When choosing a sleep-away camp, ask (lots of) questions


Sleep-away camp is a rite of passage. In Southern California, we are fortunate to have many wonderful Jewish residential camps to choose from. But how do you choose the camp that is best for your child? 

Seek recommendations from friends, for sure. In many cases, you can even tour camp facilities. During your research, it’s vital to ask the right questions, even the ones that may seem trivial or silly. 

The Journal reached out to officials at a variety of Jewish residential camps from San Diego to the Bay Area who suggested 10 important questions to ask when considering a camp, or simply when looking for reassurance about the one you’ve chosen. 

1. What activities do you offer and does my child get to choose them? 

It’s a basic question, but if you have a child who lives and breathes basketball or photography, you’ll probably want to seek out a program that offers those. And since overnight camp is all about building the independence of a child, how much freedom there is to choose is significant. 

“It’s the opportunity to explore,” said Dan Baer, director of Camp Mountain Chai in Angelus Oaks. “Camps are trending more toward an elective model where campers get to choose. Everybody has a choice built now into the schedule. But every camp’s balance is a little different. Kids love the ability to choose.”

2. What is a typical day like at camp?

Learning the specifics about the daily schedule can go a long way toward determining if a camp’s activities, program and structure are right for a particular child, said Josh Steinharter, director of JCC Maccabi Sports Camp in the Bay Area. Some camps are highly structured with little or no choice for campers, while others are based around free choice and tailored to a camper’s individual needs. This is important, he said, because some campers thrive on structure while others are more comfortable being able to do their own thing. 

3. How are the counselors trained, and where do they come from? 

The return rate of staff and the retention of campers into the staff corps are important.

“Each Jewish camp that I know of uses their counselors and their staff to impart important lessons about how to live, how to relate to a community, and how to be better Jews and people … This happens best when the staff is stable, and has grown up in this type of mission-based community,” explained Doug Lynn, director of Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps, which runs Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop in Malibu.

4. What is the ratio of campers to counselors in each cabin?

Some parents feel that smaller ratios of counselors living with their children is the way to go, as it provides closer supervision and can foster closer connections between campers and counselors. Others, according to Lynn, feel that a smaller ratio is stifling to campers interacting with other campers and that it leads to overbearing supervision. 

5. What kinds of financial aid are available?

It’s no secret that sleep-away camp can be expensive. One Happy Camper, a partnership between the Jewish Foundation for Camp and Jewish communities across North America, offers grants of up to $1,000 to eligible first-time Jewish sleep-away campers. Also, many camps provide significant needs-based scholarship assistance.

6. How can I learn about how my child is doing while at camp? 

It used to be that the only way for parents to find out how their child was doing at camp was through snail mail or by calling the office and requesting an update. But parents, many of who are accustomed to their child being a cell phone call away, are asking for more. 

“Camps are responding to this desire while keeping the special bubble of sleep-away camp intact,” said Josh Levine, director of Camp Alonim in Simi Valley.

As a result, many camps employ photographers whose sole job is to take hundreds of pictures, which then get posted to a website every day for parents and loved ones to see. Some camp directors send out general emails looping parents into the highlights of the day’s activities, and at least one local camp, JCA Shalom, does camper-led morning radio broadcasts that parents can listen to online.

7. How is Judaism defined at your camp and infused into the day? 

When parents are choosing a Jewish camp, they are not doing so based solely on a ropes course or art program, as amazing as those might be. That means it’s important to learn about the Jewish ethos — that secret sauce that defines a camp’s Jewishness, said Ariella Moss Peterseil, associate director of Camp Ramah in California, located in Ojai.

8. What is the level of religiosity at your camp? 

It’s key that a camp reflect a parent’s value system, and religion and level of observance may be part of that. 

“Parents may choose a camp with similar rituals and observance level as in their home for the comfort of the camper and religious priorities of the family,” said Dalit Shlapobersky, executive director of Habonim Dror-Camp Gilboa in Big Bear Lake. “Or a family might prefer for the child to experience a summer at a camp that’s more observant, so that the child develops a stronger control of rituals they might not be practicing at home. Or a family might place as a priority the intellectual, social and emotional growth the programming provides, with a lower priority given to level of observance.”

9. Is your camp accredited by the American Camp Association? 

Yes, there are many good — and beloved — camps that do not have this accreditation. But the 2,400-plus camps throughout the country that do have it have met multiple health, safety and program-quality standards, so it’s definitely a plus. 

10. What makes you different from other camps in the area? 

There are a lot of Jewish camps in the area. They have a lot of similarities, but the camps also do a pretty good job of differentiating themselves, according to Joel Charnick, director of Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu. 

“The best way of ensuring a good match is to ask the camps. They should be able to articulate that pretty well,” he said. “In Southern California, we all know each other very well. We have a very friendly relationship. … So I think we are well equipped to talk about each other and each other’s camps. I still think parents should do their due diligence and call each of the camps they are interested in.”

MORE QUESTIONS:

  • How’s the food? Can you accommodate my picky eater and her allergies? 
  • What happens if my son is homesick, gets sick or bullied, or hurts himself? 
  • What is your camp’s Shabbat experience like? 
  • How do I prepare my child for a first time away from home? 
  • How much time will my child get to spend with siblings and friends in different age groups?

Calendar Picks and Clicks: May 4-10, 2013


FRIDAY-SUNDAY

BIG SUNDAY WEEKEND

America’s largest community service festival, which started in 1999 as Temple Israel of Hollywood Mitzvah Day, attracts nearly 50,000 people from every neighborhood, race, religion, ethnicity and socioeconomic group to hundreds of projects in communities across Southern California. Volunteer projects include such activities as planting gardens at schools, fixing up homeless shelters and sprucing up dog parks. Big Sunday Weekend also features concerts, book fairs and blood drives. Fri. Through May 5. Various times. Free. Various locations. (323) 549-9944. bigsunday.org.


SAT MAY 4

EIFMAN BALLET 

Fueled by the artistic vision of choreographer-philosopher Boris Eifman, who told the Journal that he creates “Russian ballets with a Jewish soul,” this acclaimed dance company showcases “Rodin,” an expedition set at the crossroads of passion and insanity, based on the turbulent relationship between famed French sculptor Auguste Rodin and fellow artist Camille Claudel, his mistress and muse. Through May 5. Sat. 2 p.m., 7:30 p.m. Sun. 2 p.m. $29-$109. Segerstrom Center for the Arts, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. (714) 556-2787. scfta.org.

“I’M NOT RAPPAPORT” 

West Coast Jewish Theatre presents the story of a friendship between two elderly men — Nat Moyer (Jack Axelrod), a feisty, eccentric Jewish leftist who weaves good-natured con games in order to get his way; and Midge Carter (Carl Crudup), a cantankerous African-American who is afraid that he is going to be put out to pasture as his age becomes an issue at his workplace. Through June 23. Sat. 8 p.m. $35. Pico Playhouse, 10508 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 860-6620. westcoastjewishtheatre.org.


MON MAY 6

MALCOLM GOLDSTEIN 

The Brooklyn-born Jewish composer, violinist and improviser delivers a solo performance during “VLN & VLA,” an epic concert of music for violin and viola. Other guest performers include Andrew Tholl, CalArts violin faculty Lorenz Gamma and CalArts alum Andrew McIntosh. Mon. 7 p.m. $10 (CalArts students/faculty/staff), $16 (students), $20 (general). Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Theater, Walt Disney Concert Hall Complex, 631 W. Second St., downtown. (213) 237-2800. redcat.org.  


TUE MAY 7

DUO DEL SOL

Israeli native Javier Orgman, who was raised in Uruguay, received violin training in El Sistema, the same place where Gustavo Dudamel learned to play. He and guitarist Tom Farrell make up this musical duo. Specializing in global post-rock, Duo del Sol performs tonight in Los Feliz. Tue. 8 p.m. $12. Rockwell: Table and Stage, 1714 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 661-6163. rockwell-la.com.


WED MAY 8

JUDY ZEIDLER

Chef and restaurateur Judy Zeidler teaches the “Italian” way to prepare pastas of all shapes and sizes during her monthly live cooking demonstration, “Cooking ‘Around the World.’ ” Zeidler, a Journal contributor, author of “Italy Cooks” and an instructor at American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education, will be joined by a surprise guest Italian chef. The meal concludes with dessert. Wed. 10 a.m-1 p.m. $64. Location provided upon RSVP (e-mail dstuart@ajula.edu). (310) 440-1246. wcce.ajul.edu.

LAUGHWITHUS

Pro-Israel advocacy organization StandWithUs presents an evening of comedy at the Hollywood Improv with stand-up comedians Avi Liberman, a regular on E!; Mark Schiff, who has opened for the likes of Jerry Seinfeld; Chris Spencer (“Vibe”); and Michael Loftus, a writer on the FX sitcom “Anger Management.” Proceeds benefit The Koby Mandell Foundation, which provides support to Israeli families affected by terrorism. Wed. 7:30 p.m. $80 (advance purchase), $90 (door), $100 (VIP). Improv, 8162 Melrose Ave., Hollywood. (310) 836-6140. standwithus.com.

“PEOPLE OF THE BOOK”

A new collection of essays, “On Sacred Ground: Jewish and Christian Clergy Reflect on Transformative Passages From the Five Books of Moses,” features more than 100 clergy sharing the passages from the Torah that have brought meaning to their lives. Tonight, a diverse panel of local contributors — including Rabbi Elliot Dorff, rector and professor of philosophy at American Jewish University; the Rev. Janet Bregar of Village Lutheran Church of Westwood; the Rev. Thomas Eggebeen, interim pastor at Calvary Presbyterian Church; and the Rev. Sylvia Sweeney, dean and president of the Bloy House/Episcopal Theological School of Claremont — read from their reflections, answer questions and engage in an interfaith dialogue. The book’s editor and publisher, Jeff Bernhardt, appears as well. Wed. 7:30-9:30 p.m. Free. Temple Beth Am, 1039. S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-7354, ext. 215. jewishla.org.


THU MAY 9 

“CALIFORNIA SCHOOLS IN CRISIS”

L.A. Unified School Board member Steve Zimmer; Marqueece Harris-Dawson, president and CEO of Community Coalition; Nancy Ramirez, western regional counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); and John Rogers, UCLA associate professor and director of the Institute for Democracy, Education and Access, discuss “California Schools in Crisis: Closing the Achievement Gap.” Los Angeles City Councilwoman Jan Perry moderates the panel, which is co-sponsored by the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles; the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, MALDEF, the Los Angeles Urban League and the Anti-Defamation League. Thu. Noon. Free. NCJW/LA Council House, 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. (323) 852-8503. ncjwla.org

Aging Creatively


As my friends and I navigate our 60s and 70s, we notice — with amusement and consternation — how our conversations have changed. Instead of talking about our kids’ college applications and the best camping sites, we find ourselves discussing back pain and long-term care insurance. The bottom-line concern, of course, is how to create the best quality of life as we age. 

My father, who died a few months ago at 94, is one of my best models for aging well. Although Dad could hardly move his body in the past year, he still made people laugh with his quirky sense of humor. He continued to use his imagination and kept sharing his philosophies about life with anyone who would listen. (Sometimes even with those who wouldn’t.)

In many ways, my father never grew up. He viewed the world with curiosity, he sought new experiences and he saw endless possibilities — as children do. I think this is the secret to aging creatively. 

Keeping that inner child alive is not always easy, says Stephen Cohn, a Burbank composer who has taught classes on creativity.

“From the time we’re children, we’re told not to daydream,” Cohn said. “We’re expected to focus on the external necessities of survival and practicality. We’re not trained to take our dreaming and our imagination seriously. And yet that is the source of all great ideas. Great art, great physics, great medicine … it all came from somebody’s imagination.”

Of course, focusing on what’s practical allows us to make decisions, raise families, manage our finances and handle day-to-day responsibilities. That’s what adults do

The problem is we become identified with a role, a job or certain physical abilities. Then, as we grow old, our lives change. A role or job ends. The activities we enjoyed — whether skiing, driving, traveling or cleaning house — aren’t as easy or aren’t possible at all. This transition can be frustrating and painful.

But along with the grief, a vitally important question might then be asked: “Now what?” 

“I think too many people buy into the societal myth that when you reach a certain age, you’ve outlived your usefulness to yourself and society,” said Ronnie Kaye, a psychotherapist and author from Marina del Rey. “Accepting that belief is guaranteed to diminish your quality of life. Why settle for that when there is a world of possibilities out there?” 

How does one discover new possibilities? How do we tap our imagination as we grow older?

Kaye suggests starting with brainstorming exercises. The purpose is to allow ideas to emerge, to bypass the practical, critical voice that often stops us from seeing outside of the box. 

Here’s an example: Ask yourself, “What do I like to do?” Write down everything that comes to mind.

Gardening! Traveling! Hugging babies! Cleaning! Hugging dogs! Skydiving! 

Don’t stop to assess whether you can still do it or whether it’s practical. Keep asking, “What have I enjoyed?” Then ask yourself, “What are my skills?” They might include balancing the checkbook, fixing things, organizing, reading, cooking or listening to other people. Write every word that randomly comes to mind — again, without judging.

OK, now use your rational mind — maybe skydiving isn’t such a good idea. Look around your home or community for opportunities to express pleasures or talents. It could be organizing the garage, coaching new entrepreneurs, taking a writing class or reading to children. The options are infinite. Consider brainstorming with others to enhance the process. 

Aging creatively doesn’t have to mean that every senior citizen takes up watercolor painting or yoga; it’s about learning to think about your place in the world differently.

When Kaye turned 65 four years ago, for example, she started to rethink her career plans. 

“After having been a therapist for 20 years, I wanted to know more, reach people in a different manner and use myself, my skills and my profession in new ways,” she said.

Her answer was to enter a doctoral program in psychoanalysis. Now, at 69, she is in the final phase of completing her doctorate at the New Center for Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles.

Kaye also described an 80-year-old friend who led a very productive life, but is now barely able to walk. Many things she used to do are impossible. After thinking about what she still has to offer, however, the woman started reading to blind people several times a week. 

“Finding a solution that would allow her to be useful and engaged, despite her limitations, was a genuinely creative act,” Kaye said.

Richard Braun, 82, is a retired thoracic surgeon from Encino. Since he stopped working, Braun, a violist, joined the Los Angeles Jewish Symphony and plays in a weekly chamber group. He also teaches anatomy on a volunteer basis at UCLA. 

“I wanted to use my medical knowledge in some way,” Braun said. “This requires me to invent stimulating ways to convey ideas. I’m so busy since retiring that my wife says I’ll have to go back to work to find more free time!” 

As an artist and art therapist, Tobes Reisel often finds herself helping seniors discover a creative part of themselves. 

“I work with many people who are not artists. I ask them to scribble with me,” said Reisel, 87, of Sherman Oaks. “They get into their childishness, and many say, ‘You know what? There’s a kid in me that isn’t having any fun!’ So we talk about how they can add that to their life.”

Creativity often evolves from one’s passions. This is definitely the case for artist Peachy Levy. At 82, the Santa Monica resident still gets commissions for creating her unique Judaic textile art. 

“I am a passionate person,” she said. “I think a lot of people don’t make time or space for their passions; their life is too frenetic. It might help to look back to your youth, to what you were passionate about. Perhaps those feelings are still there for you!”

Passion is what led Carey Okrand to want to become an entrepreneur at 60. Realizing she could go from preaching about the environment to doing something active and positive, she’s decided to start a business in Los Feliz that will be called The Refill Place. Based on an old concept of reusing containers instead of filling the earth with plastic, the idea will be for people to bring their empty containers to her store and refill them with environmentally friendly cleaning and personal care products.

“The everyday decisions and choices I have to make let me be creative,” said Okrand of Van Nuys. “Growing a business feels like working on a piece of art.” 

Discovering or inventing new possibilities at  60 or 80 isn’t the same as it was at 20 or 30. 

“To be creative at an older age,” Reisel said, “involves reviewing how you’ve lived your life and then using that in the way that is most honest and fulfilling and enjoyable for where you are now and what you can do now.” 

Aging creatively, then, involves rediscovering passions, taking an inventory of current skills and keeping in check any tendency to tell yourself that you are too old to be useful or to have fun. It means reawakening the child inside that can laugh and imagine and create something new, in spite of — or sometimes because of — limitations. 

Every day that my father woke up and remembered he could no longer drive or work or get from his bed to the bathroom by himself, I believe he asked himself, “Now what?” Then he made a choice to see possibilities. I hope I can follow his lead. 

Ellie Kahn is a licensed psychotherapist, oral historian and documentary filmmaker. She can be contacted through her Web site,

Calendar Picks and Clicks: Nov. 11-19, 2010


THU | NOV 11

(SYMPOSIUM)
The 34th annual Catholic-Jewish Women’s Conference, a day of dialogue, music and group discussions, addresses the topic “Who is My Neighbor? Do We Practice What We Preach?” Guest speakers include Rabbi Denise L. Eger, president of Southern California Board of Rabbis, and Cecilia Gonzalez-Andrieu, an assistant professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University. Thu. 8:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. $25 (students), $40 (general). Costs include breakfast, box lunch and beverages. Wilshire Blvd Temple, 3664 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (818) 884-5532. sites.google.com/site/cjwcla/Home.

(POLITICS)
J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami and other pro-Israel, pro-peace leaders gather tonight for the J Street Los Angeles Kickoff Celebration. Schmooze with J Street L.A. leaders and enjoy a cocktail hour. Thu. 7-9 p.m. Free. Taglyan Cultural Center, 1201 N. Vine St., Hollywood. jstreet.org/losangeles.

(DISCUSSION)
Writer-director Nora Ephron (“I Remember Nothing: And Other Reflections”) appears in conversation with screenwriter Robin Swicord (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”). Thu. 7:30 p.m. $20. Writers Guild Theater, 135 S. Doheny Drive, Beverly Hills. writersblocpresents.com.


SAT | NOV 13

(MUSIC)
Learn about Maestro, an Israeli nonprofit that works with world-class musicians to bring music and the arts to underprivileged children in Israel, during a Shabbat event at East Hollywood’s Temple Knesset Israel. Sat. 10:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Free. Temple Knesset Israel, 1260 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles. (818) 995-0693.

(MUSIC)
Chasidic pop star Matisyahu, best known for his hit “King Without a Crown,” blends reggae with Middle Eastern rhythms and American pop, conjuring up a fresh medley of unique and powerful beats. Sat. 8 p.m. $25-$45. The Luckman Fine Arts Complex, 5151 State University Drive, Los Angeles. (323) 343-6610. luckmanarts.org.

(MUSIC)
The Vox Femina Los Angeles choral ensemble launches a new season with a one-night-only performance, “Vox Judaica.” Singers explore a variety of Judaic genres — from sacred music to Sephardic and Ashkenazic folk — with highlights including a musical piece set to words from Anne Frank’s diary. Cantor Mark Saltzman of Congregation Kol Ami joins the ensemble as a special guest. Sat. 8 p.m. $25 (advance), $30 (door). Zipper Concert Hall, The Colburn School, 200 S. Grand Ave., Los Angeles. (310) 922-0025. voxfeminala.org.


SUN | NOV 14

(ISRAEL)
Israel in Focus, a community conference, features discussions with “Arab Lobby” author Mitchel Bard; Itamar Marcus, founder and director of Palestinian Media Watch; Israeli military expert Elliot Chodoff; Roberta Seid, StandWithUs research and education director; Neil Lazarus, a communications consultant; and a special guest. Sun. 9 a.m.-4 p.m. $65 (includes breakfast and lunch). Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 836-6140. standwithus.com.

(FILM)
Don’t miss the last of The Long Beach Jewish Film Festival. Highlights today include “Inside Hana’s Suitcase,” a docudrama about how a suitcase, which belonged to a girl who died in Auschwitz, takes a Japanese educator and her students on a journey to discover what happened to Hana Brady, and “The Yankles,” the comedic tale of a former Major Leaguer who tries to help a yeshiva baseball squad. Sun. Various times. $10 per film. Alpert Jewish Community Center, 3801 E. Willow St., Long Beach. (562) 426-7601. alpertjcc.org.

(MUSIC)
The Consort Singers perform the music of Austrian composer Walter Arlen during Loyola Marymount University’s Kristallnacht commemoration, “Remembering the Holocaust: Music as Memorial.” The event, co-sponsored by The “1939” Club, also features special guest Claudia Stevens, a performing artist and playwright. Sun. 1 p.m. Free. Loyola Marymount University, University Hall, 1 LMU Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 338-7850. lmu.edu.


MON | NOV 15

(FILM)
Follow the lives of sibling songwriting team Robert and Richard Sherman, known for Disney classics like “A Spoonful of Sugar” and “It’s a Small World (After All),” in the documentary, “The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story,” which screens today as part of the Los Angeles Jewish Film Festival. Their sons, Gregory Sherman and Jeffrey Sherman, directed the film and will take part in a Q&A with Richard Sherman following the screening. Rabbi Jerry Cutler of Creative Arts Temple moderates the discussion. Mon. 7:30 p.m. $12. Laemmle’s Music Hall, 9026 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (800) 838-3006. lajfilmfest.org.


TUE | NOV 16

(LECTURE)
The Soviet Jewish underground and American Jewish communities helped more than 1 million Soviet Jews escape in the decades that followed World War II. Journalist Gal Beckerman offers us a narrative history of the Soviet Jewry movement with his new book, “When they Come for Us, We’ll Be Gone: The Epic Struggle to Save Soviet Jewry.” Beckerman appears in conversation with L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who championed the Soviet Jewish cause in the late 1960s. A book signing follows. Tue. 7:30 p.m. $35 (includes a copy of the book). American Jewish University, 15600 Mulholland Drive, Los Angeles. (310) 440-1548. ajula.edu.


WED | NOV 17

(DISCUSSION)
Yossi Klein Halevi, a contributing editor and Israel correspondent for The New Republic, and Rabbi Edward Feinstein of Valley Beth Shalom, discuss “Shifting Stands: The Evolving Landscape of Israel and the Middle East.” Wed. 7 p.m. Free (advance registration required). Valley Beth Shalom, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (818) 788-6000. vbs.org.


THU | NOV 18

(EDUCATION)
Ruth Weisberg, former dean of the USC Roski School of Fine Arts and author of “The Open Door: A Passover Haggadah,” lectures on “Art and the Haggadah,” which kicks off The Board of Rabbis of Southern California’s yearlong community learning program, One People, One Book. This year’s program focuses on various themes in Geraldine Brooks’ “People of the Book,” a historical novel that explores the origins of the Sarajevo Haggadah, one of the world’s oldest haggadot. Thu. 7:30-9:30 p.m. $5 (kosher refreshments provided). University Synagogue, 11960 W. Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8600. boardofrabbis.com.


FRI | NOV 19

(ART)>
Burton Morris does art post-Pop style in a new exhibition of paintings. Join the artist for an opening reception from 5 to 8 p.m. Fri. Through Dec. 19. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (regular hours). Free. Hamilton-Selway Fine Art, 8678 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood. (310) 657-1711. burtonmorris.com

Calendar Girls Picks and Clicks Dec. 13- 19: Chanukah, Heeb, Israel, Yiddish


SAT | DECEMBER 13

(ISRAEL)
If you lost your brother in combat, would you enlist in the army? If your father was killed on the battlefield, would you sign up for the same unit? The 28 IDF soldiers who will be guests of honor at a luncheon today did exactly that. Required to get written consent from a parent or guardian to serve as kravim ” target=”_blank”>http://www.nessah.org

(CHANUKAH)
Get your holiday sizzle on at the OC Young Leadership Division’s “Latkes & Vodkas” Chanukah party. Aside from rhyming, latkes and vodkas sound like a delectable pairing. But food and drinks (of which there will be plenty at the open bar) are not the only appealing aspect of this bash. Themed “Hanukkah in Hawaii,” this party at a lush private estate will include desserts, dancing, entertainment and a chance to do good — bring gift cards to donate to families in need through Jewish Family Service. Singles on the prowl and couples looking for a good time are all welcome, but you must be between the ages of 21 and 45 to attend. Sat. 8 p.m. $36 (advance), $40 (at the door). Private home, 11611 Arroyo Ave., north Tustin (call for directions). (949) 435-3484. yld@jfoc.org. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.hamiltonmusic.org.

(CONCERT)
For women only: a concert starring Julie Geller (described once as “Ani DiFranco meets Deepak Chopra”) and artist Barbara Keller. Other women to be featured in the concert include: Cathy Heller, Enny Wax, Joni Krevoy — and you! Join along in a magical night of singing in “Lend Your Voice and Unite the Light,” all in support of the “Happy Minyan,” whose motto is: It’s a great mitzvah to always be happy. Sat. 8 p.m. $15. The Happy Minyan, 9218 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>Jewish Book Month Breakfast. Learn how performer and author Wex has helped bring Yiddish back into the mainstream, all while making people laugh. Co-sponsored by the UCLA Center for Jewish Studies, the library’s annual used book sale will follow the program, giving holiday shoppers a fantastic way to stock up on favorite reads. Sun. 9:30 a.m. $25. Sinai Temple, 10400 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 481-3217. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.standwithus.com.

(CHANUKAH)
The Skirball’s Chanukah Family Festival is loaded with activities for children of all ages. The daylong celebration will include extraordinary balloon twisters, interactive musical puppet shows exploring the history of the festival of lights, workshops where kids can make sand-filled Chanukiahs and custom dreidel game kits, an energetic performance by the Stein Brothers and holiday treats like latkes and jelly donuts. In addition to all this fun, you and your family can also enjoy the “Lights of Hanukkah” tour in the museum and take a stroll through the Skirball’s current exhibits, including “Visions and Values: Jewish Life From Antiquity to America” and “Becoming American: Teenagers and Immigration.” Sun. 11 a.m.-4 p.m. $7 (seniors and students), $10 (general), free for Skirball members and children under 12. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 440-4657. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.alpertjcc.org.

(YIDDISH)
Seeking relief from all those Yuletide ditties blaring while you shop? Look no further than the Yiddish Culture Club, which is presenting a concert of favorite Yiddish songs, featuring Cantor Herschel Fox from Valley Beth Shalom. So sit back, relax and let music take you to a very different winter wonderland. Sun. 2-4 p.m. $8-$10. Los Angeles Yiddish Culture Club, 8339 W. Third St., Los Angeles. (310) 454-3687.

(CHANUKAH)
Well, you’ve probably heard of Lollapalooza. But have you ever heard of Hanukkahpalooza? It’s happening here in Los Angeles, featuring a puppet show, kosher lunch, boutique, Israeli dancing and a concert with Naom Katz — called one of the most exciting new voices in contemporary Jewish music. In short, the perfect weekend event for the whole family. Sun. 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. $10-$15. University Synagogue, 11960 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 472-1255. ” border = 0 vspace = ‘8’ hspace = ‘8’ align = ‘left’>watched in amusement. Who knows what will come off and who’ll be wearing a Star of David, as Irish Catholic Farrell did, at this next installment of “the biggest, baddest, sexiest Jewish storytelling series on the planet.” The Heeb happening, which is quite realistically expected to sell out, will be hosted by Brett Gelman and will feature seven-minute Jewish-themed stories by Rebecca Adelman, Iris Bahr, Samm Levine and others. Mon. 9:30 p.m. $10 (food and drink minimum). M Bar, 1253 Vine St., Los Angeles. (323) 856-0036. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.jmcla.org.

WED | DECEMBER 17

(INFERTILITY)
Millions of couples worldwide encounter complications related to infertility. Are you one of them? Bonei Olam is an organization that provides funds and services to couples who are having difficulty conceiving a child. According to Bonei Olam, to date more than 1,200 Jewish children have been born thanks to its help. Services the charity organization offers include: fertility medication, genetic diagnostics, high-risk pregnancy care, among others. If you’d like to learn more, attend “Miracle of Joy.” Wed. 8 p.m. Free. Home of Chavi Hertz, 525 N. Hillcrest Road, Beverly Hills. (718) 252-1212. ” target=”_blank”>http://www.coexistcomedy.com.

FRI | DECEMBER 19

(SHABBAT)
Valley Ruach — a Jewish summer camp meets a young professional Carlebach niggunim community — likens its fun, casual and brief Shabbat services to a hot air balloon ride for your soul. If you’ve never given Ruach a whirl, tonight’s Pre-Hanukkah Shabbat Celebration is as great a time as any to meet the young (20s and 30s) members of this innovative, song-filled and intimate congregation. The guitar-led service will be followed by a kosher Shabbat dinner, where you can swap tales from Camp Alonim, discuss hip Valley living and rediscover the ruach — Hebrew for both spirit and wind — in religion. Fri. 7:30 p.m. Service are free. $10 (dinner). Adat Ari El, 12020 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village.

Keep the youngest wedding guests happy — and keep your sanity


Some things go together like matzah balls and chicken soup; some don’t. And the wedding/kid combination traditionally falls into the latter category. After all, unlike the bar/bat mitzvah bash, which is generally a party designed with kids in mind, the wedding celebration has adult written all over it. Toss in a stressed-out bride, a drawn-out nuptial ceremony, imported caviar and free-flowing liquor, and you’ve got an event that’s about as kid-unfriendly as they come.

Nevertheless, the flower and ring bearer must march on. Not to mention that there are times when kids belong at the wedding. As in cases of second marriages and blended families (statistics show that in America alone, 1,300 new stepfamilies form daily), family obligations (it wouldn’t be nice to blow off your soon-to-be nieces and nephews, would it?) and out-of-town guest considerations (Cousin Howie and the gang came all the way from Florida to witness your big day. How could you ask him to deadbolt his kids in a claustrophobic hotel room with a rent-a-sitter for the night?).

Fortunately, it’s perfectly possible to welcome children at your wedding without compromising the sanctity of the event or the sanity of any involved parties. The following kid-friendly touches will help ensure your littlest guests remain happy and occupied throughout.

It’s in the Bag

Upon arrival, present children with a special wedding goody bag packed with items like crayons and coloring books and bride and groom paper dolls. Be sure to throw in some kid-friendly snacks like granola bars, raisins, and goldfish crackers to fend off any hunger-induced meltdowns during the ceremony.

Put Them to Work

Kids are amazingly capable of rising to the occasion — especially when they have an “important” job to do, like passing out wedding programs, manning the kippah station or ushering guests to their seats. And they needn’t clock out after the ceremony. At the beginning of the party, give each child a disposable camera labeled with his or her name and explain that they have been hired as a junior photographer. In doing so, you’ll not only keep little hands snapping and out of trouble, you’ll capture unique, child’s-eye-view imagery of your celebration that you wouldn’t otherwise have.

Make It a Happy Meal

Let’s face it. Your pint-sized guests have a bagel’s chance at a Passover seder of successfully sitting through a five-course meal made up of exclusively grown-up fare. So ask your caterer to set up a kiddie buffet line. Nothing extravagant — a no-frills table topped with carrot sticks and ranch dressing, chicken nuggets and french fries is all it will take to keep the younger set satisfied. (Happy Note: This strategy is liable to work in your favor from a cost-per-head standpoint, too.)

Set Up a Playspace

Off in the corner of the ballroom — or a nearby nook or cranny — create a makeshift kid-zone. Blocks, LEGOs, board games, Play-Doh, minimal-mess art supplies, even a couple of muted GameBoys will give jittery kiddies a welcome retreat from the adult-oriented wedding festivities.

Arrange a Mitzvah Station

Include in your playspace an area where kids can take part in an act of gemilut chasadim (lovingkindness). Put out papers, markers and stickers and let children make cheerful cards for patients at a local hospital, or have them pack care packages for American and Israeli troops. By orchestrating such mitzvoth you’ll cap the festive flair of the evening with some good old-fashioned Jewish values.

Work Magic

If you will have a significant number of children in attendance (and some extra funds in your budget), consider hiring a kid-friendly entertainer to work the crowd at the party. Magicians fit the bill nicely as they traditionally don black-tie attire that won’t clash with the decor while captivating the interest of children and adults alike.

Send Them Hunting

Keep kids constructively mingling with the crowd with a wedding guest scavenger hunt. Give each child a pencil and a list of descriptions, such as “a member of the bridal party” or “someone from Georgia,” and challenge them to collect signatures of guests who meet each criterion. Award prizes to successful searchers.

Hire “Camp Counselors”

Truth be told, even taking kid-friendly measures, such as those mentioned above, can’t ensure your littlest guests won’t stray into the lobby for a round of elevator races or — worse yet — into a crowded parking lot or hotel swimming pool. Keep your troops safe and under control, while giving their parents a welcome break, by hiring some trustworthy individuals to act as camp-style counselors at your event. These responsible parties should orchestrate games and activities in the kiddie corner, ensure children move smoothly through the buffet line and other child-friendly activities and put out fires caused by sibling spats and other munchkin meltdowns. (Hint: If you have a sizeable age span among children, assign one counselor to the older kids and another to the younger group.)

Wind Them Down With a Video

If your wedding celebration will last into the wee hours, arrange for your event facility to set up a television and DVD player in a nearby-but-out-of-earshot-of-the-party spot. As the bewitching hour draws near, have your counselors invite all of the children to watch a G-rated late-night flick. Supply pillows, blankets and a couple of bags of popcorn and — with a little luck and a well-chosen movie (nothing too peppy or scary) — your crowd will be crashed by the closing credits.

Sharon Duke Estroff is an internationally syndicated Jewish parenting columnist, award-winning educator and mother of four. Her Jewish parenting book, “Can I Have a Cell Phone for Hanukkah?” is now available everywhere. www.sharonestroff.com.

Off the page, holidays not on the calendar, cool quiz


Off the Page

It’s coming up on summer vacation, and do you know what that means? It’s a great time to catch up on your reading! Our picks this month are for anyone ages 6 to 10 and come from “Jewish Heirloom Stories” ($12.95, Gefen Publishing) by Tami Lahman-Wilzig with illustrations by Ksenia Topaz. Girls will enjoy “Lotty’s Lace Tablecloth” and guys will get a kick out of “Mayer Aaron Levi and His Lemon Tree.” Both stories are told via kids, Nina and Joshua, respectively, who are descendants of each books’ main character. Plus in the back of each book is room to create your own family stories.

Will Empress Elizabeth take Lotty’s tablecloth away from her? Will Mayer Aaron’s generosity backfire on him? Yeah, like we’d spill the beans….

Happy Father’s Day

Sure Mother’s Day came first, but we can’t forget to thank Dad, Grandpa, Zayde, Papa, Saba and Uncle on June 17 for all they do.

Since dads aren’t really into flowers the way moms are, why not make a card and then head to the park to play some ball or curl up and watch a movie together. Of course, you could also buy a tie, socks or something fun from the hardware or electronic store (we call those grown-up toys).

Holidays NOT on the Calendar

June 6: National Yo-Yo Day. Walk the dog or shoot the moon today in honor of Donald F. Duncan Sr., the creator of the yo-yo.

June 10: National Iced Tea Day. What better way to cool off during the hot months of summer than with a tall glass of iced tea. The drink became popular at the very hot 1904 World’s fair in St. Louis. L’chayim!

The Screening Room Quiz

There are so many awesome movies coming out this summer that YeLAdim is planning to spend a lot of time at the theater in the next few months. Tip: Daytime showings cost less than nighttime ones, and a lot of theaters give discounts if you have your student ID.

Wanna figure out which films they are? Just use the code (which means when you see the letter A, turn it into a C, etc.) You can check your answers below — scroll down.

A=C B=D C=E D=F E=G F=H G=I H=J I=K J=L K=M L=N
M=O N=P O=Q P=R Q=S R=T S=U T=V U=W V=X W=Y X=Z
Y=A Z=B

FYHPQNPYW
FYPPW NMRRCP YLB RFC MPBCP MD RFC NFMCLHV
NHPYRCQ MD RFC AYPHZZCYL: YR UMPJB’Q CLB
QFPCI RFC RFHPB
LYLAW BPCU
PYRYRMSHJJC

And if you see any movies this summer, please e-mail in your reviews with your name, age and school (or camp) to kids@jewishjournal.com. You’ll receive a prize as a thank you!

Answers:

Hairspray
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
Pirates of the Caribbean: at world’s end
Shrek the Third
Nancy Drew
Ratatouille

SHOUT OUT!

Wanna say goodbye to your buds until you see them again in the fall? Have a friend or sibling who will be graduating? Do you have advice for the new kids coming into your school? Then yeLAdim wants to hear it. E-mail us your shout outs for the class of 2007 and we’ll run them on our May page. Send ’em our way at kids@jewishjournal.com. We’ll also take poems and stories about your graduation or summer vacation plans.

Hey, hey! We’re the SqueeGees!


The SqueeGees

Anyone who can plop the words antioxidant and pomegranate into a song is tops in yeLAdim’s book. The catchy tunes of The SqueeGees make education entertaining in such songs as “The Elements” (i.e., all about wind, fire, water, etc.) and “Rules of the Road” (Go, go, go; stop, stop, stop; don’t drive too fast or too slow).

Kids will have too much fun making noises with the appropriately named “Making Noises,” and grown-ups will get a kick out of the humorous lyrics — especially tunes like “The Ol’ WWW” (“got directions and a map on the Internet … bid on a Chia Pet on the Internet”).

Kids-at-heart Samantha Tobey and Roman Bluem (aka The SqueeGees) will be at UCLA this weekend playing all these songs and more at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books: Saturday, April 28, on the Storytelling 9 stage at 4 p.m.; and Sunday, April 29, at the Target stage at 1:25 p.m.

For more information, visit ” target=”_blank”>www.myspace.com/meetthesqueegees.

kids@jewishjournal.com. We’ll also take poems and stories about your graduation or summer vacation plans.

Visit the Zimmer Children’s Museum online at

A down-home way to treasure that special day


You’re planning your bar mitzvah boy’s big day, and all you can think of is filling the grand ballroom with a mind-boggling maze of identical round tables topped with painted blue carnation centerpieces and a breast of rubber chicken on each plate. Oh, and finding a DJ who knows how to orchestrate a hora.

Do you really want your son to have the identical shindig as the rest of his buddies, or would you like to surprise him with a reception that will model the creative, free thinker you want him to become?
Consider orchestrating a Bar Mitzvah Treasure Hunt that you can host in your backyard, throughout your house or even in a hall rented for the occasion.

Greet your young guests with bunches of flowers and let them choose one which they think best describes your son. Try some stargazer lilies, honeysuckles, Sweet Williams, tiger lilies, snapdragons, windflowers, cornflowers, lilies of the valley, larkspurs, baby’s breath, St. John’s wart, sweet peas, birds of paradise, foxtails or snowballs. Even though they’ll resist, have them tell you why they chose a particular flower. They’ll be embarrassed and act silly, but that’s good. It will prepare them for the pièce de résistance.

Hand each teen a piece of paper with five activities to choose from, and form teams that feature five young guests each. In order to partake in an activity, teams must find particular items hidden in the yard/house/hall. Allow an hour for this hunt so each teen will have time to participate in at least two activities.

Some suggested activities include:

  • Create a new sport and demonstrate it.
  • Paint a mural.
  • Decorate a cake.
  • Write a poem or short story.
  • Compose a song with both lyrics and melody.
    Suggested items to hide:

  • Sport: various sizes of balls, rackets, paddles or nets.
  • Mural: felt tip pens, paints, brushes, and aprons.
  • Cake: decorations such as sprinkles, pastry tubes and icing.
  • Poem or short story: books of poetry as models, yellow pads with lines, pens.
  • Song: pens, pads of white paper, a musical instrument.

All of the activities should honor the bar mitzvah boy. They can be funny, scary, attractive, embarrassing, or plain old congratulatory. But they must all be original and clever. Encourage teamwork and ingenuity. They don’t have to be the best artist or write the best poem but they must have a good attitude and be good-hearted.

If a teen doesn’t find the item for his chosen activity — he can’t find the cake decorations and he desperately wants to adorn that cake — then it is up to him to “buy” or “trade” an item for an activity he doesn’t want for one he does want. We’re not talking money — we’re talking barter. If he sees a disgruntled young guest holding a pastry tube and looking confused, he can try to wrangle that tube from him by offering to trade something he has, or maybe sing a song, answer some obscure question about the Dodgers or even fetch his friend a drink of punch. Hopefully each teen will end up with his favorite activity. If not, he’ll have to learn to do something new.

Choose a panel of judges to decide the winning team. They will be judged not only by what they produce, but also on their teamwork.

So they won’t starve before dinner, you can scatter snacks such as raw vegetables, chips or pretzels throughout the area where the items are hidden.

Of course, their biggest prize will be this delicious dairy dinner. Beg, borrow or hire friends and relatives to help you cook, or give the recipes to a caterer and see what he or she says.

Grilled or Broiled Artichokes With Spicy Smoked Tomato Chili Mayonnaise

From Frank Ostini, winemaker and chef at the Hitching Post Restaurant and
Winery in Buellton.
Smoked pasilla peppers -- a mild to medium-hot pepper --
and tomatoes are available at specialty stores and online.

6 artichokes
1 stick butter
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Break off small outside leaves of artichokes. Cut off tops with a knife;
trim the sharp points of the leaves with scissors. Soak in water, then
rinse in cold water to remove sand.

Steam about 25 to 35 minutes until tender, or until a bottom leaf pulls
off easily. Allow artichokes to cool.

Cut in half; remove choke stickers with a spoon. Grill on a barbecue or
broil in an oven, basting with butter, oil, white wine and lemon. Season
artichokes with salt and pepper, and quarter with a knife.
Place artichoke pieces on a platter with dipping bowls of Spicy Smoked
Tomato Chili Mayonnaise.

Spicy Smoked Tomato Chili Mayonnaise

4 garlic cloves
1 pound large onions, sliced thin
4 dried Pasilla peppers, halved with seeds removed
4 dried large tomatoes, halved
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1 quart homemade or commercial mayonnaise

Roast garlic and onions on a barbeque or in an oven. When cool, remove
skins. Puree garlic and onions with the dried smoked peppers and tomatoes
in a blender or food processor. Add spices and mix with mayonnaise.

Makes six servings.

Tossed Salad With Pears and Cranberry Vinaigrette

Recipe by Colin Cowie. Choose wild baby greens, which are sold in bulk,
and supplement, if you wish, with curly endive, red curly leaf, red oak
or your favorite greens. You might wish to add fresh cranberries to the
vinaigrette jar to liven up the table, and you can also toss some fresh
cranberries into the salad for color.

2 pounds greens
6 winter pears, such as Bosc or Winter Nellies, sliced
1 cup Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
Tear large leaves into bite-sized pieces. Toss gently with vinaigrette.
Add more as needed until each leaf is coated. Toss with pears, cheese
and pine nuts.

Cranberry Vinaigrette

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 to 4 tablespoons cranberry vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Blend ingredients together with wooden spatula or fork. Add more vinegar
to taste.

Cranberry Vinegar

2 cups good white wine vinegar
1/2 cup red wine
1/2 cup fresh cranberries
1 teaspoon sugar

Place vinegar, cranberries and sugar into saucepan. Bring to boil; immediately
lower flame. Simmer three to five minutes, until fruit is tender. Cool. Pour
into sterilized jar.

Store in cool, dark place for 10 days. Pour vinegar through strainer, removing
cranberries. Pour gently into decorative glass jar or vinegar cruet for serving.

Makes 12-14 servings.

Citrus Pesto

Recipe by chef Ido Shapira, Cutlet Catering Company, Tel Aviv, Israel.

1 cup flat leaf parsley, stemmed
1/2 cup cilantro, stemmed
1/2 cup pine nuts
2/3 Parmesan cheese, coarsely grated
3 garlic cloves, peeled
Grated zest from 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
1/2 cup olive oil

Prior to preparation, chill first five ingredients in refrigerator, along
with the bowl of a food processor. Place mixture in processor; pulse just
long enough so ingredients are thoroughly combined but not mushy. Strain
through a chinois into a bowl so pesto remains and escaping liquid can
be saved for another use. This pesto may be made ahead of time and kept cold i
n the refrigerator.
Serve with your favorite pasta.
Makes eight servings.

Josephine Coppola's Tiramisu

5 whole eggs or egg whites
1/3 cup sugar
1 pound mascarpone (Italian cream cheese)
2 1/2 to 3 cups strong brewed espresso
1/4 to 1/2 cup Marsala, brandy, rum or amaretto
1 1/4 cups ladyfingers (about 40 cookies)
Shaved chocolate for garnish (optional)

In a medium heatproof bowl or top of double boiler beat eggs or egg whites
while slowly adding sugar. When egg-sugar mixture is foamy, fold in mascarpone.
Set bowl or top of double boiler in pan with barely simmering water.
Whisk or beat continuously until mixture reaches 160 F.
Remove bowl from pan and let cool for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Mix espresso with Marsala or other liqueur. Cover the bottom of a 10-inch
glass pie pan or quiche dish with a layer of ladyfingers.
Drizzle coffee mixture over ladyfingers until they are soaked. Spread
half the egg-mascarpone mixture over ladyfingers. Add another layer of ladyfingers;
drizzle again with coffee mixture. Spread on remaining mascarpone. If desired,
sprinkle shaved chocolate over tiramisu.
Refrigerate at least two hours or overnight to allow flavors to meld.

This should be made at least two hours ahead and can be made the day
before, and kept for two days in the refrigerator.
Makes four servings.

frdy nt efis


Rabbi Effie Golberg is in a bind. It’s late Friday night and he’s got about 60 noisy teenagers at his home in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood.

Right now, they aresampling five different cholents, as part of his first-ever Cholent Cook-Off.

But there’s a problem: Cholent No. 4 is too popular, and they’ve run out of No. 4 cards. Since they can’t make new ones on Shabbat, the rabbi needs to improvise. He sees that cholent No. 5, his own, has gotten no reaction, so he announces that No. 5 cards will now count for cholent No. 4.

Problem solved.

It’s another day at the office for Rabbi Effie, the head of the National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) on the West Coast.

Rabbi Effie’s specialty is dealing with teenagers. On this night, a happy group of teens is buzzing throughout his modest but welcoming home, and they are filling its many “play areas.”

Within about a minute, he asks a 10th grade YULA girl how her science project is coming along; he tells a Shalhevet boy that he hasn’t yet received his paperwork for the “regionals” (the nickname for their big annual Shabbaton in December); and he introduces a kid from Natan Eli to a kid from Shalhevet (where he gives a class on comparative religion).

The rabbi has some extra stress tonight, because the housekeeper didn’t show, and his 9-month-old baby girl is having trouble sleeping. His wife and partner, Sara Leah, a New York frummie who could have played the lead in Woody Allen’s “Radio Days,” is commuting between the baby’s bedroom and the kitchen, handing out little cholent containers, directing traffic between the crockpots and matching her husband’s affinity for delivering instant soundbites to an easily distracted generation.

As the climax of the evening approaches — the reveal of the best cholent — Sara Leah is helping her husband gather everyone in the kitchen. They interrupt a high-intensity foosball game, kids playing cards and board games and others just being loud for no reason. It’s clear they don’t mind yelling above the din of the crowd to get people’s attention.

Every party has a star, and for my money the star of this party is a stocky, Moroccan version of John Belushi (kids, go rent “Animal House” or “The Blues Brothers”) who goes by the name of Ouriel.

This 23-year-old character recently joined the staff at NCSY, and tonight he will announce the winner. When he introduced the five cholents a little earlier, he used references to the movie “Borat” and the MTV show “Yo Momma!” to make fun of everything, including the crockpots. He picked on a fancy-looking crockpot (my daughter’s) by referring to MTV’s “Pimp My Ride,” revealing with a perfect deadpan that this particular crockpot came equipped with a DVD player and a navigation system.

When Ouriel announces the final scores, he shows no mercy for the losers, which plays well with a crowd raised on “American Idol.” As the contest comes down to the two finalists, he lowers his voice to build suspense. He’s no fool. He knows that the grand prize — a $20 gift certificate at Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf — will not build suspense on its own, so he must compensate. By the time he announces the winner (cholent No. 4, Sephardic style) and ridicules the runner-up cholent’s Polish Ashkenazi lineage, it’s clear that the yelling and celebrating have nothing to do with the winning of a free chai latte.

Meanwhile, Rabbi Effie is schmoozing with a 15-year-old boy from Beverly Hills High, trying to entice him to come to the regionals (“the food and the speakers will be amazing”). He also reconnects with an alum who is now at USC and who tells me that in his last year of high school he rarely missed a Friday night of E=MC2.

E=MC2 is the somewhat corny name for Rabbi Effie’s Friday night drop-ins (Effie’s = munchies plus chillin’ and cholent), but corny or not, the kids have been coming. What started as impromptu invitations to a few high schoolers three years ago has become a weekly happening for the teens of the hood.

Outside, I ask a Shalhevet girl who is a friend of my daughter why she likes going to Effie’s, and she replies that it makes Shabbat “less boring.”

Rabbi Effie is very aware that “not boring” is the secret password to win over teenagers. If you hear what this sharp-dressing 28-year-old has to sell — lighting Shabbat candles, putting on tefillin, learning Torah, eating kosher, honoring the Shabbat, honoring your parents, visiting the sick, avoiding gossip, saying your brachas, etc. — you understand why he needs to avoid boredom at all cost.

He heads two organizations on the West Coast: NCSY, which runs programs for teenagers in Jewish day schools, and JSU (Jewish Student Union), which works with Jewish teenagers in public schools. As he sees it, he encourages both groups of kids to do the same thing: strengthen their connection to Judaism, whether their level of Torah observance is high or nonexistent.

Although he doesn’t shove the Orthodox label down anybody’s throat, he makes no apologies for his Orthodox agenda (NCSY does, after all, fall under the Orthodox Union umbrella), nor for the fact that he would love to see every Jewish teenager in America keep the Shabbat and eventually marry Jewish.

He’s smart enough to take what he can get. He once pleaded with a teenage girl who was completely disconnected from her Judaism to try honoring the Shabbat for just 10 minutes: light the candles, he told her, and stay off the Sidekick, the iPod and the TV for 10 minutes, and try it again next week, this time for 20 minutes.

He believes that if he can keep the kids busy with their Judaism, they’ll spend less time wasting their lives away on things like MySpace and YouTube.

Affordable winter escapes are but a snowball’s throw away


Now that the holiday season is upon us, it’s time to do a little carving — and we’re not talking brisket.

The recent tease of fresh powder has left rippers and freeriders hopeful that there won’t be a repeat of last season’s half-open San Bernardino snow farms.

Already some local ski resorts, like Mountain High and Bear Mountain, have reported base depths of more than 2 feet at their upper elevations. Mammoth was the first ski resort to open in California on Nov. 9, hot on the heels of its record-setting 52 feet of snow during 2005-06. And with the last of the Rocky Mountain resorts set to open this week, it’s beginning to look a lot like ski season.

Even though most resorts currently have less than 50 percent of its trails open, don’t put off planning your getaway until the powder drops. Plenty of Jewish ski packages are already filling up, and this year’s bevy will be kinder to you wallet since much of the action is being kept fairly close to home.

Southern California
San Bernardino Mountains

Chabad on Campus and Chabad of California are reaching out to Jews of all denominations with its men-only and women-only Winter Break Ski and Learn Experiences. Geared toward Jewish undergraduate and graduate students (ages 18-26) with little or no background in formal Jewish learning, the six-day trips will feature morning Jewish learning sessions on three different tracks with rabbis and Chabad staff from Southern California, Oregon and Washington. After 11:30 a.m., the mountain is yours until the last run of the day. Subsidized pricing will include transportation to and from the slopes, kosher meals, lodging, alternative outdoor activities and a full Shabbat service. There is no dress code, however you will have to arrange transportation to the Kiryas Schneerson Lodge in Running Springs and pay for your own lift ticket and rentals (three-day package for $160).

Dates: Dec. 21-27, 2006 (men), Dec. 27, 2006-Jan. 1, 2007 (women).
Cost: $50.


For more information, call (213) 748-5884, or visit www.winterbreak.info.

For high school students, West Coast NCSY is hosting a Ski Shabbaton in February. The Orthodox youth group is renting a group of cabins near Wrightwood and Big Bear, and will feature skiing and snowboarding all day Friday, Saturday night and all day Sunday. For tuchus-draggers and frum bunnies, optional snow tubing and alpine sliding will be available Saturday night. A reduced rate is available for students who wish to join the group after Shabbat ends.

Dates: Feb. 17-19, 2007.
Cost: $125 (full Shabbaton), $60 (post-Shabbat).
For more information, call Ouriel Hazan at (310) 876-6631.

Northern California
Mammoth Mountain

Leave the car at home and let someone else do the driving. Now in its 12th year, JSki is the only L.A. Jewish ski group that puts its 20- to 40-somethings on a luxury bus, complete with videos and a bathroom. Cost includes two-nights lodging in a luxury condo with fireplace, kitchen and Jacuzzi; transportation to and from the slopes; dinner and hors d’oeuvres party. Bus picks up and drops off at Van Nuys Flyaway, Federal Building and Irvine Transportation Center.

Dates: Jan. 19-21, 2007; Feb. 9-11, 2007 (joint trip with Mosaic, Kesher Israeli and Nexus); March 2-4, 2007; March 23-35, 2007.
Cost: $199.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail jskila@aol.com.

Lake Tahoe

Want to schmooze on the slopes with the high-tech crowd? The Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley’s Young Adult Division is sponsoring its annual ski trip to Northstar-at-Tahoe. Price includes housing, lift ticket, food, drinks and a cocktail reception.

Dates: Jan. 26-28, 2007.
Price: $255.
For more information, call (408) 357-7503 or visit www.jvalley.org/svyad.html.

Colorado
Breckenridge

Steppin’ Out Adventures is planning a trip for Jewish singles to Breckenridge with a seven-night or four-night option. Breck’s Victorian charm is complimented by its renowned nightlife. While accommodations at The Village at Breckenridge are renown for being a bit austere, its prime location and recent $2 million facelift might make your stay a bit more tolerable. Price includes lift tickets to Vail, Keystone, Beaver Creek or A-Basin; transfers to and from Denver airport; lodging; full breakfast; two dinners and planned optional activities.

Dates: Feb. 4-11, 2007; Feb. 7-11, 2007.
Cost: $1,290-$1,650.
For more information, call (866) 299-5674 or visit steppinoutadventures.com.

Copper Mountain

Just 75 miles west of Denver, Copper Mountain is known for its accessibility — beginner, intermediate and expert skiing trails naturally separated into three distinct areas. The resort also features some of the best early and late season snow, along with four alpine bowls and renowned terrain parks. This JSki trip includes roundtrip air from Los Angeles or San Diego, transportation from and to Denver airport, three nights lodging (double occupancy) at Best Western Lake Dillon Lodge, three days lift tickets, round trip shuttle to slopes and a daily breakfast.

Dates: Jan. 12-15, 2007.
Cost: $699.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail jskila@aol.com.

Vail

Vail’s Bavarian-style resort is regularly ranked as one of the top ski destinations in the United States. Boasting 5,289 skiable acres and one of the largest networks of high-speed quad lifts, Vail offers greater room for skiing or snowboarding and more time on the slopes. This Steppin’ Out Adventure package features accommodations at the Lion Square Lodge in LionsHead Village, which includes a fitness club, spa and complimentary Internet access; transfers from Eagle Airport (30 minutes from Vail); lodging; lift tickets to Golden Peak, Vail Village, LionsHead Village or Cascade Village; full breakfast and two dinners; and planned optional activities.

Dates: March 18-25, 2007; March 20-25, 2007.
Cost: $1,955-$2,330.
For more information, call (866) 299-5674 or visit steppinoutadventures.com.

Utah
Salt Lake City

The New Year’s trip with JSki drew 130 people last year and this year is filling up fast. The roundtrip flight chartered by New Horizon Tours has already sold out, but no worries — simply book your own flight Salt Lake City. There’s still room on the bus from and to the airport and in the hotel, but that won’t last long. The trip includes five nights lodging at the Marriott (double occupancy); five days of lift tickets to Alta, Solitude and Snowbird (tram extra), Deer Valley and The Canyons; transportation to the slopes, daily buffet breakfast and a welcome dinner party.

Dates: Dec. 27, 2006-Jan. 1, 2007.
Cost: $705.
For more information, call (818) 342-9508 or e-mail jskila@aol.com.

Last chance for ‘Hakuna Matata,’ and please, try the Hot Pstromi


Saturday the 25th

” target=”_blank”>www.moca.org.

Sunday the 26th

You may not be feeling “Hakuna Matata” if you miss taking the kids to Disney’s “The Lion King” this winter. Complete with gorgeous costume design and puppets galore, the touring stage musical directed by Julie Taymor is back in Los Angeles for an eight-week run, and then the lion sleeps.

Through Jan. 7. $15-$87. Pantages Theatre, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (213) 365-3500.

Monday the 27th

It’ll be in theaters mid-December but you’re too Hollywood for that. Head today to “Reel Talk With Stephen Farber” for a sneak preview of the “Dreamgirls” movie musical. Post-screening, he’ll interview writer-director Bill Condon about the making of the film, and maybe even dish on Beyonce.

7 p.m. $20. Wadsworth Theatre, on the Veterans Administration grounds, Building 226, 11301 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 479-3003.

Tuesday the 28th

‘Moishe Houses’ provide post-Hillel hangout for 20-somethings


Say you’re a few years out of college, living with friends and working in a low-paying job for some do-good organization. You don’t go to synagogue, but you miss the camaraderie of your college Hillel, and you like to invite people over for Shabbat meals.

Imagine if someone was willing to pay you to keep doing it?
 
That’s what’s offered by Moishe House, a fast-growing network of subsidized homes for 20-something Jews committed to building Jewish community for themselves and their peers.
The project was launched less than a year ago by The Forest Foundation, a Santa Barbara-based philanthropy. The foundation’s executive director, David Cygielman, 25, says the goal was to give young activist Jews the financial freedom to focus on creative programming designed to reach other young, unaffiliated Jews.

To the people living in these houses, it’s a terrific gift.
 
“We were already having Shabbat dinners three or four times a month and then they came along and said, ‘We’re looking for people doing what you’re doing. Keep it up, and we’ll support you,'” said Jonathan Herzog, 29, who lives in the Seattle house with his sister Norah and two friends.
 
The project is a validation of these young Jews’ efforts to create a Jewish home for an age group they feel gets lost in the communal shuffle.
 
“After college there’s no more Hillel, and they don’t join the Jewish community until they have families,” Cygielman noted.
 
The first Moishe House opened last December in San Francisco. Seattle was next in February, joined quickly by houses in Boston and Los Angeles.
 
New ones are to open in October in Oakland, Washington, Uruguay and Nigeria, and the plan is to have 12 houses up and running by next year.
 
Except for the Nigerian house, which is a one-man outreach operation, they all follow the same formula: Three or four Jews in their 20s receive a rent subsidy of up to $2,500 a month, along with $500 for programming, and are expected to become a communal hub for young Jews by hosting Shabbat meals, card games, Yiddish lessons, film nights, book discussions, neighborhood clean-ups and other social, intellectual and civic-minded activities.
 
Residents say the formula works because it lets young people organize events they themselves would want to attend, rather than having something imposed from above by a synagogue or JCC.
In many ways, it’s the bayit of the 21st century. But unlike those communal Jewish homes of the 1970s and ’80s, which usually were sponsored by Zionist youth groups, residents of Moishe Houses don’t subscribe to a particular ideology.
 
The focus varies according to residents’ interests: The houses in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco host a lot of poker parties and film nights, while the Boston house is more involved in social action.
 
Houses have great freedom, Cygielman says, so long as they meet the minimum requirements: hosting eight to 12 events a month, making weekly reports, maintaining a Web site and reaching out to young people. Funding can be withdrawn if a house doesn’t perform.
 
“I won’t tell them what’s a wrong program or a right program,” Cygielman said. “I don’t care, so long as they’re building community and lots of people are coming.”
 
Maia Ipp, 24, moved into the San Francisco house in June. She runs a women’s group and a cooking club that is working its way alphabetically through the world’s cuisines.
 
Her parents once lived in a bayit sponsored by Habonim, a Labor Zionist youth group, but Ipp prefers the Moishe House model.
 
“We’re not affiliated with a movement that has a belief system, which frees us to do new, fresh work and engage young adults in ways other movements and campus groups can’t,” she said.
 
One recent evening, the four young residents of the San Francisco house got together for their weekly meeting. They sat around the large table in the dining room, which opens onto a large patio they use for Shabbat dinners and holiday parties.
 
David Persyko, 25, started hanging out at the house soon after it opened.
 
“I found myself really attached to being part of a Jewish community again,” he said. “Some of my fondest memories growing up were from Camp Swig, and coming here, I felt that rush of support I hadn’t felt in 10 years.”
 
He moved in in June and now runs poker night, which draws a group of guys every three weeks to “vent about the women in our lives,” Persyko said.
 
Aaron Gilbert, 24, runs a book club. The books aren’t Jewish, but the participants are, and talking about the books leads to talking about other things.
 
“It’s really intimate. We hang out, catch up on each others’ lives,” he said.
 
The house holds a big Shabbat dinner once a month and sponsors a softball team called the Matzah Ballstars. But the events and programs are secondary to the real draw.
 
“At our core, we’re four people who live in a house and we’re inviting people over. That’s appealing to people like us. It’s not institutional,” said Isaac Zones, 24, national director of the Moishe House network and a founding member of the San Francisco house.
 
On a table in the corner is a silver-toned bust of Zones’ grandfather, a man who founded his business empire with money he won playing poker. Zones makes sure the statue is always there during games.
 
The Moishe House concept is still in its early stages, and some things need to be tweaked. For example, the Los Angeles and Seattle houses are trying to beef up their social action component, while the Boston house is being encouraged to offer more “fun events,” Cygielman said.
 
It’s all part of figuring out what constitutes a Jewish community, or even a Jewish event. Must it be something devoted purely to a Jewish ritual or Zionist goal? Or is it enough to bring together a bunch of Jewish people to shmooze and eat?

Class Notes


New Yeshiva Flying SCY High
Founding board members of the new Southern California Yeshiva High School (SCY High) for boys in La Jolla knew that with a history of failed yeshiva high schools in the area, they had to offer the community something new and innovative. So they, along with headmaster Kevin Cloud, developed a school that utilizes high-tech project-based learning to integrate all disciplines — from science to literature to Gemara.

The school, the only Orthodox boys high school in the San Diego area, attracted 17 boys in ninth and 10th grades last year, its first year of existence, and next year between 25 and 30 are expected to be enrolled in the ninth through 11th grades. One Los Angeles boy boarded with relatives, and next year several families are opening up their homes to students who want to board.

As a school starting from scratch, teachers were able to take novel approaches to study.

The ninth graders, for example, read Goethe’s “Faust,” then rewrote it as short film. They created sets — some using “South Park”-style puppets, some using stop-action dolls and action figures — set it to music, and filmed short movies. The 10th graders read Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus,” then rewrote a modernized version then studied and debated the moral implications of making Faustus Jewish.

“What you do in project-based learning is you take the ability the students have in one subject and you bring that enthusiasm into another subject,” Cloud said.

The students also get traditional instruction, but even there things tend to blend.

In Rabbi Moshe Adatto’s Gemara class, students had to present talmudic arguments in a PowerPoint flowchart. Each student is given a Dell laptop when they enter, and the school is wired for high-speed wireless Internet access.

To Adatto, who previously was a teacher at the Valley Kollel, it’s all part of making kids love school and love Judaism.

“We’re trying to create lifelong learners, and to me that has two components: They have to know how to learn, and they have to want to learn,” said Adatto, who organized Shabbatons and other events to build school spirit.

All but one student has reenrolled for next year, and an anonymous survey that all of the parents filled out brought back astonishing results for a Jewish school: No one — not one family — reported being anything less than satisfied.

For more information on SCY High School, contact (858) 658-0857 or visit www.scyhigh.org.

Follow the Fellows to Israel
Three Southern California teens were among 26 selected nationally to visit Israel on a five-week Bronfman Youth Fellowship this summer. Priscella Frank of Calabasas High School and Benjamin and Mitzi Steiner of Shalhevet were selected following a rigorous application process. They will participate in an intensive program of study and travel in Israel designed to develop leaders committed to Jewish unity.

The fellows participate in seminars and dialogues with diverse rabbinic faculty and spend a week with a group of Israeli peers who have been chosen through Amitei Bronfman, a parallel Israeli program. Bronfman Youth Fellows are asked to complete 40 hours of community service when they return home at the end of the summer.

3 Books = 31 Flavors
Students at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy have another reason to pick up a good book — to satisfy their sweet tooth. As part of the Be a Star Reader program, elementary and middle school kids who read three books this spring were awarded a free ice cream cone at any Baskin-Robbins. Arna Schwartz, the school librarian, has run the Be a Star Reader program for several years, purchasing Baskin-Robbins gift certificates. This year, Robert Schwartz, who owns the Baskin-Robbins on Kinross Avenue in Westwood, offered to sponsor the program. Other Schools or youth organizations interested in participating in the Baskin-Robbins Reading Rewards Program can contact Robert Schwartz at (310) 208-8048.

To Bee or Not to Bee
More than 150 boys from Chabad schools across the world gathered in Los Angeles in April for a battle of wits on Maimonides’ Sefer Hamitzvot. Cheder Menachem in Los Angeles was the host school of the chidon, or bee, which attracted 1,000 spectators to the finals held at Emerson Middle School. The girls’ competition was held the week before in New York. Local winners were Sender Labkowsky, first place, older division; Mendel Mishulovin, third place, older division; and Shmully Lezak, third place, younger division.

ADL Reaches 700,000 Students
As part of LAUSD’s Live Violence-Free Day, 35,000 teachers in the district were urged to use materials and activities they received from the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) A World of Difference Institute, impacting more than 700,000 K-12 students in one day. The activities and lesson plans were designed to assist educators in addressing issues of bias, discrimination, bullying and violence, and focused on empowering students to become agents of change on their campuses. For more information on ADL education programs, contact Jenny Betz at (310) 446-8000, ext. 233.

 

$61.8 Billion


Of the 50 wealthiest Angelinos, 27 are Jewish.

Each year, The Los Angeles Business Journal uses legwork and a little guesswork to discern who’s worth the most in Los Angeles. Once the list comes out, as it did this week, I like to run it through the old “Who’s a Jew?” detector.

I’m well aware that the only people who habitually do such things are the heads of Jewish charities and anti-Semites. The former do it to garner fundraising leads, the latter do it to “prove” a worldwide conspiracy. I do it because I have something I want to tell these people — my Sermon on the Count.

My count a few years back put the number at 25. This year there are two more, including Jamie McCourt (Jew), vice chairman of the L.A. Dodgers and listed with husband Frank McCourt (not a Jew). So it goes, this slightly unseemly business of sussing out religious affiliation on a list that reveals just net worth, business interests and a bit about philanthropic activities.

It’s, of course, on that last subject that I’d have the most to say. Adding up the numbers provided by the Business Journal, I get a combined net worth of $61.8 billion.

Three things struck me about this year’s list. The first is: wow. Jews make up barely 2 percent of the Los Angeles’ population, but more than 50 percent of city’s richest of the rich. There have been precious few times in history when Jews have been blessed with so much wealth, along with so much freedom. In a city of openness and opportunity, these men and women have made the most of their chances.

Despite their common membership in a rarified group, these folks are a diverse lot.

Most are L.A. — or even American — transplants, with roots in Canada (eBay’s Jeffrey Skoll); Israel (Alec and Tom Gores, Haim Saban) and elsewhere. Their backgrounds range from Holocaust survivor (Leslie and Louis Gonda) to able scions of family fortunes (Anthony Pritzker). Their political affiliations run the spectrum, from Hollywood liberal (DreamWork’s Jeffrey Katzenberg), to George W. Bush stalwart (Ameriquest’s Roland Arnall, now ambassador to Netherlands). Their religious practices range from observant to none of your business.

You might think with great wealth has come great assimilation, as previous generations of Jews often had to choose between asserting their religious identity and social acceptance. But another striking fact of this list is how many of these people are deeply involved in Jewish communal life and causes. Westfield’s Peter Lowy is chair of the University of Judaism. The Milkens, Michael and Lowell, are pillars of Jewish philanthropy. Biomedical innovator Alfred E. Mann gave $100 million to Technion-Israeli Institute of Technology last year. As for Spielberg, there’s a little something called the Shoah Foundation. By my estimate, most have given to Jewish causes.

And this is not to sniff at their non-Jewish philanthropy. Eli Broad (No. 4 on the list) has been at the forefront of efforts to improve education and art in Los Angeles. DreamWorks’ David Geffen donated $200 million to UCLA’s School of Medicine in 2002, the largest contribution ever to a U.S. medical school. For a man worth $4.2 billion, that’s almost real money.

At the same time, the larger picture is that L.A. County trails behind other places in terms of charitable giving. As reported in the Business Journal, a 2003 Chronicle of Philanthropy study of IRS tax returns concluded that L.A. County residents with incomes greater than $50,000 gave only 7.3 percent of their income, or about $4,000, to charity. New Yorkers gave 10.9 percent and Detroit residents, the national leaders, gave 12.1 percent. In California, San Francisco residents gave 9.3 percent, people in Long Beach 8.4 percent, and residents of the city of Los Angeles 6.9 percent.

I wonder if the Jewish billionaires on the list skew the averages in L.A.’s favor. I hope so.

The last thought to strike me as I reviewed this year’s list was how incomplete it is. The Business Journal stops at 50. But there’s serious wealth from 50 to 100, from 100 to 10,000, and loads more down the line. In short, there are many challenges this community faces, but lack of resources is not one of them.

Jewish professionals often complain to me that there just doesn’t seem to be enough money. But there is — and then some.

There is enough money, I suspect, to develop a social service program to help every one of the 7 percent of L.A. Jews who live beneath the poverty line.

There is enough money to build and sustain a network of first-rate Jewish camps and give every child a chance to attend one — and there are few better ways to instill Jewish values than camp.

There is enough money to pay Jewish communal workers a wage that enables them to participate fully in Jewish life.

There is enough money to provide significant scholarships for every child in need who wants to attend a Jewish day school and to improve the quality of public schools.

There is enough money to sustain a network of state-of-the-art communal centers — either Jewish community centers or synagogues — inviting, welcoming and affordable to the entire community.

Any one of these would revolutionize the face of Jewish Los Angeles for the better, and most could be accomplished just by upping our average giving to the standard set by … Detroit.

If only our vision were equal to our assets.

PASSOVER: The 11th Plague: Boredom


Not all seders are sit-down affairs.

When “Dayenu” begins at the home of Simone Shenassa of West Orange, N.J., everyone takes bunches of scallions and hits everyone else, to imitate the whipping of the slaves.

“It’s very much a free-for-all,” Shenassa said of this Persian custom. People get up from their chairs to whip others across the room, and children are even allowed — just this one time — to strike a grandparent. To end the ruckus, guests bite the scallion in the middle, signaling that the whip has been broken, and they need to clean up the mess and resume singing.

At the extended family seder of Noah Kussin-Bordo, 11, “Dayenu” means getting up from the table, grabbing a pair of maracas and taking his place as head of the Dayenu Band. Noah and his younger cousins march around the house with their tambourines, kazoos and hand-held drums, singing full-blast while the grown-ups remain seated, watching the commotion.

“We know that when ‘Dayenu’ comes, we actually have something to do,” said Noah, 11, who lives with his family in Tarzana.

Noah and his cousins, typical kids who normally would be bored by the second glass of grape juice, are among those finding new ways to take part in the family rituals.

No longer forced to remain silent and solemn while an elder speed-reads in Hebrew through the entire haggadah — called upon only to read the Four Questions and steal the afikomen — kids today are engaging in family-created rituals with wind-up toy frogs, edible centerpieces, Hillel sandwiches made from mounds of pyramid-shaped charoset and Wheel of Matzah games.

“The real purpose of the seder is to re-enact the story, but people need permission to do other than the model we grew up with,” said Ron Wolfson, education professor at Los Angeles’ University of Judaism and author of “Passover: The Family Guide to Spiritual Celebration” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2003).

Family educator Alice Langholt has been using her own kid-friendly, interactive haggadah at her seders in Cleveland, Ohio, since 1999. For the plagues, she sets each place with items such as Band-Aids and Neosporin to represent boils, sunglasses for darkness and toy cows for pestilence. At the appropriate time, guests use construction paper and crayons to draw a representation of their plague, which they then explain to the group.

For the 10th plague, the slaying of the first-born, Langholt asks all the first-born guests to rise and recite a passage from “A Common Road to Freedom,” an alternative, Jewish/African American Haggadah, which begins, “Each drop of wine we pour out is hope and prayer that people will cast out the plagues that threaten everyone everywhere they are found.”

Balancing tradition with innovation is not a modern phenomenon that can be traced back only as far as the matzah of Hope, introduced in the 1970s to draw attention to the plight of the Soviet Jews. New York author and Jewish researcher David Arnow says that creating personalized seders “really reaches back to what the original designers of the seder had in mind.”

Indeed, what may be the earliest known haggadah, dating back 1,800 years to the Mishnah, contains some fixed rituals, such as drinking four glasses of wine, reclining and eating bitter herbs and matzah. But it also includes some ad-libbing. The child, while not required to recite the Four Questions, was expected to pose other questions throughout the seder. The father would then answer those questions with a Midrash — or explanation — that was adjusted to the child’s level of understanding.

“Over the generations, the spontaneous parts became prescribed,” said Arnow, author of “Creating Lively Passover Seders” (Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004). “Where we are now is trying to recreate the balance with seders that are meaningful and engaging and yet tied to the roots.”

And it’s not only the youngest children who need to be drawn in.

Several years ago, to grab the attention of teenagers, Rabbi Mark Fasman of Shaare Zedek Synagogue in St. Louis bought a deep fryer and held a “burgers and fries” second seder for his then-adolescent son and cousins.

“Teenagers are the classic second child,” said Fasman, referring to the wicked child, and burgers and fries, along with a driver’s license, are their ultimate symbols of freedom.

“As soon as I said, ‘This is your seder,’ the kids were able to take it seriously,” Fasman added.

Some people extend this analogy even further.

“Pretend that the four children — wise, wicked, simple and the child who does not know who to ask — are models for the people at your seder, and plan activities for all four levels,” advised Rivka Ben Daniel, director of Hebrew and Judaic studies at Abraham Joshua Heschel Day School West in Agoura. Ben Daniel teaches a workshop for parents in which she gives out 100 seder ideas.

At her own family seder, a six-hour extravaganza which she conducts, she employs a mixture of seriousness, such as philosophical discussion and prepared Torah commentaries, and lightness. In the latter vein, one of her favorite activities involves having the guests grant Pesach “Ruach” (spirit) Awards to each other. Some of the 10 categories include Most Creative Midrash, Most Active Participant and Best Dessert.

Shiela Steinman Wallace of Louisville, Ky., enables everyone — those Passover-savvy and not, those Jewish and not — to participate in her seder by asking them to bring something to share and then to determine when during the seder to interrupt and talk about it.

One year her father brought the shirt her grandfather wore on his 1912 voyage from Ukraine to the United States. Another year her son shared the rod used to repair his broken leg. Wallace makes bringing an item “a condition of acceptance.” Other stipulations, which she spells out in a pre-Passover e-mail, include coming hungry, not bringing food items and understanding that all questions are welcome.

And in Los Angeles, Sara Aftergood has been captivating her guests with innovative seders for the past 20 years, originally motivated by a desire to reinforce her children’s Jewish day school studies.

A recent invention occurs at the seder’s conclusion, around midnight. Bringing out a silver platter, she distributes to her 40 costume-clad guests seder fortune cookies, consisting of two long, broken pieces of matzah, each pair concealing phrase and tied with ribbon. Guests then take turns reading their fortunes. They range from quotes from Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel about the importance of learning Torah to “Isn’t the hostess pretty?” and “I simply insist on staying to clean up this mess.”

But none of this should replace the actual reading of the haggadah, Wolfson and other educators insist. Rather, they recommend that families use them to punctuate the reading.

“Passover is the most observed holiday of the whole year,” Wolfson said. “It’s thrilling to think that this ritual has been transformed into something accessible and celebratory that gets the message across that once we were slaves and now we are free.”

 

7 Days in The Arts


Saturday, March 25

Hollywood Fight Club’s current production “A Lively … and Deathly Evening With Woody Allen” brings to the stage three written works by the Neurotic One. Woody Allen’s “God,” “Death Knocks” and “Mr. Big” all deal with existential dilemmas as only Allen can.

Through April 2. 8 p.m. (Saturdays), 8:30 p.m. (Thursdays), 3 p.m. (Sundays). $14. 6767 W. Sunset Blvd., Suite No. 6, Hollywood. R.S.V.P., (323) 465-0800.

Sunday, March 26

Jewish school spirit can be found in abundance on the USC campus this weekend. The Jewish Student Film Festival has coordinated a weekend of Jewish activities, which culminates in today’s film fest. Friday evening, attend Shabbat services at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion followed by Shabbat dinner at USC Hillel; Saturday, attend “Jewzika: A Night of Jewish Musicians” featuring Dov Kogen and the Hidden, SoCalled and the Moshav Band.

Film fest: Free (students), $5 (general). Jewzika: $10 (students), $12 (general). ” width=”15″ height=”1″ alt=””>

Monday, March 27

“Minimalist Jukebox,” L.A. Philharmonic’s minimalism festival, gives us music by Steve Reich on March 25 and 26, including “Tehillim,” the composer’s music for Psalms. Then today, also in conjunction with the Minimalist Jukebox, California EAR Unit explores the theme with Lamon Young’s “Composition No. 7,” David Rosenboom’s “The Seduction of Sapentia” and other works.

Reich concerts: ” target=”_blank”>www.lacma.org or (323) 857-6010.

Tuesday, March 28

Those seeking romance and mystery look no further than the last place you’d think of. National Council of Jewish Women steams things up with “An Evening of Literature and Conversation” with romance authors Loraine Despres and Dora Levy Mossanen, as well as mystery writer Rochelle Krich. Jewish Community Library Director Abigail Yasgur moderates.

7:30-9:30 p.m. Free. 543 N. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 651-2930, ext. 512.

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Dora Levy Mossanen

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=””>


Thursday, March30

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=””>

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.”

 

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

 

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.

 

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.

 

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.

New Year’s

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.

Families

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.

Maui

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


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.”

Healthful Cruising

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.

Staying Active

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.

Special-Interest Cruising

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.

Enabled Cruising

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.

Freestyle Disembarkation

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:

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.”

 

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.

 

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).

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.

Hearst Castle
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.

 

 

 

 

 


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