Reflections in a mirror

The Place of Sorrow, the Sorrow of that Place by Craig Taubman

When my in-laws Charlotte and Dr. Eli Brent passed away last year, these words by Marsha Falk became a comfort.

“All things are born small and grow large –

except grief, which is born large and grows small”

A year later, these words still resonate – and yet, the loss continues to loom large. We know our grief will soften with time and we also understand that time is not in our control.

Initially, I found comfort in honoring their memory by embracing their life lessons. They were lessons modeled every day while they were with us, and lessons that still resonate in their absence.

 “What’s your price?”

“When a door is shut, open a window.”

“Don’t extinguish flames, light lights.”

As time slips away, I now hear their voices at unexpected times, like Wonder Woman. I’ve never seen a super hero movie, but when Gal Gadot’s mother Queen Hippolyta tells her daughter the following, all I could think of, was my wife

“You have been my greatest love.

Today you are my greatest sorrow”

I saw them in this season’s House of Cards episode 6 when President Underwood turned to the camera invoking these words by Professor Batty to Goofy on how to flip a coin for life’s most important decisions:

“Life is but a gamble.

Let flipism guide your ramble.”

I’m not sure if life’s a gamble, but this past year has certainly shown me that life is fragile, and death is the reminder.

I even saw Eli and Charlotte in a recent article about the terrorists who killed Israeli soldier Hadas Malka. One of the killers, posted a tweet stating: “We are all temporary. The world is not ours. We just walk in it and leave everything behind. God, assign our lives some good for which we shall meet you.” How a person can use this as justification to murder another is beyond me and yet, I heard Eli’s query, “So Craigo, what’s it all about? And I would answer, “I’m not sure.”

This I know. It’s good to still have them in my life in these unexpected moments. It affirming to know that the values they received from their parents to make the world a better place and pursue justice, have been passed on to our generation. It’s comforting to see our children embrace these same values as generous and kind people. I also know that life is fragile and death but a reminder.  I have not figured it all out, but I do know that love is the way in.

It always has been, it always will be.

Craig Taubman has left an indelible imprint on the Jewish American experience through his original compositions and live performances. His songs bridge traditional Jewish themes and ancient teachings with passages and experiences from contemporary Jewish life.

Craig has also enjoyed a successful career in television and film composing music for Disney, Fox, HBO, and PBS series. He wrote the theme music for the Coca Cola Olympic Pavilion, as well as the feature films Andre, Pinocchio, and Disney’s Toontown.

Having traveled for years meeting people from communities large and small, Craig – a natural “connector” – became passionate about bringing diverse people and cultures together. He branched out to plan and oversee the production of community building projects, including Friday Night Live, The Celebrate Series, Jewels of Elul, and in 2013 the Pico Union Project, a multi-faith cultural arts center and house of worship.

Craig recently released 30 Days, a Journey of Love, Loss and Healing, a unique package of thirty introspections from poets, faith leaders, artists, healers and authors, to help people on their journey toward hope and healing.

 Craig Taubman

Get Inspired!

“love your neighbor as yourself”


Craig Taubman

Craig Taubman




The Gamliel Institute will be offering course 2, Chevrah Kadisha: Taharah & Shmirah, online, afternoons/evenings, in the Fall semester, starting September 5th, 2017. This is the core course focusing on Taharah and Shmirah, ritual, liturgy, practical matters, how-to, and what it means.


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Loss has no closure

I was just listening to the news about, Lane Grave, the 2 year old boy that was dragged away, by an alligator at Disney World in Florida.

The horror happened in front of his parents. As it was reported, the authorities had given up on finding the child alive, but according to the newscaster, they were continuing their search to find the body in order to bring “closure “ to the parents. 

I have heard the word “closure” used countless times over the years, and as a long time psychotherapist specializing in helping victims of crime and trauma, it is my firm opinion that using this word in this context should stop. In my years of working with those who have had their lives torn asunder, there is no closure to the tragic grief that comes with unexpected loss. It is that road which has no end and in the case of the missing toddler, finding this body will not alter or diminish the devastation this family is just beginning to understand. 

People want to believe that many of life’s tragedies can be tidied up, that wounds can be mended, and that peace and order can be restored. As other people’s misfortune reminds us, we too are vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life. We feel threatened when we see how fragile life can be, and to rid ourselves of our anxieties, we make up a story of an ending called “closure” to make us feel better. 

In fact, we do get better. Wounds do improve, but the road back is often long and circuitous. The use of the word closure is an indicator of wishful thinking and it is infuriating to those of us who know the truth and treat those pained people who have been sold this easy ending to tragic circumstances.

My wonderful father was murdered almost eight years and the murderer has never been arrested. It is easy to imagine that if only they could find the bastard, then maybe, I and my family could finally have “closure” and be freed from the profound pain and ache in our hearts. I would love to see this person found and convicted. I would love to see justice on behalf of my father. But, my father is never coming back, nor is this two year old child who lost his life at Disney World. I don’t write this piece in anger, I simply want others to understand the gravity of loss and know that life is often more complicated than trying to simplify it with one word.

Lin Manuel Miranda, the author of the Broadway show Hamilton, wrote the best words I’ve ever heard about loss. The song “It's Quiet Uptown” captures perfectly the pain Alexander and Angelica Hamilton feel after the death of their son Phillip. “There are moments that words don’t reach—There is suffering too terrible to name—you hold your child as tight as you can and push away the unimaginable—The moments when you’re in so deep it feels easier to just swim down” 

Rick Shuman, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist in Los Angeles.

I lost my mom but found a family

In 2003, I was 20 and living on the South Side of Chicago, in a dirty 10,000-square-foot warehouse with six roommates and four cats. There was a mysterious fungus, shaped like a human ear, growing in the corner of my room, and I did nothing about it. A typical day consisted of waking up around noon and smoking weed until I went to sleep. On the weekends, we’d throw raves in the warehouse. The place had a huge empty room, and we’d smash fluorescent lights against the walls and shatter them for fun. Life was going great.

When the phone rang on the morning of May 6, I was sound asleep. It was from Michigan, and it was the police. The cop on the phone was cold and gruff.  He said my mother, Nancy, had gotten into a car accident, that she was dead and I had to get to the morgue immediately to identify her body. 

I hung up the phone and screamed — a guttural howl that ran through my entire body. I thought people would come running, but none of my roommates heard me, because we lived in a 10,000-square-foot warehouse. I had to walk into my best friend Jeff’s room and continue screaming. We got into his car and drove the four hours from Chicago to Grosse Pointe, Mich., the town where I grew up. I was in complete shock — sobbing and staring out the window, hoping we could either get there faster or never get there at all. It didn’t seem real. I felt bad because my mother was gone, but also for so many other reasons. I had taken her for granted. After all, at 20, I had my own super-fun, selfish life to worry about.

I felt bad that it was about to be Mother’s Day, and I could never give her the gift I’d been planning to give her. I felt bad that she’d died on the side of the I-94 freeway on a rainy night and I was miles away.

My parents divorced when I was 5, and my relationship with my father at the time of my mother’s death was strained. When I arrived and walked into my childhood home, my mother’s sister was sitting in the living room, Dewar’s in hand, with several of her girlfriends, discussing the memorial service. They kept talking about how the ceremony would be held at The Little Club, a private tennis club none of us could afford, because they had “great little sandwiches.” 

“Little sandwiches?!” I screamed. “Who gives a s—? What the hell are you talking about?!” 

I was furious that they were smoking in the house, too. I felt like they were erasing my mom’s smell.


When I think back to that time, it seems like one long day, but it must have been at least a week or more. The memorial service took place as planned at The Little Club. All of my aunt’s friends were there. It basically felt like a homecoming party for my aunt. Open bar. Nothing my mother would have ever wanted. People kept saying, “This is so fun! We have to do this again! I mean … without the funeral part.” I read a eulogy I’d written, and several people came up to me after and told me that I’d made them cry, as if to say, “How dare you spoil the party with your bummer speech.”

For the longest time, I convinced myself that my mom was in Florida. The last time I saw her alive, I was dropping her off at the airport. She was on her way to Fort Lauderdale to see my aunt and grandmother. She wasn’t dead, she was just in Florida and I wouldn’t see her for a while. I mean, to be honest, death and being in Florida kind of seem like the same thing, anyway, but that’s me. I was in denial. I was lost. I had no guidance from anything or anyone in my life, and I didn’t know how to mourn. I hadn’t grown up religious at all, so I also had no spiritual handbook. In fact, it was a running joke that my parents had taken me to get baptized, but when they found out that they’d have to take a class in order to do it, they bailed. So I was alone and didn’t cope well. 

I quit smoking weed because my mother had always hated it, but then just compensated by binge drinking. At one point, I was buying a fifth of Maker’s Mark each night. I would draw a line on the bottle, in an attempt to police my drinking. “Do not cross the line.” But I’d always end up crossing the line, literally and figuratively. On the outside, I appeared to bounce right back. Laughing hard and making jokes, even the day after she died. But inside, there was turmoil. This continued for almost 10 years. Ten years of increasing isolation, quitting school, getting angry, getting sober, falling off the wagon, and being in a deep depression. 

Basically, not living.

Putting everything on pause and not being part of the world. And there was no one to lean on, either. My mother’s death had made an already-small family practically microscopic. I swallowed the mistreatment from my dad and aunt because I desperately wanted family, but I was empty.

In 2005, I moved to New York. I started to pursue a dream of performing and writing comedy.  It was there that I met my husband, Gil. 

We met at a show called “The Dirtiest Sketch Show,” where people would perform horribly obscene sketches. It was great. Our eyes first met over a nude man doing something wrong with a turkey baster. It was the perfect place for love to blossom.

A couple of weeks into dating, though, we were eating at a sushi restaurant, and Gil told me he wouldn’t marry someone who wasn’t Jewish. I was devastated. And then, right after he dropped that bomb, three men walked up to our table and sang “Happy Birthday.” I burst into tears out of shock. One of the waiters patted Gil on the back and said, “Wow, she had a great reaction!” assuming I was crying tears of joy.

A few months later, Gil took me to meet his parents for the first time — at Passover! It’s pretty intense to meet your boyfriend’s parents, but meeting them at a seder, when you’re not Jewish, is a whole other experience. I felt extremely awkward. Do they all hate me?

Do they think I’m stupid? What the hell are bitter herbs? I felt completely ignorant for not even knowing the most basic Bible stories. Gil seemed to know everything, though now I know he’s usually just talking confidently and has no idea what he’s saying. 

But once I got out of my own head, I realized this was a unique experience. My very limited exposure to religion had left the impression that questioning it in the slightest was wrong, but here was a large table of people doing just that. Questioning and analyzing everything. Having heated debates and praising one another for their theories and interpretations. There was a level of comfort in Gil’s family that I’d never experienced. He was close with his great uncle, they were friends, whereas, in my family, I avoided my elders because I was never pushed to be close to them. 

It was the first time I thought about converting. I found the idea of how Shabbat and the holidays unite a family incredibly appealing. 

There was only one thing that gave me pause, and that was giving up Christmas. It was my mother’s favorite holiday, and by letting it go, I felt as though I’d be losing a huge piece of her. In retrospect, I realize, I clung to Christmas because it was the only tradition my family had — the one time my house felt warm, bright and full of love.

I started conversion classes in 2014. In the first session, I felt like the dumbest person there, but every class got better and better, and they led to deep conversations between Gil and me, as well. Long talks about God, tradition, religion and things we might not discuss otherwise. Quite fittingly, the class that affected me most was about Jewish customs and rituals dealing with death. We learned about sitting shivah, walking around the block and re-entering the world no longer a mourner. We talked about shloshim and the unveiling. I realized that Jews had the guideline that I had looked for when my mother passed: a plan for mourning. 

At first, I was distraught. I was upset that I couldn’t go back in time and do all these things for my mom. That I couldn’t go back and help myself. But that regret eventually turned into relief because I also learned that there were other traditions that would connect me to her.

I finished my conversion that April, right before we went to Israel to meet Gil’s extended family. As they say, “I couldn’t go a shiksa, so I hit the mikveh.” I chose the Hebrew name Hanna for myself in tribute to my mother, as Hanna is a root for Nancy. I’d also always wanted a sister and there, sitting in the mikveh room as I dunked, was my beautiful, amazing, soon-to-be sister-in-law, Alexandra. 

I was pronounced a Jew and was left alone in the mikveh to reflect.

Without thinking, I began talking aloud to my mom. Laughing and crying about how life takes you to the craziest places. I don’t doubt for a second that my mom was in that room with me. It seems ironic now that I ended up “taking the class” that my parents never took in order to dunk myself and become a Jew. 

Upon landing in Israel, my small family became enormous. Gil’s Israeli family is huge. More than 150 cousins, uncles and aunts joined us at an engagement party we held there. Gil’s family is Yemenite, so we celebrated a very special ceremony they have called a Henne. We dressed in traditional garb; I wore a 3-foot-tall headpiece. My costume weighed more than 70 pounds. I sat with Gil as a procession of his tiny, adorable aunts approached and kissed me a million times, blessing me and telling me they loved me in Hebrew. “Todah,”  (thank you) I responded, like a clueless idiot. I was mystified by how quickly these people whom I couldn’t even communicate with accepted me with open arms. They seemed to see me as a good, loving, genuine person. That may sound strange to say about myself, but it’s something I have a hard time seeing. Especially after feeling selfish for so many years. I didn’t realize I’d been doing it, but I had been praying for this family for a long time, and I got what I’d wished for in the most unexpected, overwhelming way.

The most profound part of our trip to Israel coincided with Yom HaZikaron, which happened to fall on May 5 that year, the 11th anniversary of my mother’s death, to the day. I don’t know if you’ve ever been in Israel for Yom HaZikaron, but at some point during the day, they blast loud air horns for a minute straight in memory of soldiers that have died. Everyone in the entire country stops what they’re doing and takes a moment of silence to remember the fallen.

Even those driving on the road pull to the side, exit their cars and hang their heads to remember. We happened to be on the freeway on our way to Jerusalem when the horns blasted. We, along with all the cars around us, pulled to the shoulder of the freeway and got out of our car. The side of a freeway, exactly like where my mom had passed away 11 years earlier. It was incredibly eerie, and meaningful and special. It felt a little too coincidental that I would be there, forced to face the reality of what had happened to my mom. I cried uncontrollably, but it was cathartic, and I felt more supported than ever before — strangely, it felt, by the entire country of Israel. United by loss. After the horns stopped sounding, we got back into the car and finished our drive to Jerusalem. There my new aunt, Zehavah, would be waiting with a yahrzeit candle, which we’d light together. That night we celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut, partying in the streets, and in a way I was finally re-entering the world, no longer a mourner.

I now light a yahrzeit candle every year on May 5. We’ve also added to that tradition by playing my mom’s favorite game, Yahtzee, looking at photos of her and listening to music that she loved. I didn’t realize how much Judaism would help me to finally make peace with my mother’s death. For those 10 lost years, I wanted to do something to honor her, but I built up so much pressure about it that I ended up doing nothing. Judaism kind of forces you, in a helpful way, to deal with things you might otherwise avoid. It’s a guideline. The yahrzeit candle, the Mourner’s Kaddish, reflecting on how you’re doing and what you’d like to change at Yom Kippur. All these things have allowed me to heal. 

Last month was the 13th anniversary of my mom’s death. I usually refer to May 5 as “Stinko De Cryo,” but this year, for the first time, I felt good. Sure, I cried, but I also had a great time with my family. The traditions we’ve established help me to be proactive in a time when I want to avoid thinking altogether. At this point, my mother has been dead for more than half of the time I actually got to spend with her alive. It’s hard to remember what she was like, especially when you push it out of your mind to protect yourself. But this annual check-in reminds me of my mother’s joyous spirit. 

Judaism gave me a prescription to grieve my mom and the blessing of a family to help me do it with, and her memory will be passed down to my kids through those beautiful traditions. 

Emily Strachan has been performing and writing comedy since 2005. She’s written for such TV shows as “Comedy Bang! Bang!” and “Filthy Preppy Teen$.” She was also a staff writer for “Funny or Die.” She has been a house team member at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre and can be seen performing in various shows around Los Angeles.

Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg opens up to UC grads about her deep grief

Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, for the first time publicly described the depth of her grief following the death of her husband — at a commencement speech at the University of California, Berkeley.

Dave Goldberg, the 47-year-old CEO of Survey Monkey, died suddenly in May 2015 after sustaining a head trauma when he fell off of a treadmill while vacationing with his family in Mexico.

Sandberg, 46, said she was “swallowed up in the deep fog of grief — what I think of as the void — an emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even to breathe.’’

The couple was married for 11 years and had two children.

“The greatest irony of my life [is] that losing my husband helped me find deeper gratitude for the kindness of my friends, the love of my family and the laughter of children,’’ she said.

“I’m sharing this with you today in the hopes that on this day in your lives, with all the momentum and the joy, you can learn in life the lessons I only learned in death. Lessons about hope, about strength and about the light within us that will not be extinguished.”

Sandberg is the author of “Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.” On Mother’s Day, she wrote a post on Facebook in which she acknowledged that she did not realize how hard single working women had it until she was one herself.

Surviving the darkest hours of grief: Eitan Fishbane talks about raising daughter without his wife

When it comes to writing about grief, perspective is often a liability.

Grieving is so smothering an experience that it’s almost impossible to conjure up from a distance. And yet so few people have the inclination or the presence of mind to document its intensity in real time. It’s no wonder that the best contemporary writing about grief — Joan Didion’s “The Year of Magical Thinking” and Meghan O’Rourke’s “The Long Goodbye” come to mind — were begun before scar tissue had time to form.

Eitan Fishbane, an assistant professor of Jewish philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary, wrote most of his potent, poetic new memoir, “Shadows in Winter” (Syracuse University Press), in the five months after the death of his wife, Leah, who was 32. Leah, who was pregnant with the couple’s second child, died of an undiagnosed brain tumor just days after being rushed to the hospital with a debilitating headache. Their daughter, Aderet, was 4.

In a recent interview with the Forward’s Gabrielle Birkner, Fishbane discusses the decision to document his walk through grief, the books that provided solace in his darkest hours, parenting a daughter through the loss of her mother and finding happiness anew.

Gabrielle Birkner: What compelled you to compose a journal in the immediate aftermath of Leah’s death — and at what point did you begin to envision what you were writing as a book?

Eitan Fishbane: I was talking to an old friend at the shiva, and she knew that writing was always my outlet for processing emotion; she was already encouraging me to start writing about it. Initially, it was very much an emptying-out of the intensity of emotions. Then there was a growing desire to have other people read it. There’s power in witnessing — of having other people hold your trauma, hold your pain. Other people’s stories were very healing and comforting to me when I was in my weakest places. To know that another person has been to that unspeakable place is very powerful.

You write poignantly about how Aderet mourned her mother intuitively, through her words and her prayers, her songs and her artwork. What did bearing witness to a 4-year-old’s sorrow teach you about how children grieve?

A big part of how children process grief is through play and through their own artistic creativity — the drawing of pictures, the playing with sand tables. This imaginary world becomes a symbolic world for them. But I was, thankfully, able to see that children have, or at least Aderet has, an amazing emotional resilience. She is really able to savor joy in life in the same way that other little children do, while still processing the memories.

You dedicate the book to Aderet with the words “I will remember for you.” Does the responsibility of being your daughter’s memory, her link to her mother, weigh heavily on you?

In some ways, that dedication reflects the weight of what it is to parent a little child through loss. I am one of the primary bearers of those memories that, inevitably and tragically, she has only preciously few of. So it’s a heaviness and it’s also an incredible gift. I’m grateful that we live in a digital age, that we have some video that survived all this, that she’ll almost be able to see and hear her mother.

Did the works of other writers who have tackled life after loss provide any comfort or inspiration for you?

For a long time, those kinds of books were the only ones I had any real desire for. I found Earl Grollman’s “Living When a Loved One Has Died” to be very authentic to the emotion of it; I found Donald Hall’s short book of poems, “Without” .…and Mark Doty’s book of poems, “Atlantis,” to be very powerful. C.S. Lewis’s “A Grief Observed” and Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking” were very significant. But I connected more to Hall and Doty, because of their attempt to connect the power of emotion through lyricism.

Leah died in March 2007. How long after that did it take for your appetite for other reading, for other intellectual pursuits, to come back?

It was a very powerful experience to come back that fall to teaching — to stand again before a group of students and try to enter back into that world of spirituality and ideas that drew me into teaching and writing, and still sustain me. It was a slow process of transition, but teaching was able to reconnect me to those ideas. And I actually have another book coming out this fall, called “The Sabbath Soul,” about Hasidic mystical reflections on Shabbat. My father made the observation that “Shadows in Winter” was my Kaddish for Leah, and “The Sabbath Soul” was an attempt at a kol mikadesh [spiritual sanctification], or a Kiddush — representing a return to my spiritual and theological creativity.

“Shadows in Winter” is about your walk through grief — and only in the afterword do you write about your life since those initial dark weeks and months. But you’re now remarried [to Rabbi Julia Andelman]. Was it difficult to give your heart over again, after experiencing such a sudden, tragic loss?

Giving your heart over again is very uplifting, but it’s also a very vulnerable thing. It’s a great blessing to find love again, and still that doesn’t mean that the past is erased. All of it makes me the person that I am. Julia has, in a deeply loving way, embraced Aderet, and Aderet is a happy little girl who is well adjusted to a new family structure. Part of what I hope is communicated in the afterword is that there is survival and there is hope and there are positive new beginnings after very dark times.

Gabrielle Birkner is the director of digital media at the Forward and edits the women’s issues blog, The Sisterhood, on

Student on track to become first black female rabbi

Alysa Stanton-Ogulnick isn’t particularly interested in being a standard-bearer.

She’s proud to be black, proud to be a woman and proud to be a 45-year-old single mother who raised her adopted child on her own.

And when she says that next year, following her ordination as a Reform rabbi, she will become the first black female rabbi, the huge grin on her face lets folks know she feels pretty good about that, too.

But Stanton-Ogulnick, who is studying at the Cincinnati campus of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR), didn’t set out to be the first. It just kind of happened, like so much else in her life.

“If I were the 50,000th, I’d still be doing what I do, trying to live my life with kavanah and kedusha,” she said, using the Hebrew words for intentionality and holiness. “Me being first was just the luck of the draw.”

Stanton-Ogulnick — she’s still getting used to the second part of her hyphenated last name, the product of a recent marriage — was recently in San Francisco for a conference of ethnically and racially diverse Jews and Jewish communities sponsored by Be’chol Lashon, an organization that supports their efforts to enter the Jewish mainstream.

That’s something the future rabbi knows a great deal about — as a woman, as a convert and as a Jew of color. She’s had to fight for success and acceptance in a world that wasn’t always welcoming.

“At this conference there are people from all over looking for their identity,” Stanton-Ogulnick said. “Maybe I can help them on the path by breaking down barriers.”

That’s among her goals as a rabbi, she says: breaking barriers, building bridges and giving hope.

Like many rabbinic students now, Stanton-Ogulnick is on her second career. She came to the rabbinate as a licensed psychotherapist specializing in grief and loss issues.

Stanton-Ogulnick has worked with trauma victims in Colorado for the past 16 years, at the same time becoming more active in Denver’s Temple Emanuel. She has served the synagogue as a para-chaplain, religious-school teacher and cantorial soloist.

Raised by Pentacostal parents, Stanton-Ogulnick spent her childhood and young adulthood as a spiritual seeker, making the rounds of various Christian denominations before finding her home in Judaism. She converted more than 20 years ago.

“People look at me and ask if I was born Jewish,” she said. “I say yes, but not to a Jewish womb. I believe I was at Sinai. It’s not as if one day I scratched my head and said, hmm, now how can I make my life more difficult? I know — I’ll become Jewish!”

Stanton-Ogulnick made her choice to join the Jewish community as an adult, well aware of the difficulties that might arise. Her daughter Shana, now 13, didn’t get to choose; she was dipped in the mikvah (ritual bath) as an infant.

The year they spent in Jerusalem, Stanton-Ogulnick’s first year as an HUC-JIR student, was the most difficult. Shana, then 7, faced daily prejudice at school.

“She was beat up, and once was literally kicked off the bus,” her mother said with quiet anger. “We’d been in Israel three months and her only friend was a cat.”

One day, Shana came home from camp beaming because one of the other children held her hand.

“‘Nobody ever holds my hand, Mommy,’ she said to me,” Stanton-Ogulnick recounted. “I said, ‘Why?’ She said, ‘Because I’m shochor,'” or black.

“Ani lo tov, ani lo yafah,” the little girl told her mother, using the Hebrew for “I’m no good, I’m not pretty.”

Even telling the story now, six years later, Stanton-Ogulnick shakes her head.

“Sometimes I’ve been in tears with what I have put this child through,” she says.

Stanton-Ogulnick relates some of the difficulties of her life’s journey in a monologue she created last fall called “Layers.”

First performed at a conference of Reform religious-school educators in October, the piece opens with her standing on stage with her head in a noose, a shocking evocation of slavery. The monologue deals with her journey to Judaism and other major changes in her life, including a recent weight loss of 122 pounds.

Pulling out an old picture of herself at her former weight, Stanton-Ogulnick shakes her head again. Is she really no longer that person? Is she really about to become a rabbi?

It’s all so remarkable, she muses.

At the end of one performance, she says, a woman came up to her in tears, saying, “You told my story, thank you.”

“It’s those moments,” Stanton-Ogulnick said. “Even though the journey is long and the path difficult, if I can provide someone with a little hope and a sense of purpose, it’s worthwhile.”

It’s experiencing those moments that she is most looking forward to as a rabbi, whether she ends up in a pulpit, working as a chaplain or in some other position.

“That moment, that ‘a-ha, I’m not alone’ that comes when I’m talking with a congregant or an individual struggling with something and I’m helping them find a solution,” she said, “that a-ha moment is what it’s about for me.”


Maury Abrams died March 12 at 80. He is survived by his wife, Francine; sons, Judd (Nicole Sassman) and Gregg; daughter, Glennis (Jim) Malcolm; and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Nancy Alspektor died March 2 at the age of 85. She is survived by her sons, Allan, Stan, and Arthur; daughter, Roseann Alspektor-Schalker; and grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Sarah Berman died March 12 at 86. She is survived by her daughter, Honey; and son, Rube. Hillside

Dr. Julius Steve Brodie died March 19 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Gloria; children, Karen (Bill) Michiels and Betty (Ross) Winn; four grandchildren; brother-in-law, Arthur Lackman; nieces; and nephews. Hillside

Beverly Brukman died March 18 at 80. She is survived by her husband, Jack; daughters, Kubda (Robert) Brown and Debra (Gary) Pancer; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Goldie Chernick died March 11 at 82. She is survived by her daughters, Dina and Nina; and son, Paul. Hillside

Robert Chisling died March 11 at the age of 85. He is survived by his daughter, Lois (Bruce) Sklar; grandson, Michael. Sholom Chapels

Robert Michael Cohen died March 12 at 78. He is survived by his daughter, Myla (Bruce) Kramer; sons, Randy and Evan; seven grandchildren; and sisters, Dorothy (Marvin) Waller and Rose McArthur. Mount Sinai

Chaja Dunkelman died March 13 at 88. She is survived by her husband, Luzer; daughter, Aviva (Leon) Biederman; son, Daniel (Noemi); three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Elaine Epstein died March 20 at 80. She is survived by her daugher, Nancy; son, Steve; grandchildren, Rachel and Adam Levine; great-grandchild; and sister, Shirley Bass. Hillside

Martha Finkle died March 16 at 89. She is survived by her daughter, Paula (David) Hand; son, Robert; grandchildren, Dr. Lisa (Richard) Engel and Alan (Jana) Hand; and niece, Penny Salomon. Hillside

Senta Fox died March 16 at 86. She is survived by her husband, Dave; daughter, Rabbi Karen; son, Rabbi Steven; four grandchildren; and brother, Rudy Salomons. Malinow and Silverman

Shirley Flacks died March 15 at 80. She is survived by her sons, Martin (Leigh), John (Bobette) and Steven (Lois); daughter, Paula (Jim) Sheftel; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Mount Sinai

Beatrice Silver Gendel died March 14 at 97. She is survived by her son, Neil. Hillside

Natalie Joyce Greene died March 6. She is survived by her daughter, Michele; and one grandchild. Groman

Leroy Helfman died March 8 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Linda; sons, Ivan, Waterford and Michigan; daughter, Joan (Bill) Strigler; stepdaughters, Brenda Bernhard and Lisa (Douglas) Schwab; and six grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha

Mary Hollander died March 20 at 88. She is survived by her son, Michael; daughters, Suzanne and Janie; eight grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Groman

Jules Jacob died March 14 at 94. He is survived by his sons, Richard (Kaythi) and Theodore (Julie); daughter, Ann Goodman; 10 grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Gerda Singer Josovicz died March 12 at 77. She is survived by her husband, Philip; daughter, Miriam Josovicz Lebental; grandchildren, Dana and David Lebental; brother, Joel Singer; and sister, Linda Berke Singer. Chevra Kadisha

Kefayat Turan Kasher died Feb 2 at 87. She is survived by her sons, Iraj (Soraya) Parviz and Ferdows (Yafa); daughter, Fereshte (Mansur); seven grandchildren; and sisters, Malek, Pari and Nazi. Chevra Kadisha

Selma Konitz died March 14 at 82. She is survived by her sons, Russ and Jack (Leslie) Kavanaugh; four grandchildren; and sister, Toni Green. Mount Sinai

Mildred Kraus died March 12 at 89. She is survived by her daughters, Elaine Rosenson, Roberta (Richard) Bernstein and Julie Weiss; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Joan Kurz died March 14 at 75. She is survived by her husband, Murray; son, Larry; daughters, Gayle and Nancy; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Groman

Jacob Leventhal died March 20 at 92. He is survived by his wife, Shirley; son, Robert (Cornelia Pachmann); and granddaughter, Erica Mount Sinai

Daniel Levy died March 19 at 87. He is survived by his daughter, Benay (Stanley) Mayer; son, Charles (Jody); and seven grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Rabbi David Lieb died March 8 at 65. He is survived by his wife, Estelle; daughter, Amy Knobel; sons, Jacob and Adam; four grandchildren; and sister, Marilyn Price. Malinow and Silverman

Evelyn Lieber died March 11 at 74. She is survived by her husband, Harold; sons, Shawn, Jeff (Gloria) and Mark (Debby); and six grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Joseph Lipson died March 17 at 69. He is survived by sister, Jane Stiglitz; nieces, Diane (Scott), Ellen (Ian); nephew, Steven; and extended family. Hillside

Myra “Mickey” Litman died March 13 at 69. She is survived by her husband, Richard; sons, Jeff, Adam and Daniel; and five grandchildren. Hillside

Jack Lorell died March 13 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Doris; sons, Kenneth (MaryAnn Champagne) and Mark (Mary Chenoweth); and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Dr. Leonard Loren died March 11 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Bracha; and son, Yoeli. Mount Sinai

Lucille Markowitz died March 16 at 78. She is survived by her husband, Eli; and daughter, Robin. Malinow and Silverman

Lillian Miller died March 18 at 93. She is survived by her sons, Alan and Kenneth; three grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Mount Sinai

Robert Neuhaus died March 15 at 79. He is survived by his children, Shelley (Marc Weiss), Mark and Eric; and three grandchildren. Hillside

Louis Nissen died March 15 at 94. He is survived by his wife, Frances; son, Steven (Lynn); daughter, Donna (James) Hayostek; six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Beatrice Olivestone died March 5 at the age of 86. She is survived by her husband, Joseph; son, Michael (Pari); daughter, Rachelle (Mark) Berger; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Patti Perlstein died March 19 at 49. She is survived by her mother, Aida; and brother Dan. Malinow and Silverman

Sylvia Reiss died March 17 at 86. She is survived by her son, Robert (Janet); daughter, Diane Reiss-Drexler (Stuart); and two grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Films: Director examines healing from surgery, grief

Seated at his office in Beverly Hills, Ben Mittleman, 57, doesn’t have a trace of gray in his sandy-brown hair. He says his mother used to kid him that he must have had a “facelift or something,” but despite the fact that this veteran TV actor turned director-producer looks 10 years younger than his age, he underwent heart surgery in 2001.

That experience is the subject of “Dying to Live,” along with his response to the cancers that later took the lives of both his mother and his wife, Valerie. The film premieres Thursday, March 13, at Laemmle’s Music Hall, where it will screen for two weeks.

The twin cancer diagnoses occurred right around the time that Mittleman had his heart surgery, forcing him to endure almost unbearable grief, and he worked through the experience through this film, not unlike Joan Didion, who wrote the prize-winning book, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” to help her to make sense of the death of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. He died from a sudden heart attack, as their daughter was in the hospital in a coma.

Just as Didion’s marriage to Dunne was famously close, Mittleman shows in “Dying to Live” just how sublime his romance was with Valerie, whose lithe dancing in the film illustrates the free spirit he loved.

“Dying to Live” is Mittleman’s second directorial effort, following a 2004 video, “The Youngest Guns,” about L.A. Clipper players Quentin Richardson and Darius Miles. In this new documentary, Mittleman turns the camera on himself and reveals extremely private moments, including sessions with his doctors and even his therapist.

After Valerie dies, Mittleman honors her by scattering her ashes in Los Angeles, England and in Israel at the Mount of Olives. The once-hulking, 6-foot-2, 200-pound former athlete, whose TV credits include appearances on “Frasier,” “Cheers” and “Dynasty,” cries often in the documentary.

Mittleman became a stage actor in the early 1970s, shortly after his father’s death from heart disease. On the stage, he says, he learned that “theater could be a vehicle for social change, “which resonated with him, particularly because his mother, “a prefeminist feminist,” as he says in the film, had always been an activist. Later in 1988, Mittleman founded an organization called Action for Kids, dedicated to creating educational programming for children.

In a corner of his office, Mittleman has a poster of Captain America, whom he portrayed in a drug abuse program he produced in conjunction with the FBI. Mittleman also developed programs with the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among other organizations, to raise awareness about the environment and to foster racial tolerance.

Mittleman, who often drops Hebrew words into conversation, grew up in a Conservative Jewish household, and Jewish influences infuse his film. He begins “Dying to Live” by singing “Letichala Riba,” a Chasidic niggun (tune) that he says is about soaring over adversity. Then he shows photos and home movies of his family at Jones Beach and Rockaway.

Later in the film, he visits the grave of his father, bowing and praying while robed in a tallit and kippah. A scene of him wrapping tefillin mirrors hospital scenes in which he has tubes coiling out of his body.

Mittleman says he never told his mother about his surgery for fear it would have consumed her. Near the end of the film, she tells him that the secrets to life lie in music and humor and from giving and receiving love. Mittleman’s father, a violinist, played professionally and constantly entertained his family at home. As an homage to his father, Mittleman says, he included the music of Jascha Heifetz and Pablo Casals and other classical musicians in the film.

Although he has not acted since his operation, Mittleman says that he would like to perform Shakespeare again. He played Barnardo and Marcellus, two guards in the opening scene in “Hamlet,” but never played the Danish prince.

“You always see yourself as Hamlet,” he says, smiling, and in the film he recites one of Hamlet’s soliloquies while standing on a rooftop, just days before his surgery.

Mittleman says he has an idea about doing a documentary in Europe. He stands up from his desk and picks up framed photos of Valerie, his mother and Catherine, the new woman in his life, a Belgian expatriate living in Paris.

Although he often cites the adage, “Man makes plans, and God laughs,” Mittleman says he is thinking of moving to France to be with her. He is likely to do so, one can gather not only from “Dying to Live” but also from a note on a board in the office adjoining Mittleman’s. Written in magic marker, it reads, “Capture your precious moments now.”

“Dying to Live” will open at Laemmle’s Music Hall in Beverly Hills on Thursday, March 13, where it will screen for two weeks. For more information, visit


Leah Benjamin died Dec. 30 at 96. She is survived by her nephews, Sid (Linda) Silverman and Neal (Marlene) Brostoff; niece Sandra (Harold) Vellins; and great-niece, Aliza Silverman. Mount Sinai

Annette Gershuni Bergman died Jan. 2 at 76. She is survived by her sons, Gregory and Alex Gershuni; stepdaughter, Melinda; and six grandchildren. Hillside

Irving Bornstein died Dec. 26 at 96. He is survived by his daughter, Marian Diller; son, Dr. Kenneth Greenbaum; six grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Irving Chait died Dec. 31 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Madelyn; children, Kimberly (Rob) Frankel, Michael (Susan) and Laurie; and seven grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Bessie Cherroff died Jan. 2 at 100. She is survived by her daughter, Ruthe Newmann; son, Bill (Diana); three grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and brother, Dr. Leon (Olive) Newman. Mount Sinai

Donald Denbo died Dec. 25 at 77. He is survived by his sister, Enig (Bernard) Wizig. Hillside

Jack Fast died Dec. 26 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Sandra; son, Adam (Marilyn); and grandchildren, Alexander and James. Mount Sinai

Allan Faye died Dec. 27 at 74. He is survived by his wife, Thalia; son, Scott (Ilise); and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Shirley Fishkin-Azaren died Dec. 25 at 84. She is survived by her husband, Harold; daughter, Nettie (Harvey) Lerner; son, Jerome (Lindsay) Fishkin; 10 grandchildren; and 25 great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Barbara Frank died Dec. 25 at 65. She is survived by her sons, Aaron (Karin) and Bill (Heather); daughter, Stephanie (Rob) Cornick; grandsons, Gavin and Jared; brother, Stan (Judy) Smith; and former husband, Steven. Mount Sinai

Edith Orenstein Freedman died Dec. 25 at 90. She is survived by her daughter, Brenda (Harold) Weinstein; grandchildren, Marcie (Luis Martins) and Gregory Weinstein. Mount Sinai

Dr. Alexander Gans died Dec. 30 at 86. He is survived by his niece, Janet Gans-Epner; and nephew, Theodore Wolfberg. Hillside

Amy Garvin-Milstein died Jan. 1 at 59. She is survived by her husband, Hyman; daughter, Maggie; mother, Ruth Ellen King; brothers, Dr. James (Dana) and Gary Garvin; and sister, Diann Turner. Mount Sinai

Muriel Gimpelson died Jan. 2 at 85. She is survived by her daughters, Alyce (Alex) Calder, Carol (Chuck) Comley and Sharon Ashcraft; grandchildren; and sisters, Adrienne Wollenberg and Elaine Socolow. Malinow and Silverman

Evelyn Gittleman Barenfeld died Dec. 25 at 81. She is survived by her husband, Charles; daughter, Marilyn (Sheldon) Weiner; sons, Steven and Bruce Gittleman; four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren; and brother, Manny (Judy) Stein. Hillside

Jayne Heisler died Dec. 25 at of 47. She is survived by her husband, Mark; children, Joshua and Ashley; sister, Nancy (George) Acs; and brother, Mark Brooks. Mount Sinai

Mae Hershon died Jan. 2 at 94. She is survived by her husband, Ving; daughter, Anne; son, Mark (Susan); and brother, Albert (Leah) Agron. Mount Sinai

Joe Himel died Dec. 31 at 84. Hee is survived by his daughter, Susan (Bob) Bassett; grandchildren, Greg and Michael; and great-grandson, Joshua. Mount Sinai

Arnold Kalmick died Dec. 27 at 85. He is survived by his sons, Jeffrey (Cathy) and David (Lois); three grandchildren; and brother, Alfred (Sunny). Hillside

Rheta Kanter died Dec. 26 at 72. She is survived by her daughter, Wendy (Russell) Reinoehl; sons, Michael (Sarah) and Richard (Ikumi); brother, David Swiryn; and two grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Mildred Kaplan died Dec. 30 at 87. She is survived by her daughter-in-law, Sheila; three grandchildren; sister-in-law, Dora Ackereisen; nephew, Allen Ackereisen; and niece, Linda Renner. Mount Sinai

Harold Kayl died Dec. 25 at 67. He is survived by his wife, Susan; sons, Bradley and Michael; brother, Jerry; sisters, Linda Steinhauser and Barbara; and sister-in-law, Marlene Schancupp. Mount Sinai

Ronnie Kreeger died Dec. 30 at 56. She is survived by her mother, Muriel; sister, Patti Kreeger-Wakefield; and significant other, Hal Teich. Mount Sinai

Kenneth Lever died Jan. 1 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Beverly; daughters, Denise, Deborah and Brena and their spouses; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Anne Louise Licht died Jan. 2 at 59. She is survived by her husband, Dr. James; daughter, Jaime; son, David; and brothers, William and Robert Raphael. Malinow and Silverman

Marcia Marks died Dec. 31 at 94. She is survived by her sons, Kenneth (Sandra Ruben) and Richard; grandchild, Murray; and sister, Esther Aliber. Mount Sinai

Abe Nagel died Dec. 31 at 88. He is survived by his daughter, Heather (Ken) Schweibish; grandchildren, Scott and Erin Schweibish; and great-grandchildren, Jasmine and Jacob. Mount Sinai

Sophie Parsons died Dec. 26 at 94. She is survived by her daughters, Dorene Lehavi and Rachelle Katz; four grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; sister, Rebecca Nelson; and brother, Max (Ceil) Knell. Mount Sinai

Longina Postal died Dec. 28 at 72. She is survived by her daughter, Mara; and son, Henry Gruszniewski. Malinow and Silverman

Lillian Press died Dec. 26 at 94. She is survived by her son, Howard (Ellen); and grandchildren, Matthew and Meryl. Hillside

Max Rincover died Dec. 30 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Tilly; sons, Neil (Silvana), Larry (Wanda) and Arnold (Joan); five grandchildren; and sister, Babe Meyers. Mount Sinai

Betty Rolbin died Dec. 25 at 94. She is survived by her, son, Terry; three grandsons; and two great-granddaughters. Mount Sinai

Sarah Rockov died Dec. 29 at 91. She is survived by her son, Robert; son-in-law, Barry Klatzker; four grandchildren; and seven great- grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Gertrude Saiger died Dec. 29 at 99. She is survived by her niece, Frances Ann Abrams; and nephew, Larry Goldman. Malinow and Silverman

Linda Stein died Dec. 30 at 67. She is survived by her husband, Leonard; son, Jason (Keri); two grandchildren; sister, Faith Rafkind; brother, Charles Rafkind; and brother-in-law, Robert Stein. Mount Sinai

Gloria Sturm died Dec. 31 at 79. She is survived by her sons, Martin (Penny) and Brad Sures; daughter, Allison (Ralph) Hensley; grandsons, Dylan and Jason; sister, Arlene Pacht; and brother, Howard Burstein. Mount Sinai


Maxine Andron died Dec. 19 at 83. She is survived by her daughters, Debbie (Todd) Kopit and Judy (Dave) Snavely; six grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and sister, Helen (Leo) Seidner. Mount Sinai

Rosalie Aronoff died Dec. 18 at 81. She is survived by her husband, Gilbert; daughters, Laurie (Nancy) and Sharon; grandchildren, Lilia and Emma; and niece, Moreen (Robert) Ohs. Mount Sinai

Bernard Axelrod died Dec. 18 at 93. He is survived by his daughter, Melissa; sons, Steven (Resa) and David; and one grandson. Malinow and Silverman

Arthur Alan Batansky died Dec. 6 at 65. He is survived by his daughter, Alexandra; mother, Mary; sister, Lorraine (Larry) First; and brother, Norman. Groman

Dorothy Bershin died Dec. 13 at 89. She is survived by her son, Allen (Lenore); grandchild; and two great-grandchildren. Hillside

Henrietta Block died Dec. 9 at 88. She is survived by her son, Steven; and granddaughter, Rina. Hillside

Jack Bronner died Dec. 13 at 61. He is survived by his sons, Sean (Dawn) and Evan; daughter, Teisha; father, Stanley (Regina); brother, John; sister, Cys (Dave Rittenhouse). Mount Sinai

Fay Rasp Brown died Dec. 9 at 79. She is survived by daughters, Carolyn Maginot and Gina; and granddaughter, Marlene Maginot. Hillside

Marhamat Delijani died Dec. 8 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Habibollah Nazarian; sons, Houshang (Tita) and Feridon (Jila); daughters, Nahid (Nasser) and Simin (Jamshid); eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha

Irwin Esko died Dec. 8 at 87. He is survived by his daughter, Anita (Jack) Pinsker; and two grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Abe Feedman died Dec. 12 at 84. He is survived by his children, Roberta (Richard) Handel and Marc Feedman; grandchildren Ryan and Rory; brother, Sam (Barbara); cousins; nieces; nephews; and friend, Marty Newstat. Hillside

Sylvia Feldman died Dec. 18 at 87. She is survived by her husband, Sol; children, Howard and Marilyn; and grandchildren, Lizzi and Jill. Hillside

Harold Friedman died Dec. 12 at 91. He is survived by wife, Gayle; sons, Bob (Nancy) and Neil (Piri); and grandsons, Matthew and Sam. Hillside

Toby Friedman died Dec. 15 at 95. She is survived by her son, Raymond. Hillside

Harvey Geist died Dec. 17 at 65. He is survived by his daughter, Gail (Sam) Silver; son, Neil (Lisa); four grandchildren; and brother, Gary. Sholom Chapels

Rosalyn Gerber died Dec. 13 at 71. She is survived by survived by daughters, Sharon and Beth; and brother, William. Hillside

Alice Gerstman died Dec. 8 at 70. She is survived by her son, Clifford (Laurie). Malinow and Silverman

Dr. Erwin Goldberg died Dec. 18 at 80. He is survived by his wife, Beatrice; son, Mchall; daughters, Andrea (Christopher Hvalka) and Mimi; and granddaughter, Lena. Mount Sinai

Rosalind Gordon died Dec. 16 at 91. She is survived by her daughter, Georgia (David) Capo; grandson, Bradley; great-grandchildren Chris, and Emily; sister-in-law, Marge Stein; and caregiver, Bing Ogata. Mount Sinai

Morris Graff died Dec. 8 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Hetty; daughter, Helen Sherman; son, Terry; four grandchildren; and brother, Michael. Malinow and Silverman

Dorothy Grau died Dec. 10 at 88. She is survived by her friends, Leah (David) Granat and Barbara Levy; and cousins, Fron and Irene. Mount Sinai

Herman Greenspon died Dec. 19 at 98. He is survived by his daughters, Nancy Maniscalco and Judith Fidler; grandchildren; and great-grandchildren. Hillside

Jack Gross died Dec. 14 at 78. He is survived by his wife, Joan; and son, Josh.

Lucille Hazan died Dec. 14 at 80. She is survived by her brother, Benjamin; and cousin, Sharlene. Hillside

Vera Ishmayeva died Dec. 10 at 89. She is survived by her husband, Iosif Lantsman; daughter, Lidiya; grandchildren, Karen and Boris; and one great-grandchild. Sholom Chapels

Helen Tiep Jamieson died Dec. 16 at 94. She is survived by her son, Stephen; daughter-in-law, Erica; grandchildren, Nathan and Haley; sister, Beverly (Allen) Jacobs; and brother, Joseph Tiep. Hillside

Shelia Kantrowitz died Dec. 12 at 75. She is survived by her daughter, Melanie Klein; grandchild, Gabriel; and sister, Doris Jean Goldberg. Mount Sinai

Dorothy Labowe died Dec. 10 at 100. She is survived by her daughter, Linda (Alan) Smaul; one grandson; and two great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Leone Laken died Dec. 18 at 89. She is survived by her husband, Gilbert; daughters, Vicki and Marta; and grandchildren, Marissa and Michael. Hillside

Jay Levy died Dec. 8 at 85. He is survived by his wife, Charlotte; son, Marc (Susan); stepson, Ronald (Nancy) Delia; and granddaughter, Sarah. Mount Sinai

Yulia Lyubchanskaya died Dec. 18 at 83. She is survived by her brother, Igor Khodakov. Sholom Chapels

Leonard Howard Marcus died Dec. 12 at 66. He is survived by his life partner, John W. Boyle; sister, Harriet Lazaros; niece, Tami; and friend, Jodi. Mount Sinai

Sara Medwed died Dec. 10 at 92. She is survived by her daughter, Iris Becker; son, Alan; brother, Sam (Shirley) Polisky; four grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Barbara Medziak died Dec. 5 at 60. She is survived by her friends. Malinow and Silverman

Jeremy Brandon Paster died Nov. 23 at 36. He is survived by his wife, Bethleigh; mother Sherry (Tom Gallloway); father, Michael (Laura Wine); brother, Josh Kilvington; sisters, Ilana (Adam) Horn and Shoshana; and grandfathers, Irv Schwartz and Max.

Murray Alfred Pollack died Dec. 13 at 88. He is survived by wife, Beatrice; son, Neal (Tish); daughter, Gale Russell; and sister, Naomi Reich. Hillside

Robert Rappaport died Dec. 12 at 80. He is survived by his children, Barbara and David; and daughter-in-law, Elizabeth. Hillside

Jay Raven died Dec. 18 at. He is survived by his wife, Regina; daughter, Sandee; son, Kenneth; brother, Bertram; sister, Frances Sieman; brother-in-law, Harry Winter; sister-in-law, Celia Raven; nieces and nephews.

Edith Frances Reich died Dec. 18 at 92. She is survived by her daughter, Judith; and son, Eugene. Hillside

Barbara Rosenbaum died Dec. 16 at 56. She is survived by her children, Andrew and Erica Sklar; parents, Samuel and Shirley Cheresnick; siblings, Nita Metz, Jay (Teri) and Joel (Becky) Cheresnick; and five nephews. Mount Sinai


Shirley Bass died Dec. 1 at 83. She is survived by her daughters, Wendy Davaris and Barbara; son, John; foster son, Drew Byrnes; three grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and brother, Arnold (Greta) Wermes. Mount Sinai

Samuel Beber died Dec. 1 at 85. He is survived by his wife, Shirley; daughters, Diane Abergel and Nan Darham; five grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Groman

Helen Behman died Nov. 25 at 90. She is survived by her sons, Peter (Jayne) and Larry (Gloria); daughters, Lesley Neiman, Barbara (Ken Meshke) Sprenger, Miriam (Steve) Brody and Harriet; 14 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; sister, Lee Malkin; brother, Bill (Bernice) Malkin; and sister-in-law, Annette Malkin. Mount Sinai

Harry Berger died Dec. 6 at 89. He is survived by his wife Iris Victor-Berger; sister, Dorothy (Herman) Goodman; and brother, Raymond (Frances). Sholom Chapels

Helene Brandon died Nov. 28 at 98. she is survived by her brother, Max (Ruth) Friedman. Sholom Chapels

Sarah Caston died Nov. 26 at 80. She is survived by her husband, Isaac; daughters, Anne Caston-Balderrama, Susan and Cathy; sons-in-law, Michael and Armando; and one granddaughter. Malinow and Silverman

Jeanne Chimes died Nov. 30 at 95. She is survived by her cousin, Heather Cohen. Hillside

Grace Collins died Nov. 29 at 82. She is survived by her daughter, Elizabeth Danziger; sister, Muriel Pinkus; and brothers, Jerome Horowitz and David Brenner. Hillside

Shari Arlene Davis died Dec. 7 at 43. She is survived by her husband, Robert John; mother, Lynne Reinschreiber; and brother, Mark Reinschreiber. Mount Sinai

Ruby Delinko died Dec. 3 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Yetta; and son, David. Malinow and Silverman

Larry Dersh died Nov. 27 at 72. He is survived by his wife, Ruth; sons, David, Steven and David (Michelle) Jacobs; daughters, Sheri Abraham and Lisa; brother, Bob (Anita) Krietzman; 11 grandchildren; and sisters, Marcia (Jerry) Osbaum and Eileen (Jerry) Kaplan. Chevra Kadisha

Vernon Dorn died Dec. 6 at 70. He is survived by his wife, Arlene; sons, Alan and Robert; mother, Helen; sister, Joy (Mal) Brook; and friend, Jack Shanow. Mount Sinai

Barney Feldmar died Nov. 30 at 93. He is survived by wife, Harriet; daughters, Linda Jones and Nancy Meller; grandchildren, Tracy Kleinberg and Scott Meller; great-grandchildren, Lili and Noa Kleinberg; and sister, Janet Rose. Hillside

Arnold Feuerlicht died Dec. 5 at 87. He is survived by his son, Daniel (Mary); and daughter, Amy (Harry) Fisher. Hillside

Robert Fink died Dec. 6 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Doris; children, Karen, Paul, and Eric (Rhonda); and three grandchildren. Hillside

Jack Marvin Fireman died Nov. 26 at 81. He is survived by his daughter, Marjorie; and brother, Philip. Malinow and Silverman

Milton Freedman died Dec. 5 at 91. He is survived by his sons, Robert (Sonia), Larry (Mary) and Bill (Marlene). Hillside

Rose Fried died Dec. 2 at 91. She is survived by her daughters, Susan (Philip) Flame and Marcia (Bernie) Berkowitz; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Michael Galinsky (a.k.a. Moysha Galinsky) died Nov. 27 at 78. He is survived by his son, David. Malinow and Silverman

Rachael Ganzfried died Dec. 6 at 78. She is survived by her daughters, Randi (Albert) Alfasso and Debbie (Robert) Fell; son, Ron (Jane); four grandchildren; and brothers, Moche and Isadore Komsky. Mount Sinai

Ruth Golob died Nov. 28 at 84. She is survived by her son, Ron; daughter, Karen; and sister, Edith (Leo) Levin. Chevra Kadisha

Josef David Golowinski died Dec. 6 at 79. He is survived by his wife, Malka; daughters, Evelyn (David) Mantel and Naomi (Allen) Babani; four grandchildren; and five siblings. Mount Sinai

Mary Hall died Dec. 1 at 96. She is survived by her husband, Peter; children, Richard (Susan) and Lani (Herb); four grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and siblings, Sally, Evelyn, Frieda and Irving. Hillside

Ruth Hamermesh died Nov. 28 at 82. She is survived by her sons, Scott (Julia) Ashdow, Mark (Kelleen), Eric (Terry) and Steven (Rose); daughter, Susan (Sandy) Saemann; and 11 grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Al Jacobson died Nov. 27 at 96. He is survived by his daughter, Carol Yakerson; son, Shael (Sandy); five grandchildren, five great- grandchildren; and brother, Albert (Coleen). Mount Sinai

Bella Jacobson died Dec. 5 at 94. She is survived by her son, Irvin (Caroline) Jacobson; grandchildren, Doreen (Bruce) Sanfelici and Mark; two great-grandchildren; and sisters, Kay Gintel and Ann Cantor. Mount Sinai

Abraham Martin Kahlenberg died Dec. 5 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Celia; sons, Edward (Deana), Robert (Janice) and Sherwood (Rita); daughter, Ruth (Jacob); and sister, Rose Lewis. Hillside

Rozalia Konig died Dec. 4 at 90. She is survived by her sons, Peter (Susan) and Thomas (Jeri); six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Norma Lipp died Dec. 4 at 77. She is survived by her sons, Mark and Howard; and three grandchildren. Hillside

Beatrice Lowenthal died Dec. 4 at 94. She is survived by her daughters, Sandra (Philip) Firestone and Aylene (Phillip Moser) Kovary; three granddaughters; and three great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Helen Solis Nave died in Dec. at 63. She is survived by her sisters; friends; and family.

William “Bill” Neuser died Dec. 4 at 63. He is survived by his daughter, Julie (Dave) Silverberg; son, Scott; four grandchildren; sister, Ellie (Richard) Simon; nephews; and great-nephew. Crawford Mortuary

Shirley Newman died Dec. 5 at 79. She is survived by her stepdaughter, Leslee; and friends, Don and Lois Hoffman. Mount Sinai

Richard Martin Ogner died Dec. 2 at 54. He is survived by his parents, Barbara Straus and Irving; daughter, Natasha; brothers, David Straus, Robert and Joshua; and sister, Melissa. Groman

Marilyn Padow died Nov. 24 at 65. She is survived by her sons, Jeremy and Charlie; and sister, Sarah Schwartz. Chevra Kadisha

Patricia Dooley Pincus died Nov. 25 at 80. She is survived by her daughter, Corinne (Jory) Schulman; and son, Michael. Malinow and Silverman

Doris Olden died Dec. 7 at 98. She is survived by her daughter, Elinor Caplan; son, Alvin (Marian); three grandchildren; and two great-grandsons. Malinow and Silverman


Abraham Balaban died Nov. 23 at 85. He is survived by his sons, Gary, and Jeffrey. Hillside

Dr. Leonard Breslaw died Nov. 1 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Elayne; daughters, Donna (Brian) Jones, Amy Louise Goldberg, Robin (Scott) Weisbond, Iris (Gary) Spiegel; nine grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Dr. Joel Lawrence Herskowitz died 22 Cheshvan (Nov. 3) at 71. He is survived by his wife, Carol; sons, Jeffery (Sherry) and Dr. Marc; grandson, Jackson; and sister, Edith (David) Goldstein. Groman

Selma Tracer Goldman died Nov. 23 at 87. She is survived by her sons, Ken and Gerry; daughters-in-law, Sue and Vera; grandchildren, Stephanie, Jason, Heather, Michael, Brian; and sister, Charlotte Goroff. Mount Sinai

Bernice Gordon died Nov. 22 at 86. She is survived by her husband, Arnold; sons, Bob (Chris) and Harvey (Jeanne); daughter, Yocheved (Chuck) Novack; 13 grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and sister, Helen Bergtrom. Mount Sinai

Carol Jaffe died Nov. 23 at 69. She is survived by her husband, Jack; son, Jack; daughter, Dara (Jeff) Tillotson; and sister, Connie (Bernie) Schneider. Mount Sinai

Arthur Klapper died Nov. 22 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Betty; daughter, Zina; and son, Doug. Hillside

Nettie Mislove died Nov. 23 at 94. She is survived by her sons, Michael and Steven; and daughters, Linda Donnelly and Eileen. Hillside

Edward Mohilef died Nov. 23 at 55. He is survived by his life partner, James Cramer; brothers, David (Monica) and Paul (Diane); nieces; great-nephew; and great-nieces. Hillside

Shirley Shuman died Nov. 22 at 85. She is survived by her son, Charles (Deborah); three grandchildren; brother, Sidney (Carole) Meltzner; and sister, Rena Goodman. Mount Sinai

Eva Ruth Steinberg died Nov. 24 at 86. She is survived by her son, Hal; daughters Harriet Moncrief and Marilyn Manset; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Groman

Jerome Lester Tannenbaum died Nov. 22 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Beverly; daughters, Leslie (Mark) Van Houten and Julie (Gary) Lobel; sons, Steven (Beth) and David (Russ); seven grandchildren; sister, Toby (Fred) Meyer. Malinow and Silverman

The Journal remembers some of the men and women from our larger Jewish family whom we lost in 2007. Although they are gone, their legacies will continue through their movies, television shows, plays, music, books and good works.Joey Bishop, last surviving member of the Rat Pack, died Oct. 17 at 89.

Art Buchwald, humorist and columnist, died Jan. 17 at 81.

Abe Coleman, professional wrestler during the Great Depression era, died March 28 at 101.

Hal Fishman, KTLA Prime News anchor since 1975, died Aug. 7 at 75.

Edwin “Ed” S. Friendly Jr., creator of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and “Little House on the Prairie,” died June 17 at 85.

David Halberstam, 73, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author, died April 23 at 73

Joe Herzenberg, first openly gay elected official in North Carolina, died Oct. 28 at 66.

Teddy Kollek, mayor of Jerusalem (1965–1993), died Jan 2 at 95.

Arthur Kornberg, recipient of the 1959 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, died Oct. 26 at 89.

Ira Levin, author (“Rosemary’s Baby,” “The Stepford Wives”) and playwright (“Deathtrap”), died Nov. 12 at 78.

Itzik Kol, Oscar-nominated Israeli film producer (“The Policeman”), died July 8 at 75.

Liviu Librescu, professor of engineering at Virginia Tech who was killed saving his students’ lives, died April 16 at 76..

Norman Mailer, 84, Pulitzer Prize–winning author (“The Naked and the Dead,” “The Executioner’s Song”), died Nov. 10 at 84.

Marcel Marceau, French mime artist, died Sept. 22 at 84.

Judy Mazel, cookbook author (“The Beverly Hills Diet”), died Oct. 12 at 63.

Grace Paley, short story writer (“The Little Disturbances of Man”), poet and political activist, died Aug. 22 at 84.

Stuart Rosenberg, “Cool Hand Luke” director, died March 5 at 79.

Avraham Shapira, Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel (1983–1993), died Sept. 27 at 93.

Melville Shavelson, film director and screenwriter (“The Princess and the Pirate”), died Aug. 8 at 90.

Sidney Sheldon, author and TV producer (“I Dream of Jeannie” and “Hart to Hart”), died Jan. 30 at 89.

Joel Siegel 63, film critic for ABC’s “Good Morning America,” died June 29 at 63.

Beverly Sills, 78, award-winning soprano and humanitarian, died July 2 at 78.

Mel Tolkin, 94, head writer for “Your Show of Shows” died Nov. 26 at 94.

Rabbi Sherwin Wine, founder of the Humanistic Judaism movement, died July 21 at 79.

Hy Zaret, lyricist and co-author of the 1955 hit, “Unchained Melody, ” died July 2 at 99.

Paulene Weinstein Ledeen, ‘Bubbe Teresa,’ died Nov. 27 at 97.

Pauline Weinstein Ledeen, retired attorney, community activist and life-long member of Temple Beth Israel of Highland Park and Eagle Rock, died Nov. 27, 2007, from congestive heart failure brought on by pneumonia. She was 97.

Ledeen was active in the synagogue her entire life, serving on the board until her death. She attended Shabbat services regularly, except when she was ill or out of town, and had her own designated seat with special back support.

“She was the soul of the congregation,” according to Temple Beth Israel president Bill Fishman.

Ledeen presented what Fishman believes is her first drash ever in August 2006, at age 96.

“As a little girl I was not allowed to have a bat mitzvah,” she told the congregation before expounding on the Ten Commandments in Parshat Va’etchanan.

Ledeen, who was born on July 28. 1910, in Boston and moved to Highland Park at age 12, graduated from Southwestern University School of Law in 1933. She first worked as a legal secretary and then opened her own office in El Monte, where she specialized in contract law and estate planning. Later she joined the family business, Ledeen, Inc., an engineering firm. She is the first life member of the Criminal Courts Bar Association.

Retiring after 39 years in the legal field, she began a career visiting incarcerated Jewish prisoners, offering comfort, contacting their families and bringing Passover dinners. This work, which earned her the nickname, “Bubbe Teresa,” was an outgrowth of her involvement with the Jewish Committee for Personal Service (JCPS). She explained her work to family members by saying, “They’re just people who made mistakes.”

H.O.P.E. for the bereaved, even years later

Four years after Shirley T.’s husband died, the anniversary of his death was more painful than she could have anticipated. She spent the day before cooking the foods he loved and somehow navigated emotionally through the anniversary itself.

The following Thursday evening, she was quick to share that experience with other members of her grief support group.

“Thank God for this group and these friends,” she said, referring to the H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation for Bereavement Loss and Transition, the oldest and largest grief support organization in the Los Angeles area.

For people like Shirley T., whose spouses have been deceased for two or more years, the gut-wrenching grief has mostly dissipated. But an anniversary or holiday, or the death of an elderly parent or relative, can often blindside them, triggering familiar feelings of loneliness and sadness.

What Shirley T. has found comforting, as have other widows and widowers who have participated in the H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation’s weekly grief support groups for two or more years, is to continue meeting monthly as an alumni group, convening at Valley Beth Shalom or Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Irmas Campus.

“Grief shows up when it shows up,” said Dr. Jo Christner, a licensed clinical psychologist who facilitates the Valley Beth Shalom alumni group of 18 people in their late 50s to late 80s.

Christner explained that many people need more time to rebuild their lives in a caring and comfortable environment, especially as well-meaning friends and family members suggest that they need to “get over” their spouse’s death.

As Marie K. told the group about the “little crying spells” she has even five years after her husband’s death, “It’s not just the person who you loved who is gone but your whole life.”

H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation (which stands for “hope, opportunity, participation and education”) was founded in 1970 originally as a nonprofit cancer support group for patients and their families. Now it is primarily a grief support organization for widows and widowers and other family members.

For those in the first two years of mourning, groups meet weekly at Valley Beth Shalom on Thursday evenings and at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Irmas Campus on Tuesday evenings. Alumni groups meet monthly at both locations. H.O.P.E. also sponsors parent loss groups.

Although H.O.P.E. is nondenominational, approximately 90 percent of the participants are Jewish, representing 23 different synagogues in the Los Angeles area. They come from as far away as San Gabriel Valley and Orange County.

The foundation helps people whose lives were shattered by the death of a spouse to regroup and rebuild, according to Dr. Marilyn Stolzman, H.O.P.E.’s executive director and co-author, along with Gloria Lintermans, of “The Healing Power of Grief” and “The Healing Power of Love” (published by Sourcebooks, Inc.).

“Our goal is to help people come back to life and heal,” Stolzman said.

She added that while she and other therapists previously thought that two years in a bereavement group was sufficient, they are finding that many people need more time not to grieve but to transition back into the community in their new role.

What makes H.O.P.E. unique, according to Stolzman, is that licensed therapists with additional training in bereavement issues facilitate the groups.

Plus, the groups of 10 to 15 people are organized according to months of mourning, enabling the participants to experience similar concerns as they move unevenly through Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ five stages of mourning: shock, denial, anger, depression and acceptance.

For this last stage of acceptance, however, Stolzman substitutes the words adjustment, transition and integration. “I think those words more aptly describe what people go through,” she said.

And it’s the work of this final stage that is done in the alumni group as they move into what for them is the “new normal.”

After 24 months of grieving, the issues change. While the participants in the alumni group continue to process the memories and sadness triggered by anniversaries and holidays, more often the discussions focus on such issues as adult children, health, elderly parents, traveling and, yes, dating and sexuality.

“It’s connection. It’s a place to process ongoing life problems,” alumni group therapist Christner said.

Part of the growing now includes mentoring the newcomers, a new program that came out of the participants’ desire to give back to others by welcoming the newly widowed and encouraging them by sharing their experiences. The alumni are in the process of preparing a booklet, titled, “We Have Walked in Your Shoes,” which describes their own pain, as well as how the group bereavement experience helped mitigate it and move them forward.

The group participants almost invariably become close friends, going to dinner on a weekly basis, socializing on the weekends, attending religious services together and calling each other, sometimes when they’re crying hysterically at 2 a.m. They also understand one another in ways their family and couple friends can’t.

Geri M., who joined H.O.P.E. in October 2003, several weeks after her husband’s death, views the group as a crucial part of her new life.

“For me, the most important thing was making single friends. Before, all our friends were married couples and I felt very sad,” she said. Geri plans to remain in the alumni group and is working as one of the inaugural mentors.

H.O.P.E. is a nonprofit organization, funded by a suggested fee of $27 per person per session, by small grants and private donations and by occasional fundraisers. But the fees and donations don’t cover operating expenses, mostly for modest staff salaries and insurance. And while Stolzman would like to maintain the current level of service, she admits that “this has been the worst year ever” in terms of contributions, which she attributes to the sagging economy.

“It’s a great mitzvah for the Jewish community to be able to provide this,” said Valley Beth Shalom’s Rabbi Ed Feinstein, who refers many people to H.O.P.E. He added that after the death of a spouse, especially if you’ve been married a long time, “You don’t know who you are in the world anymore or where you belong.”

This was certainly true for Shirley T., who contemplated suicide after her husband died. She recently marked the fourth anniversary of his death and credits H.O.P.E. with literally saving her life.

“I don’t think I would be alive if it weren’t for this group,” she said.

For more information or to make a donation, call (818) 788-4673.

Final lesson

In this week’s Torah portion, Vayechi, we have the most intimate description of a deathbed scene and the most elaborate description of a le’vayah (funeral)
contained in the Torah.

As I read through this portion in preparation for writing this column, I found myself struggling for a theme. I quieted my mind for a moment and found myself immersed in memories — memories of the dying, of funerals, of people working through grief. Like all congregational clergy, I have attended to the dying and their families. It is one of the holiest things I do, or, more precisely, one of things I do that makes me most conscious of the Holy.

It’s an aspect of a rabbi’s life that, I believe, is key to all of us, but one that we don’t talk about much, even to each other. I feel in some ways that a dying man helped make me a rabbi.

I was a rabbinical student at the Los Angeles campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion when I first reported to my second part-time student pulpit in Boise, Idaho, in September 1982. Linda, the synagogue president’s wife, picked me up from the airport and after a bit of chitchat asked me if I was willing to work hard. I said that I was and told her a bit about myself, to which she responded, “Well, maybe you’ll do.” She told me that there was a dying man, and she felt he needed to talk to a rabbi.

I had no idea what rabbis or anyone said to someone who is dying. It was just before Rosh Hashanah, and I thought maybe he would want to hear the shofar, so I brought it along with my prayer book.

When we got to the hospital, Linda took a seat in the waiting room, and I walked into the dying man’s room. He was having trouble breathing and looked angry. He said, “What’s that in your hand?” I told him it was a shofar, and I asked him if he wanted to hear it. He told me that if I wanted to be helpful, I could throw my shofar and my prayer book out the window and bring him a gun so he could put himself out of his misery.

I could feel that I had been play-acting at being a rabbi, doing what I thought a rabbi should do. I wasn’t real. I caught my breath, and my bearings returned.

I put the shofar and the siddur on an empty bed, pulled up a chair next to him and said, “I don’t have a gun, and I don’t know that I would give it to you if I had one, but tell me why you want one.”

He told me of his excruciating pain in taking each breath. He told me of a wasted life, of the bitterness in his family. He just wanted out.

I told him, “I want you to tell me what went wrong, what you would do differently.”

I did not ask that only as therapy, I am a bit ashamed to say; I asked for me. I suddenly knew that one of the ways I might die would be like this, in a hospital bed, in pain. Would I think of a life wasted? Would I be filled with bitterness? I wanted him to teach me.

Each word was spoken in pain, but he insisted on speaking. I filled in words for him, and eventually pulled out a notepad and started writing things down. He spoke in grief about his children and their discord. I asked him what he would want to tell them, what legacy he wanted to give them. I told him, “This is your final goal — help us live better lives.”

He grew so tired that I knew it was time to leave the room. I told Linda how it went. I could see her eyes laugh when I told her about asking him about the shofar. When I finished, she said, “You’ve got some work cut out for you here.”

I flew into Boise once a month for a few days each time. I visited with the man in the remaining few months of his life, and I spoke to his family. I helped him compose what I later learned was called an ethical will, a way of passing his values on to his family.

Linda and her husband, Alan, guided me carefully through the entire process, up through his death, which occurred when I was in Los Angeles; a lay leader officiated at the funeral. I felt the dying man’s family was transformed by his work, a transformation I hope was lasting.

I took the lessons he taught both to me and his children to heart. I became a witness to a family story, a story of love and bitterness and folly, and a final redemption. I realized that every family, every person has such a story, a fully textured life of hopes and dreams, of joy and heroism and tragedy, and we hope, of redemption.

Every life is like a book of the Torah, filled with laws and lessons, wisdom, drama and destiny. I realized something of my role as one who works with the dying and their families — if I can, to draw out a teaching, a legacy, for those left to grieve, and for me.

And as we attend to the dying, grieve with their families, draw out lessons and legacies, we strengthen them, and we are strengthened.

This column originally appeared in The Journal on Jan. 9, 2004.

Mordecai Finley is the rabbi of Ohr HaTorah congregation, as well as provost and professor of liturgy and mysticism at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus.


Dorothy Shaffer Schatz, Established Shelters to Help Survivors of Domestic Violence

Dorothy Shaffer Schatz, noted Jewish community leader, died Nov. 15 in Los Angeles. Born and raised in Chicago, she moved to Los Angeles in 1947, where she met her husband, Mickey.

She worked as an executive secretary/office manager for 44 years at International Hospital Supply. Active in the Family Violence Project of Jewish Family Service since 1987, Dorothy was instrumental in establishing the Hope Cottage and Tamar House shelters for domestic violence survivors.

A lifetime member of Valley Beth Israel synagogue, Dorothy served on the sisterhood and temple boards for more than 20 years, and was recognized as one of the leading fundraisers for the annual Israel Bond Appeal.

Dorothy was also an active member of the Pacific Southwest Branch of the Women’s’ League of Conservative Judaism, where she served on the board for 20 years. As chair of the Mitzvah Program for four years, she helped coordinate the Sunday meals for Jewish AIDS patients through Project Chicken Soup.

She is survived by her daughters, Ilana (David Lingren) and Marcy (Dwayne Ciurleo); grandson, Michael Ciurleo; and sister, Lila Shaffer Weinberg.

Donations in her memory can be made to Family Violence Project of Jewish Family Service, Valley Beth Israel or Project Chicken Soup.

Francis Sarko Adler died Oct. 17 at 83. She is survived by her son, Alan; daughters, Gayle Faso and Andrea; and four grandchildren. Groman

Lillian Rosenbaum Axelrod died Nov.11 at 100. She is survived by her sons, Sheldon and Jerry; daughter, Sharlene (Edward) Balter; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Mildred Berger died Oct. 18 at 84. She is survived by her sons, Ronald and Jeffery. Groman

Goldie Benjamin died Nov. 7 at 89. She is survived by her sons, Bruce and Jeff; daughter-in-laws, Patti and Laura; grandchildren, Brian and David; sister, Sarah; nephews; nieces; grandnephews; grandnieces; and friends. Hillside

Linda Cheryl Birnbaum died Oct. 13 at 56. She is survived by her sons; Kevin, Jeffrey and Eric; parents, Rae and Eliot Kontoff; one grandchild; brother, Rob Kontoff; and sister, Michelle Rindler. Groman

Sallie Block died Nov. 8 at 97. She is survived by her daughters, Ronnie (Jack) Bruker and Gail (Andy) Pacifici Mathes, four grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha

Linda Bloom died Nov. 11 at 64. She is survived by her husband, Ben; sons Larry (Dana) and Daniel (Melodie); four grandchildren; and brother, David Stoll. Hillside

Mildred Bloom died Oct. 18 at 96. She is survived by her son, Harold Juster; sister, Ruth Kaplan; four grandchildren; and eight great -grandchildren. Groman

June Blumenstock died Nov. 11 at 86. She is survived by her son, Ed (Marilyn); daughter, Karen (Marshall); and grandchildren, Tiffany and Risa. Hillside

Betty Klein Bohr died Nov. 9 at 84. She is survived by her husband, Benjamin; sister, Gertrude (Irvin) Kipper; two great-nephews; and two great-nieces. Malinow and Silverman

James Dreyfus Bronner died Nov. 10 at 99. He is survived by his son, Philip; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Groman

Sol Crespin died Oct. 14 at 76. He is survived by his wife, Ruth; son, Robert; daughters, Mandy Green and Debra; and four grandchildren. Groman

Albert Cohen died Nov. 8 at 92. He is survived by his daughter, Sandy (Marty) Baren. Malinow and Silverman

Helen Davis died Oct. 12 at 88. She is survived by her daughter, Rae Dammer. Groman

Myron Erdmann died Nov. 9 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Edythe; daughter, Lori Clement; son, Ira; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

David Erlich died March 1 at 83. He is survived by his sons, Victor, Harvey and Greg; daughter, Nan (Marc) Smith; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Home of Peace

Roslyn Foier died Oct. 21 at 80. She is survived by her daughter, Laurie Allen; one grandchild; brother, Albert Cooper; and sister, Grace Danaher. Groman

Marsha Friedman died Nov. 8 at 67. She is survived by her husband, Arnold. Malinow and Silverman

Arnold Goldstein died Oct. 7 at 68. He is survived by his friends. Groman

Bud Allen Grossberg died Oct. 14 at 74. He is survived by his wife, Phyllis; sons, Scott, Steven and David; daughter, Sherri Williams; and two grandchildren. Groman

Irving Gutstein died Oct. 20 at 94. He is survived by his son, Martin Goodwin; daughter, Janice Roth; seven grandchildren; seven great- grandchildren; and sisters, Goldene Strauss and Estelle Goldberg. Groman

Faye Kay died Nov. 9 at 88. She is survived by husband, Jack; sons, Michael (Ellen) and Allen; grandson, David Thomas; and brother, Rabbi Paul Dubin. Mount Sinai

Susan Elaine Klein died Sept. 29 at 51. She is survived by her daughter, Ava; and brother, Bruce. Groman

Sara Koenka died Nov. 10 at 77. She is survived by her sons, Joseph (Elena) and Albert; five grandchildren; and sister, Alexandra Haritopoulos. Mount Sinai

Samuella Guttman Koslow died Nov. 8 at 82. She is survived by her sons, Ronald, Robert, and Kenneth; daughter, Judith Zweig; four grandchildren; and sister, Roberta Lederer. Hillside

Dr. Peter David Landres died Nov. 10 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Renata; son, Shawn (Zuzana Reimer); nephew, Marc (Monica Oldmen) great-nieces, Phoebe and Isabel; and cousins. Hillside

Lenore Alexyne Levinson died Nov. 9 at 96. She is survived by her daughter, Devora Patterson; and son, Sanford. Malinow and Silverman

Seymour Mestman died Nov. 10 at 81. He is survived by his brother, Victor Avers. Malinow and Silverman

Lilian Moskowitz died Nov. 5 at 92. She is survived by her children, Susan (Alan) Raphael and Harvey (Linda); five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Groman

Faye Newman died Nov. 9 at 92. She is survived by her daughters, Sandra, and Alice (Elliott) Levin; sister, Belle (Jack) Gilder; and one granddaughter. Malinow and Silverman

Renee Paper died Nov. 8 at 49. She is survived by her father, Harry (Norma Smith). Mount Sinai


Francis Sarko Adler died Oct. 17 at 83. She is survived by her son, Alan; daughters, Gayle Faso and Andrea; and four grandchildren. Groman

Gilana Alpert died Nov. 3 at 26. She is survived by her parents, Rabbi Alan and Anna; sister, Aleza; and brother, David. Mount Sinai

Mildred Berger died Oct. 18 at 84. She is survived by her sons, Ronald and Jeffery. Groman

Linda Cheryl Birnbaum died Oct. 13 at 56. She is survived by her sons; Kevin, Jeffrey and Eric; parents, Rae and Eliot Kontoff; brother, Rob Kontoff; sister, Michelle Rindler; and one grandchild. Groman

Mildred Bloom died Oct. 18 at 96. She is survived by her son, Harold Juster; four grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and sister, Ruth Kaplan. Groman

Sonya Sybil Cohen died Nov. 7 at 69. She is survived by her daughters, Laura and Mindie; and son, David. Malinow and Silverman

Laura Elayne Cowan died Nov. 6 at 46. She is survived by her husband, Robin; children, Alex and Adam; parents John Leritz and Pamela Sorapure; and siblings John (Michelle), Amy (Patrick) and William. Hillside

Sol Crespin died Oct. 14 at 76. He is survived by his wife, Ruth; son, Robert; daughters, Mandy Green and Debra; and four grandchildren. Groman

Helen Davis died Oct. 12 at 88. She is survived by her daughter, Rae Dammer. Groman

Myrom Dushkin died Nov. 7 at 90. He is survived by his wife, Betty; son, Mark; and daughter, Nancy. Groman

Diane Epstein died Nov. 4 at 83. She is survived by her sons, Albert, and Reuben (Jody); three grandchildren; and sisters, Ida Akman, Dorothy Marvin, Ruth Ellen and Lola Mendelson; brother, Herbert Vool Malinow and Silverman

Abram Eskin died Nov. 5 at 88. He is survived by his daughter, Bronislava Cherches. Chevra Kadisha

Gertrude Fein died Nov. 4 at 86. She is survived by her son, David; daughter, Bettyann Sherrell; two grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Groman

Aline Fink died Nov. 5 at 80. She is survived by her daughters, Debra (Andrew) Perkins and Cathy (Marcy Marxer); sister, Samita (Howard) Jacobs; and grandson. Malinow and Silverman

Bernice Fitch died Oct. 30 She is survived by her husband, Irving; brother, jack; nephew, Stephan; and niece, Karla.

Roslyn Foier died Oct. 21 at 80. She is survived by her daughter, Laurie Allen; grandchild; brother, Albert Cooper; and sister, Grace Danaher. Groman

Sonya Gelfand died Oct. 30 at 95. She is survived by her daughters, Rita Rosenbaum and Judy Sherman; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Groman

Arnold Goldstein died Oct. 7 at 68. He is survived by his friends. Groman

Bud Allen Grossberg died Oct. 14 at 74. He is survived by his wife, Phyllis; sons, Scott, Steven and David; daughter, Sherri Williams; and two grandchildren. Groman

Irving Gutstein died Oct. 20 at 94. He is survived by his son, Martin Goodwin; daughter, Janice Roth; seven grandchildren; seven great- grandchildren; and sisters, Goldene Strauss and Estelle Goldberg. Groman

Sander Herzfeld died Sept. 15 at 73. He is survived by his friends. Sholom Chapels

Bernard Kaufman died Nov. 4. He is survived by nieces; nephews; and extended family members. Hillside

Susan Elaine Klein died Sept. 29 at 51. She is survived by her daughter, Ava; and brother, Bruce. Groman

Helen Kornhauser died Nov. 4 at 87. She is survived by her son, William. Malinow and Silverman

Betty Krohn died Nov. 2 at 97. She is survived by her daughter, Evelyn (Lawrence) Cohen; stepchildren, Rae Beckson and Gene; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Hillside

Dr. D. Arnold Loel died Nov. 2 at 71. He is survived by his former wife, Gail; daughter, Brandi (Luke) Stern; sons, Grant (Michelle) and Ross; grandchildren, Brooklyn and Dax; and cousin, Ray Asher. Mount Sinai

Daniel Meyerowitz died Nov. 5 at 87. He is survived by his sons, Allan and Bradley (Sandy); daughters, Fran Layton and Diane (Barry) Buner; and seven grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Leonard Montag died Nov. 1 at 94. He is survived by his wife, Ann Kugler; sons, Kenneth and Warren; daughters, Martha Kugler Brown and Alison Woods; nine grandchildren; and brother, Martin. Hillside

Mitchell Porter died Oct. 17 at 54. He is survived by his son, Jesse; daughters, Jennine and Jillian; three grandchildren; and brother, Cary. Groman

Frances Rabinowitz died Nov. 7 at 97. She is survived by her friends. Mount Sinai

Douglas Rosenthal died Nov. 5 at 34. He is survived by his parents, Harris and Joan; sister, Debra (Dave) Shackelford; brother, Dave (Heidi); two nephews; uncles and aunt, Burt (Emily) Silver and Michael; cousins; and good friend, Robert Martin. Mount Sinai

George Saldin died Oct. 20 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Patricia; sons, Rick and Randall; daughter, Tracie Garfinkle; and three grandchildren. Groman

Lillian Saltz died Oct. 11 at 95. She is survived by her sons, Harvey, Phillip and Irwin; daughter, Thelma; nine grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Groman

Natan Saltzman died Nov. 6 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Sara; daughter, Pnina (Moshe) Sharf; and sons, Samuel (Diane) and Joshua (Sofia). Hillside

Rosalind Cecile Scherer died Nov. 7 at 61. She is survived by her husband, Ronald; and son, Robert. Malinow and Silverman

Edward Shutman died Nov. 7 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Natalie; sons, Gerald (Feodossia) and Bernard (Joan); daughter, Laura Filatoff; six grandchildren; and caregiver, Francis. Mount Sinai

Tillie Somers died Nov. 2 at 94. She is survived by her brother-in-law, Julius Shanker; and three nieces. Mount Sinai

Florence Tobor died Nov. 6 at 80. She is survived by her daughters, Cheryl (Bryan) Gagnon and Judy; five grandchildren; sisters, Marlene Stern and Mitzi (Jack) Wilkin; and brothers, Fred (Susan) and Bob (Lisa) Selan. Mount Sinai

Gerald Turkus died Oct. 20 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Sandra; daughter, Robyn; five grandchildren; and sister, Florence Freiberger. Groman

Manuel Udko died Nov. 6 at 92. He is survived by his son, Richard (Billie); daughter, Terri (David) Blumgarden; and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Mom’s last day

A test of emunah (trust, faith), according to prominent voices in our tradition (Mishna Berachot 9:2), is the ability to bless the bad, as well as the good. Upon hearing of the death of a loved one, can one say, baruch dayan emet (blessed be the truthful judge.)

And might one add, baruch haTov v’haMeitiv (blessed be the doer of good.)

I viewed this injunction as admirable but unrealistic, even uncompassionate, as it places the mourner in an emotionally tenuous position. But you just can’t know, of course, what you will feel until the moment arrives.

My mother, Dorothy, first noticed discomfort in May. In June, she was diagnosed with stage-four cancer of the liver. On average, the specialist told us, patients on her chemotherapy regimen last eight to 10 months, some longer. But after a relatively healthy month, she began a quick decline that caught us off guard every day.

My fiancee, Jody, and I had planned a 2008 wedding. We thought about moving the date forward, but I was needed in my parents’ home, and we did not want to start married life living apart. Instead, we created an engagement ceremony and invited some 80 family members and friends to celebrate with us on the day after Yom Kippur.

But the day before Yom Kippur, a feeding tube was surgically implanted to nourish mom. We spent Yom Kippur learning how to use it. It didn’t help. She took her first pain medication that night.

We cancelled our party and moved the engagement ceremony to my parents’ living room. By the afternoon, however, mom couldn’t even sit up in her bed, let alone move down the stairs. Some 20 family members and friends gathered around her bed. The rabbi, Shefa Gold, asked us to remember that while mom’s body was failing, her soul was thrilled that her chronically bachelor son had found his beloved.

Jody and I cried our way through the ceremony. Our impromptu congregation sang verses from Song of Songs to us before I placed Jody’s engagement ring on her finger. Mom couldn’t speak, but she moved her body to signal her joy, and a huge smile graced her lips.

We invited our extended family to join us after the ceremony. Though no longer a celebration, we wanted to comfort each other and visit with mom.

At first, she didn’t have the strength to see even her siblings. But as the sun set, mom perked up. In small groups, four generations of the family made pilgrimages to her bedside, speaking words of love and appreciation. To some, my mother replied, “I love you.” When words failed her, she took their hands and brought them to her lips.

That night, my sister, Felicia, rose at 3 a.m. to help the new caretaker feed mom through the tube. Unable to sleep afterward, she kept mom company and told the caretaker all about her: that in her 30s, she started backpacking in the Sierra Nevada Mountains with her husband and three kids; that she was the peacemaker of the extended family and hosted the annual Chanukah party that kept us together; that she volunteered extensively for the Jewish community; that she was an insatiable romantic and optimist who never dwelled in the past; that she was a talented artist (her paintings are currently on display at the Creative Arts Center Gallery in Burbank).

A few minutes after Felicia left to sleep, the caretaker called her back. While I was calling 911, mom breathed her last breaths in Felicia’s arms.

In hindsight, it is clear to me that my mother was meant to pass on Yom Kippur, when the gates of righteousness are open widest. But as Felicia put it, she willed herself to live one last day, and what a day it was.

We were soon lost in the awkwardness of filling out forms with the paramedics and arranging for the mortuary to collect mom’s body. No one knew what to say, yet we talked incessantly.

Eventually, I came to my rabbinic senses and shooed everyone out of the bedroom. I did as the tradition instructs; I recited psalms. Later, I began to chant Rabbi Gold’s melody to v’chayai olam nata b’tocheynu (“God implanted eternal life within us,” from the blessing after the reading of the Torah).

One by one, my father and siblings entered the room and joined in. Then we each spent time with mom alone, saying whatever had been left unsaid. We chanted together again until the mortuary people arrived.

My parents’ bedroom commands a sweeping view of the San Fernando Valley, facing east. As we sang, the sky turned pink and red and purple, the colors our family of wilderness trekkers had seen so often together, the colors of her paintings. The sunrise moved us like never before. For us now, dawn will always be mom’s time. She passed in deepest night, but as we said goodbye, she once again gave us the gifts of color and light.

At 72, healthy and vibrant, Dorothy died well before her time. I suffered lethargy and other symptoms of depression before my mother died. The shock and then the gradual loss of the woman I knew sent me into the grieving process while she was still alive. But her equanimity made it easier on all of us. Shortly after her diagnosis, she assured me that she had no regrets. Her life had been blessed and full; nothing was missing.

These last few weeks, I have not been in a state of grief as much as a state of awe. I feel saturated with her spirit.

There is such a thing as a blessed death, and it lends one the deep joy that only comes from living in truth. For me that means accepting-not in my head but in my heart-that life and death are flip sides of the same coin, and though the price of life is death, it is worth paying. That we cannot control when the coin is flipped does not destroy the gifts of a life well-lived. Rather, death reveals, in its fierce and unforgiving way, just how precious life is. Baruch dayan emet.

And when a blessed life is sealed with a blessed death — when I think about how much goodness and love Dorothy gifted me over the course of my life — gratitude wells up with the tears.

Baruch haTov v’haMeitiv.

Rabbi Mike Comins is author of “A Wild Faith: Jewish Ways Into Wilderness, Wilderness Ways into Judaism” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007) and founder of TorahTrek Spiritual Wilderness Adventures.

Mourning Miriam

Moshe was one of a kind. “None ever rose again like Moshe.”

At the same time, in very powerful ways, Moshe and Miriam were two of a kind.

Their personalities
and passions overlapped generously. And despite being separated over decades during Moshe’s extended sojourn in Midian, their destinies and their souls remained intertwined. When one of them left this world, the other descended into grief-stricken crisis.

It’s not just that Miriam — and Miriam alone — watched over 3-month-old Moshe as he lay among the bulrushes on the Nile. It’s that (as the text and the Midrash co-mingle) Miriam was the first of the two siblings to boldly confront authority, and to fight for the preservation of her people. When, under the boot of Egyptian oppression, her father Amram publicly declared his intention to desist from having any further children, it was Miriam who forcefully objected.

“Father, you are worse than Pharaoh,” she said. “For Pharaoh declared death only upon the Israelite boys who would be born. But you have pronounced sentence upon both the boys and the girls.”

Amram accepted his daughter’s critique, and Moshe was born shortly thereafter. She prophesied that this baby would be the redeemer of Israel. When the baby was left in the water, she stood guard both over him and over the dream of freedom.

The impression that Moshe and Miriam were mirrors of one another is conveyed unmistakably at the very moment that the dream of freedom is realized. With the Egyptian horsemen at the bottom of the sea, Moshe leads the men of Israel in song, as Miriam leads the women. “I will sing to God for He has acted mightily” is the refrain they each inspire.

Later, when Miriam is stricken with tzara’at (often translated as “leprosy”), Aaron pleads with Moshe that he pray for her. According to the standard translation, Aaron pleads, “Let her not be as one who is dead … with half her flesh eaten away.”

But the medieval sage Rashbam (a grandson of Rashi’s), realized that the pronouns in Aaron’s sentence are not necessarily female. In fact, he says, they are male. And Aaron is pleading with Moshe to pray for Miriam’s recovery so that he — Moshe — not be as one half of whose flesh is eaten away. For Aaron saw and understood that Moshe and Miriam were in many ways two halves of a whole, with lives and passions that were overlapping and interlocked. If Miriam dies, Moshe would be half-dead himself.

All of this helps explain the astonishing and tragic turn of events described in today’s parsha. When the well in the desert runs dry, and God instructs Moshe to speak to the rock and elicit its waters, Moshe furiously lashes out against the people for their rebelliousness, strikes the rock with his staff, and incurs the Divine punishment of being barred from the land. What accounts for Moshe’s fury?

Rashi, deeply rooted in the Midrash, points out that the event immediately prior to the water crisis is the death of Miriam. For 40 years a particular rock had traveled with the people and, in Miriam’s merit, miraculously gave forth water. With Miriam’s death, the rock dried up, rolled away and found its place within the anonymity of the thousands of rocks in the desert. God’s command to Moshe that he “speak to the rock” set Moshe off on the seemingly impossible mission to locate that old familiar rock. The people grew weary and said, “What difference does it make from which rock you bring forth water?” Are not all rocks the same for God?

The people were right. But Moshe lost his temper. Not because God couldn’t bring water out of any rock that He wished. Not because the people weren’t legitimately thirsty. But because Moshe was heartbroken over the loss of his sister. And he didn’t want to find just any rock. He wanted to find her rock. To feel her presence, to be comforted over her death. Moshe’s fury wasn’t born of anger. It was born of grief.

We all encounter people who are sometimes angry. Often these angry people are those whom we care about deeply, and we are hurt by their anger. The story of Moshe and Miriam reminds us that anger is often not really anger that we are witnessing, rather an expression of grief over the loss of something important — a relationship, a belief, a hope, a dream. Each of us experiences loss differently. But we all need the same kind of understanding and patience from our friends. Even Moshe needed some.

Yosef Kanefsky is the rabbi of B’nai David-Judea Congregation, a Modern Orthodox congregation in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Turn Memory Into Blessing

Holidays bring up feelings and memories about people who have died. They also offer opportunities to address unresolved issues. The four Yizkor services and the themes of their days correspond to different tasks of mourning.

Yizkor provides temporal focal points where the new people we are becoming meet again with those we have lost, allowing us to continue the relationships and keep them growing and healing. Yizkor allows us to assess our individual growth in a world without those we’ve lost.

Each day provides a unique window on the nature of grief, encouraging us to approach healing from a different perspective and address a different task or season of mourning. Each creates a context for continuing relationships with our dead, helping to make peace as relationships transform from physical to spiritual connections.

Continuing our conversation with those we have lost is essential to healing. These conversations are central to our emotional lives. Yizkor engages memory for healing. The pain of our history becomes less of a burden. Memory becomes a blessing. The conversation is restored.

Each day of Yizkor provides a distinctive frame of mourning issues. At Yom Kippur, we settle accounts with others and with God. We put right our relationships with the people who are gone, asking them for forgiveness.

We focus on unresolved issues, feelings and guilts we may carry. It is also a day to forgive those we mourn. Also called in plural form, Yom HaKippurim, the day of “atonements,” it is a day when we atone not only for our own sins but also for those of others. This contextualizes a dynamic connection that remains between the living and the dead.

Shemini Atzeret, Yizkor’s day two, ushers in the winter season. It is marked by adding to the liturgy a daily prayer for rain. This prepares us for sadness, bringing us closer to mourning’s cold and brittle aspects.

This time of the broken heart is necessary to healing, just as the time when the earth lies fallow — absorbing moisture — is necessary to bring forth the buds of spring. Our tears connect to the rain and necessity of winter to prepare us for spring. Thus, we honor the need for change and contemplate what it means to let go of the past.

The third day of Yizkor, Pesach’s eighth day, commemorates the Exodus from Egypt and calls for a release of bondage to grief. It acknowledges the difficulty of yearning for freedom as we seek a new life, as we celebrate spring and the budding of hope!

Finally, Shavuot, the summer harvest festival, commemorates the giving of the Torah and the establishment of the covenant between God and Israel. These themes encourage reflection on gifts given and what they taught, commemorating these gifts with acts of thanksgiving.

For Pesach, the commemoration of the Exodus and the release from the grip of winter and its tears provide powerful healing metaphors. Mourners have insight into bondage as they are held by the grip of grief. Pesach’s Yizkor can move the mourner from concern about the deceased to concern with his or her own healing.

The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzryiam, means narrow places. Pesach Yizkor might focus on finding the passage from the tight places that remain in the mourning process, restricting peace of mind and enjoyment of life, to the freedom to remember the deceased as a blessing.

Each year, the Passover story is told anew. In re-telling the story, we see how it has changed. Through each year’s lens, we monitor how time has moved us from the bondage to the blessing of memory.

Passover begins with the elimination of chametz, which inflates food and causes bread to rise. Chametz also threatens healing, for when we inflate or idealize the dead, we lose their reality. Healing relationships becomes harder.

The four children come to the Passover table with different attitudes that correspond to the seasons of mourning. The Simple Child represents mournings’ unbearable yearning. The Angry Child is enraged by bondage to past issues and pains. The Mute Child is simply stunned by loss and unable to articulate feelings. The Wise Child has moved on to healing-wholeness.

With whom do you identify? Has the story changed since last year?

Mourners’ bondage may appear as guilt over unresolved issues. They may be bound to live the agenda of the deceased and not their own, like the slaves in Egypt, living in someone else’s land. This exercise may help you, as you move toward freedom.

Bondage to the Past

We may be tied to something fulfilling and unable to let go. We may have unresolved issues. How are you in bondage to the past or living in someone else’s kingdom?

Pharaoh: How is your loss a tyrant holding you in bondage — a taskmaster, as you do its bidding and not your own?

The Plagues: What punishments have you endured because of this bondage?

Matzah: What have you failed to give proper time, attention and nurture due to mourning?

The Sea of Reeds: What obstacles impede your freedom?

Manna: What has sustained your journey?

The Golden Calf: What has distracted you from the tasks of healing?

Moses and Miriam: Who are your role models and teachers in this wilderness?

The Promised Land: Describe your hope for the future.

God: Envision a healing power to carry you to freedom and the Promised Land.

Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist and spiritual director. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001) Brener is also a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a faculty member of the Academy for Jewish Religion.


Genelle Altman died Feb. 21 at 84. She is survived by her son, Jeff. Malinow and Silverman

Ben Berk died Feb. 21 at 99. He is survived by his daughters, Harriet (Arthur) Kohn and Marlene Safer; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Eugene Merrill Brown died Feb. 20 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Andrea Harris-Brown; sons, Brian (Yumiko) and Lance (Masako); and four grandchildren.Leana Kate Burkardt died Feb. 8 at 16. She is survived by her parents, Randy and Juergen; brother, Harrison; and grandmother, Ruthe Hirschfeld. Groman

Jay Barry Edelman died Feb. 20 at 54. He is survived by his father, Norman. Malinow and Silverman

David Flushman died Feb. 19 at 91. He is survived by his children, Bruce (Bette), Nancy (Bob) Eagleton and Phyllis (Ira) Klein; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Hillside

Marilyn Jussim died Feb. 20 at 71. She is survived by her husband, Jared; sons, Noah (Andrea) and Roderick (Tova); grandchildren, Eva and Solomon; stepmother, Hilda Blumberg; and cousin, Barbara Haar. Mount Sinai

Murray Kimmel died Feb. 21 at 88. He is survived by his wife, Gloria; and sons, David (Dina) and Joshua. Malinow and Silverman

Karen Anne La Casse died Feb. 18 at 52. She is survived by her husband, Bryan; sons, Adam and Michael; daughters, Tina Gonzalez, and Nicki Volkmar; six grandchildren; parents, Eliot and Rae Kontoff; sisters, Linda Birnbaum and Michelle Rindler; brother, Rob Kontoff. Groman

Henry Solomon Lager died Feb. 17 at 85. He is survived by his wife, S. Bernice; daughter, Eve (Joe) Schleich; sister, Thelma Heubsch; and three granddaughters. Malinow and Silverman

Arnold Laykoff died Feb. 11 at 79. He is survived by his wife, Celia; son, Richard; and two grandchildren. Groman

William Lerner died Feb. 17 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Florence; son, Jeffrey; daughter, Linda Oppenheim; sister, Doris Leibers; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Groman

Evelyn Henrietta Mayer died Feb. 18 at 89. She is survived by her son, Joel; six grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and sister, Sylvia Setless. Groman

Victoria Moin-Amini died Feb. 16 at 85. She is survived by her sons, Sambiz (Vicky) and Kambiz (Jacqline); daughters, Shirin (Bijan) Kohan, Rana (Youseph) Sakhai, Mina (Shahim) Elihu and Ziba (Parviz) Amini; and 18 grandchildren. Groman

Jeanette Rosen died Feb. 21 at 90. She is survived by her son,Philip; daughter, Wilma Maxine Linsk; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Groman

Marshall Siff died Feb. 11 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Helen; son, Matthew; daughters, Susan Caldwell, Karen Ehrenberg, Victoria Russell and Jeny; and six grandchildren. Groman

Rose Sino died Feb. 13 at 89 She is survived by her son, David Swartz; and two grandchildren. Groman

Sylvia Slade died Feb. 20 at 87. She is survived by her son, David; daughters, Gayle Chamberlain and Shelly; and seven grandchildren. Groman

Madeleine Thompson died Feb. 21 at 65. She is survived by her husband, James; daughters, Victoria Ginsburg, Debbie (Robert) Miles and Jacqueline Godfrey; and five grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Hymen (Michael) Winn died Feb. 21 at 85. He is survived by his wife, Margaret; children, Shana (Marshall) Mintz, Sheree (Michael) Marx and Ross (Betty); stepchildren, Tony and JoAnna (Doug Levin) Price; nine grandchildren; and sister, Doris Cheston. Hillside

The Jewish Journal publishes obituary notices free of charge.Please send an e-mail in the above format with the name, age and survivors of the deceased or fax it to (213) 368-1684 — Attn: Obituaries.Deadline for publication is Monday at 9 a.m. Longer notices will be edited. Thank you for your understanding.

Sitting relationship shiva

The voice on the other end of the cell phone stopped me cold: “I’m engaged.”

I couldn’t breathe. My worst nightmare was happening. My
ex-girlfriend — the one I still hadn’t gotten over, the one I still imagined having kids with — was getting married. How could I not have seen it coming? It had been a year and a half since our breakup, and I didn’t want to see it. She loved someone else.

I went into a tailspin: nonstop tears, no sleep, breakup grief all over again.

But this was worse than before, much worse. This was the real deal. She was gone. Off the market. No way to rationalize my way out of the heartache.

I was desperate. So I called my rabbi.

Now, I’m not religious. My rabbi is a great guy, but I’m not one to call him for this kind of stuff. I have a therapist and the bleeding ears of my friends for that. But nothing had helped me get over her. I thought maybe the rabbi could give me something different, some tidbit of spiritual wisdom that would get me back on track. Something besides the “If it’s beshert” speech my dad always gives.

The rabbi was sure he could help me. He met me at a deli and without delay smacked me with some tough love: “Shep, it’s simple. You’re unhappy because she’s happy.”

Woah, Rabbi, ouch, man!

“Am not!” I said, on the defensive, “I love her, I want her to be happy… I do!”

The Rabbi dismissed this with a chuckle and shook his head: “You’re human. If she were miserable without you, you’d feel better right now. Problem is, she’s moved on and you’re left with a big void. You need to fill up the void with things in your life that make you happy.”

OK, so it wasn’t revolutionary therapy here, but I had to admit it was pretty unbearable to think of her doing bridal showers and florists while I was ordering in pizza and beer. I also had to admit the joy-o-meter had kind of hit rock-bottom levels in the last year. Could the cure be so simple? Do things, lots of things, that make me happy. Paint, go to movies, write, hike.

Fill up the void. That would help, sure.

But what about the regret, the overwhelming guilt? I was tormented by the feeling that if I had only done things differently, if I had only been a better boyfriend, if I had only asked her to marry me two years ago, things could have worked out for us.

The rabbi was having none of it: “She wasn’t right for you. Know how I know? If she were, she’d be sitting here with you now, a ring on her finger and a baby on the way. But, Shep, let’s be honest. You dragged your feet. Maybe you did have an opportunity to marry her. But you didn’t ask her.”

Oh, the sting of it.

“You have to trust that you both didn’t move forward because it wasn’t meant to be,” he said.

Aha. The ol’ beshert. I knew it’d find a way in there.

Truth be told, the pain had been lingering so long, it never occurred to me that our breakup had actually been the right decision. Maybe there really was an inner wisdom at work, stopping us both from taking the next step. We loved each other deeply, but it had been a volatile mix from the get-go. The relationship took so much effort. We had worked our butts off in counseling and still couldn’t save the thing.

“If she had come back to you it still wouldn’t have worked,” the rabbi said, “She’s not the one.”

The “one.” That was it. That was the heartache. In my mind she had never stopped being the one, my soulmate, even after she was long gone.

In Judaism, we sit shiva after a death. We grieve, confront and try to accept. It’s an ancient process, and it helps.

But unlike when my mother died — which was so devastating but so absolutely final — this girl was still out there. There had still been a chance. I never sat shiva for our dead relationship because I always thought she might come back.

I couldn’t fill the void she left, because I didn’t want to believe the void really existed.

But it does exist. And, trite as it may sound, it’s up to me to fill it up and be happy in my own company.

So it’s time, finally, to sit shiva. Face the loss. And let go of the guilt.
My ex and I weren’t beshert. She wasn’t the one. The case is airtight, the proof is incontrovertible: She’s engaged to someone else.

“One more thing,” said the rabbi. “Try to be happy for her. You’ll heal faster.”

Shep Koster is an actor and artist who lives in Los Angeles.

The great (non) depression

I overdid it yesterday. Perhaps I misjudged the line between exhaustion and sloth.

Or perhaps my recuperation from the cancer treatment requires a slower return
to fitness than yesterday’s exertion.

But this morning’s desire to stay in bed needs to be honored, unlike yesterday’s, which called forth a kick in the pants.

Some might suspect depression, but I disagree. I am finding, in my confinement, too many sources of pleasure, despite the situation. I am delighting in friends, home, books, writing, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, NPR, PBS….

Besides I am pharmacologically covered for depression.

Depression is a word that has been cheapened. We forget that it is a diagnosis for a bona fide disease. It becomes a catch phrase for the weighty feelings we experience as we come to terms with life’s challenges and honor the process of change. Those who cannot tolerate taking the time and effort that normal healing requires are quick to label depression and try to prescribe it away.

Shortly after receiving a cancer diagnosis, Janet came to my office. She sat down on the couch opposite me and sank into the pillows, settling shapelessly and breathing shallowly. Finally she let out a sigh.

“I feel depressed,” she said. “I feel heavy. I can’t move. I’m paralyzed. I cry all the time. I have no desire to go on with my treatment.”

As she spoke, a trickle of tears ran down her cheek. Janet was mourning her health.

Grief is not depression. It is not a disease. The sense of heaviness and weight that we feel when we face challenges is our organism’s insistence that it is time to stop, give honor to what is lost, and surrender to the healing process. One of the symptoms is often an overwhelming fatigue triggering the fear that we don’t have the energy to face what is demanded.

This feeling sets in when there has been a death and the fires of grief have been banked and the mourner begins to sift through the ashes. In other losses, it descends when the fact of the illness, divorce or other change begins to sink in. Each labored breath exposes what has been left behind and reveals a glimpse of the obstacles ahead. While at times, we may still feel wrapped in gauze and unable to move, this so-called depression indicates that the time of numbness is over. Feeling begins to return. Sadness is palpable. We begin to comprehend the changes that have taken place and their consequences in our lives. Difficult feelings lie in the wake of this understanding. But have heart, this heaviness is a sign of life.

In this state we have no vitality. The pulse of our life force is barely detectable. So we wait. And we can’t move. The time of the broken heart is necessary to heal. There are genuine tragedies, sadnesses and injustices that cannot be denied or rationalized away when we take the measure of our lives and the changes that they have wrought. We must dwell in this valley of tears as if we are seeds, lying fallow in the earth, absorbing the moisture necessary to bring forth the sprouts of spring and the harvests that follow.

Taking time to feel, we honor the need for change. We learn about patience, surrender, acceptance and, ultimately, letting go. It can be a quiet and inarticulate time in which until we are able, literally, to come to terms with our loss.

I take issue with the word “depression.” Depression is a clinical state. It is a psychological diagnosis of something with an organic base. Although elements of the symptoms of depression and of grief have much in common, the two are not the same. Depression describes an illness. Grief is a healthy, appropriate, though often excruciating, response to loss. Loss is not just letting go, which would be difficult enough. It requires us to reconstruct our entire world. We must come to see the universe in a completely different way.

Rather than “depression,” I prefer the Hebrew word “kavod.” “Kavod” means “honor” as in the biblical commandment to “honor thy father and mother.” It also is translated as “weight” or “heaviness.” These latter translations are what people who suffer often experience.

This paralytic feeling is their organism asserting the opposite of what the culture demands. While they are urged to get over their loss quickly and get on with their lives, their bodies and souls are saying, “Stop. Feel the gravity…the weight, of this situation. Honor what is past and what is being born within you. Honor your need to broaden your understanding and come to terms with your new status and new world. Stop.”

By labeling this experience with a holy Hebrew word, perhaps we can be kinder to ourselves and less afraid. Perhaps this will encourage us to take the time we need for healing, learning its lessons and allowing it to transform our lives.
We contemplate our situation and thus give it kavod — honor. We feel the weight; the heaviness of what loss itself is about. In the process, we transform it. As we wait, contemplating our lives and the nature of life itself, we begin to heal.

I’m staying in bed this morning.

Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001), a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a faculty member of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Bittersweet symphonies: the Pearls struggle to find life after Daniel’s death

Eight days after Yom Kippur, Judea and Ruth Pearl will commemorate what would have been the 43rd birthday of their son, Daniel. As on every Oct. 10 for the last five years, it will be a day of intensely personal reflection and remembrance by the couple and their daughters, Tamara and Michelle, intensifying their emotions of the other 364 days.
By contrast, the date also will be marked by public worldwide concerts celebrating the life of Daniel Pearl, an accomplished violinist, equally passionate about the classical, jazz, country and bluegrass musical idioms.
As of a week ago, the master calendar showed 166 different performances scheduled in 24 countries — from China to El Salvador and Kenya to Egypt — on and around Oct. 10. It is expected that the numbers will reach last year’s record of 300 concerts in 41 countries.
Music was Daniel Pearl’s avocation, but journalism was his profession. In pursuit of a story on Al Qaeda’s financial ties, the then-38-year-old Wall Street Journal reporter was kidnapped in early 2002 in Pakistan and beheaded by Islamic extremists.

The life and death of Daniel Pearl on HBO
It has a handsome, brilliant, fun-loving reporter, who kisses his beautiful, pregnant wife goodbye as he goes off to track down an Al Qaeda financial network in Pakistan. His nemesis is Omar Sheikh, a man not unlike Pearl in background — intelligent, well educated, but who has become a fanatical terrorist.
Sheikh lures Pearl into a trap, where kidnappers abduct The Wall Street Journal reporter and withhold news of him for almost a month, while Pearl’s parents and wife, and much of the rest of the world, hold their breath.
The Pakistani police search everywhere for Pearl, while the same country’s intelligence service apparently shields the terrorist. Finally, the kidnappers release a grisly video in which Pearl is decapitated by a sword.
No wonder four different film projects on the case have been announced, although only one is actually ready for prime time.
On Oct. 10, the day on which Pearl would have celebrated his 43rd birthday, HBO will air “The Journalist and the Jihadi: The Murder of Daniel Pearl,” a 90-minute documentary, which will be hard to beat for drama and intensity by subsequent movies.
The film was produced and directed by Ahmed A. Jamal, a Pakistani, and Ramesh Sharma, an Indian, with the full cooperation of Pearl’s wife, Marianne, and his parents, UCLA professor Judea Pearl and Ruth Pearl, both raised in Israel. It is narrated by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
What gives the film much of its emotional impact are lovely home videos of Pearl’s childhood in Encino, his passion for music, a makeshift seder conducted on a trans-Siberian railroad train, and the joyous wedding joining him to his Cuban Dutch wife.
The life of the secretive Omar Sheikh is, of necessity, less well documented, and at times the directors have to stretch quite a bit to force the two protagonists’ backgrounds into parallel lines.
There remain a number of yet unanswered questions, both in the film and in the actual investigations:

  • Did Pearl’s kidnappers sell him to an Arab gang that then murdered him?
  • What was the role of the Pakistani government?
  • Why has the death sentence, imposed on Sheikh by a Pakistani court in July 2002, never been carried out?

Until such questions are answered, the documentary serves as a riveting history of a case that has gripped the world’s attention.
“The Journalist and the Jihadi” airs at 8 p.m. on Oct. 10. It will be repeated on various dates in October on HBO and HBO2.

Check for details.
— TT

Yet the wake of this tragedy is an extraordinary story of renewal in itself. Ruth and Judea Pearl are both high-achieving professionals. He is an emeritus professor of computer science at UCLA and internationally recognized for his pioneer research on artificial intelligence. She is an electrical engineer and for years was a highly paid industry consultant. Although quieter than her more exuberant husband, in the immediate days after the tragedy, “she was the captain and ran a tight ship,” her daughter wrote.
Both parents cherish their privacy and still shudder each time an inquiring reporter thrusts a mike in their face and asks, “Well, and how did you feel when you first heard that your son had been murdered?”
But on the day before Rosh Hashanah this year, sitting in the living room of their pleasant Encino home, they agreed to talk openly about their agonizing experience and how they transformed their lives by transmuting private grief into public good.
The story begins on the morning of Jan. 23, 2002, an ordinary day when life seemed especially good for Daniel Pearl. He was a highly respected and popular foreign correspondent for a leading American daily, married to fellow journalist Marianne, and the couple were expecting their first child.
That evening, Daniel went to a restaurant in the Pakistani port city of Karachi to meet a supposed source who could provide a break for his investigative story on the financing of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.
That was the last time his family saw Daniel, except for videos released by his shadowy captors, one showing the journalist in chains with an unknown hand pointing a gun at his head.
It was the beginning of 28 days of hope and despair for the Pearl parents, and their six new houseguests from the FBI.
Repeatedly during that period, the Pearls were informed their son was dead and his body had been found, and each time the report turned out to be wrong.
Throughout the ordeal, Daniel’s colleagues and editors at The Wall Street Journal were in touch with the parents, lending moral support and advice. One of the editors’ main concerns was that other media might leak the fact that both parents come from an Israeli background, thus increasing the threat to Daniel’s life.
Judea was born in suburban Tel Aviv in the fervently Orthodox enclave of B’nai Brak, co-founded by his grandfather, and he had served in the Israeli army.
Ruth was born in Baghdad, when one-quarter of the Iraqi capital’s population was Jewish, and emigrated with her parents to Israel in 1951. She and Judea met as college students at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
In a rare display of professional solidarity in the competitive media, no one raised the Israeli angle until after Daniel’s death.
During the torturous waiting period, Barney Calame, a Wall Street Journal editor, phoned the Pearls daily with a situation report. “He was a slow, deliberate speaker and each time our hearts kept sinking until, at the end, he would report that there had been no new developments,” Judea recalled. “We finally taught him to open each conversation with the sentence, ‘I have no news.'”
In the last days before Daniel’s death, the Pearls were fairly hopeful.
“Danny was a careful professional, not a Don Quixote type, and he had always gotten himself out of any trouble before,” his mother said. “Besides, his goodness shone through, and we couldn’t believe that his kidnappers could live with him for weeks and not be affected by it.”
Adding to the hopefulness was the history of other journalists abducted in Parkistan previously, who had always been returned after a few days in exchange for enemy prisoners or ransom.
On the morning of Feb. 21, 2002, the last glimmer of hope was extinguished. “We were having breakfast when three FBI agents, two women and a man, walked in,” Ruth remembered. “One woman had tears in her eyes, and she asked me if I had anything cooking on the stove. Then she told us that she had bad news and that Danny had been killed.”
After the previous false alarms, the Pearls refused to believe the report. They phoned the American consul in Karachi, who confirmed that he had seen the gruesome video showing the decapitation of their son.
Pakistani police did not find Daniel’s mutilated body until May 16, and it took another three months until the remains were returned to the United States. Hours before the funeral, the FBI stopped the proceedings on the grounds that the agents needed four more days to perform an autopsy.
Finally, after the burial and the memorial service, the Pearls were left to ponder their loss and their future.
“I felt that my life was over,” Ruth said. “We would never again have a normal life. I still cannot comprehend it; I try not to comprehend it; there’s a mental mechanism blocking it.”Added Judea, “As human beings, we don’t have the software, the computational machinery, to comprehend the logical contradiction that such a beautiful person, who tried so hard to explain the Muslim world to the West, would be killed by people who elevated their grievance above all norms of civilization.”
But rather than the sad ending that might have happened, this is where the story takes a surprising turn. The Pearls faced three obvious options. One was to retreat into their private grief, another to resume their professional lives as best they could, and a third to do whatever they could to exact revenge on their son’s murderers.
They chose a fourth way. “We refused to accept the idea that Danny’s contributions to the world as a journalist, as a musician, as a gentle human being was ended forever,” Judea said.
“We decided on a different kind of defiance,” he added. “We would fight hatred with everything in our power, but we wouldn’t seek physical revenge — that’s what his murderers wanted.”
The parents found the vehicle to turn thoughts into action a few days later, as a steady stream of condolence cards, flowers and envelopes with $20 bills and other small donations arrived at the house.
“We didn’t know how to cope with all that,” said Ruth, so The Wall Street Journal arranged for a team of lawyers to advise the family.
The first decision was to set up a trust fund for Marianne and her soon-to-be-born son, Adam. As the discussions continued, all agreed that the most relevant way to honor Daniel’s life and death was to establish a foundation to perpetuate his work and ideals.
Exactly one week after the FBI agent reported Danny’s death, the legal papers establishing the Daniel Pearl Foundation were signed by Judea Pearl as president and Ruth Pearl as chief financial officer.

Three Generations of Pearls

Three Generations of Pearls. back row: Tosha Pearl (center) is flanked by her daughter-in-law, Ruth, and son, Judea, during a Tel Aviv family reunion. front row: Tamara Pearl and her brother, Daniel Pearl. Photo courtesy Ruth and Judea Pearl

“We wanted to fight the tsunami of hatred engulfing the world and we had a powerful weapon — the memory of Danny, respected by millions of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and through the three fields in which he excelled, journalism, music and dialogue.”
Working with a miniscule staff and a $400,000 annual budget, raised mainly through small contributions (“We don’t get any celebrities,” Judea said), the foundation has transformed Daniel’s legacy and the parents’ vision into reality.
In journalism, reporters and editors from Muslim countries annually travel to the United States for six-month working fellowships on American newspapers, including The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles.
Through the Web-based World Youth News, students at 20,000 high schools in 109 countries develop professional skills, unbiased reporting and respect for cultural differences.
In music, World Music Days will be celebrated this year Oct. 6-15. Among the hundreds of performers and performances will be Sir Elton John, world premiere of Steve Reich’s “Daniel Variations,” symphony orchestras in five different countries, neo-soul artist Nya Jade, Bo Diddley and Friends, Hollywood Interfaith Choir and Hardly Strictly Bluegrass.
Judea Pearl and professor Akbar Ahmed, a leading Islamic scholar from Pakistan, have engaged in dialogues before multiethnic audiences throughout the United States and in the British House of Lords.
“We have only two rules,” Pearl said. “No topic is taboo and both speakers and audience must maintain civilized tone.”
The foundation has promoted publication of books of Daniel’s own writings and about his beliefs. Among a number of projected films, HBO will air “The Journalist and the Jihadi” on Oct. 10.
Somewhat to their own surprise, Judea and Ruth have become accomplished and passionate public speakers and are constantly busy promoting and running the Daniel Pearl Foundation.They have also evolved into skillful interviewees, with Judea as the more animated and gesticulating responder, while Ruth is quieter on the surface and occasionally corrects her husband’s recollections.
But, Judea said, “I resist the idea that I’m doing all this for therapeutic reasons. If I didn’t believe that our work makes some difference, I would quit tomorrow.”Added Ruth, “Some days we are encouraged and on other days we are down. But we are doers and we don’t quit.”

Daniel Pearl

Disengagement Dashes, Spurs Dreams

The evacuation of Gaza Strip settlements is not just a struggle over the question of the future of the territories. At the very core, the pullout was the first big battle on the question of religion and state.

They [religious settlers opposed to the withdrawal] have their own dream. The first stage is the “whole land of Israel,” filled wall-to-wall with Jews-only towns. True, Palestinians and Thai workers can come in to do the dirty work but no more.

The second stage is to transform Israel into a halachic state, a country ruled by Jewish religious law. Elections, the Knesset, the government and the courts may continue to function, but settler rabbis will decide just what issues are appropriate for these bodies to decide and what issues are too “holy” and important to be left to the people and their elected officials.

In their dream world, there is no place for secular Israel: Its culture is not culture; its values are not values; its opinions are not opinions.

In the eyes of the settlers, we are all poor, underprivileged children who never had the chance for a Jewish education. In their dream, our task is to become religious and to join them or at least not to stand in the way while they bring the Messiah.

We must nullify ourselves, and in return, they will hug us, sweetly, of course, and with lots and lots of brotherly love. But if we refuse, the brotherly love and the hugs will go out the window, and we will become little more than traitorous leftists or Nazis.

But we nonreligious Israelis also have a dream. We want to live in an enlightened, open and just country, not in some messianic, rabbinic monarchy and not in the whole land of Israel. We came here to be a free people in our own land.

To be a free people means each person is entitled to choose which parts of Jewish tradition are important to him and which to leave behind. It means to have the freedom to run our country according to our free will, rather than rabbinic dictates.

It means recognizing we are not alone in this land — and demanding from the Palestinians that they do the same.

It means to free ourselves, once-and-for-all, from the nightmare of being an occupying, uprooting, exploiting, settling, expropriating, humiliating, discriminatory country.

For more than 30 years, the settlers’ dream has choked the dream of free Israelis. The dream of the whole land of Israel and a messianic kingship drains daily the hope of being a people free to build a just society.

For more than 30 years, the settlers’ dream has trampled my dreams and those of my friends. But because of this, I can understand the settlers’ pain and desperation as they watch their dream collapse before their eyes.

They are experiencing exactly what my friends and I have gone through because of them, all this time. I opposed their project from the onset, from the very first settlement.

I look into their eyes, and I see true desperation and true pain, and without the slightest joy, I can say: The pain you are going through today is very similar to the pain you have put free Israel friends through for more than 30 years.

I will respect your mourning by remaining silent, but I cannot share in your grief.

And what will be after all the grief? Israel, for all her faults, is all we’ve got. It’s easy to throw stones at her, but this is not the country we prayed for.

The floor is deep, the ceiling cracked, the lights go off three times a day.

It’s easy to come up with substitutes for this Israel, easy to build castles in the sky about messianic monarchies on one hand and post-Israelism on the other.

But Israel, for all its faults, is all we’ve got.

Perhaps instead of kicking her, the time has come to get up and start fixing a little bit: to free ourselves of the occupation that continues to corrupt us; to renew our social solidarity.

A bit less “brotherly love,” a bit more responsibility for others less fortunate than ourselves. A bit less holiness; a bit more justice. A bit less of the whole land of Israel, and a State of Israel a bit more whole with itself.

Through the murky cloud of poetic words and sobs, we can sometimes see during these very days the State of Israel’s quiet, beautiful face: [These are] the faces of youngsters in uniforms who chose, despite the pressure and violence, despite the curses and false hugs and emotional manipulation, to get up and protect with their body the dream of being a free people — to not rule over the Palestinians and to not be ruled over by rabbis.

The beaten, humiliated, slapped-on-the-face soldier boy, the police officer who was spat in the face — at this time they are the brave defenders of the State of Israel in the face of the unruly wave of zealousness.

The young soldier girl, her throat choked by tears, barely 19 years old, already carries the burden of the 2,000-year hope to be a free nation in our country on her shoulders.

Not in Palestinian Gaza, but rather, in our country.

With assertiveness and silent courage, but also with restraint, wisdom and compassion, this female soldier is currently protecting our most vital border — the border between what is allowed and what is not.

This is the border without which we will have no state and without which there is no freedom, no society, nothing but fiery zealousness, messianic-hysterical extremism and complete destruction — a state of affairs the Jewish people has known more than once in the past.

Reprinted with permission

Amos Oz is one of Israel’s most celebrated authors. This essay originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on Aug. 21, 2005, following the disengagement. He will speak at Sabbath services on Friday, May 19, at Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood. The public is invited. For more information, call (310) 475-7311.


Your Inner Joseph

Each of us lives a spiritual journey. One of greatest tasks in life is to know our journey, to understand its contours and what it demands of us. The Torah teaches us these journeys, these paths into our center.

As Genesis ends this week with Vayechi, Jacob pronounces blessings for his sons, often using word play with their names. It seems that the names their mothers chose for them (all but Benjamin, who was named by Jacob) set a destiny for them; their names, in turn, created their lives. From this we might learn that each of us has an inner name that identifies our spiritual journey.

Understanding our inner lives in terms of narratives and themes of a sacred text is often referred to as archetypal psychology. The major characters and moments are not just historical (or ahistorical, according to some), they are signs for us, as well, maps to our inner lives. As we study the characters and themes of Genesis carefully, especially as they are elucidated in the rabbinic and mystical commentaries, we are alerted to the tensions, themes and potentials of our own inner lives.

The spiritual assumption is that Torah and our own souls emanate from the same origin, from the Soul of the Universe. Our souls and Torah share the same essence, but are in different forms. Torah is what links us to the Holy One. Torah contains our narratives. And from studying Torah, we begin to see our own narratives peering out at us.

One of my favorite narratives is that of Esau, older brother of Jacob and putative inheritor of his father, Isaac. But his mother, Rebecca, has received word from God that Jacob is to inherit, not Esau. Unbeknownst to Esau, forces are in motion to deprive him of that which was his.

Or was it his?

The narrative seems to be telling us that some things to which we have a right or a claim are not truly ours. Esau seems to know this when he comes in from the field, utterly exhausted. He sells the birthright for a bowl of stew. One tradition says he was exhausted trying to be something he wasn’t — the kind of person who would inherit his father’s world. He didn’t despise the birthright per se, but rather he hated his own fraudulence, trying to be something he was not.

Jacob, the trickster, set the world right. Esau, in a moment of truth, gave it to his brother. And, like many of us, he forgot the clarity in that moment of truth, only to gain it again as an older man, when he truly forgave Jacob. When he forgave Jacob, one might say, he truly became himself.

Take the story of Joseph, who is sold off as a slave after drawing the wrath of his brothers. Joseph rises to prominence in the house of Potiphar, only to fall to scandal after spurning the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He sits in an Egyptian prison, certainly bemoaning his fate.

As he sits in prison, he thinks and considers. His brothers hated him because he was his father’s favorite. He was his father’s favorite because he was the first born of his mother Rachel, whom his father dearly loved, and who died birthing Joseph’s only full brother, Benjamin. Being his father’s favorite, he thought himself special, above others. He put on airs.

Of course his brothers hated him; of course his father favored him. Deep human forces were put into action by his father Jacob having to marry Leah, who bore those half-brothers of his, who always resented his being the favorite. Deep human forces were put into action by the death of his mother, placing his father in unbalanced grief. Perhaps as he sat in prison, Joseph realized the tragedy of it all; tragedy mixed with human frailty.

Perhaps Joseph now remembered himself back to his old games in the house of Potiphar, unconsciously (or not) flirting with Mrs. Potiphar. Joseph came to know himself in that prison. Later in life, he would engineer reconciliation with his brothers, breathtaking in its pathos and elegance.

As we read that story, some of us who may be feeling sorry for ourselves will come to know the tragedy of it all, and our part in the tragedy. And perhaps instead of ruminating on hatred and revenge, we dream up the possibilities for healing.

We have our Esau moments, our Joseph moments (and moments of the rest of matriarchs, patriarchs and other characters in Genesis).

If we don’t know that inner narrative, the name of our journey, our own lives are often a mystery to us, and we are mysterious to others. Life is mystery, but one that we should explore and come to know.

The study of Torah, especially through the archetypal approach as is suggested in the midrashic and mystical sources, helps us to understand our own narrative, to come to know our own inner name, to engage the mystery of being.

We learn to live — wisely, deeply and well.

Mordecai Finley is the rabbi of Ohr HaTorah Congregation and serves as provost and professor of liturgy and ethics at the Academy for Jewish Religion, California Campus.


After the Miscarriage

When my doctor informed me, in the seventh week of my first pregnancy, that I had miscarried, he accompanied the news with what he surely thought was a comforting idea.

He told me that God wanted perfect children, and this was His way of making it happen.

It was the first of several inappropriate and unhelpful comments that people would offer me. I drove off from the appointment sobbing, ran a red light and smashed my car.

The pain and anguish of infertility has been passed down from matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel to women today. But while our traditions have given us words to say and ways to act during other lifecycle events — death, birth, marriage — there is little guidance for how to help a friend or loved one deal with the loss of a pregnancy or the pain and despair of infertility.

When, after a second miscarriage, my husband and I reached out for support to friends and family — many of them in the happy throes of birthing and raising their own families — we were surprised by some of the comments we got in return.

On several occasions, friends advised, “Perhaps reducing stress by relaxing more could be helpful,” implying that stress had caused these miscarriages.

“I know so many people who have adopted and then gotten pregnant.”

Uh, OK. This helps me how?

Then there was this chestnut: “Covering your hair leads to healthy babies” — except, of course, for the countless healthy children born daily to those with uncovered hair.

From others I got: “It was meant to be,” or “it will work next time” or “at least it happened early.”

Everyone surely intended to be helpful, but they missed the mark.

What I really needed were people who were there just to listen, and fortunately I had friends and family members who understood this. Some realized the importance of calling to say hi, perhaps while their children were napping, rather than when they were crying or playing in the background. I appreciated the friends who would call on a spur of the moment and invite me to coffee, just the two of us, knowing I still found larger groups somewhat intimidating.

Miscarriage and infertility can be as isolating as they are painful.

Raising a family has always been a desire and priority of mine. After my first miscarriage, I picked myself up and quickly regained hope. I knew that this was quite common. Surely this was just a small bump in the road, and nothing to be too concerned about.

After a couple months of healing, physically and emotionally, I became pregnant again. My husband and I were filled with renewed hope and joy. But my new doctor informed me that a certain hormone level of mine, one that is a good indicator of a healthy pregnancy, was lower than normal.

I was convinced that this pregnancy would be strong and there was just something that seemed right about it, but after several week I miscarried again.

This time I was overcome with a grief that lingered. For a long time, I would cry for no apparent reason. I had trouble facing my friends, walking into my synagogue or being around pregnant women. I felt scared, ashamed, lonely and angry. I wondered whether I had done something wrong, been a bad person or perhaps had been lacking in faith.

Throughout this time, many of my friends were announcing their pregnancies, having children and announcing second pregnancies. Pregnancy and motherhood began to dominate the conversation. I felt as though I had been excluded from a club that all my friends were joining.

Pregnancy began to take over my thoughts. I felt as though this aspect of life was becoming unattainable.

Yet time has a way of healing wounds. Slowly, my husband and I have picked ourselves up and prepared for the process once again. Sure, there have been times that I retreat, avoiding contact with my peers and preferring to stay home alone. But we are now seeing a fertility specialist, and while it adds to our stress and poses different problems, we are optimistic.

If you have friends or family members in my situation, you can provide solace and support. Don’t blatantly avoid the topic, which just makes it the elephant in the room. Don’t play the cause-and-effect game (i.e., “Perhaps if you just relax and let things happen it will work out”). And don’t make empty promises: “It will all turn out OK.”

But absolutely do call periodically just to say hi and chat. And look for ways to hang out one-on-one or in small groups (e.g., coffee, dinner). And you can say things like: “I know it’s been hard lately. Please don’t hesitate to ask if I can help in any way.” By saying this, you already have.

Infertility and miscarriages remain largely taboo within the Jewish world, but there are ways that you can help a loved one through those difficult times.

Andrea Lesch Weiss is a social worker who lives in Los Angeles with her husband Jonathan. She can be reached at


H.O.P.E. for Los Angeles’ Bereaved

I felt like a third wheel,” Shirley said.

“I never felt more alone,” Diane said.

“I felt my oneness,” Helene added.

These women, along with 12 other females and two men, all in their 50s to their 80s, sat in a circle in Valley Beth Shalom’s Lopaty Chapel in Encino. They were reporting on the setbacks and successes of the past week, coming from cities as far away as Whittier and Thousand Oaks as they do every Thursday evening because of a common bond: Their lives have been shattered by the death of a spouse.

Here, they are members of Group Three, one of the many groups offered by H.O.P.E. Unit Foundation for Bereavement and Transition, the oldest and largest grief support organization in the greater Los Angeles area, according to Dr. Marilyn Stolzman, H.O.P.E.’s executive director since 1982. And they are dealing with profound sadness and loneliness in a caring and communal setting as they seek to rebuild their lives.

Licensed family and marriage therapist Bonnie Ban, facilitating this group, whose spouses have died 11 to 14 months previously, asked the members if being alone has gotten any easier.


“A little.”

“It’s changing. And my dog helps.”

Clearly, many participants are making progress.

“On Saturday I was missing my husband 10 times more than ever so I decided to go to a movie,” Beverly said.

“I made my first dinner party last week,” Elinor boasted.

Ban reminded them that time is passive and grief is active.

“You have to make the effort to go through the discomfort,” she said.

To accomplish this, H.O.P.E. — established in the 1970s and which stands for “hope, opportunity, participation and education” — offers seven weekly grief support groups for widows and widowers. Five are held at Valley Beth Shalom on Thursday evenings and, for the past seven years, two at Wilshire Boulevard Temple’s Irmas Campus in West Los Angeles on Tuesday evenings. The organization also offers a weekly family loss group for parents, siblings and other close relatives as well as two monthly alumni groups and a cancer support group.

What makes H.O.P.E. unique, according to Stolzman, is that the groups, which generally include 10 to 15 participants, are organized according to months of mourning, allowing participants of varying ages to experience similar issues as they progress unevenly through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ five stages of grief and mourning: shock, denial, anger, depression and acceptance. Those in Group One, for example, who have lost a spouse within the past four months, are still in intense pain. Group Four members, on the other hand, 15 to 24 months out, are still sad but are moving toward acceptance and a redefined life.

The H.O.P.E. groups, whose ratio of women to men is 7:1, reflecting the national population of widows and widowers, are facilitated by licensed therapists, who are paid for their services and who have additional training in bereavement. This approach differs from other organizations such as Our House, whose grief groups are led by supervised para-professionals.

Not everyone, however, believes in the necessity of bereavement support groups. The new “Report on Bereavement and Grief Research,” published in November 2003 by the Center for Advancement of Health, concluded that bereavement counseling for adults not experiencing “complicated grief” did not alleviate the sadness and pain. Instead, the report found that symptoms normally and gradually receded over six to 18 months.

H.O.P.E.’s Stolzman disagrees, citing David Spiegel, professor and associate chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine and author of “Living Beyond Limits: New Hope and Help for Facing Life-Threatening Illness” (Crown, 1993). He found that people who attend support groups do 50 percent better in the healing process than those who do not.

Stolzman points to the success of the group process — the power of participants to tell their stories, and to refrain from offering advice, and to give hope to others as well as their ability to listen empathetically and actively to group members. She also refers to the effectiveness of humor. “We owe it to our audience not to make death and dying deadly,” she said.

Plus, it’s a Jewish concept not to hide or run away from death, according to Rabbi Karen Fox of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, herself a marriage and family therapist, who refers widows and widowers of all ages to H.O.P.E.

“But we live in such a grief-light society that most people want to get rid of any bereavement experience,” she added.

That includes well-meaning family and friends who often lose patience with the mourner, asking questions such as, “Are you still going to that grief group?” or, “Aren’t you over that yet?”

As Joan, a member of Group Three, said, “They think [losing a spouse] is contagious.”

Thus, many participants find that H.O.P.E., a group they never wanted to belong to, becomes an indispensable part of their lives. Members often meet for dinner before group sessions and go out for dessert and coffee afterward. Many socialize on Saturday nights and sit together at Yizkor (memorial) and High Holiday services. They also provide support for each other during the week via the telephone, sometimes in the middle of the night.

“Family and friends say they know how you feel, but only the people in the group really know,” said Hy Cohen, 75, of Encino, a former H.O.P.E. participant.

Additionally, as members transition to creating new lives, H.O.P.E. helps them with such issues as dating and sexuality. Cohen, now remarried to someone he met through H.O.P.E., reflected, “I remember that first date. I got home from work and showered and put on cologne. I was nervous … like a teenager.”

Stolzman advises newly bereaved to wait at least three weeks after the death of their loved one — and sometimes as long as six months — before joining a support group. People can also join any group along the grief continuum at any time. Stolzman suggests that potential participants come at least three or four times, with a family member if necessary, before deciding if H.O.P.E. is the right place for them.

H.O.P.E. is nondenominational, though 90 percent of its members are Jewish, representing 21 different synagogues in the Los Angeles area. And while many find it comforting to meet in a synagogue setting, grieving is a universal experience that, for most people, cuts across religious boundaries.

The organization is a nonprofit, charging a suggested fee of $25 per person for each session but not turning anyone away. Still, the fees and annual fundraiser, which this year brought in $12,000 and which Stolzman described as “good for us,” don’t cover operating expenses. With two locations already accommodating about 135 people weekly and with new referrals arriving regularly, Stolzman would like to expand the program, funds permitting.

Two years ago, H.O.P.E. was able to found two alumni groups which meet monthly and are run by marriage and family therapist Dr. Jo Christner, a former H.O.P.E. counselor who moved away but who returns each month as facilitator.

“It’s a group about life,” Christner said. “It’s a place to meet others, to create new friendships and to continue a changed life as a ‘single.'”

Anyone who has lost a spouse more than two years ago is eligible to join.

In all the groups, participants learn that even as they become stronger and begin to create new lives, they can still have a continuing relationship with their spouse, even though he or she is no longer there.

“I loved Norm my whole life,” Group Three’s Helene said. “I love him more now.”

Therapist Ban explained that the love is now more pure.

“The person has died but the relationship still exists,” she said.

And yet, participants eventually can move forward.

“I was with one spouse for 45 years and I loved my wife very much,” H.O.P.E. graduate Cohen said. “But life goes on.”

For more information about H.O.P.E Unit Foundation’s bereavement groups or to make a donation, call (818) 788-4673 or visit

The Evil Stepmother Dies

What do you do when you lose someone? Someone you really hated?

It’s a little awkward, I’ll tell you that much. Last month, my stepmother of more than 25 years died at age 67 of lung cancer. It was a terrible death, one I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, which, incidentally, she was.

What was my grudge? I hadn’t seen her since I was 17, the day I vowed I’d never see her again — dead or alive. That was the day she hid a piece of her jewelry, a brooch shaped like a bumblebee, and tracked me down at a crowded Santa Rosa public tennis court to accuse me of stealing it while my brother and father looked on.

But that is just the end of the story. The beginning is this: She never spoke to me directly, only in the third person, as in “Teresa is getting fat. Teresa looks dirty today. Has she been playing outside? Teresa has no table manners.”

It’s difficult to exaggerate her malevolence. The woman repeatedly suggested I was adopted when we were alone together, which she denied doing in front of other people. She was the Great Santini in a denim wrap skirt and espadrilles.

Better yet: She was the fairy-tale evil stepmother.

The question is: What happens to the story when the villain dies?

Once when I was 8 years old, I caught the flu and couldn’t get out of bed. She didn’t feed me for two days while my dad was at work, oblivious. I was so scared of her, I didn’t even tell him. This is a woman who once told me, “You should never wear your seatbelt. They don’t work.”

There are other stepparents who suck, I’m sure; mine was just one of them.

She didn’t want me around since the day she met me at age 3, and she made sure I knew it. In turn, I fantasized she would step off a curb and be hit by a Mack truck.

I only saw her when I visited my dad once a month, taking the bus from San Francisco, where I lived with my mom. But that visit was more than enough to coat my childhood with a gummy film of dread.

Why did she hide that brooch? My guess is that she was angry my dad took us kids to play tennis that Sunday morning. She felt excluded and restless. So, she made a move that seemed logical to a jealous wacko, hiding jewelry to accuse her stepchild of stealing it. This was her pattern. If fun was being had — my dad and I listening to poetry records from the library, my brother and I watching an especially funny “Gomer Pyle” — she would find a way to stop the amusement.

Judaism tells us to “honor thy father and mother.” But where does that leave someone in my shoes? Trying to think this through, I began speed dialing local rabbis.

“Tradition teaches you have to respect a stepparent, as part of honoring your parent. However, you needed to self-preserve, ” Rabbi Sherre Zwelling Hirsch, of Temple Sinai, told me over the phone. “God doesn’t want us to be violently damaged, not our physical selves, not our souls.”

This underlines what I already believed: Shaking my stepmother loose was the best thing I ever did.

As for my dad, I wish he had defended me that day or any other day. But to believe me over her would have meant kicking her out, overhauling his life, cooking his own meals, being alone. It also would have meant admitting that his mate was cruel to his kids, had always been, and that he’d allowed it.

Easier to look the other way and hope for the best.

My dad and I remained close all those years I never spoke to her, and that always surprises people. He was generous in letting me have my grudge. He may well have known my stepmother richly deserved it. He would drive hours to see me because I wouldn’t go over to his house. My stepmother hated everyone in our family, so I never ran into her at gatherings. She was easy to avoid.

Now that she’s gone, my dad calls me in Los Angeles almost every day, and he doesn’t back down from his support of his wife.

“She was the smartest woman,” he told me over the phone. “Life was never boring with her. I was just a dumb kid and she taught me everything.”

She was 8 years older than my dad and had bookcases full of psychology books from all the community college classes she took. She never earned a degree, but she was happy to diagnose all of our mental problems. Maybe he found that helpful. And maybe she was intelligent — odious and diabolical — but intelligent.

In a sense, my stepmother was a good influence. Shame and the hunch that you are internally mangled really can give you a strong work ethic. I’ve spent most of my adult life trying to prove how wrong she was about me — my lack of talent, my lack of beauty and manners, even my kleptomania, which she invented.

During almost every conversation, my dad now says, “Teresa, I’m not going to be with any more crazy women.”

Because of my stepmother’s unfortunate spending-to-earning ratio, and her yearlong illness, my dad now rents out a room in his house and drives a bicycle. Still, he wasn’t a victim. He was a volunteer.

Whatever his reasons for staying with my stepmother, none of them will ever be good enough for me. But after hours on the couches of nurturing women with amber beads and hyphenated names and advanced degrees, I stopped being mad at my dad for failing to protect me. The feeling was just gone one day, like an ache in your shoulder or a crick in your neck you barely remember having once it goes.

I can lather up resentment for a long line at Starbucks, but I’m all done being pissed off at my dad, or trying to figure him out.

When my stepmother died, it was redundant. To me, she was already gone. Still for my dad, it was a devastating loss. Which makes this a complicated situation. The graceful thing is to listen, be supportive, tell him he’ll be OK, give him books about grief and even copy edit his JDate profile, all of which I’ve done. “My wife recently died [cancer]” is just not what chicks dig in an Internet profile and I was there to correct it.

While I might be tempted to blurt out, “Ding dong the witch is dead!” I don’t. To me, there is no sense in respecting the dead just because they happen to be dead, but there is something sacred in respecting the living, in this case my dad, who needs me and whom I couldn’t love more, despite his questionable taste in partners.

“You are obligated to honor your father,” Rabbi Brad Shavit Artson, head of the University of Judaism’s Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies, told me, reassuringly. “But you’re not obligated to lie, or to be a doormat, just to be a grown-up. This isn’t the time to unburden yourself of your true feelings about your stepmother, but to shut up and be his help, make sure he eats and sleeps, be compassionate. That’s all Judaism requires of you.”

Because keeping my mouth shut is the most mature thing I’ve ever done, I want to follow Artson’s directive. To that end, I’ve asked my dad not to read this particular piece.

As it happens, I had two stepparents. My mother also had remarried. Earlier this year, my stepfather died, which was like losing a parent, because he was good to me and I admired him. I figure when it comes to losing stepparents, this year I broke even.

Although we offered, neither my brother nor I attended our stepmother’s funeral. Dad insisted he didn’t want us to fly all that way.

A few weeks later, when the commotion ebbed and the grief set in, my dad invited us for a weekend visit. Our plan was to cheer my dad up, take him hiking and to the movies.

That’s how I ended up back in Santa Rosa, just north of San Francisco, in the damp house I hadn’t seen for years. I stayed in the old utility room where I used to sleep with whatever hunkering golden retriever they had at the time. Just being there reminded me of how terrified I had been of her. I still had the sense that at any moment she was going to barge in and shout, “Teresa left crumbs on the counter! She needs to get out here now!”

My stepmother never worked at a paying job a day in her life, and had the tawny, crinkled skin of a woman who gardens a lot. As mean and squinty as her eyes were when directed my way, they were green and pretty, homecoming-queen eyes. Although my stepmother was always gaining and losing the same 40 pounds, to me she was all beefy shoulders and sinister stockiness. I have no idea how tall she really was, because in my mind, she was as fearful and looming as a defensive tackle, leaning her elbow in my doorway, impassable.

My stepmonster may be incinerated, but she still gives me the stone-cold willies.

The only perspective being an adult gives me is that she must have been really screwed up. Miserable and screwed up. Conventional wisdom and pop psychology suggest I suck it up and forgive her, but Judaism does not, Artson said.

The need to categorically forgive, he said, “is a lie we get from a weird, watered-down Christianity. It’s not a Jewish teaching. In Judaism, we’re only obligated to forgive someone who seriously apologizes and repents.”

I’m embarrassed to admit this, but during her last weeks of life, I really thought she was going to make amends. Every day, I waited for that “sorry call,” but it never came. She still owes me an apology and it’s going to be pretty hard to collect now. Being in her dwelling without unleashing the full force of my resentment was like making a fist and digging my nails into my palms for three days.

The hallway was painted a sort of art deco dusty pink. That has to be one of her colors, I thought, and even though her belongings were mostly gone, her handprints were everywhere.

At one point, I noticed a Chupa Chups-brand canister decorated in a cow pattern, which looked like it could contain a large number of gourmet lollipops. It was propped against the wall by the front door. I figured it must be something a friend dropped by, because my dad doesn’t have a sweet tooth. Every time we went in or out the door, there it was, this bizarrely cheerful candy tin on the floor.

As I was brushing my teeth one night, I suddenly recalled my dad telling me about my stepmother’s cremation, how he hadn’t scattered her ashes yet, that they both agreed not to waste money on a formal funeral or an urn. I distinctly recalled my dad saying how pricey urns are and how cruel the funeral industry is to prey on the mourning. I flashed back to the big cow-colored canister in the corner. Those weren’t lollipops. Those were evil stepmommipops.

What happens to the story when the villain dies?

For me, it’s been about my dad, about biting my tongue in his presence while still holding on to one unswerving truth; I didn’t want her to suffer, but I don’t miss her. And that’s just going to have to be fine.

The Talmud says, “The world is like an inn; the world to come a home.” Although I wish we hadn’t been checked into the same inn, I hope she is home. I notice the Talmud says nothing about spending the hereafter in a gourmet lollipop tin, but I’m sure she’ll eventually be scattered, ashes gusting up off some mountain as my dad and his latest golden retriever look on.

Here’s the thing about villains; no matter how far they scatter, they also stick.

All of the rabbis I spoke with said the same thing. We don’t have to forgive, but for our own good, we should try.

But what about that temptation I feel to do a happy dance instead of mourn? That can’t be appropriate.

“Mourn the relationship that should have been,” said Rabbi Ed Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom. “Sit down with a glass of wine and ask yourself, how nice would it have been if she had been supportive, protective, fun to be with?”

“Rabbi,” I said, “that’s what I did all of my 20s.”

He paused and said, “Do it again.”

Teresa Strasser is an Emmy Award and L.A. Press Club-winning writer. She’s on the Web at


When Sad Things Happen to Good Kids

“The Boy Who Didn’t Want To Be Sad” by Dr. Rob Goldblatt (American Psychological Magination Press, 2004).

After taking his children to see a pleasant Disney cartoon, Dr. Rob Goldblatt thought there would some animated chatter about the film during the drive home.

Instead, there was silence, and tears.

“My kids started crying and said they never wanted to see the movie again,” said Goldblatt, a Los Angeles-based clinical psychologist and father of three. “All they could remember about it was that the hero’s father had died.”

At that moment, Goldblatt, was torn. As a father, he wanted to protect his children from grief. As a psychologist, he realized that running away from unpleasant feelings only serves to inure you from pleasant ones to come.

Instead of dwelling on the lachrymose movie, Goldblatt started telling his children a story which he made up on the spot, about a boy who tried everything possible to never be sad, only to find that the best way to deal with sadness is to acknowledge it and live through it.

Inspired by the moment, Goldblatt turned the story into a children’s book, “The Boy Who Didn’t Want To Be Sad” (American Psychological Magination Press, 2004), which he illustrated as well.

In the book, the boy decides that he wants to rid his life of everything that makes him sad. So he goes away to his secret place in the shade of the trees, and is happy. But then he’s struck by the thought that the trees will lose their leaves, and that makes him sad. He leaves the trees, and retreats to his room, where he watches videos and makes a huge tower with his blocks. “But every story has sad parts,” Goldblatt writes. “Blocks fall, toys break, game pieces get lost. He’d had it with everything.”

The boy continues to shut himself off from the world so that he never comes into contact with anything that could possibly make him unhappy. And, ironically, what he finds is that running away from sadness makes him terribly sad. The book ends with the boy embracing everything that he rejected, and riding the waves of emotion that are part and parcel of human existence.

Although the book is written for children, Goldblatt asserts that its message is crucial to healthy emotional development in adults as well.

“If we learn to be scared of feelings and run, we keep running because the feelings keep coming,” Goldblatt said. “This is the very thing that causes or worsens every psychological and relationship problem I treat in my office. Feelings are brief, but the problems we develop to escape them last a lifetime.”

Goldblatt, who in his practice treats everyone from “celebrities to soccer moms,” said that the secret to happiness is not to feel disconnected from sadness. Society places too much emphasis on the material keys to happiness (i.e., getting good grades, going to a good college, having a lucrative profession) and not nearly enough on the emotional ones. And it is the emotional equilibrium, according to Goldblatt, that makes the difference between a satisfying life, and an unhappy one.

“Unfortunately, feelings come as a set. You don’t get to choose to just have one,” Goldblatt said. “What most of us learn to do as a kid is, when we feel bad, to just push those feelings away. Parents are often annoyed with displays of emotion, and [tell kids] to walk it off. Parents think they are teaching their kids to cope with it, but what they end up doing is teaching them how to push away their feelings. And in order to have happiness, you have to feel. You have to stay with the emotion [and realize] that feelings are temporary. They come and go like a wave. They grow in intensity and then they come down all by themselves.”

For parents, helping children deal with their tears is a three-step process.

“First, you look at [the situation] and make sure there is no major damage,” Goldblatt said. “Then you tell them that it must hurt, and then you kiss it and make it better. And then pat them on the butt and send them out to play. Staying with them when they are feeling something uncomfortable is a very powerful experience. They don’t have to throw a tantrum because they have your sympathy, and what you teach them is courage.”

But even if you didn’t get that nurturing as a child, it’s never too late to mend one’s approach to processing emotions.

“It is less important what you feel than it is that you feel. Be as intensely engaged with life as you can,” Goldblatt said. “The more you feel the richer your life is going to be.”


Foer’s Voice Comes in ‘Loud’ and Clear