Rabbi Borowitz was a mensch
I was so sorry to read of the death of Rabbi Eugene Borowitz (“Remembering Rabbi Eugene Borowitz,” January 29). I met him while I was education and culture chair of the Clark University Hillel Counselorship back in the early 70s. He had written a book called “Choosing a Sex Ethic,” and our Hillel board thought it would be great for him to come to speak to us about it. He already was a rather important figure in the Jewish world, and we actually did not expect anything but a polite “thank you, but…” response.
Since our entire yearly budget was $200, he couldn’t offer an honorarium or pay for any of his travel expenses. He was in New York. We were in Worcester, Mass. He accepted our invitation, flew to Worcester in the early morning, and left at the end of the day.
He spent the entire day helping us understand the content and implications of his book, the choices that he felt Judaism offered, and many, many discussions throughout the day concerning those choices. From that day forward he epitomized to me the word mensch.
May his memory be for a blessing.
No to labeling
Regarding the letter “Transparency and book lists” (January 29): The writer makes the point that the proposed Knesset transparency bill requires only disclosure of NGO funding from foreign governments, not suppression of those organizations — and who could object to transparency?
To test the transparency argument, apply it to another case. Would the writer similarly assert that labeling requirements — to label products originating in the West Bank — from the EU (and, if recent reports are correct, also from U.S. Customs) are harmless? After all, they only disclose the point of origin, and apply to both Israeli and Arab products.
I believe that both disclosure and labeling are dangerous, because: (1) they imply a negative point of view behind them — that such organizations and producers, like lobbyists, are suspect; (2) they can encourage boycotting by individuals; (3) if the transparency and labeling rules do not meet objection, they may be only the first step towards harsher rules; (4) the transparency rule ignores organizations primarily supported by wealthy foreign citizens (equally suspect).
I read with interest Nate Bloom’s “The Classic at 50 — and its Jewish Players” in the January 29 Jewish Standard. It is important to note that you can’t have a game without referees, and there were Jewish ones — Jerry Markbreit, who officiated in four Super Bowl games, and Bernie Ullman, who worked in two of the classics. Both men were the referees in charge and worked in the NFL many years. (There were four or five other officials in the NFL who might have been Jewish but that cannot be substantiated.)
My father, the late Mort Rittenberg, who was from Paterson, was a referee in a minor league called the American Professional Football League, consisting of farm teams of the NFL teams. The league operated from about the mid 1930s until 1950, with the exception of the World War II years. Some of those teams were the Paterson Panthers, Jersey City Giants, Long Island Indians, Wilmington Clippers, Scranton Miners, Providence Steamrollers, and Newark Bears. After World War II my father was selected on a short list of five officials to go up to the NFL. Three were selected, but my father remained an alternate. He never was called up.
Martin S. Rittenberg
A (still) full synagogue in the snow
In response to my colleague Rabbi David Fine’s January 29 op ed, “An Empty Synagogue in the Snow,” I wanted to share my experience on the blizzard on Shabbat morning, January 23.
I too made sure to get out earlier than usual in order to ensure that Kol HaNeshamah was prepared for the bat mitzvah of one of our students, who is a 6th grader at the Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County.
When I walked into our shul, I trudged up the plowed parking lot and into the building and was immediately greeted by the bat mitzvah, her family, and the friends who stayed over with her for Shabbat in order to make sure that they wouldn’t have to walk through the blowing snow from surrounding Bergen County communities. I switched from sweatpants to suit pants and from snow shoes to dress shoes and waited in the sanctuary.
As the time for the service arrived, I was pleased that we had a minyan, enhanced by the presence of our stalwart families who walk 1.6 miles every week to shul (this week being no exception). As I looked at the blowing snow outside the window and the already unplowed parking lot, I was unsure about who else might come to celebrate with the bat mitzvah and our community.
Every couple minutes though, another congregant, family friend, or group of students from Schechter would come in. Some drove from as far as Mahwah and Closter, and some walked from nearby towns. It engendered great appreciation of the words of the Psalmist that God gives snow like wool.”
As I remarked before the bat mitzvah chanted the aliyah containing the Shirat HaYamm “it is beautiful inside and outside. I am so glad that all of you could find your own parted path to join us for the wonderful occasion.”
By the end of the service, there were 100 people, but alas no caterer or servers, so our congregation sprang into action, moved tables and chairs, plated food, set everything out, made Kiddush, and served lunch. And with no place to go (the walkers were in no hurry to trudge back out and the drivers were in no hurry to wipe off their cars and brave the slick roadways), we stayed until 3, enjoyed delicious food and wonderful company, and celebrated joyfully a milestone moment in our community as another young woman assumed the responsibility of the mitzvot.
When I asked the bat mitzvah and her family if they were disappointed that there was a blizzard and not everyone could make it, they said, “On the contrary, we are grateful that so many members of our synagogue community and the Schechter school would come and brave the conditions to celebrate with us, for dayeinu, a minyan would have been enough. However, we taught our daughter an even greater lesson today — that what makes a bat mitzvah is not just reading from the Torah, leading the prayers, and saying blessings, but it is surrounding ourselves with a community who will always keep the light on at the shul so that she can do those things, this is a lesson that we don’t want her to ever forget!”
On Sunday, congregants reported that they walked slowly home against the blowing snow. Those who drove retold stories of driving slowly behind plows. One of them said, “It was tough, but we knew we wanted to come for our community and the family, and we didn’t regret it.” Another one said, “When we sang Siman Tov u’Mazel Tov, we sang it like we meant it!”
Creating the “Knesset” in the “Beit Knesset” is not easy. But as I often say to my own students, if it were supposed to be easy, you wouldn’t need me to teach it to you. May the light of the Torah continue to shine in and upon our communities. I wish us all continued strength as we work tirelessly toward keeping the lights on in our sacred communities.
Rabbi Fred Elias
Congregation Kol HaNeshamah, Englewood
Solomon Schechter Day School
of Bergen County