If you know someone in the Los Angeles area whose great work on behalf of others goes unsung or undersung, who doesn't get paid for what he or she does (or doesn't get paid near enough), whose life is the embodiment of the values of menschlikeit, tsedaka and gmilut hassidim
In the June 8 Graduation section, I read about an 18-year-old young lady who helps rehabilitate abused horses and is moving into a nursing program with the goal of becoming an orthopedic surgeon (“Healing Others, and Herself”). I am so proud of our community and its compassionate heritage.
Izzie Levinson, 16, grew up in a family that is devoted to community service: Her father, David Levinson, is the founder of Big Sunday, an extensive regional volunteer program that grew out of a Mitzvah Day project.
Getting old, as Bette Davis famously said, is not for sissies. And developing a terminal illness, as Davis later learned, is no picnic either. Yet while most of us fear sickness, aging and the end of life, hospice volunteer Michael Curtis finds solace and purpose — pleasure, even — in being with the elderly as they face death.
Almost as soon as the catastrophe in Japan began unfolding last Friday, Jewish groups scrambled to figure out how to get help to the area. In Israel, search-and-rescue organizations like ZAKA and IsraAid readied teams to head to the Japanese devastation zone. In Tokyo, the Chabad center took an accounting of local Jews and began organizing a shipment of aid to stricken cities to the north. In the United States, aid organizations ranging from B’nai B’rith International to local and national federation agencies launched campaigns to collect money for rescue, relief and rebuilding efforts in the Pacific.
“Is Rabbi T a crime-fighting rabbi?” That’s what a student asked Pressman Academy Rav Beit Sefer (head school rabbi) Chaim Tureff at a recent question-and-answer session.
The Jewish Journal created this list as a response to all those lists extolling fame, money, power and hotness. We honor these special ten because they are just people -- menschen, to use the proper Yiddish plural -- who understand the power and possibility of just one person.
Meet Gabriel Halimi, Kim Krowne, Manijeh Youabian, Andrew Wolfberg, Susan Corwin, Ari Moss, Richard Braun, Bracha Yael, Jack Matloff and Neil Sheff
In Hebrew, female nouns tend to end in "h" or "t," so what about menschah or menschat? We could stay Yiddish and call ourselves menschke or menschilah. There's also the French menschette, the Spanish menschita or the Jewish American menschess.
"It is hard to convey the special sense of respect, dignity and approbation that can be conveyed by calling someone 'a real mensch,'" writes Leo Rosten in "The Joys of Yiddish."
The Yiddish word infuses the basic German denotation -- "person" -- with an almost indefinable connotation. A mensch is a person who is upright, honorable, decent, as Rosten writes, a person to admire and emulate.
Three years ago, we were sitting around our offices dreaming up an end-of-the-year issue, inundated with examples from other magazines: The Ten Best Movies, The Ten Richest Angelenos, The Ten Most Powerful Hollywood Players, The Ten Top Restaurants, The Ten Hottest Bars and et cetera.
Since these lists are both celebration and statement, we decided we wanted to promote something a little different. What if a list championed a Jewish value, not people, things or bars (not that there's anything wrong with them....)?
This is the second year The Jewish Journal has compiled a list of our "Top Ten Mensches." Let other magazines slobber over the 50 Sexiest or the 400 Richest or the 20 Most Influential. Rich, sexy and powerful are easy. Mensch is hard.
For the past 20 years, Yoram Hassid, a 60-something financially successful general contractor, has been quietly helping scores of local Jews -- in particular Iranian Jews -- avoid the courtrooms, acting as an unpaid mediator in disputes over everything from multimillion dollar real estate deals to challenging family conflicts.
When he was sent by his high-tech company to America in 1989, it was only natural that he would begin to search for more volunteer opportunities. An experienced pilot, Uziel, 56, began working for various medical aid organizations, flying needy sick people, as well as medical equipment and doctors around the country.
Rebecca Levinson grew up always doing things for the community.
"This is what you do," the 17-year-old junior at North Hollywood's Oakwood School, said matter of factly.
An observant Jew, Bleich provides a Jewish rationale for his commitment. While Judaism teaches that each individual is unique and special, it also emphasizes community, he says.
Looking forward, Harran dreams of establishing a visiting scholars' program at the university and growing the Holocaust library's small collection, although raising the needed money might prove difficult, she said, given her distaste for fundraising.
"Eve is the soul of the Food Pantry. She just knows that people cannot be hungry and we need to do whatever is necessary," said Joy Grau, a member of St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in Studio City and a 15-year volunteer.
Alex Baum, who will be celebrating his 84th birthday on Dec. 30, fought in the French Resistance, survived two and a half years in the concentration camps, and has since dedicated his life to performing good deeds, most notably in his advocacy of amateur athletics.
Each Christmas, Barri Evins and a group of volunteers give away thousands of books at Head Start magnet centers throughout the Los Angeles area. At each center, volunteers greet each child individually, ask them their age and then present them with a brand new book especially selected for them.
"It is hard to convey the special sense of respect, dignity and approbation that can be conveyed by calling someone 'a real mensch,'" writes Leo Rosten in "The Joys of Yiddish." The Yiddish word infuses the basic German denotation -- "person" -- with an almost indefinable connotation. A mensch is a person who is upright, honorable, decent, as Rosten writes, a person to admire and emulate.
Letters to the Editor
As soon as incoming freshman Chana Ickowitz received her UC Berkeley e-mail address, she registered on the online directory facebook.com. There, on her personal profile, she described herself as someone with moderate political views who likes sushi, rainy days, Urban Outfitters and "Jane Eyre" ... and who is a member of a group called Jew Crew.
The beloved rabbi of a Northridge synagogue apparently committed suicide in the wake of personal disclosures that jeopardized his job. These disclosures had to do with allegedly "inappropriate" actions by the rabbi, but nothing that was criminal or illegal, said officials of Temple Ramat Zion.
Several years ago, my wife, Linda, and I attended a conference of psychotherapists and sat next to a recently divorced female therapist who said to us, "Next time I'm going to marry a Jewish man."
It disturbed me to hear on U.S. public radio and read in The New York Times that Saul Bellow was to be seen as simply an American writer -- which, of course, he is -- and not significantly a Jewish writer.
Maybe they think they're doing him a favor? I think they're bleaching out a lot of the substance of Bellow, who died Tuesday at 89.
During my genealogy research I was surprised to learn that my great-grandfather was a real scoundrel. While it's impossible to know what was happening inside of his head, I've found clues that give me a better understanding of who he was.
More than any one single thing, parents want each of their children to grow up to be a mensch. I have asked parents and educators across the spectrum of Jewish observance and belief what they want most for their children, and this is the answer that comes up more often than any other. Interestingly, when I ask the same question to non-Jewish parents, I get the same answer, though they don't use the same word. Parents want their children to grow up to be knowledgeable, responsible, nonviolent and caring. They want their kids to be concerned for others, their families and communities; good team players, yet also possess good leadership skills; decent and ethical; to love justice; to feel compassion for others and to act on those feelings; and be the kind of person one can count on, an all-around complete human being. In other words: a mensch.
Today, I struggle with my grief for Ramon as the "international hero" and for Ramon as the man who my family and I were privileged to meet, break bread with and get to know personally.
If Hollywood menschdom has a name, it might be Steve Guttenberg. For years, audiences have identified Guttenberg as a nice Jewish mensch in films such as "Cocoon" and "Three Men and a Baby." But in his new film, "P.S. Your Cat Is Dead," which opens Jan. 24, Guttenberg trades in his image -- for 90 minutes, anyway -- for a much darker persona.