Local people, places, travels and simchas 12.19.14

Jewish travel abroad

In their travels, Marcia and Michael Zaccaria seek out Jewish venues, observances and connections. In 2010, it was Turkey; in 2011, India; and 2013, Morocco. From Aug. 26-Oct. 14, the couple flew to South Asia to visit Ladakh (India), Bhutan, Nepal, and Tibet (China). The Zaccarias like to join organized tours, as well as break away independently in search of their Jewish roots. Visiting Jewish synagogues, cemeteries, schools, old age homes and the like, they are able to form relationships with individuals and families and explore the depth of Jewish life in different locales.

Marcia Zaccaria at the Chabad House in Kathmandu, Nepal
Marcia Zaccaria at the Chabad House in Kathmandu, Nepal

“It’s nice to go beyond the boundaries of the circumscribed trip to discover the Jewish world and hidden gems of Judaism. We become emissaries, to break down the barriers and seek Jewish roots and commonality with other religions,” said Marcia.

Over the High Holidays, Marcia and Michael attended Yom Kippur services at the Chabad House in Kathmandu, Nepal. For 14 years, Kathmandu Chabad shaliach (emissary) Rabbi Chezki Lifshitz and his wife, Chani, have welcomed Israelis and Jews to their compound, a comfortable home away from home. The house serves as a synagogue, kosher restaurant, community center, hostel-style lodging and gathering place. Of the approximately 10,000 tourists they receive per year, about 8,000 are Israelis. Many are backpackers who finished their Israeli army service and wish to travel. The Zaccarias were drawn in by the stirring, warm melodies of the Yom Kippur service. Having visited Buddhist temples, monasteries and nunneries, the spirituality of the congregants’ prostrations reminded them of Buddhists performing the same movements during prayers. “Such an amalgam of cultures,” remarked Marcia.

When Michael purchased postcard stamps, lo and behold, the stamp depicted the Nepalese flag, the Israeli flag, a picture of Mt. Everest (the highest place on Earth), and one of the Dead Sea (the lowest place on Earth). This postage stamp was a joint release issued in both countries to mark decades of cooperation between the two nations.

Bus trip to “Jewish” Bisbee

Bisbee residents (L-R): attorney Anne Reiniger, realtor Bob Klein and tourism promoter Cristina Plascencia at Café Roka in Bisbee
Bisbee residents (L-R): attorney Anne Reiniger, realtor Bob Klein and tourism promoter Cristina Plascencia at Café Roka in Bisbee

The Northwest Division of the Jewish Federation of Southern Arizona sponsored a bus trip on Dec. 3 to meet with 13 Jewish residents and shopkeepers in Bisbee. Fifty-five people enjoyed the ride, as Barry Friedman, president of the Jewish History Museum, regaled them with stories of the early Jewish settlers of Arizona. In Bisbee, the group visited briefly with Joan Werner, owner of Atalanta’s Music and Books, before crossing Main Street for lunch at Café Roka, owned by another Jewish resident, Rod Kass. Other Jewish Bisbee residents sat among the bus-trippers during lunch, mingling and telling their personal stories. After the meal, the travelers had time to shop and were encouraged to patronize the shops of their newfound friends.

According to Anne Lowe, NW Division director, the delightful day was topped off on the bus trip home, when sisters Audrey Brooks and Donna Moser, Federation 2015 campaign co-chairs, spoke of their backgrounds and the community campaign. Some of the other attendees included Helene Mittleman (chair of the NW Division advisory council), Elke Armoni, Esta Goldstein, Debbie and Barry Gretsky, Paula Hecker, Wendy Jacobson, Alan Kendal, Sally Kreida, David Levy, Barbara Russek and Elaine Thorn.

Chanukah reminiscences

On this third day of Chanukah, here are some local residents’ favorite holiday memories:

My memory of Chanukah as a child comes to me through smells. The smell of frying latkes mixing with applesauce and sour cream … the smell of candles burning … and the smell of new flannel pajamas when you first wear them. Together these all bring back that warm secure feeling against a cold winter.

—Sarah Schultz

Among my childhood Chanukah memories as a student at Rabbi Israel Salanter Yeshiva in New York City, my classmates and I brought pennies to school. During recess or lunch, we would gather, often sitting on the floor, spin the dreidel and pay with pennies, which seemed like such a big thing to do back then. We didn’t win or lose much money but gained fun! Meanwhile, the ladies in the kitchen served up yummy “plain” latkes, just the “original” recipe, with onions of course, but no sour cream or other toppings — unadorned! Those were some of the good old days.

—Howard Schwartz

Living in midtown Chicago with extended family close by, we always threw a fun Chanukah party with yummy special foods, including the crunchy potato latkes my mom whipped up in her kosher kitchen. There were presents for my sister and me near the menorah, and each day, we couldn’t wait to light the candles, sing the Chanukah songs and open one more gift. My dad provided a large menorah for the front lobby of our elementary school, Darwin Public School, so that our friends could view a symbol of Chanukah as well as their Christmas tree. We would sing the blessings and holiday songs while lighting the candles so the other students could learn about our tradition. We were proud to be Jewish and my parents wanted us to have the same special holiday joy as the other kids.

—Marcy Ruttenberg 

I grew up in a predominantly Jewish community in Cleveland. Being Jewish needed no explanation; everyone was Jewish. My children, however, grew up in Tucson in a neighborhood of very few Jewish families. We were always graciously included in Christmas holiday festivities, and inevitably, my children would be asked, “Where is your tree?” So one year, we decided to have a large Chanukah party for only our non-Jewish friends. We decked out the house and showed them the light (literally). We explained the holiday, read the story, and showed them our traditions. They all left with dreidels in hand and a new awareness of their Jewish friends. Fast forward to today, where those same Gentile children, now adults, still mention how that night impacted their awareness of their Jewish friends’ beliefs and traditions. I believe a Great Miracle happened at our house that evening.

—Ellen Yasmer

For years, the Tucson Jewish Community Relations Council arranged for Jewish volunteers to relieve many St. Joseph’s Hospital employees so that they could enjoy Christmas with their families. My role was to entertain the patients on the fourth floor rehabilitation ward with Christmas carols, which I accompanied with my guitar. Once, I entered a hospital room and found a young woman who was recovering from brain surgery, her devoted husband at her side. The mood in the room was gray. Neither of them could emote with the carols. They explained that they were Jewish and that they were going through a very tough time. I shared that I was there volunteering from the Jewish community. Here are some of the lyrics that I sang to them:

“O, Judah Maccabee, how was I to see, what you would mean to me.

No Syrian decree would make you bend your knee, Judah Maccabee.

No German infantry would make you bend your knee, Judah Maccabee.”

Tears flowed down their cheeks. Touched by their own people and their traditions, theywere ready for the fight of their lives.

—Paul Bartlett

 Time to share

I don’t usually share (that’s your job!) but I’ll add my two cents to this last segment.

My fondest Chanukah memory involves growing up in New York in a family of five children. Instead of packaged gifts for each night of the holiday, my parents and we kids would light the menorah and then my Dad would line us up in order from youngest to oldest. In cents, we would receive our age plus the night of Chanukah. So, for instance, at age 10, I received 10 cents + 1 cent for the first night; 10 cents + 2 cents for the second night; and so on. If you tally that up, I raked in $1.16. In 1959, that was a lot of money, enough for Bazooka gum, candy buttons (on paper), Archie comic books and other popular loot of that decade.

Happy Chanukah, Happy upcoming secular New Year, and keep me posted in 2015 —319-1112. L’shalom.