November 16, 2018

Weekly Parsha: Noach

One verse, five voices. Edited by Salvador Litvak, Accidental Talmudist

“The dove returned to him in the evening, and behold it had plucked an olive leaf in its mouth.” –Genesis 8:11


Rabbi Ilana Grinblat
Vice president of community engagement for the Board of Rabbis of Southern California

When the dove returns with the olive leaf, Noah stays in the ark. Seven days later, when the dove flies away forever, Noah still remains in the ark — until God tells him to leave. Then Noah plants a vineyard, drinks the wine and dances naked in his tent. Traumatized by the destruction he witnessed, Noah turns to alcohol for comfort. 

As I write these words, many people whose homes were devastated by Hurricane Florence in the Carolinas are awaiting word whether it is safe for them to return home. The hard work of rebuilding their lives has not yet begun. A year after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, there are still families without homes or a roof over their heads, and the lightless streets are impassable at night. Noah’s story reminds us that the work of reconstruction after a flood or other calamity can extend long after the stories leave the headlines. 

Likewise, healing from other traumas often begins significantly after the event itself — after we feel physically safe enough to grapple with the emotional pain. Grief can strike long after a death, and we may not even recognize initially that the sadness we’re feeling is a response to that loss, rather than to current events in our lives. Community members typically help at the time of a death but may forget that the hardest time for mourners often comes months or years later. 

After the waters recede, the slow, painstaking work of healing begins. 


Marcus Freed
Author of “The Kosher Sutras,” a yoga-based Torah commentary

Light follows darkness. Rebirth follows tragedy. The old makes way for the new. The empires of Egypt, Rome, Persia and Greece fell and the British empire, unfortunately, took a few hits. We live in times of revolution: #metoo, #timesup, American politics, Brexit and rapid technological progress.

When part of our life collapses — losing a job, a relationship or being diagnosed with a debilitating illness — we can discover new possibilities and become stronger.

An olive leaf symbolizes new personal strength, light and better health. Rabbi Nachman taught that the song of birds, chazzan, represents prophecy, chazon.

There is a commandment to “crush olives for the light” (Exodus 27:20) and one idea is that we are like the olive. Sometimes we need to be crushed to unlock our potential. A miracle vial of olive oil created the lights of Hanukkah. Today our menorahs light up winter, the darkest point in our year. Our skin also can become more radiant by eating olive oil.

After mass destruction, the dove plucked and delivered an olive leaf. Perhaps the bird brought a message that your personal pain can lead to a powerful new chapter.


Rabbi Elliot Dorff
American Jewish University

What a relief it must have been to the people on the ark to see this first sign of land after spending 10 months afloat on a complete water world! During that time, they had no assurance that they would ever again see dry land, so the dove holding the olive leaf symbolized the proximity not only of land, but also of food. This clearly meant nothing less than that they would soon be able to resume life on land under conditions that would be safe, familiar and sustaining for them.  

Think about times of great anxiety in your own life or that of your loved ones: if relief came, in what form did it come? What was the harbinger of that relief? A job offer after a long search while unemployed? The doctor telling you that your cancer is in remission? A “Eureka!” experience when you finally figured out the solution to a difficult problem? A shared hug of reconciliation among family members or friends who had seemed forever at odds and angry with each other?  

As Jews, we bless God “for keeping us alive, sustaining us, and enabling us to reach this occasion” (shehecheyanu vekiymanu, vehigi’anu lazman hazeh) at the beginning of each of the biblical holy days. In happy, dramatic turns in our lives like the ones mentioned above, that blessing also seems appropriate. It did not exist at the time of Noah, but had the people on board Noah’s ark known it, they surely would have uttered it. 


Rabbi Nicole Guzik
Sinai Temple

Many of my conversations with people in abusive or volatile relationships begin with the following mental negotiation: “Rabbi, I understand that my current situation is unhealthy and unstable, but it is all I know. To leave this life is entering a new world I can’t begin to understand.” The negotiation is often the nurturing of an inner dialogue, a back and forth between an existence that while detrimental, is predictable and another that pulsates with the unknown and endless possibility. Some choose light; but so many return to the dark.

The Radak, the Medieval commentator of the Torah, asks, “Why did the dove choose a leaf from an olive tree?” He explains with an answer found in the Talmud: that even a bitter tasting leaf eaten in freedom was preferable to being cooped up in luxurious surroundings. In other words, the dove put her trust in God, understanding that while new beginnings may be bitter, the hope that freedom brings is worth the initial struggle. 

It is a real gamble: To change direction and embark on uncharted territory. To leave what is comfortable and swim away, praying that you’ll end up on dry land. The dove reminds us that first steps into new worlds are often muddy, dirty and difficult. But first steps lead to trailblazing efforts, and roads that can carry us to lives of purpose and meaning. 

Take a leap of faith. A world of light and wonder awaits.


Daniel Lobell
Comedian, host of “Modern Day Philosophers” podcast

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (of blessed memory), explained that even if something seems bitter like an olive leaf, we need to trust that God is on our side and everything will turn out fine. Ultimately, his covenant with us will prevail, just as it did with Noah after the flood. 

When I think about doves, though, I get a little bitter. I had a great plan to release two doves at my brother’s wedding — the perfect surprise. 

I bought the birds from a live poultry shop on Queens Boulevard en route to the ceremony. We hid one in my wife Kylie’s dress and another up my jacket sleeve. When we were halfway down the aisle, we released the birds, but instead of gracefully soaring away, they awkwardly flapped around, and one landed on some woman’s head. She let out a loud shrill, which luckily was met with laughter from the rest of the crowd. Fortunately, no one ever found out they weren’t even doves. Just white pigeons, a much cheaper option. 

I guess I should have accounted for the fact that birds from live poultry shops never learn to fly because they’re kept in cages their entire lives. My brother was a little upset, but not for long. He loved his wedding gift: wooden kitchen utensils made from, you guessed it, olive wood. I literally extended the olive branch and made things OK. I guess it really is a peacemaker. So the moral is, if you can’t get the bird to do it … you gotta do it yourself. Peace and love.

The Blessings of a Brush With Death

Editor’s note: On Nov. 17, the Journal ran a story about the Nov. 3 car accident that almost claimed the life of beloved local teacher and performer Marcus J Freed. Now, 6 1/2 months later, the British-born actor, educator and author tells his story.

I was less than 60 minutes from death. Lights were flashing. Monitors were bleeping. Medics were doing everything they could to save my life.

Last November, my walk to a Shabbat dinner did not go as planned. While crossing Olympic Boulevard, I was hit by a white Lexus and thrown onto its hood. I fell to the ground and the next thing I knew, I was getting up with blood on the side of my face.

“I thought you were dead, for sure,” an onlooker said.

Four of us gathered on the pavement: me, the driver and two witnesses. I was in shock and asked to be taken to my friend Metuka’s house. The Lexus driver was a blond 20-something named Jonathan. Of course, I should have asked for his contact details but I was suffering a major brain hemorrhage — the kind that kills you if you don’t get to a hospital within two hours — and I wasn’t thinking straight. I gave him my business card and asked him to follow up, but I never heard from him again.

Artist sketch of the hit-and-run driver and a white Lexus similar to the car from the accident.

Within 30 minutes I was unconscious.

“Marcus, you are in Cedars-Sinai hospital,” a female voice said. I looked up and several faces surrounded me. “We have to cut off your shirt.”

This concerned me. “It’s a floral print shirt from a shop in London called Marks & Spencer’s,” I explained. “Would you mind carefully taking it off, please?”

“We can’t do that. You are wearing a neck brace. We are not allowed to move you.”

“OK.” I was disappointed because it was a lovely shirt, but they had a good point.

“Marcus, your brain is bleeding and we are preparing you for brain surgery.”

“Really? When can you get me in?” Maybe they had a spare appointment in the next few days?

“Right now,” she shot back. “Or you might die.”

“Oh,” I replied. “Thank you for everything you are doing. I’m going to close my eyes for a bit. Hope it goes well. See you on the other side.” Never let it be said that the English stop being polite under pressure.

“I focused on handing my soul over to God. ‘B’Yado Afkid Ruchi’ (Into your hands I entrust my spirit) is the final line of ‘Adon Olam.’ That was the only thing that was in my control. The choice was fear or faith, and I chose faith.” — Marcus J Freed

My mind immediately turned to my spiritual training. This was a potential moment of death and I was ready. The most important thing to do was to elevate my thoughts. If I got upset, scared or tried to hang onto life, there was a danger that my soul could get stuck between worlds as a wandering spirit or ghost. I focused on the one thing I could control: trusting God.

I saw two squares of light, one white and one gold. This was a near-death experience. I felt the white light represented my coming back to Earth and reawakening in the “Marcus body”; the gold light was my gateway to the next plane of consciousness. I had a brief flash that my parents would suffer some trauma if I passed on, but they would recover. I focused on handing my soul over to God. “B’Yado Afkid Ruchi”  (Into your hands I entrust my spirit) is the final line of “Adon Olam.” That was the only thing that was in my control. The choice was fear or faith, and I chose faith.

What happened next was extraordinary. My parents immediately flew to Los Angeles. I was besieged with visitors in the intensive care unit. Four days later, my brain hemorrhaged again and I underwent a second surgery. My friend Audrey Jacobs pulled together a miraculous crowdfunding campaign. The reach was astonishing. It felt like I had died, visited my memorial service, seen who had attended and heard what they had said. My heart cracked open with love.

Six months later, the brain injury has healed but my physical recovery is slow. I use a wheelchair for longer walks on Shabbat. Because the Lexus driver never followed up and the Los Angeles Police Department closed the case, I hired a forensic artist and had composite sketches done. I filmed the witnesses and made an online campaign video. Some English celebrities in Los Angeles, including James Corden, retweeted the video.

Was this event a tragedy or a blessing?

The rabbis teach us that everything is ultimately a blessing, even if that blessing is not instantly revealed. I believe it. This life-changing event has revealed tremendous love from family and friends, and deepened my love for so many people.

Being forced to slow down has made me focus on repairing the areas of my life where I was underperforming. This recovery period has given me time for internal work, to see where I can improve as a human being.

One hundred percent recovery is possible; to get back to where I was before and surpass it with new improvements. It’s like an upgrade.d

I am slowly getting back my work as an actor and business coach. My accident was a God-given gift that has made me focus on why I am here on the planet.

“Man’s days are numbered,” Job said, and I am more aware of that than ever. For years, I suppressed the more controversial stories that I wanted to bring to stage or film, for fear that I would upset people or face rejection, but coming so close to death has reminded me that I only need fear God.

When it comes to speaking deeper truths to motivate my business coaching clients, I have found few things more life-affirming than coming back from near death after a double brain bleed.

My current theory is to “never waste a good accident,” see the good in and appreciate all of these blessings. There won’t be any yogic handstands or surfing or break dancing for a good while yet, and no big parties because public gatherings are still too loud and overstimulating. There will be no driving after dark because lights are still too bright. But there are so many things I can do, and I focus on those instead.

Getting hit by a car was one of the best things that ever happened to me.


Marcus J Freed is an actor and business coach. You can see his “manhunt” video at marcusalive.com.

Letters to the Editor: Demographics, Israeli Supreme Court, Salvador Litvak and Marcus Freed

Demographic Study Would Aid Stories on L.A. Jews

As a former Angeleno and current doctoral candidate studying the American Jewish community, I read with disappointment the framing for the story “Building Boom: Is Jewish L.A. Defying National Demographic Trends?” (Nov. 17). I celebrate that a number of schools and synagogues, including my family’s, are growing, but the article does not tell the full story — the fact of the matter is, it can’t, as no one knows the full story of L.A. Jewry. It has been two decades since the last demographic study, the only way to systematically understand what is happening within the Jewish community of greater Los Angeles. A lot has changed since 1997 — for starters, I’m no longer in fifth grade at the VBS Day School.

In the absence of recent data, it may seem all well and good to focus on national Jewish trends as identified by the Pew Survey in 2013, but I’m sure every Angeleno will agree: L.A. is not like the rest of the country. In the absence of up-to-date estimates of the population, geographic distribution, migration habits, ritual practice, organizational involvement and more, communal institutions are left reacting to perceived trends, rather than planning ahead for growth, stabilization or even decline. Would it not be to the community’s benefit to know the relative proportion of 20-something Jews on the Westside who are Orthodox; young families in the Valley interested in Jewish summer camp; or senior citizens in Santa Monica who need social support? It’s only with a local demographic study that questions like these can be answered, so the truly important one can be asked: How can local Jewish organizations help community members lead meaningful Jewish lives?

Matt Brookner, Brandeis University, Somerville, MA (formerly from Tarzana)


Debating the Israeli Supreme Court

I enjoyed the dueling stories by Shmuel Rosner and Caroline Glick on the Israeli Supreme Court. While posed as a debate, the two authors agree that the court suffers from ideological activism and has outsized power in the absence of a written constitution.

But what both miss is the underlying reason for the court’s current misalignment with Israeli society: the judicial nomination process. Whereas in the United States, the executive branch nominates a candidate and the legislature confirms — ensuring democratic input — in Israel, an independent “judicial selections committee” is responsible for nomination and confirmation. The nine-member committee operates in secret, and while composed of members from all three branches, a majority is unelected and therefore unaccountable to the Israeli public. In fact, the largest bloc on the committee is the Supreme Court justices themselves, allowing the court to essentially self-select its composition, refining its ideological uniformity with each successive iteration.

While we in the U.S. view checks and balances among the branches as a vital democratic feature, Israel has chosen a “hermetic seal” between the branches to ensure a judiciary independent of politics. While a noble sentiment, it essentially cuts off the court from its contemporary society, rendering it less and less relevant — and more and more controversial — to the citizenry. Indeed, in order to be saved, the system must be changed.

Jordan Reimer, Los Angeles


Israel and Ancient Claims to Its Land

Professor Judea Pearl conceded too much to the neo-Philistines, who suddenly discovered in 1967 that they, not we, are “Palestinian” (“The Balfour Declaration at 100 and How It Redefined Indigenous People,” Nov. 10.)

First the disclaimer: I hold that those Arabs who stayed in Israel in 1948 earned their Israeli citizenship. They and their descendants richly deserve it.

That said, they are not “equally indigenous.” We have been present in the land of Israel since before recorded history, millennia ago. That is why the Arabs were calling it the “Abode of the Jew” when they first invaded it in 632 C.E. True, most of us were exiled for many centuries, but there was always some Jewish presence. The Arab population, too, dwindled as they destroyed the very soil until it would no longer support them. Most current Arab settlers descended from infiltrators attracted by the new prosperity created by the Zionists.

Louis Richter, Reseda


Torah Portion About Sarah and the Handmaid

Well, that parsha was fun (“Vayera,” Nov. 3).

To David Sacks and Rabbi Ephraim Pelcovits: A Jewish child would say “Enough with the tests. I get too many of them in school.”

To Rabbi Ilana Berenbaum Grinblat: Older son, upon viewing his brother when the latter was brought home from the hospital, with the source explained as “Mommy’s belly:” “Put it back.” So sometimes there’s no “anymore” about it.

To Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky: The concentric circle model also applies to how one reveals himself to others. There is a core revealed to no one. The innermost circle can be, but need not be, one or more family members. It can be one or more friends. And so forth.

Finally, to Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh: My late father-in-law’s approach to life was very simple: “Whatever I have is the best.” No matter the example, “mine is the best.” Thus, he didn’t worry about competition, and the women you speak of might do well to consider something similar. I might add that it took a while for him to apply his philosophy to his two sons-in-law.

Steve Meyers via email


From Facebook …

Salvador Litvak Column

There is clearly a distinction between young people who make immature decisions whose ramifications are beyond their scope of experience and serial pedophiles/sexual deviants (“I Shot a Sex Offender,” Nov. 17). The stigma of being convicted of a sexual offense seems to have no pyramid of seriousness, and often the term becomes dissolved into an ambiguous term that simply translates to “sicko” or “pervert.” There are literally ex-prostitutes who are registered sex offenders for prostitution too close to a school or playground (even when no children are present). Studies have shown that the wide-stroke brush of “sex offender” for minor offenses is detrimental to the public at large, places tremendous strain on law enforcement, and has not proven to reduce recidivism. Hearing the words “sex offender” places a stereotypical image in the listener’s mind of a sex predator, when the vast majority of those who commit sexual offenses are not registered offenders. I think the videographer’s open-mindedness is in good faith, and that there is much to learn from his efforts.

Brandon Moore

This is why there needs to be clearly defined parameters as to who is and who isn’t a pedophile. Those who engage in pedophilia are highly recidivist in nature. Extensive studies have shown they cannot be weaned out of it. So, this article would suggest that while he might have engaged in what is considered a sexual offense, it wasn’t pedophilia. The idea that G-d forgives the truly penitent, so we should as well … runs against what we believe — that G-d only forgives, once those we’ve transgressed against, forgive.

Batsheva Gladstone


Back and Forth Column

I actually agree with both of them (“Reform. Orthodox. Let’s Talk.” Reform Rabbi Sarah Bassin and Orthodox Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg, Nov. 10) — but the Orthodox rabbi was correct when he said “Many would applaud others’ activism and philanthropic work while claiming that our resources must be allocated to the sustainability and future of our own community.” In our own synagogue, we have seen the numbers of millennials dwindling and are not seeing the growth necessary to exist in the near future.

Sherri Chapman


Help for Marcus Freed

Thank you Jewish Journal for covering this story and helping to support Marcus J. Freed! (“A Community Rallies to Help Beloved Teacher,” Nov. 17.)

Audrey Jacobs

Fundraiser Launched For Marcus Freed

Photo from Jewcer.

Say the name “Marcus Freed” and many Jews in Los Angeles and beyond know exactly who he is.

The 42-year-old British-born actor, teacher and author has been living in Los Angeles for several years now. He’s a regular staple at Pico Shul and he’s reinvigorated many Jewish lives by using his artistic talents to allow people to connect with their Judaism.

From his Bibliyoga classes to his Kosher Karma Sutra books, his one man show about King Solomon, his Shabbat services at Pico Shul, his Soul Revival sessions or a myriad of his other Jewish and artistic endeavors, Freed is a much sought after teacher and educator as well as beloved by Jewish communities around the world.

On Nov 3, Freed was on his way home from synagogue near Olympic and Shenandoah/Sherbourne when he was hit by a car traveling at about 10 miles per hour.

In shock, Freed asked the driver to take him to his friend Metuka Daisy Lawrence’s house a few streets away. He never asked the driver for his details.

Lawrence told the Journal, “Marcus knocked on the door and said, ‘Hi, I’ve just been hit by a car.’” Despite insisting he felt fine, Lawrence said, “I told him we should get him checked out by a doctor and walked with him the four blocks to his apartment to get his medical card.” But once there, Lawrence suggested they call Hatzolah (the Jewish emergency service). “They were there within 90 seconds,” Lawrence said, “and one of them realized right away that something was wrong.”

Freed was rushed to Cedars Sinai Medical Center and underwent immediate brain surgery to stem bleeding in his brain. By Sunday morning he had been moved out of the ICU into a regular room. But on Tuesday morning he was back in surgery for a second attempt to stop the brain bleed. That surgery went well and if all goes to plan Freed could be out of the ICU within the next 12 hours.

Because Freed has only basic MediCal insurance, his close friend Audrey Jacobs, who is a crowd funder by profession, launched a campaign to raise $250,000 to cover Freed’s extensive medical costs. When Jewcer, the Jewish crowdfunding organization heard about Marcus’s plight they waived all their fees to host his fundraiser on their platform.

“I truly believe in the power of the crowd to fund ideas, to change people’s lives and help others in their time of need and I’m so grateful that Jewcer exists and did this for Marcus,” Jacobs said.

Within 48 hours almost $100,000 had been raised on the site. “That’s because people are truly inspired by who he is,” said Jacobs.

Throughout his ordeal, Freed has remained in great spirits and has been lucid. The nurses have been overwhelmed by how many visitors he’s received.

“It’s truly a miracle that he could have had two brain surgeries and be as lucid and charming as he always is  – joking and sharing his words of Torah – it comes from a real sense of gratitude from God,” Jacobs said.

Lawrence, who has known Freed for years, said of all Freed’s joking, “I told him ‘I know you love to perform, but you need to stop performing for your visitors so you can heal.’”

Following the accident, Freed’s parents – Jill and Barry – flew in from London on a one-way ticket and plan on staying here until Freed is ready to leave the hospital.

Speaking by telephone to the Journal from their son’s apartment – on a rare break from their hospital vigil – the couple said they are overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and support.

“I don’t know how we would have got through the last four days without the amazing Pico Shul community and especially Metuka [Lawrence] who was there through the darkest hours,” said Jill.

“She saved his life,” Barry said.

“And the wonderful care he’s receiving at the hospital,” Jill added.

They’re also in awe of how much money has been raised for Freed’s medical bills. “We are very humbled and totally embarrassed,” said Jill. “It’s not our style to ask for anything. My immediate thought was, ‘We’re going to have to sell our home, but as long as [Marcus] lives that was the main thing.’”

Barry choked up speaking of all the donations that have come through the Jewcer site. “We saw donations from everything from $10 to $5,000 but we also saw people that donated $1 and that was the most moving thing for me. People were giving whatever they could.”

Were the Freed’s aware of how much of an impact their son has had on the community?

“No,” said Jill. “However much one loves their children or how proud they are, you don’t expect this.”

The couple was here two years ago for Freed’s 40th birthday and said they met all his friends and realized that he would be fine. “He had a new family here in Los Angeles,” Jill said. “There are so many people I’d like to name: Audrey and Metuka and Rabbi Yonah and Rachel Bookstein and Rabbi Levin.”

For now, the Freeds are focusing on one day at a time. “We’re hoping he’ll be out of hospital sooner rather than later,” said Jill. “We just want him settled back home and to put him back in the safe care of his Pico Shul community.”

“Please God, he’ll make a full recovery,” Barry said. “And we want to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts.”

To date, Freed’s prognosis is good but he has a long road ahead and the bills keep piling up. “We haven’t even got the ambulance bill yet,” said Barry.

You can donate to Freed’s recovery fund by going to https://www.jewcer.org/project/marcus-needs-a-miracle/

Lawrence is also asking everyone to pray for Freed. His Hebrew name is Harav Matisyahu Joel Baruch Ben Gitel.

“Pray for his speedy recovery,” said Lawrence. “Prayer really works.”