Special Loved Ones
Enrich Our Lives
With A Warning
RABBI LANE STEINGER SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH NEWS
PHIL JACOBS EDITOR
As time passes, I
become more and
aware of the fact
that the circle of
the older genera-
tions of my family
is shrinking, be-
ever smaller. The
absence of loved ones is particu-
larly and poignantly apparent at
annual holy times (the Days of
Awe, Pesach, Chanukah) and on
special sacred occasions (such as
a wedding, brit milah or baby
naming). I understand that this
is a natural and normal process.
I also know that Ashkenazic
tradition astutely acknowledges
it. So, for example, it is custom-
ary for us to include Yizkor
prayers not only on Yom Kippur,
but also at the three joyous festi-
vals (Passover, Shavuot and
er raised my mom (and her
younger brother, too). My great-
grandma thus was simply known
as "Mutter" (mother).
As I was growing up, Mutter
would visit us, and when she did
it was magical. She was a tiny,
wizened woman who seemed to
shuffle along whenever she
moved and wherever she went.
Her hair was pulled back tautly
into a bun. She only spoke Yid-
dish — on principle. She kept
strictly kosher. She was devout
and observant. Love and respect
for others emanated from her. I
have distinct recollections of her
getting down on all fours to play
with me when I was very young.
Mutter did not have an easy
life. Born in Romania, she was
"married off' at the age of 16 to an
older man who had two children
who immediately became her
charges. She herself gave birth to
ashamed to admit it — when
Mutter was an embarrassment
to me. When I was 14 or so, she
avowed that she was nearly 90
(my dad contended that she was
at least four or five years older
than she acknowledged), and she
seemed absolutely alien and oth-
er-worldly. Full of myself and my
adolescent agenda as I was, if
Mutter happened to be at my
house I didn't want my friends to
come over. She seemed so very ...
Mutter entered eternity when
I was a senior in high school. By
then I was beginning to realize
that she was one of God's gifts to
me, even as she had shown me
that I was one for her. I have no
doubt that I have become the per-
son I am — and that I am a com-
mitted Jew and rabbi — thanks
in more than some small mea-
sure to her.
Sukkot), to name a child in mem-
ory of a departed dear one and
even to begin a marriage cere-
mony with the memorial prayer,
Eil Malai Rachamim, if one or
more of the parents of the bride
and/or groom are deceased.
Nonetheless, I find that there
are those who have gone from this
earth whom I often recall: my fa-
ther, my grandparents, aunts and
uncles, and my younger brother
(Aleihem Ha Shalom). And I find
myself thinking about my great-
grandmother as well.
My • maternal grandmother
died when my mother was an in-
fant. My mother's father's moth-
Lane Steinger is senior rabbi of
seven children, one of whom took
his own life as a young adult. She
sent a son off to the battlefields in
World War I. She made her way
to a new life in the New World,
where she was widowed and
where she suddenly became moth-
er to two of her grandchildren.
Mutter faced her share of tri-
als, tribulations and tzuris, to be
sure. Yet she communicated to
me her resiliency of spirit and her
commitment that life is good (if
not perfect), that God is good, that
people are good, that Jews and
Judaism are good, that learning
is good, and that rabbis are good.
She was, you might say, a cele-
brant and a champion of good-
ness — and of hope.
There was a time — I am
In retrospect, I now recognize
that I was fortunate and privi-
leged to have known so extraor-
dinary a person. Through Mutter
I was connected to a bygone
realm and another entire era.
Even more, she was the embod-
iment of basic religious values for
me, one of several positive Jew-
ish models who luckily have been
influences in my life. Will my own
children (and some day their chil-
dren) be so blessed?
It has been three decades since
you left this world, Mutter. Rest
in peace. I am grateful to you and
for you. You were an Eishet
Chayil, Woman of Valor. Your
legacy and your memory are
ment ran earlier
this week in the
Times. The ad
showed a draw-
ing of a Christ-
stars as orna-
ments. Inside the wreath was
a photograph of a so-called Jew-
ish man who had discovered
that his daughter's new affilia-
tion with Jews for Jesus was
the right thing for both him and
his daughter. For $1, a tape
could be had.
Unfortunately, there's noth-
ing unusual here. Jews for Je-
sus, the organization backed by
mainline Christian churches,
makes no secret that it is look-
ing to place Jews in churches.
These ads have been running
for years in some of the coun-
try's leading national publica-
What is troublesome, how-
ever, with this recent ad cam-
paign is its timing. We now find
ourselves in a middle period
that could spell disaster for
Jews who are vulnerable.
What's vulnerable mean? We're
talking about Jews who need to
be loved, Jews who need some
encouragement, Jews who are
almost desperate for a pat on
Understand this. Chanukah
is over. December is still new.
Everyone else is shopping, hav-
ing a party, getting ready for
Dec. 25. There are Jews among
us who are depressed, who will
max out their credit cards to
feel they are part of something
big going on.
Or they'll look elsewhere.
Jews for Jesus will be waiting.
They'll offer hugs, a kind word
and support during this time of
Rabbis in our community: If
you are reading this far, don't
let your title, your standing get
in the way of saving Jewish
souls, young ones and old ones.
Too many Jews are lost because
"their" rabbi didn't even know
their name or didn't seem to re-
ally care. It doesn't matter if the
ordination is Orthodox, Con-
servative or Reform, congre-
gants will look elsewhere if
there isn't meaning, spirituali-
ty and love.
It's no accident that Jews for
Jesus picked this season, a time
when Chanukah ended earlier
and Christmas is just beyond
reach, to begin a campaign. All
of us need to watch out for our
friends and relatives who we
suspect are vulnerable or de-
pressed during the holidays. Be
interested, be a mentsh. If you
aren't willing to do so, then you
can't wonder why a relative
isn't returning your phone calls
in favor of new "believing"
friends or isn't even interest-
ed in synagogue anymore.
No matter how deceptive or
incorrect, support and "love" go
a long way during the holidays.
Torah facts don't count for these
people. Jews for Jesus under-
stands that, and so it shouldn't
be a surprise that with com-
plete chutzpah they advertise
nationally. When we're hurt-
ing, we'll listen to almost any-
one who offers to "help." We
won't take the time to under-
stand that the truth is right
here at home. If it hasn't real-
ly meant anything before, why
should it now?
The lonely are at
A friend was once invited by
a Jewish colleague for Friday
night dinner and then a ride to
the man's synagogue.
There was nothing abnormal
about the dinner. When my
friend repeatedly asked for the
name of the shul they'd be at-
tending, he was told , "you'll
The "shul" turned out to be
a chapel inside of a church. No
problem; many Jewish con-
gregations rent from church-
es. People were hugging, and
smiling. My friend was wel-
comed more so than he could
ever remember in a synagogue
experience. Then came the
hook. During services, he read
ahead in the liturgy only to find
the words "Yeshoah
Hamashiach" (Jesus, the mes-
siah) as part of the Shemah.
The punchline: this hap-
pened just days after Thanks-
giving. He wasn't alone. There
were many recruits in the sanc-
tuary that night.We need to
change that. We need to make
it work now; otherwise we will
be losers to the "love bombers."
Instead, we should learn from
them, learn their secret.
It's an uplifting word, rab-
It's encouragement, teacher.
It's a hug, mom and dad.
There now, Jews for Jesus
has nothing we need.
Remember in last week's Ed-
itor's Notebook, we discussed
the lonely burial of Marilyn
Cohn. We've received at least
five phone calls in response
with information about her life.
Thank you to those who
called with the details. We'll up-
date everyone next week.