Time of reflection
During Yom Kippur, Jews fast, seek forgiveness and enjoy each other’s company.

By Michael Alexander

Jewish residents of Huntington Beach joined synagogues and congregations across the city this weekend for Yom Kippur. The holy day, a time of fasting and seeking forgiveness, lasted from sundown to sundown, Friday to Saturday.

On the day, devout Jews refrain from bodily pleasures like food and even leather shoes, said Rabbi Aron Berkowitz of Congregation Adat Israel, a synagogue associated with Chabad of West Orange County in Huntington Beach.

The fasting isn’t about some kind of self-mortification, he said, noting families feast ahead of time to enjoy company and prepare themselves.

“It’s not in the sense to make ourselves miserable,” he said. “We are focused on the fact that we have a soul, and that is really the real person, we focus on that and its reality.”

Along with the previous week’s New Year celebration Rosh Hashana, the holiday helps make up the High Holy Days of the Jewish calendar, a time of redemption and renewal.

Such an occasion brings large crowds compared to a normal Sabbath, Berkowitz said.

“There’s no question that on Yom Kippur especially, everyone connected with our synagogue will come,” he said. “It’s such a holy time, such a special time. It’s like your spiritual soul is shining, and it attracts you to the synagogue.”


 Article by Michele Marr  in the Huntington Beach Independent about Laurie Zimmet



Published Wednesday, December 20, 2006 10:13 PM PST



'Think big, pray big' results in unusual event


Lt. j.g. Laurie Zimmet credits her Chabad rabbi with teaching her "to think big and pray big." But after hearing her speak at Congregation Adat Israel on Thursday, I'm not convinced she needed the lesson.

"Can't" is not a word you want to try on her. And while "maybe" is in her vocabulary, the word clearly doesn't mean to her what it means to most of us. Zimmet may say, "Maybe we could … " but she's thinking, "Where there's a will … "

For all her big thoughts and prayers, though, what Zimmet has wanted most of all for as long as she can remember still eludes her. She talked about it Thursday night, and she's written about it, as well.

In an article titled "In My Boots," published by the Jewish aish.com, Zimmet wrote, "Since I was a young girl, I've thought [being married and having children] the noblest endeavor of any woman." Being part of a team, a team that "builds a home, a family home, a Jewish home," is her deepest longing.

It's an ache so burning that in her presence you feel it, too.

Seeking to slake it, the former elementary school teacher and onetime director of public affairs for columnist and commentator Dennis Prager joined another team — the Navy Reserve. "I wanted to feel I was sacrificing myself for some grand purpose to redeem our world, to be part of something bigger than myself, to serve a greater good," she wrote in her essay.

Called to active duty, her first tour with U.S. Navy intelligence in the Middle East took her to places like Kuwait and Bahrain, where she celebrated a clandestine Passover Seder. Last year, she completed a far less furtive "Jewish tour" in Iraq.

Zimmet, who grew up in Simi Valley, is now living in Agoura Hills. She came to Congregation Adat Israel on Thursday night to kick-off Hanukkah — which began Friday night — with her presentation, "Return to Babylon," a talk about her experiences as a religious Jewish soldier there.

She packed the house and began with caveats. She's not a hero. To her, heroes are other people — Marines, foot soldiers, devoted husbands, wives and parents.

She's not trying to be a role model; she makes too many mistakes for that.

She doesn't like labels, so she doesn't consider herself an Orthodox Jew. Limiting the meaning of "observe" to watching without actively participating, she also doesn't care to be labeled an "observant" Jew.

As she sees it, she is at best a Jew who is simply trying to do her best.

In Iraq, that effort entailed a lot.

It's easy to forget the place that Iraq — or Babylon as it was called — played in Jewish history. If one ever knew.

The tomb of Ezekiel the Prophet is found in Hilla, Iraq. There is a splendid burial shrine in the city of Al Uzayr, whose name is the Arabic form of Erza.

The tomb of the prophet Jonah is in Nineveh, just outside Mosul, on the eastern bank of the River Tigris. Southeast of Basra is Ur, the birthplace of Abraham.

And, as Zimmet points out, the city of Fallujah was long the home of an ancient and renowned Talmudic academy. So many are the country's historical and cultural treasures that travel agencies used book tours there with names like "Where It All Began."

None of these ties to her heritage were lost on Laurie Zimmet, who described celebrating "the birthday of the world," the day on which God created man — Rosh Hashanah — "between the Tigris and the Euphrates," where history began. And when she found herself alone on the very community-oriented and joyful Simchat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah), she buoyed her spirit by dancing, not alone, but with her ancestors.

Once in a while someone will wonder aloud to the lieutenant about why not just carpet-bomb the country to get the war over with. Second to the thought of the immense loss of innocent human lives and the sheer immorality of such an action, the thought of the loss of the country's rich historical sites, Zimmet says, makes her cringe.

Among them, she kept kosher. She observed Shabbat. She celebrated every holy day throughout the year if, at times, alone.

Every gesture of her Jewish faith and identity that she made in Iraq, a country whose Jewish population has been persecuted and murdered and shrunken from an estimated 150,000 in 1948 to fewer than 100 today, was for her like bringing light into darkness.

On the eve of Hanukkah last December, she remembered her Chabad rabbi's admonition to think big and pray big. Then she determined to do something very big: she aimed to have a Hanukkah menorah lighting at Camp Victory, where she was then stationed.

Before considering certain logistics, though — such as where she might get a giant-sized menorah — she spread fliers advertising the event across Iraq. But her big prayers must have been heard.

The Army Corp of Engineers drew up a blueprint for a menorah. Then they put her in touch with engineers at KBR — a subsidiary of Halliburton — who wasted no time manufacturing the menorah and getting it in place in time for the first night of Hanukkah.

Meanwhile, Zimmet and a couple of friends got their hands on the ingredients they needed to make kosher latkes for everyone. A military choir called the Hard Corps Chorale came to sing traditional Hanukkah tunes.

Word of Zimmet's Chabad-style lighting of a 12-foot Hanukkah menorah inside the former Al-Faw palace of Saddam Hussein quickly traveled around the world and made international news. Photos of the occasion can still be found on the Internet by Googling "menorah" and "Baghdad."

Jewish troops showed up for the lighting, along with some non-Jewish troops and Iraqis. Zimmet was delighted in telling them about the meaning of the holiday, which, she said, celebrated the victory of a war much like the war in Iraq — a war for freedom, not for land.

As far as Zimmet is concerned, that's the goal of our troops are in Iraq — to win the Iraqis "the freedom to choose their own path."

Her role in that may not equal being married with children as far as she's concerned, but it clearly makes her proud.

"I was very excited to take out Saddam Hussein," Zimmet said Thursday night. And she was thrilled to kindle Hanukkah's light of freedom "in the palace of the man who extinguished light in his life."


  • MICHÈLE MARR is a freelance writer from Huntington Beach. She can be reached at [email protected].