Archive | In My Mind’s I

Women in clergy have made gains

Posted on 20 July 2018 by admin

One evening, I’m sitting at my desk with a list of five items to my right — all potential subjects of future TJP columns. To my left: two clippings from a recent Dallas Morning News.
Many years ago, when I was first offered the opportunity to become a columnist, I sent three samples to my managing editor, who got back to me thusly: “Can you keep this coming, every week, week after week, all year long?” My answer was a writer’s “no-brainer”: “That’s a valid question for an editor. But the columnist’s question is, ‘What should I write about first?’” (And I “columned” for that paper for almost a decade, until I came to Dallas.)
So now, to my right are those five subjects, fighting for me to write about them ASAP. But to my left are the reasons I’ve chosen a different topic for today: one woman who wanted to be a church leader but couldn’t, and another who wanted to be a synagogue leader and could.
Peggy Wehmeyer, a self-identified Evangelical Christian Dallasite, was the first person of either sex ever to be a religion correspondent on national network TV. But that wasn’t the career she’d wanted; her aim was to be a minister, a leader of a church congregation. Her religion, however, would allow her to lead groups of women only, not to influence men. It maintained that a woman’s highest calling came straight from God: Marry and have children.
About that same time, Ellen Lewis — one of the earliest ordained women rabbis, and the first ever to serve a congregation in our area — became Temple Emanu-El’s religious school director. But she also had some pastoral responsibilities, among them making visits to hospitalized Jews who requested them. She returned from such a “deployment” one day, madder than she’d ever been before, because when she had tried to turn her car into the parking lot’s clergy section, the attendant denied her entrance: he insisted that “Women can’t be rabbis.”
Just as Wehmeyer couldn’t be a minister. Her church wouldn’t let her preach to men; it maintained they would “obey” a woman only if they were too weak to do otherwise. Be like Sarah, she was instructed; God told her to listen to Abraham, she was told. (I wonder if the giver of that advice had ever read far enough into the Bible to notice what God said when Sarah urged Abraham to send Ishmael away and he was reluctant to do so: “Listen to her.”)
Wehmeyer is more content now because her own daughter is attending a Christian seminary that prepares women for full ministry. But we Jews have been ahead of that curve, even though some of our own are as reluctant to accept this as are some evangelicals — like the one I recently heard on the radio (I have a pre-set in my car that used to play my favorite music, but it’s now gone to full-time Christian broadcasting; I keep listening, because I learn so much): His “expert” opinion was that a woman can now preach, but not pastor. In other words, she can speak, but she can’t lead.
My second clipping shows the DMN’s recent editorial “thumbs down” to the Richardson church whose minister had circulated his views about “many dangerous ‘isms’” — including Judaism among them. Then, leading many in public opposition to Pastor Sheldon Gibbs III was Elana Zelony — not only an ordained Conservative clergyperson, but the only woman rabbi in North Texas (maybe even in all of Texas) to stand in her very own pulpit. She’s living the life of religious leadership she wanted, as Wehmeyer could not, although her daughter can.
Ages ago, when I was a young woman daring to say out loud that I would like to be a rabbi, I got this advice: “You can marry a rabbi.” Bad idea. But these two recent clippings illustrate changes, both profound and undeniable, in today’s religious leadership.

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Readers respond with their own polio memories

Posted on 12 July 2018 by admin

Two readers responded to my recent column on polio with very different — yet somehow connected —stories of their own, plus permission for me to share them. One is frightening, the other enlightening. Let’s be grateful for them both.
Roy Edenson shares his “vivid memories” of August 1953, when, at age 4, he suddenly couldn’t swallow the ice cream his father was feeding him from a Dixie cup with a wooden spoon. A quick trip to the doctor was followed by immediate admission to the local polio hospital. Roy had the bulbar strain, which affects swallowing and breathing. For weeks he was in an oxygen tent with an iron lung; raw eggs and milk were fed through a rubber hose threaded from his nose down to his stomach. Many “get-well” gifts included an RCA portable record player, which Roy credits with inspiring his engineering/electronics career.
During Roy’s recovery, his microbiologist father learned about the Salk trials; when the vaccine was finally approved, he took a part-time job as health officer in East Brunswick, New Jersey, organizing clinics to vaccinate children free of charge.
“I learned how lucky I was to have an aware parent who saved me from certain death with his early intervention,” says Roy, who was largely unaffected for 50 years afterward. But now, he calls polio “the gift that keeps on taking.”
About 20 years ago, his overworked neurons started weakening and dying, causing fatigue, muscle weakness and pain that finally necessitated back and neck surgeries. But hand, finger and leg problems continue to escalate. Still, Roy says, “I often remind myself of the 65 extra years I was gifted. Our eldest daughter gave birth to identical twin girls on the first anniversary of my initial back surgery, and our only grandson was born six weeks early – on the same day as my neck surgery. Life is what happens.”
Eleanor Eidels tells of her strikingly different involvement with polio, which also illustrates the early preventive efforts of that fear-filled time.
“As a third-grader in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, I was one of many kids in the field trial for the Salk vaccine,” she recalls. Testing involved three shots, so “Three times, virtually all the first-, second- and third-graders in my school were lined up to go through the high school cafeteria, where dozens of tables were set up with doctors and nurses ready to give the vaccine.” Since one of the girls always fainted when she got shots, the other kids would warn them in advance. “Sure enough, that girl became a physician,” Eleanor comments today.
She continues: “One of the cool things was that they taught us kids what a ‘double-blind’ study is, so we all understood that not even the doctors knew who was getting the real vaccine. It wasn’t until I was in fifth grade that they revealed who got what. Fortunately, I had received the actual vaccine, though they decided to give us a booster shot. The poor kids who got the dummy shots had to go through the whole series again.”
But: “It was such a big deal because polio was a terror. A girl in my grade needed braces on both legs. A little boy down the street from me got polio one summer. Why not his brother? Why not me? He ended up with a brace on one leg. A couple of streets over was a boy in an iron lung. We were not allowed to drink from the water fountain at the playground.”
Eleanor concludes: “I still have the card that proclaims me a ‘Polio Pioneer’ — signed by me, Eleanor Royster, in third grade. And to this day, I still never let my face touch any part of a water fountain, a habit drilled into me in those awful years.”
(Postscript: 56 years ago, July 29, 1962, almost a million Dallas children received the Sabin sugar cube, replacing the Salk shots as protection against polio.)

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The Fourth of July is always memorable

Posted on 05 July 2018 by admin

What did you do to celebrate our country’s 242nd birthday yesterday? I went to hear a patriotic concert by Dallas Winds, wearing my Fourth of July T-shirt.
My daughter bought it for me when she made her first visit to Dallas with her first child. I rented a crib for that baby — not even near a year old then — who will turn 29 this coming November. We found it in Olla Podrida. Who else remembers that wonderful, multilevel shopping experience that repurposed an old airplane hangar? But it was those multilevels that ultimately killed it — no way to make the place handicapped-accessible.
So, I’ve worn that shirt every Fourth of July for 28 years and still counting. After all: How much wear does a shirt get if you put it on only once annually? Of course, it’s more than a bit faded from its original fire-engine red, but the great little “portraits” of everything patriotic are still clearly visible. I had a red, white and blue handbag that wore out much faster.
For me, the best memories of the Fourth of July always involve fireworks. I love them. A most unusual Fourth came when I was living in the Chicago area; the weather turned so cold that year on that day, we actually had to wear winter coats to go outside and watch them. (I decided then that it was no longer necessary to put away “seasonal” clothes.) Here in Dallas, Fred and I tried everything firework-ey over our 34 years together: We went to Fair Park — to Rangers games — to occupy chaises in friends’ excellently located driveways with our bodies stretched out and our heads lifted upward. But the best was always watching Shakespeare in the Park with fireworks lighting up in sky in the background. Now, I’m content to stay indoors, listening to the noise and seeing the flashes outside my front windows, courtesy of the kids whose parents still allow them to set off things that are at least potentially dangerous. When there were cats in our house, they always chose to hide under a bed after the first bang. (Truth told: Sometimes I feel like doing the same.)
But my most memorable Fourth was when I was still at home with my parents, still young enough to want to go places with them on holidays like this one. That year we went to a big park and sat in the bleachers for a fantastic aerial show, which was followed by an even more fantastic show of “ground works,” something I’d never even heard of before and have never seen since. Can you imagine a huge American flag spread out in front of you, just lighting up before your eyes? Does anyone do that any longer? Or are those displays so much more dangerous than the dangerous-enough “normal” fireworks that an end has been put to them? Whatever: That was one fabulous, truly unforgettable Fourth, for the flag lasted much longer than any of those ephemeral things that fly and die so quickly over our heads.
All patriotic holidays seem to have dimmed in recent years. I remember public flag-raisings that attracted crowds on Flag Day. I remember Armistice Day marking the end of World War I every year until the ’60s, when it became Veterans Day, recalling all wars. I remember when Memorial Day was Decoration Day, when people took flowers to cemeteries for the graves of their fallen war heroes.
I’m grateful that our Jewish War Veterans posts now put flags on the graves of our departed vets, but not many people remember to wear poppies any more — one of our dying legacies from that first World War. We may never fully recover from what Vietnam and the wars that followed did to our country’s vision of those who fought and died in them, but I hope we will forever honor our national birthday, and that there will always be celebratory flowers, flags and fireworks.

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Thank heaven for the polio vaccine

Posted on 27 June 2018 by admin

The heat of the season has come upon us and threatens to continue. I passed a church recently that made the shortest, smartest statement possible about the whole business on its outdoor message board: “Hell Is Hotter!”
But this kind of weather always takes me back to the ’50s, the worst time ever for polio, which peaked in 1952 with some 20,000 U.S. cases of paralysis. I remember that year especially because it’s when the boy next door became one of them — three years too early for Dr. Jonas Salk’s breakthrough vaccine.
I also remember 1955 because that’s when my father did something quite unusual. Doctors everywhere were receiving the new vaccine and being encouraged to give children the shots as quickly as possible. Salk’s preparation had to be refrigerated, but even so, it had an expiration date. So my dad — a physician whose practice was adults, not children — took a bold step. His office was on the second floor of a corner building, over a pharmacy, and there was a newspaper kiosk at the corner.
As the vaccine’s expiration date approached, Dad took a folding chair and small table down to the corner and, receiving permission from the pharmacy and the news vendor, parked himself there and buttonholed all people walking by with small children in tow. If they said, when he asked, that their kids had not yet been vaccinated, he said “Now’s the time,” and proceeded to give Salk’s miracle away. The AMA was not amused, because there was supposed to be a charge levied for those shots. But my father made his case: Better that children be vaccinated for nothing than have the polio paralysis antidote lose its effectiveness while he waited inside for young patients who never came.
Of course, things became much easier in 1961, when Dr. Albert Sabin’s liquid vaccine — easily drinkable from a tiny paper cup — was available. But by that time, the worst was long over…at least for most. However, a recent Dallas Morning News article told the story of a longtime survivor who’s been, since age 6, confined to an “iron lung” — the metallic tube that 60-plus years ago did the breathing for victims with paralyzed chest muscles. And, for this man, still does. Nobody makes iron lungs anymore; his is at the potentially dangerous “held together with spit and baling wire” stage. But he is remarkable for his drive, stamina and achievement: He received all his schooling and continues now as a practicing attorney, with his body encased in the machine that still draws breath for him. He is not just one in a million; he is the only one.
So I recommend to you Philip Roth’s book Nemesis, which of course is polio. He fictionalized a young Jewish man from New York as the central character around whom polio rages — with the fear of the disease raging even more violently than the disease itself. And of course, those with the most fear, those who are most cautious and take the most precautions, can become — to their immense surprise — its victims. For me, a lover of everything Roth, this book is my favorite because it’s an affectingly true picture of that time.
The boy next door survived without the iron lung, never showing any of polio’s aftereffects. Not then. But when I see him now, he’s a man saddled with the characteristic limp that returns in old age to those who have had polio, years after they thought they were completely healed. Because of him and my father, I work hard on behalf of Rotary International’s efforts to wipe out polio across the globe. And we’ve gotten tantalizingly close but have been stymied by two small African countries where parents refuse immunizations. This has been enough to keep the disease alive and active.
Read the Roth book while it’s hot outside and give thanks that we here in the U.S. today are the luckier beneficiaries of Salk and Sabin.

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Soda-can tabs: a Holocaust memorial

Posted on 20 June 2018 by admin

I recently returned from a trip to Pittsburgh, my old hometown. In addition to seeing family and old friends, I took time to visit — and study up on — the city’s Holocaust Memorial.
It’s unique not only because of its most unusual construction, but perhaps even more so because that construction resulted from the brainstorm of a teacher, the efforts of students (over a long enough period that some of those children had grown to adulthood by its completion) and the wisdom of the community: to place it right where it originated and therefore belongs — on the grounds of the city’s largest Jewish day school.
Most folks have heard of the Paper Clips project, which began in 1998 in a grade school in a small Tennessee town and culminated in an incredible children’s Holocaust memorial. But it was actually two years earlier when Bill Walter — now retired, but then an eighth-grade history teacher at Community Day School — was asking himself similar questions: How can students understand the enormity of the Holocaust, the concept of dehumanization and death for 6 million Jews (here, like themselves and their families)? And — how can kids conceive of 6 million anything? His creative idea was to amass pop-tabs from cans, because they had originated in Pittsburgh. Then the project was cleverly dubbed “Keeping Tabs.”
Soon tabs began pouring in, and the numbers came alive: Each one counted represented a real human being. But the next question was, what to do with all the tabs? By then, the whole community was involved, and not just in the amassing; artists and architects worked with student-generated ideas and came up with the answer.
In 2013, seven years after the original idea took root, a Sculpture (the word is always capitalized in Pittsburgh) arose where the tab collection started. It is a gigantic, six-sided Star of David, spanning 45 feet across, standing 7 feet tall in some sections, nine in others. It is built from 960 glass blocks, each of which contains 6,250 pop-tabs. Do the math: 960 times 6,250 equals 6 million.
Viewers walk through this construction, as I did, and are surrounded and towered over by tabs, all clearly visible in their encasements. Every once in a while, visitors are jolted — as I was — by a tab that is green, or red, or something other than the usual metallic gray. These are not-to-be-ignored visual reminders that the mass of humanity felled by German inhumanity was made up of individuals, each one different from all the rest.
The Sculpture is sited in an open, park-like setting where some rough-shaped concrete “benches” are provided, a place for individuals to sit and contemplate, or a gathering spot for those wanting to share their thoughts. Anyone can walk up to the Sculpture, and through it, at any time. While Community Day is in session, educational programs about the Holocaust are coupled with guided tours of the Sculpture from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for middle- and high-school students from throughout the greater Pittsburgh area. Partnering with the school in this extended programming is the Holocaust Center of the local Jewish Federation.
I also visited that Holocaust Center while I was in the city. This used to be located in the Jewish Community Center — as was ours in Dallas — but it needed bigger quarters. Now, even those — located in a large building in an easily accessible grouping of retail and service businesses, with ample parking available — are too small. Its director, Lauren Bairnsfather, told me that students coming for its own educational and creative programs practically spill out its single door; the facility is basically two large rooms, but somehow manages to accommodate several not–too-large exhibits. I hope there will soon be another move, to an even larger place.
But in the meantime, all those students get to see the Sculpture, to walk through its glass walls and understand what “keeping tabs” really means.

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Anne Frank’s saplings are symbol of hope

Posted on 13 June 2018 by admin

Next Tuesday, Annelies Marie Frank will be 89 years old. Or maybe might have been, had she not died in Bergen-Belsen on March 12, 1945 — exactly three months before what, in better circumstances, would have been her “Sweet 16” birthday.
My mind-jogger here is Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, who tackled this topic from a new angle more than 2½ years ago. That was when she contributed a piece, provocatively titled Anne Frank and a Tree of Hope for the Future, to ReformJudaism.org’s daily email Ten Minutes of Torah. Its subject was her October 2015 trip to Little Rock, Arkansas, for a special dedication at the Clinton Presidential Center: a sapling from Anne Frank’s 150-year-old horsechestnut tree. Here is the backstory, in the rabbi’s own words:
“Anne Frank lovingly wrote about ‘her’ tree throughout her famous diary, and for decades it remained outside the ‘secret annex’ that has become a memorial and museum perpetuating Anne’s hopeful message to the world. Several years ago, knowing the tree would soon die, the Anne Frank Center devised a plan to cultivate several saplings, which are now planted around the world and serve as a focus for education and inspiration…”
I learned from this Ten Minutes of Torah segment — which I’ve saved all this time! — that 11 saplings were allocated for distribution in the United States. But in order to receive one, a hopeful host had to be willing to assure that the tree would somehow be used for educating its community about its own history. And what better place to receive one than Arkansas, Rabbi Feldman said, “…a reminder of past acts of discrimination and persecution there…” which include Native Americans being forced to vacate land that had been theirs for centuries; centers ringed with barbed wire, to which Japanese-American citizens were relocated during World War II; and the horrors of racial injustice, perpetrated within a time that many of us still alive today can remember ourselves. Commenting on the latter, Rabbi Feldman remarked, “The dirt around the young sapling will be packed down by the tread of Jim Crow.”
Obtaining this sapling was a joint project of the Clinton Center and the Sisterhood of local Congregation B’nai Israel, and the speaker chosen for the dedication event was Lexi Elenzweig, president of the synagogue’s youth group. These are her words:
“I am 17 years old, just a little older than Anne Frank was when she died. The tree inspired Anne to write about her hopes and dreams or the future…words in her diary that have inspired millions of people around the world, including me…The roots of this sapling are grounded in history…as they take hold, this tree will also become part of this place, anchoring itself into the future of this region. The branches are reaching towards the future. As they grow higher, they will provide inspiration for us to always reach towards the good and light in this world…”
“It doesn’t get any better than that,” commented Rabbi Feldman. She had a chance that day to hear from both President Clinton and the director of Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House. But for her, the best moment of all was when Lexi opened her remarks like this: “As a leader of our youth group and a future member of a Sisterhood, I am inspired by the legacy of the women of Sisterhood, and the ongoing work they do today to repair, heal and transform the world.”
Other places to visit the Anne Frank Trees of Hope are Seattle, Washington; Sonoma State University, California; Boise, Idaho; Farmington Hills, Michigan; Boston Common; Southern Cayuga Central School District in upstate New York; the White House, the World Trade Center site in New York City; the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis; and Little Rock Central High School. Each offered a compelling reason to be chosen from among 34 hopefuls; to read about them, Google “For Anne Frank’s Tree, 11 New Places to Bloom” at nytimes.com.

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What to make of the late Philip Roth?

Posted on 06 June 2018 by admin

Philip Roth has finally died. I thought it would never happen, that this quirky genius of American Jewish fiction would just keep on turning out his tart opinions of the world and himself, one after another, forever. But he did pass away, two weeks ago.
I first “found” Philip Roth when I was a religious school teacher of teens. His story The Conversion of the Jews caught my eye, and since I was dealing weekly with a roomful of recalcitrant ninth-graders who were sticking with their Reform temple’s educational program only because their parents insisted — and because the promise of Confirmation and “freedom at last” was on the horizon — how could I not read it? So I did. And I didn’t understand it. I’m not sure I fully understand it yet. But I immediately recognized the writer behind the story — the grown man who, as a boy, had had his knuckles cracked once too often in Hebrew school, and would remain forever conflicted about his Judaism.
There is genius in that tale of a bright young boy in an old-fashioned cheder — and I must assume it was built on a long-ago truth of Roth himself — who dared to face his rabbi/teacher with a forbidden question about God’s power. A few years before I read this, I had been teaching the Confirmation class in an Orthodox congregation where my curriculum included “comparative religion”; there, it was fine with the rabbi for me to include sharing Catholicism and various Protestantisms with my students, but not Reform Judaism. Like the question asked by Roth’s young protagonist, this was foreign territory — beyond the pale, not fit for a traditional Jewish classroom. And yet, aren’t classrooms the places where questions should be asked — and answered? If you haven’t yet read this story — so brilliant, so difficult — please do so.
Most Roth readers, whether they love or hate him, started with his first popular tale, Goodbye, Columbus, in which virtually every facet of young Jewish love is explored in detail. It was also a shocker, but it established the reputation of this brave (or perhaps merely totally uninhibited) young writer who was not afraid to commit every question, every emotion, every problem, to paper for public scrutiny. I continue to believe that all those problems were Roth’s, and that writing them out was the catharsis through which he made peace with them for himself…
…or perhaps merely explored, rather than solved, them. Some problems are beyond solving. In 1969 came Portnoy’s Complaint, the book that drew fury from so many Jews who, after reading it, branded the author a Jewish anti-Semite. (I wonder if those complainers ever noticed how clever its construction is: The entire book is just two sentences. The first is the long, long “complaint” about virtually everything in his life as told by a young Jewish man who — we realize with careful reading — is making his initial visit to a psychiatrist; the second is the doctor, finally asking oh-so-briefly if the two can now start talking.) And almost 30 years later: “American Pastoral,” a masterful telling of the total dissolution of a man who, in his life, seemed to have everything. Again — Roth himself, perhaps? Success doesn’t always guarantee happiness…
An old friend of mine knew Roth when both were students at Bucknell University; looking backward, he says he could see everything that was to come. But isn’t hindsight always 20-20? And I’m also a contemporary, born a mere 16 months after Roth came into the world he’s just left…
If you’re tempted to start reading Roth now, please begin with The Plot Against America. It will rattle your Jewish bones with fear of what might have happened to us had Charles Lindbergh become president of the United States. Then, in the near future, I’ll tell you about his take on the polio epidemic of that same era. But for now: Rest easily, Philip Roth. You deserve it.

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Feel free to skip Francis Levy’s Tombstone

Posted on 31 May 2018 by admin

Today, I’m doing something I’ve never done before: writing about a book I strongly suggest you shouldn’t read.
This has nothing to do with “book banning,” which we remember about Hitler, who not only made reading some 25,000 books a crime, but actually encouraged their burning. We should also remember that an epidemic of such banning swept across our own country some 30 years ago. I treasure an old bracelet from that era, with its eight links, one of which proudly proclaims “I Read Banned Books”; the other seven illustrate a variety of “victims” running the gamut from Alice in Wonderland to anything by Alice Walker.
Over many years, I’ve found the reading of some books a waste of time. Anyone who reads much will encounter these and recommend against them. But outright banning? Never. That’s why I make a face and swallow hard at the recent publication of Tombstone: (Not a Western) by Francis Levy. By all means, read it if you wish. I, however, find it so off-putting that I have to take this public stand against it.
Levy’s first novel, Erotomania: A Romance, was billed as “a satirical exploration of compulsive sexuality.” His second, Seven Days in Rio, chronicles the wanderings of “a 60-something Manhattan accountant as a sex tourist.” You get the basic picture here, and it should be enough of a warning. But in his third book, Jews and Judaism form the center of what I see as a deranged attempt at humor, so I have to speak out.
The author is definitely a Jew who knows enough about Jewishness to turn it, most unflatteringly, on its head.
Levy’s “protagonist” — I use this word here with some intended irony — is Robert Berman, and how sorry I feel for men everywhere and anywhere who surely share what must be a common Jewish name. (Remember how so many suffered after publication of Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint?) His wife, Marsha, is demeaned throughout, in every way possible. Other characters are Levy’s own inventions, some figures drawn from real literature and those most supposed at the end of life, including God.
The story begins with the Bermans trying to make “arrangements” — Levy’s catch-all word for end-of-life plans. In this section, they show no respect for, not even knowledge of, the Judaism they were born into. Their concerns are with appearances and costs: fancy caskets, outfits to be buried in, foods to be served at the shiva and achieving the supposed prestige of an obituary in The New York Times, even if it will be only a very short one. But a disastrous financial downturn mars the Bermans’ culmination of any real decisions; instead, the two somehow manage to make a trip to “Tombstone,” a way-out-west resort for those who are on their way out of this world.
Here, salespeople hawk merchandise while financial advisers stand by to help with choices, and there are group activities and seminars ranging from physical exercise to mental health and self-help, all trying to make anticipation of death a satisfying — even fun — experience. (I will pause here to remind everyone of the very serious, very sane “Conversation Project,” now circulating throughout our own Jewish community and beyond, with its very real intention of being helpful to all of us in dealing with end-of-life issues. This is good. Tombstone is very bad, indeed.)
Suddenly, Berman — with all his salacious thoughts — and Marsha — whom we know only through her husband’s unflattering eyes — are on their way to death. Robert wants to go to heaven, or at least purgatory, but certainly not hell, and on his ride across the River Styx, he plans his approach to God, whom he actually meets and converses with — a cartoon figure that maligns everything Judaism holds dear and true.
If you want to read this travesty, I’ll loan you my copy. Then I’ll see if Half Price Books has any interest in buying it…

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Ties to Rotary go farther back than 30 years

Posted on 24 May 2018 by admin

I’ll be attending a special event this week — a local luncheon celebrating 30 years of women in Rotary International. I have even more to commemorate, because my personal history with Rotary goes back much farther than that.
Before I moved to Dallas in 1980 — and for almost a decade after that — Rotary was still very much following its original model. It was founded in 1905 by Paul Harris, a Chicago attorney, who asked two businessmen friends to validate a plan: Get men representing different types of work together for lunch once a week. The purposes Harris had in mind were friendship, exchange of ideas and giving back to the communities in which they lived and earned their livings. The others agreed, and decided on the name Rotary, since initial meetings of this new club would “rotate” through their offices.
No one is 100 percent sure, but the prevailing belief is that the original trio represented America’s three major faiths, and Paul Harris was Jewish. Religion as such has never played a part in Rotary except that a prayer — given by a different member every week in accordance with personal religious beliefs, or none — opens each meeting, followed by pledging allegiance to the American flag. The closing is recitation of Rotary’s “Four-Way Test” of purpose and promise, written by Harris himself: “Of all the things we think, say, or do — Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”
In those early years of the 20th century, and for a long time after, the idea of women in business was foreign to the men who picked up the Rotary model and spread it first across the United States, and eventually around the globe — the world’s first service organization. But change came, and was formally recognized at Rotary’s international convention 30 years ago, when this powerful statement was read from the podium by a leader of the time: “I would like to remind you that the world today is very different from the world of 1905 — and Rotary has to adapt to this changing world…”
Rotary was a force in Park Forest, Illinois, where I lived and worked for 17 years. As a recognized community journalist, I was often asked to be a guest at the local club’s meetings, and I had its promise that whenever women would be admitted to the organization — an idea that was hanging in the air even then — I would be its first female member. But I came to Dallas before that time, and didn’t think much about Rotary until…
Several years later, when my spastic esophagus needed regular monitoring, I was referred to a doctor who had a Rotary plaque hanging in his office. I told him about my early connection with a club that had promised me inclusion, and he offered to sponsor me for local membership. And I’ve been an active Rotarian ever since.
My club supports efforts that help the hungry and medically underserved, provides scholarships and leadership training for high-schoolers and once a month cleans up our assigned area of the White Rock Lake shoreline At regular weekly meetings, we share lunch and conversation before enjoying a program that teaches us something new about history, local government, current events, area institutions — and you can see us every Christmas season, manning the Salvation Army Angel Tree at NorthPark Mall. We also contribute — in honor of Paul Harris — to Rotary’s current international effort: worldwide eradication of polio, now finally seeing light at the end of this long, long tunnel.
When I make a return visit every year or two back to Park Forest, I always attend a meeting of its Rotary Club, which continues to thrive, and twice I’ve even been at meetings of Club One in Chicago, where Paul Harris himself must be smiling down at the contributions of women to the great organization he founded.

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Hatikvah a miracle and a beacon of hope

Posted on 16 May 2018 by admin

How many times, in these past few frenetic Israeli weeks of mourning, remembering, and celebrating, have you sung Hatikvah? What do you know about the history of this beloved song?
National anthems don’t just spring from the earth like flowers; they are, however, somehow planted in public consciousness and, once there, they bloom forever. The United States adopted one born in war; England changes a noun’s sex to give a proper salute to its reigning monarch. But Hatikvah embodies an idea. A dream that finally came true.
For information on The Hope, I turned to Rabbi Geri Newburge and Cantor Marshall Portnoy of Main Line Reform Temple in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, who have studied it, and offer their explanation with more than a few surprises. The music is not original, they say and the words were written, long before they were called into such exalted use, by “a troubled poet who died in utter poverty in New York City in 1909.”
The melody is rooted in Eastern European folk music, not necessarily Jewish. These scholars say that, if we know where to look, we can find the sounds of Hatikvah in many other places. I, for one, don’t have to be told where the Czechoslovakian composer Bedrich Smetana found the inspiration for his beloved Moldau. And we learn that a similar melody is a choral staple today in northwest Romania.
The poetic lyricist was Naftali Herz Imber, born to a Hasidic family in Galicia in 1856. Leaving there in his 20s, he first traveled in Europe, then went to Palestine in 1882. A few years later, he published a collection of poems; among them was Tikvatenu, nine verses from which fellow Zionist Samuel Cohen selected two and set them to his own folk-based musical composition. Newburge and Portnoy tell us that, “Slightly altered, they are the verses we sing to this day.”
Imber had problems. He was an alcoholic who truly believed that he was Zionism’s real founder. And his poetic words, the rabbi and cantor tell us, are problematic in Israel today: “The left maintains that Israel is also the home of Arabs, including non-Jewish Knesset members. So how can Israel require them to sing or stand for an anthem that includes the words ‘nefesh Yehudi’ — ‘Jewish soul’? Don’t Arabs also have souls?” As a matter of fact, one Arab — the first non-Jew ever appointed to the Israeli cabinet — wouldn’t sing it at all, and neither would an Arab member of Israel’s Supreme Court. Meanwhile, those on the right wonder how their country can have an anthem that doesn’t even mention God.
Was it a miracle that those words and that music ever found their way to each other? Maybe. But for those who understand the mechanics of music, Hatikvah is a miracle of another kind. The two experts explain it this way: “Sixteen measures depict our history in a minor key. But on the words ‘Od lo avda tikvatenu,’ there is the melody’s incredible shift; it leaps to the major key — a leap of faith that says: ‘We dreamt this dream, and we are going to make it come true.’ Juxtaposing minor and major keys is at the heart of Jewish music, and the push-pull between the major and minor scales symbolizes the push-pull of the Jewish experience itself. In a moment of musical inspiration that changed history, the relatively unknown Samuel Cohen set Imber’s words to music, using that same incredible shift.”
Miracle or not, our experts call Hatikvah “one of the greatest anthems ever written in western culture, ever a beacon of hope for all who understand what it is to be denied the rights to which they may be entitled as human beings.” Surely this is something more for all of us to be thinking about the next time we stand to sing what, in the interplay of its music and the power of its words, is truly Israel’s theme song.

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