Category Archives: Steven Wenick

Serendipity in the moribund museum halls

Steven Wenick

Steven Wenick

Having reluctantly acceded to my wife’s wishes to attend the ribbon cutting ceremony of the recently uncovered (1996) Lod Mosaic, I steeled myself for a tedious and boring afternoon at the University of Pennsylvania Archaeology and Anthropology Museum. Prior to the ribbon cutting ceremony I joined the rather eclectic and eccentric group of academic looking visitors who were scrutinizing the huge mosaic prominently displayed on the floor just outside the Canaan Exhibition Hall. Not wanting to look out of place, I mimicked what seemed to be the prevailing meditative pose they assumed as I too scrutinized the artistic worth of the myriad of tesserae, (multi-colored small stones) which make up the magnificent work.

While in thought, I overheard someone speaking Hebrew. I glanced over my shoulder and saw the speaker was a distinguished and well-dressed man standing close by me. The comments he made to his companion were about several ancient oil lamps, which had been discovered in Israel, now prominently displayed in the adjacent Roman Exhibition Hall. Never one to let a Hebrew speaking person pass me by without engaging them in one way or another, I echoed his remark in Hebrew just loud  enough for him to hear it with the expectation that he would react to me. He did.

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Why are there no miracles today?

The question often asked is, “Why are there no miracles today?” The answer is – there are.

 

Steven Wenick

Steven Wenick

The Bible describes miracles such as: the parting of the Red Sea and the Israelites’ march from slavery to freedom; but that was ages ago. It even records the miraculous occurrence of a talking ass, which today is so common an event that we do not deem it a miracle at all.
Once upon a time miracles were necessary. They served as a means to get man’s attention because he had not yet traveled far enough along the path of discovery and scientific knowledge to be able to recognize and appreciate the daily occurrence of miracles.

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The Rishon Beach Brigade

 

By STEVE WENICK

Steven Wenick

Steven Wenick

It was on the sands of Rishon LeTzion beach where I first met the rag-tag group of characters, which I later affectionately dubbed The Beach Brigade. Their favorite strand of sand is not far from other seaside enclaves which stretch along the coastline of Israel like a string of seashells. Its closest neighbor is Bat Yam, which is not far from Jaffa, which is not far from Tel Aviv. In Israel, there is no place far from anyplace.

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Rude Awakening

 

Steven Wenick

By STEVE WENICK

It was the second day of Passover and I was six thousand miles away from my hometown, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, when the reality of life in Israel hit home. My rude awakening occurred while leisurely sitting around the dining room table enjoying an early morning cup of coffee with my wife and daughter. During the course of our recounting the previous day’s Passover Seder my daughter Jennifer casually mentioned, in the most matter of fact manner, that in the event we hear the shrill wail of a siren, we should head straight to the bomb shelter. I wasn’t sure that I heard her right because her tone of voice and demeanor were that of someone asking us to pick up a box of matzo at the supermarket. Continue reading

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The Waiting Room

By STEVEN WENICK

Steven Wenick

Steven Wenick

The expression “to kill time” most aptly applies to many doctors’ waiting rooms. I don’t like killing time; it’s a waste of time. Nevertheless I resigned myself to wait my turn in Dr. Iyan’s office, along with a dozen or so people who were just sitting, snoozing or thumbing their way through the pages of old magazines. I tried to console myself by wishfully thinking that maybe some of the patients-in-waiting were really not patients, just people accompanying them. The only thing I knew for certain was the inevitability of a long and tedious wait. Continue reading

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IMPACTING MY WORLD: Slam-Dunk

By STEVE WENICK

The din of the raucous crowd suddenly grew silent as the introductory bars of Hatikva signaled the beginning of Israel’s National Anthem. When the lyrics, “To be a free people in our land,” was carried aloft by the voices of 10,000 strong, I welled up with pride and was thankful that there was a homeland of the Jews and for the Jews‑The State of Israel.

The Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv was the venue for the game between the archrivals of Israel’s basketball elite, Maccabee Electra Tel Aviv and Hapoel Migdal Jerusalem.  What I thought would be just another basketball game between two teams turned out to be a game changing experience for me. As I looked around the arena I saw Israelis of every stripe and color streaming through the gates and shimmying their way along the rows of partially occupied seats before finally locating and settling down into their own seats.  For me this was a special occasion because it was the first time that I took my grandson Adam to a basketball game in Israel.

We took our seats in the upper level with a good view of the court. As an American it was odd for me to see thousands of Jewish sports fans with a good number of them wearing kippot and tzitzit at a basketball game, or any place for that matter, other than a synagogue or Hasidic fabrangen. The arena looked very much like those in the States sporting a dizzying array of flashing advertisements chasing each other around the perimeter of the upper deck cheap seats accompanied by the reverberation of spirited cheers, head throbbing drum beats and blaring horns, all seemingly conspiring to assault our senses.

No matter where you go or what you do in Israel the people never cease to amaze me. One of the most interesting things about Israel is its diversity and contrasts in cultures, even at a basketball game. Outwardly some of the differences are obvious. It easy enough for one to differentiate the multiplicity of Jewish types by modes of dress especially among the men. For example there are the seculars who do not wear a kippot, the modern Orthodox who wear knit kippot, and the Lubuvitch Hassidim who, in addition to donning black kippot, graciously wear their acceptance of everyone.

Of course absent were both the Haredim, with their 17th Century Polish Gentry style clothing which only comes in two colors, black and white, and the off the wall Satmars who wouldn’t be caught dead at such a frivolous event like a basketball event. However it was not the outward display of piety by manner of dress and strict adherence to ritual that struck me the most that evening. Instead it was the single sentence of concern uttered by a kind and thoughtful young woman working behind the snack bar in the arena wearing the nametag Anat.

The opening buzzer announced the tap off and the game was underway. The game was played like any ordinary American professional game except the quarters were ten minutes instead of twelve minutes long. The refs called fouls and were roundly booed and cursed. There were the inevitable slam-dunks that delighted the crowd, as long it was done by the home team, otherwise the response was dead silence. By half time the home team trailed by a few points – not to worry.

The half time crowd descended upon the snack bars like Biblical locusts on crops. The usual fare of hot dogs, nachos, pizza, bagelach (pretzels), chips (French fries) was being hawked along with some not so usual sporting event snacks such as: hot soup with pita and baklava. Notably absent were the beer-guzzling inebriates spouting obscenities and proudly sporting their teams’ colors.

During halftime my grandson Adam decided that he wanted soup and in spite of his being only 12 years old he boldly stepped forth and wedged himself into the nonexistent line. When the young woman behind the counter finally saw his small frame crunched amidst the crowd and heard his pre-Bar Mitzvah voice above the din she asked him if she could help him.

Adam wanted a cup of the bean soup with strips of savory lamb floating in the broth but before he ordered it he asked if it was kosher. The server said yes the soup is kosher however the snack stand is open on Shabbat.  She could have stopped after saying that the food was kosher without qualifying her statement by telling him her stand was open for business on Shabbat. But by her informing Adam that the stand is open on Shabbat she performed an act of kindness born of her awareness that there are observant Jews who will not eat food prepared by a store which is open on Shabbat, even if the ingredients used in its preparation are kosher.

I was impressed that although the young woman may or may not have observed the laws of kashrut in her own life she was kind enough to respect the practice of someone who did. She could simply have said that the soup was kosher and left it at that; Adam would have not known the difference. Knowingly or not that young woman, by her single act of respect for Adam’s adherence to kashrut, had adhered to the Biblical injunction, “…nor put a stumbling block before the blind” (Leviticus 19:14). Adam did not order the soup.

As we left the arena disappointed that our team had lost the game I knew that in a day or so I would forget the loss and leave my disappointment behind. But what I will not forget is the memory of that single slam-dunk act of kindness performed by the young woman wearing the nametag Anat.

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IMPACTING MY WORLD: Why is it That …

 

By STEVE WENICK

As I drained the last drop of tepid coffee from my mug a series of questions percolated in my head. For example, “Why is it that the United Nations Human Rights Council underscores Israel’s real or imagined abuses while those of other nations are glossed over or ignored?”  I could tell by coffee pot’s lack of heft that only sludge remained – and my questions.

Why is it that when Jews were systematically gassed and incinerated in ovens by the Nazis, the ‘world’ didn’t take much notice. But when Hamas launches rockets into Israel targeting civilian population centers there is grave concern over how Israel will respond.

Why is it that when Jews were defined by their religion, not by their nationality, there were no protests decrying ‘Jewphobia?’ When they were not regarded as ‘authentic’ nationals like the Poles, Austrians, Germans, Latvians, Estonians, and the French, there were no accusations of racial profiling. Jews were regarded with suspicion and mistrust, partly because out of ignorance and partly because of their religious beliefs and practices were different than those of the vast majority of citizens. And that was justification enough for the so-called enlightened Europeans to treat them shabbily and banish them to the ghettos and worse.

Why is it that when the monsters of the Third Reich went on their murderous rampage, few eyebrows were raised but many eyes were shut? Those brown shirted miscreants were equal opportunity murderers of Jews. All were targeted for extermination: the pious, the agnostics, the atheists, and yes, even the self-haters. If a drop of Jewish blood was detected in the pith of their family tree, they were uprooted, bundled, stacked and stamped, then carted off to the death mills of Europe.

Why is it that when fascists went about their grizzly business of exterminating Jews, the world remained silent? Absent were the outcries, the boycotts, and flotillas. The appalling mistreatment of Jews was encouraged by some, ignored by many, and of no concern to others. Those swastika adorned homicidal maniacs, who gleefully goose stepped proudly as they paraded Jews to oblivion, were revered by their countrymen. They pinned the Star of David upon their victims’ chests and burned numbers into their arms like cattle, as they hurled epitaphs at them of: rat, ogre and subhuman. The predators of yesteryear and those who emulate them today still thirst for Jewish blood because six million innocent souls did not sate their ravenous appetites.

Why is it that the despicable Nazi practice of referring to Jews as rats, ogres and subhuman went uncensored? And today that dehumanizing lexicon has been amended by those cretins who emulate the fascist. Today they have added to their verbal garbage: monkeys, dogs and pigs in accompaniment to their mantra of, “Death to the Jews”. I hear ominous and disturbing echoes from the past; only the species’ names have changed.

Why is it that the same world, which fancies itself civilized, self-righteously claims it is protecting the rights of Palestinians’, could not find room in its hypocritical heart to protect the lives of Jews?  It was a world that was not deaf, was not dumb, and was not blind; it was a world that just didn’t care.

And finally, why is it that when accusations are flung at other countries and protests are mounted against their leaders, the criticism calls for changes in policy and government. But when grievances, real, imagined or concocted are hurled at Israel the only change the demented demand is to ‘wipe Israel off the face of the map”.

Today the Jews who live in Israel, citizens of their ancestral homeland, are no longer subjected to the ‘tyranny of the majority’. They are the majority. However there are those who can’t help but fall all over themselves in their haste to publicize anything negative about the Jewish homeland. More than once, I’ve heard the cynical and taunting question, “Why is that many in the world think ill of Israel and her supporters?” Of course the veiled allegation is that ‘they’ must have done something wrong to deserve such widespread condemnation. Their rhetorical question is both scornful and derisive. My answer comes dripping with a generous portion of sarcasm, “Is that the same ‘world’ whose efforts to prevent the Holocaust were virtually non-existent?”

Israel’s detractors are infuriated when their ‘holier than thou’, posturing is exposed for the hypocrisy it is. Israel rightfully disregards their duplicitous and hollow tirades. The Arabs and Iranians, icons of intolerance and bigotry, outnumber Israel in terms of land mass 650 to 1 and in population 56 to 1. Yet, they are obsessed with eliminating the tiny State of Israel, whose very existence sticks in their collective craws. They along with their willing minions of like minded anti-Semites have no grounds upon which to claim the moral high ground, their footing is mired in quicksand.  Consequently, they feel humiliated, disrespected and embarrassed; ironically their plight is a consequence of their own contemptuous handiwork.

For the Arab and Iranian dictators and thugs, who rule with the fist and sword, while strapping suicide belts around their followers; saving face trumps saving lives. An arsenal of lies, threats, intimidation and terror are their weapons of choice. Rather than devise strategies to reverse the course of their continuous march to failure, they engage in the barbaric tactics of terror. Unfortunately they regale in regression, not progress. They curse rather than bless. They tear down, rather than built up. They embrace suicide and shun revitalization. They envy and despise everything Israel accomplishes because their own corrupt and stagnant regimes are mired in the muck of their own making, while Israel’s remarkable growth and achievements take flight.

Sadly, the anti-Zionist (read Israel and Jews) continue to march to the beat of their own orchestrated hateful rhetoric. The seeds they plant yield a harvest of intolerance. Armed with a battery of rockets, which they fill with lies and launch with deceitfulness, they reap what they sow, a legacy of failure and defeat. Crouched in their spider holes, they claim victory over a decadent America and Israel. Alas, they delude themselves because they are a cowardly lot, therefore respect will elude them. Their only reward will be a key to the executive lounge located in the rear of the cave in which they are hiding. Although that pack of malcontents and unhinged anti-Semites will undoubtedly continue waging their campaign to disparage, dismantle and destroy Israel, their efforts will drown in the wake of their own folly.

Like the Biblical Amalakites, there are truly malevolent people who are beyond repair and beyond redemption. But they are a scant few. However, apart from the few but dangerous homicidal enemies of Israel, there are still those among Israel’s critics, who are well meaning and right to hold Israel accountable for her misdeeds. Regrettably, there are also well meaning souls who have succumbed to the lies and deceit spawned by propagandists. And not surprising there are trusting souls who have unwittingly abandoned reason and fallen under the seductive spell of wishful thinking and naiveté.

 

Some have suggested that we should look to the future and seize every opportunity to build bridges of harmony and peace with our enemies. I agree, but as we construct bridges to reconcile differences we must not ignore that there are forces determined to undermine those noble efforts. As the wicked stealthily labor to undermine reconciliation between adversaries, they cloak themselves in self-righteousness. By turning away in the face of evil, rather than confronting it, only serves to enable, encourage and perpetuate it.

 

The Book of Isaiah teaches that Israel is, “A light unto the nations”. The Jewish nation is charged to serve as the mentor of spiritual and moral guidance. Therefore Israel is and should be held to a higher standard. But at times even the brightest flame flickers and its glow momentarily diminished. However Israel’s fire will not be extinguished. Paradoxically, the brighter the light the darker the shadow and so it is with Israel. As her radiance increases, her detractors grow darker and more malevolent. Hopefully future generations of all nations will have the wisdom and courage to eliminate the shadows of intolerance and hold aloft the torch of human kindness lighting the path on their way to repair the world.

 

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IMPACTING MY WORLD: The Bar Mitzvah Bandit

By STEVE  WENICK

The Bar Mitzvah party was going fine until it was discovered that someone had pilfered the gift box.

As is custom in Israel, during weekday Bar Mitzvah celebrations a gift box is made available in which guests can deposit envelopes containing cash or checks. Imagine the shock when it was discovered that the gift box was missing. So the question as to whether the box was misplaced or misappropriated begged an answer.

Word of the theft sent family and friends on a mission to find the missing box. But the search proved unsuccessful. Fortunately, those guests who had given checks were able to stop them for a nominal fee. Less fortunate were those who had stuffed cash into an envelope. I guess the cash givers took some consolation the lesson learned from their mistake.

As a last resort, the police were notified and an investigation was initiated. During the course of that investigation it was discovered that the band, which had been hired for the occasion, took a video of their performance which they intended to use for the promotion of future engagements. The video was of good quality and the theft was in clear view. It would be expected that the culprit would be apprehended post haste and brought in to the police station for questioning. That did not happen – remember this was Israel where things work a bit differently.

As it turned out, the thief was one of the waiters at the Bar Mitzvah party. When the catering hall manager found out that one of his waiters was about to be arrested for stealing the box of gifts he implored the police to postpone the arrest until later that evening because he needed that waiter to work an affair that night. The police complied.

Finally, as the tables were cleared and the sounds of clattering plates subsided, the police moved in and arrested the “serve and steal”, waiter. They cuffed him and promptly hauled him away to the police station for questioning. During the interrogation the alleged video bandit was not told that his felony had been recorded, in the hopes that he might implicate accomplices, if there were any at all.

As it turned out, the waiter claimed that he did not steal the box of gifts but merely removed it from the table as he was cleaning up after the affair. After an exhaustive investigation the beleaguered waiter was believed, not charged, and released.

Resigned to the fact that the Bar Mitzvah bandit would never be discovered nor the missing money recovered, the parents of the Bar Mitzvah called all of the guests to find out if they had deposited either cash or check in the box. If it was determined that a guest had given a cash or check gift, the hosts sheepishly asked how much they gave

Once the total of cash and checks were totaled the hosts turned around and sued the caterer for the amount missing, claiming he neglected to provide for the appropriate gift box security. Whereupon the caterer counter-sued the family for defamation of character and the waiter sued the police for false arrest.

 

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IMPACTING MY WORLD; Don’t Forget…remember

By STEVEN WENICK

With the Holiday of Passover and Holocaust Remembrance Day coming in the same Hebrew month (Nissan) I thought I’d share this poem with you. It depicts two different views of the world born of very different life experiences. In this poem, which I named, ‘Different Voices’ the first voice is capitalized for it speaks in bold, celebratory tones. It is the voice of a former slave in Egypt, who had experienced a miraculous exodus from slavery in Egypt, followed by his flight to freedom upon the wings of hope and finally settling upon the soil of the Promised Land. The second voice is in lower case and represents that of a downtrodden, sad, diminutive survivor of the Holocaust, whose memories of incomprehensible horror are like a specter which casts an everlasting, lifeless haunting shadow over her psyche. (This poem originally was published in The Friday Forum of the Jewish Exponent in 1977).

 

DIFFERENT VOICES

 

Don’t Forget

remember

 

I Was One of the Chosen People

i was selected

 

With an Outstretched Arm I Was Delivered From Egypt

with a numbered arm I was delivered to auschwitz

 

Brought Out of the House of Bondage

delivered to that slaughter house called europe

 

Redeemed from the Hovels of Goshen

condemned to the ghetto of warsaw

 

Don’t Forget the Red Sea

remember the crimson ground

 

I Crossed Safely on Dry Land

my shower was too dry

 

I Outpaced the Chariots of Pharaoh

not i the hobnail boot

 

They All Succumbed to the Deep

my shallow grave was deep enough

 

I Stood at Sinai for Revelation

and i at dachau for extermination

 

I Was Given the Decalogue a plan for living

and i mein kampf a plan for dying

 

Don’t Forget the Pillars of Fire

remember the columns of smoke

 

His Wonders I Witnessed

i witnessed and wondered

 

Forty Years I Wandered Thru the Wilderness

and two thousand years i throughout the world

 

The End of My Exile and Finally Home

the end of the diaspora with the final solution

 

Don’t Forget the Miracles

remember the holocaust

 

What is a Holocaust

indeed… what is a miracle

 

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IMPACTING MY WORLD: The Mistake

I was inspired to share this very personal event in my life because of something I learned from Rabbi Aaron Krupnick, who wrote, “We all make mistakes. The question is what we do with them.” This is my answer.

 

By STEVEN WENICK

I was a sophomore in high school when I made a mistake—an error in judgment—that would shadow me my entire life. It happened during the change of classes. You know the scene—when the hallways are filled with a cacophony of sounds as students frantically push their way through crowded hallways en route from one classroom to another.

 

So there I was, alternately tripping over my own feet and juggling an arm full of books, desperately trying to get to my next class when I noticed something fall from my classmate Alan’s pocket and drop to the floor in front of me. I bent down, picked it up and saw, to my amazement, that it was a $20 bill. Hesitating momentarily, glancing over both shoulders to see if anyone was watching, I then made the regrettable mistake of stealthily slipping the bill into my pocket.

 

Finding $20 back then seemed like a fortune to me—and a stroke of good fortune as well. Since my high school was not a neighborhood school, it was populated by academically inclined students from every neighborhood of the city; consequently its population reflected all strata of the social and financial spectrum. Although my family stood on the lower rung of the economic ladder, it wasn’t the lack of money that caused my poor choice. It was solely lack of good judgment.

 

Having thought of that episode from time to time over the ensuing years, I always managed to convince myself that I found the money in the hallway, when in fact (to use a politician’s terminology) I misappropriated it. I considered myself so lucky to have been in the right place at the right time and I was blind to the fact that the shadow of guilt had become my silent partner for life.

 

I remember the hard times when my mother asked me to walk to my grandfather’s house to see if she could borrow five dollars until the end of the week when my father got paid. I learned at an early age that even hard work and careful budgeting were no guarantee that there would be sufficient income to make it through to the end of the week. Regrettably, I had not learned the importance of integrity or frugality because I managed to squander my newly absconded funds within a week. But unlike that misappropriated money, the burden of guilt that came with it lasted me a lifetime.

 

I always regretted making that error in judgment but regrets were not the sufficient balm for a guilty conscience. I needed something more. There is a concept in Judaism that true repentance can be achieved by not committing the same transgression again if given the same opportunity to do it. In other words, I could achieve absolution if I were to be presented with the same opportunity to benefit from someone else’s loss, and resist the temptation to capitalize on it.

 

Over the ensuing years I did not recognize an opportunity to repent for my misdeed. I spent over 50 years tethered to shame and bound with regret for that one mistake made long ago, vowing, constantly, that if the opportunity for me to make amends should present itself, I would seize it. Eventually I made this pact with myself: If I ever saw Alan again, I would return the $20 he lost, and I stole. I was able to honor this pact one Wednesday evening during a performance at the Walnut Theater in Philadelphia.

 

A season ticket holder, I usually attend Thursday night performances, but because that particular show fell on a Jewish holiday, I had obtained Wednesday seats. I don’t recall the name of the show, but I’ll never forget the drama that unfolded that Wednesday night.

 

Sometime during the first act, the lights flickered momentarily and then went completely dark. At first I thought it was part of the show, that is, until I saw the ushers carrying flashlights and directing theatergoers to the lobby where the lights remained lit. Meandering around the crowded lobby along with all of the other patrons, I caught a glimpse of a man identified to me as a Judge Emeritus of the Philadelphia Municipal Court who I recognized immediately as my classmate Alan.

 

I could barely contain myself as I nudged my way towards him through the crowded lobby. Thoughts and phrases raced through my mind as I rehearsed what I would say, and how I would explain what had happened so long ago, and what I was about to do.

 

Suddenly we were face to face and I wondered if he would recognize me after so many years. “Hi Al, do you know who I am?” His silent stare was his answer.

 

“I’m Steve, Steve Wen…” His eyes flashed, his face sprang to life and before I could finish my name, he did it for me, “Wenick!” We both smiled and shook hands vigorously. It had been more than half a century and we still recognized each other. But only one of us remembered the mistake.

 

Suddenly a burst of light illuminated the entire theater. The problem has been fixed. As we began to leave the lobby, I recalled my pact.

 

Pulling Alan aside, I told him that I wanted to repay him for something I’d owed him since high school. He looked puzzled as I implored him not to refuse this payment, but to give it to charity or to a grandchild if it would make him more comfortable. Then, as he stood dumbfounded, I placed a $20 bill in his hand.

 

Since the show was about to resume, I quickly explained when and how I came to owe him $20. Whereupon he managed to sputter some unintelligible sounds but could hardly speak. “Well what about the interest?” he quipped, when he had finally gather himself. I could see that he was still visibly amazed at my revelation.

 

As we headed back to our seats he thanked me for returning his $20, noting, almost sheepishly, “I never knew that I lost that money. But thanks anyhow. It’s never too late”.

 

I smiled thinking how providence had graced me with the opportunity for redemption. I felt truly blessed to have unloaded the burden I carried for so very many years and to free myself from that mistake I made so long ago.

 

It was at then, at that moment punctuated by the simple act of returning a $20 bill to its rightful owner, that I understood it was not Alan’s forgiveness I sought, but my own.

 

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