Hebrew word of the week: Kavod


The term meaning honor and respect is very important in any society, but even more so in Middle Eastern societies. The English word “respect” means “look back (again), regard”; honor means “regard with great respect, dignity.” The Hebrew kavod is related to kaved, meaning “heavy.”* Indeed, until not long ago, the heavier a person was, the more respectable he or she was, for rich people could afford to eat whatever they wished, whereas poor people were undernourished, eating very little and looking light, unimportant. A related word is kibbud, meaning “honoring (parents, teachers)”; as well as “(serving the guests) refreshment” (thus showing them respect).

*Also related to kaved “liver,” the bodily organ assumed to be the source of dignity, just as the heart is the source of emotions and intellect.

Frankfurt ripped for honoring scholar who backs Israel boycott


Protests are mounting against plans by the city of Frankfurt to honor Jewish-American scholar Judith Butler, a staunch critic of Israel.

The Central Council of Jews in Germany and the political activist group Scholars for Peace in the Middle East are among groups that have slammed the city  for choosing to honor Butler with its Theodor W. Adorno Prize on Sept. 11. The $63,000 prize is awarded every three years for “outstanding performances in the fields of philosophy, music, theater and film.”

Butler is a supporter of the United States Campaign for the Academic & Cultural Boycott of Israel and also participated in the Canadian Israeli Apartheid Week in 2011.

Stephan Kramer, general secretary of the Central Council, reportedly called the choice of Butler, whom he said supports boycotts against Israel but considers Hamas and Hezbollah legitimate social movements, “outrageous.”

But Frankfurt Deputy Mayor in Charge of Cultural Affairs Felix Semmelroth, a member of the board that decided last week to honor Butler, said in a recent statement to JTA that the board of trustees at its May 30 meeting was “of the unanimous opinion that the Adorno Prize should go to Judith Butler for her comprehensive work on gender theory.”

Semmelroth wrote that “the incriminating statements that are now coming out were not the subject of discussion [by the trustees] and were clearly unknown to them; and they also don't change anything regarding the importance of the work of Judith Butler.”

Planners of a protest demonstration called for Sept. 11 in Frankfurt also circulated a petition in which they noted, among other things, that Butler boycotts universities in Tel Aviv — an official partner city with Frankfurt — “but has no problem delivering lectures at the Bir Zeit University, which evidence shows is dominated by supporters of Hamas and Hezbollah.”

Butler defended herself in a Sept. 1 editorial published in two German newspapers, saying that she did not take attacks from German Jewish leaders personally. Rather, she wrote, the attacks are “directed against everyone who is critical against Israel and its current policies.”

Frankfurt's mayor, Peter Feldmann, the city's first Jewish mayor since 1933 and a member of the Social Democratic Party, was not involved in the decision to honor Butler. His predecessor, Petra Roth, of the conservative Christian Democratic Union Party, was on the board that chose Butler.

Adorno (1903-1969), for whom the prize is named, was the son of a Catholic mother and Jewish father. He survived the Third Reich in exile and returned to become one of Germany’s foremost sociologists,  philosophers and art critics, particularly known for his criticism of fascism and for his writings on the Holocaust.

Bar mitzvah honors child Holocaust victim


“I’m just one of more than 18,000 young people in over 750 congregations worldwide becoming a keeper of the flame of memory in the first post-survivor generation,” Trevor Goodman announced from the bimah during his bar mitzvah speech, referring to his involvement with Remember Us: The Holocaust Bnai Mitzvah Project.

As part of his mitzvah project, Trevor, 13, honored Paul Lerner, who was 7 months old when he was killed at the Argelès-sur-Mer concentration camp in southern France, 71 years before this ceremony, to the day, on Aug. 11, 1941.

In addition to remembering Paul Lerner, Trevor’s Aug. 11 bar mitzvah also represented a first for Remember Us: Paul’s brother, Daniel Lerner, traveled from Israel to Los Angeles to attend Trevor’s bar mitzvah.

“This is something unique that I haven’t seen before,” Remember Us Executive Director Samara Hutman said, referring to Daniel’s attendance. “It’s profound.”

Remember Us invites young people to use the occasion of their bar and bat mitzvahs to commemorate children who were killed in the Holocaust before they could have their own bar or bat mitzvah. The organization provides students with the name and biographical information about a child lost during the Shoah and suggests simple acts of remembrance, including mentioning the child in a speech.

Retired Jewish educator Gesher Calmenson founded Remember Us in 2003 in order to fill what he viewed as a void in Holocaust education.

“Children who we were teaching about the Holocaust weren’t given anything to do with the content of the history. [They were] given the facts but not given any way to respond that was meaningful,” Calmenson said.

Drawing inspiration from 1980s twinning programs that matched American Jews having a bar or bat mitzvah with Soviet Jews who couldn’t practice their faith, Calmenson expanded Remember Us from a small pilot project operating within eight Bay Area temple religious schools to an international movement. The program spread via “literally thousands of phone calls” to congregations around the country and through word of mouth, Calmenson said.

“We realized the outreach was more than about the program. It was also to be available for the dialogue,” Calmenson said. “It originally started as a program to bring this to teenage bar and bat mitzvah kids, but the subtext of our program was we had innumerable conversations with people who just wanted to talk about the Holocaust.”

Los Angeles resident Hutman took over as executive director in summer 2011 when Calmenson stepped down. The nonprofit has since opened its first office in Santa Monica with a part-time staff and dozens of volunteers.

Remember Us partners with Yad Vashem to receive biographies of lost children, and its regional partnerships across the United States — with organizations including the New York Board of Rabbis and the Nathan & Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center in Milwaukee — have helped the organization grow. Foundations — including the Richard and Rhoda Goldman Fund, the Charles and Mildred Schnurmacher Foundation and Tauber Foundation — have provided financial support in the form of grants.

Hutman, whose daughter participated in the program before she joined it as a board member four years ago, said she is working to expand Remember Us by developing ways for post-b’nai mitzvah teens to examine contemporary issues of injustice and encouraging collaborations between teens and survivors.

“Like all things with meaning and value, the more it grows, the bigger and more powerfully it grows,” she said. “I would attribute that solely to the strength and the beauty of the idea and the value of the idea.”

In May, Trevor Goodman contacted Hutman, a family friend, and asked to be connected with a child from Albi, France — the hometown of his grandmother, Marie Kaufman, who is active with the group Child Survivors of the Holocaust, Los Angeles. Using Yad Vashem’s database of biographies of Holocaust victims, a Remember Us representative found Paul Lerner and sent information to Trevor.

Paul Lerner’s Yad Vashem memorial page included contact information for Daniel Lerner, albeit in Hebrew. After Trevor’s Israeli cousin translated the address, Trevor wrote a letter that contained information detailing how he would honor Lerner’s brother during his upcoming bar mitzvah. He sent the letter — one copy in English, one in Hebrew — to a small town outside of Tel Aviv.

“I wasn’t expecting a response, because we didn’t know if he was still living in that house,” Trevor said.

The letter came as a surprise to Lerner, 69, who thought no one else knew of his brother’s existence.

“I was stunned. I was moved. I cried, which doesn’t happen to me very often,” Lerner said.

Lerner replied to Trevor’s letter in English. “I can find no words to express my feelings about what you are doing to commemorate my brother,” Lerner wrote.

Trevor and his mother, Deena, invited Lerner to Los Angeles to attend Trevor’s bar mitzvah. After several e-mails and a Skype session, Lerner accepted the invitation, changing plans he’d made to travel to Paris to conduct doctoral research on Jewish forms of resistance during the Holocaust, including his father’s experiences with an underground communist movement in Paris.

Lerner, a healthy-looking man with an expressive face, white hair and a white mustache, never met his brother, Paul.

His parents, Baruch and Hadasa, fled Paris for southern France at the time of the German invasion in 1940. Paul was born six months later, on Dec. 31, in the town of Albi. The couple was then interned at Argelès-sur-Mer, where Paul later died. Lerner’s parents then escaped and returned to Paris, where they fought for an underground resistance movement.

Daniel was born on Aug. 25, 1942. Less than a year later, the couple was caught by the French police. Baruch was handed over to the Germans, sentenced to death and executed on Oct. 1, 1943. Hadasa, who was sent to Auschwitz, survived and found Daniel, who was hidden by a non-Jewish family friend. Together, mother and son left for Israel.

On Aug. 11, after Trevor discussed his Torah portion — one of the last chapters of Deuteronomy, emphasizing the importance of gratitude — Lerner joined him on the bimah at Temple Isaiah to express how thankful he was that Trevor was honoring his brother.

Two days earlier, Trevor and Lerner were joined by family and friends, including Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, for an informal gathering at Trevor’s grandmother’s home, where child survivors discussed their memories and their pasts.

“We’re moving now from lived memory to historical memory, and consequently the more we can personalize it, the deeper we can make the ties, the more powerful,” said Berenbaum, professor of Jewish studies and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at American Jewish University.

Berenbaum, also a Remember Us board member, said the organization, among other things, “recalls the memory of the deceased, and it rescues them from oblivion.”

“Look at this incredible story,” Berenbaum continued. “Here’s a man who never knew his brother — his brother died before he was born — [his brother has] been dead for 71 years, and all of a sudden somebody is remembering his brother. What powerful and unintended consequences for the family and both of them.”

When guests at Kaufman’s home asked Lerner about his past, he spoke of his time in the Israeli army, summarizing the quote written in every army camp: “People who have no past, have no future.”

“It took me many years to realize what it meant, and when I realized it, that’s when I started looking into my own past,” Lerner said. “Trevor, what he’s doing is exactly that.”

The power of the connection between Lerner and Trevor haven’t been on lost on the bar mitzvah student, who plans to remain in contact with Lerner.

Participation in Remember Us “could make a big difference in someone’s life,” Trevor said. “Dani, it was a big honor for him, and like he said, he was touched when he got my letter, and it meant a lot to him.”

For more information about Remember Us, visit remember-us.org.

El Al to honor cheap tickets to Israel from glitch


El Al Airlines said it will honor all tickets purchased during a glitch that had thousands of round-trip tickets selling for as low as $330.

The airline also announced Thursday that those who purchased tickets three days earlier at the hugely discounted fare would be given the opportunity to convert their tickets to a direct flight provided by El Al for an additional $75 each way rather than fly with a codeshare partner with a connecting flight in Europe.

“Although a review of this occurence has not been finalized, a decision was made to accommodate El Al passengers who purchased these low fares because we value our reputation of offering excellent customer service,” said Danny Saadon, El Al’s vice president of North America, in a statement released Thursday. “Hopefully we have provided an opportunity to many first timers to visit Israel as well as reconnect family and friends.”

A full refund without penalty also will be offered to passengers who wish to cancel their ticket.

The glitch was the result of a third party subcontracted by El Al to post the Israeli airline’s winter promotional fares online. According to El Al, the discounted airfares were the result of the subcontractor failing to add the fuel surcharge to the total price.

In an interview Thursday with JTA, Saadon took credit for pitching the idea to honor the fares to El Al President and CEO Elyezer Shkedy, but said the decision for the direct flight add-on was Shkedy’s.

“If we’re honoring passengers’ tickets, let’s also offer them an opportunity to fly with El Al, and make life easier for families that might lose baggage and lose a connection,” Saadon said in explaining the company’s rationale behind the add-on offer.

On Tuesday, the day after the glitch set off a three-hour buying frenzy, an El Al spokesperson told The New York Jewish Week that the status of tickets purchased during the frenzy was “unclear.” The position was reinforced Wednesday by a follow-up statement posted to the company’s Twitter feed.

“Thanks for your patience,” the tweet read. “Details/decisions re incorrect fares that were briefly sold on Monday are not finalized.”

The wavering was in contrast to two separate Twitter posts on Monday afternoon that pledged to honor the tickets. Saadon in the JTA interview acknowledged that the company’s posts via Twitter on Monday may have been a contributing factor in the decision to honor the tickets.

“Once we said it, we may as well follow our word,” Saadon said.

The decision to honor was “mainly to save face with El Al,” he said. “We’re talking about thousands of passengers. Most are customers anyways, they just took advantage of a ticket that was available at a low price. We’d rather keep them flying with El Al without disappointing them.”

To minimize exposure to similar glitches in the future, Saadon said that El Al will review fares before they are posted online and maintain a buffer of two hours before the process is finalized.

“I’m very pleased with the decision we made,” he said. “Our customers are very important to us and we want them to fly El Al.”

Honor Munich 11, International Olympic Committee urged


An online petition urging the International Olympic Committee to honor the Munich 11 at the Olympic Games this summer has garnered thousands of signatures.

The Jewish Community Center of Rockland County, N.Y., a member of the JCC Association, initiated the petition, which calls for a moment of silence at the Games in London honoring the 11 Israeli athletes who were murdered at the 1972 Olympics in Munich by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. The Jewish Federations of North America is asking communities to support the petition, which is attempting to gather 1 million signatures.

“The Jewish Community Center movement is deeply involved in an effort to create a worldwide viral response to a wrong that has not been addressed since 1972,” said JCC Association President and CEO Allan Finkelstein. He adds, “Let us finally get the Munich 11 acknowledgement and respect they deserve from the international sports community.”

The JCC Association has recognized the Munich 11 during every Maccabi Games since 1995.

In an official letter sent to the IOC on Monday, Israeli Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Danny Ayalon asked on behalf of the State of Israel for the 2012 Games to open with a moment of silence honoring the 11 Israeli athletes. Ayalon gave copies of the letter to widows of the murdered athletes, and also expressed support for a petition they initiated calling for a minute of silence.

Beastie Boys to join Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame


The Beastie Boys are to be inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

The pioneering hip-hop group made up of Mike D (Michael Diamond), MCA (Adam Yauch) and Ad-Rock (Adam Horowitz) will join a Hall of Fame class of 2012 that includes the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Guns N Roses, according to the New York Daily News.

The Beastie Boys, creators of hits such as “Fight for Your Right (To Party),” “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn” and “Sabotoage,” have released 12 albums that have sold more than 40 million copies worldwide.

The ceremony will be held in April at the Hall of Fame in Cleveland.

Museum launches fund to honor slain guard


The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum has established an endowment fund in memory of a security guard slain there.

Stephen Tyrone Johns was gunned down last June 10 by 88-year-old white supremacist James Wenneker von Brunn of Maryland during an attempted raid on the museum. Johns died from his injuries shortly after the attack.

To pay tribute to the officer, the museum has established the Stephen Tyrone Johns Summer Youth Leadership Program Endowment Fund. Under the program, 50 Washington-area teens will participate in a summer program to learn about the lessons of the Holocaust.

A fund established to assist the Johns family was closed last October.

Von Brunn was shot and critically wounded in the exchange of gunfire at the museum. He died Jan. 6 while awaiting trial in the case.

Even the subtlest slight deserves a challenge


It happens to all of us. You are with friends, engaged in small talk, and then someone makes a disparaging comment about a common acquaintance. You didn’t
see the insult coming, but there it is. It’s entered the conversation.

What should you do? Should you challenge the slight or let it go by unaddressed?

Before you can process your thoughts, the small talk has moved on to another subject — the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the latest presidential debate, the writers’ strike. The insult remains unchallenged.

In parshat Miketz, Joseph faces the same dilemma — and he essentially freezes.

In a whirlwind turn of events, he is taken from his prison cell to interpret the Pharaoh’s dreams about fat and emaciated cows, fat and emaciated ears of grain, and soon he is viceroy of Egypt. As Rav Avigdor Miller teaches, the entire dream sequence was a Divine gift to open the door for a series of events to unfold that would result in the unfathomable: a decision by the grand Pharaoh to allow an extended family of approximately 70 immigrants to be given their own canton in Egypt, where they could grow and evolve as a people, safely enough isolated from the rest of society to retain their language, their manners of dress, their names as well as their values and traditions.

Soon, Joseph becomes supplier of food to all of Egypt, and his influence progressively extends throughout the region. Our rabbis tell us in Tractate Pesachim 119a, for example, that he ultimately ingathered into Egypt all the gold and silver in the known world as he doled out food — first for money, later for land and indenture.

In time, his brothers arrive, sent by patriarch Jacob to seek food. When they arrive, they don’t recognize Joseph, although Joseph recognizes them.

Some say that when Joseph was sold into slavery at 17 he had not yet grown significant facial hair, so his new full beard effectively masked his appearance. Presumably it was easier for Joseph to spot Issachar and Zevulun, who were proximate to Joseph’s age when he was sold into slavery, because they were among the other brothers he knew and recognized. The Chasam Sofer adds that Hashem aided Joseph’s effort to disguise himself, placing in Pharaoh’s head the idea of changing Joseph’s name to Tzafnat Panayach (Genesis 41:45). Had the brothers been introduced to an Egyptian Viceroy named Joseph, well….

Joseph chose to play hardball rather than disclose his identity. In part, he knew that his brothers’ “first impression” of him — dating to boyhood — was that of “little Joey,” and he needed to redefine that first impression by getting them accustomed to fearing him, even prostrating, so that they ultimately would follow his plan to relocate them in Goshen.

Further, to protect his plan of disguise, he accused the brothers of being spies. Our rabbis tell us that Joseph harbored concerns that the brothers would snoop around Egypt, looking for their long-lost sibling. Therefore, to protect his secret, he acted to stop them in their tracks, accusing them of espionage. That very accusation compelled them to stop asking questions around town.

Joseph and the brothers converse briefly during each of their two visits for food. In the first round, he levels his accusations and eventually sends them on their way with instructions to bring back Benjamin. The second time, they are back — this time with Benjamin — and again they banter. And then come words that Joseph did not anticipate; they are simple words but with a terrible sting. He asks the brothers “Is your elderly father, about whom you told me, at peace?” And they respond: “Your servant — our father — is at peace. He still lives” (Genesis 43:27-28).

Joseph did not see that response coming. He may even have missed its import. But our rabbis in Sotah 13b point a laser at it: Joseph heard his father being ever slightly denigrated, described as his “servant,” and he did not say anything to elevate his father Jacob’s honor. He let the term pass. “Your servant — our father.”

It certainly would have been quirky for the viceroy of Egypt to have demonstrated humility. But that was the call of the hour.

Joseph allowed his father’s honor to pass undefended at that moment. Our rabbis teach that, later in his life, Joseph’s own honor was downgraded. In contrast to Jacob, who instructed his sons to “carry me” after death from Egypt back to the Holy Land for burial (Genesis 47:30), Joseph instructed his brothers to “carry my bones” from this place after his death for burial (Genesis 50:25). In the end, Jacob would end his days with the dignity of his personage intact. And Joseph would die, speaking only of the bones he would be leaving behind.

Clearly, Joseph lived and died a great man — Joseph the Tzadik, we have called him throughout history — but the lesson is instructive.

A person’s name is his or her greatest asset. His honor and dignity are his greatest resources and treasures. Any slight to that name carries a steep price. And anyone who hears an unjustified disparagement and lets it pass by unanswered is an accessory.

Rabbi Dov Fischer, a member of the Rabbinical Council of California and Rabbinical Council of America, is adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School and rabbi of an Orthodox Union congregation in Orange County.

New U.S. Stamps Honor Friends of Jews, Israel


On May 30, the United States Postal Service issued a series of new stamps honoring six career State Department diplomats who earned the gratitude of this nation for taking “risks to advance humanitarianism…[and] peace,” even if their actions put themselves “in harm’s way.”

Words of high praise — nonetheless inadequate in the case of honoree Hiram Bingham IV, who served as U.S. vice consul in Marseilles, France, during World War II. In 1940 and 1941 — against the official policies of the United States, which was steadfastly refusing to open Lady Liberty’s doors to persecuted European Jews — Bingham issued visas and false passports to Jews and other refugees, assisting in their escape. He even occasionally sheltered them in his home — risking not only his career but his life, as the Gestapo and SS operated freely in collaborationist Vichy France.

Bingham is credited with saving more than 2,500 people from deportation to death camps. Moreover, working together with fellow American hero journalist Varian Fry, he rescued such famous figures as artists Max Ernst and Marc Chagall, Nobel Prize in Medicine winner Otto Meyerhoff, historian Hannah Arendt and authors Franz Werfel and Hans Habe.

As punishment for his continued defiance of Washington — and helping people the Roosevelt administration and the anti-immigrant WASP establishment that dominated the State Department was abandoning — Bingham was unceremoniously yanked out of France in 1941 and posted to Portugal and then Argentina. In 1945, he was forced to retire from the U.S. Foreign Service.

Although neither Fry nor Bingham received the credit due them in their lifetimes, Fry was eventually the first of the two to receive some measure of posthumous recognition, when in 1995, he became the first and only United States citizen to join Raoul Wallenberg and Oskar Schindler among the non-Jews designated as Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem. Fry — also known as “the American Schindler” or “the artists’ Schindler” — was also accorded “Commemorative Citizenship of the State of Israel” in 1998. Finally, he achieved celebrity of sorts when Barbra Streisand co-produced the 2001 made-for-television movie, “Varian’s War,” starring William Hurt. (In that movie, Bingham is relegated to a mere footnote and even suffered the ignominy of having his named changed to “Harry.”)

Bingham rarely spoke of his wartime activities, concealing them even from his own family. Only after his death in 1988 (Fry died a young man in 1967) did his son discover letters, documents and photographs hidden behind a chimney in their home. The cache revealed Bingham’s struggle to save German and Jewish refugees from death — facts long suppressed by the United States government.

Belatedly, Bingham’s bravery was recognized by the United Nations in 2000 and, ultimately, by the American Foreign Service Association, which paid tribute to him with a special “courageous diplomat” award for “constructive dissent,” presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell. The eight-year campaign to issue a postage stamp in his honor met with success after gaining wide bipartisan support in Congress

Another stamp in this series honors Ambassador Philip C. Habib, a Lebanese Christian from Brooklyn who rose through the ranks of the foreign service to attain the posts of assistant secretary of state and undersecretary of state. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan called Habib out of retirement to serve as his special envoy to the Middle East at a time of growing tension between Israel and the PLO in southern Lebanon. When hostilities erupted into war engulfing Israel, Syria and Palestinian terrorists, Habib engaged in shuttle diplomacy and won the respect of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin as he helped negotiate a truce. In 1982, Habib was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award.

Habib deserves mention here because of his outspoken conviction that “the United States should support Israel. It’s a long-standing commitment, a commitment that goes through every administration since Truman, that we support the existence and security of Israel. Now, how, to what extent, on what terms at any given moment, those are subjects for discussion, debate, and reformulation. But the basic commitment is maintained.”

For more information, visit www.usps.com/communications/news/stamps/2006/sr06_036.htm

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethcial and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at the University of Judaism. Bezalel Gordon is the former news director of the Israel Government Press Office and spokesperson for the Kahan Commission.

 

The Unsung Hero


The year was 1993, and the glitterati of the L.A. Jewish community gathered at Shaare Tefila to honor Rabbi Meir Lau, the new chief Ashkenazi rabbi of Israel.

As the rabbi walked on the red carpet among other prominent rabbis and Jewish machers, he paused and looked toward a short, 63-year-old man who was serving drinks, and called out: “Avramale!”

The crowd wondered, “Who is this Avramale getting a hug from the chief rabbi?”

Avramale is Albert Lanciano, now 75, who today is the shamash/caretaker of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel in Westwood. This year will mark his 10th anniversary as the synagogue’s resident jack-of-all-trades.

“He makes the whole thing run,” said his boss and good friend, Rabbi Daniel Bouskila. That usually means getting up at 5 a.m. to open the chapel for the day’s morning prayers, and when there are simchas or other events, which is most days, it can mean being back in bed in the early morning hours. It helps that his two-bedroom studio is down the hall from Bouskila’s office, so he can steal the occasional nap. It also helps that he’s a real happy guy who loves his life.

And what a life it’s been. After emigrating from Egypt to Israel in 1947 at the age of 17, he fought in four wars, and raised four children who are now married with their own children and grandchildren. As the catering manager of the storied ZOA (Zionist Organization of America) House in Tel Aviv, he met lots of interesting people with names like David Ben Gurion, Ezer Wiseman, Yoseph Berg, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin and a young rabbi named Meir Lau. They all called him Avramale.

I met Albert five years ago during the Café Olam days at the Sephardic temple, and although I must have greeted him 100 times, most of our conversations were quite short, like, “Have you seen the rabbi?” or “Do you know where those Oriental pillows went?”

A few weeks ago, I made a mistake and arrived an hour early for an event at Albert’s synagogue, and of course, he was there to greet me and offer me some food. So we schmoozed a little, and next thing you know we set up a coffee date at Urth Café on Melrose Avenue. That’s when I got to meet Avramale.

You probably know an Avramale in your shul. I bet there are thousands of Avramales all over the Jewish world, in community centers, synagogues and social halls. They don’t make speeches or give press interviews or get honored at banquets. They just take care of the place. If anyone needs anything, they usually call their Avramale first. You might call these people the unsung heroes of Jewish continuity.

A few months ago, there was a minicrisis at the Sephardic temple. Bouskila had purchased 300 user-friendly haggadot for a community seder. Unbeknownst to him or Albert, a janitor had mistakenly put them away in an old closet. A few hours before the seder, Bouskila called Albert in a panic, and, of course, Avramale instinctively figured out where the haggadot were. It’s what he does.

The kids in school call him saba (grandpa). One of his many functions is to buy the Shabbos candy and make sure it always gets into the right hands. A few weeks ago, he was busy planning the dairy meals for Shavuot and replacing all the prayer books. When I asked him for his job description, he said simply, “I do whatever the rabbi needs me to do.”

Albert and Bouskila have this unusual relationship. Bouskila is a Torah scholar who loves to talk Talmud and Jewish philosophy. Albert is all tachlis all the time. Their minds are occupied with different matters, yet they love to spend time together. Maybe it’s the fact that they were both in the same army unit (Givati), Albert in 1948 and Bouskila in 1984. Or it could be that because Albert speaks eight Arabic dialects, he feeds the rabbi inside information from the many Arab stations on his satellite TV. I think it’s also Albert’s sense of humor; he really makes the rabbi laugh.

Six years ago when the rabbi’s first daughter was born, Bouskilla and his wife decided it might be a good idea to find another home for Freeway, a mutt they had rescued who was now making jealous growls toward the new arrival. For the two months it took to find Freeway a new home, Albert took loving care of the dog. When a shul member gave him kudos for his remarkable devotion, Albert shot back: “Are you kidding? I’m just lucky it wasn’t an elephant!”

Bouskila gives out a belly laugh when he tells that story.

Albert’s life is full of stories. One of his favorites is from the old days at the ZOA House. As he tells it, a well-known founder of the State of Israel would give him a little wink, and Avramale knew that meant he should put a little cognac in his coffee cup. Albert knows from discretion: he asked that the gentleman remain nameless.

If you’re lucky like I was to get to a shul event an hour early, keep an eye out for your own Avramale, and buy him a cup of coffee.

David Suissa is founder and editor of OLAM Magazine and founder of Jews for Truth Now.

 

Yeladim


In Parshat Toldot, Jacob and Esau are born. Even though they are twins, they are opposites: Jacob is the quiet, studious type, while Esau is a hunter who loves to be out in the world. The world used to think of Jews as being just quiet and studious, but when Israel became a state the Jews there developed one of the strongest armies in the world.

Don’t let yourself be given a label – you can be an American, a Jew, an intellectual and a fighter, all at the same time.

There are many American Jews who became war heroes, too, don’t forget to honor them this Veterans Day on Nov. 11.

Write a story, song or poem about: My Happiest Jewish Memory. Send your entry by Dec. 31, to Jews for Judaism, 9911 Pico Blvd., No. 1240, Los Angeles, CA 90035. Go to www.jewsforjudaism.com for an entry form.

Mail your cartoons, drawings, puzzles, etc. to The Jewish Journal, 3580 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1510, Los Angeles, CA 90010. E-mail your written answers to our contests, or your jokes, riddles, poems, etc., to kids@jewishjournal.com. Make sure you write your name and address in your e-mail. See you next time!

I Love a Parade


I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t love a parade. The first one I remember attending was as a 10-year-old. My parents took my brother and me to what was then called the “Santa Claus Lane Parade,” which took place just after Thanksgiving Day and made its way down Hollywood Boulevard. There were movie and TV stars as well as the people on horses and floats. I remember it being a lot of fun.

Until last July 14 I had never attended a military parade. You know the kind where soldiers and sailors walk in a procession down a large, wide boulevard. They are typically accompanied by a very awesome display of military firepower, such as tanks and missiles and rockets of all sizes and descriptions. The highlight of a military parade is usually not what is on the ground but rather what files overhead. At the end of the parade one hears from a distance a sound of approaching aircraft and then — to everyone’s amazement and delight — a squad of jets fly over in a precise formation, usually leaving behind a plume of colored smoke. Everyone cheers and yells and then leaves the parade route feeling quite proud of the strength and power of the military branch or country that sponsored the event.

This past July 14, Carol and I were in Paris and attended the Bastille Day parade commemoration of French Independence Day. Hundreds of thousands of people were in attendance lining the Champs Elysees. The weather was perfect and the participants were dressed in all their military finery. Actually, the group that got the largest round of applause didn’t come from the military but rather from the fire department. The event was a lot of fun and I was glad that I took the time to see it.

What do we have in Judaism that comes closest to a military parade? It occurred to me that every Sabbath morning, when we take out the Torah and walk around the sanctuary, we are actually simulating a military parade. No guns, not tanks, no jet planes to impress onlookers. But when the Torah is carried down the aisles of the temple, people of all ages stand at attention and show it the highest form of respect. Many even are eager to touch or even kiss what is contained on that long roll of parchment: commandments and laws and guidelines for living a moral and satisfying life. We also know that the Torah we are viewing is but one in a long history of Torahs that have been carried from one country to another as we Jews have been exiled and escaped from the power of ruthless and evil leaders.

One of the biblical prophets once declared: “Not by might, nor by power — but by my spirit, says the Lord of Hosts.” The spirit of God is found in the Torah. We Jews have rarely given over our trust to weapons of mass destruction. For we know that stronger and more powerful weapons are always being created. Egypt was defeated by Assyria and Assyria by Babylonia and Babylonia by the Romans and on and on and on. But we Jews are still alive and our survival can be attributed to the most portable weapon ever created: the Torah. We have carried it from one land to another. Other armies may defeat armies with more potent weapons. But any army that relies on the word of God is invincible.

So the next time you see the Torah being marched around think of it as the major weapon in the battle for goodness and justice. Salute the Torah, cheer the Torah and, above all, honor the Torah for it is the greatest safeguard and protection we have.

Lawrence Goldmark is the rabbi at Temple Beth Ohr in La Mirada.

Dinner Celebrates Families


Aphilanthropic couple and a young family with a preschooler are to be recognized at the 9th annual Jewish Family Service of Orange County (JFS) dinner celebrating family.

The contributions of Gerald and Eleanor Weinstein, of Tustin, are getting notice because Jewish tenets about giving and righting social ills are reflected in their chosen careers and volunteer commitments, said Mel Roth, director of the agency, a provider of psychological services.

Both former health professionals, the couple has known each other for 25 years but only married in September 2001, following the loss of their spouses.

JFS hopes to raise $60,000 from the event, supporting the agency’s $825,000 annual budget. JFS receives 30 percent of its funding from the O.C. Jewish Federation and is its largest beneficiary. The agency’s 11-person staff, including four full-time counselors, annually serve about 7,000 people in support groups, counseling, older adult services, volunteer opportunities, refugee resettlement, information and referral, a healing center and with interest-free loans.

Also under the spotlight are Stacy and Phil Kaplan, of Newport Beach, who met at a young Jewish leadership get-together. The couple, who have a 2-year-old daughter, remain involved in numerous O.C. Federation programs.

"It is a special privilege to honor the Weinsteins and the Kaplans, who set an example of model families enriching the Jewish and general community by teaching the values love, honesty, education, loving kindness and giving back to the community," Roth said.

The $100-per-person dinner is to be held at the Hyatt Newporter Hotel in Newport Beach May 20 at 6 p.m. For more information, call JFS at (714) 445-4950.

Light Eight Candles to Honor our Heroes


On the nights of Chanukah, Dec. 9-16, Jews around the country will remember a little pitcher of olive oil.
In particular, we will recall a moment from the second century BCE when one of the Temple priests searched through the rubble
of the vandalized sacred house. In the midst of the chaos wrought by the attackers, he found a single, miraculously undisturbed,
container of oil. Surrounded by the wreckage in an hour of despair, simply pouring the oil into the tarnished menorah
and pausing to relight it was an act of hope and renewal.

For years to come, people around the world will remember the image of the American flag waving in an enormous pile of twisted metal and debris in the heart of Manhattan. One rescuer, finding the flag in that rubble, broke free from the collective sense of anguish to affirm life. Like the first lights of Chanukah, the raised flag emerged as a symbol that the attack would not succeed in defeating the spirit of a resilient and determined people.

These nights of Chanukah are a perfect time for all Americans to recall the actions of the past months that returned us to an affirmation of life — stories of bravery; phone conversations with friends and family; walks in the woods or by water; personal reflections read or heard; music; and moments of silence, meditation and prayer.

We also might recall the public gatherings — the moving benefit concerts, the interfaith vigils, and the meetings and gatherings in our local communities which expressed our collective grief and our desire to move forward.

On Chanukah, we have eight days to dedicate ourselves to sustaining this renewed sense of public engagement and to continue the quiet acts that matter: caring for one another with sensitivity, pausing to appreciate our daily sustenance, and loving life in a way that will give us strength through the times ahead.

At CLAL – The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership in New York, we gathered an interdenominational team of rabbis and scholars to create the following ways in which we can dedicate each night of Chanukah to an act of heroism. We began with the simple premise that Chanukah lights remind us of those who sowed light in dark times. This year, as we reflect on countless acts of courage, determination, and perseverance, we dedicate each night to a set of heroes.

First Night:

Fire fighters, police officers and everyday citizens who gave their lives to save others.

Second Night:

Doctors, counselors, volunteers with the Red Cross and others who were called on to heal, comfort and support those individuals and families who have suffered unbearable loss.

Third Night:

Government and community leaders who transcended ideological differences to build national strength and unity.

Fourth Night:

Parents and teachers who with calm and empathy, helped children cope with new fears.

Fifth Night:

Rabbis, priests, ministers, imams and other religious leaders who used their traditions to bring people together, to affirm our common humanity, and to nurture life.

Sixth Night:

Men and women who have been called up to national service, who will not be with their families for the holidays this year so that they may protect us all.

Seventh Night:

Allies around the world, who have been outspoken in their condemnation of terror.

Eighth Night:

All of us who, through our daily actions, have insisted that we will valiantly move on, strengthening America’s commitment to diversity and pluralism, ensuring that the religious and intellectual freedoms that we have fought for will continue to be a light unto all nations.

In one of the classic retellings of the Chanukah story, we read: “They entered the sanctuary, rebuilt the altar, repaired the walls, replaced the sacred vessels, and were engaged in the rebuilding for eight days.” May we, as a nation, celebrate this Chanukah as a time of both spiritual and communal rebuilding.

Rabbi Geller Honored


In front of the temple office’s fridge, Rabbi Laura Geller grunts “oy” as she stoops to get something out. “That’s how you know you’re getting old, you know,” the receptionist teases the rabbi, “when you say ‘oy’ when you bend down.”

But at 51, there is nothing remotely old about Laura Geller. After 25 years in the rabbinate, she’s as trim as a marathon runner, her face unlined, her voice vibrant. A quarter-century of teaching, sermonizing, writing, leading and crusading apparently has left her ready for at least 50 years more.

Next Thursday, May 31, the day school of Temple Emanuel in Beverly Hills, where Geller has served as senior rabbi since 1994, will honor her as this year’s Eishet Chayil (Woman of Valor) at its annual scholarship luncheon. The tribute follows the honorary doctorate she was awarded earlier this month by Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (HUC-JIR) to mark the 25th anniversary of her ordination.

“It’s amazing to have it be 25 years,” Geller said last week. “It just doesn’t feel that long.”

Geller, who grew up in Brookline, Mass., and who has spent her entire rabbinical career in Southern California, has held exactly three jobs as a rabbi: director of the Hillel Jewish Center at USC; executive director of the regional office for the American Jewish Congress (AJCongress) and senior rabbi at Emanuel.

Much of her work as a rabbi has been devoted to issues of social justice, and it was the fusion of religious values with those issues that helped set her on a path toward Jewish institutional life.

Geller said she was raised in a not-very-observant Reform family and had no thought of becoming a rabbi when she entered Brown University, just as the social and political ferment of the late ’60s was reaching its peak. However, she said, “it was the time of identity politics, and a bunch of different things happened that made me realize that my Jewishness was important to me.”

For example, in 1969, she attended a convention of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and felt out of place among a largely African American and Christian crowd. When she told an organizer she didn’t feel as if she belonged there, he said, “You’re right; you don’t belong here. You should go back to your own community and organize there.”

“It was really a turning point for me,” Geller said. “What was my own community? What did it mean to organize there? These kinds of experiences propelled me into what it meant to be Jewish.”

She majored in religion and lived in Israel for a while before applying to HUC-JIR. “I went to Hebrew Union College because I wanted to learn to be Jewish,” she said.

At home on the Westside, Geller is mom to 18-year-old Joshua, who has finished his first year of college, and Elana, 12, a student in the Los Angeles public schools.

From her first days in rabbinical school, Geller thought about the role of women in Jewish life. She entered HUC-JIR in 1971, at a time when women across the ideological spectrum were questioning the status quo and seeking to expand women’s presence as participants in Jewish worship and leadership. When Geller was ordained in 1976, she was only the third woman to become a Reform rabbi.

Geller has published numerous articles and contributed chapters to a number of books designed to raise consciousness about women’s role in Judaism. “Years before I met Laura, her essay in the book ‘On Being a Jewish Feminist’ helped me believe I could become a rabbi,” said Lisa Edwards, rabbi of Congregation Beth Chayim Chadashim in Los Angeles.

Geller spent 14 happy years at USC Hillel, leaving in 1990. “I noticed that I was spending more time on the macro issues of higher education and values and less time with undergraduates,” she said. “And I realized, as I turned 40, that it was time for me to have a new challenge.”

She loved her work during the early ’90s at the AJCongress too, creating the Jewish Feminist Center, which introduced hundreds of women to new rituals and skills, and supervising the Congress’ participation in an array of causes from Muslim-Jewish dialogue to Women Against Gun Violence.

“It was a great time to be a community leader — what an interesting time, such interesting issues,” Geller said.

When Geller was chosen for her post at the 900-household Emanuel, she became the first woman to become senior rabbi of a major metropolitan congregation.

As a rabbinical student, Geller was so fixated on a career as a Hillel rabbi and so sure she would never lead a congregation that she talked the leaders of HUC-JIR into permitting her to trade temple internships, a requirement of the rabbinical program, for student work in college organizations. Once she committed herself to becoming a rabbi, she said, “I wanted to work with people at the same stage in their lives that I had been when [Judaism] became important to me.”

Taking the helm at Emanuel after not having experienced so much as a student pulpit was “a stretch for the congregation, and it was a stretch for me,” Geller said. But the job came open at a time when Geller was realizing that synagogues are as important as national organizations. “If synagogues don’t work, there will be a difficulty transmitting Judaism to the next generation,” she said. “So it felt to me at that stage of my life that ground zero of the Jewish community was creating compelling synagogues that really make a difference in people’s lives…. It seemed to me an important challenge, and I wanted to get involved with it,” Geller said. “And I must say, it’s been fascinating.”

Although women have moved forward in Jewish life, Geller pointed out that there’s still a distance to go. “There need to be more women leaders at all levels of the Jewish community,” she said. “More women in positions like mine, more women who are in leadership positions across the board, not just in religious institutions.” Women are still underrepresented on boards of major Jewish organizations, she added.

“We don’t take ourselves seriously enough to realize that we are part of history, shapers of history, makers of history and the recipients of history,” Geller said. She’s hoping that a new educational project, the Jewish Women’s Archive, which will be featured at her tribute luncheon, will focus attention on women’s contributions to Jewish scholarship and leadership.

And she is optimistic that what she’s helped lay the groundwork for will continue. “When you put women in positions of leadership at all levels, then other women are also singled out for positions of leadership,” she said. “And that’s happening. We’re on a trajectory.”

Finally, what she most wants to see happen in Jewish life affects both women and men, “that we continue to educate ourselves so that the Judaism that we are engaged in, living and leading is Judaism that is compelling and meaningful.”

Reservations are still open for Temple Emanuel Community Day School’s luncheon honoring Rabbi Laura Geller, with Dr. Karla Goldman, historian-in-residence for the Jewish Women’s Archive, as featured speaker, at noon Thursday, May 31, at the Beverly Hilton. For information, call Jackie Sharpe at (310) 278-7749 or e-mail sharpejs@aol.com.

The Jewish Women’s Archive is found at www.jwa.org.

Geiderman Selected for Award


Jewish Healthcare Foundation: Avraham Moshe Bikur Cholim will honor Dr. Joel M. Geiderman, co-chair of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, with its Ahavas Chesed Award, which means loving kindness.

Rabbi Hershy Ten first met Geiderman on his many visits to the emergency room with his son, in whose memory Ten and his wife, Blimy, established the foundation.

“Joel Geiderman’s extraordinary devotion to humanity reflects the values of our organization and embodies the meaning of the Ahavas Chesed award,” Ten said.

Bikur Cholim, the Hebrew term for the mitzvah of visiting the ill, provides free and subsidized health care and social assistance throughout California.

Its services include free prenatal care, immunizations, mammograms and prostate cancer screening; medical counseling and subsidies for doctor payments and drugs; community education and bone marrow drives, blood drives and ambulance services.

The foundation also works with Jewish Family Service – a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles – in social services and advocacy programs. Bikur Cholim coordinates hundreds of volunteers to visit the ill and provides food and housing for patients’ families, as well as fully stocked Shabbat lockers for patients in the hospital.

Geiderman will receive the Ahavas Chesed award at a dessert reception Sun., Sept. 24, 7 p.m. at Paramount Pictures. For more information call (323) 852-1900, or send e-mail to Jewish.healthcare.fdn-bikur.cholim@att.net.