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Unbelievable: a Torah Fraud

Jean Lafitte Book: He Listened to his Bubbe

People of the Book: It’s Jewish Book Month

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From Nashville: The Art of Jewish Papercut

November 2012 Volume 22 Issue 11

Southern Jewish Life P.O. Box 130052 Birmingham, AL 35213-0052


November 2012

Southern Jewish Life




By the time this issue hits mailboxes, we will be within days of the silly season being over. No, not the buildup to the Alabama-LSU game — election season. Every four years, we convince ourselves that this election has been unprecedented in its nasty scope. Truthfully, that’s just because we don’t remember some of the truly awful things that were asserted in previous elections. In many cases, arguments that are declared completely out of line by one side were used by that side against the other side during the previous election. The nastiness is more widespread, perhaps, because of the Internet age allowing everyone to post things to the entire world, often without the “is this a smart thing to say” filter working. And it will be sad to see so many newly-unemployed the day after the election, as their jobs — posting anti-Obama or anti-Romney screeds on sites like Facebook 24/7 (in the case of what I’ve seen, mostly anti-Romney) — will not be needed any more. Moderate voices seem to be few and far between, drowned out by the extremes. That has led to greater polarization in our politcal system — quick, name the remaining moderates in Congress. They are dwindling. The individual who crosses the aisle is seen as a traitor to the party, on both sides of the aisle. That has also led to a coarsening of discourse. Because the election is the main thing, and it’s the head count for the parties instead of getting ideas turned into action, one can’t be seen as working with the other side. In the current atmosphere, it’s all about who gets the credit, and acknowledging a good idea on the other side of the aisle is anathema. We see that in more than just the political system. If you acknowledge any wart on your own side, it’s seen as if you buy into the other side’s arguments in toto, even the extreme ones. You can’t let them think they won. Any public criticism of Israel, for example, is seen as giving an opening to those who oppose the state. Admittedly, in today’s hostile climate one does have to choose carefully what to highlight and remember the context. Saying the situation at the Western Wall, where women are hauled off for public prayer, is deplorable does not mean Israel is a cesspool of misogynism. Anyone who advocates for the Arab states should think very carefully about latching onto that, because all one has to do is see the treatment of women in the Arab world. There’s a 14-year-old girl currently recovering in England who can bear witness to that. In our political discourse, in general public life, voices of moderation need to make a comeback. An openness to other ideas has to return. Most of all, there has to be a sense of doing things for the common good. In Judaism we often ask if a disagreement is being argued for the sake of heaven instead of for ourselves. We need to get back to not caring who gets the credit, and build a healthier discourse.

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Southern Jewish Life

November 2012



Publisher/Editor: Lawrence M. Brook, Associate Publisher/Advertising: Publisher/Editor: Lee J. Green, Lawrence M. Brook, New Orleans Bureau: Associate Publisher/Advertising: Alan Smason, Lee J. Green, NewOrleans OrleansBureau: Advertising: New Liz Herman, Alan Smason, Cait Muldoon, Gail Naron Chalew Creative Director: Ginger Brook, Creative Ginger Brook, Photographer-At-Large: Photographer-At-Large: Rabbi Barry C. Altmark Barry C. Altmark Contributing Writers: Contributing Doug BrookWriters: Doug Brook Mailing Address: Mailing Address: P.O. Box 130052, PBirmingham, .O. Box 130052, AL 35213 Birmingham, AL 35213 Telephone: Telephone: Birmingham:(205) (205)870-7889 870-7889 Birmingham: Toll Free: (866) 446-5894 FAX: (866) 392-7750 FAX: (866) 392-7750 Story Tips/Letters: Story Tips/Letters: Subscription Information: Subscription Information: Southern Jewish Life published monthly Southern Lifetopublished and is free Jewish by request members monthly of the and is community free by request members of of the Jewish in our to coverage area Jewish community our coverage area of Alabama, Louisiana,inMississippi and NW Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi and NW Florida. Outside those areas, subscriptions Florida. Outside those areas, subscripare $25/year or $40/two years. To tions are $25/year or $40/two years. To subscribe, call (205) 870-7889 or mail subscribe, call (205) 870-7889 or mail paypayment to the addressabove. above. ment to the address The publisher is solely responsible for Thecontents publisher is solely responsible for the of SJL. Columns and letters the contents of SJL. Columns and letters represent the views of the individual represent the views of the individual writers. All articles that do not have a writers. All articles that do not have a byline written by the publisher. bylineon onthem themare are written by the publisher. SouthernJewish JewishLife Life makes claims as to Southern makes no no claims as to the Kashrut Kashrutofofitsitsadvertisers, advertisers, retains the andand retains the right righttotorefuse refuse any advertisement. the any advertisement. Advertising rates available on request. Advertising rates available on request. Copyright 2012. All rights reserved, Copyright 2010. rights reserved, reprints only by All permission of publisher. reprints only by permission of publisher.

Philosophy: To link the Jewish communities of the Deep South, to tell you the fascinating stories of one another, and to document and preserve the news of events large and small, all a part of the rich culture of Southern Jewry. 26 4�

September November 2010 2012�

Dexter Van Zile

To counter anti-Israelism, it’s time to go local ( For more than a decade, peace dialed back their anti-Israel activism. Sadly, activists and leaders in mainline Protestant it looks as if three churches — the UCC, the churches in the United States have been using Disciples and ELCA — are ready to step back a double standard to judge the actions of Israel into the fray along side the PC(USA). The as it defends itself against groups like Hamas leaders of these churches gave this signal by and Hezbollah that seek its destruction. signing onto a letter to a lame-duck Congress asking lawmakers foreign aid Things got ugly inWe 2004 when the Presbyterian often spend time on the back roads aroundto thereconsider region, looking Israel for isalleged violations Church (USA)’s for General Assembly an toand the unusual andpassed the unique, there plentyhuman of it in rights the South. against Palestinians. overture that stated thea“occupation” was we Still,that it was bit jarring when werethe driving along one of the main letter, issuedand on Oct. 5, upon 2012, the does not at the “root” of violence innocence roads inagainst Gardendale, juston north The of Birmingham, came ask Congress to look into foreign aid to both sides of the conflict and called on the road that is pictured on the front cover of this issue,Egypt, church to begin a process of divestment from where armored personnel carriers have been Jew Hollow Road. used to murder Coptic Christians in the companies that did business with Israel. The double standard was so egregious that streets of Cairo and where Coptic Christians In this day andissued age, such would likely considered have name been driven from be their homes. Copts even Rabbis for Human Rights a de-a street politically incorrect. Being Southerners, we knew what the term and these nunciation of the resolution, condemning the are under siege in their homeland “hollow” refers to, so we figured there had to be a story behind word to General Assembly for failing to confront the churches can’t be bothered to say a the name, enough, thereabout is. That is in this issue. Congress thisstory problem. genocidal ideology that had takenand rootsure in PalThe leaders of these churches have doubled estinian society. down series on their efforts to single“Jews Israelon out for Complaints from Jewish leaders in athe It kicks off what will be recurring in the magazine, condemnation despiteof persistent efforts by United States and the heroic activism on the part we Southern Map,” where explore the history places around Jewishthat leaders to convince themfor to take a fairer of people inside the PC(USA) hasn’t changed the region have been named Jews. a fundamental reality about the denomina- approach to peacemaking in the Middle East. tion: It remains a persistent source of anti-Is- The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the ADL Many years ago, there was a reference guide that listed towns across raelism in American civil society. It recently and the American Jewish Committee, and nuAmerica thatforwere namedofafter Jews. other Two were in organizations Alabama (neither merous Jewish have been enacted a resolution calling a boycott currently has any Jewish community). We have since foundthe others, Israeli goods produced in the West Bank. An- working valiantly to convince leaders of and the there are numerous places in Mississippi Louisiana. these churches to comeand to their senses and other mainline church, United Methodistsuch abandon their anti-Israel obsession. In some Church has done the same thing. Originally, we were going to limit the series townachieved names, their but there instances theytohave goals, but After the PC(USA) enacted its divestment ultimately it has notfound, been enough. resolution, other are churches have got on (andplaces many other interesting that we have so we will be national of these have temporarily stepped off ), parks, the anti-Isincluding and even The streets, as weleaders are doing thischurches, month. and rael bandwagon. In 2005, the United Church the peace activists they enable, have proven incorrigible. of Christ (UCC) and the Disciples As of theChrist series unfolds, we will have it on our website, It’sway, time iftoyou go local. both passed a resolution calling on Israel That are taking a road trip, It is time for people to confront the memto take down the security barrier it built to you can stop by these places yourself. stop terror attacks from the West Bank. The bers and leaders of local churches in these resolutions made this demand without ask- denominations and tell them about what the As to thestop High Day seasonpeace fadesactivists into memory and weofmove and leaders their into churches ing the Palestinians theHoly terror attacks prime time for organizational activities — especially the upcoming that prompted the barrier’s construction. The have been doing for the past decade. This can in New enjoy thetoseason and keep and be done — with letters local newspapers resolution in effect,General declaredAssembly open season on Orleans to Southern for the latest whatofis the happening letters to on pastors churchesinthemIsraelis who hadturning been suffering fromJewish suicideLifewith attacks since the beginning of the Second Inti- selves. our neck of the woods. fada. Also that year, the Evangelical Lutheran Rabbis should consider whether or not they Church (ELCA) initiated a “Peace Not Walls” can, in good conscience, participate in upcampaign that regularly assails Israel while ig- coming interfaith Thanksgiving celebrations noring the misdeeds of the Palestinians. Larry with Brookpastors from denominations that assist And while these churches have obsessed in the demonization of the Jewish homeland. Editor / Publisher about Israel, they have offered little if any crit- If they decide they can’t, they should go public icism about the misdeeds of Arab and Mus- with their decision. The mainline demonization of Israel has lim leaders in the Middle East. They’ve said next to nothing about ongoing attacks against been a national story. Now it’s time to make it a local story. Christians in Muslim-majority countries in the region and have ignored other conflicts that have caused much more suffering than Dexter Van Zile is the Christian Media Anthe Arab-Israeli conflict. alyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle For a few years, some of these churches East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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Front Porch Laughs for Day School: Community Day School, formerly the New Orleans Jewish Day School, will have an evening of comedy as its fundraiser on Nov. 4 at Touro Synagogue. “Let down your hair and laugh” will feature comedian Andy Kindler. Kindler played Andy, a sportswriter friend of Ray Barone on the TV show “Everybody Loves Raymond,” and is a regular guest on “Late Night with David Letterman,” contributes to “The Daily Show” and has performed on HBO. Currently, he voices Mort and the Belchers’ neighbor on “Bob’s Burgers.” The Day School is looking for a large crowd to help its technology initiatives. The K-5 school will hold an iPad promotion to help fund more iPads. Currently the school has eight, which are used on a daily basis for student-led lessons and academic games, but there are not enough for an entire class to participate simultaneously. “Students adore working on the ipads. They are thrilled to be in touch with the newest wave of technology and teachers are just thrilled their students are so engaged in their learning,” says Marketing Associate Lauren Ungar. Tickets to the 5 p.m. event are $90. A CDS Friend is $360 and includes two tickets. Additional circles are available at amounts from $750 to $5000. For tickets, contact Deb Marsh at the school, (504) 887-4091. Tickets are also available at the door. Northshore readies for football clash: The Northshore Jewish Congregation is looking for a prosperous matchup when Alabama and LSU meet on Nov. 3 in Baton Rouge for bragging rights and much more in the SEC West. The Mandeville congregation will host “A Tailgate of Two Cities” for its annual “fun”draiser, from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Castine Center at Pelican Park in Mandeville. The game will be shown on a 20-foot TV, and there will be food, beverages and an open bar. There will also be a live auction, a silent auction and raffles. Some of the auction items as of press time are an Aretha Franklin autographed album cover, Mandina’s, Playmakers Summer Theatre Camp Scholarship, flying lessons and tour by Air Reldan, LSU football framed photographs, Billy Joel autographed photo, original artwork, Les Miles autographed Media Guide, a one-week timeshare vacation and more. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to The Brees Dream Foundation. Tickets are $50 and are available by calling (985) 9517976, or at the door. Tulane a prime destination for Jewish students: According to Reform Judaism magazine, Tulane University is No. 9 among private schools in the Top 60 Schools Jews Choose (30 public, 30 private), with a total Jewish undergraduate population of 2,250. It is also ninth in the Top 20 Schools by percentage of Jews, with 32 percent. Emory University ranks 10th overall with 2,100 Jews and is 13th in percentage, with 30 percent. Also making the Top 60 is Vanderbilt at 24th with 1,050 Jews. Among public schools, Florida ranks No. 1 with 6,500 Jews, which is 17 percent of the overall undergraduate population. The 6,500 would rank it highest overall, edging out Rutgers (6,400), Central Florida (6,000) and the highest-ranked private school, New York University (6.000). Texas is 11th among public schools with 4,000, followed by Florida International (17th with 3,500), Florida Atlantic (25th with 3,000), Florida State (26th with 2,960) and South Florida (30th with 2,600). NOLA

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November 2012


Front Porch Children’s book about Jewish Katrina experience: As everyone in New Orleans found out seven years ago, it can be difficult to help children cope with natural disasters and other types of sudden change. A new children’s book, “When the Hurricane Came,” looks at how Hurricane Katrina affected the life of a Jewish family that had to start again in Memphis. This makes it “a valuable addition to children’s literature,” says Johanna Hurwitz, author of “Busybody Nora” and other popular children’s books. In the book, author Nechama LissLevinson follows a young girl as her family rebuilds their life in Tennessee after Hurricane Katrina devastates of New Orleans. The author drew on her own experience with the storm as a volunteer worker on two relief missions to the area. Intended for children ages 8 to 11, this novel helps its young readership learn to cope with sudden change in any circumstance. The book follows 9-year-old Gertie, who must leave behind her house, her possessions and her friends. She will spend the next year making new friends at a new school, celebrating the Jewish holidays in someone else’s house and learning how to deal with loss. “When the Hurricane Came” is ultimately a story about charity and focusing on what is truly important in life. In the midst of difficult times, Gertie will learn that all people are capable of great sacrifice and can band together to promote the greater good. Liss-Levinson’s book will appeal to young readers who want to know how they would deal with a natural catastrophe or even with the more mundane problems that life brings. Written by a psychologist, it reveals the ways, both bold and subtle, in which children cope with the complexities of life. The postscript of the book offers suggestions for children to plan their own social action projects to make the world a better place. In support of this theme, the author is sponsoring a “Be the Change” essay contest for children in grades three through six. Kids are asked to write about what they think they could do or what they have already done to help others and change the world. Contest rules appear on the book’s website, Essays must be received by April 1, 2013. Liss-Levinson is the author of four other children’s books, including “When a Grandparent Dies” (Jewish Lights Publishing) and “Remembering My Pet” (Skylight Paths Publishing). “When the Hurricane Came” was the recipient of the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award from the Association of Jewish Libraries. “When the Hurricane Came” is available for sale online at Amazon. com and other channels. Giving Thanks: Gates of Prayer in Metairie will host a joint Thanksgiving Interfaith service on Nov. 18 at 7:30 p.m. Rev. Peter Finney III will speak about involvement in social justice, based upon his studies of the Jewish philosopher Emanuel Levinas. Quintesha Lee will personalize homelessness in New Orleans by sharing her story. As part of the evening, a list of goods is being circulated so those in attendance can bring items needed by the New Orleans Women’s Shelter: Laundry detergent, bleach, Mr. Clean (lemon scent), paper towels, tissue paper, hand soap, dishwashing soap, Kleenex, Winn Dixie/ Walmart gift cards (for food). 6

November 2012

Southern Jewish Life


Front Porch JewCCY starts service challenge: JewCCY, the joint Jewish youth group for New Orleans’ Reform congregations, announced a JewCCY Service Challenge. The year-long competition will promote service projects, and the teens will receive personal and grade mitzvah points. At the end of the year, participants in the class that has the most points will have an ice cream party, while individual winners in each grade will get gift certificates. There will also be recognition for the overall winner and runner-up. The first service challenge event was a kickoff to ongoing volunteering at Akili Academy in the Gentilly area. JewCCY collected children’s books at the Oct. 7 event that will be used in the future, to read to third grade students at the K-5 charter school. The next weekend, JewCCY participated in the Jewish Children’s Regional Service annual Chanukah gift wrap-a-thon. Hadassah chapters merge: The New Orleans chapter of Hadassah has merged with the Tammany Trace group on Northshore, and will hold a new member event on Nov. 15. While the combined chapter now has about 900 members, they want to reach more women in the region who are not yet members, and men who want to be Hadassah Associates. The Nov. 15 event will be “Digging Up Style: Advice for Updating your Fashion Relics.” Aimee Gowland of ALG Style will discuss the season’s fashion trends, and members are invited to bring “that piece in your wardrobe that you just don’t quite know what to do with and try to ‘Stump the Stylist’.” The 6 p.m. program will be at Anthropologie at the Shops at Canal Place, starting at 6 p.m. Light refreshments will be served. All members and prospective members are invited. There is no charge, but reservations are requested to Sara Mayeux, (504) 251-2961, or sara. NFTY Israel Scholarships: The Hans and Donna Sternberg Israel Youth Scholarship Fund of Baton Rouge has very reserved limited scholarships for National Federation of Temple Youth summer travel to Israel in 2013 for high school students from the New Orleans area. The scholarships, in the amount of $3,000 each, are available through the Jewish Federation of Baton Rouge. For more information contact the Jewish Federation of Baton Rouge’s Executive Director, Ellen Sager, at or (225) 3797393. NOLA

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Above, Alex Pearlman addresses the group at the Oct. 4 fifth anniversary celebration of the Jewish Newcomers Program in New Orleans. Instituted by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans to attract and retain newcomers after the community lost one-third of its members after Katrina, the project now counts some 2,000 newcomers.

Touro Sisterhood in New Orleans is planning to hold a Chanukah Bazaar, with a wide range of vendors, Nov. 18 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Details were not confirmed as of press time, check our website or weekly emails for updates. On Nov. 9, participants in last months’ Gates of Prayer Israel trip will speak about their experiences. The Shabbat service will be at 8 p.m. Shir Chadash in Metairie will hold its fundraiser, “A Night with the Iguanas,” on Nov. 17. The Iguanas is a roots rock band. A patron’s party will be at 7:30 p.m., with the concert at 9 p.m. Concert tickets are $36. With the relocation of The Desmond Project, Touro Synagogue will no longer be hosting it every Saturday evening. The Project is relocating to First Grace United Methodist Church. The Touro Brotherhood has worked with the group for four years to help feed the hungry. Touro Synagogue will perform a Thanksgiving Mitzvah, with members donating an hour to deliver hot meals around the area. The meals are cooked at Delgado Community College, and a list of addresses along with a Google map is provided. The group will meet in the Delgado parking lot at 9:15 a.m. for a short prayer service with Rabbi Alexis Berk and Cantor Jamie Marx. Sponsors are also welcome, for those who are not available that morning. Rabbi Norman Roman will give a “Sermon in Song” at Gates of Prayer, Metairie, on Nov. 30 at the 8 p.m. service. Roman will perform “Israel Through Its Music.” He has been rabbi of Temple Kol Ami in West Bloomfield, Mich., for 25 years. An accomplished folk singer, he is recognized nationally for his work with Jewish youth and his service as rabbi-in-residence at the NFTY Leadership Institute and the Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute. He is descended from early Israeli pioneers at Zichron Yaakov. 8

November 2012

Southern Jewish Life









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November 2012


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Camp Barney hosts recruitment events: Camp Barney Medintz, summer resident camp of the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta, will present their annual new musical slide production and dessert reception in Birmingham on Nov. 8 at the Levite Jewish Community Center beginning at 7 p.m. In New Orleans, the presentation will be Dec. 3 at the Uptown JCC at 7 p.m. Camp Director Jim Mittenthal will meet with new and returning families, answer questions about the 2013 summer camp season, and provide applications for registration. Camp Barney Medintz is located in the North Georgia Blue Ridge mountains on over 500 wooded acres surrounding two lakes just 75 miles northeast of Atlanta. According to Mittenthal, the setting facilitates “every imaginable activity”, including water skiing, hydro-tubing, wake boarding, swimming, paddle boarding, canoeing, the “Iceberg,” the “Rave” water trampoline, leaping off the “Blob” or soaring down the 180-foot “Hurricane” water slide, horseback riding, campouts, “zipping” over 1000 feet across Lake Wendy, whitewater rafting, tennis, all land/court sports, theatre, crafts, music, Israeli culture, dance, radio, video, camper cooking “classes,” mountain biking, climbing the adjacent Appalachian Trail and a series of highadventure rock climbing, rappelling and ropes courses. Specific age groups may also participate in fencing, karate, ceramics or scuba diving. “Camp Barney”, celebrating its 51st summer season, has created “a unique community that is all about adventure and self discovery, exhilarating activities and exciting events, being in a strong culturally Jewish environment with special friends, all under the supervision of a carefully selected group of mature, talented, conscientious, loving, and enthusiastic staff,” said Mittenthal. Camp Barney annually develops new construction projects to improve its mountain facility. Recent additions include a major cultural and performing arts complex, a new sports complex and “Food Network”-type camper kitchen, the band new Marcus Health Center, and of course “Sam’s Deck.” Inquiries about the 2013 summer season are again far exceeding previous years and each of the two- and four-week sessions is likely to fill to capacity very rapidly. For more information about Camp Barney programs, Family Camps, staff opportunities or other CBM adventures, call the camp office in Atlanta at (770) 395-2554 or local parent representatives. In Birmingham, it is Susan Lapidus, (205) 930-9185. New Orleans representatives are Lisa and Brian Katz, (504) 3011196.

Above: New Orleans delegation last summer. Left: Birmingham delegation. 10

November 2012

Southern Jewish Life

Front Porch Jacobs Camp on tour: The Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica is on tour, promoting the camp throughout the region. Information sessions are generally done during religious schools at Reform congregations, or at Friday night services. Camp officials visited Temple Beth El in Pensacola and Temple Sinai in New Orleans on Oct. 21, and Temple Emanu-Els in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa on Oct. 28. On Nov. 9, the tour continues at Beth Shalom in Baton Rouge, then across town at B’nai Israel on Nov. 11. Touro Synagogue in New Orleans is also slated for Nov. 11. Springhill Avenue Temple will receive a visit on Nov. 16. Three Arkansas congregations are scheduled for early December, along with Northshore Jewish Congregation in Mandeville on Dec. 9. B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg and B’nai Zion in Shreveport are on Dec. 16. B’nai Israel in Monroe will host a visit on Jan. 13, and Temple Sinai in New Orleans has a Jacobs Camp Shabbat on Jan. 25. Applications are already available for next summer on the camp website.


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New head for 6 Points Sports Camp: Alan Friedman, the former director of a leading sports camp and a thriving Jewish residential camp, will assume the helm at Six Points Sports Academy, a Reform Jewish sports camp in Greensboro, N.C. At 6 Points Sports Academy, Jewish students entering grades 4 to 11 participate in top-level sports training alongside the traditions of Reform Jewish camping. Friedman was active at Camp Mah-KeeNac, a private boys’ sports camp in Lenox, Mass., since he was 12 years old, first as a camper and then as a CIT, group leader and finally director. In 2006 he took his passion for informal Jewish education and summer camping and became the executive director of Camp Mountain Chai, a Jewish residential summer camp and year-round retreat center in Southern California, where he grew the camp from 125 to 550 campers. “I am excited to join the 6 Points Sports Academy team,” said Friedman. “I look forward to building on the huge success of the past three years as we continue to offer campers the unique opportunity to develop athletic skills while being part of a caring Jewish camp community. I will ensure that 6 Points Sports continues to be a special place where campers and staff can become the next generation of proud Jewish athletes.” Southern Jewish Life

November 2012


Front Porch Huntsville’s Etz Chayim will celebrate its 50th anniversary the weekend of Jan. 18 to 20 with a full slate of activities that will be announced shortly. The congregation began in 1962 as the area’s Jewish numbers increased dramatically, with many Jews arriving from around the country to work in the space program. After meeting in rented spaces, they bought a former church on Bailey Cove Road in 1969, where they have met ever since. The congregation has a Facebook page for updates on anniversary events, and for congregants and friends to post anecdotes and photos. AIPAC Louisiana will hold a community briefing on Nov. 14 in Baton Rouge, featuring Douglas Murray as guest speaker. Murray is currently associate director of the Henry Jackson Society, a British pro-Israel think tank. Previously he was founder of the Centre for Social Cohesion, a think tank studying extremism and terrorism in the United Kingdom. A bestselling author and award-winning political commentator, Douglas is a columnist for Standpoint and writes frequently for a variety of other publications, including the Spectator and Wall Street Journal. He has authored books on neo-conservatism, terrorism and national security as well as on freedom of speech. His latest book is “Bloody Sunday: Truths, Lies and the Saville Inquiry.” The briefing will be at 7 p.m. at the home of Donna and Hans Sternberg. Reservations are required, and can be made by contacting Louisiana Assistant Area Director Jerry Greenspan at (832) 380-7703 or

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The Helen Diller Family Foundation is expanding the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards, issuing a national call-fornominations to identify Jewish teens whose volunteer service projects demonstrate a determined commitment to make the world a better place. Up to 10 selected teens, five from California and five from other communities across the country, will each be acknowledged for their visionary actions with an award of $36,000, to be used to further their philanthropic work or their education. Deadline for nominations is Jan. 6, 2013. Past recipients of the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Awards have gone on to create a non-profit that helps terminally ill high-schoolers attend their prom, a soccer-focused social media fundraising campaign (praised by David Beckham) that supplies water to third-world communities, and a wide range of projects that support causes such as education, tolerance issues, autism awareness, anti-poverty efforts, environmental responsibility, wildfire safety and others. Teens may be nominated by teachers, community leaders, rabbis, or anyone who knows the value of their volunteer service and commitment, except family members. Teens may also nominate themselves. Each candidate must be a U.S. resident aged 13-19 years old at the time of nomination, and must self-identify as Jewish. Community service projects may benefit the general or Jewish community. Teens compensated for their services are not eligible. Nominees will then need to submit an online application and two or three references aside from family members or the nominator. To enter, go to

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Looking for the “smoking Torah”

Journalists describe how they determined miraculous stories from Save-A-Torah were false When journalist Jeff Lunden visited his parents in Silver Spring, Md. In 2005, and his mother told him about a Torah being dedicated at their congregation, Shaare Tefila, he figured there was an interesting story there. He didn’t expect that it would become a fiveyear odyssey that would result in a fraud conviction for the Torah supplier following a long series of selling Torahs with fascinating rescue stories. But that is exactly what happened as he and Martha Wexler wound up reporting “Rabbi to the Rescue” in the Washington Post Magazine in January 2010, exposing Rabbi Menachem Youlus and his Save A Torah organization. The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York described it as an operation “which purported to ‘rescue’ Torah scrolls lost or hidden during the Holocaust,” and accused him of “allegedly defrauding the charity and its donors of hundreds of thousands of dollars.” In February, Youlus pled guilty in Federal court to mail fraud and wire fraud, admitting that stories of finding these hidden Torahs

were made up, and that he diverted funds from the foundation to his personal use. On Sept. 8 during Selichot services at Birmingham’s Temple Beth-El, Lunden and Wexler spoke about their role in exposing the fraud. This was a month before Youlus’ Oct. 11 sentencing, where he received 51 months in prison. He is to report on Dec. 17 to start serving his term. Lunden was friends with Temple Beth-El Cantor Daniel Gale during their time as students at Oberlin. Two Torahs that Youlus sold in recent years, each with their own incredible rescue tale, are now in use in Louisiana congregations (see sidebar, page 14). When Lunden was told in 2005 about how the Silver Spring congregation’s new Torah had been lost at Auschwitz and discovered six decades later, “it struck me as a made-forradio story.” He contacted Wexler, who was a senior editor at National Public Radio, and Greeting the presumed Kawaler family Torah in Shreveport in 2006

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Southern Jewish Life

November 2012


they interviewed Youlus, who gave a “nail-biting adventure” of being told about an Internet ad offering a Torah for $17,000, but if nobody bought it within two weeks the seller would burn it and post pictures on the Internet. According to Youlus, he rushed to Germany and met the seller, who had been a guard at Auschwitz. He beat a man who had brought the Torah on the train to the concentration camp and confiscated the scroll. After several hours of waiting for the arrival of the required gold to purchase the scroll, Youlus ran out of the building, tossed the Torah to an associate, then was attacked several blocks later and beaten by three men. He and the associate met up later, left Germany immediately and started working on restoring the scroll. “The story strained credulity,” Wexler said. Many details were missing. Youlus wouldn’t say what city he visited, even when it happened, nor had he reported the attack or sought medical aid. “It seemed like a pretty extraordinary adventure. You’d remember it.” They found no record of the reported eBay ad, and the German embassy had no record of a complaint filed against the attackers, which Youlus said he did after returning to the U.S. He hadn’t gone to the embassy or to German police after the attack, he said, because he just wanted to leave. With extreme skepticism regarding the story, Wexler killed the in-

Still meaningful without story

Two Youlus Torahs in Louisiana congregations

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November 2012

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Two Torahs that were sold by Rabbi Menachem Youlus and are in Louisiana congregations came with fanciful stories that ultimately proved to be false, but the bottom line in both cases is that the scrolls are still meaningful no matter where they came from. In the case of a Torah presented to Beth Israel in Metairie, the mitzvah is the donation, not the Youlus story. The congregation had lost its Torahs in the flood following Hurricane Katrina. Ethan Ulanow, who was studying for his October 2007 Bar Mitzvah in Potomac, Md., decided he could donate a Torah to the congregation. His Bar Mitzvah project was raising funds for the Torah, which cost roughly $20,000. He raised about $6,000, with his family providing the rest. According to Youlus, the 200-year-old scroll had been rescued from Ukraine, was hidden during the Holocaust and wound up in a monastery. There was an additional family connection in that three sets of Ulanow’s great-grandparents were from Ukraine. The Ulanows visited Beth Israel in January 2008 for the Torah’s dedication. Ultimately, five Torahs were donated to the Metairie congregation from across the country. When Youlus’ fraud was uncovered, Beth Israel Rabbi Uri Topolosky and the Ulanows were asked for information about their acquisition of the Torah from Youlus. The Ulanow family remains connected with Beth Israel, maintaining an associate membership and visited for the August dedication of Beth Israel’s new building. During the Torah procession from Gates of Prayer to Beth Israel, the Ulanows carried that Torah again, with the cover displaying the Save A Torah logo. Asked about the Youlus conviction, Les Ulanow, Ethan’s father, brushed aside the question, saying the mitzvah and the Torah being used at Beth Israel is what’s important. “We more than got what we paid for.” Topolosky agreed. “We are thrilled that it was a gift from (Ulanow) and that is how we remember the Torah,” he said, noting that even before the fraud was revealed, the Ukraine history was just a sidebar. They have no interest in finding out the Torah’s real origins — but

terview and it never aired. She contacted the congregation to tell them they could not confirm the story, but they couldn’t authoritatively say it wasn’t. “We just dropped the matter,” Wexler said, but the two journalists kept an eye out for news about Youlus, building a library of articles about his adventures and more Torah dedications. “It seemed there was a great similarity to a lot of them” Lunden said, but there was “never a name, date or independent eyewitness to any of these events.” The breathtaking adventures to rescue Torahs gave him the nickname “the Jewish Indiana Jones.” When the famous Central Synagogue in New York City was set to dedicate a scroll that had been rescued from a cemetery in Auschwitz, donated by billionaire David Rubenstein, Wexler knew Youlus was involved “even before I read the name of the man who discovered the scroll.” Lunden said Rubenstein was looking for exposure in New York with the donation, “and exposure is what it got.” The story Youlus told “galled us,” and Lunden contacted the New York Times reporter who did the original story. The reporter admitted not fact-checking Youlus’ story and was not interested in pursuing it further. “That lit the fire under us,” and they decided to uncover the mystery. They followed Youlus’ stories, including those in his own fundraising they did use a white High Holy Days Torah cover that did not have the logo, and now rotate some other year-round covers that were rescued following Katrina. Across the state, Rabbi Foster Kawaler had received a call in May 2006 from Youlus, who told Kawaler he thought he’d located the Kawaler family Torah from the congregation in Nadworna, Ukraine. Everything checked out, including the unusual presence of a Sephardic-style Torah from northern Italy in Ukraine, which corroborated a family “legend” about being in northern Italy. Youlus described how four Israeli girls, traveling in Ukraine in 2004, were invited to see a Judaica collection in a monastery. When Youlus saw pictures from the girls, he flew to Ukraine to purchase and smuggle out three Torahs. The Torah was dedicated at Kawaler’s congregation, Agudath Achim in Shreveport, in June 2006, with three generations of Kawalers receiving aliyot. When news came out about the investigation into Youlus, Kawaler was surprised, but said the scroll had been examined and it still checked out. Having known Youlus for four decades, “we would all be very disappointed if the rest of the story turns out to be untrue” about the Torah’s origins. Then he had a certified scribe in Dallas examine the scroll and concluded that “we were also taken in” by Youlus. “It was a masterful con,” said Kawaler. The physical characteristics of the Torah date it as no more than 50 years old, and it is likely the first Torah done by a new Chabad scribe in New York or Chicago, as the script improves as the scroll goes on. He figures that Youlus pieced together parts of the Kawaler family story from what Kawaler had posted on the JewishGen genealogy website. “As a result he had information that I never gave him, and it came off sounding like someone was really over there with it in Europe,” he said. During the legal proceedings, Youlus contacted Kawaler to have him write a character reference letter to the judge. Kawaler declined. Kawaler, who retired from Agudath Achim this summer, reflected on his father’s words — “we may not have had a family Torah before, but we certainly have one now!” He added, “It’s Kosher and a good size, and my grandson will likely be bar mitzvahed over it.”

Too many security cameras!





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November 2012


video, and figured they needed “the smoking Torah” that they could prove could not possibly have been obtained the way Youlus said he did. Actually, they needed three, and two of them came from the fundraising video. In the video, Youlus spoke of having rescued 500 Torahs and having the opportunity to do “1200 next year.” There are “tens of thousands left,” he said. “The only thing separating me from them is funds,” approximately $18,000 to $25,000 each. Lunden said “He spun dramatic and thrilling tales about his adventures in Europe,” finding Torahs in cemeteries, hidden in church walls, and paying bribes to smuggle them out.” In 2004, donors contributed $1 million to Save A Torah “to underwrite his adventures.” Wexler worked on the story that Youlus had stepped through a rotted floorboard of a barracks at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and found a hidden Torah underneath. Officials at Bergen-Belsen said there had been no such discovery in recent years, and besides, such a story was impossible. The entire camp had been burned in May 1945 to stop a typhus epidemic. “There was no rickety barracks to fall through.” Another rescued Torah was claimed to


November 2012

have been used by prisoners at Dachau, but the archivist there said there was no record of a Torah being used there during the war. Youlus also claimed to have found two Torahs in a mass grave of Holocaust victims. In their research, “congregation after congregation had one of the two Torahs — at least six of them,” Wexler said. Another Youlus story had foreign policy repercussions. Youlus claimed to have smuggled a 400-year-old Torah out of Iraq after a Jewish serviceman in the 82nd Airborne found it buried in SJL file the sand while digging a hole for a latrine. When the story came Ethan Ulanow carries the Torah he dedicated into the new out, Iraqi officials were incensed, Beth Israel building in Metairie, Aug. 26. having recently been stung by Then they started working on the Austhe looting of artifacts at museums across the country. chwitz story for the Central Synagogue Torah. Army officials questioned Youlus, who then Nobody in Poland was able to corroborate said the incident occurred when Saddam the story. Youlus had mentioned speaking to Hussein was still in power. Regardless, the priests who had been at Auschwitz, but all 82nd Airborne was not in Mosul during either priests who had survived the camp had died version’s time frame. long before Youlus’ presumed visit.

Southern Jewish Life

Wexler said it was “obscene” to exploit “communal grief over the Holocaust and communal love for the Torah.” Armed with their information, they went to interview Youlus for three hours. It was difficult for Lunden, as Youlus’ Judaic bookstore Martha Wexler and Jeff Lunden has been a fixture in Maryland for decades — it was where he got his Bar Mitzvah tallis and his family got their Passover Hagaddahs. Youlus was “maddeningly evasive” on specifics and claimed not to have kept any documentation of his trips — except for records of who had purchased scrolls. The only paperwork he submitted to Save A Torah was the invoice for each Torah. Youlus had claimed he could restore 90 percent of Torahs to a usable condition, far more than the Torahs that had been gathered by the Nazis and stored in good conditions in Czechoslovakia for a planned museum. Those Torahs were sent to England after the war, and are now on permanent loan to congregations around the world, including many in this region. According to other scribes, it was also impossible to restore a Torah that had been buried, because the ink would not stick to the parchment. And for a small operation like his, it was not physically possible that he could have restored 1100 Torahs, as he had claimed. When asked about the Bergen-Belsen Torah, Youlus was happy to talk about it “at first,” but when they confronted him about the story, “he claimed the rabbi of that congregation (where it was dedicated) said Bergen-Belsen, but it really was from a different camp.” Which one? Youlus didn’t remember. His passport records also showed that in the years he had been supposedly making all of these trips to Europe and the Middle East, he actually had never left the United States. Wexler said they then approached the rabbis at the congregations where those Torahs were now. Many of the rabbis “had embraced the stories in meaningful ways.” Lunden figures Youlus got a kick out of attending the dedication ceremonies. Where did the Torahs actually come from? Wexler said many Torahs are sitting in defunct congregations across the United States. During the immigration boom a century ago, small congregations sprang up everywhere, they needed Torahs, and the place to get them was from Eastern Europe. The Torahs were pre-Holocaust Eastern European Torahs, “written before the war, but it is more likely they survived the Holocaust in Brooklyn rather than Bialystok.” Many Torahs and pieces of scrolls are also easily available online. Wexler said the con “has caused us no end of reflection” on their responsibilities as journalists who happen to be Jewish. “It sickened us that Holocaust denial websites picked up on this story,” she said, but “we have to preserve the integrity of this history.” Menachem Rosensaft, vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants, told JTA. “There is very little if any difference between a Holocaust denier and someone like Youlus who exploits Holocaust memories in order to enrich himself.”

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Howard Schultz, Rhonda Weinberg, Maureen Petrofsky and Martin Weinberg at Cotton’s in Ensley.

Closing Cotton’s The Jewish presence in Ensley dwindles A couple of generations ago, there were numerous Jewish-owned stores in the bustling area of Birmingham known as Ensley, where steel mills kept thousands employed. The steel mills are long gone, and later this year, one of the last two Jewish businesses will close its doors. Cotton’s department store, which opened in 1922, announced on Oct. 12 that this holiday season will be its last, due to the economy and the April 2011 tornadoes that struck not far from its front door. While no date has been set, they anticipate closing by the first of the year. “A lot of our customers had to relocate” after the devastating tornadoes, said Maureen Petrofsky. Another tornado that struck a similar path nearby 10 years earlier also hurt. Another thing that has changed is that “the young don’t dress” as much, even for church. In recent years, Cotton’s has been known for women’s hats, especially for Sunday church. Weinberg said “we are still selling the hats, just not as many.” Compounding the problem is that many suppliers have gone out of business. A lot of merchandise now is made overseas, and special orders — a hallmark of Cotton’s — are more difficult. Cotton’s also was known for men’s hats, but there also, men aren’t wearing hats like they used to. Often when family stores close, the Wal-Mart effect is cited, but Weinberg dismissed that in their case. Their competition, she said, came more from places like Parisian at Western Hills Mall, which under the Hess family also was known for customer service and being in tune with what their customers wanted. On a recent day, a couple of young women hanging out at the store were bantering with the family. The women had been coming to the store since they were infants, and a pillar behind the counter is covered with pictures of “our children,” long-time customers, often in their third generation. The employees also have been with Cotton’s a long time. Pearlie Fields recently stopped working after surgery a couple of months ago, she was the first black employee hired there and has worked at Cotton’s since 1967. In addition to hiring blacks, the store was the first to extend charge accounts to black customers. Cotton’s was founded by Mitchell Cotton and his wife, Ida, after he had grown up in retail in Baltimore and Talladega. Their granddaughters, Rhonda Weinberg and Maureen Petrofsky, are now behind Southern Jewish Life

November 2012


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the counter, but a fourth generation in the family was not in the cards. “The kids grew up here and are sad, but they’re not going into the business,” Weinberg said. Petrofsky admitted that their father didn’t want them to get into the business either. The first-generation Cottons ran the store until the 1950s. Son Bert and son-in law Howard Schultz, who was married to Cotton daughter Merle, then took over the business. For a time, there was a second location in Bessemer at 204 19th Street. They also instituted the charge accounts, and Petrofsky said if someone walked in wanting to know how much they still owed, her father could tell them instantly. He also was a good judge of who was credit-worthy just by looking at them, she added. The store always had layaway and never charged for it. In 1977, Bert Cotton died of pancreatic cancer at age 49. Schultz was in charge. Weinberg and Petrofsky started working at the store as children, and later brought their own children to the store to learn the same skills and life lessons. Originally, Cotton’s used all three floors, with alterations on the third floor and piece goods upstairs. A bargain balcony was also upstairs. There was some layout confusion — Cotton’s is on the corner, and Goldstein-Cohen’s had an L-shape space around it, so it was not uncommon for someone thinking they were in Goldstein-Cohen’s to wander into Cotton’s. Jeremy Erdreich, in his constructbirmingham blog, notes that the Ensley area used to be the hub for 20,000 residents before the last steel plant closed in 1978; today there are roughly 4,000 residents in that area. There used to be many Jewish-owned stores in the area, such as Goldstein-Cohen, Niren’s, Seal’s Department Store and Picard’s. Now, only Ideal Furniture will remain. None of those stores went out of business, Petrofsky said. “They just didn’t have anyone to take over.” Down the block was the popular Ensley Grille, long since closed. Weinberg said the restaurant made it necessary for the stores to make sure they had great window displays. Diners waiting in line on Sunday would come back on Monday to shop. There was optimism for Ensley’s downtown a few years ago. There was talk of restoring the massive 10-story Ramsay-McCormick building, which remains empty and decaying. The nearby housing projects were replaced by the mixed-income Tuxedo Terrace development and there were some redevelopmet efforts underway. But in the recent economy, progress has been slow, and there are still plenty of vacant storefronts. Since the announcement that Cotton’s was closing, Weinberg said, “a lot of people are coming out that probably hadn’t been here in years.” They have a notebook on the counter where long-time customers can come in and write their memories of Cotton’s, which has built up 90 years of memories within its walls.

Jewish Book Month The hidden Jews of Mississippi? When he was nine years old, Theodore Ross, his brother and his mother moved from New York City to Mississippi, where she enrolled him in an Episcopal school, brought him to church and told him to leave behind his New York Jewish identity. He continued this double life for years — a Christian in Mississippi and a secular Jew when visiting his father in Manhattan. At some point in his adult life, he simply wanted to answer one question, leading to the title of his new book, “Am I a Jew?” “It’s an obvious question but one that even the most sophisticated minds struggle to answer,” he said. Ross is features editor of Men’s Journal and now lives in Brooklyn. His pieces have also appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic and Saveur, and he was an editor at Harper’s. Right now, an Oct. 29 event at Maple Street Bookshop in New Orleans at 6 p.m. is his only Southern tour date, but “I’d love to do more.” There were several conventional ways he could explore his identity, but he blazed his own path, starting with a visit to the cryptoJews of New Mexico. While there, he had an encounter with Matt, an elderly retiree who was “messianic,” but hadn’t been a crypto-Jew — he was from New Orleans. He also visited a sukkah city in Manhattan, Ethiopian Jews in Israel, various Orthodox groups in New York and a DNA testing lab in Texas. He also spent time visiting with Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn in Kansas City. Cukierkorn is a leading authority on crypto-Jews and has officiated at over 400 conversions, mostly in Latin America. As a student rabbi, Cukierkorn served congregations in Clarksdale and Natchez, Miss., and Lafayette, La. His brother, Celso, was recently rabbi at B’nai Israel in Hattiesburg. While in Kansas City, he got a view into the world of Classical Reform, as well as congregational politics. He had a fascination with various types of Judaism, but also a sense that he might not be accepted either. He decided not to explore the mainstream of Judaism, figuring that it wouldn’t tell him much, and most Jews identify as “just Jewish.” “If I wanted to engage critically, seriously, and intellectually with my curiosity... It was on

the periphery — with Crypto-Jews, Ethiopian Jews, the ultra-Orthodox, and so forth — that the issues of identity that motivated me were in clear enough relief to reckon with them.” Because the book is about his adult search, there isn’t that much time devoted to growing up in Mississippi; in fact, their Mississippi hometown isn’t even overtly mentioned. While some articles about the book have referred to it as a “flyspeck town” or “small town,” they actually lived in the Biloxi area. Part of the book explores why his mother, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, decided to hide their Jewish identity in Mississippi. “She was trying not so much to get away from all things Jewish as to move toward all things American,” he said. She wanted him to be an all-American boy. When he told her that he was, she replied, “Yeah, only if you weren’t Jewish.” Discarding the past, he writes, “is a venerable American cultural tradition.” The issue wasn’t Mississippi, he writes. In his conversation with her, she told him “anywhere I moved I probably wasn’t going to tell them.” She didn’t see herself as moving to the Deep South, she considered it moving to the beach. He saw “practically no anti-Semitism” in Mississippi, and noted there was an “out” Jewish pupil at Christ Episcopal, a girl named Hilary. The only other Jewish kid he knew was Brad Levine. When he was 14, his mother remarried, to a Catholic, though they both became Episcopal before the ceremony. There was no discussion of his converting. When he returned to Mississippi in 2010 for a vacation, he was at a barbecue with a group of friends who were congratulating him on a book deal he had not mentioned to them, and asked him what the book would be about. His mother had let it be known he was writing a book, but had not divulged the topic. She had also previously shared some of his articles, many of which were on Jewish topics. He told them that yes, he is a Jew. Why, if she was so passionate about hiding their identity, did she tell everyone about the book? “Because I’m proud of you.” Some things are just in the genes.

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Jewish Book Month Remembering the Jews of Avoyelles Parish Many of the early settlers of Avoyelles Parish were Jewish. Today, only one Jew remains in the parish, but a huge proportion of residents who have never known anything but Catholicism have this heritage as well, according to Carol Mills. The only child of an only child, Mills had been told while growing up that she had no relatives, so she embarked on a personal quest to learn more about her mother’s ancestors. Born in Michigan and raised in Long Island, Mills made her first visit to the parish in 1999. Randy DeCuir, editor of Marksville Weekly News, said to her, “You do know you are Jewish, don’t you?” The world of her ancestry opened up, and she soon had a family tree with 33,000 entries, and a wealth of knowledge of a Jewish community that has long since assimilated into non-existence. Their story had been untold until now, with her 610-page newly-published work, “The Forgotten Jews of Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana.” Today, only Jim Levy, retired editor of the Bunkie Record, remains as the Jewish presence in Avoyelles. In the parish, the story is that if you are descended from the 12 or so original Pointe Coupee and Avoyelles families, you are related to one-third of Louisiana’s current population. Her personal exploration of the Jewish Siess family “grew into the history of all of the many Jews who lived and worked in Avoyelles parish.” Soon after starting her research, she met Rabbi Arnold Task at Gemiluth Chassodim in Alexandria, who showed her “Fourscore and Eleven, A History of the Jews of Rapides Parish 1828-1919,” where she found information about her “forgotten Jewish ancestors.” Michael Suss, whose family name would become Siess in later generations, is her third-great-grandfather, and Abraham Rich is her great-grandfather. “Due to all the intermarrying of the early Jewish families amongst themselves, as well as with the French families of Avoyelles, only the Schlessingers and Schreibers have escaped being branches on my family tree,” she said. She spent the last 10 years researching her family and meeting others who have done genealogy of the area. She traveled to France and Germany to seek out records of the Siess family. After becoming “comfortable” doing Jewish genealogy, made more of a challenge by the paucity of surnames before 1808, she started to study the other Jewish families of Avoyelles. After six years she had enough material for a book, which took four more years to compile. The parish is located just southeast of Alexandria, not far west of the southwestern corner of Mississippi. Towns include Bunkie, Cottonport, Evergreen, Hessmer and Marksville. The parish seat is Marksville, which was named after Marc Eliche, who some have said was a Jewish Italian trader who established a trading post there. But his name is nowhere to be found in this book. Very little about him is known, Mills said. “Whether or not he was a Jew is just speculation… I did not 22

November 2012

Southern Jewish Life

Named “Best Fertility Practice in Florida” and Top 5% Nationwide by mention him as I have no way of proving one way or another his true ethnicity or heritage.” She also chalked up his arrival in Marksville as “legend” — that he broke a wagon wheel and stayed. The town’s symbol is a broken wagon wheel. Another town named after a Jew in the parish is Bunkie, which was named by Capt. Samuel Haas. After the Civil War he became the largest landowner in the parish, and when the Texas and Pacific Railway came through in 1882, his permission was needed for right of way across his land. He gave it, in exchange for naming the train station. After a trip to New Orleans, Haas had returned home with a toy monkey for daughter Maccie. According to legend, she pronounced it “Bunkie,” which became her nickname, and later became the town’s name. Nearby Haasville was also named for the family. According to Mills’ research, the first permanent Jewish resident was Maurice Fortlouis, in Hydropolis, near what is now Cocoville. Among the early Jewish arrivals before the Civil War, intermarriage was common, as was baptism of the children. Before long, these individuals’ descendants had completely assimilated into the larger culture. As she notes, the story of early Jewish immigrants was assimilation and the loss of religious identity. For those who came later, it was the struggle to remain Jewish. One early resident of the parish was Abe Felsenthal, the only member of that family to settle in Louisiana. Most of the family settled in Arkansas and the Memphis area, and there is a town in Arkansas named for the family. Another family of note was the Weiss family, which had a business partnership with the Goldrings. A Bunkie native, Seymour became owner of the Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans. Brothers Bernard and Milton died in 1954 in a plane crash near Shreveport, along with Thomas Braniff, founder of the now-defunct airline that bore his name, and seven other prominent businessmen. Other post-war arrivals included the Levy, Karpe, Wolf, Weill, Weil, Moch, Hiller, Kahn, Bauer, Weiss, Gross, Anker, Rich, Warshauer, Elster, Rosenberg, Schreiber, Schlessinger and Abramson families. The book also details “the Avoyelles outrage,” when in the late 1800s there was a series of attacks against Jewish merchants. The Jewish community would continue for another 50 years, diminishing because of a lack of opportunity for the merchants’ children, who did not assimilate as rapidly. There never was a formal Jewish community in the parish, with many Jews traveling to Alexandria, Washington or Opelousas for services and, eventually, burial. There was a brief mention of a Hebrew congregation being organized in Bunkie in 1903, but that appears to have been short-lived. Reflecting on the process that led to the book, she said “To go from no relatives to a tree with over 30,000 of them is quite a revelation. It was a journey that I am so glad I made, and I could not resist trying to take everyone along with me, via my book, to share the joys and hardships, of family discovery.” The book is available on, and direct from the publisher, Janaway Publishing.

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November 2012


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Re-Elect Judge Sherri Friday… Experience is the Difference NOLA Jewish Book Festival starts Nov. 4 This year’s JCC Book Festival in New Orleans will feature three major programs the week of Nov. 4. The festival, held in conjunction with Jewish Book Month, includes a JCC Bookstore, which is open weekdays from Nov. 5 to 9, and during the Book Fair events. All events are at the Uptown JCC. The week begins with children’s author Anne-Marie Asner, who founded Matzah Ball Books. The Nov. 4 program at 10 a.m. is free, and children will be able to nosh on mini-bagels and decorate pillowcases. Asner began the book series in 2004 upon realizing how little Yiddish is still known. Each book is written in English but is named for a character that has a Yiddish word describing part of his or her personality. Kvetchy Boy learns when to complain and when not to, Shluffy Girl learns how to schedule around naps, and Noshy Boy learns about healthy snacks. The sixth book, “Hanukkah with Noshy Boy,” was just published, and will be turned into an animated TV special next year, featuring Ed Asner. The annual Booklovers Luncheon on Nov. 8 at noon features Amy Ephron, presenting her latest collection of essays, “Loose Diamonds... and other things I’ve lost (and found) along the way.” Admission is $10 for the presentation, $30 for the presentation and lunch. Lunch reservations are required by Nov. 5. A bestselling author, Ephron’s pieces have appeared in Vogue; Saveur; House Beautiful; the National Lampoon; the Los Angeles Times; the Huffington Post; Defamer; her own online magazine, One for the Table; and various other print and online publications. She recently directed a short film, “Chloe@3AM,” which was featured at the American Cinematheque’s Focus on Female Directors Short Film Showcase in January 2011. The week concludes with humorist Dan Zevin, author of “Dan Gets a Minivan.” He has been described as a “master of Seinfeldian nothingness.” Zevin has been a comic correspondent for National Public Radio’s WBUR, the humor columnist for Boston Magazine and the Boston Phoenix, and a contributor to national publications including Rolling Stone, Maxim, Details,, and Parents. He also wrote an original sitcom pilot for CBS and Warner Brothers. His Nov. 10 appearance is at 7 p.m. Admission is $10 and includes a reception with wine, light hors d’oeuvres and sushi.

• Judge Friday was recently rated most qualified in the Birmingham Bar Association Judicial Qualifications Poll — by the widest margin of all Jefferson County judicial races. • Endorsed by Jefferson County Association of Chiefs of Police and the Greater Birmingham Association of Home Builders • Alabama Judge of the Year 2010, National Alliance for Mentally Ill, and over 1500 adoptions completed since 2007.

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November 2012


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Jewish Book Month Houston offering Judaic programming free to region via Internet This month’s Jewish Book and Arts Fair in Houston is now available throughout the South and beyond, thanks to a new initiative of the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston and The Federation of Greater Houston. Houston Jewish Live is a new portal for Jewish programming produced by Houston Jewish community organizations and agencies, and is being offered to communities far and wide, especially where such programs are too large to undertake. While the live streaming concept has grown in popularity for agencies across the country, ERJCC President Sam Stolbun made the idea come alive with assistance from the Jewish Federation of Greater Houston. The Federation has played an integral role in the portal’s creation and hosts the streaming video through Houston Jewish Live. The Federation is also funding the technology for the site, host page design, content development and coding. “Originally we were looking to streaming our events for people who live in the outlying areas of Houston or for those were unable to attend the event. But we have seen such a growing interest in our programming that we expanded the initiative to reach as many people throughout the south as we could,”

said Sam Stolbun, President of the ERJCC. “We are glad to be a part of this program, which will enable us to broaden the reach of important, relevant Jewish community programs through emerging technologies,” said Federation President and CEO Lee Wunsch. “As a convener and community leader, the Federation sees it as part of our mission to collaborate with our partner agencies, engage the community and educate every generation so our traditions endure.” The first program was on Oct. 28, the fair’s opening night, with Michael Feinstein. “The Gershwins and Me” is available on-demand on the site. On Nov. 5 at 8:30 p.m., Matti Friedman will discuss “The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible.” The final program in the series features Stuart Eizenstadt, on “The Future of the Jews: How Global Forces are Impacting the Jewish People, Israel and its Relationship with the United States,” Nov. 11 at 4:30 p.m. ERJCC live is free to the public via any internet device and can be viewed at www. It began live streaming this fall with a Jewish lecture series at Rice University. Schedule updates are available on Facebook or at

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November 2012

Southern Jewish Life

Financial Climbing a wall of worry it requires courage to buy into them. These past three months seem to be one of the best In this last quarter, while many investors examples of this adage. Today, it takes courage to believe in the longwere still anxious about Europe, deficits, paralysis in Washington and unemployment, term future of the economy and the long-term the markets have delivered an unexpected return on investments, and yet the market gift: a steady, gradual rise in stock prices that rise is evidence that many investors are finding that courage amid the seemed, week by week, conStaying invested for discouraging headlines. The trary to the mood expressed in the financial press. Marthe long-term is still a global economy is in a slowrecovery, with little ket historians, looking back good strategy, despite growth indication that the U.S. will on 2012, may conclude that short-term uncertainty slide back into recession. investors in the first three Buying stocks today is a quarters of 2012 must have belief that the hard work of millions of people been feeling ebullient, bordering on giddy. The next time you read gloomy headlines still employed will produce positive results about the economy, remember that every sin- over the long term, which will ultimately regle industry sector in the S&P 500 is posting ward the owners who hold their shares. For gains so far this year. Global stocks have not as long as the markets have existed, staying been as robust as American shares, but they, invested has been a good long-term strategy — and in the face of so much short-term untoo, are in positive territory. Is there an explanation for this three-month certainty, this is important to remember. There are many things to consider as we bull market during trying economic times? Market rallies often “climb a wall of worry” go forward this year. The election of the that is, the markets go up most steadily when president as well as the federal and state legBy Norman Berk and Sandra Cleveland

islatures will affect future taxes. The year-end fiscal cliff is when the tax cuts enacted under President Bush in 2001 are set to expire and when draconian cuts in national expenditures for defense and social programs are scheduled to start. Most commentators believe there will be politically evasive moves from this cliff depending upon the election results. So what do we do now? We believe that if you have a financial plan and an appropriate investment strategy you should not make any changes until we know how this all works out. The election will be decided in early November (we hope) and our lawmakers know they must resolve this before year end. Typically you cannot go wrong underestimating the work of Congress but, for the sake of us all, they will reach agreement (we hope). Norman and Sandra are principals with Berk Cleveland Rathmell Wealth Strategies, a financial planning and wealth management firm headquartered in Birmingham. They may be reached at, (205) 2981234 or by visiting

Southern Jewish Life

November 2012


Financial Reverse mortgages help seniors with revenues By Lee J. Green

YEAR-END CHARITABLE CONTRIBUTIONS If you are making end of the year charitable contributions please note that the following Internal Revenue Service rules must be followed:

• All mail with checks must be postmarked on or before December 31, 2012. • All stock transfers must be completed and in our account on or before December 31, 2012 Thank you for your continued support! The Birmingham Jewish Federation & The Birmingham Jewish Foundation


November 2012

Southern Jewish Life

Forward-thinking seniors can use the equity in their homes to bring much needed, tax-free income with an FHA-insured reverse mortgage. “Even those in their golden years who have lived responsibly and planned well are finding it difficult to keep their head above water. Reverse mortgages are a way for seniors to get some of the equity back out of their home that they have paid in over the years. It gives seniors both added security and freedom,” said Jimbo King, a partner at Birmingham’s McGowin-King Mortgage. The company is Alabama’s oldest reverse mortgage institution and was founded in 1998 by King’s father, Jim, and Travis McGowin — the two met at Shades Valley High School in 1956 and entered the field of home lending in 1962. “The good news is that we are living longer. The bad news is that seniors’ fixed income is not keeping pace with rising medical costs and inflation. This is putting a squeeze on seniors who have worked hard, paid taxes, raised families, and helped build communities. And the only thing keeping many from a comfortable, independent life, is gaining access to their home equity. This is why Congress enacted the FHA reverse mortgage program,” King said. The FHA reverse mortgage program was launched in 1988 by FHA under guidance by AARP. “Prior to 1988, some seniors had no choice but to sell their homes, or take on a standard mortgage with required monthly payments. With other expenses they had, a required monthly payment defeated the purpose. But these days, reverse mortgages are the most ideal, intelligent solution in many cases,” added King. There are many misconceptions about reverse mortgages, most of which are caused by inaccurate media reports, King said. “Unfortunately, no one reads the retraction or correction issued a few days after an erroneous article. These are FHA insured loans, enacted by the US Congress, and signed in to law by President Reagan. The customer satisfaction rate, as determined by FHA, AARP, and other surveys, is anywhere from 87 to 93 percent. I cannot think of another financial product that is this felt to be this beneficial”. To qualify one must have approximately half or more of the home’s value in equity and be at least 62 years old. The amount of proceeds one can receive depends upon age, value of the home, equity and the specific reverse mortgage plan chosen. Proceeds from a reverse mortgage are tax-free and the loan does not become due until the last remaining homeowner permanently moves out, sells the home, or passes it onto their heirs,” said King. “If the amount owed exceeds the value of one’s home, the FHA pays the deficit, not one’s heirs. However if the amount owed is less than the value of one’s home, the heirs receive the remaining proceeds.” Over 750,000 Americans have taken out over $76 billion in proceeds from this FHA reverse mortgage program and King said there are several payment options that can be customized to the specific need of the seniors. King said he has several Jewish customers and appreciates the chance to work with folks in the community. “To me it’s a mission, not just a transaction. You really get to know these seniors — their life circumstances, health concerns, end of life issues, and family dynamics. The gratitude that reverse mortgage borrowers feel is remarkable. We often receive cards, and have gotten a few cakes and even flowers sent to us by grateful seniors and their families. Oftentimes it is the children — who frequently guide their parents to a reverse mortgage — who are delivering the cake.”



Bama Jewish student recruitment The University of Alabama Hillel is holding its Fall 2012 Jewish student recruitment weekend Nov. 9 to 11. All high school juniors and seniors who are interested in experiencing life at the university are invited to attend. Check-in begins at 2 p.m. on Nov. 9, followed by a campus tour. All students will be assigned a “host” student with whom they will reside for the weekend. Parents are welcome to join their students at Hillel for a concluding lox and bagel brunch at 10 a.m. on Nov. 11. Forms are available on the Hillel website,, and need to be turned in by Nov. 1. For further information, contact Hillel at (205) 348-2183.

Kandel, Wiesel Live from 92nd St. Y The next entry in the Live from the 92nd Street Y series features Eric Kandel and Elie Wiesel, speaking about “Mind, Body and Soul.” The broadcast is on Nov. 4 at 6:30 p.m., and will be aired “on the big screen” at Temple Beth Or in Montgomery. Temple Sinai in New Orleans also simulcasts the series. Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, columnist, best selling author and television commentator Gail Saltz talks with an assortment of special guests to explore what it means to be human, with a focus on healing, feeling, fortitude and fitness. Questions to be explored include: How does the mind remember? Why are memories so vital to human beings? Can people alter or enhance their memories? What happens to memories over time? Eric Kandel won the Nobel Prize in 2000 for his research on the physiological basis of memory storage in neurons. He is the author of the award-winning “In Search of Memory,” among other books. Elie Wiesel is a novelist, journalist and Nobel Prize winner. Chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council from 1980 to 1986, he serves on numerous boards of trustees and advisors.


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November 2012


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Danny Maseng, left, performs with Cantors Jessica Roskin and Daniel Gale, and the choir on Oct. 7 for Simchat Torah at Birmingham’s Temple Emanu-El. The concert kicked off the centennial year of the congregation’s historic sanctuary. The next program will be Nov. 16 at the 5:45 p.m. Shabbat service. Bob Corley, author of “Paying Civic Rent: The Jews of Emanu-El and the Birmingham Community,” will speak about the Rabbi Newfield years. Newfield was rabbi of EmanuEl from 1895 to 1940, including the time when Emanu-El moved to its current building.

Jacobs having Winter Family Camp The Henry S. Jacobs Camp has announced its annual Winter Family Camp will be Dec. 21 to 23 in Utica. The family getaway is an opportunity for parents and children of all ages to experience Jacobs Camp, especially Shabbat. It is for Jacobs veterans and newcomers. Program tracks include some for the whole family, some just for kids and some just for adults. Steve Dropkin will be the music leader for the weekend and camp activities will be open during the weekend. Registration is $99 per person, and forms are available at Jacobs. The weekend starts at 5 p.m. Dec. 21 with departure at 10 a.m. Dec. 23.

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Chanukah Gift Guide Nashville artist slices into the color of Judaism Kim Phillips of Nashville’s Hebrica Judaica produces a colorful array of papercut art with a wide range of Jewish themes. That makes it even more incredible that until a decade ago, she did not work in paper cuts, her art was entirely in black and white, and she wasn’t Jewish either. “I was always an artist,” she said. “Pen and ink drawings, charcoal portraits, pencil sketches. The world was black-and-white to me.” Born into a military family in Germany, she was raised in Nashville, where she still lives. “I had Jewish friends, but mostly Judaism wasn’t well understood in the ‘buckle’ of the Bible Belt,” she said. In 2000, she wanted to find out more about her Jewish friends, so she went to Congregation Micah “to see what it was about.” Living as an atheist for years, she was “perfectly happy with that. I was not shopping for a religion.” The rabbi told her to pick one book from each category of several subjects to get an idea about Judaism. “I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t believe

in God, I just didn’t believe in the one described to me,” she recalled. “The God of Moses was one you could question, even argue with; that was new.” She kept reading and couldn’t get enough.

She converted in 2001, and when she emerged from the mikvah, it wasn’t just that she had become Jewish — she now saw the world in color. She mentioned it to her rabbi, Alexis Berk, “who literally got all ferklempt.” Berk is now rabbi of Touro Synagogue in New

Orleans, and Phillips says “she’s my rabbi. If not for her, probably none of this would go on.” Phillips had an adult Bat Mitzvah, and then studied in the Union of Reform Judaism’s Shliach Kehilah program at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, becoming certified as a para-rabbi. The next year she went to study for a month at Pardes Institute in Jerusalem, where her colorful expression took off. “The place is so visually stimulating, and I met artists everywhere I turned. Artists are respected there.” She went to meet a scribe, Izzy Pludwinski, in the German Colony. “He mentioned Archie Granot, who is the master of Jewish papercut artists. I was blown away, both by his artwork and by his generosity. He explained his process and let me hang out in his studio as much as I wanted.” Entranced by the new form, she bought every X-acto blade in Jerusalem. “I began to wonder if they thought I was a terrorist,” she said. During the day she would study, and at

Southern Jewish Life

November 2012


Chanukah Gift Guide

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November 2012

night she would explore papercutting. Most of her work has been custom orders, but she recently launched a line of Judaic greeting cards for a wide range of occasions. She is inspired by Judaic texts and images of Jerusalem, though when she does a Jerusalem scene she does not look at any photographs — just what her mind’s eye recalls. “The first time I saw a page of Hebrew, I was captivated and made up my mind to learn the language. The shapes of the letters are so beautiful, from the very precise Torah style to looser ones and even fonts I sort of invented,” Phillips said. One of her first text pieces was “Tohu v’vohu,” without form and void, from Genesis.

“The Psalms just beg to be done,” she added. She also is inspired by the Kabbalistic concept of the breaking of the vessels when God created light. The vessels could not contain the light and shattered. “Our job is to gather up the bits of light; then the world will be repaired.” Phillips teaches Hebrew at her congregation, and continues to credit Berk and Granot for her current path. “In Judaism, we revere our teachers. It’s a foundational concept, and the survival of the tradition depends on it. My little artwork is just one way of passing on my thanks and sharing what I learned from my teachers.” Her portfolio can be viewed at hebrica. com.

Moms Emily Rhodes and Marissa Mitchell know from experience how important finding safe, researched and ideal products for babies and children is, as well as how difficult it was to get customized service with the glut of large chain retailers. That inspired them in July 2009 to open Homewood’s Swaddle store. “My husband and I were living in New York City a few years ago and there were several specialty stores for new parents up there. When we moved to Birmingham, we had trouble finding a place that could offer guidance and that was focused on customer service and education. We thought this would be an opportunity to provide that to Birmingham,” said Rhodes. Mitchell, who is also a former labor and delivery nurse, said the two put much time into researching the products they wanted for the store and training Swaddle’s employees. “Every product here has been used by us or

someone we know,” she said. Swaddle has a large selection of child and baby car seats, some exclusive to them in Alabama, and strollers. They also sell clothes, toys, books, learning tools and even accessories and bags for mom. Mitchell said they are happy to provide personalized baby registries. “We want to provide exceptional customer service and the best products at the lowest possible prices,” she said.

Star of David necklaces from a Louisiana company, Star of David hard candy and art dreidels are just some of the many Chanukah gift ideas at Mountain Brook Village’s A’mano. “We’re putting a renewed focus toward local and regional artists and crafters. We have many new hand-made items… and we recently have gotten in more hand-crafted furniture,” said general manager Phillip Powell. The Star of David necklaces are from Beaucoup Designs in Baton Rouge and A’mano also sells Ettika hand-made Star of David art bracelets from California. The hard candy is made by Hammond’s of Denver and comes in Chanukah-festive boxes. A’mano still features a wide array of products from nationally known Jewish artist/designer Jonathan Adler. These include pillows, rugs, tumblers, photo albums, lamps and even dog/cat-themed gifts.

They also carry hand-crafted bags from Theona’s Girls. This project was put together by a philanthropic Birmingham woman ever since an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010. The woman pays for all of the materials/fabrics and ships them down to Haiti. Talented women and girls in Haiti make the handcrafted items and get to keep all of the revenues after expenses.

Southern Jewish Life

Judge Sol Gothard

From Devastation to Renewal A city, a synagogue and a JWV Post Among the many stories of progress and renewal in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has been that of Congregation Beth Israel, culminating in the Aug. 26, 2012 dedication of a new synagogue building. Another story is the renewal of the Jules Lazard Post 580, New Orleans, Jewish War Veterans of America, and its particular association with Beth Israel. A few months after the storm, I wrote an article for the JWV national publication, in which I said “Our JWV Post has also suffered drastically, but my city, my synagogue and my JWV Post will survive. We will do more than survive, we will persevere.” In May 2009, a new slate of officers was elected for the post, with me as Commander. At that time, the post had no patrons and was down to 13 paid members on its roster. TALO Department Commander Mike Lon-

JWV post at the World War II Museum

don came to New Orleans several times and was immensely helpful in many ways. The commander of Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma told me that veterans were really out there, all they needed was to be approached, advice for which the post is deeply indebted to him. “A few good men” vigorously went to work, recruiting new members and patrons. As luck would have it, just three months after the election of the new officers, the annual JWV convention was held in New Orleans on Aug. 17, 2009. Our Post sponsored a program at the National World War II Museum and I gave a talk with the same title as this article. I was thinking of calling it “from devastation to resurrection,” but this wasn’t the right crowd! At that time, we had recruited 38 new members, and went on to become the fastest growing Post in the country for 2009 and 2010. We now have a dynamic Post, including many younger members, and about 50 patrons, for a total of about 165 members. How we did it would require a separate article. In 2009, Beth Israel began the long process of building a new Shul. There were 5 major events as the new Beth Israel Synagogue was dedicated this past August. The morning program on Aug. 26 began with a JWV Color Guard, as requested by the congregation’s president, my son, Eddie Gothard, who is also a Patron in the Post. It was only

Sol Gothard and Ben Katz with guest speaker at a 1992 program at Beth Israel “natural” for there to be a JWV Color Guard at the dedication of this particular synagogue. I wonder how often, if ever, that this has happened elsewhere at the dedication of a new synagogue. Jules Lazard Post 580 is currently stronger, larger and more relevant to the community than ever before. Beth Israel is also more viable and dynamic than it has been for many years. Beth Israel and Post 580 have had a unique relationship for the past 25 years or so, since Ben Katz became Commander. On this page is a picture of Ben and myself, with a Navy Captain that was the speaker. This program was a Shabbat program at Beth Israel in 1992. Ben is a dedicated member of Beth Isra-

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SJL is free to all Jewish households in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and NW Florida. Outside this area, anyone wishing to subscribe, or to send a gift, may do so for $25/year ($40/two years). To sign up free inside our area, or to purchase a subscription outside these states, email us at or mail: SJL, PO Box 130052, Birmingham AL 35213 If you prefer receiving SJL online — either instead of or in addition to the print edition — send us your email. Every issue is available online in the exact same layout as the print edition. And email = quicker. Southern Jewish Life

November 2012


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el, worshipping there every Shabbat and all holidays, and usually was honored with the Kohane Aliyah. As a result, there were many JWV Shabbat services at Beth Israel; more than at any other congregation. When I became Commander, I continued the tradition, especially since my wife is a 5th generation member and Beth Israel has been my Shul since we married there 55 years ago. Our Post does not have meetings in the traditional sense; we have programs or “events,” as I call them, at the three Reform Temples, the Conservative congregation, Beth Israel and other venues — especially at the World War II Museum, where we have been six times. However, we have had more events at Beth Israel than elsewhere. For instance, when the Department of TALO had their winter meeting in New Orleans in 2010, Beth Israel hosted their meetings and had Shabbat Services in honor of JWV. Since our Post’s American and Israeli flags were destroyed in the 2005 flood, the replacement flags have been on permanent loan to Beth Israel. Our Quartermaster and Vice Commander are also Beth Israel members. The new synagogue has been our meeting place for executive meetings, preparing reports, and other business. Therefore, the special relationship between the congregation and the Post continues to grow. This great city, synagogue and JWV Post are all doing fine, and the best is yet to come!

Enrollment open for Gift of Israel Program Enrollment is open for the Edie and Paul Rosenblum Gift of Israel Program. The Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans has partnered with area synagogues to provide this savings plan, through which participants open a savings account, and matching funds up to a certain amount are added by the Federation and participant’s congregation, depending on how many years the child participates. Through the plan, up to $5400 can be saved and applied toward an educational multiple-week Israel trip, starting after 10th grade. There is no waiting list, the family can choose which trip to use. To enroll, contact Rachelle Stein at or (504) 780-5615.

Kabbalah of You new JLI course at Metairie Chabad The newest Jewish Learning Institute course kicks off at Chabad in Metairie on Oct. 30 at 7:30 p.m. “The Kabbalah of You: A Guide to Unlocking Your Hidden Potential” will meet for six weeks. All JLI programs are designed for people at all levels of Jewish knowledge. Rabbi Naftali Silberberg, chief editor at JLI, stated “As diverse as our talents and interests may be, there is an underlying core that is common to all. We all share that humanity, that dignity that makes our lives immeasurably valuable. The Kabbalah of You addresses that core.” The course asks and answers the fundamental question of “Who is the mysterious being at the heart of what it is to be... you?” The same Kabbalah that leads beyond the highest heavens also leads deep within to explore the divine mystery of the soul. The course is $60 with a textbook fee of $10. Registration is available at


November 2012

Southern Jewish Life


Losing memory

Two NOLA Holocaust survivors die in one week The question is often posed: What will happen when there are no more Holocaust survivors to bear witness to the past? That question became more poignant this week in New Orleans, as two survivors, both of whom were active in telling their stories across the region, died. Henry Galler, known as “Mr. Henry the Tailor,” died on Oct. 14 in Dallas, Tex., where he and his wife had lived since Hurricane Katrina. They had been New Orleans residents since 1962. Born on June 14, 1921, Galler grew up in Oleszyce, Poland. On Rosh Hashanah one year, he, his father and one brother were taken by the Nazis at their home, to build a bridge. He worked in forced labor camps in Poland and Russia until being freed in 1941 when the Soviet Union was attacked by Germany. He went back to Poland to enlist in the fight against the Nazis, but was refused entry to the Polish army because he was Jewish. He returned and told the officer that he had made a mistake in saying he was Jewish, was enlisted, and with his blond hair was able to pass as a Pole for the rest of the war, hiding his Jewishness. When he returned to Oleszyce after the war, the entire Jewish community was gone. He visited his childhood home, which had been given to a villager three years earlier. Two years later he found a friend from the town, attended his wedding and discovered his childhood sweetheart, Eva Vogel, had survived. Vogel’s family had been deported to a concentration camp, but on the way her father told three of the oldest children to jump from the train. Two were shot and killed, Eva survived. She posed as a Polish Christian during the war, attending mass each week while living in a work camp. They went to Sweden, where they were married, then eight years later came to the United States in 1954 when it was their turn under a quota. They lived in New York until deciding they wanted to live in a smaller community. In 1962 they moved to New Orleans where Galler established a tailoring business, while Eva taught Hebrew to generations of New Orleans Bar and Bat Mitzvah students. Since the 1990s, the Gallers told their story through the Southern Institute for Education and Research, established in 1994 as an outgrowth of the Louisiana Coalition Against Racism and Nazism, which had countered David Duke’s campaigns. They told their story throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. NOLA

They evacuated just before Katrina, and were helped by the Jewish community of Lake Charles before making their way to Dallas. Their house was flooded, as was the tailor shop on Jackson Avenue, and after salvaging some items they realized they could not move back. In an interview with Katrina’s Jewish Voices from the Jewish Women’s Archive, daughter Marilynn said exposure to post-Katrina elements likely exacerbated her mother’s frail condition. Eva fell ill in mid-November 2005 and died in Dallas on Jan. 5, 2006. Galler is survived by three daughters and sons-in-law, Janina Galler and Burton Rabinowitz of Boston, Mass.; Marilynn and David Wohlstadter of Dallas, Texas; and Linda Galler and Murray Singer of Port Washington, N.Y; and eight grandchildren. On Oct. 17, Felicia Lewkowitz Fuksman, a Holocaust survivor from Poland who traveled the Deep South teaching about the dangers of human evil and the fragility of civilization, died in New Orleans. Fuksman was born “Feiga” Lewkowitz on May 20, 1920 in Lodz, Poland. She was returning home from visiting her grandmother in 1939 when the Germans arrived in her town and the Jews were rounded up into a ghetto. She witnessed the “evacuation” of tens of thousands of Jews to the Chelmno death camp, but with her pre-war experience in nursing, Felicia was labeled a “skilled worker” and avoided countless “selections” for deportation. She was the only one in her family to survive. In August 1944 Mrs. Fuksman was transported to Ravensbruck concentration camp in Germany. She was liberated by Russian soldiers at a labor camp in Wittenberge, Germany, in May 1945. After a stay at a “displaced persons” camp in Berlin, she immigrated to the United States in 1949 and took the train from New York to New Orleans in 1950. She met Max Fuksman, a fellow survivor from Lodz, who had been staying across the street. They married in 1951 and proceeded to have three daughters, Roslyn, Beth and Abbie. For many years the Fuksmans owned Fox Furniture on Magazine St. Max Fuksman died in 1982. He was one of the first survivors to speak about the Holocaust, and Felicia decided to continue his legacy. For many years she traveled across the Deep South, participating in teacher workshops and making presentations at schools. “There is not a day, a night, not to dream of my people.” She was president and member of the New

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Southern Jewish Life

November 2012


American Social Club, the Jewish Community Center, Hadassah, National Council of Jewish Women and Shir Chadash Conservative Congregation. For her tireless efforts in Holocaust education, Felicia was honored in October 2004 at a reception at the Tulane President’s residence and given the Distinguished Volunteer Award by the Southern Institute for Education and Research at Tulane University. In addition to her three daughters, she is survived by her sons-in-law, Neal Morris, Gary Hellman, Ron Leopold and her five grandchildren, Jeremy Morris, Max Morris (Karli), Everett Morris, Mallory Hellman and Max Leopold.

New email list for community obituaries With the cessation of the Times Picayune’s daily publication, it is now likely that members of the Jewish community will find it more difficult to learn about funerals within the community in a timely fashion. “Levayat Hamet” is the mitzvah to attend funerals. To address this problem, Southern Jewish Life Magazine, in cooperation with the Greater New Orleans Rabbinic Council and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans, has offered to provide timely notifications to those who seek it. To sign up for this mitzvah enabling service simply go to You may also send your email address to Your address will be used only for this specific purpose.

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November 2012

Southern Jewish Life


Continued from page 38

ism. No Jewish majority — or minority, for that matter — has ever been able to stay silent long enough to be counted. But putting the majority aside, as those elected often do, what does rabbinic Judaism have to say about electoral math? For this, turn to the long-lost, recently discovered Mishnah tractate, Bava Gump — the only Talmudic tome bold enough to suggest that shrimp can be kosher. Bava Gump relates a conversation between rabbinic heavyweights: Rabbi Telfon, the great communicator, and Rav Rob, the inevitably named. Rav Rob approached Rabbi Telfon, after having their wires crossed for several days, and asked, “Is it true that for every two rabbis there are three opinions? I have never believed it.” Rabbi Telfon answered, “It is most definitely true.” He then added, “but, then again, I would have to say maybe.” Rav Rob continued, “Assuming, then, that for every two rabbis there are three opinions, does that mean a rabbi’s vote counts for one and a half?” Rabbi Telfon was shocked at the question, but then lined up his thoughts and replied in a dialed-down tone, “A rabbi’s vote counts no more than that of any other soul, no matter how much it should. Further, a rabbi’s vote should count no less than that of any other, no matter how much his wife says it should.” Rav Rob continued, “Assuming, then, that a rabbi’s vote counts for more anyway — because this is the Talmud and we ask such questions anyway — do we need to better define who is actually a rabbi?” Rabbi Telfon considered the many facets and details of this question, and coalesced them into his answer, “No. Nobody is ever going to ask that question, any more than they will ever question ‘who is a Jew?’.” Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley who isn’t concerned about discouraging people from voting, because the candidates beat him to it. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit http://brookwrite. com/. For exclusive online content, like

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November 2012


The Beholder’s Eye by Doug Brook

Decision: 5773 Near the beginning, Adam was created with the freedom to choose. He chose to take a nap, lost a rib, lost his solitude, lost his freedom to choose, and found the unavoidable freedom to experience the consequences of choosing. The history of humanity is that people are instilled with the inherent potential to have the freedom to choose. Of course, this has depended widely on factors such as whether one person chooses that another does not get to choose, and so on. Since the creation of the election process, the majority of people have cared about the freedom to choose just about as much as their potential choices have cared about them. So, what does Judaism say about this election season? Go ask a rabbi. But do it What does Judaism offsite since the synagogue say about the election needs to maintain its tax season, and will asking exemption. Buy him a nice salad, but hold the anchovies a rabbi endanger the from the Caesars. shul’s tax exemption? While waiting for a table, consider some Jewish ramifications of various aspects of the voting process. Starting with the group descriptor that has eluded the Jewish people, both internally and in the greater global community, for millennia: The majority. There are many kinds:

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November 2012

Southern Jewish Life

Simple majority — The only thing more simple about a half-plusone majority is the people in it. Two-thirds majority — A majority that leaves everyone no more than two-thirds happy with the results. Three-fifths majority — A majority whose decisions drive the voters to each consume three fifths of whiskey per legislative session. Super majority — Any majority greater than half-plus-one, though the voters seldom observe what makes them so super. Absolute majority — A majority of all eligible voters, rather than the few hopeful idealists and fanatics who do. Absolut majority — A majority whose decisions inspire the voters to make a majority of what they consume be produced by Absolut. Double majority — Technically, the only way that the electorate can actually be required to give 110 percent. Relative majority — A majority whose decisions would not be trusted by voters any more than if it were their own relatives. Also known as a plurality. Plurality — The largest group when there is no majority; a mandate so weak that it’s the closest to consensus typically reached in an Israeli Parliament election. Singularity — A central object within a black hole, toward which most people watch political campaigns spiral in the final weeks before the election. Silent majority — A myth never observed in the history of Juda-

Continued on previous page NOLA

Evening of Champions

The New Orleans Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Service and Tulane Hillel joined together on Oct. 6 for an Evening of Champions fundraiser at Champions Square. Top, Ginny Wise and Julie Wise Oreck. Clockwise from above: Gary Rich, Jenny Rich, Jon Schlackman, Debbie Schlackman; action at the auction tables; Morton Katz, Marshall Oreck, Larry Lehmann, Carole Katz; Cathy Bart and Ina Davis.

Southern Jewish Life, November 2012 (New Orleans edition)  

Southern Jewish Life serves the Jewish communities of the Deep South with original local news and features