Tag Archive: israel

UPDATE: Rabbi Lau & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Story

A little over a month ago I wrote about a news report here in Israel that detailed the history and upcoming meeting of Chief Rabbi Lau and Lakers legend, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Recently, that post of mine has seemingly become viral and has brought thousands of new visitors to this site. And so, I’d like to thank a reader of mine, Eric, for directing me to this article on ESPN.com.

Henry Abbott of ESPN.com linked to the story reported on my blog and asked Kareem, “I have heard this amazing tale about your dad and a boy he helped liberate from a concentration camp at the end of World War II. Would you mind recounting briefly the story of Rabbi Lau and your dad?”

Below is Kareem’s answer:

That story — people have gotten that all mixed up. There was a reporter in Israel who put my father into the tank battalion that liberated Dachau. My dad was a police officer in New York. One of the guys that he was a police officer with was in a tank battalion that liberated Dachau. Rabbi Lau was a boy in Buchenwald, which was also liberated by black troops, but it was a totally different group than the one that my dad’s friend was in. The group that helped liberate Buchenwald was the 183rd Combat Engineers, an all black unit.

To further illustrate the mix up, (perhaps due to the language barrier of the Israeli reporter?) Mr. Jabbar continued to clear the air swirling around this story by explaining that:

The reporter in Israel mixed all of the facts up, and got it all conflated. People were thinking my dad was a lieutenant in the 761st Tank Battalion. My dad was a lieutenant in the New York City Transit Police! And that’s how he got to know Smitty, who was one of the liberators of Dachau and other camps.

That said, he did express his great respect for the Rabbi when he mentioned that as early as 1997 he had met Rabbi Lau when he was in Israel. Indeed, Abdul-Jabbar remarked that, “I just wanted to say hi to him because he had a particular regard for the black Americans that were involved in his liberation!”

However, this recent claim of Mr. Jabbar goes contrary to what friends, acquaintances, and even published author and the former Dean of Yeshiva University High Schools of Los Angeles, Rabbi Dovid Landesman, had heard from Kareem himself!

A number of years ago, Kareem visited an Orthodox synagogue in Beverly Hills by the name of: Beth Jacob Congregation. Indeed, he addressed the audience and as Rabbi Landesman, (who ironically enough wrote a book entitled, There are no Basketball Courts in Heaven) recalled here:

He retold the story, mentioning that he had been amazed that Rabbi Lau a]had remembered his uncle’s name (after all these years) and b] gone to the trouble of making a reception to express his gratitude (towards Jabbar during his visit to Israel). He told the audience that it had been a life lesson on what it means to express thanks!

While I was not present at Beth Jacob that particular Shabbos, I remember there being many teens who were not only buzzing about the fact that a Lakers great visited their Shul—but also about the powerful message that he relayed. And so, I wish I could utter with certainty the famous line of the legendary newscaster Paul Harvey, “and now you know the rest of the story. Good day!”

However, I can’t. There seems to be a contradiction between Kareem’s words in his recent interview with ESPN and his words that Rabbi Landesman recalled him making to the Orthodox congregation.

In Abbott’s piece Kareem dismissed the story by not simply being “misquoted” (which seems to be a line used by athletes sometimes) but  instead being “mixed up” or perhaps lost in translation.

On behalf of all the the seemingly hundreds of people who have emailed me asking for any more information on this story, I can only hope that Henry Abbott of ESPN.com or perhaps Brian and Andy Kamenetzky of the Land O’ Lakers Blog on ESPN.com, can help us all clarify this story once and for all.

For the record I do believe that Kareem should get his coveted statue outside of Staples Center!

Chief Rabbi Lau & Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Meet!

Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau is a tall man who brightens any room with his Torah depth and stature. He is viewed as a someone who has achieved wondrous feats! From surviving the Holocaust and continuing on the Rabbinic dynasty that he hails from, to serving as the Chief Rabbi of Israel and now Tel Aviv—he remains a legendary figure to all of Jewry. On the complete opposite spectrum stands the legendary Lakers Center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Born Ferdinand Lewis “Lew” Alcindor, Jr., he had a prolific college and NBA career becoming one of the best basketball players of all time. In 1971 Lew Alcindor converted to Islam and changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. To the naked eye it would seem that the only thing he shares in common with Rabbi Lau is that they are both luminous figures.

And yet, these two men—one a Jew and another a Muslim—are eagerly looking forward to meeting one another this July in Israel!


The former NBA star is making a film about none other than World War II, and will honor the final wish of his father. You see, Ferdinand L. Alcindor Sr., had one dying wish. He requested that his son visit Israel and meet the little boy that he personally rescued from Buchenwald and turned into a prominent Rabbi. This Rabbi is none other than Rabbi Lau!

Indeed, Rabbi Lau, who also serves as chairman of the Council of Yad Vashem remarked that, “the fact that such a famous basketball player, and a Muslim, is about to attach himself to the Holocaust issue is very exciting. I will certainly give my blessing to this initiative.”

Rabbi Lau said he clearly remembers how an African American solider came up to him during the liberation, picked him up, and told the residents of the German city of Weimer: “Look at this sweet kid, he isn’t even eight yet. This was your enemy, he threatened the Third Reich. He is the one against whom you waged war, and murdered millions like him.”

As someone who grew up in Los Angeles and followed the Lakers, I never thought I’d see these two figures mentioned in the same sentence—let alone meeting in The Holy Land! However, after reading about what Mr. Abdul-Jabbar intends to do with his film and his visit, I look forward to seeing these two legends of their respective fields work towards educating the world about the horrors of the Holocaust.

For the full story see here.

UPDATED: Kareem Responds to my blog post on ESPN.com! http://j.mp/ljvaTr

Modern Technology in Meah Shearim!

The word technology is not often found in the same sentence as Meah Shearim. In fact, this famous Jerusalem neighborhood and its environs, are commonly painted as abhoring anything to do with computer systems, the internet, or any other vestige of technology that you or I may take as a given! That said, I recently needed a place to daven Mincha and chanced upon the legendary Zichron Yehudah Shtiebel. This Shtiebel is located in a neighborhood that was originally referred to as Meah Shearim HaChadash, but is commonly known today as Beis Yisrael. For more on this area and its expansion I encourage you to read this post by Varda Littman here.

In any event, I noticed that there was not the usual chaos that one typically experiences at a Shtiebel. I didn’t need to scurry from room to room trying to ascertain when the next Mincha was going to begin. Instead, this Shtiebel had unique technology in place that allowed for an automated system that would simply announce the beginning of a Minyan, followed by the room number. However, in this case, it wasn’t a room number. Rather, it was one of the letters of the Hebrew Alphabet! As you can see from the picture to your right, the Hebrew Alphabet letters were lit up in bright neon colors and allowed for a calming presence to be felt throughout the building.

It was then that I realized that this use of technology is in line with how this neighborhood views technology. Simply put: if it helps one get closer to Hashem, I’ll use it! If not, keep it far…far away!

Mount Carmel Fire in Tanach!

I was just sent an astonishing email that contained Pesukim! However, before I share the verses with you, a little background is necessary. We all know that Jews living from Efrat to Rosh HaNikrah and from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv have all been watching and praying for the Mount Carmel Wildfire to end. Baruch Hashem, it is now under control! Indeed, the world media has covered this story of what has been the most horrific and tragic fire to wreak havoc in the State of Israel. And yet, we know that nothing that happens in this world is simply by chance…and certainly when it comes to events that take place or effect the Land of Israel. Hence, it’s certainly without coincidence that we will read in the Haftorah portion for Ki Sesei the following words that appear in 1 Kings Chapter 18:

וַיִּשְׁלַח אַחְאָב בְּכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיִּקְבֹּץ אֶת הַנְּבִיאִים אֶל הַר הַכַּרְמֶל
וַתִּפֹּל אֵשׁ יְהֹוָה וַתֹּאכַל אֶת הָעֹלָה וְאֶת הָעֵצִים וְאֶת הָאֲבָנִים
וְאֶת הֶעָפָר וְאֶת הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר בַּתְּעָלָה לִחֵכָה:
וַיַּרְא כָּל הָעָם וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ יְהֹוָה הוּא הָאֱלֹהִים
וַיְהִי עַד כֹּה וְעַד כֹּה וְהַשָּׁמַיִם הִתְקַדְּרוּ עָבִים וְרוּחַ וַיְהִי גֶּשֶׁם גָּדוֹל

While I’m not a Prophet, these verses clearly allude to their being a large fire on Mount Carmel that will cause a great amount of damage. In fact, the words describe the power of destruction that this fire will possess in that it will “eat trees”. Indeed,  to date well over 3 million trees have been lost! However, if one continues reading the verses one sees that ultimately from this tragic fire, people will recognize Hashem, and by extension, there will be a great rain fail….

Is it without coincidence that only after the fire is proclaimed to be “in control” and people are really assessing what this fire can teach us about Jewish Unity and soo much more, that the Land of Israel merited its first real rainy day today…?

I think not….!

May we all sieze this moment to ignite our inner fire with the lessons of Kislev and Chanukah to spurn us towards a great showering of spiritual and physical blessings from the Almighty!

New Online Grocery in Ramat Eshkol

I remember when Pink Dot first appeared in Los Angeles.

I remember when the first Online Kosher Grocery Store arrived in L.A. It even featured timely home delivery.

I never thought I’d live to see the day that this concept arrived in Jerusalem.

Let alone right in my backyard!

Then again in the past couple of years, Ramat Eshkol seems to offer an ever growing amount of American amenities. Just a couple days ago I received the following via email:

New in Ramat Eshkol! Internet shopping from Eshkolet and Peirot Hatzomet on Bar Ilan. Prices are the same as in the store and the service is even better! American customer service, hassle free.

Check us out at MyMakolet.com.

The site is still being perfected, but we wanted to enable our community to benefit from this service before Pesach as we all know shopping gets quite hectic around Yom Yov time.

Frankly, while I don’t assume every family has 20NIS to throw around on a daily basis, I do think that the concept is certainly a good idea that will take off on this area. Let’s be honest. The average person living in Jerusalem does not own a car. To that end, I can see MyMakolet.com being a great asset to a pregnant mother who simply can’t walk around in the summer heat, or to another mother who would prefer to shop without kids pulling items off of shelves, and so on and so forth.

I wish MyMakolet.com much success and who knows maybe we’ll end up giving their service a test drive one of these days!

It’s Raining it’s Pouring…

As a child I have may fond memories of sitting on our living room couch and seeing rain drops hit the window. This allowed me to sing, and rather loudly I might add, “It’s raining it’s pouring the old man is snoring!” Unable to go outside and play or ride my bike along the bike path that seemed to adorn the Pacific Ocean, I would walk around the house singing this song and other rain related tunes in both Hebrew and English.

Nowadays however, the State of California, where I was born and raised, finds itself in a dire predicament. Indeed, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently announced that California is officially not just in a financial drought but an emergency drought as well. In fact, there’s even conversations of needing to ration off water!

In my current homeland, the Land of Israel, the state of our water supply is not that much better. While we have been fortunate to have received rain as of late, the Kinneret is still heavily depleted of its water. in fact, we have been recited a special prayer three times a day for there to be additional rain. As such, in a land that places such a high priority on water, I found this recent article rather compelling. All in all, with the coming of Pesach. we will no longer recite this prayer for rain. And so, I beseech upon every Jewish person, to pray for even the smallest amount of additional rainfall in Israel.

Every little drop helps!

Besides, we are all aware that rain, geshem, is an allusion for parnassah, livelihood. What’s more by beseeching the Almighty for rain in the Land of the Jews, one can also ask Hashem to mercifully look after us during this Economic Drought as well, and allow a different type of rain to still fall upon us!

You can follow/bookmark Israel’s daily water level here. More on this topic here (which is where the picture above is also from!).

The Ramat Eshkol Song!

As many of my faithful readers know, we live in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramat Eshkol. Indeed, while we have not lived in this area for several decades like some of the original Anglo-Saxon Olim who established the Beit Yaakov Synagogue founded by the late Rabbi Dolgin, we still have seen it change, and drastically at that.

Case in point:

  • I remember when there weren’t any Sukkah Porches on the buildings.
  • I remember when the only Mehadrin restaurant on Paran was Nina’s.
  • I remember when there weren’t yeshivas and minyanim on Ramat HaGolan!

Anyways, the list can continue, but on to the song below which is a funny spoof on how Ramat Eshkol is nowadays…

And so, out of all the months to share some humor, there isn’t a better one then the month of Adar!

Part 1: Recycling in The Holy Land

Welcome to the first of a series of posts that will explore how The Land of Israel does its part to “Go Green” and help the environment.

To your right is a picture of a recycling bin that reads:

Dear Citizen,

This container is for all types of paper.

To empty the container call 02-653-5944.

Thank you for your contribution towards improving the environment.

The Sanitation Department of the City of Jerusalem.

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