Photo of Sherry Mendelson Davidowitz and her husband Fred. Photo courtesy of Sherry Mendelson Davidowitz.

Sharing important memories, recipes


My mother-in-law, Sarah, survived Auschwitz, but at age 76, cancer of the pancreas did her in. Being a physician, I was involved, along with my husband, Fred, in her medical care during the final months. One afternoon, Fred and I attended an oncology appointment with Sarah.

“Mrs. Davidowitz, tell me, when you were in the camps, were there any toxins in the air where you worked?” Dr. Levin asked. 

He threw out the question, seemingly comfortable discussing the concentration camps. The office, cluttered with books, charts and diplomas, smelled of cleaning solution. My mother-in-law, barely 5 feet tall, sat in an oversized chair across the desk from Dr. Levin.

“Oh no, the munitions factory where I worked was clean, very clean,” Sarah said. She peered at the doctor, hoping he would like her response.

“Did you smell chemicals in the air?” asked the doctor.

“No chemicals,” she said.

“Do you remember names of any materials they used in the factory?” he gently prodded.

“Names, I don’t know.  But there was a guard there, one of the bosses. He let me sleep when I was sick and no one was watching. He was good to me,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” Dr. Levin said.

I was surprised that Sarah spoke kindly toward her captors at that moment. She never said much about the camps, but once in awhile something seeped out. When my husband was 11, he was profoundly disappointed when she refused to allow him to join the Boy Scouts. It was only in later years that Sarah told him the uniforms reminded her of the Hitler Youth organization.

This discussion then, was a surprise. I thought that bitterness would emerge, but Sarah chose to emphasize an act of kindness. Dr. Levin surely saw many reactions to impending death. Maybe this was one of them.

Sarah and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye. When I first met her, I was 33 years old, a professional woman, a physician.  Her son Fred, born in a displaced persons camp in Bamberg, Germany, was the first child of an extended family dismantled by the Holocaust. He was the phoenix that rose from the ashes.

One Friday night back then after Shabbat dinner, we sat around Sarah and Irving’s table with Fred’s three children from his first marriage. Fred was divorced. He and I were seriously dating. I thought, as a successful Jewish doctor, I was a good catch for their son. Sarah and I cleared plates and set out teacups and pastries for coffee and dessert. Sweet smelling cookies enticed the children to sit a bit longer.

“So Sherry, how much do you work?” asked Sarah, eyeing me as she spoke.

“About 40 hours a week. It’s taken time to build up a psychiatric practice. Now it’s going well,” I said.

“Uh-huh. Do you cook?” she asked.

“Yeah, some,” I said.

“How’s your brisket recipe?” she asked. 

“I don’t have one. I don’t like brisket. Too fatty,” I said.

“Oh, I see. Freddie, he loves brisket,” Sarah said.

I hadn’t planned on defending my cooking. Maybe I didn’t make a brisket but if anyone needed help with medical problems, then I was your girl. Sarah shifted her gaze to her grandchildren, who squirmed in their seats waiting for dessert.

“Here you go, bubbelehs. Rainbow cookies,” said Sarah to the children. She handed them a box of multicolored cookies, a traditional favorite among the grandchildren.

Now, nine years later, Sarah sat helplessly in her chair facing Dr. Levin and a terminal cancer diagnosis. I still believed she thought of me as a driven professional woman, capable of husband neglect. Fred and I had married and were raising our three young daughters. We shared the raising of Fred’s older children with his ex-wife.

The next time I saw her, Sarah was home under the care of hospice. It was December, the month of her death. She appeared weak, motionless under the covers. Irving slept in another room away from the IVs and the caretaker. Our oldest daughter, Andrea, having just turned 7, joined me for an overnight with Sarah, along with birds of paradise we picked from our garden.

Bubbe, we brought flowers,” Andrea said. She placed them in Sarah’s shrunken hands.

“Beautiful,” Sarah said. “Thank you, a paradise for me. Andrea, bubbeleh, go to the kitchen. Zayde has rainbow cookies.”

Andrea hurried off, looking for Irving and the cookies. Then Sarah turned to me. She took my hand.

“Thank you for coming with Andrea,” she said.

“I’m happy to be here,” I said.

I didn’t know what else to say. We both knew that her end loomed ahead.

“Ah, me too. So Sherry, do me a favor,” she said. “See that Irving takes care of his health.”

“I will,” I said.

Then she looked me straight in the eye.

“And, I want you should have my brisket recipe. Freddie loves brisket,” Sarah said.

“Thank you, Sarah,” I said, wiping away tears.

Sherry Mendelson Davidowitz is a psychiatrist and writer who has written
for Jewish Women’s Theatre and currently is  writing a memoir.

Amid complicity debate, Polish clergy to attend 70th anniversary of post-Holocaust pogrom


Polish clergy and researchers will hold a seminar in Kielce about a historically significant pogrom in which locals killed Holocaust survivors in that city 70 years ago.

Occurring amid an acrimonious debate in Poland on local complicity in the Holocaust and the attention it merits, the conference planned for July in Kielce, 110 miles south of Warsaw, aims to promote “the spiritual concept of forgiveness” in relation to the 1946 murder of 42 Jews, Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, told JTA on Wednesday.

Titled “Memory, Dialogue, Reconciliation,” the seminar is being organized on the pogrom’s anniversary by Bogdan Bialek, a writer and political activist who is also president of the Jan Karski Society — an anti-racism group named after an officer of the Polish underground who risked his life to provide the Allies with evidence of the Nazi genocide.

Taking place shortly after the genocide in Poland, the pogrom spurred a wave of emigration by survivors of the Holocaust who felt unsafe even after it ended, Schudrich said. Far from an isolated incident, it is the most famous pogrom in a series of attacks that left 1,500 to 2,000 Jews dead after the Holocaust had ended.

Kielce, Schudrich added, “remains a sensitive and painful subject in Poland.”

In recent months, Poland’s center-right government has faced international criticism for statements and actions by officials that are seen as unfavorable to open discussions about the complicity of some Poles in the killing of Jews. At the same time, officials have pushed through commemorations of Poles who saved Jews from the Holocaust in a manner deemed by some critics as excessive.

Jan Gross, a Polish-American professor from Princeton University, was recently questioned by prosecutors on suspicion of violating Poland’s law against “insulting the Polish nation” because he said that more Jews than Germans died at the hands of Poles during World War II. The probe followed public petitions demanding action against Gross.

In February, the office of the president of Poland ordered an examination of the possibility of withdrawing a state honor given to Gross, who wrote a landmark book on another pogrom by Poles against Jews in Jedwabne in 1941.

Among the participants expected at the Kielce seminar is former Prime Minister Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Ewa Junczyk-Ziomecka, a former state secretary who also served as the Polish consul general in New York.

Schudrich said he hoped the event would “encourage those who need to seek forgiveness for their actions to do so” but added that, for him, “the event in Kielce is not about identifying the guilty but grieving together for the dead.”

The event is necessary to bridge gaps in how Jews and non-Jews relate to the Kielce pogrom, Schudrich said.

“The Jewish view is of indignation over the murder of Holocaust victims. But the discussion in Polish society is more about who actually perpetrated the killings: communists, anti-communists, etc.,” he added. “I can understand that, but now is a time to look at the victims.”

The powers and pitfalls of the boomer brain


“I’m reading a great book about the middle-aged brain,” I recently told a friend, “but I can’t remember the title.”

Welcome to the boomer brain. Grasping for names. Walking into a room only to wonder what you went there for. Getting halfway through a book before realizing you’ve read it before.

It’s not all bad news, however. According to the book whose name I couldn’t remember — “The Secret Life of the Grown-up Brain” (Penguin, 2010) — not only does the boomer mind have advantages that can’t be found in a younger brain, but it is also possible to strengthen the brain in our middle years and beyond. This hopeful message comes from author Barbara Strauch, a science and health editor at The New York Times who interviewed dozens of scientists to research her book.

First, the bad news: Middle-aged brains (roughly between the ages of 40 and 68) have slower processing speeds than younger brains. That’s why it takes us longer to learn a new language or adapt to a new technology. We also get distracted more easily and have poorer episodic memory — the ability to recall recent events. 

And, of course, we often find ourselves mired in what Strauch calls “The Swamp of Lost Names.” We’ve all had the experience of stumbling when it’s time to make an introduction or greet an old acquaintance, even with people — and names — we know well. According to Strauch, this stems from a problem with retrieval, not storage. 

“It’s like trying to find the right book in a well-stocked library,” she writes. “Forgetting names is part of normal aging.”

It’s hard not to jump to worrisome conclusions when we have these brain blips, but Moshe Bar, director of the Leslie and Susan Gonda Multidisciplinary Brain Research Center at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, assured me that they are normal. 

“Forgetting is perfectly natural and generally in itself not an alarming sign,” he told me via e-mail. “Do not forget (no pun intended) that as we grow older, we also tend to be busier (up to a certain age, of course) and have more on our mind. Stress and sleep deprivation, for example, can also add to forgetting. …Clinical dementia requires much more than occasional forgetting of names, and generally includes significant impairment not only in memory but also in language, attentional allocation, decision making and more.”

OK. We get more forgetful, and it’s not a sign of dementia. And here’s the good news, according to Strauch: “Our middle-aged brains are surprisingly competent and surprisingly talented.” 

Boomers, she discovered, are best able to appreciate complexity, detect patterns and exercise good judgment. 

“Faced with information that in some way — even a very small way — relates to what’s already known, the middle-aged brain works quicker and smarter, discerning patterns and jumping to the logical endpoint,” she writes.

Drorit “Dee” Gaines, a post-doctoral trainee in the field of neuropsychology at the UCLA Longevity Center, notes that executive functioning excels in middle age. 

“We are better at understanding the full meaning of a complex situation, better at grasping all the details, and getting the ‘main picture,’ ” she explained. “We are also more contemplative, careful in our weighing and processing a situation, a scenario. … We have more stored knowledge we can utilize to our advantage when we approach a cognitive task and often incorporate this pre-existing knowledge in our ‘executive’ processing.” 

Strauch also reports that we can build up our cognitive reserve — a protective “reservoir of strength” that makes the brain more resilient and better able to tolerate damage. And we can do so at any time in our lives — including middle age and beyond. 

It was once thought that the adult brain cannot change, but scientists now know that our actions can literally change the arrangements of our brains. As Strauch explains, “If two brain cells are activated at the same time, they will actually change their structure, form stronger connections, letting us form memories and learn.”

Scientists are still trying to determine exactly how to boost cognitive reserve, but Strauch reports that some consensus has emerged. Education is one factor. A study done at Columbia University found that those with higher levels of education or more complex occupations were less likely to show signs of dementia.

Cognitive activity is another factor. While the effectiveness of “brain building” programs has not yet been established, it seems engaging in mental activity that becomes progressively more difficult can help boost cognitive reserve. 

Perhaps the most established method of building cognitive reserve is physical activity. Aerobic activity appears to stimulate the growth of new brain cells — at least in mice. And it definitely increases blood flow in the dentate gyrus, an area in the brain that is crucial to memory. Strauch cites a study showing that participants over age 60 who did regular stints of aerobic exercise for six months showed increased brain volume.  

Gaines said that physical activity engages “multiple brain systems, such as sensory, motor, balance and coordination, breathing and movement regulation. And for more complicated, pattern-based exercises [such as tai chi and yoga], memory and executive functions [are also engaged].”

Social activity is beneficial, too, although we don’t know exactly why, according to Bar. 

“Perhaps the constant cognitive demands involved in such interactions, perhaps the good feeling associated with being with friends,” he speculated. “But the bottom line is that they help maintain the cortical volume of the very regions that lose volume with aging.”

So what are we to conclude about the boomer brain? It’s a trade-off. But in some areas at least, according to Bar, “[T]he increased experience that comes with aging more than compensates for the loss of neurons.” 

Opinion: Keeping Holocaust memory alive—and sacred


The destruction of Solomon’s Temple by the Babylonians in 586 BCE was the first great national tragedy in Jewish history. During the subsequent exile, four fast days commemorating the calamitous event were added to the Jewish calendar: the 10th day of the Hebrew month of Tevet, when the siege of Jerusalem began; the 17th of Tammuz, when the walls of Jerusalem were breached; the 3rd of Tishri, marking the assassination of the Gedaliah, governor of Jerusalem; and Tisha b’Av, the 9th of Av, when the Temple was destroyed.

For more than 2,500 years these fast days have remained on the Jewish religious calendar, and the Book of Lamentations continues to be read on Tisha b’Av. This is as it should be.

Even though it is a far more recent horror, the Holocaust was no less a national Jewish catastrophe than the destruction of the first and second Temples. Yom HaShoah, designated as the official Jewish day of remembrance for the millions annihilated by Nazi Germany and its multinational accomplices, is as ritually significant and divinely inspired as Tisha b’Av. This year, Yom HaShoah falls on April 19.

The preservation and transmission of our parents’ and grandparents’ memories is the most critical mission to which the children and grandchildren of survivors must dedicate themselves to ensure meaningful and authentic Holocaust remembrance in future generations. As the ranks of those who suffered alongside the murdered victims of the Holocaust steadily dwindle, the task becomes ever more urgent.

In his keynote address at the First International Conference of Children of Holocaust Survivors in 1984, Elie Wiesel mandated us to do what the survivors “have tried to do—and more: to keep our tale alive—and sacred.”

“You have screened Yourself off with a cloud, so that no prayer can pass through,” we read in Lamentations. And yet it is told that Reb Azriel David Fastag, a disciple of the Chasidic rebbe of Modzhitz, spontaneously composed and began to sing what has become the best-known melody to Maimonides’ 12th Principle of Jewish Faith while in a cattle car from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp: “Ani ma’amin be’emuna sh’leima, b’viat hamashiach; v’af al pi she’yismameya, im kol zeh, achakeh lo b’chol yom she’yavo”—“I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah; and even though he may tarry, nevertheless I will wait every day for him to come.”

A young Jew managed to escape from the Treblinka-bound train, taking with him the niggun, the melody, of Fastag’s “Ani Ma’amin.” Eventually the melody reached the Modzhitzer rebbe, who is said to have exclaimed, “With this niggun, the Jewish people went to the gas chambers, and with this niggun, the Jews will march to greet Moshiach.”

My mother, who had survived Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen, died in 1997 hours after the end of Rosh Hashanah. Six months later I took our daughter, Jodi, then a college sophomore, to Poland for the first time. She and my mother had been very close and spent a great deal of time together as Jodi was growing up. We went to Warsaw and Krakow, and then to Auschwitz.

On a gray day with a constant drizzle, I showed Jodi Block 11—the death block at Auschwitz where my father was tortured for months. Then we went to Birkenau, where we walked in silence past the decaying wooden barracks. After 15 or 20 minutes, Jodi turned to me and said, “You know, it looks exactly the way Dassah [which is what she called my mother, Hadassah]—it looks exactly the way Dassah described it.”

I realized that a transfer of memory had taken place. My daughter, born 33 years after the Holocaust, had recognized Birkenau through my mother’s eyes, through my mother’s memories that Jodi had absorbed into her consciousness.

For the past several years, grandchildren of survivors at Park Avenue Synagogue in New York City have described their grandparents’ experiences as a core element of what is evolving as our Yom HaShoah liturgy. Thus deportations, separations from parents and siblings, selections for the gas chambers, desperate escapes, nighttime ambushes of Nazi troops by partisan units, and avoiding death in secret hiding spaces and on forged identity papers cease to be abstract concepts.

As family histories merge with haunting songs and melodies that were sung in the ghettos and camps, we are reminded that these firsthand, personal accounts that together chronicle the enormity of the Holocaust must enter our theology just as the testimonies of the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel became part of our Scripture.

At the Passover seder we recite “B’chol dor vador chayav adam lir’ot et atzmo ke-ilu hu yatza mi-mitzrayim”—“In each generation it is incumbent on each of us to see ourselves as if we had come out of Egypt.”

We have been entrusted with a precious and fragile inheritance that ultimately belongs to the entire Jewish people and to humankind. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, each of us, and our children and our children’s children, must also see ourselves as if we had emerged from Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, and all the other ghettos and camps, the forests and secret hiding places of Nazi Europe. To do so, all of us, and our children and our children’s children, must discover the past by immersing ourselves as best we can in the survivors’ memories until they become a part of us.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft is vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. He teaches about the law of genocide and World War II war crimes trials at the law schools of Columbia, Cornell and Syracuse universities.

Naming memory


Adam Ungar was a happy kid who loved to ski and play the piano. He was a regular at his local synagogue, and he always looked forward to spending the holidays with his grandparents, who lived an hour away by train. Adam and his younger sister, Helen, would often go horseback riding while visiting with their bubbe and zayde.

Twelve days before turning 13, on Oct. 15, 1943, Adam was killed by a Nazi bullet while walking with a friend in a concentration camp. He never made it to his bar mitzvah.

I learned about Adam by reading about another Jewish boy, Daniel Pyser of Owings Mills, Md., who decided a few years ago to honor Adam during his own bar mitzvah.

With the encouragement of his parents, Daniel participated in a program called Remember Us, which connects bar and bat Mitzvah kids to children who died in the Holocaust. Typically, this means prominently featuring the name of the victim in the invitation and ceremony. But the program encourages kids to go further and put their own stamp on honoring their Holocaust “twin.”

Daniel was one of those who went further. He wanted to know as much as possible about Adam. So he contacted the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum to try to locate surviving family members. After many back-and-forth letters and phone calls, he hit the jackpot when Judy Finkelstein, the wife of the son of Adam’s surviving sister, Helen, contacted him.

Eventually, Daniel was able to contact Helen, which helped him get more information about Adam, including some family pictures. At his bar mitzvah, Daniel displayed on the bimah a picture of Adam and Helen next to a yahrzeit candle, and he led Kaddish in his memory. His speech, which he reprinted in the program, spoke about his journey of discovering Adam and his story.

At his party, near the end of the candle lighting ceremony and in front of hundreds of guests, Daniel spoke these words: “This last candle is a special one. It is in honor of Adam Ungar, a Polish boy who was not able to have the privilege of becoming a bar mitzvah. He was born on Oct. 27, 1930, and was killed not even 13 years later, on Oct. 15, 1943, during the Holocaust. This candle and this day are dedicated to him and in his memory.”

According to Samara Hutman, executive director of Remember Us, there are hundreds of similar stories of bar and bat mitzvah kids honoring young Holocaust victims. “Each one is more emotional than the next,” she told me over lunch recently.

Hutman, who lives in Santa Monica, has been running the national program of Remember Us since last July, overseeing the Holocaust Bnai Mitzvah Project and the more recent Righteous Conversations Project, which builds on the former by connecting teenage kids to actual Holocaust survivors. Don’t be fooled by the name, though: Righteous Conversations is aiming for a lot more than “conversation.”

Teens are encouraged to work with Holocaust mentors to come up with ideas that “address the needs of today’s world.” One of the first ideas to come out of the pilot program, which kicked off this year at Harvard-Westlake School in Studio City, is a series of powerful public service announcements, which the students have produced and made available to a number of different charities.

The two programs have an eerie symmetry. One honors teenage victims of the Holocaust; the other honors teenage survivors of the Holocaust who are now in their twilight years. It’s as if the survivors of the Righteous Conversations Project were saying to the kids of the Bnai Mitzvah Project, “Here’s what those kids might have looked like had they survived.”

Hutman has a special place in her heart for the Righteous Conversations program, maybe because she knows all too well that time is running out on this last generation of survivors. She quotes her mentor, Holocaust scholar professor Michael Berenbaum: “We are in a transition point between lived memory and historical memory.”

As we approach this transition, the challenge for the Jewish community will be to find ways to bring to life this historical memory. Cold numbers, no matter how big and dramatic, leave the memory numb and unfocused.

Until we see real faces and real stories — just like the stories this paper covers in its Survivors series — the horror of 6 million dead doesn’t really come to life.

What Remember Us is doing is taking these faces and stories and making them deeply personal. They’re marrying our horror stories from the past with our ideal stories from the present — and wrapping them both in the intimacy of communal ritual.

In the future, we might not see better carriers of Holocaust memory than bar mitzvah kids like Daniel Pyser honoring forgotten children like Adam Ungar. By “inviting” these kids to a life cycle event and reminding us that they had names and lives, that they loved to ski and play piano and hang out with their bubbes and zaydes, they’re breathing life into their deaths and adding presence to their absence.

One thing we know for sure: Even if every bar and bat mitzvah kid in America were to honor a victim, we’d never run out of names.

David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

German Nazi compensation fund recipient produces anti-Semitic booklet [UPDATE]


A German fund established to compensate victims of forced labor under the Nazis sponsored a project that produced anti-Semitic propaganda.

The Memory, Responsibility and Future Fund, which was established 11 years ago, sponsored a student exchange program between high school students in Nazareth and eastern Germany. The students prepared a booklet full of anti-Semitic propaganda and drawings at the end of the program, the Israeli daily newspaper Yediot Achronot reported.

The booklet was billed as an attempt to compare the educational rights of young Germans and Israeli Arabs. Instead, it questioned Israel’s right to exist, according to the newspaper.

The fund, a joint effort of German industry and government, was established after international pressure forced large German industrial companies to agree to compensate Jewish and non-Jewish forced laborers during World War II.

Most of the funds have been allotted to “projects commemorating Nazi victims, maintaining human rights and understanding between nations.”  But two months ago, the fund also financed a “birthright trip” to Israel for a group of Palestinians living in Germany, Yediot reported.

Dr. Martin Salm, Chairman of the Board of Directors of Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” responds:

The Programs of the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” are oriented at remembering the Nazi-atrocities, at supporting survivors in Central and Eastern Europe and in Israel and to foster the work for human rights as a lesson of history. The article “German Nazi compensation fund recipient produces anti-Semitic booklet” does not properly portray the international project, which contributed to the mutual knowledge and understanding of the German and the Israeli students involved.

It is absolutely misleading to label a brochure produced by 17 years old students, which critically looks at the German and Israel school system in both nations, as “anti-Semitic”. The author, contradictory to his claim, did not contact the participating schools or the Foundation EVZ.

The mention of a roots trip / birth-right-trip/ project is also completely misleading: It refers to a project “From Haifa to Berlin” for Germans of Palestinian origin and their trip to Israel. This project was realized by “Haus der Wannseekonferenz”, an acknowledged institution engaged in Holocaust education. The aim of this project, which included a trip to Israel, was to reflect identity issues and integrate Palestinians into German society.

Images, memories and sounds paint vision of my Israel


This is the second in a series of weekly columns celebrating Israel’s 60th anniversary, leading up to Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel Independence Day, in May.

Israel is…

Where I was born. Where I ate my first Popsicle and used a proper toilet for the first time. Where some of my 18-year-old friends spend their nights in bunkers sleeping with their helmets on. Where security guards are the only jobs in surplus. Where deserts bloom and pioneer stories are sentimentalized. Where a thorny, sweet cactus is the symbol of the ideal Israeli. Where immigrating to Israel is called “ascending” and emigrating from Israel is called “descending.” Where my grandparents were not born, but where they were saved.

Where the year passes with the season of olives, of almonds, of dates. Where the transgressive pig or shrimp dish speaks defiantly from a Jerusalem menu. Where, despite substantial exception, secularism is the rule. Where wine is religiously sweet. Where “Arabic homes” is a positive real estate term with no sense of irony. Where there is endless material for dark humor. Where there are countless words for “to bother,” but no single one yet for “to pleasure.” Where laughter is the currency; jokes the religion. Where political parties multiply more quickly than do people. Where to become religious is described as “returning to an answer” and becoming secular “returning to a question.”

Where six citizens have won Nobel prizes in 50 years. Where the first one earned an Olympic gold in 2004 for sailing (an Israeli also won the bronze for judo). Where there is snow two hours north and hamsin (desert wind) two hours south. Where Moses never was allowed to walk, but whose streets we litter. Where the language in which Abraham spoke to Isaac before he was to sacrifice him has been resuscitated to include the words for “sweatshirt” and “schadenfreude” and “chemical warfare” and “press conference.” Where the muezzin chants, and the church bells sound and the shofars cry freely at the Wall. Where the shopkeepers bargain. Where the politicians bargain. Where there will one day be peace but never quiet.

Where I was born; where my insides refuse to abandon.

This piece is an excerpt from Alan Dershowitz’s book, “What Israel Means to Me” (Wiley, $15.95).

Natalie Portman is an actress who has starred in many films, including “Anywhere But Here,” “Where the Heart Is,” “Closer” and the “Star Wars” prequels. She made her Broadway debut playing the title role in “The Diary of Anne Frank.” She was born in Jerusalem, speaks fluent Hebrew, and graduated from Harvard University.


Obituaries


Victor Bates died Dec. 22 at 102. He is survived by his wife, Yetta; daughter, Marlene Berman; grandchildren, Cathy (Randy) Marks and Sue (Ron) Grossblatt; and five great-grandchildren. Hillside

May Bierman died Dec. 18 at 91. She is survived by her daughter, Rita (Herb) Silverman; sister, Alice (Ted) Rosenblatt; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Geraldine Blum died Dec. 20 at 85. She is survived by her husband, Julius; daughter, Bunnee; and son, Rick. Mount Sinai

Frieda Donshik died Dec. 21 at 94. She is survived by her son, Peter; daughter, Sharon Grossman; and cousin, Scott Siken. Hillside

Shirley Erenberg died Dec. 7 at 94. She is survived by her daughter, Helen; granddaughter, Adina (Ron); great-grandsons, Matthew and Eli; brother, Abe (Ruth); sisters, Jessie (Al) and Ruth; nieces; and nephews. Hillside

Geraldine Louise Fraider died Dec. 21 at 82. She is survived by her husband, Jack; daughters, Rosalyn (Robert) McQuade and Nancy (Stan) Gertler; and four grandchildren. Hillside

Shirley (Shedlov) Freedland died Dec. 21 at 88. She is survived by her sons, Marvin, Daniel and Kenneth; daughter, Marilyn Hawkes; three grandchildren; and brother, William Shedlov. Hillside

Blanche Goldin died Dec. 21 at 88. She is survived by her daughters, Ilene (Michael), Ellen and Sheri; and granddaughter, Jessica. Hillside

Hannah Harrow died Dec. 20 at 87. She is survived by her son, Larry (Andy); daughter, Sheri; and three grandchildren. Hillside

Tina Hart died Dec. 20 at 81. She is survived by her husband, Bruce; sons, Marc (Claudia) and Robert; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Minnie Hershfield died Dec. 21 at 93. She is survived by her sons, Jerry (Tama) and Alan (Angela Locke); three grandchildren; four great-grandchildren; and brother, Irving (Nadine Lange) Abbit. Mount Sinai

Rodelle Karpman died Dec. 22 at 75. She is survived by her son, David; and daughter, Laura. Hillside

Martha Lake died Dec. 22 at 88. She is survived by her daughters, Ann (Bill) Zeller and Mindy (Joseph Einhorn); and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Leonard Stanley Lebow died Dec. 22 at78. He is survived by his niece, Marcie (Bill) Yellin. Sholom Chapels

Maxine “Honey” Ripley Meyers died Dec. 19 at 88. She is survived by her sons, Ken and Scott Sherman, and David. Hillside

Irwin Mintz died Dec. 21 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Nancy; daughters, Debra Mintz-Sullivan and Dena; three grandchildren; and sister, Birdie (David) Massoth. Mount Sinai

Dr. Bernard Pogorel died Dec. 16 a 91. He is survived by his wife, Bernice; son, Barry; daughters, Reba Demeter and Esther (Yaacov) Hass; and seven grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Manny Rohatiner died Dec. 19 at 87. He is survived by his sons Marc (Lynn) and Jeff (Linda); six grandchildren; and brothers-in-law Joel (Ros) Linderman and Marshall Wernick. Sholom Chapels

Marilyn Rosen died Dec. 20 at 83. She is survived by her daughters, Janet and Susan; and grandchildren, Matthew and Allison. Hillside

Joseph Stark died Dec 17 at 81. He is survived by his daughter, Dianna (Mark) Rauch; four grandchildren; and, sisters, Esther Dolgin and Viola Mandelbaum. Chevra Kadisha

June Sallan died Dec. 20 at 89. She is survived by her son, Bruce; and grandchildren Arnold and Aaron. Hillside

Sidney Siegel died Dec. 20 at 70. He is survived by his wife, Lynn; daughters, Lianne (Kevin) Shattuck, Lauren (Ron) Torres, Dena (Simon) Trasler and Alisa; son, Steven (Lisa); three grandchildren; and sister, Victoria. Mount Sinai

Ruth Wolk died Dec. 19 at 83. She is survived by her sons, Joseph (Sheree) and Bennett (Lily); and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Julius Gerard Wulfsohn died Dec. 20 at 82. He is survived by his wife, Elaine; daughters Jennifer and Bracha; son, Roni; grandchildren; and brothers, Phillip and Norman. Sholom Chapels

As she remembers it


Do you write from memory? Someone always asks, and I become tongue-tied and uncertain, scrambling for the words, the ways to make believable what I know will sound bizarre — a too-complicated response where all that is required is a simple “Yes” or “No” or “Sometimes; the rest is research.”

I lived in Iran for only 13 years. I remember very little — a handful of places, a couple of dozen friends and relatives. Yet, I’ve spent my entire career writing about the country and its people, and I’ve written it all — this is the part that’s difficult to explain — from memory.

“There were always two of us,” I want to say when someone asks me where my novels come from — “Back then, in Iran, in that place where all the stories began, where all the men and women, the ghosts and legends and bitter, half-invented truths that made up our daily reality lived and died in grand, spectacular, forever tragic ways.”

There I was, the child who engaged and enjoyed, who accepted, as the innocent would, without questioning, without doubt or judgment, the stranger-than-fictional world she was born into, who passed through those years unscathed and unscarred, bearing few memories and even fewer attachments, crossing easily, effortlessly, over to a life in the West. And then there was that other me, that silent, invisible, forever-present part of me that watched and remembered. That other one, the one who’s silent except when I write, saw the things I could not bear to see, felt the emotions with a force that I, as a child, could not withstand. It is she who remembers and who tells, who tries to bring together the scattered pieces of time, the shattered bits of lives, glue them into a canvas and, in the retelling, make them whole.

I remember our house, its grand, almost theatrical beauty — high brick walls and hand-painted, gold-leafed ceilings, freshwater pools with statues of mermaids and dolphins rising in the shade of hundred-year-old trees — in the midst of a city that had grown too fast, become too unwieldy too soon. I remember my grandparents — the men angry and disappointed, the women quietly resigned. My parents — young, beautiful, determined to break out of the life of tradition and obedience they had been born into. My two sisters — green-eyed, golden-haired, quiet as angels and equally helpless.

She remembers the rest — the friends and strangers, neighbors and long-lost cousins, desperate salesmen on one last call for the day, wiry old tax collectors bearing suitcases that were empty when they arrived, filled with cash and other valuables before they left — the tales they told or that were told about them, the grudges they bore, the triumphs they boasted of.

I remember what was — our little elementary school with the green painted gates and the play areas that were reserved for boys, the principal who walked around the yard wearing stilettos and carrying a horse whip, two feet of snow in the winter, sweltering sidewalks in summer.

She remembers what wasn’t — the kindness we didn’t see from our teachers, tolerance from our elders, gentleness from a landscape, a climate that, although breathtakingly beautiful, showed no mercy to the weak.

I remember what I wished for — good grades; my parents’ approval; the white pleated skirts and gleaming sharp colored pencils and scented erasers that my friends brought back from America every summer.

She remembers what I feared — to fail in school and therefore be barred from going to university; to fail my parents and therefore become, like all those other girls whose stories I heard as a child and that I would write about in my novels, a source of shame and infamy to my own children and theirs; to fail among my peers and therefore become, like the runaway aunts my mother told me about who, try as they might, could not conform to the mores of the day and had to leave or be driven out of their hometown, never to be allowed to return.

I do write from memory — yes — I want to say to those who ask, but my memories are few and uncomplicated. It’s the shadow in the back of the room where I sit to write, the voice I hear only when I see the letters appear on the blank screen, the child who refuses to grow up lest she forget to bear witness — it is she whose memories I write from.

Gina Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her latest novel is “Caspian Rain” (MacAdam Cage, 2007). This month’s column previously appeared in Jewish Book World.

‘Live from Tehran’


It’s 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, and I’m at the studios of KIRN — a Persian-language AM radio station on Barham Boulevard near Universal Studios. I’m a guest on a program called “Live From Hollywood.”

The host/producer, Suzi Khatami, is an Iranian woman who, like me, left the old country — long before the revolution — opted for exile and is happy about it. Earlier this evening, she has had on the show an Oscar-nominated Iranian actress who has just finished making (what else?) “The Kite Runner,” followed by an award-winning Iranian documentary filmmaker who has spent five years in very exotic places shooting a movie about the life of the Iranian poet Rumi. The show’s technician is a young Iranian man; he has the television monitor tuned (without sound) to CNN, where Iranian-born reporter Christiane Amanpour is interviewing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

This may be “Live From Hollywood,” but we might as well be in Tehran.

On the air, Suzi and I talk about books and writing and the places where stories originate. She wants to know how I can write about a country I haven’t seen in 30 years — that I left when I was barely a teenager and cannot go back to for security reasons — how I remember so much of the landscape and the people, so many details of our lives there. I fumble with the response — something about the subconscious mind and how it retains so much during one’s formative years — but I’m more interested on what’s happening on CNN than in my own interview. When we go off the air for a commercial break, I ask the technician if he’s followed Ahmadinejad’s travels through the United States. He lights up.

“Of course I have,” he says, shaking his head in dismay. “That weasel conquered Columbia University. He had the students cheering for him, jeering their own president. It was a fiasco; he went in as the bad guy and came out as the victim. Imagine Columbia’s president making the weasel look good.”

The technician is not saying anything I haven’t already heard, but something about the way he talks strikes me as odd. It reminds me of the way Iranians used to talk about their leaders when I lived there — that mixture of resentment and awe (resentment for the way the country was run; awe for the fact that it was run at all, that anyone had managed to overcome the impossible circumstances, the challenges we faced from inside and out) that begrudging, spiteful admiration one feels for a worthy adversary. Even his choice of words, calling Ahmadinejad a weasel — is singularly Iranian.

Back on the air, I watch him throw switches and talk on his cell phone as he follows the images on CNN. He moves briskly, with confidence, I can do all this and much more just give me a chance and I’ll prove myself. He has the demeanor of someone who is accustomed to staying on his toes all the time, who doesn’t take success for granted. He doesn’t have the jaded quality, the I’m tired when I get up in the morning air of so many Iranian men who have lived in the West for a good while.

At the next break, I ask him how long ago he left Iran.

“Four years.”

“Is that all?” Suzi exclaims. “You left only four years ago?”

Suzi’s reaction is understandable: These days, it’s rare to meet an Iranian who hasn’t been living abroad for at least a decade. But for me, it makes perfect sense, defines what I’ve sensed but could not quite put my fingers on: He’s more Iranian, still, than Iranian American. He works quickly, half a dozen tasks at once, because that’s how people work in Iran. He thinks of Ahmadinejad not in general terms, as a lunatic who is a threat to international peace (which is how the rest of us old-timers think of him), but as a lunatic whose actions and decisions have a direct influence over the individual’s daily life. He’s disappointed at the performance of Columbia’s president because he still believes, as we all did back in Iran, that the head of such a mighty institution would easily overpower a working-class former mayor of a Middle Eastern city who goes around with an unshaved beard and whose idea of formal attire is a zip-up windbreaker with dirty cuffs.

“Yup,” the technician nods. “And I go back all the time to visit. But I don’t think I’ll ever live there again. I think I’m going to stay in Los Angeles. I almost like it here.”

At 9 p.m., the show over, we shake hands and say goodbye. I tell him that Los Angeles is an acquired taste; it grows on you till you can’t live anywhere else. I say I envy other Iranians who, as of late, have been able to travel back and forth freely and without apparent threat from the regime’s police and judicial system. I couldn’t do that because of the books I’ve written. He nods pensively. Right when I turn around to leave he says, “They’re still there, you know.”

I don’t understand.

“The places you write about in the book,” he explains, “Sorrento Café, the park on Pahlavi Avenue, the Square of the Pearl Canon — they’re all there, just like you describe them.”

I look at him then and think how strange, that this young man has seen — can still go back and see — all the places that, for me, have long been only images on a distant plain. How my memories, so old they are nearly indistinguishable from my imagination, are actual places — real and concrete and tangible — to people like him. Later, as I drive past Universal Studios to get to the freeway, I think of Sorrento Cafe, and of the character I’ve created and sent to sit on its terrace in Tehran — a man I’ve named “The Opera Singer” because that’s what he wants to do in life, though he can’t sing and has never been to the opera. He sits in the cafe every afternoon, sipping iced coffee and reading government propaganda in yesterday’s newspaper as he waits to be discovered by a person of influence. He stays till dark when the waiters chase him away, watches the sun set over the city before he leaves. Below him the street chokes with traffic, old city buses hiss and sigh and exhale dozens of working-class men every time they come to a stop, dark-eyed young women throw one last glance at the lovers they have met on the sly, away from the eyes of their parents, in the narrow, shady back streets surrounding their school, squeeze into orange taxis and pray they will not be spotted by someone they know.

How strange, I think, to be told that the fairy-tale places I have invented really exist — that they look the same as I’ve described them, are populated by living characters I had thought existed only on my page.


Gina B. Nahai is an author and a professor of creative writing at USC. Her new novel, “Caspian Rain,” will be published this fall. Gina Nahai’s column appears monthly in The Journal.

We dare not murder memories of genocide


Amnesia of the past foreshadows amnesia of the future. Forget yesterday's tragedy and the threat to tomorrow is denied. Forget the first genocide of the 20th century — the murder of 1.5 million Armenians in 1915 — and the memory and atrocities of the first genocide of the 21st century in Darfur turn invisible, and the world response is muted.

The Polish Jewish jurist, Raphael Lempkin, who coined the term “genocide,” defined it in large part by what happened to the Armenians in 1915. Armenia was the cautionary record of a mass murder of a people, which tragically and shamelessly the world has and continues to repress.

Amnesia is a sickness and feigned amnesia is a blasphemy. To choose to forget what happened to the martyrs is an insult to their memory and a danger to our children. As the philosopher Cicero sagely observed, “Not to know what happened to you before you were born is to remain forever a child.”

Infantilizing ourselves and our progeny is dangerous, and silence is lethal. We dare not murder memory.

The Hebrew term for remember (zachor) appears 169 times in the Bible. Memory is a sacred mandate. Jewish World Watch, founded almost three years ago and comprised of over 50 synagogues of every denomination throughout Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Orange counties, was formed to use its energies to make people aware of and stop genocide. Its initial focus has been on the ongoing genocide of the persecuted people of Darfur.

It continues its work in Darfur and Chad by building and supporting medical clinics; creating water wells; sending solar cookers for women intimidated, branded, tortured and raped by the Janjaweed in the fields where they have to forage for scraps of firewood to cook; providing educational materials to children desperate for any sense of normalcy, and a social worker dedicated to providing grief counseling to a population where every single family has lost at least one of its members.

No two dyings are the same. No two holocausts are the same. Darfur is not Rwanda; the killing fields of Cambodia are not the crematoria of the Nazi death camps.

Every genocide is singular. But a kinship of suffering unites us all. To play the shameless game of “one-downsmanship” is an invidious sport. My blood is not redder than yours, my suffering not more painful than yours. Hatred consumes us all indiscriminately.

We have enough tears to shed for others. Our tear ducts are not dried up. Our hearts are not so small that they cannot beat for and with another.

We join together to remember and to bind each other's wounds. In memory, we together raise our collective conscience and act out our resolve. “Never again” will we allow the threat of genocide to terrorize any nation, religion or ethnic community. Together we demonstrate our solidarity and mutual support.

On Friday, April 27, at Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino, Jewish World Watch will honor Archbishop Hovnan Derderian, primate of the Western Diocese of the Armenian Church of North America, a joint service of memory, including Armenian and Jewish choirs, liturgy, song and reflection. Prior to the 8:15 p.m. service, an Armenian Sabbath dinner will be served at 6 p.m. (by reservation only).

Harold M Schulweis is a rabbi at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino and founder of Jewish World Watch.

Pledge to survivors — we will carry the torch


Growing up, we whose parents had emerged out of the Shoah believed that they were indestructible. After all, they overcame the German efforts to murder them, survived
ghettos and death camps, and rebuilt their lives after the war. They also had a special appreciation and zest for life. In our eyes, they were truly the “greatest generation.” It seemed to us that our parents would be here forever, and that they would always protect us, their children.

But age and the frailties of the human body are proving to be inexorable. The ranks of those who suffered alongside the murdered victims of the Holocaust are steadily dwindling. All too soon, their voices will no longer be heard. Many sons and daughters of survivors have already lost one or both of their parents. My father, the fiery leader of the survivors of Bergen-Belsen, died in 1975 at the age of 64. My mother, one of the founders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., died 22 years later. More recently, the passing in late 2006 of Sigmund Strochlitz and Benjamin Meed, two of the most prominent Holocaust survivors in the United States, served to remind us all that we truly are at a moment of generational transition.

The responsibility for transmitting the survivors’ legacy of remembrance into the future must now increasingly shift to us — their children and grandchildren. In his keynote address at the First International Conference of Children of Holocaust Survivors in 1984, Elie Wiesel mandated us to do what the survivors “have tried to do — and more: to keep our tale alive — and sacred.” We are fortunate that the survivors are most ably represented by Sam E. Bloch, Roman Kent and Max Liebmann, the leaders of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, but it is now incumbent on us, the members of the second and third generations, to stand and work alongside them more closely than ever before in perpetuating remembrance and challenging the conscience of humankind. Our task is to integrate our parents’ memories, spirit and perseverance into the Jewish community’s and the world’s collective consciousness.

The sons and daughters of the survivors are diverse, multitalented and anything but homogeneous. Among us are Holocaust remembrance activists such as Rositta Kenigsberg, Romana Strochlitz Primus and Leonard Wilf — with whom I had the privilege of serving on the United States Holocaust Memorial Council; Dr. Joel M. Geiderman, co-chair of the Emergency Department at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and the Council’s present vice-chairman; and psychologist Eva Fogelman, who pioneered support groups for children of survivors in the 1970s.

Our ranks also include Helen Epstein, author of the influential 1979 book, “Children of the Holocaust: Conversations With Sons and Daughters of Survivors”; Israeli clinical psychologist Yaffa Singer, an internationally recognized authority on post-traumatic stress disorder in military personnel and veterans; former World Jewish Congress Executive Director Elan Steinberg, the brilliant strategist behind the successful effort to wrest $1.25 billion of Holocaust assets from Swiss banks; my wife, Jean Bloch Rosensaft, an art historian and museum director who has curated numerous exhibitions of art by survivors and children of survivors as well as an international traveling photo exhibition about the displaced persons camp of Bergen-Belsen; talented novelists Lily Brett, Thane Rosenbaum and Melvin Jules Bukiet; Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic artist Art Spiegelman; CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer; New York Times journalist Joseph Berger; Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a former senior aide to New York Governor George Pataki and U.S. Sen. Alphonse D’Amato (R-N.Y.); Vivian Bernstein, co-chief of the Group Programmes Unit of the Department of Public Information at the United Nations; Rabbi Kenneth Stern of Manhattan’s Park Avenue Synagogue; Detroit psychologist Charles Silow, who devotes himself to the care of elderly survivors; Holocaust historian and educator David Silberklang; film historian Annette Insdorf and documentary filmmaker Aviva Kempner; American Jewish Committee Executive Vice President David Harris; Serena Woolrich, the founder of Allgenerations, an Internet clearinghouse of information for survivors and their families; Forward publisher Samuel Norich; museum architect Daniel Libeskind; and Israeli singer Yehuda Poliker who composed the classic rock ballad, “This Is Treblinka Station,” to name only a few.

Each one of us implements our parents’ legacy in a unique, personal way. Together, we personify our generation.

Because we are our parents’ children and grandchildren, we have a greater understanding of and sensitivity to their experiences than anyone else. We, who are the personal witnesses to the survivors, must ensure that their horrendous experiences, the brutal mass murder of their families, our families, and the attempted annihilation of European Jewry as a whole will never be forgotten, and that our parents’ and grandparents’ values and souls will remain core elements of the national and international institutions of memory they helped create.

We must carry on their unwavering struggle against all attempts to diminish the Jewish essence and centrality of the Shoah. We must intensify their allegiance and commitment to the centrality of the State of Israel.

And we must maintain their staunch opposition to all manifestations of Holocaust denial or trivialization.

That is our pledge to our parents this Yom HaShoah.

Menachem Z. Rosensaft, a lawyer in New York, is the founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.

The Departure



My mother told me: "They are persecuting us,
We have no place in Iraq any more, my son!
How long should we yield
To their yoke, how much patience do we need?
Let us depart on "Eagles Wings" indeed!
When she realized my grief at the threshold,
She said: "My son, don't grieve,
Those who despise you, despise,
And depart with dignity, with no tears!"
She whispered: "Those who set traps for others,
Beware! You might tumble on one or another!
Why do you need this pit! Live and let us live!"
And we departed to the Promised Land
On 'Eagles' Wings.'

Before she passed away on her last journey,
My mother's voice mingled with psalms
Recited on harps hung upon the willows of nostalgia,
Told me with tears:
'Son! I miss the rivers of Babylon,
I miss its willows!
The harps and the captives' songs,
I miss the breeze of the Tigris,
Whispering in affection to the palm trees!
I miss our morning prayers and feasts,
I miss its soil's aroma,
Miss its orchards' fragrance!
I beg you my son, if you ever visit Iraq,
Kiss the mezuzahs of our gates
And the thresholds of the tombs of our prophets,
Say hello to our former friends,
Even if you feel hatred!
Say hello to the fields,
And forget all the sufferings!"

***

Last night, my mother visited me in my dream!
Asking anxiously: "Haven't you visited Iraq yet?
Have you forgotten to kiss the mezuzahs?
To visit the tombs of our prophets?"
I replied: "Mommy! Surely I miss Babylon!
But our home in Baghdad has been destroyed!
And the way back is so dangerous and far beyond!
Everything there is in ruins,
Even the glory of the Exilarchs,
The sanctity of our prophets' tombs
And the glory of Harun al-Rashid the great!
Today, on every inch in Iraq there are graves,
The waters of the Tigris and the Euphrates
As in the time of the Tatars,
Are flowing with blood and tears!
The masts are destroyed and the sails are torn,
So how it is possible to set sail and return?
Mother! There is no piety and security in Muslim lands!
There are only perdition and hatred!
Mother! How can I visit Babylon?
Don't you see how our beloved Iraq
Is being slaughtered and its throat is slashed
Like Daniel Pearl's?
Can't you see how Muslims are killing each other?
So what would they do to us,
Since we are Jews like Daniel Pearl!
Please tell me Mother!
If we return to Iraq,
Who among our prophets will protect us,
Since their tombs are destroyed and defiled?
There is no shelter for us in Iraq,
Since we are all Jews!
Like our martyr Daniel Pearl.
Have you forgotten the 'Farhud,'
Don't you know what they have done to our earl,
To our late Daniel Pearl???"

Shmuel Moreh is a professor at the Institute of Asian and African Studies at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He is Israel Prize Laureate (1999) and Commander of the Order of the Lion of Finland (1986). He is now serves as chairman of Association of Jewish Academics from Iraq.

Clergy abuse — the cover and the story; Anti-Semitic road rage — do the right thing?


Cover Choice

It is appalling to me that you should depict this dreadful image on your cover (“Don’t Kid Yourself,” Jan. 12)

I understand your exploring the topic in an article, but to put this image and headline on the cover of The Jewish Journal when you describe plenty of anti-Semitism incidents causing us problems already is really inappropriate. As a subscriber of several years, I am really disappointed in your choice of covers, to say the least. You could use some better editorial advisers.

Fleurette Hershman
Sherman Oaks

While The Jewish Journal should be commended for addressing this issue, the cover photo illustration was not necessary.

Harry Green
via E-mail

I wanted to personally thank The Jewish Journal for having the courage to publish the entire JTA series, “Reining in Abuse” (Jan. 12). You have helped to break the taboo of silence and secrecy. Awareness and education are the first steps in making changes in hopes of ending sexual violence and bringing healing to our communities.

In the article, “Awareness Center and Blogs Draw Praise, Criticism,” I wanted to point out a fact that was omitted. The Awareness Center has posted our polices for removing alleged and convicted offenders from our Web page (www.theawarenesscenter.org/policies.html).

Vicki Polin
Executive Director
The Awareness Center Inc.
(Jewish Coalition Against Sexual Abuse/Assault)

I was so moved by the writings and revelations of clergy abuse within the Jewish community. Someone was finally telling the truth. Someone had managed to put into print what has been taboo for so long. This article brings to light that rabbis, cantors and Jewish religious educators are just as capable of committing this horrendous sin of abuse.

I feel it is [also] important that the Jewish community realize that one in three women and one in seven men have been sexually abused at some time during their childhood. Just as Jewish clergy are not immune from clergy abuse, the Jewish community as a whole is not immune to incest.

Rabbis, cantors and chaplains need to confront their own feelings and fears about incest in order to provide pastoral care to their congregants in need of being heard. This cannot be pushed aside any longer.

Bonnie Leopold
Via e-mail

Ride on Wild Side

While I truly empathize with Gary Wexler’s rude awakening to anti-Semitism, I cannot help but ask, what took him so long (“Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” Jan. 12, 2007)?

Richard Friedman
Los Angeles

I was shocked that in Gary Wexler’s column, “Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” there would even be a question about reporting the Jamaican car service driver who threatened his life and spewed anti-Semitic remarks on the way to the airport.

No mention was made of reporting this incident to the police or even contacting the car service that employs this driver.

Sometimes we meet evil incarnate, and we have a responsibility to confront it. It is very unsettling that someone could have this experience and not feel a responsibility to act.

Doesn’t Wexler realize that an irrational anti-Semite serving the public makes everyone who uses that service unsafe and that Wexler and his family’s safety is not increased by not reporting this incident to the police?

Pamela Abramovici
Pasadena

Gary Wexler reports on his brush with an insane anti-Semite and his dilemma about a proper reaction.How about reporting this lunatic to company management, then consider appropriate legal proceedings. The district attorney can decide on a proper course of action, especially if there is a pattern of such abuse.

I emigrated from France as a teenager, so I never got too used to the golden age of acceptance Wexler mentions. Most Jews outside the United States know anti-Semitism as a fact of life. No, they do not like it.

But, despite lacking a full embrace by much of the rest of the world, Jews throughout the ages have chosen to celebrate and perpetuate Judaism. This is what many of us continue to do today.

So, Wexler, do not feel afraid, guilty or ambivalent. Be proud. Defend yourself, your family and your people. As a Jew, you deserve as much respect as any other human being. Do not settle for less.

Stephan C. Schonbuch
Culver City

I read your article and would like to raise several issues with you (“Ride on the Wild Side: Road-Rage Anti-Semitism,” Jan. 12, 2007):

Why didn’t you use your cellphone to call the cab company and complain while riding? After all, I can guarantee you the driver would not have killed himself to kill you.

When you got out of the taxi, you should have told this fool that his table would be turning fast, when the authorities knock on his door.

Your apologetic and no-courage sentence: “You have no idea who I am or who my people are. All you did was spew hate,” was much redundant. Who cares what he knows. Could you educate and turn around a fool?

And, as this idiot asked, “Are you going to report me like the Jew did about Mel Gibson? Are you going to get all your Jewish organizations after me now?” you should have said: “You bet I will and more.”

I hope no tip was included!

And with the self-pity one reads in between these lines, you should have then turned around and asked yourself, “What am I going to do about the Mel Gibsons of the world; about people like Judith Regan; about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threats to have a world without Israel and the U.SA.; about the brutal torture and killing of Ilan Halimi in France and the like; about all the recent pronouncements of anti-Semitism throughout the world. What are you going to do about it all?

What is your contribution besides self-pity? I would like to know!

Nation World Briefs


Rebbe Commemorated at White House
A commemoration of the death of the Lubavitch rebbe culminated in a White House briefing. Leaders of both parties in Congress, as well as top Bush administration officials, attended the two-day tribute to Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who died June 12, 1994. The theme was education, and speakers included Elie Wiesel; U.S. Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff; and Australia’s defense minister. Chertoff and Joshua Bolten, the White House chief of staff, who are both Jewish, attended the White House briefing Wednesday morning. About 30 diplomats joined Lubavitch emissaries to their countries at the events. Thousands of people gathered at the rebbe’s grave in New York on the anniversary of his death.

Tourists Attacked in Mea Shearim
Fifty pro-Israel Christian tourists were attacked June 28 in the ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim in Jerusalem, according to reports in The Jerusalem Post and Ha’aretz. The tourists, who arrived decked out in orange T-shirts that read “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” were seemingly identified as Christians by Charedi residents of the neighborhood, 100 of whom then gathered in the vicinity of the visitors and proceeded to hit them. Police broke up the attack, which left three tourists and one police officer with minor injuries. Israeli authorities have made two arrests but are waiting for the tourists to press charges before proceeding. — Ali Austerlitz, Contributing Writer

Kosher Suppliers Subpoenaed
Federal subpoenas were served against several kosher meat suppliers in the United States in connection with an antitrust investigation. The New York Jewish Week reported that AgriProcessors, in Postville, Iowa, is among those hit with subpoenas. The subpoenas could be focusing on collusion in the kosher industry. The Conservative movement currently is investigating complaints about working conditions at AgriProcessors, the country’s largest kosher slaughterhouse. After an animal-rights group produced an undercover video of conditions at the plant in 2004, investigators with the U.S. Agriculture Department determined that some plant employees had violated humane slaughter regulations.

Darfur Postcard Campaign Reaches 1 Million
The Million Voices for Darfur campaign has reached its goal of collecting 1 million postcards against the genocide in Sudan. The postcards, which will be delivered to the White House and Capitol Hill, ask President Bush to “support a stronger multinational force to protect the people of Darfur.” The campaign has been a project of the Save Darfur Coalition, the group of 150 faith-based advocacy and humanitarian organizations responsible for April’s Darfur rally in Washington. The coalition now is planning a second major rally this September in New York City. Despite the signing of a peace agreement last month, the systematic rape, torture and killing of black Africans by government-backed Arab militias continues in Darfur, where some 400,000 have been killed since 2003.

Jewish Astronaut Asks for Ramon Mementos
A Jewish astronaut asked Ilan Ramon’s widow for mementos from the late Israeli astronaut to take on a shuttle mission in 2007. Garrett Reisman, 38, will fly to the International Space Station in 15 months. He underwent training and became friends with Ramon, who died in the Columbia shuttle crash in 2003. At Rona Ramon’s invitation, Reisman attended a ceremony Tuesday in Rehovot, Israel, naming the Kaplan Medical Center’s new emergency medicine department in Ilan Ramon’s memory. “It was so incredibly tragic,” Reisman said. “Ilan had a great sense of humor and worked very hard to represent not only Israel but every Jew in the world.”

Technion Tops Israeli University List
The Technion was named Israel’s best university. A poll conducted by the Israeli Student Union, released this week, put the Haifa technological institute at the top of 35 schools of higher learning in the Jewish state. Often described as Israel’s version of MIT, the Technion was followed by Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The study was conducted on the basis of 56 criteria, including the employment rates of alumni and quality of on-campus life.

Ashkelon Named Politest Israeli City
Ashkelon is Israel’s politest city, according to a study. Ma’ariv published a study Wednesday in which Israel’s biggest cities were scored on residents’ responses to basic etiquette tests such as holding doors for women or providing instructions to motorists. Ashkelon came out top, followed by Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Lowest on the list was Rishon le-Zion. According to Ma’ariv, Ashkelon’s average score an 86 percent responsiveness rate is higher than that of New York City in a recent courtesy test carried out by Reader’s Digest.

Briefs courtesy Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

 

Déja Date


They say that familiarity breeds contempt, but I’m thinking that when you meet so many strangers in so short a time, familiarity might just breed comfort. You see a guy’s picture 20 times, you begin to feel you know him. Maybe the first time he wrote to you, you weren’t sure about him — maybe he even creeped you out — but a year or two later he practically seems like family (possibly that family member you want to avoid, but family nonetheless).

Maybe that’s why when Eric writes me, his picture appeals to me. He reminds me of someone. Someone … someone like … him!

It takes us a bit before he realizes that we’ve gone out before. It was two years ago — that’s 10 years in dating time — and we actually went out twice. (I guess I wasn’t the one-hit-dating wonder then that I am now.)

Eric wants to know now if I’d like to go out again. Now, two years later. I’m not sure. I can’t recall much about Eric. But maybe that’s because I don’t possess the best memory in the world. OK, my memory is about as good as a stoned amnesiac’s. There are entire years of my life I’ve blocked from my mind, shredded like crucial government documents.

I do remember, though, where we had dinner on the second date. (I’m drawing a complete blank on the first, though. Actually I sincerely doubt we had two dates, but I have to take his word for it — I always have to take other people’s words for the past). I remember that he kissed me. I remember he had a cat. And I know that I was allergic to cats then and still am.

But here’s what I don’t remember: I don’t remember what else was going on in my life at the time; I don’t remember why exactly I didn’t like him, and I don’t remember how exactly it ended.

So here’s the real question. Is timing everything? Is context anything?

Are we malleable, whimsical creatures whose predilections are determined only by the season, our moods, the placement of the moon in the sky?

Or is there a solid core inside, a hard drive of basic preferences and tastes that consistently governs the choices that we make? Are our instincts infallible?

I am someone who goes by instinct. Like most people, I like to think that I have good instincts. On the other hand, my relationship track record might suggest otherwise. My instincts, I suppose, have not always been right.

So in the name of being less picky, I decide to go out with Eric again.

There is a comfort level to our phone conversations that I usually don’t have with strangers. I suppose it’s because he’s not exactly a stranger. He knows things about me that I don’t know how he knows except that I must have told him. He knows that I surf, he knows that I’m allergic to cats (“still?”) and that he really liked me the last time, but I just wasn’t interested.

I’m hoping that when I see Eric, it will all come back to me. That I’d be like one of those characters in a miniseries who is jolted into recovery by the sight of her loved one.

No such luck. When I see Eric, I see why I didn’t recognize his picture in the first place — he doesn’t look like his picture. He does look like someone I might have gone out with already, but then again, maybe not.

I’m checking my instincts, taking my emotional temperature and getting nothing. “No pulse, doctor.” Not a blip on the EKG. Flat-lining.

So I do what I always do in these memory-failure situations. I decide to start from scratch with Eric, find out about him. It goes well, apparently, because he asks me out again. I can’t find a reason to say no — not a good reason, not if I am going by something other than mere instinct.

But what else is there? We live by our gut, our instincts, our heart, whatever you want to call it. Perhaps intuition can be warped, perhaps it needs to be refined, therapized, cauterized, redirected, reshaped — but should we ignore it? To ignore it is to go out on a second — actually fourth — date with a man you don’t like. You don’t know why you don’t like him, you can’t put your finger on it, but you also know you don’t have to put your finger on it.

You can, in the end, just act like a brat and get into some stupid spat with this man you’ll never see again, simply because you’re there in this situation despite your own good judgment.

So I slam down some money, walk out and screech out of the parking lot like a getaway driver, and then I realize that I didn’t remember Eric for a good reason: He wasn’t memorable.

This time I’ll remember him — I hope — or at least I’ll remember this: My intuition may not be good, but for now, it’s the best thing I’ve got.

Could You Help Me Find My Uncle?


Dear President Ahmadinejad:

Allow me to introduce myself to you. My name is Robert Stevens, and I am a 27-year-old child of Holocaust survivors. The purpose of my letter is not to criticize you for being anti-Semitic or for wanting to wipe Israel off the face of the earth or for making an international statement defaming the legitimacy of the Holocaust by calling it a myth. Instead, I just wanted to share with you a little glimpse into my life and actually ask you for some advice.

This past Saturday evening, before I left my apartment with my fiancee to celebrate a friend’s birthday party in New York City, I remembered that it coincidentally was also my uncle’s birthday — my father’s brother. My uncle’s name is Boroch Jeszyja Miedzinski. Indeed, it is certainly a Jewish name. His first name, Boroch, means “blessed” in Hebrew, and Jeszyja, which is another form of the name Josiah, means “fire of God,” also in Hebrew.

I really wanted to reach out to my uncle to wish him a happy birthday, but I didn’t have his phone number or his address. If I did, I’d certainly call him or visit him, and certainly I would have mailed him a card. To be honest, I am embarrassed to admit this, but I actually don’t know where he really is now, and perhaps you could help me find him.

I tried looking up his address throughout the United States, Israel, Poland, Germany, Russia, France, England and other countries in Europe, but I just couldn’t find his address or phone number. Various organizations wrote me informing me that they never even heard of him. I used the Google search engine to try and find him or something about him but to no avail.

My father died 10 years ago and, unfortunately, he hadn’t seen his brother in many years, so he also didn’t leave me with any contact information for his brother.

Thankfully, because you have pointed out to the world that the Holocaust is a myth — that the Nazis could not have killed him because such killings were just Zionist propaganda to get world support for Israel — you have renewed my hope that he may still be alive, and that I can find him.

I guess I can admit that I feel a little silly, too. I mean, I used to think that perhaps the Nazis killed him, but if the Holocaust never happened, he must be alive, or he’s just a myth that existed to bring about sympathy for Jews. My father, however, was pretty darn convincing when he told me that I reminded him of his brother because we both had the same squint and intense look in our eyes.

Before I give up, though, I do have the following information, which perhaps a man of your power and influence could use to help me find him.

My uncle was born on Jan. 28, 1931, in Lodz, Poland, to my grandfather and grandmother, Pinkus and Tauba Miedzinski. He was the youngest of four children, with my father, David, the eldest.

I have a copy of a photograph of him that I can send to you, if you think it will aid your search. The photograph was taken presumably by the Germans or the Judenrat, and was affixed to a Lodz Ghetto ID card. I know this because you can see that the corner of the photo was stamped with “Litzmanstadt.” If you weren’t already aware, Litzmanstadt was the name Germans gave to Lodz when they took it over and formed a ghetto for the Jews.

The remaining information I have for you about my uncle is that sometime after his bar mitzvah, when he was 13 years old, he was presented with a train ticket — perhaps as a bar mitzvah present from nice German soldiers — to catch a ride out of the Lodz Ghetto.

His travel information, which is the only information I have about him, might be the missing link to help you locate him for me. The Germans, as you know, were great record keepers.

According to a chronicle kept by Jews of Lodz, June 26 was also apparently a popular day for travel for the youths of Lodz. Of the 912 total people who had the same train tickets as my uncle, the majority were teens and younger children.

The German records state that my uncle was last seen boarding the Cattle Car Express, Transport No. 867 under Record No. 611. One-way ticket, Lodz Ghetto to Gan Eden — or what historians whom you might consider misguided refer to as the Chelmno extermination camp.

President Ahmadinejad, any assistance you could offer in helping to locate my uncle would be appreciated. I would love to meet him. He just turned 75.

I’m definitely going to bust his chops for being an actor in this silly Holocaust charade. In the meantime, for his birthday, I will resort to lighting a candle for him next to the only photo I have of him, taken when he was just a little boy in the Lodz Ghetto. The birthday candle, which I lit this past Saturday night, on Jan. 28, is actually what Jews call a yahrtzeit candle.

And when the flame of the yahrtzeit candle glows brightly, it symbolizes an eternal fire from God that will always and forever burn, representing the sacred souls of my beloved uncle and all my other 6 million Jewish ancestors and declaring that despite any of your endeavors, their memory will be for a blessing, not a myth.

Kind Regards,
Robert Stevens
Courtesy New Jersey Jewish News.

Robert Stevens resides in New Jersey. He dedicates this letter in honor of his parents. He can be reached at: rstevens27@gmail.com

A Big Impression


I’m too old to have heroes. But for those who live their lives with courage, I can make an exception. Like the Impressionists, for instance, whose lives of self-sacrifice I was trying to share with my class of older adults.

“OK, everyone,” I say, “whoever’s not here, raise your hand.”

Naturally, Saul raises his hand. Maybe I should explain.

My senior students suffer from short-term memory loss, a condition less severe than Alzheimer’s and dementia but nonetheless frightening. They can recall exact moments from decades past, but in the present, from one moment to the next, many don’t remember who or where they are. Sort of like elected officials.

“Are you saying you’re not here, Saul?”

“Are you?” he asks, a sour look on his face.

“Good question,” I say. “Now let’s look at an amazing movement in art called Impressionism. First, we’ll watch a video to appreciate the magnificent works of Renoir, Manet, Monet and Pissarro, because this class is art appreciation, right?”

Nothing. No response. Twenty-five people and not a whisper, not a murmur, not a peep.

“Which art movement are we learning about this morning?” I ask. “Anyone?”

Louise takes a stab at it.

“Art.”

“Yes, but which movement?”

Silence. You can hear a pacemaker ticking. Imagine being able to remember the color of your socks when you were 3, but you can’t remember where you put your shoes five minutes before.

“OK,” I press on, “aren’t these just wonderful, these paintings of nature and the human form? What do you think Saul?”

He shrugs. He sighs. A big, burly man in his late 80s, he sits week after week collapsed in his chair, with his head in his chest, and I can’t get a word out of him.

I continue. “Now in the late 1860s….”

Suddenly, here’s Marla.

“Who does those clown paintings?” she yells.

“Clown paintings?”

“Yeah,” she hollers. “I saw a painting with a clown, and there was a tear on his cheek. Who does them? They’re great!”

Clown paintings? We’re talking Renoir here. It’s Monday morning; the class is five minutes in, and I’m wondering if it’s not too late to get my real estate license.

“Red Skelton,” I say with scorn.

“Oh,” says Marla, now softly. “That’s right. Red Skelton. Was he an Impressionist?”

“Yes,” answers Bob. “He did impressions of clowns. He was funny.”

“I used to be funny,” says Jake. “Then I got married.”

“Your wife doesn’t know you’re funny Jake?” I ask.

He makes a face. “My wife doesn’t know I’m living.”

“How about you, Saul?” I ask. “Are you married?”

Slowly, Saul raises his head, waves me off and drops his head back to his chest.

“Saul,” I say, “if you don’t take part in the class, I’m going to have to ask you to bring your parents to school.”

“You’ll have to dig them up,” he replies.

I throw my hands in the air. “Oy!” I exclaim.

“You’re Yiddish?” asks Jake.

“The world’s Yiddish,” I tell him. “Who knows the difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel?”

“The shlemiel spills the coffee on the shlimazel,” says Jake.

“OK,” I say, “now how many of you know that one of the leading Impressionists — Pissarro — was a Jew?”

No response. Nothing. Nada. Bubkes. Maybe I could become a plumber. I already have a wrench. I know I saw one somewhere in the garage, I think, a month ago.

Two hours later, I’m exhausted. One last time, I explain how much the Impressionists believed in themselves and what they were trying to accomplish.

“OK,” I say, “what have we learned today? Nellie?”

“Nothing,” she says, cheerfully.

“Nothing? I’m up here talking for two hours, and you’ve learned nothing?”

“We remember nothing,” says Molly.

“Yeah,” says Ray. “Don’t take it so personal.”

Oh. OK. Surely, the West Valley could absorb one more real estate agent.

“What about you, Vivian?” I ask. “Tell me one thing you’ve learned about the Impressionists.”

“Stick to your guns,” she says.

“Thank you,” I cry.

On the TV monitor, the video is now showing breathtaking paintings of the French countryside. One last try.

“Has anyone here ever been to France?” I ask.

“France would be a great place without the French,” says Jake.

“Anyone else?” I ask.

Like an ancient tortoise, Saul lifts his head, and staring off into the beyond, mutters under his breath, “I’ve been to France.”

“Hallelujah! Tell us about it, Saul. Did you go to the museums?”

“I was on the beach,” he says to his feet.

“The Riviera, Saul? Girls? Bikinis? Ooh-La-La?”

“We landed in the water,” he says. “All my friends around me were shot. The water was blood. I was on the beach.”

The room goes extra silent, the only sound the air conditioning. My hero lowers his head back to his chest, but not before my eyes meet his. I am 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, and I think I am going to cry.

Wildman Weiner is a credentialed teacher of older adults.

Private Author’s Public ‘Memory’


“Omaha Blues: A Memory Loop” by Joseph Lelyveld (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $22).

As a child, Joseph Lelyveld’s parents called him “memory boy.” He was the family’s institutional memory, paying attention and recalling with ease events and people — a useful skill for someone who would reach the top of his profession as a journalist.

Lelyveld, the former executive editor of The New York Times who spent almost 40 years at the newspaper, has written an unconventional and compelling book about his family, “Omaha Blues” (Farrar, Straus Giroux). He describes the work as a memory loop rather than a memoir, as he traces a particular circuit of connections, using his reporting skills to research family mysteries and events he seeks to better understand.

“History may be linear but memory, at least mine, isn’t; it runs in loops,” he writes.

The loop circles his heart. The book delves into personal history, which might seem surprising for someone who has a public reputation as a private man. As he told The Jewish Week in an interview in his Upper West Side home, he began this as a personal exploration, unsure whether he would show it to anyone.

In 1996, when his father was dying, a family friend led him to a trunk filled with family memorabilia stored in the basement of the Cleveland synagogue, where his father served as rabbi. He had the contents shipped to his country home, and it took years before he began sifting through it, but he finally found the seeds of this book. He began writing after he retired from The Times in 2001, some months later showed it to an agent and had a contract by the time he completed what he calls his little encore, his return to The Times in 2003.

Lelyveld is the son of Rabbi Arthur Lelyveld, a prominent Reform leader, and Toby Lelyveld, who was less interested in the role of rabbi’s wife than in her own literary studies. His father was kind but largely absent, showing the same warmth to his family as he did to his congregants. His mother preferred independence to family life, and struggled. Their marriage ultimately dissolved. For the memory boy, childhood was neither easy nor happy, as he was often left with grandparents, and once with Seventh-Day Adventists on a Nebraska farm. Early on, he developed a sense of self-sufficiency.

The family lived in Omaha, Neb., where Rabbi Lelyveld led a congregation, before moving to New York, where he took on organizational rabbinic roles, including heading up the national Hillel organization. Although Omaha faded quickly from the author’s memory as a real place, it had symbolic meaning as somewhere he was from, rather than Manhattan. He would go on to have a career as a foreign correspondent, living and working in places that were briefly home, but where he didn’t altogether belong.

He doesn’t have many memories of carefree father/son moments, but this one stands out: The summer he was 16, he and his father were driving on the highway in a new, powder-blue convertible, wearing only sunglasses above their waists, taking in the sun. When they were stopped by a state trooper for speeding, the officer noticed his father’s clerical title on his driver’s license and let them go, saying something about his being “a man of the cloth,” without commenting on how little cloth was visible.

Lelyveld also focuses on a family friend and rabbi named Ben, who gave him the devoted attention he didn’t get from his parents. Before working with Rabbi Lelyveld in New York, Ben was driven from his Montgomery, Ala., congregation for his outspoken support of the Scottsboro Boys, and he was eventually fired by Rabbi Lelyveld for his communist affiliations. Through tracking down family members, combing FBI files and other archives, Lelyveld frames Ben’s biography, weaving his friend’s story into his own.

In an endnote, he tells of how his father, as a Zionist official, would call on the publisher of The Times to advocate for the Zionist cause. He notes the irony that a half-century later “representatives of Jewish groups who wanted to talk about the paper’s coverage were usually steered to his son.”

In conversation, he mentions a visit by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein: The rabbi asked if he was Arthur Lelyveld’s son, and the editor asked the rabbi if he was Joseph Lookstein’s son. Lelyveld recalls that the senior Rabbi Lookstein, who served on his father’s Hillel Board, was at his bar mitzvah at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue.

But readers won’t hear about that bar mitzvah in this book. It’s not amnesia but a disinterest in certain coming-of-age details — usually found in memoirs — that makes the author selective in reporting.

Lelyveld, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his first book, “Move Your Shadow: South Africa, Black and White” (Viking, 1986), recognizes that memory is neither truth nor history, but a kind of storyteller. He carefully shapes the narrative, in language that’s precise and poetic, powerful, too. When he might sound whining, he catches himself, grateful for his gifts: He moved from a downcast family life into a strong and joyful marriage and to an illustrious career.

In person, he’s articulate, manages to be both confident and modest, sometimes funny, like the voice of the book. Like his father, he has a firmness of purpose.

Sandee Brawarsky is the book critic for the Jewish Week.

 

The Love Impaired


 

You remember the famous line from “Forrest Gump”? “I may not be a smart man, but I know what love is.”

The other day, it suddenly hit me. I’m the anti-Forrest Gump. I am a smart man (or at least I test well) but I don’t think I know what love is at all. There is nothing I find as confusing. Programming my VCR is child’s play by comparison.

Recently, I was thinking of a former girlfriend, so I called her up. We had a great conversation, and after I got off the phone, I was really wondering, “Now why did we break up again?” And then I remembered. “Ohhhhhhhhh — yeah, that was a good reason.”

But it really got me to thinking, what is love anyway?

I bet you thought I was going to answer that question, didn’t you? Well, I can’t. That’s the point. I don’t know. I’m 37 and single. I’m a relationship moron. I’m romantically impaired. I don’t know what I’m doing — at all.

And it’s not just me. No sirree Bob. We are an entire generation of the love impaired. It seems especially bad for folks in their 30s and 40s, and even worse if you’re Jewish. I’m not quite sure why this is, but I have seen polls on the subject. In this epidemic of unmarried singles, it seems Jews have caught the bug worse than other ethnic groups.

And it extends to the observant world, too. Sure, plenty of them are married at 22 and have 18 kids by the time they’re 30, but there are also others who are having the same problems their secular brethren are having. This epidemic goes across the entire religious spectrum. Believe me, it’s not just your mom, who’s noticed. The rabbis have, too.

I went to a singles event a few weeks ago at a synagogue that illustrated this problem really well. The rabbi was asking why young people (and not-so-young people) were having such a problem getting married. He was really mystified. It seemed pretty simple to him:

You meet a girl you like and you marry her. One guy stood up and gave such a perfect answer, it seared into my memory, perhaps permanently: “Well, I meet a girl and like her and she doesn’t like me. Or a girl likes me and I don’t like her. Or we go out and it doesn’t work.”

It’s almost poetry, isn’t it? Well maybe not, but it does seem to sum up the state of things pretty well.

I wonder if we could get this problem classified as a real disability. Maybe it’s like a learning disability. After all, learning to love someone besides yourself is something that people are supposed to learn in adulthood. You can check. It’s in developmental psychology. I took a course.

If not being able to sit still and concentrate is called Attention Deficit Disorder, and not being able to read is called dyslexia, what would you call not being able to love? LDD: Love Deficit Disorder? No, that sounds like a shortage. How about the same initials but different words: Love Development Disorder. That might be it, except it probably sounds too similar to learning disabled. I don’t know.

But, before we go looking for solutions to this problem, maybe it would be worthwhile to take a look at past generations. Why was it so easy for them anyway? Maybe it was because they had matchmakers and arranged marriages. It used to be that your parents would arrange a match for you and, unless you found your intended completely repulsive, you married them. Boom. Just like that.

This brings me to my grandparents. After fighting in World War I, my grandpa, Danny, stayed in Europe to try to get his family out of Russia. Not surprisingly, however, he couldn’t even get in the country, because the Russian Revolution was going on full steam. Here’s where it gets romantic: Poor Danny, stuck in Warsaw, met my grandma, Ina, and was struck by a thunderbolt. Times being the way they were, instead of having a tempestuous affair, they were quickly married and Danny brought her back to New York.

Now, this should be where they live happily ever after, right? Wrong. After a few months, Danny must have done something pretty bad, because according to family lore, Ina got ticked off, packed up and went back to Warsaw. So how is it that I’m telling this story? Because instead of welcoming her back home with open arms and soothing words, my great-grandmother wouldn’t let her in.

“Go back to your husband. Stop behaving like a child. You’re married now!” she yelled as she slammed the door in Ina’s face (or so the family legend goes).

What does this tell us about love? I don’t know. I’m the love moron, remember? But from both these stories, it seems the emphasis was much more on keeping the family together, than on being in love. That, and once you were married, that was it. At least, that’s how it sounds.

But how does this help me, The Love Idiot? Should I call my mother, ask her to find a girl for me and marry her if she doesn’t make me puke at the first meeting? You know, I’m actually starting to consider it.

 

First Steve, Then Bill


 

When those people at the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation put on a fundraiser, they don’t fool around.

After Sheryl Crow sang, the event’s host, Steven Spielberg, spoke. And after him, 20 minutes of stand-up by Robin Williams (“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Temple Beth Pravda…This evening’s meal will be milchidik, fleishadik, and sushidik.”) Then more comments from the evening’s emcee, Tom Cruise. And a keynote address by the evening’s Ambassador of Humanity honoree, President Bill Clinton.

A huge tent goes up on the Universal back lot — a grand structure featuring dozens of massive chandeliers suspended above 750 guests paying $1,500 per plate. The stars come out: John Travolta, Lance Armstrong, Sharon Stone, Scarlett Johansson. I’m not even bothering to mention the name-brand TV celebrities scattered around the room like less-potent fundraisers might use helium balloons.

Needless to say, the obligatory video presentation is of fairly high quality.

Spielberg used profits generated by his 1994 movie “Schindler’s List,” to establish the foundation. As its primary mission, it has collected nearly 52,000 videotaped testimonies of Holocaust survivors and witnesses. The foundation is now developing a state-of-the-art system to bring these testimonies and other learning tools to educational institutions worldwide.

All this costs a lot of money, and the obvious question is why Spielberg needs other people’s. Contribution implies ownership, a foundation officer told me, and the director wants the widest possible sense of communal responsibility for the foundation’s mission.

Fundraising, at least in our day and age, also implies dinner and entertainment. Yet there is always something discordant about award banquets on behalf of the shoah. Several years ago at a major Holocaust organization’s dinner, I watched tables full of survivors and rabbis go pale listening to Chris Rock, who was then a relatively unknown comedian.

Rock was a last-minute replacement for an ailing Garry Shandling. After his routine on jailhouse sex met with gasps, Rock stopped, looked out into the sea of shocked faces, and said, “I warned them. I don’t have a dinner act. This is my act.”

I know there are dinners on behalf of incurable diseases and even dinners to end world hunger — but even on this score the Holocaust is unique:

The joyous chatter of friends and colleagues dressed up and out together, interrupted by speeches about extermination;

People grabbing for appetizers and drinks as videos play newsreel footage of Auschwitz;

People who once were a crust away from starvation being served plates of seared salmon and roasted vegetables, groaning as if they’re being punished when the molten chocolate soufflés appear;

People being exposed to horrific tales of murder and survival, then stopping to complain when some free lipstick was missing from their swag bag;

People who just 60 years ago were begging for the world’s attention — now basking in it.

None of this is wrong, just interesting. How do you mesh something as evil and tragic as the Holocaust with something as banal as the rubber-chicken circuit? How do you honor memory and get them to the valet by 10 p.m.?

The Shoah Foundation somehow manages all this. This year I finally understood how: it’s not just about the Holocaust.

It’s about genocide.

Each banquet honors the memory of the witnesses and survivors by invoking whatever current tragedies challenge us not to repeat the same sins of omission. This year it was Clinton’s turn to remind us.

The former president recalled President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s refusal in 1939 to admit more than 900 Jewish refugees aboard the German ship St. Louis. He called it “one of the darkest chapters in United States history.”

He then went on to acknowledge his own culpability for not responding to the genocide in Rwanda in a timely fashion.

“No one in my administration thought to call a meeting on it, and I never asked anyone to,” he said.

After he left office, Clinton went to Rwanda to ask forgiveness of the survivors, and to hear their stories. The 1994 genocide claimed an estimated 800,000 victims in a three-month period.

The Rwandan genocide led Clinton to speak about the Darfur province of Sudan. There, some 220,000 black Africans have been slaughtered in a campaign of ethic cleansing by government-backed Muslim militias. The death toll is estimated to rise by 10,000 per month — this month, next month, the month after. One day in the future, Clinton asked, will we have to go to Sudan and apologize for what we didn’t do, but could have done, now?

The president left the stage, but his point was clear. The 52,000 videotaped testimonies are not just a monument to Jewish suffering, but a call to Jewish conscience. If the Holocaust was truly unique, then we are uniquely obligated to speak out, to donate, to write our representatives, to act.

That way we can have our dinner, and enjoy it, too.

Learn more about the Shoah Foundation at www.vhf.org. Help stop the Sudanese genocide at www.savedarfur.org.

 

Yeladim


This week’s portion is named for Moses’ father-in-law, Yitro. Moses is exhausted because he spends the whole day talking to anyone who needs counseling or judgment. Yitro, who is visiting him, says: “You’ll kill yourself if you keep up at this pace. Get some people to help you.” And that’s exactly what Moses does.
Do your parents ever seem too exhausted to pay any attention to you? The best way you can help your parents out is by telling them you understand, that you know how much they love you and you know that they will give you the attention you need as soon as they are able.

Moses took care of 600,000 Jews. Today, there are 13.2 million of us in the whole world. That’s still not very many.
Here is a list of a few Jewish populations around the world.
Can you match the city or country to the amount of Jews who live there?
Send your answer to abbygilad@yahoo.com.

Israel   5,000,000
Los Angeles   600,000
India   120
France   360,000
Canada   2,000,000
New York   6,000
Tahiti   600,000

A Jewish Memory
Here is a story written by a sixth-grader.

A few years ago, my dad took me to visit my grandma, Helen, at the nursing home. She was 92, and had had a stroke four years earlier. No one could talk to her much because she was always sleeping. Through the years, she just got worse and worse until she couldn’t even open an eyelid.
When we got there, it was kind of a shock to me, since I hadn’t been there for so long. We finally found Grandma in a wheelchair in the patio. As usual, she was fast asleep. With her pale face and thinning hair, she did not look like the beloved grandmother I used to know. My father told me to talk to her. I tried but she didn’t move. I told jokes, laughed, whistled; I even acted out something funny that I had recently seen on TV, but my grandmother stayed still as a rock.
My dad saw my impatience, and said sympathetically: “Come on, honey, we can leave now,” he said.
But I didn’t budge. I felt I had a goal to attain, so I wouldn’t just let go.
“Let me try one last time,” I answered. I thought and thought, and just when I couldn’t think anymore, I remembered I knew a little Yiddish.
A few months ago had been Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. I, together with the rest of my class had sang many Holocaust songs including, “Zog Nit Keyn Mol.” I knew Grandma grew up speaking Yiddish with her five sisters in New York, so I gave it one more shot. I sang the song. Surprisingly, it worked. Grandma opened her eyes and smiled. And even though it was only for a brief second, I knew I would treasure that moment forever. I did.
Grandma died on Oct. 26, 2003.

Emergency Room Serves as Memorial


 

The gleaming digital tracking board that dominates Shaare Zedek’s new emergency room, with its color-coded system for monitoring patients, has Dr. David Applebaum’s fingerprints all over it.

So do the more private individual rooms for patients, the improved nurse-to-patient ratio and an area for paramedics to rest and grab a cup of coffee between calls.

Applebaum was director of the Jerusalem hospital’s emergency room until a suicide bomber blew up the cafe where he was dispensing fatherly advice to his daughter on the eve of her wedding. His daughter, Nava, also was killed in the Sept. 9, 2003, attack at Café Hillel in Jerusalem.

In October, a new, cutting-edge emergency room opened at the hospital, which has been on the front lines of treating the injured from terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. Hospital staff traveled to top hospitals around the United States before designing the Weinstock Department of Emergency Medicine in a bid to give Jerusalem patients world-class care and attention.

Word of the new emergency room has spread quickly in the city, and there has been a 20 percent increase in the number of patients, according to hospital staff.

The new emergency room is three times the size of the previous one and houses its own shock and trauma unit. The memory of Applebaum hovers over the space, and his photo hangs at its entrance.

“It was his baby. I look at” his picture “and I can’t believe he’s gone,” said Emunah Hasin, a nurse and director of external affairs for the hospital.

Dr. Todd Zalut, acting director of the emergency department, still speaks in the present tense about Applebaum who for years was his friend and mentor. Like Applebaum, he made aliyah from the United States after completing his training in emergency medicine.

Zalut stands over one of the beds in the spacious trauma unit, showing off its features, which include a hydraulic arm with shelves full of equipment that can be brought closer to the patient as needed, heart monitors and a device to keep fluids warm.

“It’s very user-friendly,” Zalut said.

The user-friendly ethos extends to the entire emergency room. The digital tracking system, for example, was developed by Applebaum and Zalut, along with the hospital’s computer expert. It tracks how long the patient has been in the emergency room, which doctor has seen the patient, the status of lab work and the age and reason the patient was admitted.

When there is a terror attack in Jerusalem, almost half of the injured are rushed to Shaare Zedek’s emergency room, because it’s the only hospital in the center of the city. The other main hospital in the city for terror victims is Hadassah Ein Kerem.

Zalut said an emergency room cannot be built specifically to accommodate the victims of terrorist attacks, but that the new emergency room will help streamline the hospital’s ability to respond to mass trauma, in general.

The cost of building Shaare Zedek’s new emergency facility was about $30 million. It is built in rings, with the most severe cases treated in the inner ring and less urgent cases in outer rings of rooms with their own nursing stations.

There also is an infection-control room and digital X-ray and ultrasound facilities on site, plus a huge storeroom filled with equipment in case of a chemical attack.

Surveying the equipment, expertise and thought put into the hospital’s emergency room, Hasin made a wish she knows is not likely to come true: “We don’t want to have to use it. We want to keep it all at the level of theory.”

 

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!

Creative Chuppahs Are Labor of Love


Nancy and Kim Goldov wanted to personalize everything about their wedding. She sewed her own gown. He composed music for the ceremony. They both created a new last name to share: combining Stolov and Goldschmidt into Goldov. So it probably didn’t surprise anyone that the couple spent months crafting a one-of-a-kind chuppah to say their vows under.

“The rabbi used the image of weaving our lives together,” when he commented about the way Nancy and Kim carefully planned their creative wedding, with the help of friends and family. Nancy says they decided to make their own chuppah out of hand-dyed silk and handcrafted wood in part because they wanted to create a lasting memory.

“The wedding became a focus for all of our creative energy,” she explained.

They also were able to take such a creative approach to the chuppah because they had lots of time and friends who were craftspeople and willing to help with the woodworking and dying of the silk.

“It wasn’t a sudden wedding. It was a very planned wedding,” Nancy said. “It’s not something every couple could do or want to…. We kind of went overboard.”

But now, thanks to their hard work, Nancy and Kim also have a beautiful canopy over their bed. They can look up and see the magical “tree of life” with pomegranates, apples and figs. The tree surrounds a Star of David made from a piece of spallted maple wood found in a park. The four posts of the canopy are a delicate combination of several different kinds of wood.

Nancy says the chuppah cost a few hundred dollars to make, but is now considered a priceless family heirloom. She is having a quilt made for their bed that mimics the design of the tree. Someday she may change the chuppah in some way to signify their children.

One of the questions Nancy asked concerning her creative chuppah was whether it adhered to Jewish law concerning wedding ceremonies. According to The Jewish Catalog and Rabbi Maurice Lamm’s book, “The Jewish Way in Love and Marriage” (Jonathan David, 1991) the chuppah is affected more by tradition than law.

Traditionally, the wedding ceremony took place under the stars as an omen that the marriage should be blessed with as many children as stars in heaven. To create a more intimate space for the ceremony, rabbis in the Middle Ages allowed the use of a chuppah, which symbolizes the groom’s home into which he invites the bride. It is required only for the seven blessings and only the bride and groom need to stand under it.

“It teaches that this simple, fragile room which is now common to both partners launches the marriage,” Lamm explained.

As with any wedding ceremony decision, it is best to discuss chuppah ideas with your rabbi before you start collecting materials and assembling the structure. Depending on whether the rabbi is Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative or Orthodox, he or she may have different ideas about what is required.

Some of the more common kinds of chuppahs involve a tapestry or tallit fastened to the top of four poles. The poles can be held by four friends or put in some kind of stand. Keep in mind the length of your ceremony before making a decision about whether to have people hold the poles. Some brides prefer to decorate the tapestry with flowers.

How elaborate a chuppah you choose also depends on how much time and energy you want to put into the project. A combination of creative energy and a little chutzpah helped Jenifer Thornton and her mother create a special chuppah for her wedding.

“I’m in a creative field and I knew that I didn’t want to just do the standard,” Jenifer said, adding that they researched whether they could rent a creative chuppah but found nothing to their liking.

“We just kind of thought, if it works out, great.” The only problem was — and this would be a big problem for many brides — they didn’t know what the chuppah was going to look like until an hour before the wedding. They couldn’t put it together in advance and then move to the location of the ceremony.

Jenifer and Philip Thornton’s chuppah consisted of plaster columns; adorned with lace netting, green plants, ivy and copper ribbon.

“It was beautiful and everyone loved it. The only thing I would change would be the lighting,” she said, indicating she would recommend backlighting the chuppah for a greater impact.

She says it wasn’t expensive, but warns that finding proper columns can be a challenge. Most replicas that can be rented are too light and easily toppled by sudden movement.

“It’s difficult to rent them,” she said. “They have to be heavy. You definitely don’t want them to fall over.”

She rented the columns from a friend who doesn’t usually loan them out.

Another approach to creating your own chuppah is to consult with an architect or a landscape designer. When Julie Israel got married about five years ago she was lucky enough to have an architectural designer right in the family, her mother, Linda Haugen.

The chuppah for Julie’s wedding to David Israel consisted of “marbleized” wooden columns and a trellis covered in ivy and flowers. The structurally dramatic chuppah fit in well with the architecture at Temple De Hirsch Sinai.

“It was a very dramatic and important structure and it added considerably to the whole ceremony,” she said.

Fitting the chuppah to the setting and the personalities of the bride and groom is very important, but perhaps the most critical aspect of the project is getting prepared to build it the night or morning before the wedding in just a few hours.

Her experience in architecture and the theater prepared Linda for the project.

“If someone wanted to have a chuppah like ours, they should turn to someone with our level of experience,” she said. “It would be difficult for the average person to do it. It really involves a lot of thought and coordination.”

When asked if such a structural chuppah could have a second life after the wedding, Linda said one could consider reconstructing it in their garden: “It’s your first house and that’s what’s so lovely about it.”

Jewish + Humor = ‘Jumor’


Groucho Marx once said that there’s no such thing as an old joke if you’ve never heard it before.
And maybe two young Jewish filmmakers heard that maxim and decided they’d find fresh material for their 45-minute
documentary, “Jumor: A Journey Through Jewish Humor.”
Laguna Beach local Aaron Krinsky, with co-director and his Yale University pal Scott Kirschenbaum, explored their
Jewish humor heritage by interviewing more than 30 Jewish elderly residents at 14 Jewish nursing homes, including Heritage
Pointe in Mission Viejo. On Sunday, Sept. 5, the Jewish Community Center 532-seat theater will showcase the
Krinsky-Kirschenbaum saga, a 18,000-mile, six-week summer trip before their junior year.

“‘Jumor’ is a look into our own culture through our elderly community,” Krinsky said. “The more homes we visited,
the more we realized we were interested in the stories itself, not the comics who told them.”

The directors, inspired by the humor of other great 20th century comedians, delved further into the gift of
laughter in their own culture. They found through reflections by the film’s subjects that life in a shtetl, faith
and use of Yiddish serve as a basis for Jewish humor.

“Years ago, Jewish young men and women did not have the same opportunity as non-Jews to create their own
[opportunity],” said Lillian from Miami. “When they met each other they did not say, ‘Oy vey, this is going on
and that is going on,’ they said humorous stories. They had to learn how to laugh at themselves otherwise they
would be crying all the time.”

Film subjects included a 106-year-old woman from Los Angeles and a vibrant 102-year-old, Sylvia Harmatz., who
appears to have a great memory for a good joke.
“The residents were thrilled to have the two young men come to perform and speak with them about the topic of Jewish
humor,” said Rena Loveless, director of Mission
Viejo’s assisted-living facility Heritage Pointe. “There was a warm reception to the film when it was shown at the
facility. The residents were happy to be apart of this project.”

The duo’s filmmaking technique is unorthodox. To establish rapport with their subjects, Kirschenbaum performs a
stand-up act based on the stories and jokes of their generation of comedians, while Krinsky is in the sidelines
filming the reaction of the crowd. After the show, each home’s directors select a handful of the most articulate
residents to deliver their own wisecracks.

speaking on similar subjects creates momentum for the topics and shows the stories coming directly from the people who lived them.

“We used the editing process to create a sense of fabric, of knowledge coming directly from the people’s mouths to establish
an attitude and tone in the film,” Krinsky said. “This film is about more than Jewish humor, it is a generation talking and telling
a story.”
Along their voyage, the filmmakers start sensing parallels between their own impressions of Jewish culture and those of their elderly
subjects. Each day was a new exploration of both the subject and the subject’s cultural history, and how a sense of humor binds Jews
together.

“It is not just about our culture and ‘Jumor,'” Krinsky said. “This movie slowly became more about them [the elderly residents]
and us [filmmakers], where you do not laugh at the participants, but with them.”

Join one of the filmmakers for the 45-minute viewing of “Jumor,” followed by a talk on the documentary in the JCC theater, 7 p.m.
Sunday, Sept. 5, One Federation Way, Irvine. Requested donation $5 (general), $3 (seniors, children). For information, call (949) 435-3400.

Mom and Dementia


My mother sounded upset when she called the other day. "What’s wrong, Ma?" I asked. "I don’t know what’s going on or where I am she said. "Who are these people with me?"

I reminded Mom of her move to Los Angeles three years ago, and her life at a San Fernando Valley board and care.

She sighed and said, "Ellie, I’m losing my marbles."

The painful truth is she’s right. Mom’s dementia impacts so much in her life. Once an avid reader, she can’t remember the plot of a book after the first page. Eventually, she stopped trying. Reading her short articles in the newspaper holds her attention for a while, but since she doesn’t know what’s going on in the world, most news means little to her. Mom and the other women in her residential care home occassionally watch CNN. It’s hard to tell if any of them really know what’s going on. Like my mother, their intelligence is intact, but for most their short-term memory is gone.

Recently when I was there, we watched images from a terrible suicide bombing in northern Iraq. My mother was horrified. I reminded her about Bush and the war in Iraq and she made some disparaging comments about Bush’s intelligence. Fifteen minutes later, my sister called from North Carolina. I leaned close to the phone at Mom’s ear so I could listen. After the usual chatter about the weather, the dogs and my mother’s digestion, my sister said, "Isn’t what’s happening in Iraq just horrible?"

Mom said, "It certainly is."

Then she covered the phone and whispered to me, "What happened in Iraq?"

She sounded concerned and looked anxious, like she should know. But any memory of what she’d just seen on the news was gone.

Though much of what’s happening to my mother’s mind is painful, there are moments of levity caused by her dementia. In fact, Mom is very often amused by her own forgetfulness. While her short-term memory is gone, her wonderful, slightly sick sense of humor is intact.

Last year, my mother and I went to my Uncle Bob’s funeral. We were escorted to front-row seats at the graveside and after a moment my mother looked at the casket and loudly said, "Who died?"

Heads around us turned. Mom looked at me, her embarrassment quickly shifting to amusement and she started to giggle. Then I started to giggle. I was reminded of Friday night services years ago, when my mother would start to sing, very off-key, and we’d both end up with tears rolling down our face from trying to swallow our laughter.

After Uncle Bob’s funeral, Mom and I were sitting on the sofa at the reception, enjoying a sandwich and a little wine. Mom stopped chewing suddenly. "Where are we?" she asked me.

"Carole and Bob’s house," I responded.

She glanced around the room, then said, "Where’s Bob?"

I almost choked. I looked at her and whispered, "We just buried him."

She looked completely confused, then we both burst out laughing. We got a number of suspicious looks from people around the room who probably thought we’d had too much wine.

Then there was the morning after the Queen Mother died. My mom was living at her former board and care, and during breakfast another resident, Sally, was reading the newspaper. She suddenly said, "The Queen Mother died."

My mother looked up from her oatmeal and asked, "Really, how old was she?"

"Let me look," Sally said. "She was 102."

My mother responded, "Isn’t that wonderful!" Moments passed. Then Sally, still reading the paper, said, "Did you know the Queen Mother just died?"

My mother replied, "No. How old was she?"

Sally read further, then said, "She was 102."

"Imagine. Isn’t that wonderful!" exclaimed my mother. This same conversation apparently repeated for 10 minutes, both women enjoying their exchange over and over again.

Maybe this is the upside of my mother’s dementia. Each moment is totally new. In fact, for her, each moment is all there is. While most of us agonize over the future or analyze and regret the past, my mother — having lost track of the past and lacking the ability to imagine the future — lives wholly in the present.


Ellie Kahn is a family historian, journalist and documentary filmmaker.
She can be reached at ekzmail@adelphia.net.

Teen’s Loss of Sister Spurs Charity Efforts


Seventeen-year-old Megan Knofsky keeps alive her sibling’s memory by sustaining a teen support group that raises money for research to find a cure for cystic fibrosis, the genetic disorder that affects 30,000 people and claimed her sister, Sarah, in 1997.

Two years ago, Knofsky of Irvine proved the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation’s top fundraiser nationally. By writing to everyone she knew about her plan to compete in a Kona benefit marathon, Knofsky received pledges of $33,000.

"All in memory of my sister. It was an awesome thing," said Knofsky, whose parents, Carol and Myron, accompanied her to Hawaii for the event.

"She could have started high school and pushed this aside," said Helen M. Johnson, the foundation’s California field management director in Anaheim. Instead, at virtually every foundation charity event in the area, Knofsky assembles a team of ready helpers drawn from Shooting Stars, the group she started in 1997 with her friends and those who knew her sister. "They’re an amazing group of young people," Johnson said.

On March 21, Knofsky will share a bit of her passion and startup know-how in mitzvah making at the fourth annual Mitzvah Mania fair at Irvine’s Tarbut V’ Torah Community Day School. The Bureau of Jewish Education’s free, communitywide event provides helpful advice for parents and their sixth-grade children, who plan a bar or bat mitzvah. Most rabbis expect a self-directed mitzvah project.

Last year, 150 families, most from 15 local synagogues, participated. Activities include a Mitzvot R Us exhibit of poster-board illustrated mitzvah projects. Some of the mitzvah makers will be on hand to personally describe their charitable projects and explain their displays.

Participants also will visit four, 20-minute workshops, where speakers such as Knofsky will give students a firsthand look at suggested charitable work. These include animal therapy and assisting disabled children in sports.

Knofsky did a food drive for her own project as a bat mitzvah at Santa Ana’s Temple Beth Sholom. But she is more enthusiastic about Shooting Stars, so-named to "shoot for the cure." The group now has about 90 members that she contacts through an e-mail list.

"I’m lucky that my friends participate," said the Northwood High School senior and class president, who encourages participation in Cystic Fibrosis Foundation events by handing out brochures in class and at school clubs. She expects 20 to 30 Shooting Stars will collect pledges and walk as a team for Great Strides, a May 15 10-K walk in Huntington Beach.

"I’m very dedicated to the CF Foundation," Knofsky said, noting that life expectancy for those with the genetic disorder has increased from five to 33 years during her sister’s brief, 12-year lifetime.

"We could have planted a tree, but that’s not continuing," said Knofsky, born 22 months after her sibling. "I wanted her to still be a part of me."

The Power of Memory


Memory is a multibillion-dollar enterprise these days. I am personally on my fourth PDA and angling for a fifth even sleeker, more efficient model. Reminder cards and scheduler programs abound. Capitalizing on human frailty, the memory industry offers compensation.

For in a world that moves ever so quickly, we dare not forget that crucial meeting nor miss that all-important birthday (anniversary, wedding or bar mitzvah…). If forgetting is a touchstone of our humanity, then the opposite perspective should reign from the Divine. "Ein Shikcha lifnei kisei kevodecha" — "There is no forgetting before Your Divine throne" — is the great theme of Rosh Hashanah and is a vital component of God’s curriculum vitae. Imagine our surprise when we encounter in Parshat Noah the striking concept of Divine memory as the very explanation for the recession of the flood waters:

"And God remembered Noah and all of the animals that were with him on the Ark and God brought a wind upon the Earth and the Waters receded."

And God remembered?

What, pray tell, was God doing until that point? And while this might be the first time we encounter Divine memory, by no means is it the last. God keeps on remembering — be it Sarah, Rachel or Chana in their state of barrenness or the Jewish people as they wallow in the depths of Egypt. The notion of Divine memory certainly deserves our attention. Does God also need a Palm? (I have three older models.)

Nachmanides (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, Spain, 1194-1270) distinguishes between the process of memory and its role. The process of remembering entails bringing an image from the past into the forefront of one’s thought.

Quite apart from its process, memory serves a specific role. Consider the disorientation of the advanced Alzheimer’s patient or the tragic plight of the stroke victim who courageously relearns the fine art of walking, talking and eating. Reflect upon the personal frustration we all feel when we just can’t put the name to the face. Without memory, opportunities for social, physical or intellectual advancement range from minimal to none.

Thus, the role of memory is to allow us to develop proficiency by reflecting upon and refining our previous bits of knowledge. It is in this vein that we speak of national or cultural memory — a knowledge of the past that allows us to advance civilization a notch beyond. 

Surely, God has no need for the process of memory. He never forgets. Yet, the role of memory is acutely relevant to the Divine realm. When the Torah states that "God remembered Noah" — i.e. He bestowed upon him special mercy — it is for a particular higher purpose. Were God not to remember Noah, surely Noah would be reduced to spiritual toast. Similarly, Sarah, Rachel and Chana, as beneficiaries of Divine memory, are enabled to transcend their physical barrenness in order to serve as matriarchs of the Jewish people. In the realm of the Divine, memory is totally purpose-oriented.

Divine memory need not be restricted to God. About three years ago a particularly pious-looking young man walked into our daily afternoon prayer service. His gentle swaying and intense prayer bespoke a refined yet fervent religious commitment. Surely, I had no recollection of this fellow; yet he looked hauntingly familiar. Mentally, I exchanged his formal dresswear with a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. My mind’s eye darted back 10 years, the beginning of my teaching career, to recollect a dear high school student who lived life on the wild side — able to rile up an entire school with a single howl; a student whose cresting popularity easily propelled him to the student council presidency. As I conjured up these images, I stared at the prayerful figure in the room, and was stirred by the realization that this was my beloved student — now a responsible, charismatic, intense young man, a newly minted abba to boot. As the two pictures collided, I gained a new appreciation of his personal odyssey. Here was an individual who did not remain stuck in the quagmire of memory, but one who was able to build upon yesterday’s passions to build a prayerful personality.

For some time now, "We will never forget" has been a mantra of the Jewish community. To never forget is not enough. Instead, we would do well to heed Yogi Berra’s comment that "nostalgia isn’t what it used to be."

When Mark Twain wonders aloud: "All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?" do we simply smile or do we understand the implied challenge to grow our personal and communal Judaism?

The raison d’être of our collective Jewish memory should not merely warm the heart, but should serve to reorient our perspective on all things past. Divine memory, as a notion, issues a clarion call of renewed obligation, inspiration and energy. Are we listening?


Rabbi Asher Brander is the rabbi of Westwood Kehilla, founder of LINK (Los Angeles Intercommunity Kollel) and long-time teacher at Yeshiva University of Los Angeles High Schools.

Ariel Avrech


Ariel Avrech died of complications from severe pulmonary fibrosis on July 1. He was 22.

“He was incredibly learned,” said Avrech’s father, Emmy-winning screenwriter Robert Avrech (“The Devil’s Arithmetic”). “I always learned from him. Our roles were reversed. He was also very funny and had a very dry, ironic sense of humor.”

A Pico-Robertson resident, Avrech was in dire need of a living lobar lung transplant. Unfortunately, a worldwide organ search, facilitated by Jewish Healthcare Foundation Avraham Moshe & Yehudis Bikur Cholim, was unsuccessful.

Avrech’s first brush with a life-threatening disease came at age 14, when he endured massive chemotherapy to eradicate a brain tumor. In early 2002, the Yeshiva Gedolah of Los Angeles graduate was walking up a hill at Baltimore’s Ner Yisroel campus, where he was continuing his studies, when he experienced difficulty breathing. By May 2002, doctors learned that the chemotherapy that conquered his cancer left him with severe pulmonary fibrosis.

Avrech’s condition worsened in the last year. In recent months, he could only breathe with the assistance of an oxygen tank. He also took steroids to stabilize his condition, which deteriorated drastically by April, when he was not emitting enough carbon dioxide. Avrech spent his last three months hospitalized on a respirator in intensive care.

“He was never confronted with the fact that there was no hope,” said Avrech’s mother, Karen Avrech. “He lapsed into unconsciousness.”

“He really suffered horribly in the last few months,” she continued, “but he never complained. He always maintained that he would make the best of what had happened to him. He was very hopeful and very grateful to his parents and to his doctors.”

Karen noted that her son had a passion for many subjects: physics, cosmology, cooking, history, literature and, especially, politics. Avrech enjoyed listening to KABC radio personality Larry Elder, who visited Avrech at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in May.

Most of all, Avrech was deeply committed to his faith and his community.

“One of the remarkable things about Ariel was that he was able to bridge the boundaries that normally separate the religious community,” Robert said. “Ariel was very close with the Orthodox, but also close with the modern Orthodox.”

In November, Avrech told The Journal that he maintained a positive mental state by studying Torah with a study partner.

“When I go for a day without it, I feel like I’m not living a real life,” he said.

Services for Avrech were held at Young Israel of Century City. Avrech is survived by his parents, Robert and Karen; and sisters, Leda and Aliza.

The Avrech family has formed the Ariel Avrech Foundation. Donations in his memory should be made out to “G’mach Fund Young Israel Century City.” For more information, contact (310) 273-6954. For information on organ donation, visit Halachic Organ Donor Society at www.hods.org .