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October 10, 2014

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HERITAGE FLORIDA JEWISH NEWS, OCTOBER 10, 2014 PAGE 13A Leader with three months to live created a &apos;seminar' on life By Rabbi Jack Riemer What would you do if you found out that you had only three more months to live? Gordon Zacks was a suc- cessful businessman, a leader of Jewish life,, and a confidante and adviser to President George H.W. Bush. He knew that he had prostate cancer, but doctors advised him that it was very slow-growing and nothing to worry about. Then came the day when the doctors told him his cancer had metas- tasized to his liver and that he had only three months to live. Zacks--who would die in February 2014--decided to make his bedroom a school in which he and those he loved would study together about how to live at the end of life. What a school it was, and what a faculty gathered at his bedside! The details are chronicled in Zacks's posthumously published book, "Redefining Moments: End of Life Stories for Better Living," Natan Sharansky--the refusenik Zacks helped res- cue from the former Soviet Union and now head of the Jewish Agency for Israel-- showed up at the door one day just to say "thank you," but ended up staying longer to discuss the meaning of life. Leslie Wexner and Jay Schottenstein, both renowned figures in Jew- ish education, showed up to thank the man who had given them their start on careers in Jewish philan- thropy. Perhaps the most important of all the visi- tors was Zacks's 7-year-old granddaughter, who crossed the country just so that she could give her grandfather a hug and a kiss before it was too late. Zacks taught those who convened for this informal seminar that each person must find his pas- sion-whatever it is--and follow it to the very end. Whoever does that will have done his part in making this world a better place. One of Zacks's daughters recalled that when she was in Israel during her gap year between high school and college, a teacher in the seminary she was attending quoted something from the Talmud that she thought was morally offensive. She called her father back in Columbus, Ohio, and told him about how much the teacher offended her. +The next morning, she opened the door, and there was her father! He had flown all the way from Columbus to Jerusalem to be with her and to help her resolve this moral issue. He took her to Rabbi David Hartman, the open- minded Jewish philosopher who was known for taking on Jewish tradition with both love and honesty, and they spent the whole day studying together. Hartman showed them that the offensive passage did exist in Jewish tradition, but that it had to be understood in its historical context, and it needed to be matched against the many moral passages in the Tal- mud that teach the opposite. Zacks's daughter thanked her father during the "semi- nar" for what he did that day in Israel, and rightfully so. How many fathers can you think of who would fly halfway across the world, on a day's notice, simply to help a daughter understand tradition as it should be understood? I imagine that there were probably lots of plaques on the wall of Zacks's home that bore testimony to his generous donations to worthy causes over the years, but I must say that this gesture he performed for his daughter was probably worth more than all of them put together. At several points, Zacks-- ever the organized execu- tive-offered some sets of questions that he felt every person should ask himself as his end draws near. These questions, in my estimation, should be posted on the mir- ror of every hospice room. One set reads: "Do I still have an overarching purpose and a task to attend to--even now? Am I trying to complete the tasks I still have to do? Do I ask for help from others now that I realize that I can no longer do what I once could by myself? Have I conveyed my goals and entrusted my unfinished tasks to others who will take them up after I am gone? Have I come to terms with the disappoint- ments in my life, and am I now focused on the doable, instead of dwelling on the things that I did wrong but can't undo? And even if the end of my life is not close, do I still give the things that count the most priority in my daily life?" There are more insights in this book that everyone should think about at the end of life--and beforehand. For instance, Zacks asks a question that most of us dread: What should I do if I reach the stage when I need to use a walker, a wheelchair, or even diapers? The instinctive reaction most of us would have to such a question is: How can I live without my dignity? But Zacks gets past that question and says that what we think of as "dignity" may some- times be vanity in disguise. He says that man doesn't give dignity to man--God does. Therefore, a person should come to terms with who he is now and what he can and can't do now, and must un- derstand, that dignity doesn't depend on appearances but rather on a commitment to his tasks and values, even when he can no longer live Without the help of others. You don't have to be ter- minally ill to learn from this book or to think of organizing such a "seminar" for those you love, although impending mortality does concentrate the mind. You only need to have strong convictions and goals, the desire to teach them to your children, and the hope that they will carry them on When their turn to lead comes. If you have these convictions and goals, this is a valuable book to study--and then to emulate. "Redefining Moments: End of Life Stories for Better Living," written by Gordon B. Zacks, edited by Catherine Zacks Gildenhorn, Beaufort Books, New York, NY, July 2014, 158 pages, $19.95. 'Retelling Genesis' review By Gail Rubin, CT As Simchat Torah ap- proaches, Genesis begins anew, "Retelling Genesis," the new book by Barry Louis Polisar, gives a timely fresh perspective on 13 stories in the Torah's first book. Each story gives a voice to many secondary characters whose perspectives are overlooked in the original Bible stories. Polisar offers the thoughts and feelings of many female characters: Eve, Noah's wife, Lot's daughters, Hagar, Zilpah and Bilhah (Jacob's handmaidens), and Dinah. He also explores what the silent Isaac thought about his near-sacrifice, what Cain thinks about his mark, and ponderings by Esau, Laban, and Joseph's brothers. Readers who know the original biblical text will pick up on the poetic refer- ences to those passages. For those who don't, "Retelling Genesis" can serve as a juicy introduction to Bible stories they may consider dry and lifeless. Polisar, who was raised in a secular Jewish home, started going to the Satur- day services at Sha'are Tefila Conservative congregation when his children entered Hebrew school. That led to curiosity about the Torah portions and joining a weekly Torah study class with the rabbi. He has wrestled with these stories and the questions they raise for over a decade. He's also the author of "Telling The Story: A Pass- over Haggadah Explained." Polisar has a four-decades- long career writing books, and recording and perform- ing his songs for children throughout the U.S., Europe and Canada. The slim paperback is illustrated with full-color drawings by Barry's wife Roni. The book is available for $7.95 through book- stores, online retailers such as and at www. Gail Rubin is president of the Jewish-Christian Dia- logue of New Mexico. A pTo .++ + .,:.:+]....... ......... We erase the borders be00een ritual, histo "y, ethics +& c00tUre unt00Judaism becomes theseamless whole it was+meant to be. Every Wednesday beginning 10/22. The last class will be on 12/24. Times are 7:00 pm-8:30 pm If you are new to Judaism or Jewish learning, this will give you a framework in which to sort your experiences & ideas. If you are a lifelong learner this will help_you see the patterns and connections like never before. Each session is self:coned and open to the community. The following fee schedule appli'es: Members Free Non-members: $10 per session or $72 for the series (send in a check or bring it with you to the session. You can also call the office wi a credit:card.) Each parti+c:ipant will receive a binder in which to collect our lecture handoum ........ -p .-:g-2.i=  +g -< ta.., ..,.+. ,+++r-+-+. ,+.%  .,- ....... .+.= :.....+::+...+.;:::- ,++ + 4 +++  v j..., o.7+. 50 g+++Road Winter Sp+++aT08 407.647.3055 -