Who Resurrects the Dead

When I greet a Jewish friend that I haven’t seen in a very long time I typically say, “Mchayei Meitim.” It literally means, “who resurrects the dead.” Weird huh?

It’s less weird if you know that “Mchayei Meitim” is the conclusion of a traditional Jewish blessing that thanks God for, yes, resurrecting the dead. Some Jews take this blessing literally and recite this blessing x3/day as an affirmation of God’s limitless power. When greeting an old friend it’s a way of saying something like, “It’s great to see you” and “Let’s pick up right where we left off.”

I don’t put much stock in the traditional Jewish view that one day the dead will rise and be gathered back together in some sort of “Zion.” But this week the dead literally came back to life for me and my family.

I’m writing this post mid-journey so some of the details are still a bit fuzzy, but here’s as much of the story as I feel I can meaningfully share right now…

A couple of months ago I received an email from an active member of The Davis Academy grandparent community named Carol. She wrote to ask me if I was related to a man named Morris Lapidus who lived in Syracuse, NY. Like most Lapidus’, I’m fairly accustomed to being asked if I’m related to such and such Lapidus from such and such a place. It happens a couple of times a year and I typically respond by saying, “Not that I know of, but I’m sure we’re distant cousins somehow.”

As far as Morris Lapidus from Syracuse is concerned– well he’s my great grandfather. I’m named after him. So you might imagine my surprise and curiosity when out of the blue came an email asking if he was a relative.

Carol, who I have known for many years, was sitting with her friend, Ann, at Shabbat services at their synagogue– B’nai Torah. Coincidentally there was a Davis Academy student who was becoming Bar Mitzvah that morning. At some point during the service the Bar Mitzvah family said something along the lines of “Thank you Davis Academy and thank you Rabbi Micah Lapidus.” Upon hearing my name, Ann, who recently celebrated her 90th birthday, turned to Carol and asked, “Lapidus? I wonder if Rabbi Lapidus is related to Morris Lapidus?” Carol replied, “I don’t know, but why do you ask?” At that point Ann shared that Morris Lapidus rescued her and her husband from the displaced persons camp in Europe after World War II. Morris Lapidus was their sponsor, bringing them to the States, and helping them settle in Syracuse, NY. All this because Morris Lapidus’ first wife, whose name none of us recall at the moment, was Ann’s husband’s aunt.

I can’t speak for the rest of my family, but I can say that I knew none of this and I’m pretty sure that most of my cousins don’t either. What I’m saying is that this week I was reunited with family I never knew I had who live right here in Atlanta.

This week I met Ann and her daughter Hilda. They were kind enough to come and visit me at The Davis Academy. Together we started to unpack the story of our family. Preliminarily I learned a few things….

 

Hilda, Ann, and Micah
Hilda, Ann, and Micah

I learned that when Ann and her husband got off the boat in New York my grandfather Harold met them at the docks and escorted them via train back to Syracuse.

I learned that my great grandfather was an “entrepreneur” who owned various rental properties and was also a very learned man, always reading.

I learned that, at his medical school graduation, my grandfather downplayed the fact that he was at the top of his class saying that he had an unfair advantage because he had served as a medic in the war and was therefore older and more experienced.

I learned that my grandfather wrote a note to Ann when my grandmother, Florence, passed away in 1997. In that note he expressed his anguish and heartbreak.

I learned that my grandparents sent Ann and her second husband Rosh Hashanah cards every year, a few of which Ann still has and was able to share with me.

I learned that thinking about my grandfather, and particularly the fact that I officiated his funeral, isn’t something that I’ve fully processed on an emotional level.

During my visit with Ann and Hilda I learned a bit about their family as well. I heard a few of Ann’s stories from the war. I heard about how Morris Lapidus had helped her husband learn to become a kosher butcher, which became his profession. I learned that Ann and her husband opened a kosher butcher shop when they moved to Atlanta in the 60s.

A few times during our meeting Ann looked at me and told me that, when she looked me in the eyes, she could see my grandfather.

That’s about all I have to report at the moment. Hopefully there’ll be more forthcoming.

But the amazing thing about all this is the coincidence of Ann being at synagogue on the day when the Davis family mentioned my name from the bimah. I don’t attend many Saturday morning services of Davis Academy students but I’m fairly certain that I am only rarely mentioned by name at any of them. That this particular family said my name is the fluke that led to this whole discovery.  I’ve been living in Atlanta for 6 years now and Ann and her family have been here much longer. Who knows if we ever would have found one another if Ann hadn’t been at synagogue that morning and if my name hadn’t been mentioned?

The Value of Interfaith Dialogue

A remarkable week ended on a remarkable note at The Davis Academy Middle School. We hosted 150 students from The Marist School for a day of interfaith dialogue and relationship building.

It has been a remarkable week. The Jewish community commemorated Yom HaZikaron (Israel’s Memorial Day) and celebrated Yom HaAtzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day). As Americans we watched in horror as the Boston Marathon bombing took place. As human beings we grieved for the loss of life in West, Texas. It has been a remarkable week.

Since coming to The Davis Academy I have dreamed of creating a context wherein our students could meaningfully explore matters of faith with peers of different faith backgrounds. Several years ago I was invited to be a guest lecturer at The Marist School, a local Catholic middle and high school. Eventually I found a counterpart at Marist, and we assembled a team of educators who were motivated to bring our 7th grade students together. Today we had the privilege of hosting these students and many of their outstanding faculty.

The goals of our interfaith dialogue program at this point are threefold: 1) to build relationships based on mutual respect between adolescents of different faith backgrounds, 2) to teach students how to engage in intentional dialogue on matters of faith, and 3) to partner in faith-based community service. Today we made great strides in actualizing goals 1 and 2.

Davis Academy 7th graders gathered in our gymnasium a few moments before the Marist students arrived. We had been preparing for their visit for several weeks. For example, we asked our students what kinds of questions they thought Marist students might have for their Davis counterparts. We also asked them what questions they had for their Marist counterparts. We also brainstormed different things we hoped to share with our guests and also reviewed what it means to be welcoming and gracious hosts. The energy in the room was palpable.

The centerpieces of today’s program were twofold: 1) we broke into small groups, facilitated by faculty members, to do, “I’ve always wondered.” Students  from both schools had the chance to ask and answer one another’s questions in a safe and respectful environment. When we reflected with our Davis students later in the day they identified this is a highlight. Topics ranged from: kashrut to Santa Claus, Lent to belief in God, Jewish ritual clothing to the Gospels and much more. Without fail, faculty members who facilitated the groups reported great conversations, active listening, and mutual respect. One teacher characterized the meeting in Buberian terms: I-Thou.

The second centerpiece was Kabbalat Shabbat. Since the program was held at The Davis Academy on a Friday morning we felt that we should share a central part of our community’s identity: Kabbalat Shabbat. Almost 1/2 of the grade volunteered to help lead Kabbalat Shabbat. Marist students were given the option of wearing kippot and most chose to do so, and also took them home as a memento of their visit. Davis students shared what Shabbat means to them, we took out our Torah scroll, and recited the Shabbat blessings.  At the end, Marist’s priest and I joined together in offering the Priestly Benediction to a group of Marist and Davis students who were celebrating their birthdays. We all shared challah and grape juice and made promises to reunite in the Fall.

Today the city of Watertown is under siege. Today is also the anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombing as well as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. For The Davis Academy and the Marist School, today is the beginning of a friendship that we hope will change the world one teenager at a time.

Kristallnacht/ The November Pogrom: A Personal Story

Dr. Michael A. Meyer, the Adolph S. Ochs Professor of Jewish History at HUC/JIR Cincinnati shares the following thoughts in acknowledgement of Kristallnacht/ the November Pogrom:

On November 9, 1938, I was not yet a year old and living in Berlin with my parents and grandmother.  My mother used to wheel me around in a stroller, being careful not to sit on benches that were reserved for “Aryans.”  What I remember of that night is not from direct recall but from what I was later told.  Following what is now called by historians the “November Pogrom” rather that the earlier “Kristallnacht– which makes one think of a crystal chandelier–the Jews were required to pay for all of the damage to property that the Nazis had wrought on synagogues, Jewish stores, and homes, lest Gentile insurance companies should have to pay.  My grandfather, who had served in the German army, was one of the tens of thousands of Jewish men that were sent as hostages to concentration camps until the huge amount would be paid.  He was able to get out after a few weeks only because he and his wife had succeeded in getting a visa to Chile.  The Gestapo also came looking for my father, but he was tipped off and rode the Berlin subways for many hours until they gave up and left the apartment.  That pogrom was the first nationwide act of organized violence against the Jews of Germany.  Though few realized it at the time, it foreshadowed what was to come.