stark intelligence.

What makes the child’s portrait haunting is that it was drawn in 1944 in Terezin, where children who entered the concentration camp in Czechoslovakia were shown hanging bodies as a warning, faced death by disease and starvation and were often shipped off to the gas chambers to "alleviate" the crowded conditions.

The child in the portrait seems unsullied by the wretchedness of life in Terezin, and the portrait appears to testify to Dicker-Brandeis’ conception of a purer world or the way the world was meant to be.

Dicker-Brandeis was a prolific Bauhaus artist, who taught art to the children of Terezin. Her art and the art produced by the children in the camp under her tutelage is the subject of a new exhibition at the Simon Weisenthal Center’s Museum of Tolerance.

Titled "Freidl Dicker-Brandeis and the Children of Terezin: An Exhibition of Art and Hope," the exhibition is a Dicker-Brandeis retrospective, with artwork displayed from all the periods of her life, including the anti-Fascist photo montages she plastered all over Vienna in 1931 and the vibrantly colorful Kandinsky-like paintings that she did while studying at the Bauhaus in 1923.

The exhibition also displays the stackable chairs Dicker-Brandeis designed, toys she built for children and her architectural plans for the Maria Monstessori kindergarten. The collection shows a woman who was at once practical but whimsical, aggressively political but also soft and gentle.

The art, most of which was in very poor condition, was collected from 24 lenders, many of whom had been friends with Dicker-Brandeis and received the works from her as gifts.

"Her father said to her, ‘Until you become a good artist, you can’t use good paper,’" said Regina Seidman Miller, project director at the museum. "I think she felt guilty that her art was never deserving of good paper. Unfortunately, she used the worst paper always — it is a miracle her art survived. We had to restore everything."

Freidl Dicker was born in Vienna in 1898 and became interested in art at an early age. At 21, she started studying art at the Bauhaus in Weimar, Germany, which was then a revolutionary new school of art and design. She was so advanced that after her first year, she was asked to be a teacher there, and she taught alongside great 20th century artists and architects such as Kandinsky, Klee and Walter Gropius.

In 1923, she moved to Vienna, and in 1931, she joined the Communist Party there to protest against the growing fascist movement. In 1936, she married Pavel Brandeis, and in 1938 they moved to Hronov, a town northeast of Prague, where she started teaching art to children from local Jewish families.

In 1942, the couple was sent to Terezin, a "model" camp that the Germans set up for privileged Jews, where they were allowed to paint, play sports and produce operas and plays. The Germans used the camp as a ruse to try to convince the International Red Cross that Jews were treated benevolently under the Third Reich.

However, the majority of Terezin’s Jews were transported to Auschwitz, and most of them died there. On Oct. 6, 1944, Dicker-Brandeis was sent to Auschwitz, and on Oct. 9 she was killed in the gas chamber.

But her art survived — in Terezin she hid it between planks of wood — and so did the love that she transmitted to her students there. Dicker-Brandeis was aware of the hopelessness of her surroundings, but it was not something she dwelled on.

"She wasn’t good in a saint-like way," said Miller. "She never told children that everything was going to be OK. What she said was, ‘If you have one day, then you have to live it. And while we are here, we have to do the best that we can.’ So it was a way that they were allowed to be sad and afraid, but they could express it through art."

Dicker-Brandeis had her charges in Terezin draw self-portraits. She was always careful to have them sign their work, so that they could develop self-esteem and retain their identities beyond the numbers that had been assigned to them when they entered the camp. Instead of drawing images of the death and destruction, the children drew flowers and pictures of their friends, among other things.

"Instead of food, she would ask her friends to send her paint," said Ela Weisberger, 71, one of Dicker-Brandeis’ students in Terezin, in a phone interview from New York. "She used the wrapping paper when people were getting packages, and from that we were drawing our paintings."

"Some of the paintings or collages were done on forms from the offices that were in the garbage. She was using every little thing that you could make out of it something," Weisberger said. "You look at her paintings, her beautiful colors, and you feel life in them. I think that she would have been the artist of the century if she would have survived."