Grapevine: From Facebook to the funeral

Facebook helps eulogize holocaust survivor; Omri Casspi visits Israel.

Israeli basketball star Omri Casspi of the Sacramento Kings (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli basketball star Omri Casspi of the Sacramento Kings
(photo credit: REUTERS)
It's not the first time that Facebook has been used to appeal to the humane element in Israeli society, but it’s worth noting each time that it happens.
Two weeks ago Aharon Kaplan, a widower and childless Holocaust survivor and longtime active member of the Hazvi Yisrael congregation in Talbiyeh died at the age of 93. A brother and two sisters of his wife are still living, but Kaplan had no blood relatives of his own. His parents, brother and extended family were all victims of the Holocaust. Born in Germany, he was fortunate to be among those German Jewish children who, after Kristallnacht, were sent to Liverpool in England to study at the yeshiva of Rabbi Isser Yehuda Unterman, who later became Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Israel. Kaplan’s parents and his younger brother, who remained in Berlin, were deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered in 1943.
The young Kaplan was not permitted to remain in England.
Following the outbreak of the war, he and other German Jews were treated as enemy aliens and were sent by ship for internment in Australia. The voyage was a nightmare. The ship was overcrowded and attacked by a German U-boat. Passengers were forced to throw all their possessions, including precious letters and photographs, overboard. Nonetheless, the ship reached Australia, and its passengers were duly interned but permitted to leave the island continent in 1941.
Completely alone in the world, Kaplan decided to head for the Holy Land. He studied in various yeshivot, then met and married Shoshana Malovni, who worked at Schocken Press and managed to get him put on the payroll, where he worked his way up to eventually become the deputy director for finance at Haaretz, working closely with legendary editor Gershom Schocken, who like Kaplan was a yekke.
Because the Kaplans had no children, they used to spend the High Holy Day season at Kibbutz Lavi, where everyone knew them. Kaplan kept going there after Shoshana’s death 15 years ago.
A religiously observant man with a strong sense of duty, he insisted on attending synagogue services even when it became difficult for him to walk. On the night prior to his death, he was admitted to the hospital in critical condition and his friends realized that he was fading fast.
When he died, his friends, colleagues and fellow congregants posted a message on Facebook advising that a childless Holocaust survivor had died and asking that people accompany him on his final journey. The message touched the hearts of many, both religious and secular, and there was a large crowd at the cemetery to do him honor and to listen to Rabbi Avigdor Burstein, who eulogized him.
Israelis can be very tough, insensitive and inconsiderate, but in matters related to last respects Israelis are outstandingly sensitive, kind and considerate. This was yet another example. There were two similar cases of childless Holocaust survivors in other parts of the country last year whose funerals were well attended by people who read about them on Facebook, and of course no one can forget the huge throngs that a year ago attended the funeral of American-born lone soldier Max Steinberg, whose family was subsequently overwhelmed by the outpouring of Israeli goodwill.
At the initiative of Israeli hoopster and NBA player Omri Casspi, who plays for the Sacramento Kings, a group of NBA all-stars and their families arrived in Israel last Friday and checked into the King David Hotel. When he’s not on the basketball court, Casspi, the first Israeli to be selected to play on an NBA team, works hard to promote Israel’s image in the US. Casspi apparently likes the capital’s luxury hotels. When he proposed to Shani Ruderman, in Jerusalem last May, it was at the Waldorf Astoria. The couple’s wedding plans have not yet been revealed, so the paparazzi are still in the dark about whether the bridal canopy will be set up in Israel or the United States. Regardless of the geography, there’s bound to be a lot of American and Israeli hoopsters on hand to wish the couple luck.