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Carl Hoffman 1952 - 2019

Carl-Hoffman Carl Hoffman ... unpretentious and eminently accomplished


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

The mystics of Kabbala say that each person is a light, each unique and special in his/her own way. Yet there are certain lights who not only shine for themselves, but also succeed in bringing light to others. Such a person was Dr. Carl Hoffman, and so it was fitting that Carl was laid to rest on the first day of Chanukah.

Carl was the most unpretentious person I've ever known. Though eminently accomplished, he was modest, soft-spoken, unassuming and totally devoid of any "inflated ego" issues. Born in Boston, US, he went on to study at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a PhD in anthropology. After doing some teaching, he decided that he preferred the cause to the classroom, and so he joined the Peace Corps.

He headed for the Philippines and dedicated himself to helping the Mangyan tribe on the island of Mindoro. There he met Agnes, a social worker who was also helping the indigenous people. Together they assisted countless men and women in improving their quality of life. Later, he would work with refugees from southeast Asia, preparing them to relocate to the United States.

At one point, Carl spent two years in the jungles of Borneo, living and working with natives there – even going so far as to wear their tribal costumes, including a loin cloth. Later, he and Agnes moved to Manila, where he served as a speechwriter for the Japanese ambassador.

The Hoffmans made aliyah in 1997; though from a completely secular family, Carl felt he belonged here in Israel, which he saw as the future of the Jewish People.

I met them the day they moved into Raanana's absorption center, where I served as Rabbi. True to form, Carl went to work at the Jaffa Institute, helping secure grants for impoverished children. He also taught English and Social sciences at the Open University. Meanwhile, Agnes began studying Judaism, and entered the Rabbinate's conversion program. My wife and I were proud to serve as her sponsors, and when she passed the Bet Din within one year, the presiding rabbinic judges said she was far and away the best student in the group.

Fifteen years ago, Carl became seriously ill when his kidneys failed. Unable to secure a kidney here in Israel, Agnes took him back to the Philippines, where she was able to arrange for a transplant in Manila's General Hospital that saved Carl's life. Agnes – I once wrote a column about her called, "An Angel named Agnes" – would go on to save several more lives in a similarly altruistic fashion.

Carl was a top-grade scholar and a brilliant, incisive writer, blessed with a marvelous sense of humor and a totally optimistic view of the world. His many columns in The Jerusalem Post and in ESRA magazine exemplified the breadth and depth of his knowledge, and he had the rare ability to educate while being eminently entertaining at the same time. Sometimes those articles were heavy, sometimes light, but they always shed light on new and fascinating topics.

Carl is survived by Agnes and two marvelous children, Daniel and Rachel. He will be sorely missed by many; one of Israel's brightest lights has been dimmed.

Portrait of the writer as a young boy
Carl Hoffman in Borneo
Carl Hoffman teaching at a refugee camp in the Philippines

Agnes, his wife

We are here to "hear sana" and his humor; his jokes, stories, storytelling, comments, ideas, opinions, as the world turns in 60 minutes.

But we will remember his memories that he has written, posted, told and performed. Moments will come when we're alone, or with friends, in which we will crack jokes, laugh, think over what he said, imagining his precious performances in front of us… and that we will say is one man's act for Tikkun Olam.

To my beloved husband and father, our mentor and great teacher, we love you very much and we will miss you so much.

Rachel, his daughter

Most people spend years trying to figure out the meaning of life. Those people, don't know my parents. Because if they did, they would see that we are here to do good things and make a difference.

My dad devoted his life to community work and education. Anywhere there was an audience, there was an opportunity for my dad to give a lecture. Luckily, it was always interesting.

He was a great story teller and really knew how to hold a room.

Some of the most important things I know about life, I know from dad.

He taught me that being different was actually pretty cool. It means you are not boring and there is no other way to live life than being your true self.

He taught me that the pen is mightier than the sword. And if you choose your words wisely, there is no door you can't open.

He taught me that the perfect combination of kvetching, kvelling, sarcasm and intellect make for one hell of a sense of humor. And there is nothing you cannot get through with a good sense of humor.

But most importantly, Dad showed me endless patience, never-ending support and unconditional love. He was always in my corner and he always always had my back. And for that alone I am forever grateful.

Daniel, his son

Dad was a man of many facets. A father, a husband, a friend, a teacher, raconteur, comedian, thinker of great thoughts and writer of great things.

The years of a person's life should be measured not in the prominence of their career or the vastness of their wealth, but through the goodness of their actions and the unconditionality of the love they give. In these two things Dad was true. He labored for many years to go far and wide in this world to help those who could not help themselves, and he shouldered many struggles that did not need to be his to bear. He worked a while for the city of Philadelphia, going to the homes of old Jewish couples in the inner city who had barricaded themselves at home for fear of the crime in their changed neighborhoods; he helped bring medicine to primitive tribespeople in the interiors of Borneo; he fought for land rights for other tribespeople in the Philippine central highlands; he raised money for underprivileged children in Jaffa and Beit Shemesh, and the list goes on.

For me and Rachel, he threw his full support into whatever different ways we wanted to live our lives and projects we took on ourselves, despite the many headaches we surely gave him. If we did, he sure didn't show it to us. Because that was the kind of man he was, loving and supportive in every fiber of his being, making it clear without a doubt that no matter how much we went against the grain, there would be at least one guy in our corner, cheering us on and obnoxiously heckling the umpire.

In these things as in everything in life, he was undogmatic and flexible; open-minded to the fact that there are other ways to see life, and he lived his life accordingly. You see, the reason why Dad went to Borneo in the first place, traveling through jungles and rivers by canoe and wearing a loincloth, is because everybody told him a Jewish kid from city couldn't do it. He marched to the beat of his own drum, not with any spite at the world or with any pretentions, but because he simply could not imagine doing it any other way.

At home he was a loving husband to Mom and together with her they made up an excellent team of parents to me and Rachel. Mom, Rachel and I cherish the love that always came from him, and even when life got hard and he got sick and had every reason to be bitter and angry, he'd show us nothing but good humor. He filled the home with mirth and laughter, having us all laughing countless times around the dinner table; he taught us about life and the things we needed to know outside of our classes and patiently nurtured our sense of curiosity as only a man like him could.

Carl Hoffman (far right) pictured in 2019 at one of the regular ESRA Editorial Board meetings

 ESRA Magazine Editorial Board

Carl Hoffman's death has left us bereft of our wonderful, exhilarating and brilliant Editorial Board member. The absence of his wit and literate intelligence will be a great vacuum at our editorial table. And he'll be a loss to all who enjoyed his erudite and outstanding writing. So modest, so exceptionally learned, so accomplished, such a wonderful, warm and entertaining personality. Such humility. He used to schlep to all our editorial meetings, enduring such physical hardships, walking with great difficulty, struggling to climb the steps to the meeting room. Then he would regale us with his incredible stories, stimulate us with exciting ideas, review the articles we were sent by other writers with such compassion and acceptance. ESRA magazine is so much poorer without our Carl Hoffman.

Merle Guttmann, Editor

See some of the many articles and Book Reviews that Carl wrote for ESRAmagazine

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Wednesday, 19 June 2024

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