Monday, December 31, 2012

My Yizkor Friend

Although technically it's not a blog post, this Ten Minutes of Torah essay appeared on Thursday.  I'm sharing it here in case you didn't catch it last week.

Wishing you brightness and blessings in 2013!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Gino Bartali: Righteous Among the Nations

It took me longer than the Ima and it took me longer than Rebecca, but like the two of them, I recently read and enjoyed Road to Valor:  A True Story of World War II Italy, the Nazis, and the Cyclist Who Inspired a Nation.  Written by Aili and Andres McConnon, the non-fiction narrative that reads like a novel tells the story of Gino Bartali, one of Italy's great cyclists and a two-time Tour de France winner--first in 1938 and again in 1948, a time when sharp political divides (and fan loyalties) characterized the country.

During the years in between, Bartali used his time and talents as part of a network of Catholic clergy and printers, all of whom risked their lives to create counterfeit documents so that Italian and emigrant Jews could remain in German-occupied Italy.  Using his bicycle, Bartali ferried documents, rolled up and hidden in the frame of the bike, around the country--from Florence to Assisi and back again. 

The cyclist also was instrumental in saving the lives of the Goldenberg family--Elvira and Giacomo together with their son Giorgio and their daughter Tea.  Without Bartali's assistance, it is more than likely that the Goldenbergs would have perished at the hands of the Nazis. Instead, the children and grandchildren of Giogio and his wife, and Tea and her husband today number more than two dozen.

Reticent to elaborate on this facet of his life, Bartali "remain[ed] tight-lipped with the press about his wartime activities for most of his life."  Thanks to the McConnons, we readers are all the wiser, knowing that for the life he lived and for the lives he saved, Gino Bartali is indeed a hero--to Italy and to the Jews.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Three Jews, One Museum

Thanks to free admission to the Jewish Museum offered by Temple Shaaray Tefila, two friends and I spent a lovely afternoon there yesterday.

We started with Crossing Borders:  Manuscripts from the Bodleian Libraries, which although not a blockbuster exhibit, presented some exquisitely beautiful Hebrew, Latin and Arabic manuscripts that date back to medieval times.  Surprisingly, we had the museum almost entirely to ourselves and we truly enjoyed viewing the manuscripts, which range in size from huge volumes to teeny-tiny books no bigger than those in the Nutshell Library.

When we had finished wandering among the exhibit's display cases--together and individually--we briefly visited the museum's permanent collection, which spans from ancient times through to modernity and beyond.  Highlights include Judaica from throughout the ages, as well as an historical perspective of the Jews and their religious practices and traditions in communities throughout the world.

Before leaving the museum, we browsed in the gift shop for a few minutes, too, chuckling over such items as a "Mazel tov" spatula, porcelain Yiddish fortune cookies, a bagel yoyo and the oh-so-familiar (to us) cookbook, Entree to Judaism by Tina Wasserman.

Following our visit, one of us took the photo above, before we parted ways and continued on with our Sunday.  As my father would say, and as was, indeed, the case, "A good time was had by all."

Thanks, Shaaray Tefila, and thanks, too, Jewish Museum!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Is This the Best You Can Do?

Photo:  SantaCon, SF
December 15, 2012

Dear SantaCon Santas,

Yesterday 20 sweet, innocent first-graders and seven educators were senselessly killed in cold blood at their school and today you’re gallivanting around the city in fuzzy red suits, blocking the sidewalks, screaming drunken obscenities at pedestrians from cab windows, and littering our neighborhoods as though they’re the basement of your fraternity house?  Is this the best you can do?  Really?!?

Six weeks ago, the worst storm in our region’s history left thousands homeless, and many others with endless cleaning up to do and you’ve spent today pub-crawling in a loud, rowdy group?  Is this the best you can do?  Really?!?

Each day from November 1 through the end of the year, The New York Times profiles an individual or family that benefits from the paper’s Neediest Cases Fund.  Illness, poverty, drugs, domestic violence, lack of education, and just plain hard luck figure prominently in these stark tales.  With so much in our world that needs fixing, how can you devote an entire day (and, no doubt, lots of money, too) to drinking in noisy, crowded bars, where you can’t possibly hear the person sitting next to you?  Is this the best you can do?  Really?!?

Yes, I know I sound old, crotchety, and judgmental, but the world is in dire need of new ideas, energy and passion—things you seem to have in great supply—and the best you can come up with is a day-long, raucous pub-crawl?  Really?!?

Perhaps next year you and your SantaCon buddies will devote your time, energy and passion to enriching our world? Perhaps instead of bar hopping in your Santa suit you’ll visit a children’s hospital or a homeless shelter?  Perhaps you’ll donate canned goods to a food pantry or deliver holiday packages to shut-ins?  Perhaps you’ll visit kids whose parents are in Iraq or Afghanistan?  Donate a pint of blood?  Help ban assault weapons?  Ensure that a woman's right to abortion remains legal?  Skip the beers and donate to the Marines’ annual Toys for Tots campaign instead?  Deliver a Christmas tree to a family that might not otherwise have one? 

Don’t like any of these ideas?  Devise one of your own.  Give to a charity of your choice.  Help an elderly neighbor string up his Christmas lights.  Shovel her driveway or sort her recyclables.  Read to kids in your old elementary school.  Tutor a kid who’s struggling with math.

There’s so much wrong with our world, SantaCon.  Ditch the alcohol and the Santa suit and help to make it right.   


Friday, December 14, 2012

Merry Chrismukkah, Jimmy

Nearly four years ago, I wrote this post, which was supposed to be the first in an occasional series.  Although it's been much longer than I intended, I'm glad to bring you the next installment about another person in my neighborhood.  This is Jimmy Vignapiano, who works in the mailroom at the Union for Reform Judaism and brings me my snail mail each day.  Our conversations usually go something like this:
Me:  Hey, Jimmy...How are you?
Jimmy (handing me my mail):  Miss  Jane...just a little crappola today. 
Me (rolling my eyes if there's a lot of mail):  Thanks, Jimmy.  Have a good one.
Earlier this week at the URJ Hanukkah party (where longtime employees are honored on their milestone anniversaries), Jimmy and I sat at the same table.  When I got back to my seat after accepting a certificate and gift marking my decade with the Union, Jimmy told me that when he celebrated his fifth anniversary with the URJ, he received a kiddush cup.  After 10 years, he received a chanukiah.  What he told me next made me chuckle:  Today, the kiddush cup hangs on the Vignapianos Christmas tree and the chanukiah sits on the mantle in their home.    

Merry Chrismukkah, Jimmy...Merry Chrismukkah, indeed!