Hanukkah Musings 2021

It’s time for my annual Hanukkah message. I’ve been doing this off-and-on since 1972, when an article I wrote was featured in a Jewish student newspaper at the University of Wisconsin—which seems to be defunct. There was a new Chabad rabbi in town for the new position of any sort of Chabad presence at UW whose name as I recall it was R. Shmudkin. The Hillel rabbi at that time, R. Alan Lettofsky, was going to be out of town, so he invited R. Shmudkin to lead students in reciting the Hanukkah blessings.

I was one of the last students to arrive so there was a bit of a crowd and I stood near the back. R. Shmudkin saw me and raised his eyebrows. He said, “I see that Jack Love has joined us. Jack, perhaps you’d like to excuse yourself as we are about to recite the blessing honoring the Maccabees.” Two things startled me about this. First, that he knew who I was, and second, that he apparently had read my article. I just chuckled and said, “I’ve been lighting the Menorah since I was 5 years old, so I think I’ll keep doing it.” And a brief but lovely service ensued.

My life and career have endured many twists and turns since then, and I suspect that if R. Shmudkin is still around somewhere he is even less happy with my views now than he was then. But I guess he would be happy to know that all these years later I and my family are still delighted to kindle the Hanukkah lights on one of the dozen or so Hanukkah lamps that beautify our home.

What had so disturbed R. Shmudkin is that in my senior year at UW, I had done a lot of research on the ancient history of the Near East. Steeped in the writings of historians such as Victor Tcherikover, Alexander Fuchs, Menachem Stern, and Elias Bickerman I came to understand that a considerable part of the narrative surrounding the origin of Hanukkah was just a fairy tale. In fact, the great devil of the era, Antiochus IV Epiphanes, was not attempting to destroy the valiant God-fearing Jews, he had simply been invited into a struggle among rival factions of Judeans by one of those factions. In other words, it was a civil war and Antiochus decided to intervene on the side of the faction that offered him the most reward. And unfortunately for him, the other side won.

Most modern Jews imagine that we know all about the Maccabees and their struggle because of the preservation of such sources as the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees and the historian Josephus. In fact, the ancient rabbis rejected all those sources and had nothing to do with their preservation. We owe the existence of those sources to Christians. As it happens, the early Church was particularly interested in stories of martyrdom, and as for Josephus, they thought that he had described the era of Jesus and even mentioned Jesus in his Antiquities. The rabbis cared for none of this. But about 1500 years after the Maccabees some Jews also felt that it was important to recall ancient Jewish victories. Having nothing of their own, they plagiarized Josephus, added in a few tales from the Midrash, and published Sefer Yospipon (The Book of Joseph). The conceit was that they had discovered this book written by another of Josephus’ fellow generals in the Roman War of his era. Sefer Yosippon has the same relationship to Josephus as exists between the Gospels and Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

If this is the case, where does our festival of Hanukkah come from? The ancient rabbis faced exactly the same problem that confronted early Christian authorities. That problem was that no matter what they might have argued as religious doctrine, the general populace was not going to be dissuaded from recognizing the change of seasons and most especially, the Winter Solstice. Christians solved the problem by moving the birth of Jesus to a day that is unsupported by their own Gospels. The rabbis composed a tale of the miraculous purification of the Temple by oil which though only sufficient for one day, nevertheless lasted for eight. And this event just happened to coincide with the coronation celebration of the hated Maccabean kings—and so could replace any notion of that in the popular imagination. This tale, by the way, is not recorded in any of the most ancient sources of the rabbis, but rather in the Babylonian Talmud, (Shabbat 21a). The earliest date that could be ascribed to this tale is 300 C.E. and a century or two after that is more likely.

Ultimately, who cares? None of this matters to me as I enjoy the potato pancakes and see the joy in the eyes of my children and grandchildren as they light the candles with us and look forward to treats and toys. Religion is not about history, but rather about what we make of it. History and religion are, as Stephen Jay Gould said, “non-overlapping magisteria.”

About 10 years after R. Shmudkin led the Hanukkah service at UW Hillel, I met the woman who would become the love of my life. We were married on 28 Kislev 5744, the 4th day of Hanukkah, 1983.

Barukh Dayan Emet–Harold Diftler

We learned of the passing this last weekend of a dear friend, Dr. Harold Diftler. Harold and his wife Joyce were among the first people to welcome us to Knoxville.
Harold was one of the most prominent dentists in the region and there are many accolades from his professional colleagues. But nothing tells the story of Dr. Diftler better than the simple fact that he turned no one away over his entire career, and never complained when his patients could not the afford the care.
 
Harold was a veteran of the U.S. Navy. As a member of the Knoxville Track Club he ran marathons all over the USA. His collections of antique clocks and watches are renowned. He was able to converse about many subjects because he so valued education that he never stopped taking courses–in recent years University courses in history, film, political science, anthropology and music.
 
Harold is pictured above from our Passover Seder in 2015. May his memory always be counted as a blessing. May his memory be entwined with ours so that he lives on forever through us.
 
Blessed is the True Judge.
 
 

Hanukkah Musings for 5781

Hanukkah 5781 for secular year 2020 is upon us and it is a holiday I always look forward to and treasure. The earliest Hanukkah I recall is one in which I crossed the hall of our tenement to enter the magical realm of my Bubby, my grandmother, who had her family Menorah (lamp, now more properly known as a Hanukkiah) ready for action. Bubby spoke only Yiddish, but we managed to communicate somehow or other, and she taught me how to recite the holiday blessings–in Yiddish, of course. This would have been before I learned to read Hebrew, so it may have been as early as 1957 when I was 5 years old. Whether it was then or a bit later, the warmth of the holiday and love of my Bubby and the joy she felt as I recited those words made an indelible imprint in my memory.

Bubby (Center), Esther and Louie

I was called to the Torah in 1965 and can’t say that I recall many Hanukkah occasions after that until I arrived at the University of Wisconsin. It was in my junior year, 1971, and thanks in large part to our fabulous Hillel House under the direction of Rabbi Alan Lettofsky, that I started paying attention to Judaism and Jewish history–a story for another day.

As a young student (and major) of History, I began reading about the Hanukkah holiday in several volumes that have retained their value and reputation to this day–in some cases more than half a century ago. Elias Bickerman wrote Der Gott der Makkabäer in 1937, the anteroom of the Holocaust. Subsequent accounts of the wars and dynasty of the Maccabees reflected the young state of Israel. Books like Victor Tcherikover’s Hellenistic Civilization and the Jews (which became well known after its English translation appeared in 1958, but which was originally written even before Bickerman’s masterpiece in 1930). These were among the first publications to bring modern methods of historiography and analysis to the period of history bracketed by Alexander the Great and the Christianization of the Roman Empire. And for me, it they were the eye opener for me to understand that there was more to the history of the people who venerated biblical literature than the fairy tales I had known from childhood.

In the case of the Maccabees, and the Hasmonean dynasty they founded, there was a practically unanimous conclusion that the surviving historical accounts do not portray some evil “Greek” attempting to subjugate “the Jews.” Rather, what we see is a civil war in which one group of Jews (the term is actually an anachronism, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s use it) against another. As often happens in such conflicts, one of the groups appealed for and succeeded in gaining the support of the ruler of the area–that evil Antiochus Epiphanes, but when all was said and done, the real war was between opposing groups of Jews who all accepted the Torah and other biblical literature, but had all sorts of diverse opinions about things like the calendar and which priests should be given authority over the Temple.

I wrote an article about this for the University of Wisconsin’s Jewish student newspaper because at this time of year, it’s customary to write about the holidays. Hillel would always have a candelabra (Menorah or the aforementioned Hanukkiah) lighting followed by a talk or group sing-a-long, and I headed over for what I thought would be the usual ceremony. As it turned out, Rabbi Lettofsky was out of town, but he asked the brand new Chabad representative (so new there wasn’t even a Chabad residence yet) if he would like to lead the service. I believe his name was Rabbi Shmodken, but memory does funny things over the decades. Anyway, I arrived to find most people already gathered around the Hanukkiah. Rabbi Shmodken apparently recognized me and arched his eyebrows. He then said in loud, clear voice–although with a heavy Yiddish accent–“Mr. Jack Love has entered the room. Jack, perhaps you would like to excuse yourself while we honor the memory of the Hashmonaim?” As I mentioned, Hanukkah was, and still is, a favorite holiday of mine, so I stood my ground and sang the blessings with my congregation.

611 LANGDON ST | Property Record | Wisconsin Historical Society

The ultimate irony in the good rabbi’s comment is that the original rabbis despised the Hasmoneans and did everything in their power to blot out their memory. They had good reason. The Hasmonean kings by and large supported the Temple priesthood most of whom belonged to the group known as Sadducees. The kings and their allies generally opposed competing groups such as Pharisees and Essenes–and it was the Pharisee sect that developed into the rabbinic group following the Roman war and destruction of the Temple. The Hasmonean king Alexander Janeus was reported to have crucified hundreds of his opponents on the roads leading to Jerusalem–which creates a bit of a problem for those who want to claim that Jews could not have had anything to do with the crucifixion of Jesus–but that is a tale for another day.

The point is that the Pharisees and their rabbinic descendants wanted nothing to do with the Hasmonean kings. They did not copy or preserve either of the books called Maccabees (which were copied and honored by Christians), nor did they copy or preserve the works of the historian Josephus, who also wrote about these events.

But what they did do is tell stories. One of those stories, which appears many centuries after the time of the Hasmoneans, recounts the tale of how the Temple had been defiled by wicked people and required purification. There was only enough oil for one day, but by a miracle, the oil lasted for 8 days. Strangely enough, we have no idea why it was necessary to have a lamp burn for 8 days for this purification to occur. But we do know that by another miraculous coincidence, that 8 day period corresponds exactly to the 8 day festival proclaimed by the Hasmonean kings to celebrate their dynasty.

LoveLees Hanukkah Night 1

 

 

On the History of (Jack’s) ColonFiberOscopies

First, I have to begin with a word of caution. This biographical entry contains some materials of a medical nature that might make some people a bit queasy. Best to skip this article if you don’t like hearing about blood or poop.

I’m writing this after my most recent colonfiberoscopy at UT Medical Center, which stirred the memory of how I became about the 3rd person in the United States to be treated with that instrument.

My earliest recollections of serious medical issues involving my guts go back to when I was 8 years old. That’s when I first noticed that there seemed to blood in the potty when I went to the toilet. Although my parents were not exactly the most medically knowledgeable people in the world (an understatement of considerable proportion) they did understand that this needed attention. Our family doctor recommended that they take me to Mt Sinai Medical Center.

There, and at many other times throughout my childhood, I experienced all the diagnostic tools available multiple times: the barium enema, proctoscope, and sigmoitoscope. None could detect the problem, although the presence of blood was confirmed and indeed obvious. In those days, the only thing that might have worked was exploratory surgery and as it turned out, thank Heaven my parents chose not to put me through that. So I regularly found blood, and every few months, there would be quite a bit of it.

In the Fall of 1969 I headed off to the University of Wisconsin, which had and still has one of the finest medical research hospitals in the world. As a freshman living in the dorms I reported my issue to the Student Health Service and they put me through the same battery of tests with the same results. Yes, there is blood, no, we can’t figure out where it’s coming from.

In my sophomore year, I was living off-campus with several guys who have become my life-long buddies. As it happened, our landlord stopped by to chat. He had a brand new powder blue Cadillac he was showing off. I felt some pressure and went to the toilet where I expressed approximately half my blood supply. I staggered out of the bathroom and passed out. I woke up in the University Hospital ER. I learned later that my hematocrit was 18 (42 is low-normal for adult men), so they gave me a transfusion of two units of blood. By then, whatever had caused the hemorrhage had ended, so once again, they were stymied about what was causing this. 

The way I got to the hospital was that the aforesaid landlord, who we thought was kind of a joke, grabbed me and threw me into his brand new car and drove me to the ER. You can never tell how kind and gracious a person can be until you see how they react to unusual circumstances. I never joked about Sid Livsey again. But I have to say that the next time I saw him he was driving a different car–he said, “Well they got the stains out, but they couldn’t get the stink out.” So he bought a new car.

I spent a few days in the hospital recovering and on the day I was to be discharged an impeccably dressed man came to visit me. His name was Dr. John F. Morrissey. Dr. Morrissey had formed a strong relationship to a team of Japanese doctors who had invented a new device which was then called a colonfiberscope in 1969. Dr. Morrissey had used it for the first time that very week and he invited me to become the third patient. He explained that this was a flexible tube that could reach far higher into the intestines than a sigmoitoscope. And, depending on what they found, they could actually use the instrument to fix some sorts of problems. I didn’t need much convincing. So that is how I became patient number 3 for this new device in the US. 

When you hear about this procedure these days, mostly what you hear about is how difficult the “prep” is. Basically, the idea is that the physician using the scope has to be able to see the intestinal wall, and that’s hard if it’s covered in poop. So you have to do something to clean it up. In 1971 that meant not just laxatives, but enemas.

On the morning of the procedure, I arrived at the clinic and was strapped into a chair that could be inverted. When I was upside down, they pumped water into my colon until my bowels were bloated. Then they right-sided the chair and the water poured out of me. They did this three times.

Next, I was wheeled into the room with the instrument. In those days the instrument was much thicker than it is today and you can guess what that might mean in terms of comfort. Of course today, Propofol is the drug of choice and you really don’t feel a thing. But in 1971, as Dr. Morrissey explained, they could not use anesthesia because they needed my feedback (so to speak) on whether the instrument might be causing too much stress. But they did use an I.V. to provide me with valium (diazapam) which made me a bit loopy.

The scope was inserted and at intervals of 25, 35 and 45 cm (about 18″) they found large polyps. The deepest and largest of these was big enough to have produced the hemorrhage that nearly killed me. Dr. Morrissey used the scope to extract the polyps and cauterize the areas. A few days later the pathologist reported that while these were very large polyps, they were benign. For the first time since I was 8 years old I could go to the bathroom without seeing blood in the toilet.

A year later, I returned for a follow-up procedure. Major improvements had already been made and I don’t recall any pain or problems. The scope showed that my intestines remained in fine condition and no new polyps had grown. I was then 21 years-old.

I didn’t have another colonoscopy until I turned 50 when my family physician advised it as part of my regular checkup. As you can imagine, I was astonished by the difference those decades had made. I know it’s an over-used metaphor, but comparatively speaking, it was a walk in the park. On that occasion, they found 2 “diminutive” polyps and now they applied the more technical term “adenoma” to them which is the more dangerous kind because they can become malignant. Mine were benign, but they recommended 3-year follow-ups. So while we lived in Michigan, I went twice more and both times the results were “clean”–no more polyps.

We moved to Tennessee about 9 years ago and when the time came for a follow-up I had an unpleasant surprise. Our GI folks prescribed a “prep” which in it’s own way was as bad as what I went through in 1971. If you’ve had a recent colonoscopy, you know what I mean–a requirement to drink a full gallon of ghastly stuff. There are more palatable alternatives, but many health plans won’t pay for them. So I did what I knew to be the stupid thing and didn’t go.

This year my health plan, it turned out, had authorized the more palatable solution and so I scheduled my visit for today. The prep was awful, but less awful than drinking a gallon. The test itself was, as I said, a walk in the park. They did find three (again) “diminutive” polyps and my GI doc said there’s no chance that they are malignant. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t stupid. I should have swallowed my pride and the prep and gotten the test earlier. I could have as easily allowed myself to get cancer for nothing as have this better result.

Don’t do as I did, do as I say: get the test when the docs tell you to.

Teddy Bear

Today is the 9th anniversary of the passing of my mother, Mrs. Stella Love (as she preferred to be known), pictured here during the 1970s.

In 1958 as I was about to begin 1st grade, I awoke from sleep to the sound of a commotion. I wandered out to our living room and witnessed a cop dragging my mother out of our apartment by her hair. That was the last I saw of her for 10 months.

She spent those 10 months in Rockland State Hospital, my father placed me in a private boarding school. On one of his visits, he brought me a teddy bear my mother had sewn. As you can imagine, that bear became my most prized possession.

At the end of the school year, my father brought Stella home from the hospital and me from the boarding school. Teddy remained with me at all times. Until one day when Teddy disappeared. I looked everywhere. Then my father told me that I was too attached to Teddy, so he had decided to throw him away. I was inconsolable for hours and perhaps days.

My father abandoned our family when I was 15 to move to Israel and my mother and I made do on our own. Two years later I headed off to the University of Wisconsin and Stella stayed in New York earning a living as an office staff person. Then in 1978 she had a relapse of her mental condition and I was forced to make the decision of letting her go to some other hospital or taking care of her–which meant at least temporarily giving up on my PhD. As most of you know, I took a leave of absence from grad school, packed my mother up in New York, and brought her out to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Stella became a fixture in Sproul Plaza, dancing to the music, and visiting Larry Blake’s Rathskeller.

For me, marriage and children followed, and from time to time we had to pack Stella up and move her to a new living situation. Stella’s last residence was the Evangelical Home of Michigan in Saline. At first I was a bit dubious about placing her in a Christian home, but as it turned out there were other Jews there and the non-judgmental love they showered on Stella made me understand that I had made the best choice.

On that final stop, we went through her belongings to see what might be donated to charity, and look what we found. My father hadn’t thrown Teddy away after all, just placed him with Stella for safe-keeping. And he is with me to this day.

Blessed is the True Judge. May Stella’s memories be bound with ours so that she lives on forever through us.

ברוך דיין אמת

Today is the 9th anniversary of the passing of my mother, Mrs. Stella Love (as she preferred to be known), pictured here during the 1970s.

In 1958 as I was about to begin 1st grade, I awoke from sleep to the sound of a commotion. I wandered out to our living room and witnessed a cop dragging my mother out of our apartment by her hair. That was the last I saw of her for 10 months.

She spent those 10 months in Rockland State Hospital, my father placed me in a private boarding school. On one of his visits, he brought me a teddy bear my mother had sewn. As you can imagine, that bear became my most prized possession.

At the end of the school year, my father brought Stella home from the hospital and me from the boarding school. Teddy remained with me at all times. Until one day when Teddy disappeared. I looked everywhere. Then my father told me that I was too attached to Teddy, so he had decided to throw him away. I was inconsolable for hours and perhaps days.

My father abandoned our family when I was 15 to move to Israel and my mother and I made do on our own. Two years later I headed off to the University of Wisconsin and Stella stayed in New York earning a living as an office staff person. Then in 1978 she had a relapse of her mental condition and I was forced to make the decision of letting her go to some other hospital or taking care of her–which meant at least temporarily giving up on my PhD. As most of you know, I took a leave of absence from grad school, packed my mother up in New York, and brought her out to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Stella became a fixture in Sproul Plaza, dancing to the music, and visiting Larry Blake’s Rathskeller.

For me, marriage and children followed, and from time to time we had to pack Stella up and move her to a new living situation. Stella’s last residence was the Evangelical Home of Michigan in Saline. At first I was a bit dubious about placing her in a Christian home, but as it turned out there were other Jews there and the non-judgmental love they showered on Stella made me understand that I had made the best choice.

On that final stop, we went through her belongings to see what might be donated to charity, and look what we found. My father hadn’t thrown Teddy away after all, just placed him with Stella for safe-keeping. And he is with me to this day.

Blessed is the True Judge. May Stella’s memories be bound with ours so that she lives on forever through us.

ברוך דיין אמת

 

Stella Love
Stella Love in the '70s
Teddy Bear
Teddy

Of Weddings and Other Odd Circumstances

There are several weddings among my family and friends on the immediate horizon and the fact that we are living through a rather unusual set of circumstances which does affect weddings in a major way leads me to reflect on my own wedding, now some 37 years past.

At the time that I proposed to my beautiful bride I was 30 years old and serving as the Associate Director (AD) of the Hillel Foundation (a service organization for Jewish students) at the University of California at Berkeley. Terri was a post-Doc in Neuroscience at that same University.

Terri relaxing

Terri on the Day, How could I have been so lucky?

As everyone in the States knows, the custom here is that the bride’s family will bear most of the cost of a wedding, but that was not in the cards for us for several good reasons. Most importantly, Terri had been married before which generally releases the bride’s family from further financial obligations. In my case, there was never any possibility that my parents could have helped pay for a wedding. Both my parents lived day-by-day on meager Social Security checks. So we were on our own for figuring out how to do a wedding. Terri found a suitable dress in a local thrift shop. As the AD of Hillel, I had the option of using Hillel as both the chapel and location of the celebration. My boss, Rabbi Martin Ballonoff of blessed memory, happily agreed to perform the service. He, by the way, was getting married himself exactly one week before me, which had some interesting consequences for Terri and me. But more on that in due course.

Marty Ballonoff

Rabbi Martin Ballonoff

One of my Hebrew students, Ms. Cathy Citron, was learning how to be a caterer, so she offered to cook any food we  wanted as long as we covered the cost of the food. And the food she prepared was absolutely delicious! Wedding cakes are very expensive, but Rabbi Ballonoff offered to donate the second sheet of his wedding cake. A few of my students who played instruments added some live music to our event, and my life-long friend Marty Lehrner spent many hours putting together a music tape for us. I had (and still have) two huge Klipsch loudspeakers which we took to Hillel, so the music could be played at deafening levels. My dear friend Ed Starkie and his father John were excellent amateur photographers, and they snapped away throughout the event. No professional photographer needed!

As we all know if we’ve been down this road, there is always the thorny question of guests. My family is very small, Terri’s medium sized by her community’s standards (she has five siblings and untold numbers of cousins). My father was in Israel and couldn’t possibly afford the trip, my sister had just moved from Illinois to Long Island and a cross-country trip for her would have been a hardship. What that meant was that my family would be represented by my mother alone, whom we all loved, but who obviously suffered from severe bipolar disorder. But Stella could always be counted on to dance! Much to my surprise and great pleasure and gratitude, Terri’s parents both decided to make the trip along with one of her siblings and his wife. I first became involved in Hillel as an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin, and I was thrilled that the man who served as Associate Director (my title at Berkeley) and his wife would travel from Los Angeles for our marriage. Along with my close friends from the Berkeley community, we expected about 50 people.

The Saturday before a wedding is the occasion for the uffruff a tradition in which the groom rises to accept the honor of reading from the Torah scroll. As it happened, a huge storm had rolled in through the Bay Area knocking out power to the whole area. Our chapel was located in a part of the building where there was very little natural light, so I had to read from the scroll in darkness. Terri, who had completed the process of becoming a Jew-by-choice three weeks before, read the prophetic reading of the day in Biblical Hebrew with the appropriate melody (trope). Things were just getting back to normal on the Sunday of our wedding, but Terri decided to make breakfast for all our out of town guests. That means that just a couple of hours before the event, Terri, partially dressed for the wedding already, was running around cooking up a storm for 20 or so people.

And so at last the time arrived and Terri and I arrived at Hillel for our big day. The first thing that was obvious was that something had gone wrong with our guest count. The chapel was completely full and people were waiting outside. Fortunately, the chapel featured a folding wall which could be opened out to the auditorium, and that was done–then people started setting up folding chairs far out into the auditorium. By the time we were ready to get under way, there were about 500 people settled in. Terri noticed that a half dozen or so of my former girlfriends were in the crowd, but I have to say I was pretty oblivious to that. How could all this have happened?

We found out after the wedding that the rabbi had made a bit of an error. He had intended to invite the community to witness his own wedding, which you will remember occurred the week before ours. But he worded the invitation such that he invited everyone to our wedding as well! About 400 of the people crowding in were my current or former students. One of Terri’s few guests, Prof. Irving Zucker, asked her, “Do you know these people?” and Terri replied, “Almost none of them.” Fortunately for us, they understood that they were only there for the ceremony and not for the food and music afterwards–or we would have been wiped out.

The service ran without a hitch, and I’m pretty sure all our guests had a wonderful time. Fabulous food, except for that wedding cake sheet which was quite possibly as stale as actual concrete–but it’s the thought that counts! Great music, being lifted up on chairs for that now traditional Hassidic dance tradition, and all the trappings of a joyful Jewish wedding. It was, like so much of our lives, a bit on the crazy side (Terri prefers the term “unscripted”), but I wouldn’t trade one minute of that experience for anything else.

So my advice for my family and friends fretting through these unsettling times: make the best of whatever circumstances hand you–and the love you feel for the partner you are about to be joined with will carry you through all of it.

Life Since WUJS

Received word from some of my old friends from the program I attended in 1973 in Arad, Israel that we are going to attempt a class reunion. They asked for an update on what we’ve done since graduating. This will likely be repetitive for many of my friends and family, but here goes…

The reason I enrolled in WUJS was that I had been accepted to Graduate School in History at Tel Aviv University, but at that point knew only the Hebrew that was taught in two semesters at my undergrad institution, the University of Wisconsin (Madison). It was a terrific way to build my Hebrew and also participate in a program designed to introduce college graduates to the entire country. Almost a half century later I still treasure the memories of our visits from Rosh HaNikra in the far north to Beersheva and the agricultural settlements south of Arad.

The indelible memory of that year was seared in place by a major conflict known to most people as the Yom Kippur War which effectively ended WUJS instruction for me. Despite offers of repatriation from the US embassy, along with many others in WUJS, I signed up to do what I could. It wasn’t much–one of my memories from that experience was a kibbutznik too old to bear arms who would lean over and tell me in the dining hall, “You eat more than you’re worth.” And friends, I was skinny in those days!

When the war ended, some students remained at WUJS, but it was time for me to begin my studies at Tel Aviv U. My favorite class was elementary Latin (“You mean you want to study ancient history, but you have no Latin?!”). We were the first class at Tel Aviv U. which enjoyed learning Latin via a textbook written in Hebrew. Before that, students had to use a teaching book written in English. Lucky me! But really, it was a huge boost in my Hebrew comprehension.

At the end of that school year, I accepted an offer from the U of California (Berkeley) and began studying for an M.A. in Near Eastern Studies in the Fall of 1974. I completed that degree in December, 1976 and received “permission to proceed” to the Ph.D. But first, I felt that I still needed more coursework, and there was nothing left to take, so I applied to and was accepted as graduate fellow at Hebrew University of Jerusalem beginning in the Fall of 1977.

That academic year, Anwar Sadat stunned the world by coming to Jerusalem. I sometimes quip that my two years in Israel were, “War and Peace.”

I took as many course as I could at Hebrew U, and then it was time to return to the States. But my graduate advisor at Berkeley told me that given that only 4 PhDs in History at UCB had managed to find positions, I ought to consider other alternatives. So I applied to the Rabbinical program at HUC – Cincinnati. Oddly enough, they advised me to join the History PhD program there because I would receive a much better fellowship that way. And so I went from Jerusalem to Cincinnati. The most important scholar there for my interests was Samuel Sandmel. When I got to Cincinnati, I was his only student. During the semester he informed me that he had accepted a position at the U of Chicago and asked me to consider joining him. But the chancellor pulled me aside and cautioned me that Sandmel might not be alive much longer, so I declined his offer and indeed he passed away in February having made the move to Chicago just a month before.

Without Sandmel, staying in Cincinnati didn’t seem worthwhile although I did very much enjoy my studies in Talmud with Ben Zion Wacholder. Life intervened and I received word that my mother was in dire straits and needed my help. So I returned to Berkeley, made arrangements to settle my life down a bit, and then went to New York City to see how I might help my mother. She had had a severe episode of her long standing bipolar disorder and as a result lost her job. She was in danger of running out of money for the rent. My father, her husband, had abandoned us years before–ironically perhaps to move to Israel. I was an only child to her (my sister was born to a different mother) so it was me or no one. I packed her up and took her to California.

Continuing with the PhD program was now out of the question. I took a job as the Assistant Director of the Berkeley Hillel Foundation which involved leading religious services, teaching Hebrew courses and running the rather extensive Hebrew language program of the Lehrhaus Judaica which was co-housed in the Hillel building, and being responsible for the financial part of the foundation. To do that effectively I enrolled in Accounting classes at a local community college.

This was supposed to be a stop-gap until I got my mother settled, but we all know how that goes. I enjoyed my job, I enjoyed having the stability of a real income. In 1979 I purchased my first house in Oakland with the help of the Lehrhaus director. A couple of years later I met the woman who would become my wife of now 36 years.

We sold that first house to buy a house in Berkeley (this time together with our Hillel office manager who went on to be the leader of the Unitarian Universalists west of the Mississippi). And 1985 saw the birth of our first child, Shoshana. In 1987 the University of Michigan offered Terri a tenured position in their Psychology Department, and as much as I loved our lives in the fabled San Francisco Bay Area, we both agreed that moving to Ann Arbor was the sensible thing to do. So in 1988, Terri’s mom came out and helped Terri, Shoshana and our pet rabbits move to Michigan. I came a couple of months later with our dog. And a couple of months after that I moved Momma to Michigan.

Of course I was hoping for a job teaching Hebrew, but Hillel was staffed up and my mere M.A. wasn’t good enough for the U, so I was unemployed for awhile. I had learned a considerable amount about both accounting and database management, and a friend mailed me–quite out of the blue–a T-Shirt emblazoned with the word “Oracle.” One day, I felt a tap on my shoulder as I was picking Sho up from day care, and the father of one of the other kids asked me, “Do you know anything about Oracle?” I replied that “Yes, I had successfully deployed an Oracle database at my former employer in California.” He hired me on the spot to do a training session for his group at the University’s IT department because they had just paid $600k to license Oracle, but no one knew how to use it. After the session, he hired me as an external consultant to help them design databases, and after three years of that they decided it would be cheaper just to give me a job. That’s how I became an employee of the U of Michigan in 1992. In 1995 Ephraim joined our family, and shortly thereafter the College of Engineering hired me away from the IT department. I rose through those ranks and eventually was leading three departments within the College.

I decided to retire from the University when I turned 58 because I was qualified for benefits, they were running an early retirement program, my investments had done well, and really, I didn’t need the headaches any longer. I accepted a voluntary position as the first Executive Director (unpaid) of the County’s NAMI program.

2011 was a momentous year for our family. Ephraim had decided to make aliyah and complete his education in Israel. My mother sadly left us that year. And Terri received an offer to become the Dean of Arts and Sciences at the U of Tennessee, Knoxville. After a visit to check it out, we decided to take the offer. We sold our Ann Arbor house at which point Ephraim changed his mind and decided he would stay in Ann Arbor, but we held to our plan and we went to Knoxville while he remained in Ann Arbor.

A few months after our arrival, the Religious Studies Department was notified that faculty members they had hired to teach Hebrew had elected not to come and the director of Judaic Studies and the Head of the Religious Studies department asked me if would teach Biblical Hebrew for the year. And after that first year, they have hired me ever since, seven years now.

Of course they really wanted me to have a PhD, so I was approached by someone who offered to be my mentor for completing that project. She averred that given all my prior course work, it would probably only take me a year to start writing my dissertation. But the Grad School had other ideas about whether they were going to accept decades-old courses. I stuck with it and earned my PhD in History in December 2019.

Our daughter Shoshana now lives in Albuquerque, NM with her husband Karl and our two grandchildren, Clara and Alexander. My son Ephraim joined us in Knoxville after completing his BA at U of Michigan. He’s now in the later stages of a PhD in social geography and spatial statistics, and he is engaged to a woman who is also working on a PhD in the biological sciences.

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

Added 4/13/20:

My father was a child of the beginning of the Soviet Union, his father was a highly educated Orthodox Jew (musmah Kishinev). My grandfather came to the States first and established a business selling second hand steel in Cleveland, OH. Then he was busted for selling stolen property and after spending everything to avoid jail moved to Detroit. Meanwhile, my great-grandfather, my grandmother’s father, found the cash to ship my Bubby and her three surviving children (three others seem to have died of Tay-Sachs) to Detroit. It’s not entirely clear that my grandfather, the Grand Rabbi, was all that happy to see them.
 
My mother of blessed memory was born in Brooklyn. Her mother had five children of whom my mother was the youngest. She passed when my mother was 14 and my maternal grandfather (who was a Sanitation Dept employee) fostered her out to people who were cousins of ours. Through Facebook I have been able to make contact with that branch of the family and they are all wonderful folks. In those days there was no healthcare and no real pension for city employees, so when my grandfather couldn’t work owing to a savaged back, he eked out a living as fortune teller setting up on the street. He passed the year before I was born. My middle name, Francis is for my mother’s next-in-line sister Frances  who was electrocuted in shock therapy at a Brooklyn hospital, also the year before I was born. I know, many of you don’t want to hear details like this, but if you want to be honest about life, these are the kinds of things that happen.
 
After my pretty typically Orthodox bar-mitzvah, I didn’t want to have anything to do with Judaism. Like Perry, I was impressed with the events of the 6-Day-War. My father decided to make Aliyah–I think as a way of getting away from us as we were not invited to accompany him–and that was the last I saw of him until I got to WUJS (he was in Tel Aviv). In 1971  I had a serious health emergency and my life was literally saved by the invention of colon fiberscope. I was only the 3rd person to undergo that procedure. The doctors found the polyps that were the cause of my issue and extracted them. I’m telling you this because when I woke up the town (Madison, WI) hazzan was waiting by my bedside. A doctor had asked him to come because he recognized that I was reciting the Sh’ma in my delirium.
 
After my recovery, I started hanging out at Hillel and discovered that the rabbi there was both brilliant and not crazy. It was the first time I think I realized that one could be intelligent and religious at the same time. We became lifetime friends–just spoke with him last week–and I’ve been part of Conservative Judaism ever since. It was at this Hillel that I met the “shaliah” who recommended that I go to WUJS. Not to say that “I got religion”–I was agnostic before, during, and after all this. But I found great comfort in being part of a community, and I discovered that I love ritual even if I don’t think it’s going to save any possible soul I might have.

Happy Birthday, Mary Love

One of the most important people in my life was born this date, August 6, 1915, so this is 104th anniversary of her birth. Mary was my father’s first wife, he married my mother after he divorced Mary. They remained on a friendly basis and we made the occasional pilgrimage from our home in the Bronx to Mary’s apartment on 112th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam, not far from Columbia University. Mary was Mary_Loveimportant to me among many reasons because her apartment was a place of tranquility in the tempest of my life.

My father was impatient and my mother was mentally ill–not a good combination. Arguments were frequent and loud in my own living space, and I longed to be someplace else. When I was about 7 years old, I walked across the hall to the apartment where my cousin Marty lived and begged him to tell me how to get to Mary’s apartment. Marty was about 5 years older than I was and wise to the ways of the New York City Transit Authority. He gave me directions.

One weekend day soon after, during a robust disagreement between my parents, I walked the two blocks to Southern Boulevard and then another 4 blocks to the IRT 174th Street Station. I didn’t need to pay a fare, because in those days the rule was that anyone who could walk under the turnstile could ride free. And for better or for worse, I’ve always been short for my age. I boarded the Southbound IRT train and watched for the Grand Central, 42nd Street stop according to Marty’s directions. From there, I took the Shuttle Train one stop to Times Square. Being careful to look for the Uptown side, I made sure to take the Number 1 Broadway Local. I disembarked at 110th Street and headed up to street level.

From 110th St., I stayed on Broadway and walked two blocks north to 112th Street. I recognized the street well. The church of Saint John the Divine filled the end of the street. I walked past Tom’s Restaurant (the facade used for the Seinfeld show), the Goddard Space Institute, and the next building was Mary’s. The front door was locked, but someone opened the door for me, and I walked up the stairs to the second, Mary’s floor. I quickly found Apt 2G and rang the door bell. I could hear some rustling around behind the door, and soon Mary was peering through the peephole, but she couldn’t see me–I told you I was short. I knocked, and she said, “Who’s there?” “It’s Jackie, I replied.” “Jackie?!!!”

The door opened and she was completely astonished. The first thing she did after inviting me in was call my parents. She made me a grilled cheese sandwich and something to drink and chatted the hour or so it took before my father arrived to fetch me. He would have been apoplectic were it not for the fact that both he and my mother were just relieved that I had been found safe and unharmed after the few hours I had been gone. We returned home by taxi.

That trip lasted only a few hours, but it was the first of too many to count. After that, I returned to Mary’s house almost every weekend, often sleeping over.  In Mary’s house I found good literature. We went to the movies together, Broadway shows, off-Broadway shows, and off-off-Broadway shows. We went to every museum that Mary could find, and Manhattan had a lot of them. We ate all over the Village, Midtown and the Columbia district. If I am somewhat normal today, I owe all that to my life with Mary Love. I miss her every day, but this day I celebrate the day she was born.

Simple Facebook Survival Guide (For People Who Don’t Care for Facebook)

I’ll try to keep this short and simple. As things stand in the communications universe in our times, Facebook is the best place to have some sort of presence if you want to remain in contact with your friends of yore or make new friends. I’ve been involved in “Social Media” since it first began–my dear friend Ari Davidow beats me by a few months because he was one of the founders of “The Well” which has some claim to being the first social network. But I’ve been doing it for thirty years now and that’s pretty ancient as these things go.

Back then, Terri and I wrote an annual newsletter and shipped it out via U.S. Mail around the Winter Break time. That encapsulated an outline of our doings, and we always heard back from friends about how nice it was to keep up with us. But over time, we got out of the habit and that meant that some people very dear to us began slipping into the time stream. Facebook can be better because it’s always available and does a decent job of dealing with photos, and videos and such. With that advantage comes many disadvantages. Exposure to spam, and insults, and above all a potential waste of lots of time. And lets face it, some of us (including me) overshare. Really, most of my friends don’t need to see the latest photos of our cat.

If you’re among that group of my friends who would like to stay in touch but have all sorts of doubts (and perhaps a few bad experiences) with Facebook, here are a few suggestions for making your peace with it.

First, make sure that when you create your FB account, you do so with a strong password. Miscreants will try to steal your identity, but the good news is that FB has gotten very good about protecting you.

Second, learn a bit about the privacy controls that FB gives you. They are far from perfect, but they are useful in ensuring that you get what you need out of FB without compromising your Net safety. Set your default to “only you” or “friends only” — you can always change it later to be more inclusive if you feel like engaging with the greater world.

Third, and I think this might be my most important suggestion for you: manage your time by learning how to read only the the items you care to read. Instead of scrolling through the standard FB feed, learn to click on just the sources and people you want to see. You can click on your favorite news source and see all the posts from that source in chronological (reverse) order. You can click on the names of your friends (or put the name in a search box) and then all the items that person has posted will be shown to you. You can interact (or not) with your friends, and then close out your session.

Fourth, remember the age-old adage: “Please don’t feed the trolls.” If someone is making your life miserable, click on their name and then hit the FB button that allows you to block them. It’s one of Facebook’s best features!

Sure, if you have time to spare, you can then let FB show you what it thinks you will want to see via the “news feed.” But if all you want to do is see what your family and friends are up to, there’s no need for that. Just look at their posts and log out.

I’ve written this article for the completely selfish reason that I want you to stay connected and participate in my posts. I hope my name will be one of the ones you seek out!

Perhaps some of my friends will add to these comments with their own suggestions for surviving social media. And for those of you who still don’t want to use Facebook or other social media, I’ll try to post things here in my private blog as well. Happy conversations to all!

Nina’s Life

Nina de Amor arrived in our home in a rather haphazard fashion. The story begins with the end of another. Our family dog Caleb passed away rather unexpectedly in the Summer of 2003. Both of our kids were away from home at the time. I sat down at the dinner table and couldn’t help but notice that Terri was unusually quiet throughout. As we picked up the dishes, she said to me, “I think the dog is dead.” I raised my eyebrows at this and replied, “You think?” “Doesn’t a Ph.D. biology allow a little more certainty in a matter such as this?!” She said, “OK, the dog is dead.” I should mention that Caleb had epilepsy and Terri had already literally raised him from the dead about a half dozen times, so his passing at the age of 7 may have been unexpected at that moment, but not surprising nevertheless. But that left us with the decision of how to replace him, because we knew that our then 12 year old son would insist on having a dog.

The added complication was that Terri’s allergies were getting worse, and she was specifically allergic to the dog-dander of fluffy dogs and dogs and oily coats of dogs like Labrador Retrievers–a breed she was quite fond of. Since I worked in IT, my immediate course was to Google it. What came up was a “dog calculator.” In this scheme, you enter the three most important things to you about the dog you want to acquire, and the computer will tell you your optimal breeds. I placed “hypo-allergenic” at the top of our list, and the computer spat out three breeds: Wheatland Terrier, Poodle, and at the very top of the list, Spanish Water Dog. I had never heard of the Spanish Water Dog, but if you’re reading this you’ve probably heard of the Portuguese Water Dog because that was breed adopted by the Obamas after they moved into the White House. As I later learned, the Portuguese Water Dog was bred for size from the SWD. The SWD is likely the originator of this line because its 35 lb to 45 lb range seems to be consistent with the origin of the dog species. The SWD was not recognized by the American Kennel Club, but was sanctioned by several other international dog clubs. Obviously Spain, but also in England and Scandinavia. Terri and I aren’t “dog snobs” or in need of purebred pets, but in this case it was important because we were seeking a dog that met the hypo-allergenic criteria, and that is a characteristic of breed.

Acting on these suggestions I started my search for places where we might be able to find either a Wheatland Terrier or a Poodle, but came up empty-handed. Dog breeders explained to me that the summer was not a time when dogs generally produced puppies, and perhaps I would have better luck in the Fall. Striking out on these breeds, I scanned for Spanish Water Dogs. There weren’t many breeders, but there were a few in Ontario not far from where we lived in Michigan so I called them first–no luck. Same story as with the others. I was about to give up when I noticed a Web site for the “Spanish Water Dog Association of America.” That turned out to be a bit of hoax–it was really the Web site of a family that had gotten into the business, but I was happy to give it a try. Sure enough, they had a brand new litter which the proprietor explained had come about “accidentally”–a second breeding in the same season. And he noted that because the puppies were unanticipated, they were also unreserved, so we could have the pick of the litter.

We gave him a deposit and awaited Ephy’s return from summer camp, just a couple of days away. As it happened, Ephy was pretty discombobulated as he emerged from the camp bus–the trip took hours longer than it was supposed to. As soon as we picked him up we said, don’t get settled, we’re on our way to Tennessee to pick up a puppy. He was not a happy camper (so to speak) as we drove ten hours to Knoxville, at several points accusing us of having murdered his dog. But somehow we got there in one piece. And that’s how I landed in Knoxville for the first time in my life! Little did we know what the future had in store.

Nina’s birth location was a country home in the Tri-Cities area of East Tennessee, about a 90 minute drive from Knoxville. We arose early and drove that last 90 minutes. When we got to Nina’s home, before we reached the door, it opened and a man dressed in sort of Amish-like clothing emerged with a musket or some sort of old rifle cradled in his arm. We then noticed a woman dressed in this fashion. And we thought to ourselves, whoa, what have we gotten into!

 

Nina’s godmother

As it turned out, they were both quite modern people of our own period–but that day they were participating in a historical recreation of the early 1800s, hence the garb, musket, etc. When they saw us they waved us over and after that it was all dogs and puppies.

They did a demonstration of their adult dogs’ diving ability in their pond, and it was indeed amazing. They threw objects that sank to the bottom of the pond (which was quite deep) and dogs emerged with them every time. One of the traits of the Spanish Water Dog is that the fur in their paws fills in densely and allows them to use their paws as flippers to drag themselves deep under water. At the time a Spanish Water Dog held some sort of Guinness type record for deepest dive by a dog. For all I know that record still stands.

Every breeder we spoke to was concerned to let us know that these dogs are work dogs and as such are happiest when they have things to do. They don’t necessarily make good pets if one’s idea of a pet is an animal that lies around the house most of the day. The breeder was relieved to hear that we lived in the country on 11 acres and that Terri was experienced with farms and farm animals. So we passed that test. After giving us some paperwork assuring us of the pedigree, we plopped our eight-week old brownish red puppy into the back seat with Ephy and we began the 11 hour drive back to Ann Arbor.

Nina was everything the Spanish Water Dog sites claimed. She learned with amazing quickness and had a broad skill set. She was a fierce guard dog and protected her family with passion. Throw a stick and Nina would beat any other dog to it. When we added a poodle to the family (Nina was then about 8 years old), Nina made sure the poodle knew who was boss, and then showed her ropes of coping with the LoveLees.

Spanish Water Dogs live an average of 11 or 12 years, but Nina showed no signs of slowing down until she hit 14. She went partially and then almost completely deaf which meant she could no longer hear knocks at the door–and she was visibly disturbed at having people show up without her personal scrutiny. We tried to move her downstairs so she wouldn’t need to navigate the staircase, but she had nothing of that. On her last day with us, she still dutifully climbed the stairs to her bedroom. And that last day she lay down and could move no more. Our wonderful vet helped her out of this world without further pain and I don’t think I will ever stop missing her.

Sho and Clara Say Goodbye To Nina