San Diego Jewish World
Volume 1, Number 199
'There's a Jewish story everywhere'
Sunday, November 18, 2007

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Shoshana Bryen in Washington, D.C.: Every veteran is Hal's best Koster-mer; JINSA backs him for citizen's award

Cynthia Citron
in Los Angeles: Lessons assures that audience learns too

Rabbi Baruch Lederman in San Diego: 'Pearing' our perceptions and reality

Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal in San Diego: Notice Divine presence all aorund us

The Week in Review
This week's stories from San Diego Jewish World



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Every veteran is Hal's best Koster-mer; JINSA backs him for citizen's award

By Shoshana Bryen

shoshana_bryenWASHINGTON, D.C.—JINSA has enthusiastically supported Fran O'Brien's dinners out for young soldiers - primarily amputees - recuperating from their wounds at Walter Reed and Bethesda Naval Hospital. For four years, Hal Koster has ensured that soldiers and their families have the benefit of food and fellowship, easing their way back into a society that all-too-often wants to forget them. The dinners began in Hal's restaurant, Fran O'Brien's Stadium Steakhouse, but when the restaurant lost its lease, Hal made sure the soldiers never missed a Friday night out. Leading a dedicated band of volunteers, he corralled restaurants, Embassies, groups and clubs, creating a moveable feast and giving ever more people the opportunity to host and thank our heroes.

Shoshana Bryen

Now we - you - have an opportunity to thank Hal Koster for his dedication to the wellbeing and recovery of our soldiers.

On National Medal of Honor Day (March 25, 2008), three U.S. citizens will be awarded the "Above and Beyond Citizen Honor" established by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society. The 109 living Medal of Honor recipients, the embodiment and definition of selflessness, will select the three honorees from representatives nominated from around the country. The purpose is to honor "ordinary Americans who exemplify service above self."

We would never call Hal Koster "ordinary," but you get the point.

Please go to to complete the nomination form. Click on the red words "Nominate a hero today: Above and Beyond Citizen Honors." It will take you to the online form. The deadline is December 16. When completing the form, use Washington DC 20008 for the City, State and Zip; for the e-mail; (202) 257-6413 for the phone number; and 50-65 for the age group. Where you are asked to answer only one of the following two questions, answer the second set and fill in the text box with the word "sustained" and leave the second box marked "Yes". At the next question asking to describe the nature of the work, fill in the text box marked "Other" with the words "Veterans support." [Let us know that you did it; we'd like to try to keep track.]

As we approach Thanksgiving, we are thankful for the blessings of our great country, our freedoms, our families, our friends, and our lives. We are grateful to servicemen and women, police officers, fire fighters, airport security screeners, border guards, FBI and CIA agents, the Administration and Members of Congress of both parties who believe and speak and vote with the understanding that our nation is at war. We believe it is the combination of all these people working under difficult and often dangerous circumstances - not a lack of trying on the part of the bad guys - that has have kept us safe for another year. We are grateful to their parents for raising the children who grew into the adults who serve America in so many ways, and grateful to their families for sharing them.

This year, too, we are grateful for the opportunity to know people like Hal Koster and for the opportunity to take a small but meaningful step toward having his service to the most vulnerable of our defenders - those who return injured and in need of moral and emotional support - recognized and applauded. Members of JINSA have provided so much support to the Fran O'Brien's dinners; we hope readers of San Diego Jewish World will as well. Please now click the buttons and do one more thing for the troops before Thanksgiving dinner.

Bryen in director of special projects for the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA)

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'Pearing' our perceptions and reality

DVAR TORAH: Vayaitzei

By Rabbi Baruch Lederman

rabbi_baruch_ledermanSAN DIEGO—Yaakov had a harsh life. He was forced to flee from his violent hateful brother, the wicked Esav. Upon arriving in Charan he met the woman he loved, but the wily Lavan tricked him
into working years of veritable slave labor in order to gain her hand in marriage. As bad as all this was, it was just a warm-up for the strife that was soon to befall Yaakov when he lost his beloved son Yosef. Yet, Yaakov, after being reunited with Yosef, enjoyed a joyous, peaceful, content old age. We go through many dark chapters in our life, yet better things are still to come, as the following parable illustrates:

There was a man who had four sons. He wanted his sons to learn not to judge things too quickly. So he sent them each on a quest, in turn, to go and look at a pear tree that was a great distance away.
Rabbi Baruch Lederman

The first son went in the winter, the second in the spring, the third in summer, and the youngest son in the fall. When they had all gone and come back, he called them together to describe what they had seen.

The first son said that the tree was ugly, bent, and twisted. The second son said no it was covered with green buds and full of promise. The third son disagreed; he said it was laden with blossoms that smelled so sweet and looked so beautiful, it was the most  graceful thing he had ever seen. The last son disagreed with all of them; he said it was ripe and drooping with fruit, full of life and fulfillment.

The man then explained to his sons that they were all right, because they had each seen but only one season in the tree's life. He told them that you cannot judge a tree, or a person, by only one season, and that the essence of who they are and the pleasure, joy, and love that come from that life can only be measured at the end, when all the seasons are up.

If you give up when it's winter, you will miss the promise of your spring, the beauty of your summer, fulfillment of your fall. Don't let the pain of one season destroy the joy of all the rest. Don't judge life by one difficult season. Persevere through the difficult patches and better times are sure to come.

A man once complained to the Chofetz Chaim that his life was full of unbearable hardship, suffering and poverty. He was in tears, exclaiming to the Chofetz Chaim that he and his family were at their breaking point.

The Chofetz Chaim calmly and lovingly said to the man, "Each person has a certain amount of bounty destined to come his way during his lifetime. Tell me, would you rather have those good times while young and have a difficult old age; or would you rather get the hardship out of the way now and have a pleasant easy old age?"

The man replied that he would want an easy old age.

"Then what's the problem?" said the Chofetz Chaim, "That's exactly what the Aibishter (G-d) is doing for you."

Dedicated by the Spector Family, Mitch & Piper, Lou & Mia.

Rabbi Lederman is the spiritual leader of Congregation Kehillas Torah in San Diego


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Notice Divine presence all around us

By Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal

leonard_rosenthalSAN DIEGO—After Jacob tricks Isaac into giving him Esau’s blessing, Jacob flees from his brother’s wrath. Before he leaves Eretz Yisrael  he sleeps and dreams. In his dream angels ascend and descend a ladder connecting heaven and earth. God speaks to Jacob and reaffirms the earlier promise to Avraham: "Your descendants will be as numerous as the sand on the sea shore and I will give you the land." When Jacob awakes he realizes: "God was in this place and I knew it not."

One common drash that rabbis give about this verse is that Jacob’s surprise and wonder remind us that God’s Presence fills the earth. Everywhere around us are sparks of the Divine. If we are sensitive, perceptive, and open we will find God everywhere we go and in everything we do.

One night two renowned Jewish sages happened to spend the same night at a small inn. One was a Mitnagdic Rav* and the other a Chassidic Rebbe.* The Rav said to the Rebbe: "I would like to ask you something. Every place you go you are surrounded by hundreds of followers while I am virtually ignored. Am I not as learned in Torah and God fearing as you? We are equals in many ways, yet people flock after you and overlook me.

"I, too," replied the Rebbe, "do not know why so many people want to be in my presence."

The Rav continued: "They say that you can perform miracles, cure illnesses, and read minds. Is a human being truly capable of these things?"

"I wish I was a tzaddik**," said the Rebbe, "for when tzaddikim make decrees, God carries them out."

"But I have heard that you, too, believe that you have special powers," continued the Rav. "Why don’t you tell me what I am thinking about now?"

The Rebbe closed his eyes and concentrated. Finally he spoke: "You are thinking about the verse from the Bible: ‘I will set God continually before me.’"

"Ha!" said the Rav. "You are a charlatan. That’s not what I was thinking about!"

The Rebbe began to laugh. "Now, from your own words you know why I have many disciples and you have none!"

From Jacob’s dream we learn that God’s Presence fills creation. If we are open and prescient we will perceive it. The Rebbe in the story adds that it is not only enough for us to know that God fills our world; our awareness of God’s presence should lead us to living introspective, thoughtful, and Godly lives.

*Mitnagdim were Jews of the 18th century who believed that rigorous Jewish study was the best path to God. Chassidim believed that enthusiasm and spiritual verve in life and worship was better. The two Jewish communities were often at odds with one another. **Tzadik/Tazadikim - A righteous person/people.

Rabbi Rosenthal is the spiritual leader of Tifereth Israel Synagogue in San Diego


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Lessons assures that audience learns too

By Cynthia Citron

cynthia_citronWEST HOLLYWOOD, California — In the summer of 2005 Wendy Graf’s Lessons premiered at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center in West Hollywood. It starred the incomparable Hal Linden and Mare Winningham and I gave it a warm review at the time. But it closed prematurely because one of the principals had a family emergency.

Now it’s back. Same venue, same male lead (as delicious as ever), same plot line, but a very different play. Graf has revised and rewritten, added more humor, changed the ending (Linden doesn’t die this time), and made it much richer, more affecting, and catch-in-the-throat moving.

Cynthia Citron

Linden, as Ben Rosen, a childless and newly bereaved widower, has decided on a whim to visit Israel. A self-styled, lifelong “watered-down Jew,” he knows very little about his religion, its history, and its traditions. Now, in his 70s, he feels a need to reconnect with his heritage and comes to Ruth (Larissa Laskin), a disaffected rabbi, to learn Hebrew in preparation for the trip.

Warming to the subject, enjoying the challenge, and intrigued by the fractious rabbi, he extends his modest goal and resolves to undertake the rigorous studies necessary for the Bar Mitzvah he never had. However, first he must convince the reluctant rabbi to tutor him.

A warm and inquisitive man, he barrages her with questions (“My wife called me the national inquirer,” he confesses), and brings her bagels, which he continually nags her to eat. (“Funny, you don’t look like my mother,” she responds).

Eventually, she agrees to teach him, and as the lessons and their friendship progress, we learn why she has turned away from her religion, and how he agonizes over the fact that when his beloved wife lay dying he prayed for God to take her out of her misery, instead of praying for her to live.

Meanwhile, the lessons become more and more didactic, as he---and the audience---are treated to the basics of Hebrew, many of the blessings and prayers, and much of the whys and wherefores of the Jewish tradition. It’s all very heavy-duty, even for a Jewish audience. And, I think, far more than a Gentile audience would care to know.

But since a disproportionate chunk of the audience in most major cities is Jewish, this newly revised production should do very well. The play is extraordinarily well written and the acting is first-rate. Adam Davidson, who directed the earlier play, was currently engaged elsewhere, so his father, Gordon, directed this time around. Need I say more?

Since the entire play takes place on designer Daniel L. Wheeler’s appropriately shabby set, the passage of time is rendered by J. Kent Inasy’s satisfyingly emotional lighting design. And the time passes quickly, even though the play runs an hour and forty minutes—without an intermission.

Lessons, a co-production of The Group at Strasberg and the West Coast Jewish Theatre, will continue at the Lee Strasberg Creative Center’s Marilyn Monroe Theatre, 7936 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, Thursdays through Sundays until December 23. Call (323) 650-7777 for tickets. You’ll enjoy!





Donald H. Harrison
in San Diego: Beau's Geste: Student gives up bar mitzvah money so others kids can have a school

Ira Sharkansky
in Jerusalem: Jewish shtetl mentality is understandable
but dangers to Jews often exaggerated

David Strom
in San Diego: The saga of a Muslim woman seeking a modern life that her society would deny


Shoshana Bryen in Washington D.C.: Parsing Secretary Rice's Mideast outlook
Joel and Arlene Moskowitz in La Jolla: Two centuries of U.S.-Muslim conflict dissected by author Michael B. Oren
Fred Reiss in Winchester, California: Fictional rabbi become a detective— as if her life wasn't already crazy enough
Dorothea Shefer-Vanson in Eilat, Israel: The joy of wintering on Israel's Riviera
Isaac Yetiv in La Jolla: Two myths will color Annapolis confab: "occupation" and "illegal settlements"


Garry Fabian in Melbourne, Australia: Former Labor prime minister slams Liberals' pot shot about Israel .... Stark memories of Kristallnacht
Gaylene Fisch in Solana Beach, California: KLS: A rare syndrome affecting Ashkenazi families for which there is no known cure
Gerry Greber in Solana Beach, California: Baptist minister shares 35 years of Israeli memories with Women's Ort lunch group
Donald H. Harrison
in San Diego: Strolling through the knotty questions of inter-religious and inter-Jewish relations
Sheila Orysiek in Costa Mesa, California: Tango's repetitive dance moves and lack of color in costuming can tire audiences
Dorothea Shefer-Vanson in Eilat, Israel: The quieter voices at Israel's playground


Shoshana Bryen in Washington, D.C.: Army officer reflects on Veteran's Day about his assignment in the Iraq war
Mitchell Finke
l in North Bethesda, Maryland: Why Abbas as peacemaker is unbelievable
Peter Garas
in Gordon, Australia: Colonialism the culprit in Pakistan and elsewhere in unstable world
Donald H. Harrison
in San Diego: Dreams Imagined by Freud Descendant
Michoel Stern
in Monsey, New York: What about extending tolerance to the Orthodox members of your family?
Lynne Thrope
in San Diego: Culinary stars gather for San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival


Shoshana Bryen in Washington, D.C.: Pakistan has neither a racial nor philosophical identity to help unify it.
Natasha Josefowitz in La Jolla, California: We share our territorialism with the lower orders of animal life; can we transcend it?
Joe Naiman in Lakeside, California: Unusual Suspect gladdens a Jewish family
Sheila Orysiek in San Diego: Expanding our view of Veteran's Day
Ira Sharkansy in Jerusalem: 'Right of return' and 'undivided Jerusalem' jeopardize any bargain at Annapolis


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