Longtime ‘Post’ writer Carl Hoffman – a unique light

He headed for the Philippines and dedicated himself to helping the Mangyan tribe on the island of Mindoro.

Carl Hoffman  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Carl Hoffman
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The mystics of Kabbala say that each person is a light, each unique and special in his or her own way. Yet there are certain lights who not only shine for themselves, but also succeed in bringing light to others. Such a person was Dr. Carl Hoffman, and so it is perhaps fitting that Carl was laid to rest this week on the first day of Hanukkah.
Carl was the most unpretentious person I’ve ever known. Though eminently accomplished, he was modest, soft-spoken, unassuming and totally devoid of any “inflated ego” issues. Born in Boston, he went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a PhD in anthropology. After doing some teaching, he decided that he preferred the cause to the classroom, and so he joined the Peace Corps.
He headed for the Philippines and dedicated himself to helping the Mangyan tribe on the island of Mindoro. There he met Agnes, a social worker who was also helping the indigenous people and would become his wife. Together they assisted countless men and women in improving their quality of life. Later, he would work with refugees from southeast Asia, preparing them to relocate to the United States.
At one point, Carl spent two years in the jungles of Borneo, living and working with indigenous peoples there – even going so far as to wear their tribal costumes, including a loin cloth! Later, he and Agnes moved to Manila, where he served as a speechwriter for the Japanese ambassador.
The Hoffmans made aliyah in 1997; though from a completely secular family, Carl felt he belonged here in Israel, which he saw as the future of the Jewish people. I met them the day they moved into Ra’anana’s absorption center, where I served as rabbi. True to form, Carl went to work at the Jaffa Institute, helping secure grants for impoverished children. He also taught English and social sciences at the Open University. Meanwhile, Agnes began studying Judaism, and entered the Rabbinate’s conversion program. My wife and I were proud to serve as her sponsors, and when she passed the Bet Din (Jewish court), the presiding rabbinic judges said she was far and away the best student in the group.
Fifteen years ago, Carl became seriously ill when his kidneys failed. Unable to secure a kidney here in Israel, Agnes took him back to the Philippines, where she was able to arrange for a transplant in Manila’s General Hospital that saved Carl’s life. Agnes – I once wrote a column about her called, “An Angel named Agnes” – would go on to save several more lives in a similarly altruistic fashion.
Carl was a top-grade scholar and a brilliant, incisive writer, blessed with a marvelous sense of humor and a totally optimistic view of the world. His many columns in The Jerusalem Post magazine exemplified the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and he had the rare ability to educate while being eminently entertaining at the same time. Sometimes those articles were heavy, sometimes light – but they always shed light on new and fascinating topics.
Carl is survived by Agnes and two marvelous children, Daniel and Rachel. He will be sorely missed by many; one of Israel’s brightest lights has been dimmed.