By Joseph Aaron, Editor
What a lousy year.
5779, now thankfully coming to a close, was a year filled with tragedy and heartbreak, filled with disgusting behavior, filled with Jews that acted shamefully.
5779 was the year of Pittsburgh and Poway.
It was a year in which congregations in those two cities, the Tree of Life Synagogue and the Chabad of Poway, each saw a madman walk in and start shooting. Both shootings took place on Shabbat, exactly six months to the day apart. At the Tree of Life, 11 Jews were murdered. In Poway, a woman was killed because she chose to put herself in front of the rabbi, thus saving his life and sacrificing hers.
They were the two most dramatic examples of an increase in anti-Semitism in this country and in countries around the world, which, many believe, has been incited by the racist immigrant hater in the White House, whose tweets and behavior have convinced white supremacists he is on their side, thus giving them a sense of freedom that they can once again crawl out from under their rocks and spew their hate in both word and deed.
But as tragic as Pittsburgh and Poway and all the other anti-Semitic attacks and acts and language were, much sadder was how badly so many prominent Jews behaved.
5779 was the year of Jeffrey Epstein, as loathsome a Jew as ever walked the face of the earth, someone who sexually abused dozens, perhaps hundreds of underage girls. And it was the year of Leslie Wexner, a prominent Jewish philanthropist who has donated millions to Jewish causes, who for many years was Epstein’s enabler, his only client, someone who vouched for him, gave him credibility and money and power, indeed gave him a mansion in New York worth tens of millions of dollars for not one penny. A mansion at which Epstein brought in a stream of young females to abuse.
5779 was the year of Michael Steinhardt, another prominent Jewish philanthropist who has given tens of millions of dollars to Jewish causes, who was accused by a large number of Jewish women working for Jewish organizations of having sexually harassed, belittled, humiliated and intimated them.
5779 was the year of Alan Dershowitz, who was the lawyer who years ago got Epstein his slap on the wrist plea deal that allowed him to continue his reign of perversion, and who to this day defends what he did then and who, for bad measure, also defends an article he wrote years ago arguing that “statutory rape is an outdated concept.”
5779 was the year that Robert Kraft, owner of the Super Bowl winning New England Patriots, a man who has a stadium named after him in Jerusalem, was caught on video engaging prostitutes in sex acts at a massage parlor in a sleazy Florida strip mall.
5779 was the year that the Sackler family, major contributors to institutions in Israel, were found to have essentially murdered tens of thousands of people when it was revealed that they directed their company Purdue Pharma to mislead doctors and patients about the dangers of the opioid painkiller OxyContin produced by the company. Internal company communications show that the Sacklers made decisions to aggressively market OxyContin even though it is highly addictive. They then blamed the people who had become addicted to the drug. The Sacklers are among the richest families in the United States, with much of their wealth derived from sales of OxyContin. Family head Richard Sackler urged sales representatives to advise doctors to prescribe the highest dosage of OxyContin because it was the most profitable. More than 200,000 people have died in the United States from overdoses involving prescription opioids. Yes, a Jewish family was the creator of this country’s opioid crisis.
5779 was the year that one of the most prestigious rabbis in England, a member of the country’s most prestigious rabbinical court, was found to be having an affair with a married woman. It was the year when the prime minister of Israel welcomed into his political embrace a party that includes Jewish terrorists who are banned from entering the United States. A year in which the attorney general of Israel announced his intention to indict that same prime minister of Israel on charges of bribery and fraud and breach of trust in three separate cases. A year in which the first lady of Israel, Sara Netanyahu, admitted in court to having misused more than $100,000 in state funds. She now has a criminal record.
5779 was the year in which all the Jews around Trump brought shame upon the Jewish people. There was David Pecker, publisher of the tawdry National Enquirer, admitting he bought stories in order to kill them and so conceal Trump’s affairs with a Playboy model and a porn actress. A year in which long time fixer Michael Cohen, son of a Holocaust survivor, was sent to jail for lying to Congress that it was he who provided hush money to silence the Playboy model and the porn actress. A year in which Alan Weiselberg, Trump’s longtime financial guru, cut a deal with New York state prosecutors to spill the beans on all the financial shenanigans Trump had him do for 30 years. A year in which Crown Prince Jared Kushner was shown to be both inept and corrupt, manipulating laws meant to help the poor to feather his own nest, using his position to convince foreign countries to provide him with loans to save his failing real estate empire, a year in which his long promised ‘deal of the century’ to bring Middle East peace still was not unveiled. A year in which Jared colluded with Saudi Crown Prince MBS to cover up the murder of a journalist.
A year in which Stephen Miller was unleashed to cause as much suffering as possible to desperate people seeking asylum in this country and furthering his lifelong goal of ending immigration, both illegal and legal, to this country. So shameful has Miller been with his caging of children and his separating of families that his childhood rabbi used his Rosh Hashanah sermon last year to lambast him.
What a lousy year for Jewish values, Jewish principles, Jewish ethics, Jewish morals, a year in which prominent people who should be Jewish role models, rich Jews, powerful Jews were shown to be creeps, perverts, criminals, liars and bums.
But there was thankfully more to 5779 than depraved Jewish behavior and tragic Jewish loss.
It was a year in which the Democrats took control of the House and as a result several Jews became chairmen of powerful House committees – Schiff of Intelligence, Nadler of Judiciary, Lowey of Appropriations, Engel of Foreign Relations, Yarmuth of Budget. It was a year in which Israel held not one but two national elections, neither of which produced a clear winner and both of which highlighted the chaos of Israel’s politics and the divisions between religious and secular, right and left, Ashkenazic and Sephardic. It was a year in which two Jews ran for the Democratic nomination for president — Bernie Sanders, a socialist, and Marianne Williamson, a spiritualist.
It was a year in which a Jew, Julian Edelman, became the first to be named MVP of the Super Bowl. A year in which Israel attempted to be only the fourth country on earth to land a vehicle on the moon. The vehicle, however, crashed into the moon, didn’t land on it. As I said, 5779 was a lousy year.
5779 was a year of anniversaries. The 90th of the birth of Anne Frank. The 10th of the Bernie Madoff scandal. The 80th of Kristallnacht. The fifth of three teens being murdered in the West Bank, their bodies discovered after more than a month of desperate searching. The 10th of the Mumbai massacre that killed a young Lubavitch couple. The 25th of the death of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the greatest rabbi of the last century and one of the greatest of all time.
It was a year in which the 1,000th Jew graduated from West Point, a year in which a Jewish comedian was elected the president of Ukraine. A year, no joke, in which a kosher sandwich shop in Lakewood, New Jersey was threatened with losing its kosher certification because it flew an Israeli flag on Israeli Independence Day. Tells you a lot about the lousy state of Jewish unity, Jewish tolerance in the year 5779.
In Chicago, it was a year of retirements. Rahm Emanuel, the first Jew elected as mayor of Chicago, chose not to run for another term. Rabbi Vernon Kurtz of North Suburban Synagogue Beth El stepped down after 30 years. Regine Schlesinger retired after 45 years broadcasting on WBBM Newsradio 78. Steven Nasatir, who led the city’s most important Jewish organization, the Jewish Federation of Chicago, for 40 years, made way for his son Lonnie to take the helm.
The oldest synagogue in Illinois, B’nai Sholom Temple in Quincy, was forced to close its doors. JB Pritzker was the third Jew to be elected governor of Illinois. Yehiel ‘Mark’ Kalish became the first rabbi to serve in the Illinois legislature.
5779 was also a lousy year because of all the great Jews we lost. Nechama Rivlin, wife of Israel’s president. Henry Bloch, who along with his brother, created the tax preparation firm H and R Bloch. Rachel Cowan, one of the founders of the Jewish healing movement. George Rosencranz, who invented the birth control pill.
5779 was a year in which we lost artists like Amos Oz, Israel’s best-known novelist and its strongest voice of peace. Carol Channing, who was the first to star in ‘Hello, Dolly.’ Stan Lee, who created such iconic Marvel comics characters as Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk and the X-Men. Peggy Lipton, star of the TV show ‘Mod Squad.’ Author Herman Wouk, who wrote ‘Winds of War,’ ‘The Caine Mutiny, “Marjorie Morningstar.” He also wrote ’ “This Is My God” about Judaism. Popular novelist Judith Krantz. Valerie Harper, the wisecracking Jewish sidekick on the Mary Tyler Moore show.
It was a year in which we lost Simcha Rotem, the last surviving Warsaw ghetto uprising fighter. Rafi Eitan, the mastermind behind the capture of Adolf Eichmann. Eva Mozes Kor, who along with her twin sister, was part of the horrific twin experiments done by Dr. Josef Mengele during the Holocaust. Despite what she went through, despite all the reasons she had to be bitter, Kor devoted her life to preaching the power of forgiveness. She even said she forgave Mengele and the Nazis.
It was a year in which Chicago was hit very hard. We lost Stanley Tigerman, the architect who designed the Illinois Holocaust Museum. Larry Goodman, a philanthropist who devoted himself to building up Israel’s south, especially the city of Beersheva. Howard Sulkin, former president of Spertus Institute who was the force behind its stunning building on Michigan Avenue. Rabbi Peter Knobel of Beth Emet The Free Synagogue. Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Levin, who established and for more than 50 years led Chicago’s Telshe Yeshiva and was a member of the country’s Council of Torah Sages. Rabbi Yehiel Eckstein, founder of the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews who raised hundreds of millions to help poor Jews in the former Soviet Union and make life safer and better for Jews in Israel. Leon Lederman, the Nobel Prize winning physicist at the Fermilab who, because of a debilitating illness at the end of his life was forced to sell his Nobel to pay his medical bills. He coined the nickname the “God particle.”
5779 was a year in which we lost Lori Gilbert-Kaye in Poway and Joyce Fienberg, 75, Richard Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, Cecil Rosenthal and David Rosenthal, 59 and 54, Bernice Simon and Sylvan Simon, 84 and 86, Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 87, and Irving Younger, 69 in Pittsburgh.
And a year in which Chicago lost Eliyahu Moscowitz, a loving, giving young rabbi who was walking to help Jews celebrate Simchat Torah, perhaps the happiest day of the Jewish year, when he was brutally murdered. His killer has still not been found.
5779 was indeed a very lousy year.
And what made 5779 a very lousy year for me personally was that it was the year in which my mom died. She was born in Warsaw just before the Holocaust, spent her childhood with her family in a Siberian labor camp. She did not have an easy start to life and yet was an incredibly generous, compassionate person, someone who always helped others, always did for others, always cared for others, most especially for me and my four brothers and sisters.
She was not someone who ever told me she loved me, but I knew she did. I could sense it in all she did for me, all the many yummy meals she cooked for me, always making my favorites, and for the pride she took in the work I do.
As dementia began to take over her life, our conversations, never very lengthy, became shorter and shorter. She would always ask me one thing — “anything I can do for you?” and then, after a lifetime of not saying it, she would end every conversation with ‘I love you.’ At first it took me aback, but it didn’t take long for me to love hearing it. It was as if because physically she could no longer do all the things she always did for me, she was using those words to say to me what she had always shown to me.
But as she was robbed more and more of who she was, it became harder and harder. The very last conversation I had with her she didn’t know who I was.
5779 was indeed a very very lousy year.