Last week, Washington's Jewish community lost two pillars of life and culture in our region and beyond.
We remember Elie Wiesel and Max Ticktin's lasting legacies.
Elie Wiesel (1928-2016)
Holocaust survivor, author, Nobel laureate, and human rights activist Elie Wiesel was perhaps the world's most well-known Holocaust survivor. He dedicated his life to combating hate and remembering the Holocaust. A frequent visitor to Washington, he made a lasting impact on our community.
In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed Wiesel chairman of the Presidential Commission on the Holocaust. Wiesel's efforts at the commission led to the establishment of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, where his words greet visitors at the entrance: "For the dead and the living, we must bear witness."
Wiesel and his wife traveled to Washington in 1981 as part of a three-day conference that he organized to record the horrors of the Holocaust for posterity. During the conference, the Wiesels participated in a reunion of Holocaust survivors and liberators at U.S. State Department.
Among Wiesel's many social justice causes was the movement to free Soviet Jewry. Twenty years after his book, The Jews of Silence, raised public awareness of the plight of Soviet Jews, Wiesel addressed the crowd at the 1987 Freedom Sunday rally on the National Mall. "If I had three days, I would read the name of every Jew refused permission to leave the Soviet Union," he said. "All these names must be known."
Max Ticktin, an ordained rabbi, was one of the most influential and beloved professionals at Hillel and a longtime professor of Yiddish and Hebrew Literature at The George Washington University. After transforming several Hillel Foundations in the Midwest, his talents brought him to Washington as associate national director of Hillel. He was also an active member at Washington's Fabrangen and Yiddish of Greater Washington.
Last fall, our staff had the opportunity to conduct an oral history of Max Ticktin in partnership with the Washington Jewish Week. This interview was funded by a grant from the Koster Foundation. Below are several excerpts.
About his professional calling
"So, it's the teacher in me, it's the piece of me that feels I was put on this Earth to somehow to try to make some contacts with things that will survive my life and will be part of a consensus. A consensus, at the moment we are talking about a Jewish consensus. But it's obviously a Jewish consensus of commitments within a larger world, a larger politics."
On his passion for the Hebrew language
"The development of the Hebrew language in my lifetime is a miracle. A miracle in the sense that one has to realize that one becomes a wandering Jew, here's a bad pun, a wondering Jew instead of a wandering Jew. It's a matter of wonder and miracle that this is the only place on Earth where a language and a big part of culture was born out of suffering and pain and disruption and survived."
In Memory of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
By Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz
Editor's Note: The fallowing eulogy, previously published in the 1995 issue of The Jewish Historical Society of Greater Washington’s journal, The Record, was delivered by Rabbi Stanley Rabinowitz during the memorial service held at Adas Israel Congregation the evening after Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's funeral, November 6, 1995. More than 3,000 Washingtonians, Jews and non-Jews alike, attended the service. When the 1,500 seat sanctuary was filled, the crowd poured into adjoining social halls and out onto the steps of the synagogue. At the conclusion of the service, yahrzeit (memorial) candles were distributed. As the crowd stood and sang songs on the steps outside, hundreds of flames from the candles could be seen flickering in remembrance of Yitzhak Rabin. The service was organized by the United Jewish Appeal Federation of Greater Washington (now The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington).
This has been an incredible, emotionally draining day of mourning and tribute. The television screen has linked much of the world together in a single network as though we were one family, all tuned to the same channel in hope of finding solace, only to find the horizon dimmed by the grey tint of despondency. Even though the electronic media gave us the opportunity to enter into the hearts of a bereaved family and nation, we have come here tonight because we require a more personal form of comfort. In reciting the mourning prayers together, there is a measure of comfort.
That so many of this morning's eulogists stressed the multifaceted personality of Prime Minister Rabin only serves to illustrate the aptness of the rabbinic insight that every person has three names: one bestowed by his parents, a second name that he acquires by his own achievements in his lifetime, and a third name ascribed to him by his friends after his death. Many biographies have already delineated the noble name bestowed by his parents; his achievements have been glowingly described in the press and do not require my additions.
It would seem appropriate, however, to ponder the name history will give him; it is a persona that describes Yitzhak Rabin as a soldier, a diplomat, and a statesman. These three attributes do not do justice to his name.
As a soldier, he was a reluctant warrior; as a diplomat, he shunned pomposity and ceremony; as a statesman, he demanded not words but deeds. More accurate was the portrait depicted this morning by his granddaughter, Noa Ben Artzi, who portrayed him so movingly as a loving and sensitive grandfather, father, and husband, whose caressing hand and warm smile she will miss.
Those who knew him from his life in Washington will recall t hose attributes and mourn him as one would a friend.
Yitzhak Rabin came to Washington as his country's ambassador in 1968 after his miraculous victory in the Six Day War. We were honored that he and Leah made the Adas Israel Congregation their synagogue, though of course they were welcomed in every synagogue and church in the land.
Leah and Yitzhak's son, Yuval, this tall, handsome, and sturdy young man who recited the kaddish so movingly this morning, marked his becoming a bar mitzvah on this pulpit.
The recollection of that bar mitzvah impelled me to seek out the particular haftorah that he had chanted. It was from the prophet Zechariah and contained that marvelously prophetic line, "Blockade shall no longer exist, and Jerusalem will dwell in safety."
The year was 1968.
Rabin was not a stranger to the synagogue, though he would complain that one reason he didn't attend more frequently was that every time he attended, he had to accept an aliyah to the Torah. The problem with that was that he insisted on reading his own Torah portion. And one day, pausing for a moment, he exclaimed, "There is a mistake here!" We had never noticed it. (We had to interrupt the service in order to bring a replacement scroll, for it is forbidden to use a defective scroll in religious worship.)
Newspapers today and yesterday wrote that Yitzhak Rabin projected a stern image: grim, unsmiling, and sometimes dour.
But as Noa testified and as his friends know, nothing could be further from the truth. He was a compassionate and sensitive person, delightfully relaxed in social settings, and given to hearty humor. What is true is that he was a serious person who did not readily reveal his feelings. What is equally true is he was an extremely humble person.
And what is also true is that he was weighed down with his concerns. As Defense Minister, he was concerned for the welfare of those in his charge, and as Prime Minister, he was concerned for the welfare of those missing in action, who were uppermost in his mind and who colored his interviews and public statements.
Further, not victories, but peace with his neighbors was on his mind. Recall the words of this reluctant warrior delivered on Mount Scopus after the Six-Day War:
Our victory celebrations are marred by sorrow and shock. The men in the front lines were witness not only to the glory of victory but to the price of victory: their comrades who fell beside them. The terrible price that our enemies paid touched the hearts of many of our men.
The year was 1967.
His quest for peace was not of recent vintage. In 1973 he spoke these words at a convocation at the Jewish Theological Seminary:
For 25 years we have been conducting a monologue on peace, trying very hard to transform it into a dialogue. That dialogue will yet come, of that I am convinced.
Responding to a letter challenging Israel to try harder to find a formula for peace, he responded 20 years ago:
We have sought to grasp what appeared to be a possible opening for peace, but we were quickly and brutally rebuffed. Our neighbors simply will not sit down with us. The best we hear is that peace with Israel will have to be left to the next generation. We don't accept this. We want peace now and we are ready to compromise very substantially in order to achieve it.
The date of that letter: 1975.
Leah Rabin, his wife, understood her husband best. Her heroic courage has been and continues to be an inspiration. Just a few months ago, after one of the brutal terrorist at tacks that befouled the year, she wrote a letter describing the agony and ecstasy which characterized their daily life:
Yitzhak is like the rock of Gibraltar. He doesn't lose his perspective, neither with the ecstasy nor with the agony. He just carries on, determined to reach his goal of a peace agreement.
This rock of Gibraltar bade farewell to Adas Israel when he completed his tour of duty as Ambassador. He said movingly:
I have been tendered many farewells by many groups, but none is more significant than the one that takes place in the synagogue, for I have learned that the synagogue is the heart and soul of Judaism and essential to its survival. My Jewish identity began with my first breath in Jerusalem. The encounter with the synagogue has given me a different way of living a Jewish life. It has been a rewarding experience.
This reluctant warrior captured the hearts of his listeners when he fairly pleaded at the signing ceremony at the White House:
No more war. Let there be an end to bloodshed, an end to weeping mothers, and an end to wives weeping for their husbands. Let us make true peace.
Rabin disproves a Hebrew adage comparing a person to a tree: "A giant tree is best measured only after it is cut down."
It really wasn't necessary to cut down the tree. We measured his greatness in the name he acquired in his lifetime.
Please join us in remembering the life of former JHSGW president Henry Brylawski. Henry passed away on June 2, 2015, just a few days shy of his 102nd birthday.
A lifelong resident of Washington, D.C., Henry graduated from Central High School before receiving his law degree from National University Law School (now George Washington University). Following military service during World War II, Henry worked as an attorney in private practice in Washington for over 50 years.
Henry served as president of the Society from 1969-1971 and was instrumental in our work to save and move the synagogue in 1969. He later chaired the D.C. Joint Committee on Landmarks, the predecessor of the Historic Preservation Review Board. There, he had a major hand in D.C.'s earliest preservation laws.
In honor of his 100th birthday in 2013, Mayor Vincent Gray proclaimed the date “Mr. Henry Brylawski Day,” and the Washington Jewish Week wrote an article.
Services will be held on Sunday, June 7, 9:30 a.m., at Washington Hebrew Congregation, 3935 Macomb Street, NW, Washington, D.C., with a reception to follow.
We mourn the loss of Reverend John Steinbruck who died yesterday at the age of 84.
Pastor at Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington DC from 1970 to 1997, Reverend Steinbruck was a staunch advocate for the Soviet Jewry movement. He regularly attended the daily vigil outside the Soviet Embassy (1970-1991)and recruited his parishioners and other Christian clergy to attend the vigil on Jewish holidays. He traveled to the Soviet Union to meet with refuseniks and was part of Jewish Community Council’s delegations to the World Conferences on Soviet Jewry.
Early yesterday morning, Marion Barry, D.C. City Councilmember and former mayor, passed away at the age of 78.
We remember him with these archival highlights:
When JHSGW interviewed Barry in 2006 as part of an oral history project documenting the history of Giant Food, he spoke about the 1979 opening of the Giant store at Eighth & O Streets, NW, and its significance in rebuilding the city:
As you can imagine, the city had been devastated with the disorders of '68. Things were burned down, it was a shell of a city, people were depressed, and jobs had been lost from these establishments. So we were anxious to get some consumer goods...and my recollection, I don't even know where the closest Safeway was, but it certainly wasn't around that area of D.C. And we were very ecstatic about that store [Giant at Eighth & O] being opened.
These two items are from the collection of Janice Eichhorn, an activist for Washington, D.C.'s political rights. Eichhorn worked on Barry's staff starting with his 1978 mayorial campaign until 1992, when she retired from her position as a senior policy analyst.
Her papers were contributed to our archives by her sister in 2011.
In a 2010 oral history recorded by Glenn Richter, Ruth Newman, longtime leader of D.C.'s Soviet Jewry movement, recalled seeing Barry at the 1987 Freedom Sunday March for Soviet Jewry on the National Mall:
When we were...marching down Constitution Avenue, out of nowhere came the then Mayor of the City of Washington, Marion Barry. He said, "Washington," [upon seeing] our banner -- 'Washington Committee for Soviet Jewry.' He said, "That's where I belong," and all of a sudden he puts himself between those of us who were carrying the banner. He walked a couple of blocks with us and then he saw somebody else he knew and off he went.