Monday, December 22, 2008

Wingding in Westwood

The weekend was a blur of activity for me and I am just getting back into the New Orleans groove, punctuated by a cold wave that came through while I was in fast-moving Los Angeles. Everything in L.A. seems to be moving at a faster pace than here in the sleepy South, that is except for the traffic on the highways. Californians seem to accept a nine-mile, 50-minutes run from the airport with little or no alacrity. Apart from the traffic, there is that bright California sun that hangs up in the sky like a China ball spreading warmth and light across the city that bounces across nearby mountains and valleys. I saw no smog on this trip, but it is, after all, winter. The reason for my departure for the Left Coast was a family event: my second cousin Annie's Bat Mitzvah. I mentioned this in an earlier blog. This was the first time I had seen my Uncle Joel's family since his daughter Renee's wedding to Stephen Gingold about 17 years ago. Dr. Joel Smason, a retired orthopaedic surgeon, is the younger brother of my father. At that time many of my father's family were still alive. I rather enjoyed seeing them all gathered together at such a lovely affair at the very swank Beverly Hills Hotel. Back in 1960, I was the ring bearer for my Uncle Joel and Aunt Evelyne's wedding and when their daughter Renee got married, she and her fiancé asked my son David to act as a ring bearer too. The Bat Mitzvah weekend at Sinai Temple began with Friday evening services at the synagogue located on Wilshire Boulevard in a small chapel that was followed by an evening meal in a nearby room. The next morning there was a huge affair in the main synagogue sanctuary and I was asked to read from the Torah scroll during the services. It was a huge responsibility and I was extremely nervous, especially while chanting in front of an audience of five hundred that blossomed to almost 1,000 later in the morning. Apparently I did okay, because most people complimented me, but I still was relieved when it was over. The joyous affair was punctuated by sadness as the death of 83-year-old Torah scholar and president emeritus of American Jewish University Rabbi David Lieber was noted by Senior Rabbi David Wolpe. Wolpe was named this year as the number one pulpit rabbi in America by no less than Newsweek Magazine. He was an impassioned speaker, electing to talk on one man he knew so well whose death had marked the community and the country as opposed to Bernie Madoff, whom he said had generated news but in a wicked way. Wolpe took time to sermonize about the qualities that Lieber had and the effect for goodness in the world he had generated. In Wolpe's case there were times when Lieber's influence on him personally kept him in Los Angeles and helped him and his wife face a battle with cancer. Wolpe's speech about Lieber ultimately pointed out how effective he was in working with disparate groups. The "Etz Chaim ("Tree of Life")," the Chumash or Five Books of Moses the Conservative Movement has used in prayer services since 1999, lists Lieber as senior editor, above all other writers including the eminent Chaim Potok. Following services the family gathered for an impressive Kiddush luncheon repast in one of several large rooms at the facility. The evening party was held at the Brentwood Country Club with a DJ, dancers and a 1960s theme of "Peace, Love and Annie." Annie enjoyed herself and her friends managed to keep dancing until the midnight hour, even taking pity on a cousin from New Orleans who insisted on hitting the dance floor himself to tunes such as "Low" and "All the Single Ladies." The final family event was brunch at the Brentwood Country Club the following morning and early afternoon before I dashed off to the airport with my sister Arlene in tow. She was headed back for Cleveland. I was on my way back to the Big Easy. As it turns out the lines were so long for departures, it was a blessing that I arrived so early and was able to take my time going through security and the check-in process. On reflection the weekend was chock-a-block, but all so worthwhile. It was, after all, family.

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