Rescuers search Oklahoma tornado town ruins as recovery starts


Rescue workers with sniffer dogs picked through the ruins of an Oklahoma town on Wednesday to ensure no survivors remained buried after a deadly tornado left thousands homeless and trying to salvage what was left of their belongings.

“Yesterday I was numb. Today I cried a lot. Now I'm on the victory side of it,” said Beth Vrooman, who hid in a shelter in her garage during Monday's storm in Moore, Oklahoma.

When the winds died down, she realized a car was blocking her exit.

“It took some muscle, but I got out,” Vrooman said, as she sifted through piles of clothing, broken knickknacks and nail-studded boards that had once been her home.

The tornado on Monday afternoon flattened entire blocks of the town, including schools, a hospital and other buildings.

At least 24 people were killed and 240 others injured, but authorities were increasingly confident that everyone caught in the disaster had been accounted for, despite initial fears that the twister had claimed the lives of more than 90 people.

Jerry Lojka, spokesman for Oklahoma Emergency Management, said search-and-rescue dog teams would search for anybody trapped under the rubble, but that attention would also be focused on a huge cleanup job.

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“They will continue the searches of areas to be sure nothing is overlooked,” he said. “There's going to be more of a transition to recovery.”

More than 1,000 people had already registered for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which sent hundreds of workers to Oklahoma to help with the recovery.

After a long day of searching through shattered homes that was slowed by rainy weather on Tuesday, Oklahoma County Commissioner Brian Maughan said it seemed no one was missing.

“As far as I know, of the list of people that we have had that they are all accounted for in one way or another,” he said.

TEN CHILDREN AMONG DEAD

The state medical examiner on Wednesday released details on the people who died in the storm, and reported 10 children, including a four-month-old baby, were among the victims, more than the nine previously reported.

The other children ranged in age from 4 years to 9 years old. The storm's oldest victim, of those whose ages were released, was 63. Most of the victims died of blunt force injuries that were probably caused by flying debris and five of the children died from suffocation.

Most of the children were at Plaza Towers Elementary School, which took a direct hit by the deadliest tornado to strike the United States in two years.

Emergency workers pulled more than 100 survivors from the debris after the tornado ripped through the Oklahoma City region with winds exceeding 200 miles per hour (320 kph), leaving a trail of destruction 17 miles (23 km) long and 1.3 miles (2 km) wide.

The National Weather Service said the tornado was ranked a rare EF5, the most powerful on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

STORM SAFE SHELTERS

The last time a giant twister tore through the area, on May 3, 1999, it killed more than 40 people and destroyed thousands of homes. That tornado also topped the scale.

Oklahoma Emergency Management's Lojka said 2,400 homes were damaged or obliterated and an estimated 10,000 people affected.

The death toll was lower than might have been expected given the extent of the devastation in Moore, home to 55,000 people.

Some ascribed the relatively few deaths to many people having small “storm safe” shelters, basically a concrete hole in the garage floor with a sliding roof that locks.

Billy McElrath, 50, of Oklahoma City, said his wife hid in a storm safe in their garage when the tornado hit.

She emerged unhurt even though the storm destroyed the 1968 Corvette convertible she had bought him as a birthday present, and crushed a motorcycle.

“Everything else is just trashed,” he said as he loaded a pickup with salvaged goods.

Kraig Boozier, 47, took to his own small shelter in the Westmoor subdivision of Oklahoma City and watched in shock as a fan in the wall was ripped out.

“I looked up and saw the tornado above me,” he said.

Officials said another factor behind the surprisingly low death toll was the early warning, with meteorologists saying days in advance that a storm system was coming.

Once a tornado was forming, people had 15 to 20 minutes of warning, which meant they could take shelter or flee the projected path. The weather service also has new, sterner warnings about deadly tornadoes.

Many of those who do not have a basic storm shelter at home, which can cost $2,500 to $5,000, have learned from warnings over the year to seek hiding places at home during a tornado.

Jackie Raper, 73, and her daughter, for instance, sought shelter in the bathtub in her house in Oklahoma City.

“The house fell on top of her,” said Caylin Burgett, 16, who says Raper is like a grandmother to her. Raper broke her arm and femur, and bruised her lungs, Burgett said.

Additional reporting by Alice Mannette, Lindsay Morris, Nick Carey, Brendan O'Brien, Greg McCune, Susan Heavey and Doina Chiacu; Writing by Jane Sutton; Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool

A prayer for Oklahoma


Lord our God, we stood before You just a week ago to receive the Ten Statements of Your Torah. We stood, as though with our ancestors, and listened to the Torah reader chant descriptions of the smoking mountain, the thunderous rumbling, and the long-awaited voice of God.

This afternoon, the people of central Oklahoma did not stand to hear the voice of God. We sat, we paced, and we huddled. We listened to the voice of the meteorologists and watched as dark clouds swirled together over a cone of destruction. The rain fell upward, not down, and the thunderous roar of the swirling winds carried, and we saw the awesome power of God. This was not Shavuot — the Feast of Weeks that marked our days of freedom. This was minutes that seemed like years and trapped us into watching the same images of destruction.

Merciful God, a great and powerful windstorm has passed, and it has torn apart the buildings and shattered the rocks before You. You told Elijah, the prophet, that You were not in the windstorm. Please, then, be in the still, small voices of the children crying out to be found. Be in the voices of the rescuers calling out for survivors. Be in the cries of those who are lost and of those who have lost.

May it be Your will that those who are missing be found alive and be cared for well, and may the people of central Oklahoma find strength in You and in one another as we rebuild what we can.

Chabad center taking in Oklahomans displaced by deadly tornado


A Chabad center in Oklahoma City opened its building as a shelter for those displaced by a deadly tornado.

The Chabad Community Center of Southern Oklahoma also is collecting supplies for those left homeless by the tornado that tore through an Oklahoma City suburb on Monday afternoon, leaving at least 24 people dead, including several children, and injuring hundreds.

“While we feel the pain of others, we’re very thankful that we’re able to respond – to use all our energy and all our resources to let the community know we’re here to help,” Rabbi Ovadia Goldman, the Southern Oklahoma Chabad’s co-director, told Chabad.org.

Goldman said he has received calls from individuals and organizations in New York, Ohio, Iowa, Illinois, California and abroad with offers to help with relief efforts.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter of condolence to President Obama on Tuesday morning in the wake of the tornado.

“On behalf of the Government and people of Israel, I offer our heartfelt condolences to you and to the people of the United States on the massive tornado that struck in Oklahoma and exacted such a horrific toll in human life,” Netanyahu wrote. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of this tragedy and their families at this difficult time.”

Rescuers search through rubble after a tornado struck Moore, Okla., on May 20. Photo by Gene Blevins/Reuters

Israel team of volunteers to help with search and rescue efforts in Japan


ZAKA International Rescue Unit said Friday it will send a team of trained volunteers from Israel to help the search and rescue efforts in Japan, following the 8.9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that rocked the country earlier that day.

Following a consultation with the Israeli Foreign Ministry and with emissaries from the Chabad organization in Japan, ZAKA arranged to send a team headed by the organization’s co-directors Mati Goldstein and Dovi Maisel, on Saturday evening (after the conclusion of the Sabbath).

In addition, another team from the ZAKA International Rescue Unit based in Hong Kong will leave for the quake area after the conclusion of the Sabbath in their region.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Chilean miners invited to visit Israel


Israel’s tourism minister invited the 33 rescued Chilean miners to spend Christmas in Israel.

Stas Misezhnikov invited the miners for a one-week, all-expenses-paid trip with their wives to Israel, where they will tour the country, including sites holy to Christianity.

The invitation issued Monday is in cooperation with other commercial enterprises in the tourism industry, according to a statement from the tourism ministry.

“Your bravery and strength of spirit, your great faith that helped you survive so long in the bowels of the earth, was an inspiration to us all,” the invitation says. “It would be a great honor for us to welcome you as our guests in the Holy Land. This December, Christians around the world — and here in the Land of Jesus — will celebrate Christmas. During that time, we welcome tens of thousands of pilgrims and we would be pleased to offer you this uplifting and extraordinary experience, as our guests.”

In a nearly 23-hour rescue, all of the miners were pulled last week from the San Jose gold and copper mine, where they had been trapped since its collapse on Aug. 5. The Chilean miners reportedly survived the longest of anyone buried underground.

Israel invites Chilean miners for a ‘spiritual’ Christmas in the Holy Land


Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov on Monday extended an official invitation to the 33 Chilean miners who were rescued last week to experience a “spiritual journey” this Christmas in the Holy Land.

The men, who were trapped underground for 68 days in a mine in Chile, are invited to Israel with their spouses for a week-long, all-expense paid sightseeing tour of various sites holy to Christianity.

“Your bravery and strength of spirit, your great faith that helped you survive so long in the bowels of the earth, was an inspiration to us all,” the tourism minister wrote in his invitation. “It would be a great honor for us to welcome you as our guests in the Holy Land.”

“This December, Christians around the world – and here in the Land of Jesus – will celebrate Christmas. During that time, we welcome tens of thousands of pilgrims and we would be pleased to offer you this uplifting and extraordinary experience, as our guests.”

Read more at HAARETZ.com.

Jewish businessman gifting rescued miners


Chilean mining executive Leonardo Farkas has written $10,000 checks to each of the 33 miners who are being rescued from a collapsed mine in Chile after being trapped for more than two months.

Farkas reportedly gave the checks in the miners’ names to each of the families and set up a separate fund to collect donations, The Associated Press reported. The money is more than some of the miners earn in a year.

By early Wednesday afternoon Chilean time, 15 miners had been pulled from the San Jose gold and copper mine, where they had been trapped since its collapse on Aug. 5.

Without complications, all the miners are expected to be pulled to freedom by Thursday, according to reports. The Chilean miners reportedly have survived the longest of anyone buried underground.

Farkas, who is Jewish, is a well-known philanthropist in Chile. He appears annually on a telethon run by the major Chilean television networks to raise funds to help children with developmental disabilities. In 2008 he donated about $1.5 million to the cause.

Farkas owns businesses in several industries, with mining comprising the most important of his holdings.

He was sued recently by his Australian partners, accused of inappropriately using company funds for personal charitable donations.

Milken JCC board rejects Federation offer


The future of the The New JCC at Milken in West Hills, which serves thousands of Jews in the West Valley, including 125 preschoolers and 700 seniors, is still uncertain.

Despite a debt of $250,000 and the loss of nearly one-third of its members following the closure of its pool by The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, which owns the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, Milken JCC leaders chose to reject a bailout plan.

The proposal from The Federation would have required the center to surrender its right to be the major tenant on the 4-acre campus.

By a unanimous vote on Sunday, June 10, the New JCC at Milken’s executive board rejected a rescue-and-restructure plan proposed by The Federation. The plan would have provided the financially strapped center with a one-time supplemental allocation of $350,000 in return for signing a quitclaim deed relinquishing its historic right to the center.

“Nobody should believe we’re fighting for blood here against Federation. They are our brethren,” JCC Executive Board President Hal Sandler told a standing-room only crowd of almost 500 JCC members and supporters at an emergency meeting held on the Milken campus.

During the nearly two-hour gathering, members donated $54,000 toward the $250,000 needed to break even and confirmed the board’s vote by a near unanimous show of hands.

According to The Federation’s plan, the JCC could continue to operate in its present space, except for the now-closed pool and adjacent areas, until July 1, 2008. At that time, its space and budget could be greatly diminished if The Federation, currently “in discussions” with former tenant New Community Jewish High School, rents a substantial portion of the Milken campus to the school, with a possible option to buy.

Sandler and Steve Rheuban, a new center board member and former Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles president, explained that the board had no alternative but to reject the offer when The Federation refused to approve an addendum requesting a guarantee of nine early childhood education classrooms, parking for preschool parents, shared use of the gym and space for senior programs and JCC administration.

Sandler believes that if The Federation had signed the addendum, the JCC would more likely have agreed to the restructuring proposal.

Milken JCC board member Marty Hummel, who supported The Federation’s plan to
guarantee the center’s operation for one more year, changed his mind during
the meeting to allow for a unanimous vote. Afterward Hummel abruptly
resigned prior to the general meeting, where he spoke out against the vote.

Hummel and his wife, Jill, both cited concerns over their preschool child’s ability to attend the center next year. “My greatest concern is my child,” Jill Hummel said during the meeting. “If monies don’t come in there could be a chance the center might have to close for a few months. Where do these children go?”

Federation spokeswoman Deborah Dragon and vice president of planning Andrew Cushnir, neither of whom had authorization from The Federation’s board to approve the addendum, left the meeting after the JCC board turned down the proposal. In previous interviews, they have consistently reiterated The Federation’s support for continued services for seniors and preschoolers in the West Valley.

While the JCC has struggled financially for years, one ongoing stream of funding was cut on April 25 when The Federation closed the pool with little advance notice, citing possible mold problems. But even prior to this date, on April 11, The Federation had already requested and been issued a permit by the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety to demolish and fill in the pool, a step taken to cover all possible work scenarios, according to Dragon.

Dragon said the JCC’s financial difficulties predate the closing of the pool and the timing was merely coincidental. She and Cushnir maintain that the JCC, which is the third-largest local recipient of Federation funding, receives on average $1.3 million a year, including program funding, occasional supplemental allocations and “rent subvention,” which covers maintenance, utilities and security costs. The Federation provides 34 percent of the JCC’s budget, Dragon said, while nationally Federation support averages 12 to 15 percent of a JCC’s budget.

Up to now, the New JCC at Milken has avoided closure and selling off its property, the fate of many former Los Angeles JCCs, because of its unique history.

Founded in 1969 as the West Valley Jewish Community Center, it bought and moved to its current site, a former horse ranch consisting of a cottage and a converted garage on four and a half acres, in 1976. Unable to afford construction, the JCC parent organization, in a complicated deal signed in 1984 and reaffirmed in 2004, deeded the property to The Jewish Federation, retaining “primary use of the real property.”

The Federation purchased an adjoining acre and a half and raised the $15 million needed to build the Bernard Milken Jewish Community Campus, completed in 1987 and refurbished in 1994 after the Northridge earthquake. In 1999, the $4.5 million Ferne Milken Youth & Sports Complex was dedicated, adding a 12,000-square-foot gymnasium, an Olympic-sized pool and a fitness center.

“We’re asking you to support us,” Sandler told Sunday’s audience. “This is your pool, this is your building, this is your center.”

Most members supported the JCC during the meeting, but voiced concerns about financial accountability, management, open communication and viability of the services, especially the preschool, summer camps and pool.

“We have a lot of financial problems and some mismanagement. Nobody’s denying that,” former JCC president Bonnie Rosenthal said.

She and many board members trace the JCC’s financial distress to the dissolution of the parent organization. “When JCCGLA broke up, we were left with a lot of debt,” she said.

Some, like Maureen Sloan, who joined with her husband for the pool and fitness center, felt betrayed by both the JCC and The Federation.

Tale of heroics, terror from the top of the world


It was a beautiful morning in May on the world’s highest mountain, and Dan Mazur was feeling good. He had been hiking throughout the night in below-freezing temperatures, and now he and his team — a sherpa and two other climbers — had only two hours to go until reaching the summit of Mount Everest.

Mazur had reached the top before, 15 years earlier. But this time, the mountain climber and guide was leading two clients who were paying more than $20,000 each for the chance to accomplish the goal of a lifetime. Their objective was so close they could almost reach out and touch it.

Suddenly, Mazur saw something unexpected — some yellow fabric in the distance. At first it looked like a tent, but then it became clear that it was a person, a man sitting cross-legged on a narrow ridge with an 8,000-foot drop to one side and a 6,000-foot drop to the other.

At 28,000 feet — a part of the mountain dubbed the “death zone,” because the weather is so cold and oxygen is so scarce — the man wore no gloves, no hat and had unzipped his down suit to his waist.

“I imagine you’re surprised to see me here,” the man said.

What happened next would cost Mazur his summit and save the man’s life. Now, more than six months later, Mazur, a 46-year-old who lives in Olympia, Wash., will talk about the adventure and dramatic rescue at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue on Wednesday evening, Dec. 6.

As it turned out, the man on the ledge was Lincoln Hall, one of Australia’s best-known climbers. Hall had attempted to summit Everest 22 years earlier but never made it. This time, at age 50, Hall had made it to the top.

But on the way down the day before, Hall had started having trouble.

Experiencing the classic symptoms of altitude sickness — fatigue and hallucinations — Hall had refused to continue down the mountain and ended up passing out. The two sherpas with him concluded, after poking Hall in the eye and getting no response, that Hall was dead. Suffering from lack of oxygen themselves, they hurried down the mountain.

A friend had already broken the news to Hall’s wife and teenage sons: Hall was dead — or so they thought. In fact, he was struggling but alive. He ended up lasting through the night alone.

Atop the mountain, at around 7:30 a.m., Mazur and his team persuaded a resistant Hall to put on his gloves and hat. They gave him oxygen, tea and a Snickers bar and tethered him to their rope. They radioed down to Hall’s expedition group, which dispatched a rescue team.

It would take more than three hours for the rescuers to arrive. But Mazur and his climbers waited with Hall, while their chances of summiting slipped away.
In the end, Hall suffered frostbite; he lost some fingertips. But he made it down the mountain.

Mazur’s rescue caught the attention of national media, which had reported only days earlier the demise of another Everest climber, David Sharp, who died after an estimated 40 climbers passed him without offering any help.

“I was always taught that when you see someone who needs help, you’ve got to help him right away,” Mazur said, speaking on the phone from Washington State.

If he had the day to do over, he said, “I would do it again exactly the same.”
Mazur, who grew up with a Jewish father and non-Jewish mother, said he is more spiritual than religious. But that day, high on the mountain, Mazur prayed. He prayed that God would help Hall.

“I believe that Lincoln Hall survived because he was very lucky; the weather was not too bad; he was in good shape,” Mazur said. “And I believe there was a higher power that was looking after him.”

Dan Mazur will speak on Wednesday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue, 24855 Pacific Coast Highway. Admission is free.
For more information, call (310) 456-2178

There is God in this place


Jacob departed. Unlike his grandfather Abraham, who went forth, lech lecha, in response to God’s command, Jacob departs, vayetze, from everything he knows to
escape his angry brother and find a wife in Haran. He leaves a comfortable, established life to find himself in the chaos and confusion of exile. Jacob enters the void.

In November 1992, I departed from Santa Fe, N.M. I left my home of more than 20 years, and a network that included a job, family and friends, and stepped into the void. In response to a vague job offer and a stirring inside of me, I piled my most treasured books, plants and paintings into my aging Toyota and left New Mexico for the unknown reaches of Los Angeles.

As the sun rose outside of Needles, Calif., I reached back to cover the asparagus fern I had placed just behind the front seat. (At that time I was told no out-of-state plants were allowed.) The car swerved, ran over the embankment and careened down a ditch at top speed. I felt my world lose all boundaries as the car rolled over twice before landing on its side.

My angels were working overtime that day as I stumbled out of the car bruised but unharmed. Only now can I see the irony of the smashed poster that was hanging off of the back seat. It was Georgia O’Keefe’s “Ladder to the Moon,” which features a ladder hanging in space over New Mexican mountains.

My world had moved, but I was immobile, transfixed to the spot until rescued some hours later by the CHP. They never mentioned the plant.

Like Jacob, I had stopped in “a certain place” for at least the day, which was unfolding hot and cloudless before me.

Two miles outside of Needles, I was nowhere, lost in the void. I cried. I prayed, or at least begged God to rescue me. My world had turned upside down, which, it turns out, is integral to the process of truly leaving, or departing from one place to another.

Lost in the “no-place” on his first night way from the familiarity of home, Jacob prayed.

According to Midrash Rabbah, Jacob established that in the evening one should pray: “May it be thy will, O Lord My God, to bring me forth from darkness into light.”

Jacob prays in the gathering darkness of sunset, establishing evening prayer for all time.

The only difficulty with this is that it was not sunset at all, but closer to high noon, according to the Midrash. So God, who wants to speak to Jacob in the intimacy of darkness, changes the day into night.

According to rabbinic tradition, the certain space, hamakom, is synonymous with Mount Moriah, the future site of the Holy Temple. Rashi states that God wanted to show Jacob the place where prayers would ascend to heaven, the site of the earthly Temple, which stands opposite the Heavenly Temple on high. God wanted to reveal the entire future of the Jewish people to Jacob, their exile and their return to this very spot, the axis mundi of the world.

The problem — Jacob is not in Jerusalem, but on the road to Haran. Therefore, it is said, “the earth jumped beneath him” and Mount Moriah moved, for the moment, to where he was. Prayer, indeed, can move mountains.

But hamakom is much more than a specific site on earth or in the heavens above. Hamakom is another name for God, and God is not limited by time or space. In the words of the Baal Shem Tov, “There is no place without God.” Hamakom, God’s presence, is everywhere, surrounding us, infusing us, enveloping us with its essence.

When someone dies in our community we say, “May the Holy Place, The Divine One, bring you comfort and consolation.” We cry out, in the darkness of our loss and despair, and pray that God will bring us to the light. While the familiar place of our community provides comfort, only The Place of God can bring us true consolation.

God’s presence, however, is not limited to physical, grounded space. The Torah’s commentaries show us that time can change and mountains can move as long as we are connected to the Source. By returning to that place within, what the Gerer Rebbe, calls the inner space, we are able to connect with the presence of God, which is everywhere.

Although it may seem easier to access that connection in places that we hold sacred, such as the Wall in Jerusalem, or the mountains of New Mexico, the “place” is infinite and universal. Wherever I am, God is with me. I just need to be able to stop, breathe, rest, sleep, meditate and open my inner eyes.

We are now at the darkest time of the year, when the sun seems to set not long after noon.

“Please God,” we pray, “may it be Thy will to bring me forth from darkness into light.”

The month of Kislev, the month of Chanukah, is dedicated to prayers that bring the light. We reach out beyond time and space to the “place” of the Holy Temple, in order to bring its light into our homes, lighting our menorot against the darkness.

Angels, dressed as the CHP, came to rescue me. I was towed into California, and have found God at every step along the way during these past 14 years. My “place” is now here. Now, I can say, along with Jacob: “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and this is the gateway to heaven!” (Genesis 28:17).

Judith HaLevy is rabbi of Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue.

A night at the homeless shelter


545 San Pedro Street is an address I will never forget.

It is the Union Rescue Mission downtown, inhabited by homeless individuals that reside in their designated corners on Skid Row. My school, Milken Community High School, offered a community service experience for 21 students, and I found myself at the Union Rescue Mission.

During my three-day trip, I had the occasion to sleep in the mission, take a tour, speak with the residents, and serve and prepare food.
The Mission is a recovery center for drug and alcohol addicts, battered women and children. The facility utilizes the 12-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous, which encourages people to develop a relationship with God. It teaches individuals to change their beliefs, attitudes and choices. My own beliefs and attitudes were also changed as a result of this experience.

As I searched the dining room holding my tray, I spotted an older African American woman and joined her. I was struck by how focused she was on eating every bite of her meal.

“Hi, I’m Jackie, how are you doing today?”

She told me about her day but was more interested in finding out about me. I told her about my school, my favorite classes and my hobbies. I realized how many opportunities I take for granted. As soon as I mentioned sports, her eyes lit up and she was filled with enthusiasm. She told me about her family, her life and how she had always enjoyed school. She told her stories about sports and how she had received a volleyball scholarship.

Sadly, she chose the wrong path and as a result, her life became unmanageable. She became consumed with drug addiction and self-destructive behaviors. She abandoned her 5-year-old daughter for fear that she would have the same horrible life. I was speechless. The silence grew uncomfortable as I nervously began rambling on about my computer classes to fill the void. I knew at the end of our visit that this woman would remain in my memory bank forever. I realized that each choice we make impacts our future and our relationships with others.

During mealtime we had the opportunity to connect with someone outside of ourselves, sharing our stories and listening to others. I never fully understood how important the concept of a meal was. I realized that mealtime offered much needed support to those who suffered. It had the power to create a connection between people who were polar opposites. It gave me the opportunity to step into the shoes of someone I never would have met.

The next morning, I spotted my new friend as I got ready to return to my usual lifestyle. Little did she know what a lasting impression she had made. My views on those less fortunate had been changed forever.

My life-changing experience at the mission taught me that everyone is a diamond in the rough.

Jackie Greenspan graduated from Milken Community High School last year.


The this essay was written for the Service Learning awards given out by the Bureau of Jewish Education’s Sulam Center for Jewish Service Learning (julief@jewishjournal.com.

To comfort me, first comfort yourself


People have been generous.

During the past two decades I have assisted in creating caring communities that extend themselves to people in their midst at
profound turning points.

These times of need include both times of tragedy and times of great joy. Baby namings, weddings, illnesses, communal catastrophes, and shiva minyanim, call forth different emotions. All of them have their share of anxieties. All of them take a village.

During these months of cancer treatment, I have been blessed with a village, giving me rides, food and comfort when I am in need, and respecting my privacy when I crave solitude.

“How can I help?” people ask. Aside from the practical help that is often needed, there is the less tangible assistance that often creates anxiety on the part of the ones who seek to help. People often stay away for fear that they will say the wrong thing.

That unease is unnecessary, to paraphrase the Torah, for the right thing is as near to you as breathing. If you help appropriately, you, and those you help, will benefit greatly.

The wisdom to help others is not privileged information. It is taught to all of us through our life experiences.

Hearts that are both caring and helpful, marry self-knowledge and the ability to attend to others. Therefore, when we seek to provide comfort, we look into our own lives for guidance.

I’d like to explore some of these deeper aspects of bringing comfort.

Bikur cholim is the sacred obligation of visiting the sick. Its principles apply to any outreach to people at vulnerable times.

Performing this mitzvah is not about helping the less fortunate.

It is not about doing a good deed.

It is a way of cultivating a relationship with the deep and rich nature of what it means to be human.

If you do this effectively and with compassion, it will help others. It will also make your life more meaningful. It will open your heart. You will live more fully. Ironically, the more you receive from your visits, the more skilled you become in the art of helping others.

A good visitor is more than a well-meaning person who comes with urgent good intentions, whose need to find just the right words can communicate anxiety more than care.

We all want to make things better. We want to do the right thing or find the phrase to transform the difficulties.

But guess what? We can’t fix it. We can’t take away the pain of loss. We can’t heal a chronic illness, bring back the dead or force family members to behave appropriately.

We can, however, make a difference.

A first step in learning to comfort suffering is to come to terms with our own powerlessness. Ironically, this relieves suffering. Struggling with this understanding gives us access to the paradoxically profound and simple skill of visiting. Understanding that we can’t do the impossible takes away some of the urgency. We can focus not on changing what can’t be changed, but on being present.

Knowing that we don’t have to rescue makes it easier to help. Knowing that caregiving has limits makes it less threatening for those who want to help but stay away in fear of not knowing what to say. We’re off the hook with regard to performing magic tricks of healing. All we can really do is to create a place where those to whom we offer comfort feel heard and protected.

The most important thing we offer as comfort is our own comfort. When we are fluent with some of life’s profound issues and communicate this either in words or in silence, we are helpful. We communicate that we are present and unafraid. The irony is that we become capable of serving in this way, by taking care of ourselves. We do this by cultivating our own soul and exploring our own relationship to life’s challenging questions.

Think back on your own difficult challenges. What helped you get through them? What did not help? Was there anything said that made it easier for you to get on with your life?

Over and over, I hear from people that what helped was not a cogent bon mot or profound piece of advice. It was the gift of compassionate attention with which someone validated the experience and provided presence and lack of judgment. This was offered without intruding into the person’s private world or forcing them to move beyond their comfort zone. It can happen in silence.

It can come with a light touch or the subtle expression of care. Above all, the feeling is communicated that the person being visited had permission to be exactly as he or she needs to be, be it tearful, angry, cheerful, silent, or confused. Rarely are these reassurances expressed verbally.

This kind of presence says more about whom the visitor is than about what he or she says, does or knows.

It reflects the visitor’s own work on the deep issues of his or her own life, which makes it possible to comfortably reach out to others.

That comfort gives comfort.

Knowing that we don’t have to rescue makes it easier to help.

Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001), a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a faculty member of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Tracks of an Ethiopian Exodus


Until the late 1970s, very few Ethiopian Jews had ever wandered beyond the borders of their country and made it to Israel.

But in 1979, an insurgency in northern Ethiopia opened an exit route to Sudan, and thousands of Ethiopian Jews — who called themselves Beta Israel but were known to outsiders as Falasha — began fleeing the famine and war of northern Ethiopia on a journey they hoped would end in Jerusalem.

Along with thousands of other Ethiopians fleeing their country, which at the time was ruled by communist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Jews settled in refugee camps in Sudan and waited for Mossad operatives to take them out.

For the first few years, those who were taken to Israel left in one of three ways. Some were given forged documents and put onto planes in Khartoum bound for Athens. Once in Europe, they then were quietly put onto planes to Israel. Others were moved from their Sudanese refugee camps at night to Port Sudan, where Israeli naval commandos put them onto clandestine naval vessels and then transferred them onto ships headed for Israel. A few were airlifted directly to Israel from the Sudanese desert on illicit flights.

A famine in Ethiopia in 1984 lent great urgency to the effort to rescue Ethiopia’s Jews, many of whom were dying of starvation and disease in refugee camps in Sudan while they waited to be taken to Israel.

In the covert maneuver Operation Moses, Israel began airlifting large numbers of Ethiopian Jews from Sudan’s desert beginning in November 1984. Leaks about the operation and growing risks forced its early end in January 1985, after more than 8,000 Jews had been brought to Israel in the space of just six weeks.

Thousands more remained stranded in communist Ethiopia.

For those left behind, life was harsh. During Mengistu’s 17-year reign, Ethiopian city streets were left riddled with corpses as a warning against opposing the government, bereaved parents were forced to pay for the bullets that killed their sons and suspected political opponents were imprisoned and tortured.

The Jews suffered no more than ordinary Ethiopians, but anyone who was suspected of trying to flee to Zion was tortured, imprisoned and often killed.

In the early 1990s, the tide turned in the war between the rebel Tigrean People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the government, known as the Derg, and in May 1991 rebel forces surrounded the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

Israel, which had clandestine ties with Mengistu’s regime, feared that the TPLF’s anti-Zionist rhetoric and hostility toward Mengistu could lead to massacres of the Jews when the rebels took Addis, and quickly put together a plan to rescue the country’s remaining Jews. Israel pressed the United States to persuade the rebels to hold their positions on the hilltops around Addis for 36 hours while Israel airlifted more than 14,000 Jews out of the country.

The fall of Addis came just hours after the completion of Operation Solomon, on May 24, 1991.

In the end, it turned out that Israel’s fears were unfounded: The new regime in Addis Ababa proved itself friendly toward the Jews and forged strong ties with Israel.

After Operation Solomon, the only Ethiopians with Jewish ties left behind in Ethiopia were the Falash Mura — Ethiopian Christians whose progenitors were Jews who had converted to Christianity. Many of them sought to return to Judaism in a bid to emigrate, but Israel’s then-prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, instructed his government not to accept them. Unlike those who had immigrated to Israel, Shamir noted, these Ethiopians were not identifiably Jewish and maintained Christian practices.

Israel’s policy gradually changed, however, and since the early 1990s, tens of thousands of Falash Mura have moved to Israel — nearly as many as the Ethiopian Jews who made aliyah during and before 1991.

During these last 15 years, Ethiopia’s government has maintained a policy of open emigration, which is why no special operations have been necessary to bring the Falash Mura to Israel.

In the last decade and a half, led by rebel-turned-head-of-state Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia’s government has accelerated the pace of the country’s industrialization, improved its economy and so far prevented any repeats of the devastating 1984-85 famine that killed an estimated 1 million Ethiopians and struck hardest in Tigray.

And though the Ethiopian government remains a target of human rights advocates, including some in Israel, observers abroad say the Meles government’s excesses do not approach the scope of that of Mengistu’s Red Terror.

But since last May, when government forces shot to death dozens of people in Addis Ababa protesting disputed election results, there have been growing tensions between the Amhara elite who live in the center of the country, around the capital, and the Tigrean minority that runs the government.

There also has been increased international criticism of the Meles government, which had been a rare African darling of Western democracies.

Some American Jewish federation leaders visiting Ethiopia last week suggested that one reason for Israel to speed up the aliyah of the Falash Mura is political instability in the country. But recent political tensions notwithstanding, experts on Ethiopia say there is little danger of imminent collapse for the current regime.

 

A Developing Reputation


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This Time They’re Ready for the Wave

Special Report

A Developing Reputation – Messinger channels Jewish help to non-Jewish world

 

The two young, sari-clad women, one in blue and one in orange, stand in the thatched-roof meeting hall, take hold of the microphone and join their voices.

“We don’t need any fancy materials,” they croon by heart. “What we need is just some food to live. We don’t ask for a refrigerator, a TV or a car. We just need some small capital to start a business.”

The audience of women in the village of Alamarai Kuppam applaud with enthusiasm. The few men, seated or hovering around the edges, are more circumspect, but they, too, nod approvingly.

Call it women’s lib, post-tsunami-India style.

The outpouring of financial support that followed the 2004 tsunami has accelerated efforts to improve the lives of rural women — an initiative that goes well beyond helping families recover from the tsunami.

“This disaster has given us a space to create gender equality,” says Attapan, the director of Rural Organization for Society Education (ROSE). ROSE is among the Indian nonprofits supported by the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), which focuses on international development based on the Jewish value of tikkun olam, or repairing the world.

Before, says Attapan, many fishing villages functioned almost as closed societies, distrustful of outsiders, with women locked into traditional, subservient roles. It’s still a country of arranged marriages, and, in places, instances of girl infanticide and widow burning.

But in this region, when the tidal wave took everything, these villagers had to look outside for help. The women, it turned out, were eager for expanded roles. And many men quickly realized that not only could they benefit from the outsiders, who brought resources and new ideas, but also from the resourcefulness of their own spouses, daughters and mothers.

Attapan’s organization has worked with women from fishing villages to help them develop business skills, such as tailoring and growing and selling herbs.

The two singing women are performing the homemade anthem of an informal women’s “congress” from 14 villages that has gathered in Alamarai Kuppam under the auspices of the Ghandian Unit for Integrated Development (GUIDE). GUIDE is trying to make women politically powerful and to break down traditional Hindu class divisions.

The caste system, although officially abolished in 1949, remains a potent and denigrating social force. The mixture of castes among the women gathered in Alamarai Kuppam is striking: It includes Dalit participants, the group once known as untouchables; they still suffer pervasive discrimination.

At the meeting, women rise group by group to proclaim their successes.

“We stopped the men from making alcohol in our village,” one women says.

Another exclaims: “We made demands for tsunami relief and got it.”

“We got schools to reduce their fees,” a third says.

This activism is true and courageous feminism, says R. Vasantha, development consultant for GUIDE. “In traditional society, if a woman speaks out about a problem, especially a problem with an abusive husband, she is an immoral woman. These women will now go to a police station and file a case.”

A delegation of women from four villages recently demanded that a man reserve some property and inheritance for a second wife he had taken, as well as for the woman’s baby. And in Alamarai Kuppam, women and GUIDE workers went to the police to halt an arranged marriage between an unwilling 13-year-old and an older man who wanted a second wife.

The 13-year-old’s parents had made the deal for money. Villagers later raised money to help the family.

And, when it comes to the business theme of the homemade anthem, these women aren’t waiting for opportunity to come looking for them. They’ve opened fish stalls in nearby towns to sell the village catch. And they’re going to start an ice factory to keep their fish fresh and to sell ice to others.

Working with women, particularly educating them, is probably the “best single investment” that can be made in international development, said Michael Cohen, director of the New School for Social Research’s graduate program in international affairs in New York. “It helps on the income side and reduces the family size.”

Both elements, he added, are key to reducing rural poverty.

 

Some Places To Give
A partial listing of organizations involved in tsunami relief

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Web site: http://www.jdc.org/

American Jewish World Service
Web site: http://www.ajws.org/
45 West 36th Street, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018-7904
Tel: (212) 736-2597
Regional: (415) 296-2533
Toll free: (800) 889-7146

Church World Service
Web site: http://www.churchworldservice.org/
Regional office: http://cwscrop.org/californiasouthwest/
2235 N. Lake Ave Suite 112
Altadena, CA 91001
Tel: (626) 296-3195
Toll Free: (888) CWS-CROP or (888) 297-2767

Doctors Without Borders
Web site: http://www.doctorswithoutborders.org/
333 7th Avenue, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Tel: (212) 679-6800
Local: (310) 399-0049

Global Fund for Children
Web site: http://www.globalfundforchildren.org/
1101 Fourteenth Street, NW Ste. 420
Washington, DC 20005
Tel: (202) 331-9003

Global Greengrants Fund
2840 Wilderness Place Ste.
A Boulder, CO 80301
Tel: (303) 939-9866

International Medical Corps
Web site: http://www.imcworldwide.org/
919 Santa Monica Blvd. Ste. 300
Santa Monica, CA 90404
Tel: (310) 826-7800

International Rescue Committee
Web site: http://www.theirc.org/
122 East 42nd Street
New York, NY 10168-1289
Tel: (212) 551-3000

Mercy Corps
Web site: http://www.mercycorps.org/
Dept. W
3015 SW 1st Ave.
Portland, OR 97201 USA
Tel: (800) 292-3355

Oxfam

Web site: http://www.oxfamamerica.org/
26 West Street
Boston, MA 02111
Tel: (800) 77-OXFAM or (800) 776-9326

City’s Plight Brings Flood of Memories


In New Orleans, the Jews are the only ones buried in the ground. Others, if their mourners have any means at all, are laid with the expectation of eternal rest in stone crypts to protect them from rising waters. My mother used to say, “Someday, we Jews’ll all be floatin’ down the river.”

Just as in California, where we know that one day “the big one” will come, in New Orleans, we knew that someday the water would overtake us. But the denial overtakes the wisdom, and we stay and build lives. I think of Pompeii. New Orleans was so beautiful.

Last week, I accompanied my daughter, Jen, to New York University for her freshman year. I returned home from New York on Monday, Aug. 29, with the expectation that I would be tending an empty nest. However, on the flight home, the CNN images on my private television screen, showed me that the nest that needs tending is the city itself, the one that nurtured me and held my memories — the place that gave me such delight throughout my youth and so much heartbreak as a young adult, when my mother and sister died in 1971.

I hope to be able to join the Red Cross relief effort, starting in Houston and from there, perhaps, deployed to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where we vacationed when I was a girl. I will then connect with the recovery efforts of the New Orleans Jewish Federation, which has moved to Houston and Baton Rouge, along with much of my New Orleans Jewish community.

I would like to be a Jewish face in the rescue efforts with the larger community — a student rabbi working in a non-Jewish setting. And then I want the solace of comforting my own.

My hope is to try to provide consolation to the people who surrounded me as I said Kaddish for my father during the flood of 1995. That was said to be the greatest flood in 500 years, and people who came to comfort me came through mud and water, but that experience doesn’t come close to the water and heartbreak that now must be drained from the streets of New Orleans.

My family came to New Orleans at the turn of the last century, and they took part in building many of the Jewish institutions. At one time, we belonged to two Orthodox synagogues, one Reform and one Conservative. I grew up in the classically Reform Touro Synagogue, one of the oldest congregations in the United States.

My grandfather sold furniture from the back of his horse cart, and around 1925, he and five other peddlers pooled their meager resources and opened a store, Universal Furniture House.

As one of seven children, my father inherited one-seventh of his family’s one-sixth share in Universal. He became its manager and built it into one of the largest furniture businesses in the South. Though he only owned a small part of it, as head of it he was able to play a prominent role in the New Orleans business and philanthropic community, particularly the New Orleans Jewish Federation and the Louisiana Red Cross.

My father loved New Orleans almost as much as he loved me. I am so glad he is not alive to see this. Or my Aunt Rosalie, who was the executive secretary to the mayors of New Orleans over a period of 20 years, which means that she had more influence than just about anyone in the city.

As a child, it seemed natural to me to go in and out of the mayor’s office whenever I wanted. We were seated in the mayor’s box at City Hall for all of the Mardi Gras parades, while Aunt Rosalie embarrassed us as she pranced around in her Mardi Gras costumes that were more fabulous each year. My Aunt Ida had an antique jewelry shop on Royal Street in the French Quarter.

Every Shabbat, when I sing “Shalom Aleichem,” I hear their voices, see their faces and smell the chicken being prepared by their cook, who was the sister-in-law of Louis Armstrong.

Until Thursday, Sept. 1, when they were rescued, driven to Baton Rouge and flown to New York, my elderly cousins, 95-year-old Rosalie Cohen (three brothers married three sisters, and they all named their children Rosalie, Ida, Mose and Lazard), and Mildred Brown, 87, were stuck in Mildred’s condo in the Garden District, a part of New Orleans where the water did not get too terribly high — only a few feet. They had a caregiver with them. I actually got through to them on the phone three times.

Rosalie Cohen was one of the grand dames of the Jewish world — think Miss Melanie of “Gone with the Wind” meets “Driving Miss Daisy.” A celebrated beauty and intellect. Warm and charming, with a lyrical voice and, of course, perfect manners.

She was the first woman vice president of the Council of Jewish Federations, a Hebraic scholar who stayed at the Beit HaNasi (the president’s house) when she visited Israel.

She and Teddy Kollek were the last survivors of one of the major Zionist gatherings, a witness to the Arab riots of 1929 at the Wall and, I believe, one of the last Jews at the Wall before it became inaccessible to Jews for so many years. I have a picture of her with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Rosalie does not understand why she is not in her beautiful home in a lower part of the city, with her ancient and rambling oak tree, which is registered as a “protected tree.” Her younger sister, Mimmie, says she has to explain what is going on to Rosalie 20 times a day.

On Wednesday, I spoke to Rosalie who greeted me in her melodic upbeat voice, “Oh darling, how nice of you to call. We’re just riding it out and waiting for things to get back to normal.” The caregiver told me that they were waiting, hoping to be rescued by the National Guard.

When I told Rosalie that I might be coming in with the Red Cross, she said, “Well, do give us a call when you are in town.” I imagine that when the rescuers came, she put on white gloves and stockings.

How they were able to drive out of New Orleans without the car being hijacked and what they must have seen from that car is beyond me. The survivors whose harrowing stories I know are the ones with means and, therefore, the lucky ones.

When I last spoke to them before their rescue, there was only about a foot of water in their street, but they were probably the only ones remaining in their building. Of course, there was no electricity or air conditioning. The caregiver said they had adequate food and water, although Mimmie said otherwise. When I asked why she didn’t leave, she said she was “too old to travel.”

Today, Sunday, Sept. 4, I spoke to a dear family friend, age 90. She is in Houston with her grandson, having come with only the clothes she was wearing.

She said, “We were given a directive by the mayor to get out in one hour. I left everything, but we, at least, have our lives.

“I’ve just cried constantly since this happened. Such a feeling of loss. Not for the material things … but all the people….

“I wonder who I’ll ever see again. I tell myself, ‘Stop crying, at least you are alive.’ The people in the Holocaust didn’t even have their lives.”

When I told her of Rosalie and Mildred’s whereabouts, she said, “I saw Rosalie at a meeting about a week ago. She was as elegant and beautiful as ever. I told her that she had been my inspiration, all those years ago, for getting involved in Jewish community life and how grateful I was to have her as a role model. Now I will probably never see her again.”

She began to cry.

Was it Ellie Weisel who said, “There are things that are real that could not possibly be true?”

When I speak, I give this picture as a definition of healing:

In 1971, after my mother and sister died, I left New Orleans. When people asked, “How can you leave?” I said, “I have to go. Every tree, every street corner has a memory. It is unbearable.”

Years later, when I returned to New Orleans and people asked how it felt to be home, I would say, “Every tree, every street corner has a memory. It is exquisite.”

Now every tree and every street corner needs healing.

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Amy Eilberg, forwarded, these words:

“Perhaps we cannot expect to know why the world is broken; it may be enough to be blessed with the capacity to see the brokenness and to respond with love.”

Please all of you, do what you can.

Love to all of you. For those of you who pray — send prayers to my beautiful city. For those of you who know New Orleans, you know what a treasure we have lost. n

Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001), a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a faculty member of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

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Report From Phuket Faith and Tsunami: A Rescue Mission


 

Ten minutes after the tsunami hit, my phone started ringing. It’s been ringing ever since, 24 hours a day — husbands looking for wives, mothers looking for daughters, friends looking for their traveling companions.

As one of the Chabad emissaries living in Southeast Asia, I was dispatched that very night on Dec. 26 to the hardest hit areas. My mission: to aid with the search and rescue efforts, particularly in regard to the thousands of missing Israelis and other Jewish travelers.

Yakov Dvir, the Israeli consul in Thailand, conveyed an urgent request in the name of Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom to Rabbi Yosef Chaim Kantor, director of Chabad-Lubavitch activities in Thailand, that Chabad step in to help. All of us — the six permanent Chabad rabbis and our families, and the 12 rabbinical students now living and working in Thailand — immediately moved into 24-hour mode, fielding calls, compiling lists and offering aid and comfort to the survivors.

When I arrived on the island of Phuket, a Thai resort destination, bloated bodies still lined the streets. We had hundreds of names on our lists, with new ones being added every hour.

For three days now I have been making my rounds of the morgues, hospitals and makeshift shelters, trying to match faces and fates to the names in my lists. For the dazed survivors, we arrange food, clothing, medical care and transportation back home.

For the dead, we have the unfortunate task of helping the ZAKA (Disaster Victims Identification) volunteers who’ve flown in from Israel make the identification, arrange for a proper Jewish burial and get the news to loved ones keeping vigil by the phone. But in a place where unfortunately so many will be thrown together in mass graves, there is some sense of relief and closure knowing that the victim has been found and will receive a Jewish burial.

From the moment a Jewish body is identified, it is not left alone for a minute. This is the last respect and love we can give to our brothers and sisters.

On Monday we found Mattan. The 11-month-old boy was torn from his mother’s arms as they played on the beach. Both she and her husband survived the tsunami, but Mattan was nowhere to be seen. Steve and Sylvia Nesima found their son in the makeshift morgue, along with the hundreds of other children who had no chance against the monstrous waves. Mattan was flown to Bangkok, where Chabad emissaries took turns sitting with him around the clock until they put his small body on the El Al plane to Israel for burial.

Our three Chabad centers in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Ko Samui, have been transformed into crisis centers for counseling, clothing, communication, food, money, transportation and shelter. We have opened our phone lines for free calls to assuage the fear of parents who will not rest until they hear their son’s or daughter’s voice on the other end. Our free e-mail service has enabled hundreds to contact worried loved ones and assure them of their safety.

The survivors come to us shaken, hungry and overwhelmed. They need to go home and be with their families. Until that is possible, it is our responsibility to provide them with that love, comfort and safety while they are still here. For some that means a warm meal. Others need money and arrangements for necessary travel documents, some a hug or shoulder to cry on and others a place to sleep.

The Thai government has been incredibly helpful and organized. Now that people have been able to travel here to help, we have been joined by dozens of volunteers who’ve flown in from Israel. We’re all working together, around the clock.

No one has yet digested the magnitude of what happened. Right now, there’s too much to do to even pause for a moment to contemplate it. The unity among all the workers is incredible.

I was moved when I saw the news reporters join us to help locate and identify the injured and dead. They were no longer looking at the situation through the camera as they worked alongside the rabbis, government officials and volunteers.

On a larger scale, this disaster has brought people of every race, creed and religion together. There are no divisions in suffering. There are no barriers.

Rich, poor, young, old, male, female were all the same in the eyes of the waves, and now, once again, are all the same when it comes to offering aid, support and love.

What keeps us going are the miracles that are sprinkled throughout the horror. Today, a 20-day-old baby was found alive, floating upon a mattress in the water. A 1-year-old who was torn from his mother’s arms was miraculously recovered by his nanny, seconds before he would have been submerged in water.

A Jewish family of six were scheduled to fly to Ko Phi Phi, the hardest hit of the islands. We feared the worst for them, until we learned that they had missed their flight and were sitting on the runway, bemoaning their ruined vacation when the news broke.

Today, when I visited the hospital, an Israeli woman called me over and started crying when she told me her story. She had been traveling by boat with another 41 Israelis. They had just docked at Ko Phi Phi when the waves began to hit.

The group ran as fast as they could, but could not outrun the rushing water. They were immediately swept up in its path along with debris, trees and cars. This woman was sure her life was over and without time to think, suddenly found herself screaming to others to join her in saying the “Shema” out loud.

With the last ounce of strength in her body, she cried out the words of the most foundational prayer of the Jewish people, our acknowledgment of the Creator of the World and His oneness. And as she finished the verse, she suddenly felt a log come up from under her feet, keeping her head above water so that she could breathe.

Then, as she floated along, she looked upward and saw a rope come down from the sky. The rope had been thrown from her boat, where other survivors had gathered. They pulled her aboard and managed to save 40 of the group. Unfortunately, there are two still unaccounted for.

It is these miracles that give me hope and remind me of my purpose and my mission. There are no words to describe the horror that has happened and certainly no understandable explanations or reasons for its occurrence. But I believe that though we can’t make sense of it, this, like everything we experience, is part of a larger picture that we currently don’t see.

More importantly, we must use this opportunity to focus on our ability to overcome, to help others and to rebuild. Every living, breathing person who survived this not only has to live his or her life, but must live for those who were not able to survive.

And I keep trying to tell myself, we must remember that just as instantaneously as utter destruction struck, so, too, in a split second, we can be redeemed, we can start anew, we can have complete peace, love and goodness.

I’ve seen more pain and suffering in the last few days than I’ve seen in all my 32 years. But I’ve also been privileged to witness compassion and faith of a magnitude that I never imagined existed. I have watched as people from different cultures, faiths, countries and mentalities join together to help another.

For the Godly soul, hidden deep within, often shines forth precisely when externally there is nothing to depend on. When physicality is destroyed, the only thing left is spirituality, and that is now what is apparent throughout this annihilated area.

So, for now, I continue to help rescue and identify the victims, working along with representatives from throughout the world here to do the same. The Israeli Embassy has asked all hotels in Thailand to request their Israeli guests to call either the Israeli Embassy or one of the Chabad houses so that we can ensure that the people who are safe and sound have called home and are not considered “missing.”

This Shabbat we will be hosting many tsunami survivors at our Shabbat tables here in Phuket and hundreds more at the Chabad houses in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Ko Samui. We are still hoping to find more survivors, to provide the injured with all their needs and to make possible for those who were not so fortunate to be brought to their families for a proper burial.

Thanks to everyone’s unbelievable dedication and work, we have made much headway. From an initial list of 2,000 missing Israelis, only 17 remain unaccounted for.

May God bless us to continue to be successful in our work, and may this disaster be the last we know of pain and suffering and the beginning of the true ushering in of goodness and redemption.

Rabbi Nechemia Wilhelm is a Chabad emmisary living in Southeast Asia. He can reached at rabbi@jewishthailand.com online at

The Mickey Rule


My brother Mickey works with teens and adults as a mental health counselor. Mickey began his counseling career while he was a teenager. Like many talented people who begin their careers with a significant bang, he gave me advice on teenage dating that was so profound, so far-reaching, that only in my 40s, as a divorced man, did I realize its importance.

Had I diligently followed what I call, "The Mickey Rule," my life and certainly my postdivorce dating would have taken a different path. When I was in my tender teen years, Mickey said, "Do you want to be happy? Then don’t sleep with anyone crazier than you."

For those separated or newly divorced, truer words were never spoken. For many of my friends, and even me, the crazy time of divorce attracts those equally crazy or worse.

There seems to be an unwritten rule that states: "If you are going through a convulsive experience, you ought to be open to those with equally or more compelling issues." Whatever happened to: "Put your own mask on first, then, tighten the straps before you try to assist others"?

Still, way too many of us violate the Mickey Rule. Following my separation, I began dating someone who initially met four criteria her predecessor lacked, and so happy was I at getting those four met, I forgot about the other 20 criteria that also mattered. 1) She was an out-of-stater, and only in my world on my per-incident invitation. 2) She had a quality I so admire in a woman: a lot of interest in me. 3) She possessed an attitude toward sexuality I had previously only seen on Animal Planet. 4) She was cute. I mean really cute.

What I didn’t initially realize was that she was also certifiably nuts. Not eccentric, not wacky. I’m talking her own, personal DSM-IV classification. She probably thought "One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest" was a documentary.

Her out-of-town status gave her time to straighten up for my short visits. Her profound interest in me masked a pathological unwillingness to attend to her own needs. Her libido, well, that would later prove to not be worth the cost of entry. If she had been local, her tenure in my life would have lasted about as long as your average JDate drive-by coffee meeting. But she lasted longer. In fact, the break up took longer than the actual relationship. I was low-hanging fruit in this experience, but I was a volunteer in the orchard.

Why do we go for insane people?

There are many answers, and in the name of service, let me offer some tips. First a disclaimer: I have been divorced for almost nine years. Today, I am in a loving relationship with a woman who is my peer, my passion and one of my heroes. I had several postdivorce relationships (you know the score, first you get appointed, and then you get disappointed) and I enjoy a great collaborative relationship with my former spouse, whom I respect. I am a lucky man. Now, let’s return to our regular programming.

We go for crazy people because we don’t understand our criteria in a partner. I think women are generally clearer on what they are looking for than us men. Some guys like an organic approach to defining wants (e.g., "I’ll learn on the job"). Others just pick a single quality and hone in on that item. Once, following a relationship with an esthetician, I temporarily only picked JDate women with great eyebrows. I wouldn’t recommend that one as criteria. I could see it leading to the "Crazy Person’s Full Employment Act."

We attract where we are at. You see it in spades among folks searching for a financial/emotional/spiritual rescue. Instead of attracting someone to rescue them, they seem to only pull in people who also need rescuing. So, before you look at a person, look in the mirror. Ask yourself if their tsuris is drowning out your ability to deal with your own stuff. Or what is it about you that really attracts them?

We often don’t understand the risks of physical chemistry. Physical chemistry is like Botox — a little of it smoothes wrinkles and a lot of it paralyzes you. Don’t get me wrong, I admire physical beauty (hell, my partner is downright yummy) and I understand why supermodels get paid big bucks. But physical chem ain’t enough, not even here in Los Angeles. Here’s a little test to see if you are misaligned on the importance of physical beauty: Close your eyes and listen to the object of your affection talk for a minimum of two paragraphs. If their personal stock price drops while your eyes are closed, you may have a problem.

Chemistry is not correlated with human goodness. Remind yourself often that you can have great chem with some very wrong people. But remember, it’s not your job to judge your exes. That’s the responsibility of the criminal justice system.

If you think being in a relationship with a crazy person is bad, wait till you break up with them. Welcome to "bunny boiling." The key to avoiding a category-five hurricane is to do something I once failed to do: effective pre-breakup planning. Remember to remove all personal possessions from their home before the announcement. The key is denying the loon a huge number of opportunities to hijack the normal exchange of personal possessions and turn it into a series of bad Tennessee Williams dramas.

Applying the Mickey Rule. Is there hope once you embrace the Mickey Rule? Despite the mourning that we all go through after one of these experiences, most everyone winds up being loved better than they were before.

For me, it was simply a matter of becoming the person I wanted to attract. I did it a little later in life, but nevertheless, just in time.

Thanks, Mick.


Sam Shmikler is a writer living in Los Angeles. He can be contacted at sam@shmikler.com.

Mom, Can We Keep Him?


If your kids are out of the house and you’re experiencing empty-nest syndrome, how about considering adoption? Don’t worry though, this adoptee will be pretty low-maintenance — all he needs is a caring family, food, water and, of course, plenty of fly-repellent gel.

The adoptees are donkeys that are a part of the Israel-based charity, Safe Haven for Donkeys in the Holy Land (SHADH). The U.K.-registered organization was founded to rescue and protect abused and abandoned donkeys and mules in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Apparently, the beasts of burden are so greatly burdened in the Middle East that they have captured the attention of SHADH, animal rights activists and concerned families around the globe. Sold for as little as 100 shekels (approximately $20) in Israel and the disputed territories, there is very little value attached to a donkey’s well-being. As a result, when donkeys are injured, sick or too old to work, they are often abandoned and left to starve; many suffer from abuse.

Founded by Lucy Fensom, a former

airline stewardess, SHADH is dedicated to the rescue of these oppressed animals and committed to improving their plight through community-wide education. Abandoned donkeys are taken to SHADH’s “Safe Haven,” located 40 minutes from Tel Aviv at Moshav Gan Yoshiya, where they can live in a safe and protected environment. There are currently 29 donkeys at Safe Haven and all are up for adoption for only $6 per month.

While the animals must stay at Safe Haven — they don’t make great house pets — families will receive a photograph of their donkey, an official certificate of adoption — and full visitation rights.

For more information on adopting a donkey, visit

Passover Rescue


Five months ago, Beatrice Ballageure was struggling to make ends meet as a single, 47-year-old Jewish woman living in the capital city of an economically depressed Argentina. She had lost her job several months earlier, but she owned her own apartment and had enough money in the bank to afford basic expenses. She had friends with jobs, and she knew she could rely on her family if real trouble ever came.

Then the bottom fell out of Argentina’s economy.

The president announced that the country was defaulting on its public debt, the peso was devalued and immediately went into a free-fall, unemployment surged to 22 percent and the government froze all bank accounts, cutting off millions of Argentines from their life savings. In addition, food riots broke out, and the president, along with three of his successors, resigned.

Suddenly, Ballageure was out of options.

Last week, Ballageure found herself in a food line at Buenos Aires’ Jewish community center, waiting for a handout of basic foodstuffs for Passover. Over the course of three months, her sister had moved to Israel, all but two of her friends had lost their jobs and the few pesos she had left in the bank had been frozen and was rapidly shrinking in value. On top of that, she needed food to eat for the holiday.

“I was middle class,” said Ballageure, clutching her handbag in line at the Asociacian Mutual Israelita Argentina (AMIA), Buenos Aires’ central Jewish community facility. “Now I have no class.”

Ballageure is just one of the tens of thousands of Jews — and millions of Argentines — who find themselves out of money and out of luck this Passover season. For Argentina’s once-wealthy Jewish community, estimated at 250,000, the trappings of wealth remain, but the money is gone.

Unaccustomed to their sudden impoverishment, many of Argentina’s new Jewish poor are too ashamed to ask for help. However, their community leaders are sounding the alarm, and U.S. Jews have begun to respond.

Earlier this month, Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the North American Boards of Rabbis, and Dr. Israel Singer, chairman of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), led a group of a dozen rabbis on a two-day mission to Buenos Aires to meet with Argentine Jewish leaders and figure out how to distribute approximately $100,000 in relief aid for the purchase of Passover food.

The funds were raised for Argentina’s Jews by nearly 70 synagogues across North America, including several in the Los Angeles area: Sinai Temple, Temple Kol Tikvah, Stephen S. Wise Temple, Kehillat Israel, Adat Ari El, Valley Beth Shalom and Congregation Kol Ami.

“It’s like [Manhattan’s] Upper East Side suddenly went belly-up,” said Schneier of the plight of Argentine Jewry. “They still have their nice clothes and expensive homes, but they suddenly have no money to buy food and can’t make their monthly maintenance payments. It’s unbelievable.”

Bypassing the usual Jewish communal charity mechanisms, the group delivered the money directly to 32 synagogues in Argentina, many of which have had to open soup kitchens to feed their members. The checks were cashed at exchange centers rather than banks — where withdrawals are severely restricted — and the Argentine synagogues used the cash to buy food that was distributed to congregants and other needy Jews before the holiday.

Rabbi Steven Jacobs, spiritual leader of Woodland Hills’ Temple Kol Tikvah, took part in the mission, and he brought checks from the seven Southern California synagogues.

The swift fundraising operation was a way of fulfilling the mitzvah of maot hitim, giving food to the poor for Passover, said Schneier, the group’s president. “Usually we give maot hitim before Passover to poor Jews in New York,” said Schneier, who is the rabbi of Hampton Synagogue in Long Island, N.Y. “But when we focused this year on the issue of maot hitim, we knew there was a community of deep financial need in Argentina.”

Last month, the United Jewish Communities pledged $40 million in emergency aid for Argentine relief, $35 million of which is being allocated to aid Argentine aliyah and absorption in Israel, under the auspices of the Jewish Agency, and $5 million of which is being spent locally in Argentina, under the aegis of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Dr. Bernardo Kliksberg, president of the Human Development Commission of the Latin-American Jewish Congress, said Argentina’s woes pose nothing less than a problem of “physical survival” for the country’s Jews. “This community has no [financial] resources,” he said in Buenos Aires. “There are 50,000 poor Jews in Argentina, and only 20,000 have the protection of the Jewish community. Today we have a problem of the survival of Jews and of the Argentine Jewish community.”

“We came so that when we say in our homes on Passover behind closed doors, ‘Whoever is hungry, let them come and eat,’ we will not be lying,” said Singer, explaining the timing of the rabbis’ trip.

“It’s only a beginning,” Singer said. “We shall return.”

Federations Send Aid to Argentina


The United Jewish Communities has pledged more than $40 million this year for the rescue and relief of the Jews of Argentina.

Most U.S. federations say they are committed to meeting the goal that the umbrella organization has set to aid Argentine Jews, whose country has been hit by a severe economic crisis in recent months.

"There is a broad recognition that responding to the crisis of the Jewish community in Argentina is precisely the reason why the federation system exists — to be able to make certain that people have food and medicine and to make certain that those who want to leave can do so," said John Ruskay, executive vice president of the UJA-Federation of New York.

Of the $40 million pledged for this year, $35 million will be allotted to the Jewish Agency for Israel to manage aliyah (immigration to Israel). The figure is based on an estimated 5,000 Argentines making aliyah to Israel this year.

The remaining funds will be directed to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) to provide food and medicine. There are approximately 200,000 Jews in Argentina, thousands of them now reported living in poverty.

"The entire situation is very fluid," according to Richard Bernstein, co-chair of the UJC’s Argentinian Response Task Force.

An increase in dollars to meet an increase in demand is entirely possible, he said. The task force will monitor the situation to adjust the budget accordingly and create new budgets each year for at least the next few years.

"If we do the job right with the first families that come to Israel, more will come because the situation in Argentina isn’t going to get better for a very long time," said Stephen Hoffman, UJC’s president.

Despite the situation in Israel, Hoffman said, "aliyah is a real viable alternative for people to consider."

Local federations have until the end of the calendar year to turn over what has been designated as their "fair share" of the total. Each federation’s percentage will be determined by the size of its annual campaign as it relates to the sum total of all of the federations’ campaigns — a figure that is approximately $900 million.

Chicago, for example, based upon a campaign last year that raised $67.2 million, is expected to contribute nearly $3 million to the Argentine fund.

Around the country, federations are just beginning to determine how to raise the money. Some reported that they will conduct separate campaigns for the Argentine Jews, while others will take the money from their regular campaign funds.

Chicago, which is being asked to contribute the second largest amount after New York, plans to fold the Argentina package into its annual campaign drive. The city is already 15 percent ahead of its mark last year, according to federation officials, and plans to dedicate all the funds that top its goal to, "all the special needs Israel is encountering," which includes the Argentine aliyah.

While most federations expressed full support for the amount pledged by the UJC, some had questions. Martin Abramowitz, vice president for planning and agency relations of the Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston, expressed some concern over the UJC calculation.

Although Abramowitz said his federation "will respond in some positive way" to the request and expressed deep respect for the work of the UJC’s overseas partners — the Jewish Agency and the JDC — he said Boston required a "better understanding of the Jewish Agency’s prediction" of costs.

He specifically questioned the Jewish Agency’s projection that it would cost $7,000 for each person to arrive in Israel and be absorbed — and how that figure relates to the package of benefits that the Israeli government is offering a family of four.

David Sarnat, executive vice president of the Jewish Agency’s North American section based in Atlanta, cited some specific costs, including $1,950 for employment training, $1,630 for transportation to Israel and $235 for health care. He said it cost $6,000 to bring each Ethiopian to Israel 10 years ago, when Israel conducted a major program specifically for them.

Sarnat said the UJC approved the numbers after a fact-finding mission to Argentina last month and study of the costs.

"It’s a satisfactory accounting that leaves no questions unanswered," Hoffman said. The Jewish Agency submitted its analysis of past and future funds, and the UJC will be sharing those details in the coming weeks, he said.

Ruskay said this year’s request, which will cost the New York federation nearly $7 million, is a substantial but moderate one. The real test will be if the numbers continue to grow, which would suggest that the requests for aliyah in January and February were only a blip after December’s economic crash, he said.

In Cleveland, federation officials have already built the Argentine crisis into their campaign. "The bottom line is we are committed to this," said Michael Bennett, spokesman for the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland. "It’s just what we do as Jews — help Jews who are in trouble," he stressed. "I don’t see this being any different."

Volunteer Lifesavers


Hatzolah Volunteer Emergency Medical Rescue Squad, long a fixture in New York, just went public in Los Angeles, serving a circumscribed area of the mostly Orthodox Beverly-La Brea Jewish community and becoming the only volunteer Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) corps in the city.

While New York Hatzolah, founded 25 years ago and now one of the largest volunteer emergency corps in the world, has its own fleet of ambulances and hundreds of trained volunteers, the Los Angeles group is more limited in its ambition.

“As a whole, the 911 rescue system in Los Angeles is rated above average, but it’s not perfected, and occasionally it could happen that a certain time elapses between when the emergency occurs and when 911 appears at the scene,” explains Tzvi Brenner, Hatzolah of Los Angeles president and an EMT. “The purpose of Hatzolah volunteers is to provide that life-saving bridge during those first critical moments.”

Hatzolah of Los Angeles, which operates independently of the New York group, has no ambulances and does not provide any hospital transport. The group takes pains to emphasize that it is not a replacement for 911, but a complement to it. When someone calls the Hatzolah dispatcher with an emergency, her first question is “Did you call 911?”

Emergency response time in the Beverly-La Brea neighborhood averages six to eight minutes — if the local paramedics are not out on another call. But Hatzolah volunteers all live and work in the neighborhood, and for that reason, the average Hatzolah response time is 60 to 90 seconds.

Those few moments can be critical, especially in cases of cardiac arrest or respiratory distress.

Hatzolah in Los Angeles started about three years ago as part of the Avraham Moshe Bikur Cholim Jewish Healthcare Society, under the leadership of Rabbi Heshy Ten. At the time, about 15 volunteers were trained as first responders, a level below EMT. They were not on call, but rather were teachers at Jewish day schools or members of local synagogues. If an emergency arose at their site, they responded.

Rabbi Mordechai Dubin, a teacher at Maimonides Day School, was trained as an EMT and certified CPR instructor when he lived in Georgia.

Dubin is on the Hatzolah board and has been a volunteer for the past few years. The staff at his school come to him with medical situations that go beyond what the school secretary can handle — one child recently had severe hyperventilation, another an anaphylactic reaction.

“I think that although the plan had been to provide services for synagogues and schools, there was a strong feeling that Hatzolah should branch out to be something that could provide care for the community at large,” Dubin says.

The decision was made to make the service available to the community through a well-publicized 24-hour hotline.

To start off, the group needed to raise funds — about $150,000 for start-up, then about $50,000 a year to run the operation. Targeted donors have already put up about $80,000, and the Rechnitz family, owners of Twin Med, donated about $50,000 worth of equipment.

About 30 volunteers — all Orthodox men who are businessmen, professionals, rabbis and students — took 120 hours of training to become certified EMTs. They also went on ride-alongs with local fire department paramedics to gain hands-on experience and to get to know local emergency personnel.

In early September, a letter went out to residents of the neighborhood introducing Hatzolah — with a roster of endorsements from community rabbis and doctors — and providing stickers with the hotline phone number.

Ten women from the community were trained to cover a state-of-the-art dispatch system in shifts from their homes.

When a call comes through, after ascertaining the nature of the emergency and that 911 has been summoned, the dispatcher locates the nearest volunteer and sends him to the site, along with a backup volunteer and more EMTs if necessary.

The volunteers who arrive at the scene administer whatever medical treatment is necessary until the paramedics arrive. They are not authorized to dispense drugs.

Each volunteer is equipped with kits to deal with everything from gunshot wounds to delivering a baby. Hatzolah currently has eight defibrillators, a device that can revive heart attack victims.

As soon as the ambulance arrives, Hatzolah fills in the paramedics on the medical situation and does everything to ensure a smooth transition to the ambulance personnel. If the patient wants, the volunteer will ride with them to the hospital.

Hatzolah offers a measure of comfort to a community that is culturally distinct.

“A high percentage of residents are Holocaust survivors, and many of them have a fear of the uniform,” says Chaim Kolodny, Hatzolah’s coordinator. “But if it’s the grocer, the baker, the person who comes to fix their lights — these are people from their community and they feel more comfortable.”

In addition, language barriers and religious issues may unnecessarily interfere with getting proper medical attention.

“On Shabbos or Yom Tov people may neglect their health, and our members are trained extensively in the halachic guidelines,” says Kolodny, director of the Los Angeles Cheder and the Bais Tzivia girls’ school.

Hatzolah operates under the authority of a halachic opinion from the late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who gave Hatzolah of New York blanket dispensation to violate the laws of Shabbat or Yom Tov to save the life or well-being of a person. Volunteers, like doctors, are not required to ask a rabbi about specific situations.

So far, county and city emergency officials are impressed with Hatzolah’s professionalism.

“The relationship Hatzolah has developed with responding fire and police departments demonstrates your commitment to cooperate with the existing EMS system and facilitate seamless transition of patient care in emergency situations,” wrote Dr. Samuel Stratton, medical director of the Emergency Medical Services Agency for the county health department, in a letter after meeting with Brenner. “We welcome Hatzolah’s efforts to supplement local emergency response resources.”

Hatzolah activists have met with County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, representatives from the mayor’s office and the City Council, and the sheriff, police and fire departments — all of whom have been highly impressed with Hatzolah and supportive of its work.

At the suggestion of Los Angeles Fire Chief William Bamattre, who met with Hatzolah and was enthusiastic about its work, Hatzolah is now exploring the possibility of becoming a Certified Emergency Response Team, which can be called by the city to respond in the event of a large-scale emergency.

Meanwhile, word of Hatzolah has spread outside the neighborhood, and other communities want Hatzolah to extend its service.

“Right now, for the next eight to 12 months, we will concentrate here, making the best program possible,” Kolodny says. “Then we can take a look and study it and see how it went and how we can expand.”

Hatzolah’s service area is bordered by Rossmore to the
east, Willoughby to the north, Fairfax to the west and Olympic on the south.
Hatzolah’s emergency hotline number is (323) 931-6460. The nonemergency number
is (323) 931-6453, www.hatzolah.org .

Out on a Limb


During the darkest days of the Holocaust, 63 diplomats from 24 countries risked their careers, in some cases their lives, by issuing unauthorized visas and protective letters to save an estimated 200,000 Jews.The deeds of four of these brave envoys are honored in the documentary film “Diplomats for the Damned,” to air Sun., Nov. 26, on the History Channel.

The rescuers were not highly placed ambassadors and plenipotentiaries, but middle-level consuls and attachés who had every incentive to play it safe and follow orders from above.

Chronicled in the documentary are American Hiram Bingham, Aristides de Sousa Mendes of Portugal, Charles Lutz of Switzerland, and Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz of Germany.

As U.S. vice consul in Marseilles in 1940, Bingham defied orders and issued safe passes, letters of transit and falsified visas to save some 2,000 Jews, among them artists and intellectuals, including Marc Chagall and Max Ernst.

Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese consul general in Bordeaux during the fateful month of June 1940, when France fell and refugees desperately sought to escape the advancing Nazi army.Against direct orders from Lisbon, Sousa Mendes not only issued 10,000 visas to Jews and 20,000 to others, but personally conducted hundreds of Jewish refugees across a checkpoint at the Spanish border. For his courage, Sousa Mendes, the father of 13, was dismissed by his government, lost all his property, and died in poverty.

Lutz was the consul for Switzerland in Budapest during the last two years of the war. He invented the “protective letter” for Jews – later adopted by Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg – set up a string of 76 “safe houses,” and even managed to channel 10,000 Jewish children to Palestine.Jewish relief agencies estimate that he saved as many as 62,000 lives.

While the American, Portuguese and Swiss diplomats paid for their humanitarianism with stunted careers, Duckwitz, a Nazi Party member, bet his life in saving Denmark’s Jewry.

As trade attaché at the German embassy in Copenhagen, he learned that on Rosh Hashanah 1943, the Nazis planned to round up and deport to death camps the country’s 7,000 Jews. He first flew to Berlin to try, unsuccessfully, to change his government’s mind, then to Sweden to arrange safe haven for the refugees, and then tipped off the Danish underground, which ferried the Jews to safety.

Fittingly, he was the one rescuer to benefit from his deeds when the postwar German government appointed him ambassador to Denmark.

Two points should be made about the four diplomats and dozens of their known and unknown fellow rescuers.

One, in a profession known more for bureaucratic punctiliousness than civil courage, they showed that one brave man can make a profound difference.

Secondly, Sousa Mendes, a deeply religious Catholic, and Bingham and Lutz, equally devout Protestants, were willing to act on their faith when most of Christian Europe turned its back. As the Portuguese envoy put it, “I would rather be with God against man than with man against God.”

The impact of “Diplomats for the Damned” will not end with the History Channel broadcast. On the initiative of the Committee for Righteous Deeds, founded by Rabbi David Baron of Temple Shalom for the Arts in Beverly Hills, special fundraising screenings will be held in various cities.

The proceeds will go toward buying some 2,000 videocassettes of “Diplomats,” complemented by a teacher’s guide for public and private schools created by Holocaust historian Michael Berenbaum, past president of the Shoah Foundation, who wrote the teacher’s guide for “Schindler’s List.”

The Los Angeles premiere was held last month, and future events are planned to Chicago, Washington, D.C., New York, Quebec, Montreal and Geneva.

“Diplomats for the Damned,” will air on the History Channel, Sun., Nov. 26, at 10 p.m.

Relief Is in Sight


A middle-aged man climbed up to the cabin of a crane and drew the operator’s attention to a small suitcase on top of a pile of rubble left by last month’s killer earthquake in Turkey.

“Can you get it for me?” he pleaded. “Please, it’s very important.”

The huge arm of the crane pulled it out of the ruins with perfect precision. The man, Aydin Yilmaz, in his early 50s, opened the suitcase, pulled out a photo album, pointed at the pictures and said: “That’s my family. They are all there, underneath.”

He pointed quietly at the huge pile of rubble that had buried his wife and two children.

Stories like Yilmaz’s are commonplace in Adapazari, a town east of Istanbul and one of the six areas hardest hit by the earthquake that killed an estimated 14,000 people.

Now, with winter approaching, the focus is on making sure that international support, including aid from Israel and Jewish communities worldwide, reaches the estimated 600,000 people left homeless.

The Israel Defense Force has deployed a field hospital at the entrance to Adapazari. A number of tents supply the local population with advanced medical equipment, including X-ray facilities, laboratories and children’s and orthopedic wards. Israeli surgeons conducted emergency operations — and one baby delivery — in the rooms of an adjacent government office.

In addition, Israel has sent Turkey about 1,000 tons of agricultural products, frozen vegetables, water, milk and new and used clothing, all of which had been collected in Israel.

The Israeli relief delegation numbered some 500 rescuers, medical staff and other experts, including the IDF’s elite rescue unit, which had gained experience in rescue operations in Lebanon and places of natural disaster in many parts of the world.