It’s been an interesting year, to say the least. Telling is the Oxford English Dictionary’s pick for word of the year: post-truth. Until it was chosen, I had no idea that this was actually a word. Here’s how our smart friends on the other side of the pond defined it: “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Oy, I say.
Of course, the United States presidential election dominated the news day after day in 2016. There were certainly many Jewish stories to emerge from this political whirlwind, but, if you’re feeling like me right now, you’d rather think about something else, something perhaps more interesting and inspiring than post-truth politics and nasty campaigning, something like this breaking 2016 fashion news from Women’s Wear Daily: Ariel and Shimon Ovadia, of Ovadia and Sons, spent two days scrutinizing the way both single and married men dress in a Hasidic neighborhood in Jerusalem for their fall menswear collection. They sent models down the runway with black silk frocks with fabric buttons and tasseled belts. “The tonal looks and rich fabrics...lent a luxe feel to the collection.” Who knew?
And here’s what inspired me: the opportunity to reflect on the contributions of a number of remarkable MOTs (members of the tribe) who died in 2016 and who collectively helped shape the world as we know it. Holocaust survivor, writer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel died (July 2) leaving us the mandate to continue his voice of moral consciousness. Nobel Prize winner for literature, Hungarian author, Imre Kertesz died at the beginning of spring (March 31). Like Wiesel, he wrote powerfully about the Holocaust.
Speaking of Nobel Prizes, it’s been a good year for the Jews. Oliver Hart took the prize in economics and Michael Kosterlitz joined two others who were awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on superconductors. Kosterlitz, whose major research is on endorphins at Aberdeen University, is the son of Hans Kosterlitz, a German-born biologist who left for Scotland in 1934 with the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences commended these winners for "theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter." Let me know if you have any idea what that means. This year’s controversial winner was musician and song-writer Bob Dylan or Shabtai Zisyl ben Avraham or Robert Allan Zimmerman. As we all know, he was too busy to get the prize. I just want the Noble Committee to know that if I get it, I will go to Oslo immediately.
Former president and prime minister of Israel, Shimon Peres, also died this year right before the High Holidays (September 28). An important link to Israel’s founding generation and the oldest person to serve as head of state, Peres was elected prime minister twice and served in twelve cabinets. Israel also lost Meir Dagan, former head of the Mossad (March 17) who gave thirty years to military service.
On screen, we lost the beloved actor Gene Wilder (August 29) who entertained us as adults in “Blazing Saddles” and entertained us as kids in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Sitcom queen Doris Roberts also died (April 17). Called the Jewish Billy Graham, Esther Jungreis gave decades of her life to Jewish outreach before she died this past summer (August 23). This year, the oldest living Jewish woman died at 113. Goldie Steinberg, a Hadassah member and bubbie, died a month before turning 114 and said the secret of her longevity was a daily walk. Lesson learned. Let's put our sneakers on.
2016 was a banner year for another 113-year old. Yisrael Kristal, a Holocaust survivor who was born in 1903, had to postpone his bar mitzvah for 100 years since, at thirteen, his mother had already been dead for three years and his father was serving in the Russian army at the beginning of WWI. Kristal was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. When Auschwitz was liberated, he weighed only 82 pounds. He had lost a wife and two children. Kristal moved to Israel and began his life anew and now has 30 great-grandchildren. His daughter, Shulamith Kristal Kuperstoch told The New York Times: “My father is a religious man, and it was his dream his whole life to have a bar mitzvah. It was a miracle after everything he has been through in his life. What else can you call it?”
Hanukah is a great time to think about miracles like this. Another miracle and aspiration for 2017 comes from our quote for the week: “Guide me in Your truth and teach me...” Sometimes we need to learn to tell the truth again so that next year’s word of the year will be “post-lies.”
Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukah!