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Transcript of interview with Rabbi Mel Hecht by Barbara Tabach, March 17, 2016






In this interview, Hecht talks his life experiences leading him to becoming a rabbi, eventually being a spiritual leader in Las Vegas. He discusses his experiences at Ner Tamid as well as the joy of starting Temple Beth Am, with the support of Morris and Lillian Shenker. Hecht shares stories about working with unions and Ralph Engelstad.

In 1939, Rabbi Mel Hecht was born in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of five, his family moved to Miami, Florida where they had a large, extended Jewish family, complete with relatives who were hazzans and mohels. Soon after moving to Florida, his parents bought a hotel in Hialeah, about 10 miles outside of the city, where Hecht spent the remainder of his childhood. Hecht attended the University of Miami where he earned a Ph.D. in Divinity, and subsequently attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1971, he became a rabbi upon graduating from seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Three years later, Hecht joined the U.S. Army and served as a race relations officer in Germany. After his service, Hecht returned to Florida (Fort Pierce) to lead his own congregation, and in 1980, he moved to Las Vegas and became the congregational rabbi for Congregation Ner Tamid. Two years later, he left Ner Tamid to start a new congregation?Temple Beth Am?which grew swiftly. In 1982, Hecht also married Michelle (?Micki?). The couple have three children: Melissa Hecht, Karin Toti, and Adam Hecht.

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Rabbi Mel Hecht oral history interview, 2016 March 17. OH-2635. [Transcript]. Oral History Research Center, Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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AN INTERVIEW WITH RABBI MEL HECHT An Oral History Conducted by Barbara Tabach Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project Oral History Research Center at UNLV University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas ii ?Southern Nevada Jewish Community Digital Heritage Project University of Nevada Las Vegas, 2014 Produced by: The Oral History Research Center at UNLV ? University Libraries Director: Claytee D. White Project Manager: Barbara Tabach Transcriber: Kristin Hicks Interviewers: Barbara Tabach, Claytee D. White Editors and Project Assistants: Maggie Lopes, Stefani Evans iii The recorded interview and transcript have been made possible through the generosity of a Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) Grant. The Oral History Research Center enables students and staff to work together with community members to generate this selection of first-person narratives. The participants in this project thank University of Nevada Las Vegas for the support given that allowed an idea the opportunity to flourish. The transcript received minimal editing that includes the elimination of fragments, false starts, and repetitions in order to enhance the reader?s understanding of the material. All measures have been taken to preserve the style and language of the narrator. In several cases photographic sources accompany the individual interviews with permission of the narrator. The following interview is part of a series of interviews conducted under the auspices of the Southern Nevada Jewish Heritage Project. Claytee D. White Director, Oral History Research Center University Libraries University of Nevada Las Vegas iv PREFACE In 1939, Rabbi Mel Hecht was born in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of five, his family moved to Miami, Florida where they had a large, extended Jewish family, complete with relatives who were hazzans and mohels. Soon after moving to Florida, his parents bought a hotel in Hialeah, about 10 miles outside of the city, where Hecht spent the remainder of his childhood. Hecht attended the University of Miami where he earned a Ph.D. in Divinity, and subsequently attended the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1971, he became a rabbi upon graduating from seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. Three years later, Hecht joined the U.S. Army and served as a race relations officer in Germany. After his service, Hecht returned to Florida (Fort Pierce) to lead his own congregation, and in 1980, he moved to Las Vegas and became the congregational rabbi for Congregation Ner Tamid. Two years later, he left Ner Tamid to start a new congregation?Temple Beth Am?which grew swiftly. In 1982, Hecht also married Michelle (?Micki?). The couple have three children: Melissa Hecht, Karin Toti, and Adam Hecht. In this interview, Hecht talks his life experiences leading him to becoming a rabbi, eventually being a spiritual leader in Las Vegas. He discusses his experiences at Ner Tamid as well as the joy of starting Temple Beth Am, with the support of Morris and Lillian Shenker. Hecht shares stories about working with unions and Ralph Engelstad. v TABLE OF CONTENTS Interview with Rabbi Mel Hecht on March 17, 2016 by Barbara Tabach in Las Vegas, Nevada Preface?????????????????????????????????..?..iv Talks about family background, eventually settling in Miami, Florida; parents owning hotel in Hialeah and childhood in rural setting, where there were no other Jews; parents? efforts to instill Jewish identity, including starting synagogue. Discusses family dynamics within the Jewish community at the time, including in his household?????????????????..1-6 Discusses motivation to become rabbi; path to get there, including experiences in high school; trip to Israel; attending from University of Miami; serving as race relations officer in the army. Reflects upon participating in archeological expedition in Israel as rabbinical student; going back to graduate. More about time in army, stationed in Germany; transfer to Fort Pierce, Florida; sent to El Paso, Texas, then moving to Las Vegas to join Congregation Ner Tamid?????.?7-12 Reflects upon time with Ner Tamid; growing the congregation; fallout with the congregation?s leadership. Shares story involving Moe Dalitz. Talks about success in starting new congregation, Beth Am; becoming close friends with Morris and Lillian Shenker; meeting and marrying wife, Micki; building Beth Am?s membership????????????????????..13-20 Talks about social action with regard to representation within school system, with unions. Reflects upon dynamics between Jewish Federation and congregational leadership; changes over the years. Shares experience meeting with Ralph Engelstad, to address anti-Semitic parties, paraphernalia. Discusses anti-Semitism in Las Vegas generally; teaching alongside Imam Aslam Abdullah at community college; Adelson?s educational campus???????....????????.21-30 Index........................................................................................................................................31-32 1 Today is March 17, 2016. This is Barbara Tabach and I'm sitting with Rabbi Hecht. Would you spell your name for us, please? Hecht. First name Mel. Thank you very much. For the Jewish project, as I was explaining, I like to start with the roots of your Jewish ancestry. What can you tell us about that? My mother was born in Zizkovich, Russia, which I think was in Ukraine. My father claims to have been from Hungary. When I met his brother in Netanya, Israel, he claims to be from Czechoslovakia, which probably means they were in the area that changed hands from time to time. So my family from both my father and my mother were East European, as is most of my family. We had quite a large one; it was so large that we had a family club. In Miami alone we probably had more than a hundred and fifty and we had a natural club?president, vice president, treasurer, secretary?and we would hold meetings, go to High Holy Days, hold Passover together. I had an uncle who was hazzan, a cousin who was a hazzan and a mohel. Thanks to my mother, I came from a matriarchal family. She and her sister Rose were dual matriarchs. There were four sisters and four brothers from two different families who married one another and who had children who had children who had children. So the Miami branch, which sort of migrated there from the north, came to the area in the forties and the fifties. I grew up with cousins and uncles and nephews. There was a pattern of buying apartment houses and family living in most of the apartments. It was a very Jewish kind of upbringing. My mom and dad bought a hotel in Hialeah, Florida, which is famous for its racetrack. The hotel was about a block from the racetrack and catered to trainers, jockeys, horse people; that sort of thing. I was really quite a country bumpkin. My first pair of store-bought shoes, rather than hand-me-downs, I was so proud of that I tied the strings together and had them over my shoulders 2 so that when I went to school everybody could see them. My friends and I used to use the vines from the Banyan trees to swing down on the back of cows and stuff of that nature. There was a flood in Hialeah and I remember us eating dinner and then watching a head just seem to float by out the windows. It had been raining for some time and the head was attached to a body that was in a boat. My father raised chickens and we had a chicken coop, probably two or three hundred chickens, and they were all in the trees outside. I remember how he had his pants rolled up and it really didn't help because the water was quite deep. After the chickens we had the biggest watermelons you'd ever care to see; he would throw the rinds in there and the seeds and the chicken poop and whatnot. I remember learning how to separate a chicken from its head as a youngster and watch the chicken run around headless, and how to de-feather the chicken. I guess this is kind of yuck, but these are memories that a kid would have. I have a rather special memory because obviously our neighbors were not Jewish. I knew that I was Jewish; my parents told me, but I didn't really have a sense of what that all meant. I was told that I was, but here we were living in Hialeah. I remember playing with my friends. It wasn't much of an issue until one time we were out shooting arrows with bows and one of my friends?I think he was a couple of years older than me?I asked for a turn and he said, "Wait a minute, you're a Jew." I said, "Yeah, that's what I'm told." He said, "Well, Jews killed Jesus." I said, "I don't know any Jesus." I never heard of that before. "Yeah, you killed Christ." I said, "Well, I don't know any Christ." He said, "Well, Jews killed him." I said, "Well, my parents are Jewish. They never told me that before." He kept pursuing that. He said, "Well, that's what I'm told. And you better start running because I'm going to take this bow and arrow and I'm going to shoot you. So you better get on home. If I hit you, then it was meant to be, and if I miss you that was meant to be. But don't you come on my property anymore." 3 How old were you when this was going on? About eight years old. He looked kind of serious so I started running. I don't know, I was a hundred feet or so away and I turned my head to look and I see this arrow coming towards me. Thank God I turned my head back just in time where the arrow glanced off my temple. Had I kept on looking, it would have gone through my eye, into my nose or something. The next thing I hear is whack, whack, whack. I stopped in my tracks. I look back and his grandmother had been hanging clothes on the clothesline and she had heard all this, but she couldn't get over in time. She had this bamboo rod and she's hitting this kid. He's on the ground crying. I stopped in my track and looked back and she says, "Don't you ever hit that Jew boy again. Jews are the children of Christ. God has a special place for them. And if I ever catch you there, I'm going to kill you." I start walking slowly back. "From now on, you guard him. You make sure nobody ever hurts him again. And if I catch you doing something bad to him, I will beat you to the end of your life." The kid became my best friend. I went home. I told my mother what happened. She sat me down and she said, "Some people just don't know and they're ignorant and they've been told things that aren't true and you're lucky that his grandmother is one of those Christians who really know the truth. We need to go over there now and thank her." She went over. She knocked on the door. I remember this so vividly. The grandmother opened the door. My mother tried to thank her and she couldn't get the words out of her mouth. The grandmother came out and gave her a hug. That memory has stayed with me to this day and was primarily responsible for me realizing that I couldn't give into a Jewish prejudice; that there are bad people and there are good people and it can have a lot to do with what they're told and what they learn; you've got to be careful on the 4 judgments that you make. Wow. That's a beautiful story. So I grew up with knowing who I was. The other thing that my mother did...In those days, Hialeah was a long way from Miami even though it wasn't. Now we have freeways, and you can travel twenty miles or thirty miles and we don't think twice about it. But in those days it was a journey. She used to take me to Beth David, a Conservative congregation that was twenty-five miles away, to make sure that I had Sunday school and Hebrew school. I never forgot that journey. I knew that it was important to her. When we moved in town she even started a synagogue so that I had a place to go. She started the synagogue, wow. Yes. I grew up there. I was like a junior rabbi where I learned enough of the prayers where I could conduct a service. When we moved to another area of Miami, I went to a synagogue where I learned how to chant the entire Sabbath service, Minhah and Ma'ariv. So I was steeped even though, like so many Jews growing up, I didn't understand a word of Hebrew. I could just do it. That really founded me and then having relatives who are hazzans and mohels and stuff like that. My mother, being a matriarch, had a cousin who moved down who was a butcher. When we lived in Hialeah, there was a vacant fish factory across part of the Everglades where there had been houses that the hurricane of '26 had totally destroyed except for foundations. She said to him, "Joe, there is an ancient factory there. You don't need to be a butcher in this town. We're beginning to get grocery stores instead of just groceries and there are enough butchers in town. You need to be a butcher for all butchers in all grocery stores. Go talk to them. That thing has been vacant for years. You make a slaughter house and you'll do quite well." Well, he became Blue Ribbon Meats of Florida. He had ranches with standing herds of ten thousand cattle each and 5 became a multimillionaire. She gave people advice. She bought in real estate and whatnot and didn't do too bad, but not like advice she gave to a lot of the relatives. The other interesting thing is our family?and I think it was characteristic of many families coming over from the old country?they adopted within the family; in other words, sometimes young people were sent over before parents and if the parents didn't make it, then whoever was over adopted their kids. So I almost had a cousin who was to become my brother, but somebody else in the family adopted him instead. So the parents I told you about, my mother and my father? Is that Bessie and David you're talking about? Yes, Bessie and David weren't my biological parents. They simply put their names on the birth certificate because they owned a beer garden and they weren't eligible to adopt a child. Something I found out quite late in my life, my parents owned a drugstore, a soda fountain to begin with, and tried to get it changed to a liquor license, and the city, Detroit, Michigan, turned them down. My mother took the city to the Supreme Court of Michigan and won. That's the kind of woman she was. In the thirties, that's quite an accomplishment for a woman. So were they the ones who immigrated? Yes, from Russia. My mother came when she was five years old, at the turn of the last century, and my father came in 1919. They settled in Detroit? Yes, they settled in Detroit with a lot of other family that was there. In '44, we moved to Miami, when I was five. What I found out when I was seventy-four?and I'll be seventy-seven in July?was that my father was my first cousin. 6 Wow. He fell in love with a girl, I think from my mother's village, who was working for my mother and father. She and my mother's sister, who was my biological father's mother, decided he was too young to be a father. He needed to go to college, get a profession and go on with his life. She was a widow. Her husband was a New York detective who was killed trying to stop a robbery. He was too young. So I don't have a middle name because they didn't want to give me a name that would be a clue to who my grandparents were or who the closest in the family. That generation kept that secret until I found out. All my biological father talked about was me when he had two sons and a daughter. He married into wealth and was wonderful. I called him uncle rather than cousin because I loved him. I adored him. He was in my life throughout my adolescence. But you didn't know he was actually your father? I didn't. Isn't that amazing? My adoptive parents and the family that knew were absolutely right. Each of us would not have had the life that we had had we known. So it was a well-kept secret. In my memoirs I don't give the information that would allow people to identify who he was. Did you have any siblings in growing up? No. So you were raised as an only child. As the only prince apparent and that gave me a hard time because I was the heir apparent to the matriarch of my family and it took a long time. Of course, I went to a seminary where all the students were heirs apparent because that's usually what rabbis are. They're the center of attention; otherwise, they wouldn't be a rabbinic student. [Laughing] That's a secret. I don't know if we 7 should have it. You didn't feel pressured, though, right? I did, throughout my life, because to disappoint my mother was the worst. That's why it took me so long to be comfortable with being a rabbi. That's why I hated to play the piano in front of people because if I didn't play well, I would disappoint my mother. So you grow up in Southern Florida. That's correct. And you went to the University of Miami. That's right. What did you study there? By that time, I knew that my family wanted me to be a rabbi. So I took general courses, like philosophy, history, English literature, sociology, psychology, things that I thought would give me a grounding in things that would be good as a rabbi; that would expand my horizons. Walk me through your whole educational base before you became?when did you officially become a rabbi? That's a story in and of itself. Knowing that I wanted to be a rabbi, I felt I was lacking in Hebrew language. I could daven, I could pray, but I didn't understand what I was doing. So I started talking about going to Israel to get a foundation in Hebrew language. I didn't know a thing about Israel except that they won a war in 1956. By that time, I was already like a peripheral figure on the edge, not only of general society looking in, but on Jewish society looking in. There was a place in Miami Senior High School called LJ, Little Jerusalem, where a sizable Jewish minority congregated before going in. There were Jewish fraternities and sororities, which were illegal but somehow we Jews were able to get away with it much to the consternation of the 8 non-Jewish kids at Miami Senior High School. I was a member of a Jewish fraternity and I was the heartthrob of a Jewish sorority. I learned a lot about females. We took terrible advantage as Jews. In my senior year, the Jewish kids at the school decided that they were going to take Passover off even though it wasn't a recognized holiday where Jews were allowed to go off. I decided I'd go, along with a handful of other Jews. When we went to LJ, we saw non-Jews dressed as Jews?Bermuda shorts, long socks, signs "Jew" on their back. I was furious and embarrassed. I was as embarrassed towards my own Jews as I was the kids that were dressed as Jews because I thought we brought it on ourselves. I never forgot that. As a kid, I didn't stop being a fraternity member. You got that peer group pressure. But I just didn't feel as much a part of the Jewish community as I did before because I didn't like what normative Jews were doing, making fools of themselves towards non-Jews, and I didn't want to have any part of that. So here I am. I looked up a program, the American Friends of Israel or something of Hebrew University. I got myself on that program not knowing what to expect. In those days there were Israeli ocean liners. It was a fourteen-day trip. There were about twenty of us going over from the American-Canadian program. I met Israelis returning, a teenage girl so enthused about returning to her land. There was a concentration camp survivor. I talked with him. He told me his story of standing in a soup line. There were three Jews being hung, one was an eleven-year-old and she wasn't quite dead because she was so thin and light going through the rigors and that he didn't see her hanging; he saw God hanging. The soup tasted well that day because at that moment he felt a weight lifted from him and he swore if he survived he'd go to a country, take a non-Jewish name and forget that he was Jewish. I asked him the obvious question, "What are you doing on an Israeli liner going to Israel?" He said, "The nightmares continued, but so did the memories of my 9 family, my mother lighting the Shabbat candles, my father holding my hand going to shul. I said, 'God is a son of a bitch and I'm done with him, but I'm not done with my people.'" When we broke out of a fog bank that was pure white and I saw the golden dome of Baha?i temple, the port of Haifa, and all the little boats coming out with people screaming the names of survivors on our boat, I just had an epiphany that people had been separated since the war. It was something I never expected. There are so many things [throughout] my life that equaled that kind of experience, giving me a full sense of who I am as a human being and who I am as a Jew that would firm up what Vegas ultimately would mean to me when I finally knew that I had to be a rabbi, but I wasn't quite there yet. What a benchmark. Yes. I had other benchmarks because I was a Jew in Germany in Hitler's Eagle's Nest and Rosli's synagogue that was destroyed four times, the last time by the Nazis, and there I am praying as a Jew. But equal experiences that opened up non-Jews to me because of being a race relations officer in Germany. I was a Jewish chaplain and I was the only chaplain allowed to be that because I was in Germany. Chaplain for what organization? Army, for the military chaplaincy. I learned more about my own prejudices and I taught others about theirs in the three-day seminars. Fascinating. Everything is building towards what I could be when I came to Las Vegas and why in Las Vegas all these previous experiences could find expression here because only here could I be what I became. When did you officially become a rabbi? 10 Seventy-one. What is that like? Is there an ordination? Yes. One other major thing, because I wasn't happy with this, but when I came back from Israel?I was a member of the Bar Kokhba archeological expedition in March 1959 in the Judean Desert. Tell me about that. What's the significance? We found letters written by Simeon bar Kokhba who was thought to be the Messiah because he was winning against the Roman occupation and met his Alamo in a place called Betar, but until then he was thought to be the Messiah. They changed his name from Bar Kokhba meaning the son of the heavens or the son of the stars to Bar Kosevah, the son of a lie. They had coins minted with his figure on it. The Jews at that time were looking for a political Messiah, not a spiritual one. We found a cave with all the artifacts hidden behind a wall that had been sealed up. The medallion made by the?Ben-Gurion, prime minister, Ben-Gurion's office has me on a rope ladder on one side of the medallion. All those artifacts with the figures of the gods and goddesses from the utensils that we found scrapped off because of the prohibition about images of Gods are in the dome of the book in Jerusalem. So I was a member of that archeological expedition as a recognizance scout. The family that I was with in Israel dated five hundred years back in the hierarchy of Egypt, this lady waiting in the court of the king, cotton plantations, fishing villages, spies during the Second World War, Palmach commanders to Jerusalem during the Arab siege. Oh, do I have stories. When I came back to Miami, I was a guest on Larry King's Show several times. The only question that I didn't answer the few times I was on his show was, "Why did you leave becoming rabbi?" I made up some nonsense answer. The last time I was on his show, my mother-in-law, when I came back two o'clock in the morning, said, "That's the only question you never gave a real 11 answer to. Why did you leave?" And the next morning, seven o'clock, I called Cincinnati and asked if I could come back. So that's why I graduated in '71 one instead of '65. So Cincinnati is? Where the seminary is. I finally graduated, promising myself it was only because I wanted to finish one thing in my life instead of being a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. But even in '74, I still wasn't sure I wanted to be a rabbi. So I went into the army and I was stationed in Germany because my then wife said, "If you go to Vietnam, I'm going to divorce you." Well, I wasn't quite ready at that time. I picked the next worst thing, which was Germany, and I became a race relations officer. Then I went to Florida and I was in nirvana because I was at Fort Pierce and I was a country gentleman. I lived on a lake with an acre of land and a ranch-style home. I had five horses. The only thing left to do there was run for sheriff. That's when I came to Vegas, in 1980, and I've been here ever since. Why Vegas? That's an obvious question, isn't it? It was a mistake. I was ready to leave Fort Pierce. I wanted to go to a place like Chevy Chase, Maryland, a stereotypical good place for a rabbi. It wasn't available. So they sent me to El Paso, Texas, Frank Lloyd Wright Synagogue, three rabbis in ninety-nine years. I went there and because I'm so open with my mouth, I said everything I shouldn't have said, the truth. If you're interviewing for a job even as a rabbi, you're supposed to say what they need to hear; otherwise, you don't get the job. I said, "Look, you've had three rabbis in ninety-nine years. You want to pay me what my congregation in Fort Pierce was paying me because they wanted talent so they were willing to sacrifice to get a good rabbi. You want to pay me the same amount. Here, you've got five hundred memberships; they had two hundred. Okay, I'll come. But you don't have a cantor. You don't have a temple director. And if you think I'm going to stay for that amount, you're 12 wrong." They spent the whole time talking about me with their regional director, but they hired the rabbi that was accepted in Las Vegas, only because he wanted to have a congregation, but he wasn't happy coming to a congregation without a building. El Paso has a beautiful building on a mountain. He was a classmate of mine. When the director was there, he said, "Oh, my God, this guy that they're talking about doesn't belong in El Paso; he belongs in Vegas." He calls Vegas and says, "I have bad news for you and I have good news for you. The bad news is the guy that you hired doesn't want to be here; he wants to be in El Paso. The good news is the guy that interviewed in El Paso is exactly what you need in Vegas. Give him a call. Don't even bother calling New York for another panel." In other words, another five rabbis to interview. "And if you feel the same as I do, bring him out." So they called me. They liked me. They brought me out. That's what brought me here. Who was the congregation? Describe the world of Jewishness here in 1980. Very sincere people. They had tried two or three times to have a Reform congregation. One time before it failed. The second time they lasted until they fired their rabbi in 1979, and then they were looking for a rabbi and interviewing. They tried to take Kenny Weiss; he went instead to El Paso. They called me. They liked me. They were a wonderful group of people. And this is Congregation Ner Tamid? Yes, Ner Tamid. They brought me out. We met at the Dunes. They liked me. I came out. We were a success. But they became worried because all they could remember was the problems they had with their previous rabbi. They had a Pavlovian response to me because I was so popular and I was doing so many weddings and funerals outside of the congregation that they wanted to control the rabbi. I'm not controllable, as I hope you got that impression by now. 13 Yes. But what difference does it make? If I'm not doing my job, why did you grow this way and why are people coming in? Why are they coming to services when they didn't come before? What was the size of the congregation in 1980? Maybe a hundred members, and fifty kids in the religious school. Eight months later, there are three hundred and fifty members and a hundred and fifty kids in the religious school. How did that happen? And why is Dalitz now wanting to help you build? He's been here for years before. How did Moe Dalitz get involved? Me. I'll tell you a funny story. Milton Jaffe, a former president of Stardust, one of his old buddies, just took a suite at the Stardust when he retired. He dies. Yale Cohen, who was the president, and Art Lurie, the former owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers, met with me the day before the funeral. We are sitting at the table in the Stardust coffee shop: Billy Conn, the hall of famer heavyweight boxer is at my table and a guy named Denafo. The waitress is bringing special food out for Denafo. We're talking about Milt. The guys at the table call Denafo by a nickname. I couldn't catch it. I meet always with people before I do a funeral. The next day is the funeral. I made the mistake of asking Yale Cohen who speaks with a Yiddish accent, "What are you calling this Denafo guy?" He tells me. Thank God, I didn't use it in the eulogy. Denafo comes up to me afterwards. He says, "I want to tell you what a good job you did for my friend Milt." I said, "Well, thank you, Penis." He looks at me. I don't know whether I'm going to get a one-way tour to the desert. [Laughing] That was his nickname? I'm getting there. Moe Dalitz and his entourage are standing close enough they overhear the 14 conversation. Moe and his friends begin chuckling and then they start laughing out loud. So Denafo turns around and sees them laughing. He says, "No, no, it's not penis; it's peanuts with a 'T' on the end." I said, "Oh, thank God. I couldn't imagine you going through your life with a nickname like penis." Denafo turns around, he shakes his head and he goes off. So thanks to the fact that Moe was so close and hears the conversation, I didn't get a trip. I got that in my memoirs. That's a funny story. God watches over simpletons, fools and rabbis who don't know any better. So that's what happened and they made that ruling that they set the price for the funerals; they set the price for the weddings; they take X percent and I get the remainder. I told them, "No. I didn't spend ten years of my life and work so hard to become a rabbi." Okay, I had trust money from my parents. I had scholarships and I worked. Part of the work?and I had that in my memoirs as well?I was a model. I have pictures from my SAG and AFTRA portfolio. I did Ban-Lon shirts and Plaid stamp catalogs when they were big, where you put in the stamps and then you'd get so many of them you can buy a shirt or something. Oh, sure. I did Oscar Mayer Wiener commercials and stuff like that. I worked hard to become a rabbi. Lawyers, dentists, doctors don't have their patients telling them what they're going to pay. So was that a customary relationship that you guys can? Yes. Now, congregations do specify. But they didn't bring me here telling me that you were going to do this. So that was a change in the arrangement. Yes. I only had a two-year contract. So if they wanted to do that in the next one I have to say yay or nay. 15 Got you. But you can't do that unilaterally now. So that's what caused the problem. To explain why they're doing that to a popular rabbi, they said that I embezzled money, which wasn't the truth. Now, had we finished out the two-year contract and they made a new contract and I did it, then they'd have some cause. But that's not what happened. It must have been very disheartening. Very disheartening and terrible because my name means everything to me. As a matter of fact, in our tradition if you take away a man's name, it's as if you have murdered him. They forced me into bankruptcy because they refused to pay the severance agreement?and they bought it in my bankruptcy proceedings for five hundred dollars. They came to the bankruptcy court and bought the thirty-five-thousand-dollar severance agreement for five hundred dollars, which is a very, very nice thing for a religious institution to do. Now, these are good people and the best thing they did was to fire me, but only in retrospect, not by virtue of the means by which they did that. Why do you say that? Explain that. Because I would not have had the career that I have had, had I remained rabbi of Ner Tamid. As I said before, they're all good people, but good people sometimes don't always do the right thing. So that puts us in about 1982. Yes. What happens next for you? We put out a call to start a new congregation. I named it after my rabbi in Miami's congregation because I adored him?he had ultimately built on twenty acres. He had a plan. He said, "You don't build a community overnight. You have to not win the skirmishes and lose the war. So you have to choose your battles." I've never had that privilege because all mine have been battles like 16 Israel; you lose one skirmish and you're done. But we di