Letters to the editor: An L.A. light-rail, mourner’s Kaddish and encyclopedias


Marvelous Metropolis

If Rob Eshman is “happy to see light-rail lines rising on the Westside,” he ought to be ecstatic about the light-rail line projected now for the 405 Corridor from Sylmar in the north San Fernando Valley to LAX (“Builders and Shakers,” Oct. 10). Both candidates for 3rd District supervisor of L.A. County are, at our Leo Baeck Temple’s urging, publicly committed to building a 405 Corridor rail project. So is Mayor Eric Garcetti.

We are getting close to the time when thousands of working commuters will travel every hour on a swift, clean, reliable train; 10 minutes from Ventura Boulevard to Westwood, 35 minutes from Pacoima to Los Angeles International Airport — even at rush-hour.

Jewish Journal readers should know that Jewish Angelenos are indeed among the builders of a better Los Angeles. Our slogan: “We want to live in a livable L.A.!” We’re succeeding on it right now.

Rabbi Jerrold Goldstein, Sherman Oaks

Encyclopediatrics

As I was sitting at my computer last week, I looked up at the World Book Encyclopedia on the bookshelf and was wondering how to dispose of it (“E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-æ-d-i-a,” Oct. 10). I grew up on the one in our family and was excited to purchase one for my children. Then, I opened this week’s Jewish Journal and lo and behold … in the table of contents was the word “encyclopedia.” Immediately, I began to sing the Jiminy Cricket song. When I turned to Page 10, there it was!  I loved that bit of nostalgia.

I bet you shekels to sufganiyot that my computer-savvy 11-year-old grandson does not know what an encyclopedia is.

We had the World Book. The Britannica was too cerebral for us.

Phyllis Steinberg, Sherman Oaks

Communal Healing

I am sure Danielle Berrin’s eloquent article (“My Year of Kaddish,” Oct. 2) touched a nerve with many in our community, particularly women. 

My mother passed away in 1979, aged 49, when I was still a teenager, and my older sister, Charmaine, newly married. Although not required halachically, my father, Chazzan Andre Winkler, recited the Kaddish three times a day for 11 months, partly on our behalf but mostly as a way to assuage his own grief and guilt for having survived, not only his young wife, but many in his immediate family who were victims of the Shoah.

When our father passed away five years ago, Charmaine and I immediately understood our obligation to recite daily Kaddish for our father, who had essentially raised us during my mother’s long illness, and who had placed our needs before his own despite being widowed at only 54. 

Joining a Kaddish minyan in Los Angeles was fortunately easy for me, and I found my home at Sinai Temple’s afternoon Kaddish minyan, where I was welcomed with open and empathetic arms by Ralph Resnick and a cadre of strangers who became my “Kaddish minyan buddies” during those 11 months. On Shabbat, I was similarly welcomed to recite Kaddish by my own Lubavitch minyan, which never once questioned my desire to recite.

My sister, however, found more of a struggle to be accepted in her traditionally Orthodox daily and Shabbat minyan in Sydney, Australia, where she was the only woman among a minyan of (mostly elderly) men to attend daily minyanim. Over the 11 months, however, she became accepted as part of the chevra (a chair was even designated especially for her, in the back of the beit midrash) even though she had to wait for the 10th man to be able to participate.

The daily minyan anchored our loss and became the epicenter of our days and nights, soothing our hearts and minds before we went to sleep and when we awoke. Even if the meaning of the Kaddish itself did not heal us, the fact that we were a part of a community dedicated to our loved ones and feeling the same pain comforted us. 

Like Berrin, we faced the end of our 11 months with trepidation. Our anchor was gone and we were afloat. Again, as is inherent in our both our tradition and our parents’ teachings, somehow we found our way forward, even though it was a “new” forward.

I urge all women whose background may preclude them from joining a daily Kaddish minyan to find a meaningful and accepting environment where they can express their loss daily in the most meaningful of ways.

Janine Winkler Lowy, via email

correction

A Sukkot column about Rabbi Amy Bernstein, senior rabbi at Kehillat Israel, (“Season of Love,” Oct. 10) misstated her first name. The Journal regrets the error

E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-æ-d-i-a


I wonder how Jiminy Cricket would have handled the æ.

Half of the articles in the Encylopædia Britannica are now available on its website for free.  They used to be behind a $70-a-year pay wall, but, as the Chicago Tribune recently “>watch Jiminy Cricket sing the opening song:

Curiosity, people say,

Killed a kitty cat one fine day.

Well, this may be true, but hear me –

Here is what to do for curiosity:

Get the en…cyclopedia,

E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a!

En…cyclopedia,

E-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a!

If you want to know the answers, here is the way.

A generation learned to spell that word from that song.  I’m sure it was THE longest word I knew how to spell at the time, though it wasn’t the longest word I knew.  That would be the 28-letter antidisestablishmentarianism, whose meaning I didn’t quite get until I was in graduate school, and which the Merriam-Webster dictionary – owned now by the Britannica Company – “>risks you run when you use it.  Harvard officially tells its freshmen that “some information in Wikipedia may well be accurate,” and THAT it’s convenient “when the stakes are low (you need a piece of information to settle a bet with your roommate, or you want to get a basic sense of what something means before starting more in-depth research),” but it’s “not a reliable source for academic research.” The Britannica – whose graphic appeal has come a long way since I donated mine to the Friends of the Los Angeles Public Library – today still employs some 500 editors, contributors and other staff, which makes Wikipedia’s paid editorial team of zero an actual ghost town. 

But the choice isn’t Wikipedia or the Britannica.  If you vigilantly take into account the accuracy of the sources you use – and in an infotainment age that monetizes ignorance, that’s a big if – then most of the information in the history of the world is available to anyone, anytime, for free on a device you can carry around in your pocket.

I have to keep reminding myself of that.  It’s a miracle that I can find a clip of Jiminy Cricket singing e-n-c-y-c-l-o-p-e-d-i-a on YouTube; that I can figure out how to type the æ that the Britannica has shrewdly kept in its brand (on a Mac keyboard, it’s option + single-quote); that I can EFFORTLESSLY learn ONLINE what an æ is (a digraph or ligature), and what it’s called (AN ash).  It’s a wonderment that I can enter the name of a website into Alexa and learn its ranking; find out what the Harvard Guide to Using Sources

New ‘Encyclopedia Judaica’ goes from Aachen to Zyrardow


The editors of the new edition of the “Encyclopaedia Judaica” confronted a whole new world.

In the more than 30 years since the first edition was published, Jewish life has been revitalized in the former communist world, Las Vegas and Atlanta


Volumes of Work

Key facts about the second edition of the “Encyclopaedia Judaica”:

  • Total entries: 21,632.
  • Total new entries: 2,664.
  • Total entry words: 15,818,675.
  • Approximate number of main body pages (excluding index volume): 17,000.
  • New bibliographical references: 30,021.
  • Longest entry: Israel, land and state, approximately 600,000 words.
  • Longest bibliography: kabbalah.
  • Most writers for a single entry: Bible – the ancient biblical translations subsection had 11 writers, one for each language (Ethiopic, Armenian, Syriac, etc.).

have become fast-growing Jewish communities and women have taken a much more active role in Jewish life — and their contributions have been increasingly recognized.

“The original edition did not take into account that 50 percent of Jews are women,” said Judith Baskin, director of the Jewish studies program at the University of Oregon and the encyclopedia’s assistant editor for women and gender.

The new edition, the encyclopedia’s second, attempts to rectify that oversight with more than 300 new entries on Jewish women, including biographical entries on well-known figures such as former U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.) and entries on lesser-known women like Beatrice Alexander, founder of the Madame Alexander doll collection, and Asenath Barzani, an Iraqi woman trained by her father in the 1600s as a Torah scholar.

These are among roughly 2,700 new entries in the new edition to be published Dec. 8 by Macmillan Reference USA and Israel’s Keter Publishing. The 22 volumes contain more than 21,000 entries on Jewish life.

A licensed, online version also will be available, but the hope is that institutions, and some individuals, will be willing to fork over $1,995 — the online version will cost a few hundred dollars more — to have everything they wanted to know about the Jews printed and at their fingertips. The comprehensiveness offered by the collection is not available in any one online source, said Jay Flynn of Thomson Gale, which owns Macmillan Reference USA.

“Certainly, you can go out and find a biography of Billy Crystal and you can read it,” Flynn said. “What we’re really trying to deliver” is accessibility and authority.

Plus, Jews buy books out of proportion to their numbers, said Michael Berenbaum, the encyclopedia’s executive editor.
“It’s the smell of leather and all that stuff,” said Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar known for his work in creating the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

It took a lot of effort to create that “stuff.” Several years in the making, the encyclopedia relied on a worldwide team of scholars, including about 1,200 new contributors. Luckily, the field of Jewish studies has experienced exponential growth in recent years.

“You’re going to a man or woman who has devoted his or her entire life to a topic and you say, ‘Give me 500 words,'” Berenbaum said.
Those scholars pored over all the entries — from Aachen to Zyrardow — and updated 11,000 of them.

Overall, the new edition has more entries covering Jewish life in the Southern Hemisphere — Australia and South America, for example — and the sections on U.S. Jewish life and the Holocaust have been strengthened.

The dilemmas Berenbaum and his team faced on how to cover certain topics are almost talmudic. For example, how do you describe Jewish life in New York City? Their answer: Give a portrait of several neighborhoods, such as the historic German Jewish neighborhood of Washington Heights and the contemporary, heavily Orthodox neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park.

“We gave it a lot of flavor, something that the first encyclopedia was much less interested in,” Berenbaum said, though he’s quick to praise the editors of the first encyclopedia for their prodigious efforts in the pre-Internet era.

Also adding contemporary flavor to the new edition are entries discussing baseball player Shawn Green and the recent popularization of kabbalah. Not surprisingly, Israel is the largest single entry, with an entire volume devoted to the Jewish state. Coming in second is the Holocaust.

Entries on Holocaust-related matters created more questions: Should the noted Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt have her own entry or should her biography be part of an entry about the highly publicized trial in 2000 that Lipstadt won after historian David Irving sued her in a British court, claiming she defamed him in a book by calling him a Holocaust denier?

The decision? Berenbaum is cagey.

“Read the encyclopedia,” he said.

More information about the new “Encyclopaedia Judaica” is available at www.encyclopaediajudaica.com