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Rabbi Harold Kushner, whose works of practical theology were best-sellers, dies at 88

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(JTA) — Rabbi Harold Kushner, one of the most influential congregational rabbis of the 20th century whose works of popular theology reached millions of people outside the synagogue, has died.

Kushner, who turned 88 on April 3, died Friday in Canton, Massachusetts, just miles from the synagogue where he had been rabbi laureate for more than three decades.

Kushner’s fairly conventional trajectory as a Conservative rabbi was altered shortly after arriving at Temple Israel of Natick when, on the day his daughter Ariel was born, his 3-year-old son Aaron was diagnosed with a fatal premature aging condition, progeria.

“When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” published in 1981, represented Kushner’s attempt to make sense of Aaron’s suffering and eventual death, just days after his 14th birthday. It was turned down by two publishers before being released by Schocken Books, a Jewish publisher.

​​In the book, Kushner labors to reconcile the twin Jewish beliefs in God’s omnipotence and his benevolence with the reality of human suffering. ”Can I, in good faith, continue to teach people that the world is good, and that a kind and loving God is responsible for what happens in it?” he writes.

Ultimately, he concludes that God’s ability is limited when it comes to controlling the hazards of life that result in tragedy on a widespread and smaller scale, such as the Holocaust and the death of a child.

It is a view that runs afoul of traditional Jewish teaching about God, and it earned Kushner critics among some Orthodox Jews and also drew rebuttals from other Jewish theologians. But it resonated widely for a long time and with many people, Jewish and non-Jewish, rocketing to the top of The New York Times’ best-seller list. More than 4 million copies have been sold in at least a dozen languages.

He scaled back his duties at his synagogue, then stepped away, as other books followed, tackling topics equally as daunting: the meaning of life, talking to children about God, overcoming disappointment. “To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking,” published in 1993, became a go-to resource for people exploring Judaism, while “Living a Life That Matters: Resolving the Conflict Between Conscience and Success,” published in 1986, was another best-seller.

“I think that Rabbi Kushner was successful because he catered to everybody,” Carolyn Hessel, the director of the Jewish Book Council, said in 2017 when it revived the Lifetime Achievement Award to honor Kushner. “He reached everybody’s heart. It wasn’t just the Jewish heart. He reached the heart of every human being.”

Kushner was born in Brooklyn and educated in the New York City public schools. After his ordination at the Jewish Theological Seminary in 1960, he went to court to have his military exemption waived.

For two years he served as a military chaplain in Oklahoma before assuming his first pulpit, as an assistant rabbi at another Temple Israel, this one in Great Neck, New York.

Four years later he moved to Natick, where he remained even as he became a celebrity. In 1983, with his book a best-seller and demanding more of his time, Kushner cut back to part-time at the synagogue. Seven years later he stepped down to devote himself fully to writing.

The congregation, believing their then-55-year-old rabbi too young to be named rabbi emeritus, made Kushner their rabbi laureate, a title held by only a handful of American spiritual leaders.

It would be one of a growing number of accolades: Kushner was honored by the Roman Catholic organization the Christophers as someone who made the world a better place, and the organization Religion in America named him clergyman of the year in 1999. In 2004 he read from the book of Isaiah at the state funeral of President Ronald Reagan.

He remained involved in the Conservative movement after leaving the pulpit, serving as a leader in the New England region of its rabbinical association and, with the novelist Chaim Potok, editing its 2001 Etz Hayim Torah commentary.

“My seminary training was all about Jewish answers. My congregational experience has been more in terms of Jewish questions,” Kushner told JTA in 2008. “I start with the anguish, the uncertainty, the lack of fulfillment I find in the lives of the very nice, decent people who are in this synagogue and who are my readers. And Judaism is the answer.”

He added, “How do I live a fulfilling life is the question. And Judaism is the answer.”

Kushner’s wife, Suzette, died in 2022, 45 years after their son Aaron. Kushner is survived by his daughter, Ariel Kushner Haber, and two grandchildren.


The post Rabbi Harold Kushner, whose works of practical theology were best-sellers, dies at 88 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Obituaries

PHYLLIS POLLOCK

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary

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By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre


Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station

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This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.


The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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