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Hebrew School

 

We should be able to learn something important, something useful every day. It took me only a few days in 1965 to learn I hated Hebrew School.

When I was eight, starting 3rd Grade in Mrs. Schweigart’s class in Botsford Elementary School in Livonia, Michigan, I realized my parents needed to prepare me for my Bar Mitzvah. Even though my family was “Reformed” (translation: we rarely did anything remotely Jewish,) I still had to go to Hebrew School on Tuesdays and Thursdays right after school as well as every Sunday morning. I had to plow through the rituals of learning Hebrew, studying my Jewish roots, as well as Torah, because in five years for one morning, I would get up in front of hundreds of others on a Saturday morning and chant a haftorah which entitled me to be a man which led to a party with lots of food and hopefully a bushel of money which might be used someday for college.

Twice a week, after suffering through the rituals of Mrs. Schweigart during the day, the yelling and punishments from a woman who might have been happier in her heritage homeland, Rhineland Germany, blurting, “Sieg, heil” to another group of kids, I was privileged to come home and before starting my homework, I would walk to the corner of Rensellor and Vassar to take the bus to Hebrew School. I vaguely recall calling it “the ride to hell.”

The Hebrew bus was what I now imagine Henry Ford used to cart the Jewish employees he despised to the Ford Motor factory in 1913. The bus was old, had a dirt-covered floor, and smelled of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and a variety of other oxides that could make a grown man puke.

We brought our school books and sat on them, sticking our heads out the windows, so the smell became tolerable. It didn’t matter how cold it was; the air outside was livable, the air inside foul and rancid. Before we stuck our heads out the windows, we had to prepare. A cardboard box called “The Puke Box” was passed from aisle to aisle so anyone who needed it could relieve himself instead of retching on the floor. The smell of passed puke made me feel like vomiting every time.

The bus ride stopped to pick up each kid for nearly an hour before it arrived at its final destination. But before that ending, we faced something almost as bad as the smell, which was simply the fine art of rock throwing.

We couldn’t keep our heads out windows the entire ride. When we entered each subdivision, we kept our eyes focused on kids outside the bus: goyim, Jews, anyone who turned or bent over with his hands behind his back. Each ride was a target contest. Kids all over Livonia collected their assortments of rocks and let them fly at the nearest Hebrew bus. Every kid’s goal was for their own rock to crack a window. This was preparation for the throwing of snowballs. What must have been their exhilaration was our misery.

Some kids were advanced, using bebe guns like the Red Ryder seen every December 25th on A Christmas Story. I remember the day Debbie Majorovich yelled she’d been shot. Blood trickled down her face. Keith, the brave, black bus driver, finally stopped the bus. He could accept a rock but bebe guns were a different story. He slammed on the brakes and we all got out, following him to the house he thought the shotgun-boy lived at, the one who scampered after firing. We were happy to be off the bus, out of the smell, and waited as he pushed the door bell and knocked. We continued to wait but finally left and were ten minutes late for the United Hebrew School at the Livonia Congregation on Seven Mile Road. Rabbi Zentman, the principal, wasn’t happy.

Hebrew School was two hours of intense boredom, three days a week. My first teacher was Mrs. Adler with the thick Israeli accent. I can’t remember anything I learned but I remember the class bully, the crazed Jewish kid, Arnie Sam. I was excited that someone else named Arnie could be so funny, fearless, and rotten. All the rest of us eight-year-old Jews sat in awe.

Arnie Sam never listened to a word from Mrs. Adler. He said anything that popped into his head, came in when he wanted, and tormented all of the teachers as well. We watched, mesmerized when we stood behind him as he splattered Mrs. Adler with a burst of water from a water gun directed at her face, hair, and shirt. Rabbi Zentman never fazed Arnie when he brought him to his office for punishment. Arnie was just glad to get out of class again.

Over the next few years, I got to witness some of the proud accomplishments of my fellow Hebrew School inmates. My cousin, Lenny, a nice, respectful kid at home, became a master of the spitball from the back of the room. David Lipschitz became the Honor roll leader, as a torrent of laughter erupted every time his name was called. Elliot Ring, a math whiz at Botsford (and future CPA) took a vow of silence after his second year of Hebrew School, refusing to speak when called upon. And Arnie Sam passed to the status of Hebrew School legend.

Arnie taunted the third year teacher, Rabbi Rosenzvieg, more than anyone. He pounded the Rabbi with bruising body checks in the floor hockey game at the break. Once, he turned off the lights in the bathroom and urinated on the Rabbi’s pants. Another time, before class, he locked Rosenzvieg in the classroom closet while his classmates quietly celebrated a few extra minutes of time without learning. Rabbi Rosenzvieg often talked to himself during class and walked outside the classroom, still talking. Then, he wandered back into the classroom, still talking to himself. (Today, he is the founder and director of the Detroit Area Holocaust Memorial Center.)

I forgot almost every thing I learned at Hebrew School but learned enough Hebrew to chant the haftorah at my Bar Mitzvah. I remember so little of that day except what was photographed for future viewing. For the Sunday party at King’s Restaurant in Southfield, Michigan, I was allowed to invite up to five boys and five girls. I invited my best friend, Larry Pollack, who later became a devout Jew for Jesus, as well as Steve Schick, who was later sent to the Yeshiva and hated it. Eventually, he married a Catholic girl and settled down in Taylor, Michigan, which could be called the “home of no Jews.”

My good friend, Jeff Lebowitz, failed to make the five-boy cut. He was the sixth boy then but is now within the top five of my friends. Two of my other invited friends when I was thirteen were Rick Sherman and Linda Greenberg, now married to each other for over twenty-five years and still good friends to my wife and me.

After my Bar Mitzvah, my parents allowed me to decide whether I should conclude the last four months of Hebrew School so I could graduate and get a diploma. I think my answer then was something like “Hell No,” though I doubt if I swore to my father then.

I remember that everything was okay after the decision. My parents saved a few months of Hebrew School tuition and I saved at least ten hours a week of dread, sick stomachs, broken windows, and unbearable boredom. Instead, I was able to practice my cornet, do some extra homework, watch more TV, eat more snacks, and play a lot more with Larry, Steve, and Jeff.

Seven years later, in 1977, my parents had to decide where to send my little brother, Kenny, for Bar Mitzvah preparation. I came clean and told them about my adventures in Hebrew School, stories I had never shared with them before. I was able to convince them to find another option to prepare Kenny for his Bar Mitzvah. They were able to find a tutor, Mr. Murmelstein, who would drive to their house once a week to teach Kenny Hebrew, Torah, and eventually his haftorah. Murmelstein was a terrible driver and often parked his Oldsmobile Gas Guzzler on the grass or on the sidewalk. He was filled with enthusiasm and quirks, including asking my parents every week for something different to eat. Yet, at least there was no bus and it was only an hour a week anyway.

When the lessons started, Kenny didn’t seem to care as he just went through the motions, listening and doing the least homework he could. But as the weeks and years continued, Kenny started to learn Hebrew, listened to some fascinating stories from the Torah, and began to care about Jewish studies. It wasn’t as exciting as baseball, basketball, or the latest record albums but it became intriguing to him, a challenge. He became fond of Murmelstein and Murmelstein liked him.

When Kenny eventually rose to the bimah at Congregation Beth Abraham Hillel Moses, he read fluently with a beautiful voice that still hadn’t crossed over to puberty.

I think now of the number of hours Kenny was able to not spend in Hebrew School but instead with his friends, playing basketball, trading baseball cards, riding bikes. When I came over my parents’ house, instead of watching Kenny jump on a bus, we played ping pong together, threw balls in a game of catch in the backyard, or sat on the lawn or in the basement, playing checkers.

I realize now that when I came out of my self-centered world and told my parents not to send Kenny to Hebrew School, I actually performed a good deed.

When a child lives until he’s only thirteen and a half, every hour, every minute takes on more meaning. It becomes precious.

When I now review the years I’ve lived, I can reflect with some deeper satisfaction. I realize that giving Kenny those few extra hours may have been the greatest gift of my entire life, my most sacred mitzvah.

 

From Five Fathers

Copyright 2006

By Arnie Goldman

BookSurge, LLC

 

Congregation Beit Kodesh

Fifth Grade

 

When I went to my 30 year class reunion last October, a divorced woman who had a little too much to drink approached me and said she had a “crush” on me a long time ago. When I asked her how long ago, she told me “fifth grade.”

I was popular in fifth grade, thin, with a thick head of brown hair. There were a few girls who liked me, I recall. I wasn’t shy but I played hard to get. I knew I was one of the “cute boys” and played it up for all it was worth.

I liked to show off in class, acting tough, worthy of respect. When a nerd named Marty was accused of having “cooties,” my friend and I were designated to take care of it. When Mrs. Ross, the teacher, was out of the classroom, my friend, Randy, took hold of Marty’s head and I lifted my arms as if I were going to smash his head against the desk.

We were kidding, of course, just trying to scare him, the way tough kids do. I lifted my arms and hands to the sky and brought them down, making sure to stop before the pounding. But I was too strong and brought my arms down a little too far.

Marty screamed in pain, his front tooth cracked against the desk. Randy and I looked at each other with that “oh-God-we-really-screwed-up” look. We were called down to the principal’s office and sat in two chairs for a never-ending two hours.

I had never seen our teacher or the principal this angry before. They were ready to suspend us, but we pleaded with them that it was just an accident. We never meant to hurt Marty. We had just been kidding around. We begged them not to call our parents, that we would deal with it ourselves. They told us our parents were going to have to pay all doctor and dentist bills.

So far, this was by far the worst day of my life. I walked home with my best friend, Louis Stone, who said to me he would talk to my parents. He knew it was unintentional and believed he could make my parents believe him.

My fears eased a little as Louis spoke. He was calm and kind and my parents liked him. They said they’d pay whatever bills they received and that Marty’s parents would accept their heartfelt apologies for my stupidity. I felt a little better when I went to bed but had an unbearable sense of guilt.

The rest of fifth grade is a blur to me now, a year of going to school and playing at home. I can remember almost nothing else, except Louis and I walking home from school over and over again.

Sixth grade I remember. I remember the birth of my baby brother, Kenny, two days before Christmas, and I remember the day our sixth grade teacher told us that Louis Stone had died in his sleep the night before from a cerebral hemorrhage. We had no idea what she was talking about. We never said a word.

Louis had disappeared and we were all suspended in shock. Except for my grandfather dying two years earlier, I didn’t know anything about death. My parents and I never discussed the subject.

A few weeks later, our first teacher took a leave of absence and was replaced by a permanent substitute, Mr. Kelly. Kelly was a very large man who had a feminine voice. We laughed when he spoke but we applauded when he took us out to the playground to play baseball,  his favorite sport. He took us out daily as the other two sixth grade classes stared out their windows with jealous faces.

Mr. Kelly surfaced again in high school when I found out he would be my ninth grade biology teacher. By then, I was also overweight like him, shy, no longer popular with the girls. But Mr. Kelly was cool because he kept us laughing.

I saw him once more a few years later at a midnight showing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Town Center in Southfield, Michigan. I was getting pelted in the head with rolls of toilet paper and popcorn and turned around, furious at the joker behind me who had just doused me with soda pop. A high-talking voice laughed, “Arnie, I can’t believe it’s you!”

It was Mr. Kelly again and so I couldn’t feel that bad, even though I was covered with wet toilet paper. What was great about Mr. Kelly was that he always acted like he was still in fifth grade.

My daughter, Marlee, is in fifth grade now. She seems so much older than my friends and me when we were her age. Her mischief is instant messaging with 20 girls and 10 boys at the same time, all wanting to have their own my space.com websites.

I am happiest when she’s home playing with one of her best friends who is sleeping over, talking, laughing, giggling like the eleven-year-olds they are. I sometimes sit at her computer, playing solitaire, just making sure she and her friend fall asleep quietly, peacefully, the monsters and bedbugs kept away by me.

From Five Fathers

By Arnie Goldman

Copyright 2006

BookSurge, LLC

Botsford Elementary School

Caveman in the Flood

 

On Sunday, September 3, 2017, a day before Labor Day, Bruce Margolis posted these words on his Facebook page: “Always Help Someone. You Might Be the Only One Who Does.”

 

After a week and a half of the most intense flooding in the history of the United States, the most positive messages of Hurricane Harvey and its devastating  floods in South Texas were the incredible responses from so many in Texas and around the world. They came to save, to help, to inspire.

 

Harvey dumped a record 50 inches of rain over parts of Houston and its suburbs, putting much of the 4th largest metro area in the country under water but leaving telecommunications networks mostly intact. That had allowed rescuers to use cell phones, smartphone apps and social media to figure out where to go – either at the direction of professional responders or on their own.

 

Bruce Margolis, a retired Harris County emergency-services commissioner, known as Caveman (his name when he was on radio and as a stand-up comedian), put out an appeal on his Facebook page on Monday, August 28th, for boat owners to join his rescue effort and posted his cell phone number so flood victims could request help.

 

By Wednesday, August 30th, his “Caveman Rescue Team” had grown from 3 to 14 and then by Friday, September 1st, to about 30. They were camping out on his property and conducting rescue missions in Houston, Beaumont and Port Arthur. He and his wife had also raised more than $5,000 through a GoFundMe page to cover fuel and other expenses.

 

Standing waist deep in flood waters all across the Houston area, Margolis fielded a steady stream of phone calls as he helped residents clamber into and out of boats and eventually onto dry land and into shelters. He had taken hundreds and hundreds of calls from distressed homeowners and others stuck in their living spaces that had become parasitic swamps of water.

 

TRAGEDY AND DISEASE NOT ENOUGH TO STOP RESCUES

 

Like so many millions of Americans and people all over the world, I watched videos and images on CNN and every other network from the first day Harvey struck Port Arthur and the South Texas coast until the flood waters rose and rose through 500 miles of Texas, literally burying much of the Harris County Houston area with more water than we had witnessed since Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans 12 years earlier. What made this different for me were the postings of my sister’s high school classmate, Bruce Margolis, as he put out the call to his Facebook friends and then posted his words and images of what he witnessed over the next week.

 

Up until the devastating Hurricane Harvey and its flood aftermath in Southern Texas, Bruce was simply a neighbor of one of my best friends in high school who moved to Texas, a Facebook friend of mine, and a classmate and graduate (class of ’77) of my sister’s at Clarenceville High School in Livonia, Michigan. He was also one of the more political people on Facebook, a vehement critic of Donald Trump, a businessman who had a cigar business, and quite simply, in my mind, a Texas liberal. He and I would share our dismay at what was being said, tweet by tweet, from our president as well as the actions of his administration.

 

Bruce and my sister and I also shared a tragic past, his clouded by the shocking death of his mom and serious injury of his dad in a car accident in 2005, ours by our brother, Kenny, (also a friend of Bruce’s brother Jeremy) who was killed in a car accident in 1982. Bruce wrote at the beginning of 2016: “Almost 11 years ago to the minute, I received a telephone call from Sgt. Garofalo of the Bloomfield Township, Michigan, Police Department informing me that my parents, Bernard and Marlene, had been involved in a fatal car accident.

 

“From that moment on, my life, the lives of my siblings, our children, my aunts, uncles, and their children, my parents’ extended family, their friends and mine, and their co-workers changed forever.

 

“While time eases the pain, it never goes away. Fortunately, and more importantly the life lessons, memories, laughs, and smiles they shared with those of us who knew and loved them, are etched in our hearts and minds forever.

 

“The positive lessons they taught me, stay with me daily. The good things I do are because of lessons they taught me and promises I made to them to make the world a better place.”

 

Bruce has been making the “world a better place” for a long time. He told me other than being a defense contractor in his 30s, he was a part time fire fighter and paramedic. He had also entertained on the radio and as a stand-up comic as Caveman, started American Man Cave stores and the Caveman Cigar Company, and became the Harris County Emergency Services Commissioner. All of these experiences (Bruce calls himself a total Type-A-adrenaline junkie) allowed him to call on and lead others to save fellow Houston citizens in their time of need.

 

What made this all the more astounding is that Bruce has lived through life and death battles with disease for much of his life, including three bouts of cancer, two heart attacks, a year in the hospital with lungs filled with blood clots and most recently in May, kidney problems. But that didn’t stop Bruce from calling on his friends and fellow Texans to save other Texans. He put other lives ahead of his own.

 

 

 

FIGHTING THE TOXIC FLOODS

On Sunday, August 27, Bruce wrote on his Facebook page: “If you, or anyone you know needs to get out of a flooded area, please let me know. A few of us retired first responders are loading up a boat, gasoline, winch, emergency supplies, etc. We can help if you need it.” Later that evening, he wrote, “Made it back safe and sound. The flood waters and storm devastation are so bad out there. If need be, Anthony Wright, April Phillips, and I, will go out again tomorrow with the boat, and emergency supplies, to assist anyone we can reach safely.” And at 10:46pm, he pleaded, “If anyone has a flat bottom boat they would let my friends and I use to get some flood bound people out of their homes, please contact me. The boat we are using currently is small, and a larger boat would make a huge difference in helping us to help flood victims get to safety. We can also use any extra life jackets that you can loan us. Please share this post.” They called themselves the Three Amigos Rescue team and went to Seven Acres Senior Citizens Home to help.

On August 28th, he wrote, “We ran out of daylight and left 60 people in a school because it became too dangerous with water getting deeper, currents, and darkness. We DESPERATELY NEED A BIGGER BOAT, or several!!! All rescue efforts are by volunteers. Please help us save trapped people. We need a bigger boat by morning.” On August 29th, he told us, “Waters are rapidly rising. Tell anyone needing rescue to hang white towels from doors and windows, and to stay put until they see a rescue team.” At this point, the Caveman Rescue Team were “wet, tired, and extremely grateful that we were able to make a positive difference in the lives of so many families. The Team Volunteers are an amazing group of selfless individuals. I am so proud of them. Tomorrow morning we’ll be back at it. Thanks to all of you for the emotional and financial support. Your support means the world to countless Texans, their friends and families, Caveman Rescue Team, and most especially, yours truly.

The next day, Caveman Rescue Team worked with several rescue teams, successfully getting over 500 people, and countless pets out of harm’s way, south of Memorial Drive to Briar Forest, west from Highway 6, east to Wilcrest. The team in Port Arthur rescued and relocated numerous people, and four horses. Bruce displayed a picture on Facebook of a smiling dog. When asked about it, Bruce wrote, the (dog’s) “owner is in LA on business. She left her dog, and cat with a neighbor; the neighbor apparently evacuated days ago, leaving the beautiful animals locked in an empty apartment. When she returns, her fur babies will be waiting.”

Bruce was interviewed by Houston Public Radio, the National Public Radio’s Morning Addition tomorrow morning, as well as Reuters News Agency. He also had a news crew from Italy riding along and accompanying them during their rescue efforts, and a news crew from Spain. They also took CNN Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and her team of doctors and scientists out to get water samples to determine the pollutants, heavy metals, and chemicals in the floodwaters.

Allison Lee from Houston Public Radio (“Volunteers are Helping with Water Rescue Efforts,” August 31, 2017), wrote, “Rescue efforts have been underway for nearly a week now. Emergency responders have been working tirelessly around the clock, and volunteers are pitching in to rescue victims of Tropical Storm Harvey. Bellville resident Bruce Margolis says he has organized a volunteer rescue team—made of 7 boats and about 14 volunteers, so far. News 88.7 caught up with him, before he headed over to Memorial and Kirkwood, on the Westside. Margolis says some on his team are retired emergency responders, and they’re also using boats from other cities and states.

“‘We’ve got Florida here, we’ve got Fort Worth, we’ve got Dallas, we’ve got local ones. We’ve got Michigan on the way. We’ve got more [from] Florida on the way, too,’ he said. While resources are coming in from other cities, Margolis says being a local resident is also an advantage to rescue efforts. ‘We know the area better than a lot of the folks coming in from out of state, or around the state,’ he said. ‘We try to get to the places they’re not.’

“Margolis has been posting some of his team’s rescue efforts on social media. Margolis says emotions run high, for both the evacuees and the rescue team. ‘It’s emotional, when you rescue a baby,’ he said. ‘Or you see that senior citizen who can’t walk and we’re having to carry them through the water.’ He says they ask for them to take only the very bare essentials. ‘There’s a lot of nervousness. They have got all the anxiety and all the emotions of leaving everything behind,’ says Margolis. ‘They literally have the clothes on their back. Some of them have a bag, some of them have a couple suitcases, and lot of them have just what they’re wearing.’ He says some people in rescue areas have refused to go with them, and they’ve lost count of how many people they have rescued.”

 

 

SICKNESS, SORROW, AND A LONG CLIMB BACK TO DRY LAND

On Sunday, September 3rd, Bruce’s Facebook friend, Dwayne Williams, wrote, “Bruce I have been so impressed this past week not only in you and your team and the terrific job you have done, but also the thousands of Americans who selflessly sprung into action to help those in desperate need. The road ahead will be challenging but there is no doubt that Texas will recover and will be that beacon of light that shows the world what Americans can accomplish together. God Bless.”

After more than a week of Team Caveman and his boats of rescuers going door to door across Texas, there were at least 40 people in South Texas who perished but Bruce’s crews saved over 1000 people and animals from the perils of flooding toxic waters. They were part of many heroic rescue efforts from professionals from all over the world and simple citizens who just wanted to help. Estimates are that over 75,000 people were saved from drowning, illness, and other hazards.

When the calls for rescue ended and Team Caveman finally rested, Bruce admitted that he was exhausted. “On behalf of Team Caveman,” he summed up, “we are honored to be able to make a difference. The outpouring of civilian volunteers coming from across the nation and around the world has been mind blowing. Those civilians who took off of work, brought in their high water rescue vehicles, boats, canoes, kayaks, medical and first aid equipment, cases of water, etc., should restore even the most cynical person that people will help people in their moment of need.

“Now that the rescues have are down, and the waters begin to recede, the next chapter begins. The recovery/repair chapter does not make for interesting pictures and videos. It is a non-glorious, filthy, and still dangerous phase of the story known as Harvey.

“Team Caveman volunteers are running on little rest, and minimal food breaks, as the dozen or so volunteers remain. We will continue the efforts of providing relief, as well as distributing monetary gift cards to the individuals and families that lost everything. Every bit of effort, and all financial donations matter. Team Caveman is made up of 100% volunteers. Donations go straight to those in need, without a penny going toward overhead or staffing. We are still accepting and distributing donations. This will continue as until the last dollar has helped those effected by devastation resulting from Harvey. https://www.gofundme.com/evxaav-harvey-disaster-fund#GoTeamCaveman

Bruce and his teams admitted they knew the “risks, visible and invisible,” with the Harvey Rescue. They found out from the inspector amidst the CNN crew that the waters were filled with bacteria, chemicals, and fecal matter. Several of his team, including Bruce, began to experience some health issues and one of his team members because very ill and was admitted to a Houston Hospital, where she was pumped full of liquids and antibiotics and a tetanus shot before being released.

 

FAITH IN MANKIND

On Facebook, Bruce calls himself President for Life and Founder of Project World Peace. “Life is always interesting and never boring,” he claims. “After several years of utter craziness, I’ve dedicated the remainder of my life and energy to teaching the world the importance of tolerance, peace, and love.” And on Labor Day, 2017, he wrote, “It’s not about political affiliation, religious or spiritual beliefs, ethnicity, race, sexuality, or where we’re from. The volunteers that make up Team Caveman, who left their comfort zones, homes, and families, to risk their lives to help strangers, are my proof. They are my heroes! Our volunteers were Asian, Brown, Black, White, liberal, moderate, conservative, straight, gay, atheist, Christian, Jewish, Pagan, women, men, from Texas, California, Michigan, Florida, and Ontario, Canada. Donations for our efforts have come from across the nation, and around the world. We rescued everyone we could, without judgement or prejudices.

“My faith in mankind is stronger than ever. So please, after the Harvey tragedy is over, I hope people will quit judging others for their beliefs, show empathy, practice random acts of kindness, spread kindness, peace, and love!”

Eleven years after his parents’ car accident, Bruce wrote, “To this day, people who hear of the accident say ‘I’m so sorry.’ While the sentiment is appreciated, there is no reason to express condolences or sorrow anymore. You see, my parents never really left me. They remain alive within me, I talk to them daily, and it’s amazing how much guidance they provide to me throughout my days. Of course I miss their physical presence, sharing life events with them, our conversations, their loving hugs and kisses.

“I am thankful for everything they gave me. I know they did the best they knew how to do and loved me, my sister, my brothers, their grandchildren, our entire family and their friends. Most of all, I know how much they loved one another. For all of that, I am grateful. Still, this date and hour are painful. Regardless, when I think of Bernie and Marlene, between the tears I smile, I am thankful for the life they gave me, and the time we had together. My only regret is that they didn’t get to know Michelle and Joshua. Mom, Dad, thank you. You are missed. I love you.

“Perhaps Facebook is an odd place to share this piece of myself and my parents. But putting it into words, and sharing my love of my parents with others, somehow makes it easier for me to get through this day.”

Bruce told me that his parents knew that he loved to help others and were inspired by his time as a Fireman and Paramedic. But in the years since their passing, Bruce has never given up, no matter what diseases and troubles came his way. He has shown his compassion, political passion, and caring toward others, all exemplified by his efforts since Hurricane Harvey, calling out of nowhere to so many others to help him help others.

Bruce has done his family proud. His parents must be looking down on him and smiling at the boy they raised, the boy who became a Caveman in the Flood, leading others, rescuing everyone he could, without judgement or prejudice, spreading kindness, peace, and love throughout the deep, dark, frightening waters of Texas

Bruce Margolis parents

Support Great Causes in Israel

 

I was not aware of Shai Asher (Milton’s Gift), an Israeli charity that provides meaningful employment and career training for people with disabilities. I doubt if many Americans has heard of Jeremy’s Circle in Tel Aviv, an organization that supports children living with cancer, or Sulam L’Atid, a charitable organization in Jerusalem that helps impoverished Israeli high school students advance to higher education by giving them free tutorials along with economic support.

 

It is hard enough for Israel to survive amidst the incredible pressure from its Middle East neighbors, the European Union, and the United Nations. Imagine what it’s like for so many of its excellent charities to survive. Many American Jews would like to support Israel’s worthy charitable organizations but they don’t know most of them and do not have an easy way to contribute and get tax deductions. Until now.

 

Imagine supporting Israel, your way. You can now donate to any of dozens of outstanding Israeli charities when you sign up with Cause:Israel (www.causeisrael.org.)

 

“Ever wish you could help shape Israel today and what it will be like in the future…without getting into political arguments on Facebook? We do too! So, we made a modern tzedakah box that lets you do exactly that!” That’s the tagline from the homepage of Cause:Israel, which was developed by Jewcer (www.jewcer.org), a nonprofit that helps organizations and individuals run crowdfunding campaigns. Jewcer charges fees for those campaigns which pay for all the operation of all their programs, including Cause:Israel. This is why they are able to make sure that more support gets to the Israeli organizations that need it.

 

 

Personalized Giving

 

Cause:Israel allows you to pick the organization you want your donation to go , and it only includes organizations in Israel that have been thoroughly vetted by known and respected, trusted organizations such as Midot The Good People Fund or The Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. It has developed a unique algorithm that takes into account your preferred causes and the history of your picks, and checks out what’s trending within the Cause:Israel community. Based on these factors, it chooses three organizations to send you every month. Then you pick the one that receives your tax deductible contribution.

 

You can click to see more than the top three nonprofits for that month and pick a different organization that speaks to your heart. You can also go into your preferences and change the types of causes you care about and then the system will recalculate the best picks for you. If you aren’t able to find an organization that you want to support, you can contact support@causeisrael.org and recommend it.

 

 

Trusted Organizations and Taxes Made Easy

 

This is what makes this simple and effective: 100% of your donation is tax deductible. Cause:Israel does not take any fees and do not take any fees from donors. You will get a receipt after each donation is processed and one report and receipt at the end of the year for all your contributions, to receive your U.S. tax deduction. A small incentive for you, but a big impact for the causes in Israel you care about

It has been difficult to find out much about Israeli charities but now, there is one website that gives critical information and allows contributions at the same time. Finally, American Jews and non-Jews alike can donate to many vitally important charitable organizations, simply and easily.

 

Tikkun Olam was never as easy as it has become on the Internet and it’s even easier today because of www.causeisrael.org. So for anyone who deeply cares about the people of Israel and wants a simple way to support good Israeli charities, sign up today at Cause:Israel.

 

No matter how easy it is, it is still vitally important to keep trying to repair the world, one person, one donation, one gift of giving at a time.Cause Israel Diverse Hands

Av

Mom, Dad, and Kenny

July 28, 2017

The eleventh month of the Jewish calendar is Av, which literally means “father.”

My brother, Kenny, died 35 years ago on the first day of Av, in a car that his father, my dad, was driving home from a Detroit Tigers game on a hot July night in 1982. The car was rammed on the passenger’s side by a young law student named Rochelle, sharing the same name as my mother.

I have attended more services in synagogue in the last three years, since my father died on the Fifteenth of Av (August 11, 2014.) I have learned of the tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people in the month of Av. In fact, the most tragic day in the Jewish calendar is the Ninth of Av (Tisha B’Av), the day of numerous catastrophes…the destruction of both temples, the sin of the spies, the first crusade which killed 1.2 million Jews, the expelling of Jews from England in 1290, the banishment of Jews from Spain in 1492, Germany declaring war on Russia in 1914, the start of World War 1, the approval for Himmler’s “The Final Solution,” and the deportation of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, whom were taken to be gassed in Treblinka.

The tragic month of Av has one high point: the fifteenth of Av, (Tu B’Av,) a day designated for finding one’s predestined soulmate, considered the holiday of love, one of the happiest days on the Jewish calendar. Sometimes referred to as Hag HaAhava, it is like Valentine’s Day in America or Sadie Hawkins Day.

Tu B’Av was the day that both my parents died, exactly one year apart.

Loss and love lead to burning questions and one of the questions I’ve recently asked is: Why Av? Why the first day of Av and Tu B’Av? Were the dates of my family’s actual deaths random or are there deeper hidden meanings?

The day my father died was an eventful day, besides being the fifteenth of Av. It was the same day that Robin Williams (whose birthday, July 21, was the date of my brother’s death) tragically ended his own life, the same day the streets of Michigan were flooded with pounding rain. When we walked out of Beaumont Hospital after Rabbi Shere arrived to give my dad his final prayers, there was water pouring out of the ceiling near the parking lot and when we drove down 13 Mile Road, the street had at least two feet of standing water, slowing the drive down to a standstill. There were hundreds of homes and hundreds of streets flooded that day. People were stuck in their cars, stuck in buildings, unable to get home.

After my father departed this world, my mother’s Alzheimer’s worsened. She forgot that she ever sat in the room with us as my dad took his last breath. She asked us hundreds of times during the next year, where is dad? Have you seen him? She moved from Fox Run to Arden Court, a facility for people with dementia, and ended up at Regent Street in West Bloomfield. She sometimes wandered into her neighbors’ rooms, asking when my dad was going to pick her up and take her home. She would often turn to Judy and me and ask, what happened to dad? When we told her over and over again that he was gone, she wondered why she was never told. She would cry and then settle down and within a few minutes, ask the same questions that she had just asked. Anyone who has a parent with dementia understands the language of loss, the loss of memory, especially short term memory. Even near the end of her life, my mom could sometimes remember certain days from decades earlier as if she were still there.

When we took her to the hospital because she was sleeping too much and found out she had a large tumor on her right breast and spots covering her lungs, we wondered how this had suddenly happened. She had had a normal, clean breast exam a few months earlier. There were many times Judy and I wondered if this sudden bout of cancer was some kind of “gift” from my father, to put an end to her Alzheimer’s before it got much worse, and bring her back to be with her husband, where she belonged. My parents had been married for 60 years and most of it was happy and contented. They were very loyal to each other, except for bursts of anger and frustration, some that happened early in their marriage and some in their last years, when they had a hard time dealing with the difficulties of old age.

As my mother deteriorated both physically and mentally, Judy came to visit her almost every day. We had other caregivers with her around the clock and my sister, Leslie, came to stay with her during her last few weeks of life. As my mother cared less and less about food, we knew that her time was limited. She virtually stopped eating and stayed in bed at Regent Street. She was on hospice and had visitations from hospice nurses a few times a day. We actually changed hospice companies after a few weeks because the first one wasn’t responsive enough and gave some poor advice that helped cause physical distress. Medications were modified by trial and error as she stopped eating and stopped sipping liquids, all of it tough for her to go through and painful for us to watch.

We wondered, how long would she last without food and water? 11 days, it turned out, which were incredibly difficult, requiring extraordinary patience which my mom, ironically, had very little. Leslie slept in her room every night along with Shaya, my mom’s caregiver. It was really hard to watch my mom move slowly from this world to the next. There were many times we thought she would pass but she held on. Her heart and breathing were still resilient.

My mom could hardly remember anything new from the last year but she felt a connection to Rabbi Shere and asked Leslie if she could see “the rabbi lady.” So Rabbi Shere came after her trip on my mom’s last Shabbat. Then, she returned on Thursday as my mom was unresponsive and stayed by her bedside, singing songs, reading prayers, and holding her hand.

My mom held on until Friday morning, after we said the Mourner’s Kaddish for my dad at morning services. It was my dad’s Yahrtzeit, on Tu B’Av, which we had learned last year after my dad had died was the Jewish Day of Love. So right after services, Leslie told us that mom was changing. Her breathing was rapid and her skin’s color was changing. Judy and I went to join my sister and sat next to my mom, holding her hands. I asked the rabbi to come once again and she came afterward and sat next to mom, holding her hand, putting her hands on her forehead and chest, telling her that she had waited for my dad’s Yahrtzeit, on Tu B’Av. The Rabbi read prayers and told her over and over again that it was okay to leave this world and join my brother and my dad, that she would never be alone, a major fear of my mom’s.

This is what I wrote for my mom’s eulogy: “Watching someone so loved slowly die is painful, excruciating, emotional, and powerful. Near 10a.m., as my mom struggled to breath, the rabbi said my mom had a tear. My mom had never been to see my dad’s unveiling and had never seen the stone we got for him, inscribed with the word, Shalom. Was the tear a goodbye tear or a tear representing peace, the other meaning of shalom? At that moment, my mom’s purpose was complete as she took her last breath. Perhaps it was a tear that she got to see dad and Kenny. A moment of completeness and pure peace, a moment to say hello to those she deeply missed.”

There is solace knowing that my parents spent 60 years married to each other in life and died one year apart on Tu B’Av, two weeks after my brother’s death, on one of the happiest days in the Jewish calendar, the day that both my parents died and found each other and their long lost youngest son, on the other side.

Once again, they are all together again and we, the survivors, are left alone, here, in the sorrows of our hearts, imagining the world above us, the world they now inhabit, the world of souls and spirit, together in eternity.

My Father’s Hero

Written on May 21, 2007

I lost my only brother at 25 but I have been blessed with a father for 50 Father’s Days. I have watched and admired how someone who had so much ripped away can still be delighted by his grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. He listens and plays with them as if he were their brother, as if he were their age.

 

My father’s hero was Hank Greenberg. In my father’s childhood, “Hammerin’ Hank” became the most prolific hitter on the Detroit Tigers. The first Jewish superstar, Greenberg refused to play on Yom Kippur when the Tigers were fighting for a pennant. In 1938, he hit 58 home runs, the most home runs since Babe Ruth’s 60 and in 1942, he volunteered to join the U.S. Army Air Forces in World War II.

As my father and I walked the corridors of Comerica Park and viewed Greenberg’s photo and his 1945 Detroit team, I listened to memories of “the magical season” when my dad was 13, the hometown hero returned to his city, and the war ended.

This was the first time my father and I went to a Major League baseball game in decades and his first trip to the “park” that replaced Tiger Stadium. As the Tigers and Orioles battled in the sixth inning, the wind started gusting and the rain fell hard on our heads. We decided to escape the rain over our heads and watched the game instead on a 19” TV screen above the concession stand.

As we watched Gary Sheffield come to the plate, my father told me about the return of Greenberg. My dad and his friend had paid 50 cents to get bleacher tickets for a doubleheader on July 1st, 1945, Hank’s first game since joining the army. The Tigers were up in the early innings of the game but Hank was many batters away. My dad joined his friend who said there was plenty of time to get a hot dog. The lines were very long and the disappointment severe as the thunderous ovation erupted. They missed Hank hitting his first home run. Hank didn’t homer again that night and didn’t even play in the doubleheader’s second game. After he told the story, we heard a loud noise and watched Gary Sheffield, on instant replay, hit his first home run since joining the Tigers.

I couldn’t remember when my dad and I had last seen a Tigers game. Even though we worked together for two decades in the company he managed, I didn’t recall going to a game with him during or after hours. Instead, I remembered Little League when I had slugged my first good hit over the left fielder’s head with the bases loaded and trotted the bases from first to second, heading to third. I couldn’t forget the third base coach, my dad, screaming at me to keep running. But I was too tired and stopped at third base as he yelled at me, “You could have had a grand slam!” That’s what I remember now though my memory is selective, often focused on what’s most hilarious or horrible.

My father’s most towering memory is his worst, the night he went with my brother, Kenny, to a Detroit-Chicago baseball game in the summer of ’82 when Kenny was 13. On their way home, at the last traffic light before he entered his subdivision, another car went through a blinking red light into my father’s car, slamming into the passenger side.

My father has lived with so many what ifs in the last quarter century. What if he had swerved left? What if he had slowed down or sped up just five seconds? What if he had never gone to the Tigers game with his youngest son?

The last night he shared with Kenny can never be erased. The night has markers every year, always within six weeks after Father’s Day. This year is the 25th anniversary of the death of my brother, Kenneth Samuel, who was born on December 23, 1968 and died on July 21, 1982.

I often think of the grief of parents when I read of dead American soldiers in Iraq and know their aches may soften but the haunted wishes for their sons or daughters’ returns will never disappear.

I know survivors fortunate to have fathers are incredibly lucky, as I am, after my father survived the crash and stayed in my life for another 25 years.

My father was a tough boss and sometimes a demanding father, expecting a lot from me. Or so it seemed before my three children, before watching my oldest son, named after Kenny, ready to enter his fourth year of college.

I lost my only brother at 25 but I have been blessed with a father for 50 Father’s Days. I have watched and admired how someone who had so much ripped away can still be delighted by his grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. He listens and plays with them as if he were their brother, as if he were their ages.

My mother, sister, wife, and I know a 75-year-old man with lymphoma and veins prepped for kidney dialysis won’t live forever. So we must be thankful for the days we have left, the nights we won’t get again.

I am thankful for memories and imagination. After the seventh inning, when we left Comerica Park, I began to envision Kenny’s last night alive when he and his dad entered Tiger Stadium.

Hank Greenberg

I smiled when I imagined my father showing Kenny a photo of the one and only Hammerin’ Hank. I could picture the enthralled eyes of my brother, listening to his dad reliving his childhood in 1945, the year that he celebrated Hank coming home from World War II and leading the Detroit Tigers to the World Series Championship.

Some memories can never be erased, even the imaginary ones.

FREE (for Rachel) April 13, 2017

Facebook says it’s your birthday

Not caring whether you know it or not.

Your face is shared as if you could see it

Yourself and be glad for all the wishes

From so many, all wishing

You were still here . Oh, how

You would laugh and celebrate

This day of becoming legal. You

Were too young to leave and we are too

Hurt to celebrate. The ache spreads

From family to friends and the only

Thought that eases grief

Is a vision of you without pain

In an orbit above our dreams,

In any form you want, free,

Flying  completely free.Rachel on couch