Efforts Under Way to Raise Aid Funds


 

Local and national Jewish organizations have mobilized to help tsunami victims and invite the community to participate, as well.

DONATE DIRECTLY:

American Jewish World Service partners with 22 non-government and community-based organizations in the regions affected by the tsunami and is working with them to provide emergency relief, including food, water, shelter and medicine, as well as long-term recovery and development support. 45 W. 36th St., 10th floor, New York, NY, 10018. (800) 889-7146. www.ajws.org.

Chabad House in Thailand is the only Jewish service agency in the country dealing with the catastrophe. Its three houses in Thailand have been converted into crisis centers for survivors, offering food, shelter, money for clothes and counseling, as well as free international phone calls and Internet use for survivors to contact loved ones. Write checks to American Friends of Chabad of Thailand, 96 Thanon Rambuttri, Bangkok, Thailand 10200. www.chabadthailand.com.

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) will allocate funds it raises to partner organizations on the ground in South Asia. JDC: South Asia Tsunami Relief, Box 321, 847A Second Ave., New York, NY, 10017. www.jdc.org.

The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles has established a special emergency fund for Southeast Asia disaster relief. All donations will be disbursed to humanitarian organizations working on the ground in the affected areas. Make checks payable to The Jewish Federation and write “Southeast Asia Relief Fund” on the memo line: 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90048. (323) 761-8200.

Magen David Adom. The Israeli Red Cross has been sending medics, medical supplies and experts on body identification to Sri Lanka and Thailand. It has set up a special fund for those who wish to contribute. www.magendavidadom.org.

ATTEND A BENEFIT:

The Workmen’s Circle/Arbeter Ring: Sunday, Jan. 16, 3 p.m. Tsunami benefit concert featuring classical Indian music and dance. 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007. www.circlesocal.com.

Congregation Or Ami: Sunday, Jan. 30, 4-6 p.m. “Music of Or Ami” concert series presents pianist-composer Aaron Meyer, accompanied by Doug Cotler on guitar, flutist Toby Caplan-Stonefield and others. A portion of ticket sales will benefit tsunami victims. $12. 26115 Mureau Road, Calabasas. (818) 880-4880.

LEARN MORE:

Temple Kol Tikvah: Friday, Jan. 7, 7 p.m. Pastor Biworo Adinata of Gereja Bethel Indonesia of Los Angeles will address the congregation and community about how to help Indonesian tsunami victims. 20400 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills. (818) 348-0670.

The following organizations are collecting donations for the American Jewish World Service:

Orthodox Union, www.ou.org/forms/tsunami3.htm.

Valley Beth Shalom, (818) 782-2281.

Pressman Academy, (310) 652-7353.

 

Saluting Jewish World War II Vets


When Jules Berlinsky took basic training in the South during World War II, his commanding officer said to him, “You don’t look Jewish. You don’t have horns.”

“He was serious,” said Berlinsky, 92, who was in the Army’s Spearhead Division. “He was on the ignorant side. He didn’t heckle us too much but he just let us know that we were different from him.”

Berlinsky is one of the 31 war veterans who reside at the Jewish Home for the Aging (JHA), and will be honored on Dec. 7 at the JHA’s Wells Fargo Walk of Ages IV fundraiser.

Dec. 7 is also Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, a date that — in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words — “will live in infamy,” when, in 1941, the Japanese launched their attack on Pearl Harbor, hurling the United States into the war.

Approximately 550,000 Jewish Americans served in the armed forces during World War II, about 4.23 percent of the total number of troops. Both Roosevelt and General Douglas MacArthur praised their bravery specifically. During the war, 52,000 Jewish soldiers received an award or decoration of some kind and 11,000 were killed.

Now, close to 60 years after World War II, veterans of the conflict have aged and their numbers are dwindling, but despite current ambivalence toward American war-like nature, America’s participation in World War II and relative success in making the world “safe for democracy” is never questioned.

“Since it was the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, we felt that doing this [honoring the veterans] would be fantastic,” said Shelly Markman, the Walk’s chair. “We opened it up not only to Jewish war veterans but to all war veterans. These people have given us freedom and the opportunity to make a living and raise a family and I think we should be thankful to them.”

At the JHA, a group of eight veterans (seven men, one woman), gathered to talk to The Journal about their experiences of being Jewish and in the armed forces during World War II. Several use walkers or canes; their speech, though sharp, is slow. They take out photographs of themselves in uniform looking young and handsome, confident and strong. One rolls up his sleeve to reveal a tattoo that a native etched on his skin with a palm frond and soot on a Pacific island during the war.

“Do you remember your serial number?” they ask each other. “Do you remember your rifle number? Do you remember that cigarettes cost us $2 a carton but we would sell them for $15?”

With time’s erosion of memory, their war experiences become reductive; a list of places stationed, and certain important events. But their recollection of being Jewish in the service — and the prejudice, ignorance, and the sense of being different that accompanied that — remains strong.

“I was in a battalion of 1,200 men,” said Ellis Simon, 80, who was in the Marines. “And there were two Jews, but we weren’t that friendly with each other. The other guy — his name was Hochberg, and he was a wuss. He got picked on mainly because he was a Jew. I wore a Jewish star, but I never had any trouble because I was a tough kid and I wouldn’t stand for that. One of the soldiers called me ‘Dirty Jew’ and I fought him.”

Berlinsky remembers a time when there was “a rumpus” in the chow hall.

“I got up to see what was wrong and this young Jewish guy from Brooklyn called Marty Cohen said ‘they’re trying to kill me. They are putting bacon in with the eggs there!,'” Berlinsky said. “I said ‘Marty, they’re not trying to kill you.’ This same fellow Marty had two twin sisters who would visit the camp and bring us salami and herring. It smelled so beautiful to us, but for those who were non-Jewish, it was a terrible smell. They couldn’t stand it.”

For Josie Joffe, the Army bought out strengths she never knew she had. “I became a sergeant major through no fault of my own,” she said. “I was a very quiet person and they had to teach me to shout commands. We used to take part in parades to welcome the troops and we would tend to wounded British pilots at a rest homes. We were a whole Jewish group and one day we heard one of the soldiers remark about the ‘bloody Jews’ so we never went back after that.”

Now of course, World War II and the struggle to liberate Europe and defeat Japan seem light years away and condensed into roundtable anecdotes, but for these men and women the armed forces experience doesn’t disappear.

Said Simon, “Once a marine always a marine.”

The Walk will take place on Dec. 7 at the JHA’s
Eisenberg Village Campus at 18855 Victory Blvd., Reseda. Registration begins at
7 a.m.; walk begins at 8:30 a.m. Comedian Don Rickles will serve as honorary
chair of the Walk. For more information, call (818) 774-3100 or visit www.walkofages.kintera.org .

Say Hello Before They Say Goodbye


Jews for Jesus, Jews attending churches, low synagogue membership, astronomical rates of intermarriage — as complex as these issues are, there is at least one remarkably simple and inexpensive solution to encouraging Jewish participation. It’s called a warm greeting.

A friendly smile, a warm greeting, an invitation to lunch. If you think that is silly and simplistic, think again. As part of their course work, I require my students to interview two Jews. Because many of them — all non-Jews, primarily from the South Bay — lead very narrow lives, they do not know how to find Jews and turn to familiar institutions, one of which is church. Lo and behold — as the most recent National Jewish Population Survey has finally shown — they find Jews there.

Over the years, of the 40 or so of these interviewees, about three-quarters said they were drawn to the church because of the support of their non-Jewish spouse and the friendliness of the Christian congregation. They felt welcomed.

Compare that with my experiences and those of friends. I cannot begin to enumerate all the Shabbat morning (and Friday night) services I have attended where not one single person greeted me. The list includes at least 16 of the major synagogues in Los Angeles County — of all streams. Nor is it just Los Angeles. I received the same reception in the largest Conservative synagogues in Manhattan, Queens, San Diego, Vancouver, Miami, Cleveland and Toronto, as well as the largest synagogues (Orthodox) in Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Istanbul. And in Israel, in Hebrew-speaking congregations — forget it. One is invisible until one attends regularly for six months.

Nor is it just synagogue life. Over the past three years I attended two lectures at the Yiddish Culture Club. In each, I was one of two or three people under 65 years of age. Would it not seem natural that they would greet me warmly? Think again.

Not a word. (The lectures, in Yiddish, were first-rate, so I would go again.)

In the spirit of ecumenicism, I had the same experience at St. Stephen’s Serbian Orthodox Church last month. There were only about 25 people who attended the Vespers (evening) service and not a single one came up to greet me.

Not all synagogues (or churches) are so aloof. I have been approached and invited out at Beth Jacob, Aish HaTorah and some, but not all, Chabad synagogues. At the Movable Minyan, members are required to speak to guests. When I bring students to a Shabbat service, I bring them to Mishkon Tephilo, in part because the people tend to be friendly, a trait not lost on the students. All the students who report on their experiences have a positive predisposition and they invariably mention — indeed emphasize — the friendliness of the congregants.

It’s almost too simple. Among both Jews and Christians, which movements are growing the fastest? Those that engage in outreach and that offer the strongest sense of community — those that are the most welcoming. Indeed, one of the charges against cults is that they are too friendly. Few synagogues have to worry about that charge.

A few years ago, synagogue leaders created a commission, Synagogue 2000, to devise new guidelines that would make stagnant synagogues more alive. Among the suggestions was making synagogues more friendly. But when, in July 2001, I went to services on a Shabbat morning to the synagogue of a Synagogue 2000 leader, there were 23 people, not a single one of whom greeted me. Maybe that’s why there were only 23 people.

It is not as though we need to seek out the secrets of evangelical Christian churches.

Hospitality goes back to the first Jew, Abraham, who even in extreme discomfort, welcomed the wayfarers to his home. One of the common themes throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, especially for the patriarchs and matriarchs, is that of hospitality. The Hebrew, hachnasat orchim, literally means “causing guests to enter [one’s home].”

Nor did this virtue escape the sages. We say a special blessing for guests on Sukkot. We start the seder with an invitation to all who are hungry to join us at the table, an Aramaic expression taken directly from Rabbi Huna who, according to legend, went outside and publicly invited all the needy (koll ditzrich yatay v’lechol) to join him at every meal (Taanit 20b). Rabbi Yochanan avers that hospitality is equal to prayer; Rabbi Dimi disagrees, stating that hospitality is greater (Shabbat 127a-b). In a passage included in the morning service of traditional prayer books, the rabbis included hospitality as one of the major mitzvot.

Will a smile, friendly greeting and an invitation to lunch solve all synagogue problems? Hardly. But it’s a better start than what we are doing now. If you don’t believe me, then I can recommend lots of churches where Jewish-born men and women now belong. Ask them.


Alan Fisher is a political science professor at California State University Dominguez Hills.

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