Non-Jewish man returns chametz

A non-Jewish man who took possession of the chametz given to him by a haredi Orthodox community just before the start of Passover returned the goods shortly after the end of the holiday.

The return of the chametz, including expensive liquor, was reported in haredi newspapers and The Jerusalem Post, and picked up by several Israel-themed blogs.

The non-Jewish recipient of the goods, a Muslim resident of the Shuafat neighborhood of eastern Jerusalem, reportedly called Rabbi Simcha Rabinowitz of the Ramat Shlomo community shortly after Passover ended to say that he would return the goods. Rabinowitz had encouraged his followers to gift the chametz this year instead of selling it.

The Life in Israel blog suggested that “the rabbi probably told the non-Jew to do this whole thing, just to impress upon the people that their ‘gift’ or ‘sale’ is a real business transaction and change of ownership and not just a fictitious loophole.”

Beyond Remembrance

If you want to get in trouble in the Jewish world, critique anything that has to do with Holocaust remembrance. It’s a pretty untouchable subject, and for good reason. The Holocaust is a horror that melts the human heart, especially the Jewish heart. I’m not immune.

For three years I lived next to a survivor, and I choked up every time I would hear another story. I was haunted for years by the scene in “Sophie’s Choice” when Meryl Streep had to decide which of her two kids would go to the gas chamber.

The Holocaust overwhelms me with grief.

So it is with some trepidation that I share with you my problem with the Jewish world’s obsession with Holocaust remembrance.

Maybe it’s a personal thing. I don’t like feeling like a victim. It makes me smug, arrogant and constantly outraged. It feels good in the moment, but I never feel like doing anything except remind the world that I’m a victim, over and over again.

Feeling like a victim doesn’t encourage me to improve myself. It just gives me instant righteousness. When I see how Jews are hated throughout the world — especially how certain enemies threaten another Holocaust — my righteousness goes off the charts. I get so worked up, so focused on our enemies, that I stop looking inward — at the beauty of my Judaism, for instance, and how I can get closer to it.

Feeling like a victim makes me Jewishly lazy.

This is why the best way I’ve found to honor Holocaust victims without feeling like a victim is to celebrate the Judaism they wish they could have celebrated. As I see it, wearing our Judaism on our sleeves is the best revenge.

So when I see hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into Holocaust memorials and Holocaust remembrance, I see an unspeakable tragedy for my people, yes, but I also see a missed opportunity. I see this enormous effort to tell us how Jews die, but so little effort to tell us how Jews live — more specifically, to tell us what is so extraordinary about this Judaism that those 6 million Jews died for.

I wonder what the Jewish world would be like if the slogan “never again” also came to mean: “Never again will we not help Jews get closer to their Judaism.” Could you imagine if we took half of the money we spend on Holocaust memorials and put it into Jewish education for all ages? Instead of forging a Jewish identity based on fear and suffering, we’d be forging one based on pride and knowledge. Ironically, because the Holocaust would be part of any curriculum, Holocaust education would also increase, but it would be in a classroom, not a museum.

It’s clear, though, that because the Holocaust is such a sensitive subject, we haven’t yet had a tough debate on the best way to commemorate this seminal tragedy. In the meantime, the promoters of victimhood have hijacked the agenda, and the fundraising pit to build more memorials seems bottomless. But think about it. What will better prevent another Holocaust: more fancy memorials to our suffering, or a generation of proud and committed Jews who love their Judaism and would do anything to defend it?

Proud, committed Jews are human museums. They’re walking memorials to the power of the Jewish faith. They remember Hitler, but they study Heschel. They honor Holocaust victims not by acting like victims, but by fearlessly living their Judaism. They honor the dead by helping the living.

Having said all this, the other day I was lucky enough to meet someone who volunteers at one of the crown jewels of Holocaust remembrance, right here in the hood: The Museum of Tolerance.

Her name is Sally Schneider, and she’s a former high school teacher from the San Fernando Valley who, for more than 10 years, has been a volunteer tour guide at the Museum of Tolerance.

When I talked to Sally on the phone, she overflowed with enthusiasm on the importance of Holocaust memorials. I was eager to hear a passionate opinion that was different than mine, so we met at her place in Santa Monica.

I have been to the museum, so nothing I heard surprised me: examples of the horror of the Holocaust, the universal dangers of prejudice and evil, the importance of tolerance, etc. I decided to make things more interesting by sharing my personal skepticism. I challenged her: I asked whether her experience at the museum has strengthened her connection to Judaism.

Schneider is a straight shooter — she told me that her work didn’t necessarily strengthen her connection to Judaism, but it did open her eyes to something else.

The non-Jewish world.

You see, the thing that has moved Schneider the most is not what the museum does for Jews, but what it does for non-Jews. She has seen former skinheads transformed after seeing their evil and hatred so graphically depicted.

She saw the daughter of a Nazi quietly sob because she couldn’t shake her sense of responsibility for the horrors her father participated in.

She saw how the grandson of Gandhi and his wife were riveted by the tragedy of another people. She saw Latino, African American and Asian kids of the inner city learn about hatred and prejudice, but more importantly, about tolerance — not just as a Jewish ideal but as a universal one.

What Schneider was telling me, in her sweet way, was that the evils of prejudice and hatred that Jews have faced and are still facing may be obvious to us, but they aren’t to everybody else. She clearly sees the tragedy of the Shoah as an opportunity to teach the world some important lessons, and her fondest wish is that in the end, many lives will be saved.

Schneider was passionate about Jews staying Jewish by staying alive, and I was passionate about Jews staying alive by staying Jewish.

Maybe there’s room for both.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is founder of OLAM magazine and He can be reached at

Abel Salgado Keeps the Challah Coming

Forty years after he first put on a white apron, Abel Salgado remains an anomaly in the Jewish bakery world, but not for reasons one might expect. Sure, when he joined Local 453 of the Hebrew Master Bakers and Confectioners Union in 1963, the Chihuahua native was maybe the second or third Latino ever to join the union, then 2,000 strong. And even today, Salgado is one of the few non-Jews involved in the Jewish bakery business, a profession that occupies a particularly sacred — not to mention delicious — place in the religion. But, Salgado noted, ethnicity and theology were the least controversial issues when he originally applied to join the union.

"Most of the other members couldn’t stand that I was so young," reminisces the Mexican Mormon, with a cement-mixer laugh that jiggles his friendly jowls. "Most of the bakers in the union were older men from the mother countries — Germany, Russia, Poland — and would give me the cold treatment at meetings, since you had to be 18 at the time to join the union, and I joined at 17."

He quickly won over skeptics the same way he persuaded the union president to let a young Latino join the big-fisted union — baking the best damn challah bread in the Southland, loaves so wondrously plump no one could deny him acceptance.

"After a couple of years," Salgado boasted, "I was considered one of the tribe."

But the baker nevertheless remains a curiosity in his job, now for more disturbing reasons. Salgado is one of the Southland’s last makers of Jewish pastries, a quickly disappearing craft that Salgado freely admits will probably perish within the next generation or two. The AFL-CIO swallowed HMBC No. 453 years ago, and union bakers are as rare as communists.

Salgado is a large, tubby gentleman who keeps his ink-black mustache impeccably groomed and possesses gnarled hands marked with ancient burns — the man looks as if he emerged from the womb wearing a flour-dusted apron. He moved to Irvine in 1987, retiring after two decades of owning and operating Jewish bakeries around Los Angeles’ Fairfax district. But the allure of dough — and a community of 60,000 Orange County Jews forced to visit Los Angeles for their weekly bread needs — convinced Salgado to come out of retirement and open Abel’s Bakery in 1997.

Although he hadn’t baked anything in almost a decade, Salgado began preparing the meticulously presented Jewish baked goods again as if he’d been away for the weekend.

"If you’re a master baker, it’s not something you forget," said Salgado, who pronounces words like mandelbrot and challah with the Yiddish comfort of a rabbi. "You just pick up where you started. And I know everything there is to know about Jewish pastries."

He’s not kidding — in addition to loyal and walk-in customers, Salgado maintains lucrative ties with local synagogues and Jewish organizations for their unleavened needs.

The doors of Abel’s Bakery are always swung open, the better to allow the shop’s sweet scents to entice gourmands. A large tray holds made-every-morning plain, pumpernickel and seeded rye bread, their slightly dull crusts encasing soft but firm loaves. Trays buckle with rugala, small cookies moist with chocolate chips and the holy hamantashen, a fruity triangle-shaped turnover sold by the thousands during the festival of Purim and by the hundreds the rest of the year. Abel’s even sells pan dulces the size of footballs — Salgado originally hired other Mexican bakers to bake them since he didn’t know how.

But the biggest seller — and Salgado’s finest creation — remains that beautiful challah, prominently displayed behind the main counter and as imposing as a toolbox. Jewish families line up en masse outside Abel’s every Friday to order their challah loaves in preparation for Shabbat dinner, in which challah plays the lead role. The challah possesses a full, thick body and the slightest hint of egg. It’s best for French toast, but it’s good for sandwiches, too.

Salgado is so proud of his challah that he frequently puts on the following show: he’ll get a slice of challah, suddenly crush it as if it were worthless paper and place it on the counter. Rather than remain a crumbled bread ball, the challah slowly springs back to life like a flower blooming on high speed, with nary a crumb to suggest any abuse.

"See that?" Salgado said. "Let’s see Weber’s do that."

Abel’s Bakery, located at 24601 Raymond Way, No. 7, Lake Forest, is open Mon.-Fri., 7 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sat., 7 a.m.-5 p.m. For more information, call (949) 699-0930.