Edgar M. Bronfman Sr. – Remembering a Jewish Philanthropist

I awoke in the middle of the night last night unable to sleep. It was a little before 4:00 AM. I know what time it was because I looked on my phone since the power was out from the winter storm. Shockingly, I noticed from a few email messages, tweets and Facebook postings that the world lost a giant in the field of Jewish philanthropy.

I only had the opportunity to meet Edgar Bronfman, Sr. twice and both were for only fleeting moments. At a Hillel staff conference in New Jersey he seemed to enjoy walking the hotel shmoozing with Hillel staffers and thanking us for our work on campus. It was he who should have been thanked. In the middle of the night I read his very lengthy obituary in the New York Times. As long as this tribute was it still failed to mention so many of the causes he championed and the philanthropic efforts he backed with his family’s fortune.

In October at The Conversation, Gary Rosenblatt’s annual convening of Jewish leaders at the Pearlstone Retreat Center in Maryland, I ate lunch with Dana Raucher, the executive director of The Samuel Bronfman Foundation. I listened to Dana share her fondness for Edgar Bronfman, Sr. and articulate how genuine and authentic is his love for the Jewish people and the many causes he supports through his foundation. Upon his passing at his home yesterday on Shabbat, Dana publicly shared the following about her boss:

“Edgar was deeply committed to making Judaism relevant to all those who were seeking it. He sought to build a big tent, open for vigorous debate, impassioned questioning, and full of joy. He loved the energy and exuberance of young people, and took them quite seriously because he recognized that they would be the ones shaping their own Jewish future.”

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Mourning For My Infant Nephew

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People” – Those words, the title of a book by my teacher Rabbi Harold Kushner, keep echoing in my head. Tragedy has struck my family. We planned to go to Chicago last week where I would have the honor of being both the uncle and the rabbi at my newborn nephew’s bris. Instead we’re headed to Chicago today – a week later than planned – where I will have the unfortunate responsibility to be both the uncle and the rabbi at my nephew’s funeral. We’re grieving.A little more than a week ago I searched the Web for an appropriate blessing to say on becoming an uncle. Not finding anything, I wrote my own blessing. Last night I searched the Web desperately seeking what one says at the funeral of an 11-day-old baby. The answer is nothing. We’re speechless.

When my nephew was born I wrote about Abraham of the Torah and his role as uncle to Lot. He took his nephew under his wing, cared for him and protected him. Today I unfortunately look to another uncle in the Torah. Moses mourned the death of his two nephews Nadav and Avihu. The Torah relates that the boys’ father — Moses’ brother Aaron — was speechless. So too must Uncle Moses have been in his mourning of this sudden death. We’re in shock.

On the Shabbat when the Torah portion was Parashat Vayechi (And he lived), my nephew died. On the Shabbat in which we learn of the blessings Jacob bestowed upon his sons, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law began to come to terms with the harsh reality that they will never bless their son as Jacob did. On the Shabbat when the Congregation of Israel stands upon finishing the first book of the Torah and, preparing to open the next chapter, proclaims “Chazak chazak v’nitchazek” (Be strong, be strong and let us be strengthened), my family feels weak. From creation there will be no next chapter for my nephew. We’re weakened.

Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet. May the soul of my innocent nephew Rylan Foster Gelb (Yitzchak Chaim) be bound up in the bond of eternal life and may he rest in peace. There is no more to say.

Nostalgia Posting and the Detroit Jewish News Archives

Nostalgia is in. I recently coined the term “Nostalgia Posting” because one of the most common memes on Facebook these days is the Throwback Thursday, in which individuals and organizations post old photos from yesteryear and allow viewers to tag people they recognize and be amused at how things have changed over the years including hairstyles and fashion. One local company making good use of this is Joe Cornell Entertainment, which has been posting photos from their archives of Joe Cornell’s pre-bar mitzvah dance classes from the past few decades.

Metro Detroiters, as well as former Metro Detroiters, have found themselves getting lost in time on the Web since the Detroit Jewish News Foundation launched its digital archives in mid-November. Residing on the DJN Foundation’s website at www.djnfoundation.org, the archives have allowed local members of the Jewish community to scratch their nostalgia itch by searching for friends and family in the archives’ search function. Every weekly issue of the Detroit Jewish News over the past seven decades is included in the digital archives and even advertisements can be searched.

Detroit Jewish News Foundation Archives

Arthur Horwitz, publisher of the Detroit Jewish News, recognized the importance of digitizing the thousands of old issues of the paper after a devastating fire occurred in the Detroit Jewish News offices back in 2002 and destroyed nearly all of the paper’s print archives. Horwitz and the new nonprofit foundation turned to Media Genesis, an internet services provider, to create the searchable index on the new website which lets users perform quick and accurate searches on the more than 260,000 dating back to 1942. The archives are available to the public at no cost and they have already proven useful to local historians, educators, students and community leaders.

Like internet search engines such as Google, Yahoo or Bing, the DJN Foundation’s digital archives are fully searchable by date, name, and other keyword searches including advanced Boolean searches, which are a type of search allowing users to combine keywords with operators such as “and,” “not” and “nor” to produce more relevant results.

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Finding a Bat Mitzvah T-Shirt in Africa

It’s no secret that many of those cotton t-shirts we wear here in the First World ultimately get donated and wind up in the Third World. Thousands of t-shirts that get printed each year celebrating the losing team in the Super Bowl, NBA Finals and World Series usually get shipped to Africa. And for decades the customary bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah t-shirts that accumulate in teens’ closets have been donated to the Salvation Army or Goodwill to be sent to Africa or into impoverished neighborhoods throughout North America. When I lived in New York City, it was not unusual for me to see a homeless man wearing a donated bar mitzvah t-shirt or a Jewish youth group shirt that had been donated before the owner went off to college.
National Public Radio (NPR) did a story the other day on the fate of these donated t-shirts that wind up in Africa. It wasn’t the first time such a story had been done. Almost three years ago Mother Jones ran a story titled “When Hooters T-Shirts Go to Africa: Donate an old t-shirt in the US? Someday it might travel to a country like Liberia.” And over ten years ago the New York Times published a story that also tracked donated clothes to the Third World in George Packer’s article “How Susie Bayer’s T-Shirt Ended Up on Yusuf Mama’s Back.” The basic premise of these stories is that once you donate an old sweatshirt or t-shirt to the Salvation Army or Goodwill, your old, used clothing takes on a new life somewhere else. We often don’t think of who’s wearing our old winter coat that we donated, but it does make for an interesting story.

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Blessing For Becoming An Uncle For First Time

“Uncle Jason” — I really like the sound of that! Yesterday evening as my children and I kindled seven Hanukkah candles on the hanukkiyah, I received the anticipated phone call from my wife who was at a hospital in Chicago with her sister. “It’s a boy,” she said, and with those words I became an uncle. I told my children and watched them jump for joy with the news that they now had a first cousin.The Hebrew word for uncle is dod (דוד), which sounds a lot like the word “dad.” It is also the same word the Torah uses for beloved. A quick etymology search on the website Balashon.com informed me that the Hebrew dod is related to Syriac דדא for uncle or beloved, Mandaic, Nabatean and Palmyrene “dada” meaning father’s brother and the Arabic “dad” for foster-father. Balashon.com explains that the Hebrew dod is the most ancient Hebrew word for love and was probably a primitive caressing syllable taken from the sound “da-da” that babies make.

Savvy Auntie - Uncle T-Shirt Rabbi Jason

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