Last month, for our seventh-annual mensch list, we again invited all of you to submit your nominations of extraordinary volunteers, and again the outpouring of suggestions of amazing people was overwhelming.
Often, when someone is coping with an extraordinary loss, the feelings can be all-encompassing. When Paulinda Schimmel Babbini’s daughter, Robin, died of ovarian cancer at the age of 20, instead of letting the tragic death immobilize her, Babbini made it her mission that no one else should go through what she had.
“By the way, I forgot to mention,” Georgia Freedman-Harvey said at the end of a long interview, “I was a bone marrow donor for a stranger 10 years ago.” That Freedman-Harvey physically gave of herself wasn’t a surprising revelation.
Sarah Loew didn’t just create the Loew Vision Rehabilitation Institute, which improves the lives of people with permanent vision loss — she is also a patient of the facility.
Nearly 13 years ago, 13 Jews living in the Iranian city of Shiraz were arrested on trumped-up charges of spying for Israel and were facing execution by the clerics who ruled Iran.
When author and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel was recently asked if he feared future generations might forget the Holocaust once the last surviving witnesses had perished, he answered that he had quelled his anxiety over this problem with a simple dictum: “To listen to a witness,” he said, “is to become one.”
When Joel Lipton, who has been a professional photographer for almost 30 years, first started shooting events for Big Sunday, at the time a one-day, annual volunteer event, he initially had some second thoughts about just how much the clicks of his camera were helping.
Nowhere in the Torah does it say: “And on the seventh day, God played soccer.” Which is too bad for observant Jewish youths who would love to take advantage of the many local sports leagues that play on Saturdays.
As we assembled our sixth annual mensch list we were left to wonder, once more, how to choose from, among others, an 18-year-old volunteer cadet for the LAFD, a pediatric resident who promotes breastfeeding and a woman so generous toward the homeless that she offered a young man shelter in her own home. We are inspired by all these stories.
As a third-year pediatric resident at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles who works an average of 80 hours per week, Dr. Jonathan Goldfinger could use a break, you would think. Too bad there’s so much else that needs to be done — fighting obesity, lowering the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) and reducing the rate of infection for babies, for example.
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.
This fall, we again put out our call for nominations for our annual list of mensches, and you responded with your usual outpouring of suggestions of amazing people. We face this enormous response only to wonder, once more, how do you choose between a 13-year-old who rallied his entire school to help victims in the Congo and a Holocaust survivor who spends 800 hours a year volunteering at the Simon Wiesenthal Center? (And those are just two who made the cut.)
For the sake of his career, Jack Voorzanger worked to leave the horrors he endured during the Holocaust behind, but through his volunteer work at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, he has demonstrated his commitment to “never forgetting.” He spends 15 hours each week digitizing the family photo collections of victims and survivors.
Southern California’s Iranian Jewish community has long been divided over a host of social and religious issues, often discouraging hopes among the elders for community continuity. Eman Esmailzadeh, a 27-year-old engineer and community activist, is one of a small number of young people who are now focused on reuniting this immigrant community, in part by encouraging teenagers to identify with their Judaism.
When Judi Kaufman was diagnosed with brain cancer in 1997, she was told she had five years left to live.
By nature, Eli Fitlovitz prefers to stay in the background. The kibbutz-raised Israeli, who came to Los Angeles in 1982, has wise eyes, an endearing smile and a quiet confidence. A commercial real estate broker, he and his wife are now raising three teenagers. What finally forced Fitlovitz out of his life-long safety zone were his kids, and not in the way most teens make their parents uncomfortable.
As a child, Lauri Burns thought God was punishing her for something horrible she had done in a past life. How else could she explain the years of beatings by her father that began when she was just 5 years old, or the mental abuse that left her suicidal by her bat mitzvah and led her to drug addiction and prostitution on the streets of Santa Ana?
David Taylor doesn’t see the point in getting emotional about the evils across the globe.
Gabriella Axelrad, a luminous 13-year-old with a striking smile, had been on the final stretch of a family bike ride in Grand Teton National Park when a white van appeared out of nowhere and knocked the last breath out of her lithe dancer’s body.
“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.
“Is everybody happy today?” Shana Passman cheerfully asked a table of Holocaust survivors eating lunch at Hollywood Temple Beth El at the annual Chanukah party of Café Europa, a social club for Holocaust Survivors run by the Jewish Family Service (JFS).
In 2008, Adam Irving, a filmmaker and photographer, left his doctoral program in media studies at the University of Texas to make the transition from theory to practice. He landed in Hollywood with the dream of making films, but soon after his arrival found himself feeling unfulfilled by the vanity within the entertainment industry.
When Melissa Marantz Nealy died in 2005, her close-knit family was devastated. At 28, Nealy had been diagnosed only a year earlier with a neurodegenerative muscular disorder.
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....)?
"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.