Report: Respect for Religious Freedom Downl in Israel; Grandfather, Mother Charged in Girl’s Murd

Report: Respect for Religious Freedom Fell in Israel

Respect for religious freedom in Israel has declined, according to a new U.S. State Department report.

An increase in “societal abuses and discrimination” against “some evangelical Christian groups as well as Messianic Jews” has contributed to a “slight decline in respect for religious freedom” in Israel, according to the State Department’s Annual Report on International Religious Freedom.

The report also stated that “relations among religious and ethnic groups” were “often strained during the reporting period, which was “due primarily to the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Government’s unequal treatment of non-Orthodox Jews, including the Government’s recognition of only Orthodox Jewish religious authorities in personal and some civil status matters concerning Jews.”

The report covered the period from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008.

The report also states that Iran has seen “a rise in officially sanctioned anti-Semitic propaganda involving official statements, media outlets, publications, and books.” In addition, “the Government’s anti-Semitic rhetoric, along with a perception among radical Muslims that all Jewish citizens of the country support Zionism and the state of Israel, continued to create a hostile atmosphere for Jews. The rhetorical attacks also further blurred the line between Zionism, Judaism, and Israel, and contributed to increased concerns about the future security of the Jewish community.”

Venezuela also was named as a state sponsor of anti-Semitism in the document “because of statements by the president, other government officials, and government-affiliated media outlets.” It added that “the local Jewish community expressed strong concerns that such statements and publications fostered a climate permissive of anti-Semitic actions, creating an atmosphere of fear and distrust of the community.”

Grandfather, Mother Charged in Girl’s Murder

The grandfather and mother of a 4-year-old girl whose remains were found in a Tel Aviv river were charged with murder.

Ronny Ron and Marie Pizem were charged Monday with killing Rose Pizem and dumping her body in a red suitcase into the Yarkon River.

Rose was buried Monday in the town of Montesson, west of Paris.

An autopsy performed last week at The Institute of Forensic Medicine in Tel Aviv could not determine the cause of death.

Ron confessed to police during his arrest more than a month ago that he accidentally killed Rose by hitting her when she bothered him while he was driving. He told police to search the Yarkon River for a red suitcase carrying her remains.

Ron later recanted his confession.

Jewish community leaders, and a representative from Israel’s police force attended Rose’s funeral, which was conducted in “religious Christian” tradition, according to the CRIF Jewish umbrella organization vice president, Meier Habib, who participated, reported the French Press Agency.

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Spectator – Family Doc Unlocks Doors

Growing up in Syracuse, N.Y, Eileen Douglas lived for the moments she could climb into her grandfather’s lap and find the pennies he brought — special for her. He faithfully visited his grandchildren every day after leaving his work as a butcher. Yet he never really spoke about his upbringing in Kovno, Lithuania.

“I thought we weren’t allowed to talk about it, that if you did, you would hurt the family,” Douglas recalled. “My grandfather died suddenly when I was 12 and I never got to say goodbye.”

Some 25 years after her grandfather died, Douglas paid a visit to her childhood home and stumbled upon a series of forgotten family photographs.

“These were people I’d never seen before,” Douglas recalled. “I was shocked … they shattered my identity. How could it be that I did not know my own story?”

A broadcast journalist who spent her life telling the stories of other people, Douglas decided to apply years of professional expertise to her own personal history. The resulting 2004 documentary, “My Grandfather’s House,” records a poignant family saga that many Jews will find familiar.

Written and narrated by Douglas, the film, which screens Monday at the Skirball Center, unfolds like a personal diary as it chronicles the events that lead to the filmmaker’s trip to Kovno. Accompanied by her adult daughter, Douglas searches for the home where her grandfather lived. Finally, as a woman in her 50s, she learns how her grandfather escaped conscription into the czar’s army by fleeing to America. She also discovers how other relatives got herded into the Kovno Ghetto.

Douglas Steinman, who co-produced “My Grandfather House,” views his partner’s quest as “reversing the breaking of the glass, of restoring a family to one piece.”

The detective work involved in making the film put Douglas in touch with more than 30 family members in North America, Russia and Israel that she either never met or had not heard from in years.

“I’ve got my family back,” she said, “both living and dead.”

“My Grandfather’s House” screens Sept. 19, 7 p.m, Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd. $5 (general). For information, call (818) 771-5554 or visit


Grampa’s Advice: Pass on ‘First-Tell’

It took me six years of being a grandfather to accept the fact that my grandchildren may not be more brilliant or athletic than everyone else’s.

Here’s how I realized it. There’s this thing between grandparents I like to call “first-tell.” Say you meet your friend, another grandparent, and are the first to tell some amazing stories about your grandchildren; if he or she responds by telling you stories that make their grandchildren out to be as talented or more-so than yours, you have every right to assume the grandparent you are talking to is lying. And vice versa: they’ll assume you’re lying if they have “first-tell.” Or, in both cases, you could assume, with great difficulty, that your grandchildren are not above and beyond all others.

What impresses us so much about the abilities of our grandchildren? In my case I must admit it was the comparison of them to me. Ross, at age 3, hits a wiffle ball with a plastic bat better than I could hit a softball with a wooden bat at age 12, even though the bat had Joe Dimaggio’s signature on it. And Max, 6, throws a hardball accurately from third base to home plate. I couldn’t do that until I was in summer camp at age 14 — and then not consistently, costing my green team the championship game against the blues in color war.

But in my defense, I didn’t have a grandfather to drive crazy and exhaust with pleas to “catch with me, grampa,” “pitch to me, grampa.”

One grandfather had passed away before I was born, and the other had lost a leg in some war for or against Russia prior to my birth in 1932. My own father was on crutches from polio he acquired at age 3, and while he could throw very well, since I couldn’t, a game of catch meant him throwing, me catching, me throwing and me chasing the errant ball that I threw back.

The only ball I ever threw both strongly and accurately was a snowball I threw at a target, drawn with chalk on the side door of my synagogue, which was the entrance to the Hebrew school in Englewood, N.J. The snowball would have hit the bull’s-eye had not the rabbi opened the door at that instant to call us all in to class. I lived with guilt for many years — not for hitting the rabbi, but for Sammy Wides’ getting blamed for it (although he took it well and enjoyed the celebrity). In that neighborhood, in those times, I would have been looked down on by the “gang” if I stepped forward, hero-like and said, “It wasn’t him, rabbi, it was me.” (I would have been a total outcast if I said “It wasn’t he.”)

It was less than a week ago that I bumped into a friend with his 6-year-old grandson at the park. Ross and Max were wearing their mitts and I was carrying a bag containing 10 wiffle balls and a bat. It is easier pitching 10 balls and then retrieving them all at once rather than pitching and chasing one ball at a time.

My friend quickly jumped in with “first-tell,” — an unnecessary move, since we were about to see exactly what our grandchildren could do.

“You won’t believe how far Amos can hit a ball,” he said.

“Great”, I replied, deciding I would have my satisfaction when he saw how much better Max and Ross could hit and throw a ball.

“Do you want to pitch?” I offered. He did. I became the catcher.

We all agreed that each child would have five swings, and the other two would play the field. We also agreed that Ross would be the first batter, then Amos and finally Max, who didn’t mind being last when I told him he would be batting “clean up” — a spot usually reserved for the best batter on the team. Max and Ross knew the lingo because they went to many Dodgers games and watched even more on TV. Ross hit two of his five pitches beautifully and although my friend was properly impressed he mouthed, “Wait till you see Amos.”

Amos got up and hit five balls very well, but no better or worse than Max did. Did my friend see what I saw?

Our grandkids are great — but not any greater than each other. I wonder, though, if he was more disappointed than me. He’d bragged about Amos, and I didn’t brag about Max. We both had to learn that our grandsons are special; not because they can throw well or run fast or bat hard, but because they are ours.

Hopefully, Amos’ grandfather will also learn that sometimes it’s good to pass up “first-tell.”


Ronald Abelson died July 23 at 75. He is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughter, Kerry Zymelman; and two grandchildren. Sholom Chapels .

George Alexander died July 20 at 74. He is survived by his sons, Gerald, Robert and Lance; seven grandchildren; and sister, Frances. Groman

Richard Alexander died July 21 at 68. He is survived by his wife, Ann; and daughters, Debra, Karen and Kim. Malinow and Silverman

Marvin Bank died July 21 at 86. He is survived by his daughter, Gina. Malinow and Silverman

Burton Eugene Becker died July 23 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Barbara. Hillside

Allen Berliner died July 24 at 65. He is survived by his sons, Isaac and Kevin; brothers, Myron, Irving and Henry; sisters, Alice Mink and Rosalie Blackman; and companion, Carmen Moreno. Malinow and Silverman

Roy Bokhoor died July 20 at 24. He is survived by his mother, Zoya; and uncle, Maurice Neri. Groman

Mary Chaiken died July 20 at 92. She is survived by her daughters, Elaine (Jocko) and Joann Golden; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Arthur Chase died July 21 at 67. He is survived by his ex-wife, Charlene Haughey; and cousin, Leon Raskin. Groman

Irving Cohen died July 22 at 89. He is survived by his sisters, Terry Freedmond and Anne; seven nieces; two nephews; and many great-nieces and great-nephews. Mount Sinai

Irene Miller Curcio died July 24 at 67. She is survived by husband, George; son, Rob Miller; stepdaughters, Lisa Murphy and Linda (Albert) Shigemura; stepson, Vincent (Toni); and six grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Robert Gerschner died July 22 at 87. He is survived by his sister-in-law, Celeste (Hal) Erdley. Sholom Chapels .

Lola Goffman died July 21 at 95. She is survived by her sons, Sam (Darilyn) and Hirsch (Debbie); and four grandchildren. Hillside

Frieda Handschu died July 7 at 93. She is survived by her son, Dr. Sylvain (Linda) Silberstein; six grandchildren; and 21 great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels .

Donald Carl Hoffman died Aug. 6 at 65. He is survived by his wife, Sheila; son, Lee; daughter, Eileen Gannaway; and one grandchild. Groman

Samuel Hoffman died July 24 at 80. He is survived by his sons, Stuart and Rabbi David; and sister, Ida Sachs. Groman

Dorothy Esther Jonesi died July 23 at 88. She is survived by her daughter, Gloria and Rochelle Cohen; three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; great-great-grandchild, Brianna; and sister, Frances Rouse. Hillside

Roselle Lynn Kahn died July 20 at 88. She is survived by her niece, Patricia Robitaille; great-niece, Charlene Valli; cousin, George Gluck; and friend, Margit Herman. Chevra Kadisha

Esther Karnes died July 21 at 94. She is survived by her granddaughter, Vicki; sister, Dorothy Mallin; and niece, Tobey Silverstein. Mount Sinai

Belle Kosasky died July 22 at 88. She is survived by her son, Melvin; daughter, Doreen Rosen; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Groman

Judith Carol Levi died July 23 at 61. She is survived by her son, Darryl. Mount Sinai

Bessie Mandelblatt died July 21 at 89. She is survived by her son, Alvin; daughter, Diane Schwarz; and three grandchildren. Groman

Rachel Leah Marcus died July 23 at 90. She is survived by her grandson, Jan (Sandy) Lankin; three great-grandsons; sister, Marilyn (Nat) LeTraunik; nieces; nephews; and friends. Mount Sinai

Shoshana Mehrabanian died July 22 at 102. She is survived by her sons, Mansour and Yahya; grandson, Samuel. Chevra Kadisha

Salim Morad died Sept. 25 at 82. He is survived by his wife, Hanna; children, Shoshana Cohen, Rena (Bill) Martin, Ovadya, Adela and Osharat; seven grandchildren; sisters, Simcha (Shalom) Shemis and Haviva Zion; and brother, Nissim (Dalia) Morad. Mount Sinai

Faye Fortess Mortel died July 21 at 88. She is survived by her sons, Karl (Tihla) and Victor (Denyce). Chevra Kadisha

Rose Edna Newmark died July 24 at 93. She is survived by her daughter, Carole Wood; one grandchild; one great-grandchild; and sister, Jane Wynhoff. Hillside

Lana Esther Pimbley died July 21 at 62. She is survived by her daughter, Jennifer Rubenstein; sister, Linda Rubenstein; and brother, Bernard Rue. Hillside

Harriet Punim died July 22 at 78. She is survived by her husband, Norman; son, Jeffrey; daughter, Patrice Levin; four grandchildren; sister, Frances Miller; and brother, Henry Safer. Hillside

David Rose died July 23 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth. Groman

Sybil Scheffler died July 24 at 89. She is survived by her sons, David (Dina), Steven (Rose) and Stan (Dora); granddaughters, Irene and Brittney; great-grandchildren, Bridgette and Tyler; and sister, Sally Smith. Mount Sinai

Lily Abdullah Shad died July 23 at 57. She is survived by her husband, Jamil; and sons, Eddie and Charles. Chevra Kadisha

Phyllis Shano died July 22 at 61. She is survived by her husband, Jack; son, Jason; daughter, Hallie; and brother, Steve (Karen). Malinow and Silverman

Irving Spiegel died July 21 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Miriam; sons, Henry and Philip (Jana); daughter, Deborah (Jeffery) Sweitzer; stepson, David; stepdaughter, Susan; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Hillside

Dorothy Stein died July 21 at 79. She is survived by her son, Eric. Malinow and Silverman

Stephanie Lynn Susman died July 20 at 45. She is survived by her parents, Arnold and Norma; and sister, Valerie Goldfine. Hillside

David Tourqeman died July 22 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Marcella; and sons, Raymond and Jaime. Chevra Kadisha

Cele Troyan died July 20 at 88. She is survived by her brother, Jeff Lewis; and niece, Andrea (Brad) Polak. Mount Sinai

Lucille Victor died July 23 at 84. She is survived by her son, Michael Shulem; daughter, Lyn Greene; 11 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and relatives, Barton Shulem, Deborah Davis and Harold Ross. Groman

Harold Wasserman died July 20 at 74. He is survived by his wife, Heidi; son, Mark (Debra); daughter, Beth (Chuck) Samuel; five grandchildren; and brother, Leonard (Marge). Malinow and Silverman

Herman Weintraub died July 21 at 92. He is survived by his sons, Larry (Barbara) and Ronald (Marilyn); daughter, Renee; two grandchildren; and sister, Ruth Eskow. Mount Sinai

Libbie Winograd died July 23 at 91. She is survived by her son, Cary; daughter, Deborah; two grandchildren; and niece, Beth Cohen. Groman

Irene Zenker died July 21 at 95. She is survived by her son, Arnold (Barbara); and daughter, Carol. Malinow and Silverman

Obituaries following our October 8th issue, have been archived and can be found in our archives section.

Black Sheep

For better and for worse, my parents raised me to be a mensch. In the business world, sticking to the strong moral values they instilled in me hasn’t always been easy, but I can safely say I’ll never be the type who could stab a co-worker in the back. Little did I know that at least one of my ancestors wasn’t troubled by such compunction.

During my genealogy research I was surprised to learn that my great-grandfather was a real scoundrel. While it’s impossible to know what was happening inside of his head, I’ve found clues that give me a better understanding of who he was.

I first stumbled onto his sordid past when I found several documents that detailed four separate birthplaces. On a census record, Isaac Spear listed his birthplace as New York. On his wedding certificate, it’s written as London. On his son’s birth certificate, he claimed Hanley Staffordshire, England. And, in 1900, an Isaac Spier in Sing Sing prison claimed to have been born in Pennsylvania.

While visiting my grandparents’ apartment in Brooklyn as a child, I remember that my grandmother once told me to not say the word Sing Sing in front of my grandfather because it upset him.

I flew to New York to examine Sing Sing’s admissions records. In one hour I confirmed that my great-grandfather, registered as Isaac Spier, alias Herbert Edward Spier, was a criminal.

Isaac’s trouble started when two women took their separate grievances to the Kings County Courthouse. My great-grandmother Ida complained to the judge that Isaac had abandoned her. The other woman, Minnie Ott, accused Isaac of bigamy.

Several newspapers provided different perspectives of the story. According to one account, my great-grandmother went with my then-infant grandfather and a policeman to Minnie’s house. After realizing who was at the door, Isaac darted into the street and hopped onto an eastbound trolley car. A mile down the road he realized the policeman was following him, so Isaac jumped off the trolley and hopped on another one headed in the opposite direction. Eventually Isaac was apprehended.

Another newspaper captured the dialog between my ancestors. Isaac first denied ever knowing my great-grandmother. In response, she held up my grandfather in front of Isaac and said, “Do you deny that this is your son?” Isaac’s only response was a gulp.

He was later convicted of bigamy and sentenced to four years at Sing Sing. Police suspected that Isaac might have had as many as four wives.

As I continued to research Isaac’s nefarious past, I found a 1916 New York City Police Department report that detailed how Isaac laundered money from Gretsch, a guitar manufacturer. In 1925, he made The New York Times when he was accused of extortion. As an auditor for the New York State Income Tax Bureau, Isaac was the target of a failed police sting operation.

Although the process took years, I finally determined that Isaac was born in London, the son of a rabbi. By comparing my great-grandparents’ marriage certificate to my grandfather’s birth certificate, it is clear that he was conceived out of wedlock.

His headstone at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Queens, located right next to the grave of his third wife, Rose, shows his name as Joseph in English and Isaac in Hebrew. If nothing else, his tombstone is an amusing final tribute to his use of aliases.

Criminal behavior among Jews has been far more rampant than what our parents or the Jewish community are willing to admit. I was amazed to find thousands of Jewish criminals as I delved deep into Sing Sing’s records. The goniffs ranged from big-name gangsters to small-time crooks and included physicians who performed illegal abortions.

As a genealogist, I have come across numerous fellow descendants of Jewish inmates who have been kind enough to share the stories of their ancestors with me. I find solace in the fact that I’m not alone. And the odds are likely that you might have a black sheep like Isaac in your family, too.

Ron Arons is a member of both the Los Angeles and San Francisco Jewish Genealogical Societies. He will be teaching a three-part introductory genealogy course at The University of Judaism beginning Oct. 18. Walk-ins welcome. For more information, visit or call (310) 440-1246.

A Family Affair

In his 86th year and in his 86th movie, Kirk Douglas has fulfilled a long-cherished dream by uniting his clan in the film, "It Runs in the Family."

The picture’s Gromberg family, for whom the word "dysfunctional" was invented, consists of patriarch Alex (Kirk, naturally), son Mitchell (son Michael Douglas) and grandson Asher (grandson Cameron Douglas).

Rounding out the mishpachah (family) is Diana Douglas, Kirk’s ex-wife and Michael’s mother, who plays the patriarch’s wife, Evelyn.

The Grombergs of Manhattan are over the top in every conceivable way. They are gratingly Jewish: Kirk sprinkles his comments with Yiddish vulgarisms, screams out a "Kaddish" (prayer for the dead) as he sets fire to a boat carrying the corpse of his senile brother and for good measure, there is a family seder from hell.

Adding to the New York stereotype, the Grombergs are obscenely rich, thanks to the patriarch’s successful career as a corporate lawyer.

At the seder, when the youngest grandson, Eli (Rory Culkin), finds the afikomen, Kirk whips out a $1,000 bill and another greenback of the same denomination for 24-year-old Asher, who didn’t find the afikomen.

There is almost constant intramural bickering between the crusty Gromberg patriarch and his son; between the son and his wife, Rebecca (Bernadette Peters); and between this couple and their children. Ultimately, the family rallies around when Asher is busted for growing and selling marijuana.

Relief comes occasionally, as in the warmly portrayed relationship between the Gromberg grandfather and his wife and the brotherly bonds between the two grandsons.

But most of the time, the film is as dysfunctional as the Gromberg family, running off in a dozen different directions and with a convoluted plot line that defies description.

Australian-born Fred Schepisi directed the film, with Michael Douglas doubling as producer.

"It Runs in the Family," released by MGM and Buena Vista International, opens Friday, April 25.

Diagnosis: Grandfather

"The Grandfather Thing" by Saul Turteltaub (Tallfellow Press, $16.95).

Saul Turteltaub, whom I’ve known for a good many years, is a funny man and a funny television writer. If you laughed at "The Carol Burnett Show," "The Jackie Gleason Show," "That Girl" or "The Cosby Show," tip your hat to Turteltaub, because they are among the 30 major TV shows he has written or produced over a 40- year span.

Then he became a grandfather. In the beginning, he vowed to observe the arrival of grandson Max with strict objectivity, and he stuck to his resolve for the first two months of Max’s wrinkled and screaming babyhood.

But then Turteltaub weakened, and within months he was off showing photos of Max to strangers in the next car at traffic lights.

The only possible diagnosis was that Turteltaub had caught "The Grandfather Thing," which happened to be the title of his book, complemented by, "the real poop by Max, age 1."

In the slim, 96-page volume, the author chronicles, month by month, Max’s progress and the increasingly affectionate relationship between grandfather and grandson.

Fortunately, the author also records Max’s observations on life, and even a poem, at each of the 12 stages. For instance, at five months, Max rhymes:

"I notice when I laugh and smile
My parents do it too,
But when I cry they only sigh
And don’t know what to do.
‘He’s tired, hungry, or he’s wet,’
Are all the choices that I get.
I’m five months old,
Why don’t they guess,
‘Perhaps he wants a game of chess.’"

At the end of 12 months, Max observes, "Just because I don’t talk doesn’t mean I have nothing to say. Stand by."

The final page contains famous, and famously unsentimental, grandfather quotations, such as Nancy Spence’s "Grandchildren are the only justification for not having killed our kids," and Turteltaub’s own "There is no woman more precious than the daughter who will not allow her father to change her child’s diapers."