Friday, December 23, 2011

2011 Hannuka Miracle?

This week, a modern-day Channukah story.

It is a true story. It happened just last week.

It is also a bit long, so I will cut out some of the details.

The story begins with a real tragedy.

A 54-year-old doctor from New York named Brian Grobois is in Seattle for a Bar Mitzvah. He plans to stay in Washington an extra day to enjoy one of his favorite pastimes, walking in nature.

Sunday morning he sets out on a snow-shoe trek in Paradise.

Paradise is the name of a popular hiking area at Mt. Rainier. You can imagine what it must look like for people to give it that name.
Here are some photos.

The husband, father and popular doctor does not return from Paradise. Rangers find his body late Monday and recover it on Tuesday. He apparently got lost and was unprepared for an overnight stay.

But that’s just the beginning of this tale.

When Dr. Grobois’s widow arrives to identify the body, she learns that the Pierce County Medical Examiner plans to conduct a full autopsy and there is nothing she could do to prevent it.

From a Jewish perspective, there are two problems with an autopsy. One is that it delays burial. But worse than that, a full autopsy is incredibly invasive. It involves procedures that I will not describe here. Suffice it to say, you would not want one performed on anyone short of a sworn enemy. Moreover, if you are a religious family like the Groboises, it violates your religious beliefs.

(Channuka theme #1 – Remember what the Maccabees were fighting for? Judaism v. Hellenism, right? One of the symbols of that Hellenism was the gymnasium, the focus on the body. It is ironic that Judaism has so much respect for the body that it’s against the rules to desecrate a corpse. Hellenism isn’t antithetical to Judaism. The fight wasn’t against Hellenism. It was against the hegemony of Hellenism. Hellenism under the umbrella of Jewish ethics is no enemy.)

Well, at this point, two sets of players get activated, one national and one local. The national players include a network of rabbis and lawyers across the country, New York Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, Congresswoman Nita Lowey and Senator Charles Schumer; Washington Senators Pat Murray and Maria Cantwell, Governor Christine Gregoire and Attorney General Rob McKenna.

The local players, besides the family and witnesses, include two individuals, Rabbi Zalman Heber and Tacoma attorney Barry Wallis.

Wallis has never had a case like this before. In fact, Washington State has never had a case like this before. There is no legal precedent on the books.

Wallis, who happens to be Jewish, went into law because he saw it as the best way to “fight the good fight”. Now he has a truly good fight on his hands. Whether or not he shares the family’s religious beliefs is never discussed. He has so much respect for Judaism and the Jewish People that he is at the top of Rabbi Heber’s list.

In order to keep this from becoming a novella I promised not to tell you all the details. But Wallis personally has to put everything else on hold, all his other clients, cases and court appearances, in order to fight this battle. It involves a zero-hour court order to stop the autopsy, and just one day to prepare this unprecedented case.

The good news is that the plaintiff wins.

The bad news is that the State appeals.

The good news is that the judge who is hearing the appeal is the Hon. Brian Tollefson, who happens to be the brother of my Jr. High French teacher. The Talmud says that if you really want to know what a woman is like, meet her brother. I figure it works the other way around too. Miss Tollefson was professional, fair, and very smart. I’m sure that he is too.

Indeed, plaintiff wins again. And many of the abovementioned political figures intervene to prevent a further appeal.

The burial took place in Jerusalem, according to the wishes of Brian Grobois. May he rest in peace.

When it’s all over, an exhausted Barry Wallis trudges home late at night. He stumbles into the kitchen, looking for olive oil to light his menorah. But there isn’t enough oil, only a few drops left in one small bottle....

You complete the story.


Several days after the events of this story, one of the rabbis involved received a phone call from the Park Ranger who testified on the family’s behalf. He was in tears and very emotional.

“You might not believe what I'm going to tell you now, but I still have to share it with you. Last Tuesday night after I recovered the body of Dr. Grobois I had a dream. I dreamed that I was in Israel, attending a Jewish funeral, and I'm telling you, I was never in Israel, and never at a Jewish funeral, but here's what I saw, men were on one side, women on the other. And in the center was a body on a bench.  They were eulogizing the person, and suddenly I heard them starting to thank people. And guess what? I heard them thanking me!”

“It’s weird, you know?  When I helped bring the body up from the mountain, I was just doing my job.  And I had nothing to do with his Jewish burial. But when you reached out to me on Thursday to come and testify in court, it clicked. I felt that it was a clear and direct sensational message sent from heaven, and that's why I felt I needed to act.”

As it turns out, the ranger’s wife is Jewish, and so are his children. He has already reached out to Rabbi Heber about teaching the children about their Jewish heritage.

Question for your table: Why did plaintiff win? Hard work, good luck, or a miracle?

Happy Channuka and Shabbat Shalom

PS - If you're read this far, chances are you enjoyed this message. Well, it's that time of year again. Last chance to make tax-deductible contributions for 2011. How many appeals have you received this year? But  you read this far; chances are you enjoyed this post and perhaps previous ones this year. Please support the organization that makes this and many ambitious educational programs possible. Here's the link: No contribution is too small or too large.

PPS - Need a last-minute, simple, affordable, meaningful Channuka present for someone?
Try the most amazing Jewish app ever. Click here for the current amazing fact. (iphone/ipad version) (android version)

++++++ Sunday’s Amazing Jewish Fact ++++++

29 Kislev 5772
25 December 2011

Of the 25 most performed holiday songs in America, 10 were written or co-written by Jews, including:

"O Holy Night" (Adolphe Adam)
"Silver Bells" (Livingston and Evans)
"The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire)" (Mel Torm)
"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer"
"Holly Jolly Christmas" and "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" (Johnny Marks)
Two Christmas albums by Barry Manilow

And, of course, "White Christmas" (Irving Berlin), the best-selling song in history.

US News and World Report, Dec. 2, 2002

Two great links:

Chinese Food on Xmas music video

Longer article on this topic

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ (iphone/ipad version) (android version)

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