Wednesday, March 29
Tonight it’s sex, drugs and a night at the Writers Bloc. Authors and cultural icons Erica Jong (“Fear of Flying”) and Jerry Stahl (“Permanent Midnight”) converse about writing at the Skirball.
7:30 p.m. $20. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Step inside to view the Getty Garden — as photographed by Becky Cohen — at the Persimmon gallery. Lovely permanent pigment prints from transparencies Cohen shot for the book “Robert Irwin Getty Garden” are on view through April 22.
310 N. Flores St., Los Angeles. (323) 951-9540.
Friday, March 31
“Methodfest,” the only film festival “dedicated to the actor,” opens tonight and continues through April 7. Count on panels, tributes, workshops, galas and plenty of self-importance. But you can also catch a few intriguing indie flicks, including tonight’s opening coming-of-age film, “Dreamland,” starring Agnes Bruckner, John Corbett and Gina Gershon, among others.
Woodland Hills and Calabasas. Prices vary. ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>
Spectator – Make Room for the Jammys
Pupils Vote Yes on Democratic School
Under a classroom’s fluorescent lights, students and teachers scramble to find seats. An important “Parliament session” is under way as together, they hammer out a plan for allocating the school’s activities budget.
The scene is the Hadera Democratic School in Israel, where students take an equal role in deciding not only how and what to study but how the school is run.
As they debate how to spend the $27,000 activities budget, one student writes in neat letters at the top of the blackboard, “order of speakers.” A debate soon breaks out over how much money to spend on the school’s music department, and whether it’s worth purchasing additional acoustic equipment.
Next, the drama teacher asks for additional funds to allow students to see professional theater productions.
One by one, everyone in the room is heard. After much wrangling, a budget is produced for the school year.
The Hadera Democratic School, which receives funding from both public and private sources, was the first of its kind in Israel. Since its founding in 1987 in this city about 60 kilometers north of Tel Aviv, 23 other schools have opened around the country based on its model of democratic education, in which student participation and choice is emphasized.
With its relatively large number of democratic schools, Israel is considered a groundbreaker and leader in the field internationally.
There is growing interest in alternative schools in Israel, where the public school system is mired in a crisis born of poor teaching and disciplinary problems. The Hadera Democratic School has 350 students, with hundreds more on a waiting list.
Most of the students are secular and come from a variety of economic backgrounds. Scholarships help students from poorer families pay the annual tuition of approximately $1,200.
Among the school’s most famous alumni is Gal Fridman, the windsurfer who won Israel’s first Olympic gold medal in 2004.
Based on the idea that children are naturally curious and want to learn, the democratic schools focus on respecting the individual. There is close teacher-student interaction, and teachers — called “educators” by the students — mentor 15 students, in addition to their classroom duties.
With their elders’ help, students guide their own education. The goal is to instill in children the notion that they’re responsible for their choices.
There are no required classes, no grades or required tests. Staff and students are treated as equals and share in school decisions, sitting on a variety of committees that range from the school parliament to a teacher selection committee and a field trip committee.
Teachers say the committees are a key part of the education, teaching students how to analyze situations and make choices: “All these things they normally never have a chance to do,” said Aviva Golan, one of the teachers.
On the field trip committee, for example, it’s the students who hire the bus, organize the food and choose where to go.
Golan, who taught in a traditional school before coming to the Hadera Democratic School, no longer believes in conventional education.
“It’s bankrupt, and I believe children only learn from choice, not when they’re forced,” she said.
At traditional schools, she said, “I saw how I fought with kids instead of teaching them — the whole time telling them to be quiet. I believe kids need to move and play. It’s where the real things happen for them.”
The school itself hums with activity. Everywhere, students — from preschoolers to high school seniors — seem to be on the move. One girl reads a novel on a wooden bench. There are children juggling in the courtyard, while others bounce on pogo sticks.
On break, a group of boys plays soccer in the long sandy field in the center of the campus’ brightly painted buildings. Other students work in the computer lab, housed underground in a concrete bomb shelter.
Mike Moss, 17, came to the school as a disgruntled 11-year-old who was bored and restless in his regular school. He soon felt stimulated in the Hadera school and became active in the music and drama departments.
“I feel I would not be doing half the things I am doing here — preparing for matriculation, the music, the friendships — if I had stayed at regular school,” he said.
However, the Hadera school isn’t for everyone, Moss explained. He said students at the school need self-discipline and open minds.
Chen Shoham, 17, said the school has taught her to take responsibility for her education and her life.
“It’s about freedom as an individual and freedom of choice,” she said. “I do what I want and what I need to do. I’m responsible for my life.”
Shoham sits on the budget committee and helps oversee the budget requests each class submits.
“I’ve learned about priorities,” she said.
Traditional subjects such as math, English and history are taught, but it’s up to the students to decide if they’ll take them. Those who want to can study for the high school matriculation exam, which they need to pass with the highest possible marks to get into college.
The school’s principal, Rami Abramovich, said the students do well on the matriculation exam, but the school doesn’t keep data on how many students pass, because it doesn’t consider the matriculation exam a proper measure of whether a student has been educated well.
Students at the school speak of the value of learning outside of class — from philosophical conversations about the meaning of life to playing in a jazz band.
In contrast to the mainstream Israeli school system, there’s hardly any violence at the Hadera Democratic School.
“It’s because kids don’t feel the need to rebel against anything,” Shoham said.
Parents say they’re relieved to have found a setting where their children can thrive academically and socially.
“We think that regular public schools limit children,” said Hadass Gertman, a performance artist whose 8-year-old daughter attends the Hadera Democratic School. “We heard of children going through very bad experiences in public school, and we wanted her to enjoy learning, to enjoy school.”
Sitting outside the small, detached concrete building where he teaches 4- to 6-year-olds, Ron Vangrick spoke of being drawn to the job after growing disappointed with the mainstream educational framework.
“Education is going through a deep crisis because of a lack of relevance of what were once traditional goals,” such as treating others with respect, he said.
He believes that the unique atmosphere at the Hadera Democratic School contributes to the learning process.
“There’s a feeling of home here,” he explained. “It’s a relatively small place. There’s an atmosphere of living within a tribe. Kids of different ages are together and interact with respect and warmth. There is a feeling of childhood that is very powerful here.”
Abramovich, the principal, said the school works because it allows children to discover their own strengths. There’s learning in everything, he said — from the geometry of passing the ball on the soccer field to the negotiations behind staging a school play.
“Every child has his path and rhythm,” he stressed. “It’s a matter of finding it.”
Parent Wins School Pesticide Battle
Big Sunday Gets Big Boost From City
Big Sunday began in 1999 with 300 Jewish volunteers devoted to a day of good works. That was impressive in a city notorious for lack of civic involvement — but that was just the beginning.
What started as Mitzvah Day for congregants of Temple Israel of Hollywood gradually spread across the city and beyond the Jewish community, with 8,000 participants from all socio-economic and religious backgrounds working on 150 different projects last year. Now the event has taken another big leap — suddenly, Big Sunday is the business of the city of Los Angeles.
This year, Los Angeles assumes the headline role in sponsoring the May 7 event. The planning began officially last week at Temple Israel. About 170 attended, including about 30 representatives of city government, among them Larry Frank, deputy mayor of neighborhood and community services.
Frank said that the mayor’s office would “like to help the whole city do what you’ve been doing for the past seven years.”
“We want this to be as big as the marathon, as big as the Grammys,” he said. “We want everyone to be able to participate.”
This year, as a result of the city partnership, event founder David Levinson expects as many as 25,000 volunteers.
“Do the math,” he said at the planning meeting. “We had 8,000 last year. Mayor Villaraigosa’s citywide day of service in October drew 7,500. That’s already over 15,000.”
The variety of projects last year was diverse, ranging from bathing rescued basset hounds to furnishing apartments for the homeless. Some volunteers painted murals and planted a garden at Grand View Elementary School in Mar Vista, while another crew in the kitchen made casseroles to freeze and distribute to AIDS victims.
“My honest belief is that everyone wants to help and everyone can help,” said Levinson, a playwright and TV writer who still chairs the event.
“If someone says they can’t make it because they have a 1-year-old, I tell them to bring [the baby] to a nursing home. All she has to do is breathe, and she’ll make the residents happy,” Levinson said. “We had a blind theater group washing cars. At a party we threw for low-income seniors, one of the activities was making silk flowers for shut-ins at a nursing home.
“It’s not about the haves helping the have-nots,” he explained. “It’s about everyone working together.”
Last year’s participants hailed from more than 100 synagogues (all denominations from Reform to Orthodox to Reconstructionist), churches, schools, offices and clubs, as well as hundreds of individuals and families. They worked on almost 150 different projects from Acton to Anaheim.
As book captain, Racelle Schaefer, a Temple Israel member who has volunteered every year, spends months organizing book drives at schools.
“We also get donations of new children’s books from Houghton Mifflin,” she said. “Last year we distributed over 8,000 books throughout the city on Big Sunday.”
Corporate, private and organizational donors underwrite the day, including Temple Israel. The budget this year is $450,000. The city’s participation will include providing security, busing and street closures. Additional donors are both welcomed and needed, Levinson said.
“I have absolutely no idea how we’ll pay for it this year,” he added. “It’s a cliff-hanger, but we always figure something out.”
An improved Web site will make coordination easier. Volunteers can click on a listed project and get an automatic confirmation, map, contact person and any special instructions.
“I see Big Sunday as an appetizer platter for volunteers,” said Sherry Marks, vice chair and volunteer coordinator. “There are hundreds of worthy nonprofits that need our people. If you wanted, you could start at 7 a.m. and work at four or five different sites during the day.
“You could make meals at a shelter, take senior citizens out to tea or provide makeovers for women who are re-entering the work force,” she continued. “[The volunteering] often works as a catalyst, getting people to make an ongoing commitment to a particular organization.”
For more information visit www.bigsunday.org
Cary Kalter and Meg Pirymoglu
Where the Boys Aren’t
The Chanukah party for Adat Ari El’s junior United Synagogue Youth group had all the elements the seventh- and eighth-grade members had requested: latkes, a gift exchange and a fierce board game competition. Yet, said, Julee Snitzer, the synagogue’s youth activities director, of the 13 who participated — only two were male.
Her experience is not unusual. Many of the informal Jewish education activities geared to teens in the greater Los Angeles area — such as camps, synagogue youth groups, school clubs and Jewish community centers — draw more girls than boys. The ratio in formal Jewish activities, such as Jewish high school and religious school, appears to be more gender balanced.
“Looking at what’s happening locally and nationally, we’ve found that fewer teen boys enroll in informal Jewish activities than they did in previous years,” said Lori Harrison Port, senior associate director for planning and allocations at The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles.
A survey done by her department showed that informal Jewish education programs generally attract 60 percent girls and 40 percent boys. The lack of participation among boys could lead to a weakening of their Jewish affiliation over time, some fear.
A special report analyzing results from the National Jewish Population Survey of 2000-01 indicates that participation in camping and youth groups may impact Jewish identity as much as or more than attending up to six years of supplementary religious school. The impact is directly linked to the length of involvement in those youth-oriented activities.
Last fall, The Federation and the Bureau of Jewish Education hosted a conference for Jewish youth professionals to explore the issue and generate ideas for cultivating greater male involvement in informal Jewish activities. Held at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley, the program was an outgrowth of the bureau’s Youth Professional Advisory Council, which facilitates sharing of ideas and resources for those serving Jewish teens.
Keynote speaker Bob Ditter, a Boston-based psychotherapist who consults nationally with camps and other youth-targeted agencies, shared insights about boys’ development and led attendees in discussing how to design their programming and marketing to attract boys.
“The central [element] in boys’ development is task and action. Boys want to feel that they’re good at something,” Ditter said. “Boys develop friendships through the stuff they do. Girls develop friendships and then go do stuff.”
Ditter said that boys engage in activities — such as tossing a ball or comparing video games — as a way to connect. He suggested that youth group leaders and counselors allow boys to do an activity first before expecting them to sit and talk.
He also urged group leaders to recognize that boys initiate connection through a challenge or dare. For example, Ditter witnessed a teen participant make a sarcastic comment to his counselor at a camp’s opening campfire. Rather than feeling threatened or insulted by such remarks, leaders “need to hear the invitation [to engage] rather than the challenge” he said.
“It’s a myth that adolescents distrust or don’t respect adults,” he added. “They’re hungry for meaningful connections to adults they respect and feel respected by.”
The group also discussed the underlying pressures that children of all ages face to compete and excel, whether that means getting into the right preschool or taking the most Advanced Placement courses.
“At social events, they just want to hang out,” Ditter said. “They need to depressurize.”
Looking at how these factors might affect marketing to teen boys, the conference participants agreed that programs — and their promotional materials — must reflect teens’ reality and clearly state the benefits of participation, such as providing community service hours or leadership opportunities.
Ellie Klein, Wilshire Boulevard Temple youth director, noted that many students are attracted to participate in the synagogue’s Wednesday night program, which consists of dinner, a recreational elective and a Jewish-themed seminar, because there is excellent tutoring available through the program’s supervised study room.
Wilshire Boulevard bucks the norm by attracting more boys than girls at its programs. Klein said she’s baffled by the male-to-female ratio, although it helps that eight of her 11 staff members are men and one of the synagogue’s rabbis, Dennis Eisner, is popular with the youngsters and actively recruits participants.
“I’m not selling basketball,” she said. “I’m selling community and connection.”
Temple Sinai’s Sinai High, an educational program for eighth through 12th-graders that draws from the synagogue’s religious school graduates, also boasts a good ratio between boys and girls. Rabbi Brian Schuldenfrei, who oversees youth programs, said programming is specifically geared to attract boys. As an example, he noted a popular series of classes that examined Jewish values as evidenced in “The Simpsons.”
Schuldenfrei said the trend of females outnumbering males is not limited to the teen realm. Sinai’s ATID group for young professionals in their 20s and 30s struggles to attract a male audience. For Sukkot, ATID held a Sukkah Sports Night, offering a televised game and beer, as well as a holiday teaching under the sukkah, and was rewarded with more male participants than normal. Schuldenfrei said that programming “needs to speak to males, as well as females.”
This advice may apply throughout the age spectrum. “In liberal communities,” said Rabbi Karen Fox of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, “60 percent to 70 percent of people participating in adult education are women.”
Abramoff Linked to Jewish Ventures
Reading the indictment against Jack Abramoff, one might not know that he was prominent in Washington Jewish circles. But in coming months, his ties with Jewish and Israeli organizations may emerge as a prominent piece in the lobbyist’s web of questionable activities.
Last week, Abramoff pleaded guilty to multiple felony counts in Washington and Miami as part of a settlement in which he agreed to cooperate with federal prosecutors in their ongoing government corruption probe. In the Washington case, the 46-year-old lobbyist admitted defrauding at least four Indian tribes of tens of millions of dollars, enticing government officials with bribes and evading taxes. In the Miami case, Abramoff pleaded guilty to conspiracy and fraud stemming from his purchase of a fleet of casino boats.
While Abramoff is best known as a political wheeler-dealer, he also was a player in the Jewish community of the nation’s capital, starting several short-lived, money-losing ventures to fill what he perceived as religious gaps in the city’s Jewish world.
He also used his largess to further Israeli businesses and charities that appealed to his conservative worldview. Some of these activities have come to light in connection with the cases outlined in the federal indictments.
Specifically, Abramoff allegedly using money from a Washington charity he oversaw to fund military-style programs in the West Bank. Indian tribes donated money to tax-exempt charities, believing they were supporting anti-gambling foundations, but the money was redirected to help a “sniper school” in the West Bank, operated by a friend of Abramoff.
According to congressional documents, Abramoff sought night-vision goggles and a vehicle for the sniper-training facility.
Abramoff also allegedly worked on behalf of an Israeli firm that sought to wire the Capitol for cellular phone use. While leading cell phone manufacturers in the United States settled on JGC Wireless to install antennas in repeaters in House buildings, an Israeli company with ties to Abramoff, Foxcom Wireless, ultimately won the bid.
The switch is allegedly linked to Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Administration Committee, who accepted numerous favors from Abramoff over the years, and placed comments in the Congressional Record favorable to Abramoff’s ventures.
Foxcom didn’t pay Abramoff to lobby for the House job, but it did donate $50,000 to the Capitol Athletic Foundation, an Abramoff charity, the Washington Post reported.
Foxcom has changed its name to MobileAccess and moved its headquarters to Virginia. A spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.
Abramoff also has been tied to two rabbis, the Lapin brothers from South Africa, who aided his political and personal ventures. David Lapin was hired to run a Jewish school Abramoff created in suburban Maryland to teach his children and others.
Lapin also received close to $1.2 million to promote “ethics in government” to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, one of Abramoff’s clients. Officials on the island said Lapin did little for the money.
His brother, Daniel Lapin, is president of Toward Tradition. Abramoff allegedly asked him to create an award to bestow upon Abramoff to help his acceptance into Washington’s Cosmos Club. Abramoff suggested he could be a “scholar of Talmudic studies” or a “distinguished biblical scholar.”
Lapin said yes, according to e-mails obtained by congressional investigators, and asked whether Abramoff needed a letter or a plaque. Lapin told the Washington Post he meant the exchange to be tongue-in-cheek and never produced an award for Abramoff.
Two other Abramoff aides moved to Israel last year as investigators continued their probe. Sam Hook and his wife, Shana Tesler, both worked at Abramoff’s law firm and had been cooperating with investigators before moving to Israel in July, according to The Hill, a Washington newspaper. The Orthodox Jews had long planned to move to Israel, their attorney said last year.
Abramoff also made contributions to several Jewish lawmakers, among numerous congressmen Abramoff and his associates help finance. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) donated $7,000 — the amount he received from Abramoff — to charity last week.
A spokesman for Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) did not respond to questions about his own donation from Abramoff — in the amount of $1,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings.
In Washington, Abramoff was well-known for the idiosyncratic use of his money. He shunned other religious schools in the area, choosing to open Eshkol Academy specifically for his children’s education.
The school closed within two years, and several teachers say they are owed back pay. David Lapin, the school’s dean, was not an active administrator, former teachers said.
Abramoff also opened several kosher restaurants that failed quickly. Stacks, a deli, was welcomed by the city’s Jewish community, but never made money. A more formal restaurant upstairs, Archives, never stayed open for more than a few weeks at a time.
Some Jewish professionals found it noteworthy that the Abramoff that appeared outside a Washington courthouse Jan. 3 — with a long, double-breasted black coat and black hat — resembled a devout Jew on his way to Shabbat services. In a New York Times interview last year, Abramoff compared himself to the biblical character Jacob, saying his involvement in lobbying was similar to Jacob’s taking the identity of his brother, Esau. A spokesman for Abramoff later told JTA his client was misquoted.
Our first annual big list o’ mensches
Families, Singles Get Ready to Set Sail
The leaves have turned, the days are shorter and Chanukah, the holiday of lights, glimmers ahead. With the winter looming, juicy possibilities await, with plenty of exotic, warm weather options. So go ahead and plan your first big escape of 2006. Or surprise a loved one by booking a post-Chanukah adventure. This might just be the trip of a lifetime.
Amazing Journeys offers a last-minute solution for single travelers in their 20s, 30s and 40s looking to ring in 2006 abroad. Sponsored in conjunction with the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, the program brings together Jewish singles Dec. 24 aboard a seven-night voyage on Celebrity Cruise’s Constellation from San Juan, Puerto Rico. The trip concludes with a bonus night and New Year’s Eve party at the El San Juan Resort. Ports of call include Aruba, Dominica and Curacao.
Price includes all meals (nonkosher), accommodations, gratuities, port charges and exclusive Amazing Journeys onboard events. An additional two-night, precruise stay at the Wyndam Condado Plaza Hotel and Casino starts at $369, tax and gratuity included.
Dates: Dec. 24-Jan. 1
Cost: $1,999 (double occupancy)
For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>JSinglesCruise.com.
Kosherica Cruises, which is known for its tradition of on-board concerts with Dudu Fisher, Mordechai Ben David and other performers, offers families opportunities to travel on the same ship as JSinglesCruisers. Activities include lectures with renowned speakers, such as Rabbi Maurice Lamm, as well as Israeli folk dance classes for women led by Dassie Shuster.
Additional upcoming itineraries for 2006 include the Panama Canal in February to exploring the Baltic in August and Australia and New Zealand next December. During the course of the year, Kosherica will also cruise South America.
For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>ClubKosher.com or call (866) 567-4372.
Combine the beauty of Torah study with a tropical paradise during the third annual Kol Echad study program on the Hawaiian island of Maui. Kol Echad, a nondenominational community education program “without boundaries,” is teaming up with the Jewish Congregation of Maui for a weeklong Torah study intensive. No prior knowledge is necessary.
Instructors include Rabbi Yitzhak Schwartz of Jerusalem, founder of the Paradise Principal Institute, who will be teaching a course titled, “10 Sefirot — The Tree of Life: Accessing Our Own Divine Energy,” kabbalah-based techniques for personal growth. Rabbi Jonathan Feldman, associate director of Manhattan Jewish Experience, will present “Kabbalah of Bereshit: Biblical Personalities as Paradigms for Personal Quest.”
Most classes are held daily for about an hour and a half , with free time available for popular Maui attractions, such as scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing, hiking, golf, tennis and bike-riding the 10,000-foot Haleakala crater.
Donation includes a kosher Shabbat dinner, one meal daily, whale watch, guided beachside meditation, singles mixer and a cocktail reception showcasing the work of local Jewish artists.
Dates: Feb. 19-26
Cost: $630 (singles), $900 (couples) suggested donation for program.
For more information and assistance with flight and accommodations, which are booked independently, visit
Choose Your Own Cruise Adventure
L.A. Enters the Season of Mitzvot
Christmas Day is the day of the year which some Jews often fill by doing some mitzvah volunteer work, then enjoying Chinese food and a movie. But that annual mitzvah-Chinese food-movie ritual is being put aside this Dec. 25 for Chanukah.
“Chanukah makes it a big deal because now Jews have something to do that day,” said Rachael Martin, program coordinator at Westwood’s Conservative shul, Sinai Temple.
This year, traditional Christmas Day volunteering is being spread out across December. The shul’s ATID young adult leadership group’s annual Dec. 25 Mitzvah Day is being merged with templewide volunteering on Dec. 18, the formal start of Sinai’s yearlong centennial anniversary.
The young leadership division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles visited the elderly at the Fairfax District’s Shalom Retirement Hotel on Dec. 11, with music by madrigal singers from Beverly Hills High School. A week earlier, Sinai hosted a holiday party for several hundred soldiers and their families at the California National Guard compound in Westwood.
The Reform Temple Israel of Hollywood still will host its annual Christmas Day dinner at the nearby Hollywood United Methodist Church. Like the last 21 Christmases, about 200 Temple Israel volunteers are expected to join another 250 nontemple volunteers to feed more than 1,500 people in need, as well as give out toys to kids and health-care products to adults.
In addition, Temple Israel member David Levinson, chair of the Jewish community’s annual “Big Sunday” spring day of volunteering, has been coordinating Christmas mitzvah work throughout December.
“We’ve been doing things all month, since Thanksgiving,” Levinson said. “We have about 30 projects of our own through New Year’s Day.”
Away from Southern California, the still-pressing needs of Hurricane Katrina victims are on the holiday wish list. Last month, Rabbi Steve Jacobs of the Reform synagogue, Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills, visited Katrina victims still homeless in Houston.
“There’s so much that’s not being done about Katrina,” Jacobs said. “We have to have Chanukah and Christmas come together and not let the lights go out in these people’s lives.”
One Kol Tikvah congregant heeding that advice is Jacob Margolis, a 16-year-old student at El Camino High School. For three days this week, Jacobs planned to raise Katrina relief donations from his fellow students, partly by making his pitch at lunch over the public address system.
“Get on the PA, put on some music, talk to the people,” said Margolis, adding that his Katrina pitch would be heard, ironically, amid the student body’s Santa Claus picture-taking.
From last January’s Asian tsunami through September’s Katrina disaster, Jewish donations have been pouring into emergency relief funds. The downside of such altruism is that local nonprofits have been hurt.
“We kept hearing the same thing from the nonprofits,” Levinson said. “A lot of the nonprofits here are really hurting, and they could use help this year. A lot of the homeless here are still really suffering, partly because a lot of the funding for that has dried up. They’re not getting quite the donations that they used to.”
Before Chanukah begins, Sinai Temple’s Martin also will spend part of Christmas Day at the Salvation Army shelter in Echo Park.
“We don’t need volunteers [at that shelter] on Christmas,” she said. “But we need them every other day of the year.”
Rabbi Mark Diamond, executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California, said the “great confluence” of Christmas and Chanukah being so close to each other means Jews should do volunteer work on Dec. 25 before Chanukah starts later that day. Diamond and his family will spend Christmas at Pasadena’s Union Station, feeding the poor.
“The mitzvah we will do earlier in the day will enhance our Chanukah observance,” said Diamond, who then pointed out that Chanukah’s menorah-lighting is itself a mitzvah, prompting him to paraphrase a Talmudic precept: “One mitzvah leads to another mitzvah.”
For this holiday season, “there’s stuff to do all month long,” Levinson said. Some of that volunteer “stuff” being coordinated by Big Sunday includes:
- Dec. 17 — The “big holiday party” for at-risk teens at the Aviva Center in Hollywood.
- Dec. 18 — The ninth annual Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa party at the Umoja apartment complex for previously homeless families in South Los Angeles.
- Dec. 17 and Dec. 23-25 — Gift-wrapping and preparation for the Christmas Day party for the homeless at St. Michael and All Angels Church in Studio City.
See full roster of Big Sunday holiday activities at
Agencies Join to Aid Special-Needs Kids
Sally Weber never felt so alone.
Nearly three decades ago, she learned her daughter had a severe language disorder that hindered her development. Besides dealing with the shock of having a child with special needs, Weber found little solace in the local Jewish community that had hitherto had given her so much joy.
At the time, Southland temples and institutions offered no Jewish camps, day schools or programming for special-needs children and their families. In Jewish circles, as in society at large, children with developmental disorders such as autism, Asperger’s syndrome and cerebral palsy were often seen as burdens to bear, rather than as joys to celebrate.
“I was completely isolated,” said Weber, now director of Jewish Family Service’s Jewish Community Programs. “There was no place to go as a parent.”
Thanks to her and two other Jewish communal professionals with special-needs children of their own, local Jewish families grappling with similar issues now have somewhere to turn for help.
In November, The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles brought together seven other agencies, including, the Bureau of Jewish Education of Greater Los Angeles, the Jewish Free Loan Association and Etta Israel Center, to create Hamercaz, a central resource for Jewish families raising special-needs children under 22.
The brainchild of Weber and Michelle Wolf, The Federation’s assistant director of planning and allocations — whose 11-year-old son has cerebral palsy — Hamercaz, or the center, offers a variety of services through its partner agencies, ranging from interest-free loans for diagnostic testing to support groups for overwhelmed parents to Shabbat dinners for children with special needs.
“Before the creation of Hamercaz, a person would have to make several phone calls or talk to friends of friends of friends to get what they needed,” said Wolf, who along with Weber, works part time on the Hamercaz project. “Now, you can get it all in one place.”
To access available services, parents can call the toll-free number, (866) 287-8030, and discuss their situation with Hamercaz’s program coordinator Amy Bryman. A licensed social worker, Bryman makes referrals to partner and other service agencies and later follows up with a phone call. In the program’s first six weeks, she received 30 calls from parents.
“It makes me feel good to see parents getting help with their newly diagnosed children,” said Bryman, the mother of a 6-year-old son with autism.
Some of the partner agencies and the services offered include:
- Jewish Free Loan offers interest-free loans up to $10,000 to help finance diagnostic tests, therapy and treatment for children with autism and other special needs.
- Jewish Family Service has a program that sends trained volunteers into the homes of families with special-needs children to perform any number of tasks, including taking children to the park to give parents a respite.
- The Bureau of Jewish Education refers parents to Jewish schools that can accommodate their children’s needs. The bureau also holds lectures throughout the year addressing such topics as autism and how to get proper diagnostic testing.
- The appearance of Hamercaz comes at a time when autism and other developmental disorders appear on the rise. Locally, an estimated 6,000 Jewish families in greater Los Angeles have children with developmental or severe learning disabilities, according to Jewish groups. Nationally, one in 166 newborns has autism, the Autism Society of America said. Based on statistics from the U.S. Department of Education and other government agencies, autism is growing at a rate of 10 percent to 17 percent a year, the Autism Society added.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that affects the normal functioning of the brain. People with autism typically have problems with verbal communication, social interaction and play activities.
Hamercaz got its start with the help of a $48,700 grant from the Jewish Community Foundation of Los Angeles. That money has allowed the center to hire Bryman for 15 hours a week and has also paid for a media campaign.
Support from Rabbi Mark Diamond has also helped get the word out. The executive vice president of the Board of Rabbis of Southern California recently sent letters out to the group’s 270 member rabbis, encouraging them to promote Hamercaz to their congregations.
“Sadly, for too many years, families were told, ‘Your child can’t get a Jewish education. Sorry, your child can’t go to a Jewish day school,'” said Diamond, who has worked with children with special needs for more than 25 years. “I think it’s a sacred mandate of the Jewish community to take care of our own, and that means taking care of each and every one of our children.”
On April 2, The Federation will host a fair for Jewish parents of children with special needs at the New Jewish Community Center at Milken in West Hills from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Representatives of all partner agencies will be in attendance. For more information on the event or Hamercaz, contact Michelle Wolf at MWolf@JewishLA.org.
Preschool Project Strives to Educate All
Choose Your Own Cruise Adventure
Cruising isn’t what it used to be. And to the more than 10 million people who took to the high seas last year, that’s a good thing.
While cruising used to be considered a venue for “the newly wed or nearly dead,” 21st century cruising is attracting an entirely new audience, according to Tom Margiotti of Cruise One, a cruise broker. Margiotti sees the average traveler as more experienced, better read and more sophisticated than ever before.
“Cruise lines have done a fantastic job of figuring out what their customers want, and giving it to them,” he said.
This includes providing an unprecedented range of choices in everything from dining to special interest activities to meet that demand.
In surveying a cross section of cruise lines, from mid to high end, here are the latest trends in cruising:
Dining Your Way
It used to be that first or second seating were your only options when it came to dining. Not any more. Princess Cruises offer guests a choice of dining in the ship’s main dining room, or in one of several themed freestanding restaurants onboard. Norwegian Cruise Lines “freestyle” program takes that idea a step further, allowing passengers to dine whenever they like with whomever they choose. And the traditional formal night is now “formal optional.”
You don’t have to gain weight on a cruise unless you really want to. The majority of cruise lines now feature a menu of healthful selections at every meal, including vegetarian entrees.
Spas at Sea
Luxury spas, with a full range of exotic treatment options, are becoming commonplace on new ships. Fitness facilities have evolved as well, now often comparable to full-service land-based fitness centers, complete with personal trainers and the latest work out equipment.
Interested in rock climbing? Feel like shooting a few hoops or strapping on your roller blades? You can do all that, and more, aboard many of today’s newer ships. For example, Royal Caribbean’s Voyager-class ships offer guests a rock-climbing wall, ice skating rink, in-line skating track, basketball court, golf course and virtual golf simulator.
Adventures Aboard and Ashore
If you think the typical shopping and sight-seeing excursions sound ho-hum, you have options. How about scuba diving, snorkeling, dog-sledding, sea-kayaking, white-water rafting, mountain biking, helicopter glacier adventure, fishing, hot-air ballooning, and golfing at world-class golf courses? Weaving eco-tourism and soft-adventure opportunities into cruise itineraries is the wave of the future.
You’ve Got Mail
Shipboard Internet cafes keep passengers connected no matter where they are on the nautical chart.
This trend speaks to the need to maximize your time and experience while on vacation. More and more people want to have more than photographs to remember their holiday by. Themed cruises, as well as cruises that incorporate an enlightening agenda, touch on subjects ranging from art, architecture, wine and food, big band music, dancing and foreign language. There are even cruises that allow professionals such as physicians and attorneys to earn continuing education credits while at sea.
A Family Affair
Today’s cruise ships are designed with families in mind. Many cruise lines have full-service children’s programs that offer secure and supervised activities for children across a wide range of ages.
Most of these programs are staffed by professionally trained counselors and feature a combination of entertainment, activities and educational enrichment. Cruises are also a top choice for family reunions.
Shipboard Wedding/Honeymoon Combo
Weddings are performed aboard ship or on land in a number of exotic destinations, including Bermuda, the Bahamas, the Caribbean, Hawaii and Alaska. Getting married onboard is so popular that Princess Cruises now includes a full service wedding chapel aboard its newer ships. The idea of combining the wedding with the honeymoon — with or without family and friends — is appealing to an increasing segment of the cruising population.
A growing number of cruise lines have adapted their ships to be accessible to disabled individuals. From increasing the number of accessible cabins to making shore tenders and excursions accessible, strides continue to be made in these areas.
If you’ve ever cruised, then you know that the day of disembarkation can be an agonizing exercise in hurry-up and wait. Norwegian Cruise Lines now offers freestyle disembarkation, allowing you to sleep in, eat breakfast at a leisurely pace and disembark whenever it’s convenient.
Navigating the Cruise Waters
Picking your first cruise can be overwhelming. Cruising has its own lingo and every ship is different, so what’s a first time cruiser to do? It’s no wonder that some 90 percent of cruise passengers use travel agents to book their cruises.
The first question travel agent David Charles asks his customers is where they like to go on vacation.
“That gives me a feel for the kind of trip they like to take,” he said.
If they like to stay casual in shorts and sandals the whole time, there’s a cruise for them. If they like dressing up and fine dining, that’s another cue.
“There are so many options, you really need somebody who knows the business,” he said. Factors like age, budget, desired destination and if children are in the picture are all figured into the equation.
There are three basic types of cruises, with myriad variations within each category. There are the contemporary megaships, large cruisers powered by companies like Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Disney and Norwegian Cruise Line. Then, up a price point, are the luxury ships, which include Princess, Holland America and Celebrity. Then there is the pinnacle of service and amenities in the premium segment, with names like Silversea, Radisson and Crystal.
A good cruise agent can make sure you are choosing the right ship, the right itinerary and the right cabin, assuring a more hassle-free vacation experience. But how do you find a good cruise agent? A good place to start is to ask someone you know who has cruised if they can recommend someone. It’s also good to work with someone who specializes in cruising, since he or she will have a better handle on the multitude of product in the market.
According to www.cruisecritic.com, the agent should also be able to:
The Treasures on Top of the Mountain
A Face in the Internet Crowd
As soon as incoming freshman Chana Ickowitz received her UC Berkeley e-mail address, she registered on the online directory facebook.com. There, on her personal profile, she described herself as someone with moderate political views who likes sushi, rainy days, Urban Outfitters and “Jane Eyre” … and who is a member of a group called Jew Crew.
Yes, college is about learning. But it is also about establishing new social relationships. And this class of freshmen — the largest ever with almost 2 million students, according to the U.S. Department of Education — has been crisscrossing cyberspace for most of their lives, existing as comfortably in the virtual world as in reality. So it’s not surprising that, before even setting foot on campus, they are using facebook.com to make new friends, scrutinize roommates and search for potential romantic interests.
And for many of those freshmen who are Jewish — approximately 90,000 according to Hillel: the Foundation for Jewish Campus Life — they are using the site not only to scope out fellow members of the tribe, but also to announce their own allegiance to Judaism by joining Jewish-related groups. These groups, created by students, exist exclusively on facebook.com and are particular to each campus.
“The first thing I did when I was searching groups was put in ‘Jews’ and there were a lot of them,” explained Ickowitz, 18, a graduate of Milken Community High School in Los Angeles. She joined Hillel’s online group. She also joined Jew Crew, a virtual group whose description reads, “There’s nothing better than Jewish pride! … well, there is, but Jewish pride is really cool! Hooray for Jews!”
Many of these students may never actually step foot into Hillel or other brick-and-mortar Jewish organizations, but they want their profile to show that they are members of such groups as USC’s For the Love of Mensch Club or Jew Crew (unrelated to the UC Berkeley group). It serves as the virtual equivalent of wearing a Star of David.
“I think this is about trying to find people, in this sea of people, that are just like me,” explained Ickowitz, who, growing up in Sherman Oaks and attending Jewish day schools, never had to work at finding Jewish friends.
“It’s what we all do, just as adults moving to a new city will look up synagogues and associations that interest them,” said psychology researcher Elisheva Gross, a doctoral candidate at UCLA. “Imagine moving from a setting where you know [almost] everyone … to a new, utterly unfamiliar, probably much larger and quite possibly daunting setting where you likely know few people.”
Perhaps that’s why facebook.com, launched by three Harvard University sophomores in February 2004, reports 6 million registered members at 2,027 colleges across the country. Additionally, about 15,000 new users are signing up daily, according to facebook.com spokesperson Chris Hughes. (The privately held company also opened a high school network on Sept. 2 that already has more than 500,000 members.) Currently, about 67 percent of Facebook’s members check in daily, while almost 90 percent check in weekly.
With only a school e-mail address and no fees, students can register on facebook.com, creating their own profiles by posting photos and personal information, including relationship status, favorite music and movies and contact information. They can also join online groups, send mail to their friends and post messages on their friends’ “walls,” which serve as a kind of public bulletin board on individual profiles. Anyone in their school community can view their profile, but those on other campuses need to send a request asking permission to become their Facebook “friend,” which the receiver can accept or reject.
For Jewish students, facebook.com is a non-threatening way to identify as Jewish, says Kim Rogoff, assistant director of student affairs at USC Hillel. “All they’re doing is clicking a button and saying, ‘I’m Jewish.'”
USC junior Alexis Kyman, 20, in fact, created Jew Crew a year ago as a way for students to demonstrate their Jewish pride.
“Personally, I started it because I went to a Catholic school in Phoenix, and I’ve gotten more in touch with my Jewish identity,” she said.
But she doesn’t envision Jew Crew, which currently has 445 members, as a way for Jewish students to meet in person.
Instead, those students who want offline Jewish friendships generally show up for Shabbat dinners or other activities sponsored by established organizations such as Hillel or Chabad. But they may also join the organizations’ virtual groups as a way to receive announcements or talk about upcoming events.
Freshman Veronica Renov, 17, a graduate of Marlborough High School in Los Angeles, for example, joined an online group created solely for FreshFest 2005, a Hillel-sponsored overnight orientation for incoming Jewish USC students, which helped her prepare for the trip.
“We posted messages like, where’s everybody from and what are we supposed to bring,” she explained. Of the 59 freshmen who attended FreshFest 2005, 55 had already connected on Facebook, according to Hillel’s Rogoff.
Facebook is also way for college faculty and other organizations to reach out to students who might not otherwise self-identify as Jews. Anyone with an e-mail address ending in “edu” can join Facebook.
For Rabbi Dov Wagner of Chabad Jewish Student Center at USC, it’s a way to connect with students who, for whatever reason, might be averse to attending a Chabad event or approaching him directly.
For her part, Rogoff sees the service as something that also works for Hillel: “It’s a nice way — certainly one we don’t exploit — to interact and stay in touch with students on terms they’ve set for themselves.”
Groups, Shuls Fundraise for Tsunami Aid
Hillel Readies Plan of Attraction
The Jewish college student of today is likely to be more interested in discussing religion than in practicing it. Therein lies a challenge and an opportunity, and Hillel, the college Jewish organization, says it’s ready to respond.
It was in the summer of 2004 that Hillel began work on a five-year plan to attract the two-thirds of Jewish college students who say they don’t go to Hillel activities. That troubling statistic has been one of the most talked-about findings from the 2000-2001 National Jewish Population Survey (NJPS).
To find out more about the mindset of today’s Jewish college students, researchers culled current literature on “the millenials,” people born since 1982. They looked at studies, including the NJPS, Linda Saxe’s 2002 “Jewish Freshmen” study and the recently released “I-Pod Generation.” They also consulted executives from Jewish federations, Hillel staff and lay leaders; ran focus groups on six campuses, and analyzed responses from 603 Jewish undergraduates who answered a random survey.
Hillel President Avraham Infeld discussed the group’s findings at the General Assembly of Jewish organizations this week in Toronto, and Hille’s strategic pla will be released in 2006.
Millenials, both Jewish and non-Jewish, “tend to be very focused on accomplishments,” said Julian Sandler, chair of Hillel’s strategic planning committee. “They’re very capable, they have high regard for the values of their parents, they’re hypercommunicative and they tend to shun denominational labels.”
On religious attitudes, they have a more individualized worldview, a lack of interest in traditional institutions and an interest in diversity. Which translates to that preference for discussing religion than practicing it.
Above all, they are constantly multitasking. As one expert put it to Sandler, “They may have multiple windows open simultaneously to their identity, and being Jewish is just one of those windows.”
The Hillel team also concluded that Jewish students in the survey “were more likely to self-identify as Jewish by ethnicity, rather than by religion,” said Graham Hoffman, Hillel’s director of strategic resource management.
At the same time, students say they feel proud of their Jewish identification and are willing to publicly identify as Jews by displaying Jewish objects in their rooms, such as menorahs, mezuzahs and Israeli posters, and by wearing Jewish items, such as chai necklaces, Stars of David and T-shirts with Jewish slogans. (Wearing a kippah was not included in the survey’s list of Jewish items.)
Perhaps the most interesting data to emerge from the study, Sandler and Hoffman said, is what students described as the top barriers to their involvement with Jewish life on campus. Hoffman noted that an overwhelming number of Jewish students said they want Hillel to be “more welcoming,” a finding that validates increased efforts to be inviting, while also hinting at a need for further tweaking.
“Hillel has always been home to a certain group on campus, those who come with strong Jewish identification and strong Jewish values,” Sandler said. “We need to find those who are proud of their Jewishness, curious about their Jewishness, but not sure how to translate that into making their Jewishness an integral part of their lifestyle.”
One strategy has been to offer non-Jewish-specific activities or Jewish activities that also are open to non-Jews. Hillel at the University of Washington co-sponsored an outdoor showing of the film, “Pirates of the Caribbean,” during this fall’s welcome week.
And then there’s “hookah in the sukkah,” a program where Hillel builds a sukkah in the middle of a campus and invites all students, not just Jews, to join them for a meal.
Groups, Shuls Fundraise for Tsunami Aid
Mental Workouts Keep Your Brain Fit
I work out regularly — power walking, aerobics, weight lifting, yoga. But none of these have exhausted me as thoroughly as my first year sitting in a college classroom as a “nontraditional” (a.k.a. “old”) student. By the end of each day of classes, I felt like I’d run a 10K carrying two toddlers and a week’s worth of groceries.
That’s not surprising, said Duke University neurobiologist Lawrence Katz, explaining, “The brain uses an enormous amount of the body’s energy. Even under normal circumstances, it uses about 20 percent of your body’s entire energy production.
“When you work your brain harder, you use more. The blood flow goes to the brain, and it’s really like working out.”
The good news is that by my sophomore year, exhaustion was replaced by exhilaration — comparable, perhaps, to an athlete’s being “in the zone.”
Going to college is on the power-lifting level of brain exercise, but the more researchers learn about the brain — and this is “the century of the brain” said Sandra Chapman, executive director of the Center for BrainHealth and a professor of behavior and brain science at the University of Texas at Dallas — the more they stress the power we each hold to keep our brains fit throughout our lives.
One myth brain researchers want badly to debunk is the idea that the brain is “an untouchable black box,” Chapman said. Rather, she pointed out, “the brain is highly modifiable by everything we do.”
Katz said that the adage that after age 30 we lose 100,000 brain cells daily is just another depressing myth.
“Basically, the human brain remains intact until very late in life,” he said. “What does happen is that the richness of the connections between cells begins to decline.”
Granted, as with a lot of things, we lose speed as we age.
“As people get older, they learn more slowly,” said Guy McKhann, professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of “Keep Your Brain Young: The Complete Guide to Physical and Emotional Health and Longevity” (Wiley, 2002) “But once they get it, they keep it as well as younger people.”
Teaching your brain new tricks is like a workout for the mind. It’s never too early to start, and you don’t have to ante up tuition to start your brain fitness program.
Warm ups: In his book, “Keep Your Brain Alive” (Workman, 1998) Katz suggested simple ways to stimulate new neural connections within the brain, including brushing your teeth with your nondominant hand and taking a new route to work.
“Do routine things in a nonroutine way to use new pathways in the brain,” he said. “This can lead to greater flexibility and agility in the brain. Rearrange your desk. Put your telephone or wastebasket in a different place. You will be amazed, if you move your wastebasket, how long you’ll throw paper on the floor.”
Social interactions also appear to benefit the brain. When you have time, skip the self-service gas pump or bank ATM and conduct your transaction with a person instead.
“These interactions are unpredictable,” Katz said. “Because so many parts of our brains are evolved to respond to other human beings, social interaction stimulates large parts of the brain.”
Travel, too, provides new experiences that create new neural pathways, especially if you step out of your chain hotel.
Katz conceded that these theories work backward from the observation that strong social connections and active lives correlate with better cognitive functioning in older people, and even novice researchers can tell you that correlation does not mean causation.
However, Katz is convinced that the connection works two ways: Better brain function causes more active lives and richer social networks, and people with active lives and rich social networks maintain better brain function.
Aerobics: You may have heard that working crossword puzzles is good exercise for the brain and that’s true — for the crossword-puzzle-working parts of the brain. If you enjoy crossword puzzles, have at it. Indulging in activities that work the brain is always great exercise, and choosing activities you love will keep you engaged, be it crossword puzzles, playing the piano or writing poetry.
“Whatever you spend time doing is what part of your brain is going to strengthen,” Chapman said. “Don’t do random things. Ask yourself if that’s the part of your brain you want to build.”
In her work with stroke patients, Chapman noted, “We see people who lose a lot of their ability, but the first thing to come back is the thing that they did the most.”
To keep building brain strength, you must keep reaching for new skill levels. Brain imaging reveals that learning uses large portions of the brain.
“Once you’ve gained expertise in that skill, less of the brain lights up [when you do it],” Chapman said.
Power lifting: Going to college, learning a language, taking up Japanese calligraphy — these sorts of things are the power lifting of brain exercise.
However, just as you don’t want to try hoisting 200 pounds your first day in the gym, you must allow yourself time to master a new challenge, Chapman said.
“You can get better at anything,” she noted, “but it’s important to give your brain time and practice.”
Exercising higher-level, big-picture thinking is another form of power-lifting.
“Read a paragraph and in one sentence give me the higher-level meaning,” Chapman suggested. “Abstract it. That requires a lot of brain power, using world knowledge, using text information. It’s pulling in all your resources.”
Stretching and cool down: Jeffrey Schwartz, a research professor of psychiatry at UCLA’s Neuropsychiatric Institute advocates mindful breathing for controlling out-of-control worrying, as well as for relaxation.
“The key really is the refocusing,” said Schwartz, whose specialty is the research and treatment of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder. “When you refocus, you activate alternative brain machinery.”
Sitting quietly and focusing your attention on the in and out of your breathing “really is like going to the gym; you’re strengthening your brain,” Schwartz said. “When you stop doing it, you have a stronger brain.”
Schwartz described mindful breathing techniques in his book, “Dear Patrick: Life Is Tough — Here’s Some Good Advice” (Regan, 2003) but cautioned that it takes more strength than it appears to require. He recommended 20 minutes of the meditation technique, but said “not everyone gets up this point.”
For a cool down from the day that benefits the brain, turn off the TV and relax with a book instead. Reading is far better for keeping the brain on its toes.
“Reading is a very complex process when you stop to think about it,” McKhann said. “You have to recognize the letters and the words they make, you have sentence structure, you have to take this input information — which is all being brought in visually — and relate it to what your brain already knows. It’s an awful lot of cross-talk in the brain.”
If you must turn on the TV set, feed your brain “thinking TV,” such as history documentaries, in which you must incorporate new information, instead of just empty entertainment.
And remember, these researchers stressed, you’re never too young to start a fitness program for the mind. Developing good brain habits early can keep your brain in shape well into your later years — and vice versa when it comes to bad brain habits.
“Habits are increasingly hard to break as you get older,” Katz said.
So use it before you lose it.
Sophia Dembling is the author of “The Making of Dr. Phil” (Wiley & Sons, 2003).
Prop. 73: The Devil’s in the Details
Get Enraptured With the Central Coast
California is beautiful. You can forget that sometimes, living in Los Angeles, fighting traffic, commuting past big-box retailers and strip malls and — does it get any worse? — Lincoln Boulevard.
But drive a few hours and you will find Beauty herself, and you will once again be certain few places on Earth are as spectacular as the state in which you live.
Case in point: a three-day weekend drive from Los Angeles to Half Moon Bay via Hearst Castle and Paso Robles.
Now is the time to take this trip, when the summer crowds have departed Mr. Hearst’s
California Thanksgiving Resources
Congregation Ohr Tzafon (Reform)
2605 Traffic Way
Atascadero, CA 93477.
For more information, call (805) 238-1502.
Tour reservations are highly recommended. Call (800) 444-4445, or reserve online at www.hearstcastle.com.
The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay
1 Miramontes Point Road, Half Moon Bay. For more information, call (650) 712-7020, or visit www.ritzcarlton.com/resorts/half_moon_bay.
Sea Otter Inn
6656 Moonstone Beach Drive, Cambria.
For more information, call (800) 965-8347 or visit www.seaotterinn.com.
Willow Creek Olive Ranch-Pasolivo
8530 Vineyard Drive, Paso Robles. Open Friday-Sunday and by appointment.
Call (805) 227-0186 or visit www.pasolivo.com.
homey little cottage near Cambria, when the olives are ripe and the extra virgin oil is flowing in Paso Robles, and when, at the end of the car ride, you can literally soak in the Martha Stewart-perfect holiday atmosphere of the Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. Pumpkin facial, anyone?
Los Angeles to Cambria is an easy four-hour drive, along some of the world’s most beautiful, usually sunny, coastline. Numerous reasonable priced “inns” — actually gussied up motor lodges — line the shore drive just north of Cambria. Most feature swimming pools, quick access to a network of coastline trails, and views of cows meandering the hills opposite PCH. There are no kosher restaurants in town, but the elegant Sows Ear Cafe on Main Street and the more family-friendly Brambles Dinner House offer high quality fish and vegetarian dishes.
Arriving in the bustling tourist town by 2 p.m. still allows enough time to see Hearst Castle, just 20 minutes away. Make your reservations by phone or online, and secure a tour time. Many of the lodges in Cambria offer slightly discounted tickets to the castle, and will make the arrangements for you
Tour One, the basic first-timer’s tour, takes just under two hours. And for first-, second- or third-time visitor, the scope and design and ostentation of the castle never fails to impress. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst toured the castles of Europe as a young man, and set to emulate them on this windswept, untrammeled piece of coast. Beginning in 1919, Hearst built but never completed the castle on his 240,000-acre San Simeon ranch.
Take in the sumptuous furnishings, the elaborate outdoor pool where Winston Churchill and Cary Grant and others frolicked, the “guest cottages” designed down to the door jambs by Old World artisans, the mosaic tiled indoor pool and the landscaping of thousands of native citrus and other trees and shrubs — “unbelievable” is the word you will hear your fellow visitors whisper most.
For visitors whispering in Hebrew, the museum offers a translation of the salient points of the tour in pamphlet form — just ask for it in the beginning. And it might help Jewish visitors appreciate the site more if they gloss over Hearst’s early enthusiasm for Adolf Hitler and Italian fascism — the staunch anti-communist reportedly struck a newsreel deal with the Führer following the 1934 Nuremberg Rally, and used his media empire to justify the Nazi invasion of Ukraine. Take comfort instead that Hearst was an enthusiastic participant in the July 1943 Emergency Conference to Save the Jewish People of Europe in New York City, which attempted to show the Roosevelt administration that saving European Jewry was not just a Jewish issue, but an American one.
Tour One will leave you with what the Hebrew pamphlet might call a ta’am shel od — a taste for more — but there is also more California to explore.
Lock the kids in the car and backtrack south through Cambria to Highway 46 East, one of the last and most beautiful underdeveloped agricultural byways in the state. Vineyards from such wineries as Eberle, Tablas and Tobin James give way to rolling pastureland, steep arroyos, olive groves and old farmhouses. Take it slow — you’re looking at Napa or Sonoma 30 years ago.
Just outside Paso Robles, tour the Willow Creek Olive Ranch, makers of Pasolivo, a superb native olive oil. You could spend thousands to fly to Tuscany for the same olive-crushing experience, and not taste any better oil.
You can stop for lunch in Paso Robles and, if there on Friday, attend the 7:30 p.m. Shabbat services at Congregation Ohr Tzafon.
Continue north from Paso Robles on Highway 101, then make your way west to Highway 1 and Half Moon Bay, about three hours away.
In October, this remarkably quiet and well-kept town just 40 minutes south of San Francisco hosts a pumpkin festival, drawing too many thousands of visitors from all over. But come November, the almost perennially foggy weather and non-freeway access ensure a quieter time.
There are a handful of quiet bed and breakfasts and some larger lodging alternatives in the area. For a splurge of opulence and natural beauty, nothing, however, surpasses The Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay.
The relatively new luxury hotel can’t justify its existence based on resort weather or famous environs. Set on a cliff overlooking a turbulent and unswimmable portion of the Pacific, it is the epitome of a destination hotel.
Fortunately, it is self-contained.
There is a full-service spa that draws on a famous local resource to come up with a pumpkin-peel body scrub and pumpkin mask. An attendant spreads the mushed-up pulp on your skin and, lo and behold, you feel your carapace give way.
A cozy fire is always stoked in the lounge, and guests gather outside at night by fire pits — thick blankets provided — to look at the surf and the stars, or dip in a cliffside Jacuzzi.
The restaurant, Navio, offers a Sunday brunch of staggering quality, as well as special holiday meals. Kosher catering is available by special arrangement.
Thanksgiving time is celebrated here in a big way. A display of giant pumpkins welcomes visitors, and there are holiday cooking classes for adults and children (as at many Ritz Carlton’s, there is a schedule of high quality kids’ programming for ages 4-12).
In fact, the resort, which has all the signature Ritz amenities and luxuries, offers a complete Winter school of some 50 classes — from chocolate cookery to wedding planning.
Along with the a Scotland-like golfing experience (we watched many diehards tee off in light drizzle), there are many outdoor activities available — whale watching, mountain biking, hiking.
But our favorite, of course, was curling up under one of those blankets by the outdoor fire pit, and recounting our long trip through the beautiful parts of California.
AIPAC Is Guilty — But Not of Spying
As some 1,250 delegates gather in Los Angeles under the banner of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) to celebrate the deepening ties between the United States and Israel and to strengthen those ties through political activities, I am mindful of two who will not be there.
Two former AIPAC staffers, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, will be back in Washington preparing for their January trial, which could be completed on the eve of AIPAC’s National Policy Conference in March. The timing is ironic given the loyal, instrumental roles that Rosen and Weissman played for AIPAC, and given the extent to which AIPAC has deserted them both.
These two individuals, in fact, deserve the unqualified support of both AIPAC and the Jewish community for their service to Jews and Israel — and also because they are, to all appearances, innocent of any wrongdoing. The current criminal indictment arises out of nothing more than law enforcement entrapment. But even putting that aside, the former AIPAC staffers still acted in a logical, defensible and ethical matter. Jews should be rising to their defense, but there is, so far, only a shameful silence.
Rosen, a longtime Washington lobbyist, was the chief of AIPAC foreign-policy staff. Weissman was a specialist on Iraq. No one who knew Rosen would argue that he was the soul of AIPAC or its most visible public face, but all who came close to the organization swiftly understood that Rosen was its brains.
It was he who shaped the concept of Israel as a strategic ally of the United States, refashioning American support for Israel from that of a big brother assisting a poor relation to a genuine, mutually beneficial partnership.
It was he who shifted AIPAC from an organization that was solely centered on Congress to one that also lobbied the president, his officers and his advisers — in Democratic and Republican administrations alike — as well as the think tanks and policy wonks.
Rosen recognized that he ruffled too many feathers to be out front. So he groomed protégés to assume that role. He mentored one so well that he became the head of AIPAC; another became the first Jew to serve as U.S. Ambassador to Israel.
One cannot overestimate his importance to the organization and his contribution to it over the past two decades.
One did not have to agree with his politics or AIPAC’s — as I certainly did not — to recognize the genius: While everyone was focusing on Iraq, he was concerned about Iran and North Korea. Anyone in his position traffics in information, seeking to understand what is known, attempting to fathom what is on the mind of government officials both in the United States and abroad.
What happened with Rosen and Weissman is simple enough. They were set up.
They are victims of a sting operation that relied on government analyst Lawrence Franklin, a compromised source who was in trouble for allegedly keeping unauthorized classified information at home. In order to win a more lenient sentence, he carried out an FBI plan to tell Rosen and Weissman about “secret information” that Israeli operatives were to be attacked in Iraq. Lives were seemingly at stake. Real lives, Jewish lives of people allied with the United States and presumably working in Iraq with the knowledge and consent of the United States, in alliance with the United States. Remember, this information came from a U.S. government analyst. And they had every reason to presume that he was giving them information both with permission and for a purpose.
Not surprisingly, Rosen and Weissman tried to check this information out. At one point, they apparently sought to see what a journalist covering Iraq knew. They also warned Israeli officials of the clear and immediate danger to their operatives. We now know that Franklin’s information was false and manufactured, with the specific goal of ensnaring Rosen and Weissman.
Of course that wasn’t the impression created when CBS broke its sensational account on Aug. 27, 2004, courtesy of a leak from either the FBI and/or Department of Justice.
Elements of the evidence remain shrouded in secrecy — the defendants are currently challenging the government’s attempts to conceal their own statements made on wiretaps.
Why would the U.S. government obstruct the defense in this way?
One plausible explanation is that Rosen and Weissman will recognize the circumstances in which their words were recorded and hence understand the scope of the federal surveillance — not just of them but also of those with whom they were in contact. One wonders: Does the U.S. typically spy on Israeli diplomats or diplomats of other countries?
We shall soon learn whether the government will drop the charges rather than reveal its evidence. The surveillance apparently lasted for five years and yielded such meager results that the defendants had to be entrapped into committing an alleged crime. If they were really up to something, investigators should have found it without the FBI having to engage in a Hollywood-style stunt — fictionalizing a scenario and manufacturing a crime.
This is not the Jonathon Pollard Affair redux. Pollard was a paid agent of the Israeli government who transmitted classified information to Israel. And unlike with the legal principle at stake in the Valerie Plame case, there was no possibility that lives would have been endangered by this leak; no sources were compromised. Unlike Karl Rove and Scooter Libby, Rosen and Weissman wanted to save lives, not weaken political opponents.
Yet AIPAC has run for cover; so have too many Jews. Some members of AIPAC’s own leadership are under the impression that the organization has actively defended its former employees. The word on the street, however, is that Rosen and Weissman have been hung out to dry. AIPAC bylaws require that the organization cover their legal defense, yet Rosen’s lawyers and Weissman’s lawyers have not been paid in many months. A reporters committee has come out against the indictment; a scientific group has challenged the secrecy provisions. But unless I’ve missed something, American Jewish organizations have been virtually mute.
We should be outraged by the setup!
We should be outraged by the selective prosecution — Rosen and Weissman are the first to be charged under the provision of the law being cited. Maybe it’s truly AIPAC and the vaunted American-Israeli alliance that is on trial or that is the actual target.
So why the hushed, muted tones of organizational leaders?
I leave it to their able lawyers to make the legal case for Rosen and Weissman, but the moral case also is compelling. From the standpoint of Jewish principles and tradition, the saving of human lives is an essential.
The Bush administration — or at least some within it — seems determined to crack down on the dissemination of government information, even if it impedes the public’s right to know or the right of citizens to participate in the process.
The Jewish community should not be timid in taking a different view. We dare not be sidelined.
Michael Berenbaum is adjunct professor of theology at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles and director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, whose mission is to explore the ethical and religious implications of the Holocaust.