“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.
“Lehavdil,” Tureff responded, using the Hebrew word to draw a distinction between himself and the person his students think he might be. “They want to know if I’m Superman.”
Clark Kent never admits to being Superman, and Tureff, who is at least 6-foot-4, teaches Torah-infused tae kwon do and hapkido classes at a studio on Wilshire Boulevard and competed in two different sports at the collegiate level, is similarly reluctant to talk about the charity he does in and beyond the Jewish community.
Tureff has been a volunteer with the Pico-Robertson Hatzolah Emergency Rescue Team since it was established in 2004. (He was once disgusted by the sight of blood but overcame that.) He also works with Jewish teens who need a bit more support than they may otherwise be getting. Humble and discreet, Tureff wouldn’t say much more than that.
When he will cop to some charitable or kind act, Tureff is quick to give credit to others. He organizes annual lunches on Thanksgiving and Purim at B’nai David-Judea for 40 or so homeless people from Pico-Robertson, but insisted that the synagogue’s rabbi, Yosef Kanefsky, laid the groundwork to make it possible. “He’s the gadol [great man] when it comes to these things,” Tureff said. Tureff has also helped to plant trees in his neighborhood (he gives credit to L.A. Green Mile founder Noah Bleich) and has worked as a counselor to recovering addicts at the Chabad residential treatment center (but mentioned how great the work being done at Beit T’Shuvah is).
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For the most recent “Got Mitzvah?” project, a program Tureff launched at Pressman in 2006 as a way to get students directly involved with good causes, the students sent care packages and wrote letters to American servicemen and servicewomen in Iraq. “Other teachers gave me the idea,” Tureff said.
Getting Tureff to accept the title of Mensch took serious urging from relatives. “‘You inspire me,’” Tureff said, recalling his mother’s words. “ ‘You do little things every day. People need to know they can do things like that.’ ”
“Which made me feel a little better,” Tureff said, sitting in his office at Pressman, a windowless former bridal chamber only slightly bigger than a telephone booth. “As it is, it’s still a bit awkward.”
For more info, visit hatzolahofla.org.