Categories
Death Obituary Philanthropy

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.”

Categories
Death Family

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.

Categories
Detroit History Nostalgia

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.

Categories
Bat Mitzvah Detroit

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.
Categories
Blessings Family

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
Categories
Bar Mitzvah Technology

Bar Mitzvah Prep in the 21st Century’s Tech Age

In the Coen Brother’s movie “A Serious Man,” we see young Danny practicing his haftorah for his bar mitzvah by listening to the cantor’s rendition of it on his record player. That scene was undoubtedly sentimental for Jewish men of a certain age who prepared for their bar mitzvah by keying up the phonograph in their parents’ living room.

Ben Stiller Bar Mitzvah

Bar Mitzvah preparation has come a long way since the days of the record album. In the 1980s and early 1990s cantors and bar/bat mitzvah tutors recorded their voices onto audio cassette tapes so their twelve-year-old students could walk around the house listening to the chanting on a Sony Walkman. In fact, I remember many nights falling asleep with my black foamy headphones on while I listened to the late Cantor Larry Vieder of Adat Shalom Synagogue repeating the Torah trope (cantilation notes) and the long haftorah for my bar mitzvah. The mid-1990s saw the transition from the audio tapes to music CDs when bar mitzvah tutors began hooking up microphones to the computer and recording the bar mitzvah portion onto blank CD-Roms.

In recent years we’ve seen bar and bat mitzvah students receiving the audio version of the haftorah and blessings they need to learn via email, a concept that anyone over the age of thirty would find amazing.

The way Jewish teens prepare for their bar or bat mitzvah has changed dramatically thanks to technological innovation. Not only has the audio format changed over the years, but so too has the way in which these young men and women are being tutored.

Categories
Hanukkah Jewish Videos

What Are the Best Hanukkah Videos of 2013?

Well it’s time for Hanukkah 2013 and we still haven’t come up with a consensus opinion on how to spell Hanukkah — is it Hanukkah, Chanukah, Hanukah, Chanukkah or Janukah? This year we’ve seem to have discovered an even bigger spelling problem as we’ve added Thanksgivukkah into the mix. Some are into this mash up of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah while others are ready to be done with all the buzz. Comedian Judy Gold, with whom I appeared on the Thanksgivukkah episode of HuffPost Live yesterday, tweeted her feelings on Thanksgivukkah: “‏@JewdyGold – The term ‘Thanksgivukkah’ is getting on my nervukkahs. #annoying.” Well, I guess you can’t please everyone!Here is this year’s installment of the best Hanukkah videos. Enjoy!

Benji Lovitt’s “Thanksgivukkah Pie”

Oil – Main Line Reform Temple

Maoz Tzur by Science Students at Technion University in Israel

One Direction Parody: Jew Direction’s “Chanukkah Makes You Jewtiful”

The 1st Hanukkah Thanksgiving by the Shepard Hill Elementary Players on Jimmy Kimmel Live

The Thanksgivukkah Song

Thanksgivukkah: The Movie (Trailer) by Yisrael Campbell

Julie Geller’s “I Believe in Miracles” Song

Maccabeats – “Burn”

Hanukkah Song – Adele Parody by Ash Soular
Technically, this is from Hanukkah 2012 but I missed it in last year’s list

Matthew Rissien’s “The Dreidel Song: Hanukkah Rap”

Duck Dynasty’s Hanukkah Album” on Jimmy Kimmel Live

Best Hanukkah Videos of 2012 – http://blog.rabbijason.com/2012/12/best-hanukkah-videos-of-2012.html

Best Hanukkah Videos of 2011 – http://blog.rabbijason.com/2011/12/best-hanukkah-videos-for-2011.html

Best Hanukkah Videos of 2010 – http://blog.rabbijason.com/2010/12/best-hanukkah-videos-for-2010.html

Categories
Baseball Ethics Yom Kippur

Can Ryan Braun Do Teshuvah (Repentance)?

An interview with the Detroit Tigers’ new manager Brad Ausmus about his Jewish heritage spread out over a half page in yesterday’s Detroit Free Press. The interview was an excerpt from the new book by Larry Ruttman, “American Jews and America’s Game: Voices of a Growing Legacy in Baseball”. Ruttman’s interview concludes with a prediction that Ausmus will one day become a manager of a Major League Baseball team and of course that prediction came true earlier this month when the Detroit Tigers announced his hiring.

In the two weeks since that announcement many people in Detroit — and outside of Detroit — have asked my opinion about the Jewishness of Brad Ausmus. That’s an easy answer, I explain, because his mother is Jewish and therefore he’s Jewish. However, that doesn’t seem to be enough for many people. They seem to be troubled by the fact that Ausmus isn’t the ideal Jewish character for Jewish baseball fans to be excited about. Growing up with a Protestant father, having a Christmas tree in the house each year, and never becoming a bar mitzvah bothers many who want to be excited about this new Jewish manager (it should be noted that Ausmus isn’t the only Jewish manager currently in Major League Baseball since Bob Melvin, the manager of the Oakland A’s, also has a Jewish mother and coincidentally was also a catcher at one point for the Detroit Tigers).

Brad Ausmus - Israel

Ausmus has been very candid about his Jewish background and like Ryan Braun he acknowledges that Judaism didn’t feature very prominently in his upbringing. In fact, both Ausmus and Braun fall very neatly into the category of Jewish American that many were surprised about in the recent Pew Research Center study. I have cynically explained to people that having Jewish baseball players in the Major Leagues and Jewish managers are statistical anomalies. After all, make up a very small percent of the U.S. population and when you factor in that many professional baseball players aren’t from the U.S., the chances of a Jewish professional player are very small. Therefore, we don’t have the luxury of choosing the type of Jewish player.

Yes, it would be easier to feel Jewish pride over a Jewish baseball player who plays like Hank Greenberg, refuses to play on Yom Kippur, attends a synagogue, practices a virtuous life off the field, and donates a portion of his salary to Israel and local Jewish causes. However, we have to take what we get. And that is why we should feel proud that Ausmus (and Bob Melvin) is a manager. He’s honest about who he is as it relates to his Jewish heritage, explaining, “I was not brought up in any religion, I wasn’t bar mitzvahed. I married a Catholic girl and have two daughters. Other than the holidays we spent with my grandparents, there really wasn’t much Jewish religion or Catholic-based religion in the household. I think my mom enjoyed Christmas more than anyone, because she didn’t have it as a kid growing up.”

Categories
Holidays Jewish

Thanksgivukkah Prayer 2013 for Thanksgiving and Hanukkah

The buzz surrounding the anomaly on the Jewish calendar this year when the first day of Hanukkah coincides with Thanksgiving is an oddity. As I told Sue Selasky of the Detroit Free Press when she interviewed me about Thanksgivukkah, I explained that the hype surrounding this day is palpable. It is truly a statistical oddity as it won’t coincide again until 75,000 years from now, according to Santa Fe, New Mexico physicist Jonathan Mizrahi’s calculations.

The last time the first full day of Hanukkah fell on Thanksgiving was in 1888, just weeks after the presidential election that pitted Grover Cleveland of New York, the incumbent president and a Democrat, against the Republican nominee Benjamin Harrison. As I explained to Sue during her research for the article in the Free Press, since Hanukkah is an eight day celebration, there have been years since when some nights have overlapped with Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving and Hanukkah won’t coincide again until 2070 and then again in 2165 when the first night of Hanukkah will fall on Thanksgiving.

Thanksgivukkah Sweet Potato Latke at Southern Nosh Vegetarian Soul (gluten free), which is a restaurant in Metro Detroit that is certified kosher by Kosher Michigan. More information and the recipe is on the Kosher Michigan website

Paul Raushenbush, the editor of Huffington Post Religion and an ordained American Baptist minister who happens to be the great-grandson of Louis Brandeis, asked me to write a prayer for Thanksgivukkah. The following is what I wrote for Huffington Post Religion:

Categories
Books Death God Theology

Mitch Albom’s Book About God, Heaven and Death

I often visit the graves of my deceased relatives and find myself talking to them as if they were still alive. Unfortunately, I get no response. I do, of course, wonder what it would be like if we could communicate with those who no longer walk this earth. Some people will pay a psychic medium like Rebecca Rosen a lot of money to help them communicate with their loved ones, but imagine what it would be like to actually receive a call on our cell phone from a beloved relative who has passed away. That is precisely what Mitch Albom’s new book is all about.

Mitch Albom - Book - First Phone Call from Heaven - God

Albom sets “The First Phone Call from Heaven,” in Small Town America. The story takes place in Coldwater, Michigan where local townsfolk begin receiving phone calls from deceased relatives they recently lost. All around the same time the police chief hears from his deceased son who was killed in Afghanistan, a woman gets calls on her cell phone from her dead sister, and another woman starts getting calls from her mother in heaven. Believers – and protesters – descend on the small Northern Michigan town as word of the heavenly phone calls spreads by way of an up-and-coming television news reporter. Interwoven in this very spiritual story that centers on how we connect to heaven is the story of Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone. Just as people doubted Bell’s magical telephone would really connect people who couldn’t see each other, Albom seems to remind the reader that we shouldn’t be so skeptical about these calls from heaven.