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Mother’s Day


We wrote essays and memorized poems about the saintliness of mothers, their selflessness, their sacrifices. Every Mother’s Day in elementary and middle school, we stood up and read to the class a new ode to the person who had given up her youth and good health, her freedom and grand ambitions — her self, really, though in those days women had no “self” outside of motherhood — to give us life and make sure we kept eating and breathing. Thank you, Mother, for relinquishing body and soul.

It made sense in a devastating, heartbreaking way, especially if you were a girl, meaning that your very existence was a detriment to any mother’s value, and more so if you were one of a number of girls, each birth another nail in the poor woman’s coffin, and now she was going to have to love and care for you, anyway, make sure you looked good and behaved well so you, too, could wear a crown of flowers one day in your mid- to late teens, become a wife and, nine months later, a mother.

And if you were a boy? There was a story we read every year, about a son who, in a rage and very self-servingly, beats his mother to death and buries her in a ditch. For reasons that escape me now, he has occasion to dig her up later, long teeth and hair and smooth, fleshless bones, only to find that her heart is still beating with, yes, love for the murderous son. I may be wrong, but I could swear there was even something about the mother being worried that the son was tired and thirsty from the physical exertion of burying and exhuming her.

This was motherhood as martyrdom — which, we know, is always a privilege, more so if the suffering is greater — something that you earned through sacrifice and devotion, that you aspired to knowing how you would end up. Because of how you ended up.

“I was 15 years old when I gave birth to my first child,” my own grandmother once said. “I went home with that baby and didn’t emerge again until I was an old woman with 10 children.”

She wasn’t lying, not even exaggerating. To her eternal credit, she also raised a great many orphans and abandoned children, cared for the poor and the sick of all ages, fed and clothed and counseled every stranger who knocked on her door. Later, as an “old woman,” she even found time to buy and sell land, make a good bit of money on her own, jetting between Tehran and Tel Aviv, New York and Los Angeles. Hers was a meaningful and memorable life, the kind of existence that creates lasting good. I know this. I hope she knew this.

We do, in fact, turn our backs on life as we knew it once we become parents.

But after the day I heard her speak of her — stolen? squandered? perhaps the word is “surrendered” — youth, I’ve never been able to think of her without a quiver of heartache. I keep seeing her as a teenage mother, the girl in those black-and-white pictures in the homes of her children, white skin and dark eyes and that pomegranate-red lipstick so favored by’50s movie stars. I see her turn her back on me and walk through a door. I see the door close.

It wouldn’t be much to celebrate, this Sisyphean practice we mothers engage in, one generation after another, often without question. Forget those of us in the First World who marry late and hire Third World help and have access to health care and technology; we couldn’t fathom the hardships the majority of mothers suffer every day just to keep their children alive. And yet, even we know this is as hard a job as any. I certainly don’t begrudge us the odes or Hallmark cards on Mother’s Day — celebrated this year on May 14 — or any other. But I also know they don’t tell the whole story, and that’s a crime — it perpetuates a sense of victimhood on the part of many mothers and guilt on the part of their children, especially their daughters.

We do, in fact, turn our backs on life as we knew it once we become parents. In many ways, more than any of us would be able to imagine ahead of time, we do surrender our old selves at the door, forfeit the big wide world and the possibilities it may offer, in favor of a small house with walls and a roof.

But these walls we surround ourselves with are covered with vines of Poet’s Jasmine that bloom, delicate as a breath, every morning, releasing into the universe the everlasting scent of youth and beauty and hope. And this roof we capitulate to opens up every night to reveal a flood of stars. And whether we have one or a dozen children, whether they’re our own or others’, sick or healthy, obedient or not, this house they pull us into is called Joy.


GINA NAHAI’s most recent novel is “The Luminous Heart of Jonah S.”

Hebrew word of the week: abba, imma


In many languages, the words for father and mother — being the first words a baby utters — are quite similar, and they include the labial consonants b, p, m; or dental d, t, n; as papa, dad, (Czech) tata, mam(m)a, mommy, nanny; similar words are used in Chinese, French, Italian, Persian, Turkish (in which anne means “mother”), Yiddish and more.* 

The Hebrew words abba and imma end with an Aramaic suffix, to indicate a vocative form (used when calling someone, as in English, Mom! Dad!) The Hebrew cognates are av for “father,” and em for “mother.”

*So are the word “baby” and other “baby words”: bubba, puppet, mama (“breast, baby food” in other languages; including  mammal, which is a “breast-feeding animal”).


Yona Sabar is a professor of Hebrew and Aramaic in the department of Near Eastern Languages & Cultures at UCLA.

How Jewish ritual helped me find my way through loss


I had to press my lips closed, the day after it ended.

The ritual was no longer mine. My duty was complete. But the words, with their cadences and rhythms, their alliterative twists — yitgadal v’yitgadash — had become my anthem. For 11 months, I had owned these words, claimed them like land, their cries and God-calls had become, for me, a visitable place. 

How could I now forsake them? 

The last day I said it, my hands trembled. Deep, heavy breaths rose and fell in my chest. The room felt hot. I’m not ready, I thought to myself. I’m not ready to leave this place — hamakom — the place of consolation. When my heart first tore, like the dress I wore to her funeral, the words of Kaddish were what daily sustained me. 

Magnified and sanctified … Magnified and sanctified …

These words were my poetry, the only sustenance for a soul in retreat, for a child who felt like an orphan. I needed these words, in their mystical, mysterious Aramaic, like food.  

May his great name be … in the world that he created … as he wills …

How could I stop mourning my mother? I still needed her. I still needed this.

Y’hei sh’mei rabba m’varach l’alam ul-al’mei al’maya …

In the Talmud, Kaddish is likened to Yom Kippur, described as a prayer of atonement on behalf of the dead. One source even tells us that when a child says Kaddish for a parent, “Any decree against them will be torn up and the Gates of the Garden of Eden opened.” 

Is it possible that my mother needed these words, too?

It has been more than a year since I buried her. She was 61 when she died. “Young,” everyone said. She would have loved that. She also would have loved that the coroner’s report began, “The body is that of a 5-foot-5-inch, 127-pound white female appearing younger than the given age of 61 years.” It is true that she was very devoted to proper skin care.

Her official cause of death was blunt head trauma — from a series of falls — leaving her with more than one “dark red subgaleal hematoma.” But that only tells you how she died; it doesn’t begin to suggest the preceding years of decline, the crusade her body launched against itself, or the wrenching struggle of her soul to find some kind of peace. I want to believe she found that peace in death, and that her pain ceased. But the end of her pain meant the end of her life, and, therefore, the beginning of my pain — a pain my family, as her survivors, has to live with every day.

At a shivah minyan for Sheryl Berrin-Klein, from left: husband Donald Klein, son Frank, daughters Jessica and Danielle, and their father, Larry Berrin.

The last time I saw my mother, she lay on a hospital bed at South Miami Hospital, pink-lipped and auburn-haired, her alabaster skin flushed with the final trickle of blood ever to flow through her veins. On life support, she looked just like John Everett Millais’ Ophelia — painterly, peaceful, floating gently down some endless stream. The air in the hospital room was so thick you could choke; a disconsolate quiet punctuated by enormous eruptions of grief. I can still hear my sister screaming.

The next week was a dark fairy tale. A funeral. Bereaved children. Devastated spouse. Eulogies. The pounding dirt on her grave. Shivah. Platters of food. A greenhouse of flowers. So many people. Noise. Rupture. Alienation. Angst. The phone didn’t stop ringing.

When I arrived back in L.A., just before Shabbat, it was as if her death had not happened. No one I’d met in the seven years I’d lived in California was among the nearly 500 people who attended her funeral. Miami was too far, and it had happened too quickly, and I hadn’t had the courage or the time to invite anyone. I flew to Miami, put her in the ground, and then returned to everything as it had been, while my world had unalterably changed.

That first afternoon, I sat on my couch, blank and full of dread. What should I do with myself? Shabbos was coming, and I was alone. Everything was disorienting. The air was hot, humid. I felt dizzy. Services seemed like the safest, most tranquil place to go. So I stumbled, as if drunk, to Temple Beth Am’s Kabbalat Shabbat, the service that welcomes the Sabbath. I had never been there before, but it is just around the corner from where I live, and, at the time, there was nowhere else for me to go. Saying Kaddish would ground me, I told myself. It would force me to stand still in a spinning world. 

At this time, we invite all who are mourning to please rise …

At the end of the service, Rabbi Ari Lucas looked around and kindly asked new people to introduce themselves. He looked directly at me. He knew he had never seen me before and invited me to declare myself. But I lowered my head, wishing to remain silent. Death had rendered me closed. I wanted to be alone, anonymous and far away. Loss had diminished me, my spirit shrunk from grief and pain. 

But I had a duty. For much of Jewish history I probably wouldn’t have been allowed to fulfill this mitzvah, but fortunately I am a Jewish woman living in the 21st century in Los Angeles. Kaddish was mine to claim. As Rabbi Daniel Landes, director of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, reassuringly writes in “The Puzzling Power of Kaddish”: “No one is beyond sanctifying God’s name.”   

Kaddish wasn’t a choice. It was my reveille call back to the world of the living. I’d learned of the ritual not in religious school, but from Leon Wieseltier. I devoured his book, “Kaddish,” on the plane ride home from my mother’s funeral. “Help me, Nachmanides. Help me,” Wieseltier wrote. I wasn’t entirely sure who Nachmanides was, but that became my prayer, too. 

When I walked into Beth Am’s daily morning minyan 36 hours later, I wanted to do what was required of me, then disappear. I didn’t want pity; I didn’t want friends; I didn’t want food. I wanted to be an island. 

But community, just like family, it turns out, is not about what you want but what you need. 

Kaddish knows this. It’s why a minyan is required to say it; it demands a communal response. And that response, Landes teaches, “interrupts every other prayer, for Kaddish is beyond all prayers.”  

And so began my ritual of rising to say Kaddish. Each day, I would wake at an ungodly hour to go and do the godly thing, and each day, it hurt like a hangover. At 6:30 a.m., I’d shove my cats from on top of me, roll out of bed, throw on whatever clothes I had worn the night before, grab my tallit and walk out the door. And almost every morning on the way to shul, my sister would phone, and I’d say, “I’m late for minyan!” 

“You say that every day,” she’d tease. 

I still don’t know how to daven the early morning prayers. “If you don’t know Kaddish D’Rabbanan,” one of my teachers recently chided about the rabbi’s Kaddish, said after completing a passage of study, “that means you get to shul more than seven minutes late. That’s the early-bird prayer.” As he well knows, I am no early bird, but it is my firm belief that one should always have something to aspire to. Most days, anyway, the whole service felt to me like a prolonged prelude to the Kaddish, as if all the other liturgy existed as an elaborate exposition in service of this sacred supplication. In the Talmud, Wieseltier reminds us, it is said that the whole world is sustained in existence by the utterance of “Y’hei sh’mei rabba m’varach l’alam ul-al’mei al’maya (May his great name be blessed …).” Long before Kaddish became a full prayer, that line appeared in early Jewish literature — not quite verbatim, but close — in Daniel, which was written around 500-160 B.C.E.

One of the Kaddish platitudes people often refer to is that there’s nothing about death in the prayer. It is, instead, explicitly praiseful, a proclamation of God’s greatness. This is a favorite conundrum of the rabbis who love to answer complicated questions: In the face of loss, when you might be doubting the existence of God, how can you praise God? How can there be eternity when death brings finitude? Why believe in something when death brings nothingness? And who decided it would be a good idea to commemorate the end of life with an affirmation that life goes on? For a while, my thoughts were more in line with Nietzsche than Nachmanides.

Then I realized that Kaddish depends on that convergence. “It is about the meeting place of two worlds, human finitude and God’s eternity,” Rabbis Lawrence Kushner and Nehemia Polen point out in Volume 6 of “My People’s Prayer Book.” “It brings us out of our sadness and anger by having us utter appreciation and praise just when we are tempted to deny the importance of both,” Rabbi Elliot Dorff writes in the same book.

Something extraordinary happens when you force yourself to perform a ritual. In high school, when I was competing in the speech and debate club, my mother noticed that the more my partner and I performed — up to six times each day at some tournaments — a mastery began to develop, a perfection of the text, which then enabled this transcendent, creative magic to happen. And so it was with Kaddish: I doubted it would transform me at first, but I did it anyway. And at the moment I least believed, God showed up. 

God first came in the form of Mike Harris. A white-haired, quietly devout Jew with a gentle soul, Mike knew me no more than a few days before showing up at my doorstep — with his wife, Bev, and two grandkids in tow — offering food and care and a year of free synagogue membership. (I would later joke that the worst part about finishing Kaddish was that now I’d have to pay to join the congregation.) Over 11 months, Mike invited me to Shabbos dinners, taught me how to garden and bought me my first siddur, from Jerusalem, with my Hebrew name inscribed on it in gold. When I first saw my name combined with my mother’s — Leah bat Zalman Leibel v’Sara — I realized she wasn’t lost; she was my link to the world.

Morning after mourning, I felt God’s presence through the people praying around me. Through Teri Cohan-Link, who unfailingly greeted any new person who walked through the door, who saw other people’s pain and was kind; who blessed me with holiday meals, gave me greens from her garden and hugged me when I cried. And Roberta Goodman-Rosenberg, who for months mourned her own mother by my side, and even included my siblings at her holiday table, throughout the year offering tips on the business of mourning, the ordering of footstones and planning for the final Kaddish Kiddush. 

And the rabbis, Adam Kligfeld and Ari Lucas, were often present at daily minyan, quietly davening alongside us, elegant in their warmth, gentle in dispensing wisdom.

At minyan, there were all these Jewish angels everywhere, and Kaddish made me see them. I saw how the minyan gabbai, David Kaplan, diligently performed a million tasks, visible and invisible, every single day, to make it possible for Jews like me to do my duty — to mourn, and magnify and sanctify. 

And then there was Sam Tuchband, who noticed I walked to Starbucks every morning after prayers and brought me his empty coffee bags to exchange for free drinks at the store. And the adorable Nate Milmeister, the nonagenarian neighbor I never knew I had, whose effervescent Yiddishkayt brought levity and light to the austerity of the prayer service. On my birthday, Nate bought me cake; he kept my kitchen stocked with lemons from his yard and never missed an opportunity to practice his old-fashioned coquetry: “You’re a sweet bunch of onions!” he’d flirt. Admittedly, I haven’t received many compliments like that one.

The truth is, I could write at length about each person in the minyan — because it was with these souls, in that space, through the words of our tradition and in the presence of our Torah, that I found my ethereal mother.

Every morning I could see her out the window, in the skies, in the trees, even in the traffic. And through the words of Kaddish, I could speak to her. Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach taught that Kaddish is what the dead would say to us, could we hear them. It’s a gorgeous thought, and I often prayed, “Let it be: Let it be that my mother exists in a place so wondrous only praise would spill from her lips could she speak.” But what if that isn’t so? What if she exists in a perfect, wondrous place but still cries out because she misses her children?

I’ve come to think of the prayer more as literary manna, a fungible fugue that supplies the seeds for a sublime conversation. Kaddish contains the question and the answer. And, like Shabbat, it is a profound gift to the Jewish people. When we are left to wallow in death’s silence, Kaddish may be the only conversation left. 

A few weeks before my 11 months of recitation would end, I became very nervous and couldn’t sleep. What would I do when it was over? When there would be no more mornings of promptness, of purpose, of complaining to my sister, “I’m late for minyan!” Who else in my life but my fellow “minyanaires” had I let see me so raw? Fresh out of bed, hair unwashed, not a stitch of makeup, dutifully wearing the same things day after day feeling not fashionable, but threadbare. How true are the words of the customary phrase, offered by the congregation to a Jew in mourning — “Hamakom yenachem etchem …” May the place comfort you. My hamakom was the Temple Beth Am minyan, where the only expectation was my presence, not my performance; where I was allowed to simply be, just me. 

Hard though it was, the last day of Kaddish turned out to be the best day. It was filled with family and friends — my father, sister and brother, who were here from Miami; my “fellow fellows” from American Jewish World Service, who had made a minyan for me so I could say Kaddish during the 10 days we traveled through Mexico; and my best rabbi friend from another shul, who even led davening. 

Before davening started, one of the daily minyanaires offered me a blessing. “I hope you found some comfort here,” he said. But that last day, I couldn’t stop trembling. 

My teacher recently taught that Kaddish is like a punctuation mark. Its various iterations — half Kaddish, rabbi’s Kaddish, Mourner’s Kaddish etc. — bookend each part of the prayer service: After Birkat Hashachar, Kaddish; after the Amidah, Kaddish; after Torah service, Kaddish; after Aleinu, Kaddish; and so on. It’s a sign of completion. And it is yet more evidence of the brilliance of Jewish tradition: At the moment of loss, our tradition offers us a prayer symbolic of wholeness.

The loss of my mother has circumcised my heart with an irreparable wound. It is still impossible to fathom that for a time she was here, and now she is not. It is harder still to contemplate all the things she’ll miss, all the years I’ll feel deprived of her presence, her wisdom, her counsel, her love. Should I be blessed to marry and have children, they’ll never know her. For every simcha and every sadness, she’ll remain a ghost.

But from all of those losses, Kaddish brought gain. 

“You’ve added many dimensions to this minyan in ways you don’t even know,” one of the minyanaires said to me on my last day of mourning. “One is, we all know we can get written about at any moment, so we’re on our best behavior!”

If best behavior means being committed Jews who are kind to the core and religiously competent, then he was right. (I, on the other hand, still can’t make it through the whole Amidah with this group of NASCAR daveners.) As I told them on the last day, the Temple Beth Am minyan taught me not just what community is — but the highest levels of what it is meant to be.

Several weeks ago, when my childhood friend Steven Sotloff was killed by ISIS militants, I returned to minyan to say Kaddish for him, as well as for my stepfather, simultaneously. That day, my recitation reeked of rage. As our Miami rabbi, Terry Bookman, asked at Steven’s funeral, “Is there any sorrow greater than this?” 

And yet, even when confronted with profound anguish and despair, Kaddish remained the manna: Kaddish doesn’t tell us God is good or fair; Kaddish tells us God is great — big, mighty, inscrutable. Jewish tradition, thank God, knows better than to promise a life devoid of pain. Instead, it offers us the tools — God, community, ritual — to help bear it. 

Yit’barakh v’yish’tabach v’yit’pa’ar v’yit’romam v’yit’nasei …

Rav Kook, the first chief rabbi in Palestine, was once asked how he, a devout Jew, could associate with secular Israelis. And he answered: First comes yitgadal — magnification. You have to expand your prayer, your soul, your circle. Then comes yitgadash — sanctification. Only once you have broadened yourself, and left that narrow place, can holiness emerge.

The Temple Beth Am daily minyan made it possible for me to yitgadal and yitgadash — magnify and sanctify — to emerge from a cocoon of grief and enlarge myself through the presence of community, the presence of my mother and the presence of God.

Amen.

Actress Scarlett Johansson gives birth to daughter


Actress Scarlett Johansson has given birth to a girl, her first child with her journalist fiance, the actress' representative confirmed on Thursday.

Johansson, 29, and French journalist Romain Dauriac welcomed daughter Rose, the first child for both of them. The couple have been engaged since September 2013.

The “Captain America” actress was previously married to actor Ryan Reynolds. They divorced in 2011.

Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Eric Kelsey and Lisa Shumaker

A couple’s surrogacy mitzvah


Orit Harpaz loved being pregnant with her son Theo, now 9. The Sherman Oaks-based photographer got pregnant quickly, had no trouble carrying the child, and delivered at home with her husband, Gal, also a photographer, at her side. At the same time, she watched her best friend struggle through an unsuccessful in vitro fertilization and then research adoption. When the friend raised the idea of pursuing surrogacy, Orit, without hesitation, offered to do it herself. 

“Seeing how painful it was for her and how something that came so easy to me and was such a joy to me, that was what triggered the idea,” Orit said in an interview.

The friend declined. But the idea stuck with Orit, fitting with her desire “to do a mitzvah, to do something really selfless and kind for someone else.” And so, last year Orit gave birth to a healthy boy, Aaron, for another family.

Every marriage has its challenges, its high and low points, agreements and disagreements, but not every marriage is tested by the emotional charge of creating a new life on behalf of someone else. And, to be sure, the surrogacy was a decision the couple made together and was clearly not something that Orit and Gal entered into casually. Already married for 14 years, they were also intimately familiar with the process. One couple they were very close with had had five children via surrogates. It was a completely “rosy” picture, Gal said. Still, when Orit first raised the idea in earnest, he was unsure.

“I was worried about going through a pregnancy for someone else, about complications,” he said over coffee in the couple’s breakfast nook, his wife at his side. “I was worried about what kind of toll it would take on our family, and Theo’s involvement. But once I saw it was something ingrained in her, it didn’t take too much for me to come around.”

“The way we work is,” Orit said, “I’ll have an idea, and he’ll say, let’s do the research. How hard I want to work on something gauges to him how strongly I feel about it.”

“Ultimately, it’s one of those life decisions that, once the seed has been planted, I don’t think it goes away,” Gal added. “You either start to grow together with it or start to grow apart.”

It was a two-year process of connecting with an agency, being matched with a family, meeting with lawyers, contracts and more contracts, and, ultimately, the egg transfer. 

Orit recalls the day she and Gal sat down with Theo. “I remember saying, ‘We’re going to help another couple have a baby because they can’t have a baby.’ ” Naturally, Theo wondered if the baby would be his brother or sister. 

“And it was like, ‘No, it’s not going to be related to you,’ ” Orit said. “We had to have the little ‘how babies are made’ talk. He seemed to really understand it.”

Friends and family generally had one of two reactions, Gal said. “There were people who were, like, ‘That’s the most amazing thing I have ever heard,’ or, ‘You guys are completely nuts.’ ” Several relatives wondered why the couple did not simply have more children of their own. The answer: They were happy as a family of three. 

Orit tried to steer clear of the naysayers. “Whenever there was someone who was negative about what we were doing, Gal was always the knight in shining armor who wanted to protect our decision to do this and educate people,” she said. “That also brought us closer together.”

When Orit and Gal started on this journey, they did not know if they would maintain any sort of relationship with the other family after the delivery. Theo did want to meet the baby at the hospital. They knew that much. But beyond that, they would simply wait and see. 

The delivery itself went smoothly, however, immediately afterward, Orit had to be rushed to an operating room. Her life was in peril, and she needed an immediate blood transfusion. Despite this complication, she said she has no regrets. 

“I feel as long as I have this faith in something larger than my own life and my own world, I’ll be taken care of in the way I need to be,” she said. “That the decisions I make will lead me to a better place, even if things don’t go quite as planned, even if there is trauma or disappointment or something bad happens. Those are always lessons.”

Today, the two families have grown quite close. They go on hikes together, with Aaron bopping along in a baby carrier on his dad’s back, or they meet for lunch, and celebrate each other’s milestones.

“We have a wonderful bond,” Orit said. “We have a child that bonds us. So in a sense I call them my surrogate family.” (Theo calls Aaron his “surrogate bro.”)

“I also feel like they would be there for us if we really needed something,” Orit said, “not just because they feel indebted to me, but because we’ve come to have an amazing relationship.”

Alicia Silverstone opens vegan breast milk sharing service


It seems Mayim Bialik isn’t the only vegan Jewish actress/author in Hollywood who happens to also be an outspoken breastfeeding advocate.

While Bialik has provided advice to fellow moms, Alicia Silverstone is now providing them with actual breast milk. According to Us Weekly, Silverstone, mom to Bear Blu, 2, and author of The Kind Diet, has just launched Kind Mama Milk Share, a service for vegan mothers unable to produce enough milk on their own.

In a recent blog post Silverstone wrote of a woman in her community who had trouble nursing due to a breast reduction surgery and didn’t feel comfortable accepting donor milk because “it was almost impossible to figure out what kind of lifestyle choices the donors had made.”

Using someone else’s breast milk—and insisting that person be a “clean eater”– might seem extreme, but Silverstone is no stranger to extreme baby-feeding methods. Last year she uploaded a video of herself practicing premastication, i.e., transferring prechewed food from her mouth to Bear Blu’s.

“I can understand that [pre-chewing] would make some people feel uncomfortable possibly, because it’s new to them,” Silverstone told ET. “But I do want to let you know that this has been going on for thousands of years. [It's] still going on all over the place. And it’s natural.”

We’re just hoping there are no plans for a Kind Mama Prechewed Food Share on the horizon.

Getting ready for baby


Rabbi Julia Weisz found herself in a bit of a conundrum when she became an expectant mother.

On the one hand, the rabbi and director of education at Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas was cautious about holding a baby shower. In the earlier stages of her pregnancy — she is due to have her first child in July — she said, “It seemed uncomfortable for me to celebrate something that wasn’t here.”

However, her Reform congregation wanted to honor her pregnancy. Ultimately, she agreed to have one in May. 

“A baby shower is a good way to bring the community together around something positive,” Weisz said. “I wanted to give them the opportunity to do something to help.”

When it comes to Jewish laws and customs, there are many different opinions on every lifecycle event — from birth to marriage to death. Baby showers are no exception.

While some Jews and clergy have no problem with throwing baby showers, others won’t even select a name for a baby prior to birth. There are no textual laws banning celebrations before the baby is born, but in some circles, it’s customary not to hold them. 

“It’s a little bit arrogant to assume the baby is going to be born,” said Rabbi Chaim Bryski of Chabad of Thousand Oaks. “Traditionally, we don’t tell anybody about the pregnancy, not even until the third or fourth month. To make a party to honor the baby would be uncomfortable from a traditional perspective, but there is no law that says you can’t.”

Some believe that if a baby’s name is uttered or his or her life is celebrated before birth, the evil eye, or ayin harah, might harm it, according to Rabbi Noah Farkas of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS), a Conservative shul in Encino. 

“In our tradition, there is the theological and religious idea that a new life is very tenuous,” he said. “One of the superstitions is that the evil eye knows who to run after because they know the name of the person. If someone gets really sick, they can change their Hebrew name to escape the angel of death. We don’t do a lot to celebrate the baby in order to protect it from the possibility of its own demise.”

After a baby is born, more traditional Jewish families will celebrate by sponsoring Kiddush meals at their synagogues or hosting a shalom zachar, or a drop-in party for a baby boy, on the Friday night after he is born. 

Bryski suggests registering for gifts, and once the baby is born, they can be delivered. He said that if something happens to a baby, it adds to the pain the parents experience to be surrounded by presents.

Still, Rabbi Jonathan Hanish has no hesitation about having a baby shower, particularly because of modern medical advances.

“In today’s world, where you know a baby is healthy and you have such a high rate of successful pregnancies, a baby shower is totally acceptable,” said the rabbi at Temple Kol Tikvah, a Reform congregation in Woodland Hills.

One of Hanish’s congregants, Sarah Knopf, a mother of three, had a baby shower for her first son. Although she grew up with a superstitious grandmother, she wasn’t convinced that there was anything negative about it. 

“I needed to have everything done and organized before he came,” she said. “I’m a planner, so that made me feel better. I would have gone crazy.”

Farkas said that at VBS, which has 5,000 members, traditions vary. 

“Most of the congregation does do baby showers of different types. In our community, it’s not homogeneous by any means,” he said. “Some in the community will give babies names, and then there are some who [won’t do anything before a baby is born]. Some are in between. That reflects the larger Jewish community.”

Like Knopf, VBS member Nikki Eigler chose to hold a shower because she wanted to plan before the baby arrived. She said, “I’m a person who needs to be prepared. I did not want to come home from the hospital without having anything in the house.”

Allison Lotterstein, a congregant at Kol Tikvah, had no concerns either. She, like many expectant mothers, just wanted a way to commemorate a new life coming into the world. 

“Every pregnancy should be celebrated,” she said. “In my mind and in the minds of the people who threw me a shower, my baby was a blessing.

A mitzvah called shmooze


In a crummy economy, people are always looking for good investments — a promising stock, a real estate opportunity, a star mutual fund. It’s really not that different in the “mitzvah economy”— donors and do-gooders are also looking to squeeze the maximum amount of goodness out of every charity investment.

On that note, I’d like to share with you a mitzvah that has a ridiculously low investment and an incredibly high return.

It’s a mitzvah called shmooze.

I think of this mitzvah every time I’m stuck in freeway traffic and I call my mother in Montreal. Nine times out of 10, especially during the long winter months, the first words out of her mouth will be (in French): “Ah, mon fils, je pensait justement à toi!” (Oh, my son, I was just thinking of you!). 

You see, my mother has this quirk when it comes to phones: When she hears a ring, she always picks up. She’s not big on screening calls. She doesn’t make those quick calculations of whether such and such person is worth talking to. I’ve never asked her this, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she shmoozes with telemarketers who pitch her great deals on ink toners.

Ever since my father passed away 10 years ago, the ring of the phone in my mother’s home has come to symbolize the promise of human contact. Whereas for me it might mean an unwanted interruption, for my mother it is a welcomed trumpet that announces the interruption of loneliness. 

I try to interrupt that loneliness as often as I can. It helps that our conversations are light and breezy and require little concentration on my part. It’s as if we have this unwritten agreement that if she’ll go easy on me with the questions, I’ll stay on as long as she likes (or until I get to my “meeting”).

Sometimes I’ll be in a silly mood and make her crack up. I might tell her something funny one of my kids said. Occasionally, we might talk about a serious family matter, and she’ll weigh in with her suggestions (read: orders).

But typically, we’ll just shmooze about family stuff: How are the kids doing? (Baruch Hashem.) Is Noah getting taller? (I think so.) Who’s cooking for Shabbat? (I don’t know yet — probably Mia.) Did you tell the housekeeper you won’t need her next Wednesday? (I will, I promise.) Do you speak to your sister? (All the time.) And how about your brother? (Yes, on e-mail.)

From my end, I will lob back questions about her health (“How’s your knee?”) or I’ll ask about Shabbat plans (“Will you be with Judy, Sandra or Samy?”). Our favorite subject, of course, is travel, and it consists mostly of two questions: “When are you coming to Montreal?” and “When can you come to Los Angeles?” 

After about 15 minutes or so, we’re usually ready to wrap up. We throw in a few words of caution (Me: “Please watch the steps!” Her: “Please be careful!”), some tender sentiments (“Kiss everyone” and “I love you”), and, voilà, it’s, “Goodbye Meme, I’ll speak to you very soon.”

But as I run off to another meeting, Meme hangs up and goes back to an empty house.

The difference, though, is that now, in that empty house, the words of our conversation will echo pleasantly in her consciousness. She’ll be thinking about all the good stuff we talked about. That’s because words that interrupt loneliness have a time-release quality. They keep ringing gently in one’s ears long after the phone has stopped ringing.

I invest 15 minutes in sweet shmoozing, and, in return, I get hours of motherly joy. Wouldn’t you call that a good investment? 

The truth is, you don’t have to be related to someone to offer good conversation — in fact, it could be an advantage not to be related. So, I wonder: How many elderly Jews are there in our sprawling community who spend their days alone and could use a good shmooze?

Why not twin those elderly Jews with younger Jews who could put a spark in their day with some lively conversation? 

It’s a mitzvah that works both ways: The elderly have great wisdom and stories to share, which could enrich anyone’s day.

Los Angeles seems like the perfect city to try this idea out — there are plenty of elderly at home alone, and there’s certainly no shortage of cell phone-addicted shmoozers stuck in traffic.

The beauty is that it’s simple. No event planning, no shlepping — just a phone call. Multiply that by a few thousand calls and that’s a lot of loneliness interruption.

Every community can start their own schmooze project. You need a good organizer, of course, to recruit people and coordinate all the vetting. But the basic idea is not complicated: volunteer “shmoozers” get a short list of willing elderly “friends” to call on a regular basis.

In the meantime, don’t wait for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day to call your parents or grandparents, or anyone else you know who can use a good shmooze. Especially for people fighting loneliness, one little call can brighten up a whole day.

Like my mother would say, now that's a bargain.


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

Parenting: The Torah of motherhood


My road from twice-a-year Jew to Torah-study groupie took 40 years. With the heady days of the High Holy Days, Sukkot and Simchat Torah still fresh in my mind, it’s worth examining how I got here. 

During my youth, my family and I attended synagogue only during the High Holy Days. Even then, like most adolescents, no matter the Jewish preschool, Jewish summer camp, bat mitzvah or confirmation, the rabbi’s sermon was my cue to flee the sanctuary with my sister to find the other kids in the parking lot tearing into a purloined challah snatched from the synagogue kitchen.  

As I got older, I began to appreciate the meditative, communal experience. After every High Holy Days season, the spiritual renewal that filled me had me vowing I’d be back the very next Shabbat. But, inevitably, by the next week the excuses came readily — “I’m too tired,” “We’re out of town” or “I’ll go next week” — until the weeks piled up and the High Holy Days were back again.

So what happened to make me a Torah- study groupie? Eleven and a half years ago I became a parent, which means I am now the mother of a middle-schooler, and I need as much help as I can get. As kids get older, the problems get thornier. I pine for inspiration and guidance, for clues to being a better parent than I often feel equipped to be. When a friend gushed about Torah study, calling it her weekly “vitamin,” I decided I had nothing to lose. And while I have dog-eared my share of parenting books, ranging from sleep training to sibling rivalry, I have found that the biggest questions are answered in The Great Big Parenting Book — Torah. 

It’s a best-seller, but it’s not an easy read. It doesn’t give away its wisdom to those hoping for a quick skim. For example, during the High Holy Days, we read one of the Torah’s grimmest parenting stories — the Binding of Isaac. Those are pretty words for a nightmarish chapter — a father leading his son up a mountain, tying him to a rock and preparing to sacrifice him with a blade through the sternum. What parenting advice could I hope to get from that catastrophe?

At my synagogue, Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation in Pacific Palisades, Rabbi Amy Bernstein, who is also a mother, gleaned something positive out of this horror story. “God stopped Abraham,” she said, “before he hurt Isaac. Sometimes we need a voice from God to stop us from hurting our kids.” 

To the sanctuary full of well-meaning parents, she wasn’t talking about physical hurt. My mind catalogued those moments when I wished I could take back certain words I’d uttered. Greeting my sixth-grader after school with, “How much homework do you have?” instead of “Hi, kiddo, it’s great to see you.” Nagging my second-grader to finish his homework instead of paying attention to the imaginary world he is creating with Legos. Sharing with my friends stories I considered “cute” but that would embarrass my kids. Telling my children in any given moment what they are doing wrong instead of what they are doing right. These are the times I need an inner voice counseling restraint, an angel on my shoulder advising, “Don’t criticize. Don’t pile on the stress. Bite your tongue.” I know my sons would appreciate it if I were to bite my tongue during baseball games, instead of singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from the bleachers. (Restraint is so hard!) I resolved to try harder.

With the new school year well under way, there’s another kind of hurt I am even more troubled by — the pain inflicted by their peers, the slights, ribbing and put-downs that can penetrate guileless thin skin, or even thicker skin. My son’s friends engage in banter that tiptoes along the line of insults, jokes that cut, a contest of one-upmanship, which my son frequently reports in dejected tones. One boy gets made fun of for the color Gatorade he drinks or for wearing glasses. Another is ridiculed for liking the Clippers or for the color of his shorts. They toss the word gay around as pejorative. Did I mention that these are their friends? I struggle with how to handle this not-quite-bullying-but-hurts-just-the-same comments. I need ancient wisdom to tell me how to be a loving guide through pre-adolescence and beyond, to salve the injury of having your feelings hurt by those you know best. 

I think back to the story of Isaac’s near-catastrophe and find two more clues. First, God didn’t intervene until the harm was imminent and irreparable. By the time God stepped in, things looked pretty bleak for Isaac. Barring Isaac pulling some sort of superhero moves, bursting through his restraints like the Hulk, kicking Abraham’s weapon down the mountain and shouting, “What the hell was that, Dad?” God had to intervene. But only at the last possible moment.

Great. I need to wait until there’s a metaphorical knife at my kid’s chest before stepping in? That seems too much. But since my Jewish mother’s instinct is to jump in at the slightest hint of a problem, it’s good to set a high bar. Usually I’m ready to call in the cavalry when he’s over it. It’s not easy to see that kid struggling on the rock, but if my kid can get out of the mess on his own, I have to let him. 

Second, I think about what to do with hurt feelings that linger. I imagine what a modern therapist might tell Isaac to make sense of what happened: “What Abraham did had nothing to do with how he feels about you. He loves you! He had his own issues.” I can tell my son the same truth, that when people say mean things, it usually means they are suffering. It has nothing to do with him. I can show him his power, praise his good heart and instill in him the self-reliance to tell his friends to knock it off, to stand up for himself or to walk away. And the choice is his. 

A of couple months into the school year, the reports of meanness are getting farther apart. I’m quite sure that, as usual, his bruises hurt me longer and deeper than they bother him. I need to remember that he is more resilient than I am. Like Isaac getting up off that rock, brushing himself off and walking down the mountain, he is moving on with the rest of his story. 

I may not have appreciated what Judaism had to offer when I was a child and all I wanted was for the services to be over, but I am grateful to have kept the connection to my family’s faith all these years. It’s there for me now when I need it. Every week, I’ll be back in Torah study with the group of intelligent, curious souls, mining more of our ancient stories for modern parenting gold.


Laura Diamond is the editor of the anthology “Deliver Me: True Confessions of Motherhood” and is working on her first novel. She is a member of Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation of Pacific Palisades.

The Meaning of Memory: A Yizkor Reflection


I grew up in a home filled with food and love and laughter and music and Yiddishkayt and stories. I was the youngest of four kids and we were part of a tribe in Boro Park, Brooklyn, with my uncle Nat’s family living on the floor above us, my uncle Ruby’s family living next door to us, and my grandparents living above them. Nobody ever knocked on the door and nobody ever needed a key, everybody was always barging into everybody else’s home.

My parents were soul mates. They were constantly singing in harmony, walking hand in hand. As I grew, one by one my older siblings moved out and went off to college. And pretty soon it was just me, my mom and my dad. It was quieter, but it was beautiful.

One night when I was 15, my parents went out. They were walking on the street when a man held them up at gunpoint. My father was shot, and he died. And now it was just me and my mom. As you can imagine, the two of us became unnaturally close, the way two broken hearts have to figure it all out together. When I was in high school I tried so hard never to cry; I didn’t want to add to my mother’s sorrow. Instead, I threw myself into my studies. I was such a studious kid, such a nerd. I’d always work myself into a tizzy before an exam, and then I’d turn to my mom on the day of the test and I’d say, “Mom, bless me before the test. And bless my pen, too.” And she’d say, “Nomeleh, don’t you know I’m a good witch. I know how it is, and I know how it will be.” And I would take my blessed pen and scurry off to school.

[More from Rabbi Naomi Levy: A Memorial Prayer for Yom Kippur]

And then it came time for me to go to college. Honestly, I don’t know how she found the strength to send me off to college. How do you send your fourth child off when you have nothing at home but memories of a life that once was? I don’t know how I left, but I did.

And I hated it. It was a culture shock to go from Boro Park and an Orthodox Jewish yeshiva high school to Cornell University. It was so gentile. And preppy. I’d never seen so many headbands and Topsiders in my life. And they kept saying that the ideal Cornelian is a scholar and an athlete. Some Greek ideal. Well, I was no athlete, and I didn’t see myself as a scholar. So I started calling my mom every night, crying hysterically, “I want to go home. I don’t like it here.” And she was so strong. She’d say, “I want you to stay. Trust me, I’m a good witch.”  And then she’d bless me for my upcoming test.

And she was right. After six months and 15 pounds, I did learn to love college and I made new friends and I loved the learning. Though I never did get into athletics.

She was right about so many things. She knew my husband was the right man for me even before I knew it. “Trust me,” she said, “I’m a good witch. He’s a keeper.” And she walked me down the aisle at our wedding. Just the two of us.  Me and my mom, hand in hand. And she gave me away again. It was hard for her to let me go and live so far away from home.

And then the widow with the broken heart became a bubbe with a full heart and a full schedule of friends and grandchildren and volunteering and studies. And her Bat Mitzvah at age 80.

At her 70th birthday celebration, just when we thought she was going to make a speech, she turned around to me and she said, “Nomeleh, I want you to bless me.”

All those years as a rabbi I spent giving blessings to others, all those years she’d been blessing me, and I had never blessed her.  So I placed my hands on my mother’s head, and I blessed her. How can I describe what passed between us?  From that day on, it became our ritual. She’d call me every single night and ask me for her blessing. She had trouble sleeping, so I’d bless her. I’d say, “Mom, I bless you with peace, I bless you with sleep through the night, sweet dreams.”

She had various ailments: her eyes, her legs, her feet, her asthma, her stomach. I’d call her, and I’d say, “Mom, how are your giblets doing?” She’d laugh, we’d talk, and then she’d say, “I need my blessing.” And I’d bless her. “I bless you with peace, I bless you with sleep through the night, sweet dreams.”

Over the last several years I found myself saving her voicemails. People were constantly complaining that my mailbox was full, but I couldn’t erase my mother’s sweet messages: “Shabbat Shalom,” “Happy birthday,” “Shanah tovah,” “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Over the last few years, I’d say we spoke on the phone about six times a day.  She wanted to know the details. If it was a Friday of Nashuva (the Jewish community I lead), she’d call first to bless me and wish me good luck, and then she’d ask, “What are you going to talk about tonight?” And then there were the wrap up calls, “So, nu? How was Nashuva? How did it go? How was your sermon? Was it well received? How many people came?”

If I was traveling to speak out of town, I’d get a call in the taxi on the way to the airport. We’d talk and then I’d say, “I’ve got to go, Mom, I’m going through security.” And she’d say, “OK, call me on the other side.” I’d call, we’d chat, I’d board the plane:

“I’ve got to go, they’ve closed the cabin doors.”

“OK, call me when you land.”

Opinion: Chewable Xanax and the shoe debacle


I had to look inside myself, which was kind of like looking into my high school locker: moldy half-eaten sandwich, a few loose Starburst candies, heaps of notebooks and burrito-stained gym clothes obscuring the few things of value. Sure, there’s a book of Sylvia Plath poems and a valid bus pass, but good luck finding them while avoiding that festering tuna salad from yesteryear. 

When I looked inside myself, it took a second to clear out the debris. Also, I usually forget the combination to the stupid lock.

All of this inner turmoil was catalyzed by one simple moment, just picking up my 2-year-old from day care. He went to put on his shoes and socks, struggled mightily, finally succeeded, after which he looked at me, paused for a beat and started bawling. He lunged at me for a hug and I knelt down to look him in the eye.

“I’m scared,” he said, sobbing. Me, too, dude. If I wanted to see someone overreact to one of life’s challenges, I could just look in a mirror.

My child, facing a difficult task, got through it only to melt down completely. It’s happening, I thought. This kid needs chewable Xanax.

Hoping his day care teacher didn’t notice, but knowing she had, I grabbed his coat and hustled him out of there.

Driving home, I was baffled. I mean, you would think irrational crying jags related to under-achieving would be right up my dark alley, but this one had me stumped. I knew he put on his socks and shoes after naptime every single day, but I was uncharacteristically early that day, and I happened to be there. Had I thrown off his game? Did he have performance anxiety doing this important task in front of Mom? Have I already passed along some deep, depressing cultural pressure to earn love through accomplishment?  

The day after the shoe debacle, the day care lady snagged me as I turned to exit.

“We have to talk about what happened with the shoes,” she whispered gently. I knew she was right.

According to her, the problem wasn’t in his skill level, but in his confidence. “You need to tell him that you know he can do it. He doesn’t think you believe in him. You don’t trust him, so he doesn’t trust himself.”

That’s when I looked into the rusty old locker of my soul and realized; she is right. I wanted to think it was some Montessori mumbo-jumbo, but I knew it was the truth.

When I saw his little hands struggling with the heels of his tiny socks, it looked so impossible, getting them up, closing the Velcro on his sneakers, the whole thing just looked too hard, and I was pretty sure I was going to have to jump in and help him. The truth is, I didn’t think he could do it, and he sensed that, and he got scared and wept.

“But, you won’t pass the bar,” said my mom to my brother, moments after he announced he would be applying to law school.

He passed the bar on the first try and has been a lawyer for years, but you see how this runs in my family, runs like a kid with inside-out socks.

Since the day care talking-to, I have kept a watchful eye on myself. I convince myself to believe he can hold onto the swing chains without falling, no matter how high I push him. I convince myself that I believe he can spear pieces of broccoli with his fork, or hang up his coat, or turn pages of a book.

Fear of those you love failing isn’t mean or belittling or dismissive; it’s a protective mechanism. That doesn’t make it right. If I don’t have confidence in the little things now, I could project the idea that I don’t trust him to tackle big things later. So, I guess I have to trust myself to at least fake trusting him. Locker closed.


Teresa Strasser is a Los Angeles Press Club and Emmy Award-winning writer and the author of “Exploiting My Baby: Because It’s Exploiting Me”( Penguin). She blogs at ExploitingMyBaby.com.

No joke: Mother-in-law’s suit vs. comic is tossed


A lawsuit against a stand-up comedian for making jokes about the Jewish family she married into was thrown out of court.

Sunda Croonquist, who is half African American and half Swedish, has used her Jewish in-laws, especially her mother-in-law and sister-in-law, as a major source for her material.

Croonquist’s mother-in-law, Ruth Zafrin of Brooklyn, N.Y., and brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Neil and Shelley Edelman of New Jersey, filed the case, claiming that Croonquist’s jokes were holding them up to public ridicule.

U.S. District Judge Mary Cooper of New Jersey dismissed the case in a 21-page ruling issued April 30. The judge said the jokes cited in the case were statements of opinion and not fact, and therefore they were protected by the First Amendment, the Associated Press reported.

Croonquist had described her sister-in-law’s voice as sounding like “a cat in heat.” The California-based comic also said that she learned that Jews can whisper when she met her mother-in-law “and I said, ‘It’s such a pleasure meeting you,’ and she said, ‘Have a seat, Eliot put my pocketbook away.’”

Croonquist’s husband, Mark Zafrin, is a partner in the law firm that represented her.

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


Report: Respect for Religious Freedom Fell in Israel

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grandfather, Mother Charged in Girl’s Murder

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

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

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

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

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

Ron later recanted his confession.

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

Briefs courtesy of Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

Mom’s last day


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baruch haTov v’haMeitiv.

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

Family Feud — with my family, it’s no game


I would take my mom against Clint Eastwood in any movie. Sure, he usually plays a grizzled, gunslinger with cat-like reflexes and something to prove, but if you cross my
mother, you will find yourself, like the title of Clint’s greatest Western, “Unforgiven.”

Make no mistake; this isn’t a cute story about my “zany” Jewish mother and her unswerving ability to hold a grudge. Cute stories rarely involve relatives who suffocate themselves with plastic bags, but more about my Aunt Maurine’s untimely death in a minute.

No one really knows why my mother stopped talking to her sister. I think it was something about a china cabinet that once belonged to their mother. After my grandmother died, there was a duel over the mammoth piece of furniture. My mother got it (which I only know because I grew up with it in our dining room, our only piece of furniture not from a flea market). As anyone with even one screwed-up relationship in life knows, the squabble is never about the china cabinet, but about the heap of slights and injustices that could fill it. The cabinet just stores the resentments, puts them on display.

That cabinet was my grandmother’s favorite. So was my mother, so this isn’t a family feud syllogism that’s difficult to decode. Apparently, if your parents make it obvious that you’re the favorite, your siblings hate you, they unconsciously take out their feelings of rejection and hurt on you and you become spoiled and unpleasant. Put these feelings on simmer for about 30 years, and the flavors really intensify.

Here’s the thing. I’m just guessing and speculating about all of this. All I know for sure is that after a nine-year feud, during which my aunt and mother never once spoke, Aunt Maurine effectively ended the stalemate by killing herself about six years back.

I’ve never written about it before, nor did I give it much thought, until I got into my own feud with my mom two years ago and wondered who would get the last word — or leave the feud in a stretcher.

Back to my aunt and the resounding way she stuck it to my mom by offing herself.
I should mention here that I don’t mean to be cavalier about her death or her pain; but we’re Jews. That’s how we deal. Just the other day when I was sounding depressed on the phone with my dad he asked, voice filled with concern, “Are you eyeing your plastic bag collection?”

If we took every family tragedy seriously we’d be killing ourselves. I mean, in even greater numbers.

Aunt Maurine’s death didn’t seem like one of those “cry for help” suicides, because of the aforementioned plastic bag method, a technique she got from one of those “how-to-kill-yourself” books, which was found a few feet from her body.

She left a note, too, something about how her grown children didn’t love her (a feud may have been percolating there, too; feuds are big in my family). The suicide note contained no mention of my mother. My aunt had silenced herself yet still managed to get in the last word with one final snub. Score one: Maurine.

My mother went to Aunt Maurine’s funeral, but I don’t know if she regretted the feud.

Mom has about as much gray area in her personal relationships as the linoleum floor of a 1950s diner. The point is, like Clint Eastwood, she is not likely to be lukewarm on you. There are good guys and bad guys, and once you cross over, you are dead to her.

I lived in fear of saying no to her, displeasing her in some way as to flip the off switch on her loving me. Because she raised me alone and it was just the two of us, I was so close to her that the idea of her wishing me to her emotional cornfield rattled me to my core.

In essence, I should have spent my 20s wearing a yellow ribbon because I was a hostage; I did what she wanted, gritting my teeth every second of it, but complying nonetheless. I couldn’t lose her, but I also couldn’t stand her.

If she came to visit me, she stayed however long she wanted, we ate dinner when and where she wanted, she listened when she wanted (which wasn’t often), and I basically watered and manicured my grudge garden until it was overgrown and lush, and I was often petulant and bitter. She was the kind of mother, and lots of us have them, that demand we mother them. This so flies in the face of nature that you either become the codependent wife of an alcoholic or addict — continuing to mother people you shouldn’t — or you get very, very angry. Or you get yourself some therapy. I’ve done two out of three.

Here’s where I admit something. That part of me that loved “The Bell Jar” in junior high didn’t feel so bad about the incident with Aunt Maurine and the sinister feud preceding it. It added to my “crazy family” mystique. I didn’t choose to have a family chock full of the mentally ill, but once I realized there was no way of passing them off as normal, I decided to embrace it as part of my identity.

I had met my aunt only once at a family reunion when I was kid. I remember she had red hair, wore a crisp white pants suit, lived in Orange County, seemed like she couldn’t possibly be the sister of my hippie mother and generally seemed like a nice lady. I was 6; what did I know?

I certainly never predicted I would also have a blow-up with my mother leading to a long silent feud. Curiously enough, my feud also followed a funeral. Watch out for this; in my family, one of the stages of grief is creating a vendetta with someone living.

Here was our cabinet incident: Before my stepfather’s funeral two years ago, my mother insisted I speak at the ceremony.

Obituaries


Michael Avganim died Jan. 27 at 61. He is survived by his daughters, Dorit and Corinne; mother, Margalit; and sister, Haya. Sholom Chapels

Bernard Barens died Feb. 2 at 96. He is survived by his son, Arthur; four grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and sister, Ellen Kaufman. Malinow and Silverman

Beverley Becker died Jan. 13 at 86. She is survived by her daughter, Claire Bowman; son, Steven; sister, Selma Steinberg; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Nora Cohen Breckler died Jan. 30 at 81. She is survived by her sons, Peter and Andrew; and granddaughters, Emma and Charlotte. Hillside

Anne Caplan died Feb. 2 at 87. She is survived by her four nephews; three nieces; and sister-in-law, Ruby (George) Kuntz. Mount Sinai

Joseph Aaron Cohen died Feb. 5 at 79. He is survived by his wife, Sylvia; and sons, Aaron and Vidal. Malinow and Silverman

Ruth Copper died Jan. 31 at 92. She is survived by her son Leon (Bobette); daughter, Fern (Michael) Chorna; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Hillside

Alex Cramer died Feb. 4 at 97. He is survived by his son, Irl (Dina). Sholom Chapels

Harold Dresser died Feb. 2 at 85. He is survived by his wife, Norine; son, Mark (Carole Del Signore); daughters, Andrea (Barry) Fisher and Amy (Julio) Trejo; four grandchildren; and brother-in-law, Mickey Shapiro. Mount Sinai

Herman Friedberg died Feb. 5 at 98. He is survived by his wife, Phyllis; sons, James (Susan) and Thomas (Sarah); two grandchildren; brother, Bernard (Arlene) Richards; and sisters, Miriam (Paul) Shulman and Flora (Moe) Schwartz. Mount Sinai

Rose Friedland died Jan. 31. She is survived by her nephew, Dieter (Sarah) Goldschmidt; and great-nieces, Lisa and Lori. Hillside

Fay Gak died Feb. 5 at 91. She is survived by her daughter, Miriam (Jack) Grund; son, Carl (Carol); three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Dr. Fred Geller died Jan. 31, at 80. He is survived by his wife, Lyla; daughters, Bonnie (David) Aylesworth and Valerie; grandchild, Adam Aylesworth; and sister, Jacqueline Pearlson. Hillside

Hannah Gertz died Feb. 3 at 85. She is survived by her sons, Sherwin (Penny) and Bob; daughters, Sherry and Paula; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels

Lee Glanzer died Jan. 20 at 101. He is survived by his daughters; Rosalie Zemansky and Joan Rosenstein; three grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Groman

Fredrick Raymond Glassman died Feb. 3 at 75. He is survived by his wife, Carol; daughter, Robin (David) Harris; son, Ramond; stepson, Gabriel Romero; two granddaughters; two great grandchildren; and brothers, Sheldon (Jerry), Charles (Linda) and Ray (Sharon). Malinow and Silverman

Arlene Grubman died Feb. 3 at 84. She is survived by her daughters, Judith Whitmore and Patricia; son, William; six grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and sister, Fern Siegel. Malinow and Silverman

Sylvia Goldstein died Jan. 31 at 94. She is survived by her daughter, Harlene Schwartz; and sister Frieda Ellis. Hillside.

Nora Hecker died Feb. 4 at 97. She is survived by her son, Fred. Malinow and Silverman

Rhoda Heirshberg died Feb. 4 at 77. She is survived by her husband, Ben; sons, Art and Stan (Diane); daughter, Gayle (Richard Mah); and five grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Elizabeth Izenstark died Jan. 29 at 82. She is survived by her husband, Joseph; daughter, Susan Rosenthal; one grandchild; and one great-grandchild. Groman

Ida Jarrett died Feb. 4 at 106. She is survived by her nieces, Mona (Arnold) Root and Audrey Croft. Malinow and Silverman

William Klein died Jan. 26 at 82. He is survived by his son, Leonard; daughter Beverly; two grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Groman

Abram Kleinman died Jan. 30 at 92. He is survived by his daughter, Margarita; son Mark (Tanya); and grandson, Ethan. Hillside

Marion Koran died Feb. 2 at 93. She is survived by her sister, Vivian Katzin; and nieces, Roberta Bronstein and Geri (David) Small. Mount Sinai

Edna Kotick died Jan. 31 at 87. She is survived by her husband, Harry; daughters, Judy (Bob) Heimlich and Bonnie; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Joseph Linsman Feb. 4 at 97. He is survived by his daughter, Connie Gale; son, William; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. Hillside

Joseph Litvak died Jan. 31, at 92. He is survived by his son, Michael (Georgia); two grandchildren; and two grea- grandchildren. Hillside

Bernard Mack died Jan. 31 at 92. He is survived by his children, Pamela and Alan; two grandchildren; and brother, Lou. Mount Sinai

Rebecca Masliah died Jan. 30 at 93. She is survived by her husband, Albert; son, Errol; daughter, Esther; grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Sholom Chapels

Carolyn Meltzer died Feb. 4 at 90. She is survived by her daughters, Terri Menter and Linda (Benjamin) Rubinstein; son, Dr. Larry (Joan); nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Lillian Mattis-Russin died Feb. 2 at 84. She is survived by her son, Ronald Palmieri; three grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and brother, Jack Mattis; Groman

Pauline Ofman died Jan. 31 at 99. She is survived by her son, Dr. William (Sheila); daughter, Dr. Anna (Thad) Berger; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Marly Rauchway died Feb. 2 at 91. She is survived by her children, Susan (Harold) Fetterman, Enid (Erlend) Graf, Michael (Audrey) and Amy; six grandchildren; and three great grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Dr. Robert Rosen died Jan. 31 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Barbara; daughters, Deborah (Reno) Goodale, Rebecca and Stephanie; and four grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Jane Rosenfeld died Jan. 31 at 59. She is survived by her mother, Paula; brothers, Gary (Alice) and John (Frances); and sister, Ellen (Jeffrey) Arrow. Malinow and Silverman

Benjamin Saget died Jan. 30 at 89. He is survived by his wife, Rosalyn; son, Bob; four grandchildren; and sister, Thelma (Jonah) Shorr. Mount Sinai

Regina Sarko died Feb. 4 at 83. She is survived by her friends. Malinow and Silverman

Marie Sautman died Feb. 3, at 83. She is survived by her husband, Irving; children, Susan, Barry, Steven and Michael (Jullie); and six grandchildren. Hillside

Don’t hold your breath on plans for baby


Nothing is more exciting than finding out that you’re having a baby. The moment I found out I was expecting, I began making grand plans. I read the books, spoke to pregnant friends and questioned all the new mommies I knew. Then I made some big decisions.

Disposable diapers were clogging the landfills — I would use cloth. Baby foods had preservatives — I would puree my own. Cavities begin before teeth appear — no bottles in bed.

There would be no junk food, no TV, no yelling, no spanking, no spoiling, no bribing. I would provide only classical music and educational toys. I would never use food for reward or punishment. My baby would never use a pacifier or learn to suck his thumb. The list went on and on, and then our precious son was born.

Shortly after we came home, our son started an interesting habit. When upset, he would cry very hard, turn blue around the lips and make no sound. Then the bluish color would spread until he hysterically gasped for air and turned pink again. I got somewhat used to this routine until he progressed to the point of passing out.

“He’s a breath holder,” the pediatrician said calmly.

“The books said nothing about breath holders,” I wailed.

“It’s not very common, but it happens,” he said. “Don’t worry. He’ll start breathing again as soon as he passes out. Just don’t blow in his face.”

“What?”

“They used to say that if you blow in the baby’s face, he’ll catch his breath,” the pediatrician said. “But it really doesn’t work; it just makes him madder.”

He paused right before administering the vaccination.

“When I give him his shot, he’ll probably start crying,” the pediatrician said as he stabbed the needle into my baby’s thigh.

Sure enough, the crying began, the lips went blue, the face grew ashen and my baby passed out. It happened again with another shot in the other thigh.

As I packed up the diaper bag, sniffling back my own tears, the pediatrician warned me: “Don’t let him manipulate you, or he’ll use breath-holding to get what wants. He’ll grow out of it eventually. See you next month.”

From that moment on, my grand promises were cast aside. Attempting to avoid crying and fainting episodes, I broke my own rules. I kept pacifiers everywhere and shoved one in his mouth at the smallest whimper. When he tired of pacifiers, I taught him how to suck his thumb. When he wanted up, I picked him up.

Diaper changing was a particularly tricky time. He’d be happy and bubbly for the first 30 seconds or so, but if it took any longer than that, he would become frustrated at being on his back and begin to cry. Since I could change disposable more quickly than cloth, I fired the diaper service. Once I had crossed the diaper line, it was easy to give in on anything.

I developed a do-what-works attitude. Why be so rigid? Jar food was just fine. In fact, he ate so much that I switched from organic to whatever was on sale. I used generic wipes on his tender tush.
One time, I found the dog licking his face after a messy spaghetti meal. My son loved it. From then on, I sat him on the kitchen floor and let the dog clean him up after he ate. A mother must find clever ways to make her job easier.

As the doctor predicted, the breath-holding eventually subsided. By the time my second son came along, my child-rearing methods had evolved considerably.

Potty training? M”&”Ms for a tinkle in the toilet. Television? How did we grow up without videos? Spanking? Watch your toddler dash into oncoming traffic and then tell me you never spank. Yelling? Ever seen a cheesecake after 10 minutes in the microwave? Bribery? Try taking two toddlers to the market and see how long it takes before you say: “If you’re good, mommy will buy you….”

That breath-holding baby is now 16 years old. A few thousand dollars in orthodontia fixed the overbite that the thumb caused. He regularly uses the potty without expecting M”&”Ms. The last time he had a shot, he hardly let out a peep.

The only time he holds his breath is when he’s swimming, and the bribery item of choice has progressed from cookies to car keys. He does, however, still eat his way through the grocery store.

So, have your baby, make your plans, set your limits, follow your rules. And when things don’t go the way you expected and the mess is just too big and you feel like crying until you pass out, do what I did — put the baby on the floor and let the dog clean up.

Time warp again? Take a step toward tradition


When I think back to my bat mitzvah 30-plus years ago, here’s what I remember most: following the photographer’s prompts as I posed against the tree in the synagogue courtyard, standing nervously on the bimah chanting my Torah portion, and giving a speech in which I excoriated President Nixon. I don’t recall how I tied that in with the parsha, but I relished having the congregation laugh at my political barbs. I loved dancing with my friends and hoped that the boy I had secretly admired for months would finally realize what a prize I was and begin to like me in return.

My bat mitzvah was exciting and fun. It even gave me a vague notion of the meaning of Jewish adulthood. My grandfather, who trained me for my bat mitzvah, claimed that back in the 1940s he pioneered bat mitzvahs (at least here in Los Angeles) when he trained my aunt for this rite of passage. My grandfather came to the United States from Europe with visions of a more modern religious life. He was proud to have blazed the trail for bat mitzvahs in the Conservative movement.

So what would he think of his great-granddaughter pushing the clock back and having a bat mitzvah, shared mostly with girlfriends, sans Torah reading? Well, styles in fashion and religion come and go, and over time my husband and I became more committed to a Torah-observant lifestyle.

Just as the peasant look that I wore in the ’70s has returned, so has the Orthodoxy that that my grandfather left behind in Bialystock.

I’m the first to admit that I once would have scoffed at the idea that any daughter of mine (I had been a dues-paying member of NOW, after all) would not read from the Torah at her bat mitzvah. It was too regressive to deserve comment. It took several years until I was willing to entertain the Torah’s views about spirituality. It rankled to learn that some of the ideas were totally, unrepentantly politically incorrect, including notions about men’s and women’s differing roles in public ritual life. But the insights they revealed about human psychology rang true.

It’s very clear to most people unburdened with a master’s in sociology that men and women need different types of nurturing for emotional, spiritual and intellectual health. Yet many academics still kick and scream when you state the obvious (just ask former Harvard President Larry Summers). Men’s obligations to attend minyan, lead services and read from the Torah are all part of this care-and-feeding program for men.

Psychologically, it’s brilliant: men, who tend to lack meaningful male bonding, can get regular doses at their neighborhood minyan every day. Women will bond with other women, minyan or no minyan. Just watch us.

That’s why I didn’t lose sleep that my daughter’s bat mitzvah would be a less public affair than her brothers’ bar mitzvahs. Girls are considered to become bat mitzvah at 12, again revealing the Torah’s insight that girls are usually a year ahead of boys in terms of maturity at that age.

Like her brothers, Yael was excited and a little awed at the prospect of becoming responsible for her own actions, for mitzvahs as well as misdeeds, responsible to fast, to pray, to continue to grow spiritually and to contribute her special talents and energy to the community.

We also wanted her bat mitzvah to be more than just an expensive birthday party. Of course we had great food, music, dancing and an art project that the girls made and donated to Chai Lifeline for their Purim baskets. But Yael also prepared by studying a text for several months with a teacher (in her case, me). Together we chose to study the Eishet Chayil, a portion of Proverbs that is traditionally sung in honor of the Jewish woman at the Shabbat table each Friday night.

We plumbed the text and its elucidation, written by a phenomenal rebbetzin in Jerusalem. It was the first time that I had gone beyond a superficial reading of the Eishet Chayil, despite having sung it hundreds of times. Together, Yael and I tried to understand the deeper insights these proverbs reveal about life, about the spiritual potential of the Jewish woman, and about faith. Many of the concepts were beyond the grasp of even the most mature 12-year-old. Still, we soldiered on, and by the end we each shared a sense of accomplishment.

On her big day, Yael spoke with maturity and depth about the concepts of oz and hadar, strength and splendor, for which the Jewish woman is praised in Eishet Chayil. She explained that this is the kind of strength that springs from faith in God and from the courage of one’s convictions.

Listening to her speak with confidence and poise, I was willing to bet that her great-grandfather would have been beaming with pride. True, she may not have stepped up to the bimah with a tallit draped over her shoulder the way her mother had, but she was clearly and purposefully stepping up to Jewish adulthood with joy, pride and faith. And ultimately, that’s what any bat or bar mitzvah should really be about, isn’t it?


Judy Gruen writes the popular “Off My Noodle” column @ judygruen.com. Her next book, “The Women’s Daily Irony Supplement,” will be published in May.

Obituaries


Kate Altman died Dec. 28 at 97. She is survived by her daughter, Sheila (David) Aenis; son, Gerald (Sharon); five grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; and brother, Yale (Bobbi) Simons. Mount Sinai

Anne Bergstein died Dec. 23 at 90. She is survived by her sons, Ralph and Roger. Malinow and Silverman

Mortimer Berkey died Dec. 23 at 97. He is survived by his nieces, Lynn (Larry) Robbins, Lolly Coria and Barbara (Cal) Miller; and nephews, Burt (Helene) Homonoff and David. Mount Sinai

Gerald Bernstein died Dec. 20 at 84. He is survived by his wife, Dorothy; sons, Stephen and David (Patrice); and two granddaughers. Malinow and Silverman.

Irene Bistreich died Dec. 23 at 83. She is survived by her daughter, Wendy. Malinow and Silverman.

Abraham (Abe) Blumberg died Dec. 28 at 85. He is survived by his wife, Sadie; sons Eddie, Geoffrey and Aubrey; daughter, Beverly; stepdaughter, Ethne; stepsons, Morris and Colin (Sharon); seven grandchildren; two stepgrandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Eden

Miriam Dybnis died Dec. 29 at 86. She is survived by her husband, Henri; daughter, Monique (Moshe) Goldwasser; son, Dr. Sacha (Bunny); and grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Rachelle Elek died Dec. 29 at 87. She is survived by her daughter, Gwynne; sister, Eve Rosove; brother, Sheldon (Babs) Bay; sisters-in-law Phyllis and Rita Bay; nieces; and nephew. Hillside

Helen Joseph Epstein died Nov. 17 at 92. She is survived by her daughter, Joni (Monte) Gordon; brother, Benjamin (Ellen) Joseph; grandchildren John (Sun Xin) Gordon and Elizabeth (Jack) Stephens-Morgan; and three great-greatchildren. Hillside

Mildred Ettlinger died Dec. 19 at 94. She is survived by her sister, Bertha Carp. Malinow and Silverman.

Paulette Gast died Dec. 27 at 87. She is survived by her daughter, Nancy; son, Allen; four grandchildren; and sister, Selene Sheriff. Hillside

Sylvia Eleanor Goldstein died Dec. 27 at 89. She is survived by her daughters, Elaine (Berwyn) Bleecker Friedman and Rosalyn Gilman; son, Charles (Suzanne); eight grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; sister, Gertrude Sunshine. Malinow and Silverman

Sadie Grossman died Dec. 20 at 101. She is survived by her son, Barry; and two grandsons. Malinow and Silverman.

Ruth Hoffman died Dec. 24 at 89. She is survived by her son, Paul; sister, Gloria Wolen; and nine grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman.

Esther Karpel died Dec. 24 at 83. She is survived by her daughter, Susan; sister, Mathilde Goldstein; two grandchildren; brother, Morris Weiss. Malinow and Silverman

Esther Kaufman died Dec. 28 at 90. She is survived by her sons, Rick, Ken (Karen), Ben and Mike; daughter, Sonya Schus; and five grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Frank Lerner died Dec. 17 at 73. He is survived by his wife, Lillian; daughter, Shari (Henry) DeCambra; sons, Mark (Noreen) and Stuart (Karen); six grandchildren; and sister, Nessa (Bob) Wilk. Malinow and Silverman.

Leslie Howard Levin died Dec. 22 at 81. He is survived by his wife, Marilyn; daughter, Diane; son Jeffrey, (JoAne); and brother, Bill. Malinow and Silverman.

Libby Levine died Dec. 22 at 96. She is survived by her daughters, Wendy (Bill) Carpio and Julie (Bob) Sutton; six grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Bruce Liebovich died Dec. 24 at 43. He is survived by his sons, Yehuda, Mordy and Joshua; daughter, Ester; and parents, Ted and Shirley. Chevra Kadisha

Jerome Barry Ludgin died Dec. 23 at 65. He is survived by his wife, Rachelle; daughter, Debra (Scott) Klein; brother, Arthur (Bobbie); and sister, Janice (Mickey) Stevens. Malinow and Silverman.

Shirley Markson died Dec. 20 at 80. She is survived by her son, David; daughters, Stacey (Vince) Winninghoff and Peggy; brother, Marc (Louise) Monheimer; and six grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman.

Marcia Merritt died Dec. 27 at 66. She is survived by her husband, Dr. Michael; sons, Brent (Hilleri) and Steve; two grandchildren; and brother, Richard (Barbara) Fine. Malinow and Silverman

Sylvia Muchnick died Dec. 29 at 88. She is survived by her son, Dr. Carl; sister, Ethel Rosenfeld; and three grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Harry Phillips died Dec. 26 at 91. He is survived by his son, Frank; daughter, Sandra Schur; and three grandchildren. Hillside

Louis Pomerantz died Dec. 24 at 91. He is survived by his daughter, Doreen (Shalom) Cohen; granddaughters, Lori (Roger) Lampert and Wendy (Philip) Anthony; and great-grandchildren, Brian and Rachel Lampert. Mount Sinai

Susan Ponedel died Nov. 14 at 60. She is survied by her mother, Mollie; and sister, Ann Bourman. Home of Peace

Nathan Rauchway died Dec. 29 at 92. He is survived by his wife, Marly; children, Enid (Erlend) Graf, Susan (Harold) Fetterman, Michael (Audrey) and Amy; and six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Leo Rosenbaum died Aug. 14 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Gloria; daughters, Leslie and Lori; son, Louis; grandchildren, Alexis and Zachary; and sister, Janet Cornblatt. Hillside

Rose Sahlman died Dec. 25 at 93. She is survived by her friends. Malinow and Silverman

Theresa Schneider died Dec. 15 at 87. She is survived by her daughters, Leah (Gregory) Bergman and Diane; son, Alan; three grandchildren; and brother, Bernard Gershman. Malinow and Silverman.

Joseph Schwartz died Dec. 26 at 84. He is survived by his wife, Marcia; daughter, Sandra (Stephen) Brown; son Stephen; and eight grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Bella Smolyakova died Dec. 27 at 97. She is survived by her nephew, Yesim (Polina) Koretsky. Malinow and Silverman

Suzanne Stolnitz died Dec. 23 at 69. She is survived by her husband, Art; son, Scott (Cindy); granddaughter, Skye; and sister, Barbara Kantro. Mount Sinai

Joan Lenore Strong died Dec. 24 at 71. She is survived by her husband, Dr. George; daughters, Cori Persky and Nikki Shocket; sons, Evan Peller and Shannon; seven grandchildren; and brother, Dr. Paul Rubinstein. Malinow and Silverman

Edward Leon Vendt died Dec. 29 at 90. He is survived by his wife, Lillian; daughter, Sheila (Dick) Miller; sons, Jack Bellano and Steve (Cheryl); and two grandsons. Malinow and Silverman

Bess Warren died Dec. 25 at 88. She is survived by her son, Roger; daughters, Beverly Safsel and Rhonda Diamond; six grandchildren; nine great-grandchildren; one great-great-granddaughter; and sisters, Natalie Apple and Grace Feuerberg. Chevra Kadisha

Thelma Weiss died Dec. 21 at 79. She is survived by her son, Michael. Malinow and Silverman.

The Journal publishes obituary notices free. Please send an e-mail with the name, age and survivors of the deceased to obits@jewishjournal.com.Please note: Longer notices will be edited. Deadline for publication isMonday at 9 a.m.

Letters to Mom


Dear Mother,

Here we are again on the plains of Bethel. We’re in the 10th month of our 10th year in Canaan. Sorry I haven’t written. There were
so many things happening, but none of them so important to justify my negligence. The famine, Pharaoh, Avimelech, the war — they all came and went and I remained the same. I wanted to believe that this move to Canaan would open a new chapter in my life, but boy was I disappointed.

You remember the day of my wedding? Such joy! Such innocence! I thought it would be only a matter of time before I became a mother. But with every year that passed, the dream seemed more remote and unreachable. Everyone was celebrating motherhood and parenthood, the little voices of children filling their homes with joy and happiness. And me? Nothing. I felt alienated and rejected. I felt their furtive glances as I was passing by, as if I was carrying a curse, a terrible disease.

You were the only one who understood, but there was nothing you could do. God alone can count the tears I shed, day after day, year after year, praying, yearning for a child that will redeem me from my solitude, from my agony and my shame. Oh, was I glad to go when the Divine order came to leave Haran. Just go away and leave behind me all the pitying, mercy filled, hypocrite faces. Yes, it was difficult to go and leave you and Dad behind, but I did it not just to fulfill the Divine commandment and follow my husband, but also because I secretly hoped that the move will bring a change, a blessing. But this was not what God wanted.

Abram says that I am a righteous woman and that God enjoys my prayers and supplications. I appreciate that, but enough is enough, we’ve spent 10 years in Canaan and nada. I want to have a child. I want to have a child!

Love,
Sarai

Dear Mother,

Sorry it’s been a couple months since I last wrote you. We’re at the Oaks of Mamre, and I’ve figured out a solution. It’s painful, but I can live with it. I will have Abram marry my maidservant Hagar (remember, the Egyptian girl?). She will be the surrogate mother of my child. Don’t try to dissuade me. I’ve made up my mind, and I know of several respectful families who have gone through this process successfully.

Love,
Sarai

Dear Mother,

It’s over; she’s gone. We don’t know where or when, but she has disappeared from Be’er Sheva. I should be happy, I should be celebrating, but I’m not. I feel terrible. I didn’t mean it to happen like that. All I wanted was to have a child we could call our own, but things got out of hand.

This tricky, treacherous, no-good maid knew very well how to rub it in. “I’m tired,” “I’m nauseated,” “I feel so hungry,” “I crave this” and “Sorry, I can’t bend down to bring you that, Sarai.” All very subtle; not the kind of things a man would notice.

Don’t get me wrong, Ma, I love and respect Abram. But why is his quest of justice reserved only for foreigners? Sodom and Gomorra deserve justice, with all their sins. Meanwhile, I’m abused daily by this Hagar. Do I not deserve justice? These things pass right over his head.

That’s why I blew up. Justice is all I want! He should give me the same treatment he gave Sodom. He stood up to defend those sinners, why not me? And all he said to me was: “Well, what do you want from me? She is your maid. Do whatever you want with her.” And, believe me, I did just that; I didn’t give her a free moment.

But now she’s gone, and I feel miserable. It all swelled up in me — all the anger and frustration, years of sterility, endless nights of crying and, worst of all, the notion that my husband doesn’t understand me. So I took it all on her and I am not so sure I did the right thing.

Love,
Sarai

P.S.: Last night I had a terrible dream, my descendants were persecuted by hers, tortured and expelled, and that voice kept echoing in my mind: “See what you’ve done. See what you’ve done!”

These letters were not unearthed in the hills of Canaan, but they offer a possible interpretation of the events in this week’s parsha.

Rabbi Moshe Ben Nahman, however, does suggest that Sarah should not have tortured Hagar, and that the persecution of Jews by Muslims in the 11th and 12th century is a direct consequence of that behavior. The message that no action goes unnoticed or unaccounted for and that communication is essential to a healthy family and society reverberates to this day.

We can only imagine how different things would be if the protagonists in the story would talk with one another, try to define the problems and solve them, instead of being swept away by emotions. How often do we channel anger and frustration at the wrong people? Did you ever interpret someone’s action in a certain way and gave them no chance to explain before attacking?
By telling us the story with all its intricate human relationships and the tragic outcome, the Torah teaches us an important lesson about our daily interaction with the people surrounding us. And this lesson is as applicable in American suburbia as it was at the hilltops of Canaan.


Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation, a Sephardic congregation in West Los Angeles. He can be reached at haimovadia@hotmail.com.

What’s your Jewish I.Q.?


1. When was Judaism founded?
(a) 1000 C.E.
(b) 5000 B.C.E.
(c) 2000 B.C.E.
(d) 1000 B.C.E.

2. Who was the mother of Moses?

3. Who was born a Moabite, became a Jew and was the great-grandmother of King David?
(a) Rebekkah
(b) Deborah
(c) Lillith
(d) Ruth

4. Complete this line from Exodus 23:9: "You shall not oppress the _______ for you were _________ in the land of Egypt."

5. The Jews received the Torah at _____________ __________. God said there: "You shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a ________ __________." (Exodus 19:6)

6. The phrase "Chosen People" refers to:
(a) God chose the Jews to be persecuted.
(b) God entered into a covenant with the Jews.
(c) Only Jews are made in the image of God.

7. The First Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 B.C.E. by which power?
(a) Macedonia
(b) Rome
(c) Assyria
(d) Babylonia

8. The tragic last stand of the Jews in their revolt against Rome took place at:
(a) Qumran
(b) Jerusalem
(c) Masada
(d) Hebron

9. The Spanish Jews who chose conversion between 1391-1492 and continued to practice Judaism in secret were called:
(a) Kabbalists
(b) Marranos
(c) Pietists
(d) Sephardim

10. The first Jewish community in North America was established in this settlement by 23 Dutch Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Brazil:
(a) New Amsterdam
(b) Newport
(c) Charleston
(d) Savannah

11. In 1807, __________ freed the Jews from their ghettos, granting them citizenship.

12. The main wave of 2 million Jewish immigrants entered the United States in which period?
(a) 1914-1933
(b) 1860-1870
(c) 1880-1914
(d) 1933-1945

13. What Jewish person won nine Olympic gold medals in swimming and is considered the greatest swimmer in the history of the sport?

14. TRUE OR FALSE? Historians cite three factors that distinguish the Holocaust from other genocides: its cruelty, its scale and its efficiency.

15. During the Holocaust, what three countries resisted the deportation of their Jewish population?

16. "Hear O Israel the Lord is Our God, the Lord is One" is the first line of?:
(a) The Israeli National Anthem
(b) The Shemoneh Esrei
(c) The "Shema"

17. A mitzvah is:
(a) A prayer
(b) A commandment
(c) A sin

18. Where is it written:
(a)"We support the non-Jewish poor together with the Jewish poor, and we visit the non-Jewish sick alongside the Jewish sick, and we bury non-Jewish dead alongside Jewish dead, all for the sake of the ways of peace."
(b)"You shall not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor. I am the Lord."

19. Fill in: "On three things does the world stand: Torah, service to God, and acts of ____________" (Pirke Avot).

20. TRUE OR FALSE? The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel offers "Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel" the "full and equal citizenship and due representation in all its provisional and permanent institutions."

Click here for the answers.

Test contributors include the American Jewish Committee, Jewish Outreach Institute, www.expertrating.com and The Journal editors.

Obituaries


Mildred Ball died Sept. 23 at 91. She is survived by her sons, Joseph and David. Malinow and Silverman

Albert Benaltabet died Sept. 28 at 93. He is survived by his wife, Allegra; daughters, Lynn (Don) Sonderling and Michele Smith; four grandchildren; one great-grandchild; brother, Samuel; Malinow and Silverman

Albina Bennett died Oct. 1, at 83. She is survived by her son, Dr. Martin; and daughter, Marilyn (Larry Mott). Mount Sinai

Edythe Bennett died Sept. 22 at 77. She is survived by her husband, Benjamin; daughter, Nina Cantley; and three grandchildren. Groman

Ann Boodnick died Sept. 24 at 94. She is survived by her son, Jerome (Aliza) Ben-Ner; daughter, Margartet (Norman) Arinsberg; five grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren. Groman

Sheldon Cohen died Sept. 22 at 60. He is survived by his father, William; and social worker, Ivette Rodriguez. Groman

Selma Comsky died Aug. 24 at 79. She is survived by her daughters, Michelle Margolis, Jan and Andrea; sons-in-law, Jack Cousin, and Mark Margolis; and two grandchildren.

Sarah Decovnick died Sept. 22 at 100. She is survived by her sons, Stanley and Harvey; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Groman

Anthony Peter Merrill Dent died in July at 61. He is survied by his friends.

Gil Donchin died Sept. 26 at 42. He is survived by his parents, Emanual and Rina. Malinow and Silverman

Jean Dreisen died Oct. 3 at 86. She is survived by her daughters, Janet and Betsy; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Hillside

Selma Ruth Cohn Erso died Sept. 28 at 80. She is survived by her husband, Henry; son, Harold Rice-Erso; daughter, Robin (Michael) McIntyre; five grandchildren; and sister, Marcia Spiegel. Mount Sinai

Edward Ezra Feinstein died Sept. 23 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Li Jiang; and nephew, Dr. Eben. Malinow and Silverman

Anna Fox died Sept. 30 at 93. She is survived by her daughters, Helen MacKinnon and Marilyn Cooke; and three grandchildren. Hillside

Minnie Garr died Sept. 27 at 83. She is survived by her sons, Norman and Rabbi Ronald (Minda); three grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; sisters, Fay Levy and Tamar (Dr. Gerald) Freeman; and brother, Nathan Frankel. Mount Sinai

Hanne Gilinsky died Oct. 1 at 73. She is survived by daughter, Margaret (Thomas) Noble; in-laws, Barbara and Jerry Werlin and Richard and Hetty Gilinsky; nieces; and nephews. Hillside

Elsie Goldstein died Sept. 29 at 95. She is survived by her sons, Maurice and Gerald (Naomi); and eight grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Harris Goldstein died Oct. 5 at 64. He is survived by his wife, Andrea; sons, Matt and Dave; two grandchildren; parents, Harold and Adeline; and brothers, Joel and Gary. Mount Sinai

Frances Shirley Kass died Oct. 3 at 86. She is survived by her husband, Reuben; daughters, Ilene Blok and Anne Bowman; and four grandchildren. Groman

Myer Keleman died Oct. 4 at 90. He is survived by his wife, Helen; daughter, Dorene (Steven) Shapiro; son, Steven (Laurie); four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Sylvia Keys died Sept. 27 at 94. She is survived by her sons, Stan (Dorothy), Paul (Carmen) and Harvey (Mickey); six grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

Alvin Klugman died Oct. 2 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Marjorie; daughter, Peggy (John) Cronin; grandsons, Paul and Bryan Cronin; and sister, Faye Hershman. Hillside

Sally Kraft died Sept. 28 at 95. She is survived by her daughter, Sheila (Dr. Elliot) Leifer; three grandchildren; and five great grandchildren. Groman

Sol Lederman died Oct. 4 at 84. He is survived by his daughters, Jill Fine, Patti Rose and Sue Minkoff; four grandchildren; and sister, Rose Silverstein. Groman

Bernard Lifson died Oct. 3 at 94. He is survived by his son, Allan; daughter, Barbara (Mendel) Kahan; and grandchildren. Mount Sinai

Dr. Irving Madoff died Oct. 2 at 96. He is survived by his wife, Frances; daughters, Cindy (Bertrand) Marcano and Jane; grandsons, Stewart and Scott Marcano; and great-granddaughter, Hannah. Hillside

Benjamin Gale Mannis died Sept. 25 at 94. He is survived by his daughter, Lynn Hill. Malinow and Silverman

Steven Jules Markman died Sept. 30 at 59. He is survived by his mother, Esther Kevenson; son, Joseph; sister, Barbara (Bert) Pronin; and brother, Larry. Malinow and Silverman

M. Stanley Muskat died Oct. 3 at 96. He is survived by his daughters, Joyce and Carol; and nephew, Harvey Kates. Malinow and Silverman

Joseph Nathenson died Oct. 4 at 80. He is survived by his wife, Ruth; son, Larry; daughter, Jill (Thomas) Bassett; one grandchild; and sister, Shirley (Ken) Bassett. Mount Sinai

Denise Rachel Oschin died Oct. 1 at 52. She is survived by her daughter, Ritta Sophia Papadopoulos; stepmother, Aggi; sister, Renie. Groman

Edythe Pauline Ouslander died Sept. 28 at 91. She is survived by her son, Arnold; and one grandchild. Groman

Constance Passamaneck died Oct. 5 at 69. She is survived by her husband, Steven; daughter, Julia (William) Jensen; stepchildren, Evi (Scott) Graham and Daniel (Kelly); and three grandchildren. Hillside

Howard Pearlman died Oct. 4. He is survived by his wife, Evelyn; son, Larry, (Janelle); daughter, Judy; three grandchildren; great-granddaughter, Georgia; and sister, Bernice; Hillside

Leslie Preston died Sept. 29 at 63. He is survived by his brother, Monty (Polly); and nephew, Darren. Mount Sinai

Maurice Rabin died Oct. 1 at 83. He is survived by his nieces, Wendy (John) Kelsey, and Maxine Blaurock; and nephew, Michael Pantel.

Walter Roth died Sept. 29 at 85. He is survived by his sons, Albert and Edward; and former wife, Henny. Sholom Chapels

Arthur Rothenberg died Oct. 2 at 86. He is survived by his wife, Maxine; sons, Richard, Howard and Phillip; daughter, JoAnn Mercer; six grandchildren; and three great- grandchildren. Hillside

Davis Sarkin died Oct. 3 at 80. He is survived by his sons, Allan (Lisa) and Ralph; daughter, Robin Haines; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Groman

Rabbi Richard Ira Schachet died Sept. 20 at 70. He is survived by his daughter, Tamara (Wally) Schachet-Briskin; stepchildren; and two grandchildren. Malinow and Silverman

Obituaries


Werner Anders died Sept. 27 at 91. He is survived by his wife, Lily; daughter, Rachel (Leo) Woss; son, Gideon (Leslie); five grandchildren; eight great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchildren.
 
Roberta “Bobbie” Bernstein died Sept. 25 at 67. She is survived by her husband, Hy; sons, Steve and Keith; daughter, Deanna; and four grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha
 
Shari Cohen died Sept. 25 at 78. She is survived by her husband, Harry; daughters, Barbara Racklin, Margie Baumbac and Debra (Stuart) Blum; and three grandchildren. Mount Sinai
 
Jonathan Comras died Aug. 8 at 44. He is survived by parents, Jackie and Richard; and brother, Lawrence. Mount Sinai
 
Selma Comsky died Aug. 24 at 79. She is survived by her daughters, Michelle Margolis, Jan and Andrea; sons-in-law, Mark Margolis and Jack Cousin; and two grandchildren.
 
Harry Drucker died Sept. 8 at 77. He is survived by his wife, Sylvia; and son, Barry. Sholom Chapels
 
Mae Falikoff died Sept. 20 at 95. She is survived by her son, Marvin. Sholom ChapelsJordon Feldman died Sept. 27 at 70. he is survived by his wife, Bette; son, Adam; and daughter, Abbie. Mount Sinai
 
Isaac Fields died Aug. 26 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Dora; son, Allan (Elyse); daughter, Pauline (Milton) Zablow; six grandchildren; and brothers Max (Betty) and David (Gladys).
 
Mildred Handelsman died Sept. 17 at 91. She is survived by her husband, David; and sons, Burton and William. Groman
 
Jeffrey Michael Harman died Sept. 22. at 48. He is survived by his wife, Debbie; son, Eric; parents Martha and Sam; brothers, Harvey and Steven; and friends. Beth Israel Cemetery
 
Alice Horowitz died Sept. 14 at 90. She is survived by her son, David (Miriam); daughter, Phyllis (Dr. David) Katzin; five grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Sholom Chapels
 
Ayouch Yechiel Ifrah died Sept. 18 at 85. He is survived by his sons, David, Albert, Gabriel, Raphael and Max; daughters, Jacqueline, Annette, Helen, Tersa and Judith; 14 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. Chevra Kadisha
 
Herman Klein died Sept. 10 at 91. She is survived by her daughters, Jenny (David) Cohen and Rose Margolis; son, Larry; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Sholom Chapels
 
Semen Khanukayev died Sept. 20 at 87. He is survived by his wife, Olga; sons, Josef and Igor; daughter, Anna; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren. Chevra Kadisha
 
Aaron Phillip Moss died Sept. 19 at 89. He is survived by his son, Jack Crayne; daughter, Phyllis; and stepson, Richard Cohen. Groman
 
Herbert “Lou” Press died Sept. 25 at 83. He is survived by his wife, Ina; daughter, Susan Shulman; son, Evan (Isis); four grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; sister, Evelyn Lehman; and brother, Burt (Trueen). Mount Sinai
 
Martin Alden Rohrlich died Sept. 17at 87. He is survived by his daughters, Janice Lang, Linda Cohn and Andrea Cohen; and six grandchildren.
 
Alfred Ross died Sept. 12. He is survived by his brother, Max (Doris). Sholom Chapels
 
Martin Saben died Sept. 26 at 82. He is survived by his sons, Jack and Gary; and cousin, Glenda (Larry) Carver. Mount Sinai
 
Diana Ruth Siegel died Sept. 21 at 98. She is survived by her sons, Robert (Sally) and Allan (Melinda); daughter, Elaine (Harry) Smith; seven grandchildren; 11 great-grandchildren; and brother, Al Powell. Mount Sinai
 
Sarah Silverberg died Sept. 17 at 88. She is survived by her nephews, Marvin Kay, Howard Rudnick and Jeff Monka. Sholom Chapels
 
Bess Smith died Sept. 25 at 89. She is survived by her sons, Murray and Barry (Denise); three grandchildren; and brother, Max Muravnick. Mount Sinai
 
Judith Tiger died Sept. 26 at 74. She is survived by her husband, Siggy; sons, Michael and Peter (Lynn); daughters, Inez (Mark) Tiger-Lizer and Leone (Etai) Zion; son-in-law, Drummond; and six grandchildren. Mount Sinai
 

Obituaries


Gladys Bloom died Aug. 27 at 87. She is survived by her daughters, Penelope Rosenberg and Lois Tunick; six grandchildren; three stepgrandchildren; and 11 great-grandchildren. Groman
 

Traveling with my father


When I found out my dad was dying of cancer, I spent a lot of time in New York with him and my mom, rather than in Los Angeles, where I was living at the time.

 
One
of the good things about being a road comic is you can live anywhere and book yourself out of wherever you are. Road comics have no office. So New York became my base.

 
My dad loved my act. He thought I was the funniest person in the world. I guess you are the funniest person in the world if someone thinks you are. My dad and mom came to see me at least a hundred times before he died in 1988. He would come and see me wherever I was doing a show. And he always got dressed up for the show.

 
I would say, “Dad, you don’t have to wear a sport coat. I’m at the Comic Strip, not the Copa.” And he’d say, “I don’t care. If I’m going out on a Saturday night with your mother, I’m not going to look like a slob.”

 
I remember him asking me to do certain bits about my mother. He loved it when I talked about how they’d been married so long, she’d sucked the brain out of his head.

 
“She loves when you talk about her,” he said. “Do me a favor. Do that thing about her cleaning the house.”

 
My dad really loved my mom. He was just so proud of her. And with me an only child, we were his life.

 
I remember when my dad had just gotten out of a hospice, and they sent him back home to die. The night he came home, I had a show to do. I said, “Dad, maybe I should stay home instead.” He wouldn’t hear of it. “You go and be funny.” I did.

 
About three days later, I had this gig about two hours away in upstate New York. That afternoon, we were all sitting at the dining room table when my dad said in the weakest of voices, “Can I come with you tonight? I’d really like to see your show.”

 
I knew what he was saying. He was saying: “I really want to see you one more time before I die.”

 
I asked my mom what she thought.

 
“If you think you can handle him, then fine,” she said.

 
My dad was very weak, but he could go a short distance if you helped him. I said “Yeah, I can do it.”

 
That night as we were leaving, my mom said, “You boys have a nice time tonight. I’ve got things to do here at home. Call me when you get there.”

 
So off we headed to my gig. It was a cold winter night, and a light snow fell for most of the drive. We didn’t talk much on the way up. As I remember, my dad slept most of the way, anyway. I kept looking at him as he slept in the car. I cried most of the way up, but that was OK; I was with my dad.

 
When we got to the hotel parking lot, we noticed that it was empty, except for three or four cars. “Hey Marko” my dad said, “Can I drive around the lot?”
My dad loved to drive. He was the one who’d taught me to drive, just a few years earlier, in the empty parking lots of New York on Sunday mornings. He’d done every single bit of the driving for the 39 years he was married to my mother.

 
She never drove once.

 
Now he was asking me to let him drive. “Sure dad,” I said.

 
So I got him around to the driver’s seat, and for two minutes he drove very slowly around the lot. “That’s great,” he said.

 
I helped him park, and we checked into the hotel and went to our room. It was still early, so I helped him off with his pants, and he took a nap. I called my mother, told her we were safe, and she started crying. “Take good care of him. I love him,” she said.

 
I said, “I love him, too, and I also love you.”

 
At about 8 p.m., we went over to the club, which was attached to the hotel.
Before we went in, my dad said, “Thank you for taking me.”

 
I said, “You’re welcome. Thank you for being a great father.”

 
Then he asked me to do the routine about my mother that he always liked. I did them all for him.

 
A few weeks later, he died. About a year later, my mother came to see me work.

 
On the way to the club, she asked me to do the routines about my father. I kissed her on the head and said sure. I also did the ones about her, because I knew he would have wanted to hear them.

 

Mark Schiff is a standup comedian who has been on all the major talk shows and has recently been touring with Jerry Seinfeld. “I Killed: True Stories of the Road From America’s Top Comics” is his first book.

Circuit


A for Achievement

Supporters of the Friends of Sheba Medical Center filled the ballroom at the Four Seasons last week to honor three remarkable women — Rita and Sue Brucker and Dr. Elizabeth Morgan with their prestigious Women of Achievement Award.Morgan gained national attention in 1987 when she went to jail rather than allow her daughter to attend court-ordered visits with her ex-husband who, Morgan believed was abusing her daughter. As a result, Congress passed two acts to safeguard children.

Affectionately known as “Bubbe the Clown,” Rita Brucker has decorated the faces of countless children with cancer and was recognized as “Mother of the Year” and “Volunteer of the Year” by Bezalel Hadassah Chapter, among her other honors. Brucker praised the work Sheba Medical Center is doing to ensure the health of newborns, urging everyone to continue supporting their efforts.Daughter-in-law Sue, wife of Beverly Hills Councilman Barry Brucker, credited her parents with living a life of charity and service, setting an example she has embraced and passed on to her children.

“If my children, Lauren and Richard, and their peers are indicative of the next generation, I know we have nothing to worry about,” she told the attendees. Among her other honors and achievements, Sue Brucker has been feted by Hadassah of Southern California and is currently president of Temple Emanuel.Event Chair Ruth Steinberger and co-chairs Aviva Harari and Lynn Ziman called on writer/humorist extraordinaire and “Save Me a Seat” author Rhea Kohan to hostess the event. Kohan entertained the group with a humorous take on daughters, sons and living life in the middle-aged lane.

A boutique featuring a wide variety of items drew buyers before and after the luncheon — all designed to raise money for newborn screening at Sheba Medical Center. Seen wandering about checking out the boutiques were Beverly Hills School Board President Myra Lurie and her mother, Bess; Allison Levyn and her mother-in-law, Toni; Denise Avchen; Helene Harris; Marilyn Weiss; Lonnie Delshad, wife of Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Jimmy Delshad; Susie Wallach, Stacia and Larry Kopeikin; Amy and Noah Furie, and Nancy Krasne.

Aviva Brightens Bel Air

A misty day couldn’t dampen the spirits of Aviva Family and Children’s Services supporters last week when they gathered at the home of uber-philanthropist Robin Broidy for an elegant and successful benefit luncheon.

Broidy tented the yard in her Bel Air home for the delicious event, which was catered by Wolfgang Puck and featured a tempting Fendi boutique that contributed 15 percent of its sales to the charity — as well as the fabulous Fendi goodie bags.

The luncheon planned and executed by Broidy and underwritten by Susan Casden, raised more than $75,000 to support the worthwhile projects of Aviva. President Andrew Diamond updated the group and invited guests to tour the facility. The guest list was brimming with many of Los Angeles’ most charitable and giving women including: Linda May, Barbara Miller, Pamela Dennis, Lilly Tartikoff, Lola Levey, Diane Glazer, Jami Gertz and Annette Plotkin.

Founded in 1915, Aviva Family and Children’s Services provides care and treatment to abandoned, neglected, abused and at-risk youth in the greater Los Angeles community.

On the Avenue

Saks Fifth Avenue-Beverly Hills held its “I Want It” event last week to raise funds for the Tower Cancer Research Foundation. Attendees, including Judy Henning, Bonnie Webb and Lillian Raffels, sipped martinis and nibbled morsels while wandering through the store trying to decide what to purchase with their $50 gift cards. The Henri Mancini Trio provided live music as fabulous frocks and jewels by designers such as Tony Duquette kept everyone mesmerized. The night was a complete success for cancer research and a fun shopping experience for guests.

Liberty for All

The first Torah scroll written exclusively to honor and memorialize members of the U.S. military was inaugurated in a ceremony Sept. 10 at the Chabad of Oxnard Jewish Center.

Known as the first letters of the Liberty Torah, it was inscribed by a Jewish scribe, or sofer, at the ceremony timed to coincide with the eve of the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11 and marked by prayers for our military and peace in the world.

The Liberty Torah was initiated by Oxnard residents Dr. David and Edi Boxstein and their family to honor their son, Jonathan, who is currently serving in Iraq in the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division.

“The Liberty Torah gives everyone, regardless of their political or religious affiliation, the opportunity to honor all our soldiers who have served our great country throughout our history, and to pray for an end to all hostilities,” said Chabad of Oxnard director Rabbi Dov Muchnik.

The Torah was sent to Israel to be completed, and then will be returned to the Chabad of Oxnard Jewish Center for use in its holiday and Shabbat services.The event also featured live music, refreshments and a hands-on Torah writing workshop for children.

For more information, visit www.libertytorah.com, or call (805) 382-4770.

Happenings I

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels was honored with a Peace Award from the Wilshire Center Interfaith Council and the Interreligious Council of Southern California at the Islamic Center of Southern California. Comess-Daniels thanked the Beth Shir Sholom community for enabling him to “pray with his legs” in ways that result in this kind of recognition and he gratefully shared the award with Beth Shir Sholom.

Happenings II

Screenwriter author Nora Ephron (“Heartburn, “Silkwood” “Sleepless in Seattle,” “When Harry Met Sally”) spoke to an overflowing crowd last Thursday night at the Writer’s Guild Writer’s Bloc event. Hosting Ephron and serving as moderator was megaproducer mogul Linda Obst, who offered insights into her longtime friendship with Ephron. Ephron entertained the audience with stories about her years in Washington, her experiences as a journalist and the agony of aging as chronicled in her new book ” I Feel Bad About my Neck.”

For more information about upcoming events, call (310) 335-0917.

Reflecting on a Great Cause


The UCLA Marching Band escorts Jewish Home Lifetime Award recipient Sylvia and Sherman Grancell into the gala Celebration of Life: Reflections 2006 event held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The beat of the UCLA Marching Band announced the opening of festivities last week when almost 600 people attended the Celebration of Life: Reflections 2006 dinner at the Beverly Hilton to benefit the Jewish Home for the Aging. A live auction hosted by Monty Hall raised $31,000 of the more than $500,000 total by offering blimp rides, a Wells Fargo box at Dodger Stadium, private screening with catering and Fox football studio viewing.

Our Uri


Hours before the cease-fire between Israel and Hezbollah went into effect, Israel Defense Forces tank commander Uri Grossman, the son of acclaimed Israeli novelist David Grossman, was killed by an Hezbollah anti-tank missile. This is an excerpt of the eulogy David Grossman delivered at his son’s funeral:

At 20 minutes to three in the morning, between Saturday and Sunday, our doorbell rang. Over the intercom, they said they were from the army. For three days,
every thought began with a negative: He won’t come. We won’t speak. We won’t laugh. He won’t be that kid with the ironic look in his eyes and the amazing sense of humor. He won’t be that young person with understanding beyond his years. There won’t be that warm smile and healthy appetite. There will no longer be that rare combination of determination and refinement. There won’t be his common sense and wisdom. We won’t sit down together to watch “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld,” and we won’t listen to Johnny Cash, and we won’t feel the strong embrace. We won’t see you going to talk to your brother, Yonatan, with excited hand movements, and we won’t see you hugging your sister, Ruthie, the love of your life.

Uri, my beloved. For your entire brief life, we have all learned from you. We learned from the strength and determination to go your own way. To go your own way even if there is no way you could succeed. We followed with amazement your struggle to get into the tank commanders’ course. How you never compromised with your commanders, because you knew you would be a great commander. You were not satisfied to give less than you thought you could. And when you succeeded, I thought, “Here’s a man who knows his own abilities in such a sober and simple way. Here’s a man who has no pretensions or arrogance, who isn’t influenced by what others say about him, whose source of strength is internal.”

From childhood, you were like that. A child who live in harmony with himself and those around him. A child who knew his place and knew that he was loved, who recognized his limitations and strengths. And truly, from the moment you forced the army to make you a commander, it was clear what kind of commander and person you were. We hear today from your comrades and your subordinates about the commander and friend. About the person who got up before everyone else in order to organize everything and who went to sleep only after everyone else had. And yesterday, at midnight, I looked at our house, which was quite a mess after the visits of hundreds of people who came to console us and I said to myself: “Nu, now we need Uri, to help us get everything together.”

You were the leftie of your unit, and you were respected for it, because you stood your ground without giving up even one of your military assignments…. You were a son and a friend to me and to Ema. Our soul is tied to yours. You felt good in yourself, and you were a good person to live with. I cannot even say out loud how much you were “Someone to Run With.” Every furlough you would say: “Dad, let’s talk,” and we would go, usually to a restaurant, and talk. You told me so much, Uri, and I felt proud that I was your confidante.

I won’t say anything now about the war you were killed in. We, our family, have already lost in this war. The state of Israel will have its own reckoning….
Uri was such a quintessential Israeli boy; even his name was very Israeli and so very Hebraic. He was the essence of Israeli-ness as I would want it to be. An Israeli-ness that has almost been forgotten, that is something of a curiosity.

And he was a person so full of values. That word has been so eroded and has become ridiculed in recent years. In our crazy, cruel and cynical world, it’s not ‘cool’ to have values, or to be a humanist, or to be truly sensitive to the suffering of the other, even if that other is your enemy on the battlefield.

However, I learned from Uri that it is both possible and necessary to be all that. We have to guard ourselves, by defending ourselves both physically and morally. We have to guard ourselves from might and simplistic thinking, from the corruption that is in cynicism, from the pollution of the heart and the ill-treatment of humans, which are the biggest curse of those living in a disastrous region like ours. Uri simply had the courage to be himself, always and in all situations — to find his exact voice in every thing he said and did. That’s what guarded him from the pollution and corruption and the diminishing of the soul.

In the night between Saturday and Sunday, at 20 to 3 a.m., our doorbell rang. The person said through the intercom that he was from the army, and I went down to open the door, and I thought to myself — that’s it, life’s over. But five hours later, when Michal and I went into Ruthie’s room to wake her and tell her the terrible news, Ruthie, after first crying, said: “But we will live, right? We will live and trek like before, and I want to continue singing in a choir, and we will continue to laugh like always, and I want to learn to play guitar.”

And we hugged her and told her that we will live.

We will derive our strength from Uri; he had enough for many years to come. Vitality, warmth and love radiated from him strongly, and that will shine on us even if the star that made it has been extinguished. Our love, we had a great honor to live with you. Thank you for every moment that you were ours.

— Father and Mother, Yonatan and Ruthie.

Translated from the original Hebrew by professor William Cutter, Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

A ‘Nice’ Idea Blossoms Into a Group of ‘Niceaholics’


Debbie Tenzer was having lunch with several girlfriends when the conversation got heated. “We all had such different views on where the country was headed. There was so much anger and so much scary news in the post-Sept. 11 world,” she says, recalling the devastation from hurricanes and the tsunami, terrorism threats, difficulties facing Israel and escalating deaths in Iraq. “I wished I could pull my head in and hide like a turtle.”

But that’s hardly what Tenzer, a mother of three and marketing consultant, decided to do.

She thought to herself: “I can’t single-handedly end world hunger, but I can donate some cans to a food bank. I can’t fix the entire school system, but I can donate my kids’ old books to the library.”

So she did, and her kindness was empowering.

“I realized that if you have the ability to help other people, you’re in a pretty good place,” says Tenzer, who lives in Los Angeles with her husband of 29 years. “It’s not always easy, because basically, we’re selfish creatures, many of us struggling every day. We have to make a choice, and it starts by doing just one nice thing.”

Tenzer decided that every Monday, she’d do something nice for others.

“It’s the hardest day of the week,” she explains, “so I wanted to start off with something I could feel good about, a personal victory,” even if it was only a five-minute gesture like making a card for senior citizens in nursing homes.
Her friends were inspired by her idea, so she sent an e-mail to 60 of them with her suggestions for kind acts they could easily do, too.

One year later, her idea has evolved into a Web site, DoOneNiceThing.com, with thousands of visitors and a weekly e-mail that reaches people in more than 20 countries, including Afghanistan, Israel, Japan and Slovakia. Her self-funded site reinforces the idea that small acts of kindness can create lasting results and suggests simple deeds that appeal to both adults and children without usually asking for money.

She credits them with cheering up hundreds of hospitalized children, donating countless books to schools, libraries and hospitals, as well as backpacks to foster children who were literally carrying their belongings from home to home in a garbage bag.

“What kind of message does that send to them?” Tenzer asks rhetorically.
The ideas are often sent to Tenzer in the more than 200 weekly e-mails she receives from the site’s members, whom she calls “Niceaholics” because, Tenzer cautions, “you get hooked.”

Operation Feel Better, for example, encourages people to make or buy cards that she then sends to hospitalized children. “So far I’ve gotten 1,000 cards from all over the United States and as far away as China, and they’re still trickling in,” she says. The figure includes about 20 from her 14-year-old daughter.
“I brought some to UCLA Children’s Hospital and sent others to St. Jude’s Hospital in Memphis.”

Pulling out a big batch in a manila envelope, she adds, “These are on their way to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, where sick children of all faiths lie side by side.”

Pointing to a wall in her home office that’s covered with pictures, Tenzer says, “These are some of the heroes who are making life better.”

She begins to cry as she talks about Mallory Lewis, with whom she spent the day at Fort Irwin near Barstow, the last stop before many of the soldiers are deployed to Iraq. “Some of the people we met were killed in the war. Maybe the last smile they had or their last taste of childhood was because of Mallory,” she sobs, noting that Lewis, the daughter of puppeteer Shari Lewis, performed with Lamp Chop for no fee.

“I’m not usually so emotional, but these people remind me of a higher purpose in life,” she adds. Getting teary-eyed again, she points to a picture of a young man who quit his job at a law firm to teach at an inner-city school, where he spent his free time helping students fill out college applications.

“Every one of them went to college because of him,” she said.

While some of the “nice people” Tenzer has recognized are spearheading grass-roots efforts or starting nonprofits to help the homeless, disadvantaged children, AIDS patients, abused animals or drug addicts, others are honored for simply making people smile. Bob Mortenson, for example, a retired man in his 70s, takes a walk every morning carrying a bag of cookies so that he can share something sweet with workers in his neighborhood. And on her way home from work as a gynecologist, Karen Gross has a daily ritual of dropping off treats at her local LAPD and Fire Department stations.

The one thing all the honorees have in common, Tenzer says, is their reaction to being praised.

“Every single one of them says something like, ‘Oh no, not me. Other people do so much more than I do,'” Tenzer says. “This is the sign of a truly kind person.”

When the kindness hits close to home, she’s especially grateful and pleasantly surprised.

“You won’t believe this,” she says, explaining that her younger son, Ben, a college junior who’s spending the semester in Barcelona, was recently pickpocketed. But within days, a taxi driver had found what remained of Ben’s wallet, including his credit cards and ID, and called his university in the United States so that he could arrange to return it.

“There really are a lot of nice people out there,” Tenzer says with a smile.
She attributes her sense of tikkun olam, healing the world, to her Conservative Jewish and Zionist upbringing in the Bay Area, values that she and her husband, an agent at Creative Artists Agency, have instilled in their children.
“I was always taught that we have a responsibility to other Jews and to the whole community,” she says, praising her parents for being role models. “Tikkun olam is in my soul. It’s just a reflex. It’s what’s expected of us.”
But she’s careful to point out that her site embraces people of all denominations and backgrounds.

“My goal is to unite people, not point out our differences,” she says. “I never ask people their faith, but it often comes out.”

Still, she admits that about half of all the people featured on the site are Jewish: “And I’m proud of that.”

Like her honorees, she’s also proud of her accomplishments, but won’t take all the credit. “It’s not all me by any means,” says Tenzer, who’s now working on a related book. “I just lit a match to get some light going out there. It’s the people all over the world who are keeping it going.”

Five Gold Bangles and World of Difference


The morning of my wedding day, my mother called me into her bedroom.
“Come sit with me,” she said quietly, patting the spot next to her on the bed.
I sat down beside her, the softness of the mattress causing our shoulders to touch.

She turned her face toward mine, looking happier than I had seen her look in years. I attributed it to the fact that her almost-30-year-old daughter was finally getting married. Smiling, she handed me a box.

“Open it,” she urged.

Inside the box were five beautiful, gold-filigree bangle bracelets of different patterns. The gold was unlike any I had ever seen and warmed to my touch. They were not new, their shapes having been altered from perfect circles to imperfect ones by the wrists they had adorned.

I turned them over in my hands and, one by one, slid them on my right arm. They were truly beautiful.

“Oh, Mom, I love them! Where did you get them?”

She answered by telling me a story about my great-grandmother, Jemilla Danino, who, at the age of 12, married a man more than three times her age to become his second wife. Born in 1882 to a poor family in Alexandria, Egypt, she had no choice but to respect the arrangement her parents had made. One afternoon he arrived, and within the week she left with her new husband to live in Haifa, never to see her parents again. The bracelets on my arm were the same ones that Jemilla had received from her husband as a token of his commitment to marry her.

Living in the 21st century, it is hard to fathom an arrangement like the one Jemilla’s parents made for her. I barely get a vote as to whom my own daughter dates, let alone a veto. And I cried for three nights when I sent her off to summer camp and she was the same age that Jemilla was when she left home forever. And knowing, as Jemilla’s parents surely did, that I would never see my child or my grandchildren, is a thought I don’t even want to entertain.

It’s hard to believe that as recently as the early 1900s, my great-grandmother lived in a harem; marketing, cooking, washing and cleaning side by side with the other wives who shared her husband’s bed. Yet for Sephardic Jews who lived in communities influenced by Islam, like Egypt, Yemen, Morocco and Turkey, polygamy was an accepted practice.

This is in contrast to the Jews of Eastern Europe, where Rabbi Gershom decreed a ban on polygamy in the 10th century. Sephardic Jews did not accept Rabbi Gershom’s ban however, and when Israel was created in 1948, the state faced the problem of what to do with Jewish immigrants who had multiple wives. The Israeli government permitted those marriages already in existence to stay in effect while forbidding any future ones. Today, the ban on polygamy is universally accepted in the Jewish world.

The Bible is filled with stories of the problems and the unhappiness that exists in a polygamous marriage: Sarah was derided by Hagar because she couldn’t have a child, Leah was jealous of Rachel because Isaac loved her more and Solomon’s many wives brought idolatry into the land of Israel. My great-grandmother suffered a similar fate when, at the age of 13, she gave birth to my grandfather amidst women who could not bear children. Barely a teenager herself, she learned how to care for her child in a home where her life was made miserable by the disappointment and bitterness of other women. What saved her during those difficult years, and throughout her life, was her wit, wisdom and undying love for her son, my grandfather.

There are other laws that have been changed or prohibited throughout Jewish history. Another example is Rabbi Gershom’s decree prohibiting a man from divorcing his wife against her will, for any or no reason at all. This reversed a long-standing injustice that left women totally vulnerable in a marriage. The law was changed requiring the consent of both parties to a divorce, although there are still problems when a husband refuses to give the woman a bill of divorcement, or a get in Hebrew. (But I will save that topic that for another time!)

I treasure wearing my gold bracelets for many reasons. They help me remember my great-grandmother, a woman whose courage, strength and devotion carried her through a lifetime of struggle. They remind me of my mother, who wore them as a young girl when she was raised by Jemilla as a result of her own parents’ tragic and untimely deaths. And they give me a sense of optimism about our future as Jews.

For it is through the wisdom of the Jewish tradition and its ability to change and respond to laws that are patently unfair or result in causing hardship and injustice, that our greatest hope for the future lies.

Drive Sends Love, ‘Gratitude’ to Troops


As Carolyn Blashek knows only too well, good things come in small packages. The founder and motivating force behind Operation Gratitude, a nonprofit organization that sends care packages to American troops overseas, Blashek serves as an inspiring testimony to one woman’s dedication to provide faith and hope to lonely soldiers.

Blashek is a Jewish mother in Encino who, like most Americans, was horrified by the events of Sept. 11, 2001. However, her reaction was slightly different than that of the average Jewish mother — she tried to enlist in the military. She soon discovered that, at 46, she exceeded the age limit of 35, and “as a civilian there were very few opportunities to show your support to the military.” She began volunteering at a dilapidated military lounge at LAX, until one day in March 2003 (the outset of the war with Iraq), a heart-wrenching talk with a despondent soldier inspired her to create a system to show soldiers that she cared.

“I’m going back to a war zone,” she recalls him saying. “I just buried my mother, my wife left me and my child died as an infant. I have no one in my life. For the first time I don’t think I’ll make it back, but it really wouldn’t matter because no one would even care.”

Blashek was devastated as she realized that many of the soldiers are fighting in foreign countries without support systems.

“What gives someone the strength to survive when bullets are flying?” she wondered. “The belief that someone cares about you.”

She decided to express her compassion by sending food, entertainment, and personal letters in packages.

“The Jewish mother in me had this need to communicate concern and love and appreciation,” she said with a little laugh. “It’s that sense of nurturing… the Jewish mother element.”

Primarily through word of mouth, the project snowballed. What began three years ago as a humble living room project financed and organized by her alone exploded into an organization that coordinates donation drives for packages across the country.

“Now I’ve sent over 111,000 packages in three years,” she said.

After Operation Gratitude’s third annual Patriotic Drive, which is to take place at the end of this month, she hopes to reach 150,000.

Blashek vividly recalls an emotional encounter she had with Kayitz Finley — the son of her local rabbi, Mordecai Finley of Congregation Ohr HaTorah — to whom she sent packages while he served in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both a soldier serving in a distant land and a member of her local community, he became her inspiration. “The first most emotional experience I had through all this was when he came home and he and I got to meet in person for the first time,” she said. “It was at a Saturday morning service. We saw each other, threw our arms around each other and couldn’t stop hugging. Neither of us could get any words out. We both just kept saying ‘thank you’ to each other. It was very powerful.”

Operation Gratitude’s Third Annual Patriotic Drive continues at the California Army National Guard Armory, 17330 Victory Blvd, Van Nuys on June 17-18. Items requested for donation can be found on the website