“In front of the Torah, we pay tribute to those who served our country,” said Rabbi Yosie Levine of the Jewish Center, in Manhattan, which hosted the May 30 Jewish Community Memorial Day Event, “An Appreciation of America’s Service Members.” With a U.S. Marine Corps Color Guard on the bimah, Levine told the guests: “Each Shabbat we pray and say todah [thank you]…. May God bless America.”
Event chair Daniel Oppenheim, a vice president at DGA Security Systems, said, “Many of the 50 Marines in the sanctuary here for Fleet Week … will be deployed to Afghanistan this year.”
Robert Magnus, a retired general of the United States Marine Corps and the evening’s keynote speaker, lit a candle. Magnus was honoring fallen soldiers’ mothers and spouses who hung the Gold Star in a window in commemoration of a member who gave his or her life in the service of the United States. Jacob Goldstein, senior Jewish chaplain of the armed forces of the U.S. Army Reserve and of Active Duty, lit a candle in memory of Daniel Agami, private first class, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2007.
One of the candle lighters, Dorine Kenney, recalled her son, paratrooper Jacob Fletcher, who was killed in Iraq in 2003: “He was my only child, killed by an IED, a roadside bomb, 11 days before his 29th birthday. After 9/11, he told me, ‘Mom, this will never happen to my country again.’ What kept me going was shipping things to him.” In her son’s memory Kenney established Jacob’s Light Foundation, Inc., which to date has sent 343,000 packages to the troops.
Two marines and one sailor were called to the bimah and read the English translation of Hebrew prayers.
“There is no greater love than for a man willing to put his life [in peril] for his or her brothers and sisters,” said Magnus, the 30th Assistant Commandant of the Marine Corps. Upon his retirement Magnus had served for more than 39 years. Brooklyn-born and a bar mitzvah, Magnus cited Steven Spielberg’s 1998 film “Saving Private Ryan”: “At the end of the film, Private Ryan [as an old man] visits the cemetery and ponders: ‘Was I a good man? Did I live a good life?’” Magnus asserted: “[Those who served] are tzaddikim [righteous men]…. They do it when no one is watching. They helped liberate half the world…. There is a great history of Jewish service in America…. In every war, [they fought] in larger number than their number in the population. In 1861, 6,000 Jews served [in the Civil War] — 8% out of a [then] Jewish population of 100,000.”
Steven Rein, Air Force chaplain and assistant rabbi at the Park Avenue Synagogue, read the Prayer for the Welfare of the Armed Forces. The center’s cantor, Chaim David Berson, sang our National Anthem. At the post-ceremony reception, guests chatted with the 50 Marines, who hailed from all over America. Along with cookies and nibbles, on each table were laminated enlargements of a story the Forward ran in February, “Profiles of Our Fallen,” which profiled Jews who lost their lives in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the Council of Young Jewish Presidents, and nearly 70 Jewish organizations and institutions presented the event.
A personal note: On Memorial Day, Karen Leon, cartoonist and illustrator and this column’s photographer, launched her military comic strip, “SGT. MAXIMUS and Company,” on the Web. It is a multiethnic, humorous exploration of life in today’s military, which reflects positively on the men and women who serve. The strip, which centers on the Marine Corps and includes characters of the Army, Navy and other services, showcases a wide range of training, combat and civilian situations. Leon’s animated sequences of her characters were included in the DVD “Thank You for Serving,” which, edited by HBO, was distributed overseas to the troops as well as to military bases and hospitals stateside and abroad.
“In Her Footsteps,” the June 1 lunch event held at the Grand Hyatt by UJA-Federation of New York’s Women’s Philanthropy, honored Judith Fryer, a principal shareholder at Greenberg Traurig, LLP; Betty Levin, founder and president of Corporate Art Directions Inc.; fashion designer Ramy Sharp, and Jean Troubh, co-chair of the board of Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services.
Sharp’s tribute to her mother as a role model who “instilled in her children a commitment to Judaism, philanthropy and doing good for others” was articulated by all the honorees, who touted the generation-by-generation obligation to help those in need. Laura Kleinhandler, a member of UJA-Federation of New York’s Westchester Women’s Philanthropy, received the Martha K. Selig Young Leadership Award in memory of Selig, a UJA-Federation communal professional.
Grammy Award-winning, Israeli-born Miri Ben-Ari, recipient of the Women’s Philanthropy’s Compassion Award, wowed the nearly 500 women in the room with her dazzling performance. Once a student of Isaac Stern, she is known as the Hip-Hop Violinist. According to the luncheon journal, “her single ‘Symphony of Brotherhood’ is the first instrumental single to hit Billboard’s Hip Hop/R&B charts, MTV and VH1.” In 2008 she received the Israel Film Festival’s Visionary Award and is the first Israeli to receive the Martin Luther King Award from Israeli president Shimon Peres. Ben-Ari is CEO and founder of Gedenk (Yiddish for “remember”), an organization dedicated to promoting among young people awareness about the Holocaust.
The Jewish Book Council’s Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature award ceremony was held May 31 at the Center for Jewish History and was hosted by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. The $100,000 first prize was presented to Austin Ratner, author of “The Jump Artist” (Bellevue Literary Press, 2009), about Life magazine photographer Philippe Halsman. The Choice Award was presented to Joseph Skibell for “A Curable Romantic” (Algonquin Books, 2010). “Jewish books are the building blocks of Jewish life,” said keynote speaker Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University. Lipstadt received acclaim for her libel trial against David Irving, which she detailed in her book, “History on Trial: My Day in Court With a Holocaust Denier” (Ecco/HarperCollins, 2005).
“How do you define a Jewish holiday?” Lipstadt posited. “’They tried to kill us. We survived. Let’s eat!’ What keeps us together is not just what was done to us. Yes, we were persecuted, suffered, [but] we can’t lose sight of the culture.” She paused: “You cannot allow Jewish creativity to be overshadowed by anti-Semitism. It should not be what was done to them, but what they did! That we survived as a people, a culture, [because] we create, we innovate.”
In the summer 2011 issue of Jewish Book World, an article on Ratner’s novel about Halsman, who was falsely accused and imprisoned for the murder of his father, states: “Based on a true story of Philippe Halsman, a man whom Adolf Hitler knew by name, whom Sigmund Freud wrote about in 1930, and who put Marilyn Monroe on the cover of Life magazine.” From 1951 to 1954 Halsman — who was working on the “Jump” book at the time — was my boss at the American Society of Magazine Photographers. He was a longtime friend. His past life was a mystery.