I went to Temple Emanu-El today. A temple that has produced a lot of leaders in San Diego. I expected something special because of the many stories I have heard of this synagogue on a hill in historically Jewish San Carlos, across the canyon from San Diego State University.
The outside is made of white stone like the buildings in Jerusalem. The entrance was bright and full of light. The wooden doors lead me to the simple temple inside. Wood paneled walls with a beautiful clerestory. The ark was two large glass doors on a stage like many reform temples. No fancy artwork was there. Simple decor such that the eyes would stay with the rabbi. The one beautiful accent was a Sanctuary lamp that looked like something that Chihuly would make.
Last month I was accepted to the prestigious joint executive MBA at Nortwestern University-Tel Aviv University. As soon as I was accepted to the program, which would give me a chance to live and learn in Israel I was tasked with finding a way to pay for the education. This means applying to scholarships. Some scholarships have interesting prompts like this one for American Zionist Movement.
Sam Litvin On Zionism
I was seven years old playing with my best friend when he said “I’m, Russian.” I replied “me too!” My mother corrected me: “You’re not Russian, you’re Jewish.” It was traumatic, it was a three-letter word that made me “other”. This was the first time I heard the word “Jewish” and I did not understand what it meant. I’ve never heard of a country called Judea or of the people who are Jewish. I looked like all the kids around me and we all had the same customs. I did not understand what it was about me that was Jewish. It took nearly 23 years from that moment to learn what it means to be Jewish and what it means to be a Zionist.
When my friend Eric came to San Diego, I took him to the SDSU Chabad. The large house across the street from University on Fraternity row was packed with over 100 college students. Long tables line the room with a a Torah ark at the front. The strange sight overwhelmed Eric as he saw students chanting and singing songs in Hebrew standing up on chairs with their arms. Not all students were Jewish as all are welcome, but everyone could feel the pride and love for the history and traditions.
Yiddish culture is at the root of Judaism and American culture, and YAAANA in San Diego is going to make sure we know it.
The invitation to a Yiddish Cafe sat in my email inbox unopened for over a week. Each week a new reminder arrived about ’s YAAANA (Yiddish Arts and Academics Association of North America) Yiddish Cafe arrived taunting me. As a friend of Joana the organizer I couldn’t say no. As a Jew from Ukraine I shouldn’t say no. But as Sam, I really wanted to say no.
He sat with a phone against his ear in the dim hallway of the Fairmont of Grand Del Mar. We nearly passed him but I recognized the silver haired man with a grey kippa from the pictures of my research. Minutes later, the ex-congressman, Stanford Law graduate and the current CEO of Hillel entered the large oak-paneled dining room where I set up my recorder. The room had a long bar, floor to ceiling windows, stone carved fireplace, paintings worthy of museum walls, and cloth covered chairs transporting me far from San Diego. “Hi, how are you,” said Fingerhut full of energy as he shook my hand with a smile. He excused our surroundings, explaining that he heard that this is the “Versailles of San Diego and so I had to stay here.” I looked out the window onto the lawn below where fountains crisscrossed and bushes artfully manicured into intersecting diamonds. It was no Versailles, but it certainly tried and was in stark contrast to my usual perception of Hillel.
I’m going to do something to educate people on fear and hatred. I’m going to highlight someone Muslim who helped me along in my Jewish Story. I know that it won’t matter to those who hate blindly. To those people exceptions prove the rule but to me, I’ve yet to see the rule. Quiet the opposite, given my experience with the Muslim faith and no negative experiences in real life, I want to show why I feel that it is the rule that people are good and while yes there is bad, there is bad in our culture and all cultures. That was the goal of the project and is as important as ever.
January 2017 is starting out with a bang! I am giving two talks to the San Diego Historical Society followed by JED talk at Beth El Synagogue on January 24th and then with a Photography show in North Park San Diego! Please join me for some stories, some music, some drinks and photography. Proceeds to benefit Women of Coffee and Dharma Bum Temple.
Peace Through Understanding photography show
Originally printed in L’Chaim Magazine
In a small strip mall near SDSU is a little shop with buddha statues, incense and meditation books. The shop was once owned by a funny old Jewish man with a beard, Alfred Baron and his Thai wife. Being a octogenarian, he needed someone to take over as the business plunged further and further into debt while as he was desperate to retire. In 2009, after two long years, he thought he found the man to take it over. Jeff Zlotnik was a young man who grew up in San Diego going to temple Emanu-El every Saturday. A few years earlier Jeff came back from eleven months in Taiwan living as a Buddhist Monk. After struggling to expand with the San Diego Buddhist establishment, he decided to strike out on his own. Jeff’s community was small, they were barely paying the bills and so in no position to take on debt and run a shop full time. However, after weeks of persistence, he acquiesced to the old man and took on the shop with the idea that the shop would help bring in revenue to pay for the temple. The added revenue never came in, but the shop ended up serving as a way to get westerners to discover Buddhism as they shopped for charms, books and statues.
Forests burn all over Israel. They were set by terrorist arsonists who do not care if the forests burn down the environment, the trees, the people Muslim or Jews. They hate and people online rejoice.
It pains me deep in my heart to hear that hate, to know that there are people that they want to kill and see killed over land, religion, some grievance. That somehow they identified that killing me or those whom I love, people who wake up everyday, go to work, put their kids into school and do nothing different from what these people do.
I’ve thought to rationalize it but I know that no amount of good that Jews do will stop them from wanting me dead. I know that perhaps it is good lot to be hated, because we accomplished enough to be known to be hated. But why death? Why do they want us dead? Why are some people blood thirsty for the death of people they have never met? Why are we as human beings able to dehumanize other people to feel that is ok?
I fight for optimism everyday. I think of how far we come and what we achieved and what we were able to overcome. And yet, I also think of the 6 million killed by people from dozens of nations, of the glee they had killing women, men and children. And I think of the glee that people have today imagining another Holocaust.
It’s too much sometimes, just too much.
What’s most telling about this election is that there were so many similarities to the Hitler’s election. The media focused on what was historic about this election and similarities to our previous elections instead of the nationalist tone and intimidation tactics that were far more similar to Hitler Germany in 1930s than to any US previous election.