Friday, September 3, 2010

Ashamnu. I have sinned.

During the month of Elul, and in fact, no less than one week ago, I committed the biggest sin that any one of us can commit.

I have done exactly the opposite of what we are supposed to do during Elul, and not only have I not failed to approach each of you whom I have hurt over the past year and ask forgiveness, I have also done the unconscionable by committing the act of Lashon haRa, publicly and hurting more than one person with one misplaced stone.

Last Shabbat, I misused the pulpit of one of my dearest friends; one of my most respected Colleagues, and in doing so, not only hurt him, but tarred the reputations of a few very respected Rabbis in our community.

This was not done with intentional malice, however, it was done nonetheless, and for these transgressions I must request Slicha; I must request forgiveness from not only them, but from all who were present when I mis-spoke, and from all who read my latest Column.

The matter at hand was the cessation of the Falafel Grill in Agoura Hills to remain a Kosher restaurant. Without verifying with every person involved, I took the word of one person, and due to incidents at another Kosher restaurant last month, allowed myself to become enraged at a situation absent of the complete facts.

The fact is that yes, Falafel Grill is no longer a Kosher establishment; and yes, it is no longer a Kosher establishment due to an increase in the cost of Kosher meat; and yes, the supervising authority was Chabad of Conejo.

The larger fact, however, is that Chabad of Conejo did not increase these costs; they did not force the restaurant to abandon Kashrut, and in fact, during the several years that they held Hashgacha and supervision, never once did they charge Falafel Grill for their supervision, nor did they force Falafel Grill to use one vendor over another. They simply dictated which Shchita was acceptable to their standard. This is not only their right, but their responsibility. Unfortunately, the costs of meeting this standard were too high for this restaurant and they were unable to sustain their business.

That said, I ask forgiveness from each of the Rabbis affiliated with Chabad of Conejo, and hope that you will hear my request for Slicha.

To my dear friend, whose Bima I desecrated with my words of Lashon haRa, I ask your forgiveness, though I may not deserve it. We have known each other over forty years, and in the last two and a half years, as we have become closer, I look to you as a mentor, a guide, a teacher and a Rav. To my dear friend, I beg Slicha.

To those of you that were present last week, and to those of you who read this Column, I ask of you Slicha. I mis-spoke and I mis-wrote. I am sorry and pray that you will all forgive me.

On a similar note and grander scale, on this last Shabbat of the year, I pray that each of you that I have hurt during the past year please forgive me and grant me atonement.


Last Thursday morning, at 7:15, my grandmother lost her battle against injuries sustained in an automobile accident that is the reason I find myself in Los Angeles.

Over the course of the last two and a half months, I learned many things about her life that were very surprising to me. I learned that many of the facts about her childhood, were not as I had been told previously. I am not sure how I feel about this.

What I do know, though, is that I will miss my Nana as long as I live, and hope to wake up every day to see roses in her garden.
The following I delivered at her Funeral this past Sunday:

ברוך דין האמת. יהוה נתן ויהוה לקח. יהי שם יהוה מבורך.
G-d has given and G-d has taken away.
Over the past three months, I have had more than occasion to think about what I would say today; How I would eulogize my grandmother; How I could possibly put into words what her life meant to me; what, she meant to me.

Over the past three months, day after day, I would sit at her bedside and in the beginning, during the first days and weeks after the terrible accident that would eventually take her life, I would talk with her; hearing stories about which doctor she taught to bake peach cobbler, or how she would constantly have to sweep and clean the first home in which she and my grandfather and mother lived upon arriving in California in 1946.
During the last four or five weeks, the conversation was much less; and most days, not even existent. Most days, if I was able to even give her a small bag of popcorn it was an accomplishment for her to know that I was there.

And even so, even though I have had all this time; even though I easily write and deliver eulogy after eulogy, in this and in other similar chapels, today I am without words. Today, I draw a blank. For there are no words that I know to write; no words that I know to deliver that could even begin to describe my grandmother to you.

As history will tell, on Friday, September 19, 1919, just one week before Rosh haShana, 5680, G-d provided a gift to Raechel and Nathan Weizer of 1800 East 105th Street, Cleveland, Ohio, in the form of a baby girl, Claire.
She took on the role of big sister with love and devotion, caring first for Alfred, and then for baby sister, Gladys, throughout her teen years and up until the time that she met the love of her life, the brother of her best friend Rhea; rough and tough, Herman. The troublemaker; the motorcyclist; the fighter, who snuck around and boxed under the assumed Goyishe name, H. Anthony Shea. Jews – don’t fight.
My grandparents ran away sometime during 1938 and married. It was just before wartime, and eloping seemed the best idea. From what I was told, the family didn’t really buy the whole secretive life, and shortly thereafter, they were married under a Chuppah, and set out to find and live the American dream.
During the Summer of 1939, Maryl was born, and seven years later, the three Shapiros made their move west, to Los Angeles.
Work did not come easily in Los Angeles for a twenty-six year old named Shapiro, so, one day, after passing by the store in Santa Monica, my grandfather listed his name on a job application as “Sears”, and was immediately hired. The official name change was finalized not long after.

Times were especially tough financially and some of the best memories that my mother has, involved skipping along the Venice Boardwalk with her mother on their way to a rare movie, with only an apple for refreshment. Motherhood was difficult also in those days, made even more so by the presence of post war hardships.
At the ripe young age of 42, Claire became a “Nana”, and it was then that she took flight.
I believe that her life’s mission was to be a mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. Even, a Matriarch. Our own version of a real life Alexis Carrington.

Thanksgiving after Thanksgiving; dinner party after dinner party; family birthday celebration, or other reason to get together became her time to shine, and shine she did.
The China was always perfect, as were the Silver and Crystal; the meals were well planned out and delicious. These were her calling cards.

My Nana was not a “Bubbie”. Never. Rather, she was the stereotype of elegance. It shined, as did she.

I only know how to properly set a table, because she taught me.

But this, dear friends, this does not scratch even the surface of who she was.
As wonderful as a grandmother as she was, I cannot even begin to describe her as a Great Grandmother. She carried with her a wonderful and genuine interest in others; especially her family.
My sons, Zac and Dylan, were unable to be here today, as they just started school this past week in Arizona, but Zac sent the following for me to share with you today:
I sincerely apologize for my absence. To all who are here, especially my Grandma, I send only my deepest love.

What is a Matriarch? The first definition on reads: "The female head of a family or tribal line". If there was an entry for my Nana, that is exactly what it would say. Nana was the oldest member of our wonderfully dysfunctional family, and she held that position with pride for many, many years.
I met Nana 18 years ago, when I was just a baby. Truth be told, my fondest memories of my early childhood consist of visits with her, as well as my grandparents. I always felt that Nana and I shared a very special bond, and over these 18 years, that bond grew. I had so many wonderful conversations with her; I feel like we would talk for days on end whenever she called. The best thing about her is that she practically made excuses just to call me.

A great example of this was just recently, back in May, when she called me to tell me she was watching baseball and that it made her think of me. Truth is that I know for a fact that sports were the absolute least of her interests, but as far as she was concerned, if it made me happy, it made her happy.
I'll never forget last summer when I was in California and she engaged with me an entire discussion about the NBA Finals. And I was even stunned to find out that she actually knew who some of the players were! Anytime I spent time in her home, she always had some sort of article or magazine clipping that she had saved specifically for me. I actually still have every single article in a footlocker at home.

I think everyone can agree that she always had wonderful stories. And my favorite stories were the chivalrous and insanely romantic tales of Papa, the love of her life and one of my all-time heroes. And I'd like to end on a high note with a wonderful story of my favorite Nana being defended by her man:

Papa and Nana were driving on a city street. Well, Papa being the fearless driver that he was, totally and completely cut off a guy who was trying to make a lane change. Well, the red light came and the man had somehow gotten next to the car that Papa was driving. He enticed Papa to roll down the window, and the man immediately began swearing like a sailor.
Language that should NOT be used in front of a woman. Well, Papa couldn't stand for this. So what did he do? He got out of the car. Papa, standing (insert height here; I can't remember how tall he was) and the Pottymouth Motorist, standing well over 6 feet tall, faced off. And with one punch from the muscular former boxer that was Papa, the opponent was knocked to the ground. Papa immediately demanded an apology to Nana, in which the man did very fearfully.

Nana, I know that you and Papa are finally back together. May you spent the rest of eternity reminiscing about great memories like this and making up for all the lost time. I know that you must be thrilled, and I know that it's gonna be one hell of a reunion when I find myself up there with you in 102 years.
Take care of yourself up there. I love you and always will hold a special place in my heart for my favorite matriarch.
I think that Zac said it best, I know that it's gonna be one hell of a reunion when I find myself up there with you when my time comes.

We began the service earlier with the words, יהוה נתן ויהוה לקח.
G-d has given and He has taken away, but let us not believe, even for one moment that He took her away from us. No. Let us know in our heart of hearts that He took the disease from her; that he took her to my grandfather, the love of her life, and that He took her to the Grace and perpetual paradise of Olam haBa, of the next world, after leaving her with us for just a week short of ninety-one years, according to the Hebrew Calendar.
May G-d grant each of Peace in the coming year. May He inscribe and seal us all in the Book of Life and may he continue show us that only His Torah is and remains our light and redemption.
With Ahavah u'Vrachot, Love and Blessings, I wish you Shabbat Shalom and Shana Tovah.
--Rabbi Alan Abrams