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January 23, 2017 / 25 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘story’

A Cantor Rockoff Story I’ll Never Forget

Friday, July 22nd, 2016

I find it hard to believe, but the first yahrzeit of Kesher Israel (KI) Congregation’s beloved Cantor Seymour Rockoff is rapidly approaching (21 Tammuz – corresponding this year to July 27.)

I will always treasure the talks I had with Cantor Rockoff, many of which took place while walking home from Friday night services. During those short walks, I never knew where the discussion would lead. The cantor might share his unique perspectives on world events, or a little-known detail relating to Jewish prayer, or an original Torah thought. On rare occasions he would offer a window into his life by sharing some of his own experiences from his younger years.

What follows is a Cantor Rockoff story I’ll never forget.

The cantor and I had officiated at a Kesher Israel funeral that week. As with other funerals at KI’s cemetery, after the casket containing the deceased was lowered into the ground, family members and friends each offered a loving good-bye as they took turns shoveling earth into the open grave. Once the casket was fully covered with earth (and then some), we stopped to recite the final memorial prayers.

Upon completion of those prayers, I announced that the service was over. However, I invited any friends and family members who wished to continue placing earth into the grave to do so. When everyone was finished, I let the cemetery workers know we were done. They promptly cleared away the folding chairs and carpeting from the gravesite and used a truck to bring in a load of earth to fill the rest of the grave.

During our Friday night walk home from KI that night, Cantor Rockoff told me that decades earlier he had been a pulpit rabbi in Liberty, New York. While visiting a shiva home the day after a funeral at which he’d officiated, he was approached by the widow. The grieving woman told Cantor Rockoff that her just-deceased husband had vividly appeared to her in a dream, telling her he felt so cold.

Cantor Rockoff did his best to calm her, assuring the woman she had done everything possible for her beloved husband, and that it was natural to have dreams about someone she loved so much and was now gone. His comforting words seemed to put her mind at ease, and their conversation moved on.

When Cantor Rockoff returned to pay another shiva call the following day, he was again approached by the widow, who was just as distraught as she’d been the day before. She told him she had again clearly seen her husband in a dream – and again he had complained about how cold he was. Once again, Cantor Rockoff did his best to reassure the woman.

As he drove home from the shiva house, however, the cantor decided to stop at the cemetery for a quick look. He parked his car and walked over to the fresh grave of the man whose family was now observing shiva. Cantor Rockoff was stunned to see that the cemetery workers had left before finishing their job. A pile of earth still sat next to the grave in which only the casket had been covered at the time of the funeral. Cantor Rockoff immediately took off his jacket and tie and went to work with a shovel. The grave was soon properly filled.

The cantor told me he returned to the shiva home the next day, but never mentioned to the family what had occurred. He noted with a sense of fascination that during that visit (and during all subsequent interactions) the widow said nothing further about any uncomfortable dreams involving her late husband.

We walked a bit further. Cantor Rockoff paused, raised an eyebrow, looked at me with that mischievous look of his, and asked: “What do you think of that?”

I just shook my head in amazement, and we continued walking in silence. However, you can be sure I visited KI’s cemetery that Sunday morning to double check that the grave of the funeral at which we had recently officiated had been properly filled. It certainly had been, and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I often thought about Cantor Rockoff’s story during my time at KI. On several occasions I stopped by KI’s cemetery the day after officiating at a funeral just to take a quick look. I’m happy to report that I never encountered any problems – our local cemetery professionals do their job extremely well.

May God remember how faithfully Cantor Seymour Rockoff served Kesher Israel Congregation. May He bless the cantor’s devoted wife, Dena, with much health, happiness, and nachas from their beloved family.

Rabbi Akiva Males

Shiloh Musings: A Six Days War IDF Soldier Tells his Story

Tuesday, June 7th, 2016

Yesterday, in honor of Yom Yerushalayim, Jerusalem Day, the Shiloh Golden Agers/Senior Citizen program invited one of the neighbors to tell his story as a an IDF soldier during the 1967 Six Days War. Yes, if you’ve done the math, you know that age-wise he’s also a senior citizen, but a very busy one who doesn’t go the the activities. Most of the regulars are actually immigrants, and yesterday’s crowd was mostly English speakers, so the coordinator was happy when I surprised everyone and walked in, since I do lots of translating for them when I can. Of course, no surprise to you, my translations are full of “commentary.”

Our neighbor grew up on Tirat Tzvi, a religious kibbutz in the north of Israel.

Kibbutz Tirat Zvi was established on 21st of Tammuz, 5697, (June 30, 1937) as a “Tower and Stockade” settlement intended to mark the southern limit of Jewish settlement in the Bet Shean Valley.
Its first decade was marked by ceaseless struggle for existence against extremely difficult climatic conditions, swamps, malaria, tense day-to-day relations with local Arabs, and periodic organized enemy assault.
On the 6th of Adar 56, 5708, (February 16th, 1948), the one hundred primitively armed members of Tirat Zvi repelled a coordinated attack by over six hundred regular Iraqi troops.

He knew very well of the frequent Syrian shelling/sniping on the Jewish communities in his area coming from the Syrian held Golan Heights.

After a summary of the pre-Six Day War threats from the Egyptians and Syrians, and the cooperation of the United Nations, which readily removed its “peacekeeping forces” from the area to facilitate the Arab attack on Israel, we heard our neighbor’s story.

Instead of the usual call-up codes on the radio, which at that time was the entertainment and news source for Israelis, the IDF conducted an unprecedented “quiet call up” of reservists, going literally house to house to gather troops and take them to various bases for pre-war preparation. You should know that at that time, very few Israelis had telephones. Our neighbor was called on Shabbat, Friday night after dinner, and taken to his base. On the way they picked up other soldiers.

At the base they got their equipment and then went to another location where they began to train for an assault on the Golan Heights; each unit was assigned a different section.

All the while, Egypt, Syria and Iraq, well supplied by the USSR, continued with their threats of war, while Jordan remained silent. The Israeli Government kept hoping that Jordan would desist in joining the expected attack on Israel.

Early in the morning June 5, 1967, while unknown to my neighbor and his unit, Israel had launched an attack on the airfields of Syria, Egypt, Jordan and what could be reached in Iraq. What my neighbor and his fellow soldiers saw was something else. Suddenly two unmarked and unfamiliar planes flew over them. Within seconds Israeli planes reached them and began an air battle, yes, just like in the movies. One of the unmarked planes went down, and then the second one. Afterwards they found out that those were Iraqi planes and that was pretty much Iraq’s participation in the war to annihilate and destroy the State of Israel.

Contrary to facts on the ground, Egypt and Syria continued to broadcast optimistic and inaccurate news that they were marching on Tel Aviv and Haifa. They urged King Hussein of Jordan to join in or they would take over the areas his country had been occupying since 1949, the so called West Bank, Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley.

In the meantime, my neighbor’s unit had been told to change plans and went to the mountains looking over Shechem, Grizim and Eval. In the dark of the night, they literally found the Jordanian tank corps with their “pants down,” sound asleep in pajamas. When the Jordanians realized that the IDF had found them they fled, leaving their brand new American fully equipped tanks* for Israel to adopt.

When they got to Shechem, they sent an Arabic speaking IDF soldier to find the mayor and offer him a deal. The mayor agreed and entered the police compound, where the Jordanian legion was lodged, equipped with a white flag for surrender. After a short while, the Jordanian flag was lowered and white one raised.

At some point during all of this, suddenly my neighbor realized that he was part of the liberating of our Holy Land, the City of Shechem in which our Forefathers had lived and Joseph is buried. 

Then, to collect all of the weapons the Arabs had, they were told that they had 48 hours to bring weapons to the square without any repercussions, punishment. If any weapons were to be found in homes after that the punishment would be fierce. It worked, and the IDF got a lot of weapons from the arabs.

At one point, someone arrived with a newspaper heralding the liberation of Jerusalem the Kotel (western wall) and Har HaBayit (the Temple Mount.) Until then, my neighbor hadn’t a clue as to what was going on in the rest of the country.

His unit was finally sent to secure a section of the Golan Heights, but not the section they had been prepared for. And remember that the entire war took only Six Days.

The 1967 Six Day War was a miracle of Biblical proportions. Of this I have absolutely no doubt!!

*The Americans had refused to sell tanks to Israel, but obviously had no problems equipping the Jordanians. Also the USSR had been equipping the Egyptians and Syrians. Israel had inferior weaponry, since the best suppliers boycotted our country. 

Batya Medad

Here’s a Holocaust Story with a Happy Ending

Thursday, January 28th, 2016

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and it is appropriate to share a Jewish victory against the Nazis – though long in coming – for all to relish.

Dina Gold’s book, Stolen Legacy (Ankerwycke 2015), is a rare Holocaust story. Her family tale combines all the drama and heart-pounding fear of Jews on the run, of Jewish families scattered throughout the world, of loss and, remarkably, of final vindication.

Gold’s story is unique in being a true detective novel and a document-driven courtroom drama, set in the heart of the Nazi Empire.

It is the story of a six-year battle for a building confiscated from a German Jewish family, which ultimately led to a multi-million dollar settlement for the ancestors of the Wolff family.

Like so many prominent German Jewish families, the Wolffs, Berliners, were highly assimilated. While they owned “seats” at a local synagogue where the grownups went once or twice a year, in their home they had Christmas trees and the children and many family servants delighted in opening their presents every Christmas morning.

While things went well for Germany, Gold’s maternal ancestors owned one of the largest and most profitable fur businesses in Germany. Her  great-great-grandfather, Heimann Wolff, owned one of the largest buildings in Berlin and his fur business spread from Europe to the Americas, with offices in East Berlin, London, Manchester and Glasgow.

Gold’s grandmother grew up in the kind of luxury few can imagine – a magnificent estate and an enormous and glamorous family fur business.

Photo of the Wolff Fur Company building at 17/18 Krausenstrasse, Berlin, in Architectural Digest, 1910.

Photo of the Wolff Fur Company at 17/18 Krausenstrasse, Berlin, in Architectural Digest, 1910.

By the 1930’s all of Germany, including the Wolff family fur business, was in decline. The Wolff company’s board decided to rent out office space in their huge building to other companies. The rental receipts helped to stave off the financial concerns of an empire built for those with expensive tastes, during leaner times.

Although most of her family escaped Nazi Germany, the business remained and was managed by lawyers who were ultimately forced by the rapacious Victoria Insurance Company to attempt to repay a mortgage despite never having been late on a payment.

That building, 17/18 Krausenstrasse, was foreclosed on by the Victoria Insurance Company. The family was gouged by the increasingly invasive laws against selling or renting to or buying from Jews, and the foreclosure took place despite desperate measures, including selling off bits and eventually huge chunks of the entire family’s suburban estate to try and keep the building in the family’s hands.

The Victoria turned around – was it planned together? – and sold it to the Reichsbahn, the German Railway Ministry. Yes, the train system that delivered millions of Europeans, including Gold’s great-uncle, to their deaths in the Nazi concentration camps.

Gold remembered while growing up in England, hearing magical tales from her grandmother Nellie about the two city-blocks long building owned by the Wolff family in Berlin.

Dina Gold and her grandmother Nellie Wolff, outside British Museum

The Wolff building was the centerpiece of the Wolff family business and of Gold’s story. But there are other points of interest along the way that will ground readers in the monstrosity of the times.

Her family’s estate, in Wannsee, was just a few minutes walk from the famous site of the Wannsee conference, where the Nazis’ Final Solution to the “Jewish problem” was formulated on Jan. 20, 1942.

The author's mother and her children, outside of the Wannsee Estate which had belonged to the Wolff family.

The author’s mother and her children, outside of the Wannsee Estate which had belonged to the Wolff family.

Lori Lowenthal Marcus

Can One Be a Shomer Torah u’Mitzvos and Accept Bible Criticism?

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

Another voice has entered the online discussion about Bible Criticism and orthodox Judaism. Professor Jacob L. Wright is an orthodox Jew who has studied, taught, and written extensively on Bible Criticism.

He made waves Pesach time when he published a provocative article on the Huffington Post where he talked about “The Myth of Moses.” In his article he explained that his view of the Bible is that it is a composite work with each layer added for a specific reason. In the Moses story, there was a need to justify the existence of an Egyptian prince named Moses who saved the Israelites and establish him as a bona fide Israelite. So the Bible tells the story of a boy who was cast off by his mother into the Nile. This story has very obscure references as the names of the major players in the story are not mentioned. Later, the story was viewed as salacious so new details were added as a prologue to the story.

If it weren’t the Bible and I weren’t orthodox, this would be a great theory to explain anomalies in the text. But it is the Bible and I am orthodox so it hardly sits well with me when the Bible is explained away as myth.

Professor Wright was interview by Professor Alan Brill on his Kavvanah website. The interview is worth your time and consideration if you don’t mind reading what is widely considered to be absolute kefira.

The first important thing in the interview is the introduction where Brill outlines the current status of Biblical Criticism. It’s required reading so I copy it in full here:

As background, the problems of the Bible go back to the tenth and eleventh century Islamic critiques of the Bible by Ibn Hazm and others. Second, modern figures such as Spinoza and Jean Astruc sought to understand the Bible as a human book using the same tools that we use to understand Greek and Roman books. And in the 19th century, Wellhausen popularized a theory that the Pentateuch had four authors. But the important part of his theory was that the ritual and priestly material was a priestly Pharisaic digression from the original pure faith of the prophets necessitating Christianity for a restoration. Hence, Solomon Schechter called it higher anti-Semitism, David Zvi Hoffman showed that Leviticus is not in contradiction to the rest of the story, Kaufman showed that the prophets assumed the priestly material, and Cassuto showed based on Sumerian and Akkadian sources that the divisions fail.

Well, Wellhausen was writing a century ago, with the aforementioned defenses all formulated in a post WWI climate. For at least forty years the field was already given to authors such as Gunkel who assumes the Bible is legend, the way Gilgamesh is legend. And Martin Noth who assumed most of the narrative was formulated originally as oral traditions- read here. Questions of redaction were not tied to Wellhausen, or even literary documents, but to oral traditions.

What do historians currently think about the context of the Bible? They assume that it was written between 720 BCE and 587 BCE, between the destruction of the Northern Kingdom and the destruction of Jerusalem, with some editing until the end of Ezra’s life circa 440 BCE. (Minimalists make it more recent and Evangelicals defend the chronological dates.) They work from parallels to Assyrian texts, the nature of script, linguistics, and reconstructed context of author. Little of this has anything to do with literary doublets. If you want to reject historical criticism, then start learning ancient linguistics and texts contemporary to the Bible. No harmonization of passages changes this dating nor does anything from Cassutto or Hoffman affect it. (However, Prof. Josh Berman is seeking to shift the discussion from Assyrians to the Hittites in 1300 BCE, an effort that may be accepted by the Orthodox but does not promise to have much of an impact on the experts. But it is better than refuting Kugel, who is not a historian of ancient Israel or source critic so the critique does not help.)

This past May there was a major conference at Hebrew University on“Convergence and Divergence in Pentateuchal Theory;” if you are interested in these topics, then that was the place to be. The conference opened up with a clear statement that there are three approaches: a Documentary approach (not based on Wellhausen but on Noth and others) where there are separate documents; a Supplementary approach,where a single document get more and more complex; and a Fragmentary approach, where we cannot separate out authors or layers anymore.

Rabbi Eliyahu Fink

The Collective Jew

Monday, August 19th, 2013
I keep trying to make this point to show what I believe is the unique Israel. In the last few weeks, three incidents have happened that once again reinforce what I have known all my life. Am I wrong to believe there is no other country in the world that would do these things?

Here’s the first amazing story:

A young cancer patient on the way to the US with a bunch of other sick kids can’t find her passport.

With no other choice, the young girl was removed from the plane and the plane prepared to depart after a fruitless search on the plane, in the airport, everywhere. Minutes before takeoff, while the plane was taxiing to the runway, they found the passport in another child’s backpack.

Too late, no? The stewardess told the pilot – the pilot radioed the tower and was given permission to turn back. The story appears here.

As the child cried, so too did people on the plane – and the stewardesses, and people on the ground. Amazing.

And the second story…

David Finti is 19 years old. He is a Romanian Jew. While boarding a train, David was electrocuted and severely burned. The local Jewish community contacted the Jewish Agency. They recognize the collectivism of our people just as on the Israeli side it was recognized as well. And so, Israel flew the young man to Israel, making him an Israeli citizen so that he could get critical care free of charge. David and his parents were flown to Israel and are now at Hadassah’s Ein Kerem hospital. The story appears here.

Yet another story in the last few days has come to light. Israel recently managed to bring in another 17 Yemenite Jews – leaving 90 left.What amazes me is that we were able to bring another group here to Israel and more, that we know how many remain. We are watching, waiting, hoping to bring the last remnants of what was once a great community here to Israel.

It is what we do. Three stories of how Israel watches, Israel waits, Israel acts.

Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

Paula Stern

It’s Official: You Can Be a Non-Jewish Rabbi

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013

Over the past few years, Reform and Conservative Judaism have been struggling so much with the notion of ordaining women rabbis and gay rabbis, that we, the spectators (innocent bystanders?) of those struggles have completely lost sight of an even more challenging notion: can they ordain gentile rabbis?

To cut a long story short: they can and they have. The Reform movement has done, and as a result, I believe, has placed itself outside the Rabbinical Jewish tradition regarding the fundamental notion of who qualifies as a Jew.

I became aware of this complete and, presumably, final split between Jews and the largely American Reform movement after receiving a link to Seth Berkman’s piece in the Forward: Angela Buchdahl, First Asian-American Rabbi, Vies for Role at Central Synagogue. The article praises Angela as an example of diversity, who “walks among the pews, greeting congregants before Friday night services at Manhattan’s venerable Central Synagogue,” where she faces “a mélange of Jewish faces, including blacks, Asians and Hispanics,” in a “diversity that reflects the emergence of an American Jewry of unprecedented ethnic breadth.”

Had I known nothing more about the above paragraph, I would have been beaming with pride over it. In the shuls I attended on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, spotting an African or a Hispanic face was always such a source of pleasure. As a tiny nation and an even tinier religious group, we prize every gentile who embraces our faith and goes through the sometimes grueling process of becoming one of us.

Except that Berkman cuts to the chase right at the opener, making clear that no such grueling effort was involved in Angela Buchdahl’s joining the Chosen People: it turns out that the diversity she so praises at that Reform gathering is “embodied” by Buchdahl, who was “born to an Ashkenazi, Reform Jewish father and a Korean Buddhist mother.”

Exactly 30 years ago, in 1983, the Reform movement in America adopted the bilineal policy: “The Central Conference of American Rabbis declares that the child of one Jewish parent is under the presumption of Jewish descent. This presumption of the Jewish status of the offspring of any mixed marriage is to be established through appropriate and timely public and formal acts of identification with the Jewish faith and people. The performance of these mitzvot serves to commit those who participate in them, both parent and child, to Jewish life.”

It should be noted that outside the U.S. the Reform moevement is yet to adopt the sweeping “presumption of Jewish descent” doctrine, but they do, by and large, offer “accelerated conversions” to children of a Jewish father.

Hadassah Magazine, which Berkman quotes in her story, featured a profile of the Korean born Angela Buchdahl, the first Asian American to be ordained as a cantor or rabbi and the first woman to attain both positions.

For Buchdahl, according to Hadassah magazine, key Jewish values include “a spirit of genuine inquiry and multiple opinions; our whole method of study and nondogmatic spirit; the dignity of every person and the fact that we are all created in the image of God; the ability to know what it is to be a stranger and to have been a slave—and to force ourselves to embody that understanding in every generation.”

Far be it from me to criticize such fine and noble notions, but it is difficult to recognize in that amalgam anything uniquely Jewish. Absent is the idea of fulfilling the mitzvot as a divine agenda. It’s all about getting along with others and respecting them, not so much about applying Torah laws to one’s daily life.

Indeed, the more the Reform movement is reinventing itself, the closer it gets to Christianity. She’s been active, among other things, at Auburn Theological Seminary, “an interfaith platform to address global issues and build bridges across religious traditions.”

“Angela is an extraordinary religious leader,” Rev. Katherine Henderson, Auburn’s president, told Hadassah. At a gathering for a Presbyterian group last year, Buchdahl “led worship that was completely authentic for her as a Jew and yet completely accessible for this group of Christians,” says Henderson. “We were all able to praise God together!”

This reporter is known to be flippant, so I very much want to avoid being flippant about this story. I don’t think we should denounce people like Angela Buchdahl, or condemn the Reform movement for its straying so far out of the Rabbinical Jewish tent. But we should remain steadfast in not calling any of these people and the nice things they do “Jewish” in any way at all. We’re already not permitted to set foot inside their houses of worship. We should probably stop calling their religious teachers “Rabbi” – perhaps “Reform Rabbi” will do. And we should look forward to the time when calling someone “Reform” would simply mean a really nice non-Jew.

Yori Yanover

If He Is Released, I Will No Longer Be Able to Live

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

Editor’s note: Adi Moses was eight years old when she was injured in a Palestinian terrorist attack that killed her pregnant mother and five-year-old brother.

You know the story of my family. In 1987 a terrorist threw a firebomb at the car my family was traveling in. He murdered my mother and my brother Tal, and injured my father, my brother, his friend and myself. It is a story you know. But me, you do not really know. I was eight years old when this happened.

While my father was rolling me in the sand to extinguish my burning body, I looked in the direction of our car and watched as my mother burned in front of my eyes.

This story did not end that day in 1987. This story is the difficult life I have led since then. I am still eight years old, hospitalized in critical condition. Screaming from pain. Bandaged from head to toe. And my head is not the same. No longer full of golden long hair. The head is burnt. The face, back, the legs and arms, burnt. I am surrounded by family members, but my mother is not with me. Not hugging and caressing. She is not the one changing my bandages.

In the room next door, my brother Tal is screaming in pain. I call out to him to count sheep with me so he can fall asleep. Three months later, little Tal dies of his wounds. I am seated, all bandaged up, on a chair in the cemetery and I watch as my little brother is buried.

For many months I am forbidden to be out in the sun because of the burns, so I wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts to school. In July and August as well. And under the clothes I wear a pressure suit meant to [prevent hypertrophic] scarring. It is painful and hot and itchy.

Here I am at twelve years old, undergoing another operation to correct a scar that limited movement in my leg. And then I am celebrating my bat mitzvah. And my mother is not at the celebration. So I cry quietly at night and write to her.

I grow older. I don’t like that people in the street stare at me, don’t like it when the cashier at the supermarket asks, “Oh, child, what happened to you?” I don’t like it that every such look and every such question make me run and cry.

I reach the age of fourteen and still live in Alfei Menashe. I have a father, an older brother and friends, I am a good pupil. But I also have unbearable scars. I do not have a mother. So I lay in the road and say to myself that if a car comes, whatever happens, happens. But it doesn’t happen. So I pick myself up and return home. All those years of adolescence, my friends’ preferred activity is to go to the beach. But I don’t go because I have scars. Because I am burnt. And I am ashamed.

Then I am eighteen and want to enlist but I am not drafted. The army refuses to take responsibility for my scars. So I volunteer in the military and serve for a year and a half.

At college I meet new people who, of course, ask me what happened to me. I respond “terror attack.” And they always answer “wow, really? I thought hot water spilled on you when you were little.”

Today I am thirty-four years old, exactly my mother’s age at the time of the attack. From now on she will forever be younger than me. And still, at least four times a week I answer questions about what happened to me.

I am thirty-four years old but the last few days I have returned to being that eight-year-old facing that burning car and waiting for her mother to come out of it. Yitzhak Rabin, who was minister of defense at the time of the attack, promised my dad they would catch the terrorist. And they did. And they sentenced him. To two life sentences and another seventy-two years in prison. And you Cabinet ministers? With the wave of a hand you decided to free him – he who caused all of this story.

Adi Moses

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/if-he-is-released-i-will-no-longer-be-able-to-live/2013/08/08/

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