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Oy Vey


I haven’t had occasion to mention this before, but I’m a big fan of Vows, the weekly featured wedding announcement in the NYT Sunday Styles section. You’re guaranteed a great story every week. And there’s a style to the pieces that I find difficult to describe but that Claire Messud parodied so perfectly in her novel The Emperor’s Children. That alone makes the novel worth reading.

Today we meet Elizabeth Wood and Gabriel Nussbaum. What got my attention wasn’t their story as much as the identity of Gabriel’s grandfather. As part of their story, we learn that Elizabeth and Gabriel made a trip to LA to visit Gabriel’s 97-year-old grandmother Ruth, whose husband Max is described as the rabbi in Hollywood who converted Elizabeth Taylor to Judaism. But that’s the least of his achievements. For more about his extraordinary life, see excerpts I’ve included after the jump from his biographical sketch at the American Jewish Archives website.

I couldn’t help but wonder, once I learned who Gabriel’s grandfather was, whether Elizabeth is Jewish. Could Gabriel marry a gentile? Well, yes. Three sentences later, we learn that

They were wed on June 6, as a nippy fog rolled in and 200 guests, including Ruth Nussbaum, gathered under a cherry tree in the garden of his parents’ Amagansett home. The ceremony was led by Dr. Arlis Wood, Ms. Wood’s father and a Church of Christ minister, and Cantor Debra Stein sang blessings.

The bride, wearing a pale mocha silk gown with peacock blue straps and a temporary “Elizabeth-Gabriel” tattoo on her arm, giggled and shouted, “I do.”

After a buffet of pulled-pork sliders and fried macaroni and cheese balls, friends and family paid tribute to the couple with a song and dance revue.

Pulled-pork sliders? I’m guessing that when Rabbi Nussbaum headed over to Cantor’s Deli after Temple Israel’s Shabbos services, he didn’t have pulled pork sliders. Chopped liver, maybe. Tongue, maybe. But pulled pork sliders?

I wonder what Ruth ate.

Nussbaum became the Gemeinde Rabbiner (Community Rabbi) for Berlin, 1936-1940. This idea of serving a whole community rather than a specific temple is displayed in his later life with all of the rabbinic and Jewish organizations that he took part in. His congregation came to understand that this was his vision of how a rabbi served his people. Nussbaum also took advantage of his education and lectured across Europe until travel became inconvenient or impossible. He also wrote for the German, Jewish and European press. By the late 1930s he realized that he needed to leave. He was able to secure a position in Muskogee, Oklahoma at Congregation Beth Ahaba through the help of Stephen S. Wise, whom he had met in 1939 at a Jewish-Arab conference in London. Nussbaum and his wife left Germany in 1940. While in Muskogee, Nussbaum taught philosophy at the State University of Oklahoma and was the director of the Jewish Students’ Center.

In 1942 Nussbaum was hired by Temple Israel in Hollywood, California, where he spent the remainder of his career. During this time he was in contact with Jewish leaders to get reports from Germany. Chaim Weizmann was his contact in London for information. Nussbaum only learned much later through the Red Cross that his parents had died during the Holocaust, of dysentery and starvation on a transport to a concentration camp. According to those close to Nussbaum, this information haunted him for the rest of his life.

Nussbaum threw himself into international Jewish work after arriving in Hollywood. He was a member of the first United Jewish Appeal (UJA) delegation to Palestine in 1948. In 1958, under the auspices of the UJA, Nussbaum reported on the condition of Jews in Israel, Berlin and Paris. In 1958 he was the chairman of the Los Angeles delegation of the UJA at their conference in Jerusalem. In 1956, 1960, 1964 and 1968 Nussbaum attended the annual Zionist Congress and in 1959 was a World Jewish Congress (WJC) delegate in Stockholm. He continued working with the WJC, attending the 1965 and 1968 World Executive in Strausbourg, France and Geneva, and also as a guest of the British section in London and a participant of the 5th Plenary Assembly. In 1965 Nussbaum visited Germany, always a difficult journey for him, as a guest of the Senate of Berlin. Nussbaum was also the chairman of the American Section of the WJC for four years.

Nussbaum earned and was awarded many accolades. He was the first rabbi to be on Ralph Edwards’ “This is Your Life” in 1959, the same year that the California Assembly unanimously passed a resolution commending, “Max Nussbaum for his outstanding career as religious leader, humanitarian and spearhead of interfaith understanding and cooperation.” 1959 was a good year for Nussbaum since he also was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. In 1961 he was given a Doctorate of Literature by Dropsie College of Hebrew and Cognate Learning in Philadelphia. In 1969 Nussbaum became the president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California and in 1970 the vice-president of the American Jewish Congress.

Nussbaum was an ardent Zionist his entire life. 1964-66 he was the Chairman of the American Zionist Council and the President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). In 1969 he and his wife were awarded the Brandeis Award by the ZOA.

Categories: Culture, Food, Religion
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