Meet “Hal, your friendly physician,” eponymous for Hal Kravitz, retired family doctor who has dedicated his life to the young and their families. And for his selfless devotion, he is being honored by the Bureau of Jewish Education of Orange County with a Newport Harbor cruise, “Ahoy Vey,” on May 23, in celebration of his eightieth birthday. Aboard the three-decker Hornblower Entertainer there will be dancing to a DJ, sipping wine to the melodic sounds of a jazz guitarist, appetizers, and desserts.
He proudly asserts, “My vocation is a physician, and my avocation is Jewish Education – both formal and informal. I love people – children and adults!”
For over 30 years, Kravitz has devoted his energies to TALIT Nation, a program sponsored by the Bureau of Jewish Education. The program is designed to explore Jewish identity and to train teen leaders in the ninth to twelfth grades. In the 1970s, it was envisioned and conceived by Rabbi Robert Bergman “to stem the tide of youngsters dropping out of Jewish education the day after their Bar and Bat Mitzvah.” Jewish Federation Orange County answered his call, and Adar Noar, (“A community of young people”) was born.
Shortly after its inception, Kravitz was invited by Jerry Silverman, its first president, to join the TALIT Nation board. With Mark Brownstein and Dr. Marc Ecker, he helped to establish the Bureau as a separate agency, a beneficiary operation of Federation. They served as presidents during the first 13 years, under the first director, Ida Marks-Meltzer. Kravitz helped search for offices and camp sites and manned phonathons. Under present Bureau CEO David Lewis, weekend retreats are now held at the American Jewish University Brandeis Bardin campus in Simi Valley, where Kravitz enjoys weekends “meeting the new kids and serving as camp doctor.”
The program has grown to be the largest youth group in Orange County, expanded to include third to seventh graders and an eighth grade values weekend.
A native of Toronto, Canada, Kravitz graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in pharmacy and medicine, coming to the US in 1959 to intern at the former Cedars of Lebanon Hospital. His dedication to children had its genesis with his 11-year employment with the Los Angeles City School District. His inauguration into the Orange County community was at the invitation of a former classmate to join the Edinger Medical Group in Huntington Beach and Fountain Valley. He served as chief of staff at Fountain Valley Regional Hospital for 12 years and retired from his 18-year practice in 1990.
Since then his life has been filled serving numerous community organizations. Kravitz was a board member of Jewish Federation Orange County for many years, and his chairmanship and membership on many committees has earned him the title of Board Member Emeritus. He was one of the founders and president of The Jewish Studies Institute, which became Tarbut V’Torah (TVT ). He has been an executive board member of Conservative Judaism’s Pacific Southwest Region, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Temple Beth Emet in Anaheim and presently serves as a member of the USCJ’s international board. In addition, he has been a board member of the American Jewish Committee for multiple years.
One of his favorite projects is TIES (Teen Israel Experience Summer) which he has chaired for many years. Its hiatus, as the result of the Intifada, will end this year with its re-establishment this summer when over 30 students (tenth to twelfth grade) will experience Israel June 27 to July 26. Headed by Sheri Gropper, director of TALIT Nation, the program partners with Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon, Israel (near Tel Aviv) where they will be based. Participants will discover their ancestry by investigating the history of the ancient land and explore the culture of Israel with experienced guides.
Jeff Reinstein, the Bureau’s director of retreat and leadership programs, will chaperon the trip. “Their Jewish roots,” he describes, “will come alive while they swim, snorkel, hike, and climb their way from the top of Israel to the bottom at Eilat.”
Kravitz delights in joining in the planning, helping to interview applicants and attending the pre and post retreat weekends. “My hope,” he declares, “is that every child can go to Israel.”
The program is funded and supported by families, synagogues, Jewish Federation Orange County, and Jewish Federation of Long Beach. Scholarships are offered for those in need. Monies raised from the silent auction aboard the Hornblower have been designated for the Bureau’s Israel programming.
Since his retirement from practice, each summer Kravitz serves as Locum Tenens, where he is matched to rural communities throughout the United States who do not have doctors. Kravitz once held nine licenses for individual states that he served. He is finally down to two – Michigan and California – for which he serves ten weeks – but now only in the summer. His wife of almost 55 years, Rose, and some of his seven grandchildren join him.
“I love it.” he rejoices. “No freeways!”
Members of the summer communities often ask him to stay, but his answer remains, “Sorry, my grandchildren won’t allow me to be away.”
Information on The Bureau of Jewish Education and reservations for the Ahoy Vey Cruise (Sunday, May 23, 2:30 – 6:00 p.m.) may be obtained at (949) 435-3450 or firstname.lastname@example.org.