| Friday, 14 October 2011 00:00|
Ruth HorowitzI once worked as the librarian at a Catholic girls’ high school. Before I took the job, I worried that my background would be a barrier. But the nuns loved having a Jewish librarian. They saw me as a direct line to their religious roots, and I began playing up my Judaism in order to please them. Everything was fine until Sister Mary Emilie invited me to address her Religion 9 class in a sort of “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Judaism” session.
The students submitted questions in advance. Lots of them were easy. What is a bar mitzvah? Why do men wear those little beanies? Why don’t Jews celebrate Christmas? Other questions were trickier: Do Jews like Jesus? What about hell?
A few days later, I stood before a room full of 14-year-olds in matching yellow blouses and checked skirts. Flipping through my index cards, I talked about coming-of-age rituals and covering the head as a sign of respect. I told the girls that Jews consider Jesus a great teacher, but don’t believe anyone can be the son of God. As for hell, I said, it’s part of Jewish folklore, but not doctrine. “Nobody tells Jewish kids that if they sin they’ll go to hell,” I added.
Hands shot up all over the room.
| Tuesday, 20 September 2011 02:34|
Ruth HorowitzMy father died 17 years ago, on the 13th day of Elul. Judaism prompts me to observe that date. When I can, I do. I say Kaddish, make a charitable donation, sometimes light a candle. But the date I really associate with losing him is the secular one. In my mind, the tragedy didn’t occur two weeks before Rosh Hashanah, but on Aug. 20, during a family vacation on Cape Cod.
How can I forget those awful drives between the beach house and the hospital? The far worse one, to the cemetery in New Jersey?
Irv Horowitz grew up in Elizabeth, N.J., and spent decades as assistant national news editor at The New York Times. He had an exacting eye for detail and little patience for stupid mistakes. He was also very friendly, and funny.
He brought home lots of jokes from work. He told one of his favorites standing up, acting out the story as it unfolded. A desperate mother holds her baby in the window of a burning building. A man from the crowd shouts, “I’m a wide receiver for the New York Jets – I’ll catch your baby!” The woman drops the child, and as the wind blows the baby first one way, then the other, the wide receiver adjusts his run, barely managing to snag the baby at the last second. The crowd goes wild! I can still see my father playing the part of the hero. Beaming, he raises his arm in triumph – and spikes the imaginary baby to the ground.
| Friday, 19 August 2011 16:17|
Our family had a wedding last month. Following her mother’s example, my daughter married a mensh. Like my husband David, my son-in-law is a sweet, smart, dependable guy who makes good jokes, loves to cook, and comes from a loving family that happens not to be Jewish. Like my mother when I got married, I happily endorsed my daughter’s choice, and hoped her nuptials would honor her Jewish upbringing.
“As long as it’s a Jewish wedding,” my mother said. She didn’t need an “or else.” We wanted to please her. Besides, I wanted a Jewish wedding, too. For her, and me, having a rabbi officiate was a promise about her future grandchildren. David didn’t object, and neither did his parents – they had grown up in a Zoroastrian home in India and a Methodist one in Iowa, but raised their own kids religion-free.
My mother selected the flowers, planned the menu and found the rabbi. “Just do the standard Jewish ceremony,” we told him, and that’s what he did. After he left, David’s mother performed a Zoroastrian blessing.
Sophie and Henry wanted to organize their own wedding. And they didn’t want to include a rabbi. “As long as it’s not on a Saturday,” I said. When they asked which Jewish elements I’d like included in the ceremony, the answer wasn’t obvious. I considered the huppah, the wine, the Seven Blessings, the broken glass. I didn’t want to see any of them thrown in just for flavor. What universal meanings could we uncover within these specific symbols?
| Thursday, 21 July 2011 16:34|
Ruth HorowitzHave you heard about the Grand Mosque in Paris? According to the story, while the Nazis and the Vichy government murdered 11,600 French Jewish children, 1,700 were saved with help from the mosque’s rector. You can read about it on the Web and in a picture book. Some accounts mention children being given Muslim aliases. Others say kids were hidden in underground tunnels. One version describes someone being smuggled down the Seine on a barge, inside an empty produce barrel.
It’s a great story. Too bad it’s not entirely true.
Ethan Katz, an historian of French Jewish-Muslim relations, says that while some Jews clearly were rescued through the mosque, the number is probably exaggerated. And the rector also exposed some Jews who were trying to pass as Muslim. So while the story is basically accurate, it has been stretched and simplified – that is, turned into a myth.
And one person’s hero story can be another’s cautionary tale about a blunder. At Pakistan Defense Forum, one of many Web sites that carry the story, a reader comments, “Stupid mistake. I wonder how many of those Jews we saved ended up as Israeli citizens living on some poor Palestinian’s land?”