Grapevine: Shofar from the heavens

He could not bring himself to knock, and after a long wait, turned away and went home.

Friends and former students of the late Dr. Ernest Schwarcz, founding dean of Judaica Studies at City University of New York, reminisced about him at a luncheon hosted last Saturday by his wife Marta in her Jerusalem home. Before Schwarcz went to America, he served as Jewish Studies director at Mount Scopus College in Melbourne, Australia. While in Melbourne he pioneered other Jewish educational projects. Recalling their journey to Australia in 1950, Marta Schwarcz related that along with other Holocaust survivors they had left their native Hungary and were living in Austria. While there, Ernest conducted Jewish educational programs for refugee children waiting to settle in new lands of promise far removed from the traumas they had experienced. When notified that he would be among some 800 passengers sailing from Italy to Australia, Schwarcz calculated that Jewish passengers would be celebrating the High Holy Days on board. He learned that one elderly man traveling on the ship had a Torah scroll. Now, all they needed was a shofar. Not having the wherewithal to make the purchase, Schwarcz wrote ahead to Italy to everyone who might provide a Shofar. When he and his wife arrived in Genoa on the day preceding Rosh Hashana, they took a taxi to the synagogue to see if they could get a shofar there. With tears in his eyes, the rabbi told them that the congregation had only one shofar and he could not part with it. Disappointed, the couple went back to the ship, which shortly afterwards, left port. That evening, as they were eating their meal, the captain of the ship approached Schwarcz and told him to go up on deck because a helicopter was going to drop a package for him. Other people within earshot, curious as to what it was all about, accompanied him to the deck and were witness to a miracle. Literally out of the sky came a shofar - with the compliments of the chief rabbi of Rome. IN HIS weekly radio program last Friday, Yehoram Gaon, who is an excellent story teller, related two stories which, though not directly related to Rosh Hashana or Yom Kippur, are definitely pertinent to the lessons we are supposed to learn during the ten day period between the two. The first concerned famous tenors Placido Domingo and Jose Carreras. Long before they joined forces with Luciano Pavarotti to do the wonderful Three Tenors concerts, they were bitter rivals. It was more than a matter of one man competing with another. It was also an issue of national pride. Carreras was born in Barcelona, the capital of the autonomous province of Catalonia. Domingo was born in Madrid, the capital of Spain. Natives of the two capitals had a long tradition of rivalry. In 1987, Carreras was diagnosed with acute leukemia with only a 10 percent chance of survival. He went to America for treatment, but because he could not perform, he had no income, and his savings dwindled under the prohibitive cost of his therapy. Then he heard about an organization in Spain that funds treatment for cancer patients who cannot afford it themselves. After he recovered, and resumed his career, he wanted to contribute to the organization that had saved his life. When perusing its literature, he was astounded to learn that Domingo was the organization’s founding chairman. Later, he discovered that Domingo had created the organization especially for him, but had kept a low profile so as not to embarrass Carreras. One magnanimous gesture deserved another. Carreras interrupted Domingo in mid-concert, went down on his knees in front of the audience and thanked Domingo for giving him back his life. To which Domingo replied: “I couldn’t allow the world to be deprived of such a voice.” Gaon’s other story was about two childhood friends who were soul mates but who, late in their youth, had a terrible argument and went their separate ways. Each got married and had a family, but deeply regretted the absence of the other. One day one of them decided to end the quarrel and took himself to the other side of the country where his friend lived. But when he reached the door, his hand froze. He could not bring himself to knock, and after a long wait, turned away and went home. But the matter preyed on his mind, and a couple of years later, he made the journey again, this time telling himself that no matter what, he would knock. Again there was the hesitancy, but this time, he willed himself to do what he had set out to do. The door was opened by a pleasant woman. When he introduced himself, she said: “My husband left a note for you.” Eagerly, he scanned the lines. “My dear friend, I forgave you long ago. I just wanted you to be the one to call off the feud. But now I must ask your forgiveness. I saw you when you came before, and I wanted to call out to you, but could not bring myself to do so. When you turned away, I wanted to run after you, but I was rooted to the spot.” Overjoyed the man turned to the woman and said: “When will he be home? I have all the time in the world for him.” To which she replied: “He won’t be coming. He died a year ago. I found the note among his belongings.” IT’S in the cards that Eden Veeder will have a media career. Born less than a month ago to Jerusalem Post copy editor and occasional writer Nechama Veeder and her husband Simon, the infant is also the granddaughter of the paper’s former chief copy editor Shirley Zauer and her husband Warren and of Rochelle and Moshe Veeder who joined forces to give her a sumptuous simchat bat for which the infant’s mother baked most of the cakes.