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Big, Orthodox gathering set for Big Apple

Posted on 12 January 2017 by admin

This Sunday, something big will be happening in New York: something kosher: The Orthodox Union will present “Day of Torah in the City.”
All day there will be study, speakers, discussions and much learning — everything addressing issues that will help shape Orthodox Jewry’s future in the United States.
We all know the OU sign that marks much of what we eat as kosher. But OU stands for much more; it bills itself as the national umbrella organization for American Orthodox Jewry. Allen Fagin, its executive vice president, has said that “this program marks an important milestone, as the Orthodox Union begins to expand its focus — to provide learning opportunities for Orthodox Jews to increase the meaning of, and inspiration for, their religious observance.” So the purpose of this special day goes far beyond the two letters found on so many food items.
Hundreds of men, women, even children are expected to be at Citi Field in Flushing, New York, to hear speakers and have conversations about a variety of topics, ranging from kashrut (of course!) to what part Judaism plays in American politics. Both men and women will be presenting aspects of Jewish law, the Bible, codes of moral and ethical behavior and Israel. Discussion is expected and questions encouraged.
The scheduled presenters promise to be as varied as the day’s subjects. While education at every level, for males and females, will of course be expected topics, there will be some new and timely ones: For example, Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, a Puah Institute director, will speak on medicine and fertility in accordance with halacha. And there will be pairs of speakers to address some topics jointly, providing varying individual viewpoints. Fagin promises, “This is where the best and brightest of Torah Judaism will share their views on the future of Orthodox Jewry.”
While adults and teens are learning, children will have programming of their own, in appropriate age groups from ages 1 through 10.
In an early publicity release for this big day, Moishe Bane, OU’s incoming president, conflated past and present: “Since 1898, the Orthodox Union has played a pivotal role in addressing the needs of American Orthodoxy,” he said. “The OU has been a unifying influence and a voice of communal leadership and representation. Throughout, the organization has recognized that the American Orthodox community’s primary aspirations are in its spiritual sustenance and growth. (These are) dependent on the involvement of each child and adult in Torah study. The OU is uniquely positioned to provide American Orthodoxy with this necessary and broad expanse of Torah study.”
Continuing into the present, “Our ‘Torah in the City’ program offers community members the opportunity to taste a varied selection of some of the topics and approaches within Torah study,” Bane said. “We hope the experience will encourage a continued quest by our community members to find the sparks of Torah that speak to them.”
In addition to being the globally recognized symbol of kosher certification, OU has represented American Orthodoxy and its interests through contacts with the nation’s government, outreach to all Jews, and efforts to assist the disabled. Among its many programs are the Institute of Public Affairs in Washington, D.C., the National Council of Synagogue Youth (NCSY), and Yachad–the National Council for Jewish Disabilities.
If you happen to be heading to New York and want to attend this event, you’ll find that free parking and lots of kosher food will be available, and weather won’t be an issue since Citi Field is an indoor venue. But pre-registration ($25) is required. Go to ou.org/citi for full information on this unprecedented Day of Torah and a list of all speakers.
Of course, one day cannot remake an ages-old movement. Nor should it. But this day promises to open doors that may take our American Jewish Orthodoxy in bold new directions.

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Enjoy books, clean home

Posted on 05 January 2017 by admin

Books! That’s the word topping my list of resolutions for this New Year.
“Do something with them!” is what I wrote down in preparation for entering 2017.
I’ve always thought there’s a problem with a home that sports no visible books. But now, I also believe there’s a parallel wrong with a house that shows too many books (as well as having “invisible” ones in rooms that casual visitors seldom enter…).
The latter is my home. In addition to piles of books in living- and dining-rooms, there are bedside books, and even a basketful of bathroom reading (someone once said literacy could be improved by this, so I took him up on it!). But my office is the worst, with three wide, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, each with six overloaded shelves. Since these shelves are deep, each one carries a double row, so it’s easy to forget — more accurately, impossible to remember — what’s in the back. And just to get to the verticals, I have to remove the horizontals sitting on top of them.
Several years ago, when I had sagging shelves repaired, I went through everything without mercy, got rid of many books, and organized everything left into usable categories. But since that time, as new volumes have come in, and as I’ve pulled out old ones to use and failed to put them back in their proper places, I face the inevitable. This is my year to tackle that huge task again.
These are the decisions I have to make: Which books that I’ve already read do I love enough to want to keep — perhaps for reading again some day? Which books that I’ve never read yet do I really intend to read some day? Which books, from past times of studying, teaching, or being enthralled with certain topics whose hold on me is long gone, do I really need to retain? Of course I want them all, whether for memories or future intentions. The last time I went through the painful exercise of judging, and acting on my judgment, was more than three years ago. Now I’m facing another bullet-biting episode.
When I think about all this rationally — always hard for a book-lover to do — I know there are very few titles that fit into the first category. I will never part with my childhood copy of Little Women, for one. Then there are classics, like Will Durant’s Story of Philosophy, which any real student of almost anything should have read, but I haven’t, yet. And how much non-classic poetry still merits space on my shelves?
Some portions of my “collection” are virtually sacred: I will not give up books written by people I know, or books about my hometown, or books dealing with any world religion (including various Bibles, the Quran, the scriptural Book of Mormon). But I tell you all this because I’ve amassed an astounding amount of Judaica through years of teaching and writing: for pleasure (many volumes of stories, both very old and very new), or for research and reference (prayerbooks, explanations of customs and ceremonies), plus topical tomes (subjects such as our religious approaches to illness, death and dying, or writings by Israelis or about Israel, or modern novels appearing at least potentially interesting). And I’m more than willing to share.
I’ve already begun my shelf-clearing by taking 40 volumes to Half-Price Books, for which I netted $35. But no Judaica; I’m unwilling to part so casually with any of that — certainly not for less than $1 per book! So if you’re part of a Jewish library, or a Jewish school, or an individual with an interest in any variety of such things, please let me know. As soon as I’ve completed the shelf reorganization scheduled to begin this coming weekend, I’ll be ready for all comers to take a look, and take away.
Please help me — and you — enjoy a happy, productive Reading New Year!

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Finding more meaning in 8 shining candles

Posted on 28 December 2016 by admin

My cousin Michael — the one who has taken on that immense task of compiling all the leaves on our many-branched family tree — had a very special relationship with the grandpa he called Zaidy (Michael’s spelling). Since Zaidy’s passing was during Hanukkah of 1978, Michael has made this his time of cemetery pilgrimage. And memories.
Every Hanukkah, he remembers how Zaidy would teach the words of Reb Nachman of Bratzlav as interpreted by Reb Shlomo Carlebach: “The candles we light on Hanukkah are the only real consolation for the children of Israel.” Says Michael, “From 1978 on, I and my entire family needed more than ever to find consolation in the lights of Hanukkah, as Zaidy’s passing left our world in real darkness.”
And this is what Reb Shlomo taught: We light the Hanukkah candles when the darkness and cold of winter reach their strongest points. With each passing day of Hanukkah, the number of lights gets greater, and the warmth emitted by these lights gets stronger. By the eighth day of Hanukkah, we will have lit 36 candles (1+2+3+4+5+6+7+8, not counting the shamash that serves them all). These 36 candles symbolically correspond to the 36 hidden tzaddikim, the righteous individuals who, unidentified to us, are the pillars of our universe.
Reb Shlomo would also teach this: “The Hanukkah experience can best be understood as an encounter of former lovers who agree to meet every year for eight days, to reminisce as they also return to a place in time where their feelings of love are as strong again as they once were. For these eight days, we recreate that love, and the light of the Holy Temple, with hope that the whole world can witness the great light that once was and, God willing, will one day be again.”
Cousin Michael revered his Zaidy in life, just as that Zaidy had revered and passed on the teachings of Nachman and Carlebach. “My grandpa was a visionary,” he says. “A trailblazer. A spiritual giant. He left the only home he ever knew at the tender age of 16 and traveled across the ocean in search of a better world. And here, in his new country, he made sure that all his children — daughters as well as sons — received a good Jewish, as well as secular, education.”
Every Hanukkah, as Michael makes his cemetery visit, he also recalls that Reb Shlomo told the story of a boy who, after many years, finally discovered the grave of his beloved grandfather. Suddenly, his Zaidy was alive again, and the boy fell on the grave and said, “Zaidy, nobody ever took your place in my heart. Zaidy, do you know how much I love you? Do you know how much I miss you? All those years when I was crying inside — did you hear me?” And then the boy heard a voice: “My sweet child, I swear to you that your Zaidy heard you all the time. And your Zaidy hears you today.”
Michael is always comforted by The Testament, the words of Rabbi Richard Marcovitz, his family’s spiritual leader for decades, written before his death:
“Fret not at my passing, nor cry bitter tears. The Lord has been good to me for, lo, these 90 years.
“Don’t think I’m blind to tragedy, or that all my life was calm. But despite the storms and wounds I’ve witnessed, my family served as healing balm.
“I’ve lived to see children’s children, and to me they were truly grand. As I say goodbye to you, I pray that at God’s right I might stand.
“If my life can teach a lesson to every one of you, then let this be my testament: Be a mensch, which means — be a Jew.”
Because of what Michael has shared, I will stand before my menorah tonight with new knowledge and appreciation of those eight shining candles. May all of you do the same.

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How Jewish custom became the central point of Christianity

Posted on 22 December 2016 by admin

People send me things.
A fellow Rotarian who belongs to a very fundamentalist Christian church recently sent me an email.We know each other well from years of mutual participation in the same service club. He was not trying to “convert” me — he knows me too well for that — but only wanted to share an interesting sidelight from his own tradition, which was also new to him. His source is Unlocking the Secrets of the Feasts: The Prophecies in the Feasts of Leviticus, a book by Michael Norten, who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary.
Norten writes about gaining this new knowledge himself at a conference on Bible prophecy, where a teacher was expounding on the birth of Jesus as presented in the Gospel of Luke. In it, some shepherds, watching their flocks at night, hear an angel tell them of a divine sign: They would find a baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. But — why was this a sign?
The teacher explained: These were not lowly shepherds, but priests from the temple who were assisting in the birth of lambs. Some they would certify as unblemished, to keep for future sacrifices. As each such lamb was chosen, “the priests would wrap it with strips of cloth made from old priestly undergarments,” he continued, after which they would put that lamb into a manger (just a trough that holds animal feed in a stable) to keep it from being trampled by the flock.
So when these shepherd-priests followed the angel’s instructions and saw a wrapped baby lying in a manger, they interpreted this as God’s own unblemished lamb, prepared for sacrifice! The teacher further theorized that since Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was the wife of a priest, she had probably provided swaddling cloths made from her husband’s own garments.
Author Norten was intrigued, and began asking questions. He learned that each Jewish family marked the lamb it would take for Temple sacrifice with a name, and equated this with the letters INRI, with which Pontius Pilate marked Jesus at the time of his crucifixion. They stand for four Latin words that translate to “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” His conclusion? Just as the Jews marked their sacrificial lambs with their family names, Jesus was marked with the name of his “family,” which was, ostensibly, all the Jews of his time.
And Norten pushes even further: The Latin inscription, he says, translates into Hebrew as “Y’Shua HaNatzri V’Melech HaYehudim,” whose initial letters are YHVH. Since the V and W may be interchanged, he reads this in English as “Yahweh” — the “unpronounceable” name of God as often pronounced by Christians.
All people like to look back on important events, in their own lives and the lives of groups to which they belong, trying to understand by relating the “afterward” to how and why these things happened. The story that Norten heard during a conference on Biblical prophecy illustrates one way in which the seminal story of Christianity may be explained.
I had never heard any of this before, and neither had the devout Christian who passed it along to me. I see it as one backward-looking interpretation of one incident in one book of what is today called the “New Testament”; I equate that kind of interpretation to the way so many Christians read so much of “Old Testament” Isaiah: as a foreshadowing of the arrival of Jesus as Messiah. But I also find this an interesting new Jewish-laden way to look at how a baby was “crowned” with divinity at birth, later coming to be called, in a then-new faith born of Judaism, “the Lamb of God.”
As we light Hanukkah’s first candle this year, Christians will be welcoming the birth of that very Jewish baby who ultimately became the central figure of their new faith. I only hope they remember that our faith is what gave them theirs …

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After loss, relearn joy of holidays

Posted on 15 December 2016 by admin

One afternoon, before the first cold spell struck, I was struck by how beautiful so many trees looked this year.
The reds and yellows were unusually dazzling for North Texas, and I enjoyed them as much as I did the annual vibrant displays during all the years when I lived much farther north.
But I realized, as I always did in earlier times, that this beauty is just a prelude to annual “death”: Colors fade, leaves fall and trees — plus much else — shut down for the winter.
This year has been a sad time in our Jewish community. Many have left us, including Jean Fagadau, a National Council of Jewish Women stalwart; Hank Meltzer, a past president of Tiferet Israel; and Wende Weinberg, the heart and soul of Levine Academy for so many years, whose illness claimed her even as many were readying for the major tribute dinner in her honor.
Thinking these things made me appreciate the fine information sheet prepared by VITAS Healthcare, which I found during my regular monthly “story time” visit to what was — until recently — The Legacy Preston Hollow, now sold in anticipation of our Federation’s forthcoming Legacy Midtown Park. I continue going to the now-renamed senior facility to share memories and discussion with the Jewish residents remaining there. But the attractive information sheets I found deal with “Loss and the Holiday Season,” appropriate for people of all ages and all religions, or none.
No senior facility is without losses — of residents themselves, or of those suffered by the residents. And these losses loom especially large at major holiday times, which “… take on new meanings and feelings when you are coping,” begins this valuable one-pager, with good information that’s easy to read and absorb. “Gatherings of family and friends, parties, religious holidays and events are all different now. Joy-filled songs, festive meals and shopping for gifts, or just being thankful for what you have, may have changed.”
The text goes on: “Looking at others, combined with your grief, may create a conflict in your heart. You want to honor your loss and memories … and you want to enjoy and celebrate holidays for spiritual or traditional reasons. Guilt and confusion go hand in hand. What can you do?”
The wisdom on this single piece of paper should be shared with everyone, not just seniors, because everyone inevitably experiences loss, and its sadness often returns to overtake celebratory feelings at times that were joyous when we shared them with those no longer here. Good advice is given, beginning with the idea that holidays are times to “surround yourself with people who love and support you,” but cautions, “let them know of any needed changes in your routine. Lean on them … let them help you …”
Since sharing should always be the essence of happy holidays, VITAS advises that it’s not only possible, but truly important, to “share the joy, love and happiness while honoring the past and your loss.” Yet while some people can still find comfort in old rituals at such times, others may experience them as unbearably painful; in these cases, it’s fine to initiate new ways of marking holidays, to create new traditions that can also encompass and celebrate the past.
VITAS provides a list of suggestions for such new, post-loss “traditions,” ranging from enjoying the foods and fun that your late loved ones always loved, to setting an extra place at your table in honor of a special person recently gone. The basic idea is not to give up entirely either the grieving or the celebration, but to find comfortable ways to meld them, to move personal life forward after a loved one’s death. Personal testimony: I have done this myself, successfully, since my own husband passed away.
If you would like a copy of this excellent advice, call VITAS at 214-424-5600. Even if it’s not needed now, it will help everyone when our inevitable leaves fall in the future.

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Credit cards, ID easily replaced; mementos not so

Posted on 08 December 2016 by admin

None of us think this will ever happen to us. But it happened to me. My wallet was stolen.
Ready to purchase a new phone at Best Buy, I pulled out my credit card and put the wallet down on the counter in front of me. I didn’t watch it as I talked to the clerk. The man behind me did. All was caught on the store’s security camera. Abandoning his intended purchase, he picked up the wallet and left the store.
Two policemen came and watched the film. “A young man, tall, slender, wearing jeans, a teal blue shirt and white sneakers,” they said. “Dark complexion, dark hair. Probably Hispanic.” (Sigh of relief — no prejudice here; one of them was Hispanic himself.) Also shown on camera: a little girl the thief had with him, about 8 years old. What a lesson he taught that child! No wonder our society is in such bad shape.
I acknowledge my stupidity; I have no one else to blame or to be angry at. The cost for me was not so much in cash — I think I had $40 in the wallet — as in the time and aggravation needed to take care of everything else in it. Beginning immediately, and over the next many hours, I was able to cancel all my (too many) credit cards before they were used.
But I was also toting my Social Security card, my Medicare card and my voter registration card, all of which carry those magic numbers that easily enable identity theft, so I remain at risk for that.
And there were other pressing matters I had to take care of. Of course my driver’s license was among the missing, as was my medical insurance card. The police gave me a “receipt” for our interview to show in case I was stopped for any moving violation or involved in any accident; thankfully, I didn’t need it — mainly because I was to leave in less than two days for Thanksgiving week with family in New York. I was able to board the plane only because I have a valid passport.
My visit was good but somewhat uneasy; claiming too much of my attention during holiday preparation and celebration was what might be happening to me elsewhere at the same time, without my knowledge. (I did, however, join in a joyous toast to my niece, a criminal attorney with long governmental experience, who has been nominated for a judgeship in New York’s Eastern Federal District.)
My efforts resumed at home after the holiday weekend: too many repetitious conversations over crackling telephone lines with “help desk” people who are not fluent in English … too many long visits with personnel at two banks … more than two hours spent waiting for my number to be called at a local Social Security office … plus seemingly endless additional phone calls and in-person drop-by stops as I kept thinking of many more loose ends that still needed to be tied up.
I seem to be OK now, as new cards arrive to replace the old ones. What I can’t replace are sentimental things like the high school graduation pictures of my son, now 60, and my daughter, now 55, which I’ve carried with me for all these many years — nothing that would mean anything to that thief, but have been very precious to me.
So now I have a new mitzvah: I’ve already warned three perfect strangers in three different venues to please pick up their wallets, and I’ll continue to do this whenever I see one lying exposed “just for a second.”
Also, I now have this new mantra, given to me by a caring friend: “Life teaches many lessons,” she said. “Some of them, we only learn the hard way. But, at least, we learn.” I’ve learned to never again overload my wallet, and that I never again want to hear the phrase “Have a nice day!”

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Maroon dress, Pearl Harbor forever linked

Posted on 01 December 2016 by admin

“Let’s remember Pearl Harbor, as we go to meet the foe..
 Let’s remember Pearl Harbor, as we did the Alamo…”
Pearl Harbor. Dec. 7, 1941. The day that Franklin Roosevelt said would “live in infamy.” But it hasn’t, not really. Over time, enemy nations become friends again, just like kids on the playground. That’s history.
Here’s how I remember Pearl Harbor: I was a child of 7 at a fancy luncheon recognizing my Grandpa Dave for his longtime service to the Knights of Pythias. The meal had been eaten; the master of ceremonies had presented the honoree with a gold pocket watch, beautifully engraved with name and date; and Zaidy had just risen to make his thank-you speech when noisy shouting exploded outside the Lodge hall. There were really newsboys then, and they really did shout “Extra! Extra!” The attack had happened, the president had responded, and we were at war!
Life goes on. After the initial excitement, we calmed down and resumed our seats. My Zaidy stood again, tore up his prepared remarks, then spoke directly to his five sons: “You will all go. I hope you will all come back.” And then he cried. I had never seen him cry before; I never saw him cry again.
The next day, my five uncles all enlisted in various branches of the service. But before they left, they took that pocket watch to a jeweler and had him add another line to its engraving: “Remember Pearl Harbor.”
World War II veterans are now dying at the rate of a thousand a day, or more. My five uncles all did come back, but four are already gone. The one who remains was the youngest; he enlisted at 19 and is now 94, still of sound mind and body and the patriarch of our family, which because of him and my two great-grandsons now can boast of five generations. We have taken lots of pictures. We are truly grateful.
But I think back every year at this time to that song I learned in school, that kids all learned to sing: “Let’s remember Pearl Harbor…” There are not too many around now who do. Nobody sings it any more.
My mother was the oldest of the dozen children born to and raised by my Zaidy and his wife, my Boubby the Philosopher. They hung a five-star flag in a front window and went about their business. When the five “boys” came back, they went to work with their father. My uncles talked some about their war experiences, and I picked the brains of one of them when I was in high school and had to write a paper on a foreign city of my choice; I chose Liege, Belgium, because he had been there. Over the years, I learned from the others about other places. For them, like so many very young men who went off to war and returned from it, service had been — whether for good or ill — the great adventure of their lives.
After my mother died, I went back to the house where I grew up to go through her things. In the back of a closet was the maroon taffeta dress I had worn to that luncheon and never again; pinned on it was a note: “Remember Pearl Harbor.” That was her souvenir.
And here is mine: When the last of his four brothers passed away, my one living uncle gave me that gold pocket watch, the one my Zaidy received on Dec. 7, 1941. I wear it now, on a gold chain, on every patriotic occasion. I will wear it again next Wednesday, the 75th anniversary of the day that was supposed to live forever in infamy, but like so many other important days has been transformed by the passage of time and faded into a faraway past. Still, as long as I live, I will Remember Pearl Harbor.

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In reflection, a Thank You to everyone

Posted on 24 November 2016 by admin

Today, I am giving thanks.
As you read this, I’m in New York, spending the holiday with family, having turkey at the table of my niece, who is awaiting Senate confirmation of her nomination to a federal judgeship in this state’s Eastern District. Full congratulations are not quite in order just yet, but we are happily anticipating …
Meanwhile, I’m  looking backward as well as forward, and offering a silent Thank You to so many who have helped me in the past, but are not sitting at this table today:
A Thank You to my Mother, who taught me how to shop: “If your think something has your name on it, buy it immediately! But if you don’t, and it’s gone by the time you decide to go back and get it, don’t be regretful; it never had your name on it in the first place.” (She also taught me how to make trash can liners from folded newspapers, a necessary skill back in the days before plastic bags. Good thing we have plastic bags; there’s probably not enough newsprint around now to do this with, anyway…)
A Thank You to my Father, a practical doctor in his time who wouldn’t even recognize medicine if he could come back and see it today, but whose advice is timeless for health, and in all other facets of life. He gave me this, my own life’s mantra: “None of us knows what we’re going to get. You get what you get. The longer you live, the more you get. And if you can manage to live long enough, you have a chance to get everything! So all we can do is take whatever life hands us and make the most we can out of it. Because ne plus ultra — there’s nothing beyond …”
A Thank You to My Boubby the Philosopher, who taught some Jewish basics: “Not all Bible stories are literally true, and the Messiah isn’t coming so fast,” and also the basics of contentment in life: “If everyone hung their troubles out in their backyards like wash on the line, you’d look up the block and down the block, and you’d grab your own laundry, take it back into the house, slam the door behind you and lock it as fast as you can.” (Nobody hangs wash outside these days, although sheets and towels smell much fresher when they dry in the sun than when they come out of any machine. But her image is a beauty, isn’t it?)
A Thank You to My Zaidy the Plumber, who taught me not to gamble – not even at gin rummy, at which I remain very good indeed. (Special Thanks here to my late Uncle Ben.)
A Thank You to Uncle Srol (short form of his Hebrew name, Yisroel), the last of my mother’s 11 siblings. Now 94 years old, he calls me early every Sunday morning, without fail, just to check in. This is to remind me that he’s still alive, and to reassure him that I’m the same. A good thing for both of us…
A Thank You to My Children, who have, after several decades, forgiven me for not being a perfect parent, as they patiently wait for their own children to do the same…
A Thank You to Pirke Avot, with attribution to Rabbi Akiba, for this: “Everything is foreseen, yet freedom is granted.” It’s a wonderful conundrum I’ve pored over for many years as I (still) try to understand both the possibilities and ramifications of free choice.
And, finally, A Thank You to Tom Conboy, a friend of my high school youth who became a Presbyterian minister and now, in retirement, continues to send me updates and uplifting messages. Here is his latest: “My prayer is that we all can find some measure of peace and hope in this troubled world, and in our own time.”
Amen!  I wish everyone a Happy, Thankful Thanksgiving!

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Several charities rise to top of ‘begging drawer’

Posted on 17 November 2016 by admin

I have a system for monitoring solicitations. All year long, I put every request I receive into what I call my “begging drawer.” Then, whenever I feel moved to do so, I go through it and toss out duplicates (there are always many).
After Halloween, I make final determinations on who stays and who goes — not always easy — and in November, I start writing checks. By the end of December, I’ve emptied the drawer (and sometimes the checking account!) and I’m ready for the New Year and the income tax deadline.
Every year, one charity rises to the top of my pile. It’s one of the only ones that may eventually go out of business because its primary work will be done. This is the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, a main source of support for those now-aged Gentiles overseas who put their own lives at risk to save Jews during the Holocaust. When they’re gone, there will be no further need for this kind of support.
But today, there is still much to be done. Currently, JFR sends funds every month to about 425 old and needy rescuers in 20 different countries. The money helps them pay for food, medicine and housing costs. It has distributed more than $37 million since being founded in 1986 by the late Rabbi Harold Schulweis.
I save the JFR’s Rosh Hashanah “begging letter” every year because it always highlights someone who gets the organization’s support. This year, the spotlight was on an entire family — the Voronieckys. Their home is now in Lithuania, but their town was part of Poland in September 1941. The Germans had entered that part of the world three months earlier and ordered all Jews to forced labor. Then, on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, they began liquidation. Saul Leyman and his friends, three Schneider brothers, ran for help to Maria Voroniecky, who had worked for the Schneiders before the war. She, her husband Josef and their four teenage children took the men in, and dug a hiding place in the floor of their barn. Not many days later, the men learned of the mass liquidation that had taken all of their relatives.
Talk about heroism! One night a Nazi came to the farm, accused the family of hiding Jews, and severely beat Viktor, one of the Voroniecky sons. But he refused to betray those four men, who stayed with them for three whole years until Soviet liberation in 1944. In 2000, Yad Vashem recognized all the Voronieckys as Righteous Among the Gentiles. The rest of that family is long gone, but two of Viktor’s sisters are still alive and receiving JFR support today.
There are, of course, organizations that similarly support Jewish survivors themselves. Now seeking recognition is The Survivor Mitzvah Project, which has the support of many famed names in the entertainment world, including Mayim Bialik, Ed Asner, Lainie Kazan and Elliott Gould. For those who want something more than a good feeling for their contributions, SMP is fundraising with a glitzy initiative: in cooperation with jewelry designer Dominique Cohen of Beverly Hills, it’s now offering a diamond-accented unisex bracelet, engraved with the name of one survivor; a contribution of $1,800 “buys” a bracelet and will support that survivor for an entire year. The organization’s founder, Zane Buzby, has virtually the same message about the recipients of its charity that JFR delivers with requests to fund those it helps: “These men and women, now in their 80s and 90s, are ill, isolated, and lacking the means to buy food, medicine, heat and shelter. They are in urgent need.”
However you decide on who will receive your 2016 charitable contributions, I hope you’ll remember the Holocaust and assist both Jewish survivors and Righteous Gentiles with some end-of-the-year giving.  Both the organizations I’ve mentioned here are certified non-profit public charities. For further information, go to www.jfr.org and www.survivormitzvah.org. You will thank yourself.

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‘Coincidences’ of life? Hardly!

Posted on 10 November 2016 by admin

Have you heard about Lottie and Howard Marcus?
Well, Israel has!
They’re gone now, both of them, but they gave the Jewish State a gift that will last forever.
The Marcuses met in America, young people who fled the Holocaust before it was too late. Which for both their families, it was; at their marriage in New York, only one of Howard’s three sisters was still alive to celebrate with them; all the rest of their relatives had died at the hands of the Nazis.
Seth Siegel told their remarkable story in a recent Wall Street Journal article.
“The Marcuses lived quietly and frugally,” he wrote.
Their big indulgence was an occasional ski vacation with a friend. But that friend happened to be Ben Graham, known for years before his 1976 passing as “the father of value investing.” It was natural for the younger couple to ask him for some financial advice; it was fate that he recommended they meet with a student of his at Columbia Business School, a young man he called “a prodigy.” And so Howard and Lottie came to entrust their savings to Warren Buffett, making them among the earliest investors in Berkshire Hathaway.
A long time ago, I read a little book called The Millionaire Next Door, about people who live such ordinary lives that their neighbors and friends don’t even know about their extraordinary wealth. The Marcuses could have been that book all by themselves; over many years, they amassed many millions that nobody was aware of.
In retirement, Lottie and Howard met a representative of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. The couple had believed for a long time that more water might mean much to the Middle East; after learning about desert farming and desalination, they gave generously to the school’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research. But this major gift didn’t even dent their fortune. So when Howard and Lottie were 95 and 89, respectively, they flew to Israel (in coach, Siegel noted!) to scout out what they might do with the rest of their estate.
Like many Jewish refugees, the Marcuses were grateful to the country that had given them safety and a good life. But they also believed that an Israel before World War II would have saved many, many more, and they wanted to assure such safety for the future.
Siegel writes, “A strong and secure State of Israel, they believed, would have saved their families from the Nazis, and was essential for the future of the Jewish people. They often told friends that if Germany — ‘the most civilized nation in the world,’ in their words — could descend into barbarity and the mass murder of Jews, it could happen anywhere…” And so they willed many millions, the bulk of their estate, to Ben-Gurion, specifying that the money be used “to further research into improving water management, conservation and irrigation for drylands agriculture.”
Howard Marcus died in 2014; Lottie followed last December, and their great gift is now being disbursed, more than doubling the university’s endowment and positioning the school as a world center for water research.
The Wall Street Journal headlined this article “A Legacy That Won’t Run Dry.” Its writer was a natural to tell the story of the Marcuses: Seth Siegel had already written a book Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World published in 2015 by Thomas Dunne/St. Martins.
More and more, I truly believe that “coincidences” are really occasions on which God has some special intentions, but prefers to remain anonymous. Was it “just” coincidence that Lottie’s first job in America brought her into contact with financial guru Benjamin Graham? Or “mere” coincidence that Graham put the Marcuses together with young Warren Buffett, whose magic touch with money has brought him, at age 86, to head a company with businesses that generate some $1.5 billion in cash every single month? I don’t think so!

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