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Jerusalem spends a day without traffic lights

September 18, 2010 Leave a comment

By Judy Lash Balint

Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM — I know most Jews call Yom Kippur by other names, but here in Jerusalem, it’s the Day of No Traffic Lights. There are no traffic lights because there’s no traffic on Yom Kippur in Jerusalem. The city just turns off the lights for 25 hours. Imagine—an entire country without any motor vehicle traffic apart from emergency vehicles and security patrols. The quiet is absolutely stunning. Starting from sundown on erev Yom Kippur, 25 hours of blissful peace and quiet. Think of the negative carbon footprint impact! No traffic; radio and TV stations are silent; no phones ringing; no home appliances whirring; no airplanes overhead—you can actually hear the wind in the trees and the song of the birds.

Pedestrians share the road with bicycles ridden by hundreds of secular Israelis who savor the day as a safe opportunity to try out their biking skills with no annoying traffic lights or crazy Israeli drivers. But the overwhelming sense is of a people taking a complete day to evaluate and perhaps change their lives.

Walking to Kol Nidre, the streets are thronged with people clad in white, to signify purity and a withdrawal for one day from the vanities of our usual fancy clothing.

Every synagogue is packed to overflowing, and several hundred community centers around the country also offer Yom Kippur services with emphasis on discussion and openness for those who might never before stepped foot in a synagogue. Read more…

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As Yom Kippur approaches in Jerusalem…

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment

By Judy Lash Balint

Judy Lash Balint

JERUSALEM–In the days before Yom Kippur, thousands of Torah observant Israelis rush to finish the ritual of kapparot, where human sins are symbolically transferred to a fowl–generally a chicken. It’s a custom that does not appear anywhere in the Talmud, but whose origin seems to come courtesy of several 9th century rabbis.

In a parking lot near Jerusalem’s Machane Yehuda market, dozens of live chickens are whirled above the heads of men, women and children while a pronouncement is made declaring: “This is my substitute, my vicarious offering, my atonement: This chicken will meet its fate while I will proceed to a good, long life of peace.” [See my Kapparot photos from Machane Yehuda at www.Demotix.com] The chickens are then donated to the needy or redeemed with money that goes to the poor.

Meanwhile, curious secular Israelis by the hundreds take part in pre-dawn Selichot tours, where they look in on dozens of congregations where the faithful are immersed in penitential prayers chanted to ancient melodies.

Members of the Kurdish Bashari Synagogue in Nahlaot dance to selichot tunes.

In the streets later in the day, men hurry along with towels to the nearest mikveh (ritual bath). Many have already started building their sukkot (booths) in readiness for Sukkot, the one-week festival that starts the week after Yom Kippur. Sukkot structures of all kinds have sprung up on balconies, street corners and in front of cafes. The final decorations and the schach covering will be added right after the conclusion of Yom Kippur.  Read more…

Seniors needing rides may still sign up for Yom Kippur transportation

September 12, 2010 Leave a comment

SAN DIEGO (Press Release)–More than 160 older adults took advantage of free rides to Rosh Hashanah or have reserved for Yom Kippur transportation.

Participating synagogues include members of the Conservative, Reconstructionist and Reform movements:  Congregation Beth Am (C); Congregation Beth El (C); Congregation Beth Israel (R); Congregation Dor Hadash (Rec);  Ner Tamid Synagogue (C); Ohr Shalom Synagogue (C);  Temple Adat Shalom (R); Temple Emanu-El (R); Temple Solel (R), and Tifereth Israel Synagogue (C).

It’s not too late to sign up for rides to Yom Kippur services! Call Jewish Family Service’s  “On the Go” office by 1 pm on Tuesday, September 14, at 877-63-GO-JFS
or 877-634-6537.

High Holy Days Service Areas, with 3-day advance reservation required, are in the following zip codes:

North County Inland Area: 92064, 92126, 92127, 92128, 92129, and 92131

University City Area: 92037, 92111, 92117, 92121, and 92122

College Area: 92115, 92119, 92120, 91941, and 91942 (west of 125).

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Preceding based on material provided by the ‘On The Go’ program

Documentary follows Greenberg, Koufax, other Jewish baseball icons

July 29, 2010 3 comments

Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, directed by Peter Miller, narrated by Dustin Hoffman, produced by Clear Lake Historical Productions.

By Donald H. Harrison

Donald H. Harrison

SAN DIEGO – A new documentary, sure to hit the circuit of Jewish film festivals is Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story. Although actor Dustin Hoffman is the off-camera narrator, the real star power comes from Jewish major leaguers, alive and dead, whose skillfully edited interviews provide first-person perspective on a story that began in the late 1800s and continues to this day.

The longest segments of the 91-minute documentary cover the careers of Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax, but plenty of other Jewish players appear in this work of love including Buddy Myer, Harry Danning, Norm Sherry, Ron Blomberg, Shawn Green, and Kevin Youkilis.

The essential thesis behind the documentary is that Jews love America, nothing is more American than baseball, and that success in baseball represents success in America.

There are some great tidbits along the way, and one not so bad pun.  Did you know that the Bible contains the first account of baseball?  Yup, it’s right there in Genesis, which starts “In the Big Inning.”

The first known Jewish baseball player was Lipman Pike, who played for various teams in the 30 years following the U.S. Civil War.  The first Jew to appear on a baseball card was pitcher Barney Pelty of the St. Louis Browns, who pitched during the first two decades of the 1900s.  The New York Giants recruited Jewish players in the 1920s, to win Jewish fans.  Moses Solomon, a big home run hitter, was dubbed “the rabbi of swat,” which was a rhetorical challenge to Babe Ruth of the cross-town Yankees, who was known as the “sultan of swat.”  Another giant Giant was Andy Cohen, who was so popular at the Polo Grounds they sold “Ice Cream Cohens.”

Here’s some impressive trivia:  The second-most sung song in the world behind “Happy Birthday”  is “Take Me Out To the Ballgame,” which was composed by the Jewish musician Albert Von Tilzer.

These kind of factoids were warm ups for the story about Hank Greenberg, which his son, Steve, assisted in telling.  Described as the first Jewish baseball superstar,  Greenberg was a 6’4 first baseman who spent most of his major league career with the Detroit Tigers.  In 1934, he set a precedent for Sandy Koufax, when he decided not to play on Yom Kippur. Rosh Hashanah, ten days earlier, was another matter.  A rabbi found some biblical precedent to permit him to play, and Greenberg hit two homeruns that day to beat the Boston Red Sox.

Abstaining on Yom Kippur prompted some doggerel about Greenberg:

We shall miss him in the infield
We’ll miss him at bat.
But he’s true to his religion
And we honor him for that.

Not everyone honored Greenberg or other Jewish players, however.  Catcalls like “Heeb!” “Kike!” “Throw him a pork chop!” plagued Greenberg, who occasionally did not turn the other cheek.  In 1938, the year historians say was the beginning of the Holocaust with the Kristallnacht in Germany, Greenberg was chasing Babe Ruth’s single season record of 60 home runs.  The documentary debunks the rumor that opposing teams were so anti-Semitic they refused to pitch to him.  Pitch to them pitchers did, including Bob Feller, who was interviewed on camera about one of the last games of the season in which he faced—and tamed—Greenberg.

With anti-Semitism rampant in Nazi Germany and with some Bundists hoping to import similar hatred to the United States, Greenberg considered every good game he played – every home run – a way to show the world how wrong Nazi racial myths about Jews being inferior really were.

At the height of his career, Greenberg went into the Army to fight in World War II.  “I’m in the Army now, and now I’m playing on Uncle Sam’s team,” he said in one news clip.

Greenberg played his last season when Jackie Robinson, the first African-American major leaguer, played his first.  The documentary described a collision at first base when Robinson was running for a single.  “Fans,” who were yelling cat calls at Robinson from the stands, wondered whether there would be a fight between the two men. Instead, Greenberg helped Robinson up, and told him not to worry about  the invective some people screamed.  They used to yell similar things at him, Greenberg told Robinson.

Greenberg mentored Al Rosen, and later disappointed him when he decided to trade Rosen from the Cleveland Indians,  which Greenberg served as a general manager in his career off-the-field.  Rather than be traded, Rosen decided to quit baseball, a sad chapter.

The story of Sandy Koufax’s career was the next large segment of the documentary.  After his retirement, Koufax shrank from the limelight, so this interview is one of the longest—and most comprehensive—about the superstar Dodger pitcher, who threw a perfect game against the Chicago Cubs one season, and decided not to pitch on Yom Kippur in the 1965 World Series against the Minnesota Twins.

Don Drysdale pitched that World Series game instead, and got drubbed in the first two innings, giving up seven home runs. When manager Walter Alston came to the mound to take Drysdale out, the pitcher quipped that he’d “bet you wish I was Jewish too.”

In the 1950s and 1960s, baseball had a $100,000 salary cap—but Drysdale and Koufax decided to hold out together for a better salary,  shutting out baseball owners who tried to resist their twin juggernaut.  Eventually, their actions helped to empower the baseball players organization – led by Marvin Miller, another Jew.

There were quite a few Jewish owners in baseball, among them Charles Bronfman of Montreal, and Bud Selig of Baltimore, who eventually would go on to become Commissioner of Baseball.

Other Jewish baseballers included in the documentary were Art Shamsky of the 1969 Miracle Mets, Kenny Holtzman of the Chicago Cubs and Oakland Athletics, and Ron Blomberg, a first-round draft pick of the New York Yankees, who later in his career would become Major League Baseball’s first designated hitter.

One player who many folks believed had converted to Judaism was Rod Carew of the Minnesota Twins and California Angels.   In fact, he had not, although Carew’s wife was Jewish and his two children were raised Jewish.  Another African American who did convert to Judaism was Elliott Maddox, an infielder and outfielder who played on six major league teams, and quipped about his conversion: “I always considered myself a good two-strike hitter.”

In the 1990s, Shawn Green of the Los Angeles Dodgers was considered the standout Jewish baseball player, and in the 2000s, Kevin Youkilis of the Boston Red Sox has been a dominant player.

Not all the stories in the documentary were happy ones.  Adam Greenberg was called up from the minors, and as a Chicago Cub pinch hitter, he was beaned on the very first pitch.  The concussion he suffered knocked him out of baseball, although he has not given up on the idea of making a comeback.

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Harrison is editor of San Diego Jewish World

Rooms of the Heart: The bridge between Yom HaShoah and Yom Hazikaron

April 19, 2010 4 comments

 

Mendel Flaster

 

 By Toby Klein Greenwald

GUSH ETZION, Israel — In his official Memorial Day speech at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu described how, as a young soldier, two of his fellow soldiers, 19 years old, were killed during a lethal military operation, and how one of them, David Ben Hamu, died in his arms in the army car on the way to the closest hospital.  The Prime Minister had been a member of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit, the same unit which his brother Yonatan, led during the Entebbe rescue, during which Yonatan died.

Netanyahu described how, years later, when he went to visit Ben Hamu’s parents in Beer Sheva, his mother showed him David’s room. It was exactly how it looked the day he fell in battle, she said. Not one detail had been changed, not one item moved.

I remember once staying overnight at the home of a friend in another town, a friend whose son had also died in a battle against terrorists. She now uses his bedroom as the guest room. Her hospitality was effusive and generous, but I hardly slept all night. I was surrounded by army medals, photographs, items that had belonged to the courageous young soldier.

As I heard Netanyahu speak, and as I remembered the room of the son of my friend, and the rooms of so many other soldiers who die in battle and whose families maintain their bedrooms as shrines, where they are young forever, all I could think of were the words, “rooms of the heart”.

In English, the four different parts of the heart are called “chambers”. In Hebrew, they are called simply “rooms”.

The week that is, every year

Holocaust Remembrance Day and Israel’s Memorial Day for fallen soldiers, and for those who have died at the hand of terrorist, come exactly one week apart. It is a week fraught with emotion and a deep clutching at the internal and collective spirit of the Jewish people in Israel. The two days are inexorably linked, for the event of the first day reminds us why we must have an army of our own, so a shoah will never happen again.

This year, on Yom Hashoah, I invited  Mendel Flaster of San Diego, who was visiting in Israel, to speak to the 9th grade class I teach in Yeshivat Makor Chaim in Gush Etzion. Many of the students have brothers who have been in the army, or fathers or grandfathers who have fought in Israel’s wars, or family members who endured the Shoah, or grandfathers who fought with the Allies during WWII.

Mendel, who is 90 years old, is lucid and articulate. He described how, as a 19-year-old, in 1939, he was taken to a Nazi labor camp in Poland. He eventually endured 14 camps in six years, the last one being Auschwitz-Birkenau.

When he was liberated, he was recruited by the American army to work for the CIC and the CID, organizations that tracked down and gathered information to prosecute Nazi war criminals. Mendel helped send 30 Nazi war criminals to prison. Twelve hours of his testimony were recorded for the project of Steven Spielberg, who also wrote him several personal letters.

Mendel’s scores of stories are replete with descriptions of the camps – onerous labor, hunger, filth, cruel punishments, debasement and death, and what the inmates did, not only to survive, but to maintain their personal dignity. The stories are numerous, chilling and inspiring, and hopefully one day will fill a book.

He told five especially mesmerizing stories that I’d like to relate, as they seem so unbelievable, given the context in which they occurred.

One was how Mendel galvanized around him a group of young men in one of the labor camps who, with him, went “on strike” and refused to work after their shoes had fallen apart and they had no other shoes to wear. They struck for several weeks, in spite of severe deprivations and punishments, knowing that they could be executed for their rebellion. Yet they held out, and eventually a truck arrived full of shoes, and they returned to work.

A second story was about how he did everything to keep a modicum of religious observance. He befriended and made deals with one camp cook so that, on Pesach, he could trade the portions of bread for potatoes, for himself and others. He described how he led the davening of Kol Nidre in their “barracks”, with the participation of all of the inmates, even though they knew that if the Nazi guards chose that moment to walk in, they would all be killed.

In a third story, he described how they would do anything in order to see their families, who were hours away. He used to sneak out and walk seven hours each way each week, , through forests and over mountains, in order to – surrealistically – spend Shabbat at home. Every time he reported back to the camp for work, he received 25 lashes, but he bore them bravely each week in order to see his family. When he was in yet another camp, several years later, and the time came that he and the other inmates knew the villages of the area would be sent away to their death, he arranged with a somewhat sympathetic Nazi guard that he and a group of his friends, be allowed to visit their families one last time. He had to explain to the men that if any of them used the opportunity to escape, all the rest would be executed.

He worked out a schedule, and the guard arranged it so that trucks that delivered goods in the area would take detours in order to drop the men off for short visits with their families, who were subsequently sent to their deaths. He left his own visit for the end. “As the leader,” he said, “I wanted to go last.” But there were no more deliveries, so he snuck out. When he arrived at his family’s home, at 1 o’clock in the morning, he didn’t want to knock on the locked door, so as not to awaken neighbors who might report him; rather, he just touched a window and his mother opened it immediately. “I’ve been waiting for you,” she said, and took him immediately into the home. An hour and a half later he left to return to the camp. He never saw anyone in his family again.

In a fourth story, Mendel described how the first two fingers of his left hand got caught in a machine and the tips were cut off. When he recuperated in the infirmary, he did everything to help people who were in a worse state than himself. When Mengele sent everyone from the infirmary to the gas chambers, the staff asked that Mendel be spared, as they needed his help.

Lastly, when Mendel was in the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp, he was asked to stay behind and help close the camp when all the others were sent on the infamous death march. But he refused to leave his comrades, even though he knew it could mean almost certain death. “Wherever they go,” he said, “I will go with them.”

Those who stayed behind were eventually shot. Mendel survived.

“All I did,” he told my students, “was try to help others, to not be selfish.”

“Be kind to each other.”

Just before he left the classroom, I photographed him with the boys. He looked them in the eye and said, “You are all good boys. Daven, learn Torah, and be kind to each other, because G-d loves that.”

When I asked the students to write what they received from Mendel’s talk, they wrote about faith, and human dignity, and the importance of not being selfish. One wrote, “Yom Hashoah was always a far nightmare…Mendel made my Yom Hashoah something deeper…Mendel describing his last moments with his family made me cry. Mendel describing Jewish people getting killed, in all kinds of ways, released a rope that was tied to my heart.”

We all hold someone special in the rooms of our heart. And some of those rooms are occupied by holy men and women who died for Kiddush Hashem.

Every year, for one week, in Israel, the entire country allows itself to tiptoe into those rooms, hand in hand, sit down quietly in the corners, weep, and remember.

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The writer is a teacher, editor and educational theater director.

Jimmy Carter says an ‘Al Het’ if any of his words stigmatized Israel

December 22, 2009 Leave a comment

ATLANTA (WJC)–Former US President Jimmy Carter has asked the Jewish community for forgiveness for any offense he may have caused when criticizing Israel. In a letter release by the news agency JTA, Carter sent season’s greeting and wished peace between Israel and its neighbors.

He concluded: “We must recognize Israel’s achievements under difficult circumstances, even as we strive in a positive way to help Israel continue to improve its relations with its Arab populations, but we must not permit criticisms for improvement to stigmatize Israel. As I would have noted at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, but which is appropriate at any time of the year, I offer an Al Het for any words or deeds of mine that may have done so.”

“Al Het” refers to the Yom Kippur prayer asking God forgiveness for sins committed against God. In modern Hebrew it refers to any plea for forgiveness. Carter has angered some US Jews in recent years with writings and statements that place the burden of peacemaking on Israel, that likened Israel’s settlement policies to apartheid, and that blamed the Israel lobby for inhibiting an even-handed US foreign policy. Earlier this year, Carter met with Hamas leaders in Damascus.

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Preceding provided by World Jewish Congress