Shabbat Across America Returns

For Lynne Sturt Weintraub, Friday evening is the perfect time for friends and family to get together “and show warmth and love and find out what’s going on in other people’s lives,” she said.

Weintraub, president of Temple Beth Zion in West Los Angeles, has been involved in Shabbat Across America since its inception eight years ago.

The program, established by the National Jewish Outreach Program (NJOP) in New York, celebrates one Shabbat weekend around North America to reach out to mostly unaffiliated Jews or those with little Judaic background, in an effort to bring them back into the fold. This Friday, March 4, some 600 synagogues and organizations across Canada and the United States – including 20 in the L.A. area – will attend Shabbat services and sit down to dinner under the banner of “Shabbat Across America.”

“I think it’s a nice thing to do, to participate along with the rest of the country and Canada in having the Jewish community get together, having that solidarity,” Weintraub said.

“Just knowing that at the same time you’re doing it 40,000 other people are also doing it, strengthens people’s resolve,” said NJOP Director Rabbi Yitzhak Rosenbaum. “Jews are so scattered and we like to be part of large numbers.”

Rosenbaum also emphasized that it’s the whole Shabbat issue that makes the event work. It’s not “Adult Jewish Education Across America,” or “Kol Nidre Across America” and that’s because “Shabbat is what marks us as Jews,” Rosenbaum said.

“Shabbat resonates with modern man. We often feel very isolated. Certainly the nuclear family is gone. People no longer live in the same place as their parents and the community has been weakened. Shabbat provides an opportunity to be part of a Jewish community.”

Paul Solyn, the director Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice, has also been involved in Shabbat Across America for a number of years.

“It’s a good way to reach people in the community who are interested in the synagogue but not yet involved with one,” he said.

Mishkon Tephilo actually incorporates Shabbat Across America into its adult education program, bringing in a guest speaker, Miriyam Glazer, University of Judaism literature professor and author of the cookbook, “The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking,” who will speak about, “Our Bodies, Our Souls: Food and the Human Spirit in Jewish Tradition.” Despite the fact that Shabbat Across America is now in its ninth year, the Jewish community still has an uphill battle on its hands.

“Overall our losses [in the Jewish community] are so vast,” Rosenbaum said. “We haven’t yet staunched the flow, but this program is definitely making inroads. Every Jew is a world unto themselves, and if only one Jew starts to observe or becomes more involved as a result of this program then we’re happy.” – Kelly Hartog, Staff Writer

Dennis Ross on The Mideast

Dennis Ross, former U.S. envoy to the Middle East under President Bill Clinton, told an Anti-Defamation League gathering that a “loss of fear” in the Arab world has meant Palestinian and Iraqi elections and the Lebanese standing up to Syrian terrorists as old Arab dictatorships slowly give way to democracy.

“If it looks like the Lebanese people succeed in forcing the Syrians out, then it’s going to have an effect across the region,” said Ross, who negotiated the 1997 Hebron accord. “One of the things that people aren’t focused on enough is that what Lebanon represents right now is the Lebanese people no longer being afraid.”

Ross spoke to about 100 people attending the ADL’s Feb. 25-27 Weekend Institute at the Biltmore/Four Seasons Resort in Santa Barbara with James Prince, who runs the L.A.-based, Mideast-focused Democracy Council. Prince has tracked Palestinian finances and dismissed the notion that deceased Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat stashed away billions.

“I don’t think there’s pots of money out there,” Prince said.

Ross, who is promoting his book, “The Missing Peace” said Arafat’s death has removed a cult-like leader who controlled all facets of Palestinian life.

“The way that Arafat preserved power was [to have] everybody depend on him,” Ross said. “Our aid right now has to be focused on empowerment.”– David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Munich Games Film Gets Winter Release

Steven Spielberg will begin production on his long-awaited film on the 1972 Olympic Games in the summer and release it to theaters on Dec. 23.

Tight secrecy surrounds the feature film, which will focus on the hunt for the Black September terrorists responsible for the death of 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympics.

No title or cast has been announced, except for Australian actor Eric Bana (“Troy,” “Hulk”). Spielberg had also hoped to cast Ben Kingsley (“Schindler’s List”), but he became unavailable when shooting was delayed by one year. At one point, reports had it that the delay was caused by fears that Muslim extremists might target locations to be used in the movie. However, the actual reason was that Spielberg was dissatisfied with the script by Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump”) and instead Pulitzer Prize-winner Tony Kushner (“Angels in America”) is writing a new screenplay.

Spielberg has said that his Jewish heritage took on a new dimension while making “Schindler’s List.” The Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation, which he established 12 years ago, has since videotaped the testimonies of 52,000 Holocaust survivors and witnesses.

The documentary, “One Day in September,” on the Munich Olympics, won an Oscar for Swiss producer Arthur Cohn in 2000. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

End of Talmud Celebration Draws Thousands

More than 2,600 people filled the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles for the March 1 national celebration marking the end of Daf Yomi, a worldwide reading of one page of the Talmud each day for seven and a half years.

“This majestic hall has now been sanctified because it is host to the largest gathering of Torah Jews in the history of this city,” said Rabbi Yaakov Krause of Young Israel of Hancock Park as he spoke before the huge hall – with an overflow audience of schoolgirls in an adjacent auditorium.

The three-hour, early evening event drew an almost entirely Orthodox crowd with row upon row of Modern Orthodox and Chasidic men alternately praying and watching large TV screens showing Daf Yomi gatherings on the East Coast.

The busloads of teenagers from local Orthodox high schools included Shoshana and Hadassah Klerman, fraternal twin sisters and sophomores at the all-girls Beis Yaakov High School in the Fairfax District.

“This reflects the continuity that we have with Torah throughout the ages from the beginning of time until now,” said Shoshana Klerman. “You think that, ‘OK, the Holocaust happened’ and these kinds of things happen and people try to wipe us out but we’re still here.”

Rabbi Marvin Heir, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, called this year’s Daf Yomi event, “one of the most significant events in American Jewish history; it shows the renaissance of the Jewish people after the Holocaust not only in population but in terms of a recommitment to their heritage.”

A cluster of freshman boys from Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles agreed that studying the Talmud makes homework seem easier.

“It really uplifts a lot of people. It’s really important that you learn every day,” said 14-year-old David Korda.

Howard Gluck, a deputy Los Angeles city attorney, came with his two sons even though he did not pursue the Daf Yomi himself.

“I wanted my children to be part of a very unified day celebrating the completion and starting of the Talmud,” Gluck said. “It’s an amazing thing to have a program where the same page is being studied in Los Angeles and New York and in Poland and in Moscow and in Israel. The main thing is, we are all part of one family, the Jewish people.” – DF