Stages of grief in the search for a permanent peace


Prophecy and predictions of apocalypse are staples of life in Jerusalem. The current outbreak of violence, against the backdrop of biblical landscapes and sacred sites, lends itself to both. Under circumstances like these, it is wise to recall the words of a biblical prophet who walked the land 2,700 years ago: “He who is prudent will keep silent in such a time, for it is an evil time.”

The causes of the current violence are complex. Some are acute, like July’s murder of a Palestinian teen, Mohammed Abu Khdeir, and the war in Gaza. Others are rooted in the daily lives of the city’s 300,000 Palestinians: a population adrift, disenfranchised, cut off physically and politically from their West Bank hinterland, ruled by authorities that are at best apathetic to their needs, and often actively hostile to their interests. Add to the mix the volatile gases of a holy site, the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif, which has become the arena of choice for religious pyromaniacs of every possible persuasion, and there are conditions in Jerusalem for a perfect storm of violence.

The responses of official Israel to the crisis in Jerusalem have followed the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross model of the stages of grief, starting with denial: Don’t acknowledge the violence. Early on, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat urged the press not to report the violence. The second stage was anger: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowing to respond with an iron fist. He has been as good as his word, going well beyond the unprecedented, if understandable, massive security response. The starkest example is the demolition of the family homes of the dead terrorists, punishing innocents while every Palestinian in the city bitterly notes that no such step is taken against the families of Jewish terrorists. Other forms of collective punishment are meted out against the entire Palestinian population of East Jerusalem: Neighborhoods and roads sealed with concrete blocks and an Orwellian policy of “enhanced enforcement” designed to break the will of the Palestinian population — mass arrests of youth, lengthy sentences for minor infractions, fining parents for failing to control their children, parking tickets, fines for building violations and vehicle seizures.

In the past, Palestinians in East Jerusalem have not been the vanguard of Palestinian national resistance, nor have they been predisposed to violence. According to official Shin Bet statistics, during the eight years of the Second Intifada, Israel arrested only 270 East Jerusalem Palestinians for terror–related activities — fewer than Israel arrested in the West Bank in any given two-week segment of that period. For now, however, the era of Palestinian East Jerusalemites rejecting violent protest is over. Since July 2 — the day of the Abu Kdheir murder — more than 1,300 Palestinians have been detained, about half of those boys younger than 18. The change is not only quantitative: For the first time since 1967, the murderers who perpetrated the recent vehicular terror attacks and the slaughter at the Har Nof synagogue have become akin to folk heroes in an East Jerusalem that sees itself very much in the grip of a popular revolt against Israeli rule.

Anger, made concrete in Israeli efforts to break the will of the Palestinian population, is clearly prolonging, rather than cutting short, the violence. Based on the Kubler-Ross model, the next response from official Israel should be bargaining. One might expect this to mean promises from Israel to improve the lives of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, if only they behave. Like bargaining over grief, this, too, would  fail. Palestinians in East Jerusalem will not be broken, and years of experience shows they will not be bought. But in any case, under Netanyahu, there has been no bargaining, nor will there likely be. Netanyahu appears to believe that Palestinians in East Jerusalem must be subdued and defeated but never engaged.

In the next stage, depression, violence can be expected to abate, sooner or later. Palestinians tire of fighting; Israelis will tire of worrying. But even after a semblance of calm is restored, there will be no resurrecting the fragile pre-summer 2014 Jerusalem status quo. Palestinians in East Jerusalem have fully absorbed the message sent to them by official Israel these past months: You are an alien, hostile, ever-suspect population; if you fail to accept the docile, domesticated role we have assigned you, we will give you no quarter. In this context, any non-routine event — a provocation at the Temple Mount/Haram Al-Sharif, an act of terror or vigilantism by a Palestinian or an Israeli — can reignite conflict.  

The final stage of grief, according to Kubler-Ross, is acceptance. In the Jerusalem context, acceptance means recognizing this truth: Failing a genuine political process that will address the inherent dysfunctionality of Israeli rule over the Palestinian collective of East Jerusalem, the countdown toward the next round of violence already has begun, even before the flames of the current one have been extinguished.

Daniel Seidemann, a Jerusalem attorney since 1987, is the founder and director of Terrestrial Jerusalem, an Israeli non-governmental organization that promotes the possibility of an Israeli-Palestinian permanent-status peace agreement on the issue of Jerusalem.

Seidemann will present the talk “Getting Real About Jerusalem” at the Professor Gerald B. Bubis Lecture at Valley Beth Shalom, Encino, on Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. for more information or to RSVP: apnwest@peacenow.org or (323) 934-3480.

McCain accepts nomination, offers little new on Israel, Iran


ST. PAUL, Minn. (JTA)—John McCain used his convention speech Thursday to unveil his game plan for claiming the mantle of real change: Shore up support among conservatives by touting traditional Republican positions while appealing to undecided voters by criticizing his party’s actual performance and promising to work across party lines.

In the process, he offered little new on Israel and Iran—possibly because of Republican confidence that the party has the upper hand over Democrats on those issues.

Sen. McCain (R-Ariz.) accepted the Republican Party’s nomination on the final night of the convention in St. Paul with a speech that promised a Washington shake-up.

“Let me just offer an advance warning to the old, big-spending, do-nothing, me-first-country-second, Washington crowd: Change is coming,” McCain said to cheers.

The McCain campaign has striven to undercut claims by the Democratic candidate, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), to real change—a tough proposition given his advantage of being a Democrat after eight years of Bush administration rule, including six years when Republicans controlled Congress. Making the challenge even tougher is McCain’s commitment to a long string of conventional Republican domestic and foreign-policy staples.

Stll, McCain offered a clear break from the increasingly bitter mood in Washington: He pledged to work with Democrats and independents once elected.

“Instead of rejecting good ideas because we didn’t think of them first, let’s use the best ideas from both sides,” McCain said.

The nominee already has made clear his most senior adviser on foreign policy—and on some areas of domestic policy—will be Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), the former Democrat who became the first Jew to make a national ticket when he was tapped as the Democratic vice presidential nominee in 2000.

Not much in terms of policy appeared to distinguish McCain from Bush, whose unpopularity ratings are at about 65 percent, according to polls.

This is partly because, in one critical area, dealing with Iraq, Bush in recent years has caught up with McCain: Bush has increased troops, a policy that has gone some way toward stemming the chaos that ensued in that country after the U.S.-led invasion in 2003.

On education, taxes, trade and immigration, McCain appears to be on the same page as Bush. If there was a difference between the two that came out in the speech Thursday, it was one of emphasis: In his speech, McCain barely mentioned the social conservatism that characterized much of the Bush administration. He included one passing mention to a “culture of life,” a code for opposition to abortion.

McCain opposes abortion, but has shown little taste for legislating it out of existence; additionally, unlike many Christian conservatives, he supports embryonic stem-cell research.

Israel did not get a mention in McCain’s speech, but McCain alluded to Israel’s concerns at two points.

First, when he outlined unfinished foreign policy business: “Iran remains the chief state sponsor of terrorism, and is on the path to acquiring nuclear weapons,” McCain said. The other reference was in outlining a pledge to promote energy independence—one Obama also has adopted but without going as far as McCain in pushing for more drilling in the United States.

“We’re going to stop sending $700 billion a year to countries that don’t like us very much,” McCain said. The world’s major oil producers include such countries as Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Russia.

When the Middle East came up during the Republican convention, it often did so in conjunction with hopes for energy independence. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain’s vice presidential pick, also linked the two in her speech Wednesday night.

Republicans’ confidence that McCain will claim a greater share of the Jewish vote this November compared to recent presidential elections was evident on the margins of the convention.

Polls have shown McCain claiming at least 32 percent in November, a leap from the 25 percent Bush won in 2004. This, despite the Obama campaign’s efforts in recent months to stress its support for Israel and its commitment to tougher action against Iran.

Lawmakers attending a Republican Jewish Coalition event on Thursday returned constantly to the theme of McCain being a more proven friend of Israel than Obama.

“If you care about the United States of America, if you care about Israel, this election is absolutely critical,” said Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.). Nevada is in play this election and its growing Jewish population could prove critical in November.

At the same event, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to imply that the Democratic Party isn’t pro-Israel.

“There’s an important and fundamental difference between the two parties in Washington, and I know you’re not going to be fooled by Democrats claiming that just because they’re for foreign assistance to Israel that they’re pro-Israel,” McConnell said. “Israel’s security and U.S. security are inextricably intertwined and they involve… having an assertive, aggressive proactive approach to danger.”

Such harsh rhetoric echoed the sharp attacks against Obama delivered by Palin and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani in their speeches the night before.

On McCain’s night, however, the nominee ultimately appeared to take his cues from Lieberman, who in his speech Tuesday night painted the GOP nominee as a maverick willing to buck his own party and work with Democrats when the national interest required it.

Obama says GOP ‘tough talk’ doesn’t help Israel; Transcript of speech


DENVER (JTA) — Barack Obama said Republican “tough talk” was not protecting Israel.

In his speech accepting the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination Thursday night, Sen. Obama (D-Ill.) derided the Bush administration and his Republican rival Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) for failing to contain terrorism.

“You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq,” he said, in a speech to an estimated 75,000 people at Invesco Field in Denver. “You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.”

Obama has accused Bush and McCain of undermining alliances through unilateralism. He favors intensifying diplomacy as well as sanctions in a bid to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Earlier in the evening, Rabbi David Saperstein, who heads the Reform movement’s Washington public policy office, the Religious Action Center, delivered the invocation at the opening of the Thursday session of the convention. Saperstein asked for God’s blessing “on all the leaders of our nation,” but he singled out by name Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.), who is suffering from terminal brain cancer, as well as Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his running mate, Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.).

“May your name be invoked only to inspire and unify our nation, but never to divide it,” Saperstein said.



Following is prepared text of Barack Obama’s acceptance speech

To Chairman Dean and my great friend Dick Durbin; and to all my fellow citizens of this great nation;

With profound gratitude and great humility, I accept your nomination for the presidency of the United States.

Let me express my thanks to the historic slate of candidates who accompanied me on this journey, and especially the one who traveled the farthest – a champion for working Americans and an inspiration to my daughters and to yours — Hillary Rodham Clinton. To President Clinton, who last night made the case for change as only he can make it; to Ted Kennedy, who embodies the spirit of service; and to the next Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, I thank you. I am grateful to finish this journey with one of the finest statesmen of our time, a man at ease with everyone from world leaders to the conductors on the Amtrak train he still takes home every night.

To the love of my life, our next First Lady, Michelle Obama, and to Sasha and Malia – I love you so much, and I’m so proud of all of you.

Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story – of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren’t well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.

It is that promise that has always set this country apart – that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.

That’s why I stand here tonight. Because for two hundred and thirty two years, at each moment when that promise was in jeopardy, ordinary men and women – students and soldiers, farmers and teachers, nurses and janitors — found the courage to keep it alive.

We meet at one of those defining moments – a moment when our nation is at war, our economy is in turmoil, and the American promise has been threatened once more.

Tonight, more Americans are out of work and more are working harder for less. More of you have lost your homes and even more are watching your home values plummet. More of you have cars you can’t afford to drive, credit card bills you can’t afford to pay, and tuition that’s beyond your reach.

These challenges are not all of government’s making. But the failure to respond is a direct result of a broken politics in Washington and the failed policies of George W. Bush.

America, we are better than these last eight years. We are a better country than this.

This country is more decent than one where a woman in Ohio, on the brink of retirement, finds herself one illness away from disaster after a lifetime of hard work.

This country is more generous than one where a man in Indiana has to pack up the equipment he’s worked on for twenty years and watch it shipped off to China, and then chokes up as he explains how he felt like a failure when he went home to tell his family the news.

We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.

Tonight, I say to the American people, to Democrats and Republicans and Independents across this great land – enough! This moment – this election – is our chance to keep, in the 21st century, the American promise alive. Because next week, in Minnesota, the same party that brought you two terms of George Bush and Dick Cheney will ask this country for a third. And we are here because we love this country too much to let the next four years look like the last eight. On November 4th, we must stand up and say: “Eight is enough.”

Now let there be no doubt. The Republican nominee, John McCain, has worn the uniform of our country with bravery and distinction, and for that we owe him our gratitude and respect. And next week, we’ll also hear about those occasions when he’s broken with his party as evidence that he can deliver the change that we need.

But the record’s clear: John McCain has voted with George Bush ninety percent of the time. Senator McCain likes to talk about judgment, but really, what does it say about your judgment when you think George Bush has been right more than ninety percent of the time? I don’t know about you, but I’m not ready to take a ten percent chance on change.

The truth is, on issue after issue that would make a difference in your lives – on health care and education and the economy – Senator McCain has been anything but independent. He said that our economy has made “great progress” under this President. He said that the fundamentals of the economy are strong. And when one of his chief advisors – the man who wrote his economic plan – was talking about the anxiety Americans are feeling, he said that we were just suffering from a “mental recession,” and that we’ve become, and I quote, “a nation of whiners.”

A nation of whiners? Tell that to the proud auto workers at a Michigan plant who, after they found out it was closing, kept showing up every day and working as hard as ever, because they knew there were people who counted on the brakes that they made. Tell that to the military families who shoulder their burdens silently as they watch their loved ones leave for their third or fourth or fifth tour of duty. These are not whiners. They work hard and give back and keep going without complaint. These are the Americans that I know.

Now, I don’t believe that Senator McCain doesn’t care what’s going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn’t know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people’s benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?

It’s not because John McCain doesn’t care. It’s because John McCain doesn’t get it.

For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.

Well it’s time for them to own their failure. It’s time for us to change America.

You see, we Democrats have a very different measure of what constitutes progress in this country.

We measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage; whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma. We measure progress in the 23 million new jobs that were created when Bill Clinton was President – when the average American family saw its income go up $7,500 instead of down $2,000 like it has under George Bush.

We measure the strength of our economy not by the number of billionaires we have or the profits of the Fortune 500, but by whether someone with a good idea can take a risk and start a new business, or whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job – an economy that honors the dignity of work.

The fundamentals we use to measure economic strength are whether we are living up to that fundamental promise that has made this country great – a promise that is the only reason I am standing here tonight.

Because in the faces of those young veterans who come back from Iraq and Afghanistan, I see my grandfather, who signed up after Pearl Harbor, marched in Patton’s Army, and was rewarded by a grateful nation with the chance to go to college on the GI Bill.

In the face of that young student who sleeps just three hours before working the night shift, I think about my mom, who raised my sister and me on her own while she worked and earned her degree; who once turned to food stamps but was still able to send us to the best schools in the country with the help of student loans and scholarships.

When I listen to another worker tell me that his factory has shut down, I remember all those men and women on the South Side of Chicago who I stood by and fought for two decades ago after the local steel plant closed.

And when I hear a woman talk about the difficulties of starting her own business, I think about my grandmother, who worked her way up from the secretarial pool to middle-management, despite years of being passed over for promotions because she was a woman. She’s the one who taught me about hard work. She’s the one who put off buying a new car or a new dress for herself so that I could have a better life. She poured everything she had into me. And although she can no longer travel, I know that she’s watching tonight, and that tonight is her night as well.

I don’t know what kind of lives John McCain thinks that celebrities lead, but this has been mine. These are my heroes. Theirs are the stories that shaped me. And it is on their behalf that I intend to win this election and keep our promise alive as President of the United States.

What is that promise?

It’s a promise that says each of us has the freedom to make of our own lives what we will, but that we also have the obligation to treat each other with dignity and respect.

It’s a promise that says the market should reward drive and innovation and generate growth, but that businesses should live up to their responsibilities to create American jobs, look out for American workers, and play by the rules of the road.

Ours is a promise that says government cannot solve all our problems, but what it should do is that which we cannot do for ourselves – protect us from harm and provide every child a decent education; keep our water clean and our toys safe; invest in new schools and new roads and new science and technology.

Our government should work for us, not against us. It should help us, not hurt us. It should ensure opportunity not just for those with the most money and influence, but for every American who’s willing to work.

That’s the promise of America – the idea that we are responsible for ourselves, but that we also rise or fall as one nation; the fundamental belief that I am my brother’s keeper; I am my sister’s keeper.

That’s the promise we need to keep. That’s the change we need right now. So let me spell out exactly what that change would mean if I am President.

Change means a tax code that doesn’t reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.

Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.

I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.

I will cut taxes – cut taxes – for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.

And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East.

Washington’s been talking about our oil addiction for the last thirty years, and John McCain has been there for twenty-six of them. In that time, he’s said no to higher fuel-efficiency standards for cars, no to investments in renewable energy, no to renewable fuels. And today, we import triple the amount of oil as the day that Senator McCain took office.

Now is the time to end this addiction, and to understand that drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution. Not even close.

As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I’ll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I’ll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy – wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can’t ever be outsourced.

America, now is not the time for small plans.

Now is the time to finally meet our moral obligation to provide every child a world-class education, because it will take nothing less to compete in the global economy. Michelle and I are only here tonight because we were given a chance at an education. And I will not settle for an America where some kids don’t have that chance. I’ll invest in early childhood education. I’ll recruit an army of new teachers, and pay them higher salaries and give them more support. And in exchange, I’ll ask for higher standards and more accountability. And we will keep our promise to every young American – if you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.

Now is the time to finally keep the promise of affordable, accessible health care for every single American. If you have health care, my plan will lower your premiums. If you don’t, you’ll be able to get the same kind of coverage that members of Congress give themselves. And as someone who watched my mother argue with insurance companies while she lay in bed dying of cancer, I will make certain those companies stop discriminating against those who are sick and need care the most.

Now is the time to help families with paid sick days and better family leave, because nobody in America should have to choose between keeping their jobs and caring for a sick child or ailing parent.

Now is the time to change our bankruptcy laws, so that your pensions are protected ahead of CEO bonuses; and the time to protect Social Security for future generations.

And now is the time to keep the promise of equal pay for an equal day’s work, because I want my daughters to have exactly the same opportunities as your sons.

Now, many of these plans will cost money, which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime – by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow. But I will also go through the federal budget, line by line, eliminating programs that no longer work and making the ones we do need work better and cost less – because we cannot meet twenty-first century challenges with a twentieth century bureaucracy.

And Democrats, we must also admit that fulfilling America’s promise will require more than just money. It will require a renewed sense of responsibility from each of us to recover what John F. Kennedy called our “intellectual and moral strength.” Yes, government must lead on energy independence, but each of us must do our part to make our homes and businesses more efficient. Yes, we must provide more ladders to success for young men who fall into lives of crime and despair. But we must also admit that programs alone can’t replace parents; that government can’t turn off the television and make a child do her homework; that fathers must take more responsibility for providing the love and guidance their children need.

Individual responsibility and mutual responsibility – that’s the essence of America’s promise.

And just as we keep our keep our promise to the next generation here at home, so must we keep America’s promise abroad. If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that’s a debate I’m ready to have.

For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just “muddle through” in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he’ll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell – but he won’t even go to the cave where he lives.

And today, as my call for a time frame to remove our troops from Iraq has been echoed by the Iraqi government and even the Bush Administration, even after we learned that Iraq has a $79 billion surplus while we’re wallowing in deficits, John McCain stands alone in his stubborn refusal to end a misguided war.

That’s not the judgment we need. That won’t keep America safe. We need a President who can face the threats of the future, not keep grasping at the ideas of the past.

You don’t defeat a terrorist network that operates in eighty countries by occupying Iraq. You don’t protect Israel and deter Iran just by talking tough in Washington. You can’t truly stand up for Georgia when you’ve strained our oldest alliances. If John McCain wants to follow George Bush with more tough talk and bad strategy, that is his choice – but it is not the change we need.

We are the party of Roosevelt. We are the party of Kennedy. So don’t tell me that Democrats won’t defend this country. Don’t tell me that Democrats won’t keep us safe. The Bush-McCain foreign policy has squandered the legacy that generations of Americans — Democrats and Republicans – have built, and we are here to restore that legacy.

As Commander-in-Chief, I will never hesitate to defend this nation, but I will only send our troops into harm’s way with a clear mission and a sacred commitment to give them the equipment they need in battle and the care and benefits they deserve when they come home.

I will end this war in Iraq responsibly, and finish the fight against al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan. I will rebuild our military to meet future conflicts. But I will also renew the tough, direct diplomacy that can prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons and curb Russian aggression. I will build new partnerships to defeat the threats of the 21st century: terrorism and nuclear proliferation; poverty and genocide; climate change and disease. And I will restore our moral standing, so that America is once again that last, best hope for all who are called to the cause of freedom, who long for lives of peace, and who yearn for a better future.

These are the policies I will pursue. And in the weeks ahead, I look forward to debating them with John McCain.

But what I will not do is suggest that the Senator takes his positions for political purposes. Because one of the things that we have to change in our politics is the idea that people cannot disagree without challenging each other’s character and patriotism.

The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America – they have served the United States of America.

So I’ve got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.

America, our work will not be easy. The challenges we face require tough choices, and Democrats as well as Republicans will need to cast off the worn-out ideas and politics of the past. For part of what has been lost these past eight years can’t just be measured by lost wages or bigger trade deficits. What has also been lost is our sense of common purpose – our sense of higher purpose. And that’s what we have to restore.

We may not agree on abortion, but surely we can agree on reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies in this country. The reality of gun ownership may be different for hunters in rural Ohio than for those plagued by gang-violence in Cleveland, but don’t tell me we can’t uphold the Second Amendment while keeping AK-47s out of the hands of criminals. I know there are differences on same-sex marriage, but surely we can agree that our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters deserve to visit the person they love in the hospital and to live lives free of discrimination. Passions fly on immigration, but I don’t know anyone who benefits when a mother is separated from her infant child or an employer undercuts American wages by hiring illegal workers. This too is part of America’s promise – the promise of a democracy where we can find the strength and grace to bridge divides and unite in common effort.

I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that’s to be expected. Because if you don’t have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don’t have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

You make a big election about small things.

And you know what – it’s worked before. Because it feeds into the cynicism we all have about government. When Washington doesn’t work, all its promises seem empty. If your hopes have been dashed again and again, then it’s best to stop hoping, and settle for what you already know.

I get it. I realize that I am not the likeliest candidate for this office. I don’t fit the typical pedigree, and I haven’t spent my career in the halls of Washington.

But I stand before you tonight because all across America something is stirring. What the nay-sayers don’t understand is that this election has never been about me. It’s been about you.

For eighteen long months, you have stood up, one by one, and said enough to the politics of the past. You understand that in this election, the greatest risk we can take is to try the same old politics with the same old players and expect a different result. You have shown what history teaches us – that at defining moments like this one, the change we need doesn’t come from Washington. Change comes to Washington. Change happens because the American people demand it – because they rise up and insist on new ideas and new leadership, a new politics for a new time.

America, this is one of those moments.

I believe that as hard as it will be, the change we need is coming. Because I’ve seen it. Because I’ve lived it. I’ve seen it in Illinois, when we provided health care to more children and moved more families from welfare to work. I’ve seen it in Washington, when we worked across party lines to open up government and hold lobbyists more accountable, to give better care for our veterans and keep nuclear weapons out of terrorist hands.

And I’ve seen it in this campaign. In the young people who voted for the first time, and in those who got involved again after a very long time. In the Republicans who never thought they’d pick up a Democratic ballot, but did. I’ve seen it in the workers who would rather cut their hours back a day than see their friends lose their jobs, in the soldiers who re-enlist after losing a limb, in the good neighbors who take a stranger in when a hurricane strikes and the floodwaters rise.

This country of ours has more wealth than any nation, but that’s not what makes us rich. We have the most powerful military on Earth, but that’s not what makes us strong. Our universities and our culture are the envy of the world, but that’s not what keeps the world coming to our shores.

Instead, it is that American spirit – that American promise – that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.

That promise is our greatest inheritance. It’s a promise I make to my daughters when I tuck them in at night, and a promise that you make to yours – a promise that has led immigrants to cross oceans and pioneers to travel west; a promise that led workers to picket lines, and women to reach for the ballot.

And it is that promise that forty five years ago today, brought Americans from every corner of this land to stand together on a Mall in Washington, before Lincoln’s Memorial, and hear a young preacher from Georgia speak of his dream.

The men and women who gathered there could’ve heard many things. They could’ve heard words of anger and discord. They could’ve been told to succumb to the fear and frustration of so many dreams deferred.

But what the people heard instead – people of every creed and color, from every walk of life – is that in America, our destiny is inextricably linked. That together, our dreams can be one.

“We cannot walk alone,” the preacher cried. “And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back.”

America, we cannot turn back. Not with so much work to be done. Not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for. Not with an economy to fix and cities to rebuild and farms to save. Not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend. America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone. At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you, God Bless you, and God Bless the United States of America.

Films at L.A.’s Outfest examines gay life in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem


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Why ‘peace camps’ do not make peace


Last week marked the 40th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, and Israeli society took a hard look at this pivotal turning point in its history.

Silver-haired generals, retired politicians, journalists and analysts were the week’s favorites on Israeli TV programs, as they struggled with the country’s most painful questions:

Could the war have been avoided? Could things have turned out better had the war not been launched on June 6, 1967? Has Israel missed any opportunity to turn victory into peace?

While almost everyone is in agreement that the occupation has taken a terrible material and moral toll on Israel society, many noted that the 1967 conquest also led to the peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and it still offers Israel an indispensable bargaining chip in its current plea for peace with Syria and the Palestinians.

Thus, The Economist’s characterization of the 1967 war as “Israel’s wasted victory” is by general consent misconceived and ill informed. Audiences were further reminded that the 1967 war gave a death blow to Pan-Arabism, an ideology that could have posed as serious a threat to Israel’s existence as radical Islam does today.

While this soul-searching exercise was going on on Israeli TV, the June 6 anniversary also provided a platform for some of the most vicious attacks on Israel’s existence. Our friend, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has decided again that Israel’s days are numbered, and his intellectual allies in Europe and the United States did not sit idle.

My UCLA colleague, Sari Makdisi, for example, has raised the pitch of his racist rhetoric to conclude on the pages of The Nation that “Zionism has run its course, and in doing so has killed any possibility of a two-state solution.”

As usual, those who claim to be victims of “Orientalism” – that is, depicting Arabs from a Western perspective – have no qualms redefining other people’s identities.

Whenever I read any of the harsh anti-occupation articles, many by well-meaning Jews, I can’t help but wonder whether these authors truly believe that Israel oppresses Palestinians out of pleasure or greed, and I ask myself what makes them blind to the collective agony that Israeli society goes through on account of the occupation, as well as to the nation’s genuine struggle to extricate itself from it, if that were at all possible. I also wonder whether any of these erudite authors spend as much time researching the ramifications of an immediate Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders as they currently spend on bashing Israel’s attempts to reach a peace settlement first.

The most revealing information that emerged from last week’s developments came not from the “Israel-bashing” pack but from the pro-coexistence camps. If anyone wonders why the peace process is in no better shape today than it was in 1967 or in 1993 or 2000, a reading through the publications of the Israeli and Palestinian peace camps should provide the answer.

Both sides are stubbornly refraining from addressing the one issue that they know is necessary and sufficient for peace: Palestinian acceptance of the idea of a permanent Jewish state in the 1967 borders, including the resettlement of the refugees outside those borders. Each side pretends that this acceptance is already an established fact, and neither side, perhaps out of fear of offending the other or spoiling the dialogue, dares examine the evidence.

The Israeli peace camp speaks as if it believes that the majority of Palestinians desire permanent coexistence and that the problem is merely that of convincing or controlling a temporarily violent minority.

The Palestinian peace camp, on the other hand, speaks as though it believes that the majority of Israelis will agree to withdraw to the 1967 borders once terror is reigned in and that there is, therefore, no need to discuss Israel’s historic legitimacy or compromises on the Palestinians “right of return.”

These positions do not reflect prevailing beliefs in either community. Israelis do not believe the majority of Palestinians desire permanent coexistence, and the Palestinians know that Israelis are united against withdrawal from the territories as long as, and only as long as, this disbelief persists.
This week, for the first time, these facts received hard evidential confirmation.

New public opinion research conducted by the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information has shown that fear of the Palestinians, lack of trust in both their aspirations and their ability to be partners for peace are the greatest obstacles to Israeli willingness to move ahead toward a peace process and toward making concessions. (Source: Gershon Baskin, Jerusalem Post, June 4, 2007.) The report states:

Sixty-two percent of Israelis believe that Palestinians want to establish their state on all the territory from the Jordan to the sea. Fifty-six percent believe that Palestinians want such a state without Jews. Nearly four times as many Israelis (30 percent) believe that almost no Palestinians are prepared to make concessions for peace as those who believe that most of them will (8 percent).

More revealing, the research also shows that Israelis are open to changing their attitudes toward Palestinians:

“When presented with a scenario where the Palestinian Ministry of Education removes all textbooks from the curriculum that incite against Israel and replaces them with textbooks educating for acceptance of the State of Israel and the importance of living with it in peace, nearly 70 percent of Israelis said it would increase their trust that the Palestinians want to make concessions for peace.

“When presented with the following: A number of influential Palestinian religious leaders, including Hamas, declare on Palestinian television in Arabic that according to Islam, Jews have the right to live in their historic homeland and Palestinian Muslims must accept this, almost 60 percent of Israelis said it would increase their trust in that the Palestinians want to make concessions for peace.”

Are Israelis’ perceptions of Palestinians’ aspirations overly paranoid? I doubt it. That Palestinians are far from accepting Israel’s legitimacy, or even a mild version of it, is clear not merely from their textbooks, TV programs, mosque sermons and Hamas’ victory in the last election but primarily from the activities of their spokespersons in the Palestinian diaspora.

“Wicked” producer Platt flies across another bridge


Producer Marc Platt has crossed a number of bridges in his life, and the inside of his bungalow offices on the Universal Studios back lot certainly reflects it.

On the Hollywood side, a pink-covered “Legally Blonde” script rests on a glass coffee table and a framed poster for the HBO miniseries, “Empire Falls,” hangs on the wall; on the Broadway side, a large playbill in Japanese for the Tokyo production of “Wicked” is accompanied by a 2004 Drama Desk Award for outstanding new musical.

That musical, “Wicked,” was born on the Universal lot in 1999, nurtured by the Hollywood-turned-Broadway producer who has a soft spot in his heart for stories of outsiders. And as the Tony-winning, megapopular tale of the Oz witches prepares to return to the Pantages this month, after performing to sold-out crowds there in 2005, Platt seems happy enough to defy gravity as he talks about the musical’s Hollywood homecoming.

“When we were here briefly on the national tour, there was such an excitement, if not a frenzy over it,” said Platt, 49. “The [MGM] movie that is based on L. Frank Baum’s book obviously is so closely associated with Hollywood.”

But had Platt followed through on his original plans for “Wicked,” the renowned musical that tells the pre-Dorothy story of Glinda “the Good Witch” and Elphaba “the Wicked Witch of the West” would have had a similar Hollywood treatment as its Baum counterpart — but sans musical numbers. As the former head of production for Universal Studios in the late 1990s, Platt had acquired the rights to Gregory Maguire’s best-selling book, “Wicked,” fully intending to adapt it for the big screen.

Composer/lyricist Stephen Schwartz (“Godspell”) and writer Winnie Holzman (“Thirtysomething”) wanted to turn Maguire’s tale into a musical and contacted Platt in 1999 with the hope of securing the rights from Universal. The three met to discuss the benefits of turning the witch’s story into a musical, and what emerged became the 2003 blockbuster Broadway hit.

“When we did our first reading here on the lot of Act 1 and 2 [in 2001], we expected it to be fun and charming and witty,” Platt said. “I don’t think anything prepared any one of us — Winnie, Stephen or me — for the overwhelming, passionate, emotional response from the 50 to 60 people that were sitting in the room that day. And it sort of made us think, ‘You know, I wonder if we get this right … maybe we really have something.'”

That “something” includes a Platinum-certified album (which has maintained No. 1 on the Billboard Cast Album chart almost every week for more than a year), a makeup line with Stilla cosmetics (in pink and green, of course) and the online Ozdust Boutique, which sells everything from “Defy Gravity” T-shirts (named for the goosebump-inducing Act 1 closer) to “Wicked” golf balls.

Platt notes that the grandfather of a friend even has the lyrics “I have been changed for good” from the song “For Good” engraved on his headstone.

Another song from the show, “Thank Goodness,” which exposes how Glinda deals with getting everything she thought she always wanted, touches a chord with Platt, who grew up in a Traditional-Conservative home in Maryland with a family that he says was always involved in some form of tikkun olam: “It has some of the most brilliant lyrics I think written in a long time. For example, ‘There are bridges you crossed you didn’t know you crossed until you crossed.’ To me it is very meaty in terms of thematically what the show is about.”

Platt has crossed more than a few bridges himself. After he graduated from Penn, where he produced a small off-Broadway musical titled, “Francis,” about St. Francis of Assisi, Platt studied entertainment law at NYU, while interning with agent Sam Cohn at International Creative Management, Inc. in New York.

Platt moved with his wife, Julie, to Los Angeles around 1986.
“[I was] nervous about being in a Hollywood community,” he said.
But by 1990, he was head of production at Orion. He held a similar position at Tristar, starting in 1992, and Universal in 1996. He now heads his own company, Marc Platt Productions.

Since the success of “Wicked,” Platt’s theater division has produced the drama, “Three Days of Rain,” which starred Julia Roberts and Paul Rudd, and he is currently backing Matthew Bourne’s ballet version of “Edward Scissorhands.” Platt is expected to bring Rogers and Hart’s “Pal Joey” back to Broadway with a new book from “Three Days of Rain” playwright Richard Greenberg sometime this year.

While he’s now as inside as most people can hope to get in Hollywood, Platt maintains a large place in his heart for the stories of the outsiders, like “Wicked’s” Elphaba, a sensitivity he attributes to his Jewish upbringing.

“The notion of someone who is fitting in or trying to become part of a larger family…. It’s hard to separate that from my own Jewish roots,” said Platt, a member of Sinai Temple. “Some of the metaphors you find in ‘Wicked’ — how those in power can exploit fear in others to maintain their power — I think, as Jews, we’ve seen that historically on more than one occasion.”

In addition to having been a Wexner fellow, Platt recently joined the board of Birthright Israel and co-founded The Federation’s L.A. Couples gift division with his wife.

“If we members of the Jewish community don’t support the Jewish organizations, nobody else will,” he said.

As for the idea that Hollywood Jews distance themselves from Israel, Platt told The Journal, “I think too many people in Hollywood perhaps fail to make a distinction between the political side of Israel and the notion of the country. And they can be separate things. In recent years, there have been members of the community who are supportive — they give their time and money. It’ll never be enough … but I do feel it is there.”

While there are no plans to bring “Wicked” to the silver screen, Platt said there is one more bridge he’d like to see the show cross: “I’d love to bring [‘Wicked’] to Israel. But it’s such a small market, unfortunately, and such a big show. I hope someday to do it, even if I have to do it on my own.”

Second-class Conservative citizens


When I first read that there would be a vote by the Conservative movement’s Committee on Law and Standards regarding homosexuality and Jewish law, I was of
course interested.

I’m a gay man, and I have had both personal and professional ties to the Conservative movement since I was a child. In fact, some of my closest friends (and colleagues) are avowed Conservative Jews.

I grew up in the late ’60s and ’70s in a Conservative synagogue in northern New Jersey. It was a dying synagogue due to shifting demographics. My religious school class was made up of about eight students. My venerable, grandfatherly rabbi and the young, well-groomed cantor knew all of us by name. Having always been drawn to Jewish ritual, one year I volunteered my house for the religious school sukkah (much to my parents’ chagrin). My seventh-grade class, along with my teacher, Rabbi Zitter, a 20-something guy sporting tzitzit, built a sukkah in my backyard. The Sunday of Sukkot the rabbi, cantor and religious school principal all visited the synagogue’s “satellite” sukkah. I felt so honored. (And for years after that my family built a sukkah.)

As a middle school and high school student I often attended services at my Conservative synagogue and likely brought the average age of the congregants down to 65. The only other young congregant was a handsome, strapping young college-aged guy who was often called on to lift the Torah. This was the time when I first began to feel the stirrings of same-sex attraction. I didn’t understand it but knew that something was different for me. I imagine that neither the rabbi nor the cantor had a clue that any of his students was beginning to come to terms with anything other than a heterosexual identity. If “gay” was on their radar, I imagine it was “out there,” outside the austere stone building in Paterson, N.J.

I was an active, practicing Conservative Jew. I belonged to USY for a time, I went to USY Summer Encampment, and I went to Israel for the first time with USY’s Israel Pilgrimage. During my college years, I regularly davened with the Conservative minyan at Brandeis University, and upon graduating taught at a Conservative Jewish day school in the Boston area. When I moved to Los Angeles, I began teaching at Adat Ari El in the day school and also taught b’nai mitzvah students there for many years; in addition, I taught at L.A. Hebrew High School. I am currently on the professional staff of Temple Aliyah. My Conservative movement ties run deep.

Honestly, I’m glad that the recent vote of the Conservative movement has opened the door a bit toward acceptance of gay and lesbian Jews. Now that this teshuvah, or legal interpretation, was one of two that received a majority vote, I know that this helps some of my gay “friends and family” squeeze sideways through the now partially open door. I nevertheless remain sad and disappointed that the door has only opened a little, and the idea that it is a qualified acceptance is troubling to me. (Let alone that it rests side by side with a standing ruling of nonacceptance, or that a third accepted teshuvah purports that individuals — I assume “straight” people too — can control their sexual orientation.)

I understand the notion of baby steps, and I understand the notion of compromise in the name of baby steps. But I don’t have to like it. I think this decision perpetuates a system in which gays and lesbians continue to be second-class citizens. It also perpetuates one specific interpretation of a biblical text, which has been interpreted in other ways. Take me for who I am or don’t take me at all. I too am created in God’s holy image.

When I came out I never felt an incompatibility between my Jewish identity and my sexual identity.

Perhaps I was lucky, perhaps naïve. Who knows? I never doubted that God loves me for who I am. I am a Jewish educator and a Jewish communal professional. And I am gay. I hope that my students have experienced me as someone who is caring, compassionate and dedicated. I hope they have seen me as a role model. And I believe that I am these things not despite the fact that I am gay, but in large part because I am gay. My identity as a gay man has helped me to learn to be more empathic, to embrace differences and to overcome my own prejudices.

While I am pleased that the Conservative movement has inched forward in the direction of inclusivity, I find it difficult to rejoice. When I am allowed to sit in the front of the Conservative bus (without being singled out to pass a litmus test; without being subjected to the whim of the driver of that particular bus), then I shall surely rejoice, and I will be at the front of the line chanting the “Shehecheyanu” blessing.

Jeff Bernhardt is a freelance writer living in Los Angeles. He works as a teacher, social worker and Jewish communal service professional with Reform, Conservative and trans-denominational Jewish organizations.

The school with no name


You can hang out for years at the Pico-Robertson intersection: Shop for fixtures at McNoon Crystal Lighting, get grande drips at Starbucks, carpets at MoghaddamRugs, mezzuzahs at Schmulies, a Hollywood head shot at Award Studios, some Zantac at Walgreens after you had a pastrami at PKD (Pico Kosher Deli) and spend afternoons reading Yediot Aharanot and Commentary at the corner newsstand — and still have no clue that you are 50 feet away from a Jewish high school for boys called Natan Eli.

It’s been there for six years, teaching Talmud, geometry, social studies and pretty much everything you’d expect to see in an Orthodox Jewish high school, including P.E.

In the business of advertising and marketing, they love the word “branding” — the idea of creating a powerful brand name that will be on everyone’s lips. In the world of Orthodox Jewish high schools in Los Angeles, there are some prominent brand names on everyone’s lips, like, for example, YULA and Shalhevet.

Natan Eli is not one of them.

If YULA is the equivalent of Cedars-Sinai, then Natan Eli is the L.A. Free Clinic.

When I asked the principal of the school what distinguished Natan Eli from other Orthodox high schools, he repeated several times that they never turn anybody down.

Can you imagine making that your marketing strategy? We take everyone? Even if you don’t have a penny! Even if you just spent two years in a place for juvenile delinquents! All we ask is that you be Jewish and that you want a Jewish education.

This may not be brilliant marketing, but it’s the brand of Natan Eli, where I am now sitting in the principal’s office, and where I meet a boy named Chaim.

This is Chaim’s first year at Natan Eli. (The boys’ names have been changed to protect their privacy.) Last year, he was at a boot camp near Palm Springs. He’s never met his father, who stayed behind in Teheran when his mother came to Los Angeles with his brother and two sisters more than a decade ago. While he was there, his mother had some personal health issues and returned to Teheran. Chaim heard about this from a relative. When I ask Chaim if he misses his parents, he says, “When I think about them.”

When I ask him when that is, he says, “At night, before I sleep.”

Chaim sleeps at the house of his guardian, a man called Eli who Chaim thinks is a “rabbi and taxi driver.” They go to synagogue together on Shabbat. Chaim, who doesn’t talk much, says that he likes to pray because it means that “God is watching after me.”

Right now, Chaim’s mind is on their basketball game Monday night.

I also get to meet David, a short kid with dark, olive skin who also drops by the principal’s office.

Unlike Chaim, David, whose family moved to Los Angeles this year from New York, is a walking bundle of adrenalin. His words run into each other as he tries to tell me how much he loves the school. I’m able to note two things: One, he loves being able to walk right into the principal’s office anytime he’s in a bind (“I could never do that in my old school”), and two, he loves the afternoon field trips, when the school occasionally takes all 30 boys (it’s a small school) on outings like barbecues or bowling.

While I was schmoozing with David, and the principal’s assistant was running to 7-11 to get creamer for my coffee, Jack walked in.

Jack is a 6-foot-3 version of James Dean. If the school was coed, Jack would probably be quite busy with activities not much related to algebra or Gemara.

As it is, Jack, who was in one of the better-known Jewish high schools last year (and not doing very well; he says he’s doing better this year), is also preoccupied with their basketball game on Monday night. When I ask him if his team is as good as YULA’s (which I hear has a really good team), he says, with a look of disappointment, that they don’t play in their league, but that he would love to play them in an exhibition.

Everyone in the room, including the principal, agrees that that would be a great idea; maybe even having a round-robin tournament with Shalhevet.

In the hallway of this small, plain-looking building, I run into Ben, whose parents I’ve known for many years. I can’t hide my surprise at seeing him, because I’m guilty of stereotyping, and sweet, quiet Ben never struck me as the kind of boy I’d see in a “tough guy” school. I know Ben well enough to explain my surprise, and he knows me well enough to gently explain some things to me.

What I get from Ben is not quite the hopeful spin of the grown-ups at the school — “just as good as any other school, but with more personal attention because of our smaller classes” — but it’s also not what I expected.

Ben explains that he got into one of the “better schools,” but that he prefers the camaraderie at Natan Eli. He tells me that the school (he’s been there for a couple of years) is not just for tough kids or troubled teens, and that it’s really “cleaned up” this year. He says the motivational speakers and psychologists that come regularly have helped. The learning can be intense, but the school doesn’t overwork them, so he has more time for outside interests, like art.

He also loves that they let the boys go out for lunch.

The principal calls this a privilege, not a right. The school’s approach, when it comes to influencing behavior, is not to punish, but to withhold privileges. Get out of line, and you get to spend your lunch time in a drab waiting room with empty vending machines, instead of hanging with the buddies at Jeff’s Gourmet.

While the subject of lunch is being discussed, David, the New York boy, jumps from his chair and starts talking about the toaster. The toaster? He explains that in his old school, they also served free bagels in the morning, but that here, at Natan Eli, you can toast the bagels.This one fact — the toaster — seems to light up the room. Even the principal, Rabbi Rafi, is almost giddy when he tells me how popular the toaster has been with the boys this year.

The rabbi knows that it’ll take more than a toaster for Natan Eli to make a name for itself, but he also knows that he’s got a whole bunch of other names that come first, like Ben, Jack, David and Chaim.

David Suissa, an advertising executive, is the founder of OLAM magazine and Meals4Israel.com. He can be reached at dsuissa@olam.org.

The great (non) depression


I overdid it yesterday. Perhaps I misjudged the line between exhaustion and sloth.

Or perhaps my recuperation from the cancer treatment requires a slower return
to fitness than yesterday’s exertion.

But this morning’s desire to stay in bed needs to be honored, unlike yesterday’s, which called forth a kick in the pants.

Some might suspect depression, but I disagree. I am finding, in my confinement, too many sources of pleasure, despite the situation. I am delighting in friends, home, books, writing, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert, NPR, PBS….

Besides I am pharmacologically covered for depression.

Depression is a word that has been cheapened. We forget that it is a diagnosis for a bona fide disease. It becomes a catch phrase for the weighty feelings we experience as we come to terms with life’s challenges and honor the process of change. Those who cannot tolerate taking the time and effort that normal healing requires are quick to label depression and try to prescribe it away.

Shortly after receiving a cancer diagnosis, Janet came to my office. She sat down on the couch opposite me and sank into the pillows, settling shapelessly and breathing shallowly. Finally she let out a sigh.

“I feel depressed,” she said. “I feel heavy. I can’t move. I’m paralyzed. I cry all the time. I have no desire to go on with my treatment.”

As she spoke, a trickle of tears ran down her cheek. Janet was mourning her health.

Grief is not depression. It is not a disease. The sense of heaviness and weight that we feel when we face challenges is our organism’s insistence that it is time to stop, give honor to what is lost, and surrender to the healing process. One of the symptoms is often an overwhelming fatigue triggering the fear that we don’t have the energy to face what is demanded.

This feeling sets in when there has been a death and the fires of grief have been banked and the mourner begins to sift through the ashes. In other losses, it descends when the fact of the illness, divorce or other change begins to sink in. Each labored breath exposes what has been left behind and reveals a glimpse of the obstacles ahead. While at times, we may still feel wrapped in gauze and unable to move, this so-called depression indicates that the time of numbness is over. Feeling begins to return. Sadness is palpable. We begin to comprehend the changes that have taken place and their consequences in our lives. Difficult feelings lie in the wake of this understanding. But have heart, this heaviness is a sign of life.

In this state we have no vitality. The pulse of our life force is barely detectable. So we wait. And we can’t move. The time of the broken heart is necessary to heal. There are genuine tragedies, sadnesses and injustices that cannot be denied or rationalized away when we take the measure of our lives and the changes that they have wrought. We must dwell in this valley of tears as if we are seeds, lying fallow in the earth, absorbing the moisture necessary to bring forth the sprouts of spring and the harvests that follow.

Taking time to feel, we honor the need for change. We learn about patience, surrender, acceptance and, ultimately, letting go. It can be a quiet and inarticulate time in which until we are able, literally, to come to terms with our loss.

I take issue with the word “depression.” Depression is a clinical state. It is a psychological diagnosis of something with an organic base. Although elements of the symptoms of depression and of grief have much in common, the two are not the same. Depression describes an illness. Grief is a healthy, appropriate, though often excruciating, response to loss. Loss is not just letting go, which would be difficult enough. It requires us to reconstruct our entire world. We must come to see the universe in a completely different way.

Rather than “depression,” I prefer the Hebrew word “kavod.” “Kavod” means “honor” as in the biblical commandment to “honor thy father and mother.” It also is translated as “weight” or “heaviness.” These latter translations are what people who suffer often experience.

This paralytic feeling is their organism asserting the opposite of what the culture demands. While they are urged to get over their loss quickly and get on with their lives, their bodies and souls are saying, “Stop. Feel the gravity…the weight, of this situation. Honor what is past and what is being born within you. Honor your need to broaden your understanding and come to terms with your new status and new world. Stop.”

By labeling this experience with a holy Hebrew word, perhaps we can be kinder to ourselves and less afraid. Perhaps this will encourage us to take the time we need for healing, learning its lessons and allowing it to transform our lives.
We contemplate our situation and thus give it kavod — honor. We feel the weight; the heaviness of what loss itself is about. In the process, we transform it. As we wait, contemplating our lives and the nature of life itself, we begin to heal.

I’m staying in bed this morning.

Anne Brener is an L.A.-based psychotherapist. She is the author of “Mourning & Mitzvah: Walking the Mourner’s Path” (Jewish Lights, 1993 and 2001), a fourth-year rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and a faculty member of the Academy for Jewish Religion.

Lesson in Tolerance Seeks to Aid School


A group of students from Jefferson High School gathers around the tour guide, Jewish grandmother Diane Treister, at the Museum of Tolerance on a recent Friday morning.

While Treister talks about personal responsibility and respect, the students, many in jeans and T-shirts and carrying cellphones, chat among themselves, mostly in Spanish.

“This is going to be a tough group,” Treister whispers to an adult visitor. “You just hope the kids will remember what they see today. I try to tell them to be ambassadors of tolerance and to speak up. Because the Holocaust happened because no one spoke up.”

This tour is no typical high school field trip, with its predictable mix of unruly, disinterested teenagers. These students are here mainly because their school, Jefferson High, became a flash point last year for fights between Latino and African American students. The overcrowded, underperforming campus in South Los Angeles was 92 percent Latino, 7.5 percent black and, seemingly on a handful of occasions, nearly 100 percent out of control.

Since then, hundreds of students have transferred to a new school south of Jefferson, police have increased their campus presence and a new principal has taken charge. The school district also has arranged for human relations speakers to visit the campus.

Now, students are getting a special kind of training that officials hope will make a difference at school: They’re learning about human rights abuses and the fight for civil rights in the United States and, especially, about the Holocaust.

Throughout November and December, ninth graders from Jefferson High and eighth graders from Carver Middle School, which feeds into Jefferson, spent a day at the Museum of Tolerance, the educational arm of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

On this particular winter day, Treister leads the students into a room called the Millennium Machine, where they squeeze into six-person booths. Video monitors flash images of child abuse, including slavery, forced labor and pornography. The monitors ask, “What is the most common form of child abuse?”

The students overwhelmingly choose physical abuse. But they’re wrong. The answer is forced labor.

“I think it’s just sad,” says a girl with long brown hair, as she makes her way out of the room for the next exhibit. Here, 16 video monitors show historical film footage of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and others fighting for civil rights.

Then, it’s time for the Holocaust section of the museum. Students sit on the floor, while Treister kneels, imploring them to pay special attention to this part of the tour. She explains anti-Semitism, using her own, expanded definition: “Anti-Semitism means hatred of Jews — and hatred of anyone of color.”

Two tall doors part, and the students walk into another room, where a reproduction of a Berlin street from the 1930s awaits. The ninth graders pass by a scene at a cafe, where sculpted figures sit at tables. A voiceover brings the scene to life, offering snippets of the cafe patrons’ conversations about the Nazis’ rise to power.

Less listless than before, the students eavesdrop on a recreation of the Wannsee Conference, where the Nazis determined that “The Final Solution of the Jewish Question” was to kill all Jews in German-controlled lands. In a Hall of Testimony that resembles a concentration camp gas chamber, students listen to survivors’ stories.

Leaving the exhibit, Treister asks, “Who was responsible for this?”

“Hitler,” a student says.

“Who else?” she asks.

“The people who followed Hitler,” answers Jose Albarran, 14.

“What could’ve been done?” Treister asks.

Tames’e Smith, 15, raises her hand and says: “Somebody standing up to make a difference.”

Smith seems to get the point of the tour. The question is how she, a girl who says she has grown weary of witnessing gang fights and parties “getting shot up,” will apply what she’s learned to life at school.

Ron Rubine, the 46-year-old head of Standing on Common Ground, an organization that trains students in peer relations, tried to make the connection.

“Today,” he told the students at the start of the tour, “is going to be a day for you to think about making Jefferson a place where everybody’s included and nobody’s left out.”

After the tour, Rubine led the ninth graders in a session on how to make the day’s lessons relevant. He also brought in guest speakers — a reformed white supremacist and a gay rights activist — to broaden the message of tolerance.

“In terms of acceptance and learning more about how to get along,” said Juan Flecha, Jefferson High’s principal, “I can’t think of a better opportunity” than a trip to the museum.

Flecha added that simply visiting the Westside was eye-opening. “It’s really important for our students to see a different part of the world,” he said.

With 30 buses provided by Los Angeles Councilwoman Jan Perry (Ninth District) and free admission tickets offered by the Museum of Tolerance through a Wells Fargo Foundation grant, an estimated 1,000 students participated.

After this day’s tour, ninth-grader Smith explains that “standing up” means stopping child pornography, “babies getting exposed on the Internet,” as she puts it.

Another student, Mayra Rivas, 14, says, “I think it could happen again — to Mexicans.” Just as Jews could not escape Europe, her own grandmother, she says, cannot immigrate to the United States today.

A certain amount of confusion — as with this questionable analogy — is inevitable because many students arrive knowing little or nothing about the Holocaust, said Beverly LeMay, manager of the museum’s Tools for Tolerance program. She added that she hopes to follow up with students.

As the day wore on, most students had paid attention to substantial parts of the presentation, sometimes participating in discussions with enthusiasm. If all went well, they will take away something of lasting value — and Jefferson High will be a more peaceful, respectful place.

“You don’t come to the Museum of Tolerance in one visit,” LeMay said, “and be resolved on all these issues.

 

Bird’s-Eye View


 

One day, Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar was riding his donkey along the coastal road. He was enjoying the beautiful scenery and reviewing in his mind the wonderful study session he had with his rabbi at Migdal Eder, when he encountered a man who was extremely ugly.

“How ugly you are,” said the startled rabbi. “Are all the people in your city as ugly as you are?”

The man responded calmly, “What can I say? Go to the artisan who crafted me and tell him that his handiwork is ugly.”

Upon hearing that, Ben Elazar realized that he had gravely sinned and begged the man to forgive him. But the man refused to forgive him until Ben Elazar spoke to the Creator. The rabbi ran after the man a long way until they came to a town. The town’s people called out: “Welcome, rabbi.”

The man asked the people, “Whom are you calling rabbi?”

The people pointed to Ben Elazar.

“If this is a rabbi,” said the man, “let there be no more rabbis among the Jews.”

Eventually the man forgave the rabbi after a public apology, and Ben Elazar had learned a humbling lesson.

I have always understood the reply of the man as one of acceptance: “This is who I am, this is how God created me, I am not as lucky as you, but you have to accept me.”

But today I read his words from a totally different point of view.

He is not talking with self-pity but with pride, and he does not regard the rabbi as better, wiser or luckier. The man Ben Elazar encountered drew upon the wisdom of Job who said, in reference to the weak and the poor: “Did not He who made me in my mother’s belly make him? Did not One form us both in the womb?”

What the man was telling Ben Elazar was that they were equals, that they were peers and that the same Creator who created the rabbi in his image also created also the “ugly” man. So who is a truer image of God?

The message is a universal one and it is directed to all mankind. How much better would the world be if we looked at people and thought first of what we have in common with us instead of analyzing how they differ from and are therefore inferior to us?

We are human beings, created in the image of God; we talk and communicate, smile and cry, laugh and get depressed. We feel pity at the sight of a helpless animal and frustration when we can do nothing to help. When we realize how similar we are, the road is open for understanding and for appreciating the unique gifts and talents of every human being.

In this week’s parsha, we read about the purification process of the leper. According to the rabbis, the sin of the leper is the sin of judging the fallacies of others and making them known to all, and most of us, like Ben Elazar, are guilty of engaging in this kind of judgment. The leper is rejected and alienated in order for him to experience, even for a short while, the pain he afflicted upon others by judging and rejecting them. When his process of purification is completed, the Torah commands that “the priest shall order two live clean birds … to be brought for him who is to be cleansed. The priest shall order one of the birds slaughtered … and he shall take the live bird … and dip … in the blood of the bird that was slaughtered … and he shall set the live bird free in the open country.”

This ceremony is shocking and powerful. The bird is an analogy to the neshama, the soul. The slaughtered bird is the person who was offended by the leper, as our sages have taught us that insulting someone in public is tantamount to murder, and the same follows for gossip and calumny.

The live bird, representing the leper, is dipped in the blood to signify that he is stained by that sin. It is sent free in the open country to tell the leper that on one hand he is now cleansed and free to join the community, but that on the other hand he should always remember his past actions and avoid such behavior in the future. He is also told that once he spread the word, it is very difficult to retrieve it and undo the damage, since it is like a bird that can fly freely everywhere.

Let, then, the clean bird of our soul fly free and unstained in the open country, and let it see, from a bird’s-eye view, only the good and positive in our fellow human beings.

Haim Ovadia is rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation.

 

Valuable Art From a Disregarded People


From the Israel Museum in Jerusalem to the Museum of the Negev in Beersheba; from the walls of Reverend Al Sharpton’s home in New York to the mantle of photographer Irene Furtik’s home in Santa Monica, Ethiopian Israeli art has arrived.

Award-winning artist Elaine Galen, whose work has been displayed in prestigious venues across America, describes her favorite Ethiopian Israeli piece — a sandy-colored, miniature clay sculpture that sits atop the fireplace in her living room:

"It’s in the likeness of an Ethiopian rabbi. He has a beard, he’s wearing a kippah on his head, and he has a tallit draped down his back…. His arms are extended in front: His hands come forward, like two hands in prayer, then suddenly become a unit, turning into a plaque that is a symbol of the Torah…. [H]is head is extending up, with his mouth halfway open — as if he knows the words by heart, as if he’s reciting them. It’s beautiful," she said.

Galen immediately bought the sculpture for her private art collection, an eclectic mix following her one guiding principle — good taste in art.

"When I saw this piece," she said, "I saw quality."

The indigenous, noncommercial feel of the art was especially appealing to Galen, and it is a key ingredient in the growing attraction to Ethiopian Israeli pieces sold throughout Israel and abroad.

"Word goes out that this is avant garde art that you can’t find anywhere else," said Michael Jankelowitz, spokesperson of the Jewish Agency for Israel. Drawn to its signature style, he said, Israeli tourists hungrily purchase Ethiopian artwork at galleries and stores across the country.

For numerous Ethiopian artists throughout Israel, artwork is their primary source of income. Some work for an hourly wage at a studio; others work independently from their homes.

One independent artist, who prefers to remain anonymous, has created a well-known line of biblical paintings with all-black figures — from Noah and Moses to Devorah and Miriam. In this way, his art parallels much African American religious art, challenging European-based images of religious history.

The bold colors of his paintings — yellow, green, red, orange and blue — also can be found in the embroidery of Yazazo Aklum, who has several works housed in the Israel Museum’s collection of Ethiopian art. Ora Shwartz-Be’eri, Israel Museum curator, beams as she holds up one of his pieces.

"It’s exceptional," she said passionately.

With its vibrant portrayal of the Ten Commandments, two Lions of Judah with Stars of David, and a dove and rainbow from Noah’s arc, the tapestry is indeed breathtaking. For this reason, it was photographed for the 1994 postcard printed in honor of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

Despite the success of Ethiopian Israeli art, Ethiopian Israeli artists are struggling for power and economic leverage in representing their own work. According to Shlomo Akele, director of Bahalachin Cultural Center for Ethiopian Jews, individual artists are disenfranchised, because there is currently no museum, gallery, or center run by a community member.

Tasamach Tazazo, a retired potter and embroidery artist living in Tel Aviv, agrees.

"We have to take this on ourselves," she said emphatically, "and not let other people manage our artwork." But independence will take time, she adds, being that it is linked to complex social, racial and economic struggles associated with the community’s relatively recent immigration.

"On the one hand, they say we are primitive, even tell us we are not real Jews, and on the other hand they get all excited about our artwork," she explained. "Not everyone. But there are people who have bought my artwork, even turned around and sold it for up to seven times what they paid, and all the while looked down at me as stupid and worthless."

In a conversation with Avital Armoni, the owner of Armoni’s Art, Tazazo’s claims ring true. Among its other art products, Armoni’s company makes magnetic prints of Ethiopian Israeli embroideries — a popular and seemingly lucrative sales item. Though her company profits from the work of Ethiopian Israeli artists, Armoni makes a point of asserting that Ethiopian Jews "are not really Jewish."

In addition to facing battles over their identity, Ethiopian Israeli artists are facing tremendous financial hardships. The Ethiopian community is reportedly the hardest hit by Israel’s economic crisis, and out of desperation for money, many artists tolerate exploitation.

Others turn to Bahalachin for help.

"Our dream is to create a big center in Jerusalem," Akele said in response to the numerous requests he receives. "There are very many talented artists … we just need the framework to support and develop them." That framework, he noted sadly, takes the financial resources not coming to Bahalachin during these hard times.

As an upshot, while the artwork of Ethiopian Jews is enjoying financial success and mainstream acceptance, Ethiopian Israeli artists are struggling for respectful recognition, economic empowerment and self-representation. Ironic though it may seem, art has always been ahead of its time.

Loolwa Khazzoom (

Parents Don’t Kid About Day Schools


After extensive research, campus tours, a detailed application and an interview, Aidan Buckner was recently accepted into the school of his choice. While his parents may have done the legwork, it is Aidan who will enter kindergarten at the Ronald and Trana Labowe Family Day School at Adat Ari El in Valley Village this fall. The 5 1/2-year-old seems unfazed by the upcoming transition, but for his parents, the news marks the end of a long journey.

“We put Aidan on the wait list at Adat Ari El and Valley Beth Shalom when we moved [to Sherman Oaks] when he was 1 1¼2,” remembers Denise Buckner, Aidan’s mom. Since that time, Buckner has gone to numerous day school open houses over the years, sat in on classes and spent countless hours making school-related phone calls.

“I [visited the schools] every year because I felt every year I learned more about who my son was and what kind of person he was,” Buckner said.

Like many Jewish parents in the Southland, Buckner knew she wanted her child to attend Jewish day school, but the process of selecting a school and getting in proved nerve-wracking at times.

With the shaky reputation of local public schools around Los Angeles, many families look to day schools for a solid education. While Jewish schools are eager to accommodate young students, class size limits can make the process feel cutthroat.

Samara Fabrick, a licensed clinical social worker on the Westside, remembers the competitive vibe she felt last year when looking at schools for her 6-year-old son Zachary.

“I kept having to remind myself that we’re not talking about Columbia. We’re not talking about Tufts. This is kindergarten,” said Fabrick, whose son now attends the Geri and Richard Brawerman Elementary School of Wilshire Boulevard Temple.

While her son was accepted to both schools where the family applied, Fabrick’s worries were not completely unfounded, as many schools cannot take every applicant.

“We have only 40 spaces [for kindergarten] and this year we had over 80 applications,” said Maxine Keith, the assistant head of school and director of admissions at Whilshire Boulevard’s Brawerman Elementary.

In addition, since siblings of current students and children from Wilshire’s preschool have priority, it is clear that not everyone is a shoo-in.

Psychologist Lisa Lainer recalls the stress of waiting to see if her daughter, Sophie, now 6, got accepted to Sinai Akiba Academy at Sinai Temple last year. Even through Sophie attended Sinai’s preschool, more preschoolers than there were available spots in the day school kindergarten program that year.

“In part, we felt confident that she’d get in, but then there’s there anxiety of ‘What if I’m wrong?'” Lainer said.

For the Reform and Conservative day schools in Los Angeles, applications are usually due in December and the admissions decision letters usually go out in March. For the Orthodox day schools, admissions are on a rolling basis and most students enter in preschool rather than kindergarten. At Maimonides Academy about 80 percent to 90 percent of the students come through the early childhood program. “We sometimes tell parents to make sure they get in on the preschool level because the classes are jampacked and may be closed by the time pre-one rolls around,” principal Rabbi Karmi Gross said.

Even though many day schools continue to fill up quickly, there is actually a decline in the number of Jewish children in the United States. According to the National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001, only 20 percent of the U.S. Jewish population is 18 and younger, a number that has decreased in the last 10 years. As a result, the number of kindergartners in Los Angeles Jewish day schools has decreased over the last few years, as well.

While getting in can be anxiety-provoking, parents seem to feel the stress is worth it in the end.

“I’m exceedingly happy,” Fabrick said. “We made a great choice and Zach is getting a great education.”

Buckner is excited for Aidan to start kindergarten in September.

“I’m hoping that going to a values-based school is going to change who my son is for the better,” she said.

The Circuit


Film Fest Fun

The succession of subtitles onscreen was riveting and jarring: “The biggest singer in France is Israeli…. Mike Brant looked relaxed and beautiful, except his head was lying in a pool of blood.”

The text flashed across the screen during a teaser for “Mike Brant: Laisse Moi T’aimer,” an Israeli documentary exploring the stormy, short-lived starburst of Brant, an Israeli singer who didn’t even speak fluent French when he took France by storm with his pop hits in the early 1970s. By 1975, at age 28, he fell to his death from the sixth floor of his Paris apartment building in an apparent suicide.

“Mike Brant,” an Israeli 2003 Cannes entry, was one of more than two-dozen cinematic offerings at the 19th Israel Film Festival, a film anthology spotlighting the latest crop of feature-film fiction and documentaries coming out of Israel.

Erez Laufer, director of “Mike Brant,” was one of the honorees at the opening-night gala, held at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences in Beverly Hills. Laufer, during his acceptance speech for the Cinematic Award, told the audience that he was pleased to be at Cannes 33 years to the date of Brant’s first performance on a French TV show.

Israeli filmmakers were, naturally, the focus of the fete, but they weren’t the only ones being honored on opening night. The festival also saluted a couple of local yokels who are doing all right for themselves. Richard Riordan, former L.A. mayor and prospective newspaper publisher, introduced Humanitarian Award-recipient Larry King. Marvel Entertainment’s Avi Arad presented the Visionary Award to Laura Ziskin.

Ziskin, who previously had a hand in “Pretty Woman” and “Fight Club,” said, “I work under the motto that movies aren’t made. They’re forced into existence.”

Meir Fenigstein, festival founder and executive director, shared his incredulity over his event reaching the big 19. He spoke highly of the “challenge bringing the unique films and creativity of Israeli filmmakers to the U.S.A.”

“The festival allows us to see Israel without the politics,” said Kobi Oshrat, the Israel Consulate’s cultural attaché. “It shows what Israeli society is all about.”

This year’s festival, which runs through June 8, highlights films like “Slaves of the Lord,” another Cannes entry; and festival opener “All I’ve Got,” a macabre romantic comedy written and directed by Keren Margalit, which was screened at the gala opening and underscored the special “Reflections of Women” category.

Following the screening of “All I’ve Got,” The Circuit chatted with Ronit Reichman, a Tel Aviv University graduate and the producer of “Under Water,” who is in the process of relocating her Tamuz Productions to Los Angeles, where she will produce a three-part documentary on Islamic terrorism. The Circuit also caught up with Laufer, also a Tel Aviv University alum.

“In France, there’s a big ’70s revival right now, so people were ready for this film,” Laufer said of his Cannes reception. For Laufer, chronicling the life of the late Brant was “a journey to try and piece it together from what people say, from archive footage. You try to find the person.”

Also in attendance: L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky; “Wisdom of the Pretzel” producer Shai Werker-Option; “In the Ninth Month” writer-director Ali Nassar and star Nissrin Faour; “Return From India” producer Evgeny Afineevsky; “Local Hero in Jerusalem Beach” director Natali Eskinazim; David Lipkind, Israel Film Fund executive director; Meital Dohan, star of “God’s Sandbox,” and the film’s producer, Yoav Halevy; and Arthur Hiller, director of the original “The In-Laws,” who — with Arnon Milchan, Mike Medavoy, Michael Fuchs, Peter Chernin, Sumner Redstone, Sherry Lansing, Ron Meyer, Joe Roth, Terry Semel, Haim Saban, Steven Spielberg, Ted Turner and Jack Valenti — comprised the impressive roster of honorary chairs and co-chairs for 2003’s Festival.

For more information on the 19th Israel Film Festival, call (877) 966-5566 or visit www.israelfilmfestival.com .

Christmas Takes


As a young Jewish student in the ’60s, Robin Siegal believed that Chanukah was basically ignored in the public schools she attended, which included Hamilton High School. "It was like there was this big birthday party for Jesus, and I wasn’t invited," remembered the Beverlywood resident, now the mother of three.

With two of her children now attending Hamilton and her third at the Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies (LACES), Siegal is relieved to see acknowledgment of diversity within the Los Angeles public school system.

While religion is not a part of public school curriculum the way it is in a parochial schools, these days most schools acknowledge the various winter holidays like Chanukah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and Ramadan. Often, holiday traditions are incorporated into lesson plans. But does Chanukah get equal billing?

"I don’t believe we favor either Chanukah or Christmas," said Jennifer Noblett, principal of Hawthorne School in the Beverly Hills Unified School District. "We try to celebrate everyone’s diversity, customs and traditions, because sometimes family traditions aren’t really related to religious affiliation."

At Paul Revere Charter Middle School in Brentwood, there are no Christmas trees or menorahs adorning the walls at holiday time. "We just don’t do those things," said principal Teresa Riddle. She said some of the administrative offices may have winter displays, but nothing that blatantly promotes any holiday.

Like many other Los Angeles schools, Revere students will perform in a winter musical with Christmas, Chanukah and Kwanzaa music. The Christmas tunes, Riddle said, will consist mostly of "nonsectarian songs about winter and snowmen."

Publicist Carol Eisner, whose three children are among students at LACES and Hamilton, has also noticed changes in cultural acceptance since her school days.

"There’s so much more openness about being Jewish in a nonsectarian environment," said Eisner, who lives in the Pico-Robertson area. "Before, it was like you’re a Jew singing Christmas songs, and that’s how it’s going to be."

"Now the word ‘holiday’ is pervasive," she said. "It’s a general word that includes everybody."

Instead of calling the late-December extended vacation a "Christmas break," many schools call it "winter break" or "winter recess."

As a public school advocate, Rabbi Marc Dworkin of Leo Baeck Temple and the Progressive Jewish Alliance agreed that the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) appears to respect diversity now more than ever. However, he suggested that Jewish parents check with their children and remind them of the significance of their roots.

"The first step is to make sure that your children understand the deeper meaning of the holiday of Chanukah and not just the commercial aspects that compete with Christmas," Dworkin said. "Also, in a system [as large as LAUSD] … you can’t safeguard against every comment or every incident."

Siegal, a social worker, believes that educating her children about Chanukah also means expressing the realities of American society. "Our culture is not balanced and [as Jews], we’re definitely the minority," she said.

Siegal does not expect public schools to give Chanukah "equal time." In addition, she believes that the predominately gentile public school community should not be responsible for teaching her children about Judaism. Her solution is to supplement her children’s education by sending them to Pressman Academy of Temple Beth Am.

Still, Susan Kogan, the assistant principal at Third Street Elementary School in Hancock Park, said her school believes it is important to teach the children about holidays from a cultural, rather than religious perspective. "Several of our non-Jewish teachers actually make potato pancakes for the kids on Chanukah," she said.

Thanksgiving’s Jewish Roots


The Pilgrims of New Salem, Mass., were so moved by the stories of the ancient Israelites that they thought of America as their Zion and New Salem as their Jerusalem. They based their first Thanksgiving celebration on the pilgrimages the Jews were commanded to make to Jerusalem on Sukkot. There, the Israelites offered the first wheat and barley of their fall harvest to the Temple.

A Different Pilgrim

Here’s another idea of something to do during your Thanksgiving break — read the story or watch the video of “Molly’s Pilgrim.” It is based on the children’s book by Barbara Cohen (Lothrop Lee & Shepard) and winner of a 1985 Academy Award. It tells the story of a young Russian Jewish immigrant who comes to America with her parents to escape religious persecution. Instead of acceptance, Molly finds a group of insensitive classmates who make fun of her. A lesson is learned that “it takes all kinds of pilgrims to make a Thanksgiving.”

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